“I don’t know if I’m hungry.”
“A healthy breakfast is important.”
Mike tilted his head and looked questioningly.
“It is important for you to be healthy, Mike. I’ve already started you on a regimen of exercise. It is important that you eat well too.”
“All right then.” He got up and made his way to the shower.
True to her word and her name, Patience was waiting patiently with a piece of whole wheat toast and a glass of grapefruit-pineapple juice.
“What now?” he asked as he ate.
“You have to work today,” Patience replied. “We will go to the gym for our workout later.”
It was Mike’s last day of the school year. He had already packed away everything that needed to be packed, so all he really had to do was show up and wait for the principal to check him out. By eleven, he was done. He had walked to school, and he walked back home to find Patience at the door in a tight pair of red shorts and a white spaghetti tank. He had a small salad for lunch, and then they went to the gym.
“Are we going to exercise every day over the summer?” Mike asked on the way.
“Five times a week.”
Time at the gym went quickly and Mike suffered only a small amount of discomfort from his stomach. Afterwards, as they drove home, Mike asked Patience to stop at the cemetery.
“I promised Tiffany that I would stop by every week, but I haven’t been there in months. Of course, she was dead when I promised her, so it’s not like she heard me.”
Patience pulled the car into the cemetery gate and drove around at Mike’s direction until they reached the southeast corner, where the green of the grass met the tan of the surrounding desert. Mike climbed out and walked to the marker at the head of his wife’s grave. The marker was covered with bits of grass from the last time the lawn was mowed, as well as bits of dirt. He knelt down and brushed it off. Tiffany Louise Smith 1984-2021, little enough to sum up a lifetime. 2021! Could it really be eleven years? That didn’t seem possible.
“Who is buried here?” asked Patience.
Mike looked up. A few feet from Tiffany’s grave was another. Affixed to the flat grave marker was an upright statue, about a foot tall, of an angel, a little girl with wings, wearing a nightgown and holding a flower in her left hand, her right hand raising a handkerchief to her eye.
“Some poor little child.”
Home once again, Mike took another shower and had a quick nap before getting up to play a few games of Age of Destruction on vueTee. Pausing the game, he went to the kitchen to get a diet Pepsi and noticed for the first time that the kitchen cabinets had been scrubbed clean. He opened one to find it reorganized inside. This sent him on a tour around the house. He went into the garage to find that what had once been only the home of a gigantic mound of surplus junk had been reorganized. Tiffany’s Tesla, which hadn’t been driven or even charged in more than two years, was clean and polished. There was actually enough room for Mike’s Chevy to sit beside it, and it had never known the interior of the garage. Most of the room’s contents were now on the shelves along the walls, and what remained was neatly stacked against the west wall to either side of the inside door.
He went upstairs to find that Harriet’s old room, once almost as buried as the garage floor, had also been cleaned and organized. Though the right side of the room was now filled with labeled boxes, the left side had been cleared completely out. Mike noticed that the closet now contained Patience’s growing wardrobe. Even the pictures on the walls had been dusted, though they still were just as oddly placed as they had been. Lucas’s room, which had not been nearly so cluttered, was now empty with the exception of an exercise mat in the center of the floor.
“Just as you wanted.” said Patience speaking right behind his left ear.
“Shit! You startled me.”
“I can’t believe how much you’ve done in a week. What are you doing now—alphabetizing my underwear?”
“No. I was on the phone with Harriet. She invited us to dinner.”
“Hmm. Both of us?”
“Yes. She specifically asked that I come too.”
“Speaking of Harriet, what are you planning for her room?”
“I didn’t have any plans yet,” said Patience.
“Why don’t we make it a guest room? You can move your clothes into my closet. God knows I don’t need all that room.”
“As you wish,” she replied sweetly.
Later Mike hopped in the passenger side of the car and let Patience drive them to Greendale, to Harriet’s house. Patience wore what she referred to as a red bra-top dress, though it didn’t look at all bra-like to Mike, and a pair of matching three and a half inch wedge shoes. Mike wore a pair of tan slacks and a matching pullover shirt which Patience picked out for him. He was quite happy as they made their journey. It was a beautiful day. There wasn’t much traffic. And just having Patience with him seemed to make him happy.
Harriet greeted them with a smile. When Harriet’s husband Jack saw Patience, his mouth fell open.
“Put your tongue and your eyeballs back in your head,” said Mike, as he walked passed him. Then for good measure, Harriet smacked Jack on the back of the head. As he sat down, Mike looked at Patience to see alarm on her face.
“What?” he asked.
“Are you mad at me, Mike?”
“No. Of course not. Why?”
“You were making an angry face.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I was just worrying about something I don’t even need to worry about.”
“I don’t like for you to worry, Mike.” she said. “I want to make all of your worries go away.”
Inside, they sat and talked for a while. Harriet, who worked at a dentist’s office, regaled them with stories of bad teeth and bad breath. Then she talked about Jack’s baseball team. He played with a group of men from his office. Finally she started telling them about her gardening. She described in great detail all of the plants that she had recently added to her yard. Mike wasn’t paying too much attention. He tended to zone out. Once Harriet got started on a topic she usually wrestled it to the ground and killed it.
“Get away!” shouted Mike, when one of Harriet’s dogs suddenly stuck its nose in his crotch.
“I know you really like dogs, Daddy,” said Harriet. “You just pretend you don’t.”
“I like dogs fine, when they aren’t sniffing where they shouldn’t be sniffing.”
“They are just curious about you,” she said. “I’m surprised they aren’t sniffing at you, Patience. They don’t seem to even notice you.”
“Hey Harriet,” said Mike. “Didn’t you just say you needed some more potting soil or something?”
“You’ll never know how surprised I am that you heard that much of what I said,” she replied. “But yes, I do.”
“Let’s run over to Lowe’s and get it.”
“Well, I have the quiche halfway done.”
“Patience can finish that up for you,” said Mike, looking at his girlfriend for, and seeing in her face, confirmation. “You and I can run to the store.”
“I thought real men didn’t eat quiche,” said Jack.
“Real men eat whatever the hell they want to eat,” said Mike, managing to keep most of the derision out of his tone.
“Come on Daddy,” said Harriet.
Father and daughter took a quick drive down the block to the neighborhood home improvement store. Mike hadn’t really wanted to help pick out potting soil. What he wanted was more reassurance that his daughter was not bothered by his relationship with a robot. She was very reassuring. She seemed as happy that Patience was in her father’s life as he was. Their conversation on the topic ended just before they reached home again with two forty pound bags of planting soil.
“One more thing Dad,” said Harriet, who only called Mike “Dad” when she was angry or serious. “Try to be nicer to Jack. Don’t talk to him like he’s a moron.”
“Well he is a…”
“It’s his house, Dad.”
“Yeah, all right,” conceded Mike.
Mike tossed the two bags of soil over his shoulder, ignoring the short stabbing pain from his stomach, and followed Harriet through the gate and around the house to the back yard. He tossed the bags down beside the flower bed and dusted the dirt off of his shirt.
“Why don’t you go see if Patience needs any help,” said Harriet. “I want to get these last two Verbena in the ground before dinner.”
Mike walked in and found Patience standing by the stove and Jack leaning on the counter nearby. Patience gave him the kind of smile most people reserve for someone they thought lost at sea or perhaps for Hunter Tylo when she was carrying an oversized novelty check for ten million dollars from Digital Clearinghouse. There was something shifty in Jack’s expression though. Mike asked what was going on. They both spoke at once.
“Jack fondled me.”
The look of shock had not even completely registered on Jack’s face when Mike grabbed him by the shirt collar and dragged him through the kitchen and out the door into the garage. Calling for Patience to stay and finish dinner, he shut the door after him. Jack was beginning to square his shoulders. Mike shoved him back against the wall of the garage.
“Hey, don’t get all jealous,” Jack began. “She’s just a sexbot.”
Mike grabbed Jack’s face in his right hand and slammed it once again into the wall, this time making a large round dent in the unfinished wallboard. He squeezed his fingers together until Jack looked as though he were doing an imitation of a fish.
“You don’t get it!” hissed Mike. “This isn’t about Patience! This is about Harriet! This is about my daughter!”
Jack’s eyes got rounder.
“If you ever hurt my little girl, if you ever cheat on her, I will kill you.”
Once more, Jack’s head slammed against the wall.
“If you want to leave. Tell her. Get a divorce. Now is a good time. There aren’t any kids yet. But if you stick around and then cheat on her, I will kill you.
“I… will… kill… you.” said Mike. “It won’t be quick. It won’t be painless. And you know what? I’ll even get away with it. Look me in the eye. See if you can tell if I’m serious or not.”