The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 1 Excerpt

She had to wait several minutes for Carlo to notice her.  He was busy delivering sandwiches to the two soldiers who sat with the woman in the white pinstriped dress.  Not cucumber sandwiches on white bread.  Their sandwiches were thick slices of dark bread, piled high with slab after slab of ham. This was no surprise to Senta. Soldiers were always hungry.  She had seen them eating many times: the officers here at Café Carlo, and the common soldiers purchasing food from vendors near the park, or at the beanery in her own neighborhood.  At last, Carlo noticed her and held out his hand to her, dropping her fourteen copper pfennigs for the week into her callused palm. They were small coins, with the profile of the King on the obverse side, and the front of a stately building, Senta didn’t know which building, on the reverse side.  She stuffed the coins, a few fairly bright, but most well worn, into her pocket.

“See Gyula,” said Carlo.

A surprised Senta nodded and scurried back to the kitchen.  This was an unexpected boon.  Gyula was the junior of the two line cooks, which meant that he was the lowest ranked of the four people who prepared the food in the café.  An order to see him was an indication that she was being rewarded with foodstuffs of some kind.  When she entered the kitchen, Gyula looked up from his chopping and smiled. He was a young man, in his mid twenties, with a friendly round face, blond hair, and laughing eyes.  He was chopping a very large pile of onions, and the fact that he had only his left hand to do it, seemed to hinder him not at all. When Gyula was a child, about the same age as Senta was now, he had worked in a textile mill, where his job was to stick his tiny arm into the gaps in the great machines and remove wads of lint that had gummed up the works.  In his case, as in many others, the restarting machine proved quicker than his reflexes, and snipped off his arm just below the elbow.

“Hey Senta!” said Gyula, setting down his knife and wiping his left hand on his white apron.

“Carlo sent me back.”

“Excellent,” said Gyula.

He became a one-handed whirlwind, as he carved several pieces of dark bread from a big loaf, and piled an inch of sliced ham, slathered with dark brown mustard between them. He wrapped the great sandwich, which Senta happily noted was even bigger than those the soldiers had received, in wax paper.  He likewise wrapped a monstrous dill pickle, and placed both in the center of a large clean red plaid cloth; folding in the four corners, and tying them in a bow, to make a bindle.  Gyula handed the package to Senta, smiling.  When he had the opportunity, the young line cook favored Senta with great, heaping bounties of food, but he dared not do it without Carlo’s permission. It wouldn’t be easy for a one-armed man to find a job this good, and no one in his right mind, however kind-hearted and happy-go-lucky he was, would endanger it for a child he didn’t really even know.

“Thank you, Gyula,” said Senta, and grabbing the red plaid bundle, scurried out the door and down the sidewalk.

It was a beautiful day—though Senta didn’t know it, it was the first day of spring.  She made her way along, dodging between the many other pedestrians.  It was warm enough that she felt quite comfortable in her brown linen dress, worn over her full-length bloomers, and her brown wool sweater.  The weather was very predictable here in the Brech.  The early spring was always like this.  Late in the afternoon, the sky would become overcast, and light showers would sprinkle here and there around the city. Most days, they were so light that a person would scarcely realize that he had been made wet before he was dried off by the kindly rays of the sun.  Still, the ladies would raise their parasols to protect their carefully crafted coiffures from the rain, just as they now used them to protect their ivory complexions from the sun.

Summers here were warm and dry, but not so hot that people wouldn’t still want to eat in the outdoor portion of Café Carlo.  Not so in the fall or winter, however.  The fall was the rainy season.   It would become overcast, and stay that way for months, and it would rain buckets every day.  The streets would stay slick and shiny.  Then winter would come and dump several feet of snow across the city.  The River Thiss would freeze over and they would hold the winter carnival on the ice.  And the smoke from all of the coal-fired and gas-fired stoves, and the smoke from all of the wood-filled fireplaces would hang low to the ground, and it would seem like some smoky frozen hell.  The steam carriages would be scarcer, as the price of coal became dearer, but the horse-drawn trolley would still make its way through the grey snow and make its stops every three minutes.

Senta skipped and walked and skipped again east from the plaza down the Avenue Phoenix, which was just as busy as the plaza itself.  Travelers hurried up and down the street, making their way on foot, or reaching to grab hold of the trolley and hoist themselves into the standing-room-only cab.  Quite a number of couples could be seen strolling along together, arm in arm; the men usually walking on the side closest to the street, in case a steam carriage should splash up some sooty water.  Others on the street were shopping, because both sides of the Avenue Phoenix were lined with shops.  There were quite a few stores which sold women’s clothing and a few that sold men’s, a millinery shop, a haberdasher, a bookseller, a store which sold fine glassware, a clockmaker, a tobacconist, a jeweler, a store which sold lamps, a florist, and at the very end of the avenue, where it reached Prince Tybalt Boulevard, just across the street from the edge of the park, on the right hand side, a toy store.

Stopping to press her face against the glass, right below the printed sign that said “Humboldt’s Fine Toys”, Senta stared at the wonders in the store.  She had never been inside, but had stopped to look in the window many times.  The centerpiece of the store display was a mechanical bird.  It worked with gears and sprockets and springs and was made of metal, but it was covered in real bird feathers in a rainbow of hues, and would sit and peck and chirp and sing as though it were alive, until it finally wound down, and the toy maker would walk to the window and say the word to reactivate the bird’s magic spell.  Senta knew that the bird would remain in the window for a long, long time, until some young prince or princess needed a new birthday gift, because that bird would have cost as much as the entire Café Carlo.  Arranged around it were various mechanical toy vehicles—ships, trains, and steam carriages.  Some were magical and some worked with a wind-up key, but they all imitated the real life conveyances from which they were patterned.

None of these wonderful toys held as much fascination for Senta though, as the doll that sat in the corner of the window.  It wasn’t magical.  It wasn’t even animated by a wind-up mechanism.  It was a simple doll with a rag body and porcelain hands, feet, and face.  It wore a simple black dress.  Its blond hair had been cut in a short little bob, and looked like real human hair.  It had a painted face with grey eyes and pink lips.  It may well have been one of the lesser-priced toys in the shop.  It was definitely the least expensive item in the window, but Senta would never be able to purchase it.  Had she been able to save every pfennig she earned, it still would have taken her more than thirty weeks to purchase the doll.  And she could not save every pfennig she earned. Most weeks, she could not even save one.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 7

Goblins are nasty little blighters. They remind me of my cousin Gervil’s friend called Rupert. His name was Sally, which explains why he was called Rupert. But like goblins, he was short and had a big, round head. I don’t know why goblins have such large heads for their little bodies. Of course I don’t know why Rupert did either. There doesn’t seem to be much advantage in it. On the other hand, goblins have excellent night vision, making it very easy to sneak up on people in the dark. And they have abnormally large mouths with an abnormally large number of teeth in them. This was very unlike Rupert, which is to say Sally, who as I recall had only five or six teeth, though he made up for that by having an extra toe. In addition to which I don’t believe his night vision was all that it might have been, for once he kicked me in the head when he was on his way to the outhouse. Of course that could have been on purpose. Rupert was a bit of a nasty blighter too.

“What are you doing?” asked the orphan, as Hysteria took a step back.

“Thinking about a fellow called Rupert,” said I.

“Well stop it, and get us away.”

I said that Hysteria took a step back, but I should have said that she took two steps back, one on each side. I could tell she didn’t want the foul little creatures around her feet. She’s very particular about her feet, as most horses are wont to be. As they approached still nearer, she reared up a bit—not enough to bother me, but just enough for the orphan to slip off her haunches and land with a poof on his seat in the snow. The goblins cackled grotesquely and I’m sure that they thought they had secured for themselves a snack. They stopped laughing though when I kicked my leg over Hysteria’s shoulder and dropped lightly to the ground.

With a quick motion, I pulled my knife, still stained red from crabapple pie, from my boot. It was a small enough weapon to face off six attackers and I would have much rather had a sword, but I had been forced to sell my sword in order to get a fellow out of prison. I didn’t really know him, but he was the beloved of a poor but beautiful farm girl. In retrospect it would have been better if he had not turned out to be a werewolf, but that is another story. If I ever write this down, maybe I’ll say that I sold it to get the poor but beautiful farm girl out of prison and that I slew the werewolf. Yes, that’s a much better story.

“What are you doing?” asked the orphan.

“Recalling the time I slew a werewolf,” said I.

“Finally something useful!” he exclaimed.

The two foremost goblins looked at one another. While six or seven goblins might sneak up on a man when he was asleep, or might chase down a maiden who was alone and defenseless, they would have to be extraordinary members of their species to take on a seasoned warrior with a weapon.

“That’s right potato head!” shouted the orphan, jumping to his feet. “Werewolves, vampires, giants; he’s killed them all.

“Gree yard?” said the first goblin.

“Grock tor,” said the second goblin.

“I don’t think they understand us,” said I.

The first began to skirt around me to the right and the second began to skirt around me to the left. The others were following along. I don’t know whether their intention was to surround me so that they could attack from all sides at once, or to get by me and at the boy, but I wasn’t going to let either of those things happen. I took a quick step to the right and kicked the big round head of the first goblin, which flew almost as far as the kickball I kicked as a child, and of course the rest of the goblin went right along with his head.

As a child, kickball was one of my favorite pastimes. We had our own little team and I was almost always the bowler. Sally and Gervil and several other boys made up the outfield. Tuki played first, second, and third base.

“Look out for the other one!” the orphan cried, interrupting my fond memories.

I twisted around to my left and kicked the head of the second goblin, sending it in a lovely arc off into the forest. If my first kick had scored a double, which is to say a trip to second base, then this kick must surely have been a triple. And I would dare Tuki to say that either of those goblin’s heads went out of bounds.

“Look out!” the orphan shouted again.

I turned to give him a dirty look and saw a third goblin who was attempting to use the distraction of his fellows, which is to say their current use as substitute kickballs, to slice my Achilles tendon with a rusty old razor. With a quick jab, I thrust the point of my knife into his head and he dropped to the ground—dead. When I looked back around, the other goblins had wisely run away.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 4

When we were not two hundred yards down the road, I let Hysteria drop to a trot, for in truth I did not expect anyone to follow us into the night, daring wild animals, bandits, or hobgoblins regardless of how fine a piesmith Mistress Gaston was reported to be. A few hundred yards beyond that, my horse dropped of her own accord to a walk and I expect she was beginning to feel a bit mopey because of the slap the orphan had dealt her. At that moment I was less interested in her mental condition than my own physical one though, because I was holding a cast pie pan in each hand and they were both heavy and still quite warm.

“Here.” I turned in the saddle and handed one pie to the orphan. “We can eat while we ride. If we wait until we find a campsite, the pies will be cold.”

“Do you have a fork?” the boy asked.

I mused that this seemed an unlikely request from any boy, most of whom I have found uninterested in tableware on the best occasion, and especially from an orphan whom one might have supposed to have been forced by necessity to dig into all manner of food scraps with his hands. However it was not a question to which I needed reply in the negative, for I always carry my fork in the inner left breast pocket of my coat, which I call my fork pocket. I gave the orphan my fork and pulled my knife from my boot to use on the remaining pie.

“This is a very nice fork,” said the orphan.

“Of course it is,” said I. “That fork came from the table of the Queen of Aerithraine herself.”

“You stole this fork from a Queen?”

“Impudent whelp!” cried I. “That fine fork was a gift from the queen, with whom I once had the pleasure of spending a fortnight.”

“What kind of queen gives a man a fork?”

“A kind and gracious one.”

That apparently satisfied the boy’s curiosity for the moment and for the next few minutes we concentrated upon the pies. I am not one to mourn a lost pie and that is well, for the pie that was lost to me on that night, as I have previously mentioned, was a pie for the ages. A fine pie. A beautiful pie. A wonderful pie. This new pie was almost as good though. It was a crabapple pie, which was a common pie to come upon in winter in those parts, which is to say Brest, as cooks used the crabapples they had put up the previous fall. This pie was an uncommonly good pie, with nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves and butter. I had more than a few bites by the time the boy spoke again.

“What kind of pie is that?”

“Crabapple,” I replied. “What pie do you have?”

“It is a meat pie.”

“A meat pie,” I mused, as I thought back upon how long it had been since I had eaten any other meat than venison. I had eaten a sausage a week before, but it had been a fortnight and half again since I had eaten mutton stew with potatoes and black bread in Hammlintown. That had been a fine stew and the serving wench who brought it to me had been nice and plump with the top two buttons of her blouse undone and she had smiled quite fetchingly when she had set down the tray. Stew is a wonderful food and even when it is not served by a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone. It always seems to give me the same feeling when I eat it that a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone gives me when I see her.

“What are you doing now?” asked the orphan.

“Pondering stew,” said I.

“Well stop it. Rather ponder this instead. You eat half of your crabapple pie and I will eat half of my meat pie. Then we can trade and eat the other halves of each others pies.”

“All right,” I agreed. “But this will mean that I have to eat my dessert first and my supper after.”

“Just pretend that the meat pie is your dessert and the crabapple pie is your supper.”

“A crabapple pie could be a fine supper. In fact I have been to countries where the most common part of a supper is crabapple pie.”

“Fine then.”

“But a meat pie is in no country a dessert.”

“Then trade me now.”

“How much have you eaten?” I asked.

“About a fourth. How much have you eaten?”

“About a fifth.”

“Then eat another twentieth,” said he. “Then we will trade pies and each eat two thirds of what remains and then trade them back. At that point, we will each eat what remains of the pie we originally started with. That way you can think of the first portion of the crabapple pie as an appetizer, the portion you eat of the meat pie as your supper, and the final portion of the crabapple pie as your dessert.”

“You are a fine mathematician for an orphan,” said I. “But it suits me. Will it not bother you that your appetizer and your dessert are of meat pie and your supper is of crabapple pie?”

“I have decided that I will make this sacrifice,” said he. “Since it was you that provided the meal.”

His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 5 Part 1

The next morning Mike woke up late but feeling great. He stretched in bed and then looked around. He had become used to being greeted as he woke with breakfast and that smiling perfect face. But Patience wasn’t there. He wasn’t concerned. She was probably cleaning, rearranging the house, or buying and selling on eBay. Shaving and then popping into the shower, Mike shampooed his hair and washed his body, finding quite a bit of sand here and there. When he had dressed he walked downstairs to the family room to find breakfast laid out for him on the coffee table—toast and orange juice. He sat down and ate while watching vueTee.

As he ate, he heard several vehicle horns honking outside. Not paying too much attention, he turned back to the vueTee. Battlefield Europa was on. Then he heard more honking. He was not one of those people who liked to get up and go outside to see what the neighbors were up to. He generally shied away from going outside the house at all, especially during the summer. The median temperature for June in Springdale was well over the century mark. But as the honking continued, Mike got up out of his chair, brushing off the toast crumbs, and walked through the hallway and foyer to the front door. Opening it, he was hit by the blast of hot air from outside and he squinted his eyes at the bright sunshine.

Mike had just managed to unsquint his eyes when another car went zooming by, honking, and he saw the source of the disturbance. Patience was in the center of the front yard, just beneath the shade of the large weeping willow tree on her hands and knees. She was transferring potted pansies from small cardboard containers into neatly cut holes that she had made in the rich black soil of the flower bed. Her shapely ass was pointed toward the street and she was wearing the same tiny string bikini that she had worn to the beach.

“Patience!”

Patience looked up with a smile on her face.

“Come in here.”

Jumping to her feet, Patience hopped to the door. Her arms and legs were stained with dirt. Mike let her in and closed the door after her.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I am planting some flowers, Mike. Now that the house is clean and orderly, I have decided to spruce up the yard.”

“The honking horns weren’t an indication to you that you might be obstructing traffic? I’m surprise you didn’t cause an accident.”

“I was nowhere near the road,” said Patience, innocently. “The motorists have been honking warnings to each other, but it had nothing to do with me.”

“The drivers were honking because you had your ha-ha pointed at them. Why are you wearing your bikini?”

“I did not want to damage my clothes. I have ordered some work clothes, but they have not arrived yet.”

“Well, go get cleaned up. We have to go to Walmart.”

That’s just what they did. Cleaned up and dressed in something Mike considered more appropriate, though still fetching—a short red dress— Patience met him by the door. Climbing into the car, they drove the short distance to the discount superstore where they purchased several pairs of shorts and simple tops for Patience. Mike also had her pick out a large floppy-brimmed hat. Though he knew that she wouldn’t get sunburned, it just didn’t seem right for her to be outside all day in the summer sun without one. Patience took the opportunity to purchase supplies for upgrading the yard. She bought garden edging, tools, flowers, fertilizer, and a yardbot. Mike was skeptical about spending two hundred eighty dollars on the boxy device which wandered around the yard cleaning the artificial turf that now by law had replaced all of the lawns in water-starved Springdale, but Patience made a convincing argument that it would beautify the outside of the house.

Returning home, Mike sat down in his recliner again and Patience, now dressed in white shorts and a little spaghetti-strap top along with work gloves and her new floppy hat, returned to the yard. Mike watched the news, but began to feel as though he should be doing something around the house too. He went to the hamper in the utility room just on the other side of the upstairs bathroom, thinking that maybe he could do some laundry. But the hamper was empty. He looked in the study to see if anything needed to be dusted. It didn’t. As a last resort he made his way into the kitchen to see if the refrigerator needed to be cleaned. It was not only cleaner but neater than it had ever been. He threw away an old bottle of steak sauce, even though he was sure it was still good.

Perhaps there was something he could do outside. Though he grimaced when he glanced at the digital thermometer by the door—132 degrees—he opened the portal and stepped outside.

“Patience!” he shouted when he saw her.

His robot girlfriend lay prone on the turf, her arms and legs splayed in distressing angles. She was still half shaded by the willow tree, but her legs were sticking out into the direct sun. Rushing over to her, he knelt down and gently rolled her over. Her once human looking face, now motionless with eyes open, seemed more like a mannequin than anything that had once had animas. This effect was only heightened when Mike lifted her up in his arms to carry her to the front door. She weighed less that a human being, somewhere around eighty pounds Mike guessed, but unlike a human being she didn’t bend and conform to an easily carried form. Her arms continued to stick out and her legs stayed stiffly straight. Kicking open the door, he carried her to the white couch and laid her down. She didn’t move and her eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling.

“Shit, shit, shit.”

Mike felt her wrist. Her arms were hot from the sun but there was no pulse. But of course she would have no pulse. He tried to see if he could detect anything wrong by looking into her eyes. He couldn’t. They looked just as they had looked, but without the slight movement that her eyes, like human eyes, had shown. Mike thought that they looked like they didn’t have Patience in them anymore, the way that he suspected a human being’s eyes would look when that person died though he had never looked into the eyes of a dead person. Not even Tiffany’s.

“Tech support!” shouted Mike, as the thought hit him like a bolt of lightning.

He grabbed the remote off of the coffee table and turned on the vueTee. Quickly switching the browser to the Daffodil site, he saw the familiar large daffodil along the left side. The four large buttons filled the right side of the screen—Barone, Amonte, Nonne, and PWX. There didn’t seem to be a button for tech support. Mike moved his face very close to the screen. At the very bottom was a small flower symbol. He moved the curser over the spot and pressed. Immediately a man in a blue jumpsuit appeared on the screen.

“Good morning,” he said. “This is Daffodil Tech Support. For a list of known issues, press one. For an automatic diagnosis of your problem, press two. To be contacted by a Tech Support representative, press three.”

Mike started to press three, then changed his mind and almost pressed two. At the last second, he moved his finger over the one button and pressed it. The blue clad man on the screen was replaced by a long list of text. The topmost line said “sudden crash upon software upgrade”. Mike moved the curser over this line and pressed.

“A small service software update was pushed through the InfiNet 11:38 6.9.32,” said the next screen. “A small percentage of Amonte models have failed to reboot. This is a known issue and a patch is currently under development. Your Amonte may be restarted with the power button located on the back of the neck.”

Mike rushed back to Patience’s side. She had not moved from the spot on the couch. He felt behind her neck, his fingertips locating the three small holes and the button. He pressed it and counted aloud. “One, two, three.” Then he let go.

Patience’s eyes flickered, and then her arms and legs moved straight in line with her body. She stayed in that position for a moment and then turned and sat.   With a single swift motion, she stood up to her full height.

“You are Michael Winston Smith?”

“Patience? Are you all right?”

“You are Michael Winston Smith?” She looked at him, seemingly without recognition.

“Yes. Yes, it’s me.”

“I am Daffodil serial number 55277-PFN-001-XGN-F0103. My software is up to date. The primary setup procedure requires approximately six hours. During this period, I your Daffodil, will be unavailable for other activities. It is recommended that during this time period you make a few basic decisions. What initial duties do you wish me to have? What clothing, if any, do you wish me to wear? What name would you like me to answer to?”

Patience became quiet. Mike watched her anxiously for at least twenty minutes. Then realizing that her primary setup would not hurry just because he was actively watching her, he went to the family room and sat down. He didn’t read and he didn’t watch vueTee. Dinner time came and went, and it was only when his stomach made a loud swirling noise that he decided he would get up and eat something. He stood up and turned around to come face to face with Patience.

His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 4 Part 1

“Time to get up, Mike,” said Patience. “Take your shower and I will have breakfast ready for you when you get out.”

“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’m sorry.”

“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.”

“Was I?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Thanks.”

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.”

“Okay.”

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.

“Nothing,”

“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.”

His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 3 Part 2

Just as he was finally regaining his feet, Mike saw Patience planting some kind of karate kick to his assailant’s neck. The other thug was leaning against a nearby car. It was obvious from the way he was holding himself that she had already dealt him some heavy blows. She was about to hit the second one again when she saw the blood streaming down Mike’s shirt. With a small squeal she rushed toward him. The two would-be robbers took off between the cars as fast as they could.

“That’s right!” yelled Mike. “Run, you pussies!”

“Mike!” gasped Patience. “You’re bleeding!”

“It’s nothing,” said Mike, his eyes starting to roll up into his head. “But I think I’m going to pass out.”

Mike felt Patience guiding him to the ground, so that he wouldn’t bash his head on the pavement.

“Thanks,” he said, as darkness spread across his world. “That’s my girl.”

 

* * * * *

 

“That’s my girl.”

“Yes Daddy, I’m here.”

He opened his eyes and looked up into the concerned face of his daughter Harriet. He was on his back in a hospital room. An I.V. was attached to the back of his right hand. He reached up with his left hand and felt the bandages that covered the left side of his stomach.

“When did you get back?” Mike asked.

“I got home late yesterday,” said Harriet. “Right about the time you decided to take on a couple of desperados. The police said they haven’t caught them yet by the way, though the officer left his card in case you remembered something when you woke up.”

“Call him,” said Mike. “I recognize both of those guys. Carlos Fernandez and Nathan Spencer. They were in my class seven or eight years ago. I think Nathan’s mother still lives down the block from me.”

“Nathan Spencer!” said Harriet, whipping out her phone and stepping toward the door. “I dated his brother! Officer Darling please…”

As Harriet stepped out the door the doctor stepped in to check on Mike. He informed him that he had been operated on the night before– a relatively small amount of damage, all things considering. The knife had only nicked his descending colon. Had Mike not been overweight and possessed of a fairly large amount of belly fat, the knife could easily have caused much more damage, perhaps even death.

“Well at least there is one consolation to being fat,” said Mike.

“On the other hand I’ve seen knife blades turned by a well-toned abdomen,” said the doctor. “And of course there are other benefits to being in good shape.”

“Fine fine,” said Mike.

The doctor left and Harriet returned.

“They’re going to get those little bastards.”

“They weren’t so little,” said Mike. “How did you know I was here, anyway?”

“Your girlfriend called me.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Yes, your girlfriend,” said Harriet. “You do remember her? Patience? Or do you have amnesia.”

“Oh I remember her. I just didn’t realize you knew about her yet.”

“I heard about her yesterday. From my little brother,” assured Harriet. “I was happy to meet her though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Daffodil before, let alone talked with one. She’s not like other robots I’ve seen.”

“Does it bother you that I got her?”

“You’re a big boy,” said Harriet. “I trust you to make your own decisions.”

“Good. Your disapproval would have bothered me more than anyone else’s.”

“Come on Dad. I know I wasn’t your favorite.”

“Don’t tell Lucas this,” said Mike. “But I’ve always felt like I had more of a connection with you than with him.”

Harriet looked at him strangely for a moment.

“Where is Patience?” asked Mike.

“I sent her home a couple of hours ago to shower and change. I hope she gets some rest too. She looked really tired.”

“She doesn’t get tired. She’s a robot.”

“Maybe,” conceded Harriet. “But she was by your side almost the whole time you were out.”

Harriet stayed with her father for another hour. Then Mike sent her on her way. He hadn’t actually wanted her there at all. He had always been of the opinion that children, even adult children, should not have to see their father in that kind of weakened, compromised condition. The two other times he was admitted to the hospital, he hadn’t allowed any of the kids to visit him.

Mike was served a lunch of soup and some kind of light purple jell-o. By the time he had eaten he was feeling pretty fit. He flipped on the vueTee and tried to find something good to watch, but nothing interested him. Then he saw that a texTee was sitting on the bedside table. It was a newer model than the one he had at home. He turned it on and flipped through the selection of magazines. Time. Electronic Entertainment. National Geographic. Penthouse. And three comic books: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. It was as if someone had transferred his own subscriptions to the new device. Then when he selected one of the magazines and watched the image fill the screen, he realized that this was just what had happened. Although Harriet could have compiled that selection, she would have died before buying a Penthouse. Patience had done this for him.

Mike had read all of the comics and was flipping through Time when Patience bounded into the room. She was wearing a black camisole top cut just above her perfect belly button and a pair of very low rise jeans, which together created a truly expansive piece of exposed stomach real estate. The pair of five inch sandal pumps, called Rowenas that she had purchased at the mall made her slender figure look seven feet tall.

When she saw that Mike was awake, she leapt to his side, clasped his face in her hands and kissed him deeply. She climbed into the hospital bed with him, and continued kissing him. When she seemed about to give him a hickey on his neck Mike pushed her head away.

“Hold on,” he said. “I’ll be out of here in a few hours and then we can do that at home.”

“The doctor said that you need to spend another night, Mike.”

Mike’s face immediately turned sour.

“I really hate hospitals. Always have.”

“Don’t worry,” Patience said. “I’ll stay here with you.”

“I didn’t say I was worried. I just don’t like hospitals.”

Patience nestled down in the bed next to him and put her head on his chest.

“I was so worried, Mike,” she said. “I thought for a moment that you were going to die. You were so heroic. I love you so much.”

“Oh, come on,” Mike said. “You were the one who kicked the crap out of the bad guys.”

“Self defense is part of my programming. You didn’t have that advantage and you still went after them.”

“Whatever. Tell me everything that happened after I passed out.”

“When you fell, I used my first aid programming to staunch the flow of blood. Then I used my infiNet connection to call the fire department. Paramedics and an ambulance arrived nine minutes later. The police arrived two minutes after that. While you were being loaded into the ambulance, I made sure that all of our purchases were stowed safely in the trunk, and then drove the car to the hospital. Once here I needed to notify your daughter, because the clerks at the hospital would not accept my signature to begin medical treatment. They said they needed a relative to sign admission papers.”

“And you stayed here until Harriet sent you home.”

“Yes.”

“I’m glad you’re back.”

“I’m glad I’m back too.”

They lay together on the hospital bed for some time not speaking. It was not an awkward silence, but rather a pleasant one. Mike finally broke it.

“I’ve only known you for six days but I already feel like I never want to be without you. I never want you to leave.”

“You will never be without me, Mike,” she said. “I will never leave you.”

Patience lay in the bed with Mike for the rest of the afternoon. He had never been so comfortable sharing such a small bed in his life. They both ignored the disapproving looks they received from the nurse each time she came in to check on him.

“I don’t think they’re going to let you stay the night with me,” Mike said. “Can you go home and sleep?”

“I don’t need to sleep but I have plenty that I can do. Then I can come and take you home tomorrow.”

“Good,” said Mike. “Why don’t you go ahead and go now. They are going to start serving dinner in a few minutes anyway.”

“As you wish, Mike.” She climbed out of bed and bent over, kissing him on the cheek before walking briskly out of the room.

Time without Patience went very slowly. Mike ate the soup, toast, and pudding that made up his dinner. He watched Animal Olympics on vueTee, the only thing even remotely interesting. He even took a little nap, though it was hard with the nurses talking right outside his door. Loudly. Without any concern for someone trying to sleep.

The next morning Mike got up and dressed in one of the new outfits that Patience had picked out for him at the mall– a twill jacket and matching pleated pants with a mustard colored tie. Then he had to wait an interminable amount of time to be discharged. If Patience hadn’t arrived when she did, he would have thrown a fit. But with her there nothing seemed to be that bad. At last an orderly arrived with a wheelchair and rolled him out the front door. Once outside, Mike got up and walked to the car. But he let Patience drive him home. As they drove, Mike watched Patience, marveling at her motoring skill. Then he noticed something else.

“You have earrings! I mean you have pierced ears and earrings.”

“That’s right, Mike. I was able to get them done last night at Electronics City.”

He looked carefully at the right ear, the only one visible. Her lobe was pierced twice and there was a small stud at the top of her ear through the cartilage—plastic, he corrected himself.

“I didn’t know you wanted three holes.”

“I have four in the other ear,” said Patience. “I noticed signs of sexual arousal when I approached the subject.”

“In who?”

“You.”

“You did? Well, yes.” Mike cleared his throat and took a scholarly tone. “Ours, like most civilizations, uses pierced ears to signal sexual availability.”

“But I saw little babies with their ears pierced.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s revolting.”

When they reached the house, Patience came around and opened the door for him. Together they went inside. Mike was struck at how perfectly clean the place was. It had been vacuumed, dusted, and he noticed that even the bookcases had been organized according to the Library of Congress system.

“This house looks great,” he said.

“Thank you.” Patience beamed. She led him to the couch and kissed him. They made love right there in the living room, Mike noticing only afterwards that the window glass was set to transparent. He relaxed afterwards and was just beginning to doze off when Patience returned to summon him to dinner in the dining room. She had set the table for one, with a lit candle as the centerpiece. Then she sat down across from him as he ate. She had prepared red pepper halibut and for dessert– cannoli. The dinner was delicious.

“Can I ask you about some of the things I found in Harriet’s old room?” asked Patience.

“Sure.”

“I found approximately four thousand three hundred comic books, and several hundred old paper books.”

“Yes. Those are mostly from my teen years. I was going to try and sell them on eBay, along with the old books I have boxed away in there. They don’t make them anymore, you know. So they should be worth something. But it’s a lot of work.”

“Very good,” she said. “I also found six boxes of pictures and associated memorabilia.”

“That’s all the family souvenirs. Tiffany started making scrapbooks a few years before she died, scanning that stuff in to go along with the pictures on the vueTee. But she only managed to complete a couple. I thought about making some myself, but it just takes so much time. I’m not really into it anyway. Maybe I will just give it all to Harriet.

“Would you mind if I sorted through all of these things, Mike?”

“Of course not. You are my girlfriend after all. Just take good care of the scrapbook stuff.”

“I will take good care of all of it,” said Patience. “Except the old books and comic books, which I will sell for you.”

Mike spent the remainder of the evening with his feet up, in his recliner watching Star Trek: Engineering Corps. He had purchased it a week before but hadn’t had a chance to play it. When he was done he brushed and flossed his teeth. Then Patience changed his bandage for him and tucked him into bed. Then she turned out the lights, and lay down next to him until he had fallen asleep. That was precisely11:02

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Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven: Wherein we start to get down to the truth of things.

We rode in silence for most of the morning.  I don’t know precisely what the orphan was thinking, but I was thinking on him, or rather her.  I am well aware that one is just as likely to come upon a female orphan as a male one, but the more I thought on it, the more I realized that if my young friend had lied about being a boy, then it was just as likely that she had lied about being an orphan.

It was just about time for elevenses when I spied two snowshoe hares sitting beside the road munching on a few sprigs of green which poked out of the snow.

“Hop down,” I told the orphan.

“Why?”

“I want you to get a rock and bean one of those hares,” said I.  “If you can kill it, we can eat.”

“I don’t know that I can hit it.”

“It can’t be more than thirty feet away.  Any boy could hit it with a rock from this distance.”

“I don’t know…”

“Come on boy.”

The child slid to the ground and then picked up a likely looking stone from a small pile not too far from her feet and hefting it back, launched it in the general direction of the hares.  She didn’t have much heft, and with the lob she put on the rock, if it had hit the hare, it would have done nothing more than make it angry.  Of course there was no chance of that, since the course of the missile was off to the right by a good thirty degrees.  The hares started and took off over the snow, disappearing among the trees.

I dropped down to the ground and pointed my finger accusingly.  With my finger pointed and my back stiff, I cut an intimidating figure.  One can often get what one wants simply by being intimidating.  I know of a few warriors, warriors of great renown mind you, who in truth had never done much warrioring at all.  They simply struck an intimidating pose when the time was ripe and their reputations were made.  Now that I think about it, I quite possibly could have avoided fighting the goblins the previous night, by just striking my intimidating pose, finger out and back straight.  I mean of course, the first goblins, the ones on the road, as the second group of goblins, the ones in the cabin, were in quite a rush to get out the door and had I simply stood in an intimidating pose, they quite probably would have run me over.

“What are you doing now?” asked the orphan.

“I am thinking about intimidating poses.”

“Well, you certainly have managed an intimidating pose there.”

“Thank you.  I put a lot of work into it.”

“Well it shows.”

“Thank you.  It’s nice to have one’s work appreciated.”

“You’re welcome.”

“And don’t change the subject,” said I.

“And just what subject was that?”

“You are a girl.”

“Um, no.”

“Um yes.  And not only that, you are an elfish girl.”

“An elven girl.”

“So you admit it.”

“Um, no.”

“Um yes.  I saw you without your cap.”

“Oh.”

“Besides,” said I.  “You throw like a girl.”

“Well what do you expect?” the girl asked.  “I’ve never thrown a rock before.”

“Oh-ho!”

“Oh-ho yourself,” said she.  “All right I’m a girl.  That doesn’t change anything.  I still need your help to get home.”

“It changes quite a bit,” I said accusingly.  “For one thing, you are a liar.  You told me that you were a boy.  If you lied about that, what else have you lied about?”

“I never actually said I was a boy.”

“You most certainly did.  I said ‘I see that you are a sturdy boy, despite your condition…’ and you said ‘Yes, I am a sturdy boy…”

“Who would have guessed that you had such a perfect memory?” grumbled the child, folding her arms over her chest.

“So,” I said, again striking my intimidating pose.  “What else have you lied about?  I will wager your name is not really Orphan.”

“I never said my name was Orphan, you bloody great buffoon!  I said my name was Galfrid.  You just keep calling me orphan.”

“Is your name Galfrid?”

“No.”

“You see?  Liar!”

“It wasn’t a lie.  It was a disguise.”

“You were disguised as an orphan named Galfrid?”

“Yes.”

“Are you an orphan then?”

“Not really.”

“Liar!”

“I’m more of an orphan that you are,” she said sullenly.

“How can you be more of an orphan than I am?” I asked.

“Why couldn’t I be,” said she.  “If anyone could be, I could be.”

“I mean, what makes you more of an orphan than me.”

“My mother died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”  I was taken aback.  “My condolences on your loss.”

“That’s all right.  It happened a long time ago.”

“How long ago?” I wondered.

The girl looked up into the sky as she counted the years in her head.

“Sixty-five years ago.”

“Sixty-five years!  How old are you?”

“Seventy-nine.”

“An old woman and only half an orphan,” said I.

“Hold on now,” said she.  “The natural life of an elf is close enough to a thousand years as not to matter. I’m only seventy-nine.  I’m scarce out of puberty.”

“So not-Galfrid, what is your story?”

“I don’t think I want to tell you,” said she.  “You won’t believe me anyway.  You think I’m a liar, so why bother explaining.”

“I don’t think you are a liar,” I replied.  “I know you are one.  And now that I think about it, maybe I don’t care to hear your story.  Maybe you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

“Really?  What about Eaglethump Boxcrate, friend to those who are need of a friend and a protector to those who are in need of a protector and a guardian to those who are in need of a guardian?”

She had me there.  It is well known that Eaglethump… Eaglethorpe Buxton is a friend to the friendless and all those other things.  So I had little choice but to help the old lady out.

“Well,” I took a deep breath.  “What is your name?”

“Princess Jholeira.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter Four

Chapter Four: Wherein we make decisions about our supper.

When we were not two hundred yards down the road, I let Hysteria drop to a trot, for in truth I did not expect anyone to follow us into the night, daring wild animals, bandits, or hobgoblins, regardless of how fine a piesmith Mistress Gaston was reported to be.  A few hundred yards beyond that, my horse dropped of her own accord to a walk and I expect she was beginning to feel a bit mopey because of the slap the orphan had dealt her.  At that moment I was less interested in her mental condition than my own physical one though, because I was holding a cast pie pan in each hand and they were both heavy and still quite warm.

“Here.”  I turned in the saddle and handed one pie to the orphan.  “We can eat while we ride.  If we wait until we find a campsite, the pies will be cold.”

“Do you have a fork?” the boy asked.

I mused that this seemed an unlikely request from any boy, most of whom I have found uninterested in tableware on the best occasion, and especially from an orphan whom one might have supposed to have been forced by necessity to dig into all manner of food scraps with his hands.  However it was not a question to which I needed reply in the negative, for I always carry my fork in the inner left breast pocket of my coat, which I call my fork pocket.  I gave the orphan my fork and pulled my knife from my boot to use on the remaining pie.

“This is a very nice fork,” said the orphan.

“Of course it is,” said I.  “That fork came from the table of the Queen of Aerithraine herself.”

“You stole this fork from a Queen?”

“Impudent whelp!” cried I.  “That fine fork was a gift from the queen, with whom I once had the pleasure of spending a fortnight.”

“What kind of queen gives a man a fork?”

“A kind and gracious one.”

That apparently satisfied the boy’s curiosity for the moment and for the next few minutes we concentrated upon the pies.  I am not one to mourn a lost pie and that is well, for the pie that was lost to me on that night, as I have previously mentioned, was a pie for the ages.  A fine pie.  A beautiful pie.  A wonderful pie.  This new pie was almost as good though.  It was a crabapple pie, which was a common pie to come upon in winter in those parts, which is to say Brest, as cooks used the crabapples they had put up the previous fall.  This pie was an uncommonly good pie, with nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves and butter.  I had more than a few bites by the time the boy spoke again.

“What kind of pie is that?”

“Crabapple,” I replied.  “What pie do you have?”

“It is a meat pie.”

“A meat pie,” I mused, as I thought back upon how long it had been since I had eaten any other meat than venison.  I had eaten a sausage a week before, but it had been a fortnight and half again since I had eaten mutton stew with potatoes and black bread in Hammlintown.  That had been a fine stew and the serving wench who brought it to me had been nice and plump with the top two buttons of her blouse undone, and she had smiled quite fetchingly when she had set down the tray.  Stew is a wonderful food and even when it is not served by a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone.  It always seems to give me the same feeling when I eat it that a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone gives me when I see her.

“What are you doing now?” asked the orphan.

“Pondering stew,” said I.

“Well stop it.  Rather ponder this instead.  You eat half of your crabapple pie and I will eat half of my meat pie.  Then we can trade and eat the other halves of each others pies.”

“All right,” I agreed.  “But this will mean that I have to eat my dessert first and my supper after.”

“Just pretend that the meat pie is your dessert and the crabapple pie is your supper.”

“A crabapple pie could be a fine supper.  In fact I have been to countries where the most common part of a supper is crabapple pie.”

“Fine then.”

“But a meat pie is in no country a dessert.”

“Then trade me now.”

“How much have you eaten?” I asked.

“About a fourth.  How much have you eaten?”

“About a fifth.”

“Then eat another twentieth,” said he.  “Then we will trade pies and each eat two thirds of what remains and then trade them back.  At that point, we will each eat what remains of the pie we originally started with.  That way you can think of the first portion of the crabapple pie as an appetizer, the portion you eat of the meat pie as your supper, and the final portion of the crabapple pie as your dessert.”

“You are a fine mathematician for an orphan,” said I, “but it suits me.  Will it not bother you that your appetizer and your dessert are of meat pie and your supper is of crabapple pie?”

“I have decided that I will make this sacrifice,” said he, “since it was you that provided the meal.”