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By my Side

By my Side

By Natasha Weber

Gert wanders the streets purposelessly. A woman had taken away his purpose. He has no job and nowhere to go. He walks past a woman who calls his name.

“Gert? Is that you?”

He looks behind him. It’s Andrea, a coworker from a previous job. “Andrea?”

She skips over to him carrying her giant arrow pointing to a nearby android repair shop. She was always an energetic girl. Apparently, she has gotten an even worse job than the one she had before. “Wow, you look like a robo-hobo!”

Gert frowns and says sarcastically, “Thanks.”

He crosses his arms. “Andrea, you of all people know it’s offensive to call an android a robot.”

“You’re more offended by that than the fact I called you a hobo?” Andrea giggles.

“Technically, I am a hobo right now. My girlfriend dumped me.” He sighs sadly. “She just kicked me out…”

Andrea almost immediately starts crying “So sad. You can come stay with me for awhile if you want. So long as you don’t look and dress like a hobo. Come back here at five.”

“Okay, but…” He looks at her ridiculous sign. “I know our jobs in retail weren’t ideal but a sign-twirler?”

Andrea makes a face. “I twirl my sign proudly, thank you very much!”

***

On the drive to her apartment later, Gert tells her, “it’s kind of you to help me out like this. Do you want me to be your boyfriend?”

  Andrea laughs. “No. I’m just glad to help you. If you want, you can stay with me until you find a job.”

Gert is surprised at her generosity. “Why?”

Andrea makes a face. “What, do I offend you? When someone offers you something so nice, you just say ‘yes’.” Gert just looks at her blankly, and then says, “okay.”

***

As Andrea opens the door to her tiny apartment, she says excitedly, “it’s been so long since I’ve had company!” She pulls him inside the apartment and finds him blankets and a pillow from her tiny closet.

           Gert looks at the tiny house in shock. It’s filthy—clothes and papers strewn about the floor. Old banana peels and styrofoam coffee cups. Most disgusting of all, there were beer bottles lying around. “Good lord, Andrea…”

          She glares at him and shoves the pillow and blankets into his arms. “I work on projects late at night. It takes a lot of coffee, and I don’t have time to clean up.”

Gert looks around thoughtfully. “How about I work as your housekeeper? I’ll work for cheap…”

Andrea takes a swig of the beer she was drinking and then crunches it and tosses it to the side. Gert cringes. For a girl so tiny and sweet looking, she seemed to have a lot of gross, manly habits. She shrugs. “Okay. I’ll pay you eighty bucks a week, since you’re also living with me.”

He clears his throat. “I’m gonna buy your groceries, too.”

She raises an eyebrow. “What are you saying?”

“There’s old beer bottles everywhere!” He replies, aghast.

“A drink here and there never hurt anyone…” She retorts. “What’s the point of living if you can’t have a cold one at the end of a long day of work?”

“You’ll damage your liver.” He says chidingly.

“You sound like my mother…” Andrea makes a face.

“Luckily this place has an extra bedroom. Good deal for such a crapshack, huh? Well, I’m going to bed…” As Andrea heads off to bed, Gert asks, holding the sheets and pillow, “these have been laundered, right?”

***

In the morning, Andrea has already gone to work. She left a note out for him. Good luck cleaning up. There’s no food in the fridge, so you can go shopping.

She left a fifty out for him. He grabs it and puts it in his pocket and then checks her fridge. He is once again aghast. The only thing in there is a six pack.

Gert shuts the door and looks around the tiny apartment. He sighs and smoothes his hair back. He wonders where he should start. He pulls up a trashcan and starts tossing beer bottles into it.

Afterwards, he starts picking up her clothing from the floor. Most are just dresses, but he embarrassingly picks up a few bras, shaking his head, and tosses them into her hamper.

               She has also left strange tools all over the ground—supposedly to tinker with machines whenever she’s bored. He throws all these in a box and puts them in the closet along with metal parts left near her couch. He bends down and tries to grab a little plush-sized robot that looked like a little mechanical spider—but it skitters away and hides underneath the couch. Gert is embarrassed that he actually yelped when he found out it was operational.

***

Andrea comes home at about 5 p.m. and is flabbergasted by how good her apartment looks. “Oh my god! It’s beautiful!” She runs through the apartment looking in every room and jumps with excitement. But, once she’s done looking around, she turns to him skeptically. “Hey, where’s all my junk?”

“In the closet. Your robot skittered underneath your couch, by the way.” He says to her.

She giggles, “Barry, come on out!”

The robot skitters out from under the couch and Andrea crouches and catches it as it skitters towards her. “Isn’t it nice and clean in here, buddy? It’s gonna make me more motivated to make you some siblings! Come on, let’s check the fridge!”

Andrea checks it excitedly and then after a moment of silence in which her shoulders slump. She slams the door shut and turns to Gert with a glare that would make a human man duck for cover. “Health foods! And no new booze! You sicko…”

“You need to eat healthier. You’re thirty and it’s time you started taking proper care of yourself.” He tells her matter-of-factly.

“Thirty? I’m not thirty! I’m twenty-nine!” She yells. “You’re not allowed to mention that fact!”

Gert realizes she is truly angry. “I’m sorry. You can fire me if you want.”

She frowns for a moment, and then she smoothes her black hair back and forces a laugh.

“Nah, it’s okay… I’m mostly joking. Although I really am kind of pissed about the booze… The place really does look great though. Would you mind powering down for now?”

Gert nods a little reticently and heads to his room. Although he said he would powerdown, he is not bored enough to do so yet. He grabs a book from the shelf and starts reading.

Andrea is watching TV in a different room for about an hour when Gert hears the door unlock.

A man pads in and says to Andrea, “wow, you cleaned up. Looks great, baby.”

“Thanks…” Andrea replies shyly.

Gert peaks out the crack between the wall and his door. The man, Dakota, is a tall man towering over the short, five foot, Andrea—a girl who only just reached five feet. This man was one head taller than her with green eyes and red hair and looked a little like a toothpick.

“Can you grab me a beer, Andrea?” Dakota asks.

“Sure I can …” Andrea suggests politely.

Dakota looks directly at Gert’s door and notices the light is on. “Andrea, do you have a guest?”

Andrea looks at her feet. “It’s an android—he doesn’t have a job right now… I hired him to cook and clean.”

He grabs her shoulders angrily and Andrea avoids his gaze fearfully. “Dammit Andrea! I should have known you’d sleep with an android! You spend all your time tinkering with your stupid contraptions and obsessing over machines!”

“Don’t shake me!” Andrea backs away from him defensively. “Please, I didn’t sleep with him!”

Dakota’s expression softens and he sighs, shaking his head. “Have him out in the morning… Sorry, I shouldn’t have grabbed you like that.”

Dakota tries to kiss her, but she steps away. Dakota’s shoulders slump miserably.

They walk away from the door and Gert doesn’t see them anymore. He hears Dakota say, “they said we have to have to conceive by December or we’ll have missed our window…. You know, you might be able to conceive easier if you weren’t always stressed. Maybe you should quit your job. I’ll look after you.”

Andrea says pleadingly, “I like having my own money though. Can I keep working?”

“I wish you wouldn’t…” Dakota replies. “But I won’t stop you.”

“Thanks…” She replies.

Gert hears Dakota say, “wow, he even whisked the couch…”

  Gert hastily powers down with a shrug after that.

***

Gert automatically powers on about seven hours later. He pads out into the kitchen and makes breakfast for Andrea and her friend. Gert hopes Andrea will let him stay, but he doesn’t hold out much hope for it.

He makes them bacon and eggs and pours them both orange juice. Andrea left for work at about nine the other day, and it is now eight. Gert knocks on her door.

“Hm?” He hears her moan tiredly. Gert cracks the door open and sees the two of them, separated by inches of space, on either side of the bed—backs facing one another.

Andrea sits up and Dakota is so far away from her he accidentally rolls off the bed. Not caring that he just fell, Dakota checks his watch. “Oh crap, I gotta get going soon…”

They both jump out of bed and go to their adjoining bathroom. Gert shuts the door. He blanches at the eight beer bottles left out and tosses them into the trash. About thirty minutes later, Andrea and Dakota emerge from their bedroom.

Andrea introduces Dakota. “Gert, this is my husband Dakota.”

“So this is him…” Dakota states when he sees Gert. He glances at Gert’s hand and notices a ring. “His girlfriend wanted to marry him?”

Andrea shrugs. “I didn’t notice….”

“He’s going to tempt you.” Dakota complains.

Andrea glares at him. “Why don’t you trust me? You really think I’d cheat on you with an android?”

“Yes, I do! The whole reason why marriages are government prescribed is because humans wouldn’t stop marrying androids! How can I especially trust a girl like you who’s obsessed with them!” Dakota retorts angrily.

“You really think I’m that much of a loser? If I wanted to cheat on you I could definitely get a real guy!”

Dakota bites back laughter.

Gert clears his throat—pretending he didn’t just see that whole display. “Anyway. Come eat your breakfast.”

Dakota huffily sits down across his wife at their small, round table. Gert brings their eggs and bacon and Dakota angrily takes a bite of his bacon. In a moment however, a look comes over his face like his breakfast has opened his eyes to the world’s wonders. “My god. How does something so perfect exist?”

Andrea laughs a little. “Should we keep him on, then?”

Dakota is conflicted. “I’m still not entirely sure he hasn’t slept with you, though! A man should not have to choose between his wife and food this good…”

Andrea puts her hand on top of Dakota’s and tells him, as genuinely and compassionately as she can muster, “I promise you I haven’t.”

He looks down at his plate thoughtfully. “Fine, he can stay for now. But only because he’s such a good cook. Remember when you tried to cook for us? God it was awful. You made those extra salty pancakes.”

Andrea looks down at her hands sadly.

Dakota didn’t think she would take it so seriously. “Come on, don’t be sad… I didn’t mean it.”

***

At this point, Gert had tuned the two of them out. He was looking at his ring.

When the two of them are gone, Gert wonders what he just witnessed. Humans are complex. I wish I were that complex. Maybe my girlfriend wouldn’t have dumped me.

Gert makes sure the house is spic and span, and reorganizes a few more things in the house.

For the rest of the day, Gert reads some of the books on Andrea’s shelf—most of them having to do with robots—takes a walk, and watches TV.

Andrea clicks the door open and says, “I’m home… Oh it’s still so clean!”

Gert shrugs with a little smile. “Is Dakota coming back tonight?”

Andrea frowns angrily. “No, thank goodness. He only comes around every Tuesday at night.”

                ***

At Gert’s look of confusion she explains, “I guess androids wouldn’t know, huh? Husbands and wives are only allowed to see each other once every Tuesday night. Government rules. Statistics show marriages work out better that way. Since the human race is dwindling, the government feels the need to make sure marriages work out. You sign up for a husband or wife before you turn thirty if you want kids…”

Andrea explains it all to him. Governments pick mates based on both good matches for personality, and good matches for genes, but genes matter more to the government. If humans decided to get divorced, they were not allowed to remarry. This convinced them to stay together and have more children. Humans could have children out of wedlock, but they did not have the same opportunities as children born from a government approved marriages. They were not allowed to go to school, could not get married, and had little opportunities for good jobs. The government wanted quality children as well as a quantity of children.

Andrea grabs a beer from the fridge and throws herself down on her couch, “I’ve known him for a year…”

“What was up with the beer bottles last night?” Gert asks.

Andrea makes a face. “You have to be drunk to sleep with that jackass… He feels the same way, obviously.”

Gert smiles a little. “He likes you…”

Andrea slams her beer down on her side table. “He’s a bastard! A controlling, nagging jerk who makes fun of me for not being able to conceive!”

“You’re a lot different around him. You’re pretty fired up around me. I’m surprised you’ve known each other for a year.”

“Yeah… I’m trying to be a good, submissive wife…” Andrea says wistfully.

She tosses her now empty beer bottle into a nearby trashcan. “Why would they assign me such an inconsiderate jerk! You know what happened last night?”

Gert isn’t sure he wants to know, but before he can protest Adnrea says, “he said he didn’t want to sleep with me sober because I gained weight!”

Gert grins a little—it sounded like Dakota was just trying to get under her skin. “Did you provoke him?”

Andrea thinks about it. Her expression softens. “I just said that he could have at least dressed up for the occasion and washed his greasy hair… Well, minus the thing about his greasy hair.”

Gert chuckles a little. “Did you ever get along well?”

She looks to the side with a coy smile, embarrassed. “For a long time…”

Andrea sits there for a moment in silence. She starts crying silent tears and she says to Gert, “excuse me… I’m gonna go tinker with robots in my room.”

Gert has an idea as he watches Andrea go. He wants to help bring the two of them together. He must cook them an amazing dinner the next time Dakota comes around. That will bring them together.

***

Androids are programmed to obey humans. When his girlfriend essentially told him she wanted him to stay at her apartment all day and clean and cook, he did so happily. He wasn’t so happy when she got pregnant and told him to hit the road, however. Seven years down the drain. He became very depressed after that and was very grateful to Andrea for letting him stay with her. He wanted to help her.

He wanted to prove to himself that marriage could work. He’d like to try to co-habit again some time, after all. He wanted to give his own life meaning again.

***

So, next Tuesday, Gert cooks the two of them the best dinner he could possibly think of. He asks Andrea what her favorite food is, and also asks her what Dakota’s is.

“Mine’s pizza. Dakota’s is… potato soup.” Andrea turns away after answering. She was blushing.

When Dakota arrives later that night, he greets Andrea and Gert civilly. “Hello…”

Dakota kisses her cheek, avoiding her gaze—she avoids his, too. They both pull apart quickly.

Dakota sniffs. “Oh boy. What did he make today?”

Andrea smiles a little. “Potato soup and pizza…”

Dakota smiles and looks at her a little intently. “Potato soup?”

Andrea returns his smile but does not meet his gaze. When she doesn’t, Dakota puts his suitcase aside with a sigh and a frown.

Gert ushers the two of them into the kitchen, wearing an apron. He then seats the both of them at the small, round, table and then heads back into Andrea’s guest room. He politely powers down for the rest of the night.

  Andrea and Dakota are quiet for what seems like an entire minute—just awkwardly wolfing down the food. Dakota looks up at her with a grin. “This is the best thing I ever tasted! Remember when I made us potato soup?”

Andrea looks up at him with a little smile for a second, and then frowns. “It was a really fun night… You were really sweet back then.”

“I was sweet?” Dakota asks, offended.

Andrea angrily takes a bite of her pizza. “You were nice before you started nagging me about conceiving!”

Dakota takes a sip of water defiantly. “You were nice before you became as icy as the robots you tinker with—and now apparently sleep with!”

Andrea stands up abruptly and knocks her chair over. “You’re the one who goes to art class everyday drawing naked sluts! How do I know you haven’t slept with them?”

Dakota is shocked at such an accusation. “It’s their job Andrea! How could you accuse me of such a thing?”

“Why wouldn’t you? Those women can actually give you children!” Andrea retorts.

Dakota grits his teeth and stands up as well, meeting her gaze. “Maybe you could conceive if your womb wasn’t as cold as ice!”

Andrea is crying and laughing at the same time. “That’s a pretty good one…”

Dakota drops the fork he was holding and pads over to her side. She is crying legitimately—covering her face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it—don’t cry…”

She uncovers her eyes and reveals a now angry face. She grabs his collar and punches him in the face.

He growls in pain and covers his eye. Andrea’s expression softens and she tries to move his hand away from his eye. “Oh my god—I’m so sorry. I really didn’t mean it. Don’t be angry…”

“Why do you hate me so much?” Dakota complains miserably.

Andrea looks to the side. “I don’t hate you… Come on, I’ll get you an ice pack… I’ll use my icy-ness as a force for good…”

Dakota laughs a little. “Okay…”

“Lie down on the couch,” Andrea orders. Dakota obeys and she grabs an ice pack from the freezer and places it on his eye.

“Sit up a little. I’ll get you your soup…” She turns toward the table, but he grabs her hips and pulls her down on top of him.

She’s blushing. She looks him right in the eyes for the first time in a long time.

He moves his hands up along her thighs—under her dress—and for a second she smiles and lowers her head onto his chest lovingly, closing her eyes.

Dakota says to her, “remember when we first made potato soup and you told me that you designed a stupid pet robot to specifically pick up the bras you left lying around your house? That’s when I—”

Before he can take things too far, she rolls off of him and falls on the floor.

Dakota sighs and rolls his eyes, crossing his arms grumpily. He takes off the religious cross he has around his neck and puts it on the table by the couch. “Fine. Get me the booze. It’s the only way we’re going to get through the night alive.”

Andrea giggles a little, but then she frowns—realizing how depressing it is that they can’t stand to sleep with each other sober any longer.

The night miraculously ends civilly, albeit in a drunk stupor like it usually does. It’s the best night they’ve had together in a long time.

  In the morning, as Dakota heads out the door, he turns to Gert with thanks in his eyes. “Great dinner last night, robot. Keep your hands off my girl.”

Gert watches him go—thinking it was a job well done. Andrea, however, is grumpily eating her eggs and bacon with tears in her eyes when Dakota leaves.

Gert frowns. Maybe it wasn’t a job well done. “What’s wrong, Andrea?”

Andrea puts her fork down and buries her head in her hands. “We almost had fun last night…”

Gert scratches his chin, wondering what was wrong with that.

Andrea glares at him angrily. “It’s all your fault. You and your damned, magnificent, potato soup!”

Well, it didn’t exactly work, but it got them talking and almost having fun again.

  Gert must redouble his efforts. Andrea always requires that he buy her beer (or else he’s fired)—but beer seems to be the source of their issues. Their way of avoiding talking about whatever seems to be alienating them from each other.

He decides that the next time Dakota comes around, that there must be a magnificent meal and no beer in the house.

The next time Dakota does come around, he tosses his suitcase to the side and wraps Andrea in his arms, kissing her. Andrea won’t look him in the eyes still, and she is clearly uncomfortable. Dakota releases her reluctantly with an immeasurably sad frown.

One of Andrea’s robots skitters out of nowhere and unties Dakota’s shoes. Dakota jumps in surprise and makes the sign of the cross on his chest. Dakota steps out of his shoes and the robot takes them away.

Andrea grins a little. Most people are atheists these days, but Dakota was thoroughly attached to his religious roots and loved religious culture.

Andrea clears her throat. “Gert made dinner again…”

“Oh boy!” He says cheerily. “You know, I have to say, I didn’t like him very much at first, but I think your hiring him was a brilliant decision.” He tells her enthusiastically.

Andrea looks at his black eye. “I really am sorry about that. There was no excuse for that.”

“Don’t apologize… What I said was pretty unforgivable.” Dakota replies sincerely.

Andrea smiles a little. “It was kind of funny, looking back on it…”

Gert has the table set for them again, and he seats them before powering down in the guest room.

The pair are quiet again as they eat. Tonight, Gert made them an amazing potato bake. They’re smiling, but they don’t know what to say to one another. After a long silence, Dakota gets up the guts to ask, “Andrea…why won’t you let me kiss you?”

Andrea leans her cheek on her hand and twirls her fork in her hand with a frown on her face. “it doesn’t feel right…”

Dakota knits his brows in frustration. “Whose fault is that?”

Andrea meets his gaze with a low, angry expression. “It’s all my fault, right? All my fault because I can’t conceive?”

“It’s all your fault because… Because you just…” Dakota can’t even say it. He changes the subject. “Please Andrea. I’m so tired of arguing with you. I miss laughing with you and making love to you.”

“We make love nearly everytime you come—what are you talking about?” She asks, picking at her food bitterly.

“That’s not making love. That’s just sex. It feels empty and dirty. Why don’t you like me to touch you when you’re sober?” He asks.

Andrea shifts uncomfortably in her seat. Her eyes are teary and she just wants to leave the room. “Who knows what you do when you’re away from me… You’re probably making love to other women. Prettier, who can give you children.”

She’s pushing his buttons again. “I don’t want any other woman—I want you! Dammit Andrea—why do you keep pushing my away? If you don’t conceive we’ll never see each other again—!”

Andrea weeps bitter tears. “You don’t want to see me ever again anyway! The more women you get to be with the better, right?”

Andrea stands up and heads for the door—wanting to drive off elsewhere. Dakota stalks after her and grabs her arm. He turns her around so she’s facing him. “Do you really never want to see me again? I’ll be reassigned to a different wife, Andrea! Stop being so childish!”

“Stop blaming me and pressuring me for not conceiving!” Andrea cries.

“I wouldn’t feel the need to pressure you if it seemed like you actually cared about losing me!”

Andrea looks at him silently—tears in her eyes. Dakota reaches his arms out to her, but she backs away.

Dakota is looking past her with dead eyes. “You really don’t love me anymore, do you?”

Andrea can’t speak. Her throat is dry with sadness. She strolls past him, back to the dinner table, and sits down. Dakota sighs and checks her fridge, taking off the cross around his neck again. “My god. Where’s your booze?”

Andrea stands up. “What?”

They both scour the fridge, moving the items inside around, looking for beer. “There’s no beer…”

Andrea groans. “Stupid android didn’t get my booze! He must have forgotten! Now what do we do?”

“Guess we can go out and get some…” Dakota suggests.

“No, I don’t feel like it… Guess we’re not sleeping together tonight.” Andrea scratches her head in anger.

Dakota looks at her, crossing his arms. He is incredibly frustrated. “You did this on purpose, didn’t you? If you didn’t want to sleep with me, why didn’t you just tell me?”

“What? No, he really forgot. Come on, don’t be angry. It’s really just an accident…” Andrea tells him, trying to soothe.

He doesn’t believe her. He turns away, biting back tears. “That’s it. I’m leaving. I’m taking the robot.”

“Hey, why do you get the android?” Andrea asks.

“Marriage is fifty-fifty. I get fifty percent of the robot. Including his delicious meals” Dakota tells her.

Andrea plants her hands on her hips “Come on—can’t you at least try to treat him like a human? He deserves the same rights.”

Dakota ignores her and powers up Gert. Gert’s eyes focus on him and he asks, “what happened? Is your relationship fixed yet?”

Dakota rolls his eyes. “You’re coming home with me. Come on!”

Gert follows Dakota—blinking confusedly. He glances at Andrea on his way out and shrugs.

***

On the drive home, Dakota is gripping the wheel with white knuckles in complete silence.

Gert looks down at his hands awkwardly. He clears his throat. “How was your night?”

Gert makes a face. “How do you think? She didn’t get booze just so she wouldn’t have to sleep with me! It would have been okay if she just told me she didn’t want to…”

Gert shifts his eyes back and forth—feeling guilty. “Actually, I purposely didn’t get the booze…”

Dakota glances at him as he stops at a red light. “What?”

“I wanted you guys to talk about your issues. I guess I made things worse…” Gert says guiltily. “Am I fired?”

Dakota frowns with a tense face, but no longer looks angry. “Did you really not sleep with her?”

Gert shakes his head. “Of course not. I don’t have any feelings for her. And I can tell she really loves you. She wouldn’t do that to you.”

Dakota looks miserable. “I love that girl… But I know she can do some awful, awful things when she puts her mind to it.”

Gert glances at Dakota and twiddles his thumbs when he sees Dakota’s white knuckles and tense face. “Like what?”

Dakota fumbles over his words. “When we found out she was infertile… A week later, we tried to sleep together, but she was crying and uncomfortable. I wanted to stop, and I did—even though she said she was fine. But she grabbed me and told me she would never sleep with me again and she would divorce me if I didn’t have sex with her. After that, I—we just couldn’t…” He shakes his head, unable to keep tears back. “Why would she make me hurt her like that? It felt like I defiled something sacred. I should have left, but I was selfish. I didn’t want her to divorce me—and I knew that that was not an idle threat from her. I know when Andrea is being dead serious…”

Gert becomes thoughtful. He must concede that this is a big issue in their relationship. Maybe irreparable. Something that at the very least needed to be addressed briefly, but he had a feeling it had not been at all. “Have you talked to her about this?”

“How could I even begin to? I feel like a monster just thinking about it. After that, I started nagging her about giving conceiving. I pressured her like crazy—and then started insulting her for not being able to… I’m awful. She deserves a better man.” He tells Gert bitterly.

Gert is intrigued. Dakota loves Andrea from the bottom of his heart. But, did Andrea feel the same way? And, could the relationship be salvaged? Although Dakota was causing many of the problems in the relationship, Andrea seemed to be the one who was purposely punishing herself, and Dakota by extension.

***

Dakota’s apartment, contrasting Andrea’s, is spotless. However, he has no food in the fridge and shockingly has no beer in it either.

“Where’s the beer?” Gert asks in the morning while Dakota wolfs down his breakfast. Gert asked for his credit card so he could go shopping for breakfast in the night while Dakota slept. Dakota asked for cereal.

Dakota laughs. “I’m not a drunk. I told you, Andrea is the one who…”

An idea strikes Gert. “What was it like when you first slept together?”

Dakota thinks about it, tilting his spoon up thoughtfully. He shakes his head with a smile. “It was so fun… I never expected to love her so much. I mean, we both wanted kids, that was the main reason we signed up for marriage, of course. She told me about her love of robots and how she was a high school drop out—I showed her some of my art and told her about my terrible receptionist job. When one of her bras wrapped around my shoe, she told me about her stupid robot design to pick them all up—I laughed for a whole minute.

“I thought our first time would be awkward—I wondered if it was even okay with her if I touched her. She was fine with it, though. She was wearing this goofy rainbow dress that unzipped from the back… She had to reach behind her and put my hand on the zipper for me to get that she wanted me to unzip it.. She was really open and feisty back then. She’s become so shy lately. Still feisty, but shy… I think I scare her.”

Dakota laughs a little. “I swear she cries when she hears me opening her door…”

Gert has struck upon something. “Tell her about that. Replace the bad memory with this good one. You have to get her talking about the bad one too, though.”

Dakota raises an eyebrow and makes a face. “How do you suppose I do that…?”

“Be brave. No beer, no beating around the bush—just tell her you have to talk about it.” Gert suggests. After a moment, lighting strikes again. “Ask her about her rainbow dress.”

Dakota looks at Gert like he’s the most brilliant person in the world. “My god. For an abomination, you’re brilliant!”

  It really isn’t that brilliant, but Gert is glad to help.

***

Dakota leaves Jun at his own apartment. He must be brave, although he would have liked the android there for moral support. He is an hour later than he usually is due to traffic.

There are tissues overflowing in her trashcan by her couch. He sees her sleeping on her couch. He sits next to her for a moment and hears her groan in her sleep, “Dakota…”

He smiles and shakes her gently. Andrea opens her red, sleepless eyes. She sits up and her arms tense. He can tell she wants to throw them around him, but she won’t. Her eyes are wet with tears. “I thought you wouldn’t come back…”

“Traffic was really terrible. I’m just late. Gert told me he was the one who purposely didn’t buy the beer. We have bigger issues though.” Dakota tells her gently.

Andrea sits up all the way and pulls her dress down. “I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to argue with you and pretend that I hate you.”

Dakota has no laughter left for comments like those. “Andrea, please. We have to talk about why you seem so intent on getting rid of me—why you did what you did that night…”

Andrea crosses her arms defensively and stands up. She walks past him with her back facing him. “I don’t know why you’ve stuck around this long. You should just go. It’s going to be over in a year anyway…”

Dakota has white knuckles as he clutches the seat of the couch. He turns her around angrily. “I know you don’t want me gone. Stop saying that. You wanted me here so badly that there’s a mountain of tissues in your trashcan!”

She bites back tears and pushes him back. “You just can’t wait to get away from me anyway! You can’t wait to marry someone else! Multiple marriages for you, one for me! Dozens of children for you, none for me!”

“You think I only wanted you as a baby-making factory?” Dakota looks like he is about to explode with anger.

She pushes his buttons again, “of course I do! That’s all any man ever wanted from any woman!”

“God put us on this earth to overcome such base instincts, Andrea!”

They’re both crying with rage, and Andrea thinks he’s going to hit her when he reaches his arms out toward her. Instead, he grabs her and pulls her close. “I love you. I don’t care about having a baby. I just wanted to stay married to you…”

Andrea sobs and leans her head into his chest, arms lank. “I thought you didn’t love me anymore the way your face fell after I gave you the news that I there was such a low chance of having a baby. But you proved me wrong. You were so sweet and gentle about it at first. I wanted to get rid of you so it wouldn’t hurt so much when you got reassigned to a different wife and I wouldn’t have to think of the two of you together and cry my eyes out. When I forced you to do what you did that night—I wanted some perverse leverage over you. But I also wanted to make you feel guilty to keep you around. I felt sick to my stomach about it. Please don’t blame yourself for it. It was all my fault…”

He just holds her for a second—reveling in the touch she has withheld from him for so long. And then he asks, “remember your rainbow dress? You dress a lot more seriously these days. Do you still have it?”

She puts her hands on his back and remembers the first time she put her hands on his bare skin. She remembers how it was the best night of her life, and how she had wanted so badly for so long to have a night like that again.

But she realizes she can. He is right there like he always has been. There for her and loving her like he always has. They have been cruel to each other—but especially, she has been cruel to him. “I can change into that dress if you want…”

She runs her hands up his back, under his shirt.

Things are far better between them after that. Andrea knows it will hurt when Dakota gets reassigned, but she has come to accept that. Gert acts as their cook, their friend, their housekeeper, and their therapist. They can’t thank him enough.

She and Dakota almost never argue anymore. It is more important, they decide, to be kind to one another.

Andrea still blames herself for not being able to conceive, and she still cries about it a lot.

“You were right… My womb is way too cold to conceive a child…” Andrea sobs to Dakota.

He shakes his head and places his hands on her cheeks. “Don’t talk about yourself like that—even if you’re joking. I should never have said that to you…”

She can’t seem to stop crying. “This is all my fault… Dakota, when you get reassigned…”

Dakota holds her close. “I won’t sleep with her. I don’t want children with anyone else. It’s not your fault, stop blaming yourself.”

Andrea loves the sentiment, but she knows he will forget about her and move on with this new woman. At least he will be happy. If it were possible for him to leave the system, he probably would, but once you sign up, you can’t get out. “It’s okay… I want you to have children. You don’t have to worry about me…”

“How can you say that? You’re my wife and I love you! You’re supposed to want to keep me here…”

“I do want to keep you here—more than anything! I just want you to be happy though…”

“You know I won’t be happy without you.”

***

The night before he gets reassigned, Dakota comes to her apartment one more time. They have a quiet, but meaningful night together. Andrea’s eyes are red and she doesn’t feel like dressing up. She’s wearing an oversized shirt—what she calls her ‘fat shirt’—and sweat pants. Dakota is blinded by his love for her and tells her, however, “you look terrific…”

She just lets him hold her silently and closes her eyes. She says, “thank you for sticking around.”

  Gert is her best friend when Dakota leaves. She cries almost every single night. Gert keeps passing her tissues and she says to him, “you know, he was the only one who ever paid attention to me. Who ever wanted to get to know me… I never had any friends other than him—other than androids and robots. I don’t care if he felt obligated to care. I felt really loved. My parents always just ignored me—everyone else did, too.”

***

Dakota meets up with his new wife, Mary. In contrast to Andrea, she’s a tall beauty with yellow hair and high-cheek bones. He can’t tell if she’s not his type or if Andrea has just become his ideal type.

Her apartment is spotless and she shakes his hand like he’s on an interview and says, “hello, I’m Mary. Dakota, right?”

Dakota is frowning and looking past her. “Right…”

Unlike Andrea, she is not funny or quirky. She doesn’t like robots and she didn’t quit a higher paying job to twirl a sign because she doesn’t like people very much like Andrea. Instead, Mary likes social sciences and going to college. He is cold to her, even though he doesn’t mean to be and she seems very nice.

When the end of the night comes, he doesn’t want to sleep with her.

“What’s wrong?” Mary asks.

He tells her the truth. “I’m sorry. I still love my previous wife.”

Mary is surprised. She was told that he had a previous wife, but that it wouldn’t be a problem from her social worker.

Mary doesn’t know what to say, but she recognizes it’s best not to push him. “Alright, you don’t have to…”

***

There is no reason why Andrea can’t co-habit with someone else, but she was thoroughly attached to Dakota. She is not attracted to anyone else, and she tended not to trust anyone else.

She works hard at her robot designs. Her boss is shocked when she introduces a robot she made to him. It’s just a bare bones robot that’s designed to do simple tasks and doesn’t talk much, but her boss is impressed. He lets her be one of his mechanics after that.

Andrea dives into her work. Somehow, even though he’s not around, she wants Dakota to be proud of her.

***

Three months pass and Andrea realizes she feels very sick in the morning. She goes to the doctor and finds out she is pregnant.

She isn’t sure what to do, but she tells her social worker about the situation. Her social worker tells her that situations like this happened all the time, and it was up to the male whether he wanted to come back to her or not.

Andrea was not surprised when he parked in front of her apartment building.

Gert watches them from afar, leaning on Dakota’s car. He decided to move out a week ago, but they invited him to their reunion. He knows they will be okay now. Andrea can’t wait for Dakota to come up to her apartment. She waits for him outside in the parking lot. Andrea runs up to Dakota and he drops his suitcase and holds out his arms. She dives into them and he spins her around in the air.

Gert smiles. The previous seven years he wasted with his girlfriend didn’t matter: this is why he is here.

 

The End

 


By my Side

  • Author: Natasha Weber
  • Published: 2017-03-10 05:35:21
  • Words: 6975
By my Side By my Side