“Seriously, you’re an arsehole,” Kate cuts in behind me, watching me with Subject 205.
“No, no!” I exclaim, half-disappointed that she didn’t congratulate me on my ingenuity, “You just don’t understand my parents. It’s just…they know something is up with me and they’re…not…understanding when it-”
“You are taking a janked-up dude over your parents house instead of telling them about us,” she cuts in. Even though that’s basically what I’ve done, it hurts to hear her say it like that. Like I’ve replaced her. Which is insane. I would never do that.
“No,” I try again, “It’s not like that. They just won’t accept it-”
“Right,” she says, flatly, “Let’s get back to work…Dr. Kostyshyn.”
She is royally pissed, but she just doesn’t understand the dynamics of my family. She doesn’t understand that I’m actually saving her.
“Yes, Dr. Wright,” I quietly answer and realize that I’ve put a strain on our relationship.
We work in silence for the rest of the day.
Subject 205 is ready. I straighten his tie again and slick back his hair. He stands, quiet, not really reacting. He looks slick. Appealing. Even handsome.
“How are you?” I ask, mostly to gauge his reactions.
“Very well, thank you,” he politely answers and forces a smile.
“Are you ready?”
“For dinner?” He asks.
“For dinner.” I conclude with my own tight smile.
“We are dating,” he softly says, as if to himself.
“Yes,” I answer quickly, but feel the awkwardness settle on my heart. Kate hasn’t come back home yet. She left work without a word and I didn’t have the heart or gumption to call her. I’ll sort it out later.
“What do I like best about you?” He asks and it takes me by surprise.
“Oh, uh…I guess my eyes.” It’s an easy and vague enough answer.
“I like your eyes,” he says and stares at me for a few seconds too long and too intensely.
I make sure to have the kill switch in my purse before we leave.
“Merry Christmas!” Mom exclaims, then sees 205 behind me, “Oh, how handsome, Ginny! What’s your name, sir?”
“Oh, lovely, come in. Please! Come in out of the cold.”
“I like her eyes most,” Subject 205 says abruptly and my stomach sinks.
“What was that?” Mom asks, looking over to me.
“He meant nothing by that. Did you, Greg?” I nervously grit my teeth around the words. Maybe this was too soon for him. He has only been reanimated for three days. I’ve only reconditioned him for two, and prepped him for one. Maybe it just wasn’t enough time.
I try not to panic around my frozen smile.
“No,” he blankly says, “I meant nothing. Sorry.”
When she goes to put our coats away, I grunt at him, “What was that?”
“Sorry,” he pauses, “I don’t think I’ve done this before.”
“What? Dinner? Christmas?”
My mother comes back before I can say anything, but I can feel his words as my brothers join us and we all settle down for dinner. There’s laughter. There’s awkwardness from 205 that they mistake for anxiety with meeting them, or just a general “off-ness” that they usually associate with me. There’s ham. There’s wine. There’s my brothers and their pale, skinny wives.
But it seems empty without Kate.
‘I’m new to this, too, 205,’ I think, wistfully. I’ve never had someone that I was this thoughtful towards. I never had someone that I had an inkling to even share my family with, or vice versa.
I feel a little sick when I wonder who I’m hiding from who. Maybe Kate was right. Maybe I just didn’t want her to get close. As much as we undertake the experiments we do, the blood we’ve spilled, the hearts we’ve literally ripped from chests, having her sit beside me at this mundane table, surrounded by the people I love and yet fear…it’s overwhelming.
I’m being ungrateful and childish. I’m being “chicken-shit”, as Kate would say. Just because I know what they’d say, how they’d react…
It’s two lives I need to keep cleanly separate, even if it hurts.
“Her eyes,” I hear 205 say, “Her eyes. Just eyes. That are hers…Eyes. Brown, I think, no certainly. Her brown eyes…”
Oh Jesus Christ.
I snap out of my thoughts and see my family closely watching 205 as he’s starting to sweat profusely. One sweat drop rolls down his cheek into the gravy boat that he’s holding with an iron grip.
“Hey, honey,” I sweetly prod, “How about we talk in the kitchen for a sec? Just a quick sec-”
“I was kicked out,” he says, blinking as if suddenly aware I was there. Yeah, this was way too soon for him. I was an idiot.
“Uh, no, you’re not kicked out-”
“My father…said he hated me…”
“Uhhh.” That is my voice, my tone, but I have no idea what to say.
“Greg,” mother interjects, “What’s wrong? Your father kicked you out tonight?”
He wipes his sweating forehead and…some skin peels off with it. Perfect strips of muscle shine, glossy and wet, from the torn flesh.
I am stuck, pinned in the moment, utterly not knowing what to do. Panic freezes every artery. I cannot move, or even breathe.
“Oh my God,” one of my brother’s wives says and takes out her phone to record. I snap out of my stupor when I see her phone.
“No, put that away-” I tell her, but I feel the cold, clammy hand of 205 on my wrist.
I spin around to see his skin flapping open, like a loose page in a book. This was a bad idea. Worst idea. Such such a bad idea.
“It’s because,” 205 calmly tells me, “Because I’m gay.”
Yeah, seriously, honestly: fuck my life right now. All of it. Just fuck it to kingdom come.
“What the hell is happening?” my father finally speaks up.
I look to all of their blanching faces, squished in confusion and disgust. Familiar faces, now twisted and gaping from this horrific scene, turns my stomach. I feel like I’m going to vomit.
“Is this a joke?” my mom snaps suddenly, cheeks blushing with anger, “Is this some kind of school project? To bring over a gay person? To parade around this weirdness? During our holiest of days?”
I’m just at a loss. I don’t even know how to respond.
“That’s really poor taste,” my older brother says, crinkles his nose.
With that, 205 abruptly passes out, sliding right into the bowl of mashed potatoes before crashing to the floor.
Roger Whitaker’s Christmas album plays in the background, without pause or hesitation.
I am alone in this chaos.
“Yeah?” Kate sighs, answering my phone call on the third ring.
“You were right.”
“Yeah, I know, but what about?”
“Um…so…205 didn’t really…work out.”
“That’s a shame,” she blandly replies.
“Um…yeah…so,” I take a breath because I’m on the verge of just losing it, “Um, yeah…and actually…you’re not welcome to my parent’s house…”
“Huh?” That actually gets her attention. “What do you mean?”
“Well…I’m not so sure…that I am anymore, either…”
There’s a moment of silence, then, “Where are you?”
“At the lab…I’m trying to piece 205 back together,” I try to laugh, but a tear finally loosens and falls down my nose.
“I’ll be there in fifteen,” Kate resolutely answers.
“No, no,” I tell her, rushed and embarrassed, “It’s Christmas. You enjoy it.”
“I’m coming over. I’d rather spend tonight with you and your janked-up beard boyfriend than doing anything else in the world,” she says, tongue-in-cheek, before softly adding, “I’m sure you had a wild night.”
“Oh,” I struggle out a laugh through my restrained tears, “You have no idea…”
I hang up, waiting to spend our first Christmas together. Listening to the gentle hum of the fluorescent lights, I wistfully smile and carefully begin washing the mashed potatoes out of 205’s hair.