Jeanette felt the bed sag. He was close enough to feel his body radiating heat, but too distant to touch without deliberately reaching for him. With men, Jeanette was strongly fortified against seeming desperate or clingy. She found this trait in herself to be sad. A person’s desire for love could be the very thing that rendered them unloveable—this reality was horrifically cruel. But it was true, so stayed her hand.
Sleep rolled back over her like a tide, and when she awoke again, Milton was tossing about and mumbling about how dry his mouth was. Jeanette pretended to sleep for a moment, and rolled slowly so her placid, fake-sleeping face pointed at him. There was something enchanting about a person’s resting face, or at least Jeanette thought so— she stole as many glances at men’s sleeping faces as her no-clinginess policy would allow.
Slowly, she cracked her eyes and threw a subdued grin at him. His head was off the pillow, his skin perfectly airbrushed by the growing daylight and Jeanette’s squinting. To her surprise he leaned in to give her a kiss. His mouth was tentative, lips and tongue relaxed from sleep and release, less demanding than they’d been the night before. She kissed back and moaned very quietly. Air puffed from her nose and she dug her nails gently into his side. He mumbled something.
"Mmm, what?" Jeanette said into his mouth.
Milton pulled away. “Sorry. My breath has got to be terrible.”
"Mine’s too Rumchata-y to notice."
He wiped his mouth and smacked his lips, surveying the scene. Light kissed his body through the curtains and made Jeanette desperate to run her hands over its angles and ridges. He wasn’t a hypermasculinized guy, that was for sure, but his shape was just right, a perfect V from shoulders to hips, tufts of hair in all the right places, going all the way down. Jeanette realized he wasn’t staring adoringly at her, he was scanning the room and rubbing grit from his eyes, so she looked away, into her pillow.
"Sorry," he said absently. "I just need some water…Any idea where I left my bag?"
"Um, by the couch?" Jeanette said to the pillow.
"Right. I feel like I need to check my levels," he sprung from the bed, then stood still. Gripped his head. "I might need something to eat actually…"
"Are you diabetic? I, uh, there’s some granola bars right there on the bookcase-"
He looked around. “Book…case…”
"I mean the milk crates. Over there," Jeanette said, rising. Cold air hit her chest and belly.
Milton stepped across the room, saying, “I’m probably fine, I’m not Type 1 or anything, I just had this thing a few years ago…”
He froze with the granola bar hanging from his mouth.
"What. Is. this."
Joey’s little red charging light was on, blinking at the top of her box.
"Oh shit-" Jeanette said.
"How long have you been in here?! Joey! Hey, wake up!" He tapped the box and threw his head back, "Jean, you—"
Joey came on. “I didn’t see anything I didn’t see anything!”
"You can see my dick!"
Joey shone bright orange. The wavered as she spoke, slowly, forcefully; it made the automation in her voice more prominent. “I am just in here to charge. I was online, I turned my sensors off-“
Milton shrugged at them. “Oh yeah? Yeah? How can I know that? Jean, you— Do you realize she could have been taping us?”
Jeanette screwed her face into an exaggerated look of disgust and pulled the comforter up to her neck. “Jesus man, of course not! She’s my sister.”
"Dude calm down-"
"We’ll never know!" his chest was puffed out, looking more defined and muscular to Jeanette than it had before. Even his nipples were at attention. She hoped he wouldn’t notice her staring.
"I turn off my sensors at night Steve. Otherwise it fucks with my dreams," Joey said.
His arms and pectorals dropped. “How can I be sure of that? It’s the potential, you know? You know? What kind of precedent for trust does this set — Jean?”
He stomped out of the room. A few seconds later he came back, his bag and coat in his arms.
"If you were a man, and I was a woman, and this was your bro, here, hiding out in the closet, taping us have sex, people would say—"
"-Don’t say rape," Joey said.
He sighed. “I know. It’s not exactly the same. But I do feel violated! The potential! How do I know what’s on your hard drive?”
Jeanette gasped into the blanket. “Jesus, really?”
Joey turned red. “You could probably check, couldn’t you.”
His jeans and socks were on. He threw his shirt over his head and popped his arms out the sleeves; He had it on backwards.
"I wouldn’t do that. That’s a violation, too. LifeMedia Solutions – and I— have the highest possible regard for client’s privacy and autonomy,” he turned and pointed at Joey, “But you better show the same freaking regard for me.”
"Of course, listen Steve, if I had known this would upset you so much…"
He approached the desk and said, “Joey. You’re still a person. You have to act like a responsible adult, okay? You ladies cannot pull this crap again!”
"We’re sorry-" Jeanette whimpered. "I mean— even though I did just bring her in here to charge, and there was no way she saw anything, still. I didn’t mean to upset you and it totally won’t happen again, I promise.”
Joey watched them gaze at each other pleadingly. She couldn’t comprehend how neither of them, with the infinite possibilities of locomotion, had not yet fled the room. There had to be some pull between bodies she could no longer feel.
She watched Milton walk to the bed. He whispered. Instead of turning up her mics to catch it, Joey turned within herself and composed a short message to Lilian. It was becoming easier to do, more automatic. Like the flicker of a thought or the swish of a tail, the words sailed out of her mind and into another. She could feel when Lily was listening, too.
When she returned her attention to the room, the mood had somehow shifted. It was hard for her to discern exactly how or why. Milton was putting his shoes on, sitting at the foot of the bed. Jeanette had slid out from under the covers and thrown an oversized t-shirt across her body; she stood a few feet from him in the middle of the room, watching.
As he left, she said, “So are we still on? Next Wednesday?”
Milton nodded. “Yeah. I’ll make a post on the message board about it, call up a few folks in the area. If the department has the dough I’ll bring snacks, but you ought to buy a few in case.”
"I will, for sure! Steven, thank you. So so much. I’m sorry."
"If it seems like I overreacted…I’m sorry." he leaned in to kiss her. This time it was dry and closed-mouth. "We’ll have a fresh slate by next week, alright?"
Jeanette nodded, a bit too obsequiously in Joey’s opinion. “Okay.”
Milton waved slowly and said, “See you, Joey,” and let himself out.
The sisters knew that what had transpired was never to be discussed. In short order, Jeanette scrambled out of the room. She would fuss around in the kitchen for the better part of an hour, eating and reading, then she’d pad into the bathroom without making eye contact and let the water course over her head at a scalding temperature until Joey’s surface began to fog and she had to demand loudly that it stop. Jeanette would dress in silence and do her hair in an elaborate way. By then, the sisters could carry on as if all was normal.
Jeanette was already humming to herself by the time her bare feet hit the kitchen’s cool, gritty tile. She pushed the argument from her mind. There was so much planning to do! In less than a week her home would be flooded with BrightBox users from all over the Chicagoland area, with their families! Joey would finally have people to confide in, and she’d have bereaved survivors to clutch, to cry to, to ply with homemade Chex mix and strips of toast covered in Nutella.
She made a note on the refrigerator to buy Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, pretzels, and powdered sugar. Normally list-keeping was Joey’s job, but Jeanette wasn’t ready to face her yet. Jeanette flashed her teeth at her dim reflection in the refrigerator’s surface, and mused to herself that this was very promising, yes, they were so lucky. And there was still another chance with Milton…
In the bedroom, Lily was buzzing in Joey’s ear. <You know that breather boy is gonna try to scan your hard drive for sex tapes now,> she said.
<Goddamn breathers. And of course he went for the rape analogy. Puh-lease.>
<He thinks he can just force his way into my drive—>
<Don’t worry sweetie, we’re not gonna let him crack you open.>
<I dunno. Maybe crack them open first?>