It was familiar. The far-off music was familiar. It sounded like Percy Faith’s Delicado. It wasn’t, but it was damned close. Bouncy, jumpy, thumpy, bassy—driving, dark and mysterious, but then from out of nowhere came happy to close out the phrase. He liked it a lot. He just couldn’t figure out what the time signature was. It seemed to keep changing. He tried to get his head around it. One, two, three; one, two three; one, two, three, four, five, six, sev-en, eight. No, he thought, that eight should be one for the next measure. That didn’t seem right either so he gave up. As he walked toward it, the level nine hallway got darker and wider, like a dark little street that reminded him of the Underground Chicago Exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry that he had visited and was fascinated by as a child. There were little vehicles going past him along with couples and singles—all enormously tall Grace—strolling by, talking, laughing, some holding hands. The normalness of it all gave Alvin a sense of peace. And as he approached the door to where everybody else was heading, the peace was nudged away by a pleasurable excitation.
He stood in the broad entryway, as did a few other Grace who were assessing the seating possibilities, and gazed at the magnificent scene before him. It was the most beautiful bar he’d ever seen. It was the size of a football field with a ceiling thirty feet high. “Wow,” Alvin uttered, at the same time thinking, ‘The Grace really know how to jazz things up when they put their mind to it.’
“Sen bas,” someone said behind him. Alvin didn’t hear at first. “Sen bas? Sen bas?” said the voice again, this time tapping him on the shoulder with a fingertip that felt to Alvin like someone had jabbed him with a sixteen-penny nail.
“What?” Alvin said as he turned and looked at the eight-foot creature.
“Sen bas,” said the Grace, extending his huge arms apart as though to say, “Do you mind?”
Alvin was both entranced and stunned by this uncomfortably close creature towering over him and could only stand there with a stupefied expression trying to figure out what it wanted.
“Mehta tock tae,” said another Grace beside the other to her companion. “Mehta tock tae. Airn fohs dorm pedd Earth. Alvin Zaronsky. Portem, Alvin Zaronsky, Earth.”
“Ahset,” said the other, then turned to Alvin. “Excuse me, sil vous plait.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Alvin said, and stepped aside so the other two could enter as he now realized he was contributing to clogging up the entrance, though they could have just pushed him out of the way if they wanted, with two fingers.
Alvin gazed for just a moment more at the tightly packed floor scene, then ventured forward and strolled. Various Grace glanced at him. Some gave a head nod in his direction while others just pointed for the benefit of their table companions. The attention didn’t make Alvin feel so much like a celebrity as a freak. He knew quite well he was both. So did they.
He found an isolated booth close to the band, or more accurately the orchestra as there were a good dozen players. He found it interesting that they had things they blew into or tapped and stroked or banged on. Some things had strings like the instrument Vaka gave him. ‘Just like us,’ he thought. His legs dangled from the high bench, unable to reach the floor. He compensated for the sense of impotence by bringing his legs up and sitting yogi style, thus allowing him to feel like an adult.
“Par so bahs colimna naht formu megga toray?!” said what Alvin assumed was a Grace waitress, though the gender wasn’t real clear. It seemed cranky whatever it was.
“I’m sorry, what? I don’t speak your language,” said Alvin.
“Par so bahs colimna—”
Somebody at the nearest table got up quickly from his seat. He gently grabbed the waitress’s elbow and whispered in her ear. “Ahset,” she said, and turned back to Alvin. “Welcome, Alvin. What can I get for the consumption of your person?”
“Oh. No, no. Pezdrok?”
“What is that?”
“Just like beer.”
“I’ll have that.”
“Good,” she said, and departed.
Alvin occupied the interim by Grace-watching and letting his eyes drift through and upon the room’s interior design. It was all really familiar, just way bigger, in all areas. It was astounding, and fun, but when the waitress returned with this drink, he had an unexpected moment of dread. “Oh,” he said, and in an instinctive reflex touched his pants pocket feeling for a wallet with Grace money in it that didn’t actually exist. “I’m sorry, am I supposed to pay you?—I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“No, no,” she said. “Free.”
“Oh, thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
Alvin took out the deck of cards he’d gotten from his boredom care package. They were red Theory 11 Monarchs. A fine deck. Robust. Dry, not slick, the cards stayed firm where laid on the table—no slide tilt to the right. He started his own version of solitaire: tonight—baseball. He gave the Pezdrok a go. It was bitter, but bitter was better than sweet, and all things considered, he knew it could have been kerosene. “Not too shabby,” he noted. “Win for me,” he added and took another swig, then toasted himself in a congratulatory moment given that he was drinking booze from another planet and it initially hadn’t killed him.
He polished off his Pezdrok. He was in the bottom of the fifth inning with his team up four to one. He was pleased. And the music just kept coming. “Who could ask for anything more,” he sang, though, it didn’t really go with what the band was playing.
“Do you want another?” the returning waitress asked.
“You betcha,” Alvin replied.
“Yes, I would like another. Yes, please. Thank you.”
She brought another. “Drink slow,” she said, setting it down, and giving him a nanny’s stern gaze.
“Okay,” he said.
Alvin paid little heed to the warning, indulging in the Pezdrok in the manner he would his Miller Genuine Draft Earth Beer. But he was having a good time. His home team was up by one in the top of the ninth. He turned the cards slowly now, hoping for the third out and a victory.
“Everything is okay?” asked a complete Grace stranger—and it put its hand on Alvin’s shoulder. This person also wore a pocket apron around their waist and Alvin was able to determine it was another waitress, probably female given the voice pitch, but wasn’t sure why she was cruising the other waitress’s territory.
“Real fine,” Alvin said pleasantly, looking way up to her.
“Okay,” she said. “Wanted to check.” She patted him on the shoulder again.
Just as she turned away there was a startling crash of glassware. It was about forty feet away. One of the Grace was yelling at somebody on the ground. The Grace was very angry. Alvin couldn’t make out who on the floor the Grace was yelling at, but the upper robe of the Grace was soaked with spilled fluid, apparently the result of some accidental collision with a tray of drinks and whoever was carrying it. The Grace leaned over and continued the beratement.
What Alvin couldn’t see was Cathy having been pushed down to the floor. Her back was against the bottom of the bar and momentarily unsteady, she looked up to the aggressor as he came closer. The Grace’s yelling continued. It cocked its leg and launched its kicking foot forward at Cathy’s face. When the foot was six inches away, Cathy stopped the conclusion of its trajectory cold with both hands. She twisted the foot hard and the Grace twisted with it, falling to the floor.
Companions brought the Grace to its feet, patting and giving assurance, and coaxing it back to the table. Seeing this, assuming the situation was in hand, Cathy knelt on the floor and began picking up broken shards and putting them on her tray. The aggressive Grace, however, pushed aside the companions and advanced again towards Cathy. It grabbed her by the neck and between the legs. She let out a startled shriek feeling the large hands lift her up. The Grace threw her over the bar and into the glass wall, head first. She crashed, shattering the wall, and bringing down bottles, jars, and their shelves with her as she fell hard to the floor.
“Oh my God!” Alvin shouted. All he had heard was yelling, and all he saw was a small person thrown against the glass wall.
Other Grace—larger than normal ones—suddenly appeared and grabbed ahold of the violent offender. They talked to him. Then they patted him on the chest. They edged him back to his chair and sat him down in it. They weren’t yelling, they were coaxing, as the table companions had attempted previously. But the size of these Grace—reasonable candidates to be Vaka’s cousins or brothers—encouraged the aggressor to heed the suggestion. And so it did.
But nobody went to help the person who had been thrown over the bar.
Alvin jumped down from the bench and ran past everyone. He rounded the end of the bar, stopped—but only for a second when he recognized the person on the ground, then rushed forward to her and put his hand behind her head.
“Cathy?” he said.
“Hi, Alvin!” Cathy said in a jolly tone. “Long time no see.”
“Are you alright?”
He helped her to her feet. “You’re sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, fine,” she said, brushing broken glass off her clothes. Then she looked up at him. “You’re probably pissed. Right?”
Alvin felt the time to convey his displeasure had long since passed, and it was, at least for the moment, on the bottom of the agenda in regard to discussion issues. So, he didn’t bother answering that question.
“Can we talk?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure. Lemme’ touch base with the head honcho.”
After a short departure by Cathy, she returned and they went back to Alvin’s booth. The first thing Alvin couldn’t help studying was the fact that Cathy had apparently no interest in adopting nor gravitating to any sense of Grace fashionwear. The Grace looked glorious and stunning in their long and heavy robes and gowns, but she–already sticking out like a sore thumb given her human appearance and littleness—remained dressed as before like an American Earth tomboy circa 1940 to the present in her untucked plaid shirt, blue jeans, and low-top red PF Flyers. He wondered why that was okay with everybody, but apparently her dressing to the beat of a different drummer was fine.
The original Grace waitress showed up just as they sat down. She stood with her finger on a tablet with an expectant look down at Alvin.
“Oh, I’ll have another Petrock,” he said and gestured to his glass.
“Pezdrok,” she corrected.
She started to go but then as an afterthought turned back to Cathy. “Meh?” the waitress asked.
“Bish,” said Cathy, and the waitress left. Cathy turned to Alvin. “I’ll have another pet rock? Really?”
“I was close. And I’m not from here, so give me a break. What’s bish?” he asked.
“It means no. Nothing.”
“You don’t want anything?”
“I don’t drink.”
“But you can.”
“Yes, but it’s not my inclination. I’m sorry if you’re mad, about, you know.”
“A little, but more overwhelmed than mad. Um, this is weird.”
“Well, what are you doing here?”
“As a waitress.”
“I told you I was a waitress.”
“You didn’t tell me you were a waitress in outer space, or for that matter some other critical details about yourself, but I’ll let that pass—why are you a waitress? In a bar. Aren’t you, like, really expensive? Shouldn’t you be in a vault or a padded closet or a secret tube of some kind or something?”
“I might be expensive,” she said, as though considering it for the first time. “I’m not sure. Probably. But I’m designed to learn as I go. If they kept me in a tube I wouldn’t learn anything. I learn by acclimating with other people.”
She swept her arm across the room. “Yeah, people. You know, people. We’re all people. Earth people, Grace people. All people. Being a waitress is good for that, for learning, learning how people work. That way I can know how to work. Plus, everybody has to contribute here. I can’t contribute if I’m in a tube.”
He gave her the point on that, but moved to his next thought. “That guy threw you across the bar, you could have been—”
He stopped short. And she didn’t help, instead curious to see what the next word would be.
“Badly damaged,” he said.
“I’m very resilient.” She gestured to one arm and then the other and then the rest of her body. “This outer is phenleet.” She wiggled her fingers. “Candem auz inside here. Very good. I don’t think it’s like your steel but more like your really hard plastic.” She drew a circle around her face. “This is different. This is just patta mioxitote.” She stroked her forehead. “Number seven PMT up here.” She brushed her cheek with a finger. “Two here. The patta’s not as forgiving as the rest, so, that can be a concern. A little anyway.” She pulled her ear a bit. “Tiseh phatis pallen turmet three. The lab people like to just call this Ear Number Three for short.” She lingered there, massaging the lobe of her ear, entranced by its suppleness even though it was not a new experience. “This is really nice. Soft. Here, feel.” She leaned forward and pointed her head at him.
Alvin obliged and massaged her ear gently. “That’s really nice,” he said.
The waitress came back with Alvin’s drink.
“Pezdrok,” she said, sitting the glass down before him.
“Thank you,” said Alvin.
“What is it?” the waitress asked as a quiz.
“Perfect.” And she left.
Alvin sipped his new drink. He looked around, then back at Cathy, then around again.
“Next question?” she prodded, feeling that something was coming to at least a slow boil curiosity-wise.
“Did that hurt?” he asked.
“Yeah. Do you feel pain?”
“Mm hm, but only to a degree. Just enough to alert me that I might have to check something and make sure everything is alright. I have, mm, what would you call it, um, a compressor, or suppressor. At least as far as pain is concerned. I can feel your hand,” she said and reached out to his and stroked the back with her fingers. “And that’s nice. I can feel the same sense of pleasure that a human person would, you know, by touch. But if you stuck a fork in my chest I wouldn’t be screaming. I might say ow and be annoyed, but that’s about it.”
She pulled her hand away. Alvin wasn’t ready to move onto the next question yet because he was still trying to figure out what—or who—was just playing affectionately with the back of his hand. He knew—or at least felt—it was definitely a very pretty girl because when she did it, he felt a quasi-electric surge go from his hand, to his chest, into his pants, down his leg and out his toes.
He regained his focus and intellectual curiosity. Some of it anyway. About half. Maybe not quite half. Enough to at least posit another question. “So, you said you’re very resilient,” he stated. “Are you strong?”
“Did you want to arm wrestle?”
“Fine. But I would wreak whoop ass upon you.”
“How much whoop ass?”
“Just enough to win. I am, appearance-wise, a five-foot one-inch human woman person.” She looked off at nothing so as to help with her calculations. “I would say…strength-wise…I’m not like gorilla level or anything like that. Or a hay baler. I don’t have hydraulics, although that would be kind of neat. Everything’s electric—well, what you might think of as electric. Strength-wise I’m kind of like a, I don’t know, not a bear, maybe a kangaroo. A large kangaroo, but a large kangaroo that writes poetry. Mm hm.”
“That’s an interesting assessment. I might need another moment to put that together. But they could have made you stronger, though, couldn’t they? I would have thought that would be beneficial.”
“Yeah, that’s true, but I think the concern was that if they went in that direction, I might accidentally then actually kill somebody.”
“I don’t know. Hugging them and blowing a fuse at the same time. Who knows.”
“You have fuses?”
She shook her head. “Mmmmm, no.”
“Ah.” Alvin decided to change course. “Would you do me a favor?” he asked.
“Have a drink.”
“I don’t know. Would you just have a drink?” He thought for a second. “It’s just customary, where I come from.”
She smiled a little. “Fine.”
He tried to beckon the waitress but she didn’t see him no matter how much he flailed and hailed. “I’ll go get her,” he said getting up. “What do you want?”
“Oh, anything is okay,” Cathy said. “10W-40, that’s fine.”
He hovered for a moment, repeating her request in his head a couple times.
“It’s a joke, Alvin,” she said.
“I know that now. It took me a moment. I just don’t expect jokes from, you know, robots.”
“You’re thinking of vacuum cleaners. They’re a dour lot.”
“Ah. There’s my confusion. Silly me.” He turned away then came right back. “How do you know what 10W-40 is?”
“I read about it.”
That wasn’t crystalizing either.
“Just go get me a drink, Alvin,” Cathy said pleasantly.
Alvin returned shortly with a blue glass that had pink fluid in it.
“Ooh, Cemosha,” Cathy cooed. She stuck her nose in the top of the glass. “I love this.”
“What does it taste like?” Alvin asked.
“I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t have any taste buds. But it always looks really pretty. Cheers!” she said and took a gulp. She licked her lips and put the glass down. “Ooh, yum yum.”
“You don’t have to be an ass about it.”
“I was trying to provide you with what I assumed was the desired paradigm—my joy and pleasure in you getting me liquored up.”
“No you weren’t.”
“Ah, you saw through me. Sad.” She looked beyond toward the door and out to the semi-street, then effected a child’s pitch. “Beedo, beedo, beedo, beedo.”
“What?” Alvin said as he turned in his chair. There was small vehicle just arrived, like a golf cart but longer, with a flashing red light.
“It’s the cops,” Cathy said.
“The Heat. The Man. The Pigs—oh, that’s rude isn’t it. The Law. The Fuzz. Act natural. Pretend that you know me.”
“Act natural. Pretend that you know me.”
“There you go. Just play it cool.”
“Where did you get those words? Cops, fuzz, the heat?”
“Huh? Oh,” she said, and pointed to her head. She looked back to the outside. “The jig’s up. I see that now. We’re trapped, trapped like rats. They’ll never take me alive. Here I am, ma!” she said loudly and looked upward. “Top of the world!” And then she mouthed an explosion sound.
“Are you nuts?”
“Uh huh,” she said with a smile and lemur-like eyes.
“Wait a minute. Where did beedo come from?”
“Despicable Me 2. Ever see it? It’s my favorite movie.”
“It’s fun, huh?”
“Yeah, I liked it. Where or how did you ever see it?”
“Shushy,” she said, and patted his hand. “I think we might have a scene happening.”
Three Grace in uniforms came up to the table of Cathy’s aggressor. There was a brief conversation, then they escorted him out of the bar.
“Hm. Well, that was appropriate,” Alvin said.
“I guess. It took them longer than I expected, though. The Grace don’t take kindly to violence. Or property damage.”
“Where are they taking him?”
Vestivius stood before the judge with his attorney at his side.
“Mr. Vestivius,” said the judge. “You are charged with damaging public property, in this case a large mirror and liquor bottles, and with wanton violence with intent to damage state property, namely throwing JM-4 over a bar and into the wall. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” answered Vestivius.
“Based on what?” asked the judge.
“I was provoked.”
“It walked into me and spilled its entire tray of drinks on me.”
“Uh huh. And that justified you kicking her—”
“Objection, your honor,” the lawyer interrupted. “The state property in question, by its nature and function, cannot be viewed by the court as having Grace related gender, or for that matter human gender—despite appearances or any physical qualifications, as doing so would demonstrate prejudice against my client, elevating the degree of the charge, specifically by referring to the property in question with the pronoun her, which would be restricted to a living person, which the state property in question is not. I wish to just remind the court of that.”
“Oh, yes,” the judge acknowledged. “Sustained. Let me rephrase that. So, Mr. Vestivius, JM-4 spilling drinks on you justified you kicking it and then picking it up and throwing it against the wall?”
“I was angry.”
“If I may, your honor,” interjected Vestivius’s attorney, “My client was inebriated at the time of the incident.”
“And you feel as though that justifies violence?”
“Me personally? Oh, no,” said the attorney.
“I see,” said the judge. “Do you have anything else to present in your client’s defense?”
“Nope, that was about it.”
Vestivius turned to his counsellor. “Can’t you say anything else!”
“Sucks to be you.”
“Mr. Vestivius, you are hereby sentenced to two years jail time,” the judge said. “Bailiff?”
The bailiff grasped Vestivius and began leading him away.
“Oh, and Mr. Vestivius,” the judge interjected.
Vestivius stopped and looked back at him.
“If you do anything like this again,” the judge said, “we’ll kill you. Do you understand?”
“I have a question,” Alvin said.
Cathy nodded her head and rocked back and forth in the booth, anticipating the continuation of the exciting quiz.
“Well, let me start with the fact that you deceived me, tricked me, basically kidnapped me, but you’re sitting here and don’t seem to have any urge to apologize for that.”
“I acknowledged that you might be pissed. When I was on the floor. Remember?”
“That’s not the same thing. You lied to me, and you don’t seem to have any problem with that.”
“Uh huh,” Cathy said. She scrunched her eyes and gave Alvin a perplexed look. “What am I missing?”
“That you did a terrible thing.”
“Oh, no. Gosh, no. Somebody had to get you. So I got you. That’s all.”
Alvin realized they were approaching this subject from entirely different perspectives, so he gave up on his since he was not making any headway with it. “So,” he started, then took another swig of Pezdrok, “that was the plan? You come down and ensnare me with your feminine wiles?”
“I don’t know what wiles are.”
“You know, wiles. Woman wiles.”
She concentrated on the word, then shook her head. “Mm, no, not registering.”
“Alluring and seductive female charms,” Alvin said.
“Oh, that!” Cathy responded, now comprehending. “Oh, mm hm, yeah. Yeah, that was the plan. Mm hm.”
“Well, I have to say, that seems pretty flimsy—I mean, plan-wise. First of all, there’s a ten percent chance I wouldn’t have been interested at all. That leaves a possible ninety percent success rate—except for the fact that—estimating off the top of my head—eighty percent of all people are either married or involved with someone else. So, that leaves a possible percentage for success of twenty percent of ninety percent, or only eighteen percent.”
“I would counter that and say that your eighty percent figure could be cut in half given the potential that—assuming you were in the involved or married group—you had the potential to stray, especially if you were drunk, which—no offense intended—seemed a highly probable eventuality. That then takes the ninety percent figure, multiplies it by fifty percent, and gives an estimated success probability of forty-five percent. Very reasonable.”
“It still seems like an iffy plan, if you ask me. Forty-five percent means there’s a better chance it will fail than succeed.”
“Yeah, well, it was the first plan. There were backup plans.”
“Oh, I don’t remember exactly. I think one was to shoot you with a tranquilizer gun and put you in a bag.”
“Oh, well that’s good to know.”
Cathy looked away from him and quietly sing-songed, “But our plan wer-erked.”
“Mm hm,” said Alvin. “So, the whole ‘you’re a fox’ thing was a lie too.”
She had to give thought to this particular accusation. She took a sip of her Cemosha for no other reason than to afford her a moment to think. “I thought it would save time,” she said. “But it wasn’t a lie either.” She suddenly felt uncomfortable volunteering the latter and tucked her hands into her lap and looked away.
“You’re welcome,” she said, still looking off. But then she returned to him. “I actually felt kind of injured when you rebuffed me, you know, after I said that, and presented myself. Didn’t you like me?”
“I liked you very much, physically. I just assumed you were drunk or crazy.”
“How did you know I’d be there, at the bar, that night?”
Alvin was moving forward but Cathy was still lingering on the previous subject.
“Were you following me?” Alvin asked, simply curious about the process. “We’re you tracking me?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“How did you know I’d be at the bar that night? You were there first. How did you know I’d be there? Were you tracking me somehow?”
Cathy disengaged from any remnant of the previous subject and now applied herself to the present and simply factual subject. “I was tracking Dora One.”
“Ah. The other. There you go.” Alvin leaned his head all the way back and stared at the ceiling. Then he brought it back and downed the rest of his drink. “You are a clever people,” he added. He righted himself in his seat but his head swayed a bit.
Cathy didn’t care for being lumped in with other people, no matter how clever they were, given that whoever they were, she wasn’t one of them.
“It’s late,” she said. “You’re starting to look a little wobbly. Maybe time for you to go to bed.”
“Aye,” Alvin conceded.
“Can you find your chamber?”
“I think just finding the exit is going to be a challenge.”
“Come on,” she said, patting his hand. “I’ll walk you home.”
“That’s going to be a long walk. I’m not sure I’m up to it.”
“Home here,” she said.
Realizing he had more Pezdrok than humans were able to deal with, she held his arm as he got out of the booth then put her hand around his waist for support. “Lean on me,” she said, “when you’re not strong.”
And Alvin burst into song, “I’ll help you home! I’ll help your carrion!”
“Those aren’t the words,” Cathy said.
“How do you know?”
“I have ears. They hear things.”
They exited the elevator and walked to Alvin’s room, Cathy continuing to maintain a gentle supportive hold around his waist.
“Here we go,” she said brightly as they came to Alvin’s door. She punched in the combination for his door on the wall pad and the two panels split and opened for him.
But he didn’t go in. He thought about it, but didn’t. He turned to her, but didn’t say anything.
“What?” she asked.
Alvin had a question in his head but couldn’t come up with a logical reason for expressing it. The debate between saying it and not saying it went back and forth in his mind like a ping pong game. “Would you want to spend the night?”
“Want?” Cathy asked.
“Yes. Would you want to spend the night? With me?”
“I’m not always good with want, on some things, Alvin. I understand require. Want is sometimes mysterious.”
“Would you like to spend the night with me?”
“Kind of the same thing. Can you make it easier for me?”
“Would you spend the night with me?”
He gave an agreeable, kind of semi-confident, not entirely sure he knew what he was doing, okey-dokey head bob, then stepped through the door and gestured her in.
“But no sex,” she said.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea.”
This statement was taking a long time to crystalize in Alvin’s brain and consequently it caused him to need further confirmation that they were talking about the same thing just in case he didn’t hear properly. “I’m sorry, again? What’s not a good idea?”
“I…was not even thinking…that…thing…since it’s not a thing…I was thinking. And, like, not possible, not an option. Not really on the table kind of thing. You know?”
“Too much Pezdrok?”
“No, no. Gosh. No. Not really the issue. I don’t think. Maybe. I don’t know. No, the other thing.”
“Yeah? Kind of that?”
“I’m fully functional, Alvin.”
“Mm hm. Well, I can’t have babies and stuff, because that would be pointless and stupid, and probably pretty complicated design-wise, but simple stuff I’m capable of.”
“Mm hm. But I don’t think we should.”
He nodded agreement.
“But, yes, I’ll spend the night with you.”
As Alvin moved to the right side of the ample bed, Cathy went to the left. There she stood, waiting for Alvin to initiate the next step.
“I usually sleep in the nude,” Alvin said.
“That’s fine,” Cathy replied.
“How do you usually sleep?” he asked.
“The same way,” she said.
“But standing up,” she clarified.
“Joke,” she said.
“Very funny,” he said sarcastically, but at the same thinking it was a pretty damned good joke.
Now that the parameters were established, Cathy started to undress and Alvin did likewise. The Grace had been generous in their allotment of blankets for Alvin’s bed. They all laid in a heap at the end since he hadn’t bothered to make the bed up in a tidy manner that morning. Cathy got in, stuck her toes under the heap, but pulled up just the light sheet. She positioned it neatly over her chest, then tucked in the sides around her with gentle karate chops so that the sheet outlined her body, as if ready for a military sheet inspection in case one might occur during the night. Or a funeral.
Alvin got in next. He started to pull up the rest of the covers then stopped, noting Cathy’s apparent desire to be only covered in three-fourths of the Shroud of Turin.
“Are you going to be warm enough?” Alvin asked.
“Oh,” she said and then pulled the two heavy blankets up and covered herself. “That’s better. And we’re under all the same blankets, so that’s good.”
“You’re not too warm?”
Given that she had no more ability to feel too warm or too cold than a dining room table would, she looked at him for a second with a desire to say, ‘Seriously’?But she squelched it since he was being considerate and said, “No, this is good.”
It took just a half minute more for Alvin to fall to sleep. And when she knew by his breathing that he was asleep, Cathy closed her eyes and went to standby.