“Something just isn’t working!” Kristina told me in that frustrated tone people use when they think they’re talking to an idiot.
“Yeah um, I kinda realised that,” I sighed, crossing my legs and leaning back against the aging park bench.
I watched the park we were in fill with people as those who actually had jobs got off work. You could tell the ones with jobs from the ones without pretty easily. Their clothes were a better cut, their phones were the latest model and they gave those of us without jobs the side eye. At least the weather was nice today. Being dumped by my long term girlfriend in the rain wouldn’t have been ideal. Way too cliche for me.
“Terry!” Kristina exclaimed from next to me, evidently catching on to my loss of concentration.
I looked over at her for the first time since she’d broached the subject, trying my best to hold my heart together, “Yeah Krissy?”
“I’m breaking up with you and you aren’t even paying attention!” she cried, trying to keep her own tears from showing.
“Sorry. I get what you’re trying to say babe. You’re done with me. That’s fine I guess,” I shrugged, projecting a nonchalance I most definitely did not feel inside.
She ran her hand through her long blonde hair and made that sound I had learned so well in recent months. It was somewhere between a sigh and a growl, and it put my hackles up every time. We’d been together for three years now. Started out in our senior year of high school. Went to prom together, the works. She’d been the only girl to really pin me down in a while, I wasn’t really the long term type before that.
She stamped her foot in frustration, and glared at me, “I don’t want to be done with you, but you make things so hard! I love you Terry!”
“I love you too babe,” I said, my voice cracking just the slightest touch. She saw it though.
“Then why are things so weird between us? Why do you never put in any effort anymore? All we do its hang out at your place or in VR. Take me on a fucking date for fuck’s sake!” she cried, tears rolling down her cheeks for the first time in a while.
I wanted to lean over and wipe them away, to kiss her better and help her in any way I could. I really did love her. She had been the one point of stability in my life recently as my life rocked to an earthquake that I had no source for. I couldn’t tell her that though. How do you tell someone that you feel like something is wrong with your life but you have no idea what it is. How do you get someone to understand that one day, just randomly and out of the blue you felt a shearing in your mind and suddenly nothing was right?
“I can’t tell you the answers to those questions babe. I don’t know why. Although I should point out that you’re doing a great job reinforcing those ancient gender roles you hate. You could try taking me on a date,” I explained tiredly. We’d had this argument before.
“You’re shit!” she sobbed standing up and taking three quick steps away before she spun back to glare at me, “You don’t… you don’t give me anything I need in this relationship anymore! I need you! Why are you so distant?”
I stood up after her, but I didn’t make any moves towards her. If she was done with me, I was done with this conversation. I didn’t have answers for her, so why sit here and listen? We were over.
“I’m gonna go home Kristina. I hope you find a guy who can give you what I can’t,” I said, breathing evenly to keep myself together. I wasn’t going to fall apart in public. I would not. I took a few steps away, trying to put distance between us, between myself and the pain.
“Dawn was so right about you. She told me you were bad when we first started dating! I should have listened when she warned me about you! She said there was something off!” Kristina screamed from behind me as I walked away.
I spun on a heel, and surprised myself with a smile as I said, “Try dating Dawn then. You do seem to be close.”
I kept walking backwards and watched her face screw up in disgust, oh I had so hit a sore spot, “Ew! Gross! That’s disgusting Terry. You’re… eurgh!”
Performing the messiest two fingered salute of my life I spun back around and made my escape through the perfectly manicured park. It was odd, but goading her into showing that ugly side made me feel a hell of a lot better. That had always been a subject we avoided. The LGBT+ movement had stalled like fifty years ago when America “went weird” as I liked to call it. The boomers were long since dead, but their money was still talking, even after the last of their kind died. Kristina was one of those who listened to that shit.
We were on street level two right now, the park being suspended between two huge skyscrapers on large blocks of concrete that thrust down into the depths of the industrial park below. At least we’d gotten that right in the future. The slums weren’t underneath the skyways and shit like in the old movies. Nah, we’d managed to hide those in plain sight beneath the shining exterior of the residential towers. Our slums were also cleaner than the old movies, so I guess that was cool too. Robots didn’t get tired like human cleaners did.
It was a short trip across the park and into the magrail station. I walked past bustling wage earners, robots earnestly going about their business, and those like me who were stuck on basic income. I rushed into the nearest car before the train left the station. I was lucky it had been there because otherwise I might have seen Kristina again as we waited. That would have been just a little awkward.
When I got home, having navigated through another park and into the residential tower I called home, I moved straight to the couch after kicking my shoes off at the door and fell into it with a sigh. What a fucking day. I mean sure it was barely past lunchtime, but being dumped by your girlfriend turned any day into a “what a day” kind of day. Better tell Taylor I guess. My twin sister was going to love this, little gossip and drama queen that she was.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, a slab of black glossy plastic, and pressed my thumb onto the screen to activate it.
Terry: Yo Taylor. Kristina broke up with me.
Taylor: Whoa wait what? Hold on, I am so coming over. I’m not letting you relay another story like this over fuckin text. Do not spoil until I get there alright?
Terry: Suit yourself. I’m not cleaning up for you though.
Taylor: As if. Be there soon bro. Hold on.
With the conversation ended, I tossed the phone onto the coffee table and stretched. Fuck how did emotional pain lead to my back aching? Thousands of years of science under our belts and we hadn’t figured a whole lot out about the human body. We’d made significantly more progress figuring out how to break instead.
Taylor and I lived in the same building, so it wasn’t surprising when she arrived ten minutes later with chocolate and some sort of noodle dish thing. Not sure how well those two foods went together, but hey she was bringing me free food so I wasn’t going to complain.
“Fuck Terry can you at least make it so those of us who actually love you can make it into the apartment?” she grumbled as she almost tripped on something I had left on the floor.
I leaned my head back to get a look at what she’d managed to catch, and grinned as I saw my shoes. Exactly as planned.
“Keeping you on your toes sis, a big shot streamer like you needs her reflexes intact you know?” I laughed.
“You are a dick,” she grumbled, rolling her eyes, “No wonder Kristina dumped you.”
My face fell almost immediately, and she caught my expression shift straight way, “Ah fuck shit. Sorry that was the worst damn thing to say. I’m your twin, we’re meant to be on the same wavelength.”
“One of us is in tune with the other, and it’s usually not you,” I said, taking a little shot at her even as I forgave her yet again for her constant foot in mouth syndrome.
“Ouch. Alright I deserved that,” she said, then handed me the chocolate, “Have the chocolate while I get us some bowls and forks.”
“Thanks,” I said, eagerly accepting the chocolate, then asked, “Not going to use the chopsticks they give you?”
“I might use them, but I definitely don’t trust you with them,” she winked slyly, then turned and disappeared into my tiny kitchen.
She came back out with a pair of bowls, two forks and a compassionate expression. She placed the bowls down, dished out the noodles and then sat next to me. We liked to sit close enough so that our shoulders and thighs touched these days, but we’d been closer when we were kids. The point in our lives where I was meant to wear boy clothes and she was meant to wear girl clothes had put a few inches of space between us, and puberty had put a few more. I missed the days before then, when we were just twins up to no good.
My sister had become a tall fiery haired girl with a great figure and a winning smile. Perfect picture of a girl who was going to punch the world in the gut and make it dance for her. I had become an even taller dude with hair just as fiery, both on my chin and on my head, and a body that was the picture of masculinity. My smile was pretty good too if my track record was to be believed. Somehow though, my looks felt hollow. So what if I was a handsome guy when I still felt like shit?
“So what happened? You’d made a few rumblings about the relationship having issues, but I didn’t think it was this bad?” she asked after her first mouthful.
I shrugged, eating a few mouthfuls of my food to distract myself from the sick feeling in my gut that was refusing to be ignored.
“She decided I wasn’t being a dutiful boyfriend apparently. I wasn’t meeting her expectations. I’m not really sure because the whole thing was addressing problems that neither of us could put words to. You know when there’s something up with a relationship or friendship or whatever, and you both feel it but like, you’ll be damned if there’s actually words to describe it? It was like that,” I explained, waving the fork around for emphasis and sending a stray piece of noodle flying onto the carpet. I’d let the little robot mice deal with that. Yeah they are definitely a real thing.
My sister watched the little piece of noodle arc through the air, but otherwise didn’t comment.
“Riiight. I mean, I understand what you’re talking about, but that seems like the time to go to relationship counseling rather than just breaking things off. Three years of relationship is a lot to throw away,” she said, searching my face for my thoughts.
Putting the fork down, I stared into the bowl and tried to order my thoughts. The whole thing was a mess in my head. Kristina had been right on that one. We hadn’t had all that many fights, sure, but there had been a shitload of microaggressions. Little things we’d do to get back at each other for a petty slight. Things had been going downhill for a while.
“I mean, if we’d had the money we might have,” I said sadly, “Or rather, if I’d had the money. I doubt her parents would have let her spend money on that. But I don’t even think it would have helped... like, I think something had changed in who each of us were. We changed as people. I don’t know.”
We sat in silence for a few moments, and then my facade just kind of crumbled and suddenly I was crying all over the place. If all my friends could see me now I’d be the laughing stock, but this was my twin sister, and she reached out and placed her bowl on the table, then reached over and took mine out of my lap. She pulled me into a hug without a word, and just carefully held me.
Being held by her always pulled me back down to Earth and calmed me, so I was able to get myself under control pretty quickly, but I was definitely not done grieving. This was just the prelude.
“I need a distraction. Something to do in the college off weeks,” I groaned.
“If you let me pay for a full ride you wouldn’t have to do that crappy one week on, one week off bullshit,” she sighed.
“No, you worked hard for your money. I’ll make my own some day, and I want it to be my money. You know how I feel about this,” I said, shaking my head.
“Alright. Sorry, just had to give it another try,” she said sheepishly.
More moments went by as we picked our food back up and stared out the window of my single person apartment. Most apartments were one bedroom affairs these days, at least for those of us on basic. Little factory built living spaces all jammed together inside a shell of glass and steel. It felt like society was just storing us in case we were useful. A human “things” drawer.
“You know,” Taylor said thoughtfully, aimlessly pointing her fork out the window, “You could come play Cora with me. Get you on the stream and stuff.”
I opened my mouth to protest that I didn’t want her streaming money again, but she shushed me, “No no, I wouldn’t pay you, even if I want to pay you really badly. We can just play, twin duo taking a generic fantasy world by storm. It'll take your mind off all of this.”
She stared at me with big hopeful brown eyes, and I gave in with a sigh. Cora was a fantasy VRmmo that had released a few months ago. I hadn’t gotten on board because I’d been neck deep in another game at the time, but my sister had jumped on it. She’d been a pretty famous streamer before, but this game was making waves and she was riding them to the top.
“Alright. Yeah okay… yeah, that sounds like fun actually. I’ve missed hanging out with you,” I said truthfully, giving her a weak smile.
“Same here Terry, same here,” she smiled back, bumping our heads together like we used to do as children.
“So like, it’s free right? One of those games that turns the stuff happening inside the game into a big TV series for everyone to watch right?” I asked, making myself become interested.
“Yup! They have a ton of like, invis bots flying around getting shots of the battles and stuff. They tried to film the dirty stuff too, but people got real mad about that, so thankfully we can all… nevermind. Anyway yeah, it’s free. I could put together a few builds for you if you want. Min-maxing is a pretty big thing in this game,” she said, her cheeks colouring a bit as she mentioned the eighteen plus nature of the game.
It wasn’t that it was all sex and orgies like some porn games out there, but they had restricted the game to those above eighteen years old so that players would have a completely immersive experience. Well, up to a point. The VR laws that had been passed a few decades back to prevent some pretty awful shit from happening were definitely still a thing.
“Yeah alright. I’ll probably play some sneaky rogue character like usual. Rakish grin and a fast blade, that kind of thing,” I said, already dreaming of the tavern brawls and card cheating.
“Yeah of course you’d play that type of character. Is there any hope of persuading you otherwise?” she sighed, although I could see the grin she was trying to hide.
I reached over and messed her hair up with a hand, and she lurched away with a laugh, “Dick! You know I take time on my hair!”
“That’s why I love messing with it,” I winked, then added, “And no… I’m already giving in by playing the game.”
She laughed again, and cleaned up the last of her food, “Alright. I’ll stay the night, that’s not negotiable, and then tomorrow we’ll get you all set up?”
“Stay the night?” I asked hesitantly.
“Yeah, I miss you Terry. Let’s try and make an effort to be closer again. Like old times,” she said hopefully.
I bumped my head gently into hers with a smile and a warming heart, “Yeah that sounds like a decent plan.”