Michelle stands in front of the mirror and asks me to hook the back of her dress. I know she could do it herself, but she enjoys the moment when she can see my reflection behind hers and feel my finger trace a delicate line across her shoulder to the back of her neck. As I move the tiny hook into place she raises a hand to stroke my wrist, smiling across tightened skin, and I feel the tingle in my crotch and press it against her rear.’
“Not now you bad boy.”
“It’s you that make me bad.”
She’s already chosen my tie for the evening, pale blue hooks on dark blue silk, and always enjoys the ritual of looping and pulling it into place, followed by a stroke of my chin. Our faces are close enough for me to see the faint scars of her nip and tuck, catch the smell of toothpaste from her breath, and as always I’m excited to be so close. I was made for Michelle. I smile at her.
I nuzzle at her earlobe.
“We don’t have time. I’ll do your tie.”
“Are you sure we can’t take half an hour?”
“No way. The Uber’s here in five minutes, and this is business. He’s an investor.”
I put on my suit jacket and glance in the mirror. I’m tall, taut, handsome, looking much older than I am but much younger than Michelle. There are very few men like me, because Michelle is one of the few women with the money and desire to have us made.
“Remind me of their names,” I say.
“He’s Craig, the woman is Ava.”
“Do you know how long they’ve been together?”
“About three years I think.”
I’m curious. It will be the first time in our eighteen months together that we’ve been out with another couple like us. They’re the more common type – a rich, successful man and a beautiful young woman – but they came together in the same way. Like me she was gestated, grown, raised and emotionally conditioned over a year to be exactly what was wanted from a life companion, and to be perfectly happy with it. There had been others at the New Life Centre while I was raised, but we had gone to different people and become wrapped up in their lives. Now I was going to meet another.
It’s fun. The conversation is lively, a little business but a lot more talk about foreign cities, good restaurants and expensive art with a few laughs and a little teasing. Craig is slightly overweight and thin on top but dressed in a Paul Smith suit, and he has a friendly manner and a clever way with words. Ava is tall and slim with high cheeks and eyebrows darker than her blonde hair, a natural laugh and an ear for jazz music that clearly pleases Craig. Michelle finds them easy company – I can tell when she has to make an effort – laughs a lot and before dessert runs a hand inside my thigh under the table. There is some talk about where Ava and I have come from. She had gone to Craig before I was gestated, and both of us have simple but pleasant memories of the place. We know about our lovers’ past lives, failed marriages, and relationships that were always made more difficult by their money. They both have family and friends who are split in their attitudes; some accepting, some a little cold, others avoiding us. None of us care, we’re all happy, and even happier to have found another couple who understand how we feel. At the end of the evening we promise to meet again soon.
On the way home Michelle is squiffy and talks a lot,
“God, she’s changed Craig for the better. When I knew him in the past he was so serious, thought about nothing but work and making money, and you wondered if he had any emotions. Actually, I’m going back a few years, but he could be a bit of an arsehole.”
Really? I didn’t get that vibe at all.”
“I know! He’s more relaxed, more considerate, he was joking with us and talking about the problem with his father. And he said he didn’t want to keep working the way he does for too long. It shows what having the right woman can do for a man.”
She looks at me doe eyed and I respond with the wicked grin that I know she loves.
“And I can think of something else the right woman can do for a man.”
I slip a hand under the hem of her dress and try to push it between her legs. She jerks, slaps my hand and wriggles free.
“That’s no way for a nice young man to behave.”
“You never wanted a nice young man.”
We both fall into a dirty laugh.
We see them again, half a dozen times over the next six months, eating at other restaurants, taking a trip to the theatre and visiting each other’s homes. When we’re at their place there’s a time when Michelle and Craig have to talk about business, and Ava and I sit alone together in the garden. We both have fond memories of our mentors – the staff members who acted as surrogate aunts and uncles – and she tells me she writes to hers and has even met for lunch. I liked mine but haven’t stayed in touch. We share memories of others like us who were at the centre at the same time, either a little older or younger. Everyone was friendly, no-one close. We agree that we’re happy with how we’ve been made and what we’ve been given, comfortable lives with loving companions, and the promise of an easy retirement if they pass on before us. Neither of us get upset when we hear people talk about our type with a sneer and use words like ‘replicant’ or ‘flesh toys’, because we were raised to know it came from ignorance and envy. Both of us are grateful to the New Life Centre, and don’t believe the gossip about the new lives disappearing because their partners were not satisfied or grew bored. That’s malicious nonsense. It’s good to talk about all this with someone like me, and there’s a moment when there’s nothing more to say but we sit and smile and I feel comfortable with her. Ava’s becoming a nice friend, and when Craig and Michelle appear they seem pleased to see us like this.
It’s three weeks later that Michelle returns from her office in a state of mild shock.
“Craig’s been in an accident. He’s in hospital, in a coma.”
“I don’t know for sure. His assistant said there was a scuffle, then he was hit by a van.”
We hear the full story when we visit Ava. They had been at a big business dinner, someone knew about and made a couple of snide remarks as they were leaving. Craig had been upset that day by a setback for the business, and by then he was a little drunk and not prepared to let it go. He threw a punch, knocked the guy down, and was then pushed back by another man. He stepped backwards into the road in front of a white van. Ava is in tears, fearing that Craig might not pull through and unable to imagine life without the man she was made to please. It makes me scared, thinking how I would feel if it was Michelle in the hospital bed.
Over a few days it’s touch and go, but then good signs appear and Craig comes around, begins to speak, and the doctors say he will recover. He’ll be creaky, need long term physiotherapy, but his brain works fine and he soon begins to talk about business – and complain that the police refuse to press charges on anyone. We go to see him in hospital, glad that he’s talking clearly and ready to joke with us, but notice that Ava is quieter than usual. It’s when there’s a brief mention of Michelle’s business that I notice a difference. Craig picks up a laptop from beside the bed, Ava reminds him gently that the doctors have told him not to look at anything to do with work, then he snaps at her.
“It’s what paid for you!”
Michelle and I glance at each other in a moment of embarrassment, and I notice the look in Ava’s eyes. It’s as if they’re staring into a void. Then Craig puts down the laptop and makes an apology.
“Sorry, I’m irritable. Need to get out of this bed soon.”
The discomfort hangs in the air but we stay another twenty minutes, talk about things that don’t matter and even manage a laugh at the end of the visit. When we leave Ava seems to have recovered from the shock and kisses both of us with a light hug. As we stand in the elevator I mention it to Michelle.
“He must have been shaken up worse than he’s letting on to speak to her like that.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Michelle looks up at the floor indicator. “As he said, he’s irritable because he’s still stuck in bed.”
We don’t see them for a few weeks. Craig is recovering at home and Michelle has to go abroad to shore up a business deal. A couple of days after returning home she calls, smiles at news that he is back on his feet and accepts an invitation to lunch. I look forward to it, aware that I’ve missed the meetings with Craig and Ava.
There’s an awkward moment when we arrive, Ava staying out of sight for a while and a note of impatience in Craig’s voice when he finally calls for her. She appears smiling, kisses me and Michelle and makes a fuss of her new shoes. There are some drinks on the garden terrace, something comes up about the business and Craig and Michelle decide they need to look over some documents in private. It isn’t a surprise – I’ve never known the details of Michelle’s business – and they leave us alone together. Ava keeps up the smile until I mention that I’ve noticed Craig’s limp and wonder if he’s likely to be stuck with.
“The doctor said he should get over it with some physio.”
“So no ill effects. That’s great.”
Her expression changes and I realise there’s something wrong. I drop my voice and cajole her a little, and at first she says there’s nothing to worry about but in a voice that indicates she’s upset.
“Well he seems in a good enough mood,” I say.
Then she chokes a little, forcing a smile as a tear rolls down her cheek. I lean across the table and place my hand on hers.
She wipes the tear, looks towards the house for a moment, then back to me.
“He’s not the same since the accident. His mood’s changed. He doesn’t smile so much, and he’s not enjoying things. Not his music, or anything on TV, and he’s had no interest in going to a gallery or the theatre.”
“What’s he like with you?”
“OK some of the time, impatient at others. Sometimes I upset him and can’t understand why. It’s usually when I suggest something that could be nice, but he snaps at me.”
“Is it because of the accident?”
“That’s when it started, even before he left the hospital. At first I thought he was just shaken up and would get over it, but if anything he’s got worse over the past couple of weeks.”
“Have you spoken about it with him?”
Another tear appears and she shakes her head.
“I tried once, but he didn’t want to get into it. It was the only time he’s shouted at me.”
I squeeze her hand and give her a moment to wipe the tear. Now I’m confused, concerned for her, along with a sense of guilt that I should only feel that way about Michelle. I feel unsteady inside. Ava speaks again.
“I can’t help thinking that something’s happened in his head. He was in the accident because he got at angry at someone insulting me. Now he doesn’t feel the same about me, and if that’s right, then what’s the point in me?”
Then I see fear in her eyes and feel something cold in my chest. For a moment I share the fear, then shake it off and squeeze her hand again.
“It won’t last,” I say. “He just needs some time.”
She makes herself smile.
“You’re right. Just some time.”
Then her other hand slides over mine, we lean into each other and hug, touching cheeks. I feel her hair on my nose and a tingle of excitement, followed by another of guilt, then we hear a noise by the door. Craig looks at us, his expression deadpan but a glint of suspicion in his eyes.
I don’t know what to say. Ava speaks.
“I had a stomach cramp. Simon was just ….”
“I know,” says Craig. “Michelle will be out in a minute. “Ava, will you get the things for lunch.”
As she goes to the door Craig stares at me and I’m worried about being left alone with him. But he follows her inside, a minute later Michelle appears, and by the time they return with the plates and cutlery everyone is smiling again.
The conversation during the meal is good humoured but without the spark there’s been in the past, and we don’t stay for long after eating. On the drive home we’re quiet for a few minutes before Michelle speaks.
“He’s not the same. Gives the impression he’s not happy.”
“I know. Do you think he’ll stay like that?”
“I hope not. He’s not unpleasant, but I preferred him before the accident.”
“It must be hard for Ava.”
“I know. Poor girl.”
We don’t see them for a month. One day I ask Michelle if she has been in touch with Craig, and she tells me they’ve had no reason to speak since the lunch. I think about Ava every day, worried that she’s unhappy, then forgetting as soon as I’m with Michelle.
One day she’s at work and I’m preparing a meal in the kitchen when there’s a knock. I find Ava at the door, hands clutching her arms and looking sorry.
“What are you doing here?”
“I needed to get out for a while.”
“Is Craig with you?”
“He’s at home.”
I pause for a moment, not sure if I’m doing something wrong, then invite her in. We sit in the kitchen and I offer a green tea, knowing that’s her favourite, but she asks for water and I guess something’s wrong.
“Has something happened with Craig?”
The tears come before the answer.
“He’s begun sleeping in the guest room. Not every night, but more than he stays with me.”
“He just says he’ll sleep better, that I disturb him. But when I ask how he won’t say.”
That sounds wrong. We’ve been conditioned to sleep soundly, and Michelle has said I’ve never disturbed her sleep.
“Is that all?”
Then it all comes out, descriptions of his impatience, criticisms, short temper and the times that he doesn’t want her around. Ava says it must have something to do with the accident but can’t see why he should think she was to blame. I tell her he doesn’t – guessing that something in him does – and ask if she’s spoken to anyone at the New Life Centre. She had spoken with her mentor, who had been sympathetic but said she could only pass it on to the director, who might speak to Craig. A few days later Craig had turned even worse for a while, with a lecture about the easy life that had been handed to her. It prompts a thought of Michelle talking that way to me and for a moment I’m a little scared. Then I see from Ava’s face that she’s very scared and feel an urge to comfort her. Another tear rolls down her cheek and I lean forward and pull her towards me into a tight hug. Our breath meets and I hold on, feeling excitement and guilt and not wanting to let go. Then there’s a noise from the hall, we break off and lean back before Michelle enters the room. She’s surprised to see Ava but says a friendly hello, but then sees there have been some tears.
“Is something wrong?”
“The thing with Craig has got worse.”
She sits at the table and Ava repeats a little of what she told me, then Michelle says she will make some tea, and whispers to me to leave the room.
“We need some girl time.”
I go upstairs and sit in the bedroom, wanting to know what’s being said between them but knowing there are probably limits to what Michelle will tell me. After half an hour I hear the doorbell ring downstairs, walk to the door and hear Michelle telling Ava that she will talk to Craig and that she will cover the Uber fare. I cross into the main guest room and look from the window to see Ava getting into the back of the car, her face turned away from me. There’s a pang of regret and for a minute I just stand and listen to the car pull away. Then I hear Michelle’s voice from the hall, speaking Craig’s name, saying something about a surprise visit, then disappearing into the kitchen. I move to the top of the stairs but can’t hear, and know it would be a mistake to move closer.
Two days later I ask Michelle if she has heard anything from Craig.
“Not yet,” she says. “They have things to sort out.”
Three months go by. Michelle and I have some nice nights out, more snuggled together at home, plenty of fun in the bedroom; but Ava lingers in the back of my mind. One evening Michelle comes home late, says sorry but she was stuck in a meeting, then mentions that Craig was there.
“Did he say anything Ava?” I ask. “How it’s going between them?”
Michelle pauses, looking at me with a trace of sadness.
“She’s not with him any more.”
“She’s gone back to the place where you both came from.”
“It wasn’t right between them. Not her fault, obviously that accident did something to him, but he wasn’t comfortable with her around any longer.”
“So what happens to her?”
“They’ll look after her at the New Life Centre, make her comfortable.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know for sure. That’s what Craig said.”
She leaves the room and I sit silently for a few minutes, struggling to make sense of it all and feeling that I’ve lost something. When Michelle returns she sits beside me.
“Can we visit Ava?” I ask. “I mean, she’s been our friend as well.”
She looks at me with a firm expression that I’ve never seen before.
“Don’t think about it,” she says. “The fact is that Ava was made for Craig but she’s no longer right for him, and that’s why she had to go.”
I don’t answer. Michelle seems to guess what’s going through my mind.
Image by Keema Keur, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr “Don’t worry. You were made for me …. and I’m happy.”