August 3rd, 2016
“I can’t stop staring at your dress. It’s perfect.” Kal says.
“You can’t even see it from this angle. Half of it is under the table.”
“I’m looking at the half I can see.”
“You mean my torso? Or my boobs? God, you perv.” I kick his foot.
“No, no. I’m studying and appreciating the intricate effort that went into those embellishments. And red really suits you. Just thought I’d let you know.”
“Well... uhm… navy blue suits you,” I say, looking at his suit jacket.
“We’re red and blue. Like fire and ice.” He responds.
“Like… lava and water.”
“Like love and hate.”
“I’ve run out of similes,” I chuckle. “I wasn’t the best in my poetry class is all I can say.”
I decide to go with a low-fat vegetarian meal, seeming as I don’t want to add congestion on top of everything. I guess eating healthier maybe slows down the process a little. In the grand scheme of things, Aunt Shelly was right – we’re all gonna die, one way or another. Sometimes I think I’m ready for it, and other times, I think not. Today is one of those days that the latter takes me over. I look at Kal, and I think please God, just a little longer. Even if eating salad or whatever might help, then so be it. Kal orders ribs. Cuisine-quality, of course, but still…ribs. Some part of me wanted to think that he was vegan, adhering to his earthy Hawaiian surfer exterior, but he loves animal-based products just as much as the next person, it appears.
“Is your name not short for anything?” I ask, realising that it’s never really occurred to me. I mean, it could just be Kal, but maybe there’s more.
“Kalani. I know; it’s near-identical to my sister’s name, which is Nelani. That’s why we call her Lani for short, and it’s why I’m just called Kal. Just nips it in the bud to avoid confusion.”
“That’s beautiful.” I curve my lips into a smile. “Jesus. I’m just Anne. Annie. Like the redhead from that musical. What’s so special about that?”
“Well I think it’s cute that you take up one half of your mom’s name. Not many people do that. And Rose took the other half.”
“It’s weird. A little self-absorbed, don’t you think?”
Kal laughs. “I’m not the one to comment on that. But I will say that your name is nice. It’s easy to remember, and it sticks right into my head. There’s no escaping it.”
“Anne and Kal. Two syllables in total. So, so simple. I play our names together over and over again until the words meld together and it makes no sense. And sometimes that’s what I think love is. Senseless.”
“Love is weird. I don’t know why it happens, you know. I don’t know why we automatically pick somebody. Why don’t our minds wander easier?”
“Well, yours doesn’t because I’m drop dead gorgeous.” I smile. I need try not to add in some sort of allusion to demise; I do it without thinking. I mean, I could have just left it at gorgeous.
“Something like that.” He grins.
“Hey. Tell me more nice things. Make me feel better.”
“…Well… I don’t know how I would live without you. I think I would go insane - I think I would kill for you. Too much? Too Shakespearean?”
“Not Shakespearean enough,” I say. “A pinch more tragedy is needed.”
Most clones have never lived long, prosperous lives like the rest of their species. I often think about when I’ll break down, when I’ll finally malfunction. I know I’m OK for now, and may be for many years to come. But the thought of me just breaking down in my twenties, or my thirties, horrifies me. By the looks of it, I could get cell mutations in the future as a ‘side effect’ of my condition. And as I sit across Kal, it dawns on me that I was born a disaster. I was the shooting, the coma, the death, the life – a trail of incidences that lead to something bleak, something unfixable. You can’t craft light out of what was always a tragedy. You can’t fix something that should have been born fixed. You can’t. My parents needed to pay. They needed to suffer the consequences of their actions. My demise, my misfortune, is the only way they can. So I’ll have to live with that, in the back of my mind at all times. I’ll have that in my thoughts from hereon. So I need to hold on to someone like Kal - someone who can make me feel normal. I need him so much, and I always will.
“I found out I had this heart condition right before the interview,” I tell him. “I thought it was something to do with me being a clone, with a weaker immune system, but it wasn’t. Rose had it too. My parents knew. They took their chances.” He just stares, absorbing every word in surprise and slight solemnness. “I’m exercising and keeping fit. I go to therapy every now and then, just to keep on top of things. I want to assure you that I’m fine, and there is nothing to worry about. I’m good and I’m happy.”
Our eating has almost come to a standstill - it’s just sitting there on the plates between us. I take Kal’s hand and squeeze it. “Let’s make this date a little more upbeat. I don’t want us to sit here moaning about stuff. I want to have fun! I could do with a lot of that.” I tell him. “Don’t you think that’s a better idea? Because we all know that the future is an unpredictable mess, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but we can do something about right now. This second. Let’s spend our moments wisely.”
“You’re right,” he nods. “Let’s do that.”
Around the same time that I finish the sentence, I notice a middle-aged man slowly approach our table. Once I’m certain he’s coming over, I stiffen up a little. What if it’s a stinking journalist or something?
“Are you Jennifer-Anne Middleton? The clone?” the balding man asks, with a thick New Jersey accent. I sigh, looking over to Kal. He shrugs, as if to say it’s up to you to tell him. I turn back, smiling, before saying “Yes. I am.”
“Wow. This is awesome. Do you mind me getting a quick photo?”
“I’m in the middle of a meal, right now. I’m sorry.” I politely reject.
“Oh, come on. A photo won’t take a second.” He talks a little quieter.
“No, sir. I’m occupied with more important things than fulfilling empty desires of strangers, who subliminally wish to boost their own egos by finding a way to associate themselves with something or someone that they hold to have some sort of superior status, or someone who will garner them attention by their association.”
The man just stares at me, blinking twice, before asking, “Are you a robot or something? Ya sound like one. Is this a clone thing?”
“Ok. I’ll say it in human terms. Leave.”
“Give me a photo. One photo, and I’m outta here. I’ve already finished my meal, see?” he points to the table being cleared.
“Well, the door is over there.” Kal interjects. God, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. I didn’t think I would be that noticed in public. I didn’t think I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy a dinner without being ambushed by someone. How long will it be before my fifteen minutes is over? Probably once I’m dead, by the looks of it. People are like surveillance, watching my every move ever since the interview. They want to see me drop dread, or get better. It’s like a soap opera or something. You could say that I brought it on myself, but honestly – I’ve lived around lies and the omission of words, and I can’t say that I regret telling the truth this one time.
“Screw this,” the man says. “Hey, everybody! Jennifer-Anne Middleton is here! On this table! The first human clone in the world! Check her out - she’s volunteerin’ for photos and signing autographs!”
Oh God oh God oh God. I freeze as the whole restaurant draws to a standstill, looking over at our table.
“We need to get out of here,” Kal says, taking out cash from his wallet and calling the nearest waiter to pay. Once the waiter realises the scenario, he looks over to the manager who happens to be standing at the bar. They give each other a look, and then the waiter turns back to us. I look down at my food, which was virtually untouched. We never even got a chance to eat the damned stuff. Now we’re going to be chased out of a restaurant by an East-Coaster with a receding hairline and an inconveniently reverberant voice. Lovely. On the bright side, the manager let us keep the money seeming as we didn’t get to dig in to the food. It’s either he’s being generous, or he’s playing with the whole ‘famous clone’ scenario and feels that we just don’t need to pay.
We hear the gasps and the mutters, and even see some people get up out of their seats. Kal and I get out of ours, heading straight for the exit before they can surround us, suffocating me. I’m afraid that some people might even attempt to follow us out, which would be the dumbest thing ever, but it’s no surprise if they do.
We hop into Kal’s car and he pulls off. “Where should we go now?”
“Uhm… home?” I say, furrowing my brows. Isn’t that answer obvious?
“I think we should cruise around for a while. Maybe find the nearest park.”
“It’s too damn cold for that.”
“You can have my jacket.”
I roll my eyes. “How gentlemanly of you. Stop by the diner or something so we can get something to eat.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“We didn’t get the chance, Kal! And you still have the money.”
“OK. Whatever. We’ll get some fries somewhere. Then we can take a walk through the city park. How does that sound?”
We sit and talk about plans for the near future, like our upcoming birthday in two days. Kal and I will be celebrating it together, back at his family’s home. A small barbeque will be the perfect chance to chill out, relax, and get to know his close ones a little more. I’m glad I found him, because as time has gone on, I’ve drifted further and further away from my own parents, and I feel not to disturb the lives of my siblings. I still have my friends in Bluebeach, like Abby and Miles, but I feel like nobody can treat me like a human being anymore. But I will always trust Kal to.
Kal carries me up the stairs to my bedroom – I barely have the energy to get there myself. I sit up on the bed, staring up to the ceiling as I take a few deep breaths. Kal lies next to me, leaning on the pillow with his hands behind his head. Then he slides his arm under my back, holding onto me. I feel his fingers toy softly with my hair. We both look up to the ceiling, as if we are stargazing. We don’t say anything for a long time, and I like it this way. I like this kind of silence; the kind that has love filling up the empty space. We don’t need to talk, because we love without speaking. When I hear nothing, I hear him. I know that might not make sense, but I know what I mean. The love is loud enough already.
As I start to fall asleep, my phone vibrates. It rouses us both out of our semi-consciousness. I look at the screen, slowly focusing my gaze.
“Who’s calling at this time?” Kal murmurs next to me.
“I don’t know. It’s just a random number. Let me answer it real quick,” I tell him, because I feel that whoever it is must really feel the need to speak to me.
“Hey, Anne.” My heart freezes in my chest when I hear the voice on the other line. “It’s me, Bret.”