I catch a whiff of cinnamon in the coffee’s steam as I bring it to my lips. A romantic gesture. He knows that’s how I like it. Outside, the pebbled streets bustle with promise. Lovers hold hands. Serene children trail behind.
The screen changes again, and I have to recalibrate. I am now seated in a dusty classroom that reminds me of a commercial for charity. I can hardly believe I am still in the lab. It smells like old plastic or factory-new tennis shoes. There should be a starving child in the desk beside me, but Jared is still working on that. Working on other sensory enhancements first. Ambient noise, wind in your face, that kind of thing. He’s nearly gotten scents all figured out. I raise my hands to see what I’m holding this time. A pencil. It’s about three inches too long. Looking down, I see a crisp piece of lined paper.
I ponder telling Jared that a crumbling third-world classroom wouldn’t have paper at all. Not clean sheets of it anyway, if the desk was coated in a tan layer of silt like this, but I know better than to critique Jared’s work right now. There have been many prototypes leading up to this one and he is close to a breakthrough. Everyone in his program is competing for the grant.
It’s hard to believe he’s even a real scientist. He looked more like a plumber or an electrician that first day we met. I accused him of trespassing in the lab. Asked to see his ID. Now here he is, my genius.
My unwavering support is mandatory.
I use the pencil to write Jared a cheeky note. He’d promised to take a break and spend time with me out in the real world, but he’s put it off again. I write on that paper a list of things I’d like him to do to me. I smile because he’s watching from the booth. He’ll remind me later that everything I do in the simulator is recorded. He might even be angry enough to shake me again, but I’ll kiss him then and make him forget about his stupid project for a while.
The screen blurs in front of me for a moment (Jared is still working on that) revealing a room I recognize. I can see the end of Jared’s bed from where I sit, and the lopsided bookcase he uses as a television stand. I smell lilies, which is odd, because the room should smell like stubbed cigarettes. I wiggle the toes at the end of my outstretched legs and the simulator toes wiggle, too. I clap my hands so Jared will know I’m proud of him. This is the surprise he wanted to share. His biggest achievement to date.
I lift my hands and see that I am bare all the way to my shoulders. I catch movement from the side and see Jared standing naked in his bathroom doorway. I laugh out loud. When he laughs back I hear it, as if he’s right there in the room with me.
“Hello Kitten,” he says. His voice is nearly perfect, but his pitch is wrong. It should be up a notch. And his face looks more like a photograph than flesh. “I’ll punish you for that,” he says, though his face doesn’t move at all.