"There's still plenty of time to change your mind. You don't have to go through with this."
The man held the door open for the woman and shooed her in. "It's all right," he said. "My motivation isn't entirely altruistic." He smiled, feeling like a gentleman.
"It just seems like such a waste." The woman's face was tight and drawn. There were deep lines around her eyes and mouth that made her look much older than she really was. She wore a look of desperation, and a casual observer would have found it difficult to imagine her with any other. The man could see deeper, however, to the beauty only he knew.
"Where have I heard that before?"
"But you have a choice." The woman raised her hand to her hair, running her fingers through in a nervous gesture. She stopped abruptly as her wig began to come loose.
The man reached up to take the woman's hand in his own. He looked down at it, caressing it like a small, frightened animal. "And so do you, now."
"But, I... I don't..." The woman's words dissolved into tears. They took hold of each other and held tight. The moment passed.
"It's all right," the man said, whispering into her ear. "Everything's going to be all right."
They looked at each other again and then, as if embarrassed, around at their surroundings. The reception area of the office was bland and unobtrusive. It made them both relax, without realising why.
"We have some paperwork to fill in," the man said.
"... and of course there's the discount, as we didn't have to, well, broker this exchange."
The man shrugged and looked down at the clipboard containing the forms. He wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible, before either of them changed their minds. Changed their minds... He smiled to himself. He realised the receptionist was staring at him, waiting for him to say something. "Oh, yes. That's good. Very good." He picked up the pen from the counter.
The receptionist coughed politely. "And for payment?"
"Oh, right." The man reached in his jacket pocket. "A banker's draft is all right, isn't it?"
"That's fine." The receptionist examined the slip of coloured paper briefly before clipping it to her notes.
The man thought briefly about the amount of money involved. Taken out of context, it seemed impossible to justify. Still, some things are worth more than money, he thought, and it's not as if I'll be needing it much more...
He signed the form in the three spaces indicated with little hand-drawn crosses. When he was done, he passed the clipboard over to the woman. "Your turn," he said. She looked at the papers with intense concentration and no small amount of suspicion. "It's OK," he said to her, "They're not going to hurt you."
"It wasn't me I was worried about," she said, and signed.
The man and woman sat in their underwear, looking at each other as the technicians fastened the wires to the energy centres of their bodies. The man's heart filled with a mix of emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. Although they had only known each other for a few months, he felt a kind of love for this woman that went past understanding. When he proposed the solution to both of their problems, she had been shocked and had not wanted to speak to him for days. Eventually his persistence had won her over, although he knew she still had doubts. So did he, but he would never admit that to her.
His life, until now, had been neither good nor bad. Apart from the sense of wrongness which had consumed him since childhood, he had had few major problems. His work, inheritance and investments had left him with a tidy, if not excessive, nest egg. Maybe he could have turned it into a better life in time. It definitely held promise. He felt glad he could give the woman such a life. She deserved it.
A metallic sounding voice came over the loudspeaker in the bleak little room and started counting down from ten. The man looked down at the woman's feet and let his gaze wander up, across her wasted body, until it met her eyes. The fear and sorrow he saw there felt like a slap. As carefully as he could, he got up without disturbing the wires and moved across to her. She stood up to meet him. As the countdown reached one her took her in his arms.
There was a moment's disorientation. The man felt strong, comforting arms holding him. Everything _was_ going to be all right, just as he had told her.
The woman sat alone in her flat, curled up in an overstuffed armchair so large it made her feel like a child. A CD of the Goldberg Variations played quietly on the hi-fi. She sipped a mug of peppermint tea and looked out the window. It was an overcast afternoon, but the sun backlit the clouds, producing a soft golden glow that made the woman think of the face of God.
From deep in her abdomen a twisting wrenching pain built up. With a shaking hand, she put the mug down before she spilled anything. The pain grew and she doubled up, holding her emaciated waist tightly. She gasped and moaned and waited for it to pass. In time it did.
There wasn't that much time left, but it would be enough. The drugs would help with the pain.
She placed a hand on the source of the pain and ran the other slowly up her body, to her smooth face. She felt the face, her fingers tracing the unfamiliar features. A tear rolled down one cheek and she smiled dreamily. Never in her life had she felt so complete.
(c) 1998 XoYo
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