**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.***
At night, when they returned to the apartment, Chase did not share Julie’s bed. He took a blanket to the couch to sleep uncomfortably in protest. He had even told her on the way back from the interrogation that he would be moving out to his own place as soon as he could arrange for it. The trust between them was gone. To him, she had betrayed not only him but also Cristina and Alix. Regardless of her stated intention of protecting him, without trust everything between them was over.
Julie cried herself to sleep. Periodically, the tear-dampened pillow woke her whenever she succumbed to sleep throughout the night. At one point, in near panic borne of a dream she had of Chase being shot shocked her awake. The image lingered of him riddled with the bullets from multiple guns as he strived to save Cristina.
She sat up, fuming, in her jealous rage. What was it between Chase and Cristina? He said they had never done anything, that it was professional and platonic. But she knew Chase. He always gravitated to the prettiest face in any room. It was what he claimed attracted him to her. As much as Chase could no longer trust Julie she could not trust him either. She suspected any number of secret liaisons at night during the tour when everyone else was asleep. How could he resist Cristina? She was gorgeous. How could Julie compete with her? Envious and jealous Julie could not get back to sleep.
Cristina seemed devoted to Alix. She confirmed that Chase was always a complete gentleman. Although he made some playful flirtatious gestures they were summarily ignored. He had never pushed the boundaries. And so, Cristina never knew whether he was serious or just playing harmlessly.
Julie considered many things. One was Chase was telling her the truth. Cristina told her that once, when she nearly threw herself at him, he immediately told her about Julie, saying he was taken. She wanted to believe Chase was always faithful. Lately it seemed that he cared about Cristina far too much. So, as a result, she doubted everything.
What was there about Cristina that made her so special? Was it her voice? Was it that she was a performer that many people idolized? What did Chase find most attractive about her? Frankly, Julie had checked Cristina out head to toe. She was pretty, pretty in ways that were subtle, that even took one by surprise, but she also had flaws, same as anyone else.
Julie was used to the compliments about her pretty eyes, nice figure, soft hair, and model’s face. She didn’t take praise seriously or out of context. Chase said she was beautiful. His was the only opinion that mattered. Was there any point to competition beyond that? Did she have to be prettier than anyone else, Cristina for one?
Cristina was in the public eye; Julie was not. Maybe that was the difference. Still Julie could have been a model. There were offers. If she had taken anyone up on the efforts to recruit her, she could have been famous. She wanted to do other things, though. She wanted to be successful in business.
When Chase woke he fixed himself something to eat and watched world viewer until Julie roused in a panic feeling she should have gotten up earlier to get to work on time. Chase made her coffee and breakfast, which reduced her time to work significantly. They exchanged few words, however. She was in a hurry and did not have time to talk anyway. Even so, it hurt her to receive merely silence from Chase. All he said to her was she would be on her own tomorrow. She was out of the apartment door on time and made it to work with a few minutes to spare.
Chase spent the day packing up his things. One of the guys he knew from work was willing to let him stay with him for a few days until he found a place of his own. It was a terrible imposition based on obligation related to work and so anything beyond a day or two would seriously strain a relationship that was solely business based.
When Chase was finished he left his remote key to the apartment on the dinette and erased his voiceprint from the door command. Effectively cut off from Julie’s life, he could no longer intrude uninvited. He relinquished the privilege of living with her.
On his lunch hour, he met his co-worker at his apartment and Chase moved a few of his things inside as his co-worker programmed an access code for Chase to use temporarily and then scooted back to work. Chase began staging his things inside around the couch where he planned to sleep.
Compared to Julie’s place it was cramped. It was closer to work though. He could leave later and still get to work even though he would to get up earlier to shower so as to not interrupt his temporary roommate’s lifestyle.
It was okay. He could deal with it. Finding a new residence was the priority, though, starting the ensuing day.
Julie returned home to the emptiness of Chase’s having vacated the premises. She sat on the couch in the living room and cried. She could not understand how he could do something like this to her, then as an afterthought she realized she had forced him into a corner and, somewhat, made him do it. She accused him of cheating on her with Cristina even if both of them denied anything but amicable, platonic relations.
Julie began to wonder whether it was jealousy that was blinding her. Chase claimed he was in love with her and she loved him. Even if she had ‘sold-out’ to the authorities, as Chase put it, it was because of her love for him. Why could Chase not understand that? That was the breaking point, was it not? She sold out Cristina and Alix. Chase could not accept her logic for having done that. Did it hurt his pride, his ego that she was protecting him?
She feared Chase would never come back to her. She worried he would fall into a trap, the some one she suspected Cristina and Alix were heading toward. She did not want to see Chase sucked into the intrigue Cristina represented and everything the authorities were concerned about. Chase was headed toward disaster.
When the light of morning came again, she sat up on the couch. She had passed out there and slept in her clothes. She scrambled to get up, shedding her clothes on her way to the shower. After drying off, she did her make-up and went to the bedroom closet to select her wardrobe for the day. Already running late, she got dressed but she took some comfort in seeing a few of the accouterments of Chase’s wardrobe were still in her closet. He forgotten a few things, maybe on purpose, and would rightly come back for them. It would give her a chance and a good reason to talk to him again.
Maybe it was for the best, living apart. In time, they could start dating again, if the two of them could get past the wedge presently between them.
She skipped breakfast to save time and hurried out the door just as her cell chimed. She tapped her earlobe to answer as she saw in the ID it was from him. “Hey.”
“Yeah, it’s me. I’m the moron that left half of his stuff in your closet. I thought I had everything but there are some suits and a few others things.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said as she tapped her wrist to activate the holographic display in her palm.
“Did you gather them up already? I mean, I could come over right now and pick them up.”
“Chase, I’m running a bit late this morning. I’m already on my way to work. I certainly didn’t have the time between last night and this morning to go through everything and pack up all evidence of you. I’ll try to get home early tonight and get everything together.”
“I can come over tonight and pick everything up. I erased my access codes, so it will have to be sometime when you are there.”
“Call me this evening, then.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Look, I want to talk, but I really am late.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you later.”
Julie looked at the holographic display in her palm, the image of Chase was still displayed there as the caller until it faded as he disconnected. She sighed as she tapped her wrist and then her earlobe to end the connection. She missed him. The prospect of seeing him however briefly that evening excited her. There was some lingering hope. Maybe they could get back together, but it would take time. She knew that. It would have to be one step at a time.
Julie arranged everything at work to perfectly coincide with her leaving on time. Her supervisor and his supervisor were away on business, which meant she was basically in control of her own agenda. She accomplished a good deal without any interruptions or distractions, actually doing things that were included in her job description for the first time in days.
When she left work for the day and headed back home she felt as if she had accomplished a lot. It was the first time in a long while she sensed fulfillment in her work. It came from doing her work instead of everyone else’s.
She got home. She picked up the messages on her machine in the apartment, and then when she settled, she found a large enough box in the storage closet that she used to collect everything throughout the apartment that was Chase’s. Then she checked all the drawers in the bedroom and the other bedroom room that ostensibly had been Chase’s study. He had left a good number of things besides a few suits.
When she had everything gathered, she set the box down on the floor behind the couch and draped the suits over the back of the couch. About that time, Chase called.
“Hey,” she tapped her earlobe to answer.
“I was just seeing if you are home, yet.”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“The masters let the slaves go on time today?”
“The bosses were away today.”
“Yeah, I got caught up on paperwork. I sort of think that’s why they have meetings that call both of them away so that the rest of us can get our work done.”
Chase chuckled. “Well, anyway I’ll be there in a few, if that is okay.”
“Yeah, I think I found everything you left.”
“I appreciate you doing that for me. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Julie was in the kitchen getting dinner started when the door chime sounded. She opened the door for Chase then returned to the kitchen as he came inside. He closed the door behind him and stood there staring at the box on the floor and the suits draped over the back of the couch above the box. “That’s all of it?”
“I think so. You can look around and see if I missed anything.”
“Okay but you are much more observant than I am. I mean living here for so long I have grown used to seeing things the way they are.”
“I know,” Julie said, forcing brave resolve into her voice when really what she wanted to do was cry.
“If you find anything else, I suppose you can call me.”
“Yeah,” Julie said. “Are you hungry?”
“A little bit.”
“I’m making some macaroni and cheese.”
“If you are inviting me then, yeah, that sounds good.”
“I’m used to cooking more food than just for me. I started out with too much.”
“It’ll save me from having to stop somewhere on the way back to the apartment.”
“Did you find a place?”
“I looked at a couple of places today. One of them is nice but a little pricy.”
“Well, you’ll be getting a promotion soon.”
“Yeah, hopefully,” Chase said. “I stopped by work today and picked up my messages.”
“Did you have a ton of work on your desk?”
“Well, it wasn’t all that bad. I guess everyone else has picked up the slack.”
“That’s good. I wish that happened at my job. But you know what it’s like. Even when I’m there it’s like I end up with everything dumped on me.”
“Yeah, today was nice,” Julie smiled as she confirmed.
“Are you going to stay here? I mean it is kind of expensive for just one person.”
“Yeah, it is a big place so maybe I’ll get a roommate,” she said. “The lease runs out in December.”
“It’s going to be hard getting use to this,” Chase said.
“Living alone. I mean, it has been a while for both of us.”
“Yeah, well, we just adjust, right? That’s all we can do at this point. You don’t trust me anymore and I understand that,” Julie said.
“And you’re jealous.”
Julie glared at him but it was the truth. “Anyway, I’ll spend some time this weekend cleaning up everything and making sure nothing of yours is left behind.”
“Is that the overall objective?”
“I thought that was the point of moving out,” Julie said. “Wasn’t that what you wanted?”
Chase was silent for a time, and then he finally spoke. “I’m not sure why you allowed the authorities to manipulate you, but you said you were concerned about me. I was concerned about me after that experience at the club.”
“I’m not sure how being separated solves that,” Julie said.
“It doesn’t. It’s just that maybe we need to step back and breathe, you know. Maybe we have needed room for a while and all we were really doing was getting in each other’s way. So maybe separating for now is an irrational response, but it’s what I feel is necessary.”
“I cannot bear to see you get hurt,” Julie confessed.
“Well, I’m pretty careful,” Chase said. “For the sake of argument let’s call that a common objective. But I’m concerned about you. Are you okay being alone?”
“I’m okay,” Julie said. “Like I said, I’ll find a roommate or after December I’ll move into a smaller place. It’s only a few more months. I can handle the rent.”
“If you get in a bind, I can help.”
“Thanks for the offer,” she said.
“I have had a whole lonely night to think about what I’m doing and why. I’ve also been thinking about what you are doing and why. I really don’t understand why I’m not holding you in my arms and kissing you except that each of us planted our feet in the sand and decided to be self-consumed.”
“Self-consumed?” Julie asked.
“I’m not sure I agree with that.”
“Then you label what there is between us,” Chase challenged.
“A litany of deception.”
“Oh, come on. Never even once have I lied to you,” Chase said.
“So you say.”
“You mistrust me out of your own insecurity. Somehow you got it into your head that I think Cristina is better than you. I have no idea how, why or even in what way, but you do. Here is a news flash, Cristina’s a friend. We became friends through a business relationship. I have made several friends that way even though I consider our relationship to be much closer than the usual business relationship. It doesn’t mean I’ve slept with her. It doesn’t mean I want to push the relationship to anything beyond what it is. It simply is what it is. She has a great singing voice and is a gifted songwriter. That’s the extent of my interest in her other than we became close friends on tour and we’ve had many conversations. So, yeah we know one another pretty well. I love her in a way but it’s quite different than what I feel for you.”
“Okay,” Julie responded.
“Listen,” Chase said directly to Julie, in a softer voice. “I’ve always loved you. I don’t want anyone else. I can’t rest comfortably without you lying beside me. But I’ll get used to it because I have to.”
Julie looked away.
“If you want this insanity to end we’ve got that opportunity now. Otherwise…”
“I only want to be with you, and live in peace,” Julie said.
“Peace is a goal, not a state of being.”
“We can get there.”
“Not unless we’re a team. There has to be trust for that to work.”
She had finished making the simple dinner and scooped out the contents of the cooking pan onto two plates. Then she opened a drawer and withdrew two forks, one for each of them. She carried the plates to the dinette and placed them where they usually sat whenever they ate.
She felt like she was only going through the motions, trying to be the same way she always was, setting aside the differences wedged between them. She did not want to see him go, but she understood why he needed to. She did not trust him anymore than he trusted her.
He consumed the macaroni and cheese, and then washed it down with a glass of cold water. He picked up his plate, fork and glass and carried them to the kitchen sink where he rinsed them and then put the plate into the dishwasher.
“Thank you,” Julie said as she came into the kitchen to do the same thing with her dishes.
“Thank you for the dinner.”
“It was something quick. I haven’t had it for a while. I used to eat it all the time back when…well, when it was just me. I guess I’m back to that again.”
“Yeah,” Chase turned and went back to the living room and picking up the box he rested it on the back of the couch until he had picked up his suits and draped them over the top of the box.
“You got it?” Julie said as she came out of the kitchen, her presence offering help.
“I think so. Call me if you find anything else.”
“I will. I’m sure I’ll find a few more things.”
“Probably so,” Chase said. “We’ve been here together for a long time. I guess I never really expected to be…well, you know.”
“I know,” she said and she hurried to get in front of him to open the door. “You sure you don’t need help?”
“No, I have it,” he said as he stepped out into the hallway. “Take good care of yourself.”
“You too,” she said, then as he walked down the hall toward the elevator, she closed the door and went back into the emptiness of the apartment, sat down on the couch, turned on world viewer to take her mind off her miserable personal life and she tried very hard not to cry anymore.