BY- R.D. JESS
Charlie screamed at the top of his lungs, “This a cruel joke!”. He wished he could grab the closest thing to him and chuck it at the wall. The glass mug would shatter against the surface, giving him some release. He grabbed his head and continued to scream at the unknown sounding hysterical. “What the heck are you doing Maker? I finally had something sweet in my life and you’re going to rip it away from me? This is a joke!” Charlie grabbed a stack of photos of him and Veronica. Walked into the kitchen and began to dig through the drawers. He found a lighter and slammed the drawer closed. Wanting to burn each picture one by one. Holding it as long as he could before dropping the burning picture in the sink. Instead he leaned against the counter crying. His phone rang. The caller ID said Luke Myers so he picked it up, “Yes?”
“Hey man, I heard about you and Veronica. Do you want to grab a drink at Reggies?” Charlie clenched his teeth and gripped the photos. He didn’t want to be told it was going to be alright. That there is someone else out there, but he liked the idea of a distraction. “If you’re buying I’ll drive over now.”
“Cool, see you then.”
He hung up and put away the lighter, leaving the photos on the counter. Luke was waiting in the corner of the bar with two drinks on the table when Charlie showed up. Their hands made a great smacking sound before they pulled each other close together for a hug. When they pulled away Luke patted Charlie’s back and pointed to the table. “I got you, your usual. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Dude it’s free, that’s all I care about.” The men talked about work and their cruddy bosses. They laughed at the stupid things they’re co-workers did and how they themselves didn’t die on the job. Charlie thought he escaped the annoying frustrating comments he dreaded. Then the laughter died out and Luke raised his class. “So how are you doing with Veronica? I know you two got pretty close.”
He shrugged, he could feel himself emotionally putting up a wall. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t have to hide around me, I know how important she was to you. Don’t worry you’ll find someone better, just you wait.”
Heat burned through Charlie’s face. Tears threatened to escape, but he would not allow that. As he took a breath in, he could feel his heart harden. Anger swelled and consumed him as Luke talked. He slammed his fist on the table as he rose from his seat. “Don’t try to make me feel better! I don’t want to be told there is someone else when I didn’t want to fall in love in the first place; you understand me! Loving her sucked, it was painful. She tore down all my defenses without even trying and gave me hope that I didn’t ask for. So don’t you dare say “I will find someone else.” That got me into this mess in the first place.”
“Whoo, let’s take a breath Charlie. I know you’re angry, but once you finish grieving her you will find someone who will make you forget all about this. The Maker could have been using her to prepare you for someone right in front of you.”
“I’m going to stop you there. I don’t want anyone, you hear me! I don’t want to feel this again, to love someone as much as I loved her. I don’t want to walk in a room trying to keep my guard up and a single smile brings me down. She tore past all my defenses and made me weak.” Charlie swung his finger at Luke. “And you want to put me through that hell again? NO THANK YOU! “
Luke shook his head “Charlie, don’t tell me you didn’t want this. You have always wanted to be married. You always wanted a family. Your grief is talking, sit back down and let’s have another drink.” Charlie slammed the table again, tears escaping his eyes.
“STOP!” He whimpered the word the second time when he realized the whole room went silent. “Don’t you think that might be the reason I’m so angry? I wanted this for so long it was agony. Then the very moment I didn’t want it anymore, she showed up and messed with my head. She made me want it again, she made me feel alive. Then the Maker took her away from me! Here I am again. Stuck in the same place of life again and people want me to believe it’s the start of something new! I just want to be left alone.” Charlie snatched up his drink and chugged the last of the liquor. Luke stood there stunned. Charlie grabbed his coat and ran out the door. He had not decided where he would go, but he needed to walk. So he walked. He started down the street and walked down the whole length of the town. Kicking trash cans, until he found himself at a bridge. The bridge he and Veronica had jumped off of and played in the water. At first pain struck his heart like it was impaled. He felt his heart hardening, but as he looked over the river it grew warm.
His retina screen said, “Rebooting, please stand by.” Willam watched the leaves fall into the river as his heart was being rebooted. His heart throbbed as he remembered Veronica trying to make the best of a rough moment. She grabbed his shirt and said, “You get to choose! You get to decide what your life is going to look like.” She let him go, “I choose to enjoy each moment given to me.” She climbed over the bridge and splashed in the river. “People will think it is immature to play in the river. I don’t care, it’s my journey not theirs. What are you going to do on your journey Charlie?” He remembered feeling shocked. She was right and he still had no idea what got a hold of him that day, but he jumped in that river. They splashed each other and he forgot his pain for a moment.
As he remembered these things he felt the calm sensation wash over his whole body. Charlie flicked a pebble into the river. He looked up into the sky and whispered into the unknown. “Thank you for making me enjoy life again.” It began to rain, so he made his way back into the town. Charlie took his time, enjoying the scent of baked bread at the bakery. Remembering how much she loved those cinnamon rolls. He stared at the flowers in a window seal. Thinking, “she sure did love lilies.”
He stopped and looked up at the repair shop sign. He was drenched but didn’t move. He wasn’t sure how he had found his way back here. He asked himself, “Do I really want to do this?” His heart throbbed. Willliam grabbed his chest, remembering all the work the Maker had done on his heart. Chipping away at the potassium carbonate corroding his hard heart. He remembered the careful removal of his metal heart. The Maker replaced the parts with a soft fleshy substance; he said it would prevent it from corroding again. At first the new heart felt wrong. Pounding hard when he saw the sunrise. He blamed the darn thing for loving someone again. How it throbbed when he wanted it to be stone cold.
It was loud, He could hear it echo in his chest. Charlie stood there in the rain clenching his chest, remembering every precious moment with Veronica. She had really done a number on him, but every memory made him smile. From how she said his name to the time they both decided to jump off that bridge and have fun in the river. Each memory left a pang inside his heart. The shop’s door opened and the Maker stood in the doorway. “Come in Charlie and get warm. I think you’re ready for the next adjustment on your heart.”
Charlie nodded and walked inside. The Maker took his coat and hung it up on the rack. “I have a cup of hot coco ready for you. I also have a towel you can use to dry off your metal parts so they don’t rust.” They walked behind the work bench like they did a hundred times before. He removed his shirt and sat down. The Maker placed a towel and cup down next to Charlie and pulled a wrench from his tool box. Undoing each bolt the same way he had every visit. Charlie drank the hot coco as he waited for the Maker to remove his heart. He enjoyed how warm it made him. Remembering how not long ago, he couldn’t even feel its warm embrace.
He watched the Maker begin to remove another metal part on his heart. “I’m sorry for my actions earlier. I should have never gotten mad at Luke. He was trying to make me feel better, but I blew up at him.”
The Maker nodded his head “Yes you did, but do you know why you blew up?”
Charlie scratched the back of his neck feeling ashamed and said, “I think I know.”
The Maker replied “You’re not mad at Veronica and you’re not mad at Luke. You’re not hurt because she left you. You’re not angry because your friend wants you to find love. You’re angry because life has never treated you kindly. Remember that was why you stayed away from me for so long. You thought I was behind your pain.” The Maker turned to look at Charlie and said, “Do I not give good gifts to those I love? Have I not proven myself faithful to pull you out of those dark places, even if it was for a short time?”
Charlie leaned back in the chair, drying his hair. “You’re right, I was mad at you earlier.”
“What changed Charlie?”
“It’s like you said, I realized you have always been faithful to me.” He rolled his eyes and threw the towel on the desk. “I don’t know, my retina screen said it was rebooting and my heart became warm. What happened, Maker?”
“I installed the reboot system in your heart the last time you came in. When something happens that can potentially make your heart hard again, it reboots. Wiping away the corrosive thoughts, allowing you to start again. Since I’ve also been restoring your mainframe, you’ve been able to feed your heart different thoughts. That’s what happened at the bridge.”
The Maker began to re-attach the heart into Charlie’s chest. “Now about today’s events.” He gestured towards the empty mug with a wrench. “I give good gifts like a hot cup of coco on a rainy day, but I am not the one who makes the cup empty. Charlie, everything that has ever hurt you is a consequence of the corruption. Relationships between cyborgs were originally designed as good. Corruption causes a cyborg to accidentally hurt the people they love. It causes viruses and complete destruction to your body. I am not the one inflicting this pain. What I gave you was a gift. To feel love again, if only for a little bit. It was to help you find hope as we worked on some painful stuff together. To show you there are still beautiful things in this world worth living for. Pressing through the darkness just to see the sunrise, even if it was only for a small time. Am I wrong?”
“You’re not wrong. I did have those thoughts. That I can endure the ugly because seeing the next sunrise is worth the agony. Loving Veronica was worth the agony. Now that she’s gone I’m not afraid of my next pain because there’s hope for something as beautiful as her to make me want to live.”
The Maker taped Charlie’s metal chest with the wrench. “There you go Charlie. Good work today. Let’s finish with our closing question. Who are we forgiving today?” Charlie reached for his wet shirt. The Maker stopped him, “No, No. I got you a dry change of clothes for you on the bench.”
“Oh thank you.” His left eyebrow was raised and his right eye squinted as he thought. “Maker, I know who I need to forgive today. Please do not hold it against Luke, for hurting me. I know that it wasn’t his intention to bring up something so painful. Wipe his offense clean from his account as I have wiped it clean. I hold none of it against him.”
The Maker handed Charlie an umbrella and said. “I will not judge Luke for his faults, just as I do not judge you for yours. Go home Charlie, get warm by the fire.”
That’s exactly what Charlie did. He went home and sat by the fire, flipping through the pictures of Veronica. Remembering all the good moments the Maker had blessed him with. Accepting the end of something nice. The heart restoration process was messy and painful. He was sure glad he had Veronica for that time. Now his heart throbbed and beat on its own. He didn’t need her to get through the mess. She was a gift, if only for a time.
He leaned back on the couch and let out a long breath. Charlie picked up his phone and called Luke. “Hey man, I’m sorry for acting stupid earlier. I just wanted you to know, you’re a fantastic friend.”
The last story to the corrupted series releases March 22nd