Hank didn't know what to believe. Thinking about Reality Making—which was pretty much all Milton and Rio ever talked about—gave him a creepy feeling like he was living in the nightmare world he saw while being PEP scanned.
Hank thought hard about Rio. She's going to demand Milton makes me stay.
Standing in the lunchroom where she had left him, Hank mulled over the crap the two of them put him through. He stoked up the courage he needed to leave by convincing himself they took advantage of his humble nature. Still, thoughts crept around the edge of his mind that he almost believed.
Things I do affect people I know. They affect people I don't know, just because I care.
Reality Making seemed like a huge responsibility, and one he did not want. He didn't feel any different about himself than he did before taking that stupid test. He was still plain, ordinary Hank.
And plain Hank's life sucks.
Even so, he'd accepted that fact about himself long ago. He took his first PEP Test because his life sucked, and the second one ten months later for the very same reason. Now, hanging out with Milton and Rio, life definitely didn't suck. But it scared the bejeesus out of him.
While Hank wondered which side of the debate would win, the vending machine started humming, as its refrigeration unit kicked in. The darn thing freaked him out every time he had to use it, and he'd have to walk right past it if he ever left.
Which is exactly what he did. He reasoned with himself further as he made his escape.
Maybe Milton and Rio are right. People can be influential. Magicians do it all the time. And hypnotists do it, too. Now you think you're a chicken! What's special about that?
Hank knew in his heart, though, that this was stupid talk. Milton and Rio were savvy, but he wasn't an idiot. He knew they weren't trying to trick him. He felt relief, though, from having let a natural instinct of his take over.
He was leaving, and that was that.
His pace slowed unintentionally as amorous thoughts about Rio returned. I want to be with her.
He struggled to understand why he had feelings of affection for her. He decided it was mainly because she was strong and confident, and yet needed him. He couldn't be sure, however, if her intentions were noble, or even if they were appropriate.
Hank regained his pace. Rio was sexy and able and smart, but she also was scary and mean. And more than a little strange.
I'm not ready for someone like her. Not yet.
With a city sidewalk under his feet, and familiar sights all around, Hank was glad things were back to normal. Padding around Milton's estate, with its big empty rooms and manicured lawns, wasn't the life Hank knew. Here, where noisy cars drove by in the hazy sun, making the tar filling cracks in the road smell like rubber galoshes, here was where he belonged. He took off his hoodie and soaked in the city, through his ears and his nose and his skin.
It feels good to be home.
After a while, Hank realized he was walking towards Asok's rather than his dumpy flat. He hadn't been there for almost three days and was supposed to have worked all of them. He was certain he'd been fired, so he didn't want to simply show up. He could ask for his last check, he supposed, but he didn't care about that either. Milton had given him everything he had any need for. In fact, Milton's generosity was so complete that Hank hardly thought about money at all, or any of the things he owned.
Hank twirled the key to the carriage house he still had in his pocket. He wasn't the least bit interested in going back to his former life. He didn't miss the few friends he had, who he never saw anyway, or the distant members of his very small family. He didn't even want to stock shelves at Asok's, which was the only thing he enjoyed doing.
But not anymore. This isn't like me at all.
This was a whole new Hank. Perhaps he wasn't a Dot, and he certainly wasn't an Other, but whatever he was now, he was no longer his ordinary self.
He resolved to clear any doubt in his mind one way or the other. He walked up to Asok's, but didn't go in. Instead, he stood on the sidewalk nearby and watched customers as they came and went. No one noticed him, or so much as glanced his way, even though he knew some of them by name.
He ventured closer and sat at the farthest table on the sidewalk, facing away from the door. As Milton had once told him about RMing, Hank tried his best to think about nothing. Not daydreaming, nor talking to himself with an inner voice, but truly opening up to possibilities of the unending cosmos.
He concentrated on his body, and on the presence of air. With each breath in, he let an equal one out. He kept his eyes open but stared at nothing. No one went in or out of Asok's for a long time.
Then along came Anna. Everyone admires her, Hank couldn't help thinking as he watched her approach.
She didn't go into the deli and instead, walked up to Hank and sat down. She set her small white accent purse on the table with a decisive thud. He made sure his mouth didn't hang open, but his eyes widened with surprise.
Anna smoothed the seams of her business jacket and slacks before sitting up straight and squaring her shoulders. As each waited for the other to speak, Hank realized he didn't even know how well Anna spoke English. They had almost never spoken to one another, even though they'd acknowledged each other's existence for the last six years.
During that time, Anna had grown from a not-so-little girl into a stunning teenage adult. She blossomed innocently and with grace, and now, all grown up, she was an Amazon compared to most Japanese. Still, at six-foot-two, Hank was more than a few inches taller.
Nevertheless, Anna was big, and beautiful in all the right ways. Over the years, Hank was amazed at how she had just kept on growing. Her waistline now was wide, yet her ample hips never surpassed the dimensions of her more ample bust. He realized the only things that had changed about him over the same period of time was that he wore his hair a little shorter and stopped riding his skateboard to work.
He suppressed an urge to remind himself again about how his life sucked, especially since at this moment, Anna was sitting with him, looking radiant yet not saying a word. She wore a slimming off-white French cut tee top underneath a slightly darker business jacket, and four bright plastic bangle bracelets all on her right wrist. Each bracelet was a different color, matching the four thick stripes decorating her jacket, which was completely unbuttoned at the moment. While at work, Anna was sure to have kept her jacket buttoned, for the material her top was made of was too thin to allow a woman of her proportions to go without the support a jacket provided.
Anna leaned towards Hank. Every strand of her long black hair cascaded straight down her back. As she leaned in, her bosom spilled forth, stopping just short of touching the table. But Hank didn't look at her bosom, and instead kept his arttention focused on her nearly all-black eyes.
For whatever reason, Hank wasn't the least bit taken aback. In fact, he felt pretty good. Milton had provided him with a plentiful wardrobe, and he sported a new pair of his favorite brand of brushed black denim jeans, coupled with the cool studded belt Rio had given him. His earth-tone green pullover top had a loose fitted collar, with two of its three buttons open. Peeking out from under this shirt was a new black t-shirt that, should Anna get the chance to see, bore the name of his favorite band.
Anna chewed on her square white sunglasses as she matched Hank's continuous stare. As was usual when in her presence, he couldn't think of a thing to say.
"Hey," Anna said, sounding annoyed by the prolonged silence. "I've missed seeing you around."
"Yeah," Hank mumbled, unsure of why Anna would miss him. "I've been… elsewhere."
"You've got another girl going on, don't you?"
Anna's English was Midwestern perfect. It came from a deep place within her, yet had the birdlike lilt of a young Japanese woman.
"You're stepping out on me," she accused with indifference. "Aren't you?"
Hank was flummoxed. He and Anna were never an item. If it weren't for the fact he was looking right at her maroon glossed lips as she spoke, he wouldn't have believed she was speaking to him at all. But he played along because, after all, he's supposed to be this great Genius RMer.
"I wouldn't step out on you. I just want you to notice when I'm gone."
"I did notice you were gone. And now I notice you're back…"
She paused and leaned in closer, keeping her posture straight so her boobs didn't touch the table.
"… For me," she finished with firmness, into Hank's almond butter brown eyes.
He practically burst out cheering. He minded his manners by not looking down her bountiful cleavage as he continued their game.
"Well," he replied calmly. "Only if you'll have me."
"Yeah, I'll have you…" She paused a long while again. "… With me."
She tossed her head to straighten the lay of her otherwise flawless hair, and to get Hank to stare at the jiggle it produced down her top.
"Let's go," she said as she stood up.
She adjusted herself to make sure she was perfect. Satisfied, she put on her sunglasses, picked up her purse and walked away.
Follow her, you idiot!
Hank stumbled over the table as he got his big feet out from under it while grabbing his hoodie from the back of his chair. Anna never slowed down, using her signature long strides to force him to sprint after her. Once he caught up, though, instead of striding and bouncing, Anna changed her gait to a glide.
She appeared to Hank for all the world like an angel taking flight. He tried to glide along too, but his hiking boots stuck and scuffed on the uneven sidewalk.
"Uh... where are we going?" he asked, trying to sound cool, and failing.
"Some friends of mine want to meet you," Anna said in a professional voice, keeping her eyes straight ahead. "I've told them all about you, and now they want to have tea during lunch at the White Tea House."
As Hank pondered this idea, Anna looked him square in the eye. "And you're my guest of honor."
The last time he was in this neighborhood he almost got beat up by Mr. and Mrs. Satō. Now he was following a woman he barely knew into the heart of the Asian community, to sit with her inside one of their most cultured venues.
But Hank sallied forth, confident about one thing. Anna was beautiful, and he'd face a platoon of mean old Asians to get even half a chance of scoring a babe like her as his girl. Plus, if what Milton had told him was true, this was his Reality, and he was in charge of what happened.
And so far, things are great!
Still, one thought popped into his head, as he stole another loving glance at the angel gliding beside him.
I wonder if Rio misses me?
- Upright. In the Den.
- Sci-Fi Action Adventure, propelled by a little Romance.
"Arise!" The star-studded empress of night
Gave me the keys to her city.
Bathed me in breath, told me of plight,
Force-fed my conscious with pity.
Pointed toward East, down past the yard
Through revolving doors of her courthouse.
Megaphones cry. "A guinea a head!
"Everything's fun at the Circus!"