I lean against the wall, looking out the window and enjoying the stillness of the apartment. My eyes drift up and down the road. The ever-present hum of the outside world has faded into the occasional roar of a passing car. People are safe in their homes. The snowstorm from earlier in the day has stopped, and a soft white blanket gently covers the concrete world of New York.
I hear Josh’s bare feet pad across the wood floor. The metal bed frame creaks when he settles down on top of the comforter.
“Josh, I can’t believe it snowed this much today.”
“Tell me about it. The commute was wicked, and I had a crazy long day today. My manager was having a fit about the commission system. Corporate's bringing in a different team to run the new accounts. A lot of people are freaking out.” Josh pauses. “Are you even listening to me? Emily, what are you staring at?”
“I was just looking out the window and thinking about how pretty the snow looks. It reminds me of being in the country during the winter.”
“Why are you thinking about rural life all of a sudden?” Josh props himself up on his elbow, pushing his weight against the pillow. He eyes me speculatively.
I walk over to the nightstand and pull out a bottle of vanilla lotion. “No reason in particular.” I stare into his warm brown eyes.
Josh is good-looking, in a pretty boy sort of way. Kind of out of my league, to tell the truth. There was a time I would have felt it was the other way around, that I was too good for him. But nowadays, I’ve gotten used to taking what I can get.
I smear the creamy liquid onto my hand. The cold weather is already wreaking havoc on my skin, much as I love it.
I feel his hand trace down my spine. “That smells good,” he murmurs. “I hope you aren’t so tired that you can't fool around.” His hands slide around my waist, and he pulls me down next to him. His lips brush over my neck before nuzzling my cheek.
“I think I can stay awake a little longer if there's something that makes it worth my while.”
“Good. Me too.”
He slides a hand underneath my oversized grey shirt until he reaches my breasts. He gives them a squeeze, making my body tighten. His hand slowly travels down between my legs, pulling down my underwear.
I roll on top of him. Desire begins to build in my stomach and swell through me. His body radiates heat. My mouth finds his, and our kisses are soft. We take our time as our lips slowly blend together. His tongue slides into my mouth.
I rock my hips against his hardening cock, letting him know I want more. I need more. The craving grows inside me. He reaches down for my ass and hoists me up onto him.
My mouth is clenched, but I manage to blurt out one word. “Fuck!”
I guide his hard cock into me and let out a moan of release when he fills me. I tilt my hips back and forth. My fingers dig into his chest as I rub myself against him. He begins to thrust deeper and deeper. “Damn, you’re tight tonight, girl.” His hands clench the bed sheets. I let out a whimper as he drives himself inside me.
“Do you like that?”
Without warning, he pulls his cock out of me, then pushes me off and to the side. His body tightens as he swears and cums in his hand. I sit up on the bed, watching. Josh jumps up and dashes to the bathroom.
He returns to the bed without talking. He looks at me and holds my cheek in his hand. I lean in and kiss him. My pussy still throbs, and my body yearns for release, protests the emptiness. I push myself back onto him with intense hunger. He holds me in his arms as we kiss. My tongue pushes past his lips. I need more. My body overwhelms me. I reach for his hand and place it on my clit.
“Touch me,” I pant.
He begins to massage me, but something's different. His eyes look down. His thoughts are somewhere else. Josh doesn’t want to do this right now.
“Nevermind.” I release his hand.
Josh smiles and inhales deeply. “Goodnight, Em,” he murmurs. He reaches out and pats my arm the way someone would reassure a close friend. The gesture feels unromantic and distancing. Josh lifts the down comforter over his naked body and rolls onto his side, giving me a great view of his back.
“Goodnight.” I get up to throw on a pair of old sweatpants and t-shirt before crawling back under the blankets. I can’t afford to keep the heat running all the time, but at least Josh’s body is always warm. I wish he would wake up and tear into me, but he never does. It only takes a few minutes until he's out cold and the apartment is quiet again.
This isn’t what I hoped for. There was a time when this was the last kind of relationship I expected to find myself in, the last way I expected to find myself living. In the darkness with my eyes wide open, I have never felt more alone, even with Josh sleeping right next to me.
When I first moved to New York a few years ago, everything was different. I was still trying my hand at plus-size modeling and acting. I hadn’t caved and gone the way of so many theatre graduates—taking a job in catering or office administration.
Josh was a safe choice, a friend of a friend. He told me he liked my hazel eyes the first time we went out. I loved his beard, kissing him, and hearing him laugh. I compared us to couples from sitcoms, and I knew, I just knew that one of these days he would wake up and realize he was in love with me.
Quick, late-night hookups became the norm. In the beginning, I was content with him finishing first, and quickly. At twenty-three, I did what I could to not feel alone.
That was before the diplomatic envoys from other worlds arrived. Before the desperate posters and advertisements filtered across bus shelters and newspapers, started playing in front of VidTube videos and appeared all over YourBook.
The Omicronian war had devastated their population. Now, desperate to keep their people from dying out, they’d reached out to humanity in hopes of securing our alliance, and well, our love.
Back then, I’d been willing to take risks. I’d been braver. My naturally black hair was dyed a brilliant red which was too warm for my skin tone, I only had a few hundred dollars in my bank account, and I drank too much wine.
Before I settled for a crappy job to survive, and a crappy man who left me unsatisfied, I’d signed up for TerraMates.
It had been half a joke to me at the time, something my friends had dared me to do. One night, after a bottle of chardonnay too many, we’d all gone on the website and filled out applications.
My friends hadn’t heard back, but I had. And now, as I considered going back to work tomorrow and resuming my duties as a secretary and a phone jockey, that email haunted me.
“Congratulations, Emily Rodriguez Mason. You have been deemed an ideal TerraMates candidate…”
The invite was valid for the next five years. Transportation costs entirely paid for, paperwork handled, and everything I could possibly need to start a new life, complete with cushy compensation from my government, just to ensure that I represented Earth well.
Why didn’t I go for this again?
I look around the too-small, dingy space. What’s keeping me? What do I even have to leave behind?
Well, there’s one thing, and it’s a maybe.
I chew on my bottom lip. My stomach twists, and my heart starts pounding in my chest. I pull the blankets away from me. “Josh, are you awake?”
He groans but doesn't even bother opening his eyes. I trace my hand lightly over his chest.
“Emily, stop. It’s time to sleep.” He bats my hand away.
“I have a question for you. Would you ever want to date me? Officially?” The question hangs in the air like a bomb waiting to drop.
His eyes finally open. “What did you say?” His voice croaks. He's searching for some clarity.
“Would you want to be my boyfriend?”
“Is that what you want?”
I nod. My hair rustles against the pillow. It makes sense for us to be dating. We're exclusive. We’ve been messing around for about a year. We live together—even though Josh insists on calling himself my “roommate.” At some point, we're going to have to take the next step. It feels right.
“Can we talk about it tomorrow?” When he says tomorrow, he means never.
I know where this is going. “Sure. No problem.”
“I know it's important to you, and it's important to me too. But it’s late. We'll talk first thing in the morning.”
Why would I ask you if it wasn't something I wanted, you piece of shit? “Of course, we will.”
“Cool.” It's the last thing he says before rolling over, exposing his back to me, and taking the blankets with him.
You piece of shit, I think to myself. My meager salary’s been covering the rent for the last three months, the whole time he’s been living here. Now, I wonder why I haven’t bothered him about it, tried to get him to pony up his share.
Anger starts to boil in my chest. I want to yell at Josh. My heart starts to beat faster.
The only sound I can hear is Josh's snoring.
A long sigh escapes my lips. What am I doing? I shouldn’t have put him on the spot. I knew the answer would be no. It isn’t the first time I've tried to talk to him about our relationship.
I refuse to let myself get trapped thinking in circles so I get up and put my feet on the cold wood floor. I need to cool off.
Before I can really think through my actions, I head over to the computer and reply to the email. “Confirmation accepted. Sorry it took so long. I’m ready to ship out with TerraMates whenever. I’ll need to be picked up.”
I don’t get a reply right away, but I figure they probably will send an email back to let me know when to expect their Uber, or whatever. I doubt they’ll just, like, send a flying saucer to my address as soon as they get my message.
As soon as I feed my impulse to take action, I feel a flush of heat, almost like I’m drunk. That t convinces me that I need a breath of fresh air even more.
I don't think Josh is going to wake up, but I'm still careful. I know how to avoid the spots that creak on the floor. I slip into my winter boots, grab my coat, and silently walk to the front door.
It shuts behind me with a quiet click. I need to get some space and clear my head. Part of me selfishly hopes Josh will wake up and panic when he notices I'm missing. Another, more realistic part of me knows that won’t happen.
I take the stairs since the elevator in our building hasn't been working for months. Even if it were operational, I want to be outside, not stuck in a metal box. I push past the heavy metal door opening to the ground level. My boots crunch against the new, wet snow accumulating on the sidewalk. A cold breeze makes its way through my coat, and goosebumps start spreading over my skin.
The fresh air helps soothe my mind. The snow covers the empty sidewalks, where busy commuters will rush in the morning. There is something peaceful about standing outside in a sleeping city. The winter brings stillness.
I look up toward a tall building and stare at the few yellow lights shining through the windows. The people inside are having trouble sleeping, just like me. It helps to imagine what problems they must be dealing with instead of thinking about my own.
I walk until my nose burns and my eyes start to water from the cold before turning back.
When I stand outside the burgundy door of my building, the wind begins to pick up. My fingers dig into my coat pockets, searching for the key.
Where is it? I think I remember grabbing it. Did I forget? I chew on my bottom lip and pull out my phone. I doubt Josh will wake up if I call. He sleeps like a log, waking only at his own pleasure.
Why did I have to be so dramatic and run outside like this? My teeth begin to chatter. Fear forms in my heart, and I take a deep breath. Perhaps the key fell out of my coat. I need to retrace my steps before the snowfall becomes too heavy, or maybe I can hang out in the gas station down the street.
Just then, a glowing sphere seems to slide out of reality from around a corner I can’t see.
Shiny and chrome, I can see my own terrified eyes and my reflection in the unmarked ball. As a door slides back, revealing a plush compartment, I hear a softly accented mechanized voice speak.
“Thank you for contacting TerraMates! Your shuttle has arrived. Please enter now for immediate transportation.”
I glance back and forth, expecting this to be a joke or a hallucination. But I’m not that cold.
I stare at my phone. Impulsively, as though I can’t control my own fingers, I type. “Sorry, Josh. I’m leaving. Joining TerraMates. Have a nice life.”
It’s petty and abrupt, but does he really deserve anything better? This new, crazed, bold instinct of mine says no, he does not.
I step into the perfectly-sized sphere, feeling like Cinderella entering an oddly futuristic carriage. The door slides shut in front of me.
“Thank you for accepting your position with TerraMates,” coos the voice. “Please prepare for immediate trans-dimensional, faster-than-light travel. For your safety, sedation will occur immediately.”
“Wait, what?” I ask the space.
But it’s too late now.
Armed with just my phone and a winter coat, I’m not ready to defend myself when a gentle mist blows into my face.
I blink, instantly sleepy, the plush burgundy and black interior growing blurry. Sleep overtakes me, and I lean into the body-conforming, cushiony carriage.
Then I feel the lurch.
Before I drift off to sleep, I have just one moment to bemusedly wonder—what the hell did I just do?