|Primary Characters:||Vincent/Jerome, Irene, Anton|
|Warning:||m/m sex, adult themes|
|Description:||Jerome/Vincent returns to Earth, and finds Eugene gone. He meets Irene, and begins to search for something new to strive for, but he’s still haunted by his past.|
Things are never as great as you think they will be. You have dreams, make plans, dedicate your life to realizing those plans to make your dreams come true. Then you get your wish, and nothing is as you imagined they would be. I won. Over my brother, over the system. But along the way, I lost other things. Worse still, other people. I may not have felt very close to my brother, but we are lost to each other now, and he’s all I have.
And when I returned to the house, I knew the minute I opened the door, that Eugene was gone. The air was stale, and the silence was suffocating. In the time we lived here together, I think we became close. Close as my brother and I never were. Closer than I’ve been to any other human being, except maybe – Irene. But at the moment, all I could think about was Eugene. He gave me his life. Now I’m beginning to see that he truly gave me his life.
I couldn’t remain in that house. Blindly, I fled through the streets, knowing at the back of my head that if I drew attention to myself, or if I was in an accident, I would be exposed. The punishment for my crime didn’t bear thinking about. That was something I couldn’t even focus on.
Finally, my mad rush was checked when I stumbled and fell. I twisted my ankle, painfully, and my hand was caught on something sharp on the brick wall beside me and I realized the skin was broken. This had to stop. I knew I had to make some kind of plan. But all my life I only planned as far as the take-off. After that, I was lost. It seemed I didn’t have anything else to strive for. Without a conscious thought in my mind, I found that my legs had picked their own way, and I realized that I was outside Gattaca. Again. But there would be no place for me there anymore.
Some of the employees were ending their shifts and stream outside. Talking, smiling, making plans for the evening. I seemed to be the only one standing still, but no one paid any attention to me. No one, except one. Irene. She stopped in mid-step, staring as if she couldn’t believe her eyes. One of the other women bumped into her and apologized, but I could see that Irene didn’t hear a word she said. And a smile was spreading across her face. She started walking again, over to meet me.
“Jerome? You’re back. I was thinking about you today, because I knew you’d be – Jerome? What’s wrong?”
As in a dream, the words froze in my mouth, and I couldn’t reply. I was left staring back at her like an idiot. But her smile never faltered. Either she was too happy to see me, or – this couldn’t be right – she somehow understood.
“Ok. You’re obviously tired and hungry. Why don’t you come over to my place and we’ll talk later. I’d have thought you wanted to go home first. But this is fine. Let’s go. My car’s over here.”
And she herded me towards the parking lot. It felt good to finally have some purpose again, even if it was only to follow Irene to her car, and later to her house. As she drove through the city, my eyes were dimmed by tears. Or something else. I just know that after a while, she stopped the car and we got out. She was still very practical. We entered her apartment, and she turned on the lights.
“Just sit down anywhere. I’ll fix something for us in a minute.”
What she did, or how long it took I couldn’t be sure. Eventually, she just sat down facing me across the table. Apparently, she’d fixed some dinner, and the table had been laid. Not until now did I feel the appetizing smells of food. How long had it been since I last tasted cooked food, and not those nutritional supplements? No doubt, they’re very – nutritional – but they have absolutely no taste or smell.
“Let’s eat. Jerome?”
And at last, I could make myself speak.
“My name is Vincent.”
“Oh, that’s right. You told me. Alright, Vincent. Aren’t you hungry?”
As simple as that. One thing, then another. I found myself doing as she asked without hesitating. When I was a child, things were this easy. Why couldn’t they be again? Or – maybe they could. But how could I expect another person to take over the running of my life? How could I ask Irene to provide the purpose I lacked?
Looking into her eyes, I thought I saw the answer to my questions, but the moment was lost. She was right. I really was tired. Not until I felt the Earth beneath my feet, did I feel this numbing fatigue. The loss of my purpose must have been causing that, but also I think, the realization that the only person I thought was waiting for me, wasn’t. Although it now seemed someone else was remembering me, and anticipating my return.
After we’d eaten, Irene cleared away the dishes, and returned to sit down beside me.
“Well? How was it? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?”
Her questions took a long time to reach me, as if she was speaking from a great distance. The way she appeared to me in the months and years I spent away from her. Now she really was sitting so close to me, I could reach out and touch her, but I still couldn’t hear her properly. By the time her words sank in, I made an effort to think. Was it everything I’d hoped it would be? Yes. No. Yes. I didn’t know.
“I don’t know.”
Silently, she pondered my reply. I could see her eyes searching my face for the underlying meaning to my words. Finally, she nodded, as if she saw far more than I would have thought possible. Or maybe I was just imagining her powers of perception. She smiled at me, and I felt myself drawn to her, with a fervor unmatched by my attraction for her in the past –
But I was too tired to think clearly, and I remembered nothing else for quite a while.
When I woke up, I realized I was lying in a bed, and I wasn’t alone. It had to be time to get up and go to work. But I felt so tired, I wanted to stay here a while longer. The warmth of the other person was making it very tempting to just stay and enjoy the closeness. I must have gone back to sleep, because when I woke up the next time, daylight came through the window, and I felt much better.
The voice was different. Could it be – Yes. The memories of last night rushed back and I realized I might have given our secret – my secret – away.
In her voice there was a new warmth that told me she enjoyed the closeness as much as I did. Perhaps everything wasn’t lost, after all.
“Good morning. Feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you. Sorry about last night. I didn’t mean to impose on you.”
“Don’t be silly. I was really glad you came to see me first thing. When do you need to get back to work?”
That silenced me for a while. I wouldn’t be going back to work. The insight had been growing on me ever since before takeoff, but I hadn’t become aware of it until now. There was nothing left for me at Gattaca. I knew that as soon as I left Earth. Now, there was nothing left for me at Eugene’s place either.
Incredibly, she detected something in my voice, and let the question go.
“How about some breakfast?”
She’d done far too much for me already. During the time I spent with Eugene, I learned to take care of all those domestic chores most people don’t have to deal with. At least that was something I could do for her.
“Ok. But I’ll do it. You stay here.”
“Alright. But -“
“I’ll find my way around. And don’t worry about it – I won’t break anything. Honestly.”
“Great. You’re spoiling me. I haven’t had anyone waiting on me like this since I left home.”
Her smile was so warm, I began to feel a little more hope for the future. Maybe – But it was too soon to make any plans. How could I tell how Irene really felt?
So I walked around her kitchen, making coffee, pouring orange juice, making toast. It was nice to have something normal and everyday to do. Kept me from thinking too much. Something about Eugene and his absence was clamoring for my attention, but I pushed those thoughts away. For the moment, I didn’t want to dwell on that. If Irene were to guess – I couldn’t bear to be turned away. But I realized that very soon I was going to have to tell her something.
When I returned to the bedroom, she was sitting up, wearing a dressing gown in some scarlet color that made her look even more beautiful. I never noticed the depth in her eyes before. Now they were drawing me in, making me want to tell her everything. But I held back, for the time being. We’d have breakfast together. That moment was too intimate to waste on my sordid problems.
We concentrated on breakfast, and whatever conversation we attempted was kept on neutral topics far removed from my secrets. Irene told me about what had been going on at Gattaca in my absence, and in the world in general. In a way, nothing had changed. You can be gone for a year, two years, more, and when you’re back, nothing of importance has been accomplished.
By the time we were finished, I reluctantly gathered up the cups and saucers and took them back to the kitchen. The moment of peace was over, and if I wanted to have any chance at all of a future, I had to provide some explanation. But when I returned to the bedroom, she was in the shower. It occurred to me that I hadn’t brought anything. Whatever else I wanted to do, I had to go back to the house and pick up something to wear, and what few personal belongings I still had.
She came out of the bathroom, with a white towel wrapped around her.
“I’m done now. There are some extra toothbrushes and so on in the cabinet.”
Another delay. I was relieved. That gave me time to think over what I was going to tell her. Or rather, how I was going to explain myself to her. I wouldn’t insult her by lying.
Finally, there were no more excuses.
I loved her smile, but it wasn’t helping me with my explanation, so I forced myself to look down at my own hands. Looking at her would only have served to disctract me.
Even if I couldn’t see her, her voice was reassuring. It was impossible to imagine her turning away from me, but I still feared rejection. Suddenly, I knew that I’d never loved anyone as I now loved this woman I hardly even knew. But the bond between us had been growing ever since she found out the truth about me. Part of the truth, anyway.
“Irene. I can’t go back.”
“To Gattaca? Why not? I haven’t given you away. As far as I know, your secret’s still safe.”
“I – It’s over. This is what I worked for. Nothing matters anymore.”
“I see. Maybe you shouldn’t make any major decision just yet. Usually, you get at least three months off before going back to work, after something like this. Have you heard different?”
“No. That’s not the point. What else would I strive for? All the subterfuge is wearing me down and – there’s something else – Eugene -“
“Yes? What about him? Did you have a fight?”
“No. It’s far worse than that. He’s gone.”
Irene frowned in concentration, making me fear that she saw far more than I wanted her to this soon. Before I could find the words to explain what it was about Eugene that –
“You found him dead at the house?”
“No. He’s gone. But I know he’s dead.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I just know.”
I could see that she was wondering what I wasn’t telling her. So was I. Or rather, how I was going to tell her.
“He gave me his life. I knew that already, but now – he really gave me his life. That changes everything. I was going to – I don’t know – repay him somehow. Now I can’t. It’s all over. I’m beginning to think it wasn’t worth it, any of this. Only, that would be saying his sacrifice was for nothing. But he didn’t have to do this. I would have been there for him.”
“I know. But don’t you think he wanted it this way? After what happened to him, he must have felt his life wasn’t worth living. He wasn’t like you or me, Vincent. Once things turned rough, he wouldn’t have had any strength to draw on.”
She was most likely right, but it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty. I was the one with the congenital heart defect. If anyone was supposed to die young it was me. And I had begun to care about him, despite his bitterness. In a way, I felt that we belonged together. I had counted on him being there when I came back. Waiting for me, so we could get back to our arrangement, despite the awkwardness.
“Yes. You’re probably right. But we’d become close. It was a shock to find him gone.”
“I can understand that. But you’re not alone, Vincent. In fact, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you. Couldn’t you move in with me? I’d appreciate the company.”
This was exactly what I’d been hoping to hear her say. But was it fair to drag her into my mess? If I was found out, she’d go down with me, and she didn’t deserve that. Still, her offer attracted me. And right now, I couldn’t bear to be alone, as well as without a purpose in life.
“If you’re sure you want to take the risk of being associated with an invalid.”
“I think I’m already involved. And I really don’t care, Vincent. You’re more important to me. I’ve never met anyone like you. When we first met, I was looking for a perfect guy, but I knew all along that he wouldn’t want someone like me.”
“So now you’re playing it safe, by going for an invalid.”
“That’s not what I meant. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my ideas of perfection have changed.”
Was she really saying what I thought she was saying? It sounded like she was putting into words what I’d only dared to dream. Only to me, what attracted me to her, wasn’t the fact that she was a valid, although with a slight imperfection, but simply the fact that she was someone who looked at me like a human being, and seemed to understand. Of course, her beauty didn’t exactly deter me either.
“Irene – I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say yes. If you want to.”
“Alright. Yes. I do want to live here with you.”
“Good. Then it’s settled.”
“Ok. I’ll have to go back to Eugene’s place and pick up my things.”
“Great. See you soon.”
But something about my face must have made her aware of my reluctance to see that place again.
“Vincent? Would you like me to come along? I need to go out and get a few things anyway.”
It would be so easy to say, yes, please, come with me. But I knew I couldn’t give in like that. What would she think of me? That I was weak, pathetic, helpless. I had to regain some of my selfassurance, or she’d turn away from me in disgust. Hadn’t she just said that it was my strength and determination that attracted her to me? I couldn’t throw all that away, just because I felt slightly disoriented by this feeling of letdown. It would pass, at least I hoped so.
“No. That’s ok. I’ll be alright. And I won’t be long. It was never my home anyway.”
“Maybe you ought to do something about putting it up for sale? And think of an explanation why Jerome Morrow would leave?”
“Yes. You’re right. I have to do something about that. But not right now. I need some time to think this over.”
“Of course. Well, I’ll see you in a little while then.”
Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t have a car, and for various reasons I couldn’t use public transportation. Irene saw my dilemma too, and offered a solution.
She told me she’d drop me off outside the house, and return for me within an hour. That would be more than enough to gather up my meager possessions and say my farewells.
I had been right. Not a trace of Eugene anywhere. I didn’t want to imagine how he’d done it, though I could guess. There really was only one way of managing what he must have done. But I kept my eyes averted from anything that might break my resolve. Still, I couldn’t help searching for a note, a letter. Any last message. But I knew Eugene wouldn’t have wanted to leave anything behind.
Except the tissue samples. He’d left me enough to last me the rest of my professional life. That brought useless, pathetic tears to my eyes. What was with me these days? Had the time I’d spent in outer space changed me into this weakling? Or was it simply that now that I’d lost everything to struggle for, my true invalid self was reasserting itself?
Forcing down all thoughts except the most basic, I managed to gather the possessions I’d brought with me. It wasn’t much, and I didn’t want anything else. There wasn’t even a photo of Eugene. I knew he didn’t want to see himself the way he was, and even less the way he’d become. But it didn’t make any difference. I’d always remember him. Even after all that time, I could see his face before me, if I closed my eyes and focused. But I didn’t want to do that.
It was time for me to return to Irene. I told myself I couldn’t blow this too. She meant so much to me already. So much more than Eugene ever could, but that thought brought a stab of guilt. How could I so easily dismiss all that we meant to each other, just because a woman was smiling and holding out her hand to me? But how could I not, when it was everything that I could ever hope for?
When the hour was up, she was waiting for me outside, and something told me she’d been there for a while. What had I done to deserve this? I’d always been a liar, I’d betrayed Eugene, and now it seemed I couldn’t wait to cling to Irene, because I was too much of a coward to face life on my own.
We drove around the city for a few hours, to do the errands she needed to do, then returned to her place. It was beginning to feel like home already, but that was a luxury I couldn’t allow myself. It was only temporary. She deserved better than someone like me.
That night, we made dinner together, and ate it while talking about nothing in particular. It was nice. She had a way of not making me feel inferior, and I loved that. And she even seemed to be interested in getting to know me better. Me. Vincent. Not Jerome with the perfect DNA. As the evening wore on, I thought maybe I was getting to know her better too.
She still hadn’t made any other sleeping arrangements for me, but she also hadn’t done anything that led me to believe she wanted more than just this effortless companionship.Was I reading her wrong, or was she waiting for me to make the first move? If that was it, it would hardly be surprising. Most women seemed to prefer it that way.
That night, I dreamt about Eugene. About that time when I first realized what little I could do to repay him for what he was giving me. It wasn’t a pleasant dream, though maybe it should have been. After all, those were the good old days, before – before I got what I wished for.
He had been especially edgy that night. I could tell right away. Something was wrong. More wrong than usual. When I asked him what it was, he snapped at me, and I could have left it at that, never knowing what it was that was bothering him. It might have been best that way. But I just had to find out.
“What do you care? Just mind your own business.”
“But if anything’s wrong -“
“Yeah? What then? It’s not as if there’s anything you can do about it.”
That made him look a little more closely, as if something had just occurred to him. But he frowned and appeared to dismiss the thought as soon as it had appeared. That was my chance to butt out, but of course I didn’t.
“Come on, Eugene. Tell me what it is. I’ll go get it for you.”
He laughed bitterly.
“Alright. Go on. Why don’t you go get it for me.”
“Just tell me what it is, and I’ll see what I can do.”
“That’s the bloody point, boy. There isn’t anything you can do.”
He placed a slight emphasis on the word ‘you’, which gave me an idea.
“Ok. If I can’t do it, who can?”
Again that bitter laugh, and I found myself desperately wanting to fix whatever problem he was struggling with.
“Just forget it.”
“No. If I can help you with this, I will.”
My insistence made him look closer, and I could tell he was thinking over my offer. Whatever it was, he had to want it badly. And as I watched the internal struggle play itself out, he seemed to come to a decision.
“Fine. On a notepad right next to the phone, there’s a number you can call for me. In fact, why don’t you call for one for yourself too. I’m not stingy. Knock yourself out.”
“Alright. Who am I calling?”
That laugh didn’t hold a shred of amusement. I was beginning to wonder if there wasn’t a joke at my expense hidden somewhere in all those bitter phrases so typical of Eugene.
“Whores. Is that clear enough for you?”
He had to be joking. Prostitutes?
“You can’t be serious.”
“Why shouldn’t I be serious? It’s been more or less six months since I last got laid. Such as it is these days.”
Yes, why shouldn’t he be serious? Although, personally, I would never have considered approaching a professional.
“Eugene? Is it really worth it?”
This seemed to infuriate him, and I immediately regretted asking. But I had come to care about him, in the weeks and months we’d been living together, and I’d learned to care for him in all the humiliating intimate ways.
“Worth it? Who else would be willing to do the things I need done for me? Are you going to do it?”
The question took my breath away, and I wanted to tell him I was sorry for bringing up the topic in the first place, but the idea had taken hold. How different would it be, really? I used to wash him, dress him, help him in the bathroom. Maybe – But of course he wouldn’t want me to. He was as straight as I was. On the other hand, he had asked. What if I said, yes, why not?
“If you like.”
Now he was staring at me as if I’d lost my mind, but somehow I didn’t think he was going to refuse outright. I had a feeling he might really want me to try.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. If you want me to, I’ll try. But don’t expect too much. I – It’s not as if I’ve ever done anything like this before.”
“Me neither. I didn’t have to. Women were all over me.”
“I wouldn’t know how that feels.”
His eyes bored into me, and I got the impression he pitied me. Of course. The arrogant Jerome Eugene Morrow. And here I was, the invalid Vincent Freeman. A world of difference between us. And a lifetime of experiences separated us.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
We exchanged selfconscious glances, but I could tell he really did want it, even from me. And I wouldn’t go back on my word. He was giving me so much, well, maybe not giving, but allowing me this chance to do what I had always wanted, so how could I not do this for him? It seemed to be all I had to give him.
When he finally replied it was barely more than a whisper.
“Yes. I would.”
“Ok. Let’s do it. In bed?”
He nodded absently as if he was still considering all this. Maybe he wanted to change his mind. I felt relieved, but that lasted only a second. No. He hadn’t changed his mind.
“It just occurred to me, you’re supposed to be me. How appropriate. It will be like doing myself.”
“Yes. I guess so. That’s probably as much as I’ll manage anyway. If that’s ok with you?”
“We’ll see where this leads. You’re not bad looking, you know.”
A crooked half smile accompanied this statement, and I felt my face grow hot. But I realized he was only saying it to provoke exactly that reaction.
“I could say the same about you.”
“Of course you could. And please do.”
Now he was joking again, and it was actually working. He was making me feel a little less selfconscious about the whole thing. And I joined in.
“Alright. You seem to be in good shape. Love the biceps.”
“Thanks, honey. Your pecs are especially fine, in my opinion.”
But that was going a bit far. Again, my face colored and Eugene seemed to notice and shut up for a while. I took him to his room, and we lay down on the bed, watching each other a bit shyly.
I noticed that Eugene’s eyes had lost that strained look. He was looking forward to this, I could tell, even if he didn’t want it to show. That was making me feel a bit intimidated. What did he expect from me? There was only so much I was prepared to do, even though I had promised.
Finally, I reached out and touched Eugene’s chest a little, all the while watching for his reaction. This was tougher than making out with my first girlfriend. Alison hadn’t been too keen on anything beyond kissing and hand holding. Something told me that kissing wouldn’t be welcome this time. But my touch seemed to be ok, and encouraged by that, I continued my exploration, and after a while intensified it. This seemed to be ok with Eugene, so I moved a little closer and let my hands trail down his body. When my fingers closed on him, he tensed up.
“No use. I can’t feel a thing.”
“Really. But feel free to prove me wrong.”
Stubbornly, I continued a while longer, and for a second or two, I really thought I was going to be successful, but eventually, I decided to give up. He should know what was worth while and what wasn’t.
“Would you -“
“Go on. We might as well finish what we started. Within reason.”
“Would you let me touch you?”
“I guess so.”
Actually, this was worse than touching him, for some reason, but if that was what he wanted, I knew I had to let him. Sensing my discomfort, he offered an explanation.
“You see, if I see and feel you reacting, I’ll be able to remember how I used to feel when I -“
“Oh. Go ahead.”
I closed my eyes, but almost right away, I decided that what he wanted was my reaction, all of it, so I might as well let him do this too. He was good. Probably better than I was, which was a bit surprising, considering the stories he’d told about all his women. But he appeared to be just as embarrassed as I was, and it wasn’t long before he pulled back.
“Is that it?”
“Could you – would you finish it yourself? I’d like to watch, if that’s ok.”
It would have to be. I might as well go all the way. That was why we’d started this in the first place. This time, I couldn’t stop myself from keeping my eyes firmly shut until it was over. I think Eugene understood. He didn’t ask anything more that night.
After a while, we became more comfortable around each other, and by the time I left we were getting better at it. I don’t think he really liked it anymore than I did, but I think we both got something out of it. The increased intimacy, if nothing else.
And I recalled the last night, before I was leaving, never to see him again. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, but now I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he already had it planned. Anyway, we were probably more relaxed than ever before, and more ok with it than I’d have thought possible. It wasn’t like a relationship, at least not a sexual relationship, even if undeniably it was both sexual and a relationship, but it had brought us closer together.
At the end of the dream, I had a strange vision of him levitating off the bed, and floating out of the room. I tried to hold him back, and I called his name, but he just disappeared. There was a sickening feeling of loss. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the last time I’d ever see him again. Eugene. Eugene.
I must have talked in my sleep. When I opened my eyes, Irene was looking down on me, a worried look on her face.
Though I knew perfectly well whose name I’d been calling out, I couldn’t stop myself from stalling.
“What? Was I talking in my sleep?”
She gave me a look that told me I should have been honest from the start, and I began to worry that this was it. The end of everything I’d been hoping for. Silently, she waited for me to continue. But I still didn’t know what to tell her. How could I explain the nature of our relationship, without making it sound like far more than it really was? And on the other hand, if I did play it down, wouldn’t that mean betraying Eugene even more?
“Yes. You were saying Eugene’s name. I’m assuming you were having a dream about him?”
“Would you like to talk about it? You sounded really distressed.”
She was right about that.There was a great deal of guilt mixed in with the feeling of loss. I knew that Eugene hadn’t been in love with me, and I certainly hadn’t been in love with him. But shouldn’t I have been more loyal to his memory or felt more affection for him? Maybe not. I think the feelings I had for him were almost exactly as much as he would have been comfortable accepting. Still, I couldn’t help feeling there was something more I should have done. Something else I might have felt.
When I still didn’t reply, she went on. It was amazing. She looked so fragile, and I knew that though her heart defect was far less serious than mine, she probably was emotionally vulnerable, but despite that she could exhibit surprising strength.
“I think you were fond of Eugene. And that’s not surprising. You lived together for a long time. That makes people grow closer. And now he’s gone. Naturally, you’re feeling the loss. But there’s something else, isn’t there?”
I nodded, speechless. Maybe she wasn’t referring to what was weighing on my mind, but she knew. Something or other was as clear to her as if I’d told her myself.
“You can tell me anything, you know. Anything at all. Even if you think it sounds silly. I’m not going to judge you.”
And I found myself willing, even eager to tell her everything, just so I could share my story with someone. I guess deep down, I wanted her to say I wasn’t such a bad person. That’s all anyone wants, right? To be told they’re ok, that some other person cares about them.
But it was still difficult to decide how to explain what it was that was bothering me. In a way, there were two things on my mind. First of all, I had been sleeping with another guy, and secondly, I was still alive and he wasn’t. Despite my congenital heart defect, I wasn’t the one who had been crippled and lost everything. When you start from zero, you really don’t have that much to lose.
“Irene – I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but – uh – Eugene and I -“
What? So this was what I’d been agonizing over for so long? She knew. Maybe that was the answer to my burning question of why she never gave a hint she’d welcome any advances from me. If she knew, she might think I was –
“No. I mean yes. Well, actually – Not like that. But we -“
Sometimes, her mind was working far too quickly for me. She seemed to be way ahead of me, and I was having trouble guessing where this conversation was leading.
“Uh – well – sort of – yes.”
Great. A stuttering idiot. The invalid moron babbling away in gibberish. I had to pull myself together.
“I guessed that right from the start. And you kind of gave yourself away, on the first morning, when you said his name. Why would you assume whoever was sleeping next to you would be Eugene, unless you’d been sleeping with him in the past? But that’s not what’s bothering you, right? Or have you been trying to think of a way of telling me you’re not interested?”
Right again. Amazing.
“Well – it has been bothering me. But not for the reasons you might think. I’m interested alright. And one of the reasons I feel this bad, is that I never wanted what we had. Ever since you and I first met, you’re the one I’ve been dreaming about, wishing for, without daring to hope you’d feel the same way.”
“You may be a very intelligent man, Vincent, but in some ways, you’re a child. Any other woman could have told you I’ve felt the same way from the first time I saw you, even after I knew the truth. But go on. You were telling me what was bothering you about your relationship with Eugene.”
“It wasn’t a relationship. Well, yes, it was, but not that kind. I just knew that I wanted to give him something in return for what he was giving me. And that was it. The only thing I had that he might want. Though not all that much. In the past, he’d never had any problem meeting women. Not like me. Of course, he wasn’t an invalid.”
“Don’t use that word. It’s such an ugly expression. There’s nothing invalid about you, Vincent. Or about me.”
“I know that. You’re not a -“
“Tell that to most of the guys I was dating. But let’s not go into that now. Let’s talk this through. I want to hear all about your concerns. Isn’t it better to deal with things right from the start? If we let things go, we might end up having more problems later. You did this for Eugene as a way of repaying him for his help?”
“It sounds strange, I know. He couldn’t date like he used to, so he had started seeing prostitutes instead. I found that degrading. He probably thought so too. And though we weren’t exactly what the other was looking for, that was all we had. Each other.”
“Not so strange, really. At least not the growing intimacy between you. You were living in his home, caring for him, weren’t you? That had to bring you closer.”
“To begin with, it didn’t. I think he hated me for being healthy, at least as far as he could see. And he was like any other valid, contemptuous about the defective. But in the end, I think he began to care about me.”
“How much though? Would he have done this, if he really cared about you?”
“Irene, he’s gone. His life is over, and here I am, living on borrowed time. It’s not fair. He should have been the one to enjoy life.”
“And what makes you think you don’t have that right? He could have been alive still, if he’d been able to accept the way his life turned out. Or if he’d lived less recklessly while he was still – perfect – or at least healthy. Vincent, he was the one who made the bad choices that led up to what eventually took his life. There’s no reason for you to feel guilty.”
“Maybe not. But that’s how I feel.”
“Yes. I’m beginning to see that now. But you have to put this into perspective.”
“I’ve been thinking – could you have surgery to remedy that heart defect?
“Sure. If I was a millionaire. Couldn’t you?”
“Yes. But as long as I don’t exert myself physically, what I have doesn’t have to affect my lifespan or my health. Are you sure about the costs?”
“Pretty sure. Of course that was when I was a child. It might be less expensive now. But for me to do that, I’d have to become Vincent Freeman again.”
“I thought that was what you had planned?”
Yes. She was right. Maybe I could do something about my health. It wouldn’t change my status, but by now, that didn’t mean nearly as much to me as it used to. Until I got back from space, I hadn’t thought about the years ahead. If only I achieved that, I didn’t care what happened to me afterwards. But afterwards was here and now. It was time for me to think and plan for my future. And if I was reading Irene correctly, it wouldn’t be the lonely bleak future I’d always anticipated.
“Alright. Vincent, after all the hard work you put in, don’t you think you’re as good as any of them? Look at Eugene. I’m sorry, I don’t want to criticize him. He was your friend. You obviously cared a great deal about him. But what did he do with what he had? He wasted his resources, and long before he was old, he’d run out. You worked hard, drawing only on your own intelligence, your own talents.”
“What’s your point?”
“I’m just trying to make you see that you have no reason to see yourself as inferior to any of them, Eugene included. And you didn’t take his life. In the end, it was his own choices that ended his life. Stop feeling guilty, stop feeling inferior. If you have to worship his memory, do it because of the person he was underneath the marred perfection, not for any other reason.”
Her choice of words was making me see that perhaps I’d been overreacting. Yes, we’d been close, or at least I’d been close to him. And I would always grieve for the loss of that friendship. But did I have to feel guilty? No. He had shaped his own life. Not me. Maybe it was time to let go of the past and move on. She had told me she cared about me, probably a lot more than that.
Suddenly, I realized that space had been replaced by another dream. Love. How ironic. What could make me happier than anything else was just around the corner, but I hadn’t even seen it, because I was always staring up at the stars. What was out there anyway? Nothing much. Interesting discoveries, sure. But not much more. Whatever there was, couldn’t compare to this.
“Are you feeling better now?”
“Yes. I really am. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Do you want to sleep a little more, or should we get up and do something else? Or maybe you’d like to stay in bed and do something else?”
Again, she had taken me by surprise. What she had just said couldn’t mean anything other than what I thought it did, could it? The invitation I’d been waiting for. My relationship with Eugene hadn’t produced the reaction I’d feared. She was ok about it. And she’d helped me see that my other concerns were unfounded in fact. Irene had set me free. In another way, she’d captured me.
And there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Right here, in her arms. This would be so much easier. No doubts, no awkwardness, no regrets. As I pulled her closer, I felt the last traces of shame over my status, my past, my mistakes slide away. For the first time in years, I was actually enjoying something, taking pleasure in what I was doing, for my own sake, not because of where it would get me. It felt wonderful.
Irene wasn’t able to sway me from my decision not to go back to my work at Gattaca. Becoming Vincent Freeman again wasn’t so easy, however. I wasn’t the killer my brother had been hunting down, but masquerading as a valid was a crime almost as serious, and I wasn’t sure what my punishment would be. To earn my keep, as it were, I began writing articles about the situation of the invalids. That called my brother’s attention back to me.
When I saw him again for the first time since my return, I was afraid he’d turn me in. He walked up to me, and didn’t stop until he was so close, I was sure he’d come to arrest me. His eyes bored into mine, and I had never been more keenly aware of his profession, and my low status.
But to my astonishment, he pulled me into his arms and held me for so long, I was stunned to realize he’d missed me. Afterwards it occurred to me that by defeating him in our old swim race, I had at last earned his respect. Especially after he learned the true reason behind my victory.
“Vincent – Jerome – I think Morrow is dead. I went by the house after you’d left and he was gone.”
“Yes. I think so too. And you can call me Vincent. Jerome’s gone too.”
“I see. What are you going to do now? Irritate society by writing these articles?”
“What else would you like me to do?”
He appeared embarrassed by that question.
“Look, Vincent – if you need a place to stay, or anything else – you can always count on me.”
I was touched. This was something totally unexpected. My superior, valid brother was offering me a home. The anything else he hinted at had to be financial support.
“I appreciate the offer, Anton. But I’m ok.”
He still wouldn’t look into my eyes, and I could tell that the offer had stunned him too. That made me wonder how serious he’d been, but I had a feeling he’d meant it.
“Vincent – if you want my advice, watch your step. Writing articles might not be illegal, but it’s not going to make you popular either. Whatever your name is.”
Or my status. I knew he was right. If my real name became known, was it fair to drag him down with me? But I doubt that would happen. After all, a valid couldn’t possibly be implicated in something like this.
Again, I could tell that he was embarrassed, and that he was agonizing over something else he wanted to say. Finally, he appeared to come to a decision. He reached into his pocket and brought out a card with something printed on it. His name, title, phone number. He scrawled something at the back of the card and pushed it across the table towards me.
“You’ll always be able to reach me at one of those numbers.”
Disbelief flooded through me. I couldn’t believe it. He was going to protect me. This couldn’t be happening. Something must have happened during re-entry into the atmosphere. I was in a coma, in the afterlife – That would explain my good fortune with Irene and this –
Anton seemed to be able to read my reaction well, and to avoid any further awkwardness, he got up, shuffling his feet.
“I have to go. Work. But don’t forget. Call if you need anything. I mean it, Vincent. We’re family.”
“Alright. I won’t forget.”
Maybe I would never swallow my pride and call those numbers, but I would keep that card as a token of our kinship. Blood really was thicker than water, despite everything.
I watched him leave, never looking back. If he had, I don’t know what I would have done. Run after him to hug him again? He wouldn’t have thanked me for that. I guess it was lucky for both of us that he didn’t act as sentimental as I felt right now. It was time I returned to Irene. She seemed to appreciate those ridiculous emotional outbursts.
Later that night, I thought over Anton’s words. Of course, I’d known all along that pointing out the desperate situation faced by us invalids wouldn’t be popular with the valids. Until then, I hadn’t really considered the implications much. Did I really feel strongly enough about this cause to risk my own position, not to mention Irene’s and Anton’s? Irene might be a valid, but if her association with me became known, she might lose her job at Gattaca. And Anton – his position might be stronger, but that meant he had all the more to lose.
On the other hand, what else would I do? Live off Irene’s charity, or Anton’s? Still, it wasn’t fair to risk Irene’s position, over my convictions. I decided to discuss the matter with her this evening, as soon as she returned from work. We had talked about it before, and she’d been supportive, but this time, I’d had more time to consider the possible impact on our lives. I had to know she was fully aware of what she was risking by her association with me.
I waited until we’d had dinner – fixed by me – to touch on the delicate topic.
“Irene – there’s something I’d like to discuss with you, if you’re not too tired.”
“No, I’m not too tired. What is it?”
I paused to consider my choice of words.
“My brother came to see me today.”
“Is anything wrong?”
She was concerned about me. It felt good to have some who cared enough to worry. My smile must have reassured her. The look in her eyes relaxed a bit.
“No. Nothing’s wrong. Now. He seemed to have missed me. I’ve never been so surprised in my life. Can you imagine him hugging me?”
“Yes. I can. But go on.”
“He was concerned about my work. The articles. People – valids – aren’t going to like having things stirred up.”
“That’s stating the obvious. Of course they won’t. But why should you let that stop you?”
“That’s just it. For my own sake I couldn’t care less. But I worry about you – and Anton. You’re the ones who have the most to lose.”
“Don’t worry about me, or your brother. We can take care of ourselves. You’re doing great.”
“Thanks. But are you sure you want to risk everything over someone like me?”
“That was especially stupid, darling. If I didn’t, I’d hardly have invited you to live here with me. So forget about that. Just get on with your work. This is something that definitely needs to be done.”
“I thought you were wary of being associated with anything close to invalid?”
“That’s right. I was. Not anymore. If I lose my job, fine, but I’m not quitting. Just like you, I earned my place in society by hard work.”
“If you’re really sure -“
“Never been more sure about anything in my life. Now, come to bed, Vincent. It’s late.”
“Alright. Whatever you say.”
It made me feel great, having her boss me around. I guess no one had cared enough about me to do that, since my brother – or Eugene.
Anton had been right. It wasn’t long until my articles created quite a stir. There were a number of incensed letters to the editors, and angry debates on television, not to mention some hate mail addressed to me, at Irene’s house. That was all, however, so I could only assume that Anton was still watching out for me, which was a strange feeling to say the least. My younger brother protecting me. But there was no denying that under the circumstances, it might be necessary.
One day, I was invited to participate in a debate on a tv show. As Jerome Morrow, naturally. I wanted to do it, but knowing this was exactly what might reveal my true identity to the public, I hesitated. I had told Irene I wanted to do away with all the pretense, but now that the moment approached, when I might be stripped of my mask, I found that I was afraid to lose my protection.
It was one thing, wanting to be honest, it was quite another to actually face the contempt, the disrespect, even hatred. In the past, I was used to being treated this way. Now, I’d been spoiled by the seductive life of comfort a valid enjoyed. Besides, even if I accepted being returned to my old life, that wasn’t all I risked. Prosecution, sentencing, a prison term – all those were a very real possibility, and I couldn’t deny feeling intimidated by the prospects of losing my freedom on top of everything else.
So, after discussing the matter with Irene, I decided to decline the invitation, and continued the debate in print or online. After a while, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. My supporters were not as vocal in their expression, but at least I knew there were others out there, with similar opinions. Not only invalids, a number of reporters, scholars and ordinary people shared my views, or went even further. Some even dared to advocate equality, or rather demand it noisily, threatening all kinds of violent actions, if society failed to grant us – the invalids – our rights. I wouldn’t go quite as far.
What really surprised me most of all, was the fact that today, unlike when I was growing up, even valids high in the political hierarchy were prepared to listen, and seriously entertain the notion of invalid rights. I wasn’t naive enough to believe this was out of the kindness of their hearts, but if our cause somehow coincided with their agendas it might be to our mutual advantage.
None of this prepared me for the most stunning revelation of all. I received an invitation for dinner with a man by the name of Wilhelm Hexler. The name was familiar, but I had to do some research before I found out who he really was. When I knew, I still couldn’t understand why the great man would want to meet someone like me, even Jerome Morrow.
My curiosity got the better of me, however, and I decided to accept this invitation, and find out straight from the man himself.
Wilhelm Hexler was a short, fat man, with an attitude of self-assurance I’ve never seen anyone exhibit. Not up close like this. He was the sort of man who would never have seen me in the past. The eyes of the valids tend to slide across us invalids as if we were ghosts or reflections, dazzling the eye, but with no real existence.
But today, he held out his hand to shake mine. His eyes met mine, and he studied my face unashamedly. What was he hoping to see? He knew who I was. The invitation was for Vincent Freeman, not for Jerome. What did he want? I wasn’t kept in the dark for very long.
“Mr Freeman. You have become something of a legend among invalids worldwide. What you have done, no one has come even close to, in the past 20 years. In short, a person of your qualifications deserves better than to work as a janitor, or a scrubbing floors. I have asked you here to make you an offer.”
I hoped my face only betrayed polite interest. What that offer was, still hadn’t been revealed, but I could guess. The question was, what would I say? Would he give me time to consider, or was he expecting my reply at once?
“I would like you to run for the city council this upcoming election.”
Council? He had to be kidding. Me – a politician? Was this some cruel joke at my expense or could he be serious?
“You want me to become a politician?”
“Absolutely. I can think of no one more qualified.”
“Thank you. But who would vote for me? I don’t think I need to remind you about my status.”
“Your status is exactly why I’m approaching you in the first place, mr Freeman. My people and I are not the only ones who feel that the time is right for the invalid movement to further their cause.”
“Well, needless to say, I’m flattered by your offer. But I shall need to consider it carefully before I can give you my reply.”
“Naturally. I wouldn’t expect you to enter into this type of commitment carelessly. The nominations don’t need to be in until the end of March. You can let me know anytime before the 28.”
“Alright. I’ll think about it.”
The rest of dinner proceeded as you might expect. It was excruciatingly boring. But on my way back home – to Irene’s house – I tried to imagine myself a politician. Not surprisingly, I failed utterly. The hard work, I wouldn’t shy away from, but what about the reaction from the public? If I’d been treated with hatred, contempt, distrust in the past, what would their reaction be now? Now more than ever, I appreciated Irene’s support.
But when I returned to the house, I found her, at the kitchen table, her face buried in her hands.
“Irene? What’s wrong?”
“Oh. I didn’t hear you come in.”
She looked up, her eyes filled with tears. For the time being, I forgot all about mr Hexler’s offer. I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. It was a while before she wanted to tell me what had made her so upset.
“I just got this.”
She handed over a crumpled up letter, which was lying on the table beside her.
I scanned the small print, and looked back at her, filled with remorse. This was all my fault. If she hadn’t been involved with an invalid, especially one that dared to challenge the status quo, none of this would have happened.
“They fired you? I can’t believe they’d do that to you. What excuse did they have?”
“Reduction of the work force.”
“What else do they need to say?”
“I’m really sorry. This is my fault. You never should have let yourself get dragged down by someone like me.”
“Shut up, Vincent. I wanted to. Do you really think my job means more to me than you?”
“I’ll be ok. If I could get this one, I can get another one. Don’t blame yourself.”
But I did. She didn’t deserve this. I seemed to bring bad luck to everyone I got close to. Eugene was dead. Now Irene had lost her job. Maybe I should just go, before Anton and his family, too, had to suffer because of me.
She seemed to be able to read my mind. Now she got up, and brushed away the last of the drying tears on her face.
“I mean it, Vincent. You mustn’t let this deter you. The work you do is far too important.”
But right now, all I could think about was her loss. My feelings of guilt came welling back up, and at the moment, I couldn’t imagine that she’d ever get another job.
All this meant I had to postpone discussing Hexler’s offer. The deadline kept getting closer, and I still didn’t give it more than a passing thought. But Irene didn’t give up, like I had expected her to. I should have known her better than that. Around March 18, she landed a new job at the university. Her sister worked there already, and through her connections Irene could begin lecturing there.
This changed things a bit, and I recalled Hexler’s offer again. When I asked Irene about it, she appeared to find it an excellent idea. I wasn’t that easily convinced, however. If her association with me had cost her her last job, who knew if she might not lose this one too? But again, she reassured me. My career was no less important than hers.
I was unable to make her see my point of view, so I was left to consider the offer out of my own interests solely. Even then, I wasn’t too thrilled. Could I handle all that attention? Would I be able to take all the pressure? On the other hand, would I be able to support myself, writing articles for the rest of my life? Did I really want to be living off my girlfriend’s charity?
“Irene? How do you feel about me living here?”
“I thought I’d told you that a long time ago?”
“No, I mean about you supporting me.”
“Oh, I see. So that’s what this is about? You feel threatened by the fact that I make more money than you do? Why? I’m happy to sponsor your work. I know as well as you do, that you’re fully qualified to hold down a job every bit as well paid as mine. But what you do, is more important. At least I thought so. Is this the old neanderthal male speaking?”
She was making fun of me, but I had a feeling she was doing it to make this easier on me. It wasn’t working. For once, she was wrong. This wasn’t about our respective genders. I just hated the idea of owing anyone anything, including this woman who meant everything to me. Ever since I was a teenager, I’d managed to pull my own weight, wherever I went.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“No? Ok, how about this? If you still feel reluctant to go into politics, how about if I ask my sister if there’s another job for you at the university?”
That hadn’t ocurred to me until now. I had assumed that having my true identity revealed would forever disqualify me from ordinary employment. And though Irene suggested this, I knew it might not be as easy as she made it sound. But still, if I could find work again, what then?
She was always telling me what an important mission I had, and I had to agree. But did I really want to be this crusader? The truth was, I’d never had the time to wonder about who I wanted to be, once I’d realized my dream. Now the dream was over, and it was more than time to consider what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
“Do you think there might be?”
“I’ll ask. Are you interested?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Frankly, I’m not all that keen on the idea of becoming a politician, but maybe that’s the next logical step.”
“Don’t do anything just because you think it’s expected of you. You’ve earned the right to please yourself for a change.”
And that was true, though I hadn’t thought about it before. I could do what I wanted with my life now. That was a liberating thought. Maybe I wouldn’t be stigmatized by my past anymore.
“Vincent? There’s something else I’ve been wanting to discuss with you.”
“Is anything wrong?”
She smiled at me, as if to say, things don’t always have to be wrong, and I began to relax a little. Maybe I was being too solemn all the time. But my life hadn’t been about having fun until very recently, and I wasn’t used to looking at life through rosetinted glasses.
“No. Nothing’s wrong. In fact, nothing’s up either. I just thought I wanted to hear your views on something.”
I slid down onto the sofa next to her and looked at her expectantly.
“How would you feel about having children one day?”
What? She couldn’t be serious. No one in their right mind would want to breed from me. That would be suicide, socially, if not genetically. Was this another joke at my expense? A really cruel one at that.
“No, Vincent. Don’t look at me like that. I’m perfectly serious. You should know me better by now.”
She said that as if she could read my mind. Most likely, it was my face that was an open book to her, but I still felt it was amazing.
“I never thought about it before. You’d have to spend a fortune correcting all my imperfections.”
I was too tactful to point out that she herself had one small flaw that would need to be corrected.
Her next words took me totally by surprise.
“No. No correction, no selection. Just you and me and nature. Don’t laugh. I’m serious.”
I had no intention of laughing. It sounded to me as if she’d lost her mind. My crusade for want of a better word, apparently hadn’t cured me of the old way of thinking. I was a pariah. No sane, intelligent woman would breed from me.
Or maybe I was the one who had lost his mind. As Irene had pointed out, my condition could be surgically corrected. So could hers. And there was a world of difference between correcting one defective gene, and completely selecting a child’s DNA. Maybe the joke was on me, after all.
“Alright. I’ll have to think more about it, but right now all I can say is I’m overwhelmed. You want to have my child. No one could love anyone more than that. I can’t believe this.”
Too much had happened in the past year. I had a hard time keeping up with the changes. She was right. After all my hard work, I deserved to enjoy life. And now was the time. I would have to work at that too. Allowing myself to take pleasure in life once again.
The last time I’d done that, must have been before I first went to school. Before I learned the hard way, how little an invalid child meant to the world, or even his own family. Whatever I chose to do in the future, I’d bear in mind this simple fact: I had rights, just as anyone else. If I managed to enjoy life I deserved it as much as anyone. Valid or not.
Irene was the one who had managed to get that point across. She would never cease to amaze and thrill me. Finally, I was losing my fear of rejection. Her love was something I could count on. There was a feeling of great security in that thought. Only she had been able to see past the labels that hid the true me.
All the way into my heart. Biologically, it might be flawed, but emotionally it was as functional as anyone else’s. Now I knew that life’s values weren’t measured in genetic sequences or even in successful career moves. At last, I thought I saw my mother’s reasoning when she and my father had decided to have me. Love. It could work, no matter how dated and useless it sounded.