“I am here today to see you off. I myself am too old now for this trip, too old and too far afield from most people. I was mainstream once, back when my age was less than the number of countries in the world today. That was so long ago I can barely remember the time of it. But even then I was off center. I tell you now, the times on this planet are changing. The speed is faster, the edge is sharper. If you can’t keep up, you perish by the blade. You, my young friend, are leaving today on a fantastic, historic adventure and I envy you the thrills to come, the new things you will see and learn. I rather wish I could be surprised once again, I miss that. The sameness sometimes becomes tiring. But you will go and I will stay, at least for now. Hold on to your humanness, you will transcend as I have if you meet this challenge. But don’t hold too tightly to the known. Reach out for the stars, they will be there to guide you and to give you a pull in the direction you aspire to go. Good luck and bon voyage to you.”
I stood outside a doorway and listened to the one-sided conversation, thinking at first someone in the office must have left a radio on. The voice was deep and lulling. A good reading voice, but I realized quickly that what I heard was a man in the inner office speaking. I should have made my presence known then, or else moved on, but I was too caught up in the story to abandon my spot. I was hidden from view behind a large fake tree, not concerned about being discovered. Rather, I was more concerned that my view didn’t afford me a clear look at the person who was speaking. I moved slowly away from my concealment in order to get a better look. As I stepped toward the voice, a small mouse chose that moment to scuttle across the carpet, directly under my feet. I screamed and jumped, landing against a large fish aquarium, startling an eel who had been gazing at me from his watery home. He backed up under a shelf of rocks, his beady eyes accusing. I straightened up and came face to face with the man whom I assumed was the source of the voice I had been listening to. He didn’t look like someone well over two hundred years old He was good looking in a classic way, his age not much over thirty, I guessed. I would be thirty-one next week, and I didn’t think he looked any older than I. He smiled at me, then reached out to help me steady myself. I hadn’t realized until he put his hands on my arms that I was swaying side to side.
“Hello, I’m Chad,” he said.
“I’m Joyce, sorry to disturb you,” I squeaked out, my voice much higher than normal. What was wrong with me? Was it the conversation I had overheard? Or the electric pulses that went through my body when he touched me?
“Nice to meet you Joyce. May I ask, why are you lurking in the fake tree outside my office? Not that I’m complaining, mind you, just curious. Would you like to come inside and sit down for a minute? You seem very pale, do you feel faint?”
I was, in truth, feeling quite faint, and also breathless, but for some reason I didn’t want him to know that. I backed away, shaking my head.
“Uh, no thanks, I’m fine. I’m going to go back to my desk and grab my stuff. It is quitting time, and I should go home now.”
I realized as I spoke that I didn’t really want to leave him. I felt like our paths had crossed for a reason, and I didn’t want to take my eyes off him ever again. On the other hand, the things I had heard him say were spooky. I may have fallen in love with him, but I wasn’t in the habit of dating ancient men outside my species.
“I hope you aren’t put off by what you may have overheard while hanging around in the tree.”
“Well, I have to admit it wasn’t the most normal thing I’ve heard while eavesdropping,” I said, trying to will myself to break the hold he seemed to have on me.
“Let me explain, I was reading a short story submission. It’s science fiction, not my strong suit, and it helps to hear it spoken aloud. I’m trying to decide whether to give the author a spot in our magazine.”
Chad looked into my eyes, and I believed him. How could I have been dumb enough to think what I heard was anything other than science fiction?
“Thanks for explaining that to me,” I said.
Chad frowned, putting a hand to his middle. His stomach made a loud grumbling sound, echoing in the room. He looked embarrassed.
“Joyce, I apologize. I haven’t eaten since this morning. I was out of town for a while and consequently I have been trying to catch up on my work. How about coming out to dinner with me? We can go to the restaurant downstairs. They serve a duck a l’orange that is out of this world.”
“Well, that certainly seems appropriate. I would love to go to dinner with you,” I said to him, daydreaming about how beautiful our babies would be.