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I stared at the contract in my hands. By the stove, my mother cleared her throat, her hands busy with the frying pan and the spatula.
“You bought me a life partner before I was even born?”
She studiously pushed the bacon around. “That’s not how I would put it. Your father and I didn’t have a very stable relationship. We knew so many people, too many people, having problems. We just wanted to make sure that you wouldn’t have to go through that. I mean, it’s not like we paid for you to have enhanced vision or extra digits, you know.”
“But, Mom . . .” I flipped through the pages again, re-reading the terms. “This is . . . totally different than picking my hair colour and leg length from a catalogue. I mean, how on earth does a company even make a promise like that? This was twenty-odd years ago! Have they been tracking me?”
“Honey, everybody is tracked. You know that.”
Frustrated, I slammed the papers down on the table. “That’s not what I meant! You paid money to these people for some crazy scheme to make sure that one day I’d have a perfect love match, something that you’d approve of –”
“No, not just for our approval,” she replied testily, turning to face me. She brandished the spatula, ignoring the drips of fat onto her clean bamboo floor. “To save you from the problems of trying to find someone right. I don’t want you to end up being abused, like your grandmother did, or all alone like your Aunt Mitsy.” Her voice broke and she threw the spatula on the stove. “I don’t expect you to understand until you’re looking to get pregnant yourself, or until you actually are expecting a child of your own. That’s when you start to wonder what your baby’s future is going to be like. Wouldn’t you do the same?”
I shifted in my chair, slumping down. “Yeah, but this whole idea — it’s not possible. It can’t be.”
“The technology has been tested and it’s been successful for twenty-five years,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes. “We did our research before we registered and paid our money. We considered it an investment, like your college fund.”
“So how does it work?” I gestured around the kitchen, empty except for the two of us. Her pet canary sang a cheery tune in the sunlight. I wanted to throw it, in its cage, out the window. “Where’s my Prince Charming? Do I get a note in the mail or something? ‘You are cordially invited to meet your soulmate.’ I mean, what if I already met him — or her — how would I know? What if that person got killed or died from sickness before we even met?”
“Page six of the contract: if the party of second part is deceased at any time before contract fulfillment, or within five to ten years of the party of the first part’s birth (according to the parents’ discretion), a replacement partner will be selected and conditioned for the partnership agreement.” She turned off the stove.
“It sounds like you’ve memorized the damned thing.”
“I’ve read it over often enough,” she shrugged. She strained the bacon pan into the bio-energy generator. “More, lately. You were supposed to have met your husband by this point, but we hadn’t been notified of it.”
Damnit. Fucking tracking! I got up, not bothering to put the chair back under the table. There wasn’t a lot of space to pace in my mother’s food prep area, but I managed, even while avoiding the fat spot on the floor. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this before?”
“I did! Well, I tried,” she protested. “Don’t you remember the stories I used to tell you?”
“Yeah, but I thought those were . . . fairy tales, Mom!” I snatched a piece of bacon and sucked on it furiously. “Jesus . . . I started dating in high school!”
“Yes, you did,” she sighed. I watched her pat the dishcloth around the bacon to soak up the grease. “Every time, I thought, ‘this is it!’ But then you’d break up. I was actually thinking of suing the company. I mean, the whole conditioning of the fetus through DNA manipulation is to make sure you’re only compatible with one other individual. But you — you’re compatible with everyone!”
I almost left the kitchen at that point. “Don’t make it sound like this is my fault!”
“Well, I don’t know whose fault it is.” She thrust the pan into the sink to soak. “The procedure is foolproof, 100% effective. They were getting down to three weeks left in the agreement to set up your first date with your ideal partner, genetically matched and psychologically designed to be the right one for you. If it didn’t happen, I was going to sue them for false representation. But it did! Your match arrived this morning!”
I watched my mother reach into a drawer and pull out a sealed envelope. A relic from another time, printed on real paper just like the contract. She offered it to me.
“I . . . I have to pee,” I said lamely. I left the room, moving awkwardly down the narrow hall. I didn’t know what to do with my hands.
What if I refused to go on the arranged date?
What if I went, just to satisfy my own curiosity (and her nagging), and it turned out we weren’t compatible after all? She’d definitely sue them at that point.
Because there was one thing I hadn’t told her. I didn’t know how to tell her. I was already in love, had been for years, and it was a precious jewel I kept close to my heart, away from her prying eyes and gossipy tongue.
Cold prickles washed over me. 100% effective — what if I met this guy, and I did fall for him, just like my designers had planned? Biologically and psychologically matched from pre-birth . . . could I handle being in love with two people at once? Was that even possible?
It wasn’t fair. The whole point of the program was that I wouldn’t have to choose.
I locked the door the bathroom and studied the window, debating whether I’d be able to fit through it as well as I’d been able to when I was fifteen.