The Speakeasy was empty, but he sat patiently, partially finished glass of bourbon in his hand. He did not know how long he had been waiting, but the level of his drink never changed no matter how much he sipped, the ice didn't melt, and no one came in to join him.
He waited just the same.
Each day had seemed to blend seamlessly into the next until he had no idea what day it was, nor the date, nor even the year. He had been here so long that he had even forgotten why he was waiting, but that didn't matter. It wasn't like there was anything else to do.
He was dozing over his drink when a sound caught his ear, the crisp clicking of a pair of high heels. He sat up straight, drowsiness forgotten. Was it time? Was it she? His eyes didn't leave the doorway.
"Roger," the woman said to him as she entered the Speakeasy.
She knew his name, but...but...it wasn't she for whom he waited. He tried to sort out the vague images that appeared in his thoughts. She was too old, for one thing, surely past forty. Her hair was long when it should be short and her body had a curving fullness that spoke of motherhood. She was dressed simply, in a gray skirt with matching jacket, her reddish-brown hair neatly tied back with a gold barrette. "Do I know you, ma'am?" he asked politely.
"I didn't think you would recognize me," she said a little sadly. "It's me, Dorothy."
"Dorothy? That's not possible, you don't look anything like her!" he protested.
She looked at him steadily. "Of course I don't, Roger. I'm forty-six years old."
"Androids don't age," he insisted.
"They do when you put them in a human body," she said. Her hand reached out hesitantly to touch Roger's face. "You haven't changed a bit, have you?" She looked at him as if she was trying to memorize every last detail of his face. "I've missed you so much. What happened?"
His first impulse was to push her hand away, but there was something about her eyes...and suddenly he remembered everything, from their desperate need to escape a Paradigm City where Alex was using all of his considerable resources to hunt them down and kill them, to the long hours spent selecting an alternate reality out of millions of possible ones. They had chosen their hosts carefully, two patients from a long-term care facility that had no chance of ever waking up again, and had even done a preliminary transfer to make sure that the bodies were truly vacant . His face lit up as he realized he wasn't dreaming or hallucinating. "Dorothy!"
"Where have you been, Roger?" she said, tears starting to run down her face. "I have been looking for you for more than twenty-five years."
He put his arms around her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Something went wrong with my transfer..." his voice trailed off.
"So you never made it," she stated.
"No," he shook his head. "At first, I went crazy trying to find a way out of here, but there wasn't any."
"So you've been here all this time?" her voice was quiet.
"I think so. It's hard to tell because nothing ever changes," he answered. He loosed the barrette and ran his hand through her hair. "This is so pretty, Dorothy, I really like it. And your ears are pierced..." He touched one of the tiny gold hoops. "How was...is it? Were you...are you happy?"
"Sometimes," she admitted. "The man you planned to transfer into died about two years after I got there. After three more years without so much as a glimmer of hope, I resigned myself to the fact that you weren't coming and made a life for myself as best I could."
"It worked, then," he said with satisfaction.
"No, it didn't work because you were supposed to be there!" she snapped. She began to cry in earnest, her shoulders shaking. "You were supposed to help me adjust to being human. You were supposed to help me deal with all of it. I waited and waited but you never came."
"Shhhhh," he comforted her. "One of Alex's assassins managed to track us down and broke into the lab. I tried to flip the switch to get out, but I woke up here instead of there."
"You mean you went and died on me, damn you, Roger Smith," she said. "You promised me you would never leave, and the minute I turned my back..."
"I didn't mean to," he told her. "I know we should have talked about some kind of contingency plan, but I just couldn't face the idea of being without you."
"Do you know what it was like? Do you have any idea?" she demanded. "It worked beautifully. I woke up in the nursing home just as we intended. Of course, that poor girl's parents thought it was a miracle. Any strangeness they attributed to her having been in a coma for so long."
"Did they at least help you?" he asked.
"Of course they did, they thought I was their dead daughter," she answered. "They brought me home and answered all of my questions and got me through the physical rehabilitation part of it. My...my mother said that I had changed, but that she welcomed the chance to get to know me all over again. They loved her...and me, when they got to know me. They were good people, Roger."
"I'm glad they were there for you," he said. "Once you got over the shock, did you like being human?"
"It's...different," she said. "Everything is so...immediate. The feelings rush up and they're hard to control."
"It must have been overwhelming at first," he said sympathetically. "But tell me, what did you do? What was it like? I want to hear all about it, Dorothy. I've missed you so much." He was struck by a sudden thought. "But if I...if I died...Is this...the hereafter? You're with me now, did something happen to you?"
"There was a weakness in my brain from the accident that killed this body's original owner," she said. "I don't know if I will be able to stay or not, they are operating to try to save me now."
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Me too," she said. "I have children, Roger, and they need me. I want to be with you more than anything, but I don't know what is going to happen to them if I don't come back."
"Children?" his face was amazed. "How many, Dorothy? Tell me about your husband--you did get married, didn't you?"
"Three," she said. "I married my physical therapist when I finally accepted that you weren't going to be joining me. He's a good man, Roger."
"Girls? Boys? How old?" he inquired.
"Two boys and a girl. My oldest boy is 15, and then the twins are 12," she replied, smiling a little. "I never thought I would be a mother. I'm not sorry about that part."
"Don't be sorry about any of it," he urged. "I wasn't there, what were you supposed to do?"
"Killing myself occurred to me," she said flatly. "But my...my parents were truly kind people, Roger, and loved me very much. I couldn't bring myself to take away their daughter a second time."
"I'm glad you didn't," he said. "What else have you done?"
"Lots of things. I went to college and studied programming and now I work at a big company that produces animated shows," she said. "Did you know that Paradigm City is still looping?"
"How do you know?" he asked.
"I guess there is some cross-over between the alternate realities," she said. "It was the weirdest thing I ever saw, Roger. They made a television show about us and Paradigm City, named it after your Megadeus."
"Really? Amazing," he said. "I wonder how?"
"The writer said he dreamed it," she answered. "I never let on that it was familiar to me, of course, although I did give him a few suggestions here and there."
"That's incredible," he said. "How is Angel doing?"
"The same as far as I can tell," she answered simply. "She loops it over and over, although I am still not sure why."
He shook his head. "Poor thing. I always felt so bad for her."
"Well, there is very little to be done about it now," she reminded him. "Can we talk about something else? I don't know how much time I have left here."
"Anything," he said, running his hands through her hair again. "You're beautiful, Dorothy."
"I'm middle-aged," she said skeptically. "It's nice of you to say so, though."
"You're beautiful to me," he insisted. "I'm so glad you're here, even if you have to leave again."
"I'm not sure whether I'm happy or still angry at you, Roger Smith," her voice held a hint of her old precision. "While logically I can agree that it wasn't your fault, part of me is still furious about it!"
"If I could change it, I would. I'm sorry for leaving you alone," his voice was gentle. "Forgive me?"
"I'm trying," she said. "It wasn't all bad, Roger. I think I understand things a lot better now. Living will do that to you."
"What do you understand that you didn't before?" he asked.
"You, for one thing," she told him. "I realize how much you loved me, now. I know what you meant when you told me to fight for myself, and I think I even understand why you asked me for mouth to mouth when I came to get you."
He chuckled a little. "I was almost as glad to see you then as I am now. I had thought you were lost to me forever, and seeing you standing there was like a miracle. I was even happy when you called me a louse."
"Well, you are a louse, Roger Smith. You're my louse." She tilted her face up to his and he kissed her lovingly.
The room faded and shifted, and they were standing in Roger's room in the mansion. "Hmm...this is something different," he said. "Not that I'm complaining or anything."
"You did it on purpose," she said, half accusingly and half teasingly. "Louse."
He lifted her up and carried her to the bed. "This is certainly an improvement! You finally lost that extra weight!"
She laughed until the tears ran down her face again. "Damn you, Roger Smith. What the hell were you thinking?"
"That I loved you and wanted to have a life with you and grow old with you, Dorothy Wayneright," he said simply. "It's all I ever wanted."
"What's going to happen to us?" she wondered. "When I...die...whether it's now or another 50 years from now, what's going to happen?"
"We'll have to wait and see," he said. "For now, though..." he kissed her until she was dizzy with it and could think of nothing else.
As they drowsed in the afterglow, Dorothy became aware of a strange tugging sensation. "Roger..." she shook his shoulder. "Roger, wake up!"
"Huh?" he turned to her.
She was crying uncontrollably again. "I think it worked. I think they're trying to wake me up. I don't want to leave!"
He pulled her close and gave her one last kiss. "Finish whatever you have to finish, Dorothy. I'll be here waiting, I promise."
"How do I know I'll find you again?" she sobbed. "If this is all there's going to be, I don't want it to end. I don't want to live without you any more."
"You'll manage it, Dorothy," he soothed her. "No matter where I am, you always find me, remember?"
Her body was becoming strangely light and insubstantial. Sensations were rapidly diminishing, she could barely feel Roger's arms around her. "Please, don't let me go!"
"I'll be here," his voice seemed from very, very far away.
"Roger!" she screamed. "No! I don't want to leave!"
Suddenly she was aware of painfully bright lights. There was a needle in her arm, a tube in her throat, and a mask over her face. "No!" she tried to scream, slapping at the hands that moved to calm her. Her head hurt and the bandages were uncomfortably tight.
"It's all right, Mrs. Grey. You're at the hospital. You had a brain aneurysm and just got out of surgery," a soothing female voice said. "Just rest now, you're going to be fine."
"I want to go home! I want to go home!" the tube garbled her words. "Roger!" She was vaguely aware of someone moving beside her, and then she was fell into darkness.
There was a soft thud as the first handful of dirt hit the top of the coffin. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," the priest intoned. The funeral finished soon thereafter and the mourners returned to the Grey household.
"I can't believe she's gone," Jeff buried his face in his hands, grief overcoming him again.
"It's okay, Dad," Michael said, patting him on the shoulder. "She was ready to go, she was suffering."
"I know, but it doesn't make it any easier," his father said.
"We all had a chance to say goodbye," Amy pointed out, starting a pot of coffee. "Lots of people don't even get that."
"Yeah," her twin Brian agreed, going to the cabinet and setting mugs on the table. "She lived a lot longer than anyone expected."
"She was mostly well up until the end," Michael reminded him. "At least we have that to remember."
"It wasn't long enough for me," Jeff said. "Your mother could have lived to be one hundred and it still would have been too soon."
"We thought we were going to lose her back when we were kids and she pulled through," Michael reminded him gently. "So in a way, we got thirty years that we didn't think we weren't going to have."
"She wanted to go, Dad," Amy said, pouring the coffee. "She loved us, but it was time."
"You're right," Jeff wiped his eyes and blew his nose loudly. "It's just that I'm going to miss her."
"We all will, Dad," Brian said. "But she had a good life and got to see her grandchildren. I thought I would be more upset about it, but I guess knowing it was going to happen for almost three years gave me plenty of time to get used to it. I'm sad, but I feel at peace with it."
"Did you see her face just before she passed? She looked so...so happy," Amy said with wonder. "She said she was going home."
"Wherever that is," Jeff nodded agreement. "And she knew how much we all loved her."
"It's strange," Michael said slowly. "After the emergency surgery all those years ago, I always had the feeling that she didn't quite belong here any more. Sometimes I would see her crying when she thought she was alone. I think the reason she fought so hard to stay was because of us."
"She loved us all," Amy agreed. "I think you're right. She admitted she had a near death experience when she was first recovering, but she would never give me details. She said there was no point in wishing for what she couldn't have, that the best way to pass the time was to fill it with her life."
The phone rang and Amy answered, handing it to her twin. He spoke for a few moments and hung up. "Dad, I've got to go and pick up Sue and the kids at the airport," Brian said. "Do you want us to bring back some take-out?
"No, there's enough here to feed an army from the neighbors," Jeff said. "I'll be glad to see them, hurry back." He gave his son a quick hug and Brian left to collect his wife and children.
"When things settle down a bit, let's sit down and talk," Michael said. "There's no rush, but you might want to consider closing the house up and coming to stay with Sarah and I for the winter. It's a lot warmer in Florida!"
"I will," Jeff promised. "There's plenty of time to figure it out."
Amy hugged her father. "We're all going to miss her, Dad. But we were so lucky to have her! She gave us so much, and I hope she finds whatever it was she that she wanted so badly."
"Me too," Jeff nodded. "And I have all of you to help keep my memories of her alive..."
Dorothy found herself back at the Speakeasy. This time, though, it wasn't Roger sitting at the small table, it was Angel. "I don't believe it," the blonde woman said dejectedly. "I can't win!"
"Where is Roger?" Dorothy demanded. "What are you doing here, Angel?"
"No matter what I do, it's always you and him!" she spoke as though she hadn't heard. "I even put you on different timelines and you still managed to find each other!"
"I'm sorry," Dorothy's voice was gentle. "We didn't do it on purpose."
"I know," she pouted. "I wanted to tell you that I give up, really this time."
Living as a human until the age of seventy-six had given Dorothy a small measure of wisdom. "It was never a matter of winning, Angel," she said softly. "Sometimes, things just aren't meant to be."
"And some things can't be stopped no matter how hard you try," the other woman said.
"Yes," Dorothy agreed. "I don't know why Roger and I belong together, I just know that we do."
"I understand that now," there were tears in Angel's eyes.
Dorothy patted her shoulder comfortingly. "It will be fine. You'll see."
"I suppose you'd like to see him now," Angel muttered. She flipped a switch and Dorothy winced as her mind suddenly flooded with memories. "Do you remember everything now? Do you know who you really are?"
"I've waited this long, I can wait a bit longer," the other woman told her. "Yes, I remember. I'm Dorothy Wayneright, a student at Paradigm University. Timothy Wayneright, who is a professor here, really is my father. Roger Smith is my boyfriend, he's majoring in Law Enforcement, and you're my roommate, Angela Rosewater. Roger dated you when we had a terrible fight, but we got back together and you've been trying to break us up ever since. But Angel...you know that I'm not angry with you any more about it, don't you? I could have been a lot kinder to you, and I only made it worse."
"You're not mad at me?" Angel seemed shocked.
"No. I had plenty of time to find out how it feels to desperately want something you can't have," Dorothy said. "I wish there was some way I could help make it easier on you now." She removed her helmet and goggles and reached over and pulled the same gear from the other woman's head.
As Angel broke down completely, the Speakeasy disappeared and was replaced with a control room. Roger stood there looking at them anxiously.
"Roger!" Dorothy ran to his welcoming arms. She couldn't speak for several moments, nor could he.
Angel looked at them, sad but strangely at peace now. "I guess I owe you both an apology," she said.
"It's my fault," Roger said. "I've had plenty of time to think about it. I never should have accepted that date with you. I let you think that I was free to love someone when I wasn't. It was wrong of me to lead you on that way just to get back at Dorothy."
"I'm sorry, too," Dorothy said unexpectedly. "The whole fight was stupid. I shouldn't have been so jealous, Roger."
"There hasn't been any harm done," he pointed out. "How did you manage to rig the VR gear, Angel? I've never had a simulation feel that real before. It was incredible."
"It wasn't really VR," she said. "It's a prototype of a new machine that can actually shuffle through alternate realities. I borrowed it from Dr. Wayneright's lab."
"So it was all real?" Dorothy asked incredulously. "We really lived those lives?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking," Angel answered. The door suddenly opened and Dorothy's father stormed in.
"There it is!" he said. "What have you three been up to? Students!" He sounded totally exasperated. "That machine hasn't been fully tested yet! Do you know how dangerous it could be? Dorothy, I would think that you of all people would have known better to fool around with my experimental equipment!"
"It's my fault, Dr. Wayneright," Angel said, hanging her head. "They didn't know it wasn't a normal VR unit. How did you find us?"
"Someone saw you bringing it down here, I asked around as soon as I discovered it missing. I'm very disappointed in you, young lady," he said sternly. "Don't you realize the damage you could have done?"
"It's all right, Dad," Dorothy interjected. "Everything came out just fine and I am sure Angel has learned her lesson. It was very...informative."
"Oh, I suppose..." her father said reluctantly, allowing his daughter to coax him out of his anger. "Angela, you must promise to never touch this machine again. I don't know how you even managed to find out what it did! I haven't spoken of it to anyone, the potential for abuse is just too great."
"I saw some of your notes when I went back to the lab for something I forgot," Angel admitted. "I really am sorry, Dr. Wayneright."
The scientist in him took over when he was sure that no lasting harm had been done. "Well, this is fascinating!" he said. "You'll have to tell me all about what happened." He glared at Roger's arms around his daughter as an afterthought.
"I'd be glad to, Dad--in a couple of days," Dorothy told him, laughing a little at his sudden attack of parental concern. "I have something very important to take care of first."
Roger smiled as they drove away from the small park, waving at their friends. "What a wonderful idea this was, Dorothy. I'll always remember it as a perfect day." As they approached the next intersection, he slowed. "Where to now? Would you like to take the weekend out of town? We could go to the mountains, or even spend a few days on the beach."
"No, let's go back to my place," Dorothy said.
"Whatever you like," he turned towards the apartment building. In a short while they arrived and took the elevator to her floor. "Is Angel going to be around?" he asked.
"No, she went to see her family this weekend. I have you all to myself," Dorothy grinned. "I've half-managed to talk my father into offering her a job. She was rotting away in the Political Science program. She belongs in Dad's department, she's a natural for that kind of work."
"I'm glad," Roger said as Dorothy put her key in the lock and turned it. "Wait!" She looked at him with puzzlement. He reached around her and opened the door and picked her up.
"What are you doing?" she laughed.
"Carrying you over the threshold, what else?" He stepped into the room. "How does it feel, Mrs. Smith?"
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. "It feels like I don't want to wait even one more second!"
"I think we've both waited long enough," he agreed and carried her into the bedroom.