Heart of Steel: Short Fic Friday

John slammed the door to his car, sucked in all the air his lungs could hold, and let out a loud, violent cough. Sweet, sweet relief. He could breathe, the tickle in his throat that he had been fighting all night was finally clear.

“Hello,” he said to himself, his voice markedly softer than his hacking. Yes, his voice was back to normal. It sounded less sexy unclouded by phlegm. She probably didn’t notice, either way.

“Hi.”

John jumped, whipped his head to the right. Shit. There she was, just outside his passenger door. He thought she had gotten in her own car already. Did she hear that terrible cough? She was just as beautiful as her picture on the site, just like the rest.

“Sorry,” he said, mind racing, neck sweating. “I didn’t see you. I…sorry. I’m just…” She stared politely, letting him finish. “Nervous. I’m not good at this.”

“No worries. Mind if I join you? We still have some time.”

John unlocked the door. She slid in, her perfect body sinking into the black leather. John wrapped his fingers around the wheel. He couldn’t bear to look at her.

“Did you enjoy tonight?”

She was looking right at him. Her eyes glowed synthetic white light. She sat so straight.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t…I don’t know how to do this.”

“Let’s just drive, and talk. No big deal.”

He pulled out of the parking garage. He felt his sickness welling in his throat again. Just another thing to worry about on such a strange date. He would drive until she was satiated, delete her number, delete his profile from the site. His fault for trying something new, he supposed. No, Walt’s fault for telling him it was normal. He and Ronnie had never been normal.

Well. The night was pretty. There weren’t many cars, and certainly not many with people inside of them. John loved driving around all the autocars. They were so slow and even that he could weave between them like a stitching needle.

Her metallic skin reflected the brake lights and seemed striped with red, white, yellow. She was twiddling her thumbs in her lap. He wondered if she, too, had anxiety. He wished she would slouch a little.

“What are you thinking?” He asked her. What a strange question. He could remember asking Ronnie if she could think, at all. Walt had nearly thrown him out of the house.

“I like your suit,” she said. “I like how it fits you.”

“I like your dress,” he replied, and it was true. The rich red looked lovely in the restaurant, and in the dark night it was dulled to a mahogany and complemented her silver skin and rope-like brown hair. He wanted to ask what made her have preferences, if they were programmed into her. He wondered if she knew. He wondered if she’d lie about it. He wondered if it mattered…of course it mattered.

The music was low, pulsing. She tapped the toe of a high heel to the beat.

“Did you want to go anywhere?”

“No,” she said, leaning her head back against the seat. “I just love to drive with humans. It’s quite a lot of fun. And, I like spending time with you. I know you’re nervous. And I know you probably miss her…”

John stared straight ahead. The red and white city lights swam in his vision, formed a young Lisa’s dying face. Younger, her wedding veil, her mother, his mother, the vomit, the blood, their daughter, all dying.

Then this thing. The Replacement, sipping a drink one part vodka three parts Ecofuel. The way she tried to move like a woman. The way they all did, how they almost got it. The way they wore vintage dresses because no one bothered designing new ones. The way they now seemed so short and skinny and pretty after years without the flesh and blood equivalent. How to talk to a shell of something that no longer exists? How to talk to a replication? How to talk to a made-to-order immortal?

How to touch one? How to love one?

“I just want you to know that I get it,” she said. “I might not feel it as intensely, but I understand. And…I’m here for you.”

John nodded. “Thank you…I have to think. Perhaps it’s still too early for me.”

She nodded too. He didn’t turn the car around yet, though. Still thinking. If he dropped her off back at the restaurant, she would be gone until he called again. For now, she was here. It had been so long since he’d been alone in a car with a woman, and though it was awkward he had to admit it was nice. She was unsettlingly pretty. He wished she was plumper, or had asymmetrical breasts or a strange birthmark, or short eyelashes or limp hair.

He was driving over the bridge now, and the water shone below like a rippling mirror. He wanted uncertainty nearly as much as he wanted to kiss her. He wanted her to short circuit all her programming, especially the programming telling her not to mind that she’s programmed. He knew that despite her silver color she was warm, soft, fleshy, with a working womb that he was being told left and right to utilize. He didn’t want a baby. He didn’t want a sure thing. He half wanted her to reject him.

She placed two nimble fingers on the radio and turned it two notches.

“Do you mind?” she asked. “I hate this song.”

He shook his head. “Me too.”

The song changed twice, and she let it rest.

“Mm,” she said, stretching her arms and closing her eyes. She sang along, softly, a bit off tune. John sped up, cut off another autocar. Maybe, he mused, he’d keep driving through the night. What was the use in turning around, anyhow?

Meeting the family: Conversation Starters

Your new significant other is amazing. They’re everything you’ve ever wanted, and the last few weeks or months have been like walking on air. They met your friends recently, and got along swimmingly. Now, they want you to meet their friends—or worse, their family.

Naturally you comply, though when they pick you up you’re shaking like a leaf. The night starts out fine, quick introductions, you talk about your job a bit. By the time the appetizer arrives you’re feeling pretty relaxed. It’s halfway through the appetizer that you realize you hadn’t said a word since you ordered, and that was nearly ten minutes ago. They’re all chatting up a storm, and you can barely get a word in edgewise. The topics are changing fast, and inside jokes keep coming up to inexplicable laughter.

How do you deal with meeting a group of people who are already close to one another?

Whenever this sort of scenario happened to me, I found myself being quiet, just observing the family. Whoever was introducing me would later tell me that their friends thought I was “nice, but quiet.” They would say I could talk more. I would be astonished, thinking I had done quite well.

Surviving an evening is different from enjoying one. While it might be beneficial and easier to sit back and observe, these people want to get to know you. They can’t do that if you don’t talk to them.

My suggestion is to act like a predator and go for the weak! Just kidding. Kinda. What I mean by this is to talk to someone who isn’t talking much. Maybe it’s the kid sister, or the father, or one of their quieter friends. I wouldn’t try to strike up a conversation with the person commanding the room, because then everyone will be watching your response. Instead, wait until the table separates into smaller conversations, and talk to a calmer person, to start.

Well, you’ve found your target. Now what? They’re quiet, seem friendly, and are close enough so you can speak at a low-to-moderate volume, but what on earth are you going to say to them?

Think. Didn’t your significant other talk about them before? A great way to start up a conversation is the good old, “So, Sam tells me you’re into [insert hobby here].”

People love talking about their hobbies, especially to new people. It’s also more fun to listen to than a flat description of their job. If you’re lucky, someone has the same hobby as you do, and you can bond over that.

Did your significant other not prepare you at all? Well, you’ll have to be quick…like a predator, again! Follow the conversation and don’t be afraid to jump in. Chances are, they want you to speak, and are waiting to hear you contribute. So, join in. I know, easier said than done (rather, easier said than said in front of other people). But if they’re talking about movies, a simple “Oh, I haven’t seen it yet, is it good?” could get you points.

I find that you don’t have to be a super talkative person on the first group adventure, but you do have to talk. Think of it like a class participation grade.

If it’s truly painful, try to get through the evening mathematically. There are a few different formulas I’ve used to make sure I’m talking enough. One is to try to talk again once I’m the last person to have spoken. Meaning, if everyone in the table has said something since I’ve spoken last, I try to participate again.

Another tactic is to use time and simply try to talk once every five minutes or so.

If you still feel like you aren’t talking enough, remember that a huge amount of language is in the eyes. Make eye contact, even if you aren’t talking. It will make you look engaged and participatory.

Finally, remember: even if your relationship is new, your significant other likes you. They care about you, and want you to have a good time with their family/friends. Ask your significant other for help, if need be. Tell them you get nervous around big groups of new people. Ask them to make space in the conversation to you. Ask them not to leave you alone in a room with them. Ask what so-and-so likes to talk about, and if there are any sensitive topics not to bring up. Ask them to do whatever you want, and they’ll likely do anything to make you more comfortable. After all, they’re probably about as nervous as you are.

If all else fails, just make sure you say something, at some point. It’s okay if they think you’re quiet, because, well, you’re quiet. Things will get easier the more time you spend with them, so just bite the bullet until it becomes second nature. Until then, best of luck. May the flow of conversation be ever in your favor.

Top 5 types of people an introvert would find easy to date

Dating is hard, even for people who actually like small talk. It can be awkward, embarrassing, and plain difficult to ask someone on a date, never mind actually going out with them. To help out with this process, I’ve compiled my top five types of people that are (generally) easy to date for introverts. And don’t worry; I talk about the risks as well. So no matter your preference, I hope this helps you find the person of your dreams! Best of luck!

5. The talkative one.

They might give you a headache by the end of the night, but the positive of the talkative date is that you won’t have to worry about filling any awkward silences. They’ll take care of that. They also won’t mind if you don’t have a story to contribute—they’ll just tell another one. You are able to relax and pitch in when you like, all while learning more about them. Be wary, though. Talkative people tend to be extroverts, and that might not mix well with you. Give them a chance, though. If nothing else, you’ll have a low-stress dinner.

4. The film buff.

Going to the movies was always my favorite date idea. You are expected to stay quiet for two hours, how easy is that? Afterward, you’ll have plenty to talk about and it still feels like you spent a lot of quality time together, even if most of it was focused on a screen. A film buff will love taking you to movies, and will chat with you about the film after. They’ll probably let you get more words in than the talkative one, but that’s okay. You’ll know what to say. The warning with the film buff is that if you end up dating long term you’ll see a lot of movies, many of which will be black and white and/or depressing and/or in a foreign language and/or you have to see it twice to “really get it.” If that makes you cringe, maybe pass on this one. If you’re super down for that, definitely give the film buff a go.

3. The food critic.

Oh, if you love food, this could be the perfect date for you. Imagine, a meal in a lovely restaurant with fine wine and finer entrees. Even if you end up not liking the person, the date will be a raging success for your taste buds. Luckily, you probably will like the date! Food critics are often rather romantic, well spoken, and appreciative of the finer things. Usually, they also like cooking, and will gladly stay in to cook you their newest creation. Plus, you’ll never run out of things to talk about once the food arrives. You can talk about meals you ate abroad, the best restaurant in your home town, cooking adventures, or even just ask them questions about how they see food. Warning: make sure they have more to their personality than “critiquing,” or they may end up critiquing you. If they have nothing positive to say about a dinner, be wary. They might simply be a negative person, and that’s no fun.

2. The introvert.

Dating an introvert is plain awesome…not to brag, or anything. Imagine a relationship where you’re never forced to do what you don’t want to do. Many a date night will consist of ordering pizza and eating it in sweatpants. Campfires and s’mores replace parties you don’t want to go to. They understand your need for alone time, and aren’t offended when you ask for it—after all, they’ll need some too. It’s a match made in heaven, full of books, cuddling, and probably a cat or houseplant. There are some risks to an introvert + introvert relationship though: the biggest is falling into a routine. I know many of my favorite memories wouldn’t have happened without light persuading from an extrovert. An introverted significant other may not challenge you to do scary things, and sometimes scary things are good for us. It’s nice to stay in, but it’s also nice to go out every once in awhile.

1. The friend.

The scariest part of dating for introverts is the social awkwardness of meeting new people. So, why not skip that part altogether? Dating someone who was your friend first is always risky, but can pay off big time. You already know a lot about each other, and know you have fun together. They already know your introverted tendencies, and are possibly an introvert themselves. You don’t have to endure much awkwardness or wonder what to talk about. The first date will be just like how you normally hang out, except maybe with a kiss at the end! What could be easier than that? Sure, sometimes it’s not so simple. Rejection is scary, and if they say no it could make things awkward between you. But communication and openness can result in a fantastic relationship with someone you already enjoy being around, which is exactly why the friend is the easiest person for an introvert to date.

Makeup: Short Fic Friday

Shane glared at his mirror, his shoulder blades pinching together, his hands gripping the rim of the sink. His eyes darted from his forehead creases to the zit on his chin to his appearing crows feet to the zit on his chin to his graying temples to the zit on his chin.

“Pick one!” he shouted at himself. His cat yowled from his bedroom at the sudden noise. Shane sighed and rested his head in the crux of his elbow. Now? It had to be now?

“It’s ‘cause you’re stressed,” he whispered and splashed water on his face. He ran his finger over the bump. It’s pretty deep in there. It wouldn’t be one he could pinch and have it disappear. No. This one was a fighter.

Marzia’s drawers in the bathroom they once shared were all but empty. A hair scrunchie, an old disposable razor. No tweezers, no zit cream, no makeup!

“I could run to CVS. No, I wouldn’t know what to get. The colors all look wrong.” He dried his face on the bottom of his shirt and left the bathroom. Maybe it only seemed big since he was staring at it.

The house was so empty, so big. His feet were so quiet on the carpet that he hadn’t vacuumed in months. The cat needed feeding, so he fed her. He would need to get more cat food soon. He fought tooth and nail for that money-sucker.

Shane paused outside the bathroom door, bouncing on his toes, then leapt in, as if he could scare the zit off his face. Nope, still there, and even bigger and redder than he thought it was.

“Okay, dammit,” Shane said. He checked his phone. One hour. Only one hour? He needed to fix this. It was so easy when Marzia was here. He would always use her concealer—they had the same skin tone. Meetings, holidays, regular Tuesdays. Since she’d left, though…

The cat yowled, there was a big clatter. Shane set his bepimpled jaw. That damn cat.

He caught his own eye in the mirror. Yes, perfect.

Not twenty minutes later and he was at Marzia’s door, cat carrier under one arm. He rang the bell, then knocked directly after.

Marzia opened the door, all six feet and three inches of her. He used to like her supermodel height, her lanky limbs that moved awkwardly like cheap animation. Now she just felt intimidating. Shane held the cat out to her.

“Please,” Shane said. “I need a favor.”

It took a little convincing, but soon he was in Marzia’s new bathroom, slathering his chin in concealer. It made him a new man. He rubbed it until it was unnoticeable.

He popped out of the bathroom. Marzia was stroking the cat on her bed.

“Thank you h…” He caught the  “honey” before it escaped his lips.

“Is it for a date?”

Shane didn’t answer quickly. Marzia nodded.

“A man, then? I presume, considering….” She sighed. “Unless you lied about that just to…well.”

Shane looked down to the carpet. Freshly vacuumed. “Yes…a man. I wouldn’t have lied about that, Marzia.”

“And this is what…you want, to make you happy?”

“Yes.” Yes, for the thousandth time, yes.

“Well, okay then. It’s what you have to do, then, okay. Okay.”

The cat leapt off the bed and stalked out of the room. They were alone.

“I don’t know what to say that we haven’t already.”

Marzia’s shoulders lifted once with a silent laugh. “Me either. Me either.” She gave him the once-over. “You look good…I hope it goes well. And thanks for the cat.”

“Thanks for the makeup.”