Will stared incredulously at Becky. "That's what all this is about?"
"That's what he said. And it makes sense in a weird kind of way. But then dreams are weird anyway."
"You're afraid of being left at the altar?"
"Apparently, on a subconscious level, I am. I think it's more a matter of simple pre-wedding jitters all couples go through. Wondering if you're making a mistake. If there's someone out there who's going to just light your fire the first time you see them."
"That kind of sounds like your settling for me."
"I'd only be settling if someone came along who did light my fire the first time I saw him. No, Will, I don't feel like I'm settling for something less than the best. I love you. And I know you love me. What more could I ask for?" Sliding onto his lap she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"Not now, Beck. We've got to finish these compatibility tests if we still plan on getting married in five weeks."
"Sometimes I wish they'd get rid of these damn tests. You can't grade love!"
"No, but you can make sure the couple know what they're getting in for."
"How? If you didn't want me to know something, you just wouldn't tell me....Are you still going to marry me if they say we're completely incompatible?"
"I'm going to say no so you'll answer the questions truthfully....I don't see what the big hassle is? Look how much it's cut down on the divorce rate. Even when there is a divorce, there's no bitter custody fights or any of that bull. Kids survive divorce a lot better now."
"But what ever happened to passion? To old-fashioned romance? It seems so sterile to make it all so logical. Where would Romeo and Juliet be in today's society?"
"Either filing a waiver or looking for someone else."
"Exactly! No more star-crossed lovers."
"Romeo and Juliet both died, remember?"
"But they died so full of love....Sometimes I wonder if you're marrying me because you think we're compatible or because you love me."
"You just said you knew I loved you!"
"I do. I just wonder sometimes, that's all."
"If you hurry up and finish your test, I'll show you just how much I love you," he smiled slyly.
"Somehow, I'm not sure that's worth the price," she replied, but did as he asked.
They turned their tests in fifteen minutes before the deadline. Processing would take two weeks and the background check and physical done before issuing the license would take approximately ten days, and their wedding was in twenty-five days. She knew if they were deemed incompatible, that would be their biggest problem— she was all for spontaneity and following your gut instinct. He on the other hand was one of the most organized, orderly and routine oriented people she knew. It was one of the things that had originally attracted her to him— she loved challenges and saw getting him to lighten up as a challenge. She hadn't really expected to fall in love.
Although they didn't fail the compatibility test, they didn't actually pass it with flying colors. Their scored placed them in the grey area that statistics indicated marked the border between those who faced almost certain failure and those who's love would last forever. Statistically, that is. They were advised to seek counseling and reapply in six months. Despite his threats, they both signed the waiver that legally bound them to accept a court arbitrator's decision should they file for divorce in the future.
It also entered their names in the logs of the counseling organizations across the country— should they seek counseling for marital problems, they'd pay a higher price than a couple who had passed the test with a higher score. They had, after all, been warned of the potential problems and chose to ignore those warnings. There had been an uproar at first, but the National Court— which had replaced the Supreme Court when Canada, the United States and Mexico had become the United Northern American States-- had declared the added fees valid, comparing them to those smokers paid for health insurance and to the extra taxes drug or alcohol users paid to help maintain rehab centers.
When she got up the next morning, she wasn't surprised to see Will was already up— he got up at six forty-seven every morning, rain or shine, workday or not. She was surprised, however, when he didn't kiss her cheek when she walked into the kitchen still in the pajama shirt she'd stolen from him last night in bed.
"What's wrong, babe?" she asked.
"Who the hell is Tony?"
"I don't know. You're the one who was calling his name all night."
"I was? When?"
"Who is he, Beck?"
"I don't know anyone named Tony."
"Is he an old boyfriend? Or is he going to turn up on your background check somewhere? Maybe he's an old lover."
"I'd definitely remember if he were my lover— he's not. The only Tony I can think of is my Uncle Tony on my mother's side. He's actually her sister-in-law's brother-in-law or something like that. But he's the only Tony I know and he must be ninety-five or so by now....Are you sure you heard me right? Maybe I was saying something like 'Hold me'. Slurred enough, it kind of sounds like 'Tony'."
"I heard you just fine. And it was Tony you were asking to hold you. Are you going to tell me or not?"
"I have told you, Will. I don't know anyone named Tony. Now or in my past....You don't believe me, do you?"
"I'm supposed to become your husband in nine or ten days and I wake up to hear you calling another man's name and asking him to hold you and God knows what else I couldn't understand."
"'Supposed to become' my husband. What's that supposed to mean? You're having second thoughts now?"
"No! I'd believe you!"
"Why won't you go to a regressionist or an analyst to see what the hell these dreams mean? Are you afraid of what you might find out?"
"No. I just don't want someone else telling me what I'm feeling. And that's what it all boils down to, Will. Those damn regressionists tell you that dreaming about something means you hate your mother. So the next time you dream about it, you begin to wonder if you really do hate your mother. It's all a bunch of bull. No one can tell me what I'm feeling better than I can myself provided I'm willing to be honest about my feelings. And I am. You know that. I'm not one to sit by quietly while someone stomps on my feelings. Or on someone else's feelings for that matter."
"I have to agree with you on that. I don't know how many times I've wanted to fade into the woodwork when you start on one of your tirades to a complete stranger."
"I'm sorry, but I happen to believe one of the biggest problems with today's society is no one is willing to stick their neck out for someone else unless there's something to gain from it. I happen to believe in treating people with honesty, sincerity and common decency. If that's a crime, then I'll plead guilty. Gladly." She looked at the clock on the wall. "Damn it! I'm going to be late. I'll see you tonight, babe. I love you."
* * * * *
Alec walked the six and a half miles along the old roads back to town. The asphalt and concrete had long ago been torn up to be recycled and, once free of its artificial crown, the earth quickly reclaimed the old roadbeds. Most of the time, the only way he could tell he was still on it was because of the occasional puddles that formed on what used to be the road's berm.
He often wondered if the move underground had been the best thing to do. But until technology had found a way to patch the ozone layer above the earth, staying outside had been too dangerous. By the mid-twenty-first century, exposures of longer than one hour at a time increased the chances of contracting skin cancer by three hundred percent. Man had been forced to go underground to protect his health. Now that that was no longer necessary, most people decided to stay down anyway. There was never any snow or rain or ice or tornadoes to worry about underground. They'd even found earthquakes more tolerable-- at least the building didn't topple over. And only on very rare occasions did the surrounding earth collapse to such an extent as to cause serious damage.
Stopping for a while to watch a herd of white-tailed deer dart across a field, he closed his eyes and took in the scent of the moist earth, the feel of the breeze against his skin, the heat of the sun as it beat down on his upturned face. How anyone could live underground all their lives was beyond his understanding. He felt trapped if he stayed down for longer than a day, two at the most. Sometimes while traveling the tubes he'd feel like he was in an old-fashioned coffin being whisked along to his final resting place. He'd shiver at the thought and quickly push it from his mind.
A beeping alerted him to the fact that he was wanted on the phone. He spoke two words into the strap around his wrist and placed a small earplug in his ear.
"Hello," he said.
"Hi. It's me."
"Hello, Sharon. How's Chicago?"
"I'm moving to Toronto next week. Want to help me?"
"Any particular reason?"
"I got a new job— permanent and full time. I'm the creative editor of a small station up there. I met the manager the other night and he asked me to come in for an interview. I'll be in charge of things like the fashion page and the entertainment page. Of course, I'll have to cover things like local fairs and stuff like that, but most of the time I'll enjoy it."
"At least you'll be able to tell the difference between a heifer and a steer. Maybe being married to me wasn't all a waste of time."
"Do we have to fight now?"
"Sorry. Force of habit. I'll try to break it. Do you really want me to come or are you just being polite?"
"Surprisingly, I want you to come. I miss you."
"Haven't found a boyfriend yet?"
"I haven't really had time to look. And besides, I guess there's still a part of me that wants us to work. Will you come and help me?"
"Yeah, sure. Tell me where to be and when to be there."
"Would you mind staying in a hotel? It's only a two-room apartment and there's not really enough room for both of us."
"You want us to work but you don't want us to sleep together."
"Actually, I want to sleep together, I just thought we might do it at your hotel."
"Don't want the neighbors to know you have a husband?"
"Don't want the memory of you hanging around in case we don't work out. Will you still come?"
"Yeah. I guess so. I'm not sure when or where I'll be staying. I'll call you when I get there."
"Okay. And Alec?"
"Thanks. For letting me at least try it my way. Maybe it won't work out for me, but I think it was the not knowing that was the hardest. I was always imagining 'what if'. Now I'll at least know what if and if I don't like it, I have only myself to blame."
"You're welcome. I'll talk to you next weekend sometime. Good-bye, Sharon."