hAppy

Zach had always toyed with the idea of using a dating app. There was some statistic that said that 80% of relationships were made in virtual space, but he still couldn’t see it as anything other than a guilty secret. It had been a hard day at work and Zach’s head was numb from hours spent fixing lines of code in wholly uninteresting and unnecessary programs. The ride home was horribly delayed so he had plenty of time for thought: the choice was between an errant sub-routine and an exciting and cutting edge dating app, so it wasn’t surprising where his mind ended up.

The app interested Zach in more ways than one. In truth he had already downloaded and installed it – he had to! As a software engineer it was vitally important to understand the current industry and it certainly was a beautiful piece of software. The user-interface was sublime and it integrated fully with all of the sensory equipment in his headware.

With a guilty glance around and a lick of his lips, Zach opened and ran the software. His wife would not like this one bit. She had always been the jealous type, she couldn’t stand to see him talk to another woman, maybe that was why he felt the need to escape.

ZING

The alert was fed straight into the sensory receptors in the brain, bypassing even his in-ear transplants. He brought up the notification, displayed in dazzling clarity imprinted on his visual cortex direct. He could have avoided all of that expensive eye surgery getting the corneal screens. Still, he always needed the latest tech.

The note was from the dating app. A response already?! Surely this was spam, or some horrible mismatch.

Her name was Roxanne. She worked at a nightclub, selling tickets. She studied fashion at university. Her favourite colour was black. She thought her best feature was her hair. Prospective partners thought her best feature was her chest. All in all she was… ok. There was nothing wrong with her; at least not for Zach’s purposes. Zach grinned to himself and made to accept her offer.

Now, there may be no such thing as fate, no meaning of life, no underlying plan, but if the universe could be said observe one law – it would be comic timing. He received a call; it was his wife. Zach started, neck snapping round, caught in the headlights. His heart rate shot up and he had to take deep breaths to calm down. It was ok, she couldn’t see him yet. Waves of guilt crashed over him. How could he be doing this? She was his wife! He had made his vows.

No, he thought, she had driven him to this. It was best for both of them. He chose this moment of strength to answer the call.

Her name was Susie. She worked at a delicatessen, preparing food. She studied maths at university. Her favourite colour was… he didn’t know what her favourite colour was. Her best feature actually was her hair, but it used to be her smile.

“Zachie?” He hated her calling him that.

“Yes Sue?”

“Where are you?” She sounded upset again.

“On my way…” he paused, looking at the avatar of Roxanne in the corner of his eye, “On my way home.”

“Good.” She looked pensive. “’Cause I really need to see you.” She hung up.

“That was strange.” Zach said out loud and then set about frantically shutting down his over eager voice recognition software. He stared wistfully at Roxanne. She would have to wait, but not for long. He deserved this. He redirected the cab and prepared himself for an uncomfortable evening.

As soon as he entered the door he knew something was wrong. All the lighting and electronics were switched off. The flat was pitch-black apart from a feint, ominous, flickering glow emanating from the kitchen.

Zach pushed the door to, cursing under his breath as it clicked shut. He padded down the hallway, hugging the wall to stay in the long fleeting shadows. His heart was pounding as he reached the doorway. Limbs pressed hard against the flimsy wall, he took a deep breath to steady himself and then peered round the corner, only to find himself inches away from the face of a mysterious silhouetted stranger. Zach recoiled, but not far enough, as the stranger darted forward and pressed him against the wall, breathing heavily on his neck.

“Oh my…” Zach started to say as soft hot lips found his. He tried to raise his arms, but the stranger pinned his elbows against the wall, letting his hands fall neatly on their waist. It took Zach a second to come to terms with his sudden and unexpected predicament, but soon enough instinct took over. He stopped staring desperately into the inky blackness and instead closed his eyes and let himself go.

The kiss ended sooner than he would have liked. She pulled away, suddenly coy, and activated the lights. It was, as he had begun to suspect, his wife. Zach looked her up and down, stood awkwardly in the centre of the kitchen, biting her lip.

“I…” they both said simultaneously and then stopped, each waiting for the other. She rocked backwards and forwards on her feet, hands clasped tightly in front of her, still unable to meet his gaze.

“I want to make this work.” She muttered. Now it was Zach’s turn to intensely study the tiling on the floor. In the corner of his vision was the sultry face of Roxanne, pouting at him. He pushed her off the display, more ashamed than he could say, and peeked up at Susie. She took a step forward and took his hands in hers, staring deeply into his eyes. Surely she knows, he thought, why else would she be doing this? He could feel his face going red: a furious blush that refused to be denied. The more he thought about it the hotter it got, until Zach couldn’t stand it. “Sue,” he began, words coming straight from the pit of his stomach, but once again she leaned in for a kiss, this time much longer and deeper.

Zach could hardly believe what was going on. He felt like he was a distant observer, watching someone else, living someone else’s life: someone else with a happy relationship. His whole body felt numb as his wife dragged him upstairs. She smiled and said something but Zach couldn’t hear her over the ringing in his ears. This couldn’t be happening; she’d always been so cold. Susie grabbed his shirt and fell backwards onto the bed. With her tumbled all of Zach’s doubts, any other thoughts that Zach might have been having and finally Zach himself, into the eager embrace of his loving wife.

To the dispassionate observer, the next hour was a sequence of groans and very bodily noises as two not particularly impressive specimens of humankind crawled over one another and sweated profusely. If there was one word to describe how Zach felt however, it was passionate. He had never felt so good, so sexy, so loved. Susie loved him. He could tell. It wasn’t just the sex, Sue loved him for him.

*******************************************

“It’s yellow.”

“What?” Zach broke out of his reverie. They were lying in bed, Sue draped endearingly across his torso, both utterly spent.

“My favourite colour,” she replied, propping herself up on one elbow so that her breasts fell lightly onto his chest, “…Is yellow.” She smiled, and her smile was the world.

Zach suddenly remembered the app. How could he have made such a mistake? Well, almost made, he thought to himself. There was no harm done in the end. He didn’t want to escape this! This was bliss. He stared down at Susie and placed his hand on her arm. “I love you,” he said, and he meant it. He would delete the app as soon as she wasn’t looking. He had to, as soon as possible. It lurked there, on his mind like an ugly scar in the otherwise Elyssian thoughts of Susie.

Susie rolled on top of him and pinned his arms down, gently teasing her skin over his. “I knew I could win you back,” she said with a triumphant grin on her face. What did that mean? Had she known all along? Zach was still trying to think of the right question to ask when she jumped up, pulled on his t-shirt and left the room. “Fancy a coffee?” she yelled behind her.

“Y-Yes please!” stammered Zach, suddenly unsure of himself. He knew only one thing: he had to get rid of that app. Whilst Susie was busy in the other room he rolled into a sitting position and fired up his visual overlay, feverishly trying to delete the offending software. After several nervous mis-clicks a small ‘connection terminated’ notification forced itself upon his vision and then all trace of Roxanne and Zach’s planned indiscretion was gone. Zach sighed to himself, relieved, although he wasn’t entirely sure why. He hadn’t done anything wrong.

Zach had a headache coming. He paced about the room, looking at Sue’s things: discarded underwear, well-thumbed books and small trinkets of little to no value. She collected little mementos from her travels. They had been to Brazil together for their honeymoon. Zach reminisced as he picked up a toppled photo frame, one hand massaging his temples. The photo was of a couple smiling in front of Christ the Redeemer. There was Sue on the left and on the right was a man. The man looked very much like Zach, but something was off: his chin was a little wider, his hairline further back, his nose stronger. Zach choked back jealous pangs and sat back down dumbfounded.

There were footsteps and a tuneless humming coming up the stairs that Zach found simultaneously familiar and yet incredibly strange. Sue entered the room, wearing nothing but Zach’s t-shirt and carrying two steaming mugs of coffee. She stopped, blinked and looked down at herself, the mugs, her bare legs.

“You should probably go.” she said, lacking all emotion. She placed the mugs on a chest of drawers and pulled the t-shirt down for modesty. Zach gathered the rest of his clothes as she stood awkwardly in the centre of the room. After finding an errant sock he faced her and held out his hand for his t-shirt.

“Oh…” she said, flushing bright crimson and desperately searching for something to hide her shame. She snatched a towel from her wardrobe and held it in front of her whilst removing the misplaced garment. She threw the shirt at Zach almost aggressively, pulled the towel up haughtily and turned on her heels. Zach stared after her as she left the room, eyes lingering wistfully on the tantalising curves at the top of her leg.

He followed her like a zombie, unable to do anything else. Questions filled his head. Where had they got married? What was her job again? Who was the other man? For that matter, who was Sue?

As she ushered him out of the door he noticed she was weeping openly; tears falling down her slightly chubby cheeks to caress her lips before plunging to the ground. He turned on the step, “Could I..” his voice cracked in his throat but he pressed on, “Could I have your number?”

She gave a sad, apologetic smile. “I don’t think so.” The door shut slowly. Zach walked down the drive, head spinning. The numbness had returned.

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