Like many girls, you dream of marrying a handsome prince. But princes are thin on the ground in Alabama. So as soon as you scrape together enough cash, you leave your drunk of a father and head north-east, never once looking back at the trailer park which has been your home for almost sixteen years.
You find yourself a job, cleaning up after rich people. Yet it’s only after the third week of washing blood-stained shirts that you make the connection between your employer’s Italian surname and their particular brand of family business. So, when the boss’s son takes an interest in you, he’s difficult to refuse. Besides, he is a prince. Of sorts. And it sure is nicer to be treated like royalty than the help.
But then there’s an almighty shoot-’em-up between the rival families, and your prince shoots dead two innocent bystanders. Kids. The police can’t ignore that. They ask you questions, and they know that with your cooperation they can get him put behind bars. “Testify,” they say. “We’ll give you protection, a new identity. Justice needs to be done.”
You want to say yes, but you’re scared. So, they sweeten the deal by offering to throw in one of the new AI companions. He’ll be your round-the-clock protector, capable of overwhelming anyone who tries to hurt you. And he’s fully functioning, “In a number of physical capabilities, if you get my drift,” says the cop. He also happens to be gorgeous. You say yes.
You never figure out how a being of metal and plastic and whatever his wonderful, soft skin is made of can be so beautiful. But you know your heart aches for him. You get one precious year with him as you build a life for yourself in Seattle, a place where it never stops raining. But then the cops want him back. You beg to keep him; say you wouldn’t feel safe without him. They let you have him for another six months.
You know he cares nothing for you. That after you’ve made love to him, he doesn’t sleep. That he simply closes his eyes and goes into standby mode while you listen to the rain and dream of an impossible future in which the love you feel for him is reflected in his eyes. You know he’s like a drug, and that you’re addicted to him. What will you do when he leaves you?
An old woman at the diner at which you work says you’ll manage. “I seen it all before,” she says. “You’re sick with love. But this love you think you’re feeling, it’s all in your head. You created it all on your own. Pour it into yourself, into your life, instead.”
You know she’s right, but you don’t know if you’ve got the courage to do what she says.
“You ever walked away from something really bad and never once looked back?” the old woman asks.
You nod. And then you smile.
You’ve got this. You think.
First published in Umbilical (NewCon Press).
Teika Marija Smits is a UK-based writer and freelance editor. She writes poetry and fiction, and her speculative short stories have been published in Parsec, Shoreline of Infinity, Best of British Science Fiction and Great British Horror 6. Her debut short story collection, Umbilical, was published by NewCon Press in August 2023. A fan of all things fae, she is delighted by the fact that Teika means fairy tale in Latvian.