It was in my pocket and I gripped it, ready to pull it out. Next to it was something I wanted very much to give away. That I should have done sooner but too late now. “Look, my friend. No one wants a fight today.”
“You’re about to get one, you Spic bastard.”
“Spic? Seriously? There's no need for that. Aren’t you Spanish yourself?” He looked it. Average height, tan skin, and black hair. If I was wrong things could get worse, but I didn’t know how.
“Be careful,” Sara whispered. “He’s armed, you know.”
So here we were, standing on a dock over a man made lake in this park. I liked this place. The grass was soft and green. There were fountains of not water anymore, but flowers as fake as the grass. Still, that didn’t matter. The moon was full and shining on the water. Stupid me I had suggested this walk before dinner. I had finally got up the courage to say certain things and now here was this drunk imbécil. This damned native-born denying his heritage. Both of us knew that. I was fighting down my anger.
Look, she’s right. Do you want her hurt? said a voice inside me. So, let’s use common sense here. “Look, this is ridiculous since your roots and mine must be similar. So how about I buy you a drink and-”
“I was born here!” As if I didn’t realize that. “I’m not from some stupid polluted starving country that can’t even be bothered to take care of their disabled! Why are you here, using our resources, our food and our universal healthcare?”
"Which he pays into with his taxes. We both do. And God knows they’re high enough.” For once, Sara was calm. Usually she fought these people but not tonight. She didn’t, I assumed, because of the laser gun. It was pointed down but what did that matter? Still I wondered why. Maybe he really doesn’t want to shoot us. It could be just a threat. I hoped so. He smelled of alcohol. It smelled like he had been drinking for days. It was a smell that always made me nauseous. I looked at Sara. She was touching her temple. Dialing 911 with her implanted head chip? Good. I stood in front of her so he wouldn’t see this. She hated the chip and its notifications. Why did I ever get this damned thing? she often asked me. She had wanted to experience the virtual online world, that’s why. The problem was the electric for the computer system was so expensive. So usually we both shut ours off. I prayed she had a signal. I didn’t. I also prayed the police upgraded their 911 androids. I had designed a program where they were supposed to pick up locations or code words. But sometimes the police didn’t upgrade them. Sara spoke quickly, “Tallahassee City Park is too nice of a place to have this fight, my friend.”
Hmm. She might have dialed her friend Julia, in addition to 911. My friend was code for a date gone wrong. Send help. Do it now. Sara had told me that on our first date. We had laughed over it. She could also be talking to 911.
"I’m not your friend, you Spic lover trash heap!”
“I’m sorry,” Sara said calmly. Too calmly. She must be scared. I was. Take stock stay calm. We were on a dock, backs to the water. Earlier I had seen an elderly woman with a cane, but she wasn’t here now. Our only escape was the water. I can swim but not for long. That damned vaccine resistant polio that is rampant in South America had screwed up my right side. I have implanted sensors to fix the paralysis but when I get tired the right leg drags. This native-born must have noticed that and didn’t like I was here. Never mind that my country couldn’t help me. There is barely food for the able-bodied never mind one someone sick. There is certainly no medicine. I’m here because my family had no other choice. At least here there was health care. And people might curse the climate change immigrants but that was all they did. Usually.
“Look. At least let her go and you can have me. Isn’t your trash with me anyway?” I sized up the man. He was about 5’10, about six inches taller than me. He was sweating and breathing hard. I wondered if I could rush him before he raised the laser gun. They’re heavy. But there was Sara and I didn’t want her shot.
Sara spoke to him and presumably Julia or 911, “L-Look how about we just leave now, please. We'll get off this d-dock. Terrible view of City hall anyway. No one wants-”
“Shut up, bitch!” the man screamed at Sara. He was swaying. I wished I had a signal. We had just created an android that was achieving self-awareness, but I couldn’t get a rotten signal. Screw the Nuntius phone company, I thought. Well, we could go low tech. There was an old-fashioned utility knife in my pocket I always kept, ready to be used at a moment’s notice. And I cursed that I hadn’t given Sara the other item. Now it might be too late.
“I’m going to kill you,” the man said softly. It was more frightening than if he screamed it.
“Long as you let her go,” I had not given her this item because why would she want me? There were all these voices. Some were in my head and some were what my family had said. Especially my miserable, alcoholic and paranoid mother. You’re disabled, short, dark skinned, a climate change immigrant. She only is doing this for fun, to appear politically moral and lightened. She’ll leave you soon enough, for someone handsome and whole. She’s blond and beautiful. She could have anyone. Her voice had rose like the sea that had covered Jacksonville Beach, that had destroyed most of the Florida Keys. These voices were going to destroy me if I kept on listening. Now the night I had decided to take this risk this idiot shows up.
“Let us both go,” said Sara quietly. “I don’t think you really want this.”
“I do. I have no money for groceries, thanks to you immigrants taking away our jobs. So, I really have nothing left to lose.”
“You can have our wallets. Take our credits. I won’t report the theft,” Sara continued.
The man shook his head. “Oh, don't worry. After I kill you, I can take whatever I want.”
Oh, jack this. “Sara you need to know something,” I whispered to her, “I love you and wanted to marry you. So, whatever happens you know that, at least.” I pushed the blade open and thought, Okay amigo, make your move. I’m ready. If only something would distract him from Sara for a minute. Just one minute. If only she could get away.
Unfortunately, the man heard. “You say this to her! You!” He shook, his eyes wet, narrowed. His hands were clenched. “Bastard!”
“I said it so she’d know. Now it’s me you want, isn’t it? Let her leave, she’s native-born.”
“Sergio, don’t,” I heard Sara say.
The man turned to her, “And I bet you would have said yes!”
I laughed at this, not completely faking it. “What? like she would have done that! I’m not that blind, just a fool, my friend.” I prayed she would say no. If she did, this idiot native born would let her go. Hopefully. “Por favor, dime que no,” I whispered to her. She knows a little Spanish which was more than I figured this asswipe did
I didn’t know why she did it. I wished she hadn’t. She had been harassed enough, we both have, but this was dangerous. I heard a sound like a frog speaking. “Yes.” Then I heard her swallow and repeat it, this time louder and firmer. “Yes.”
No. Oh no, Sara.
“Then maybe you should both die together!” The man tightened his grip on his gun.
Dios, mío, Sara you blind fool. I braced myself to rush the guy, but I heard a voice.
“This is ridiculous! Stop this nonsense.” The elderly woman had walked onto the dock, unnoticed. All I saw was gray hair hanging around her face, blue pants, a torn sweater. But the man stupidly faced her and screamed “get away, old bitch woman! You’re old and should die!”
The instant he did, I pushed Sara. “Vas! Vas por ayuda!” Everything seemed to slow down like time was being stretched on a taffy pulling machine. However, I’m sure it took only seconds. The man grabbed Sara’s arm. She screamed, twisted it and somehow broke free. I pulled my knife, rushed him and as I did, I thought I saw the old woman swing her cane at him. We fell hard to the ground. The woman struck the man and he screamed. I could feel the air from her stick and hear the whipping sound. I rolled away before I got hit myself. Sara. Where is she? Not here. Good. Who’s cursing in Spanish? Me? I was. I could also hear English. The man was on the ground yelling. Shame he wasn't unconscious.
“You trash! My head! You broke my head! I’m bleeding!”
“Good,” she said. “Shut up before you get more of the same.”
Dios mío this crazy woman has the gun. “Por favor, don't shoot!”
“I can't.” She had a raspy, harsh voice. Probably too much synthetic tobacco. Nasty stuff.
“W-what?” I pulled himself up by holding onto the dock rail. I couldn’t believe it. An elderly Caucasian woman, who looked homeless had just helped me.
“This gun’s broken. See the end of it? It’s cracked and useless. Idiot,” she said to the man.
“It is? Dios!” No wonder the man kept holding it down. He didn’t want me to see it. “And now you got hurt! Estúpido!” I might have beat him myself except for the voice.
“Drop the gun!” Sara had found help. She came running with two officers and two androids. She ran to me. One of the officers went to the man on the ground. The other saw the woman and sighed.
“Crystal. What trouble are you in now?”
” Not me! Him! He threatened these people with a broken gun.”
“Wait. Broken?” Sara glared at the man. “You threatened us with a broken gun?” I was holding her. Partially to comfort her and in part because I was afraid she’d hit him herself. She looked furious.
“Yes” said the policewoman. “Still, it's assault with a deadly weapon.”
“And y-you know her?” Sara gestured at the elderly woman. I could feel her shaking. She held my hand so tightly it hurt. I didn’t want to tell her to let go. She needed comfort so my pain meant nothing.
“Oh yes,” said the officer. “She was a Marine in the third world war. That was a tough war right, Crystal?”
“A war over the Amazon rain forest,” she answered. “Amazing what we fight over. But it meant our future, right? We had to protect it from being developed. This war should end all wars.”
“So they say.”
The drunk shouted “Arrest her! She hurt me! He cut me!”
“How about you exercise your right to be silent?” the male officer said.
“Are you hurt?” I half expected Sara to say enough, to leave. It's too much, Sergio. Instead she held me even tighter. “No, I'm fine. Oh God Sergio.”
“I'm here, mi amor, It's over. You got away. Jesus, gracias.”
“Self-defense course,” she whispered. “How to break someone’s grasp. That’s about all I remember. Should take it again.” She laughed, almost crying. The rest I barely saw. It was like watching a virtual world video. An android took our reports while another one scanned us for injuries. The policeman got an ambulance for the man. He was handcuffed by now. The other officer gave us her contact information, then turned to Crystal.
“Are you going to the shelter tonight?”
“Yes, you busybody. You don't need to send an android to check up on me.”
“Good,” said the officer. “Take care of yourself, friend.” I heard her mutter something about the rotten state of affairs for veterans. Finally, she said, “Good night, all.”
“Good night? Miserable one.” I was exhausted. I just wanted to go home and forget all of this. That was not to be. Sara was angry. And when she is it doesn’t matter who hears. It’s going to come out.
“You damned fool! Why did you tell him that?”
“Tell who what?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Sergio. You told him you wanted to marry me! You could have gotten hurt!”
“I wanted you to know! And you call me a fool? You said yes!” Now I was just as angry. “Why did you say yes?”
“Like I would say no!” She was crying.
“You should have!” What a horrible idea this was. Why did I ever decide to come to this Godforsaken fake park anyway? Romantic, that’s why. Sentimental slop, romance is. Why do I even bother? I was so angry it didn’t even register that she actually wanted me. Me.
“Why?” A whisper.
I was pacing now. “To save yourself! He could have hurt you and where would I be?”
“Neither of you should. We need courage these days. And you need a good walking stick” Crystal said. I barely heard her.
“If you had refused me, he might have let you go!”
She was looking away from me, rubbing her eyes. “Probably. But I couldn’t.”
“Why the hell not? Sara I wouldn't have cared!”
“Because…if you’re going down, I am too.”
Sara glared at me. “That’s idiotic, right? Sentimental slop?”
“No,” said Crystal. "It’s not.”
I felt both very deep love and deep pain.
“It’s true. Bad enough I ran.” She was crying, arms wrapped around herself.
“Dios, mío, you’re upset about that?” She nodded, trembling. I put my arms around her. “Sara. You got help. There was nothing else you should have done.” I pulled back and looked out over the water. I gripped the other item. “Oh, my Sara. I wish I could give you an easier path than this.”
This made her angry again. “None of us have one! I get harassed from my virtual talks. Threats. You know that! Not to mention that damned terrorist attack in the city last year. Some fanatical Traditionalists shooting into a political rally. But, sure, worry about some drunk with a broken gun! Plus, you know not everyone is against us. Right?”
I knew that. But there was the pain. The love. “Sara. I just wanted you to say no to save yourself. You said the same thing to me.”
“No. Por favor let me speak. I didn’t want you hurt, so I didn’t want you to say yes. Because I love you. I never want you to leave me. But I’d rather that than you getting hurt. That’s all. ”
“Look. That guy didn't want to kill us, just threaten. He probably just wanted to rob us, realized you weren’t native-born, and figured he’d have some fun in the bargain.”
She might be right. Still. “But...”
“Sergio.” She touched my face. Her hands were warm. “I’m not leaving. I love you. I meant it. If you’re in trouble I’m there with you, whether you like it or not. Do you know why?”
“Certainly it isn’t my good looks.”
“You’re strong. Kind, and intelligent. Tonight, all you cared about was me. You’re brave. All these things, I need. I need you. And I could be wrong, but I think you need me.”
“I do. So much.” I held her tight.
“Good.” She laughed. “But there is one problem.”
“The thermostat. You make it too warm. We may need counseling over that.”
I was both laughing and sobbing. I freely admit to it. It’s 2127, aren’t men supposed to be able to cry now? “We’re both crazy.” I pulled out the box.
“And you just now realized-wait. You have a ring?”
“Well, I had this fantastic plan of trying to be romantic for once. Kneeling and the whole bit. Stupid idea.”
She smiled, “It’s not. Just-please finish this.”
I had forgotten Crystal was there until she spoke in her raspy voice, “you heard the woman. She loves you. Take it. It’s a cruel world out there.”
I looked at her. “Crystal I am grateful for your help tonight. Believe me I am. But by heaven, you’re a damned busybody yourself.” She only laughed, a deep coughing laugh. Sara did too. Well it wasn’t what I had planned but so be it. I took the ring out of the box. Gold band with an emerald. Sara had told me once she liked emeralds. I had to swallow hard. She was crying herself. I held on to the dock’s railing and knelt. “Sara. Te amo. You’re still here after all this. And that’s everything to me.” She was holding out her hand. I had more to say but I could barely breathe. Would she like the ring?
I slide the ring on her finger. “Marry me,” I was able to whisper. Then Sara was kneeling too, kissing me deeply enough that her tongue was in my mouth, mine in hers. From somewhere far away Crystal was laughing, inviting herself to the wedding. In the end we told her we’d get an invitation to her somehow. E-mail. She’s homeless but she has e-mail. Go figure.
Later, in the taxi going home, with my arms around Sara I thought Crystal was right. I needed a good heavy walking stick. And a laser knife. I would have them to use at a moment’s notice if needed.