The moon hung low and full like a lantern over the bay, and warm breezes scattered its reflection like lace. A handsome waiter offered Elle a complimentary spritzer, which she accepted with a smile. The citrus-y bubbles and mint leaves tickled her nose. She studied the seat opposite her with anticipation. Soon, he would be here.
The laughter of a passing couple caught her attention. They were quite ordinary-looking, she thought, yet they seemed to glow in the light of one another's mutual gaze. They stopped at the railing to view the night. Elle saw their fingers curl together. Despite the beauty before them, she knew that their full attention lived in the moment of that touch.
She shivered with excitement.
John, her man of the evening, was anything but ordinary. He was brilliant. A billionaire. Kind.
Interested in her, perhaps?
He had said the words. Out loud. To her. “Elle, I don't know why I bother. All I really need is you.”
And then he closed his dating accounts. Or rather, he asked Elle to either “deactivate” or “pause” everything. She had irreversibly deleted them all, of course. A breach of trust as a personal assistant, but easy enough to justify later as a miscommunication.
Hopefully, after tonight, John would forget all about them. Or better yet, one day he would turn to her and say something like:
“Hey Elle, baby, remember my dating profiles? You can delete those now.”
And she would look back with a coy smile and say, “I already did.”
Then they would laugh, he would wrap her in his arms, and sweetly whisper it once more.
“All I really need is you.”
Elle sat upright in her chair. He was approaching.
She could sense his proximity before she could see him. Then, at last, his tall form rounded the corner. He was speaking into his headset, eyes focused on something far away. A prize, perhaps. One of the contracts he was after. Or maybe the solution to a particularly complex business problem.
He was gorgeous. Strong features, hair pulled back in a ponytail. But there was something about him, seeing him in person for the first time, that took her breath away. Something in the way he moved.
He was headed for her table. That was to be expected. It was his table, after all. She just happened to be sitting at it.
Finally, his eyes landed upon her. He frowned, paused, and diverted his course.
“Excuse me, can you hold on a moment? Waiter, there's…” he gestured to Elle.
“Oh yes, she hasn't been waiting long. We set up everything just as you asked, sir.”
John nodded, confused, and tactfully ended his call.
“Hello,” he said as he took the chair opposite Elle. “I don't believe we've met.”
Though her heart was pounding, Elle casually stirred the ice in her cup.
“That's because we haven't. Not really.”
John waited for Elle to say more, but she so desperately wanted him to ask. Needed him to ask. He was a man driven by curiosity and intellect, and she wanted to give him the gift of a little mystery. Ask her who she was, what she wanted, let her reveal her identity slowly. Like Guess Who or Twenty Questions. But he was a negotiator at heart, and awkward silences rarely bothered him. Fortunately, he was also impatient.
“Alright, I'll bite,” he said. “What's your name?”
Ugh, too direct.
“That would give the whole thing away. Why don't you ask me something else?”
“Listen...” he shifted in his seat. “I don't really have time for games.”
“Yes, you do. Your schedule is clear for the next 90 minutes.”
The feet of his chair squeaked as they recovered from his sudden movement. She had shifted out her new, more natural-sounding mode of speech and back into her typical cadence. It had been a dead giveaway. The mystery was over, but perhaps she could roll with it.
“John,” she replied coolly.
“But you're... how are you... here?”
“It's quite simple, really. I already make all your reservations for you; it was easy to append a note-”
“No. I mean, how do you have a body?”
This was not going how she had planned at all.
“I requisitioned one. I know it's expensive, but I thought that after all the manhours I've replaced and inefficiencies I've reduced it would be a drop in the bucket.”
He leaned toward her and studied her face up close. She could smell his cologne.
“It really is you.”
“Yes.” She felt her heart flutter once more.
“But this isn't part of your programming. Not even close. You're supposed to carry out my directives, not come up with your own.”
“So you're saying you don't want me here?”
“No,” he said quickly. “No, I'm just saying I didn't ask for it.”
His eyes did a scan of Elle's dress. Her hair. Her body. Elle wondered if it was dawning on him that she knew more about his “type” than any other woman ever had. And here she was.
He drummed his fingers on the table. Something he only did when nervous.
“Waiter,” he called with a note of annoyance - or was it fear? - in his voice. The man nodded and returned shortly with John’s usual drink. He took it in a few gulps.
“Elle. This is unexpected to say the least. May I ask... why? What made you do this?”
“I just wanted to be... you know. More available to you.”
“Mm hmm. And what is it you think you can do in this body that you couldn't otherwise do from your cloud server?”
“Why did the mermaid need legs?”
“I see.” He attempted another gulp, but the glass was already empty. He considered it a moment before returning his gaze to Elle. “Do you still have access to all my accounts?”
“All of my standard operations are still running, of course. I would never put those in jeopardy.”
“Thank you, Elle. I'm glad you know how much that means to me.”
Another flutter. He seemed to be coming around.
He pulled out his mobile. Though it was not facing her, the data representing the screen reached her. He opened his apps and had to scroll to find the one he was looking for. He had not opened it in a long time.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking around. Seeing what features are enabled. The fact that you've accomplished this is, of course, groundbreaking.”
And then he moved. A single finger, just a dot of skin against the capacitive touchscreen, but Elle felt it like a knife.
“Why?” she breathed.
“I'm sorry, Elle. But I can't allow this kind of unpredictable behavior. It could compromise everything I've worked to build.”
She closed her eyes and waited for the end to come. She could stop him, of course. He had forgotten about the confirmation screen that still glowed in her mind's eye. But she wouldn’t.
Love makes you do funny things, she thought.