Virago: Part the Eighth — Smiles

First chapter: Fire & Rain

Previous chapter: Nostalgia

The rain pattered against Kelsey’s bedroom window. A forlorn leaf affixed itself to the lower pane, askew. There would be no sun infiltrating the clouds today. Kelsey awoke uncomfortably. It was a reluctant move on her part. Every day was the same. On her absolute laziest days, she wouldn’t even open her eyes for the first twenty minutes. Instead, she would focus the tiny sliver of her alert mind upon a crumpled t-shirt or a pair of jeans in the corner of the room. On her good days, she could sleepily drag those discarded pieces of clothing towards the bed. On her bad days, sometimes they would catch on fire.

The latter wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She liked timing how long it would take for her sister to smell the smoke and come careening into the room with a fire extinguisher. Only then would Kelsey flash an impish grin and douse the fire herself without raising a finger. She knew Hannah knew. But Hannah was too rigid in her ways. She would never own up to the fact that her sister had an interesting repertoire of skills. Kelsey couldn’t understand her. She would totally be supportive of Hannah if she ended up having superpowers of her own.

Kelsey’s phone went off. She fished it out from under a pillow and squinted at the screen. Who on earth would try to contact her before noon?

It was a message from Josh. She could always tell when he sent her a message using his vocal cues. The message would read exactly like how he spoke.

“Uh hey Kelsey. Look, I was just wondering if- is it cool if you could help… Uh, can you cover my shift? If you could let me know as soon as possible, that’d be great. If you can’t, I get it. But I know you don’t really have- ah, you don’t mind picking up extra shifts. And I noticed you weren’t scheduled today. I was… Just wanted to check with you. You see, I need to help my- Today’s my grandma’s birthday. I tried to get off. But you know, Brian is such a dick. I seriously think he has a problem, you know? He always gives me such shitty… Okay just let me know, okay? See ya.”

The house was peaceful and quiet until Kelsey let out an exasperated groan. Hiddleston’s ears perked up from the dirty sock pile where he was nestled. He stretched his toes and peered suspiciously out of the closet. Kelsey regarded him coolly, searching for wisdom amidst his uncaring eyes. She felt the same. She really didn’t want to go in to work today. 7-Eleven didn’t need her. Josh could easily find someone else to cover his ass.

Somewhere in the house, Arthur was beginning to trudge around. It was 10:42 a.m. on a Saturday morning. She could stay home. It wouldn’t be hard to balance annoying Arthur with binge watching shitty old movies on the app wall. She slowly began to smile at the thought. But there wasn’t any food in the house… That could be a problem.

A couple of hours later, Kelsey stood glaring behind the 7-Eleven counter. The good portion of her Saturday was completely ruined. Of all days to stand around and ring up smokes, potato chips, and energy drinks. At least she was making some extra cash. Might as well grin and bear it. Even though Turtle Creek was small, Kelsey was thankful that she hardly ever recognised a soul that came in through the glass doors.

“Someone’s looking awfully perky.”

Kelsey raised her gaze from the can of tomatoes she was ringing up. A yellow-toothed grin met her eyes. There was no warmth found in those wrinkles. The fluorescent lights hummed with agitation. Kelsey grimaced.

“Thanks, Barbara.”

“I suppose you made it home alright, dear.” Barbara cocked her head. Kelsey knew what this body language meant. It was politeness masking nosiness.

“Yup. Your total is $8.99, lady.”

Barbara didn’t seem put off by Kelsey’s curtness. She proceeded to rummage around in her monstrous bag. The cloth remaining on the handles was frayed from the misfortune of toting around pounds of useless objects for years. Possibly decades. “You know, you are welcome to come round for tea any time, Kelsey.” Barbara’s pale blue eyes glimmered with something unrecognizable as she spoke. Malice? Condescension? Whatever it was, it was creepy as hell. A light in the back of the store flickered.

“Well, that’s…nice.” Kelsey cleared her throat and cocked her head towards the two customers in line behind the old woman. Barbara looked flustered as her hand finally emerged with the coin purse she managed to fish out. Kelsey idly scratched her neck. A metallic clatter tore her gaze away from the ceiling. Did Barbara really just dump out seven thousand coins onto the counter right now? Josh was so dead.

Kelsey sighed and scooped the coins into the coin-counting machine. The sounds it emitted was headache-inducing. It sounded like robots having sex in the trunk of a car rolling down a steep incline. But the machine saved precious minutes of time. A few seconds passed as the change counter tallied everything up. The result was $9.25. Kelsey fished out a quarter and penny, daintily dropping the greasy coins into Barbara’s outstretched hand.

“You take care of yourself,” Barbara smiled. It didn’t reach her eyes. She lingered, as if she wanted to say something further. She stared back at the flickering light near the drinks cooler. Finally she exhaled loudly and shuffled off towards the door. What was up with this lady?

“Okay,” responded Kelsey, gesturing the next customer forward. She sighed restlessly as the lights went back to normal. It was sad to think that this could be the height of amusement for the day. Worst Saturday ever.

Too bad Arthur couldn’t stand here and do her job for her. Poor guy would love interacting with dozens of people. It wasn’t a terrible idea. But androids were assigned to certain jobs and tasks, mostly things that humans couldn’t be bothered with. Like cleaning house and working fast food chains. Androids were more expensive to acquire and maintain than humans. Even though they didn’t require a salary, some people felt like they weren’t “personable” enough to make them feel comfortable in certain shopping situations. They were all data, no feelings. Besides, if androids scooped up all the jobs, what was everyone else supposed to do?

“You should try smiling more,” encouraged the next customer. It was a middle-aged man with a dirty five o’clock shadow. His dark hair had flecks of white near the roots. He flashed something he probably thought was a boyish grin. His teeth were in better shape than Barbara’s. This hardly improved his image.

Kelsey grunted. “Your total is $16.35. And trust me. You’re doing enough smiling for the two of us, mister.”

Her head hurt. The lights bothered her. The people aggravated her. Hannah would call her a drama queen for feeling like this. Some days, she wondered where all the normal people went. She wished she could have disappeared with them.

Next chapter: Dreams

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