“Malto,” said Patricia as they walked side-by-side down the dark corridors, each with a bag that contained two pairs of suits they had been instructed to carry with them. It hadn’t taken long to take apart the internal drive for the work station. It had seemed too simple, but he had to admit that he would have been clueless if someone had not been guiding him through the process. “Any relation to Francis Malto?”
He had hoped that she had not been a big reader. “Too much,” said Jimmy.
They were close to oxygen control according to the map Nee had pulled up for them, which they did not need by how well Patricia maneuvered her way through the station. Patrica almost never used her AI, in fact, most people he knew refrained from constant interaction with them. They would use their unit to interact with the social world and entertain themselves but they would avoid speaking to their AI as much as possible. Watching her made Jimmy realize how dependant he had become of Nee.
“That’s incredible!” said Patricia. “I’ve read all his work.”
You along with the rest of the fucking world.
“So that’s who-” she started.
“No other,” he said dryly. He glanced at the map and sped up, hoping to get there fast enough to end this conversation even though he had learned she was not the type to give up easily. If she had read anything about his father’s personal life then she already knew everything she could possibly want to know about Jimmy.
When she did not saying anything Jimmy turned back to look at her. He could see her arranging her words carefully, seeking the right method to not offend him. She knew he would close off again if she approached the subject the wrong way.
“Spit it out already,” he said. “No need to sugarcoat it.”
Her continued silence made him uncomfortable and he bit the inside skin of his cheeks as he tried to focus on the path ahead.
“Did you love her?” she said.
Jimmy stopped, his eyes losing focus and blinking repeatedly. He felt the question hit hard enough to disorient him. “Who?” he said.
“Your professor,” said Patricia. Jimmy looked up at her and saw fear in her eyes. Not the fear of being harmed but of hurting others.
He continued to blink repeatedly as he stared at her, the rims of his eyes dampening. No one had ever asked Jimmy that. Not his parents, the crazy therapist, school friends. Everyone had victimized him immediately as if he had had no choice.
“I…” he stammered. What would she think if he told her the truth? He turned his eyes from her, staring at the ground.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. He clenched his jaw, feeling betrayed after revealing so much to her. She was reacting in the same way- “Your parents should never have done that.”
His face softened. He didn’t know what she was trying to do but everything told him he wanted to trust her.
“I understand completely now. I’m sorry,” she continued, leaving a long silence to let the words sink in for Jimmy.
“I ruined her life,” he said. “She didn’t deserve that. I was upset and wanted someone there for me, but not like that. I didn’t need a fucking savior. I just wanted them to listen.”
“Why were you upset with her?”
“She ended things,” he said. The only woman to ever leave Jimmy. “I was lost. I had no idea why. I still don’t.” He paused, expecting Patricia to interrupt him with some bullshit commentary about how it was ok but she didn’t. She watched and listened to every word as if there was nothing more important in the world. Any anxiety he had ever felt over the topic was absent. He was at ease with her.
“I thought my parents, of all people, would understand. I thought they would help me through my confusion. I should have known by how they turned their back on me when the old man died,” he said.
“Your grandfather,” she asked, more as a statement. He nodded. “What happened with him?”
“He died,” he said. He could see the old man writhing on the floor all over again, his skin pale as a ghost with sweat pouring down his face in a room too cold for sweat. His hand reaching out to Jimmy, eyes desperate as they begged for help. The sound of keys jingling in his pockets as he tried to move, his throat clogged struggling for breath as if a large boulder had been dropped on his chest.
“His heart stopped right in front of me and I, froze.” The old man’s body had gone limp and the man he had loved so much had become a lifeless sack. Nothing. “I just watched.”
“What did your parents do?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “They didn’t blame me, they didn’t get upset. They acted like it was no big deal. He was the only friend I’d ever had.”
Patricia touched his hand. “I can’t imagine how lonely you must have felt,” she said.
He looked at the sincerity in her eyes. Have. Have ever had.
She gently squeezed his hand and showed him the pain she was experiencing on his behalf. He froze as he stared at her. He had no idea what to say or do. He felt out of control. He felt, comfortable.
“Have you thought about talking with them?” she asked.
“They won’t care,” he said.
Patricia shook her head, “Her too.”
He snorted. “All my life,” he said. She stayed quiet, forcing him to continue. “If I were forced into corrections, the last thing I’d want is to talk with the motherfucker who ruined my life and landed me there.”
Patricia smiled warmly. “Do you think she would be in corrections if she had played no part in what happened?” He blinked a few times as he processed her question. “Laws are there for a reason, even if a lot of the time we may find them stupid. I’m sure she’s had enough time to reflect and know that this was in no way your fault.”
“She didn’t deserve that,” he protested.
“Neither did you.”
“She was there for me when no one else was,” he said, knowing he was convincing no one. “She comforted me when not even my parents would.”
“Don’t you think you deserved at least an explanation then?” she said. She gave him room to say something and when he didn’t she said, “Is she still..?”
The shake of his head let her question trail. “She’s been out for some time now,” he said.
“You can still ask,” said Patricia. She squeezed his hand again. “You’re both adults now.”
Her words made him feel like a child again, insecure and indecisive.
“No one will ever know unless you tell them,” she said.
The words echoed in his head, even after they began walking through the dimly lit corridors again. He stole a glance at her and felt gratitude.