“Not if you were the last man alive!”
Time seemed to stand still as Roman watched his girlfriend glare at him across their apartment. Slow motion, freeze frame moments of life passed across his eyes. He could see her pursed lips shaping her scorn for him. Her head shook from side to side and gentle wisps of her red hair flew straight out to either side of her head. Her blue eyes were narrow and accusatory. A lamp left her right hand and careened across the apartment, as if it were a prop in some timeless dance.
“What the fuck.”
Roman was startled out of his reverie as the lamp shattered over his left shoulder, prompting him to duck and shield his head with a fistful of long stemmed roses that were obviously not working their charms.
“Get out, get out, get out!”
Zomora groped for another object to throw and found a couch cushion with a slender hand. She levelled her eyes at Roman again as he scrambled for the door. He forced himself to relax so that he could operate the doorknob like a sane person, happy that Zomora had found a more appropriate projectile. The decorative pillow thumped the back of his head as he opened the door and took one last look at Zamora. The beautiful redhead that he had falling in love with when they were in sixth grade was now glaring at him with utter loathing.
Behind her mask of hate, Roman could see an inkling of love. Zomora was long-suffering, but Roman couldn’t help wondering if this truly would be the last straw. It was the love, not the hate, that kept him up at night worrying that she would finally have enough of his wandering eyes and hands. What could he say? He loved women and could never say no to a pretty face. Zomora’s own searching hands now found the television remote, and Roman figured that could leave a mark, so he slipped out the door, shutting it quietly behind him and breathing quickly in the hallway.
He leaned against the door, clutching the rejected roses to his chest. The next scene in this familiar play would be for his clothes and belongings to begin raining out the apartment window into the Boston snow below. Roman contemplated whether he should begin gathering his things or whether he should just go to work. The best thing about being a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on a government grant is that there was always work to do and a climate-controlled government building flooded with neon lights and colleagues at any hour of the night. Roman glanced at a mirror on the wall to tidy up his appearance. He straightened his tailored suit, pulling a comb from his pocket to run it through his jet black hair. He even combed his goatee, never liking a hair out of place. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top couple of buttons, making sure that the tops of his chest muscles made an appearance. He shot himself a rakish grin. He looked like a regular mobster right now. His Italian heritage was showing.
Roman entered the elevator to leave the building. A blonde woman dressed to the nines to go clubbing smiled at him.
“Aww,” she cooed, “you’ve got flowers for somebody special! That is so sweet.”
Roman looked down at the roses as if they had climbed up into his hand unnoticed. He often brought home flowers for Zomora, but they never seemed to do the trick. Instead he got more attention from women in the supermarket, on the street or anywhere they saw him carrying the bouquet. He never got so much praise from women as when he was carrying a floral gift to make up for some romance crime.
“Actually,” Roman said as an idea spread warmly across his mind. “These flowers weren’t for anyone. I wasn’t sure who was going to have these tonight until I met you.”
The blonde’s hand fluttered up to her chest in surprise and her hot pink nails highlighted the cleavage displayed at the top of her skimpy black dress.
“Oh my goodness! For me? Are you serious?”
Roman gave her a shot of that rakish grin that he’d practiced in the hallway and extended the flowers to her coyly.
“Yes, really. I didn’t know who I bought these flowers for, but it turns out that I bought them for you.”
Flabbergasted, the woman took the roses and inhaled deeply, looking at him through blue eyes highlighted with even bluer eye shadow. The elevator arrived at the ground floor, but she pushed the button for the fifth floor quickly.
“I have to go put these in water. Do you want to come with me?” A wicked smile outlined with shimmering pink lipstick crept upwards at the corners of her mouth.
The blonde bombshell was a twenty-three year old waitress with two cats. Though he didn’t catch her name, enough time had passed that it would be awkward for Roman to ask her to remind him of what it was. She liked pop music, hated it when people smoked in bus shelters and was dynamite in the sack. Roman lay in her bed, hands behind his head, and gazed at the vase of roses on her shelf while she finished a story about a drunk man from Texas who once accidentally tipped her a hundred dollars for a slice of pie.
“So what about you, Roman, what do you do?”
Roman smiled at her cute expression of interest. “I work in an MIT laser research lab for the government.” She looked impressed.
“So, like, for the Department of Defence?”
“No,” Roman shook his head emphatically. “I actually started my project by using lasers to see what happens with water molecules when ice melts. But actually, the government is paying me to work on laser communications.”
Roman had actually looked long and hard for a job that didn’t have to do with the Department of Defence. He was squeamish about hurting people. Besides, Zomora was a pacifist. She wouldn’t even eat animals. There was no way that she would tolerate him shooting living things with a laser.
“Wow,” the beautiful bombshell seemed genuinely impressed. “You sound super important. Do you have a whole lot of people working under you on this project?”
“Just you,” Roman waggled his eyebrows to emphasize the sexual innuendo. “But no, I work on a team of people that have all sorts of projects that are supposed to help the human race. Like this one lady on the team is working on a treatment that can make kids basically invincible to protect them from harm. Like, not bubble wrap, but actually making it so that major body damage won’t kill them. No more deaths from school shootings.”
He could see from her face that she wanted to change the subject away from such a creepy topic.
“How can you use lasers for communications?” The bombshell was smoothing her hair even though she was lying down in bed. “Are we going to have badass laser cell phones in the future?”
“No, the communication is on an interstellar scale, actually. I have powerful nuclear generators to make the laser light travel further than ever before. Light travels faster than radio signals or anything else, so I am hoping to develop a faster way to transmit messages to and from space stations or satellites. Right now I’m practicing by sending out some messages to other universes. Who knows, I might just call up an alien!”
Roman moved his hands up to his forehead to imitate antennae, and she squealed with laughter as he moved towards her as if to tickle her neck. She seemed ready for another round. Roman’s pager went off, buzzing on the floor in a crumpled pile of clothing.
Groaning, Roman leaned over the edge of the bed and fished his pager out of a pants pocket. It was from work, and it had the code “RBZ.” She peeked over his shoulder.
“Whose initials are those?” She teased.
“It is a code from work,” Roman flashed her a smile to acknowledge her joke. “I hate these stupid codes because it is impossible to remember what they all mean, but I do know I have to go.”
Pitching his legs over the side of the bed, Roman started pulling on his boxer shorts.
“R stands for rendezvous. B stands for a major shift in the projects. They want to move to plan B, whatever that is, because something must have completely ruined our business as usual plan A.”
Roman stood up to pull up his pants and buckle his belt, then stooped to fish around for his shirt under the bed.
“I wish I had paid more attention in the briefing on these codes. I think that Z meant something really bad. I remember them telling us to remember that Z is the end of the alphabet so it represents endings.”
“Woah, it’s the end of the world as we know it.” The bombshell said, snuggling into her pillow. “It was nice to meet you, Roman.”
Roman pulled on his shirt. “And it was nice to meet you too, um…”
The uncomfortable pause that followed betrayed the fact that he had forgotten her name. Roman had been meaning to ask her about it again. The familiar anger rising in her blue eyes told him that it was time to go. He could finish getting dressed on the way to work.
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