Hux kept sending me emails with pictures of the baby. It was as if he genuinely thought I wanted them. I had been to visit and seen her in real life, a couple of weeks after she was born, Mom said I had to, and she looked like a pink frog. I didn’t need to see fifteen new photos of her every week, she was a baby, she didn’t do anything, but he kept sending them, and I watched her grow fatter and fatter. Admittedly, she also got a bit cuter. Occasionally I wrote him back. I didn’t really want to encourage him, but it was his kid, so it seemed rude not to.
I hadn’t told anyone in my family about Korr. I didn’t want them to know, in case it all blew up in my face. She hadn’t said anything about meeting each other’s families or anything like that, so I guessed that was okay.
But then we had an argument. It started so innocently. We were at her place and she was making tea. We’d had dinner at a restaurant earlier and I thought there was a pretty good chance we were going to have sex. That was really the only time she asked me to come up. In return I’d invited her to my place as well, as code for ‘I’d like to have sex, do you want to?’.
But now she asked me if I liked her friends, Roger and Olivia. We’d met them for drinks the other night.
“They were alright,” I said.
They were not. I’d met some other friends of hers too and I didn’t really like them either, but I didn’t want to tell her that. Well, her friend Greer was okay.
“I was just wondering, because I don’t know if it’s my friends, or if you just don’t like to socialize.”
She looked at me. Was that a question?
“Your friends are fine,” I said.
“Okay, because it seems to me like you’re not very interested in meeting them.”
“Do I have to like everyone you like?”
For a moment she just looked at me.
“I guess you don’t,” she said then. “But this is what people do, you know, they meet other people for drinks and dinner and things.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t really understand what this was about. Did she think I had been rude to Roger and Olivia? I had made an effort, for her sake. I didn’t think I’d said anything offensive, but maybe I had?
“It feels as if you want it to be just the two of us,” she continued. “Like you want to keep me in a box, separate from the rest of your life.”
Now I definitely didn’t know what to say.
“What are you talking about?”
She had tears in her eyes. She was clearly upset and I felt like I was on trial for something I didn’t even know what it was.
“I don’t want to be your ‘something on the side’”, she said.
“You think I have someone else?!”
Jesus Christ. She thought I was cheating on her?
“No! But you never take me anywhere!”
“Yes, I do!”
“No, you don’t! It’s always just us! You haven’t introduced me to any of your friends!”
“I don’t have any friends!”
The look on her face was one of skepticism, like she didn’t believe me.
“You must have some friends,” she said.
We looked at each other.
I’d never thought my lack of social life would become an issue, not like this. It had always been just my problem, something that marked me as different from everybody else. I wasn’t any good at socializing and there were few people I liked. Meeting Korr’s friends had only highlighted that, but I had tried. I didn't know how to explain to her that people generally didn't like me, because for some bizarre reason she actually did.
Anyway, I couldn’t magically conjure up friends just so I could provide her with proof that I didn’t want to keep her in a box, or however she had put it.
“We could visit my brother, if you want,” I said.
She sucked on her lower lip for a second.
“Yeah,” she said then. “That would be nice.”
I couldn’t really read her expression. She looked at me.
“You really don’t have any friends?” she said.
I felt like a freak. Everybody had friends. Except me.
“No, I don’t.”
Judging by her expression she had a hard time grasping that.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“No, it’s not. I yelled at you, for…”
It dawned on me then. She felt guilty. I pulled her to me and held her and she slipped her arms around my waist. We stood like that for a moment. She smelled really nice.
“I thought maybe you were ashamed of me, or something,” she said.
“I feel really horrible now.”
“Don’t. Maybe I should have told you… I didn’t want you to think I was weird.”
“You are totally weird. But it’s a good weird.”
She hugged me tighter. I didn’t even mind being called ‘weird’. But I thought maybe she was feeling sorry for me and for some reason that chafed a bit.
We drove up to Cardota on a Saturday. Hux had been very surprised when I called him and asked if we could come and visit. I couldn’t really fault him for that. ‘A girlfriend?’ he’d said. And then: ‘See, that’s what I told you.’
The weather was pretty good and there wasn’t a lot of traffic.
"You're driving too fast," Korr remarked.
"But I have a lawyer with me."
"You think that's gonna help, if the cops pull you over?"
"No, I was thinking if I run someone over, you can help me get rid of the body."
"That's not funny."
I'd thought that was pretty funny, but she wasn't laughing.
"You shouldn't joke about things like that," she said.
Hux and Phasma lived in a house not that unlike the one where Hux and I had lived when we were small. It was a two-story house on a street lined with trees and plenty of white-picket fences.
Korr had brought a cake. She'd made it herself and she held the container in front of her as I pressed the doorbell.
"Are you nervous?" I asked.
She looked at me.
"A little. It's your brother."
"He's an idiot."
The door opened and the idiot stood in front of us, smiling.
"Hello," he said.
"Hi," Korr said.
"Come in, come in."
He moved back so we could come inside.
"This is Korr," I said. "Korr, this is Hux."
"Armitage," he said, shooting me a displeased look.
They shook hands.
"I made a cake," Korr said. "It's not perfect, but…"
Hux accepted the container.
"Ah, how nice."
"I hope you're not allergic to chocolate."
"No, not at all."
Phasma came out from the living room to greet us.
"Hi," she said. "You must be Korr. I'm Phasma."
They shook hands too.
"I hope you're hungry," Hux said. "Lunch is almost ready."
It was a bit of an odd experience, because last year I had brought Rey to meet my family and I had wanted her to be my girlfriend so bad, I had settled for a charade. Now I was doing it for real.
I didn't feel about Korr the way I had felt about Rey. I knew that. But Rey was gone. I wasn't going to be like my dad and spend the rest of my life pining for someone who didn't want me. I couldn't stand the thought of doing that. And I liked Korr. I liked her a lot.
"Where did you meet?" Phasma asked when we had sat down for lunch.
Korr and I exchanged a look. The strangest thing wasn’t that she was my girlfriend, but the fact that I was her boyfriend. It was like wearing a new coat and being constantly aware of it. I’d thought about that before, when she looked at me sometimes, or when she touched me.
"On the sidewalk," she said with a smile, turning to Phasma again. "Outside a restaurant. It was the world's slowest valet parking, I think."
She looked at me again, still smiling. I smiled back a little at her.
Everybody explained what they did for a living and then we talked about Cardota and this neighborhood. We discussed property prices for a while.
We had almost finished eating when there was a noise from the baby monitor.
"Ha! Almost a full meal," Hux said. "No, you finish, I'll go."
He patted Phasma’s arm.
By the time he got back, with Breha on his arm, we had emptied our plates.
"Oh, she's so cute," Korr said.
Hux and Phasma smiled proudly.
"Look," Hux said to the baby, "you're uncle is here."
Breha didn't look particularly impressed.
"Do you want to hold her?" he asked me.
I thought Korr gave me a slightly odd look.
"Maybe you would like to hold her?" he asked Korr.
"Yeah.” She smiled. “If that's alright?"
I wasn't sure he asked her that just to screw with me, I mean he was immensely proud and happy to be a father, and he no doubt wanted to show off his kid, but the pointed look and small smile he gave me, after he had handed Breha to Korr, was definitely meant to rankle me.
I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but I didn’t want to say it in front of Korr.
Something shifted uncomfortably inside my chest. It was as if that new coat suddenly not fit quite right. I couldn’t help but to feel that there were expectations, like maybe Korr was expecting things of me, things I couldn’t deliver.
We hadn’t talked about children, obviously, but maybe that was what she wanted eventually. I was far from sure I wanted to have kids, to be honest I hadn’t given it much thought, but it wasn’t even really about that. Even the conversation that had brought us here in the first place suggested she wanted something that I didn’t really know how to do.
Or maybe I was just freaking out, because she was cooing at a baby and Hux was a little shit.
I helped Hux clear away the dishes and put on coffee a little later. We were alone in the kitchen.
"I'm impressed," he said.
"I'm serious. She's stunning. I don’t know how you managed to catch a woman like that."
She really was, and I didn't understand it either.
“Great job, putting ideas in her head,” I said to him.
He scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. What do you expect? It’s obviously still too soon, but at some point that is something that is going to come up. You’re thirty-two. How old is she?”
She was also thirty-two. The unease I felt blossomed into something resembling panic. I glanced at the door to the dining area, which in turn led to the living room, where Korr and Phasma were.
“You think she wants to have kids?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said in an exasperated tone of voice. “She’s your girlfriend.”
He looked at me.
“Don’t you want kids?” he said and now he sounded incredulous.
“I don’t know!”
Just the thought of being a father… I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, it was too alien a concept.
“Most people do,” Hux said.
They probably did. Hux, pompous dickhead that he was, he knew how to do all this. Visiting here was a sharp reminder that I didn’t. More than that, he clearly wanted it, this life, a family, all of it. I didn’t know what I wanted.
He made an impatient noise.
“Look, there’s no need to get ahead of yourself,” he said. “You’ve met someone and she’s obviously too good for you, but it seems as if she really likes you.”
“Maybe she has brain damage,” I said sourly.
“Maybe she does,” he agreed. “But I wouldn’t say that to her, if I were you.”