David doesn’t believe in destiny. Such mystical notions are childish. Feature articles, podcast interviews, blog posts, and personal appearances all tout his brilliance and his quiet climb to power from a humble patent clerk to the Director of the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office in only a matter of months. The American dream prescribes nothing more than hard, honest work and you will be rewarded with a rich and fulfilling life. Whenever someone bestows accolades on him for his forward thinking and innovative genius this is the line he gives them.
When asked, he claims to have done nothing extraordinary. He makes decisions and takes risks that make sense in their context. It’s what anyone would do given the same information and options. It is a source of constant bafflement to him. It’s all so obvious and natural to David. One step leads to the next logical step, then another, and so on. Simple. All the fuss and analysis really is unnecessary.
David had spent years as a clerk, doing the work set before him, never looking for anything more than the next stack of documents to file, his next paycheck, the next government mandated holiday. All “I”s were dotted and all “T”s were crossed. Then one day he took a step back and he could see the whole picture and not just the one square inch allotted to him. And for the first time in his life he had decided to do something about what he saw, to be the agent of change in the world, as suggested by greater men.
But in truth it wasn’t just any day. There is a specific day. At the time it seemed trivial. Shocking, but trivial. But the change in him, and his life, seemed inextricably linked to an incident so odd, so very unexplainable that they have to be linked. He doesn’t like thinking that this is the case and he tells himself it was coincidence, but it has never let him go.
It was the same as any other day because that was how he liked it. Order. Routine. No surprises. At the time he had had the same address for forty years. The same barber for fifteen. The same alarm clock since he was in college. He called his sister every Sunday at 6pm. He wrote his nephew once a month. He paid his bills as soon as they were due and he never answered the door unless the person had called ahead. The postman knew to use a special knock.
Leaves were changing from bright summer green to yellow as autumn settled in. He had his lunch in the usual place, a small park across the street from the office. Right bench, right side, in case someone else wanted to sit on the same bench. But they never did. Turkey, cheddar, mustard, no mayo. When he was feeling adventurous it would be Monterey Jack instead. Otherwise his lunch was as predictable as his schedule.
As he ate his sandwich and thought about the order of actions he would take after lunch, a woman walked into the small park. Her short, platinum hair that had been purposely disheveled as indicated by its resistance to the breeze that rustled some leaves across the cobblestone path. She walked, crossing her steps one over the other in the most absurd way as she came toward him, slowly and with purpose, eyes locked on him.
Her hands were tucked into the pockets of the long brown coat she wore, the fur collar framed the bottom of her porcelain face. Her high heeled boots clicked on the cobblestone as she walked right to the bench he sat on. She smiled. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like a mischievous smile. The smile of a rabble rouser.
He looked around of course. There had to be something else of interest in the area. No woman had ever looked at him his whole life and now here was this... person giving him direct eye contact. She sat down next to him. Not on the other side of the bench, as he would have done, but one inch from him. He could smell the buttery softness of her authentic leather coat and the acidity of her hair product.
He continued to eat his sandwich, the sound of his chewing amplified in his ears. Maybe she didn’t like sitting alone. Perhaps she was in danger and sitting with another person made her feel safe, but she should call the police if that was the case. He was not capable of heroics, never had been. The thought of being in imminent danger made his hands shake. Why did this woman have to choose him, he was of no consequence.
He couldn’t take it. No one ever came to this little park and now it was about to be a crime scene. He shoved his half eaten food into the insulated bag he had and leaned forward to stand up.
“Wait.” The woman touched his arm. Her long, elegant fingers compelled him to stay. He didn’t know why. The tone of her voice, maybe, like a summer afternoon, warm and inviting. “Are you David Dresher?”
Her voice was hypnotic, curious and kind, but also commanding. He blinked at her. Her hand slid down his arm and rested on top of his. Her palm was hot, as if she had just been holding a fresh cup of tea. He shivered. She smiled, burgundy lips curving up at the corners in amusement. “Please tell me I’ve found the right person.”
He had never been one for words, but now he found he was completely devoid of them. David nodded his head.
“Good.” Her smile widened. “I have something for you.”
This was it, David thought. She has a gun. Or worse, a knife. I don’t want to die. His brain had failed him, neither flight or fight had kicked in, he was paralyzed, stuck to that park bench like he was a part of it.
The woman leaned into him. Her hand moved to his cheek. She turned his face toward her and pressed her lips to his. The fur from her collar tickled his chin. The world burned white hot as he tried to absorb what was happening to him.
He had been kissed once before, by a girl in his music class. They say next to each other every day, sharing the same music stand as they played clarinet. They had been practicing in one of the sound proof rooms for an upcoming concert. They were the only clarinetists and there was to be a ten bar solo, they both wanted it to be perfect. He was the better player and he had stayed after school to give her pointers. Just before leaving she hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. It was so sudden he didn’t know what to do. She giggled and waved at him as she rushed out the door leaving young David in a daze.
A digital beeping snapped him out of the memory. He looked down at his calculator watch. Lunch was over. He looked around. He was alone. Not only that, he had his sandwich in his hands, paused midway to his mouth. He threw the sandwich in the garbage and rushed back to work, deciding he would call his doctor right away and get some tests done. Hallucinations of that magnitude could only be the result of a brain tumor.
As usual he went into the bathroom to wash up before returning to his tasks. Focused on his hands, he made sure he soaped between each finger and past his writs. He looked in the mirror to see a burgundy imprint on his lips. A sudden drumming pounded in his ears, he felt light headed. It was real, it had happened. That woman had kissed him and disappeared, quite literally. He had not seen her leave. He took a paper towel and wiped the pigment from his lips and used extra soap just in case.
As he returned to work something happened. People looked at him. Some of them even smiled. “Good lunch?” Eric from accounting clapped him on the back as he past him in the hallway. “Beautiful sweater.” Shelly from HR commented as she cruised by his cubicle. Anyone who walked by him said something or did something. Friendly gestures and casual comments had not been part of his prior interactions with his co-workers. Usually they looked past him like he was an apparition that haunted the hallway but now they took notice of him.
He called his doctor anyway. Diagnosis, negative. More than negative. Since his last check up, less than six months ago, his blood pressure was down and his insulin levels had evened out. He told no one what had happened and never returned to that park again. He didn’t need to. The friendly gestures and casual comments led to actions. People asking him out to lunch and he accepted, with reluctance at first. Within a few short months he had friends. There were people in his life who wished him happy birthday and asked him to their house for celebrations. That day in the park had been a turning point. It was strange to think that a kiss from a beautiful stranger had changed so much. It was just a kiss after all.
Or so he tells himself when it creeps into his thoughts. Thinking back on those days it’s like he is watching another person living that life. He feels no association to the man he had been. What matters is who he was now.
After cutting the tape he peels back the four sides and looks down on a pile of biodegradable foam pellets. Dipping his hands into the pile his fingers find another box within. A smaller silver box shimmers with an electrical current as he brings it closer.
He sits down at his desk and sets the box in front of him. This technology has been available for some time but it was only until now that he found the resolve to acquire it. After taking a deep breath he flips up the lid. He feels pressure throbbing in his temples.
A shining silver bracelet gleams under the florescent lighting. There are no markings of any kind just a band of black that runs around its center. A small card wedged into the lid reads: DPA Certified Technology.
The item is not from the Department of Planetary Affairs directly but it has passed their standards which are the highest in regards to these matters. Certainty is what David wants. The banishment of doubt is what he is looking for.
No matter how many times he thinks it through or the number of possible explanations he can devise for the changes in his life he always comes back to the same conclusion: Elbie.
He does not display any of the usual signs of a host; accelerated healing, interference with electronics, or waking visions. No one ever mentions self-confidence or a social life as side effects of being a host but there is no other way to know for sure.
He is ready for the truth.
He takes his sweater off first. It is too hot in his office. He will have to tell his PA to check the thermostat.
Just put the band on. In a few minutes he will know that all he is today is something he had found within the depths of himself or is the result of an outside entity that has been planted there by a beautiful blonde.
David takes the item out of the box and slips it over his wrist. Blue for Elbie-free, red for not. He snaps the ends shut.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Does knowing change anything? What will he do if he has one? Will he register or ask for it be removed? His life has only improved over the years. He is the same person he was ten years ago, just more involved with his world.
His mind fills with burning white heat, like the center of new born star. He can hear the blood rushing in his ears. He opens his eyes. The silver band is settled in its silver box. David closes the lid. He will have his PA return it to the company this afternoon. This is who he is and there is no changing that.