Geoffrey’s ultimate decision felt right. He had to smile while anticipating his first face-to-face with the woman soon to be his new wife.
Not that the divorce settlement had been a day at the beach. Ending his marriage had cost him a bundle, and the price tag included his home and child. His agreement to play Heather’s weekend father poured scalding salt water into the wound, and he hated having to drag his kid into this.
There had been no avoiding it. The legal sharks from Lansky & Meyers had taken their seats alongside Celia and across the table from him. That morning, he felt lucky to have escaped with both gonads remaining inside his boxers and not tucked into Robert Lansky’s briefcase. In the end, Geoffrey had kept his late-model BMW, his dog Barney, less than 30 percent of the couple’s joint savings, and a smattering of his dignity. Celia got everything else.
He contested nothing. How could he? A lawyer hearing the real story would have assumed the accountant had spent so much time computing actuary tables, his brain had soft boiled like a three-minute egg. Geoffrey chose to tell the truth of his affair as best as he could manage it. Yes, there had been another woman, someone he had met on the Internet, of all places. No, they had not even met formally. He saw no reason to admit to more.
…because saying more could get me immediately escorted to a rubber room.
Geoffrey had never viewed himself as a candidate for a mixed marriage. It seemed hard enough to vault the hurdle of simply belonging to opposite sexes. Any couple remaining together as long as he and Celia had soon realized men and women were aliens to one another. It often became impossible to work out any realistic compromise that did not necessitate the exchange of gunfire. Maybe Geoffrey should have seen the warning signals during their engagement, when his Golden Labrador Retriever had chowed down on Celia’s parakeet.
The arguing subsided, replaced by smoldering resentment and eventually silence. The couple had learned to endure entire meals seated at the same table without exchanging a single word. Shortly before the divorce, Celia had marched into the bathroom while Geoffrey was shaving. She shoved a pink paperback book into his face: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Geoffrey could not have said it better. Like combining earth and water, the only possible result of opposite sexes cohabitating was to produce mud.
For obvious reasons, Shelina was the exception to that rule. Regardless of the legal pummeling, Geoffrey’s decision to leave Celia became a no-brainer. He felt no bothersome guilt-soaked regrets about trashing the life he had built with his wife of ten years. Once he saw Shelina’s smile illuminate his computer screen, he knew what he had to do. He and this incredible woman belonged together. One might as well have asked him whether he would care to live without oxygen. Ms. Opportunity had knocked and had even left him email. Only a fool would leave her waiting inside a chat room. The possibility of reevaluating his decision seemed too absurd to entertain for even a moment.
The downloaded live-shots of Shelina cinched it. In that single blinding instant of revelation, the man’s entire value system shifted. Geoffrey recognized the irony in Celia’s suggested reading. The punch line was that Geoffrey was not from Mars and Shelina was not from Venus. Shelina was from a distant little star called Diaphaenesia-10 in the Beta-4 Taurus system, a good way past Venus…
The computer screen suddenly flared to life with a blinding flash never intended by the gang at Microsoft. Geoffrey still had trouble believing the simplicity of it all whenever Shelina made contact.
“Geoffrey? Are you there?”
She spoke to him from somewhere among the stars, her beauty so astounding it would have been impossible for any man not to be riveted.
“Been waiting for you right here for the past two hours. How much longer?”
“Not long. I just wanted to see you before I set the coordinates. I love you, Geoffrey.”
He leaned close to the monitor and touched the glass of the screen. Shelina’s computer image had been all he had ever seen of this woman, except for once. It happened during their third conversation almost a year ago. Half joking, he had asked her if she would mind displaying her physical attributes to him. His reasoning was deadly serious, but he could not comfortably explain his need to know. She belonged to another world. Truth was, he feared that beneath the woman’s silken garments, she might have the skin of a lizard. For all he knew, she could have even had a penis. He had no other way to make certain. He flat-out asked her to show him the goods.
She did just that. Apparently, the women of Di-10 had no concept for the word “inhibition.” There on the computer’s monitor, Shelina stood before him nude and unafraid, her skin a flawless porcelain. She seemed completely composed with her nakedness, as if Geoffrey had simply asked to tell him the time.
“Are you pleased?”
Her voice belonged more to a curious child than to the siren standing before him.
“More than I can say. You’re exquisite, Shelina.”
Months later, such words still seemed inadequate. The bridegroom-to-be doubted he could ever tire of looking at her.
“I’m preparing to set the coordinates for Earth, Geoffrey, but there is something, something I should—” Shelina hesitated, as if afraid to add anything that might jeopardize their union. “There is something I believe you should know…” Her voice sounded almost plaintive, but it made her all the more endearing. “If it will change anything—if it will change your feelings for me—it is best that I know now. Before I…before we—”
Nothing could change his feelings for her. Geoffrey felt mild amusement that Shelina could even entertain the thought.
“Tell me,” he said, more charmed than curious. “Do Diaphaenesian women shed their skins like snakes? Morph into slime creatures in old age? Eat their young?”
He heard the woman gasp. She waited a moment before she spoke.
“Of course not.”
“Well, then, how bad could it—”
“It’s more complicated. It concerns our—what is your word for it?—our evolution. I’m a religious woman, Geoffrey. Diaphaenesians are not as you. Our ancestry is not tree apes, as are yours, according to some beliefs. We have evolved from something else. From what you call…God.”
Geoffrey had to restrain himself from laughing out loud. Here, in Shelina’s own words, came the intergalactic equivalent of Earth’s oldest theological conundrum, the origin of the species newly applied to extraterrestrials. Presented by any religious zealot from Earth, this argument was unwinnable. Geoffrey had no intentions of debating creationism with the woman he intended to marry. If once upon a time Diaphaenesians were created in God’s own image, well then, God must have had himself one hell of a day.
“I would have expected nothing less than godliness in your lineage,” he told her.
Shelina’s smile filled the computer screen.
“Then I am yours, my darling,” she said. “Wait for me?”
“To the end of the world. But preferably sooner.”
She blew him a kiss. The monitor flickered off.
Geoffrey eagerly awaited the arrival of the woman who would be his wife.
“So, you told your bridegroom?” the older she-creature asked her daughter.
“I did, Mother. He seemed quite understanding.”
The elder female raised a tentacle that explored the air, then disappeared again inside her skull. She seemed unconvinced.
“So strange. I would have thought one from Earth might have an inherent disgust of insects. Or at least some fear of them. The two species seem so adversarial on your Geoffrey’s planet. What do they call them there—bugs?”
The two females fell silent. The word had an ominous sound.
“We never speak of such things, the earthman and I, Mother. Geoffrey’s love sees past what you call my insect origins. He sees only that which God has created. You know how I feel about your ridiculing my religious beliefs, Mother…”
The older female had learned to tolerate Shelina’s devout convictions, which often bordered on the fanatical. The girl simply refused to accept scientific fact.
“Will your Earth lover’s eyes see beyond your mantis origins when, after having made love with him, you dine on his flesh?”
Shelina had no ready response. This ancient ritual had been extant for as long as she remembered. It had caused the male populace of Diaphaenesia to vanish almost completely. The young bride had a difficult time reconciling the logic of the ritual with the propagation of her species. But, who was she to argue with the divine purpose of nature as the Almighty intended?
“I’ll be setting the coordinates for Earth now, Mother.” She leaned forward to kiss the woman, then smiled reassuringly. “I imagine I should be home shortly after dinner…”
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