When we eventually went back to Og's house, it was late in the evening. As Og had told us, the lawyers were waiting for me. I saluted Art3mis – no, Samantha – and she waved back as I went up to the room they were in. Several hours later, I returned. Everyone else had already eaten dinner, so I grabbed a quick snack and then went in search of my newly refound love. I found her sitting in one of Og's guest rooms, down the hall from mine. She was reading a book. I knocked, and when she looked up, I entered.
“Neuromancer. William Gibson, 1984. Notable for its depiction of cyberspace as something you 'jack in' to.” I thought about what I was saying and winced. Now that the Hunt was over, my fount of 80s knowledge probably didn't make me any cooler.
“'Like city lights, receding....' I wonder, sometimes, is the OASIS as beautiful as Gibson's Matrix?” She seemed contemplative, as if she had just awoken from a dream.
“I don't know about the OASIS, but I know you are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.”
“Oh, come on.” Samantha adjusted her skirt, brushed her hair behind her ear. “I'm pretty sure you won't believe that forever.” She paused. ”Or even for that much longer.” She looked down, and to the side. I wasn't great at real-life interaction, but I could tell that something was up.
“What's wrong?” I studied her face closely as I asked, then thought better of staring too long at her birthmark, and tried to focus on her eyes.
She continued avoiding my gaze. “There's something I should tell you, if you really want to have a relationship with me, in real life. I didn't know if we'd ever get this far.”
“You know, I'll still love you, whatever it is.”
She turned towards me, and the intensity of her sudden stare almost knocked me over. “I'm not sure of that.” Before I could say anything else, she continued. “This is something I keep very private. The OASIS makes that easier. But, if we're going to have a relationship, it's something you should know about. And Wade, I'm tired of hiding things from you.” She paused for a moment, and then continued. “I'm transgender. I've always been female, at least in my head. But the world hasn't always seen me that way.” She continued staring at me for a second longer, as I gaped and tried to compose myself, and then looked away again. “I didn't think that you'd be interested in me anymore. I understand.”
“But I- you don't look- I mean, I didn't- what are you talking about? Of course I still care about you! Nothing's changed, has it? Just because you used to, um....”
“Used to what?” There was something harder in her voice, something closed off. “I've always been a woman. And I've always had this body. I don't know what you're trying to say.” Her voice shook on the last words. She was biting her lip now, and her eyes shone. I reached over to caress her face, and she pulled back. “Don't.”
“I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hurt you. Of course I still care. We'll make this work.”
I reached over, and this time she didn't pull away. I held her for a while, until her tears subsided. I was on the verge of passing out from exhaustion, but I didn't want to abandon her. Eventually, she spoke up.
“Why don't we go to sleep? We can talk about this in the morning. I'd like some time alone.”
I agreed, and we went to our separate beds.
I was so exhausted after the past few days that I slept like a rock. Moss probably could have grown on me, had I not been awoken by the sting of synthesizers. After I opened my eyes (“Working For The Weekend,” Loverboy, 1981, Columbia Records), the sunlight kept me awake, as did Aech's smiling face.
“Hey! It's almost noon. We were waiting for you to wake up, but then Og let me know that there were speakers in our rooms. Cool, huh?”
I rubbed my bleary eyes and stretched as I got out of bed. I was still wearing the previous day's clothes, though they had been rumpled almost beyond recognition. I'd had no time to think about the previous night, and if Aech's intrusion was any indication, I wasn't going to get any time to think anytime soon. “Yeah, it's pretty cool. Can you give me a couple minutes?”
Aech looked at me for a second, pausing. “Sure. Dude, you look like hell. Take as long as you need. We'll be upstairs.” With that, she left the room, closing the door behind her.
I stretched again, and started to look for clothes. It wasn't too long until I realized that I had brought with me only the clothes I was wearing. It took me a little longer to realize that Og was rich enough that he probably had people who could procure clothes for me. Come to think of it, so was I. Until then, though, I pulled my clothes into some semblance of neatness in the adjacent bathroom's mirror. Then, I went in search of food.
After I had eaten breakfast and changed clothes (a helpful package left in the kitchen and addressed to me had contained a full set of clothing, although it all appeared to be non-haptic), I went in search of my friends. I was pretty sure that Shoto and Aech were logged into in the OASIS somewhere, but I would need to face Samantha eventually. I wasn't sure where to find her, but then again, I also wasn't sure what I would say to her. I'd promised that we could make things work as a couple, but what did that mean? I loved her a lot, and I still had certain desires – did that make me gay? Did it matter?
I wandered through Og's house as I thought, and eventually my feet took me to the garden, and to the maze we'd kissed in the night before. I thought about how it had felt to kiss her, warm and soft and wet, and I decided that the matter of my sexuality was insignificant compared to how much I wanted to kiss her again.
I solved the maze again, just to see what was at the center. Under a worn copy of Neuromancer, there was a note, in handwriting I knew:
I'll be in my room. Come find me when you want to talk.
I pocketed the book and note, and began retracing my steps, back towards the house. Then, I thought better of it. I sat down on the bench, and opened the book.
Several hours later, I surfaced, with additional knowledge of the Sprawl but none of myself or the woman I loved. I shook myself, flexing my fingers and trying to piece together what was reality. Then I walked back to the house, and found myself knocking on the door to the room I'd last seen Samantha in.
She was there, reading again. I handed her back the copy of Neuromancer and sat down on the bed next to her. “I'm sorry it took me so long. It's been a while since I read this.”
She shook her head, and sighed. “It's a classic. But I've been waiting for you, you know.” The words struck fear and hope into me simultaneously.
“I still love you. Like I said, I always will.”
At my words, she flinched, then sighed. “Do you really think so?” In response, I kissed her. To my surprise, she responded, and it was a subjective eternity until we broke the kiss.