The Hardest Part

by Tim Elphick

"Nina, will you sleep with me?"

I had thought that asking the question would be the hardest part and that the worst thing Nina could say was no, but her reply floored me.

"You arrange some privacy for us and yes" Nina replied. Now, that was the hard part! How to arrange some privacy? That was going to be tricky, very tricky!

Nina and I have been seen together for about six months now. When our shifts coincide, we normally hang out at the mall or watch telly at her parents place. Nothing romantic has ever happened because we are never alone. Being alone was an almost impossible situation these days.

Nina's parents must be quite well off as they live in a large apartment on the eighteenth floor with a separate lounge. Watching telly is fine if you don't mind Auntie Misha's baleful glare or Peter and Alex's warring over toys in front of you. But the idea of having some privacy there is out of the question. I don't know of anyone with enough credit to have a room to themselves.

Meeting at my parents place is out of the question. We have a 2 room unit in the lower tenement blocks. Gramps and I sleep in the eating room and the telly is in my parents room. My Da says no noise in the evening, so he can sleep for his night shift.

I spent my whole shift at the seaweed processing plant thinking of where we could go for some privacy. My Da says that he and my Ma would find privacy in the secluded streets outside rich housing estates. Apparently I was conceived in an empty street in New Mayfair. I discounted that as an idea as they restrict all street usage to cardkey access nowadays, and I'm not as loose as my Da is about being naked in public.

When I got home I asked Gramps what he did for a date. "When I was dating your Grandma, we used to go out to a nice quiet sushi bar, catch a movie then go for a drive in the countryside and park somewhere. Your Grandma was very fond of parking!". I asked Gramps what parking was, but he just said "Wink, wink, nudge nudge!" and grinned toothlessly. Gramps often said things that made no sense.

I suggested to Nina that we go out for a nice meal and then catch a movie or something. Nina said that she couldn't afford anything too fancy on the pittance she made at the shop.

We ate at a trendy "free-range" cafe down at the mall. Red-check tablecloths and rusty antique farm implements hanging on the wall. The prices are steep as they make a point of using meat that was reared outside, rather than the normal barn-cows and battery-chooks. Personally, I can't see the point of paying double for meat that is stringier and tougher than the cheap veal. Nina loves it however, she says its much tastier and sharper. The salad of sea-lettuce and sea- cucumber was good, obviously they do not buy it from where I work. Since I suggested the eat out, I pay for us both. Besides, it's only credit.

We spent all evening brainstorming ideas of how to get a little privacy, but discounted all of them as being either too expensive, too difficult or not private enough. Nina liked the sound of driving around outside, but I didn't. When Da took me outside for my fifteenth birthday, I felt really queasy. The sun was so bright and harsh compared to indoor lights. It was freaky not having a ceiling over your head, and I kept feeling that I would just float off into space if I lost touch of the ground. I told Nina that I couldn't afford to hire a four-by-four, which wasn't really true but she accepted it.

I asked Nina if she would rather go to a movie or the disco. She said that they were playing a rerun of "Gunfight at the V.R. Corral" at the Globe. It is a real classic, one of the first Virtual Reality movies. I'd seen it twice before but I was happy to go again. The shoot-out at the end is still neat. We took the transit down to the CBD. I always get the goosebumps walking into the Globe. All those people strapped to chairs, wearing black visors, twisting and writhing, waving their wired gloves like puppets, all in complete silence. Eerie.

Gramps tells me about movies in his day where they sat in the dark, watching a big screen, eating popcorn and necking in the back row. I looked around the Globe. The lights were on full as everyone wore the black visors, the seats were all bucket shaped with wires and sensors coming out at all angles. People can eat popcorn while they wait for a free seat, but not in the chairs. Definitely no chance of necking in here.

I plugged myself in and fast forwarded through the credits. I chose to be Wyatt Erp. I don't know who Nina chose to be, she never tells me.

After the movie we walked to a late-night cafe. Cafe's have funny names, whether it is called a breakfast cafe, lunchbar, tearoom or a late-night cafe, you can guarantee that it will be open 24 hours a day. So at 0200 you can buy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a nightcap, depending on where you go. One of the strange side effects of every job going into shiftwork in the twenties.

Downtown was still packed, and wouldn't die down until the street cleaners turn on at 0400. Everyone hides indoors then, unless they want to get drenched in disinfectant. We were thoroughly jostled by the time we had walked the two blocks. Thankfully we found a free booth and ordered. I tried to cuddle up to Nina but the bartender spotted us and threatened to throw us out if we started snogging. So we contended ourselves with quiet fondles underneath the table.

We were just about to head home when Nina got the idea that I should buy a fake ID card so that we could book into a Hotel. I was dead against it, you could get severely punished for possessing a fake ID, let alone using one. But Nina whispered a few lewd suggestions in my ear and soon talked me round to it.

I phoned an old schoolmate the next day and asked about how a friend of mine could acquire a fake ID card. I called from the phone in the tearoom so that the call didn't get logged to my ID card. I was sure they didn't tap phone calls, but you hear rumours. Jake was very helpful. He arranged a drop for Friday, but the card would only be valid for a day. I felt that was quite long enough to be holding one.

Nina was very enthusiastic and couldn't wait for Friday to come around. My hormones were rushing around so wildly that the week crawled along. Three times my boss reprimanded me for daydreaming. Even as he docked my pay I was still smirking.

Friday came and I was a bundle of nerves. As I took the transit downtown, I kept looking at the other people in the transit. Could any of them be a plain-clothes officer?

I was relieved when no-one else got off at the black-market district. As I walked through the rough district, I blended in more as everyone else was looking guilty and furtive. I met Jake at a breakfast bar and ordered chorizo and eggs. I stared open-mouthed at the credits that were rung off my card until Jake kicked me under the table. Then I clicked that that was how I was paying for the ID card. I swallowed nervously and keyed in my code. Jake passed over an envelope and told me not to use it after noon tomorrow. I pocketed it and toyed with my breakfast. The spicy sausage only worsened the state of my stomach.

After my shift at work, I went round to Ninas. She was packing an overnight bag, I told her not to bother as we couldn't afford to stay all night. Nina smiled and said that I might be pleased with what she had in there. Auntie Misha was sure that something was up but we just smiled and waved when she asked where we were going. We took the transit out to the farthest stop and wandered around looking at the different Hotels and their prices. We were hugging and kissing in the street until someone shoved us off the moving sidewalk. We then went to a cafe for a bite, but were too hyped up to eat.

We checked into the Comfee Inn as Mr and Ms Pedro Smith. We got a twin cubicle for 90 minutes. We could have got a single for two hours, but I've been in one of them and hated it. It was claustrophobic even on my own, lying on your back in a 2 metre long coffin-shaped box. Every conceivable electrical devise within arms reach because you can't stretch your arms out straight. The bloke in the cubicle below me snored half the night, and there was a funny smell from the air-conditioner. Found out the next morning that someone had died in the room next door. Rigor mortis had set in before they found her, so they had to wait a day before she softened up enough to be pulled out of the cubicle. I hear that they have started installing heart meters in them now so that an alarm goes off the second your heart stops.

Our cubicle was rented from 2230 to midnight, so we went to the hotel bar and ordered two mocktails. If I ever buy another fake ID, it will make me old enough to buy some alcohol. We sat in the tanning deck-chairs and watched the triathletes swimming in the suspension pool like they were actually travelling somewhere. The lighting over the pool was set at mid afternoon. No matter what the rest of a hotel is doing, the pool is always right for a nice dip after lunch, when the "sun" isn't too hot. Not that anyone has swum at a beach in decades, but my Gramps told me how it used to be.

At 2200 we went to the toilets to freshen up and change for the night. This was a posh hotel so the stalls had locks on them. Nina had borrowed the fake ID for a shower so I just stood under the body drier until my sweat had evaporated. I spent ages brushing my teeth and then put on my gown and left the mens.

I stood outside the womens until a small girl called me a pervert and poked her tongue out at me. I was so nervous that I jumped. I then went down the wall of cubicles until I found ours. The front was closed with a Cleaning sign lit in the door. Most of the cubicles around it had Do Not Disturb signs lit and you could hear faint sounds of struggling coming from a couple of them.

I climbed into our cubicle as soon as the cleaning light went out. Nina arrived just as I had figured out how the coffee maker worked. I had to stop Nina from climbing in head first as there is not enough room to turn around inside. So the first view I got of Nina was of her long slender legs, right up to her short kimono, as she slid down the sheets. I hit the Door closed button and the Do Not Disturb sign and then let out a huge sigh. Nina giggled and said "Here we are at last".

We then started kissing and fondling like there was no tomorrow. We had just started to undress one another when we both started coughing. I looked around and smoke was pouring out of the coffee maker. Nina and I hit the open button at the same time. We were drenched from the sprinklers by the time we had struggled out of the cubicle.

The front clerk was outside and immediately wanted to know what we had been doing. I said nothing but he insisted that we stay until the Insurance arrived. Nina was about to argue when I remembered the fake ID and motioned Nina to silence. I whispered that we had better slip away before the investigator got here. When a crowd had gathered in the corridor, we snuck out to the toilets to change and then left.

On the transit back home, I finally hit on the way that we could get some privacy. This would be the hardest part but at least the worst thing Nina could say was no.

"Nina, will you marry me?"

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