As I close the door behind me, the feeling of guilt washes over me with an intensity never before felt. Cassandra would be deeply hurt if she found out about my weekly forays into Victoria’s world. As I pass through the lobby of Alternative Universe, I myself question why I sought Victoria out.
Cassandra may not have been the love of my life, but life with her was good. We complemented each other in every way. She laughed at my good jokes and issued a deserving moan at the bad ones. Not since the earliest days of our combined lives was there ever any real quarrels. I made her my wife because I knew there would be nothing but happiness.
But then an opportunity to visit the past came along and thoughts of Victoria pushed their way past the goodness that was Cassandra and filled my day dreams.
My relationship with Victoria was a brief one. It started in the spring and was over by fall. Yet, in those few summer months, we shared nothing but happiness. Sure, there were long absences because of my active duty in the Space Force. But we made up for them when I returned planet side. At least I thought I did a good job of filling the voids that was my absence.
It was those absences that Victoria used as an excuse to call off our relationship. It was my youthful exuberance that did not allow me to put up a fight. I was young, good looking, funny, and a space fighter pilot. The future was full of an endless line of starry-eyed young ladies.
Or so I thought. As my buddy Jim once told me, “Sure, you’re the kind of guy who could have any woman you want, but you don’t know how to use it.”
I was never very good at being a player. And after Victoria called it off via a vid-chat, I threw myself into my training.
Shortly after the ending of the Sol Civil war, I met Cassandra. It wasn’t long before we became nearly inseparable. After landing a civilian job as a Lunar shuttle pilot I asked her to marry me.
It was a nice destination wedding on the Mars orbital station. The photo of us at the large observation bubble with the red planet as a backdrop sits proudly on our mantle in the family room.
The autocar chimes to tell me I have arrived at our suburban home. I pull myself to the present and step out of the car. I cannot tell if it’s the guilt, or a sixth sense that screams something is horribly wrong. I see a shadow at the family room window, the curtain shifts, and the shadow moves away.
A lump lodges in my throat. Is that Cassandra waiting for me to come home? Does she know? I feel my face muscles slacken with fear knowing it will give me away. As my hand waves over the door plate, I try and compose myself. The door swings open, and I force what I hope is my usual casual smile.
Cassandra watches me from the entry leading into the kitchen, arms crossed, hurt burning in her eyes. My smile fails me, and she turns, retreating to the kitchen.
“I am not ready for this conversation,” I mumble, take a deep breath, and follow Cassandra into the room with all the sharp utensils.
“How could you?” She hisses as I walk into the kitchen.
“What are you talking about?”
“Lacy saw you walking into Alternative Universe this afternoon. Guess you landed early.”
“It was nothing,” I retort defensively, hoping she might accept the possibility that my motives were pure.
“There is only one reason anyone goes to that place. Man, woman…other! Who is she?”
“Alternative Universe offers more than sex.” I say with conviction because it is true. Alternative Universe is a company that sprang out of the discovery of portals into other dimensions. As those dimensions were explored, it was learned that each dimension was a parallel universe. The same actors, the same sets, the same storylines, they just followed different paths. Alternative Universe saw the profit potential, and setup shop. After obtaining FDA approval of course.
Nearly every customer used Alternative Universe as a way to explore the what ifs of past, potential, or unexplored encounters. Too often, the discovery that one’s partner was caught going to AU led to the dissolution of the relationship.
“It is as good as cheating,” Cassandra shouted, as if she could read my thoughts, and finish them. Which, after all these years she could.
“Who is it?”
“You didn’t know her,” I whisper, guilt smothering my will to fight.
“Her name was Victoria. We dated briefly while I was still training to be a space fighter pilot. She broke up with me because I was hardly ever around.”
“Why?” Cassandra’s eyes glistening with tears of sorrow and fury.
“I don’t have a good answer. I fucked up. This,” I point to her, then me, “is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Her eyes burn into me, a tear streaks down her smooth cheek, her hands ball into fists.
“This is how you show it, fucking some bitch that didn’t find you worth keeping.”
“It isn’t real,” I say in some desperate hope to hold onto what we have. “I never leave the room.” I see her features soften and add, “and it wasn’t just about the sex.”
A salt shaker sails across the kitchen striking me just above the eye. Without reaching up, I know the skin parts and a warm trickle runs along my eyebrow, turning cold before it runs down my cheek. I should have shut up.
“I don’t think I can look at you anymore,” Cassandra growls, showing no remorse for drawing blood.
I wipe my face with the back of my sleeve and marvel at how much the head bleeds, then without malice I look directly into Cassandras eyes, “I had a moment of weakness. There is so much time to think shuttling between the moon and here. Most of that time is spent thinking about you, us, the good times, and the future.
“But, for just one moment, my thoughts slipped, and I began to wonder.”
Again, the fire that burns in Cassandra’s eyes dims just ever so slightly.
“I will never go near that place again. This I promise you, with all that is good between us, I will never, ever, do anything to hurt you again.”
Cassandra’s posture relaxes, her eyes soften more, she gasps as a sob escapes her.
“I need time to think, to process, to figure out if I can trust you from here on out.”
“Whatever it takes, I will make it up to you.”
She offers a halfhearted twitch of a smile, then turns and leaves me standing in the kitchen alone.
Those sessions at Alternative Universe showed me a world beyond extasy. But was it worth almost losing what is real, and good. Not spectacular, but good.
I mull it over, then make dinner reservations for two and cancel my account with AU.