The rack was beginning to settle down after the morning rush. Kyle was at his usual table watching Amanda move around.
Watching Amanda at work was a pleasant way to spend my morning. She would greet each of the customers with a smile. They would come to the counter looking busy or tired and go away with a smile along with their coffee. She would often send one of those smiles in my direction, and when she was able to get a break, come over and sit with me.
Nate Harrison walked in the door. He started toward the counter and then, seeing Kyle, stopped for a moment. He changed course and walked over to Kyle's table, taking the seat across from him.
"So, are you sitting here, guarding Amanda?" Nate challenged.
Kyle bristled, "Have you come to annoy her again?"
"No, I just came to talk to her," Nate said, "and maybe have a cup of coffee."
"Why?" Kyle challenged.
"Because I like her," Nate said.
"Didn't she tell you we were back together?" Kyle asked.
"That didn't stop you when I was dating her," Nate stated, "Why should it stop me?"
"I thought you were angry with her for breaking into your room," Kyle said.
"I was," Nate admitted, "but I talked to her and I don't blame her anymore." He leaned forward, "I blame you. If you really cared about her you wouldn't be having her commit breaking and entering for you."
"You had things that didn't belong to you," Kyle challenged.
"They didn't belong to you either," Nate countered.
"You're a jerk," Kyle said.
"A jerk?" Nate sat back, "seriously, Kyle, that's the best you can do? I'm a jerk? Why am I a jerk?"
"You destroyed my controller board on the hover board project," Kyle said.
Nate looked down, "Yeah, I did. That was childish." He looked at Kyle with a hint of anger, "I'd been working for a year on that project. I put in hundreds of hours. I wanted to win, it was important to me. And then you walked in needing some ready cash and a day later you had one built from scratch. Like it was nothing, just like you did the formula. All my work, all my effort and you just walked in and picked up the prize."
"I needed the money," Kyle objected, "It was a fair competition."
"Was it?" Nate asked scornfully. "I suppose you followed the rules. But I've read the research. I know about Adam Baylin's work, the origins of how you came to be. You are the result of the experiment with the pod. I bet if I looked, you wouldn't have a belly button." He paused and challenged, "You don't have a belly button, do you, Kyle?"
Kyle hesitated then admitted, "No."
"So you're the scientifically designed superior intellect. Well, was it a fair competition? You tell me. Do any of us have a real chance against you in an intellectual competition?" Nate challenged.
"Probably not," Kyle admitted.
"Probably not," Nate agreed. "And I've competed as hard as I can all my life. I've usually won. It's really tough to have to admit there is no point in entering a competition against you."
"I didn't design the experiment," Kyle said, "it's just who I am."
"I know," Nate said, "but that girl over there…" he tilted his head toward Amanda, who was standing behind the counter with a growing expression of concern, "is not an intellectual competition. She's a woman, and she needs a man, not a scientific experiment. So I'm not going to hesitate to compete with you on that basis." He smiled grimly, noting the consternation on Kyle's face, "and may the best man win."
He got up from the table and headed for the door. Halfway there he stopped and said to Amanda, "Looks like I didn't get any coffee this time either." He nodded toward the table Kyle was sitting at, his half drunk smoothie in front of him, "Maybe I'd have better luck with smoothies." Amanda smiled uncertainly, he smiled back and left.
Kyle watched him go then looked over to where Amanda stood, having watched the exchange, clearly concerned.
Nate's words cut into me like knives. Although he was trying to hurt me, I knew many of the things he said were true. Jessi and I had sent Amanda into danger and she was troubled as a result. I had been so concerned about getting the money for Nicole's hospital bill that I hadn't thought about the students who had been working a long time on that project. Everyone has been always praised me for my talents, I had never considered how those I easily brushed aside would feel. And worst of all was the idea that my unusual background would make me too strange for Amanda. I had been afraid of that all along, it had been one of the reasons I had been hesitant to tell her the whole story. She knew it now, and wasn't sleeping well. Did my origin and talents make me less of a man? Was Nate right?