Is it though?
“I don’t know…is it too late to change my mind? Can we go back?”
“It is too late and no, we cannot. The die is cast, Tillie. We are going to this party.”
Tillie had never been to a party. In retrospect, given what else I knew, this should have been obvious, but when I heard it the first time I was stunned. I mean, I’ve never been one for those raucous ‘tying people naked to lampposts on roundabouts’ type of parties but I’ve always been a fan of the ones where you and a handful of the people you can stand to be around cram into a house, drink, talk shit and generally have fun wasting an evening. Those are the best kind of parties, in my book, and the only kind I will tolerate. It was towards one such party that Tillie and I were heading, her after having been persuaded by me to come along.
Normally she stayed behind. Agreeably I hadn’t been to many parties since moving in with her – maybe one or two – but those few times I had felt extremely guilty leaving her all on her own. She’d said she was fine both times and said she wasn’t invited so she didn’t mind not coming. She also didn’t mind me coming back drunk both times. I tried not to think about that, as I had probably made a complete tit of myself and could only remember a few vague details about what had been involved. Should probably be glad she still spoke to me at all. Thinking about it did make me wonder if it was possible for Tillie to get drunk at all, or something like it, and if so how? I must ask her one day I thought, before returning to more pressing matters.
This time, this evening, I was not taking no for an answer. I may have lied and said I needed to bring a plus one. Technically I wasn’t denied a plus one, so was it really still a lie? Yes, unfortunately. But still. It had provided just the right amount of leverage to get her out of the house, even if she had been fraught with (very vocal) doubt the whole walk over.
“What if I do it wrong?” She asked.
“Do what wrong?” I asked.
“Party. The party thing. What if I do that wrong?”
Tillie actually sounded as if she was on the edge of panic. I stopped, and she did too a second or so later. She was literally wringing her hands so I reached across and gently stopped her, holding onto them.
“I’ve told you this before you know, but you worry too much. The more you think about it the worse it is going to get. You don’t need to think about it at all. It’s just a place with some people, and that’s it. I’ll be there, okay?”
“Yes, but-“ she started, stopping when she saw the – hopefully – stern look on my face.
“Look, it’s just a party. You – you don’t have to do anything, alright? You just be you. You is good. Everyone will like you. Can you do that? Can you do you?” I said this with as much seriousness and gravitas as I could manage, staring right into her largest lenses and holding her hands up. I hoped this underlined just how stupid what I was saying was, even if I meant it.
“I can do me,” she said with complete sincerity, totally missing the jokey/serious tone I was trying to go for. Oh well, you can’t win them all. At the very least she sounded calmer about it.
“Of course you can. No-one does it better! Or at least I’d hope not. Now let’s keep going. I’ll hold your hand to the door, if you like,” I said and her lights flickered through several colours I couldn’t really identify.
“W-what?” She asked. Our hands were still between us – and fairly obvious, I’d have thought – at this point so I gave hers a squeeze I knew she’d noticed.
“Well, I’m already holding them right now, so it didn’t seem that difficult to me. I don’t have to if you don’t me to.”
“N-no! You can. It’s alright. You can.”
Grinning, I let one of her hands drop and entwined my fingers with the other, holding it up dramatically for all – well, us two – to see. Her lights turned pink, which was cute. Our hands then went down again and I used my now-free hand to sweep towards the pavement in front of us.
“Let us continue,” I said. And so we did. The rest of the way there was a lot less worry-filled and a lot more carefree, which was a win in my book. Even if the neighbourhood we ended up strolling into was that kind of rundown, slightly-rough area that students always seem to end up congregating in we didn’t let this get us down. I for one like dubious underpasses. I just avoid them. I like them from a safe distance.
It did not take long to get to the house. From what I could spy through the window – and hear with my ears – the party was already underway, or at least as underway as could be expected. Tillie and me moved up the path to the door, knocked, and waited. I bobbed on my heels and Tillie flicked the end of her tail, her hand gripping mine tighter and tighter. I had said I’d hold it all the way to the door, but it didn’t look likely that I’d be able to let go until I’d gotten her through it and into the house. Not that I really minded. She certainly had a powerful grip though; I thought I could start to feel my knuckles grinding on one another but I kept that to myself.
Simon was the one who – eventually… – opened the door. This made sense, really, as it was his house. Or at least, he was the primary person I knew in the house, and his was the most familiar face to see behind the door when it finally swung inwards. He looked happy enough, though a flicker of something passed over his features as his eyes went from me to Tillie and then back to me again.
“You’re late,” he said, pleasantly enough. I shrugged.
“It happens sometimes,” I said, adding: “this is Tillie.” I indicated Tillie when I said this. Obviously. Tillie gave an incredibly small wave with her free hand.
“Hello,” she said, looking into Simon’s chest.
“Hi,” he said. There was a second or so of pause, and then he continued:
“Everyone else is already here.”
“Bugger them,” I said “Where are the drinks? Are they already here? Did they get here early?”
“They’re in the kitchen.”
“Fiendish. You probably should have opened with that.”
This got a proper smile and Simon stood back to give enough room to squeeze past. I made a guess that Tillie wasn’t going to be the one to move first so I did, pulling her along behind me, past Simon and into the house. The door closed behind us, and I felt her hand squeeze tighter still.
“I was getting snacks anyway…” Simon said as he overtook me and rounded a corner towards where I knew the kitchen was. Noise was coming from the half-open door just up on our right, on the other side of which lay the lounge. Disentangling myself – with some effort – from Tillie’s grasp I gently nudged her towards the door.
“You can go sit in there with folks, I’ll be right back,” I said, moving off towards the kitchen. I didn’t get far before she grabbed my hand again with both hers and almost yanked me off my feet. Tottering, I turned back to face her.
“Yes?” I asked.
“You’re leaving me?” She asked.
“Uh, for like two seconds, yeah; just getting a drink and I’ll be back. You can wait in there with those guys, it’s fine. It’s where we’re going to be anyway.”
“What do I do?” She asked, the same note of panic as before starting to creep back into her voice.
Pulling my hand free – again – I delicately took her by the shoulders and looked her square in the face.
“Hey. Hey, hey, it’s alright, okay? Looking at me?”
She gave a tiny nod.
“Just be you, okay? Like I said. Just be you and just talk to people, you’ll be fine. By the time I come back I expect you to have made way better friends than me, okay? And I will be right, right back, okay? Two seconds. Okay?” I asked.
“Okay…” she said, though she sounded nowhere near sure as she had when we hadn’t been in the house. I frowned.
“You’ll be fine. Trust me,” I said, and continued on to the kitchen. I did not feel great about it, but some part of me thought it was a good idea. A non-physical push for her, so to speak. She would be fine though, I knew this. She had to be.
The kitchen wasn’t far away. Simon was pouring the contents of crisp bags into large bowls and on the counter by him sat two bottles. This made me feel much better. He noticed when I came in and grabbed them.
“So that’s your housemate?” he asked, expertly smacking the tops off the bottles with the edge of the counter and passing one of them to me. My bottle reacted to such violent treatment by bubbling up and I had to very quickly stop it spilling all over everything by drinking about half of it in one go. Worse things had happened. Once I was done, I got to speak:
“Tillie? Yep!” I said. Simon took a slower sip of his own bottle, which was considerably more placid than mine. He glanced off out the kitchen door, not that he could really see anything from that angle, or at least not that I knew of. He paused, seeming to think.
“You never said she was like that,” he said. This caught me a little off-guard. It didn’t help that he said it when I was midway through another swig and so had to swallow before I could reply. It almost seemed planned.
“Like what?” I asked. His eyes narrowed at me.
“Like that. You know what I mean.”
He was still giving me a look. I knew why, so I gave him a look as well. This got very little done. He broke first though and sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his free hand, leaning against the counter.
“Why didn’t you say she was a robot?” He asked, hissing the last word very quietly, as though someone passing outside might hear him and get upset. I for one had heard him, but I was only a little bit upset about it. Not sure why I was, but I was. Me, the man who made ‘let’s watch I, Robot’ jokes. No accounting for hypocrisy apparently, but it just seemed when I did it I knew it was a joke and this time it didn’t seem like that. Or perhaps that was just me being upset. I tried not to let it get to me as I cooked up a reply.
“Because she’s not a robot. Robots make cars. She’s a living-machine, there’s a difference. Not that it matters in the first place. She’s my housemate and my friend. What’s the problem? Is there a problem?” I asked. He vigorously shook his head and held his hands up in front of him, thumb around the neck of his bottle.
“No no no, no problem, it’s fine really, it’s just a surprise, you know?”
“Not really, no,” I said, flatly. He clearly couldn’t think of any way of coming back comfortably from that and we were painfully, awkwardly silent for what felt like several lifetimes until he, gulping a little, gestured furtively towards the fridge.
“Does she, uh, want a drink or something?”
I could have quite easily have made a big deal of this, if I had wanted to. I could have launched into a bombastic and enlightening lecture about the workings of living-machines, pieced together from the little bits I’d picked up from Tillie over the weeks I’d known her. It would have been light on detail, but given a rough overview which would at least have told him enough to let him know that, no, she did not want a drink. But I didn’t want to be that much of a dick about it. It wasn’t his fault, after all. It was probably mine. So I just smiled.
“She’s fine,” I said.