where the writers are
My Pal Splendid Man - Episode 16

Will, the Green-Eyed Monster from Earth

And there she was, kissing the fish boy Finwad smack on the lips and thinking, “Yummy!  This dreamboat can really kiss!”
    I’d been wrestling with myself for weeks, but finally I hadn’t been able to suppress my morbid curiosity any longer, and I’d broken out my collection of Lights, Camera, Action Comics, Featuring Splendid Girl.  After leafing through a couple I’d come across the Finwad scene above, and now I discovered that in the very next issue she was smooching with Cerebriac 6.2, he of the Positronic Brain from the 8th Dimension.
    “Jeepers!” she was thinking, as she clinched with the blue-skinned Stripling.  “Who would have ever thought an egghead could kiss like this?!”
    With trembling hands I checked out the next few issues.  They were mostly innocuous adventures—Splendid Girl has to grapple with one of her robots who has gone rogue; an evil Strontorian invents an Exchange Ray that enables her to trade places with Kar’En; the Cuckoo Splendid Girl, one of those imperfect duplicates of Splendid Man and all his friends, comes to earth looking for her twisted version of romance—but in the next issue she was at it again, this time with the enchanted horse Cosmo, the Awesome Stud. The story took place during a full moon, which enables Cosmo to take on his human identity of Hoss Tamer, rancher and horse breeder extraordinaire, and there they were by the moonlit corral, osculating like fiends, and Kar’En thinking, “Golly!  Golly!  Golly!”
    I threw the comic against the wall.
    I’d never much liked the Splendid Girl stories in the comics, and I’d stopped buying them a long time back. I thanked the stars that the dull stories and cartoony art had driven me away, or right at that moment I might have been reading about her flings with Turgid Boy, 50 Cent, or, God forbid, Keith Richards.
    It was my day off from my temporary job at the Hermes Messenger Service, so I had plenty of time to sit around feeling depressed.  Finally I couldn’t stand my own company any longer, and I decided to turn to the company I enjoy even less, my television.  I flicked it on—and my eyes were assaulted by a scene of utter mayhem!
    Two cars were having a fistfight.  No, not the drivers.  The vehicles had grown arms and were pounding on each other like Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. If Riddick Bowe were an old Toyota Camry and Evander Holyfield were a hybrid SUV, that is.  A lamppost that had apparently developed the power to slither like a snake had snatched up some fat kid in its coils.  A toaster on little legs was shooting Melba toasts at passerby.  The voice of a hysterical news commentator was reporting that all machines in the city of Municipalitus had suddenly come to life and were attacking each other and the populace at large.  
    The picture changed to a helicopter feed in which, hovering above the city, a little man seemed to float in mid-air, and I realized with a pang of dismay that it was Sir Qwertyuiop, that wicked fairy from the 37th dimension who is always plaguing Splendid Man with his fiendish pranks.  The newsman explained that this was but the latest in a rash of recent attacks by the malefic pixie, who had recently been specifically targeting Splendid Man’s friends, like Pepper Pine, Bobby Anderssen, and Mugsy Ricketts, and now had apparently decided to visit his fiendishness upon the entirety of our hero’s adopted city.
    And then Splendid Man zoomed into the TV picture.  He came to a stop before Sir Qwertyuiop, and they proceeded to argue vociferously, with many an angry hand gesture for emphasis.  Sir Qwertyuiop waggled his top-hatted head, peered dramatically over the tops of his giant Elton John glasses, and whirled about to flounce the tail of his sequined velvet dinner coat in Splendid Man’s direction.  Suddenly, the iniquitous imp vanished in a puff of a smoke, and for a moment I wondered if Splendid Man had tricked him yet again into reciting all the letters on the top row of a typewriter keyboard from right to left, the only way to banish him back to the dimension of his origin for seventy-two weeks, fourteen hours, and thirty-eight minutes.
But as the cameras switched back to the city streets, all I could think of was what the news commentator had said about Sir Qwertyuiop having recently targeted Splendid Man’s friends.
I whipped out my SOS Comb and vibrated the teeth.  Splendid Man appeared so swiftly that for an instant I could have sworn I could see him on television screen and hovering outside my window simultaneously.  I opened the window and he wafted in.
“Hi, pal,” he said.
“Hi, pal,” I said.  “I just saw you banish that fairy back to his dimension on TV.”
“I wish that were so,” he said, peering at the TV screen.  The picture now showed that all had been restored to normal.  “I just persuaded him to put everything right, and he vanished on his own.  I don’t know what he’s fiendishly planning this time.”
“They said on the news that he’s been targeting your friends lately. They mentioned Pepper and Bobby and Mugsy.  Do you know if he’s gone after anybody else?”
    “I know he was pestering Patti Pert, my boyhood friend from Turnipville, just last week.  Why do you ask?”
    “Do you think he’ll come after me?”
“Anything’s possible, Will.  Be vigilant, and take nothing for granted.”
    He stayed for a cup of tea, and the moment he zoomed off I threw myself on my futon in utter despair.  It all made perfect sense now.  I had indeed been taking too much for granted.  How pathetic, how ridiculous that I, Will Jones, as ordinary a Joe Blow as you’ll ever meet, should imagine that Splendid Girl, the lovely and splendid Servitress of Stupendousness, the idol of millions, the ex-girlfriend of every hotshot in the universe, could ever love me.  Kar’En herself had never kissed me, never whispered sweet nothings in my ear, never blushingly consented to be my bride.  It had been Sir Qwertyuiop impersonating her all along, determined to strike at Splendid Man yet again through another of his friends!
    As awful as the realization made me feel, it brought some relief as well.  It’s a horrible thing to fool yourself, and something of a consolation to finally wake up, even from the sweetest dream imaginable.  Far better to face reality squarely, to admit that Splendid Girl could never marry the likes of me, than to go on deluding myself.  Or, more to the point, letting that horrible sprite delude me!
    The deception had to stop. As of now.
    We’d made a date for that night to eat asado in Buenos Aires, but when she—I mean, he—arrived, I feigned a headache and insisted that I’d prefer to stay in.  
    “Oh, Will,” he cried,  “I hate to see you in pain!  Let’s go scour the earth for some silver strontiumite so I can share in your discomfort.”
    “That’s okay,” I said.
    “Kiss me, darling.”
    It was all I could do not to throw up thinking of the pinched little imp lips I was kissing, even if they looked and felt like succulent strawberries.
    “You lie down now, darling,” he said, “and let sweetums bring you a cold compress.”
    I knew what I had to do, but suddenly I didn’t want to do it.  I guess I wanted to pretend a little longer that he truly was a lovely goddess who adored me.  I threw myself on my bed and let him lay the compress on my head.  He sat beside me on the bed, his beautiful bare legs stretched straight out, the dainty feet tucked into those darling red boots.  I gazed at his small but perky breasts, and realized that I would never know if they were soft and yielding.  I gazed at the hem of his skirt, dreaming of the glory beneath it—but then recoiling when I remembered what really lurked there.
    I nudged him aside and stood up.
    “I have a story that needs typing, darling,” I said.  “Would you mind terribly if I dictated it to you?”
    “Of course not, dear,” he said, with a voice that sounded like the song of meadowlarks to my ears but that I knew was really a sibilant, nasal whine.  “I’ve been learning to type in school and I’m up to 3,678,393,215 words a minute.”
    I really did have a story I was working on, but I’d made some special revisions to it just prior to his arrival. I could have sprung my trick on him at any time, but still I could not bring myself to drag my illusion to its final and irrevocable end, so I dictated the bulk of it to him.  At last, it could be put off no longer.
    “My eyes hurt, muffin,” I said, “and I can’t make this word out.  Give it a try, will you?”
    I held out the page to him and he promptly said, “Poiuytrewq.  Why Will, isn’t that word composed of all the letters on the top row of a typewriter keyboard when read from right to left?”
    “Yes,” I said, basking in her stolen beauty for the last time before it went up in smoke.  Literally.
    “That’s odd,” he said.  “I’d almost think you suspected me of being Sir Qwertyuiop and were trying to banish me back to the 37th Dimension with a clever ruse.  A very clever ruse, I might add.”
    I stared at her in slack-jawed amazement.  There hadn’t been a puff of smoke!  She hadn’t said, “Awp!” and promptly vanished!  It had been the real Splendid Girl I’d been dating all along!
    “Oh, kiss me, darling,” I crooned.
    She came into my arms and it was springtime again!  It was Friday afternoon and the school bell had rung!  The Giants had won the pennant!  The Giants had won the pennant!  
    We ate our asado in Buenos Aires that night, and afterward we walked the white beaches of North Africa.  When it was time to part I held her so tight that had she been an ordinary girl, and not the second most powerful being in the universe, I surely would have cracked her ribs and ruptured her spleen.
    But the next morning I woke up feeling worse than ever.  I’d had strange dreams, in which voices seemed to be calling to me from an unimaginable distance.  They were telling me to let her go, let her go.  I had no idea who the voices belonged to, or just whom they bade me release, but somehow I knew they meant Kar’En.  
After eating breakfast I found myself growing panicky again.  Sure, I was wrong about having fallen in love with a maleficent fairy.  But did that automatically mean that my fiancée was who she said she was?  Weren’t there others who could have impersonated the Girl of Splendor? Impersonators were a dime a dozen in the world of the Splendid Cousins.  Why, for instance, couldn’t I have fallen for the Cuckoo Splendid Girl like I’d read about in the comics yesterday?  Sure, the Cuckoos looked like photographic negatives of Splendid Man and all his friends, but why couldn’t she have worn one of those amazingly lifelike rubber masks that everybody in Splendid Man’s world seem to have ready access to?  Well, and amazingly lifelike leggings as well.
    I could see it clearly now.  The Cuckoo had been observing Splendid Girl, the original from which she had been imperfectly duplicated, and noted that Splendid Girl dated Splendid Heroes and rock stars and Oscar winners and decided that she would take Splendid Girl’s place but, in the backwards way of all the Cuckoos, date a no-account schmuck instead!  And furthermore, didn’t it make perfect sense that she would love me, built as she was always to do the opposite of her template?  Not that I felt Splendid Girl would have hated me had we actually met.  But surely she would have felt so profound an indifference to my underwhelming charms that love could indeed qualify as its opposite.
    I opened my window and vibrated the teeth of my SOS Comb.
    “Hi, pal,” Cal said, almost instantaneously.
    “Hi, pal.” I said.  I noticed that Cal never asked what the emergency was anymore.  I had abused the SOS Comb so many times that he’d come to take my summoning him for petty reasons for granted.  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” I added.
    “You would have if you’d summoned me a second earlier,” he said.  “I’d just finished reading the last of the thirty Philip K. Dick books you loaned me.  Brrr, reality was putty in that man’s hands!”
    Yes, I thought, reality was indeed putty.  I found myself wishing I’d loaned him thirty love stories instead.
    “Tell me,” I said.  “Are there really imperfect Cuckoo duplicates of all your friends and loved ones on the Cuckoo World?”
    “Why yes, Will,” said Cal.  “There’s even one of you these days.”
    “You’re kidding me,” I said.  “What’s he like?”
    “The usual.  He’s a negative version of you who prides himself on his utter lack of taste and complete indifference to literary sensibilities.”
    I couldn’t help chuckling.  “And he’s proud to be a total failure too, right?”
    “Oh no,” Cal said.  “He’s the Cuckoo World’s best-selling novelist.”
    If I’d been feeling low before that…but I forged on.  “So there’s a Cuckoo Splendid Girl too?  It’s not just something they made up for the comics?”
    “You know there’s nothing made-up in the comics, Will.  Why do you ask?”
    I shrugged.  “No particular reason.”
    He looked at me through narrowed eyes.  “Now, Will,” he said.  “You aren’t getting paranoid on me, are you?  Yesterday you were worried about Sir Qwertyuiop and today it’s the Cuckoo Splendid Girl.  What gives?”
    “Gosh pal,” I said, “it’s nothing like that at all.  I’m just doing research for a story.”  I felt terrible about lying to my pal, but it was better than admitting what I was really feeling.
    That night Kar’En and I had made plans to spend a quiet evening together.  She fetched me in the early evening and flew us back to Axial Town at Splendid Speed.  We strolled around the town square for a bit and then dropped in at the town’s favorite teen hangout, Zany Zach’s Malt Shoppe.  I felt a sudden fear that my beard was about to catch fire, but I snapped myself out of it.  
Splendid Girl had changed into her frumpy Peggy Pearl Perkins identity so as not to attract attention, and we took our place at the counter.  Tommy, the fullback on the Stantheman College gridiron squad, took our orders, a banana split for Peggy and a Coca Cola for me.  Rock Around the Clock issued from the jukebox.
    “Hey, daddy-o!” a teenaged voice called from somewhere behind us. “Dig that crazy platter!”
    When our orders came, Peggy decided she’d rather sit in a booth and we moved to a vacant one.  “What’s the matter tonight, dearest?” she asked.  “You seem jumpy or something.  You’re not thinking you’d rather be out with Anaïs Nin, are you?”
    No, I thought.  I’m thinking I’d rather be out with the real Peggy Pearl Perkins.  And then it hit me.  In the months we’d been together, the thing across the table had accused me of wishing I was dating not only Anaïs Nin but Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys, Alice B. Toklas, and Susan Sontag.  Of course!  A Cuckoo girl would do precisely the opposite of what a real girl would do—she wouldn’t be jealous of living rivals, she’d be jealous of the dead! Did I need any more proof?
    “They shouldn’t allow your kind in wholesome American places like this,” I said.
    She recoiled from me, a chunk of banana falling on her lap.  “What did you say, darling?”
    “You can quit pretending now,” I said.  “The gig is up.  I’ve seen through your disguise.  Or should I say, your amazingly lifelike rubber mask and leggings!”
She got up and ran from the malt shop.  I noticed some of the clean-cut teens glare at me in anger as I took off in pursuit.
    She was standing just outside the door, crying softly.  “Oh, Will,” she blubbered.  “How could you?  What if some of the gals and fellas had heard, and deduced that I wear a disguise to conceal the fact that I’m secretly Splendid Girl, the Princess of Power?”
    “Oh, for God’s sake!” I said.  “Give it up!”  And I grabbed her around the neck and started tugging furiously at the mask.
    Suddenly I felt as if an anvil had fallen on my back.  I was hammered face-first into the pavement. When I rolled onto my back I saw Tommy and Biff, the starting center on the squad, looming over me.
    “Is he being mean to you, Peggy?” Biff barked.
    “Oh no, fellas!” Peggy cried. “There’s no problem, really!”
    “No problem?” said Tommy.  “You scram out of the malt shoppe with the waterworks flowing and then we catch this square trying to unscrew your noggin—and that’s no problem?”
    “It’s all been a misunderstanding,” Peggy insisted.
    The boys reluctantly let me up.  “If you say so,” Biff said, and they left us alone.
    Peggy was staring at me in fury.  “You’ve got some explaining to do, buster!”
    There was nothing for it but to come clean.  Or partly clean.  “I thought you were the Cuckoo Splendid Girl,” I said.  It sounded lame even to my ears.
    “What?” she snapped.  “You thought I was a crazy, mixed-up imperfect duplicate of myself?”
    I nodded contritely.
    “Because you’re always asking me if I wouldn’t rather be with dead women writers,” I said, sounding lamer and lamer.  “Doesn’t that sound like something a Cuckoo would do?”
    “Why, of all the nerve,” she railed at me.  “So now I’ve got a backwards, retarded personality?  Is that what you’re saying?”
    “No!  I’m saying the Cuckoo impersonating you has a backwards, retarded personality!”
    “But a Cuckoo hasn’t been impersonating me, Mr. Jones!  I happen to be the real me.  Your real backwards, retarded girlfriend!”
    She flew me home in a huff, and for the first time we parted in anger.
    Whatever I’d been dating all this time was clever, I’d grant her that.  Clever enough to deflect my suspicions and feign anger that I should suspect her of any malfeasance.  But there was no longer any doubt in my mind that I’d been going out with an impostor all these months.  Would the real Splendid Girl date a guy who could fall for such an obvious hoax?
    It took me a long time to fall asleep that night, but before I drifted off I was pretty sure I’d figured out who the real culprit was.  Why, it could only be one of the members of the Splendid Girl Calamity Unit, those tiny Splendid Girl look-alikes who hailed from Strontor, the City in a Can!
    It all made perfect sense.  Why couldn’t one of the Calamity Girls have noticed me on my trip to Strontor and developed a crush on me?  Was it that far a reach to think that a germ-sized gal might have fallen for the likes of me?  It made a lot more sense that to imagine the real Splendid Girl could have!
    Sure, I thought, it could have happened like in that comic book I’d read the day before.  One of the Calamity Girls could have invented an Exchange Ray and used it on Kar’En, who might very well have been trapped in Strontor all these months, maybe jailed somewhere or doped or suffering from amnesia, or something.  How very diabolical!
    But then it hit me.  Would it really be so bad if that were the case?  After all, if I really had been dating a Calamity Girl all this time, what was not to like?  She was just as lovely as the real article, just as powerful under Earth’s argon-tinged atmosphere and lesser gravity, and possessed of a sweet, pleasant personality.  And better yet, she hadn’t dated every prize catch in the universe!
    Then I shook my head in disgust.  What the hell was wrong with me?  How could I think such a thing?  As wonderful as she might seem, the Calamity Girl was a kidnapper.  And the real Splendid Girl was her prisoner.  Like it or not, I had to set things right.
    We hadn’t made any plans for our next date, so when she dropped in the following evening I suggested a visit to Strontor, the City in a Can.
    The impostor was a bit subdued.  I guess she was still peeved at me from our last date.  But at the mention of Strontor a flame kindled in her eyes.
    “I see,” she said.  “You want to see that Jen’Ee.”
    “Who?” I said.
    “Don’t you dare play innocent with me, Will Jones!  Splendid Man told me all about your infatuation with that little minx who bears an uncanny resemblance to your ex-wife!”
    “But sugar,” I said, “she isn’t a writer.”
    That seemed to appease her.  “Okay,” she agreed.  “Now that I think about it, I haven’t visited Strontor in ages.”
    So she wrapped me in her cape and we zoomed to the moon.  Once inside the Citadel she hooked me up to that language-teaching thingamajig, outfitted both of us with parachutes, and subjected us to the shrink-ray.  This time, when we flew to the top of the Van Camp’s can, we discovered that Strontor’s artificial sun was in our line of descent, and so we’d have to wait an hour before we could parachute down safely.
    We snuggled together on top of the can and pretty soon we were smooching.  It was nice to think that those luscious lips weren’t the ones that had kissed Finwad or George Clooney or Snoop Dogg or any other ultrafamous male you could think of.  And once again I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t leave well enough alone.  After all, this girl really could love me.  And why not?  She was in reality a microbe that lived in a can, not the idol of billions.
    “Okay” she said.  “It’s safe to go in now.”
    I realized that this was my last chance to hold on to her, but I kept mum.  What would Splendid Man think of me if he should ever learn that I had known of his beloved cousin’s imprisonment and done nothing to free her?
    A welcoming committee showed up when we landed and once again I was fitted with special gravity shoes that enabled me to withstand Strontor’s terrible gravitational pull.  There was no sign of Jen’Ee this time, thank God!
    We went for a stroll.  I spotted dead-ringers for Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Mike Malloy.  I guess they had a two-to-one ratio of right-to-left wing pundits on Strontor as well.  
    “Anything in particular you’d like to do, Will?” she asked.
    “Now that you mention it,” I said, “I’d love to meet the Splendid Girl Calamity Unit, those miniature marvels who, gaining Splendid Powers under Earth’s argon-tinged atmosphere and lesser gravity, have often come to your aid.”
    She touched something on her chest emblem, and within minutes we were surrounded by dozens of girls bearing a striking resemblance to Kar’En.  While the girls chatted gaily, I looked around until I spotted the one who was Kar’En’s exact double.  I sidled up to her and asked discreetly if she’d stick around for a few moments after the reunion broke up.  She seemed puzzled at my request, but agreed to do so.    
    Before long, I found myself in the company of just the two girls.  I didn’t waste any time.  “What’s your name?” I asked the double.  Or, I should say, the real Kar’En.
    “Co’Kett,” she said.
    “Are you sure?” I pressed.
    “Now, Will,” the girl I’d parachuted down with said.  “You’re not about to have another of your…fits, are you?”
    I ignored her and continued grilling the other.  “How can you be absolutely certain that you haven’t had false-memory implants?” I demanded.  “Do you know for a fact that you were born in this can and not on a doomed generation starship?”
    The two girls exchanged a glance.
    “Please, Will,” one of them said.  “Don’t get carried away again.”
    “I demand to see her dental records!” I screamed.
    Well, to make a long story short, they did indeed produce her dental records just to humor me, and Co’Kett turned out to be exactly who she claimed to be, and not a kidnapped, doped, or amnesiac Splendid Girl.
    Kar’En didn’t talk to me for a few days.  Which was fortunate in a way, because I finally figured out the truth.
    The creature I’d been dating and fallen in love with could only be one of the Splendid Girl robots!  All my other suspicions, I realized now, had been groundless, if not outright absurd.  But that she was a robot made perfect sense.  The robots, after all, were scrupulously programmed to match the original in every particular, psychological as well as physical.  If a robot decided to take over its master’s life, why couldn’t it get away with the impersonation indefinitely?
    Just as before, I couldn’t help wondering if it was so very terrible that the robot and I had fallen in love.  After all, I hadn’t realized until now that a robot had usurped Splendid Girl’s place, and still I’d fallen head over heels for it.  In essence, it was every bit as wonderful and lovable as the original.  Okay, I’d never really known the real Splendid Girl, but as I couldn’t conceive of a girl I'd rather be with than the cybernetic one I knew, did that really make a difference?
Not really, I told myself.  All I had to do was overlook the fact that the robot, having usurped Splendid Girl's place in the world, was by nature an evil, rogue creature that had to be stopped.  Just like in the comic book I’d read the other day.
Hell.  Even I couldn't overlook that!
And it shoudn't be to difficult to stop her, I reflected.  If I bought a poweful enough magnet, I could whip it out on our next date and bollix up her internal mechanisms.  Or, failing that, I could lure her to a power station and let the dynamos or whatever throw a monkey wrench into her synthetic innards.  Or…but what was I thinking?  All I had to do was reach behind her left ear and turn her off, just like with the Will robot.
    The thought of doing so broke my heart.  Could I really do it?  Could I forever dull those deep blue eyes?  Could I rob those lithesome limbs of their grace, silence forever the dulcet tones of her voice?  Could I live with myself if, through my own actions, I would never again hear her say that she loved me?
    But it had to be done.  I opened my window and vibrated the bristles of my Date Brush.
    To my pleasant surprise she didn’t answer my summons alone.  Splendid Man flew in right on her heels.
    “Thank God you’re here,” I said to Splendid Man.  “You can take care of this a lot easier than I could.”  I pointed at the robot.  “Quick, get her to tell you what she did with Splendid Girl before she tries to get away!”
    But Splendid Man didn’t budge.  Instead, he and the robot exchanged a troubled glance.
    “See what I mean?” the robot said.
    Splendid Man turned back to me and fixed me with a gaze every bit as intense as the one to which Catman had subjected me.  “The x-ray setting of my Splendid Vision reveals that he’s not a robot,” he said.
    “Nor does mine show that he’s the Cuckoo Will,” said the robot.
    “What the hell?” I said.  “I’m not the impostor!  She is!”
    Splendid Man indicated my computer keyboard.  “Step over here, you,” he said.
    I was confused for a moment, and then it dawned on me.  “My God,” I said.  “You can’t really believe I’m Sir Qwertyuiop!”
    “If you aren’t,” said Splendid Man, “you won’t mind reading the top row from right to left.”
    I appealed to the robot, but she looked just as stern as he did.  I walked over and read off the letters.  I even threw in the back-slash, the brackets, and the tab for good measure. “See?” I said.  “Still here.”
    “Then I don’t know what to think,” Splendid Man said.
    “We’ve already checked with Strontor and learned that Will’s Strontorian double is present and accounted for,” the robot said.  “Could this personality change be due to one of Pox Pascal’s malevolent rays, or the result of some cerebral microsurgery performed by the space villain Cerebriac?”
    “Speak!” Splendid Man said, spearing me with an implacable glance.  “Just who or what are you?  And what have you done to the real Will Jones?”
    I let myself fall back on the futon, horrified, numb, and humiliated.  It had taken me a while, it had taken me far longer than I wanted to admit now, but now it was finally sinking in.  The most terrifying truth of all.  I was really, truly engaged to the most desirable girl on the face of the Earth.
“Okay,” I said.  “You can both stop.  I’ve learned my lesson.”
    “Have you, Will?” asked Splendid Man.
    When I gave my answer, I couldn’t lift my eyes from the floor. “I guess I just can’t believe that Splendid Girl, the Gal of Gloriousness, the idol of trillions, could ever love a nobody like me.  I found it so hard to believe, in fact, that I convinced myself that only somebody or something pretending to be Splendid Girl could love me, or pretend to love me, as the case might be.”
    “I thought you told me that the Will robot had taught you to have confidence in yourself, Will,” said Splendid Man.
    “I guess the lesson didn’t stick,” I said.  
    A silence followed.  I still couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact with either of them. Finally, Splendid Man cleared his throat and said, “Maybe I should leave you two alone.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
    “I’m not the one you need to apologize to,” he said, and then I heard a whoosh.
    I finally found the strength to lift my eyes.  Splendid Girl was standing in the middle of the room, staring coldly at me.  Neither of us spoke.
    After a moment I patted the seat beside me and she came and sat.  The silence wore on.  At last I reached over and took her hand in mine.
    “I love you,” I said.
    She looked me in the eye.  “Would it do any good to say that I love you, too?”
    “You don’t have to,” I said.  “If you can still say it and mean it, though, I‘d love to hear it.”
    “You won’t think I’m an illusion projected by Mesmer Miss of the Array of Splendid Striplings?”
    Mesmer Miss!  I’d forgotten about her!  I turned on Splendid Girl in alarm…but when I saw the anger in her eyes I felt myself wither in shame.
    “Sorry,” I said.  “This is difficult for a guy like me.”
    “I love you, Will,” she said.
    I put my arms around her.  For a moment she remained tense, but then she relaxed, and I held her tightly.
    “Jeepers,” I heard her sigh.  But I couldn’t tell if she sighed with relief or pleasure or dread, or a bit of all three.