“What are you waiting for?” Davis asked with a slight bit of impatience. “You need to get going.”
“But…what…what am I supposed to do?” Shane asked as he looked down at her. Despite the fact that he was constantly telling himself Lux was nothing more than a computer he simply couldn’t bring himself to just pluck her up like he would a cell-phone or tablet. Everything about her was just too human for him to understand. His eyes looked over her hands and her limbs and her hair and her face…even the tiniest details like the freckles. It was too much.
“It is not a big deal,” Lux said as she walked closer to the edge of the desk. “Go on, now.”
“R-right,” Shane said. He pulled his hand away from his side and started to reach for her.
“Not like that,” Davis said. “Look, just pay attention…” he trailed off as he walked up to Lux and easily grasped her in one hand around the waist and held her up to him. “Does this seem so difficult?” he asked.
“No. Not when you do it,” Shane said, blushing again. Dammit, why was he blushing? It wasn’t like she was real. She was a computer. “Okay, here. I’ll take her.”
“Just place me on his shoulder,” Lux instructed as though he hadn’t spoken.
“Shoulder?” Shane croaked out.
“Would you rather I walk by myself?” Lux asked. “It might take a little bit longer than if we simply used your long legs to carry us both.”
“They’re not that long…” Shane protested just as Shane set the girl on his shoulder. He had to crouch down a bit to make things easier for Davis but once he was there…he definitely noticed. It was so weird. He wasn’t sure what he was basing his theories on but he had expected Lux to be colder…metallic…but she wasn’t. She was warm and though there wasn’t a heartbeat or breathing, her hair grazed against the sensitive skin on his neck and he let out a shiver.
“Everything alright?” Davis asked once his Assist seemed secure.
“F-fine,” Shane said as he straightened back up. “Just a new experience.”
“New for the both of us,” Lux said. “I do not think I have been this high off the ground before. You are tall for a human.”
“I’m not that—”
“Nonsense,” Davis said as he waved the two of them off. “You’re tall and that’s good. It’ll be harder for people to grab her. I like that.”
“I guess that’s true,” Shane said. “Can I ask a question?”
“Was that the reason you asked my height during the first interview?”
“Was what the reason?” Davis asked.
Shane cleared his throat awkwardly. As he was about to open his mouth again the tiny voice next to his face spoke up. “Davis, he is curious about why he was hired. He is wondering if his listed height of 6’5” played a significant role in your interest of him.”
“Yes, that,” Shane said.
“It played a major role,” Davis said shortly. “Now go.”
Shane winced at the crispness in his voice. Davis didn’t bother to mince words or make him feel better. He simply told him what he needed to know in the least amount of words possible. “You said three?” he asked again.
“Three o’ clock, I need her back,” Davis said.
“You will report at your given location every morning via text. Lux will take care of all of that. I’m assuming you have a cell phone?”
Davis rolled his eyes. “Really? In this day and age you don’t have a cell phone? Not even one of those pre-paids?”
“After my dad—”
“Lux,” Davis grumbled over him. “Fix him up. Please. This is…unexpected.”
“I will make sure that he has the appropriate methods of communication, Davis. Are we free to go now?”
“You’ve been free to leave but your companion seems to be nervous about leaving.”
“No, that’s not it,” Shane said. “I’m nervous about walking.”
“Because…she’s on my shoulder.”
Davis frowned. “She will be fine. You aren’t the first shoulder she’s ridden on and due to her size I’m sure you won’t be the last.”
“I would not require to ride on shoulders if—”
“Lux, do not start this again,” Davis said. “The car’s out front. Please go.”
“Yes, Davis,” she said as she pointed ahead. “Just go out the way you came,” she instructed Shane like he was a horse. He was too nervous to protest as he left the office with the girl on his shoulder, watching every step.
“Take his measurements,” Lux said in a clear voice once she and Shane had reached the first stop on the ‘improvement tour’ as she liked to call it.
“Excuse me?” Shane asked with a frown. He looked increasingly nervous as several men walked up to him with different methods of measurement.
“We’re going to have to ask you to put that thing down,” the one man said.
Shane’s brow furrowed at the man’s tone. “She’s not a thing,” he said. Why was he defending her? It wasn’t as though she liked him…or was even a ‘she’ in the first place. But hearing someone call her something other than Lux set him on edge. He supposed that it had nothing more to do with being her bodyguard and wanting to do his job right.
“Keep your composure,” Lux’s voice rang in his ear. “This is a place where many of Davis’ clients go and we cannot have random hires making a scene.”
“But he called you a thing,” Shane said.
“Am I alive?” Lux asked.
“No. But you seem self-aware—”
“I am programmed to be self-aware—”
“I this it’s more than that,” Shane muttered.
“Sir? Please?” the taller of the two men requested his attention with his hands out. “If you’ll just hand me the girl—”
“I’ll take care of her myself, thanks,” Shane said, turning away from the two salesmen to take her up with two hands and set her on the arm of the nearest chair. He still couldn’t get over how life like she felt in his hands. From riding with him in the car, to the walk up to the building, he could feel her presence against his skin. It was surprisingly nice. Awkwardly, he knelt down in front of her again. “You’ll be okay here, won’t you?”
“Of course,” Lux said. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m supposed to be your bodyguard…”
“I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Lux said. “Now please. Go get fitted. We have a lot of places to go and we need to have this all finished by three.”
“I don’t suppose a lunch break would be included in this?”
“Assists do not eat.”
“Ahh…but humans do,” Shane said with a soft smile. He tilted his head as the Assist tried to recognize the teasing in his tone but she merely gave him a blank stare. Those green eyes. It was the only thing he noticed that made her seem like a computer and not like a person. That and some of the things she said. Maybe he could work on that with her.
If she let him.
“If you could just stand up for me, sir,” another voice chimed in. “We still need to take your measurements.”
“So…lunch? I know a nice place,” Shane said, ignoring the men who were now flanking him on either side. “I won’t get up until you say yes.”
“That…that is preposterous,” Lux said. “Get up. We need to get the fittings done.”
“Not until you agree to have lunch with me.”
“Give it a rest,” Shane said in a sharp tone. His demeanor completely changed when he wasn’t talking to Lux and she recognized the change immediately. She wasn’t frightened – but she certainly looked different. Shane’s hazel eyes softened as he brought his attention back to her. “Say yes. Say we can take a lunch together.”
“Okay,” Lux said at last.
“Really? You’ll have lunch with me?”
“I said okay,” Lux said. “Just…please. Get measured.”
Shane smiled. “Awesome,” he said with a chuckle as he straightened up. “Have at it,” he said to the two guys.
“Finally,” the younger and shorter of the two muttered as he started to take his measurements. He read the numbers aloud to the other man who was now holding tablet and stylus. “You got all that, Frank?” he asked.
“Do you have anything in stock for today?” Lux asked, back to her sterile self. “He really needs something for tomorrow.” When no one answered her, Shane spoke up.
“Did you hear what she said? Apparently I need something for tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” the older man Frank repeated. “Why so soon?”
“He was recently hired—”
“Sir?” Frank asked, looking at Shane.
“She was telling you,” Shane said. “I was just hired for a job.”
“Huh,” Frank grunted as he continued to scroll on his tablet. “We received a call that this will be for Telescope?”
“That is correct,” Lux said.
“Sir,” Frank said as he rolled his eyes. “Do you think you could power that down for a bit? I’m having a hard time focusing on getting this organized with all the extra noise.”
“Power her down? What’s she doing wrong?” Shane asked.
“Nothing. It is simply a request.”
“I’m not powering her down or whatever you said,” Shane said. “Find a way to deal with her.”
“I do not need anyone to deal with me,” Lux interjected. “If he would like me to go into silent mode, I do not have a problem with it.”
“Well I do have a problem with it,” Shane said, narrowing his eyes down at the tiny man hunched over his screen. “For your information, I’m basically working for her, so I would ask you kindly to show her some respect.”
“Show…the Assist respect?” Frank asked as he looked over at his younger colleague.
“Please…” Lux said in an almost exasperated voice, “…we need to finish up so we can get to the next place. Without problems.”
“Whatever,” Shane grunted as he held out his arms for another measurement. “I wouldn’t stay another minute in this place if you paid me.”
Frank narrowed his eyes and angrily clicked on the screen. “Respect for Assists…whatever next. Now,” he said in a clipped voice, “we do have something that will be accommodating for tomorrow.”
“You have to understand,” the younger man said over Frank, “that your measurements aren’t exactly common, Mr…”
“Pearson,” Shane filled in.
“Mr. Pearson,” the younger man continued. “If you were a bit…”
“Smaller?” Lux chimed in, trying to ignore Frank rolling his eyes.
“Y-yes. If Mr. Pearson were a bit smaller than we would probably have some more suits readily available but this is a very special case. We’re going to have to let out quite a bit of fabric to make some suits ready.”
“We haven’t required sizes like this since that Harry Potter party for Halloween,” Frank said stiffly. “All those athletes needing slacks and jackets, what a time suck. Good money, though and fantastic tippers. You should have been here in October. We would have had plenty for you, but things have cleared out since the winter.”
“I can understand that,” Shane said. “But you did say that you could have something ready for me for tomorrow?”
“We can have it ready by this afternoon,” Frank said as he glanced down at his watch. “Can you stop by around two?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Shane said.
“How many other suits will you require?” Frank continued. “Are their certain colors? Do you have any special requirements?”
“Uhm…” Shane glanced over at Lux. “You know what Davis is looking for, right?” As she went to open her mouth, Frank cleared his throat.
“Actually, I’ll just give the office a call,” Frank said. “I’m sure they have a better of idea of the specifics.”
“Why? She can tell you right now,” Shane said, growing annoyed again. “She keeps that sort of information, don’t you, Lux?”
“I have it,” she said shortly.
“See? So you don’t have to be rude,” Shane said.
“I was not being rude,” Frank said. “I simply will find it more convenient to contact Telescope and make sure—”
“She’s just as accurate!” Shane blurted out. “What’s your problem?”
“There’s no problem,” Frank said. “Very well.” He frowned and looked down at Lux as one would glance down at a hooker shopping on Rodeo Drive. “Care to tell me what I’ll need?” His tone was so curt that Shane had to control himself from starting to yell at him. What was with this guy? He had no idea that people had problems with Assists. Why was he acting like this? And why wasn’t Lux responding to it? In the office she seemed to enjoy messing around with Davis to a certain extent, but here she was so submissive. So willing to shut herself down just because a stranger required it.
Shane was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t even hear the instructions Lux had given to him. He glanced up as Frank finished writing something down on his pad. “Is everything good, then?” Shane asked.
“Fine,” Frank said. “We can have the rest of the order sent over to Telescope by Monday next week.”
“So just one suit until then?” Lux asked.
Another dry clearing of the throat. “Yes. I see he is wearing a suit now,” Frank said. “So two.”
“That one does not count,” Lux said. “Thank you, though. I will inform Mr. Kraft that you were most hospitable and patient with Mr. Pearson.”
Shane looked incredulous.
“Are you kidding?” he asked with a frown as he walked over to the table to pick up Lux. He was less nervous this time as she was already holding her hands above her head and waiting for him to do so but he turned over his shoulder to look at Frank. “He’s been rude. I don’t care what you say, Davis is going to find out what actually happened.” For the first time, Frank’s calm demeanor evaporated and his face reddened significantly.
“I was only following protocol,” he said stiffly. “A request to power down your machine is hardly unorthodox.”
“She’s not a damn machine,” Shane hissed.
“I am,” Lux said. “I apologize for Mr. Pearson’s behavior—”
“Don’t apologize for me!” Shane said as he grabbed her around the waist and set her on his shoulder.
“I am programmed—”
“Your stupid programming sucks!” Shane bellowed. He lifted up his head as the younger salesman disappeared into the back room, probably not wanting to get into a confrontation but Shane was livid at this point. “How can you let him talk to you like that? Don’t you care? Don’t you have feelings?”
Lux ignored him. “We should head to the next stop.”
“You’re impossible,” Shane muttered with a shake of his head. “No one could possibly enjoy being treated like that.”
“She is an Assist, Mr. Pearson,” Frank said. “You do understand that, don’t you?”
“Shut up,” Shane snapped as he walked past. “I understand. I just didn’t know there were still people out there like you.
“People who have problems with Assists,” Shane muttered.
“I have no problem—”
“There is no problem,” Lux said. “We are going to head out.”
“Damn right we will,” Shane said as he finally left the store and the somewhat fresh air outside the store calmed him down immediately. “That guy was such an ass,” he said as he quickly located the car and started to walk over. “How can you stand it?”
“How can I stand what?”
“The way he was talking to you! Saying you weren’t alive and—”
“I am not alive, Mr. Pearson. I am an Assist.”
“You seem pretty alive to me. And don’t call me that.”
“Why not?” Lux said. “Your last name is Pearson, correct?”
“And you appear to be male.”
If he were in a lighter mood, he would have laughed. As it was, he only let the corner of his mouth creep upward the slightest bit. “I am.”
“So what is the problem?”
“That’s what people called my dad, okay? I mean…you heard what Davis said about me calling him ‘sir’,” Shane said as the driver exited the car to let them enter. Shane didn’t have the energy to tell the man that it wasn’t necessary but instead just slumped in the back seat. “I’m not Mr. Pearson. I’m Shane.”
“If you would like me to call you Shane, I will do so but I fail to see the negative connection to your father.”
“Of course you don’t see it.”
“Would you like to explain it to me?”
“No I wouldn’t.”
“As you say,” Lux said, turning her head and instructing the driver where to take them next.
It was so weird to talk to someone who wouldn’t fight him. Who wouldn’t push him. Shane was so used to people prying into his personal business that he almost felt offended when Lux didn’t. Was that part of her programming? Was she not allowed to ask questions? Was she simply supposed to exist?
“Can I ask you something?” he finally worked up the courage to speak to her again directly once the car had started up and they were headed to their next stop.
“You can ask me anything you like,” Lux said. “And I will supply you with the best answer I can.”
Shane looked out the window. “What…what exactly is your role with Lotus?”
“She is my companion.”
“Yeah, I heard Davis say that,” Shane pressed. “But that doesn’t exactly mean you need a bodyguard with you. You must be more than someone who carries around files in their memory bank.”
“I can carry files.”
He rolled his eyes. “Look, would you be offended if I took you off my shoulder?”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“It’s really hard to talk to someone when I can’t look at them.”
“I am not a someone—”
“You are to me,” Shane said insistently. “Can you try to remember that? You’re a person to me and I plan to treat you that way. Can you please try to remember that, Lux? With me, you’re not a computer and you’re not just some Assist. You’re a person and I’d like to treat you like one but you’ve got to work with me a little. Please?”
“You want to see me as a person,” Lux said carefully.
“I…I do not know if I will meet your requirements.”
“I am not a person.”
“Please, Lux. It would mean a lot to me.”
“What do I have to do?”
“You only have to be yourself,” Shane said. “That’s enough for me.”
“Be…myself,” she repeated back to him slowly. It was as though she was processing the words for the first time. “I…I will try…my best…to be…myself,” she said in an exaggerated tone.
Shane smiled softly. “Good.” He was making progress with her already. “Now about what I said…”
“If you would like me off of your shoulder—”
“It’s not that I don’t like you there. I just want to see your eyes when I’m talking to you.”
“As you wish,” Lux said. Shane stiffened as he felt the light weight on his shoulder shift away and before he could process what was happening, Lux was standing on the seat next to him. She had amazing balance considering the city roads. “Does this work for you, Shane?” she asked, taking care to remember his request from earlier about his name.
“Yes, it does,” he answered back, smiling down at her. “It’s a lot more comfortable for me to talk to you like this than having you perched on my shoulder.”
There it was again. That look of hurt. Entirely too human for a girl standing less than a foot tall. “I am sorry if my size bothers you.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” he insisted. “I actually…” he trailed off and let the words hang in the air a moment before he continued. Anyway, like I was wondering before. I think it’s weird that someone like Davis Kraft would want to hire a bodyguard for an Assist. I mean I get your companion is Lotus Fields and she’s like a legit music star but something isn’t adding up.”
Shane nodded. “Yeah, I mean. Couldn’t you just be with her all the time?”
“Davis does not want that,” she said softly.
“I do not know. I just know that he does not want us around each other all the time.”
“Even though she’s your companion?”
Lux’s eyes shifted slightly. “Yes.”
“There must be something else,” Shane mused. “Didn’t you mention something about her drinking?”
“Lotus drinks. As many humans do.” She frowned in thought. “Though Davis did say that she says too much.”
“I wonder what that means.”
“He will not tell me, so I doubt that he will tell you.”
“Davis seems to have a lot of secrets.”
“You have no idea,” she said, looking away.
“So you’re really just her Assist, then? What about what he said?”
“What did he say?”
“There was something else you needed to explain to me.”
“Does it have something to do with Lotus?”
“It does,” she said with a slight nod.
Shane looked surprised as she gave up the answer to him so easily without actually answering anything. “You’re important to Lotus and Davis, aren’t you?”
“Are you sure t you want to know?” she asked.
“Wouldn’t ask if I didn’t.”
“You mentioned earlier that you liked the sound of Lotus’ voice.”
“I like it,” Shane said with a smile. “But I was more embellishing to get on Davis’ good side.”
“So…you don’t actually like it?”
“No, I do!” Shane said. “I was just saying that it’s good. Especially the stuff that isn’t popular. Why do you ask?”
“Well…you are looking at the actual voice of Lotus Fields,” Lux said. “That is the reason I am so valuable to the two of them. Lotus does not actually sing her own songs. I do.”
Shane looked down at the tiny Assist with surprise in his eyes. Could Assists lie? “Y-yeah right,” he muttered, turning to look back out the window. “If you don’t want to tell me the secret yet, that’s fine, but don’t make up stuff to be funny.”