“OPHELIA, IF IT WAS YOUR last day on Earth and you wanted to dress for the occasion, would you wear the potentially-too-short black dress or the hilarious Zelda T-shirt of an ocarina that says ‘Make It Rain’?”
The lilting voice from my O-Tech watch replies in less than a second. “I cannot have a last day on Earth, because I do not exist on Earth. And even if I did, I have no physical body that requires the use of clothing.” The sound is like a lake without a breath of wind. Smooth, clear, and unblemished. It makes the gentle scratch of ordinary speakers sound like they came from the Jurassic period.
My eyes drop to my wrist out of habit, long enough to catch the end of Ophelia’s speech as it flashes across the screen.
“That is unsurprisingly not helpful,” I say with a raised brow, holding the two options of clothing in front of me. “Okay, Ophelia, I’m going on a date: Do I dress up or dress down?”
“If you want to make a good impression, dress your best, as they say,” the programmed voice replies.
I toss the T-shirt onto the mess of blankets behind me and pull the black dress over my head. “Ophelia, nobody says that. But thank you.”
“You are welcome. I hope you have a wonderful time on your date.” Her cadence is similar to a human’s, but it can’t replicate emotion. It makes any of her well wishes sound… dry.
With a smirk, I glance at my reflection, my watch brightly lit to signal that she’s listening. “Ophelia, why do I get the feeling you’re being sarcastic?” I tug at the hem of my dress and make a mental note to avoid sitting down at all costs.
“I am not programmed to be sarcastic, but I do have a collection of jokes. Would you like to hear one?”
I snort and pull my hair up into a high bun. It takes three tries to get it right because apparently my hair is as stubborn as I am. “Okay, what have you got?”
“I have a lot of jokes about unemployed people, but none of them work.”
I shake my head and laugh, leaning toward the mirror to recheck my makeup. “As someone who does not currently have a job, I find that slightly offensive.”
“You realize you’re talking to a robot, don’t you?” My sister’s voice sounds from the doorway. She pokes her head in, eyeing the mess of clothes thrown around the room. “Whoa. What happened in here?”
“A dinosaur broke in,” I say with the same thin voice I always use with Mei. “And Ophelia isn’t a robot—she’s an artificially intelligent personal assistant. Don’t you watch the commercials?” I walk toward the door and gently scoot my ten-year-old sister back into the hall. “Now, stop coming into my room when the door is closed. I’m getting dressed.”
Mei frowns. She had a growth spurt over the last year and almost reaches my shoulders, but she still looks so much like a child. Round cheeks, big eyes, and impossibly clear skin. Our almost-black hair is probably the only thing we have in common at the moment.
That and the fact that deep down we love each other, despite our tendencies to exaggerate how much the other one gets on our nerves.
She shoves her hand against the door to keep it open. “Where are you going? Can I come too?”
“I don’t think Mom would approve of you going to a high school graduation party,” I point out, fiddling with my hair. “And even if she did—hard pass.”
Mei doesn’t budge. Maybe stubbornness is another thing we have in common.
Against my better judgment, I take a few steps back and wave my hands over my outfit. “Does this look okay?”
Mei perks up, eager to provide input. She makes a humming noise like she’s thinking my dress choice over and twists her mouth. “Are you trying to look like you’re going to a weird Victorian lady’s funeral? If so, it looks great.”
I hold up my wrist so Mei’s staring straight at my O-Tech watch. “Ophelia, can you send a text message from Mei’s phone to Carter Brown and tell him my sister is secretly in love with him?”
“No!” Mei shrieks, and bolts down the hall to rescue her phone.
“I am sorry, but I cannot send messages from another user’s phone,” Ophelia replies.
“I know that, but Mei doesn’t.” I take another quick glance in the mirror, fidgeting with the neckline of my dress. “Hey, Ophelia, can you make a playlist of my thirty most-listened-to songs? I want it for the drive.”
“Of course. Would you like me to give the playlist a name?” the AI asks.
I think for a moment. “March of the Stormtrooper Penguins.” And then I smile. Finn and I have been making up ridiculous playlist names since the ninth grade. It makes sense to have a new one for tonight, being as it’s our first date. Or at least, it’s the first time we’ll be together outside of school since we finally admitted we liked each other.
The moment his face appears in my head, my nerves begin to buzz.
Everyone says eighteen is too young to know what love is, but they haven’t had a Finn in their life. Someone who started off as a crush and then became a friend and then a best friend, and all the while that crush part never went away—it just evolved into something more hopeful.
I’m not saying I’m definitely in love, but I am saying I find it hard to believe feelings could actually get any stronger than this without causing irreparable damage to a vital organ. My stomach is already on the brink of disintegrating, and I’m not even in the same room as him.
I don’t care if it’s cheesy—I can feel in my soul that tonight is going to be the end of my life as I know it. Because Finn likes me the way I like him, and considering we’re both barely out of high school, that’s practically a miracle. Movies make it look easy, but it’s not. The odds of having a crush who is also your best friend and actually likes you back while trying to survive the epic nightmare that is transitioning into adulthood? Microscopic.
So yeah, maybe that makes me sappy or immature or whatever other condescending term people who don’t have a Finn like to say about people like me, but it doesn’t matter. I happen to be a sucker for a good love story, and I am 100 percent not going to feel bad about it, the same way people who don’t like romance shouldn’t feel bad about themselves, either.
It’s like Dad always says: there’s room in the crayon box for all different colors.
“Your playlist is ready,” Ophelia says.
I grab my bag from the hook behind my door and hurry downstairs. “Thanks, Ophelia. Can you send a text message to Lucy and tell her I’m leaving the house now?”
“Message sent,” the obliging voice responds.
I zip past the kitchen toward the front door and slip on a pair of black brogues. They’re easy to walk in, and I need to wear at least something that’s comfortable because this dress is practically a corset.
“Are you leaving already? What about dinner?” Mom asks from the hall, her dark auburn hair curled neatly at the ends. She senses my guilt before I manage to form a single word and twists her bottom lip into a pout like she’s just been given terrible news.
I lift my shoulders like it’s not really my choice, except it is. I have somewhere to be, and even the smell of tofu katsu curry wafting from the kitchen isn’t enough to make me stay, tempting as it may be.
“They’ll have food at the party. Besides, Lucy is already there, and if I show up any later, everyone will be talking in their little groups and I’ll end up getting ditched on the couch all night with nobody to hang out with,” I say. Except Finn, but I leave that part out. My parents get weird when anything to do with dating comes up.
Dad appears next to Mom with his arms crossed. His jet-black hair is sticking up all over the place, and there are splotches of dried ink and marker on his fingers.
Whenever certain superheroes go off the radar, they let their beards get all wild and untamable, like they can’t be bothered interacting with the real world anymore. I think that’s what Dad’s trying to do, except he can’t grow a beard—just really fluffy boy-band-looking hair. Also, Dad isn’t exactly a superhero; he works from home in our basement creating graphic novels about superheroes.
“Sounds like a weird party to me. If your friends are ignoring you just because you show up late, I’m not sure they’re really your friends,” Dad says with the straight-to-the-point voice he always uses. “Are you sure you want to go?”
“Takeshi,” Mom says like a warning.
He blinks innocently. “What?”
She waves a finger at him. “She’s not staying home to watch The Lord of the Rings with you. I told you already—nobody should be wasting twelve hours of their life on the same three movies every single year.”
Dad lets his arms drop. “The extra footage is important for the character development! It’s an experience, Claire.”
Mom tuts, scrunching her freckled nose. “Yes, a painful one that the rest of your family shouldn’t have to endure.”
“You were trying to get her to stay home too,” he points out. “How is food any better than Tolkien? Besides”—he looks at me like he’s hoping for backup—“Nami likes Legolas.”
I shrug like it can’t be helped. “Elves are cool.”
Mom’s face softens. “Is that the pretty one?” She sighs. “They should have given him more scenes.”
Dad lifts his hands up like the answer is so obvious. “Extra. Footage.”
I rummage through my bag to find my keys, laughing at the way they seem to be sizing each other up. “I really have to go. But wait—why are you both trying to get me to stay home?”
Mei appears at the bottom step with her cell phone firmly in her hand. “They’re freaking out about you going to college. Mom was crying all day about it.”
“Don’t tell her that,” Mom hisses, and then looks back at me with her brown eyes full of embarrassment. “We’re just going to miss you, that’s all. And we know we’re on a time limit now.”
I wedge my keys in my palm, shifting my feet. My parents picked the worst time ever to develop an emotional insecurity about me leaving the nest. If it were any other night, I could’ve stayed and found some way to cheer them up. But it’s my graduation party, and Finn is waiting. Tonight is too important to miss.
“I’ve still got two and a half months left. There’s plenty of time to hang out. And have a Lord of the Rings marathon.” I look at Dad, and he raises a fist in the air triumphantly.
Mom tightens her mouth and pretends she didn’t hear the last part. “Okay. Well, have a good time. And I know you’re eighteen, but you still live in our house, so—”
“I know, I know,” I interrupt. “I’ll be home by midnight.”
Dad grins. “And if nobody wants to talk to you, you can always come home early.”
Mei giggles from beside him. “Are you kidding? There’s no way she’s going to come home early. She’ll be too busy making out with Finn—”
“Goodbye!” I shout loudly, just as Mom’s and Dad’s faces start to morph into concern, and I’m out the door and hurrying toward my car with nothing but blissful excitement flooding my chest.