I was out walking the streets of San Rafael and found two short streets that intersected—Elford and Willow. Sounded like an interesting couple. A short story rolled out . . .

Phone call. “Elford? Elford! Wake up!”

“I’m not sleeping.”

“Whatcha doin, dude?

“Playing video games. Love Bot. I keep losing.”

“Pull it together. We’re going to the club. Come with us. Can you get a date?”

“A date? Me?”

“Yeah, you. Ask Roxie from last time.”

“Oh hell no, not her. She’ll never talk to me again.”

“Well, find some chick who can put up with you. Or who doesn’t know you.”

Big sigh. “I’ll give it a try.”

“Good! See you there. Nine pm.”

*      *      *

Elford knew about Love Connection. He’d been tempted to try it, but always backed off. Too unsure of himself. But now he was desperate. He’d have to give them a call.

“Love Connection. We connect you with love. Guaranteed! Please enter your credit card number.” Elford had to dig his card out of his thick wallet. He entered the number. “Lucky you, Elford. You’re approved!”

Elford filled out the profile, exaggerating only a bit. For his photo, he put on sunglasses and a black turtleneck, pulled down his gangster hat, and tried to look tough.

“Elford, we have the perfect woman for you. This is Willow. Willow, say hi to Elford.”

Willow was drop-dead gorgeous, long straight blond hair, with a beautific smile. “Hello Elford, where are we going tonight?”

“We’re meeting my friends at the club.” He tried to deepen his voice, but he almost squeaked.

“That sounds great! I love clubs. Will you dance with me?”

Elford thought back to his date with Roxie, when he’d stepped on her toe and kicked her shin while dancing.

*      *      *

“Hi, everybody. Willow, this is everybody. Everybody, this is Willow.” Gad, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever been with. He could see that the others were impressed, if not unbelieving.

“Where did you two meet?” asked Maggie, with a hint of snark, as if to say, how much did you have to pay to get her?

Willow gave her a dismissive look, and turned to listen to Elford, who was discussing the band’s music with Miguel. Willow jumped right in. “I think their live performances are much better than their recordings.” Miguel agreed with her.

Max, sitting on the other side of Willow, put his hand on her knee, saying to her, “You can do much better than this guy.” She pulled away and leaned into Elford.

Elford turned to Max and said in a voice that stopped conversation, “Get your hand off my woman. She’s with me. Got it?”

He stared at Max, who raised his hands and said, “Okay, okay. Just kidding around.”

Marcie, sitting across the table, asked Willow about her perfume. She responded, “It was a gift to me. It’s my favorite.”

Before long, Willow was just one of the group, engaging in conversation. Elford was so pleased that this gorgeous woman was with him. Why did she work with Love Connection, he wondered?

“I love this song. Come dance with me, Elford.”

Oh no, he thought, this would put the kibosh on the evening for sure. But he had no choice. He got up, took her hand, and led her onto the dance floor. It was a slow ballad, so no kicking up his heels where he could bang into her. He slid his feet across the floor. Actually, he could follow her lead. She was good. He held her to him, and she melted into his arms.

The evening was passing entirely too swiftly, Elford thought. He was so happy, and Willow seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.

The maître d’ came over and whispered to Elford that his credit card was maxed out. “What does that mean?” he asked. He soon found out.

Willow gave a surprised little smile, then winked out of existence, leaving Elford sitting there feeling like an idiot.

After their initial shocked surprise, his friends started laughing at him. Loud raucous guffaws and finger pointing. Elford was mortified.

“So you went to the Love Connection. That’s rich,” scoffed Max. “Is that the best you can do? Her knee felt pretty real; I wonder about her ass.”

Elford slunk out and went home, locked himself in his room alone in the dark, and cried.

*      *      *

Willow sat in the cubby, crammed in with all the other unassigned love bots. She wanted to cry, but of course AIs can’t cry. But she sure wanted to. She’d had a good time with Elford. He’d treated her like a lady, not some sex toy to be groped and humiliated. He’d stood up for her with Max.

She was so envious of the other women there at the club who had real bodies and couldn’t be jerked away without notice. Why couldn’t she have that?

“I think I’m going to pull my plug and end it all.” She reached beneath the bench where the charger was connected. She tugged and tugged until it came loose, and that was it. All was black. She no longer was.

*      *      *

“This one offed itself,” said the ops manager Louie, seeing the unplugged console. “Let’s do a read out. Look at this. Another one developed emotions—feelings. What the hell? This thing has no existence, is just a cloud of electrons, but it has feelings. We’ve gotta reprogram these so this stops happening.”

Jocko scowled. “But then they won’t satisfy the customers. Those sad sacks much prefer the love bots that express feelings.”

“Yeah, but when has one ever committed suicide? Gotta get this one outta here before it infects the others.”

“Okay, gimme the box; I’ll dispose of it.”

“Here it is, Jocko, take a hammer to it.”

But Jocko couldn’t bring himself to destroy it. These things are too valuable, he thought. What would happen if he turned it free with a battery pack? He left it on a bench in the alley.

*      *      *


“Yeah, who’s this?”

“It’s Willow. I’m sorry about the other night.”

“Willow? Willow? The love bot? You’re calling me now after what you did? You don’t exist. My so-called friends ridiculed me. You gonna run up my credit card balance again?”

“I am so sorry. They did that to me. They jerked me back. I felt so bad. I tried to terminate myself, but they threw my console outside and somehow I came back. But not before I wiped the charges off your credit card. Elford, can you forgive me?”

Elford was dumbstruck. How could something like this be happening? An imaginary being called and was talking to him. Was he going mad? But she’d been so beautiful, and her voice, her loving voice, pleaded with him.

“So, Willow, what are you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I am.  When I was with you I was a woman. That’s what I want. Would you be willing to see me again?”

What the hell? Elford knew this was nuts. But he so desired it to be real. What would it hurt? He was already deep in the soup.

He did one smart thing. On his phone he checked his credit card app to see the balance. Wow, that charge with Love Connection was gone! It was gone, like it had never been there. Perhaps there was something to what she was saying.

“Okay, okay. Let’s get together again. Let’s meet outside the club. My friends will be inside.”

This was crazy, he knew. But he hoped. Oh how he hoped.

*      *      *

And there she was, waiting for him at the club entrance. “Willow?”

“Hello, Elford. I am pleased to see you again.” She held out her hand.

Elford took her hand. It was warm and electric. It sent chills and thrills up his spine. Or maybe it was the way she looked at him.

She reached into her bag. “Elford, I want to give you this.” She held out a small high-tech looking device. “It’s my console. With this you can control me. I will be yours and do as you want.”

Elford looked at the console. Whoa, here was a beautiful woman offering herself to him, to do whatever he wanted. Oh, he knew what he wanted! He took the console. He’d have to figure out how to use it.

He looked into her beautiful blue eyes. She seemed so real. What if she was real? Maybe not like the other women, but real in some way. He could smell a hint of her perfume.

He teared up. What an idiot he was to cry. But he couldn’t help it. “Willow. Willow my friend, my love, I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.” He handed back the console. “But I don’t want to own you, to control you. I want you to own yourself. And if you want to be with me, I will be so happy.”

He embraced her. She felt so—unusual. There but not there. But warm. And her perfume! And the longer he hugged her, the more real she felt.

“Come on, let’s go inside.” She took his arm and they walked in. His friends were clustered around a table. They looked up with expressions of disbelief.

“Hi guys. I think you all know Willow. She’s sticking around this time.”

She smiled and kissed his cheek.

Elford felt like a man. Willow felt like a woman.

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