“What the fuck are you looking at?” Lacie asked softly. The handsome man in the cell across from hers was sitting on the bed, quite relaxed.
“Just what I was wondering.” he replied.
“Well…” Lacie stood up, wearing only her bra and petticoat. “Don’t!”
“Don’t?” the man asked, “Don’t wonder?”
“It would be a dull world without wonder.” He ambled up to the glass.
“I don’t give a shit about your world!” Lacie spat.
“I don’t like your brassiere.”
Lacie saw a twinkle in his eyes. Who even uses the word ‘brassiere’, she wondered, looking down. She had worn one of her favorite bras for today. What was wrong with it? Slowly it dawned on her.
“I don’t like your mustache.” she said slowly. And lying. The mustache was quite nice on the guy.
“I don’t like your aura.”
“My aura?” Lacie asked incredulously. This guy had to be joking. Or he was a college professor, using words like that.
“I don’t like your…” Lacie said, looking him up and down, “head. Your entire head is just ridiculous to me.”
“Really.” the man replied unimpressed.
“You look like an alcoholic former weatherman.” Lacie said with relish, now leaning against the glass.
“You sound like a lost little lamb that just got told there’s no Santa Claus.”
“What sort of cartoon character did your mom have to fuck to brew you up in the womb!” Lacie invented.
“At least I look like I was born, not shit out by some tormented cow creature in an underground lab.” the man said, gesturing in the air.
“You got tossed out of that lab.” Lacie was chuckling now. This was crazy! Tormented cow creature.
“Oh yeah?” he smiled.
“Oh, yeah, flushed out.” Lacie smiled, while the guy exclaimed “Ooh” in mock indignation. “In the trash! Your face is a fucking…” She was relishing this weird sort of vocal freedom she hadn’t experienced in years.
“…fucking…” the guy whispered.
“A fucking… biological car crash that made Picasso screw his eyes up and say: ‘Well that just don’t makes sense.’”
The man was laughing out loud now, which sounded kind and warm.“You’re a fucking asshole.” he said, smiling.
“Fuck you!” Lacie yelled.
“Fuck you next Wednesday.”
“Fuck you for Christmas!”
“FUCK YOU!” They both yelled loudly and simultaneously, smiling broadly.
Lacie started laughing uncontrollably. It was not the fake laugh she had practiced so often, nor the insane laugh that had come out of her mouth at the wedding. This was true laughter. The sheer insanity of this situation, her, half naked, in a jail cell, exchanging insults with a handsome mustache man, while her life had turned to shit in the span of 24 hours was truly hilarious.
“Oh, man…” she gasped, “I am so screwed.”
“Yeah, I figured. You wanna tell me your name, Picasso?”
Lacie looked up and wiped her face.
“I’m Lacie. Pound.”
“I’m John.” he said. “Nice to meet you. Although the circumstances could be better.”
Lacie suddenly felt insecure. She had nothing with her, except the stupid bridesmaid dress that was too tight.
“Don’t worry, Lacie, you look lovely as you are.”
John had noticed her covert glance at her appearance.
“You wanna tell me what happened?” He turned around and sat down on the edge of the bunk.
Lacie chewed her bottom lip.
“Where to start…”
“Wherever you want. It’s your story.”
Somehow that made sense.
“I guess it started when the lease of my apartment was up.”
Lacie thought about that for a moment.
“Yeah… I was renting an apartment with my brother Ryan, but the landlord sold it. I had been looking at this lifestyle community, Pelican Grove, but I needed to be a 4.5 to get the discount. Otherwise I could never afford it…”
John looked at her. “Let me guess, Prime Influencers Programme.”
Lacie was surprised. “Yeah, exactly. So I went to…
“Reputelligent.” John interrupted. “And they were very positive, and they gave you an estimate that was way longer that you could afford. Like a year or so.”
“…a year and a half.” Lacie replied, amazed. “How did you know that?”
John chuckled and stayed silent for a moment.
“How indeed.” He sighed. “Aren’t we all playing the numbers game?”
Lacie looked at John, her mouth slightly open. Then she sat down on her own bunk.
“What happened next?”
Lacie let the turmoil that had been the past 24 hours wash over her for a second.
“My childhood friend, who is a real backstabbing bitch, to be honest, asked me to be maid of honor at her wedding filled with ‘up-scale folks’, you know, ‘quality people’…” She used air quotes at these Reputelligent terms. John merely nodded.
“I needed that punch up. And I went for it. And then everything just… fell apart. My brother one-starred me after we had a fight, I bumped into this woman on my way to the cab and apparently the cabbie was annoyed with me for taking a call.” Lacie thought back at how she had squealed and fake laughed in the cab.
“God, I must have been annoying…” she realized.
John laughed softly, looking at her with rapt attention
“So downvotes.” he said.
“Yeah. And when I arrived at the airport, my flight was cancelled. By this time I was a 4.183, so I didn’t qualify for the Prime Flight Programme. There would have been a seat at another flight last night. And I… you know, I just lost it. I was like, 0.017 short and this big toothed mannequin doll didn’t want to call the supervisor or make an exception.”
“Yeah, but you know they really cannot do that anyway, right?”
“I know. I know! But it all felt so unfair, you know.” Lacie inhaled. All those small dings had messed everything up.
“So I shouted. Airport security came, docked a full ranking point AND put me on double damage.”
“Oof.” John commiserated. “So what did you do?”
“There was only one thing to do at that point,” Lacie shrugged. “Rent a car.”
“Yeah, I can imagine how that went with a full point docked.”
John crossed his arms. “Which car did you get?”
Lacie laughed again.
“It was a goddamn I-cruiser 2.”
“They still have the 2?” John asked, eyebrows raised.
“That’s what I said! And it was set to Chech AND there was no adapter, so I couldn’t charge.”
“A bad situation. How long was the drive?”
Lacie thought for a second.
“About nine hours, but I got stranded. Nobody had an adapter I could borrow.”
She stayed quiet.
John said nothing, but he kept looking at her.
“So I hitchhiked my way to Port Mary, borrowed a quad and rode to the stupid garden where the wedding was. But I drove into a swamp, which is why I look like I was… shit our by some…” she started laughing again, “tormented cow creature in a lab!”
Lacie gestured at her bridesmaids’ dress on the floor. “The bitch sent me a four. As you can see I AM NOT A SIZE FOUR, GOD DAMN IT!”
“I know the type.” John said.
“Oh, she is SUCH a bitch.” Lacie said, like she came to this conclusion all over again. “She kept me around to make herself feel better, you know. And she… she… SHE FUCKED GREG! I KNOW SHE DID. EVERYONE KNOWS SHE DID!”
Lacie was crying now.
“She fucked Greg.” John said quietly. “She is a bitch and she doesn’t deserve you, Lacie. Greg doesn’t deserve you either.”
Lacie couldn’t talk anymore. She looked at John’s handsome face through her tears.
“I’d five-star you right now, if I could.” he said kindly. “I’d five star you to heaven.”
“Thank you.” she whispered. “What will happen to me now?”
John stood up from his bunk and went to the glass again.
“Lacie, look at me.”
She wiped the tears away and looked up.
“You will be okay, do you hear me? You are free. They took the lens, they took your device, they took your ranking. What else is there? You’re free now.”
“This is what’s going to happen.” John said calmly, “There will be a hearing in about an hour. They will sentence you to some community service and they’ll reset your ranking.”
“Reset it? But I probably dropped below one…” Lacie grunted.
“You will be reset to a 2.5 ranking, because they figure that is the basic score to be allowed into places so you can work to pay off your debt.”
Lacie thought about Chester, who dropped to a 2.4 and couldn’t enter the building.
“It will be up to you to behave, so your ranking will go up.”
“I’m so done behaving…” Lacie groaned.
“The key is to behave when you need to, so you can be sneaky and bad when you want to.”
“I’ll be in so much debt…” Lacie hadn’t even heard what John said.
“I can get my deposit from Pelican Cove back, but the quad is still in the swamp, so I’ll have to pay that guy for a new one. I’m sure they already talked to him…” She was thinking out loud by now.
“You’ll be okay.” John reassured her.
“Where am I gonna live? What am I gonna do now?” She felt a stab of hopelessness tug at her brain.
“Lacie, look at me.”
She looked at John again.
“Stop your self-pity now. You will be okay. Do you hear me?”
He was smiling at her. “Tell me you hear me.”
“I hear you. Thank you.” Lacie exhaled.
Suddenly they heard a sound. A guard entered the hallway. He stopped at Lacie’s cell.
“Miss Pound? We contacted your brother Ryan. He sent this message.” The guard held up a device and a short video message started playing. It was Ryan, wearing the biggest smile Lacie had ever seen.“Hiya sis, how are things on the private island? Oh wait, you’re IN JAIL. Mom and dad will be so proud.” Ryan snickered. “Don’t worry though, I knew I’d get my real sister back one day. I’m moving my stuff, well, our stuff to Nate’s tomorrow. He has a guest bedroom and you’re welcome to stay as long as you want. You’ve met him at my birthday party last year, the shaggy haired guy. He’s only a 3.8 though, but something tells me that won’t be a problem for you anymore.”
“They told me your hearing is later today, so we’ll see each other soon. I’m gonna help you get back on your feet, sis. Call me when you can, slowpoke.”
The video ended. Lacie had never felt such utter relief in her life.
“Miss, we will call you for your hearing in a while.” the guard said.
“Mister Carter? Your trial is now. Stand back, please.”
John took a few steps back, while the guard used his device to slide open the door.
“John!” Lacie said quickly. “I never asked what you are in for.”
“Don’t worry, Lacie Pound. I will find you and I will send you a message when I get my device back. We will talk.”
“I’m from Bethpage and I work at Hoddicker!” Lacie yelled, louder than was necessary.
John walked out of his cell and followed the guard. When he turned, he placed one hand on the glass behind which Lacie was standing.
“I’ll find you. Everything will be okay.” he said.
“Walk along, please, sir.” the guard said sternly.
“Good luck with your hearing!” Lacie shouted and then John and the guard were gone.
She sat down on the bunk and rubbed her face. This had been the most intense 24 hours of her life, but for the first time she felt hopeful. John was right. She WOULD be okay.