Choosing Theo: Chapter 24

How am I supposed to get close to him if he’s never here?

Jade had awoken in a warm bed with morning sunlight gently streaming in through her glass wall. She felt relaxed and excited now that she’d decided to make the big guy like her.

The night before, she’d lulled herself to sleep by thinking of different things she could do, most of them sexual in nature, to get on Theo’s good side.

Ready to get started, she cleaned herself up in the bathroom, threw on his shirt, and headed down to the kitchen, quietly singing, “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.”

When she arrived in the kitchen, however, Theo was nowhere to be seen. Plates of delicious-smelling food were on the table, but there was no brooding man waiting to eat with her.

She searched the whole house and couldn’t find him anywhere.

Must be out. Deciding not to be annoyed that he’d left without any explanation, she began to eat.

The food was as delicious as always. She noticed there were fewer plates than usual today, but they all contained the foods she’d enjoyed the most.

Her mouth full of a delicious tangy bean she’d decided was more fruit than actual bean, she smiled. Was he keeping track of which foods she liked the most and then making only those?

Her stomach gave a small flutter, and she wondered if she was setting herself up for failure. Her plan required her to seduce him and then eventually leave him. Would she be able to keep her feelings for him from growing stronger?

She’d only been here three days and already she felt warmth spread through her whenever she thought of Theo. If these sweet gestures kept up, she doubted she’d have much say in how she felt about him at the end of their marriage.

After she finished eating, Jade spent the next hour and a half cursing at different machines in the kitchen while trying to figure out how to clean a dish.

The square appliance she’d assumed was the dishwasher sprayed a large stream of water at her as soon as she opened its door.

Nothing in the kitchen was normal. Even the refrigerated foods were located throughout the kitchen in different refrigerated areas rather than one large area.

Since the evil super soaker appliance was the only one that had water, she guessed it was, in fact, a dishwasher. After being sprayed three more times, she gave up on trying to use the dishwasher and arranged the dirty dishes as neatly as she could on the counter.

When she was just about done mopping the floor—with a towel, since the mop also eluded her—she heard a knock at the door.

Cebo, who’d been wholly unhelpful through this ordeal, attempted to dash toward the door, but slipped on the sleek floor and ended up sprawled in the middle of the kitchen.

Chuckling, Jade walked to the door but didn’t open it. It would not be the smartest idea to open the door to an unknown guest, wearing only a soaking wet T-shirt.

“It’s Asivva,” a woman’s voice called through the thick door. “Jade, are you there?”

Quickly, or as quickly as she could manage, considering it weighed about a thousand pounds, Jade opened the door. Asivva’s warm smile faltered when she took in Jade’s appearance and faded completely when Cebo once again tried to run to the door but instead slipped and slid into an entry table.

“Is everything okay here?” she asked, starting to chuckle at Cebo’s continued clumsy attempts to get to her.

“Yeah,” Jade said blowing a piece of hair out of her face. “One of the appliances in the kitchen and I had a disagreement.” Jade sidestepped, letting Asivva through. “I’m so happy to see you. Please come in!”

Jade was about to close the door after Asivva, but three more women wheeling racks of clothes and boxes followed her.

Asivva turned to Jade and said, “Theo called and told me you wanted to visit with me. I figured I’d bring you the clothes you ordered.” She eyed Jade up and down. “It’s a good thing I did.”

Jade glanced down at Theo’s shirt. “He has very comfortable shirts, but some real clothes would be nice.”

Asivva directed the women to Jade’s bedroom before taking a seat on the living room couch. A bitter twinge of jealousy sliced through Jade. How does she know where everything is?

Cebo finally managed to hobble over to Asivva, and she stroked his head before he collapsed at her feet, exhausted.

Trying at nonchalance, Jade asked, “So you’ve been here before?”

“Yes, all the time,” Asivva said, patting the couch next to her in invitation.

“Why?” Jade snapped, no longer able to keep a cool tone. Why would this gorgeous woman come to Theo’s home “all the time?”

Jade glanced over her shoulder. What would he do if he came home right now? It wouldn’t be hard to choose between a drop-dead gorgeous model and Jade who, at present, looked like a drowned cat.

Asivva stared at Jade with a confused expression for a moment then said, “Did Theo tell you how he knows me?”

“He said women sometimes come by to have sex with him.”

Asivva grinned. “After the ceremony, I was very concerned that you two wouldn’t get along.”

Jade scowled as Asivva started laughing.

Through giggles, she managed, “I’m so happy to see my brother has found someone who’s so possessive of him.”

“Brother?” Theo had said his sister lived close by.

Jade’s face heated as embarrassment hit her. She’d never been the jealous type before. This guy was doing a number on her. She sat down and hastily began, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Asivva held up her hand and said, “It’s already forgotten.” She peered at Jade’s shirt again. “Why don’t we see if we can go and find you something…different to wear?”

Jade followed Asivva down the hall. When they arrived at her room, Asivva stretched out on the bed. “I’d love to know how things are going between you and Theo.”

Jade had to stop herself from laughing out loud. The scene was all so…normal. Her friend had come over to her house to dish about boys and try on clothes. Pillow fight anyone?

“You have to understand, Asivva, I don’t belong here. Your brother and I are getting along okay, but I need to figure out how to get back home.” Jade hoped she would be understanding about this.

Asivva nibbled her lip and considered what Jade said. “Why?”

“Why what?” Jade said, confused.

“Why do you want to return to Earth so badly? I haven’t heard you speak about it much.”

Jade faltered. Why did she want to return? Her life back home was tedious and lonely. She’d originally rebelled against living on an alien planet out of fear and principle, but Asivva had a point. There wasn’t much back home for her.

A figure moving behind her drew her eye. The three women who’d brought the racks in were almost done putting the clothes away in the closet. She kept catching them shooting curious glances at her.

“Ignore them,” Asivva said. “They are just gossips.”

Her tone was admonishing, but one of the women glanced over to Asivva with a playful smile on her face.

Asivva smiled back. “They know you chose Theo, and they had the same reaction many others did.”

“Maybe I should wait until they leave before telling you about him.” Stalling so as not to answer Asivva’s surprising question about her life on Earth, Jade stepped into her closet and tried to decide what she should wear.

Everything she remembered picking was here, and it was all perfectly tailored to her. A girl could get used to this.

Looking around her closet, she noticed there were also many things she hadn’t picked.

“I took the liberty of getting some additional pieces for you,” Asivva said from behind her. “You were quite frugal with your purchases.”

Jade had purchased enough clothing to last far longer than the three months she was supposed to be in this house. She’d felt quite bad doing it too. Spending someone else’s money knowing she was going to eventually take all her purchases and leave felt wrong.

She’d picked out a ton of clothing and some shoes but she wasn’t greedy. She’d made sure to steer clear of the jewelry and accessories section.

Scanning the now-full shelves and drawers of the closet, Jade realized Asivva had purchased those things for her. She’d also done a much better job of it then Jade would have. She had great taste.

“This is too much,” Jade said, even as she admired a delicate gold necklace with a glittering blue gem.

Forcing herself away, she shot a sidelong glance toward Asivva. “This must have cost a fortune, and I can’t possibly wear all of it. Can we return it?”

“You hadn’t purchased enough,” Asivva said while rifling through some dresses. “Theo is very wealthy.”

“I purchased enough for a whole year. This…this is…” Jade shook her head and gestured around the closet.

“This is just the start. On our planet,” Asivva began, tilting her head at Jade, “a wife is supposed to be given these things. The style and quantity of items you purchased would’ve insulted Theo. It’s known that he’s extremely wealthy and if word got out that he’d only purchased those few items for you, he would’ve been viewed poorly.” Furrowing her eyebrows, she wondered aloud. “I’m worried this may not be enough.”

“That is so stu—” Jade stopped at the harsh look Asivva shot her. She knew Asivva didn’t like it when Jade judged their customs, but this was ridiculous. “What about men who aren’t rich? They just don’t get to have wives? Or do their wives spend so much that they end up broke?”

“When you choose your husband, you choose what you’ll spend. Wives will spend less if they’re married to males who make less. Because you’re married to Theo, you should be spending a great deal of money indeed,” Asivva finished, holding out a royal blue flowing dress to Jade.

“What if I don’t want to buy more things? I don’t need anything else, and it’s wasteful.”

Asivva sighed and lowered the dress. “That’s something you’ll have to discuss with Theo. I’m merely trying to help.” She pushed the dress into Jade’s arms.

As she walked to the door to wish the other women goodbye, Jade thought about what she said. Theo can’t possibly want me to go crazy and spend all his money. What’s the point of that?

Jade changed into the dress and followed Asivva, who she found once again lying on her bed. “You should remember to take into account that this is an alien planet. The way we think about money is likely very different than it is on Earth.”

Asivva had a point there. “Okay,” Jade said slowly. “So, what would happen if he ran out of money? How would he pay for this house and food and medical care?”

Asivva squinted her eyes, looking confused by the question. “It’s too bad there isn’t more information about Earth customs on file. It would be easier for me to understand you. On Earth, do you have to pay for your food and medical care? Do you only borrow your home, not own it?”

Jade understood what Asivva meant. There were obviously very big differences between their cultures, but neither of them knew exactly what those differences were. “Yes, we buy our own food, and some places on Earth require people to pay for their medical care. You own your house, but most people can’t pay for it all at one time. Many are paying off their house for thirty years or more. Some just rent a house because they can’t afford to buy one.”

“In the words of you, ‘That’s stupid.’” Asivva sneered. “Every being on this planet is entitled to medical care and food. They don’t cost money. If you don’t have enough money to buy a house, then you live with other males in housing that’s provided until you make enough money. You’d never purchase something you didn’t have the money for.”

Asivva’s response gave Jade more questions than answers. “So, the quality of food doesn’t matter? Really good rare things and very common poor-tasting things are free? What about school and retirement?”

“It seems like this could go on forever.” Asivva shook her head. “Let me try and explain what money is used for. Maybe that’ll help.

“In our culture, the money you earn throughout your life represents your drive and hard work. That money is used to provide additional comforts to yourself and your family. If you decided to not make any money, you’d still live very comfortably and be taken care of until you died, but you wouldn’t be eligible to have a wife because you didn’t express a great enough drive to do so. You could still have a romantic relationship with whomever you wished, and children if you were so blessed.

“Food, shelter, and medical care are all rights each being living on Clecania is entitled to. A female and a family, however, is a blessing, and you must work hard and contribute to society to show that you deserve such a blessing. Basic needs are provided for by our government. Additional comforts such as a house, designer clothing and specialty foods are all things you can pay for.”

A world like that would be wonderful. “What about the people who inherit money and houses?”

Again, with a confused look, Asivva said, “There is no inheritance. Whatever money or property is left when you die is given to the government. All children begin with the same opportunities.”

Asivva leaned forward, interest showing in her eyes. “On Earth, do you inherit your parent’s money? How do you make sure wealthy individuals don’t just go on being wealthy without doing any hard work?”

“Well…” Jade couldn’t think of an answer. Wasn’t that one of the biggest problems on Earth? Financial inequality? If all the things needed to survive were free and you weren’t able to pass on the money you made when you died, would people be as ruthless as they were? Greed would still be present, but the next generation would have to start from scratch and earn their money.

Throwing her hands up, Jade said, “You win. What you’re saying makes sense. I’m sorry. Eventually I’ll learn not to assume something is wrong before understanding it.”

Asivva leaned back, looking smug. “The goal of the males on this planet is to make enough money to attract a wife. If he gets a wife, then he’ll want to make sure to spend any money he’s made on her. Ensuring her every desire is met and she’s happy. It proves to her that he’s capable of doing the same for a child.”

Jade tried to keep any judgement from her voice when she said, “Does that feel unfair to men? Do women work and earn money too, or do they just use their husband’s money?”

Sadness flashed over Asivva’s face. “Our world is in distress. Females are the key to ensuring we don’t go extinct. A female can work if she wants, but she’d be looked down on for it if she didn’t also get married. In order to continue our species, we marry and have children. Then we move on and leave them behind in order to marry again and have more children.

“A Clecanian female gives up her children and any male she loves for our survival. Material possessions provided by our husbands can’t fill the hole that’s left, but it can help.”

Jade realized this culture she’d been thrown into seemed on the surface to have archaic views of a woman’s place in life, but as she learned more, she found this world was dominated by women. Everything they did was designed to keep their race from going extinct, not to force women into unhappy marriages.

The women on this planet were more honorable than any she’d ever met. They chose the good of their people over their own happiness. Jade felt tears welling in her eyes. Strength. She’d always admired strength, especially in women.

“I’m so sorry, Asivva,” she whispered. “Do you have children?”

Asivva smiled sadly. “Yes, two. They live with their fathers.”

“Can you go see them?”

“I could, but I fear that would hurt more. You may think the females here are callous and we are. We must be so. If I were to go and see my children, I don’t know that I’d be able to leave. If every female did that, we’d end up extinct. What kind of world would I be leaving for my boys?”

Asivva had been staring off into the distance but turned her attention to Jade. “Husbandry school, clothes, jewels, even a separate bedroom.” She gestured around. “Are all to meant to ease our suffering and keep us from becoming too attached while also giving males the opportunity to prove they’ve worked hard enough to raise a child alone.”

Jade wiped a stray tear that had fallen down her cheek. Asivva was always so patient and kind. To know the pain she had inside made Jade’s heart hurt.

Originally, she’d thought the women of this world heartless. They’d shunned Theo because of his appearance and seemed to only care about material possessions or what their husband could do for them, but she now understood they had to be that way. With everything they’d given up—the comfort of a permanent home, a partner to love, and children to raise—they’d earned the right to be as callous, vain, and as downright bitchy as they wanted to be.

Distancing yourself from everybody so you couldn’t be hurt was exactly what Jade had been doing since her aunt had passed away. Being cold was a good way to protect yourself, but it was also very lonely.

Taking a deep breath, Asivva said, “Do you now understand that your lack of spending will reflect poorly on Theo? It’s a slap in his face and tells him you don’t appreciate all the hard work he’s done to provide for you and your happiness. You’d be telling others you don’t think he’s fit to have a child. His chances of finding another bride after you, which were almost nonexistent to begin with, will vanish completely.”

Jade nodded and walked to a chair near the fireplace. On her way, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. “Oh, man,” she said, eyeing herself. “You guys really know how to make a dress.” The blue material was so soft, it felt like water against her skin. The cut of the simple dress clung to her curves in all the right places and flowed in others.

“Yes, we do. I knew that color would look wonderful on you.” Smiling mischievously, she added, “It’s Theo’s favorite color.”

Jade threw a smirk over her shoulder. Sneaky sister-in-law.

Asivva joined her by the fireplace, and they sat together. Jade felt a strange swell of emotion as she stared at the woman. She enjoyed speaking with someone like this. Jade hadn’t had a friend in so long. All her effort had been aimed at not feeling too much for Theo, but she now realized she hadn’t guarded herself with Asivva, and she was beginning to care about her.

It was difficult to admit, but she had more emotional ties to people on this planet than she did back home. Did she really want to return to her solitary existence after being reminded of what it was like to be close to someone?

“So,” Asivva asked again, “how are things going with you and Theo?”

Where to begin? “Well… he thinks I’m a spy. Here to lull him into a false sense of security and then steal his secrets or kill him or some such nonsense.”

“Hmm,” Asivva said thoughtfully. “And are you?”

Jade swung her shocked face toward her. Seeing the playful look in her eyes, Jade laughed. “Ha-ha. Very funny.”

“My brother has always been a little intense. He seems to be in denial.” Brows drawing together, she asked, “Does he treat you poorly?”

“He tries to. I think he wants me to be upset so I’ll reveal myself as a traitor and beg to leave.” Jade smiled, thinking about Theo’s failed attempts. “Without realizing it, he keeps accidentally doing things I like.”

“Like what?”

“Like Cebo.” Jade gestured to the bed where Cebo had settled himself. “I’m assuming women here don’t like animals much and wouldn’t want them in the house. I love animals, and I wouldn’t want my pet to stay anywhere but by my side.”

“Wives prefer to keep their distance from pets to make sure we don’t get too attached to them,” Asivva said matter-of-factly. “And how did you react to Cebo? He is a very strange animal.”

“Not to me! I think he’s related to a very common type of pet on Earth.” Jade’s face broke into a full grin. “You should’ve seen Theo’s face. He was so sure I’d be mad.”

“What else has he done to try and make you angry?” Asivva said with pursed lips.

“Well, he keeps saying sexual things to me too. He thinks I’ll be disgusted and show it but, as you know, I find him attractive.” Jade rolled her eyes in exasperation. “He also forced me to take a bath with him, but if that’s the custom here, then I guess I had to do it anyway.”

“The custom?” Asivva interrupted.

“Yeah, after two days, the husband and wife have to…take a….” Jade stared at Asivva’s barely contained laughter. “There is no bath custom, is there?”

“I’m afraid not, no.” Asivva laughed out loud now.

“Well, how am I supposed to know that! Damn alien.” Jade threw her hands up. “Are there any things I should be aware of? I’d like to be able to call him on his bullshit next time.”

“What is a bull?” Asivva asked curiously, then shook her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. The only thing you’re expected to do is go to The Gathering with him so others can see you together. It’s thrown at the end of the first month of marriage.” She chuckled. “Anything else he tells you is probably a lie.”

Standing, she said, “I have to get back home now. Botho, my husband, will be making dinner soon. Here.” Asivva handed Jade a black device. “This is a communication device. If you’d like to talk to me or Zikas, you can use this.”

Anticipating Jade’s next question, she showed her how to use the device and which buttons to push to call her or Zikas.

When she reached the door, she turned and asked, “Do you think you could be happy here? With my brother?”

Jade answered honestly. “If he stops treating me like an unwelcomed guest, I might. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to convince himself I picked him because I like him, though.”

Asivva nodded. “I’ll help you in any way I can.”

A devious thought entered Jade’s mind. “I think I know a way for you to help me, but it’ll require lying.”

Asivva smiled. “What’s the plan?”

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