Rubit gave me a prompt to save me from being bored at work. It was super effective!
Wheatley blinked up at her. He looked astonished.
Chell looked away, a half-angry rumple running across her brow like a summer shower, gone nearly before he could even register it was there, and tried to pull him to his feet. He resisted, partly because he was absolutely sure this was the proper position, but mostly because all of a sudden he had zero confidence in the load-bearing ability of his knees.
“No? That’s- you’re sure? Definite no? You don’t want some- you don’t want a bit of time to yourself to think about it or anything, it’s- it’s just an immediate no, right off the bat?”
He’d startled her, badly- at the sight of him folding himself awkwardly down on one knee on the hard-packed earth, the shock had hit her a lot harder than she’d shown- but her self-command was returning fast. She met his eyes, and gave another sharp tug on the hands that still enclosed hers.
This time, he came up with her, stumbling, dazed and dismayed, to his full height.
“I- oh, oh, whoah-whoah-whoah what’s going on- ohhh, god, it’s all the blood, isn’t it, rushing to my head- gahhhhhhh okay, alright, it’s over, it’s over. Wow, huh, okay, no. The big N. Got to admit, didn’t really plan for this particular outcome, was actually sort of banking on you going down another route entirely- the ‘yes’ route, specifically, that’s the result I envisioned, if I’m honest. Did run the numbers, thought it looked pretty good, on paper. In- in fact, it looked so good, odds so much in favour of the, uh, the whole ‘yes’ side of things, that I didn’t even bother to come up with a plan B, didn’t think it was worth the effort given the extreme unlikelihood of you saying ‘no’- just checking, that is what you said, right, I’m not just flagrantly misquoting you there-”
“What- yes, you said no, or yes, you-”
“Yes,” she repeated, patiently. “I said no.”
Wheatley’s hopeful grin, which had only just managed to drag itself a notch or two up his face, collapsed all over again, falling flat like a house of cards. “See, got my hopes up all over again there, not- not brilliant-”
He looked down, and tried to dust the knees of his jeans. They were denim, the kind Aaron stocked in towering rolls in the back of his store, beaten blue-grey stuff you could take a hammer to and not do much damage. Accordingly, they were a little tricky to make look smart, especially if you were something of a lightning-rod for disaster and only a very small part of you remembered how use an iron with any degree of competency, but he’d done his best. One crease went neatly up the front of his leg. The other set off with promise, then corkscrewed, writing a careering seismographic record of his attention span all the way down to the turn-up.
“I-I mean, come on- I didn’t even ask yet.” He fumbled a grubby scrap of paper out of his pocket, turning it over between long, anxious fingers. Two of them were bandaged together, splinted, not-quite-broken but still out of commission for the time being. He was always discovering new things to damage- fingers, toes, knees- forever rebounding forcefully off the limits of his vulnerable, breakable human body.
He’d repossessed it in a largely unscathed condition- minus appendix, tonsils and, for some inconceivable reason, coccyx- featuring no worse damage than an anonymous blotch on the shoulder and an aged, gravelly sort of contusion on one knee. Since then, any observer would have thought he was in a hurry to make up for lost time. He tallied his cheerful progress through each day with endless notches on his shins, came off worse in countless skirmishes with tables, chairs, doorframes, walls, flat areas of ground, his own feet. His elbows were a war zone. His forehead- that unluckily-elevated and frequently-assaulted stretch of sunburned skin- was little more than wallspace for an ever-changing series of sticky-plasters. This week’s model was a bright, child-friendly bubblegum pink.
“Got it all written down here, forward-planning, very important- also, did in fact write the whole thing myself, all original stuff, because while you’d think there’d be scripts for this sort of thing hanging around, no! There’s nothing. Zip, And I did look, I looked for ages! I thought, surely, it’s like the actual marriage whatsit itself, where you’ve both got your little bit to say, it’s all having and holding and saying ‘I do’, you’re allowed the script- but no. Blinding oversight, in my opinion, because this- you’d think that’d be the more important part, wouldn’t you? Fairly vital, the part that instigates there being a marriage in the first place?”
Chell winced and glanced silently sideways at the old town sign, looking for help in its friendly, faded markings. It looked as if it had already stopped a truck at some point in its long, eventful, life, but it still didn’t stand a chance of stopping Wheatley, who was busy slipping into full-blown, anxiety-fuelled autowitter.
“Never mind the ceremony, whole thing’s more or less squared away by then, foregone conclusion, isn’t it, really, by that stage- no, the proposal’s the part you’d think there’d be some notes for, wouldn’t you? That’s the part where everything’s still all up in the air, anything could happen, like, just for a, a wild example, the other party could just scratch the whole thing without even waiting to hear the question. Bam. Dealt with. Very- very practical, have to say, very neatly done, if maybe sort of a bit what you might call harsh-”
“Just checking- again- really? No?”
“No,” she said.
“Because- because I can see how you might feel it’s a bit of a loaded topic, but, hah, seriously, don’t feel you have to hold back on my account. Honestly, if that’s really the way you feel about it you can just say, right now, ‘Wheatley, I don’t want to marry you,’ that’s all, and I’ll- and we can just leave it there, it’s not a big deal.”
“Wheatley,” said Chell, as clearly as possible, “I don’t want to marry you.”
Wheatley looked back at her. His expression- frustratingly familiar to her by this point- suggested that somewhere in there a triangle-shaped thought was being banged repeatedly against a circle-shaped hole.
“Do you… want to take a rain check, or….”
Chell’s reply was, as always, clear and to the point. She turned away, and started walking back towards the town.