Walter was already sitting up in his bed, but he managed to sit up a little further. His stomach fluttered and his face prickled. He felt like laughing just to shake off the sensation. The door to his hospital reopened to a wave of shouting reporters. They were being held off by at least 3 police officers as a tall, elegant figure decked out in loose hospital robes, casts and bandages limped in.
“Hi Walter!” Lucy Blues said, apparently laughing off a few of her own nerves. The door slammed shut behind her and she jumped a little before wincing in pain and grabbing at her shoulder. Lucy Blues had long brown hair - singed and a little frayed - her eyes matched the deep brown and were naturally wide and inviting. She bit at her lip as she smiled and then she walked slowly to Walter’s bedside, sitting down in slow motion and with obvious discomfort.
“I just wanted to say thank you for saving my life.”
“Anytime.” Walter said weakly. He then let out a series of coughs and struggled to stem the fit as it sliced through his throat. “Doctor said to avoid coughing,” he managed to say in a strained whisper, tensing as he fought urge to cough again. Eventually it passed and he relaxed, speaking in more normal tones, “There.”
“I’m Lucy Blues,” she said extending her left hand as the right was caught up in the cast and sling. “I never thought we would meet like this.”
Walter smiled. “So you were the one who developed the machine that picked me?” he asked though he knew that fact weeks ago.
“Yeah and now look where you ended up.” Lucy joked. There was a short silence and Walter thought up at least ten terrible attempts at conversation. “I never meant for this to happen to you.” She said, looking away from him the moment they made eye contact.
“You feel guilty?” Walter said flatly, surprised. He could see her jaw clenching as she stared out the window. “I’m fine. I’m still as happy as I ever was. Still the happiest man alive I guess...unless someone overtook me.”
Lucy laughed softly. “But look at you. You’re hounded by the press, touring the country against your will and now you’re in hospital all because of me. You used to just go about your day cleaning trains and not being bothered by anyone. What right did I have to turn you into a freak show for the masses?”
“You think I’m a freak?” Walter said, holding back a smile. He was catching up to the conversation now.
“No! I- Oh shut up.” Lucy said seeing his face. “I just feel like I forced you to do this; to be put through all this.”
It’s not so bad. It led to me meeting you. Too cheesy. Too early. Walter barely even realised he was flirting until now. “It’s not so bad. I actually enjoy a lot of it. I’ve made friends, I’m helping people, I met you.” Way too cheesy. He held his breath and a ghost of embarrassment passed through him as he remembered Whisky was still in the room. But Whisky had already left, he couldn’t remember when he had left or-
“That one of the perks, is it?” Lucy said, smiling. Not too cheesy!
“Yeah it’s in the contract, actually. Page three.”
“Really? What does it say? Walter is to be provided one woman a day.”
“One beautiful woman a day,” Walter said, no longer curious about Whisky’s absence, only grateful.
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Who would have thought the happiest man in the world is a sleaze just like the rest of them.”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to cheer you up. I got a little carried away. I-
“No it’s alright Walter. I appreciate it.” Lucy said warmly before looking out the window again. Back to square one...
Walter sensed a new pause coming and sought to fill it quickly. Forgetting about the game he was playing he instinctually went to a curiosity. “Have you ever doubted the machine?” he asked.
“Not until recently.” Walter felt like Lucy had just slapped him with her cold disposition. Then he was slapped out of it as she broke out into a smile. “I’m just joking Walter. You know, trying to imitate the happiest man in the world by saying inappropriate things.” Walter let out a relieving laugh and felt the ice slowly melting. Lucy went on, “I think I doubted the machine every day. How could I be sure it would work? It was such complicated science and it relied on so much assumption and probability. I worked day and night trying to be sure and I always had the contracts to honour. But I wouldn’t have released it without being 100% sure, Walter. Now it’s up to you to make me look good.”
Walter’s face was still flushed red from his ungainly attempts at conversation. He had not felt like such a boy around the opposite sex since he was, in fact, a boy. As he thought about it he had not felt like this around anyone for quite some time. Even when he was outside his comfort zone – and recently those foreign zones felt like foreign countries – he still knew how to act. But now for some reason he was out of-
“Are you even listening to me Walter?”
Lucy furrowed her brow. “If you hadn’t saved my life I might have had to doubt my machine.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just...yeah I don’t know what it is.” Walter knew what it was – it was her but he couldn’t throw out another cheesy line, so instead he went further. “I feel like my confidence backfired or something. I’ve never had that before- or at least never been so aware of it. I’m so aware of my feelings now because everyone wants to know how I feel like this – so happy. But I can’t explain it, I can barely know it because then it becomes something else, do you understand?”
“Like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.” Lucy said solemnly. Walter sat blank faced, taking in what he just let out and missing Lucy’s statement completely. “Well kind of. It is more a notion that one cannot measure the present and determine the future at the same time. As you observe yourself you lose the momentum that drove you forward.”
Walter realised for the first time that Lucy was in fact a doctor, and of the highest class at that. “Well I must be at a standstill at the moment because I’m measuring my past.”
Lucy laughed. “I think you’re starting to suffer like the rest of us.” Then her smile faded, “which is why I came here to see you...”
Walter let her feel it. To comfort would be false, like a mask. He could sense himself formulating the question, like reading the end of the chapter a few lines ahead, but he had to just let it flow, “Why did you build the machine?”
Lucy, who was now picking at her finger nails hesitated a few moments longer before addressing the question. She took a deep breath in preparation for talking but was cut off.
“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Manny Holdsworth said as he burst through the door and slammed it shut behind him. “You need a play by play commentary on you, Walter. You’re just a walking headline. And you,” he said, now addressing Lucy with playful accusation, “you should know better. We’ll be lucky to get out of this place by Christmas.”
Walter and Lucy were both mute with shock from the sudden mood swing in the room. Manny continued, “It’s OK. We’ve worked out a bit of a plan. It won’t be ideal but it should be enough to get us away and stay on schedule with the tour.” Manny paused and took a mental step back which could be noted physically. Walter assumed his mind was now filling with its own tabloid assumption, which was forgivable considering his journalistic background, and more so when he apparently chose not to pursue it. “We’re thinking an interview with the two of you.”
“No.” Lucy said bluntly.
Manny sighed, though not with any shock. “I know it’s not what you want, Lucy, but you kinda walked right into this one.”
“I walked in to see Walter; to see if he is OK.” She responded coldly, “I have no remaining obligation to your network and can only ask that you politely let me leave with minimal interference.”
“You’re free as you say, but they won’t be so kind once you exit that door.”
“you think they are going to physically harass me in this condition?” Even as she said it Lucy knew the answer and Manny shrugged, conveying the same sentiment.
Just then the door burst open again and Angela and two film crew spilled into the room like a water leak and rushed to shut the door behind them, almost severing a few ambitious fingers and microphones.
“Hi Lucy! Hi Walter!” Angela beamed. “We gonna do this? I think we should set up to the other side of the bed to catch the light coming-”
Nick- I mean uh...Angela, it’s...” Manny said lightly, allowing his eyes to do most the talking. Angela shut up quick, picking up the cold chill from Lucy.
Walter looked on as they all stared towards the ground as if looking for the crumbs of a solution when he had half baked idea of his own that would suffice in the circumstances. “I know what we can do,” he said confidently.