Heleer emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, her hair wet. Dan blinked. He had never seen hair wet like that. His own short hair dried almost instantly.
“Why don’t you dry your hair?” he asked as she came into the bedroom.
She looked at him, a hint of confusion on her face. “I did,” she said. “It takes time to dry.” She glanced towards the bathroom. “Your turn.”
Dan obediently got up and went to the bathroom, although he was unable to stop looking at Heleer until the wall separated them. How long would she be here? She couldn’t possibly stay the night, surely. He had so many questions. Dan took the fastest shower he could remember.
When he was done, he found Heleer sitting in a chair, the table of metal extended out from the wall before her. A tray was already there, and she was eating. Dan looked again. There were two trays. One for him and one for her. He glanced at the wall. Sure enough, another chair was there, waiting for him to unfold it. He pulled it from the wall, and sat down across from her, pulling his tray towards him.
For a time they ate in silence. Heleer kept her eyes pointed downwards, focused on her food, but Dan couldn’t stop looking at her. This was the closest he had been to her, and he kept noticing new details.
The first difference he noted was her skin. Dan had light skin, but hers was… darker? Tanner? Dan wasn’t sure how to describe it. The color was very close, but just ever so slightly different. He kept looking between her and himself, comparing the color.
The next thing Dan noticed was her hair. He had never seen long hair outside of the SR Unit. It was light brown, virtually the same color as his own, but it looked different: smoother somehow. Dan longed to reach out and feel it. Fortunately, for all of his inexperience, he knew that spontaneously running his hands through Heleer’s hair was probably not the best idea.
It wasn’t until Heleer glanced up briefly that Dan had a chance to see her eyes close up. Out of everything, he was intrigued by them the most. Dan had seen plenty of eyes in the SR Unit, but now that he saw Heleer, he realized just how fake they were. Technically they were exactly the same, but Heleer’s eyes had a certain depth to them. Dan felt like there was something behind those eyes, an actual person with actual emotions. By comparison, everyone he had ever met in the SR Unit now seemed flat and lifeless.
Wondering how the eyes could be so different and yet look exactly the same, Dan looked at them, glancing from one to the other. He became so obsessed that he didn’t even notice that Heleer had finished, until she looked up and noticed he was staring at her.
“What are you doing?” she asked after a moment.
“Your eyes,” Dan said, still staring at them. “They’re… I’ve never seen anything like them.”
Dan couldn’t tell what Heleer thought of this statement. At first it seemed like she might ignore it, but then she frowned.
“Could you not stare at me, please?” she asked.
Dan had grown up in complete isolation, aside from RR. Even though she had been the only person Dan had known until now, Dan saw her so rarely that she didn’t really count. That left only the imagined and the fake for company. Dan knew this perfectly well, and knew equally well that he could ignore whatever they said if he wanted to. With virtually no experience with real people, this attitude spread to Heleer. Dan had no concept of caring for others’ feelings, and he saw no reason to stop what he was doing.
“I don’t want to stop,” he said, fully expecting that to be the end of it. He continued to stare at her.
“I want you to stop,” Heleer said.
Dan had encountered resistance before in the SR Unit. But it had all been fake. There had been no need to listen to it. The fact was, he had no idea how to respect another’s wishes, even if he had wanted to. Which he did not.
In reply, he just continued glancing between Heleer’s eyes.
“Please stop staring at me,” Heleer said again. Dan ignored her. After a moment, Heleer did something Dan could never have anticipated: she closed her eyes.
Dan hadn’t expected this. She was far more stubborn than anyone in the SR Unit. “Could you open your eyes?” he asked.
“But I want you to.”
Heleer kept her eyes resolutely shut. “I want things too, Dan. The world doesn’t revolve around you.”
Whenever Dan heard something he didn’t agree with, his first instinct was to just ignore it. He couldn’t ignore this, however. He wanted to look at Heleer’s eyes, and she still hadn’t opened them. He wasn’t getting his way, and that forced him to confront what she had said.
Dan had been the only one in his world until a few short minutes ago. As far as he knew, the world did revolve around him. However, confronted with a girl who wouldn’t do what he wanted, he realized that couldn’t be true. She had wishes, and those wishes were clearly just as powerful as his own.
Dan had no intention of giving up, but he realized that he would get nowhere. He realized that Heleer would actually fight him: something no one in the SR Unit had ever done. He lowered his eyes and resumed eating his food.
Eventually Heleer opened her eyes. Dan didn’t look back up, although he couldn’t help but glance at her from time to time. He was now more intrigued by Heleer than ever.
The metal slab of a table slid away shortly after, taking two empty trays with it. Dan and Heleer got up, folded their chairs, and put them back in the wall. Dan then crossed the room, and got in bed, just as he had done for his entire life.
Dan always slept in the middle of the bed. There was no reason for him to sleep on either side. Heleer came to a stop next to it. While the bed was made for two, with Dan in the middle there was no room for her, unless she wanted to sleep right next to him.
“Could you move over?” she asked politely.
Dan looked up at her. Move over? Why? He had slept in the same place as long as he could remember. He glanced down and saw that there was enough room for her to sleep in the bed as well.
“Why?” he said. “There’s plenty of room.”
“There’s hardly ‘plenty’ of room,” Heleer said.
Dan just stared at her, amazed at the emotion in her voice. Somehow the SR Unit had never conveyed that.
Heleer asked again, and Dan refused. Besides seeing no reason to move, he was now curious to see what she would do.
After asking and being denied again, Heleer turned away. “Fine,” she said. And to Dan’s astonishment, she crossed to the far wall of the bedroom, and lay down against it directly on the floor, curling up as best she could.
For any normal person, the sight would have been enough to sway them. Not Dan. He was far from hard-hearted. He simply had no experience with real people, and he didn’t quite see Heleer as a real person yet, complete with her own wants and needs, and the determination to achieve them. To him, she was more of a spectacle than a person. More something to wonder about, than someone to talk to.
The lights clicked off, and still marveling at her, Dan rolled over. The last thing he heard before sleep found him was Heleer’s steady breathing at the other side of the room. In and out. In and out.