Deleted Scene – Zep is a Bit of a Sleaze

(In early drafts, Clair contacted Zep while she’s in class on the first day, and he comes to meet her. This was once the first time we met him. He has some good lines but he doesn’t come out of it well.)

Her tea was still hot when Zep arrived. He was the very model of a Californian jock: solid, blonde and tanned, and came with a cockiness that Clair liked and loathed in equal proportion. Next to him, Libby looked like a doll, a doll that could be crushed if he moved a single digit wrong. Clair knew they’d had sex, but she couldn’t imagine it. Actively avoided the subject.

He pulled up a chair with a scrape and sat next to her, chugging from a water bottle. He was dressed in track gear in the college’s colors, blue, white and gold, and smelled of fresh exertion.

“What’s the drama, llama?”

She leaned in close. “Last night, you said. Does Libby know what happened . . . between us?”

“I’m not crazy, Clair-bear. If she knew, I’d be a dead man.”

“Good. I mean, not that there is an us or anything–”

“Right. We just kissed. Big deal.”

Maybe not to him, she wanted to say. “But you’re sure she doesn’t know?”

“Is that really what this is about?” He grinned and came in even closer. “Here I was thinking you wanted another shot at the Zepmeister . . . .”

Clair recoiled, repelled by mingled desire and revulsion, and her own sense of guilty relief.

“Gotcha.” He laughed.

“Don’t even look at me.”

“Anyway,” he said, sobering, “I told you what happened last night. We argued and now she’s not taking my calls. Has she said anything to you about it?”

Clair shook her head. “About what?”

He looked at her oddly. “Improvement. I messaged you earlier. Didn’t you read it?”

“When did you message me?”

“Just before, when you asked me what happened last night.”

It was her turn to stare at him. “I didn’t get it. But I know what you’re talking about. I got the spam this morning.”

“Is that all it is? Spam?”

“Of course. What else do you think could it be?”

He shrugged. “What Libby thinks it is is the problem, not what I think.”

A new kind of worry manifested itself in Clair’s gut.

“Don’t tell me she tried it.”

“More than tried it, Clair. She d-matted fifty times yesterday.”

“But why would she?” She felt a flash of anger and punched him in the shoulder. “Did you tell her she wasn’t pretty enough–imply she could lose a bit of weight, get in shape–mention her birthmark in any way at all?”

“I’d never do that. We both know what she’s like.”

“Yeah, well, I know what you’re like and–”

“Hey, take it easy, Clair. I love her, too.”

She blinked at him, surprised by the L-word. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

“Strokes for folks. Doesn’t mean I can’t like you too, right?”

“That’s up to Libby to decide.”

“You can be the one to ask her, if you like.”

Clair shied away from the question.

“Fifty times, really?”

He nodded. “I tried to talk her out of doing it, but she wouldn’t listen. That’s when we argued. I think she’s becoming obsessed, Clair.”

“That’d be like her,” she said, thinking of the diets, makeovers and flash-fashions of the past. “What happens when it doesn’t work?”

“Exactly. Or something worse.”

That was the second time he had alluded to deeper fears. “Worse how?”

“I don’t know. What if Improvement isn’t just some kind of scam or joke? What if there’s more to it than we think?”

Clair couldn’t find a convincing response to that.

“I’ll look into it. Tell me you’ll talk to her again. Make her stop.”

“She won’t listen.”

“Just try, Zep.”

He sighed, and then swigged at his bottle again. Wiped his chin. “Okay. Anything for you, Clair-bear. And I mean anything.”

Clair raised one leg and kicked him on the nearest knee.

“Ouch. Nice upskirt, though. Bye.”

And he was gone, trailing testosterone in a cloud. Clair didn’t dare move a muscle until he was well out of sight. If he heard her teeth grinding, he’d know he was getting to her.

She reached for her tea. It had gone cold. She drank it anyway, even though it would make no difference if she didn’t. It was just electrons, protons and neutrons, and a bunch of other stuff she didn’t know anything about. Dumb matter, they called it. The pattern was what counted, from which any number of perfect copies could be fabricated. And that was safe in the Cloud right where it ought to be.

She worried at a fingernail while she drank, thinking about d-mat and how it could go wrong.

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