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The next morning, Andy spent an hour in a steaming shower, watching weeks worth of filth spiral down the drain. He couldn't tell what it flowed through, the water from the shower head or the tears of joy cascading down his face. Like the inside of a marshmallow emerging from a charred outer shell, he stepped out of the shower glistening and pristine. He took a long neglected razor and scraped away the unruly stubble around his mouth like he was swimming in the Olympics. Shuddering with anticipation, he nicked himself a couple of times. Then he wrapped a plush white towel around his waist and skipped into his bedroom. He had made sure to get up before the zoo opened so he could get ready for Yumi's arrival in private. Before the shower, he had swept through his bedroom like a Roomba on speed. It looked like the room of a neat freak once again.
Andy rustled through his closet for his finest outfit. This was one instance when he wished the reproduction of his belongings by the Praxians hadn't been so precise. He could've used an upgrade from his musty Goodwill collection. But regardless, he did his best impression of an eighties teen movie montage, holding up various combinations of clothes in front of the full-length mirror on the closet door. While glaring disapprovingly at an ill-fitting button-up shirt and slacks, he noticed a pair of white glasses on top of his bedside dresser behind him, reflected in the mirror. A chill ran up his spine; he didn't wear glasses. He whipped around and finally saw the shape huddled into his bed. He dropped his clothes and shrieked like a five-year old girl.
It was Yumi.
She was passed out on her stomach, tucked under the blanket, head turned in Andy's direction. She stirred at the sound of his surprised yelp. Her eyelids opened sluggishly, like they were pulling apart peanut butter. Then her chestnut-colored eyes wandered until they slowly came to focus on Andy. His breath snagged in his throat while goosebumps ran rampant across every inch of his skin like a prairie fire. He whispered her name, voice trembling.
And of course, that's when the towel around his hips decided to drop to the floor like the unveiling of a magic trick. The first thing Yumi saw in Praxis was Andy's shriveled twig and berries just a few feet from her face. Andy panicked, screaming once again and bolting out of his bedroom in a tumble of wet, naked limbs. He didn't even have the wherewithal to snatch up the towel from the floor. He cowered in the hallway, flushed red as a tomato, gasping for air. Water dripped from his hair onto his bare shoulders, nagging little reminders of his nakedness. He was mortified—this was not how Andy had pictured his glorious reunion with Yumi.
"H-hey, Yumi," he stammered. "Uh, how are you doing?"
He stuck his head around the doorframe and ventured a peek. Yumi was sitting up in bed now, fumbling for the glasses on top the dresser. She pushed them onto her face and gazed around the room, eyes bulging in disbelief.
Andy's knees buckled at the sight of her. He couldn't believe it. There she was, in his bed, no less. A scenario he had envisioned way more times than he cared to admit. He rubbed his eyes to be sure they weren't seeing things. But he quickly pulled his hands away. If this was a dream, he didn't want to wake up.
"Hey, listen," he said. "I'm really sorry about, uh, you know... I didn't realize you were there. They must have brought you in while I was in the shower."
Yumi rubbed the sleep from her eyes beneath her glasses and gazed wildly around the cell again. Andy smiled with empathy seeing through Yumi how confused and astonished he must have looked when he first took in this eerie habitat.
"It's actually real," she muttered breathlessly. She stared at the enormous viewing window and the empty hallway beyond. "This is really happening... And you're here, just like she said you'd be..."
Andy checked his junk and rambled nervously. "Hey, I just want you to know, I'm not normally this... I mean, you know, it's a little chilly in here so... I swear, normally, I'm much more... Well, maybe not in girth, but--"
"Ow!" Yumi dropped her head into her hands and doubled over in pain.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Andy asked.
Yumi grimaced and kneaded her temples. "My head is killing me," she groaned.
Then Andy remembered. "Oh, right... Welcome to the wonderful world of tuning. Don't worry, it'll wear off in a little while."
Yumi swept the blanket aside and sat up on the edge of the mattress, pulling her feet to the floor. Just like Andy, she had been dumped into bed with her shoes still on. In Yumi's case, a pair of well-worn burgundy suede scrunch boots, her favorite. She was also wearing a familiar eggshell colored top, lined with pale blue horizontal pinstripes, over a wool skirt and black stockings. Ruffled by the blanket, her clothes clung to her like crumpled tissues. At the foot of the bed lay her mustard yellow Fjallraven backpack which she wore everywhere.
Yumi's eyes darted to various things in Andy bedroom. "This... This is crazy! It looks exactly like your room at your parents' place back home..."
"Oh man, I've got so much to tell you," Andy said. "I don't even know where to begin..."
Yumi gazed down at the floor and muttered to herself. "That tall girl was telling the truth... She really was an alien...!"
A chill nipped at Andy's balls. "But first... Uh, Yumi, do you think maybe you could close your eyes for a like two minutes while I jump in there and grab something from my closet?"
Yumi waved him in impatiently. "What's wrong with you? Just get in here and get dressed. It's not like I've never seen your pruney dinklage before."
Andy cocked his head in bewilderment. "Huh?" He couldn't tell whether or not she was joking.
"Oh! What am I doing?" she blurted suddenly. She pulled out a small laptop from her backpack and began typing frantically. "I can't lose my first reaction to all this! I've got to get it all down while it's still fresh in my mind."
Andy took advantage of this diversion and bolted for the closet, his hands around his family jewels like lettuce wrap around Korean barbeque. Inside the closet, he saw that a bunch of Yumi's clothes had been replicated and added to the hangers.
"Hey, what happened to your contacts, Yumi?" Andy yanked his bathrobe off its hanger and threw it on. "I don't think I've ever seen you with glasses before. Not that I'm complaining! You look, uh, really cute in glasses actually."
Yumi was so engrossed in her writing, however, she didn't seem to hear anything he said. But the clickety clack of the keyboard sounded like music to Andy. It was a sound created by another human being in his cell, and it was beautiful. He was so happy just to see her here with him, he didn't mind waiting patiently for her to stop typing. And he winced with sympathy whenever her face twisted against the intermittent throb of her headache.
Andy's hands fell to his sides as he watched her lovingly. He drank in every split end of her half-bleached bob, every familiar curve of her round face, every nuance of her lean, feminine fingers gliding over the keyboard. He felt a well of emotion bubbling up, ready to overflow at any moment. Finally, after a couple minutes of intense typing, she closed the laptop and looked up at Andy.
"Oh yeah, and before I forget," she said, "I have something for you, Andy."
She slid off the bed and slowly padded over to him.
"Oh yeah?" Andy asked eagerly. "What's th..."
His breath escaped him as she tenderly placed her hands on either side of his face. Yumi looked up at him with hooded eyes and leaned in. Andy could feel her breath drawing close, hot and heavy. His heart pounded against his ribs. Then, centimeters before their faces met, she dug her nails into his face, and rammed her knee into his groin with the force of a SUV. Andy dropped to the floor with a sickening thud.
Yumi loomed over him, eyes ablaze. "It’s over, Andy!" she shrieked. "I mean it this time. You hear me? It’s over! You’ve broken my heart for the last time!"
The wind was completely knocked out of him. Andy could barely breath, let alone speak. And the excruciating, inexorable clench of pain from his nuts steadily spread to the rest of his body.
"Wh... What...," is all Andy could manage to wheeze before Yumi cut him off.
"Don’t! I swear to god, if I have to hear one more lie come out that mouth, I’m going to puke. I mean it!" Her eyes glistened with fury and anguish. Her hands, balled up into fists, were trembling at her sides.
Andy crumpled into the fetal position, reeling from shock and confusion as much as from the pain. A pool of hot slobber gathered between the side of his face and the carpet. He squinted through a teary eye at a frightening, pitiful Yumi he had never seen before. She was shaking like a nuclear power plant about to crack. Andy rasped some incoherent words before Yumi exploded into another tirade.
"You thought I wouldn’t find out?" she wailed. "Just how stupid do you think I am? Goddamn it, she’s like a sister to me! How could you?"
Andy coughed and finally managed to catch a breath. "What... What the hell are you talking about?" he gasped.
She stomped her foot near his face. "Stop it! Just once in your life, stop with the bullshit! I know all about you and Alicia, okay?"
"I-- What? Wait, Alicia? Your roommate? I have no idea what you’re talking about! We barely know each other!"
Yumi howled with rage. "Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up!" Then, like someone trying to kill a giant cockroach, she stomped Andy into the floor. He cowered under his arms, begging her to stop. Then all at once, she dropped to the floor like a broken kite falling from the sky. She threw her face into her hands as a great rush of tears burst from her eyes.
"What the hell is wrong with me?" she sobbed. "When will I ever learn?"
Then a familiar, cheery voice rang into the room. "Great pick, Andy Go. She looks like a real fertile female!"
Andy rolled over and saw Dash, leaning in through the service window. Her head was cradled adoringly in her hands like she was watching a cute cartoon. Andy dragged his battered body across the room and pulled himself up by the sill of the square hole. His head was ringing and he ached everywhere.
"Dash," he croaked. "What... What is going on?"
She blinked. "What do you mean? I brought you Yumi Kwon, just like you asked me to."
"Yeah, but... What did you do to her? What did you tell her? She-- I have no idea what she's talking about...!"
Yumi's head snapped up from her hands. Her glasses were foggy with tears.
"God, you are so pathetic," she sniffled. "Do you ever stop? Just man up once in your life and admit what you did!"
Dash looked around nervously, avoiding eye contact with Andy. "I have no idea what you mean, Andy Go. That’s Yumi Kwon. From your dimension. Yup, definitely from your dimension."
Andy had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He grabbed Dash's helmet and forced her to lock eyes with him.
"Dash... What the hell is going on here?" He spoke sternly, like a parent trying to extract the truth from a lying child. "What did you do? Tell me exactly what you did."
Dash sighed. "Okay... Well, I went back to your dimension to recruit Yumi Kwon but she wasn’t home. Her roommate told me she was on a trip to another continent. Somewhere called 'Europe' if I remember correctly... Well, there was no way I was going to track her down at that point." Yumi slowly lifted her head and stared at Dash through her bangs, a terrible realization dawning on her stricken face. Dash pointed at Yumi. "So I went to a ringer dimension and recruited this Yumi Kwon instead."
Andy's jaw fell.
"What?" He and Yumi exclaimed simultaneously.
Andy staggered backward, thunderstruck. "S-so she’s not my Yumi?" he sputtered.
Dash shrugged. "Well, for all intents and purposes she should be! I told you, I recruited her from a ringer dimension."
Yumi bustled up to the window, pushing up her glasses.
"What does that mean?" she demanded. "Why do you keep saying 'ringer dimension' like it’s common knowledge?"
"Oh yeah, I keep forgetting I have to explain every little thing to you humans," Dash muttered. "Look, there are an infinite number of alternate realities. Some are drastically different like yours and mine. And some are virtually identical -- we've dubbed such twin worlds 'ringer dimensions.' You know, like a 'dead ringer.' Well, you two come from ringer dimensions. Same evolutionary pattern, same wars, same everything."
Yumi and Andy stared at each other. They were stricken with the eeriest sensation, like they were seeing each other for the first time... again.
Dash turned to Andy and grinned. "And just so everything aligned perfectly, I made sure the Yumi I recruited was your girlfriend in the ringer dimension as well. There were lots of alternate realities where you were a complete loser and couldn’t even ask her out. Can you imagine? Pathetic!" She snickered like a little girl.
Andy slowly lowered his head into his hands, groaning woefully. "Oh god."
Yumi shook her head like she was trying to dislodge a bee buzzing inside her skull. "Wait a minute... So you’re telling me this isn’t Andy Go? I mean, the Andy Go I’ve been going out with for the last three years?"
"Well, technically, no," Dash admitted. "But close enough."
Andy exploded. "Close enough? Close enough?"
"This Yumi has the exact same DNA as the Yumi in your dimension, Andy Go!" Dash flailed her arms in protest. "What difference does it make?"
"What difference--!" Andy was foaming at the mouth, so appalled he couldn't even sputter a full sentence. "Are you-- How can-- What--"
"Well, I didn’t think you’d find out!" she wailed defensively.
Andy nearly yanked out a handful of hair in bitter rage. He pointed a thumb at Yumi. "And what about her? You didn’t think she’d care either?"
"I was desperate, Andy Go," Dash whimpered. "Look, I just want to learn how to draw, okay?"
Before Andy could shoot off another retort, D86’s voice ripped into the cell like shrapnel.
"B101! Get over here! We need to get going." He called from the depths of the corridor behind Dash.
Dash jumped. "Oops, there’s my dad! Well, I gotta run, Andy Go! You two have fun!" Dash shot Andy an exaggerated wink and giggled into her hands.
Andy lunged at the window. "Dash! You have to take her back!"
"Now, B101!" D86 hollered.
Dash scuttled backward and hit the switch. "I’ll talk to you later, Andy Go! Bye!" Her beaming face was the last thing Andy saw inside the corridor before the wall rushed in to fill the opening.
"Dash! No!" he howled. He pounded his fists against the sealed wall, flailing with impotent rage. When no response came, he slid down the wall like a lump of snot. "No...," he croaked.
Yumi's footstep approached until her shadow brooded over Andy. He turned and looked up pitifully.
"Okay, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do," she said. "Whoever you are..."
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