[CORTISOL: 20 mg/dL]
He glanced at the bedside table. 6:58 am.
She should wake up at any minute now.
He propelled himself out of bed and carefully stood amidst the shadows of the room, peering eagerly into the window across the narrow street. Momentarily, a lithe figure slipped into and out of sight. A flash of lilac. Unruly auburn hair. And she was gone. Satisfied, he rolled back into bed and waited for his alarm at 7:15 am.
[HEART RATE: 141 BPM]
The spike told him it was just past 5:00 pm. She would run for 30 minutes then switch to resistance training. He was used to the pattern of intersecting graphs that defined her afternoon workouts. The rise in heart rate, cortisol, breathing. The drop in glucose. The myriad other lines that he had grown to know so well.
He sighed and closed the tab. The modish Biovitalitics logo glared incriminatingly at him from the screen. It wasn’t his fault the company had such lax security precautions. After all, he had been hired as an analyst. He simply worked overtime, all day every day.
[OXYTOCIN: 1.92 mcU/mL]
He chuckled nervously. Of course she would watch a rom-com on a Friday night. Finding out which one had been simple enough. The difficult part had been timing the start of his movie to hers so they could watch it together, apart.
He had never particularly understood the attraction of cheesy lines and blubbering actresses. It was one of the few things he did not comprehend. Emotions always fluctuated so unpredictably, both on and off the screen. Sometimes emotions would be directed at him. At times like these, he would talk to Martin, his laptop. The language made more sense. He glanced down periodically at the red line gliding across his smartwatch. He was glad she had received the BioProbe 3.0, with higher time resolution than any other competitor on the market. He tried to focus on the movie, but her responses were more captivating. The sharp fall, the gradual rise. His Friday night became one-dimensional as he followed the peaks and troughs duplicated live from his work computer 23.84 km away.
[BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE: 36.1 °C]
He knew it, even if she didn’t. Her cycles and habits felt like second nature to him. He had worked so hard to gain mastery of her physiology.
It was strangely satisfying.
Sometimes he would wake up in the night and watch her breathing next to him. The fourteen characteristic peaks per minute, steady and slow, calmed him in a way that nothing else could. Hugging his modified pillow, packed with electronic components left over from his first grade science fair project and wirelessly linked to his smartwatch, he would fall asleep with the gentle vibrations of her heart beating against his chest.
But tonight the nightmares visited her instead.
It alarmed him – the unpredictable tangles of lines and colors, the rattling of her heart in his arms. The chaos of the data that he could not control. Utterly powerless, he leapt out of bed and stared at her window, trying to penetrate the inscrutable darkness of that perfect square. [BLOOD PRESSURE: 144/91 mmHg]
It irked him, as much as he hated to admit it. The small spikes in blood pressure that had started to occur once every few days, with high variance. They were usually accompanied by spikes in heart rate. He could think of no explanation. It didn’t make sense. Nothing else had changed much at all. Scrolling through her history, he could perhaps detect a slight increase in basal oxytocin levels. Then again, she fell on the more emotional side of the spectrum. It was probably just random fluctuations and inaccuracy associated with the BioProbe, nothing to worry about.
He summarized her monthly health data and sent it off to the Clinicians Department. They were the face of Biovitalitics, but he was the backbone. The company would need five analysts to match his efficiency. They knew it and he knew it. He didn’t interact with his colleagues, but vaguely sensed a subtle stiffening of the air whenever he walked into a room. That was confirmation enough. The stability of his job was an implicit agreement. He savored that knowledge with quiet satisfaction.
[EPINEPHRINE: 549 pg/mL]
He paused. Something wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be so stressed on a Friday afternoon. A barrage of polite and not-so-polite coughs reminded him that it was time to get out of the elevator. Still puzzled, he absent-mindedly approached his car and managed to fasten his seat belt before he noticed the car parked beside his.
A Honda Fit. Glossy aquamarine. That 4.6 centimeter scratch right beneath the door handle.
The blood drained from his already pale, sun-starved face and coagulated in his rapidly warming palms as his eyes locked onto the figure behind the wheel. He absorbed every curve and angle of her face. How the sun’s setting rays set her dark eyes in deep shadow.
His lungs failed to cooperate.
The dread in his stomach grew tentacles and strangled his aorta. How had he forgotten? It had been four weeks since her last appointment at Biovitalitics. His memory had failed him as readily as her car had failed to start. He watched her throw up her hands in frustration and exhale deeply as she deftly swung out of the car.
This is my chance.
Had he not been dreaming about her for the past 14 months? But now that she was an arm’s reach away, he was suddenly paralyzed from the neck down. Forcibly gulping down some air, he defrosted his fingers and willed himself to unbuckle his seat belt. Slowly, painfully, he pried open his door and unloaded himself onto the seemingly fluid ground.
A pause. “…Would you like some help?”
Another pause. “Oh…yes, that would be lovely…I really need to be somewhere in half an hour and my car isn’t starting…”
“…I could give you a ride.” Suspended breathing.
“That would be too much trouble, could you just take a look at –“ “I know where you live.” Silence.
Fuck. Game over. How had that slipped out? “I mean er…I actually live across the road from you. Directly across. I’ve seen you around.” Nervous laugh.
Narrowed eyes. 11-degree head tilt. “You mean…you live in East Lanning?” “Yes.” He could see the gears turning in her head. Who was this guy?
She glanced at her watch. Bit her lip. “Okay…I would really appreciate a ride actually. Thanks.”
[BLOOD GLUCOSE: 136 mg/dL]
They drove in silence. Every cell in his body felt self-conscious. Uneventful seconds ticked by, each one an eternity in the blink of an eye.
He stole a glance at his smartwatch. [HEART RATE: 76 BPM]. At least she was more relaxed now. “So…what sort of BioProbe do you have?”
“Ah. The latest model.” He nodded as if he had just been informed for the first time.
They stopped at a red light. She glanced at her watch. Clicked her tongue subconsciously.
[CORTISOL: 12 mg/dL]. She’s worried about running late. He figured she must normally be a very punctual person. It bothered him that he hadn’t known that before. She was everything he’d expected, but everything he hadn’t. “Important commitment tonight?” He tried to sound casual.
“Um, yeah…a first date actually.”
[OXYTOCIN: 2.17 mcU/mL].
He twitched involuntarily. Thank god they were stopped in traffic. When had this development occurred? How had he not known about it? An inexplicable anger flared up inside him. He knew everything about her, down to the smallest of details. Her sweet tooth that caused the glucose spike right before bed. Her propensity for sunbathing which kept her vitamin D levels healthy. He felt betrayed, but by what? She wasn’t obliged to keep him updated on her life; hell, she hadn’t even known of his existence until today. But the rage in his heart refused to be quenched. He choked the wheel with his spindly grip. It all made sense now. The irrational physiological spikes every other day. Goddamnit. The BioProbe 3.0 really was the best product out there.
[BLOOD PRESSURE: 136/88 mmHg]. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Seemed to sense the tension he was radiating. And she hadn’t even needed to hack his BioProbe.
Presently he pulled up on her driveway. He expected to see someone suave and polished. Romantic, charming. Well-built, attractive, everything that he wasn’t. There stood a girl.
[CORTISOL: 20 mg/dL]
He glanced at the bedside table. 6:58 am.
Somewhere within that dark window, she got up.
But her lines were different. The patterns had changed. Or had they?
Under the dim rays of the rising sun, he paused the readout. Pulled out Martin. Put last year’s data on repeat.
He loved her.