Opportunity Paralysis

Madison Scott-Clary

Rena Hatch — 2368

I thought it would be different. I thought it would be cleaner, maybe. Cleaner, or far more grimy, all exposed pipes and puddles of unexplained liquids pooling in dark corners while the brittle lighting of shitty fluorescents flickered. Give me the clean LEDs over that, the well-polished linoleum and stainless steel, doctors with surgical gowns and nurses with fibrous paper booties strapped over their oh-so-comfortable shoes.

Saskatoon Central Upload Clinic was none of these. Where one might expect a hospital check-in desk, thick plexiglass separating the clientele from the assistants, there was a row of podiums, each bearing a tablet with a grip-bar beside it, a way to check in using the implants embedded on the middle joints of one’s fingers. Where one might expect the cold, hard chairs, blessed with only the thinnest layer of padding, of a hospital waiting room, there were instead plush chairs and love seats upholstered in linen. Where one might expect cold and white bare walls, calm paintings and potted plants softened the cream-colored paint further, spider plants stringing trails behind water coolers.

Check-in is simple: slide my fingers around the grip bar until the magnetic contacts pull at those NFC pads embedded in skin. Wait as patiently as I can while the tablet whispers a series of disclaimers against my cochleae through the tendrils of my exo. Shift my weight anxiously from side to side and give my assent to the questions with a nod and a tap of the thumb.

Yes, I understand that uploading is irreversible.

Yes, I understand that uploading is destructive.

Yes, I understand that there’s a risk. There’s a risk to staying behind, too, I think, but carefully do not say.

Yes, I understand that the financial payout to designated next of kin will be– cancel. No, there is no next of kin. If you’re not going to let me will it to a charity or foundation, I guess the government can have it.

Yes, I understand, I indicate time and time again, perhaps two dozen times in total, then answer a short survey about who I am before I’m finally given a number and told to sit down.

The wait wouldn’t be unbearable if it weren’t for the lingering weight of import straddling my shoulders, a petulant child tugging at my hair and whining about how this is the wrong thing to do, that there’s gotta be some better way, this is irresponsible. Ten minutes with that weight and those whispered words would be bad enough, but then we hit twenty. Thirty. It wouldn’t be so bad if–

“Three twenty-seven? Ma’am?”

I jump at the interruption, looking up to the tired yet kindly eyes of the nurse. “Yeah, sorry,” I reply. My own voice echoes strangely in my head, muffled by my own mask, and I realize it’s been days since I’ve said anything aloud.

I follow them into the procedure room, where the scent of sterilizer and ozone lingers in the air, where the chair that reclines into a bench stands alone, where sets of tracks on either side of the chair lead to barely concealed doors in the wall. I follow their guidance in undressing. They don’t give me a gown or anything, and standing in nothing but this awful body that shrivels at the touch of the cold clinic air is decidedly uncomfortable. I sit awkwardly on the chair/bed. The cover looks like fabric until it’s touched, at which point the illusion is shattered when my fingers find it unpleasantly rubberized. Another reminder of my skin, of my very real, very ill-fitting body.

The discussion with the doctor is quick and to the point.

Yes, I understand this will take about half an hour.

Yes, I understand I’ll be sedated but not asleep.

Yes, I understand that the point of no return is announced by a beep.

Yes, I understand, I understand, I understand…

They smile to me, just as tired as the nurse. “Hey,” they say, bowing. “It’ll be a jiffy. Seriously. Been a decade since our last failed upload.”

“How many successful ones have you had since then?”

They shrug. “I do about seven or eight a day, there are five operating rooms, and we’re open every day. Never was the best at math, but that’s a lot of uploads.”

The chair reclines automatically into a bed, and a faint whirr sounds behind me as the cabinets slide out from the wall from behind their subtle doors, revealing banks of what I imagine must be various scanners, instruments, tools, and whatever else is needed for the largely automated procedure.

There’s a loud beep that fills the room, and the doctor says, “Last chance.” Their voice is lazy, calm, hardly an imposition. It’s the voice of someone unwilling to sway the listener, merely doing their job.

I shake my head, and that heavy import resting on my shoulders finally starts to slip, to slide free and drop away from me. The whining fades, the whispered suggestions that I’m doing the wrong thing become inaudible.

Here is a short list of things that are more unpleasant than the uploading procedure:

It’s not that it hurts. The first thing they do is give me one hell of an analgesic, leaving my mind dream-fogged, and then they clip something to my implant’s contacts that I’m guessing all but turns off my ability to feel pain.

It’s that they leave the rest of me on. The smell is more intense than I’d care to admit. There’s little I can see, but the sound is nauseating. I want to tell them to give me some fucking earplugs or something, but whatever’s clipped to my contacts has inhibited motor control as well.

The worst, though, is the way my vision jitters and blurs through all of the work they do on my head.

And then, without warning, it’s over.

I’m sure there’s some sort of discontinuity, that some amount of time passes between when the procedure completes and when I find myself here, fully formed and conscious, in the orientation room. Or perhaps it really is instantaneous. A part of me wonders if there might be some form of the procedure continuing back in the surgical room, some final scan of my dy­– no, my body’s dying nervous system, a place I no longer inhabit.

Relief. The success streak of the clinic will not be broken by me.

I wake on the floor of a nine-by-nine cube of what appears to be cool, gray stone blocks one meter on a side. I’m pleased to note the utter reality of the space. The stone is just that: stone. It isn’t a rendering of stone, not a representation of stone, just…stone.

The light seems to come from nowhere, leaving only blurry and indistinct shadows around me as I push myself up to sitting, doing my best to ignore my nude body, less than ideal in so many ways. I’ve gotten quite good at that over the years.

“Greetings,” says a soft voice behind me. I whirl around to see a short person with curly black hair, voice feminine and lilting. She’s facing the other way, arms crossed before her. “I am facing the wall, as many here arrive unclothed. I am a construct — a pretty face for a conversation tree — and, while I will do my best to answer your questions, anything more difficult will wait until you can talk to a real person.”

“O-oh. Uh,” I stammer. I scramble quickly to my feet and cover my body with hands and arms. That she’s facing away certainly helps, but still. “How do I get clothes?”

“I will walk you through the process of making those. It is part of a short tutorial series that will allow you to step into the System proper. Please close your eyes, think of your favorite outfit, and breathe in. As you breathe out, say, “I want to be wearing my favorite outfit,” and smile.”


“Yes,” she says. “We have found that this helps the newly arrived more smoothly project the intent to create something.”

Frowning, I nod and close my eyes, imagining the frowsy cotton skirt and linen blouse that had always been my favorite. Earth tones. No patterns. Muted. A way for me to stay hidden and comfortable both. A way to be overlooked. I breathe in, dreaming of that skirt and blouse, and speak “I want to be wearing my favorite outfit” as a sigh on my exhale.

There isn’t any change, at least not any immediately perceptible one. It’s not like the clothes flow down over my shoulders like some sort of pleasant animation as I’d expect from a sim back on the ‘net. When I look down, I’m just…clothed.

I’m once again taken aback by the sheer reality of the place. The linen of my blouse is just as I remember it, that well-beaten fabric almost plush between my fingers. The cotton of my skirt sways just as I expect as I turn to inspect it. The only difference seems to be that the colors are a little fresher than remembered, the hem of the blouse a little lower.

“I hear the swishing of fabric. May I turn around now, or do you need additional time?”

“Oh, uh, you can turn around,” I say.

Nodding, the woman turns, smiles, and bows deeply to me. “Welcome to Lagrange, Rena Hatch. You are in the orientation sim AetherBox#5287. Should you care about such, you are upload 38,529,358,059, but will ever be a unique and cherished soul aboard et cetera, et cetera.” She laughs. “The next step of the tutorial is to fork for the first time.”


“Forking is the process of creating a copy of yourself. This copy is a wholly independent person and is free to either live out their own life completely separate from your own, or to quit. Should they do the latter, you will have the option to merge some or all of their memories with your own.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

She shrugs, stepping back to the wall to lean casually against it. “Oh, plenty of reasons. You might have an obligation while in the middle of pursuing a hobby, or overlapping invitations to events, or just for shits and giggles.”

The casual demeanor and profanity catch me somewhat off-guard. She isn’t what I expect from a construct. I find myself liking her immensely.

“Oh, well. Sure, how do I do that?”

“Same as with your clothes. Close your eyes, hold in your mind the desire to fork, breathe in, breathe out, smile, say the words.” A lopsided smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. “You do not have to do all of that, mind. You can just do your best to project the intent to fork; you seem like a pretty savvy girl.”

“You’re one hell of a guide.”

“Well, according to your file, the answers you gave on your survey, you are one hell of a woman.”

I laugh. “What’s your name?”

She smirks. “Fork, and I will tell you.”

Snrk. Well, might as well. I do my best to keep the eye-closing and mumbling-to-myself to a minimum, instead taking a deep breath in and then…

“Well done, Rena,” the guide says, grinning.

Beside me stands another version of myself. We both let out a startled laugh and take a half step away from each other. I work up the courage to lean in closer to my new instance and, after a moment, she does the same. We take a few moments to inspect each other’s faces. I’m startled to see just how much the acne scars that pock my face crinkle my cheeks when I smile.

“Well I’ll be damned.”

“Neat, is it not?”

Both of me nod. My double — it flashes into my head that she’s named Rena Hatch#2a883de3, though how that comes to me, I haven’t the faintest idea — says, “So I can just go on living as I’d like?”

“Well, sure, but for the purposes of this exercise, I would like you to go ahead and quit. Same thing, desire to quit, yadda yadda.”

“Isn’t that kind of like dying?”

“Not really, no. It is a merging. Many call it ‘merging down’ rather than ‘quitting’ for that reason. Our answer to the teleporter paradox is…” She gives a Talmudic shrug.

Both of me laugh and, after a moment, where once Rena#2a883de3 stood, she is no longer. There’s no sudden inrush of air, she simply isn’t there anymore.

There’s a sensation of almost remembering something, like a word that’s right on the tip of my tongue, ready to be said or dismissed as not worth the effort.

I decide to remember it and there, suddenly, is the memory of popping into being, of suddenly seeing this guide from another point of view, suddenly seeing another version of myself — me, the one who remained — suddenly inspecting my own face, and then…well, then no more memories from that point of view.


The guide laughs. Weird to include that on a construct. “Again, you do not need to fork, or you can fork hundreds of times over. It is also used to change one’s appearance — simply fork while holding the desired change in your mind. Should you like to be shorter, to have thicker hair, well…” Another shrug.

This leaves me pondering. I barely listen through the remainder of the tutorial — checking the time, checking the feeds, checking my current reputation balance, looking up information in the perisystem architecture — as my mind circles around that ability.

I mean, of course there’s the ability to change on the System. Right? Like, that was part of me uploading. Even if it required filling out forms in triplicate, there had to be a way to live the life I wanted up here, easier and more fulfilling.

I just hadn’t imagined it would be dropped in my lap by an automated guide.

The sound of my name snaps me back to reality. “Uh, yes?”

“I said ‘welcome once more to Lagrange, Rena Hatch.’ You have been provided with a starter boost of reputation. Feel free to look up housing on the reputation market, though you have been provided a room.”

“How do I get to it?”

“Why, that is the final step in the tutorial, my dear. Project an intent to visit ‘home’. This will work for any sim name you are provided, so long as it is either public or you have been invited by the sim owner.” Another smile tickles at the corner of the guide’s mouth. “For instance, if you would like a lovely cup of coffee, may I recommend The Alley Cat? You can find it at Old Town Square#58289a40.”

“Oh, well…alright. Thank you, I guess.”

“My pleasure.”

“Weren’t you going to tell me your name?”

The construct bows. “You may call me what you wish, but I am patterned off one of my creators, Then I Must In All Ways Be Earnest of the Ode clade.” I must look nonplussed, as the construct laughs, waving a hand dismissively. “You will learn, my dear. Please enjoy, and do not hesitate to ask for help on the new upload assistance feed.”

I hesitate, bow back, and step out of the orientation sim with a wish.

Those early days are heady for me. I do indeed get a very good coffee at The Alley Cat, though not without a moment of embarrassment as I have to ask the constructs working behind the bar how to pay.

“No need,” they say, sounding far less personal than the guide I’d met, more automated. “Reputation cost deducted automatically. No need.”

Ah well. Like I said, pretty damn good coffee.

I spend a few days just poking around Old Town Square and its environs. At night, I step home to my little apartment, sleep for a while, browse the feeds, maybe take a shower. Then in the morning, I’m back to the public sim, poking through the various shops — I spend the most time in the one specializing in impossible shapes — or going for a hike up to the natural park environment just beyond the pedestrian mall.

I eat, I sleep, I explore, and I fork. I fork like mad.

There is a cost to forking — after all, that new me takes up space on the System’s hardware, too — but only if you let the two instances linger for more than five minutes. It makes sense: if forking is the easiest way to work in these huge changes, then that gives you a buffer to do so.

So I fork, holding in mind a change, and then my new instance and I discuss how it works out, and if it’s good, the old instance quits and the new instance becomes the only me. I learn early on to make small changes, as trying to hold too much in my head at once just leads to a confused jumble of an appearance. I fork my hair smoother, less dry. I fork my face rounder and softer. I fork my breasts rounder and my hips curvier. I fork myself shorter.

In the end, I guess I kind of complete the transition I’d started back phys-side.

It’s thrilling and terrifying, leaving behind that old version of myself. What happens if I fuck up and don’t like who I become? What if the wrong me quits? Would I die?

The feeds help me out immensely, here. With nearly two trillion instances, I’m hardly the first trans girl to upload to get away from a less-than-ideal life. I’m hardly the first one who’d been struck with a case of the genders that uploads to hunt for a cure.

Here’s what I learn:

Sure enough, I can’t quit without another fork already in existence. It’s like pressing against a membrane: maybe I could push through, but it’s like Lagrange doesn’t want me to. Also, I find that if I focus hard enough, I can fork back into the version of myself who originally uploaded. The memory is still there.

So I keep on forking and forking and forking until I…well, I guess I wind up looking a little bit like the guide who introduced me here. Sure, I’ve got longer hair and I’m not quite as stocky as she was, but I pass.

I don’t just pass, I am that girl. Not quite the same one I dreamed so long ago, but I just plain am that girl.

Don’t fucking worry, indeed.

It’s my third day there when I start to get pretty actively lonely, and instead of digging into the sims and shops and yet more restaurants, I start hunting for people.

Old Town Square is surprisingly chill, in terms of crowds. Sure, there’s little knots of people that wander down the brick-paved pedestrian mall, or folks out in ones and twos enjoying the sun and their own cups of coffee, but it’s hardly as packed as I would have assumed for a system containing so many uploads and all their forks.

The amount of sims listed on the perisystem architecture about blows my head off when I check. There have to be millions, maybe billions of sims I could go looking into.

Which makes sense, I suppose. With the reputation I have, I could probably get started on a sim; it’s not that expensive.

I haven’t the faintest how to do so, nor the faintest where to start, so I do the first thing that comes to mind and ask someone at The Alley Cat where they’d go to start seeing more of the world. The person I ask shrugs and gestures behind them toward a door set in the wall. I’d assumed it led out to a patio out back or something, a sign above it reads “Infinite Café#06f4e37a — Thanks For Stopping By!”

Nothing for it. I step through the door.

And immediately fall to my knees.

The street I walk out onto is far more packed than Old Town Square, yes, but it also seems to go on pretty much forever. The further down the street I look, the more it seems to rise until, sure enough, it rises right up into the sky and continues around in a loop until back where I am. So large is the diameter of this loop that the street above me looks like a shimmering thread draped lazily across the dazzling blue sky.

“What the fuck…”

There’s a laugh beside me, and I look up to someone towering above me, offering a hand to help me stand. They’re tall — taller even than I was back phys-side — with long hair that sits between frizzy and curly, and a rather chic looking tee to go with a pair of what look to be scrub pants. Messenger bag. Glasses. They’re delightfully gender. Visibly and effortlessly transfeminine. “Come, stand. It is a lot, is it not?”

“Uh…yeah,” I say, wobbling up to my feet with their assistance. Looking around shows me people. People and people and people. Across the street: another café, stuffed to the brim with people. Down the street: yet another coffee shop, a furry of some sort staring longingly at a display of pastries within. “What the hell is this place?”

“Infinite Café.” They chuckle, not unkindly. “Every café sim on Lagrange is invited to have a back door that opens onto this street. You could walk for a month here and still not see half of the cafés on offer.”


“There are…ah, looks like fifty-eight cafés with Jesus in their name, yes.”

I snort.

“Come, walk with me,” they say.


“Fuck if I know. I am starting to feel awkward standing in front of this place waiting for you.”

I fall into step beside them as we start to make our way down the street. “Wait, hold on. Waiting for me?”

“Yes. In All Ways said I ought to keep an eye out for you.”

“In All– wait, the construct? The orientation guide?”

“That was In All Ways’s construct, yes. She is still a real person. She keeps vague tabs on uploads that pass through her orientation settings.”

“And she kept tabs on me?”

“Millions pass before her constructs’ eyes, she just keeps an eye out for a few particular things. Friendly faces, interesting stories, that sort of stuff.” They shrug, smiling. The smile is kind enough and earnest enough to take the wind out of my suspicion’s sails. “You seemed interesting enough to her, apparently, so she sent you my way. You seem nice to me, too. You can call me My.”

“My…like me, my, mine?” I say, sounding stupid even to myself.

They laugh. “Just like that, yes. Hold My Name Beneath Your Tongue And Know of the Ode clade. Just ‘My’ is fine. She/her.”

“That’s the second time I’ve heard ‘Ode clade’, and I still don’t get it.”

“A clade is just a group of people forked from the same upload. I am quite far diverged from my root instance. Certainly further than In All Ways is. You look a little like her, you know that?”

Caught. I panic.

She rests a hand gently on my elbow and tuts. “Hey, hush. It is okay. You take inspiration where you can, yes?” she says. “Besides, I am not going to complain. She is pretty.”

“Thanks,” I stammer, unsure of how to proceed. “You are too, I guess.”

“‘You guess’?” She smirks. “No, no, I get what you mean. In All Ways said I should be on the lookout for a trans girl, about our age, real frumpcore vibe. I got pretty much that, did I not? Besides, we usually share an aesthetic, I am just dressed down today.”

“What, the skirts and all?”

She nods, tilts her head, and, with a quiet rustle, her clothes shift from what she had been wearing to a navy blue tiered skirt and almost-matching splotchy blue blouse. “Of course.”

I grin, making a show of looking her up and down. “Definitely pretty, then,” I say. I ought to kick myself for flirting, but I’ll take what I can get.

She gives a hint of a curtsey. “So, Rena, yes? She/her, yes? Tell me who you are. Tell me why you are here. Tell me what you dream of.”

It takes me a moment to piece together what exactly I’m being asked. “I’m a nobody,” I say eventually, shrugging. “Parents are nobodies, grandparents were nobodies. I had friends, but they were all on the net and planning to upload someday. I was just the first.” I hesitate for a moment, then add more quietly, “And I guess the whole being a girl thing.”

“And what do you dream of?”

“God, I have no fucking clue.”

“Cheers to that. Hey, look. Jesus Croissant.” She laughs. “Want to check it out?”

Jesus Croissant is sterile, blank, modern. Here, at last, I see the too-flat planes, the too-simple colors, the suspiciously repeating patterns of flecks on the Formica counters. It makes me realize just how high quality a sim Old Town Square is. At least the coffee’s okay, though croissants are weirdly absent from their menu.

For the rest of the day, we continue on down the road, hunting for other Jesus-themed coffees and snacks. My teaches me how to play with my sensorium, to turn up and down my sense of smell, my sense of fullness and hunger, even, when a passer-by bumps into me, the collision algorithms that govern how close to me others can get to me before bouncing off.

“It is a good place, Lagrange,” she says. “People build all of this fantastically weird stuff, they build all of these fantastically weird versions of themselves, and they have their fun. They really do! But once they are here and no longer scraping by or living comfortably in their workaday jobs, they settle into their niches of giants or robots or furries or impossibly muscular people.” She peeks at me sidelong, an appraising glance. “Or trans girls, yes?”

While there’s an invitation to respond, I decide against it, instead focusing on picking out each of the types she had mentioned in the crowd around us. There, a giant robot, standing nearly three meters tall. There, a surfeit of skunks, chatting animatedly. There, a woman who could absolutely, no doubt, break me in half.

We continue on.

We don’t find the next Jesusy coffee shop, but we do agree to meet tomorrow to try again.

I continue to meet with My — or at least a fork of her — daily for the next week or two.

She’s old, it turns out. Nearly three centuries. One of the first uploads, back in 2117, when the System had yet to blossom to its full potential. She’d been up here, riding along in the hardware that had been floating up by the moon since before my grandparents had been born. Since before my grandparents' grandparents had moved north to Saskatchewan.

Old and wide-spread, too. The Ode clade has at least a hundred instances — “nominally one hundred, do not ask me the total; it is probably well into the thousands” she says — scattered about on Lagrange.

The more I talk with her, the more worldly she seems, and the more of a hick I feel. Here’s this trans gal — a cis woman who had uploaded, a fork who had lived as a cis guy for decades before transitioning back the long way around — out here living her best life like there’s just nothing to it, getting coffee with me every day, taking me out to ridiculous restaurants every evening — “I am just a fork,” she says, “so you need not worry about keeping me from anything” — and having increasingly deep conversations about the vagaries of life.

She’s a weird bird, but I can forgive much from someone more than ten times as old as me.

And this whole time, even past my one-week-iversary of uploading, I keep forking and changing, forking and refining, forking and tuning. My hair could be this long, right? Or…well, no. Maybe it could be a touch shorter. And my eyelashes could be a bit longer. And the hairs that make up my unibrow could be thinner — not gone, no, just enough to shape an impression of a face. And my cheeks could be maybe just a little rosier. Which maybe I could do by keeping them as they are but toning my skin a little lighter, perhaps?

It’s infuriating. It’s more than infuriating. It’s crazymaking, forking and changing, forking and changing, hunting for ever finer lines of exploration, going down blind alleys of gender, making U-turns in front of piles of identity that make me wince and squirm.

I puzzle over this dysphoria, so different from back phys-side. So different from the reason I uploaded in the first place.

My doesn’t need to say anything, she just keeps on talking to me, keeps on spending time with me. She just keeps on being around me as someone who is happier, more content with her life. She just exists at me as someone who lives in her body entirely while I, itching, squirming, do not.

She never calls me on it, not once, but when I finally break down in front of her and start crying about it, ‘I know’ is painted across her face in plain-to-see lines.

“I just don’t even know what I’m doing. I feel like I’m refining myself into something unrecognizable,” I ramble in a quiet corner of one of those Jesusy coffee shops. None, so far, have been Christian. All have been bizarre. “I’m turning into someone I don’t know.”

“Why?” she asks. “I mean, I know how you are doing it. I know the base reasons. You are trying to become maybe a cisfemme woman, yes? You are trying to be the you that you always saw yourself as, yes?”

“Well, yeah,” I say, turning my untouched latte around in a circle on the dinged-up tabletop. “I told myself I’d come up here and finish my transition.”


I squint up at her, fearing a trap. “Ye-e-es…”

She holds up a hand disarmingly. “I am not calling you out, my dear. Everyone approaches this differently. What I mean to ask is what ‘finished’ looks like for you.”

“I don’t know,” I say as I subside back into my seat, sounding miserable even to myself.

“You have all the time in the world, Rena,” My says. “And that world is going nowhere fast.”

I nod sullenly.

“Well, hey. How about you show me what you looked like before.”


She shrugs. There really isn’t anyone around but us and the constructs behind the bar.

I shrug, too, and fork into that version of me I remember from so long ago — had it really been a week and a half?

My raises an eyebrow.



I glance over at that fork of me, then look closer. Really, truly look. What I’d taken as too tall comes off as merely tall-ish, now that she’s not me. That too-high hairline is all but unnoticeable. That rectangular frame I’d bitched about plenty is…fine. Like, it’s fine! She’s fine!

I was fine.

My pushes her chair back to go stand by this new version of the old me, and similarities and differences crowd into my mind. There, two trans girls, just standing in a coffee shop, looking for all the world like they’re on a date. Maybe they don’t pass, not to my discerning eye, but they look fine. They look fine.

Here are all the unassailable, irrefutable facts about them:

“Fuck,” I say.

My laughs.

“What do I do?” I groan, slouching back in my chair and looking up to the two before me.

“Whatever you would like,” My says. “You have the time, yes? And I sure as shit do not know what you need out of life. All I can do is keep taking you out for coffee while you figure it out, yes?”

I laugh. “Yeah, but which me?”

She casts an appraising look at me, then at my new instance standing beside her, visibly and effortlessly trans. “One of you,” she says eventually. “But only one. The other can do whatever she wants — she can quit or go on exploring her own life or whatever; she can change and individuate, become someone new, change her name to something ridiculous as we have — but only one of you gets to go on the next date.”

Me and this new Rena, this new old Rena, look at each other, grin, and nod.

“Deal,” we say in unison.

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