I Was So Much Older Then...bySpinneret©
(Note; this story is a direct sequel to my Old Family, New Friends, and so belongs in the same series -- and the same future world -- as my earlier Restarted parts one and two, Thanks for the Memories, The Transgression Solutions, and Once Bitten, Live Twice. You don't have to have read any of those to understand it, though.)
The cafeteria was open to anyone with legitimate business in the clinic, so the people using it tended to fall into three categories. The clinic staff were obvious enough, the nurses and orderlies in uniform green tunics, the doctors wearing ID badges, and all having a professional, even academic look to them (and usually being engrossed talking technicalities with each other). The Restarted patients were even more obvious, although they wore no badges and their clothes were a random mix of medical-issue basics and fashion choices from across the last eighty years; their gray or part-gray hair and athletic-to-anorexic figures were utterly distinctive.
The woman who was sitting alone at a table, picking at a salad, didn't fit into either of those groups. She appeared far too old to be Restarted – older, indeed, than any of the doctors – and she wore no uniform or badge. She looked to be in good condition for her years, but she had made little effort to disguise the lines on her face, and her faded golden-blonde hair was denser and longer than that of any of the newly Restarted, and showed no trace of dye. She was dressed smartly, in styles that would have attracted no attention in the world outside.
Another woman walked up to the table, holding a tray with food. "Mind if I join you?" she asked.
The seated woman looked up. The newcomer was obviously a patient, with dead white hair in cornrow braids, dressed in a soft blouse, jeans, and sandals. That hair contrasted strikingly with her dark skin.
The newcomer sat down, picked up a fork, and dug into the pasta dish on her plate with some enthusiasm. "Sorry if I disturbed you," she said, "but you sit alone round here, people will come up and talk to you."
"That's okay." The first woman shrugged.
"It's the gaps in our memories," the second said. "We're always trying to fill them up. Get some idea of how other people work. Get some stuff to remember, y'know?"
"I can understand that," the first woman nodded slightly and ate a little more salad.
"You must be visiting. First time here?"
"Third, actually. I've come to see my parents."
"Both of them are here? Oh, hey, they must be the Porters, right?"
"Yes." The first woman looked a little harder at the second. "Do you know them?"
"No, I've not spoken to 'em yet. Just there's not many couples in here. They're not the first, but – well, two people showing up as right for the process at the same time? It's not impossible, but it's a bit of a coincidence. Guess it'll get more common as the process starts getting used more, though."
"Mmm. Anyway, how are they?"
"They're fine, I think."
"You only think?"
The older-looking woman smiled wryly. "They don't remember much. I gather that they were further gone even than most people in here... Before they were Restarted, I'd pretty much given up on them as, well, people, you know?"
"Yeah. And the process actually makes it worse." The second woman pulled a face. "Must be rough on you. Do they remember you at all? My name's Mina, by the way."
"I'm Beth. And they remember bits and pieces, I think. Mostly of me as a child."
"Huh. That's normal." Mina put her fork down for a moment. "It was good of you to come back. Not everyone can handle seeing this stuff. 'Fraid that we've got a lot of people here wishing their kids would show up more often."
Beth sighed. "They are my parents, for better or for worse. I can see a little bit of what I remember there."
"Still, props for the effort."
"Thanks. I suppose I worry for them."
Mina frowned. "They'll be fine. We're the healthiest people you'll meet, fresh out of Restart."
"Oh, I'm sure they're physically fine. It's just... No, I shouldn't inflict this on a stranger."
Mina smiled. "Don't worry 'bout that. Like I said, us Restarted like filling our brains up. But I'll promise to keep secrets, if you tell me any. And if those two have problems – well, us Restarted stick together. No one else quite understands us, after all."
Beth took the deep breath of a woman who was glad of an excuse to unload private worries. "That may be the problem. My parents are sticking to each other too much, I think."
Mina frowned. "That's only natural," she said. "After all, they've been married – how long for?"
"Yes. But they hardly remember each other. I think that they're clinging to each other because they think that's what married people are supposed to do."
Mina frowned. "Well," she said, "I guess it worked for them before..."
"I'm not sure it did, really," Beth said. "They stayed together, but I'm afraid there was always a lot of squabbling. If they get annoyed with each other like that now, well, I'm afraid that they could be quite bad for each other."
"You sure that it didn't used to just be harmless chat? Kids don't always understand how their parents work together. And, well, seventy-two years..."
"Oh, I'm sure. They weren't the sort to think of divorce, if that's what you mean. They were far too old-fashioned. And..."
Mina looked up as Beth's voice trailed off. "Something else?"
"I'm seventy-one," Beth said. "I was born six months after my parents got married. And I don't think I was premature."
"Ah. Shotgun wedding." Mina nodded. "Not a good start. Well, no danger of a repeat of that this time," she continued with a grin. "We've all got medical implants."
"Huh." Beth scowled. "I'm not sure how much danger there is of that being needed. If there was an accident before they got married, I think it put them off for life." She sighed. "I can't complain, because it's why I'm here, but I think it made a bit of a mess of them. They were always very ... negative about sex. It took me years to relax and shake off some of what my mother tried to tell me."
"Huh." Mina frowned. "But would you really want to split your own parents apart? After seventy years?"
"I'm not sure." Beth looked worried. "I think I just want them to think about..."
A third person had appeared at the table, again carrying a tray of food – a man, and one of the Restarted. Beth glanced at him, saw that he was typically wiry, and still entirely gray-haired, with cool gray eyes.
"Hi, Stephen," Mina said. "Can you give us a moment? Private conversation..."
"Oh – sorry."
"Hang on, though." Mina turned back to Beth and spoke quietly. "Actually, do you mind if Stephen joins us?" she asked. "He's a friend, and a good guy. I'd like to help you with this, but I might need backup, and he's a good start."
"Okay," said Beth, a little uncertainly, and Mina waved Stephen to rejoin them.
"Beth here's got a worry," Mina said as Stephen sat down, and then gave him a quick summary of what she'd been told.
"Hmm," Stephen said. "I've spoken to Iris and Giles, once or twice. They do look like they're clinging together a bit too much."
"Well," said Mina, "sounds like the least we can do is draw them out of themselves a bit."
"But it sounds like you might not stop there," Stephen commented. "Do you really want to take that responsibility? Breaking up a seventy-year relationship?"
"Already done it once, for myself," Mina said tartly, and Stephen gave a brief smile as Beth looked puzzled.
"Mina isn't ... quite how she used to be herself," he explained. "Okay, we'll see how things go."
"So you don't think this would be a bad thing?" Beth challenged him.
"Oh, I'm sure that I'd have disapproved once," Stephen admitted. "But I was so much older then – I'm younger than that now..."
Beth arched a well-groomed eyebrow. "Bob Dylan?" she asked.
Stephen frowned. "One of my youthful tastes. A lot of lines have stuck. It's nice to know that some people still recognize them."
"Oh, I was quite a folkie in my time," Beth said, suddenly looking more cheerful. "Never played myself, but I got to a lot of gigs."
"Me too," said Stephen. "At least, I think that I remember that ... I think I saw Dylan a couple of times in the '70s."
Soon, the pair were talking names and songs, as Mina looked on. But before long, she interrupted. "I'll leave you to this," she said, "but we ought to keep in touch, Beth. Only snag is..."
"You ought to know – between ourselves – the clinic's computer monitors e-mails and stuff going in and out. They're legally responsible for us, and it turns out there's a big medical get-out clause in the privacy laws."
"Oh dear. That's ... weird."
"Yeah. Lot of people think that's a pain. So we might have to be careful what we say, if we don't want the docs breathing down our necks about meddling. They aren't sure when they should or shouldn't butt in."
"Well," said Stephen, "they aren't going to worry about casual chat. And we're free to come and go from the place – we're not prisoners. So we can meet in person next time you're in the area, if we've got anything really private to talk about..."
In fact, Stephen and Beth exchanged Internet contact details, and found themselves chatting online several times over the next few days, discussing mostly music, exchanging recommendations and reminiscences. Hence, when Beth announced that she would be returning to visit her parents again, staying in a local hotel for a couple of nights, Stephen casually suggested that they should meet for lunch on the day she arrived.
He named a local Italian restaurant, and on that day, he arrived at the place to find Beth already there, nursing a mineral water.
"How are my parents?" she asked as he sat down.
"They're ... fine," he said. "There's a bit of news. But frankly, I'd rather leave that until later. I haven't got away from the clinic for a meal very often before."
And so they continued their conversation about music over pasta and wine. The time passed rapidly, and soon they found themselves relaxing with coffees.
"God, I could go on like this for hours," Beth said. "I'd forgotten how much I loved this stuff."
"Me too," said Stephen. "There's so many interesting bits and pieces coming back to me. And you're really helping fill in the gaps."
"Glad to hear it," said Beth. "But we ought to talk about my parents, too, I suppose. Anyway, shall we take a walk?"
"Actually," said Stephen, leaning forward while gazing down at his coffee cup. "what I'd really like to now is to go to your room."
Beth stared at him. "If that means what it seems to mean, you're insane," she said.
"Not really," said Stephen, toying with his coffee. "You're still thinking of me as young, aren't you? But I'm not. I'm ten years older than you. I hadn't had sex for a while before I was Restarted, but I kept going until a few years ago. I had affairs with women around my own age. Some of that's still in here." He tapped his forehead. "So far as I'm concerned, you're one of the sorts of women that I'll happily sleep with."
"I hope that you really do understand how you look to me, though," said Beth.
"I think so."
"Good. Because then, you'll understand that there's no way I can turn you down."
Stephen nodded slightly, and Beth signaled for the bill. They left the restaurant and walked back to Beth's hotel arm in arm, looking perhaps like fond grandmother and grandson. As the door clicked shut behind them, though, Beth released Stephen's arm and stepped quickly over to the window to draw the curtains.
Stephen touched the light switch, but Beth turned around hastily. "No," she said, "keep the lights off, please."
"I don't mind looking at you..."
"But I might mind you looking. I'm not an idiot. I'm sure that you've seen naked women since you were Restarted."
"Yes," Stephen admitted, dimming the lights again.
"Restarted women, I imagine? There are rumors about that, and Mina said something about medical implants..."
Stephen stepped across the room and kissed her. "Don't worry about what else I've seen," he said.
She kissed him back, at length. "Have you been with Mina?" she asked.
"Yes," he admitted, "but I told you not to worry."
He saw her smile in the dim light. "I'm just curious," she said, and began to unbutton her blouse. "Is she good?"
Stephen shrugged. "Screws like a rabbit, if you must know." He loosened the simple tunic he was wearing and pulled if off over his head. "But she's not here, is she?"
Beth reached out and touched his naked chest. "Okay," she said, "I admit that I'm worried about what you might see in me. My boobs have been sagging for decades, damn them."
"At least you have boobs," Stephen replied. "That's the trouble with being Restarted. Everyone has minimum body fat."
"Hah!" Beth sounded amused now. She discarded her blouse and then watched as Stephen removed his shoes and stepped out of his pants. She shed the silky shift she was wearing, kicked off her own shoes, carefully, then removed her loose, flared pants.
Stephen kissed her again, and when she sat down on the bed, he sat beside her. He was down to a pair of boxer shorts now; she was wearing just bra and panties. "Hold on," she said, and gave a series of sharp taps to the medical implant under the skin of her left shoulder. "Hormone release," she said. "At least I can avoid some of the worst things about being my age."
"Neat," Stephen said, and fondled her breasts through her bra. She sighed softly, then twisted away and got into bed.
"Cold?" Stephen asked.
"I'm still not sure that I want you seeing how I look these days," she replied.
"And I told you not to worry," Stephen said, as he joined her in bed.
"Bear with me," she said. Stephen said nothing, but kissed her. "Thanks again," she said when he broke away. With his arms now round her, he was able to unfasten her bra. He threw it away, off the bed, and she pressed the length of herself against him. He sighed happily as she she reached around and grabbed his ass with one hand, fingertips digging in.
"Oh God," she murmured, "your body is so firm."
He grinned. "You sure I'm not just scrawny?" he asked.
"No. I know scrawny these days." Beth squeezed his ass again, then released it. "Hold on," she said, and burrowed down beneath the bedclothes only a little clumsily. Stephen laughed slightly as she carefully pulled his boxers half-way down his thighs; then, a moment later, he gasped as her mouth engulfed his cock for half its length. Then she drew back, fondling his length with lips and tongue as she went.
"Experience counts for something," Beth said from under the sheets. Then she returned to work on him. Within seconds, he was gasping and groaning as Beth gently but effectively applied tongue and lips. Then she paused, gave the damp tip of his organ a quick kiss, and squirmed back up the bed, rolling onto her back when she arrived. Stephen took the hint, climbed carefully on top of her, and let her guide his erection into her cunt. With a smooth push, he entered her completely.
"Oh, sweet Christ," Beth murmured as Stephen began moving inside her. "God, this is good. God, you feel so damn good."
"This feels good," Stephen told her.
"Thanks," she said. "Just... Don't stop!"
Stephen said nothing, but moved slowly on top of and inside her. Her legs wrapped around his, she gave a series of soft sighs and wordless murmurs.
"Can we turn over?" she murmured in his ear.
"Sure." Holding each other close, they rolled to put Stephen on his back, disarraying the bedclothes completely. Then Beth raised herself with her hands on the pillow either side of his head, and gazed down at him.
"Mmm," she murmured, "you're amazing."
Stephen laughed softly as Beth closed her eyes and sighed softly, repeatedly, rotating her hips slightly at the same time.
"Oh," she said, "oh.... oh yes!"
She sagged on top of him, breathing audibly. He held her close, then shifted and gave a twist, rolling them back over. Suddenly, she found that he was pounding hard on top of and inside her. She gasped, but not as loudly as him. After perhaps thirty seconds, his gasps turned to a series of groans, and he raised himself above her on his hands and gave one last hard thrust. Then , after a frozen moment, he almost dropped on top of her.
"Oh," he said, "sorry about..."
"Shut up and don't stop!" she said, and he realized that her arms and legs were clamped around him and her hips were rocking back and forth. He began to move with her, and after another few seconds, she gave a hoarse moan, and then relaxed.
"Oh," he said.
"Wow," she replied.
"God," he said. "I hope that I didn't hurt you there."
"I'm fine," she said. "That was so damn good. Though I'm not sure how much more of it I could take."
"Sorry," he said. "I'm still getting used to the idea that I can do this ... at all. With anyone. I may get a bit carried away."
"It was ... great. And quite flattering," Beth said. "I don't think that you broke anything."
Stephen laughed nervously. Then, realizing that his erection was softening, he withdrew from her and flopped onto his back. He laughed softly, then rolled onto his side to look at Beth.
"I have to say, you look damn good," he said, gazing at her face.
"Don't overdo the flattery," said Beth, getting up from the bed and stepping over to the room's minibar. She no longer seemed so self-conscious about her naked body. "I know that I've been stupidly lucky this afternoon. You don't have to worry too much about my feelings. I'm a realist."
"So I can say what I like to you?" Stephen said. "Any sort of insult or whatever?"
"Why?" said Beth as the minibar recognized her thumbprint. She opened it and extracted a half-bottle of chilled white wine and two glasses. "What were you thinking of saying to me?"
"Well," said Stephen, "I fucked your momma."
"Oh." Beth sat down on the bed, still holding the bottle and the glasses and looking thoughtful in the dim light that filtered through the curtains. "I see." She put the glasses down on a bedside table, and began removing the bottle's screw cap. "Well, I suppose that's good news, really, isn't it?" She smiled very briefly. "I mean, it must help with the plan."
"That was part of the idea."
Beth suddenly laughed. "Oh God," she said, "there's no words for this, are there? Oh well, I really can't complain. I said it myself... And you, young man..."
"I'm still older than you!"
"...You should be honored. I imagine that you're only the second man to have her in her entire life."
"Well," said Stephen, "not really."
Beth paused from pouring the wine and looked at him sharply. "What does that mean?" she demanded.
Stephen sighed. "I guess that you should hear the whole story," he said.
It took Mina a couple of days to catch Iris Porter alone after her conversation with Beth, but it wasn't actually difficult. The Porters were only recently out of intensive post-Restart treatment, and both of them were scheduled for frequent, long sessions with the doctors. Giles Porter had been called in for one such, and his wife was sitting on a bench in the clinic's gardens. Mina simply walked up and sat down beside her. Iris, who was six inches shorter than Mina and slender even by Restarted standards, looked up uncertainly.
"Hi, honey," Mina began. "Iris, ain't it? How you doing?"
"What? Oh, fine, thanks." Iris looked surprised.
"Hey, sorry – didn't mean to intrude," Mina said. "Just I hadn't had a chance to talk yet. Us Restarted ought to talk sometimes, don't you think? Compare notes. Help each other."