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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents

Living Standards: synopsis

In a future world marked by extremes of poverty and wealth, 13-year old Jiri has known only poverty. One day, a wealthy woman appears in Jiri’s enclave, the slum he calls home, and offers his mother an unimaginable amount of money for Jiri’s services. Little do Jiri and his mother know what the woman intends, but they accept. As Jiri grows and prospers in his new life, he becomes involved in a dangerous movement that will change his life and everyone else’s as well.

Chapter 7: Jiri Comes of Age

“May I come in, Jiri?”

How times had changed! At first she’d just barged in, interrupting him at the most critical moment of a video game, demanding his attention, now she was respectful, asking to be invited into his room in the South Wing.

“Sure, Imelda, what’s up?”

She closed the door and sat on the large plush recliner opposite his bed. He stopped his video game and faced her.

“Today is your eighteenth, and I wanted to wish you a happy birthday! We’re going to have a party for you this evening.”

“Cool! I hope there’s that great cake that Lea makes!”

“Oh, she was hoping that would be a surprise, Jiri, but you always figure everything out ahead of time.”

She took a deep breath. “I came here for another reason also. We need this room for a new actor. You’re old enough to legally have your own place now, and you can certainly afford it.”

“What about our deal? I get to stay here till I’m twenty and get lessons.”

“You will get the lessons, though you could do better in a formal university. Bain could get you admitted anywhere. I’ll honor the agreement, but wouldn’t you rather have your own place?”

“Sure, but keeping up a house is such a hassle, I don’t want to do that now.”

“I think I have a solution for you,” she said with a sly smile. She turned to the door and opened it. “Jack, please come in.”

“Hi, Jiri, happy birthday!” Bain said with a huge grin.

“I’ll leave you two alone now,” Imelda said in a conspiratorial tone, scurrying out the door and down the hall.

“Hey, Jack, not your usual day, what’s up?”

“I came here because I wanted to give you a birthday present: a house, with funding for your security and staff. We could be together more frequently if you had your own house.”

We could be together more frequently! Just what Jiri wanted least in the world. It was time to put an end to the charade, he could survive losing Bain’s support now. He’d been stringing along the former Governor, now back to his private life as a CEO, for over four years, hoping that Bain would tire of him, but it hadn’t happened. He’d grown accustomed to Bain’s fawning, pathetic attention, and had become expert at pretending to care for him. But he’d had enough, had been looking for a way to put an end to it, and the house was a step he didn’t want to take.

“Jack, remember what I told you, about the Greek arrangement?”

“Yeah, that we’re like an ancient Greek man-boy relationship and each gets something out of it.”

“Right, well, it’s time for it to end. I’m not a boy anymore and besides, what else can I really get out of this arrangement?”

Bain fell onto the recliner. He looked down, hyperventilating, then put his hands on the back of his neck. Jiri could see that he was trying desperately to control himself, trying to hold on to something he’d never really had.

“You’ve been so nice, ever since I gave you the car. I thought you’d come to appreciate me, I thought—”

“Come on, Jack, you’re living in a fantasy. Admit it.”

Bain looked up, leaned forward, his eyes flashing with anger. “Fantasy? Everyone lives in a fantasy! You’re no exception. You live in a fantasy of eternal beauty, of everyone falling in love with you, of Lea caring for you—”

“To hell with that!” Jiri shouted. “She does care for me. We’re going to get married!”

“But it’s still just an arrangement: you meet needs in her, she meets needs in you, just like what we had.”

“You are so twisted! It’s not like you and me at all. It’s real connection, real love!”

“Oh, yes, such an eighteen-year old thing to say. You’re just like the religious fanatic who lives for the fantasy of redemption, or the political fanatic who lives for the fantasy of utopia, only you’re a romantic fanatic who lives for the fantasy of true love! But in the end, life is nothing but arrangements, transactions, alliances, rivalries. Every one of us is always alone in the world!”

Jiri responded quietly, almost with sadness. “Maybe you’re right, Jack. Then let me have my fantasy now; you’ve had yours for over four years.”

Bain was silent a moment. Then he smiled, a strange, out-of-place reaction, Jiri thought. He stared hard into the young man’s eyes and said, “Amazing. You never stop amazing me. It was the perfect comeback. You just demolished any possible argument I could make for us continuing our relationship.

“Of course I owe you that much, to let you have your fantasy. You are so mature, so brilliant. Don’t you know that’s why I fell in love with you? It was never just your looks; there are other beautiful boys. It was the incredible person that you are.”

He stood and paced slowly for the few steps alongside Jiri’s bed, back and forth, three times, head down, stroking his chin. He stopped, looked up, and said, “OK, it’s over then, I capitulate, but you’ve given me an idea, and please bear with me on this. First of all, what do you know about my business?”

“I’ve heard your company controls the Clavenet.”

“Right, that’s one thing we do. We also own some of the content, and we’re in all kinds of other communications stuff also. We’re always making deals, selling advertising, negotiating this and that. I think you’d make a fantastic addition to my negotiating team. You’re quick on your feet, super-smart, confident. I’d like you to come and work for me, Jiri and as a kind of signing bonus, I’ll give you a house where you and Lea can live.”

“Seriously? I’m only eighteen. Are you sure?”

“I know talent when I see it, trust me on that.”

“And you’re not going to come over to the house and demand to have sex with me?”

“Never again. I’ve accepted that it’s over. Anyway, Imelda says she has a real beauty staying in the main house. I can’t wait to meet him!”

So that was why Imelda wanted his room!

“I want to go to college, Jack. You’ve got to give me time for that.”

“Bain International has a one hundred percent tuition reimbursement program for qualified people. You’d definitely qualify.”

“What’s in this arrangement for you, Jack? I’m not seeing it.”

“You’re not seeing it because you don’t really appreciate your own abilities, your own innate talents. What’s in it for me? I get an incredible raw talent. You’ll need coaching and training, but you’ll definitely become a top performer. You’ll make far more money for me than I’ll invest in you. I’m sure of it.”

Bain had recovered quite quickly from the shock of Jiri terminating the relationship. It was all a little suspicious. But he was offering a tremendous opportunity, one Jiri could use to ensure his security, to provide a basis for starting his life with Lea, and it was a whole lot better than performing in porno videos, something he still did, though most of his income now came from commercials and from the regularly reworked videos that he and John Chester had made. It was another offer he couldn’t refuse, even if Bain did have a hidden agenda.

“OK, Jack,” he said, flashing his most provocative smile. “You’ve got yourself a new employee!”

After Bain left, Jiri sought out Lea, finding her in the kitchen putting away dishes. He wrapped an arm around her narrow waist and directed her to her small room upstairs, closing the door quietly.

“What’s up, Jiri? You got a secret to tell me?”

“I’m going to work for Bain. He’s giving me a house. We can get married!”

Her hands clapped together, she bounced on her toes, and her face lit up with blissful joy. “Right away? Get married right away?”

“Yes, I want to do it as soon as we can.”

She sat on the bed, and as she did, her face darkened. “Is he still going to demand sex from you?”

“No. I told him it was over, but he seemed to get over it in a hurry. Imelda’s got a new boy for him.”

“Always recycling people, always focused on that one age, the age I imagine he had his first sexual experience. It must have been something incredible. He never got past it.”

Jiri waved his hand. “Who can understand someone like him? He’s just too weird. I don’t want to talk about him, let’s talk about us.”

“Just think, I can stop doing all this domestic work. But what will I do then?”

“Whatever you want, the world is out there for you. You’re smart, you’re energetic. Maybe you could organize a domestic business, or I could buy one for you.”

“No, we don’t need the money, and I’d like to do something meaningful. I know that there’s a charity for homeless kids that some of the more socially conscious wealthies run. I think I’d like to get involved in that.”

Jiri laughed. “Socially conscious wealthies? Who would those be?”

“No, seriously, they’re not all like Imelda and Bain. Did I ever tell you that I was raised by people like that?”

“You told me you were an orphan, that you lived in a group home, an orphanage I guess you’d call it.”

“Right,” said Lea. “But it was financed and run by a group of wealthies. In fact it was not in an enclave at all, but in one of the middle-class towns. When we turned thirteen they found us jobs. That’s how I ended up at the Gates’ studio.”

“Did they know what the Gates do?”

“I don’t think so. At any rate, I’ve never been involved in making porn.”

“Well, I’m glad they placed you here so I could meet you!”

They lay on the bed, silent, tightly wrapped together. He surrendered to the intoxication of his love. The joy that she brought him extinguished any pain he had ever felt. At that moment they were one person, and life, he realized, could never be any better than it was right now.

But then, troubling thoughts intruded. As though his mind were controlled by something outside himself, a disturbing scenario of the future unwound. He saw himself alone in a tiny, grimy room of dirty, tattered furniture, feeling empty, longing for Lea.

Outside in the dark he could hear explosions, their sudden light flashing through a filthy, broken window. From adjacent rooms he could hear urgent voices, filled with fear and anger. He desperately tried to roll the image forward in time, to find the happy ending. But the final scene lay in the distance, in a deep mist, impossible to penetrate, unwilling to lift.

Proceed to Chapter 8...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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