The Price of Love
by Alan Schoolcraft
Part Two (Part one is in issue 6.)
"Mommy, I'm finished," Karen called out from the kitchen table. Valerie, sitting
at her computer, doing a VR tour of listings in the Outer Banks, sighed. She
deliberated letting it go; this marked the fifth time Karen had declared her dinner
consumed. The four previous times Valerie had trudged into the kitchen to find
the child's food barely half-eaten. Why she did this, Valerie didn't know; some
days her daughter ate like a pig, and others she merely nibbled.
She opened her mouth to tell Karen to just put the plate in the sink, but thought
better of it. Not being a very responsible parent, that. So she said "End session"
and the virtual reality of the walkthrough dissolved into the real world of her home
office and computer desk. She slid her chair back, got up and went to the kitchen.
To her surprise, Karen had eaten almost all of her broccoli and cheese. Karen sat
smiling hopefully, and Alvin occupied one of the other places at the table.
"Wow, good girl," Valerie said. "What happened, you get super-hungry all of a
Karen nodded. "Yeah, Mommy. And Alvin promised we'd play checkers, too.
He said eating all my broccoli and cheese would make my brain stronger so I'd
Valerie glanced at Alvin, who sat looking very innocent. "Oh he did, did he?"
Karen nodded. "So we can play? I wanna beat him twice 'fore I have to go to
Valerie couldn't help but smile. "Okay honey. Go get the checkers."
Karen jumped off her seat and ran down the hall towards her room, while Valerie
took her plate and scraped the remaining bits of food into the recycler. As she
took the plate to the sink, she glanced at Alvin again. A wave of guilt passed over
her. It still ebbed at her soul as she looked away.
"Are you mad at me, Valerie?" Alvin said with an apprehensive tone. "Did I do
"No, I'm not mad," Valerie said, not looking at him.
Alvin sat without saying anything as she washed the plate. But as she placed it the
drainer, he said, "Is there something else wrong then? You seem . . . not
"No," she said, almost choking on the word. She took a breath, willing herself
calm. "No, Alvin, there's nothing wrong."
"Your heartbeat, respiration and skin temperature says different."
Valerie rounded on him. "Will you please stop doing that?"