"Can you believe it?" Stephanie asked Laura, her best friend. "It's over between Frank and me. The day before New Years."
In fact, Laura had no trouble believing it. Since high school, Stephanie had experienced a series of unhappy relationships, including a marriage that ended in a messy divorce. "You never talked about Frank as a keeper."
"I know that, but it still hurts," Stephanie said. "This is it for me. I'm giving up on men altogether." She made a sniffling sound through her nose that sounded like she was trying to laugh. "If I can't have your Clark, there's no use looking anymore."
Clark and Laura had celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary just two weeks earlier. Stephanie never tried hiding her envy. Laura appreciated how lucky she was, but felt bad for her friend.
"Well, you can't have Clark, but why don't you join us tomorrow night?" she asked. "You shouldn't spend New Year's Eve alone. We'd love to bring in 2050 with you."
"What about Clark? You two were planning a quiet evening. Didn't he say he was preparing an old-fashioned seafood stew for you. A family recipe?"
"So he'll make enough for the three of us. Clark loves you as much as I do. You know that."
"Clark's a good one, Laura. If only I could meet my Clark."
"You will, Steph. You're still young."
"Young? I'll be thirty next year."
"That's young! We're the same age, remember?"
"You're young. A twenty-nine-year-old married woman is young. An unmarried woman, almost thirty, is old. It was like that in my grandmother's time and mother's time, and it's still the same. Besides, I keep telling you, there aren't any more Clarks out there. Believe me, I've looked." After a long pause, she added, "But if the invite is still good, I really don't want to spend the night alone."
The next evening about eight, Clark greeted Stephanie at the door. She wore tight pants that accentuated her long, thin legs. Even with a bulky sweater, Clark's eyes wandered towards her full breasts. She carried a bottle of bourbon, Clark's favorite. They embraced and Clark asked, "Is that booze or are you just happy to see me?"
Stephanie laughed. "Both."
As the two women caught up on all that had happened since yesterday, Clark tended to his stew. Laura gossiped with her friend while wiping down the countertop. The messy, but well-organized kitchen identified a couple who worked well together. Clark suggested the women put out some munchies while he cleaned up. He put the stew on simmer.
They brought out guacamole, which Laura had just finished making, chips and an assortment of cheeses. Laura and Clark had decided to go with traditional hors d'oeuvre tonight. No freeze dried gourmet foods this New Year's. The newest trend among the young, affluent crowd was to prepare their own food. Clark programmed the robot to straighten up the kitchen while he poured drinks.
They laughed easily, chatting in the comfortable shorthand of long-time friends. "This reminds me of that time in Paris," Laura said. Clark laughed. But Stephanie seemed a bit distant. After nearly finishing the bourbon as well as the snacks, they moved to the dining room. The women set the table and brought out two bottles of white wine while Clark served the stew with warm bread.
Stephanie raised her glass. "To Laura, my best friend, and to Clark, the last of a dying breed." They clinked glasses and drank. After the round of compliments to the chef died down, Stephanie said she had something serious to say.
"If you can say it without slurring, you're a better man than I." Clark intentionally slurred the end of the sentence.
Stephanie's eyes narrowed and her lips tightened.
"Uh-oh," Laura said, laughing. "I know that look. She's either in love again or she's pregnant."
"Close." She got up from the table and took out of her handbag a variety of pamphlets and glossy advertisements. "I've been considering this for months now. It probably precipitated the demise of my newest relationship."
"'Precipitated the demise...?' Give the girl a drink for that one," Laura said.
"Here, here!" Clark filled her wine glass.
She handed some of the material to Laura and some to Clark. "I'd like you to read this carefully."
"There won't be a test, will there?" Clark asked.
"Only a DNA test." She stared at Clark, who had begun to review what appeared to be a legal document. His eyes grew so large he looked like he was auditioning for an old-fashioned minstrel show. Laura went silent.
"You've got to be kidding," he said. "You want to clone me?"
"Yes." With her voice unnaturally steady, she continued staring at Clark, then Laura. "I don't expect you to say yes tonight, but think about it." To Laura, she said, "I just want to be as happy as you are. I hope you can understand that."
Laura, of course, understood. Although Stephanie was only three months older, Laura always thought of Steph as the older sister she never had. It seemed only right that Stephanie married Jack a year before she and Clark married. When Stephanie confessed that Jack cheated on her, Laura helped her separate from him.
Stephanie put up a good front, Laura thought, but she knew how humiliated her best friend felt. When Clark asked Laura to marry him, her own happiness was tinged with sadness for her friend.
Clark took Stephanie's hand. "Look, I'm flattered. Really I am. But don't you think you've been sold a bill of goods? The technology is still new. Up until, what? Two, three years ago, they could only clone an embryo. And you know how these clones never turn out to be exactly the same. Wasn't there something in the news the other day about a clone that turned on her donor over something in the donor's past?"
"I'm not looking for a perfect man, Clark. Just someone like you."
Clark smiled. He and Steph often teased one another. Laura wept. The two women embraced.
A week later, Clark donated his DNA at the Clone-Aid clinic, where previously they only grew organs for transplant. But since government deregulation, and the remarkable genetic breakthrough most people knew about but few understood, they could now clone fully-developed adults. Stephanie agreed to pay two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, her entire divorce settlement. Clark wasn't sure what he felt beyond the obvious ego boost.
It was Laura who encouraged him. "She deserves someone who'll treat her well. Someone like you," Laura said. "But you're mine and I don't share."
"What happens if it doesn't work out between them? Wait until she discovers the real me. The one who farts under the covers. Are we responsible for my clone?"
"Not according to the information she gave us. The clone will be a fully independent being with full legal rights and responsibilities. I had the lawyers at my firm check it out." She looked at her husband. "It's not all that uncommon anymore, you know. There are even people who are having themselves cloned for profit. At least she'll know what she's getting."
Clark wasn't comfortable, but he always liked Steph. There was even a time when he and Laura were engaged and she was going through her troubles with Jack that they almost tumbled into bed. If she weren't so vulnerable back then, he might have acted on his desire. Mostly he felt proud of his restraint, but a small part of him always wondered what would have happened.
Now she was willing to shell out a cool quarter of a million for him. How could he say no?
It took about two months for the clone to be completed. On March 15, 2050, as yellow daffodils sprouted from the earth after a long winter, Clark Russell's clone walked out of the clinic hand-in-hand with Stephanie. Clark and Laura accompanied them. It was decided that the clone would be known as Russell Clark to avoid confusion.
"I never liked Clark as a first name," Clark said.
"Me, neither," said Russell.
After an awkward few minutes, Clark and Russell began talking to one another. Testing, actually. Russell knew everything Clark knew. After all, as was explained to them, Clark's brain was cloned along with his body. More than identical twins, they were replicas. From now on, though, they would have different experiences and develop different personalities.
Stephanie couldn't stop smiling. "Thank you so much."
Russell offered Clark a private wink. Apparently, Clark's old infatuation with Stephanie had been passed on to Russell.
Stephanie and Russell married and honeymooned in St. Martin at the same hotel where Clark and Laura had spent their honeymoon seven years earlier. It was Russell's idea. He told Stephanie he wanted to go back there since he had such fond memories.
When they returned, Stephanie was happier than Laura had ever seen her. "He's a wonderful, sweet man," the new bride told her friend.
"I know," Laura said.
Stephanie took her friend's hands and leaned in towards her. "And you taught him well. He's incredible in bed."
Laura blushed, but curiosity overcame her. "Tell me more."
Never one to shy away from a good story, especially one involving sex, she supplied her friend with the intimate details of their lovemaking.
Laura tried hard not to show what she was thinking, but she couldn't imagine Clark doing some of the things Stephanie described. Her sex life with Clark was good, but certainly not like that. If Russell knew everything Clark knew, was Clark holding back with her? Did she not excite Clark the way Stephanie excited Russell?
"And his stamina," Stephanie continued. "I had no idea."
Neither did Laura.
That night, she told Clark what she had learned about his clone.
"They're honeymooners, don't forget. It's all new. We were like that, weren't we?"
"But it's not new. He's you, remember? That's you with Stephanie. That's how you would be if you were with her." She began to cry. "Don't I excite you the same way?"
"Of course you do, honey. I love you."
Clark tried consoling his wife, but he grew aroused thinking of his clone with Stephanie. He recalled the time they had spent together at nude beaches in France. Stephanie's breasts were fuller than Laura's, sexier. And her long, thin legs.
He realized he was jealous of his own clone.
Laura and Clark made love, and fifteen minutes later they lay staring at the ceiling, disappointed. Clark was still imagining his clone with Stephanie. Laura wondered what Russell thought about her. After all, if Russell were really an exact replica of Clark, shouldn't he love her, not Stephanie?
On their sides, facing away from each other, Laura and Clark considered the ethics of cheating with a clone.
"No," Stephanie told Laura, almost shouting. "Absolutely not. There's no way I'll 'loan' you Russell. He's not a sex toy, you know. He's a person. And he's my husband."
Laura had confessed to her friend that Clark no longer satisfied her and Clark was no longer satisfied by her.
"That's crazy." Stephanie took Laura's hand. "You two are the happiest couple I've ever known. Best friends. All I wanted was for Russell and me to be like you and Clark."
"We're good together, Clark and me. But, but . . . not like you and Russell." She looked away from her friend. "Russell looks at you like . . . like you gave him life. He appreciates you."
"He appreciates what I've done, but sometimes I think he resents it, too. Like a child, he wants to break free but he's afraid to go too far. He thinks of the money I paid for the cloning as if it were his debt." She paused. "I'm afraid I'll lose him if I give him permission to be with you."
"I understand," Laura said, trying to hold back her tears.
"No. No, you don't." Stephanie surprised herself with what she heard herself say. "Russell is Clark. He loves you. I'm just a fling. That's why he's so passionate."
"Say what?" Clark had that eyes bulging out of his head look that Russell thought looked goofy.
"Just once," Russell said. "They'd never know." He put his arm on Clark's shoulder. "Look. You know how I feel about Laura and we both know how you feel about Stephanie."
Clark lowered his eyes, embarrassed that Russell knew so much of his inner life. "But I thought things were so good with you and Steph. I mean she tells Laura some great stories about the two of you."
"Sure, the sex is great. Stephanie taught me things I only saw in porno films . . . well, you only saw in films. But I keep thinking about Laura, about you and Laura. You have intimacy; we have passion." He looked at Clark, then looked away. "I owe my life to Stephanie. She's a friend and I'll stay with her. But I love Laura."
Just when Clark began thinking he no longer loved his wife, he felt a tenderness as well as a passion for her he had forgotten over the years. "No, Russell. You don't love Laura. I love her. You love the history she and I share. You're going to have to live with my memories and make new ones with Stephanie. There's still no shortcut for that."
That night, Clark told Laura about his conversation with Russell and she confessed her conversation with Stephanie. They cried and laughed, and made gentle, tender love.
After teaching writing and literature in college for twenty-five years, Wayne Scheer retired to follow his own advice and write. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has published essays and stories in The Christian Science Monitor, Pedestal Magazine, Flash Me Magazine, River Walk Journal, Pindeldyboz and Cynic Magazine. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.