Lee wondered if it was such a big deal to anyone else.
He looked down at the rental application form, remembering the smells of the house he was about to rent.
Primarily cat urine — very strong odour, hard to get rid of, his friends reminded him.
Lee wasn’t one for signs from a largely hidden benign or benevolent being telling Lee what to do.
He didn’t look for divine intervention.
Even so, Lee paid attention to the environment around him, both of the natural world — his home planet and its solar system — and of the social environment that his species provided.
At times in his life, Lee had heard from others that he was too smart for his own good.
Was this such a moment?
He had married at 24 to a woman he had known half his life, the two of them spending those 12 years in separate towns, only living together a few months before tying the knot.
He had no major complaints about the woman he had lived with for 30 years, theirs being not so unusual a time of getting used to living and sleeping with someone else when they mentally had lived alone in their rooms for 24 years before cohabitation.
Lee didn’t believe in marriage, hadn’t believed in marriage for as long as he could remember, since at least his early teens in the 1970s when he had observed the legal aspect of cohabitation, the social requirements for such, were obsolete by at least a hundred years or more.
He often laughed at the joke, “Marriage is an institution and who wants to be in an institution?”
So it was that when he stood at the front of his wife’s hometown church and watched hundreds of people stare at his socially-acceptable announcement of cohabitation with his childhood friend, he knew he had made the only commitment he would ever make of that magnitude.
Not just a commitment, a social contract, an agreement with the community that raised him he would continue on their traditions and support their beliefs.
Should he choose to decommit, to break the contract, he was in essence telling the community in a very public manner he no longer supported them.
A few days into the honeymoon trip in Mexico, Lee realised he had made a mistake of marrying but how was he to backtrack when he also knew he, as an artist and writer, went from depending on his parents for financial backing to depending on his wife for the same?
A couple of times in his marriage, Lee had achieved a level of financial independence that gave him the opportunity to sever ties with his wife and go on with the life he had hoped for as a child. In the first instance, he balked. In the second instance, he retired from an active working life and returned to financial dependence on his wife, holding his savings in an account for later use rather than investing in a new life.
He looked at the rental application form again and asked himself, “Is this me? At 54, am I ready to seek full independence when I’m within a few years of shared full retirement with my wife, a life where we’ll be together most of the day and night, doing the same ol’ thing — shopping, going out to eat, going to the cinema, taking biennial holidays to foreign countries, sitting at home and watching the tellie?”
Much of the millionaire wealth he claimed was tied to his wife. He could activate withdrawals from an annuity to supplement the income he received from working at a local nonprofit company to support his new lifestyle which should carry him into his 60s when he could further supplement his income with social security payments.
Did he have any big dreams left to pursue?
He had lived so long in compromise supporting the dreams of his wife and she his that he had almost forgotten what he wanted independently.
He had achieved the big dreams of his youth — live in a cabin in the woods (spent almost 29 years of turning a suburban cabinlike home into a wooded lot blocking out the neighbours), own an Italian sports car (owned two, actually), work in a foreign country (mostly in Ireland but some in Germany), have a greenhouse (went with a sunroom, instead; more practical), write a book which received a professional review (achieved with semifinalist status in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award), and, finally, build a treehouse.
He did have a big dream or two left — travel off of Earth, live on the Moon or Mars, receive longevity treatments that give hundreds of years of life to his body, and have a series of romantic relationships from which a few lifelong friendships form.
That’s where Guin came into the picture.
He had struggled with the reality and the concept of Guin in his thoughts.
There had always been a Guin in his thoughts, a companion who was too smart for her own good, mischievous, fun to be around, a dreamer, an explorer.
Through the years, he had matched the imaginary Guin to people in real life, some more closely matched than others.
But, for the first time, Guin was really Guin.
And if he kept falling in love with her, he was afraid he’d lose himself and help her achieve her big dreams, forgetting about his.
But she wanted to go to Mars, too, she said.
Wasn’t that enough?
He looked at the rental application form again.
The owner needed the form and a security deposit to complete the deal.
Lee had a decision to make, end the social agreement he made 30 years ago, starting over, or stay where he was and wonder what might have been.
It was only the future of the species in his hands, not just a rental agreement form.
Lee felt more calm than he had his whole life.