David stared at the crustless toast, a half-melted pat of real butter slowly leaking into the crispy fibers of the bread as it slid across the surface so slowly only a stop-motion camera could have caught the movement. He loved butter. He’d bought it a week earlier, and had yet to use it, probably because some part of him still felt guilty about it.
Kelly wouldn’t let him have butter anymore, or egg yolks, or red meat, or whole milk. Not after the results of his last cholesterol screening. White meat, egg-white substitute, twelve grain bread, substitute butter only. Some creamy glob of whipped, hydrogenated vegetable byproduct that only melted after a solid thirty seconds in the microwave. It tasted the way he imagined spider webs soaked in toilet water might taste—Kelly said he was being overdramatic as she stirred spoonfuls of it into wilted spinach before plopping it down on his plate and telling him to eat it with nothing more than the glare of her cold grey eyes.
Kelly was gone.
He supposed he should feel some kind of relief. The woman was a harpy, and after twelve years of marriage the only good thing to come out of that wasted time was his daughters. Six weeks ago, she took both of them and plunked every last credit in their joint savings account down on a luxury condo in Miami. Overlooking Biscayne Bay, Dani said the Miami skyline was breathtaking. She was eight, and he couldn’t remember her ever using the word breathtaking before, and he began to wonder what other things he was going to miss because her mother was a selfish bitch. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to say hi to Kendra; word was she didn’t want to talk to Daddy right now.
He wondered how much of that was her mother’s doing. He wondered if they were eating real butter in Miami. If his absence was reason enough for Kelly to lift the cruel restrictions from their diet.
Reaching down, he gingerly lifted the toast from the plate and brought it up to inspect it. Golden and perfect, he could already feel the crunchiness, taste the slick salt of butter flavoring the grainy paste he ground between his teeth, but he couldn’t bring himself to take a bite.
“Is everything all right with your breakfast, David?” MSTRS-11 inquired, tilting her head in a thoughtful provocation so human for a moment he forgot she was anything but. “Did I not toast the bread properly?”
“It’s perfect, Mis,” he said softly, lowering it back to the square plate and staring at the shape of it.
He hadn’t programmed it into her, but the AI cut the bread into a heart before lowering it onto the plate, its pointed peak rising into two perfect curves. She’d sliced a dab of butter and placed it in the center so he could spread it evenly across the surface. His mother used to make his toast that way, and every sandwich she packed into his lunchbox when he was a boy could be found wedged between the same heart-shaped bread.
It was just a little thing, but he knew it meant she loved him. That she’d be thinking of him all day, and the she wanted him to think of her, too.
He felt a breath catch in the back of his throat, quickly becoming a lump the longer he refused to exhale it. He swallowed against it, and felt a tight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Kelly never understood those things, the necessity of a personal touch, a little reminder that would carry him through the day and make him eager to come home to her at the end of it all. She scoffed at the sentiment of love notes in lunch boxes and cold cuts folded over heart-shaped bread with a dollop of mustard and the edges of the cheese sticking out the sides.
Kelly was nothing like his mother at all, but MSTRS-11 understood.