He didn't buy a ring that day. He never did get around to whistling. He went home early. His girlfriend would be there; she'd taken the day off to make preparations for celebrating his promotion, when he got home. His friend Jack was going to be there helping out, too. He wasn't sure he wanted to see Jack right now, he just wanted to see Carol. Maybe he'd go out drinking with Jack and the guys later, but for now all he really wanted was to be alone with Carol, to talk with her. She was good at comforting him whenever little things in life troubled him, and now he needed her more than ever.

He walked into the bedroom and stopped. He stood staring, dumbfounded, at Jack and Carol together in his bed. To a degree, he knew instantly what was going on, of course. But in a more immediate and direct sense, it took him nearly a minute to fully grasp the situation, and come to some kind of terms with it. The two of them lay there, staring back, just as unable to speak as Fox was.

Finally, he managed to say something. "My God! My best friend? What… a fucking… cliché!" And he turned and walked out of the room.

He went and sat on the living room couch, slumped forward, his head hanging, his hands covering his face. He had no idea what to do at the moment, so he just sat there, waiting for something to occur to him. Nothing came to mind. After a few minutes, Carol came out of the bedroom, having dressed. She pulled up the chair opposite the couch so it was closer than usual. She thought perhaps she should be sitting next to him on the couch for this, but she supposed it wouldn't really be comfortable for either of them. As she sat across from him, she began to reach out to him, to touch his shoulder, but stopped less than halfway. That too, she thought, would be uncomfortable.

"Fox… I…"

"I lost my job today, Carol. Funny thing, huh? Supposed to become the top guy in the office, and instead I'm downsized, as they used to say in his damned century. …But I'll be alright. I've got money saved up, and I'll get another job before long. No need to worry about that." He looked up at her with a mocking grin on his face. "We maybe should hold off on that engagement for a while, though." After a moment, he slumped backward and rested his head on the back of the couch, looking up at the ceiling, and exhaled a long sighing breath.

"Fox… I'm sorry…" she sighed, too. "I've been meaning to tell you for a while now. All this talk of marriage has gotten me thinking, seriously, about us. I've been happy enough, for the most part, but I wanted to dig deep inside and be sure it was really and truly what I wanted in my life. Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with you? Do I really love you that much? And I've been coming to think… well, I think maybe you're just kind of a nice guy, you really are, and… and, well, you're also someone who needs to be comforted a lot, taken care of. And there's something nice about being needed, but I just don't think it's really enough to build a relationship on. You are nice, you're handsome, you're kind and generous and giving, but I think much of the time, more than a girlfriend or a wife, what you need is a therapist. Just someone to talk to about your problems. You obsess too much over your grandfather, over the current state of society, over how much society reminds you of your grandfather, and basically how you've never known what to do with your life, even though you have the sort of life others dream of. Even your name is a constant source of irritation to you. And it's not your fault, of course, but you really do need to learn to relax more, let things go. And as much as I may help you in the short term, it's really just case by case. You really don't improve, so I think you need to see somebody, see a professional."

Fox looked at her disbelievingly. "And this explains why you're sleeping with Jack? How long has this been going on?"

Again she sighed. "This is the first time, honestly. I've never lied to you, even if I've lied to myself. It wasn't something we planned, it just sort of… happened." Fox scoffed at this. "I know, I know, another cliché. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. He came over to help me make preparations for the party, and we just got to talking about things, and found we felt the same way about some things. He'd been thinking the same things about you for a while now, and…." Sigh. "It just… we… I can't really say how it happened. I don't know if it means anything, or if it'll ever happen again. I mean, I don't know if it means anything for me and Jack, but obviously it means something for me and you. But what led to it, I think, is far more important than the act itself. We just don't belong together, Fox. I really am sorry."

The look of sympathy in her eyes was the most genuine emotion he'd seen from anyone in a very long time, perhaps ever. A few tears began to well up in his eyes, to match her own already misty eyes. It wasn't so much anything she'd said or done today; rather it was the sincerity of it, of her emotion right now, of the look on her face. He knew she cared, he knew she was genuinely sorry. He thought perhaps this was the truest moment of the entire century, anywhere in the world. For the moment, he felt the sort of deep and indescribable emotion he thought his grandfather must have felt so often, through his insanity, from so many little things in life, music and books and TV shows and his own random thoughts on life, the Universe, and everything. He envied his grandfather. As much pain as he was currently in, the intensity and the genuineness of this moment was perhaps the most beautiful thing he had ever experienced in his life, the greatest clarity he had ever known. He knew he wanted to change a great deal about himself. He wanted, as they used to say sometimes in that century, to find himself.