If you asked me now, I couldn’t tell you why. Why any of it, but in particular, why that first step. Why did I do that one thing that led to everything else. Why did I, against type and habit (and possibly even good sense), decide to flip that coin. (It wasn’t a real coin, of course, but considering how arbitrary and random the subject, it might just as well have been.)
So what was that unreal coin-flip about? What was the snowball that started the avalanche?
I left my hair down. On impulse.
Maybe acting on impulse isn’t really like flipping a coin, but it doesn’t really matter. I looked in the mirror that morning, getting ready for work (maybe it was just before I left the apartment), saw my hair not in a ponytail and thought, “Eh; what the hell.” Nothing more complicated than that. No huge decision, no major angst or hours spent teasing or manipulating it this way or that; just a look, a shrug, and I was on my way. Simple, right?
Of course everyone noticed; I mean, they’re not blind, right? (Apart from the Professor, who pretty much is with or without the glasses, but then I didn’t do it for him.) The looks I’d been getting (and the unusually vocal catcalling from that construction crew) on the way to the office had made me kinda nervous – but I got nothing but compliments from everyone at Planet Express. Genuine ones, too, even from Amy, who normally can’t make a ‘compliment’ about my appearance without making it a backhanded one. Maybe she was being a better actress than normal, but what the hell – just this once, I took her comment at face value…again, on impulse.
(Fry’s response, you ask? About what you’d expect; shock and some stuttering, a false start…and then simple, heartfelt and, well, wonderful. And no, I’m not telling, because A) I want to keep it private, and B) I don’t want to get ahead of myself.)
So I’d flipped that coin, rolled those dice, whatever (you pick the metaphor), and come out ahead. What did I do next? I decided to keep my hair that way. For now, at least. Maybe longer. Just another little ol’ impulse.
And then it went further.
At first, I thought: well, maybe now my hair was going to be down, I should get it styled, cut even. And in going to do that, I wondered, hey; why stop there? So I branched out; and that’s when everything started to change.
First, hair; next, clothes; then, attitude.
I don’t know exactly when the changes turned into a full-blown paradigm shift, but over the next six months, that’s pretty much the path it took. All of a sudden, I was re-evaluating almost every facet of my life, and seeing as how my changes in hairstyle, and then in outfits, got such good reactions from everyone I knew (and from quite a few people I didn’t know, some of whom were not unattractive), it just seemed to make sense to keep the ball rolling, so to speak. Now, some of the changes were far from huge, nor needed to be (like my relationship with my parents, or what I wore to work). But even so, small or not, they slowly built up. I went out more with my co-workers; I took more risks (in general, mostly, away from work – I deal with risk there all the time, and to be honest, I kinda preferred to try out my new outlook in places where it could only blow up in my face metaphorically). At work, I was still captain, but did my best to be a less nagging, stand-offish and permanently irritated one; crew and management, both, didn’t make it easy, but as time went on, it got easier, and yielded good results - things didn’t massively change, but the atmosphere improved. Effort and stick-to-itiveness kept it all going, but it was impulse that started it off; I looked at certain things, thought about change, and then thought, “Why not?”, and took a chance.
And overall, it was a success; most of what started out as temporary soon became permanent. (My experiments with LectroFlair hair colours, and Neptunian flamenco, I think, are best forgotten.) I had a wider scope to enjoy the view with, and a better relationship with my colleagues, family and friends (especially, oddly enough, with Amy – we’re not ‘sisters forever’ or anything, but the rivalry we sort of had has calmed down, which is nice, as we are the only two girls at work). It felt good.
I guess that explains Fry, if I think about it. Well, Fry and the vacation.
He’d complimented (and genuinely liked, since he couldn’t keep his eyes off) the new hairstyle and clothes, he’d liked the change of attitude at work (however small), and even did his best to help with various projects, like when I added that new window and then the chair in the living room, or took that life-drawing class. (Get your mind out of the gutter; he carried the easel.) We’d been spending more time together, as friends, and I looked at him one day, and “Why not?” decided to show up again.
It wasn’t something I’d wanted (or even been planning) on day one, you understand; I was listening to impulse more now, true, but with some things, it was still taking me a while to be impulsive – and possible new relationships, even with people I already knew, fell squarely in that area. But when the idea arrived, it refused to budge. We both had the vacation time (thanks in part to some favours called in from Hermes), the tickets were reasonable enough (and that was thanks to Amy, though she wouldn’t say why)…so I asked. (Whether or not anything remotely romantic actually happened, we were still good friends – and two good friends can go on vacation together and it doesn’t have to mean anything, right?)
When he’d finished coughing and spluttering up his Slurm, he said yes. It was soon all set and squared away with our ‘beloved’ management. Physically, I knew where we were going; in every other respect…I was flying blind.
Except for impulse, which was what’d got me into this in the first place.
BeachWorld was a good choice; I picked it at random out of a travel magazine (thinking I’d be going solo at the time), but considering the good time we had, I don’t think I could’ve come up with a better destination if I’d done a week of non-stop research. Sun, sand, and the best tanning in the Western Galaxy; what’s not to love? And from what I’d heard, the nightlife was pretty hot, too. The new outfits, and the new swimwear, would be undergoing their toughest test yet; the vacation singles scene.
Fry was nervous; I can read him fairly well after all our years together as co-workers and friends - and he was also doing a lousy job of hiding it. To be fair, though, he did have some reason; he was going to be alone, with an attractive co-worker (that he was very attracted to), in a beautiful resort (and planet) with quite a reputation as a place of ‘romantic activities’. It wasn’t RomantiWorld V, but its sunsets were in the top ten – hell, RomantiCorp even owned the southern continent! (My new impulsiveness wasn’t quite that strong, so we were going to somewhere on the northern one.) If I’d have been him, I would’ve been nervous, too; when someone you like that much makes that many changes, you can’t help but wonder if the next change could involve you. I’m sure he was wondering it; would all those ‘noes’ I’d been throwing his way turn into ‘yeses’? And if they did…what would happen next? (I knew this because, truthfully…that’s what part of me was thinking, too. The rest of me was desperately trying to hide it, but it was there.)
And not only that; the ‘new regime’ hadn’t dealt too much with guys up ‘till then, but it had got me asked out on a couple of dates, and though they hadn’t gone anywhere, I’d still had fun (even if it was only marginally more fun than I’d had before I’d started making changes). I wasn’t telling Fry everything about my new experiences, but I knew he knew about the dates. (Partly because he’d looked after Nibbler for at least one of them, and also because my only girlfriends then were Amy and my mom, and maybe LeBarbara; Amy may be cute, but she’s no good with a secret.) He knew, if nothing else, that we were friends, and that friends treated each other with respect; but when two single friends go on vacation together, there is the chance they’ll meet other people – would he have to spend the entire time watching me with someone else? (I can’t say that I felt exactly the same way at the time, but I could sympathise; nobody wanted a repeat of that Valentine’s date, and that’d only involved someone Fry’d been casually interested in.)
I was nervous, too; he wasn’t the only one going on a two-week vacation, to a gorgeous vacation planet, with someone they found attractive (barring his immaturity streak). I knew we were close; we’d been through so much together, and for each other, that it’d be hard to call us anything else – and it’d take a cold bitch to call a guy who’d sat a two-week vigil at her bedside while she was in a coma ‘just a friend’. But still; two-week vacation, single man, possibly romantic location. Was I still just listening to simple ‘What the hell’ impulses on basic stuff, or was there something else going on – some unconscious agenda? Was I, in fact, using ‘impulsiveness’ as an excuse to explore an option I’d long since written off as unfeasible? If so, was I trying to predetermine the outcome?
Did I want something to happen?
As it turned out, the first week-and-a-half was great; relaxing, invigorating – and platonic. We spent a lot of the time together, and had dinner with each other every night, but there was a lot of time where we went off and did our own things, and only saw each other in the evenings. There didn’t seem to be any tension, romantic or otherwise; we could spend an entire morning side-by-side on the beach, tanning or reading or both, and barely say a word to each other – and it didn’t feel the least bit awkward. Same with dinner; we could sit by ourselves, or even be invited to sit with a group (which did happen a couple of times; it was that kind of resort), and we both had enough to say (or were comfortable enough with companionable silence when neither of us wanted to talk) that there was none of the tension that’d grown up between us since he’d decided I was the object of his affections. (Well, there kinda was on the first day or maybe two, but after that, I think we both relaxed; whatever happened between us – if something happened – we’d still be okay with each other, and we both really needed the time off from work. If nothing else, time away from PE would do us both good.)
Alone and together, we tried out the nightlife inside and outside the resort, and had a lot of fun. Yeah, there were singles places (and yes, I did go to a couple of them alone), but I didn’t feel under any pressure to use them, and I don’t think he did, either. We’re both adults and we both have needs, true, but on my part at least, there wasn’t any pressing need to ‘prove’ myself, or my new outlook - especially in terms of how many guys I picked up. It was nice to be appreciated, but I hadn’t done any of this just for snuu-snuu. We caught some good rays, went to some of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten in (and so cheap, too!), and spent most of our nights partying like we were teenagers. We even each made some friends while we were there, too. All in all, perfect.
But my new impulsive streak wasn’t done with me yet.
I’m not surprised it happened. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say that; even when things are going well, I can never entirely forget the fact that they could change - a little voice in the back of my mind, even at the best of times, telling me to stay alert. On the social side of things, it can be a real buzzkill, but on the other hand it’s helped me survive in a job where the average life expectancy of my predecessors was usually measured in months. I don’t always like it, but I’ve learned to appreciate that little voice. Even after nearly two weeks of calm and fun, I still couldn’t switch it off; nothing had changed between me and Fry, but part of me was still laying in wait for the move to be made – most of me was relieved it hadn’t happened, but maybe another part…and I’m ahead of myself again.
But back to the point; when Fry suggested the late-night walk on the beach, it didn’t come as a shock – the only thing I’d say was unexpected was the fact that it’d taken this long to happen. There were other women there, and yeah, he’d looked at (and talked to) several of them – part of the reason the ‘tension’ between us had died down, I’d guess – but it was never that serious. You could probably chalk that up to him being on vacation, and wanting to keep things casual, but…that little voice again.
Maybe, maybe not.
I could’ve said no; I almost did. After all the fun we’d been having, who needed the tension back? (He could go back to chasing my shadow at work, if that’s what he really wanted.) But I said yes, so we went. And if you’d asked me then why I said yes, as I was throwing some clothes together in my room, or walking to the elevator with a feeling I wasn’t sure I wanted to name, I would’ve said clearly, “Because of two reasons; one, he’s my friend and respects me (or at least what I can do to him if he crosses the line), so things will stay platonic unless by mutual consent; and two, because of that respect and trust, why shouldn’t I? It’s a nice night, and I wouldn’t mind the fresh air.” That would’ve been my official line, and you could’ve tortured me for days and I wouldn’t have changed a word. But the truth, really, was that all of that showed up later, as backup. Those were the ‘official’ reasons; what got me to do it?
I looked at him, really looked at him right in those emerald-green eyes of his, and thought, (stop me if you’ve heard this one):
So I said yes, and we went for our walk.
It was a beautiful night; I had to remember that, even if it ended up host to the most awkward moment we’d ever had together. The weather was nice, with a glorious sky, and I was with a good friend I cared a great deal about.
We walked out of the lobby, down the street, along the boardwalk and almost to the edge of the water, and hadn’t said a lot; stuff about our day, what the rest of the guys at work might be doing and had been doing in our absence (was Amy flying the ship, was Bender taking this opportunity to rob us blind), what we planned to do tomorrow – so not a lot. Just small stuff. Gentle, pleasant stuff, that filled the time; made us forget the time, too, because all of a sudden we were there. If this was a ‘move’, Fry’d picked the perfect night to make it; there was the sky (perfectly clear black) and the stars (millions and millions, everywhere you looked) and the warmth of the air all around us. But most of all, there was the moon – the single, Earth-type satellite filling the sky above us, lighting up the utterly calm water with a picture-perfect reflection. You couldn’t have found a better romantic backdrop in a Mills & Boonbot holonovel. That feeling, that I hadn’t wanted to name before? It was a lot harder not to name it, and I was fairly sure what that name was going to be. But I pushed it aside, and waited. After a minute or two, staring at the stars and the water and the moon (and mostly, not each other), he turned to me and took a step closer.
I’d like to say that what he said was charming, poetic and elegant, but c’mon – this was Fry. So it wasn’t the best or the smoothest thing ever said (or that even I’d heard said), but it had the two things I was listening for – it was honest, and it was from the heart, just like what he’d said about my hair, back when this whole thing started.
He said that he’d watched all the changes I’d been making, and liked them, right from the beginning; not that he hadn’t liked me before, but he liked me even more now – work was more fun, and stuff outside work was also more fun, but most of all…and he paused.
And I said, softly, “So you prefer the new me?”
For a moment, he looked away, he didn’t say anything. Should I have been feeling something? Should I have been nervous, scared, disappointed that he couldn’t find the words to express what he wanted to say? He suddenly looked back at me, catching me off guard, and…the words came out.
“Leela, you’re not ‘new’, not like that; you’re the same person you always were, only now you’re better, ‘cause you feel better about yourself, and that makes you feel better about everything else, too. You’re so much happier now and that makes me happy, too, because the most important thing to me in the whole universe is that you’re happy.” He took my hand and held it in both of his. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted you to be.”
And it all came together; the years around each other, the knowledge of each other, the sacrifices, the feelings…they all suddenly fit, like puzzle pieces. The picture they created touched me right down to the bottom of my heart, and showed me exactly what I should feel. And I acted on the impulse that emotion created – I kissed him.
I kissed him long and hard and passionately, and made sure he knew what I felt in no uncertain terms. I loved him; what would happen later I didn’t know, but I loved him and for right then it was so, so perfect. And even when it wasn’t perfect, I would still love him, and he’d love me right back.
And he was right; I was happy.
It’s funny; even now, all these years later, when I look back at that period and try to tell the story like I have here, I’m still amazed that so much came out of such a small change – not to mention humbled to realise I could have missed out on so many wonderful experiences just by not making it. Especially Fry; I could have missed out on the best thing ever, just by playing it safe. When that thought hit me, I had to go and give that ol’ man of mine a big hug and kiss right then and there; just to show him, and myself, how happy I was to have made the right decision, and how grateful he’d stuck around. And it wasn’t all easy; there were fights, and problems, and one time where we very nearly called it quits. But we got through it; in part because of our friends and family, and also because of our stubborn refusal to lay down and die, we got over those hurdles and kept going.
We made a life together; we had a family together. We’ve been Mr. and Mrs. Fry for most of the last thirty years, and I wouldn’t change a second. And neither, I suspect, would anybody around us (I know the kids wouldn’t).
So how to end this? I guess by expressing the one sentiment that’s been in the back of my mind for thirty years, that stayed there whether we were up or down – and one I know my beloved husband agrees with entirely:
‘Man, am I ever glad I let my hair down.’