Store Bought Love

“I bought you an Ernai.”

My mother nonchalantly sipped her dry Merlot, picking at her chef’s salad. The martini that had been casually slipping down my throat caught like a thick lump, threatening to choke me to death. As I gasped for air, trying not to drown, she waited patiently for my “dramatics” to cease. Not a brown hair was out of place in her carefully crafted chignon. In this light, she looked like she could be my sister, thanks to Dr. Rialis. Sometimes I wondered what I would look like at her actual age. Lord knows she only offered false advertisement in the ways of aging gracefully. Her deep-set hazel eyes scanned the room, searching for familiar faces. The one in front of her wasn’t the one she wanted. Her spinster daughter had little to offer in the way of a status symbol at this point.

She pretended not to notice my glare as my lungs eased in their desperate gasps for air. Today was one of those days I wished she was dead. Life would be easier—more than I’d care to admit.

“You. Did Not.” My tone was measured. She was like a pampered house cat. One wrong look, and she’d probably shit on my pillow, just for the reaction.

“I did. And I won’t apologize for it. You’re turning thirty today, Melora. It’s about time you start thinking about how you want to spend the rest of your life. It’s so inappropriate, being without an Ernai at this age.”

The vodka burned as I took a large swig of the martini, emptying it. Nearby, someone chuckled as glasses clinked together. Somewhere above us, swanky beats played from an invisible speaker, adding ambiance to an overpriced joint—the kind of restaurant my mother adored. Waiters brushed past us carrying delectable dishes, sweeping by one another like cars in a one-lane road. Everything more than five feet away from us was normal. Normal. She hated that word. It might as well be a curse word to my mother. In her pursuit to be unique, she had gone too far this time.

“Mother, those aren’t returnable. What if I don’t want it?”

She raised a professionally plucked eyebrow and clucked her tongue dismissively.

“Can you honestly say you don’t want a clean house and a fresh dinner every day? You work so hard. You deserve some downtime after work.”

I pursed my lips and looked down at my untouched steak. She had a point. In the pursuit of making partner, my 90-hour workweek was grinding me into the dust. More often than not my dinners consisted of booze and frozen buttermilk waffles—dinner of champions.

“Fine. If I don’t like it, you’re in charge of disposal.”

She shrugged. “Of course. I’m used to cleaning up your mistakes.”

It was futile to point out it would be her mistake, not mine. “When does it arrive?”

“On Thursday.”

“Mother! that’s in five days!” The couple next to us jumped at my loud reaction. Looking down at me through her pearl-rimmed glasses, she sniffed with disdain.

“Really, Melora. I did not raise you to be ungrateful.”

Her condescending words were grating. She had successfully made me feel an inch tall and twenty years younger in less than five sentences.

“Fine,” I huffed and refocused on the perfectly cooked steak in front of me, made by one of the restaurant’s well-trained churls.

Satisfied with my obedience, she settled back into her chair and brought her hands together with a light clap.

“Good. You’ll find a purchase confirmation email in your inbox. I gave them a rough idea of what I thought would be a good fit for you, but you have the deciding power on what it looks like, intelligence level, and of course, capabilities in all of the more important ways.”

She winked. With a look of disgust, I motioned to a waiter for another martini. They said males used to be the gross ones. I wasn’t so sure bad behavior was entirely gender relevant. When the waiter swooped in with my martini, handing it to me with a flourish, she held up her wine glass, the thick red legs slowly sliding down the glass like blood.

“To you, my dear daughter. May you have everything that I know you deserve.” I begrudgingly raised my glass to hers, half hoping it would shatter and mar her surgically enhanced skin.

She looked me in the eye and gave a warm smile. After a moment of hesitation, I returned her smile.

“To everything I deserve,” I repeated. For the millionth time in my life, I was happy that the geneticists and other scientists had allowed us to keep our private thoughts.


My apartment felt so empty and lonely when I returned. A week ago, the idea of being home alone would have been fine. Now, it was impossible not to imagine filling this sparse setting with more life—maybe even love. The bare walls could be decorated with art and pictures of vacations with my Ernai. We could choose a new couch together, replacing the worn gray one I found at a garage sale two years ago. In two weeks, I could come home to the smells of a home-cooked meal and maybe even the sounds of light jazz. If my mom spent as much as I think she did, a well-crafted delicious hunk could make its way over and kiss me. Ask me how my day was. Rub my tired shoulders. Sex me up until I demanded mercy.

That sounded nice.

Tossing my purse on the kitchen counter, a trail of clothes followed me as I walked to the bathroom.

“Jewel, turn on the shower to one hundred and ten degrees.”

The hot water sprayed inside my grey-tiled shower, the floors warming underneath my toes. The mirror gently illuminated as I stepped closer, inspecting my pores. Soon, it would be time to get a reduction. Luckily, I had inherited my mother’s good looks. The only difference was my blue eyes. Her old Ernai, Michael, had brilliantly blue eyes. It was the only thing about myself that would never change.

What color would my Ernai’s eyes be? Did I even want to have children with it?

The scalding shower warmed up my weary bones, loosening my tense muscles. Soap dispensed from above, squirting into my scalp while I massaged it into my hair. Lost in thought, I visualized what it would be like to have an Ernai. My best friend Jessica loved hers. It was an impressive specimen, with cinnamon-colored skin and dark black curls that always looked wet. Its engineered smile was panty-dropping. When I asked her how he matched up with her original order, she had snorted.

“It cooks a mean crepe but doesn’t fuck for shit.”

She was getting a part-time Alfons for Christmas this year to compensate. I added good in bed to the mental checklist. It would be interesting, copulating with my very own Ernai. It must be more intimate than the hour-long dates with the models at the local Alfons club. Cheaper, too.

The more I considered my mother’s “gift,” the more excited I became. There were so many upsides. Sure, I would have to figure out how to feed and clothe it, but it’s not like I was hurting for money.

After slipping on silk pajamas, I settled into my bed and flicked my wrist into two circles, activating my computer screen. The transparent screen popped up, different alerts flashing. Emails, direct messages, unwatched ads—it was overwhelming. Shoving aside everything but my inbox, my fingers danced across the air, activating my incoming emails. Sure enough, an Ernai enrollment email blinked in bold. Popping it open with a finger, four paragraphs of directions began to scroll upwards. Skimming to the bottom, I saw an attached video with the words Play Me flashing in italic red letters. Taking a deep breath, I clicked on it and settled back into my goose-down pillows. A young woman with brown curls beamed at me, her high-pitched voice began to blare over the speaker.

“Hi! I’m Megan, your Ernai Guide!” Her curls bounced as she spoke. Something about her was a bit too fabricated. Maybe she ate uppers for breakfast.

“In a couple of days, you’re going to be the owner of a brand new Ernai! Isn’t that exciting? Above this video are some links you need to follow to provide us with personal information to match you with the right Ernai. Please also make sure to tell us the best delivery window, so you can be there when it arrives. Just relax and let your Ernai create an easier life for you. After all, this is what you deserve.”

I snorted. The word “deserve” sure seemed to be popular lately.

“Here are some rules you must follow. First, unapproved insemination by your Ernai is strictly prohibited by law. Impregnation without a permit will result in immediate termination or adoption. Second, never tell your Ernai the history of males. We survived the patriarchy, it’s important that we maintain our way of life. Third, please restrict access to all media types, including bookings and television. Fourth, please ensure your household security is up to date and that all doors leading outside are secured. They are bred to behave, but some of you like a little rebellion.” She winked. I shuttered. “That’s it! Please make sure to take time and consider exactly what you want in an Ernai. After all, it’s what you deserve.”

The video ended, frozen on Megan’s big over-medicated smile. Scrolling upwards, I clicked on the first link and gasped. There were over two hundred questions! The moment called for more wine. Swinging over to my nightstand, my manicured finger pressed the blue button, and a small chunk of the surface peeled inwards, and a dark, brown bottle rose from the depths. Grabbing it, I waited for a beat while a glass followed. Already uncorked and ready to party. The liquid sloshed as it poured against the edges, the rich smell of fermented berries making my mouth water. When it was filled to the brim, I nestled into my pillowed and eyed the questions critically.

The preference questions ranged from how I wanted my Ernai to look to his domestic skills. There was even a section on sexual prowess and breeding abilities. If a woman had the desire, she could invest in an Ernai Breeding Permit. After a moment of contemplation, I decided to go with good breeding stock, as well as a good conversationalist. It was taboo to love them, but having a general entertainment companion was totally acceptable. Once, I saw a television show where a woman fell in love with her car. It was kind of like that.

By the time the wine bottle was empty, all of the questions and paperwork were completed and submitted. Feeling exhausted relief, I sighed and swiped my computer away. There was still so much to do and so little time to do it.

By Thursday afternoon, I was buzzing with excitement. The spare bedroom was set up with the specifications required but with some homey touches. Every Ernai was different, so hopefully, it enjoyed its space. Right before the delivery time, my phone pinged. It was a text from my mother, wishing me good luck and asking for pictures. Of course, she did. Right at 12:59 p.m., I heard an engine rumble to a stop in front of my building and then a honk. My stomach lurched and a lump of anxiety caught in my ribs, threatening to suffocate me.

The doorbell rang. Taking a deep breath and bracing for the momentous occasion, I opened the door with a dramatic swing. In the bright sunlight stood Megan and my Ernai. It was gorgeous, with shamrock green eyes, full lips with a curved cupid’s bow, and tousled blonde hair that fell just below his pronounced jawline. Delicious.

“MELORA!” Megan squealed, rushing in to give me a suffocating hug. A rib cracked out of place in her enthusiasm. Someone should check in on her dosage.

“Uh, hi, wel—”

Megan released her grip and brushed past me, peering around my foyer and the living room beyond. “Oh, Melora, this is so exciting! Where would you like my work studs to bring it?”

That’s when I saw the churls standing behind her, silent and slack-jawed. Their eyes moved to mine, waiting for orders.

“Please escort it to the living room.”

They gave a brief nod and gently prodded the Ernai forward. It held my gaze as it passed, its piercing green eyes unnerving.

“All right, so here is your paperwork and control device!” Megan handed me a tablet to sign with my finger, and then gave me a wristband to wear. “Remember, if you have any issues with the Ernai, please call immediately—day or night. Also, in your email, you’ll find care instructions. We don’t monitor how you treat your Ernai, but you will not receive a replacement if extensive abuse is evident. I’ll see you soon!” She sucked in a breath, finally remembering how to exist. Her words were a jumbled mess. Definitely needed her meds adjusted.

After a quick goodbye hug, she and the churls closed the door behind them with finality. Taking a deep breath, I turned back to my Ernai, bracing myself for the unknown.

It stood in the living room, silently taking in the space with those striking eyes. It was formidably built, around six feet tall, and crafted muscles subtly flexing under the thin purple t-shirt as it turned to look at me. I glanced at my wristband for its unit number: #1482B3.

“What is your unit name?”

“My unit name is riordan.” I expected it to make eye contact again but instead, its eyes danced around its new surroundings.

“Do you have a nickname?”

“Yes. I was called rye at the training camp.”

I nodded to myself. “All right, rye. Your accommodations are to the left. The security system ensures that the windows and doors can only be unlocked by me, so don’t try anything. Have a seat.” I motioned to the couch, but he just stood there, already defiant. The small act of rebellion elicited an indulgent smile from me. Feeling slightly exhilarated, I reached for my wristband and pressed the tiny silver button. The metal device inside its neck pulsed with an electric current, causing its face to flush and neck muscles to strain into thick cords of tension. It sucked in a sharp breath but made no other noise. I let go of the button, and immediately, its whole body relaxed.

“I said sit.” It obeyed immediately, eyes trained to the floor.

I smiled again and walked over, looming over this yummy new gift. “You can call me Mel. Are you happy to be here?” I asked, petting its soft hair. I leaned in and took a deep whiff, smelling its warm musk.

“I am happy to be here with you.” It turned and looked me directly in the eye, the blue irises glimmering like tropical waters. “I was created for you. I am your soulmate.”

“Yes, you are.” Sitting down next to it, I brought a hand to its chest, enjoying the warmth beneath my palm. It gave no reaction, only waiting for the next command. The obedience was intoxicating. My pulse quickened at this newfound power.

“Let’s see what the training school taught you to do,” I murmured.

My fingers coyly slipped under the shirt, snaking up to the soft curls that speckled the chiseled chest.

“I’m here to serve.” It said robotically, turning towards me with deft fingers.

“Yes, you are,” I said breathlessly, already lost in this unexpected gift. “I like it rough. Can you oblige?”

“I am here to serve,” it repeated, big hands snaking up to my neck and squeezing gently. I gasped, every nerve ending electrified. Shit. I owed my mother a thank you card now.

rye was an incredible addition to my world, easily integrating into the daily routine. While there were occasional moments of rebellion, there were less than a handful of times that required the electric chastisement. My household was cared for, and, as my mother promised, I was able to enjoy my downtime more than ever. Coming home to a homecooked meal in a sparkling clean apartment was incredible, but the sex on demand was better than imagined. It fucked like a god. My mother smugly accepted my gratitude, but I didn’t mind. She had been right. All of the Ernai ads that had never appealed to me made more sense now.

One of the best parts of having an Ernai was developing the intimacy that improved the relationship. Every night, rye obediently got into bed with me and stroked my back as it asked personal questions. Since rye had arrived a couple of months ago, we slowly began to bond on a deeper level. Sometimes, I would catch myself thinking of rye as “he” but quickly banished those thoughts. Anthropomorphizing the Ernais was not only taboo but illegal. Yet, the thoughts of it as a “he” persisted. Maybe it was the way it whistled while making waffles. Perhaps it was the way he gently caressed me to sleep, calming each and every muscle slowly. The way it fucked voraciously, nasty commands spewing forth, made me feel helpless and powerful all at once. The affectionate emotions growing were taboo, but it felt impossible to avoid. How could you not come to love what was built specifically for you? It was no different than my affection for my favorite leather jacket—right?

Two months into this delightful experience, rye held me under thick blankets, his expert fingers sliding up and down my spine. We were cuddling in bed, as naked as the original sinning gods of old. My breath was warm on his chest, the smell of oranges relaxing. He had made Orange Meringue for dessert, and the scent lingered on his skin. The dessert had been incredible, especially when it let me lick the dish off his chiseled stomach. His voice rumbled as it asked a question.

“Tell me something about yourself.”

I shifted, laying on my back so I could get a better look at those emerald eyes. “What do you want to know?”

That curved cupid’s bow curled up in a playful smile. My skin broke out into goosebumps as a thumb played with the lining of my panties, slipping under the soft cotton with tiny teasing brushes.

“Tell me your most embarrassing moment. What was it like?” he asked. Trying to focus while his thumb came dangerously close between my legs, I contemplated the question.

“When I was seventeen, my mother brought me to an Alfons club.”

He sucked in a breath, his shock palpable. “That’s so young.”

I nodded. “Yeah. She thought it was time to have my first sexual experience. She’s always had issues with boundaries.”

“The club owner was okay with this?” it said.

I shrugged. “They were friends, apparently. So she chose this one Alfons, davide. He was almost as inexperienced as me, and she thought that might be a good starting point.”

He was quiet for a moment. “Was it a good experience?”

I laughed. “Barely. I mean, it was gentle. Despite its inexperience in the service clubs, it had been well trained. However, we had both gotten caught up in the moment and forgot the mandatory precautions.”

rye stilled, waiting for me to continue. I wasn’t even sure if this was appropriate to share.

“I got pregnant.” The words hung in the air, dangerously bringing me to tears.

“I see…what happened then?” His tone was measured.

“You know what happened. They forced me to abort.” My heart squeezed painfully. I hadn’t even realized the Alfons had impregnated me until about three months later. The surgical surety of snipping did not take, apparently. The Alfons was Relocated afterward, but not before ruining my introduction into adulthood. My womb had never stopped aching from emptiness.

“It wasn’t your fault,” murmured rye. He turned towards me, collecting me into his arms. Tears threatened to spill, even after all this time. I still felt echoes of the suctioning sensation and proceeding emptiness of my core, never to feel whole again.

He held me tightly, speaking soft words of comfort while I wept. My brain felt jumbled, confusion mixing me all up. An invisible line had been crossed, and I didn’t know how to turn back. Cannonballing into the moment, I blurted out the worst possible words.

“I love you rye.”

He stilled. My breath caught, terrified of the rejection, which was stupid because it was my property. Rejection was impossible.

“I love you too, Mel.” He tilted my mouth up to his and kissed me passionately, unfurling my doubts and demolishing my barriers.

It would never be the same between us. Something about that was comforting.


It took around a year for Rye and me to settle into a delightful routine. Not that there was anyone I could share this with. The line between owner and Ernai had been demolished so severely, if anyone found out what we had become, he would be destroyed, and I would be sterilized and sent to work camps. This experience had to be kept private, but that was part of the thrill if I was honest.

His wonder at books and television was delightful. The way he raptly peered at the news was charming, like watching a toddler discover the world around him. Eventually, we were able to discuss abstract concepts and modern politics. He eagerly absorbed information about how women had overcome man’s rulership, forging a kinder and more successful society. The topic was an endless fascination for him. What we were doing was illegal, but it felt so perfect. So right.

I wish I had listened to the laws.


On a particularly stressful Monday, he offered to make me my favorite dessert—chocolate cake. Programmed to be attentive, he knew precisely what would cheer me up. That was a huge part of why this whole experience was so incredible. The apartment was warm with life, and it was a delight to come home every night. He helped me find art we both loved and even bought candles that he lit every night. He was trained in the art of ambiance and relaxation. The tiny fires flickered against the newly painted walls as he mixed the different ingredients. I sat on a barstool, filling out my endless stack of legal documents and sipping on wine. The firm promised that I would finally make partner after an upcoming supreme court case involving the treatment of Alfons. It meant hours upon days of work. Rye and I had been barely able to spend time together, so it was nice to spend time together. So while he mixed the different ingredients, my stomach grumbling at the smell of chocolate, he peppered me with various questions about Citizens and males.

“So men once ruled Citizens?”

Lately, he didn’t seem able to let the topic go, but he would never see the world outside except for places pre-approved for Ernai travel. The least I could do was encourage his imagination. I gave an indulgent smile. He paused, looking up from the mixing bowl, those green eyes eager for information. A burst of love burned in my chest, bubbles of happiness popping all over my body. This kind of love had seemed like a fairy tale, regulated to domestic partnerships with other women. Why had no one discussed how potent emotions between women and Ernais could be?

“Yep. Males once ruled Citizens, except we weren’t citizens back then. They say it was hell on earth for a very long time. A hundred years ago, the birth rate dropped, and in man’s desperation to continue their lineages, Citizens seized the opportunity and held their own wombs hostage. They built the society we have now. It’s better for everyone.”

“Who says that?”

I frowned at his question. “Who says what?”

He cocked his head and motioned in the air with flour-covered fingers. “That it’s better for everyone?”

Shrugging, I grabbed the glass of wine and took a deep gulp. This line of questioning was dangerous. Rye was trustworthy. Throwing caution to the wind, I sucked in a breath and tried to explain the history to the best of my knowledge. “Men were bloodthirsty. They killed for the thrill of it and abused everyone they disapproved of. Billions died over the whole existence of humans. We needed to survive as a species, so it was necessary to breed out the vicious need for death. Citizens saved the world.”

He stared for a beat and then returned to his stirring, grabbing the bowl and turning his back to me. He was upset but afraid to say it. He just didn’t understand. Everyone knew that Citizens were in the right, raising Ernais, Churls, and Alfons the way we did. Yet, I also knew Rye was gentle and loving. He was nothing like the males in the history books. I stood and made my way over to him, hugging him from behind. He smelled warm and inviting, like home.

“Would you like to go on a trip together?” I murmured into his t-shirt.

He shook his head. Surprised, I stepped back. It was unlike him to turn me down. Reaching for an arm, I gently turned him to face me, searching his face. He avoided looking me in the eye.

“Hey, look at me.” He obliged, but I could tell it was a superficial response. I caressed his cheek and reached up on my tippy-toes, kissing him on the lips.

“Hey. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” His voice was monotone. My concern deepened. He hadn’t behaved like this in months.

“Rye, what’s going on? Talk to me.” I kissed him again, hoping he would respond in kind. To my dismay, he stayed motionless, uninterested in these placations. My wrist twitched, my fingers itching to press the wristband’s button.

He pulled back, offering me a hopeful look. “Will you help me leave the life of an Ernai and let me have my own life?”

I laughed at the ridiculous request. “Of course not. You know that’s impossible. Escaping is even more illegal than love. They would execute us. Can’t we just be happy with what we have?”

He looked crestfallen before forcing a smile. “You’re right. I’m sorry I even asked. The cake will be ready by the time dinner is done.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank gods he understood. Escaping was impossible. All males had that drilled into their brains from birth. Everything was monitored in our society, minus our private homes. There was no way I could bring him anywhere else, and besides, why would I want to? I loved what we had. We had everything we could ever want. It was pointless to be greedy.

When dinner was made and devoured, I left him in the kitchen to clean up while I rinsed off in the hot shower, prepping for our nightly romp. As I was drying off, he came into the bedroom, naked and already hard. I took a moment to admire his adonis figure, male sexuality incarnate. Every fiber of my being ached for him. The way he looked at me, hungry and full of lust, made me feel as if he owned me and not the other way around. I walked over to the bed and laid on my back, presenting myself as an offering to my god.

“Come fuck me,” I purred, stretching out like a lazy cat. My body was already responding in anticipation as he reached between my legs and started rubbing in small circles. A moan escaped as my eager hips lifted upwards. He lowered his muscular body between my thighs and slowly filled me up. I groaned, absorbed in the sensations.

He thrust in and out slowly, knowing he was driving me wild. After a year of practice, my body had become familiar terrain for him. Rye knew all of the nooks and crannies that drove me wild. He put his hands around my neck—my favorite. He squeezed gently, and my blood roared in response. He spoke after a few moments.

“Mel, I deserve better than this.”

Lost in the sensations, my thoughts were fuzzy. “You can cum soon, baby.”

“No, you don’t understand.” His hips reached a fevered pitch, my insides aching. My breath came in short spurts, making it difficult to respond.

“Can…you…stop…?” I asked, my lungs burning. Stars began to sparkle in my eyes. Normally I loved this sensation, but this felt different. He was flirting with a line we hadn’t crossed before. My eyes frantically sought the wrist band on my left arm, scrambling to press the silver button. Just before my thumb could find my only way out, Rye’s hand clamped down, crushing my wrist under his grip.

“I deserve freedom. If you won’t give it to me, I’ll take it. ” He ground his teeth in frustration, the hands around my neck tightening even more. Suddenly, his intentions were painfully clear. My mouth gaped like a dying fish, my face slamming into the mattress as my fingers clawed at his grip. The bedroom began to fade away, tunneling my soul into darkness. Why was he doing this? Didn’t he know this was futile, that they would destroy him for this?

“I…love…” I couldn’t finish the sentence, my body failing and separating from life. From a million miles away, I heard him roar in rage. As the world began to disappear, my body convulsing with pleasure and agony, I wondered if my mother would get a refund.

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