Ditzy And Champion

Overview

Welcome to the chat room
A place to talk about relationships.
A place to make connections.
A place to... meet your stalker?
Faye joins the chat room to relax and make friends.
She ends up getting more than she bargained for when one of her chat buddies steps off the ...
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Ditzy and Champion

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Overview

Welcome to the chat room
A place to talk about relationships.
A place to make connections.
A place to... meet your stalker?
Faye joins the chat room to relax and make friends.
She ends up getting more than she bargained for when one of her chat buddies steps off the computer screen and into her office.
Ray thinks he might just be the man of Fay's dreams, but instead Faye and her husband find themselves in a nightmare.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934041406
  • Publisher: Swimming Kangaroo Books
  • Publication date: 10/31/2007
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

"Sex"

"Sex"

"Sex"

"Sex"

Faye stared at her computer screen with surprise. Many strange personalities surfing the net entered their chat room about relationships. This nonsense was by a cyberspace weirdo called Forgasm. Suddenly, she heard Jeff, her husband, come home from work. He'd only smirk if he saw this message on the screen. He always made fun of her electronic pastime.

"Any of you gals interested in doing, not talking?" Forgasm asked.

"GET OUT!" MadMama wrote instantly, using capital letters for emphasis. She was not one to waste time or her words.

"Either behave or leave the room," the chat host ordered.

"Sex is great," Forgasm said, ignoring the previous comments.

"Get rid of him, CH," insisted Sweetsand.

Then, with no notice, Forgasm's name and repetitive message disappeared from the screen as if electronically decapitated. The chat host, who worked for National, the online service, had been quick to handle the errant note.

"Hi hon! How's the chat going? Everyone happy?" Jeff peeked into her alcove.

No more derisive than usual, Faye thought, diverted from the busy screen. Her eyes flitted for a moment around her small room where she enjoyed a minor bit of privacy, settling on her printer which sat atop a computer table with storage space at its bottom level. The table was made of pressed wood. Not teak, which was her favorite wood. Much of the furniture in their house had a modern Scandinavian look. But she had found a small teak filing cabinet, and she adored the Chagall print of the Man Over Vitebsk hanging on the wall that Jeff had bought as a birthday gift for her. They had alovely home, all their friends said, usually complimenting her sense of design.

"Fine," she yelled back, staring at the screen again. "Dinner's ready. Do you want to take a shower first?"

"No, later. Finish your chat first. I'm not that hungry."

Sitting in her black leather armchair in their one-story, four bedroom house in the San Fernando Valley part of Los Angeles, Faye deliberated a moment before continuing in her favorite chat session. She had been a regular on Relationships for several months now, and some of the sessions had been fascinating. While Jeff, her husband of six years, disdained the chat sessions and just used the computer to ferret out information, mostly on the stock market, she enjoyed parrying with others on the chat. It was relaxing after a difficult day handling billing and setting up courses for World Village, the adult education school where she worked, and it was certainly better than the mindless garbage on television. If they ever had children--her fervent wish--she would have less time for such diversions, but she had yet to conceive, and according to the good doctors, there was nothing wrong with her reproductive system or Jeff's sperm count.

Faye tried to catch up on the screen, with the messages interweaving between each other. Chat was fun but also frustrating, with one's sentences broken into by others and not necessarily on the same subject. The topic tonight was who was better able to commit to a relationship--men or women. As usual, the chat host was letting the conversation flow.

"People are afraid to confront their true feelings," said Bunny, her best friend on chat. She and Bunny had yet to meet despite both claiming they wanted to get together sometime in the future. Chances were, Faye realized, with a mild feeling of regret, that such an encounter would never happen as Bunny lived far away in Philadelphia.

"My real feeling is that people in relationships can't see things clearly," wrote SuperGirl, who was always pontificating. Big mouth, little content.

"Men are cowards as far as showing their real feelings," declared HerTwice, another regular.

Sometimes you could tell something about a member by the chat nickname they chose. Some nicknames tried to express a characteristic or viewpoint of the person; others were meant to be comical such as SpermWars and Sexaholic. HerTwice might just be a bit overweight, Faye thought with a smile, glad that she had the time and discipline to exercise on a regular basis. Or maybe HerTwice was one of twins?

She had signed up with National a year ago and had struggled to supply a chat nickname, finally deciding to treat the matter in a humorous fashion. Jeff always said she was a ditz, so she just added a "y." She could change her nickname, but she had taken a perverse liking to it, always glad to show by the intelligence of her comments how bright she really was.

She looked at the right side of the screen where all the chat participants were listed alphabetically. Most of the nicknames were on the fanciful side. As people entered or left the chat room their nicknames appeared or disappeared, just like a blip on a radar screen. Meanwhile, a note appeared on the screen that such and such had entered or left the room. Another electronic wonder with these sudden updates done by a machine and not the chat host.

"Women are closer to their feelings," said MadMama, whose madness, Faye reasoned, probably stemmed from the admission that she had four grown children. Double M was always direct and basic but rather one-dimensional. Faye had the feeling that she gave her husband, if one were still around, double trouble.

"And able to express them," added Crewcook, a relative newcomer to the chat who tended to be simplistic and assertive. A real women's rights fanatic. Did she have a large family she cooked for, Faye wondered; or maybe she had worked as a cook in a lumber camp? Regardless, it was amusing to speculate what people might really be like, one of the unexpressed aspects of the electronic pastime and not one promoted by the various on-line services.

"Depends on the person," argued Lord Sam, one of the few men on the chat.

If this lord was married, his wife must really be treated like some sort of serf, Faye thought. His comments were often on the overbearing side, and he never seemed to admit he might just possibly be wrong.

"Wives are much more likely to show their feelings," ventured Sassylass. Bright and interesting, Sassylass sounded like she was much younger than some of the others. On occasion, children surfaced in chats, and once there had even been a rather precocious seven-year old girl.

"Absolutely," agreed HerTwice.

"Depends on the wife and husband," Lord Sam countered with his usual stubborn stance.

"What do you think, Ditzy?" Bunny asked.

Bunny, dear heart, was always putting her on the spot, Faye sighed. It was sort of a tribute to Bunny's perception of her as bright, but she would prefer to choose her own times for contributions to the conversation.

"Generally," Faye typed on her keyboard. "I vote for women. But my husband's no slouch."

"But he's in advertising," Bunny said, as if this kind of employment assured male closeness to and disclosure of their feelings.

"Sounds exciting," MadMama said.

"Not so exciting," Faye replied, unhappy at the reference to her husband's field of employment. As always there was the danger in chat--people reading meanings into simple sentences. She was going to have to ask Bunny not to make any more personal references about what Jeff did for a living. That was no one's business. She had shared this information with Bunny at a previous chat when she felt bound to reciprocate at Bunny's revelation that her husband was a plumber.

"Selling feelings?" inquired Sweetsand.

"Men are much more afraid to commit," opined HerTwice.

Faye was pleased that the conversation had returned to the original subject, and she decided to ignore Sweetsand's snide question. HerTwice was usually sensible, though often bitter-sounding.

"No more than women," Champion wrote.

He was another of the few men who participated in this chat. Faye wondered what type of man would be interested in a chat about relationships that was for the most part frequented by women. His statements, though, stayed on the mark as a rule, and he was never abusive. But this comment was much too reactive and gender positive. Should she respond? she wondered.

Faye stared at the screen with a bemused smile. Champion sounded like an intelligent person, which was more than she could say for some of the others whose assertions were often inane. "Commitment is non-gender," she wrote.

"Glad you agree," Champion came back.

"Men just want one thing," wrote MadMama.

"Which is?" Lord Sam questioned.

Idiot! Faye thought.

"If you don't know by now ... (g)," jabbed Sweetsand. The beach dweller or beach lover usually just lurked, but she was acerbic when she did participate which, more often than not, was to put someone down.

Use of the symbols and emoticons probably soothed a lot of nerves and prevented arguments. When Faye first logged on, she didn't know that (g) meant grin, or VBG "very big grin." IMHO really stumped her for a while until she discovered it meant "In my humble opinion." Now she had a useful print-out of all this new computer vocabulary and design symbols for happy smiles and such.

"Teach me!" Lord Sam, not one to see or take a joke, threw back.

"Easy, folks," the chat host interposed, keeping the peace.

Not an easy job maintaining civility among so many different personalities and perspectives, Faye thought, wondering what the chat host was like and what he thought of his electronic charges.

"Men are pigs," declared Crewcook.

"We're all pigs, except--" wrote SuperGirl.

"Speak for yourself," Lord Sam broke in.

".... some of us are more porcine than others," Champion retorted.

Great comment, Faye admired. And porcine? How many of the participants even knew what the word meant or the source of his quote. Most of the participants were probably middle class, just like her, and it cost money to log on. But educational levels had to differ, and you could tell sometimes from the comments how intelligent participants were. Champion sounded quite literate. He was probably a college graduate like herself.

"And George Orwell is turning over in his tomb," she wrote, hoping no one would butt in before she could complete the simple, short sentence. Even before her unbroken sentence flashed on the screen, she regretted writing it.

"Who?" Crewcook wrote.

She probably knew who Orwell was and what famous books he had written and was just trying to be funny. Or maybe she was ignorant. Either way, Faye tried to control her irritation. Some people just wanted to be troublesome.

"Is he on chat?" wondered MadMama.

Silly questions, Faye thought, but what did she expect? Chat wasn't a setting where everyone shared similar educational backgrounds. No doubt, some of them thought she was a snob.

"Touché," Champion acknowledged.

Faye smiled. At least he appreciated her humor.

"You two literary types belong together," Sweetsand wrote.

"This is relationship chat, not english 101," whined Crewcook.

Crybaby! Faye thought, her fingers itching to type the word and see it burn across the screen. Crewcook didn't even know enough to capitalize English, though many people took writing shortcuts when they chatted.

"Funny, Faye, but then you're a valley girl," Bunny wrote.

She wished, though, that Bunny would not use her real name or where she lived. She had to send Bunny a tactful email to avoid hurting her feelings. When she first started chatting she had been too open, which was her nature. Jeff always complained that she even had trouble getting ridding of nuisance telemarketing calls. Now Bunny felt free to mention her first name, that she was in the adult education field and other personal items.

"Ditzy, we can go to class together. What city are you in?" Champion asked.

"Los Angeles," Faye wrote, and then regretted this message as well, though he probably knew what the reference to "valley girl" meant. He probably thought she was a ditz. Sometimes, as she sat at the keyboard, it was like her fingers had a life and mission of their own. "And you?" she added, as if to show she had done nothing wrong.

"Tucson," Champion wrote. "Can I look at your homework?"

"Only if you bring an apple," Faye wrote, wanting to keep in the spirit of things. Often when the chat hour was drawing to a close, comments tended to veer off topic and into general banter, especially between regulars. She heard Jeff moving around in the kitchen. He was probably starved, and he knew quite well when the chat sessions ended.

And then Faye wasn't so sure that she hadn't made a mistake as she received an Instant Message from Champion: "Would love to discuss Orwell in LA. Can we have a drink or coffee?"

"Sorry, not interested," Faye wrote back after a moment's hesitation. She thought of adding that she was married, but that had been implicit on the board and chances were that Champion just wanted to meet a fellow chat participant in person--though you could never be sure. Champion was sure to understand. She was curious about what he looked like, too. It was a natural aspect of participating in chats, especially those which had a regular constituency. He could be young, tall and handsome or old and decrepit. In most cases, she knew, one never found out, and it was probably better that way.

But there was no point in passing this piece of cyberspace activity on to Jeff, who disapproved of her chat sessions already. They agreed on most things, but he seemed to have a real aversion to chat. To Jeff, chats were a waste of time and electronic nonsense. He only saw lonely people reaching out for human contact, no matter how remote. Moreover, he tended to read unnecessary meaning into an innocent query, with occasional bursts of irritation.

At dinner she forgot the note. Jeff was in a good mood. Business was booming at his advertising agency where he was an account supervisor. He had several new accounts to handle. "I have to go up to San Francisco later this month," he announced when they were having coffee.

"How long will you be gone?" she asked. Jeff worked long hours at the agency, and she had gotten used to his going away on business trips as well as coming home late many nights.

"Oh, just overnight. I also have to be at a dinner next Thursday night, so you'll have extra time for your chat."

"Thanks," she said, wondering whether she should comment or ignore his dismissive tone while she started to clean up. He rose to help her, moving dishes to the sink. Generally, she washed and he dried. "Always a dig," she couldn't resist saying.

"Sorry."

"I don't make fun of your sitting there poring over the stock market."

"Yes, but that helps produce some revenue."

"Or to lose some," Faye amended.

Jeff smiled. "No argument, and I apologize about chat. I don't know why it turns me off so much, but I promise I won't say anything ever again."

"Promises, promises," Faye said, smiling. Actually, Jeff had made the same vow before, but she decided it wasn't worth reminding him. She leaned over to kiss him as he put his wet hands behind his back.

"Look, Ma, no hands," he said with a wide grin.

"And no hug," she said.

"Either I dry dishes or I hug. Can't do both."

"So limited," she said, laughing.

"I'll do better later."

Nothing wrong with their sex life, Faye thought, giving Jeff a warm smile. He was a handsome man with thick, dark brown hair, a slightly square face with a strong chin and hazel eyes. An athlete who had played varsity football at college, Jeff still had a sturdy build maintained by regular workouts. But she wasn't pregnant, and she was sure this situation weighed almost as much on his mind as it did her. She was only thirty, so her biological clock still had plenty of time. A woman in her sixties, with some artificial help, had given birth. What was their problem? They could certainly afford a family, and the desire to have children was still strong.

When they were first married, Jeff had wanted to wait a while until their finances were more secure. Now he earned a good income at his mid-size agency, and she was doing well, too. She wasn't going to get rich in the adult education field, but she held a responsible position with a good enough salary.

All her life missed was a baby....

* * * *
CHAPTER TWO

Idiot! Ray berated himself as he gazed through his window at the familiar shape of Camelback Mountain from his ninth floor apartment. What had possessed him to send a private message to that woman! She must think he was another nut or some desperately lonely loser.

Simply being on a chat about relationships probably made some of his distaff chat mates wonder about him. What did they really know about him? He was nice looking and well off financially as the western director of sales for a Baltimore-based manufacturer's representation company. He was also single and only in his mid-thirties. But thus far he had bombed out with women, including one ex-wife and several failed affairs.

The dark hulking shapes of the mountains were like the huge mental landmarks in his mind of past failures with women. Was he doomed to always be a failure in sustaining a relationship? Should he undergo therapy? Did he have some fundamental hang-up?

He knew of his tendency to show people, especially anyone who thought he was just a one-dimensional business type, how well educated and well read he was.

Discovering more about relationships, especially from a woman's point of view, was one of the reasons for his taking part in the chat sessions. But he also enjoyed the give and take, particularly with the anonymity involved, which was one of the reasons he had lied about living in Tucson instead of Phoenix (at least he had revealed the right state). Being able to be candid without anyone knowing who he was brought about a tremendous release. Chat was like a system of remote intimacy, and it also helped relieve the occasional loneliness he felt when he came home. During the day he was busy, and he had all of the western states including Hawaii and Alaska to cover, which meant frequent travel. He had chosen Champion as his nickname in a fit of irony as he felt he was the exact opposite. Not that he was a loser--he was tall, just over six feet; reasonable looking with a full crop of black hair and a good build, some of which came from his weekly workouts at a health club. He held a degree in business administration from a major university, owned his own condo apartment and had already salted away a solid amount of money. He was a good catch, but only he seemed to know it. There was a tremendous void in his life--a woman, a wife, a family--and he wanted it all.

Meeting a woman through a chat session was not his objective, though it was always a possibility. Online dating services had not worked out. From what he had read and heard about chats, people had arranged meetings. Of course, some of the encounters had not worked out, and people had become estranged from their spouses as a result of others.

Ditzy came to mind again. Despite her nickname, perhaps chosen in a moment of self-denigration--a mood he could certainly understand--her comments were more intelligent than most. She had sure reacted to his George Orwell comment. He had been afraid he would once again come across as snobbish, but she obviously didn't see it that way. Perhaps a meeting in person might make sense. He could apologize for his lack of sophistication, and maybe, just maybe, she might have some Orwell-admiring female friends.

* * * *
CHAPTER THREE

His first appointment wasn't until 10 a.m., but Ray decided to fly in to Los Angeles the night before. It didn't cost the company any more as he often was able to stay in a friend's apartment in Santa Monica. The friend traveled a great deal on business, so Ray usually had privacy. Up early, he readied himself for the day while watching the early morning television news show. When he called to confirm his initial meeting, Ray discovered that the company needed to reschedule for 11 a.m. He'd still have plenty of time before his second appointment at 2 p.m.

With more time available before he had to drive out to Warner Center in his rental car, Ray thought of Faye of chat. Faye of Chat, like Tess of the d'Urbervilles or some other literary heroine. His curiosity aroused again, he found the shelf where his friend, Lennie, kept his phone books and proceeded to go to "Schools" in the yellow pages. Adult education wasn't a separate listing, though there seemed to be several schools that fell into that category. If there was no Faye at either of these schools, that would be the end of it. Usually, Ray enjoyed doing research, and he often found information while surfing the net. He figured Faye or Ditzy--the more he considered this nickname the less he liked it--probably wasn't a teacher. More likely she was in the administrative area. She just didn't come across as an academic. She also sounded as if she had a more responsible position than just a secretary. If he spoke to her, he would just explain his reason for the Instant Message, and if she was receptive, he could always suggest getting together for a cup of coffee. But he would make it absolutely clear that he knew she was married, and he wasn't some weirdo hitting on her.

But all he had was her first name. That, however, wasn't an unsolvable problem if he could get a human being on the phone rather than one of the frustrating automated answering systems. He put four school candidates on his legal size yellow pad, not wanting to mark his friend's phone book. The first three were of no help; one responded with a voice machine and the other two said there was no Faye working there. The fourth school, World Village, was his last shot.

"Hello, this is Roger Bates from the Universal Stock System. I'm trying to locate a lady whose first name is Faye who I believe works at World Village."

"Faye who?" asked the receptionist.

"That's the problem," Ray said, encouraged at having gotten this far. "We're trying to track down a Faye who owned stock in a Debrasarium Corporation a number of years ago. The company's assets have finally been settled by the bankruptcy court auditor. Unfortunately, the company's records were damaged by a fire, and all we can make out is the first name of Faye, spelled F-A-Y-E, and World. This dates back to ... let's see, 1992, so she may not even be with you anymore."

There was a long pause, and Ray held his breath. At least he was speaking to a human being.

"We have three Fayes working here, but I don't know for how long."

"Well, one of them may be richer if she's the right Faye," Ray said, his voice brimming with optimism as if about to bestow unexpected wealth. "Look, I know you can't give out any addresses or phone numbers but if you can just give me the last names of the three I'll call each individually."

"How will you know if she's the right Faye," the receptionist asked.

Ray had anticipated this question. "We'll ask her to check the number of her stock certificates if she claims to have owned this stock. If the numbers match, she's the one."

"Can you give me the right numbers and I'll ask," the receptionist asked.

"Sorry, Miss, but that's strictly against regulations." Ray did his best to sound authoritative without being unduly harsh. Rather than plead, he kept silent for a long beat. What he was doing wasn't exactly kosher, but he could always claim it was just a joke. Once a friend he hadn't seen since college had called him in Phoenix and pretended to be with the IRS. Frightened him, too, before he broke out in laughter and admitted who he really was.

"Right now we have a Faye Boucher, a Faye Reynoso, and a Fay ... oh, this one spells her name without the E at the end."

"Better give it to me anyhow, just to make sure," Ray said, surprised at the number of people who seemed to work at this school. Adult education was evidently a growing field. "The company could have recorded her name inaccurately. Believe me, it wouldn't be the first time."

"I believe you. The last one is Fay Goldstein."

"Thanks. You've been very helpful."

"Well, I hope one of them is right. Maybe she'll throw a party for all of us."

"Hope so," Ray said, putting a checkmark by the name of Faye Boucher.

"Do you want to be connected to any of them now?"

"Thanks, but I have an appointment, and I'm running late. But I will call them today. Please don't say anything. It could cause disappointment."

"I understand."

Sure she did, Ray thought with a satisfied smile as he hung up. The first Faye was most likely to be Ditzy, but he couldn't trust the receptionist, who had sounded a bit ditzy herself, to keep quiet. She came across as the town crier. Better to call right away though before any word got out about his little deception. So far he had been much more successful than he had expected. The next test was to see if he could actually reach Faye of Chat and let her know that he was one of the good guys.

* * * *

"Hello, Ditzy."

Ray had deliberated how to speak to Faye, assuming she was the right person. There was no point in pursuing the stock fiction. He hoped it wouldn't come to her attention, and that if it did, she wouldn't realize he was the culprit. Claiming that he was only playing a joke, though a cruel one perhaps, might fall flat, but he doubted he would get into any trouble over his ploy. After all, no harm was done. He could ask if she were a chat participant, but why be coy? The greater problem was simple enough. If it were her, would his call be too much of an unwelcome surprise? The only way to find out was to phone, and having gone this far, Ray decided to follow through. He was rather pleased with his research. So far his little lark had turned out well.

"Who is this?" he heard Faye say after a moment. Her voice was cold and shrill.

"A friend, from chat."

Cushion the surprise, he thought. Lead into who he was.

"Who?"

"Relationships, from chat," Ray said, taking a deep breath. She seemed taken aback, and he still wasn't sure he was speaking to Ditzy.

"But ... but how...?"

So it was her!

"How did I find you?" Ray said, masking his pleasure at his success. "With great good luck." There was no need to praise his research techniques. But Faye alias Ditzy was silent. "I knew your first name and that you worked in adult education, so I checked with some schools."

"But who is this?"

"George Orwell."

"Champion!" Faye gasped.

She made an immediate connection, which was a good sign, Ray thought, hopeful she would let him explain the reason for his call.

"Faye, I'm sorry if I've startled you. But since I'm in LA on business, I wanted to call and apologize if I offended you in any way with my instant message. I do realize you're married. I just thought it would be interesting to actually meet someone from chat. I feel I already know you a bit."

"I wasn't offended," Faye said, "just surprised. And I don't understand why--"

"I just wanted to say I was sorry," Ray broke in, suspecting she was still recovering from such an unanticipated call. "I was afraid you would draw the wrong impression ... of me and that it might even discourage you from being on chat."

"You didn't have to go to all this trouble," Faye said.

"No trouble," Ray said, sounding less cheerful than he felt. He was probably as uncertain of how to act now as she was, but she seemed to accept his call as an act of contrition, even if a misplaced one. "As I said, I was in LA on business and found myself with some unexpected time. Cancelled appointment."

All mostly true, Ray thought. So far so good. Faye was surprised--that was to be expected--but she was still on the phone. It was a strange but contemporary way to seek some measure of human contact, he mused. He wasn't actually asking for a date or even just a non-romantic meeting--though either would crown his research with more of a success than he had expected. People often met in unusual ways, and these so-called cute meetings often became conversational staples that lasted throughout relationships, perhaps even provided some verbal glue for the relationships. All was fair in love and war, even electronically.

She was silent. Was this his opening?

"As it turns out, I have an appointment not too far from World Village, so if I'm forgiven--"

"Look, Champion, or whoever you are--"

Whoever you are! Ray felt anger tugging at him like a mental anchor. Her voice was cold and distant again. What was wrong with her? Didn't she believe him?

"I'm just not interested."

"My chat nickname is Champion, but let me introduce myself. My name is Ray Shapp, and I'm not hitting on you."

"Wonderful, but I still don't appreciate being tracked down this way."

"Sorry," Ray said, disliking her attitude. She had a right to be startled, but she didn't have to be rude. After all, he had apologized and was being quite polite. "I just wanted to make it clear that I don't have some nefarious purpose."

Nefarious! Good choice of word, Ray thought. It should remind her of what they had in common.

"That's clear, and please don't call or bother me again."

But she didn't hang up, Ray realized with surprise. Still he felt bitter at being rejected in this off-hand manner. Couldn't a man and woman have coffee or a drink without any sexual aspect to their casual meeting? What was the big deal? Why was she treating him like some weirdo?

"Don't worry, I won't. And--"

She broke in, just like in chat. "If you do," Faye warned, "I'll be forced to complain to National."

Really, Ray thought, stung. Ditzy, living up to her chat nickname now, was going too far. "That won't be necessary. Just one last question, Ditzy." He pronounced her nickname with disdain. "Are you happily married?"

"None of your business! What sort of creep are you!" she shouted into the phone and then hung up.

Ray stared at the phone as if it had attacked him. His question, said in anger and frustration at her unreasonable attitude, was inappropriate. No doubt about it. She had a perfect right to be irate. But she had brought it upon herself. She could have just said, "Thanks, but I'd rather not" or something along those lines. Been pleasant. Now that he thought about it, the aggregate of her notes during the chat sessions didn't suggest any great satisfaction with the institution of marriage. And why was she discussing relationships every Thursday night if she were content with her marital arrangement, whatever that might be? Most of the people on the chat session were probably either unhappy with their relationships or, like him, looking for one. Maybe he just ought to look into rude Ditzy's relationship with a bit more precision.

* * * *
CHAPTER FOUR

Against her better judgment, Faye felt compelled to tell Jeff about Champion's call. It had been okay to ignore the first contact, but she wasn't sure about this second attempt, and she was still smarting over Champion's last, sarcastic question. What a nerve! What an incredible nerve! She believed firmly in honesty in marriage. It was better, she thought, to risk Jeff's displeasure than for him to discover at a later date--as so often happened--what had occurred. But she had to pick the right moment. She figured that had to be in bed.

Lying next to Jeff after making love, she admired how he kept his body firm. She knew men his age who were already paunchy. Despite his busy schedule Jeff managed to use their treadmill, set against the windows in the bedroom, several times a week. He often did push-ups and sit-ups and lifted weights, and on weekends, sometimes they both jogged at a nearby park. He was a tremendous role model, and she did her best to exercise and keep in shape herself.

"Oh, you're going to love this," she said as if she had an amusing tidbit to share.

"Yes?" he said, lying on his back. Jeff always had such a contented look after lovemaking, which gave her pleasure.

"I'm not sure I should tell you this," she said, knowing she would. "You'll make more of it than it's worth."

"I can't make anything out of it if you don't tell me."

"Promise you won't get mad?"

She gave him her kittenish look, which usually worked, even though he derided the effort as a high school girl's tactic. "I promise," he said, much too quickly, and she didn't believe him. It was a deliberate act of miscommunication they both accepted, and she leaned over and gave him a kiss to seal the dubious commitment.

"I got a phone call today from someone who's on that chat session about relationships."

Jeff looked puzzled, turning a bit to stare at her. "Who was it?"

"Oh, no one really."

"Well, how did this person get your phone number? And was it a man or woman?"

Jeff was getting too wound up, just as she anticipated, and there was no way to stop him. His voice rose, his face became pinched, and he accelerated with virtually no transition from mere irritation to outbursts of anger. It was one of his less endearing characteristics. But he was always sorry afterwards, and he was never violent. Still, she should have learned by this time. On one scale was being truthful and sharing, what marriage should be; and on the other scale avoiding problems and the chance of hurting someone. She was quite capable of telling white lies. Perhaps this should have been another one of them, but it was too late now.

"I'm not sure," Faye said. "It seems--it was a man--that he took a chance that I worked for World Village."

"But how did he know that? And what did he want?"

They would never get to sleep now, Faye feared. She should have told him earlier. Questions were flowing, and she felt she was being cross-examined.

"Jeff, don't get excited. You promised."

"I'm not excited. Just curious." But his curiosity was always just a short step before angry recriminations. His face had already hardened into a resolve to get to the bottom of matters. Jeff disliked loose ends, which often led to friction as she was more disposed to let things go.

"Somewhere along the way ... I don't remember when ... my first name came up on chat. There's this woman, Bunny, I'm friendly with, and she calls me by my first name sometimes. And then we were once exchanging information on what kind of work we did, and all I said was adult education."

"That's all?"

"He just made a lucky guess."

"And what did he want? And what's his name, by the way. I assume he used his real name."

She knew Jeff wouldn't let go of that question. But his curiosity was normal. She would probably ask the same question if their positions were reversed. Still it was difficult, and she paused for a moment.

"I don't remember his last name, Snapper something. He said his first name was Ray. Jeff, he just wanted to say hello. You know that you seldom ever speak to or meet the people you chat with."

"There's probably a good reason for that," Jeff said, making no attempt to mask his sarcasm. When Faye was silent, he added, "That's all? He went to all this trouble just to ... chat ... over the phone?"

Faye swallowed. "Well, he did want to have a drink or coffee. But he asked that on chat, not when he called."

Jeff raised himself on one elbow and stared at Faye as if each new detail added up to a telling indictment. "Really?"

None of this was making much sense to Jeff, Faye saw, and she was a fool to think she could have carried off telling him about Champion's contact with her without his getting angry. A misjudgment. But now she had to unwind her irate husband. "Jeff, don't read more into it."

"I'm not reading anything into it ... yet. And what, pray tell, did you say?"

She glanced at him with surprise and a rising anger at his sarcasm. "I said no. I said I was married."

"And what did Mr. Chatter then say?"

"Nothing, my dear. I hung up." For emphasis, Faye added, "I also told him not to call again and to confine himself to communicating in the chat room."

Jeff nodded and was silent for a moment. The tension hung like a heavy, unseen presence in their bedroom. Tales abounded, she knew, of broken marriages that developed out of on-line meetings, often in chat rooms but sometimes also in forums and bulletin boards. Congress was struggling with legislation to stop children from being lured to run away from their homes. At least, Jeff was sparing her those tired observations.

The beige curtains shielded the bedroom from light, but she could make out the outline of the twin teak dressers with a TV set and VCR stationed atop the units. Jeff's bathrobe hung over the treadmill, which he tended to use as an auxiliary dresser. While he slept in the nude, he had started leaving his bathrobe closer at hand after the last earthquake.

Finally, he said, "I think this guy had a hell of a nerve calling you."

"I do, too," Faye agreed. She hesitated a moment. Better let it all hang out. "He was also very deceitful. He pretended he was with some company which looked for lost stockholders, and Jessie--you know, our secretary--bought his story and gave him the last names of all the Fayes working there, all three of us."

"That's illegal!" Jeff barked. "You should report him to the police!"

"Oh, I don't think it's worth it. It was just a way to find me. No one was harmed."

Jeff shook his head. "I think you should at least report it to the school. Let them decide whether to report it to the police."

"Oh, Jeff, that would embarrass poor Jessie. It might even affect her job. I couldn't do that to her."

Jeff seemed to relent. Then he resumed his campaign. "What about National? What about the on-line service? Shouldn't they know? Isn't there some rule covering this?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Faye said. Jeff knew as much himself. He was just stringing out his ire.

"You seem not to care too much," he charged.

"I care," Faye said, stung. "I just don't think it's worth making that much of a fuss."

"I'm not making a fuss," Jeff countered. "I just believe in accountability."

Faye sighed, tired of the discussion. She was glad she had decided to withhold two pieces of information that might have made poor Jeff even more ballistic--that Champion knew his first name, that he worked in the advertising field and the Instant Message that had started this silly situation. The phone call was really Champion's second attempt at contact. She hoped that Champion had gotten the message. If he bothered her again, she would take action against him--though what, she wasn't sure. Meanwhile, she had to calm Jeff down so they could both get some sleep. She leaned over and kissed him.

"Thanks for keeping your promise."

"Thanks for sharing," he said, smiling and caressing her breasts. Her fingers trailed down to his penis which quickly hardened and rose. Climbing atop Jeff, she guided him into her. As she began thrusting she tried to remember the last time they had made love twice during the same night. Maybe the phone call did serve a useful purpose. Wouldn't it be wonderful, and ironic, if this would be the time of conception?

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