Help Wanted is coming soon! Don’t worry, the published product will look tidier than it does in blog-post format.
1. THE MAN IN THE BOX
Amy looked away from the television to the laptop on her desk. Her Gmail tab was flashing Paul Fournier. She clicked on the tab and looked at the chat window.
Paul Fournier: * poke *
She considered whether or not she should answer. She had set her status as “busy”, so she had the choice of pretending she was away from her computer. She was tired, but three week old Maggie was sleeping like an angel and could probably be counted on to do so for at least another hour. She decided chatting with Paul was probably going to be more interesting than the re-run of Mythbusters she had on the television.
Amy: * tickle *
Paul Fournier: Hi!
Amy: How’re you today?
There was a pause and gmail’s chat window put up the words “Paul Fournier is typing”
Paul Fournier: Okay
Amy thought that was a lot of “typing” to come up with four letters.
Amy: Just okay?
Paul: Rita is pissing me off.
Amy: I’m sorry
Amy wasn’t really all that sorry. She thought Rita had been kind of a bitch from day one, possibly a bit unbalanced, and certainly not worthy of Paul.
Amy: What did she do?
This time, she thought to herself, but refrained from typing.
Amy and Paul – and for that matter Paul and Rita – had come to know each other through a website called Musikland.com. Musikland was a forum style website where music lovers could exchange thoughts about music, suggest music that others might enjoy and generally interact with people who love music.
There was also an area on the site for general chat, and people sometimes formed connections with each other that went beyond the bounds of the website. In the case of Amy and Paul, it was friendship; in the case of Paul and Rita, it went a bit further. That relationship was complicated considerably by the fact that Rita was married, with a jealous husband.
There was a moderately lengthy pause while Gmail assured Amy that “Paul Fournier is typing”.
Paul Fournier: She told me that she needs some time. Six months! She said she needs six fucking months to think about our relationship and I’m supposed to leave her alone.
Amy: What happens at the end of the six months? Does she decide whether or not to leave her husband?
Paul Fournier: I don’t fucking know! She expects me to just wait around? I called her a cunt. Do you think that was too much?
Amy: lol Maybe
Amy thought that, in fact, it might not be too much, but she had always tried to be respectful of Paul’s feelings towards Rita. He said he’d never felt for anyone the way he felt about her. Amy kept her mouth shut – or her fingers still, as the case may be – on her own opinions about Rita. Besides, Paul knew Rita much better than Amy did. He’d met her in person; done quite a lot more than “met” her. Amy tried very hard to give Rita the benefit of the doubt that she might just possibly have hidden virtues.
Amy: I bet she didn’t much care for that, though.
Paul Fournier: LOL! Noooooo. She started crying and telling me that if I loved her I would do this small thing for her. Bitch.
Amy: Well at least she had the balls to do it over the phone. So to speak. At least I’m assuming it wasn’t in person.
Paul Fournier: No, her husband’s gotten really suspicious. She’s afraid to come see me.
Amy: It’s a long drive. Anyway… so you’re angry with her for wanting to take some time to make a decision?
Paul Fournier: Fuck yeah. Either she loves me or she doesn’t. I don’t need to deal with headgames. This is bullshit. Six months?
Amy didn’t know what to say. She’d really like to see Rita out of Paul’s life, but she didn’t want to say so. It wasn’t her place.
Amy: I guess in that much time she’ll either decide she can or can’t live without you.
Hm, Amy thought, I don’t think that really came out how I meant it to.
Paul Fournier: Fuck her anyway. I don’t need that shit. I don’t need someone who’s going to play headgames with me. I told her that. I told her not to contact me, not ping me, not call me, since that’s what she said she wanted. Fine. I yelled at her and called her names.
Paul Fournier: She’s already called me three times.
Paul Fournier: I didn’t answer.
Amy: It’s good to stand by your words, I guess.
Paul Fournier: Fuck yeah. That cunt.
Amy: Paul, have you been drinking?
Paul Fournier: =) After that bullshit? All day long.
Amy sighed. Alcohol and Paul were not a good mix. It certainly explained the excessive profanity, however. Paul tended towards mood swings stone cold sober and alcohol just made the swings worse, more intense. He also tended to lie more when he was drunk. Or, Amy thought, maybe he just isn’t as good at it then, and I don’t catch him at it when he’s sober. She put the thought aside. It was uncomfortable to contemplate and seemed rather paranoid. After all, she’d never caught him in a lie about anything important.
But the milk was spilled. There was no point in lecturing Paul about drinking when he was drunk. But she didn’t really feel like listening to repetitious profanity about someone she didn’t like in the first place, especially when she felt compelled by good manners to not join in.
Amy: Whoops! Maggie just woke up! Gotta go. Catch you later! * hugs *
It was a lie, but Amy didn’t feel that bad about it.
Paul Fournier: Okay, sweetie. * smoochies * Talk to you later, I hope.
Amy didn’t reply, as it wouldn’t be consistent with the lie she had told. When you have a hungry baby you don’t sit around exchanging pleasantries in Gmail chat. At least you didn’t if you were any kind of decent mother.
Amy considered it and came to the conclusion that she probably wouldn’t win mother of the year, but she knew how to take care of an infant. She had a twelve year old daughter whose father used to hit Amy before she divorced him and took Jennifer as far away as she could. Three thousand miles: New Jersey to California. She hadn’t married Maggie’s father, but he was no winner either. He hadn’t met his daughter yet, and as far as Amy was concerned that could wait. It could wait forever.
Just then Jennifer came home from school. She came in through the “back” door, a sliding glass door that led to a large patio or a very small yard, depending on how you looked at it. A gate through the patio’s fence led to the parking lot and the bus stopped right in front of the lot. It didn’t make sense to go all the way around the building to use the front door.
Jennifer came in quietly in case the baby was sleeping. She’s so thoughtful, Amy thought, Maybe I’m not doing such a terrible job after all. Jennifer gave her mother a hug and threw her backpack on the couch. She made herself a snack and settled in to munch and do her homework. Amy looked at her with pride, her heart swelling, for a few moments.
Then her thoughts returned to the conversation with Paul. She wished she could believe it was really over between him and Rita, but Rita had tried to break it off before. Amy was unsure if Rita was genuinely torn about whether or not to leave her husband, or if she was simply ambivalent about cheating. Every time Rita tried to end the affair, Paul reacted with horrible verbal abuse – or so he reported to Amy; who knew if he may not be telling her what he wanted to say, rather than what he actually said? – and somehow it ended up with them back together. What on earth is going on that I’m not getting? Amy asked herself. Something about the equation was missing, that was certain.
Through it all, Amy maintained her silence about her feelings regarding Rita’s character. Rita’s persona at Musikland was catty and snarky at best. And if Paul’s account was to be trusted, Rita had become obsessed with Paul – to the point of practically being a stalker – as soon as they first “hooked up.” And the hook up was a bit on the unusual side too, Amy thought wryly. Apparently the very first time they talked by instant messaging it ended up with not only cyber-sex, but kinky cyber-sex. Love at first … something for Rita. Within a couple of weeks, she had sent him a perfume and adoration laden card in the mail, having discovered his real address on her own initiative. Coupled with her stalker behavior was her caution to him that her husband must never find out because he’d kill Paul. This sent up all kinds of “crazy alarms” off in Amy’s head, and she said so to Paul. But he ended up as dotty about Rita as she was about him, or some reasonable facsimile.
And because she was his friend, Amy kept her opinions to herself at that point. She did her best to be supportive when he was upset while secretly cheering in her heart every time it seemed like it might be over. The other side of that coin was at least gracefully listening when he felt like he needed to wax poetic about it when things were going well. That wasn’t as easy. At least it was all in chat, where her face couldn’t give her away. She just wanted the best for him, and had a bad feeling that Rita was far from it.
From Paul’s latest rant it sounded like Rita was asking for time to decide whether or not to leave her husband. It was unclear, but it seemed a very unreasonable amount of time to ask if only to consider continuing the affair. Amy didn’t know if Rita was raising the stakes or trying a new break-up tactic. She sighed. Only time would tell.