Alica paused to shake her hands and looked at the clock. Oh god, she had been typing for three hours, and yes, most of it was chatting with this guy whom her two best friends had insisted she'd like. And she did, basically, sort of, but things were definitely going south.
His referring to how much he loved to stimulate "lady softness" was a definite clue that this was someone she did not need cluttering up her real life. But how to get rid of him.
She had already tried her usual gambit: "Well, it's getting late..." which the fellow had blithely ignored -- indeed, it was that which had prompted reference to "lady softness." What a phrase. She would never get over it. And she would make sure that Michael and Clay didn't, either.
She would make sure they never, ever forgot it.
"Look," she typed, "I've really got to call it a night. Really nice chatting with you. Good luck with the whole steer wrassling thing and all. That sounds very exciting."
"OH, IT IS," this CWBY28 typed back. "So, when can I call ya? Can't wait to take you out for a steak!"
She had told him twice she was a vegetarian. Taking a deep breath to summon courage, she went for the straight-up honest approach.
"I'd rather you didn't call me, to be honest. You seem nice, but I don't think we're a good match. Sorry. No hard feelings?"
"OH, IT'S LIKE THAT, IS IT?"
"Yes, it's like that." No, this was not going well at all.
"MIKE DINT TELL ME YOUR A SNOB." Still in all caps. Great.
"I'm not. I just... trust me, we're not a good fit. Good night, and like I said, good luck."
He had already signed out of chat.
Alicia sighed again, but then took a moment and took stock. She was, she realized, actually pretty proud of herself. She had been honest and direct and not wasted anyone's time. She hadn't prevaricated with any of the usual "It's not you, it's me" crap; she hadn't accepted a date she really didn't want to go on; she hadn't led him on. Her only mistake had been to let the happy couple, Michael and Clay, try fixing her up again. They loved her, sure, and she them, but when it came to dating, their idea of a perfect match for her was... any heterosexual man they came across and thought was "hot."
They meant well.
Alicia looked up at the clock again. It wasn't too late to call them -- and maybe it was a good idea to get her side of the story on the record before this got blown into something it wasn't.
Michael picked up on the first ring. "Hi, heartbreaker," he said, with more than a hint of mockery. Great. She was too late.
"'Lady softness', Michael. He called it 'lady softness!'"
"Aw, how romantic!"
"Not romantic, Michael, lame. And that's just the beginning. But short version, just, just, no. I mean, shit, he's a Republican. Not even just a Republican. You do realize if he got his way you and Clay would be in prison, or worse, right?"
"Aw, that's too bad."
"But you thought he was 'perfect' for me?"
"Clay," Michael's voice was a little muffled; he'd pulled the phone away from his mouth for a moment. "Did we say that guy was perfect for her?"
Alicia couldn't hear his answer.
"You know. Whatshisname. That we met at the Ranger last week." Michael continued. Then he returned to clarity. "We never said he was perfect for you, Leesh. Just... we really thought you should meet him. Or at least sleep with him a few times."
"Giddyup," Clay's distant voice came tinny over Michael's phone. "Yeehaw."
"No, you said 'perfect'" Alicia insisted with a sigh. "So did he already call you and tell you I'm a bitch?"
"I don't even think he has my number."
"I see. So I was just supposed to be your proxy again?"
"Ha ha ha. Yeah... something like that..."
"Oh, honey, please stop that, okay? It's really not funny and it makes me feel pretty awful."
"Michael, really. Do you just not get it?"
"I guess not."
"Well then, please, just accept that I don't want it. I know you guys mean well and all but Christ, I'd rather stay single and celibate than mess around with the jerk parade. Okay?"
"Sure. Love you, babe."
"Love you, too. Say good night to Clay for me."
Alicia decided to go for a walk. There was a light snowfall so she'd need to bundle up. On went the coat (a Scott-E-Vest, with great pockets, all nice and secure), boots," scarf... She stood in the mud room of her house and pondered a moment. It was very dark out, probably too dark to write, but the greenway had lights here and there... and surely the one time she didn't bring her Field Notes would be the time she had that killer idea for a new story, or thought her way out of the plot problems she was having with the current one. And hey, that's why she had all these pockets. In it went.
She took two steps outside and realized she needed a real coat. The Carhartt. Back to the closet, on with the really warm coat, quick pocket triage, Field Notes fit if she left the wallet -- and why did she need her wallet for a late night greenway stroll in the snow anyway?
Of course she had the paths to herself, hers the only footprints in the powder covering the asphalt. The willows along the constructed wetlands' edge looked magical in a light coating of frost, as did the big cottonwoods looming over the walkway here and there. She gathered her resources and broke into a run, trying to achieve enough speed to create the Star Wars hyperspeed effect, when the snowflakes seemed to be coming right at her in trails of white light, but she just wasn't that fast. That only happened in a car on a snowy, windy, stormy night in the middle of nowhere.
She stopped in her tracks. That was it. Strand those characters in a car on the highway in a winter storm. That would get them talking. That might even get them having the talk.
"Yes!" she screamed, knowing no one else would hear her lunacy. Instinctively, she reached for interior coat pockets that weren't there. No pen loop, no zipped up pocket with her little notebooks inside. Wrong coat. Exasperated, she tore off her gloves and dug into the front pocket of the coat she was wearing. There it was. And there, mercy of mercies, was a pencil, which would write better in the damp anyway.
Scribble. Scribble. Scribble. Frantic scribble. Exclamation points and underlining. Yes.
She should go for snowy walks more often.
Finished at last, she jammed the Field Notes and pencil back into her pocket and resumed her stroll. She had gone maybe a half mile before she realized she had forgotten to put her gloves back on.
She only had one.
With a sigh, she turned around and went back for it, watching the ground closely until she saw it lying there amongst her strange footprints from her writing stop.
"There you are!" she said, bending to pick it up. She missed on her first try, awkward in bulky extra clothing, bobbing like a drinky bird toy. "Gotcha!"
She didn't miss her notebook for a few days, when she again decided to tackle the novella she'd solved on her walk.
"No, it's probably long gone. Or just wrecked," Alicia said into her phone. Michael had been trying to cheer her up with stories of how she might yet find her Field Notes if she retraced her steps one more time. "Anyway, I mostly remember what I scribbled down, for the story anyway. The rest was just grocery lists and stuff. And oh -- but you can just give me that recipe again..."
"I'll email it as soon as Clay gets off the computer," Michael said.
"Huh huh, gets off," Clay said in the background.
"Your boyfriend's a loon," Alicia said.
"Wouldn't have him any other way. So oh, okay, Clay just emailed it to you. The recipe."
"I think I did," Clay said. "Can she check? I might still have her address wrong."
"Thanks, babes," Alicia said.
"You coming out for bar trivia tomorrow night?"
"If I get this draft done. I promise."
"We'll hold you to it, sweetie pie."
The amount of email was, as usual, staggering. Thirty five messages since last night? Sometime soon she really needed to sit down and unsubscribe from some of the mailing lists she was on. Just because she bought some stuffed grape leaves online once didn't mean she wanted to hear about the entire catalog of fancy foods she could order from Company X.
Delete. Delete. Delete. There was the recipe. Delete. Delete. What the hell?
From an unknown address there was a message that had gotten past her spam filters and snared her attention instantly. The subject line was "found on the greenway."
"Dear Alica -- We do not know each other, but I'm pretty sure I found something of yours on the greenway Thursday night. I know how I'd feel if I dropped one of my Field Notes, and I see you had some pretty important notes in yours (yes, I peeked). On the inside cover you circled that there IS a reward for returning it, but I'd rather be a beta-reader for that story you're working on than take any of your money. I can just mail it to you if you provide an address. Sincerely, Mick Carlson."
Alicia froze, staring at her netbook screen as several different thoughts collided in her head. Her notebook was found and legible. Oh god, someone read those notes. This guy not only had perfect grammar and punctuation but also knew what a beta reader was. Another Field Notes fetishist. Stalker! Stalker! Stalker. Was he single? How pathetic was it that she was wondering if he was single? Oh god, someone read those notes. Good thing she only made grocery lists when she was shopping for healthy foods. Who named a kid Mick these days. Stalker! Her notebook was found. She could get it back.
She had to write him back.
"Dear Mick -- What a relief to find out you picked up my notebook! You must have been out there right after me or else it would be..."
Delete that second sentence. Keep it brief and noncomittal.
"I'd be very grateful if you could mail it to me. I'm at..."
Should she really give a stranger her mailing address, which was also her home address? Why hadn't she gotten a P.O. Box? Well, that thought had just occurred to her, but she probably should. Stalker! Stalker! Stalker!
Oh, what the hell. Clay had a friendly ex at the police department. If things got bad, it could still be all right.
"I'm at 139 Legerski Avenue, here in town. And yes, I could use a new beta reader; some of my current ones are getting flaky. Thanks again, Alicia."
SEND, before she started over-thinking it.
Flustered, she decided to take another walk. At least this time, the weather was going to let her go back to her wonderful, reliable Scott-E-Vest.
As she left the house, a window popped up on her still-active netbook. It was a chat request from none other than Mick Carlson.
Much refreshed, Alicia sat down to resume writing.
And there it was.
>>Hey there. You there? Is this too stalker-y?
She looked at the time stamp. Not too long ago. Should she answer him?
Before she even realized she'd decided, her fingers were typing.
>>Hey! Yes! Was on a walk and left Gmail open. I'm here, now. Are you?
>>Were you on that same stretch of the greenway? Damn, I bet I just missed you. I was biking.
>>In this weather?
>>Sure. It's actually pretty fun, and it makes me feel like a badass.
>>Ha ha, I bet it would.
>>Do you have a bicycle? You should try it.
>>I totally do! Should I get, like, chains or something?
>>Naw. The asphalt on the greenway is pretty dry most of the time. Hardly any ice. I even go at night.
They continued chatting until very, very late.
"Mick Carlson? Sounds like a porn star name or something," Michael quipped, sipping his tall Bud Light.
"Wonder if it's his real one," Clay said, mopping up the ring Michael's mug had left on the table.
"I think it's real," Alicia said, blushing a little.
"So you guys were up all night chatting?"
"Yes," she said, feeling foolish. "I gave him my phone number, too. Eek!" She buried her face in her hands.
"Hubba hubba," Michael said.
"Oh god, why did I even tell you?" Alicia glanced around. The rest of their trivia team was arriving. "So hey, um, don't tell the rest of the guys about this, okay?"
"Mum's the word," Clay said. "Right, Michael?" Clay looked sternly at his partner.
"Hey, look who's here!" their friend Paul shouted, taking a seat on a barstool. "You realize this is the first time I've seen you in three months? Freaking hermit!"
"Hi, Paul," Alicia said, watching the rest of the team assemble. There was a new face at the end of the table. Short hair, clean-shaven, hipster glasses, tallish, comfortably overweight, really nice voice. Michael caught her staring.
"Who's the new dweeb?" he bellowed down the length of the table.
"Pipe down," one of their teammates said. "Time for the first question."
"Question #1," the trivia master began. "Name the famous composer who became George Sand's lover in 1838."
"Who the hell is George Sand? Was he gay?" Michael asked.
"George Sand was a she," Alicia explained.
"So you know the answer, then?"
"Fuck, 1838. Franz Liszt or Frederic Chopin? When did she meet Chopin?" Alicia muttered.
"It was Chopin," the stranger said, confidently.
"Not so loud," a teammate said. "You sure?"
"I think he's right."
"Okay, writing it down. You take it up, Leesh."
As she returned to the table, her eyes and the stranger's met just as the trivia master announced they'd been right. The stranger winked.
"Hoo-ee," Michael said, nudging her. He never missed anything, the bastard. Alicia blushed.
The team didn't win, but a few stayed behind to have a drink to celebrate anyway. Paul gestured at everyone to move in closer. Closer to the stranger.
"Hey, Leesh! Have you met my buddy Mick yet?" Paul said.
Michael and Clay sputtered into their drinks.
"No, I haven't," Alicia said, proffering her hand. "Alica Hess."
The stranger -- Mick -- started to laugh. "Um. Mick Carlson."
And suddenly there was no one else in the bar.