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Erin E Elder

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By Erin E Elder
Sunday, March 02, 2003

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A ghostly love story.

The Message

“Hey Buddy,” said Matthew Jacobson. “Time for lunch. We’re going downstairs to the sandwich place, ya comin’?”
“Sure,” answered Jonathan Aldridge. “Just let me print this off the screen.” He grinned up at his friends as he clicked ‘ok’ to print one copy from the computer screen as he checked his pocket to make sure his money clip was in its usual place; front lower left pocket.
As he reached up to grab the pages of the report for his job as Systems Analyst in the Trust Department at the bank, there were four sheets of paper that came out of the printer instead of the expected three. Jonathan frowned slightly as he glanced over the pages. The last one had nothing to do with his report. It said simply: It’s Time.
Then he laughed. “Matt, Doug, you guys are just too much. Good one.” He handed them the paper. “I’m gonna have to see how you guys managed that one. Which one of you did this, or was it a group effort?”
Matt Jacobson and Doug Zimmerman didn’t laugh. In fact, they looked puzzled too. Jonathan rose from his desk, switched off the overhead lamp over his cubicle, and placed his report on call center statistics face down on his desk. No need for anyone to see that puppy until I can see if it makes sense, he thought to himself as he pushed his chair under his desk.
“Okay, I see noone’s talking. You realize of course this means war. No telling what you’ll find at your desk or on your computer one of these days,” Jonathan smirked, looking down at his buddies.
Jonathan always looked down at everyone because he was extremely tall. It made him attractive to women, though he didn’t know it. As the three extremely computer literate friends walked down the hall, he received admiring glances from the ladies they passed, but he was oblivious. Though he seemed happy-go-lucky, he was lonely from having lost a girlfriend in a car accident almost one year prior. His friends, knowing this, would tease him, in a good-natured manner to remind him that women still paid attention to the tall blond man with the affable grin.
“Hey, Jon, bud, there’s one now,” nudged a weirded out Doug. Just then an attractive brunette with dark eyes flashed Jonathan a wide smile. Please let this take his mind off that stupid message, he thought. Doug gave a quizzical look at Matthew. Matt responded in kind and shrugged.
“You didn’t do it? To tell him about lunch time?” He whispered to Doug, who only shook his head no. Matt shrugged again and caught up with Jonathan, whose stride was hard to match.

After lunch, Jonathan returned to his desk and worked tirelessly the rest of the afternoon. He was thinking of asking for the next Monday off so he could take a long weekend and ski. He had no intentions of sitting around on Valentine’s Weekend this year thinking of what could have been. He pushed thoughts of Melanie Roberts from his mind and typed as fast as he could on his reports.

On the way home, however, Melanie seemed to invade his thoughts. The smooth-skinned, brown-haired young woman with whom he fell in love over the internet in a chat room for singles seemed almost to be sitting in the car beside him. Of course she wasn’t, it was just that feeling of déjà vu; the light drizzle of chilly February North Carolina rain was present the same way it was the last time she was with him in the car.
He had been driving her back to the airport; to her home in Denver, Colorado where they would resume their long distance relationship. This last trip had been special; they had made a commitment, and they were to marry on February 18th, the day they first made contact on the internet. It was just going to be a crazy little evening civil wedding; they were getting married at his parent’s house, a web site was to be constructed so guests could do a virtual “sign in” at a computer set up in the foyer. A digital camera would take photos and a site for the happy couple would be made, with photos to be added each year on their anniversaries.

Unfortunately, on the way home from the airport, Melanie Roberts was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident coming out of the “mousetrap” convergence of two large highways. Her sedan ran off the road and she sustained serious head injuries. After being in a coma for two weeks, she died peacefully, ending the anguish of waiting for those who loved her and breaking the heart of Jonathan Aldridge.

The sad thing about Jonathan to his friends was that he did not realize how respected and handsome he was to others. He rarely approached women for dates. He had held his breath as he hit “send” with the file containing personal photos of himself to Melanie, who he thought was beautiful. She did not disappoint, emailing him back in less than one day to agree to meet him. They had talked daily for months, and had visited each other in person seven times. The time apart began to seem like an eternity. Jonathan could hardly wait as they planned for their wedding, and to shop for their new home. For two computer geeks, one office would hardly be enough; they had both laughingly agreed on that. Now, after all of the history with Melanie, Jonathan had a hole in his life and his heart that he would likely never endeavor to fill with asking girls out. Part of this was due to his strong feelings for Melanie, and part of it was due to the fact that he didn’t think anyone was interested.

As the year passed, Jonathan went through his daily routines, got promoted, watched any movie that did not have a strong romance line, went to lunch with the guys, played sports with the guys, but stayed away from the mixed social scene. He simply wasn’t interested in meeting girls. He knew he should eventually get back out there, consider settling down to start a family, but he just couldn’t. Though the thought of a lifetime alone occasionally disturbed the corners of his mind, he just wouldn’t pursue it. He would beg off invitations to parties, lie about emergencies or headaches, anything but be placed in a situation to meet girls. Besides, I have a great career, he told himself. That’s enough for now. Then he would turn on the television for a night of ESPN.

The ride home on this day continued and he could not get Melanie off of his mind. The drizzle turned to rain. Jonathan turned up the car radio and pushed her image to the back of his mind as Tom Petty told him that he didn’t know what it was like to be him. Well, you don’t know about me either, bud,” Jonathan laughed softly to himself. The thought of Tom Petty sitting behind a computer all day made him grin and he stopped and got a carry out pizza for dinner.

The next morning Jonathan rose, went to work in pouring rain and basically had a nice day. He went to lunch with his friends, and briefly, oh so briefly felt like he was getting on with his life. In the evening a can of chili heated up in the microwave and a basketball game on the tube worked just fine, and, for a change, he didn’t think too much about anything..
The week passed. His boss granted him the vacation day and Jonathan headed out to the mountains for a ski weekend. He went with his sister and her husband on the grounds that they would not try to fix him up with anyone.
They lied. Tammy was a pretty girl with a blond braid and honey-colored skin. Any man would have been thrilled. Jonathan was miserable. He felt even more uncomfortable to find out that Tammy worked at his company. Now he might run into her. Seething, he had a confrontation with his sister Anne. He had sent Tammy to get some wine for dinner with Anne’s husband David. The minute they walked out the door he slammed into the kitchen. Anne was ready.
“Dammit, Anne, what part of ‘don’t fix me up’ didn’t you understand? This is awkward as hell.”
Anne remained calm, though her habit of biting her lower lip betrayed her otherwise cool exterior. “It doesn’t have to be.”
“Well, great. I will more than likely run into her at work.”
“Then hide from her like you do everyone else.”
At those words Jonathan’s face became beet red. “Screw you. It must be nice to have your mate still alive.”
Anne gripped the edge of the counter as he turned around and poured himself the last of the wine. Gulping it down, he glanced sidelong at her, placed the empty glass on the table and was the perfect gentleman for the rest of the evening.

Tuesday at work he was a bit tense. Less friendly than usual, he brushed his friends off. He drank coffee and ate crackers at his desk, and worked straight through. He had a great excuse; the system in his area had crashed and he had to rush about with the other technicians, helping out to set everything back up. Passwords assigned, connections reset, he went back to his desk and printed up another report. Six sheets instead of five. He furrowed his brow and skimmed through the pages; they all looked great. What a handsome report this is, he congratulated himself. The guy who creates these things should get a raise. Oh, wait, that’s me. He grinned with relief until he saw the last page. She likes Tennis.
“What the crap!” Exclaimed Jonathan.
“What?” Asked Saundra Foxx, at the cubicle next to him.
“Oh, sorry, just having a rough day over here,” replied Jonathan reassuringly.
“I noticed, you poor thing.”
“I’ll live, I just need to get caught up.”
“You know what they say, the first day after a day off is often an off day,”
“I’ll say.” Jonathan threw the page in the trash.

A couple of beers washed down the sub sandwich that night. Jonathan turned on the sports channel to catch the Hockey games. The first commercial was about tennis stars being interviewed. Venus and Serena Williams smiled, arm in arm, walking in slow motion; their long locks lingering in the air after another victory from their illustrious past. She likes tennis, his mind told him. Who bloody cares? He answered himself.
Pete Sampras did an investment commercial. He changed the channel. The E! Biography was about Monica Seles. Infuriated with everything and noone, Jonathan Aldridge went to bed for a dreamless sleep.
When he awakened, he thought no more of tennis matches, but thought he might want to read a book or watch a video that night, for a change. I’m getting burned out on sports.

After lunch, the computer had a new message on the screen. That does it. Jonathan gritted his teeth in silent anger as Tammy walked past his desk. She did not look at him. Did she realize I work in this department? Jonathan growled softly and Saundra Foxx stood up and peered at him over his cubicle wall. Her little dark curls hung down almost too long, hiding her twinkling dark eyes.
“You sure do make a lot of weird noises over there, Mister,” she told him in mock annoyance.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Saundra, really I am. Just a lot of pressure these days.”
“I know, sweetie,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything. I’m just an email away.”
“Of course, you’re my cubicle mate, the best one ever,” he smiled.
She left to get coffee.

The next day, Tammy was in the lunchroom and approached Jonathan. She looked lovely in her blue suit, and her smile seemed genuine. Jonathan couldn’t stand the curiosity any longer. He decided to bring up tennis. How can I do this without sounding weird?
It was too perfect. Tammy made an odd little grunt as she struggled to open a bottle of juice from the cooler. “Unh!” She exclaimed, frustrated.
“Hey, Monica Seles, allow me!” Jonathan said with a macho chuckle as he took the bottle from her and twisted off the cap.
A slightly awkward silence was brief as Jonathan recovered. “You sounded like Monica Seles, you know, how she grunts when she plays tennis.”
“Oh, yeah,” laughed Tammy after pausing.
“I take it you never watch tennis,” smiled Jonathan as he handed her juice back to her.
“Sometimes I do, I like the guy, Andre Whatever, who married Brooke Shields. I like to play, a little, but nothing serious,” said Tammy.
“Well, maybe we should play sometime,” Jonathan said as he waved off and headed back to his department. He barely heard her reply “Sure,” as he walked away.

Two weeks went by. Jonathan saw seven movies; mostly videos, read two books, gained the beginnings of a small gut because of the three pizzas, four subs and five bags of various chips washed down with lots of beer. He was numb, but he really didn’t mind. He was friendly to Tammy, but never tried to solidify the tennis date. It didn’t seem right somehow. She lacked passion about the sport. Why would someone (Melanie?) to get me to date her? And bring up tennis? It was clear she was not a tennis zealot. Hhhmmm. But she likes it. The messages didn’t say she was an expert.
Spring was around the corner. He decided that in a couple of weeks he would ask Tammy for a Saturday afternoon of tennis.

Saundra Foxx was running out of clever ideas for sneaking over to his desk to put in bogus messages. He was so irritated at the last one that he had almost seemed angry and threw it away. She couldn’t get the courage to bring up the subject of tennis. She had hoped he would. She knew he was a sports fanatic, and that was one thing she liked too, but she was really good at playing this one particular sport. And the references to love in the scoring were kind of fun too; especially if you have a crush on a certain tall, blond, sweetheart of a Systems Analyst.
It hadn’t been too hard. She often got there before him. She had access to most of the reports and knew that he would always print them up first, to proofread them, before sending them on to management. All she had had to do was to hit ‘enter’ to make a new page and add her message. She knew he wouldn’t suspect her. She hoped that she could plant a seed in his mind, get him fixated on it, then gradually get his attention. Surely he is at least checking out the ladies more, she thought to herself. Eventually he may get around to me.

April came. It rained all month. Saundra practiced with racquetball to stay in shape and looked forward to sunny days of tennis outdoors. Finally she could take it no longer. She arrived to work an hour early on a Friday morning and added something to one of Jonathan’s reports.

The morning lasted an eternity. Jonathan was actually a little late. Saundra began to feel stupid about her message and tried to find a way to remove it. She tried to pull it up on her computer, but was greeted with a “read only” message. Damn, she thought, frustrated.
She had brought her gym bag to work, tennis racket sticking out conspicuously. What moron brings a tennis racket to work. Oh, I am meeting friends after dark for a match. Riiight.
Jonathan left his desk for a while. He came back. He looked over at her. Then he paused. Then he looked away again and printed up his report. If he saw the message, he never said anything. He walked away and came back, said the usual light banter about whatever, and went back to other projects.
He was confused since Tammy was engaged now, to a longtime boyfriend. Apparently, she had been encouraged to go out with Jonathan because her friends felt she needed to get out more after a break up. He had learned at lunch that they were back together now. What does my messenger know? He wondered. He nodded at Saundra. He appeared to glance down at her gym bag. If he saw the racket he didn’t react.

Monday morning, when Saundra returned to work, her printer had a sheet in it. What’s your racket? It inquired. Jonathan came in a little later and smiled at her. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of tickets to a local women’s tennis match. “Just thought you might want these,” he said casually as he handed them to her. “You can take me along if you like.” He then smiled knowingly at her.

Three months later, Jonathan and Saundra stopped hiding their affection for each other and began to openly eat lunch and take coffee breaks together. They continued playing jokes on each other with the computers. Jonathan laughed at his own irritation that he had once thrown away a note on his report that said, Are you ready for a love match? Now he came up with a few messages of his own.

Though their relationship continued to eventual marriage, one day Jonathan Aldridge and Saundra Foxx abruptly stopped sending messages to each other in such a fashion. Still, it didn’t completely eliminate the occasional feeling of their being watched.
The couple’s message game ended on one Tuesday morning when he came in to find Saundra shakily cleaning up spilled coffee at his desk. Though she was more startled than frightened, she would never quite get the image of the bloody, smashed up face out of her head.
Melanie Roberts, hit and run car accident victim had smiled and winked at her through the computer screen.
“It’s time,” she had mouthed, before sending the second message of hers with the same words through the printer.

The End

       Web Site: Erin Elder

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Reviewed by david bending 6/25/2010
Excellent read . Really enjoyed it.
Reviewed by Shirley Cheng 8/27/2004
Cool, I like the surprise ending
Reviewed by Gladys 8/19/2003
I liked it!!
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 3/5/2003
well done
Reviewed by Clayton Umbach 3/5/2003
Not bad for a tree-hugger.

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