Leigh logged into her computer to play SLINGO, while waiting for her husband to arrive home. It had become her favorite late night pastime, after putting her children to bed. She read her email before opening the link to the game.
An instant message popped up on her screen: "Hello."
Normally she didn't respond to IM's from strangers. Instead she would close the message and continue on with her task of beating the pitch forked devil, but this time, she checked the profile and responded, "Hi."
He asked countless questions in his attempt to get to know her, but she took control of the conversation and dodged each question.
"Would you like my picture?" he typed and sent it before she responded.
"I already sent it."
"I know, and I deleted it."
"Why?" He sent it again.
"I like mystery." She deleted it again.
"I can do this forever," he typed, sending it for the third time. "It takes a second to send it."
"And a second to delete it."
"At least tell me your name," he typed.
They played this game for several days while Leigh waited for her husband each night. Online. Where people from different states and countries meet and chat, and flirt, with no recourse. Leigh could tell he was looking for someone special, but knew it couldn't be her. In all their late night chat sessions, he never asked if she were married, and she never volunteered to tell him. Knowing she couldn't continue leading him on, she sent him an email telling him of her marital status. She didn't have the courage to tell him IM to IM.
He replied, "Thank you."
She thought about him for days afterwards. Wondering what he looked like, wondering if, in person, he was everything he projected Online. Curiously, she requested his picture again. A slim, angular face, boasting a narrow mustache, with dark penetrating eyes which held a devilish, yet playful gleam and lips which looked soft enough to deliver sweet kisses, displayed on her screen. She reviewed his picture, regretting her decision.
During a meeting with her Online parenting group, she saw his name appear on her buddy list. She waited a few minutes and IM'ed him.
"Hello, Robert from Dallas. My name is Leigh."
"Well hello Leigh. Pretty name."
Leigh knew better than to continue their correspondence, but after 17 years of marriage, four children, and two adulterous affairs committed by her husband, she had fallen out of love. Being the romantic at heart, she needed to be in love; but how could she love someone she'd never met? Whose voice she'd never heard? Whose dark hypnotizing eyes she'd never seen in person? Easily; he said the things she needed to hear.
"Can we meet?" he asked one day.
"Absolutely NOT!" Her heart pounded at the thought.
"Too much temptation."
"Nothing will happen. I just want to hold you in my arms."
"How can you say something so tempting to a married woman?"
She'd made vows. Stood before God, her family and friends and committed to one man for the rest of her life. "I have to go," she typed in the IM and shut down her computer.
"God forgive me," she prayed, whenever she thought of Robert. Knowing she had sinned in her heart, lusting after another man, she threw herself into her work, her children, her marriage, trying to push thoughts of Robert from her mind. After weeks of fighting the urge to contact him, she logged into her computer to check her email. She found three messages from him; notes to say "hi", "thinking of you", and the last one asked if she was ignoring him.
She responded to the last one. "I'm not ignoring you, Robert. We both know this can't continue. I'm sorry if I led you to believe there could be something between us. I can't keep corresponding with you."
His reply came, "This hurts, Leigh. From the very beginning you lied about who you were and now I care about you, you do this."
"I'm sorry." she typed.
Two months later, her job sent her to Dallas for training. Her sister Nicole, who hadn't found a job since graduating from college, tagged along. Leigh emailed him about her trip and asked if they could meet. "I know I shouldn't," she wrote, "but I want to meet you face to face." She figured she'd lusted after him in her heart, how much further could she dig herself into hell?
He took them to an expensive restaurant for dinner. They laughed and talked and he teased and taunted her sister, charming her with his charismatic personality. Leigh could finally look into his eyes and see the sincerity he spoke to her Online.
"I'm glad I got the chance to meet you," she said, walking back to her hotel room.
"That sounds like goodbye."
She returned home to her husband and children intent on forgetting Robert. She contented with working through her marital difficulties and climbing up from the hell she'd dug for herself. Regardless of how hard she tried to forget him, each day she went Online she longed to chat with him. They eventually stopped the IMs and corresponding.
Three years passed as they continued on with their incongruent lives. She had her husband, her children and her job to keep her occupied; yet Robert always stayed on her mind and in her heart. She wondered what became of him; if he'd found his special someone, or if he still searched.
Her husband fell ill. Suddenly, with no indication, he began having blackouts and seizures. After seeking treatment and beginning medication, the doctors warned him not to drive. He'd told Leigh how he liked to climb behind the wheel at night and sail down the highway with the lights illuminating the interior of the car, the jazz lilting from the CD player, and his thoughts about life, his family and everything he loved. The doctors' warnings fell on deaf ears and as fate would have it, Leigh became a widow before her fortieth birthday.
Raising four children became a struggle. She moved to Maryland to be closer to her husband's family. Work and home became the normal routine. No time for a life of her own. No time for dating. Who would want a widow with four children? Although she'd maintained her online persona, Robert was no longer there.
While doing research for one of her children's science projects late one night, she received an IM. She'd signed on and lingered in la-la land for over an hour before the IM popped up from a screen name she didn't recognize.
Memories of Robert drifted to her mind. She closed the IM without responding.
It popped up again. "I see you're a widow."
They'd obviously checked her profile, so she did the same. It had been a while since a man chatted with her online. Since a man chatted with her period.
"I see you can read," she typed, anonymity making her bold.
The science project long forgotten, she pecked away at the keyboard. They chatted for twenty minutes with the tone of the conversation going from serious to flirty, before his IM popped up asking, "How have you been, Leigh?"
She hadn't told him her name and hadn't disclosed it in her profile. "Do I know you?"
She typed in a question mark.
She couldn't have scooped her mouth off the floor with a shovel. Motionless, she re-read the screen. It couldn't be him. It had been seven years. Surely he'd forgotten her.
Her trembling fingers moved over the keys. "Robert?"
"How are you?" she typed, knowing she'd already asked, but then, he was a stranger. A random name on the screen.
"Right now, I'm a little stunned."
"You IM me out of the blue and play coy knowing good and well who I am and then ask me about Nicole." She hit the enter button to stop her type-rambling. "I didn't know you still remembered me," she typed.
"Of course I do. How could I forget you?"
They played seven years catch-up. Two hours later he asked, "are you seeing anyone?"
She laughed out loud. "No," she typed.
"May I call you?"
She had the internet as a buffer so her courage grew. "Depends on what you want to call me," she typed.
"How about baby? Or maybe honey? Or suga?"
She gave him her cell phone number and he called from a seven-oh-three area code.
"It's almost twelve-thirty. I didn't know you were going to call tonight."
"I wanted to hear your voice. You sound the same."
"So do you. What are you doing in Virginia?"
"I live in Alexandria," he said.
"Two years ago. And I see you're in P.G. County."
"Hmm," he said. "Twenty minutes apart."
"It's almost one o'clock."
"Have dinner with me tomorrow."
Arrogant as ever, she thought. "My oldest son has a basketball game tomorrow."
"How old is he now?"
"Eighteen. He'll be graduating in June. He's working on college applications."
"Where's he applying?"
"Anywhere away from here," she said, with a laugh. "He wants to go as far away from home as possible."
"After the game?"
"We go for pizza afterwards."
"What about Saturday?"
"The kids keep me pretty busy on the weekends."
"Not going to make this easy, are you?"
"Make what easy?" she asked.
"I want to see you, Leigh."
"You're not married?" <i>Or dating? Or anything?</i>
"No. I want to see you."
They no longer had barriers to keep them apart, but the Leigh of seven years ago had a curvy figure, dark brown hair, and the safety of marriage. She'd thrown herself into her children and her job for the past four years. A few extra pounds had piled on and her naturally curly, dark brown mane sported more than a few grays.
The old Leigh was bold, confident, and safe with the sanctity of marriage as her shield. After years of struggling with bills, home repairs, and juggling the kids extra curricular activities, her confidence had deflated like air seeping from a balloon. The boldest thing she did was mix a few light colored clothes with the whites in the wash. Certainty had become her adversary, and doubt, her accessory. "I don't know," she said.
"Where's the basketball game?"
"I like basketball."
"It's a bunch of kids running up and down the--"
"Central High School. Gymnasium. Five-thirty."
She took extra pains in laying out her wardrobe. Already running late for work, she changed four times before deciding on a pair of jeans which showcased her "junk in the trunk" and a fuchsia colored pullover which, she'd been told, complimented her caramel complexion.
By half-time, Robert still hadn't made an appearance. She had relaxed enough to concentrate on her youngest son's math homework when she felt his presence. She glanced over her shoulder. Her face melted into a buttery smile. Maturity etched his face with tiny laugh lines at the corner of his mouth and a receding hair line with traces of gray at the temple, but the warm, endearing playfulness she remembered, still danced in his brown eyes.
He joined them for pizza after Central's victory over Suitland. He enthralled the children with his globetrotting tales and enchanted Leigh more with every smile. Six months later, he was still a prominent fixture in their lives. He attended every basketball game, every softball game, and started picking Leigh up from work in the evenings. His marriage proposal came as a surprise to no one, except Leigh.
"It's only been six months," she said.
"We've known each other longer than six months."
"And we've never stopped loving each other," he said.
"Do you want to take on a ready made family? With issues?"
"Who doesn't have issues?" He cupped her face. "Do you love me?"
His steamy gaze searched hers. "Don't break my heart again."
When Robert emerged in her life years ago, injecting a sparkle of love and possibility at a time she thought she'd lumber through the rest of her life without passion and fire, he'd found a way to ignite an extinguished flame. She couldn't believe the fated stars shined in her direction toward a happy ever after again, but she wasn't too dumb to chance fate either.
"Yes!" she said, throwing her arms around him.
Leigh didn't think a chance meeting Online could lead to happiness, but with the devil's playground available in every home, office and library, the possibility is always there.