"I don't care how you do it! Just do it!" Cynthia Jarvis screamed into the phone. "Don't give me excuses! You're being paid to do a job. If you can't do it properly, I'll get someone else who can!" She slammed the phone down onto it's cradle before she could receive a response. "Idiot!" she muttered aloud. She rested her head on her hands, her elbows on her desk, thinking what she was going to tell her customer if the sub-contractor didn't finish the system design by the delivery date, which was rapidly approaching. She knew that she would give the sub-contractor a day or two before calling a meeting to check the status of the progress and that she would step in and take over if necessary, even if it required her to work day and night to complete the project on time.
She'd been in the computer consulting business for over ten years and was proud that part of what contributed to her success was completing projects on time and under budget. Sure there were occasional unforeseen difficulties that caused delay, but she would try to move heaven and earth to get the job done properly and on time. It was her reputation that continued to get her the lucrative contracts and projects that she could pick and choose from rather than have to accept just to pay the bills. In the last eight years she was able to concentrate on corporations and law firms, consulting on appropriate networking systems and software, instead of what she considered to be "whore" work of government contracts.
It had not always been that way, she reflected as she looked out at her expansive backyard through the French doors in her home office. She sat back into her chair, pulling her raven colored, shoulder length hair back into a hand held ponytail. No...at first it had been tough, very tough. A woman trying to make it on her own with defense subcontracts in the mid - late 1980s was difficult, as the industry still played by the rules of the > good > ol boys network'. It was especially tough for a woman, and even worse for one who hated the government and the military machine as much as she did. But she had done very well for herself. She also had the foresight to sense that the tides of the defense boom were waning and started shifting her own business to the private sector. Using money she saved from her work in the defense industry, she was able to take the time necessary to find her niche." At least I made money off of the system that so thoroughly screwed me!'she thought to herself. Since the night before, when she responded to the personal ad from the woman in San Diego, many such thoughts had been popping into her mind. She had believed that part of her life was behind her. She had worked very hard to forget it and block it out of her mind. But in the past 24 hours, she had experienced a number of unpleasant flashbacks that reminded her of the nightmare. Shaking her head to push the thoughts out of her mind, she turned her attention to her computer screen, where her hazel/blue eyes attempted to focus on the tasks at hand.
* * *
Finishing her work late in the evening, but too restless to go to bed, Cynthia decided to log on the computer to check her personal email and surf the web for a while. She immediately clicked the mouse on the mail from SDLVR2, but before she could read it the message box popped on her screen.
MG1: Hiya pal! Whatcha been up to?
GDGTCHK: Hey Megan. Not much. Just finished burning the midnight oil and am reading my mail. How have you been?
MG1: Fine N dandy. Haven't heard from you in awhile and was concerned. Thought maybe a miracle happened and you fell in love and disappeared without telling me.
Cynthia laughed at her friend's comment. Megan Goodman had been her
best friend since college. They had been through a lot together, and still, after
the time that had passed, they stayed in constant contact with each other.
GDGTCHK: LOL. HardlyB you know me better than that ...Although I did do something out of the ordinary.
MG1: What may that be?
GDGTCHK: I answered a personal ad on the Net.
MG1: No! You go girl! Do tell.
GDGTCHK: Not much to tell. I was bored the other night, so I cruised the personal ads. One caught my attention and I answered. There is a problem though.
GDGTCHK: She's in San Diego.
MG1: Ahhh ...I see. How do you feel about that?
GDGTCHK: It seems to have somehow jarred some old memories that I thought I had buried deep enough. You know, I vowed I'd never look back and then what do I do? I respond to an ad knowing the person lives there. Crazy huh?
MG1: No, not really. Knowing you, it must have been a special ad.
GDGTCHK: Guess so, considering, a) I never respond to such things, and b) I knew she was from SD. I don't know, the ad seemed genuinely honest, heartfelt, and sincere. Something drew me to it. Its hard to explain.
MG1: So, what are you going to do?
GDGTCHK: Answer her reply I guess. :)
MG1: LOL- Hey, gotta run. How about dinner this week end? You can give me all the details then.
GDGTCHK: Sounds good. Call me tomorrow.
MG1: K. Bye. Have a good night and get some rest. You work too hard.
GDGTCHK: Yes mother. You too. Bye.
Returning to the email on the screen, she read it carefully, and paused
before beginning to type an answer.
How very astute you are! Yes, my screen name is mostly from my job, but I love electronic gizmos of all kinds- stereo, home theater, DVD, you name it. As far as consulting, I usually deal with networking software and hardware for corporations and law firms. I've been able to create a nice little niche and get many referrals and ongoing consulting jobs and follow-ups.
So, a marketing director, huh? I could use some marketing ideas, perhaps you can share some.
I love all types of movies as well, including the old screwball comedies with Kathryn Hepburn, Myrna Loy, and Carole Lombard; sci-fi; adventure/action; and romantic comedies. I don't go to the movies as often as I would like to, work has kept me pretty busy lately, but I do watch a lot of DVDs.
So, what else do you like to do?
Here's a question for you. What would be your dream vacation?
Hope to hear back from you. Take care.
BTW, my name is Cynthia. What's yours?
Clicking on the send button and completing the spell check, the message was quickly transmitted. Checking the rest of her mail and responding when necessary, Cynthia realized it was after 1:00 am and logged off to go to bed and some much-deserved rest.
* * *
She was on a ship. Although she couldn't make out what exact type it was, she knew was that it was big and gray. She looked around trying to determine her surroundings, but her vision was impaired by a heavy fog that enveloped her. She stood still, hoping her eyes would adjust. She tried to hear something ...anything ...so she could get her bearings as to where she was.
Despite her straining, she heard nothing ...Then they started to come ...slowly ...one by one. The voices. At first she couldn't understand what they were saying. She just heard gravely noise from behind her. But the sounds slowly became clearer and were getting closer." Dyke," "Unnatural," "Improper Conduct," she heard spewed from unknown forms. She began to move forward, looking back over her shoulder as she plunged into the dense fog. "Witch hunt," "Dismissal," "Court Martial," the voices continued. She broke into a run until she sensed something in front of her and she came to an abrupt stop. The ship's railing. She couldn't seem to escape.
She frantically followed the railing, still unable to see, but knowing the voices were rapidly approaching, getting closer and closer to her. "Tell us ...Tell us ...," the voices chanted in unison. She finally came to a break in the railing. The fog cleared just enough for her to determine it was a gangplank. She paused, not knowing where to go or what to do.
The voices soon seemed to surround her. She could not see anything but dark forms approaching rapidly from all directions but one, the plank. "God," "Country," "Dyke," "Lesbian" . The voices overwhelmed her. She slowly began to step out onto the gangplank, any other direction cut off by the dark, mysterious forms. Their words reverberated in her head as she slowly inched backwards, until she could feel she had no more room to move without falling. But she couldn't move forward, back to the ship, as the forms followed her and she could sense they were very close. Feeling a presence only inches from her, she felt herself falling backwards, into the dense fog of nothingness." NOOOO!!" Cynthia screamed, feeling herself jerk up to a sitting position as she awakened from the nightmare. Disoriented, her heart was pounding and she had uncharacteristically broken into a sweat. Slowly becoming aware of her surroundings, she leaned over and grabbed the water bottle off of her nightstand. Removing the cap, she took a long swallow, emptying the bottle of its contents. She glanced at the clock and saw it was only 4:00 am. Replacing the empty water bottle back onto the nightstand, she laid back down, her arm crooked under her head, and stared at the ceiling.
Still unsettled, she knew she wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. She never could after having one of "The Dreams." The dreams may never have been completely the same, but they were similar enough; variations of the same theme. It had been a long time since she had such a nightmare; she couldn't remember the last time, it had been so long. But she could not deny that the dreams appeared to be back, and she didn't know why or what to do about it.
* * *
Cynthia pulled her Porsche Boxster up into the driveway besides Megan's 1992 Honda Civic 4-door sedan. She smiled thinking of how she'd tease Megan about the older vehicle. It was a ritual between them. It wasn't that Megan couldn't afford a new car, she could easily, as she had been climbing the ranks of the Justice Department as a trial attorney, she just chose not to." Why should I? The snow's hard on the paint, it runs fine, and I don't want the car payments. When it dies, it dies, and I'll get something then. Until I have to, why bother?" Megan always explained. She had never been into show and "things" . Megan lived in a nice, but reasonably priced, neighborhood in Arlington. She didn't dress flashy. She was the most down to earth person Cynthia had ever known. " Helloooo...?!" Cynthia called as she walked in through the front door. The two had been so close for so long, that they never bothered knocking or ringing the bell of the others home before entering. " In the kitchen," she heard Megan yell. "C'mon in!"
Walking through the dining room into the kitchen, Cynthia saw her friend standing at the sink rinsing off vegetables." Hiya Amiga," Megan greeted, giving her friend a quick hug while trying not to get her wet. " Hey. Anything I can do to help?" " Not a thing. Just sit down and keep me company while I finish up here. Grab a soda if you want," she answered returning to her vegetable scrubbing. Cynthia stepped the short distance to the refrigerator, opened the door, peeked in and grabbed a juice drink. After closing the door, she unscrewed the lid off of the bottle, and sat in a chair at the kitchen table, which had already been set with plates and silverware. " So, what movies did you get?" Megan asked glancing back over her shoulder. " A horror flick and some lesbian film I found buried on the shelf," she answered watching her friend. Megan brushed aside a stray piece of her long, curly, dirty blond hair from her face with the back of her hand. Dressed in green sweats that were too large, Cynthia thought she looked tiny. Petite, 5 foot 2 inches, with clear alabaster skin, Megan looked much younger than her 35 years. " Cool. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes," Megan advised, stepping to her side from the sink to the kitchen counter, where she placed the vegetables on a cutting board and started to slice the cucumber for the salad. "I hope you're hungry. I seemed to have gotten carried away with the menu. Salad, steamed broccoli, cous cous, baked chicken and dessert." " Megan, when haven't you gotten carried away with food?" Cynthia laughed. Her friend's appetite and fast metabolism had been infamous since the two first met. How Megan could eat so much and stay so thin was beyond Cynthia's comprehension. If she had consumed near as much food as Megan could, she knew she would have to work out five times a day to keep the weight off.
The two continued to chat easily as Megan finished preparing dinner and began to place dish after dish on the table." So, how's your cyber woman?" Megan teased, sitting down at the table to join her friend. " Funny ...OK I guess. It's just weird getting to know someone on the computer like that. I email; she emails; I email her back ...it certainly takes time and patience," Cynthia answered, placing food from each bowl onto her plate. " Well, I am surprised that you responded to the ad, but pleasantly so. Just be careful. There are psychos out there."
Cynthia laughed. "Just as there are psychos in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, and other outlying areas."" True, but at least you can easily meet those psychos and get a feel for them." " Yes, Mother," Cynthia grinned, then took a bite of the chicken. "Mmmm, this is spectacular. You've outdone yourself this time." " Thanks. But seriously Cyn, I am glad that you're trying to meet someone. Gloria and I have been worried about you. We've been seeing each other now for over a year and wish you could experience something as wonderful as what we have." " I'm fine. I'm doing ok on my own." " When was the last time you went out on a date?" Megan asked pointedly. " Umm ...," Cynthia held her fork in mid air as she tried to think of the answer. "Let's see, about two months ago. But hey! I've been busy with work and I really haven't met anyone special, anyone I'd like to take the time to get to know better and vice-versa," Cynthia explained, trying to defend herself. " Well, silly, you can't meet anyone unless you get out more." " True, but I haven't had the desire. I'm burnt out on the professional women's mixers; I'm not a softball dyke; I'll scream if I hear she's employed by the government; and I can't stand the bars anymore. So, my choices are limited." " Allrighty then. But this cyber thing is different?" " Yeh, it expands my horizons and the pool of available women. But hell, I've only answered one ad!" " That's true. But how do you feel about the fact that shes in San Diego?"
Cynthia placed her fork down onto her plate and took a drink from her juice bottle. "I had the nightmare last night," she hesitantly admitted. Cynthia didn't need to explain further. While in college the two friends would often travel together or spend the night at the other's apartment after a late night of partying or watching movies. It was not uncommon for Megan to be awakened by Cynthia's screams and rush to her friend's side to try to calm and comfort her." Really?" Megan paused, resting her fork on her plate. "You haven't had one in awhile, have you?" " Nope. Years." " Mmmm, but you've been back to San Diego on business and didn't get them. Why now?" " I don't know. I've wracked my brain all day and I can't figure it out." " That is strange, especially because its been so long since youve had one ...Well, the reason may come to you. Was this one as bad as they used to be?" " Yep." " Mmmm ...," was all Megan could respond, not knowing what else to say.
The two finished their dinner, quickly washed the dishes, and retired to the family room where they watched the movies in a companionable silence.
* * *
Returning home, she was tired, but not sleepy, so Cynthia decided to check her email. As she logged on, she felt a sense of excitement. She had been working around computers for almost twenty years and now actually looked forward to logging on to see if she had a message from her new cyber pal, rather than the feeling the dread of having to respond to a client or put out a fire at one of her accounts. The feeling was like a rush, like what a drug addict may feel after a fix.
Clicking on the mail icon, she saw she had a number of new messages awaiting her, most spam or jokes forwarded from friends, but one from SDLVR2.
I'm Jessica. I love all types of old movies as well.
A dream vacation, huh? I guess it would be an extended trip to the Southern Hemisphere: Fiji, Bali, New Zealand, Australia ...How about you? What would yours be?
You said you lived in San Diego at one time. Where? Didn't you like it? Did you leave because of your career? Sorry I have so many questions.
So you'd like some marketing advice? Well, give me more info and I may be able to help you out there. :)
Well, my cat is zooming around the house with evening play time, I should go make sure everything is in one piece. Maybe we can speak via IM sometime instead of just email?
Cynthia sat staring at the screen, not knowing how to respond to the questions about her tenure in San Diego. Slowly, and with great apprehension, she began to type.
Hi Jessica. Pleasure to meet you.J
Sounds like a great dream vacation to me. Mine would be anywhere that's a tropical island I guess.
Umm ...San Diego ...I lived in North Park. To be honest, I try not to think of those days if I can. That was a very dark period of my life and I'm sorry, but I would really rather not discuss it right now. I've moved on and put it all behind me and I don't want to look back. Hope you understand.
After I left SD, I moved to the East Coast and went to college at Boston University, majoring in Computer Science. I went to work for some defense contractors until I decided to go out on my own. I settled outside of D.C. many years ago and seem to have stayed, for better or worse it seems. I have a nice place in Alexandria, although it can be rather hot and humid in the summer and cold in the winter.
What's your cat's name and what type is it?
Sending off the answer, a message suddenly popped up on the screen
SDLVR2: Hi Cynthia! How are you? I hope Im not interrupting or intruding by IMing.
GDGTCHK: Hey Jessica. I'm doing ok, a bit tired. How about yourself? I just sent you an answer to your email.
SDLVR2: Should I read it now?
GDGTCHK: If you want, its nothing earthmoving.J
SDLVR2: Can you old on a sec? brb
Cynthia stood and walked to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator door,
she looked inside seeing what it offered. Grabbing a bottle of water, she closed
the door and returned to her office. Sitting back down in front of the monitor, she
saw that Jessica had come back.
SDLVR2: I'm sorry if I hit a sore spot. I didn't mean to intrude.
GDGTCHK: S'ok. You had no way of knowing. So, what are you up to tonight?
SDLVR2: Nothing much. Just thought I'd take it easy. Maybe watch a movie, play with the cat, vegetate. Worked a bit today and did some yard work, so I'm wiped. You're up late, aren't you?
GDGTCHK: Yep. Went to a friend's for dinner and watched some movies. I was a bit wired, probably from the popcorn and Junior Mints.
SDLVR2: YOURE KIDDING?!
GDGTCHK: Excuse me?
SDLVR2: I thought I was one of the only people that ate that combo. My friends think it's gross. I love to mix 'em! LOL I learned it from an ex girlfriend when I was teenager.
GDCTCHK: LOL. Nope. You're not alone. My friends think it's pretty gross too. I don't know how I picked it up. How funny.
SDLVR2: Indeed it is. :) So you're a bit wired huh? Decided to cruise the Net? LOL
GDGTCHK: Well, just read and answered your email. So a teenager huh? How old were you when you came out?
SDLVR2: 17. u?
For over an hour the two typed their conversation, exchanging info on
siblings, coming out stories, and teasing on silly subjects, until Cynthia's eyes
grew heavy from fatigue.
GDGTCHK: Hey Jessica. as much as I'm enjoying our chat, I'm fading fast. Think we can continue this another time?
SDLVR2: No problem. Just let me know when.
GDGTCHK: Thanks. How about tomorrow? 7:00 p.m. your time?
SDLVR2: Deal. Sleep tight. Til tomorrow then. Night.
* * *
The voices were pounding in her head. They were so close it was if they were going to crawl under her skin. Nowhere else to go, she felt herself fall back into the nothingness below. Falling ...Falling ...until the fog cleared enough for her to see the water below. Clear water that reflected the white sand on the bottom of the depths below. Despite her distance from the forms, the voices continued to echo in her head. "Tell us ...Tell us ...", played in her mind like a mantra. She continued to fall, taking a deep breath before finally plunging into the cool, clear water. Although the white sand appeared close upon first falling into the water, it seemed further and further away as she sunk toward it. She struggled to stop her descent, but the more she tried, the faster she seemed to fall.
The alarm clock blared a new country tune, rousing Cynthia from her deep sleep. She awakened, somewhat dazed and confused. She grasped her chest, her breathing labored, as though her air supply had been limited or cut off. She laid panting, a sheen of sweat across her brow. She was scared and angry. Scared that the dreams were back and angry that they still could incapacitate her, even if it was only in a sleeping state.
Continued in Chapter Three
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