Samantha snapped her laptop shut. “He wants to meet.”
“You can’t meet him!” Her sister pushed back from the kitchen table, tipping the table as she stood, causing an empty chair to scrape across the tiled floor.
“Jesus, Mary! Watch out!” Samantha put her hands on her computer to keep it from falling off the table.
“You don’t know anything about him! You met him on line!” Always the older sister, Mary pounded a fist on the table. “I forbid it.”
Samantha laughed. “Right, Mary. I’m 45 years old and you forbid it. Look at me.” She stood. “I’m ignoring your forbidding.” Placing her laptop in its case, she grabbed her leather jacket off the back of the chair.
“Sam, seriously.” Mary groaned. “Why do you do these things to me?” She walked to her sister and put her hands on Samantha’s shoulders. “You met him online. He’s virtual. He’s unreal. He’s virtually unreal.”
Shaking Mary’s hands off her shoulders, Samantha put her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. “Considering you’re the one who helped me set up my online profile, I’m kind of surprised at your reaction.”
“Well,” Mary hesitated. “I didn’t think, I wasn’t sure….”
“Oh, great.” Samantha zipped her jacket shut, getting her sweater caught in the zipper in the process. “Great vote of confidence,” she said, tugging her sweater free. “He’s real, Mary.” Samantha threw a glare in her sister’s general direction. “I’ve been talking to him for months.”
“Yeah?” Mary decided the best defense was an offense. “What does he do for a living? Huh? Or rather, what does he say he does for a living?” Mary drove her finger into Samantha’s shoulder with each syllable.
Samantha grabbed the offending digit and bent it backwards.
“Ouch!” Mary shook the pain out of her hand.
“Serves you right.” Samantha buttoned her jacket. “Don’t poke me. I know how to fight, remember?” She pulled the jacket collar close around her neck. “Mistress of Mixed Martial Arts. I can kill a man with one strike, with my eyes closed.”
“Yeah, you might need those skills if you meet this guy.”
“This guy, as you refer to him, has a name. Timothy. He’s Timothy. And he produces documentaries. Lives in LA. Is going to be in Providence interviewing some guy at Brown University for a film on tracking refugees in Africa.”
“Refugees in Africa?” Mary laughed. “Right. Sounds like a saint. Bet people thought Ted Bundy was a saint, too.”
“Listen, Mary.” Samantha held her laptop under one arm as she felt for her gloves on the table and slipped them on, finger by finger. “I’ve talked to him for over 6 months. We’ve become friends. He says he’s a producer. Why shouldn’t I believe him? He’s going to be in Providence. That’s close enough for me to meet him. So, I’m taking the train and going to meet him in Mystic for lunch. Public place. Daytime. Safe. Okay?”
“You’re taking the train? To Mystic?” Mary grabbed her iPhone and opened the calendar. “When are you going? I’m going with you.”
“Oh, my God, Mary. Will you please stop. Mystic is the halfway point between Providence and New Haven. The station is near the restaurant we chose. I will be fine!”
Samantha turned and started to walk toward the door. Her foot caught in the chair that had been moved when Mary pushed the table. She tripped, sending her laptop flying across the room and Samantha sprawling on the cold Italian marble tiles.
“Dammit, Mary! Why did you move the chair?” Samantha bent over to get on her hands and knees, feeling around for the chair to hold onto as she pulled herself up. She brushed her clothes and felt her arms and legs for sore spots. “Thank God I’m an expert at falling,” she said. “Where’s my laptop?”
Mary walked over to the sofa, picked up the laptop and placed it on the table in front of her sister. “Here you go. Had a soft landing on the sofa.”
Samantha closed her eyes and lifted her face to the ceiling. “Who am I trying to kid, Mary? I’m an uncoordinated forty-five year old woman falling in love with a virtual man.” She turned the chair around and plopped herself down. “He says he can’t find women who will ‘love him for who he is, or isn’t,’ whatever the hell that means.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Mary sat across from her sister. “’Who he is, or isn’t?’ Who is he, the Riddler?”
“He gave me the impression that he’s, well, not very attractive.” Samantha rubbed her hand back and forth over her laptop case.
“Yeah? At least he has a sense of humor about it. What kind of guy has the nerve to use a picture of George Clooney as his profile picture?”
“Yeah. He joked about that.” Samantha laughed. “He told me that people have trouble ‘seeing beyond the exterior.’”
“Well, then,” Mary patted her sister on the back. “You guys are a match made in heaven.”
Samantha laughed. “Why don’t you say what you really think?”
“Sorry, Sam.” Mary’s fingers seemed to be pounding out the beat to the 1812 Overture on the table. “But sometimes, I just have to call it the way I see it, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“You’re certainly on a roll with the barbs.” Samantha took a deep breath. “He says he likes me because he thinks I’m funny. He says I’m ‘genuine.’” She blew at a stray hair hanging over her nose and then pushed it behind her ear. “Other women get ‘glamorous.’ I get ‘genuine.’”
“So, Ms. Genuine. Have you told him all your secrets?” Now Mary was playing the scales on an invisible piano.
“No. I haven’t told him all my secrets.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“I guess I want to see if he’ll like me for who I am, or amn’t.” Samantha wrinkled her nose and squinted. “That’s a word, right? Amn’t?”
“You’re the writer.” Mary stood, ran water into a cup and put it in the microwave. She sighed. “Fame must be a horrible burden.”
“I’m not famous.” Samantha stood, attempting once more to leave, this time hopefully without falling on her face. “I’m infamous.”
“You write porn. You make a decent living writing about indecent things.” Mary turned and smiled at Samantha. “Liked your last chapter, by the way. Never thought of using salad tongs like that.”
“I hear the smile in your voice. You and Tony have a little fun, did you?”
“I don’t know where you come up with these things. But, man, I gotta tell you. You’re good. You are very, very good.”
“Comes from having an overactive imagination and an underactive sex life.” Samantha groaned. “God, if people only knew.”
Mary stopped Samantha on her way to the door. “When are you supposed to meet him?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“Seriously?” Mary went into protective older sister mode again. “That’s too soon!”
“Jesus, Mary. We’ve been talking to each other for months. It is definitely not too soon.”
Mary opened the door for Samantha. “Have you ever actually talked to him? You know, spoken on the phone?”
“Yeah, lots of times.”
“What does he sound like? I mean, does he sound smart? Does he sound like an ax murderer?”
“Yes, Mary. He sounds exactly like an ax murderer. And I know that because I talk to a lot of ax murderers.” Samantha walked through the door but stopped on the steps and turned to Mary. “He sounds smart. He sounds kind. He sounds, familiar somehow. Like I already know him, have known him forever. It’s eerie.”
“You mean like one of those past life regression kind of things?” Mary giggled. “Maybe you were ill fated lovers, like Lancelot and Guinevere, or Uther and Ygraine.”
“Or Bonnie and Clyde.” Samantha walked down the steps to the sidewalk.
“You sure you don’t want me to drive you home?” Mary put her hand out to feel the weather. “It’s going to rain.”
“No, Mary. I’m fine,” Samantha called back to her sister. “I won’t melt. The bus will be here in just a tick.”
Samantha could feel Mary’s eyes on her as she walked down the street to the bus stop. “I’m okay, Mary,” she said to herself. “I’m okay.”
The train arrived in Mystic uncharacteristically early, about two minutes ahead of schedule. Samantha had arranged for a cab to meet her at the station to take her the few blocks to the Inn where she would meet Timothy.
“Timothy.” She said his name out loud, liking the sound of it on one hand, but finding it rather formal on the other. Was he Timothy? Or a Tim? Timmy?
She had described herself to the taxi dispatcher, who seemed not to be worried about it.
“Yeah, lady. Not many people get off in Mystic. We’ll spot ya.”
And they had.
The old cabbie, sounding every bit the fisherman home from the sea, chatted with Samantha for the entire 2 minute ride.
“From out of town are ya?”
“Yes,” Samantha smiled. “Just here for the day.”
“For the day, are ya?”
“Yes. Just for lunch, really. Meeting a friend.”
“A friend, ya say?”
“Yes. A friend.”
“Well, we got ya on the schedule for a four o’clock pick up.”
“Yes, that should be fine.”
The cab pulled up in front of the Inn, bumping onto the sidewalk of the narrow street. Samantha opened the door and stretched her legs till her red cowboy boots touched the asphalt, searching for even footing.
“See ya at four!” The cabbie drove away with a sputter and a billow of gasoline infused smoke.
Samantha stood for a moment to get her bearings. “Shit. Should’ve had him point me in the right direction.” She turned her body to the sun, felt the warmth of it seep through her jacket, and then turned again in the opposite direction. “Buildings, away from the sun,” she said under her breath. “Aim for the shade.”
She opened her white cane with a snap of the wrist and an expertise that came from doing the movement for years. She tapped around her, feeling the sidewalk for obstacles.
“Excuse me.” It was his voice. “Samantha?” The after pause lingered.
Samantha extended her hand in the general direction of the voice. “Samantha Majors. Blind as a Bat.”
The silence was deafening, but she was used to it. She was used to having to let people get used to her. She never knew how someone was going to respond. Some would politely withdraw, afraid of her sightlessness, afraid that it might mean more work for them. Others would go overboard in their acceptance of her, hiding their fear behind zealous enabling. And sometimes, rarely, they’d see beyond her eyes.
This was what she was hoping for now.
“Surprise.” She decided to be the one to break the ice.
He laughed and took her hand. “I guess so.”
He pulled her close and hugged her. “Have any other secrets?” he whispered into her ear.
“Oh, one or two more. But this was the big one.”
She pulled out of his hug. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“That you have secrets?”
“No.” Putting her hands on his face, she smiled. “That I want to know what you look like. You’re one up on me.”
She slowly ran her fingers over his eyes.
Her hands continued tracing his face. “Nice nose.”
“A beard. Neat. Trimmed.”
“Thank you, I think.”
She ran her hands over his shoulders.
“Strong. Not too big, not too small.”
“Okay, Goldilocks.” He took her hands in his. “Any lower and you’ll know way more about me than you might want to know, at the moment.”
Samantha pulled her hands away quickly. “Okay, then!”
They laughed easily together, but then stood for a moment in an awkward silence.
“I’m sorry.” Samantha aimed her face at the ground. “I should have told you, I know. But I wanted you to get to know me, before you decided that I wasn’t…right.” She lowered her head. “I’m sorry. It’s lame. I got you here under false pretenses.”
“Believe it or not, I understand.”
Samantha couldn’t stop focusing on his voice. It was clearer in person. She knew this voice. It was refined, but casual. It was direct, strong, and yet tinged with humor, kindness.
“I feel like I know you,” she said.
“You do know me. We’ve talked for months.”
“No,” she repeated. “I feel like I know you.”
“Mr. Clooney? Your table’s ready.” A young woman called from the Inn’s open door.
The after pause lingered.
“Surprise.” He was the one to break the ice.
“You’re name’s not Timothy, is it?”
“That’s my middle name.”
“And your first name?”
“Shit.” Samantha ran a gloved hand through her hair. “You mean, you really are George Clooney?”
Samantha turned her head from side-to-side, a memory of a movement she would have made if she had sight, if she could have seen which direction she should run.
“Not to state the obvious,” her voice bordered on shrill and out of control. “But why the hell are you meeting someone online, for God’s sake?” Samantha faced him, hoping her blank stare was aimed directly into his eyes. “You’re George fuckin’ Clooney. You could have your pick of anyone. Everybody loves George Clooney.”
“Yeah. That’s the problem. Everybody loves George fuckin’ Clooney, as you so nicely put it.”
Samantha smiled. “Yeah, sorry.”
He laughed. “No, you’re right. But at this point in my life, it would be nice to find someone who wants to know me, to get beyond the exterior. And that’s hard.”
They were quiet a moment, sizing each other up.
“Wow. Who would have thought….” Samantha smiled.
“Yeah. Who would have thought?” His low laugh was incredibly sexy. “So, what about you? Why were you looking for someone online?”
Samantha placed her hands gently on his face.
“To find someone who will love me for who I am, or amn’t?”
“Is amn’t a word?” Samantha felt the smile under his words.
“It is now.”