Caroline & The Computer
Rated 'PG-13' for sexual content
--Caroline was seething. It's the law that an on-duty cabdriver take his passenger wherever he or she wants to go; but this driver had refused. Then, he insulted her, and on top of that, thrown his slushy at her. She wiggled as she remembered how uncomfortable all that sticky ice felt running down inside her shirt and into her underwear. Caroline had taken a shower, and sipped some hot tea, trying to calm down, but she was not ready to give up her anger.
She fired up her computer, hoping that she could find some information online about the rules and regulations of driving a cab in New York. Any information that could help her to file charges against the rude cabbie...
"No one calls me 'bony ass' and gets away with it..." Caroline mumbled to herself as she waited for her internet provider to connect to the information superhighway.
--Richard was addicted. He never knew computers held so much fascinating information about the arts. And not just the arts, but all kinds of various subjects, all at his disposal with a click of a button. Before he even realized the time had passed, the 'Cyber Cafe' hit closing time, and the manager cut the power to the computers, causing Richard to panic.
"Ok, I probably shouldn't do this..." one of the computer junkies said to Richard as he reached into a large black backpack... "But I have a laptop you can borrow. It's pre-Pentium... but it will get you through till morning."
Richard took it eagerly and nodded, clutching it like it was the most important thing in the world to him.
--Caroline located and printed out all kinds of information about the laws that supported her side of the cabbie issue, and slowly, her anger began to subside. Knowing she was in the right, it was just a matter of filing a complaint, then justice would prevail. She decided to check out a few chat rooms before turning off the computer, so she looked around a bit, searching for a subject of interest to her.
"Hmmm... ok, this is interesting. A chat room about 'Caroline in the City'..." Caroline said softly to herself as she scanned her chat room options. "This could be good. Maybe I'll get some ideas for a few strips..."
She clicked 'go', and instantly appeared in the room with 9 other people, all of whom were talking about her creation. Some were fighting and arguing, but all were polite enough, so she stayed and introduced herself, but by her screen name only. She left out the fact that she was THE Caroline. After chatting for a while, one particular 'roomie' stood out from the rest.
--Richard had wandered into a chat area completely by mistake. He found a web site about 'Caroline In The City', so he decided to check it out. It was the web site that led him to the chat room. His first thought was to just leave, the conversation wasn't very stimulating, but he decided to stick it out and see what the 'general public' had to say about the little comic strip that had changed his life. Sure, the strip hadn't done much about changing his life per se, but the creator of the strip sure did. He'd had his fill of the squabbling about whether or not Salty should have a playmate when a new person entered the room. She introduced herself as a female, and right away Richard could tell she was different from the others chatting in the room. For starters, she could spell correctly... and her grammar suggested continued education beyond the basics. He started talking to her, pretty much ignoring the rest of the conversations in the room.
--The guy Caroline had been talking to for the past hour was really intriguing. After talking in the chat room for just a short while, they decided to leave the room and talk via 'instant message' instead. It was more private that way. She was careful not to reveal too much about herself though. She highly doubted that he was a threat, but with the internet, one can never be too careful. They talked about everything, and she was amazed at how easy it was to talk to him.
"So, are you married or single?" Caroline inquired, then clicked 'send'.
"Is that a pickup line? Cause if it is... it needs work." came the reply.
Caroline chuckled; he had an interesting sense of humor.
"No, just curious..."
"No, I'm not married. You?"
"No. Haven't found 'Mr. Right' yet..."
"Oh! So, you're gay?"
"No, I'm not gay. I just meant I haven't found the right person yet."
"Oh! Ok. For me, I'm starting to wonder if I'm ever gonna find 'Mr. Good-Enough', let alone 'Mr. Right'. You know?"
"So, what do you do for fun?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Paint. I'm an artist..."
"An artist? Like Picasso?"
"Well, I'm nowhere near as talented, but yes, like Picasso."
Caroline lifted an eyebrow at that statement...
*That's odd. Why is this starting to sound like Richard?* she asked herself, but then quickly dismissed that idea... *Richard doesn't have a computer.*
"You don't think you're talented?"
"The critics don't seem to think so."
"What do YOU think?"
"What I think is irrelevant."
"I think it's very relevant. Do YOU think you're talented?"
"I would like to think so, but lately, my work has suffered."
"Depression. I always thought pain was good for art, and believe me, I'm no stranger to pain, but it's different now."
"Why? What's different? What are you depressed about?"
"Your employer? Why? Is he a tyrant?"
"No, she's not a tyrant."
"Oh! Your employer is a 'she'?"
"So, if she's not a tyrant, what's the problem?"
"That's the problem."
"If she were a tyrant, I probably wouldn't feel this way. It's complicated."
"She's my employer, but my feelings for her go beyond employer/employee."
"Oh, I see. And a relationship is against company rules?"
"Well, not exactly. She IS the company."
"Huh? I don't follow..."
"It's just her. She's self employed, and I work for her."
*Ok, this is getting too coincidental...* Caroline thought to herself... *But, how could it be Richard?*
"What do you do for her?" she asked, partly expecting his answer to prove that it couldn't possibly be Richard.
"I'm her assistant."
"What do you assist her in doing?"
"Anything and everything."
*He seems to be avoiding the question.* Caroline noted strangely, her eyebrows coming together in a slight frown.
"You should tell her how you feel about her."
"She could never love me. Besides, it might ruin our current relationship." was his reply.
"What do you mean? Your working relationship? Do you think she'd fire you?"
"No, I don't think she'd fire me, but it would be awkward. We're also friends, and I don't want to risk losing her friendship."
"Oh, I see. What is it you do for her again?" Caroline repeated, hoping this time he wouldn't avoid the question.
"I color in the comic strip she draws."
Caroline's jaw dropped... *It has to be Richard! There are WAY too many coincidences. I don't know how he's doing it, but it has to be him.*
"Which comic strip?" she asked, her hands shaking out of nervousness.
"I'd rather not say, if that's alright."
"Ok, no problem."
"What about you? What do you do?"
"For a living or for fun?"
*He would kill me if he knew it was me...* Caroline thought, sighing deeply at having to deceive Richard... "I'm a secretary." she lied.
"What do you do for fun?"
"Lots of stuff."
"Well, I like sports."
"Watching or playing?"
"Both. I like going to museums. I like going to the opera."
"What's your favorite opera?"
"La bohème. You like opera?"
"What's your favorite opera?"
"The Marriage of Figaro is one of my favorites."
"Yeah, one of mine too. Can I ask you a question?"
"As opposed to what you have been doing?" was the sarcastic reply, followed quickly by: "Sure, but I reserve the right not to answer it."
"Fair enough. I was just wondering... what's your name?"
"Richard. What's yours?"
Caroline's heart skipped a beat. It was Richard. HER Richard. She was sure of it. She couldn't tell him her real name; it would upset him, or worse... scare him away. She quickly typed in the first name that came to mind...
--After a bit more small talk, they decided to call it a night and say good-bye. Richard didn't think much of the conversation other than it was a welcome distraction from his painters block. Caroline however, walked away with a feeling of confusion... and a dilemma. What should she do about her new found knowledge?
--Caroline knew Richard had a computer in his room... she could hear the computerized voice saying 'you've got mail'. Just confirmation really of what she already knew... it had been Richard she was talking to online. Sure, he said it was the mailman in his apartment, giving him his mail, but she knew that was a cover. She felt it would be better not to say anything though, so she just told him about the meeting with the taxi commission and left.
--Richard promised her he would be there. With him being her only witness, she needed him to make her case. When he didn't arrive for the meeting, she lost her case to the rude cabbie. Frustrated, she went to go talk to him about it... to find out why he didn't show, but he wasn't at his apartment. She went to where she thought she might find him... at the 'Cyber Cafe'. She was right, he was there, looking disheveled and unkempt. He became full-blown addicted to the internet in a very short amount of time and had apparently ignored his work, his art, and even bathing. Caroline helped wean him off computers, all the while struggling with what she should do about the online conversation she'd had with him. Should she say something and risk him getting upset and leaving again? Or should she say nothing and wait for him to broach the subject?
--Several weeks and many sleepless nights went by, and she was still unsure about what to do. It started affecting her work...
"Caroline? What is up with you?" Richard asked as he sat at his seat at the drafting table.
"Well, you have 'Caroline' going out on a date with a guy she met on the internet..."
"I don't think that's such a good idea..."
"Why?" Caroline asked, deciding to push the issue, just to see what he would say.
"Because... lunatics use the internet to meet their victims! If your readers see 'Caroline' doing it, then they might do it too. I just don't think it's such a good idea..."
"Fine, give me the panel."
Caroline seemed upset, but Richard wasn't sure why... "You would never do something like that, would you?"
"I don't know."
"Caroline... the internet is NOT a safe way to meet people."
"Well, maybe, all I know is... I have no one. And I'm not gonna find 'Mr. Right' or even 'Mr. Good Enough' if I don't look!"
Richard froze as Caroline finished her rant. That sounded familiar... and it took only mere moments for him to remember why... when he was addicted to computers he had talked to a woman online who had said the very same thing. Caroline noticed the expression on his face and stopped what she was doing...
"What?" she asked softly.
"Nothing..." Richard said, quickly diverting his eyes. He couldn't say what he was thinking... that 'Lisa' from online was actually Caroline. Partly because he was too afraid to admit it. He quickly went back to work, hoping to avoid further conversation on the subject.
Caroline could see the change in Richard's demeanor. She didn't know what she said, but whatever it was, it obviously affected him.
--After several hours of silent work Richard started to scrounge around, sighing in exasperation as he searched for whatever it was he was looking for.
"What are you looking for?" Caroline asked, not being able to take his irritation one second longer.
"I'm looking for cerulean blue!"
"Try in the bookshelf."
"Why would it be in--? Never mind... I don't want to know." Richard huffed as he walked behind the kitchen to look in the bookshelf. "It's not here!" he yelled after several minutes of searching.
"Try the computer desk then!" she yelled back. *What is with him?* she asked herself as she tried to concentrate on her work, the sounds of irritated grunts and rustling paper coming from behind the kitchen making it difficult. Suddenly, all noise stopped. "You find it?"
There was no answer.
"Richard? Did you find it?"
Still no answer. Finally, Richard appeared from around the corner...
"What is this?" he asked, his tone catching her attention.
"What's what?" She spun around and could then see what was in Richard's hand... "Richard! Don't read that!"
Caroline sprung from the chair and grabbed it out of his hand... but it was too late. He had already read it.
"YOU are 'Lisa'?!"
"Richard, let me explain..."
"Don't bother to deny it Caroline! How else do you explain this print out of the conversation I had with her?! Or should I say YOU?!"
"I wasn't going to deny it--"
"How could you?! How could you do this to me?! How could you LIE to me like this?!"
"I wasn't trying to lie to you! Please, just let me explain!"
"Fine! Explain it!"
"I didn't know it was you at first. I didn't realize it till it was too late..."
"Too late?! What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"
"I wasn't trying to lie to you Richard! I thought you'd be mad if you knew it was me..."
"Why would you think that?"
"You had already mentioned your feelings for your employer! I thought it would upset you if you knew I knew!"
"What?! Caroline, that sentence made no sense!"
Caroline sighed, exasperated... "I was just thinking about your feelings Richard! I didn't want to embarrass you!"
"It's a little late for that, isn't it?!"
"Well, EXCUSE ME! You were never supposed to find this!" she barked, waving the printout at him. She crumpled it up and threw it across the room, then looked up at Richard. The expression in his eyes made her throw caution to the wind, and she took 2 long strides towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck upon reaching him. She pulled him tight to her and kissed him passionately. He returned the kiss, causing both of them to become breathless. They looked at each other for a moment, then Richard blurted out...
"Then why did you print out the conversation?!"
"Cause I thought it might be you and I wanted a copy of the conversation to re-read!"
"Why?! Why would you want to re-read it?! So you could laugh at my pain?!"
"No! Because I'm in love with you, ok?! Cause I'm madly in love with you!"
"That's just great cause I'm madly in love with you too!" Richard barked back, then grabbed her and started kissing her again, almost angrily. Caroline fought to catch her breath when the kiss finally ended...
"I know!" she snipped when she was finally able to breathe.
"That's cause you knew it was me! In the conversation online! But I didn't know it was you!"
"I already apologized Richard! Geeez! I'm sorry, ok?!" she snapped... "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" she added, stomping her feet for emphasis. "I told you! I thought you'd get mad if you knew it was me! And I was right! Look how mad you are!"
"I have every right to be mad Caroline! You deceived me!"
"I know! And I said I was sorry! Like, a thousand times! What more do you want from me?!"
Richard grabbed her again, more gently than before, and kissed her, releasing all the pent up frustration within him. Frustration about hiding his feelings for so long. Of feeling unworthy to be with her. Of feeling she could never love him in return. They slowly made their way to the stairs that led to her bedroom, shedding their clothes along the way. They made love... the argument they'd had mingled with it being their first time together creating a passion and intensity far beyond what either expected... or fantasized about. They fell asleep exhausted in each other's arms.
--Annie let herself in as she always did, and upon seeing no coffee and no Caroline, bounded up the stairs to her room.
"Hey! You gonna wake up?" she asked as she let herself in after only a brief obligatory knock on the door. She stopped dead in her tracks as she looked at the bed... "Oh my God. Caroline, what's going on? Why is 'Mr. Sunshine' in your bed?"
Richard frantically grabbed at the sheets to cover himself and Caroline blushed, struggling to find the words to explain what had happened.
"Oh my God!" Annie repeated, a smile coming across her face... "You got the letter! He gave you the letter!" she announced, then looked to Richard... "You finally gave her the letter?!"
Richard glared at her and Caroline looked confused...
"What letter?" she asked Richard.
"Nothing. It's nothing..."
"Uh-oh. He didn't give you the letter..." Annie stated as she started to back out of the room... "I'll just get coffee at Starbucks today..." she added sheepishly, then left.
"What letter?" Caroline repeated.
"It's nothing Caroline. Just drop it... ok?"
"It's not 'nothing'! It's something! After last night, you can't tell me what was in this obviously important letter?"
"I don't have to tell you everything!" he snapped.
"Everything?! How about ANYTHING! How long did it take you to admit your feelings for me?! Huh?!"
"I told you about my feelings for you!"
"Yeah, AFTER you found the printout yesterday!"
"No, not yesterday! I told you before yesterday!"
"Richard, I think I would've remembered if you had told me--"
"You never saw it..."
"I never saw what?"
Richard wrapped a sheet around himself and got out of bed, grabbing his pants off the floor. He got out his wallet and opened it, producing a piece of paper. He handed it to Caroline and she started to read it out loud...
"Please, Caroline... don't read it out loud..." The expression on his face almost seemed pained. Caroline finished reading the letter silently, then looked up at Richard with tears in her eyes.
Richard seemed almost lost or scared. He wrapped his arms around Caroline and kissed her, aggressively at first, but it quickly softened into a tender and loving kiss. The kiss brought out their desires for each other, and they made love again, gentle and sweet. It wasn't heat and anger driven like the night before, but it was no less passionate. They collapsed in each other's arms, holding each other tight.
"I love you Caroline." Richard admitted softly, running his fingers through her soft red hair.
Caroline smiled as she turned to face him... "I know..." she said, kissing him softly on the lips... "I love you too Richard."
Richard smiled with relief, then embraced her tightly.
"If we start this... and I'm assuming this is the start of something... there won't always be all this fighting, right?"
"No. There won't. I don't want to fight with you... I want to love with you."
"Ok..." Caroline hummed as she snuggled into Richard's warm chest.
"I mean, I can't guarantee we won't EVER fight... but I CAN give you one guarantee..." he said, smiling mischievously... "Making up will be lots of fun!"