Copyright 2007, held by author
5 35 am
His mouth wakes her, gradually. She was dreaming about him, her husband. Not a specific dream, not a memorable dream, but for a moment whose length she can not determine it seems like dream and reality share the same space in her mind. She can’t remember the last time she dreamt about the man who slept next to her for the past five years. She can’t remember the last time that same man woke her by making love to her.
The sheets and blanket slide from his back down her shins and ankles. Alice pulls off her night gown, grabs the sides of his waist. Morning birds whistle as daylight slowly paints the bedroom windows. It feels so good to feel filled, it feels so good to feel him.
When his alarm first beeps, Lenny is awake and out of bed and heading towards the bathroom.
She doesn’t remember falling asleep again. The sound of the shower makes her eyes open. She smells the coffee before she sees the mug on the night table. It is the one with bright red valentine hearts along its side. Steam swirls above the brim. There is a happiness in her now that she hasn’t felt for a very long time.
Sitting up in bed, sipping the coffee, Alice feels the coolness of the air against her skin and listens to the muffled buzz of the Norelco razor she bought him for Christmas.
She watches him walk out of the bathroom, toweling his hair dry.
As he picks out his underwear from the drawer, she pauses on her way to the bathroom, slips her arms around his waist and kisses the back of his neck.
“That was wonderful.” She smells his after shave, traces a finger down his jaw line. “We used to do that so much, in the morning.”
Her body’s warmth spreads across his back. “I’m sorry, about the argument. I love you and I love that you’re here for me.”
“I’m sorry too, Seth. I’m glad I’m here too.”
Wearing his running sneakers, thick socks, and Nike warm up suit, Lenny peels a banana and drops it in the blender into the two cups of orange juice, the cup of soy milk, the half cup of blue berries, the quarter cup of peanut butter and the two scoops of whey protein powder. He pushes his favorite button: pulverize, then reaches for the plastic canister of Creatine. The liquid gurgles as the rotary blades mash the banana and he pours several tablespoons worth of Creatine powder into the purplish whirlpool.
Seth makes a Windsor knot in his silk red tie, then fixes the collar of his white oxford shirt.
Drinking straight from the blender pitcher, he washes down a handful of vitamins and other supplements.
Hot water splinters from the shower head over her face and neck. She turns around and arches her head back, then squeezes a glob of shampoo into her palm and massages it into her hair.
She collects her thoughts, arranges her day.
She begins to cry, from guilt
Lenny trots to the end of his block, then accelerates up the small hill.
The feelings of guilt had never disappeared throughout the last year. They come in phases, fits and starts, usually just passing. Now she can taste their inevitability, the dozens of implications suddenly apparent.
She wipes the condensation off the mirror with her towel. The skin around her eyes is not puffy, but the eyes themselves are red. She gets the Visine out of the medicine cabinet, squirts it into her eyes, then wraps the towel around her head.
As the toaster browns the English Muffin, he pours fresh coffee into his mug, a souvenir from a trip they had taken to Virginia Beach, decorated with pictures of sea gulls and life savers. She comes into the kitchen, her thick terry cloth bathrobe dangling to her ankles, looks out the window above the sink at their small back yard.
A bird feeder hangs by a rope from the branch of the maple tree in the corner of the yard. It was the only tree in the yard, planted sometime during the Eisenhower Administration, four or five owners ago. Her mother had given them the bird feeder when they first moved in. Over the weekend, Alice bought a bag of bird seed at the Shop-Rite and filled the feeder, which is shaped like a hut. There are four holes, one on each side of this mini-house, and under each hole a small pole protrudes. Birds land on the small poles and peck out seeds from the holes.
Now two birds are perched at the feeder, a brown bird, and a red bird. They are cardinals, the bright bird is male, the dull-colored bird is female. Seems the moment after she remembers the species, and the fact that the female was brown so it could stay camouflaged on the nest, they fly away. The bird feeder swings back and forth as a gray squirrel crawls down the rope. She says, “The yard looks pretty today.”
“So do you.” The English muffin emerges out of the toaster slots and he places the two halves on the plate, spreads jelly on one half, butter on the other, then reunites the two halves into a sandwich, dips it in the coffee before taking a bite.
It was a morning ritual she had witnessed countless times during the countless mornings they had shared. When she first noticed it, it seemed sweet and innocent. Like most habits, it eventually became annoying. She remembers not when it became annoying, just that it was annoying. Now though, the butter and the jelly, the dunking, is not annoying, it is endearing, it is something she would miss, something she suddenly did not want to risk never seeing again.
“Will you be home for dinner?”
“No.” She stops looking at him. “I-I mean, yes. I forgot that thing was canceled. Yes, tonight I’ll be home.”
“The car comes for me tomorrow at 4:30 in the morning.”
“You’ll be back on Saturday?”
“Sunday. There’s going to be meetings Friday after the hearing, and probably on Saturday too. There’s a lot to go over. I hate taking that red eye. But it’s an early plane, and I’ll be home by the afternoon. If you like, make reservations somewhere for Sunday night.”
“No, I don’t want you to have to go to some restaurant after having business meetings and hotel food. I’ll make dinner and rent a movie. I’ll try to make dinner tonight.”
She sits down at the table, stares into her coffee mug. “Seth, I’m sorry about the way I’ve been behaving lately.”
“We’re both under stress. I know I spend a lot of time with work.”
“You make a lot more than I do, and you work hard.”
“So do you.”
“Remember what we used to talk about, last year, before the second miscarriage.”
He nods. “Whenever you want. Whatever you want. I mean, I want too. I am having a really good year.”
“I’m going to make an appointment with the doctor. She said to do that when we were ready to try again.”
He is behind her, his hands on her neck and shoulders. She turns her face towards his and as they kiss he fondles her breasts.
“We’ll just take it as it comes, we both know we have a good thing. Accept what God has in store.” He looks at his watch. “It’s late, I better go.”
It was not until she hears the front door close that she realizes the robe had fallen off her, and the towel had unraveled off her head.
She quietly weeps.
Always, the guilt.
7: 09 am
Seth picks up the Wall Street Journal in its protective plastic bag from mid-driveway and puts it in his brief case, then walks briskly towards the train station.
Commuters are quiet in the morning. Some read newspapers, a few books, several sleep. Seth sits alone. Sunlight streams through the grimy Plexiglas window. No one notices his smile.
If someone had noticed his smile, they might describe it as smug.
7: 25 am
Lenny, laying on the bench, finishes the tenth rep, and places the barbell, which has 350 pounds of weight on it, into the rack just above his head.
“Good set!” says Carl, one of the gym attendants. “You going to compete next year?”
“Don’t know if I want to go through the training.”
“You should, man.”
“I got clients. I don’t know if I want to do the commitment. I don’t think I can do oatmeal again.”
“Yeah, for 24 hours before the show I eat oatmeal, dry, like a horse does. It soaks up the water, gets you ripped. But it ain’t good. No water. Just dry oatmeal.”
Lenny says, “hey, can’t you put on the Metallica, take off this disco stuff.”
“Customers complained about the heavy metal. They say it ain’t conducive to cardio, no steady rhythm. Too loud. Sal wants more yuppies and housewives in here, not just the gym rats and muscle heads.”
“Doesn’t anybody listen to Hard Rock no more?”
“Nobody except you.”
“Hey wise guy, how about getting the ten pounders for me, I want to go up 20.”
“Do you need a spot?”
“Maybe next set.”
Her hair blown dry, dressed in her black skirt and red blouse and wearing a short-waist leather blazer, she places the coffee mugs and the small plate with English muffin crumbs and tiny globs of jelly and butter in the sink. She notices the shore motif on the side of the Virginia Beach mug. That was two years ago. They had a deck outside their hotel room, a private deck. They drank cold white wine in the nude at night, and Seth took her from behind as she leaned over the rail. There was a full moon glowing in the sky and twice as many stars as you see here at night and in the horizon, the very slant where sky met ocean, was a U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier, and at an adjacent hotel she saw two people watching them and she encouraged Seth to go faster, which he did.
The phone rang. It was the familiar voice of the girl from the pharmacy. “Alice, our records show that you need to get a refill on your contraceptive pills.”
“Will be you be in today.”
“We can have them delivered to your home or office.”
“No thank you.”
“It’s just protocol that we call. Have a nice day.”
She’s no longer crying, heading towards the highway. She passes the park, where a few mothers with toddlers and strollers are already enjoying their morning.
How pleasant it would be to be there, with them, of them.
Lenny, bent at the waist, his back rigid and straight, lifts the weighted-laden barbell up and down to his chest ten times. He drops the barbell to the floor where it lands with a clang, then he stands up straight and notices a woman, a new face, very pretty, young.
Carl, at the front desk, puts down the phone and walks over to Lenny. “Are you up for any hours today. Kelly can’t come in. You usually don’t have clients on Wednesday.”
“ Not today.” With a nod of his head, he asks Carl under his breath, “know her?”
“Just joined. Nice, huh.”
Lenny turns around and resumes the position to begin another set.
“You should keep your back straight.”
“Excuse me,” she says, seated at a rowing machine.
“Here, you want to concentrate on the back muscles,” Lenny’s hand softly taps her shoulder blades and spine. “Roll your shoulders, and pull the weight with the back muscles.”
She follows his instructions. “That does feel better.”
“I’m one of the trainers here, and I open on Mondays and Fridays. I can design a routine for you, and show you the proper form. Form is very important cause it gives you better results. That’s why we do this, to get results, right?”
“I’ll be here Friday. My name is Dayna.”
Sitting behind his desk, sipping his coffee, Seth gazes at the flat monitor screen, scrolling through yesterday’s closing stock prices.
Judy, a paralegal in her fifth month of pregnancy, walks into his office, wishes him a good morning, hands him a thick folder. “I couldn’t find anything glaring. I think you’re the only junior partner who took English comp in college.”
“Give me a few beers and I can still quote Byron. Sit down. How are you feeling?”
He walks over and closes the door, than returns to behind the desk. “I want to ask you something somewhat personal. Was it hard, to get pregnant?”
“We went with the old fashion method.”
“I know what you mean. We just stopped with the birth control and made a little more effort, which we both didn’t mind. Knock on wood, I was healthy. When we did the test and the doctor confirmed it, I cut out all the fun stuff, like alcohol and caffeine. He gave me the rap about how people have been having babies since before recorded history. Not to worry sort of thing. Are you thinking of having one?”
“The wife is… me too, I guess.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Three years, been together five. Things have been a little tense. I think she’s ready to have one.We’ve talked about it.”
“What about you?”
“Why not? Fatherhood. Something else to do, something you’re supposed to do. I like doing the things I’m supposed to do.”
9: 15 am
Alice is fingering the mouse on the desk, when Charlotte, the agency’s Creative Director, stops by her cubicle. “Jean’s going to be late today, something wrong with her kid. You’re off this afternoon, right?”
“Yes, I put in for the time, but I don’t want to you leave you hanging.”
“A dental appointment is a dental appointment. We have a few days with this project. Jean has a lot to juggle, I’ve been there. It’s fun but I’m real glad my kids are in college and it’s mainly money now. Money is easier to understand than weird coughs and the psychological impact of missing a little league game.”
Alice laughs politely. Charlotte points at the computer screen. “Add an animation element or two”
“That’s what I’m doing.”
“The client wants the cancerous cells highlighted, which means playing around with the medical photographer’s slides. They want to show the “isolating properties” of the drug, whatever that means.”
“Well, if the disease is sort of embedded, or hidden, in the cell. This drug distinguishes the diseased parts of the cell from the healthy parts. Make it apparent, so it can be treated by other medication, before radiation or surgery is necessary.”
“At least somebody read that clinical journal material. You’re on the right track.”
With the gym almost empty, Lenny lays on the Aerobic floor with his knees bent over his stomach, moving his head and upper chest, on and off the floor. The Metallica CD blares on the gym’s sound system.
“George, I may not be solely responsible for bringing in this client, but I am responsible for expanding the relationship we have now. Their New York office is just traders and salespeople and secretaries. They’re out of the loop. It’s good that I personally go to Chicago. They’re billable hours, well most of them, anyway.”
George, a senior partner, looks out his vast office windows at where the World Trace Center towers once stood. “Do you really think their thing with E-Com will go through? They just did a merger three years ago and the finance guys tell me they didn’t meet projections for two quarters last fiscal.”
“The buzz on the street is that a new merger trend is just around the corner. The company is solid and pro-active. They’re not an Enron, they don’t cook the books. Which is why they don’t need defense lawyers, strictly corporate affairs guys. That’s all us. Trust me, they’re on the move and we got to move with them.”
“You just go there a lot, Seth. Sure, we bill them. But it’s the age of video conferencing and all that.”
“You’re the one that taught me when I first got here about relationship building, George. Constant one-on-one! They are adding this extension to this small plant in Wisconsin. They got the zoning, everything is there. I’m staying the extra day so I can just review every thing with their Wisconsin team.”
“Small potatos. The billable hours barely cover the airfare and hotel.”
“We need a presence in every thing they do. That’s the feeling I have about this one, George. You’ve met the guy, he’s a control freak. He knows down to the roll how much toliet paper the workers use. It’s small potatos, but the guy cares as much about the small potatos as the big ones, and me being there, being part of everything he is doing, it just gets us in deeper. The next E-Com deal will be big billable bucks, major. You’re the one who told me ten years ago when I started here, the groundwork is never completed when it comes to clients.”
“Using my own words to attack my argument.” George laughs, shakes his head, picks up his phone and as a good bye, says, “hey you want to go and leave your wife alone, that’s fine. Enjoy Chicago.”
In the Locker Room, Lenny takes off his shirt, flexes his muscles. He looks at his arms, stomach and chest in one mirror, then glances at another to inspect his back.
Lenny drinks a can of Protein Plus, tosses it in the garbage, says good bye to Carl. Outside he touches his toes a few times, bends his knees, then begins his run home.
11: 15 am
“We’re going over mom’s Friday night for dinner. She’s making meat balls.”
“Maybe I’ll try to come.”
“You can hear all about kindergarten. She’s into singing now, you can hear the Age of Aquarius.”
“The teacher likes show tunes. My kid has a good voice, actually.”
“So you think you’ll come?”
“Yes. I’d like to see you and Wendy, and I haven’t seen mom in a month or so.”
“At least I’ll have somebody to drink some wine with.”
“Seth’s out of town anyway.”
“I know that you don’t like his trips, but it shows that he works hard. It’s just part of the job. You couldn’t get that nice a house with an art director’s salary.”
When Lenny gets home, he goes right to the stereo and plays Metallica.
Instead of coffee, Alice drinks an orange juice, which she uses to wash down two advils. After glancing at the digital clock in the right corner of the computer screen, she frowns.
Seth writes four letters in a row, all to different clients.
Lenny spits out the PLAX rinse, brushes his teeth and thoroughly flosses. He squirts the teeth bleach into the foam mouth guard, sets the timer for ten minutes.
Instead of printing out the pages she’s worked on, Alice begins to work on the illustrated highlights of the next medical slide.
Lenny steps out of the shower, shaves the sides of his face and the back of his neck, then adjusts the razor to fine and trims his goatee, armpits and pubic hair.
Seth walks down a side street lined with stores. He stops in the Victoria’s Secret, looks at the teddies and negligees, but leaves before a sales clerk can ask him if he needs any help. He hates the way young women working some mindless retail job call him sir. By the time he is at the deli ordering a turkey sandwich he is thinking of the phone calls he has to make.
Lenny puts a half cup of soy milk, four raw eggs, three tablespoons of liquid ginseng, two tablespoons of liquid vitamin E, one tablespoon of Yohimbe powder and five tablespoons of Creatine into the blender, then dumps in a container of plain yogurt and presses pulverize. He guzzles down the concoction which he follows with a half liter bottle of spring water. He goes into the bathroom, sprays deodorant under his arms, then sprays his face, neck and testicles with cologne. After belching, he breaths into his palm and sniffs and decides to brush his teeth again.
She pulls out of the office building’s parking lot. She doesn’t turn on the radio. She drives very slowly, deliberately concentrating.
Lenny slips the Metallica CD into the tray and presses play, turns up the volume as loud as it can go. He keeps his right hand on the steering wheel. The fingers of his left hand play the notes of the guitar riff on an imaginary fret.
Instead of the highway, she takes a back road and hits every light. She pulls into a space in the lot by a small park, which has some trees and a lawn and a playground and a small pond where white ducks swim towards the shore. A woman with two pre-schoolers toss pieces of bread on the water. She rolls down the window so she can hear the quacks of gratitude.
12: 45 pm
Seth throws away the sandwich wrapper his lunch came in at the same moment a secretary places four thick folders on his desk. He thanks her and then begins to read up on Industrial zoning laws of Madison county, Wisconsin.
1: 45 pm
Lenny is sitting at the bar drinking a club soda with lime and explaining to the bartender how there are really twice as many carbohydrates than listed in the Nutrition Facts box on any and all food or beverage product. She seems interested in his hidden sugar conspiracy theory.
Alice, nearly an hour late, walks through the hotel lobby towards the bar. She ignores the greeting by the front desk clerk who knows her name but is discreet enough not to use it.
Lenny hugs Alice, whispers in her ear, “I found this new oil I think you’re going to love.” She freezes in his arms, clutching her pocketbook tightly with both hands.
“Lenny,” she whispers. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about being late. I have all the time you need.”
She suppresses a sob, “Lenny, we can’t do this.”
“You want to eat lunch first here instead of in the room?”
“We need to talk,” she sighs. “I need a drink.”
“This is a bar isn’t it.” She sits down, orders a screw driver. Lenny sits next to her and they wait in silence while the bartender combines the vodka and orange juice in a glass half-filled with crescent shaped ice cubes. There are no other customers, so she goes to the TV at the other side of the bar and watches the Jerry Springer show with the sound off.
His eyes widened watching her drain half the drink. “Lenny, I just can’t.”
“I understand if you want to cancel.”
“You’re not listening. This, this, whatever thing this, this is that we have. No more. Look, I like you and you’re a nice guy so to speak, you know? But I can’t, just can’t. I need to stop lying.”
“Does he suspect?”
“It’s me knowing, it’s me lying.”
His hand floats to the top of her thigh and squeezes. “It’s just our bodies.”
“It’s still lying, Lenny.” She brushes away his grasp, swallows more booze. “I can’t stand the deception any more. He works so much, giving us what we have. Do you know how hard it is to make junior partner at his age? And he makes it easy, the lying. I don’t even have to lie that much, because he trusts me, and that just makes me feel worse. The easier the lying gets, the sadder I get.”
“I just want to give you pleasure.”
“I don’t blame you at all. I don’t even blame me. I made this decision, okay, that I don’t want to keep secrets. I don’t want a separate life.” She finishes her drink, calls over to the bartender for another.
After the drink is made and the bartender is back to Jerry Springer, Lenny says in a voice whose whine is not unlike that of an adolescent, “Don’t you want to say good bye, at least? A last time?”
“No! We can’t see each other again, I can’t even go to that gym again. And, it’s not you, nothing to do with you. You’re fine, you’re great at what you do. And you’re right, it’s just bodies. Our bodies. But, I don’t want to make the distinction anymore, between my self and my body. I am married. I am feeling, very, very married, and it’s a good feeling, one that I like, one that I haven’t liked in a long time. Being with you again, well I know I would stop feeling that way. I don’t want that to happen. I’m sorry, Lenny.”
“I was looking forward to it, because I always look forward to it.”
“It’s not that it hasn’t been fun.”
“Like fun is so bad.”
“The moment is fun. It’s the after that isn’t. I can’t disconnect any more.”
“Do you want me to just give you a massage?”
She smirks at him, kisses the tip of her index finger, then touches his mouth. She says to the bartender, “how much do I owe you?”
Seth is on the phone, talking with the architect who designed the Wisconsin expansion.
Lenny drives in silence, without blinking.
She switches stations and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on and she turns up the volume. She loves this song. She has never loved a song more than this one right now.
Seth speaks to the president of the Chicago company. Lunch is not possible, but a mid-morning meeting at the office on Friday is agreed to and Seth thanks him and says that is great and they exchange comments about the Chicago Cubs before saying good bye.
Alice gets the bag of bird seed from the kitchen closet, goes outside and fills the little hut until it over flows, then scatters a few handfuls of seed across the tiny lawn. She goes inside and washes the kitchen floor with Ammonia. When she looks out the window,
there’s a blue jay, a robin, a redwing black bird and several pigeons on the lawn. The cardinal couple are perched at the hut.
Then, Alice notices the black and white cat that wanders the neighborhood sneak under the fence. Very slowly, with as little sound as possible, Alice opens the back door and hurls the mop like a javelin at the cat. The birds race towards the sky as the cat rapidly scampers away. Alice returns to the window above the sink, waits for the birds to return
“Chinese, great. I don’t know, the usual I guess. I like the chicken wings there. I’ll be on the usual train. Great.”
Lenny lays on his bed and makes a few phone calls to friends who aren’t home or who are not picking up their cells.
“No, I don’t have a referral. I don’t want to see my primary care doctor. If need be, I’ll pay for the visit out-of-pocket.”
The receptionist replies, “Well, you’re plan should cover, unless they require a visit to the P.C.P, first. I’ll see what I can do.”
Her appointment with the gynecologist was for two weeks from tomorrow.
Lenny masturbates to a porno video he’s seen hundreds of times, then stares at the ceiling.
Judy moving slowly, her face pale and perspiring, steps into his office and Seth asks if she is feeling okay.
“My stomach is a little upset, I may take tomorrow off.”
“Well, I won’t be here.”
“I know.” She puts several files on his desk “Here’s what I could find on the case history of the Wisconsin plant, and two other plants, and background on the two other firms who have been involved with the company. I wrote up some notes too.”
“Nothing too exciting. I don’t see how this is useful. The relevance to our history with the client is non-existent.”
“There’s no knowledge without information, Judy.”
5: 35 pm
Lenny prepares dinner: two boiled chicken breasts, skin removed before boiling them of course, one diced cucumber, two diced carrots, two hard boiled eggs and a can of tuna fish. He eats while watching a video of an amateur body building competition from five years ago, when he won third prize.
Her kiss was passionate, sexual, not the quick peck typical of wives greeting their commuting husband when they step from the train to the sidewalk.
“This is a surprise,” he says after she takes her tongue out of his mouth.
“Well, I got home early and figured since I was picking up the Chinese food, I would pick you up too. I got some wine and some beer, because I didn’t know which you would be in the mood for.”
She holds his hand as they walk to the parked car.
On the coffee table, the appetizers, main dishes and rice are spread out on several plates, neither of them pay much attention to the syndicated Everyone Loves Raymond rerun that Seth settled on after the news.
“I know I would have to take a year off or so, I mean, I get some maternity leave but I don’t want to do day care right away.”
Seth pours more wine into her glass. “I don’t like that idea either.”
“I can work freelance too, even on the MAC I have.”
“My job can more than cover the mortgage. Our portfolio is quite robust this year. But…”
“In five years, I’m going to be a full partner. I know it. But, it’s going to take time, getting clients than working on their cases. After this Chicago trip, there’s going be some more twelve, sixteen hours days. I’ll probably have to go there one a month too, at least. I love that I have a nice little house in a nice suburban neighborhood with a nice pretty wife. And, I would like a kid, maybe even two. I always wanted that too, because, it just goes along with it, like a package. What you’re supposed to have. To have it, takes money which takes work, and I know I can do the work and make the money. I’m not saying I won’t be there for you, Lamaze classes and all that other stuff you’re supposed to do, and after I make full partner, I’ll probably have a little more time.”
“Honey, I understand and I accept that and if I wasn’t considerate about that before I swear that I will be now and forever. You’ll come home to a nice clean house and a good looking kid with a cheerful disposition to play with. We’ll miss you when you’re gone, and enjoy you when you’re here cause we’ll all be together, like the family we’re supposed to be. I promise.”
“I’m going to have to pack,” he gently tugs her hair and she moves her face up from his lap and kisses him on the mouth. “I should do that first.”
“I can wait. I’ll take a bath and wait for you.”
The candle on the sink flickers, she leans over the side of the bath tub and picks up the wine glass. The thick aromas of coconut and lilac hover over the sudsy water. She pictures all her deceptions and her guilt about those deceptions forming into a cloud and ascending out of her soul through the pores in her skin. Everything is going to be perfect, everything is going to be better. She is a grown up now, and for the first time, happy about the grown up she has become.
When she walks out of the bathroom, in the white robe with matching towel around her head, he is crouched on the floor zippering up his leather garment bag.
“How was the bath?”
“Heaven,” she yawns. “Soothing.”
She lays down on the bed, her robe is opened.
“I have a few more things to do,” he says, then carries the garment bag into the living room.
Her eyes closing, she whispers, “okay.”
He turns on his computer in the room they designated as the office. As it boots up, Seth goes to the doorway of the bedroom to make certain she is sleeping.
He signs on the Internet using a screen name Alice doesn’t know.
He reads her email: “I bought a new negligee I can’t wait to show you. Every time I think of you I get wet.”
He clicks reply, types: “I should be at the hotel by noon your time. I can’t wait either.” Then clicks send.