30 April 2010
By Curtis C. Chen
"I'm not going to sleep with you tonight," he said.
She frowned. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
He blinked, tapped the side of his head with two fingers, and said, "Abigail?"
She rolled her eyes. "No. Dammit, I hate when this happens. Two-three-four-seven-five-five?"
He shook his head. "Two-three-seven-four-five-five."
"Well, this is awkward."
She picked up her glass, sat back in her chair, and took a sip of chardonnay. Not because she could taste it well—the remote link wouldn't transmit any intoxicating sensations, to comply with federal regulations—but so she would have a few seconds to think about what to say to this total stranger. She'd paid for the full twelve hours, and she guessed he had, too. The hosting company's built-in security and privacy measures meant they couldn't disconnect for any reason until time was up.
"So who's Abigail?" she asked, poking at her salad.
"It's a long story."
"Let me guess," she said. "You're feeling guilty about the affair—mostly because of the kids, one of whom just had a birthday or bar mitzvah or some other momentous life event—so you decided to end it. You also feel guilty about dumping the girl, so you sprang for the fancy dinner.
"But you don't usually do this for the other woman, so you're worried that she's just as suspicious as your wife was when you called to tell her you're working late. Again." She shoved a mass of arugula into the left side of her mouth. "Am I close?"
He didn't look up from his plate. "We don't have any kids," he said. "And my wife knows about the affair. I told her this afternoon. She wants a divorce."
She swallowed her half-chewed salad. "I'm confused. You're splitting up with the ball and chain, but you don't want to hop into bed to celebrate with dear Abby? What's wrong with you?"
"Like you said." He put down his fork. "Guilt."
"Oh, please. You'll get over it. And seriously, have you looked at this body?" She sat up straight and gestured at her breasts, which were barely covered by a slinky black dress.
"But—we don't even know each other," he stammered.
She smiled. "And that's a bad thing?"
He laughed nervously. "Sorry, I just didn't expect a woman to be so—liberated."
"Did you look at yourself in the mirror after dialing in?" She pursed her lips in approval. "Besides, I figure you gotta be pretty good in the sack, otherwise you wouldn't be here hooking up with a young honey like this."
"Maybe she's only after my money."
She shook her head. "Puh-leeze. If you were rich, we'd actually be in Paris instead of a one-star French restaurant by the freeway."
"Let's see how dinner goes," he said slowly. "Then we can talk about dessert."
"Sure," she said, twirling her long, dark hair. "But I'm pretty hungry."
He smiled, and this time there was desire behind his teeth. "So what's your name?"
She grinned. "Just call me Abby."
Photo: Robot at Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, Wisconsin Dells, July, 2008