Online Love

Online Love, by Carol A. Malone                                                                                   

Chapter One

            “Have you seen the new trainer at Doc’s gym?” Mia Draper said, opening the front door and strolling in Angela’s house without knocking. “The guy’s a juicy Big Mac in shorts. I’d sure like to take a bite out of that sometime.”

            “Ah-huh.” Angela laughed, placing her gym bag down on the floor by the front door. The spicy, romantic scent of Mia’s Obsession hit Angela Collins first, then a glimpse of designer workout clothes and two hundred dollar running shoes. In spite of Mia’s superficiality, Angela adored Mia. She’d been there for Angela when Neal, her husband of twenty one years, passed away offering a comforting and steadying hand.

            Angela tsk-tsked, smiling at the woman who had been her best friend since fourth grade—nearly thirty-three years. “My gosh, Mia, the guys who work at the gym are all in their twenties. That’s sick even for you.”

            Arms folded over a perfectly sculptured chest. “Well, this one’s not in his twenties. I’d bet anything he’s in his forties like you and me, and believe me when I say; he’s hot-a-licious. I’ll point him out to you when we get to the gym.”

            “No thanks,” Angela said with a chuckle. “I don’t want a man, especially one that’s muscle-headed and self-absorbed as the guys who primp around the gym like prima donnas. I’ll pass.” Besides, another guy occupied her thoughts at the moment, and she didn’t know how she felt about him at the moment. Feelings like this she thought she’d buried with her husband. But there was something special about him, but what?

            “Don’t pull that, I-don’t-want-a-man-I’m-still-grieving stuff on me,” Mia said with a sniff. “It’s time for you to live a little. Find a guy and go dancing or necking. You don’t have to marry him. Just have fun. You’re much too young and too gorgeous to live like a nun.” Mia flopped down on Angela’s worn leather sofa, crossing long shapely legs. “It’s my responsibility to open you up to new possibilities.”

            “Yeah, right. Possibilities.” Angela leaned back against the end of the sofa, linking her fingers together and crossing her legs at the ankle. What would Mia think if Angela told her about him?—her sweet little secret—the mystery man from her online college English class.

            “You’ve been on a shelf so long, you’re rusty.” Mia examined her perfect manicure. “I don’t think you’d even know what to do with a man if one asked you out. Would you, Ange?”

            Would she?

            Was it the right time to tell Mia or her three children about—what would she call it—this internet flirting? If that’s what it was. She didn’t fully understand it herself. Besides what did she really share with this first-name-only, faceless man, except a couple of compliments, some similar interests and shared misfortunes?

            Still, she got a soda-pop-fizzing-in-the-tummy feeling when she thought he might be interested in her. Better to keep it a secret for a while.

            “Maybe I don’t want to date anyone.”

            Mia harrumphed.

What business did Angela have thinking about another man anyway? Neal had only been in the ground three years—results of an aneurysm. Quick. Relatively painless for him. For her and the kids—not so painless. It sounded like a special day or family event. “How have you been since the aneurism?” Angela’s heart felt tight like a dried up sponge.

            How had they survived? Neal had only one small life insurance policy that thankfully, paid off the house. His miniscule 401K barely paid for the funeral and left them nothing more to protect her and the kids from the desperation that followed. Who knew he’d be struck down at forty three leaving nothing behind for three children and a wife who hadn’t worked outside the home in twenty years?

            When she thought about her wonderful kids, geniuses all of them, she shook her head at her blessings. How could she not step up and support them? Tom, an engineering student at CSUCI and his new bride, Chelsea, a psych major, and their one year old baby girl, Kylie, were moving back to help with expenses. Ryan, now nineteen, a sophomore at USC, studied law and played football and spent some nights at home and most weekends. And her baby girl, Jennifer, seventeen and so brilliant, helped around the house as much as she could. No. She couldn’t not sacrifice everything she had for them. Still, finally being recognized for her designing skills would validate her.  

             “I don’t want to think about dating right now.” Angela shoved her thoughts aside and straightened up. “You ready? I need to go exercise the stress of the day away and give me enough stamina to go back to work with Nick tomorrow.”

            “Nick still chasing you around the desk?” Mia said with a laugh. “How is the Nickster?”

            Angela’s hands tightened into fists. “Nick.” Angela snorted. “He’s fine, for a three-toed, horny, bug-eyed sloth. I had several of my own designs ready for tomorrow’s meeting, but the slime ball won’t me let present them.”

            Mia’s eyebrows pulled down so tight it looked like she had two scrunched V’s above her eyes. “What? Your stuff’s great. Better than Nick’s, if you ask me. You were meant to design household products. What a jerk. Is he still offering to take care of you and the kids?”

            “Yeah, well me, anyway. I refuse to take anything from Nick other than what little he pays me for working as his executive assistant. He’s offered extra money, but you know that would mean certain special favors. I can’t do that.” Twins—her husband, Neal and Nick, but they couldn’t be more different while looking exactly the same—a freak of nature perhaps. Angela shuddered.

            “What a creep,” Mia said her voice rife with contempt. “You need to stand up to him.” 

            Angela’s thoughts drifted back to that moment she stood crying at the side of Neal’s grave when Nick approached her and offered her a job at his company. She’d fought the urge to shove the offer right back in his face. But with no college degree and no recent work experience, she was left with no choice.

            When she informed Nick she would only work at Collins and Collins until she finished her bachelor’s degree, he’d said, “That’s fine . . . unless you’d like to save yourself the hassle and come share Nic-gra-la with the Nickster.” He’d wiggled his eyebrows up and down reminding her of two tangoing caterpillars. She had gritted her teeth, dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands to keep from popping the lecherous creep in the mouth.  

            Angela shook her head and laughed, remembering the scene. “Anybody who continues to call himself the ‘Nickster’ long past teenage-hood deserved a wide berth. But I still need that stupid job.  

             “But . . . I intend to make them all take notice. I’ll just slip my drawings in the middle of Nick’s crap and let the owners decide for themselves.”

            “Good for you. You go, girl.” Mia said.

            Mia rose from the sofa to pace around the living room stopping now and then to touch an object or picture on the mantle. “Hey, Ange. I’m thinking after you take over Nick’s job, I could help you make some improvements in your home as well. Like that chair.” She pointed at the recliner Neal bought in college. “When are you gonna replace that old recliner? I’ve got a pillow-backed leather lounge chair that would go perfect with your sofa and love seat. Whaddya think?”

            Angela’s mouth dropped open. She stared at Mia then at her husband’s favorite recliner. It might be a little threadbare and the lever to make it go up and down didn’t work right. But . . .  “Neal loves that chair.”

            “Loved, Angela. Loved—past tense. Neal’s dead. He’s not coming back.”

            A heavy silence fell over the room.

            Mia breathed out the long low breath of resignation. “I’m sorry, Ange. But you know Neal’s dead. You can’t keep mourning him forever. It’s time to move on and live.”

            Bitter memories pelted like raindrops to the heart. “I know,” Angela said. “Sometimes, it’s like he’s right here in the room with me. I’ll look up and expect to see him coming downstairs for a drink before settling into his chair to watch a game.” Angela’s eyes stung with tears.

            Mia’s gentle hand settled on Angela’s shoulder. “I know. It still hurts.” She squeezed. “But you’re tough, strong. You can do whatever you want with the rest of your life. Don’t wallow in pity or grief. Shake it off, Ange. Let’s go workout.”

            Angela’s laugh sounded soggy. “You just want to get to the gym to see Mr. Hot Pants.”

            “True.” Mia’s flawless face beamed. “There is that.”

Copyright by Carol Anne Malone

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