I was never actually interested in her

I certainly didn't love her. Not for a moment. Loving someone you've never met comes close to lunacy, and besides... that's not why I talk to them. Not any of them. 

You meet a lot of women like Serena in IRC, if you avoid the more blatant of the sex-soliciting channels. There's always a lonely woman waiting for a sympathetic ear and a virtual hug... and sometimes... usually even, for more.

You can use a lot of your life up having cyber with women you'll never meet, never touch. It's not the same as having someone to hold at night... but it's more fulfilling that just cruising the porn sites and using up all your tissues alone. I dunno, it feels less... dirty... less pathetic somehow.

In the beginning Serena was only after a person to unload her troubles on. They all begin that way. And I listen.

I listened for endless hours as she poured out her life story. An unhappy marriage. Sexually frustrated. Ambitions crushed. Lonely. Embittered... Vulnerable.

Just like a dozen other women I've known and talked to.

I had the patter down.

I listened to her. 
And if I sometimes left the TV on while we chatted, if more of my attention was on whether there was a slice of uneaten pizza left in the fridge than on her troubles, she never realised. 

I hugged her. A lot. And whenever she looked as though she might want to take it another step, I backed off. Right off. I told her I was confused, vulnerable, not ready for this. I was zealous in my support of her, my condemnation of her husband.

And, like all of them, she lapped it up.

Soon, she was eating out of my hand.

I manipulated her into complimenting me by telling her how pathetic I was, how useless. How alone.

Even backhanded compliments, worked for, dug out of lonely women are rewarding for an ego as alone and desirous of boosting as mine.

One night as we were chatting, she asked me if I would like to see her picture, and I casually agreed, not allowing the trembling of my fingers to show in my typing. This was always the make or break stage. If I reacted properly, she'd be hooked, and mine for... for as long as I wanted her, really.

I looked up to the corkboard by my desk, looking over the souvenir photos of woman I had known like this over the last two years. Each photo was printed out with dates and comments. Some of the comments were about where I'd got it right. And a couple were about how I'd get it wrong. 

Sometimes I feel those pictures and I have some sort of complicitous relationship. Each one helps me refine my touch, hone my skills. Samantha tells me not to push for too much too soon. Tabby tells me never to accept that "I'm ok" means "I'm ok" Elizabeth reminds me that attacking a husband, even a brutal one, tends to backfire. And Erica jogs my memory about the Healthy Lifestyle people and how to get them. Be enthusiastic about lentils. About walking. Even about soy. I don't know where I'd be without them.

I was determined not to get it wrong this time.

The file finished sending, and I opened it at once, keeping up the flow of sympathy and gentle touch I had been working into all this week, and as I looked at Serena's face for the first time I knew I had to get it right this time.

Serena was exquisite, doll-like. Scarlet lips and nails. Trim waist. Tiny, delicate hands. And a look of such wistfulness that I almost felt myself feeling all the sympathy and care I'd been showing her. And I began on my piece de resistance.

In the chat client, I took her hand. I kissed it, softly. 
"My gods... Serena... I'm speechless...You're beautiful"

I told her I was in awe.

She didn't reply.

I waited.

I couldn't have blown it this time. Not with this woman.

She didn't reply.


She didn't reply.

But the chat client did.

"Serena: No such nick/channel"

I swore. How had I managed to scare her off?

I mailed her at once, all concern, restating how lovely she was, and asking if she was OK. I had no reply.

Three days later I received an email couched in frosty tones. It seemed Serena had asked a friend to write to me.

"Mr. Frankin,
Serena is dead. 
Her husband came home early and was most unhappy with what he saw on her screen.
She died this morning.
This is all your fault"

It was unsigned, and the address was unreachable.

That was four weeks ago.

I still can't get to sleep.

I can't eat.

I never loved her. Not for a moment. Not me.

Oh god... I miss her so much