This story is by Tom Housden and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘Nothing good can come of sitting at a computer day after day, you’ll get square eyes’, his Mum used to say. Generous advice he should have heeded. Why do they make these chatrooms so addictive? He was wishing he had listened to his mum’s advice…
Jack couldn’t get to sleep – he tossed and turned, as he stared at the dull colourless walls in his bedroom. The room wasn’t very inspiring. Jack thought it needed a bit of sprucing up, some colour here and there to make it more of a cheery place. However, all he did was sleep in here and mess about on his computer, so he guessed it would suffice.
He did everything he could to try and get some sleep within these lonely four walls; he read several chapters of a book, watched TV, listened to the radio, but nothing worked.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the lovely girl he chatted with online. She had him tingling with excitement. They chatted all day and she promised to meet with him. When? He didn’t know, but he hoped that it would be soon. The attention she gave him made him feel good, unlike any other girl he met. They had built up a great dialogue between them. It was an online friendship so full of hope that they both looked forward to the next time they had a conversation.
Her name was Lucy. She was the kind of girl to whom he could easily talk for ages, as if she was sitting next to him. Their relationship, if you can call it that, was at an early stage – they had only been chatting for about a week – but Jack felt like he knew her quite well already and that they had a connection, albeit a virtual one.
She was 20. He was ten years older. He did prefer the younger woman though. She told him she was doing a degree in Criminology and Law for three years, before hoping to get a junior job in the industry and work her way up. It was a hard industry to get into, but as she put it ‘I am determined, a hard worker, and I can do anything I set my mind to’. How refreshing to chat with someone who was really enthusiastic about her studies! Even though he chatted to other people in the room, they weren’t as interesting as Lucy.
Jack took another look at her profile picture, she was stunning. She had blue eyes and blond wavy hair with coloured streaks that came all the way down to her shoulders. He loved women with blue eyes, the sort of shade of blue that you could look into and fall in love with. Coloured streaks seemed, to him anyway, that she was a bit of a rebel. Lucy in the sky with streaks – no, definitely not the same as diamonds! The line of another song came to mind – She was a rebel and a stunner. He was a bit of a rebel in his own way, so that was another thing they had in common.
She described herself as of average build but quite curvaceous, and she had beautiful shoulders. He had a thing about shoulders, he didn’t know why, but it was one of the features (or two if you like!) of a woman that he liked.
In her profile picture, she didn’t wear a ring. He wondered if she was single. What would be the point of coming into a singles chatroom if she wasn’t exactly that? He may have to find a subtle way to bring the subject into one of their conversations.
They had built up a good rapport with each other. They talked about what seemed like anything and everything – what they had done that day, their respective hobbies and interests, their studies and careers, music, television, the list goes on. Jack felt so comfortable with her, that he felt he could chat to her forever, just like two friends in a pub.
He needed sleep. It was getting late and he was gradually falling asleep at his computer. He looked at the time. It was almost midnight! Good thing I’m single, he told himself, otherwise I would have to answer all sorts of questions from the other half.
As he finally fell asleep, the words that Lucy said to Jack at the end of their first chat echoed through his mind:
“This was really fun for me Jack, and I am dying to meet you.”
His alarm clock woke him at 7am. He should have turned it off, as he had the whole day to himself. He nodded off back to sleep again, and didn’t wake up until 9am. I must have needed it, he said to himself out loud.
Jack became lazier. A year ago, he would have gone downstairs into the kitchen, made himself breakfast, got into a bath or had a shower and gone for his daily walk. But he now had a fridge in his new studio room which he had constructed for him, a mini-cupboard for cereal and a sink. He walked across the room and made himself some breakfast. He also used the sink to wash, despite the bathroom being next door. He also couldn’t be bothered to get dressed, choosing to stay in his pyjamas all day. Despite looking at screens every day in his work as a data analyst, and sometimes doubling up as an IT Support Technician, he chose to spend his afternoon off in front of his computer. He logged on, hoping that Lucy would be in the chatroom.
He scanned down the list of usernames at the side of the screen. Leanne, Lizzi, even Lulabell, but no Lucy.
He wasted an hour playing Solitaire, checking to see what his Facebook friends were doing, casually glancing at what his Twitter followers were posting and playing some other games he had installed on the computer. All the while he was keeping the chat window open, to see if she was there. There was still no sign of her. He wondered where she had gone. She can’t just disappear off the face of the earth! Maybe she hadn’t developed an unhealthy obsession like Jack had.
For the first time, he doubted himself. He couldn’t stop thinking was she even real or was ‘she’ just a chatbot? If so, what was the point of a robot striking up a conversation? If she wasn’t real, she couldn’t have been in university and doing all the things she told Jack about. There were too many scenarios that could present themselves in situations like this.
Even though he knew he was probably being stupid because he hadn’t met the girl, a wave of emotion swept over him and he felt a sense of despair and sadness. He couldn’t quite put a finger on why he felt this way. Maybe he’d chatted to her for so long, he’d lost all sense of the real world. At the end of the day, it was only a chatroom. Had he blurred the boundaries between the virtual world and the real one? He told himself that anyone could adopt a different persona than their own online, a bit like their own invisibility cloak. Had he wanted her to be real? With the description she gave him, you bet he did!
He kept on glancing back to that chat tab, but no luck. Was she genuine or did she hide behind her cloak? He was really hoping that wasn’t true.
A couple of days passed. Still nothing. He was getting more and more depressed every day. He knew there was more to life than waiting for someone (or something?!) to come online.
Just as Jack was about to question what he was doing with his life, she was back! It was her, Lucy. He wanted to have a go at her for not telling him why she disappeared just like that. However, he didn’t, because that would have sounded stupid. Maybe she would tell him in time.
A few conversations later and the topic still hadn’t come up. Jack decided to ask her why she had disappeared all of a sudden.
‘Jack, I… I am sorry. I have something to tell you. The truth is… I have a disability, a few actually. Cerebral Palsy and Scoliosis.’ He was prepared to be rejected, like he had been before when a girl he met told him she didn’t want to be with him because he had a disability.
‘Thankyou for telling me, but it doesn’t change your personality. I still plan to meet you.’ Lucy replied. Just the response Jack wanted.
‘I’m looking forward to our first date,’ they both said in unison.