by Gary Glauber

I opened my e-mail with a mix of apprehension and excitement. His message said, "I have no afternoon classes Friday so I’m taking a road trip to come see you."

Frantically, I replied, "Please don’t. I won’t be around."

I check over and over for his response. Nothing. I’m unsure what to do next. I usually love getting e-mail. While every day offers a steady stream of never-ending come-ons, there's always a chance that somewhere amidst the spam I might receive a missive from him. To me, Billy Shaw is a heavenly rare combo of hunk and brains that reaffirms one’s faith in miracles.

Via e-mail and instant messages, we’ve bared our virtual souls these past few months: I’ve learned of his little sister’s epilepsy, his father’s drinking and behavioral problems and his kinky mother’s secret stash of adult movies and sex toys. It’s not like I tell him much. In fairness, I’ve reciprocated only by sharing the occasional naughty fantasy. Stuff I’d never ever think to reveal in person. That’s the thing with electronic relationships -- you can be bold so easily. I thrill to every word he writes and I’m sure he feels the same. Only there’s a problem even beyond the fact that in real life I’m kind of shy and bookish.

Billy thinks he’s writing to Sharon, my roommate. Only it’s not her (probably it’s not even me). It’s a fictional screen name I invented and furnished with a personality not found in the actual Sharon. Billy has come to know her intimately through our almost daily e-mails. I figured I had ‘til vacation to right things, but now he’s on his way.

First semester freshman year Sharon told me all about her high school sweetheart Billy. She showed me pictures, played CDs he gave her as gifts, wonderful mixes of one breathtaking love song after another. I started taking an interest. Because it was obvious he deserved better.

While many find Sharon beautiful, there’s not much behind it - she’s more appearance than content, if you catch my drift. Besides, she wasn’t thrilled by anything Billy did. At Sharon’s insistence, they’d broken up before leaving for different colleges. But the poor boy still loves and misses her, and sends email professing this.

Yet while he remains devoted, she’s gallivanting around campus, sleeping with any number of mindless upper-class fraternity boys with sculpted athletic bodies and rich parents. She has her own agenda.

I shouldn’t judge; she has a perfect right to do whatever she wants. Fortunately, Sharon lets me share her laptop, seeing as how I help her write papers (she uses it only for shopping and checking celebrity gossip sites). I’m thankful for that time she left on a date without signing off. Billy had written a lengthy diatribe of emotional begging, a sad distraught one seeking thrown crumbs of kindness. His mawkish pathos nearly broke my heart when I considered how remorseless Sharon would have deleted it unread.

What I did was wrong. But in a world of injustice, I sought to right her heartless acts by responding. I cleverly told him we needed a fresh start, as if meeting for the first time. I gave him this different screen name, one I’d rarely used, and he, hungry for Sharon, eagerly took the bait.

Soon every day held adventure, hourly checks to see if he was online or had written. My sweet prince, I call him, and I’m his darling angel. He expressed surprise that Sharon was so well read, that she had deep convictions about certain political and humanist causes. The real Sharon’s expertise begins and ends with cosmetics, fashion and shopping. His Sharon is a renaissance woman.

Don’t ask why. I did it for him; I did it for me. This correspondence has been the closest I’ve gotten to a social life. And he’s such a puppy, I couldn’t bear to hurt him. Yet probably there’s no other choice. If Sharon knew, she’d kill me. How can I ever explain this? Especially when she looks the picture of innocence, painting her toenails.

"Hey Sharon."

"What’s up?"

"Finished doing your book report. Think you could do me a favor?"

"Like what?"

"Look at me. Am I hopeless?"

"What do you mean?"

"Can you make me pretty?"

"You already are. It’s a matter of accentuating your strengths. A little makeup could go a long way."

"Make me look better than I ever have."

"Sounds like someone’s got a big date."

"I’ve got a shot at one if I look incredible. Can you do that?"

"Sister, you’ve come to the right place."

In thirty minutes, she works miracles. Contacts in, eyeglasses out, hair blown out into a sumptuous wave, eyes subtly accented to perfection, cheekbones shaded a hint, lips transformed into a perfect cupid’s bow of moist inviting color. A borrowed silk blouse completes the metamorphosis.

I feel like Cinderella at the ball. Sharon heads out with some Jason or Jared or Justin to the basketball game, with a fraternity party to follow. I eat a yogurt and wait in the room, trying not to ruin the magic she’s accomplished. I make a few phone calls and further plan my strategy.

At a little before eight, Billy knocks on the slightly opened door.

"Hey. Do you know if this is Sharon’s room?"

"It is. But she’s out for the night."

An exasperated sigh precedes the hangdog expression, but he doesn’t seem overly surprised.

"Same old Sharon. Hi, I’m Billy."

"I’m Nina. Her roommate. The guy who was taking me to this concert tonight backed out. Stomach flu. You like concerts? It’s Fountains of Wayne."

One of his favorite bands, I knew. Coincidence was in my favor. They’re playing the Civic Center and it’s not sold out. I’d checked.

His eyes get wide and I see the smile when he finally really looks at me. He seems to want to know me better. Thank you Sharon. I already deleted your better doppelganger’s screen name. If all goes well, no one will ever be the wiser. As I turn out the lights and lock the door behind me, I’m struck by how handsome Billy looks in person. I have to stop myself from accidentally calling him "sweet prince," but I know I’m his real darling angel. At some point Billy will know that too, and who knows, he might even figure out the rest. But by the time he does, I’m hoping it won’t even matter.
Gary Glauber - Copyright 2003

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