a fictional story about an Internet romance
by Alice Woodrome

Theresa had to admit it sounded absurd, and there was no denying she was nervous. Who wouldn't be? She was taking a big chance. She didn't even know his real name and had never seen his photograph. Sometimes you just have to take risks. Change was in the air. It was the year 2000; a whole new millennium. Despite her failures at romance in the decade she'd been on her own, at nearly thirty, Theresa was full of hope.

Her friends didn't understand why she didn't date more.

"I just don't get it," her friend Tiffany said recently. "You're pretty enough. Maybe you're just too picky?"

"I don't meet that many men, Tiff," Theresa answered. "They don't exactly parade eligible guys through our newspaper office, you know—especially back to my cubicle."

Tiffany may have said she was pretty, but Theresa knew the truth. With her mousy brown hair and glasses she was far too bookish for most guys. Although she wanted to have a relationship, she was more comfortable hiding out in her cubicle and reading in the evenings at home.

"Look for a new job, then," Tiffany said. You're never going to meet the right guy if you don't put yourself out there."

Theresa rolled her eyes. "I like being a copy editor."

"I have a feeling even if there were plenty of guys at work, you'd find something wrong with them. I arranged dates for you with two perfectly nice guys in the last year. You should have grabbed one of them."

"Neither of them called again, Tiff. How am I supposed to grab someone who's running?"

"Don't give me that, Theresa. I talked to David after your date and he said you made it clear that you weren't interested. I don't know what you thought was wrong with him. He's a terrific guy—with a great job, even."

"There wasn't anything wrong with him. We just didn't hit it off." David had seemed like a big kid to Theresa, hardly mature enough to be a serious candidate for a lasting relationship. "Besides, I may have already found the perfect man. We have a lot more in common than the guys you've found for me."

Tiffany's eyes widened. "What? Really? Who? Where did you meet him?" She hesitated, then squinted at Theresa. "Not the Internet again?"

"That's all you're going to get," she said. "I don't want to jinx it. I'll tell you all about him if it goes anywhere."

The few times her friend had set her up with a man in the last few years, Tiffany told her what to wear, how to fix her hair, even what to say, but the dates never worked out. Theresa didn't want any advice. Most of the guys Tiffany had found for her weren't interested in anything creative or important, and she doubted if any of them read anything but the sports page. Twice she went to see men she met on the Internet, but those were disasters. She never should have told Tiffany. Those misadventures were best forgotten.

That's why she didn't mention to anyone that she was going to meet a man she knew only by his screen name, Ulysses. Her family would be worried about her safety, and Tiffany would think she was destined to have her heart broken again. Theresa had learned from her previous experiences. It would be different this time, and if it didn't work out, no one would say, "I told you so."

She and Ulysses were meeting at four, and it was only two-thirty. She pulled off the highway at a little diner to pass the time. There were only two vehicles in the gravel parking lot of the Busy Bean Café, and one of them was about to leave. Last of the lunch crowd, she thought as she walked past an old couple settling into a rusty Chevy truck. She glanced up at the faded sign towering over the lot as she walked to the entrance. A nest was stuffed in the corner with just the head of a bird visible above the twisted twigs and stems. Theresa smiled as another bird arrived with a bug in its beak and fed it to the one waiting. She sighed as she reached for the café door.

A bell rang as she entered the diner, a business that clearly had seen better days. It had a dingy retro look. Amateurish paintings with white price stickers cluttered the dark red walls. The floor tiles, in a checkerboard pattern, were cracked and worn. Theresa took a seat at the counter and nodded at the waitress, a middle-aged woman with black hair and hoop earrings. The smell of burgers and fries lingered in the air from the lunch service.

"Hi," the waitress said, handing her a stained menu. "What would you like to drink?"

"I'm just having coffee. Just killing a little time." She smiled at the woman and handed back the menu. "With cream, please."

The waitress soon returned with a cup and a pot of coffee. "I guess you're just passing through?" she asked, pouring the coffee as steam rose from the cup. "I know most everyone around here."

"Yes," Theresa said, "I live in Clinton—just on my way to Springfield."

The waitress reached in the pocket of her pink apron and retrieved two creamers and set them next to Theresa's coffee. "If you're killing time, I guess you aren't too keen to get there, huh?"

"No, that's not it at all. I just don't want to be early."

Theresa could feel the woman's eyes on her as she peeled off the top of one of the creamers and poured it into her coffee. Without looking up, she took a book out of her bag and pretended to read. It was none of the waitress' business.

The bell on the door rang again as a couple entered the café.

"Hi Sharon," the man called to the waitress. He sat in one of the back booths and his companion took the seat facing him.

"Hey, guys, have I got news for you." The waitress grabbed three cups in one hand and the coffee pot in the other. She walked to the booth, slid next to the woman and whispered as she poured them each a cup of coffee.

Theresa was glad to be left to her reverie. She put down the book, sipped her coffee and thought about Nick, the first man she'd met on the Internet. This time it was far different. Theresa had been on the Internet for nine years now, almost as long as there had been an Internet. She wasn't the naive girl she had been when she fell for Nick, a guy she met in an AOL chatroom just six weeks after getting a computer.

He was older than Theresa by twelve years. He had been to so many exotic places and done so many intriguing things. She loved to hear about his adventures. Smart, too. Nick could talk intelligently about any subject. When they exchanged photographs just three days after they started to chat privately, Theresa was stunned. He was so good-looking. When he didn't contact her for a few hours after she emailed her picture, she was certain that he was disappointed. She started breathing again when she got an instant message from him the next evening.

"Do you believe in love at first sight, Theresa?" he wrote.

"I don't know—why?" she answered. "Because the minute I saw your picture, I felt myself being drawn to you. It's something in your eyes."

A warm wave washed over her. Before she could think of how to respond, another message came.

"I'm not sure if that's love or not, but it sure feels like it."

Theresa covered her mouth, her mind in a whir. "I don't know what to say, Nick," she finally typed, "I love your picture, too, but it can't be all about looks."

"Do you think that's it?" he wrote back quickly. "I've already fallen for your sweet innocent spirit—long before I got your picture. Every time we chat, I feel closer to you. You have no idea the effect you have on me."

It was heady stuff for a virgin who'd had almost no experience dating. Theresa was blinded by his charm.

She thought it was a wonderful coincidence when she read his profile the next day and learned that Nick lived in Clinton, too. His intentions were only clear when they met in person.

Theresa should have known there was something fishy when he suggested they meet in the Regency Hotel lobby because they had "a fantastic restaurant." Theresa had only been to the Regency once—when she was a child—but she remembered the gold sconces on the walls of the lobby that sent fans of sparkling light toward the high ceiling, giving the room an elegant and romantic ambiance.

Nick waved when she entered the lobby through the revolving door. His picture had not lied. He was the handsome robust man she expected. Theresa was mesmerized as they walked toward each other across the plush carpet. Nick leaned in to kiss her the moment they were together She was taken aback by his greeting, but he smelled heavenly and the kiss was dreamy. She smiled.

"I can't believe it," he whispered. "You are even more beautiful than your picture."

Theresa blushed. She wasn't used to men calling her beautiful. It was intoxicating.

She had believed Nick was genuine, even when he showed her a room key and said, "I couldn't get us a table until eight, so I took the liberty of renting a room. We'll be a lot more comfortable relaxing there until our table is ready."

There was a bottle of Champagne waiting for them in the room with two wine glasses. Nick expertly uncorked the bottle and poured them both a glass, handing one to Theresa. He looked deeply into her eyes, then lifted his glass and said, "To my sweet beautiful Theresa."

She smiled and took a sip. Theresa didn't know how to behave—what to say. This was uncharted territory. She shivered and took another sip. Was it cold in the room or was it just her nerves? She didn't know.

"You're freezing, my dear." Nick said, sitting down on the sofa and patting the place beside him. "Here, come sit with me." She complied and Nick put his arm around her shoulders. "Does that feel better?"

It did. Nothing had ever felt quite so rousing. They talked a few minutes as they sipped the wine, and Theresa began to feel a warm buzz. She relaxed into the feeling that things were happening as they were meant to. Nick told her how he had longed for the day they would meet, how much he adored her. When he kissed her she returned it eagerly. In a few minutes they were making love. For a brief half an hour, it had seemed transcendent, but Theresa suspected she had been a fool when they had dinner later that evening. There were more than a few empty tables in the restaurant that Nick had praised, and the cuisine was nothing special.

She tried to believe during the meal that Nick had meant the things he said. She did her best to keep a conversation going, to pretend they were really lovers, but it was no good. It was not a romance and the game for Nick was over. He didn't appear interested in anything Theresa said, asked no questions, and as soon as they had eaten he said he "needed to get going."

She was so distraught she couldn't go to work for three days. She found him in the AOL chat room a few days later and sent him a private message. Her gut feeling during their dinner had been right. He ignored her.

It was three weeks before Theresa realized the extent of Nicks deceptions—when she learned he had a wife and family. The afternoon was balmy but pleasant. Theresa was jogging along a path beside a grassy expanse in a local park and had just passed a child and his mother feeding pigeons when she saw Nick. He was playing catch with his kids while his wife looked on from a nearby bench and cheered when the littlest boy caught the ball. Theresa stopped and watched them from the path for a while, her heart beating wildly. His wife was blonde and in her mid-thirties; pretty, too. They looked like the quintessential happy family as Nick joined her on the bench and lay his hand on her leg while they watched the kids throw the ball to one another. He glanced at Theresa once but she couldn't tell if he recognized her. She was, no doubt, just one of many conquests for Nick. Theresa wanted to confront him, wanted to tell his wife what kind of man she had married, but she was on the verge of tears so she continued running. It was a long time before she trusted anything a man said on the Internet.

Theresa was so engrossed in her memories that she was startled when the waitress appeared to refill her coffee. "Sorry," the waitress said. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Theresa glanced at her watch. "I think I better get on the road again; can you bring my check?"

She took a last sip of coffee when the check came a minute later and tucked two dollars under the edge of her cup.

Theresa took a deep breath of fresh air as she walked to her car, gravel crunching under her feet. It wouldn't be long now. She brushed at the wrinkles in her new blue dress as she neared her car, checked the mirror when she got in, smiling at her reflection. Theresa calculated that she had another forty miles to go, and a little over an hour before her date with Ulysses. She quivered with anticipation.

Back on the road, her mind drifted to the disaster with Jason a couple of years after Nick. Jason was a poet––the sensitive type. They had met in a writers' chat room, not one of those lonely–heart places where every guy was on the prowl.

Theresa had written a few poems that weren't too bad, but her talent with words wasn't in the same league as Jason's. He didn't seem to know it, though. Theresa encouraged him and he wrote poems just for her. He poured out his heart in long emails. She learned early on that Jason lived on a small allowance from his family and a monthly disability check. A few years ago he had been in a car accident and had broken several bones in his leg that didn't heal fully. He told her he was fine now, and just had a slight limp.

It wouldn't have mattered if he couldn't walk at all. She had cherished every letter. Theresa knew if he could find the right agent that he would be published and finally recognized for the great artist he was. Jason called her his "inspiration, his angel," and Theresa imagined a happily-ever-after with him. It would be a struggle, but it would be for love and art.

She was much wiser than she had been with Nick. They communicated for several months before they met in person, even occasionally talking on the phone. She loved the sound of his voice, the soft earnest tones when he told her she was "in his heart to stay."

Those words didn't keep her dream from collapsing. She was shocked at his disheveled appearance when she met him. His clothes were not only torn, but dirty.

They had arranged to meet in Clarksville at the McDonald's, his favorite place to write. Since he didn't have a car, Theresa made the long drive to meet him face-to-face, to see if they had any chemistry. Besides, it would be good to finally see him in his element. If they were going to have a future together, it was important to know more about Jason than could be gleaned from phone calls and emails.

They hugged when they met and Jason appeared genuinely touched that she had come. He reached out and took her hand as they waited in line to order lunch. "I can't believe we're finally meeting," he said, squeezing her hand gently. He seemed oblivious to her discomfort. "You must be crazy to drive halfway across the state just to see me."

Theresa chuckled nervously, "Yeah, a bit crazy, but we had to meet eventually, you know." She took back her hand with the pretense of digging for something in her purse. "And I wanted to see your world—your environment—you know?" She looked up and smiled.

"I usually settle down over there in that corner," he said, pointing to a far booth with a stack of notebooks and a backpack on the table. "I write for three or four hours every morning. I've been here since eight."

When the girl behind the counter rang up the total, Jason picked up the tray of Chicken McNuggets and fries, leaving Theresa to pay for it. He led her to his favorite booth, limping slightly. She couldn't stop staring at Jason's grungy tee-shirt. He was poor, but surely he had one tee that wasn't dirty. Why didn't he bother cleaning up for their first meeting?

She tried to put the disappointment aside as they talked over their meal, then lingered to talk about writing. He was charming in an off-beat sort of way, and Theresa saw a hint of the poet she had fallen for. Several times he took her hand in his and caressed it as he talked. There was adoration in Jason's eyes and a touching vulnerability.

He suggested they go to his place to "hang" until it was time for her to drive back home. "It's just three blocks down Fourth."

Theresa suspected what he had in mind, but she didn't want their relationship to go there yet, not as long as she had any reservations. "Let's not rush into anything, Jason."

Jason looked hurt. "We'll just hang out. Honest. I want to be with you as long as I can." He smiled, then gathered his notebooks and put them in his backpack.

As they got into Theresa's car, she hoped the apartment would be like she had imagined it: humble, but tidy and clean. She wished it wasn't important to her, but it was. Poverty was one thing, but that unwashed shirt said something else about Jason that was eating at her.

"Is that Fourth Street ahead?" she asked.

"Yes, take a right, and it's on the third block—on the left." Jason sighed and breathed deeply as she turned onto Fourth. "You know, I didn't write a thing all morning." He looked at Theresa and grimaced. "I was so nervous about meeting you I couldn't concentrate."

"I was pretty nervous, too," she said, and turned to look at him with a feeble smile.

The neighborhood was deteriorating. Yards were strewn with junk and children's toys, and looked as if no one ever trimmed a hedge or pulled a weed. Theresa slowed to a stop when a basketball rolled in front of the car on the street where Jason lived. A child ran out to get it and looked sullenly at Theresa while she waited.

"That's it," Jason said, pointing to a building with green shutters and peeling paint. "Park anywhere here along the curb."

Jason took her hand as they walked across the street and up the crumbling cement steps to the entrance. His hand was warm and comforting. She wanted to believe it could all work out.

Jason held the door for her. It opened into a hallway that smelled of mildew. "Up this way," he said, motioning to the flight of stairs on the left.

As they climbed the steps to his third floor apartment, Theresa had an uneasy feeling she was in for more disillusionment.

The apartment was a mess. A pair of jeans and a couple of soiled shirts were slung over the sofa. The floor was littered with stacks of books and spiral notebooks. Along one wall was a small desk with a computer and a dusty lamp. Another stack of notebooks lay beside it. She pictured Jason sitting there while they exchanged instant messages.

"It's not much, but it's all I need," Jason cleared off a place on the sofa for Theresa to sit, and turned to her. "You want a Coke? I think I have some in the fridge."

"Sure." Theresa put her purse on the sofa and followed him into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator as she looked around. Dirty dishes lay piled in the sink. Take-out containers and newspapers were scattered on the table. A crust of bread and a moldy piece of cantaloupe rind lay on the counter. A roach scurried along the baseboard to hide in the darkness behind a trash can in the corner of the room.

Jason pulled the tabs on two cokes and handed a can to Theresa. "Cheers," he said, tapping his can against hers.

Theresa took a drink, forced a smile, but said nothing. She retreated to the living room, heartsick. It had all sounded romantic over the computer. Poverty had almost seemed appealing when she was in love with a starving poet. How could she have a relationship with someone who didn't have enough ambition to clean his kitchen when he had company coming?

"What's wrong, Theresa?"

She hesitated, started to speak, then caught herself.

"What?" Jason frowned. "What did you start to say?"

"It's nothing, Jason," she said as she tried to smile. It would crush him to say what she was thinking.

"What is it? Are you disappointed that I don't have a nice apartment? You knew I didn't have money."

"No, it's not that. I mean, I didn't expect anything fancy. But…" She glanced down at the piles of notebooks on the floor and the clothes he had thrown there to make room on the sofa.

"But? But what?" Jason pressed.

"It's just that—I mean—you knew I was coming and…" She frowned and motioned to the mess around them. "You didn't bother to clean even a little. I just don't understand that."

Jason looked perplexed. "You're upset because I'm not a great housekeeper? Is that it? Is that why you look like someone just died?"

Theresa looked at Jason with misty eyes. "I am upset. I wish it didn't bother me that you didn't clean up, but it does." She couldn't stop the tears, "And it's crystallized something for me—something really important—and it's breaking my heart."

Jason tilted his head. "What?"

"I care about you—you know I do, Jason. I thought when we met it wouldn't change anything, that I would feel the same. And I do in some ways."

His brow furrowed, silent for a moment. "What're you saying?" he finally asked.

"It's just that I can see now that it wouldn't work out for us."

"Why?" He asked, his expression, crestfallen. "We can make it work, Theresa." He looked at the stuff on the floor." That's just junk. I can clean it up if it's important to you. We have something really special. You can't just throw that away."

It hurt Theresa to see him pleading. She had admired him so much—had fancied that she loved him. How had it come to this? He was wounded to the bone, and there was no way to make it right. She stepped forward to comfort him. "I'm sorry, Jason. I don't want to hurt you. I really don't."

She held out her arms and Jason embraced her. Theresa was silent for a few moments, trying to ignore his body order as he held her closer.

"Let me make love to you, Theresa," he whispered. "You love me. I know you do. You'll see that we're good together."

"No, Jason, we can't. I know you're hurt, and I'm so sorry—but I really need to go home now. We'll just confuse things if we make love."

"No, not yet." He held her firmly.

Theresa's heart began to race. Was he really going to try to stop her from leaving? She broke free and grabbed her purse.

"Why did you even come here, Theresa?" he demanded, as she hurried to the door. "I never made a secret of anything. You knew what my life was all about." As she fled down the stairs, he shouted from the doorway, "Did you think this was some kind of game? Was it fun kicking me in the nuts?"

Theresa cried most of the way home. She'd been so short-sighted to think it didn't matter that Jason was dirt poor and didn't have a job. Actually seeing his dirty little apartment, and realizing he didn't respect himself enough to want more—to do more—it had made it all so clear. It would have been more cruel to pretend it didn't matter and let it fester until it blew up one day. A clean break was best, but now both their hearts were crushed and bleeding.

Jason wrote her a couple times after that, apologizing and begging to be given another chance. He promised he "would change." It just made him seem weak and needy in her eyes. She wanted a man she could admire.

Theresa wrote back, choosing her words carefully, "You'll find a way to put this behind you, Jason. I'll always care for you, but it just wouldn't work out."

Theresa never went to another chat room, and she was through searching for the perfect man–even if it meant she would end up alone. She often thought that might well be her fate.

Theresa finally got serious about her own writing and dreamed about having a literary career of her own. She wasn't looking for a man anymore to make her happy. Theresa was a new woman.

She read books on writing and followed their suggestions. She wrote faithfully every day, filled a notebook with writing exercises, and another with ideas for stories and characters. She saved snippets of conversation that she might someday use, plot twists and other gems she wanted to remember. Theresa accumulated binders full of her own poems and stories. She was proud of them, and confident in her skills.

After many months she was finally ready to submit some short story manuscripts to literary agents. She was met with nothing but disappointment as rejection after rejection came back. One of the agents took the time to suggest she needed to get some honest feedback on her writing if she wanted to seriously learn the craft.

Theresa searched online and found an online community for serious writers. The members posted their writing and critiqued what others submitted. It was just what she needed. She joined the group and immediately started sending in some of her work.

One of the other members, Ulysses, critiqued her work frequently and was especially complimentary and helpful. She enjoyed reading his wonderful short stories and poems. He'd even started a novel. She was elated when he praised her work in his critiques. He made suggestions on how she could improve, and his recommendations were always spot-on. She learned more from him than from all the books she had read about writing.

Before long, Theresa and Ulysses were exchanging private messages that became personal. She was hesitant to get involved at first—but Ulysses was different. He was much more responsible than Jason had been. He had a steady job as the assistant manager of a grocery store and did his writing at night. He didn't need Theresa to encourage him. Ulysses believed in himself and he believed in her. He eventually asked if she wanted to know his real name, but by then she was fond of calling him Ulysses. It sounded adventurous and dynamic—it fit him. It's not like she ever intended to meet him in person, anyway—not after the disasters with Nick and Jason.

But as the month went by—against her better judgment—Theresa let herself feel a deep connection to Ulysses. Their relationship became about as intense as it could get without them ever touching. The last two weeks she and Ulysses had chatted every night on the computer. Just his name on her buddy list gave her a warm feeling.

"Theresa," he wrote one night in a message, "I don't want to scare you, but I've fallen in love with you."

She had stared at the message for almost a full minute, trembling, when another message came. "I have frightened you, haven't I? I'm sorry, Theresa."

"Maybe just a little," she answered. "I mean, I feel the same way, but you have to admit, it's a little crazy to feel this way when we haven't even exchanged pictures."

"I don't need to see a picture. It's your soul I love," Ulysses said. "The rest is just window dressing."

She didn't ask to see his picture. It would have seemed shallow. And, the truth was, she did feel the same about him. She could imagine Ulysses smiling at her, holding her, and it was enough. Theresa was sure when she finally did see him his face would become the standard by which every other man would be judged. Theresa was in love, pure and simple. And Ulysses was in love with her, too.

Meeting had been Theresa's idea. She couldn't stand not being able to reach out and touch him. He wanted it, too. Ulysses talked about wanting to hold her and run his fingers through her hair, about wanting to kiss her lips, her neck, and more. She never dreamed that words on a screen could stir such desire. He was hesitant at first when she mentioned a rendezvous, and his shyness about a meeting in person only endeared him to her more. She was more concerned about how he would feel when he saw her. Would he notice the ten pounds she needed to lose? Would he be physically attracted to her or be disappointed? She wanted it to be perfect.

Theresa passed the Springfield City Limits sign. Just fifteen minutes before Ulysses and I will be together. He would be waiting for her at the Milford Art Museum on Grand Avenue.

"Look for the love sick puppy next to the Dance in Bougival by Renoir," he wrote in their last chat. "I'll be wearing red socks, so you'll know it's me."

"I bet I would know you without the red socks," Theresa had written.

"I don't want you to be disappointed," he wrote back. "I'm not a hunk." His insecurity made her feel better about her own misgivings.

As much as she believed she could trust Ulysses, there was that nagging doubt about the meeting, just a tiny one. How could it be otherwise after her experiences with Nick and Jason? She had learned from those disasters—hadn't she?

That small doubt began to grow as the time of the meeting approached. Was it really so different from the way she felt about Nick and Jason before they met? Yes, of course, it was. With Nick she had been just plain gullible, and with Jason she had been in love with an idea—not a man. With Ulysses it was—what? Theresa almost panicked before she got hold of her self. It had to be different. She loved Ulysses. She had come this far, and it just had to work out.

Theresa found Grand Avenue and drove north to the art museum with no difficulty. She parked the car and checked her watch. She was right on time. Theresa was shaking slightly as she walked across the parking lot and climbed the white stone steps to the lobby. She scanned every face as she waited in line to pay the admission fee to see the Impressionist exhibit. With a ticket stub in hand, she asked the attendant where the Renoirs were and was directed to the main gallery. Theresa could hardly breathe as she walked down the marble hallway, her footsteps echoing around her. She hesitated as she approached the arched entrance to the main gallery. Several people walked from behind her and entered the room as she tried to calm her nerves. She sighed deeply and followed them into the gallery.

The white walls were lined with Impressionist paintings in ornate gold frames; two waterlily paintings by Monet, a Degas with ballet dancers, a seascape by Boudin, several by artists she didn't know, and even some she recognized as Renoir's but no Dance in Bougival. Where was it? She checked her watch. A minute after four. She couldn't be late. What would Ulysses think?

She approached a uniformed security guard who had just entered the gallery from another room.

"Where are the other Reniors?" she asked.

He pointed to the room behind him. "There are a couple in there, and more in the far room of the main gallery. Just keep going." He nodded and touched the bill of his hat.

Theresa walked toward the archway to the adjacent room and straightened herself before stepping through into a much larger expanse. A dozen or more people were standing together, listening to a docent talk about a Frédéric Bazille painting of a reclining nude. She searched the walls, peering around people to look at each painting. No Dance in Bougival and no Ulysses. She would be late, but there was just one more gallery to go. He had to be there.

Theresa walked quickly across the room toward the doorway to the final room in the main gallery, conscious of every breath. Ulysses had to be just a few steps away. She stood in the doorway and inhaled deeply, then stepped through.

The Dance in Bougival was there on the far wall. Several women and an older man were looking at the famous painting, but where was Ulysses? Theresa's breathing accelerated as her eyes darted around, looking at everyone's feet in the room for the red socks. Ulysses wasn't there. One of the women who had been standing across the room looking at the Dance in Bougival moved, revealing the red socks. They were folded together, laying on the bench in front of the painting. Theresa held her breath as she walked toward the bench and spotted a small envelope tucked beneath the socks. Her knees went weak as she sat down and picked up the envelope. She looked around the room, then slowly opened the envelope with trembling hands. Theresa drew out a neatly folded note and opened it.

I'll always care for you, Theresa, but it just wouldn't work out. It was signed, Jason/Ulysses. There was a PS: You were right, you know. I did find a way to put it all behind me.


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