"Moi? There is not much to tell. I am thirty-eight years old, unmarried. I just ended a relationship, and I would like to settle down with the right woman. Et vous? Are you married?"
Toni typed back, "No. I'm looking for someone, too. What do you do?"
"I own a little jewelry store. I hope you will come and visit it one day."
"Is that an invitation?"
"Mais oui. Yes."
Toni typed in, "It sounds interesting." And she meant it. Maybe I'll find a way to go there, Toni thought. Maybe he's the person who can save me.
Toni communicated with Jean Claude Parent almost every night. He had scanned in a picture of himself, and Toni found herself looking at a very attractive, intelligent-looking man.
When Jean Claude saw the photograph of Toni that she scanned in, he wrote, "You are beautiful, ma cherie. I knew you would be. Please come to visit me."
"Ta ta." Toni signed off.
On the work floor the next morning, Toni heard Shane Miller talking to Ashley Patterson and thought. What the hell does he see in her? She's a right git. To Toni, Ashley was a frustrated, spinsterish Miss Goody Two-shoes. She doesn't bloody know how to have any fun, Toni thought. Toni disapproved of everything about her. Ashley was a stick-in-the-mud who liked to stay home at night and read a book or watch the History Channel or CNN. She had no interest in sports. Boring! She had never entered a chat room. Meeting strangers through a computer was something Ashley would never do, the cold fish. She doesn't know what she's missing, Toni thought. Without the on-line chat room, I never would have met Jean Claude.
Toni thought about how much her mother would have hated the Internet. But then her mother had hated everything. She had only two means of communicating: screaming or whining. Toni could never please her. "Can't you ever do anything right, you stupid child?" Well, her mother had yelled at her once too often. Toni thought about the terrible accident in which her mother had died. Toni could still hear her screams for help. The memory of it made Toni smile.
"A penny for a spool of thread,
penny for a needle.
at's the way the money goes,
p! goes the weasel."
In another place, at another time, Alette Peters could have been a successful artist. As far back as she could remember, her senses were tuned to the nuances of color. She could see colors, smell colors and hear colors.
Her father's voice was blue and sometimes red.
Her mother's voice was dark brown.
Her teacher's voice was yellow.
The grocer's voice was purple.
The sound of the wind in the trees was green.
The sound of running water was gray.
Alette Peters was twenty years old. She could be plain-looking, attractive or stunningly beautiful, depending on her mood or how she was feeling about herself. But she was never simply pretty. Part of her charm was that she was completely unaware of her looks. She was shy and soft-spoken, with a gentleness that was almost an anachronism.
Alette had been born in Rome, and she had a musical Italian accent. She loved everything about Rome. She had stood at the top of the Spanish Steps and looked over the city and felt that it was hers. When she gazed at the ancient temples and the giant Colosseum, she knew she belonged to that era. She had strolled in the Piazza Navona, listened to the music of the waters in the Fountain of the Four Rivers and walked the Piazza Venezia, with its wedding cake monument to Victor Emanuel. She had spent endless hours at St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museum and the Borghese Gallery, enjoying the timeless works of Raphael and Fra Bartolommeo and Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo. Their talent both transfixed her and frustrated her. She wished she had been born in the sixteenth century and had known them. They were more real to Alette than the passers-by on the streets. She wanted desperately to be an artist.
She could hear her mother's dark brown voice: "You're wasting paper and paint. You have no talent. "
The move to California had been unsettling at first. Alette had been concerned as to how she would adjust, but Cupertino had turned out to be a pleasant surprise. She enjoyed the privacy that the small town afforded, and she liked working for Global Computer Graphics Corporation. There were no major art galleries in Cupertino, but on weekends, Alette would drive to San Francisco to visit the galleries there.
"Why are you interested in that stuff?" Toni Prescott would ask her. "Come on to P.J. Mulligans with me and have some fun."
"Don't you care about art?"
Toni laughed. "Sure. What's his last name?"
There was only one cloud hanging over Alette Peters' life. She was manic-depressive. She suffered from anomie, a feeling of alienation from others. Her mood swings always caught her unaware, and in an instant, she could go from a blissful euphoria to a desperate misery. She had no control over her emotions.
Toni was the only one with whom Alette would discuss her problems. Toni had a solution for everything, and it was usually: "Let's go and have some fun!"
Toni's favorite subject was Ashley Patterson. She was watching Shane Miller talking to Ashley.
"Look at that tight-assed bitch," Toni said contemptuously. "She's the ice queen."
Alette nodded. "She's very serious. Someone should teach her how to laugh."
Toni snorted. "Someone should teach her how to fuck."
One night a week, Alette would go to the mission for the homeless in San Francisco and help serve dinner. There was one little old woman in particular who looked forward to Alette's visits. She was in a wheelchair, and Alette would help her to a table and bring her hot food.