Derek Malone was a fairly normal American guy. Well, that's not exactly true. He was normal in the sense that he'd never caused any trouble to American society as a whole. Never been in any serious trouble with the law other than that one parking ticket he'd paid promptly, never shoplifted, been drunk and/or disorderly, and he'd never been the slightest bit of trouble really to any of the teachers he'd had when he had been in school. In fact, if his teachers had been asked, they would have universally remembered him as, "That quiet boy who always sat in the corner, never made any trouble, who never volunteered the answer to any of the questions, but always knew the answer when asked."
School was far behind him, however. He'd slid through high school as smoothly as possible - leaving almost no trace of his presence except for the almost non-impression he'd left in his teachers' memories. He'd had no friends in high school, nor any desire to make them. He preferred to be alone. He didn't even really like people all that much, and he would have told everyone that if anyone had ever cared enough to ask. His parents had died two months before he graduated high school in a tragic car accident, leaving him their sole beneficiary. He had no other living relatives and he had been an only child. He'd been eighteen when they died, his birthday was in late February. So he'd finished high school before leaving that world forever behind. After graduation, he'd continued to live in the house his parents' death had paid for. After everything was settled, the house mortgage was taken care of and the bills were all paid, there was enough money for Derek to live some years in comfort, if he was very frugal.
Derek, in addition to being somewhat of a misanthrope, was also agoraphobic. His fear wasn't so extreme that he couldn't even bear the thought of going outside, but it was strong enough that he avoided going outside as much as he could. He had a car, but he didn't drive it very often. Between the agoraphobia and the accident that had killed his parents, he had little desire to get into a car and go someplace. He only used his car once a month when he went to the grocery store to buy food for the next 30 days. He always went to the 24-hour grocery store that was closest to his house, and always precisely at 3:45 a.m. That wee hour of the morning was the perfect time for him to go grocery shopping because there was rarely more than the cashier and one or two people shelving stock in the entire store. The time was perfect because it was too late for anyone who got the munchies after going out and too early for people to be stopping in for pastries before work; so there were very few, if any, other customers for Derek to deal with.
The girl who was invariably the lone cashier on the night shift when Derek was shopping, got used to him after awhile. Its easy to remember people who have orders that large - especially when they always did their shopping at such a dead hour. He was a good distraction from the tedium once a month. Doreen Wilcox, the cashier, always thought he was kind of weird though. He looked like he might be tall, but he was always slightly hunched over, so it was hard to tell for certain. If she had to guess, she'd say he was in his mid-20s somewhere. He had wire-rimmed glasses covering eyes that were a gray so light that she almost thought he didn't have irises at all. His hair was so dark of a brown that it might as well be black, but it was his skin that made Doreen stare. It was so pale that it was nearly translucent. Doreen was more than half convinced that he was some weird freak who thought he was a vampire and went around avoiding sunlight because he thought he'd die if he saw it. Still, he was sort of cute... she'd like him better if he didn't ignore her every time she tried to start up a conversation though.
So Derek lived, worked, and played at home. Almost the only person who ever even saw him was Doreen the grocery store cashier. He was so far under society's radar that he wasn't a blip... not even a tiny smudge. A pinprick, maybe... if that. Both Derek and society were content to have it that way. Derek wasn't afraid of sunlight, but sunlight was outside, and that was somewhere he was firmly against being.
Even at home, Derek wasn't all that interesting. He did mailings from home to supplement the meager savings he possessed seven years after his parents' deaths. He was endeavoring to stretch his income out enough so that he never had to work in an environment other than his own home and so that he dealt with people as little as possible. So far he had done fairly well. He didn't buy anything excessively expensive such as a new car or even expensive food. He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he didn't do drugs, he didn't date or visit prostitutes, and he never visited doctors, dentists, or other members of the medical profession so he had no outrageous bills for health care.
Derek was a man without vice. Well... almost. Derek's one vice was the Internet. He allowed himself the luxury of internet access because he couldn't live without it. It gave him the ability to be whoever he wanted to be. He could be thin, fat, gay, straight, male, female... anything at all, and no one would be able to say otherwise. He could create whole new identities for himself and no one would be the wiser. No one would really know that he was just plain Derek Malone: loner, agoraphobe, and virgin.
Still, even in this one vice, Derek remained a frugal soul. He bought the cheapest kind of Internet access he could find - dial-up. If he could have found anything at all cheaper that let him stay on the Internet nearly 24/7, he would have used that instead. His Internet connection was barely a step up from free. If he could have found a free service without monthly time limits, then he would have used that. As it was, the cheapest thing he could find that was reliable and banner ad free (he loathed banner ads because he felt that they impinged upon the personal space that was his computer) was the service provided by his local telephone company. The phone service was a remnant from the time when his parents were alive. If it hadn't been for the combination phone/Internet service package the company provided its customers, Derek would have cancelled the phone altogether. Derek didn't really need a phone after all... there was no one he would ever want to call and no one who'd ever call him save telemarketers. But he did need Internet access. So the phone stayed.
He had only the single phone line and left his computer connected to the Internet at all times to save himself from having to take the time to connect and to make sure that if a telemarketer ever called that they couldn't get through. The service was pretty decent as dial-up connections go. It wasn't terribly fast (because dial-up modems never are), but it was remarkably steady. Derek even had his connection set up to automatically reconnect on the off chance that it ever disconnected, and he also automatically connected to the Internet when his computer started up. Derek was a certified Internet junkie. He knew it, he even admitted it to himself, but he didn't care. It made him happy and kept his life from being a completely humdrum existence. Also, it gave him that vital means of connection and communication with other human beings that all people need, whether they admit it or not.
His only other connection with the outside world came, rather unexpectedly, from his next-door neighbor, Monica Delamater. Derek had always made it perfectly clear to his neighbors that he wasn't interested in being their friend or in having them visit him. Monica, however, had paid no attention whatsoever to his protests and declarations. Instead, she'd steamrolled right over them, barging into his life until he simply didn't know how to get her to go away.
Oh, he'd tried to get her to leave him in peace. But it just didn't work somehow. He didn't really understand it. She'd defeated him with her incredible charisma and the stubborn way she only heard what she wanted to hear. He'd tried to get her to go away... then he'd tried some more... and some more... and again. But after awhile he got tired of trying to get her to leave when she never even paid attention to what he had to say. After she broke through his natural reluctance to be around any human being on a regular basis, he became accustomed to her presence. She was even a friend of sorts.
If he was honest then he'd admit that the real reason why he hadn't tried very hard to get rid of her after awhile was because she was a beautiful woman and after twenty-five years he was getting rather curious about what it would be like to have sex with an actual woman. No woman had ever bothered to try to scale the veritable Wall of China he'd placed between himself and the outside world. But Monica was different. She hadn't even bothered to try to climb over his defenses. Instead, she'd simply blown her way through them and left a Monica-shaped hole behind. She'd probably had an easier time of it than most because she was absolutely gorgeous. No, she was better than gorgeous - she was a full-fledged siren. A raven-haired seductress, Monica could have easily made a living as a model, if models came in a variety other than stick thin that is. She was tall, perfectly proportioned, and had a face that could have made Da Vinci weep. Her long black tresses, full red mouth, and striking amethyst eyes combined to give her a sinful, wicked look. Half the time Derek wondered if she was an angel in disguise, the other half of the time he wondered if she was a succubus come to drive him mad, and all of the time he fantasized about what it would be like to be with her for just one night.
Derek was completely absorbed in his thoughts as he stared at the simulated stars of his screen saver. Suddenly, he was startled from his self-imposed trance by a knock on the door. "Speak of the devil," he muttered to himself, knowing that only Monica ever knocked on his door. "Speak of the devil and she shall appear."
Derek got up from his computer desk and stretched lightly before going to open the door. He knew from past experience that if he tried to ignore her, she'd just get more annoying and insistent with her actions until he was irritated enough to give in and allow her access to his home. She knew he was always home and refused to be ignored... he'd tried once before. She'd knocked on every door and window she could reach on the outside of the first floor for a good 30 minutes before he gave in and opened the door. He wasn't about to go through that again. His pace quickened slightly at the thought and before he knew it he was standing in front of his door, drawing back the dead bolt, and opening the door.
As expected, Monica stood on the front porch - poised as if she was waiting for praise or a photographer's camera to flash. She held her pose for a moment, allowing Derek's appreciative eyes to fully take in her appearance and attire. She looked fairly casual this evening; she must have had the day off and spent it at home. Even on a 'casual' day when she hadn't dressed up for anything or anybody, her twenty-seven years still looked damn good. The clingy t-shirt and the jeans that were so form-fitting they seemed to have been molded to her body were amazingly seductive in the way that they hugged her curves in such a way that they revealed her lush attributes without truly revealing a thing.
The look in Derek's eyes was apparently what Monica wanted to achieve with her posturing in front of the door, because she dropped her pose to let her disconcertingly dissimilar personality shine through. She looked like someone who would be dark, mysterious, and the downfall of every man she met. In reality though, she was stubborn, cheerful, and so effervescent that she'd make an excellent perky blond if only her personality were taken into account. "Hi Derek!" she exclaimed with a sunny smile, "How are you this evening? I just thought I'd invite myself over to eat with you tonight... I hadn't any plans for dinner and I was feeling kind of lonely, so I thought to myself, 'I know! I'll go over to Derek's for dinner! He'll be home and I bet he hasn't eaten either.' So here I am!" She finished her little speech with another megawatt smile before brushing closely past him on her way into his house. She didn't bother to wait for the invitation she knew she wouldn't receive.
"Hi Monica," Derek said belatedly after his brain finished short-circuiting from her body brushing his. "Come in... I guess. You're right, I haven't eaten."
"Well, that's just perfect then," Monica cooed. "I'll just go see what you've got in your kitchen, shall I? The least I can do is cook for you after inserting myself into your meal like this. You go on and make yourself comfortable while I putter around in the kitchen. And don't even think of coming into the kitchen to help me. You just let me take care of you for a night."
Derek acquiesced with a silent nod. He knew she'd just do what she pleased anyway, so he might as well go enjoy himself and spend some more time on the Internet. The hassle of having to cook for himself would be foregone for one evening, and in return, he would tolerate Monica's company. He couldn't make up his mind if Monica's presence was a boon or burden, though even if he was secretly pleased to have her in his home, he would still complain loudly of her intrusion if he thought she would listen. She wouldn't, but he was half-tempted to complain anyway just for form's sake.
An hour later, Derek was pulled from his fascination with the Internet by Monica tapping him on the shoulder and saying, "Dinner's ready." He turned to face her with a scowl - he'd forgotten about both her presence and his need for food. But the spell the Internet cast over him had now been temporarily broken, so the need for sustenance rose to the fore once more. He arose from his computer once more, smiled slightly, and followed Monica's shapely behind to the small dining room just off the kitchen.
The dining room was small enough to be considered cozily intimate, especially after all of the obvious effort Monica had made to make it that way. Normally, the dining room wasn't even used as anything other than storage and as space when he needed it to stuff envelopes. So in its natural state, the dining room was nothing more than a table covered with a large scattering of papers. He ate in the kitchen because it was more practical and he didn't need to carry dishes and food from the kitchen to the dining room and back again. But Monica had transformed the dining room from its use as a mundane, utilitarian work space to something resembling not only a place to actually eat, but one that had a romantic atmosphere to boot. She'd dug out a lace tablecloth and two white taper candles were lit in silver candlestick holders. The tablecloth, candles, and candlesticks must have all been his mother's, but the candlesticks shone bright silver in the gently gleaming candlelight, lending an elegance to the room that Derek didn't recall it ever possessing.
Dinner was a deliciously prepared filet mignon that Derek was almost certain he didn't buy, preceded by a salad, and accompanied by braised baby carrots, and mashed potatoes that were deliciously rich and creamy. Both the steak and the mashed potatoes were lightly coated with a sauce that he couldn't even begin to describe, but whatever it was, it was a perfect way to tie the filet mignon and potatoes together. Dessert was a simple, but scrumptious strawberry shortcake. All of the courses were accompanied by what seemed to be a never-ending bottle of special wine that Monica had fetched from her house. Derek never drank under ordinary circumstances, but the amber-colored liquid was astonishingly appealing and after the first sip he couldn't get enough. He downed glass after glass of the golden wine and never felt like he was affected by the alcohol.
Although Derek didn't feel like the liquor was affecting him, it was clear to Monica that it actually had done what copious amounts of alcohol usually does. He was more relaxed in her presence than she had ever seen him before - chatting almost freely as dinner progressed instead of the stilted, terse conversation they'd started with. Too, his body language and posture had similarly relaxed and loosened. It had been very clear to Monica at the beginning of their meal that Derek was extremely uncomfortable and tense. But as the evening progressed, his taunt posture relaxed and his words began to flow like the wine he was drinking.
Dessert long finished, they lingered over the wine and conversation both had been enjoying. After about half an hour, though, the wine bottle finally came to an end and Monica stood up. "Well," she said, "I guess I'd better start cleaning up. You stay seated and I'll just gather these things." Monica went over to Derek's side of the table to get his plates first. She leaned over his seated form, brushing her breasts against his arm as she bent towards the dirty dishes. As she did this, she put one hand on his shoulder for balance. When her hand just touched the rim of the plate, she turned her face toward him and suddenly their mouths were just inches away from each other. She looked at him for a long moment before closing the distance between them and touching her lips to his.
The first kiss between the two neighbors started out soft and tentative. It was a kiss of exploration, of two sets of lips getting accustomed to the feel of the lips of another against theirs. However, after a moment or two, the kiss swiftly evolved into something else - something primal, something... passionate. Monica's tongue teasingly tracing his lips was the first harbinger of the change. When her tongue gained entrance to his mouth, the kiss immediately changed into something fierce and uncontainable. They kissed passionately and urgently, desperate to connect in the most intimate way possible between two human beings.
As they kissed, their hands began to roam, adding fuel to the fire. Derek's fingers were in her hair while her hands began to busily unbutton his shirt. Finally, they forcefully removed their lips from each other's, succumbing to the insistent need to breathe. They stared at each other, breathing hard, with unbridled lust in their eyes. After Monica had enough breath back to speak, she coyly asked, "Show me your bedroom?"
Derek nodded, and got up from the table. When he was standing, they kissed once more, somewhat awkwardly, before he took her hand in his and lead her down the hall into the bedroom. Derek's bedroom was large, utterly masculine, and formerly belonged to his parents. But Monica wasn't really concerned about the decor at the moment. All she wanted was to get Derek out of his pants and onto the bed as quickly as humanly possible.
The goal of getting into the bedroom achieved, Monica now set her sights on getting Derek naked. With a sexy smile, she stepped extremely close to him once more and kissed him again. Mouth and mind occupied, her hands finished the task of unbuttoning his shirt before sliding it off his shoulders. Her hands roamed his newly-bare chest for awhile, finding a few spots that made him moan and kiss her with renewed fervor, before starting on a downward trek to his pants. Her fingers brushed the top of his pants before nimbly finding and opening the single button. She slowly pulled the zipper down in a manner that would have been torturous if Derek hadn't had other things to concentrate on. He couldn't take her t-shirt off of her due to the active nature of her hands on his body, but he could reciprocate and unbutton, unzip, and pull down the jeans that were tightly encasing her lower limbs. So that is exactly what he did, albeit somewhat awkwardly, being unused to unbuttoning clothes that were on someone else's body. As he pushed down her pants, he felt a sensation of sheer relief as both his pants and boxers were pushed off his hips.
His erection sprang forward, already fully-formed and Monica gave a murmur of approval as she dropped to her knees. She had an irresistible urge to touch him, and reached for his cock with eager hands. She spent a few minutes stroking him and learning the feel of him in her hands before leaning forward to take him into her mouth. As she did this, her ever-busy hands continued to torment him with one hand fondling his balls as the other tickled the underside of his cock.
After teasing him almost to the point of release, she removed her mouth from his throbbing member and rose to her feet once more. She kissed him hard, letting him taste his own secretions on her lips as she gently maneuvered him towards the bed. Derek briefly felt the backs of his knees touch the end of his queen-size bed before Monica's elegant hands planted themselves firmly in the middle of his chest and pushed him onto it.
She quickly backed a little ways away from the bed, but when Derek moved to get off the bed and go to her, she playfully wagged her finger as she said, "Nuh-uh-uh. You just stay right there and let me take care of everything." Her arms crossed in front of her as she grabbed hold of the hem of her t-shirt. She slowly pulled her shirt upwards before removing it with a quick flourish and tossing it aside. She brought her hands down to her side, and stood posed for Derek as she had earlier in front of his door. His eyes roamed over her lush figure, now clad only in a matching bra and panty set of black lace; his face lit with a smile of appreciation and anticipation.
Intended response achieved, Monica turned, giving Derek an enticing view of her backside. Her hands came up behind her back to the fastenings of the flimsy excuse for a garment she was using as a bra and undoing the clasp. She then used one finger to slowly slide each strap off her shoulder individually. The bra fell from her body, but she didn't turn around. Instead, she bent forward, grasped the sides of the only remaining garment she wore, and peeled the lace panties off with a decidedly lack of haste. The excruciatingly slow uncovering of her perfect posterior caused Derek's cock to jump in reaction. He waited with poorly concealed impatience for her to turn towards him once more so that he could see her front free from all confinement.
When she turned around once again, Derek was not disappointed that Monica's was the first female he'd ever seen completely nude. Her breasts were full with large areolas that clearly showed her arousal and her pussy was shaved completely smooth, something that surprised him. Clothing removed, she stalked towards his prone form, crawling up both the bed and him when she reached them. When her lips were even with his cock, she halted her upward movement. One hand came up to stroke him briefly before the other hand came up and rolled a condom on his pulsing shaft.
Necessary protection provided, Monica sensuously writhed and wriggled her way up the rest of Derek's body. She stopped when his cock was comfortable nestled in the valley between her thighs. She kissed him deeply once more before using his chest as leverage for her hands. Her body lifted briefly and when she came back down his cock was firmly ensconced within her wet heat. Derek moaned in surprise and wonder at the feel of his dick being encased within a lovely velvet vise for the very first time.
Monica moved rhythmically up and down on her favorite portion of any male's anatomy, adding a circular motion of her hips every once in awhile for variety. Derek laid there for awhile letting Monica do all of the work before slowly beginning to thrust back, picking up her syncopated rhythm. Seemingly as one, Derek's hands came up to play with her breasts as Monica's nails raked over his flat nipples. The unexpected stimuli sent both crashing over the edge into mutual orgasm. Monica collapsed onto Derek's chest and Derek fell asleep, his now flaccid cock still trapped between her thighs.
When Derek awoke from his sex-induced slumber, there was no longer an exhausted brunette on top of him. In fact, Monica was nowhere to be found. There was a note laying on the nightstand next to the bed however. It was short and to the point: "Derek - I had a great time. See you tomorrow night for supper... I'll cook again. Monica." Derek was torn between satisfaction and annoyance. So that was what sex was like. Huh. It was almost enough to make him understand why people associated with each other.
After he'd had a shower and gotten dressed, he wandered through the dining room and kitchen to see if there was anything he needed to clean up. They certainly hadn't done the dishes last night. Their minds had been on other, more carnal, things. But to his surprise, there was nothing for him to do. Both the dining room and the kitchen had been restored to precisely the way they had been before Monica ever knocked on his door. If it hadn't been for the note she'd written, Derek could have dismissed the whole encounter as an extremely vivid wet dream. But the note was tangible and therefore the sex had been also.
That evening set the pattern for the next two. They progressed in almost exactly the same manner - Monica cooked dinner, they ate it accompanied by copious amounts of her special wine, they had incredibly energetic sex, he fell asleep, and when he woke up it was as if nothing at all had happened and everything was returned to normal. On the fourth evening, Monica didn't show up on his doorstep. She didn't knock, or call, or communicate with him in any way. She simply did not show up.
Derek was annoyed. She could have done something to let him know that she wasn't coming. He had been expecting her and almost looking forward to her presence. But if she was going to be inconsiderate, that was just fine with him. She'd once again confirmed that he was correct to loathe humanity as a whole. All human beings were like that - only wanting to use you and then throw you away like Monica had. Clearly she had got what she wanted from Derek and now wanted nothing more to do with him. He scowled. Well screw her, he thought. I never said I wanted to be her friend or her fuck toy. She just assumed that I'd have no problem with it and did what she wanted, took what she wanted. The bitch.
Derek decided to take his mind off of Monica by indulging in his favorite pastime - surfing the Internet. He spent a few happy hours wandering the vast realm of cyberspace. He was always happy to be online - whatever problems or concerns he had all just disappeared as soon as he became absorbed in the Internet.
Shortly after Derek heard the clock chime thrice to signify 3 am, something unexpected happened. The Internet disconnected him. Derek frowned - that didn't normally happen when he was online. He dismissed it as a power surge or some other minor, inconsequential thing and connected again. A minute later, he was staring in disbelief at the little icon on his systems tray that told him he was disconnected again! That had never happened to him before. The Internet was always connected and always there. It just was. The idea of being without it was unthinkable to Derek.
Derek didn't know what to do. So he did the only thing that seemed reasonable. He connected again. This time he stayed online for two minutes before it disconnected him. The light of stubborn determination gleamed in his eyes as he clicked the mouse to connect again. This time he was kicked offline in less than a minute. He couldn't even do anything on the Internet if he was only connected to it for 30 seconds at a time. Derek was determined, however, so he reconnected... and then reconnected again... and then reconnected some more. Each time he was disconnected he grew increasingly irate and annoyed. He was able to stay online for a whole five minutes once, but that was a rare occurrence. Generally, he was only online for somewhere between three seconds and three minutes.
On one of those three-minute intervals of connectivity, he had accessed the web page of his Internet provider. That took almost three minutes to load, so he connected again to view the contacts page. This gave him the 24-hour tech support number that he desperately needed after his connection had been so consistently aggravating. At his wits end, he did something he'd normally never consider - he voluntarily reached for the phone to make contact with another human being.
Of course, his brave and uncommon act did not immediately result in his hearing the voice of another person. Oh no, first he had to spend time going through a very irritating electronic menu of choices that grated on the ear and already frayed nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. The particular option he wanted on each section of the recording was obvious, but he impatiently listened to all of the options first before making his selection, just in case they decided to sneak in a better description of his problem at the very end of the recording. There wasn't though, so he pushed one for English, two for tech support, and one again for connectivity problems. The mechanized voice then promised that someone would be eager to assist him as long as he remained patient and waited until an agent was free. So he waited and they supplied him with a steady stream of Muzak that was supposed to be soothing, but was only annoying, peppered by a steady stream of interjections assuring him that yes, they did want to speak to him, but all their representatives were currently assisting other customers at this time. The voice urged him to 'please be patient, someone will be available to assist you shortly,' told him that his patronage was important to them, and that they 'looked forward to assisting you with all your communications needs.' After twenty minutes of such treatment, he was even more incensed than when he'd first picked up the phone.
Finally, the Muzak was interrupted once more, only this time by a click and the ringing noise of the phone being transferred. He was at last going to speak to another human being and get his problem solved. While he was rather unhappy that solving his problem required his turning to another person, he was nevertheless eager to get this problem resolved so that he could get back to doing what he loved online. But his hopes were dashed as he was transferred to yet another section of banal Muzak interspersed with ads for the telephone company.
Five minutes later the click and ring process repeated, only this time the ringing led to an actual person's voice saying, "Hello, this is Steve, how may I assist you this evening?"
He felt a bit awkward talking to someone on the phone, after all, it had been some time since he'd even had to place one, so he tried to be as polite as possible - firmly holding down the lid on the anger that had been simmering ever since Monica's failure to appear earlier. "Yes, hi," he began. "I've been having problems with my internet connection recently. It keeps disconnecting me and I can only stay online for a few minutes at most."
"Hmm," Steve said thoughtfully, "Well it definitely shouldn't be doing that - especially not so often. Could you tell me what operating system you're using?"
"Windows XP," Derek replied. He'd had to break down and spend money on a new computer last year - the one he'd previously had his parents had purchased, ran Win95, and could not even begin to keep up with what he wanted to do on the internet, especially given the slow connection speed he had.
"Okay then," Steve's irritatingly cheerful voice answered. "Let's do this then - go to the Control Panel, then to Phone & Modem options. Delete the connection for your ISP and then choose to make a New Connection. You should see a wizard pop up and then you can make another one manually. That might solve your problem as it could just be a corrupted connection. Got it?"
Derek frowned. Steve talked awfully fast and seemed almost eager to get rid of him. But he had been able to follow along well enough to do what he wanted. "Yes, I've created a new connection. Is there anything else I should do?"
"No, not right now," Steve responded. "All you need to do now is connect and see if it works. If it doesn't, then there are a few other things we can try. Can you stay on the phone with me to connect or do you need to get off?"
"I need to get off. There's only the one line."
"All righty then," came Steve's cheerfully enthusiastic reply. "If it doesn't work, you just call me right back."
Derek hung up without saying anything further. Assuming that this rather obvious fix worked, he wouldn't need to contact Steve again. And if he did, well, it still wouldn't matter much either way. He held his breath as he double-clicked on the icon for his connection and clicked 'dial'. Twenty-nine seconds later, his hopes for a working Internet connection were ripped to tiny pieces and then stomped on as he was again disconnected. He tried it one more time, just to be sure, and when he was yet again cut off, he called the tech support number for a second time.
He expelled a forceful sigh as he ran through the computerized menu choices and then heard Muzak as he was immediately put on hold yet again. He tried hard to hold onto his swiftly diminishing supply of patience as he waited... and waited... and waited. After another 15 minutes of twiddling his thumbs and three games of Spider Solitaire, he was finally put in touch with Steve again. Steve gave him a few little things to try, once more seeming in a hurry to get him off the phone, and Derek almost reluctantly hung up to try his suggestions.
It came as little surprise to Derek that none of the suggestions Steve had proffered as possible solutions actually solved anything. A state of resigned fatalism had replaced the anger and rather than spend more time in the telephone Hell known as 'on hold', he decided to go to bed. Maybe it was just a mistake on the part of the phone company and it would all be better tomorrow. He hoped. After all, didn't the cliché say that there was always hope? Clichés existed for a reason, so there must always be hope... somewhere. What Derek didn't realize is that although there's always hope, there's nothing that said hope couldn't abandon you in your darkest hour because hope isn't contractually obligated to always be with one particular person. Hope is a free agent, and can visit whom it pleases. But Derek had a twisted sort of faith in the cliché, so he went to bed, confident that everything would be all right when he woke up.
Derek slept very late that day, exhausted by the unaccustomed amount of stress he'd been under recently. In fact, he slept so heavily that it was well into evening before he woke up. He looked in disbelief at the clock that told him it was already 8 p.m... That meant he'd slept for slightly more than 16 hours! Two-thirds of a day wasted in sleep. Well, at least he felt better for having slept so well and so long. Surely the phone company had fixed his Internet connection by now. After all, they'd had an entire business day to rectify his problem.
Still, he couldn't see the point in tempting fate. Maybe it would be better if he got some other things done before trying to connect again. He briefly hoped that maybe Monica would be around tonight to explain why she hadn't shown up last night, but it was already too late for normal people to eat dinner now and he would have surely heard her if she'd knocked on the door. He fixed a solitary and simple meal that he ate in the kitchen, all the while painfully aware of both the depths of his loneliness and solitude and the contrast between this evening and the first evening Monica had coaxed him into sharing a meal.
After eating and cleaning up the few dishes he'd dirtied, Derek spent some time puttering around the house. Admittedly, what he did needed to be done (eventually), but really, the small tasks he found to occupy his time were simply a way of putting off going to his computer and seeing if the Internet was cooperating with him yet. So he did almost everything he could think of to delay the moment when he would try to connect again and his spirits would either soar or plunge dangerously depending on whether or not it was fixed.
Shortly after midnight, he could put it off no longer. He needed to get online. He absolutely had to see what was happening on the Internet without him. The curiosity and sheer craving he felt compelled him to go to his computer and turn it on. He waited impatiently as the screen that told him Windows was loading taunted him with its slowness. He was torn between need and fear - he needed to access the Internet like an addict needed heroin, but he feared what he would do if the Internet was unavailable. The boiling cauldron of anger and pain from yesterday was still bubbling ominously and Derek was extremely afraid of what would happen if/when the cauldron boiled over. After what seemed an excruciatingly long time, the log-in screen appeared and he entered in his password. Then the waiting game began anew as the icons and programs began to load on his computer. He double-clicked on the Internet icon as soon as it appeared, but the computer was naturally slow in responding and it was a few minutes before the actual dial-up screen showed up on his screen.
As he had before, he clicked on the dial button and waited with baited breath for the modem to go through the usual tasks of opening the port, dialing the number to connect, accessing the remote server, and verifying the supplied user name and password. As expected, all of these tasks went off without a hitch, but that hadn't been the problem before and it wasn't the problem now. Six minutes later, Derek was starting to relax - maybe it had been a temporary problem with the lines or something and all his troubles were over. Just as he became convinced that that was indeed the case... he was disconnected again. Maybe it was just a fluke, Derek thought, desperately clutching at straws to avoid coming to the realization that he still had a problem. I'll just try to connect again. I'm sure I'll stay online this time.
Fingers crossed, he tried to reconnect. But alas, all was for naught as he was simply kicked offline again in less than two minutes. So Derek heaved a sigh and picked up the phone to dial Steve the handy dandy tech support guy again. He went through the menu choices almost without thought, he was so used to pushing this number and then that by now. The computerized voice didn't affect him tonight - he barely even heard it, so deep was his distress. But when he was put on hold again in Muzak purgatory, that penetrated his consciousness and irritated the hell out of him. The sorry excuse for elevator music that they piped in through the phone lines was even more irritating tonight than it had been yesterday.