Tony Cho sliced up his piece of French toast into nine perfect squares and popped one into his mouth. He chewed, the cold maple syrup coating his tongue, the eggy bread sticking to his teeth. He watched his wife Stella standing in front of the stove as she tossed in the butter, plopped on another toast, flipped it midway—and Tony wondered if he loved her.
He found her comfortable. Like an old couch, he said to himself, wincing at the thought. But it was true—and it wasn't because they were in their eighth year of marriage and the passion had fizzled out. There'd never been any passion, just fear. When they met, she was Stella Oh and she'd been a friend of a co-worker's girlfriend, and Tony was thirty-two and lonely, terrified of living out his life as a bachelor. Stella, two years older and pining for a husband and a family, mirrored his desperation. Three months later they were married, and Frankie was born the following year.
Stella brought another dish of French toast and bacon and placed it on the table. Tony got up to get their son, the usual order of events on a Saturday morning.
"No," Stella said, sitting down next to him. "Let him sleep, okay?"
"Sure, honey," Tony said, sitting back down slowly. She poured herself a full glass of skim milk, her latest attempt at controlling her weight, switching from the two percent to no percent. He didn't yet consider Stella fat, but she was definitely heading in that direction, her hips getting wider and her butt starting to droop. They used to be the prettiest part of her, but now when he grabbed her there, his fingers sank into the doughy flesh.
She sat down and ate, not saying a word, her usual way of dealing with a bothersome subject. He knew he had to give her time, but he resented it and wished she'd hurry the hell up. Why did she have to ruin a perfectly good breakfast like this? It was a selfish act, a childish act, and he wished he were elsewhere—in a deserted diner of a dusty town, being served by a waitress who'd been there since the day it opened, a tough-looking broad in a pink and white uniform.
"Who's Debbie?" his wife asked.
Tony almost choked. Luckily he was able to force down a couple of gulps of juice while he gathered his thoughts. How did she possibly know about Debbie? And what did she know? And why was he so guilty, when he hadn't even done anything?
Stella didn't wait for him to answer. "You called that name out loud last night. While you were asleep."
Tony drained the rest of his glass and put it down. So that was it—she didn't know anything, really, just him muttering in his sleep. Though from the way she was acting, it was more than just a mutter. Debbie must've been in his dream, but he remembered nothing, and for a split second he felt cheated. Then he saw the concern and hurt in Stella's eyes and realized he had to say something.
"I don't think I know any Debbie," he said. "I mean, there are a couple of Deborahs at work, but I don't know any of them." He smiled, hoping to make light of the situation. "Why, was I having a good time with this Debbie?"
Her stare lingered on him; he wasn't getting off so easy. "It was the way you'd said it."
"I don't know," she said, finally realizing she was maybe being foolish. "Like you were . . . enjoying it."
"Stella, baby, come on. I was asleep, dreaming! Oh wait, it's coming back to me. It was a young Debbie Reynolds, and she was feeding me grapes and singing show tunes."
That did it—Stella snorted her snorty laugh and went back to her breakfast. "All right, you made your point. But next time, will you dream of me feeding you grapes?"
"Of course, dear," he said, pecking a kiss on her cheek. "I'll get Frankie now?"
She shook her head. "Just sit," she said, scooting her chair closer to his. She put her left hand on his thigh while forking up her food. He was finished with his breakfast and had a million things to do, but he smiled and he sat, reciprocating by laying his hand on her thigh and giving it a gentle squeeze. They always seemed to be out of sync somehow—every time she wanted to express some form of cutesy affection, it was the last thing on his mind. In fact, it was downright torturous, the way she forced him to be with her. What did she think about at times like this? Probably some loving moment frozen in her mind—their first date at the movies, his marriage proposal on bended knee, the first night of their honeymoon in Hawaii. To get back at her, he thought of anything but their lives together, his mind settling on last night's baseball game between the Mets and the Pirates. But thinking of that recalled Debbie, because on Friday he overheard her chatting on the phone, telling a friend that she was being dragged to the game by her father. As he'd watched the game last night, his heart jumped every time the camera zoomed into the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse of her on television.
Debbie Lowell worked in the marketing department, and she always looked fine. She was like all the other American girls who'd ever caught Tony's eye—blonde and pretty in a slutty, made up kind of way. She wore a pair of rimless eyeglasses that framed her hazel eyes, turning them ocean green whenever she put on the olive-colored cardigan that hung behind her chair when she wasn't there. His cube was on the opposite end of the floor, but because he was one of the roving system admins, he was constantly on the move, helping people with their computer problems. He made sure he passed by her desk once a day. She always said hello and smiled, and sometimes made small talk. She liked him, he could tell, but of course not as much as he liked her. He could tell that, too.
It was a game he played, and he felt it was harmless. According to the wedding photo perched on the top of her monitor, Debbie was married to a tall fellow whose full beard made him look distinguished and powerful. Compared to him, Tony felt like a short, bug-eyed, balding freak. Tony had endured the nickname "Ribbit" for four long years in high school, by guys who looked like this man in the picture.
Debbie was a safe fantasy, a thing he could never have. And he never would have her or anybody else like her. He certainly wasn't getting any younger, turning forty this year, that number just outrageous to him. How could he be forty already? Half, probably more than half, of his life was already gone, and he wondered where the hell it all went.
Where was all this bitterness coming from? He was probably just soaking up the Monday blues, the rest of the week stretching out into eternity. His voicemail light was already blinking when he arrived, and even before he could put his briefcase down on his desk, his phone rang. It was going to be one of those days.
"Tony, oh thank God, where were you?" It was his supervisor, Bob Hardaway, who sounded panicked, which wasn't unusual. He treated every little snag as if it were the coming of the apocalypse. He wasn't a bad guy to work for, but his melodrama was sometimes tough to take.
"Traffic held me up, but I'm here now, so what's going on?"
"Oh, it's bad, very bad. I don't think I've seen anything like it, and I've been in this business for twenty-four years." Tony waited. "We got hit with a virus, Tony, the whole damn company."
For once, his boss's overreaction seemed appropriate. It was a nasty virus, one that flooded the entire computer network so badly that no information could move, no different than what Tony went through in his car this morning to get to work. If the network was like a highway, it was as if every single person who owned a vehicle in the state attempted to drive on the same road at the same time.
"Was it an email attachment?"
"I don't know. I can't get online because they killed the proxy. We're in for it this time."
In Bob's office, the men put their heads together. There was one other person in the IS department besides Bob and Tony, a guy straight out of technical school whom Bob had hired for his Internet knowledge. As far as Tony could tell, all Mike Cohen knew about the Internet was surfing for porn, because that's what he did in the server room in the basement. But he did have some good ideas, and while they were talking he ran a scan on all the computers in their department, in an attempt to isolate the sources of the problem. It ran slowly, but it seemed to be working.
During their meeting, Bob received a phone call from headquarters that explained the situation. Apparently they were one of the first ones hit with the virus, so they didn't even have a name for it yet, but they could tell that the primary source of infection was through webservers.
"Well that's pretty simple," Tony said. "We just turn'em all off until they release a patch."
"Sounds good to me," Mike said. "I'll do it."
They only had four of them, and they were all located in the basement. By the time Mike returned, the computer scan that was running had sped up, but there was still a bottleneck. Among the three computers whose names kept coming up was LOWELLD. Tony volunteered to visit that one and FRANCISK, who was a couple of cubes away from Debbie. Tony wondered why either one of them would be running webservers on their computers; Debbie was in marketing and Kathy was in accounting. Perhaps the computers had come preinstalled with it and they had accidentally triggered it, though that seemed unlikely.
He stopped at Kathy Francis's first. She wasn't there, but her computer was on, and it was chugging so hard that he had to shut it down at the switch. He crawled underneath her desk to unplug the network cable from the computer, then scribbled a quick note on a yellow Post-It and stuck it on her monitor screen, telling her to leave it off.
As he approached Debbie's cube, he noticed someone else with her. It was Kathy, who'd commandeered the chair from the neighboring cube and was sitting next to her. They were in such deep conversation that Tony had to knock on the side of the cube wall to get their attention.
Both women looked up, and Tony could see why they would be friends. Like Debbie, Kathy also wore a heavy amount of makeup and dressed well, though she wasn't half as pretty.
"I'm sorry for the interruption, but I need to shut down your computer, Debbie," Tony said.
"I gotta be getting back anyway," Kathy said, getting up.
"I turned your computer off, too," Tony told her. "Did you know that you're both running webservers on your computers?"
"Really?" Kathy said. "I had no idea." But she did have an idea; it was as plain as the fake eyelashes glued to her eyelids. She was lying, and it rubbed Tony the wrong way. Why did people have to lie about stupid stuff like this?
"Your computer's been quarantined, so please don't turn it on," he said.
"Okay," Kathy said, and scurried back to her desk.
Tony turned to Debbie, who offered a rueful smile and patted the seat next to hers. With that one little gesture, Kathy's transgression was instantly forgotten, and so was everything else. It took him a couple of seconds to remember why he'd come.
"I gotta do one thing," he said, and dipped under her desk. She rolled her chair out but he could still smell her, a hint of a flowery perfume that made him want more, to sniff every inch of her body like a bloodhound. He unplugged the network cable, flipped off the switch, and took his seat next to the woman of his dreams.
"Don't be so hard on Kathy," she said. "She just didn't want to get in trouble." Then she told him the real story: Kathy was trying to better herself by taking a webmastering class, and she'd been trying to learn at work in her spare time. She'd installed it on Debbie's computer because she wanted another test machine. She kept talking, and Tony wished she'd never stop; it was glorious being so close to her like this. There wasn't a single blemish on her face, as if she were a perfect porcelain doll. Her red lips were so bright that he wondered if they were real. How long did it take to paint a whole new face, an hour, maybe two? Every weekday morning, and probably weekends as well. Women like Debbie never left the house looking the way Stella did, her hair hurriedly banded into a ponytail, wearing the same pair of sweatpants she wore the day before. "She's helping me get through a tough time," she was saying, and Tony realized he'd been listening but hadn't processed a single word. He nodded, hoping that would be the right thing to do. "Tony," she said—her lips forming a perfect red O, jesus, it was beautiful—"you know my username on the network?"
He was thankful for the change in subject. "Sure, LOWELLD."
"Is it possible to switch it to something else?"
"Well, yeah, though I don't think it's done too often. Why would you want to do that?"
As soon as he asked the question, her monitor caught his eye and provided the answer. He couldn't believe he hadn't noticed it. The photo of her and her handsome husband, in a silver frame sitting above the screen, was gone.
That night, Tony couldn't fall asleep. He kept seeing the network management screen on his computer, where he found LOWELLD and replaced it with MCINTYRED.
"Mc-inty-red," he whispered to himself. That's what he'd call her when he saw her next. And she'd do that gorgeous frown he's seen her do, the one she reserved for observations that both confused and impressed her. He'd explain it to her, and she'd cross her lovely legs and laugh and that's all the high he'd need for the rest of the day.
He had scrolled to the middle of the alphabetized list and highlighted her username with his mouse. He wiped out her past with a tap of the Delete key, and as he typed in her new login, he savored every keystroke, each press and springback a blessing. Debbie Lowell was now Debbie McIntyre, a single woman, and she both thrilled and terrified him. He'd never considered infidelity, at least not seriously. What would Stella say if he told her he was in love with another woman, that he'd be leaving her? And Frankie? Would he be limited to seeing his son every other weekend? That's what happened to Will Baxter, his friend at work, who had barely managed to swim out of a messy divorce.
Tony watched his wife as the moonlight seeping through the curtain illuminated her calm, sleeping face. They'd never argued about anything important: having a child, buying the house, switching jobs, these life-changing events had flowed on by like the gentle currents of a slow river. All this time he'd fooled himself into thinking this peacefulness was what he wanted, but he was wrong. He was dying. They were both dying, and maybe this was the right thing for her, too. In time, she would find the man who electrified her, made her see what a useless life this one was.
He was rationalizing, and he knew it. And it was stupid to lose sleep over this when he didn't even know Debbie was interested. But there was something there, the way she'd leaned over as they talked in her cube the day the virus hit, her eyes never losing contact with his, her thick, wavy curls reflecting a hundred different hues of gold as stripes of sunlight beamed through the window blinds. She touched him at one point, three of her manicured fingers temporarily settling down on his kneecap as she tilted her head back and laughed. The contact probably lasted less than a second, but after he returned to his desk and reveled in the afterglow of their conversation, he could still feel a warmth there, as if she'd branded him.
He thought of her as he slid off to sleep; he thought of her when he woke up. He thought of her during breakfast, and he thought of her while sitting in traffic. So it seemed perfectly natural that when he got into work and sat down in front of his computer, he'd see an email from her.
TO: francisk, dillw, millerj, juddt, brownm, hand, fouquartg, mccowanm, bloks, malowickim, tiltonm, bennettj, whited, chot
yes folks, its that time of the month. no, not that kind. (ha ha!) afterhours at max's tonite, 6pm til ???? b there or b very very square.
Initially, he felt hurt. When Debbie had first joined the company, he got these mass emails from her for the first couple of months, but they stopped soon after. He'd always assumed that was because the get-togethers had petered out, but he hadn't considered that he'd been continually excluded, that the afterhours had been going on just fine without him.
But what was he complaining about? She was inviting him back, and this time, he wasn't going to screw it up. He replied, telling her to expect him there. She wrote back immediately.
SUBJECT: re: afterhours
i was hoping you'd come.
It was a strange day—he'd look at the computer clock at the bottom right corner of his monitor and couldn't believe how slowly time was passing, and at other times, two hours would just disappear. He saw Debbie's reply in many different formats: her disembodied red lips forming the five words silently, or the letters running across like a banner attached to the end of an airplane, or simply just the sound of her voice as she whispered into his ear.
He called Stella at her company when he knew she wouldn't be there. As always, she left a long, annoying announcement telling what day it was, where she was, and if you'd please have a very nice day.
"Honey, I need to do some emergency maintenance on the servers tonight, so don't expect me until about 10pm or so." He paused, then added: "I love you."
When the phone rang an hour later and the Caller ID screen revealed Stella's work number, he didn't pick it up. Every ring was like a prick against the skin of his conscience. "I love you too," she'd said at the end of her voicemail, the automatic reply they'd fed each other for the last eight years. That's what he had to concentrate on—that for all the time they'd been together, he and Stella had been living the biggest lie of all. What he was trying to do now was right that wrong, even if it took a bunch of wrongs to get there.
His day took a turn for the worse when his lie to his wife became reality. A key server suffered a catastrophic hard drive failure late in the day, and although it didn't take him until ten to rebuild the array, he didn't get to Max's until half past seven.
Except for a couple of people sitting at the bar, the restaurant was virtually empty, so it wasn't difficult to find his group. They sat in the far corner, two square tables slid together to form one long one. Debbie had invited thirteen people but only seven were there, Tony making eight. Debbie saw him and hailed him over, pointing to the empty chair next to her.
"I thought you were standing me up," she said.
Tony told her about the server going down, and she listened. Not like the way Stella listened, who didn't even bother to meet his eyes before going back to folding the laundry or chopping the vegetables or whatever the hell she was doing, him having to follow her from room to room like some needy dog, just to share a bit of his day. But he had no right to be angry about that—he did the same to her. And even when they did talk it wasn't anything like this, Debbie genuinely curious and interested about his work, a genuine flow of information and emotion between two people. All he and Stella ever did was whine to one another, the conversations going nowhere.
Tony recognized the people around him, but he didn't know any of them by name. Debbie introduced him to everyone, and they raised their mugs with glassy, semi-drunk eyes. Debbie was somewhat intoxicated as well, her knees bumping into him as she related the latest gossip around the office. After his second beer, he began to feel pretty good himself.
"Mc-inty-red," he said, and just as he'd imagined, she bestowed him her special frown, furrowing her thin, plucked eyebrows, her lips in an exaggerated pout. "That's your username."
"Oh, that's cute!" she said, leaning into him, their shoulders touching. "For that, you deserve another beer." As she grabbed the pitcher and topped him off, Tony caught the jealous eyes of two men from the bar. He saw the scene from their vantage point: the little bug-eyed Korean guy making it with the gorgeous blonde. It was a fairy tale come true, and he didn't need Debbie to kiss him to turn him into a prince. He already felt like one.
"Hey," he said, surprised at the smoothness of his own soused voice, "you wanna do lunch later this week?"
Certainly he'd heard the phrase of someone's eyes lighting up, but he'd never actually witnessed it until now. It was the way she slightly cocked her head, the glow of the lamp catching her hazel eyes. When she said, "I'd love to," Tony was no lowly prince—he was king.
There was something different about Will Baxter. As they were having lunch at the company cafeteria, sitting in one of the booths with the view of the duck pond, Tony figured out what it was: he'd shed some weight, maybe twenty pounds.
"Run every other day," Will said, munching on cylinders of baby carrots, "four miles." He was eating strangely, too, on one of those low-carb diets, his tray without any pasta or bread, just heaps of vegetables and a mound of turkey deli meat. "Gotta keep fit when you're back on the market, you know?"
Tony nodded and chuckled. He was glad the conversation was finally heading in the right direction; it'd been agony getting there, having to listen to one insipid tale after another, inane customer stories that Will of course considered hilarious. Tony had forgotten how nice it was that he didn't have to deal with him on an everyday basis anymore. He and Will had worked together two years ago, until Will got out of the computer admin business altogether. He was in sales now, which was where he belonged. When they'd shared the same office, Will never stopped talking.
"Hey," Tony said, pushing an overburned French fry around his dish, "can I ask you something personal?"
"'You can ask it,'" Tony said, in a faux-girl voice, "'but I don't know if you'll get an answer.' That's what this last girl I was dating, Wanda, kept telling me whenever I asked her that question. I liked Wanda. She was one of those deep girls, you know, moody and brooding, always dressed in black and listening to depressing songs . . . "
"It's about your divorce."
"Water under the bridge, thank god. Ask away, my friend."
But it really wasn't about his divorce—it was more about what led up to his divorce, or more accurately, his affair with Diane, the girl for whom he'd left Marcy. As his officemate, Tony had heard it as it all happened, the hushed conversations with the other woman, the excuses Will cooked up for his wife.
"Not gonna lie to you, Tony," Will said. "Wasn't easy. Hardest part is not having my little girl in my life 24/7, but hey, it's happened to half of her friends, too, so they're in a kind of a group, all these girls with divorced parents. But man, it was the right thing to do for me, and that's what life is all about, isn't it? Marcy and I hadn't even been sleeping together, you know, fucking, for a good year. What the hell is that? Tried to work things out, of course, even saw a shrink together, but nothing worked."
"Is she still mad at you?"
"Always been the kind to hold a grudge, so yeah, she's still mad at me. Probably because I'd been the one to do it, not her. Wait a minute—why all these inquiries about my sordid little life? You're not . . . ?"
"No, no, of course not," Tony said, fully expecting this question. Last night he'd concocted a detailed story about his cousin who was having problems, how it all came to a head when they went on a cruise on their seventh anniversary. He'd been afraid Will might suspect him, but after telling him his made-up tale, Tony felt stupid for being so elaborate. His friend nodded vaguely, couldn't care less.
"You tell your cousin that he should do what's right for him," Will said. "All I know is this: I wanted to be happy, so I acted in whatever ways I could to be happy. Plenty of people think I'm a selfish louse, but look, Tone, look." He pointed at Tony with a celery stick, then pointed to himself. "Look at us. This is all we have. We're born, we die. Time passes in between, so we make the best of what we have."
Three days later, Tony sat in the same exact booth, waiting for Debbie, his palms slick with sweat, his underarms feeling damp and cold. They'd agreed to meet at quarter before two, but she called at one-thirty to tell him she might be running late. It was now almost two o'clock and the cafeteria would be closing any minute and he so badly wanted to see her—and there she was, walking stiffly in her high heels, her loosely permed hair bouncing with every step, getting in line with her tray in hand at the cash counter. She wasn't a graceful girl, but she'd do. He chuckled at the thought: She'd do just fine. Last night he made love to Stella, but it hadn't been easy. He kept getting soft, which was how it'd been for the better part of last year. Her familiar body bored him, and the only way to stay up was to imagine Debbie underneath him instead of his wife. It wasn't the first time he'd pretended Stella was someone else during sex, but in those times, dreaming of Victoria's Secret models or some movie starlet, he knew it was just something he did to finish what he'd started. Last night was different—last night, it seemed as if he wasn't pretending at all but had rather somehow traveled into the certain future, that what he was experiencing was as inevitable as the rising of the sun.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, sliding into the booth, "that conference call lasted forever."
"No worries," he said. "I'm glad you made it."
"God, I'm starved! Excuse me while I eat like a pig."
And she did—she ripped into her ham sandwich, spooned up her split pea soup, stabbed a pile of romaine leaves and shoved it into her mouth. He was reminded of Stella, how her appetite had amplified when she'd become pregnant. On the way back from the doctor's to confirm what they'd already suspected, they stopped at the supermarket and happily bought a gallon of vanilla ice cream and a jar of half-sour pickles, neither of which Stella liked. It was a symbolic act of their new life together. That evening, while sharing a bowl of ice cream—
Tony squeezed his eyes shut, in an effort to wring out the movie playing in his mind. He even shook his head in hopes of ridding Stella, but as he watched Debbie eat, he was helplessly dragged back to his wife. It almost felt as if she were sitting next to him, that plain, round face with its flat nose and tiny eyes, her thin lips struggling to pout before a kiss. Now he was hearing her—"I love you, Tony," she said. He heard it over and over again, every single "I love you" she'd ever uttered to him strung together one after the other, an eternal, demented song that refused to leave his head. Like the virus that had suddenly infected the company's computers last week, Stella had been merely lying dormant inside him all this time, striking out when it mattered the most.
He sighed. He'd underestimated his guilt—or love, or devotion, or whatever this was.
"Tony?" Debbie asked. "Hellooooo?"
"I'm sorry," he said. "My mind left me for a second."
"It's okay. Mine leaves for days at a time." She dabbed her lips with a napkin, leaving pinkish smudges all over. "Did you enjoy your burger?"
"It was good," he said. "How about your sandwich?"
"Good." She pushed her tray out of the way and leaned in, her hands clasped. She took in a breath, let it out, and smiled at him. "Can I be frank with you, Tony?" He nodded. I love you, Stella said, her face bobbing above Debbie like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. "Remember last week, when the virus hit our company?"
He noticed for the first time how very nervous she was. He'd never seen her perspire before, but that's exactly what she was doing, tiny dews forming on her forehead, the skin above her upper lip glistening, a droplet slowly crawling down from her temple to her cheek. He imagined the rest of its path, the fluid gathering at the tip of her chin and falling onto the white tabletop, all of it in his head but so real at the same time.
Debbie, like every woman, like Stella, sweated. And she probably argued. And no doubt complained. The reality of his potential affair with his fantasy woman was breaking through, weighing him down like a sinker on a hook.
"Well," she said, casting down her eyes, "I'm afraid I wasn't exactly telling you the truth."
And she lied, too. As she explained the story, Tony flipped between feeling better and worse. It actually hadn't been Kathy Francis who was studying to be the webmaster, it was her. She was the one who'd put the webserver on Kathy's machine, not the other way around. Because she wanted that Internet job that'd been posted for his department for the last three months.
"What job?" Tony asked.
"You know, that junior Internet position for support and development."
Bob had hired the porno surfer, Mike Cohen, for that job over two months ago. Didn't she know Human Resources was notorious for being late with updating the internal job board? Obviously not. So the only reason why she'd been hanging around him was in hopes he'd put in a good word for her. Tony didn't know how to feel about that—he wanted to use her, too, he supposed, so maybe they were even. What he did feel was a combination of relief and disappointment, that his life wouldn't be turned upside down, but ultimately, he was left with fatigue; he wished he were home and in bed, the blanket pulled over his head, the world a soothing darkness.
"Good luck," he said at the end of their lunch. He didn't tell her that the position had already been filled. Why bother? She'd find out on her own; it wasn't his problem. His boss got paid big bucks to let down people all the time.
"Thanks, Tony. Do you think I have a chance of getting it?"
"Sure," he said, though later he wished he could have said something else, somewhat wise, like "We all have a chance to get what we want, if we want it enough." But of course, if he were able to say something interesting like that on the fly, he wouldn't be who he was.
Back at his desk, he saw the blinking light signaling a new voicemail.
"Hey," Stella said, "can you pick up a gallon of skim on the way home? Thanks, honey. I love you."
Tony killed the message and hung up the phone. He stared at his screensaver, the one that made it look like you were traveling through outer space, the bright stars streaking by, leaving you behind. What was love, anyway? He remembered the old Star Trek episodes he caught in reruns as a teenager, some sexy alien girl asking Captain Kirk to explain the mysterious concept of love. Usually Kirk had some vaguely condescending answer, but one time he just kissed her and that was enough, her blue eyes blooming with understanding. Ridiculous as it was, a part of him had desperately wished it to be true, that love could be that easy.