Christmas and New Year passed, leaving a trail of torn wrapping paper and shed pine needles. February rolled around, fresh and clean, bringing hints of spring and warmer weather. It was a weekend and the Summers clan were out for lunch…and on most Sundays, they usually worshipped at that greatest of American institutions.
Luke' s motto was this: a good Sunday lunch made up for a Sunday afternoon given over to school work. Okay, to be more honest, that usually ended up being a Sunday evening; several hours often consumed with trying to complete the homework assignments that were currently coming thick and fast, and should have been done the day before!
Still, there were more important things than homework on a late Sunday morning, and that day, they were already getting ready to leave the house...because among all the things it was good at, America really knew how to do food!
This eating out lifestyle was a far cry from life back in the UK. There, other than going to McDonalds or to a pizza place as a treat before the movies, they’d hardly EVER gone out. Here, people seemed to do it all the time. He knew some families that almost never dined at home, spending the week trailing around the huge variety of restaurants. IHOP, Chilli's, Cracker Barrel, TGI Fridays, Frankie & Benny's, Outback, Ruby Tuesdays—Luke was happy to eat at any of them, but eight times out of ten, they all voted for Longhorn for a serious meat fest!
* * *
Extract from Luke's notes
Even Dad had been seduced by the eating culture when we got here, and would often leave the house early on a workday, to 'do' breakfast, as they all called it. It was code for an early morning start to the work schedule: a business meeting with colleagues, over hash browns. No wonder he’d put on weight!
I'd been out to breakfast plenty of times, too. Trust me, I've got no problems eating the food. It was working through all the choices that had been freaky at first!
Back in England, the few times we'd eaten breakfast in a restaurant (and it was usually if we'd been doing B&B in some cheap hotel), there had usually only been a couple of options. You could either go for the artery blocking ‘Full English’, or the less than appetizing, and slightly anaemic, ‘Continental Breakfast’.
That was it. Whatever option you chose, you got whatever was dropped on the plate in front of you.
Not here. Here, whatever you ordered, the choices and decisions were complicated. It went something like this:
“Oh…errr, yes, please.”
“On a plate...?” A bit of British banter, but the girl remains stony.
“Boiled, fried, scrambled, poached, steamed, baked, coddled or omletted," she offers. "Or we do Benedict too."
Who the hell is Benedict? "Oh, right…nice....mmm..." Buying time. "What was the list, again? Never mind…I’ll have fried.”
“Over hard, over medium, over easy?’
Over here would be good…
“Do you do sunny side up?”
Then you had to go through it all again with the bread, having access to every variety and stage of toasted-ness!
GRITS? Now there was a culture clash! For a young lad like me, coming here from London, the idea of eating grit seemed completely hilarious!
The first thing to avoid getting these breakfast grits confused with were WalMart Gritters. They were a different kind of grit altogether. Theirs was a grit you couldn’t eat it; neither would you find the Gritters in the huge parking lot, throwing sand at everyone, just in case there was snow on them! No, the WalMart Gritters were a bunch of extremely jovial old folk (clearly well into retirement), who wore the WalMart vest and stood at the door to grit (greet) you, as you entered the store.
Paid to ensure you were having a nice day, the Gritters were fabulous people!
Okay – enough said about food! Where were we?
Oh yes. Longhorn!
* * *
However, though it was the weekend, that particular day that they were pulling into the restaurant parking lot wasn't actually a Sunday. In fact, it was a Saturday, and all four of them were heading up to the lake on a day that was bright and sunny and full of promise.
The reason for this change in the usual arrangement was that they were due to go over to visit the Kears the following day, and that messed up the normal schedule. To make up for it as they headed to the lake for an afternoon of sailing, they unanimously voted to worship at the steakhouse on the way.
Longhorn was what it was—and as steakhouses go, it delivered well enough for the price you paid. Not fast food, but fast enough so that they could get your table back in a reasonably short time and give it to someone else waiting in line!
Arriving at the restaurant well ahead of the crowds, they planned to eat early. Slamming the doors on their minivan, Luke realized it was a good job the parking lot had plenty of space for them to fit the boat trailer in, too. Inside, it wasn't busy at all.
The four of them were promptly seated in a booth around one of the secluded round tables the type they preferred and, within a few minutes, a girl came to take their order. They recognized her at once, and Luke felt a teasing kick from under the table.
He gave his brother a warning glare.
She'd been working there a couple of months —one of the many young people his age who took part-time jobs in places like Longhorn to earn extra cash in their spare time. He had even wondered about getting a job himself, but hadn't succumbed. Maybe in a year's time when he had his license and some wheels?
"Hello Stacey." Their mum smiled warmly as the young girl gave their table a quick wipe-over with a cloth. “How are you today?”
"Hi y'all!" Stacey beamed and then whipped out her pad and pencil. “I’m good, thanks!” The smile wandered over to Luke and her eyes twinkled. "This is a nice surprise. Don't you folks usually come in on a Sunday?"
He caught another less than subtle smirk from Simon along with another prod under the table. Retaining a polite demeanor above the waist, he kicked back under the cover of his mum answering Stacey.
Pad at the ready and unaware of the exchange, Stacey pressed on. "So, what can I get y'all to drink?" They ordered their usual iced, sweet tea, and she bustled off.
"She’s a nice girl," Lucy noted, apparently to nobody in particular, though Luke studiously avoided catching her eye all the same. "I think her mother teaches at Creek Elementary."
Despite his mum's unsubtle musings, he had to agree. Unlike many of the girls her age, Stacey didn’t doll herself up with layers of make-up. However, that didn’t mean she was plain. She returned promptly, balancing huge glasses on a tray—not that they actually needed to be big. That was the other thing that made America such a great nation—free refills!
Stacey deftly distributed the drinks, pulled out her pencil once more, and chimed in her dulcet southern tones, "So - y'all ready to order?" They nodded and she began to work around the table, until she got to him.
"Will that be the ribeye, as usual, Luke?"
Luke blinked, trying to look cool, whilst his innards remained fully flustered.
Oh my God! Not only had she remembered his name, but even what he liked to order!
"Oh...errr...yes, I guess so." It came out in a less than distinguished croak. "Errrr...thanks."
“Well done?” Stacey eyed him coyly, and Luke saw his dad smirk from behind his menu.
You're welcome!" She beamed at him. As he happened to be sitting on the end of the circular seat that curved around their table, she 'accidentally' nudged him, as she leaned over to gather the menus.
Once she was out of earshot, Simon made some rather obscene kissing noises. "She has SO got the hots for you!"
“Pack it in!" Luke threw him a dirty look.
His dad's smirk grew. "She does seem nice..."
Luke glowered. Actually, his dad was right. She was nice. In fact she was a stunner, with a personality to go with it. It wasn’t that he objected to the flattery—it was just things were a little more complicated than that.
"She's not my type..."
"Oh yes—and what is your type then?" teased his dad, leaning back, amused. "It's obvious she likes you. You could date worse! Why don't you ask her out?"
What was his type? To that, Luke had no answer and sipped at his drink, grinding his teeth in silence. Simon giggled, earning himself another kick.
"Ouch...stop it," Simon whined and rubbed his leg, milking the moment. "Mum, tell him to stop kicking me!"
"Okay—break it up, you lot,” ordered their mum, though she wore a grin too. “When, and who, Luke chooses to date is his own business. He certainly DOESN’T need you two to arrange it for him! Let's change the subject shall we?"
"Well, I'm going to the salad bar!” Simon sucked at his drink and then scrambled out of the booth. “But, I think I need a pee first."
Lucy called after him. "Don’t forget to wash your hands!" She considered the menu herself. "I think I'll pass on dessert today. I'll have some salad too." With that, she followed her youngest out of the booth, leaving Luke and his dad alone, both of whom were holding out for both meat AND dessert.
* * *
As he waited with his eldest son, Geoff Summers picked up the menu again, squinting at it with some difficulty. He pushed his glasses up out of the way and squinted again, trying different combinations of glasses and distances to see if any of them made a difference. Frowning, he grunted, "Either I need new specs, or they're making these menus smaller!"
Luke couldn’t hold back a grin. "It's ’cos you spend all day looking at computers and spreadsheets, Dad. And you're getting old!" He smirked as he picked up a menu. "Do you want me to read it out for you?"
"Alright, alright. I know you think I'm an old fart,” Geoff returned. “You don't need to remind me." He gave up trying to see the menu, put his glasses back on and looked meaningfully over the top of them. "And you might want to be nice—you still need my signature down at the DMV for your provisional!”
“And a car!”
“Not till September.”
Luke pulled a face, but Geoff and Lucy were adamant on this one. He might be getting his license soon, but waiting a few months before getting his own car wouldn’t do the kid any harm. In Geoff’s opinion, sixteen was far to young for kids too be behind a wheel by themselves—and far too many who thought themselves ace drivers had accidents within the first couple of months.
Sixteen already. He shook his head and sighed.
The two of them were sitting next to each other in the booth and he stretched out his legs, comfortably. Lowering his voice, he broached what had been on his mind that morning. "Mum and I were talking about you last night.”
Luke perked up. “Oh yes? Good or bad – and what about?”
“Surgery.” He paused and tried not to grin. In the circumstances, grinning wouldn’t help. “We got the last paper you printed out for us.” On a regular basis, for months now, Luke had been printing out and passing them what he saw as relevant information with regards to circumcision. He'd become a persistent little blighter...a bit like his father, Lucy had complained!
“And?" Luke raised his eyebrows looking hopeful. "Did you read it?”
“We glanced through it." It was a generous claim. Geoff kept his voice low, under the cover of the hum of background chatter. They’d been talking about the subject, on and off, for a while now. It wasn’t new. "I see you’re still keen to have the operation?"
His eldest son shrugged and slid the menu back into the central holder. "Nothing’s changed, if that’s what you mean.”
Playing with the glass in front of him, Geoff nodded. He hadn’t really expected anything different.
However, arguing about it had been going on far too long and wasn’t getting them anywhere. Enough was enough, and these endless ‘papers’ needed to stop. Lucy was probably right and, just like with the car, Luke should wait and grow up a bit more first. But somehow Geoff needed to find the right way to talk some sense into his son.
"Luke, can I ask you a question?"
"What if we’d still been living in the UK?"
He waited a moment, pausing while some other diners passed out of earshot. "I mean would you have still wanted to be circumcised, if we were there?" Surely Luke could see what the point was—that there wasn't really any basis for all these papers!
Luke shrugged. "I doubt it..."
"...but we're not living there are we," he finished.
Geoff’s forehead furrowed. "But, then why..."
Luke interrupted him and posed his own question. "Dad, do you think we’ll ever go back to living in England?"
Coming from Luke, that one took him by surprise, though he'd considered the issue many times himself. Wondering where the kid was going with it, he sat up and leaned into the rounded table as he considered the question again.
"Sometime, probably. When, I'm not sure."
When the time was right, he’d always assumed they would go back. But when that would be…who knew?
The job here was good. In fact, after only fifteen months staying with the bank that had brought him over, he'd been poached by bigger and better, who’d teased him away with a big hike in his salary, such that the school fees didn't really test them as much as they had.
He’d performed well with the new company and, less than eighteen months into the job, his growing reputation had been rewarded by his own department with another salary increase and a team to lead.
But jobs came and went. It might not last forever; things might move them on. He shrugged as he computed the options and continued. "At the very least, it won’t be until schooling for the two of you has finished; probably college, too. Then would be a good time to go back.”
“But why would we want to?”
“Well, why wouldn’t we?" Geoff countered. "I don’t get you? It’s…”
“Home?” Luke completed, with a wry shrug.
"That’s the thing, Dad. It's not home anymore. Not for me." Luke spoke softly, pouring salt from the shaker onto the table, stirring complex patterns into it. “When we came here, I admit, I hated it—but that's years ago. It’s different now. Everything I know is here, and all my friends. I’m even beginning to sound American, for goodness sake!”
Geoff pondered the salt and the changes that had had their impact on his family.
When it came to his career, the move to the USA had been timely. Like the release of a bowstring he’d shot upwards on the corporate ladder much more rapidly than if he’d stayed put.
On the other hand there had been a price to pay. Grandparents were one. They were getting too old to travel and there was little enthusiasm at this end to keep dragging the family back that way either. When they’d first made the transition, he’d had in the back of his mind that they would go back when his and Lucy’s parents got older. But was that really going to happen? Neither he nor Lucy were ‘only children’, but he still felt guilty.
Perhaps I need to take a visit over there soon?
"And what about Si?" Luke continued, interrupting his train of thought. "After college, he'll probably join some big-shot engineering firm or teach math or something!"
Geoff grinned. "Or worse, he could become an accountant!" His youngest could probably do and be anything he wanted, once he figured out what that was!
"And then what would you do?" Luke added, taking it a bit further as Stacey passed in front of them again. "You and Mum?” He lowered his voice for them only. "And what if I did fall in love with someone from around here—maybe even married, and we wanted to make our home here? Simon too? Would you go back to the UK, or would you stay here with us?"
Geoff shrugged, at a loss. "This is a bit heavy for Longhorn isn't it?" Neither he nor Lucy had answers to such big questions. Belatedly, he realized that his sons would need to make their own choices in life – and those choices were likely to be to remain in America.
"Yep—a bit" Luke grinned. “You're probably right, but you started it! You're the one who wanted to know if I’d still have wanted to be cut if we’d been in England."
Geoff grimaced. Even the word gave him the shivers!
At that point, Stacey swung by to check on them once more and to check their glasses. "You folks need a refill?"
The conversation switched.
"No, we're good thanks!" Luke smiled at her.
"Have you made a mess, Luke?" Seeing the trail of salt scattered in front of him, she scolded him playfully.
She reached across him and skillfully smoothed it away, leaving him with a faint scent of roses.
Luke had leaned back to study her as she did her job, though what he was thinking was hidden as she moved on and began to take an order from another table.
She was a nice girl Geoff had to admit as he watched them interact. It was funny, but he’d never seen Luke around girls much— probably because of the school they went to—but this one was definitely flirting with him! It was a little weird to consider that Luke would probably start dating before too long.
It might even be this girl...
"The thing is, Dad," said Luke, turning to him again after she’d gone. "Supposing I do date and get into a serious relationship with someone here?"
"Someone like Stacey?" He could do a lot worse!
Luke pulled a face. “Don’t start THAT again!” He shrugged and kept his voice low. "Who knows? The point is, everyone here is used to young guys like me being circumcised—if you get what I mean. It's the norm. That's why I want to be the same, because this is where I live now. The truth is, when other guys in the locker rooms see me, they tend to think I'm a bit of a freak – it’s not cool! What if I married someone here, and they thought the same?"
"Oh... I guess I never really thought about it like that " Geoff was stumped. It wasn't something he'd ever had to face. In fact he’d never much talked about anything to do with sex with the boys. Frankly, he'd never been good at anything related to the birds and bees, and had left all that kind of thing to Lucy.
Still, the penny began to drop.
Stacey passed by them quite frequently over the next hour, and Luke seemed to enjoy chatting with her in a relaxed and friendly enough way, though whether he would ever date someone like her, Geoff had no idea. However, the likelihood that whoever either of his sons dated and even married would be American...well that was only just beginning to hit home.
Comfortably fed and watered, they returned to their van. Today the lake, and tomorrow the Kears. He was glad they were going to visit them again, he mused as he checked the tow hitch.
As much as anything, Anne Kear had brought a good friendship to Lucy, and friends here – at least, in the way they’d had friends in England – were hard to come by. Of the two of them, it had been harder for her in this country. He’d had his office and his work, and plenty of colleagues that he counted as friends. But Lucy? Well, she’d struggled a lot more.
Of course, everyone here was so warm and had been genuinely welcoming when they’d first arrived. This new world seemed to offer everything they’d ever wanted as a couple. A beautiful home. Top quality schooling and the potential that offered for the boys. A good life, and now money to spare that would top up investments for them and for the boys in years to come.
And everyone was so friendly…except ‘close’ friends were harder to come by than you would expect!
Steven Kear—who was also from the UK—had a theory. Friendship, he’d once quite aptly said, was a bit like the games of baseball played by the Braves down at their stadium in the city.
It went like this...
Take the UK, or in fact, anywhere in Europe, he’d explained. There, it often took ages to get a good friendship going. It was tough to get to first base. But, once you got there, moving on to 2nd and 3rd base, to deepen that friendship, could happen quite quickly. Here in the USA—at least in their part of it—you hit first base almost immediately… to find that there was no 2nd or 3rd! Those didn’t seem to exist!
At least not in the way he and Lucy had been used to, Geoff mused.
The outcome was this: over here, it was easy to know lots of people who, in their own way, would be delighted to count you a friend. But what did that mean? They would rarely invite you into their home or share a family meal with you other than ‘doing lunch’ out at some restaurant. Dropping in, uninvited, for a cuppa, was frowned on.
With their 'drive through' culture, even the schools were different, especially when the boys were younger.
In the UK on the daily school run, dropping off and picking up the boys, Lucy found that she could easily meet other parents. There was a tradition of finding a place to sit and natter while waiting for the children to come out. Here, parents drew up in their minivans (and the queue of vans often stretched way out the parking lot and down the road), and their occupants remained completely isolated in them until they arrived at the pickup point. Doors slid open. Kids got in. Doors closed. Drive-through school!
Still, although it took some getting used to, it was at school that the boys had found good friends. Lads like Luke’s pal, Ryan; he was a great kid, though his parents were total crap, Geoff thought. No, it was the adults that had found the transition harder, and for Lucy, families like the Kears were a godsend!
As he drove away in the direction of the lake, and the family chatted and joked, his head was still buzzing with the implications of what Luke had said.
When they moved their family to the States, both boys—and Luke in particular—had been steaming mad with them. But that had passed, as he knew it would. Now, to hear him talk about this place as being ‘home’—well, that was quite something! Even though it made complete sense! Could it really be that they, and any future generations of Summers families, would become American residents?
It was a price he'd never anticipated when he'd done the math to cost out the move. Would they ever be able to go back to the UK if the boys made their lives here? Could Lucy even contemplate that—leaving kids and possible grandkids to go live another country? Of course she wouldn’t.
It didn’t take too long, and soon they were pulling beside the jetty and unhitching the boat, easing it into the water alongside a dozen other colorful sailboats, all eager to catch the stiff breeze.
The boat? Well that had been a rash promise he’d made to Simon.
When they’d left the UK and the sailing club that he loved, they’d agreed to find a way for him to continue the sport in America and would even look into buying a boat.
Making promises was easy; delivering on them a lot harder—and that one had come back to haunt him! They’d rented boats for a while, but Simon didn’t let it go until they finally got the sailing dinghy, though it had taken quite a bit of negotiating to agree on the when, what and how much. Not just for Simon, but for Luke, too, who’d had to be bought off as well!
They’d got Simon linked into a club, one that was centered up at the lake. But it wasn’t cheap! Mind you, having their own boat now cut the rental costs substantially, so maybe it was a sound investment after all?
It wasn’t a large craft, a one- or two-man racing dinghy that he’d bought off a colleague—a guy who’d claimed that the two greatest days of owning a boat were the day you bought it and the day you sold it! Geoff had pushed for a good price, and it’d come with the trailer. The van already had a hitch, so they were good to go.
The purchase was in lieu of both Christmas AND birthday presents for that year – plus a TON of goodwill thrown in. When it had come to budget, and the actual style and standard of boat they should buy, the negotiations with Simon had been intense. Budgets he was quite happy with. Boys – particularly teenage ones – were a lot harder to understand!
Naturally, Luke stuck in his own oar, complaining that it would be completely unfair for Simon to get such a gift, while he get nothing. He’d bartered his own package deal (covering his birthday and Christmas gifts, of course). He ended up with what HE really wanted—one of the new Apple MacBooks.
Now THAT was something that Geoff Summers could understand. Like his eldest son, he loved anything Apple!
Lucy had said it was all a small price to pay.
It was just money, he’d tried to convince himself, and he couldn’t deny that the boat had been something they’d all come to enjoy over the last couple of years. Even then as the two of them sat together on the bluff and proudly watched their sons skidding across the choppy waves in front of them, he realized she was probably right!
Simon steered the boat close into the point, and Geoff waved to both of them, watching as they sliced across the water, laughing, eyes bright through the spray.
‘You won’t have them for long’ a small voice whispered.
As any parent does, he realized the natural way of it. As Luke had instinctively known that lunchtime, the day would come when they would eventually make their own way in life.
Did it have to be so soon?
Watching the lively pair, the sadness of it touched him.
He sighed, coming back to the present. Now was as good a time as any. Whilst the boys cut through the water, he talked to his wife about another cut they needed to reconsider.
In the latest article that Luke had pushed at them, there had been a reference to what had been called, ‘The Kindest of Cuts’. A clearly pro-circumcision stance, the article had been an exploration of the cultural and positive health aspects of the procedure. He’d read it, but ignored the conclusions; he’d ignored what was right in front of him.
Maybe, for Luke, in the life that he now led—the life that he and Lucy had forced on their boys in the first place—he needed this more than they realized. Perhaps it would be the kindest of cuts after all?
* * *
After an afternoon on the water, the family had made it home around six.
Quickly polishing off a couple of homework assignments that just HAD to be done, Luke fired up his laptop to log into Facebook, checking to see if anyone had left any messages.
Over the last six months, he'd added quite a few more friends. Basically, almost everyone from school was on Facebook, though by no means did he add them all! Neither of his parents were on the social network, and they thought the whole thing ridiculous. How on earth can you have so many friends, his dad had asked him once? Do you actually know them personally? Of course he didn't, but on Facebook, the term ‘Friend’ didn't really carry the same meaning that they had grown up with. He knew his parents would never get it!
He logged in, and up came his page. His username on almost everything had always been 'londonlolly' (from the old nickname, Lolly) and his Facebook page was to be found at www.facebook.com/londonlolly.
Since that fateful day in December, when Simon had spoken about his sexuality for the first time, they’d talked about it, on and off and when it came to Toby, he hadn’t pried.
Toby had come along sailing with them a couple of times over the years, but he wasn’t keen at all. It seemed the guys couldn’t even swim! In fact, it was one of his other classmates, Jacko, who had joined them more often.
But, when it came to guys, Simon wasn't the only person that Luke knew who seemed to be gay. As he logged into Facebook that night, he noticed the other one, currently registered in the 'online now' box at the bottom.
On impulse, he flicked up the messaging box.
There was nothing for several minutes, as his message waited patiently. He was about to give up and log out when the reply popped up.
[DAMONJ] “Hi Luke - how's things?"
[LUKE] “Cool thanks. You?”
[DAMONJ] "I'm good! Bored …"
Luke grinned to himself. From the number of recent Farmville requests Damon Jamieson had generated, he could tell!
He’d been wondering for a while, but why Luke decided to ask that particular question, just then, he was never sure. They chatted about nothing of importance for a few minutes, before he got round to what was on my mind.
[LUKE] "Can I ask you something?"
[LUKE] "It's a bit personal..."
[DAMONJ] "OK, try me...(smiley)"
It was personal and Luke hesitated after he’d typed the short phrase. He decided to go ahead and press send.
[LUKE] "Well…I just wondered if you happened to be gay?"
After it fired off, there was a pause before Damon replied.
[DAMONJ] "Hell - that's quite a question!"
[LUKE] "Sorry – none of my business—forget it!"
Embarrassed, Luke had typed hurriedly. There was a pause again – long enough to make him squirm, wondering whether he’d crossed the line, big-time!
[DAMONJ] "Well, if you really want to know…yes, I am. Is that a problem?"
Now what should he say? He’d broached the subject, but without any idea where to go with it. He had to say SOMETHING.
[LUKE] "I kind of thought you might be...from stuff on your pages, I mean. No, it's no problem at all. I didn't mean it like that."
[DAMONJ] "So why do you ask?"
The reply had come quickly and felt probing.
[DAMONJ] "Are you?"
[LUKE] "No, but..."
Luke paused a moment, thinking it through. There was no way he was going to identify Simon, and reveal what his brother had told him—even in a private Facebook chat—to a guy he hardly knew, in New York! On the other hand, it wouldn’t do any harm to get another perspective. He continued typing.
[LUKE] "...someone I know—a friend I've known a long time…is, I think. I was just trying to understand it more."
There was an extremely long pause before the reply popped up.
[DAMONJ] "He actually told you that, or are you just guessing?"
[LUKE] "No, he told me. We go back a long way."
[DAMONJ] "Oh. Well, he was brave!"
[LUKE] "Why do you say that?"
[DAMONJ] "Not sure I would do that. It takes a lot of trust in someone to come out to them like that. Trust me – I know! So, how do you feel about it...and him?"
That was easy. Luke typed quickly.
[LUKE] "It was a surprise, I guess—but he's still a friend. I don’t think it makes any difference in the end."
There was another long pause.
[LUKE] "Are you still there?"
[DAMONJ] "Sorry...was just thinking...I need to go...talk soon...bye."
[LUKE ] "Bye..."
Luke was a little surprised by the abrupt end, and he stared at the screen thoughtfully. After a few moments, he shut down the chat window and went on to read a few of the messages that had piled up on his email. He sent out a number of replies, then logged off and went to go have a shower in preparation for bed.