It is fair that almost everything I say about Sherry Abrams is a lie, as almost everything she told me about herself is a lie. I can guess a lot about her, construct a reasonable narrative, but the truth will always be a mystery.
"So you're getting married," her friend, I'll call Dianne, said. "Not as much a biggie as it may seem. I've been married and divorced twice."
"You live for drama," Sherry, her former classmate, replied. "Didn't Jim almost put you in the hospital?"
"We almost put each other in the hospital," Dianne replied with a hoarse laugh. "He slapped me across the face and pulled a knife on me. I hit him with a cheap lightweight frying pan. His purchase -- I always wanted good cookware but he was a Transylvanian Scrooge -- complete with a Dracula accent."
"I'm just not sure," Sherry said. "I mean, I know Joe is a good guy. But it's me. I was the bookworm in college. No social life. No dating. I'm afraid I'll be a disappointment."
"You graduated top of your class, for Christ's sake. You wrote your first novel at 19 -- with some very good sex scenes."
"Written with your expert help." Sherry shook her head. "Okay, I'm not quite a virgin but I am socially inept."
"Lately," Dianne said, disappointment in her voice, "all the guys I've met have been on the Internet." Dianne suddenly smiled, a light bulb moment.. "Hey, why don't you meet a guy there! We can private message each other back and forth if you need help. All the advantages of a real life relationship, but far easier to break off -- no lawyers."
Sherry hesitated briefly but she was very curious. It was decided that they would create a new persona only slightly based on Sherry's real life. She would become Cheri, a novice writer and a Southerner, unlike the Midwestern and published Sherry.
Looking over the chat room occupants, Dianne suggested Sherry try Rick, a guy in his early 40s and until recently a virgin. Louise, his one and only partner was so thrilled in discovering that despite her being 50 pounds overweight, men found her appealing, that she went wild bedding a half dozen men she met online. Goodbye Rick, sorry.
Dianne was already familiar with Rick's areas of interests regarding women. "All men have two sets of interests," she told Sherry. "A nobler set -- things like intelligence, sense of humor, and looks help. Then there's a kinkier set. Rick's kinks are pretty tame, hell, I did half of them years before meeting him. But he does over-intellectualize everything. So hear him out before forming any opinions."
"Just follow the online conversation," Dianne said. "He'll eventually say something that piques your interest. Then it's '/msg Rick' and whatever you want to say."
Dianne could almost here Sherry's deep sigh as she jumped in.
"So? Dianne asked after Sherry finished a very long conversation with Rick.
"Let's just say I'm glad you talked me into taking modern dance that year. A few things I might not have tried otherwise. And I do have some interesting memories about those two blondes making out in the locker room."
"Jenny and Jennifer," Dianne said, laughing. "After they broke up, Jennifer came on to me. But it was the end of the year so no time."
"A lot of his turn-ons seem to be about freedom and non-conformity. I think I can play off that nicely."
A few weeks passed and the recently-fired Dianne was busy job hunting. She preferred well-paying high-stress jobs which inspired her slasher movie fan fiction. "Nothing like incompetence to stoke the fire," she'd claim. When she met Sherry for lunch she found her friend in a much better mood.
"Rick and I are collaborating on a novel," she said. "He's taking my mind to so many places. Unexplored ruins of Gothic castles. Hidden dungeons. Libraries filled with texts of ancient rituals."
"Sounds like fun," Dianne said without enthusiasm, wondering about herself and Rick had their realities not been so different.
"I've talked him into joining this writing group I'm starting. Just writing very short stories and poems and then critiquing them. Interested in joining?"
"Maybe after my job situation is settled," Dianne said.
"That's okay, I'm trying to start off with family-friendly stories. I suppose that will change after you join.
"Glad to be of service," Dianne said, smiling.
They met again a week later, but Sherry's mood was different. "I've been having dreams," she said, shaken. "You and me. Sex."
"Do you ..."
"No, I want to marry Jim. I want to have his child. I don't want to be bound or shaved head-to-toe, or go to bed with you -- no offense."
"Then Cheri needs to disappear from the face of the Earth."
"It seems so cruel. Rick is a nice guy. Intelligent ... funny. Maybe had I met him before I met Jim ..."
"That's why you need to disappear. He'll wonder but he will recover. You can't risk your marriage over an Internet thing. Remember history class, what Churchill said about the truth." Then she changed the subject. "Anyway, how's your writing group going?"
"Falling apart. It seemed like a good idea on paper but never quite worked out. I am thinking of starting a different group, not as weirdly structured."
"Need help? I know a lot of very good writers. I can draw them in, kind of an agent provocateur sort of thing.
And so, Cheri disappeared never to be seen again. Sherry never let on about her kinky alter ego. She and Jim married and had a daughter. She was oddly critical about Rick's erotic scenes -- particularly involving things she'd already done as Cheri.
Sherry and Dianne's group was more successful, surviving to this day. Rick became a member of the group, never knowing the truth of how he and the group's leader had once written a very steamy -- if unfinished and possibly not publishable -- novel together.