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UNKNOWN:

What a fucking week.

Please, PLEASE distract me right now.

 

Judy stares astonished at her phone for a moment, then scans around the room, as if someone could have heard her own thoughts just a minute ago when she hoped for a distraction. The coffee shop is not busy, yet a few figures seek the comfort of the warm ambient and hot beverages. The entrance bell chimes and Judy’s eyes dart to the door. Like all previous newcomers, it’s not who she’s expecting. A woman holding a toddler walks in instead, and Judy’s mind goes back to the anxiety inducing thoughts she’s trying to avoid. The phone buzzes again.

 

UNKNOWN:

Hello?

 

Judy’s been trying to let go of her “ridiculous fantasies about the universe” as she’s been told to so many times, she really is. But she can’t help but think that, maybe, this stranger was sent her way so they could help each other out, even if just for a moment. She could ignore the text, like most people would, or send a friendly reply letting them know it’s the wrong number, like she normally would. This time though, she decides to engage.

 

YOU:

It’s Tuesday.

 

UNKNOWN:

What?

 

YOU:

You said “what a week”. It’s barely started.

 

UNKNOWN:

Wow. Thank you for that helpful insight, Christopher.

Why can’t I see that ridiculous edited selfie of yours?

Wait.

Shit.

You’re not Christopher.

 

YOU:

Nope.

I’m curious about said ridiculous edited selfie, though.

 

UNKNOWN:

Hold on.

949 5250645?

 

YOU:

Yes, that’s my number.

 

UNKNOWN:

What the hell. I literally copied and pasted the number he gave me.

God, please tell me Chris did NOT just trick me into adding someone else.

Are you that guy from church he’s been trying to set me up with? Let me tell you right now buddy, no matter what he says, I’m not there every week to pray.

 

YOU:

LOL

I’m not your guy, sorry do disappoint.

 

UNKNOWN:

Oh.

 

YOU

Not actually a guy.

 

UNKNOWN:

Okay.

 

YOU:

I don’t think I know any Christophers, now that I think about it.

 

UNKNOWN:

Yeah, he just texted me. The dumbass typed the wrong number.

Anyway, I’m sorry about this. Have a good day.

 

YOU:

Wait!

What do you go to church for?

 

UNKNOWN:

What?

 

YOU:

You said you go to church every week, but not to pray.

 

UNKNOWN:

And you care because…?

 

YOU:

I’m intrigued.

What else would one do at church?

 

UNKNOWN:

Ew. You’re one of those?

 

YOU:

Those what?

 

UNKNOWN.

You know.

Christians.

 

Judy laughs out loud. The young man sitting at the table next to her averts his eyes from his laptop and stares, not hiding the annoyance. Judy clears her throat and takes a last sip of her hot chocolate. She is amused at Unknown’s nonchalant energy, and definitely appreciates their honesty. She tries to reciprocate.

 

YOU:

I’m not really anything, I think.

I try to embrace all religions.

 

UNKNOWN

Oh, boy. You’re one of THOSE.

That’s even worse.

 

YOU:

It’s okay, I know it’s hard to go there for some people. Not all of us can be this evolved spiritually.

 

UNKNOWN:

...And that’s my cue. Goodbye.

 

Judy notices the “online” sign is still there under Unknown’s name on the screen. She smiles to herself with a strange feeling of pride, realizing that, possibly, this person is amused by Judy too.

 

YOU:

Are you not gonna tell me what you do at church every week?

I’d love to know if there’s like an underground party going on.

Oh! Is it a secret casino?

Bingo?

 

UNKNOWN:

You are a weird person.

 

YOU:

Thank you.

Secret service meeting?

 

UNKNOWN:

Why are all of your guesses secretive?

 

YOU:

Except for bingo.

 

UNKNOWN.

Except for bingo.

And no, I won’t tell a stranger my weekly schedule.

 

YOU:

Right.

Good for you! You shouldn’t trust strangers online.

 

UNKNOWN:

Alright, thanks mom.

 

YOU:

I COULD be a serial killer.

 

UNKNOWN:

Thanks for the heads up.

 

YOU:

I’m not though.

 

UNKNOWN:

I’m gonna delete this chat now, okay?

 

YOU:

I thought you wanted a distraction.

 

UNKNOWN:

Yeah and my wish came true. Haha. Bye.

 

YOU:

Haha! Careful with what you wish for.

Bye.

Good luck with whatever it is you’re hiding from.

 

This time Unknown goes offline, and Judy feels a twinge of disappointment. But it’s okay, she supposes, she got more attention than she would’ve expected from a stranger like this. She opens another chat and reads the latest message saying “Missed the bus. Waiting for the next one.”

“Of course you did.” Judy laughs, rolling her eyes.

She gets up and goes wait in the short line of customers. If she’s going to be here for a while, she might as well get another drink. She decides for a hot herbal tea this time, and it doesn’t take long until it’s her turn to order.

When she’s waiting by the counter, Judy notices the lady that came in earlier with the toddler sitting at one of the smaller tables with too little space for her things. Judy immediately reprimands herself for occupying such a wide table, even though she’s expecting company. She’s about to offer a trade, but the scene in front of her is too adorable to interrupt. The woman makes silly faces to the kid, trying to get him to eat whatever she’s pulling into his mouth with a spoon. The toddler laughs, but closes his mouth every time the spoon comes close, which makes both of them laugh together.

The interaction warms Judy’s heart until it suddenly becomes too much, too close to what she’s trying not to think about. The endearment is quickly replaced with guilt and she feels her breath get uneasy. The phone buzzes in her pocket and she grabs it like her life depends on it.

“Please say you’re here. Please say you’re here” She mutters. When she looks at the screen, she reads something else.

 

UNKNOWN:

You know what, no one else is answering my texts and this is gonna take a while.

Please, amuse me.

 

That, she did not expect. The whole thing is so silly that it makes her laugh again, the tension leaving her body immediately. She’s never been so thankful for a stranger before.

 

YOU:

Oh? Now you need me.

Should I be offended?

 

UNKNOWN:

I don’t know you. I don’t care.

 

YOU:

Ouch.

What if I’m busy? Have you thought about that?

 

UNKNOWN:

You’ve been talking to a random person that texted you by accident for the past 25 minutes. I KNOW you’re not busy.

 

YOU:

Touché.

 

The barista calls for Judy. She gets her tea and goes back to the table a bit too distracted with her phone, accidentally bumping on the laptop guy’s chair on the way.

“I’m sorry!” Judy says embarrassed as he just rolls his eyes. She considers buying the poor guy a drink for annoying him so much. Her virtual friend interrupts the thought.

 

UNKNOWN:

By the way, how old are you? I really hope I’m not talking to a teenager right now.

 

YOU:

Do I sound like a teenager?

I mean, type.

 

UNKNOWN:

You seem like someone who tries to act like one, but it’s not cool enough to pull it off.

 

YOU:

Did you just come back to make me cry? Are you that bored?

 

UNKNOWN:

I’m sorry. That was meaner than I intended.

 

YOU:

I’m just kidding.

You’d be screwed if I was an actual murderer, can you imagine?

 

UNKNOWN:

Uhm...

 

YOU:

You have me all figured out though. Good job.

 

UNKNOWN:

So? Age?

 

Judy sees an opportunity. For no explicable reason, she feels some sort of connection to this person. It can’t be that crazy to ask for a name. But she knows she has to work for it.

 

YOU:

I’ll tell you my age if you tell me your name.

 

UNKNOWN:

Nice try.

 

YOU:

C’mon! Please? I’m tired of calling you “Unknown” in my head.

 

UNKNOWN:

Aw, what a coincidence. You’re “Unknown” to me too.

 

YOU:

Ha ha.

I need a name to call you.

And to add to your contact info.

 

UNKNOWN:

Why would you do that? It’s not like we’ll be talking after this.

 

YOU:

Jeez. Nice to meet you too.

 

UNKNOWN:

Are you always this sentimental?

 

YOU:

Absolutely.

Ok, what about this: let’s just say our names at the same time.

Is that okay?

 

UNKNOWN:

Fine.

 

YOU:

Yay!

Here we go.

3…

2...

1…

 

No messages come after this, as Judy imagined. She feels smug for being able to figure this person out pretty quick too.

 

YOU:

I can’t believe you lied to me.

 

UNKNOWN:

Ha. You didn’t say your name either.

 

YOU:

‘Cause I knew you wouldn’t say yours!

 

UNKNOWN:

Oh my God, can we just move on?

 

YOU:

At least tell me your initials.

 

UNKNOWN:

No.

 

YOU:

You realize that you have already provided me enough information, right? If I wanted to track you down and murder you or something.

 

UNKNOWN:

I…

No, I didn’t.

All you have is an acquaintance’s name.

 

YOU:

You’re from Laguna.

 

UNKNOWN:

Well, duh.

 

YOU:

You visit a church every week with your friend Christopher.

 

UNKNOWN:

That’s not what I said.

 

YOU:

But he knows people there that you don’t, so he goes there more often.

Maybe he works there.

It can’t be that hard to find Christopher From Church online.


UNKNOWN:

That’s a fucking stretch.

Even if this were true, you’d still have no idea of who I am.

 

YOU:

You’re single and your friend is trying to set you up with a man, so you’re either a woman or a gay guy.

I don’t mean to stereotype but you don’t act like a gay man. I don’t think they would even engage in this conversation.

 

UNKNOWN:

You don’t think gay men engage in conversation with strangers online?

Have you met a gay man?

 

YOU:

That’s not what I mean!

Let me finish.

 

UNKNOWN:

Go on.

 

YOU:

Given your adorable fear of sharing anything about yourself, but accidentally revealing so much… I’m getting mom vibes.

 

UNKNOWN:

Have you hacked me or something?

 

YOU:

A-ha! Definitely a mom.

 

UNKNOWN:

Fuck off.

 

YOU:

I advise you to give me a name or I WILL be calling you Mommy.

 

A notification pops up on Judy’s screen saying “I’m almost there!” with a bunch of random silly emojis attached. She thinks of how sweet her friend is, but the anxiety quickly takes over her mind again - she’s surprised to have been able to forget the reason she’s in that coffee shop in the first place. Her only escape lies right there on her hands, so she dives back in. Unknown - she - hasn’t replied yet.


YOU:

Have I finally scared you away?

 

UNKNOWN:

Why would I be scared, you’ve only brought up murder like three times.

 

YOU:

Right. And we all know you only have to worry after the fourth time.

 

UNKNOWN:

Haha. Of course.

One more time and I’m outta here.

 

YOU:

So…

Mommy?

 

UNKNOWN:

If you’re trying to creep me out, it’s not gonna work.

Mommy likes it.

 

YOU:

Oh. Is Mommy calling herself Mommy now?

 

UNKNOWN:

Yes she is.

 

YOU:

Fine.

You know what? I’ll start.

Feel free to follow my lead.

My initial is J.

 

UNKNOWN:

Shut up.

 

YOU:

What?

 

UNKNOWN:

Are you messing with me?

I’m J.

 

YOU:

Yeah, right.

 

UNKNOWN:

Have you looked me up? 

 

YOU:

Look, if you don’t want to say it, that’s fine.

 

UNKNOWN:

No, seriously. My name’s initial is J.

 

YOU:

Ha ha. We’re both “Unknown”. We’re both “J”. Funny.

 

UNKNOWN:

My name literally starts with a J.

 

YOU:

Okay, so what is it?

 

UNKNOWN:

I’m not gonna say it.

Can’t you just trust me?

 

YOU:

Sure.

 

UNKNOWN:

Thanks.

 

YOU:

I’ll call you Fake J.

 

UNKNOWN:

Fuck you.

 

Judy does believe in - dare she say, trust - her new friend. “J”. Of course they share a letter. She thinks again of the mysterious - possibly cosmic - ways they have been connected today. She wants to bring it up, but already understands J enough to know she’d be dismissive. Judy decides then to go in another direction, not before updating J’s contact information.

 

YOU:

So, Fake J, why did you need a distraction on this lovely Tuesday afternoon?

 

FAKE J

Don’t call me that.

I have a meeting with the Devil herself, that’s why.

 

YOU:

Oh...

And in what human form is the Devil herself manifesting today?

 

FAKE J

The most despicable woman you’ll ever meet.

 

YOU:

Whew. I got chills.

Will you be okay?

 

FAKE J:

Don’t worry about it. I brought my crucifix.

 

YOU:

I thought you weren’t religious.

 

FAKE J:

I’m not. Just covering all the bases.

What is your “busy” self up to anyway? 

 

YOU:

I’m waiting for a date.

He’s late.

 

FAKE J:

You’re having a date at 3pm on a Tuesday?

 

YOU:

Well, he has a curfew.

 

FAKE J:

Oh boy. Are you an actual kid?

 

YOU:

No!

Neither of us are kids, I promise.

He’s just as adorable, though.

 

FAKE J:

I am so confused right now.

 

YOU:

You’re adorable too.

 

FAKE J:

Ha ha.

 

YOU:

He’s coming from an assisted living facility.

 

FAKE J:

Oh. A relative?

 

YOU:

I wish! He’s just a good friend.

 

FAKE J:

Look who’s sharing information now.

 

YOU:

You earned it.

 

Judy hears the bells chiming again. This time, an old man with a serious semblance slowly walks in with the aid of a walking cane. He stands by the door and looks around until his eyes meet Judy’s, making his entire expression immediately turn soft. He smiles, waving adorably at her. Judy waves back, motioning for him to come to the table, but he stops by the line instead and mouths “wait a minute.” She knows there’s no point in trying to make him sit and offer to wait in line in his place, so she waits.

The same disappointment from before, when J went offline, is back. Judy is intrigued now by this person. She wants to learn more, to know who she really is, what she looks like, what interests her. Maybe that’s just her own defense mechanism kicking in, helping her avoid reality just a little longer - Judy strongly feels it isn’t though, that there might be something more to this random lovely happenstance of meeting J. But she knows it’s over now, and it’s time to let it go.

 

YOU:

Hey, Fake J?

 

FAKE J

Stop it.

 

YOU:

I have to go.

My date is here.

 

FAKE J:

I guess this is goodbye then?

 

YOU:

I guess it is.

Can I say something weird?

 

FAKE J:

Everything you say is weird.

But go ahead.

 

YOU:

Thank you.

 

FAKE J:

For what?

 

YOU:

I might’ve needed a distraction today too.

 

FAKE J:

Oh.

Sure. You’re welcome. :)

 

YOU:

I do have to go now.

Bye!

 

FAKE J:

Goodbye.

 

Judy notices J typing then stopping a few times, until no new messages come up. She’s about to put her phone down when a text finally arrives, and Judy can’t hold her smile.

 

FAKE J:

It was really nice meeting you, J.

 

YOU:

It was nice meeting you too, J.

 

“Why are you smiling at your phone like that? It’s not that asshole Steve, is it?” Abe’s voice startles Judy and she quickly hides the screen in a defensive way, as if he could actually read the small letters from that distance, then she puts the phone back in her pocket.

“Abe!” Judy gets up and gives her friend a warm hug. As they both sit down, he shoots her a look, still waiting for an answer. She adds, “No, of course not. I’m never speaking to Steve again.” She can almost taste the bitterness in her voice speaking his name.

“Good.” Abe replies. He opens a paper bag with the food he just bought and slides a donut on the table in Judy’s direction.

“I’m good, thank you.” Judy tries to give it back, but Abe refuses.

“You need to eat. You can’t survive on tea or whatever that is.” He points to her drink. She laughs and takes a bite of her donut, defeated.

“I told you I could pick you up. You shouldn’t be going through all that trouble to see me, Abe.” Judy looks at the walking cane resting on his side and pictures the old man standing in the sun at some bus stop. She feels even more guilty.

“I can handle myself.” He dismisses her. “I’m sorry I’m late, those boys at the bank were too slow, that was the problem. Which reminds me...” He takes an envelope out of his bag and hands it to Judy. She takes it and brings it close to her heart.

“Thank you.” Judy feels her eyes getting misty, but manages to hold the tears in. There’s no need to check how much money is in the envelope, she trusts Abe with her own life, so she quickly puts it inside her bag, then holds it protectively around her arms. “I’ll return it to you as soon I can, I swear.”

Abe holds her hand on the table. “Don’t worry about that, sweetie.” His expression changes to concern, and Judy has never seen him look so serious. “Listen, I know I agreed to not ask any questions…”

“Abe.” Judy tries to interrupt, but he goes on.

“I’m just saying, if you borrowed money from the wrong people, sometimes it’s too late to just pay it back, do you understand? So if you’re in some kind of trouble… You can tell me, alright? I know people that can help.”

Judy can’t hold the tear that falls on her cheek then. She’s so grateful for Abe, the one person in her life that truly loves her and would do anything to protect her, even in his 80 years of age, as if they were family.

“It’s nothing like that. I promise.” She gives her best fake smile, and it seems to sooth Abe for now - he trusts her too. “Don’t worry, okay? Everything's gonna be fine.” She’s not lying entirely, but she knows she will not be fine, at least not emotionally, after everything is done. Or ever again.

Judy gets her phone to check on the time. The chat with “Fake J” is still on the screen when she unblocks it, and she feels more relaxed again with the memory. Judy only hopes she could have a distraction to get through the next few weeks.