Episode 149 – Mark and Sharon Make Up

Sharon continued her avoidance maneuver the next day as both parties got arranged in the small buses and SUVs that would take them out to the village where the newest well had been built.

It was a full day’s ride out to the village, and it was almost dark by the time the group arrived. The villagers had prepared a welcoming party with dancing and music around a roaring fire. There was a small banquet and Michael took great pains to explain to the reporters and the President’s party that because of the new well, the villagers were able to grow enough food to host the party.

After that, the party grew relaxed and noisy. Sharon noticed that Mark had slipped away. She found him at the edge of the huts, gazing into the night sky.

“It’s usually me who takes off for a breather,” she said, quietly.

Mark turned his head to look at her, then shrugged. “I suppose we should change it up occasionally. Besides, I had some business to do.”

“Oh, dear.” Sharon backed away. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“I’m done.” Mark’s gaze went back to the sky. “I was just appreciating the quiet for a moment.”

Sharon waited for a moment. “Are we okay?”

“I don’t know. It’s been a rocky week.” Mark glanced back at her, then sighed. “I just can’t help wondering what else you haven’t told me in the cause of plausible deniability.”

“I was afraid of that.”

“The worst of it is, I know damn well Warmonger has been playing that game with me, and I made it clear from the start that I don’t want anyone hiding stuff or whatever for any reason, especially that one.”

Sharon frowned. “You did? I don’t recall you saying anything about that.”

“I did. At the very first Advisory Board meeting.” Mark stopped. “Which you weren’t at.”

“Still, I suppose I could have figured it out that’s not your style.” Sharon said. She took a deep breath. “The irony is, I have a terrible time getting some of my CIA contacts to tell me things because they know I’ll turn right around and tell you. Makes it damned hard to get you good information.”

“I’ve got to trust you, Sharon,” Mark said.

“I know. I didn’t think I was breaking faith. But I’m sure that doesn’t help.”

It was Mark’s turn to frown. “It does and it doesn’t.”

“So what do we do if something similar comes up, where the only way I can get the right intel is to give you plausible deniability?”

“I can’t imagine…” Mark shook his head. “You know what? It’s going to happen again. Silly me. I keep thinking I’m in control of this game.”

“You are, at least in terms of the big picture. It’s some of the minor skirmishes that are the issue.” Sharon walked a little closer. “I think the idea will be to let you know there’s something going on along those lines and see if you think it’s dire enough that it’s worth playing along.”

“That’s reasonable. I hate it, but it’s reasonable.”

“And now that I know the policy, I promise not to make those kinds of decisions without checking in with you, first.”

“Thanks.” Mark smiled softly at her. Once again, he felt his breath catch at the sight of her, her brown eyes glistening in the starlight, her voice soft and low. He looked up again, not wanting to feel what he was feeling. “It’s something else out here, isn’t it?”

“It’s beautiful.” Sharon smiled. “It’s my first time out in the bush. It’s austere, but it is gorgeous.”

Music and laughter roared from the fire ring. Sharon looked back at the group.

“Um, I don’t know if I should be asking this, but…” She bit her lower lip. “Things have been pretty tense between you and my brother. Did he say something?”

“No, he hasn’t.” Mark ducked his head. “That may have been my fault. I just got this vibe that he was going to go all protective on me and I probably over-reacted.”

Sharon shot a quick glare back at the fire. “Hm. He didn’t exactly under-react. I think I’ve got an older brother to thump.”

“We’d better get back,” Mark said suddenly. “And, uh, I’m glad we had this chat. I feel better.”

Sharon nodded, smiling softly to herself and Mark strode back to the party. Even as she was glad he’d pulled away at that moment, having him so distant had felt even worse. She didn’t need either feeling. She lingered a few minutes longer and was just about to turn back to the party when she heard someone coming toward her.

Episode 135 – Sharon and Karen Talk to Mark

romance, romance fictionAs it turned out, Kent Jeffries, the administrative assistant and gatekeeper for the President, couldn’t find a space in Mark’s schedule until late Thursday afternoon. Sharon and Karen met in the foyer of the Oval Office, neither really in the mood for the coming discussion. Sharon had her laptop and Karen had her tablet.

For his part, Mark knew the second he saw their faces that this was not going to be a pleasant meeting. He got them seated on one of the two facing tan silk sofas, prepared some coffee, then took his seat in the chair at the head of the group, blue silk jack-something-or-other, June had called it. The material on the upholstery had a paisley design woven in.

“Well?” he asked slowly.

“It’s about June,” Sharon said getting right to the point.

“We’re concerned about her, as her friends,” Karen said quickly.

“Sir, there’s no easy way to say this, but based on her behavior this past month or two, we believe that she’s suffering a relapse of anorexia nervosa.”

Mark nodded and sighed. “You noticed.”

“Actually,” Sharon said, “I noticed as early as late last month. But I’ve known a lot of women with anorexia, so I can spot the signs pretty quickly. And Matt was asking questions a few weeks ago.”

“I see.” Mark pressed his lips together and nodded again. “Have you talked to her about it?”

“Not yet,” said Karen.

“Look, Sir,” Sharon cut in. “We know that it’s one of those conditions that make the person with it pretty resistant to facing it.”

“But there’s a lot of good research that shows the right kind of intervention has a high success rate,” Karen added.

“No. Not an intervention.” Mark suddenly got up and began pacing. “The last time we tried that, June totally blew us off and ended up in the hospital.”

“Sir, that’s probably why she landed in the hospital,” Karen said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Sharon looked at him. “I’m guessing you’ve been through this before.”

“Yeah. We have.” Mark shook his head and shuddered a little. “It’s the watching it that’s the hard part, knowing that you can’t do anything.”

“Which of June’s friends participated that time you had trouble?” Sharon asked.

“June really doesn’t have that many close friends,” Mark said. “It was me, my dad and her buddy Doug. You know, the hair stylist.”

Too well, Sharon wanted to say, but bit her tongue.

“All guys?” Karen looked at her tablet. “We’re going to propose something different. It’s an all-female group, including me, Sharon, her friend Niecy and her friend Carla.”

“Carla’s had her own problems with anorexia,” Sharon explained. “She’s pretty much over it, thank God, but she can speak to June in ways even I can’t. And I’ve done more than a few interventions for the disease.”

“We’ve also got a psychologist in Los Angeles who’s helping us plan the intervention and giving us pointers, things to look out for,” Karen said.

“Do you have any idea what kind of chance you’re taking?” Mark asked, his voice thick with pain.

“Not that much of one, Sir,” Sharon said. “It’s not generally the sort of thing that makes people worse, even though they can get pretty resistant. People who don’t respond are usually not going to respond to anything. You still don’t want to go in without any planning or without consulting a professional first.”

“Which we’ve done,” Karen added. “Plus, Sharon and Carla have experience with the disease. I’m doing the additional research.”

“We need to know what her triggers are,” Sharon said. “What sets her off.”

Mark stopped pacing and thought. “I don’t know,” he finally gasped. “She simply won’t talk about things. Dad and I have tried. She did a fair amount of therapy after we went to live with our father. But she just doesn’t talk. She wouldn’t even talk to our grandmother.”

“That may be why she hasn’t had very many close friends,” Karen said, looking at Sharon.

“Well, she does now,” Sharon said firmly, then stood. “Thank you for your time, Sir. Karen and I will keep you updated.”

Karen stood also, then put her hand on Mark’s arm. “Sir, she was there for me when I most needed someone. We’re going to take very good care of her. It’s the least I can do.”

Mark swallowed. “Uh, thanks,” he whispered, then recovered himself just enough to dismiss the women.

Alone, he sank onto the couch. Neither Sharon nor Karen had asked for his permission to stage the intervention. They had merely asked for his perspective, which meant they were focused on helping June. He knew he should be terrified, and he was afraid. He knew he should be angry, but he wasn’t. If anything, it felt as though the two women had slipped in and quietly lifted a huge boulder off the pile on his shoulders.

Episode 112 – From Matt’s Perspective

romantic fiction serial, light romance, fiction serialFrom News&Perspectives.com,

By Matthew Jerguessen

….We finally did figure out what had happened and I have to cop to the blame. Turns out when Tomas was asking us about Sharon, and I said, “No es muerto,” what it sounded like to Tomas was that Uncle Mark wasn’t dead. I’d made the classic mistake we English-speakers make when speaking Spanish. I’d forgotten that you have to change the endings of words based on whether you’re talking about a male or a female. So what I said was, “He isn’t dead.” And Tomas apparently thought I was trying to point out that at least my uncle wasn’t dead, which meant that Sharon was. Or something like that.

Anyway, Tomas is the one who told the rest of the media that Sharon was dead and they all jumped on it. Sharon was pretty cool about it. I mean, I know more Spanish than that, but Sharon said that it was probably the stress from the whole shooting thing that made it hard for me to think in Spanish. She says that language is one of those things that’s almost hard-wired into our brains and that the two things almost any human being will do in their native language is pray and count. So while I do have to cop the blame for the mix-up, it was also the situation.

Book One is Here!

romantic fiction serial, romance, sweet romance, fiction serialThe excitement is palpable. Here’s your chance to relax and read the first part of White House Rhapsody on your own schedule as an ebook.

While you can buy it at Amazon.com, why don’t you head over to Smashwords.com and buy it for your Kindle there? Or for any other of your reading devices.

The gang at Smashwords are very nice and are actively helping me to promote this and my other books. That’s more than I can say for that other outlet.

Either way, the ebook is $2.99 and we may soon have a print version. Sign up for my monthly missive – The Robin Goodfellow Newsletter – in the box to the right and you’ll get that and other fun news.

And next week we continue with the next episode, starting Book Two. Matt may be straightened out, but Kira Watanabe is headed for trouble. June’s little issue is going to get majorly big. Susan has a big assignment headed her way. Al Eddington is facing the challenge of his life.

As for Mark and Sharon, well, let’s just say that distance thing is not working. Not at all.

Episode 104 – Mark Gets a Little Close

Romance fiction, romance fiction serial, romantic fiction serial. romance serialIn Washington, the President and his staff had spent a very busy two weeks. First, a minor head of state had died, so Sharon had accompanied Vice President Elmira Vallegos to the funeral. Then there was the full-on revolt in one of the other Middle Eastern countries, probably fomented by the policy Mark had held to in Saudi Arabia – and which even Sharon finally had to admit had been the right course of action.

Mark also had federal budget issues to contend with, what with that phase of legislation coming due in a couple months, and he still had his education legislation that he wanted passed. So there were multiple rounds of meetings to the point that Mark found himself at Sharon’s at least five times during those two weeks, twice at PFZ parties with the rest of the Advisory Board and three times having dinner with her alone and playing chess and gin rummy just to relax.

By that Saturday, he was good and restless. The West Wing tended to be fairly empty on weekends, although Sundays there were several Muslim staff members who worked since they took off Fridays and Saturdays. Also, Sunday mornings, when the President was at church, staff members would sometimes show up to get a jump on the week. But if they were going to work Saturday or any time when the president was in the White House, the West Wing staff made a point of doing so from home simply because if they went into the office, they would more often than not get dragged into playing catch or basketball or running laps or whatever physical activity the President was in the mood for.

Sharon, he usually left alone, but when she showed up that Saturday, Mark decided to heck with it, popped up in her office and dragged her off to the White House basement, where the basketball court was.

“I hate playing basketball,” she complained as they rode down the elevator.

“Well, it’s no fun shooting hoops by myself,” Mark told her.

“I can watch and catch up on email.”

“You can play and finally learn how to do a decent lay-up.”

Sharon laughed. She was wearing a close-fitting t-shirt and jeans over a pair of running shoes. Mark was similarly attired, except that he had basketball shoes on.

As he often did when he caught a staffer working on Saturdays, he coached Sharon through the art of the lay-up, insisting that she run several drills until he was satisfied that she had it. Then he spotted her several points and the two began a game of one on one.

Once again, Mark was caught off guard by Sharon’s natural athleticism. She played hard and thanks to the points he’d spotted her, pulled ahead quickly.

“Why do I get the feeling I’ve been suckered?” he asked, gasping as she drained another three-pointer. He trotted over the area under the net to get the ball.

“You’re the one who insisted on spotting me the points,” Sharon said. She caught the ball as Mark threw it at her and went out of bounds to start play.

“Because I thought I had an unfair advantage on you,” he said. “You hate playing basketball.”

“So I’m not that competitive,”  Sharon grinned as she bounced the ball a couple times. “I didn’t think you wanted me to let you win. I could.”

“Don’t even.”  Mark grinned also.

He caught the ball as Sharon tossed it and play was on again. The two played for several minutes as Mark caught up, then began winning. Then Sharon got the ball and dribbled toward the basket. Mark shadowed her closely. She tried dodging, but he stayed close on her back, not letting her escape. Laughing, she tried dodging again, and again, and then. Mark folded his arms around her and his lips found hers.

Sharon let herself melt into the kiss, returning it, feeling the soft pressure of his mouth and the sweet saltiness of his tongue. Mark felt his heart beating out of his chest, wondering how long it could last.

Not long enough. He lifted his head and their eyes caught. Sharon smiled, then shuddered.

“Foul?” he said softly.

“Well, you are pretty sweaty.”

He moved in again and she pulled away. He sighed.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be going there,” Sharon said.

“Well,” Mark said, helplessly as Sharon glared at him. “I guess I overstepped the boundaries again.”

“Do that often, do you?”

“Not that often,” he grumbled. “And never past propriety.”  He paused. “Well, not since high school, but then I didn’t know what I was doing.”  He paused again. “That doesn’t excuse it.”

“I wasn’t saying it did. But it doesn’t mean I’m that worried about you, either.”  Sharon plopped down onto a nearby bleacher. “Not that way, at any rate.”

“So now what?”

“What do you mean?”

Mark shrugged and picked up the basketball. “Do you still want to keep trying to be friends?  It’s been working. Or do we do the whole split-up routine, with you… I don’t know.”

“I don’t know, either.”  Sharon sniffed and shut her eyes. “I was really liking the friend thing. And I can’t quit my job.”

“You probably could.”

“Except that, it’s the best job I’ve ever had in my life and I love my work.”

“Oh, brother,” Mark sighed.

“Not that I’m blaming you.”

“I didn’t think you did.”

Sharon looked him over. “Whatever.”  She sighed. “I guess it’s time to try maintaining a little distance.”

“Just what I want to do.”  Mark dropped the basketball onto the floor, then caught it again. “But you’re right. It’s probably for the best.”

“Yep.”  Sharon pulled herself up off the bleachers and left the gym. Mark watched, wondering if he’d blown it yet again.

Episode 103 – Matt Takes a Big Risk

Romance, romantic fiction, romantic fiction serial, light romance, sweet romanceThe loss of his laptop and phone were only the least of the losses for Matt. There was the loss of being able to get dressed in his own bedroom – he had checked out his bathroom and there weren’t any cameras there that he could find. Not that he had let his mother know that he knew about her spy cam. It was insulting enough that she’d put an extra book on his shelf, as if she’d assumed he didn’t read enough to notice.

But worse than even the spy cam was the loss of his special email account, where not only did he have all his back email, he also had all his contact information for his friends and his relatives – the ones he really wanted, as opposed to the people his mother expected him to like. Somehow, someway, he hadn’t covered his tracks well enough and his mother’s computer guru had not only found the account, he’d shut it down.

At least, thanks to Jody and Tiffany, he’d been able to warn everyone that he was likely to be on radio silence. And for some reason, he’d memorized Tiffany’s mobile phone number. But he didn’t dare call it, mostly because when Tiffany was able to answer, he was at home in his room being spied upon.

He knew what he had to do and while he was pretty worried about how his aunt and uncle would react, he couldn’t see any other options. The trick was how to pull together the necessary cash and pay-as-you-go phone and make the right reservations without alerting his mother. She had already had his locker searched at school, and he knew she’d been going through his room even more thoroughly than before. She’d even searched his car – he’d smelled the remnants of her perfume and stale vodka.

Then, on the first of June, luck fell into Matt’s lap – one of his classmates with whom he’d been friendly was leaving school two weeks early, as she did every year to spend the summer on her father’s archaeological dig.

“They always make me do this,” she groaned. “I think it’s their way of punishing me for getting out early. Anyway, they won’t let me turn in my books until the last day, so I have to find someone who will do it for me since I’ll be in the Northwest Territories. I just leave them in my locker, so you don’t even have to keep them. All you have to do is get them and turn them in during assembly period, like usual. Here’s my combination.”

Matt agreed and began working the plan. In just under two weeks, he’d pulled almost two thousand dollars in cash from his bank account. He’d researched bus, train and plane travel and decided that not only was the bus cheaper, it wasn’t that much slower than by train and it was less conspicuous than flying. Granted, he did have a very good fake ID that Tony Garza had gotten him before things had blown up, but there seemed to be no point in pushing the issue. Matt also bought a cheap smart phone with a pay-as-you-go plan, but sighed when he realized he didn’t really have anybody to call.

The next part was a little trickier, but he decided that if he timed it right, it would be worth the risk. Fortunately, it wasn’t that unusual for him to dribble a basketball or toss a baseball around in his room. He had never had an accident with the ball before, but late Thursday night, before the last day of school, the ball slipped from his hand and hit the book shelf where the camera was. Cursing loudly for his mother’s sake, he righted the shelf and put all the fallen books back up, willy nilly, with the camera book’s spine to the wall just in case the camera was still working.

He waited for a good hour, then crept out of his bedroom and checked his mother’s room. His father was staying in St. Paul, as usual, ostensibly to be close to the State Capitol. His mother, as usual, was sound asleep and likely to remain so until fairly late in the morning, especially given the empty vodka bottle on her nightstand.

Matt packed relatively lightly. Fortunately, the last day of school was a free dress day, so he wouldn’t have to wear his uniform and jeans were allowed. It wasn’t like he was going to stay the whole day, anyway, just long enough to drop off books and get his stuff. He finished packing, left his mother a note that implied he was staying the weekend with a friend, and at the normal time, got in his car and went to school.

The morning went smoothly, and as soon as Matt thought he could get away unnoticed, he slid out and got in his car. He did stop by his bank to pull another thousand dollars out of his account. He’d practiced a story about getting a new computer, but the teller never even noticed that he was under-age and gave him the cash.

He parked his car outside the home of one of the guys his mother had always wanted him to hang with, then got his duffel bag and walked quickly away to the local bus line, and once the bus finally showed, he headed out to the Minneapolis bus station, via the local commuter train.

The freedom was both exhilarating and frightening. But he’d traveled on his own before, usually just to visit one or the other of his grandmothers, so it wasn’t that big a deal. Or at least, that’s what he told himself.

He made the bus to Chicago just in time and it wasn’t until he’d made the transfer in Chicago to the New York bus that he began to relax, and in fact, fell sound asleep. It was still a very long ride and the bus didn’t arrive in New York City until late Saturday afternoon. Stiff and a little intimidated by the rush of people and the general skankiness of the bus terminal, Matt debated calling Tiffany to see if she could get him in contact with Jody’s father, who supposedly lived in the city. But just then he saw a concert poster and remembered that Michael Wheatly was on tour someplace on the West Coast that weekend.

So Matt went ahead and headed for Times Square and after walking around a bit, found a reasonably priced hotel with free wi-fi and a computer room. From there, he looked up his aunt’s company’s address and phone number and tried to see if he could get her office. All he got was a voice recording asking him to call back later.

He sighed. There were decent odds she wasn’t even in New York at that time. He had no idea where she lived when she was in town and given the cost of hotels, he doubted he could afford to stay more than a night or two to wait for her. He did some research, then decided to wait one more day, then head to Washington, DC. At least, he had several friends there and a good idea of how to find them.

Episode 63 – Matt Gets Some Help From Jodi and Tiffany

The next day, Jodi and Tiffany hid out in Tiffany’s bedroom. The Watanabe girls had left that morning for Washington. June was on her way to Minnesota, but did take a call from Jodi and Tiffany before she left to give them some key information.

“You want to do the talking?” Jodi asked Tiffany.

“Sure,” Tiffany said. “June should’ve called him by now. You got the number?”
“Dialing,” Jodi said, pressing the numbers into the cell phone. She handed it to Tiffany as the phone on the other end rang.

In Minnesota, Matt Jerguessen saw the odd number flashing on his cell phone, along with the name Jasmine Thomas and a picture of an attractive blond girl. His aunt said she was safe. Matt shrugged and decided to answer it.

“Is this Matt?” a young female voice asked on the other end. “My name is Tiffany. Your Aunt June asked us to call.”

“Yeah. She said something about a Jodi Wheatly who works with my uncle.” Matt glared sullenly at his computer.

“Jodi’s aunt works with your uncle,” Tiffany explained. “She’s right here with me. Is it okay if I put you on speakerphone?”

“Yeah. I s’pose.”

“Say hi,” Tiffany told someone as her voice dimmed.

“Hi, Matt,” Jodi said softly.

“Anyway, your aunt said you were having trouble talking to her and your uncle because your mom has all this monitoring software on you?” Tiffany continued.

“Yeah. And she has most of their numbers blocked on my cell phone,” Matt grumbled. “Aunt June had to call from her hotel room this morning so she could get through.”

“We know. That’s so bogus,” said Tiffany.

“But what can you do about it?” Matt asked.

Tiffany giggled. “We’re Jasmine Thomas. We’re an avatar. So when this phone calls you, your mom will think it’s from this kid from California that got stuck here during spring break and we met at a party last night. It’s already on Jasmine’s Facebook page.”

“You started a Facebook page just to fake out my mom?”

“No.” Tiffany laughed again. “Jodi and I started it last spring for a social studies experiment. We wanted to test how many kids from our school we could get to friend this total stranger who claimed to go to school with us but didn’t really exist. A lot of them did.”

“Really dumb,” chimed in Jodi. “Weird thing is, it kinda grew on its own.”

“I think some of the girls get the joke finally,” said Tiffany. “But I don’t think anyone knows it’s us. Anyway, Jodi’s a computer wiz, and she can hack around your mom’s monitoring software on your laptop so you can email your aunt and uncle.”

Matt frowned. “I don’t know about that. Mom’s got some computer guy who puts all that stuff on. Won’t he catch on?”

“It depends on the software,” Jodi said. “But I have a very elegant algorithm that he’d have to look at the code to see. It operates manually, though, so you’ll have to be careful. But that’s why it stays hidden so well. So what program has she put on your computer?”

“Um, TeenGuard,” said Matt.

The girls giggled.

“Oh, that is just too easy,” said Jodi. “Mac or PC?”

“PC.”

“All right. Tiffany, can you text the addy to him?”

“Texted.”

Matt saw the beep and saw two web addresses.

“You need to go to that first site and type in the second address in the box,” Jodi said. “It’s a site that will let me work on your computer.”

“Won’t my mom find out?” Matt tried not to squawk.

“Not likely,” said Tiffany. “Matt, the way that TeenGuard works is that it takes a snap shot of your screen every time you open a new window or it sees a file with certain key words in it. All those snap shots create these little text entries that are saved in a file and then the software contacts the server and uploads the file to your mom or her tech person. The easy part is that it only uploads the file when you click the turn off button on your computer.”

“It’s part of the stealth feature,” said Jodi. “But it’s kind of a dumb one because it’s really easy to defeat.”

Matt went to the website and then entered the second address in the window. It took a few seconds, but then Jodi muttered her approval and soon it was as if his cursor was moving all over the page by itself.

“This is going to be a snap,” Jodi announced as windows flashed open and closed. “I’m pasting the patch directly into the program’s code. What it does is toggle off the software with an alt-shift key stroke, then turns it back on again, only it looks like you’re doing something else. That’s the elegant part. Most hacks just disable the software, but then your mom will know you hacked it. But you have to remember not to leave it on too long or it will look strange.”

“The second thing we’re going to do is set you up on a proxy server so you can email out,” Tiffany said. “That way you don’t have to clear your browser history, just in case your mom decides to check that, too. I have it set up at my place and my mom couldn’t tell if there was something funny going on if she wanted to because she doesn’t get computers.”

“Basically, it just looks like you’re going to my website, but it’ll let you surf anonymously,” said Jodi.

Matt could hear computer keys rattling on the other end and marveled at the windows opening and closing on their own on his computer.

“There. I got the last few entries out,” Jodi said. “By the way, you won’t want to turn on your computer and turn the guard off right away, because it erases the last couple entries when you toggle it on, so they can’t be seen. But it could erase the start up entry and that would look funny.”

“Okay,” said Matt hesitantly.

“Oh, and you really should hide your phone number on your Facebook page,” Tiffany said. “It’s out there in the open for anyone to call.”

“I don’t have a Facebook page,” said Matt.

“Yeah, you do,” Tiffany said. “June was a little surprised. She said she didn’t think you liked party girls that much.”

“I don’t.” Matt did some clicking on his computer. “Oh, man. My mom must have put this up and friended all those girls. She loves those idiots.”

“More of a LinkedIn kind of guy?” Tiffany teased. “Or are you on Plaxo?”

“I’m not on any of them,” grumbled Matt. He paused. “I don’t have a lot of friends. I mean, I have friends at school, but Mom doesn’t let me talk to them because they’re… Well, poor and smart and she thinks I should hang with the popular kids.”

“Eeeuw!” Tiffany and Jodi groaned together.

“Totally my problem,” said Jodi. “My mom wants me to be normal and all the normal kids are so boring. Or into drugs and other stupid stuff.”

“Same here,” said Matt.

“Well, now you’ll be able to email your real friends,” said Tiffany. “Here’s the address for the proxy server. You can get to the free email sites from there and sign up for your secret address.” She giggled.

“Okay. Uh, thanks. Oh, and do you have an email address?”

“Sure.” Tiffany spelled it twice to be sure Matt had it. “And can you email us your new address so we can give it to Jodi’s aunt so she can give it to June?”

“Sure.”

They clicked off and Matt went directly to the proxy server site and signed up for a new address.