The packages started coming in February. A steady stream of certified envelopes that looked a lot like the debt collection notices Greg was used to receiving, only these were addressed to Liz and needed to be signed for. Life, to Greg, had been much more comfortable since they’d emptied their stale apartments, and leased a three bedroom house on the southwest side of town. He would still have his private office, she’d have her own studio, and they could elevate the seriousness of the relationship. After christening their new home with a bottle of wine, and a tightly rolled, rainy-day joint, they’d had a blurry-eyed, lazy-tongued, not-as-deep-as-it-seemed conversation which led to the conclusion that all of their problems had stemmed from living apart. “I’m just . . . so glad I get to wake up with you – every day,” she had said as they melted into the couch. From his office window, Greg watched Liz signing for the mysterious envelopes through spring. He started paying attention, and had learned that it always arrived on the first Tuesday of every month, around midday. She was in an especially good mood on those days, waking early with coffee ready and breakfast on the way when Greg shuffled sleepily down the stairs. With breakfast down, and coffee in his thermos, he could get right to work in the office.Lately, ‘work’ had been starting off more and more frequently with a quick toke off of his vaporizer – a contraption that cooked his secret stash without making smoke, or giving off much of that skunky scent. After that he’d play around on you-tube, and scan the newspaper for sources of inspiration, or, maybe spend a few hours playing an online role-playing game that a buddy from college had recently turned him on to. Around twelve o’ clock he’d see Liz trotting outside to meet the Fed-Ex employee in the driveway, signing for the envelope, and plucking the rest of the mail out of the box. She’d walk quickly back to the porch, place the heap atop the table, light up a Virginia Slim, and delicately tear open the special envelope. She glanced over the contents quickly, and then slid the paper into the back pocket of her jeans. She would open the rest of the mail slowly, satisfied with whatever she’d found in the parcel. She separated spent envelopes, junk mail, and Greg’s financial woes into one pile, and his rejection letters, and important bills into another. When she was done, she would transport the trash pile directly to the garbage can on the street, instead of traversing the shorter distance to the trash bin in the kitchen. After disposing the evidence, she would walk back down the driveway to the house, poke her head in, and announce that she was running an errand of some sort. He waited for her to say something about the letters, but she never mentioned them, even when he asked, “Anything good in the mail today?” One day, he started writing a detective story inspired by Liz’s postal habits: a quirky piece about certified letters, anthrax, and the Amazonian rainforest. He didn’t want to spoil the mystery (and his inspiration) by simply asking her directly, what the letters were, he had gotten into character -- he waited for clues. He went so far as to dig through the trash on the curb once, but the address told him nothing, and the sender read simply KP Associates. A quick search on line identified KP associates as a multifaceted firm handling law, accounting, and numerous other business matters. He asked specifically about the letters in June, confronting her on the porch, before her thin cigarette had burned away. “It’s this online survey thing,” she shrugged, “I fill out surveys, and they send me a check every month – it’s more of a hobby than anything—something I do when I’m bored.” He asked her how much she got for it, “It’s kind of embarrassing, but this one’s for fifteen,” she said, flashing the check at him (endorsement side out), before it was pocketed. Greg had been disappointed with the dull conclusion to the mystery. Progress on the detective story stalled. “It’s money,” he said. On the first Tuesday of July, however, he watched her collect the check again, and this time, reading the letter made her jump right out of her chair. Her eyes scanned the paper again, her jaw dropping open, and the cigarette falling to the ground. She glanced around the yard quickly, then at the dining room window, and Greg’s office window, to make sure no one had seen her reaction. She stooped to recover the cigarette, then spun around and shouted through the open door that she was running to the store. The rest of the mail was left, unopened, on the table. She climbed into her Jeep with the cigarette still burning – she never smoked in the car – and she was smiling as she drove away. Slightly embarrassed to have been spying on his girlfriend, he got up off his knees at the window sill, chuckling to himself as he did so. “Online surveys my ass,” he muttered in the tough, scratchy voice that he’d given to the gumshoe in his story. What was she hiding? He doubted that it was anything serious - - she wouldn’t have an affair through certified snail mail, would she?At his computer, Greg exited the role-playing game, and tapped out a list of the possible uses for certified letters, affidavits, checks, legal documents of all sorts, contracts, ect.. Then he enumerated some reasons to hide what she was receiving, which became an ever-expanding list thanks to Greg’s overactive imagination. The motives that moved to the top this list included orders for her secret life as an assassin, a child-support con, and, possibly payment for live-web-cam shows. He was ninety-eight percent sure that her reasons for concealing the truth had nothing to do with assassinations or porn, but Greg just couldn’t rationalize hiding anything less outlandish from him. Early in Liz and Greg’s relationship, they had both admitted to being very possessive, almost abusive companions. He told her that he had effectively sabotaged every romance since high school with his paranoia, distrust, and nonexistent respect for privacy. “Been there, done that, never want to do it again,” she began, “It’s too much work trying to keep tabs on your mate – just tell me you’ll be real with me.”“Just tell me that I don’t have to worry when you’re out there in public, looking so damn beautiful.”But this was a different situation. He wasn’t too concerned about the sanctity of their relationship. This was a secret that probably had nothing to do with him, and he knew that he should just let her keep it. It took all of his willpower to stop himself from snooping through her Jeep, studio, cell phone, and computer. The old Greg would do that, he told himself, but new Greg knew better. In September, Liz received two checks; the first arrived, as usual, on Tuesday. The second came on the following Wednesday; Greg saw the Fed-Ex van pulling up, and the driver climbing out with the familiar envelope. He started to call out to her, but decided instead to go sign for it himself. He opened the door to his office quietly, noted that she was in the bathroom down the hall, and hurried past the kitchen, and through the living room to the front door before the bell was rung. “Oh,” the driver was surprised to see a new face, his index finger hovering inches away from the doorbell, “Good afternoon sir, I have a package for Mrs. Johnson. “ “I’m afraid she’s predisposed, at the moment, but I can sign for that,” Greg spoke quietly, and held his hand out for the signature pad that looked like more like a beefed-up phaser from Star Trek. “I’m sorry sir, only the addressee can sign for it.” “It’s okay, she’s my wife,” Greg lied, and motioned again with his extended hand. The driver’s brow furrowed. “Actually, only Miss Johnson can sign for it, I wouldn’t want to get in trouble,” Greg heard the bathroom door open, and watched Liz emerge, wrapped in a brightly colored beach towel, wet hair dripping down her shoulders. “Hey, honey,” he called, feeling funny for having never called her that before, “Federal Express is here for you.”“Oh!” She tried to hustle toward the stairs, but could take only half-steps with the towel wrapped around her, “Tell him I’ll be right there!” Greg turned back to the driver.“She’ll be right here,” he said, the driver nodded and glanced at his watch. Greg heard a loud THUD and turned around to see that Liz had tripped on the carpeted stairs, the towel piled around her ankles. She laughed, kicked it off and ran up the stairs in the nude, her long legs taking them two at a time, breasts bouncing, and the muscles of her back flexing. Greg laughed at the goofy/sexy scene, and decided that once this was done, he would take her right there in the living room, on the coffee table if he could manage it. “She’ll be quick,” Greg repeated, turning again to the man at the door. The driver was blushing, studying his scuffed leather boots, and Greg realized that with his line of sight, he’d probably witnessed the naked stair-climb. The stranger in the doorway looked so uncomfortable that Greg wasn’t bothered by the fact that he’d seen his girlfriend naked. He started laughing, and the driver did too, and when Liz made it to the door in her bathrobe, tears were streaming down both of their faces.“What’s going on?” She asked shyly, on the verge of joining in the laughter by mere association.“Fed-Ex guy --,” Greg began, but couldn’t stop giggling, and in his mind he knew that it wasn’t even that funny, “—saw –,” he leaned against the door frame and heaved with laughter. The driver dropped the certified letter from under his arm, and bent slightly, placing one hand on his knee, trying to catch his breath “— you naked.“ The laughter reached its apex, and finally the two were able to compose themselves. Liz’s face had turned red, and she looked hurt. “Well, I’m glad you found my nudity so comical.”“No, no,” the driver said, peeking at her through glittering eyes, “There was nothing funny about it!” Liz looked away, and Greg raised an eyebrow. “That didn’t come out right, I mean, it wasn’t funny. It was nice,” the driver gave Greg an apologetic look and shrugged.“It was the situation, darling,” Greg put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek, “We both think you’re smoking hot.”“So, Ms. Jones, if you could just sign for this,” the driver struggled to regain his professionalism; he fumbled with the phaser, and picked the envelope up off the porch. He handed it to her without taking his eyes off the machine, then held that out for her to sign, shifting his weight back and forth like a child that needs to urinate.“Thank you,” he said, his eyes flitting over the two of them, “and have a nice day,” he quick-stepped off the porch, and back toward his van, “And watch that third step, it’s a doozie!” Greg chuckled, and closed the door, “I like that guy.”“I’m so embarrassed,” she chewed on her thumb nail, “Am I gross, is that why you were laughing?” “Are you kidding me?” Greg put his hands on her hips, and spun her around to face the full-length mirror in the dining room. He slowly untied the robe, standing behind her, lips tickling her ear, “You are perfect.” About an hour later, as he was changing the tablecloth, Greg found the envelope in Liz’s bathrobe pocket. He could hear her singing softly through the bathroom door, and, wiping the sweat off his brow, he suspected that she was taking a cold shower. He glanced at the return address, KP Associates again, out of Los Angeles. He stared at the gap underneath the bathroom door for a moment, listening to the water running, and then he took the letter into the kitchen. Greg put a bit of water into one of Liz's copper pots, turned the range on high and waited impatiently, ready to return the envelope as soon as the shower stopped running. He’d seen it done in the movies, steaming an envelope to open it secretly, but it took longer than he expected it to. As soon as the adhesive gave way, he withdrew the check, and threw the damp envelope in the freezer to get rid of the moisture. There was some text on the first page, above the perforated line:Kitzhab & Phinney AccountingPayment Summary for Eliza K. Johnson Employer: Everyday.com Base Pay: $6,000.00 Traffic: $2,326.33 Advertisements: $9,420.72 Net Pay: $17,747.05*Itemized payment details on pages 2-6. Greg scanned the five pages of payment details in disbelief. There were some big names: Nike, Dell, Amazon, Microsoft, and Vogue, to name a few. Greg was mystified, seventeen thousand dollars for filling out surveys? He read the employer name again, and then quickly repackaged the letter, licking the adhesive, and sliding it back into her fuzzy robe pocket. His mind was racing – so much money – was all of her certified mail worth that much? Why on earth would she keep this from him? To keep himself busy, he went back into the kitchen and began chopping up some fruit for a smoothie while he planned out his next act of gumshoeing.Moments later, Liz sat cross-legged atop the gray marble island, and Greg leaned against the refrigerator door pretending to be absorbed in a Times article while they drank their smoothies. “Whatcha’ reading?” She asked. “Nukes and Iran,” he didn’t look up. “Do you think there will be a war?” “Yes,” he said, and then Liz commented again on how much better-tasting his smoothie’s were.“It’s the Gregory touch,” he winked, and neglected once again to tell her that he added a large scoop of ice cream. He liked her to look healthy, and sometimes her responsible diets made her too thin. It felt good to have a little secret of his very own.“Mmmm, I like the ‘Gregory-touch,’ she licked her lips, and winked back at him. The envelope rustled in her pocket as she raised her glass. “So, that survey thing must be working out, huh?” “Survey thi-? Oh! Yeah, they’re paying me the big bucks now!” She grinned. “How much do you think that one’s for?” Greg asked, nodding at the envelope.“The one yesterday was for fifteen,” She shrugged, focusing her attention on a larger than normal raspberry seed floating in her glass, and poking at it with her straw.“Oh.” Fifteen thousand, Greg guessed. They sipped in silence for a moment, and then Liz glanced at the clock, cursed her bank for not being open past five, scurried upstairs to the bedroom -- without tripping -- dressed, and whirled out the door.A minute later, Greg was in her studio. He scanned the painting-in-progress on the easel, leafed through a few charcoal sketches on the table, and then sat down at her desk. A screen saver was running, a slide show displaying their trip to Hawaii, pictures of his first attempt at surfing, the harrowing motorcycle ride up to the Haleakalā volcano, Eucalyptus trees, the snorkeling misadventure. For the first time in a long while, Greg sensed a bitterness creeping in. She was lying to him and it hurt. Eventually, Greg nudged the wireless mouse and Liz’s virtual desktop replaced the blurry picture of a tortoise' shell bobbing in the water. Floating icons for Photoshop, Itunes, and Word along with a multitude of thumbnails of her artwork filled the screen, but he saw nothing about surveys, or the ‘Everyday’ website. He drummed his fingers on the desk, and then opened the internet browser.She’d never asked him to stay off her computer, but maybe, he thought, because this was his very first time snooping with Liz. He was violating their trust to see whether she had done the same. Before he finished typing Everyday.com in the address bar, a drop-down list appeared with ‘Katherine's thoughts’ in the URL. Greg highlighted it, and hit ‘enter.’An artsy black and white photo of an attractive young woman materialized on the left side of the page. She wore a big smile, curly red hair capped with a knit beanie, designer glasses, and a petticoat. She was holding a muffin in one hand, and a steaming cup of coffee in the other and she was standing in the middle of a busy street. Flanked by multiple advertisements, the heading on the page read, Katherine’s Thoughts, and Other Random Ramblings, and a long list of entries ran to the bottom of the page. Greg scanned some of the titles: The Situation, Today was a good day! I do get Nervous Sometimes, Greg’s Story, I think I want a dog – he stopped reading, and looked again at the picture and said out loud, “I don’t believe it.” He finally realized the picture was of Liz, only she had dark hair, and glasses . . . and a nose ring . . . Katherine was her middle name, and she was a blogger! At the bottom of the page, a counter reported that the number of visits to her site was in the millions, and that she had half a million fans on Facebook. Greg leaned back in his chair, and let out the breath he’d been holding. His girlfriend was famous . . . He looked again at the postings, and clicked on Greg’s Story posted back in January. One short paragraph materialized in front of him: “So here we are again. I’ve committed to moving in with Greg and I’ve been having anxiety attacks ever since I turned in the thirty-day notice to my landlord. When my relationship with Nathaniel went sour a few months ago, I swore that I’d live alone for a year . . . I guess I lied. I was originally attracted to him because of his carefree ways, and his devotion to living life without a schedule, but now, I’m having second thoughts. It’ll be fine, right? I mean – I love being around him. Greg’s always been sweet, and kind, and happy. I guess I’ll tell you a little bit more about him, so you have a good idea about what I’m getting into. Greg is a brilliant writer, but he hasn’t published much yet, I’d tell you the title of his first book, but, that would destroy the anonymity of this blog and lead to censorship. Out of high school, Greg enlisted in the Army as an infantryman, but while he was in basic training, his high school sweetheart died in a car accident. He left training for the funeral, and never went back. He regrets it sometimes . . . and he still talks about reenlisting. After that, he enrolled in school for a year, and then his grandfather died . . .”And it went on through all the major events in his life, along with minute and embarrassing details, she described his year in college, the drop-out situation, the short-lived drug problem, the book-deal, his trust-issues, the infidelity of his last relationship, his first publication, his first book, and on and on. She had disclosed his life-story to the World Wide Web, and now he felt like an insect, wrapped up in it, waiting for the spider. After clicking the ‘back’ button, he scrolled angrily up to the most recent entry. It was titled The Situation:“I’ve got that all-too-familiar feeling – ‘itchy feet’ – is what I call it. Greg is a writer that doesn’t write. He spends at least six hours every day in his office, but the whole time we’ve been living together, he hasn’t produced anything. I thought that maybe he had some secret project going on in there (like me), and so I went in and looked around. On his computer, in his ‘work’ file I did find one recent addition – but it was only six pages long. Six pages in seven months?! Since I’ve known him, I have produced, and sold seventeen paintings along with managing this website. So, what the hell is he doing with all of that time? Video games! Yeah, I found the game, and clicked it open to see that he has spent, collectively, forty-two days playing one of those MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). He’s got debt collectors sending letters almost every day, calling the house phone, and my cell phone; and he’s playing a video game – probably with that no-good friend of his from college that keeps giving him weed. I think it’s time to end it.” Greg read, and reread the passage. It hurt. It was true that she had been the bread-winner for a couple of months, since the money from his first book had stopped pouring in. They’d spoken about it, and but he didn’t think that they were worrying about it. She didn’t mention how he had made the down-payment on the lease, or had paid for at least half of her updated studio supplies, or the trip to Hawaii. The anger faded quickly, as Greg considered ‘Katherine’s’ point of view. Her secret was making her wealthy, and successful, and his was making him lazy, and lethargic. She was, of course, making money off of their relationship, and he was still a bit angry about that, but she was right. He suddenly felt very small, and insignificant in her life.Liz moved out a week later, into a large flat downtown. He never told her that he’d discovered her blog, and didn’t fight when she said she was leaving him. He felt like he needed her to go – he would remold himself while she was away, and maybe they could give it another shot once he did. Life happened quickly once she was gone. He was lonely, he read her blogs, and he became productive. He uninstalled the game, left the vaporizer on the steps of his old frat-house in Linfield, and really worked for the first time in a long while. The detective story turned into a novel, which turned into a screenplay, and soon enough was in the early stages of production as a feature-length movie. He started his own blog, and, surprisingly, it wasn’t long before he had a healthy following. Eventually he unabashedly identified himself as the Greg from Katherine’s Thoughts. He thought it was only fair – and – he desperately wanted her to read it. Both of their websites gained a sizable boost in traffic, (as well as increased book sales) and soon Greg was receiving his own certified letters. He followed her blogs religiously, and two years after the breakup, in February, she posted one sentence followed by a link to his page: “That’s the Greg I fell in love with.”
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