The money appears in Sarah’s account one weekend. She stares and blinks for several minutes at the number on the screen.
Then she calls Alison. It had to be Alison, well-meaning, but overstepping boundaries again. Even for her, this was a bit much.
“It wasn’t me, Sarah,” Alison says, insulted by the question. “Cosima called too. We all got the same amount.”
It’s strange. Very strange. But Sarah doesn’t have the time to look into it. Also, she doesn’t want the money to go away. So she leaves it.
It happens again the next month.
“Yeah, alright,” she says into her phone, but she’s already on hold. The music immediately gives her a headache. She has plenty of time to sit and think about why she’s so eager to throw free money away.
“She says not to worry.”
The voice is so quiet above the smooth jazz pouring out of her phone that she barely registers it. She turns her head to see Kira’s head peeking out from the hallway.
“Who says, Monkey?”
“My friend,” Kira says. “She says that you shouldn’t worry about the money.”
Sarah’s eyes widen. She lowers the phone into her lap.
Kira leads Sarah to her laptop. A farming game is open on the screen, dripping with bright colors.
“You met someone in the game?” Sarah asks.
“Mhm,” Kira hums, pointing to the chat window in the corner.
There, Sarah sees it.
<karitsa> tell her not to worry
<karitsa> its ok
“Babe,” Sarah croaks. “I’m gonna talk to her for a minute, okay?”
“Okay,” Kira chirps. “But I need to harvest my tomatoes soon.”
Sarah mumbles something like an acknowledgement as Kira leaves the room. Her fingers hover over the keyboard, hesitating. She draws a deep breath and then types.
<kstar11> who is this?
Seconds tick by. Cheery music bubbles out from the laptop speakers. Sarah doesn’t blink.
That’s when Sarah knows. Maybe she’d already known. Her breath catches. Her vision clouds with tears.
She has to say something. A million thoughts rush into her head. Only one reaches her fingers.
<kstar11> i’m sorry
She doesn’t say her name. She can’t. If she says it, it might not be real.
<karitsa> don’t be sorry
The words are a blur; Sarah can barely read them. She leans close to the screen until she can feel its warmth. She types.
<kstar11> come back
Sarah curls in on herself, wrapping her arms tight around her waist. She rocks back and forth in her seat and waits.
<karitsa> i can’t
<karitsa> not yet
Her fingers fly to the keyboard before she has the words. But she’s too late.
<karitsa has logged off.>
She’s gone. Just like that. Sarah stares blankly at the screen, watching pixelated grass wave in the breeze.
Then she drives her fist into the desk.