Sixty-two degrees, high overcast and a stiff breeze: the feeble heart of Silicon Valley's anemic winter. The apricot tree in the corner of the yard had finally, reluctantly, shed most its leaves. Laurel had girded herself against the elements with a turtleneck and the addition of socks to her Birkenstocks.
"I feel so bad, leaving you here all alone with nobody but the spiders for company," she confessed as she packed her duffel bags.
Liz was losing her longtime roommate to wanderlust. It was just as well; Laurel hadn't really been happy here in the Silicon Valley, not since graduation. And when Vero -- seemingly gifted with a sixth sense for finding the Zeitgeist in any decade -- had declared her next destination to be somewhere in Eastern Europe, well, Liz shouldn't have been surprised by her roommate's eagerness to tag along. After all, Laurel was an art history major, and places like Prague and Budapest had some of the highest culture-to-rent ratios going.
"Oh, I'll be OK, honey," Liz reassured her friend.
"Yeah, I know -- but I never meant to leave you holding the lease on your own. I mean, I hope you can find another roomie who isn't a psychopath. Or a total geek."
Liz gave Laurel a look that betrayed a little too much confidence, and perhaps a small subterfuge. "Don't worry. I think I've got another roommate lined up."
Laurel was quick to take the bait. "Oh, let me guess," she said with dawning suspicion. "The second I step on the plane, that young, good-looking Armstrong boy's going to show up with a suitcase, right? Oh, you little minx."
Liz raised her palms in surrender, blushing a little. "Oh, I can never get anything past you. OK, OK, guilty as charged. Living in sin -- my Catholic mother will have a holy cow."
"Oh, I think you're in good hands there," Laurel said. "That Paul's a pretty darned great guy, for a nerd."
"Recovering nerd, you mean," Liz corrected. "He's had it with the programming life -- he's voluntarily joining the ranks of the unemployed for a while, until he can work out a career change."
"Oh, that's so cool!" Laurel enthused. "Maybe you won't end up a digit-widow after all."
"Paul and I have been talking about living together for ages," Liz confessed, "but it seems like the time is right -- I mean, it's like kismet central these days, don't you think? Like everything's been mysteriously scripted: Vero goes back to Europe -- she hated it here anyway, didn't she? You get to go along for the adventure, and Paul and I get our shot at domestic bliss -- and in his case, reduced rent. It all works out for everybody. Even Angus. Paul's crazy about him. A man who loves cats -- can you believe that?"
"Gee -- sounds like the fast track to domestic partnerhood," Laurel said, a little askance. "This could turn into something permanent if you're not careful."
Liz eyed her suspiciously. "Exactly how permanent were you thinking?"
"White picket fence? Cozy, home-cooked meals?"
"Well, maybe," Liz smiled. "But I have to admit Paul does look great in an apron."
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A few weeks later, long after Paul had unpacked his bags at the Chateau des Araignies, the phone rang.
Liz answered. Kiki's familiar voice jingled on the line.
Liz hadn't heard from Kiki in ages, not since Gretchen's death. "Hey, stranger," she greeted her cheerfully. "Where've you been lately? I've missed you."
"I've missed you, too," Kiki said. She tried to keep it light. "The last few months have been absolutely hell on my social calendar."
"I read about Barry," Liz said a little tentatively. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sure he is, too," Kiki said in an oddly warm way, then changed the subject. "So, I've been thinking about you. Are you still catering?"
Liz recounted the recent shiftings in her immediate circle. "No, our maitress d'cuisine high-tailed it back to Europe. She took the sous-chef with her, too. It's back to the classifieds for me," she lamented, "as much as I hate the corporate scene."
"I know of an opening," Kiki said in a comically optimistic voice. "There's this little charitable organization I know that's suddenly flush with a lot of grant money. They're on the lookout for a chief administrator with solid business skills, as well as that little something extra. You wouldn't just happen to be interested, would you?"
"Well, maybe," Liz said hopefully. "Who are they?"
"'They' is me, Liz. Me and the estate of Barry Dominic. I desperately need a smart, strong woman these days. Now that I'm a stay-at-home grandmother, the Tejinder Foundation is without a leader."
Liz paused for a moment, then erupted into gleeful, jumping surprise. She wanted to ask 15 questions simultaneously, but all she could manage was a joyful yelp, and "Tell me -- tell, tell, tell, tell!"
"A little girl. Gretchen named her Zoe."
"How did you ever find her?"
"Hey, I'm half Cherokee Indian, remember? Exactly how long do you think they could hide a bunch of teepees from me?"
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TeraMemory Founder Not Dead, Abducted By Aliens, Says Silicon Valley Mogul
PALO ALTO, CA -- Joe Fromage, the CEO of AmeriNet, who shocked shareholders last year by declaring that extraterrestrial beings have been on Earth "for about the last 2,000 years planting the seeds of the digital age," today claimed he would reveal "absolute proof that Barry Dominic did not die in a November yachting mishap as widely believed, but was recalled by alien overlords."
Fromage, the 28-year-old founder of the high-profile Internet consulting firm, insisted that Dominic's disappearance in a yachting accident off Hobart, Tasmania, was "all part of the larger plan." He intends to publish "incontrovertible evidence" over the coming weeks on his Web site, www.smallgrey.org.
"It's really clear that Barry [Dominic] was one of 'Them' -- an extraterrestrial operative -- and has completed his mission," Fromage said.
Asked if he thought any other computer industry luminaries were also aliens, Fromage replied, "Definitely. I've got my eye on the Free Bits guys in particular -- Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Steve Hall. Something about those boys doesn't seem quite, well, terrestrial."
AmeriNet stock declined 22 percent on the announcement.