“Hey there, kiddo. You doing all right?”

The boy nodded, not looking up from his laptop, then realized it might be politic to look up and smile and speak and be polite. So he did those things, too.

“Okay, then. You take care. Go on over to the information desk if you need anything.”

He said thank you, politely, and turned back to what he’d been doing. As the cop and his partner walked along their beat, he caught snatches of their conversation snowed in with all the and worked a summer job to and going to be a. They had all been nice to him so far, and he’d been nice to them of course, but he’d been here two days already. Long enough to see how they treated the people who came into the baggage claim at night to try to get out of the cold. They hadn’t been bothering anyone.

Two in the morning. He might actually be able to finish his trip west today, but the gate wouldn’t open for another six hours, and there’d be no one to ask about the weather until then, so he had lots of time to kill yet.

02:17 [theLiz0717] Hello?
02:18 [theLiz0717] Hey, are you there?
02:19 [theLiz0717] Is everything ok?

He thought about unplugging the phone line. The conversation was a distraction, but Liz might end up just calling instead, and he didn’t have many minutes left this month, and he needed to save the ones he did, and the phone needed charging anyway, and he’d have to unplug the laptop, whose battery had never been very good.

02:20 [greasy7] yeah, some cops came by
02:20 [greasy7] didnt want to be rude
02:20 [theLiz0717] Oh, okay.
02:21 [theLiz0717] I probably shouldn't worry.
02:21 [greasy7] no its fine, i understand

Now, it was…pack_sockaddr_in in the bind call? He flipped back and forth a few pages in the book his mom had sent him for his birthday, but he’d lost his place. He set about finding it again.

02:23 [theLiz0717] Have you heard anything new about the
02:24 [greasy7] well the snow stopped earlier, so that's
02:24 [greasy7] theyre trying to clear a runway now i
                think, heard some people talking

Yeah, pack_sockaddr_in and…port, then hostname…does an IP address work there? He’d never written socket code before. Guess I’ll try it and see what happens…

02:25 [theLiz0717] Well, good! I can't wait till you get
02:26 [theLiz0717] I shouldn't be mad about the
                   weather, but I am anyway.
02:26 [theLiz0717] It's keeping you away from me.
02:27 [theLiz0717] Tell them to work faster! :-)

Oh, that does work! And then I just…listen, right? It took him a couple of tries to type out the next line of code, then run the script.

greasy7@strider code $ perl servertest.pl
Tue Jan 2 02:28:19 2001 Server started on port 3019

He smiled at the laptop, much more genuinely than he had at the cops. It worked!

02:29 [greasy7] it works!
02:29 [greasy7] i got my server working
02:31 [theLiz0717] What?
02:32 [greasy7] the server ive been writing to pass the time
02:32 [greasy7] it works!!!!
02:32 [greasy7] Tue Jan 2 02:28:19 2001 Server started on
                port 3019

The client script was a mess, he knew. He’d started it first, thinking that made more sense, but he couldn’t test anything without a server, and it was hard to get on the Internet in the daytime since lots of people wanted the phone lines for work. So he decided to write his own, and now that it was working, he could

02:35 [theLiz0717] I miss you.
02:35 [theLiz0717] I've been checking the news all night,
                   ever since I got home from work, trying
                   to see how soon you might be able to be
02:36 [theLiz0717] Worrying about you, all by yourself.
02:37 [theLiz0717] And thinking about at the hotel when I

He blushed, remembering. He wouldn’t have expected to - but it had all been such a whirlwind. The convention had been in town and he’d decided on a whim to go. He hadn’t really known anyone and wasn’t having a very good time, but then Liz had kind of swept him up into her orbit, and a few months later here he was.

02:39 [greasy7] i'm fine. really!
02:39 [greasy7] you dont need to worry, this isn't bad,

Was it annoying, though? He thought again about unplugging the phone line. Sure, it wasn’t great. He didn’t want to try sleeping in the little cramped room full of cots they’d set up. Better to crash in the daytime, under a row of terminal seats or somewhere else with lots of people around. But he hadn’t run out of anything, and by now the security guys just waved him past when they saw him going out for a smoke. A bath would be nice, he thought, scratching irritably at his scalp. And a bed. And sleeping more than two hours at a time. But other than that?

02:42 [theLiz0717] You must be lonely.
02:42 [greasy7] no not really, it's actually pretty fun
02:43 [greasy7] sleep deprived but that kinda makes it
                better really

He minimized the chat window and went back to the book. Page…349, yeah, let’s see. You still need a socket, but… It made a lot more sense now that he’d already written the other side. Oh, okay, so you read from the server with <SOCK>, and… It took him a few minutes to notice the chat window blinking in the taskbar.

02:44 [theLiz0717] Well, I just hope you're really okay.
02:45 [theLiz0717] I'm not upset or anything. I just want
                   to make sure you're all right. I keep
                   thinking it must be scary being on your
                   own in a strange city, and how much I
                   wouldn't want to feel like I was alone
02:45 [theLiz0717] And it's like you're almost TRYING to
                   push me away right now.
02:47 [theLiz0717] It's just how my mind works, I guess.
02:48 [theLiz0717] I'm sorry. Please don't be mad.
02:49 [theLiz0717] Hello?

He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, wondering what he should say. He tried to go back to writing code, but the fun seemed to have gone out of it. getservbyname does…what, again? It’d be in the index -

02:51 [theLiz0717] Are you there?
02:52 [theLiz0717] Can you get on the MUCK? I want to scene.
02:52 [theLiz0717] (Not with your new vixen character,

He closed the book, and pushed it aside, and stared through the table. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but it felt like his whole brain was…was itching, all of a sudden. He didn’t like the feeling. Focusing again on the laptop screen he noticed that when he looked at the chat window the itchy feeling got worse. He went to minimize it again, but

02:54 [greasy7] no.
02:54 [greasy7] what kind of privacy do you think i have
                right now
02:55 [greasy7] im in an airport terminal, there's people
                all around
02:55 [greasy7] and anyway
02:55 [greasy7] i am FINE right now
02:55 [greasy7] i dont need you worrying over me like this
02:56 [greasy7] i dont need you tryng to make mae feeel bad
                abotu any of this
02:56 [greasy7] maybe i AM truing to push you away
02:56 [greasy7] because maybe yu're making me wan tto
02:57 [greasy7] can you please just STOP
02:57 [greasy7] i havent had but about three hours of slepe
                in the last DAY
02:57 [greasy7] and you want met od eal with all of THIS on
                top of that
02:58 [greasy7] and ALSO scene with you
02:58 [greasy7] i know yuo wnated me to be there by now
02:59 [greasy7] and im not
02:59 [greasy7] AND THATS NOT MY FAULT

Where had that come from? He wiped angrily at his eyes. Had she said it was his fault? He scrolled the chat back, then forward again.

03:01 [theLiz0717] I never said it was your fault

So why did he feel like she had? Why did the itching in his brain feel even worse when he thought about it?

03:03 [theLiz0717] You're tired and you're not making
                   sense, but you don't have to be mean.
03:05 [theLiz0717] Remember why you decided to come stay
                   with me?

He found himself wondering why he had done that. She’d said…and he was pretty bored, there didn’t seem much to do after high school, and it was hard to find a job…she’d offered to let him stay with her, and…but had he actually—? He was tired, and not thinking all that clearly. Maybe she was right. He started typing into the chat window

03:05 [theLiz0717] We'll talk about this when you get here.
03:06 [theLiz0717] You'll apologize for all this and we'll
                   talk about it more after.

and stopped again. He slammed the laptop shut hard enough to startle the man in the rumpled suit who’d dozed off at the next table. He unplugged the phone line, too, just for good measure. It seemed to make his head feel better.

When the ticket counter opened five hours later, he was first in line. He paid a hundred and fifty dollars he couldn’t really afford to change his ticket, and then went and asked about the weather at a different gate. Three hours after that, he was on a plane, a nice new 777, empty enough that they’d given him a seat in business class. Flying southeast, instead of west. The seat in front of him had a phone in it, and the phone had a jack for a modem.

03:37 [theLiz0717] I'll try not to be angry.
08:18 [theLiz0717] Did they get the runway clear?
09:17 [greasy7] i'm going home
09:18 [greasy7 QUIT: ]

greasy7@strider code $ telnet muck.furry.world 2069
Connected to furpile.furry.world.
Escape character is '^]'.
Welcome to
   ____                           _      __              __     __   __
  / __/ __ __  ____  ____  __ __ | | /| / / ___   ____  / / ___/ /  / /
 / _/  / // / / __/ / __/ / // / | |/ |/ / / _ \ / __/ / / / _  /  /_/
/_/    \_,_/ /_/   /_/    \_, /  |__/|__/  \___//_/   /_/  \_,_/  (_)

191 players now online.
Request a new character at http://muck.furry.world:80/cgi-bin/request.pl
Connect an existing character by typing: connect <name> <password>
Type QUIT at any time to disconnect.

connect AliceFoxgirl 1someday5910$
Public Dormitory(#42)
  It's just a place for furs to sleep. There are beds and piles of
blankets scattered here and there.
[It's too dark to see who might be here.]
[3 mail messages waiting. Read with 'mail']
[41 saved. New messages:]
1. Elizabeth (Today at 1:18:31 AM): Are you just angry over what I said
  about this new character of yours? I hope you know I didn't mean it.
2. SmashCat (Today at 2:41:03 AM): hey how's the trip going? let me know
  if you need a place to stay, she sounds PISSED
3. SmashCat (Today at 3:01:19 AM): btw somebody i work with is looking
  for a new junior programmer, i know you wanted to find something like
  that. hey mail me when you get the chance ok?
[V for saved, D# to delete, S# to save, N for new, X for done]
Message 1 deleted.
Message 2 saved. (42 total)
Message 3 saved. (43 total)
where smashcat
SmashCat: ASLEEP
[No new messages.]
[V for saved, N for new, X for done]
To whom?:SmashCat
Write mail?: hey im ok. about that job and place to stay,

(1978 words, ish)

I intend to add a comment system at some point. Until then, please feel free to comment via email or Mastodon. I'll be happy to add your comment verbatim to its parent post, or not, just as you like.