Read Part 1 of this story here.
Julie ended up winning the second and third games. She maintained her strict vow of silence in both games. Henry, it appeared, seemed content to play both games without chatting. After losing the third game, he politely thanked Julie for the games and went offline almost at once.
For the next three days they did not see each other online. Both of them played many games over that period but at different times of day or in different rooms on the site. On the fourth day however, their paths crossed once again. At first Julie had not registered the fact that she was playing Henry. It was only when he sent a note saying <fancy seeing u again> that she looked at the name beside the avatar.
<Hi there,> she replied, mindful of the need to capitalize and punctuate. <Good luck.>
It took her a moment, but she quickly saw the word “bootee” among the melee of tiles in her rack. A few seconds passed and after Henry played his word (“lewd”) under the first three letters of Julie’s word, he sent another message to Julie: <that’s what i’m talking about!>
<It’s a shoe.>
Cheeky bastard, she thought.
Julie laid down a 50-point bingo (“chutzpah”) and just seconds later Henry countered with his own 40-point bingo (“misfits”). Spurred on by his last comment, Julie wrote <Very apropos, no?>
<misfit? i’d call u more of a renegade.>
Julie’s eyes widened at the bravado of this nameless, faceless hunkyhenry pirate character. Henry took his time to put down his next word (“czar”). Julie collected her thoughts: <Shame about the loss of your C. It could have worked better with a word like “CHUNKY.”>
Julie smiled beatifically at her witticism. Though not the funniest person in the world, she prided herself on her dexterity with the English language. When no reply came — and instead she and Henry started putting down words at breakneck speed — she began to question what she had written. She wondered if he really was overweight or if, heaven forbid, he was obese to the point of being confined to his home. Perhaps this was his only solace, she considered. Julie began panicking. She could not stand the thought of hurting someone’s feelings to the point that she obsessed over it; she had been the victim of too many racial slurs as a child to ever want to inflict that kind of verbal pain on others.
Julie put down her last tiles (building “dog” off “hang” to make “hangdog”). She had won the game but had never felt worse. She stared in wonder at her computer screen, her breath becoming ever shorter. She was consumed with guilt and convinced she had assaulted Henry’s fragile ego. She had to rectify this debacle at once, she told herself.
<Henry,> she started tentatively, hoping that by using his first name it might amplify her plea to the same degree that it relieved his pain. <I’m sorry about the “chunky” comment. It was…>
Before she had time to finish her mea culpa, Henry chimed in with <what? no worries…sorry, was really focused on keeping up with you…you’re way better at this game than me.>
And just like that, Julie’s guilt was assuaged and her pride restored.
<Come on! What are you talking about? Your ranking is almost 100 points higher than mine.>
<you’re honestly the best person i’ve played on this site.>
Julie was tongue-tied. Her usually nimble fingers felt like dangling slabs of meat. She had never liked being complimented. It made her feel awkward, anxious and disoriented. She felt the way some people get when they are asked to give a speech or dance in front of others.
<I bet you say that to all the girls you play.> Julie’s skin crawled even as she wrote the sentence. She leaned on the BACKSPACE button before starting again: <Well, you’re not so bad yourself.> Then there was a pause. Her fingers readied on the keys. <One more??>
The fact that she had placed two question marks at the end of her sentence was more telling than any of the words she had written. A stickler for grammar (she was the only person she knew of who had actually enjoyed The Chicago Manual of Style and listened to every Grammar Girl podcast), she had now committed what was in her mind an abhorrently offensive act of punctuation in an effort to make herself look younger and friendlier.
When <sure…i’ve got all night…> was sent back, Julie experienced something she had not felt in almost two decades: a coronary spark.