Well, it’s time for a new story. Ever since I read, The Enhanced League, by C.S. Boyack, I’ve been itching to put together a collection of stories with an underlying common thread. His collection showed different perspectives of a new sports league. My stories revolve around a mythical company called Kongo.com, an online giant that started out selling consumer goods, but is now into every aspect of consumer life.
I started out with my story No Pain, No Gain then Memories of Rachel, and how this new one, First Impressions.
Eventually, they will appear in an anthology along with another Kongo.com story that I’ve been working on and keeping under wraps.
I hope you enjoy this new one over the coming weeks. I’m not sure how long it will be as they tend to take on a life of their own.
First Impressions – Part 1
Meredith was finally getting her life back together. It had been 18 months since the divorce became final. At 33, she had finally come around to realizing that she was still relatively young and attractive. She had removed herself from an abusive relationship and was moving on. In the immediate months after the divorce, she couldn’t imagine looking for another relationship. She had sworn off men and was determined to go it alone and revel in her newly found freedom.
Then, as she observed those around her, she would notice the second glance from men in the coffee shop, the lingering smile from other in the grocery store. She felt that, possibly, she was ready to put herself out there and could potentially enjoy the company of the opposite sex once again. Being a very analytical person that was comfortable with technology, Meredith decided to check out the latest dating apps. She wanted something that was between the virtual meat markets like Tinder and other similar apps and the marriage-minded services like eHarmony. She wanted to date, but she didn’t want one-night stands and she wasn’t ready for a long-term commitment.
Her analysis of what was out there brought her to Kongo Match. This relatively new online service offered by the online behemoth, Kongo.com, seemed to fit the bill. It was noted for carefully screening the backgrounds of those that signed up and had a very good track record of matching people with not only similar, but complementary interests, as well. Kongo.com had close to a billion members. Meredith was among them. She subscribed to the Kongo VIP service which guaranteed her free delivery, often the same or next day, and put her in line for newly emerging services from the company.
The registration process for Kongo Match was extensive. It was almost like filling out a job application. There were several sections that probed an applicant’s education, work history, finances and personal interests. The process took Meredith through several screens asking her about her favorite books, favorite genres of television and movies, favorite music, favorite hobbies and many other facets of her life. Kongo used the response to match applicants up with others in similar social strata with similar likes and dislikes. Of course, because the membership was free, Meredith assumed that Kongo would use her responses to customize her online shopping view to those things for which she indicated a preference. She was fine with that. She understood how companies used information like this. It was up to the consumer to exercise self-control.
After she completed her application, she expected to receive notifications for matches with all manner of riff-raff, but, surprisingly, there were no responses within the first two days. She thought that maybe she was too unique or too difficult to match with anyone. The thought depressed her. Kongo Match had over 20 million members. More than 50% were male. If none of them came up as a match, maybe, Meredith thought, she faced a life of being alone and unmatchable. Then, on the third day, she received a notification of a single notification in her inbox. She reluctantly clicked it half expecting a notification from Kongo Match telling her that she was a loser and had no potential matches. What she found surprised her.
We are please to let you know that Kongo Match has found what we believe to be a perfect match for you based on your preferences. We apologize for the delay in providing you with the information, but we take this mission of bringing people together very seriously. When you read the information about your potential match, we believe you will agree that the wait was worth it.
Please review the profile for John. If you like what you see and want to provide your information to him, just let us know and we will help you get acquainted.
Meredith was surprised at the level of security, but also pleased. As she scrolled through the background for John, she noted how very close they were in background, education and preferences. John also was in a similar economic level. One thing that was not included was a photograph. She assumed this would be shared later.
Meredith looked over John’s background information a few times looking for areas of concern or some chink in the armor, but she found none. Finally, with only the slightest hesitation, she clicked the ‘Yes’ radio button indicating that she wanted Kongo Match to share her information with John.
She settled in to watch a movie on Kongo’s streaming service when, after only 30 minutes, a notification popped up on her phone.
Kongo Match has a response waiting for you
Meredith paused the movie and clicked on the Kongo Match icon and went to her inbox.
Good news. John has reviewed your profile and has indicated that he is interested in sharing a photograph and contact information with you. Please click the link below to receive this information. Please Note: Kongo Match will not share your photo or contact information with John unless you indicate that it is okay.
Meredith clicked on the link. The man she saw was good looking, about her age. He had thick brown hair with a slight curl to it. He had a strong jawline and a kind face. The most notable feature that he possessed was a set of piercing, intelligent hazel eyes. He looked like someone she wanted to meet.
She again clicked the ‘Yes’ radio button indicating that she liked what she saw. Again, she only hesitated slightly before clicking ‘OK’ when the next message appeared.
Meredith: You have indicated that you would like to move to the next step with regard to contacting John. By clicking okay, you are agreeing to provide John with your photograph and a brief message of introduction. John will also receive your Kongo Match email address. Are you sure you would like to proceed?
Meredith hovered her icon over the OK button and then clicked it. A box popped up so that she could type an introductory message of 144 characters or less. She thought about what to say and then typed:
Kongo Match’s technology thinks we are compatible. Let’s try to prove the technology right or wrong. Let me know if you’d like to get in touch. I’m new at this, so be patient.
She thought it sounded corny, but, what the heck. She clicked send and didn’t give it another thought as she engrossed herself in the movie.
As the closing credits rolled by, another notification from Kongo Match popped up on her phone display. She checked the inbox and it was a message from John.
Meredith, Aside from occasional mix-ups in the order I receive from Kongo, their technology seems very advanced and accurate. Who am I to argue, let’s give it a try.
Meredith liked the humor in his response. Maybe this was going to be fun.
In the coming weeks, with help from Kongo Match, Meredith and John engaged in a virtual chess match as they corresponded with each other. Each of them had been burned in past relationships and they were being cautious with the information they shared. The end result was that neither of them seemed to be psychopathic or dishonest. They finally set a time to meet for dinner. Meredith would meet John at a local Tuscan-Italian restaurant for an early dinner on the next Friday night.
As Friday arrived, Meredith carefully chose an outfit that was somewhere between librarian and hooker. She wanted to look attractive, but not desperate. She chose a silk blouse and tailored capris. As she looked in the mirror, she thought she looked attractive and relaxed. It was just dinner. No commitments and no pressure.
She arrived at the restaurant about five minutes after the time they said they would meet. The hostess indicated that her dining partner was already seated. She followed the hostess to a table in the back of the dining room and recognized John immediately. He rose from his seat to greet her with a handshake and actually held her chair as she sat. Manners. That was a good sign.
“It’s so great to meet you in person,” John said. “I feel like I know you from our chats back and forth.”
“I feel that way too.”
Just as the conversation was about to lapse into that uncomfortable stage, a waiter appeared.
“Can I take your drink orders?”
John gestured to Meredith.
“I’d like a glass of white Zinfandel,” Meredith said wondering if alcohol was the right choice.
“Actually, let’s make that a bottle,” John said, confirming the choice.
As they settled in to dinner and sipping the wine, the conversation came much more easily. John listened attentively as Meredith talked about her work and her likes and dislikes. She did the same as he spoke about his job as a financial analyst and his love of jazz music. They both fumbled over their most recent failed relationships. As it turned out, both of them had been the victims of cheating spouses. This seemed to bring them closer together as they discussed the hurt they had experienced.
As John spoke, Meredith was drawn continually to his eyes. They were intelligent and sincere. There was not way this man she was speaking to could get away with not telling the truth. His eyes were transparent windows into his psyche.
As they spoke through the main course and a shared dessert, their hands moved closer together on the table. When they finally touched, Meredith found herself holding hands with this man she just met. The electricity was undeniable. She saw, from his eyes, that he felt it too. She felt a stirring in parts of her body that had been dormant since the divorce. She promised herself that this date would just be dinner, but that promise appeared to be in serious jeopardy. Of course, she began to rationalize, even though this was the first in-person date, she and John had been communicating for weeks. It wasn’t as if this was a blind date.
As they walked out of the restaurant toward her car, she could tell John was conflicted between being a gentleman and acting upon what he felt. She made it easier for him by embracing him and giving him a kiss that communicated the hunger she felt. Before she knew it, John was in her car and she was driving toward her apartment. The walls she had erected were crumbling.
Meredith led John to her bedroom. She hurriedly put her keys and phone on the nightstand and they began their night of passion. Meredith had forgotten how good she could feel in the arms of a man. Even though it had only been a short time since the divorce, the time from when she had been intimate with a man was much longer. The marriage had ended long before the divorce.
In the afterglow, she lay in John’s arms feeling safe and happier than she had been in a while. As she looked at his face, she saw that he felt the same. They slept briefly, but John awoke to use the restroom and Meredith put on some clothes while he was gone.
He came back from the bathroom wearing his boxers and shirt.
“I feel awful about this,” he said. “I have an important meeting tomorrow and I need to get back to my car.”
“I understand,” Meredith said with sincerity.
“It’s just…I don’t want you to think this was a one-night thing. I didn’t expect…I knew I had this meeting and I thought it would just be dinner…I mean.”
“No need to explain,” Meredith said. “I thought the same thing. I will bring you back to your car. You focus on your meeting and we’ll talk about where this goes next. I enjoyed the evening very much.”
“I did too. Listen, I’ll get an Uber. There’s no reason for you to go out again.”
“Okay. It’s no trouble, though.”
“I’m fine with an Uber. I’d feel better if you’re not out driving alone at this time of night.”
Meredith appreciated the chivalry of this man. His Uber came within ten minutes and she thought about all of the wonderful things she felt as she drifted off to sleep. She slept dreamlessly until her alarm cruelly work her up. As she looked at the clock on her nightstand, she realized that it was only 6 AM. Her alarm was set for 6:45. It was actually her phone that was ringing. The number belonged to her coworker and office mate Marian.
“Hello,” Meredith said groggily.
“Meredith. I’m sorry to bother you, but I figured, well…you better look at your email from work.”
“Why? What is it?”
“Just look at it. It’s better if you see if first.”
Meredith took her phone away from her ear and switched to her email app. She saw nothing out of the ordinary except for an email from Kongo Match that went to her work email address. That was strange. She never provided this address when filling out her profile. She clicked on the message:
It looks like someone from your company has been enjoying their companion that they found through Kongo Match.
There was a link to what turned out to be a video.
It was dimly lit at first, but then she realized, in horror, what she was looking at. The perspective was from the nightstand in her room. The dimly lit figures in the video were naked and they were passionately engaged on her bed. She then realized that it was her own body underneath that of John. It was a video of their night together. She quickly closed the video and, in the CC: field of the email, she saw that everyone in her company, over 150 people, had received the email with the video link. She put the phone back to her ear.
“I don’t know where this came from, Marian and I certainly don’t know how it was sent to everyone. I didn’t intentionally record this video.”
“Well, I thought I better warn you. Otherwise it would have been uncomfortable coming into work and getting blindsided.”
As Marian finished her thought, another call came in. It was John. She reluctantly told Marian she’d call her back and answered the call.
“John, what is it?”
“Meredith, we have a serious problem.”