At one time or another in her thirty-six odd years, Patricia O’Neal had tried everything else in her search for true love: at thirteen, a note sealed in a bottle, flung out to sea from the end of the Santa Monica Pier; at twenty-one, a love-letter folded into a paper airplane and tossed from the top of the Empire State Building; at thirty-one, a personal ad composed on a friend’s dare and published for an excruciating week in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Recalling those winged and bottled supplications to her One True Love, Patricia still liked to pretend that she might one day receive a reply. As for the medium of personal ads, she harbored no such illusions: the creeps who responded to her ad were even more desperate than she.
At least the men she met through her work and at the gallery were in general a well-heeled, educated sort. Even the occasional blind dates her friends arranged were screened by good intentions, sincere if misguided attempts to address her taste in men—preferences she herself had yet to fully articulate, even in her own mind.
Not that she hadn’t tried. Or experimented—might be a more accurate way to describe the failed marriage (sixteen months, in her early twenties), and the two cohabitations (one for six months, the other for a year) that marked her search for enduring love. But she’d know him when she met him—of that Patricia was sure.
Her girlfriend Kate, who lived down Highway 101 in Mill Valley, and who wrote a column on lifestyles in the Independent Journal, had spent one of their weekly lunches at Chevy’s persuading Patricia to try finding a match through an online service. Kate said it was better than a bar; at least you knew the other party was affluent enough to have a computer with a modem, worldly enough to subscribe to an online service and literate enough to compose e-mail.
Kate even offered to give Patricia her semi-obsolete 386X IBM clone that sat unused, collecting dust at home. It was slow, but would do the job.
For an online service provider, Kate had CompuServe at work, but she recommended Patricia subscribe to a new service called America Online, as she herself did at home. AOL had a user-friendly environment, with great forums and bulletin boards, easy e-mail, free Internet access, plus lively chat rooms through its “People Connection” service.
So Patricia did. In a month’s time, she had discovered three bulletin boards of interest (fine art, travel, vegetarian recipes), and engaged in a few interesting (and a few rather inane) conversations on the “People Connection.”
After searching AOL’s member directory for interesting profiles (she agonized over her own for the better part of an evening), she had initiated a correspondence with a falconer in Montana (she was doing a watercolor series on birds of prey), and been flattered by some friendly e-mails from an artist in Georgia named Simon Wiggins, whose work she had long admired in wildlife books and magazines.
After a month, she began “Surfing the Net”—an activity she found only slightly less passive than channel surfing with a TV remote in hand, and a lousy way to connect with people. The online services like CompuServe and AOL did a better job of serving that particular human need.
Knowing this, one Friday morning while waiting for Kate to emerge from an editorial meeting, Patricia browsed the CompuServe member directory on Kate’s computer, searching for acquaintances. Everyone at CompuServe was assigned a number—a scheme Patricia found something less than creative. For every last name she typed in there were a dozen numbers.
At one point she thought she had found Pam Allison—her college roommate and still a close friend—but it turned out to be someone with the same last name and first initial: Allison, P., who happened to share the same zip code in the suburbs north of Pittsburgh.
This Allison’s first name was Paul. His profile said he was a pilot and his favorite recreation was swimming. She too was an avid swimmer, and she had always wanted to learn to fly, but the thing that most piqued her interest was his favorite quote, which read:
“Fly far, fly fast, make memories that last . . .”
Patricia thought of her beloved Uncle Walter—a gallant Irishman with a love of whiskey and poet’s way with words—who as a young man flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain. After the war, Uncle Walter had flown for British Overseas Airways Corporation, BOAC. His postcards from around the world were treasured possessions when she was a girl; she still had them all, stuffed in a shoebox and stored in a steamer trunk under the house. Uncle Walt had died of cancer last year.
Kate came back from her meeting and caught Patricia with Paul Allison’s profile on the screen. Patti stammered a lame-sounding explanation about searching for her friend Pam from college, but Kate wasn’t having any of it. She read the screen over Patti’s shoulder, reciting the line of poetry aloud, obviously enjoying tormenting her best friend.
Patti squirmed in her seat, insisting it had come up by accident, that she wasn’t interested, but Kate scribbled down Allison’s CompuServe address on a scrap of paper, shoved it into her hand and told her to keep it . . . just in case she changed her mind.
Patricia crumpled the scrap of paper into a wad and shoved it into her purse with feigned indifference. But that night when she sat down at her computer, she unfolded the crumpled piece of paper and spread it beside the keyboard.
She booted up the computer and went online at AOL, and then stared at the vapidly cheerful screen, her stomach doing slow flips at the thought of sending an e-mail letter to a complete stranger.
Not that she hadn’t done it before at AOL—but in those instances she had a professional motive. When it came to her work, she was fearless, she was doing research—not looking for romance. She used her business online name, “PattiArt,” and signed it with her real name. It was no different than exchanging business cards at an art show.
This felt different. What could she claim as her purpose?
What if the guy was a jerk?
Lots of guys were jerks; Patricia knew that already.
Besides, she could use her assumed online screen name (“MsFalcon”) and he would never know her real identity. With that thought, Patricia composed a short letter to Paul Allison.
When she was done, she tabbed to the “send mail” icon—a cute envelope with wings—and with fingers poised over the keyboard, said a short prayer to Uncle Walter.
“Why not?” he replied, “What do you have to lose?”
With intelligence and page-turning suspense, this is the story of two lives that intersect on the Internet: Paul Allison, an airline pilot and single-parent of a spirited daughter on the cusp of womanhood, and Patricia O'Neal, a talented and beautiful artist in search of true love. A unique and erotic romance, an unforgettable love story.