Cameron Lloyd’s eyes grew heavy as he slumped over his keyboard. He had been furiously typing for six and a half hours without so much as a pause and he was absolutely certain he could not take a single second more of the sardonic glare of his laptop screen. His vision was clouded with pixelated characters while his subconscious was still writing line after line of code. A sudden Ping! from the computer jolted Cameron awake. 1 New Notification announced an obnoxious white box that had dropped from the corner of the screen. Cameron muttered something under his breath and clicked open the message. The words New Message Request: Chloe Caldwell flashed across the top of the window. Cameron’s brow furrowed, and he hesitantly opened the message.
Hi! I’m new to the industry and I love your work. Your code is ingenious! You’re the whole reason I decided to leave my old job to become a programmer. I just had to tell you what a huge fan I am!
Cameron blinked. Programmers aren’t exactly accustomed to getting fan mail. Curious, he tapped open her profile. A photo of a beautiful women with wavy brown hair and striking hazel eyes looked back at him. He scrolled through her feed, mostly populated by cliché snapshots with friends, blurry photos of some mainstream band onstage at a concert, and, Cameron’s favorite, pretty photos of her alone smiling softly at the camera, standing in front of the ocean, or a mural, or a balcony overlooking the city. He scrolled down further. No obvious signs of a boyfriend, or a husband, or even a male friend. Intrigued, he clicked back to the message and read it three more times, arguing with himself about whether to respond. Finally, he relented.
It’s nice to know I’ve made such a difference in someone’s life. Working behind the scenes makes you doubt anyone knows about your work at all.
Cameron hit send eagerly, only to immediately doubt his response. Was it too self-deprecating? Did it seem like he was fishing for compliments? He rubbed his eyes for a moment, and by the time he had moved his hands away, the words Chloe is typing had appeared. Cameron leaned in towards the screen, as if his intense stare would make her type faster. After about thirty seconds that had stretched into an eternity, her response arrived.
I don’t believe that! Incredible talent AND good looks? You must be swarmed with admirers!
Cameron stood up so quickly that his chair rolled backwards. He laughed at his own reaction and read the message again, barely collecting his thoughts before his fingers were flying across the keyboard. What followed was forty-eight hours of nonstop communication; neither one of them, it seemed, getting up from their computers for even a moment. Every line Chloe wrote drew Cameron further out of his long-inhabited shell. The pair soon began to share their history: Cameron told Chloe about how his parents’ divorce when he was eight and his mom’s death when he was fifteen; about how his father worked three jobs to put him through college, even with financial aid and a scholarship, and how he had studied long into the night for four long years to end up at the top of his class.
Chloe exchanged each of Cameron’s secrets for one of her own, recounting the death of her own mother when she was too young to remember her, the pained relationship with her stepmother; describing the toxic feeling of worthlessness that followed her for her entire life and led her to accept a thankless job in a monotonous field that she hadn’t even majored in. Every little insecurity that Cameron had resented in himself for so long, Chloe offset with poignant accounts of her own trials and uncertainties. Every minute that flashed by on his laptop’s digital clock marked another way he felt closer to her, another reason he couldn’t pull away. Every click of the keyboard as he typed became sagas of pent-up guilt and emotion that this girl, this brilliant, compassionate girl, had somehow drawn out of him like no one else had ever tried to do. He vented about the bellicose executives he so often battled with, the people who poisoned the industry he once loved so dearly.
Lying manipulators like Lucas Frasier, who had somehow transformed the modest role of programmer into a greedy, corrupt, vindictive tech salesman. Chloe, in turn, cited the people in her own life, bosses, former friends, even ex-boyfriends, who had made her feel as small as these men made Cameron feel. The way she talked about them, like they were obstacles she had learned to overcome, gave him a new perspective, even hope. During one of his rants about Frasier’s frequent faux pas, Chloe asked Cameron why he hated Frasier so much. The question made Cameron stop for a moment. He studied his screen carefully, realizing how he sounded. Why did he hate Frasier? Because he’s a status-seeking exploiter of business, Cameron reaffirmed. But why? He himself had done things professionally that he wasn’t proud of. When the thought of his own lapses in judgement crossed his mind, Cameron had always dismissed them with what, at the time, seemed like a valid justification. Why should Frasier’s mistakes be any different? Cameron was simultaneously annoyed with Chloe for making him doubt Frasier’s culpability, and yet immensely grateful to her for forcing him to contemplate his own hypocrisy.
Chloe brought out the best in him, he thought. She was perfect, he thought. Cameron felt his fingers glide across the keyboard, pouring out every word that entered his mind. He admitted his bias against Frasier, and how it was unfair to have made assumptions since he himself had committed his own transgressions during his career. She asked him to elaborate, and he did. He told her about every piece of code he had copied from another site without crediting the programmer. He told her about every hard-working systems analyst he had underhandedly beat out for a job via morally ambiguous methods. Each time he bared another truth, she consoled and defended him with implausible openness and compassion. He confessed to misdeeds he had buried so far down in his subconscious that he had forgotten about them until they were typed into the message bar in front of him. It felt good to reveal it all. Like a weight had been lifted off him.
That night, Cameron had an uncharacteristically peaceful sleep, dreamless and filled with a vague contentment that, upon waking, he was sure had originated from Chloe and the solace she had given him, the insight she seemed to have into his every thought. Half-smiling, Cameron ambled over to his desk and opened his laptop. His eyes read the words 517 New Notifications at the top of the screen. Barely processing the number, he tapped open his social media feeds. They were flooded, or rather infested, with posts and messages from friends, coworkers, and strangers, all with the same link: an article in a mediocre business magazine that Cameron normally wouldn’t give a second thought to. The headline read:
Millionaire Programming Wunderkind Cameron Lloyd Exposed in Salacious Reveal of Past Misconducts and Plagiarisms.
Cameron’s eyes widened. He felt bile burn in his throat. He scrolled down, reading detailed accounts of his deepest secrets, his most private sins, narratives that seemed to regurgitate the messages he had sent the previous night. Finally, he reached the bottom of the article, and found the line that part of him knew would be there, but that most of him refused to accept. It read, “Source: Lucas Frasier, Senior Programmer at Westbrook Technology Inc.” Cameron hesitated at his keyboard for a moment and then closed his laptop.
There was nothing left for him to type.
Stephanie Markowitz is sixteen years old and lives in Briarcliff Manor, New York with her parents and younger brother. She is active in her school’s student-run newspaper and mock trial club, and she leads a school group focused on social justice and human rights. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys reading novels, painting, listening to music, and writing creative fiction. Additionally, she spends her time watching Wes Anderson movies, going to art museums, and reading the New York Times. Stephanie Markowitz is enrolled in AENG 100Z through UAlbany’s High School Program. In college and beyond, Stephanie plans to continue pursuing her love for writing.