Alyssa Caine is catching up on articles on Facebook when the chat screen pops up. The header says it’s Zelda Burch. Alyssa shakes her head.
“Hello, Leah. Or is this your accomplice?”
She’s been corresponding with Zelda since her birthday several days earlier. Alyssa was getting ready for a weekend gig as a princess at a child’s party when Zelda first got in touch, so Alyssa’s vetting was very quick and not very thorough. She’s since become convinced Zelda is not who she claims to be, and Alyssa is almost certain it’s her sister Leah and a friend playing a joke on her. Leah’s always bugging Alyssa about how open she is on social media, and has supplied Alyssa with a number of questions to ask people who want to connect to ascertain their intentions, as well as procedures for guarding her private information.
Alyssa types, “Good evening, Zelda. What’s on your mind tonight?”
“Just wanted to chat,” Zelda types back. “Stressful day in class. You know how it is.”
“Yes, I do.”
When Zelda first connected, she claimed to be a teacher who met Alyssa at a conference some months earlier, but Alyssa recalls vivid details from that conference and has no memory of anyone by that name. When she investigated, Alyssa could find no evidence Zelda had ever been in a classroom, outside of possibly homeschooling. There are no photos from her school nor posts about her “kids” other than occasional vague references to her own family. Most of Zelda’s posts are recipes or right-wing memes expressing support for the Second Amendment and the Pro-Life movement, but there’s a definite overkill to how they’re presented. Alyssa’s impression is that whoever’s behind the account is trying desperately to pass herself off as a right-wing hyper-Christian, further suggesting Leah’s behind the profile. It seems like the sort of online misinformation Leah works against in her role as a security consultant.
Alyssa has since tested Zelda by asking about her lesson plans and the ages of the kids she teaches, and she’s received numerous contradictory responses. One of people behind the account seems to have a rudimentary knowledge of how classes work, but her responses sound more geared to college than elementary school. This was what first led Alyssa to suspect Leah’s involvement.
Tim enters. “What are you up to?”
“Just chatting with Zelda, a.k.a. Leah.”
Tim ponders this. “Leah’s not on Facebook.”
“Not as Leah. Zelda Burch.”
“Yeah. Remember I told you about her Saturday. She says we met in Myrtle Beach last year.”
“Oh, right. How do you know it’s Leah?”
“I don’t know that this is specifically her, tonight. There are at least two different people connected to the account but one is definitely Leah.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I know my sister. Her personality shines through in everything she does.”
“Yes it does.”
“The one who relentlessly peppers me with personal questions is Leah. Probably trying to trip me up. The other one, I’m not so sure about. Could be Dottie. Maybe Claire.”
“What’s she like?”
“Very chatty. Really friendly. We trade recipes. She asks questions, too, but personal questions, like she really wants to get to know me and not just pump me for info. When it’s Leah, she keeps her cards close to her vest.”
“That does sound like Leah. Do you really think she’d spend time doing something like this?”
“That’s why I think the other one is Dottie. I can see them hanging out in Leah’s condo, drinking wine and giggling about playing me.”
“It’s tough for me to imagine Leah giggling.”
“It happens. Not often, but when it does happen, usually Dottie’s involved.”
Tim points to Alyssa’s empty glass. “What’re you drinking?”
“Oh. Just Powerade.”
He nods and takes her glass with him as he exits into the kitchen. Alyssa turns back to her typing. There are several question marks on the screen, which this version of Zelda substitutes for direct queries.
“Sorry for the interruption. Tim just walked in.”
“No problem,” Zelda types.
“How was class? You said stressful. Was it the usual chaos or something special.”
“You know how young kids are,” Zelda writes. “Sometimes, it’s like herding cats.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned what age you teach. Six? Seven?”
“Yeah. Really young. First and second grade.”
“Oh, I do know that age. You have a couple of your own, too, don’t you?” Alyssa types. “Must be a challenge after a stressful day at work.”
“Well, my husband helps out.”
“Right. Larry, I believe.”
There’s a long pause. “Did I say Larry? I don’t remember if I told you his name.”
“I’m pretty sure you said Larry.” Another long pause. “You still there?”
The tone changes abruptly. “You’re mistaken. Larry’s my brother. My husband is Fred.”
“Welcome back, Leah,” Alyssa says. “Fred. Right. I don’t think you mentioned him. Tell me about your kids.”
“Sorry, I don’t talk about them on social media,” Zelda types. “I’m sure you understand.”
“That’s convenient,” Alyssa says. “And also ignores our last chat session.” She types, “That’s odd you’d bring that up, after the other night.”
There’s another pause. Finally, Zelda types, “You’re right. I remember. Sorry. Like I say, things have been hectic lately. It must have slipped my mind that we’d talked about them.”
“Don’t worry about it. Sorry if I overstepped.”
“My husband, Fred, just walked in, so I need to get him some dinner. Let’s chat later, okay?”
“I look forward to it.”