Not to sound insensitive, but as Sarah stocked angrily in the direction of the shower, I snuck a quick glance over my shoulder to see that the mail icon was still there, taunting me.
Everyone loves mail, right? Little thank you notes, and party invitations, and letters of unabashed hatred. My heart pounding with anticipation, I headed for the kitchen and riffled through the pantry. There was an obvious separation between the side of the pantry holding my contributions and the side filled with the health-nut crap Catrina was always buying. I read through the ingredients on the back of an organic, vegan, hemp protein bar before settling on a bag of stale Sour-Patch Kids. Because like I said, it was time to start eating real food.
Back at my computer, I stuffed two red candies in my mouth and chewed slowly, letting the mouse icon drift over the tiny picture of a letter. Finally, I decided to open it.
Low and behold, it was from Smithlol. And what he’d typed was very short, but it had me a little floored, because I couldn’t understand what he meant by it.
Thanks. I love you, too.
What the hell? I’d been expecting to be threatened, or at the very least, scathed. But Smith had written the shortest, most confusing string of words ever, especially considering I wasn’t his long-term girlfriend. How would I even reply to this? Or maybe that was his intent – to dispel my neurosis. To shock me into silence. I switched over to my regular realm and vowed to forget him once and for all.
My faith in my ability had been nearly severed, like a broken arm hanging at a precarious angle. Still nursing the wound, I chose an easy run, joined a group that was very cordial, and we began to weave through a white-washed castle that lacked a roof. The sun shone down over rainforest greenery, magically hovering fountains, and groups of centaurs.
The experience was tranquil, mesmerizing, as we went through the motions. I even had Creed playing in the background. But as soon as the second boss dropped, and our tank got the weapon he’d been seeking, he left the group.
[Sword_Death] Damn it anyway! Why can’t I ever find good people to run with? FUCK!
The death knight had a bit of a temper that rivaled my own. I could actually picture him chucking his computer out a second story window if we had to wait more than twenty seconds for a replacement.
[Martinsforlife] Just chill out, okay?
Martin the druid came off as being very relaxed – the counter to Sword’s apparent chemical imbalance. Not that I could judge…
[Sword_Death] YOU chill the fuck out, man! I had to wait forty five minutes in the queue before I found the last tank! We’ll be in here for fucking EVER!
And he was partly right. We all milled around the space, re-buffing for over ten minutes before the mage made a suggestion.
[Firenice] You have a tanking spec, Sword? If you switched over to tanking, we could prolly four- man this place.
[Sword_Death] No, I don’t have a fucking tank spec or I woulda suggested it already.
[Martinsforlife] It wouldn’t be that hard to go and re-spec. I’ll even front you the gold.
Members weren’t allowed to trade anything across realms, including in-game money. And that’s when I noticed a very strange detail about our group. All of us, except for Fire who was on Winterhoof, were on the same server.
[Sword_Death] Look, I don’t tank, okay? Lay the fuck off.
[Martinsforlife] I’d ask my wife, she has a warrior. But she’s taking a nap right now with the baby.
[Firenice] I could check with my guild and see if anyone wants to join us.
[Sword_Death] Oh, brilliant idea. Why didn’t you fucking do that earlier?
[Firenice] Okay, Sword. It’s gonna be okay…
Poor Fire. I could sense his frustration. But I had to credit him for handling it sooo much better than I would. Did.
[Firenice] Okay, I have a guy. Pass me leadership and I’ll invite him.
What happened next was so ironic and horrifying, I wondered if maybe I was stuck in a nightmare. I’d dreamt about gaming before. But after slapping my cheeks and rubbing my eyes, the name was still there in our party chat.
[Smithlol] Hey, how’s it going?
Karma was shooting me in the foot.
[Sword _Death] Finally! Let’s kick rocks.
[Smithlol] I see you guys brought half a healer. But this is an easy run. Should be fine.
Tears of anger were hot behind my eyes; the taste of blood came from where I’d bitten through my lip.
[Healslater] Well, you can always leave. Or maybe you just want to kick me out.
[Sword_Death] No. The healer stays. Let’s just go.
[Firenice] Do you guys know each other?
[Smithlol] She’s my stalker;)
Winking smiley face?
[Healslater] Fuck you, Smith.
[Smithlol] Ouch. Hey, I thought we made up.
[Martinsforlife] Stalker? You stalk him? Like, IRL?
[Sword_Death] Shit. Come on, people! Who fucking cares!
[Healslater] I’m with Sword. Let’s just get this over with.
[Smithlol] Shouldn’t take us longer than three or four hours.
Since there would be a resurrection session every five minutes, is what he was saying. I couldn’t come up with a defense that didn’t include explaining to the entire group why he would say such a thing. All I could do was stay on my toes and prove him wrong.
As we moved along, maneuvering through the mobs, Smith made sure to check if we were ready. He was also marking targets with little icons above their heads then asking if I approved before moving forward. I actually wanted to slap him, but I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or taking my ‘advice’.
I stayed quiet and read the banter between the other party members. I learned that Sword was still in high school, and he was technically grounded for having alcohol in his locker, but his parents were out on a date. Martin was in a band, and yeah, he played a Martin guitar. He also had a wife of fifteen years and three kids. By all the positive and uplifting things Fire said, I got the distinct impression of a short, balding man with a great big smile for which antidepressants were to blame. Smith was the most mysterious. He’d throw out something sarcastic or witty but never revealing - except that he liked computers, and he had a very elevated sense of self-worth.
Right before the final boss of the dungeon, when I was feeling pretty good about myself and my healing, he whispered me in private chat.
[Smithlol] How am I doing? Up to your standard?
[Healslater] Look, I only sent that letter in a moment of premenstrual weakness.
[Healslater] Leave me alone.
[Smithlol] Seriously? You chase me through cyber space and then kick me to the curb? I thought we were gonna be besties.
We were in the heat of the final fight with a boss that tosses us all into the air, and somehow Smith was having no trouble typing and fighting simultaneously. But I was not that talented.
[Healslater] Stop distracting me.
[Smithlol] Wow, I’m distracting you??
I clicked my quickest, most expensive heal three times to bring him back to 80%. Meanwhile, Fire, our goblin mage (was it a rule that all mages had to be two inches tall?), had fallen over the edge. He was quickly brought back up by an air current, but before I could heal him, another enemy came out of nowhere and destroyed him.
[Firenice] It’s no problem! You got this, guys!
Said Mr. Prozac.
Next to die was Martin. He didn’t offer any insults or any encouragements. But Smith, of course, couldn’t stay quiet.
[Smithlol] They’re dropping like flies, princess.
[Healslater] I’m not a princess.
Even though sometimes I act like one. That was a different story and none of his concern.
[Smithlol] Maybe you could Heals NOW instead of Heals Later?
Sword, Smith and I remained. The ads were all dead but, with two DPS down and the boss still at 40% life, things were looking pretty dreary. I didn’t have enough mana to keep all three of us alive, and after another minute, Sword had gasped his last breath.
[Sword_Death] Suck! I was still top of the damage meter, tho. Anyone have recount?
[Smithlol] Yeah, that’s what we’re worried about right now. Your bragging rights.
Any amount of faith the last half hour might have forged was now evaporating into thin air. Boss was down to 8% life. Smith had all but given up. I switched up my rotation and joined the fighting. With my help in the damage department, we just might have a chance.
[Smithlol] What are you doing? You’re wasting your mana!
[Healslater] My attacks GIVE me mana.
In an effort of valiant teamwork, Smith and I fought tooth and nail down to the last few percent of our lives. It was a very close win, but in the end, when he and I were left barely alive, the final centaur had fallen.
[Sword_Death] That was fucking epic! Wow, nice job!
Everyone collected their winnings. Martin, Sword, and Fire all disappeared off the grid as they logged out, leaving Smith and I standing amid the quiet aftermath of digital destruction. I don’t know what I was waiting for – maybe for him to give credit where credit was due? We were alone at last, and I wanted an apology, a compliment, something.
[Smithlol] That fight usually goes a lot smoother.
His avatar looked from side to side.
[Healslater] Are you serious? That’s all you have to say to me?
[Smithlol] What do you want to hear?
[Healslater] I don’t know – something like hey I’m an ass, and thank you for saving the fight?
[Smithlol] Oh, something like that?
[Healslater] It doesn’t have to be exact.
[Healslater] It’s not really that funny.
[Smithlol] Actually, it’s hilarious. Since you’re the one who owes ME an apology.
[Healslater] For what?
[Smithlol] For that sweet little letter you sent.
[Healslater] Well, you can just hold your breath. I’m not apologizing for that.
[Smithlol] You’re gonna play hard to get? That’s cool. I don’t mind.
[Healslater] You deserve what I said.
Well, alright then.
[Smithlol] Love that letter by the way – read it all the time. Makes me all warm inside.
Wait, was he baiting me or flirting? Something squirmed in my stomach, a discomfort with the direction of this conversation, either way. But did it really make him warm? Was it a warmth of anger or affection? It couldn’t possibly be anything akin to fondness when my every word of every exchange had been belittling stings. Little poison daggers meant to cast revenge for what? For him being honest about my lack of finesse in the healing department? He’d been right; he’d spoken the truth, and as reward, he’d been attacked. I was suddenly feeling very ashamed and almost, almost, ready to apologize to HIM.
[Smithlol] You wanna know why it makes me warm?
[Smithlol] Yes you do. You know you’re curious.
I was definitely curious but would never admit it. I was supposed to be hating this guy, cutting him down and making him pay for his disparagement. Not being enticed by him, and definitely not savoring our conversation.
[Smithlol] You only have to beg a little.
I practically choked on my sip of water.
[Healslater] You’re delusional.
[Smithlol] Come on, Heals Later. Just one little please, and I’ll tell you why it keeps me up at night.
Keeps him up at night? Now I knew he was messing with me. My fingers trembled across the keyboard.
[Healslater] Seriously. It’s not Heals Later. It’s Heal SLATER! It’s a color, a DARK color.
It was true that Slater was a dark color, but me telling him was basically a warning. Which I further explained by typing (very angrily), that if he ever called me that again, I would have no choice but to send him another one of my letters!
[Smithlol] Hmm, you think that’s a threat? It would just give me something to look forward to;)
ANOTHER winking smiley face? What did he think this was?? I crossed my arms across my chest, at a loss of what to write. Then, Idly, I tapped the space bar, making my character jump a few times. I turned her in a complete circle. I was debating just logging off when his next words made my hands pause over the keyboard.
[Smithlol] Alright, you don’t have to beg. I’ll tell you. It’s because I know how much time you spent thinking about me.
What!? I NEVER thought about him! Except for the hours I spent fuming that he’d kicked me from group, then the hours I’d spent plotting my revenge and killing level one enemies for the copper needed to send him an angry note. And the hours I wondered if he’d written me back... Okay, I’d spent a LOT of time thinking about him.
[Healslater] I spent zero time thinking about you. Don’t flatter yourself.
[Smithlol] You figured out what realm I was on, started a character just to talk to me. And when I ignored you, you didn’t give up. You literally wrote me a letter. I really got under your skin, huh?
He was getting under my skin right now. I was clenching my teeth together so tightly, I heard a little pop.
[Healslater] You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Except he knew EXACTLY what he was talking about.
[Smithlol] You’re so cute. You think I’m that dumb? I know you’ve thought about me basically every minute since that first run.
Which wasn’t true at ALL. I’d slept.
[Smithlol] I think you might be obsessed.
[Healslater] And I think YOU might be crazy.
[Smithlol] That’s the best you can come up with? Come on… I’m giving you the chance to say what you really think about me.
Because until now, I’d been so cordial and refrained? Speechless, I stared at the screen. Smith’s avatar was standing just a little too close to my own for comfort. I tapped the downward arrow a couple of times to back up, realized how the motion might come off as submissive, then tapped the up arrow and moved back to my original position. Still, no words had come to me.
[Smithlol] You there, Heals? Come on. Smack me around a little…
I bit my lip. This wasn’t happening.
[Smithlol] You know you want to.
“What the hell did you do to Sarah!” Cat’s voice barely preceded my door slamming open. “She just left in a huff saying she might not ever come back.”
“What?” I asked, my mind clouding over with confusion.
“Sarah?” Cat tried pulling me out of my haze by throwing her voice in my direction. “Our other roommate? What is wrong with you?”
[Smithlol] I know you have it in you. You’re like dynamite - quiet until you get too close to the fire.
Dynamite? What was that supposed to mean? That I was volatile?? I mean, maybe he had a point...
“Yes! Fine!” I threw up my hands, because now I had two people on my back. “I offered to help her out a little, that’s all.”
“By throwing out her rent money?” In a huff, Cat went to my trash basket and reclaimed the wrinkled bills. She came to my desk, not noticing at all that I was currently on the losing end of a verbal duel.
Halfhearted, I answered, “It was symbolic…”
[Smithlol] Don’t make me wait for another letter…
[Smithlol] Don’t make me lose sleep...
Okay, now I was getting pissed off again. I pressed the power button on my computer, shutting it all down haphazardly.
The screen went blank as I turned to give Cat my full attention. “I was just trying to help her. I offered to save her rent money until there was enough of it to pay for the rest of her school.”
“Oh.” Cat sobered instantly, setting the money in a neat stack on my desk. “Well, that was nice. But you probably insulted her.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it damaged her pride,” I admitted sheepishly, having only just realized that it might have been rude. I’d practically told her she didn’t have the ability to make her own way. That she needed a handout. I rubbed my tired eyes with both hands. “I’ll apologize later.”
“You should still do it, though.”
“Save her money for school?”
Cat shrugged. “Yeah, but don’t tell her about it. So, is it wine or coffee tonight?”
I turned slowly, taking a calming breath of stale, NY air. “Coffee. It’s Saturday night, I don’t want to be all passed out by nine.”
Cat followed me to the bathroom to watch as I splashed my face with water. Smith’s words were still running through my head, affecting me over and over. Was he right, was I obsessed with him? Was I acting crazy and erratic?
You’re like dynamite...
Some fresh air would do me some good. I grabbed my jacket, my keys, and headed for the door. “Usual?”
“Yes, please. Put it on my tab.”
I rolled my eyes at Catrina’s comment. Her tab was five miles long, and we both knew I would never call it in.