Lucy and Anne wandered up a street of boutiques selling items neither of them could really afford. They each carried a few shopping bags filled with clothes and accessories that they couldn’t pass up. It was a beautiful day and the perfect way to take her mind off her guilt about the wedding. They were both dressed in spaghetti-strap sheer dresses that swayed with the warm breeze. Lucy’s dress had big red flowers on it and fit her hips perfectly. In this online realm, she could be who she wanted to be without hesitation.
Anne steered Lucy into the homemade fudge shop. No diets necessary here because they could eat whatever they wanted and not gain an ounce. The sweet confection smell filtered through Lucy’s imagination as they walked up to the glass cases of fresh delight. She closed her eyes and felt the sweetness on her tongue. The owner came out front smiling, his shirt blended and then moved away from the stripped red and white walls. The ladies pointed at a couple pieces and he bagged the fudge.
Lucy stood on the sidewalk, pulling at the sweet taste on her fingers. Her mouth watered with sugary sensation. She devoured her portion but Anne savored every bite. Lucy’s wide brim hat protected her from the bright day. She normally didn’t wear hats, but felt confident to stand out with fashion when shopping in this world. Anne had tied her hair back with a long scarf that flowed down her back, under her blonde hair. She had never looked so stylish in Lucy’s eyes. As the mother of two, she had given up her looks long before. But here she was free to express herself and the men passing by smiled. . .
The pastel-colored buildings lined the deep-tinted road bustled with high-end cars and SUVs. Lucy’s fifteen-year-old Toyota wouldn’t fit in there. It felt good to forget her current circumstances. She dropped her hands to her side and flowed down the avenue, confidently gliding as her arms floated back and forth. The stress of the day slowly dissipated with shopping the only pursuit.
Lucy walked out of the dressing room in a mauve bikini; she wrapped a golden sarong around her waist and meandered up to Anne. You must get that, perfect for the beach, Anne admired. Lucy felt skinny and beautiful in the slinky pieces. Her eyes lit up as she realized the bikini became a must-have.
The store clerk nodded at the ladies, smiling at her commissions. They both walked out of the store in their new bikini’s because they decided to head to the restaurant on the water. As Lucy passed through the entrance payment sensors on her way out, it buzzed loudly. The ladies in the shop turned to look and someone announced, not enough credit. Just put it on my credit, Anne remarked to the store clerk and pulled Lucy out the door.
You have to stop that, it’s embarrassing, Anne would comment as usual. Lucy just shrugged her shoulders. She wasn’t quite sure if she had enough credit, but took her chances. And she always paid Anne back. It was tougher though because she had just started a career as a fashion magazine editor and money was tight. This will be it for a while, she reminded herself.
Music was pumping through the outdoor speakers as the ladies grabbed the last outdoor table at the crowded restaurant. The waves lapped the powdery white sand and the sun burned down as they sat under a large royal blue umbrella. The waitress stopped by with their mojitos. They had sent a text message to the restaurant so the drinks would be ready when they arrived. What should we get, they both excitedly peered into the tabletop screen to view the menu. Fried calamari to start, Lucy pushed on the touch screen to make the order. Then to Anne, I feel guilty that I’m not exercising. Anne smiled and admired the beautiful men at the other tables. She loved her husband, but found no harm in looking.
Lucy happily chatted about her new career with the magazine and how the money she made in exotic dancing was better, but she knew she could eventually become successful in fashion. It’s so much fun, Lucy told her in between stuffing the fried tentacles into her mouth. Lucy felt that it was time to change her lifestyle and looked to Anne who had already achieved success.
From time to time, Anne’s clients would stop by to greet her. I just love the layout of my new house, it’s so original, they often commented. In six short months, Anne had become a successful architect in town. She had made some brilliant decisions and bought up a bunch of land to develop. Anne’s husband was not impressed and kept at her about the money she was spending on a futile venture. His comments would entail that he was going to buy a car with Monopoly money. This angered Anne because it was the one thing she had that didn’t include the kids.
A lobster platter that included shrimp, oysters and scallops was dropped off at their table. Compliments of that gentleman, the waitress said and pointed towards Drake, a beautiful dark-haired man. He looked delicious, as usual. Lucy winked at Drake and then dove into the platter. She never had to pay a dime at that restaurant.
Anne had been on Lucy’s case about switching professions, so it was a relief to hear Lucy excited about a new adventure. But once that platter arrived, Anne was worried that she wasn’t serious. Lucy had met Drake when she was dancing in a club.
The ladies sipped at their mojitos as they reveled in the exciting atmosphere. Surfers mixed with hippies, hipsters and professionals flocked to the beachside locale. Palm trees waved in the breeze and time stood still. Chocolate martinis arrived much to the ladies delight. See, Lucy commented, my other profession wasn’t so bad, look at the perks! She knew that she would have to give up Drake, but he made her happy for now. Well, we always eat for free, Anne giggled. But deep down Anne knew that for Lucy’s own psychology it just couldn’t last.
Just then Drake swaggered up with a glint in his eyes. He wore jeans and flip-flops and ladies would turn to look as he passed by. Lucy smiled and thought, perfect guy, perfect new profession, if only.
Kevin sat at a computer in the basement. His friend who had hosted the barbeque let him use the computer after Kevin told him that there was an issue at work. Instead of going all the way home, he would use his friend’s computer. It was lie. Kevin had signed into the online game and entered a whole different world. He knew that’s where he would find Lucy. Even though he knew it wasn’t right, he watched her like a voyeur. It made him sick to his stomach but he couldn’t stop. She was someone he thought he knew so well and yet, she seemed to have an alternate personality. Who was she really?
You have me for right now, Lucy teased as she wrapped her legs around Drake. He was the most passionate man that Lucy had ever been with. Life would be so easy if Kevin was like Drake. They tussled together rolling back and forth in his king-sized bed. She felt sexy and wasn’t afraid to be naked with her slender legs, perfect rear and double D’s. Drake knew when to be gentle and then turn up the passion. It was such a turn on. They would often sit on his balcony overlooking the ocean and she would pretend that they were married.
After their wild tryst, they lay face-to-face whispering about everything from the mundane to the important. She felt like she could say anything to Drake. Although sometimes it seemed as if he knew things before she told him. It was like he could read her mind. There were times when she didn’t feel safe expressing herself to Kevin. With Drake, she wasn’t scared of saying anything. He didn’t judge or criticize her. She was free to be herself and they teased each other about stupid things. If only she could communicate the same way with Kevin, their relationship would be so much better.
As Drake and Lucy snuggled, she told him that she had to get going but really didn’t want to. Kevin would be wondering why she wasn’t at the barbeque. Lucy had never imagined that she would be the kind of person who would become immersed in a computer game, changing her life for fantasy and yet it happened.
Kevin shut down the computer, careful to clear out the history. He didn’t want his friend to see where he had gone. It was an embarrassing secret that Lucy had become obsessed with the game. He worried that he had pushed her that direction because of the stress of the wedding. She had only started her online journey after they were engaged. It was deceptive, the way he was handling it and spying on her. The guilt over it was making him crazy.
“Is cheating online the same as cheating?” Kevin asked Beth. He downed his beer. The backyard had started to clear out but a couple of small groups of people were immersed in their conversations. As new guests started to arrive, they stayed in the house because it was getting colder out.
“Oh my gawd, I just read this article about how it broke up an engagement between this couple where one was obsessed with living online . . . funny you should mention it,” Beth snickered and then puckered her lips in thought. “That’s a tough one . . . but I think yes . . . there’s an emotional connection. Why?”
“I don’t know . . . curious . . . I saw something online about it . . . maybe it was the same article,” he stammered.
“You’re totally online, aren’t you,” Beth dropped her jaw open. “Or is it your friend who has this issue?” Beth used air quotes around the word friend. She laughed and then took a drink. Kevin stood there with nothing to say. His first instinct was to lie and joke about it, but he really needed advice. “I’m sorry. What’s going on?” Beth asked.
Kevin told Beth everything about the online game. Beth made him promise that he would talk to Lucy. They would have to resolve that issue before the wedding, the sooner the better. Beth was in shock that it had gotten so out of control.
“Talk to her when you get home . . . don’t do it here,” Beth furrowed her brow. She noticed that Lucy had just arrived and was looking blankly into the backyard. Beth motioned at her.
“Hey, you guys having fun?” Lucy smiled brightly as she approached them in her jeans and her black quilted jacket. Kevin thought she looked radiant. Lucy gave Beth a quick hug, careful not to spill the beer from her plastic cup.
“Yes, it’s been interesting, you should’ve come earlier and you would’ve seen . . .” Beth remarked but then was interrupted.
“Can we talk?” Kevin butted in.
“Umm, sure. If it’s the wedding, it can wait,” Lucy smiled and rocked back on her heels.
“It’s not the wedding . . . it’s about the online game,” Kevin stared at her. Guilt washed over Lucy as her face turned red. All of a sudden she was transported back to age seven when she was caught smoking a cigarette. Her parents nearly creamed her. Beth walked away so fast she stumbled up the cement patio. Kevin motioned for Lucy to follow him back by the fence. “I know that you didn’t do pilates today.” He looked down at her nails, which were painted a fresh pink color. She had done them up quickly, before she got in the car.
“I did too. Why wouldn’t I . . . I mean, I know I’ve been on the computer a lot lately but I needed to exercise today.” Lucy put a hand on her hip.
“I know about Drake,” Kevin said slowly, unsure of how to approach it. Lucy looked mortified.
“How?” She whispered meekly. “It’s nothing, really. He means nothing. It’s a game.”
Kevin took a deep breath and announced, “I’m Drake.”
“What?!” She squealed in anger. “You deceived me! I can’t believe it!” She retorted.
“That game has been seeping into your life more and more. How else am I supposed to reach you. Maybe you should live online! You’d probably be happier,” Kevin crossed his arms over his chest. “You used to make fun of Anne for not pursuing her real dream of architecture and instead staying home with the kids. You’re doing the same goddamn thing. Why don’t you really try to pursue a career at a magazine?”
“I can’t believe you deceived me!”
“Maybe you should actually visit Anne. When’s the last time you saw her? I haven’t seen her in months.”
“How can I trust you?!”
“How can I trust you?” Kevin raised an eyebrow.
“You’re Drake?” Lucy narrowed her eyes at him. A smile started to curl at the edge of her mouth. She felt immense relief.
“Yes,” Kevin tried to purse his lips so he could stay mad but he couldn’t help smiling.
Lucy’s face turned red and she started chuckling, but tried to hold it in. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She felt a little manic as she cried out of happiness and relief. Kevin burst out laughing and at one point doubled over because his stomach hurt. All the tension of their recent flare-ups had dissipated through laughter. They nearly fell on the ground with laughter.
“No more, I won’t do it anymore, not even shopping with Anne. It’s out of control.” Lucy wiped under her eyes as she caught her breath. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Kevin chuckled. He positioned his index and middle fingers up together, like scout’s honor and said, “no more for me either.”
“How did this even happen?” Anne’s cheeks hurt from smiling. For the first time since the beginning of their relationship, she felt awake and alive.
“I don’t know. I’m going to talk to my mom. We’ll do the wedding the way we want to. We’re killing ourselves over this stupid thing.”
“Thank you,” Lucy exhaled a big breath. She closed in on Kevin and hugged him tight. The connection that had been missing was back again. “Dang, you’re sexy,” she whispered into his ear. Kevin and Drake were one in the same.
“Maybe we should leave . . .”