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Gaming is great.
That’s what Jess told herself as she walked through the crowded mass of people, all bustle and elbows and noise. The crumpled sheet of paper she had printed with directions to the bar on had been stuffed back into her handbag, and she walked now on guesswork, unwilling to admit defeat and glance down at the map again.
Her heart raced, and she was a mess of nerves – was this this going to go well? Of course it will, she kept repeating to herself. Of course it will. But it was hard to make herself believe it. She might have known these people for years, but she had never met them. She knew the way they sounded, the way they thought, but she had never seen their faces. It was very easy to get close to someone from behind a computer screen, but now she actually had to meet these people for real.
And then there was Mike. Mike, the man with whom she had been almost ritualistically flirting with for nigh-on two years now, the man she had spoken with, teased, helped, and, yes, killed.
What a strange thing to think, she smiled to herself. I’m nervous about meeting the man I have killed!
She could never explain it properly to those who did not play The Game. Those who might watch her sitting at her computer would stare at her with rapt fascination. When she pulled out the headset they almost always laughed, and when she said words like “tank” and “aggro” there was no doubt in their minds – she was an unrepentant geek. Housemates, friends, family; they all shook their heads with wry smiles. “It’s that silly game she plays,” they would say. “It gets in the way of her life. When will she meet a boyfriend?”
But she didn’t need a boyfriend. She was strong, independent, making a name for herself in her career. She had enough money for a comfortable life; the apartment, the car, the pet snake all testified to that. And she had plenty of friends. Why would she need a boyfriend? For companionship? That’s what friends are for. For love? She had plenty of love from other sources. For sex? She was an attractive and personable girl; when the mood struck her she would not go without sexual gratification, whether by man or Rabbit.
And then there was The Game. She had a social circle entirely in that digital world, friends she knew well yet barely knew at all. It was those people she was going now to meet. And she was terrified.
She’d dressed up for the occasion, of course, but was still nervous about her appearance. What would they think of her? Had they dressed up, or would she now stand out? Black pumps and tight blue jeans complimented the black top and jacket she wore, and though she tried to convince herself that she looked fine – she had been told she was very good-looking by many people throughout her life – that did not stop the nerves. Especially with Mike there. Will he find me attractive?
She was so lost in her own thoughts that Jess almost walked past the bar where they were supposed to meet. It was only the sudden flapping of its great dragon flag that caused her to take stock of where she was. She paused, a smile touching the corners of her lips as she looked at the front of the establishment. A burnished golden dragon adorned its front, complete with matching flags on either side. It looked more like an old world tavern than it did a modern bar, but of course that was the point – where better to organise a meet-up of friends from The Game?
With a deep, calming breath she stepped inside.
Jess glanced around the darkened space, but it did not take her long to find the group of people she was due to meet. The bar itself was only moderately busy, a few groups of three or four people milling about individual tables. So the large gathering of slightly-awkward folk in the far corner stood out as those she was trying to find.
She straightened her pristine jacket for the hundredth time, apprehensively adjusted the ponytail of her long, black hair (a nervous habit she had never grown out of), and walked towards the group.
“Hey guys,” she said tentatively, cold fear flooding through her. This is ridiculous! You meet new people all the time and you’re not this nervous!
The conversation slowly stopped, the bubbling murmur of excited voices instead switching to a chorus of hellos and welcomes. One smart ass even greeted her in the traditional language of The Game, to amused laughs and rolled-eyes from his peers.
That’ll be Kevin, then.
“I’m Jess… I mean, um, Jubilee.”
“No, you mean Jess,” laughed a middle-aged woman, the corners of her eyes creased slightly with the years but her face a perfect picture of friendliness. “It’s real names only here, Jess. Save Jubilee for when a dragon’s eating your legs!” She laughed at that, and Jess joined her. Clearly, this was Margaret, guild leader, main tank and all round awesome woman.
“Yes, Dear Leader,” Jess teased.
Margaret laughed again, the hearty chuckle seeming to beşiktaş escort fill the table. She reached for her beer. “Now that’s a title I could get used to.”
Jess smiled as she surveyed the rest of the group. After their friendly hellos they had returned to their former conversations, although she was sure she would be quite welcome to sit with any of them. A dozen friendly faces, running the gamut of society; they were all here, all mixing. A testament to the The Game’s ability to equalise, to take away any status and put you in your place on merit.
It was then, as her eyes scanned across the assembled gamers, that she saw him. Mike. His brown eyes stared back at her with a welcoming warmth, and her heart skipped a beat as she felt herself sinking into them.
Oh my God! her mind gasped. He’s gorgeous!
And indeed he was. Tearing her gaze away from those deep chocolate pools, she tried to subtly take in the rest of him, though that was not easy given that he was still looking at her. But he was her dream: short black hair, but just long enough to be called “wavy”, a defined jaw that wasn’t too large and cheekbones that just screamed masculinity. A strong nose sat above a well-defined, slightly curved mouth, his chin adorned with incredibly sexy designer stubble, and Jess almost shivered with nerves at the sight of him.
Suddenly, he looked away, and spots of red bloomed on his cheeks. So it’s not just me feeling embarrassed, then. Awkwardly, she wondered if he had been judging her in the same fashion, and whether he had drawn the same conclusion: perfection.
“Don’t be silly, Jess,” she muttered, turning back to those closest to her. “He could have any girl he wanted. Why would he want you?”
“Did you say something?” asked a sweet voice next to her, and she smiled to recognise it as one of her closest friends from The Game. Taking the opportunity to forget about the embarrassment of a moment before, she turned to the new voice with a giggle. Soon, the conversation flowed easily, and her nerves about Mike were – almost – pushed from her mind.
An hour or so later Margaret announced to the assembled group that she had booked a table at a local restaurant, and after fending off a few good-natured jibes at her still being the leader, the group stood to leave. Jess studiously avoided glancing in Mike’s direction – something she had been trying to do all evening, though with limited success – and tugged on her jacket once more. Nervously checking that her ponytail was still intact, she turned to talk to the person beside her when her breath caught in her throat.
Mike had come up to speak with Margaret, marooned at the other end of the table as he had been, and Jess was struck by his height. He’s so tall! her mind squealed again. Wonderfully, gloriously tall! She shook her head free of the thought; it would not do to go getting a crush on this man, especially not when he likely did not return the feeling.
But as they walked out of the bar she could not help but stare. He was ahead of her, and thus totally unaware of her gaze, and she drank in every inch of him. He must have been at least six foot, but probably a good few inches taller than that. She stood at five foot seven, and though she was comfortable at that height she had always had a thing for taller men. And that tall…
“You should talk to him,” said a pleasant voice beside her. Margaret smiled at Jess, and nodded her head towards Mike. “I’ve been on this Earth long enough to see tension between two people, and I’ve had to sit there and listen to the two of you flirting when we’re supposed to be killing demons for long enough. Talk to him.”
“About what? I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Margaret laughed her booming laugh. “Conversation seems to come easily enough when we’re playing. You’ll be fine, Jess.” Jess opened her mouth to respond, but Margaret had already begun to shout. “Mike! Could you come here a moment?”
Jess’ heart felt like it had fallen out of her stomach and ice ran through her veins as Mike turned to regard them. He was settling his leather jacket on his shoulders, the dark blue t-shirt underneath almost hidden, and Jess could not help but run her eyes from his black shoes to his head, taking in everything from his pale blue jeans to his tousled-yet-immaculate black hair. He smiled at the two of them, waiting for them to reach him, then turned that smile first to Margaret, then to Jess. She could have sworn it was a slightly shaky smile, and he had the look about him of a startled rabbit.
“Mike, this is Jess. Jess; Mike. You two know each other well enough, but I’d swear to the Old Gods that you’ve been ignoring each other all night!” With that, Margaret bounded off to the nearest group of gamers, immediately engaging them in animated conversation.
Jess glanced at Mike, and he glanced away, before slowly dragging his head back round. They walked in a huge group, beylikdüzü escort yet she felt totally alone with him. With the man she had teased for years, and was now standing beside her in the flesh. He was everything she could have hoped for.
“H… hey,” he stammered at last, and relief flooded through her. He was as nervous as she was.
“Hi,” she said back, sheepishly. “You know, I’m not normally this quiet.”
A grin broke out on his beautiful face. “I know, Jess. I’m normally the butt of your jokes!”
She laughed at that, and suddenly the ice was broken. They knew who they were again, the nervousness gone, and the conversation flowed easily. Joke and counter-joke, discussion that touched on all the things she cared about – she knew this man, knew that she got on with him.
Before she was aware of herself they had reached the restaurant, and the waiter was showing them to their tables. It appeared, Margaret announced, that they would have to sit at three tables, so they should group up now or be stuck with people they don’t like. The last bit was said with a twinkle in her eye, and everybody laughed.
The group moved, and Jess looked around. She didn’t know where to sit, or who to sit with, and soon she was standing on her own as the others settled into seats at three tables all in a row. Embarrassment growing, she dived for the nearest table, and the burning in her cheeks grew hotter as she realised she had plunged down next to Mike. My God, he’s going to think I’m a stalker!
But he merely smiled, and returned to the conversation he was having with the other people sitting around their table. She relaxed, and when he dragged her into the topic she freely joined in. Soon she was in full flow, a smile on her face, and any thoughts of embarrassment had long been swept away.
The server came round to take their orders, and it was with a start that Jess realised she and Mike were ordering the exact same thing. A nervous grin spread across his face, before he laughed.
“It shouldn’t surprise me,” he smiled. “I know you like steak – you’ve mentioned it enough times.”
“Yeh, but I thought you liked lamb!”
He looked taken aback, and Jess bit her lower lip. Had she said the wrong thing?
“I… er, wow. You really do pay attention to what I’m saying.” He laughed nervously, then stared at the table a moment before meeting her eyes again. “I’m flattered.”
Now it was her turn to look away, a million butterflies seeming to take flight in her stomach. It was easy enough to be flirtatious through the medium of the internet, but with him sitting right beside her – and looking so gorgeous – it was suddenly a lot harder.
She breathed a silent sigh of relief as the table chatter started up again, and Mike’s brown eyes were drawn from hers. He ran one finger across his well-trimmed goatee and glanced back at her, before turning to the speaker and joining in. Silently admonishing herself, Jess joined in the conversation once more.
The meal was lovely, and she and the others on the table had conversed easily throughout. Tonight was certainly turning out to be anything but a disaster, though she and Mike still acted awkwardly to one another. She couldn’t help but feel some regret that she didn’t simply come out with it and tell him that he was gorgeous, and that she wanted him, but she could not. The potential for humiliation was too great, and she pushed that thought away.
But as the night wore on, her own desires grew. Being in such close proximity to such a handsome man – a man with whom she shared a wonderful connection – watching his mannerisms, listening to him speak… it all conspired to make her crave him. She was winding herself into a tangled ball of tension, and she needed the release.
“I don’t know, I’ve always found people very judgemental of those that play,” someone was saying. “It’s as if they think we’re all fat nerds who never see the sun. You ever had that, Jess?”
She looked up, a little startled, totally lost in her own arousal. “Sorry?” Mike was looking at her as if expecting an answer, and she quickly ran her mind back through the last few sentences. “Er, I mean, a little, I suppose.”
He laughed. “Well, I guess people are more forgiving of a girl who plays!”
“I don’t know, I’ve had my fair share of comments,” she replied with a shrug. “But there is a stereotype, that we’re all fat ugly nerds.”
“Oh?” Mike said, his left eyebrow rising. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
Jess’ heart skipped a beat. Shit! She looked around hurriedly, trying to find an escape. “Er… well… no… obviously it’s… er… not true…” she stammered, thinking of a way out. Mike still regarded her coolly. Her mind raced. “I mean, you’re anything but ugly… I mean you’re… ah…”
She looked away her cheeks burning bright red, sheer disbelief in her mind. Why did I just say that? beyoğlu escort He’ll think I’m a freak!
They were all looking at her now, amused smiles touching some of their lips. She couldn’t face it; the embarrassment of what she had just said coupled with the hours of torturous arousal. She had to go. She had to.
She grabbed her handbag, yanking out some cash and slamming it on the table. Her companions looked shocked, but she ignored their stares as she stood and said goodnight. It was lovely to meet them all, and she’d see them in The Game. She apologised about having to go.
But her heart sank when she looked at Mike. He wore an expression of utter disappointment, and though he was trying to hide it she could see straight through him. Primarily, she suspected, because she felt the same way, but she had humiliated herself in front everyone – in front of him – and she couldn’t stay. She simply couldn’t. With a final goodbye she walked out into the cool night.
That’s better, she soothed herself. Away from the embarrassment. Your hotel is only around the corner, Jess. Just hurry back, have a shower and then play with your Rabbit. That’ll release your tension.
She swallowed, and moved off, lost in her own thoughts. Of all the things she’d wished she’d had the courage to say, the desires she was never going to get the chance to fulfil. So out of it was she that she almost screamed when a hand landed on her shoulder. As it was, a loud yelp of surprise burst forth from her lungs.
“Jess!” Mike said, slightly breathless. “What’s got into you? I’ve been calling you since way back there.” He gestured to the far end of the street. “You were like you’d switched off.”
She shook herself, feeling the adrenaline suddenly coursing in her blood. Anger and something else erupted inside her, her heart thumping in her ears. “You gave me a fucking fright, Mike!” she shouted, almost feeling guilty at the shocked expression he wore in response. “Never grab a woman when she’s walking alone at night. Are you stupid?” Energy flowed through her, sparked off by his sudden appearance and the further embarrassment. Heat raged in her body.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” he muttered at last, looking at the ground. “I… I just wanted to make sure you were alright…”
“No, Mike. No I’m not alright. How could I possibly be alright? I’ve embarrassed myself in front of everyone… in front of you. I’m humiliated and frustrated and God knows what else.”
He glanced up at her, concern in his eyes. “Is there anything I can do?” he ventured, almost as if he expected her to bite him in her anger.
A haze descended over her thoughts and she was no longer in control of her actions, as if she watched herself from behind a veil. Animal feelings bubbled to the surface; hunger, yearning. She stared at him.
“Yes, there is,” she growled, then stepped towards him. She grasped his head with both hands and roughly pulled it down to hers, crushing her lips against his.
He seemed taken aback at first, but she did not relent, passionately kissing the man she had craved for so long, and soon his shock was washed away by lust of his own. He wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her close to him, and returned the kiss as fervently as she did. Their tongues brushed, his soft lips feeling wonderful against hers, and Jess felt his hot breath on her face.
At length she pulled her face away, instead grasping his jacket, and stared lustfully into his eyes.
“Would you like to come back to my hotel room?” she whispered, and Mike merely nodded in response, animal hunger etched on his face. She bit her lower lip in anticipation. “Good”.
Grabbing his hand, Jess started down the street, Mike walking quickly behind her.
“Won’t the rest of them wonder where we’ve gone?” he asked as she rounded the corner, the yellow glow shining through the hotel’s glass lobby spilling out onto the street.
She turned to him and grinned. “If they can’t work it out then more fool them.”
The hotel lobby passed by quickly, Jess still tugging Mike’s hand as she made for the elevators. She hurriedly pressed the button, watching with relief as the doors of one momentarily slid open, and she pulled Mike inside.
As they elevator started to move, their lips were already together again, Mike bending to envelop Jess in his arms. She felt weak and strong all at the same time, and she drove her mouth against Mike’s, pressing her body into him. His fingers slipped underneath the bottom of her top, and she gasped into the kiss as they sunk into bare skin.
With a gentle ringing the elevator reached her floor, and Jess broke the kiss to grab Mike’s hand again as the doors opened. Seconds later she was fumbling for her keycard, and with an audible intake of breath she slid it through the lock. The light went green, and she pushed open the door.
Never before had she been so keen to get into a hotel room, but she grabbed Mike’s jacket, yanking him in after her. The door shut itself automatically, but Jess had long since ceased to care, and she unhooked Mike’s jacket from his shoulders as they re-initiated their kiss, throwing it roughly to the ground. Their shoes soon followed, his shoes joining her pumps in thumping carelessly against the wall.
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