Sandra and Ashley entered the dimly lit lounge at about half past ten.
Sandra saw him first. He was tall with rakish good looks. “He’s cute!” she thought. She winked at Ashley, made her way to the bar and stood next to him. He smiled at her, “Hi, I’m Jake. And you must be Sandra.”
She was taken aback. “How do you know my name?”
“Dance with me,” he said as he led her to the dance floor. Sandra looked around and saw Ashley talking to the guy with the mop of curly hair.
The music beats quickened. Sandra was forced to concentrate so she could keep up with his pace. Jake was an accomplished dancer, not faltering even once. She realized she was enjoying herself. Though she was still wondering how he knew her name.
His arm around her waist, he led her to the far end of the lounge. “Sandra, wait here. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” She sat on the sofa, not quite sure what to expect. She couldn’t see Ashley. And Jake acted like they knew each other. She was certain she’d never set eyes on him before.
“Here,” he handed her the margarita. Sandra’s favorite beverage. She sipped it slowly, collecting her thoughts.
“Jake, how do you know so much about me?”
He said softly. “Look at me. What do you see? Wait, let me spell it out for you. ‘About 25’. ‘Brown Hair’, ‘Tall’, ‘Great dancer.’ ‘Knows me well.’ Don’t you remember?”
Sandra was bewildered. “Remember what?”
He said quietly. “That you created me. I am the product of your imagination. From the contest you won last year.”
It came back to her now. She enjoyed sketching. And when one of the online gaming portals she often visited announced a ‘Create A Character’ contest, she sent her entry. She remembered being happy with the prize money of $500 she received. The rules said the drawing should be accompanied by a detailed description of the character’s personality and the contestant’s interests. The portal wanted to make the character seem “lifelike.” She’d sent a long wishlist for the sheer fun of it.
She said to him mockingly. “So, what you’re saying is that you are ‘Jake’ from the gaming site?”
He nodded. “Affirmative.”
“Really?” she asked disbelievingly.
“Log in. Now. Look for me.”
She did. The touchscreen on her cellphone blinked ‘Hello Sandra’
She typed. ‘Where is Jake’
Her cellphone blinked ‘He is at the Iris Lounge. With you.’
She typed again. ‘Where is Jake’
‘Jake’s not here. He is with you.’
She gaped at Jake, who groaned, “Don’t ask for me more than once. I think it causes my head to ache. Must be something to do with pixels and gravity. And for God’s sake, please log out.”
She sat back on the sofa, completely flummoxed.
Handing her a glass of water, he said gently, “Sandra, I have no idea how this happened. But I am here. For now. I know I have to go back into the gaming software soon.” He had a sad smile on his face.
“Is this some kind of a joke? Or are you an online stalker freak?” she asked angrily.
“No, I am not a freak. Please Sandra. Don’t analyze this. I have no answers. You are safe with me. Probably safer with me than any other man from the ‘real’ world. I am not a rapist, stalker or murderer. I don’t shoot school children. Remember you created the ‘perfect’ me. With all the goodness from your heart. There wasn’t a single mean personality trait you put on that list Sandra.”
He added. “Talk to me. Let’s have fun while it lasts. You have nothing to lose, do you?”
She sighed. “Okay. Makes sense.”
They talked for a while. She was surprised how much he knew about her. He was a great listener. He could empathize. When the timezone was in his favor, he’d read every line on the file they had tagged ‘Winning Entry.’
Surprisingly, she instinctively knew she could trust him. They danced one more time. Not speaking. Simply being.
“What if I want to see you again?” she whispered to him.
“I don’t think it works that way. I somehow showed up today in a real world setting. It is as weird to me as it is to you. I almost pixelated into nothingness when you walked in. Proof that you are real and I am not,” he said looking at her helplessly.
Her cellphone rang. It was almost 2:00 in the morning. It was her Mom. She suddenly remembered she had to take her for a health checkup that morning.
“Jake, I have to leave now. Come with me. You are already in the real world.” She said urgently.
“No Sandra, I can’t leave with you. From what I understand of my situation, I have the Cinderella curse. Look at my hands,” he said. She could see them turn hazier every few seconds.
They kissed one last time. She walked out the door, trying hard not to cry. Ashley came running behind her, “Sandra, wait for me! Where were you? I’ve been looking all over! Hey wait up!”
“Did you see him?” Sandra asked Ashley.
“Who? That drop dead gorgeous guy who monopolized all of your attention? Did you get his number?” she teased.
“Yes. Him. Jake. I mean no, I didn’t.” Sandra said nothing more. The story sounded ridiculous to her own ears.
Upon reaching home, she lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. Had she been hallucinating? No. Ashley had seen him too.
And he was exactly like how she had sketched him. And in the description she’d sent them.
At about 3:00 in the afternoon, she logged in from her desktop at the office.
She typed. ‘Where is Jake’
Her monitor blinked.
‘Hello Sandra. This is Jake.
Welcome My Darling.
To the cruel kindness of our love
Caught in the static flow of time.
A bitter sweet existence
The only choice in this virtual reality’