(WARNING: Names have been changed to protect the innocent – and the obsessed)

Peter
He hadn’t ever been with a woman. Now, I don’t mean that in a crude way (although I suppose that does apply); I mean he had never been out on a date.

It wasn’t like he was an ugly guy, either. In high school, Peter was lean, perhaps even lanky, but had grown nicely into his frame. His hair was a wiry mess of sandy-colored strands that seemed to go out in all directions, but he cleaned up well enough.

For Peter, though, girls were a strange, foreign object. Watching him try to navigate a party – or even a small get-together – was like watching someone walk through a minefield. Whenever a girl struck up a conversation, he had the same reaction: eyes to the floor, talking so softly it’s hard to hear, and eventually ending their talk abruptly with the excuse of needing to use the facilities.

“Pete, you have got to get out of this slump,” I said to him one day.
“What slump?” he replied.
“The one where you haven’t had a date in … ever.”
He smiled. “I wouldn’t call that a slump; more of a plateau.”
“Uh huh,” I responded. “Don’t you have to rise up somewhat before you can plateau?”

He frowned at that.

I usually let the issue drop, however, as I was in a similar boat. My love life was not quite as glamorous as I would have liked, but at least I had experience under my belt. Pete was climbing the rungs to his mid-20s and had seemingly left his party years behind before they even started. His 21st birthday went by without much fanfare (“I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, anyway”), as did his 18th (“Why buy porn when there’s so much of it free online?”). He didn’t get his driver’s license until he was on the cusp of his 19th, when his parents forced him to (“Why can’t I just take the bus around campus?”).

In college, he was the weird guy across the hall that sat in his dorm room and played videogames nonstop. Unlike me, he was “the gaming guy” (although I did enjoy a round of Worms on his PC, whenever I dropped by to visit). I feared, however, that such obsessions were going to land him in Steve Carell territory.

“There’s nothing for you in that little box,” I once remarked, on one of my more lucid days.
Always the smartass, Pete replied, “Little? This is the Xbox! Trucks are jealous of it.”

Again, I let it drop. Who was I to judge?

Annabeth
The last time I had seen Annabeth, she was angry.

“Bastard!”

Through the air, a box of clothing fell with a loud thump onto the cement walkway. Annabeth, apparently, was kicking out her longtime boyfriend George.

“Anna, baby, please, I’m sorry!” he yelled back up to her. Down came more clothes, and more obscenities. Now, at the time, I had no idea they were having problems. Obviously that changed very quickly.

“Anna, please, not the -“

But it was too late; the computer monitor landed with a sickening thud on the pavement, circuitry cracking and flying in every direction. I winced. George howled, creating a nice scene for the sideways glances of neighbors and passersby.

“Annabeth?” I call up. Her raven-haired head poked out of the window. She looked harried, but managed a smile when she saw me.
“Tom, hey! Come up!”
“Um, sure. On my way,” I responded, avoiding George’s confused gaze. As she buzzed me up, I grabbed a brown package addressed to her, left in front of her doorstep.

When I entered her apartment, I saw the place scattered with the remains of a year-long relationship, the glass front of a picture-frame smashed to bits on the floor.

“You, um, got a package,” I remarked, although she wasn’t listening.
“You bastard!” she screeched, hurling a bundle of clothes to the pavement. Quietly viewing this spectacle, I gingerly began cleaning up the room.

An hour later, after more screaming and more of George’s things littering the street, he left and she finally relaxed enough to sit down. We established what a terrible person George was and how he shouldn’t have cheated on her with “that skank,” and so on. Eventually, her attention was drawn to the brown box that had arrived.

“What’s that?” she asked. I shrugged and said it had her name on it. She tore it open, thanks to my helpful set of keys. She dug through the packing peanuts, finally pulling out a copy of her future.

Getting a Second Life
Most people get games so they can enjoy them. You have a general idea of what it’s going to be before you shell out the cash for it.

Second Life, for Annabeth, was nothing of the sort. It was hard to navigate, the controls were somewhat foreign to her, and she wasn’t terribly interested in the nonlinear purposelessness of the world. She preferred high-action shooting games with an intellectual backbone, like the Half-Life series, or even something with less outright violence, like Zelda. Still, she gradually began to take to it like a newborn duck to water.

Little did I know, Peter had opened a Second Life account months before and frequented the very areas Annabeth was exploring. When I discovered this, I immediately knew I had to play matchmaker. How to do it, though?

I realized that they both liked to see jazz performed live – or pseudo live, in this case – so that would be my opening. After a few cautious phone calls, I managed to get them both into a quaint jazz cafe that evening, overlooking a pixelated beach. I was there, in all my glory, escorting Annabeth that evening.

When we arrived, I spotted Peter’s avatar, quietly sitting and watching the band start their set. I pulled Annabeth over and did a fancy-seeing-you-here before sitting us down at his table. They started talking (which is much easier in a loud cafe or club using text chatting), and they learned they had much in common, especially their taste in games. After 20 minutes, they began talking so much, I excused myself for the bathroom and slipped out the door. I was not missed.

This cafe became their place. Every Saturday they’d meet there, chat about the world and life and jazz and everything in between, until one day, Peter developed a sense of adventure.

PETER: so i think we should meet
ANNABETH: meet? as in ‘meet’ meet?
PETER: yea
ANNABETH: hmm, i guess we could

This four-line conversation was actually not his, though. I was over at his place that night and jacked the computer for a minute, while he went to the bathroom. When he came back, he was steaming, but felt better after he realized he had a date.

From here, things were surprisingly typical. They went out, found the same kind of easy conversation they had in their second lives carried over, and began to fall in love. Matter of fact, they were increasingly nauseating as they got closer to the big day. That’s right; they got hitched. They even had wax representations of their avatars cast and placed on top of the cake.

Casual Conversation
A month after that, I found myself at their house. Peter had gotten a much-needed promotion at his IT job and had purchased a brand new house in a little development outside of town. It was small, but it was their home.

The buzzer on the oven dinged, and Annabeth jumped up to grab it. Peter quickly followed, grabbing her waist and nibbling on her neck as they disappeared through the kitchen door (like I said, nauseating).

“OK, dinner’s ready!” called Annabeth, her voice shuddering from a stifled giggle. I sighed, knowing I’d have to put up with their antics for the rest of the night. I stood and began to follow, but a noise from the computer distracted me. Peter had left Second Life on, and someone had started to chat with his avatar. I sat down, examining the blonde character that had begun the conversation.

ME: Hi there. Who’s this?
HER: this is Bella. is this Peter?
ME: No, this is his friend Tom. He stepped away for a sec.
HER: oh, Tom! i’m his cousin. he’s talked a bit about you.
ME: Really?
HER: yep. said we’d get along too.
ME: Working so far. 😉

“Tom, you coming?” came Annabeth’s voice from the other room. I said I’d be a minute.

As the dinner in the kitchen started to cool, I wondered if this accidental interaction was the first chapter in my own gamer love story, and I hoped it was. And, as another chime sounded a new message, I smiled.

Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He can be reached through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] Gmail [dot] com.

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