IRL

This story was one of three finalists in LadyLike Book Club‘s 2014 fiction contest. It takes place in a world I’ve been playing with since high school, and I hope to incorporate it into a larger story eventually.

It was just an ordinary door. Dark wood, brass handle, old-fashioned knocker at about eye level. Obsidian didn’t know much about doors, but it seemed like a nice one. There was absolutely nothing threatening or ominous about it.

So why was she shaking?

The knocker felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, and when she tapped it against the door, it sounded like a gong through the large house. She glanced nervously at the address for the thousandth time. The numbers all matched. Just the same, it would probably be the wrong house, or the wrong street, or no one would be—

The door swung open just as Obsidian was convincing herself to walk away, and the first thing she noticed was the mass of magenta curls that popped out to look at her. Under them, smiling openly but every-so-shyly, could only be Amber.

“Hi,” she said, gesturing for Obsidian to come in. “Sorry if that took awhile, I wasn’t expecting you for another ten.”

“Oh,” Obsidian said. She’d been disastrously early, and had sat in her car, parked around the block, for as long as she could bare it.  “I’m sorry, if I’m too early I can come back…”

“No, wait,” Amber grabbed her arm before she could make it back out the door. Obsidian was acutely aware of the softness of her hand, the way it radiated heat and gentle tingles all the way up her arm. “Don’t leave now, you just got here!”

“Sorry,” Obsidian said.

Amber beamed at her, letting go of her arm quickly, and Obsidian could swear she was blushing. “Sorry about that,” she mumbled. “Want to go up to my room?”

The house was deserted and dark, but Amber led them through the main rooms, to a small mudroom at the back of the house. A glass door looked out to a lavish backyard, and for a second Obsidian thought they were going to go outside. But Amber opened a door Obsidian had assumed was a closet, and revealed a grungy staircase.

“It’s not as bad as it looks, I promise,” Amber said. With some trepidation, Obsidian followed her up.

The staircase was made of creaky old wood, but it was clean, and the simple bar at the side was smooth and polished. Not a creepy attic then, at least. Above them, a square of light glowed.

“Almost there,” Amber said, and disappeared into the light.

The staircase opened into a bright, wide room. Obsidian blinked a few times, and realized the light was coming from windows spaced all around the room, only lacking in one corner, where there was what looked to be a small builtout closet.

“Sorry, it wasn’t so bright earlier,” Amber said, and went around pulling curtains closed.

As her eyes adjusted, Obsidian could see the neighborhood spread out around them through the windows. To their left, the roof of the house loomed up.

“Are we…above a garage?” she said.

Amber winked. “Pretty swank bachelorette pad, huh? It was my compromise with my parents. No rent on an apartment, but some measure of privacy.”

It was spectacular. Now that Obsidian was paying attention, the odd closet was clearly a private (albeit small) bathroom. The room was furnished simply, just a squat queen bed, a wardrobe, a desk decked out with an impressive computer tower and two separate screens, a small TV opposite the bed, and a large round chair pushed into one corner. Waist-high bookshelves ran the length of the room, and above, the ceiling came in at a point.

“Cool,” Obsidian said, feeling especially eloquent. “Sure beats the hell out of my dorm.”

Amber laughed. “I’d trade it for a dorm any day, but at least I can come and go as I please through the backyard. Shoot, I should have asked while we were in the house, are you hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“Chips and dip work?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Ok. Back in a flash. Don’t go anywhere.”

“I’ll be here,” Obsidian said with a laugh. Once Amber was gone, she realized how much her heart was racing. It didn’t really make sense. It wasn’t as if this was the first time she’d been in a girl’s room. Of course, Amber wasn’t just a girl.

The first time Obsidian realized she was in love with Amber, they’d been in the middle of a quest. The Magical Kingdom of Mu had many parts to it, the most popular of which was a fanciful MMO, set in, you guessed it, a magical kingdom called “Mu.” Obsidian, Amber, and a handful of their friends, had been battling a seemly never-ending army of trolls, and they’d been losing, badly. Two of the others were already down, and Obsidian’s HP was dangerously low. As the weakest of the group, she was an easy target for the trolls, and they rushed her all at once. One minute she was plunging her axe into a wall of trolls, and the next minute Amber was beside her, swinging her broadsword in a wild arc above them. It hadn’t worked for long, and they’d both respawned miles away, but it had been the bravest thing Obsidian had ever seen.

It wasn’t that she was a damsel in distress, and usually she hated someone fighting her battles for her, but it was the pure futility of the sacrifice that impressed her. Amber could have gotten away while the trolls were focused on her, maybe even managed to complete the quest, but she’d chosen to go down fighting with Obsidian instead. Of course, it hadn’t been real, but part of it had felt real.

The game was like that, sometimes; reality and fiction getting a little mixed together. They’d always joked about meeting, and sometimes Obsidian would lay awake at night imagining what it would be like to wake up with Amber beside her. But even when she moved to Amber’s city for college, even when they talked about meeting nearly weekly, somehow one of them was always busy, or not feeling well, or just plain not ready.

Until the end of the world.

It was just a rumor, really, at first. Obsidian wouldn’t have taken any notice of it, except that Amber pointed it out. Amber was always noticing patterns in the game. Obsidian had been playing The Magical Kingdom of Mu for three years, and Amber had already been an old pro when she was just a humble newb.

Sometimes it seemed like Mu was more of an obsession to Amber than a game. Not that Obsidian was really one to talk.

The end of the world was an in-game legend; a prophecy whispered about in chat rooms and theorized on lengthy forums.

Until players started disapearing.

“I hope you like sea salt and vinegar,” Amber said, coming up the stairs. “And coke.” She was balancing two bags of chips and two cans of soda. Obsidian quickly relieved her of the sodas.

“I like pretty much any type of chip,” Obsidian said.

“Well, good.” Amber threw the chips onto the floor, and settled on a pillow beside them. “Sorry I don’t have much in the way of seating.”

“I live in a dorm, remember,” Obsidian said, making her self comfortable on a pillow as well. There was a conspicuous three feet of room between them, which should have made Obsidian feel calmer, but instead she felt more exposed.

“So,” Amber said, flashing her smile. For some reason, her smile seemed brighter than other people’s, especially when it was trained on Obsidian. Between it and her pink hair, Amber was difficult to believe in.

The hair still surprised her. They’d shared pictures before, of course, but Obsidian had always assumed that the pink hair was photoshoped, to match her avatar. She’d never imagined that Amber really dyed her hair pink. And not just red-pink, but vibrant magenta. It made her dark skin look chocolatey and delicious, especially as she smiled at Obsidian over the chips, and Obsidian had a crazed moment where she wanted to lean forward and taste her lips.

Amber might have even returned the kiss. But just the thought of that moment, of the seconds hanging there between yes or no, made Obsidian’s blood run cold.

I’m such a coward, she thought.

The silence stretched between them, and try as she might, Obsidian couldn’t think of a thing to say.

It shouldn’t have been hard. It wasn’t like Amber was a stranger; not really, anyway. In some ways, Obsidian had known Amber longer than she’d known any of her IRL friends. They’d weathered a cross-country move, countless fandom changes, and the transition from high school to college, which was more than she could say for most of her friends. They’d talked more or less every single day for three years. They’d just never met before.

“God, this is so awkward,” Amber said finally. The silence had grown so deep, Obsidian almost jumped at the sound of her voice. “Just to do things right, lets start over.” Amber took a deep breath, and Obsidian couldn’t help but notice the way her chest rose and fell. It was much more impressive than Obsidian’s chest. In fact, everything about Amber was much more impressive than Obsidian. She made Obsidian feel instantly aware of her naked face, her boyish clothes, how limp and lifeless her plain black hair was.

“In reality, I go by ‘Ally,’” Amber said, a twinkle in her eye. “Your real name is ‘Tomoyo,’ right?”

“Most people call me ‘Tomo,’ or ‘Tommy.’ But ‘Obsidian’ works, too.”

“I am having trouble not thinking of you as ‘Obsidian,” Amber admitted.

“Yeah. You’re pretty much just ‘Amber’ to me,” Obsidian said.

“So it’s agreed, we stick with game names, at least for now?”

“Sounds good.”

Amber took a deep breath. “So. Things.”

“Things,” Obsidian agreed. Then, when it seemed like Amber wasn’t actually going to continue, she prompted “and stuff?”

“Things and stuff,” Amber said with a laugh. She pushed the depleted chip bag away, and moved her pillow over next to Obsidian, so they were both sitting with their backs against the bed. Obsidian was very aware of Amber’s leg next to hers. She wasn’t used to the way her breath caught when she focused on Amber’s closeness, or the feeling in her chest and behind her ears, like her blood was running too strongly.

Amber swallowed. Obsidian watched the lines of her throat, and wondered if she was feeling nervous, too.

“You want to watch a movie?” Amber said, resting a hand tentatively on Obsidian’s arm.

Obsidian didn’t know much about dating or people, but she knew what that hand was. It was a suggestion, a first step. She scooted closer. “Sure.”

The movie helped. A lot. One turned into two, and Obsidian almost didn’t notice that their arms were touching, and then their sides, and then that Amber’s arm was casually around her shoulder, until it already felt so natural, she didn’t even consider moving away . There was something so warm and comforting about the gentle weight of Amber’s arm, that she just snuggled closer.

At some point, Amber’s arm drifted down to rest on Obsidian’s waist, at the spot just where her shirt and pants met, where the slightest bit of skin was exposed. Amber’s fingers were so soft, so gentle, Obsidian let out a contented sigh.

“Is this ok?” Amber asked, her fingers starting to trace tentative circles on her skin.

“Yeah,” Obsidian said. “It’s more than ok.”

“At some point we should probably talk about the end of the world.”

“Yeah,” Obsidian said, nestling further into Amber’s shoulder. “We should.” But when she looked up, she was so close to Amber’s perfect mouth, that she just couldn’t resist. “Is it ok if I kiss you instead?” she whispered, so softly she could barely hear the words herself. But Amber must have heard, because she nodded, and their lips met half way.

Kissing was softer than she had expected it to be, but she never knew lips could feel so strong. It was clear Amber had done this before, from the way she started gently, and then kissed back with more and more intensity. When her tongue gently tapped Obsidian’s closed lips, it was a question, and Obsidian answered it with her own.

For awhile, there was just Amber. Obsidian’s brain shut off and she just focused on the ask and answer between them, on the contented noises Amber made when she gently nibbled the end of her lips, on the way their bodies both knew, somehow, the rhythm to move together. Books always described the taste of the kiss, or the heavy breathing, but Obsidian didn’t have time to notice any of that. It was the best conversation she’d ever had.

There was an ache somewhere, beginning in her center, and radiating out to the rest of her. She’d never been so aware of her body before. She wanted to press it up against Amber, as close as they could get, and then closer. When Amber’s fingers gently stroked under her t-shirt, and then made careful trails up her back, she just pushed against her more.

And then, just like that, it was suddenly too much. The reality of the situation—kissing a stranger, a girl, in a strange house—crashed down around her, and Obsidian froze. Amber pulled back slightly, her hand still resting on Obsidian’s back, as many points of contact between them as possible.

“Are you ok?” she said.

Obsidian nodded. Now that she thought about it, her breathing felt hampered, and she was aware of every point of heat along her body. It was nice, exhilarating. But it was also slightly freaking her out.

“I’m ok,” she said, but her voice wavered.

“Is this too much?” Amber asked. Her hands had retreated from inside Obsidian’s shirt, but they still clutched the two of them together. “Do you want to talk about Mu now?” There was something playful in her voice, something gentle.

“Can we just watch the movie for awhile?”

Amber nodded. “We may need to rewind a bit. I think I got kind of distracted.”

Obsidian giggled.

It was ok again. They were stretched out on the floor together, Obsidian pulled slightly on top of Amber, and it was ok. Nice, even; more than nice.

Amber pulled her closer as the movie started, but only to share warmth, and Obsidian nestled again into the soft parts of her shoulder. Her heart beat was almost back to normal. Part of her felt a little disappointed, but part of her was also relieved.

They stayed like that, twined together, until Amber’s phone made a determined buzz. She untangled herself and glanced at the screen, her eyebrows coming together as a pout formed on her lips.

“Everything ok?” Obsidian asked.

“I gotta check something,” Amber said, jumping up from the pillows. The coldness that flooded in after her made Obsidian shiver, and she followed her to the computer.

Amber sat, frozen, at the desk, her hands gripping the edge so hard that her knuckles were tinged in white.

“What’s wrong?” Obsidian said.

“It’s gone.”

“What’s gone?” All Obsidian could see on the screen was whiteness.

Amber swallowed. “Your profile. It’s blank.”

Obsidian peered closer. The URL matched her profile, but the page was stripped of all formatting, all color, all text.

All text, except at the bottom.

See you at the end of the world.

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About Lucy

If you want to get fancy, Lucy lives in Portland, OR, and has a MA in Writing/Book Publishing, with a focus on Young Adult Literature, and a heaping disregard for literary snobbishness (she was an English Major–she’s seen and spouted her fair share). She works as a social media marketer, and has dabbled in developmental editing as a freelancer.
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