55 An old promise.
On the Upper East Side in a Manhattan penthouse, a girl in shorts and tank-top was sprawled across the living-room couch, talking on her cell-phone.
"Soooo, just give me your bank account Number..." she said twirling a lock of her short purple hair.
If a certain Undead draugr character were to see the girl's pixie-like face he would note she distinctly resembled an in-game acquaintance of his, a certain Archer.
She was, of course, speaking to the player of that very same draugr.
"I'll give you my Pay-Buddy info, you can send me the cash there," replied Dave.
Did she think he was stupid? With a bank account number, she could find out everything about him. She must be kidding...
"Tch, you are no fun." she giggled again, "I wouldn't give away your identity. I could have posted your phone number on the video if things were like that, you know."
"Let's not be that way Arrow. I helped you out too, we have a good arrangement going."
"True. It's just business. But c'mon, don't you want to see what the hot chick you met online actually looks like?" she asked in a teasing voice.
"Not worth it to me. Besides, aren't you afraid I might be an axe-murderer?" he teased back.
"Meh. It's worth taking a chance. Then I could say I met the mysterious Mr. Skeletal. Even if I end up Tasering his axe-murdering ass." she said
"Ahhh, and that decides it. I will remain a man of mystery."
"Alright, you'll get your share of the loot soon. But I need to go grind some more. Are you going to be online later, can we do another dungeon together?"
"Yeah, why not. We can do that, where's your respawn point?"
"It's in Meldiva in the Northern Kingdom," she said.
"Hmm, that's pretty far… I'll tell you where I am once the server is back online. And don't bring anyone with you, I don't need to explain what will happen if you do..." Dave said, half-jokingly.
"Wow, that sounds like a threat. Don't worry, I don't want anyone intruding on our date anyway." she fired back before ending the call.
Dave stood in his tiny flat, looking down at his phone in confusion. He rarely had conversations with girls, and nothing beyond what was necessary for work or to buy groceries and such.
He just didn't understand them. Girls. Was unsure what to do, or how to say even the simplest things. His words were always the wrong ones. The things he said and did were always mistakes somehow.
This was a truth he didn't question after so many...uncomfortable experiences. The defining moment from those incidents was an emotionally traumatic incident from his adolescence.
Dave's perception of his economic status and his lack of formal education affected his interactions with women. His self-worth.
But with Lone Arrow, this time, it was different. He spoke clearly, with purpose. He didn't want anything from her, or expect anything other than their business arrangement. Which benefited them both equally.
When they were on the dungeon run together it didn't matter who Lone Arrow was IRL. She could have been some aged overweight nerd playing online from his mother's basement...well he didn't think that was likely anymore. Not after hearing her voice on the phone.
He stared at nothing, having an epiphany about girls and himself.
He had answered his phone and talked to a 'girl' just like he would talk to any of his, admittedly few, friends. The realization hit him. It was all the same thing...except for the teasing about dates and stuff.
He shook his head. As for doing more dungeons with her, he was fine with it...better than fine, but guardedly so.
Just because he now understood a little about talking to girls didn't mean he was fool enough to completely trust anyone, guy or girl, without good reason.
So he wasn't about to give her his ingame location until just before they met.
Dave lifted himself up from his chair, limping to his tiny bathroom area he took a quick shower. Then he made a proper breakfast, or at least what he considered a proper breakfast: toast with butter and a cup of instant coffee.
His phone vibrated and a notification popped up. It was his email, $250 had just been deposited into his Pay-Buddy account.
"But, I need a lot more. Drops from the monsters probably won't go for much. Maybe if I sell some items from the Contribution shop that aren't available anywhere else I could make some good money. Especially if I auction them myself."
Dave left the house and slowly walked the streets to clear his mind a bit. Dave realized how empty his life was without work or the game to occupy his time.
He thought about a lot of other things. Including the two guys from the hospital, Body Builder and Door Prop.
If he hadn't helped the woman in the car...
But this chance to play the game probably changed his life for the better, even if his current situation was not the best, and his future was uncertain.
Dave waved, seeing old-lady Clementine unlocking her shop.
"Good morning Dave. You really should dress up a bit young man. Girls like men with style. Not too much though, we don't want them to think you're a nancy-boy. Heh heh." she tittered as she went about opening the shop.
Dave wore the same jeans every day, and rotated through only a few different shirts.
Dave smiled tiredly at her.
"Young man, you should start looking for a job, I heard they are recruiting some people at-"
He interrupted her hastily, "Ah, Mrs. Clementine, I already found a job on the internet." Hoping to end her well-intentioned chatter.
She was a nice person, but she became too nice sometimes, and much too familiar, which made Dave anxious.
To Dave, reclusive if not antisocial, personal conversations with other people were onerous and uncomfortable things. The exception was Ralph, Dave's childhood friend.
"Well, work hard at it! And change that get-up, get some nice clothes before you start," she said, pointing up and down at his worn clothes.
"I will, I will," he said, scratching his head, a habit when he was uncomfortable.
"So, what is on sale today, Mrs. C?" he asked, checking out the groceries. He was looking at the oranges when he heard his name.
"Hey! Dave?" It was a woman's voice.
Dave's heart dropped, his face lost all expression. He turned reluctantly, seeing her looking at him expectantly, holding hands with some dude.
She was attractive, with long straight dark hair and seemingly-warm eyes. She wore a pencil-skirt and silk blouse with stiletto heels and carried an expensive looking handbag.
The man she was with was in his thirties, tall and fit. His demeanor and expensive looking three-piece business suit brought to mind the entitled 'masters-of-the-universe' smugness exuded by investment-bankers and corporate CEOs.
"Anna," muttered Dave.
"What happened to you?" she said with thinly veiled disgust, looking at his injuries.
Mrs. Clementine started to say something, but Dave shook his head at her and turned to leave.
"Hey! Hold on. Why are you walking away?" she said, catching up with Dave and putting a hand on his shoulder.
"What do you want?" said Dave in a dull voice, shaking off her hand.
"Hey! Mind your manners, kid. That's my fiancée, don't be an asshole." Three-Piece added his two cents.
"I don't want to speak with you, Anna. Or your fiance." Dave grated out.
"C'mon Dave, It's been so long since we've seen each other. Why are you acting like this?"
"I told you before, I don't want to talk to you."
"Okay, since it seems you are in a hurry. Just in case you didn't get the news, there's going to be a high school reunion in three months."
"I heard. I'm not interested." He really wasn't interested.
Anne sighed. "Whatever, you're brooding on things long over. It was just by chance that I ran into you here. You could try to be friendlier, you know." she added. "But it looks like your luck still hasn't changed."
As she turned to walk away she fired a last shot. "How are you ever going to fulfill the promise?"
The man in the three-piece suit gave Dave a scornful look and followed after her.
Dave heard him ask about 'the promise' and heard her say it was just words from a child.
Dave felt a headache coming and decided to head back home.
He shook his head as he trudged back to his apartment, he'd only stepped out for a little fresh air....