Virtually in Love - A short story

"I… really like you."

I couldn't help the smile that was forming. Why was he so cute? How was it possible for him to be this cute? I stared at his face, ready to answer when suddenly someone came barging through the door.

"What are you doing?" Melanie asked as she let herself fall onto my bed.

"Nothing!" I replied as I quickly stuffed my phone behind my pillow.

"Your face is red. What were you doing?" She questioned.

I averted my gaze and got up from my bed, "I'm thirsty. Do you also want a glass of water?"

Melanie gave me a suspicious look but nodded anyway. "Okay."

I let out a sigh of relief. Even though Melanie was my best friend and roommate, there was no way I could tell her about my latest obsession.

There was this game I installed on my phone a couple of days ago. It sounded like fun, so I decided to give it a try. But I never could have imagined that I would end up liking it so much. The basics of the game were simple. You had to get a guy to like you by just talking to him and going on virtual dates. The dates were the cutest. You could see your own animated avatar (mine just looked like me – long black hair, side-swept bangs and brown eyes) and that of the virtual guy (he was blond and had blue eyes) going to fun places like theme parks, the movie theatre and the beach. Even though it was just a fictional character, sometimes the script was just so good that I couldn't help but wonder about the people who developed this game.

The guy I got paired up with at the beginning of the game was called Dan. I didn't have an ideal guy, but if I did, it would be him. He was funny, adorable and for a person that didn't exist, we had a lot of things in common.

Today, he confessed to me. I actually wasn't expecting it at all. It happened so early on in the game that it was actually kind of confusing. I hoped that it didn't mean I had almost played it through.

"You're spacing out." Melanie said as we entered the kitchen. "Something's up, isn't there?"

I shook my head violently, "There's nothing going on." It would be so embarrassing to admit that I had a virtual crush on a virtual boyfriend, who wasn't even real. Like seriously? Who was I kidding? I poured both of us a glass of water and then turned to stare out of the window.

"A bunch of us are going down to the park later, want to come along?" Melanie asked. She probably meant Alex, Jesse and Chris, the girls who lived in the apartment across ours. We were pretty close.

The sun was shining brightly in the sky. It was a lovely summer day, but for some reason, I didn't feeling like going anywhere. I just wanted to stay inside and play that game. Damn it! It had become an addiction.

"Alright, I'll come along." I decided that I couldn't get too hung up on a game. I also needed to spend time with humans.

When I got home later that evening, I immediately rushed to my phone. It was still lying there, beneath my pillow. Even though I had a lot of fun hanging out with the girls, I just couldn't stop thinking about him. Dan. Ugh, why did I have to be so lame?

I turned my phone on and saw his last line.

"I… really like you."

The blush reappeared again. I couldn't help it. He was just too cute. But now I was in a dilemma… what was I going to say back to him? Should I also confess? Or was it too soon?

"…I like you too." My fingers trembled as I tapped my screen. Why did I feel so nervous as I answered him?

"Really? It took you so long to reply, I was worried you didn't like me."

I stared at the screen. Neat, this game had a time sensor? This made things seem so much more real. Crap, I hope it wouldn't affect my love points. The game could've seen it as hesitation! How many hours had it been? Five, six?

"Of course I like you!" I typed back. If I didn't… I wouldn't have said so. Wait, why was I thinking these kinds of things? I seriously wanted to slap myself.

Dan stayed silent for a couple of minutes.

I frowned. Usually he would reply within seconds. Did the game freeze on me?

"Would you like to meet me?"

Meet him? Cool, was this a new feature that I unlocked? "Sure!" I replied. I waited for a new screen to load, but nothing happened. I stared at my phone. This model was getting outdated, I needed to save up for a new one.

"Is the Lunar Café on the university campus okay? Tomorrow, 2PM?"

I stared at the screen in confusion. "Wait, what?" I mumbled to myself. "The Lunar Café?" I knew that place… it was a real life place. On the university campus I went to school at. It was summer now, so I didn't have classes anymore… but why would the game mention that place?

I thought back to when I first registered myself for the app. I think I might have selected my university from their drop-down menu. Wow, this game was good. It actually used real-life locations. So tomorrow I'd just have to be there in the café and my love points would go up as soon as the game recognized my location. The company that developed this game seriously deserved an award.

"I'll be there." I replied.

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The next day I woke up feeling seriously disoriented. What happened? I squinted at my clock. 13.30. "Oh my god!" I jolted out of bed and hastily got into the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. I had ended up playing the game until it was like three in the morning. I must've passed out due to exhaustion.

I groaned, why did I have to make so many bad decisions in life?

I quickly got dressed, deciding to put on a soft peach coloured t-shirt with a pair of dark-wash jeans. It was probably going to be warm outside, so I didn't even bother grabbing my jacket. I slung my bag over my shoulder and struggled to get my shoes on.

"Where are you going?" Melanie asked as she looked up from her laptop. She was sitting in the living room. Her long blonde hair was up in a bun and she had her large black-rimmed glasses perched upon her nose.

"I'm going out for some coffee." I breathed as I grabbed an apple for breakfast/lunch. "You want anything?"

"Iced Americano please," She said as she smiled at me.

"Okay." I noted. I rushed out of the door and glanced at my watch. 13.45. If I hurried, I could get there on time. I sprinted down the stairs and ran for my life towards campus. The university campus wasn't that far from our apartment building. In fact, it was usually a fifteen minute's walk away. But today I had to hurry. If I was going to be one minute late, love points would get deducted and I wouldn't be able to advance the game. That would suck.

I ignored the staring eyes as I ran as fast as I could. I was wheezing loudly and my legs were about to give in when I finally made it. I quickly glanced at my watch, 13.59. One minute left. I pushed the door to the café open and stepped inside. I made it. I took my time to catch my breath and slid into an empty booth. Never before in my life had I ran as much as I had today.

Exhausted, I pulled my phone out of my bag and turned the screen on. While I was waiting for the app to load so that I could collect my love points, my cell phone suddenly went black.

I stared at it blankly for a couple of seconds before bursting out, "Really?! You had to die on me right this instant?" When it hit me that I had said that out loud, I clamped my hand over my mouth and closed my eyes in embarrassment.

I had noticed a couple of people staring at me due to my sudden outburst. Well, this was fun. My face had turned warm and I decided that it was probably best for me to leave. I dropped my phone in my bag again and was about to get up when someone sat down in front of me.

It was a guy. A guy I had never seen before. It was a pretty cute guy. (Scratch that, he was a very cute guy.) His hair was a soft blond colour and his eyes were a pretty dark blue. He was smiling at me. A really kind, sweet smile.

I could only stare at him with a slightly horrified expression on my face. What was going on?

His smile faltered a bit as he continued to look at me. "Aren't you Joanne?"

"…yes?" I squeaked.

He let out a sigh of relief. "I almost thought I had the wrong person."

I was still very confused. "Do you know me?" Because I certainly did not remember ever meeting him. Trust me, I would remember.

He blinked a couple of times before answering. "It's me. Dan."

That was when my brain kind of short-circuited. Dan… Dan. "I feel like I'm about to pass out."

And apparently I did, because when I opened my eyes again, I found myself in some kind of first aid cubicle. I was lying in a bed. It was pretty warm because of the covers, so I kicked those away first. Then I slowly sat up and swept my bangs to the side. What happened?

"You're awake." A voice said, relieved.

I looked around but at first saw no one. Then he appeared. The guy from earlier. Dan. My virtual boyfriend. The one I had been 'dating' for about two weeks. "What happened?" I asked.

"I feel like I should be asking you that question." He said as he sat down on the end of the bed. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah." I said, still slightly dazed. I ran a hand through my hair. Because I wasn't sure where to look at, I just decided to stare at my hands instead. "Okay, so I'm kind of confused." I said to him as I stared down. "You said your name was Dan."

"Yes." He replied. "And you're Joanne."

I nodded. After a moment of silence I said, "Still confused…,"

"What confuses you?" He asked me.

I reluctantly looked up to find his pretty eyes staring at me. I couldn't help the heat rising to my cheeks. "The fact that you're talking to me. You're not supposed to be real." He was supposed to be this virtual character. His avatar happened to pop up in my mind.

It was his turn to be confused, "I'm sorry?"

"The game." I said. "You're a video game character." Yes, I was aware of the fact that the words that were coming out of my mouth could very well deem me as a lunatic.

"You thought it was a videogame?" He frowned.

"It wasn't then?" Then what the hell had I been 'playing' all this time?

"Well, no." He said. "It's a match-making app. Didn't you read the app summary, or at least the guidelines before you accepted them?"

No… Who did that anymore? The screenshots looked cute, so I downloaded it. I shook my head, I had a feeling that my face was pretty red right now.

"My brother developed the application. It matches people up based on their interests and hobbies." He continued. "I decided to join the beta a couple of weeks ago to help him catch any bugs."

Ah. Actually it did kind of make sense. The interaction in the game was just so life-like. But I still couldn't wrap my head around it. "What about the love points that you collect then?"

"It's a system that measures your compatibility." He told me.

Okay. It was official. I was an idiot. I groaned and buried my head in my hands.

"Are you alright?" He asked, the concern audible in his voice.

"Yes, don't worry." I told him. "I just feel stupid, that's all."

He remained silent.

There was this really cute guy sitting in front of me and I had done nothing but embarrass myself in front of him this whole friggin' time. After a while, I was able to lift my head again. "…so you really like me?"

He looked at me for a minute before nodding. "You didn't like me?"

There it was again, my stupid body doing stupid embarrassing things like blushing. For a second, I couldn't do anything but shake my head. I finally found my voice again. "I like you." I softly said. But I thought he was fake. I thought he didn't exist.

He smiled. "I was afraid, honestly, when it took you so long to reply yesterday."

"I'm sorry about that." I cringed. "I went to hang out with some friends and forgot to log out."

He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand and gave me a sheepish grin, "It feels good to hear that you like me too."

"What are you talking about? I've been busting my butt off trying to court you for the last couple of weeks." I told him. I thought that was the goal of the game... "You should be head over heels for me by now." I joked.

"I am." He told me.

Oh, don't you dare you stupid cheeks. Don't turn red! It happened anyway. I became flustered and found it difficult to look him in the eyes.

"Would you like to go out for a cup of coffee?" He asked me as he held out his hand for me.

"I'd love to." I smiled as I took it.

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"Jo, where's my iced Americano?" Melanie asked when I got back to the apartment.

Oops. "It totally slipped my mind." I told her apologetically. "I'll treat you to one next time."

"Something got you held up?" She asked me with a teasing smile.

"You could say that." I grinned. A really good something.

A/N: Thanks for reading this short story! I hope you enjoyed it! ^_^