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You're standing on a dais in the quiet of a large Black Marlin Gaming popup store set up in what used to be a Barnes & Noble. Down here, on the main level, is a huge assortment of BMG's products, in large quantities. On the upper level is the largest collection of TSol-branded merchandise you've ever seen, from t-shirts and hats to toys and action figures to high-end statues and collectibles. There are lights and cameras set up, all pointing at the spot where you and Reggie will be standing when the doors open. Employees move efficiently around the room, putting finishing touches on displays.
"So, to recap, the doors open in fifteen. Once things fill up, Ed here will introduce you, then you two have a few minutes to give your spiel about how cool the quest is, and how great the gear is. Then we'll open it up for questions for about ten minutes." Ed's a guy in his mid-thirties, one of the PR flacks for Black Marlin. Who does he remind you of, Trev?
Tonya's about to go on, but one of the employees comes up and says, "Sorry to interrupt, but I thought you'd like to know. About two hundred in the parking lot, and at least two obvious news crews."
Oliver, who's been quiet until now, says, "Thank you, Tricia." After she turns away, he looks at you and Reggie. "You two doing okay?"
Ed reminds me of Farkle! The geeky redheaded kid from Girl Meets World. Echo made me watch the hell out of that show back inna day, and this guy is the spitting image. Crazy.
To Oliver, I look at Reggie. I'm good. Is she good? "I'm excited. A little nervous. I don't want to look like an ass, but I think we'll be okay. I doubt they'll even notice me with Reggie around." I grin at her.
Reggie smiles back but says, "That's a lot of people. I'm glad you're the real star, Trev." She turns to Oliver and Tonya. "Mind if Trev and I grab a minute or two alone before the onslaught? Just need a bit of quiet time." Tonya points out the manager's office, currently unoccupied.
When you're alone, Reggie says, "Just need a hug, Trev. This is just too weird, right?"
I give her a hug, of course. Peck on the cheek, too. I don't move away, just hold her for a moment. "Yeah, it's a little crazy. But we've got this. It's all part of the job. Pays for college and a nice place to live and some fat loot, too. It's a small price to pay, you know? Plus, you're a great example for gamers, being a vet and smart and of course, totally freakin' hot." I give her a patented smirk and a squeeze.
"Thanks, Trev. We can do this. I certainly couldn't, on my own, but I know we can. Love you."
You head back out, and after one last check that your mics work, you go to your place in the back store room, ready to make your "grand entrance" when they open the doors. You can see through the windows in the swinging doors as the crowd makes its way in. And "crowd" is the correct word. About 250 people, mostly within a few years of your age, dressed in a combination of tech t-shirts and TSol gear. There's even one cosplay elf, which reminds you that you haven't seen Reggie in her full Jace cosplay yet.
Once the influx has mostly stopped, Ed gives you that goofy Farkle grin and a thumbs up. "Time for me to go... you'll know when to follow." Reggie grips your hand tight.
Ed trots out to the raised dais and up the three steps, accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack and a light show. When he gets into place, a spotlight hits him. "GOOOOOD afternoon, Research Triangle! Welcome to Black Marlin Gaming's popup paradise! Black Marlin is the premier supplier of premium gaming accessories, to pump UP your gaming experience! Today, you'll be the first to put your hands on our BRAND NEW line of gear, the Black Diamond Plus line!" He pauses... "Well, not the first... that honor goes to the two folks you're about to meet. Straight from the wilds of Twilight Solstice, in the top ten of the quest leaderboard since a week in to the Mad Dragon's Crown challenge, I give you... Abaddon! And his team mate, the lovely, talented, and seriously smart Jace! Give it up!"
The crowd cheers. Actually cheers. Loudly. The soundtrack swells again. It's go time.
I step up the three steps and wait for Reggie at the top of the dais so we can walk up together. I wave at everyone, trying to keep quiet until they calm down a little. When things die down a bit, but before it is awkwardly quiet, I come in with, "Hey everybody! Thanks for coming. This is pretty exciting, right? Seeing you guys so pumped about the greatest video game ever, it's just awesome!" I raise a fist in triumph, hope they're with me, still."
Feeling a bit nervous, so I start walking a bit. "How many of you all are in the MDC? Isn't it amazing? It's so great, Eve's last gift to us. I hope all of you are following all those rabbit trails. I've seen things that have blown my mind. And the Black Marlin gear has been a real boost. The haptic, the fine motor controls and adjustable one to one mirroring is amazing." I look over at Reggie, "Before the MDC, I was rocking some busted gear that I rigged myself. It was janky as hell. you know what I mean? Duct tape, spliced wires, second-hand and re-calibrated. It got the job done. But the experience in Black Marlin gear is tight. Everything is more real. My reaction times are incredible. It's amazing."
Reggie smiles like someone just flipped a switch, steps forward and puts a hand on your shoulder. "It's true. We've both found that our Black Marlin gear has not only made us better at playing the game, it's made it more... satisfying." There's a spattering of chuckles from the crowd.
Ed steps back in. "Well, we promised you that these two awesome gamers would answer some questions for you. We've only got time for about ten minutes of Q&A, so if you've got something to ask, step up to one of the mics and we'll try to get to you."
The first few questions are pretty easy. One guy, dressed pretty much like you usually do, tries for some intel on a specific piece of the quest, but you parry that easily with generalities. Another asks a very specific technical question about the BMG haptics, which Ed takes care of for you.
The third question comes from a very pretty girl a little younger than you, black-haired with purple streaks. She is, no shit, wearing a t-shirt with an image of your toon on it, Trev. "I've seen the interviews and I know you two are a couple. I just want to know, how's the sex? Because I'm single, Trev." The crowd laughs, but they're listening for the answer. No signal from Tonya or Oliver on what to do. Seems like they're interested in how you're going to handle this.
I glance over at Reggie, laugh a little with the crowd. That t-shirt has Abbadon on it, that's crazy! I shake my head a little, "Reggie's a really awesome person, I'm so happy to have her as a partner. And... I'll just leave it at that." I give Reggie a grin, then look back at the girl with my toon on her shirt.
Reggie returns your grin like, "if she only knew," but just nods agreement. The girl with your toon on her shirt shrugs and steps away.
The next question is addressed to Reggie, about being a badass girl gamer in a world that's still, after all these years, predominantly male. She frowns thoughtfully, then responds.
"Really, it doesn't have much impact except every now and then when I've gone to cons, which are a whole different thing. Trev and everyone in our old guild always just worried about the badass gamer part and not the girl part. I think online gaming for me has really wound up being a meritocracy, when the rubber hits the road. That's not saying that other women don't have problems... I know they do. I've been very lucky."
A few more questions, then Ed indicates there's time for one last one. This one's another girl, maybe thirteen years old, but with a lot of poise as she stands at the mic. "Hi. I'm wondering, what's the coolest thing you've learned about Eve, and the coolest thing you've learned about yourselves, while you've been doing the Mad Dragon's Crown?"
I look right at the girl, approvingly, "Wow, that's a really great question." I glance out at the crowd, and ponder for a moment. There's really only one thing that jumps to mind for me, "Reggie's done a ton of research on Eve, and we went to the PRD to check out The Thanatopsis Poker Club and Knitting Society. It's a place that Eve helped to fund. And you wouldn't believe the friends we made there, the art and creativity they've brought to life. The PRD itself, it's amazing, and unlike any place I've ever seen, IRL or online. I have so much respect for Eve, she was such a visionary."
Before I let Reggie tackle it, I buy her some time by continuing, "As for what I've learned about myself? Well, I've learned that TSol's a really important part of my life. It's my favorite hobby, I love playing it. But, I've also made new friends, grown closer to some friends, even seen tough times for them, too. The competition for the MDC is intense, and there's no guarantee we'll win in the end, but I've realized that the people close to me will be here no matter what, and that's pretty great."
Reggie nods as you talk about Eve and Thanatopsis. She's got nothing to add to that. She does have her own answer on the other half of the question, though.
"It's a little related, for me. Learning about Eve was sort of an extension of the way I've always devoured the Lore, in TSol. And, when we spent a few days at Thanatopsis, I realized that I was collecting that sort of information about everyone we met on the quest. In the real world, I mean. And I wondered, why don't I always pay that much attention? Trevian's really good about that. He tries to draw people out, but in the Real World..." She makes those little air quotes with her hands. "In the Real World, I don't listen like that, don't always care about the details. So, that's what I've learned. About me."
Ed steps up again. "Thank you, Trev and Reggie! And thanks to all of you who came out to join us today. Please have fun trying out the new gear, and don't forget to head upstairs for a Vendors Room the likes of which you haven't seen outside of TSolCon!"
The soundtrack swells again, and he gestures you toward the stairs and the storeroom you came from.
Trev, once you have a moment to regroup, are you inclined to stick around and mingle, or are you leaving?
I hope Reggie doesn't mind, but I'm totally sticking around. I figure Oliver and Tonya would like it, too. Plus, that thirteen year old girl was cool, I want to talk to her. Okay, if the girl wearing my friggin' toon's head on her body wants to say hi, that's pretty neat, too.
"You two did great. How do you feel?"
Reggie's a little jazzed. "That was pretty awesome! I was really worried, but Trev did the heavy lifting. I think I've got an endorphin high..."
"Yeah, me too." I tap Reggie's forearm, "Can you believe there's an Abby shirt? That's crazy!" I chuckle. "Hey, is it cool if I mingle?"
"Totally crazy!" She looks to Oliver. "It's cool to go back out? Mingle a bit like Trev said? That last girl was awesome, I'd like to talk to her, and the guy that asked about being a gamer-chick... and, well, I'd like to get in the weeds with some of these people. Trev, we'll stick together?"
Oliver nods. "I'll be keeping an eye on things. I think this crowd should be okay, but you can never tell a hundred percent. Go have fun. I'm with Tonya, by the way... you did good."
"Yeah, we'll stick together." I agree with Reggie. To Oliver, "Thanks, Oliver. I'm glad you're watching over us." That said, I'm heading out to the crowd before they disperse.
Since Reggie and I both liked that little girl, we'll try to find her first. "Hi there," I say, looking down at her. I offer a hand, because I'm not sure what else to do, "What's your name?" No sense in introducing myself, of course. "Do you play TSol, or are you just working at being an awesome journalist?"
The young lady's eyes widen when you walk up to her. "I'm Jackie." Up close, you can see she's got braces that catch the light when she smiles. "Both? I mean, I play TSol, but nothing like you. And I do want to be a journalist. Have you read the biography of Eve? Isn't it awesome? Are you two really a... couple?" To Reggie, she says, "You're really pretty, and you smell good." She stumbles to a stop, clearly a little embarrassed about that last bit.
I grin, "She does smell great, Jackie." I look at her, a bit more appraisingly, "Do you write for your school or do you have a blog?" I glance at Reggie, she wanted to meet her, too.
Reggie reaches out to shake Jackie's hand, too. "Thanks, Jackie! I bet... the answer to Trev's question is that you have a blog, right? I bet it's great."
Jackie blushes bright red. "Yeah. I'm a pretty good writer, but Mom says my feed's kinda all over the place. She's a writer, too. A real one." She waves to a woman in her early thirties, who comes over and holds out her hand.
"Hi! I'm Siobhan Bailey. I see you've met Jacqueline." She's not pretty, but she moves with a sort of wiry grace and her eyes sparkle with intelligence and fondness for her daughter.
I let Reggie shake her hand, then I follow suit, "Nice to meet you, Siobhan. We were really impressed with Jackie's question. She seems really smart. So you're a real writer?" I ask the question in an amused and interested tone, not mocking. "Where have I read your stuff?"
Reggie's flabbergasted, so you get the first word in, but as soon as you're done, "Siobhan Bailey? Holy..." She looks at Jackie. "You wrote that biography of Jocelyn Bell Burnell! That was an amazing book... it's such an honor." Siobhan smiles. "Thank you. I'm sure you and the other seven people that read it would make a fine club."
Reggie turns to you. "Don't believe her, Trev. She won the f... She won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography!"
Wow. I blink for a bit. "My mom read that book three times! I'm an idiot, Siobhan. I'm sorry for being so rude." I look down at Jackie, "You can do that. You're awesome, too." I know what it can feel like to be left behind, riding in someone's wake.
Is the fangirl around? I'm sorry, but I do want to say hi.
Jackie beams at you, appreciating your words. "Mom tells me that a lot. Well, usually it's more like, 'You're awesome, but...', but I get it."
Despite her words about sticking together, Reggie falls deep into talk with Siobhan, and waves you off when you start looking around. "I'll find you, Trev. You don't mind if I stay here for a little?"
You're wandering through the crowd, saying hellos and even signing a few autographs, keeping an eye out for your fan-girl, when someone walks up behind you, puts her hands over your eyes, and says, "Boo!"
I assume it's fangirl, but it's a big crowd. I pause, reach up to touch the hands, even though I'm a tiny bit freaked out. "I;.. have no idea. Who is it?"
"It's Tiffany, hon!" The hands come off and you turn around to see fan-girl. "Want to sign my boob?" She holds up a Sharpie and starts to pull off her t-shirt.
I backpedal a little. "Hi Tiffany. I think you should keep the t-shirt on, girl." I look at her for a second. "I could sign the shirt for you." Reaching for the Sharpie.
Tiffany gives you a pout. "Well, fine. But do sign the shirt! I had it made special."
"That's really neat." I take the Sharpie, and I sign the shirt, right side, above the book. I sign my name, and Abbadon, too. "How long have you playing? What got you into TSol?"
Now that you're closer, Tiffany's maybe a bit younger than Tandy. 16? 17? Maybe 18, despite her attitude. She beams while you're signing the t-shirt, though. "I've been playing forever. Maybe five months? I'm level ten, finally. My toon's Shak!ra if you ever want to, you know, hook up in the game. That's not cheating, right?"
This girl is super cute. But shit, she's like my sister's age, and hyper-excitable. This is a bad, baaaaad idea. If I can say no to Jessi, then I can say no to Miss Tween Sexpot. "You can be whoever you want in TSol, that's one of the things that's so amazing about it." I give her a half smirk, "I'm sure I'll catch you around the realm sometime. Just keep grinding away and leveling up. Okay?"
Toon sex is a pitiful substitute for the real thing. I might run a couple low-level quests with her, for fun and maybe because it's nice to be somebody's idol or whatever. But I'm not "cheating" with this girl. No way. I give her a shoulder pat, and try to move on, "It was great meeting you. I'll keep an eye out for Shak!ra."
Tiffany lets you go, but you can feel her watching you as you walk away. You mingle for a few more minute before Reggie catches back up to you.
"This is kinda fun, even if it is strange, isn't it? Looks like they're doing pretty good sales, too. I can't believe I met Siobhan Bailey! And her daughter is pretty awesome."
While you're walking and talking, you run into someone unexpected. Who is it, and is the surprise pleasant or unpleasant?
I barely recognize him from his profile pic from the forum, but we've never met. It's Bloo. I tap Reggie's arm, look over as he comes up, then turn to offer him a hand.
I think this might be unpleasant.
Bloo's go that "high school football player five years later" look. He's big but going a little doughy, with long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and a mustache thay just begs to be made fun of. "Trev, how the fuck are you?" His grip's firm but a little moist. He offers Reggie a hand as well, and a nod. "Reggie."
"I see dumping your guildmates worked out well for you."
I return the handshake, even though it's a little gross. "I told you, man. Things were crazy, I was working the quest. You guys were writing up contracts and yelling at each other. I just wanted to play."
Bloo says, "Whatever, dude. You couldn't even be bothered to try and help calm things down. Everybody liked you, and you were a founding member of WeMar. And you just turned your back instead of trying to save something that used to matter to you."
I sigh through my nose. Frustrated, mostly because he's right. "I'm sorry, Bloo. It was a shitty thing to do. I didn't plan on bailing, but the quest was just this sprawling thing, and then I went down that rabbit hole, and... I should have come back. I'm sorry, man." I'm taking all this, even though Reggie bailed, too. Then, I try to change subjects, "How is WeMar? Anyone left?"
Reggie shakes her head. "Bloo, you're not being fair. I was on that first meeting, after the quest was announced, and it was like watching a plane crash. Trev could be Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and Hilary Clinton, wrapped up in one, and he couldn't have fixed that."
Bloo shakes his head, but doesn't push back. He answers your question. "WeMar is no more, finally. BrokeNL made the request for it to be dissolved, should be final in a day or so. You should see a distribution to your character bank for a full Founder's share of the Guild Bank. You'll see gold, too, Reggie." He hesitates for a moment, then says, "Well, good luck?"
"Bloo, man," I interject. "I'm sorry WeMar went down. Are you.. are you local?"
"Close enough. Going to school part time at East Carolina University in Greenville. Just a couple hours away." He shifts from one foot to the other.
I notice he wants to go. "Oh, cool. Well, man. Don't be a stranger. I mean, if you're around, hit me up. Maybe we can hang out or something." I feel like I'm on a drowning ship, but I also feel like I kicked the guy's dog.
"Sure, sure. I'll do that, man." He sort of shuffles off. Reggie shakes her head.
"I suppose that could've been worse."
"Yeah, another quest casualty." I say, a little sad. Not, really torn up, but he was a net-friend, and they count for something. I wax nostalgic, "I remember some of our raids. Oh, remember when we all did a ten-man on the Ice Queen? Tandy thought it was the Frozen girl, Ilsa, and she was pissed! You rained fire down on the queen at the last possible second, saved Bloo's ass."
Reggie smiles, remembering. "That was a good raid! All the moving parts. Bloo rocked putting together that team and coordinating."
Tonya finds you, with a smile like the cat that ate the canary.
"Hey, Kanika from the TSol developers wants to show you something. They're about to stock it upstairs in the official part of the Vendor's room." Kanika is about your age, maybe a bit older, clearly from South Asia or India. She's a bit pudgy, but pretty, and dressed in geek-chic, with a really bright smile as she walks up, offering her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Trevian, Regina." Her left arm is cradling a box somewhere between two and three feet long, just over a foot wide, and a few inches deep.
I let Reggie shake her hand, then I do, too. "Hi Kanika. Nice to meet you, too." What's in the box? What's in the box, Kanika! What's in the boxxxxxx?!?!?!
Kanika smiles and hands it out to you. Reggie cranes her head to see as you open it. Inside are ten action figures, the current Top Ten on the Quest leaderboard. They're apparently arranged alphabetically, with labels below each slot to indicate the name. Abaddon, Briares, DaveDave, Gretel, Hank_the_Fourth, Mischa, Obladee, Obladah, Roddik, Zzzzippo. There is now an action figure of your toon, Trev, about to be sold to the masses.
"Holy shit! That's you, Trev!"
Okay, it must be dusty in here, because I don't know why my eyes are watering. This is so freakin amazing. "Wow.... " My very next thought is: We need one for Jace.
Kanika may be reading your mind, because she pulls a smaller box out of the bag slung over her shoulder. "We're only selling the current top ten as a set. Easy enough to 3D-print when things change, and that'll give some rarity value, if someone drops in or out. However... Tonya here made an excellent point when we were working with our partners to produce these. A few of the top ten have special team-mates, and we decided there was a market for some of those. So, we'll sell them individually." She hands the box to Reggie.
Her hands shake a bit as she opens the box. Inside, of course, is a perfect and perfectly detailed action figure of your elf, Jace. "Did I fall down a rabbit hole? What..." The hand that's not holding the box reaches out for your shoulder, to steady herself.
Once Reggie is good, I'm totally hugging Kanika. Then Tonya. Then Reggie, too, of course. A little longer on Reggie. Look back to Kanika and Tonya. Holy shit, I'm tearing up. "This is totally amazing, you guys!"
Reggie shakes her head, to clear it, as Tonya and Kanika look on. "Trev, I think it's time for a burger and a beer or six. Do you mind? Tonya, Kanika, this has totally blown my mind. I'm Alice in Wonderland right now."
"Sweetie, you did great. You can bail whenever you need to."
Oliver appears like a ninja. "Ready to go?"
Reggie's cracking me up. But I'm right there with her, too. I look over at Oliver, he's still cool as can be. "Yes, sir."
Oliver leads the way, out through the back. There are lines at the registers, and more people have come in since you started, dozens of them at the Black Marlin demo stations. The "vendor room" upstairs is crowded.
"How much of this do you think was us, Oliver? There are like four hundred people in there now," Reggie asks as you pass through the swinging doors to the area that leads to the loading dock.
"Truth? About two-thirds of them were here to see you and Trev. The ones that were here when the doors opened, pretty much for sure, or at least most of them."
Reggie's silent as he takes you to the stairs leading off the loading dock. Your Tesla's parked in an employee spot back here.
"Good." I say. "With what they're paying for us and all this, I hope they make a shit-ton." I wave at some of the people in the store. Don't see Tiffany. Good. That little jailbait was bad news.
"By the way, the Personal Appearance fee should be in your account now. I think Tonya added a little bonus, for good behavior. And..." His normally-serious face gets almost grim. "Keep me on speed dial. Things are going to keep heating up, if I read the signs right." He gives you a rare smile, well, barely a smile. "My job's to keep you safe, happy and productive... please, keep in touch." He signs off with a two-finger salute, and turns back to re-enter the store.
I give him a grin, not a salute. When Reggie and I get in the Tesla, I say, "That girl with the Abby shirt hit on me in the crowd. She's like... sixteen. It was weird."
Reggie leans back in the seat. "What wasn't weird about that? It was really fun, but we're not living a normal life anymore. She turns to you. "Wait, a sixteen year old hit on you?" She shakes her head again, and looks down at the action figure in the open box in her hand. "Top of the Hill. Burger. Beer. Now."
What the lady wants, the lady gets. I head straight there.
It's still early when you get to Top of the Hill, just dinner time. Tandy's at the bar with a girlfriend of hers, chatting over cokes and a shared order of mozzarella sticks. Who's the girl Tandy's with, Trev? And why is it a surprise to see her here?
It'll probably pick up later for Sunday Night Football, but for now there are only a handful of people sitting at the bar, even though the dining room's doing decent business. Margie smiles and greets you as you walk up, and Tandy turns to look when she hears your names.
What is Lili doing here? Where's Echo?
I head up to sit on her other side, "Hey Tandy, hey Lili. What's up?" I order a chicken strip salad and a mug of whatever's on tap that Margie recommends.
"Trev! Reggie!" She hops up and gives both of you a hug.
"Trev, you're not the only one getting famous. Tell him, Lili!"
Lili tries to look humble, but can't help breaking into a beaming smile. "Me? Oh, it's nothing. I'm just in town to record a duet. With Lyle Lovett, for his new album. Which is being produced by Rick Rubin."
I hug her back, she smells like cinnamon. "Holy shit! That's so awesome!" I kiss her forehead, then let her hug Reggie. "You're going to blow Lyle Lovett away, I swear."
Reggie congratulates Lili as they hug. Margie comes back with a mug for you, and something really dark in a smaller glass for Reggie.
"IPA for Trev, and Reggie, I thought you'd want to try the new batch of our Imperial Stout. You know, since you like them dark and strong." She winks at you, Trev, then continues. "Burger and the salad should be out soon." She heads to the other side of the bar to get something for another customer.
Margie gets a little wink from me, but I'm still interested in Lili, "So, how did you end up with a recording contract? Where's Echo?"
"Echo's still up at school. I'm just here for a few days, to record. Apparently, Lyle's assistant's daughter showed him a video from my feed and he liked my sound. Rick Rubin is producing a sort of comeback album, mostly covers and with a lot of duets, and they were looking for an unknown for at least one cut. And here I am. I got the call three days ago. Thought it was a joke, at first."
"That's so great, Lili." I grin and let her bask in it. "How's Echo?" A brother has to ask.
Lili's face lights up when you mention your sister. "Echo's great! She's looking forward to coming home for Christmas and seeing everybody. How's the quest going? Anything fun happen recently?"
"Trev got hit on by a sixteen year-old wearing a t-shirt with his character's picture on it. And, oh..." She pulls her action figure out of her purse. "We have action figures." Lili and Tandy both give delighted laughs and reach for the box.
This is why I'm happy to be with Reggie. She gets it.
I play it cool and chat with them as they pose Abby in really odd ways. "So Tandy, how did your big date go?"
Tandy puts the Jace figure down and turns to you. "It was super fun! We're going out again on Tuesday. The food truck thing was great, so many choices, and the bands rocked. Then we went dancing. He's a good dancer... So, yeah, it was really good."
Lili has picked up the Jace figure and is now enacting a little scene with Jace and Abby. They're kissing at the moment.
"Cool. Glad you're having a good time." I lean in to Tandy and whisper-ask, "Want to offer Lili a place to crash while she's in?"
"Already a done deal. Echo called and asked me to meet Lili at the airport, and since I've got Jake's car for now, it was no problem. Jake said it was cool for her to stay in his room. Oh, hey, Margie!" Margie walks over. "Tell Trev and Reggie what Jake said today!"
"Oh, yeah! He's starting PT this week, but they said he should be able to leave in a week or so, go to his parents'. They also gave him a clean bill of health on his spleen today. What's left is starting to increase function like it's supposed to."
Jace and Abby are no longer kissing. They're, um, well... it's doggy-style. Lili's listening, though, with bright, innocent eyes.
My eyes widen, "His spleen's better? So great. That's awesome. We gotta throw him a welcome home party, y'all."
The Jace-Abby mating ritual catches my attention for a second. "That's... you two are silly." Not that I mind Abby getting action. Mental note, ask Reggie to wear the Jace outfit. Soon.
Lili hands the action figures back with a self-satisfied chuckle.
"Well, it's getting better, for sure. He's going to be mostly in a chair for a couple months at least, but he should be able to get back to work on his art once they ramp the pain meds down and he can concentrate. That'll help. He's kinda going crazy, I think, despite all the attention we're all giving him. He tried to bribe me to bring him a growler of beer and a cigar, and he doesn't even smoke the things!"
"Jake with a cigar? That sounds hilarious. He'd cough his half-spleen out." I take a drink, put an arm around Reggie. "I told you all he'd be okay. This is all working out. All of it."
The five of you share a few seconds of mutual relief, then a server drops off you food at the end of the bar and Margie moves off to grab it and bring it to you.
Reggie picks up her burger and looks at it with something akin to devotion. "Bessie, you may be dead, but you did not die in vain." She takes a big bite.
That cracks me up. Never met a girl so into burgers. I chomp on my salad and enjoy the moment.
FADE TO MONTAGE
So, that was Sunday the 14th of December.
When you log in to TSol on Monday, Shak!ra/Tiffany sends you a chat request within five minutes. Since you're Trev, I assume you accept. She doesn't come on to you again. In fact she just seems a little lonely.
On Tuesday, you see Lili again after her two days in the studio with Lyle Lovett. She's enthusiastic about the product they wound up with, but a little tight-lipped about the process. Doesn't seem like she had as much fun as she'd hoped, but she's proud of the end result. She leaves the next morning to go back to school. Tandy's there, too. She says Henry has picked up a flu bug, so their date was postponed.
On Wednesday night, Reggie hands you an envelope that arrived that day. Inside is an invitation from Siobhan Bailey to a New Year's day Open House at her home, and a note from Jackie. "Please come! Oh, and I think I figured something out! There's a new building in Hochsholden that doesn't seem to have any way to get in, but you can see figures moving behind the curtains." You and Reggie haven't gotten to Hochsholden in your survey project yet. It's a town in a low level area, with gingerbread architecture like an Austrian village.
You and Reggie have an interview on Friday, a remote with a very influential tech blogger named Min Fisher. During the interview, some question she asks makes you mention your sister. When you say Echo's name, she perks up. "Ha. I think your sister's dating my daughter, Trev!" Needless to say, the "interview" goes on a lot longer than initially planned.
On Sunday the 21st, Shak!ra/Tiffany finds you again, in the game. "Face to Face" this time. Her toon is really customized, she's either spent some serious time or money. All black gear, ragged leather armor that leaves the pale skin of the arms and legs bare, exposing the scars of old wounds. The eyes are pure black, no white or iris. It's a little creepy, to be honest. She doesn't hang out for long, has to go after no more than two or three minutes, but you get the sense she wishes she could tell you something.
On Monday, Jake comes home to his parent's house, and Echo flies home from school. You pick her up in your Tesla and she pretends not to be impressed.