Part two of ‘The man who dated his RL boss (without her knowing it).’
This sudden swing to grumpiness did not deter him in the slightest from looking Curiosity up the very moment he stepped into his flat. In the last couple of minutes of his walk home he’d remembered there was an Olympic rower called Steve Redgrave and there was an actress called Vanessa Redgrave, and all of a sudden his previously complete conviction in Vicky Kent being a metaversian started to come apart. It was the oddness of the first name – Curiosity – to which he clung: it was a name so typical of Second Life. He was certain that his explanation had to be the right one. It had to be.
It was. He found her straight away. She was an eight year old avatar, and every bit the beautiful, consummate professional in SL that she was in RL. Her profile listed her as editor for two years of a well-known SL lifestyle magazine, a model, a photographer, a poet, and the writer of two romantic novels set within the metaverse. Going by the picture on display, it was no mystery how she had made it as a model: hers was one of the most stunning avatars Nick had ever seen. He sat and stared at the screen for a few moments. This was Vicky Kent, his line manager. He felt overwhelmed with admiration for her. To be so effective in one life was one thing; to repeat this success so completely in the second was surely nothing short of remarkable. Was there anything this person couldn’t do?
He thought to himself, I wonder how easy it would be to run into her in SL? He rolled the idea around in his head for a few minutes. Supposing – just supposing – they became friends in SL. Good friends. If he then told her who he was in real life (and actually he wouldn’t just ‘tell her’ at all: he’d let something slip about his RL and maybe she would mention something about hers; they’d realise after a fashion they both worked in the same city; they’d realise they were both in the same line of work; they’d both reference a meeting they had to get to first thing in the morning; suddenly they’d each realise who the other was and it would be an amazing coincidence) wouldn’t it then be harder for her to reject him in the way he’d ruminated on earlier? If she actually knew him – knew who he was in the metaverse and how he was in the metaverse – rather than just being told by him he was some random person who also logged on to Second Life, wouldn’t that then create the friendship he’d earlier fantasised over?
He regarded himself in SL as a different sort of person than he was in RL. In Second Life, Nick – or rather Cando Paravane, as he was called inworld – was a somebody. He owned some land and rented out some properties. He managed a holiday region for its owner. He was a reasonably accomplished and popular 80s DJ. Over the years, he’d done all kinds of other bits and pieces here and there, from hosting a charity event to taking photos for an SL magazine to officiating at several virtual world marriages. Whilst he would have been the first to admit that however big a fish he was it was still relatively tiny ponds he was used to swimming in, the key outcome of all of this – that he was socially confident in SL in a way he never had been in real life – meant everything to him. Feeling confident – feeling unafraid to join a conversation or to make a joke without worrying it would fail – was an amazing thing to feel if you had never felt it in your life before. That removal of anxiety was like no other feeling Nick knew. He was addicted to it. It was the single element that had kept him one hundred per cent loyal to SL all these years. He could not think of doing any other thing with his evenings.
Nick Harding, then, was a relatively quiet guy in real life who was polite and friendly to all his colleagues and who kept his attendance at social gatherings down to an absolute minimum. Cando, however, was more a solid rock kind of a guy: friendly, yes, but at the same time nobody’s fool. Utterly reliable. He was the sort of person who could be entrusted with ban privileges at an event and he would neither overuse them nor shy from making the tough call when it became necessary. Gentle. He was always around to listen. Resourceful. He was a solution-finder not a crisis whiner. Cando was the go-to guy when disputes arose and he could usually get warring friends to shake hands by the end of their discussion. And Cando was romantic. He’d been through three partnerships so far, each ending perfectly amicably. Cando was the kind of guy who liked strolls along the beach with a dog. His wardrobe for all such occasions was impeccable: his sweater collection alone now numbered over a hundred items, from several instances of the sweater draped over his shoulders and tied loosely below the neck (for summer evening walks) to currently twelve Christmas-themed pullovers for festive fireside moments or snowball fights outside. Cando was a character out of a daytime TV movie. He even had a lumberjack shirt and a pickup truck.
So making contact with Curiosity Redgrave was not a prospect that made Cando anxious or apprehensive. Whilst he realised that – just as it was in real life – she was a level or two (or more) above where he was hanging around, he felt none of the sense of barrier that such a difference would have made for him in RL. He was confident he could reach across this distance. The only real problem to solve so far as he could see was thinking up a way to make his first encounter appear accidental. It didn’t take him long. Curiosity’s picks in her profile included the office in SL of the magazine she edited. He would go there and look for work. With any luck that would be his first point of contact.
He checked her status: she was still offline. She probably wasn’t yet home: Vicky was often the last person still working at her desk when everyone else left in the evening. He put on a smart blue shirt in SL whilst he waited for ‘online’ to appear in her profile and divided his time between putting a ready meal into the microwave and flipping through a couple of past issues of ‘SL-INK MAGAZINE.’ It was a high quality piece of work: beautiful photography; great typography; reasonable writing. What’s more, the amount of editorial content actually exceeded the quantity of advertisements.
Finally, he saw her come online. He waited another fifteen minutes – enough time for her to get through any messages waiting for her and to put on an outfit for the evening; not so much time that any major appointment would have the chance to get started – and then he teleported over, materialising just outside of the main entrance. He walked straight in and crossed the marble foyer to the reception desk. In real life, Nick was full of hesitation and caution; in SL, he couldn’t bear a dawdler.
“May I help you, sir?” the receptionist asked him.
“Cando Paravane to see Ms Redgrave, please.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“It’s about the advert on page twelve of your latest issue.”
“I’ll let her know you’re here,” she told him after a fashion. “Ms Redgrave is very busy, though.”
“Thank you Clayre; I appreciate that.”
Ten minutes passed. Cando waited in a red, retro recliner and consciously avoided doing any camming around in the building. He could see on his ‘radar’ that Curiosity was nearby, but he didn’t want to see her until they actually met.
“Ms Redgrave can see you briefly now,” the Receptionist said suddenly. “She’s on the third floor, the third room on your left when you exit the elevator.”
He stood and walked to the elevator rather than camming over and just clicking it for the menu. She might be watching. She might appreciate detail like that. On the third floor he stood respectfully outside of the third door and knocked.
“Please come in,” she called to him. He entered.
Her office was long and low ceilinged. She sat at a spacious, outward-facing corner desk made from beech or oak and surrounded by rich, red carpeting. Curiosity Redgrave herself was an almost identical copy of her real life driver. She was blonde. She was slim. She was a little under tall. She was wearing a dark pantsuit, just like she did in RL, except she wore no blouse beneath this one and a burgundy-coloured corset was fastened tightly around the outside. She was stunning. There was no other word for it.
“Mr Paravane,” she said to him, still looking at her computer sceeen “do sit down. That’s quite an old SL name, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve actually met a Paravane before.”
He kept his response polite and formal. “Thank you Ms Redgrave. Yes, I’m afraid we’re something of a dying breed, we Paravanes; relics from a bygone era in Second Life.”
“When it was all still the next big thing. I remember it well. A different time it was indeed. Now how can I help you? Clayre mentioned something about an advert in our latest issue.”
He was careful to type out everything in full, with correct punctuation. He knew she was a stickler for spelling and grammar in real life. “That’s correct. Page twelve. It mentions there that anyone who is interested in working for the magazine should contact you.”
“Ah, I see,” she replied. “I must admit I had rather imagined people would understand ‘contact’ in that case to mean sending me a message or a notecard, but I can see that we weren’t completely explicit about that.”
Time to make his first bold move. “Oh I understood that perfectly,” he said. “I just couldn’t resist exploiting a wording loophole to come and meet you in person.”
She laughed. “Then I shall consider our loophole exploited. Fair enough. What sort of work are you interested in?”
This was Vicky Kent he was speaking to, he had to keep reminding himself. This was his real life boss.
“Well I used to do some occasional photography for a long-gone SL publication,” he said, “but I’d be lying if I said I was anywhere even approaching the level of competence of your amazing photographers. Where I feel your publication lacks a little is in the quality of its writing.”
“That’s very daring of you to say so, Mr Paravane,” she told him. “As it happens, I agree. What sort of writing would you be interested in producing for us?”
“Second Life holidays,” he said, without hesitation. “I have a little experience in that area: I manage the Snowflaiks winter resort.”
“Oh I went there once,” she said. “My ex-partner rented a log cabin for us over Christmas a couple of years back.”
“Before my time there, I think, but did you enjoy it?”
“I did! It was the first time I’d ever really done anything like that. It made quite a change to log in to a different home spot for a few days – and stay there.”
“Mark my words,” he told her, “Second Life holidays are going to be big.”
“Do you really think so?” she asked.
“Well when I say that what I really mean is ‘virtual holidays,’ but it’ll start right here in SL. My very first SL vacation was to one of those huts on stilts over the shallow waters of a desert island. I went along purely to keep my ex-partner happy, thinking it would be the most dull experience imaginable; I ended up wanting to stay for an extra week.”
“It’s the kind of thing you would imagine wouldn’t work but actually does,” she said.
“All it is,” he responded, “is making yourself follow a different routine for a few days. There’s a lot of enlightenment that comes with that realisation.”
“Do you get a lot of trade at Snowflaik?”
“Most of it’s over the Christmas season, of course,” he replied. “Once December hits and people start thinking about it, the cabins are usually rented all out within a couple of days.”
“That fast? How many do you have on the sim?”
“Currently forty in two layers. We’ve easily enough prims remaining to build a third, but the owner’s nervous about lag. I keep trying to tell her that’s the beautiful thing about running a resort that’s accessed from all over the world: you never ever have all of your tenants on sim at the same time.”
“I suppose mesh has made things a lot easier for you in terms of land impact.”
“You’re not kidding,” he said. “We completed the cabin conversion last month, actually: they’re all now completely mesh. We saved ourselves hundreds of prims! The trees are next. I want to replace the clubhouse at the centre as well, but the owner’s really attached to it; she says it was a custom build back when the resort first opened and the place just wouldn’t be the same without it.”
She commented, “You never think of things like that when you visit virtual places – their history, I mean. Their background. The features and characteristics that make them unique in the minds of the people who go there and work there. I like thinking that behind that business there’s a boss who cares about the way her customers think about her place.”
“I think that clubhouse build is even pre-sculpty,” Cando said. “The texturing really isn’t all that bad, though, and with the right windlight and shadows turned on it can look amazing. If it wasn’t for the huge number of prims it consumes, I’d be all in favour of keeping it.”
“Perhaps you could hire someone to make a mesh replica?”
“That would definitely be my choice,” he replied. “Instead, she’s gone and got herself a copy of Mesh Studio and is trying to recreate the whole thing herself so that she can then convert it.”
“I don’t think Mesh Studio works all that well on large constructions. I don’t think you get the same savings.”
“That’s what I heard too. She won’t be told, though. But none of this especially bothers me because – as you said – it’s great to work for someone who thinks the way she does about the resort and the people who use it. She’s one in a million, actually. So do I get the job?”
She laughed again. “You’re very cheeky, Mr Paravane. I must admit, however, that I do find your narratives about your own resort rather compelling. I’ll tell you what: find me a holiday destination somewhere on the grid that’s not your own and write me a one thousand word piece on it that includes an interview with the owner and at least a little bit about its history. If I think it’s any good, I’ll get a photographer to go over and get some images and we’ll run it in the next issue. Then we’ll talk again about a regular position. Does that sound fair?
“Exceedingly,” Cando told her. “When would you like it by?”
“Would three days from now be doable? I know we’ve only just published our latest issue, but our workflow system has us finalising content three weeks ahead of publication date to give the guy who does layout the time he needs. If you can’t do it in three days it would have to be something for the issue after next.”
“Three days would be doable.” He stood up. “Thank you for your time, Ms Redgrave; and apologies for the cheekiness.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she told him. “You don’t ask you don’t get, right? And understand: this is only a trial.”
“Just out of interest, was it just that a one-to-one discussion was more likely to lead to employment?”
He liked it a lot that she had asked him this Columbo-esque question, this ‘one last thing’ on the point of exit, where answers were prone to be rushed and more revealing. “Just so that we’re clear,” he told her, “I am in no need of another SL salary. What I do desire is talented people to learn from amongst my acquaintances.”
“That’s an impressive reply, Mr Paravane.”
“Please,” he said to her, “call me Cando.”
Want to read another story by me set in SL? I’ve also serialised ‘The man who had an affair with his wife’ – the first part is here (scroll down past the text on NaNoWriMo to get to it).