The final part – of ‘The man who dated his RL boss (without her knowing it).’ I do hope you’ve enjoyed this story. If you have, it would warm the cockles of my heart if you left a brief comment underneath.
Room 217. “Do not disturb.” He removed the key card from the back of the hanger. Nick’s heart pounded in his chest and his hands shook violently as he made a clumsy attempt to pick away the remainder of the tape from the card. She was on the other side of this door. Right now. She was just a few feet away from him. How ridiculous it was that he was experiencing so much apprehension over being with someone he quite literally spent every working day with.
He held the card over the lock for a full thirty seconds and contemplated one last time just turning around and leaving. It started as an idle thought and then grew at a speed that shocked him into a serious contemplation. Before the idea could get any further he forced his hand down, pushed the card into the slot, heard the click and pulled the card back out. He pushed down on the handle and opened the door.
The room inside was in darkness. He slipped quickly inside, feeling self-conscious to be silhouetted against the lit hallway. The door shut solidly behind him and the blackness swallowed him up.
Silence. He strained to hear something – breathing – anything – in this airless void around him, though any noise in the room would have had to be significant to be audible over his nervous breathlessness. Then he remembered what he was supposed to say. He cleared his throat and whispered, “Curiosity?”
From some impenetrable point in the direction of his ten o’clock came the single word, “Cando.”
He inched forward, wishing he’d held open the door a little longer to get a better look at the layout of the room. After a few moments, his fingertips found the wall to his left; it led him to a corner.
In this clumsy, dis-coordinated, half-panicked state, he imagined himself finding the edge of the bed with his shins and tumbling forwards onto her. He decided to play it safe and got down on his hands and knees to crawl the remainder of the way, his hand outstretched in front of him. Even so, he still managed to hit his head against the corner of the bed. The sound of a suppressed giggle came from somewhere above him and he felt the tension in him reduce a notch immediately. He chuckled. He got to his feet, felt for the edge of the bed, turned and sat down. He took his shoes off before swinging his legs up onto the the bed and lying down.
Even before her fingers found his and interlocked with them, he could feel – he could sense – her body lying next to him.
After a minute of lying like this, he felt her shift position, turn to face him.
“Hey,” she whispered.
It was more of an exhale than a word. He felt her breath on his cheek. She placed her other hand palm-down on his chest, over his heart. She scrunched her fingers there, gathering up the fabric of his shirt.
“Hey,” he whispered back.
She moved in close. He felt her lips on his temple: the lightest of kisses. “Your heart is racing.” She breathed the words into his ear, so quietly they would have been silence from just three inches away. She massaged his chest a little more and then she reached over and found his right hand, and pulled it towards her in a manner that suggested she wanted him to turn so that they were facing each other. He did so, and as he did he caught her scent in the air and recognised it from all those times in the office she had passed him or sat down next to him or arrived at his desk with a question. Vicky. It really was Vicky lying next to him.
She pulled his hand over and put it to rest on her hip.
Her bare hip.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, forgetting to whisper.
She laughed, softly. She laid her right hand across his cheek and moved in to kiss him again, this time full on the lips. “Surprise!” she whispered into his mouth.
He started to stroke her hip, a slow, inverted pendulum that worked its way further and further up her body each time, until he was feeling the bump bump bump of her ribcage beneath his fingertips and then cupping her left breast in his hand. And, just like that – almost as though a switch had been turned suddenly off – he felt all his inhibitions and fears drain out of him. It was no longer Vicky Kent in front of him: it was now curiosity Redgrave, for one night only fashioned out of flesh and blood instead of pixels; the woman he loved; the woman he had made love to time and time again in SL; the woman who loved him. This was their moment. In this small room – one of a hundred in the hotel; one of fifty thousand hotels in London – they would come together and their lives would burn bright. Passion and desire flooded into him in a way he had never known before in real life, and he pulled her urgently into him and kissed her hard on the mouth and he felt her hands find his belt buckle and start unfastening it.
And that was when the fire alarm went off.
Five seconds. Ten seconds. Fifteen. They realised it wasn’t a drill. And then a male voice in the corridor outside shouted: “Ladies and gentlemen, please leave your rooms immediately and assemble in the car park area behind the hotel.”
“Go,” said Vicky. Whispering was now impossible against the din of the alarm. He recognised her voice instantly. “Go now. I have to dress. If it’s a false alarm then come back here thirty minutes after they send us back in and we’ll try again. Otherwise go home and we’ll work something else out.” He rose immediately, found his shoes on the floor but didn’t stop to put them on until he was outside in the corridor.
A line of people was already forming and moving towards the stairs. A uniformed man came over and asked him, “Is it just yourself inside this room, sir?”
“My partner’s just coming,” Nick replied and fell into the flow, suddenly anxious that at the speed the queue was moving he would not be out of sight of the room by the time Vicky left it. The problem wasn’t the number of people in the corridor but the number of people descending from the eight floors above. It would be okay, he decided, so long as he didn’t look back. But in fact he reached the stairwell after not much more than a minute, and two minutes after that he was in the foyer and headed for the fire exit.
In the car park outside, he tried to keep to the edge of the large group of people rapidly forming. He tried to spot Vicky without being spotted himself so that he knew where to avoid standing. Over the noise of the alarm he heard people chattering that there was a bomb in the building. Others claimed there was a fire in the kitchen. Flashing blue lights reflected off the red brick of the next building announced the arrival of the fire service at the front of the hotel; men in hi-vis jackets marched into the car park and towards a group of staff. Nick edged towards them, thinking that if he overheard that it was an actual fire that that would be his cue to walk away from the place completely. “You need to get these people much further away,” one of the officers shouted over the noise of the alarm. “This is too close.” Something was said by one of the staff about the fifth floor. For the first time, it occurred to Nick to worry about Vicky’s safety. Should he have stayed with her until she had dressed? And yet, if anyone was likely to be fast at getting changed it had to be Victoria Kent. She had suggested the most logical choice of action and he had behaved logically by following it.
More fire fighters appeared. The sound of sirens. Instructions went out over a megaphone telling guests to move to the back of the car park. This was not going to be resolved any time soon.
It’s over, Nick told himself. It’s time to go.
He turned around and found himself face-to-face with Vicky.
It took a moment for her to recognise him out of context. For the space of a second, he thought she might just fail to see him at all, but then she said, “Nick! What are you doing here?” Her voice trailed off over that last syllable so that the final word of her sentence seemed to just fade away into the background clatter. She sniffed the air between them and a frown came over her face. Was it his imagination, or did he spot the words, “Old Spice” form minutely on her lips? She reached out and felt the fabric of his shirt between her thumb and finger.
And then she looked at him directly – looked him right in the eyes – and all the confusion on her face melted away. And Nick knew that she knew, and knew that she knew everything. He saw the knowledge in her eyes, and he saw her seeing it in his. For all his pains to lay a trail of evidence suggesting his innocence, she read him in a single second. Her mouth settled in a cold, thin line. Victoria Kent twisted her body slightly, and Nicholas realised he was about to get slapped across the cheek for the first time in his life.
But he was wrong. She punched him in the face.
Did you think this a story about love surpassing barriers? Did you think it a tale about the little guy for once winning his unobtainable princess? I’m afraid it is neither of those things, and if you don’t know why then the deciding element is that little piece of knowledge that Nick had from the onset. No amount of mental work at minimising its significance makes it any less a betrayal of trust. On the Monday following the hotel incident, Vicky met with Nick at work to tell him she would press charges of sexual assault against him if he did not resign from his job. He quit immediately, knowing he was getting off lightly.
It took me a long time to piece together even the smallest parts of this tale; I had to follow what felt at the time like an endless trail of potentially groundless rumour. For a while I started to wonder if the story of the guy who had somehow managed to date his boss in SL without her knowing was in fact some sort of SL urban myth. In the end, it was Nick himself who contacted me, having read the various bits and pieces of speculation on my blog. I’ve presented this story from his point of view, compiled from a number of subsequent conversations I had with him and access to excerpts from his chat logs.
I had one five minute conversation with Curiosity in which she gave consent for me to use Cando’s logs on the proviso that they did not in any way identify her; following that she has not replied to any of my requests to talk further. Accordingly, then, this story is heavily anonymised. Some details are accurate and some are made up, and I’m not going to say which are which.
Why did she agree to my publishing the story? I copied into my chat box with her the rationale Nick gave me for running it. “After a year of shame and regret over what I did, I’ve come to the conclusion that there can’t be enough stories out there about how a man can delude himself so thoroughly that the actions taken by others subsequent to his deception justify what he then goes on to do. This is not a story about love: this is a story about one man invading the privacy of another person and finding ways to convince himself that it was okay to do this. If only I had just said to her, “Oh… are you in Second Life? I am too!”
“Yes,” Curiosity replied. “Run with that.”