Of course it would rain on a day like today. And not a light rain—more like buckets. The umbrella in Skylar’s hand fought against her—the Chicago wind was out in full force today too, which was just her luck.
Great, she thought, racing down the sidewalk. The bus would be leaving soon, and she had to be on it. She was already going to be late for the interview for her dream job—working at a video game company. Granted, it was only a receptionist gig—but how cool would it be to go there every day?
Not that she was super likely to find out since she was not only going to be late but also walking in drenched and looking like she’d just taken a bath in Niagara Falls.
She kept running for the bus, repeating reassurances in her head like a mantra. It’ll be okay. It will be OKAY. The bus will still be there. And maybe the interviewer won’t care…that I might be drenched and late. Because I’m so fabulous at presenting, I have to be the best person for the job, so maybe they won't even notice the other stuff…
She managed to wrestle her umbrella back over her head, but it wasn’t doing much good now that she was soaked. Rain smeared her glasses, and she blinked, trying to wipe the lenses, barely able to see where she was going. Why the hell hadn’t anyone come up with windshield wipers for glasses yet?
Note to self… If this job doesn’t work out, maybe I should patent that design…
Her heart sped up at the sputtering sound of the bus. Shit! She blinked away the raindrops to see the bus she needed to catch pulling away from the curb.
“No, no, no! Crap!” She raced after it, banging on the side. “Hey! I need to be on this bus!” Shit, this can’t be happening to me!
At the worst possible moment she stumbled, and in that split second the bus roared out of her reach, and she kept falling…right into a big fat puddle.
She wobbled to her feet, now completely drenched from her head to her toes—literally. Her eyes watered, and she fought back the tide of tears. She wasn’t going to cry, dammit.
Pulling out her phone, she tried to pull up a rideshare, but of course there were zero cars available in this weather.
She glanced desolately at the time and groaned. Even if by some miracle she managed to get a bus or car, she’d still be half an hour late to the interview.
Slumping, she turned around and started walking down the sidewalk. Her telemarketing job was just a couple of blocks away, and at this point she might as well cut her losses and go back.
The rain was easing up, but she was already soaked to the bone, and she felt the misery hit a little harder with every step until she was back in the office and sinking into her chair as if she could transform right into a liquefied pile of goop herself. She could simply disappear from existence right now, and neither she, nor the rest of the world would likely know the difference.
Sighing, she typed up a quick email to the video game company. Maybe she could reschedule…maybe. Worth a shot, I guess.
Reluctantly, she placed her headset on. Another day, another dubious vitamin bottle to sell. She’d been at the job for so long that she didn’t even really need to think about it. Her fingers went into automatic mode as she dialed the number of a potential customer and adopted the forced, syrupy sweet and warm voice she used for these occasions.
“Hello,” she crooned into the phone, dying a little more inside.
“Who is this?” The voice, like so many others, was suspicious. From experience, she knew she had about five seconds or less to make her case or they would hang up. Luckily, she’d done this enough that the prospect didn’t really intimidate her the way it used to.
She fell into the familiar rhythm of what she was good at—at least over the phone—which was putting a person at ease and letting them warm up to her.
“Thank you,” the voice on the other end said, sounding much happier after chatting with her. “I’m looking forward to trying the vitamins.”
She hung up. Well, that was one more sale under her belt—which could only be a good thing since it helped with her commissions.
Getting up and stretching, she meandered over to the kitchen and tried not to wallow in her other miseries as she waited for her coffee to finish brewing. She started counting under her breath, trying to work out her quota for the day.
She stirred a packet of sugar into the coffee. “I hope it’s more like yesterday was,” she muttered. “If I’m stuck here, I’d better make the best of it.”
“Make the best of what?”
The distinctly male voice had her spinning around, spilling coffee all over her barely dried sweater.
Of course it was Scott…the oh-so handsome VP of the company, with his perfectly starched shirts and dimples…cute Scott who everyone in the office drooled over.
The same Scott who was looking at her expectantly now. Had he ever even looked at her before? She couldn’t remember.
“So, Katie, tell me: What’s so crazy about your day?”
Skylar’s smile tightened. So…Scott had no idea who she was. And knew her by a name that didn’t sound even remotely like her own. The icing on the cake of a wonderful, wonderful day, right?
“Nothing,” she mumbled, rushing past him. “Goodbye.”
Skylar practically fell through the door of her apartment, tossing her bag onto the floor, kicking off her shoes and flopping onto the couch, dead tired. What a horrible, horrible day.
She glanced at her phone, anxious to see there was a new email. It was hard to believe she’d managed to hold out on checking her email all day—well, that and her job forbade any leisure internet time. But it looked like the video game company had gotten back to her.
A mix of dread and excitement thrummed through her, but all of the latter abruptly died as she read the first sentence of the email.
We regret to inform you that we’ve already…
No need to read any more. She smacked herself in the forehead. “Shit!” This was all her fault. She’d accidentally overslept and missed her alarm. Seriously, why couldn’t she get anything right? Or, for once, why can’t something just go my way?
She was becoming more and more convinced that the universe or whatever powers that be must hate her. Was she really that hateable?
It’s not like I’m a bad person, she thought. Suddenly, her younger sister, Sera, barreled into the room. Sera plopped down onto the couch beside her, munching on cheesy chips out of a bag.
How does she manage to eat everything under the sun and remain a size freaking zero? Life really isn’t fair.
“So, I guess I can assume by your long face that you fucked up your interview?” Sera asked, barely pausing between chips.
“The interview went fine,” Skylar lied. “I didn’t fuck it up… I was just late.”
Sera laughed, and the sound only irritated Skylar. “When are you gonna learn that you need to get your shit together and live in the real world like the rest of us? All you do is stay up late, playing that same dumb game over and over. And then you lose your shot at a gig that you might actually like.”
“Whatever,” she muttered, drawing her legs up and hugging them. She didn’t need to take advice from her little sister.
Sera got up and brushed the crumbs from her top. “I have a date with Ashton,” she said, flicking her hair back over her shoulder—she had great hair, of course. “I think he’s going to propose soon. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
Yes…amazing. Just one more way in which her sister was doing better than her.
“Have fun,” Skylar said, forcing the words out in a sickly-sweet voice.
Ignoring her tone, Sera grabbed her purse and headed out the door.
As soon as her sister left, Skylar did what she always did when Sera went out for the night—she turned on her favorite game in the world, Rise of the Oracle. She’d played it a million times, but she never got tired of the opening levels. There was something magical about reentering the world of Cresia. She loved playing it the thousandth time just as much as she had the first time.
Even though it was the last thing she wanted to do, she couldn’t help but think about what Sera had said, how she stayed up late every night, playing this same game. How she slept in today, possibly because of staying up too late the night before… But she couldn’t bring herself to care very much as she moved quickly through the beginning of the game.
Her avatar, Zariel, had just stolen from a rich lord.
“Run!” Penny, her best friend in the game, yelled.
Together, they bolted, and maybe it should have been terrifying, but Skylar felt exhilarated as she moved Zariel easily through the streets of the town, dodging and weaving with a grace that Skylar only wished she had in real life.
“Z, if you were me this morning, you would have caught that bus, no problem,” Skylar muttered.
She loved playing this game, loved making Zariel run like the wind, knowing that she had to rush in order to escape the general city guard and find the right person to capture her. And once that person did, she danced a little in her seat, knowing what was coming. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Her character was slumped in a cell when a voice that sounded like an angel spoke. A light illuminated the screen as Anders, the hero of the game, the prince of all princes, stepped forward.
Skylar had heard it all before, but she listened with rapt attention as Anders spoke to Zariel, offering her a deal in order to gain her freedom.
“How are you more beautiful each time I see you?” Skylar muttered at the screen, mesmerized by his sculpted, perfect face and gentle, perfect voice.
When the dialogue section came up, she already knew what to say. She clicked on her response, and Zariel’s voice murmured, “Wherever you lead, I will follow.”
In response, Anders gave her a heart-melting half smile. Inside, she felt the tension of the day easing out. This…this was her comfort.
She kept playing, the hours passing by until it was the middle of the night. But she didn’t stop. She was so into the game that at some point she just drifted off, thinking about that world…
Skylar opened her eyes, startled to realize she was running. Beside her, a familiar face, Penny, was panting. “Run!” she screamed, her voice piercing Skylar’s ears.
This is…just like how the game opens.
She looked around, faltering for a moment as she took in the scene—the merchant stalls and old buildings and cobblestone streets and the guards chasing her…
Oh, shit! What the hell was going on?
And then it clicked as the smells and sounds took over her senses. She was no longer playing the game…she was in the game.