"You have to be the wife," said Ted. He was my second cousin--one of the pitfalls of living deep-rooted in a small town, you can never quite avoid the relatives--and slicked his hair back with gel and he always touches it to make sure it's thoroughly adhered to itself. Every time he does that I want to smack his hands. We were in his basement, which was finished, but still had that dank basement smell--which also happens to be the same odor that happens in cars when you go to the beach and leave your bathing suit in the back seat for a week.
"Why?" I asked. "What's the point?"
Ted squinted at me, then tapped his temple with his finger.
"Because you're a woman," he said. Man, he could be clueless. At first I was shocked that he could hatch a plan as complex as what he was trying to get us to execute, with thinking that primitive.
"So? These are avatars? Who the hell will care?"
"Yeah, why?" asked Caroline. She was our third. In real life she wore thick glasses and thicker sweaters, even in summer, claiming to be perpetually cold 'inside'. She worked with Ted for a few months at a gas station until it was robbed and then they both quit the next day. They won't tell me what happened, but they must have bonded over the experience because they sure spend a lot of time together as platonic friends. As far as I knew, neither of us was related to her.
"There has to be a wife! That's the game. You make a family and play it. There's always a man, a wife, and kids. Me, you, and her." He pointed to himself then us.
"Why is it man and wife?" asked Caroline. I grinned.
"I just said that's the--"
"No, I mean, why not 'husband and wife' or 'man and woman'?" said Caroline.
"She's right, that is weird," I piled on.
"And you could be the wife, if you want to play it that way," said Caroline.
"I don't know how to be a wife!" said Ted. His cheeks were getting a bit red. He swiveled around in his chair to face the screen which showed a slowly spinning avatar that looked a lot like Andy Garcia but I assume Ted was actually trying to create a reasonable facsimile of himself instead.
"We could all be kids," I said.
"Kids are hard to control in-game," said Ted. "We have to build up these characters fast. We need to be adults that can hold down jobs and generate income."
"Oh, this is going to be soooo boring!" I flopped down on the sofa and picked up my laptop and laid it on my stomach. "Why would anybody play a game where they have to work for the man? In real time?"
"There's no unemployment in-game," said Caroline. "You can change jobs if you don't like what you're doing. And it's not like you're doing any actual work."
"Oh that's great. Isn't there a cheat code or something?"
"No," said Caroline.
"Can you just stop complaining? I mean I'm in charge. I'm paying you to do this! If you don't like it, I'll get someone else." Ted glared at me.
"You're not going to find anyone to do this for you. No one is going to want to waste their time for you. I'm only doing it as a favor." Actually I was doing it because I had nothing better to do for the next month. "This is a crime Ted, you know that? You're not going to find a lot of willing accomplices."
"It's not a crime!" cried Ted.
"I don't know, it could be," said Caroline.
"There's no way! How is it a crime? I'm not murdering anyone. I'm not stealing anything. I'm not robbing money. It's completely harmless."
"You're going to blow up Ashley's virtual mansion, with her in it," said Caroline. Ashley was Ted's girlfriend until he found out she was also his brother's girlfriend. I met her once at a barbecue. She seemed nice, if a little blank.
"It's virtual!" Ted threw his hands into the air.
"We're going to weasel into her circle of virtual friends, plant a bomb in her bathroom and boom," said Caroline flatly. "Sounds a bit crimey to me."
"It's part of the game." He rustled around on his desk and found the box the game came in, then shoved it in Caroline's face. "Look what it says--'Mayhem is part of the fun!' There's no way this is a crime."
"God the game is lame," I said. "It comes in a box."
Ted threw the box back onto his desk, sighed, then folded his arms across his chest.
"You two are taking all the fun out of this," he said.
"If Ashley finds out we're stalking her, can't she put a restraining order on you or something?"
"It's not stalking! It's all virtual!" He gestured his hands in a circle, as if that somehow denoted the concept of 'virtual'.
Caroline and I looked at him blankly. Ted stared back at us in turn, then bowed his head and rolled his chair closer to his desk.
"I don't want to be a kid," said Caroline.
"I'm not going to be the wife," I said.