Beth wasn't imagining it. The relationship between her and Peter had shifted since the night of her mother's call. That'd been two days ago, and whenever they logged on to the game she lowered her guard a fraction more. So did Peter.
The biggest difference was that they chatted far more than strictly necessary. And their messaging didn't concern the game as much as it did each other.
You're right on time, I notice, he wrote when she logged on.
Beth kicked off her shoes as she settled into the chair by her desk. She set aside the soda she was drinking in order to respond. You're ahead of schedule.
I was anxious.
Beth read his words and leaned away from her desk. She wasn't sure how to decipher that comment. Did Peter mean he was anticipating her arrival? Or was he implying that he was worried she'd be late? It was hard to tell.
Anxious why? she asked, preferring the direct approach.
To talk to you.
Now that they'd reached level forty in World of Warcraft, the option to purchase a mount had been offered to them. It was a big advantage and one they'd been considering. Any particular reason? she asked, wondering if that was what he wanted to discuss.
That didn't tell her anything. Would you care to explain?
His reply didn't come for a couple of minutes, as if he needed to think about it first. So this obviously wasn't about the possibility of adding a mount to their list of resources.
We've been partners - how long? he asked instead.
It seems longer.
Again Beth didn't know what to make of that. Really?
I trust you.
She laughed. As well you should. I've covered your butt often enough, oh mighty Timixie.
I've covered yours, too.
For which I'm most grateful.
That's only appropriate.
Beth laughed, enjoying the light, teasing quality of their exchange. She typed quickly. Are you going to chatter all night or are we going to play?
Can't we do both?
Beth felt a rush of warmth. It was a pleasant sensation and one she'd almost forgotten. Talking with the opposite sex was awkward for her, except in situations that didn't involve potentially romantic expectations - with family, for instance, or male colleagues or friends like Sam. She felt comfortable with Peter, at ease. Although they hadn't even spoken on the phone, let alone face-to-face, it was the first time she'd had that kind of reaction to a man since John.
Despite what her mother said, Beth had dated after her divorce; she just hadn't done it successfully. Most social conversations with men felt stilted. She struggled with how much to say or not to say.
Her record was three dates with the same man. Luke Whitcomb. He'd been a nice guy, entertaining and funny. His sense of humor had carried her for the three dates.
She probably would've accepted a fourth except that he'd admitted their relationship wasn't working for him. He'd been sincere when he said they should call it quits before either of them got hurt.
Well, surprise, surprise. Luke's rejection had cut deep and served, once again, to convince Beth that she was incapable of ever attracting another man. Afterward she'd steered away from dating at all and a couple of weeks later, she'd found the World of Warcraft and since then, almost her entire social life had been as a Night Elf and hunter.
Now there was Peter, a man she'd never actually met. His family had suggested he "get a life," so it was highly probably that he was single, too. Beth wanted to ask him, only she couldn't figure out how to do it without being obvious. A straightforward question about his marital status seemed out of line at this stage.
They'd been into the game for about ten minutes when Peter sent her another message. This might be a stupid question but are you...single, married, whatever?
He'd asked her.
Beth's relief was instantaneous. Single.
Me, too. Age?
Is this an interrogation? she typed back.
Sort of. Do you mind?
Not really. She didn't, because in the process she was learning more about him.
I'll tell if you will.
I'm edging toward thirty, he typed. Which is one reason my family is after me to meet someone.
Me, too. Her heart really started to pound then. Perhaps that candle her mother had lit in church was working. Perhaps, in some quirky way, her prayer had taken effect.
Peter was single; she was single.
He lived in Seattle and she lived in Seattle.
He was close to her age and a professional, just as she was.
This almost sounded too good to be true.
My family says it's time I met someone, she typed next.
They do? He seemed as astonished as she felt - as if he, too, was finding this a bit too coincidental. Eerie, even.
A moment later, he typed, What's wrong with you?
Well, he was direct enough, but she'd been pretty honest with him, too. She toyed with the idea of telling him she'd been married and divorced, and then remembered Heidi's advice. It wasn't necessary to blurt out everything on the first date - even if this wasn't exactly a date.
I spend too much time playing computer games. She smiled as her fingers skipped effortlessly over the keyboard.
I've got the same problem, came his reply.
Silly though it was, Beth felt sure they were both smiling. Their conversation went on for another hour, and she was shocked to realize the game had become secondary.
That night when Beth crawled into bed and drew the blanket over her shoulders, she fell into an easy, peaceful sleep. She woke with a feeling of expectation, as if something wonderful was about to happen. Keeping her eyes closed, she tried to hang on to that sensation for as long as she could, afraid reality would chase it away.
The phone rang while she dressed for work. Call display told her it was her mother.
"Hi, Mom," she said, answering the phone while fastening an earring.
"You sound happy."
"I am - well, kind of."
Her mother's hesitation was brief. "Does this have anything to do with the man you met on that computer game you're always playing?"