Verge Fiction: The Date

Verge Fiction is the site's periodic publication of fictional short stories and book excerpts. Penned by staff writers and guest authors, none of Verge Fiction is real, nor should it be confused with news that regularly appears on this site.

"Oh, I love this song.”

This is what I finally came up with, after 22 seconds of silence. I glanced down at the receptionist. She was typing away at something, her expression completely inscrutable. My eyes darted around her ensemble quickly, as inoffensively as possible: she was wearing a tasteful wrap dress that probably came from J. Crew and a chunky necklace she probably ordered after reading a gallery on some style site about statement pieces. She looked about my age.

After a few seconds, she looked up at me. “Oh,” she said with agreeable curiosity. “What is it?”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly compelled to examine my chipped manicure. “It’s this band Angles? It’s called ‘Circle.’”

“Good to know!” she said, with a competent nod. “They play it here all the time. It’s so catchy, but cool, too.”

She handed me a neon colored name badge. I looked at it for maybe a second too long.

“You don’t have to put it on,” she said. “It ruins silk.”

❤ ❤ ❤

A little later I was nestled in a bright blue beanbag chair, across from a kid in a hat emblazoned with the word "DOPE" in large letters, who thumbed through his phone as I stared at the tablet that had been handed to me. It was a quiz, essentially; a list of questions about everything ranging from my income, to my race, to my age, to my taste in movies. The more I scrolled down, the more fields appeared — I found it hard to believe there were this many ways to measure my personality, but I went along with it.

When I finally reached the end, I handed it back to the kid. "Awesome possum," he said, giving it a quick scan before submitting.

The kid couldn't have been older than 24, but there was a deep, distant fatigue to his face, and dark shadows lined his eyes. As he stared down at the tablet his face went slack, as if momentarily hypnotized by its glow. He took a sip of Red Bull Yellow Edition and handed the tablet back to me, this time with a new document labeled STUDY OUTLINE.

"So if you read through that, you'll get the basic gist of it," he said matter-of-factly. "Basically, you're going to be contacted by a number of brands over the duration of the test period, and you're to react as you normally would; you're free to ignore them, or take advantage of whatever offers or promotions they have going on. Totally up to you. These may show up on email, Facebook, any social network you've provided us with — and as you'll see in the release form in a second, you do get compensated more for every account you sign over to us. At the end of the study you'll be asked to report how many brands contacted you, and we'll check it against our own records. There is also a possibility that you will be a placebo subject — that no brands will contact you."

"And you're not like, looking at my accounts or my messages, right?"

"No, Simpatico Consulting respects our subjects' privacy. I can email you our policy if you like."

"That's OK," I said. "I probably won't read it, to be honest."

I sipped my room temperature coffee as the kid thumbed through the tablet again. "How did you hear about us?" he asked.

"Oh. Uh, my friend did it."

The kid nodded, still futzing around on the screen. "Very cool, very cool," he said.

"Yeah, she said she had a great experience."

Perhaps that was an oversimplification.

Olivia: You'll totally know when the experiment's started, and once you realize it you can't really put it out of your head. And you just kind of play along, humoring it for a few days. It's like that thing SmarterChild, from when we were kids on IM? And then at the end you just tell them you knew it was fake all along and then they give you $1,200 and you partyyyy.

"When did she do it?" The kid asked.

"Couple years ago now, I guess."

"Did she beat it?"

I nodded.

The kid smiled and handed the tablet back to me. "Well, lots of stuff has changed in the last couple years. You might be surprised." I nodded and raised my eyebrows — the same face I used whenever I got stopped by an canvasser in the streets — trying to look impressed and intrigued.

I looked down at a long scroll of legalese so dense my eyes could barely focus on the pixels. "That's just the release form," the kid said, "Says we are able to keep the information on the accounts you've provided to us for up to a year. It'll also be sold to an unspecified number of our partners and clients during that period, and you may be contacted about offers and deals on any of the platforms you've released to us."

I looked up, narrowing my eyes. "Right..." I said. "Isn't that just what the study is?"

The kid smiled apologetically, which really wasn't that much of an alteration of his normal expression. "I'm not really allowed to say anything else about the study."

I signed the release form without reading it and handed it back to him.

This wasn't negligence. The truth is, I wasn't one of these people who cared terribly about what companies knew about me. It seemed pretty useless, at this point in history, like going into the bathroom stall to change in a locker room. My philosophy was to just let it hang out — I had nothing to hide; no nude selfies, no state secrets. I was also, I should probably clarify, not an idiot, and I knew when someone was trying to sell me something. And I could do a pretty good job of tuning it out. Maybe it's smug of me to say, but I really didn't think anything about the study would be a challenge. I just wanted the money.

We walked back to the elevator lobby; me on foot, him on a hoverboard. As we passed by rows of workstations, it suddenly occurred to me that most of the office was empty.

"So yeah — the test runs for a two week period, and we'll ask you to please not contact us during that time, unless, for whatever reason, you're no longer able to continue the study." He punched the elevator button with weirdly unmotivated conviction. "We've got you scheduled for your debriefing interview on the 9th — call us ASAP if you need to reschedule."

"Will do," I said.

The elevator doors slid open. A young woman stood there, slouched, wiping her eyes. For a split second we made eye contact; she glanced at me briefly, ashamedly, before scurrying out the elevator. I stepped inside.

"See you on the 9th."

Brands 2

Andy Marbella: it's the freakin weekend! sign up with flickr now for 1GB free storage space
Yolanda Ericson: Tfw the nordstrom is having their semi-annual sale
Krista Palmer: hi girl your feed is giving me LIFE ^__^ brunch this wknd?

I was lying on the couch with my laptop propped up on the downward slope of my bent legs, the screen slightly higher than my head, so that I had to lift my gaze up to meet it like one would a skylight or a stained glass window. This was the most comfortable position for me to work in, in a kind of supine reverence of my monitor. I had sat down a couple hours ago to work on my memoir — a heartbreaking thing about graduating from college the year the stock market crashed, which I'd just finished the second chapter of — but all these other notifications kept popping up, demanding a half second of attention.

Of course, ever since I had began the study, I viewed every incoming message with suspicion. It seemed painfully easy to tell the study's plants from my real contacts, but I was slowly gaining a newfound appreciation for how much the language of brands mimicked the language of my friends. Or perhaps it was vice versa.

I brought back up MSWord, stared at it for a few seconds. Ah, fuck it. I picked up my phone and opened Tinder.

I had done my share of online dating in the past, but I never knew what I was looking for when I looked at Tinder. Sometimes I wondered if it was a way of harmlessly taking out aggression on strangers, in a way I never would have the nerve or cruelty to do in person. The times I picked it up were always moments when I felt bored or uninspired or otherwise disenfranchised. It was a cycle of abuse: the world denied me a decent job and a huge book advance, I went on Tinder to reject men. One by one their eager, greasy, smug, chiseled, pimply faces would flash by and I would swat them all down, feeling larger with each swipe. No matter what messages I was getting from the real world, on Tinder I was too good, too smart, too attractive, too cultured, too funny for all these tiny sad suitors.

I must have gone through over a hundred. Only two got the right swipe. That seemed like the correct ratio. I had to leave open at least some possibility that I might fall in love and find happiness with another human, just as long as it was a very, very small possibility.

I put down the phone and was suddenly overcome with a sweeping, debilitating fatigue. I fell asleep within seconds.

❤ ❤ ❤

When I woke up, the fan on my laptop was whirring loudly, and a notification was asking with quiet desperation to be plugged back into the charger. I did as my computer asked and then looked outside. The telephone pole outside my window threw its long shadow across the street. The plodding melody of an ice cream truck warped in the distance. I picked up my phone to check the time.

It was 6:44, and I had a message from Marcus.

Marcus: We have been brought together by technology! I've been waiting for this moment all my life.

The tone caught me off guard. Which one was Marcus again? I went back to his profile page. My stomach hurt faintly, but I tried to ignore it.

Marcus, 28
2.2 miles away
Active now
I like good food, bad movies, and ugly music. Dog not my own. (Jk, that's my dog, my dog is the best)

He was wearing sunglasses in his photo, classic black Ray-Ban Wayfarers, but they were propped on his head, not over his eyes in that photo crutch I'd seen one too many times. I could see his eyes very clearly, which was intimate in a way I was not prepared for. He was sitting in a park I think I recognized, and holding a bewildered looking corgi. He was making a face, just this side of theatrical, a kind of mock-tortured face that seemed to say "Fuck this dog for being so goddamn cute!" It kind of reminded me of an old black and white photo I once saw of Johnny Depp. I had never really understood the appeal of Johnny Depp until I saw that picture, which is weird because I typically don't like actors, and that was a very actor-y face.

I deliberated for a luxurious amount of time.

Me: It's me! Your personally delivered emotional partner! Sup.

I hit send and stood up immediately, as if someone had lit the couch on fire. I suddenly felt I had made a horrible mistake; when he had been the one waiting for a reply I was fundamentally winning — now, I was the one pacing the floor, waiting for validation. The first message had been sent 42 minutes ago. Maybe he had moved on to some other activity that didn't involve his phone. Was that possible? I went straight to the kitchen, never taking my eyes off my phone, and poured myself a glass of white wine. Before I had even put the cork back in, the screen lit up.

Marcus: Well I was doing nothing and feeling stupid about messaging you. But now I'm going to a show. So I feel cool now.

I put the wine back in the fridge.

Me: A show? You mean like a rock and roll show?

I knew I should have waited longer, but it was literally the first thing that came into my head. I gulped my wine. Immediately I started wondering if my reply was too flip; too cool for school, too self-aware, too —

Marcus: I do not mean a rock and roll show. I'm 24, not 54.

Me: White hot genre burn!!!! Who are you seeing?

Marcus: You know Angles?

Me: Yeah I love them. I mean I love that one song. Also there are definitely rock guitars in it.

Marcus: Yes, I love that one song too.

Me: Can I be your date to the rock show?

Marcus: Please be my date to the rock show. It's at 9 at the Coors Light Jam Cellar.

By the time I walked out the door I had had enough Pinot Grigio in me to feel sufficiently light on my feet about this whole adventure. All right, this is what you are doing now, I kept repeating in my head. You are in the world and you are letting yourself be changed by it, and that is normal and fun. The Jam Cellar was walking distance to my apartment, and as I made my way down there I listened to a playlist I had made for myself on Apple Music on my new fancy wireless headphones. When "Circle" came on I thought about skipping it; it felt a little on the nose to play a song by an artist I was minutes away from seeing live. But I ended up letting it play out. It was a good song.

Every fifth step I felt my heart wobble a little as I remembered the picture of Marcus and that corgi. He had two other photos that I had stared at in between our chats — one of him sitting at a brunch spot drinking some kind of complicated looking cocktail out of a hammered copper mug, the other of him at the beach during sunset, in silhouette from behind as he ran toward the water. You couldn't even see his face. He was willing to use a whole picture slot for something that didn't even show his face. I liked that.

There was a sizeable crowd outside the venue when I got there, but the line was moving quickly enough that I didn't feel self conscious about being by myself. I typed out my email address on a tablet one of the girls at the door gave me (the show was free as long as you signed up for the mailing list). Once I was inside I started searching for Marcus, and realized it was going to be kind of hard in the dark without even knowing what he really looked like. I dug out my phone again and glued myself back to the wall.

Me: I'm here. At the bar.

Marcus: Almost in! Don't order yet, I'll beer you.

Me: chivalry = not dead

No sooner had I skimmed through all my feeds and finally put my phone down that I saw him: In a short sleeve denim button up; light stubble, two inches taller than me. I realized I was smiling, very, very broadly.

"Hi," I said in a way I hoped was both friendly and would acknowledge the inherent awkwardness of the situation.

"Hi there," he said, going in for what I thought was a handshake but — ah, nope, wow — turned out to be a hug.

"We're hugging!" I said.

"What are you drinking?" he asked, scootching out of the way of a tiny pushy girl in a caftan. It was starting to get quite crowded, we had to stand strong to defend my spot at the bar.

"What are you drinking?" I replied.

"Are you kidding me? Coors Light!" he said. He seemed really fun; I was overwhelmed at how alive and fun he seemed.

"When in Rome, I guess." I leaned up against the bar next to him as he ordered. The Coors Light was only two dollars a pop tonight. For a moment, I wondered if Marcus might secretly be poor. We were side by side at the bar, but not touching.

"I actually kind of really love Coors Light?" he said to me in a mock whisper. "Especially in summer. I'm not tryna fuck with some kind of heavy fancy craft beer when the rest of me feels like a swamp."

I felt his shoulder, while being fully scandalized by my own boldness. He was ever so slightly damp with perspiration but felt reassuringly warm and vital. He felt like rolling in fresh cut grass. "Oh yeah, super swampy," I said with a smile. We cheersed our tall boys and made our way toward the stage.

"I haven't seen any live music this summer at all," I said, almost to myself.

"Really?" he asked. "There's been so much good stuff. I try to see a show every weekend, if I can."

"I should do that," I said, really believing it. "I just get so lazy." I took a sip of Coors Light, and briefly considered how much I was letting my life pass me by. I turned back to Marcus. "Have you seen these guys before?"

"Angles?" asked Marcus. "Oh yeah, I've uh —" he laughed a little, adopting a fake-snob voice. "I was into them before they were sponsored."

"Oh, you're so fucking cool, aren't you?" I said, really believing it. "Well, I heard them for the first time in the Volkswagen commercial, so I guess I'll see myself out."

"Stahhhhhp," he said, shaking me playfully by the shoulder. "I'm sure there's tons of stuff you know about that I don't know about."

I laughed. "Like what?" I asked.

Before he could answer, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. It was a text message from an unknown number.

Hey, I love your writing, and a friend of a friend gave me your contact...

I felt a warm, unfamiliar buzz of an ego boost. Marcus leaned over my shoulder.  "What is it?"

I have this new recipe blog and I'd love if you could write about it ... it's kind of experimental but affordable farm-to-table type stuff... I call it "haute cuisine for the IKEA set"... dorky I know, but...

Yes, dorky, but I tapped on the link. Whoever this was, it was nice that they liked my writing. The page loaded, the masthead read "The Cookbook Lookbook."

"You realize you're reading a recipe blog at a rock show, right?"

I skimmed past the entries. It was all very appealingly designed, in shades of baby blue and coral. "Wait a second..." I said after a moment. "All of these recipes call for Nabisco products."

"Ooh, how very farm to table."

"Goddammit," I muttered, closing my phone and putting it into my pocket. That was close; that was very, very close.

"So do brands cold-text you every day?" Marcus asked.

"It's probably a part of this study I'm doing," I said glumly. I was still kind of bummed out that someone didn't actually just love my writing. "This dumb brands study."

"Well, I'm certainly glad someone's finally putting some money into brands," Marcus said. "They've been neglected far too long."

"I know, right?" I said. "What's a brand gotta do to get a fair shake in this world?"

A huge, earsplitting synth note shot through the venue, and the crowd erupted in applause. The lights started to go down, and a big neon Coors Light Jam Cellar sign lit up on the stage as the band walked out.

"You're really pretty," Marcus yelled in my ear.

Brands 1

After the show we found the darkest booth in the back of the oldest bar in the neighborhood and made out in it. They were playing good music there, too, this new-ish R&B singer whose name I forgot who sang very sexual songs with tastefully artistic and sparse production. Marcus bought a round of single malts which we sipped when we weren't groping each other under the table.

"This is so good, what is it?" I asked at one point.

"This Japanese stuff, think it's called Yamazaki?" he said, wiping a drop of it off my lip. "It's won a bunch of awards. All I know, is it's not cheap."

"Good to know," I said.

The song changed, and another couple took a seat in the booth next to us, so I pulled away out of modesty and pulled down my skirt. I took another sip of the whiskey. "I feel like I'm in a movie," I said dreamily.

Marcus smiled. "I always try to live my life like it's a movie," he said. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm a responsible person; I pay my bills and walk my dog and try to be a good friend. But I think it's really important to have a well-curated life. I want to feel like I discovered something new every day."

"Me too," I murmured. "I don't think I do a very good job of it, though. I get so caught up in all this little bullshit."

I kind of wished he'd ask me about the bullshit, but he didn't. "The thing is, and I'm probably only telling you this because I'm drunk, but —" he paused, took another sip. "My best friend Eric died in a car crash two years ago."

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry." I immediately felt dumb about my bullshit.

"It's OK. I mean, it's not, but it's one of those things you have to grow from, you know?" his eyes wandered the darkness of the bar. "It's a cliché, but that really made me realize how short life is, and how fragile it is. And I feel like I have to — it's not a YOLO thing, you know? I don't want to be out getting wasted every night. But I want to do and feel as many things as possible. I don't want to miss out on anything."

He looked at me, I mean, really looked at me. "I don't know you very well, but for some reason I think you're the same."

"Totally," I breathed. He kissed me again.

When we left the bar, my teeth were chattering, both from the whirring gyroscope of emotion that was buzzing away in my stomach, and because it had actually gotten quite chilly out. Marcus took off his button-up and wrapped it around me, and I swear it was the most reassuring texture of cotton I'd ever felt in my life.

"This shirt," I breathed, pulling it around myself. I put the collar to my nose and inhaled deeply. It smelled like the guy I had just been making out with and something else, something dry and hot and wholesome like a field of wheat.

"You like it?" he asked, pulling me close. We leaned against the brick exterior of the bar, which was still warm from that day's sun.

"Who makes it?" I asked, twisting around to find the tag.

"They're called Wick & Spindle. They're this new clothing startup," he said. His lips went to my ear and it was all I could do not to go into convulsions. "They make stuff for girls, too."

"Nice," I said, before grabbing him by the neck and kissing him again. "Come home with me."

❤ ❤ ❤

I awoke with a flash of cold sweat, stale booze taste immediately filling my mouth. It was still dark out. I was in my bed, I was naked, and the sheets felt heavy and used against my skin. There was an still-warm empty spot next to me; light from the hallway spilled through the open door, and I saw Marcus out there, pulling on his sneakers.

"What?" I asked.

"Sorry, I was trying not to wake you up," he whispered. "I gotta go home, my dog's probably already peed all over everything."

"Aw, your dog..."

I sat up. I was definitely still drunk, my mind struggled to focus on the events of the evening that led to my bed, but kept slipping into unrelated pockets of thought. God, that shirt, though. I propped myself with some effort and pulled the sheet around my sluggish body, all of me felt slimy and unattractive, but also strangely forthcoming.

"You're so responsible," I cooed.

Marcus smiled, not looking at me. "I'm not that responsible," he said with something that sounded like regret. I wasn't positive that's what it was, but it hit some dull part of my heart that felt exhilaratingly painful. I pushed it harder.

"This was really nice," I said with a hiccup.

"I'm glad you had fun," he said. Why was he pulling away like this? Had I said something wrong? Had I done something weird in bed?

I cleared my throat. "Are you okay to drive?" I asked.

He nodded. "I didn't get nearly as drunk as you."

There it was. Right to the gut. "I didn't ..." I stammered. "We were both drunk!"

"You had a half bottle of wine when we got back," he said. I froze, mortified. "It's okay, it happens," he said. "Just make sure you stay hydrated."

"Can I see you again?" I asked, fully desperate now. "We can do something in the day! No drinking! Or whatever you want."

Marcus rubbed his eyes. He was still framed by the door, a window of light in the darkness of my room. "We'll see," he said. "But right now, I gotta get home."

And then he was gone.

Brands 3

Oh, I was down. The next week was a blank. I felt like a male soccer player at the World Cup, flopping in agony as successive waves of adoration, humiliation, and utter hopelessness washed over me.

For one night, Marcus had been mine. I had his attention, I had his approval. He thought I was interesting. More importantly, I thought he was interesting; there was something aspirational both about him and the experience of spending time with him. He had that stupid dog and those nice shirts and he knew what kinds of things he liked and didn't like. And he had shared his life with me; he'd felt close enough to do that. He wasn't some lug to laugh about with my friends over cocktails. Our night was exciting and unspeakably secret. I wanted to be a better person with him, I wanted to do everything with him.

I couldn't believe it when a week had gone by, though I wasn't sure if that was because it seemed like a very long time or a very short time. I was out on the sidewalk again, in flip flops, gazing across the street at the Coors Light Jam Cellar as the line started to let in for the first band. All those kids in their fun, needy outfits, all signing up for a domestic beer mailing list on the off chance that past it lied the promise of some kind of connection. At a glance, it looked like a boisterous, chatty crowd, but as I stared longer I realized almost nobody was talking to each other.

I turned and went into the Liquor House, remembering to check my bank balance quickly on my phone before I got to the counter. I was due for a check next week for a thinkpiece about salmon farming, but until then I was down to my last $100. A bottle of something would be a good investment, though; it'd keep me in the house, not out spending money at some other sponsored event. I needed something that'd last me a while, something cheap.

"Next in line, please!"

My mind went blank. "I'll have the Yamazaki."

It was after I had blurted that out that I saw the price tag, and I almost stopped the woman as she ran my debit card, but some part of me wouldn't let myself. As she handed the bag to me, the alarm on my phone went off.

FOLLOW UP @ SIMPATICO
Tomorrow 10:00 AM

For about five seconds, I was brightened by the idea of a $2,000 check in my near future; I had nearly forgotten about the study in the throes of my heartbreak. But the cloud of dismay fell over me again as I made my way back to my apartment. Now I was heartbroke and regular broke. I guessed the whiskey would help.

As I reached my door I saw a FedEx bag sitting on the step. I picked it up and went inside, then closed all the blinds. After pouring the Yamazaki into the only clean glass I had left, I ripped open the package and put on my new Wick & Spindle organic cotton flannel, then laid down on my couch and cried.

❤ ❤ ❤

"Are you sick?" the kid asked.

"What? No," I said, looking up momentarily from the tablet. Just very expensively hungover.

Luckily, I didn't need much in the way of mental faculties for my debriefing. It turned out it was as simple as checking "yes" or "no" for every brand that had contacted me, while my buddy played Words With Friends in the beanbag across from me. I was actually overprepared; I had been keeping track on the notepad on my phone, but I could actually do it all from memory.

Flickr: YES 
Nordstrom: YES
The North Face: NO

"You want a Red Bull?" the kid asked.

"No, thanks."

"Remember, if you don't recognize the brand, that's a ‘no.'"

Nabisco: YES 
Groupon: NO
Cloud Bot:

Cloud Bot. What was Cloud Bot? A vague memory came back to me, of a woman DMing me on Twitter to tell me all my nude selfies (which I didn't have) had been hacked off my cloud storage (which I didn't have) and that if I paid for this service I could block further access.

Cloud Bot: YES

It was all pretty mind numbing, and pretty sad to think that any of these were supposed to be stealthy marketing attempts. I must have gone through fifty brands. "How many pages are there?" I asked, scrolling down a bit. All I wanted was to be done and go home so I could sulk and drink Vitamin Water.

"Almost done."

Marcus:

The name made my stomach leap. "What's ... Marcus?"

The kid smiled in a way that made me go cold. "If you don't recognize a brand, that's a ‘no.'"

"But ... I do recognize it," I said. "I'm just not sure..."

The kid laughed a little. "Marcus is, uh ..." he scratched his head. "What do they say again? Oh, right. Marcus is an aspirational unisex lifestyle brand. It partners with other products and media brands and curates a relatable, highly personalized experience."

My mouth was dry.

"Did Marcus contact you?"

I ran to the bathroom as quickly as my feet would carry me, flinging open the first stall I could reach and puking violently into the immaculate porcelain TOTO toilet. Yes, Marcus had contacted me. I'd made out with a brand. I'd fucked a brand.

And the horrific realization overtook me: I had fallen in love with a brand.

"Oh sweetie, are you okay?" I could barely hear the receptionist's voice over my own retching. "Oh dear, oh dear. I'll get you some towels."

When I was down to dry heaving, the receptionist helped me to the sink, holding back my hair as I rinsed my face off. I was in such shock I could barely open my eyes, but behind my closed eyelids all I could see was Marcus and his adorable corgi, Marcus with his hand up my skirt in the pitch black of the bar, Marcus in my bed. Of course it made sense. I wanted everything Marcus was selling. I longed for it as soon as he was gone. I aspired to be worthy of it.

The receptionist led me back to the beanbags, where the kid was staring at his phone, still waiting for me. He looked up at me with some concern. "You sure you don't want a Red Bull?" he asked.

"No thank you," I said, trying to collect myself.

"So, Marcus," the kid said.

"He ... it contacted me." I said.

The kid made a note on the tablet. "And at no point in the exchange did you realize that Marcus was a brand?"

The exchange. I shook my head.

The kid's excitement was visible, uncontainable. He jumped to his feet. "He passed..." he murmured to himself, eyes sparkling. "Wait right here," he said. "I need to get my supervisor." He hopped on his hoverboard and sped off.

I was alone, sitting in the beanbag chair, mouth still puke-flavored, the low hum of unused computers surrounding me. My phone buzzed.

It was Marcus.

Hey — I know it's a little late, but it was so awesome to meet you. I really had so much fun with you; I'm sorry that it had to end so abruptly. You're really special, and I'm sorry if I was a little cold. But thanks to you, I'm finally out of beta testing so hopefully we'll meet again soon! xo

I stared at it for what must have been five minutes. It was everything I wanted, and yet nothing that I wanted. And I could hardly believe my own words as I wrote back, but I had to honor my true feelings.

Marcus —
I know what you really are.
I forgive you.
I'm in love with you.
I want to be with you.
xoxoxoxo