Brian squinted against the sun glimpsing her walking along the shore. All he could make out was her silhouette. He loved her hourglass shape figure: slim waist, wide hips, perky yet full breasts. It was the type of body a fifteen-year old Brian had admired from the VHS tapes he found under his father’s bed. But this wasn't 1987, this was 2016 and Brian was forty-four with a receding hairline. He had a gut from Sunday Night Football beers and his grill master, his once lean and fit physique an envious memory. But this is a dream, and in Brian’s dreams we do not discuss his insecurities. As she comes closer, she is no longer a distant figure,the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
With long black hair and green eyes that reminded him of Dorothy, his deceased cat, Brian couldn’t help but smile. She was his. She ran towards him, obviously in slow motion and clung her arms around his neck. She pressed her perfect body against his round gut, he did not even flinch, and she gasped “Brian” under her lovestruck breath.
“Brian. Brian, please wake up,”
Brian heard his wife’s voice but continued to keep his eyes shut as she nudged him. Brian refused to comprehend that like all dreams, he would eventually have to wake up and face reality. He opened his crusted eyes and stared at Melanie, at the stretch marks left by pregnancy, her sagging breasts, the wrinkles around her lips, and sad grey eyes. Brian let out a loud grunt and Melanie rolled her eyes as she left their king-sized bed. Brian could hear her speaking to their daughter Alex, asking her if she preferred a peanut butter and banana sandwich or tuna casserole leftovers for lunch today.
Brian rolled around the bed, getting caught in the Egyptian cotton sheets. He thought about the last time he had been intimate with Melanie, of how filling it once felt to be inside of her. His body tensed up as he struggled to remember the last time they had sex, but could only remember a young Melanie sprawled on their extra-long twin bed in Brian’s dormroom, aching for his touch. Stretching out in different directions, the burning sensation of his muscles and cracking joints jolted him back to his reality.
In the shower he closed his eyes and leaned against the marble tiles, letting the water consume his thoughts. He yearned to be with the woman on the shore again. He stared at his gut and his shriveled penis, Brian knew that he could only be with her in another reality and finally turned off the water.
“Good morning Dad,” said Alex around bites of Lucky Charms. He stared but felt too tired to respond. She had Melanie’s strawberry blonde hair and Brian’s brown eyes. She was seventeen now and had been the only child in the house after Daniel left for the University of Michigan. Brian had noticed his daughter’s recent growth, her hips and chest more pronounced. He sipped on his coffee, looking at the slit of her V-neck.
“Cover up,” he said.
“Are you serious?”
“Do you want boys to stare at your chest all day instead of your face?”
She laughed at her father, “Honestly I wouldn’t mind.” She knew how to get under Brian’s skin. His wife looked over from the sink,
“What do you think Mel? Do you think our daughter should be going out dressed like that?”
Brian wasn't sure what his wife would say. He once foolishly thought he would never get bored of his wife because even if they fell into a routine, Melanie would always keep things exciting. But Brian was wrong, even Melanie’s unpredictability became unamusing after a while and their responsibilities kept them from having any real fun. When was the last time Melanie and he had any fun?
“Alex just put on a sweater before you go and Brian eat your eggs, you are going to be late for work,” she said and placed a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast on the kitchen table.
Alex grunted as she stuffed cereal in her mouth, eating it as fast as she could to avoid dealing with her father. It was silent for the rest of the meal, only the sound of utensils hitting the porcelain and chewing filled the Restoration Hardware kitchen.
Brian thought of his job as his labor of love, as his life calling. His father, William Parker, created Parker’s Sporting Goods stores in Savannah in 1965 offering sporting goods for the ordinary Joe. Their first store was a success that eventually lead to several stores in the state. After his father passed away, Brian took over the business.
He revamped and rebranded Parker’s, creating modern stores with cheap prices all along Georgia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee. Brian had spent the last couple of months in the Gulf Coast, scoping out competition and seeking out potential investors. Their flagship was in Atlanta and it included a gym, a personal fitness instructors training center, and the corporate offices. Brian owed his success to his gift for understanding athletes. He had played basketball all of high school and started for University of Georgia. It had only been on the court, in the midst of a game, that Brian had felt most himself. His thoughts did not exist, only his adrenaline and his determination to be the best he could be. Brian remembered seeing Melanie in the stands, cheering him on, and how much he loved her then.
It took Brian twenty minutes with no traffic to get to Downtown Atlanta. His office was located on the third floor of Parker’s, overlooking the entire store. Brian felt a sense of power when he was in his office. He would stare out the window and oversee the empire he built, watching his employees talk to potential customers- with the athletic sparkle in their eyes Brian once had.
Brian’s office, decked out with his diplomas and trophies, was his safe place, the portal into a world that contaminated his everyday thoughts. He locked his door, slid his laptop open. Brian usually didn’t play in the afternoon, but his dream had him reeling. He clicked on the yellow icon of a globe on his desktop and suddenly he was in Otherworld.
Developed in Amsterdam, OtherWorld was an online community game in which one can be whoever they wanted to be. Their slogan was “Be Whoever You Want to Be.” You could create your own avatar, your own persona in the Create Yourself. It was the most advanced online real-life simulation game that allowed users to interact each other. Brian began the game four months ago when he stumbled upon the ad during work. He had created his avatar in thirty minute and he was immediately hooked. In OtherWorld, Brian was Cash, a tall young man with long brown hair. His virtual muscles were popping out of his virtual vneck. He wore black shorts and sneakers. In the real world, Brian ditched his Weight Watchers meetings for fast food. In just a two months, Cash owned several estates around all the worlds in OtherWorld. He was popular in this world, he thrived in this world. People sought out Cash because he always the best socials in his estates. In the real world, Brian barley hosted or attended parties or dinners. In OtherWorld, Brian could be what he was not in the real world.
He checked to see if she was online, they kept a tally of their dreams about each other. Brian clicked on her profile and he smiled at her pixelated perfection. Xina was Cash’s girlfriend on OtherWorld. They met a week after Cash’s activation into the game, at a party hosted by Xina’s neighbor that Cash met while snorkeling in the Mystical Waterfalls. She started chatting with him and Brian was shy and anxious, his flirting rusty. Brian felt alive again unable to comprehend how Xina, one of the most eligible avatars in OtherWorld, would be interested in him. It was rejuvenating and thrilling. Xina was not online so Brian’s urgency to play disappeared.
He was on the phone with a contractor when he saw her from the window. She was by the clearance rack. She was tall. Long black hair caught the fluorescent lights. Her every movement seemed calculated, graceful. Brian felt the instant butterflies. He couldn't believe she was here in his store, that she was real.
Brian hurried to the elevator. He pressed down the down button several times.
“C'mon, c'mon,” he said under his breathe as he smashed his thumb against the button.
The metal doors slid open and Brian rushed into the elevator. The ride down felt like hours and once the doors opened, he spearheaded to the clearance rack. He could see his employees stiffen at the sight of him. It was unusual to see Brian on the first floor, and especially when he was panting. He spotted her black hair and began to shuffle through the racks. As he got closer to her, just two racks away, he noticed that her figure was not a perfect hourglass but rather a pear shape. She had thicker thighs than he thought and scars around her legs.
She noticed him when she turned. She smiled and he couldn't help but smile back, “Excuse me Sir!” He practically ran towards her and she said, “Do you work here?” Brian couldn't help but stare. She had a small chip on her front incisor and freckles along her nose and cheeks. Her lips were just as voluptuous and her eyes were just as green as his fantasy. She was the closest to her that he had ever seen.
“You are real,” Brian whispered, not realizing he uttered those words out loud.
“What?” She said.
“Sorry, yes. I’m Brian Parker. How may I help you?” He rubbed his sweaty palms against his khakis.
“I was wondering if these shorts have the extra 25 percent off. I know they don't have the red tag but they are on this rack so…” Her voice was raspier than he expected. Was she a smoker? She would never smoke a cigarette.
“You can take that extra 25 percent off. On me,” Brian said, trying his best to sound confident. She looked at him for a moment and began to smile as if something had clicked.
“Wait a second… you are the Brian Parker. I recognize you from the commercials! Your son was my homecoming date junior year of high school,” the girl said.
Brian felt sick. He was too old for this girl, too ugly for her to consider. He asked her what her name was. Maybe they had been lovers. Brian thought about his son, Daniel, who bore a striking resemblance to a younger Brian.
“Amanda. Amanda Miller,” she said. Amanda was not the girl he was looking for.
Brian rarely made eye contact with Amanda for the rest of the interaction. He felt perversive, like he had crossed a line. He was sweating profusely, his glands oozing out his deepest darkest secrets. He ignored all of his phone calls and cancelled all of his meetings. He felt like he was losing his mind. She was haunting him, she was coming alive in his thoughts and taking control of his actions. She was the one that contaminated his every thought, the one that made him feel sexy and not like the fourty four year old who had not seen his wife’s naked body in months. She seemed to be the only thing that made sense, the only one who got him, really got him.
Brian came home late that night, he was too exhausted to play the role of father and husband. He couldn't bare to go to his two story brick house in the gated neighborhood in Atlanta suburbia. He couldn't bare to hold his daughter and his wife’s hands and say grace and ask how their days were and actually listen over a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes that Melanie took two hours to prepare. Instead he drove to the local Chick-fil-A ordered himself a number one combo with waffle fries and an extra side of coleslaw. Parked in the back of Walmart parking lot and ate his food in the comfort of his Land Rover as Johnny Cash played softly.
The lamp in the living room was left on. The dim light gleamed against the sterling silver frames that held perfectly staged photographs of the perfect Parker family. Brian, Melanie, Daniel, and Alex all in white linen button down shirts and blue jeans in Myrtle Beach. Hands touching shoulders, shoulders pressed together, they were one, a unit. Daniel had a cast on his arm from a tennis injury and Alex had pink braces. Brian was slimmer and had a buzz cut while Melanie seemed to have more color, seemed more alive, possibly even happy. That picture was taken two years ago but it felt like universes away. Brian creeped upstairs, careful not to make the hardwood floor creak and slipped into his room. Melanie softly snored as Brian put on his pajamas in the walk-in closet. He walked over to her bedside and noticed the small pill bottle. He looked at his wife and didn’t bother to read the label on the bottle.
Brian tiptoed to his study down the hall. It was one in the morning and it was safe to assume that everyone was asleep. He locked the door of his study and opened his laptop. He left out a massive sigh, releasing all of the negative toxins in his mind. Forget about Amanda, forget who you are, he thought as he logged onto OtherWorld.
The screen loaded and Brian was in. Cash was in his beach mansion, where he had left off in his last session. He checked to see if Xina was online. Brian’s lip curled when he saw the green dot next to her name, indicating she was available. He invited her to his mansion and in less than 30 seconds, she was there. Amanda had nothing on Xina. Perfect Xina who looked better than in his dreams. She was perfection and she was wearing Cash’s favorite dress- the red velvety one that accentuated her body.
Cash: I missed you so much.
Xina: I missed you too, baby. How was ur day?
Cash: Sad :( thinking of you
Xina: oh yeah? what were you thinking?
Cash: just what I would do if I saw you…
Brian giggled as he typed. Feeling a rush of adrenaline pierce through his body like he had just plunged straight into an ice bath.
Xina: hmmm tell me what you would do.
Cash: I would strip off your clothes until you only have your panties left. Then I would suck on your perfect breasts and touch you until you beg for me inside of you.
Brian felt the electricity pulsing through him. Only Xina could make him feel this way. So dirty, so bad, so good. He slipped his hand under the waistband of his khakis. His penis was throbbing, becoming harder as Xina responded.
Xina: I want you to fuck me like it's the last day on Earth. I want to feel you inside me.
Brian fixated his eyes on the illuminated screen. He stared at her, memorizing every pixel. He let out a whimper as he began to stroke his penis. Brian closed his eyes and saw Xina, kneeling in between him, touching him just the way he liked. “Do you like that?” she asked, with the same raspy voice Amanda had. “Yes. Yes,” he whined as the stroking quickened. Breeeeng. New message.
Xina: So come for me baby.
And so he did.
Brian panted as he wiped off the semen from the leather chair. Cash and Xina hosted a social together and after thirty minutes, he logged out and Cash became Brian again. As he slipped out of the study, he closed the door slowly behind him careful not to make a sound. “What are you doing?” Alex barked as she leaned against the doorway. Brian jumped at the sound of his daughter. Fuck he thought This is it. It is all over. I deserve it. I deserve to get caught by my own daughter. “What are you doing awake?” Brian managed to say.
“You are so sketchy. What were you doing in there?” Alex was not backing down.
“Nothing. It’s nothing that concerns you, Alex. Go to bed.” Brian sighed, his body giving out.
“Is mom not good enough anymore?” Alex hissed.
“You don’t understand Alex, you are just a little girl,” was all Brian managed to say.
Alex scoffed, tears swelling up her eyes. She slammed the door, hoping her mother would wake up. But, Melanie was deep in her drug-induced slumber. She did not suspect a thing, or at least she refused to.
Brian laid on his back, staring at the ceiling, hearing Melanie’s deep breathes, consumed by his thoughts. He stared at his wife, at her long eyelashes, and her small lips. When did he stop loving her? Brian could only pinpoint the day he fell in love with her. They were college sweethearts, a match made in University of Georgia heaven. They met sophomore year, in a large lecture class filled with hundreds of students. But when Brian saw Melanie, he was automatically hooked. He liked how sweet she was, how she always spoke her mind, and how she was always more concerned with his pleasure than her own. Brian knew that he had to marry her, that he could not fathom the idea of some other bastard having Melanie as his own. But now he had her, why was that not enough?
Xina, she was enough. She understood Brian in a way that Melanie never did. She praised him, she challenged him and pushed his sexual barriers. Xina helped Brian him feel young and desired again. He forgot what it was to crave someone else until there was Xina, she satisfied his every thirst. Plus it wasn't like he was technically cheating on Melanie. There was no betrayal. Xina was not real, she was part of a game and he was just playing it. Brian regretted not being more careful, he was begging to get caught. He wasn't sure what Alex knew, but the pain and betrayal in her eyes was the last thing he saw before drifted into sleep.
Brian naturally woke up at 7 am the next morning. He felt refreshed yet burdened. It was unusual for his sleep cycle to wake him up so early but Brian took that as a sign. He was still reeling from his confrontation with Alex. Brian strangely found comfort in the fact that he wasn't sure exactly what Alex knew. She could have thought it was just pornography, or maybe she thought it was a woman he knew from work. But Brian had trouble believing that she knew about OtherWorld, about the virtual world Brian found true happiness in. He was not fully exposed. The early morning was a blessing in disguise because he was able to get ready for the day while his family slept. All interactions were avoided.
On his drive to work, Brian understood the importance of that day. He would finally videochat with Xina. She had been asking him for months, wanting to take their relationship to the next level, a real level. Brian had to see who was behind his pixelated dream girl. He did not think about how she would feel when she saw Brian, the man who was playing Cash. Brian almost gasped when he found himself on a literal crossroads on his way to work. He began to laugh uncontrollably.
He put down the curtains on all the windows of his office. He was not in the mood to relish in his empire, to be seen by others. He left his office in the dark, only the soft desk lamp on. Brian let out a sigh which lead to another sigh which lead to intense inhale and exhale breathing. He began to shake his arms and legs as he shifted in the swivel office chair. He moved his head around, trying to crack his neck. Brian felt like this was overtime and he was ready to go back into the game, to make the final move. It all depended on him. He opened his laptop and let the light of the computer shine on his face as he rushed onto OtherWorld. He noticed the green dot on Xina’s name and transported to her cabin in the middle of winter. She had the nicest rustic decor and it was one of his favorite scenes to dream in. Xina wore a lounge dress and no shoes, she seemed comfortable and he couldn't help but smile. He wondered if Xina would have liked Cash if he looked like Brian. Brian told Xina he was ready to videochat. She was “stoked” and suddenly his computer erupted with ringing. Xina was requesting the video chat. Cash accepted but did not put his camera on immediately. Brian felt a nervous rush as the video interface loaded. The screen came to life and he saw the girl behind Xina, the girl behind his every fantasy. She could not see him, he would not grant access, not just yet.
Xina did not look like her avatar. Brian realized she was in a dorm, similar to Daniel’s. She had short blonde hair and brown eyes. She was wearing purple lipgloss and a white tank top. She smiled nervously, waiting for Cash to reveal himself. Brian recognized something in her, her naive eyes and shy smile that reminded him of his daughter. Brian felt betrayed, cheated. He slammed his laptop down and for the first time since he met her, Xina did not turn him on.
That night, Brian came home to his family. Alex refused to look at her father and he avoided her gaze, feeling disgusted with himself. Brian offered his hands for grace. Melanie wrapped her hand over his, and Alex hesitated but gave in after her mother’s insistence. Melanie’s meatloaf never tasted so good. They talked about how their days went and when Melanie was in the kitchen doing the dishes, Brian could not help but wrap his hands around her waist. She seemed so familiar, even though she was startled by his sudden act of affection. Brian closed his eyes as he held his wife and it felt like the realest thing he had done in months.