Quarantine should be life as usual for Kyle, an online gamer homebody. But the constant presence and noise of his apartment neighbors is hell for the introvert. He turns to his favorite gamer pal, SassyKat, for consolation in the form of zombie kill-counts and good-natured teasing. Then, a fire alarm changes their relationship for good.
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Kyle turned his first-person shooter POV toward Kat’s character just in time to watch her cut him down with friendly fire. His health status plummeted, and his screen hazed to red before transitioning to an overhead view of his dead body prone on the ground. “Did you just fucking PK me? That’s so trash! Now, I gotta respawn back at the set-down point.”
“Yeah, but at least you’re not pissin’ about your neighbors being home all the time anymore.”
Her voice held more than a little note of satisfaction. If he didn’t like Kat so much, he might have walked away from the game. But the game was just a means to an end. The real goal was time with the woman who’d been his go-to gamer cohort for the past three years, even if it was just her voice. He liked her voice. Liked her attitude. Liked that she got him.
She sighed. “I get you, ya know.”
Ha! She even admits it! He might have teased her about it, but the note of sadness in her voice stopped him. This conversation wasn’t about him anymore. He eased back against the couch cushions and rested his controller on his thigh, his digital character forgotten in the wake of concern for Kat. “Hey, KittyKat. What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
A flash on the screen caught his eye. Her character had respawned next to his. She’d died in the field, no doubt because she was too caught up in what was making her sad to fight zombies. She sighed again, deeper this time, longer. “I’m just scared. Terrified, to be honest, about this pandemic.”
Her voice was small, with the slightest quaver like she was about to cry. All her bravado and sass were stripped away, and it tore a hole in his heart to hear her so vulnerable and him helpless to do anything.
“It’s just…” She inhaled a trembling breath. “You know how mom has cancer. She’s going through chemo, and it makes her high-risk for catching things. She’s in good hands, but that means I can’t go visit her… because…”
“Because you might carry the virus to her,” he finished softly. His own parents were states away, and he only visited a few times a year anyway. While he was concerned about their health, especially now, he didn’t have the burden of worrying that he might give it to them. That hugging them could be deadly. “Kat, I can’t imagine—”
“I’m sorry I’m such a killjoy.” She laughed, but it came out a choking sob instead. “I’ll get offline for a few minutes, and—”
“No, don’t go!” Kyle vaulted up from his couch, his hand outstretched as if he could physically stop her from leaving their online chat. “It’s okay to be upset, I would be too. Just don’t go… don’t think you have to handle this… that you have to be sad or cry… alone.”