Aubrey was exhausted before the game had even begun.
She blew out a breath of frustration as she adjusted her headset. Her cellphone brightly lit above her keyboard as the sound of Chloe’s laughter rang out on speakerphone. “Relax, Bree,” came Chloe’s cheery voice, “this will be fun.”
“That’s what you keep saying, Chloe, but we’ve been at this for an hour and I still don’t know what’s happening, and we haven’t even started playing!” Aubrey grumbled. “I know you want me to meet your coworkers and Beca’s friends or whatever, but I don’t understand what’s so wrong with a drink at the bar. You know, like adults?”
“Because we’re boring enough adults as it is,” Chloe says matter-of-factly. “And I know setting up proximity chat was tricky, but it’s gonna be totes awesome from here on out—promise. Did you type your name in?”
Aubrey rolled her eyes. “Yes. That was just about the only part that made sense.”
“Okay, you’re gonna come into my room and I’m gonna hang up, okay? Don’t worry—you’ll hear everybody once you get in. I’ll be right there with you.”
It was well-known to all who knew her that Aubrey Posen was not exactly the most technologically savvy person, much less one who understood anything in the realm of gaming. She was the youngest partner at her firm, having spent an entire lifetime chasing success. There was no time to breathe, much less to waste on something as pointless as video games. But since she became partner five months ago, she hadn’t had many opportunities to see Chloe, and she missed her dearly.
Chloe was a middle school teacher, who happened to fall in love with a big-time music producer at around the same time their schedules began to conflict more often than not. Beca Mitchell had been working with a non-profit organization promoting literacy in schools when they met, and they’d maintained a semi-long-distance relationship since, as Beca travelled often for work.
Aubrey wished she had been there while Chloe was figuring things out with Beca—she couldn’t imagine how difficult it was for their new relationship to thrive under such tumultuous circumstances. Changing time zones, changing priorities, fitting each other into every spare minute of their busy lives. And though Beca seemed fiercely protective of her private life, she was still a public figure, and Aubrey didn’t completely trust her to not break Chloe’s heart. Chloe told her they’d exchanged the L word weeks ago, but Chloe fell easily, and for all she knew, Beca was just the latest in a long line of heartaches.
It was curiosity and guilt that led to her agreeing to Chloe’s invitation to meet Beca and her friends. When she accepted, of course, she had no idea they’d be meeting virtually in a video game recommended by twelve-year-olds. But she couldn’t exactly back out—not when Chloe was so genuinely excited.
As Aubrey entered the waiting room now, she was met with a cacophony of voices. Several multi-coloured round figures ran around. A pink one with a flamingo on its head and Chloe’s name floating above it approached her own red blob on the screen. “Bree, you made it!” came Chloe’s voice.
“Hello?” Aubrey tried. She didn’t know why she was so nervous. She’d been on plenty of conference calls before, even if they didn’t exactly look like this. Perhaps it was exactly that—she was a complete fish out of water.
“We hear you loud and clear,” somebody else said.
Aubrey poked around at her keys and joined some of the blobs in zipping around what she could only assume was the inside of a spaceship. Aside from Chloe, there was a blue character with round ears. “DJBMitch” floated above the name—this could only have been Beca. She was standing in the middle of the screen, with two green characters, both named “MrsJessicaSmith”, running around her.
“Bec just went to get some water,” Chloe explained.
“Why are there two Jessicas?” Aubrey asked. “Is one of them Ashley?”
Aubrey had met the couple through Chloe many times. They were fellow teachers at Chloe’s school, and she found them generally quite lovely. They were inseparable and teeth-rottingly adorable, and she admired them for making it work so well despite seeing so much of each other in both their public and private lives.
“Yep, one of them is Ashley,” Chloe said, clicking her tongue. “I told you guys to use your real names! Some of us have never played before.”
“Here, I’ll put a balloon on my head,” Ashley said. Her dark green character ran over to the computer and a green balloon suddenly materialized.
“Ooh, me too,” Jessica said, doing the same. A lime green balloon appeared on hers.
“That’s not helpful!” Chloe cried.
Aubrey laughed. “It’s okay, at least I know which shade of green you two are. I’ll assume that will be important at some point.”
At almost the exact same time, two characters appear in the chairs at the top of the screen. A yellow one named “bigbootybarbara” and a black one named “CRAdams”. Soon after, “flo” joined in white and orange “emilyyy” came in with a banana on her head.
Aubrey didn’t recognize any of these names except for Flo, a new teacher at Chloe’s school whom she met once. The woman had an endless arsenal of bizarre true stories, she remembered. She’d told her she should write a book.
Suddenly, DJBMitch started to move. “Hey,” she said.
“CAN EVERYONE HEAR ME?”
“Damn, girl, I just got here and someone’s trying to blow out my ear drums.”
“Who the hell is Barbara?”
“IT’S TIME TO GET THIS PARTY STARTED!”
“Ay, dios mio.”
Aubrey recoiled a little at the unexpected wave of noise that hit her. Chloe, who must’ve felt her discomfort from where she sat, called out to the group, her little flamingo head running in circles as she called for everyone to quiet down. Aubrey smiled a little at the teacher-voice she put forth and how effective it was even among adults.
“Since this is the first time most of us are meeting, I’d like to do some introductions before we get into it,” Chloe said steadily. Then, her voice turned a little sweeter as her pink character stood in front of the blue. “Beca? Do you mind starting us off? Just a quick intro of you and all your friends?”
“Uh, sure,” Beca mumbled. She cleared her throat at the sudden spotlight. “Hi everyone…um, I’m Beca.” Aubrey raised a brow. Clearly, this wasn’t a woman accustomed to speaking to large groups, but clearer still was how readily she went along with whatever Chloe wanted in spite of her discomfort. This was a good sign, Aubrey thought. As long as she wasn’t a complete pushover.
“Hi, Beca,” her friends teased.
“Shut up and let me do this, guys,” Beca continued, releasing a breath of frustrating. “So…uh, Stacie told me she was just getting into the house five minutes ago, so she’ll be on soon. CR is Cynthia Rose, and I’m assuming Barbara is Fat Amy—dude, what?”
“What?” A woman replied with a thick Australian accent, “Maybe I’m rebranding.”
“This isn’t exactly—okay, whatever,” Beca grumbled. “And Emily is my intern.”
“Sorry for shouting, guys,” Emily said nervously. “I’m just happy to be here.”
“You invited your intern?” Cynthia Rose asked with a laugh. “You really gotta get out more, Bec.”
“Yeah, just because you’ve got us and the ginger, it doesn’t mean you should give up on yourself completely. I mean, Chloe could get struck by lightning—you never really know how God feels about gingers. Always have a back-up ginger, Bec.”
“Dude! What the fuck?” Beca cried, exasperation mounting in her voice. “I’m not going to—Amy, for the love of god, I will fuck you up if you keep saying shit like that.”
“It’s fine, Beca,” Chloe chuckled. “Lilly bailed, and we needed a replacement, so I asked Beca to invite Emily,” she explained. “Emily’s the sweetest, so why not?”
“Aw, thank you, Chloe, that’s…really nice. I love and respect you both so much,” Emily said, her voice trailing off. She paused. “But I will destroy all of you at this game.”
“Yikes, calm down, fresh meat. I’ve probably wrestled dingoes bigger than you,” Fat Amy replied.
“Okay, well, I’m gonna go next,” Chloe said. “I think some of you may have met before. The dark green one is Ashley and the light green one is Jessica. Flo is a new teacher this year. She’s from Guatemala, so I thought I’d show her what’s hip and happening in America.”
“I hear this game is about murder and pretending you didn’t do it. It is like my childhood all over again.” She paused when the air fills with silence. “I am just kidding. That was the village next door.”
“Right,” Chloe said uneasily. “And this is my bestie from college, Aubrey. Most of you haven’t met her yet. She’s a lawyer and totes one of the most kickass women I know.”
Before Aubrey could say hello, however, a purple character materialized into the chair above her. “Hey guys, sorry I’m late,” said the new voice. Her name read “sexbomb69”, which made it clear to Aubrey that she must either be one of Chloe’s students or a complete sleazeball.
“Dude, you didn’t change your name,” Beca said, annoyed.
“Oh, fuck—sorry, Chloe! Hi everyone, I think I’ve met most of you, but just in case—I’m Stacie, but you can call me sex bomb if you forget,” she laughed and everyone laughed with her. Aubrey, on the other hand, was not impressed that this was the sort of person Beca kept close to her.
“It’s fine,” Chloe said, though the slight tension in her voice told Aubrey this was very much not going according to plan. She wondered if Beca could tell—she doubted it. They were still new and Chloe could be very good at hiding her feelings, especially when it really counted. “We were just finishing up the introductions. Stacie, I don’t think you’ve met Flo and Aubrey.”
“It’s nice to meet you both,” Stacie said distractedly. “Shall we get started?”
Aubrey suddenly became aware of the spiking annoyance as she realized this woman had completely robbed her of her introduction. She had made time today to get to know Chloe’s girlfriend and all of their friends, but not only did this woman come in late, she had the audacity to grab the reins from Chloe and run the whole show. Stacie was rattling on now about how to play the game and what to do if you were an imposter. Aubrey half listened as she glared at the purple character with the word DUM slapped on its face.
She was still replaying the entire introduction fiasco in her head when her screen faded into red and IMPOSTER blinked across her vision.
Oh fuck, she almost said out loud as everyone else’s excited voices came in and scattered away. Before she knew what was happening, she was left alone in some kind of room with nowhere to go but down. She tentatively travelled south and out into a snowy field, until Beca’s voice faded into her headset.
“—you upset her,” Beca was saying as her blue character came into view. “Seriously, I asked you for one thing, dude.”
“She seemed fine?” Stacie replied. “C’mon, Bec, let’s do some tasks!”
Stacie ran off, Beca following close behind her, her voice fading as she yelled, “Stop right there, Conrad, I’m not done with you!”
Curiously, Aubrey followed, keeping them close at the edge of her field of vision.
“I want you to apologize to Chloe, dude,” Beca said. “And Aubrey. You know how nervous I’ve been to meet her—she’s like her best friend, and—and you just crashed in during the introduction—you always do this.”
Aubrey drummed her fingers on the edge of her desk. She was impressed—Beca knew Chloe better than she expected. And to understand her importance to Chloe on top of that. She had to give Beca credit—she was winning a lot of points.
Stacie sighed. “I’m sorry, Beca. You’re right, I did know, I just…you know what? No excuses. I’ll apologize to the two of them when I see them. Are we cool?”
“I know you’re just saying what you think I want to hear so you can get on with the game,” Beca chuckled. “I think Aubrey is right by the crate over there, so you can start with her. Then, we’re cool.”
“What?” Aubrey blinked as the blue and purple characters trotted toward her. “Oh, hello,” Stacie said, “you’re a sneaky one, aren’t you?”
“Hi,” Aubrey said, embarrassment flooding her cheeks. She felt like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, having been eavesdropping quite intentionally. As Stacie approached with Beca behind her, a button lit up. She pressed it almost impulsively, as soon as the option became available, and sat horrified at the gruesome animation of her red character shooting Stacie’s in the head. “Oh my god,” she breathed. “Did I just…”
“Holy shit!” Beca cried. “Um…”
“I didn’t think that would happen so fast,” Aubrey breathed.
“It’s okay,” Beca chuckled uneasily, “I think she deserved it.” She paused. “Is it okay if I report the body?”
“I guess so. I don’t have a clue what’s happening,” Aubrey admitted.
“Well, once I report this, we’re gonna go into a debate to decide who the two imposters are. Since you literally killed Stacie in front of me, I guess I’d tell the group to vote you out.”
“Oh. What happens to me then?”
“Not much. If the group decides you’re guilty, then you’ll get thrown out. You’ll just float around as a ghost and hang out with Stacie in the afterlife, I guess.”
Aubrey scrunched her nose. “I’ll pass.”
Beca chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I guess I don’t blame you.”
She could almost feel Beca fidget through the silence. “Well, um, I could…”
She was putting Beca in a hard position, and she knew she was just trying to be thoughtful for Chloe’s sake. So with a sigh, she hit the report button herself.
“Woah, that was fast,” someone said.
“Always knew Stacie would die first.”
“Aw, man, I was so close to finishing that stupid maze thing.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Where did you find the body, Aubrey?” Chloe asked, her voice was like a beacon of light among so many other excited voices. The others quieted down as they waited for her reply.
“At my feet,” Aubrey replied matter-of-factly, “where I left her.”
A beat of heavy silence passed.
“Damn, girl!” One of the voices she didn’t recognize exclaimed.
“We’ve got a cold-blooded killer on the loose,” the Australian teased.
Votes were passed around until two remained. “C’mon, you guys,” Chloe said uncomfortably, “we don’t know that Aubrey killed her. She never played before.”
“It’s fine, Chlo. Beca saw me,” Aubrey laughed.
“What? Why didn’t you say anything, Becs?”
“This is a classic case of the covering up,” Flo chimed in. “She witnessed the murder committed by her lover’s friend, and did not want to break her lover’s heart. This happened to my brother, you know.”
“That got dark,” someone whispered.
“I guess it’s not not that,” Beca admitted. “Sorry, Chlo, I…just want everyone to have a good time?”
“Awww, you’re such a softie, you know that?”
And it was to the backdrop of everyone telling Chloe and Beca to get a room that Aubrey watched her character get thrown into lava. When she returned to the game, Stacie’s ghost was waiting for her.
“Hey, hot stuff,” Stacie laughed. “Welcome to the afterlife.”
“Thanks,” Aubrey said drily, maneuvering her character away to explore the now brightly lit map.
“You really surprised me,” Stacie said, trailing after her. “I wanted to apologize, and you shot me.”
“It surprised me too.”
Aubrey followed Chloe’s pink avatar run around, stopping here and there at different areas.
“So…are we having fun?”
Aubrey paused as she listened to Chloe say hi to one of the Jessicas as they ran by each other.
“Mmhmm,” Aubrey replied, hoping Stacie would go away.
“You don’t say much, do you?”
Aubrey stopped as she thought of a reply. “That depends who I’m speaking with.”
Stacie’s ghost circled her. “Boy, I did not make a good first impression, did I?” she said. “Sorry about that.” She paused. “I hope my callousness doesn’t reflect too poorly on Beca in your book. She really loves Chloe, and you mean a lot to Chloe, so…”
“Hm…I won’t lie—Beca lost a few points when you came in.”
“Ouch. Hopefully she won at least a couple back after she laid into me right after?”
“Maybe,” she said. She hadn’t meant to sound so coy, but something in the hopefulness of Stacie’s voice made her want to tease her. Aubrey frowned—when did she become a grade school boy faced with an enticing set of pigtails. “How do you know Beca?” she asked, changing track.
“She beat me up in fifth grade,” Stacie said breezily. “True story—this was before I got tall, of course.”
Aubrey scoffed. “You probably did something to upset her, didn’t you?”
“Why, Miss Aubrey Posen, you’ve known me for all of two seconds and you have the audacity to assume—yeah, I’m kidding. I totally did. I’m not even going to pretend,” Stacie laughed, tugging a smile onto Aubrey’s face. “I broke her MP3 player.”
“Did you ‘borrow’ it to impress a boy you liked? You seem the type,” Aubrey replied drily in spite of her smile.
The purple ghost wiggled around. “Wow, how did you know?” Stacie asked in genuine amazement clear. “You’re amazing at guessing. You must either be a lawyer or a stalker. I’m going to guess lawyer since you are incorrect about one little thing. I was trying to impress my fifth-grade crush, Erica, from the class next door. She’s a stay-at-home mom now with an amazing hair care product line. I’ve got a promo code if you’re interested.”
Laughter bubbled out of Aubrey before she could rein it in. She couldn’t help it. Stacie was absolutely ridiculous, and it was far too easy to be pulled in by her charms.
“You have such a cute laugh,” Stacie said softly. “You must hear that a lot.”
Aubrey’s stomach flipped at the sudden shift in tone. She cleared her throat. “Far less often than you think,” she mumbled back. She was glad nobody could see her face—it was embarrassing how quickly it warmed. She cleared her throat. “And you would’ve known I’m a lawyer if you showed up on time.”
Get yourself together, Posen, she told herself. She’s just being friendly.
“Well, I promise I shall never be tardy again, Miss Posen.”
“You better not,” Aubrey chuckled softly. “Punctuality tells a lot about how much you value other people’s time, you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind when we meet each other in person.”
Aubrey’s stomach flipped again. There was a promise in her voice that both excited and unnerved her. Given how serious Chloe and Beca seemed to be, it was inevitable they would meet, but the way she said it—
“There you guys are,” a new voice appeared as a yellow ghost floated toward them, “one of the Jessicas got me and I was floating on my own looking for some company when I heard voices.”
“Welcome to the party, Barbara,” Stacie greeted.
“Thanks—though most people just call me Big Booty.”
“Oh, it’s you, Amy. What happened to ‘thehotone’? Are you finally conceding the title to me?”
“Oh, dream on, Conrad,” Fat Amy laughed. “Chloe asked us to use our names, so I’m rebranding.”
“To…Big Booty Barbara?”
“Just Big Booty. Big Booty Barbara is my mother.”
“What? But—that makes no sense. Dude—you’re so weird.”
Aubrey frowned when the annoyance she felt earlier came rushing back. The presence of a third ghost felt like an intrusion, and she was not proud of the discomfort it caused. It wasn’t like she had a monopoly on Stacie’s attention. Nor did she want it. Right?
Then again, Stacie had a nice laugh, and Fat Amy made her laugh so easily.
Aubrey shook her head—she really needed to get out more. A two-minute conversation should not create this much confusion.
“What were you skinny bitches talking about over here?” Fat Amy asked.
“Not much,” Stacie replied, unwaveringly cheerful and clearly unaffected by Amy’s sudden interruption, “Aubrey here asked how Beca and I met, so I was just telling her about the MP3 player.”
“I remember that story! I—”
A piercing buzzer interrupted them as someone reported Amy’s body and initiated the debate. Aubrey listened to the excited chatter, understanding only about half of the words being said. She understood the words individually, but had no idea what anything meant in this context.
She clicked the message icon in the corner when a red notification dot appeared.
bigbootybarbara: chloes friend jessica killed me btw shes the light green one right?
sexbomb69: Yeah, and I think Ashley knows, but she’s never going to vote for Jessica.
bigbootybarbara: lmaooo y does emily act so sus
sexbomb69: The kid is probably just nervous.
Aubrey watched as the two old friends commentated on the conversation taking place, feeling all the more disoriented by this entire experience. Ultimately, no decision was made and they are returned to their previous peace.
“I’m gonna go finish some tasks, you girls be good—no ghost snogging on this base, ya hear? Serious vibes only,” Amy said, her yellow ghost floating away along with her voice. “And do your tasks, Conrad! We gotta win this thing!”
Aubrey was about to wander off too to see what Chloe was up to, barely registering Amy’s parting words when Stacie suddenly spoke. “I’m sorry about her,” she said, surprising Aubrey with a tinge of nervousness, “she thinks every time she leaves a room, everyone is snogging behind her back—whatever that really means.”
“It’s fine,” she replied. “Just because I value punctuality, it doesn’t mean I’m automatically a humourless prude.”
“Oh my god, that is so not what I meant,” Stacie replied frantically. “I’m really sorry if I—”
Aubrey chuckled. “I’m teasing.”
It seemed Stacie had a cute side too.
“By the way, why aren’t you trying to win?”
“What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be doing tasks? That’s what Amy said right? But you’ve been talking to me this whole time.”
“Oh,” Stacie said, as if she hadn’t quite realized it herself. “R-right. Maybe…I just like hanging out with you.”
“Oh hey, Jess, someone isn’t doing their tasks,” Chloe said as her pink character ran through Aubrey’s ghost and toward the lime green character inside the room.
“Uh oh,” Stacie murmured.
“Oh yeah?” Jessica said in her usual honey sweetness. “Did you see this keypad over here? A lot of people miss it, especially the newbies.”
Chloe moved closer. “What are you—”
Aubrey physically winced when Chloe’s body fell over and her ghost appeared. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! Ooooh, wait till I see her on Monday,” she fumed.
“So…this is fun,” Aubrey said, floating closer toward her. Stacie’s purple ghost followed.
“Omigod, Bree, did you see that?”
“She played you, Chloe,” Stacie laughed. “I never would’ve expected it. We might actually lose.”
Chloe heaved a sigh. Paused. “Wait, Stacie, have you done any tasks since you died?”
Aubrey barked a laugh.
“Um, not exactly,” Stacie admitted slowly.
“She’s been keeping me company,” Aubrey explained.
“Sorry! I thought you wanted us to get to know each other?”
“Yes, but—but I want to win!” Chloe huffed.
Beca’s blue ghost suddenly slid into view. “Hey guys,” she said casually.
“Jess got you too, huh?” Chloe said, circling Beca’s ghost.
“Yep. Vented out of nowhere and murdered me in the dark. How are you guys doing? Hope you’re not too bored.”
“On the contrary, they’ve been hanging out, and throwing the game,” Chloe said pointedly.
“I’m sorry! Jesus Christ, I’m going!” Stacie cried. “Everyone’s really busting my balls today.”
“That weirdo,” Beca mumbled after Stacie’s purple ghost floated off the edge of the screen. “I really hope she didn’t bother you too much, Aubrey.”
“Not at all.”
Aubrey held her breath—did she sound too eager just now? She had half a mind to go after Stacie and continue their conversation, if only to avoid Chloe’s impending interrogation, but she could already hear Chloe’s mind turn, even through the screen. There was no escaping a best friend’s intuition.
“Uh, well, I’m…gonna go and finish my tasks too,” Beca said hurriedly, as if she could feel the sudden tension rising between them. “Those darn asteroids aren’t gonna blow themselves up.”
As soon as Beca floated out of earshot, Chloe’s ghost floated toward Aubrey. “Oh. My. God,” she said.
Aubrey rubbed her eyes with a thumb and finger. Here we go, she thought.
“You and Stacie were totes flirting, weren’t you?”
Before she could reply, however, the buzzer sounded once more and they were thrown into yet another whirlwind debate. There were only five people left in the game, but Aubrey couldn’t care less. She was more preoccupied with the first message in ghost chat.
ItsChloe: omg stacie!! were you guys flirting this whole time?? Is that why you weren’t doing your tasks???
Aubrey sighed and readied her fingers on her keyboard as she contemplated reply.
bigbootybarbara: you didnt do any of your tasks??? thats not cool...i love love but if were losing because of you, I’m going to finish you like a cheesecake
DJBMitch: seriously not cool…
sexbomb69: All of you need to calm the fuck down. We were just talking!
bigbootybarbara: it’s over man nobody is accusing jessica and old giraffe legs is trying to sabotage us
DJBMitch: Im almost done so ill make sure she stops harassing Aubrey and finish her tasks if we survive this round
AubreyPosen: For semantics’ sake, I was not being harassed. The flirting was mutual.
bigbootybarbara: omg this is sabotage u know stacie has a weakness for hot women dont u red???? wait ARE you hot Aubrey??
sexbomb69: You’re seriously overreacting, Ames.
DJBMitch: ok, we’re also seriously underestimating Jessica here…
ItsChloe: bree is smokin. Obviously. but don’t blaem me!! They’ve never even seen e ach other!
sexbomb69: Maybe that’s not entirely true.
“What?” Aubrey said aloud. She watched as Emily was dropped into the lava and tuned out the groaning voices who were convinced that they’d executed the wrong person.
“This game is rigged! Rigged! You guys don’t play fair at all!” Emily was still shouting by the time they returned to the map.
“Em, turn it down a notch—please,” Beca sighed.
“Sorry,” came Emily’s sheepish reply. “But—but c’mon! I wasn’t even near med bay! I was just minding my own business and—argh! It’s just ‘cause nobody takes me seriously, I swear!”
“No,” Beca chuckled, “it’s because Jessica is the greatest assassin of all time.”
“And this crew is bad at tasks,” Amy chimed in with a snicker. “Very bad.”
“And that,” Beca conceded.
“No, we still have a chance guys,” Chloe said—Aubrey could almost imagine the fire in her eyes. “We can finish before Jess takes CR or Flo out. Assuming she spares Ashley.”
Amy scoffed. “The woman’s a menace—she isn’t sparing anyone. There’s no love on the battlefield, my friends. Game’s over in two minutes—mark my words.”
The group scattered anyway to make a last-ditch effort to finish their tasks. Aubrey, still curious about Stacie’s comment from the conversation earlier, followed her toward the edge of the map.
“I see you, Miss Posen. You’re trying to distract me,” Stacie said in her sing-song way. Her ghost hovered above a panel and stopped moving. This must’ve been the mini-game Chloe mentioned before they started.
Aubrey circled her to busy herself. “I’m curious about what you said earlier,” she said. “Chloe said we haven’t seen each other, and you replied saying that’s not true. But…I’m pretty sure we’ve never met…right?”
“Oh, I was just running my mouth.” Stacie laughed with a tinge of unease as she started toward a different task. Aubrey followed suit until she stopped at a cone-shaped object in the snow.
“So, what you’re saying is…you’ve seen me, but I haven’t seen you,” Aubrey said thoughtfully. She reached for her phone on her desk and swiped around to her conversations with Chloe. She quickly flipped through the many photos they’ve sent each other over the last few months, but the only stranger she saw was Beca, who starred in so many of Chloe’s pictures in so many different angles that she no longer considered her a stranger.
When she looked back up at her computer, Stacie was gone.
“What the,” she mumbled absently, maneuvering her ghost around in search for the purple character she was beginning to get so attached to—DUM sticker and all. Unfortunately, the map was so big that she didn’t quite know where to begin.
She found Chloe instead, with Beca on her tail as she floated across the top of her screen.
“By the way, I’m stopping over in Atlanta next weekend,” Beca said, her voice fading in mid-conversation. “If you’re not too busy, maybe…we could do something?”
Aubrey followed after them, knowing full-well that she was perfectly in their range of vision, but they were so caught up in each other they didn’t seem to notice.
“Really?” Chloe asked in that extra sweet way she only ever seemed to be with Beca. “I would love that. I miss you, you know.”
“I miss you too,” Beca said softly. “And I know this situation kinda sucks, but well, I was thinking…with Stacie’s new tenure at Georgia Tech, maybe I could, I don’t know…start looking for something more permanent. In Atlanta.”
Chloe’s character stopped moving. “Really?” she whispered. “But what about…well, everything!”
“I mean, everything is kind of in the planning process right now, but…I don’t know. I’d rather spend eight months with you in a year than a weekend every two weeks. If…if that’s what you want too, of course. I could also live with Stacie…I know it’s a little fast, but I just thought—”
“Of course, I’d want that, silly!” Chloe squealed. “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now. That’s so exciting! I mean, waking up with you on a Monday morning—Beca, I don’t even care that we’re about thirty seconds from losing the game. I’d be the happiest woman alive. Oooh, I so wish I could hug you right now.”
Aubrey turned around and floated toward the opposite direction to give the couple some space.
Sure enough, less than a minute later, Aubrey had won her very first game of Among Us by sheer, stupid luck and a whole lot of Jessica’s uncanny bloodlust.
By the time she saw Stacie again, they were all in the waiting room. Everyone was talking and laughing—between the noise and the excitement of a second round, and all the disbelieving congratulations, all curiosity fell away to the chaos, and the opportunity was lost.
A week flew by after her very first and last game. She’d received and emergency call from a client and had rushed back to the office less than a minute into her second game. Just as the madness of the week began to trickle down on Friday night, she received a call from Chloe.
“Hey, Bree!” Chloe greeted. “Where are you right now?”
Aubrey leaned back in her chair and looked out at the empty office beyond. “On a Friday night? Where do you think?” she chuckled, massaging her eyes.
“Uh huh,” Chloe murmured distractedly, “I’m sending you an address. See you there in half an hour, okay?”
She hung up.
Seconds later, her phone dinged.
Aubrey frowned as she pulled up the location to a bar downtown, a ten-minute walk from her office. It wasn’t like Chloe to be so pushy, and it was only when she was putting on her coat that she remembered Beca saying she was visiting this weekend. From Beca, she was reminded of Stacie—they never did get to talk about the photograph. Or why Stacie had avoided the subject so completely.
Stacie had a tenure at Georgia Tech, she recalled as walked out into the brisk evening air. That was what Beca said. She wouldn’t have pegged her for a professor. She sounded so young, and she’d always pictured professors to be so much more…serious. And they certainly didn’t need a lesson on punctuality.
She shook her head—she should focus on Beca and Chloe. Given how last-minute Chloe’s invitation was, she assumed she’d finally have the opportunity to meet Beca. She was excited—Beca seemed wonderful, and she seemed to know how to make Chloe happy.
Chloe had texted her about Beca’s plans to move hours after she’d left the game, and she congratulated her, pretending she hadn’t heard the exchange herself. She was thinking about throwing a dinner party to officially welcome Beca into Atlanta when she arrived at the busy bar with five minutes to spare.
She pulled out her phone to text Chloe, but nearly dropped it when she heard her name behind her.
Aubrey turned. She didn’t think she’d recognize the voice, but as soon as she heard it, she was as certain as the sky is blue. “Stacie?”
She wasn’t sure what she expected—the purple creature, perhaps, with a sticky note slapped on her forehead—but nothing could’ve prepared her for the gorgeous woman with the chestnut curls and the infectious smile. “Yep. Five minutes early because I promised I wouldn’t be tardy anymore,” she said with a wink.
Aubrey laughed and tucked her hair behind her ear, suddenly nervous as they tentatively studied each other. It dawned on her then that she’d managed to pick her out from a crowd. “How did you know what I looked like?” she asked.
“You must be an amazing lawyer,” Stacie said, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her coat, “nothing escapes you, does it?”
Aubrey raised a brow. “You were acting very suspicious when asked you about the comment you made. It isn’t hard to put two and two together.”
Stacie grinned. “You mean ‘sus’?”
“Never mind,” Stacie chuckled.
“You’ve seen me before, and you won’t tell me whether we’ve met.” Aubrey crossed her arms. “I’m not sure I like this.”
Stacie put her hands up. “Alright, alright, before you think I’m some kind of stalker, it’s really not a big deal, so I’ll tell you—happy?” She dropped her hands and shook her head with a smile. “We’ve never met, but I’ve seen a photograph of you. At Chloe’s place. She has one framed in her living room.”
“Uh huh…I know the one. The Grand Canyon, right?”
“So…why didn’t you just say it?” Aubrey chuckled. “You don’t have to be so weird about it.”
“Well, maybe I’m just a bit of a weirdo,” Stacie replied with a crooked smile. “And I was a little embarrassed to admit that the photo really left an impression on me. I thought you were beautiful. I see now that you’re even more gorgeous up close. You...you really have the most amazing eyes.”
“Wow,” Aubrey murmured as heat crept across her cheeks, “how…do you say stuff like that out loud without feeling embarrassed?”
“I am embarrassed!” Stacie laughed, pushing her lightly against the shoulder. “That’s what I said! You wound me with your words, Miss Posen.”
“I’m sure you’ll be okay.” Aubrey glanced at her watch to hide the quickly-forming blush. “Our friends, on the other hand, might be a different story.”
“Yeah, I don’t think they’re coming either. I thought it was a little sus that Beca texted me to come here when her plane landed just a few hours ago—she always makes a beeline to Chloe’s place, you know?”
“What on earth is ‘sus’?”
Stacie shook her head with a smile. “Since we’re here anyway, let me buy you a drink? I’d…love to get to know you more.”
Aubrey hesitated only to keep herself from shouting yes at the top of her lungs and scaring everyone away. “I’d…like that very much, actually,” she said with a controlled sort of calm she did not feel as her heart raced.
“Yeah?” Stacie’s grin brightened. “You won’t even have to kill me to get me all to yourself.”
“T-that—it was an accident!”
Stacie shrugged. “Maybe, but it got us here, so I’m not complaining,” she said. Smiling, she offered a hand. “Shall we?”
Aubrey nodded and slipped her hand into Stacie’s. “This is better,” she murmured absently.
But Stacie caught her eye, just as they were about to go. “Than?”
“Being a ghost.”
“I loved being a ghost with you,” Stacie chuckled, “but yeah, this is definitely better.”