The thing that Rob loved most about the game was his Avatar – a hero through and through. Muscles bulged, long hair could be tossed back from glinting eyes, and above all, he could swap out his powers and looks with a few commands. He almost never suffered defeat.

He loved his gaming family too – the posse whose souls he could see by their choices as they played out life and death fantasies. Purple Pearl was his especial favorite. She had so many hilariously snide comments to make about the foibles revealed by the other gamers…and about herself too. Those asides were a source of delight to him.

But his life demanded a schism with a far less engaging side. As a personal loan consultant in a middling branch in a middling bank, he was relentlessly reminded of how ordinary he was. He smiled and shuffled papers, and swung around a computer screen so that potential customers could see the unyielding numbers that defined them.

And it was tedious. The same smiling. The same questions. The same paperwork. The same studiously ignored corporate rah rahs or factoids or alerts that filled his inbox every day.

Until Tuesday.

Until Sonja sashayed into the bank with a designer purse and a soulful smile, and slid herself into a chair before him.

“I am here to get a loan to start my business.” Her voice was a throaty purr with intriguing hints of an accent.

Rob tried to keep a professional smile on his face – not a fatuous grin. “That’s what I’m here for,” he said.

Sonja beamed and leaned closer. Rob knew his smile was becoming a moronic leer in spite of himself. Where was his unflappable, sexy avatar when he needed it? His fingers skittered over the desk as he unconsciously mimed the motions needed to awaken his alter ego. He hoped the spot of toothpaste he’d hurriedly wiped from his shirt that morning had not left a smear.

“I have seed money from my father,” she confided. “A large gift. And I have resources I am compiling…but I need an expert like yourself to help me.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Rob repeated. Now he could add idiot to fatuous.

Sonja leaned closer still, her scent wafting upwards into his nostrils. She was so perfect, big eyes, gorgeous skin; even the gleaming blonde hair only hinted at darker roots. Rob leaned closer too…he couldn’t help himself. Her smile was intimate, trusting. His breathing quickened.

What would his avatar do? Sling her over his shoulder and carry her off to his secret lair? Save her from some dire peril? Explain about payment windows and compound interest?

Rob’s fingers fumbled on the computer keys, but collecting basic information steadied his nerves. Sonja repeated that she still had to compile more resources. She offered him a list of these resources, neatly typed, laid out on a spreadsheet.

“Impressive,” Rob told her, professional smile almost in place. “No one ever brings me their documents in such good order…”

She shrugged her elegant shoulders. “I knew it would be important in obtaining the necessary start-up loans.” Her full lips lilted upwards and her tapered fingers barely touched his sleeve. “That’s why I came to a professional like you.”

Sonja was so perfect. Almost too perfect… Purple Pearl would have something cutting to say about perfection…

No…that was stupid. He was a low-level finance consultant, not a warrior or superhero. He felt his face flush at his own idiocy. His fingers moved slowly as he added in more and more information. This kind of decision was so above his pay grade…unless he took a couple of unorthodox short cuts. Found the hidden path…authorized the funds…

“I would be so very grateful if you could expedite this,” Sonja coaxed. “So appreciative.”

Rob leaned forward. “I really want to make this work for you,” he said softly. “If you can wait a few minutes, I can arrange everything.”

She smiled and her eyes met his. “You’ve become my hero. We could celebrate…just one drink together.”

“Yes…” his voice was husky. Who needed an avatar after all?

Ten minutes later, he watched with real regret as the officers hustled Sonja away. He had been intended to be her eighth mark.

That evening he told his posse that he was getting a promotion. Purple Pearl was unimpressed. “How do you get promoted past hero?” she demanded. “You’re already as good as it gets, idiot.”

Rob laughed and moved towards the next challenge, the next villain. He was so ready…



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