Dex sat across from her and ordered his usual — a no-stimulant rum and ginger beer — from the pretend human bartender program. Annabelle was sipping what looked like a gin fizz and Dex figured was probably a complex cocktail of neural stimulants that she used like Dex used real rum. As if reading his mind, she lifted her drink to gesture at his and asked, “So, you have a wet dark and stormy going at home?”
Dex smiled ruefully. “Not yet, I’m just walking in the door,” Dex said. “Besides, you know I can’t afford real ginger beer. It’s just Jamaica’s Best and gingapop, but after this bitch of a day, it’ll have to do.” He griped about his day while at his apartment he poured a couple of fingers of cheap rum into a tumbler and topped it off with ginger ale, watching Annabelle’s avatar in the forefront of his vision.
“So, have you been playing?” Annabelle asked.
Dex blushed, but his avatar kept his secret. “Yeah, I’ve been noodling around a bit. I’ve been playing all the songs for the next gig, hoping that it won’t wreck my virtual mandolin playing.”
Dex had recently joined a small pick-up band in M City called Chemical Celeste. He played mandolin, which had been his instrument back in his misspent youth. Playing the virtual instrument was quite different from the real thing, but Dex had picked it up fast and he fit in well with the band. When he was in Europa, Annabelle had surprised him with a gift of a cheap real mandolin. He’d been speechless, but refused to play for her until he had practiced.
Annabelle moved her avatar next to Dex on the banquette seat and leaned in to him. They sat that way for a few minutes in silence and Dex was doing a good job of pretending to like it. “I know you probably aren’t going to want to hear this,” Dex said, his voice a little thick from the rum, “but I miss you.”
Annabelle smiled, a little sadly and squeezed Dex’s arm. “It’s okay,” she said. “I missed you a little when you were in Nice.”
Dex controlled the impulse to remind Annabelle that Nice was where she lived and that he had been there only to see her. That they had been together so much more than they were now and that that was what he missed. But he knew she knew that, just like he knew that she craved the times they had at Three Card Monte’s or places like it in M City the way he craved being together in the physical world.
He laughed, a tight noise that contained frustration, longing and a strange feeling of hope. “We are some pair, aren’t we kiddo?”
Dex saw Annabelle lift her face and he almost felt for a moment like she was really looking into his eyes. “That we are,” she said, “that we are.
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