Brigitte’s Secret

Brigitte’s Secret

Everyone at the beach club in The Dimension knew there was a mystery about Brigitte. She had a friends’ list that split almost equally between men and women and each of them had a story of her kindness, consideration, willingness to help or maybe just listen when their various stresses were getting to them.  But they also felt that, for all her openness, there was a part of herself she kept locked away from them. Some had tried to penetrate it, using clever, oblique questions to get her to talk of her day-to-day living, her past, her actual family and friends out in the real world, but she’d responded with her usual apparent honesty and innocence.  However hard they analysed her or invented possible traumas, her avatar always appeared onscreen with the same smile, the same confidence, and yet the same lingering implication that there was an untouchable part of her crouching in the shadows of her mind.
‘Have you noticed how often she uses the word ‘control’?’ asked Scott one evening as, on the screen, he lay on some cushions on the bank of a gently flowing river with Azzura, his girl friend.  (He was in London, she was in Adelaide.)
‘No,’ said Azzura. ‘Does she?’
‘Lots,’ said Scott.  ‘Not in any weird way.  It just seems to crop up pretty regularly.  Once you start noticing it, you can’t miss it.’
Azzura snuggled into him.
‘Well, I’m glad she’s a friend.  She was so sweet to me when I broke up with Carnal.’
‘Best thing you ever did,’ said Scott, with a smile.  ‘We’d never have been like this if you were still with him.’
‘Yes,’ said Azzura, ‘I’m lucky.’
The break-up had come as a shock to Azzura.  She and Carnal, an American who was in Jamestown, Rhode Island, had been together for three months and, for some inexplicable reason, he had suddenly started accusing her of infidelities.  He’d invented secret assignations for her and seemed determined to punish her for imagined wrongs.  In the end, he’d just vanished – no goodbyes, no explanations.  He just left The Dimension altogether, leaving Azzura hurt and bewildered.
‘It’s not you, honey,’ said Brigitte, when Azzura first told her about Carnal’s accusations.  ‘It’s probably some domestic thing.  I think he said his wife was having a baby.  That’s bound to make him … well, think differently.’
Then she said all the things that Azzura needed to hear, made her laugh, turned her attention to all the other guys around who’d soon be hitting on her now that she was free again.  They swam, surfed, lay about on the beach and sure enough, within a couple of weeks, she’d met Scott at a concert and fallen so much in love that she couldn’t understand what she’d seen in Carnal at all.  Brigitte laughed at Azzura’s excitement and infatuation when she started describing her new love to her.
‘So,’ she said, ‘he’s a combination of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and the Wizard of Oz.’
Azzura smiled. ‘Yes, and much more.  He makes me laugh, he’s gentle – and when we make love …’ she ended the sentence by making a growling noise deep in her throat.
‘You’re disgusting,’ said Brigitte.
‘Yes, and it’s great,’ laughed Azzura.
She paused before adding, ‘There’s just one thing. He’s married.’
Brigitte shrugged.  ‘Most of them are.  Don’t think about it.  When you’re here with him, different rules apply.  Relax.  Go where your pussy leads you. And take him with you.’

Two weeks later, they were lying under a parasol on the beach.
‘Haven’t seen Scott for a while,’ said Brigitte.
‘No, he’s busy – domestic things to do,’ said Azzura.
‘Hmmmm,’ said Brigitte.  ‘Well, I hope he keeps his priorities right.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘I don’t want you going through all that Carnal stuff again,’ said Brigitte.  ‘I just want to be sure Scott’s heart’s big enough for you.’

It was a seed planted.  Azzura started asking Scott about his work, his home, his wife.  He answered her openly enough but he was guarded, too.  Her anxieties about him made her more insistent, made her questions more intrusive.  He became less eager to log on, the time they spent together grew shorter and the worm at the centre of their love grew and sucked away more of its substance.
‘I don’t know what’s happened with Azzura,’ Scott said to Brigitte one evening.  ‘Have you noticed anything?’
‘Not really, ‘said Brigitte.
Then she seemed to reflect.
‘Well …’ she began.
‘What?’  said Scott.
‘Oh nothing.’
‘Tell me.’
‘Well, it’s just … I think it’s coming up to the anniversary of when she met Carnal.’
‘Nothing, nothing,’ said Brigitte.
‘She said she was over him.  She couldn’t understand why she ever spent time with him,’ said Scott.
‘Well, there you are then,’ said Brigitte.
And so it went on.  Azzura and Scott both brought their concerns to her, laid themselves bare and she, as usual, smiled, sympathised, made little suggestions, and was always there for them to use.

The summer was fading into autumn when Scott messaged Brigitte asking if he could talk to her urgently.  She was with a group of friends, playing a game based on old film titles, but she went home at once and transported him to her Dimension garden.  They sat on loungers under the chestnut trees and Scott recounted the last conversation he’d had with Azzura.  It was an ultimatum.  She wanted a greater commitment from him but he was already as deeply into their relationship as he could be.  He was sacrificing aspects of his home life, making more and more excuses to his wife, and yet he couldn’t convince Azzura that he was serious about her.
Brigitte soothed him, promised to try to talk some sense into Azzura, and talked about the difficulties of blending the needs of their two worlds, real and virtual.  At one point, he asked if he could sit with her and they shared a lounger, Brigitte leaning back against him with his arms around her.
‘Do you still want to be with her – really?’ asked Brigitte.
‘Well, said Scott, with a smile, ‘I could get used to being here with you like this.’
‘Tut, tut,’ said Brigitte.  ‘I think Azzura would be much better for you.’
‘If only she’d ease up,’ said Scott. ‘Just enjoy us as we used to be.’
‘Well, there is a way,’ said Brigitte.
‘How? What do you mean?’
‘It would mean handing over your avatar to someone else’s control for a few minutes,’ said Brigitte.  ‘But it would give Azzura a different perspective on you.’
‘Hmmmm, not sure I like that,’ said Scott.
‘No, I don’t blame you,’ said Brigitte.
‘How does it work?’
‘Just a …  It … well, it doesn’t matter.  We’ll think of something else.’
‘Have you seen it working?’ asked Scott.
‘Yes,’ said Brigitte.  ‘It’s quite impressive.  Fun, too, if it’s a friend.’
‘Have you done it yourself?’
Brigitte laughed.
‘Lots of times,’ she said.
‘Could you show me?’
‘No, let’s think of something else.’
‘No, you’ve got me interested now.  Just show me.  Just once.’
‘You sure?’
‘Yes.  In fact, I command you to show me.’
They both laughed.
‘OK,’ said Brigitte and, almost simultaneously, a blue box appeared with the words ‘Brigitte wants to animate your avatar.  Do you agree?’
Scott clicked on the OK button and waited.

He sat in his apartment in England and watched as his avatar got up, leaving Brigitte on the lounger.  He then walked to her house. The door swung open and he went inside and down some steps at the end of the hallway.  It was dark; he could see nothing.  He stopped.  In his study in London, he clicked his mouse button to change the environmental controls to midday.  Nothing happened.
Then, Brigitte was beside him.
‘Welcome home,’ she said, and she flicked on the midday setting.
They were in a long room.  On each side, there were four cages suspended from the ceiling.  In seven of them, naked male avatars knelt in slave-like positions. None of them looked up as the light hit them.  Brigitte walked to the cage beside the empty one.
‘You never met Carnal, did you?’ she said.  ‘Well, you’ll be able to get to know one another now.  Compare notes maybe.  He’ll be your neighbour.’
And, at home, Scott’s ex-manipulator watched helplessly as his avatar undressed, stepped up into the empty cage beside Carnal’s and knelt on its floor.  The door shut, Brigitte walked along one side of the room, then back up the other, surveying her flock.
‘Goodnight,’ she said.
‘Goodnight mistress,’ came the chorus of eight male voices.
And on the screen in the study in London darkness fell.

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