Java Café's avatar–appearing as a taller, svelte version of Vanessa and looking more like a sister because of the flawless skin tone and perfect facial symmetry–materialized when Vanessa disabled her privacy settings. Virtual environments could perfect reality in most things, but failed with coffee in Vanessa's opinion. Sure, it captured the taste, but without the juice it was too much of a tease. Her fingers were pudgy topped with chewed fingernails, a good sign Stanton had been messing with her avatar. She sighed. He meant the best, but he didn't understand how Lucia and Tiffany would react.
Lucia materialized with a grande cappuccino. "Oh girlfriend, are you still with that monster."
"Stanton wants the best for me."
Lucia's fingers twirled a ringlet, a coruscating luminescence flowing from scalp to ends. Lucia could afford the latest styles, but Vanessa knew Stanton was right. One should invest in their future.
"Listen to me, girlfriend. He gets off on controlling you. You don't need a man like that."
"He knows how to actualize our lives. A few subtle hints can change your life. So, I got too busy to go to the gym yesterday. A pudgy avatar will help me remember, encourage me to make it a priority tonight. It's good reinforcement."
Tiffany appeared with coffee as dark as her eyes. "Sorry, I'm late. I just inked a new deal and the lawyer routines identified a few red flags I needed to negotiate out of the agreement. I wish they'd do something about boilerplate with screw clauses."
"Majors, this time?" Lucia asked.
"It's indie. But, that's where the action is these days. You'll die when you hear this. They've got rights to Sorrentino's likeness."
"For real?" Lucia and Vanessa chorused.
"And I'm playing his partner." Her eyes grew dreamy as she slammed half her coffee.
"Oh girlfriend, that's wonderful."
"Well, I'm interrupting. What were you talking about when I arrived?"
"Nothing," said Vanessa.
"Girlfriend, it isn't nothing." Lucia turned to Tiffany. "Look at what Stanton's done to her."
Tiffany tut-tutted. "That skin tone doesn't go with your hair and you don't weigh that much. It's an avatar, wear what you want, but at least look good. I know this place that's good with avatars. They work all the indies."
"They'd comp me."
"It's not the money." Vanessa loved her friends. Even when they were difficult, they meant well.
"It's Stanton," said Lucia.
"That creep? Don't let him play you."
"Cut it out. You think you know him, but we've got everything planned and --"
"Look," said Tiffany. "He's lying to you. I've got proof."
"You've been spying on my Stanton."
"Hey. What are friends for." Tiffany snapped her fingers.
Stanton entered the Java Café. He had a Louis Vuitton designed avatar and Vanessa straightened in her chair feeling her legs extend and the chair become more comfortable against her back. Obviously, Tiffany had called him, but Stanton glanced around the room not noticing Vanessa or her girlfriends.
Tiffany snapped her fingers a second time. She must have security controls over this virtuality. That contract had been good. "Lucia cut that out. It's all designer-wear laced with pheromones. You're almost as bad as Miss tied-around-his-fingers."
"What did you do to my Stanton?"
"Froze him. It won't hurt --"
"You did what? Unfreeze him, now!"
"I was trying to say, freezing someone's avatar doesn't hurt anyone. You need to see this, and understand what he's doing to you." Tiffany turned to Lucia. "Look at Vanessa's legs and her wrists."
"They're longer and thinner."
"Exactly. Stanton's trying to make Vanessa dependent so that she only feels strong and secure in his presence."
"That's a lie. I'm sure there is a rational explanation and if you released Stanton, he'd tell you."
"Calm down, Vanessa. I'll release him as soon as you've seen this." Tiffany palmed a neuro-scanner and ran it over Stanton's avatar. She returned to her friends and tossed her scanner onto the table. It cast a three-dimensional holo of Stanton's timeline. She flicked a finger over the time and various images scrolled past including bondage scene with Vanessa tied up.
"Hey, that's private."
"TMI," said Lucia.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to show that. Look here." Tiffany stabbed a finger at a portion of the timeline that was blacked out. "Black market privacy mods. He's worried someone's going to snoop."
"He has good cause."
"Not me," said Tiffany. "You. This wasn't a time he was doing anything with you, look at the timeline. Were you with him at that time?"
She hadn't been with him. Vanessa accessed her memory journal and found a memory surprised that it had taken him so long to go to the market on what he'd told her was a simple errand. "I'm sure there is a good explanation." Vanessa's voice hitched and tears pooled in the corner of her eyes before the avatar's emotional override blanked her face.
Blowing the hair out of her eyes, Tiffany pushed a datachip across the table. "Use this on Stanton."
"What is it?"
"Custom programming. He'll see you the way you are."
"It won't hurt him?"
"Not a bit. Trust me. Lucia and I want only the best for you. Don't we, Lucia?"
The two woman at the table had been Vanessa's best friends since forever. Stanton was always on her about how he knew what was best. But, he also wanted her to stay away from these two, and it wasn't like she was going to hurt him, she was just going to let him see her the way she was. There couldn't be any harm in that. She pocketed the datachip.
Lucia waited until Vanessa's avatar disappeared and then enabled a custom privacy shield shared solely with Tiffany. "What was on the datachip."
"Sometimes the best lies are mostly truth. Stanton's going to see her the way he makes her look."
"Exactly. It'll crush Vanessa's heart when he breaks up with her, but at least she has us."