The Game: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

James missed his own street twice in the dark and rain. The second time, not turning around sounded plausible—just keep on in a straight line until the edge of the world.

But he couldn't.

Dripping on the doormat, James debated between bedroom and bathroom. He opted for a shower to sustain his drooping eyelids long enough to watch something mind-numbing, then sank into the couch with a soda in one hand, reaching for his laptop with the other to queue up a show.

The screen burst to life. Quirky and melodic keyboarding accompanied upbeat female J-pop through the intro of Ryu and the High School Beat Box. Hard to go wrong with Ryu—the teenaged boy who was secretly a dragon—and his after school club, the Beat Box Variety Show. Every club member boasted prodigious musical talent to go with their adolescent angst and difficulty fitting in.

James made it as far as the third episode before his eyes inevitably closed. The only dream he could later recall was of music and laughter, though the laughter came from somewhere he searched for but never found.

***

James woke to insistent beeping from his laptop. He squinted at it. Ten hours of sleep in one shot, empty soda in hand, and he still felt exhausted.

A flashing notification told him messages were waiting. He clicked wrong and got an anti-virus window, rubbed his eyes, clicked again.

D.Marsh.UCC: prez you there
D.Marsh.UCC: prez
D.Marsh.UCC: come on man its fuckin noon already
D.Marsh.UCC: am i talkin to myself i hate talkin to myself
J.F.K.1995: Okay, alright. Don't call me Prez.
D.Marsh.UCC: love you man (not in a gay way) but dont use JFK if you dont wanna be prez
J.F.K.1995: You gave me this screen name. I knew nothing about computers.
D.Marsh.UCC: bygones man, dont dwell
J.F.K.1995: What do you want? I'm sleeping.
D.Marsh.UCC: get your ass up im comin over
D.Marsh.UCC has gone offline.

When Donald arrived, James was shirtless in the kitchen pouring orange juice, the air redolent of charring toast.

"Nasty, man." Donald slapped him on the back, nearly spilling the juice. "Don't eat that burned shit. Let's do burgers."

"I like seared toast." James steadied his juice, then rubbed his forehead. "I had a burger last night."

"Sushi?"

"Tokyo Sunrise yesterday. Not in the mood." James took a sip and made a face. The pulpy kind again. He poured it into the sink.

"What are you, pregnant? Why so picky? Greek then. Vasili's."

Donald grabbed James by the arm and started dragging him toward the front closet. It was impossible to resist; the man was incongruously muscled for a short guy who spent fourteen hours a day programming. Did he have an exercise machine on his swivel chair?

"Why the rush?"

"Sleep half the day and wonder why the rush. The things this guy says, I'm tellin you."

Donald's presence in a room always afforded the vague sense that somewhere a sitcom laugh track was playing. His mannerisms eerily echoed his grammarless internet personality.

"It's Saturday and I'm not working. What's wrong with sleeping in?" James half put his shirt on and was half shoved into it by Donald. "And what about my toast?"

***

James liked his Honda Civic hybrid. It was eight years old, in decent condition; it went from A to B; it went from zero to sixty in some number of seconds. But compared to the beast of a Benz he rode in now, it was dinkier than a child's Hot Wheels.

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