The Game: Chapter 18

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Chapter 18

Between working almost every waking minute and visiting his mother if he had a few hours off, it was five days before James had another chance to log in. When he finally found time for Shattered Land at the end of a very long Wednesday, he discovered an inbox full of voicemails on his game phone.

"So? Whad'ya think? Whad'ya think?" was all Casey had to say. He felt bad for having had no time for even a message since the concert, but his current life's priorities were carved in stone. Thinking about anything but the path before him was impossible.

August had also left a message, thanking him for accompanying her to the concert and asking if he would like to team up on the day of the Laurentian invasion event.

The final message was from Kanade. "Hello ... um. Did you enjoy the concert? I know you're busy, but if you happen to get a moment ... I was hoping to talk."

She was online. He hit the call button.

"Hello, James," Kanade said.

"I have some time."

"Oh, um ... will you come to the hill?"

"Be there in a few."

James clicked off and began to walk. The night air was cool and calm, the streets quiet. The peculiar uncertainty in Kanade's voice was a worry that he knew he shouldn't concern himself with.

Easier said than done.

He found her in the same spot as the last time. The peaceful sound of her breathing became a mellow medley with the insects and night birds and the sigh of the breeze through the leaves. She was on her back, staring up and out into the universe, wearing the simple cream summer dress from the first day they had met.

"Your outfit," Kanade said, head swiveling as he approached. "It suits you better than all the black did."

James glanced at himself as he laid down next to her, finding a button-up blue cotton shirt with the metal heart of the Hagane no Kokoro logo on the left breast pocket, worn over a pair of khaki cargo pants.

"I agree," he said. "So you saw me that night."

Kanade's hair brushed softly over the grass as she nodded. "As the show was ending."

"I thought about coming to find you guys after the concert. But I figured you would have a ton of fans swarming around, so I decided to save it for another day."

"Oh..." Kanade said. "Was that what happened?"

James wasn't sure how to respond to that, so he didn't. He just stared at the stars, and the voids of blackness between that stretched like silences.

"The girl you were with," Kanade said, at length.

"August?"

"She's the moderator from that time."

"Yes."

"I see."

James waited for her to continue, knowing that I see meant that she didn't. But the lull dragged on. Finally he said, "What about her?"

Kanade's eyes scanned from horizon to horizon without much movement from her head, some silent internal struggle taking place. Was it related to her strange reaction during the forest event? August had only been playing a role, but Kanade had seemed to experience something much more personal.

"How much do you know about her?" Kanade said.

"Not a lot. She works as a moderator for UCC and plays poker. She wears a lot of masks, but she doesn't seem like a bad person." The sum total of his knowledge and opinions didn't amount to much.

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