Secrets: Chapter 22

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Chapter 22

 After the siege, James passed a full week in solitude. His mind kept wandering, so he forced it blank through sheer hard labor.

He didn't go to Joseph Stenton. Since seeing Angela, visiting was less and less appealing, to the point where he felt almost ill about setting foot in the door. He didn't know why and didn't have the wherewithal to analyze.

James slept extra late on Sunday because he wasn't working, and knew that when he woke he would have to think of something to do. There was always Shattered Land, but every time he logged in things got more complicated. Playing should be like time off from his life, but he was building a second life there instead.

After two fruitless hours in front of his word processor with no result but a headache blooming up from the top of his spine, a few relatively harmless complications started to sound okay. Whatever happened in Shattered Land didn't have to spill over into his other problems. At least in there, people wanted things from him besides money and work.

As James had just about talked himself into playing, his phone beeped with a message.

heya prez! know ur busy n stuff, tryin not 2 bug ya but just wanted 2 say HeLLooo n we miss ya n dont work 2 hard n come visit when u can! -Casey (with Kana lookin over my shoulder ^_^ haha)

***

James met them in the bar and grill attached to the grand casino.

The air was redolent of grilled meat, spices, and people getting drunk, and alive with the sound of classic rock. The concept of gorging and inebriating oneself while in a game was still novel; James could swallow a twenty ounce steak and a baked potato the size of a child's football and then log out and be starving, or get wasted on shooters with no hangover to show for it. Perhaps there was some deep message there, but he couldn't define it.

Kanade and Casey seemed perfectly at home. There was a pitcher of pale lager on the table, already half empty, and next to it a huge platter of chicken wings closer in size to turkey wings.

"Prezzzzz!" Casey bounded out of her chair at his approach. For a second it looked like she was going leap up on him like a gigantic puppy. Instead she grabbed him by the hands and engaged in one of her overly complex man-shakes, two-fisted this time. "Oh man." She gave him an appreciative once-over. "Nice duds!"

James looked down at a white blazer, unbuttoned, white cotton shirt avec logo and pale blue tie, all over a pair of dark slacks. Not bad, but familiar.

Kanade approached as well, standing just beside and behind Casey. "Isn't that the outfit that the older brother wears in Ryu?"

"So it seems. But only in the first seventeen episodes."

"Hmm." Kanade studied him, tapping her lip in thought. "I see."

Casey looked back and forth between the two of them, cocking her head first one way, then the other. "Dang, you guys are like ... hardcore. Time for a drink."

Casey ushered James to a seat and plunked him into it, pouring a pint of whatever was in the pitcher, then setting it on a coaster with exaggerated care.

"Let's celebrate!" she said, sitting down and raising her glass. "To the Prez, for almost winnin the siege!"

James rubbed his forehead. "We shouldn't celebrate almost winning, which in most circles is called losing. Especially because the reason we lost was that I fell off the cliff and forgot to tell Kerrigan to pull back."

"Don't be a party pooper. We don't see ya that often, y'know."

"I know. Let's celebrate something worthy, like your big debut. I haven't even congratulated you on that."

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