Chapter 3: Josh

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Josh opened the door to his dorm room to find Kevin sitting at his desk firing an RPG into a crowd of soldiers.

"Suck it, bitches," Kevin shouted into the microphone curved down along his jaw. The headphones he wore were loud enough to hear the resulting explosions from the doorway.

Josh smirked at his obsessed best friend and dropped into his own desk chair. After pulling his slim silver laptop out of his backpack, he plugged in his own headphones while it booted. Moments later he dropped into the game.

"Kev, where are you?" Despite being in the same room, he used the in-game communications to speak.

"Going up the ridge," he said. "Come up on the left and meet me at the choke point."

Slipping into the game, Josh's muscle memory ran his avatar to the ridge. It was easy to get immersed in the flow. The audio and visual cues from the game had become so familiar he let his virtual body fight while his mind disengaged.

It had been five days since Lauren had walked out of her house wearing that stunning red dress with Bruce at her side. Josh's parents had been surprised to see him that Saturday night. Despite still having his room there, he usually only came home to eat or do his laundry. Since he didn't have an appetite and hadn't brought any dirty clothes, his Dad had pulled him aside to ask worried questions about his grades and social life.

When Lauren came out of the house, Josh had been close enough to the front window to see her. His father had followed the direction of his glare and chuckled. That prompted a quiet man-to-man discussion where Josh found himself trying to explain something he didn't understand himself. When he'd come down from his room later that evening wearing his suit, Mom had looked confused but Dad had given him a nod of approval and a tight lipped smile.

Five days had passed since then. Lauren hadn't called or texted once. And Josh couldn't force himself to make the first move.

In the game, Josh dropped his weapon so he could beat an opponent to death with his fists, shouting a wordless cry of rage and frustration. Then game timer ran out marking the end of the battle and leaving his heart racing as he tore off the headset. He shut the computer down with a few clicks and leaned back in his chair.

"Dude, come on, one more game," Kevin begged.

"I've got study group," Josh mumbled as his computer powered off. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

"Only a couple of hours? It's Wednesday. Is Gillian sick or something?"

"Naw," Josh said. "I'm just not in the mood."

"Maybe I'll give her a call then," Kevin said with a smirk.

"Go ahead," Josh shrugged and packed his laptop back in his backpack. The idea of Kevin hooking up with Gillian didn't prompt any jealousy. That made him wonder why the idea of Lauren hooking up with Bruce had made him so insane. It was the same thing, wasn't it?

Kevin seemed a little disappointed when he didn't get a rise out of Josh. "So were you at her place Saturday night?"

"No, just went home for the night." Josh slung his pack over his shoulder. "See ya later, if you're here."

It was a hot walk to the library. Summer had arrived and the late afternoon sunlight was blinding. He hadn't told Kevin about Lauren. It's not like they discussed details about the girls they hooked up with, but he'd never felt compelled to lie about it before. But then Kevin had come home with Josh occasionally and had been around Lauren enough times to remember her. Thinking about that made him frown as he passed a couple strolling along the sidewalk and holding hands.

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