10. Grounded

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10. Grounded
Freshman Year

Spiked hair. Swords big as surfboards. Save screens and main themes—electric guitars only played on the boss fights; that’s how I knew when things were serious. Elaborate magic spells with statistics. Pixels and pigments, pixies and pygmies.

Or space marines with guns like leaf blowers, jet packs on backs, hold the grenades for no more than two seconds, save shotgun ammo for the little fast ones. Circle strafing contests of skill. Ballistic trajectory determined on balance sheets, digital sports played out by mathletes.

Really, it was about getting our minds the hell out of Broadway. The video games in Steven’s trailer insured I visited often. The system was pre-owned, so were the games, but Steven’s dad would leave for work and we’d be left unattended for hours on weekends.

In a virtual realm, my glasses-clad friend excelled. “I beat David three out of five yesterday.”

I looked away from the screen long enough to cast an unimpressed glance at him. “Yeah, so? David could beat you in real life.”

Steven let loose a grunt in protest but settled the argument by ending our match with another headshot. My ninth loss in a row. But to be honest, I preferred he win. My friend did not take losing well.

“Play again?” he asked.

“So you can beat me again?” I dropped the controller.

“It’s fun.” Steven started another game anyway; my half of the screen stared out, unmoving, while his half went on the hunt.

“For you.” I stood. “What do you think about Eureka?”

A smile spread; the image on the screen reflected into those bulbous lenses, like Steven’s eyes were projectors. My character filled his frames. “I love Eureka.”

“Do you love Eureka, or do you love Cameron?” I joked.

Steven pulled the trigger. My avatar’s head exploded in a mess of red polygons. “Both.”

I hadn’t expected a serious answer to either question. “Really, Cameron?”

“Back when she kissed me, it was like…destiny, you know? Like I’d thought about it for so long and it just happened. Magical.” Steven began to hunt for my new spawning place.

“David almost burned down someone’s house,” I pointed out. “How can that be good?”

“Good riddance,” Steven said, eyes never leaving the screen. “If I’d have been holding the torch, there’d be one less fat bastard in Broadway.”

“Don’t lie. There’s no way,” I said. Steven—quick to make claims.

“I hate Kent’s dad. I hate Kent too, they’re both stupid hicks. The definition of white trash. I'd burn that shit down.” Our two halves of the screen met. Three shots to the chest and my half went red again.

“Prove it,” I challenged. Steven put down the controller and faced me. “I’m It.”

The trailer rocked with our sudden movement. I jumped across the living room, hand extended, brushing Steven’s leg as he scrambled up and over the couch, laughing. “Tag.”

Steven straightened the thick black frames on his face and ran a hand through his hair. Big blue eyes magnified behind the lenses as the blond strands fell back to his scalp. He might be a popular kid if he were double the size.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Prove it. Prove you would really take care of Mr. Gimble.”

He glanced around the apartment fervently, big eyes focusing on one thing then another, searching for some idea of how to change his life in the next fifteen minutes.

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