Ok, this is getting weird, was Ian first thought after waking up from his third dream involving Cortland. Dreaming about his nemesis wasn’t weird per se, everybody dreams about everything, but waking up with an empty feeling because the dream was over, well, that was certainly weird.
These dreams with Cort were so uneventful and… nice. In this fantasy world, they weren’t rivals, there were no issues about Spencer, no worries about the future and, better yet, no homework. Just smiles, meaningless talks and a warm feeling.
“Maybe I should get a girlfriend,” said Ian biting his lower lip thoughtfully.
“I’d like to see you try.” Ian turned around fast to see Sunny standing on the doorframe with a mischievous smile.
“Hey! What are you doing here? This is private property!” said Ian as he got up from his bed.
“You wish. Mom wants to know if you’ll lunch here after school.” There was a wicked glint in her eyes. “Maybe I should tell her you’ll be too busy being pathetic.”
“Please, don’t project yourself onto me,” said Ian on his way to the restroom. I have enough with myself. “Tell mom I won’t lunch here.”
“Why? Do you have a date with your imaginary girlfriend?”
Ian didn’t bother answering that he had practice and just closed the restroom door. He went to the mirror and stared at his reflection. His thoughts going to Cortland, continuing what he was meditating before.
“Maybe I keep having these dreams because I want us to stop being so childish. Maybe I just want us to be closer?” he ventured unsure. Or maybe you just want to feel him up close. His reflection looked at him with eyes wide open and eyebrows up to the rooftop.
“Shower. I have to take a shower.” That seemed like the best idea to scruff that last thought off.
So… How am I supposed to befriend a guy I’ve just been pranking since forever? Well, at least it’s not like we are rivals… we just mess around.
But it’s not like I can ask him to hang out at my place, can I? We’ve never done something together; it’s more like we do things at each other… Fuck, not like that. Why did you have to go there?
“Ian, your turn.”
The pranks! It was about the pranks, ok? Shit, does everybody has to argue with themselves? Ok, focus, Ian. Maybe at lunch I could–
“Ouch! What the hell, Mily?” he whispered while rubbing the foot she had stepped on.
“The teacher asked you something, prick. No need to thank me” she whispered back.
“Shit! Yes, Mrs. Taylor?” he asked with his best imitation of an honor student.
“Could you grace the class with the answer of question number 5, Ian? Or do you prefer to be excused of my class?” asked Mrs. Taylor
“Oh, no! Please, don’t deprive me from your presence!” he implored earning his classmates’ laughter.
“Question number 5, Mr. Tanner,” she repeated without breaking eye contact.
Shit, back to last name. Maybe trying to sort things out during first period wasn’t the best idea, he thought while opening his textbook. Third period sounds much better.
Third period wasn’t much better. Truth be told, Ian wasn’t much of a planner, he just made people believe he was, or at least that’s what he liked to think. So it was lunchtime and the only thing he came up with was that he had to sit with Cort during lunch and somehow befriend him. We eat, we talk, we share our deepest fears and hopes and bam! Friends! How difficult can it be?
Ian tried his best not to mock himself on his way to the canteen, but it was hard because deep down he knew he had no idea what he was doing. And even deeper was a little voice telling him that being friends with Cortland would just make the dreaming situation much worse. But Ian choose to bury those concerns; after all, he had a much pressing matter to attend: food.
“Jenny! I hope you remember our talk last Tuesday about –”
“Shut up and grab your pudding before I drop it,” said the old lady serving the food with a menacing glare, “accidentally.”
“Such a delight, Jenny, like always.” She went to the backroom completely ignoring him.
“One day she’s going to spit in your food, you know?” said Cort from behind Ian.
“She wouldn’t do that. I’m sure that deep in her heart she loves me.”
“Yeah, so deep she lost it.”
Suddenly, Ian remembered there was a plan awaiting to be put in motion. “Erm, so do you want to eat?” Ian said scratching his hair. “Or are you just going to stand there?” Smooth, Ian.
“Prick,” said Cortland and walked towards an empty table. Nailed it.
“So last week I bought a game I really wanted to play, it’s called Obscure, and tried giving it a go with my sister, but it was a disaster.”
“You have a sister?” He never thought of Tanner as someone with siblings.
“Yeah, and she’s got no team spirit. Every time there is a monster she just leaves me to die. And she always hoards the best weapons!” He remembered all the times she had stolen the weapon upgrades in Metal Slug.
“Is that so? Maybe she just plays better than you?”
“What? No! Not you too!” Cort raised his eyebrow at that. “Look, this is not a game about scoring points, it’s about teamwork.”
“Hmm…” said Cortland noncommittally. “That sounds like something a loser would say.”
“It’s not! It’s strategy. And I can’t play it with my sister because she doesn’t get that.” Ian thought it was completely irrelevant to mention it was a game that could be played with one player just perfect.
“Well, too bad for you.” False concern almost tangible.
“You wanna come and play?”
“Huh?” Cort wasn’t expecting that at all.
“It’s not really that long.” Lied Ian. “And the plot is quite interesting.” At least that was true.
“Come on, it’s gonna be fun.” His best smile makes an apparition.
“I could go and see how it is…” said Cort hoping it wasn’t one of those games with those weird control pads. He never understood why some of them had three handles.
“Yeah? Cool!” said Ian trying to savor his little victory and not really knowing what he was really getting into.
Well, that went far better than expected. I shouldn’t have messed up my brain thinking about plans, thought Ian as he ran his third lap on the school stadium.
He and Cortland had agreed on Friday after school. Ian was trying really hard not to think why he had decided to invite Cort precisely on the day in which no one would be at his house. Sunny had tennis practice and her mom usually went out with her friends.
It’d be just them.
Friday arrived and Ian spent the entire day questioning the relativity of time. No, not really, he just spent the entire day agonizing over each classroom clock he saw. None of them were moving fast enough. God, how long can ten minutes be?
“Hey, do you wanna go downtown or something?” said a voice to his right.
“What? No, I–I can’t. I have things to do” he answered to Amilah.
“Things to do?” she repeated not buying a thing he was saying. “You? On a Friday?”
“Hey, I can make plans once in a while.”
“Ian, don’t try to feed me your bullshit. I’m sure your plans involve doing nothing while– Wait a second” she stared at him and Ian felt as if she was looking right into his soul. “You have a new game.”
“Wha– No” Oh, God, Ian. Lie. Lie. Lie. “I’m just gonna… Erm, watch a movie or something” he said while scratching his hair and making a pathetic attempt to sound credible.
“No, don’t lie to me. I know you have a new one.” A long finger poking him in the shoulder. “But why didn’t you tell me? Are you scared I’m gonna beat your sorry arse like last summer in the–”
“When are you going to drop that? It was a hundred years ago and I didn’t invite you because it’s one of those games you don’t like.”
“Are you trying to tell me you are going to play a boring tennis game on a Friday? The only day when you are home alone?” She knew there was something he was not telling her. Fuck, why is she so smart? Think fast, Ian, just three more minutes.
“Why does no one like sport videogames?” He didn’t get why people always badmouthed them, they were pretty challenging. “I’ve had a pretty busy week, so I just want to relax and–”
“Why are you so intent on– Oh! Oh, I know what’s going on.” And there it was. That devious smile that always meant he was fucked up.
“What?” he croaked. There is no way she knows. No way.
“You are going to play that one, aren’t you?”
“What?” He said with a frown.
“Don’t play fool with me. The one about the alien girl you have to–”
“Amilah! We are at school! You can’t just– You can’t!” He said while looking to his classmates to see if they were paying attention to them. Thankfully they were too busy being nerds. “Anyway, I already beat that one up. I’m just going to kick Pioline’s arse.”
“Don’t even try it, Ian. I know you are lying and I’m going to find out why” she said without breaking eye contact. Just then, the bell rang and everyone started leaving the classroom.
Ian stood up and started packing his things hastily on his bag. “Too bad there is nothing to find.” He rushed to the door.
“You are very eager, don’t you think?” She said watching Ian all but run. “Considering it is a relaxing evening.”
Oh, don’t you know.
God, say something. Anything. They’ve been walking side by side for a couple of minutes and Ian was ready to start babbling about the weather.
“So… Have you played something recently?” Ian asked.
“Hm? Not really.” He kicked a rock on the floor. God, have mercy, I don’t want to retort to the weather. “My brother gave away all of his games.”
“Yeah, he said something about growing out of them and that they should still be useful.” He said with a shrug, completely unaffected by the horror in Ian’s face.
“How is it possible to–? They are like your children! How can you give away your children to some stranger?!”
“Well, he did it”. Cort look at Ian and there was a flash of pure evil in his eyes when he said “there was a Chrono Trigger cartridge.”
“Sweet Jesus… No…” Ian said. His voice a whisper.
“Did he– Did he at least sell it?” Asked Ian trying to cling to some ray of hope.
“No.” Cortland watched Ian with a sense of satisfaction. “You know?” He said with a glint in his eyes. “He also gave away–”
“Ugh, stop it! My poor soul can’t take anymore!” Ian said covering his face. And then, getting a couple inches closer to Cort to point an accusing finger at his face. “And I know you are enjoying watching me suffer.”
“Hey, I’m just sharing my pain.” He said with a wicked smile that left Ian feeling defeated and with an unknown feeling in the pit of his stomach. A feeling he didn’t know what to do with, but that he was certainly going to ignore.
“Come on, prick. Let’s go before you start sharing something worse.” Like that smile.