This is how we spend every day after school. If we weren’t buying slushees at 7-11, we were in my room, playing games on the NES.
Michelle glanced at me, with the hugest, dorkiest grin I’ve ever seen.
“Apocalypse of the Damned!”
I pressed start. “Level 9!”
It was on. We were ready.
“The Cafetorium!” we shouted in unison.
Here was the same damn stuff as usual. We had been stuck on level nine for weeks now. Michelle kept insisting each day would be the day we beat it. And I believe her every time.
We fail every time, but we still have our system down. Take down the boss, move into the main terrain, and take down some zombies. We do the same thing every time, it felt. But, we were getting closer. The upside of never leaving a friend behind.
Michelle raised her voice.
“So, Jess? What was Ray even doing with you?”
“Trying to sell me some weird supercomputer? I don’t know, Shell, what do you think?”
”She’s scamming you,” my friend said, “she’s scamming you super weirdly!”
”Yeah, but what if she’s not? I just need to give the girl that torments me daily...” I trail off. I sigh. “She’s totally scamming me.”
”Well, that shouldn’t matter!” Michelle laughs.
As we finished the first boss, Michelle turns to smile at me. “Dude, you are cooler than a vintage cassette, it’s just that no one but me thinks that yet,”
“Practicing sonnets, Michelle? Now?”
She pressed A and just smiled wider. “We’re a team, I stick beside you in this crazy world called “school.” It’s one big popularity contest, and we’re losing!”
“But we’re losing together,” I teased.
“Maybe we’re the cool ones! They just don’t know it! Think about it, records are making a comeback, kids are playing old Sega games, and PAC-MAN is a classic!” She smirks. “Just like our classy tattoos.”
“Something like that...”
“Hey, even if we’re not liked here, we’ll be damn cool in college, where dorks thrive,”
“Shell, that doesn’t change what school is now-“
“So, school sucks now. So what? We have each other,” Her grin was even bigger and dorkier than earlier. I loved it.
Here came the next part of the level. We already had it memorized. The zombies come at you one by one, then two at a time, then three, and it’ll continue to increase like that until you reach the cafetorium itself.
“Wait, Jess, your HP-“
Before she finished, we both died. Damn.
“Ready to try again?” She asked. I nodded.
Michelle began to reload the level. I sighed.
“Shell, we’re total losers, we have been since fifth grade!”
”Well, how long have we been fighting to survive?”
”From the day we were born?” she joked.
“That’s my point though, I wanna move on from this stupid stage of life!”
Michelle opened the door to the cafetorium once again.
“Jess, think about it, in two years, we’ll be done with this, then of course, off we go-“
”To college! I know, I know!” I sigh. “It’s taking forever to get to that point, though...” I grumble.
“You know why school is whack? Girls like Rachel Goranski. Soon, Ray will be the least of our problems.”
”College.” Michelle shows off some ‘jazz hands.’ She smiles again, “We’re a team. I won’t let that change.”
Zombie after zombie, power up after power up, we get closer to finally beating level nine. But suddenly...
”JESSICA!” my mom yells.
“Please pause it, Shell,”
Mom opens the door.
“What?! Is that a boy?! Do you have a boy in here? Oh, hi, Michelle,”
”Hi, Ms. Heere.”
I glance at my mom. Wearing only a nightgown like usual.
“Mom, did you even get dressed today?”
”They didn’t need me at the office today, so I worked from home,” she replied.
“Most people get dressed at home, Mom!”
”Good thing most people...aren’t your mother,” she snarked. After a moment of silence she pulled the door shut. “Good talk.”
Michelle and I were quiet for a few moments.
“How’s she taking it?” Michelle finally broke the silence.
”Hard,” I replied. “I don’t get it. Dad moved on, sometimes I wonder why she can’t.”
”I just don’t want that to be my future, too, I guess,” I mumble, staring down at my controller. I look back up at her. “Y’know, Ray said she got hooked up with that computer at Payless. Maybe we could go over there, see if the story checks out?”
She looks down. “If it did, and you got popular, would you be too cool for m-” she suddenly stops herself. “...for video games?” She finally mutters.
“Of course not, Shell. You’re my favorite person, even if I do dream of big things, you’re my number one.”
She gives a small smile.
“Is it true, Jess?” She elbows me. “I’m your favowite person?” She laughs quietly.
“We’ll always be a team, together,” I assure her. “Still, high school is pretty shitty, and I just wanna conquer it all.” I flash a wide smile at her. “So, if you’d be willing to help me with that...”
The large, dorky grin from earlier creeps back onto Michelle’s face. “Of course, my liege,” She laughs.
She hits A and we begin the end game of the level again. Defeat the boss, get the final items, before we knew it, “CONGRATULATIONS” spread across the screen. We smiled at each other, proud.
Teamwork, pride, and love.
The upsides to never leaving a friend behind.