Video Games

Hello,

Here’s Video Games! I haven’t been feeling well lately – grumpy, tired and oh so moody – because of the climate change (winter’s coming! Wait, is it winter already?) I’ve also included a picture to go with it (yay!) Aside from that, I’ve also got the Season Concert in my school coming up this Friday and I’m really nervous because it’ll be my first time to perform in the school’s orchestra. To add to that, I’m in the robotics club and also a Prefect! How can this year get any better (or worse)?

Anyway, this story’s pretty much longer than The Scientist and is a one-shot. This one’s written in past tense – because I can feel my writing skill in past tense fading away thanks to The Scientist – and it’s in a girl’s point of view, because I haven’t done it in a while. Another reason for it is because the singer is a girl so it’s more comfortable for me to write it in a girl’s point of view.

Also, if you have any suggestions on what song I should write about, leave it in the comments section! I’d love to write about something most people like. But if it’s a dubstep song, it might be really hard… (hehehehehe)

Enjoy the story, and don’t forget to comment!

Video Games

 

(This story is influenced by Lana Del Rey’s song of the same name.)

 

“Swinging in the backyard

Pull up in your fast car

Whistling my name

Open up a beer

And you say, Get over here

And play a video game

I’m in his favourite sun dress

Watching me get undressed

Take that body downtown

I say you the bestest

Lean in for a big kiss

Put his favourite perfume on

 

Go play a video game

It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you

Everything I do

I tell you all the time

Heaven is a place on earth with you

Tell me all the things you want to do

I heard that you like the bad girls

Honey, is that true?

It’s better than I ever even knew

They say that the world was built for two

Only worth living if somebody is loving you

Baby, now you do”

 

* * *

 

There’s a certain box hidden somewhere at the back of the attic that’s labelled “TOMMY’S”. As it says, it’s Tommy’s. The box look well-kept, with a few aging symptoms, and it’s sealed with duct tape, but you’ll notice that it’s been opened before. That was me. Inside the box, there are all sorts of video games, ranging from Nintendo, PS games, Atari, Xbox, and many more. I’m not sure if they still work, because I only look at them whenever I take a look inside the box. I don’t dare try it because all of them has Tommy’s file save – I deleted mine a long time ago. The old glass screened TV we used to use watches over the box whenever I’m not around, just sitting in the corner silently, and feeling very lonely perhaps. Just like how I feel sometimes. It’s pretty cold in the attic.

The game room’s now my personal study, used every day for work purposes. The toy box was sold years ago, the bookshelves now stacked with sketchbooks and other research materials, the childhood drawings of imaginary characters probably recycled in some recycling company far away. The cheerful laughter that used to replay over and over again in the room like a broken tape had long vanished. It’s vanished forever. The study is colder than the attic.

There’s a window overlooking the front lawn and in a certain time in the afternoon, the sun will shine through the window and onto a particular chair in the room. That chair had been there since long ago. That chair’s there for a reason. Because there’s a drawing on the window that can only be seen at that time. It was Tommy’s drawing as well as mine. But I haven’t been sitting on that chair for a long time. Tommy hasn’t been coming over lately. Only Tommy and I can understand what the drawings mean.

And I love the fact that we share that.

* * *

“I won!” Tommy exclaimed. He threw his hands up in the air, whooping whilst running around the room, his controller forgotten and the screen playing a victorious melody on repeat. I watched him celebrate his win with a pout, displeased by the fact that he had won three times in a row, and five times the day before.

“Not fair! How come I’m always paying for the sweets?” I complained, crossing my arms for emphasis.

Tommy turned around and grinned, “Heh, blame it on yourself. I’m just a master at video games.”

“No, you’re just good at shooting games. If we were playing Mario Kart or Naruto then I would’ve won! You just keep on picking the same type of game over and over again!” I was genuinely upset because of Tommy’s unfairness. I should’ve picked the games myself instead of obeying to the guest-host rule my mum nagged about every time there’s someone over.

Tommy sighed and then offered a hand, giving a lopsided smile, “Fine. Since I’m in a good mood and I just got my allowance yesterday, I’ll pay for today’s sweets.”

I didn’t want to just forgive him but he’s just… argh! “Fine,” I mumbled. He helped me get up and after saying our goodbyes to my mum, we raced to the candy shop three blocks away, the one near Mr. Downey’s. Ever summer, Tommy and I would come over each other’s to just pass the time. Most of the time was spent playing video games, but sometimes we just hang about, drawing pictures, discussing which characters are cooler. We’ve been doing this ever since Tommy’s first appearance in the neighbourhood, around the time when I started my second year in elementary school. Three years had passed since then, and now we’re in the fifth grade. Tommy’s my bestest friend. No one in the neighbourhood or in school was as cool as Tommy. I remember when he took the blame for someone else because the guy practically sobbing and begging everyone around not to tell the teacher. I was going to just ignore him but Tommy stepped up and told the teacher that it was him. Of course the teacher believed him, since Tommy was the one who’s always in trouble. After that, the guy was always following Tommy, even offering to be his henchman for the rest of his life.

Tommy, being the awesomest guy alive, refused the offer. “You have your freedom because of me. I’m giving it to you for no cost at all – I only did it for good. You should use it for the good of others and yourself – remember my sacrifice as your guide to God’s acceptance.” He actually got that quote from an adventure game we got two weeks before. Weirdly, the guy thought he thought of the quote himself and since then the guy calls Tommy “Boss”.

We were just sitting on the sidewalk after buying a bag of sweets, Tommy sucking on a lollipop while I was chewing on a gum. Since it was summer, lots of tourists come by because our town’s really awesome. Or maybe they’re just people who’re visiting relatives. A particular group of people caught my attention. The group consisted of girls and boys, something usual for us, but the girl was wearing jeans skirt – one that goes above her knees – and pink sleeveless shirt. I could see her face decorated with make-up, pink smashing with red and black stuff around her eyes. To me, she looked like Barbie. I hate Barbie.

I nudged Tommy with my elbow and beckoned the sight with my chin. “That girl’s new here, isn’t she?”

Tommy trailed his eyes to the said girl and snorted. “Heh, shows so much. She’ll realise how people will look weirdly at her if she stays long enough. But she’ll probably get lectures from shopkeepers and geezers. Remember Molly from Chicago? She’s always wearing the same doll dress whenever she’s around because Mrs. Carter marched up to her and yelled at her for being disrespectful and inappropriate and stuff.”

“Mrs. Carter’s a hardcore patriot; she’s still going by the old ways.” It’s true that Mrs. Carter can be real strict most of the time – well, all the time. Even her children, the Infamous Carters, were known to be ruthless in school, yelling at all children who have the wrong dress code or behaving “inappropriately” during school premises. Despite that, Mrs. Carter baked the most heavenly cakes ever, so most of her deeds are forgiven the moment the delicacies brush your tongue. However, Tommy and I would only get to eat her cakes in Christmas, since that’s the only time of the year she would cease her hunting.

We watch the girl until she disappeared around the corner; the group’s obnoxiously loud laughter can still be heard a few minutes later. “I think it’s supposed to make her look pretty,” I voiced out my opinion.

Tommy huffed in disapproval, “It makes her look like an idiot! When I grow older, my wife will never look like that!”

“Since when have you been thinking about that?”

“None of your beeswax! My wife will be really cool, cooler than Lara Croft! Then, we can uncover the truth of the Sumatran jungle together!”

“…What about the marriage ceremony and stuff?”

“What marriage ceremony?”

I honestly thought that Tommy would be the last person on earth to ever capture a girl’s heart.

* * *

Somewhere in the beginning of my twelfth spring, I had just begun learning how to ride a bike. My dad had started the lessons at first but his appearance had started to decrease ever since he got promoted; my mum’s also busy with her small clothes trading business. I’m not that close to anyone in the neighbourhood, that is, except for Tommy. Tommy’s parents aren’t home for most of the time so they entrusted his older sister to look after him. As any other teenagers would do, Tommy’s sister would lock herself up in her bedroom and refuse to interact with “annoying people” unless it’s necessary – I’ve never met her and don’t even know her name. That left me with Tommy as my teacher.

“So, what did you learn before?” Tommy asked, walking alongside my bike as I pedalled with imperfect balance, putting one foot on the ground when I feel the gravity acting.

“Well, my dad said I should keep the handles steady and go very fast – he said it’ll help me balance if I go fast,” I explained.

“True, true. Let’s go to that slope near Mr. Jenkins. That’s where I first learned to steer my bike.” We went around a corner and further up along before we turned left to Mr. Jenkins’s slope. Forget about slope; it’s more suitable to call it a hill. The ground leans at nearly a perfect right angle – the houses on the sides of the road pulled their socks up to show their foundations, some basement windows big enough for a grown man to crawl through. I looked back at Tommy, furrowing my brows and frowning in disapproval. Tommy sighed and said, “Of course it’s not here! Let’s just go to the road near the wood. It’s nearly always empty there.”

We trudged a few kilometres before we reached the beginning of the wood road, the stone sign clear as day near a jolly tree. There’s a slight slope on the right leading towards the riverbank, which was only a few metres before the ground meets the river. The riverbed was studded with rocks and stones, some occasional rubbish and glints of silver fishes. On the left was the woods, solemn and grim compared to the merry river. Birds could be heard chatting from somewhere in the deeper part of the woods; some people claimed to have seen a bear or a golden deer but this was usually in the middle of spring. But maybe the bear, or the deer, had decided to take a stroll when it’s still a bit chilly. Maybe.

I settled myself on my bike and tried to push myself and the bike forward, one foot bringing the pedal down while the other lifts up to land on the other pedal. The first few pushes were better than last week’s but it was still a very short journey. Behind me, Tommy watched if there are any signs of me needing any help. When I turned around, he called out, “You’re doing great. Just keep going – remember to keep the handles straight and steady!”

Just keep going. So I did. I pedalled and pedalled and pedalled, stopping when the situation calls, and pedalled and pedalled and pedalled –

Somewhere along the way, I was too engrossed in pedalling that I forgot to keep the handles straight ad steady. On my sixth try, I wobbled uncontrollably, losing control over the bike, and skidded to the right so suddenly that I still had my white-knuckled grip on the handles. I didn’t exactly know what happened. The world was a tsunami of motion, turning and tumbling. I heard Tommy’s distant scream and I could feel blunt and sharp pains blaring through my body in different areas. By the time I stopped, I was staring up at the sky; my grip on the handles finally loosened not long ago, a bright red pain throbbing both at the front and back of my head. To add to that, I couldn’t feel any of my limbs at all, as if they’re cut off from my body. I couldn’t move my head to inspect the damage done to my body. It really felt like my body and I are two separate things. Am I dead?

Tommy slid down the slope, not caring if he got some scratches of his own. He sprinted to my side and hovered his hands on where I presumed to be my arm. His face was like violin strings, very tight and tightening every second as if about to snap. “Oh my – Elie! Hey, Elie! You okay? Can you move your arms or legs? Try moving your fingers,” Tommy rushed his words urgently. I did as I was told, trying to twitch my fingers. Though I couldn’t feel it move, the way Tommy’s face relaxed told me that it worked. “Oh. Oh, good. Good.” He poked my arm and asked, “Can you feel that?”

“N-not really…” I rasped.

“I-I didn’t know it’ll be like this, so I only have small plasters.” Tommy rummaged through his pocket and produced a small box of bandages. “But I guess I’ll have to do something, else you’ll bleed to death or get your cuts infected. Umm, we could use this to at least help your bones and stuff – I’ll use my shirt to tie it.” Tommy was referring to a nearby old plank. He was ripping off a portion of his shirt and gingerly, he lifted my arm and sandwiched it between two moulding planks, which he then wrapped around with a piece of his clothing. With that done, he proceeded to cover open wounds with medium-sized bandages, sometimes licking his thumb to help him clean dirt off my cuts.

We left my bike in the riverbed; Tommy said he would get first thing tomorrow morning and that I should just rest for a bit. I complained that I’m fine despite my obvious limping and involuntary jerks and hisses – I promised to be better by tomorrow. Tommy just shook his head.

“Nope, you’re staying home. Your arm’s clearly snapped and your ankle’s twisted like lianas, and you claim to be alright? Geez, you almost killed me back there…”

“Hey, I was the one nearly killed!” I corrected.

“No. If I knew you were dead then I would’ve died from heart attack.”

That made me pause, “Wait… you were concerned?”

“If I wasn’t then I would’ve fed you to the piranhas by now!”

That made me change my mind about Tommy’s heart-stealing skills.

* * *

A lazy day in my thirteenth summer, Tommy and I were just swinging in Tommy’s backyard. We’ve played and re-played lots of video games; we were about to play a new game but the PS2 broke down and was brought to the workshop. Dad said the workshop people might fix it – if not, there’s a thin line of chance that we could find any other PS2 like the one we had. To tell the truth, Tommy only had portable game consoles, unlike me who had the big ones with better graphics and more availability for players. We’ve played Persona 3 Portable – we’ve both completed the game. The other games were either unresponsive or already completed.

The creaking of rusted iron chains played a lazy symphony in the blazing heat. The breeze was also as lazy as we were so to cool ourselves we tried to swing as highest and fastest as we could, but the sun was very unforgiving today and sucked the lives out of us just a few minutes after we’ve started. I scraped my shoe on the tufts of jade grass as I rocked back and forth. Tommy sat still, his face reddening and uptight. I turned up and squinted my eyes at the bleached sky, trying to spot any clouds to use for temporary shade but to no avail.

Tommy stood up abruptly that I stopped my rocking immediately. It looked as if Tommy was about to burst into a blast of rants and raves and racket. Instead he said, “Let’s play a game.”

“You’re suicidal. I feel like wax,” was all I said.

“Ignore it. It’s because we’re staying still that it feels hotter than an oven. If you move about, you’ll catch some wind.”

“But we’ll feel all tired and hot in the end, anyway.”

“But it’s worth it!” Tommy insisted, “At least we’ll have fun instead of spending the whole day on an old swing set like grandmas on rocking chairs!”

“…I want to play an adventure game.”

“Jungle or what?”

“Rainforest,” I answered, “We can go to the deer crossing; it’ll be perfect because it’s really hot and it’ll feel like we’re in a real rainforest.” The deer crossing was the not so thick woods separating our neighbourhood and the neighbourhood next door. It’s not much of a place though, since most of the people there had gone to the city; even during holidays the people seldom return, probably because they know how dull the place was to begin with – it’s much quieter than our neighbourhood during Christmas with family. It was called the deer crossing because there were numerous sightings of deers jumping out of the woods and onto both roads in respective neighbourhoods. This happens rarely unfortunately so we never had the chance to see a visiting deer.

Tommy agreed to my suggestion and so we journeyed to the “rainforest”. We packed our necessary equipments, small snacks, an electric and hand fan, and a few bottles of water. It was a fifteen-minute walk from Tommy’s house and about a thirty-minute one from mine. We took our time going there, for what have we to rush for? We had nothing to do so we might as well save our energy for the play. Maybe if we’re lucky we will see a crossing deer. Hopefully, it will be docile.

We entered the “rainforest” as soon as we get there. It’s not the right humidity for a proper rainforest but the heat would do. We imagined ourselves as different characters of different games or a movie, Tommy as Indiana Jones while I was Lara Croft, without guns. We talked as if we were the characters, also changing our posture and attitude towards situations. The dark green roof shielded some of the piercing sunbeams and the drying ground felt firm as we marched through. Our objective was not to go to the neighbourhood but when we’ve reached the end of the “rainforest” we’ll turn back, since it’ll be sunset by the time we return. In case we’re late, we brought a flashlight.

We were halfway in our way back; we were just sitting under an old tree – none of us know what it was, but it was huge – nibbling at leftover snacks and sipping orange juice. I commented on our adventure – while it was extremely tiring it was also a great real-life exploring experience. “See? I’m brilliant!” Tommy laughed.

“I thought you were going to go inside when you suddenly stood up,” I said.

Tommy chewed on his cereal bar. “Well, you looked bored.”

“What does that have anything to do with this?”

“You once said you’d like to go to a rainforest. We’re not old enough to go to a real one, so I took advantage of the weather and the deer crossing to make a not-so-exact replica. The idea just came up when I felt my brain boiling,” Tommy quickly added.

“For me?!” I didn’t expect that, at all.

“You once fought nails and teeth when the Finn Brothers talked trash about me.” That was true. The Finn Brothers hated Tommy for stealing their fame and so they’ve been spreading false rumours about Tommy, like how his dad was a garbage truck driver and other nasty things. I was furious, because none of them were close to the truth so I challenged the eldest to a duel one afternoon. None won because the teacher found us not long after, but I made my point clear with a steel punch right on his nose.

I told Tommy that it was nothing – we’re friends anyway. “Everything’s for each other,” I said. We immortalised that rule ever since.

* * *

It was my fourteenth summer, the usual with video games and Tommy. This time, the bet was whoever loses will load the arcade card. I lost.

“I’m starting to think that you’ve put a curse on my video game machines,” I rumbled grudgingly.

“Just admit it, I’m awesome,” Tommy remarked as we walked up to the receptionist to get our arcade card refilled. We’ve had this card ever since the fifth grade but we couldn’t use it that often then because we could only go to the city if Tommy’s mum needed to go for an errand. Since we’re old enough, we’re allowed to catch a cab to the city. Our excise was always to study at the library, but we’ve never even stepped into the godforsaken place, ever. So, why now? We’ve got better things to do aside from school!

After we’ve got the card loaded, we immediately went over to the shooting games and picked Time Crisis 4 (“Because I lost last time, and I’ll do anything to get my glorious throne back,” explained Tommy), swiping the card once and after Tommy selected two players, I swiped it again. We skipped the introductory video and straight to the game, shooting furiously at everything – but careful to not harm civilians – and aiming for the one who can last longer. Unfortunately for Tommy, I won, again. “You’ve cursed this game!” Tommy accused.

“Says you, you cheating magician!” I retorted, “You’ve commanded your little fairies to hijack my game systems so that you would always win!”

“Tell you what, let’s use this card and see who can win the most games,” Tommy challenged, a devilish smirk spreading across his face like ink on a paper. That’s his “game face”, apparently.

“Alright, then. The winner can go to whatever shop they want after the arcade.”

It was five to one.

“I need to check out this perfume, apparently,” I said as I browse through the perfume bottles, stopping at a specific brand, “Gina said it would suit my taste.” I turned around to have Tommy with his arms crossed, pouting like a five year-old. “Hey, you’ve lost fair and square. I didn’t even sulk when the bills are on me.”

“Yeah, but at least it’s something you like, too. I mean, perfume shop? This place smells worse than Mr. Atkins’ socks!”

“Oh, hush! You’re too loud!” I chuckled and proceeded to test the recommended perfume. Wild Ones, the label said. Yup, totally my taste. It said that it’s supposed to smell like pines and the wilderness. The liquid inside the pear-shaped bottle was lime green and the label had a picture of a blonde girl leaning on a gigantic grizzly bear, beige hares around her feet and a scrawny dear nearby. I sprayed some onto my wrist and smelled it; it smelled natural, unlike other perfumes the girls at school uses. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that girls love how sweet peas and jasmines smells – to me, they smell like rotted chillies, the sickening sweet smell could send the strongest man alive roll around in his own vomit.

I went over to the still sulking Tommy and asked him for his opinion on the perfume. He sniffed my wrist warily but his expression turned neutral when he smelled it. He said it smelt good.

“Really? ‘Cuz I don’t want people to think I smell like bear poop, since it specifically says ‘Wild Ones’.”

“No, really. It smells nice. At least it doesn’t smell like rotted chillies like the girls at school use.” Tommy wrinkled his nose at the recollection. Huh, turns out he and I think alike, after all. It’s actually good to know that Tommy finally be serious about his comments (the last time he said something was nice, it turned out horrible). “So, yeah – you should buy that.” So I did. It’s not every day that Tommy compliments girly stuff.

We were just about to go home when Tommy stopped in front of a clothes shop, eyeing a particular sundress. It had white base with yellow and orange citrus patterns and an open back. “Just looking,” Tommy said. He was still looking at the dress in the corner of his eyes when we were walking away.

A fortnight later in my birthday, he gave me the dress as a present. I looked at him, incredulous. “I thought it might look good on you,” he explained, “And I like the design. Make sure you wear it.” I wear that sundress once a year during my birthday arcade celebration with Tommy.

* * *

During our early high school years, Tommy had been holding a crush on Bella Mason. She’s smart, athletic and gorgeous to top it off. And she’s a blonde. Tommy likes blondes – he said a blonde have to be with another blonde if they want their lives to go the right way. Whenever we’re not doing any gaming, he’ll use most of the time describing Bella’s beauty, her “cute” habits and the times she talked to him. It was fine at first – when did it start to get annoying?

One particular day, Tommy declared that he was going to ask Bella out, finally. That, I was taken aback. What will happen to us? Will we still have our special gaming days? What if Bella comes along… does she even know the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes by heart? Hmph, I bet she can’t even complete a classic Super Mario game! I watched with apathetic eyes as Tommy shines with anticipation, grinning from ear to ear.

He asked me if he should ask her to go to watch the new movie or to get milkshakes, and I said, “Either one’s fine.” I stood up to leave. Tommy called out, asking where I was going. “Home. I haven’t finished the science project.” That was a lie. I finished it three days ago. “…Good luck.”

Since when did I become so moody? Everytime I think about Bella and Tommy together having their own special days, my chest feels like it’s been constricted by barbed wires and I would have the sudden urge to burn the whole school down. Tommy’s my friend, the one and only gamer friend, and the one who knows me better than I know the back of my hand. There’re only spaces for two players in arcade games, and I only have two controllers in every game systems I owned.

I planned on sulking in my bedroom but figured my mum would notice my gloomy mood and bombard me with questions. Instead, I took refuge at the farthest park bench from the road. I played with the colourless straw that poked out of my frapuccino cup lid, pulling out and pushing it back in to make deep screeching sounds like a sick cello. Sulking had always been my least favourite activity to do because it just shows how childish I’m being. I couldn’t help it this time. Tommy’s going to choose Bella over me. “Well, I hope they’re gonna have twelve ugly children…”

“That’s not a nice thing to say.”

I whipped my head to the side and looked up into Tommy’s blank features. Yup, he heard that. I suddenly felt sheepish and decided to take a sip from my warming cup of frapuccino, avoiding eye contact. “Did she say no?” I mumbled around the straw.

Tommy just shrugged and landed heavily next to me, staring up at the darkening sky. The moon was visible as a lingering white ball amongst the fading blue. “I didn’t even ask,” Tommy said.

“Why?” I took a look at him, waiting for an answer. Tommy kept his gaze upwards.

“You… looked upset, I guess,” he said slowly, testing the words out, “I’m guessing you’re thinking about our game nights and celebration, right? Well, I was thinking about that too, when I was about to ask her. Turns out that there will be less time for us if she’s added. Besides, I sensed that she’s not a big fan of gaming – I once asked her about her opinions on the new Lisa Garland in Silent Hill: Book Of Memories and asked if she thinks she’s better in the original Silent Hill or the new one. Then she said, ‘Oh, I’m not into romance stuff.’”

I chuckled at this. “She actually said that? Wow, priceless…”

“I know, right? She’s so not my Lara Croft.” Tommy’s giggles died out after, melting into the comfortable silence we knew. “You know,” he said, “if I were to be in a relationship, it probably won’t last more than a day.”

“Why? You’ve never even tried!”

“Because I’ll just feel guilty about ditching our game nights, ditching out celebrations…  ditching you.”

That was… sweet. “I… think it’ll be the same for me,” I said. The silence was comfortable.

* * *

It was the senior prom, so we ditch our video game night for this event. Our plan was to come to the prom like we usually do: come as single and try to come out as taken. Just so you’ll know, the plan never works. But that’s not a reason why Tommy should stop. Besides, I also wanted to get Greg’s attention. Oh, he’s that awesome school president who’s amazing in everything he does. Don’t judge me; I’m still a loyal gamer!

Speaking of which, miraculously, Tommy and I got scholarship to our dream university in the city thanks to the robot project we did for the science fair. It turns out that the man in the weird red bowler hat was someone from the Institute and when he saw our work, he told his superiors about us and they researched through our school records and stuff. With our perfect grades, attendance and behaviours, as well as ambitious achievements, we were immediately put up for the list of people who would certainly get scholarship. Interestingly, we also got the odd man’s business card: William “Bill” Murdoch. A note was written at the back of each card, saying something about tuition or consulting about problems or clarifying confusions, that sort of stuff. Another two phone numbers with the names Tiffany Lafayette and Axel Johansson were written underneath the note, saying that they could be of help too.

We saw our last prom as a celebration for this because the double time at the arcade and the Just Dance marathon weren’t enough. After a thorough shower, I sat in front of the bathroom sink – I brought my desk chair to the bathroom and make the sink as a makeshift make-up table – brushing through my hair and choosing between which of the three flower clips of different shades I should wear. They all matched my forest green dress so I’m not sure which one I should choose. The orange one, the yellow one or the violet one? In the end I chose the orange one. I quickly slipped into my dress, clipped the flower over my heart and was about to go out until I noticed the perfume bottle sitting solemnly near the hand soap.

Tommy said it smelt good but I wasn’t sure if it’s good for parties or everyday activities. Well, it’s for our celebration so I might as well look, and smell, the best. I rubbed the perfume onto my wrists and neck just as my mum called me downstairs, signalling Tommy’s arrival. I whizzed downstairs and swung the door open, smiling broadly when Tommy whistled playfully and said “Hello, Zelda!”

I smirked, “The weird thing is, I was going to wear the purple dress but it looked so girlish. Tux doesn’t look too bad on you, too,” I added.

“Heh, this is nothing! – I can look a hundred times more dashing if I want to!”

“Narcissus.”

“Thank you.” But I wasn’t kidding – Tommy looked good. Weird, because I’ve never thought him that until the end of middle school. I’ll admit it, though; I think it’s a crush. Okay, don’t say anything! It’s just a crush, and it’s probably going to die out soon. Right? I just hope that “first love lasts forever” thing wasn’t true.

We got into Tommy’s car – his dad bought it for him when he found out about the scholarship thing – and drove down the deserted neighbourhood road. The music playing from the radio was no more than a whisper (Tommy has a one-track mind; he can’t multitask) and the only other sound was the faint noise of the engine, the tires running the road and the rushing wind outside.

It was calming, unlike our usual debate about games. I glanced at Tommy, taking in his profile. I pulled my eyes away when he looked at me, feeling red-handed when he laughs. “By the way,” he said, “I’m gonna show you something. We’re not going to the prom, but this place is better than it.”

“Wh – Really?” Wow, he’s taking me somewhere? That’s mysterious, and thrilling, and… aww! I think it’s a new arcade! He wants us to play at an awesome new arcade instead! That’s just so Tommy.

We turned corners, drove down an empty road, took some more turns, until we’ve reached a hill. Okay, so not arcade? As I got out, I noticed a table for two with a candle and a glass vase with a single rose in the middle. The wine glasses were empty and the cutleries were neatly laid on either side of each napkin. Is this… a date?! Oh my… Tommy’s grown up! Wait, does this mean –?

“Wow,” I said shortly. I was led by a waiter to my seat and the napkin was politely given to me to be laid on my lap. Tommy sat in front of me, smiling sheepishly and mirroring my action. I noticed he’s drumming on the table, something he always does when he’s nervous. I also felt my face burning up and found it hard to look at the boy – man, pal, buddy, whatever – in front of me. The waiter returned soon after with two servings of freshly cooked steak accompanied by carrots, corns, peas and mashed potatoes. Next, the waiter brought water and poured a generous amount into our glasses. Right, we’re still not over the beer incident. “This is nice, Tommy,” I said, “Where did you get the idea from? I thought you were taking me to a new game place! Turns out to be a small rom – awesome dinner!” I caught myself before the word slipped.

“Saw it on TV. I just thought a change of atmosphere would be good, you know.” We ate in companionable silence, but I noticed the faint violin in the background. Tommy, you can be so cheesy sometimes.

“By the way, who’s the butler?”

“Hm? Oh, he’s my sister’s boyfriend. He’s called Peter but peers call him Pip. He said he’d help me on this. You’re finished? Good, I want to show you something.” Tommy stood up and jogged up the hill. I watched him from where I sat, curious and nervous. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears and the moisture on my palms.

Tommy stood at the top of the hill and before I shouted a question, fireworks shot up from behind him. I yelped but it was moulded into whispers of awe as I watched the display. Red, blue, green, gold, every colour you could think of, and Tommy was standing there, arms out as if embracing the universe. At last, an illuminated banner shot up and spread out behind Tommy. Will you be my Lara Croft?

“Elie Trumann!” Tommy yelled, “Will you be my Lara Croft? Will you be the one to go with me to the Sumatran rainforests? Will you stay by my side and forever be my Player 2?” Thomas Webber, this was the best night of my life.

* * *

Before we left for higher education, we went up to our game room and to the window overlooking the front lawn. We would sometimes watch people and cars pass by when we had nothing to do, sometimes just count how many red or blue cars pass by, or how many blondes and redheads would come by. We won’t be back here until holidays, so we made a message on the window. It’s written in our secret language – well, not so secret, because my dad helped us on making some sense out of it, and my mum wrote the list of letters down – and the meaning of the phrase would only be understood by us. To others, it’ll look more like a set of drawings that made up to make a bigger drawing, but it meant for than that. Interestingly, you can only see these drawing(s) in a certain point in the afternoon, and we’ve decided to make that time the current time in which we were in.

We dragged a chair back and forth until it’s at the point in where we could see the picture clearly. The light shone onto the nearly transparent drawing, causing it to appear faint purplish-blue. I looked at the picture some more until it disappeared because of the withdrawing sunlight. Having said our goodbyes to the room, we descended the stairs to continue packing.

We left the neighbourhood for the city. Everyone said their farewells with “I will miss you” eyes. Even Mrs. Carter gave us a loaf of fruit bread for our goodbye gift, thrusting it onto my hands without a word. The Finn Brothers were at the farthest corner of the crowd, waving small waves unlike the overconfident boys I had always known. Mum and Dad hugged me and told me their share of pride and happiness, and Mr. and Mrs. Webber wished me luck, and to make sure Tommy doesn’t die in a gutter. I waved all the way until I couldn’t see the crowd anymore – Tommy was silently crying in the driver’s seat, and I teased him about not able to seeing the road and get both of us killed. He said I had a terrible sense of humour.

The university had dorms but we promised each other for game nights when we’re free. Our belongings all fitted in three boxes, our schoolbags and our duffel bags so our unpacking was pretty quick – one box was especially for the PS2 and Xbox (with the Kinect, of course); I left the others back at home because they’ll be too much, and we could buy the games when our part-time job salary comes in.

Classes were challenging but manageable and our schoolmates are great people to be with, except for those former cheerleaders and jocks who think they’re still the top of the social hierarchy. Sometimes we would invite some people to play games with us, but sometimes we would invite them for study sessions. Sometimes it was just Tommy and I. Don’t worry, we’re planning to cross the line latter on in life.

We had our first (official) date two days after we’ve moved, and the whole place knew about us a week later. It’s annoying how lots of annoying girls tried to flirt with Tommy even though he was obviously with me and obviously not interested. Let’s face it, they’ll have to beat him in Street Fighter fifteen times before he falls for you (he told me about this when I asked him on our third date – the fifteenth time I beat him was four days after the Bella incident).

Everything was well, but I should’ve seen it as an illusion.

 

I was on my way to Tommy’s building when I saw the ambulance rush by just outside the fence. It went straight to the boy’s dormitory, the men in the ambulance jumping out of the vehicle the moment it stopped just outside the building. A large crowd had began to grow around the ambulance, curious and concerned chatters and whispers built a thick anxious atmosphere that wafted out towards other students, pulling them towards the crowd. I felt the extreme worry from the group and decided to join in their sightseeing –I need to get to Tommy’s room for our daily intake of gaming, anyway.

I swam my way through the crowd and to the front lines, regarding the ambulance with faint fright. I nudged the boy beside and asked, “Hey, you know what’s going on?”

The boy’s eyes were as large as dinner plates, frantic and panicked, “You! You’re Elie Trumann, right? Oh, man… you’re not gonna like this…” The boy’s remark was like a blaring warning siren in my head.

“What? What happened?”

“You don’t know?! It’s been going on for a while! He’s looking paler everyday! No wonder he borrowed all those foundations from Irma – Oh, God! I am so, so, so sorry! I should’ve told you even though he told me not to –”

When he got to the part about the foundations, everything else was passed over my head. I remembered the time Tommy went over for study session; his face looked kind of pasty, like he put on too much lotion on it, his breathing was kind of heavy and his movements were way too sluggish for normal. I asked him if he was okay, but he just brushed off the topic as a normal flu. We didn’t get anything done that day because he collapsed on the bed as quickly as he’d gotten in.

Also, whenever I went over to the gym to give him his lunch and towel, his friends would always say he’s not around – they said something about tiredness and poor health. I dismissed it as a normal flu, too.

The time when I found Tommy’s room empty, and his neighbour said he went out for an errand. The neighbour looked kind of worried and he looked at me with pitying eyes, as if he’s not saying the whole story.

So that’s why…

When I heard the dorm entrance door fly open, I directed my eyes to the figure on the trolley. He was still, his face blocked by his messy blonde hair. The hospital men worked swiftly, pushing the trolley up the ramp and into the ambulance; even though they worked pretty fast, the time seemed to move in slow motion. I couldn’t see his face but I know that bracelet around his wrist anywhere – it was the one for our hundredth day anniversary, the matching blue one for my pink one.

I was rooted to the spot. I stared. I stared at the body on the trolley. I wanted to scream – to call out – to tell him to wake up – to make sure he’s still there. I lost my voice. I wanted to run to his side, shake him until he’s awake and when he does he’ll grin stupidly at me and say “Gotcha!” like he always does when he tries to scare me. I’ll then smack him on the head and tell him how scared I was – because I was terrified, of losing him. Will that day be today? Don’t – Tommy!

Tommy!

I rushed to the ambulance door where the hospital man stopped me, telling me I’m not allowed to go. I argued, telling him I’m his girlfriend, pleading him that I must see him – I told him his parents are in the neighbourhood away from the city so I was the only one he had. I recognised the look on the man’s eyes – pity – and he stepped aside to let me in.

Tommy was on the trolley, pale and lifeless. I touched his hand which wore the bracelet; I felt it, a slight tremble like a kitten in the freezing rain. I traced the blue veins on the back of his hand, going downwards onto the inner side of his wrist. A pulse, weak and faint, struggling away from Death’s grip like how a chick would tap on its shell, fighting to be noticed, and to escape the dark cave and into the new world. I swiped his bangs out of his face. Dark circles were under his eyes; his lips were a sickly blue and slightly agape to inhale air. I felt tears prickling my eyes, burning and threatening to rain down the near-transparent skin.

The woman across from me attached a breathing apparatus onto Tommy’s face and did some checking with some machines fixated onto the interior of the ambulance. The man closed the door and sat beside me, helping the woman with the checking. I ignored my motion sickness right now – Tommy was what mattered most. A warm hand landed on top of mine, comforting. I looked up into the woman’s green eyes but it was all blurred like how you’ll see the sky when you’re underwater. It felt like it, too; it was too hard to breathe, my head giddy and unsteady. The woman smiled and squeezed my hand reassuringly. “It’s okay, sweetie,” he said, “Everything will be alright.”

“Will he be, though?”

The woman didn’t reply. Instead, she squeezed my hand once more and then busied herself with medical priorities.

* * *

Tommy’s illness was incurable. Well, at least not here.

I waited and waited for what felt like an eternity before they let me see Tommy. He was moved to his own room, complete with everything he might need. He was wide awake but looked exhausted; his smile was a ghost of what it used to be and not matching his eyes. A few hours later the Webbers barged in, Mrs. Webber’s face wet as she rushed to hug her son, Mr. Webber standing behind his wife with a grim expression, and Tommy’s sister beside me, gave me a sympathetic hug and tried to cheer me up, even though she was also stricken with sadness.

The doctor came in soon after, telling us about Tommy’s condition. With the illness he had, there’s no way he’s going to be cured with what the country had to offer – Tommy had to go to overseas treatment if he were to be restored to full health, or at least close enough. The Webbers agreed without hesitation, and so did I. I want Tommy to live, and my feelings were like ants compared to how important Tommy was to all of us. He was like the sun and we’re the planets orbiting him; without the sun, there will be no life on the planets, and everything will be nothing. He had to go, for everyone’s sake.

Even though I know we might not see each other again.

* * *

Bill Murdoch lived in the next town. I’ve met him a few times before, before and after the basement incident involving him, Axel and Tiffany. Out of all the three, I’ve talked more to him – I’ve met Axel and Tiffany on special occasions and I couldn’t keep up with what they’re saying most of the time. It was sad, though, because the group’s sweetheart – Tiffany – was a victim of the explosion, and now Axel and Bill won’t even talk to each other anymore.

I wasn’t there for a lesson, but for an advice. And maybe some heart-to-heart talk (even though I admit I’ve never had any of those, ever). I knocked on the door thrice and waited for the host to answer. Bill opened the door quietly, a thin smile on his face – it reminded me of how Tommy looked like when I first saw him in the hospital. Bill’s disfigured face was a large difference to the red-haired jolly man I first saw in the science fair; his actions, too, seemed listless and apathetic compared to the enthusiastic and bubbly attitude from before. Eventually, I returned the smile and greeted, “Hey, Bill. Mind if I come in?”

“No. Please do.” And he stopped talking a million words per second.

I seated myself in my regular seat at the dining room, waiting for Bill to finish brewing the tea and seat down with me. Bill brought a tray consisting of a filled teapot, two ceramic cups and respective teaspoons, a pot of sugar and a plate of biscuits. He set the tray down and poured plenty into his and my cup. He held up the sugar pot, asking how much I wanted. “Three, please,” I said. Bill poured three teaspoons of sugar into my cup, and four into his. Cavities, he must have. He slid the cup over to me and took a sip from his, relishing the silence.

After a couple moments of sipping, Bill set his cup down and rested his chin on a fist, arching an eyebrow, if he had one. I sighed and pushed my tea aside and fiddled with my fingers, watching my thumbs wrestle each other for dominance. “Tommy’s sick,” I started, “and he’s not gonna get cured here. He has to go abroad for treatment. Singapore, I heard. The doctor said it may take years.”

“What’s his condition?”

“Nothing contagious, but some of his organs aren’t functioning properly.”

“You want him to go but it hurts, yes.” It wasn’t a question; Bill hit the bull’s eye.

“I… I want him to go, so we can see each other happy and well again, because we all know how important he is to everyone around him. But then… I’m scared of the probability of not seeing him again.” I set my hands down, palms flat on the cool wooden surface of the table. “I already said yes but a part of me wanted him to stay; the doctor said that there’s a chance Tommy might not be healed at all from the treatment, so he might have to stay in Singapore for the rest of his life if he wants to live, even if it were for a short time before the illness kills him eventually. If it were to be like that, then what’s the purpose of going? I can’t even go to Singapore because the budget would cost me a hundred years’ worth of salary. But still,” I rubbed the back of my hand with my other hand, “I want to try to believe that it’ll end well. Maybe when I have enough money I can go visit him someday, and he’ll eventually be all healthy again so we can live together. I want to believe that Tommy and I will meet again…”

I looked up to Bill and found my vision blurred. I laughed bitterly. “… but I can’t.”

Bill regarded me with cool features, but there were emotions swirling behind his eyes. He straightened up and said, with the wisest voice ever heard, “You’ll have to, for your sake and for Tommy’s. If he was to go forever, you’ll eventually have to live a life without him; keep your head up and face the future, because that’ll be what Tommy wants, right? He said you’re his Lara Croft, the brave, smart and beautiful adventurer. If you were to be left alone in the jungle of pain, Tommy will want you to find the way out and live to tell the tale, like how adventurers are supposed to be immortalised – memories.”

I felt the salty water trail down my cheek and drip down my chin. Bill smiled, small but sincere, like how his smiles are supposed to look like. “You’re a great girl, Elie; Tommy’s lucky to have you, and you’re lucky to have him.”

“…Thanks, Bill,” I sniffed, “…And I’m sorry, for what happened, you know…”

Bill casted his eyes down, looking into his cup of tea. “I was just enlightened yesterday,” he confessed, “I got a hold of Tiffany’s scrapbook a few days ago and after looking at the truth in it – Tiffany’s wishes and purposes – I realised that I have to let the past go and start a new page. I also need to give that book to Axel but it’s really awkward between us, right now.” Bill chuckled, his face peaceful. “Anyway, you should probably tell Tommy how you really feel. It’ll do well for both of you.”

* * *

I knocked on the door thrice and waited for a response. It was barely audible but it was there, a raspy voice granting entrance. The door slid open silently, slowly revealing the sickly but relatively better looking Tommy. The dark circles around his eyes had lightened and he had out on a healthy weight – he looked less like a walking dead. “Hey, Elie,” he greeted.

“You look better,” I smiled, “How’d you feel?” I crossed the room and sat down on the chair next to his bed.

“As good as how I look. I didn’t know I’ve lost a lot of weight lately, until I saw myself in the mirror – that was when I started eating a lot. Now that I think about it, I did remember losing my appetite, like how I refuse the pudding in dinner? That’s so not me! They actually serve strawberry pudding here, and it was so heavenly! I even asked for another!” I listened to Tommy’s story but something else was plaguing my mind and clawing my heart. “So how’s your day?”

I took a deep breath and spilled everything. “I went to see Bill, to ask for advice and stuff, and to give him some sympathy… We talked about your treatment.” Tommy tensed, his eyes searching my face for any sign of hesitation. “You’re leaving next week, right? So, I just want you to know how I really feel.”

I laid my hand atop of his and continued. “I’m scared – no, I’m terrified, because I know the probability of not seeing you again is higher than the opposite. I want to believe, though, that you’ll be better soon. I will believe because I want us to be together again. And if –” I swallowed thickly. “If you won’t be back, I’ll just have to accept it. I’ll remember you. I’ll visit you everyday even if I have to search the whole world for you. And when I meet someone else and have children of my own, I’ll tell them the story of my first love, the story of the Great Thomas Webber. I’ll tell them the adventures we’ve been through, the games achievements we got in PS3, and I’ll tell them how much I love him.”

Tommy rearranged our hands so his hand was entwined with mine. He smiled the same smile he had at the night when he confessed his feelings to me; the smile he had when we stargaze or go cloud watching; the smile he had that tells me everything I need to know. “Now, that’s why I chose you,” he said, “because I know you are the bravest and the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, even better than Croft. You are Elie Trumann, the greatest adventurer of all time and the master of Time Crisis and Street Fighter franchise but on top of it all, you are – and will always be – the love of my life.”

He caressed the back of my hand and asked, “Do you remember the drawing in the game room?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“I know our life won’t be as beautiful as the adventure drawn on the window, but it’s even better, because there aren’t any scary jungle people or wild animals around – and I got to have you all to myself, with no one was present to take you away.” He squeezed my hand gently, with what energy he had, and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I whispered back.

* * *

Tommy needed to board the train to get to the airport. His family were going, of course, but I couldn’t come on time. Unexpectedly, the traffic that morning was horrible. I had just finished my classes and even though I was the first out of the class and school, the traffic was the biggest hurdle that slowed me down.

I was sitting at the cab, bouncing my knees, unable to keep the anxiety to a minimum level. Cars yelled at each other to move even though they all know the impossibility of that. Even my cab driver had his head out of his window, shouting a string of curses at those in front of us. Whenever we moved, it would only be a few inches per twenty minutes, creating a heavy effect on me. I checked my watch for the umpteenth time – 10:36. Tommy’s train leaves at 10:45. I won’t make it on time with all of this.

I decided to see the situation for myself so I asked the driver how much more we have to go to get to the station. “Two kilometres straight and a few blocks from the first right. We can get there in a snap if it weren’t for this traffic but when it comes down to this, it could even take hours!” I didn’t hesitate; I gave the man his deserved money, collect my belongings and jumped out of the car, sprinting as soon as my feet hit the road. I was known for my speed in high school but I’ve never joined any clubs for the sake of gaming. For the sake of Tommy.

Images blurred past me, disappearing in a flurry of colours as I raced time down the road. I ran and ran and ran – I can feel my legs straining but I wasn’t feeling tired – I breaths came out in heavy huffs and I inhaled sharply through my mouth. I ran and ran and ran – two kilometres straight – I saw the station sign on my right – the first right! I turned and sprinted down a few blocks, huffing and puffing until the station came into view.

The train monument was standing proudly in the midst of the parking lot and behind it was the building. I could hear trains coming and going and I ran faster, my rucksack jumping in tension on my back and the package in a steel grip in my hand. I need to see Tommy – it’s now or never.

I received the visitors’ pass as quickly as possible and crashed my way to where the trains were. I saw Tommy, abroad a bright blue train, gazing out an open window, probably wondering where I was. The deafening honk startled me, and the bright blue train began to move, slow and steady but I know it’ll go faster in a matter of time.

Without further ado, I approached the train and to Tommy’s window. I called out to him and he noticed me immediately, eyes wide with relief and a blinding grin on his face. “You’re here,” he breathed out.

“This is for you.” I handed him the package, damp with my sweat and a bit torn on where I was gripping it. The package had “Player 1” written on it and Tommy looked back at me. I couldn’t run anymore so I jogged as fast as I could to keep up with the train, drawing deep heavy breaths. “That’s – my other – controller.” My speech came out ragged and tired, but I continued nevertheless. “That’s for – you. I – you – Will you – still – be my player one? Even if time passes – even if there’s – no more ‘us’ – you’ll still be my player – one, right?”

By this time, I was a few feet from Tommy’s window, jogging lightly even though I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. Tommy huffed out a chuckle and tears were streaming down his cheeks instantly; it was the first time I saw him cry. “Always!” was his reply.

All I could do was watch Tommy’s head retreat in the distance, imprinting his face in my brain, refusing to forget. Then and there, my test began.

* * *

I graduated as an overachieving student and began my career as an author. Sometimes, I would go over to the candy shop to earn some pocket money when I have a writer’s block or when I just have nothing to do. I got word from Bill that he and Axel had repaired their friendship and Axel is now seeing a girl – Charlotte, was it? I can’t remember.

Tommy is doing well in Singapore (we exchange emails when we can, and sometimes the other Webbers would send me their share of emails) and so I’m waiting for him. I can feel the thread of good ending becoming thicker every day; I put all of my trust on it now, believing that Tommy will come back soon. He’s my player one, right? I can’t play the PS3 without my player one, because I’ll always be the player two and player twos are like the planets to a sun.

Sometimes, I would look at the drawing on the mirror. The drawing depicts the story of two travellers in a jungle, where they overcame dangerous obstacles, and find the jungle treasure in order to improve the state of the poor village near the said jungle; that village was the characters’ home, where they feel safe and can be with each other the whole time. When put together, the drawings will make the outline of a heart. A big, sincere heart with swirls of life in it, symbolising our love – our love will never die and will continue to live on as the best memory, like how adventurers are supposed to be remembered.

I’m just sitting at my desk, tapping on my laptop so I can get an idea for my next book. Alas, it’s just not coming! Maybe I can tour the house to look for inspiration, or go over to Bill to ask for suggestions (I can’t ask Axel because he’ll just rant about time travelling and other science whatchamacallits). A visitor knocked on the door just as I was to get up to walk around the house. Perfect! Maybe that someone can be an inspiration!

I all but skipped downstairs to see who it could be. I opened the door enthusiastically and about to say my greeting when I see someone who I have been expecting for the longest time. He handed me my controller back, a smug grin on his older-than-I-remembered but extremely familiar face.

“Hey, Zelda.”

-rookieMANGAKA

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