It has been a few days since the game. Practice has been absolutely isolated. The coaches have to make sure that I’m included on drills because the guys were trying to ignore more the entire time. There has to be a scapegoat for things like this, and apparently I was the one to blame.
Ariel was not talking to me. I guess she’s maintaining her firm stance on giving me space. I couldn’t honestly believe how harsh she was being towards me. One might be inclined to believe she had money on the game and I just blew it all.
Lunch was something I dreaded. The suffocating silence was more than I was able to bear. When I went through school my first time through, I had to focus so much on my school work that I had no time to worry about drama or my social standing. College had people with my similar social mindset, so I was never lonely like I am now.
Just as I was about to accept my fate, I heard a pair of trays settle on the table I was at.
“Well, aren’t you the chipper one?” John asked, a bit mockingly. It was a tone I had grown accustomed to when I was growing up and it never sounded better.
“Can’t you tell I’m the football star I’ve always dreamed of being?”
“What a lame dream,” Lisa muttered, looking away a bit. I had no doubt she was only here due to John.
“Speaking of lame,” I said, clearly ignoring Lisa, “why did you guys decide to come to the corner of social suicide?”
“Oh please, if you’re talking about the social standings, even as a failed football star you’re still higher than the people we usually hang around. Plus your campaigns are still heralded as some of the best in our club. Don’t feel like it’s too late to come back, Erich.”
I sighed in contemplation. Maybe John was right, I should stick to what I’m good at. It would certainly be much more welcoming than this absolutely terrible daily existence. Thinking about how the guys cheered me on when I was showing some promise at the position was long gone. The fog of my failure had taken over the talent I was working on and it’s grip would follow me if I pursued.
“Alright,” I finally spoke. “I’ll skip practice today and come to the club. There’s no point in being where I’m not wanted.”
John pumped his fist in excitement. This guy really had a heart of gold. Lisa seemed to be a bit more soft in her demeanor and actually smiled.
That afternoon I went to the club, as promised, and ran some of the campaign John had set up. Admittedly, he built a subtly brilliant world. I think it was lost on him and the others, but I could see the intricate details that interwove within his lore. The campaign ran until close to eight, far past the normal time. I guess I couldn’t help but keep going with it.
John and I decided to talk with Lisa on her way home. It was on the way and her parents were totally alright with it. Look at me, talking about getting approval from parents again. What it’s like to be young.
“So,” John finally said, breaking out impressively long silence. “Lisa, what did you think of the world?”
Lisa didn’t look startled, as if she was waiting for him to speak. She responded, “Erich sure knows his stuff when it comes to being a DM. The world itself, though, was as impressive as the story telling. Now I know what you do all day in your room.”
“Thinking of brilliant things, that’s my thing.”
We all chuckled. I’m thrilled that John has found something he’s passionate about. Maybe my influence scared him away from becoming a world builder. I suppose if there’s one good thing to come from all of this, it’s that John is able to flourish in an environment where I’m not constantly in competition with him.
As we got closer to Lisa’s house, I felt my phone vibrate. It was Ariel.
“Excuse me for a second,” I said while answering. “Hello?”
“Erich. I’m so sorry,” Ariel whimpered. It sounded like her voice was strained from stress. I immediately became hyper aware of the words she was saying.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m the worst girlfriend in the world, that’s what.” I sighed. At the absolute minimum that means she wasn’t going to do something drastic or permanent. I waved goodbye to John and Lisa and started to jog lightly towards her house.
“I mean, I could have been more clear with my words. I had never wanted to hurt you, Ariel.”
“In my own bitterness, I probably caused you so much pain. I promise to never do anything like this again.” Her tone gave me assurance that this was the innocent and pure vow that would be taken hyper seriously. It warmed the ice that was surrounding me the last few days.
“I… I love you Ariel.” Suddenly there was silence on the phone. In my own haste, I had done the one thing they always tell you never to do in high school. Bring up love. What exactly did a child know about love? Wait a minute… I’m not a child. I’m a grown adult who just got a full time job after graduating. I had my life fully in order and was ready to find stability. That means that I’m far more guilty than some petulant freshman who’s claiming love against all the odds.
“I love you, too.”
What? How could someone at her age understand the intricacies of a relationship? How could this small freshman girl, essentially a child, have any sort of grasp as to what I was emotionally committing to? There was simply no way. Either she was simply returning the words as a courtesy or she’s so misguided about what love is that she actually believes she’s in love.
Suddenly, I was outside of her window. It was already opened, as if she knew exactly that’s where I was going to appear. Our embrace was as powerful as it was sensual. My heart fluttered faster than I can ever hope to imagine, and the kiss we shared was our unspoken vow to hold each other. The fact that we were at the absolutely insane age of 14 meant nothing in that moment. It was only her in the world. Distant planets and the grass below alike were but a frame for which Ariel was being displayed.
As she settled into my chest, she murmured, “I suppose this means you forgive me.”
“What gave that away?”
“You know, I’ve never considered myself overly mature. But to fall in love with a college graduate my freshman year. I suppose I never saw myself here.”
“I can’t imagine you would. It’s unreal to be able to have another chance with you, Ariel.”
“It’s crazy how this worked. I would never have imagined something like this in my wildest dreams.”
As I went to comment about things, I got a call. John’s face illuminated the darkness around us and I answered.
“Erich? Erich are you there?” John frantically called out.
“Yeah, What happened?”
“Someone is outside of Lisa’s house. They’re hooded.” My vision started to blur. I looked at Ariel for a brief moment and it was as if my fear had been conveyed to her. She jumped out and we both started rushing towards them.
“Are you two safe?”
“Yeah. We’re hiding in my garage. I think they’re going searching inside for something.” We were a few blocks from them. I couldn’t help but wonder about the circumstances surrounding my travel back to high school. I didn’t even have vague memories about what was going on that day anymore. With the amount of time spent here, I was starting to lose sight of who I used to be.
We quickly approached the two and let them know we were going to make sure things were alright. John and I found some bats to use. Back in my day, John was my physical superior. Now that I was a football player, it seems that the shoe is on the other foot.
The hooded figures seemed to fully secure the outside of Lisa’s house. I’m entirely unsure what to make of things, and right now I’m on a bit of an adrenaline rush. My instincts keep me low, avoiding any chance of being seen. After many minutes of furious combing, they seemed to get frustrated with their lack of results and dissipate into the surrounding neighborhood. This looked far to calculated to be some oddly timed robbery.
“What the hell was that?” Lisa whispered, letting her fear get the better of her calm outward appearance.
“I don’t know,” I answered, “but I do think that this has to stay between us. I think they’re after me.” John and Ariel looked at me knowingly. Lisa rubbed her forehead in very clear frustration.
“What were they doing outside of my house then?”
“They know that’s a place I would spend time.”
“That means they could end up-” Before Lisa could finish her sentence, I clasp my hand over her mouth and slowly laid down on the ground. I made a motion to get under the cars and all four of us slowly shimmied down. Moments later, figures began to make distinct footsteps around the outside of the garage. They knew this might be a place I could be.
There was a light tapping which was distinctly louder than the footsteps. Part of me wondered if it was mocking us, knowing that we were trapped here under the cars while they searched. Without knowing for sure, I could only turn to the others. Ariel and John were actively crying while maintaining their silence. Lisa was shivering with an uncontrollable terror. If things came down to it, I was the adult in this situation. Technically.
Soon there were voices. They sounded unsettled and frantic.
“Where the hell could they be.”
“I don’t know. Time is not on our side. Let’s make our way to Ariel’s house.”
The footsteps left with a hustled urgency. All of us crawled out from underneath the cars.
“Well, I certainly am not going to be sleeping tonight,” Ariel whimpered as she walked over to me and held on tight.
“I think it may be a good idea to sleep at my place tonight,” John said in hushed tone, “My parents don’t care and we can try and get home before our parents realize we’re gone.”
“I just want to say if this is my fault in any way, I apologize. I have a lot to think about right now,” I muttered. I truly felt guilty for bringing something like this upon my old friends. We may have grown apart, but I never wanted us to reconnect over something so cruel.
“There’s no way you could have known,” Ariel said, rubbing my back. “Let’s try and get some sleep.” We made our way inside, the thought of what was hunting us keeping us silent us a mouse. It would take far more than time to let me find sleep tonight.