I awoke to the sound of my apartment door being slammed.  Without fully realizing or remembering the events of the previous night, I darted into the living room, nearly tripping over Mudflap as he stirred groggily on the floor.  I shook my head, trying to clear it, and took in the semi-conscious teenager in a sleeping bag on my floor, he and his companion’s suitcases in a corner, and the now unoccupied couch with blanket and pillow where Kaj had slept.

The things you agree to at three in the morning…

Kaj and Mudflap hadn’t been able to convince Katie-Anne to return to the SIM.  Katie-Anne hadn’t been able to convince them to leave without her.  In the end, they had all agreed to talk more after they’d gotten some sleep.  This brought them to the small but pertinent issue of Kaj and Mudflap not having a place to stay.  For reasons that I had not been able to refute in my despondent and exhausted state, Katie-Anne got me to agree to let them sleep at my place.

A quick glance at the clock told me that about five hours had passed since that time.  The apartment was empty save for Mudflap and me.

“Where’d he go?” I asked.

“Dunno,” Mudflap looked up at me, then at the door, “But I guess he doesn’t need the couch anymore.”  He crawled from his sleeping bag onto the couch and closed his eyes without another word.  I went back into the bedroom and started getting ready for class.

I showered, dressed and packed up the notebook for the studying that I never got around to doing over the weekend.  When I went back out into the living room, Mudflap was up and rifling through the collection of flatscreen games on my bookshelf.

When he saw me, he grinned sheepishly and put the stack of games he was holding back on the shelf.  “So this is where free time goes to die, huh?”

I smiled despite myself, “Everyone needs a hobby.”

“Dogger, I didn’t even realize people played these things anymore.  You must have hundreds.”

“I haven’t counted.  There’s a box of older games under my bed, though.  The entertainment center should play all of them if you want to give them a try.  They’re not sims, but they’re quality diversion.”

Mudflap couldn’t have been much older than fifteen, and with his height, he didn’t even look that.  This is why it caught me off guard when he asked, “You don’t really hate the sims, do you?”

I remembered some of the things Dr. Jenkins had said about the SIMs leveling the playing field.  He spoke of how thoughts, actions and intentions existed independently of races, sexes, genders and ages.  He marveled at it as a cultural phenomenon, asserting that in the sims, unlike in real life, all people really were created equal.

Dr. Jenkins was an academic, though, and he’d missed something both practical and important.  In the SIMs kids weren’t just allowed to compete with adults, they were forced to.  Mudflap was the product of a culture that forced everyone onto a common ground, whether they were ready for it or not.  I admired his perception, for he had most certainly earned it years early.  But I didn’t envy him for it.  I wondered if he would envy me my childhood.

Mudflap was mature, perceptive, and empathic and it would be silly to tell him that I felt sorry for him because of it.  But neither was I willing to share my life story with some random kid I’d met in a crappy pancake house a few hours ago.  I settled for a middle ground, the truth, but without any real information.

“I’m a free person by choice,” I answered, “But, no, I don’t hate the SIMs.”

He smiled.  “I’m glad.  I think I will try some of these games.  Wherever Kaj went, he took his car, so I’m stuck here today.  It’ll be a good time.”

“Sounds good.  I have to get to class.  The controllers are probably behind the console or buried in the couch.  There’s also an old desktop in my room if you want to use the nets.  Oh, and if you find something edible anywhere, you’re welcome to it.”

“Thanks,” he said.  I grabbed my bag and was at the door when he stopped me.  “Hey listen, I know Kate pretty well… or at least I did.  Whatever she told you or didn’t, however you felt about her, I think she was what she thought she had to be.  I think she needed a friend.  And I think a lot of things might have been different if our timing had been better.”

Cursing simmers, perception, and kids alternately in my head, I went to class.

The End

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