I went back to my place, intending to stay there forever.  I hadn’t exactly forgotten that Mudflap was there, but I was really, really hoping that he had wandered off or disappeared or been eaten by bears or something.  I wasn’t so lucky.

“These games are freaking awesome!” He greeted me from the couch as I came through the door.  He was playing one of the newer sandbox games that gave the player as city to roam around in or destroy at their leisure. “I just killed like fifty people and everyone stopped caring about it because I hid out in a drainpipe for five minutes.”

“Sorry, Mudflap.  I woke up this morning ass-deep in simmers and I can’t handle it right now.”  I went straight to my room and shut the door.

“Okay,” he called through the door.  “Good luck!  Let me know if you need anything.”

I scoffed, tossed my bag into the corner and dropped face-first onto my bed.

Sometime later, I awoke to the sound of Katie-Anne giggling.  Since that didn’t make any sense, I buried my head in my pillows and wondered if I would suffocate.  As it turned out, I could breathe through my pillows.  Nothing seemed to be working out like I expected lately.

Crawling out of bed, I looked at my rumpled clothes and poofy hair in the mirror over my dresser and decided I just didn’t care.  I went out into the living room.

Katie-Anne and Mudflap sat on my couch, controllers in their hands, fixated on the flatscreen.  They were playing an ancient fighting game.  One of them was a mouse that attacked with electricity and the other was a pink marshmallow thing that, as I watched, sucked the mouse inside of its mouth and jumped off of a cliff, killing them both.

“Stop doing that!” Mudflap said.  Katie-Anne giggled again.  After a few moments a timer counted down, ending the game with the marshmallow waving and dancing around in victory.  Katie-Anne cheered.

They both looked over at me, the trance of the game now ended, and smiled.

“How… where, why… when?”  I was still a little groggy.

“You forgot ‘what’ and ‘who,’” Mudflap chimed in.

“Quiet you,” Katie-Anne said.  Then, to me, “We ordered Thai for dinner.  I got you some noodly stuff like you eat at lunch.”  She pointed toward the kitchen.

“Thanks.”  The food was on the counter.  I made myself a plate and used the opportunity to shake off the effects of my nap.  Behind me, I could hear that Mudflap and Katie-Anne had started another round of their game.  I pulled the desk chair out of my bedroom so I could watch them finish their game as I ate.

Katie-Anne won again and gloated.  Mudflap complained that it was unfair since she always used the same character.  I found their banter amiable and endearing.  These two really were old friends and as they exchanged barbs and played a couple more rounds while I ate, I felt comfortable.  I was comfortable that they had invaded my apartment, a friend who I wished was more and a stranger from a world I had fled.  They were friends enjoying a game and I felt included in that.  I felt even better after I finished my plate, grabbed a third controller from the entertainment center and beat them both into the ground.

“Dogger, you’re incredible!”  Mudflap’s score was a negative number.

“I’ve had some practice.” I smiled.  “Years of it, really.”

We discovered it to be close to a fair game when we pitted both Mudflap and Katie-Anne against me, so we did that for a while.  Then we tried a few other flatscreen games that I remembered being good for groups of people.  Hours passed as we gamed and joked and talked about nothing more important than the last game and the next one.  I looked at the clock and was amazed to discover that it was almost midnight.  Katie-Anne and Mudflap looked exhausted and it occurred to me that they had only slept a few hours in the past two days.  I asked Katie-Anne if she needed a ride back to the dorms.

“Sure.  Kaj dropped me off when he stopped by to pick up his stuff.”

I looked around and was surprised to discover that Kaj’s bag was indeed gone.  “Where’d he go?” I asked, belatedly.

“He said he was going to live at the hotel with Ryndi.  I guess she’s not used to living out of the SIM so much and it’s really draining her.  He wants to make sure she’s okay.”

It struck me as odd that someone as terse and cynical as Kaj would show that kind of compassion to anyone.  Then again, I wasn’t of a mind to question or complain when Kaj wouldn’t be staying at my place anymore.

We left Mudflap playing another random game from my past and went outside.  My apartment building was part of a larger complex that found itself neatly tucked in between a river and the woods on the outskirts of a local park.  The place was modest, but it was near enough to the university and a nice break from the doggedly urban environment in the rest of the city.  I’d been living here for more than a year and didn’t think anything of it anymore, but on the way to the car, Katie-Anne grabbed my hand and stopped.  “Walk with me?” she asked, pointing to the water.

It had to be fifty degrees or cooler and I wore only a long sleeved shirt and jeans.  Still, Katie-Anne was holding my hand.  I let her lead me over to the river.

The End

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