“Listen, Gus.” said Hanna. “Maybe *I* should talk to him. You know how I have a special way with men, and your Grandpa seems to have a particular fondness for me. Maybe I could talk some sense into him.”
“No,” Gus sighed. “Erick’s right. I’ve told him everything I know about the Illuminati. I’ve guilt-tripped him in every way imaginable. I’ve even offered to take over as full-time manager of the place, so he could just sit back and essentially retire. But he won’t do it. He’s serious about the eye surgery.”
“Don’t give up, man!” said Dwayne. “Just think of it like the game, man, you never give up in the game. This is just like that. We’ve got everything we need to defeat the challenge, we just have to find out what it is and do it, man!”
This was the deepest thing I’d ever heard Dwayne say, and I have to tell you, it sort of changed my life. I saw then, something I didn’t see before. I now knew why they were so good at the game. It wasn’t because they’d all memorized the rulebooks, (although that does seem to help), and it wasn’t because they’d been playing the game for so many years now, that they’ve just gotten good at it over time. No. They were a lucky set of individuals who were born to play the game, and who were fortunate enough to have accidentally crossed paths with each other at such an early point in their lives. It was luck, or fate, or karma, or whatever you want to call it, that they ended up as a team. Because as soon as Dwayne said this, Gus’s demeanor changed.
“You’re right dude. I’m sorry. It’s been tough trying to come to terms with my Grandpa’s selfishness and lack of concern for my well-being. But you’re right. We can still do something about this. We just have to figure out what.”
“That’s my Gussy!” said Hanna warmly.
“Gang?!” said Gus, in the same way he usually said it in the game when he wanted everyone to rally behind him and set off to do something crazy. “Let’s save this comic book store once and for all!”
“Yeah!” everyone yelled enthusiastically, even Parker and myself. I had been so moved by the conversation that I practically forgot that I was new to the group. I couldn’t tell if Parker was as moved by it as I was, because he tended to always act like he was part of the group anyway. But he probably didn’t realize the magnitude of what Dwayne had said, like I did. Parker was a little shallow, but a good kid all the same.
“So, what are we going to do, Gus?” asked Hanna, as energetically as she would have done in any game right after the “Gang?! Let’s do it!” speech.
It was then that I realized what my calling was. These people were playing their own game now. It was exactly like the world Erick had created, except it was the real world, and Erick was not in charge of it. But everything else was the same. And I, who hadn’t yet found myself as a character within their fictional reality, had been called upon to serve the task of documenting this game. I would continue my documentary as if nothing had changed, as if they had never stopped playing the mer-people game. And, my job was even more important now than it was before. Because now, there was no GM. There was no one to keep track of all the things that had happened, except for me. No one could accidentally-on-purpose remind them of some clue they had previously found but had forgotten about or hadn’t realized it was a clue. No one other than myself could see the events objectively, from an outsider’s perspective, and constantly analyze them and make sure that they were really sticking to the plan, and considering all the options when creating the plan. It was as if I had become the GM, except that I would not make the rules or call the shots, and I would be much more helpful to them than Erick had been.
“I have an idea!” said Dwayne. “We could save up the money ourselves! We could pay for your Grandpa’s surgery, and then he wouldn’t have to sell the comic book store! Everyone wins!”
“Hey, that IS a good idea!” Hanna beamed. “I knew we could figure it out!”
“Where the hell are we going to get $30,000 though?” said Gus. “None of us even have jobs except for me, and this barely pays for my breakfast and snack every morning.”
Dwayne thought about this. “Well, if we take a break from gaming, I’ll have more time to draw, so I can probably sell some drawings to pitch in.”
“Good start,” said Parker.
“I can try to get a job, you know, waiting tables or something,” said Hanna. “I hear they make good tip money.”
“Great!” said Parker. “I’ll pick up a newspaper and see if I can find a job in the Classifieds.” (I was particularly shocked to hear Parker so eager to get a job just to help the group. I must admit, I’d wondered if he were just going to leave like Erick, since the only reason he came here in the first place was to play the game, which they weren’t playing anymore. But maybe I underestimated Parker’s loyalty.)
“And I’ll go to the Career Center and try to get some advice from a professional,” said Gus. “Maybe there’s something we can all do as a group. You know we work a lot better as a team.”
“That’s the spirit!” said Hanna.
At this point I realized that everyone else had offered to pitch in, so I thought it would be wise of me to do the same. I wouldn’t want to be viewed as a less important member of the group, even if my job was as important as I now understood it to be. (They probably hadn’t realized that yet, what with everything else going on.) “And I’ll go with Gus to the Career Center-- if you don’t mind, Gus?-- and help keep an eye out for hidden opportunities! There are bound to be clues all over that place!”
I wasn’t used to coming up with ideas on the spot, but I hoped that was good enough. And it seemed to work fine for Gus, who nodded his head and said, “Alright, let’s do it! First thing tomorrow morning. So at like, 12:30 or something, we’ll meet here first, and have a good hearty breakfast, and then go start doing it.”
“Yeah!” said everyone in unison.
It felt so great to finally be a part of the group I had watched and admired for so long, I later reflected. I could hardly wait for the morning. I had faith in them, and I knew that somehow, they would save the comic book store, and that I would help.