Confession time, baby. I don’t drive. Not that I can’t. I just choose not to…
This is important, because Perry didn’t live very far away from the school, so I needed to walk to his house after leaving Jordan and company. Perry had a car, so I usually had to lean on him or my dad to service my sorry butt any great distance, and because I live not so far from the school either (albeit in a completely different direction), I walked to most destinations. Helped keep me in shape, I suppose. God knows I needed it, else I ran the risk of transmuting into a pile of porridge.
I should mention some geographical details for your convenience. I became a thought in my parents’ mind in Malcolm, Nebraska, and that is where my story finds root. Challenger Incoming! Joel enters the battlefield!
Malcolm is where I was born and reared, and it’s one of the only noteworthy cities in this otherwise profoundly depressing part of the country. I lived in the suburbs, and had only stepped foot on a farm a handful of times in my life, even if I was familiar with our countryside locale and produce. But Perry’s residence was a beautiful, if not cookie-cutter townhome that camped on the south rim of a small lake. His family made residence on the third floor, and I already knew what to expect when I reached their front door.
I knocked twice and heard a girl’s voice penetrate through the door, fluting like a song. Literally, she sang the words. “Come in!”
Serah. Perry’s ladylove of providence.
Opening the door, Perry and Serah were the only two people in the home, both of his parents still at work until later that evening. It smelled of clashing scents. Some aerosol fragrance in the vein of cinnamon, and the crisp, bubbling stir fry that Perry was cooking up at the oven. Staves of light burned from the window, illuminating an army of lazy dustlings. Dustlings. That’s a word as of this moment.
Music fed out of Perry’s father’s sound system in the living room, from beneath the television. Some temperamental and bouncy techno-pop something or other. Serah’s choice of tunes. She was lounging in the years-old loveseat under the window, quietly jamming to the sound waves, fluttering her bare feet off the edge of the sofa.
I’d actually known Serah long before she met Perry. We shared mathematics classes for two years, and talked on occasion. A rare thing, me talking to a girl, let alone one as attractive as this. Small frame, hair as smooth and pitch as ink, and gentle skin of Eurasian descent. Large influence of Vietnamese blood, if I recall. Yeah, that’s right, Perry got himself an exotic sort of gal. That’s special to some people.
Serah truly was a nice. Incredibly obnoxious habit of “unce, unce”ing with any bass drop she could get her ears on, but outside of that, nearly perfect, especially for Perry. I say that, because she did what most girls did not. She tolerated his hobbies, and not just video games and Anarchy. You see, Perry was a figurine collector. You know, one of the stereotypically textbook “look at me, I’m destined to live in my mother’s basement” sort of nerds, too. The shelf looming over his bed was littered with wonderfully cultured items. Most impressive was his twelve-inch model of Halo’s ‘The Arbiter’, reigning over all. These weren’t even counting the figures that lined his closet or windowsill.
She loved it.
Perry on the other hand didn’t seem to be overly receptive towards this divine gift. He was fond of Serah for all of the obvious reasons, and none of the special ones. She was exceedingly attractive, had an older brother that wasn’t at Perry’s throat for dating his sister, kept in good shape from soccer season, chambered a kind heart, an honest tongue, and possessed a voice granted by God himself.
Eh, I guess some of those are pretty legitimate.
Then there was Perry, as righteous a nerd-tastrophe as one could ever find. Fingers which had never seen a day of serious work in their life, a peppering of cushion around the edges (mostly Taco Bell, which he ate with near-religious frequency and fervor), and glasses that he needed to constantly realign or press up to the bridge of his nose. Perry was clean-skinned though, somehow, with a knockout smile and his father’s rich, chocolate melanin flowing through the veins.
Basically the opposite of myself, whose smile was a little crooked, had some splotches that formed on the neck when I got nervous, and in the winter was white enough to shame Count Tepes. Thankfully, once I burned a few times in the summer, I could usually requisition a decent tan, so not all hope was lost.
“Hey Pear,” Serah said, rocking to the beat, “Do we have an ETA on that stir fry? The rumblies are hitting me pretty hard right now.”
“Depends,” Perry sprinkled some sort of garlic seasoning into the mix, “How done do you want the peppers?”
I liberated an open seat of its vacancy, and tried not to look like the universe was pulling me apart with pliers at my excitement. That is to say, I gazed with excessive intensity at Perry until somebody said something.
“Yo, Joel. Sorry I didn’t say hi when you came in,” Perry said without looking up.
“Hon,” Serah said, “I think he wants to tell you something.” She grinned at my slashing, shark-like expression.
Perry pursed his lips and noticed my irreverent attention, “Okay, yeah, that’s not normal. What’s up?”
He said the words with kind interest, but didn’t seem to pick up on my ‘holy crap this is the best thing since the Roman Coliseum’ vibes, yet. “Perry, do you know Jordan from school?”
Scraping and sizzling erupted from the pan as Perry shuffled a wooden spoon through its contents. “Joel, there are several Jordans in our school.”
“THE Jordan. Two lockers.”
“The two lockers thing isn’t as special as you make it sound,” Perry said, “But I know who you’re talking about. What about him?”
“He’s an Anarchist.”
“Okay,” Perry said with paper-thin disappointment, as if he was expecting something more.
“And also the crew captain of a team that frequents tournaments.”
This actually jostled him away from his task. Perry spun out of the kitchen area, abandoning the meal for a moment before retaining his composure and going back to finish the job, “Woah, woah, what?”
I reveled in the unique satisfaction that came from blowing somebody’s mind. My slanted smile permeated the room with thicker potency than a kick of wine.
Not that I knew how wine tasted back then, of course. I was a teenager, we don’t drink. Duh.
“Who are the other members?”
“Comet, Davis, Sid and GG– erm, Garrison. I don’t know their last names. I played all of them. They’re good, each in their own way.”
“Played them?” Perry was basically salivating, and not because of the food, “Where?”
“At school. They practice after classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”
“Were you invited to come back?!”
Hook, line, and sinker, “And you can come, too.”
“You know,” Serah cut in, “He’s trying to do something important, Joel. Why must you distract him?”
Playful exasperation hit my eyes, “You can starve, Serah.”
“Already working on it,” she grinned, “Seriously though, leave him alone. He might burn himself or something.”
“I’m basically done anyways,” Perry snapped off the heat of the stovetop and started scooping the stir onto a couple of plates, “Come get it, dearie.”
The endearment was so casual that it almost sounded like a jab at them actually being a couple.
Serah swung her legs off the sofa and onto the floor in such a blur that I might have actually been a little startled. Not my most impressive moment.
“Did you want any, Joel?” Perry asked, nodding to the Mediterranean chicken on the dish, diced with assorted peppers, onions and string beans.
Tempting. “I’ll pass, thank you though.”
“Woo!” Serah bounced with fresh animation as a new track came on over the speakers, “More for me.”
“Serah, most girls aren’t excited to eat more food. Usually they’re in business to cut down. You know, maintain their curves.”
Simply put, I was no savant with words, especially regarding the ladies. I rightfully deserved a slap upside the head for that one, but she took it in merciful stride.
“Not too worried about it,” she said, “I can still outrace you, and school you in arm-wrestling ten out of ten times.”
Tested and proven. I sighed.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” She said, shoveling chicken into her mouth.
Perry made up a plate for himself, but lacked any interest in actually eating it. He set the dish aside and took a seat next to me, thumbing his wide-rimmed glasses back into place, “So tell me more about these Anarchists. Are they looking for teammates?”
I bit my lip and decided to keep the whole truth to myself about their open position. Position. Singular. “Yep.”
“Oh man,” he cupped his hands behind his head, “We’ve gotta get in on that.”
“I know you’ve always wanted to play Anarchy a little more seriously,” Serah said, chomping on food from her stool at the kitchen counter, “Sounds like fun.”
“It would be,” I said slowly, “I’m still perplexed you’re like this.”
“Like what?” Serah took another bite, examining herself to make certain she hadn’t accidentally spilled on herself in her mad frenzy to consume every last morsel.
My tongue explored my cheek, “You know. Um. Understanding, I guess,” I grasped at words like they were whispers in a heavy crowd, “Not many girls are so encouraging of their boyfriend’s pursuit of video game-related interests.”
She shrugged, “I don’t see the problem. He gets a kick out of it, and I like the fire in his eyes when he’s desperately trying to win. It’s cute.”
“Cute?” Perry parroted the word, uncertain, “Not exactly what I strive to be.”
“Dude, shut up,” I told him, “If she likes you as cute, be freaking cute, man. Channel your inner Hello Kitty or whatever you need to do. Be adorable.”
He rolled his eyes at me and Serah laughed, her athlete’s belly flattening like a sheet of metal beneath her blouse.
“But seriously,” I turned the conversation back, “She’s a girl who understands. Even if it’s not the ‘best’ hobby or whatever, she knows you love it, and has no problem with that. As long as she’s still the number one priority, of course.”
“Of course,” Perry answered.
“Even then,” Serah stirred some noodles with the teeth of her fork, “I know I’m not the girl who understands him best,” she shook her head, “Lady Thrice has that one advantage.”
“Yeah, but you’re a real person,” Perry defended, “Though you’re right. Nothing beats that relationship. I love me some Thrice.”
Lady Thrice was Perry’s main. She was a sort of zombie-empress from a game called Tales of Otherland. Her character was the benevolent ruler of loyal subjects, but fate would have her assassinated at the end of the antagonist’s knife. However, her son managed to resurrect the lingering soul, where the empress dragged supernatural powers back into her cold corpse, now resurrected. At the end of the game, she would die again, though only metaphorically, as she gave up her aspiration for revenge. Without that burden, her lens on life was transformed again. So it was, she was thrice alive. Horray for narrative theming.
“To be fair, she got you first,” false resignation crept through Serah’s shoulders, “What’s little old me to do against an empress?”
“Sit and wallow in her place,” I said, pointedly, “Peasant.”
“You know,” she aimed the fork at me, still chewing, “You’re stepping dangerously close to the realm of Smacktown, kid.”
“Kid? We’re the same age.”
“All that more embarrassing that I am your superior in nearly every way.”
“Except being awesome.”
She raised an eyebrow at me, “Is that what we’re resorting to? Cheap playground nonsense?”
Serah snorted and turned the brunt of her attention back to the plate, nearly cleared, “Yeah, I’ll chalk this up as my win.”
“Your face is a win.”
“Joel, stop. I’m in pain watching you struggle,” Perry said as he turned to his food and began to eat right as Serah finished slurping down her last pepper.
So it went that the evening passed in a sheathe of warm company. We hung around, throttled to music (which I eventually hijacked so I needn’t endure an endless stream of techno-pop), went some rounds through our homework, and fantasized over what it would be like to be at the Western Grand Rally, the largest Anarchy tournament in the Americas. Perry dropped the news that he’d gotten a job at a nearby hamburger joint, where he’d be picking up some part time hours after school. Mostly Thursday and Friday, thankfully. Can’t have stuff like ‘work’ and ‘money’ and ‘responsibility’ get in the way of our fun.
Eventually Perry’s mother and father came home from work and his dad shuttled me back to my house at the crack of dusk. He didn’t mind the trip, usually. Gave him and my father time to catch up on their one, mutual hobby. Something, something football drafts and seasonal something, somethings.
It might seem like a boring and predictable thing, but my first order of business was to cut straight to my bedroom, where I promptly locked the door and fired up Anarchy. I wasn’t a part of Jordan’s crew yet (which I realized I still I didn’t know the team name, so I’d have to figure that out), but if I were to be a prospective member, I needed to up my ante. I mean, I’d almost lost to Dax and Petre, for heaven’s sake.
Hours and hours of further training would be required if I were to enter tournaments, and when I started to grow weary or bored, a quick thought of clashing with an established Anarchy personality on a stage to be seen by tens of thousands of people live and on the internet revitalized my passion. I could do it. I might lose, but I could take up arms against the best of the best, and that alone would be worth the time and experience.
So I played all night. I did homework on Saturday, and attended to the obligatory things, like lunch with my grandmother and donating blood. I did that sometimes. But afterwards I came back to my hyperbolic time chamber of a room and put the pedal to the metal, churning out hours slaughtering AI’s and defeating people in the often (but not always) lagged online feature of the game. I might have rage quit a couple times that weekend, but even in those three days alone, I felt a change in my performance.
Because of Jordan and his crew, I was preparing for war.