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The house was quiet as a boy slowly walked down the stairs, each step punctuated with a little creak. He roughly grabbed an apple and bit into it, chewing and swallowing quickly as he heard the muffled roar of his father waking up. His eyes rolled sarcastically, almost on their own. Of course he wasn’t up yet. It wasn’t like he was supposed to be at work in less than fifteen minutes…
He bit the apple again, then threw it into the garbage, knowing his dad would love an excuse to yell at him, and took a swig of water. The knob was freezing when he grabbed it, and he hit the door with his shoulder, forcing it to open for him.
His eyes fell upon the big cheesy yellow bus that had just pulled up. He was suddenly filled with relief that he’d stopped taking it. No senior really took the bus, but since the chance of his dad getting him a car was lower than the star quarter back coming to school in a dress, the bus had seemed his only option. His eyes passed over the bus driver, who seemed to be glaring at him, and he shrugged, turning away from it. His legs stretched as his feet hit the pavement, and though each movement brought him closer to the brick prison he’d have to stay in another four months, it felt really freeing.
He jammed his headphones on to his head and the buzz on the preteen girls looking at him was blocked out and replaced with Viking Metal. His lips twitched upwards as the song climaxed, and he closed his eyes, going into his own world, into Miklagard. Something hit him hard in the shoulder, and he jumped, knocking one of his headphones off.

Hey there, birthday boy,” Darius said, grinning. Darius was just about the picture of the perfect teenage boy. He was tall, muscular, tan, and, so blond that his hair almost looked silver in the light. He’d never seen the change between Darius, his old friend, and Darius Alexander, shoo in for Prom King, but he’d certainly felt it, that distance between them. He wasn’t quite who he had been.
Darius yanked the head phones off, twirling them between his fingers, and started to walk. “Talk to me, Rasmus, I miss your beautiful voice.”
Well, maybe he was still Darius…
Rasmus hit him in the back of the head, and grabbed his head phones. His fingers swiftly paused his iPod and shoved it back in his jeans pocket.
“As of this day, I can legally order things of the TV.”
“Oh my God. Buy me a snuggie.”
“Yeah, definitely, I’ll do that right away.” He laughed.
“We still hanging out?”
“No, I suddenly found more than one friend and I’m ditching you.”
“Where we going?” Darius replied.
“Eh, I don’t know. I’ll go anywhere as long as you buy the pizza.”
“Chuck E. Cheese?”
“Anywhere but there.”
“Fine.” Darius rolled his eyes. Rasmus could see him searching for things that both still liked doing, and felt a pang. The distance was looking too obvious.
“Uh,” He said for no reason but to break the silence. “How about we just hang at the water?”
Darius’ confused stare made him realize his mistake. The water was where he’d been going for years to find inspiration for his writings and roleplays- and he’d never told Darius about it.
“It’s just this place that I found. I’ve been writing there.” He tried to explain it away with a shrug, but Darius was still looking at him with a kind of suspicious expression.
“Oh. Alright. Well, you’ll have to show me where that is. But it could work.” He looked awkward, and Rasmus was done with the conversation. It didn’t matter that Darius was the only person he could physically talk to, he didn’t want or need this.
“Yeah,” He agreed. “Come over my house after school?”
“I have practice.”
“Oh. Right.”
“Um, how about after? It ends at like three thirty.”

He turned and walked into the school as Darius was flooded by his teammates. The air was cool and made his skin prickle as he passed into it, and the only noise was the banging of the door as it slammed shut behind him. With fifteen minutes left of freedom, most people were outside, pretending they could forget where they would be in a few minutes. He, on the other hand, had even less for himself out there than he did in the actual school.
He walked through the hall, fingering the locks as he went, until he found his solitary locker. It stood alone, away from the group, as if it, like he, was happy alone.
He pulled on his lock without putting in the combination, and plucked it from its hanging space on the metal. The door swung open with little force from his hand, and he flung his book bag into the open space. Slamming the door back into place, and slipping the lock back in and closing it yet again, he turned. His first period class was right across the hall, and though the teacher was almost never there for the first twenty minutes, the door was always unlocked. His hand twisted the knob and the door opened for him. He flicked the lights on with one finger, then slumped down in his desk, pulling out with phone.
Hey guys,” He quickly typed into his group’s chat.
Hey Rasmus,” His friend, Nora answered him almost right away.
Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” He teased. It’s almost, what? Nine pm over there?”
“Shut up, loser xP”
A second later she added,Oh, and congratulations on reaching level 18 of Life.”
He smiled, and started to reply to her, when a man stepped into the room. The smile slipped off his face and his phone was instantly pocketed.
Of course. Not only did there have to be a sub, but it had to be him, Darius’ first ex’s father. Mr. Knott.
His head fell onto his chest and his eyes slipped down to the desk. The phone was in his lap again in a matter of seconds, and he quickly typed a goodbye.
Sorry, I’ve got to go… Good night, oh hardcore one.”
Before she could answer, his phone was back in his pockets and invisible to all. He could already feel Mr. Knott’s eyes on him. He believed that Rasmus was exactly like Darius- the only person in the entire town who did. He couldn’t exactly blame him for hating Darius so much, though. He and Deaara had gone out their entire freshmen year, and then, first day of the new year, he texted her that he wanted to break up. And came to school with a cheerleader girlfriend.
It was that kind of thing that made Rasmus feel like he didn’t even know him anymore. Maybe he couldn’t stay the same as the six year old he once was, but he could’ve at least kept the things he used to believe in. And mistreating a girl in anyway was something he definitely never would have done before. All the mothers had always called him a little gentleman. Well, maybe all those compliments really blew up his ego at some point.
He lifted his head to peer over at the substitute who had finally taken a break from glaring at him. He had the same eyes and nose as his daughter. And even though he was beginning to bald, and his hair was losing its color, he could tell that they must have once had the same hair, too. He couldn’t help but feel bad for the crumpling man in front of him. Frowning, he wondered if Darius had ever even apologized to either of them for what he had done. It wasn’t like it could have undone anything, but it was really the right thing to do. They deserved it.
“What do you want, Mr. Dahl?” He snarled at him.
“Oh well,” He thought. “Sympathy gone.”
The bell screamed through out the school, and the chattering of overly dramatic high schoolers filled the halls. He tilted his head to the window to break himself away from Mr. Knott and the apparently normal teenagers that were beginning to come into the classroom, bringing with them conversations of what they had been doing the night before. What was the point about bragging about how much fun you had? To make yourself feel better about all the awful things you did?
He sighed, and turned his attention back to the landscape outside of the window. The clouds were a million times more interesting to him than anything anyone in this class could say to him. He could brag about his yesterday, too, if he wanted to. He’d fought a dragon, killed a horde of hobbes, and beheaded an orc, and then spent the night at a pub with his two best friends. But, silly him, that wasn’t interesting at all, and he knew it. If only these bumbling idiots could figure out the same thing. Was life just a shopping trip and a random changing of partners? If that was so, he seemed to be living it the wrong way. But he didn’t really care- or, at least, couldn’t bring himself to. As long as he had to go on acting out with insignificant story of his life, he’d just free write it and try not to think about just how his chapter was going to end.
A sharp voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Maggie!” A girl whined, arms crossed, looking at the new girl. “Cain just told me that you aren’t coming to the party tonight.” She eyed the fidgeting girl accusingly.
“I- I have to go to work tonight,” She explained.
“Skip it,” The girl answered with a laugh. “This is totally the party of the year, okay?”
“But, Lilith-“
“Nope, no ‘but’s! You’re going. So, ta! See you then.” Lilith Knight turned on her heel and walked back into the hall, leaving the slightly panicked looking girl behind her.

Strange to think that these were the kinds of people Darius was associating with now. Lilith wasn’t exactly “popular”, per se, seeing as nobody liked her, but she was high up with the boys, and high up with her fellow preps. If that’s what you wanted for your life, then you looked up to her and did what she said. Unfortunately, that happened to be a about half the female population at the school. Maggie, it seemed, was classified as that group now. Sad, really, he’d talked to her before, and she was a nice girl who had just wanted to join the softball and soccer teams. Well, that was how it started, wasn’t it? And she’d got it from both ends. Lilith was sure not t let any of her prey escape, either.
He watched her victim, Maggie, take out her cell phone and begin to furiously text. Losing interest, he glanced over at the clock. His eyes squeezed shut, knowing that the day would be a long one for him.

His eyes locked on the clock across the room, he muttered a muted count down under his breath. The teacher was still writing on the board as if she didn’t realize that the school would be emptying itself as it did everyday, in just a handful of seconds. The bell let out a sharp shriek as the kids who had drifted towards the door bolted from the room, and the others threw their bags over their shoulders and fought against the crowd to freedom.
Swinging the black bag around his arm, Rasmus moved towards the door, moving strategically through the swarm of students as if they were a maze, and he a lone traveler in it. He pressed through the throng and quickened his steps as the front door came into sight. The cool glass pressed against his reaching fingers, and with a sigh, the door opened, the barrier that had been keeping the prisoners far from the real world gone from them once again. He stretched his body out and held his arms to the sky before he slumped again, starting home. The walk was both much too fast and far too long. For once he didn’t feel like being alone, but he definitely didn’t feel like seeing his dad. He glanced down at his cell phone where he had his chat open, as he had it almost all the time. Only two people were on, and they were apparently in a pretty intense argument that he would rather not get into with them. It was all they ever did their anymore, truthfully. He hadn’t had a real conversation with either of them in months.
Len suddenly flashed online.
Happy Womb Emancipation Day!”
“Thanks man. Merry unbirthmas.”
“I want to get you a present!”
“And give it to me how exactly?”
“I have no idea. Maybe I’ll just go kill a dragon. Or conquer a village and name it after you.”
“Well, that would be easier.”

He smiled, knowing that if it was possible, his two best friends would be there with him. Well, if one of them didn’t live three hours away and the other in Australia. His smile faded a little. They would give up commitments for him. They would probably make hanging out on his birthday a real priority.
He felt a bitterness towards Darius, then guilt set it. He knew how important practice was for the team, to Darius. Plus, it wasn’t like he was ditching him, was it? They were just… intruding into his hidden place. Yeah, really great.
His foot scattered a small gathering of gravel and stone, and he looked up as they flew through the air, landing haphazardly on the ground. He could see his house, and it took all his control not to just turn around and walk the other way. One foot over the other, he trudged to his house watching the ugly building he no longer felt was home come closer into view. His phone lit up.

“Hey. I think I could convince my dad to drive me down there. Want to meet up later?”

He had talked to Len’s dad once from his webcam, and guessed that was the only reason that his dad knew about him, and realized that he wasn’t an old pedophile preying on young roleplaying nerds. But this meant that he could really talk to Len- face to face. He grinned and started a response, then remembered Darius.
“Well, kind of more tonight, but yeah, if that’s okay. I mean, it’s your birthday.”

His heart sank.
Sorry man, I’d love to, but I really can’t today.”
“That sucks. Well, my dad won’t be home for an hour, so message me when you change your mind. I MEAN IF.”
“Will do. And again, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s all good.”

Again, he felt that bitter resentment towards Darius. Darius who was just fitting him in like a doctor’s appointment, who knew so little about his life. He burst through his doors, and flew straight to the couch, throwing himself on it. He knew that if he stayed there, his father would just pretend, as did the student population, that he didn’t exist.
An hour passed without notice with the help of TV and messaging, and when the phone rang, it felt like a sound from someone else’s life.
“Hey,” Darius said when he heard Rasmus pick up the phone.
“Oh, hey.”
“So, um, I have to stay another hour or so. Big game tomorrow, you know.” He said it all in an awkward rush.
“Oh, uh, okay.”
“We could either hang out later,” Darius told him. “or maybe tomorrow after the game?” His voice sounded hopeful and Rasmus hated him for it. “I don’t want to keep you waiting or anything, you know?”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Rasmus assured him, knowing that it wasn’t what Darius wanted to hear, and ignoring the fact that it could solve his problems. “You’ll get out around five?”
“Um, yeah…”
“So, see you then.”
“I guess. See you then.”

Rasmus hung up the phone feeling superior. Looking down at his cell, he knew that Len would’ve been the better choice, the more fit companion.
“But this is a victory,” He argued with himself. “I won against Darius.”

With that in his head, he waited, waited for five o’clock to come around, and for Darius to follow. It came, and soon went. At five thirty, he was getting impatient and annoyed.
Jumping to his feet and pocketing his phone, he headed for the door. Pushing it open with more force than necessary, he went through it, reaching the outside again. Ignoring the sidewalk, he cut right through the road, and swerved to move through the intersection that would lead to Darius’ house. It was a way he had gone many times before, though not nearly as recklessly. There were just two differences in this trip. One, he was headed out with a rage for his friend and nothing more. Two, the thing he
should have been paying attention to.
Bright lights in the dull evening, the sound of tires. He turned to see a truck, much too big to ever see him, racing down the street, far past the speed limit. Racing down the street, right towards him. His legs froze and his feet stuck to the ground. He could’ve sworn that he stopped breathing all together. He would have shut his eyes if he could have figured out how to. And then the strangest thing happened. One second he could see his life flashing before his eyes, the next the air was being knocked out of him. His eyes found focus just in time to see Darius fall to the road.

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