“Do you have to leave too,” Michael asked with alarm. “Nah,” Nichole said while yawning, “I won’t have to be anywhere for another hour.” She plopped down next to Michael on the couch. She looked over and said, “Dude! That drawing is metal!” Michael looked over at her smiling face and reflexively grinned as well. “Oh, thanks,” he said quietly. “It’s a part of this dumb world I’ve been working on.”
“What’s it like?”
“Oh, nothing special. It’s sort of like Castlevania.”
“Awesome! Yeah, I see it. The village and castle look Romanian. It could almost be Dracula.”
“Yeah, I had that in mind.”
“That is really cool,” Nichole insisted, “This drawing would make a great cover for an album. You know Iron Maiden,” she asked. Michael pondered for a second. “Oh, yeah. My dad has a few of their vinyls in his closet.” Nichole pointed at his drawing and said, “This could be one of their covers.” Michael tried to brush off her compliment and she insisted, “No, really! You’re talented, dude. So, you like Castlevania? Old-school or the newer ones?”
“The old school ones,” said Michael, suddenly speaking up. “Well, except for Castlevania II, I mean.” Nichole chuckled and scoffed, “Castlevania II! Did anyone even play that one?” Michael joked, “ ‘What a terrible night for a curse?’ What night wouldn’t be? I mean, I wish I could mod it so it said ‘What a fantastic night for a curse!’” Nichole laughed and briefly put her hand on Michael’s shoulder. This brought a furtive yet excited flash of a smile to his face.
They continued to chitchat for the next hour. They discussed Nichole’s favored genre heavy metal and Michael’s love of classical clarinet, they talked a bit about French (and Nichole said a few sentences in French to enjoy the sadistic pleasure of overwhelming a first-semester student), and they exchanged a bit of family histories. Michael decided to skip class so that he wouldn’t have to cut short their conversation. All good things must come to an end, however, and Nichole eventually said “Au revoir,” adding, “Have a good weekend.” Michael answered, “Thank you too!” Then quietly, “I mean thanks, you too.” After she turned the corner Michael’s face drooped and he retracted into an upright fetal position on the couch. He groaned while wedging his head between his knees. A few seconds later he returned to a proper position so he could draw again.
This time the figure was in a brightly-lit cottage with his wife. The figure, whom Michael had named Edmund Barton, was now in the Light World. Here he would not have to concern himself with the evil forces that plagued the land. In the Light World there was no fog, no lambent darkness, and—most importantly—no involuntary solitude. Here he could relax; he and Mrs. Jane Barton in the happy villa. Under the gentle shade of the gable they sat back and watched little birds bathe in a fountain. Tweet, tweet. Edmund put his arm around Jane and she rested her head upon his shoulder. In the Dark World Edmund would be adventuring alone, with the weight of the world on his shoulders—and what an awesome task that shall be! But here the only weight on his shoulder was his beloved’s head of golden locks and soft sighs.
Michael set down his pencil and took a long, deep breath. He let it out as he looked around and saw the empty chairs and couches. The area was empty save a single student walking toward him. “Hey, is anyone sitting here,” the student asked. “No,” Michael replied barely audible. “Actually, I think I should be going, so it’s all yours.” Without making eye contact he quickly packed up his things and sulked off.
* * *
A knock came on Michael’s bedroom door. “Come in,” he said. A second knock. “Come in,” Michael repeated, this time loudly. Jeff opened the door to see Michael sitting on his bed with Noelle lying in his lap. “Hey, buddy,” Jeff said with a sing-song voice, “How was your day today?” Michael was looking down at Noelle and scratching her ears. Without looking up he muttered, “Fine.”
“That’s good, bud. Listen, I’m going to have an appointment with Dr. Paul next Tuesday at 4:00 and I’m gonna need you to drive me. Do you have anything else going on?” Michael absentmindedly continued petting Noelle and answered, “No, I can take you.” No sooner had Jeff heard this response that he turned away with a hasty “Thanks.” Michael called after, “Dad, wait.”
“It’s, um… Do you think I can get my license sometime?”
“Yeah, my driver’s license.”
“What do you want your license for?”
Just then Noelle got up and walked off leaving Michael alone on the bed. “Well, I mean, I want to drive. It can be useful; and I’m almost 19, so….” His voice trailed off. Jeff drummed his fingers on Michael’s doorframe, his body half-way hanging into Michael’s room. “Hmm,” Jeff thought out loud, “We might be able to do that. The motor in the driver’s side mirror is burnt out so you have to adjust the mirror manually, but I don’t think they’ll have a problem with that at the DMV. You know what? I’m sure we can make that happen. Let me go crunch the numbers, OK?” “OK, Dad. Thanks,” Michael said as Jeff disappeared into the hallway.
Michael stared off into space for a moment then snapped out of it as Noelle started eating. “I just don’t know what to say, little girl,” he sighed through her sporadic crunching. “My gut and heart and brain are all telling me different things. It’s like when I’m with her I’m a totally different person and… well, I don’t know what to say but somehow I still say the right things and make her laugh, and we get along really nice. But I can’t. I mean, I just can’t. Someone luckier got to her first.”
He reclined and gazed up at the ceiling. “And I definitely won’t do that again. High school is over. She’s gone.”