|The Daily Buzz
Author: Botosphere PM
In ROTF, Sam and Leo disappeared for parts unknown. Back home, their roommates made a startling discovery-the alien robots like to blog! The continuing story of four boys, a blog and a year in college.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor - Fassbinder & Sharsky - Chapters: 31 - Words: 101,162 - Reviews: 585 - Favs: 245 - Follows: 284 - Updated: 04-04-13 - Published: 09-29-09 - id: 5409772
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: This chapter ties in with chapters 28 and 32 of TTB. Hope you enjoy!
The Christmas pageant was more pageant than Christmas, of course. Lian let me sit up in the lighting booth with her and Colin for the whole thing, so I wasn't paying attention as much to Nancy's dance number as I was to Lian. I tried not to come anywhere near her so I wouldn't make her feel uncomfortable, but the good thing was that we didn't act like we had sticks up our you-know-wheres the entire time and she even let me man the colored cels for the spotlight. When she came over for after-pageant cookies, she spent equal time talking to me and Nancy; that felt like kind of a snub, but chances were that she was trying just as hard as me to keep all of this casual.
Christmas passed semi-quietly. Nancy insisted on trying out her new iHome stereo immediately and tortured us all until I snuck into her room and swapped her Miley Cyrus for some good old-fashioned My Chemical Romance. Mom immediately called a cease-fire and I went back to installing the new video card upgrade that Mom had gotten for my laptop. When that was done, I divided the amount of candy I'd gotten by the number of days I had left and worked out a rationing system. By the time Lian called to tell us all Sung Tan Chuk Ha (the only Korean holiday wish she knew), I had Skyped with Leo and put in a few mandatory hours in mod duties.
"So," Lian said once Nancy and the 'rents had gotten in their quality time, "you coming to Life Day with us tomorrow?"
It was tempting-they had a caffeine-only drinking game based on the Holiday Special and by the time Carrie Fisher started singing, we were all pretty hysterical-but I had other obligations.
"It's Boxing Day," I said. "You really think I'm not being dragged off to the mall by one or both the females in my family?"
"If you need me to make an excuse for you, I can," she offered in whatever counted for chivalry in a girl.
"Mom put off getting me winter clothing until she knew if I'd gain the Freshman Fifteen and now she thinks I need a different cable-knit sweater for every day of the week."
Lian groaned sympathetically at the thought of having to go anywhere near Abercrombie and Fitch. "What about tomorrow?"
"Hanging out with the mathletes who weren't trying to beat me at state."
"The day after?"
"Don't know yet. Can I get back to you?"
She went very silent for a second and I had the feeling that she put me on mute to cover up a sigh. When she came back, she sounded a little peeved.
"Are you trying to avoid me?"
"I thought we were good," she grumbled.
"We are good," I said hastily. "I just don't have everything in my day planner. I'll figure something out..."
"But you're going to Jakwon's Nintendofest, right?" Lian interrupted.
"Of course," I said confidently. In my family, going our separate ways for New Year's Eve was practically a sacred tradition. We all agreed with Mom that it was a way to contemplate our resolutions without the pressure of the familial unit, but it basically meant that no one of us had to put up with everyone else's dumb plans. "How about we meet up on the 29th and work out our strategy then?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "I still owe you authentic Mexican food made by a half-Korean, half-German MBA."
"Brains included?" I teased.
"If you're man enough," she laughed. "Call me about it tomorrow."
It was the happiest I'd heard her sound since we left Olive Garden and as soon as I hung up the phone, I scrolled through my contacts and hit 'talk.'
"Yo, Feliz Navidad and namaste, mijo," Leo answered after two rings. "You missing me already?"
"Missing our flatscreen, more like," I said casually. "You got a minute?"
"Talk to me," he begged. "Mi abuelita hasn't stopped trying to feed me in six hours and I've had about as much mole as I can take."
For all his whining, this was a Leo who was happy to be home. He was with his people, a family of genuine compadres who were just as pushy as him. When we got him back, he would be ¾ Spanglish and ¼ Bossman, instead of the other way around.
"So, I think we need to read Lian in."
"Yeah?" He said something in a rush in Spanish that ended with a burst of "Get off." He was either being really rude to his abuelaor his 4-year-old cousin was trying to bother him. "Things go that good?"
"Sort of," I said. Only Sharsky had all the details. "I think she's got a right to know about this whole RPG thing, since she hacked the site for us in the first place."
"I don't know," Leo considered. "We talked to some of the boys yesterday and they weren't too happy about us letting a coupla punks in on our game."
"We're not in on anything," I protested. "We're just reading and rolling on the floor a bit."
"Okay, a lot," I admitted. "But you know she won't butt in. She should know that we're not chasing down some rogue aliens anymore, though."
"Mami, no. Eso es mi...MA! Can't someone else babysit?" He came back, sounding distracted. "Okay, here's the deal. You get Sam and Sharsky on board with this and I'll back it up. Got it?"
"Thanks, mijo," I chuckled. "Try not to kill any cousins."
He snorted. "So, you going to see her again?"
"Yeah..." I hesitated. "About that..."
"Details," he barked.
"Actually, I need a favor."
The background noise faded a little and I figured he'd gone outside or was hiding in a bathroom. "Another one?"
"This one's different," I promised. "See, she wants to go to her cousin's restaurant on the 29th and I need some help..."
"You're meeting the fam?"
"I met the fam years ago."
"So, you need some threads advice," he guessed next. "Get on Skype again and I'll pick out your wardrobe."
"No, no, no." I waved my hands even though he couldn't see. "We're going to this Mexican restaurant and I need you to teach me how to eat with a tortilla."
Leo let out a long-suffering sigh a moment later. "You've got four days?"
"I've seen you eat," he grunted. "It'll be cutting it close, but I think we can do it."
By the time we got through tacos de ceza and lengua rellena and everything else Lian dared me to eat, I still hadn't gotten a 'yes' from the boys. I did manage to only drop carne asada on my shirt twice, but Lian seemed to have a good time and let me use a fork for the flan she bought me. I walked her to her door again and promised to pick her up at 8 on New Year's Eve. Being her friend-zoned chauffeur was hell, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was kind of getting used to it.
Sharsky finally got off WoW long enough to text me a "Hell, yeah!" that night. It was 7:30 on December 31 when Sam finally called me back after my fifth text of the holiday. "You have my blessing," he said solemnly. "I think we can trust her more than we trust Sharsky."
"My thoughts exactly," I sniggered. "Thanks, man."
He had no idea what I was going to tell her, since he was still probably convinced that we were buying into the RPG story. I had my own agenda, but I called Leo immediately.
"You got the votes?" he asked..
"I got the votes," I confirmed. "Sharsky says 'hell, yeah' and Sam says 'you have my blessing.'"
"He would," Leo snickered. "Do you need me on speed dial in case..."
"I got this."
"Vaya con dios," he said.
The party was a billion kinds of awesome. I beat Lian's high score on Tetris after one game and then let her thrash me at Street Fighter II. Even Leo would have been impressed by my chivalry. With her skillz, it wasn't like I could really avoid losing anyway. When we'd had enough of MarioKart, she dragged me to the basement where Lian's friend Emily was starting up Batman Begins.
"I got Dark Knight for Chanukah," she announced. "We'll watch that next."
"Awesome," I said. There was nothing like a good action movie to end the year. "Dibs on the beanbag chair."
Lian sat on the couch behind me and periodically kicked me in the back when she found something funny. Halfway through Dark Knight, though, Emily hit pause.
"Time to get ready for the countdown," she announced.
This being a mathlete-organized event, it was alcohol-free. We weren't boring, but we didn't want to kill off brain cells before the new term started. I grabbed another cup of Dr. Pepper and positioned myself within earshot.
"I've got something to tell you," I said under my breath.
Lian looked over her shoulder so quickly I was afraid she'd get whiplash and gave me an alarmed look. "This isn't the time for a declaration of love," she blurted out.
"No, not that," I said just as quickly. "You'll like this."
It took some doing, but I'd figured out how to tell her everything she would want to know about our Buzz discoveries in thirty seconds. I finished as the rest of the crowd were yelling "One..." and she threw her arms around me as soon as they got to "Happy New Year."
It wasn't the midnight kiss I'd been hoping for, but she was hugging the life out of me at midnight and that was good enough. All it had taken was letting her in on a few little secrets.
We didn't see each other for a couple of days, but Lian IM'd me off and on as she re-read the Buzz with Sharsky's and my theories in mind. We even got together at the Burger King on Wilcrest for shakes and conspiring the weekend after New Years. She was cool with keeping all this from Leo, and she totally wanted me to send her a few pics of Cam just so she could see what a maybe-alien looked like in a human suit. I promised her I would, feeling more than a little bummed that she wanted pictures of Tall, Blond and Blogger instead of me, but I was the one she was stealing fries from, so I took what I could get and told myself it was good enough.
My winter vacation ended much better than I thought it would, but it wasn't enough holiday cheer to keep me feeling all warm and fuzzy when I returned to college. Being the sadist that she was, Cami scheduled her employee orientation five days before the start of classes and at least a couple of days before everyone else would be coming back to the dorm. My flight arrived at 10 P.M. and so it was pushing midnight when the taxi dropped me off on the empty campus. Figuring the night was young, I got to work. Leo left me marching orders via email, but I took my own sweet time, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Bossman even had the decency to let me sleep in a little and didn't call until after noon the next day. "So?" he demanded when I picked up.
I could almost hear Leo waggling his eyebrows, but the number of syllables he added made the question suggestive enough.
"So I told her," I said. "At midnight."
"And there was smoochie-smoochie?"
I was glad I hadn't tried that. I didn't want anything I ever did referred to as "smoochie-smoochie."
"There was hugging."
"Ugh." He was silent for a few seconds and I got the impression that he'd muted me for purposes of saying a few more things. "What a waste of a secret."
"Well, maybe if you'd given me something better to work with..."
"Not a chance, mijo," Leo said glibly. "I'm not the one calling the shots on the game. You'll have to whine at Alienboy."
"Alienboy's in charge?"
"No, but he's besties with everyone," he countered. "He might have an in that I don't."
I didn't doubt it. Leo was the king of conspiracy theories, but Sam was most likely to have actually been probed at some point. And he was our link to Camaro76.
"How's the crib?"
I don't know what he thought would have happened to our dorm room since we left, but the first thing he'd had me do when I got back into town was do an inventory. Everything was still there and I had even beta-tested our shiny new TV before the boss called.
"Intact," I reassured him. "Any other things on the to-do list?"
"Nothing around there," Leo said, "but you're on call tonight for modding the forums. Is that going to be a problem?"
"Naw." I opened the mini-fridge and grabbed some of my Christmas stash. "I've got my employee orientation tomorrow, but tonight is all about me, the flatscreen and anything my mom wouldn't approve of."
Everyone else would think that was something naughty, but not a single one of the DVD's I'd scoped out had to do with saving the earth, a spiritual journey or romance. The closest I was going to come was maybe watching a DVD Jakwon had burned from the original TRON VHS.
"Good boy." Leo sniggered. "Sharsky's got us covered until about nine, when he's got a raid with his guildies."
I made a quick run to Campus Convenience for a gallon of ice cream and made myself some Red Bull Floats to keep me awake for my late-night modding duties. It was pretty boring stuff, since people were still too busy playing Guitar Hero or Call of Duty to actually cause a problem and no aliens had crashed into the Chrysler Building yet.
When Leo got bored at three a.m., he relieved me of my post and I crashed for a few hours. What woke me up wasn't my alarm clock, though. It was the bloop of a post alert. Since it was only about 20 minutes before I had to be up, I didn't ignore it. I checked to make sure none of our webcams were on and plopped myself in my desk chair to check out what was up.
I wasn't going to post over the holidays with everybody together, but I don't think I can let it go without saying something here about him. So yeah...
I'll miss him. I miss him already. We had so much hope for the future. It seemed kind of fated, too, that we'd all have a new start like this at the beginning of a new year. Instead, we've had to lay another friend to rest.
I know he wouldn't want us to be sad - that's just not him - and the Jazz funeral was a perfect choice. Still...my life will be just a little too quiet without him. I've done my grieving, but I don't know if I'm ready to write some blithe post about New Year's resolutions. So instead of looking forward, I want to look back. There are too many auld acquaintances I've almost forgotten. For me, this is a time for remembering, so without naming names, I want to offer a proverbial toast to the brother who raised me well, and to those who stood beside me as brothers and sisters after he fell.
NotTheToothFairy: To those who are as lost as our cherished fallen...there are no words.
BikerChick: Really, Camaro? You had to go and do this to us now? I'm going to give you a few dents later, but...yeah, it does seem more fitting. *sigh* ...To my oldest sister, who never lived to see our home destroyed. To my first and wisest creation, whom we all - greatest to least - still grieve. To my youngest sister, whose laughter lifted us all and who fell defending the defenseless. To my extended kin who have been severed from me. And last but not least, to my lost sister, who had better find her way here before her favorite walking weapon mopes himself to death. Happy now?
Camaro76: Not really.
BringTheRain: Daaamn, C76. You're cruel.
Survivor: To warriors who died beside me as brothers, no matter where they came from.
Optimust: To the one who, as they say, was my better half, and to her sister who stands with valor in her stead. To those who preceded me in both life and death. To my severed kin who still stand with me. To those who never had a choice.
Spitfire: (to NtTF) That's almost poetic. *hugs*
ConSlayer: You do realize you just insulted him, right? There are no words for it - in any language.
I scowled at the screen, rubbed my eyes, and read the post again, shifting gears from 'peace and quiet' to 'huh?' Somebody died? One of the Buzz posters DIED? I frantically refreshed the screen, trying to figure out who.
NurseRatched: As Optimust said, to my better half and to her sister who stands with generosity in her stead. To brothers who lived with courage and died with honor. To the many, many sparks of life that extinguished despite all I could do.
OneManAlone: To those who sacrificed in life and death to protect people who didn't even know they were in danger.
ElectricBlue: To my kin, all of whom have perished, and to those few of us who live to mourn.
BeeFF: I take it things didn't work out. You'll have to fill me in with the full story later. But anyway, to the years lost to stupid mistakes and love that finds a way no matter what.
S&M: Ta bruthas we waz too young ta know and ta da ones what helped us even tho dey didn' halfta.
BrassEagle (mod): I could recite the numbers of the missing and dead, but more importantly, I remember the names. To them all.
I went through the list twice before I finally figured out who was missing - Faithful, Ladiesman and IncidentalSidekick.
I was pretty sure Sharsky was still asleep, and Sam was in some kind of cell service dead zone, so I called up Leo in a panic.
"Somebody died!" I blurted out. "One of the Buzz posters DIED at New Years. They were all practically having a funeral on the blog! And I can't figure out who croaked and I don't know how they died or anything. The only ones who haven't commented are Faithful, Ladiesman, and IncidentalSidekick."
There was silence on the other end for a couple of seconds and he suspiciously asked, "Optimust commented, though, right? And BeeFF and Camaro76?"
"Yeah. Everybody but those three."
He sighed. "Hold on, lemme pull the blog up..." Almost like an afterthought, he added "The guys are probably just trying to get all introspective, though it's kind of a tacky way to kill a holiday buzz."
Yeah right, I thought. Because I was SOOO not buying the RPG crap anymore. Playing along, though, I said, "Somebody got voted off the island?"
He snorted. "Something like that. My money's on Faithful, probably for propositioning BeeFF."
"Sounds about right."
There was silence on the other end for a good minute or so as Leo read over the comments. Finally he muttered, "The punks," though there wasn't any fire behind it. "I think they invented a likeable character just to kill him off and they're all making up sob stories trying to one-up each other. Nobody on the blog told me."
"Maybe it was you that got the boot,' I suggested.
"Not a chance in hell," he said confidently. "I got way too much dirt on some of them."
"So go post, already," I said, and as the words fell out of my mouth, I realized Leo had just narrowed down to three what his username was. It wasn't even a leap to suggest Leo was IncidentalSidekick: IncidentalSidekick already sounded like Leo, and considering his little slip before Christmas when he joked about signing for the TV with IncidentalSidekick... He was added about the same time as Ladiesman, so did that make him Sam? And Ladiesman and BeeFF were...together. I pulled up her profile pic and squinted at it. BeeFF and Mikaela were both brunettes and, from what I could remember from the one time I met her, kinda looked alike. Leo, Sam, Mikaela, Cam...No way! Was Mikaela an alien sex goddess? Sam was one lucky SOB.
"Yeah, I should," Leo agreed. "You good to take over modding again?"
I shook myself out of my stunned stupor. "Sure." It was still slow on the forums, so I'd have plenty of time to update the org chart. It'd be a bonus Christmas present for Sharsky.
My sneaky creeps known as roommates were back when I got home from the Cami-run scheduling meeting. I was set up to be the go-to guy for anyone needing help after 8 Monday-Friday and was on duty every other night-before-exam. Since I wasn't a TA, I didn't have to have office hours or be the coffee boy anymore, but I wasn't allowed to screen calls from Cami unless I was an in an actual coma.
With all of that weighing on my mind, I was ready to faceplant on my bed, but I opened the door to find the TV blaring and four large pizzas open on the floor. It was the closest to happy I'd been in a week. Their greetings were incoherent, but I could tell that Leo had been back in the Valley for too long. I didn't understand a single word of his.
"Good to see you, too," I said casually. "Whadja do, carpool?"
"We were all getting in about an hour apart from each other," Sam explained, "so we just hung out and let Sharsky hit on people at baggage claim until Leo showed up."
"I know how to say 'go to hell' in Portugese now," he boasted like a toddler showing off his big boy Underoos.
"That's not all," Leo said. "Show the man your skillz."
To my surprise, Sharsky pulled a straight face and purred, "Salve, puellae, quid est signum tuum?"
"This chamaco has got his jones on for one of those Classics Studies chicks from the common room," Leo said. "He got one of his nerd friends to teach him how to say, 'Hey, girl, what's your sign?' in good old Roman."
"I'm..." I was still a little bit confused, not by the Latin, but the idea that anyone had a jones for ANY of those girls. "So proud?" I finished lamely.
"Speaking of which, how's Cami?"Leo asked with a smirk.
"There was no smoochie-smoochie," I deadpanned.
"Well, if you've given up on Lian..."
"I haven't given up on Lian," I interrupted. "I'm just respecting her boundaries."
"Good for you, man," Sharsky said, standing up so he could give me a bro hug. "You'll love again."
I smacked him upside the head, knocking his baseball cap askew. "So, what's up for tonight?"
"Lying low, my man," Leo said. "It's gonna take about four more cans of Red Bull for us to be back up to speed and we have to finish installing all the crap we got for Christmas."
I didn't argue, just dumped my bag on the floor and claimed the seat next to Sam. He was the only one not engrossed in his new vid card and he was next to the pepperoni pizza.
That also meant that when someone knocked timidly on the door-probably to tell us to turn everything down-I was on doorman duty.
It wasn't the RA or the neighbors. I stared stupidly at the person for a second before it clicked.
It was hard to recognize her. For one thing, she wasn't crying. For another, she was practically hiding behind a huge freaking gift basket like the ones you see on game shows for the people who didn't win the showcase showdown. The part of her face that I could still see turned slightly red.
"Hey," she said casually.
Before she fell over or sprained something, I took the basket and set it down. She seemed to get an inch taller now that she wasn't hauling that thing around.
"Hey yourself. You look...happier."
"Yeah." Her blush turned the color up a notch. "I passed, no problems."
After a few more seconds of staring stupidly at her, I stepped to the side. "You wanna come in?"
I hit the mute on the TV as soon as I passed by and the rest of the roomies looked up to protest. As soon as they noticed we had company, they all tried to straighten their posture and possibly look less like slobs.
"Guys." I gestured. "You remember..."
"The Borg," Sharsky blurted out. "You look different. Not all splotchy and stuff."
I was going to have to kick his butt in something for that.
"That's sort of why I'm here," she admitted, bending down to pick up the forgotten gift basket. "I wanted to say thanks for your help. It's not much, but..."
"Omaigaaaaaaaaaaad," Leo breathed. "Are those muffins?"
"Yeah." She glanced at me. "I made them."
"You have an oven?" Sharsky asked.
"You know how to use it?" Sam added.
"Every dorm has one," she pointed out. "Don't you guys ever..." She trailed off, taking in the scene of a pizza per techie. "I guess not."
"I can make ramen," I offered.
She set the basket on the nearest desk and we grouped around to inspect it. It looked like she'd Googled "gifts for geeks" and bought anything under ten bucks that was listed. There were new cables, a Yoda thumb drive, caffeinated soap and, best of all, a gift card to the pizza place we always used.
"You didn't have to," I said, honestly touched.
"Yes, you did," Sharsky interrupted, scooping up a handful of things and retreating to his own desk. Before I could interfere, he dug out his 'toolbox' and cracked open the thumb drive. Lisbeth went from pink to white in about two seconds flat.
"No, no, no!" I said and stepped in front of him to slap his hand away from it. "We just got it, dude!"
Leo took the opportunity to reach around me and nab one of the goodies. "Mmm, what is this?" he said around a mouthful.
"Caramel Apple muffins with fresh apples, dragee and caramel mixed in." Lisbeth bounced on her toes.
"Drag what?" Leo looked at his muffin in suspicion that it might turn him to wearing frilly dresses.
"Dragee - medieval spiced sugar," she said matter of factly, as if most people knew about arcane cooking practices. "You find it at the Revels every year."
She was met with the sort of look we were often given when discussing 'phase variance in the plasma manifolds' with non geeks.
"Good," he muttered.
I picked up a towel with a bloody-faced rabbit on it, at a loss how this fit in. I held it up for her.
"We were learning about Python?" she said earnestly.
At the bottom I could see Monty Python's logo.
After a few minutes of awkward silence she added. "Monty Python...Python...Professor Langstraad talked about it last semester..." There was another long silence in which I tried to find the joke in it and she tried to not look sheepish. Finally, she said in a small voice, "My brother said you'd get it."
"Yeah." I said to say something. "Cool."
She was a sister to a techie, not a Lian but definitely a Nancy and that was something I could work with.
Then I noticed she was wearing cords and a light green button down jacket that showed that she was really a girl, not as evident in the baggy outfit I last saw her in. A girl had come by my dorm to give me food and gifts without my bribing. I wasn't sure what to do with this.
"Anyways," she pushed some her red hair back as she looked up at me, "thanks again for your help."
"At least the muffins are good..." Leo said shrugging.
"Don't mind him," I said over Leo, elbowing him. "Thank you for the stuff." Who knew if more food and stuff could be delivered if we were polite.
She waved and backed out the door, closing it behind her.
I waited until she was (probably) out of earshot before exploding. "WHAT THE FREAK WAS THAT?"
Sharsky dropped his half-cannibalized stash and looked both bewildered and guilty.
"You don't strip down a gift," I snapped. "And you sure as hell don't do it when the giver is standing RIGHT THERE."
"Sorry, my bad," Sharsky muttered, and inexplicably, Alienboy started sniggering. Sharsky ignored him, going back to the thumb drive that he absolutely had no reason to dismantle. "It's not like she'd appreciate the art form of recycling electronics, anyway."
"That's not the point!" I slapped his hand hard enough to knock the drive out of his hand. "It's like harvesting organs when the family's still in the room."
"Way tactless," Leo agreed, still snarfing down the medieval-sugary muffins.
"And we've got a flatscreen TV!" I was unstoppable in my indignation. "Latest monitors! Lapel cams! We don't scrounge for parts!"
This time, it was Leo's turn to look blank. "But where's the fun in that?"
"Neither of you is ever getting laid," Sam announced casually. "Fassbinder, I'm on your side."
At least the one who actually had girl experience knew what I was talking about. On an impulse, I bolted for the door and wrenched it open, running to the window at the top of the stairwell. Lisbeth was nowhere in sight, probably having fled from the crazy electronics-murderers.
My urge to gallantly share a muffin with her died right then and there.
I inventoried the rest of the gifts as soon as I got back to the room. She'd gotten us bacon-flavored Cheetos, which I decided to leave for Leo the meat-lover. Everything else was pretty normal. She'd gotten me a six-pack of Red Bull to replace the one that I'd given her on that day. It was practically an inside joke.
The only befuddling thing was the baggie of mush that came with a schedule full of instructions like "Day 1: Mush bag" and "Day 5: Add 1 cup of flour..." I Googled Amish friendship bread and sacrificed a little bit of dignity to call Mom and make sure I was reading everything right. She didn't ask questions about why I felt the sudden urge to wear an apron, but I decided to follow the weird little instructions and as soon as I'd mushed the bag for Day 1, I hid my science project behind my monitor so no one would throw it out.
Classes weren't supposed to start for another two days, so Sharsky and I had a pre-term funfest while we could. After we stood in line for a couple of hours to get our books, we went to the nickelcade and got about a billion tickets that we blew on random crap like a neon green cowboy hat that we could give Sam for his birthday.
By the time we wandered back to campus, it was time for dinner and we'd finished off the muffins in about two hours flat, so we nixed the idea of ordering more pizza. Instead, we wound up finding Leo and Sam and two huge orders of chili cheese fries at the practically-deserted food court.
"So, whatcha got?" Sharsky added, dumping his textbooks on the chair I had planned on using and yoinking a chili cheese fry.
Leo ignored the question, but put his food in protective custody and whined, "Get your own!"
Sam, being the okay guy that he is, shared his instead.
"Plotting our route between classes," Leo answered as soon as he was sure we weren't going to attack again.
"We should so do that," Sharsky informed me around his mouthful of food. "Give ourselves options to tailing the hotties like you guys."
I'd been behind the Hot Freshman 55, but Leo went beyond any chica-chasing that I'd ever done. He could spot a hottie's daily route like he'd been stalking her for months. It was admirable, if more than a little creepy.
"So how were your holidays?" I asked.
"Well, you know, I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you," Sam deadpanned.
I waved a hand and rolled my eyes. It was all he'd tell us these days and I figured he'd finally open up when we blew the cover off his alleged RPG.
"How 'bout you?" Alienboy asked.
"Yeah, Fassbinder" Sharsky chimed in. "And how were your dates with…" He paused to waggle his eyebrows at me. "…Lian?"
My guys had been pretty good. They hadn't called me a billion times, they hadn't interrogated me during our Night of Slackerness from yesterday. But Sharsky had stooped to a new low and decided to sic the others on me. He was so not getting any friendship bread from me.
I blushed and Leo and Sam went from sniggering appreciatively to gut-busting laughing at my reaction.
"Come on, mijo," Leo prodded me. "Details!"
"You know we're not a thing," I said evasively.
"I know you came back without a girlfriend," Leo corrected me. "You never told us what went down."
"It wasn't a date." I had meant to mutter this cryptically under my breath, but I blurted it out instead.
"But you said..."
"I got my signals crossed," I admitted. "She doesn't want to wreck what we've got."
"So there's another guy?" Sharsky guessed.
Sam went as white as Lisbeth. "Oh, no you didn't!" he snapped. "Five minute time-out."
"That was a seriously douchy thing to say," Leo added. "Can't you tell the guy's in pain?"
"It was a joke," Sharsky protested. "I got all the dets from Fassbinder here..."
"Five minutes," Sam repeated himself.
He pulled back the fries. Apparently, you didn't joke about infidelity in front of loverboy. I wasn't even close to being that pissed off, just annoyed that Sharsky had put me up to this.
"She thought we were just, you know, business friends. And that works for her."
"And that works for you?" Leo asked.
"Not at first, but I think I'm okay with it now."
"So you going out for Mexican food was..."
"Me going out with her for Mexican food." I shrugged. "She picked up the tab."
Sam grimaced in earnest pain. "Ouch," he said sympathetically. "But you wanted to read her in."
"I wanted to show her we could still be friends."
Usually, that kind of comment would have earned me a bombardment of napkins and food, but Leo looked impressed. Sharsky had sullenly stalked off to get his own fries by this point.
"I'm proud of you, man," Leo said. "She kicked you to the curb..."
"There was no kicking," I protested.
"Spat on your broken heart..."
"Really, I think I'm gonna be okay."
"And you still kept your cool." He reached over to fist-bump me. "Courage under fire, man."
I kind of felt like I was being knighted for not screwing up instead of doing something right, but I had my guys' support. I fist-bumped him and got on with life.
The last Sunday of the holidays, Camaro76 put up a blog post about Improv Everywhere and all of them, including Faithful, commented on it, so even that little bit of excitement died. I wasn't sure if I was buying Leo's line about them trying their hands at one-upping each other in the sob story department, but without any more hints, it was anybody's guess who the alien stiff was.
The semester started. Classes were boring as hell. I slept through a billion pages of syllabi, but made sure I paid attention to which classes required a lot of participation. I wasn't bowing and scraping to anyone else after what had happened with Langstraad.I even got a girl's number after she caught me baking my friendship bread in the dorm kitchen I'd never really noticed. Since the first tests in Langstraad's courses weren't until the first week in February, I only had to deal with people who had somehow grown up with computers and never knew how to find the power switch.
Everyone else was in a bad mood, though. This was mostly because on the East Coast, even the hottest girls looked like the Abominable Snowman under all those sweaters and coats. I got good at recognizing people over their scarves or balaklavas. The campus paper did a front-page feature on how to prevent frostbite. Just when it couldn't get colder, I found out the hard way that my nose hairs get icicles when the temp was below zero. Leo learned to let his hair dry completely before going out so his head didn't look like an ice sculpture.
The miracle happened the fourth week in January. We woke up one Wednesday to find out that the temperature was not only in the double digits, but it was getting close to being above freezing. Instead of looking like a walking ski shop, I wore my favorite sweatshirt under my coat, wore only one pair of socks and talked myself out of having a picnic once the snow melted enough to see the grass.
The problem was that after that Friday, no one would be able to get a hold of Langstraad until his first brain-buster exam on Monday. I knew enough to brace myself for hysterical freshmen and even entertained the idea of calling my first hysterical freshman girl to find out if she needed help. She I at least knew how to handle. Friday-Sunday were going to be days from hell, so against all my instincts, I decided to lock down and do all my homework on Thursday. It was also good sense because it was my only half day of classes during the week, so I had no reason to leave the dorm after my 11:00 College Algebra class.
Well, there's that saying about the best laid plans of mice and men and I should have known, but I managed to get a whole hour of studying in before Cami's number turned up on my caller ID. By contract, I couldn't screen her phone calls, but I didn't have to be happy about it.
"Everything's canceled," she barked into my ear. "I'll be in touch with information on the new schedule once things have settled down."
"Exam postponed for a date to be determined," she said very slowly.
"But..." I groped for words. "What?"
"Get some perspective," she snapped.
And she hung up.
I was confused as hell, but Langstraad had either had some kind of stroke or she'd done water damage to his computer. The important thing was I didn't have to cram everything into my free hours today. I saved my paper for Monday and went to check the forums.
If Cami had been tense, it was nothing compared to this. There was a new thread called East Coast Roll Call and it was nothing but people posting "Here and okay. Oh my god oh my god!" and variations on that theme. I sent something a little less hysterical-sounding and started trolling for info in other threads. Our peeps tended to get info faster than CNN-we'd scooped Shanghai before the news even hit the US-and I figured I could get a faster and more accurate update than if I had to wait for a website to catch up. Whatever was happening was going to it big, especially when we had people like Siobhan from County Limerick and Soon-kyong, our go-to for translation services in Seoul, checking in and offering support.
After thirty more "Oh my god oh my god" posts and a text from Sharsky just saying "WHERE THE EFF ARE YOU?" I decided to get a little alarmed. I turned around, grabbed the remote and surfed until I found MSNBC.
"...between classes at this Ivy League institution. There are no confirmed deaths and we cannot speculate on whether or not the gunman was acting alone, but we can confirm that shots were fired on the campus..."
And on big-screen TV, I watched security-cam footage of two of my roommates running for their lives in the middle of a school shooting that I'd been too wrapped up in a textbook to notice. I was dialing Leo's number before my brain even registered my panic. He didn't pick up. Sam's phone rang a half-dozen times before going to voicemail. I'd seen them trying not to die on national TV and they weren't picking up their phones. The only person giving me anything was Sharsky.
And there were no confirmed deaths. But they weren't saying if anyone was hurt. And just because there weren't confirmed deaths didn't mean there weren't...
Oh my god oh my god.