Flow Of Ideas - 21
Shadows flickered across the ceiling fan like sunbeams dancing on a rose petal. They pulled me into their whirring trance as my mental state stumbled like a drunkard falling in and out of consciousness.
“Yeah I'm still awake too.” My hand that was draped over her torso fell off as she rolled toward me onto her right side. “What's up?”
“Do you think the truth matters?”
The steady whir from above filled the gap as she dug for a response. “Of course. If you weren't at least marginally honest eventually people would find out and nobody would trust you. Why?”
“Sure for some of the big lies. And perhaps even with some white lies. But what about the lies that only cause good?”
“Is there such a thing?”
“Sure. Let's say I could tell a lie that is guaranteed to make someone's life better and nobody would ever know. Should I say it?”
“No lying is wrong.” She pressed on curious. “What kind of lie would this be anyway?”
"I have a friend—"
“You mean you?” She snickered.
“No I actually mean a friend. His name's Gerard.”
“Okay sure. We'll go with that.”
“Anyway Gerard tells a lot of stories. Like a lot of stories. And many of them let's say half are fabricated or at least stretches of the truth. He doesn't separate fact or fiction and he doesn't tell you if he's made something up. It all blends together.”
“So nobody trusts him right?”
“Not exactly. In fact quite the opposite. It's his thing now. People love listening to his stories even though they know sometimes they're not true. They laugh become furious and get emotionally attached to these stories. They even retell them. But none of it is true.” I paused. “It brings happiness into their lives.”
“So he's a storyteller.”
“Liar storyteller… What's the difference?”
“One tells stories the other makes things u—” she broke off midsentence. “There's definitely a difference.” She paused. “How did this come up anyway?”
“I've written a few unique articles for Star City lately. Personal ones. I always get asked if the stories I tell are real or if I made them up. Why would I lie?”
“I dunno. Do you lie?”
I shook my head against the pillow. “No.”
“Do other writers lie?”
“Exactly my point."
“I don't know if they're lying or not.”
“You should just tell the truth. That way you don't ever have to worry about the baggage that comes with lying.” She let her answer dangle waiting for a reply. When none came she continued. “Gavin?”
“You always tell me the truth right?”
“Yes” I hesitated. “Of course.”
Dad swirled the white dregs of his wine glass. His outline was traced by moonlight causing pale dots to flicker on and off his skin shining like an angelic glow. A ring of light coalesced on his head making a faux-halo. He was our momentary arbiter of right and wrong. He was our god.
I lay on the pullout couch my tiny legs barely reaching my father's thighs. My father reached over to turn off the TV now that “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” had stopped playing on the VCR replacing electronic buzzing with the hum of crickets and the whispers of wind from the woods around our cabin. My brother Tanner who was transfixed to the screen moments ago had slunk back down under the covers. It was far past our bedtime.
Dad popped the wine bottle to pour another glass. Number two three… who knows how many? I hadn't been paying attention. To my surprise he grabbed my mother's half-full glass from earlier – she had long went to bed – and thrust it toward us. “Want some?” he asked.
I rapidly shook my head no. “You know we aren't allowed to drink that!”
He made a combination between a laugh and a snarl. “It's just a little bit of wine. It's worth trying – it won't hurt you.”
“No! It's not okay.”
My father's gaze lowered toward my brother's head which was barely protruding from the blankets. “How about you Tanner?”
Tanner pushed himself up. He looked in my father's eyes. Then to my horror he nodded.
“What are you doing? You know that's not okay!” I pleaded as he took a sip.
“It's pretty good. Try some!”
“No!” I affirmed.
“What's the problem? Too much of a wimp?” Dad teased. My brother nodded as if taunting me further.
“I'll drink it when I'm allowed to drink it! In…” I paused to count in my head “fourteen more years!”
Dad rolled his eyes. My brother took another long sip this time grinning. I watched him finish the glass off and set it aside.
My father grabbed the wine bottle again. “Try some!”
Before he could get any further the shadow of Mom appeared on the wall behind him. “What's going on out here?” she cried.
“I was just putting the kids to bed” he said. My father turned and shot me a look. “That's all.”
I sat on the swing set Walkman in my hoodie pocket. Avril Lavigne's Under My Skin album had just been released and I was listening to it nonstop. Behind the music I could hear the crack of baseball bats from the field above. It was my brother's last baseball game. Their team had been together since tee-ball and this was it. Their last game. To me that meant one thing: it was the last time I would see Allison.
I swung up further and further putting a muzzle on my nervous energy. I could see her only a hundred feet away. Her long black hair hid her hazel eyes unable to meet my gaze but she was there. The same place as always sitting on a wooden platform at the top of the slide doing homework. It was her routine. Every game she would sit there until the end of the game go back up field and then leave with her parents.
I had crept down here every game so far this season just so I could have the mere chance of speaking with her. It had happened a few times the occasional brief conversation about how the baseball team was doing or what I was listening to or maybe if I was lucky an offhand comment about her homework. I devoured these scraps like a famished cur being thrown slabs of beef. They kept my hopes alive.
I had tried talking to her on my own but during her homework it was always fruitless. But this was my last chance. It was now or never. I would never see her in person again. As soon as she finished her homework it was time to strike.
Eventually she packed away her books and got up. She walked toward the nearby restroom on the far side of the field. Not now not yet. I didn't want to catch her on her way there. I swung high closed my eyes thought about how I was going to do this. Thought about how she was going to walk on the path past me and how I was going to say. Thought about how I was going to ask what she was up to this summer and see if she wanted to hang out. I had it all planned.
I put away my headphones and opened my eyes. My heart froze. She hadn't been going to the restroom at all: she had simply walked by it on the way to a car that had just pulled up. I opened my eyes just in time to see her small figure hop into a car all the way across the field. The car sped up and drove away. I looked to my right. The game was still going strong. She wasn't supposed to leave early!
I closed my eyes suppressing the start of tears with mental compromises and second chances I knew would never materialize. I began to berate myself for not asking her sooner. I had to see her again somehow.
I tried to take my mind off of it by thinking of the JSS Championship which I left the state for tomorrow. I couldn't focus enough. I looked down at the wood chips and saw an issue of the Edmonds Beacon the newspaper for the small town I lived in crumpled in the wooden corner of the play area. It featured local people who had recently found success.
Everything hit me and combined at once. I saw the news title pop into my head “Local child wins Magic Scholarship in Kansas City!” No doubt her parents or somebody she knew would read that title and see the picture and say “Remember him?” Then maybe if I was lucky our parents would reconnect. It was a long shot but if I wanted to see Allison again I had to become so famous in Magic that even the town would recognize it.
“It is highly unlikely you will ever accomplish a 'perfect' piece of writing.” The rain fiercely plodded our single classroom window in typical Seattle spring fashion as Brandon a Creative Writing professor strolled in front of the blackboard.
Though a graduate student in his mid-20s he wore oversized glasses and had the beginning of a scraggily beard. He paid no attention to the style of his hair and regularly ran his hands through it sending it every which way. His eyes had a weird way of staring at you like he was simultaneously looking past you and yet cutting you open coercing your thoughts onto a stage.
My mind couldn't help but conjure up Mike Turian's statement “nobody has ever played a perfect game of Magic” at his last comment. I dispersed that thought as he continued. “Fortunately perfect writing is not what we're trying to cultivate in this class.” He turned and began to chalk a name on the board.
I watched as students around me took notes on what was going on. I was never much of a note taker. I always let the information roll into me like a wave and let my spongy mind absorb what it felt was worth keeping as the lecture receded. Would I remember any of this later? Who knew.
Brandon underlined the name he had just written on the board. “John Gardner.” He tapped the chalk against the board. “A man we've talked about plenty in this class already. He once told a reporter there were only two perfect books ever written. One of them was Virginia Woolf'sTo the Lighthouse. The other he didn't want to disclose. How many of you have read To the Lighthouse?”
The hands of a few people shot up. I considered raising mine despite not having read it just to look smart but figured the risk of being called on wasn't worth it. Besides I was already the central talker of this class. No need to put myself out there if my participation grade was on lock.
Brandon ignored the hands and continued. “Something Woolf does perhaps more obviously than other writers is make every part matter. Every chapter every scene even the individual word choice is carefully crafted to in one way or another lead to a larger meaning. Everything in the novel means something.”
Brandon paused. “You might know the playwriting adage 'don't hang a gun over the fireplace in the first act if it's not going to be fired in the third act.' As a writer you must make everything count. No detail can be just fluff. And as a reader if you think something's fluff it probably isn't. Just like life everything in writing has a purpose. If you ever even want to try the arduous task of writing something perfect making every single word hold meaning is the first place to begin.”
“This has to do with the pleasure principle.” I snapped out of my mid-class daydream. Though Psychology was a favorite subject of mine Psychology 101 had unsurprisingly done a great job covering things I already knew. However the words “pleasure principle” had caught my attention.
David continued from where he began. “The idea of the pleasure principle originally coined by Freud is that everything we do is in an effort to find pleasure and avoid pain.” He paused to move slides. “Now this is muddled by the reality principle which has to do with delayed gratification but it all essentially boils down to the same thing. Whether in the short term or long term the actions we take are strictly made with the intent to be pleasurable at some point and to avoid a greater source of pain be it emotional or physical.”
Some girl's hand shot up to ask a question about the effect of this principle in close human relationships. Ignoring her I began to zone out and think about this principle in my life and how it impacted me. I peeked at the clock. Ten minutes left. I put my eyes back on the slideshow. I knew I could rely on my sponge of a subconscious to parse anything else important that was being said.
I rubbernecked while walking down the terminal. You see a lot of people bustling around the airport but there are some kinds of people you just don't mistakenly see. One of those groups is professional Magic players just based in the way they carry themselves and act in airports. That applies doubly for AJ Sacher especially when carrying circles under his eyes that could be mistaken for an unfortunate run-in with a baseball bat. There was no mistaking it – that was him all right.
“You keep heading toward the gate” I told my mother. “I'm going to catch up with a friend.”
Calling AJ my friend might have been putting it loosely. We hadn't had much interaction but most of it involved him making fun of me in some capacity. Still I had learned to appreciate his criticism. Most of the time he was right even if I didn't know it at the time he made his remarks. Somebody has to be the person who doesn't pull any punches with you. AJ was that guy.
“What's up AJ?”
His head slowly crawled up from his notebook and turned fatigued and worn like a tire that had been used for four-wheel drive a few too many times. His reply was two words: “New Zealand.”
“Ah that's right; you were there in a quest to get your last pro point. You got it right?”
AJ nodded. “Juuuuuuust barely. 62nd.”
“Awesome! And now you're on your way to Worlds I presume? Who are you staying with?”
AJ gave me a look that clearly said he had no idea. “I had some passport problems in New Zealand and am lucky to even be here. I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm staying.” He gave off the same kind of smile I imagine Edmund Hillary made when he ascended Everest. “But I'm going!”
I smiled with him. “I tell you what. My mom and I have a room together. It's just us. You're welcome to come grab some dinner and stay with us.”
“Really? That'd be awesome.”
“That concludes the last round of competition! Congratulation to all junior participants who qualified to play in the championship tomorrow!”
I knew I'd been out for the last couple of rounds and the announcement just solidified it further. After coming all of this way it had made for a disappointing result. At least my brother was going to be able to play tomorrow even if I couldn't. There was just one last thing I wanted to do before the event completely ended.
“Excuse me” I asked judge Ray Powers who was sitting behind the scorekeeper's desk. “Can you look a player up for me? I want to know who I played against in round 2.”
Ray gave me a confused look. “Why?”
“He was a really strong opponent who was really fun to play against. He had this card called Equilibrium I had never seen before; it was pretty good in the Madness mirror! Anyway I wanted to know his name so I could maybe find him at some point.”
Ray laughed. “Sure Gavin. You have fun today?”
“Yeah. It's a lot harder than at your store though.”
“Yep there's some pretty stiff competition here. Let's see… Round 2 you said?"
“Looks like his name is Ari. Ari Lax.”
My mouse hovered over the “next” button. My homework was done; the quarter was in its early March lull before finals hit – a time I like to savor. I checked the clock. Caitlin wasn't going to be back in an hour but I had some time on my own and I was done playing Magic for the night. I prepared for the worst that Chatroulette could throw at me. “Next.” My request was sent. In a split second it entered a network harboring over 10000 users and randomly selected one available to connect me with on its whim. You are connected it told me.
Writing appeared in the box below. “Hi I don't have a camera.”
I moved my mouse toward “next” again. It can often take up to a half an hour to find a good conversation if not longer.
I glanced down. More text appeared. “This is my first time on here. What's up?”
I couldn't bring my index finger to trigger on the mouse. It may not be video but this is a real enough conversation to at least see where it goes.
“What's up?” I asked.
“Lol not much. What's your name?”
“Gavin. How about you?”
“Aimee! I'm from Tennessee. You?”
“I've always wanted to visit there! I'm a writer and I hear it's great for writers in Seattle.”
“Yeah! I'm a writer and it definitely is.” I recited a few lines of Elizabeth Bishop's One Art and had her fill in the blanks as if each of us was proving the other was a writer.
“Wow! We're going to have a lot to talk about! Here try adding me on Facebook…”
I hesitated. Adding a complete stranger who wasn't part of the Magic world on Facebook wasn't something I normally did. But I wanted the conversation to continue and see what happened. I sent her a friend request. All right Aimee. Let's see where this leads.
“One more for a triple Odyssey draft one more” boomed the loudspeaker. At the beck of the announcement someone in front of me stepped out of line to go rush toward registration. One less person to wait for.
At the Apocalypse Prerelease I didn't have the opportunity to gunsling. But now finally I had the time. The Wizards staff members were here and I was ready to give them my all with the sealed deck I had built. More importantly I was ready to ask a question that was burning in my mind like an etched hieroglyphic I couldn't cover up.
It was finally my turn. Randy Buehler greeted me with a smile and I brought my deck out. We played a few turns in and while I was shuffling for a Diligent Farmhand I strategically blurted out my question.
“What does it take to be a member of Wizards R&D?”
Randy looked up from the game and at me sizing me up. “Well it takes two things” he began. “First you need to have a college degree.”
My heart dropped. When was I going to get one of those? That was going to take forever!
Randy continued. “Second you need to be a well-known enough professional player that we know you're good enough to hire.”
My chest caught my little heart with a trampoline just in time. Being a Magic pro? That one I could definitely do. I'd just have to hope one out of two was enough.
I want to live where soul meets body. I turned my alarm off and crawled out of bed as my alarm played. Another late night studying another early morning of classes another tournament this weekend I hadn't spent time adequately preparing for.
That last one stung the most. I wasn't sure where to go from here. I grabbed some fresh clothes and a towel and walked toward the shower. I just managed to qualify for Pro Tour Hawaii last week after a Top 16 finish in LA finally leaping past one of the game's many plateaus. I had been stuck without a ton of success since Berlin nearly five months ago. I needed a way to enjoyably be forced to keep up with the game.
I let the water soak in and float my consciousness to the top. The internal monologue continued. Maybe I could write again? That was always fun and kept me on my game. But StarCityGames.com didn't take unsolicited submissions anymore. I could always e-mail them and use my recent finish and past articles as an angle I suppose. I nodded to myself and turned the water off. I'll try that.
I got dressed and walked back to my room turning my computer monitor on to check my e-mail quickly before leaving. I opened my inbox.
“No way!” I had a cartoon moment forcing myself to blink repeatedly until I was sure I was seeing things correctly. I wasn't going crazy – it was there. The top e-mail in the box was from the StarCityGames.com editor entitled “Would you like to write for us?”
Jared leaned back in his chair. “Theme is everywhere. Didn't you find that in this story?”
“Sure – when I looked for it. I could line up the pieces look at individual words and figure out what was going on. But why? To tear apart the story? To notice things the author may have accidently dropped there? I just don't get the point.” I waited for my point to sink in. “Can't it just be a story? Can't just being a good story be enough?”
Jared smiled. Girls who had taken his class described him as “Luke Skywalker with shorter hair” and it certainly showed when you talked to him up close. I wouldn't have been surprised if he told me he was manipulating the Force behind his back while we talked. He finally responded.
“Let me tell you a story. This isn't a story I tell most people. In fact it's a very special story. Are you ready?”
I looked at him quizzically. “Sure.”
“Once a girl and I were having sex. Then the police came.”
I shook my head and narrowed my eyes. This wasn't what I expected to talk about in office hours. “What? Why?”
Jared leaned in toward me putting the perfect amount of distance between my question and his answer. “Exactly.” He looked up toward me grinning. “You want to know more than just the story. In fact you even know there's more there. So you ask. You do what anybody would do: search for the answer.” Jared paused as he watched my eyes begin to make the connections. When the time was right he continued.
“Why does anybody do anything? Why do mathematicians work on equations? Why do astronomers look toward the stars? Why do basketball players try and execute slam-dunks? Because they want to know. They want to find something; they want to know what it's like; they want to have the knowledge of experience. We look for things because we wish to know. We repeat things to be reminded of what we know. We tell others because we want them to know.”
Jared pointed to the compilation of short stories our class had been reading out of. “We look into the story because we want to know more. You can takeA Good Man is Hard to Find at face value but when you read it you know there's more there that's worth digging for. As you read it it's practically a treasure map. Anybody can see that. But only those that know how to read the map can claim the treasure.”
I finally reentered the conversation “So what of my stories then? They didn't have a theme and you liked those.”
Jared moved his hand over to a stack of stories I had turned in at various points in the quarter. “Gavin these are great. Your level of writing is superb. As I'm sure you know I've given you 4.0s on all of them and not without good reason. But ultimately they're empty. After I finish reading the story is over.” He leaned in close and his voice dropped to a whisper. “A good story never ends.”
He fell back in his chair. “Hopefully that answers your questions. Oh and as for the story I told you earlier about the girl – use your English analysis skills on it and I think you'll be able to crack the riddle.”
The bus wobbled jerking me to my side as it lurched around a corner. I opened my eyes to get a firm grip on my bag. Phew. Everything intact. There was still a good ten minutes until I got home and this bus driver wasn't making it go any quicker. It had been a long week – a new college quarter new classes and of course new homework to do. Not to mention the PTQ the next day. My thoughts were all over the place.
I put my mind to Magic as I let my eyes drift across the passengers riding in front of me. The bus stopped and as a girl hop off my eyes laid on the empty seat she rose from. Then my eyes moved to the person sitting next to the empty seat.
It took me a second to make the connection. I had to sneak another glance to make sure but it was unmistakable. It was her. I didn't wait for my mind to take over. I threw my bag around my shoulder and waited for the bus to stop then rushed forward to grab the seat and claim my prize.
“Allison?” I exclaimed.
Her face snapped toward mine her dark hair waving as she turned. “Gavin?” she said equally as surprised.
“I haven't seen you for ages! How are you doing?”
“Well! Very well. Majoring in psychology here at the UW. Or well planning to anyway.” She scanned me over for a second. “You look great! You must have lost what 50 pounds since I last saw you?”
“Thanks! Yeah closer to 80 actually.” I paused. My weight wasn't something I talked about often but people I hadn't seen since I was younger always liked to compliment me on it. It always took me off guard and I never knew what to say. Usually I just tried to move past it. “The psychology program here is pretty good. I took a few classes that I really enjoyed. Definitely check out the personal performance enhancement class – it's really interesting and useful.”
“I will!” She smiled at me. “I didn't even know you were going here! It's good to see a familiar face. You're a… freshman?”
“Junior actually. I started early.” I glanced down at her pants which were covered in brown splotches. “Are you taking some kind of botany class?” I said pointing and laughing.
She laughed. “Pottery. It's fun – but messy.”
“Yeah I remember watching people doing it when I was in Germany. Fun stuff – but definitely messy.”
She raised her eyebrow. “When were you in Germany?”
“Last year. I went there for Magic.”
“You still do that?” I nodded and gave her my usual Magic rundown telling her where I'd been and what I'd done.
“That's so awesome! Who would have thought?”
“Yeah. It's pretty incredible.” I paused waiting for a response or further questioning then continued. “Are you living in the dorms?”
“No. I did for a quarter but now I'm back to living at home. We just celebrated my Dad's 60th birthday!”
“Wow! Is he still doing well?”
“Yeah. As witty as ever.” I chuckled. “Are you still at home too?”
“Yeah for now. I was planning to move out at the start of this quarter but my girlfriend broke up with me not long ago and it's been good having a little family time. I'll probably be gone by the end of this quarter though.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“It's okay. I think it was for the better. Breaking up is just … hard to do sometimes.”
She nodded and looked up. “I know what you mean. Anyway I think this is my stop. It's been good chatting with you Gavin.” She opened the notebook in her lap and quickly scrawled something. “Really fast here's my number.” She shoved it into my hand her warm skin grazing mine. “Text me sometime and we'll hang out!”
“I will!” I beamed. “I definitely will.”
“'I don't think this is going to work." She paused to search for more words as my breathing quickened.
It wasn't that I hadn't seen this coming. The writing had not only been on the wall but it had been written in yellow highlighter accompanied by a candid picture of Cupid pointing an arrow down his throat. With my birthday four days away I just thought I had another week maybe two. A couple last draw steps to topdeck myself out of a poor situation.”
I stared at the writing on my screen fidgeting with the words I had written. It was hard enough of an article to conceptually write as-is and though it was an emotional release it still felt like my heart was being squeezed by lion's teeth each time I read it over.
I looked at the clock. March 25th 2009. 10:50 pm. Why'd it have to be today? Why'd it have to be while I was on vacation? Why'd it have to be four days before my 19th birthday? It was so much at once.
I skimmed over the words I had written again trying to view them from a distance to ease the lion's grip. It was mostly done but there was still a gaping middle section. Most importantly I wasn't sure the audience would even like it. I knew it was a risky article to write five articles into my StarCityGames.com writing career. Would people even get the juxtaposition I was trying to make? Maybe it would be better to write something else instead.
I closed the Microsoft Word window and highlighted the icon on my desktop with my mouse. I hovered my mouse over the delete button. I thought and eventually shook my head. I created an “unfinished articles” folder and dragged the Word document there the first article of its kind.I'll finish this someday I thought. There will be a right time.
“I'm also training to be the world speed-typing champion” said Alex.
At this point my mental jaw had dropped. I had taken a full three classes with him and it wasn't until now halfway through the third that I finally got to know him at all. He was a seemingly innocuous often goofy African-American kid with an afro. Finally fate had struck and I had been paired up with him for a group project. He invited me over to his fraternity and we were sitting in his room. Or more accurately I was lying in his hammock and he was perched on a stool.
“How do you do it all?” I asked him.
“Everything. You have a full ride on a poetry scholarship; you've learned how to professionally play four different instruments sing and write your own songs in the span of a year and a half” I said gesturing to his wall adorned with instruments and a makeshift recording studio “and you're trying to be the world speed-typing champion? How is that even humanly possible? I took guitar lessons for eight years and can't even come close to what you've done in one.”
“I think a lot has to do with your view on life.” I wanted to laugh but I held it in. Apparently being a wizened old sage was another one of his talents.
He continued. “A lot of people play for the big victories. You know? A perfect GPA a rewarding job… an end to world hunger. I play for the smaller ones. You don't want to just be happy sometimes – you want to be happy all of the time. When I talk to someone new that's a victory. When I find time to listen to a song I haven't heard for a while that's a victory. When I care enough to go to Astronomy that's a victory.” He grinned. “It's all about the small victories. Win enough on a small scale and eventually you'll win big.”
I hopped out of the car exhausted. It had been a long day of driving.
I always began to detest the days after JSS Championships each year if for no other reason than the hours spent driving so we could eventually get out of the car and be oblivious tourists. This time I didn't even know where we were. Somewhere within driving distance of Baltimore probably eighty miles away. I'm sure it had been said at some point but I was too far in a state of mind somewhere between tired and apathetic when it came to these things.
“I'm going to go get some water for the kids” said my mother. “You want anything Dear?”
While the family split up in a quest for food I searched for a simple reprieve: the restroom. I walked around eventually finding a single outhouse positioned next to a cigarette tray and some garbage cans. I stood in a line of three or four others and as my eyes darted to distract myself something caught my eye.
I walked over to the cigarette tray and bent down to look underneath wrinkling my nose at the lingering smell. But there it was a single Magic card covered in dirt and torn a bit at the corner. Was it a rare somebody had dropped? Was it something that could have fallen out of some smoker's pocket? I had to know. I turned it over. It was a copy of Wandering Ones.
Sirens roared down the street. The campus of Middle Tennessee University wasn't nearly as quiet as Seattle was at night. I was having enough trouble falling asleep as is crammed into a piece of furniture that could best be described as a mixture between a couch and a reclining chair. The other problem is it wasn't really designed to fit two people.
Next to me and no doubt just as awake as I was lay Aimee. In theory flying out to a Limited Grand Prix and seeing my Chatroulette-stranger-turned-close-friend sounded like a great idea. However I hadn't properly considered what that would do to my sleep the night before. You always realize these things at the worst times. With nothing but sleepless hours my mind drifted to the past few days.
Chronic texting and Skyping on a regular basis can only prepare you so much for meeting someone in the flesh. Not in a bad way mind you. It just felt strange. At this very moment I was lying in the house of what should've been a complete stranger in a part of town I shouldn't have ever known existed after going to watch a student play in a school theater that I shouldn't have ever seen. And yet here I was a product of one of fate's freak accidents.
And then there was the issue of her. As gorgeous as ever and two inches from my body. She knew I was taken. I knew I was taken. And yet I knew that if I spun her around to face me and plunged my lips into hers she wouldn't be surprised. Perhaps she'd be ecstatic. If I played it right nobody but us would ever know.
I knew I couldn't. Moreover I knew I shouldn't. I had the girl of my dreams back at home. But that didn't mean it wasn't going to taunt me the idea dancing in my midnight delirium. I began to fear what terrible artistry my subconscious might carve if I fell asleep and gave it power.
It was going to be a long night.
I peered out the classroom window. It was one of Seattle's few gorgeous spring days. The shadows of trees interlocked and waved down the red brick path leading away from Parrington hall. I could see what felt like miles away. After class sometime lying in the grass was going to be in order.
My daydream was interrupted by the snapping of binders. “The final revisions to your stories are due next Wednesday. I'll see you all next week!” said Brandon. The handful of students who came to class in the first place began to filter out like ants marching out of their colony. A few other students lined up to ask questions.
I liked being last in line for talking to the teacher. I was never in any rush and I enjoyed hearing what other students asked. I listened in as the girl ahead of me one of the quiet ones in class discussed some of her revisions. It gave me a tiny window into her thought process a window that was normally jammed shut. I smiled to nobody as I packed up my things going extra slowly so I could listen to the conversation unhindered instead of just sitting there being a forefront image in the two of their minds. I feigned trouble with my bag's zipper – not that either of them was even watching – just to buy some time.
Finally she left. It was just me and Brandon.
“Hey Gavin” he began as he turned to me and ran his hands through his hair. “What can I help you with?”
“Nothing much” I replied. “I just wanted to give you advance warning that I'm going to be gone after next Wednesday to the end of the quarter. I'll still get everything to you on time and if I need to do any other work to make up the lost time I'd be happy to.” I knew I wasn't even close to having it matter – I hadn't skipped a class all quarter and likely had two absences to give – but I always liked informing my teachers anyway. If they had advance warning the less likely it was to come back as a problem later on.
“Don't worry about it; you're fine.” Brandon moved some chairs to the side of the room resetting the room back to its original state from the circle we were sitting in. I slung my bag over my shoulder and looked toward the door.
“Where are you going on vacation?” he asked.
“Hawaii” I replied. I knew what question was coming next and I began to prepare for it. I glanced outside again. Did I really want to get into it today? Couldn't it just be a family trip or visiting friends? How precious were those extra two minutes?
“Awesome! I hope you have a good time. What are you doing there?”
I looked toward him. I looked into his slightly off-center glasses into his slicing gaze. And I saw something – though I didn't know quite what – there. Something I was more used to seeing across a table than in the classroom. “I play this card game called Magic professionally around the world” I told him. “I won a free trip to Hawaii to go compete for thousands of dollars in a tournament and unfortunately it falls during the end of the school year.”
Brandon's eyes lit up. “Magic: The Gathering? I used to play that a couple years back when I was an undergrad. Played in some PTQs missed Top 8 a few times then graduate school took over my free time.” He paused to finish gathering his things. “When I saw your name I could've sworn I had heard it somewhere else – now I know why.”
He picked up his bag and gestured toward the door. "I have to walk back to my office but do you have a few minutes to chat? I'd love to hear more about the game now.” I nodded. “Say" he asked "do you play the game online at all?”
Garage sales are odd things. I never seek them out. I never make it a point to go to one. Yet if one draws me to it I'll go. There's no good way to explain it but a feeling. Regardless I felt like my feeling might have let me down for this one.
It was a rundown split-level house about a ten-minute walk from where I lived and about a half an hour off of campus. It was nearby a bakery I liked; I had wanted a delicious pastry and the bright orange signs had done the rest. But the house looked in bad shape and most of the items out seemed like children's toys and baby clothes.
Everything was set up on the lawn with the other goods moving further into the garage. I started on the outside and moved my way in inevitably smiling at relics from my past. There was one of those machines from the 90's that made edible gelatin monsters and a pair of moon shoes. And a lot of baby clothes.
I moved in toward the garage where I spotted the girl these clothes likely used to belong to. Now about six or seven years old she was looking across a landscape of her past. This was everything she had known and people were just going to come and buy the lot of it robbing her of innocent treasures. She was wearing a smile but I knew she must have felt some trepidation about what would be left after the sale had finished.
While admiring her I bumped into a brown shelving unit stacked with what looked like even more 90's games. Battleship Monopoly Scrabble – looked like the entire Hasbro collective. I rummaged around to see if there were any good Euro games hidden in the mix.
I turned to the girl preemptively. “Excuse me” I asked. “Do you know what you're selling the games on this shelf for?”
“$5 each but it kinda depends. I can ask Dad if I need to.”
I nodded and turned back to the shelving unit. I reached behind the Hasbro games and found a square wooden tea box. Now this is kind of cool. I wasn't much of a tea drinker but I thought it looked kind of cool. I popped it open and a mess of weathered Magic cards greeted me.
I rifled through them. Looked like mostly random junk from Magic's early days. Nothing immediately recognizable as valuable. Sure more than $5 worth if I spent the time selling them all but nothing extraordinary. It wasn't until I was nearly done looking through them that I found the Timetwister sitting at the back of the box.
I closed the lid sharply as if I had just discovered some kind of grotesque secret. Finding power cards at a garage sale was every Magic player's fable; a kind of myth that was laughed about but never actually seen. Yet here I was. I turned to the girl. “How much for the cards in here?” I opened the lid slightly as though she might figure it out if I opened it too far.
“Lemme go ask.” She went to go fetch a parent. I bit my bottom lip. I knew what was about to happen.
A thin man in a splotchy white t-shirt walked over carrying a can of Budweiser in his right hand and a metal box of what I presumed was money in his left. “Anita here came to bug me because you have a question. I told her all of the prices but I guess the kid isn't smart enough to remember any of 'em.” The man paused to glare down at his daughter. “Anyway let's make this fast. Whaddya want?”
“Yes uh how much for the cards in this box?”
The man snorted. “Those things? How about $10 for the cards and the box?”
I put my right hand on my wallet. I opened my mouth. I looked down at Anita who was looking down at the bugs circling on the ground.
“Well? What'll it be? Take it or leave it!”
“If that thing screeches one more time I'm going to actually go insane.” As if tempting AJ's threat the caged parrot let out a gigantic squawk sending Ari Lax into a fit of giggles.
AJ set down his hand of Bitterblossom and Spectral Procession onto my kitchen table. “I mean I just don't get it.” He shot the offending bird another look. “I mean… why? I don't understand keeping that thing as a pet.”
I shrugged perfectly used to the sound. “He'll quiet down soon. We can move back to my room if you'd prefer.
“Literally anything would be better.” He gathered up his cards. “When you invited me to stay at your place for the GP you didn't tell me it would be an actual zoo.”
“But dude Zoo's not a legal deck” quipped Ari.
“Shut up Ari” said AJ prompting Ari to start giggling again.
We entered my room and the testing resumed. Ari was packing Mistbind Cliques as usual. “What do you guys think of a one-of Loxodon Warhammer?” I shrugged and got to work on finishing up part of an article as AJ and Dan Lanthier argued with Ari in the background about the merits of a singleton Warhammer. Eventually AJ got bored of fighting with Ari and turned to me.
“Did I ever tell you the story about how you got your writing job at Star City?”
I raised an eyebrow. “No but I'd love to know.”
“They contacted me but I told them I wasn't interested at that time.” AJ paused putting on a smirk. “But I told them if they were trying to fill that niche they should contact you.”
I shuffled my deck ferociously. I had just discovered a website called StarCityGames.com and read Geordie Tait's article on Lashdrafting and I had tried to make it work at this draft in Gamer's Edge. I was a little short on the cards Geordie recommended but I tried to draft the deck as best I could and this was how it worked.
My opponent was Tony Pagliocco a down-to-earth player who I knew was pretty good. “Did you watch me play last round?” I shook my head no. “Well this is the six-creature special” said Tony. “I don't know how I'm going to win!” We both chuckled.
Tony pointed to the kid a few tables away from me. “That's your brother right?” I nodded. “I've been watching him play the past few weeks. He's really good. Like really good.”
“Yeah I know. He qualified for JSS Champs!”
Tony laughed. “JSS? No. Forget JSS. If he tried he could easily win a PTQ within the year.” Tony paused to pile shuffle. “I heard Ray talking to your mom the other day when she was in here. He feels the same way. Everyone thinks your brother is going to be the next Tamblyn.”
Tony presented his deck to cut and shrugged. “I guess we'll see won't we?”
Beep beep beep! The timer on the stove went off. “I got it I got it” I shouted across the living room. I grabbed the pot of pasta and poured it into the strainer listening to the water hiss as it sizzled down the sink.
Caitlin wrapped her arms around me from behind. “That looks delicious!”
I smiled grabbing us both bowls and pouring my pasta in.
“Don't worry I've got the water.”
“Good kitchen teamwork!” I laughed. “I love you!”
“I love you too!” she said smiling.
My ears perked up as they heard the vibrating sound of my phone coming from the coffee table. I sloppily slid some pasta into each bowl then swung around and dropped them on the table. I quickly sprinted over to my phone to see who had messaged me.
I picked it up and my eyes widened. The name was one that hadn't been displayed for nearly two years. I hovered my thumb over the text message hesitant to see what was within. Finally I pressed down.
“A friend showed me your latest article. Even now I cried. I'm glad our relationship's end could eventually become something so beautiful.”
Caitlin sat down to the table and turned toward me. “Who is it? And more importantly are they more important than this delicious dinner?”
I paused thinking of how to answer. “No it's nothing important.” I paused trying on different answers in my mind like outfits in a dressing room. I eventually settled on one. “Nobody special. It was just a fan of my writing.”