“Hey…good news. I found a place.” I said to Heath as I grabbed the collection of dirty dishes off his desk on the way to the kitchen.
Heath looked up from where he was concentrating on his web design work. It took him a minute to register the news, but he was still chewing on it when I got back from dumping his dishes in the sink. I’d even had time to grab a glass of ice water, which I set down on my desk.
But when I looked into his face, I realized that he did not seem as happy nor as relieved as I’d expected him to be. He actually appeared skeptical. He leaned back in his chair and looked at me. “Where is this apartment? South Santa Ana? West Orange?”
Naturally he’d assume the worst part of town. “No.” I stuck my tongue out at him. “Actually right downtown in Orange, near the university.”
His brows raised. “You win the lotto?”
“It’s a studio above a garage.”
“Huh. Well I’ll need to see that before I can approve it.”
I rollfed my eyes and folded my arms over my chest. “I don’t need you to approve it. I am a grown up actual adult you know.” I’d turned twenty-one the previous month and though I was of drinking age now, I hadn’t gone on any benders—nor did I actually feel like the adult I now claimed to be.
And really, Heath was only six months older than me. Since when had he become the boss of me?
“Your mom ordered me to look after you.”
I snorted and sank down into my desk chair. “It’s not like I’m some party girl or addict. I’m as close to a shut-in as you can possibly get without, you know, actually being one.”
“Well… I want to come along anyway. Just don’t put up an argument and let me, okay? I gotta make sure my conscience is clear.”
“You’ve got nothing to be guilty about! But okay…”
“Nope. No way. You’re not living here.” Heath stood in the middle of my would-be new studio—such as it was. It was small but somewhat charming. The place was very clean, at least. It sat above the garage of a family who lived in modest home just outside the City of Orange’s locally famous historic district.
“Heath!” I sighed. “This place is fine.”
“It’s small.” He glanced over his shoulder to make sure the landlady who had unlocked it for us was out of earshot. “It’s kind of divey. I don’t like the neighborhood.”
“I really can’t be picky. And besides, I don’t need a big place—just enough space for me to study, make a meal, have a bathroom and place to sleep.”
He frowned. “But you don’t even have furniture or dishes or any of that stuff.”
“Mom says I can go up to the ranch and pick up a few pieces of furniture. I have bed and bedroom furniture already. She’s got an old loveseat and a table I can use if I can borrow a truck to get it. And some dishes. I don’t need a lot. It’s not like I’m going to be throwing dinner parties or even any type of parties. It’s a small place that hopefully will be quiet enough that I can study. If not, I have the library just down the street.”
He shook his head. “You sure now how to party, girl.”
I made a face at him. “Anyway, I don’t need your approval—”
He held up a hand to cut me off. “Okay, okay, I get it. But at least promise me that you won’t sign any papers for a little while? I might be able to find you something better.”
I failed to see how. I’d scoured all the websites, Craigslist, called real estate offices, checked with the housing office at the university and was intimately familiar with pretty much everything in my price range in the area—which wasn’t saying much because my price range wasn’t so high. The alternative would be to dig up a roommate.
But what the hell—I’d humor him. If I gave him a week, he’d come to the same conclusion I had. He was just feeling guilty, still, about Brian’s demands leading to him asking me to move out in the middle of the school year. But I wasn’t going to let him burden himself like that. So I nodded, but did not promise I wouldn’t sign.
I’d stop by tomorrow after my early class and sign the paperwork then. He’d be pissed when he found out but also relieved and …he’d get over it. He could never stay pissed at me for long!
*Persephone tells you, “I think FallenOne likes you.”
*You tell Persephone, “What?”
*Persephone: You heard me.
*Me: Are we back in high school all of the sudden? Besides…why would you think that?
*Persephone: Because no less than two times now, he’s logged on, grouped up with me for a few minutes, asked me where you were. When I said you were busy or were in class or whatever was going on with you, he promptly made up some excuse about how he had to go.
*Me: I’m sure it’s a coincidence.
*Persephone: Okay. If you say so. But he never logs on asking for me or Fragged.
*Me: We’ve already determined that he’s kind of weird, though, right? Who knows what goes on in a recluse gamer dude’s head.
*Persephone: We should apply scientific method to my theory sometime, if you are willing.
*Me: /shrugs. Figure out a way to do that and I’m game!
A few days later, I was writing another blog post when I decided to check the revenue on my ads. It was getting near time to pay the bills again and I was furiously working toward the goal of making this blog pay for itself, at least. And maybe bring in a little spending money (eventually) when I got to that point.
But today, I was astonished to note that the balance for my account had undergone a significant increase. This then prompted me to check my stats.
In the past week, the number of hits on my blog had increased by a factor of hundreds. My jaw dropped.
Heath looked up from his work. “What?”
“My blog hits are going crazy. I haven’t even blogged about anything controversial or specifically newsworthy lately. It does look like the Dragon Epoch articles are getting the most attention, though.”
“Somebody linked you, obviously.” He said coming around the desk to get a look at my screen. “Let me—holy crap that is a significant change of hits. And very sudden, too. See the change from this day to the next? Give me a second to do some back tracking and see where the traffic is coming from.”
After a few minutes he blew out his breath and shook his head. “Wow. Looks like someone over at Draco Multimedia found your blog. You’ve been featured on their main landing page.”
I blinked. “Really?”
“Yup. Does this mean they’re going to start dressing up the poor naked ladies that have been running naked around Yondareth up ‘til this point?”
I logged into my blog interface to check comments. Dozens of them. Most of them thoughtful, respectful. I had to block a few trolls and I now had a lot of questions to answer. It took me hours that night to get to them all.
And I had to admit that it was a little creepy knowing that an employee at the gaming company responsible for my new favorite obsession was reading my blog—my snarky commentary and my criticisms—and possibly sharing it with others who worked there.
It was a weird feeling—of validation, of gratification, and yeah, of being watched. I sensed that this was my fifteen minutes of fame, so I’d capitalize on it while I could. Besides, I needed the money for my new move so I’d welcome the attention with open arms.
I threw a glance at Heath, who had gone back to his work in the meantime after reading the majority of the comments posted at the blog. He didn’t know yet that I’d signed the contract to move in to the studio above the garage. My plan was to slowly move a box or two over there over the next little while. The landlady, Lupe, was nice enough to allow me to do it even though my move-in date wasn’t for a few weeks.
I’d have to tell Heath soon, but until then I’d let him continue on in blissful ignorance.
Heath was still none-the-wiser even a few days later as I snuck yet another box out the door (this one full of books) and into my beat-up Honda Civic.
I got the box up the stairs and into my new apartment, without much incident. And I was just coming down when I ran into—almost literally—a young woman about my age. When she got over her initial shock of seeing me come out of nowhere (from the stairs), she smiled wide and stuck out her hand.
“Hi! I’m Alex. You must be the new tenant.”
I took her hand and shook. “Hi Alex. I’m Mia.”
“I’m your new landlady’s daughter,” she said. Alex was a pretty girl with long, dark hair and bronze colored skin and impossibly large almost anime-like doe eyes. And her make-up was done to perfection. “And you’re a Browncoat!” Her voice glided up an octave on the last word as she pointed to my Firefly t-shirt.
I looked down, feeling suddenly a little self-conscious. “Yeah, that’s me! Mal and Inara forever!”
“High-five!” She held her hand up and I gently slapped it. “Girl’s got taste. Great ‘ship! I’m all about the Kaylee/Simon ‘ship myself!”
I grinned. I liked her already. Any girl immediately zooming in on my geeklove had my immediate respect.
“Next question,” she said, shifting her stance. “Who’s your favorite Doctor?”
I laughed. “That’s easy. The ninth!”
She pumped a fist. “Woo hoo. Love it! You’re coming to my next drinking party! I live just off campus in Fullerton. I assume you’re attending Chapman?”
I nodded. “Yep. I’m a junior. You?”
“Sophomore. It’s great to meet you, Mia. I gotta run before my mom comes out here and asks me to do yet another thing for her.” She rolled her eyes. “But I’ll be back for dinner next week. You’ll be moved in by then, yeah?”
“Not for a few weeks. Doing it slowly.”
“Okay well I’ll definitely see you around! Take care.”
Well that was encouraging, I thought as I watched her go. Not even moved in yet and I’d already made a new potential friend. I made my way to the curb where I’d parked. The landlady seemed nice and her daughter equally so. Maybe this was a sign of good things to come! Maybe it was a good thing that I was being forced out from under the protection of my surrogate big brother to stretch my wings. Hopefully soon, maybe I’d become a productive member of society. Now I just needed to ace the MCAT. Piece of cake, right?
Well as it turned out…not so much. And that whole downward spiral started when I visited my mom a week later.
*FallenOne tells you: Hey! You gonna be around this weekend?
I looked up at my notifications, my eyes widening. It was late morning and Tuesday was my lightest day with just one class. I’d logged on to do some virtual banking in the game and to check to see if there was any armor in the auction house that I could buy for my character.
Turned out there hadn’t been any armor but, strangely, some characterwas currently auctioning her “affections” in the game. What she referred to as “cyberlove.” Wow. Anything for a buck—or in this case, a sack of gold medallions.
*You tell FallenOne: No, sorry. Going up to my Mom’s for the weekend. I’m moving out soon!
FallenOne: Congrats! You moving in with anyone or just…living alone?
I raised my brows. Was that his way of trying to find out if I had a boyfriend? I bit my lip, thinking back to what Katya had told me about her suspicions.
Me: Nope. I’m a loner. I’ll be moving in on my own so Heath’s boyfriend can move in with him.
FallenOne: Ah, okay. Well maybe I’ll see you around next week?
Me: Sure. You want to just text me when you’re free and I can see if I can hop on? You know it would be so cool if you could send a message to someone in the game and if they’re not online, it would just appear as a text on their phone.
FallenOne: That’s a pretty cool idea…
Me: Yeah…but maybe they can’t do that. I’m sure they would have implemented it if they could. I can’t possibly have been the first person to come up with that idea.
FallenOne: Why not put it into the beta-tester suggestion box?
I smiled and sent him my phone number. An hour later, a text from him showed up on my phone. And thus, we started texting, off and on, semi-regularly. I had no idea, over the coming weeks, how much I’d need to have him to confide in. Or be comforted by his late night texts.
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