"He kissed you?!"
"Yep." Mia said as she walked around her bedroom with her cell phone glued to her ear.
"This… is important! Did he use his tongue?" Olivia said as she sat on her bed with her own phone.
"What?! No! It was on my cheek!"
"Oh. That's a relief."
"For you, maybe."
"Baby steps, Mia. This is progress. While I don't think that he would be the type to just freak out and run off, the fact that he's responded positively to the situation is a plus."
"You're making this sound like a science experiment!"
"Science is progression in human achievement."
"Olivia. Olivia. What have I said about using smart-people words?"
"I'm sorry. I'm just saying that relationships take time. You just can't expect him to be your boyfriend because of one date."
"Yeah, I guess you're right…."
Monday, March 10, 2014
Class resumed as normal. This time, after the final bell rang, Kenton approached Elias at his locker.
"Hey, you're good with electronics, aren't you?"
Elias closed the locker and looked at the other boy.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that."
"Well, my mom's getting some arcade games in and I was wondering if you wanted to help me test of the two-player stuff."
"Sure, why not?"
"Awesome. When are you free?"
"Free right now." Elias replied with a shrug.
The two boys walked out of the school and down Panther street.
"Do you remember what your restaurant used to be before it was abandoned?"
"It used to be this awesome pizza place. There were pool tables and arcade games. And even an air hockey table."
"Yeah. It was so long ago, but my parents used to take me there on Friday nights."
"Oh, I remember now. It had a bar, didn't it?"
Elias sighed and replied "Yeah."
Kenton walked up to the front door and pulled out a key to unlock the door.
"Feel free to set your stuff down on the counter. It's just us here, it'll be okay."
Elias nodded and set down his stuff and walked over to one of the arcade cabinets. Kenton reached behind the counter and grabbed a set of keys.
"Do you know how to work one of these?" Kenton asked as he unlocked a panel on the side of the cabinet.
"I know a thing or two." Elias said. One of his little "projects" involved an older computer that he used strictly to emulate old arcade games. He was careful about breathing a word of this because of the, well, questionable legality of doing such a task.
Kenton watched with fascination as Elias reached into the cabinet and flipped a few of the miniature switches. After removing his hand, he stood up and started playing a game.
"Hey, don't you have to put coins in?" Kenton asked, wondering why this guy managed to bum a few rounds for free.
"Nah, I put it on a 'Free Play' mode." Elias replied as he removed his hand from the joystick and buttons to make some air-quotes.
"What's that? Is that permanent?"
"Nah, it can be set back easily. I would recommend keeping the panels locked to keep people from getting free games. The instructions are all over the internet."
Kenton nodded as Elias moved to the left side of the cabinet's front panel.
"The game's a lot more fun with two people."
Accepting the introvert's invitation, Kenton hopped onto the right side.
"I don't have to put in any coins, either?"
"Nope, just push start."
"Oh, which one am I?"
"You're the guy who looks like a gnome."
As Elias's character flew across the screen swiping at enemies, Kenton quickly pushed through all the buttons to see what each one did. One button paused the action on screen while his character did a magical spell to shower lightning on the group of enemies.
"Oops. Did I do something wrong?"
"Not particularly. You might want to save that for the bosses as there's only a limited supply of magic in each level."
"Oh, I see."
Following Elias's lead, the two boys conquered all eight of the game's levels like they were nothing.
"So, what do you think?" Kenton asked as Elias flipped the game off the Free Play mode and locked the cabinet.
"Seems to be working just fine for me."
"So, I guess I'll be heading out…" Elias said as he reached over for his backpack.
"Hey, you wanna go over to my house and shoot some hoops?"
Elias looked at the other boy with a puzzled look.
"Basketball, I mean, do you want to play basketball?"
This whole situation was just puzzling the poor boy. Over the past week he discovered that a girl liked him and now this guy who clearly exists in a separate clique is asking him to play basketball with him.
"Sure, I guess."
The two boys walked out of the door and down the street.
"So, you're not much of a sports person?" Kenton asked as they crossed a street.
Elias shook his head.
"That's surprising. No offense, but how do you stay so fit?"
"I'm just lucky, I guess."
"You should give it a try. I think you'd probably be good. You've definitely got the reflexes."
When they arrived at Kenton's house, Elias looked puzzled at the building.
"Is everything okay?" Kenton asked as Elias continued to stare.
"Yeah… is your house on top of the garage?"
"Yeah. It's kinda neat. It's like those above-the-garage apartments except that there's no house."
"Is it cramped?"
"Come on in and find out!" Kenton said as he motioned up the stairs.
Elias reluctantly nodded and followed him up the stairs and into the combination living room and kitchen.
"Mom's been saying that once the restaurant takes off, we'll be able to move into a much bigger house."
"Wow, I never thought I could walk into something and sincerely say that it's bigger on the inside" Elias lied, it was cramped compared to the house he was living in, but he wasn't about to insult one of the few people trying to be his friend.
"Ah, here it is!" Kenton said as he found his basketball (which really wasn't supposed to be in the house) buried underneath a pile of clothes in his bedroom.
Outside, Kenton just had to show off his skills by instantly making a lay-up.
"Give it a try." Kenton said as he passed the ball over to his new friend. Elias barely caught the ball and looked at the hoop before him. He reached his hands up and let the ball sail off his hands, only to have it arc down right in front of him.
"Ah, man." Elias sighed as Kenton picked up the ball and made another basket.
"Try it again."
Elias looked at the hoop, reached up, and the ball fell to the ground. Kenton noted that Elias's face turned to disappointment as he retrieved the ball.
"It's okay. Watch my hands. I reach up, not losing sight of the hoop, and then I push the ball off my hand, and…"
The ball teetered on the edge of the hoop before finally going in. Kenton picked it up on the first bounce and handed it off.
"See, nobody's perfect at this."
Elias took a deep breath and focused his gaze at the red circle of despair before him. He reached up and pushed the ball off his fingers. Everything moved in slow motion as the ball worked into an arc across the sky.
For the first time, the ball slammed against the white backboard and bounced back with enough force to barely clip the front the rim giving the ball enough spin to fall back into Elias's arms.
"Hey, you almost have it! Try it again! Don't hold back!"
Elias looked up and repeated the action, to his surprise, the ball fell backwards into the hoop. His face lit up with a genuine smile as Kenton retrieved the ball.
After making another basket, Kenton passed the ball back to Elias.
"Think you can do it again?"
Elias took the ball, reached up, and without hitting the backboard the ball swished into the hoop.
"Yes!" Elias cried out as he excitedly leapt up in joy.
The two boys continued their little game for about a half-hour before deciding to take a little break. As they sat down on the front steps leading up to the house, Kenton could tell that Elias was exhausted, yet satisfied.
"You didn't think that you had it in you, right?"
"Yeah. I wouldn't have expected myself to be doing that."
"I was the same way. I would always watch people play when I was younger and thought 'I'd never be able to do that.'"
"Yeah, I know the feeling. I'm so used to hearing 'Get out of here, noob' or 'you don't belong with us' whenever I'm trying something that I'm not good at. I'm actually surprised that you didn't do the same when I couldn't make a basket."
Kenton tilted his head sideways. People are cruel and the implication that he could even be remotely capable of doing such a thing made him sick to his stomach.
"Kenton… why didn't you do that? I'm curious."
"Because, well, I want to be friends."
"Oh, because of Mia and Olivia?"
"Not really. I thought we got along well at the waterpark, so why not run with that?"
"So, you genuinely want to be my friend?"
Was Elias really asking this? What went wrong in this boy's life that brought him into this state of mind?
Elias had no response to that. This was the first time that he had a friend that had no problem admitting that.
"Well, I better get going. See you tomorrow at school?" Elias asked. Kenton smiled, because this wasn't something that you would typically hear out of him.
"Thank you so much, man." Elias said as he extended his hand. Kenton smiled and grabbed it.
Elias walked home and into the front door of his house. Despite being in the early evening hours, nobody was home. This was normal. He tiptoed around the mess of the family’s questionable “operation” as he ran up the stairs to his bedroom.
His parents took up the bottom half of the house with their, well, "projects", and the upstairs was relatively unscathed. He wasted no time in throwing aside his backpack and changing into his night clothes with the intent of staying safely upstairs until the morning hours. This was his way of life and there was no changing it.
Despite the noise starting as his parents and their "associates" arrived downstairs and started doing their thing, Elias put on his headphones and relaxed as he knew that his life was starting to look up.