Castle Roland

Learning to

by Chris the Blizzard

In Progress

Chapter 4

Posted: 16 Mar 15

Learning to Trust
By Chris the Blizzard

Friday at school passed by fairly quickly and soon it was time to go to the mall to meet Mike's friends. The only thing worth mentioning was our biology teacher assigning some group-presentations on the subject of cell division. I didn't have a partner yet, but I figured whoever I worked with would just let me do the work and earn an easy A. Biology always came easily to me, as did all sciences. Since class was almost over, we hadn't gotten the chance to form groups yet, but the possible subjects for our presentation all seemed reasonable and doable enough. Preparing a presentation was basically a formality and getting the paperwork done. I just hoped I didn't get some uber-shy, socially inept kid to work with, because it would make the presentation itself a pain.

We met at Janie's car, which Mike was allowed to use on weekends. On our drive to the mall, which took about 10 minutes, Mike kept chattering away happily. For most of the drive he and Matt were locked into conversation about a subject which didn't fascinate me at all: Football. Matt and I are a lot alike in looks and interests, but football is the one subject we just could not agree on. He loved football, he loved playing it, he loved watching it, he loved talking about it. Whenever he started droning on about this player or that team, my thoughts always drifted off to ideas like how nice it would be if I had the ability to spontaneously combust, or how narcolepsy would be a blessing right then. Thankfully, Matt now had a willing participant in this conversation, for Mike seemed just as fascinated by football as my brother. I tried to stay interested in it, at least to please Matt, but you can hardly force yourself to like something.

Soon we arrived at the mall and met up with Matt's friends. There were two of them, a tall boy and a girl. The girl was extremely pretty in a tomboy-ish way. She had wavy dark-red hair which was bound in a pony-tail, a sprinkle of freckles on her face and extremely expressive green eyes. At the same time she didn't have the typical for the lack of a better word, girlish stance and facial expression. With most girls I had come to know, you had to be careful what you said and did or risk offending them. And once you did, they could be really annoying about it, ignoring you instead of discussing the issue and generally making a pest out of themselves at every possible moment.

Just a single look at this girl told me she was different. She would have no problem whatsoever telling me if I messed up and make me pay for it. For that matter, she looked like she would act more like the typical guy than the typical girl. Her look was completed with a band shirt and dark jeans which were ripped at different parts around her knees. They weren't ripped in the typical "stylish" way though, more like it happened while skating, but she still liked them. Something about her relaxed posture and smile made her quite stunning and it seemed like she wasn't even trying, though I suppose it was part of her charm.

The boy next to her was another deal entirely. He was tall with a wiry body and had almost shoulder-length, black hair and eyes nearly as dark. He looked a little like an emo or a goth, but when I got closer he had a cheerful smile on his face and no piercings or anything of the like. He looked a little plain, other than his hair there wasn't really anything remarkable about him, but he still carried himself with confidence.

"So you are the famous Matt and Jason, Mike keeps droning on about." the girl said as we approached. "Good to finally have faces to the names. I'm Lily, and this is our dark little mascot Aaron." She said, waving toward the boy.

He held his hand out to me and said, "Hi."

"Nice to meet you." I accepted the handshake.

"The two of you sure look alike." Lily mused.

"You comparing my handsome face to his ugly mug?" Matt piped up.

"Don't be down on his face, little clone. It fulfills its task brilliantly."

"And what task is that?" I asked her.

"It distracts from your smell."

The delivery was genius. She said it as flatly and matter-of-factly as if she had just read a pamphlet on the subject in a museum. Okay, I'm done. There truly are no normal people in Boulder Creek. Nowhere in sight. Probably all fled when the crazies took over. Aaron smirked as Matt and Mike roared in laughter. Matt, the little backstabber, had the audacity to high-five Lily.

"I'm just glad it gets some time off, now that you are here." I smirked "Your stink is sure to mask my smell."

"No need to get insulting. I never said you smelled bad, just how distracting your handsome face is." She grinned at having me caught and winked. Damn, she sure is smart.

"Touché." I sighed, conceding to her while blushing at the compliment.

"Well, this was fun and all, but how about we grab a bite to eat. I'm starving." Mike said.

"You're always starving, Mikey." Aaron replied and looked at me, "I wonder how his parents manage to feed the black hole he calls his face. Maybe with you there, we can actually gather some intel on the process. Scientists and future generations will thank us once the silos are empty."

"I'm a growing boy and I need my food!" Mike exclaimed.

"Shit, you're still growing? What are we gonna do?" Lily asked in mock fear.

"Har-de-har. You had your fun. Food." Mike insisted.

It was true though, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever how he could eat as much as he did without blowing up like a balloon. He practically dragged us to the next food place and began ordering the entire menu, all the while ignoring Aaron and Lily's ribbing on the subject. Once the food arrived he unceremoniously tore into it and devoured way more fast food than I would have thought possible. He had ordered a full combo menu of burger, fries and a softdrink as well as additional onion rings and chicken nuggets. Every time I thought he had reached the absolute limit, he just kept eating! It was fascinating. And when he was doing with his own more than impressive order he helped Lily finish of her own fries

"Damn Mike, where do you put it all?" Matt asked after a while.

"Ma belly!" He replied enthusiastically, mouth full.

"Urgh, please swallow before yelling." Aaron chastised him, but the only response he got was a smirk and Mike biting into his burger again.

"Okay," Lily said, "we know everything about Mike's poor table manners, let's get back to the fresh meat here. Matt, what do you do for fun?"

I knew exactly what Matt was going to say, since this type of conversation had played out about a million times over the years.

"Football!" we both yelled. Matt glared at me evilly.

"Stop copying me!" we both yelled again. Okay, I was lucky. He usually says the former, "Shut up" or "fuck you, Jason". I guess the odds weren't too bad, but it's still always a rush to get it right. I mean seriously, it gets such a reaction! Matt was red in the face, a vein on his forehead was throbbing and if looks could kill I would probably be having my funeral right where I sat. My shoulders were shaking in an effort to suppress the laughter, but when the others started I couldn't help myself anymore.

"Sorry, Matty" I said, aware of how calling him his pet name in front of other kids, who were all older than him, would annoy him to no end. What I didn't expect, though, was him jumping up and running around the table, grabbing my head before I had time to react and giving me the noogie of my lifetime. Damn, it hurt! Satisfied, he smiled sweetly at me as he sat back down in his seat, reveling in my frown and my disheveled hair.

"You two are hilarious, you know?" Lily asked, her emerald eyes sparkling with mirth.

"Yeah" Mike elaborated, "Imagine living with them! They are basically a walking comedy show. Well, most of the time." Mike gave me a weird look.

"Okay, now that the insatiable is fed, why don't we do something fun?" Aaron asked.

"Movie!" Mike said immediately.

"Arcade!" Lily yelled.

"Movie!" Matt joined the impromptu vote.

"Arcade!" Aaron said.

"Well, well, well," I said grinning and enjoying my sudden rise to power, "I guess I am the tie breaker. Since the two of you are so fond of making fun of me," I gestured toward Matt and Mike, "I'll say arcade."

"Yessss!" Lily and Aaron high fived one another while Mike groaned, "I had hoped I could finally tip the scales in my favor and actually get to watch a movie for once. You just crushed my dreams, Jay." Mike said giving me a fake, pathetic, puppy-eyed look. I frowned at him. I didn't like people other than Matt calling me Jay. Mike caught the expression on my face, apparently, because his expression changed from puppy-dog-eyes to confused and morphed to hurt when he realized why I had looked at him as I had. Which, of course, made me feel bad. Sometimes you just can't win. I could feel the beginning of a headache coming on as I suppressed a sigh and wondered why none of this could just be easy. All these social interactions used to be so easy for me.

We shuffled out of the fast-food joint and walked across the mall to the arcade. Once inside, we split into two groups, since Matt and Mike wanted to check out some ultra-realistic next-gen football-experience game. I was less than thrilled at the idea, so I instead decided to follow Lily and Aaron around. Though they had been the ones who had suggested going to the arcade, they seemed to be rather bored with the entire experience. They talked about school and skating, which was a hobby of Lily's, and made an effort to engage me in their conversation, but after the previous interaction with Mike my social mood was pretty much dead in the water, floating downriver. Every once in a while they would stop at some game or another, but whenever they looked at me and saw I wasn't captivated, they resumed their leisurely stroll through the arcade. I realized I was ruining their afternoon, so I tried to be a little more open.

"So, are the two of you in the same grade as Mike and I?" I asked, deeming school to be a fairly safe topic.

"Aaron is, but I am a year younger than you guys." Lily answered for both of them.

"We gotta watch out for Mikey, though," Aaron continued, genuine concern in his voice, "His grades are kind of bad. I hope we can actually get him to study one of these days, or he will soon find himself in Lily's classes."

I was surprised. I had thought they were some kind of casual acquaintances, but they seemed to really care about Mike and his future.

"Have the three of you been friends for a long time?"

"Pretty much since birth. Our mothers are the best of friends, gossiping about us all the time. It has benefits, too, though, I guess. It's like all of us have three sets of parents."


"How come I haven't met them or you yet? I mean, what with all of your families being so involved with one another."

Aaron shrugged, "Everyone's been pretty busy these last couple of weeks. Didn't really leave a lot of time to socialize I guess."

I thought his last statement over and came to a different conclusion. I thought it far more likely, Janie had decided not to overwhelm us by subjecting us to a whole bunch of strangers during our first couple of weeks. Although the sentiment was perhaps nice, it didn't really serve any purpose. Either way you put it, Matt and I were living with strangers anyway, what did one or two more faces matter?

"So, do you have any hobbies?" Lily inquired.

"Oh, nothing much I…" I trailed off. I had seen something which sparked my interest. In the corner was an old and banged up "Super Street Fighter 2"! I loved the game! I hadn't seen it since we had to move for the first time. No other arcade I had been to since then had had it. I hadn't been looking for it specifically or anything, and I hadn't really been to arcades all that often either, but still!

Lily had apparently seen my eyes widening, because she followed my gaze. Then she turned back to me and asked with a grin, "You wanna play it?"

Now, I am usually reserved, but I was so excited!

"Hell yeah!" I exclaimed and immediately went over to the machine with Lily and Aaron on my heels.

At first I played against Lily. She picked Blanka, because she liked his green skin and he reminded her of the Hulk. I knew for certain I was playing a rookie when she did, Blanka is regarded as one of the weakest Characters in the game. I picked Dhalsim and actually scored a "perfect" against her, even though I was definitely out of practice.

"You're good." She said and actually shot me a glare. I liked how I managed to annoy her with something like this.

"I want a rematch."

"Okay. You won't win, though." I replied smugly. The arcade back in San Francisco, where Matt and I used to live with our parents, sometimes held tournaments for Street Fighter 2, and though I had never been able to win due to lack of dedication, I was usually among the top ten.

She narrowed her eyes. I had definitely riled her up with my comment and it was obvious she was a competitive person. It was also obvious she didn't stand a chance. Even though I didn't manage to win another round against her without getting hit, I still defeated her soundly every single time. The most she got me down to was half my health bar and she only did as much damage as she did because I didn't attack her for a while. By the time she finally accepted she wasn't going to win even a single match she was red in the face and glaring at everyone and everything around.

I was starting to think I might have overdone it a little and maybe should have shown her a little bit of gentlemanly kindness and just let her win a couple of rounds when Aaron started laughing really hard.

"You… Lily… The look on your…" He couldn't even manage to string together more than a few words without cracking up, much less finish a sentence. Lily kept glaring at him for a few more seconds and I was too nervous to laugh, worried I might have offended her. I realized pretty quickly though, the redness in her face no longer came from anger but from held back laughter. She was trying to be mad, but she just couldn't and started laughing alongside Aaron, triggering my own amusement.

Soon Aaron had caught himself and smiled at me. "Good thing you didn't let her win. She would have been really furious if you had."

Okay, at least I hadn't messed up.

"Now I wanna try." He said. So I played against Aaron, too, and even though he was better than Lily, he still was no match for me.

"Hey Frosty!" I froze at the familiar voice, coming from somewhere behind me. Another name implying "cold".

I turned around and sure enough, there stood Brandon. He was wearing a dark blue polo which accented his muscular physique nicely, highlighting his broad shoulders and slim waist. Khaki shorts revealed sculpted, strong legs dusted with brown hairs, slightly darker than those on his head and a pair of flip flops completed the surfer style look. His hair was, as always, a mess looking accidentally handsome.

"Brandon." I said.

"Whatever happened to your 'no-friends' attitude?" He asked with a grin, his golden eyes sparkling.

'Good question.' I thought to myself. I didn't really have an answer, so I didn't give him one.

Ignoring my lack of response he asked, "Care for a match?" pointing to the machine I had defeated both Lily and Aaron on. I gave him a sly grin and replied, "Bring it on." I turned around and fed the machine even more money than I already had.

"Now wait a moment." Brandon said. "Let's make this a little more interesting. How about a bet?"

"Hmm. What kind of bet?" I asked, curious at the idea, "You want to bet money?"

"Nah. I wouldn't want to rob you." My eyebrows shot up at the tone of his voice. He was definitely sure of himself.

"What then?"

"Are you any good in biology?" He asked, giving me an appraising glance.

"I usually get an A." I answered honestly.

"That's what we'll bet then. If I win, you'll be my partner for the stupid presentation."

"And what do I get if I win?"

"I'll leave you alone. Like, for good. Isn't that what you wanted?" He asked with an innocent smile.

I narrowed my eyes at him. Why was he doing this? Is he so desperate he has to get people to make good on a bet to get close to them? Maybe he just sucks at biology. One way or another, I was curious. Plus, I didn't really believe he would make good on his end of the bargain, even if I won. But why was I worrying about that, now?

"Deal." We shook hands on it and Lily broke it, acting as a witness.

Brandon picked Blanka, shooting Lily a look and said, "I like the Hulk" and winked at her. I picked Dhalsim and the match began. I tried every trick I knew, every move, every special combo, but nothing worked. I was about as much of a threat to Brandon as Lily had been to me. Granted, he didn't get a perfect score, but he still whooped my ass real good.

I stared at the screen in disbelief. My mouth must have been working without my brain's coordination to give it direction, because it just opened and closed a couple of times without producing any sounds.

"What the fuck just happened?" I asked incredulously.

"I just kicked your butt into next Monday, right into Bio." Brandon grinned.

"Double or nothing!" I challenged.

"Double what? You gonna do the presentation with me twice?" He actually giggled. My eye twitched.

"Urrgh, whatever! Just, play another round." I said forcefully.

"OK. You won't win though." What the hell?

"Okay, you're either a psychic or a stalker. That's exactly what I told Lily earlier." I think I actually detected a hint of red on his cheeks, but his voice was firm when he said, "It's not really an original phrase. And it comes to mind when playing against you."

"Whatever. You game?" I asked, fuming.

"Take your pick. You might want to stay close to Akuma, though."

I bristled at the comment. Akuma was totally overpowered and banned at tournaments, because he had infinite combos in a corner and he could shake off attacks no other characters could. Telling me to pick him was an insult! Why did he have to be so… so… aggravating?!

"Shut up and play, prick." I growled.

And play we did. In the second round he wrecked me even worse, using Ryu, a well balanced character. After a game, I concluded Ryu must be the character Brandon was most practiced with. He used his moveset to its fullest and timed his attacks so well, it was hard to get even the slightest window of opportunity. Two games turned to four, and soon I had lost count. Lily and Aaron were my personal cheerleaders and I could hear them chanting my name, gasping when I took a hit and shouting excitedly when I finally managed one of my own. At the level we played at, mechanical skills were no longer the hallmark of skill. What really counted was reading your opponent and knowing what moves he would pull. Anticipating positions, using the space between the figures on the screen to your advantage were what determined the outcome of a match. Brandon had the advantage on all accounts. He kept outmaneuvering me, using every chance he got to counterattack while dodging or blocking every move I made. I was starting to figure him out however and soon the matches grew closer and far less one sided.

I chanced a glance at my opponent and contrary to when we started, he was deeply focused on the game. The casual playfulness he had displayed earlier was gone, determination in its place. Beads of perspiration were forming on his forehead and his tongue was sticking out of the side of his mouth. I stared at him for a moment too long and lost again. Damn. Brandon relaxed and looked at me with a smirk. Okay, one last try. If I lose again, I'll just have to eat the humble-pie.

"Last one." I said with renewed determination.

"Okay. Make it count, frostbite." My eye twitched again.

The last game was a back and forth. Both of us were wary of exposing ourselves and tried to keep our distance. I tried to goad him into attacking, but he didn't fall for it. He attempted to grab me, but I blocked. This was the longest game so far, and Lily and Aaron had grown quiet because of the suspense. It was palpable, permeating in the air. I wanted to win this. I needed to win this. Just one game. Both of us were down to just a smidgen of health. The result of the last clash would determine the winner.

I want to say I planned this last move, but to be honest, my hand simply slipped. I used one of Dhalsim's worst attacks, one that almost never hits. Brandon however dodged the move I wanted to make, placing himself in the line of fire. The hit connected, KO-ing him. I am embarrassed to say, I slipped into an old habit, my victory dance. It's this stupid set of moves I used to do when I won something. First comes the fist-pumping, followed by swimming movements and concluding in air-guitar playing, which always ended with me on my knees, as if I were sliding on them.

"Damn, Jay, I thought you'd stopped your stupid dance years ago." I heard Matt's voice. He had a shit-eating grin on his face, but he seemed happy for some reason.

Oh shit.

I hadn't realized our playing had attracted a small crowd of onlookers. They must have been watching me get creamed for some time, too, because they cheered my win almost as loudly as Lily, Aaron, Mike and Matt. And I had just made a total fool of myself with that stupid victory dance. I would have blushed furiously, but I was feeling… good. Better than I had in a long time, actually. Defeating Brandon had been hard earned, and I felt a sense of achievement with my win, even if it was somewhat accidental.

"WOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!" I yelled and raised my fists in the air, deciding to just ride the wave and the winner's high I was feeling.

"So that's what it takes to melt the thing that sunk the Titanic." Brandon said, a huge smile on his face. Even though he had made another one of his remarks, I felt none of the usual annoyance at seeing his grin, only warmth and excitement. He was holding out his fist and I bumped it.

"Well played. In the end at least" he smirked again.

"GG no re." I said and started laughing loudly. It was phrase commonly used after completely obliterating someone, it stood for "Good game no rematch". Brandon just laughed right alongside me and said, "I'll wipe the floor with you again next time, snowflake. See you on Monday, and don't forget you owe me an A in Bio."

For once, I looked forward to school.

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