“Where do you want to go now?”
“I don’t know.”
Drifting stars sparkle and dance and sway around her head, kissing her cheeks and bouncing off into oblivion. We’re standing on the tip top point of a glacier. Sorry, false. She’s standing. I’m slumping.
“I used to love this movie,” she says, drawing pictures of cats drinking from coffee cups with her fingers in the hydrogen and helium gases passing by. “This is the movie that really got me into space exploration.”
“We’re not in the movie,” I say, “we’re in the videogame.”
“I know that, but it’s based on the movie so that’s why I’m talking about the movie.”
“Fine. I’m just saying.”
“Hey, dingus. What’s your deal?”
“I don’t have a deal.”
“Bullshit. You’ve been moping around ever since we plugged in this morning. You’ve been fine all week, now you’re pulling your old Morrissey/Smiths I’m-alone-in-the-world-with-a-twinkle-in-my-eye sad-boy routine. Aren’t you happy you found your super fucking bad-ass best friend after all these years and now we get to spend all this time together again?”
“I was hoping that I’d find you, then I found you. And Heaven knows I’m miserable now,” I sing. I laugh and jump a few miles into the nearest black hole.
I wait and listen for the pop of her following me. Years ago, before she relocated to a galaxy far, far away, I would never have been so bold as to be the first to run. It was always her running, me chasing. Always. I mean, literally, every time. The last time she ran–to that galaxy far, far away–was the first time I didn’t run after her.
The pop comes as I’m halfway through the wormhole and into another dimension. I fly out, heading straight toward a version of Earth where the oceans are swamps and the land is desert. I land onto a coastal region in the middle of an indigo and silver hurricane. The winds howl like coyotes, picking me up and putting me down like a parent moving their infant child who got in the way of something.
She flies in and does the superhero land right in front of me.
“You’re slow,” I say.
She rolls her eyes.
“Is there less gravity over there or is it something else that’s made you move like sludge?”
“Why are you being mean?”
“I’m not being mean. I asked a question. You still haven’t told me much about where you’ve been or what it’s like there. I just wanted to know is all.”
“You’re being mean, and you know it.”
Voices rise from beneath the winds, meeting in a perfect harmony before singing the same line over and over again in a language I’ve never heard before. Drum machines and synthesizers follow close behind.
“I don’t remember this from the movie,” I say.
“Let’s go somewhere else. It’s too loud here,” she says.
“No, wait. I love this song.”
She knows I’m lying. Her eyebrows flicker between neon pink and a violent maroon. The bright blue of her eyes dims to a greyish hue. I smile uncomfortably at her. Her arm rises, forming a carriage and horses out of the white desert sand.
“Fine. Go,” I say. “Nothing ever changes, I guess.”
“And just what in red hell is that supposed to mean?”
Bits of swampland flies over our heads. Some moss strikes the side of my face and spins out to God knows where.
“Maybe I think you’re impatient is all,” I say, not wanting to ruin the fact that she’s standing in front of me for the first time in years. “Just wait until the song is over. I like it. You know I like songs.”
“Yes, I know you like songs. Everyone likes songs. That’s a dumb thing to say.”
“How is that dumb?”
“Never mind. Please, continue telling me how much you like ‘songs’.”
“Whatever, I like most songs. I’m not a music snob anymore. I know I was, but I’m not anymore. Because I’ve changed.”
A laugh comes out so loudly from her that it masks the thunderclap in the background.
“What’s so funny about that?”
The blue in her eyes light up, her eyebrows stay pink. Her lips part that way they do when she’s wanting to smile but fights it. “I’ve missed you,” she says.
Shit. I clutch the letter in my pocket that I’ve been writing and rewriting for the better part of a decade.
I open the door of her sand carriage and motion for her to step inside. “You win. Let’s get out of here.”
She places her hand on my shoulder before she gets in.
I’m sitting across from her while we race through space in our sand carriage. Neither of us say a word. I’m watching the living planets converse with one another and wave at us as we fly by while pretending not to notice her staring at me.
“Where do you want to go,” she asks.
My eyes are glued to anything but her in this moment. “I don’t care. Anywhere, I guess.”
She kicks my shin. “Hey, doofus!”
“Ow! What?” Dammit. Those eyes.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.”
“So, you’re fine if we leave and I go home?”
It’s a trap. It’s a trap. It’s a trap. “No.”
She moves to my side, wraps herself around my arm. “I wish you’d just be honest with me and tell me what’s going on. You’ve always been so open with your feelings.”
“I feel like hunting.”
“Yes, I want to go kill some innocent creatures for sport. You want me to tell you how I feel, that’s how I feel.”
“So, the whole meat is murder thing was just a phase?”
“No. We’re in a video game. It’s fine if it’s not real. Not everything is real, you know?”
Her eyes narrow just enough to tell me that hurt her. She sits up, does a little wave of her hand, and our sand carriage dips into another wormhole. “Let’s hunt.”
This planet has about twelve moons and two dying suns. The game is something between a pink fairy armadillo and a timber wolf. She refuses to hold any weapon halfway resembling a firearm so we both opt for swords. Mine is pure flame. Hers, a laser. We kill thirty-seven beasts and leave the spoils with the local tribes. They build a monument in our image.
“I look fat,” I say.
“No, you don’t. Don’t say that. Why would you say that?”
“Because I look fat. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating fact.”
“You’re as handsome as you’ve ever been. You’ve actually filled out really well. You look healthier.”
“I’m really glad you came in as yourself and didn’t use an avatar.”
“You’re using one, though.”
“Only for my hair. It’s still brown in real life. And it’s this length. The color is the only thing I changed.”
“Do you remember when we went up to Yosemite to protest that President Ass-hat from turning Half Dome into an actual full dome?”
“God, that was the worst. I took those bad ‘shrooms and had that crazy trip. I just remember watching myself implode. Like, I was being sucked into nothingness.”
“I had to hold you the whole time. Wrapped you in my arms like a baby.”
“Yeah, dummy. I did,” she says, putting her head back on my shoulder.
“I don’t remember that at all.”
I scroll through my memories and come up with diddly squat. How could I have missed something like that? I needed that memory when she left. Fuck, before she left. Maybe things would have been different if I knew it happened.
“You threw up all over me,” she says.
“Yeah, that actually sounds familiar.”
She takes my hand in hers. “Come on, I want to take you somewhere,” she says.
Three transdimensional jumps later, we’re standing in the middle of the sun. Our sun. Looking down at Earth. Watching it slowly turn–minutes, weeks, decades disappearing before our eyes.
“I’ve never been here before,” I say.
“Then, I’m glad we came.”
Her skin is glowing. The corners of her mouth curl upward. Our hands are locked, and she’s rubbing my thumb with hers. She’s perfect. Fuck. Alright. Here we go.
“Why’d you leave?”
She turns to me. “Do I need a reason?”
“No, not really. But if you have one, I’d like to know,” I say.
She folds her arms. “I just went. I wanted to. Maybe I just liked the idea of being able to populate another Earth. Being the first ones there, you know? I didn’t think about it that way then. I’m just guessing.”
“I loved you,” I say. “I really, really loved you. And you never seemed to notice.”
“Wrong. I absolutely noticed. I noticed because I loved you. I loved you so much. I just wasn’t right in the head at the time. I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
“Is that why you left,” I ask.
“No. I told you, I just wanted to. It had nothing to do with you,” she says.
An asteroid whizzes by, burning to ash as it goes.
“If I had told you I loved you then, would it have made you want to stay?”
“I would have left sooner. I told you, I didn’t know what to do with all of it–my feelings or yours.”
“Have you loved anyone else,” I ask.
“Do you still love me?”
“I’ve always loved you. I love you more now than I did then.”
She steps to me, puts her hands on my face. The sun burns wildly, like a possessed person.
“I’m married,” I say. “I have three kids. Two boys, one girl. They’re six, three, and four months.”
I feel the tears falling down my face. Typical sad-boy. She pulls my face to hers, sets her forehead on mine.
“Me, too,” she says. “Two kids. Eight and three.” She kisses my nose, lets me go.
“How long have you been married,” I ask.
“The first time, about a year and a half. This one for around five. My first marriage happened because we were both alcoholics and neither of us gave the other any shit about it. It got really bad towards the end, though. I pulled a gun on him and shot him in the knee one night while we were arguing. The only reason I didn’t go to prison is because he said it was a misfire, took it as a ‘sign from God’ that he needed to clean up his life. He filed for divorce the next week.”
Another asteroid passes us. This one had an astronaut riding on it like a cowboy on his horse.
“Wow. So, what got you clean?”
“I got pregnant and didn’t know. Started bleeding really bad one night while I was passed out in a bar, someone called 911. I miscarried.”
“Yeah. Fuck, right? So, I went to rehab. Twice, actually. Relapsed the first time. Second time stuck, though. After that, I met my husband and we’ve been good ever since.”
“That’s good. That’s really good.”
“You don’t have any tragic stories of incredible failure or disease or anything, do you,” she asks.
“No, not really,” I say. “I went to college, got my degrees, met my wife there, started a family. That’s basically it.”
“Well, good for you,” she says, taking my hand again.
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“Where do you work?”
“I teach at a university in the city,” I say. “Been there for about five or six years now.”
“Really? What do you teach?”
“So, no more sad-boy songwriting?” The sun flares in her squinty eyes as a smile stretches across her face.
“Only when I’m really, really depressed.” I look out at the Earth, still spinning. Nothing much changing that I can see, though it’s always changing in some way. I reach for my letter. “I wrote you this,” I say, “a really long time ago. I didn’t know for sure that I’d ever see you ago, but I hung on to it for some reason, still. And I wanted to give it to you today.”
“How’d you manage to get a letter in the game with you? I though you couldn’t bring stuff from the outside?”
“I know a guy from work that’s a coder for the game. He was able to write it in just for me. You won’t be able to take it with you after you read it, but you’ll still be able to read it. You don’t have to read it in front of me, either. I’d actually prefer it if you didn’t.” I go to hand her the letter, she pushes it away.
“I don’t want it,” she says.
“What? Why not?”
“I don’t know. Gives me a reason to come back.”
“I should go,” she says, grabbing my cheeks again, kisses me.
“I love you,” I say.
She closes her eyes, breathes in deep. Her image begins to fade. The bright neon of her now faint as she unplugs. “Meet me here tomorrow,” she says.
I stand up from my chair, clutching the letter in my hand. Unplug the cables from my head and arms.
The library empty. It’s late. I walk to the front door and give the security guard the twenty bucks I promised him for letting me use the equipment after hours.
“All right, professor.”
“You know what time it is, right,” he asks.
“I know. All I need is a couple hours of sleep.”
“What about your wife? You telling her you worked late?”
“I’m not married, Reg.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, you coming back tomorrow night?”
“No,” I say. “Goodnight, Reg.”
D.T. Robbins is a writer living in Rancho Cucamonga, California. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Spelk, Hobart, Headway Quarterly, Chiron Review, and others. He holds an MFA from National University. Sometimes he tweets (@dt_robbins) and it could be worse.