Here’s my third chapter of Username: Bladen, rough copy from my manuscript, before publishing. If you read, this thank you! If you don’t, that’s okay too! Hope your days are filled with blessings.
Julia threw her arms around my neck and almost knocked me over with a hug. “Bladen I’m so delighted to see you. It’s been too long.”
At that moment, I heard a voice in my head whisper, She’s the one. I looked around but didn’t see anyone.
Yeah. This time my mouth did drop open, and I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t stop saying, “Uh…uh…uh.” I knew where I had seen Julia before. She looked exactly like the blonde girl from my game Arcis. I couldn’t believe it. How could that be? My blood pumped hard. I tried to pull it together.
A look of alarm crossed over Julia’s face. “Are you okay?”
“Low blood sugar,” I muttered.
“Do you want a glass of milk or something to eat?” Julia’s voice rang, sweetly.
I followed Julia into the kitchen. While she poured me a glass of milk, she glanced up at me, still concerned.
I stared back at her, breathless by how much she had changed. She no longer wore glasses, and somehow her collection of freckles had minimized, revealing milky, smooth skin. Her light, blue eyes radiated against it. Her lengthy, pale hair had deepened to a darker shade of blonde and fell straight to the middle of her back. Her smile sparkled and lit up her entire face. She wore a dark blue T-shirt that fit just right and faded blue jeans that showed the contours of her slim hips. She was so beautiful; I immediately felt intimidated, again.
She handed me the milk. I drew in my breath, “Th…thanks,” I managed to stammer. Then it occurred to me, maybe she was a life player too, and played in the game like I was going to. “Do you like video games, by chance?”
“No, I hate them, always have. If you feel better, I’ll show you around.”
I nodded, disappointed. The uncanny resemblance between Julia and the blonde from the game was a strange coincidence. Bummer.
I gazed around the house. It was impressive. The wide, open space had high cathedral ceilings. I entered the living room first and saw a puffy, white couch, white chair, and matching ottoman. Off the living room, there was a guest bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. Just outside the bathroom door, an indoor Jacuzzi tub sat, invitingly. Sweet, I thought. The kitchen bordered the living room and had granite, marble-speckled counter tops, and shiny, spotless stainless steel appliances.
The walls were almost entirely made of glass. Julia showed me the switch on the wall that controlled the blinds inside the glass walls. If you pushed the switch, the blinds closed and gave the indoor space complete privacy from the outside. In the middle of the living room, a remarkable stone hearth rose all the way to the ceiling. A striking wood stove made out of green and black checkered soapstone sat at the base of it. A black-metal, spiral staircase in the middle of the room rose up to a loft upstairs. Julia told me she and her mom’s bedrooms were up there, each with their own adjoining bathroom.
I glanced around. “You and your mom have a nice place.”
Julia pulled her long hair up to the top of her head, giving me a better look at her flawless face. “Yeah,” she answered, “it’s a lot better than the last house we lived in. You and your family visited us there, remember?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I answered, in a dazed voice, mesmerized by her good looks. “It was so long ago, and we were much younger. I don’t remember it that well.”
“Are you okay?” Julia looked puzzled. “You kind of look out of it.”
I have this child-like habit of being outrageously honest with my feelings sometimes, and, unfortunately, this was one of those times. “I’m sorry. It’s just that…well…do you know what a knock-out you turned out to be?”
“Excuse me?” she said, startled. “Um…thanks. Your girlfriend probably wouldn’t appreciate you telling me that.”
“No…no,” I answered, flustered. I’ve never had a serious girlfriend…not that I don’t like girls…because I do…never mind.”
She glanced away and appeared to be staring out the window. I thought I saw a glimmer of a smile on her face. She circled around toward me. “You mean you’ve never had a girlfriend?”
“N…no…are you going to make fun of me because of that?” I asked, sure my face was turning crimson, as I felt freaked by the stupidity of my end of the conversation..
“Of course not…you turned out pretty good yourself, you know. I’m sure girls must tell you how cute you are.”
“Oh, he’s sooo cute,” I teased in the highest girlie voice I could muster. Cute? I thought. How insulting.
“You’re funny,” she laughed, and ran her index finger leisurely across my chin. My heart pumped at her touch.
She made me feel so jumbled inside, I foolishly revealed my thoughts—again. “There’s a character in my video game that looks like you, by the way.”
Julia let out a slight giggle, “Interesting.”
“So, if you don’t like video games, have you ever modeled for one?”
“That’s flattering, but no; I don’t play them or model for them.” Julia’s smile grew wider as she let her finger slide down my right arm.
Gently, I moved it away and changed the subject. “Are you ready to go back to campus to show me around?” I tried to appear unscathed from the prior moment, even though my insides felt like Jell-o.
“Sure,” she replied, and walked away from me. I thought she looked disappointed.
While girls made me generally nervous, I didn’t always care what they thought of me, but I cared what Julia thought, and I knew exactly why…she was hot…and nice, too.
# # #
Julia and I arrived at my car and got in, when I realized I hadn’t seen her mom, Lisa. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought to mention her. “Where’s your mom, anyway?”
“You finally noticed my mom’s respectable missing presence?” Julia’s asked, her voice laced with sarcasm. “She works…a lot. She’s a V.P. at one of the local banks in town, and she’s frequently away on business trips. ‘That’s the reason why we have such a comfortable home, and I can help you pay for your college’, blah, blah, blah.” Julia imitated her mother’s words.
“You sound bitter,” I said. “I gather you’d rather have your mom around more often.”
She peered at me with scowling eyes. “Who wouldn’t?”
I tried to lighten up the moment with a lame joke. “I guess one whose mother’s a convict.”
She rolled her eyes.
Clearly, my joke sucked.
After we both sat in my car, I asked, “Isn’t your mom alone…I mean without your dad?”
“Yeah, she is. They’re divorced. You can say the word—DIVORCED. They’ve been divorced for so long, I hardly remember what my dad looked like, and I know Mom has to work to support us. It…just hurts because she’s hardly ever around. She’s always off somewhere.”
Julia sat silently for the rest of the car ride. When we arrived at Freefall, I parked the car near my dorm.
“Where do you want to start?” I turned, and looked at Julia.
“Let me see your schedule, and we’ll go from there.” She didn’t seem to be having as much fun, as when I had first arrived at her house.
I stared at her for a moment. “Julia,” I said softly. “I don’t know the whole story about your parents, but I’m sorry it upsets you so much.”
She gazed back at me with her face brightened, and flashed a spectacular smile at me. “It’s okay, forget it. It’s cool seeing you again. I’m glad we’re both going to Freefall. Now let me see your schedule. I don’t want to sit in your car all day. Oh, and by the way, my mom is an ex-convict,” she giggled. “I do have a sense of humor, just in case you thought otherwise.”
I laughed and handed her my schedule.
I watched her scan my list of classes. Her eyes widened. “What are you trying to do, commit academic suicide? You’re taking biology and chemistry with labs, pre-calc, and intro to psych. What’s with all the science and math?” She stared at me with quizzical eyes.
I defended myself. “It’s only fourteen credits.”
“But the science and math are hours of work, and why are you taking psychology? It doesn’t exactly go along with the others.”
“I’m taking psychology, so I can figure out people like you,” I said. “Never mind me, what classes are you taking?”
“I’m taking a couple of introductory education classes, an English writing course, Vermont history, and Spanish.”
“What kind of job do you want when you graduate?” I asked.
“I’d like to be an elementary school teacher someday. Little kids are sweet and fun.” Julia stared wistfully out the window. Her thoughts looked miles away.
I gave her a poke in the stomach. “Hey!” she exclaimed, and pulled back in surprise.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here,” I said, as I opened my door.
When we both got out of my car, Julia took my schedule and directed me around various buildings. She was amazingly easy to spend time with. We both talked nonstop as we wandered around.
After two hours or so, we had explored the entire campus and approached my car. “Thanks for showing me around. I owe you one.” I opened my car door, ready to hop in.
“Wait. Hold up. You mean that’s it. Don’t I get to see your room?” she asked, one hand on her hip.
When she said that, my first thought was, No way Robby.
“Well… what do you think?” she wouldn’t let up.
“I think…I’m hungry, that’s what I think.” I felt uneasy. “How about lunch? I’d rather take you out. Are you hungry?”
The thought of her meeting Robby made my palms sweat. I mean I liked the guy, but I didn’t want him to blow it for me.
Julia still held one hand on her hip and stared me down. She flipped her hair out of her face and didn’t budge.
“What?” I asked, widening my eyes.
“Are you hiding something?”
“It’s my roommate, Robby,” I started to explain.
“You’re hiding your roommate?”
“No…no…my roommate’s kind of wild over girls, and after he takes in one look at you, I’m not sure what dumb thing might come out of his mouth.”
“What dumb thing do you think he might say?”
I leaned toward Julia and whispered, “He might mention something about your good looks.”
Julia smiled and changed the subject. “I’m a little envious. I wish I could’ve stayed in a dorm with a roommate, but my mom said ‘no’ because we live so close.”
“I think you’re lucky to live in your house,” I said. It’s awesome. Come on, let’s go to lunch. It’s on me, on one condition…tell me more about yourself. Your life is a mystery to me. Even my mom doesn’t know much about you or your mom.”
“Hmm,” she hesitated. “My life is a bit cryptic. How do I know I can trust you won’t tell anyone?”
I gave her the Boy Scout salute and answered, “I promise, cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.”
“You’re so juvenile,” she smirked, and hit my arm.
“Seriously, I can’t wait to hear your story. If you’re worried about trusting me with it, it must be good. And then after I’ll take you to my room.”
“Deal,” she said.
# # #
Julia and I drove down to Church Street. She knew of a little bistro, where they made tasty calzones. We each ordered one, along with a soda. We sat at a table just outside the restaurant on the street. I waited for Julia to talk first, excited to hear her story, but she remained quiet for what seemed to be—forever.
Just when I couldn’t stand the silence any longer, I heard a familiar voice sing in the distance. I snapped my head up to see where it came from and saw the blind man.
“Hold on,” Julia said, “I’ll be right back.” She sprang out of her seat and went over to the blind man. I watched him whisper something in her ear. Then she dropped money into his hat. Just as quickly, she sprinted back into her seat and faced me.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“I—helped out a person.” Julia answered, not offering an explanation.
“I saw him. He whispered something in your ear. What was it?”
Julia took a long, slow sip from her straw. “Nothing, it doesn’t matter.”
“What did you say to him? It matters to me.” Oddly, the obsessed feeling I had with my iPhone came back. I had to know.
Julia stared at me. “Why does it matter to you?”
I told her about the song he sang the previous day and how he seemed to know me. Her eyes grew.
Julia leaned forward, putting her face close to mine and spoke in a low tone. She glanced around to make sure nobody could hear her. “His nickname on the street is the Psycho Psychic, which I don’t think is too kind, but I’ve heard other stories like yours. This is the first time he’s ever talked to me. He told me I should trust you.”
“How can he know who we are or that I’m here, if he can’t see us?” I whispered.
“I don’t know,” Julia answered. It’s weird. He appears and disappears out of nowhere.”
“Don’t the police pick him up off the street?”
“The police are never here when he is,” she answered. He’s a bit of a myth. There’s been a lot of talk about him recently, because he’s been hanging around more than usual.”
At that moment, a flock of white doves like a puff of smoke descended on Julia and me. We tried to hit them away, but they continued to flock around us. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone—except one. It landed on Julia’s shoulder and chirped sweetly. It nudged at her cheek. She hit it away, but it continued to sing to her. Its musical chirp sounded surreal, until it put its head down in a sign of defeat and flew away.
“That was strange,” I said.
“I sees doves often,” Julia answered, and shrugged.
“Don’t you ever wonder why?”
I put my elbow on the table and rested my chin on the palm of my hand. “How about telling me your family story now.”
Julia sighed. “Okay, you win. I can’t believe I’m telling you this so soon, and…I need to give you the compact version. The entire story’s too long.”
I reached out and placed my hand around Julia’s and stared into her eyes. “The blind man told you, you can trust me, and you can.”
Julia nodded her head in understanding. “I might as well start with the worst of it. My father’s…a criminal. He’s murdered…countless people, but he was never caught. He always had an alibi.”
Julia stopped to see my reaction.
“Go on,” I said, reassuringly.
She swallowed hard then continued. “That made my mom believe in the beginning that he was a good man wrongly accused. When they first met, my father wined and dined my mom. She fell deeply in love with him and believed all his lies. They lived in Chicago at the time. My mother became suspicious when she found blood on his clothes. After that, my father disappeared for weeks at a time. The police kept showing up at our door, yet my mom never knew where he was. So they harassed her, believing that she was covering up for him. Eventually, she was afraid and became convinced that he had committed the crimes he was accused of, but she didn’t leave right away. She stayed in Chicago, because she was pregnant with my twin sister and me. Then, when we were six, my father pushed his way back into our lives. He favored my sister Jessica, while he treated me with intense cruelty. Jessica grew heartless when he was around, even though she was only a little girl. My mom never called the police. She was afraid my father would kill us. But when I cried all the time, my mother couldn’t stand it anymore. She took me in the night when I was seven and fled to Alaska. We lived there in hiding for one year with my mother’s friend Adonis. Then we moved to California. Adonis followed us to protect us. Finally, we moved to Vermont. That’s when my mom looked up your family. She wanted to regain ties with old friends she trusted.
But someone ransacked our home. They ripped it to shreds. My mother thought it was my father again, but the police couldn’t find his fingerprints anywhere. That’s why my mom had the house we own now, built. The reason for the beautiful windows and enclosed blinds: so that at night, we don’t have to worry about anyone peeking into the house. The glass is bullet proof.
My mom was concerned for everyone she cared about, so she chose to not keep in touch with your mom. She was afraid your family would get hurt because of her.” Julia laughed with scorn; her eyes watered. “It’s ironic you’re here with me now. Isn’t it?”
I didn’t know what to say; her story stunned me. I had believed she was an only child from a divorced family. I had no idea she was in so much danger.
“Wow,” I began, “I didn’t know your life was so complicated.” I squeezed Julia’s hand and made another one of my pitiable jokes. “You should tell Inquire Magazine. If your dad knew that you had talked publicly about him, maybe he’d show up, and the police could lock him away. Then you could make lots of money on talk shows, or maybe write a book.”
The corners of Julia’s mouth turned up, and she laughed. A small laugh tumbled out at first, but then she breathed her soda in the wrong way and started to cough. The waitress came over and asked if she was all right.
“She’s fine,” I teased again. “I just asked her to marry me, but she turned me down. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like the check.” The waitress stared at us like we were crazy.
That sent Julia into a greater fit of laughter. I waited a few minutes before she caught her breath, surprised that she thought I was so funny.
“I can’t believe you’re making a joke out of this, but even more…it feels good to laugh. I can’t remember the last time I did.”
“I’m happy to be here for some comic relief—even if my jokes are pathetic.”
“They’re not pathetic. If my mom and I made money at his expense, it would make up for the years of pain he’s caused us. Because the police never found him, we don’t know if he’ll show up on our doorstep again. My mom always lives in fear. Her friend Adonis won’t leave us, because he feels responsible. Every time we’ve moved, he’s bought a house next to ours, and I’ve had to live a sheltered life.” Julia squeezed my hand. “So you know, I’ve never had a serious boyfriend.” The only reason I’m out with you now is: My mom knows and trusts your family.”
“I’m flattered,” I confessed. Actually, I was pumped; she had never had a serious boyfriend.
The waitress came back and gave me the check. I slipped her some cash. “Keep the change.”
“Have a great afternoon,” she said, as she checked out my generous tip.
“C’mon.” I took Julia by the elbow. “It’s time for my end of the bargain. Let’s go see my room, and if all goes well my roommate Robby won’t be there.”
Julia wrinkled her forehead. “You’re so mean.”
# # #
When we arrived back on campus, I reached for the door to get out of the car. “Wait,” Julia held onto my arm. “I’ve never told anyone that story about my dad before—not even my best friend Gloria. Promise you’ll keep it to yourself?”
“Your story’s safe with me, and I know I tried to make you laugh…but I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. If I could change it for you I would.”
“Thanks, that’s sweet…now I want to meet your ‘wild about girls’ roommate,” Julia grinned.
“Let’s go,” I said.
We were both quiet as we walked to my room. It gave me a few moments to think about the dream I had the night before – the eerie river, the irate giant, the whispery voice. I wondered if it meant anything, or if it was related to Arcis. The scenery did look a lot like the game. Maybe it was some sort of strange preparation. Unfortunately, I spaced out and Julia noticed.
Julia waved her hand in front of my face. “Hello?”
“Oh sorry, we’re here.” I took out my key to unlock the door, but Robby beat me to it.
He flew the door open wide and greeted us with his usual grin. “Hi, come on in. You must be Julia; so nice to meet you. You’re much prettier than Bladen described you. He didn’t do you any justice.”
I whispered in her ear. “Told you so.”
Julia’s phone rang. “Hi Mom…yeah, I’m with him right now. I don’t know…sure. I’ll ask…okay…love you too…bye.” Julia hung up her phone. “That was my mom. She would love to see you. She invited you to lunch tomorrow, if you’d like to come.”
“Obviously he’d like to come,” Robby answered for me.
I glared at Robby and punched his arm. “I’ll answer for myself, loser.”
“Hey bro,” he yelped, clutching onto his arm, “stop showing off for the lady.”
We all talked for a while. I was grateful that Robby acted surprisingly normal.
I noticed Julia yawn and figured she was either bored or tired. I turned toward her, “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah, hey Robby it was nice meeting you. You’re not as eccentric as Bladen described you.”
“Thank you.” Robby took a bow. “I know Bladen’s a little hard on me, but I’m really a gentleman.”
When Julia and I drove to her house, we remained silent, until we reached her driveway. I thanked her for showing me around. She told me to be back at her house the next day at 12:30 p.m. for lunch. My heart pounded inside my chest at the thought of seeing her again.
# # #
Back at my dorm, I gave my parents a call and described my first two days at school. I wished I could tell my father about Berard and my “real” game, but I couldn’t. After I hung up, I decided to try to find Berard again. I trooped across the hall and knocked on his door. I pounded, but no one answered. Was he in there and just not answering?
I walked down the hall to ask the resident assistant if he could open the door for me. I told him I was worried because I hadn’t seen Berard all day. He went back with me to Berard’s room and pulled out his master key. He took his sweet time. I thought, dude let’s go.
At last, he put in the key, turned it, and twisted the knob. It made a delayed clicking noise as he rotated it. The door creaked as it leisurely opened. The room was out-and-out black. I heard the R.A. fumble for the light switch. When he found it, after what seemed like forever, the light lit up the room. I was shocked. The room was entirely barren, like a desert. I couldn’t move. Berard was gone, and everything he owned was gone with him.