Chapter 17:

December 31, 2015, 11:50 PM

Let's Make Love Bloom

Life sped by fast after finally getting away from my old home, almost too fast to keep up with, but I managed.

First off, I officially moved in with June, name on the lease and everything. I even got my first ever job to help with the rent—a part-time gig at an on-campus bookstore. The awkward thing about moving, though, is that first you have pack your stuff, and I was not about to set foot back at my old home to do that while my mother was still around. And she was always around. So, I didn’t; instead, the day I decided to stay with June, Papá volunteered to get all my stuff for me, and he showed up later that same evening with all of my worldly possessions. Everything, that is, except for the smut, all of which my mother had gone and burned. I shall mourn their loss forevermore.

“This was also in your room,” he said as we unpacked, holding out a book to me. “I didn’t know if you still wanted it, but I figured, better to ask.” I took the book in question: it was my personal Bible, the one my mother had gifted to me when I was young (and forced me to read).

“I’ll… I’ll hold onto it,” I said, turning it over in my hand. It was so old, much of the cover had worn off with age.

“I was almost certain you’d want me to throw it away.”

“No, not at all.” I opened the book and found my name scratched into the inside cover, alongside many others; I was not the first in the family to hold this book. “I don’t blame this book for my mother’s attitude, believe it or not. And, it’s like you said the other day. It’s been with me so long, I can’t let go of it so easily.”

“Right,” Papá said. “Well, I trust you know what you want.” And that was the end of that conversation. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the year, though on the last day of 2015, I did get a text from him that said simply: “Happy New Year. All my love.”

What I told him was true, though. I couldn’t let go of it, and besides, there was no sense in blaming a book. Like I said so long ago, I do enjoy parts of it, and I do think there is value to be found in it. It’s just the institution that peddles the book’s more questionable features that draws my ire. That topic came up again when June saw the book among my things, and again she had to talk me down from committing arson.

In other news, I also started the process of getting my license! About damn time, too! Can’t be relying on June to drive me everywhere all the time, after all, nor can I rely on Masashi for that. He’s a busy lad himself these days.

Following my and June’s lead, Masashi and Oscar decided to look for a place together and were in the middle of apartment hunting. They hadn’t found a place yet, but he assures me that they’re getting closer every week. The last time we met to talk about it, we started joking about the relative speed of our respective relationships, and about how both of us seemed to be getting the steps wrong in one way or another. As if there were a definite set of steps for relationships to follow to begin with. Our last get-together of the year happened at what used to be our old hangout, the now-closed Steak ‘n Shake. It’d been bought by some locals looking to start up their own restaurant, and that was going about as well as you’d expect. The food, though? Sublime.

“You know, at this rate,” Masashi said, having finished the only steak he’d ever enjoyed, “we’re both going to end up married before the end of next year.”

“Nah,” I said. “We’ve got way too much to worry about before getting married. Finals were stressful enough, and we haven’t even graduated yet.”

“Fair enough,” he said with a fry sticking out from his lips. “But I’ll tell you what—whenever it does happen, I expect you to be my best man.”

“Only if you’ll be my maid of honor.”

“Deal.” And we shook on it. So hey, we’ve got that to look forward to.

Lots of other little things happened in the lead-up to the end of the year, too. Romana got a steady boyfriend (for now) in Rue. Joe never managed to kill her in Halo again. Miles went and got a boyfriend of his own, though I didn’t get along with him very well. Probably just a new guy thing. Stephen started wearing contacts instead of glasses, and just like that he… I want to say he went from being the lanky nerd of the group to suddenly handsome, but honestly he was still pretty much just Stephen. That was fine, though; we all loved Stephen as he was.

And then my game! Oh, my game! Two big things happened with that, both thanks to June. First, she suggested a name in reference to an older game that she somehow knew and it stuck: “Love Blooms on the Battlefield.” On the one hand, the name is absolutely terrible and I was going to have to change it for sure, but on the other hand the both of us couldn’t stop laughing at it. So for now, just between us, that’s what the game is called.

The second thing that happened, at the suggestion of Romana, was voice lines. We ended up adding basic voice lines for some of the more simple actions to each of the characters, and the cool part was that June and I each voiced one. Romana handled all the technical aspects, making the nonsense noises we spat into a microphone sound like genuine chiptune soundbites, so now, what we have is two little pixel girls angrily flirting with each other voiced by real-life girlfriends. Absolutely perfect.

As for any notions of releasing the game anytime soon? It’s nowhere near ready for that, but when the time comes, Stephen promised he would help me get an itch page set up, so I’ve got that to look forward to, too.

And then it was New Year’s Eve.

June and I were out on the balcony of her apartment, watching fireworks going off around town as the clock counted down to midnight. Life had sped by so fast that I’d lost the chance to worry about things, but here, in this (relatively) quiet moment, some old worries had the chance to rear their ugly heads again, and by this point in our relationship, I was comfortable enough with June that I had no qualms about airing them. (Or… actually, I don’t think I ever had such qualms to begin with. Huh.)

“What am I doing for you?” I asked her.

“What do you mean?” June set down her wine glass to turned and face me.

“It’s just that… you’ve done so much for me and I feel so lucky, like right now you’re the most important person in my life, but… what have I done for you in return? I feel like I’ve been reaping the rewards of this relationship, and meanwhile you’ve been putting in all the work.”

“Huh.” June glanced out beyond the balcony and watched the fireworks for a minute, the colorful explosions sending rainbows through her eyes. “Well… I guess when you put it like that, there is some truth to that. But I’ve never thought of it like that. Like work.” She reached out and took my hand again, like she had so often before.

“Then, what is it?” I asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” June said, and leaned in for a kiss. It wasn’t our first, but it felt as sweet as all the rest. I loved it, loved her, but still felt like I wasn’t doing enough.

“Can love be so simple?” I asked; our faces were so close, I could feel her hot breath soar across my cheek.

“It can be,” June with a grin. “If you let it.”

This time I was the one who kissed her, right as the clock rolled over. Smiling she led me to bed, and as she did I couldn’t help but wonder at how easy that kiss had felt to give.