Chapter 16:

Tale Zero: Screaming Scorpion (2)


And went straight for the front door of the school.Bookmark here

However, of course, I couldn’t just go straight home – not that it had been the plan at any point, but more so now that I had promised Claudia to meet here. Last thing I’d ever do was forget about a Bookmark here

And so there I was, at the front gate.Bookmark here

My back lying against the fence, in pain, and my bag in the dirty floor, probably in pain too.Bookmark here

But before long, not even having left me enough time to fully check all my group chats, I noticed Claudia standing right next to me, a smile on her face as she held out the game case to me. Usually I would have checked the disk and the manual were both inside and in the same condition I lent them in, but I thought it would be kind of rude to do it in front of her like that.Bookmark here

After all, if there was a single one of my friends who had never done any damage to my property, it had to be her. She had certainly earned my trust.Bookmark here

I simply took the plastic DVD-like case and carefully stored it in my bag. Game was worth half a kidney nowadays.Bookmark here

“Hey, so…”Bookmark here

She spoke. Or more like shouted, because the noise levels at this hour were inhuman.Bookmark here

“Hm? What’s up? Something urgent? I’ll probably hear you better if you wait for people to go away!”Bookmark here

“Nah, it’s okay. I can tell you like this.”Bookmark here

Actually, her voice wasn’t that loud. I didn’t know how she managed to communicate in that tone with the, uh, ambient noise.Bookmark here

She continued speaking.Bookmark here

“So… I have nothing to do right now. My parents are out with my brothers to get them vaccinated, and I forgot my keys at home so… would you mind if I hanged out with you for a while? U-unless you don’t want to be late yourself, of course…”Bookmark here

Damn. This was an unexpected offer.Bookmark here

Common sense told me to refuse and go back home.Bookmark here

But I really had no intention of going home for a while that day. None whatsoever. Not a chance.Bookmark here

So my options were two.Bookmark here

Stay alone until I decided to go back, possibly reading more of that book I was so hooked to, or go for a walk with Claudia and talk about the same old topics all over again.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

The decision was clear.Bookmark here

“Yeah, sure, let’s go wherever for a while. I’ll tell my parents I’ll be doing a group project or something, should be enough to convince them.”Bookmark here

I said that, but there really was no need to even message my parents.Bookmark here

So I just pretended I did, and with no guilt weighing in my conscience, started walking with no destination or purpose other than to kill time.Bookmark here

Claudia came right behind me.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

We both stayed silent for a few minutes, silently thinking to ourselves while enjoying the other’s company.Bookmark here

Eventually, though, I spoke. With no intent to break an awkwardness that wasn’t there. I had simply just thought of a topic.Bookmark here

“So how was the game? Did you finish it?”Bookmark here

“Ah, yeah I did! Just yesterday, actually. It was amazing, one of the best games I’ve ever played. It was just so well made and charming, everything it does is simple yet charismatic… Thank you so much for letting me keep it this past month, it’s really been so great…”Bookmark here

“Oh. Damn. I knew you seemed to like it when I showed it to you back at my place, but I didn’t actually expect you to like it so much. I’m impressed. Pity all the other entries are on different consoles, though…”Bookmark here

“Ah, that’s no issue. Just for this game I bought a Wii with backwards compatibility. Now I can play the first and third games in the series, even if I have to pirate one of them. Hehe.”Bookmark here

She flashed a teasing smile at me.Bookmark here

My heart skipped a beat.Bookmark here

“Damn… You bought a whole CONSOLE for the game?! So you couldn’t even play it when you asked me to lend it to you?! Oh God, you’re a danger to your house’s economy. I better keep all my cool games hidden next time until I make sure which consoles you own…”Bookmark here

“N-no, please don’t do that! Awww, you’ll ruin all my fun now, and all because I played the game you lent me… Guess next time I’ll have to keep it in its case, untouched… Goodbye happy life…”Bookmark here

She made the worst impression of a sad face I’d seen in ages. If she actually thought she’d get me with that, I should probably have to do some big self reflection on the image I give people.Bookmark here

“… Okay, okay, I’m not gonna stop showing you games. I enjoy that as much as you do. But next time maybe ask me to lend you the console too instead of buying it yourself just for three games, will you?”Bookmark here

“Okaaay. Though I didn’t buy a Wii for three games. I really do want to play a lot of stuff in that thing. Plus, it was cheap. What can you do about it.”Bookmark here

“Give you more games for it. Maybe actually gift you a game so you don’t have to rely on me to give you everything.”Bookmark here

“Haaa… I guess that’s a good point.”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Nobody mentioned her birthday being the day after.Bookmark here

I knew she didn’t exactly like being reminded of it outside of the day in question, so I said nothing. I also wouldn’t spoil the present I’d gotten her for anything in the world.Bookmark here

The conversation kind of died out again after a bit more of our gaming exchange. It was really nice having someone else share your hobbies and who you could talk so passionately about them.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“Hey, so…”Bookmark here

She said, breaking the silence once more.Bookmark here

Her tone had completely changed, though.Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

“I-it’s nothing important, there’s just one thing I’ve been meaning to tell you, and since we’re having this nice walk together, I thought I might…”Bookmark here

“Oh, sure. Tell me whatever you need.”Bookmark here

“… You promise you won’t get mad at me?”Bookmark here

“Uh, yeah of course, I can’t remember ever getting seriously mad at you for anything anyway. But sure, I promise.”Bookmark here

“James… I-“Bookmark here

Bzzz-bzzz.Bookmark here

Bzzz-bzzz.Bookmark here

A phone vibrating.Bookmark here

It wasn’t mine, and there were only the two of us here, so it had to be Claudia’s.Bookmark here

I looked at her. Her face was red, she looked really flustered for some reason. Probably she had actually meant to tell me something important.Bookmark here

“…Yes? Mom? What happened “Bookmark here

“Claudia, it’s your grandmother. She’s in the hospital right now. We are with her right now, she’ll be fine, don’t worry. Your father’s going back home to let you in since you forgot your keys. Wait for him, okay? He’ll tell you everything.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.