Chapter 33:

My Everyday Reality

Are You Real?


Getting out of bed wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

The pillows shouldn't have been as lumpy, and the sheets shouldn't have been as heavy. The sun shouldn't have been as blinding in his eyes through that obnoxious, perfectly angled crack in the blinds.

Against all odds, despite the various plastic limbs jabbing him in the sheets, Kiro managed to fight his way out. Granted, the bright sunlight was beautiful as it filtered into his sky blue room. And sure, there were a couple of new texts on his phone. But when he goes to class today, he will come home alone.

If it wasn't for the contents of those texts, it would have been all too easy to to think that the last two months of his life were little more than a strange dream:

“Hey, Kiro. You probably have a lot of dweeb stuff laying around. Do you have a Gamejoy I could borrow or something? Maybe one that has that stupid Packetman game you like. I'm bored out of my mind on this stupid hospital bed.”

“Dearest Kironius. This humble Depthsmaster is thinking of running another campaign soon. A new one. Vampires, mayhaps. Send me a flying letter posthaste fielding the felicitous fantasies…”

Kiro couldn't help but smile a little as he shoved his phone into a freshly washed-and-dried pair of pants. There really wasn't much in that moment that could be as wonderful as having friends to get back to and it being someone else's turn for laundry day.

The someone in question, naturally, was already up and about. More specifically, they were rapidly butchering what started off as a pleasant smell wafting up from the kitchen.

The boy hurried out of his room at full speed, hoping that he could at least salvage a couple of bites of breakfast. As he dashed down the stairs, a strange crinkling sound came from his waist. Walking into the kitchen, Kiro withdrew a crumpled up piece of paper from his pocket:

The headphones.

He stared at the receipt in his hands, which trembled ever-so-slightly at the memories it brought up. In a matter of seconds, all the momentum he managed to scrounge up was deflated by the events of this past weekend. Kiro entered the kitchen like he was trespassing on sacred ground, his face weighed down by all the tears he'd caused.

“Mornin’, champ! What's the matter?” Richard asked, after deftly dodging his own flipped grilled cheese.

Kiro said nothing in reply. After one serious look at the boy, his father’s fuzzy face twisted into a grimace.

“Oh,” Richard mumbled. “I’m sorry, Kiro.”

The boy’s eyes widened in horror. “How-?”

“It's written all over your face, bud. Trust me, I've been there.”

Kiro raised a finger as if to make a point, only to plop into a seat at the kitchen counter.

At first glance, it was hard to believe that they were father and son. One was a big, fuzzy monster, and the other was a scrawny teen with no hair beyond his head. But whenever the grilled cheese sailed through the air, the two of them would duck and cover, sighing in simultaneous relief as it narrowly landed back in the skillet. If they truly weren't related, then one wouldn’t be wrong to wonder why neither of them questioned if that was the right way to make a grilled cheese.

By some miracle however, and for the first time in Kiro’s living memory, the breakfast turned out to be edible. Not without entirely plugging one's nose or a healthy dose of ketchup mind you, but it was an improvement. And as Kiro scarfed down the last blackened crumbs, he spotted a look of great pride in his father's eyes.

“You know,” Richard said, “life is a lot like making a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“W-what?” Kiro almost choked on the crust. “Like, you get burned a lot?”

“Sorta.” Richard brought his hand to his chin. “You get burned over and over again, but every time you walk into the grocery aisle and pick up the ingredients, you get the chance to start over.”

“I don't get it.”

“I guess what I'm trying to say is that life is hard sometimes. And the worst of it is when you don't know if you did something wrong or not and you don’t have the chance to look back.” Richard scratched himself behind the ear. “Not that looking back can even help you past a certain point sometimes…”

The unfamiliar weight with which his father spoke those words captivated the boy. Richard’s eyes were the slightest bit misty, and he stared out into the distance for a moment. At once, without elaboration, Kiro knew that they were both feeling the same pang of emptiness.

The singular car in the two car driveway. The king-sized bed that was a bit too big for even his father alone. The walls, barren of any and all photos. The closet that neither of them ever dared open. There was an hole in every conversation, a silence between every step forward. An unavoidable absence.

It was tough, Kiro realized. Tough for both of them to talk about the one person that should’ve been here. The boy had to stifle a sob.

“Point is, life’s hard.” Richard slapped his own cheeks and put on a wide, toothy smile. “But it goes on. And there's no use beating yourself up over something that you're gonna grow past at one point or another.”

Kiro was stunned silent. It was far from the most satisfying answer, but it was more than enough to ease the aching and gnawing. Maybe he should’ve said something back, but thankfully, his father’s chattiness more than covered Kiro’s end of the conversation.

“I mean, look at me!” Richard swirled a spatula in the air for emphasis. “When I was your age, I wanted to tour the world, and I never in my life imagined that I'd have children! But sometimes, life takes you down the darndest paths, and it's where you end up that counts. I mean, if I wished that I did things differently, then I might not have you, champ. And I’d never want to live in a world where that happened.”

Kiro’s face went tomato-red. Then, after a couple of seconds, his father also grew a few shades redder than he already was.

Richard caught himself from dropping the spatula. “L-listen! What I mean is that you can take the day off if you feel like it.”

Kiro shook his head. “I appreciate it, Dad. All of it. But I think I'll go to school today.”

“You sure, champ?”

“Yeah.” Kiro nodded. “I’m gonna try making that grilled cheese again.”

Not knowing how to follow up on that, the two of them exchanged goofy grins that were equally riddled with charred crumbs.

Kiro was staring out the window of Lovecleft’s class when something caught his eye. Or rather, everyone seemed just slightly out of the ordinary.

Marissa’s ears were even twitchier than usual, and she actually looked like she was trying to pay attention to the lecture. All three of Diane's lidless eyes stared down Anthony as he toyed with his antenna, but this time they bore an unusual glint of determination. Geoff’s broad snout bobbed up and down as he whispered to Anthony. Diane tapped on Geoff’s scaly shoulder and handed him a note that made its way straight to Anthony, who blushed upon opening it.

They were different all right, but not because they were monsters.

As Kiro watched Lovecleft etch this new unit’s masterpiece onto the blackboard, it truly sunk in that two months had passed for everyone else as well. Despite that, today’s lesson was set to pass by as it usually did. And then the phone rang.

Lovecleft was already half a step out the door. “Discussion groups, everyone!”

And with that, he was gone. The only problem, was that their semester final was at the end of last week, and there was little in the way of coursework to discuss.

The quiet order of the classroom rapidly devolved into a scrambling game of catch-up on this past weekend’s events. Sports scores, cute dates, and hot gossip swirled around Kiro in an unidentifiable mass. Honestly, Kiro felt content to let it go on, uninterrupted. He wasn't new to crowd-watching, so he was well acquainted with the ways of blending in and observing…

Until he heard the word “Megatroid” to his left.

Kiro's eyes darted to the culprit.

Marissa?

“Yeah,” Anthony added with an enthusiastic nod. “I can't believe they finally aired that old gem again.”

“It's been too long.” Marissa shook her fuzzy palms in emphasis. “It's almost like they don't want to sell more Eviltron figures!”

“Are you guys talking about the new Megatroid last night?” Geoff asked, leaning in from his desk over. “That fight scene was sick!”

“It's a rerun, Geoff.” Anthony snickered.

“Hey, how was I s’posed to know?”

Kiro stared at his classmates like they were speaking a foreign language. It was like he had stepped into a parallel universe.

“Megatroid?” Kiro asked aloud.

Marissa, Anthony, and Geoff all looked at him funny.

Kiro turned to them and waved his arms. “You guys never told me you liked Megatroid!”

“You never asked!” Marissa let out a piercing, echolocating laugh into her fist.

The four of them soon mired themselves in a frenetic debate on the merits of the earlier versus later seasons of Megatroid, which then transitioned into a passionate theorycrafting session about the reboot. And amidst it all, Kiro barely noticed how the time flew by.

The feeling of giddy discovery in his chest didn't go away even after Lovecleft returned, and the four of them continued the discussion during class through notes and conspiratorial glances. The bell rang sooner than expected, and the class packed up to leave.

As usual, Kiro was left behind in the lunchtime rush, but not without goodbyes this time. Marissa, Anthony, and Geoff set off for lunch with smiles. Shoving the last paper into his backpack, the iridescent glint of the Monsterpedia caught Kiro’s eye. His fingers were struck with the strongest urge to draw that he had felt in a long time.

It's funny, really.

Waving Lovecleft goodbye, Kiro walked out of the classroom twiddling his pencil in his hands.

All that time, all it took was asking.

Now that the lunchroom wasn't an option, he had nowhere to go. Yet he started walking. With every flickering swoop of the pencil in his hands, Kiro grew more certain in his uncertainty.

Life's a mess.

Frankly, it was a whirlwind that swept everything up around it and never set it down in one piece. The stresses and questions piled up by the day. Kiro wasn’t sure if this was the road he should’ve been taking. But it was a road leading somewhere.

And for now, a little closer to the answer, that’s enough.

[END]

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