Chapter 1: A Zero
The car rolled up the twisting driveway and parked in front of the garage. He stared at the house until the windshield and windows began to fog up and he lost feeling in his fingers. It was late spring but that day was particularly cold. He took a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. Blank eyes skimmed the already memorized letter.
The paper, signed by his principal, notified him and his family of his graduation. While most other seniors were celebrating, he went to work and came home as usual. Accomplishment, happiness, joy, anything positive, he expected to feel at least one of these things. Instead, the paper left him dumbstruck.
It took him three long years as a senior to graduate.
He threw his work vest to the passenger seat and stepped out. Through the gaps between houses and over the fences, passing cars illuminated the closed grocery and general stores while their engines and wheels mimicked the sound of skates on ice. He liked that feeling. The feeling that life always happened whether or not he was around to see it.
As he walked by the windows to his home, he ducked. Past the windflowers and yellow camilas his mother loved, he saw his brother and sister hogging their own couches. They had their phones in their hands while the television played in the background.
His fingers clamped onto the key like a wrench as he eased the door locks open. He slid through the smallest crack he could and closed it only when he knew it fit perfectly into the sturdy wooden frame. The handle was guided into place and his shoes slipped off onto the mat. Laughs of an audience played through the television’s speakers, giving him the opportunity he needed to disappear into his room.
His younger siblings had a bad habit of turning the volume up too loud. Their mother, who was usually mild mannered, had blown her top multiple times because of it. Those two were probably hard of hearing at this point.
“You’re back,” Claire stated, pretending not to see him flinch.
“Congrats and all again,” Aiden said without taking his eyes off his phone. “But I can’t go to your graduation. I already made plans with a few friends of mine for Friday and I can’t just cancel on them last minute.”
“What?” Claire’s raised voice made him shrink back. “Stop lying. Mom and Dad told us at least two weeks before that we had to go.”
“Shut up. If Mom and Dad aren’t going then I’m not going.”
“No. If I have to go, then you have to go! If you don’t then I’m gonna tell Mom and Dad.”
Aiden clicked his tongue, “Fine, but I’m leaving as soon as it ends. If you graduated the first time, nobody would be embarrassed to go to your fucking stupid graduation.”
He stared at his siblings as they returned to their phones. The scene of a family exchanging banter around a table followed by a chorus of fake laughter stemming from the television stoked his anger. His throat strained with words he wanted to say but stayed caught, unable to leave.
It left as a breath and he left them to their own devices.
With a touch, the room was brightened by a stainless steel lamp. It sat on a glass desk, clinging on with its rubber lined rims. He sat and waited for his computer as it whirred to life. A dusty, generation three Pokemon poster hung behind his monitor. One of the poster’s edge’s was loose, the dirty tape no longer able to stick to anything.
A message flashed on his screen when he opened his favorite MMO. A new patch was out. He switched to his teamspeak while it downloaded in the background.
“You’re finally on, Vis” Bakkar said. Bakkar, the leader of the group, had a gruff voice and liked playing his dwarf with a scottish accent. He first met him when he saved his fighter from a trap. “Finish with the update yet?”
“I’m downloading it right now.”
“We’ve been waiting for an hour. If I knew it was going to take this long I might have just gone in by myself.
“And die fast?” a guildmate of his said.
“Better than dying slowly with you guys,” he retorted.
“He told us yesterday he had work. If you want to punish him, just have Nadina not heal him for a good minute or two. Let him use up a couple of his potions.”
“Uh, no,” Nadina said. “If we lose the raid because of it you guys’ll blame me. So no. I won’t just let him die while you hit the boss with your shitty sticks.”
“Excuse me, I use a shitty ‘mace’ not a shitty stick,” Bakkar corrected her. “Ignoring the Nadina—You mentioned you were graduating, right? Congrats!”
“Yeah, good job surviving. It only gets better from there.”
“You mean worse. College was hell.”
“Don’t listen to them. You did a good job graduating,” Bakkar said.
“Oh yeah, thanks.”
“I remember high school. I hated being forced to work in groups.”
He agreed. If he was unlucky enough to be in a class with group assignments, he hoped he had a friend in there and that he was their only friend. More often than not, he wasn’t and the teacher would have to shoehorn him into one. He wasn’t ever anyone’s first choice.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m logging on right now.”
“Great,” Nadina said. “Let’s start. I wanna get done before twelve this time.”
He smiled bitterly as the rest of the group chat roared to life.
He was glad he wasn’t completely alone. Only in this game did he seem to matter. Still, in a couple hours it’d be over and life would resume. He had no prospects, no friends or family who supported him wholeheartedly. College would be a nightmare judging from his high school performance. He had no hopes, no dreams. He hadn’t a clue where he’d go.
He was a zero.