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“All finished!”

A warm breeze was blowing outside as summer vacation came to a close and Lydia’s new life at university was just beginning. She was moving in with Drew, an old friend from high school, and together, they were putting the final touches on their dorm room.

“You managed to get all your clothing in there?” Drew asked impatiently, wondering why she felt the need to bring so many different outfits.

“Yep,” Lydia responded, smiling back at him. “I know it seems like a lot, but it’s hard to choose sometimes.”

“Whatever you say,” Drew muttered. He never did understand her fashion obsession, but part of him was always curious as to what ensemble she’d come up with on any given day. For today, she had on a yellow sun hat, her hair braided in hues of red, orange and yellow. A brown coat with dangling fringes was draped over her body, above a floral miniskirt accompanied with knee-high maple leaf stockings and brown leather boots. Around her neck hung a circular locket decorated with an ice crystal pattern.

“By the way, thanks for all your help setting up everything,” he added, relieved. “We got done a lot faster than I thought we would because of you.”

“I thought it was only fair, since I brought most of it.”

“Well, you didn’t have to do so much….”

“Yet I did anyway,” Lydia teased. “Besides, now we can enjoy our last day of freedom. How about we take a stroll through the park?”

Drew’s eyes widened in excitement as they prepared to walk out the door. “Sure thing! It’ll be just like old times. Remember when we first met?”

Lydia blushed in embarrassment. “Oh, I could never forget.”

—-

“What do you think my chances are?” a younger Drew asked nervously to his friends.

He was eyeing a girl sitting alone at a nearby lunch table. She wore her hair in the ox horns style, with her long, black twintails tied together in buns and draped over her white silk dress. Her eyes were intensely focused on the pieces of a Tetris cube in front of her, seemingly unaware of the boys gazing at her this instant.

“With Lydia?” Martin retorted. “Good luck, she’s brushed off every guy who’s tried talking to her.”

“I don’t know if she even has any interest in anything other than her laptop and puzzles.”

“Well, I like a challenge,” Drew answered, feigning confidence.

“Then go for it, champ!” Ali responded encouragingly.

“Just try not to get friend-zoned!” Martin warned.

With his friends’ support, Drew walked up to Lydia.

“Hi there,” Drew greeted.

Lydia continued moving around her puzzle pieces without looking up. “Hello,” she replied.

Drew put on a cheesy smile. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing all alone?”

Lydia paused. “I like being alone,” she answered. “It gives me time to think.”

“About what?” he asked, leering at her intently.

“Anything,” she nonchalantly answered, still not making eye contact. “It’s none of your concern.”

Drew was silent for a while, trying to think of something to say that would catch her interest. Then he saw a curious object in her backpack.

“A DS?” he whispered in surprise.

Lydia finally looked up. “What about it?” she asked.

“Um…” he stammered. “I was just surprised to see you bring one to school.” He shrugged, adding with a whisper, “I’d have brought mine too, but the teachers don’t like it much.”

Lydia sighed. “It’s a pity, isn’t it? And I just got to the good part. At least it’s Friday, so I’ll have plenty of time to play once school’s out.”

Drew, sensing an opportunity to connect with her, inquired, “What games do you like?”

“A lot.” She paused, trying to come up with a more specific response. “Remember those point-and click adventure games?”

Drew gasped. “Um, sort of? I’ve heard of them at least.”

“I started playing one of the Nancy Drew games, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” she explained, smiling in reminiscence.

“They still make those, don’t they?” Drew inquired.

“Yes, and they’re still as fun as ever. I can spend hours searching for everything the characters had to say. Then again, I did not have many games growing up.”

“Why not?”

“My parents didn’t like me playing video games, believing they interfered with my studies. I had to call them brain teasers to placate them.”

She paused. Seeing Drew’s sympathetic expression, she added hastily, “I do love them dearly. They’re just… stubborn sometimes.”

Drew was silent, enraptured by Lydia’s words.

“I’m sorry,” she said suddenly. “Here I am, talking on and on, and you never got a chance to speak.”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Drew assured her, chuckling nervously. “I was just remembering my own parents when you mentioned sneaking games past them. Thought it was funny, that’s all.”

Lydia smiled, comforted by his words. “So, what games do you like?”

“Fighting games. You know, Smash Bros., Street Fighter,” Drew became giddy with excitement.

“How good are you at them?” Lydia asked, not following his enthusiasm.

“Well, I placed third in my last tournament. That’s gotta be worth something.”

“That is pretty impressive.”

“How about you?”

“Um, I don’t know. I’ve never tried those games.”

Drew was shocked. “Wait, really? Why?”

“I usually play by myself, so I never had the chance.”

“Well, I’ll just have to introduce you to the fighting scene, then. Are you free some time to play together?”

“Maybe,” Lydia drifted off. “I’ll have to think about it. Anyway, it was nice meeting you, but I’d like to finish my puzzle before lunch hour ends.”

Drew, paused disappointed at her response. “Well, alright then. But think about it, okay.”

“Sure,” Lydia replied. “Bye!”

“See ya!”

She watched him walk away, unsure of what to think of him. While she was wary of his intentions, he was surprisingly nice.

“What’s your name?” she called out suddenly.

Hhe turned around, pleased at her sudden interest. “Drew!”

She smiled. “Lydia.”

What a pretty name, he thought as he walked away. And I think she’s interested in me. I hope.

Content, Lydia returned to her puzzle, putting the final piece into her completed cube. She scribbled down the solution, then broke the cube apart to see how far she could get before the bell rang.

—-

 

A few weeks later, Lydia was sitting on a park bench with her DS and stylus in hand. She was wearing a deep purple dress, with her hair permitted to fall over her shoulders and was decorated with a twin cherry and plum blossom hair clip. Engrossed in her game, she looked up only to observe crows fighting over a piece of garbage. They were fascinating, how they felt just as home in the city as humans like her. As she wondered what went on in their minds, she saw a familiar face enter the scene. They both stopped as they made eye contact.

“Long time no see, Lydia,” Drew greeted.

“Hello,” she answered, still unable to decide how she felt about seeing him.

He walked over to her. “Hey, whatcha playing?”

She turned her DS downward so he could see the screen. A calming, but melancholy tune accompanied the sight of a labyrinth’s glass walls.

“Etrian Odyssey,” she stated.

“That game’s hard, isn’t it?” Drew remarked.

“I like a challenge,” Lydia replied.

Drew’s heart froze. Did she overhear what he said the other day?

“It’s nice to play something like the dungeon crawlers I used to try as a kid,” she continued. “And yet, I think I was drawn to the game for a different reason….”

She brought up the menu, which displayed a blonde, blue-eyed girl clad in armour. She gazed fondly at her. “Isn’t she pretty?”

Drew stared at the anime girl for a while, unsure of how to respond. “Sure, I guess.”

“It’s her curious expression that intrigues me. Wide-eyed and innocent, unaware of the horrors and wonders that await her in the labyrinth, but motivated by a desire to unlock the secrets of the world.”

Drew listened intently. He never thought about the game that way. To him, she was just a protector class, but to Lydia, she seemed something more.

“You named her after yourself,” he remarked. He had the feeling she was trying to tell him something, but didn’t know what.

Lydia merely smiled.

“This place looks lovely,” he continued, looking back at her screen. “What is it?”

“It’s the game’s best secret,” Lydia commented. “I’d tell you, but I’d think it’d be more fun for you to experience it for yourself.”

“Sure, but I’m not even close to the end yet.” Drew shrugged. “So many games, so little time.”

“Indeed,” Lydia concurred. “Perhaps my sparse game collection is a blessing in disguise. It gives me time to understand each one better.”

She looked back at her DS, mentally zoning out.

“You know, this had me thinking about how fragile everything is. We humans gained so much knowledge over the years, left our mark on the world with imposing feats of architecture, extended our life spans by decades, changed the face of the planet itself, and yet, we are still creatures of nature.”

She gestured towards downtown. “Our skyline is magnificent, but a single earthquake, and it all comes crashing down. In time, everything we’ve accomplished could be eroded away, lost to the passage of time, and Earth will not even remember we were here.”

Drew was astonished, feeling a little unsettled by her words. “I didn’t know the game’s plot was so deep,” he remarked.

“Perhaps it’s just my imagination,” Lydia replied. “I enjoy trying to fill in the blanks.”

“Well, you have…a very vivid imagination.”

Lydia looked back at him, with an anxious expression on her face. “Do you think I’m strange?” she asked.

“No, not at all,” he replied.

Lydia stared disapprovingly. “You don’t mean that.”

“I really do, honest!” he answered nervously.

“Your expression says otherwise,” she pointed out.

Drew stopped to catch his breath. “Well, why ask a question when you already know the answer?” he demanded.

Lydia stopped to contemplate his words. She sighed. “I apologize for that. It’s just that, a lot of people lie to me, thinking it’s to protect my feelings. But it never works. Eventually, I find out how they really feel, and I only feel worse, because they did not trust me enough to say it upfront.”

Drew felt a pang of guilt. “Okay, let me try again then. All that stuff you said about the end of the world, that was pretty disturbing, honestly.”

“Well, my mind often wanders to dark places.”

Drew continued. “You know what? You are strange. But you know what else? I like that about you. You’re like a mystery novel, someone that just compels me to read further.”

“See, was that so hard?” Lydia teased. Her expression then turned serious. “Um…thank you. I never expected someone so receptive to my ramblings, but I appreciate you listening so patiently.”

“You’re just an interesting person, that’s all.”

Lydia smiled, having nothing to say. She never expected such a compliment from him, but she reveled in the moment nonetheless.

“So anyway,” Drew added. “You still want to meet some time? I’m seeing a scary movie Friday night. You think you can handle it?”

Lydia beamed. “I’d be delighted.”

Drew was surprised that she didn’t even flinch at the prospect, but he was ecstatic all the same. “All right, 7 pm work for you?”

“Yes.”

“All right. See you at the Rio.”

—-

The next day, Lydia met up with Willow for lunch. Her short brown hair stood in contrast to Lydia’s long black hair, as did her T-shirt and jeans against Lydia’s dress.

“So,” Willow began. “You got invited on a date by Drew Park?”

“Yes,” Lydia replied. “You know him?”

“He’s the leader of the school’s gaming group, The Lost Boys,” Willow explained. “You should see their Smash Bros videos some time! They’re really good! And from what you’ve been telling me, it sounds like he’s also a really nice guy.”

“He is,” Lydia responded.

“Wow, a star gamer that’s so kind and considerate,” Willow looked towards Drew, who was chatting with his friends. “And good-looking too. Oh, Dia, I’m so jealous of you right now.”

“Are you?” Lydia asked, puzzled by her excitement.

“Wait, you’re not looking forward to your date?” Willow was used to her friend’s perpetually calm demeanour, but even then, she expected more out of her considering the circumstances.

“I am,” Lydia explained. “All you said is true. But, I don’t know, something’s missing.”

“What?”

Lydia sighed. “I know how I’m supposed to feel, that it should be the happiest day of my life. But for some reason, I don’t feel it. I do not understand why. I mean, I appreciate his friendship and all, but…”

Something then came to her mind. “What is the friend-zone?” Lydia asked.

“Oh, that.” Willow grimaced. “It’s when a guy expects a girl to fall head-over-heels for him, but she doesn’t feel the same way, so the guy gets all mopey because her friendship apparently isn’t good enough. Why do you ask?”

“Drew’s friends were warning him about it.”

“Dia, look. If he would cut off contact with you just because you wouldn’t reciprocate his romantic advances, then you weren’t really friends to begin with, were you? But if he really cared about you, I’m sure he’d understand.”

Lydia was relieved. “You’re right. I should just be honest with him.”

Willow smiled. “That’s the Lydia I know.”

Lydia changed the subject. “So anyway, how’s retail working out for you?”

“It’s boring,” Willow answered bluntly. “But mindless work is good for thinking about things. I get a lot of customers coming to buy those cheesy Nintendo T-shirts, so I’d like to start a whole store dedicated to geek fashion in the East End. What do you think?”

“You mean like cosplay?” Lydia asked.

“Not just cosplay, but that would be a major draw. There’s a lot of geeks around where I live, so I think there would be an audience for it.”

“Sounds interesting. I haven’t been around the East End much, but I’ve always been happy with the clothes you made for me, so I’m sure people will love it. Have you also thought about incorporating your cultural fashions as well?”

“Yeah, I know Coast Salish fashion is always popular. Ah, so many possibilities. But I’ll have to test the waters first. Anyway, hope everything goes well Friday. You’re a lot braver than me to be watching a horror movie.”

“Well, the idea is intimidating, but I’m also curious to see what it’s like.”

“Tell me how it goes,” Willow requested, just before the school bell rang and the two girls headed off to class.

—-

Lydia was waiting by the ticket counter of the Rio Theatre. It was 5 minutes after 7, and she had come even earlier than that, but she was patient. Her thoughts kept her company in the mean time.

“Hi Lydia!” Drew called out, having finally arrived. “Sorry I’m late. Traffic was nuts.”

“No worries,” Lydia consoled him. “I got the tickets.”

“Awesome,” Drew responded. His eyes were drawn to her silvery-white transparent gown and platinum blonde dyed hair. “Um…”

“What is it?” Lydia asked.

“Nothing,” Drew stuttered. “I mean, you look lovely tonight.”

“I thought this outfit would be appropriate,” Lydia remarked.

Drew was perplexed. She did indeed look attractive in it, but it was an odd choice for a casual horror movie night. I guess I don’t know much about fashion, he thought.

“Um…” Lydia began “I have something I wanted to tell you.”

“What is it?” Drew wondered.

Lydia prepared to speak, but caught a glimpse of the time. “I guess it can wait until after the movie.”

“Yeah, it’s starting soon. We ought to get going.”

—-

The pair found their seat in the theatre, surrounded by many other couples around their age and slightly older. As the screams of teenage boys and girls filled the air, they held each other close, trying to protect each other from the terror on the screen. Some covered their eyes, others were shivering, but there were a few who simply chuckled. Lydia was paralyzed in her seat, frightened, but strangely entranced by the movie. During the final confrontation between the last female survivor and her slasher nemesis, she cast an aside glance at Drew. He was one of the shivering ones, but as soon as he saw Lydia’s eyes, he put on an unconvincingly defiant expression. Lydia smiled, extending her arm and grasping his hand while her eyes were glued onto the screen. Her hand felt soft and comforting to Drew, as if he were touched by an angel, and his anxiety floated away for a brief instant.

When the movie ended, they walked out of the theatre towards the bus stop. Though they said nothing to each other for a while, Drew eventually got the first word in.

“So, what did you think?” Drew asked.

“It was an interesting experience,” Lydia replied, mildly excited. “I cannot remember the last time a movie held my attention the way this one did.”

Drew was astonished. “You weren’t scared?”

“Of course I was. But she was so brave back there.”

She paused, gathering her thoughts. “Maybe the movie would be scarier for guys? It must be a different experience, without a hero of your own gender to look up to.”

Drew was at a loss for words. He never expected this reaction out of her, let alone that she would be the one comforting him. But he saw her serene, smiling face, and he too smiled back. Strange as she may be, he was glad she enjoyed the movie in her own way.

“Thank you so much for inviting me here tonight,” Lydia said to him. “I think I’m beginning to develop a taste for these horror movies, and I hope we can do this again someday.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, overwhelmed by her appreciation. “Yeah, whenever you’re interested, just let me know.”

They once again fell silent. At first, Drew was savouring the ecstasy of the moment, feeling he finally had a chance. But his head fell back to earth as he remembered something.

“So, what was it you wanted to tell me?”

Lydia was anxious. She was dreading this moment, feeling even more scared right now than she was throughout the entire movie. But she knew she had to say it.

“I overheard your conversation with your friends that other day when we first met,” Lydia answered bluntly.

Drew stared back at her. His suspicions were confirmed, and he was equally anxious to hear what she thought of him now.

“What you said unnerved me,” Lydia continued. “It reminded me of other guys that tried to hit on me in the past, like I was a mere trophy, to be collected. And it wasn’t just me, other girls told me similar stories….”

“Look, Lydia,” Drew interjected. “I didn’t mean all that! It was just guy talk! I don’t actually think that way…”

“Will you let me finish?” Lydia demanded coldly.

Drew promptly stopped talking, though he was shivering.

Lydia gazed sadly at the ground. “But you were so eager to listen to me. No matter what I said, how odd I may have seemed, you hung on to my every word. I was conflicted. The boy that talked to me was so different from the one in front of his friends. I liked our conversations. I appreciated our friendship. I liked you. But, I did not know if you felt the same way, or if you wanted something else.”

She reconnected eye contact with him. “I just don’t want you to feel, er, friend-zoned. Um…I guess what I’ve really been trying to say is…what do you actually think about me?”

Drew remained silent, pondering her words. Finally, he spoke up. “I really enjoy our friendship too. That friend-zone talk, that was just Martin teasing me. I don’t actually believe in that. But, I guess I was just scared to speak to you. I mean, you’re so, beautiful, and smart, that I thought you were way out of my league.”

“That’s not true!” Lydia interrupted. “You’re pretty handsome yourself, and you have a talent for fighting games that I could never have.”

“Just let me finish, okay?” Drew responded anxiously.

Lydia complied with his request. “Okay, continue.”

“But you’re so much more than that. And yet, you were willing to spend time with me. What I’m trying to say is…I love you. Not as a prize or anything like that, but because you’re the most amazing girl I’ve ever met. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, to learn more about you, and share all of our experiences in this wonderful world together, now and forever. So, what do you say?”

Lydia gasped, taken aback at the sincerity of his words. She wanted to say yes, and yet, she felt empty inside. Something was still missing.

“Thank you,” she began. “You have always been very kind, and I’m flattered that you feel this way about me. But…”

She stopped herself, struggling to continue. Upon her hesitation, Drew was prepared for the worst.

“I just don’t feel the same way towards you, and I don’t know why,” she explained desperately. “Even after our conversations, the movie, I know I should feel something at this point, but…I like you, just not in that way. Please don’t take it personally. It’s just…I’ve never felt any sort of romantic attraction to any boy. Even when other girls would go on and on about their crushes, I could never relate to them.”

Drew silently pondered, trying to understand where she was coming from. Then he remembered that Etrian girl. “Do you mind if I ask you something, perhaps a bit sensitive?” Drew requested.

“Anything you wish.”

“Have you considered, that you may be gay?”

“Hmmm…come to think of it, I do feel a strange sense of pleasure whenever I‘m around a pretty girl. But I never thought of it as attraction. Maybe I just felt I shouldn’t be thinking about other girls that way. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it a little more.”

“Well, if you want to talk to me about it, I’m always here for you.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate it. Wait, so you’re not mad at me?”

“Mad?” Drew responded, half-chuckling, half-dejected. “Why would I be mad? We’re still friends, after all. But, I can’t help but feel disappointed. I’ve never met a girl like you before, and I don’t know if I ever will again.”

Lydia suddenly had a contemplative look on her face. “How many girls have you met before?” she inquired.

“Um, just you.”

She beamed, as if she had just solved a difficult mathematical puzzle. “There lies your problem.”

She took his hands in hers, and he once again felt that soft, comforting feeling. “You don’t have to worry about a thing, because you have a lot going for you. Somewhere out there, someone is waiting for you, and I know that one day, you will make her very happy. Just, be your real self when you see her. Don’t try to hide it with some phony pick-up persona, okay?”

“I promise,” Drew replied.

Just then, she saw something on the horizon. “Oh, there’s the bus. You coming?”

“Nah,” Drew answered. “I live around here, so I’m headed the other way.”

“I see,” Lydia responded as she got on the bus. “Well, thank you once again for the wonderful night. Farewell, ‘til we meet again.”

“See you, Lydia,” Drew waved back.

—-

In the present day, Lydia and Drew arrived at an outdoor piano just as they finished telling each other the story of their first date.

“So maybe it didn’t work out the way I wanted back then,” Drew concluded. “but I’m glad we met in the end.”

Lydia nodded. “How’s Willow been?”

“Oh, we keep in touch,” Drew replied. “I wish we could spend more time together. Even in the same city, we feel so far apart, and she’s always busy.”

“I miss her too,” Lydia concurred. “But we’ll both have to be patient. After all, you learn to treasure the precious time you do spend together when it’s scarce.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Say, how was the tournament?”

“It was fun. I got to meet some interesting players from Cedar Grove. In particular, there was this Anastasia girl, though she calls herself Stacy. She’s planning to start a gaming club at her school, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

She paused. “Hmm…perhaps I too should get more involved.”

“By the way, what did you place?” Drew asked.

“Second.”

“Wow, that’s amazing.”

“It’s only because of everything you taught me.”

“Don’t kid yourself. You only started getting good when you stopped following my lead. And your patient style has helped me a lot too!”

“I’m glad I could help then, as an honourary Boy.”

She winked at Drew. He smiled, and looked at his watch.

“Oh, I have to get going,” he said. “See you back at the dorm tonight! I hope the first day of classes won’t be too bad.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll survive. We always do. Bye!”

As Drew ran off, Lydia walked over to the piano and sat down, with only a few crows in the audience. She gazed at her locket longingly, then turned her attention to the piano. Her hands glided across the keys, playing a melancholy piano tune to the surrounding environment, intended for herself, but offered to any being willing to listen.

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