Bell stopped at the door. “Good game, Jesse. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, later, my Droog.” I looked at Bekah who sat staring at me.
“What the hell was that?” she said. Her eyes were wide. She seemed about to break into pieces and shoot off into the air at the same time. I did not know if she was mad at me, but the look on her face did not speak of anger. It was something else that gripped her, but I did not know what.
“What the hell was that? I have never seen anything like that before in my life.” She stood up then sat right back down.
“That was Dungeons and Dragons. A dark game for sure. I should have reined it in a little. That was bad. Not a good first game.” Artist looked at her but still didn’t see anger. The game had been harsh. Filled with darkness and horror, but it had bursts of brilliance. It was not one of my greatest games, but it was fun for me. Bekah was experiencing something else.
“Did you get that from a book?” she asked.
“No, not really. The rules are in a book. The races. The rule book has the stats for all the weapons and that sort of thing, but not the game itself.”
“Where did the game come from?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” She threw her hands into the air and shook her head. “The story. The world. The characters. The whole thing, where did that come from?”
“Just made it up.”
“You just made that up?” she said. “Right then?”
“The city is from a game I have been running with Bell and Burg. The characters were new, the story new.”
“How did you know what was going to happen?”
“What do you mean, you didn’t know?”
“Well I came up with the scenario and set you in it. When the game started rolling, I improvised.” I sat down. I kept looking at her trying to figure out if she was mad at me, but she seemed more shocked than mad.
“I did my own thing with my character. It was impossible to predict.”
“Yeah, you’re a great player,” I said. She was good. She could be great, but I still didn’t know if she had enjoyed herself or not. “Are you mad at me?”
She leaned forward and shook her head; she waved the question off. “Listen, did you come up with that storyline before we sat down?”
“Not really. I had no idea what I wanted to do with the game.”
“How do you do that? Come up with story like that? You just make it up as you go along?”
“Yeah, kinda. Been doing it for years.”
“How often can you do that?”
“I don’t know, often. Why? Do you want to play again?”
“You could do it again, right now?”
“How long could you keep that up? The making it up as you go along thing. How long can you do that?”
“Well, my record is 21 hours. I ran a game for seven guys for 21 hours once. D’s mom just kept bringing us pizza and we kept going.”
“Holy shit!” She sat back and shook her head. She looked at me and grinned. “That is amazing. You’re a genius.”
“No seriously, you’re a genius. I have never seen anything like that before in my life. I was right there. I could smell it. I could feel the wind. Man, that is insane. You can do that anytime you want? Really?”
“Basically. I have been playing DnD since I was about seven. I didn’t have money to do it the way you are supposed to, which is to buy your game and run it out of a module.”
“It’s kinda a prepackaged story that a Dungeon Master can run for his gaming group. Makes anyone into a DM. I couldn’t afford to buy my games, so I just made them up off the top of my head. Played with anyone who would play. Just made it up as I went along. Now my brain is kinda hard wired that way. It can just spit up story anytime it wants to.” Artist looked at her with a sideways glance. “You’re not mad, are you?”
She dropped on her knees and crawled to where he sat. She grabbed his hands and looked him in the eye. “I’m not mad. Not at all. You are a genius. You have a gift. We have got to figure out how to get that out to the world. You can’t just sit with that and play games.”
I pulled my hands away. “They are more than games to me.”
She took my hands again. “I know. I can tell they are real to you in a way nothing else is.”
Artist looked at her and touched her face. He wiped tears from his eyes and nodded. “They are. They are real. I know those characters. I know that city. I have walked it.”
“I know. Listen, we have to find a way for you to make a living doing that. We have to find a way to get that out there. The world needs that.”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not kidding. The world needs that thing you just did.” She sat back and looked at me. “What else?”
“What else what?”
“What else aren’t you telling me? What am I missing?”
“I’m a writer, but you knew that.”
“Yeah, but I have never read anything you have written. In high school you ran that writers group, but I was never there. Can I read some of your work?”
“I’ll read it to you. I have terrible handwriting.”
“Ever think about typing them up?”
“No computer access. My stepfather has a computer, but it is a joke. I just write everything in comp books. I’ll read you some if you want me to.”
We sat and read all night and into the morning. I read her stories, I read her poems. I read her random little things that no one else got to see or hear. I told her the story behind the complicated ones and how they came about. I let her see it all and she shook her head and sat back.
“I don’t want to work at Pizza Hut and Best Western all my life,” I snapped. I almost sounded mad. Almost sounded like I was yelling at her. The words had been trapped in me for so long, I felt as if I would die from them. I remember when I spoke them out loud to her, I was panting for breath.
We were in bed. The lights were out, and I was holding her. The sun was coming up, but we had not slept yet. She hopped up, propping herself on her elbow, looking down at me.
“What would you rather do?”
“I don’t want you thinking that I am a grunt. I’m no grunt.”
She sat up. “What do you mean by grunt?”
“I mean that I will be doing manual labor or sitting behind a hotel desk all of my life. I am not a grunt. I can do better than grunt work.” Artist gritted his teeth and clenched his fist. “I just don’t know how to get things going.”
She took my clenched fist in her hand and eased it. “What is it that you want to do?”
“Literature. I kinda found myself in Mrs. Learmann’s lit class. I want to teach Literature. English, American, Russian, I don’t care, I just want to teach it.” I looked up at her. “And write on the side.” My heart was pounding. My breath coming fast. I was sweating. I could barely focus on her face.
“You need to go to college to do that,” she said.
“I know.” I looked at the ceiling. “I know I can’t do it, but it is my dream.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t do it. I just said you need to go to college to do that job.”
“I know, but I can’t get there,” Artist said. “When I was a kid, my mother told me about college. She said there were a few ways to get there.”
“What did she tell you?”
“She said that most college kids were rich, and their parents paid their way.” Artist laughed. “I didn’t have that. She said that some kids were so smart they got scholarships and the school paid their way.”
“Not exactly how it works, but yeah, I get you.”
“She said that some lucky kids were good at sports and they got a full ride. The college paid for their entire education and they played sports.” Artist looked at the ceiling and shook his head. “The only other way to go was through the Army. I tried that route but everything kinda fell apart. It crumbled and now that is not open to me.”
“Okay,” Bekah said. “First of all, those things are of course true, but they are not exclusive. There are ways to get around all of that.”
“Yeah, well, Bootheel told me that. He told me not to go into the Army. Said it would break my spirit. Said that it would kill the thing inside me that made me what I am. He said to take out loans and file for grants. But that was no good because by the time he told me that, it was too late. The counselors had already filled out all of the applications and the loan papers. I had already missed all the tests and the interviews. Now, I’m here working not one dead end job, but two, and I don’t even know what number to call to get an application let alone file for a grant or a loan. I can’t figure out how to prepare for an ACT test or even where to go to take one.”
“This is not a problem,” she said. It was flippant. Like she was flipping over a stone or stepping over a puddle. “None of this is a problem. I can get you around all of it.”
Artist did not allow himself to smile. He kept his face hard and just looked at her. He waited for her to laugh or throw in a “but” or explain some sort of mysterious impossibility that he could not do. He waited for her to say anything, but she didn’t. She just looked at him. Finally, when she had sat there quiet for what seemed like four straight hours he yelled, “What do you mean?”
“I know where to go to take the tests. I can fill out the paperwork for the loans and the grants. All of it is fairly easy,” she said. “I think you will still need to take the ACT. I think the cut off age for that is twenty-four. We will apply for SMSU so you can go to the same school as me but if they deny you, Springfield has a few other schools we can look at.” She was talking more to herself than to me at that point.
I felt like a child being talked about by two adults. I just sat there staring at her as the light of the day grew in intensity with every passing moment, every passing word. My smile kept spreading. It seemed to be a smile comprised of light. As if hope shone from my body. The more she talked, the more I felt free and happy. It seemed now that I could have a future. That I was maybe going to be something.
After a while she looked at me and she took my hands. “This is possible. I will get started on it when I get back to Springfield. I will get paperwork, and get things rolling.” She leaned in and kissed me, and I kissed her back.
I kissed the only hope I had ever had. I kissed the one who could make my dreams come true. Not by marrying me and working for me, but by finding that part in me that was dying to shine and pulling it out. She was not going to keep me as a “house wife” and expect me to clean her house and raise her kids. She wanted me to stand up, to find a better me and devote my mind to a future where I was learned and more than I was then. A future where I could be successful and in control of my own life.
“What would you want to teach? What books?” she said. Her voice was cute, almost childlike. She was playing now, and I wanted to play with her.
“My class will read Frankenstein. I already know what I want to say about it. I know the story. I know what I want to focus on and how to teach them that piece. I want to teach them writing, too.”
“Maybe when you get your job at whatever school, you can teach literature half the day and creative writing the rest of the day,” she said.
And we dreamed. I explained the most magical moment in Frankenstein and she just stared at me while I talked. I could see it, there in that bed on that mattress with her staring wide eyed at me while I talked, and me talking about the books that I loved and the tricks to writing that I would teach my students, I could see the class before me. I could see the future playing out before all of us.
At that moment, for the first time in my life, anything was possible. It was intoxicating. Life affirming.
But when it became a reality, when the real raw power of the possibilities were upon me, it would drive me insane. It would rip me apart like I was looking at the sun. The future would burn me soon, but for now, in the light of the coming day, it was a warm soft glow.