Pine trees began to surround Adam as he walked on a dirt path—the city fading behind him. He was headed for the designated meetup spot, which was the best area he and his friends could rendezvous.
The shimmering waters of Lake Ouderkirk came into view. The massive body of water was about two miles across in each direction, with the vast peaks of the Requiem Mountains towering on the opposite side.
Adam was currently surveying the stone beach he had stepped foot on. Once in a while, there would be other people who would come to hang out in this location. Luckily, for Adam, there was nobody around.
“Good, good. I can be at peace for a few minutes…” Adam took out his silver smartphone, tapping at its screen. “Yeah—they’ll probably both be here relatively soon.”
Putting his phone back into his pocket, Adam walked up to the edge of the water, feeling the calm breeze on his skin.
It was difficult for him to put his thoughts together. There was far too much to ponder.
“It’s… interesting. How, despite surviving that ordeal, I have to deal with so much now. It’s funny, actually. From an outside perspective, I wasn’t really dealing with anything too significant before. These issues the present me is facing are certainly ones that would make someone say: ‘Yeah, I can see you’re going through a lot of shit.’”
Adam sighed heavily, staring at his reflection in the water.
“Problems others can’t see are still problems. It doesn’t matter if they’re invisible to others. If they affect you, it matters.”
He nervously glanced down at his right hand.
A hand lightly tapped Adam’s shoulder, startling him to the point where he almost fell into the water. The young man that had approached jumped back, laughing at his success in scaring his friend.
“Dammit, Brandon!” Adam yelled, trying to grab the black-haired boy. “What do you think you’re doing!?”
“Scaring you, obviously.” Brandon grinned, moving away rather swiftly. He had an athletic build to him, as he played a few sports throughout his life. Adam noticed that he always stayed somewhat slender, though. This made him incredibly nimble and impossible for Adam to catch.
“Gah… anyway—” Adam glanced to his left. “Where’s Jerry?”
“He’s gonna stay on campus, I guess?” Brandon shrugged. “He’s not even an official student yet, but he’s using those labs for a ton of personal research. Think he was looking into something strange that caught his eye. I tried to ask him about it, but…”
“Yeah, you didn’t get a response.” Adam chuckled.
Brandon took out his own cell phone—his light-blue eyes staring at the screen, waiting for it to turn on. “Damn thing… Whacked it hard during practice the other day. Looks okay on the outside but won’t load up easily. Might have to get a new one. Dammit!”
“How’s that going, by the way? Practice was today, too, yeah?”
“It’s exhausting,” Brandon responded, putting his phone away in defeat. “I’m glad I got a scholarship to this place thanks to soccer, but man, we’ve got to practice a ton. It’s not even the right season!”
“Well, New Age University is a pretty high-class school. It’s no surprise Jerry’s going there, but you’re lucky. You’ll have to keep up with the standards.” Adam shook his head. “I’m getting tired just thinking about it.”
“You got accepted too, ya know.” Brandon smiled. “I know you’re really not up for it at the moment, but I could always use a roommate. Spot will stay open for you.”
“Thanks, Brandon. I appreciate that…”
“But freaking Jerry, dude! I could have roomed with him, but he chose to stay in a fancier dorm!” Brandon shook his head in frustration. “Well, whatever. For the time being, having a room to myself has its benefits…”
Adam grimaced, knowing exactly the kind of thoughts that were running through his friend’s head. Brandon began to rub his hands together with a twisted look on his face.
“I’ll have plenty of alone time, which means I can invite girls over whenever I want! And we can—”
“Study?” Adam interrupted. “Good idea! Jerry might be too busy to help you, and you really need to keep those grades up if you want to stay there, regardless of a soccer scholarship.”
Brandon stared at Adam with a blank expression. “Sex, Adam. I want to have sex.”
“I’m flattered, but no thanks.”
“Not with you!” Brandon jumped back, moving his arms in front of him as if he wanted to fight Adam.
“Anyway, all jokes aside—” Adam began to walk away from the lake. “We might as well get on a train and head back.”
Brandon followed Adam, placing his hands behind his head. “Wanna hang when we get back?”
“Maybe,” Adam responded. “I was planning on just going for a walk, but we might as well do something.”
“That’s fine! We can just walk if you want!”
“You aren’t tired from practice?” Adam asked. “Besides, isn’t that boring to you?”
“Nah, I’m good. And…” Brandon paused for a moment. “I want to learn more about you…”
“Huh…?” Adam stared at his friend, perplexed.
“Like, how your mind operates, I guess…?” Brandon rubbed his temples in frustration. “Like, how exactly you… got to that point.”
“I… think I get it.” Adam sighed. “Well, you don’t have to worry about any of that.”
“Sorry, but… I am going to worry.” Brandon admitted. “It hasn’t been that long since it happened…”
As the two took a step on the trail Adam arrived from, he stopped, staring at the ground in front of him. Brandon waited for his friend to speak.
“…You guys all taught me that where I was… wasn’t a good place to be. I want to be back where everyone else is, and not in my own lonely world. Even if some things aren’t for me, this is the place where you guys are. After all, you’ve done for me… I just don’t want to be a burden.”
Brandon let out a small laugh. “Well, this ‘place’ that you’re talking about… the one where we are now. It’s not all that great. I can see why you ‘left’ it. But I think the fact is that all of us are here together. I mean, look at all the cool things in this world! We just gotta stick together and enjoy all the good we have!”
Adam smirked. “Not sure you’re too good at the sentimental talk.”
“I don’t even know what ‘sememental’ means.” Brandon shook his head.
“It’s ‘sentimental.’” Adam sighed.
“...Well, better than ‘semen mental.’”
“W-Why in the hell—I’m leaving you here.” Adam shook his head and began to walk again, this time at a brisk pace.
“What?” Brandon ran after him. “You’re not used to me saying weird shit by now?”