"Yeah, I guess I can see how they would..."
"So anyway, then I hopped a train and headed up to Scandinavia. Ever been to Copenhagen?"
A guy in a Superman costume climbed up on a pool table and dove into the crowd on the dance floor. I watched him surf along on a cushion of upturned hands and then get ejected onto the floor a few feet from us.
"Denmark? Huh uh."
"Nice place. Nice people. And everyone speaks English, which was a good change. But man, it's expensive. I only stayed a few days before I headed south again. I spent another month just cruising around and then shipped my bike back to my folks and headed for Asia. Ever been to Thailand?"
"Really exotic. You should try to make a trip. Great food, super cheap."
"Yeah, one of these days. Hard to find the time, you know?"
"Yeah, they work you pretty hard here," she said, leaning in a little closer to my ear. "I've only been at the company for six months. Kind of hard to make the adjustment from just screwing around all the time. What division do you work in? I haven't seen you around...Seems like I would have remembered if I had."
I managed not to wince visibly when the cramped muscles at the base of my neck spasmed. Had that been an expression of interest? The girl was beautiful, intelligent, looked good in a nose ring, told jokes about Tolstoy that were actually kind of funny, and was talking to me instead of one of the hundred other guys patrolling the area. I wasn't good under this kind of pressure.
She smiled, displaying a set of teeth that were well worth whatever her parents had paid for them. "Yeah, I definitely would have remembered."
First impressions of me were as varied as the personalities that formed them. I'm just a bit over six foot four, with thick shoulders and a narrow, well-defined waist that hasn't yet succumbed to my more-or-less sedentary lifestyle. It was a physique that provoked lust, envy, and intimidation, among other things.
My light blond hair, sun-deprived skin, and teeth that were overly white despite my best efforts to yellow them invited comparisons to angels and Nazis in roughly equal proportions.
The bad habit I had of holding conversations and maintaining relationships while almost never making eye contact made a few people paint me as shy, but most complain about my arrogance.
"I, uh, don't work for the company. I'm just friends with the owner," I stammered and then immediately cursed myself for being so stupid.
"Darius? You mean you know Darius? You're friends with him? No way!"
"Uh yeah. I guess I know him okay," I said, trying to backpedal.
Actually, we'd been best friends since the fifth grade. In fact, we'd been inseparable enough that Darius had followed me to Chico State, despite having nearly every Ivy League dean in the country willing to prostitute himself in surprisingly degrading ways to lure him to one of America's more esteemed learning institutions.
Honestly, I'd taken his willingness to drive me to California as just another excuse for a multistate crime spree. When we arrivedliterally just hours ahead of the authoritieshe'd disappeared, leaving me to wrestle my stuff out of the car and up the stairs to my dorm room. When he'd finally reappeared, he'd lost his shirt and socks, but gained a blanket, an alarm clock, and a full academic scholarship. Five years later, with a total of thirty credit hours and a D average, security had escorted him from school grounds for the last time. So what did he do then? What any self-respecting college dropout would do: Stumbled drunkenly to the bank, withdrew the money he'd earned by skipping class and doing cutting-edge programming jobs, and started a computer game company. Now when God needed a loan, He called Darius.
"Is he here?" The Girl said.
Copyright 2003 by Kyle Mills. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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