“The Buddy” by Michael J. Lee
--page 11

        It didn’t trouble Robert that Clay wasn’t caught; the world, after all, was full of Clays. What was one more? It just didn’t seem to matter that much. His father, on the other hand took the matter very seriously, and befriended Scott’s father, a small, meek-looking man who dressed himself entirely in loose-fitting khaki. Together they would huddle in Robert’s kitchen and drink whiskey straight, then drive around the city looking for the notorious red truck. Robert was often invited, but he usually declined. They continued their search even after Scott’s mother had been granted custody of her two sons, and Scott and Stewart were plucked from school mid-semester to live with her in another state. The fathers were forced to abandon the mission one night, however, after a bout of heavy drinking, when Scott’s father rolled the sedan over in a ditch. Both walked away unharmed, and Robert’s father suddenly began spending more time around the house. “I learned my lesson,” he said one night at the dinner table. He did not, however, reveal what this was.
        What made Robert feel really low, in the end, was that he didn’t miss Scott as much as he thought he should have. He stayed around the house after school, playing computer games on the internet with like-minded strangers. They spoke to each other in code, playfully and without the slightest hint of danger. Robert had decided that he was done with friends, that the simulated reality in which he now placed himself had more to offer than the world outside. Here he could travel a fantastic universe, raze a village, or perform miracles all while sitting in a comfortable chair. He hoped these games were teaching him skills for some new, better age, but something always told him it probably wasn’t so.

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