Comfort Zone (Ginger Man 12E)

“I really didn’t know Mike that well.” Shifting his weight in a thin metal chair, Rune leaned back across the green Formica table from Charlie, and ran the fingers of his right hand back through his red curly hair. “I mean, sometimes he’d play D&D with us, but it wasn’t like he was in to it.”

“Seemed to be into it, that time we played.” Charlie had his hands folded on top of a notebook he had placed on the table.

Rune’s eyes widened. “The Swamp of Il-Ryun!” For the first time since Charlie had met the boy that afternoon during the fencing practice, Rune seemed comfortable, happy. “I really liked that campaign. Wish Mike had stayed with it — ” he looked up suddenly, his face apologetic — “you too, of course.”

A waitress came with a cola in a red plastic tumbler for Rune, a beer in a clear plastic mug for Charlie. “Mike didn’t play, after that day?”

Rune drank from his tumbler, set it down. “Nah. Called him a few times, but every time I said we were playing, he’d have some excuse.” He rubbed his chin, then pointed across the table at Charlie. “Know what I think it was? He didn’t like going some place unless he knew the people there, or brought along someone he knew.” He raised his hands above the table and pressed down, as if he was there were an invisible dome. “Mike had this comfort zone, see, and he didn’t like stepping outside it.”

Charlie waved a hand across the table, as if sweeping away the invisible dome. “Mind if I show you that thing I told you about, over the phone?” Rune tilted his head sideways, as Charlie picked up the notebook. “Mike had a ton of these. Had a few he give me, but his mom found a ton more, in his room.” Charlie began leafing through the pages of the notebook, then stopped, folding the back of the notebook against the front cover. “I was looking through one of them — and I found this.”

Charlie handed the notebook across the table, turning it so the writing faced Rune, who looked at it with curiosity before taking the notebook from Charlie.

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