It’s 12:00 AM. Tuesday morning. In seven and a quarter hours I’m going to have to get up for school. I’ll be lucky if I spend half the time asleep. God, I’m such a wuss. I should be tucked into my bed, not sprawled down here on the floor with my sleeping bag, a flashlight, and a stack of mangas, pretending I’m camping out when really I just want to be back in my own darned bed! (Truthfully, I’d probably still be awake even if Beta hadn’t shown up yesterday, but that’s beside the point.)
I roll onto my side, fuming. This is doing nothing for my insomnia. There’s an unwanted guest sleeping in my bed, and I don’t know how to get rid of him. Well, I know of several “hows,” thanks to Summer—but what if one of them kills him? Virtual or not, I don’t want to kill Beta. I just want him out.
I look over at his laptop. The hard drive LED is flickering, mocking me. “Here I am!” it squeaks. “You won’t turn me off! You can’t turn me off! All you can do is hide in your bag on the floor and pretend you’re not paying attention to me, but I can see you watching me, I can seeee you!”
Okay. Maybe the LED isn’t actually talking to me. But I’m sleep-deprived right now. A lot of things can seem like a lot of other things.
Ugh! Total ugh. I don’t know Beta. He seems like a casual kind of guy—to a fault, actually—but what if he has a vicious streak? What if I kick him out and he gets pissed? Like one of those disgruntled employees you hear about on the news. Their manager fires them, and the next day they show up for work with a shotgun, kill a bunch of co-workers before blowing their own brains out. I never added Beta to my buddy list, but he still has access to my room somehow. He’s privileged, as he said, a programmer at Taurus—what if he decides to get revenge? What if he hacks my computer so that I get caught during an upload and have to spend the rest of my life virtual, just like him—
CBT, I remind myself. CBT.
Crawling out of my sleeping bag, I cross the room and sit at my computer, rubbing my face, ruffling my hair. I wake the monitor with a wiggle of the mouse; I load Audacious and click a random track in the playlist. Rush’s “The Camera Eye” starts playing. I start Bluefish, load up a couple of PHP files. I start coding. It’s one of my CBT techniques: pretend I have something I have to do besides sleep. That way, sleep will hopefully sneak up on me unannounced. And, I’m hoping, my mind will be occupied for a while.
A few minutes pass. It’s kind of working, and kind of isn’t. A lot of the worry has dissipated, but I’m still sneaking glances over at my bed, hoping Beta will make an appearance so that I can kindly ask him to eff off.
I look at my SMN buddy list. Eva’s window is dark, her status listed as “sleeping.” Ernie’s sharing an iPod and a box of sugar cookies with that Becky girl (I guess this means they’re going steady). Summer and Lily are asleep. The Semantic Web chat room has a half-dozen geeks in it, but I’m not really in the mood for tech-talk.
“Another late night?”
Jan’s window pops into view. He’s holding a glass of water and is looking quite overdressed for bed (he’s started wearing full pajamas ever since the incident with Eva). “Yeah,” I say. “Can’t sleep, as usual.”
“You can borrow my weights,” Jan offers. “Works for me whenever I can’t sleep.”
“No offense, but they’d take forever to download using your Internet connection.”
“Maybe if we met in person one of these days?”
“We meet every day.”
“I mean outside of school. We do live in the same town, after all.”
“Yesterday, when the three of you downloaded into my room…I’m sorry if I was rude when I kicked you out.”
“That’s okay. I should’ve asked first.”
I consider telling Jan about Beta, but then think better of it. Just in case. “What did you guys need, anyway?”
Jan blushes. “Um…well…this is difficult to say. I don’t mean to put you on the spot or anything, but…” Jan hems and haws, takes multiple sips of water. Finally, he gets it out: “Eva likes me.”
No duh. “She does?”
“Yeah. But I don’t like her.”
That’s…that’s wonderful! “Oh? How come?”
“No reason in particular. I’m just not interested in her, you know?”
Breathe, Theo, breathe. Play it smooth, play it steady. “Yeah, I think I do.”
“I’m looking for advice. I want to stay friends with her, but I don’t want to date her. And I want to tell her that without hurting her feelings.”
“Well…” I trail off, pretending I’m trying to think of something worthy to say when the words are already being whispered into my ear by a little mini-Theo who’s dressed in a red devil suit and hopping up and down on my shoulder: Fine! Good! Dandy! Have Jan blow her off so she’ll come crying to us! “Be direct. Tell her how you feel. It’s always better to be up-front than to wait until her crush gets out of hand and she blames you for leading her on. If she truly is a friend, she’ll respect your feelings.” I don’t know what half of that means; I heard it on a TV show once. But it sounds reasonable.
Jan seems to ponder this. After a moment, he nods and says, “That’s exactly what I was thinking. I guess I just needed to hear it from someone else. Thanks, Theo.”
Jan leaves his desk, fades into the murky background of his parents’ living room as he climbs into bed.
I close his window, lock my screen; I return to my sleeping bag, Beta temporarily forgotten as mini-devil Theo gently massages my ear.
“That’s right,” he coos, gently. “Rest up. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.”
“What’s tomorrow?” I ask him, even though I’m almost positive he isn’t real.
“Tomorrow is the first day of the end of Eva’s crush on Jan.”
I smile into the flickering darkness.