Oh, that’s right—DXL Pro sucks.

It takes a while, but eventually I download fully into my parents’ bedroom. My ancient, gnarled Compaq is running dutifully on the dresser. I walk over to it, wiggle the mouse. The monitor wakes up, revealing half a dozen SMN windows. Mom and Dad have been busy—their buddy list is crammed with the usernames of various friends and family members from back in Brno. It looks like anyone and everyone they’ve ever known is on there, and I have to wonder, is this normal? Is it normal for parents to scold their kid about uploading to other people’s homes, and then go and do exactly the same thing times ten?

I leave the bedroom, stand in the doorway between the hall and the living room. After spending so much time at Theo’s, my parents’ apartment, never roomy to begin with, seems smaller and more underwhelming than ever. There’s my desk with its peeling faux-wood laminate, my twin-size bed, my weathered dumbbells, my modest corner of home. Everything looks just as it was before the complex was towed away. Just to be sure, though, I step outside. Thankfully, the correct neighborhood stretches for blocks in both directions. Earlier, on the news, there’d been a reporter interviewing upset residents; now it’s just discarded coffee cups and leftover strands of police tape draped across the grass, the bushes.

Yep. Home.

Turning, I spot the notice stuck to our front door. It reads:

Dear Resident:

You may be aware of the recent towing. Rest assured, we’ve since cleared up the matter with the city. We apologize for any inconvenience, and will be offering free coffee and donuts in the leasing office for the rest of the week.

—The Management

I fold the notice and go back inside.

The kitchen has gone from messy to disaster scenery. Setting the notice on the table, I put a load of dishes in the washer, take out the trash. Then I go for a shower. I’m one foot into the tub when it occurs to me that getting wet might not be such a good idea. I mean, I may be augmented, but I’m still actual, right? I won’t short-circuit or anything whenever I come into contact with liquid…will I? For a moment I stand very still and watch the rivulets of water trickling down my leg. No sparks, no flame. Which would make sense. Augmented actuality wouldn’t be very useful unless the idea is to do things the way you’d normally do them when actual. Still, I’m a little nervous as I get the rest of the way in. I wonder if, in high-res, how much of me even needs a shower at this point. Like, am I cleaning the augmented bytes while my actual skin (what’s left of it, anyway) goes unwashed beneath?

I make a mental note to ask Beta or Theo about that later, and finish up without any show-stoppers. Afterward, I lie in bed for a while wondering how (or if) I’m going to tell Mom and Dad what’s happened to me. I roll onto my side, stare at my phone, which I’d set on the desk earlier. It’s well within arm’s reach, but instinct persuades me to pick it up and hold it close. I’m not one of those people who has to have their phone on them 24/7 in order to feel safe and secure, but now that I’m depending on it to be high-res whenever I’m actual, I kind of understand the 24/7 thing.

Swiping through my SMN buddy list, I watch the video feeds in passing. Eva’s out like a light. Theo, too, surprisingly. Headphoned and blanketed by a layer of cookie crumbs and candy bits, Ernie’s sitting slumped at his computer, and is working an Xbox controller as if his life depends on it. Everyone else seems to have slipped right back into their routines with such ease. Meanwhile, here I am feeling like…well, I’m not exactly sure. I’m home. I should feel like I’m home. Instead, it feels like my first night away from home. I wouldn’t say I’m lonely, but I do kind of miss being with the gang.

I guess I doze for a while, because suddenly it’s dawn, and I can hear my parents knocking around in the kitchen, conversing quietly in Czech while they make coffee:

“That’s right, it’s morning here in America,” Dad groans.

“Has Jan done all his homework?” Mom asks.

“Let’s hope so. The sooner we get him up and out the door, the sooner we can get back to the café.”

“I don’t think he’s too happy about having his computer taken away.”

“He’s just enacting the Kounicova Pout.”

“There’s such a thing?”

“If we’re not smiling, we’re pouting.” Dad chuckles. “It’s what made you ask me if everything was all right the day we first met.”

“He does have your brood. What’s this?”

“A note from the management. Someone’s car must’ve been towed by mistake.”

“Not ours.”

“No, not ours. Shame. Donuts sound good. Pass the milk.”

Oh, wow. Mom and Dad really have no idea what’s happened. At all. They’ve been 404 so long that they didn’t notice their entire apartment complex was accidentally towed. I lost my home, my bytes, my parents, and neither of them are the slightest bit aware of any of it. They’re just going through the motions, moths toward fire—or whatever the expression is—perfectly content, perfectly ignorant. And it hits me: for the last two years it’s been enough to have my own corner of the living room. It’s been enough to get by on an outdated Compaq desktop, enough to do all my shopping at Dollar Tree, the 99¢ Store, Food 4 Less, Goodwill. Life here was all I ever wanted or needed.

No more.

I don’t hate my parents. They’ve stuck with parenthood and raised me this far. But that’s just it—I feel like they’ve been stuck raising me. You heard Dad: he’d much rather be having breakfast back in Brno. Is that why he never drives me to school? “He likes the exercise,” he says whenever the subject comes up. I used to think he was just being playfully indifferent whenever he made comments like that. Now it’s clear. Maybe I’m reading into things. Or maybe I’m finally hearing the truth. Regardless, the end result is that I’m done being the poor kid whose parents are never around. I’m going to make money somehow, get a job, move out of this place, and finally get on with my life. I don’t need to be rich—I just want something for myself, something my parents obviously can’t or don’t want to provide.

I lie on my back and, staring at the ceiling, I ponder the impossibilities.

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Published by

Jesse Gordon

Geek. Writer. Supreme overlord of the SUPERMEGANET pseudoverse. Author of THE OATMEAL MAN, DOOKIE, and other such wasteful nonsense.