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This short story was October 2015’s Short Story of the Month! If you enjoy it, and would like to support more, please consider throwing me a buck here

When I was in sixth grade, I collected pogs. I honestly don’t know what I saw in them, looking back. They were a piece of cardboard with a picture on them that got beat up almost immediately when you played with them. Granted, I made sure to have all the cool pictures, of course. Power Rangers, The Undertaker, Mario… you know, the good stuff. But it was still this semi-useless little circle. At least trading cards had information on them. But there was something mesmerizing about throwing a huge hunk of metal at them as hard as you could, just to see if they’d flip.

And there was, of course, the fact that the better you played, the more you got. I’d set up on the side of the playground for people to challenge me, and almost always, when the bell would ring, I’d have more pogs than I had before. I mean, I’d lose some too, don’t get me wrong, and I didn’t always get ones I really cared about, but I had more. That’s the point.

This had been going on for a week or two before I was approached by Evan. Evan was a weirdo, or so people said. He was always wearing these huge sweaters, even in summer. He would disappear into them, and just kind of hide in the back of class. I mean, he was fine, but kids are assholes and we would talk about his choice of attire behind his back, for sure. In any case, he watched me win for a few days, at a distance, before approaching me on that Wednesday.

“I would like your pogs,” he said.

I shook my little pog case. “Well, you know how to try to get some. Let’s play.”

Evan pulled out a case of his own. I hadn’t known he was into them, but I was interested to see what kinds of pogs he had. But the ones he removed from the case were odd. They seemed to be of paintings I’d seen at some point. I mean, I was in sixth grade, so I was no art critic, but even a sixth grader looks at The Scream and says “Hey, that’s a thing I know.”

We laid the pogs out, and I let him go first, seeing as he was the challenger. Evan’s slammer had a snowflake on it, and he held it up, trying to somehow gauge his first throw. “Isn’t a snowflake a girl thing?” I asked.

“It’s a winter thing,” he said, and he threw it towards the piles of pogs. He didn’t put much behind it, though. Nothing really flipped.

“Okay,” I said, accepting that. “Well, mine has a ninja on it, because I am a winner,” I taunted, and then threw. I flipped three. “Your turn.”

Evan lined up, and threw again. Nothing flipped.

“You’ve got to…” I started, preparing to give him tips. It was no fun if he wasn’t a challenge.

“I know how to play,” Evan said.

“Yeah, but you won’t…”

“I know how to play,” he said again, looking away.

I gave up, and threw again. The game eventually ended without him taking a single pog.

“Again,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. But he was already setting up. By the end of recess, I had taken all the pogs in his little case. I honestly felt kind of bad.

The bell rang. I said, “Hey, maybe you should take some of these back?” Evan just walked away, looking embarrassed.

But the next day he was back, with a whole new container of strange pogs. Once it was US Presidents. Once it was Black and White movie stars. Each time he failed to take any at all, and left empty handed. I wanted to stop, but he always insisted we keep playing, and my little sixth grade self didn’t really know how to handle that but to play. Eventually, I came up with the only plan I could: I left my pogs at home.

“Let us play,” Evan said as he approached me on the playground.

“Sorry, I forgot mine at home,” I said. “But we could play for fun with yours?”

“For fun?”

“Sure!” Evan looked very unsure of this, but I casually took his pogs from him and set up a game. “We’ll have to share your slammer, okay?”

“Okay…” he said.

We played for awhile, and once again I was dominating, but at least this time I wasn’t taking all of his things. “You have a lot of pogs,” I said.

“I am trying to get more,” he said.

“Do your parents work at a pog factory?” I asked. “Maybe that’s how you get so many.”

“No…” he said. “Do pogs come from factories?”

“Probably? I think everything comes from factories.”

“I don’t think that is true…” Evan said, twisting a ring on his finger nervously.

“Sure it is. I’m sure I came from a person factory.”

“George, I don’t think that’s right…”

“Maybe not, but wouldn’t it be fun if it was?”

“I don’t know… then everyone would be the same.”

I threw Evan’s slammer down, flipping a pog. “I guess that would be bad. Just like it’d be bad if all the pogs were the same. What would you collect?”

“Yeah…” Evan said.

I smiled at him. He didn’t seem to know what to do, but eventually smiled back.

In Junior High, I collected Magic cards. Evan didn’t talk to many other people, at least not a lot, but he talked to me, and when I started getting into Magic, he did as well. He was terrible at the game. He couldn’t bluff worth anything. But he would collect all the cards, and put them in these big binders. I could ask him anything about any card, and he could tell me.

“These are really good cards,” I told him, pointing to the Moxes he had in the binder. “If you put them in your deck, you could…”

“No…” he said. “That’s alright…”

“You could put them in covers,” I suggested. “Then they’d be safe while you play. And I bet you could beat Elliot.”

Evan shook his head, twisting the ring on his finger. “I’ll… just watch you beat Elliot.”

His sweater that day had a blue mana symbol on it. I had no idea where he found these things. “Did your parents make that for you?”

“Sort of…” he said. “Do you like it?”

I chuckled. “A sweater can only be so cool, but that’s a pretty cool sweater.”

Evan smiled.

“Are we still on for this weekend?” I asked. “Did your parents give you permission?”

Evan nodded.

“Awesome.”

“I’ll… bring those games…” he said. He had every board game I could think of, or at least seemed to.

I grinned. “Fantastic! I’m sure I can beat you this time in Great Museum Caper.”

“I… don’t think you’ll be able to… it’s not really meant for two people…” Evan said.

“Eh, I can pull it off.”

“But it’s really impossible…”

“Leave the impossible to me, Evan. I am all about impossible.”

And sure enough, several days from then, I caught him as he was trying to move out a window.

“How did you…” Evan said, looking over his little strategy sheet in front of him.

“I just have all kinds of Professor Plum skills,” I said, grinning.

“You got really lucky…”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” I leaned back in my chair. “I am pretty lucky.”

Evan nodded.

“Thanks for bringing it over, though. I wanted another try at it.”

“It’s… any time, George…” Evan fidgeted a little, twisting his ring.

“I never asked where you got that,” I said.

“Got what…?”

“That ring.”

“My parents gave it to me.”

“Can I see?”

Evan held out his hand, and I looked down at a very intricate silver ring. There were strange little patterns all over it. I didn’t know anything about ring-making, but I assumed it would have taken forever to make. I gave the ring a tug to pull it off his finger so I could look at it closer, but he pulled his hand back defensively.

“Hey, sorry, I just wanted a closer look. That thing is ridiculous.”

“It’s… you can’t have it…”

“I was just looking, Evan.”

“No.”

“Alright…” I looked for something else to say. “Your hand is really cold…” I couldn’t think of a time I had touched him for such an extended period before, and it struck me as odd. The room wasn’t particularly chilly.

“It’s a condition… circulation problem…” Evan said.

“You going to be okay…?”

“Yeah, I’m just… cold a lot…”

I smiled. “Nice to know there’s a reason for the sweaters beyond some otherworldly fashion sense.”

“I’m very fashionable,” Evan said.

“Uh huh.”

“Really.”

“Perhaps during the colder months of the year.”

“George.”

I chuckled. “Hey, let’s make a deck with all your fancy cards, hm?”

“They’re fine how they are…” Evan said.

“Come on, just with me? It’s no fun if you don’t play with them. And we’ll be careful. I have extra card covers in my room!”

“…alright.”

In high school, I collected boys. Well, kisses, mostly. Some other things from the special ones. But I found an interesting enjoyment in turning hesitation into agreement. I didn’t force myself on anyone or anything, of course. But I was charming. Or at least as charming as a ridiculous high school student could be. My hair was just so. My smile sparkled. I had it, whatever it was, and people knew that.

I was involved in drama, and starred in several of the school plays. Evan wanted to join in, but he had nothing but nerves when he tried to read lines, and everyone assumed he wouldn’t lose his sweaters for a costume anyway, so he ended up being in charge of props. There would be a suggestion of something needed, and he almost always would show up to school with it the next day. Old typewriter? A complicated-looking lamp? A rug that was just the right shade of red? He found all of it and more.

After practice, one night, everyone was packing up, and my current conquest at the time, Ben, gave me that look, one that said “Let’s sneak away and hide in a closet and make out way too much.” At least, that’s how I interpreted it as I grabbed his hand and dragged him into said closet. The hand he put down my pants certainly suggested he wasn’t complaining about the situation.

Neither of us were expecting the door to open behind us. Ben and I whipped around to see Evan standing there, with the broom and dustpan that I had totally forgotten about from earlier, when we broke a glass during practicing the scene change. Evan looked at us, wide-eyed. Ben just sprinted. I sighed.

“Evan, Jesus, what are you doing?” I asked, buttoning my pants.

“I was putting the broom away…”

“We were a bit busy?”

“I didn’t know…”

I sighed again. Being interrupted was so frustrating, but it’s not like it was Evan’s fault. “It’s fine. Honestly, I should have remembered someone was going to put the broom away… and better you than someone else…” I took the broom and pan from him, and put them back in the closet. “There, all better.” I closed the closet door.

“How do you do that…?” Evan asked.

“What, close the door? I think you’ve got that mastered,” I said, smiling.

“No, I mean… get people to like you…”

“Plenty of people like you, Evan.”

“George… come on…”

I raised an eyebrow. “You mean like you how Ben likes me like?”

Evan nodded.

“Interesting…” I looked Evan over. His hair was a bit of a mess today, but what else was new? He certainly didn’t suddenly seem like someone who was into anyone. I had tried such conversations in the past, about celebrities and classmates and what have you, and he’d just brush them off in a way that made it seem like I was making him uncomfortable. So I stopped talking about it with him.. “I never considered you for that kind of person. Always figured you one of those… what is it… aces.”

“Aces…?”

“Asexuals.”

“Oh…” Evan twisted the ring on his finger. “Maybe…”

“Is that something that can be a maybe?” I wondered aloud.

“I mean, you never know until you try…?” Evan said. “I never really tried…”

“Can’t argue with that…” I said. “Well, it’s really pretty simple?”

“Okay.”

“First, you need to make a connection. Often over things you both share an interest in, you know? Like, you don’t have to have everything in common. That’s boring. But something to connect via.”

Evan nodded, listening very attentively.

“Then once you have that, and you’ve established something close to a friendship, at least, then you test the waters to see if it could go farther, you know?”

“No…” Evan said.

I frowned, and thought. “Well, like, spend more time together. See what feels comfortable. Like, you know, if you both are like… well, here…” I moved close up against Evan’s side. He immediately looked uncomfortable. “If this is a positive thing, rather than uncomfortable, that’s, you know… a good sign they’re into you too. That kind of thing.”

“I’m… this is…”

I moved back. “Heh, if you’re always going to be uncomfortable in that position, try something else? That’s an example, I dunno. There’s also, like, things where maybe they’re stealing glances at you a lot and you notice? There’s lots of stuff.”

“Okay…”

“And then after that you just… ask.” I shrugged.

“Ask…?”

“Yeah, for whatever you want. Date, fling, whatever. And if they say yes, then they’re yours.”

“Just like that…?”

“Yeah, basically.”

Evan studied me for a moment, before nodding. “I’ll think on this.”

“I hope it’s vaguely helpful,” I said.

Evan nodded.

I took my phone out of my pocket and looked at it. “I should probably go. My mom’s going to start wondering where I am soon… I’ll see you tomorrow, Evan.”

“Yes… I’ll see you then, George.”

The next day, our eyes met for the third time during physics. It was getting a little strange. I decided to just acknowledge it, and gave Evan a little wave before turning back to the notes I was trying to take. It wasn’t really like him. He was always very focused on studies, to the point where he’d often scold me for my poor note-taking. Something must be on his mind. Maybe he sent some ill-fated text to his supposed crush or something the night before?

I grabbed him on the way to the lunch room. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Up…?”

“You seem… I dunno… you seemed like you wanted to talk,” I said.

Evan averted his eyes. “I… no, I’m alright…”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “You sure? You know I’m here for you, right?”

“Y-yeah, yes. I know, George. I’m fine.”

“Alright then,” I said, and smiled. “Let’s eat then, hm?”

We went through the line, got out trays, and sat down.

“George, would you like to come over to my house tonight?” Evan asked. “After rehearsal?”

I stopped with my fork most of the way to my mouth for a moment. I had never been to Evan’s house, after years of knowing him. We’d had sleepovers and parties and stuff at my place, but never his. “Really? I thought you weren’t allowed to have people over?”

“It’ll be fine this time… I have permission,” he said.

“I’ll have to ask my mom, but of course, Evan! Sure!” I smiled. “Always wondered where you lived, to be honest, but I didn’t want to cause trouble.”

“You’ll come?”

“Yes, Evan, I’ll come,” I said, chuckling. “I already said that, right?”

“Right…” Evan smiled. “Good.”

I pulled out my phone and send my mom a text letting her know my plans. Evan just twisted his ring a little bit.

The school day continued how the school day does, and the rehearsal went about as well as it does, although I was in more scenes in that act, and so I didn’t have any time to get up to anything particularly interesting with Ben. He was clearly thinking about it, though. Or maybe it was just me thinking about him thinking about it.

When we finished for the night, though, Evan was right there. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, hoisting my bookbag onto my back. “Let’s get going.”

We walked out of the school and I headed for my car. Evan followed. “Are you riding with me?” I asked.

“It would be quicker,” he said. “I can show you where to go.”

“And just leave your car here?”

“I normally walk,” Evan said, looking embarrassed.

“Really?” The school was fairly new, and had been built basically in the middle of nowhere outside of town. I couldn’t imagine anyone’s house was in walking distance.

Evan just nodded, though.

“Well, lead the way,” I said as I unlocked the car and got in.

“Turn left,” Evan said as I left the school. We headed away from town for a bit, and then turned onto a little county road, and then another. It was mostly just farms. At least until we reached another small drive, and came upon Evan’s house. It was old, and at least three stories, but well-kept. It was the kind of place that rich people would renovate into something ridiculous. Well, Evan never seemed to hurt for money.

I got out of the car and looked the house over. “Quite a place,” I said.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Evan said.

I looked for a garage, but there didn’t seem to be one, and mine was the only car parked in the circle the drive to the house ended in. “Are your parents not home?”

“It’s just us,” he said, and unlocked the front door.

I walked in, and just stopped. There was nothing inside.

Well, okay, that wasn’t fair. There was a big staircase in front of me that seemed to go up all three floors, and lots and lots of doors. But there was nothing else. No decoration or furniture or anything, besides heavy blackout curtains on the windows.

Evan shut the door behind me. If he noticed my concern about the odd lack of decor, he didn’t show it. “I’m so glad you came,” he said.

“Well,” I said, getting myself under control. “What shall we do?”

“I… don’t know,” Evan said.

“Maybe give me the tour?” I suggested.

“Oh, yes, of course!” Evan said. He walked over to a door. “Come on.”

I followed, and Evan opened a door into a room filled with pogs. Seriously. There were cases and cases and cases of them. Some were on shelves, and there was a large pile of binders on the ground. I picked one up and opened it. There were pages of plastic sorters, each with a pog and a label.

“Many are duplicates, unfortunately…” Evan said, as if that was the real problem with having the equivalent of an entire bedroom filled with pogs. “But I am pretty sure I have most that were sold in this area…”

“I… Evan, this is… something…” I tried.

“Do you like it?”

“I’m surprised you kept all of these after all this time,” I said. “We haven’t played in years.”

“Yes, but… it’s how we got close… so it’s important,” Evan said.

“Sure…” Important enough to fill a whole room, though?

“How about this one?” Evan said, walking out of the pog room. I followed, still a bit overwhelmed. He lead me into another room, bigger than the last, with stacks and stacks of board games. I walked among the piles, reading names, some recognizable and some not. “I have extras of our favorites if you want to play one…” Evan said, pointing at a more worn pile of basically every game he’d ever brought over to my house to play.

“Evan… how much did all this cost…” I said, unsure what else to ask.

“I didn’t really keep track…” he said.

“This is… unbelievable…”

“It gets better,” Evan said with a smile, and held out his hand for me. I took it. It was cold as usual. “Come on.”

There was a room filled with Magic cards, sealed boxes of boosters and the perfectly sorted binders, which had expanded with each of the expansions that came out, even after we stopped playing regularly. There was a room filled with scripts, of plays and musicals, stacked high on big bookshelves. There was a room filled with Super Nintendo games, in box and not, covering all surfaces.

“These are… all things we do together…” I finally managed to say. “Is… everything here like that…?” I honestly didn’t know whether to be impressed or terrified by the display.

“No… I just thought you’d want to see those…?” Evan said, twisting the ring on his finger. “I thought you’d like those more.”

“Are… is every room like these?” I picked a random door and opened it. It was filled with table lamps. I picked another. It was filled with pencils.

“There are a couple I haven’t filled…” Evan said.

I walked to the backside of the staircase, where there was a big door which, I assume, lead downstairs. I reached for it, but Evan reached out and grabbed my wrist. “That’s… my parents collection. They have the basement… so let’s not mess with it right now?”

I nodded weakly. “I need to sit down,” I said. Evan hurried me to the stairs, and we sat down on them. He looked at me, expectantly. “Well, this… wasn’t what I was expecting from your house, I will admit,” I said.

“I was not supposed to let anyone see it,” Evan said.

“I… suppose I can understand that.”

“But it’s okay now. We’re here,” Evan smiled.

“I suppose we are.”

We sat there while I tried to center myself. I could feel Evan pressed against me. This close for this long, I could feel how cold he was, even through the sweater. I put my arm around him, hoping I could warm him up.

“Am I doing this right?” Evan said softly.

“What, sitting with me? I think you’re doing fine.”

“No, I mean… it’s going back to step two, I guess, but I thought it important to do more of it… since I also did more of step one… I may have done things out of order…”

I took a moment. “Wait… you’re… this is…” I laughed.

Evan shrank away, looking scared. “Did I… do something wrong?”

“No! No, not at all, I just… never considered you’d be asking me for advice on how to hit on me, that’s all,” I said, smiling. “You could have just said, ‘Hey, George, I’m into you,’ or something.”

“I could have?”

I nodded.

Evan twisted his ring, but then looked me in the eyes. “Hey, George, I’m into you… for… figuring out… things… and other things…”

I grinned. Now there was something that I knew about! Making out with my best friend seemed much more sensible that what I’d seen so far that evening. “Well, I have always been open to experimentation, certainly.” I leaned over and kissed him softly. His lips were so cold. It was a strange sensation. He squirmed, but didn’t pull away. “How was that?” I asked.

“It… it…” Evan stammered, blushing brightly.

“You’re in charge. I’m yours. If you’re not comfortable, we’ll just stop there,” I said.

“No… we… shouldn’t stop… yet…” Evan said.

I grinned again. “Then do you have a bedroom here? Or a room full of beds, at least?”

Evan lead me up the stairs to the third floor with a mix of eagerness and nervousness. He picked a door, and it opened into the most normal room I’d seen in the house. Granted, it was a bed, a desk, and a chair, and little else, but it was pretty clearly a bedroom. I could work with that. I hopped onto his bed and looked up at him, smiling. Evan looked at me, twisting his ring nervously.

“See something you like?” I asked.

“Yes…?” Evan tried.

I pulled off my shirt and tossed it at him. He barely caught it. “Better or worse?” I asked.

“I don’t know…?”

I unbuttoned my jeans, and slid them down my legs. “Now?”

“George…”

I chuckled. “Okay, being a bit of a creep, maybe. I’ll stop.” I started putting my pants back on.

“N-no…” Evan said. “No. Take… go back to how you were…”

“Is that so?” I got up from the bed, in only my boxers. “Do you want to join me?”

Evan nodded.

I took hold of the bottom of his sweater, and pulled it up and off of him. “Oh my god…” I said. I had always assumed Evan was hiding some pudge under his huge sweaters, but he was nothing but muscle. Not bulky, but there probably wasn’t a drop of fat on him.

“W-what…?” Evan asked.

“You’ve been hiding far too much, my friend,” I said, leaning in and kissing him again, running my hand down his chest. His chest felt like ice, but I didn’t let that stop me as I moved to the band of his jeans. “I wonder what else you’re hiding…”

Evan was shivering. I couldn’t tell if it was because he was cold without his sweater, or from nerves. He pressed against me tightly as I undid the button of his jeans. My fingers teased the band of his underwear as I smiled, and then…

Then Evan pulled away. “I-I’m sorry! I’m sorry…!” he said, shivering harder. “I just… I can’t do this… you were right and I knew you were right but I just… I’m sorry…”

I held up my hands and moved back to the bed, trying to smile a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. Like I said, no pressure.” I found myself quite disappointed, though. I at least wanted to get a good feel of him. But I swallowed that useless thought. “Right about what, Evan?”

“I’m asexual… I mean, I knew that…” Evan said softly. “But I just figured… you wouldn’t like me if I wasn’t like… Ben… everyone else you go after… I thought I could… fake it for you… and then we’d…”

“Hey, it’s okay… I’m not following all that, but we’ll talk, and I will… do you need to put your sweater on? You keep shivering…”

“Oh…” Evan picked his sweater off the ground and slid it on. He didn’t really stop shivering, though.

“Come here.” Evan sat on the bed next to me, and I hugged him. As I did, I realized I was still in just my boxers, and maybe it would have been smart to get redressed first, but what was done was done. “Look, I… do like those things… but that’s okay. There’s plenty of other things we can do that we’d both enjoy, right?”

Evan nodded.

“So things are fine,” I said, trying a smile.

“Okay…” Evan said.

“Though I should probably get dressed.”

“If you want…”

I slid my pants back on before continuing. “Now what’s this about me not liking you? You know I like you, Evan.”

“Yeah but… not like… a boyfriend…?”

“Well, that was never something I’d even considered before all this…” I said.

“Because you don’t…” Evan started.

“Because I didn’t think you’d be interested,” I corrected. “I… I don’t know. How to approach this.”

“I don’t know either,” Evan said so quietly I barely caught it. He pressed close to me again, squirming, unsure if that was appropriate. Was it? I had only really used such things as a ramp to, well, more things. Was this the end goal?

I figured I might as well try. I pulled him into bed, which shocked him, and we laid there for awhile. Evan calmed down, and eventually fell asleep, or so it seemed. His cheek was very cold against my chest, but I eventually got used to it.

I’m not sure how long we laid there like that, but the light that barely peeked in around the curtains seemed to disappear. My parents would be wondering where I was soon. Also, I was starving.

I shook Evan gently. “Hey…”

Evan opened his eyes, and seemed surprised by the situation, backing off a bit. “H-hi…”

“Sorry to wake you.”

“It’s… I shouldn’t have fallen asleep…”

“I think it went just fine that you did.”

Evan nodded cautiously.

I got up and grabbed my shirt, throwing it back on. “However, I should probably get going. It’s late. My parents are going to start wondering about me soon.”

“Going…?” Evan said.

I nodded.

“But you’re mine… you said so…”

“Well, yes…” I said, wondering where he was going with this. “But I mean, that was just for our experiment, right? I wanted you to be able to take some control so you weren’t nervous. That’s all.”

“But I did all the steps you talked about too…”

I nodded again. “But that was like… a metaphor, right?”

“But you said…”

I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder. “Evan, come on.” I turned and gave a little wave. “I’ll see you tomorrow at school, yeah?”

Evan twisted the ring on his finger as I left.

I walked down the big staircase, suddenly brought back into the world of Evan’s kind of creepy house. I didn’t hear any parents or anyone else, just my footsteps on the stairs. I walked to the front door, and turned the handle.

Nothing happened.

I looked for a lock or mechanism or something to open the door, but I couldn’t find anything. It was locked tight.

“Evan?” I called out. “The door is locked?”

I didn’t hear an answer, so I sighed and started looking for a back door. I found a room that was full of sweaters and a room that was full of frying pans, but no back door. By the time I had given up and headed back to the stairs to get Evan to open the door, he was sitting on the stairs, waiting for me.

“What’s up with the locked door?” I asked. “I need to get going.”

Evan was still fidgeting with his ring. “You can’t go.”

“Come on, it’s not like you aren’t going to see me again. We both have school tomorrow.”

“You’re mine, and everything that is mine stays here, so it is safe…”

“Safe from what?”

Evan didn’t seem to have an answer to that.

I sighed. “Look, I understand this has been a real emotional night for both of us, and there’s a lot more we’re going to have to talk about, for sure, and we will, but for now I need to go home.”

“There’s a room for you upstairs… and everything will be fine…” Evan said.

“Jesus, Evan, come on. Where’s the key for the door?”

Evan just shook his head.

I walked over to him and grabbed his shoulder. “Give me the key.”

“No.” I reached for his pants pocket, but he pushed me away. “No…!”

“I really don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I’m going home, one way or another,” I said. I reached again, and he pushed again.

“Stop it!” Evan cried, but I didn’t, and reached again. He shoved me hard, and I fell backwards. My hand grabbed onto his wrist as I went, and he tumbled on top of me. And from that point, it was an all-out fight.

We rolled around the hard floor, with me trying to get a key from Evan, and Evan trying to pin me to get me to stop. Evan seemed nearly in tears, but there was nothing I could do about it now. What was more important was that he was very strong. He was going to easily win. My only advantage was his lack of experience with this kind of struggle. I needed a trump card if I was going to come out on top.

So I let him pin one hand with his, and then reached over and plucked his ring off with a strong tug.

Evan shrieked in terror and I pushed him off of me and scrambled to my feet.

“Give it back! Give it back!” Evan started shouting.

“As soon as you unlock the door so I can go home!” I responded. Evan’s body was looking extra cold. His skin seemed blue.

“Give it back, George!” Evan yelled, covering his face as he cried.

“The door! All I want is you to open the door!” Were his nails longer than before? “I didn’t… want to make you cry, I just…” Evan scrambled to pull off his sweater as I heard a rip of fabric. “Evan…?”

With a gust of wind, two large wings flapped open from Evan’s back. His eyes met mine. They were strange slits, and extremely unfamiliar. His face had grown outward, and as he talked, I saw a lot of pointed teeth. “Why? Why did you do this? What did I do wrong?”

I tried to say something, or move, but I was frozen in place, terrified.

“I did everything I was supposed to… everything!” Evan yelled. He had a tail. He had scales.

I managed to get out, “What are you!”

“Apparently not your friend!” he yelled.

I ran for the door, trying it again, desperately, unsure what else I could do. It was still locked. Evan let out a growl, and I jumped out of the way, purely on fear instinct. When I turned, there was a layer of ice covering the door and most of the wall.

“You lied… you gave me bad advice… you…” Evan mumbled to himself. I started running off in the other direction as I scrambled to my feet. He immediately followed. “Come back here!”

I didn’t really know where I was running. There was only the many doors to the many weird rooms. Not even a hallway I could confuse him through. We ran several laps around the staircase. Evan was catching up, yelling nonsense, and not seeming at all winded. I was so screwed.

I passed the doorway to the basement again, and this time, I ripped it open. If he was so nervous about his parents’ stuff, maybe he’d calm down to make sure nothing got hurt.

“You can’t go down there!” Evan yelled.

I stumbled down stairs that quickly turned dark. I held on to the railing until I fell onto a floor I wasn’t expecting to be there. I scrambled on all fours until I bumped into a pile of something metallic. Small things. I tried to pick one up. It felt like a quarter? Or some other coin?

“George, we shouldn’t mess around down here…!” Evan called out from the top of the stairs, still angry, but now frustrated and terrified.

“I need to know what’s going on!” I called back.

“Please don’t touch anything! Just come upstairs!”

“But you’re… how do I know you won’t hurt me?”

Evan suppressed a growl. “Come upstairs!”

I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my phone. It wouldn’t light up. I touched the screen, and noticed several huge cracks. I must have fallen on it.

“Fine!” Evan growled, and I could hear him coming down the stairs. I needed to hide, but my eyes had barely adjusted to the light, and I still couldn’t see enough of the room to know what was there.

With a click of the switch, the room lit up. The basement was one large room. Among that room were piles, and each had a different currency. Coins, bills, gold bars, jewels. I was astounded.

And while I was distracted, Evan grabbed me by the back of my shirt, and lifted me up with one hand, heading back towards the stairs. Claws cut into the fabric. “You messed with the coins…” he said as he climbed the stairs. “I think I can put them back okay… but it’ll take awhile…” He closed the door to the basement, and headed back up the stairs. I struggled a little, but he was having no trouble keeping ahold of me. “And you’re just going to have to think about what you’ve done…”

“Evan… please… come on…” I pleaded as we reached the third floor.

“What?” He was clearly really forcing himself to stay calm.

“I didn’t know all this stuff… how was I supposed to…? I… I won’t make that mistake again…” Evan walked us to a door and opened in. Inside was another room, much like the bedroom we were in before, but not the same one. Evan tossed me in, and I hit the ground with a thud. Evan hesitated at the door, looking at me with those strange eyes. I held out his ring. “I’m sorry.”

He walked over and grabbed it from me, and stared at it for a moment. “What does it matter anymore,” he said. “You know now…”

“Yeah, but… you said it was important, right? From your parents? I’m… I’m sorry I took it. I just felt desperate…”

“Yeah…” Evan said. “Yeah, it… yeah…”

We just stayed there for awhile, me on the floor, Evan, covered in scales, staring at a ring. Finally, I got up the courage to ask a question. There were so many things that I could ask about. Ice blasts. More money than I’ll ever earn in a lifetime. Theoretically magical rings. But that wasn’t the problem here. Well, it was for me, but it wasn’t for Evan, and he clearly was somewhere bad. So I asked, “Am I really worth that to you? Locking me up and keeping me?”

“You understand me,” he said, finally looking up and looking at me. “You always wanted me to enjoy my things. You knew I wouldn’t unless you stepped in. You cared more about me than my things…”

“I always tried…” I said.

“That means a lot… but I saw you… more and more… drifting away with other guys… and I felt like I was going to lose you…”

I got to my feet. “I’m always going to be your friend, Evan… don’t be silly.”

He shook his head. “You know what I am now… how could you possibly…”

“I know who you are, Evan. Now there’s just… some more information to process…”

Evan started to cry. His tears froze almost immediately, and little bits of ice fell to the floor. I walked up and hugged him. He was painfully cold, but I held on as long as I could anyway.

In college, we collected e-mails. We ended up going to different colleges. I went to an acting school, to foolishly chase that dream, and Evan studied historical preservation. We messaged each other often, though. Evan would send me e-mails with the stuff nobody else would believe, the things that he had always wanted an outlet to talk about, but had had none. His father had died years before he hatched, and his mother had left him when he did, as was apparently tradition. But now I got it. Or pretended to, anyway. I did my best. I doubted my silly stories about after parties and backstage garbage were near as interesting, but he always seemed happy to hear them.

I didn’t have room for physical things in my life back then. I was sharing an apartment with like 5 other guys, working constantly between my job, classes, and rehearsals. There wasn’t room for anything but the essentials. But on my computer was a folder, of all those messages Evan and I had sent. All that information that only I was trusted with, and I had shared with nobody.

That was enough.

Thanks for reading! If you liked the story, please share it with your friends and stuff. That would mean a lot to me! And there’s plenty more coming, so I hope to entertain you again soon!

Published inShort Stories