George was standing by the door to a patient’s room in a hospital. His arms were crossed, and he was mindlessly staring at the floor. A moment later, the door opened and a female doctor exited from the room.
George stood up straight as she came out. “Is she alright, Dr. Hope?”
The doctor patted his shoulder. “You can see her now.” He gave George a nod and left.
George took a deep breath and entered the room.
George came into an all-white room. Aside from the regular hospital equipment and devices, there was only a single chair in the room. The room was clean and tidy for the most part, but it was clear from George’s view that there was dust accumulating on the chair’s armrests.
An elderly woman sat on the hospital bed, hooked up onto several machines. She seemed drained but her face lit up as George entered. But not in the way George expected. She turned a confused face, raising her hand to up her chest. “G-George?” she said. “Is that you?”
George put up a big smile and said, “Yes, obaasan. It’s me.”
The woman’s eyes widened. She gasped. “Come here. Let me take a look at you.”
George walked up to the bed and sat beside her.
The old woman placed her hands on his shoulders, gripping them to make sure the person in front of her was real. She felt his face, turning it side to side, checking his jawbone and cheeks. She then pulled his head straight forward and looked right into his eyes. She sighed. “Yes…it is you. You have your mother’s eyes. Thank goodness. You look healthy.”
“I’ve been eating well,” George laughed. He thought to himself, “Albeit, food from a virtual game…“
His grandmother smiled. “I can see that.” She then suddenly changed mood. She pulled his cheek to the furthest extent. “Brat, after I woke up, the doctors told me you haven’t visited for over six months.”
“Ow, ow, ow!” George blurted out.
His grandmother let his cheek go.
George placed his hand on his very red cheek. “I was busy.”
“Busy?” his grandmother said. “Too busy to check up on your comatose grandmother?”
George dared not come up with a lie, but he didn’t want to be too specific either, and so he said, “These past several months weren’t too good for me. I had to take some time to get myself together. I didn’t want to visit you the way that I was at the time. I’m sorry.”
His grandmother seemed a bit disappointed, but didn’t take anything to heart. It seemed reasonable she thought. “Well…at least you’re doing fine now.”
George put up a light smile. “I am.”
“That’s good,” she said. She paused for a second before continuing. “What are you doing now? Have you found a good job? Are you seeing anyone?”
“I’m looking for one, don’t worry,” he said.
“For a job or for a girlfriend?” his grandmother said.
George laughed. “A job.”
“Good,” she said. “But you should start finding someone soon. I’d like to see you get married and have children before I go.”
“Obaasan!” George exclaimed. He knew he was being teased.
“I’m serious,” his grandmother said. “I don’t know how much time I have left. It would be nice to know that you’re in good hands.”
George took his grandmother’s hands and held them tightly. “Let me worry about that.”
“Fine,” she scoffed. “But she has to be pretty. And kind. And respectful.”
“Alright, alright, I understand. Don’t worry about it.”
“If you say so,” she said. “In any case, if you can’t find a job, you could always re-open the dojo. You still haven’t forgotten what I’ve taught you, I hope.”
George’s face turned to dread when she uttered those last words. He stood frozen for a long moment and lowered his head.
His grandmother stared at him as he drew a cold, blank expression. “George?”
“Obaasan…” George murmured.
“What’s wrong? Tell me,” she said.
“The dojo…I sold it,” said George.
“What?” she said. She was momentarily paralyzed.
“I’m sorry, obaasan.”
“You sold the dojo?” she said in a soft tone.
George had no response. He kept his head lower, in shame.
She turned her head away. “I’m sure you had your reasons. I won’t ask why. But it must have been important.”
Of course, George knew the truth. George had been left the dojo in his mother’s will after her passing. As such, he had been entitled to do anything with it. And so, he sold it—his own home. At the time, he told himself that it was solely for affording his grandmother’s hospital care. But deep down he knew the real reason: Sell the estate and rent an apartment, get strong in Dream World, and make enough profit to make back the money and re-purchase the property, all the while paying for grandmother’s healthcare. It had seemed like a win-win situation. But it was all just fantasy in the end.
He initially only used some of the money for Dream World, buying a few items that he didn’t have the time or money to obtain. They were very expensive, but he was confident he could make a profit in the game; he believed he would just make it all back. But unfortunately, as he continued playing Dream World, he became more invested and more greedy. He himself didn’t see it, though. And so, he continued making purchase after purchase after purchase. He thought he wasn’t spending that much, but by the time he quit the game, there was only about a year’s left of funds to pay for his grandmother’s care. And when he looked back into the dojo, the value of the property had skyrocketed. It had gone from a value of $1.2 million to $5 million. As a last resort, he sold his mother’s ring to make sure he had the cash to survive. The remaining money from selling the estate, he placed it all into a trust fund to pay for his grandmother’s condition.
Dammit. You’re such an idiot, George.
“I’ve heard enough for today. I’m tired,” his grandmother said. “You can leave.” She turned her back and laid crouched down on the bed, facing the window.
George said nothing. He looked at his grandmother’s turned back with eyes of shame and self-disappointment. He wanted to place his hand on her back to comfort her, but he knew it was grossly inappropriate. And so, he got up and left. It was a simple departure, but one that spoke a thousand words.
* * * * *
George waited for the bus. He stood several feet from all the other bus goers who were all huddled under the hood of the bus stop. It was raining terribly, but the bus was already coming up ahead. He was at the end of the line, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind anything at all, really. He stood in the rain with a dreaded look on his face. Even in the downpour, he kept his umbrella closed and left only his raincoat to protect him from the water. The people around him thought he was an idiot. And he thought he was as well. A terrible idiot. Perhaps he should’ve kept his mouth shut, he thought.
As the bus came in, an elderly woman approached from his side. She wore tattered clothes with holes in every piece of her clothing. Having no raincoat or umbrella, she faced the full torrent of the weather. She tried stepping under the hood of the bus stop, but the entire space had already been occupied. She squirmed her way through but was met by a businessman. Off-put by her presence, the man elbowed her away, pushing her down onto the pavement. George snapped out of his blank-minded state, disgusted by the behavior from the grown man. However, he dared not to cause a disturbance in front of so many people. He simply gave the man a serious look to which the man cleared his throat and scurried on the bus, cutting the rest of the line.
After the businessman left the scene, George turned around and opened his umbrella. He hovered the umbrella over fallen woman and lowered himself. He wrapped his arm around her and helped her up. After getting up, he took her hand and passed her the umbrella. “Take it,” he said in a melancholic voice. Then, he took his wallet out and handed her all the cash he had with him. “It isn’t much, but I hope you can do something with it.”
After handing her the money, the elder’s eyes turned watery. George saw her face and wanted his eyes to become watery as well. But he knew it best if his eyes remained dead. He spoke no word to the old woman and went back in line. As he turned away, the old woman grabbed his arm. “Thank you,” she said.
George gave her a nod and proceeded to board the bus.
* * * * *
When he got home, George head straight his room and plopped onto his bed. He didn’t bother taking off his drenched coat. He lay on the bed staring at the computer.
George picked up his phone and pulled up the text message he’d just received.
|Hey George, I got your text from earlier. It’s alright. I wasn’t able to get on anyway. I should be online in a few hours though. I hope everything went okay with your grandma. See you soon. 😀|
George sighed. He turned his phone screen off and placed it on the nightstand. He hopped back up and got on the computer. He logged back onto the forums, upon which he saw multiple messages.
He opened the oldest one up:
|Hi, it’s me again. I thought about it and I’ll give it one last try. I went and got another set of equipment. Please message me when you get back on.
He then read the next one:
|Okay, so I went online and started a new character. But this time I spawned in an area where the NPCs didn’t have a brown necklace to give me. I can’t understand what they’re saying. Do you think you can help me?
Then he opened up the last message, which was sent just a few minutes ago:
|Hey again, it’s Orchid here. It’s really difficult to play this game since I don’t understand the NPCs. I don’t know what to do, so I’m just staying in town. I don’t think there are any players where I’m at either. Please message me as soon as you can.|
George typed a response:
|Do you know what town you’re in? I can meet you today, but it’ll have to be in a few hours. I have some things I need to take care of.|
He waited a bit, hoping she would be offline and at her computer to respond. Fortunately, she was and sent back the following message:
|Yes, I do…I think. I came across an NPC who was wearing a brown crystal necklace. I didn’t understand him, but hopefully, he was able to understand me. It sounded like the town was called “Menridge.” Have you heard of it? Will you be able to find me?
Menridge? She’s in the same town as Chase?
|I have. My friend also happens to be in that town as well. Just get to the center of town. I’ll meet you both there in a few hours. I’ll be getting online now to take care of some things.|
He clicked the “Send” button, and with that, he let out a huge sigh and fell back onto his chair.
George glanced at a half-ripped photo that was placed right under his computer monitor. It was a framed photo of him when he was a little boy, his mother, and his grandmother. All three of them were smiling.
His eyes keened on his mother, then shifted to his grandmother.
I’ll make this count, obaasan, okaasan. I promise.