Inspired by a true story (and poorly written). ------------------ Am I just imagining it, or does he like me? My fingertips pause at the keyboard for a moment as I stare at at text on my computer monitor, unsure of what to make of the digital exchange that had just unfolded. Then, I sigh as I close my laptop and lean back into my seat. I really hoped it wasn't the case. I had much too many things in real life to worry about already. 'Online' was supposed to be a place to blow steam and relax with friends. Sure, some people might call to escapism to some extent, but everybody had their own way of getting their breathers. For some it's trashy anime or chick flicks. For others, it's porn. All of us have private stuff we'd rather keep under incognito mode on Google Chrome. Glancing at the digital clock on my desk, my eyes sink even further. It's almost time for work. God, I hate my job. But I pull myself upright, pat myself on the cheeks, and rub my temples, trying to motivate myself. "Money. It's for the money. You need the money." I whisper to myself as I stand up. ------------------- My name is Arian Flynn. I'm 19, a college student at a US university, and in case you couldn't tell already, I have the guy parts down there. What else? I'm pretty normal (I think), though I don't like to party and I'm clearly a shame to my ancestors for not having touched a sip of alcohol yet despite being a sophomore at a frat-heavy state school. I guess you could say I'm the study-type, but my part-time job is coaching sports -- club tennis in particular. Tennis... Honestly, I have such a love-hate relationship with it right now. I used to love it. It was my life. I've been swinging rackets since I was six, and every inch of my free time growing up was filled with tennis. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept tennis. Club sports in the US are intense, you know. And I really did love it. At least, I did back then. Nothing puts me more at ease than feeling purely in the zone from the sun-scorching pressure, hard sweat, and intensity of a tennis match. I was addicted, talented, and at the very least I can be thankful because it got me into college with a scholarship. I did men's college varsity tennis my freshman year but... I quit. It wasn't that practices were too hard or anything like that. No, not at all. I loved the coaches, I loved the level of play, and the facilities were great. I just don't like talking about why. I feel like you'd never understand, not having seen what I saw. Okay, well I'll concede if you're the kind of person who's ever rushed a frat. I think the frat boys might have a vague idea of what I saying, having been through Greek life and all. Technically, the men's tennis team wasn't a frat, but when was the last time somebody cared about the formalities? The culture isn't any different. I simply couldn't stand being around them. Yes, yes, I tried. I really did. I tried my hardest to fit in with the crowd, but just thinking about it makes me feel nauseous. I'm not the kind of person that likes to antagonize people, so I went with the flow however I could. Thinking back on it retrospectively, it's amazing that I managed to stay in such a group of circlejerks for an entire twelve months without hating myself. Actually, scratch that. I did start hating myself. I started hating myself to the point I wanted to smash my reflection in the mirror every time I saw it, and I felt disgusted to think that I was anything close to the same species as those guys were. Which is why I ended up quitting tennis, giving up on the sports scholarship that was paying for my college, and neatly placing myself in the financial shit I'm in right now. All of this happened while burning quite a lot of bridges and making a lot of people upset. Was it worth it? I have no idea. Come back and ask me five years later when I'm a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt. ---------------- As I walk through campus, I flip through my phone. There's a message waiting for me on LINE: [ Ahri??? Helloo??? You disappeared. ] I don't stop walking as I type out my response. LINE is an instant messaging app that's popular in Japan, probably best known for its large selection of cute stickers. Basically nobody uses it or has heard about it in the US unless they're a hardcore weeaboo, which is a good thing for me because my (now non-existent) friends don't bother to check that app on the occasion they steal my phone and are up to no good. [ Sorry, I have work! ] There's barely any pause before a new beep comes, signifying that a reply was received. [ Aww, that's too bad. We'll talk later?? ] [ Yep! Gotta run! Sorry! ] I attach a sticker that I commonly use. [ Hahaha, take it easy then, Riri ] -------------- Sh@deZero999 was one of my friends on one of the anime forums that I started to visit last year for spoilers. He's my "senpai", in the sense that he started using the forum at least a year or two before I did, and was one of the first people to talk to me and pull me into his circle of friends. I was always really grateful for this because I didn't know anyone and just made an account... and frankly I met him at a time when things were definitely at its worst in real life last year. Having someone to talk to completely separated from all the drama that was going on... I don't know. It really meant a lot to me in ways that are difficult to explain. As for me -- my username is flying_ahri07 -- or Ahri for short. It's kind of obvious, but it's really close to my real name (Ahri/Arian?). I'm not really good with naming stuff, so I ended up picking something like this. Later, I found out that Ahri is a fox character in League of Legends. I don't game, so I had no idea at the time, but multiple people asked me if I play her a lot. I clarified with everyone that I don't really play computer games at all, which surprised everyone because apparently all of Zero's friends were connected because they all liked to game together. In fact, he had only talked to me in the beginning because he thought I liked League. Afterwards, I told them that I mostly only played tennis and studied. I was busy with school and extracurricular obligations, so I was rarely online at the same hours the rest of them were. When I was, I didn't really get most of the jargon and jokes that they threw at each other most of the time, and honestly I was simply confused and asked basic questions, but for some reason they didn't mind having me around and showing me the ropes. In fact, they were all really nice to me, and introduced me to new stuff like LINE, and overall they were fun to be around. Very quickly, it started to feel like the one place I could relax with everything that was happening in my life. It was only weeks later that I realized that they thought I was a girl the entire time... ---------------------------- [ You seem down lately, Riri is everything alright? ] [ Ah Zero... thanks for asking. I'm fine. XD ] [ Really? Are you sure? You make me worried sometimes... You're acting strange, and you're online these days at different times than you used to be last year. Last year you were like, in bed at 10 and up at 5 am for morning practice! Most of us hadn't even gone to bed yet! ] [ Haha, I'm not doing tennis anymore. ] [ What? Why? What happened? ] [ It's just me being me and weird. Honestly, it's nothing. ] [ Do you want to tell me about it? ] [ Zero, thank you... I'm glad you're always watching out for me, but you don't have to worry. I just don't want to talk about it right now. XD I'm seriously okay though. Goodnight! ] [ Alright. Night, and sweet dreams. ] ------------- Sometimes, I wonder why it was that I didn't correct them immediately the first time they referred to me as: "she" I think in the past, it would have come to me automatically. I would have corrected the misunderstanding from the beginning, and then there wouldn't be anything complicated about our friendship. Do I come off as naturally feminine-sounding online? I have no clue. All I remember is trying desperately to leave real life behind me at that time, and wanting to have something to smile about, even if it was the tiniest little thing. I wanted to be optimistic, genuinely speak my mind, and make friends with people. At the very least, especially when everything was feeling so dark as my social relationships fractured in RL, perhaps if I smiled enough maybe it eventually make me happy for real? I don't really know. The truly complicating thing was that an innocent misunderstanding very quickly turned into a conscious lie, and I struggled over this. If only that I corrected them the very first time, maybe it wouldn't be so hard now. Time slipped by very quickly. Before I knew it, months had passed, I had become more knowledgeable about Internet memes, and eventually I grew afraid of them perhaps finding out that I wasn't who what they thought I was. Simultaneously, after cutting off all my social relationships in real life, I clung to my digital friendships almost desperately. Knowledge is painful. For instance, after expanding my online vocabulary, I learned what my friends thought about catfish and apache helicopters, and my heart would sink just thinking about what they would think about me after spending all this time together. Oddly enough, being a G.I.R.L. made me strangely sensitive to which people around me were also G.I.R.Ls. I'd see Zero talk to a new "girl", and I'd immediately think in my head -- yup, she's definitely one. The way that she acts, how bubbly and cutesy and constantly flirting with the guys -- she's one of those. Simultaneously, I befriended a lot of actual girls too. Maybe it was affinity or something? I dunno, life never makes sense to me. It's actually a lot easier to get along with girls. Guys... honestly they can just get too complicated. ------------- [ Mailed you, Riri. ] [ Hm? Okay, lemme check. ] [ Ahh damn, it should have read it again. I completely missed that part. ] [ Huh? ] [ Nothing. Just nothing. ] [ oh okay ] [ I just don't know if I should say it. ] [ say what? ] [ Maybe I should go dunk my head in something to see if I can put it aside. ] [ >.> I'm kind of lost about what you're putting aside... ] [ My actual head so I can let my feelings cool down. ] [ xD ...If you think it'll help! ] [ Damn it, if you're still awake by the time I'm done dunking my head I'm still aching by the end of this, I'm just going to say it. Fuck me, the bathroom's locked. ] ----------------- Is it good to avoid him? As weeks passed, I had been increasingly getting the vibe and the suspicion that Zero was acting strangely around me. Besides -- I'm not dense. I know what guys are like. However, I felt heartbroken and conflicted about this. Was I supposed to go straight to him and say: "Do you like me? Sorry, for your own good, you shouldn't!" I've been trying to avoid him more, and I've been logging on less and less. It doesn't feel fair, somehow. This ending just doesn't seem right. Yet sometimes I think to myself, if it's actually the case that he likes me, I don't want him to be hurt either. Actually, it's the last thing in the world that I want, because I really do see him as a close friend, and I feel indebted to him for being able to make me smile at a time where things were hard for me. I'm sorry too, because I wish things hadn't turned out this way. Sometimes, I wonder if it's better that he never knows the truth. One day, we'll grow distant (like all Internet friendships do), and maybe he can rest easy with only positive memories. As time passes, that's all that remains of each of us anyways. Memories. With something as intangible as someone you only know online, what kind of memories should those be? I just don't know. I just don't know.