Bitter 370

Mum wasn’t home yet, and Dad was in another world. Britta made herself instant noodles and waited.

She knew how immersed Dad could get playing a game, but he was still her Dad. If he knew she was waiting for him, he’d come back. Assuming he remembered.

She finished eating and decided she’d wait until half seven, and then go in and get him. Once she was in-game, she could message him and politely remind him she could report him to social services for child neglect.

However, in order to do that, she needed the helmet. She had given it to Dad for safekeeping, and hadn’t asked him where.

It would probably be in his office. She went to check. Not there. She spent the next fifteen minutes looking in all the likely places, but there was no sign of it. He’d done a good job of hiding it from her. Did he not trust her?

She ended up back in the kitchen. It was 7:35, and he still hadn’t exited.

Another thought struck her. Even if she did find the helmet, she’d have to put it on without anyone to watch her. After the seizure she had last time, that didn’t feel like a great idea.

She texted Mum, to see how close to home she was. She didn’t get a reply. She was probably somewhere without a signal, which at least indicated she was en route.

The doorbell rang.

A cold streak of panic ran up her spine. She didn’t want to deal with this alone.

There was a clang from outside. The shed door opened and Dad came out. He had a smile on his face as he waved at her. Smoke wafted out from behind him.

“Wow,” he said as he entered the kitchen, “that was pretty awesome. And not covered in sweat!” He lifted an arm and sniffed his own armpit. “Pristine.”

“You’re late,” snapped Britta, even though she was immensely relieved he was back.

“I know, thought I wasn’t going to make it.” He made it sound like there was someone else who’d be at fault if that had happened. “I barely made it into the game, had to spend all my time in character creation making sure everything was right. This is going to be my main for a long time, so I don’t want to have any regrets.”

“You’ve already made the same character twice, wouldn’t that make the whole thing quicker to set up?”

“Oh, I’m not playing an archer. That was just to get a feel for the game. The real power in the game is magic. I took a leaf out of your book, sweetheart.”

“You’re an illusionist?” said Britta, shocked.

“What? No, no. Illusionists are hot garbage. No offence.” He grabbed her by the shoulders. “I’m a wizard, Harry.”

The doorbell rang, again. Britta realised she’d forgotten to answer it. She hurried away to open the front door.

“We thought you might have gone out,” said Dr Reedy.

“Sorry, sorry,” said Britta guiltily. “Dad got his cradle today. In the garden.” She tried to imply she had also been out in the garden, and not just too wrapped up in her own problems to answer the door.

“Nice to see you again, Britta,” said Lin, following Dr Reedy in. She looked elegant and stylish, not a hair out of place. And a lot less upset than last time. Britta wondered if the same driver had brought them today.

“In here,” shouted Dad, unnecessarily. He had the kettle on and was setting up cups. “It’ll be easier if we use the table to sign stuff. Hard surface. Tea?”

Dr Reedy opened the briefcase she had with her. It was full of contracts. This was going to take a while.

The front door opened again. Mum was back. Britta had gone from fretting alone in the kitchen, to being surrounded. It made her feel silly for getting so worked up.

Mum said hello to everyone. She paused when she greeted Lin, and then the two of them hugged. Mum and Dr Reedy exchanged a look. It was like the three of them were in some secret club. And Britta wasn’t a member.

She understood these were women and she was a child, but it still felt like she was being excluded. Good thing she was used to it. Maybe she could team up with the driver and swap stories of unreasonable treatment with him. She smiled to herself. He didn’t seem the gossipy type.

Dr Reedy began going over the different contracts and what they meant. How much money she would get (a lot!), what obligations she had, how important it was to not speak to the press. It was all fairly standard stuff, just like last time. But this time Lin was there, interjecting with reassurances that everything would be done to make sure Britta was happy, that she would get whatever she needed, there would be no delays and no misunderstandings.

Britta felt it wasn’t really possible to guarantee a completely problem-free experience, in any area of life, but she did believe Lin was being sincere. Britta was an important and valuable asset, after all.

“Is there anything you want to ask me before you sign?” asked Dr Reedy.

“Yes,” said Mum. “I’d like you to see this.” She pointed at Dad.

Britta was confused why she wanted them to see Dad, but then he held up his phone for them to watch Britta’s episode.

Dr Reedy took the phone and watched intently. “I see.”

“Is that normal?” asked Mum.

“No,” said Dr Reedy. “But then, nothing’s ever been normal with Britta. How many times has this happened?”

“I’ve only been in once so far,” said Britta.

“Oh yes, of course.” She handed the phone to Lin, who did something that transferred the video to her weird dish-phone. It was like watching a magic trick where you interlock two solid rings together, the phones seeming to merge for a second.

“Maybe if we could try again, now?” said Lin.

Britta looked at Dad. “Where did you put the helmet?”

He paused for a second, trying to recall, and then leaned down and took it out of the bottom cupboard. She had handed it to him in the kitchen, so he had stuffed it in the nearest available space. He handed it to Britta.

There was a slight feeling of fear as she put it on, but Dad was here to watch her, and Mum was here to watch him. And Dr Reedy knew more about the helmet than anyone, so she was a good person to have there. And Lin could probably call in an airstrike if necessary (no doubt ‘accidentally’ taking out the driver in the process).

She pulled down the visor, everyone watching with concern on their faces, and logged in without issue. It wasn’t this end that the problem had occurred.

She was back in her small cell in the church. She was wearing the gear N-28 had given her, even the weapon on her belt.

A counter appeared in the top corner, telling her her twelve minutes had started. Might as well do her due diligence while she was here. She left the room to have a look at New Town, the full release version. Her hand began flashing. A message.

She opened it.

Meet me at Sonny’s. Stan.

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