Lets see how this works

The morning air was pleasant, and I stretched, enjoying the sunshine on my face. Near year-round perfect weather was one of the reasons everyone came to California, and I tried to be appreciative. I wasn’t a fan of traffic and didn’t surf, so I took the positive bits where I could find them.

I’d come out the side door from Martin’s kitchen onto a sidewalk beside the house. In the back a postage stamp sized yard was enclosed by a five-foot-high wooden fence. It looked a little old but well taken care of. To my right was the street. Two lanes with parking on either side.

Martin’s front yard was tiny, like the house and lot. A tiny ten-foot square patch of grass was verdantly green and the perfect height. I wondered if he had a lawnmower for this tiny bit of grass, or if he used a pair of scissors. A set of concrete steps led up to the front door slightly off ground level.

Once on the street I chose a random direction to begin walking. Martin hadn’t seen fit to provide me with a map, and I’d forgotten to ask for one. Who still uses a paper map, anyway? Without my phone, I was feeling lost. I knew—theoretically—how to get around without one. I just hadn’t had to apply those skills in a very long time, if ever. I couldn’t recall ever having been without at least a friend’s phone to navigate with, if not my own.

In any case, I didn’t intend to go far. I just wanted to explore and see what the neighborhood was like. I had the whole day to kill, but I was planning on taking it slow. Despite Martin attempting to keep on the pressure with expecting me to pay rent in thirty days I wasn’t feeling it. It was feeling like I got a fresh start. Sure, I might actually be dead or in a coma, but a new life free of the expectations and disappointments of my old one? Sign me up.

I ambled down the street, looking at the houses that I passed, and the cars parked at the curb. Everything looked exactly like I remembered. The cars were all recognizable, a mix of Japanese, German and American. The neighborhood wasn’t very rich, so the cars tended to be slightly older, and less fancy. The houses were typical California bungalows with small yards all crammed together.

At the nearby intersection I finally saw my first street signs. As I would need this to find my way back, I made an effort to memorize the cross streets. I was at Live Oak street and Mountain View avenue. The names sounded familiar, but a lot of street names in California tended to be the same kind of flavor. Trees, mountains, fruit, that sort of thing.

I could see what looked like a major road—four to six lanes, I couldn’t tell from this distance—to my right a few blocks away. I turned in that direction and began to walk slowly.

I’d been seeing text in the air. Maybe I was hallucinating, but I was beginning to think I wasn’t. The evidence of my sanity was beginning to mount.

Martin had said something that didn’t make sense to me at all. Something about shadow and the first amendment. I didn’t imagine that, he definitely said it. I knew that Dean McLean wasn’t my father. I’d never met Martin, yet I knew his name. How? By seeing it over his head. What kind of insanity is that? Not one I’d ever heard of. Was Martin actually a retired colonel? I didn’t know either way, but it certainly seemed like it might be just from how he was.

The text I’d seen when I woke in the strange bed was correct as well. It had said I was in Martin’s house, and that I was in San Tadeo. I hadn’t actually asked what city I was in but I was willing to bet that was exactly where I was. I had been in LA, got shot and then woke up just fine here in a city I’d never heard of, with an Uncle I’d never met. One thing I’d say about where I was—it certainly looked and smelled like LA.

I racked my brain for how to approach my new situation. Joe, that piece of shit, had always been trying to get me to read these books translated from Japanese and Chinese.
He called them ee-sky or something like that. Anyway, the invariable gist of them was that a normal person got transferred to a fantasy world, where his existence was more like a game than real life. They’d get stat sheets and legendary weapons, magical powers and oh-so-much pussy.

It was easy to understand why Joe like these books. Who didn’t want all that? Even without the harems—which I think was Joe’s reason for liking them so much—the idea of getting teleported to a fantasy world was super appealing. You’d be free from the boring mundanity of everyday life and become a hero. No more student loans, dead-end jobs or unsatisfying love life. Just pick up a sword or wand and go kill some monsters.

Reading about it, however, had never appealed to me. I preferred to get those fantasies out in our tabletop games at Jeremy’s.

Still, I’d absorbed a ton of it through sheer osmosis as Joe would talk about it at the table while we gamed, ad nauseum. He’d shut up when we actually started playing, but during the breaks he was always telling us about the latest and greatest new saga he was reading.

One of the tropes of those worlds was that you’d see text boxes appear in the air, similar to what I’d been seeing. I decided to give that a test and stopped to look around for a good candidate.

The answer was obvious. A car, of course. I focused on a 90s two-door BMW parked nearby. Its dark blue paint was faded by the constant beat of the California sun.

I stared intently at it, feeling more and more foolish as seconds ticked by and nothing happened.

“Come on damnit, show me,” I muttered.

Text appeared in the air over the BMW, large and easily readable.

1992 BMW 318i Navy Blue 7AXN386

After doing it deliberately once, I understood what I had been doing wrong. Just staring at something didn’t make anything happen. I needed to want that information and to project that desire in some way that wasn’t clear to me but was completely intuitive. It’s not quite right, but I could almost describe the process as intent.

The info provided wasn’t useful. I could read the license plate by myself, and I could see that it was a BMW and what color it was. Sure, it had added the model, and the year, but maybe that was subconscious information. Maybe I’d somehow internalized BMW makes and models over the years? Was I really sure this was some kind of external system giving me this information and not my own brain?

I chuckled at myself for a moment after seriously considering that. Like any boy of the right age, at one point I’d dreamt about cars. Just never so intently that I memorized the stats and the look of specific brands enough to be able to identify them.

Maybe if I’d ever actually owned a car that would have been different, but that hadn’t happened. I was due to get one once I graduated high school. That would be well after all of my peers had cars, of course. It wasn’t that my dad couldn’t afford to buy me one. I’m sure he could have. It was that I didn’t need one, and he knew it. The car was going to be a reward for good behavior, for graduating high school and becoming an adult. Graduation had only been a few months away, and now I might never see that car.

I felt a deep pang in my chest when I thought about my dad. I wondered if somewhere, maybe in some other world, he was at a morgue right now identifying my corpse. Or in a hospital, staring at my comatose form under white sheets.

I choked it down. I had no idea what had happened to me after I got shot and lost consciousness. If I was dead, I was dead. There was nothing I could do about it, no matter what had happened. If there was one thing my father taught me, it was sheer pragmatism.

“If you can’t change it, then don’t worry about it,” he’d always say.

That was sometimes hard advice to take, but it was good advice. Most of his advice was, honestly. I’d never met Dean MacLean, the man Martin thought was my father in this world, but I doubt he measured up to my real dad.

I continued walking, glancing back at the information hovering over the BMW as I got farther away. The text rotated to face me, always fully readable. It shrank as I got farther away and then after about 100 feet it completely disappeared.

I’ll have to test the range on that, see how far I can use it.

I practiced identifying things as I walked. Not everything would give information. Cars and people would, for sure. Passing buses on the big street ahead. Even houses. Not other things though, like fire hydrants, pink flamingos or the sidewalk. There were some rules there, but what they were still wasn’t clear.

I soon got bored of cars and focused on the people. The rare pedestrian I saw walking down the sidewalk opposite me, or people getting in and out of their cars. This was California after all, only the desperately poor walked anywhere.

Everyone I identified was the same as Martin had been. The text had that same sunlight feel about it that I’d seen with him. The cars didn’t have it, and I wondered what the difference was. I mean, other than the obvious. Maybe people just had status lines that looked like and felt like warm sun was shining on them at all times? It was weird.

I determined my range with the identify skill to be about 300 feet, at most. I was just calling it that, identify, but I had no idea if that was what it was actually called. It’s not like I got some kind of pop-up or something when I used it to tell me my skill had increased. That was another one of those things from Joe’s ee-sky books.

I could dismiss the identify text at any range as well by simply projecting that desire at it, my intent to close it.

The next thing on my list was to try to find a character sheet. The first thing I did was try to do it the dumb ee-sky way. I said out loud—not too loud, people were around after all—”status”, “character”, “stats” and even “inventory.” Nothing happened.

I thought of as many synonyms for the word character sheet as I could and spoke them out loud at a low volume, hoping for the best. Nothing continued to happen, and I felt like an idiot. I wasn’t yet ready to concede that maybe this world wasn’t like the ee-sky books and didn’t have a character sheet. Not quite yet.

I thought about how identify worked. It wasn’t just staring at the car that did it, I needed the intent.

I stopped walking again and looked down at my chest. I tried to express intent for something I wasn’t quite clear on. What was it? A desire to know more about myself? To see my character sheet? What was it going to take? Did I simply need to identify myself?

It turns out, no. That intent—the need to know information about the thing I was looking at didn’t seem to apply to myself. I spent a couple unproductive minutes trying different intents until I finally stumbled upon it.

Nothing related to wanting to see a character sheet worked, at all. Despite the game like aspects to this world, it was really hard to think of the obvious reality around me as a game. With that in mind, I went deeper and thought about what the essence of a character sheet was.

Character sheets were something I was very familiar with from all my tabletop gaming. They are a description of the essence of the character. Stats, appearance, name, age, race or species and sex. Literally every defining attribute about that character including their tragic back story, if any. What was the one word that described that? The soul.

As soon as I changed my intent to the desire to know the details of my soul, it happened.

A large window full of text and numbers appeared in the air in front of me, bright white text on a blue, semi-transparent background.

Joe had always been going on about blue boxes. “I hope today’s the day I see a blue box welcoming me to the system,” he’d say.

I didn’t understand why the boxes had to be blue and white, but it seemed important. Apparently, this new world I had landed in agreed.

Frank McLean (Walking in the Light) Job: None
Age: 18 Height: 5’10 Weight: 157
Stats
Strength: 8
Agility: 9
Dexterity: 11
Constitution: 9
Beauty: 12
Respectability: 0
Skills Holdings Accounts Resources Favors Reputation Fame

Despite my earlier musings about how this world wasn’t a game, it seemed that I had stats. I was interested to see that none of them were mental. Physical stats only. Where on a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet I would see intelligence and wisdom, they were conspicuously absent on mine.

Strength, Agility, Dexterity, Constitution and Beauty. Not even Charisma, but Beauty. Charisma in D&D was a combination of your physical beauty and your charm. Beauty was just physical. This character sheet had literally no mental stats at all.

Obviously, humans varied. I knew I wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, and I wasn’t the dumbest. So where was my intelligence stat? Why wasn’t it on here if this was my soul I was looking at? I didn’t have an answer.

The whole character sheet was bathed in the same sunlight feel as the identity tags of people around me and I got a bit of a clue by reading text beside my name. Walking in the Light

The sheet didn’t show a class, but a Job instead. I didn’t have one and that made sense. After all, I was unemployed. Was that what it meant by Job? That didn’t feel right.

My stats were random numbers. If this was Dungeons & Dragons, I could’ve told you immediately what those numbers meant, and how I compared to the average human. But this wasn’t, and I couldn’t. I had no idea how I stacked up.

I could get an idea, roughly, by looking at my Strength stat. I was the opposite of strong. Sure, I wasn’t fat and I wasn’t a skeleton, but I’d never lifted weights or gone out for sports. It just hadn’t seemed important. I’d spent my time studying, playing games with my friends and watching the right movies and TV shows. Despite how disappointed my father sometimes seemed; physical activity just didn’t fit into my schedule. I began to regret that a little bit now that I was seeing my stats in front of me. The numbers were depressingly low.

My Dexterity was decent, and my Beauty was at least higher than my Strength, but that was it. Everything else seemed pretty low.

The rest of the character sheet was somewhat bare. I had no skills listed, no perks and no titles. The sheet had no level or experience points. Not that I had expected there to be. It wasn’t like I was in a fantasy world. I couldn’t go out and start grinding goblins to level up.

I knew there were cops in San Tadeo. Several cruisers had went by on the large road just ahead of me. They looked exactly like LAPD cruisers, except with STPD on the side. If I started grinding mobs here, I’d end up in jail. Who wanted to kill people for XP anyway? Not this guy.

No. If this world had an XP system, it wasn’t an obvious one. Maybe it’d become clearer when I got a job, or even a skill.

At the bottom of the sheet was a line of what looked like buttons but weren’t. A lot of them. The first three, Skills, Holdings and Accounts looked different. Grey and almost deflated compared to the shining, white text of the others.

I tried to press the Resources button that was hovering in the air in front of me and my hand passed right through. A man walked his dog past me at that very moment and gave me a bit of side-eye as I pawed at the air. He didn’t say anything, but I imagined he had a good laugh about it with his friends later.

All that to say that despite the the fact that this screen in front of me looked like something out of a—admittedly very old—computer game complete with buttons, I couldn’t reach out and press the buttons. I’d have to do it a different way.

I focused on the Favors button and made my intent clear. The button visibly pressed inward and stuck in the down position. An additional screen appeared to the right of my still-open status sheet.

Favors – Frank McLean
Frank McLean OWES a small favor to “Manny”

“That’s not cool. An otherwise empty character sheet, but I owe somebody a favor?” I muttered to myself. “Who the hell is Manny?”

There were two strange things about the favor I owed Manny. The first was his name. Who has just one name? It was also in quotes unlike the other names I’d seen. The final thing was that the whole entry felt strange. It wasn’t the brilliant white of my character sheet. It had no sunlit, warm feel to it. Instead, it gave off the feel of something hidden, possibly dangerous but mostly obscure.

“Shadow,” I mused.

It seemed right. Whoever Manny was, maybe he was walking in shadow?

I felt grateful that it was only a small favor that I owed Mystery Manny. Why a favor was tracked on my character sheet, I didn’t know. Obviously favors were a big deal here. The Resources button pressed in just like the Favors button did and another screen opened to the left of my character sheet. There was one entry there, and it was confusing.

Resources – Frank McLean
Catastrophic Medical Coverage 2/2
Provided by Martin McLean

Apparently Martin had put me on his health insurance plan. But what did the 2/2 beside it mean?

I quickly popped open the the last two sheets. Each of the arranged themselves around the main character sheet in the middle.

Fame – Frank McLean
San Tadeo Unknown (0)
Reputation – Frank McLean
No reputation entries

I was unsurprised to see I wasn’t famous in any way, and that my uncle Martin didn’t like me very much.

I tried a few other things but was unable to coax any more information out of my character sheet. No matter what I looked at or what intent I projected, nothing happened. I was almost begging it for tooltips, but no joy.

It sure would be nice if you told me what those stat numbers meant, character sheet.

With a thought the three sheets closed and left my view unobstructed once again. When they were open it wasn’t like I couldn’t see through them. I certainly could, since the backgrounds weren’t fully opaque. Even so, I could see how they could get in the way. I hoped it wasn’t one of those things where notifications would pop up and block my field-of-view at critical times. That would be super annoying. Another thing that Joe had mentioned was how in the beginning of his ee-sky books the Heroic Harem Prince of Destiny would have to figure out how to minimize their notifications in order to avoid being killed when they popped up at inopportune times. What kind of idiot would design a game system like that?

I walked on, headed toward the busy road intersection ahead of me. I had been walking watching the street signs as I walked, first passing California and then Walnut street.

“I could swear I was in LA.”

I got to the corner of the big street ahead of me, passing by a convenience store with a large parking lot.

It had an odd name; one I’d never seen before. “24/7 MaxiMarket”. Normally, I’d assume that it was just some family-owned shop with a weird name. Lots of the shops run by immigrants in my old neighborhood had strange names that probably made sense before they went through Google Translate.

The name didn’t seem like one of those, but it just didn’t flow. The one thing that stopped me from immediately dismissing it as a bad translation job was the signage. It looked professional and polished. A large, well-designed sign above the store entrance itself and the large sign projecting above the parking parking lot. Someone had spent serious design money on the graphic design, and it showed.

“Weird,” I said.

There was a crosswalk leading across the road to a strip mall on the other side. It had a pair of restaurants and an auto parts store. Now that I wasn’t so absorbed with my character sheet, I took a closer look. There was a restaurant called Jose’s Mexican Chicken next to a pizza place called Skinny Tony’s. The parts shop took up the majority of the mall and was simply Mel’s Auto.

I looked up and down the road in front of me which the large sign told me was called Florence Avenue. In both directions I could see the signs of shops of all kinds. A tire store, a motel, a locksmith, you name it. None of them were familiar.

What kind of strange place is this that the cars are all the same, but none of the shops are?

The answer was clear with a moment’s thought. What kind of place? A game world. It made sense. When you played a videogame of course you wanted to drive familiar cars. The developer would license them from their manufacturers, in order to put them in their game just for that reason. But what kind of dumb ass would license a fast food brand? The devs just made up their own. Nobody gives a shit about going to taco hell. At least, I wouldn’t. Maybe some people would love the verisimilitude of eating at the same restaurant in the game and real worlds. I didn’t want to know those people.

Jose’s Mexican Chicken was the JMC that Martin had mentioned earlier. I wasn’t hungry yet, but I knew I would be later. I didn’t even have a nickel on me, much less enough to buy chicken.

I guess sending me out alone into the world to find a job without a penny in my pocket is Martin’s way of building character.

I couldn’t blame him. I hadn’t asked him for money. To be fair, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t have given me any. He’d given me the bus pass, anyway. Those were damn pricey in LA. I could live without eating for a day. It wasn’t something I usually did, but how hard could it be?

When the light turned, I crossed Florence. Traffic wasn’t heavy, not by LA standards, but the street was full. I guessed it was only about 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t have a phone or watch, but it hadn’t been that long since I’d woken up and had breakfast.

Thinking about the time caused text to pop up in front of me again. My desire to know had been strong, and bam there it was.

San Tadeo, California, 08:11 Thursday March 05, 2020

Florence Avenue and Mountain View Avenue

Walking in the Light

I grinned. That might be really handy. It wasn’t the same as having a smartphone with GPS in your pocket, but anything was better than what I currently had, which was nothing.

Jose’s Mexican Chicken had just opened. The drive-through was full and several cars were parked in front. The parking lot that Skinny Tony’s, JMC and Mel’s shared was quite large and mostly empty at this time of the morning.

I approached JMC and, just like Martin it said, they had a large “Help Wanted, Apply Within” sign in the window.

At the corner of the restaurant was something I’d really only seen on a screen. A phone booth. It wasn’t one of those half booths either, it was a full-on enclosed booth with a door. The truly odd thing about it was the the panes of glass. They were all black like a gangster’s tinted windows.

I couldn’t resist, I walked past the JMC entrance and went to check it out. The door was open, and I could see the phone inside. It looked exactly like in the movies, a long, fat rectangle with a braided steel cable leading to a plastic handset. It was like a museum artifact. You just didn’t see these anymore.

I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. A light came on as I close the door, giving me just enough light to see the phone and the litter at my feet, mostly cards with pictures of prostitutes on them. I could see outside, but only just.

The door opened and I stepped out to look through the glass from the other side. The tint was dark, and I could only just make out the rough outline of the phone, even with the door open letting light in. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the purpose of tinted glass on a phone booth.

I looked around and after a minute spotted another phone booth with the same blacked out glass farther down the street, right on the sidewalk by Florence Avenue.

Filing the mystery away for later, I returned to the front doors of the JMC. The Help Wanted sign looked back at me.

I thought about it. Did I really want to work fast food? Hell no. What was my alternative, though? I had literally zero skills. Sure, I could play any number of tabletop role-playing games. I could ride the crap out of a bicycle, and even competently use most TV remote controls. I was a whiz at Googling shit. None of those things seemed like a marketable skill right at the moment.

It made me realize just how reliant on my father I’d been. With zero dollars in my pocket and a hard deadline from Martin of thirty days to raise rent I didn’t have anything fall back on. Dad had paid the bills my whole life. He would give me a little spending money each month and he always made sure I had what I needed. Not everything I wanted, but everything I needed. He was a good dad. Is a good dad.

I was standing there staring at the sign and mulling my options over when the front doors opened and a dude wearing what I thought of as the Cholo uniform stepped out. An oversized button-down shirt with only the top button fastened and a white undershirt. Baggy pants, a shaved head, tattoos and gold jewelry. He was clutching a fat paper bag with the JMC logo on it in red and green to his chest. He ignored me and stepped out to his car parked directly in front of the restaurant.

It was some massive boat from the 70s that I didn’t recognize. A Mercury. All sharp angles and Detroit steel with a drop top and white leather interior. The paint was cherry-red and although I wasn’t normally a fan of cars from that era, it was beautiful. He set the bag down carefully on his passenger seat and started the car. A deep throaty roar came from underneath the massive hood, a burbling, rumbling sound that I didn’t hear that often anymore. More and more, in my old life, people were driving Teslas and other efficient, quiet cars. The sound of an American V-8 was familiar, if almost a distant memory. I loved it.

Out of habit, I tried to identify the man.

Nothing appeared over his head, surprising me. Instead, I got that strange feeling of something obscured, something lurking in the shadows, invisible.

The man glanced up at me, his eyes skipping across me as he backed out of the parking stall, the big V-8 rumbling delightfully. He turned and accelerated out of the parking lot onto Florence, flooring it to get in front of oncoming traffic, merging in a uniquely Californian way.

So that’s what shadow is? I just don’t see anything if they’re in shadow? That can’t be all of it.

The smell of the departed Cholo’s order—fried chicken, bacon, whatever else was in there—lingered in the air after he left. My stomach complained, even though breakfast was not long ago. There was no way I should still be hungry, but it was an enticing smell.

Martin had almost ordered me to go apply for a job at JMC. He hadn’t, quite, but I didn’t want to know what would happen if I showed up back at his house at 1800 as instructed and he asked me about it. I could lie to him, but I was beginning to think that was a bad idea. I had no doubt that he had the same character sheet that I did. The only difference was that he’d been a colonel in the Air Force for some significant portion of his life. What skills did an officer in the military get? Some kind of intimidation skill would explain the effect that he had on me. It would come in handy to make the lesser ranks do what you wanted when they are being difficult. I wasn’t in his chain of command, but it seemed like it had worked anyway. Who knew what other skills he had? Maybe he had one for telling whether little punks like me were lying to him or not.

I opened the door and went into JMC.

The staff behind the counter were relatively efficient, and I didn’t have to wait long to get to the front. The young woman behind the counter greeted me with a brilliant white smile. She was a tiny little thing, petite with dramatic curves for her size. She was very pretty. Looking into those shining, friendly brown eyes I found myself smiling back.

“Welcome to Jose’s, what can I get you?” she asked.

“Actually, I saw your help wanted sign.”

Her smile got even broader and maybe even more genuine. I glanced at her name tag, fully charmed. Mindy.

“That’s great! Take these, go find yourself a table and fill them out. In a few minutes when you’re done, I’ll come and speak with you. My name’s Mindy, I’m Assistant Manager here.”

“Hi Mindy, I’m Frank.”

“Nice to meet you Frank. Please, go sit down and I’ll come talk to you soon.”

I found an empty booth and sat down facing the kitchen and order counter. There weren’t many people working back there. Mindy, some greasy guy on the fryer and one other. The third guy looked like the manager. He wasn’t wearing a uniform but instead a polo shirt and black slacks with a smart leather belt. He had a name tag, but I couldn’t read it from where I was sitting. It took me a moment to remember that I could just identify him.

Barry Goreman, Senior Manager (E4), General Manager JMC #441

Sure enough, the manager. I identified the other two as well. Mindy Varga and Wayne Trant. Neither of them had titles like the manager and my uncle, but each of them had a job.

Mindy Varga, Junior Manager (E2)
Wayne Trant, Fry Cook (F3)

I felt a bit nervous, honestly, using this skill or whatever it was to identify the people working at JMC. What if people could tell when you did that to them? Was it considered rude to use this on people? Mindy was wearing a name tag, after all. If everyone could do this, why did anyone need nametags? The Cholo in the Mercury out front hadn’t seemed to react when I tried to ID him, but maybe that was because he was in shadow.

So many questions. Where the hell is my damn tutorial?

The application form was surprisingly brief. They wanted my name, my phone number and address, and my previous employment history. What I didn’t see, in true California fashion, were any questions about age, sex or criminal history. They didn’t even ask about education. I didn’t keep up with the crazy California employment regulations. Was that another thing you weren’t allowed to ask about now, or did JMC just not care?

I filled it out as best as I could. I remembered Martin’s address but didn’t know his phone number.

My previous experience was—well—none. Even if I had worked at a fast food restaurant, what was I going to put in this section? I’d worked at a place that didn’t exist in this reality? That would go over well. I left it blank.

Mindy handed off her register duties to the manager, who gave me a brief look over before turning his attention back to the customer in front of him. A bright, obviously fake smile appeared on his face as he greeted the man at the counter.

Mindy slid into the booth across from me.

“Okay, can I take a look?” she asked and reached out for the application. I handed it to her, and she scanned it quickly.

“No experience, that’s okay. We fully train all of our employees. Can you tell me why you want to work at Jose’s, Frank?”

She looked into my eyes, a serious expression on her face. I hadn’t been on any job interviews before, but I knew that telling the truth on them was generally a poor idea. I went ahead and did it anyway.

“To be honest, Mindy, I don’t particularly. I need a job though. My dad just died, and my uncle needs me to pay rent if I want to keep living with him.”

Mindy’s expression softened and her right hand reached out to grab mine. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Frank. Losing a parent so young, that’s terrible.”

I nodded, keeping a sober face. I hadn’t known Dean, but I wasn’t opposed to using his death for sympathy points from a pretty girl like this.

Mindy’s hand on mine felt good. It had been almost a year since my last girlfriend had dumped me. That had been rough. She was our healer.

When we broke up she no longer wanted to entertain my “silly gaming hobby” and that was that. The party had been screwed without healing, and I’d no longer had my female affection.

“Thank you, Mindy. I know I’m not supposed to say things like that, but I felt I should be honest.”

Mindy’s lovely smile changed to a wry, knowing grin. “I’m going to be honest with you, Frank. Not many people really have a passion for fast food. Maybe Barry, my boss. This is just a job. Let’s just skip the bullshit questions then and get right down to it, okay?”

I was liking this girl more and more. “Sure.”

“Are you available to work immediately?”

“Tomorrow would be fine.”

She nodded. “Great. I’m not supposed to ask this one, but I will anyway. Do you have any infectious diseases? You’d be working with food, and even though we fry the crap out of everything I still worry. I wouldn’t feel right hiring you if you did.”

It didn’t surprise me that she wasn’t allowed to ask something like that, no matter how much it seemed like an obvious question to ask.

“No, I’m as pure as the driven snow.”

She smiled at that and moved on to her next question. “Are you a reliable person, Frank? If you make a commitment, will you keep to it?”

I got a strange sense in that moment. In any other context I would’ve assumed that she’d gone back to her bullshit HR questions, but I felt that she was being genuine. She really wanted to know the answer.

“I’m not perfect, Mindy. But, when I say I will do something, I try my best to do it. I think I’m reliable.”

It was true, I wasn’t bullshitting her.

I was one of the only people in the history of Jeremy’s game group with a perfect attendance record. No, I hadn’t been there every night that they played. Instead, I’d been there every night I said I would be. Everyone else had a spotty record, flaking at least once or twice if not more. Jeremy had, unknown to me, been taking attendance the entire time, tracking us in a spreadsheet. After two years he’d awarded my flawless no-flake record with an immaculately painted mini of my 11th level fighter Broznan in our current campaign. I was touched. Broznan died that session.

For the briefest moment, I thought about using that story to impress Mindy. I swallowed that urge down, and merely looked her in the eyes and let my previous statement stand.

She paused a beat and looked into my eyes to find the truth before replying. I met her stare and after a moment she looked away, blushing a little.

“Great. That’s great, Frank. I make the schedule around here, with some exceptions. When my employees don’t show up when I’ve scheduled them, it really makes me angry. I’m trying to avoid hiring anyone unreliable again.”

“Mindy, if you don’t mind me asking, you’re the assistant manager, right? Isn’t it usually the manager that hires people?”

She nodded. “Yeah, that’s normally how it works. Barry’s not that kind of manager. He’ll veto if he doesn’t like someone, but he leaves the hiring and scheduling to me.”

The next question that was on the tip of my tongue was to ask if she was doing that work, what the hell did Barry do? I knew better than to ask that one.

“That’s it then. I’ll have to talk to Barry, but I’m inclined to offer you the job. It’s not much. Minimum wage, no benefits. If you’re reliable I’ll give you forty hours a week, so you’ll be able to pay your rent. I’ll call you, and let you know, okay?” She asked.

“Oh, about that. I just moved into my uncle’s house and I don’t actually know his phone number.”

She looked down at my application form. “I see the address here. Is he listed?”

It took me a minute to understand what she was asking me. Listed. Listed in what?

“Oh, you mean in the phone book? I have no idea. Probably? His name is Martin. Martin McLean.”

She pulled a pen free from her breast pocket and noted that down on my application form.

“Got it. If you don’t get a call from me in the next couple of days letting you know one way or the other, come on by and I’ll let you know, okay? I’m on most mornings.”

I nodded, and she extended her right hand. I shook it, returning her smile.

We both stood up, and she returned to the counter while I stood and watched like a dummy. She waved a final time and disappeared into the back.

I suddenly found myself hoping that this new world I found myself in was like those silly ee-sky books of Joe’s.