“So, got any big plans for summer break this year?” my best bro Dallas asked me just as I made a rather impressive move in Great Larceny Motor V.
“Don’t you know it! I’m going to finally unlock all the achievements I’ve been missing on the games I’ve had lying around since last Snowflake Day!”
Dallas let out a curse as his car took an unexpected spin-out, which he quickly corrected. “No week of SimsneyWorld this year?”
I let out a snort. “Since the divorce? Yaaaa… pretty sure that ain’t happening.”
“It’s okay. Staying up all night, sleeping all day, and video games the rest of the time isn’t such a bad way to spend two and a half months.”
“True that— aww shit!”
Right as Dallas was busy cursing at the screen, the door to my dark mancave of a room sounded behind us. Neither of us were willing to take our eyes away from the game to look in my mom’s direction, but given the exasperated sound that came her way, I had a pretty good idea of the disapproving look she was wearing on her face anyway.
“Boys… did you even sleep last night? You realize it’s already nearly noon and you haven’t budged from the last time I checked on you yesterday evening, right?”
There was silence for a long time, before I finally said, “But it’s summer break, Mom.”
She sighed again. I imagined she was pinching the bridge of her nose, the way she does when she’s starting to get annoyed.
“Dallas, I think it’s time for you go home. Nathan, I need to have a chat with you about something.”
I exchanged a quick glance in Dallas’s direction as the console was shut down. He gave me a knowing look back. Whenever a mother said they “needed to chat,” it usually wasn’t good.
“Good luck,” he muttered to me under his breath as he turned to leave. “Thanks for letting me stay over, Mrs. Z,” he told Mom in a far more amicable tone as he let himself out.
The room suddenly seemed incredibly quiet, without the drone of the video game playing in the background.
“Come on, I’ll make some lunch,” Mom said, her expression softening a little.
I stood with my arms crossed at the counter, waiting for the bomb to drop as she went about making Mac ‘n Cheese, looking far too cheerful for my liking.
“So,” she began. This was it. I braced myself for the impact. “Work is sending me to Starlight Shores for a week on business.”
I released the breath I’d been holding. Starlight Shores was a huge city with tons of stuff to do, including the Omnipresent Studios theme park! “And do I get to come along…?”
“It’s for my job, Nathan. The company is paying to send me, but you know I can’t afford a second ticket right now. Besides, you’d be stuck in a hotel most of the time while I’m working anyway. It wouldn’t be worth it.”
“So I get to watch the house for you while you are away?” Honestly, that was almost just as good. Having the house to myself for a week would be pretty sweet!
“Actually… you are going to be staying with your Grandma Finley for that week.”
And there it was. The explosion was worse than I had been expecting, and I couldn’t hide the scowl from my face. “Mom, no! She lives out in the sticks! There is nothing to do out there! When we visited for Snowflake Day that one year she didn’t even have a TV! Please, can’t–”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Nathaniel! I think the fresh air and being off those video games for a week will do you some good!”
About as good as a bullet to the head! “Can’t I stay with Dallas if–?”
“No, Nathan. She’s your Grandma! You should value some quality time together while you have the chance!”
There would be no talking any sense into my mom.
By the time the trip to Grandma’s rolled around, I already felt sick to my stomach from the impending lack of my cyber-happy lifestyle.
The scenery on the drive certainly didn’t placate my fears any, either.
“Ugh, why does she have to live out in Hicksville?!”
When we stepped out of the car, Mom was sniffing the air pleasantly. “See, the air out here is so nice and fresh!” I took one look at the little cottage and immediately felt my heart sink further. What did I care about the air? All I cared was if they still had cell and wi-fi reception out there!
“Uh, sure Mom…” I said as I frantically attempted to send a text to Dallas about how much this week was going to suck. “Come on, come on, there has to be a signal out here somewhere!”
“Nathan, put down the damn phone and come here to greet your grandma properly!” Mom hissed over her shoulder as she rang the doorbell.
“Mom! It’s so good to see you!”
“You too, Sweetie, you too!”
“I wish I could stay longer, but–”
“I know, you have to go knock a client dead, I wouldn’t expect anything less of you, dear.”
“I hope Nathan isn’t too much trouble, he’s–”
“Oh, you have got to be kidding! First no reception or wi-fi and now this? How am I supposed to play my mobile games with the screen all fucked up?” I cursed as my smartphone slid from my grasp and fell to the ground, the screen shattering.
“Yes, I see. Don’t you worry, dear. We’ll have a great time, I’m sure of it.”
Grandma’s house was as dismal as I remembered. Not a television or a computer to be found. I found my resolve already withering, and I’d only been there for five minutes.
“Do you have anything fun to do around here?” I asked in exasperation.
Grandma Finley’s eyes lit up. “Oh, my boy, but my book collection is my greatest friend! Each novel on that shelf is an adventure that is just waiting for a new explorer to jump into its pages! I’ve gone on several of those adventures many times over the years, and never get tired of them!”
I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. “I’m not really the reading type, Grandma. I like my action a little more… err… interactive.”
She had an odd gleam in her eye. “If you gave it a try, I think you’d realize it’s more interactive than you think.”
I could only nap for so long before even sleeping was boring, and finally, I felt compelled to look through the books on Grandma’s shelf or I thought I’d surely die of inactivity. One of the books had a dragon on the cover, which I admit caught my eye. It made me think of a JRPG. It was worth a shot.
I pulled the book off the shelf and settled down on the couch, opening to the first page. There were detailed maps in the front, which again made me think of the map screens in the video games I played. “Pern,” the map was labeled.
I was still reading about Dragonriders fighting the deadly Thread falling from the sky when Grandma told me she had made dinner and I was forced to put the book down. But that night, I curled back up with the book in my bed, and read long into the night, until I finally couldn’t hold my eyes open anymore, and drifted off into sleep.
“Your eyes look like you didn’t sleep well,” Grandma Finley noted at breakfast the next morning.
“Ah, it wasn’t the bed, Grandma, I couldn’t put down that book, the one about the Dragonriders! I got to this part about them traveling through time and I just couldn’t stop reading!”
She had a sly grin on her face. “Ah, well that’s understandable. I’ve lost many a night of sleep myself when I had to read ‘just one more chapter,’ which ended up being five, and then ten, and then twenty. I have more of those Dragonrider books, you know.”
“Really? There’s more?”
“Still a whole world for you yet to explore,” she said.
I never found myself feeling bored for the remainder of that vacation. Every day, I’d lay out by the river, lulled by birdsong and the sound of the water, and let myself go on an adventure with one of the books from Grandma Finley’s shelf.
That summer, I became a Dragonrider…
…And fell in love.
And it is a love I still have to this day… the love of reading!
This was written for the August Monthly Short Story Challenge from the Sims forums, which tasked folks to write a story in 500-1500 words using 1-12 screencaps using the theme “Summer Love.” It is a completely stand-alone story, not using any characters from any of my other works. (I came close in words this month at 1,455!)
I had a really hard time coming up with an idea for this month’s theme. I kept thinking, “How is an Ace like me supposed to write a love story?” and my friends that I toss ideas around with kept saying I should do the love of something instead, but I just couldn’t think of what that should be. I had a different idea in my head that I just wasn’t feeling and was just going to do because I was running about of time, when finally this hit me… and you’d think, when I’ve been seeing Summer Reading stuff at the library where I work for the last two months, it would’ve been a no-brainer. Guess it was a case of not seeing the forest for the trees?
I know most people say it is J.K. Rowling that instilled their love of reading, but she was a bit after my childhood (I am old, folks!) For me, when I was a kid, I devoured anything with dragons in it, and noticing this, one day my mom came home with a gift from the bookstore: The Harper-Hall Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, part of her Dragonriders of Pern series that was targeted to young adults. I quickly finished them and “needed more” but everything else in the series was for adults. I hardly cared about that and started spending all my allowance money to buy a new paperback every week (and I still have them)! I somehow felt like a good friend had died when Anne McCaffrey passed away back in 2011; I continue to read her science fiction novels fondly. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Dragon-Lady.