Forty-nine-year-old Yumi Kobayashi is not ashamed to say she is obsessed with League of Legends, an online video game in which the typical player demographic is a seventeen-year-old maladjusted boy who smells like funk and nihilism.
Actually this is not true. Yumi is quite ashamed of her obsession with League of Legends, but she has no friends from whom to hide this secret. She is reclusive and alternately taciturn and prone to bursts of anger, very similar to the behavior often displayed by the four randomly selected players she is teamed with, and occasionally she yells at her neighbors’ plants, so she has alienated herself in this quiet city of Dayton, Ohio. And after a long day of serving passive-aggressive customers at Golden Peach, a Chinese restaurant where the best-selling item is chicken pad thai, and where her boss, Harmony Cho—a spoiled, nefarious twenty-four-year-old from San Diego with the voice of an accordion—micromanages how she is to present the bill (humbly, with gratitude), all Yumi wants to do is come home and crack open a Sam Adams and annihilate her online opponents.
Actually, the biggest reason she spends so much time playing League is to avoid expending energy worrying about her son, Chad, and what has become of him.
But she does not want to think about that right now. She is exhausted from her shift and still annoyed over the table of customers who told her, “You’re so serious! You should be happy, like the Applebee’s servers!”; she thanked them, her voice flat and dispassionate, and poured them more sweetened green tea, and she does not want to think about that, either, how she wishes they had been run over by a dump truck in the Golden Peach parking lot. She simply wants to focus on her game, in which she is in the late stages of a tense match. In the chat box, three teammates are directing their frustration toward the fifth player in the support role.
WARD our jungle you idiot
How are you this blind
You are literal trash
Yumi wishes they would stop picking on the support player and focus on the game, not because she feels sorry for him—she does not—but because she wants to win badly. But she keeps this to herself and instead funnels her attention to the screen, where she is playing Ezreal, the cheerful, chirpy intrepid explorer—she finds him obnoxious, though she is often envious of his carefree attitude—and boldly arcane-teleports behind enemy lines, catching everybody, including her teammates, by surprise and securing her team’s victory. The familiar electric hit of euphoria floods her veins and her furiously pumping heart.
A message box pops on her screen before she queues for the next game. She recognizes the player name: HellCat893, her abused fifth teammate.
HellCat893: Great game! You’re nice to support. Play again soon?
Yumi’s hand hovers over the keyboard. She never chats during games. This is likely why HellCat893 thinks she is nice: because she had not flamed him. Had she typed what she really thought, she would have told him to uninstall the game and stick to Minecraft.
Yumi thinks for a moment, then types: ok.
A response pops up: Where are you from? I’m from Oklahoma.
Yumi imagines a nineteen-year-old cowboy in chaps and mid-calf boots, mouth stuffed with a gob of chew, hunched over his laptop and pecking away at the keyboard.
I’m from Los Angeles, Yumi types. Actually she has never been west of Chicago, but she has always dreamed of seeing the Pacific Ocean from Mulholland Drive, plus she has no desire to reveal too much—anything, really—to an online stranger, especially one so terrible at League.
Whoa! HellCat893 writes. Must be crazy partying there.
Yes, Yumi types. After a moment, she adds: Hell yes. Then: I party all the time.
She leans forward and reads the message on the screen:
How old are you?
Yumi quickly logs off and powers down her laptop for the night.
“We need to talk about your job performance,” Harmony says after sitting Yumi down in her office during Yumi’s break.
“Why?” Yumi asks. She serves cream cheese sushi rolls to white customers at a restaurant that claims to be authentically Chinese; isn’t that performance in itself?
“It’s part of the annual review process we do for all employees,” Harmony explains. She opens her binder and traces her finger over the print. “Well, you’re not doing baad,” she says, emphasizing the baad so forcefully that it is as if Yumi were the worst server in all of Ohio. “But there is certainly room for improvement, wouldn’t you agree?”
It is not that Yumi does not agree; it is that she couldn’t care less about this job or her customers or if Harmony happens to slip and fall through a manhole and die a horrible septic death. But in the absence of any alternative employment, she sits quietly. She took this job assuming it would be temporary after losing her position as a line supervisor at the local Honda office—they claimed insubordination, a claim she rejects—but she has been unable to find anything better since.
“Take, for instance,” Harmony says, “your continued refusal to upsell our appetizers. Why won’t you try to get our customers to order our gyozas and satays?”
The reason, of course, has nothing to do with Golden Peach’s appropriation of other Asian countries’ cuisine. Yumi is too tired to get riled up about that. She just finds their appetizers so bland and overpriced that she would never be able to pull it off. I recommend the crab rangoon! she imagines herself gushing to her customers, then turning and sticking her finger down her throat.
“The same goes for our desserts,” Harmony continues. “You should always offer them the dessert menu, no matter how much of their main plates they leave unfinished.”
Yumi concedes that their desserts—fried ice cream and banana sundaes and slices of cheesecake—are more palatable, and while she agrees she should try harder to sell these, typically by that point she just wants the customers to leave so she can collect her tip and not see them until the next time they come back for more of the same garbage. But she is sick of Harmony, so she promises she will try harder.
Harmony shuts her binder. “Good,” she says. “That’s what I want to hear. That you’re striving to be a better employee and person. As your manager and mentor, that’s all I can ask for.”
Yumi imagines a world in which she has mastered karate, and in this world she would slap Harmony so hard that Harmony would collapse into a state of disharmony for months—maybe years—and this makes her smile, which Harmony mistakes for acquiescence.
“Now get out there and show them what you’ve got!” Harmony exclaims, as if they are in a football locker room in the closing minutes of halftime, and Yumi springs from her seat and nearly shouts, “Argh got it, coach!” but what Harmony does not hear, as Yumi exits the office and returns to her section, is the stream of expletives directed at Harmony coursing through Yumi’s mind, so vile and shocking that even her pimply League teammates would have gotten red-faced had she typed these into the chat box.
Her shift complete, back in her apartment, Yumi brusquely knocks on Chad’s bedroom door. Her patience, questionable to begin with, has been reduced to a wisp.
When Yumi first saw Chad break down and withdraw from the world three months ago, a little after his twenty-eighth birthday, in a rare moment of generosity she swapped her master bedroom with his, reasoning that he could use the privacy. This turned out to be a catastrophic mistake; that was the last time he emerged from the bedroom. After two days, she began to leave food at his door, which he retrieved only after she had gone to bed. Every morning, the sight of the empty dishes outside his door would fill her with a seething annoyance that her duties serving food now extended to her home. Still, she drops off trash bags every Sunday and toiletries every other Wednesday, which he routinely, if invisibly, retrieves in the dead of the night.
Yumi knocks again. She wants to reassure him that she does not care for an extended, drawn-out conversation; she despises those in any case. A simple “last night’s chicken teriyaki was good” would suffice, but she cannot bring herself to grovel just to hear his voice.
Yumi presses her ear against the door. Was that the creaking of his bed? Possibly. This, she admits, much like every time she hears him flush the toilet, gives her a sense of relief, this evidence that he is not yet dead, which in turn deepens her exasperation that it has come to this in the first place. There had been a period in Chad’s life—lasting through his third grade—that she could not get him to stop talking, despite her best efforts. Every waking moment was filled with his incessant musings and his pestering her with questions she had no idea how to answer: Mommy, do fox bite? Will Daddy ever come home? Why are your boobies so small? “Why do you care about any of these things?” Yumi had finally exploded, which sent him trudging to his room, snot-nosed and in tears. Then, every year thereafter, he gradually became quieter, which Yumi must have noticed with relief at some point, but she did not give it much thought, until one day he withdrew entirely, and then it was too late.
She places the ham sandwich by the door and calls out, “food’s here,” before walking away, boiling. He should be handled delicately in his fragile state, she knows; still, she badly wants to tell him that his behavior is forcing her captive to the apartment as well, and for him to just get over himself.
She retreats to her room—previously Chad’s room, still littered with his clothes and comic books—and powers up her laptop. The light of the screen glows green on her face in the dark room and reveals for the first time today her growing excitement and the hint of a smile. With the tinsel chime indicating her online arrival, two cans of Sprite and a small bag of Doritos at her side, at several minutes shy of eight o’clock at night, she has finally come alive.
Yumi is a marksman, the most difficult role due to a lack of mobility and tendency to be instantly killed. And as the marksman is the most important player in the late stages, there is an expectation that her teammates—particularly the support player—will sacrifice themselves if that’s what it takes to keep Yumi alive. Yumi understands the importance of the support role for her own success and does what she can to work seamlessly with them.
Except SternErn, who has been assigned support in this game, does not see it that way. Before the start of the game, SternErn asked her to swap, claiming that marksman is his main role, too. Yumi wished she were better at support, but it is her weakest position, so she remained silent in the pre-game chat, as always, hoping he would relent.
He didn’t. After she locked in Kog’maw, a lizard with the mobility of a sloth, SternErn locked in Vayne, a demon hunter with the durability of a fruit fly, and with that—their selection of the two marksmen most reliant on support—their team’s fate was sealed.
Next time do as I say, SternErn types twenty bleak minutes later, as their team, down twenty-two kills, seven towers, and fourteen thousand gold, unanimously votes to surrender. For a moment, Yumi is tempted to respond with: like your mom did when I told her to get down on her knees, and she realizes that she is actually typing this out, so she closes the screen to prevent any further bad behavior.
She exhales in anger and tries to resist her urge to smash her keyboard—she does not want to work extra shifts at Golden Peach to pay for a new laptop. She reminds herself that as a middle-aged woman playing a game designed for adolescents, she needs to keep things in perspective, but the intensity and spectacle and thrill of the game nearly always throws her out of this mantra and reduces her vision to the singular, myopic lens of the petulant teenager.
She hears the arrival ping of a message.
Sorry about your terrible support.
It is from HellCat893, who must have been spectating her last game. Yumi considers whether to respond, then, after a moment, types: it’s ok.
HellCat893 replies: And sorry about asking for your age the other day. That’s not my business.
Yumi: It’s ok.
HellCat893: Thanks. I’m not thinking straight these days.
Yumi: Everything ok?
HellCat893: Usual stuff. Boyfriend problems. Parent problems. I need to get out of OK asap.
Are you gay? Yumi types.
HellCat893: I’m a girl.
Yumi instantly feels empathy for her. League is a toxic game for everybody, but especially so for women, who often must endure copious misogyny and alienation to play.
Yumi types: My son is being an ass and won’t come out of his bedroom and I need to get out of here too. Typing the words felt relieving. She should do it more often, she thinks.
Hellcat893: Son? You’re a dad?
“Shit,” Yumi mutters. She had forgotten that there is nothing about her that strangers need to know, how she can’t stop tugging at her sagging skin at night, how her customers ask for ketchup for their bibimbap, how on her worst days, she is downright ashamed of being Chad’s mother.
I meant my mom is being an ass. Lol, Yumi types, holding her breath.
HellCat893: Lol yeah I hate my mom too.
Yumi exhales. Then: Do you ever feel like locking yourself in your bedroom and never coming out?
HellCat893: I’d rather run away for good. Never come back.
Yumi: Me too.
Yumi adds: Is there any reason why you might lock yourself in your bedroom though?
Lol, Yumi also adds.
She tacks on a smile emoji, just to be sure.
HellCat893: I guess if I hated my parents so much that I was afraid I’d kill them then yeah I might not come out of my bedroom then.
Yumi quickly aborts mission and invites HellCat893 to a game. For the next two hours they lose themselves in fierce clashes and epic dragon fights and tower defense and minion lane control, though Yumi cannot stop imagining Chad emerging from his room, his eyes filled with rage, ready to do battle with her, as if she had been the enemy all along.
“A baby?” Harold said breathlessly, his eyes lit up with a brilliance Yumi had not seen in the three years she knew him, first as college chemistry lab partners, then—drawn to each other by their shared love of adventure—as the oddball couple who whiled away rainy afternoons poring over maps and travel guides. “I’m going to be a father?”
Yumi sank into her chair. This was absolutely not the reaction she had been hoping for. What exactly that was she was not sure, but this was not it—no, that was not true; she had hoped that he would bring up the idea of termination first. Her head hurt, and she felt bloated and nauseous.
“It’s still early,” she said. “Things can go wrong.”
They were seniors at the University of Dayton and had recently moved into their first student apartment together, and though it was understood that they were embarking on the next steps, Yumi had assumed that meant less consequential things—they spoke frequently of traveling to New York and Tokyo and the Bahamas after graduation—not her becoming a mother. Over the last four days, as she kept the results to herself, she imagined how her new life would look and the countless number of things she would no longer do and see, and, frankly, this made her want to vomit, as if she hadn’t been vomiting copiously already.
“Should we find out early if it’s a boy or girl?” Harold asked, practically giddy at this point. “We can hold off, but if you want to find out soon that would be great, too. Oh Yumi, I could not ask for a better partner.”
She smiled weakly. She told him she was tired and would be taking a nap.
“I don’t know what to say,” Harold said grimly two weeks later, his expression unreadable. She simply was not ready, she had finally told him. They could try again when they were older, after college, after they traveled, maybe. What she kept to herself was that in those two weeks, she had realized her life was just beginning, she had a trillion countries to see first, that she felt as though her sense of autonomy was shrinking with every passing day.
It was either the three of them, or it was none at all, Harold coolly laid out three days later. His mind was set. He could not tell her what she could or couldn’t do, but he wanted nothing to do with her if she went through with the termination.
“Now I’m really going through with it,” Yumi snapped, though inside she was reeling. His ultimatum had caught her completely off guard.
Harold reversed tactic and begged her to reconsider, promising he would bear the brunt of the responsibilities, as if that were technically possible, which softened her a little, but not enough for her to change course. This was simply something she felt she could not adequately explain, and even if she could, she did not feel as though she had to.
He tried one last time on the morning of the procedure. “I want us to see the world together, Yumi,” he said. His hands shook as he reached for her, and his words slurred from not having slept for a week. “Please. We can do this together.” In this moment, Yumi came as close as she ever would to truly loving him. When she drove off, she could not bear to look back to see whether he remained standing in the doorway.
She began to have second thoughts the moment she entered the clinic. Something felt off. She did not feel as though she were any different from the few women scattered in the waiting room—some with partners, some with mothers, others alone, like herself—and those she briefly spoke with were supportive and kind. She was simply no longer certain what she wanted. So when her doctor, sensing her hesitation, asked if there was something on her mind, she stood and blurted, “I’m going to have to discuss this with my partner,” then fled.
On the drive home, she wrestled with how much to share with Harold. She still could not fathom any scenario in which she would risk her life for her child, and was that not a litmus test for whether one was ready to be a parent? On the other hand, the farther she drove from the clinic, the more certain she was that she did not want to return there anytime soon. She was dreading confronting Harold, because she did not know what she would say.
In the end it did not matter. When she entered the apartment, Harold was gone, along with his stuff, and it was just her, and her swelling body, and her clinging to what remained of her future, a life already slipping away. She dropped out of college before she began to show—she never went back after coming home for fall break—and instead worked multiple jobs for as long as she could. And when she brought Chad—his cries as quiet as a kitten’s, surely an omen—into the world, while basking in the tenderness she felt toward the strange miracle she held in her arms, she conceded that a part of her was still unsure as to whether she had made the right decision, a doubt she would carry for much of her life.
The young couple at Table Three are not having an enjoyable time, and though the food probably isn’t helping at all, the tension is coming from something else. From the bits Yumi has overheard, she has pieced together that they were supposed to be celebrating Young Woman’s acceptance of a better job, but in the last second, apparently, Young Woman declined the offer, which she has revealed for the first time to Young Man tonight, and now Young Man is hysterical, presumably over the money that he will no longer be able to enjoy spending.
“I just don’t want us to move to Chicago,” Young Woman says as Yumi approaches their table and plonks down platters of Singapore noodles and Vietnamese pho.
“This was our ticket out of this dump,” Young Man huffs, his voice low and distraught. They notice Yumi, and they straighten their posture and force smiles and thank her.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Yumi waves them off. Turning to leave, she mutters, “I would leave this shithole too, if I could,” then catches Young Woman glowering at her like she wants to hurl the bowl of pho at Yumi’s face.
When she returns from the kitchen, Harmony is receiving an earful from Young Woman. Harmony remains silent, only speaking up at the end to apologize and to tell them that she will speak to their server. She comes straight for Yumi, grabs her by the elbow and hisses, “my office, now.”
“I was just telling her the truth,” Yumi says defensively when Harmony demands an explanation, though she recognizes her argument is tenuous. They both know Yumi knew what she was doing.
“Whose truth?” Harmony asks. “Why can you not just do your job and not make things so difficult for everybody? Now I have to comp them dessert, and there’s no way they’ll be leaving you a tip.”
Both of these things upset Yumi, because she needs the money and she really wants the couple to leave. She should have kept her mouth shut.
“Look,” Harmony says. “I know things are not easy for you right now. But if you can please just focus on doing your job right, I won’t have to worry about us going out of business.”
The lines on Harmony’s face soften. “How’s Chad these days?”
That Harmony is aware of Yumi’s personal life surprises her, and it is jarring to hear her son’s name called out so randomly. “He still won’t let me see him.”
“I’m sorry. Does he speak to you, at least?”
Harmony sighs. “I’m sorry, Yumi. I have a three-year-old. I don’t think I’d survive if he ever stopped talking to me.”
This surprises Yumi, because Harmony had never given any indication that she, too, is a mother. Yumi had assumed that somebody who was so enthusiastic about their food service job must have nothing better to focus on in their life.
“Take whatever food you want from the kitchen tonight, okay?” Harmony says. “Save you one night of cooking, at least.”
Yumi nods mutely.
“And Yumi,” Harmony says.
Harmony points at Table Three. “Your customers still look pissed off. Go apologize again and give them dessert. Tell them it’s on the house.”
Seven months ago, Yumi tried to teach Chad to love League. Demonstrating a degree of patience that nearly broke her, she taught him the basics: to check brushes for opponents, to look out for teammates, to equip his character with armor and magic resistance, essentially how to survive. For two months, they sat side-by-side at the dining table for hours every night, laptop fans whirring from overexertion, Chad mostly silent, occasionally staring blankly at the wall or scrolling through his phone, as she dispensed instruction and critique and game trivia with growing excitement. She marveled at how awful he was, confirming her suspicion that his helpless lack of coordination on the T-ball fields years ago extended to his present-day mouse-clicking fingers, and she was irritated by his sitting posture—curled forward like a roly-poly. But
she needed something to distract him from sliding deeper into the abyss, and she was running out of ideas.
They were alone in the enemy jungle, deep within lush foliage, thickets of nutmeg trees, above them a dark canopy. Their teammates were dead, and the three remaining enemies could be hiding in any of the surrounding bushes, waiting to ambush them.
“What do you do?” Yumi—Caitlyn, the Sheriff of Piltover—asked. The butt of her rifle rested on her taut shoulder, and her open eye, wide and alert, pierced through the magnifier. She and Chad stood back to back. Chad, playing Taric—Pool Party Taric, at that—was equipped with a gigantic lifeguard megaphone. His hair was blond and flowing and fabulous.
“What do you do?” Yumi repeated urgently.
Chad—Taric—dashed toward the closest bush, his vision ward in hand.
“No!” Yumi cried.
From the bush leapt Rengar, the lion-like predator, knocking Chad onto the forest ground. Xin Zhao and Fizz quickly emerged, their spear and trident raised high in the air. Yumi stood helplessly as she watched her son punctured to death.
“Oh, Chad, you goon,” she lamented. Then: “Hey where are you going? The game isn’t over yet.”
Chad had powered off his laptop. He stooped forward even while standing. “I’m done,” he said, quietly, then plodded to his room, softly closing the door behind him.
Yumi shrugged and turned back to her screen. He was never going to be good anyway.
“Your food is from Golden Peach,” Yumi calls through the door. Earlier, in the restaurant, she had deliberated entirely too long on what to pack for Chad. Katsu-don and japchae and goi cuon, his favorites. What had been his favorites, at least. She wonders whether he cares at all what he scarfs down every night.
She is met with the usual silence.
“Hey, you wouldn’t want to play League with me by chance, would you?” Yumi asks.
She knocks on the door. “I said,” her voice rises, “your food is here there are people worried about you now are you going to thank me what is wrong with you?”
She pounds on the door. “Hey,” she shouts. “How about you get off your ass and stop freeloading and start doing something with your life?”
The other side of the door remains silent.
The bag of food lands softly on the carpet. “You are a complete loser,” she mutters, then turns and is halfway down the hallway when she freezes; faintly audible: the twist of his bedroom door knob.
She spins around. “Chad?”
The door, barely open—just enough to reveal a sliver of darkness—wavers slightly, as if his hand were clutching it indecisively on the other side.
“Chad.” She trots back up the hallway. “Hey.”
The door shuts, as if he has lost what little nerve he might have worked up. Yumi stops in her tracks. She waits to see if he might once again open the door, then turns around once more.
For a while, until she dropped out, Yumi would run into Harold occasionally on campus: at the dining hall, at the memorial union. Yumi assumed he was crashing with friends, but he never gave her the chance to speak—her arm would raise pensively, her torso swiveling to continue facing him as he blew past her, until she was twisted backwards—so she never figured out whether he had listened to any of her voice messages. Then she left and had Chad, and she never saw him again. And for years, she wondered what had become of him.
Actually this is not true. Like any curious person, she tracked him online and followed along on the adventures he embarked on after he graduated. He began by backpacking around Asia, then, taking a particular liking to China, got a job teaching English in Guangzhou. There, he fell in love with a local woman. For two years they traveled to the most remote places in the world—Auckland, Tahiti, Cape Town—recording their travels and musings on a blog for their family and growing fanbase. They finally settled down in Guangzhou and married and had two daughters, at which point their blogging frequency slowed, then stopped. When Yumi stared for too long at the final photo—Harold and his family at a Japanese restaurant celebrating the younger daughter’s birthday—she fixated on his eyes, brilliant as she had ever seen, as if he could hardly fathom his luck, as if his life had turned out to be far more fulfilling than he could have ever dreamed growing up in Ohio.
And in these moments, did she feel wistfulness and regret for a life that had slipped by, or envy and resentment for an ex-lover who was now winning in every facet in life? Yes, she did. She felt all of these. Who in her shoes wouldn’t feel this way? But in these same moments, did she also feel a kind of gentle happiness for Harold, that one of them, at least, had managed to escape the shackles of Dayton to live a life filled with adventure and wonder? No, of course not. She did not feel that way at all. Who thought like that? Certainly not Yumi. The older she became, the more exhausted she grew, and the only thing preventing her from going off the deep end, she realized, other than her will to keep Chad alive—other than League, too, she cannot forget about that—was her irrational fear that she, too, would one day lock herself in her bedroom and shut out the world forever, because in the end, how much of a difference would that have made?
I decided I’m running away.
After three consecutive losses, Yumi is taking a break from League and has been messaging about trivial things with HellCat893 when she reads this on her screen.
HellCat893: I hate my parents. I can’t deal with them anymore.
HellCat893: I don’t know. Maybe Los Angeles? That’s where you live, right?
Yumi: How old are you?
HellCat893: 16 hbu?
Yumi cannot remember how it feels to be sixteen, so she fills in the blank herself. A life not weighted down with the burden of accountability, for one. Second chances and audacity and an infinite horizon. A world rediscovered.
Yumi: Same. I’m 16.
She takes a shaky breath. Her fingers tremble as they type.
Yumi: You should totally come to Los Angeles!
HellCat893: I totally should. I’ve always wanted to see Hollywood and Rodeo Drive!
She closes her eyes, so hot and heavy. When she opens them, she resumes typing.
Yumi: Me too!
HellCat893: Don’t you live there?
Yumi curses. I meant me too, I think you should come!
HellCat893: I saved enough for a bus ticket omg this would be so amazing. Can I stay with you for several days?
Yumi: Just book the ticket!
HellCat893: omg yay this is the best!
Yumi: Yay you will have an amazing time!
HellCat893: Thank you for being my friend!
She powers down the laptop. The light of the screen fades, leaving Chad’s bedroom in total darkness. She sits quietly in her gaming chair. She is small, and the chair is large, and she imagines this is how it feels to sit on a throne. She imagines Chad in her bedroom down the hallway, lying on her bed and staring at the ceiling, and wonders if he, too, thinks of the bed as his coffin. Her stomach growls. She is starving. The other night, she served the nicest family of four. Polite and kind with Yumi and with each other, they looked as though they were having the most amazing time of their lives, as if nothing could bring them more happiness than each other’s company. Harmony had comped them slices of tempura ice cream, simply because their joy was that infectious.
She sinks deeper into her chair. She imagines HellCat893 cautiously emerging from her thirty-hour Greyhound ride, squinting into the hot California sun and tear-inducing smog. Yumi will have deleted and blocked her during that time. HellCat893 will realize there is no one here to greet her, no one whose parents’ home she could stay at and play League at with the friend she thought she had. The day will be warm and full of promise. Screw it, she will say, and she will visit Hollywood and Rodeo Drive and post loads of photos online before she eventually finds her way back to Oklahoma, one way or another. She will stay mad at Yumi for a while, then she will grudgingly concede that her adventure out West was exhilarating, then, over time, she will forget Yumi completely.
Yumi covers her face. Her breath shudders. This is what she wishes she had done. She wishes she had grabbed Chad by the shoulders, directed him to just survive. “Run,” she would whisper. She would never be as certain as she was at this moment. She would wrap her arms awkwardly around him, something that nearly resembled an embrace, before shoving him away, and she would sprint and leap into the bushes, knowing Rengar and Xin Zhao and Fizz lay in wait. In her final moments, she would see Chad racing to the edge of the forest, his lifeguard megaphone swaying like a buoy, hair fluttering with the wind, running as if his life depended on it, as if to remember his life was one worth living.