Note: I wrote this story when The Force Awakens came out. I was reminded of it when The Last Jedi opened. I have a feeling I’ll be reposting this in a few months when the Han Solo movie makes its entrance. Sometimes the past hurts, but who doesn’t want to be 8 years old again and enthralled by a fictional world?
The minute Bryce saw the girl at Andy’s party, she reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t think of who. She had full red lips, horn-rimmed glasses, big boobs filling out her Galaxy Force T-shirt, a polka dot skirt, tights, and chunky boots. The T-shirt was the one with Bram and Mikala on it, the one that all the girls wore, and by that Bryce knew the girl wasn’t even worth quizzing on her geek bona fides. She was perched on the edge of a long sectional sofa at one end of the living room, and he, Tim, and Andy were all at the other end, near the hall. It was crowded, the buzz of conversation rising over and falling under the game noise from a bunch of people playing their hearts out on Rock Band.
He turned back to Tim and Andy. Tim was going on.
“The first thing I thought was, this wasn’t for me,” Tim was saying. “I get that director is the new it boy in Hollywood, but once he got his hands on it, I knew he was going to sex it up. All those new characters — like, who cares? Diversity, blah — how about a good story? I’m there to see Bram, the Hunter-Killers, and the Gradiant wormhole drivers. As soon as I saw the trailer, I knew how it was going to be — fucking studio would rape my childhood.”
That’s who the girl reminded him of — Julie. They were friends in elementary school. He and Julie were in a gang of kids who ran around at recess playing Galaxy Force, making pew pew noises and fighting the Hunter-Killers with their Inspirare powers.
Tim again: “I was like, did they even watch the original movies?”
Was it Julie? That would be cool — weird, he corrected himself. Just weird. They stopped being friends in middle school and didn’t talk in high school at all. He’d heard she went on to do cool stuff. He turned around to look, just in time to see the girl laugh at something another girl was saying. For a second Tim’s drone stopped, and he could hear their conversation.
“…liked how they connected the pulsing of the quasar to a message from the Inspirare.”
“A pulsing beacon in a dark time,” the Julie-girl agreed. “They were saying that kind actions reverberate down through the universe and turn into powerful energy. I liked how Jess tapped into that at the end, that the energy from Bram and Mikala’s sacrifice a hundred years ago was what gave his Inspirare force the right amount of power to crush the last Hunter-Killer.”
Sensing competition, Tim raised his voice. “They couldn’t get the door sounds right, and what was the point of redoing the insignia on the Hunter-Killer uniforms? It was like they changed stuff up just to change it. And come on, was there any reason for Jess to be black?”
Bryce rolled his eyes. Tim didn’t see it, but she did, and she gave him a conspiratorial wink. Bryce turned his back with a jerk, sloshing his Coke, but not before he saw her bright expression, her friendly smile, inviting him in to join their conversation. God, he was tempted.
Tim pressed on louder, now that he knew they were all looking at him. “The whole Inspirare explanation was so tortured too. If you’ve seen any of the Extended Mythos universe, you’d know all that, so why pander to newbies? That’s all it was — just a way to give a bunch of people who don’t know anything about the original movies a way to feel like they’re part of something too.”
If the Julie-girl and her friends recognized the challenge, they didn’t take it, moving over to the PS3.
“Bryce,” Tim said, scorn in his voice. Bryce looked at him. Tim raised an eyebrow. “Her?”
Rage boiled over. Bryce set down his sickly sweet Coke. “Fuck you, Tim,” he said. “Door sounds? Door sounds?”
“What? What crawled up your ass?”
Bryce drove home, seething. Fuck you, Tim, he thought again. Not for the first time, he realized. Tim was an asshole. Yeah, they liked the same things and they worked in the same industry, and they ran in the same circles but …
I’ve spent too many years letting that be a basis for a friendship.
Had it been her? Julie was cool. Had been cool. They had been friends. They hadn’t just run with the same gang. She came over to his house. They were what, eight? They played with his Galaxy Force action figures. His dad and his brothers teased him about his girlfriend, so after a couple of times he didn’t play with her at the house, but they had remained friends.
He remembered telling her that she couldn’t come over any more. It was all kind of confusing, because her expression got mixed up with the face of the girl at the party, but a gut-wrenching punch of shame hit him when he remembered telling his best friend that she couldn’t play with him anymore.
His apartment was quiet and empty. He flicked on the hall light, and his tableau of Bram, Mikala, Atoma, and Hunter-Killer action figures greeted him from a small alcove. These were the same action figures he and Julie used to play with. They were chipped and messed up, far from mint, but they were comforting and familiar. They brought an unwilling smile.
“Some things don’t change,” he said out loud. Silence answered him back.
Brushing his teeth, staring at himself in the mirror, he thought about the new sequel. Tim wasn’t wrong, he admitted. They weren’t eight years old and the new movie wasn’t meant for them. It was meant for the new crop of eight-year-olds, for the ones who got the lesson of the Inspirare Force and took it to heart better than he had done. Tim was angry because he got the right message. Their movie was irrelevant; their memories didn’t matter anymore.
He and Julie hadn’t just stopped being friends in middle school. He stopped brushing his teeth. He had been sitting with two or three other outcasts in the middle school cafeteria, a frightened herd of tiny deer surrounded by lions. Julie had walked up with her tray, and she gave Bryce a desperate smile, and he saw the same things in her that he had already learned to despise in himself — pathetic eagerness, weird clothes, stupid hair, stupid food on her tray, stupid stupid stupid Galaxy Force T-shirt and he hated her for everything he was.
So he made a sixth-grade joke about her boobs.
Don’t do it, he told himself, even as he checked on Facebook. Don’t stalk her, man. You are fucking pathetic. There were eleven Julie Weissbaums. He went through them, ticking off the obvious no’s. Finally he was left with one. The profile was locked down tight and the picture was of a cat but he had no other choice. Even knowing that his message would get lost in the Facebook system, that there was no way she’d ever see it, he sent a friend request and typed,
Hey, it’s Bryce Olean. Was that you at Andy’s party last night?
He hit send before he lost his nerve, and then spent the rest of the night castigating himself and trying to convince himself that there was no way the message would be seen. She doesn’t want to hear from you, man. You were an asshole back in the day. She’s not even the right girl, and it doesn’t matter how much you want to apologize.
Lying in bed in the dark, only small power lights shining as bright and useless pinpoints that illuminated nothing, Bryce stared up at the ceiling. He remembered when Bram first learned about the Inspirare Force from Atoma, the wise mentor:
“Do you think only great deeds have the power to fight darkness? Not so. Helping hand at the right time can do more to save the world than all the great deeds in the galaxy. Hero without kindness is Hunter-Killer. But hero who sacrifices for what is right and good can change the universe.”
Bryce woke with a jerk. He had been dreaming so vividly he thought he was back in his childhood bedroom, curled up in his small bunkbed with his Galaxy Force bedspread crumpled over him. He breathed hard, trying to remember where he was, eyes tight shut to hold onto the memory. A light pulsed steadily against his closed eyes, and he opened them reluctantly.
Silent, steady, the message light on his phone blinked on and off, on and off.
@Copyright Patrice Sarath 2016