‘But love, I just don’t understand why you don’t want a birthday party!’
Dylan sighed as he chewed on a mouthful of his cheesesteak. This subject. Again. ‘Mum, I’ve told you and Dad already about a million times! I just don’t want one! Like I said, after graduation me and the lads are going to go on a night out or something, so we’ve decided it’s going to be a sort of joint thing,’ he said through his food.
‘Don’t talk with your mouth full! And I just don’t see why -‘
‘Alright! It just would’ve been nice to have a bit of a get together, what with you swanning off after graduation,’ Ivy sniffed. Dylan gave his mother a ‘look’ and was about to respond when Ethan came banging into the kitchen.
‘Sorry I’m late everyone! Got held up in rehearsals. This album is going to be our best yet!’ he beamed as he scooped a cheesesteak onto a plate and strolled into the dining room. ‘So, what’s everyone talking about?’
‘Dylan and Mum are arguing over Dylan’s birthday,’ Robyn piped up from the end of the table.
‘We were not arguing, Robyn. I was merely enquiring as to why my son does not wish to celebrate his birthday.’
‘Hey? What’s this, Dylan? You don’t want a party?!’
‘Oh, for gnomes sake!’
Dylan buried his head in his hands and groaned exasperatedly. ‘It’s my sodding birthday and I’ll do what I want!’
‘But Dylan, surely you want a bit of a send off! Your birthday’s so near to graduation, and what with you going off to live at the station afterwards -‘
‘Dad, I’m going to be just on the other side of the bridge and probably home on weekends. I’m not leaving the country, or even the city! I just don’t see why it’s such a big deal! Everyone’s got to leave home sometime!’
Everyone jumped as Ivy’s fork banged down onto the table. ‘Well usually, Dylan, people don’t leave home to go and jump into fires. Excuse me for wanting to have one final get together while my son’s still safe at home. Oh, forget it.’ Angrily, Ivy scraped back her chair and stormed into the kitchen, slamming her plate into the dishwasher before marching out of the room.
Dylan nervously looked at his father. ‘Dad? What was that all about?’
‘Oh, don’t mind your mother. She’s just a bit worried about you, is all. Finish your tea.’
Homework finished, Dylan stretched out on his bed reading through his induction pack for the fire service. A tingle of nervy excitement rushed through him as he realised that, in just a few months, he would be one of the smiling faces in the photographs. He’d be stood there in uniform, sporting the helmet, rushing to rescue people in their moment of need. He grinned to himself. Gnomes, he was excited!
His smile faded slightly as he became aware of a light bobbing about at the foot of his bed. Snapping the book shut, he tossed it under his bed before looking up. ‘Yes?’
Puzzle tilted his head from side to side. ‘Puzzle heard shouting earlier. Mum okay?’
‘Why she shout?’
‘She’s just a bit cross with me. She doesn’t want me to move out to the fire station.’
‘Move out? When moving out?!’ Puzzle hopped from foot to foot.
‘Don’t do that, you look like you need to go to the toilet! In a couple of months, after graduation.’
‘Yay! Puzzle excited!’
Dylan was confused. ‘Er… Why are you excited?’
”Dylan and Puzzle moving out! Dylan and Puzzle going on adventure!’
‘Wait, what?! You’re not coming!’
‘Of course Puzzle comes! Puzzle needs Dylan, Dylan needs Puzzle!’
‘Like at prom! Dylan needed Puzzle when horrible Melody was -‘
‘Woah! Calm down. Look, you’re not coming.’
Dylan sat up on his bed and looked directly at Puzzle. ‘I’m not going on an adventure. I’m getting a job! This is my career, Puzzle, and it’s very serious! The last thing I need is you bobbing about and distracting me while I’m trying to save lives!’
‘Save lives? Dylan… Dylan will be in danger?!’
Frustrated, Dylan scrubbed a hand through his hair. ‘Puzzle, I’m going to be a fire fighter. You know, someone who fights fires? I’d imagine it’ll be a bit dangerous!’
‘But nothing, Puzzle! Look, I’m going to get a drink.’ Puzzle watched sadly as Dylan left the room, waiting until the door was closed to before screaming.
Dylan was going away. Dylan was going to be in danger. Dylan needed Puzzle more than ever…
* * *
Sighing, Charlie went over and turned the games console off. He and Dylan had an assignment due in two days time, and he’d come over to start work on it with his friend and classmate. As he flopped down on the sofa next to Dylan, the two lads looked at each other.
‘Right. We should probably get on with it,’ Dylan grumbled.
‘Yeah. Did you know Oliver and Elle have already finished?’
‘Well that goes without saying, they’re like that aren’t they…’
‘True. Still, we don’t exactly have a lot of time left to get it done… We should make a start…’
The two boys looked reluctantly at their school bags sat waiting for them by the living room door. Dylan’s gaze slowly moved up the wall to the clock.
‘Charlie… How long d’ya think it’ll take?’
‘Er… Couple of hours?’
‘Right, right… We’ve got time for one more level…’
‘Too right!’ Beaming, Charlie picked up the control pads as Dylan leapt up to turn the system back on, and before long the two boys were totally immersed in their virtual world once again.
‘Go on… Get him! Get after him!’
‘Shoot! Dylan, shoot! Argh!’
Entirely oblivious to the world around them, neither boy noticed Ethan as he poked his head around the door. Noting the forgotten school bags on the floor, he shook his head as he walked into the room.
‘How’s things, boys?’
‘Great Dad,’ Dylan replied distractedly as he focused on chasing an enemy character into a building. ‘He’s trapped, dead end! Yes!’
‘Don’t, er… Don’t you two boys have homework to be getting on with?’ Ethan casually strolled over and sat down with Dylan and Charlie, a quizzical expression on his face.
‘Yeah, we’re starting it in a bit. Just getting this… This level done…’ Charlie fell silent as his character started to defuse a bomb, Dylan entirely focused on what his friend’s avatar was doing.
‘Okay. It’s just that you two really should get working soon. Charlie, you’ve been here for four hours now.’
‘I know! For gnomes sake, Dad! We know what we’re doing!’
‘Dylan! Charlie! You boys should be doing homework!’ Ivy’s shrill voice made the three jump as she appeared in the doorway. ‘And don’t leave your bags lying around for someone to break their necks tripping over!’
‘Sorry,’ Dylan and Charlie chorused, their attention already turning back to their game. ‘I’ll move them in a bit Mum, I just need to get this bit done…’ Dylan said.
Rolling her eyes, Ivy picked up Dylan’s school bag and rooted around in it until she came across his homework diary. ‘In that case I’ll just sit and go through this, if you don’t mind. I need to sign it, after all.’ Sitting next to Dylan, she began read through the last couple of weeks in the diary.
‘Oh, listen to this, Ethan! Dylan’s homework is an official assignment, part of his overall grade for History! And it’s due in on Friday! How much have you got done, boys?’
‘Mum, what the hell!’
‘I’m just taking an interest in your education, Dylan! You can’t deny your Mother that, especially when you’ll be leaving us all too soon.’ Ivy’s voice had an edge to it.
Slamming a hand down on his control pad, Dylan cursed to himself. ‘Fine! We’ll go and get started on it, if it’ll shut you up about me moving out after graduation! Come on Charlie.’ Moodily Dylan stomped over to the games console, turned it off with a stab of his finger, marched over to his bag, picked it up, and stormed out of the room before Charlie really knew what was going on. A little flustered, Charlie muttered a ‘s’later’ at Dylan’s parents before rushing out of the room after his friend.