Blake formed his plan almost immediately after hearing the sound. He didn’t expect such a simple noise to affect him so much, but that layered, striking sound—that clacking of dice falling against a wooden table sent his mind spiraling backward to a year ago, to the last day his friends were all together.
“Next week, same time?” Christian had asked. Blake closed his notebook
“Unless one of you fuckers wimps out,” Blake said with a smirk. Christian, Shell, Kevin, and Steve muttered various threats as they packed up their game supplies. They were all damp with sweat. Blake wanted to think they were sweating because of the session’s intensity and not the real reason, which was that Blake made the poor choice to try and fix his window AC unit while inebriated. In an enthusiastic (but confused) attempt to remove the grill, Blake leapt through the air and gave the poor old air conditioner a flying kick to the side. And now they would be stuck without AC all summer.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Blake told his friends.
“Why don’t we just move D&D to my house?” Shell asked as she fanned the armpits of her pink, Fabio T-shirt. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
Kevin shrugged and pushed his glasses up,
“I mean, our characters are literally in hell right now, so maybe we just channel that for role playing.”
“I play Dungeons and Dragons to escape reality—I’m not looking to ‘literally’ play in Satan’s butthole,” Steve said with an eyeroll.
“I’ll play wherever,” Christian said with an easy smile.
“Aaaaaand that’s why you’re my favorite, Christian,” Blake said.
Blake began dropping the multi-sided, multi-colored dice back into his plastic case.
“I love that sound,” Christian said. Blake looked at him questioningly. “You know,” Christian laughed, “the sound of falling dice.”
The plan: call up the gang, tell them they’ll be meeting here for beers and the new Batman movie, and then BAM—spring a quick session of D&D on them. Blake paced his small living room. How could they say no?
When Blake called his friends to invite them for a “casual hangout,” they all voiced some level of surprise. Shell said something like, ‘Wow we haven’t all hung out together in a long time.’ But once the shock wore off, they warmed to the idea of being together again. Kevin said he’d only come if pizza was included, and Steve just had one question:
“Is the AC fixed?”
The AC was not fixed; in fact, it was somehow more broken than the year before. But in the spirit of lying to his friends, Blake decided the truth was a matter of convenience and told Steve the AC was in perfect shape.
When his friends started playing D&D eight years ago, Blake transformed an empty corner of his kitchen into the game room, which was now complete with fantasy-themed tapestries, a bookshelf to hold campaign books, and a long wooden table big enough to fit plates of food and several battle maps at one time. It was in that small corner that Blake and his friends immersed themselves into fantastical worlds. They learned to escape by telling each other stories, they learned about themselves by pretending to be someone different. Even after they stopped playing, Blake never changed the game room.
On the day of the hangout, Blake added ambience to the game room just like he used to. He dimmed the lights, lit a single pillar candle, and played peaceful tavern music. He dragged the dice case out from his closet and laid out some pre-filled characters sheets (desperate times). Just as he finished setting up, the doorbell rang. At the door was Kevin, who stood stiff as a rod, waiting to be invited in like a vampire. He shook his shaggy black hair out of his face as he sat down on the couch. Kevin, habitually early to every event, stared at Blake and asked,
“Where is everyone?”
Blake sighed and handed Kevin a bowl of chips.
Shell arrived next, bringing with her a tin foil container and the sound of flip flops. Shell explained to Blake that her newest hobby was baking. Regretfully, she wasn’t a very good at it. Blake lifted a dark brown cookie out of the container.
“Well, these look delicious,” Blake told her.
“Fuck off—I’m new at this,” Shell said, snatching the cookie out of his hand and dropping the cookie back into the container. The cookie landed with a thunk.
“They’re burned,” Kevin said.
“Thanks Kevin,” Shell said.
Blake had only hung out with his friends individually this past year. Somehow it was easier that way. Kevin became his Call of Duty friend, Shell became his bowling friend, and Steve…well Steve was the type of friend that was best experienced over text messages.
“Did you lie about the AC?” Steve asked Blake when he walked in. His undereye circles were darker than normal.
“Oh, you’re just going to keep lying—got it.” Steve said and took a swig of his Rockstar. Blake always wondered what kind of person Steve would be if he didn’t use all his patience working in customer service.
Chatter filled the living room as Blake and his friends made up for the year they spent away from each other. Kevin was prattling on about his analyst job when Blake suddenly realized he had no way of getting everyone to move to the kitchen. How could he start the game if no one moved to the game room? He chewed on the skin around his fingers until an idea seized him—another ruse so brilliant, Blake couldn’t help but scream it immediately.
“The pizza is in the kitchen!”
Shell jumped in her seat and Steve narrowed his eyes, turning up his palms. Steve’s expression asked a simple question: are you fucking deranged?
Kevin stood up slowly, smoothed his white dress shirt, and walked toward the kitchen. Blake leapt to his feet to follow Kevin, waving for Shell and Steve to follow.
As they neared the kitchen corner, the sound of tavern music grew louder. Blake could no longer contain his excitement and ran ahead of his friends to grab the dice case off the table. He sprinted back to his confused friends and lifted the case above his head, displaying as if it were a holy relic, and doing his best impression of an angelic choir.
“What’s going on there, bud?” Shell asked. She placed her hands on her hips.
“Surpriiiiiiise,” Blake said, his voice suddenly uncertain.
“Did you bring us over here to...” Steve scratched his shaved head, “to trick us into playing D&D?”
Blake still held the dice case over his head, though his smile was starting to fade. Kevin pushed past Blake and sat down at the game table. He started flipping through the character sheets. Shell’s eyebrows pulled together.
“That’s kind of weird, don’t you think?” she asked.
“It’s a lot weird,” answered Steve.
“I don’t like my character,” said Kevin. Blake spun around.
“Don’t worry—you can remake it!” Blake spun back to Shell and Steve. “Would you guys have come if I told you the truth?”
“I’m not playing D&D,” Steve said firmly.
“Steve, listen just give me a chance to—”
“Can I remake my character now?” Kevin asked.
“Go for it,” Blake said. “Steve, just give me –
“I’m not playing.”
“Just listen to my intro: your characters enter the tavern, weary from battle—”
“We don’t have enough people to play,” Steve interrupted.
Blake scanned over the faces of his friends—the enraged Steve, the sympathetic Shell, the indifferent Kevin. And then Blake rested his eyes on the empty chair next to Kevin. It was where Christian used to sit. Blake’s neck went cold. He felt himself being pulled backward again, to the last day they played.
Christian and Blake sat on the front porch, discussing the game. Christian wanted to know if they should have fought the bugbear king instead of fleeing, but Blake refused to reveal any secrets.
“Hey, I'm glad we're still friends by the way,” Christian said abruptly. Blake shook his head.
“Why wouldn't we be friends?”
Christian just shrugged.
“After college, a lot of people go their separate ways. Life happens. We stop being kids.”
Blake slapped his friend on the back.
“Come on, man—we’ll be friends forever….we’ll be kids forever.”
Blake felt like a fool. He slowly lowered the dice case.
“You guys are right—this is weird,” he said, and turned away. Blake walked back toward the game room but on the way, something caught his foot. It could have been his own feet, some unevenness in the tile, or perhaps it was the air itself; whatever it was caused Blake to stumble forward. The dice case lifted from his arms and soared through the air, landing on the floor with a cacophony of cracking plastic and scattering dice. In a mere moment, hundreds of dice in hundreds of colors—blues, pinks, and greens—poured from the case, bouncing, sliding, clacking in all directions.
Blake, Steve, and Shell looked at each other, too stunned to speak.
It was Steve who bent down first to pick up the dice. Then Shell and then Blake.
“Do you remember when Christian rolled that crit against Lady Demescu?” Steve asked with a chuckled. Blake noticed tears in Steve’s eyes.
“Or when he made assless chaps for his goblin friend?” asked Shell.
They looked up and grinned at each other, remembering the best sound in the world.
“Where’s the pizza?” Kevin called from the table.
“Jesus, Kevin,” said Blake, shooting upright, “we're having a moment here!”
Kevin, finally recognizing the scene before him, slid out of his chair and began picking up dice, using his fingers like tweezers, inspecting them one by one. Kevin took in a deep breath.
“I think Christian would have wanted us to keep playing,” he said.
“I think so, too,” Steve agreed.
After they picked up every single dice, the friends settled back into their old seats around the gaming table. Blake opened his notebook, blinked back a few tears of his own, and cleared his throat.
“Now…where were we?”