I heard ButlerQuest’s theme music even when my computer was off (not that it was off often lately)…
Even when I slept, I couldn’t escape the game. I dreamed of Leonidas kissing me passionately, his breath hot against my icy vampire lips… Kissing Belladonna. And Belladonna’s icy vampire lips, because she was also a vampire. (That was Ophelia’s doing, not mine.)
The reality was a bit less romantic, but Leonidas and Belladonna’s passion spoke for itself.
I spent more and more time in ButlerQuest with Leonidas. Logging into the game became the first thing I did when I got home from school. Homework came last, if I remembered to do it at all. In ButlerQuest, I was a butler, not a mediocre high school student with a perfect twin. In ButlerQuest, I had Leonidas.
I had a lot of fun with Leonidas, almost every night.
Unfortunately, Mother had a terrible tendency to ruin it.
Did she not understand that when the door was locked, it was to keep her out? Her and Leopold and Ophelia. If only Father had been the one with a vampire’s strength instead…
“Where’s your filthy laundry, my poor odiferous darling?” she asked, striding into my room as if she hadn’t broken yet another lock. I didn’t see why she felt a need to collect my laundry personally, aside from giving her the opportunity to root through it and discover my teenage boy secrets.
She had the trainees at the academy actually handle the washing itself (double-gloved, as she felt a need to point out). “Oh, Benedict, are you playing butlers? I do so love butlers… You must take after your mother in that regard.”
Getting rid of her was difficult, but not impossible. I told her Leopold was having girl trouble and she was off in a flash, likely to murder whichever nonexistent classmate had broken her favorite son’s heart.
And then it was just Leonidas and I again…until Mother and Father revoked my computer privileges after a particularly terrible report card.
“It’s the Blackwell family curse,” Mother lamented, as Leopold spied from the kitchen, undoubtedly smirking the entire time. “It isn’t your fault, Benedict.”
“It isn’t a curse,” I muttered. “I didn’t do my homework or study for any tests. I don’t care about school.” I only cared about Leonidas, and Leonidas only cared about me. About Belladonna.
“Son, that’s unacceptable,” Father said. “Your studies are important. You’re a Lyons. And you’re young now, but one day you’ll want a wife, and a fine, respectable woman”–he glanced at Mother–“won’t want an irresponsible layabout for a husband.”
A wife. I couldn’t even imagine that. “My studies won’t matter at all once I’ve started butler training.” I could imagine Leonidas–Leonidas’ player–attending the academy alongside me. Surely someone who played as devoted a butler as he did had his own real-life butler aspirations… But I couldn’t ask him about it, because we never discussed anything outside the game. I didn’t even know how to contact him when the game servers went down for maintenance.
“Benedict Lyons, there will be no butler academy for you if you don’t properly tend to your studies, do you understand?” Father’s voice rose, as it rarely did. Mother was always the one to fall to hysterics. “No son of ours will neglect such an important part of his life and expect no consequences.”
“The Blackwell-Lyons Butler Academy and Finishing School holds itself–and its students–to the highest standards,” Mother said. “But don’t yell at the poor creature, Lysander. He’s cursed.”
I decided to show them just how cursed I was–or good at cursing–and lost all computer access for the rest of the school year, except for borrowing Ophelia’s laptop for school assignments. If only I could’ve found a way to tell Leonidas that I would come back for him, that Belladonna needed him… But the specs on Ophelia’s laptop weren’t good enough to run the game.
I never stopped thinking of Leonidas. I’d never been so excited about summer vacation, and not just because school was over.
The months’ worth of game patches took forever to download thanks to our slow island internet, but Leonidas would be worth the wait. What would he say to me? To Belladonna?
And then I had to wait even longer when Finn arrived out of nowhere. He was the son of Mother’s old friend, and he came to visit almost every summer, but why did he have to visit this particular summer?
Usually we texted throughout the year, with me texting him butler memes and him telling me the latest in his parents’ divorces, but I hadn’t talked to him at all over the past few months. I meant to return his texts, but then I just…forgot. I had other things on my mind, other people.
“Hey, Benny.” Finn was younger than me, but this summer he looked older. Could a year really change that much?
“Hey,” I mumbled. The patches still weren’t finished downloading, but almost… Could I ask him to leave? It wasn’t like we were very close, not like Leonidas and I.
“I was looking forward to playing this game,” I admitted. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice me sneaking another peek at the screen while we talked, or Count von Batstein, who I’d borrowed from Ophelia because he really did seem to help get my creative juices flowing.
Finn grinned at me, his (perfectly straight, perfectly descended) fangs flashing. “You have all summer for that.”
“Why do you want to spend time with me so badly?” My tone fell somewhere in between Ophelia’s petulance and Leopold’s disdain, but it was too late to take it back.
Finn’s mouth opened in surprise. “…Because I missed you. We haven’t talked much lately. At all, really.”
Maybe now would be a good time to sound like Leopold. Whenever Leopold talked in a certain way–or at all–I wanted to flee to another room, if not another planet. “Since when do you like guys? I thought you had three different girlfriends over the course of last summer. Maybe you should visit one of them.” He’d practically boasted about all the girls interested in him.
“That was last summer,” he said quietly. “And I like who I like.”
I stood to face him, luring his gaze away from my computer. The patch was at 99% complete. “You don’t have very high standards, if you like me.” Unlike Leopold, I had a sense of humor. I could play along for a little while.
“Hey, don’t question my taste,” Finn joked. “Or insult yourself. You have your charms, Benny.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, like what?”
“You’re fun,” he said, his eyes on mine. “You’re really into butlers, which I don’t really get, but hey, you’re passionate about what you like. You’re sweet to your little sister. You’re cute. And when those braces come off and your fangs come down, I think it’d feel really good to kiss you.”
Obviously Finn didn’t care who he hit on, if he was hitting on me–just like his father, who had been divorced seven times this century. Or maybe my brother had found a way to torment me even while away at camp and he’d enlisted Finn to make fun of me.
I’d never understood why Finn had become my friend instead of Leopold’s. Did my brother know about Leonidas? Because that was just a game–we were roleplaying, pretending, creating a story. It was the characters who were in love with each other and couldn’t stand to be apart. I wasn’t Belladonna.
“Hey, no pressure,” Finn said. “I just wanted you to know. And for you to go easier on yourself. And Leopold–”
Leopold. Of course he was involved. “Shut up and get out.”
“Get out,” I said, louder this time. I could make him feel bad too. “I know what your father’s like. The plasma fruit can’t fall far from the tree.” Mother had said that, hadn’t she? She’d also said that Graham Straud was a known scoundrel who would sleep with anything that wasn’t sealed in a lead coffin at the ocean’s floor. Finn Straud lived with his father, and only his father. They were probably like two bats in a cave.
“…I’m not my father, and you don’t know him like I do. But I’ll go, if that’s what you want.” And he did.
Finn couldn’t have been serious. Could he? He’d had three girlfriends last summer, and who knows how many the summer before. Not that it mattered, because…because.
Leonidas was different. He was loyal. He knew what he wanted. There was only one person in the whole world for him.
But when I finally logged into the game that night, Leonidas was nowhere to be found.
He never logged in again.