“Rufus honey, breakfast.”
Rufus mumbled a vague reply and buried his face in the bedclothes. He inhaled deeply, drinking in the familiar scent of home. He hadn’t slept in his old bed since long before his graduation, and within only a few hours he would be leaving again. Never mind if the bacon went cold; he was determined to relish the opportunity to relax for as long as possible. Sadly, that opportunity was cut short all too soon by something wriggly and cold diving into the bed beside him.
“Rufus, Mum says you’re leaving again. Are you?” He didn’t reply. “Are you?”
“What?! But you only just got here, it’s not fair.” Rufus tried desperately to keep his eyes closed, but the last remnants of sleep were finally shattered as a pair of small, indignant fists began to pummel away at his back. He sighed and turned over, trapping his little brother in an affectionate headlock.
“Cut it out, Jake,” he yawned.
“You promised you were going to play with me.” Jake frowned and struggled. “You said you’d go in goal.”
“I will do. I can play with you for three whole hours today before I go, how does that sound?”
“Ok… but three whole days sounds even better…” Jake looked up hopefully, but Rufus just laughed and ruffled his hair. He gave up and tried to stretch his arms around his brother’s waist, resolving to win him over by being especially good company for the rest of the day. And if that failed, he would have to convince his mother to ask. Rufus had never been known to say no to her. Speaking of which, the call for breakfast came again, this time with a slight edge in the voice. The two stretched in unison and made their way down to the kitchen.
A few games later, Rufus wandered around his room, picking up long discarded clothes and tentatively sniffing under the arms or holding them up to his body to check the size. Once or twice he threw a particularly ancient specimen at Jake, who was sitting on the bed, sulking. He’d been a positive angel all morning (not something which generally came easily to him), but still his brother seemed intent on leaving.
“Come on, buddy, give me a hand.” He shook his head. Rufus sighed. This was always going to be a difficult time, he had known that ever since he got the letter confirming his job application. Given the sizeable age gap, Rufus knew he’d always been more of a father figure than a brother to Jake. In fact, though he would never have admitted it out loud, that was one of the reasons he wanted to leave. The responsibility had been getting to him for a long time: although he would always love Jake and his mother very much, taking responsibility for them was a job for a family Sim. In under an hour’s time, he would no longer have to live under anyone’s aspiration but his own. Still, he didn’t want everyone moping around on the best day of his life, so he dropped the jeans he was holding into his case and fished under his bed. After a brief moment he triumphantly drew out a sock, and, grinning, dangled it in front of his brother’s nose.
“C’mon, give us a smile…” He got no response. “I won’t move it until you do…”
Jake put up a valiant effort to maintain his miserable composure, but eventually the smell and the tickling dust overcame him.
“Ewww, don’t do that!” he giggled, pushing the offending article away. “Ok, I’ll help.”
“That’s the spirit. You can do the posters, roll them up for me.”
“Ok,” he nodded, setting to work. They went on in silence for a little while, before Jake piped up:
“You’re off to look at the wolves, aren’t you?”
“Do you think you’ll find a werewolf?!” His little face lit up as he turned around to look for Rufus’ answer. He bared his teeth and waved his arms, demonstrating. Rufus chuckled.
“Nah. Sorry, Jakey, but you know they don’t really exist. I’m a scientist, I have to focus on real animals.”
“They are so real! What happened to you? You used to believe in stuff, before you got boring…” And with that, he hopped off the bed and loped out of the room, waving his ‘claws’ and making what he supposed were werewolf noises to himself. Rufus sighed again and leant against his desk. It was true; in fact, one of the most distinct childhood memories he had involving his father was of cowering into his shirt at a movie about a werewolf (not to mention the whack he’d received for misbehaving in the cinema). For years he was convinced this terrifying creature was hiding under his bed, waiting to gobble him up, until his mother, tired of him running into her room every night, bought him a book on real life wolves to set his facts straight. He spotted it lying on the shelf and picked it up. In the front cover the note she had written was still visible: Dear Rufus, time to be a big, brave boy. Lots of love, Mummy. Sadly the same couldn’t be said for most of the pictures, as two generations of little boys had set their crayoning hands loose on them. A tattered pile of rubbish really, but still, it was worth squeezing into the bag…
Rufus dragged his suitcases down into the kitchen. His mother was seated at the table, drinking coffee and looking tired, overtime evidently taking its toll. Flecks of grey were creeping into her hair. He felt glad that this new job was relatively well paid, making a mental note to take her on holiday as soon as he got some leave. She smiled at her son.
“Jake just ran through here,” she said. “How’s he holding up?”
“Not great, but he’ll be fine. He’s a real little trooper. And so are you.”
“I hope so. I don’t know what I’m going to do, losing the man of the house again.”
“Don’t you call him that!” called a voice from the hall. Rufus turned his head to see his auntie Sue come marching into the kitchen. She wasn’t actually a relative at all, but as she’d lived with them ever since his father had taken off, she had become more like a second mother. “I don’t like it, it implies that we need one. No offence, kiddo.” She winked at him. He winked back. He had always got on well with auntie Sue, perhaps because she had always encouraged him to be himself, rather than lecturing him on the responsibility placed on his shoulders. He gave her a grin and a suitcase to carry and they made their way out to the truck. When the back was fully loaded, he turned back and hugged the two women in turn.
“Find Jake,” he said. “And tell him I said goodbye. Oh, and one of you’s going to have to be goalie again while I’m away. So get practicing.” He winked and dodged a mock slap. Bounding into his vehicle and towards the rest of his life, he started the engine. He felt something cold and hard on his seat. Reaching down he found it was a CD, a compilation of old rock songs. On the front was written ‘for Rufus’ in Jake’s signature scrawl. He laughed and placed it in the CD player, reaching back to give one last wave goodbye.
Rufus Lowell: Werewolf of Sim State chapters