The Parrot Predicament

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Chapter 4

I don’t know why I wanted to keep Noah a secret from Tiffany, but I did. Maybe once I knew Noah better, I’d tell her. But only Tiffany. My parents would freak out and my sister would make a big deal over it. And not the good kind of big deal. The bad kind, where she’d go on and on about how Noah could be some sort of stalker murderer killer. That girl reads too many horror stories.

Not only that, but Alice has been known to blackmail me. She’d probably tell our parents unless I do some outrageous favor for her.

After school, in the privacy of my room, I responded to Noah’s message, and he responded back fairly quick. We hit it off real well. And the kicker? He lived about ten minutes away. And was 19. I had just turned 17 the previous month. Only a two year age gap there, despite me being in 11th grade. That wasn’t bad, right?

While in the middle of hinting to Noah that we should totally meet up somewhere very public, Alice walked in. I alt+tabbed to an essay I was supposed to be writing.

“I know what you’re doing,” she said ominously.

I swore internally. How did she find out about me and Noah so fast? I tried to think of excuses to any form of proof she had between us, and how she would’ve obtained such proof. Was she snooping through my computer or phone? No, she didn’t know the passwords to either. But how else could she know? I swallowed a lump in my throat. “I know what I’m doing too,” I said, keeping my voice calm. “I’m writing an essay on the American Revolution.”

Alice stuck her nose in the air. “Don’t play dumb. I’m talking about the Gamefest contest. $2,000 grand prize. I overheard Lars and Lexy talking about it.”

Oh yeah, I needed $2,000. In the excitement of Noah, it slipped my mind. “So what if I am?”

“You’re good.” Alice said. “Real good. You’ll win this thing.”

“Thanks for the encouragement,” I said. “You’re the best artist I know and if you ever enter an art contest, you’ll win for sure.”

“I want in.”

I swiveled my chair to study her. The expression on her face was one of determination. Jaw set. Arms crossed. A spark of defiance in her eye. She wouldn’t back down without a fight. “What?”

“I want half the money.”

I shook my head. “Not happening. I need every dollar of it.”

Alice flopped down on my bed. “What for?”

“It’s personal,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “Besides, why should I give you any of it?”

“Because if you don’t, I’ll tell Mom and Dad about those dating simulation games you play late at night. When you should be asleep.” Alice arched her eyebrow. “You know? The M-rated ones. Uncensored.”

Shit. How did she know about those?

“And I’ll tell everyone at school too.”

My heart skipped a beat. “You wouldn’t.”

“I won’t as long as you give me half your prize money.” Alice grinned deviously.

She had me. Mom and Dad would die if they knew about those games. And I’d die if everyone at school found out. I strummed my fingers on the desk. “I can’t, I need the money too much.”

“Why?”

“I just do.”

“If you don’t want me telling on you, then you have to either give me the money, or tell me why you can’t give me the money.”

The defiant spark had returned. She struck a tough bargain. “You have to promise me,” I said. “Promise, not to tell a single person what I am about to tell you.”

She leaned forward. “I promise.”

I didn’t trust her. Not one bit. But I had no other choice. “Remember the parrot I had? At your art show?” Alice nodded, and I continued. “It was Ms. Gold’s. And she died, while in my care.”

“Wow.” Alice stared at me, a smile widening across her face. “Ms. Gold is gonna be pissed.”

“Ms. Gold isn’t going to find out,” I said, “because she’ll return home to an identical parrot.”

“And you think that’s going to work?”

“It will. The only problem is, macaws cost $2,000.”

“Wow.” Alice continued staring, with widening eyes. “And no one knows about this?”

“Only me, Tiff, Lars, and Lexy.”

“Now I know why you’ve been spending time with Lexy,” Alice said. “I assume she was supposed to be taking care of the bird?”

“Yeah.”

Alice let out a low whistle. “That sucks.” And she waltzed out of the room.

I returned to Nemesis to find a new message from Noah.

We should meet up some time. What do you say?

I grinned and replied,

Sure. Is Saturday at noon fine? We can meet up at a restaurant or something.

Just as quick, he responded back.

Sounds good. How about Blake’s Steaks?

I sent him a message agreeing with his choice of food. This was it. I was finally going to meet Noah after speaking to him for less than a week. Except common sense told me that I should probably bring a friend with me, even if we were meeting in public. I would have to share this news with Tiffany. Preferably in person.

The next morning, right before class, I tracked Tiffany down to her locker. I leaned against them, casually glancing around, then lowered my head in her direction. “Hey Tiff.”

“Hi Emma.” Tiffany focused her attention on the contents of her locker.

“I have exciting news,” I said.

“You now have 13 followers?”

“Pfft, I wish. No, this is even better.”

“14 followers?”

I smiled at the thought of having 14 followers. “Remember when I mentioned having fan mail at lunch yesterday?”

“Oh my God.” Tiffany slammed her locker shut. “It is an online boyfriend, isn’t it?”

I shushed her. “Not yet, he’s not.”

Her eyes lit up. “Tell me everything!”

So I gave her a quick run down of how we met and what he looked like and how close he lived to us.

“This is so exciting!” Tiffany gushed. “And he’s so close to here. When are you gonna meet him?”

“Tomorrow at noon,” I said. “And I was hoping you could come with me in case he’s a psycho murderer killer.”

Tiffany rubbed at her nose. “I wish I could. I mean, I really want to. But I have plans already.”

“Plans?” I straightened. “Plans doing what?”

“Just plans!” she said hurriedly, eyes darting to the floor. “Nothing that would interest you.”

I frowned. “Okay...”

“Maybe you could postpone it?” Tiffany suggested.

I shook my head. “No, we already committed. I think I’ll be fine. We are meeting in a public place.”

Tiffany agreed. “To be safe, you could send me texts every hour so I know you’re not dead?”

I grinned. “Great idea! If I go more than two hours without texting you, get help.”

“Got it.”

Saturday came. Blake’s Steaks was across the street from a mall, which was a few blocks away from my house. So I told my parents I was walking to the mall to meet up with Tiffany, and to not worry about me.

The walk itself proved to be uneventful. Noah stood outside the restaurant, wearing a dress shirt and black pants. And smelled of cologne. He held the door open for me like a perfect gentleman, and I walked in swooning over the gesture. We were seated almost immediately.

“I’ve never eaten here before.” My eyes wandered the room, taking in the fancy decor. The walls had mounted light fixtures and abstract paintings. Each table had a thick, white table cloth. With matching cloth napkins. And forks of different sizes. Complete with a rose in a small vase. I remembered my money problem and swallowed. “Looks expensive.”

Noah waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. I got you covered.”

“No, it’s-”

“Really. My father owns this restaurant,” Noah said. “This meal is on the house.”

“Oh.” Just then, a waitress came by and stopped to take our order.

Which Noah ordered for me. “We’ll both have the steak, well-done.”

Well-done? What sort of heathen ate meat cooked well-done? Not only that, but I wanted a burger. “Actually, can I get the cheeseburger instead?” I asked the waitress.

“A cheeseburger?” Noah frowned at me, and shook his head. “No, trust me. The steak is the best thing on the menu.” He turned back to the waitress. “She wants the steak.”

“Can I get mine rare?” I asked the waitress. She scribbled something down, and walked away.

“Rare?” Noah asked.

“The redder the better,” I said.

“You’ll get sick off it.”

“Never have before.” I flicked my hair over my shoulder. “Besides, did you really need to order for me like that? I can make my own choices.”

“Feisty.” Noah grinned at me. “I like that.”

My cheeks burned, and I studied the rose on the table. It was red, and newly-bloomed. I resisted the urge to bury my nose in it.

Noah eventually broke the awkward silence. “What have you been up to?”

“Nothing much.” I fiddled with a salt shaker, struggling to come up with more than just a generic answer. But I didn’t feel like explaining the parrot predicament. “I finished up a group project yesterday.”

“Group projects are the worst,” Noah said. “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with those anymore.”

“Lucky.” I remembered how hard it was to meet up with Lars, and to actually get him to help me with it. Thankfully recording our parts went smoothly, and I emailed the file to Mr. Rondello shortly after. “At least we were only paired in twos. I ended up with this guy-”

“Guy?” Noah folded his arms across his chest, one eyebrow raised. “You were with a guy?”

Was he jealous? Over that? It seemed a bit excessive. I chewed the inside of my cheek. “Yeah. The teacher put us together.”

“Interesting.” But the sullen look never left his face.

We sat in another awkward silence until our food came.

The steak turned out being quite tasty, but I still wished I had that burger instead.

“See?” Noah said, watching me devour my meal. “I know what’s best for you.”

“Sure do,” I said in a fake polite voice. Though Noah had become less attractive.

“We should do something else after this,” he said.

I voiced agreement to keep the peace, but hoped “something else” didn’t involve getting kidnapped. For good measure, I sent an update text to Tiffany.

“Now, isn’t it a little rude to text when you’re hanging out with someone?” he said with a smirk.

“I’m sorry. It’s just… my mom had a question and you know how moms get when you don’t answer back within three minutes.”

Noah chuckled at that. “Yeah, don’t I? Anyways, I was thinking. The mall’s just across the street. We could walk there.”

I mulled it over. Maybe this whole “ordering food for you” thing was out of nerves, and being in a different setting full of many distractions would make the both of us more comfortable. “Sounds fun. There’s an old arcade there we could go to.”

And so we walked to the mall, and he did nothing else I disapproved of. I started falling in love with him again. We wandered around the arcade in search of games to play. There weren’t many people around other than a few kids. And two teenage girls at the DDR machine. One was a tall blonde, and the other was short, with black hair tied back in a ponytail.

“You know, I used to be real good at DDR,” Noah said.

“I’ve never played it,” I said.

“What? You’ve never played DDR?”

“Nope. It involves too much moving. I prefer to do as little moving as possible in all aspects of my life.”

“Let’s play it when those girls are done.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Come on. It’ll be fun.”

We approached the DDR machine. The girls playing were insanely good. It was kinda funny though. The blonde girl looked like Lexy. And the other girl looked like Tiffany. But Lexy and Tiffany would never play DDR, much less be good at it.

The two girls finished their game, and gave each other a double high five. Which turned into a hug. Once they pulled away, I got a good at their faces. My heart stopped.

“Tiffany?”

In the light of the flashing machines, Tiffany paled. “Emma… Hi.”

“Lexy?”

Lexy grunted.

“Why? How? What? Why?” I asked. “Why… Tiffany. Why are you with… her?” I gestured at Lexy. “And playing DDR of all games? You know how much I hate exercise.”

“Which is why I’m not playing it with you,” Tiffany said.

“But you hate video games. And Lexy.”

“I don’t hate video games. I just don’t like them as much as you. And prefer games like DDR. Also, it’s you who hates Lexy. I...”

“You what?” My heart quivered at the inevitable betrayal. “Please don’t say it.”

“I like Lexy. She’s fun to be around.”

Lexy smiled and held Tiffany’s hand. Like they were little girls in elementary school hanging out during recess. Like when we were little girls in elementary school hanging out during recess. My head spun. I grabbed the bar attached to the DDR machine, clutching at my heart. “Oh God. Please… Tiff, you can’t do this to me.”

“Relax. We’re still best friends.”

“But she’s the enemy!” I wailed, thrusting my arm out dramatically. Capturing the attention of a group of teenage boys at a Pacman machine behind us.

“And you call me a drama queen,” Lexy huffed.

“This was your secret plan for today? Instead of accompanying me to meet an online friend who could potentially be a serial killer,” I glanced at Noah, “no offense.”

“None taken.”

“You run off with the enemy!”

“We’re allowed other friends. We don’t have to like the same people.”

“But Lexy?”

Noah reached for my hand. “We should go.”

“No, we’ll go,” Tiffany said. “Lexy and I were about to head home anyway. We can… continue this conversation when we’ve both cooled down, okay?”

I responded by grinding my teeth with crossed arms.

Tiffany let out a sigh. “At least think about what I want, for once.”

Her words left me speechless. Still holding hands, Lexy and Tiffany walked off. Lexy with a flounce in her step, Tiffany with a slump.

“I can’t believe this,” I said. “I absolutely cannot believe this.”

“I’m sorry,” Noah said. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

I groaned.

“Do you still wanna play DDR?”

I groaned louder.

“Do you wanna go home?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Cutting our date short.”

“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t expecting to do much after this anyway. Unless you want to stop for ice cream?”

“There’s a Safeway on my way home,” I said. “I’ll buy one of those cartons, and eat it straight out of it. It’ll feel far more satisfying.”

Noah nodded in understanding.

As we walked out of the mall and went our separate ways, it occurred to me that Noah actually gave me a choice between talking about my problems, or going home. So he wasn’t always making decisions for me. Definitely nerves were making him seem so... Insistent? Controlling? I wasn’t sure of the word, or if I should continue this thing with Noah. But none of that mattered, no. Because my best friend left me for the enemy.

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