After sobbing over my carton of ice cream like a main character in a romcom, I remembered that I was supposed to text Tiffany hourly updates. Hopefully she wasn’t worried. Pfft. Like she would notice, being all friendly with Lexy. But I grabbed my phone, and left her a text.
I made it home safe, not that you would care since you’re too busy being best friends with Lexy.
She responded immediately.
I’m glad you’re okay. How’d it go?
My passive aggressiveness went over her head, making it very unsatisfying. The fact she might’ve been purposely ignoring it made it even worse. She was good at doing that.
It went great. Noah’s great. A lot greater than Lexy.
You should give Lexy a chance. She’s not bad.
I tossed my phone on my bed. I had read enough.
There was a knock on my door, and it opened without me prompting the knocker.
“What’s wrong?” Alice poked her head in, eyeing my half-eaten carton of ice cream, and my face. It was probably red and covered in snot and tears. “I heard wailing earlier. Worse than usual.”
“It’s nothing. Go away.”
Alice sat down on my bed. “Is it about the parrot?”
“No. It’s… Tiffany. She’s leaving me for… for...”
Alice tilted her head questioningly.
“Lexy!” I sobbed at the last word. “Can you believe that?”
Alice looked down at her feet, flushed. “Yeah.”
“Yeah? You knew?”
Alice nodded. “I caught the two together in the supply closet last week. I promised not to tell anyone.”
“And now they’re looking for janitorial supplies together?” I pressed my palms against my eyes. “It’s worse than I thought!”
“Emma...” Alice bit her lip. “I should go.”
“Yes, you should.” I wiped my eyes on my sleeve, and then my nose. “And next time you knock, wait for me to tell you it’s okay to come in. That’s the whole point of knocking.”
Alice smiled and left. I returned to my ice cream and it hit me. I spent my much needed money on a carton of ice cream. I needed every penny I owned, and I wasted $4 of it. Another sob escaped me. In the distance, a dog barked. I opened my window, and barked right back.
School that Monday was rough. I wanted to avoid Tiffany, but it was kind of hard to do when she sat next to me in Mr. Milburn’s class.
“We need to talk,” she said, the second I took my assigned seat next to her.
I focused on pulling out my textbook.
She poked my shoulder with her pencil. “Emma!”
“What?” I snapped.
“I want to talk about this thing with Lexy,” Tiffany said. “I mean, we’ve been best friends forever. I don’t want to lose our friendship over a girl.”
“Cool. Stop hanging out with her then.” I turned to the front of the room, where Mr. Milburn had stood up and started droning on about imaginary numbers. Which I found confusing. Wasn’t working with regular numbers hard enough?
“I’m not choosing Lexy over you,” Tiffany whispered.
I turned back to her. “What?”
“I’m not choosing you over Lexy either. I’m going to be friends with both of you. And if you have a problem with that-”
“Ms. Nguyen, Ms. McKernal,” Mr. Milburn said. “What are you talking about that is more interesting than imaginary numbers?”
The class stared at me and Tiffany.
“Real numbers,” I said.
A few students snickered.
“Ms. McKernal, please be quiet and at least pretend to pay attention.”
I grunted, but obeyed. Tiffany said no more after that.
I reflected on our argument for the rest of class and during my next class too. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her decision. I mean, fine, she could hang out with Lexy all she wanted. That didn’t mean I had to be happy about it. Thinking about the drama made me depressed, so I tried thinking of the positives in my life.
Like how my follower count jumped to 32. Noah had posted a status on his Nemesis page, talking about how wonderful of a person I am and to please check out my videos.
And how he kept blowing up my phone with texts about how he was thinking of me and what not. It was kind of sweet, though I could never think of any good responses other than “me too.”
But the tournament was the only thing I should be thinking about. I needed to focus on winning it. And I had to practice. If only I could skip school to do just that. Which didn’t sound like a bad idea.
And both my parents were at work.
The only problem was, if I didn’t have an “excused absence,” I could get caught for ditching school. My parents would be called, so I’d need approval for leaving. Like, a nurse letting me go home for being sick. That could work.
When the bell rang for lunch, I headed straight for the nurse’s office.
“I’m sick. I have to go home,” I told her. “I’ll puke if I don’t.”
The nurse had me sit down, and took my temperature by running a laser over my forehead with a scan gun thing. Like a cereal box being scanned by a cashier. The nurse read the thermometer’s digital reader. “Your temperature is normal.”
“Yeah, but I’m gonna throw up.”
The nurse raised her eyebrow at me, and I made a dramatic show of fake coughing. She sighed and muttered something about not getting paid enough. “I suppose if you’re really not feeling well, I can call your parents to pick you up.”
This I did not expect at all.
She asked for my full name, and searched for it on the computer on her desk. Once my information came up, she picked up the landline next to the computer. I held my breath.
She hung up after several rings, and, after glancing back at the screen, dialed what was probably a different number. I guessed she was trying for one of my parents’ work numbers. I really didn’t think that part through. Nibbling at my lip, I checked the clock on the wall. 12:06. Both my parents were probably on their lunch breaks. Hopefully.
The nurse sighed, and hung up the phone, turning to look at me. “I can’t get ahold of your parents, so-”
“I can get home on my own,” I said. As I said those words, I realized I couldn’t. It was too far of a walk, and I didn’t know how to take a bus. Or what bus to even take. Man, I was hopeless.
“No, we can’t risk that.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out to see a new text from Noah. Noah! He had a car. I looked up from my phone. “My older brother can pick me up.”
“You have an older brother?”
“He’s a legal adult, so lemme just call him and have him pick me up.”
“Are you sure-”
“Call him up then. I’ll have one of the administrators escort you outside and wait with you.”
As the nurse left the room to get me an escort, I called Noah.
“Hi, I need you to pick me up from school,” I said. “And pretend to be my older brother who has legal adult status.”
“I’ll explain more when I see you but, long story short I’m in the nurse’s office feigning illness to get out of school.”
“Nice. I’ll be there in ten. What school is it?”
“Oakwood. Home of the otters.” I hung up.
“What’s going on?” Noah asked, as soon as I got in his car.
“I need to go home to play video games so that I’m a total pro by Saturday so I can win the $2,000 prize at Gamefest so I can buy a new parrot to replace the drama teacher’s old one that I accidentally killed.”
Noah glanced over at me, face wrinkled in confusion. “What?”
“Technically I didn’t kill it- some guy stepped on it. But I’d rather not get in trouble for it.”
“Wow. So we’re going to your house?”
We’re? I swallowed nervously. I had planned on being alone the whole time. No way could I focus with Noah hanging around. “I just need to be dropped off. It’s probably best if-”
“No, of course I’ll come in,” Noah said.
“My parents will be mad enough if they find out I skipped school,” I said. “If they found out about you-”
“They won’t. What time do they usually get home?”
“My dad gets home at 5, and my mom- oh shit!”
“My mom picks me up from school every day!” How could I have not seen that major flaw in my plan?
“So?” Noah said. “I can drive you back to school in time for your mom to pick you up. She’ll never know.”
The boy had a good idea. I directed him to my house, and he insisted on coming inside. So I let him in.
He smiled. “It is the least you can do.”
“We’re only playing video games,” I said. “That is it.”
He wrapped an arm around me, causing my insides to melt. “So where are the games?”
I led him to my room, ignoring a suggestive comment he made which I was secretly thinking. I sat in my chair and booted up my computer, while Noah made himself comfortable on my bed.
“What games are you going to have to play at Gamefest?” Noah asked.
“I have no idea. They say it’s a surprise. But since it’s a ‘whoever beats this game the fastest wins’ sort of deal, I’m gonna focus on speed-running old games.”
I booted up Mega Man, and played while Noah gave me advice and tips on how to improve. Though every now and then, he’d distract me by playing with my hair, or rubbing my shoulder. It was getting annoying. I kept batting his hand away, but he didn’t take the hint.
After about an hour, he did something I never thought I’d experience anytime soon.
He kissed me.
I always thought a spontaneous kiss would be romantic. It’s glorified in all forms of media often enough. And it signifies the start of a relationship. Rainbows appear and birds sing. Everyone stands up and claps. But I experienced none of that. I did have a stomach full of knots, but it was more out of fear. What the hell was I doing, being alone with some boy I had only met once?
I pulled away, but he kept his hand behind my head, and leaned in for more.
“Stop!” I pushed him away.
He gripped my upper arms. “I drove you home, didn’t I? I got you more followers. The least you could do is-”
A door slammed shut from downstairs. Uh oh. “My mom’s home,” I whispered as Noah finally released me.
What was Mom doing home so early?
“Emma!” My mom appeared at my doorway, eyes widening at the sight of Noah. “Who’s this?”
“A friend,” I said quickly.
“I was just about to leave,” Noah said, and past her. I heard him thump down the hallway and shut the front door.
My mom and I stared at each other. I swallowed. “What are you doing home so early?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” She raised her voice. “I got a call from your school, saying you left early because you were sick. That your older brother came to pick you up because they couldn’t get a hold of me or your father.”
I didn’t respond.
“I can’t believe you would do this. Pretending to be sick to hang out here with some weird boy.”
“He’s not that weird,” I said.
“Shouldn’t he be in school too?”
“He’s an adult?”
“Only two years older.”
“Emma…” My mom pinched the bridge of her nose, eyes squeezed shut. “You are in so much trouble I don’t know where to begin. How did you meet him?”
“He’s a friend of Tiffany’s brother.”
“Tiffany has a brother?”
My mom made a noise that sounded like a cross between a groan and a sigh. “You’re not allowed to see him ever again.”
Relief swept over me. But I didn’t want her to know I felt relieved. So I fake-argued instead. “No!”
“He’s too old for you! And you’re too young to be dating anyway.”
“Loads of 17 year olds have boyfriends.”
She ignored my very-true point. “You’re grounded.”
“Yes. Grounded. No going out. No leaving this room. No more computer. And no more video games!”
“What! I need to-”
“You play them too much anyway.”
“But what about my homework?” I asked, as I watched her unplug my keyboard.
“You can use the computer downstairs. But me or your father will supervise.”
I buried my face in my hands as she stormed out of my room, carrying my precious keyboard.
Now how was I supposed to go to Gamefest to win $2,000 to buy an overpriced bird?