The Parrot Predicament

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Chapter 7

“So, it turns out I’m grounded and can’t go to Gamefest.”

It was the following day during lunch, and I was about to pitch my solution to the group.

Lexy slapped her hand on the table. “Great! That’s just great. Now how are we gonna get the money? Ms. Gold called me last night to ask about Molly!”

I swore under my breath. “What’d you tell her?”

“That she was doing alright. And you know what else?”

“What?”

“She’ll be back Friday night!”

“What!” Me, Tiffany, and Lars gave her wide-eyed stares.

Lexy nodded. “She said she wants me to bring Molly straight to her Monday morning, before school starts.”

I wiped my brow. “At least that gives us an extra day to buy the bird, after I’ve won the contest.”

“I thought you couldn’t go to the contest?” Lexy said.

“I’m still going, I’m just not allowed to. But I have an idea. I just need someone to drive me to Gamefest.” I looked at Tiffany, and then Lexy. Then, Tiffany again.

Tiffany let out a sigh. “I guess I’ll do it.”

“No, I will,” Lexy said. “I know you’ve been busy with your History paper.”

“History paper?” I looked at Tiffany, wondering how Lexy would know about something about Tiffany that I didn’t know. “What History paper?”

“This research paper on the Great Depression,” Tiffany said. “It’s worth half my grade.”

I was really hoping Tiffany would drive me, since the other option was sitting in a car with Lexy. Alone.

“Am I picking you up from your house?” Lexy asked me.

I shook my head. “From school.”

“School?”

“I’ll tell my parents I have Saturday detention at 1:30. They can drive me to school, thinking I’ll be having a miserable time when in reality, I’ll be kicking ass at Gamefest.”

“What school has Saturday detention at 1:30?” Lars asked. “Your parents won’t believe it.”

I nibbled my lip. He had a good point. “Well, unless any of you can think of something better, it’s my only option.”

Just then, Alice dropped into the empty chair beside me. “Sounds like a great idea.”

There went that plan.

“Of course, I assumed you would pull some stunt to get yourself to Gamefest, despite being grounded.” A smile grew on her face. “It would be a shame if Mom and Dad found out-”

“What do you want?” I snapped at her.

At the same time, Lexy said, “Don’t rat her out!”

Tiffany and Lars observed the scene with mild interest.

“I won’t rat you out, if you take me with you,” Alice said breathlessly.

I raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“I want to go to Gamefest.”

“What?” I repeated.

“You heard me.”

I looked at the rest of the group. Lars, Lexy, and Tiffany looked just as baffled as I did. I turned to Alice. “Why?”

A slight blush crossed her face, and she fiddled with the zipper on her hoodie.

“Well?”

“I just do.”

“Let me guess,” Lexy said, “there’s some boy you’re crushing on who’s going to this thing, possibly entering the contest himself, and you have to go so you can fawn over him.”

Alice opened her mouth but no words came out.

“I knew it.” Lexy leaned back with a satisfied smile.

I rolled my eyes. “Please. Alice is too busy fawning over F-list celebrity Cameron Brook to pay any attention to anyone else around her.”

“Who’s that?” Lexy asked.

“Some background actor no one’s heard of,” I said.

“People have heard of him,” Alice mumbled to herself. “He has followers on Nemesis.”

My jaw dropped. “Nemesis?”

Alice covered her mouth. Like she didn’t want me to know he had a Nemesis, and it slipped. Nemesis was for video game nerds. Was Cameron Brook a video game nerd? I pulled out my phone. “I don’t believe it.”

“No, not Nemesis. I meant- Are you looking him up?”

“I need proof.” I opened Nemesis and tapped the search bar, while Alice made a move to grab my phone from me. I pulled away and typed in “Cameron Brook” and lo-and-behold, an account owned by someone named Cameron Brook popped up. The profile picture was, indeed, of him.

“Don’t look at it!” Alice pleaded, but it was too late.

My eyes widened at his latest status message. “Cameron Brook is going to be at Gamefest?”

“Shut up!”

“He’s going to be… competing?” Good Lord. If that was the competition, I already won.

Alice covered her face with her hands. Lexy let out a laugh that I agreed with.

“So you want to go to Gamefest to meet Cameron Brook.” I shook my head, then turned it into a nod. That was a reasonable request in exchange for not telling on me. “You can come.”

A smile broke out on Alice’s face, and she clasped her hands together. “I finally get to meet Cameron Brook!” Her voice got all high-pitched, causing the rest of us to cover our ears.

“I suppose I’ll have to pick you up too?” Lexy asked. “How will you explain that to your parents?”

Alice bit her lip. “You could pretend to be my much older friend.”

Lexy shrugged. “Whatever.”

And so it was planned. Although I was going to wait a few days until telling my parents about my “Saturday detention,” just in case a better idea came along.

After school I went home and checked Nemesis for any new drama regarding Noah. Ever since my announcement, he’d gotten his fair share of hate, and my follower count rose. I now had over 100. I still got the occasional message about how I was a liar ruining Noah’s life, but I didn’t care. He ruined my life. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have to lie and sneak around to get to Gamefest. I could simply ask for a ride from my parents, or have Lexy or Tiffany take me. And I’d be practicing now instead of hiding on my phone, watching drama unfold.

Except there was no more drama. I had no new messages or comments. And I lost about 20 followers, bringing my count down to 87. I guess since the excitement had worn out, people lost interest in me. Letting out a sigh, I decided to see how Noah’s page fared.

He had posted a status. A very worrying status.

I’m proud to announce that I will be competing at Gamefest this Saturday at 2pm. If you’re in the area, stop on by and watch me win!

What an arrogant jerk. But a sinking feeling filled my stomach. As much as I hated Noah, he was good. Real good. 11k followers good, despite my allegation. I didn’t stand a chance.

No, I shouldn’t tell myself that. I would win. Cameron Brook was part of the competition, for Christ’s sake.

I chewed at a hangnail. What if he was good too? He did have a Nemesis, after all. I went to his page, to get a better idea of what I was up against.

He had 328 followers.

Damn. Hundreds more than me.

He also had, like, 60 videos posted. Judging by the time stamps and his other statuses, he uploaded a new one every week. No wonder Alice was in a giggly mood every Friday night. I scrolled through the list. Most of them were basic speed runs. Some were regular runs. A few were of him messing around in Skyrim. (I swear, every other Nemesis user had a Skyrim video. I needed to make one myself.)

I tapped a clip of him attempting the world record for The Lion King on SNES, and watched.

Like Noah, he had a player cam at the bottom left corner of the screen. I could easily picture Alice fawning over him. She’d probably seen this a hundred times. He also had commentary. It made me seriously consider adding commentary to my own videos.

My jaw dropped while watching him race through the second level flawlessly. It’s not an easy feat. I wondered if Noah had ever done it.

As he fought off hyenas in the third level, I noticed something strange in his player cam. The background was his kitchen. But not like he was playing in his kitchen, no. I was able to see the entirety of his kitchen from a great distance behind him. Appliances were crammed together in a small space, and there wasn’t a kitchen table in sight. Though it was possible his upper body hid the table from view. Or he was at the table. But if he was at the table, it was farther from the kitchen than a table ought to be.

Plus, the chair he sat in was a legit computer chair. One of those small ones from ye olden days, but a computer chair nonetheless.

It was odd. He was an actor in several movies big enough to be shown in theaters. A background actor, but still an actor. Surely he could afford a modern-day chair and a large kitchen? And was that a bed off to the side? I couldn’t tell. Maybe I was seeing everything wrong, since I was watching on a small screen.

I had a feeling he was in a studio apartment. And not even a nice one. Maybe he recorded these in a friend’s apartment, because he worried people like Alice would find out where he really lived. Smart man.

He finished the game at the same time I finished pondering my thoughts. He did not beat the world record, but he also didn’t lose any lives. Impressive.

He proved to be a worthy opponent.

The rest of the week went by, but nothing eventful happened. Alice had told our parents about how she and a “friend” were going to an “art festival,” and that the “friend” would be picking her up. They were fine with that. If only they’d be fine with what I had to say.

“Mom, Dad...” I said, Friday night at dinner.

“What is it this time?” Mom asked.

“I have to to go school on Saturday, tomorrow.”

Both my parents narrowed their eyes in unison. “Why?”

“I got Saturday school,” I mumbled to my plate.

“What did you do now?” Dad asked.

“Mr. Milburn caught me writing an unflattering note about him.” In a way it was true, except Mr. Milburn never caught it. “He got all angry and said I have to come to his class at 1:30 to make up for the emotional trauma I gave him.”

Mom rubbed her hand over her forehead. “You’re grounded for another week.”

I figured as much, but winning $2,000 to pay for a parrot so Ms. Gold wouldn’t find out I killed Molly, and give me a years’ worth of Saturday detentions, would be worth the extra week of punishment.

“Speaking of Saturday school, I have Saturday work,” my dad said.

“Wait, what?” Mom looked over at him.

“I have to take clients out to lunch,” he said. “I’m about to hit a major sale with them.”

“Well, I can’t take her either. I have a dentist appointment at 1 and won’t get back in time. And it’s too late to cancel now.”

“You can drop her off on the way there.”

I crinkled my nose at the suggestion. “What am I gonna do for a half hour before it starts? The doors will be locked so I won’t be able to get in.” I let out a dramatic sigh. “I’d be out, roaming the streets…”

I noticed a spark in Alice’s eye. The kind that said she had a grand idea that would work in everyone’s favor. She glanced at me, then to Mom. “My friend could drop her off at school on our way to the festival.”

I made a face. “I don’t want to be stuck in a car with your lame friends. Gross.”

“Alright, it’s settled then,” my mom said. “Alice’s friend can drop Emma off at school. Problem solved.”

I groaned for show. Alice snorted.

This turned out better than I imagined.

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