The Parrot Predicament

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Chapter 8

The next day was Saturday. The Saturday. The Saturday that would determine whether or not I would face consequences for my nefarious crime.

“You better not lose,” Lexy said on our way to the festival. “I swear to God, if you lose, and we can’t get our hands on $2,000...”

“Don’t worry, I got this,” I said confidently as Lexy merged onto the freeway.

“Yeah,” Alice chimed in. “Emma is amazing at video games. Like, she’s as good at video games as I am at art.”

“And as Tiff is at baking,” I added.

Lexy smiled. “Tiff is pretty good at baking.”

I furrowed my brow, bit my lip, and managed to keep my mouth shut.

“I’m sure you’d know all about that.” Alice grinned.

Lexy turned pink at those words. I did not know why.

But I did know I hadn’t touched a controller since the Noah fiasco five days ago. And Noah, as much as I hated him, had a high chance of winning. I swallowed as Lexy pulled into the parking lot.

The convention took place inside a large, fancy hotel. Booths were lined up against two adjacent walls, where vendors sold games and related merchandise. There was a room filled with arcade games for people to casually enjoy, though you had to pay to play. Another room had a scheduled panel going on. And of course, there was a room where the tournament was scheduled to start.

Lexy, Alice, and I all made our way through the crowd, and found a line in front of a registration table. Judging by the “contest entrants here” sign at the front of the line, I assumed that I had to join the line. While we waited, Alice looked around wildly. Trying to see if she could get a glimpse of Cameron Brook, no doubt.

“So you decided to show your face,” a familiar voice said, from behind us. I turned around and of course it was Noah. I flinched.

“I can’t believe you think you have a chance of winning,” Noah said.

“She does.” Alice eyed him warily. “Who are you?”

“An acquaintance,” I said. “Nothing more.”

Lexy folded her arms, head tilted as she looked at him, and then at me. “Aren’t you, like, dating this guy?”

Noah and I scrunched our noses.

Lexy nodded. “You two broke up, and are now competing against each other. Wonderful.” She turned to me. “Do you stand a chance against him?”

I said yes at the same time Noah said no.

“Alright.” Lexy turned to Noah. “What will it take to get you to drop out of the competition?”

Noah spent a moment taking in Lexy’s curvy figure while stroking his chin. “Go out with me, and I’ll consider it.”

Lexy curled her lip at him. “I’m gay, you creep.”

My mouth fell. Lexy was gay? This was news to me. Not that there was anything wrong with it, of course. It made me think of Tiffany, who came out to me as bisexual freshman year. I wondered if Lexy knew that. Maybe that’s why they became friends. They bonded over being gay.

Noah didn’t seem offended by this, opting to shrug his shoulders instead. “I’m not dropping out then.”

“Next!” a woman from the table called for me.

The contest would be a process of elimination. Sixteen people had signed up total. Two people would compete against each other to see who could beat the level of a game the fastest. A round with fighting games would follow. The top four would then play a kart racing game against each other, and the winner would go home with $2,000.

We all made our way into the tournament room. The room was packed. Several TVs were set up along two adjacent walls, various game consoles plugged into each one.

“Do you see Cameron anywhere?” Alice asked, sounding as nervous as I felt.

“I don’t know.” There were too many people crowded around the room, and the lights were dimmed. It was too hard to tell one dark-haired man from the other.

I hoped I wouldn’t have to go against Cameron, for Alice’s sake. Maybe he’d fail the first round. Why was he in the contest anyway? What would an actor need $2,000 for? Wasn’t that what they made in, like, a day? My guess was for the publicity. I snorted. Actors. No wonder Lexy was into that garbage.

The first game I had to play was Super Mario 3, against a balding man named Rick.

We both sat in folding chairs in front of two separate TVs. The staff member setting us up explained the rules. Whoever got to the third level first, won. No glitches or cheats allowed. Apparently there wasn’t enough time to do the whole game, as the hotel wanted them out by 5. Which worked in my favor, since my parents were expecting me to be done with school at 5:30.

The rest of the contestants were paired off at other TVs and consoles, so we would all finish around the same time. I saw Noah with a scrawny, college-aged boy. It looked like they had to play Mega Man. I wished we could trade games, seeing how Mega Man was the last one I played.

But that didn’t matter. Rick lost a life that cost him the win. I would move on to the next round.

Alice was by my side congratulating me, Lexy nowhere to be seen. I frowned.“Where’d Lexy go?”

Alice shrugged.

I called Lexy’s cell, but no answer. So I sent her a text. It’s not that I cared about her or anything. But she was our ride home, so it was important to know where she went.

I didn’t have time to worry about it, because someone on a microphone announced the beginning of round 2. This time I had to play some fighting game I’d never heard of. Against a girl named Nicole. Something about the way she carried herself reminded me of Lexy. She wore make-up and looked like a stereotypical prep. I expected her to suck.

But she proved me wrong by winning the first round of the fight. I won the second round. The third round was a close call. Both our HP levels were in the red. My combo bar flashed, allowing me to use a special move. Hers flashed shortly after, but it was too late.

Right as my killing move struck Nicole’s character, Alice squealed. I beamed at her support. Or, I thought the squeal was because I won. It turned out she finally caught sight of…

“Cameron Brook! Oh my God!” Alice grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “I have to go meet him!”

“Chill,” I said, removing her hands from my shoulders. “Celebrities don’t like it when people get all weird around them.”

The staff member running this particular game interrupted us. “Congrats! You’re one of the finalists.”

I resisted the urge to do cartwheels around the room, and she told me someone would announce the start of the final game in ten minutes.

As soon as the staff member left us alone, Alice continued her freak-out.

“What do I even say to him? I’m seriously hyper ventilating right now.”

“Calm down.” I should be the one hyper ventilating, given how close I was to that $2,000 prize. The prize that would solve all my worries.

“Oh my God, he’s coming over this way. Hide me!”

Cameron Brook walked by without looking at us. He appeared to be headed towards the scoreboard. Which was just a whiteboard with our names written on it. A staff member erased some names off it, and wrote down others. I made my way over there, Alice hiding behind me.

“What are you doing,” she asked in a hushed voice.

“Seeing who the finalists are,” I said. “I need to know my competition.”

“But Cameron is right there!”

“So? Didn’t you come here to meet him anyway?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know what to do. What if he hates me?”

I rolled my eyes, then rolled them harder when Noah shoved me on his way to the board. I trailed behind him.

The top four ended up being me, Noah, Cameron, and some rando named Diane.

“Who’s Diane?” I wondered aloud. I turned to look at Alice, but my eyes met someone else.

Ms. Gold!

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