“Emma,” Ms. Gold said. “How nice to see you.”
“Ms. Gold. You’re back.” I forced a smile. “I didn’t know you played video games.”
“Oh, I used to, back in my youth,” Ms. Gold flicked her hand nonchalantly. “I was wondering if I still had it in me, and it turns out I do.”
I ducked my head in an awkward but friendly manner. “Good luck.”
Ms. Gold returned my luck and went off to the drink stand. I let out a breath, and pulled out my phone to text Lexy. But she had already texted me first as of 20 minutes ago.
Ms. Gold is here! I’m hiding in my car.
Good to know why Lexy pulled a disappearing act. I swore out loud, which earned me the attention of the famous Cameron Brook.
“Is something wrong?” he asked me curiously.
“Oh, no,” I said. “My enemy’s drama teacher just showed up from her family emergency, and is about to find out I killed her parrot, which I was trying to earn $2,000 to replace before she could suspect a thing. But now she’s here unexpectedly. And might start suspecting things.” I clutched at my throat. “Oh God.”
Cameron scratched his heavy jawline, giving me a blank stare. “I’m… sorry?”
“Don’t worry about it.” I let out a nervous chuckle. “You’re Cameron Brook, right?”
Behind me, Alice slapped her forehead.
“You are correct.” Cameron glanced at the board. “And you’re… Emma or Diane.”
“Emma. I’ve seen you in a few movies.” I nudged Alice forward. “Thanks to my sister, Alice, of course. She’s a huge fan of yours.”
These words seemed to have confused Cameron more than my initial rambling. He went back to staring blankly. “A fan?”
Red-faced, Alice nodded.
“She came just to meet you,” I continued on, embarrassing Alice further.
“I’ve never met a fan before.” He ran his hand through his hair, stopping at the base of his neck. “I have a fan?”
Alice and Cameron stared at each other for a moment.
“Can I get a picture with you?” Alice blurted out.
Cameron’s grin rivaled Alice’s. “I never thought anyone would ever ask.”
After taking a few pictures with Alice’s phone, I felt the need to ask him why he was in the contest.
“So,” I said, “I’m here to get money to replace a parrot, Ms. Gold is here to relive her youth, Noah is here to spite me. What’s your motivation for being here?”
Cameron let out an awkward laugh. “I just want to build up a savings account in case of an emergency. And I don’t live far from here, so I figured, why not?”
A savings account? “You’re an actor,” I said. “Don’t you have a million dollars already?”
“I wish I had a million.” His gaze grew distant, and he smiled wistfully. “Maybe then I could finally afford a one-bedroom instead of the studio I’m in now.”
“What?” I remembered the video I watched. That really must’ve been his apartment.
“Actors don’t make millions unless they’re famous. It’s just a side thing for me. I mainly stock shelves.” He glanced over at the scoreboard. “I wish I could hit big.”
“I bet you will one day,” Alice piped up. I had forgotten she was there.
“Hopefully.” Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Cameron patted Alice’s shoulder, and then mine. “Good luck.”
“You too.” I watched him wander off towards the bathrooms. Now I knew why he lived the way he did, and needed $2,000. “I’m sorry, Alice.”
“Sorry for what?” Alice had her eyes on the bathroom door, which Cameron disappeared behind.
“That your Hollywood hunk turned out being a broke loser.”
Alice finally tore her gaze away to gasp at me. “He’s not a loser!”
“You still like him then?”
“I love him!”
I shook my head while Alice went back to staring at the bathrooms. I tried not to think about what was going on in her head. Instead, I reflected on the conversation I had with Cameron. That actor turned out being a lowly shelf-stocker, living paycheck-to-paycheck in a studio apartment. It was kind of sad. And he seemed nice. Humble too. I’m the competition. He could’ve been an ass to me like Noah. But Cameron seemed to be a genuinely good guy, just trying to survive.
He deserved the money. And needed it more than I did. I swore under my breath. I had to concentrate on my reason for being there. Everything I put myself through just to get a shot at $2,000. I couldn’t go soft now.
The announcer called for the top four to gather around a big screen TV. Me, Ms. Gold, Noah, and Cameron Brook all took seats in front of the TV. I sat awkwardly between Ms. Gold and Cameron. Noah sat on the other side of Ms. Gold. The announcer stood next to the TV, microphone in hand.
“Now I bet you are all waiting to see what kart racing game you will be playing,” the announcer said in a hyped up, overly-excited voice.
I hoped it was Mariokart.
“I hope it’s Mariokart,” Ms. Gold said.
“Of course it’s Mariokart,” Noah grumbled. “What other kart racers are there?”
“It’s Crash Team Racing!” the announcer’s voice rang out.
“WHAT!” Noah shouted. “Who the hell plays CTR?”
“Me,” Cameron mumbled.
“What’s Crash Team Racing?” Ms. Gold asked.
“It’s Mariokart for people who can’t afford Mariokart,” Noah said with a scoff.
Crash Team Racing. CTR for short. While I was more familiar with Mariokart, I had played a decent amount of CTR, and the two games were similar enough. Judging by Noah’s feelings towards it, he probably sucked.
And Ms. Gold had never heard of it. She wouldn’t know what buttons to press.
I had this. There was no way I didn’t have it.
Except Cameron said he played it. Hopefully he didn’t know how to drift. I hoped I remembered how to drift. The mechanics of it were far different than Mariokart’s.
“This will be a cup race,” the announcer explained. “There will be four tracks, and where you place determines the amount of points you get. First place earns you 9 points. Second, 6. Third 3 and fourth 1. The person with the highest score by the end of the last track wins. I hope that all made sense. Good luck!”
The announcer selected a “cup race” at random. We each grabbed a controller, and away we went.
Everyone’s skill level was apparent in the first lap of the first track. Ms. Gold didn’t stand a chance. Noah fared surprisingly well despite the fuss he made. He was on my level. Cameron, meanwhile, used a shortcut and was leagues ahead.
Until Ms. Gold got an item that slowed everyone’s karts down except her own. Noah and I were able to catch up to him thanks to her, and thanks to Noah shooting a missile item at him, we were both able to pass Cameron. Noah shot another missile at me but I was prepared and dropped a Nitro crate right before it could hit, causing it to strike the crate instead. And…
“I won the first track!” I grinned right as Noah bumped into a wall by mistake, causing Cameron to get second. Ms. Gold was so far behind, Noah still came third.
The next track Cameron won by a landslide. Noah got second, and I got third.
And the third track, I won. Cameron in close second, Noah in third, and Ms. Gold not far behind. She was finally getting a hang of the controls.
“Cameron and Emma are currently tied for first!” the announcer said. “At a total of 21 points each. Noah still has a chance, if he wins the next race with Diane in second place.”
So basically, it would be either me or Cameron with the prize money.
Cameron and I shared a friendly smile. A “no hard feelings to whichever one of us wins” kind of smile. It was like he was just there to have fun, no matter who won. I admired that. Alice knows how to pick them. Much better than I do, I thought as I caught Noah glaring at Cameron with contempt. Cameron either didn’t notice, or pretended not to notice.
As we began the final track, I reflected on the conversation I had with Cameron. Just a regular person struggling to make ends meet. Waiting for that big break that might never happen. And in the meantime, he just wants some extra cash in case his car breaks down or he has some kind of medical emergency or who knows what else. Maybe he’d even get himself a kitchen table.
Meanwhile, I just wanted to buy a parrot to get myself out of trouble.
Would my plan even work?
Cameron and I were having good luck with this track, with Noah and Ms. Gold far behind both of us. We were close, so close, to the finish line. Cameron was only a few inches ahead of me. I had a missile item stored. If I successfully used it on him, I would win the game, and the $2,000.
I just had to press the item button.
“Use the missile, Emma!” Alice cried from behind me. “The missile!”
There was a Nitro crate ahead. If my kart so much as touched it, I’d lose the race for sure.
It would really be a shame if I just so happened to hit it, and cost myself the race.
With that thought, I elegantly drifted into the crate. My character’s kart spun out, and Cameron drove through the finish line untouched.
Loud cheers erupted all around. I gained control of the kart and got up to speed right as Noah passed me. I shot the missile at him, and got second place because of it. I found that more satisfying than if I had actually won.
Ms. Gold fired another missile at Noah right as he gained control of the kart, and beat him to the finish line. She raised her fists in the air. “I finally got third!” Noah tossed his controller aside, clearly bitter at losing a race to Ms. Gold.
But nobody paid attention to them. They were too busy congratulating Cameron.
“Emma!” Alice shook my shoulders. “What was that!”
I turned to look at her with feigned innocence. “What was what?”
“You had him! But you ran into that green box instead of firing the missile!”
I shrugged. “I didn’t see it until I hit it.”
The scores popped up on the screen. Cameron won with a total of 30 points. I was in second with 27 while Noah had 13. Ms. Gold had 6.
“Cameron Brook is the champion!” the announcer called out.
The crowd applauded as Cameron stood up and shook hands with the announcer, and received an envelope containing a check for $2,000.
I stood up. “Congrats,” I said, holding out my hand, which he shook.
“Thanks! That was a good race.”
“And in second place, Emma McKernal.” The announcer smiled at me, and gave me an envelope. I wasn’t expecting a prize for second.
“Thank you,” I said.
“What’s in it?” Alice asked as I opened it.
A check. For $200.
It wasn’t $2,000. And I doubted I’d be able to buy a parrot with it. But I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at $200. I just needed to figure out how to cash it, since I didn’t have a bank account.
Meanwhile, Noah and Ms. Gold each got a $25 Gamestop gift card.
“It’s a shame, Emma,” Noah said, “that you didn’t win your $2,000 to get that parrot to replace your teacher’s.”
Ms. Gold’s gaze struck mine like my missile struck Noah’s kart. “What?”
“Yeah, that’s why Emma joined the contest to begin with. She killed her teacher’s pet.”
“It was nice playing against you all,” Cameron said cheerily.
“You did what!” Ms. Gold got to her feet.
Cameron looked between me and Ms. Gold, biting his lip. “I should be off now. Bye!” With a quick wave to Alice, he ducked out before bearing witness to the explosion that was about to unfold.
“Am I hearing this boy-” Ms. Gold gestured towards Noah, except Noah had left.
“See you Monday!” I shouted, and ran out of the room, and through the doors, Alice hot on my heels.