Jessie Weever Mysteries - MyCyberLife.com

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Summary

Jessie is a teenaged detective with an adorable sidekick, her Yorkie, Jynx. When Sarah, a popular girl in school, finds herself being bullied in an online world she asks Jessie for help. Jessie is an amateur detective, with her dog Jynx, and she writes the school paper, and keeps the school website up to date. Jessie and Jynx try to help Sarah, a popular girl in school, who finds herself being bullied in an online world called MyCyberLife.com. The cyber bullying spills over from online to the real world and the mystery gets close to home as Jessie and Jynx get closer to the truth. What sets this book apart is a real website and newsletter just like in the books!

Genre:
Mystery / Adventure
Author:
Mitchell Gray
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
1
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
13+

Untitled chapter

The Stolen Shark’s Head

Thwop!

I blew a huge pink bubble and it popped all over my face.

I’m never going to find a lead story for this week’s edition, I groaned, peeling a sticky pink layer from my nose.

I tapped my fingers on the desk and stared out of the classroom window.

Then my jaw dropped!

Two shadowy figures dressed head-to-toe in black were slinking out of the gymnasium window carrying an enormous shark’s head. They checked over their shoulders, then turned and ran into the darkness.

I sprang from my desk, sprinted down the hall, and out the front door of the school, determined to catch the sharks-head-stealing thieves.

The gymnasium is in a separate building from the main building where I work on the newspaper, so I had to make my way around to the front of the school, take a hard left, then head straight back towards the gym. By the time I got there, it was too late. The bandits were nowhere in sight.

I pulled my cellphone from my pocket and flicked it on, hoping to light up any evidence the culprits had left behind. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my crime-solving adventures, it’s that criminals always leave something behind.

I shined the light around and sure enough, a fragment of blue and white fabric was caught on a sliver of wood protruding from the window sill. I fished in my backpack for tweezers and a plastic baggie, carefully gripped the scrap of cloth, and dropped it into the Ziploc.

I inspected the ground and discovered two sets of footprints leading away from the window. They were rather unique footprints; large, with 5 holes in the toe area and two in the heel. Cleats. I snapped some photos, then started following the prints. They led me through the grassy area behind the gym, and ended at the student parking lot.

The prints were harder to follow once I was on concrete instead of grass. I shined my light onto the parking lot, afraid my trail had come to an end. I stood there wishing my dog Jynx was with me – he could sniff them out.

I was just about to head back to the building when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Could it be? I ran to one of the empty parking spaces and knelt down. It was! A piece of fur from the shark’s head. I dropped the fuzzy evidence into a fresh Ziploc, and blew a nice-sized pink bubble.

As soon as I got back to the school newsroom I dialed the Sheriff’s office.

A deep, familiar voice picked up, “Sheriff Weever, may I help you?”

“Hi Dad,” I said.

“Hey Jessie, what’s up, kiddo?”

Kiddo. My dad still treats me like a baby. I know he means well, but I’m 15 years old! I shook my head and tried to be patient with him. I explained to him what had just happened and he told me to stay put - that he would be right over.

Word travels quickly in a small town like Seaside, and it wasn’t long before my dad, School Principal Hillis, and Coach McChesney arrived at the school.

Coach McChesney unlocked the door to the gym and evidence of a crime was obvious. Spray painted on the wall was a tiger, and enormous green and gold letters that spelled out the word LOSERS. The front case where trophies, photos, and other sports memorabilia are kept was wide open, and the contents of the case were in disarray. And the school mascot was now Sammy the Headless Shark.

“This is obviously the work of someone from the Tillymook Middle School,” Principal Hillis declared with conviction.

Obviously,” agreed Coach McChesney. “Who else would steal Sammy’s head and paint the wall like that?”

The Tillymook Tigers and the Seaside Sharks had been rivals for years. Tiger colors were green and gold, just like the graffiti on the wall.

I thought about the scrap of blue and white fabric I had found on the crook’s escape hatch.

My dad was saying, “Now let’s not jump to conclusions, you two. This is all just circumstantial evidence.”

“You’re right, Dad,” I said. “I think someone from our own school did this!”

My dad looked at me with his head tilted and one eyebrow raised. He let out a heavy sigh and rested a hand on his hip. I knew the tone that was coming next.

“Jessicaaaaah, what do you know about all of this? You haven’t been playing amateur detective again, have you?”

I raised my shoulders in a guilty gesture, crinkled my nose, and nervously blew a bubble. Amateur – I hate that word.

“Here’s what I know, Dad,” I reached into my backpack and retrieved the blue and white fabric. “This was caught on the window sill where the thieves escaped. Someone must have been wearing blue and white under their black disguise. These are our school colors. No Tiger would ever be caught dead wearing these colors.

I also found footprints leading away from the window. I followed them to the student parking lot and…”

Jessica,” my dad was shaking his head and trying to interrupt me with a scolding tone.

“No listen, Dad. I found this in an empty parking spot.” I held up the fuzzy scrap of Sammy the Shark’s fur. “No one can park in that lot without using a Seaside High School ID, and anyone leaving the lot has to swipe their card again. I think if we check the computer log around the time of the break-in we will have our suspects red-handed. Or should I say blue & white handed?”

After checking the parking lot computer records and questioning several suspects, two players from the Shark’s JV football team admitted to everything, insisting it had “just been a prank” and that they “had never intended to keep Sammy’s head”.

“They were hoping to cause trouble for the Tiger football team,” Dad told me. “Unfortunately, the boys seemed surprised to learn that what they had done was a crime, not a prank, and the only ones they had caused trouble for were themselves. Both kids have been suspended from school, kicked off the football team, and will be cleaning the mess they made of the gym wall and the display case. It’s up to a judge to decide if there will be more severe penalties in addition to that.

Now about you and your amateur detective work, young lady,”…

“Amateur?” After that, I didn’t hear much of what my dad was saying. I just wanted him to take me seriously. I popped a fresh piece of bubble gum into my mouth, proud of myself for having solved the mystery and relieved to have a lead story for this month’s edition of the Seaside Sun.

(Insert newspaper graphic of Seaside Sun front cover – maybe with Jessie holding it)

If you would like to read this edition of the Seaside Sun online, log on to http://www. seasidesunnews.com.

You can comment on one of the stories, sign up for the newsletter, and take the poll to share whether you think the boys should have been suspended from school or if you think what they did was “just an innocent prank”?

You can also email me at [email protected]

Jessie Weever

MyCyberLife.com

“You’re never gonna believe this! Guess who was seriously flirting with me at the CyberMall?” Sarah Thompson gushed to her friend Ashley.

“Who?”

“Ryan Lowe!”

“No way! Ryan Lowe was flirting with you? How can you be sure it was him?”

“Well, it looks just like him. His avatar has long, dark hair and one earring, just like Ryan. Plus, his onscreen name is SharkFtblPlyr1 and Ryan’s a Shark football player.”

Sarah was sprawled out on her bed in fuzzy jammies and slippers, her face just inches from the screen. Her best friend Ashley was on the phone.

“Well, what exactly did he say?” Ashley asked. “Tell me word for word!”

?????XXXXX

“I’m gonna log in and see if he’s there.”

Sarah typed a URL into the browser, www.MyCyberLife.com and a colorful website came up. She entered her user id, BabyGyrl8 and her password. Her avatar appeared, it was a tall pretty blond girl that looked just like her. “I’m going to walk over to the mall and look around for SharkFtblPlyr1.”

Over the last few months, more and more kids were logging onto MyCyberLife and meeting up to shop, flirt, or just hang out. It was getting more popular than real life!

Sarah arrived at the food court. There were kids everywhere, some talking and laughing, some sitting together looking into tablets and laptops, others talking on their phones, and some just walking around carrying shopping bags. It seemed so real.

“OMG, there he is,” she squealed! Her heart started beating faster than normal and her face felt flushed. “OMG, he’s waving at me! He’s coming over here!”

SharkFtblPlyr1 walked right up to her and said, “Hi BabyGyrl8. I was hoping to see you again.”

“I was hoping to see you again, too,” she typed. She felt breathless and her whole body was tingly. Something happened to her every time he was close by. Something new and exciting.

“OMG, Ashley, he’s talking to me.”

“But is he talking to YOU or to BabyGyrl8?” Ashley asked her.

“I don’t know,” Sarah answered.

“I’ve seen you in school,” SharkFtblPlyr1 was saying. “But I was just too shy to talk to you. That’s why I was so glad when I saw you here in the food court. I couldn’t believe my luck. The cutest girl in school was actually here.”

“Ashley, he’s really talking to me! I can’t believe this is happening!”

SharkFtblPlyr1 was standing super close to her, looking at her with a big smile, adorable dimples, and warm, welcoming eyes. His avatar ran a hand through his dark hair and it was the cutest thing she’d ever seen in her life. She’d never felt like this before, and now it seemed like it could actually be true. He might end up being her boyfriend in real life!

“Wow, you’re so lucky,” Ashley said, sounding a little less excited than Sarah, which was understandable. Ryan Lowe was flirting with HER! He was the cutest, most popular boy in school. All of the girls would be jealous.

“I think we should get together in real life,” he said. “What do you think?”

“Ashley, he wants to meet in real life,” Sarah nearly screamed into the phone. “OMG, OMG, OMG.”

His avatar was moving in closer and he put a hand on her waist. “Well, what do you think?”

“Are you sure you know who I am IRL?” she typed.

“LOL. You look just like BabyGyrl8 in real life. I recognized you right away.” Most kids tried to make their avatars look a lot like themselves, but usually in cuter clothes.

“Ok, yes, I’d like to meet in person. That would be awesome,” she finally answered.

“How about if I email you? We can talk in private that way.”

“He just took my email address,” Sarah told Ashley. “I can’t believe this is happening. We’re going to meet for real.”

“Hey, Sarah, I have to go – my mom is calling me,” Ashley interrupted. “I’ll call you back in a little bit”

“Ok, Ash, maybe you can come over later, just call or text me back when you can.” Sarah hung up the phone and just then her laptop buzzed with the sound that indicated she had a new email.

She couldn’t stop grinning, and quickly opened her email program. She had one new message in her INBOX. She let out a loud, nervous sigh, telling herself it was fine – just be cool. She double clicked to open the email. It was from Ryan Lowe and the subject was: Let’s meet in person

She took a deep breath and started reading the email. Then her heart sank, the smile disappeared from her face, and her eyes filled with tears.

The email said:

’You have to be kidding if you seriously thought I would EVER want to be with you, on mycyberlife.com OR in real life. You’re a stuck-up brat and I don’t want anything to do with you. I hope this hurts.’

A new case

Jynx and I were relaxing in my room and I was toying with the idea of going to bed early when my phone rang. It was my best friend Darby.

“Hey, Jess, whatcha doin?” she asked.

“Not much, just laying around reading a magazine. What about you?”

“I have a friend from school that needs your help. You up for some company? I’d rather explain in person.”

So much for going to bed early.

“Sure, come on over. I’ll see you in a bit.”

When Darby arrived she had two other girls with her.

I recognized the tall, pretty blonde from school. It was hard not to notice her creamy skin and mile-long legs, and I wished just for a second that I could trade her for my freckles and glasses. “Sarah, right? I’ve seen you in school.”

“Yes, nice to meet you Jessie. And this is my friend Ashley.” Sarah pointed to the petite, dark-haired girl next to her.

“Hi, Jessie,” Ashley said.

“Hi, everybody, come on in.”

After a few minutes of ooh’ing and aww’ing over Jynx, we went to my room.

“So what’s up?” I asked Darby. “You said someone needed my help.”

“It’s me,” Sarah said. “I’m being bullied. Darby said you might be able to help figure out who is doing it and why.”

“Ok, start at the beginning for me,” I told her.

“Well, it all started at MyCyberLife.com in the mall.”

“What a minute, MyCyberLife? I’ve heard of that,” I told Sarah. “I’ve never been to the site myself, but I’ve heard it’s really popular and that a ton of kids hang out in there.”

“It gets more popular all the time,” Sarah agreed. I guess sometimes it’s easier to socialize when you’re online. I always feel more confident when it’s BabyGyrl8 hanging out and interacting than when it’s Sarah.”

“Wow, you’re so pretty and popular, Sarah – I never would have guessed you’d feel more comfortable in an online world than in real life. Anyway, tell me more.”

“Okay, well I was just hanging out in the mall when a guy I like started talking to me. He really seemed to like me, too, and I couldn’t believe it! The cutest boy in school was flirting with ME!”

“The boy flirting with you was in the real mall or the online mall?” I interrupted her. “I’m confused.”

“He was flirting with me in the cybermall, but he’s a guy that goes to our school. I’m almost positive it’s Ryan Lowe. His avatar looks just like him and he told me he recognized me from school and that he had a crush on me, but was just too shy to say so in person. I thought he really meant it,” Sarah’s eyes were welling up with tears and her voice was getting shaky. She was obviously upset. Jynx heard her voice quiver and crawled into her lap. I shot a glance to Darby, signaling that I felt bad for Sarah.

“He asked me if we could meet in real life and when I said yes, he said he was going to email me so we could talk in private. When I got his email, it was totally different than he had been acting online. He called me names and told me he would never want to go out with me, not online and not in real life. And as if that weren’t enough, it got worse.

After I got that nasty email from SharkFtblPlyr1, I got several more emails from people I don’t even know. They were all super mean, calling me names and threatening to beat me up IRL if I didn’t stop hanging out at MyCyberLife.com.

I got a few nasty texts, too, and then in the game people started laughing at me when I walked by. No one in there will talk to me and when they do it’s not nice. One girl actually grabbed my ponytail and yanked on it hard and told me to stop coming to the mall.

And this is the worst part so far – when I got to school the other day I noticed people whispering and pointing at me and then someone spray painted LOSER on my locker. It was so embarrassing.”

“Well, I promise to try to help.” I told her. “No one deserves to be treated this way.”

***

After the girls left, I decided to sign up on MyCyberLife.com and hang out there for a while. I opened my laptop and typed in the URL. The website sprang to life. There was a WELCOME screen with a form to either login or sign up. Behind it, they were tempting me with the mall. I could see kids going in and out of shops with bags, standing in groups talking, and couples holding hands. I had to admit it - this looked fun. I reminded myself that I was on a case and that I wasn’t supposed get hooked on the game.

I filled out the sign up form, entering my name, age, and a few other details, and I marked the button that said to keep my personal information hidden. Then it asked me to choose a screen name and password. This part would take some thought.

I blew an enormous purple bubble then sucked it in to pop it. It make a loud SNAP and I giggled. Jynx looked up at me, probably wondering why I had interrupted his nap.

After some thought, I entered stylinmysterysolvr as my screen name and professional_detective1 as my password.

Then I was at the screen where I would create my avatar.

Let’s see…Dark hair with whispy pieces of red mixed in, gray eyes, freckles (heavy sigh), glasses that matched my red strands (another sigh), skirt with tights, ankle boots, cute tee, jean jacket. Could she chew gum like me? YES! I wondered if I could have Jynx with me…yes again! So, world’s most adorable Yorkie…there! Jynx and I were ready for MyCyberLife! This was kinda fun.

A message appeared on the screen.

CONGRATULATIONS STYLINMYSTERSOLVR! YOUR AVATAR HAS BEEN CREATED AND IS READY TO JOIN IN THE FUN. WE ARE PUTTING $2500 IN YOUR ACCOUNT TO START YOU OFF RIGHT, BUT YOU SHOULD FIND A JOB AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AND A PLACE TO LIVE. HAVE A GREAT TIME AND HIT GO TO BEGIN.

“Okay, Jynx, you ready?”

I hit GO and we found ourselves at an ATM. I withdrew a few hundred dollars and looked around. It looked like we were in the middle of town. There were cars moving up and down the street in front of shops, restaurants, brightly lit arcades, and a movie theater. I wasn’t sure exactly where to go next, but I remembered the message telling me to find a job and a place to live. I decided to tackle those two things first.

Jynx and I wandered down the street and I saw a HELP WANTED sign in a clothes store window. SALES PERSON WANTED P/T.

“Perfect!” I said to Jynx, in real life. He jumped on me, which I took as a positive response to my own enthusiasm.

I went inside the clothes store and not more than a few moments later I was back outside – with a job as a sales girl AND a room to stay in over the top of the store. That was easy.

Now onto the real task of finding out who was bullying Sarah. I thought the best place to start would be the mall, so Jynx and I headed there.

A few minutes later we were standing at the entrance to the mall. Stylinmysterysolver1 opened the door and went inside. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – it seemed SO REAL! From where we were standing I could see large department stores, smaller clothes stores, a pet store, a hair salon, and the food court. That looked like the place to be – there were kids everywhere. In pairs, in groups, standing up against the wall talking on cell phones, and sitting at tables enjoying burgers and talking loudly amongst themselves. I took a deep breath and went to see if I could make some friends. I had a feeling Jynx could help with that.

I was right! As soon as we entered the food court, kids were all over by us, saying hello (mostly to Jynx), petting him, oohing and aaahing. He loved it and responded accordingly with a frantically wagging tail and some boisterous jumping.

Lot of kids were telling me their avatar names, and I told them I was Stylinmystersolver1, that I was working at the clothes store downtown and living up above the store. Soon we were sitting at the tables enjoying burgers, fries, and drinks, and talking about clothes and our favorite music.

I noticed two girls sitting at the end of the table – they seemed vaguely familiar but I wasn’t sure why. They were talking quietly to each other and every now and then one of them would whisper something and the other one would giggle. They were having burgers, fries, and drinking strangely blue-colored drinks, one through a bright yellow curly straw.

Everything was going great, and after a while I felt comfortable enough to ask if anyone knew BabyGyrl8. When I did, there was an immediate change all around us. One of the kids said, “You stay away from us.” A few kids abruptly got up and walked away, and some immediately blocked me from speaking to them at all.

“Wait, wait, what’s going on?” I asked. But within moments, Jynx and I were sitting alone.

A visit to “the cutest guy ever”

The next day I decided to pay a visit to SharkFtblPlyr1, in real life, hoping to get some information on the bullying case. I hopped on my scooter and Jynx jumped into the sidecar.

After some digging, I learned that Ryan Lowe worked downtown at Wired, the coffee and Internet cafe. My mom’s antique shop isn’t far from there, so we stopped there first.

I parked the scooter in front of The Treasure Within and I could see my mom inside, rearranging her latest goodies. The bell on the front door of the shop announced our arrival.

“Hi, Jessie,” she smiled. “I’m so glad you came by! And hello, Jynx, how are you little buddy?”

Jynx jumped straight up and into her arms. He’s a springy little guy, he can jump 3 or 4 feet in the air from a complete standstill. He licked my mom’s face relentlessly with his tail going a bazillion miles per hour. I giggled.

“I’m working on a case and a clue brought me downtown, so I decided to come see you first.”

“Oh, no, don’t tell your father you’re on a case. You know how he feels about you doing detective work.”

“Oh, boy, do I. I thought he was going to have a heart attack when he found out I chased the Shark’s Head bandits. I’m not a baby anymore, Mom.”

“I know, Jessie, and congratulations on solving that crime. I’m so proud of you! You know why your father is so overprotective,” she paused for a second then changed the subject. “What are you working on now?”

“A girl from school is being bullied. I’m going to see if I can help her.”

“Ohhhh, that darned bullying. It just makes me SO mad. Let me know if I can do anything to help. And…something came into the shop I think you might be interested in. It’s kind of a mystery.”

We headed into the back and she handed me a wooden box.

“I found this at an auction. I know there’s something inside because I can hear it in there. But I can’t figure out how to open it.”

The box was super cool looking – large, ornate, and if you set it upright it could pass for a book with a smaller book on each side rather than a box. There was no locking mechanism or anything. I shook it and mom was right, there was definitely something inside. It must open somehow. I tried sliding it this way and that, still nothing worked. This was going to drive me nuts, I could see that coming.

“Can I take this home for a while?” I asked.

“I was hoping you would ask me that,” mom smiled and her confidence in me made me love her even more. She was always on my side. Now if only I could get that kind of encouragement out of my dad.

***

A few minutes later, I was pulling up in front of Wired. There was another scooter almost exactly like mine already parked there, the only difference was that mine is turquoise and the other one was black. I parked next to it and went in. There were several tables, many with computers on them, but what I noticed the most was the smell of coffee and fresh donuts – my sweet tooth was definitely kicking in already.

I went to the counter and a tall, handsome, dark-haired guy asked if he could help me. I checked out his name tag – it was Ryan. I was in luck! I took a good look at him and discovered why Sarah had such a mad crush on him – he was really cute. One of those super cute guys that make it hard to form a sentence when they’re talking to you.

“Uhhhh, yes, I’d like a cup of coffee, please.”

Ryan snickered a little. “Okay, anything in particular?” He smiled at me and motioned towards the menu board. “We have a lot of different kinds.”

“Ummmm, something chocolate maybe?”

He snickered again. “How about a café mocha? They’re really good.”

“Yes, ok, a café mocha, please.” Dang, I was so nervous. This was ridiculous. I was on a case and I felt very unprofessional.

“Is that your scooter?” he asked

“Yep, sure is.”

“That’s mine you parked next to. The black one. It’s just like yours except I don’t have the sidecar. Is that a dog in there?”

“Yep, that’s Jynx.”

“Well, you can bring him in if you want. I hate to see him just sitting out there alone.”

“Really? I didn’t think he would be allowed in here.”

“Well my parents own this place, so I break the rules sometimes. Plus, the place is empty right now.” He handed me my coffee and I noticed he had made a smiley face on the top of it.

“Cool!” I went to the door and called Jynx to come in. He practically flew out of the sidecar and into the café, tail going like a psychotic fan blade, then he jumped straight up into the air over and over, grateful not to be stuck out in the scooter anymore. I giggled, then turned back toward the counter.

“My name’s Ryan,” Ryan was saying. Now it was my turn to snicker.

“Yes, I can see that,” I pointed to his name tag. “I’m Jessie.”

He blushed a bit when he realized I could obviously read the name on his name tag.

“I recognize you,” he said. “You’re the girl that runs the school newspaper and website, right? And I think I heard something once about you being a detective. That’s cool!”

“Yep, that’s me. Nice to meet you, Ryan.” Now was my chance. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, what is it? I didn’t have anything to do with that Shark’s head thing, if that’s it.”

“Nope, it’s not that. I was just wondering if you’ve ever been to MyCyberLife.com?”

“Well, yeah, of course. A lot of people hang out there. Why do you ask?”

“I’ve been wanting to check it out. Seems like it might be fun.”

“It totally is,” he said. “If you have some time, I could show you.”

“Okay, that would be awesome. I have time.”

Ryan brought a coffee and a laptop around to where I was standing. “Come on,” he motioned, “Let’s go sit down.”

He flipped open his laptop and typed MyCyberLife.com into his browser’s address bar. We were sitting close together so we could both see the screen. He smelled really good and I tried not to fidget, giggle, or blow bubbles. I was a professional, after all!

MyCyberLife.com opened and prompted Ryan to enter his screen name and password. I was excitedly waiting to see him enter SharkFtblPlyr1, but to my surprise he entered NumberzGeek2016 and a password I didn’t catch. I hid my astonishment as his avatar appeared on the screen. It was a tall, thin, somewhat geeky older man dressed in a pin-striped suit, sitting at a desk, head down and face deep in an adding machine. What in the heck? If this was Ryan’s avatar, then who in the world was SharkFtblPlyr1? The avatar wasn’t in the mall, either. He seemed to be in a bank or something.

“Well, here we are!” Ryan said. “That’s me, at work, just crunching some numbers. If I want, I can go grab myself some lunch or coffee or take a walk out in the park. After work, I go home or to a movie or to orchestra practice – depends on the mood I’m in.” He glanced at me and saw the bewildered look on my face and asked, “What’s wrong, Jessie? You look confused.”

“That’s you?” I asked. “I thought you’d be different somehow. Like an athlete, maybe, not a geek like that.”

“I play around in here so I don’t have to be myself,” he confessed. “I think it’s fun to be the goofy accountant working at the bank. Plus, he makes so much money he can afford a nice apartment, designer clothes, and a sportscar. Watch.” Ryan’s avatar straightened up some items on his desk, stood up, and walked out of the bank. He headed out to the parking lot, fumbled in his pocket for a set of keys, and remotely unlocked the door to a car. It double-beeped and I was watching, completely absorbed in the game. It sure didn’t seem much like a game. It seemed real.

We played for a while longer; we drove down the freeway in a red sportscar, stopped for some drive-thru food, and ended up at NumberzGeek2016’s apartment. Not once did I even see the mall. Ryan explained there were tons of places to go besides the mall and he claimed that his avatar never went there. I found myself wondering if maybe Ryan had two avatars, or maybe he didn’t – maybe someone else was posing as him to torment Sarah. But who? And WHY?

“Well thank you for showing me around in there,” I said, “I appreciate it. It looks like fun. Maybe I’ll give it a try.”

“Wanna go for a ride on the scooters with me sometime? In real life?” Ryan surprised me with his invitation. I had goose bumps and a stomach full of butterflies.

“I – uh, well, I think that I’d like that a lot,” I found myself saying. So much for not mixing a case with my personal life.

We exchanged email addresses and cell phone numbers and said our goodbyes.

I decided to go home and log into the game. I was going to try to prove that Ryan was NOT SharkFtblPlyr1 and was not the person that was bullying Sarah. I gave Darby a call and asked her to meet me at my house and she said yes right away – she was excited to dig in with me and see what we could find out. I put Jynx and my mom’s mystery box into the sidecar, pulled on my helmet, and headed home. I couldn’t wait to tell Darby about meeting Ryan!

***

Darby shouted hello from the bottom of the stairs and then she appeared in the doorway to my room.

“Hey, how’s it goin?” she plopped down on the bed next to me.

“Good! Last night after you guys left I logged on to MyCyberLife.com and created an avatar. I stayed up nearly ½ the night playing the game.”

“You’re kidding,” Darby giggled. “That hilarious! The game is addicting, isn’t it?

I told her about getting a job and an apartment in the game, about hanging out at the food court, and about everyone blocking me and telling me off as soon as I mentioned BabyGyrl8.

“Why do you think everyone would treat me that way when Sarah/Babygyrl8 is such a popular girl, probably the most popular girl in school?” I asked Darby.

Darby sighed. “Sarah is super popular, that’s for sure. But she can be mean, especially to girls that aren’t as cute as she is, or girls with families that aren’t as well-off as hers. She has a tendency to think she’s better than everyone else. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s probably made an enemy or two along the way. I was thinking maybe she hurt someone’s feelings, someone close to SharkFtblPlyr1, and maybe that’s why he’s treating her the way he is. He could be the one bullying her.”

“I don’t think it’s him,” I told her.

“What makes you say that?” Darby seemed genuinely surprised.

“Well, what I mean is, I don’t think that Ryan Lowe is SharkFtblPlyr1 at all.”

I explained to her about meeting Ryan Lowe in real life and about his admitting to playing the game, and I told her about his avatar, NumberzGeek2016, who was nothing like a popular football player at all. I told her he seemed sincere about not being SharkFtblPlyr1 and not knowing anything about Sarah being bullied.

“Well, if you’re right,” she said, “then who is pretending to be him in the game and hiding behind the SharkFtblPlyr1 avatar? And why are they treating Sarah the way they are and bullying her IRL?”

“Let’s log into MyCyberLife.com and see if we can find out the answers to some of those questions.”

“Yep, let’s do it.”

I signed in as stylinmysterysolvr and found myself still in the food court from the last time I had been in the game, just kind of standing there doing nothing. I started walking around and as soon as I did, the other kids began turning their backs on me. Darcy and I shot each other perplexing glances and shook our heads.

We walked down to the bank and peeked inside. I didn’t tell Darby, but my heart was suddenly beating super loud and I felt my face heating up. My stomach was full of butterflies and my brain was going 500 mph wondering what I would say to Ryan if he was here. OMG, I thought, I’m freaking out over my avatar running into someone else’s avatar. I was losing my mind, I popped a bubble and tried not to let it show.

I stepped into the bank and walked over to Ryan’s office. I knocked and heard his voice saying to come in.

“Hey,” I squeaked. “Remember me?”

His avatar looked at me kind of weird for just a second, then he got a big grin on his dorky avatar face and stood up.

“Jessie, is that you? And Jynx?”

I was nodding and he was standing in front of me.

“Obviously, I signed up for the game, and decided to come see you.”

“That’s so cool, I was thinking about you. I wanted to ask if you would be at the game football game tonite?”

“Yep,” I nodded, “I’m covering the game for the school paper.”

“Maybe we’ll see each other there when I’m not in the game,” he smiled, and my avatar’s heart melted. Ok, and mine, too – IRL.

I smiled back and nodded, “Maybe!”

Darby had signed into her laptop, and had been checking out the food court while my avatar was talking to NumberzGeek2016. If the SharkFtblPlyr1 hanging out and talking wasn’t SharkFtblPlyr1, then who was?

***

Football Game

The bleachers were full by the time I got to the football game that night. It was dark outside, but the stadium lights illuminated the field, the band was playing their typical selection of marching music, and the cheerleaders were on the field shouting and jumping around, including Sarah and Ashley. The school mascot was there in all his glory, and I was glad to see Sammy the Shark complete with head and all.

I headed out near the band and scoped out the players. There she was! I gave Darby a big smile and a wave, teasingly pointed at her band uniform and pretended to snicker. She rolled her eyes and smiled back, looking cute and holding her Oboe.

Someone snuck up behind me and tickled my sides, catching me off guard and surprising me just a bit. I let out a little scream and darted around. It was Ryan, decked out in his football gear and obviously ready for the game. He looked wide and beefed up in his padding and his uniform.

“Hi Jessie!” he grinned. “You made it.”

“Hey, Ryan.” My heart immediately began thumping louder and I was grateful no one could hear it besides me. “Yep, I’m here. Gonna cover the game for the school paper – I hope you guys beat the crap out of the Alligators tonite.” We were practically shouting because the band was so loud.

“Me, too!” he agreed. “I think we’re all still a little ‘off’ from of the Shark’s head incident – we lost two good players because of that stupid prank, but we need to focus on the game. The winner of this one meets the Tigers in the championship. Well, I’d better get going,” he said, Coach will have MY head if he catches me off messing around. “Have my head, no pun intended.”

I laughed at the reference he’d made to the Shark’s head incident. “Okay, I need to get settled in myself. See ya later, Ryan, and good luck!”

“Thanks, Jessie, see ya later!” He ran off toward the locker room, and I glanced back up wave goodbye to Darby. She was playing some fast-paced march music aimed at getting the crowd on their feet, but she had her head tipped to the right a bit and she was shooting me a glance that I knew translated to, ‘Hmmmm, what’s going on with you and Mr. Cutie-Pie the Football Guy?’.

I waved at her and looked up at the bleachers, trying to decide where to sit. My mom and dad were here somewhere, but I couldn’t spot them, so I just sat down a few rows up from the field. Just as I sat down our school photographer Mikey plopped down beside me, camera around his neck and contagious smile beaming, as always. Mikey’s tall, lanky form towered above everyone else, his afro a big curly orb. His white teeth against his dark skin made his smile amazingly white, practically glowing. Mikey was almost always surrounded by a group of kids; everyone liked him and he liked them back. His sense of humor, infectious smile, and athletic ability made him one of the most popular kids in school. Mikey loved to take photographs and we worked together a lot on school stories, the football game tonite being one of them.

“Hey, girlfriend!” he held up his hand for a fist bump.

“Mikey!” I answered back. “How are ya?”

Before he could answer, the band changed their tune to signal the appearance of the players, the mascots and cheerleaders moved to the sidelines, and the two football teams burst from the dressing rooms and onto the field. They waved at the crowd, then got into formation on the field and the game began. As it game progressed, the score flashed on the new video scoreboard the school had recently purchased. I thought to myself of all the candy bars we sold to afford that thing, and how many other fundraisers we had put on, but after all was said and done, it was pretty cool. Mikey was snapping pictures, the band was playing their occasional rah-rah tune, and the cheerleaders were all piling up into pyramids and flipping around, shaking pom poms and dancing. I made sure to keep track of the score and the newsworthy plays so I could put it all into the newest edition of the school paper and update the website. So far, the Sharks were chomping the Alligators 7-0.

I looked around to see if I could spot my mom and dad, and as I did, a gasp came from the crowd. I whipped back around to see what it was all about, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I did a double-take and my jaw dropped. Instead of the score and replays of the game on the video monitor, suddenly I saw the words “You’re a bitch, Sarah LAST NAME – and a big LOSER” and there was a picture of Sarah, in flannel pajamas, looking terribly caught off guard without her hair done and without makeup. It only flashed for a moment, but long enough for everyone to see, then the video was back to scores and scenes from the game. Obviously, whoever was bullying Sarah was back at it, and was quite skilled at computers, enough to hack the video screen at the school. I watched as Sarah burst into tears, hurt and embarrassed, and ran crying from the field. A moment later Ashley ran after her. Ryan was on the field playing the game, so that erased any question in my mind about him being the bully – it was not him and I was secretly so glad.

The game continued

** mike takes pix, Jessie looks thru them later and spots the two familiar looking girls from the cyber mall table IRL, drinking something purple or blue and starts putting 2 and 2 together.

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