She took a step back and stared up at him, flabbergasted.
“What are you doing here?” Tess asked.
“Well, that seems to be the question of the hour,” Greg commented behind her.
Tess ducked as Nate reached past her and shoved Greg back against the stool. He stumbled and fell into the bar. Nate pulled Tess by the arm and led her out of the game room. He stopped abruptly near the door and held on tightly to her shoulder, forcing her to face him.
“You have to play the game,” Nate said.
“What are you talking about?” Tess looked around, but everything was a blur. She refocused on Nate’s face. “Why are you here? Were you following me?”
“I wasn’t following you, but I saw you come in. The game is the only way you can get out of this. I think they set it up this way.”
“I met one of the other contestants and we’re all in desperate situations. This is the only way out. The Creator told me it’s the only way the game will work…it’s more of a psychological experiment.”
“And tell me why I’d want to be part of psychological experiment? Why would I want to be manipulated into playing a game?”
“Because it can help you,” Nate explained. “Do you have any other options? Do you want to go to jail?”
When Tess didn’t answer, Nate motioned for her to follow him outside. They started walking toward the beach, but stopped right before they reached the sand. It was chilly.
“I can find a way out of this. I’ll get the money myself,” Tess argued.
“Even if you lose, you’ll be set for life. You’ll be a celebrity. People will be rooting for you,” Nate said.
“No one has ever been rooting for me. I don’t want anyone to pity me,” Tess shouted back. Nate’s expression softened when he saw how angry she was. “I don’t want your pity either.”
“I just want somebody on my side,” Nate said. “I need a teammate.”
Tess watched him as he ran a hand through his hair and looked toward the ocean. The waves were high and crashing loudly against the shore.
“How old are you, Nate?”
He turned back to her and smiled, scratching at his beard.
“I’m 28. Much too old for you.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Tess replied. “I was just wondering why we would be contestants in a game together. What do we have in common?”
Nate looked away for a moment, shrugging. Her question somehow unnerved him.
“Desperation, I guess,” Nate replied. “People with nothing to lose.”
“You seem to have it all together,” Tess said.
“You don’t really know anything about me.”
Tess nodded, but she knew Nate was right. He was just another stranger, besides the fact that they had both been asked to be a part of a game. She really had no idea who he was…or if she should trust him.
“I need to think about it,” Tess said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I also don’t think I’d make it very far…not as far as a twenty-eight year old.”
“Maybe age has nothing to do with it,” Nate said.
Tess shrugged. She wasn’t sure what she would do or how she would get the money, but she wanted the choice to be hers. She didn’t want something she knew nothing about to be her only option.
“I’ll root for you,” Tess said, giving Nate a small smile. “If I watch.”
Nate nodded and started to back up toward the boardwalk. It looked like he was giving up trying to convince her.
“Take care, Tess. Stay out of trouble.”
She watched as he walked down the boardwalk and disappeared into another bar.