Wicked Games – Gemma Halliday

hey…u there? I was in science class when I felt my phone buzz to life in my pocket, barely audible above the sound of Mrs. Perry’s lecture on common alleles and DNA daughter cells. I carefully extracted it, making sure my textbook covered it from her view as I checked the screen, reading Chase’s text. With one eye on Mrs. Perry’s back as she turned to the white board, I let my fingers do the answering. in science, I texted back. A few seconds later his response buzzed in. snoozefest I grinned. agreed Almost instantly he responded. ditch? I glanced up at my teacher. She’d turned to face the classroom again. While she continued lecturing without missing a beat, I’d swear her eyes lingered on my desk just a little too long, as if her Spidey, some-kid-isn’t-paying-attention sense was tingling. cant. eagle eyes on me, I responded. The truth was, I wouldn’t have ditched anyway.

As much as I wasn’t loving the lecture from arguably the toughest science teacher at Herbert Hoover High, I needed the A in this class if I was going to get into AP Physics next year. Which I needed if I was going to get into a college that didn’t have the word community in it. Which I needed if I didn’t want my mother to disown me. I was just slipping my phone back into my pocket when it buzzed again. I froze, one eye on Perry as I slowly pulled it out. I glanced down. busy this weekend? I bit my lip. Today was the Friday of a much anticipated three-day weekend. Most kids I knew were going skiing in Tahoe, hitting the beach in Santa Cruz, or taking off for camping trips up north. Me? My mother was a single mom on a budget (a fact she brought up every time we went to the mall together and I eyed the window displays), so my big plans included a marathon of watching 90 Day Fiancé on TV with my best friend, Samantha.

Not exactly stuff to write a How I Spent My Vacation essay about. I felt my stomach flutter a little at the idea of having plans with Chase this weekend instead. Chase Erikson was a year ahead of me, which made him a senior. Tall and slim, he wore his hair a little on the long side, his clothes a little on the dark side, and his distaste for authority right on his sleeve. He was also crazy smart, the editor of the high school’s online paper where I work, the Herbert Hoover High Homepage, and had a habit of looking at me like he was picturing me in nothing but my sports bra while simultaneously teasing me on a little-sister level. I’m pretty sure if you looked up Bad Boy on Wikipedia, Chase’s picture would be there. He was a confusing mixture of enticing and dangerous. no plans. y? I finally texted back. I stared at my screen waiting for his reply.

The truth was, as confusing as my feelings for Chase were, his feelings for me were even more of a question mark. Sure we spent a lot of time together for the paper. And ate lunch at the same table in the school cafeteria more days than not. And he’d recently asked me out for pizza. But while the pizza at the food court and the two of us taking some corny pictures in the photo booth at the mall had been fun, it had all been pretty platonic too. No kissing. No hand holding. No professions of undying love. It had left me still kinda wondering if Chase saw me in the realm of friends, Homepage colleagues, or something more. Then again, I wasn’t entirely sure which I wanted it to be, so the ambiguity worked for me at the moment.

Sorta. “Ms. Featherstone?” I snapped my head up to find Mrs. Perry’s eyes narrowing at me behind her wire-rimmed glasses. “Uh, yeah?” I asked, licking my lips. “I asked which messenger code RNA goes with this transfer RNA sequence?” I blinked at her, looking behind her to the white board where she’d scribbled sequences of DNA codes. “Uh…I’m not entirely sure…” Mrs. Perry frowned, craning her neck to see over my textbook. I slipped my phone between my knees, doing my best innocent impression. “The second one! U, C, A,” I finally settled on.

Mrs. Perry glanced at the board, frowned again, and did some more eye narrowing. “That’s correct, Ms. Featherstone.” I let out a sigh of relief that I was sure the people all the way in the last row heard. Mrs. Perry turned her back on me to scribble more sequences just as my phone buzzed between my knees, making me jump in my seat. I quickly glanced down to check the screen. cool. got an assignment for ya.

I’ll pm you details I felt my shoulders slump. An assignment. Right. Of course that was why Chase wanted to know what my plans were. I texted back, I’m on it, before shutting my phone off and slipping it into my backpack. Well, at least an assignment beat the 90 day fiancés. * * * “Ohmigod, I thought I’d never get out of Calc!” Sam said, flopping onto my bed later that afternoon. Samantha Kramer had been my best friend since 5th grade. She and I shared the same blonde hair and blue eyes, but I was pretty sure her IQ had me beat by a good 20 points. Sam’s father had been a Stanford man, as had his father, and his father.

Which left Samantha with two choices in life: be the next Stanford “man” in her family or move to Timbuktu to live the rest of her days in utter shame. Which meant that, unlike yours truly, she was already taking AP classes this year as a junior. “Homework this weekend?” I asked. Sam shook her head. “Nope. Got it done during study hall. You?” I nodded. “A couple of trig things, but they’re quick.” At least I hoped. Trig was another class where my grade was hovering on the borders of almost-college-material and almost-flipping-burgersfor-a-living.

“I have an assignment for the Homepage, though,” I told her. Sam raised her eyebrows at me as I logged into my laptop. “Assignment, huh? This wouldn’t have anything to do with one tall, dark, and hot-tamale editor would it?” I threw a pillow at her. “No. I mean, yes, but you know, that’s kind of his job to assign me stuff.” “Right,” Sam said, though she was still grinning at me as if the word assignment was somehow code for hooking up. “So, what does he want you to cover?” she asked. I clicked open a window on my laptop and saw that, true to his word, Chase had sent me a PM with all the details of the story he wanted from me this weekend. I groaned as I read it. “What?” Sam asked, popping over my shoulder.

“Gamer Con?” Sam wrinkled her nose up. “I’ve never heard of it.” “Me neither,” I confessed as I scanned the rest of the message. Apparently this weekend was the first annual Gamer Con, a convention sponsored by a host of Silicon Valley tech companies that was meant to celebrate video gaming from its start in the Atari days to the current crazes. Chase wanted me to cover the convention for the paper, taking photos and reporting the highlights. It was a three day con, spanning from Saturday through Monday, and he said he’d meet me there tomorrow to help get the scoop on all of the events. “Click the link,” Sam directed, pointing to the info Chase had included. I did, watching as it took me to the official Gamer Con site. The front page was filled with images from iconic games like Zelda, Mario, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong, mixed in with more modern images from Steam’s latest PC game franchises. The juxtaposition was oddly comical, like little cartoon characters were suddenly at war with futuristic soldiers.

“Ohmigod, they’re going to have a TF2 virtual reality simulation!” Sam squealed, reading the schedule posted on the left-hand side of the screen. “How cool is that?” I turned to her. “I didn’t know you were into this gaming stuff.” She shrugged. “I’m not a total fangirl, but my brother plays all those games.” Sam’s brother, Kevin, was four years older than us, still lived at home, and drove a 1986 Volvo sedan that ran on vegetable oil and a prayer. He’d dropped out of business school to join Citizens for a Greener Earth, and when he wasn’t urging shoppers outside Whole Food to sign petitions to save a Narwhal, he could be found holding down the Kramer’s sofa and consuming copious amounts of cheese puffs. I could totally picture him spending countless quality hours with an Xbox. “Well, I guess this looks kinda interesting,” I said, clicking through the various links on the site to events, signings, and the grand finale of the convention, the Pixel Ball. “Knock, knock.

” I heard Mom at my bedroom door, saying the actual words before entering. “Hey, girls, I thought you could use a snack.” “Thanks!” Sam piped up. “Nachos.” “Sweet!” “Vegan style.” “Oh. I mean…thanks?” Sam amended, though it came out more of a question than a statement as she eyed the plate in Mom’s hands. It held what looked like crackers with a spread and some shredded stuff on top. “What is it?” I asked, sniffing. “Yummy quinoa chips with vegan tofu cheese and organic lentil purée.

” Sam made a gagging motion behind my mom’s back. “Sounds…great,” I said, giving Mom what I hoped didn’t look like too fake of a smile. Hey, she tried. Unfortunately her idea of “yummy” was my idea of dog food. Luckily we lived within walking distance of Taco Bell, so I wasn’t in danger of starving. “I’m going out in a few minutes,” Mom said, a goofy grin taking over her features, “so you ladies are going to be on your own tonight. I cringed. “Going out” was code for “I have a hot date.” Mom had recently begun dating David Raley, a homicide detective in the San Jose police department. Much to my dismay.

Mom and Dad had split up when I was ten, and Mom and I moved from my native Los Angeles back to her hometown of San Jose, California, smack in the middle of the Silicon Valley, in an effort to put her degree in programming to use for a tech start-up. At first, it had been an adjustment getting used to the suburban style of my fifth grade counterparts and this odd Northern California phenomenon called “fresh air.” But thankfully Sam and I had bonded right away, and I’d eventually found a way to fit into the school society hierarchy. Mom, on the other hand, had a harder time adjusting to being a single mother. While I loved her to death, she sometimes tended a little toward the overprotective side. A side that Detective Raley brought out in her in spades. Thanks to Raley’s work-related horror stories, Mom now had me living in a near police state. After hearing about a girl who was almost abducted on Lark Avenue near the freeway entrance, Mom forbade me to walk on the main streets, mapping out my route to and from school through back streets that added another fifteen minutes to my commute. After Raley told her about the incident where ten teenagers got hurt when rabid Drake fans rushed the stage at a concert at the Pavilion, Mom only let me attend events at venues that held fifty people or less. And when Raley detailed how a girl was stalked by a guy on social media, Mom had friended me on every platform so she could keep an eye on me and insisted on posting dorky memes on my timeline.

I wasn’t sure how much more my social life could take of Mom dating Detective Raley. “Have fun,” I said to her, hoping she didn’t elaborate on what exactly she and the detective would be doing. No such luck. “Thanks, Hart. We’re going to a movie, but I may be a little late because we’re going to his place afterward so he can…” “Stop! Please. Say no more unless you want to pay for my future therapy.” Mom shot me a look. “I may be a little late because he wants me to look at his wallpaper in his bathroom. He needs a woman’s opinion on color.” My psyche did a mental sigh of relief.

“Right. Cool. Enjoy that, then.” Mom shook her head at me, though I could see the beginnings of a smile tugging the corners of her mouth. “I intend to, Hart. You girls enjoy yourselves here.” “Thanks, Mrs. Featherstone,” Sam told her. Mom closed the door, and Sam sniffed at the plate. “Do you really think this is edible?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I usually wait until she’s not looking then flush them down the toilet. We can go grab a burrito later.” Sam nodded. “Genius.” I turned my attention back to the Gamer Con website. “So, it looks like they open at ten tomorrow. The first event is at two, where they’ll be unveiling a—” “—life-sized Yoshi? Ohmigod, too cool!” Sam squealed like a three-year-old again. I gave her a raised eyebrow. “What?” she asked.

“Hey, Yoshi is awesome!” I couldn’t help grinning. “You wanna come with me tomorrow?” More squealing. “Dude, this is going to be the best weekend ever!”

.

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