Authors: Stephanie Hale
“What’ll ya have, sweet cheeks?” A male bartender with a nose ring asks me. My cheeks are suddenly on fire, and it’s not because of the affectionate greeting he gave me. My palms start to sweat as I spy the bottles of liquor behind him sparkling like jewels. I glance nervously around at my bar mates. They are all sophisticatedly tossing back fancy-looking mixed drinks and beers I can’t pronounce. I’m way out of my league here. I might as well have ‘underage loser’ written on my forehead. The bartender is waiting patiently for my reply. I have to say something. I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.
“Can I get a Shirley Temple please?” I force out then pretty much want to run for the door. Of all the things to ask for. I’m going to blow this task before I even start it. And it isn’t like nobody will notice me considering the girls made me dress like a walking Alpha billboard. I’ve got Mari’s low-rise jeans that she sewed Alpha patches on, a pink Alpha tank top with my pledge pin stuck to it, and a baby blue Alpha ball cap. The bartender looks me up and down and I’m pretty sure he’s going to announce to the entire bar how incredibly lame I am.
“Do you want cherries with that?” He asks, grabbing a frosted glass from a freezer under the bar.
I nod my head, not trusting my voice. He busies himself making my drink and I scan the bar inconspicuously. I see the trio I’m representing tonight wave giddily from their corner booth. They can hardly wait for Dean Stone to get pummeled and for him to figure out it’s the Alphas who did it.
The bartender sets my delicious-looking drink in front of me with the same flourish as if he were presenting a margarita with actual tequila in it. He winks at me as I pull out one of the cherries and pop it into my mouth.
“Hey, can I get one of those game controllers?” I ask, noting that one of the big screens says a new game is about to begin. He produces a blue controller from behind the bar and turns it on for me.
I type in GK under players name. This will be changed later, once I’ve beaten Stone. I may have been nervous about being only sixteen and sitting at a bar, but I’m not nervous at all about going up against Dean Stone in a game of wits. My mom has had me under lock and key for the last sixteen years and I’ve racked up a ton of useless trivia knowledge.
My name flashes on the screen with a score of zero. I join about ten other players, some who look to be pretty serious, others who answer a question here or there between buffalo wings. Dean Stone is in first place with five thousand points already. He must have gotten here when the doors opened. And I thought I was a loser. I see him perk up a bit when he sees someone new has joined the game and I watch him scan the room trying to find his newest victim. I hide my controller in front of me and act very interested in my drink. He forgets all about me when the first new question flashes on the screen.
It takes me just a second to get the hang of the game. The questions are multiple-choice on pretty much any subject. You are given four answers and clues about the answer. The faster you answer the question, the more points you get. Easy enough. With a little luck, Dean Stone will get tripped up on a few questions and I’ll be able to gain on him in a hurry.
The first question pops up. What was Margaretha Zelles nickname? My fingers fly to the number three for the answer of Mata Hari. Thanks to Mrs. Morford, my high school history teacher, I know that Margaretha/Mata was executed by a firing squad in 1917 after being accused of being a German spy. I sip on my drink while waiting for the answer and the new scores. I see other players continuously changing their answers with the additional clues that are given. Finally the time is up and the new scores flash on the screen. I am the only one who answered the question fast enough to get one thousand points. Dean Stone must have waited for the first clue because he only got six hundred points. I hear the Alpha trio squealing for joy. Dean Stone scans the room for his competition. I turn back to the controller, laughing, and await the next question.
I try not to laugh while answering the ridiculously easy question, ‘If 40% are of the people at an event are women and 20% of the people at the event are left-handed, then at most what percentage are right-handed men?’ Hello. Sixty percent. The trio looks worried but I flash them a smile. Dean Stone looks confident and when the screen shows that we were the only ones to score a thousand points I know why. This might take a little longer than I thought.
The screen pops up with the question, ‘What is the only letter not appearing on the periodic table?’ I push two for J so quick that I knock my drink over. I grab the controller so no pop spills on it. The bartender wipes up the mess with a bar rag.
“Jesus, you just can’t go anywhere without making a spectacle of yourself, can you?” A familiar evil voice says from behind me. I spin around to come face-to-face with Sloane who is looking like she just jumped off the pages of a fashion magazine with her low-cut turquoise stretch top and perfectly fitting jeans. She has been suspiciously absent around the dorm for a few days. Jentry and I had been hoping she’d dropped out of school. I should have known I’d never be that lucky.
“What can I say, Sloane? I’m not perfect like you.” I smart off, tired of being afraid of her and feeling sort of falsely confident being totally in my element with the trivia questions.
“I’ll tell you who’s perfect. That Omega specimen over there,” she says wickedly, pointing toward a table of Omegas I hadn’t noticed. Charlie is doing some damage to a basket of wings and doesn’t seem to notice me. The bartender sets a fresh drink in front of me.
“Good luck with that,” I shrug, turning back around. I could almost swear I can feel heat on my back from where she is staring holes into me. I pop another cherry in my mouth and wait for the next question. A few seconds later, I hear the click of Sloane’s stilettos as she storms off. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding.
I can’t believe she is still holding such a grudge over a little bit of marinara sauce. I really thought she would be over it by now. And I thought I was immature. Now she thinks she is going to make a play for Charlie. Not that he is mine to be stolen away or anything, since I’m blowing him off, but it is pretty funny that she thinks he would ever go for someone like her. Charlie would see through Sloane in two seconds.
I answer the next four trivia questions perfectly and am gaining on Dean Stone’s score. Only three more questions are left in this round and if I answer them perfectly and Dean Stone hesitates, I’ll become the top scorer. I wink at my sisters, who are nervously fidgeting around in their booth.
The next question pops up. 24 = h. in a d., you would say "hours in a day." See if you can figure out this one: 206 = b. in the h.b. 206 bones in the human body! I quickly touch number one to choose the correct answer. This is the easiest task I’ve had so far. I almost feel guilty that it is worth three letters. The score comes up showing that I now have a small lead on Dean Stone because he didn’t score any points on the last question.
“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Charlie says from behind me. I drop my controller and it slams on top of the bar smashing my finger in the process.
“Hey, Charlie,” I say, not turning around. I start playing with the huge pile of cherry stems I’ve amassed.
“Have you been trying to hide from me?” He asks, sounding sort of sad.
“That’s crazy,” I answer back but, even to me, my voice sounds flat.
“Is this about your panties?” He asks sincerely. For the first time since I sat down the girl next to me looks over with a smirk on her face. Why did he have to bring that up?
“No, it isn’t,” I say, spinning around to shush him. The look on his face stops me from saying anything else. He’s upset. At me.
“Can we go somewhere and talk?” He asks.
“We are somewhere and we are talking,” is what my mouth says, but my heart is nearly beating out of my chest just being so close to him. His adorable face falls and I’m about to cave when Mari and Jessica rush up excitedly.
“I knew you were smart but this is amazing!” Jessica says.
“Charlie, isn’t our new pledge amazing?” Mari asks, winking at Charlie. He smiles goofily caving in that adorable dimple of his. I look away so that I don’t get sucked into it.
“Yeah, not only is she the niece of the most famous cosmetics CEO in the whole world but she’s like a total brainiac, too,” Jessica gushes.
“Edwina Fay,” The girls say in unison then follow up with a sigh. I would be laughing hysterically if the mere mention of Edwina’s name didn’t practically make me break into hives remembering my huge lie.
“Are they saying that you are Edwina Fay Brighton’s niece?” Charlie asks. I nod, positive that not only does Charlie have no clue who Edwina Fay is but that he is probably just trying to make small talk.
The look he gives me forces me to look away and even the girls must realize something is going on because they scoot back to their booth in a hurry. How in the world am I supposed to concentrate with all this boy drama going on? I signal for the bartender to bring me another drink. I’m hitting the kiddie cocktails hard tonight.
“You’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Grace Kelly,” Charlie says mysteriously.
I laugh to myself thinking that nothing could be further from the truth. I’m about to ask him what he means when I see the next trivia question come up on one of the other television screens. I hurriedly spin around and pick the correct answer. I barely make it before the first clue is given and points start being deducted.
“Whew, that was close,” I say, turning back around to Charlie. But Charlie is gone. He’s back over at his table, and to my ultimate horror, Sloane is leaning in so close to him that he’s got a straight line of vision down her shirt. He doesn’t look nearly as miserable as he just did a moment ago. Tears fill my eyes and I spin back around so no one notices the look on my face. I can’t even begin to hide my pain at seeing Sloane invade Charlie’s personal space.
Maybe she is just asking him where the bathroom is or something. The final question pops onscreen, and for a second, I forget all about Sloane and Charlie and answer it correctly. I’m so confident that I picked the right answer that if I was on
, I’d wager everything I had.
Since this is the last question, the screen doesn’t automatically tell the right answer. It takes a commercial break then comes back to announce the overall winner. I change my player name to what the trio agreed on so that when my name flashes across the screen in huge letters, Dean Stone won’t have any doubt who beat him. I sneak a peek at Dean Stone who has his eyes peeled to the screen. I notice for the first time that the bar has gotten quieter and I can actually hear the music. Then I notice everyone seems to be staring at the screens.
I hear the cheers go up and see Dean Stone rush from the building and I don’t even have to look to the screen to know what it says. STONESUXALPHAZROK. My trio of sisters practically bum rush me off my bar stool. They each take turns hugging me and it feels amazing to be three letters closer to being a real Alpha. But when I see Sloane give me a half-wave as Charlie escorts her out of the bar, I don’t feel quite so amazing anymore.
The last four weeks have been filled with cramming for tests, volunteering at the pet shelter with the Alphas, successfully dodging Charlie and Sloane, or Chloane as Jentry and I refer to them, and knocking out tasks; G, I, M, N, Q, U, X and Y. I feel like I haven’t had a moment to breathe. Now that I do, I don’t know quite what to do with myself. I prop my pillows against my cinderblock wall and lean back. Jentry is inputting something into her Blackberry and doesn’t look like she would hear me even if I tried to interrupt her. I flip open my Organic Chemistry text and try to read ahead. After reading the same paragraph four times, I slam it shut and toss it on the end of my bed. I sigh heavily but Jentry still doesn’t bite. I’m restless but I can’t figure out why. I used to get like this before a big test and Mom would make me a giant mug of hot chocolate with tons of fluffy marshmallows. I could sure go for a mug of that right now. That instant crap in the cafeteria just doesn’t compare to Mom’s.
Then I realize that I can’t remember the last time I talked to my mom. Somehow her daily calls dropped off and I didn’t even notice. What if something bad happened and nobody thought to call me? I bolt off my bed and grab my cell phone off my desk. My heart is pounding with every number I punch in. It seems to take forever to connect the call. I finally understand what people mean when they say their life flashed in front of their eyes.
“What up, narc?” Sean greets me, obviously still not quite over me busting out his online porn habit.
“Where’s Mom?” I practically scream at him. Jentry stops texting, her thumbs posed in mid-air as concern clouds her features.
“She’s at work,” Sean answers back testily.
“What do you mean? Mom doesn’t work.”
“She does now. She got a job at the library. You aren’t the only one with a life, you know?” Sean smarts off.
“The library? Really?” I can’t remember the last time I saw Mom curled up with a good romance novel. I had almost forgotten about her passion for fiction.
“Unless you’re calling to say Jentry is sending me some new skin pics. I’ve got stuff goin on.”
“Just tell Mom I called,” I trail off. Sean grunts something unintelligible then hangs up.
“My mom got a job,” I tell Jentry, still shocked. My mind knows that a part-time job at the library isn’t a big deal but my heart is banging around in my chest, confused. My mom has always been at home waiting for me. I guess I thought she always would be.
“That’s a good thing,” Jentry reminds me, going back to her phone.
Yeah, a good thing.
“We should probably bolt,” Jentry says a few minutes later, glancing at our alarm clock. I don’t know what she is referring to until I see her grab her book bag. Alpha study hours.
I throw some books into my bag and follow Jentry out the door. My mind is still on Sean and Mom as Jentry locks our door. We start down the hall quietly but I’m soon stopped dead in my tracks by Sloane’s bulletin board. A huge hot pink heart covers the entire board and inside it is written, Sloane + Charlie.