The Game: Chapter 17

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Chapter 17

August realized the magnitude of her mistake less than halfway through the concert.

She couldn't blame James for forgetting she existed. Even she was drawn into the performance, and she was supposed to be on a mission, for God's sake. But the last song was the last straw.

The irony was not lost on her. It was almost worth a laugh. She had led him right into the trap, but when it slammed shut, she was on the outside looking in at Stars and Dreams.

August had to bite her lip to keep from screaming as the crowd trickled toward the exits. It was fortunate that they were being wedged toward a too-small gate by too many people; in the din and confusion, even a mentalist wouldn't notice how thoroughly her facade had been crushed by defeat. She needed to get a grip, and quickly, to have any hope of salvaging a neutral outcome.

If James was thinking clearly, he would want to call either Kanade or Casey, or even head behind the scenes and find them in the staging area. August wracked her brain for the best way to keep him occupied, but she was second-guessing herself and nothing she thought of sounded clever.

They cleared the exit and broke into the slight chill of open air. James turned out of the chattering stream and moved a short distance away, hands in pockets, eyes on the cloudless sky. August opened her mouth to say something, anything to distract him, when the insistent beeping of her phone pierced the night.

Shit, shit, shit.

James looked over. She took the phone out of her pocket.

It was John. Of course it was. Calling from in-game for the first time since she couldn't remember when.

You have got to be kidding.

"Yes, hello?" August smiled and kept her tone bright.

"Any progress?" John said.

Bloody hell no, it's a fucking disaster and you just made it even worse.

"Hi hi," August said, thinking fast. "Actually, I went after all. Yeah, just got out. Don't apologize. It's good you stayed home to rest and such. No, not alone. A friend. Yes, a guy. Oh, shut up. Listen, get better and come with next time, right? Yeah, yeah. Thanks for calling. Cheers."

She could contact John later and explain. For now, the important thing was to escape the situation with as little damage as possible.

"Sorry about that." August put on her most apologetic smile. "Bit of a unique snowflake, that girl. Calling at this time of night just to ask about the show."

"So you can make calls from home right to in-game phones these days," James said. "Technology never ceases to amaze."

August's heart nearly stopped.

It was not, in fact, possible to call a Shattered Land phone from a real-world home line, though you could do the reverse.

But James probably didn't know that. He was no technophile. And August could always say that her friend had been calling from a home computer using NetMeet. For the moment she was safe, but only just.

"Care for a drink?" August said, hooking arms with James before he had a chance to say no.

"Is that really okay?"

"Well, I'm a night owl, I'm sure you remember. If it's okay with Mr. Kirkpatrick, it's okay with August Evans."

"You had to bail in a hurry last time you got a late night message," James said.

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