"Sorry. I have to go." I hop up from my seat so quickly I nearly knock over the chair. I give Gage a half-hearted wave and then head for the exit.
My heart keeps pace with Betsy's boots as I hurry across the room. I pause in the doorway, looking back at the dance floor. Betsy is still out there with the Takahashis. Her hair is starting to droop and her cheeks are red from all the dancing. I wish I could grab her, get a last-minute pep talk, but I don't want to disturb her when she's having so much fun. Maybe I can give myself a pep talk for once.
There's a mirror hanging on the wall outside the reception hall. I pause long enough to double-check my makeup and adjust my hair. I look fine. I know this guy. Everything is going to be fine. I got this.
I mean, I think I've got this.
"Hi, I'm Stella," I say to the mirror. No, that's dumb. Too formal. "Hey you. What's up?" I attempt to give the mirror a laid-back grin but I just look constipated. I shake my head and try again. "Noah? It's so good to meet you." My voice squeaks on the word meet and my eyes bug out a little after I finish speaking, but at least it's authentically me.
Well, except for the fact that I'm standing here practicing.
Then again, nothing says Stella MacInnis like practicing being human.
Just go find him, dummy.
Probably close to what Betsy would have said if I had interrupted her.
Somehow I make it down the hallway and back to the brightly lit lobby. I don't see Noah right away, so I walk toward the front desk. I turn a slow circle, my eyes skimming across the Asian family in line at the counter, the housekeeper restocking her cart from a small closet, a pair of men in business attire sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace.
I whirl around so fast I nearly fall over. It's him, it's really Noah.
"Oh my God, hi!" I say, completely forgetting my practiced greeting. My voice jumps three octaves. I sound more dolphin than human.
"Hi," he says.
This is the first time I've heard Noah speak because he doesn't own a headset so we never talked while we played together. And I was always too shy to ask if I could call him. But his voice is just the way I imagined it—deep, yet gentle. For a few seconds the two of us just stand there. I feel like I did when I was ten and my mom bought me my first cell phone. It was everything I wanted—my whole Christmas list—but even at that age I knew enough about what things cost to realize I might not get it.
"I can't believe you're here," I murmur. He looks exactly like his picture, from the floppy brownish-blond hair to the blue eyes to the dimpled smile. My eyes trail downward. I knew he played sports but I did not realize how muscular he was.
"I told you I was coming. It'd have been rude not to show up."
"I know." I lift my gaze back to his face. "I just mean like how you said online that you never thought this moment would happen."
Noah starts to say something and then stops. He laughs weakly. "Right. Well, now that we've got this moment, what do you want to do with it?"
It's the perfect opening to kiss him, and if I were Betsy, or the heroine of a rom-com, we'd already be locking lips. But unfortunately I'm me, the girl who overanalyzes everything to an uncomfortable degree. There are way too many unknown variables involved in a kiss.
YOU ARE READING
In the unforgiving world of popular video game Project Survival, seventeen-year-old Stella takes no prisoners. Her ability to annihilate both human and computer-generated enemies with the help of her partner Betsy earns the girls a chance to compete...