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By:Lulu Pratt & Simone Sowood

"Final chance for you, too," she counters.

I roll my eyes and we both start playing.

I have to admit, Harper is good, and I have to wonder where she learned to play.

"How the hell did you get good at Tekken?" I ask her as the first bout between our two characters draws out longer than I would have thought. Harper blocking me and getting in quick bursts of attacks. Me doing the same to her. We might actually run out the clock on this one and one of us might win it on a technicality, I think to myself.

"College dorm championships," Harper tells me, not taking her eyes away from the screen at all, not even for an instant.

We play down to the wire, both of us trying to get enough of an advantage that we can quickly get the other one out. In the very last few seconds of the first round of the fight, Harper's character ducks, and slips back. I go in for the kill attack, but she catches me and gets in a few final hits. I'm the one who gets finished off instead.

"I never saw you play it even once," I say, as the screen flashes her victory.

"Oh, I played maybe a few times at the arcade. Things like that," Harper says.

"And then in the dorms, and a lot it looks like," I counter.

"We had championships once a semester," Harper explains. "I didn't do great the first time I went in for it, but I trained, and got in the final ten the spring of my freshman year. I worked my way up a couple of places every semester after that."

"That is insane," I tell her.

"I had good reasons, there was a really cute guy who was super into Tekken and I wanted to impress him," Harper says.

I laugh. "Of course," I say.

Round two of the bout starts, and as I'm determined to at least make it three rounds for this bout instead of two, I have to tie her. I don't play around this time. Instead I go in aggressive, hitting hard right away, smashing the buttons as fast as I can.

But Harper doesn't want to tie me, she wants to take the lead, and I have a hard time keeping up with her. We both get into it, neither of us willing to give an inch to the other. Harper wants to beat me so that she only has to beat me one more time and of course I don't want to go down so easily.

At the very last moment, I manage to knock out her character, and I almost throw the controller in my hands down onto the floor as I holler my victory. I look at Harper and I have the sneaking suspicion that at the last instant she might have actually let me win. I have to wonder if I might have secretly, in the back of my mind, let her win the first time around, or if I had just not paid attention enough because I hadn't actually expected her to be that good.

Since she won a round and I won one, there's one round more between our two characters for the final bout to decide the overall winner. I take a deep breath, crack my knuckles, and pick up my controller again as the third round screen comes up.

I don't even think about Harper sitting next to me. I want to pull ahead. I pretend it's the computer I'm up against and just go as hard as I can. I realize halfway through the match that I'm shouting, and that Harper's shouting too. Both of us almost screaming at the TV as we both try to win the round, throwing everything we've got at the opponent, both of us treating this game way more seriously than we should be.

At the last moment, Harper wins again, barely getting in a punch to knock my character out before the clock stops. I groan in frustration. This time I actually do throw my controller down onto the floor and turn to face her.

"You cheated," I say with a smile.

"I did not," Harper counters, looking at me like I'm crazy.

"There is no way you could be this good even after, what, two years after graduating from college? Even if you became one of the best Tekken players in your dorm, two years later you shouldn't be this good."

"Why not? How much Tekken have you been playing in the army?" Harper puts down her controller and drinks the last of the coffee she brought up to my room with her.

"A lot, actually," I tell her.

"That explains it," Harper says.

"Explains what?" I look at her, confused, as the game transitions from the bout screen to the character selection screen.

"Why you're so offended that I beat you," Harper said, grinning.

"I'm not offended," I smirk.

"No, you're definitely offended the book-reading girl with the nerdy job beat you at your own game," Harper said. "And I'm about to do it again."

"Okay, but we have to change characters this time," I say.

"Fine by me," Harper says with a shrug.

We pick different characters and settle in for the next bout. I focus down, for some reason I just can't bring myself to let Harper win, even though I know it doesn't really matter where we go later. I don't even have anywhere in mind. But I throw myself into the game nonetheless, determined to prove that I can beat her soundly at it.

The first round goes to me, and we're even. The second round we're both going at it full tilt, absolutely pounding on the controllers, and I can see Harper in the corner of my eye, leaning to the screen just like I am, shouting at her character just like I'm shouting at mine. We run out the clock, and it ends in a tie.

The final round is on us and I look at Harper. Her cheeks are lit up bright pink, her eyes are shining and she's breathing heavy. All of a sudden all I can think about, even if it's only for a second, is that she would look like that during sex. I push the thought out of my head as ruthlessly as I can and dive into the game.

We both go at it, and for a while it seems like we're going to tie again, the clock counting down and neither one of us getting ahead. But I get a quick ‘in' and knock a few health points off Harper's character, and manage to dodge her next attack on me. I'm about to launch my final attack, to really knock her character out before the clock runs out, but I catch myself just a fraction of a second too late. I'm wide open.

Harper's character catches me, and it's one hit after another, with no space or time for me to block. I yell out as my hit points go down steadily until my character's health bar matches hers, and then she's got me trapped under another volley of hits. I'm out. I drop my controller and look at her with a sigh.

"Okay, so you pick where we're going," I say.



I step out of my bathroom with a final check in the mirror. If Zane and I are going to try to get each other dates for the big party his parents are throwing, I want to look my best. Not that I'm all that concerned with getting a date. I'll be going back to the city in a few days, and it's not like anything would come from any date I did end up scoring.

But I want to look nice anyway. A little voice in my head suggests that it might actually be for Zane's benefit, but I ignore it. I don't want to think that I might be dressing up, doing my make-up, to attract a guy who until recently I never even remotely thought of as hot.

He's practically your brother, he can't be hot.

I grab one of the more casual dresses that I packed and hold it up to my body, looking in the mirror to make sure it goes with the way I did my hair and make-up. It looks great, and I know I can't wear it to the party the next night anyway. It's got a plunging neckline, but not too daring. I think that I can probably pull it off without too much scandal.

I pull the dress on, slip my feet into a pair of flats that go with it. There is no way that I'm going to wear heels, not if I don't have to, and grab my purse. Mom and Dad are busy in the kitchen, making dinner. I told them when Zane and I finished our big Tekken tournament hours later, with me narrowly in the lead with one win more than him, that I was going to dinner with Zane to find ourselves dates.

I grin to myself as I step out through the front door and see Zane himself walking to the house. We'd kept playing the game even though I'd won the wager, betting other things along the way, whose car we'd take, who would be the designated driver, whatever it was we could bet to keep things interesting, down to a few desperate wagers for the party the next day.

After a while, we were too hungry and too bored of the game to keep going, so I'd left to get ready to go out.

"I have no idea why you want to go to Bill's Tavern so bad," Zane tells me as he walks up to the driveway.

"Why wouldn't I? That place is awesome," I tell him.

"It's so stupid!" Zane shakes his head. "I would think a cultured city girl like you would want to hit up a real bar."

"I have hit up many kinds of bars, and I happen to like Bill's Tavern a lot," I say tartly, making sure I have the keys to my car.

"Once a nerd, always a nerd," Zane says, shaking his head again.

I see him hesitate a bit as he goes to climb into the passenger's side. "Do not make that face," I tell him. "I am an excellent driver."   


Zane gives me a dubious look, but gets into the car.

I drive us to the Tavern and we chat about the party the next day, about what a huge deal it's going to be. The entire neighborhood is going to be there, as well as Zane's parents' friends from work, some of their college friends and members of the family. His parents' ten-year anniversary had been almost as big a deal. They'd had the one party, the big blowout, without the preamble a couple of days before. I could only just remember it since we'd only been kids at the time.

"Admit it," I say, as we chow down on our dinners with sides of beer.