JES, as she was known on the score boards in the tiny arcade, had never been conquered, sitting pretty at 281,280 points. She always carried a few quarters in her pocket just in case she needed a quick run against the hoards of bug invaders. Peter's was local, but was more than just a pizza joint. Built when her parents were teenagers, her mom had even worked there for a time when Jessica was little. Peter's held a lot of childhood memories. It was her place. Her sanctuary.
So you can imagine how she felt when she sat down at the table for a quick run and noticed something had changed. The number under the red high score read: 379,720 points. That's not right, she thought. Was the machine broken? She was about to hit the tiny red 1-player button when the screen flashed to the high score screen.What she saw made her nearly pick up the machine with both hands and slam it into the wall.
1ST 379,720 DAN2ND 281,280 JES
No one had ever dared challenge her before and this guy was clearly good. DAN huh? Say goodbye to your dignity, DAN, she thought, you're just about to get PWN'D by a girl. She cracked her knuckles and hit the start button, pulling all 8 quarters out of her pocket and letting them spill across the screen edge. She had a feeling she was going to need them.
Thirty-six quarters and a day later, she sat back in the worn wooden chair and sipped her Cherry Coke, nibbling on the stem that had long since lost its cherry. She smirked at the high score board which now read:
1ST 403,330 JES2ND 379,720 DAN
A celebratory supreme pizza was in order, so she ordered one and sat in her favorite booth by the window, watching the joggers, rollerbladers and dog walkers pass by. Her mind was light years away in a tiny pixelized cockpit shooting with 75% accuracy. She almost wanted to play again just to push it up higher, but that was a silly idea. That was probably the best DAN had. He wouldn't dare show his face here again, whoever he was.
Considering her marathon, she knew she should take a break from playing for a while, but something was nagging at the back of her mind every time she rode by on her scooter, her palms sweating, adrenaline pumping through her veins. She pulled over into the next empty spot and hopped off, not even stopping to take off her helmet. I gotta see the scoreboard again, she thought, just a quick look. But once she was inside she couldn't fight habit and ordered a Cherry Coke, sitting down, figuring if she had come in she might as well play a round or two, just to calm down. She removed the cherry and chomped down on it.
She choked on the cherry when she saw the score had changed again. 502,340 was listed under the high score. Her pulse quickened, her fist tightening around the joystick. She spammed the fire button, knowing the machine would take its own sweet time to get to the high score list but trying to make it hurry anyway. Her left eye twitched a few times and she rubbed it to try and make it stop. She nearly missed what it said on the Top 5 listing:
1ST 502,340 DAN2ND 403,330 JES
3RD 400,110 JUS
4TH 390,270 GIV
5TH 388,660 UP
Just give up!? This time she cursed and leapt up so fast that she spilled her Coke on the floor and knocked over her chair. A couple patrons watched her closely, she could feel their negative thoughts hit her like gunshots. Her face flushed. She hadn't meant to cause a scene, but it was just... This guy, whoever he was, he deserved to get hit by a truck.
Kate, the cashier on duty, glared like a statue of a nun as she ran up to ask for paper towels to clean up her mess. It was her fault, she would clean it up.
"What's gotten into you lately?"
"Paper towels?" Jessica asked.
"You didn't answer me, Jess."
"Dan? I didn't know you had a boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend!" She said a little too forcefully and then bit her pinky nail, "I mean, he's this jerk who keeps beating my score on Galaga."
"That's what all that was about?" Kate said, and laughed, reaching underneath to hand her a soapy rag. "Use this instead. It'll save a tree."
"It's not funny. This is serious."
"Oh come now, it's just a bunch of numbers."
"It's not. It's a matter of pride."
"Then go beat his score then. Don't stand around here whining about it. And no more tantrums. You'll scare away the business."
She sighed. Kate was right. "Sorry."
"Just clean it up. I'll get you a new Cherry Coke."
Winning didn't come easy at all this time. It was a lot harder. But two weeks later Jessica had finally done it. She rested her cheek against the warm glass and closed her eyes, still seeing the ships zooming at her. She could practically play in her sleep now. She even had dreams about little alien ships surrounding her like flies that she couldn't get rid of no matter how much she swatted at them. She squinted down at the screen.
1ST 565,880 JES2ND 502,340 DAN
"In your face, DAN," she said, sitting up and stretching. She downed the last of her third Cherry Coke, shaking it for the last few drops. She burped and folded her arms. One thing was for sure. DAN would be back. She brought her empty glasses to Kate.
"I see you did it. Took you long enough," Kate said with a grin.
"Kate, can you keep an eye on the table this weekend? Tell me if you see anyone playing it more than an hour."
"Jessica I am not going to stand around playing spy for you. If you want to see this guy so bad, then stick around. I'm sure he'll show up. There's a lot of people in on the weekends."
The next few days Jessica practically lived at Peter Piper Pizza. She had no idea who she was looking for. DAN could be anyone. A fat old guy who'd been playing it since '81 - or maybe a little genius kid who had learned all of his tricks watching the good players on YouTube. Maybe DAN was short for Danielle? She realized just how little she knew about DAN. Other than DAN was a jerk. She really hoped it was someone she could slug in the jaw and not feel guilty about it. In her mind she acted out her exacting her revenge in a number of different ways, but most of all, she wanted to see the look of shock and disappointment that was sure to be on DAN's face.
So she waited, sitting at her favorite booth, watching the Galaga table like a fox watches a rabbit hole, just waiting for the prey to come out and play. As Kate had predicted there were lots of people coming in. Kate was giving her the eye, which she knew meant: if all the tables fill up, I'm gonna ask you to move. She hoped she wouldn't have to, but when the lunch rush hit, Kate stood over her table and Jessica quietly gathered up her things and meandered into the arcade, finally plopping on the wobbly barstool in front of Street Fighter II. She figured she might as well entertain herself and put in two quarters.
When she looked back at the end of the round, there was someone sitting at the table.
His lanky legs barely fit under the table. He looked to be about her age with well-kept hair, baggy jeans and a black t-shirt. She suddenly had to know was on the front of his t-shirt. She didn't look back to the game even as M. Bison beat the crap out of her Chun-Li and the Game Over screen flashed. Her eyes were locked on him. This was it. Now or never. She bit her nail again and steeled herself. Don't show any fear. He was a jerk and she had to put him in his place.
He gave a low whistle. He was on the High Score screen. He didn't say a word, simply slipping in a quarter into the coin slot. He squirmed in the chair, preparing himself for battle. It was now or never.
"DAN?" She said suddenly, surprised at the squeak in her voice. "You... That was my high score."
He turned, smiling almost as widely as the Yoshi on his shirt. He adjusted his thin-framed rectangular glasses, "JES, I presume? You're really good. I don't know if I can beat you this time. 525,770 is my all-time high."
Jessica couldn't say why but her anger melted away, replaced by something else entirely. He didn't seem at all how she pictured he would be.
"Sorry if I made you upset, I just wanted to make sure you would play again," he smirked. "Care to join me?"
She hesitated, wanting to gnaw her whole pinky off, but holding her hands tightly together. Her face felt hot. She wondered if the A/C was broken. It was hard for her to breathe. She nearly left the restaurant, nearly turned and ran out, but forced herself to walk over and calmly sit down opposite him. It felt so odd to sit at the other end of the table. Her heart was beating too fast.
"So what's your real name?" he asked as he slipped in another quarter and his level began, working the joystick expertly back and forth.
"I'm Daniel. But all my friends call me Dan... You can call me Dan." He looked up briefly and smiled at her. He was so nice, and he was kinda cute.
Jessica smiled back. "You can call me Jess."
Thanks for reading!
If you loved it, hated it, or somewhere in-between please let me know. I'm always open for improvement. If you like this one, why not read some of my other #FridayFlash entries?
I write new flash fiction every Friday. On Tuesdays I update one of my #TuesdaySerials: Last One Standing Tall and Eleven & Counting.