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The Gamer's Guide to Getting the Girl
Excerpt

Tip #1
Be brave in difficult circumstances

Geeky, pubescent boys aren’t the only patrons at Gamer’s Haven on this Saturday, and that is a rarity. The only females we usually see in the place are middle-aged moms looking for gifts for their sons at Christmastime or their birthdays. Otherwise, the clientele is all about the same. There isn’t a dress code for the store, at least not one that we are aware of, but the standard gamer’s outfit is usually the same: a comic-inspired T-shirt, loose-fitting jeans that have to be continually hiked up because gamers don’t believe in belts apparently, and some Converse sneakers — well-worn and dirty. Most of us have shaggy hair that may or may not have been washed or combed, and we all look like we’re chronically tired; if one were to take a poll to see how many customers had purchased Monster Hunter: World on its release day, the tired eyes would be explained.

It’s Cooper who tips me off to the girl in the store. Because Gamer’s Haven isn’t known as the place to find girls, no one usually pays much attention to who comes in. I’m in the zone playing Sea of Thieves when Cooper starts elbowing me.

“Mess off, Coop. You’ll get your turn.” I shake him off with my hand in between plays.

“Your loss, Zach.” Cooper turns on his heel and strides away. I whip my head around quickly to see what he’s so excited about, and then I see her.

She’s wearing a denim skirt, purple suede knee-high boots, a bright orange T-shirt, and a rainbow-coloured scarf around her neck. Her auburn hair is pulled into a high ponytail, and the bottom of it almost reaches the base of her spine. Her arms are bare and pale. I can’t help but stare at her profile. I abandon the game and rush after Cooper, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the girl.

She’s standing in front of the Zelda display. I could pretend that I’m buying it and make small talk with her. But what would I say? “Come here often?” “You like this game?” “Ever play this before?” All of it sounds lame. But I decide I have to rush in before Cooper does. I pick up my pace, but Cooper detours to the Okami HD display instead. He isn’t trying to show me the girl? His eyes were on something else instead? Was he crazy?

I’m happy that he’s distracted by something else, but now I have to try to play it cool and get closer without her thinking I’m a total stalker. I move one display over and turn my head as casually as I can. She’s reading the back of a Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild case. Stray locks of her hair curl around her face. She’s wearing soft makeup, and when she looks back up toward the display, I can see her bright green eyes. She’s even more beautiful than I thought.

I have a stunning burst of courage and decide to act on it before I never see her again.

“Need any help?” I ask. She doesn’t even look up at me.

“You work here?”

“Uh, no. But I happen to know a lot about video games. Like the one you’re holding — it’s been popular in the gaming world for a couple of years now.” Maybe I can help with her decision-making.

“But is it as good as Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess?”

I don’t mean for my jaw to hang open, but it does.

“Because it seems to me that this interface is a lot less sophisticated than the one in Twilight Princess.”

She finally looks up at me, just in time for me to close my mouth again.

“You’re a gamer?” I ask.

“If that’s what you want to call me,” she responds. “Is that allowed? Or are you going to tell me it’s a guy thing and I should move on to something a little more girly?” Her voice is bitter.

“No, not at all!” I say, putting my hands up in front of my chest like I’m being arrested. “I think that’s awesome!”

She steps closer, her long ponytail swishing toward me, and I can smell her shampoo, a combination of honey and coconut. I want to drink it all in, her smell, her eyes, the fact that the goddess gamer of my dreams is standing in front of me.

“I’m not sure it’s worth the money. Honestly, I think I’ll wait for the next sequel.”

She sets the plastic case down and turns to leave. I want to follow her, ask her more questions, and find out her name, but she turns so fast I just sputter nonsense to myself.

“Hi, I’m Zachary. It’s so nice to meet you,” I whisper, holding out my hand for the now-invisible girl to shake. “You know, if I were you, I’d wait for the sequel. Better interface.” That could have gone so much better.

“Dude, you missed it,” Cooper says over my shoulder. “Chris was unpacking the new shipment. Dissidia Final Fantasy is back in stock!”

“Yeah, and you just missed the girl of my dreams walking out of this store.”

I can no longer see her bobbing ponytail. She’s obviously exited the store and turned to the main mall corridor.

“Okay,” Cooper says, rolling his eyes.

“Mall closes in five minutes, boys,” the manager, Chris, calls out. I check my watch and, sure enough, it’s closing time. We are the only two customers left in the store. “You guys buying anything or can I cash out?”

Neither of us has enough money; we like to come and play the demos when we’re bored and broke. Chris never seems to mind since we tend to buy our games from him when we do have money. When today turned into a stormy day, there wasn’t much else to do.

“Go for it,” Cooper replies. He and I stand side-by-side, our hands stuffed in our pockets.

“Sounds like the storm is picking up speed,” Chris tells us. “Was supposed to hit south of us but instead it’s veered north. They’ve issued a tornado warning.”

“Really?” I say nonchalantly. Summer in Saskatchewan often means high temperatures, and with them there are often severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Most of the time the storms are nothing to worry about. The wind typically picks up, we get thunder and lightning, maybe some hail rolls through, and then things settle down. Someone may spot a funnel cloud or two, which may or may not touch down. Often the tornadoes touch down on open prairie and no one gets hurt. At least that’s how I think of the tornadoes we get.

“Sounds pretty bad,” Chris continues. “I guess the high winds are causing a lot of damage already. A tornado touched down a couple of hours west. My wife called to say there’s been some flooding in different areas of the city. Apparently, my basement is taking on water.”

We both groan. That happened at my house once, and it wasn’t fun. Dad and I waded around in our rubber boots in ankle-deep water trying to salvage what we could. You wouldn’t think a couple of inches of water could do much, but it wrecked almost everything.

“Wanna go?” I ask. Cooper nods and we shuffle out of the store. The mall is practically deserted already. Cooper fishes for his car keys in the pocket of his hoodie.

And then the lights go out.

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