I’m back, dear readers! Been writing up a storm over the holiday break; I did manage to churn out a few chapters of the sequel to my King Arthur story, as well as this little number. I’ve cooked up this short romance for the 2018 Valentine’s Day contest over on Literotica. As you can tell by the title, it has a gaming theme, specifically Pokémon, a game that I’m really big into. I did make sure to write it in such a way that even someone with no familiarity with the game can easily follow along with the action. Even if you were to only skim through the gaming portions, I think you’ll still enjoy the story. I’d really appreciate it if y’all could give it a read, and maybe post some honest feedback. Your comments are always helpful in getting my stories ready for the critics. And if you really enjoyed it, I’d appreciate it if you could make a quick visit to Literotica later this month and vote on me for the contest. Thanks for your continued readership!
Gaming for Love
“And Smallwood drains it for three!”
Michael Goldman scanned the Auburn Basketball Arena, always looking for the perfect shot for the school newspaper, The Plainsman. Allison Smallwood, the star point guard of the women’s basketball team, always made for an excellent target. Not only was she a fantastic athlete, but she was also a pretty blonde with a dazzling smile.
“Foul on Georgia, and Smallwood steps to the free throw line!”
As he snapped a few more shots, Michael couldn’t help but smile. Even as socially awkward as he was, he seemed to thrive whenever he was on the job. While behind the camera, he was able to see the world around him not as the annoying bunch of people he had to deal with, but as a collection of models waiting for him to capture the perfect moment. Still, it’d be nice to have a sweet girl to go home to after work, but Michael wasn’t holding out much hope. Most girls weren’t attracted to the stereotypical Jewish kid: scrawny with curly black hair, pale skin complexion, and a bit of a large nose. As much as Michael tried to downplay the cliché, there really was no escaping it.
A sudden thud from the court snapped Michael out of his daydream, and he saw one of the other girls down on the floor. A quick glance at his roster sheet told him it was Desiree Bonner, the starting forward. As he went to work with his camera, he was relieved to see that her injuries didn’t look too serious. Soon, she was being tended to by one of the trainers.
“There she is,” Michael breathed.
Michael still had no idea who she was, but the student trainer that worked with the women’s basketball team was nothing short of a knockout. She was maybe 5’5” with light ash blonde hair, and her sharp eyes and wry smile seemed to indicate that she had a keen intellect to go with her stunning good looks. As she worked on Desiree, Michael couldn’t help but snap a few shots of the two of them, making sure that both the trainer and player were in focus. What he would give for a shot with her. Soon, the buzzer interrupted his fantasies, forcing him back to reality.
“Well, back to work...”
So it went for the rest of the game. No further injuries occurred for Auburn, so Michael didn’t get any further glimpses of the little goddess that tended to the players. The Lady Tigers kept the game close, but Georgia was just the better team in the end, and the Bulldogs ended up winning 67-62. This didn’t come as a huge surprise to Michael. Throughout the season, the team had proved to be talented but young, with Smallwood being the only real veteran on the team. Considering that she was only a sophomore, the team had nowhere to go but up in the coming seasons.
After a final series of shots as the teams shook hands, Michael texted his boss up in the press box. The reply thanked Michael for his hard work and instructed him to take the rest of the night off; his boss would handle photography at the postgame press conference. This suited Michael just fine, as he had gotten more than enough of people for the day. After packing up his camera gear, he headed out to his bike to begin the trek back to his apartment.
As he reclined on the sofa in his living room, Michael grabbed his Nintendo 3DS and powered up his copy of Pokémon Sun, intending to waste away the rest of the evening with some online battles. On the other side of the room stood Antonio, Michael’s roommate. He was a tall drink of water by any standard, and his dark chocolate skin and shaved head gave him quite a striking appearance. Still, he was as nerdy as Michael was, perhaps even more so, and tried to communicate this with his black horn-rimmed glasses. Of course, with his height and good looks, that only served to make him even more irresistible to the opposite sex. As was his usual Thursday evening routine, he stood with iron in hand, pressing his shirts for the coming weekend, no doubt for a Valentine’s Day date of some sort.
“Dammit,” Michael muttered.
“What’s wrong, man?” Antonio asked.
“Another rage quitter. That’s three in a row!”
“You gettin’ that good?” Antonio wondered with a laugh.
“No, the level of competition has definitely gone down in the last few months. Not sure what’s happening. Still, I can’t help it that I’m kicking so much ass!”
“Sounds like you need some stronger competition.”
“Yeah, but I know you don’t play Pokémon anymore.”
“True. I ain’t got the time to put in. But maybe you ought to consider joining the local League?”
“League? I thought you said the president of the AU Pokémon League was a total asshole?” Michael replied.
“He is, but it’s gonna be your best bet for some decent people to play against. Besides, none of them will rage quit on you; it’s against their rules. If they do, they get put on probation. Too many times, and they’re kicked out.”
“Hmm ... maybe so. When’s the next meeting?”
“Tomorrow, actually. They meet at the GameStop on University Parkway.”
“Thanks, I’ll check it out.” Hearing the steam from Antonio’s iron, Michael remarked, “Dude, you’re fucking obsessed with clothes. It’s a little disturbing.”
“What can I say? The ladies love a man wearing a freshly pressed shirt!”
“Yeah, right. I’d bet you’re in the closet. Great cover, by the way,” Michael snorted.
“Hey, that hurts,” Antonio whined, feigning a heart attack. “I can’t help it if I’m that much better than you with the women, just like you can’t help it you’re so much better than those idiots online!”
“Yeah, but you could share,” Michael shot back with a grin.
“Sorry, but Antonio don’t kiss and tell,” he replied with a toothy grin. After a moment of silence, he continued, “You see that little hottie at the basketball game again?”
“Yeah, she was there.”
“You should talk to her, man! I bet you two would hit it off real good!”
“Are you nuts?! She’s so far out of my league, I bet she doesn’t even know I exist!” Michael laughed.
“Dude, stop sellin’ yourself short. You’re a good guy with some excellent job prospects after you graduate next year. What girl wouldn’t be all over that? And if a girl isn’t all over that, you don’t want her anyway!”
“Easy for you to say, Mr. Ladies’ Geek.”
“Trust me, just chat her up next time you see her. I don’t care when or where it is, introduce yourself and see what happens. You might even be able to get her to go with you to the Valentine’s Day dance in the student union building.”
“No point; I bet she’s got a boyfriend.”
“Don’t hurt to ask, does it?”
The next afternoon, Michael arrived at the GameStop on the outskirts of campus. For some odd reason, he felt nervous. He reasoned it was likely just because of a new and unknown situation; once he tried this group out, he had little doubt he’d like it. As he walked in to the shop, he was pleasantly surprised to see at least a dozen people there, all seated at tables. A couple of them were engrossed in discussions or trading card games, but the majority had their 3DS systems out and ready. After a moment, an overweight man with long greasy hair greeted Michael.
“What’s up? You here for the League?”
“Uh, yeah. Thought I’d give it a shot, see what it’s all about,” Michael replied.
“Cool. I’m Eric, the Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League,” the man said with pride. “That’s an official title, by the way.”
“Good to meet you,” Michael answered, hiding his immediate dislike for the man. “Name’s Michael.”
“Lemme show ya around. The rules here are pretty simple,” Eric said, pointing to a poster on the wall.
1. The terms of any battle or trade must be discussed and agreed upon by all parties beforehand.
2. If terms are not discussed, all battles are assumed to take place under standard OU rules in the case of singles or VGC rules for doubles.
3. Any and all disputes will be settled by the Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League.
4. Absolutely no rage quitting; either forfeit or see the battle through to the end. The first offense will result in a warning, second offense will be probation and temporary suspension, and the third offense will result in the player being banned from the League.
5. The Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League may be challenged for leadership at any time by any law-abiding member.
6. These rules may be amended as the Almighty President sees fit, but rules 5 and 6 may not be changed.
“Huh ... I like rule four,” Michael remarked. “That’s what brought me here.”
“You’re not alone in that,” Eric replied. “Rage quitting is a huge problem with online gaming, and probably more so with Pokémon than with many other games. In Call of Duty, for instance, a single rage quitter often goes unnoticed. If he’s doing that bad, neither team is likely to miss him. But Pokémon is always one-on-one, so any rage quit ends the match altogether.”
“At least Nintendo is trying to do something about it lately, forcing rage quitters to stay offline for a while before they can play again.”
“Only in ranked battles,” Eric corrected him. “In free battles, there’s nothing stopping them. Anyway, looks like everyone’s paired up for now, but feel free to watch. If anything opens up, you can jump in.”
“What about her?” Michael asked, seeing a girl sitting alone at a table in the far corner of the shop.
“Dude, you don’t want to play her,” Eric said, the disgust apparent in his voice.
“She cheats. Nobody can figure out how, of course, so we can’t kick her out. But nobody can come close to beating her, and as good as the guys that come here are, she has to be cheating.”
Not believing Eric for one second, Michael replied, “I’ll take my chances.”
“Whatever, dude. Your funeral.”
Despite his promise to “show Michael around,” Eric returned to his seat and began a battle with another member. Michael stared for a moment, watching the pretty brunette with thick glasses seated next to Eric. The way she was hanging on his every move, they had to be an item. Still, Michael could have sworn he saw something in her eyes. It could have been sadness, but it could also have been longing. Either way, Michael decided he wanted as little to do with Eric as possible; a part of him wished he had listened to Antonio. Still, the competition was bound to be better here than online. Turning towards the lone table in the back corner, Michael froze as he realized something.
“Holy shit ... it’s her!” he muttered to himself.
Sitting alone at the table was the same girl from the basketball games. Her ash blonde hair was unmistakable, even if it was held up by a hair clip rather than in a ponytail. Now that he had his best look ever at this girl, Michael had to concentrate to keep from embarrassing himself with a public erection. Her face was the cutest thing he had ever seen, impish with a slightly rounded tip to her nose. On one side of her nose, he could see a piercing with a tiny faux diamond stud in it. Her front bangs were quite long and side swept over her right eye for a sultry look, even if that wasn’t what she was going for. She wore a black t-shirt with a picture of a very unhappy Princess Peach saying, “Rescue this.” Michael shook his head in disbelief. All this time he had thought this mystery girl a jock, but now, he couldn’t see her as anything other than what she apparently was: a gamer girl. Collecting his courage, he walked over to the open seat across from her.
“If you think I’m gonna fuck you just ‘cause I’m a gamer girl, fuck off. If you think I suck just ‘cause I’m a gamer girl, fuck off,” she muttered without even looking up.
Though Michael was taken aback by her cold remark, he replied, “Nothing like that, I just wanna play a game with you.”
“Right, but only ‘cause there’s nobody else available,” she snorted.
“Actually, I’d want to play you regardless. I’m told you’re good.”
“Pretty sure you were told I cheat.”
“I was, and I don’t believe that bullshit for one second.”
Shrugging, the girl replied, “Maybe you ought to believe it.”
“Only one way to find out, right?” Michael smirked, adjusting his glasses.
At last, she looked up at him, studying his face. “You seriously just wanna play? Nothing more?”
“Fine. 6 on 6 single battle, standard OU rules.”
“Works for me,” Michael said as he powered up his 3DS.
Studying him again, she asked, “Do I know you from somewhere?”
Michael replied, “I don’t know if you do, but I’ve seen you around. You’re the trainer for the women’s basketball team, right?”
“That’s where I know you from! You’re the photographer I always see on the sidelines!”
“Yep. Michael Goldman, graphics design major and photographer for The Plainsman student newspaper,” he said, extending his hand.
She waited a moment before shaking it, saying, “Ashley Henderson, sports medicine major and your soon-to-be executioner.”
“Damn, little trash talker!” Michael chuckled.
Ashley’s eyebrows shot up at this. “Huh. Sorry, it’s just that ... most guys can’t handle my trash talking. You’d think I had cut their balls off or something.”
“I’ve heard worse from twelve year old kids playing Call of Duty,” Michael snorted. “Ok, let me pull my team together...”
For most non-gamers, the first thing they think of when they are asked about Pokémon is the catchphrase, “Gotta catch ‘em all.” From this, it is easy to assume that the games are simple collectors games, catch them all to win the game. But for players like Michael and Ashley, who had both been playing the series since the first games came out in the 1990s, it went far deeper than that. They loved the competitive turn-based battles, finding joy in structuring different teams for different situations and going up against as many skilled opponents as they could. With six Pokémon per team, each with different roles to fill, the possibilities were endless. To them, it was like a massive game of chess in which you could customize your pieces to fit your play style. Don’t have any use for bishops? Trade them in for an extra knight or two. Every decision had advantages and drawbacks, and as in chess, victory often hinged on which player could accurately predict what their opponent was going to do and when.
In Pokémon, every combatant has either one or two elemental types, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Fire types are strong against Grass types, but weak against Water types. Water is strong against Fire and weak against Grass, while Grass is strong against Water and weak against Fire. With eighteen different elemental types to choose from, crafting a team strong and varied enough to handle anything that comes along is essential. Further, each Pokémon could fill different roles on the team. Some are quite fast with powerful attacks, known as “sweepers.” These offensive Pokémon are the basis for most teams, eschewing defensive capabilities for the ability to pressure the opponent with their sheer damage output. Others have little to no offensive presence, known as “supporters.” They possess a variety of moves that can indirectly disrupt the opponent’s strategy. Finally, there are “bulky” combatants with little to no speed but incredible defenses. Such Pokémon are often capable of filling either an offensive role or a defensive support role, depending on the overall team strategy.
At the pregame preparation screen, images of the teams Michael and Ashley had chosen appeared. Michael had gone with his favorite bulky attacking team. Most of his Pokémon weren’t fast, but could take some damage and dish right back, once they had the chance to boost their attacking power. For several seconds, he studied Ashley’s team in an effort to figure out what her overall strategy would be. Her team seemed all over the place, possessing a couple of fast sweepers, but also several members known for their defensive stalling abilities. He didn’t know what to make of it, but the battle was about to start, so he would have to figure it out as he went.
Michael led off with his Ice type Pokémon, Alolan Ninetales. Though frail, this Pokémon was very fast and possessed the ability to summon a hailstorm once it entered the field. Further, its Aurora Veil technique would boost the defenses of his entire team, giving them the edge as Michael got them in position to take Ashley’s team down. Unfortunately, Ashley had predicted this exact strategy, leading off with her Celesteela, a bulky Steel and Flying Pokémon. Michael now was faced with a difficult choice. Ninetales was faster and could easily set up Aurora Veil, but would also be taken out of the game with a single hit from Celesteela. Deciding not to sacrifice his best supporter so early, he pulled Ninetales back onto the bench in favor of his Magnezone.
Magnezone was a staple for most of Michael’s competitive teams. A Steel and Electric type, it possessed the ability to trap other steel types and prevent them from being pulled back onto the bench, as he had done with his Ninetales. Thus, Celesteela was forced to remain in the game, ensuring it would soon fall to Magnezone’s electric attacks, which were twice as effective against it. But once again, Ashley had predicted this exact action and was ready for it. Rather than attack with Celesteela, as Michael had anticipated, she had it use a boosting move to increase its otherwise slow speed. This would ensure that it could attack Magnezone first in the next turn, while Michael had used up his first turn to switch to Magnezone, rendering him unable to retaliate. Still, Magnezone’s attacks were powerful enough that Celesteela shouldn’t survive more than a single hit, Michael reminded himself.
That, of course, was when disaster struck. Celesteela is a Pokémon capable of learning a wide variety of attacks, even if they don’t match up with its own types of Steel and Flying. One sneaky move is to teach it a Fire type attack, and this is precisely what Ashley had done with hers. The Flamethrower attack hit Michael’s Magnezone for twice the damage, due to it being a Steel type, and reduced its HP to 0 with a single strike. Michael was dumbfounded by the surprise attack, but had no time to recover. Upon achieving a knockout, Celesteela’s special ability came into play and boosted its attacking power. Now, Michael knew he was in trouble.
“Aw, you gonna go crying to your mommy?” Ashley teased him.
“I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve,” Michael shot back.
“Good. You’re gonna need ‘em.”
Michael took a few moments to consider his options. As Magnezone was who he was relying on to defeat Ashley’s Celesteela, he was forced to change tactics and sent out his Tapu Fini, one of his more defensive players. Celesteela immediately fired off a powerful attack, but Michael’s Tapu Fini managed to weather the hit and launch a Water type attack. As Michael had hoped would happen, its Muddy Water attack had the additional effect of lowering Celesteela’s accuracy, and the next attack missed completely as a result. After lowering Celesteela’s accuracy once more, Tapu Fini succumbed the next turn, but Michael could sense the tide turning, in spite of the score being six to four against him. Michael’s next Pokémon was his Alolan Marowak, a Fire and Ghost type with incredible attacking power. Even though Celesteela was faster than Marowak by far, its first two attacks missed, allowing Marowak an easy knockout with its Fire Punch.
“Not over yet,” Michael grinned.
“Eh, Celesteela had done its job; no biggie,” Ashley shrugged.
From then on, the two played an even match for the most part. Ashley brought out one of her only fast sweepers, Garchomp, to force Marowak out, but Michael switched to his most defensive Pokémon, Mandibuzz, who took the hit with little effort. This allowed him to pivot back to Ninetales and set up Aurora Veil to boost his defenses. Garchomp opted not to retreat in spite of the type disadvantage against Ninetales and narrowly managed to defeat the Ice type with a critical hit. But as it had sustained heavy damage, Michael brought out his ace-in-the-hole, Scizor. The Bug and Steel Pokémon was not fast, but bolstered a massive attack stat and a powerful priority move, Bullet Punch. Priority moves allow the user to move before other Pokémon regardless of speed, making them highly valued in competitive battling. A single hit was all it took to remove Garchomp from play.
“Making a comeback,” Michael teased.
“We’ll see about that.”
Ashley next sent out her Clefable, a Fairy type Pokémon. While Michael’s Scizor would normally have the advantage against Clefable, he suspected she had something unexpected ready, based on how the battle had gone so far. After benching Scizor in favor of his Marowak, Michael was pleased to see that he had guessed right; Clefable had used a Flamethrower attack, which would have obliterated Scizor in a single hit. But Marowak, being a Fire type, took the hit with ease and retaliated with a powerful hit of its own on the next turn, forcing Clefable to retreat. Its replacement, Gyarados, was more than capable of handling Marowak, and Michael suspected it was Ashley’s strongest player.
“Time for Mega Gyarados!” Ashley grinned.
In competitive Pokémon battles, each team is allowed one Mega Evolution, which is a supremely powerful Pokémon able to increase its strength far beyond its normal capabilities. Gyarados was Ashley’s Mega, while Scizor was Michael’s. As Marowak was outmatched against the Water and Dark type, Michael pulled it back in favor of his Scizor. Ashley did as he expected and used a boosting move with her Mega Gyarados, but Mega Scizor was still able to tank the next attack and retain about a third of its overall HP. Scizor retaliated with a powerful Bug type attack to severely wound Gyarados, followed by an easy priority attack to take it down before it could do further damage.
“Fuck,” Ashley muttered, seeing he was better than most.
Clefable came off the bench once more, but Michael shifted back to his Marowak as he had done before. At this point, Michael gained a massive advantage when he predicted that Ashley would switch to her Buzzwole, a powerful Bug and Fighting type. Marowak hit Buzzwole with a devastating Fire Punch as soon as it switched in, knocking it out with a single hit. Clefable came back once again and finally managed to take Marowak down. Still, Michael had gained the upper hand in the momentum of the battle, and managed to take down Clefable with his Mandibuzz. Just like that, Ashley had only one Pokémon remaining to face Michael’s two.
“Well, well, well ... nobody’s ever gotten me in a corner like this,” Ashley grinned.
“I aim to please,” Michael replied.
“Too bad. I aim to win.”
Ashley’s final Pokémon was Tapu Koko, a very fast Electric and Fairy type. Though Michael’s Mandibuzz had taken a hit or two, it was bulky enough to be able to land a light hit before being taken down by Tapu Koko’s Thunderbolt attack, leaving only Michael’s Mega Scizor. Still, Michael’s ace turned out to be just what he needed, as his priority Bullet Punch negated Tapu Koko’s greatest advantage: its speed. While Tapu Koko was fast enough to always have the first attack, Scizor managed to launch a powerful priority strike that took advantage of its weak defenses, knocking Tapu Koko out and winning the game for Michael.
“And that’s that,” Michael said with a smile.
“Shit,” Ashley grumbled, not at all happy with the result. To her surprise, Michael’s hand appeared in front of her.
“Good game,” he said.
Ashley seemed confused for a moment, but soon regained enough presence of mind to give Michael a light handshake.
“Yeah, you’re good. That Scizor is no pushover,” she admitted.
“He’s been my ace for over a decade,” Michael said with pride. “He’s my best partner in the game.”
“Nice. Um, I guess I’ll be going...”
“Huh? Why? Got somewhere to be?” Michael asked. He had been hoping for a rematch with her.
“No, but ... well, I won’t be welcome here anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
Sighing, Ashley leaned close to him and whispered, “Eric’s been looking for an excuse to run me off. Losing to a new member just might do the trick.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know which one of us won, do they?” Michael grinned.
“What do you mean?”
“If that asshole wants you out so bad, I’m not gonna do anything to help. You’re the best I’ve played in months!”
“Uh, thanks,” Ashley replied with a tiny smile.
“So, can I ask why you keep coming? I mean, if these guys treat you so badly, why put up with it?” Michael asked.
Ashley shrugged. “I don’t have much of a social life. No boyfriend, no other clubs, just classes, working as a trainer, and this. Gaming has always been pretty special to me; it’s how I relax my mind. But to be honest, the real reason I keep coming back is her.”
Seeing her point to the girl sitting next to Eric, Michael asked, “What about her?”
“That’s Sophia. Eric would say she’s his girlfriend, but I’d more call her his servant,” Ashley replied with disgust. “She may not look it, but she’s incredibly socially awkward and has a lot of anxiety. She came here in desperation, looking for somewhere to belong. Eric said he’d provide it, if she did exactly as he told her to. They’ve been ‘together’ ever since. He treats her like shit, and is only giving her the most rudimentary information about the game to make sure she doesn’t get too good. In Eric’s mind, Sophia is what a gamer girl should be. Me? I’m a stupid girl who doesn’t know her place.”
“You’re waiting for a chance to try and help her, aren’t you?” Michael realized.
“Yeah, but it’s not easy. She clings to Eric, as if all ability for her to socialize would crumble if she lost him. And if he were to see me trying to befriend her, I doubt it would end well.”
“That’s really big of you, wanting to help her like that,” Michael smiled.
“Well, I have my cousin to thank, I guess,” Ashley remarked.
“How do you mean?”
“I grew up next door to my cousin, Sam. He has mild Asperger’s Syndrome, kind of like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He’s always been really awkward, but with genius-level intellect. He loved video games growing up and introduced me to them. That was how I bonded with him, and how I got so good at Pokémon. I’m good, but he’s the master.”
“I can imagine,” Michael chuckled.
“Anyway, it was bonding with him that made me realize how gaming can be such an awesome way to connect with other people, especially those with zero social skills. Seeing Eric use gaming to control and stifle Sophia ... it disgusts me.”
“I completely agree.”
Ashley was more than Michael could have ever dreamed of. Not just beautiful, but also smart, witty, self-assured, and with a heart of gold deep down. And no boyfriend! That didn’t mean she was a lesbian, did it? He reasoned she was not. Otherwise, why mention it? As they chatted, Antonio’s words kept playing over and over in Michael’s head.
Just see what happens.
Figuring he had nothing to lose, Michael said, “So ... can I ask you something?”
“Yeah?” Ashley replied, cocking her eyebrow.
Michael was now beet red with embarrassment and sweating like crazy. “Well ... there’s a Valentine’s Day dance at the student union building tomorrow ... or at least, that’s what I’ve heard. And ... if you’re not busy ... I was wondering ... w-would you maybe w-want to go? With me?”
Though Ashley was flattered, her subconscious worried that this might be a setup and kicked into defense mode. After all, every guy that had ever shown any interest in her was only after the one thing. She hadn’t exactly had the best taste in men over the years, but even the nicest ones tried to control her with sex, sooner or later. With that fear entering her mind, her face twisted and grimaced.
“So, that’s your game? You beat me once and think I’m obligated to go out with you? That it?” she answered dryly.
“I can’t believe all you guys are the same,” Ashley sighed. “Pretend to respect my gaming skills all so you can get in my pants...”
“N-No, that’s not it at all,” Michael began to protest, but he could see the look in her eyes. He knew he wasn’t winning this one. Resigned to his crash-and-burn, he stood. “I’m very sorry for offending you,” he mumbled turning to leave.
Ashley’s stomach twisted at seeing the look on Michael’s face. All of a sudden, she knew how hurtful her words had been to him. All he had done is ask her out, and she had replied with cold indifference and a terrible accusation. Worst of all, there was no proof that Michael was that sort of guy at all. As he was about to go, she reached across the table and grabbed his wrist.
“Wait. Please, stay. I’m ... I’m sorry, Michael. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I don’t want to bug you,” he said quietly.
“You’re not. I just ... have a seat. I’ll try to explain.” As Michael sat back down, Ashley continued, “As you can imagine, I deal with a lot of prejudice in my everyday life. To be honest, some of the worst of it comes from the gaming community.”
“Case in point, Eric,” Michael nodded.
“Yeah. I guess dealing with that prejudice has kind of fueled my own prejudices. I assumed you were just like every other guy I’ve gamed with, plus I haven’t exactly made the best choices in boyfriends in the past. Still, that’s no excuse for me assuming you’re exactly the same. I’m sorry, Michael.”
“Apology accepted,” he replied with a grin.
“So ... can I ask why you’d want to go to that dance at all? I mean, it’s gonna be flooded with sorostitutes and fratdaddies! You know, all the popular kids that made our lives hell throughout school. Why play into that?”
Michael said, “I think it’s ‘cause I never went to my prom in high school. I didn’t have a date, but I was determined to go no matter what. But then, two weeks beforehand, several of the seniors on the Student Government Association decided to pull the prank of all pranks: they stole the principal’s car. They were only going to deck it out in tin cans and whatnot, but then they got into a bad wreck and totaled it. The principal was so pissed that she cancelled all remaining senior activities, including prom. I guess I just wanted to have that sort of experience for once.”
Ashley smiled. “That’s so cute. An idealistic dreamer.”
Smirking, Michael replied, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.”
Recognizing the quote, Ashley continued, “But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
“This, I did,” they both finished in unison.
Giggling a bit, Ashley said, “You’re something else, quoting T. E. Lawrence.”
“Yep, specifically used in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception,” Michael replied.
“Ooh, I love that series!”
“Ditto. Great stories and characters ... though I do sometimes need a violent romp through a Call of Duty game to blow off steam.”
“Same here,” Ashley agreed. “You any good?”
“I have a longstanding love affair with Call of Duty,” Michael answered. “That, however, does not make me good at the game.”
“A gamer that admits he’s not the master at something? You are something of a unicorn, Michael.”
“Thanks,” he blushed.
Biting her lower lip, Ashley said, “So ... I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“And that would be?”
“Play me once more in Pokémon. If you win, I’ll go to the dance with you.”
Michael’s eyebrows shot up at this, but as much as he wanted to accept then and there, he had the presence of mind to ask, “And if you win?”
“If I win, I get your Scizor.”
Michael almost balked at this offer. It wasn’t that his Scizor was unique or difficult to get in the video games; he could get another one with little problem. Rather, it was due to sentimental reasons. He had been using this particular Scizor for over ten years, all the way back to Pokémon Platinum. It had been his ace on nearly every competitive team he had built over that time, and letting it go would be tough. He was certain she knew this based on his previous statements. Still, he’d have been a damned fool to turn down a chance with a girl like Ashley. After a moment’s consideration, he stuck his hand out.
They shook on it, and their rematch began. This time, both had a better feel for what the other was going to do, resulting in a very even bout. Knowing how huge a threat the Celesteela was, Michael planned a brilliant trap to take it out before it could do much damage. Ashley battled back, sweeping Michael’s next two Pokémon with her Buzzwole, which hadn’t had much of a chance to do anything in their previous match. Michael finally brought in his Marowak, taking down Buzzwole and Clefable in quick succession. Her Garchomp finished off Michael’s Marowak and Mandibuzz, leaving only his Scizor to face her final three Pokémon. Garchomp was no problem, weak from battling two Pokémon already, but both Mega Gyarados and Tapu Koko were at full health. Thanks to a couple of well-timed attack boosts, Michael managed to down Mega Gyarados with just over half its HP remaining.
As Tapu Koko came out for the final pairing, Michael knew he was going to win. Scizor’s attack power had more than doubled from the previous boosts, and its opponent had a very weak defense. One shot with a priority Bullet Punch would be plenty to end the match. But as Scizor attacked, Tapu Koko’s health bar stopped depleting just shy of a knockout. Michael slapped his forehead at realizing that Tapu Koko was holding a special item: the Focus Sash. It’s an item used by frail Pokémon with no defenses, guaranteed to let them survive a single hit, provided they are at full health. That hadn’t been revealed in their previous match due to a couple of his Pokémon going up against it. To make matters worse, Tapu Koko now unleashed its Hidden Power attack, a special attack that could be customized to any element, in this case, Fire. It didn’t matter how strong Scizor might be; a single Fire type attack was plenty to bring him down. A moment later, the screen faded to black, showing Ashley’s team as victorious.
“Son of a bitch,” Michael muttered in disbelief.
“That’ll teach you to mess with me,” Ashley grinned, sticking her tongue out at him.
Without a word, Michael initiated a trade request with Ashley, depositing his Scizor into the system. “A deal’s a deal. Just ... use him well. He’s been with me a long time.”
Michael stared at the screen, waiting for his ace to disappear onto Ashley’s 3DS, when a message appeared at the bottom of the screen.
Trade request canceled. Please wait...
Ashley reached across the table, placing her hand on Michael’s. “I didn’t really want your Scizor, but I had to know how serious you were about asking me out,” she explained. “That seemed an easy way to see for sure.”
Michael shook his head. “Ashley, this game is one of my favorite pastimes, but I’d be a certifiable idiot if I let some piece of data in a video game keep me from asking out the most awesome girl I’ve ever met in my life.”
“You ... mean that?” she asked as she began to blush.
“Yeah, I do.”
With a sly grin on her face, Ashley packed up her game system and grabbed her backpack. As she walked past Michael, she slipped him a scrap of paper and whispered, “Pick me up at seven tomorrow.”
“Will do,” Michael replied, finding her address and phone number on the paper.
As Ashley approached the door of the GameStop, Eric stood and blocked her path. “You beatin’ up on my new members, bitch?” he growled.
“None of your business, shithead,” Ashley huffed, pushing past him.
“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t come back,” he continued as she left. Turning back towards Michael’s table, Eric approached and asked, “What happened? Did you beat her?”
“No way,” Michael answered.
“You sure? I thought I saw you two making goo-goo eyes.”
“It’s called a distraction, and it didn’t work. She kicked my ass,” Michael reiterated.
“I warned ya not to play her...”
“Eh, it happens.”
“Well, anyway ... I’ve got a solution to the problem with her. Next time she comes, she won’t be a problem,” Eric remarked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael wondered.