“I don’t even know what buttons to push,” Michelle said, holding up the little black controller.
Ashton wished he could give her a private lesson, but this was Brock’s game. He wasn’t going to upstage the champion.
“How about if you come sit with me,” Brock said, moving over to make space. “We can be a team.”
“Shoot,” Mason said. “There is no way I could concentrate on the game with a hot babe practically on my lap.”
“Are you calling me a hot babe?” Michelle flirted with Mason as she was climbing up into the gaming chair with Brock.
“That is the general consensus among the guys,” Casey said. Several other guys nodded in agreement.
“Do you think I’ll be such a distraction to Brock that one of you could beat him?” she asked. Her teasing grin was doing funny things to Ashton’s heart rate. “I don’t know, is it a fair fight? Have all of you played Fortnite before?”
Every one of the fifteen guys nodded.
“Okay, so what should we have as the prize?”
“A private date with you this evening.” Victor’s velvet voice purred at her. Ashton fought the urge to gag.
“No way,” Michelle said, wagging her finger at Victor. “You had a private date yesterday. Today I’m spending time with the whole group.”
“How about a free love letter?” Brock suggested. “Whoever comes in first place gets to automatically receive a love letter from you and stay on the show a few more days.”
“That’s actually a really great idea.” Michelle turned her face to Brock and smiled.
Ashton couldn’t help wishing he was able to make her smile again.
“Aren’t we playing against about a hundred other people?” Andy asked.
“Well, yeah. That does make it more difficult.” Brock shrugged.
“So, do we just have to beat you? Or do we have to win the whole game?” Reggie asked.
“What do you think, Michelle?” Brock raised his eyebrows.
She put her finger to her lips as if she had to think about it.
Way to distract all fifteen of us by making us stare at your lips, Ashton thought.
She turned back to Brock as if the two of them were having a private conversation. “I think they should have to win the whole thing.”
“You heard the lady,” Brock said, shifting her a little closer so that she actually was on his lap. “#1 Victory Royale gets a free love letter.”
“Let’s play.” Michelle settled onto Brock’s lap and turned to the screen of his console. “You’re going to teach me, right?”
“Of course.” Brock’s arms wrapped all the way around Michelle’s small frame as he took his controller in both hands. “Right now, we’re in the lobby waiting for the battle bus to pick us up.”
“You don’t have to understand, just hang on.” Brock was suddenly in game mode. Ashton wasn’t sure how he, or any of the other guys, would be able to concentrate on their own game while listening to Brock talking to Michelle. “We get to decide where to jump out.”
“Are we jumping out of the blimp?”
“Yes, that’s the battle bus.” Brock laughed, and Ashton couldn’t help chuckle. This was going to be a very fun game. “Most people want to go straight for Tilted Towers because that’s where you get the most kills.”
“Yep, that’s where I’m heading,” Andy said.
“You and I are going to go as far away from the towers as we can,” Brock said.
“Oh crap!” Andy called out. “I’ve been eliminated already!”
“That is why we don’t go to Tilted Towers,” Brock whispered. Ashton bit his lips trying to keep from smiling. “We’re going to go find some supplies.”
“How do you know where supplies are located?” Michelle asked.
“You just know.” Brock was in full concentration, yet still holding down a conversation.
“Why are you chopping down a tree?” Michelle called out.
“So I can build later,” Brock said.
“Do you want me to stop asking questions?” There was an apology in her voice.
“No, you’re fine.”
Ashton could feel the shift in Brock’s concentration level. He didn’t seem affected at all by having Michelle on his lap.
“Storm eye is shrinking,” Michelle read out loud. “What’s that mean?”
“It means we’re all going to get squeezed together so we’ll be more likely to eliminate each other.”
“Like in the Hunger Games when the game makers send a fire to drive Katniss closer to the other tributes?”
“That’s a perfect analogy,” Brock said.
“Oh my gosh, what are you doing? Climbing logs?” Michelle’s excitement increased.
“I’m building. Remember the tree I cut down?”
“This makes no sense,” Michelle said.
Ashton loved it that he could picture exactly what Michelle was seeing through Brock’s console even as his own game was progressing in front of him.
None of them knew where each other was located or how many other players they’d already eliminated. Ashton didn’t know if he was in first place or not, but with nine eliminations, he knew he wasn’t in last. Ten.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Victor dropped his controller on the table in front of him. “I was just eliminated by SurferBoy91, which I assume is Ashton.”
“You are correct, ViktoriousMVP,” Ashton said, not losing concentration. Eleven. He eliminated another player before continuing his tongue-in-cheek conversation with Victor. “Nice name, by the way. Are you?”
“Am I what, surfer boy?” The sarcasm dripped from Victor’s question.
“MVP, ya know, most valuable player,” Ashton asked. Twelve.
“Not in Fortnite,” Mason called out from three seats down, his fingers flying on his controller. “Ah, man! Brock-cast just eliminated me!”
“Yes!” Michelle cried out. “Get him, Brock!”
“I’m dead too,” Casey said.
Reggie ripped his headset off and tossed his controller on the table. “Thanks a lot, Surfer Boy.”
“You’re welcome.” Ashton didn’t miss a beat. Thirteen.
Kimball set his controller in front of him. “I guess if I’m going to be eliminated, at least I can say I was taken out by the best. Nice job, Brock-cast.”
“I haven’t won yet,” Brock said, his fingers still flying on his controller.
“We,” Michelle corrected him, as if she was an integral part of the team. “We haven’t won yet.”
“And you’re not going to,” Ashton said. Fourteen.
The whole arena erupted in an uproar. Some nobody had just eliminated the reigning champion. Ashton couldn’t help a tiny smile play across his lips.
Only five more players on the island. He could see a couple guys in a shoot-out across the knoll. He waited patiently for them to kill each other off, then snuck up and shot the last player.
#1 Victory Royale flashed onto Ashton’s screen and he pulled his headset off to an arena full of professional gamers applauding. He glanced over at his friend Brock, whose jaw was dropped.
“Sorry.” Ashton shrugged.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Brock said, his poker face a mask of professionalism. “Nice shooting.”
“Thank you.” Ashton chanced a glance at Michelle, who looked impressed. Cool. A free love letter. Worth one-point-five-million dollars, and not a penny less.