I didn’t want to brag, but they’d pushed. Ashton couldn’t help feeling that he’d put a wall up between himself and Michelle. She was just a regular girl, and he wanted to be a regular guy, but when Mason and Andy had goaded him, he couldn’t help it.
He was trying to mind his own business and wait for this uncomfortable hang-out to be over.
As if it wasn’t bad enough to be stuck with fourteen other guys all vying for the attention of this hot babe who may or may not hate him, he was stuck on an airplane trying really hard not to notice Victor’s hand rubbing Michelle’s back. Didn’t anyone else notice? He wasn’t even sure Michelle noticed.
The plane ride was only a little over an hour, thankfully. Ashton was not usually claustrophobic, but there were just too many people crowding him. He should have known not to sit next to Brock, the unofficial center of attention for the day. He’d make it a point to stay near the back of the crowd for the remainder of the day.
After a quick ride to the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, they exited the limo to a crowd that was almost the equivalent of a red-carpet reception. It seemed that a film crew setting up at a major event drew onlookers to discover who was so important as to warrant such attention.
Streamers often exist in the isolated space behind a computer screen. They have to be the best of the best for others to recognize them. Apparently, Brock, or Brock-cast as he was known in the world of video games was one of the best because it didn’t take long for people to act like a bunch of fan-girls, asking for his autograph.
Ashton had experienced people asking for his autograph and photo ops, but that was always on the beach, with a breeze in his hair and the ocean as a backdrop.
The film crew did a great job of parting the way for Michelle and the guys to enter the conference center, but the situation could more accurately have been described as Brock-cast and his entourage entering the building.
Once they were into the expo center, the organized chaos of the indoor arena was overwhelming. Hundreds of exhibitor’s booths filled the room, people from all parts of the world intermingled, standing in lines to meet their favorite streamers, taking selfies together and with their idols, playing arcade games and sitting at tables with roll-play dice and cards.
There were see-through pods that looked like sound booths in a radio station where people were streaming live. Movie theater screens in all corners of the arena projected competitions from within the expo center, and some people just stood there watching, oblivious to their surroundings.
There were long tables with computer consoles and people with sound proof headphones. Ashton wished he had some of those soundproof headphones because the noise was deafening.
This was as far from his comfort zone as he could get. They were an hour drive from the nearest beach and that was an hour too far.
Ashton managed to stay in the back of the group, hands in his pockets, observing from afar. If there was any consolation about the day it was that Brock led Michelle around as if she was his girlfriend, and Victor seethed. There was no real chemistry between Michelle and Brock, but Victor didn’t seem to realize that. If he had, he wouldn’t have been smiling through clenched teeth.
Finally, their group made their way to the Doritos sponsor table that both Ashton and Brock represented, and they posed for the obligatory photo op. When Brock pulled Ashton over to join him, somehow Michelle was positioned in between so that Ashton’s arm wrapped around the back of her waist.
Ashton felt Michelle stiffen as his hand landed on her hip and he didn’t complain when the photographer asked them to move closer together in order to fit the whole group into the view finder. He kept his hand on her waist a little longer than was required to obtain the photograph, then stepped aside again to tuck himself to the back of the group.
That little hug had been almost as much a consolation prize as a life-time supply of tortilla chips. Thank you, Doritos.