Cheeseburger Gothic

A Girl in Time. Chapter Two

Posted December 1 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Georgia had argued that sushi was not a great choice on a cold, wet night in November. She wanted Greek, of course; her last name was Eliadis. But Cady loved sushi. They had hot dishes, too. And BuzzFeed Guy was paying.

“Matt. His name is Matt, not BuzzFeed Guy,” Georgia stage-whispered. He was away from the table when Cady arrived. “And you're going to give him a great interview, because he's going to be my new boyfriend, and he's going to give it to me six ways from Tuesday.”

The restaurant was about ten minutes from being crowded. The seats at the sushi train were all taken, and all but a couple of booths were full. They were in one of the booths, because you never ate from the train unless you wanted to catch an express ride to food poisoning. Four empty beer bottles on their table spoke to how well Georgia and BuzzFeed Guy—Matt—were getting along.

Cady made herself say his name five times so that she wouldn't forget. She would make herself say it at least twice in the first couple of minutes, just to fix it in her memory.

“Stop saying his name,” said Georgia, digging a knuckle into her ribs. “He's mine. You were too late. So don't think you can come in here with your sad little Jessica Jones look and steal my future husband away from me.”

Cady squealed and laughed and tried to slide away from her friend, and completely forgot the name of BuzzFeed Guy when she looked up and found him smiling at the pair of them from the end of the table. He was good-looking. Movie star good-looking. And even though she had promised herself she would remember his name, because that's what grown-ups did, one look at this guy and all rational thought climbed aboard the sushi train and choofed away, possibly never to return.

“Hi, BuzzFeed Guy,” she said.

“Hi, Murder Girl,” he volleyed back, sliding into the booth across from them, carrying three beers.

“Matt,” said Georgia, emphasizing his name, “this is Cadence McCall. Cady, this is Matt Aleveda. He will be your BuzzFeed journalist tonight.”

They shook hands while Cady struggled to think of something to say other than, "Oh my, you're cute." She could see why Georgia wanted to rush him out the door and into bed. All of her strategies for this interview, all of the carefully prepared little pull quotes she had already imagined featuring on the front page of the site between “Tay Tay and Beyonce’s Cage Match” and “37 Pictures of Dogs Who Just Can't Even Anymore” … they all flew right out of her head.

“You want to order?” he asked, saving her from the vast embarrassment of staring at him and saying nothing, just grinning like an idiot.

She nodded and swigged at her beer, mostly to hide behind the bottle for a couple of seconds to regain her balance. She felt Georgia kicking her under the table as if to say, "See, see, I said he was cute."

“I like the hot ones,” she said, before hurrying on. “The hot dishes, I mean.”

A bright hot flush bloomed somewhere beneath her tee shirt and spread to her face. She knew it was coming. Knew it was going to be bad. And that just made it worse.

“That's why we should’ve had Greek,” said Georgia. “Do you like Greek food, Matt?” she asked.

“My grandmother was Greek,” he said, his smile completely authentic. “She was a cook on a big cattle ranch down in Arizona. That's where she met my granddad. He was a vaquero, a cowboy from Mexico. So yes, I do like Greek food.”

“Then next time we go to Lola, and moneybags here pays.”

“Hey, I don't get paid for another month, you know,” said Cady.

“Okay then. Yanni's, and then Lola.”

“So you haven't made any money off the app yet?” Matt asked. “That seems almost weird. It's been number one for weeks now.”

“It takes a while to confirm the sales,” she said. “Sixty days, usually.”

Talking about her game, Cady started to recover her poise. It was as though the earthquake which had threatened to knock her on her ass stopped, leaving her shaken, but suddenly surefooted. The restaurant was getting noisy as more people came in to take the last seats, and the patrons who were already there raised their voices to talk over each other.

“Do you mind if I ask what sort of a payday you're looking at?”

She didn't mind at all.

“Four and a half million dollars initially. It'll fall away after that, after Murder City drops off the front page and then the best seller lists. But I can probably make do.”

She felt Georgia's foot tapping her ankle again.

What? Was she being a jerk? This was why her friend had come along with her. Cady wasn't always the best judge of what to say in these situations.

“Sweet,” said Matt, clearly impressed. “Explains all the clones.”

“They're garbage apps,” said Cady, and Georgia kicked her. Hard. Matt noticed.

“It's true,” Cady insisted. “They are. And I feel really strongly about this. I spent a long time working on that game. I maxed out my credit cards. Ate grungy rice and fish heads. I slept in a cot in front of my computer. I did the work. It paid off. I'm not going to be modest about it.”

“No reason to be,” Matt said as a waitress appeared to take their order. “If you were a guy, it wouldn't be an issue.”

Georgia dug her fingers into Cady's arm.

“Mine,” she whispered.

Matt reminded them he was picking up the tab, and they over-ordered. Cady doubled up on the tempura seafood platter with an extra serve of Dungeness crab.

“Rice and grungy fish heads, remember?” she said when Georgia gave her The Look.
They discussed the games industry: “Nintendo should just give up on hardware.”
Sushi trains: “Most of the time they're like, “This is what comes back on the train line from the toxic waste factory.”

And the latest superhero movie, another failed Green Lantern reboot. A particular hate-favorite of Cady's.

“The love interest dragged. Again. The super villain was more sentient smog bank than relatable nemesis. Again. And while you have to love the idea of the green man's powers—your flight, your mad awesome combat skills, a workable indestructibility, and that whole of energy-into-mass conversion thing—they just didn't sell me on the Lantern having any chance at kicking Superman's ass, which is the gold standard in these matters. One star. Would not even torrent.”
Matt was recording the conversation by then.

“So, you guys. You're besties, right? Where'd you meet?”

“College. At a self-defense workshop,” said Georgia.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Have you seen the data on campus rape?” said Cady, using a pair of chopsticks to awkwardly move a large piece of fried crab meat into her bowl.

“So you're like unstoppable killing machines of death?” he asked, with poker-faced sincerity.

“Worse,” Georgia answered. “Female game devs.”

“Our superpower is ruining everything,” said Cady.

“So, Georgia, did you help Cady on Murder City?”

“Nope. It's all her own work. She doesn't play well with others.”

“It's true,” said Cady. “I'm just a girl with mad coding skills, but no people skills.”

“And your diagnosis,” Georgia prodded. “Don't be modest. You're a high functioning sociopath too.”

“According to 4Chan.”

Matt took out a Field Notes reporter’s notebook. It looked to be about half full already.

“According to Reddit,” he said, flipping through the pages, “you're an insufferable lesbian, and every boy you ever dated died mysteriously after placing five-star reviews of Murder City in the gaming press.”

“The technical term is ‘corrupt gaming press’.”

“I stand corrected.”

“You're actually sitting down,” Georgia teased. “This is why nobody trusts the media anymore.”

More food arrived. More food than they needed.

The restaurant was uncomfortably hot and noisy with the crowd by then. A family moved into the booth behind Matt, a single dad and three daughters. They looked young, the oldest possibly not even in school yet, and they were hideously excited. Their father looked pained as the girls launched themselves at the moving buffet.

“Choose careful, girls. I only got thirty bucks to get us through. Maybe some avocado rolls?”

Cady was looking directly at him when he spoke, and his eyes locked on hers, his voice trailing away at the end, the three hungry children ignoring him completely. She felt herself blushing again. Without asking Georgia or Matt, she grabbed the plate of hand rolls which had just arrived at their table, stood up, and walked them back to the next booth.

“We over-ordered,” she said. “You should have these.”

The girls fell on the food.

“Rocket ships!” the oldest one cried out.

Their dad started to say, “That won't be necessary—”

But Cady spoke over him.

“Yeah it will. We ordered too much. Chill. It's all good.”

She spotted their waitress a few tables over, and before anyone could stop her, she marched over, pointed out her booth and the family next to it, and explained she would be paying for the little girls and their dad. Satisfied, she returned to Georgia and Matt. He was smiling crookedly at her. Georgia was not smiling at all.

“What?” she asked, slipping back into her booth.

“Nothing,” said Georgia, in a tone of voice that said everything.

“I'm gonna just … go the bathroom,” said Matt.

“What are you doing?” Georgia whispered fiercely when he had excused himself.

The embarrassment Cady felt when the girl's father had caught her looking at him returned, doubled in strength. She dared not look in his direction.

“Shut up,” she said, in as low a voice as she could and still be heard. “I was just helping.”

“You're not,” said Georgia. She flicked her eyes over the back of Matt's seat. The guy was still sitting in the booth, his daughters oblivious to any disturbance in the Force.

But even Cady could tell now there was a great disturbance in the Force. The man was concentrating fiercely on his food, staring at the hand rolls—“rocket ships!”—as if defusing a time bomb. The three girls feasted merrily, but he did not eat at all.

“We'll talk about this later,” said Georgia, “but promise me you won't do anything stupid to look good for Matt again. Anything else,” she added.

Embarrassment threatened to flare into anger then, but Cady got a hold of her temper before it broke free.

“I don't know what you mean,” she said.

“Yes, you do,” Georgia shot back. “You were being selfish in that very special way you have, Cady. When you don't think about anyone else. Just yourself and what's best for you. But I said we'd talk about it later.”

“No, we'll talk about it now.”

Her anger was returning, like a wrestler who had been pinned suddenly finding a way out of the hold down.

“I wasn't being selfish. I was thinking about—”

Georgia leaned right into her personal space.

“You were thinking about how it would look when Matt wrote you up as the most generous girl in the world. But that's not how it will turn out, trust me, because that's not how it is.”

She almost left then.

Almost stormed out into the cold.

She could even see herself slamming her last sixty-three dollars down on the table of the booth next door. And it was only that image, of a crazy woman throwing money and shade at three little girls and their poor single dad which brought her up short.

Maybe she had been a jerk?

Maybe she was insufferable?

Considering the possibility was enough to drain her foul temper. It was like losing herself in the effort of solving a really complex coding problem.

She took a sip of her beer.

“Okay,” she said, quietly, being even more careful not to catch the eye of anyone in the next booth.

Not the children, and certainly not the father she'd probably embarrassed.

Humiliated, even.

“But now I gotta pay for their dinner, too,” she said quietly, knowing Georgia would understand what she meant. Georgia knew her better than she knew herself. “Can I borrow some money? Or do you think we can hit up BuzzFeed Guy for it?”

11 Responses to ‘A Girl in Time. Chapter Two’

Peter Bradley is gonna tell you...

Posted December 1
Again with the strong female characters! Outstanding work!

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted December 1
What if I spot an error?

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted December 1
Let me know.

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted December 1
Top of page 9 Matt's line... go to the bathroom

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted December 1
Ta

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted December 2
Actually, now I look at it, I did that on purpose. Some people do speak like that. But I might change it, since it obviously brought you up short.

insomniac asserts...

Posted December 2
I thought it might have been deliberate, but yes it did stand out a bit, but then I'm the type of person who writes out texts in full. You're the master, I'm the slave I mean alpha.

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balri is gonna tell you...

Posted December 1
So...ah...chapter 3 tomorrow? I'm hooked

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted December 1
Oh all right then.

GhostSwirv mumbles...

Posted December 2

No keep it as is ... Matt's a reporter, he's picked up on something and he's given Cady and Georgia a moment.

I heard it right in my head - saw it too!

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Therbs mumbles...

Posted December 2
I don't now what the hell to expect with this book. I'm now figuring what I need to finish on the Kindle before you get all PETA on this thing and free it from its cage.

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