Second round, challenge three of NYCMidnight’s Creative Writing Championship. New writing group, new restrictions. Mine were: “Genre: Romantic comedy, Location: arcade, Object: coffee pot.” And we’re off…
The Final Score
By C. A. Bridges (1,000 words)
Being a coffee shop barista, even an emergency temp one, was everything Aly thought it would be. “Here you are sir, have a nice day, die in a fire,” she muttered before turning to her mother, who was filling the large catering pot. “How do you keep from murdering your customers?”
“That gets you talked about,” her mother said. “Try making terrifying designs in their latte cream instead, that always cheers me up.”
Aly sighed. Helping out her mom was one thing, but she couldn’t take being back in this town for long. At least she didn’t have to go near—
“You know where Electricland Arcade is, right?” her mother asked suddenly. “I need you to run a delivery… Aly? Why are you hitting your head?”
Matt stood ready, his hands dry, his shoulders loose, a retired gunslinger here for one last battle. Looming in front of him was his old archenemy.
“So, Donkey Kong,” he said grimly. “We meet again.”
The high score screen mocked him. An unbroken string of MNAs, with a single FRC arrogantly perched on top.
“FRC, whoever you are, you’re going down.” Matt settled comfortably on an old wooden stool and checked his gear. Snacks, check. Heap of change, check. Massive amounts of caffeine, on the way.
A quarter brought the machine to life with music he hadn’t heard in years. A broad smile spread across his face.
“Bring it on, you damned dirty ape.”
This place hasn’t changed a bit, Aly thought. It’s still a total dump.
But where was everybody? Everything was turned off; all she could hear was one game playing in the back. She followed the sound and almost dropped the box she was carrying.
It was him.
It was goddamn Matt Archway, at the same goddamn game, on the same goddamn stool, ten years later. And if anything he looked even better, which was infuriating. This just couldn’t get any worse.
“I smell coffee!” Matt called without looking. “Thanks, honey, just bring it here.”
Aly set her jaw, wondering why God hated her so and if dousing her ex-boyfriend with boiling coffee would bring closure. “Here you are, sir. Is there a party…?.”
“Nope, just me. You can set it there,” he said, whipping the joystick around like a madman.
Good to know he ignored everybody equally, she thought, turning to flee.
“Hey, could you pour me a cup? I’m kinda in the middle of something here.”
“Of course, sir. Right away, sir,” she muttered, yanking out the coffee pot. “Die in a fire, sir…”
“Nothing, you just keep playing your little game,” she grumbled. She placed the cup on the console where it wouldn’t be in his way, held the pot in shaking hands and tried not to notice how strong his shoulders looked.
“Oh, that’s perfect,” Matt said. “How did you know to…” He looked at her reflection in the monitor, his jaw dropped, and Mario almost got hit with a barrel. “Aly? What are you doing here?”
“Revisiting my nightmares, apparently,” she said bitterly. “Have you seriously been coming here all this time?”
“What? No, they’re tearing the place down tomorrow.”
“So of course you’re the last thing to get moved out. God, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Sure I have. I don’t drink Cokes anymore,” he said, timing his jumps carefully so he could pick up the cup. “Now I can afford Jamaican Blue Mountain.”
“You’re having your video game catered?”
“Hey, this is a special moment for me. I spent a lot of time playing this game.”
Aly just stared at him. “Really.”
Matt granted her a rueful glance for an entire two seconds before turning back to the game, effortlessly jumping over beams and dodging fireballs. It was like talking to an air traffic controller during a blizzard. “Right, sorry,” he said. “But tomorrow they’re selling it off and I wanted to get the high score again before they did.”
“You’re insane! That’s the legacy you’re passing to the generations, your freaking initials? Hell, Matt, even Mario moved on from this game.”
“Yeah, but his girlfriend stayed with him.”
“Well, maybe if I went ‘ding!’ and points flashed over my head when you touched me, you’d have noticed me more!”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” Matt said, finally turning to face her. “You never told me you were upset, you just dumped me and moved away.” Behind him Mario was struck by a fireball and died. Aly actually felt a twinge of guilt at that.
Matt stood up and looked at her. “I didn’t pay enough attention to you, and that was ignorant of me. But you never gave me a chance to do better. I haven’t played here since the day you left.”
He pointed at the screen. “MNA stands for ‘Matt ‘n’ Aly.’ Always did.” He laughed humorlessly. “I wanted it to last somewhere. Stupid FRC.”
“Screw it. Thanks for the coffee. Tell your mom I’ll see her later.” He gazed deep into her eyes as if memorizing her. “God, you look amazing. I hope someone out there deserves you.” And she watched him walk away.
After a long moment Aly grabbed the cup, drained it, and poured another as she reached for her phone. “Mom? Bring the generator. Don’t ask why.”
Then she put down the pot. “Right, then,” she said. “FRC, you’re going down.”
A week later Matt walked into the coffee shop feeling miserable. Good thing Aly was probably gone by… what?
She was behind the counter, looking beautiful. And next to the water fountain in the back was the Donkey Kong machine. He couldn’t help himself; he went and looked at the new top score.
“Hey, I watched an expert for years,” Aly said, smiling and hugging him. “You learn a few things.”
“Me too,” he said. “I learned you don’t win until you get the princess.”
There was a distinct “ding!” when he kissed her. And somewhere Donkey Kong roared in defeat.
”The Final Score” by Chris Bridges – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT – “Have a nice day, die in a fire”, love that line! Great way to introduce the reader to Aly’s mindset……….The humor in this piece works well to make the dialogue and scenes engaging and interesting. The settings of the piece – the arcade and the shop – are rich places in which to have these characters interact. Additionally, Aly and Matt are engaging characters because they are well-shaped, different, and fun to watch when they interact. Basing the story in scene is smart: it mimics the action and pace of a video game and arcade and throws the reader into theaction. Additionally, it helps getting to know the characters that much easier. The title is great because it is subtle, specific, and alludes to both the video game theme and to this relationship. …………………………