“I’m going to have to ghost her,” he said. “I can’t keep pretending.”
I studied him a moment. He looked so forlorn, and I happened to be a sucker for lost causes.
He glanced at me. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you clearly have it bad for this girl. And going by what you’ve said, you two have really hit it off in your conversations. You might’ve been pretending to be Callum at the start, but you’ve still been you behind the mask, and if she’s still chatting with you, then that means she likes your personality. You could come clean. If she’s genuinely into the person she’s been talking to and isn’t just some fame chaser who wants to date a celebrity, then maybe she’ll understand and give you a fair chance.”
Neil stared at me, not looking convinced. “I’m pretty sure if she knew the truth, she wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”
“If she doesn’t, then that’s her loss.”
“Why are you being so nice? You weren’t this nice when we first met.” He folded his arms, eyes narrowing slightly.
“Believe it or not, I actually am a nice person. But I tend to get a little argumentative when I get going on a topic, and that isn’t always a good thing when I’m meeting new people. I guess you have the first-hand experience of that.”
Some of his defensiveness faded as he unfolded his arms. “Well, be that as it may. I still think ghosting Annabelle is the best thing to do. It’s too risky to come clean.”
“I disagree. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“Okay, then, if you think it’s such a good idea, how do I go about telling her the truth?”
I stood from my seat, folding up my now empty paper plate to throw in the bin. “Let me ruminate on it for a few days and get back to you with a plan.”
Both his eyebrows rose right up into his forehead. “A plan?”
I nodded. “Yes, a plan.”
“Why would you help me? What’s in it for you?”
I shrugged. “I think you’re interesting. I’m also invested in this real-life episode of Catfish now, and I won’t be able to rest until there’s a happy ending.”
With a parting grin and a wink, I turned and left him sitting in the empty theatre, my mind awash with ideas. I’d never tried my hand at playing Cupid before, and I was oddly excited to get shooting my bow and arrow. Besides, being a gamer, I could never resist a challenge, and helping Neil win over the girl he’s been lying to would be the perfect real-life sidequest.
When Afric mentioned she livestreamed while gaming, I couldn’t help taking a look. A simple online search brought up her channel, and my heart jolted when I saw she was live right this very moment. I hit play and braced myself. I needed to know what sort of person I was getting involved with.
Less than a second later, she was on my screen, her hair up in a messy ponytail and large hoop earrings dangling from her ears. She was playing a game called Greenforest, where her avatar was a squat, impish-looking creature with batlike wings, a bulbous nose, and bushy eyebrows. In the far corner of the screen sat Afric, controller in hand as she simultaneously gamed and sang, making up her own lyrics to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.” She wasn’t too bad of a singer, and I had to admit her lyrics were funny.
Behind her, you could see what appeared to be a bedroom, which was lit by a multitude of neon lamps. It looked like the inside of a futuristic arcade. I glanced around my own bedroom, which was decorated in a navy, black, and magnolia colour scheme. It seemed bland by comparison.
This wasn’t the kind of thing I normally watched, but there was something oddly compelling about her.
“Ah, what a tune,” Afric said with a chuckle when she finished singing. “My mam went to see old Brooksie in ’97 and she still has a picture of her and all the aul ones from our street in their Garth T-shirts on their way to the concert. She says it was the best day of her life. Kind of offensive if you ask me since she’s given birth to eight children. Anyway, enough about my mother. That’s me signing off for the night. See you all tomorrow, same time, same place.”
She made a peace symbol with her fingers then gave a little salute before the screen went blank. I shut the lid of my laptop and worried I’d made a terrible mistake. I’d confessed my biggest secret to someone who broadcasted to possibly thousands of subscribers every day live on the internet. What if she had a whim and told her viewers what I’d done? Everybody watched Running on Air, and my catfishing story would make for a salacious bit of content.