Hard Wired (Cyberlove Book 3)

By: Megan Erickson

Chapter 1




Jesse



With twenty-five thousand people attending the convention, I fully expected my name to be forgotten as soon as anyone heard it.

It was a self-esteem buster. As was the fact that my hair wasn’t cooperating—which pissed me off. Back in Santa Cruz, my blond mop was almost always curly because I tended to surf in the mornings and then let it air dry when I went in to work at the shop. Here in Boston, in the dry heat of the hotel, it was flat and lifeless.

I was pissed that I even gave a shit.

What did it matter what I looked like? FallenCon was going to be crowded with thousands of gamer nerds in cosplay. No one would pay attention to me.

When I walked out of the hotel bathroom, I saw my cousin Beau sitting on the edge of his bed, talking to his camera and making flailing hand gestures.

“Say hi to my cousin, Jesse, Beautifuls!”

He swung the camera to me, and I waved with a half-smile. He was vlogging the trip, and hopefully he’d just edit out my dorky greeting.

Beau rolled his eyes and said another couple words into his camera before shutting it off. Of course, his hair looked perfect. And his skin, and his clothes. But then, he was here in an official capacity. As famous gay YouTuber Beau Starr, he had an image to maintain.

He cocked his head at me. “What’s with the face?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just feel off. Not like myself.”

“Let’s get to the convention. You need to be among your people.”

I laughed. “Right, a convention full of geeks equally introverted as me. This should be fun and awkward.”

“Awkward is underrated.” Throwing out his arms, Beau asked, “How do I look?”

He looked awesome as always. Skinny jeans, Chucks, and a tight black T-shirt that said I’m a social tool.

“You look great.” I glanced down at my Nintendo Vans, jeans, and Fallen World Online shirt. “Me?”

“You look suitably nerdy and adorable,” he said, leaning over to ruffle my hair.

My phone buzzed, and I pulled it out to see a text from my mom.

“Oh,” Beau said. “Your whole body tensed up, so that must be none other than your mother.”

I scowled and forced my shoulders to relax, but he was right. “She wants to know if I’m around.”

Beau’s lips pursed, and I knew he was taking aim. “Why? So she can drop in on you and casually hit you up for cash?”

Direct hit. Fucking Beau.

“Maybe Dad wants to surf with me. You know he barely uses the phone, so she asks for him.”

“Uh-huh. He barely uses his phone because it gets shut off when he doesn’t pay his bill.”

And there Beau went again. Maybe I just wanted to lie to myself for a minute about my parents. Was that so wrong? I wanted to pretend my mom’s friendly text with a smiley emoji meant she wanted to spend time with me, not that she needed money for groceries. For one weekend, I wanted to enjoy a damn con and forget about all the shit I had going on back home. Especially since their constant requests for cash had nearly prevented me from getting here.

“Let it go, Beau. Seriously.”

Beau got that pursed-lip look again, but at least he kept quiet. I didn’t want to start the con arguing over something I couldn’t change. He must have had the same thought, because he slipped his arm in mine and marched us toward the door.

“Well then, if you’re ready, let’s go.”

Our hotel was within walking distance of the Hynes Convention Center, which was great because it was freezing. Nobody had warned me it would be this fucking cold in the Northeast in February.

Not wanting to lug our coats around indoors all day, we left the hotel without them and sprinted down the sidewalk. The hotel and convention center were practically connected, but I still gritted my teeth and wrapped my arms around my middle as we burst into the center’s lobby.

I came to a halt with red-cheeked Beau beside me and was hit with sensory overload. The lobby was teeming with… Yeah, so Beau was right. These were my people. I was surrounded by folks cosplaying characters I loved or wearing T-shirts brandished with the logos of games I regularly played.

A giant steampunk T-Rex shuffled past us. Beau stared after him as I studied the convention map. We’d checked in early the day before, because we both qualified as “Industry Professionals”. Beau because he was Beau, and me because, as one of the moderators for Kai Bannon’s Twitch channel, I would be on a couple of panels.