She would have recognized his face anywhere, but out of all the beaches in the world, Rally would never have imagined she'd see him at this one. She pointed him out to her little sister Faye, who was just as big a fan. They both loyally watched him on YouTube, where he went by CodeHalberd, and posted video reviews of 80's cartoons, as well as the occasional livestream where he played a retro game while answering questions in chat. And he was here with his parents, just like Rally and Faye were. He was only thirteen, a few years younger than Rally, and a few years older than Faye. He had over 400,000 subscribers to his channel, and here he was at the beach, just yards away from two of his biggest fans.
Faye was bouncing up and down on her knees. "Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh. That's really him! That's really CodeHalberd! He's right there!"
"Think we should go talk to him?" Rally said. CodeHalberd was sitting down, opening a can of Sprite. He always drank Sprite on his livestream.
"No. No, we can't. He'll think we're weird." An extra layer of pink appeared on Faye's cheeks. Rally had suspected for a while that her sister had a thing for him.
"But think about it, when are we ever going to have this opportunity again? He must have flown all the way across the country to get here."
"But… But… What if he thinks I'm ugly?"
"He will not," Rally said. "He seems perfectly nice." It wasn't like Faye to get so self-conscious. And anyway, CodeHalberd was in middle school. Faye was still a grade-schooler for a few more months. Odds were he'd see her less as a girl and more just a kid, one more adoring fan.
"What if he thinks we're stalkers?" Faye said.
She got Rally there. "We can just tell the truth. It's all a coincidence. Surely he'd know there'd be somebody here who recognized him."
To look at him now, sitting with his mother, who looked like pretty much every other heavyset middle-aged Mom in the world, and his father, who was a balding and hairy-backed Dad, one would hardly think he was anybody at all, except a regular kid like the boys and girls around him.
The illusion held until two boys and a girl—the girl being the oldest, closer to CodeHalberd's age—rushed up to him in a frenzy of excitement. They seemed to be asking for his autograph. CodeHalberd laughed in embarrassment as his mom handed him a Sharpie. He signed the hem of the girl's t-shirt and added his signature to the boys' arms. The youngest one asked him, loud enough that Rally and Faye could hear, "You wanna come build a sand castle with us?"
CodeHalberd's hand gestures suggested he would, but not just yet. The three ran off, waving back at him with the vigor of a grand flag-waving.
Faye grumbled over her breath. She was staring at that girl with the same harshness as when someone else had a nicer dress or a cooler toy than hers.
"Don't you want his autograph?" Rally said.
"I don't have anything for him to sign."
"He signed those boys' arms."
"They're dumb. It's just gonna wash off."
"That's what selfies are for." Rally snapped her fingers. "We'll take a selfie with him."
"Hm." Faye kept staring at him as she picked the green polish off her toenails. "You really don't think he'll mind?"
"C'mon, you saw that gallery he posted on Instagram. He's been in hundreds of selfies. One more's not gonna hurt."
"I've got my phone right here." Rally shook her smartphone in front of her sister. "Look at me, trying to be the supportive older sister."
While they were thinking about it, CodeHalberd's parents got up, asking him if he needed anything. They left him alone on their beach towel as he lay down on his side.
Rally tapped Faye's arm. "Come on, now's our chance. Just think what all your friends are gonna say when you get to middle school."
Rally waited for a decision, though now she was starting to think she should have dragged Faye over there five minutes ago. Faye had always been kind of shy, but she'd never get anywhere as a teenager if she didn't allow herself to make a bold decision every once in a while.
A weird grinding noise came from some distance away, like someone trying to start a chainsaw.
Faye finally sprang to her feet. "Let's do this." Her knees were quaking. "It's our only chance, right?"
"That's the spirit." Rally took her hand, and the two of them headed over to him. On the way, Rally checked her own bathing suit, making sure nothing rode up or slid down too much. What was she even afraid he'd think? Was she really worried about her body image with a boy she barely knew and was frankly a kid compared to her? But as confident as she'd tried to appear in front of Faye, she was really just as nervous. What if he brought them up on his channel? What would he say about the two of them? This could be the most mortifying moment of their lives.
That chainsaw noise was still going, and getting louder.
When Rally and Faye arrived at CodeHalberd's beach towel, they found him fast asleep on his side. His Sprite had spilled and poured its sugary contents into the sand. And he was snoring. Badly.
That was the chainsaw noise.
Faye's mouth hung open. She couldn't even seem to blink. "Listen to him go…"
"I know," Rally said. "Is that even healthy?"
"He sounds like Uncle Frank."
They both stood transfixed at such an unsound sleeper. Rally had her phone ready to take a picture, but only held it flat in front of her.
Faye slipped it out of her hand.
"Hey!" Rally swiped at her. "What are you doing?" Then she saw exactly what. Faye turned the camera to video mode. The timer was counting up. Her phone was recording the most violent snoring they'd ever heard from a barely-teenaged YouTuber.
"Sign that girl's t-shirt, will he?" Faye started orbiting around him, making sure the camera knew who it was.
Rally tried to snatch it back. "Faye! Give it!" But Faye managed to swing her arm away before Rally could snatch it. Rally reached for Faye's wrist, her hand, her phone, anything she might be able to wrap her fingers around. She even chased her around the beach towel like a cat and mouse. Was she really that jealous of a girl he'd only just met?
Faye jumped over him to the other side. Rally stopped short of jumping after her, and teetered above the boy for a moment, sure she was about to topple right on top. Meanwhile, Faye was still recording, with the phone pointed right at CodeHalberd's face.
As Rally circled around his feet, he opened his eyes. "Wh—at the… Hey!" He jumped straight up onto his feet. "What are you doing?"
"Faye! Gimme that!" Rally managed to hook her hand around Faye's wrist and wring the phone out of her grip. Her little sister was frozen in shock. Then Rally herself froze as well. "Oh, geez. We're really sorry!"
"Were you filming me in my sleep? What the hell? What happened to boundaries?"
"I—I—I'm really sorry, Mr. Halberd," Rally said, as if he were a head taller than her rather than a head shorter. "We w-were just hoping to get a selfie with you, and you were asleep—"
"Oh, you're fans."
Rally felt like she'd swallowed some bad sushi. Now he'd definitely think they were stalkers.
"Look, just because you're my fans, doesn't give you a right to record me without my permission. I mean, seriously." He spread his hand over his face. "You caught me snoring, didn't you?"
"Yyyeah," Rally said. "I'm really sorry, I tried to stop her. Faye thought it was funny."
"I'm sure," CodeHalberd groaned.
"It was funny," Faye said. "Play it for him, Rally. You snore really loud, CodeHalberd."
"Quiet, you," Rally said. "I'll delete it right now. Just watch." She opened up the phone and returned to the camera app and went through the archive. CodeHalberd crossed his arms. Rally tried to bring up the menu to delete it, but it ran too slow. "Come on…" She tapped the screen hoping it would finally listen to her.
That chainsaw noise once again roared. Faye leaned against Rally for a better look. The screen showed CodeHalberd lying on the towel, making a noise like an army of warthogs.
As he watched the video, CodeHalberd's voice turned a shade paler.
Rally couldn't even work up the strength anymore to say "I'm sorry." All she'd wanted was to say hi to one of her Internet heroes and take a picture to remember him by. Now all she had to remember was the horror in his eyes as her sister humiliated him. Soon the whole Internet would know how she'd wronged him. Even if he never named her, she would know it was her. She could never watch his channel again.
Faye, on the other hand, was laughing her butt off. Where was her shyness now? Did she even care what she was doing to him?
Why couldn't a tidal wave just come in and sweep her off to sea?
But all along, the snoring was mingled with shouting. The camera started shaking as the movie continued to Rally's feeble attempt to wrest the phone from Faye. Faye's jealous comments, and Rally's desperate shouts, and the snoring—all of it mingled together. Rally's embarrassment began to lift. Maybe this was actually helping her. CodeHalberd did seem to get some color back to his face. He could hear it quite clearly—Rally did try to stop her sister. He grinned as the screen showed Rally chasing after Faye with the face of an old movie monster.
"Well, I guess I can't call that creeping on me," CodeHalberd said.
"No, I would never, ever," Rally said. "Faye just got carried away, is all."
"I'm Faye, by the way," Faye said, a little more sheepishly than before. She must have finally remembered who was here. "I'm sorry, I guess."
"I really do snore loud, don't I?" CodeHalberd said. "I usually have to wear a nasal strip to bed. Can you play it again?"
"Seriously?" Rally said. "If you say so." She restarted the video. The snoring started back up again, shortly followed by the girls' shouts. CodeHalberd started laughing.
"You know," he said, "I'll bet this would be a hit on my channel. Can you send it to me?"
"Yeah, just DM it to me. Berdsters love this kinda stuff."
"And I'll be sure to give you and Faye a shout-out. Except I didn't get your name."
"Rally. Not Raleigh, Rally. And sure, I'll send it over as soon as we get back inside. Sorry again for bothering you."
"I guess it comes with the territory. Nice meeting you. Rally, not Raleigh. Faye."
"Faye, do you have anything you'd like to say?"
Faye's face had turned almost as red as her swimsuit. "Can… can we…"
"Yes?" CodeHalberd said.
"Can we take a selfie with you?"
Once that was done, Rally said goodbye and took Faye back to their original spot. Faye could hardly take her eyes off the photo, her proof of this special day.
After Rally and Faye sat down, that other girl passed by along with her two brothers. Faye stuck her tongue out at her.
"Quit that," Rally said. "Or I'll delete the video."
"You wouldn't dare!"
Of course Rally wouldn't dare. But as far as she was concerned, they got lucky. Not everybody would have been as quick to understand as CodeHalberd. "You know, you're both fans. Why don't you go play with her when she gets back?"
Faye grimaced. "She thinks she's his biggest fan. I got a selfie and a video."
Rally lay on her back and sighed. Maybe Faye was going to make it as a teenager a little too well.