Authors: Brent Crawford
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Text copyright © 2009 by Brent Crawford
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an
imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
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(In other words, no copying!)
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
This book utilizes portions of dialogue and lyrics from the musical
stage production of
Guys and Dolls
written by Frank Loesser.
Used by permission of Frank Music Corp. (ASCAP).
All rights reserved
In the back room of the Pizza Barn, with only two weeks before the start of high school, my boys and I are at the Freshman Mixer. The awesome kids from Merrian Junior High (us) are supposed to “mix” with the degenerates from Hawkus Middle School (them). We knew it was going to suck. What we didn’t know was how hot the Hawkus chicks would be and if any of them would be down to
with us. And free pizza is free pizza, so here we are!
The Hawkus kids have taken over the front room because they’re lame and got here early to stake out their territory. We, on the other hand, rolled in fashionably tardy and have been stuck in the arcade for two hours. I don’t mind a bit. I love the video games here; they’re the ancient, stand-up kind. They’re older than anyone here, only cost a quarter, and because we’re trapped like POWs, it doesn’t look uncool to play them.
On my second trip to the buffet, I scope out the Hawkus crew. The chick selection is like the pizza: cold as ice, picked over, and not very appetizing. The dudes look mean, though. One kid in particular is really big and cool-looking; the other kids are gathered around him like he’s giving out autographs. But he’s not talking, he’s just staring at me and my pile of Hawaiian slices. He looks pissed, like the last time he saw me, I kicked him in the nuts or I stole this pizza from his grandma. Whatever his problem is, it looks like trouble.
I retreat to the safety of the back room to find the old Punch-Out game open for business. I scarf down a slice and pop my last quarter in the slot to kick some digital ass. I wish this boxing ring were real and I could walk up to that big punk out there and give him what the game calls a MIGHTY BLOW! Right to the jaw. I think I know him from somewhere, and I’m sure I don’t like him.
I blast the first boxer in my game (Glass Joe) with a flurry of MIGHTY BLOWS! and drop his ass. As the game tries to figure out who my next opponent will be, I casually cruise the room with my eyes. Our girls are looking a whole lot better now that I’ve seen what else will be on the menu at Merrian High. I never thought they were dogs or anything, I just thought that I’d have more options. Like Taco Bell is awesome, but you shouldn’t eat it every day. You need some KFC, Pizza Barn, or Subway for a balanced diet. I need variety in my chicks. Not because I’m some player; I’ve never really talked to a girl that I was interested in before. I mean, I’ve talked to girls, like “Can I borrow a pencil?” or “What time does school start?” But never anything smooth, like walking up to them with a rose and saying, “This bud’s for you, baby” or “I like your shirt . . . I’d like it better on my bedroom floor.” I just need a little practice.
But I’m almost in high school; I’m overdue for a surge in confidence and maturity. I’ve grown five inches in the last four months, so I’ve got a new perspective on things. Who’s to say I won’t experience a growth spurt in the smoothness-with-ladies department? I might magically become
in two weeks. Two weeks?! I jerk the controls of the game and slam my fist on the punch button. This is ridiculous! I should have been practicing all summer. All I think about is girls, and I don’t do anything about it. How can you dream about something twenty-four/seven and not take action? I’ve got to get over this now! I need to MIGHTY BLOW my shyness in the face!
In between the Vice City and Ms. Pac-Man games, I see Amber Lee (hands down, the hottest girl in my class) trying to get coins from the change machine. She’s usually guarded by her friends Bitchy Nicky and Chubby Abby, so you can only get close enough to give her a nod or a “S’up?” in the halls. But she’s all alone at the moment, unsuccessfully shoving a dollar bill into the old, picky machine. We started calling it the Devil Machine in seventh grade because it only gives you quarters if your dollar bill is perfect, faceup, and shipped directly from the U.S. Treasury that day. My game’s not even close to over, but I see a window of opportunity that I’ve got to jump out of. Starting high school with a hottie on my arm would make things a lot easier.
I walk over with purpose. This must be the wave of confidence and maturity washing over me now. No need for practice, it’s game time! I’m going to say something incredibly funny about the Devil Machine or the U.S. Treasury. I’ll start simply with “Won’t give you change?” I might lean on the Ms. Pac-Man machine, I might cross my arms, I haven’t worked it all out.
Like a viper, I approach my prey from the rear. Her long hair spills over her pink tank top, probably just long enough to brush the tops of her boobs. It might be long enough to cover the whole boob, like one of those shampoo ads where the chick is naked but you can’t see anything important, because her hair . . .
Dang it, Carter, focus on the task at hand! “Won’t give you change?” That’s your line, now say it! Be cool, be confident, but don’t be cocky. I’m always spacing off—I’m afflicted with attention deficit disorder. Although it’s a disease, my mom won’t let me take the medicine. My best friend, EJ, over at the X-Men game, he takes the Ritalin. And you can tell when he forgets to take the stuff. Whew! He’s like a rocket ship without a pilot. He has ADHD, though. It’s a little different—you spaz out on top of the spacing off. I just space; I don’t spaz. I’m old-school ADD. My mom says, “You’re a dreamer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” She makes me write things down to combat my disease. I jot down everything that seems important on my arm or hands. Some days I look like a Hells Angel I have so much stuff to remember.
I should have written “Won’t give you change?” on my arm, because it’s not flowing out like I want it to. I’m standing behind her like a friggin’ stalker, but she hasn’t noticed, so I’m still cool.
I’d love to stay on task, get my homework done, ace the test, get straight As, be the kid in class everybody tries to cheat off of. But the world seems to have a different plan for me. Why would they put windows in classrooms if I wasn’t supposed to stare out of them? Why does Amber Lee have to wear short shorts, have tanned, shiny legs, and rock Reef flip-flops with pink toenails? Am I not supposed to gawk at her short shorts and wonder why there’s no visible panty line? Did she forget to put underwear on this morning? I’m a pretty forgetful guy, but I always remember. Are they a new high-tech underwear that can’t be detected by horny fourteen-year-old boys? Or are they the mother of all panties, the undergarment surely conceived by a god who loves to torment me: the G-string (Victoria’s Secret, fall catalog, pages 12–15) a.k.a. butt floss or crack warmers. That’s the only logical explanation back here.
The only thing standing between her butt cheeks and me is paper-thin denim and four little words: “Won’t give you change?” Here we go! I fill my lungs with pepperoni-scented air and courage, but her panty line (or lack of) is short-circuiting my brain and scrambling the signals being sent to my mouth.
“W-w-w-w,” I stutter. The W’s caught! “W-w-wuh-woo,” I continue. You’ve said it a thousand times. It’s a simple word, just spit it out. The rest of the sentence will flow from the “won’t.” Take a deep breath, focus your energy, relax, and say the damn thing!
“W-w-w-wu-whh, woo,” I stammer. She can’t hear me, thank God, and nobody else is watching. I know this because, if they were, they would be pointing at me and peeing their pants.
I have a slight stutter; I’ve always had it. It’s my older sister, Lynn’s, fault. When I was a baby and just learning how to talk for myself, I would point at things and try to sound them out. I’d gesture toward the round object and say, “B-bu-buh.” But before I could make the word for myself, Lynn would yell out “BALL!” and wreck my natural progress. She was everywhere! Like a swooping, toddler ninja, she would just appear and yell, “Hat!” or “Cookie!” when I wanted something. After a while I stopped using the hand signals and tried to identify the object without her knowing. However, I’d feel her watching and try to speed up the process in my tiny brain, and I’d s-s-stutter! My parents always laugh about it: “Baby Carter would try to so hard to get those words out, and little Lynn just wouldn’t have it!”
Really great parenting, I’d say: torture for sport! And here I am, thirteen years later, creating a wind tunnel in the Pizza Barn arcade room because of it.
“W-whh-wou,” I continue to stammer. She finally turns around to see who’s blowing on her.
She smiles at me (thank God) and asks, “Carter, what’re you doing?”
(or any other word with the letter
) is not going to work for me. So I cut to the chase, nod my head as coolly as possible, and mutter the word “Change?” That’s it, boy! Nix the fluff. “Change!” That’s what you want!
“OhmyGod, you’re waiting for the change machine?” she says. “Sorry, my dollar is retarded. You go ahead.”
Dang it! I don’t have any money. Language isn’t working, so action will have to do. I grab the dollar from her like a mugger in a dark alley and move toward the Devil Machine. I see a corner that’s bent and a hairline crease— either one could be the problem. I run the bill over the side of a table to smooth out any imperfections. I think I’ve got it, but you can never be too careful with this machine. I look like a total expert. My buddy Nutt’s older brother, Bart, says that women like it when a man takes charge. Well, I’m in charge of everything here . . . except my hand. Which is shaking like I’m trying to develop a friggin’ Polaroid! Stop screwing this up. This is it, Carter: you can kick open the door of high school holding hands with Amber Lee, or you can be a loser and die a virgin! It’s up to you.
I summon Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Dragon Ball Z, and all the masters of discipline. I need strength through calm and serenity. I have to quiet the demons in my hand.
Stop shaking, you worthless, good-for-nothing club, or I’ll cut you off with Dad’s chop saw!
I lift the bill like a feather, and with all of my focus I slide the dollar into the old machine and,
Four quarters fall out. Yes!
“Oh, thank you, Carter,” she cheers.
“Cool,” I say as I hand her the quarters. “I-I-I start football tomorrow.”
Girls love that. Football. You could be the biggest geek in the school, but sign up for football, and all the sudden you’re cool. It’s the only reason I play the stupid game.
“Yeah, cheerleading too,” Amber says. “Oh, it’s gonna be sooo hot.”
“YEAH, HOT!” I reply, way too loud. Dang it! Watch the volume. You’re doing fine. We’re having a conversation, and I’m fully participating! She’s wearing a tank top that says “Girl Power” right across her boobs, and I’m not affected by it at all. Amber doesn’t have lady boobs yet. They’re still girl boobs, but with mucho potential. Sooo nice. Boobs don’t freak me out as bad as they did in seventh grade, but they can still short-circuit the mainframe from time to time.
Girl Power is officially controlling my mind at this point. Amber Lee could rule the world with her powers! Girl Power could start a revolution. I’d totally join. Dang it! I haven’t said anything for like, a whole minute. I’m just staring at her chest.
I’ve got to come up with something else to say or she’s going to think I’m retarded, so I blabber, “Um, like, hey, d-du-do you w-w-want to go to the pool? Or see a movie or something, sometime? In general, or you know, like, with me?”
I just said it. Holy crap! All the TV I watch is finally paying off. Just like in a movie, I’m the cool guy! . . . I think . . . I thought. But I may see something I don’t like. Is that panic? Panic in her beautiful green eyes? She hates me and would rather eat a turd than go to the movies with me.
She laughs. I must be making a painful face.
I laugh too. “Ha-ha!” Yeah, just joking! Of course I’m joking; why would I want to go out with you? I’ve only been in love with you since the first day of sixth grade.
“No,” she says softly. “Carter, I, uh, my dad won’t let me go out with boys.”
“Oh, y-yeah, it’s cool,” I reply as unfazed as I can. My insides, however, are screaming from the pain of rejection. I shoot her a weird thumbs-up as if to say, “No sweat. I’ll just get in touch after college, maybe.”
Amber walks away from me and out of the arcade really fast. My heart sinks into my stomach, out my legs, and right through my Pumas. It went away, and it’ll never return. In the second Indiana Jones movie, a pharaoh type of guy shoves his hand into a slave guy’s chest and pulls his still-beating heart out, and then shows it to the guy. According to Mr. Trimmer, my health teacher, and the Discovery Channel, if somebody sticks their hand inside your chest and pulls your heart out, you’re a goner before they can show it to you. But that is wrong! Because my still-beating life force is flopping around the dirty carpet, heading for the door. This sucks and it hurts! I want to cry. I want to vomit up my pizza. I’ll never see her panties or what gives her the Girl Power. That realization hits me hard, but then EJ turns around from the X-Men game and punches me in the arm really hard.
He yells, “High score, douche bag! Beat that.”
There’s nothing like being called a feminine hygiene product to keep you from crying.