Written By: Jen Klein
“I’m totally not. Think about it.” I turn to face him more fully. “In the real world, in the grand scheme of life, this year is going to count for exactly nothing. These are the friendships that don’t last and the choices that don’t count. All those things we all freak out about now, like who’s going to be class president and are we going to win the game this weekend—there’s going to be a time when we can’t even remember caring about them. In exactly three hundred and sixty-five days from right now, wearing your letter jacket or class ring will make you look like the lamest of losers.”
Oliver blinks. “Man, you are bleak.”
“I’m not bleak. I’m realistic.” I mean it, too. I don’t hate my life and I’m not unhappy. It’s just that I understand the way the world works. I don’t need to pretend.
We go in silence for a few more minutes, until, as we pass the sign welcoming us to downtown Ann Arbor, I decide I should smooth things over. After all, even though I might not be voluntarily hanging out with Oliver Flagg, it looks like we’re going to have these early mornings together five times a week for the foreseeable future. “I’m not trying to be a dick,” I tell him. “You can have fun in high school. I just don’t think we should pretend it means more than it does.”
Oliver doesn’t say anything. He keeps driving as brick houses appear and then hunch closer and closer together. A half mile past the sign, it starts to actually look like a downtown, with restaurants and banks and four-story buildings and shops with awnings. That lasts only a handful of blocks and then we’re crossing Madison and driving through the university area, where houses are bigger, lawns are greener, and cars are shinier. Oliver remains quiet as we pass the stadium and a golf course. It’s not until we drive through Robin High’s main gate and enter the senior parking lot that Oliver speaks again: “For the record, I don’t think you’re a dick.”
“Thanks.” I don’t really care what the King of Everything thinks of me, but Mom raised me to know it’s polite to say something in return.
Oliver maneuvers his gigantic beast into a spot between two older sedans before killing the engine and turning to face me. “But I do feel sorry for you.”
“Feeling sorry for me is pretentious,” I inform him.
“Calling me pretentious is pretentious!” Oliver says it with a grin, but I think he means it. “Look, June…”
Ah, my first name. He must really want me to pay attention.
“In the world of schools, ours is pretty cool. But instead of appreciating it, all you want is to get out. All this stuff you’re pretending is stupid—it matters. Everything we do matters.”
I stare at him. The judgy thing is annoying, but who knew Oliver was capable of such intellectual discourse? Of getting passionate about something not involving a ball or a score? I don’t have to agree with his thesis regarding the importance of adolescence, but maybe these mornings can be more interesting than I originally presumed.
I’m about to say as much when a heavy thump on the rooftop makes me jump in my seat. Theo Nizzola—self-heralded Chick Magnet of Robin High (except he doesn’t say “chick”)—lurches into view by the driver-side window. “Besticle!” He pounds on the car again. “C’mon, get out here!”
“?‘Besticle’?” I say the word in a tone that makes no secret of my contempt.
The glance Oliver throws at me might be apologetic. “It’s a Theo thing. It’s like bestie and—”
“I get it. Thanks for the ride.” I open my door and clamber down, hoping for a quick getaway, but of course Theo immediately lumbers around to block my path.
“Hafferty, what’s up?”
Yes, he knows my last name. No, he never says it correctly.
“Not much, Theo.”
He looms closer and holds out his thick arms. The smell of spicy deodorant wafts out from under them. “Why aren’t you giving me a good-morning hug?” He rotates his pelvis in a way that somebody somewhere must think is sexy.
I look him straight in the eye. “Because you’re gross and kind of stupid.”
Theo throws his head back and roars with laughter. It’s what he always does. This is our long-standing tradition. He makes disgusting motions, I shoot him down, and then he laughs really loudly. It’s also a big reason I don’t worship Oliver like other girls do. At the end of the day, he’s still a guy who surrounds himself with oafs.
I mean, besticles.
Theo bestows me with a final pelvic shimmy just as Oliver rounds the car and punches him in the arm. “Knock it off, jackass.” He nods at me. “See you tomorrow, Rafferty.”
“Great.” I hang back to put some distance between us. I don’t want to kick off the school year with those assholes.
? ? ?
The school lobby smells the same way it did at the start of last year: like beauty products and new sneakers and hormones.
God, we’re predictable.
I squeeze through the crowd—occasionally making eye contact or trading smiles—and am almost to the curved stairway when I hear my name called from across the lobby. It’s Shaun, bounding toward me like a gazelle, waving his arm frantically back and forth.
I love that kid.
Shaun catches me in a bear hug that ends awkwardly, knocking his glasses askew against the side of my face. He pulls back to adjust them and I take in his First Day of School outfit: preppy, from his polo to his oxfords. “Shopping spree?” I ask.