Does who you are in high school brand you for life? Nick sure hopes not. It’s senior year, and he has decided that his loser friends may be going nowhere fast, but he isn’t. Instead, Nick has created the perfect list of rules for remaking his life. But meeting dark-eyed Dawn and hanging out with teen thug Zod are nowhere on that list. And making illegal deliveries definitely isn’t on it. So why is Nick caught up with these people and their dangerous schemes? Will Nick's list help him to be a hero—or turn him into a fall guy?
About the Author
Charles Benoit ’s teen novels include Cold Calls, Fall from Grace, and You, an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. A former high school teacher, he lives in Rochester, New York. Visit his website at www.charlesbenoit.com.
Read an Excerpt
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9
IF IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN—AND IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN—it had to start sometime. That morning looked as good as any other. A day earlier or a day later wouldn’t have made any difference. Or so I thought. I looked at the list for the ten thousandth time. Four lines in my best half-cursive, half-printed scrawl. It wasn’t much, but it took a week to get the wording right, another week figuring out how to work it. And then a month of doing what I did every day, sitting in my room, looking at the list. It was all there. Solid. Simple, really. In theory. Everything I needed was right there in my room. The physical stuff, anyway. The mental stuff? I put on the shirt I had bought the day before at the Salvation Army store across the street from where I had gotten the haircut. The shirt was red and cost me all of fifty cents, but it fit okay as long as I left the top button undone. I had had shirts like it when I was a kid, but since then it had all been tees and flannels. They’d give me grief about it, I could bet on that. It was different. And different didn’t go over good. I added the last touch—another thrift store bargain—then looked at myself in the mirror. I hardly recognized the guy looking back. But that was the point, wasn’t it? I stuck the list in my wallet, grabbed my coat, and headed to school. It was time.
I SPOTTED THE sub at the door of my fourth period math class and kept walking. With Mr. Tait out, it would be nothing but quiet time and dittoed worksheets, and I wasn’t in the mood for that. I glanced into the room as I went by. A few jocks on probation, the exchange student from Sweden, the usual teacher’s-pet wannabes. Either half the class was sick or they were doing what I was doing, finding someplace better to spend the next forty-seven minutes. There was a rule about not being in the hall without a pass, but in my four years at the school no one had ever asked to see one. There were kids getting high in the parking lot. Nobody was going to worry about a stupid hall pass. I rounded the corner and headed to the cafeteria. Now if I was really following the list, I’d have gone to an art gallery or a pool hall or down to the lake to watch the waves roll in—any place different from where I usually went. But I was already at school and I didn’t have a car and it was really cold that morning. Other than the library or the smoking lounge, there wasn’t anywhere to go. It was second lunch, and the cafeteria was where the bangers would be. For reasons known only to the office gods, I had third lunch, and that meant I’d been spending a lot less of my day hanging out with the bangers and more time alone. And that meant more time thinking about all the things in my life that needed to change. Like me. I walked into the cafeteria and headed for the back of the room. Bangerstan. Dan-O was suspended and Vicki never came to school on a Friday, but most of the regulars were there, with Tony—empty quart of Mountain Dew bouncing in his hands—doing the talking. As usual. For a moment I was tempted to turn around and go back to class, but old habits die hard. And—I’ll admit it—I wanted a reaction. They didn’t disappoint. I leaned a chair against the wall and balanced back and waited. It took a second or two for it to sink in, then Tony pointed at me and said, “What the hell you got on?” I glanced down at my ensemble, then looked back at Tony. “It’s called a shirt and tie.” “No shit, Sherlock. Why you wearing it? You lose a bet?” That made OP laugh, but OP laughed at anything Tony said, so it didn’t count. Jay looked up from the science homework he was copying. “He looks like an asshole.” “Or a narc,” Tony said. “Nerds don’t even dress like that. What’s the matter, Mommy forget to wash your real clothes?” “Check out his stupid sneakers,” OP said, laughing, of course. To make it easy for them, I swung a foot up onto the table, dropping it down with a thud. A new pair of white Chuck Taylor All-Stars, colored in, checkerboard style, with a marker. A green marker. While they stared at the sneaker, I looked around the table. Nothing but flannels and band T-shirts, every guy a slight variation of the last, the Levi’s and work boots as interchangeable as the shaggy haircuts. That made me smile. My journey had begun. “You’re an idiot,” Tony said. I let the smile roll into a smirk. It was a small gesture, easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention. But Tony was, and I knew that my smirk had pissed him off. I swung my foot back down. Mission accomplished. But Tony couldn’t let it drop and had to say something. I assumed it would be more about my clothes—they hadn’t even noticed the haircut—but he surprised me and said, “You don’t know shit about football.” That wasn’t true. I knew how the game was played, I knew the names of the NFL teams or at least the cities they played for, I knew some of the current players and some of the legends, and living where we did in New York State—a thirty-minute bike ride from Lake Ontario and an hour by car from Niagara Falls—I knew enough about the Buffalo Bills to not sound completely ignorant. Tony was wrong, I did know shit about football. I just didn’t give a shit about football. “Check this out,” Tony said, backhanding the sleeve of the Roach’s smoke-saturated jean jacket. “Nick thinks the Bills are going to beat the Jets this week.” The Roach looked at Tony, then at me, then back at Tony. “Bill who?” “The Buffalo Bills, dickhead. Nick thinks they’re actually gonna beat the New York Jets.” The Roach said nothing but kept his red-rimmed eyes on Tony. “It’s football,” Jay said without looking up. “He’s talking about football.” “Oh, right,” the Roach said, the two words taking forever to fall out. “And Nick here”—Tony pointing at me in case the Roach had forgotten who they were talking about—“thinks the Bills are gonna win.” No, I didn’t. It was just something I had said when I was at my locker that morning. Mrs. Grant had been standing by her classroom door, five feet away, picking that morning to be all chatty. Maybe it was the tie. She asked me how my grades were, how I was doing in social studies, asking if I was looking at colleges, me with nothing to say, keeping it to one-word answers. Then she asked who I thought would win that weekend, the Bills or the Jets—as if she could care what I thought—but I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I said I thought the Bills would win. Then she started laughing like it was the stupidest thing she’d heard a kid say in her thirty years as a teacher, shouting across the hall to Mr. Cermak, “Nick thinks the Bills are gonna beat the Jets,” and everybody getting a good laugh at that. Here’s the thing: Tony didn’t care about football. None of us bangers did. It was part of being a banger. But Tony wasn’t going to pass up a free shot at me. “The Bills are gonna get crushed. The only one who’d be stupid enough to think they had a chance would be some dweeb with his head up his ass and shit for brains.” Now it was Tony’s turn to smirk. “Like Nick.” I knew that if I said nothing, Tony would move on, and the random, offhand comment I had said just to say something would be forgotten. But I had my list now, and backing down wasn’t on it. So, despite my not giving a shit, I said, “Wanna bet?” Tony looked at me and laughed, then he hit the Roach’s arm again. “Did you hear that?” “Hear what?” “Numbnuts here wants to know if I want to bet.” The Roach blinked. “Are you still talking about football?” “All right,” Tony said, “you’re on.” Then, after a pause, “Twenty bucks.” I had two dollars crumpled up in the front pocket of my jeans, a quarter in that little pocket on the right side, and nine dollars at home, most of it in change. I earned a little bit above minimum wage—$2.65 an hour—and worked fourteen hours a week, usually less. It would take my whole paycheck to cover the bet. I didn’t have money to be throwing away like that. But I did have my list, and the list had the answer. I paused a second like I was weighing the odds, then I said, “Make it a hundred.” Jay looked up from someone else’s paper. “For real?” “Yeah,” I said, and I could feel my leg start to shake. “Hundred bucks says the Bills beat the Browns this week.” “They’re playing the frickin’ Jets, you idiot.” Oh. I shrugged. “A hundred bucks.” They were all looking at Tony now—Jay, the Roach, Lou, OP, Geralyn, Cici, stray kids at other tables close enough to hear. A hundred bucks? None of them had that kind of money. It was insane. I knew it, and I was sure that Tony knew it too. “The bet’s twenty,” Tony said, disappointing everybody but me. “Take it or leave it.” So I took it, and that Sunday, the Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets for their third and final win of the 1977 season.