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I was sitting on the front stairs of school Monday morning, waiting for the first bell so I could head to homeroom. I was also watching Tina, who was standing by the flagpole with her friends.
Katrina Maria Zabinski, the World’s Most Beautiful, Most Perfect, Best-Smelling Girl. Never in the history of girls has anyone been as . . . radiant as Tina. I looked up pictures of Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Mata Hari and Nefertiti and, even though they’re supposed to be world-class babes, they’ve got nothing on Tina. In fact, I thought they were kind of horrible-looking, but when you’ve seen perfection up close and in person, everything else seems dismal in comparison. Especially if all you have to go by is ancient artwork that usually makes them look super crabby.
I was now Tina’s official boyfriend. I no longer had to worry about how to get her. Now I was panicked about how to keep her.
We’d had a great time at my neighbor Betsy’s grandparents’ fiftieth-anniversary party a week ago. It had been everything I’d ever dreamed of—me and Tina talking and laughing and eating chunks of banana dipped in the chocolate fountain. The perfect first date.
I freaked out after the party, though, and reverted to form last week at school.
Which meant that I fell over my own feet every time I saw her and, for conversation, made sounds like the dinosaurs probably did the nanosecond they saw the giant meteorite hurtling toward them. She didn’t seem to mind, she’d smile and wave as I hurried away from her, so I didn’t make a bad situation worse. But I couldn’t count on her tolerance forever. If you want a girl like that to stay your girlfriend, you’ve got to raise your game.
I had to find a way to impress her. Fast.
“Hey.” My best buddy, JonPaul, appeared as if out of thin air. That’s the thing: when Tina’s around, I don’t notice anything else. A volcano could erupt next to me and I wouldn’t flinch. Unless, of course, the molten lava threatened Tina’s safety, in which case I like to think I’d swoop in to save her. Kevin Spencer: middle school superhero.
“Hey.” I watched JonPaul pull Baggies of edamame and slivered almonds and dried figs out of his messenger bag. He’s a health nut and a jock and he eats the ugliest food on the planet. This was his post-breakfast, pre-midmorning-snack snack. He’s obsessed with fueling his body for optimum performance on the field. On the court. In the ring. Whatever. I can never keep track of what sport he’s playing.
“What are you doing sitting on the steps all by yourself?” He slurped from a bottle of pulverized-seaweed juice. I shuddered at the scummy green mustache it left behind.
“If you say so.” JonPaul had a girlfriend of his own, Sam, and wasn’t the kind of shady boyfriend who’d notice other girls. Even if they were shockingly gorgeous. “Why are you just watching her? Thought you two were official.”
“We are. Kind of. Sort of. I guess.” I was about to explain my dilemma when I noticed Cash Devine working his way through the crowd, handing out buttons, flashing his big phony smile and shaking hands. He was wearing a sandwich board—VOTE 4 CA$H.
“What’s he doing?” Cash is my mortal enemy. He doesn’t realize I can’t stand him, but I’ve loathed Cash from the moment I saw him two weeks ago, when he transferred to our school and latched on to Tina. Cash looks exactly like the kind of guy who should be dating a girl who looks like Tina. Therefore, I spend a great deal of time thinking about how he annoys me.
“Running for student-body president.”
“Don’t we already have one?”
“Not anymore. Danny Donnerson moved.”
“What’s with all this moving all of a sudden? Don’t today’s parents care about providing stability for their kids—and their kids’ classmates— anymore?”
“Dunno.” JonPaul stays pretty detached when I rant and rave. He’s very calming that way.
Just then Cash headed for the group of girls standing near the flagpole.
He headed toward Tina.
The same primal instinct that prompted the cavemen to wave spears in the air when the woolly mammoth came too close kicked in and I was on my feet, barreling toward my competition.
I arrived at Tina’s circle of friends just as Cash was reaching out to hand her a button; I slid between them at the last second. He jerked his hand back and jabbed himself in the leg with the pin.
“Oh, hey, Cash, you okay there? Gotta be careful,” I said, hoping Tina would appreciate the concern in my voice and not realize how insincere I was.
“Uh, yeah, I’m good. First blood of the campaign season,” he guffawed, sounding exactly like the guy on the local-access cable channel who’s way too excited about selling used cars. “Can’t win an election without a little wear and tear.” He looked over my shoulder and winked at the girls.
I heard a collective sigh and turned to face Tina and her friends. JonPaul had Tina holding one of his gluten-free rice cakes while he drizzled organic honey on it, so she, thank the gods of love, wasn’t one of the sighers. Connie Shaw and Katie Knowles, my sorta friends, were two of the girls oohing and aahing over Cash. I felt a stab of jealousy even though I’m with Tina and I don’t like Katie and Connie that way.
“Cash is going to run for student-body president,” Katie told me, a soft look on her face as she gazed at Cash. A flyer she’d been holding fluttered to the ground. I stooped to pick it up.
CA$H 4 PRE$IDENT.