Before he can say another word, I grab my phone out of my jacket pocket and say, “That’s Peter calling me right now, so I guess he does like homely girls.”
“I didn’t say homely! I said you like to be at home!”
“Later, Josh.” I speed walk away, dragging Sadie with me. Into my phone I say, “Oh hey, Peter.”
IN CHEM, PETER SITS A row in front of me.
I write him a note. Why would you tell Josh that we’re— I hesitate and then finish with a thing?
I kick the back of his chair, and he turns around and I hand him the note. He slouches in his seat to read it; then I watch as he scribbles something. He tips back in his chair and drops the note on my desk without looking at me.
A thing? Haha.
I press down so hard my pencil tip chips off. Please answer the question.
We’ll talk later.
I let out a frustrated sigh and Matt, my lab partner, gives me a funny look.
After class Peter is swept away with all his friends; they leave in a big group. I’m packing up my backpack when he returns, alone. He hops up on the table. “So let’s talk,” he says, super casual.
I clear my throat and try to gather my bearings. “Why did you tell Josh we were—” I almost say “a thing” again, but then change it to “together?”
“I don’t get what you’re so upset about. I did you a favor. I could have just as easily blown up your spot.”
I pause. He’s right. He could have. “So why didn’t you?”
“You’ve sure got a funny way of saying thank you. You’re welcome, by the way.”
Automatically I say, “Thank you.” Wait. Why am I thanking him? “I appreciate you letting me kiss you, but—”
“You’re welcome,” he says again.
Ugh! He’s so insufferable. Just for that I’m going to toss a little dig his way. “That was . . . really generous of you. To let me do that. But I’ve already explained to Josh that it’s not going to work out with us because Genevieve has you whipped, so it’s all good. You can stop pretending now.”
Peter glares at me. “I’m not whipped.”
“But aren’t you, though? I mean, you guys have been together since the seventh grade. You’re basically her property.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter scoffs.
“There was a rumor last year that she made you get a tattoo of her initials on your butt for her birthday.” I pause. “So did you?” I reach around him and fake try to lift up the back of his shirt. He yelps and jumps away from me, and I collapse in a fit of giggles. “So you do have a tattoo!”
“I don’t have a tattoo!” he yells. “And we’re not even together anymore, so can you stop with this shit? We broke up. We’re over. I’m done with her.”
“Wait, didn’t she break up with you?” I ask.
Peter shoots me a dirty look. “It was mutual.”
Hastily I say, “Well, I’m sure you’ll get back together soon. You’ve broken up before, right? Only to get back together again, like immediately. It’s probably because you were each other’s firsts. That’s why you can’t let each other go. I’ve heard that’s how it is with firsts, especially with guys.”
Peter’s mouth drops. “How do you know—”
“Oh, everybody knows. You guys did it freshman year in her parents’ basement, right?”
He gives a grudging nod.
“See? Even I know, and I’m a nobody. Even if you do stay broken up for real this time, which I doubt, it’s not like any other girl can date you.” Meaningfully I say, “Let’s not forget what happened to Jamila Singh.”
Peter and Genevieve broke up for a month last year, so Peter started dating Jamila Singh. Jamila might even be prettier than Genevieve—a different kind of pretty, anyway. More like hot. She has long wavy black hair and a little waist and a big butt. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for her. Not only did Genevieve cut her out of the group, but she told everyone that Jamila’s family had an Indonesian slave living with them, when really it was just her cousin. And I’m pretty sure it was Genevieve who started a rumor online that Jamila washed her hair only once a month. The final straw was when Jamila’s parents got an anonymous e-mail saying that she was having sex with Peter. Her parents transferred her right out and put her in private school. Genevieve and Peter were back together by spring formal.
“Gen says she didn’t have anything to do with that.”
I give him a get real look. “Please, Peter. I know her well and so do you. Well, I did know her well. But I don’t think people change at the core. They are who they are.”
Slowly Peter says, “That’s right. You two were BFFs back in the day.”
“We were friends,” I agree. “I wouldn’t call us BFFs, but . . .” Wait a minute, why are we talking about me again? “Everybody knows it was Genevieve who told Jamila’s parents. You don’t have to be a detective to figure out that Genevieve was jealous of her. Jamila was the prettiest girl in our grade, next to Genevieve. Gen was always a very jealous person. I remember this one time my dad bought me a . . .”
Peter’s staring at me in a thoughtful way, and it’s all of a sudden making me nervous.
“Let’s just do this for a little while.”
“Let’s let people think we’re a couple.”
Wait . . . what?
“It’s driving Gen crazy not knowing what’s up with you and me. Why don’t we let her sit with it a little longer? It’s actually kind of perfect. You date me first, and then Gen will get it that we’re over. You’ll be breaking the seal.” He raises an eyebrow at me. “Do you even know what breaking the seal means?”
“Yes, of course I know what that means.” I have no idea what that means. I make a mental note to ask Chris the next time I see her.
Peter comes up close to me, and I scoot backward. He laughs and cocks his head to the side and puts his hands on my shoulders. “So then break my seal.”
I let out a nervous laugh. “Ha-ha, sorry, Peter, but I’m not interested. In you.”
“Well, yeah. That’s the whole point. I’m not interested in you, either. Like, at all.” Peter shudders. “So what do you say?”
I shrug my shoulders so his hands fall away. “Hello, I just got through explaining to you how Gen will kill any girl that goes near you!”
Peter dismisses this. “Gen’s all talk. She’d never do anything to anybody. You just don’t know her like I do.” When I don’t say anything, he takes my silence as encouragement, and he says, “It would help you out too, you know. With that kid Josh. Weren’t you so worried about losing face in front of him? This could save you from more humiliation. Because why would you be with him when you could be with me? Well, pretend be with me. Strictly business, though. I can’t have you falling in love with me, too.”
It gives me great pleasure to look up into his Handsome Boy face and sweetly say, “Peter, I don’t even want to be your pretend girlfriend, much less your real one.”
He blinks. “Why not?”
“You read my letter. You’re not my type. Nobody would ever believe I would like you.”
“It’s up to you. I’m just trying to do us both a favor.” Then he shrugs and looks over my shoulder, like he’s bored with this conversation. “But Josh definitely believed it.”
In a flash, without even thinking, I say, “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Hours later, I’m lying in bed that night still marveling about it all. What people will say when they see me walking down the hall with Peter Kavinsky.
THE NEXT MORNING, PETER IS waiting in the parking lot for me when I get off the bus. “Hey,” he says. “Are you seriously taking the bus every day?”
“My car is being fixed, remember? My accident?”
He sighs like this is somehow offensive to him, me taking the bus to school. Then he grabs my hand and holds it as we walk into school together.
This is the first time I’ve walked down the school hallway holding hands with a boy. It should feel momentous, special, but it doesn’t, because it’s not real. Honestly, it feels like nothing.
Emily Nussbaum does a double take when she sees us. Emily is Gen’s best friend. She’s staring so hard I’m surprised she doesn’t take a quick pic on her phone to send to Gen.
Peter keeps stopping to say hi to people, and I stand there smiling like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Me and Peter Kavinsky.
At one point I try to let go of his hand, because mine is starting to feel sweaty, but he tightens his grip. “Your hand is too hot,” I hiss.
Through clenched teeth he says, “No, your hand is.”
I’m sure Genevieve’s hands are never sweaty. She could probably hold hands for days without getting overheated.
When we get to my locker, we finally drop hands so I can dump my books inside. I’m shutting my locker door when Peter leans in and tries to kiss me on the mouth. I’m so startled I turn my head, and we hit foreheads.
“Ow!” Peter rubs his forehead and glares at me.
“Well, don’t just sneak up on me like that!” My forehead hurts too. We really banged them hard, like cymbals. If I looked up right now, I would see blue cartoon birdies.
“Lower your voice, dummy,” he says through clenched teeth.
“Don’t you call me a dummy, you dummy,” I whisper back.
Peter heaves a big sigh like he’s really annoyed with me. I’m about to snap at him that it’s his fault, not mine, when I catch a glimpse of Genevieve gliding down the hallway. “Gotta go,” I say, and I dart off in the opposite direction.
“Wait!” Peter calls out.
But I keep darting.
I’m lying on my bed with my pillow over my face reliving the horrible kiss-that-wasn’t. I keep trying to block it out, but it just keeps coming back.
I put my hand to my forehead. I don’t think I can do this. It’s all so . . . I mean, the kissing, the sweaty hands, everybody looking. It’s too much.
I’m just going to have to tell him I changed my mind, and I don’t want to do this anymore, and that’ll be that. I don’t have his number, and I don’t want to say any of this in an e-mail, either. I’ll have to go to his house. It’s not far; I still remember the way.
I run downstairs, passing Kitty, who is balancing a plate of Oreos and a glass of milk on a tray. “I’m borrowing your bike!” I yell as I fly past her. “I’ll be back soon!”
“You better not let anything happen to it!” Kitty yells back.
I grab her helmet and the bike and tear out of the yard, pedaling as fast as I can. My knees hit my chest a little, but I’m not that much taller than Kitty, so it isn’t so bad. Peter lives two neighborhoods away. It takes me less than twenty minutes to get there.
When I do, there aren’t any cars in the driveway. Peter’s not home. My heart sinks to the pavement. What do I do now? Sit and wait for him on the front porch like some kind of stalker? What if his mom comes home first?
I take off my helmet and sit for a minute so I can rest. My hair is damp and sweaty from the ride over, and I’m exhausted. I try to run my fingers through my hair, smooth it out. It’s a lost cause.
As I’m contemplating texting Chris and seeing if she can come get me, Peter’s car comes roaring down the street and up the driveway. I drop my phone and then scramble to pick it up.
Peter climbs out of his car and raises his eyebrows at me. “Look who’s here. My adoring girlfriend.”
I stand up and wave at him. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
He slings his backpack over his shoulder and takes his time sauntering over. He sits down on the front step like a prince on his throne, and I stand in front of him, my helmet in one hand and my phone in the other. “So what’s up?” he drawls. “Let me guess. You’re here to back out on me, am I right?”
He’s so smug, so sure of himself. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of being right.
“I just wanted to go over our game plan with you,” I say, sitting down. “Get our story straight before people start asking questions.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Oh. Okay. Makes sense. So how did we get together?”
I clasp my hands in my lap and recite, “When I got in that car accident last week, you happened to be driving by, and you waited for Triple A with me and then you drove me home. You were really nervous the whole time, because you’ve actually had kind of a thing for me since middle school. I was your first kiss. So this was your big chance—”
“You were my first kiss?” he interrupts. “How about I was your first kiss. That’s a lot more believable.”