Sample from TOUCHED

Chapter One

The Landing

The volume exploded in my head like a chip gone bad. In a dead-heat for second place was the knot gripping my stomach and the baseball living in my throat. It only got worse when the noise of the lunchroom pierced my skull like the ear-shredding drill of my sadistic dentist with the shitty breath. Then, with my brain on full buzz, she stepped into the room.
She had on a plain white t-shirt and reminded me of one of those butterflies fluttering through blue skies in summertime. She moved slowly and her eyes darted back and forth like she was searching for a place to land. Then she looked at me and smiled. I didn’t know what to make of it and was sure she thought I was somebody else. When she smiled again my life went a complete one-eighty.

It was the first day of school, sophomore year. As usual, I sat at the loser table with a couple of nimrods, nosepickers, and Curt. Curt was another high school reject; over time we had formed a nerd-like bond. Nothing like strength in numbers. When she walked towards our table I was sure she was going to punk me so I would look like a total deek. I had never seen her before and was certain she was new in school. As fingers from The Hot Table pointed to her, I knew I was right. She had black, tangled hair that ran down the middle of her back that framed an olive colored face and dark eyes that reminded me of a rock I studied in geography. Anthracite, I thought. Black eyes that kept my look far longer than intended. I looked away and hoped she might disappear to save me from being gutted in plain sight. When she spoke it was in a voice as soft as a baby’s breath.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

I waited to see if she would laugh at her own question. Did Hitler’s mustache make him look like a douche bag? I wanted to ask in return. Of course she could sit there! Hell, she could sit on the freakin’ queen’s throne if the school had one in the budget. Pick a chair, any chair. And yet, there she was directly across from me.

“Sure,” I mumbled as I worried about what would happen next. “Whatever you want.”

She touched me on the shoulder and it was like a spark jumped under my skin. She kept a fingertip there longer than necessary and when my mind jumbled I stayed quiet.

“It’s alright,” she said as she drew her hand away. “I would never hurt you.”

Never hurt me? What the hell did that mean?

She was at most a hundred pounds and even though I was a top candidate for the school’s pencil-necked geek, I knew she couldn’t hurt me. When my mind got right, I played it a little tougher.

“No shit!” I said in a voice that squeaked more than I intended. “Why would you?”

She shrugged with a smile that confused me. I didn’t need a new girl to mess me up more than I already was.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said. She paused. “Can we start over?”

As paranoid as it sounds, I was still waiting for her to go tell her friends that some dork invited her to stay. But when she opened her milk carton she was there for good.

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

“Thanks,” she said. “I didn’t know where to go.”

She stopped talking and I waited for Curt to say something. He suddenly found his pile of greasy french fries as spellbinding as a look in the girl’s locker room.

“These are the best seats in the place considering the food. Near the bathrooms,” I said lamely. “I’m Jimmy. And this is Curt.”

“Nice to meet you Jimmy. You too, Curt,” she said with a nod. “I’m Renee.”

Curt nodded politely but didn’t say a word. He was leaving it up to me to talk. It’s not that I think of myself as a debate expert, but at that moment I developed an instantaneous case of full-on high school lockjaw. I never had a girl looking like her, care about talking to someone like me. In fact most girls under a quarter ton would look through me like I was a hundred and twenty pound piece of scotch tape.

“I d-don’t recognize you,” I stammered as I patted down my eternal cowlick. “Are you new here?”

She paused and looked over the cafeteria. I thought I said something wrong when she took a long time to answer.
“Yep,” she said. “I’m new. Again.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant and even less sure I should ask her. At worst I figured all she could do was tell me to pound peanut butter.

“Again?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

I was surprised when she looked me square in the eyes. I guessed she was going to unload a dump truck full of monkey dung on me for prying but she answered slowly.

“I just moved in. This is the third year in a row I’m at a new school. Only this year I’m living with my aunt. My mother is…” she said. She took a drink of her milk before continuing. “Anyways, I’m with my aunt now.”

She said it in such a way it seemed complete. Then almost instantly I turned into the big mouth guy on TV infomercials that couldn’t shut up.

“So you’re new to Wisconsin?” I asked as I wiped mayonnaise off my chin. “Where are you from? I mean, the last time.”

“You sure are full of questions,” she said. I reddened and suddenly hoped for the bell but she kept on. “Nebraska. Land of cattle, corn, and horny cowboys. All totally overrated in my book. Especially the cowboys. And before that San Diego. Like I said, I’ve been around.” When my eyes widened, she continued, “So to speak.”

Curt woke up and spoke for the first time. “I’ve been to California. I tried to surf and split my head open on the board. I had to get fifteen stitches. Left a major scar. Want to see it?”

Renee coughed on her milk and smiled. A real smile, not one of those fake ones that supermodels flash as if they are computer generated. It was then I first believed there was a chance we would be friends against odds bigger than winning the Lotto.

“No, Curt,” I said. “We’ll keep your scar under wraps until a special day. Maybe her birthday.”

“I’m sure it’s a nice scar,” she said with that smile again. “I look forward to seeing it.”

Curt nodded and dipped the last of his fries into a little container of ketchup. “Whatever,” he said, clearly annoyed. He took turns looking at both of us. “I’m not a retard you know.”

Renee looked almost alarmed. “I never meant to imply anything like that,” she explained. “I’m sorry if you took it that way.”
He pouted for a second until a satisfied look crossed his face. “Apology accepted,” he said as he snarfed another fry with a big glob of ketchup hanging on by a thread.

That second Renee looked like she wished she had never sat down next to us. I struggled for the right words to rescue the situation but came up empty. I even chewed an extra number of times hoping to avoid saying something stupid. Luckily, I got bailed out when she spoke up again.

“So what’s this school all about?” she asked in a soft voice. “Is it any good?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. Like most schools, it depended on where you were sitting; in the back of the school bus or from the driver’s seat of daddy’s tricked out SUV. Either way, guys like Curt and me ended up as bugs pancaked on the front windshield. With apologies to Charlie Darwin, I thought of high school as survival of the prettiest.

“It is what it is,” I said with a shrug. “The battle plays out daily.”

“And that is?” she asked.

“You really want to know?”

“I may as well find out what I’m getting into,” she replied. “That way I can avoid any major social landmines.”

“Good luck on that,” I countered. “It’s a warzone if you’re not on the right team.” Then I took a breath and started in on my dissertation of the school’s pecking order. “The ‘Billys’ rule most of the place. That’s what the jocks call themselves. It’s a stupid name, but it’s in honor of some all-state football player who died in a car crash a few years ago. He was a legend – his brains splattered on an oak tree after he sucked down most of a quarter barrel. Drunk as a mother.”

“Nice,” Renee said. “A special memory for the school. What about the others boys?”

“Most I call the ‘Wafers’. As in ‘nilla. Nothing distinguishing if you know what I mean. School, work, and everything else. The ones that will probably rule the world someday.”

She carefully closed her milk carton. “What about the girls?”

I was warming up now and licked my lips. “They’re even better. Most of them are split into the ‘Beez’ and the ‘Bettys’. The Beez are all the hot ones. Supposedly they got their name because they claim they’re ‘sweeter than honey’. The other story goes it’s just a shorter version of ‘Beyonce’ – they like to think they’re as hot as she was before she got knocked up. I think the Beyonce thing is funny though given the school is ninety-seven percent white in the first place. Anyways, they swarm around like a bunch of mascara-drenched piranhas waiting to strike at any time.”

“Looking for fresh meat,” she added.

“Exactly!” I replied with too much volume. “Turns out if you’re a cheerleader you are still pretty much in the Beez even if you’re a little fat.”

She nodded as if she understood. “Who’s the queen bee?”

That one was a softball. “Veronica Styles,” I said. “She’s the one standing at The Hot Table giving everyone a show.” I pointed to a distant table and worried Veronica was reading my lips as she looked my way. A shiver ran down my spine when she sniffed the air like a bloodhound and narrowed her eyes. Even so I couldn’t help admire her usual body-hugging outfit that made us horndogs sneak a look every chance we could. It was like she was carved out of life-sized bar of Ivory soap with all angles and curves in perfect porcelain symmetry. Like a faultless Michelangelo sculpture of teenage hotness dripping with juices waiting to be lapped up by the closest dude in heat. I had never even spoken to her, but one day might be granted the privilege. “You’ll see her ruling over her loyal subjects at the sophomore pole just about every morning before school.”

“I see,” she said almost to herself. “Cute.”

“Don’t she know it,” I replied. Just the thought of her tight body made my mouth water. No disrespect to that Russian guy Pavlov and his dogs, but at least the saliva loosened the remnants of sandwich that coated my upper incisors. Then I continued. “Although there’s no absolute ranking system in the principal’s office, I’m sure Veronica is the head of the Beez. She’s the first sophomore ever to be granted the power over us mere mortals. After that group, a lot of the rest are Bettys.”

She looked around the cafeteria. “Any Archies?”

I had no clue what she was talking about. When I blinked, she explained.

“Archie, Veronica, and Betty. An old comic book I had once.”

I shrugged helplessly.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said with a slim smile. “Some other day.”

“Okay,” I said. “Can’t wait.”

She looked at Veronica shimmying back and forth. “I’ve met her type before,” she said with a knowing nod. “What about the Bettys?”

“Smart is the first prerequisite,” I explained. “That sort of nullifies you from the Beez right away even if you are somewhat hot. Think of it like finding a hair in your nachos. Smart and hot don’t mix together very well in this school. ‘Mutually exclusive’ if I remember math class correctly.”

She laughed. “And the rest?”

“The rest don’t really matter,” I told her. “No one else has names for everybody but I call them the Gears, Ganjas and Goths. The Gears hang out in near the automotive shop and the Ganjas rule over the second floor bathroom. Room two twenty two, I think. It’ll be the smoky one that smells funny. The Goths only get the dark corners.”

“Interesting,” she said. “No vampires or werewolves?”

“Not lately. I think they hated the cold winters. Blood got so thin they went to the west coast to hang out in the woods and chase pasty white girls. Washington, I think.”

“Funny,” she said. “Sort of.”

“You asked,” I said with a shrug. “And, oh yeah, I almost forgot. We do have a few black kids too. Added in like pepper from a shaker. Applied sparingly.”

“You a hater?” she asked as she studied me. She was joking as far as I could tell.

“No, not at all,” I answered. “Actually I like pepper. Anyways, the black kids mix and match into all of the groups pretty randomly. At the end of the day they get bused back to the city. Most don’t live in Greendale. I think it’s illegal for them. They might get busted.”

A questioning smile crossed her face. “This isn’t some northern Klan area is it?”

I shook my head no. “It’s pretty white around here, but no one runs around in bed sheets as far as I’ve seen. Actually, I don’t think I even know a black kid. How’s that for living in a nice little bubble?”

“Safe. Ignorant. Probably both.” She slipped open the zipper on her backpack and continued. “So where do you guys fit in?”
I looked at Curt as he scratched a ripening zit on his chin. I was embarrassed to say but decided to tell her the truth. So I looked at her black eyes and spoke.

“We don’t,” I said. “We’re sort of like those annoying flies that buzz up against a closed window. People pretty much ignore you and hope you go away.”

“Or you get swatted,” she said.

I considered her remark. “Good point.”

“Those flies really suck,” said Curt as he crushed his wrappers into a small ball. “When I was a kid a neighbor of mine would feed flies to spiders. They’d get eaten alive.”

Renee looked at me quizzically. I shrugged again and offered an explanation.

“Never mind Curt. He’s had a rough past.” He gave me a dirty look but I kept on. “I think maybe the surfboard loosened a screw or two. But he’s a dork through and through. Same as me. We’re proud to carry the Dorkian flag.”

She shook her head side to side. “So I’m sitting next to a couple of flag wavers,” she said with fake contempt. Then she added. “Maybe I’ll join your little club. It appears two might be a lonely number.”

I choked a little. Me? In a club? I thought of some old dead dude who said he wouldn’t want to be in any club that would have him. I almost told her that but Curt spoke first.

“A club. How interesting,” he said. “I could be treasurer.”

“And I’ll be keeper of the magic key,” I said in a sarcastic voice.

Renee got my drift. “We’ll hold off on the club for now. Anything else I should know about you two?”

Curt’s tongue flopped out of his mouth at that one. “I’m a four-o student,” he offered. “I hope to get a scholarship to Wisconsin someday. Probably go to grad school too.”

“Good luck with that,” said Renee. “I’m just hoping to get through high school.” She paused. “How about you, Jimmy?”

I looked at Curt and knew my two point nine grade point couldn’t match his annoying habit of straight A’s. So where do I start? I thought. That I was like a lab rat in a cage looking for a way out? That even after one year in high school, I couldn’t wait for anything different than I already had? The sad fact was I didn’t know what I would do next. So I hid my dirty little secret and flipped the question. Then I forged ahead like a blind man in a carnival funhouse.

“Nothing interesting about me,” I answered as honestly as I could. “I’m like a crappy TV in a hi-def world.” I took another bite of sandwich and plowed ahead. “Enough about my limitations. Where do you think you’ll fit in?” I asked. “Even though it’s your first day and all.”

She looked around the packed lunchroom and the jumped at the sound of the ten-minute warning bell. She flinched and her lips became tight.

“I don’t. Square peg, round hole. I like to stay pretty much solo, most of the time,” she said. “I seem to do best that way.
But I’m glad you guys don’t mind if I sit with you. I’m feeling my way around the place.” She looked over the lunchroom. “It’ll take me a while to get used to it here. It’s such a big school.”

“Bigger than the ones you’ve been at?” I asked.

She nodded as she dug deep in her backpack and pulled out an apple. “Way bigger,” she replied. “At least twice the size. Newer. It’s probably the nicest school I’ve ever gone to.” She took a bite of the apple and looked around again. “It looks like everybody else in here belongs though. You know what I mean, Jimmy?”

I knew exactly what she meant, more than she could imagine. In fact, I never belonged any place as long as I could remember. Even in third grade I was the classroom bedwetter who pissed his pants. To this day it was like I was still sitting in pee waiting for everyone to discover my wet secret.

I bit down on my lip but drew back when it stung. “I know what you mean. Unfortunately, that’s the way it’s been for just about forever.”

She bit into her apple and by accident her elbow touched mine. The tiny zinger appeared again and I pulled away slowly before she spoke. “You’re smart, aren’t you?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Freakin’ Einstein only wished he were as smart as me, I almost said. I considered her question. No one ever told me I was smart before; certainly not my parents or teachers and certainly not a girl in my class.
“I get mostly B’s,” I answered.

“I don’t mean grades,” she said. “You’re smart in other ways. You think about things. Don’t you?”
She was right. I did think about things. All the time to tell the truth. So much that sometimes I thought my brain would split like an overripe melon and the gork from inside would fall out and cover my desk. Renee was the first person to ever notice.

“Ummm,” I said as if trying to prove her whole theory wrong. Eventually a few words sputtered out. “I guess I do think about stuff but that doesn’t mean I’m smart. In fact, maybe I waste my time on useless random thoughts that are a waste of gray matter.”

“That’s my point exactly,” she said. “Whether they are random thoughts or not, at least you’re thinking. That’s a lot more than most people do. Most girls I know are more worried about how big their boobs are and most guys just want to catch a feel. They both seem like gigantic wastes of time.” She rolled the half-eaten apple in her hand and studied the bruised spots. “So ends the gospel according to Saint Renee.”

I tried to ignore her comment because I wasn’t opposed to a little hand-hockey with a girl someday. I was caught off guard and at a loss for words. Renee was different from anybody I knew and I had talked to her for a grand total of about fifteen minutes.

“You do seem sort of saintly,” I said trying to inject a joke. “Kind of like a young Mother Theresa in Levi’s.”
“She’s dead, douche,” I said. “For years now.”

“I guess that would make it difficult,” he replied.

Renee and I smiled and raised our eyebrows at exactly the same time. A second later I choked on the last piece of my sandwich and thought I was going to need a quick Heimlich. After I coughed a few times the chunk of bread re-surfaced and I caught my breath.

“What?” asked Curt. “She would help sales. I hope to get into marketing someday,” he explained as he licked applesauce off his lips.

“I like the angle. I can see you as a marketing genius,” said Renee. “Just you wait and see.”

“Don’t encourage him too much. Or someday he’ll be burning in hell for leading pious woman to the fires of damnation on Madison Avenue. Trying to sell ‘Mother Theresa’s Apple Bottomed Jeans, boot cut optional’.” I knew it wasn’t that funny but Renee still laughed. A full and deep laugh, not that little “tee-hee” that most girls squeak out when they meet somebody new. A laugh that made you happy just by hearing it.

“See? What did I tell you?” she replied when she settled down. “I told you you’re smart. Funny too.”

I blushed a little when she said that. I thought I was funny even if hardly anyone else did. Half the time Curt didn’t get my jokes and I had to be content with amusing myself. At least I finally had someone who would understand my sense of humor.
“I try,” I admitted. “I think I’m an acquired taste.”

“Like sardines,” said Curt. “Please don’t encourage him, Renee. He’ll never stop. I know from experience.”

“I’ll be careful,” she promised. “I wouldn’t want him to get a big head.”

It was at that moment a pair of dark shadows appeared over the table. I stiffened and dipped my head in Renee’s direction. I turned mute when I saw it was Vance Rithrow, one of the biggest Billys of them all. At his side was Veronica Styles who stood like they were joined at the hip. Vance had on his typical t-shirt two sizes too small to show off arms busting out like boulders from the sleeves. He had copper-colored skin baked on at the tanning salon for moments just like this. When he smiled, a perfect line of white teeth accented his spiked blonde hair. He had bumped into me once or twice in the hallways and I bounced off him like a ping-pong ball. Veronica was closer to perfection than I imagined even in my sloppiest dream. She smelled like coconuts and I had a surge of pure lust done teenage style. I reigned in my hormones as quickly as I could and tried to erase my evil thoughts. I doubted the two of them were here to shoot the bull with me and it didn’t take long to find out I was right.

“I’m guessing you’re new in school,” Vance said as he stood behind Renee and put a meaty hand on her shoulder. I could have sworn he flinched before he spoke. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. I would have noticed.”

Renee didn’t move a muscle. “I’ve been around,” she lied without missing a beat. “You just must have ignored me last year.”
That stopped Vance for a second and he measured her up. He let go with another brilliant smile before he spoke.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I couldn’t miss a girl as pretty as you.”

“Your plan usually works, doesn’t it?” asked Renee.

I had no idea what she meant. Apparently neither did Vance.

“My plan?” he asked.

“The major smile. The flex in the triceps. Nice touch.”

He pulled his hand away and looked at Veronica for help. She didn’t miss a beat and slid into the seat next to Renee. “We like to welcome the new kids here as soon as we can. We think it’s the least we can do. I’m Veronica. Veronica Styles.” She turned up the volume on her name as if it was already a legend in her own time. She held out her hand and waited for Renee to reach out.

Between her blazing smile and the smell of coconuts I got dizzier than if I was duct-taped to a tilt-a-whirl. I felt like I should say something, but if I opened my mouth I was afraid I would hurl. So I choked down my partially digested lunch and stayed quiet.

Renee took her hand and Veronica’s face tightened. I could have sworn a layer of some expensive powder wafted out of her pores. Then Renee spoke. “Veronica Styles,” she repeated. “Most people are charmed, I’m sure. Or intimidated.”

As far as I could tell, Veronica took that as a compliment. Just the same she pulled her hand away from Renee.

“So you were here last year?” she asked in a questioning voice. “I must not have seen you.”

Renee set her apple core down on the table before she spoke. “I started late,” she said. “I was only here the last few weeks.”

Veronica nodded in understanding. “Then you’ll need a personal guide. I know everyone so I’ll help you. Just follow my lead.”
Renee’s lips got tighter before she replied. “I do okay by myself. I don’t need anyone to run interference for me. Thanks anyways.”

The surprise on Veronica’s face was evident and her neck muscles turned hard. I suspected it was new for her to have anyone question her authority. Especially an unknown girl from Whoville.

“I can make life easier for you if you want. Just say the word.” She said the last syllable through gritted teeth as if it were more a demand than a request. Renee was having none of it.

“No thank you,” she said. “I’m a big girl and I’ll figure it out by myself.”

Veronica stiffened again and I waited for the inevitable fangs to come out. Right on cue she bared long rows of her own perfect teeth and hissed a reply.

“Not a good idea, new girl. This is my school and you’re only a visitor. Remember that and we’ll get along just fine. Okay?” Then an air-brushed smile appeared.

Renee almost smirked at the words. “Is that so? If I didn’t know better that almost sounds like a threat.”

“No, honey. It’s just the way it is.”

Renee nodded and her eyes narrowed to slits. “FYI girlfriend, I’ve been around girls a lot badder than you before. Girls so messed up they would jack your Maybelline and give you an enema with it.”

Before Veronica could even answer Vance stepped back into the picture.

“Girls, girls,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll get along just fine.” He returned his attention to Renee. “I still have a hard time thinking I didn’t see you last year. I keep my eyes open.”

Renee nibbled at her apple and turned her attention to Vance. “Well, it’s true,” she said. “It’s probably that this summer I kind of grew into myself. I even got a new hairstyle and everything. Kind of like a teenage makeover sort of thing.” She stopped and looked straight at me with those eyes. “Right, Jimmy?”

I was afraid of being drawn into it, but couldn’t weenie out of it now. What the hell, I thought. It wasn’t as if things could get a lot worse for me even though Vance could crush my head like a peanut shell and Veronica could get me blackballed so quickly even the AV Club would reject my application.

“Well,” I started slowly, “you were a bit of a skeez last year. Ratty hair and a face like a piece of bacon. Plus your ass was a lot bigger.”

Renee kind of snorted and Vance blinked a few times. Veronica just crinkled her forehead in confusion. I laid it on a little thick, but once I got going the words slid out of my mouth like they were on a slip n’ slide. Vance seemed to be having a little more trouble.

“I, uhh…” he said. “I’m sure you weren’t that bad.” He leaned over and looked at me. “What was your name again?”

“Jimmy,” I replied. “Jimmy Parker.”

He nodded. “I’m sure Jimmy is exaggerating a bit. No one can change that much over a summer.”

“That’s for sure,” added Veronica. “It’s close to impossible to drop a size or two. I should know…”

She stopped talking as if she revealed more than she wanted. I looked at Curt and he shrugged as if he had no freakin’ idea what was going on at the moment. I almost did the same before Renee spoke again.

“Well, I did,” she said. “Thanks to a new cleanser my face really cleared up. Even better I finally found a shampoo that didn’t fry my hair and make me look like a…a…”

“Skeez,” I said under my breath.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I lost thirty pounds on a grapefruit and corn flakes diet. And I only have a few stretch marks left. Anyways, it’s nice to only wear my retainer and scoliosis brace at night now. My back is straighter and my gums hardly bleed at all any more.”

Veronica looked as if she was hypnotized and stared at Renee like she was some foreign animal in the zoo. I bet if she had a peanut she would have tossed it across the table just to see if Renee would scurry over to pick it up.

“I’m guessing you think you’re funny,” Veronica said. “Well, guess what? You’re not.”

“Darn. And I was so hoping you’d like me. Now I don’t know what I’ll do with myself.”

Veronica licked her lips and replied. “I have an idea but I can’t say it. I’m not that rude.”

“Sure, Veronica. Thanks for holding your tongue. I’m sure it’s better used for other things anyways.” I blew a little milk out of my nose but Renee wasn’t quite done yet. “And thanks for coming over. If it’s okay with you I would like to finish my lunch now.”

Veronica’s eyes danced around and she was lost for a response. Who did this girl think she was?! her face said without a word leaving her lips. Then she spoke, “It’s a long year, new girl. Just watch yourself. Stuff happens around here. More than you can imagine.”

Renee didn’t blink. “My eyes are wide open. They have been for a long time. But thank you both for coming.”
Vance acted first and started to stand up. He looked confused and angry at the same time so I dared not say anything. “Well, we’ll go then,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll see you again, umm—”

“Renee,” she interjected. “And you are?”

“Vance. Vance Rithrow.”

“Nice to meet you too,” she said as he backed away a few steps. “Maybe I’ll see you around at the next dance. I’ll look for you. Veronica it has been a pleasure to meet you. Maybe we can have a sleepover someday soon. Talk about boys and stuff. ”
I both admired and feared Renee at the same time.

“We’re not done yet, new girl,” Veronica warned. “Not by a long shot.”

The oxygen froze in the air as Veronica retreated with Vance. Renee gave a little flip of her wrist as they both recoiled into the distance.

We stayed quiet until they were out of earshot. It was then Renee started into her syrupy laugh again before Curt spoke.
“Just what was that?” he asked. “You guys can’t mess with a Billy and a Beez like that. No one does.”

“Yes we can!” said Renee in an excited voice. “And what kind of name is Vance? That just sounds stupid.”

“Vance wanted a piece of you, Renee, and you blew it,” I said. “He could have made your year. I bet you’re off Veronica’s party list.”

She nodded “I’ll live just fine without Veronica. I’m not afraid of girls like her. In fact, sometimes I like the fight more than anything.” She paused. “And I bet my ass is still too big for Vance. How did you know about that?”

I shrugged and played it nonchalant. “Just a lucky guess. You look a little big-boned so I made a deduction.”

“Big-boned and fat-assed? Wow! You really know how to sweet talk a girl.”

“Ahh, you wouldn’t be the first,” I bragged as Curt rolled his eyes. “Just another notch in the ‘ol bedpost.”

“Very impressive, Jimmy,” she said as the final bell sounded. “You could be a Billy someday if you wanted.”

That one stopped me.

“You’re kidding, right?”

She shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. But it might be fun to try.” She looked toward Veronica and Vance. “What goes up must come down, right?”

“I guess,” I replied in a wimpy voice that quivered more than I liked.

“Anyways, thanks for the lunch together. I hope we can do it again,” she said as she moved away from the table.
“For sure,” I said and half-waved as she disappeared into the masses.

When her view was replaced by one of The Hot Table my shoulders tightened right on cue.


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