Authors: M-E Girard
FOR MELISSA, MY REAL-LIFE PEN.
THERE ARE FOUR OF US DUDES SITTING HERE
right now, and I kick all of their butts when it comes to video gamesâand I'm not even a dude in the first place. Maybe I'm being a little cocky here, but it's true. My brother says I'm a little psycho, loading my gun and rushing for the middle of the battle, and yeah, sometimes I end up getting my butt kicked. But usually he's there, covering me with his sniper skills, so we both come out on top.
“She's cheating,” Garrett says to no one in particular.
“Oh sure, I'm cheating,” I tell him, keeping my eyes on Colby's forty-six-inch TV screen. “Obviously I must be cheating.”
“You put in the codes, or you're using the glitch, but that's still cheating,” he says, then to Colby, “Am I right?”
“Yeah, you're right,” Colby says from somewhere behind me, probably sprawled on his bed. “Except, she's not cheating.”
“She legit plays that game all weekend with her brother,” Tristan says.
“And dude,” I tell Garrett, who's somewhere on the floor to my left, “they released the update for that glitch last month. You can't bust open the factory door anymore.”
“All right, fine. So you were taught well,” Garrett says.
“I taught myself well.”
Garrett laughs and I roll my eyes at the TV. He's such a douche, but he can't even try to knock me down in the video games department. I'm on the couch at the foot of Colby's bed, Tristan next to me. When I first got here, I thought it was just going to be Colby, Tristan, and me hanging out. But Garrett's sweaty butt was parked in front of the TV trying to complete this ambush mission in
War Zone 3
, and he was ready to whip the controller at the TV because he stupidly put it on the highest difficulty. So he dared me to do better, and I did. Twenty minutes later, I'm still playing and they're all watching me.
“You watched me take over for you,” I tell Garrett. “Did you see me enter any codes? No.”
“Penelope, I wasn't watching you the whole time. I was distracted by the Doritos, and we all know girls are pretty shady.”
Colby lets out a chuckle, which almost pisses me off, but Garrett's always saying stupid things about Tristan and me to make Colby laugh. Like last month, when he was going off about how I should've picked the girl character in
, when meanwhile it's not even a question that none of them would ever pick herâeven for her better default weapons. I pick the guy characters because they never make girl characters that look like me. They make them hot, half-naked, and full of makeupâwhich is nice to look at, but it's not me.
“All right now, calm down, Penelope. Is this your time of the month? Because I don'tâ”
“Suck it, Garrett,” Colby tells him before I can throw something back myself. “Period jokes? That's lame.”
“All right, all right,” Garrett says. There's silence for maybe twenty seconds and then Garrett's at it again. “So, Colby. Would you say that Penelope is better than you at this game?”
“Well, she's definitely better than
,” Colby says, and I grin like,
In your face, Garrett
. I hear Colby roll off his bed. “This is boring. Let's go out.”
He walks right over to the console and shuts it off on me, but I don't say anything because we all know when Colby's done, we're all done.
“What about the mall?” Tristan says. “I still have a gift card from my birthday. The new Masters of Crimson book just came out.”
“A book? Seriously?” Garrett turns to Colby. “This guy with his stupid skinny jeans and his books, and that one over there who's sort of a girl, I don't know, I can't tell anymore. Colby, man, it's the first day of grade eleven tomorrowâwe should be starting fresh, am I right?”
“Dude, I've known these guys longer than I've known you, so you can suck it,” Colby says, stepping into his sneakers. Tristan and I glance at each other, probably both thinking about how much better it was last year, before Garrett moved to Castlehill. Colby checks himself out in the mirror and re-gels his blond hair before throwing on his leather jacket. “Are we going, or not?”
The guys get up and head for their shoes, while I take the controller to the shelf the console's sitting on. When Tristan
and Garrett step out into the backyard, I glance at Colby. “I hate that guy.”
“He's all right,” Colby says. “You just have to man up a little.”
“He's a douche.”
“He gets us good weed. Plus, he fights.”
I say nothing to that because he's got me there. Tristan can't punch, and I'm a girl so even if I knew how to punch, no one would take me on anyway. It's not like I'm some tiny little thing either. I weigh more than these guys do, and I'm built solid like my brother. When we were younger, it was different. It's not like fighting is fun, but at least back thenâusually when older jerks would mess with TristanâI could get in there and break things up, or push someone back. Now no one wants to be the guy who fought with a girl, because only pussies fight with girls. Even with girls like me.
The three of usâColby, Tristan, and meâcan get into some pretty stupid stuff, but it's nothing like what Garrett likes to do for fun. All the dumb stuff we've been up to these days is because of him, so most of the time I tell Colby my mom won't let me go out without even asking her so I won't have to be part of it. They throw eggs at houses, they shoplift, and they sell parsley to grade-nine kids who are too dumb to realize it's fake, then they buy real weed for us with the money. That last part's kind of funny, but still.
“Pen, you coming?” Colby asks.
“Nah,” I say. “I'm gonna go home. I'll see you tomorrow on the bus.”
“Get over it, dude,” Colby says. “Let's just go.”
“It's cool, I got a couple of YouTube videos to catch up on. You guys go andâ”
“Stop trying to bail. I need you to get something for me,” he says, hitching his chin with a serious glare.
I know what that means. It means I get to talk to a pretty girl today.
AT THE MALL, WE
walk by all the girly clothing and jewelry stores until Colby starts throwing glances inside one store in particular. Everyone else is getting bored with the aimless wandering.
“I need a smoke,” Garrett says.
“You guys go,” Colby says. “Me and Pen have something to do.”
“What,” Garrett says, “kiss?”
It's like he can't go five minutes without saying something stupid.
“You wanna try saying that again?” Colby says, stepping right up to him, and even though Colby's not as tall, Garrett backs off, reaching for his cigarettes and shrugging like nothing's a big deal. Garrett has the face of a UFC fighter, like a big cauliflower. Colby's the good-looking one with the screw-off attitude, which means all the guys know him and all the girls want him, so he gets to call the shots. It's probably also why he gets to be friends with a skinny-jeans-wearing, space-book-reading kid like Tristan, and a boyish, video-game-playing girl like meâand no one tries to mess with him for it.
“You coming, geek?” Garrett says to Tristan.
“Nah. I gotta check out the bookstore,” he says, because he's like me and won't hang out with Garrett unless Colby's there, too. He nods at me before wandering off by himself.
“You guys suck! Why am I wasting my time here?” Garrett slips a cigarette between his lips. “I'm gonna go meet up with Ike and them at the skate shop. Colby, text me when you're done, all right?”
“All right, dude,” Colby says, while Garrett takes off. Then to me, “Time to work your magic. Redhead, green shirt, big tits. Right over there.”
“Come onâI don't wanna go in there,” I say. The whole store is pink and sparkly. It's all dangly earrings, flashy pieces of fabric, and hair thingies.
“You can get away with stepping foot in there more than I can,” he says. “Go buy something for your hair.”
“Like what? A rubber band?” I point to my same old ponytail stuffed in the hole of my baseball cap. “Why don't I just wait until she comes out?”
“You feel like hanging out here for the next hour? Because I don't. Just go buy something for your mom,” he says.
I head over, avoiding the looks the girl at the counter throws me. I'm wearing a black T-shirt, faded jeans, and skater shoes. And sometimes I sort of look more like some Portuguese dude with long hair than some Portuguese girl. I so don't belong in here. But I've got a job to do.
I plant myself on the other side of the scarf stand where the girl is standing. She looks pretty focused, picking through
whatever's on the shelf in front of her. The first thing I pluck out is this round, pink piece of fabric that's kind of see-through and stuck together with a big plastic buttony thing. There's a clearance sticker on it.
“Uh, excuse me,” I say, and the girl looks over. “Can you tell me what the hell this is?”
She gives me an awkward smile. “It's a summer scarf . . . ?”
“Why would anyone wear a scarf in the summer? It's hot.”
“Because they're nice.”
“Oh. Well, it's September right nowâdoes that matter?”
“Um . . . not really, I guess. But it doesn't really go with, um, that,” she says, pointing to my upper body.
This girl so has no idea how to talk to me. I'm used to people staring at me, trying to figure out what my deal is. Ever since I started swiping clothes from my brother Johnny's closet, people have been reacting differently to me. I used to wear jeans and plain T-shirts and I've always hung around guys, so people just figured I was a tomboy, but now it's like it goes beyond that, and I'm sure it's not just because Johnny's clothes are name brand and sweet as hell. I don't really know what people think I am, or what they think I'm not.
I hate dragging this out when the girl wants me to go away, but I try again. “So, what school do you go to?”
Now I bet she thinks I'm hitting on her, and even though I sort of thought she was good-looking before, the looks she
keeps giving me make me rethink my opinion of her.
Colby pokes his head inside, acting all annoyed. “You done?” Then he pretends to notice the girl for the first time, flashing his pale-blue gaze at her and nodding. “What's up?”
“Hey,” she says.
He walks off, pretending to wait for me right out front, where this girl can have an unobstructed view of him through the wall of glass we're standing near. I'm not into dudes but even I can understand why girls can't help themselves. He kind of looks like that blond guy from that show where the two brothers hunt monsters and drive around in that sweet-looking old car.
“Who's that?” she asks.
“My buddy Colby,” I say.
“Oh.” Then she's flashing me a much friendlier face. “So what school do you guys go to?”
“Cool. I go to Castlehill High.”
“Oh yeah?” I pretend to look at the scarf thing again before stuffing it back where it was. “Well, do you, uh, want to come to the food court with us? We're just going for ice cream.”
She takes another glance at Colby, and he looks over our way at the same time. He grins. Then she's doing it, too. The deal is done.
Colby sends me over to hook them in, because he says girls are less standoffish when I'm the one who breaks the ice because I'm a girl too, which means I'm probably nice, and I'm probably
best friends with a jerk just trying to get laid. Colby always says if we all want to be tight and have loyalty, we
each have to be useful. Tristan does a lot of Colby's homework and group projects, Garrett gets weed and fights, and I'm the wingman when it comes to girls. I'm just supposed to point the girl in Colby's direction, and the rest takes care of itself. He's the one who wants the girl, except he makes it so that she's the one who chases after him. It's kind of genius, because then he can do whatever he wants and she basically asked for it.
I know the whole thing might seem sort of pathetic, but considering what Colby gives back in return, it's not a bad job at all to have. Besides, I get to talk to all kinds of good-looking girls, and I figure maybe someday, when I finally man up, one of these girls could end up liking me instead. Maybe.