The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys

BOOK: The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys
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For Alex, Josh, and Lizzy

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

From-the-bottom-of-my-heart thanks to:

My agent, Jill Grinberg, for her wisdom and unwavering support;

My editor, Alyson Heller, for her expertise, enthusiasm, and openness;

Cheryl Pientka and Katelyn Detweiler, for nurturing this book from the beginning;

Bethany Buck, Fiona Simpson, Mara Anastas, Karina Granda, Katherine Devendorf, Vera Brosgol, Karen Sherman, Anna McKean, Carolyn Swerdloff, Emma Sector, and all the other lovely folks at Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, for making publishing such a fun team sport;

Veronica Chang, Laura Burris Desmarais, Frances Kellner, Cheri Morreale, and Kym Vanderbilt, for being true friends to my whole family;

My mom, for always cheering me on;

Chris, for all of the above.

CHAPTER 1

Today Wyeth Brockman became a Croaker.

Well, I mean, almost. Really close.

The way it happened was, he asked my best friend, Maya, if she'd seen this movie called
Battlescar III
. And when Maya said no (because seriously, why would she), Wyeth replied, “Well, I'm going this weekend.”

His voice croaked on the word “weekend.” Like it went “WEEK” (high pitch) “end” (lower pitch). And then he turned the color of a moldy strawberry.

For Wyeth, this was progress.

Okay, I'll explain.

A few months ago, Maya and I had divided all the
boys we knew into three categories: Tadpole, Croaker, and Frog. We'd even made a chart about it in my science binder:
The Amphibian Life Cycle (a.k.a. Finley & Maya's Super-Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys)
.

First we named all the Tadpoles, the squeaky, silly little babies who belonged back in elementary school. Maya and I ignored the Tadpoles as much as possible. But it wasn't easy, because they were incredibly loud and obnoxious, the kind of boys who made fart jokes on the school bus.

Next were the Croakers, the boys who were starting to mature. Have you ever seen an actual tadpole turn into an actual frog? They go through this weird mutant in-between stage when they have fishy tails, but also reptile arms and legs. Croakers had croaky-sounding voices (hence the name), but that wasn't the grossest thing about them: They smelled like wet socks, or else like too much deodorant; they chewed with their mouths open; they stepped on your feet. But at least they talked to girls. Or rather, tried to talk to girls. Most of the boys we knew were Croakers; even in the eighth grade, they were definitely the majority.

Frogs were the highest form of middle school boy. What made a boy a Frog wasn't just that his voice had
mostly stopped croaking; it was other stuff, like making eye contact with you in the hallway. Frogs were the boys who shared their homework, who laughed at your jokes, who'd discovered napkins. They weren't perfect, but they used shampoo. You could have a conversation with Frogs; they were the boys you could crush on. I'm not saying you
did
; I'm saying you
could
. But Frogs were rare in the eighth grade, and anyhow, the best ones were usually taken.

Up until today, Wyeth Brockman had been stuck at the Tadpole stage. In fact, considering the squeaky way he giggled, his obsession with LEGOs, the way he blew bubbles with his straw—plus the way he
never, ever
spoke to girls, even when they asked him a simple question—I thought he'd probably stay a Tadpole forever.

So when he asked Maya if she'd seen that stupid movie, this was definitely the first sign of Croaker behavior. It wasn't just the voice croaking and the blushing; it was the super awkwardness of the whole conversation.
I'm seeing a movie you would probably find excruciating. In case you wanted to know.

Let me put it another way: If Wyeth had still been a Tadpole, he wouldn't have mentioned this stupid
movie to a girl. He probably wouldn't have mentioned anything to any girl, period.

If he'd become a Frog, he would have added something like,
You're welcome to come to the stupid movie.
Or even,
Would you like to go to the stupid movie with me?

But a Croaker couldn't make it to the invitation part. Maybe Wyeth didn't even realize he wanted to invite Maya. Maybe he just thought he'd share his moviegoing habits out loud, and if a girl such as Maya happened to be listening, well, all righty then.

A.k.a., totally Croaker.

All of this happened in social studies, where our teacher, Mr. Schiavone, had arranged the desks in “work stations” to “facilitate discussion.” This month my “work station” consisted of me, Maya, Wyeth, and Jarret Lynch, who was the world's reigning Croaker champion, and also, by the way, not a nice person. No one (besides Maya and me) knew about the
Amphibian Life Cycle
, so I could have just announced Wyeth's upgrade to Croaker status. But if I had, Jarret would probably have gone,
Huh? What are you talking about?

And the thing was, I didn't want to embarrass Wyeth. Or any boy, really; that wasn't the point of the
Life Cycle
, which was just about dealing with boy
immaturity. Which was a major issue, as any girl in middle school can tell you.

So instead I passed Maya a note:
CROAK???

She smiled. Then she wrote back:
Hmm, mayyyybe . . .

You didn't hear him croak just now?
I wrote.
On the word “WEEKEND.” Plus he kinda/sorta asked you out!!!

Maya rolled her eyes.
No, he didn't, Finley. He just said he was seeing a dumb movie.

Me:
That's a Croaker invite!

Maya:
Please.

Me:
I'm putting it on the chart!

She shrugged. And as soon as Mr. Schiavone started assigning the homework, I opened my science binder to the back. I glanced around to make sure no one was looking, especially Jarret. Then I flipped to the
Amphibian Life Cycle
chart, and next to Wyeth's name I wrote the word “Croaker.”

Wyeth Brockman:
Croaker.

But yeah, I had to admit it looked funny.

I thought about Maya's objection. We'd been doing the
Life Cycle
for about five months now, and whenever we upgraded any boy, we usually agreed on the
change of status. So maybe she was right, maybe it was too soon for Wyeth—a single croak, a one-time blush, and a super-awkward invitation didn't qualify him for Croaker.
And besides,
I told myself,
just look at him:
He was chewing his thumbnail, which was a Tadpole thing to do, especially in public.

Still, Wyeth had made some actual progress today, and it would be wrong to ignore it. When a Tadpole evolved—even a fraction of an iota—it belonged on the chart, even if you couldn't figure exactly how.

So I erased “Croaker.” I considered the options. Finally, this is what I wrote:

Wyeth Brockman
: Tadpole with Croaker tendencies.

I liked this description; it seemed fair to me, and I felt sure Maya would agree with it eventually.

But even so, I wrote it in pencil, in case I needed to change my mind.

CHAPTER 2

At lunch I zoomed in on Maya's face. “Don't smile,” I told her.

“Why not?” she asked through her teeth.

“Because it's so fake. You look like you're being photographed.”

“I
am
being photographed.”

“Well, okay, but you want to look normal, don't you? I thought that was the whole point.”

“It is,” she agreed, still doing this horrible
say cheese
sort of grin. “But don't normal people smile?”

“Sure. When there's a reason.” I took a giant step backward, to get out of the streaky sunlight. Now a
mysterious red icon was blinking at me, looking sort of like a spider waving a flag. I had no idea what my camera was telling me (yay for National Spider Day?), and I'd left the manual back in my bedroom. Dang.

I pressed a button, and the spider disappeared.

“Anyway, why should you be so ecstatic?” I asked Maya. “I'm just taking your yearbook picture.”

“I'm ecstatic
because
you're taking my yearbook picture. So I don't have to use the zitty one.”

“The other one wasn't zitty,” I protested.

“Please, Finley.”

“No, really, Maya. I thought it was nice.”

But that was a lie, and we both knew it. Because for some nightmarish reason, on the morning of school photos, the Zit Gods had decided to zap Maya with a giant red dot on the tip of her nose. As soon as the photographer packed up his equipment and left, the Zit Gods took back their evil nose zit. But the picture was obviously forever, and even if the zit got photoshopped out, Maya's expression was:
Omigod, is that thing still there?

Trust me, there was no way she could let that photo into the yearbook. Especially not in eighth grade, the year we were graduating from middle school, the first
time yearbooks would even mean anything.

After the nose-zit incident, I'd offered to take a new shot of Maya with the digital camera my parents had just given me for Christmas. Maya and I had both agreed the photo should be candid, not pose-y. Except now she kept doing this generic fake photo smile, which in my opinion was worse than the nose zit.

“Fin? Can you please hurry?” Maya was begging. “It's freezing out here, and I think I'm going to sneeze.”

“So sneeze.”

“Yeah, right. That would make a gorgeous yearbook photo, don't you think? Snot spraying out of my nose . . .”

I zoomed out. No, too far. I zoomed back in. Better. “Listen, Maya, just do whatever you
feel
like doing. Don't worry about looking gorgeous.”

“But I
want
to look gorgeous. If I wanted to look hideous, I'd just use the zit photo.”

“It wasn't a zit photo.” Mysterious Red Icon suddenly vanished.
Good. I think.
“Anyway, don't you want your photo to look a little bit different?”


Different?
You mean
weird
?”

“I mean unboring. Uncloney. Capturing your essence.”

She raised one eyebrow at me.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “No essence. What about an action shot?”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, it could be cool. You could do a cartwheel.” Maya was an amazing gymnast. She was only four foot eleven, but incredibly strong and agile. Next to my best friend, I looked like one of those Styrofoam pool noodles.

She ungritted her teeth. Suddenly she sprang into a cartwheel, ending in a bank of snow.

Click.

“How's that?” she asked, her shiny ponytail swishing.

“Great,” I promised. “Perfect.”

“Let
me
see.” She grabbed the camera and squinted at the screen. “How do I find it? Oh. Well, it's
kind
of all right, but people won't see my face.”

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