The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys (8 page)

BOOK: The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys
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Which I suppose qualified him for the category Prince. That is, if there even were such a category. It suddenly occurred to me that there should be: Boys wouldn't stop evolving at Frog, would they? At least,
they kept on evolving in fairy tales. But I couldn't decide on this by myself; obviously, I needed to discuss this important question with Maya.

Although for some extremely mysterious reason he still needed a reminder about
LUNCH
.

•  •  •

At lunch it was face-hurting cold again, but Maya promised she'd pose really fast. And after the way I'd sulked through science, I felt as if I owed her a yearbook photo shoot. So we each grabbed a microwaved pizza bagel in the cafeteria and then headed outside to the snowy field.

That day a crusty layer of ice had formed over the snow, which crunched under our feet. When we got to a spot where there was a patch of sunlight, Maya flung her red scarf around her shoulders, wiped her drippy nose with her ungloved finger, and announced, “All right, Fin, this is perfect.”

But she seemed distracted. As I experimented with the lens, she kept biting her chapped lips and squinting past me, at the lunchroom doors.

“Are you cold?” I said. “We could just do this inside.”

“No, then everyone would watch, and I'd be
self-conscious,” Maya said. “Just hurry and take the picture, Finley, okay?”

I zoomed in and out, but there was no point. If someone wants to look fabutastic, they need to concentrate on fabutasticness.

“Okay, something is wrong,” I declared. “Did Chloe say something to you?”

“No, she didn't even talk to me today. Which is strange, since she quote-unquote invited me to her party.”

I sighed, fogging up the lens. “What is it, then?”

“Nothing. I don't know. You'll think I'm crazy.”

“I already think you're crazy.”

“Ha ha.” But she wasn't smiling. “Okay, fine. I invited Zachary to join us.”

“You mean
now
?”

She nodded.

Ah,
I thought. Well, that explained
LUNCH
. He didn't want to forget Maya's invitation, so he wrote himself a note on his wrist.

“Why did you invite him?” I said, pretending to fuss over the camera.

“Two reasons. One, I didn't want him to be sitting all by himself in the cafeteria.”

“Maya, I doubt he'd be alone,” I said. “Didn't you notice Olivia with him in social studies? They were being incredibly friendly with each other.”

“Yes, they were,” she agreed patiently, as if she'd thought about that before. “But Olivia usually sits with Chloe at lunch, and I don't trust how Chloe will react. She was always so horrible to Zachary, remember? I'm positive she'll hold a grudge. And of course there's the dread Sabrina. Also, people wander around the cafeteria, and what if someone like Jarret comes over to pick a fight?”

I shrugged. The truth was, I'd been thinking a Zachary-Jarret confrontation was inevitable, and probably soon, but I'd been wondering about Chloe. You'd think Zachary was the sort of Froggy Frog she'd totally approve of now. But there was the grudge issue. Although possibly Maya was making way too much of it.

“What's the second reason?” I said.

“Okay. Finley, don't you think it would be awful to be the only eighth grader without a photo in the yearbook? I mean, without even a candid shot?”

I looked up from the camera. “Maya? And you're volunteering
me
for this assignment?”

She didn't answer.

“You
already
volunteered me?” I said.

“Only because I knew you'd want to! You're shooting Olivia—”

“Because she begged me. And we used to be friends.”

“You're sort of friends with Zachary, too, now, aren't you? He called you yesterday.”

“That wasn't friendship. That was . . .” But I didn't know what it was. Channel surfing, or something.

“Look, if you really don't want to,” Maya said.

“I didn't say that, Maya. I just wish you'd asked me first.”

“Sorry.” She wrapped the scarf around her like a shawl. “But I was only trying to help.”

And I thought:
Help who? Help with what?

Suddenly Maya started waving frantically “Over here!” she shouted to Zachary, who was standing by the cafeteria door.

I watched him across the snowy field. For a second or two he hesitated; then he started loping toward us. His walk reminded me of some animal, but I couldn't think which one. A jaguar? No, jaguars were probably fast, and Zachary wasn't fast. Just sort of . . . lopy.

Did frogs lope? No, they hopped. Loping and hopping were completely different actions. And I shouldn't think of him as anything but an amphibian, because the
Life Cycle
—anyhow,
his
Life Cycle—was confusing enough without bringing in mammal behavior.

By then he was in front of us, his cheeks flushed from the cold.

“I was starting to think you'd forgotten!” Maya shouted at him, laughing.

“Not likely,” I commented.

Zachary blinked at me. “What do you mean?”

“You wrote yourself a reminder. You know. On your wrist.”

“What are you talking about?” Maya demanded.

“Zachary wrote
LUNCH
on his wrist,” I explained, feeling totally moronic right then, like I was tattling on him.

He immediately stuffed his hands inside the front pocket of his hoodie. “No I didn't,” he muttered.

My mouth dropped open. “You did, too. I saw it!”

“That's not what it says, okay?”

“It's not? What does it say, then?”

“Nothing.” He could have shown me his wrist at
that point, to prove that I'd been hallucinating. Except he didn't. Instead he stared right into my eyes, like he was trying to hypnotize me.

So I stared right back.

And when he refused to blink, I knew he was lying.

“Hey, Finley, it's freezing out here,” he finally said. “Do you only take photos in the snow?”

“Of course not,” I answered. By then I'd turned away, but my heart was pounding.

He's lying.

Why is he lying?

He smiled at me. “That's a relief. Can we please go inside now?”

“Sure,” Maya said. My eyes met hers, and I realized she'd been watching me, trying to read my mind. “We can go to the gym for the rest of lunch. Maybe shoot some hoops?”

Hoops? Since when did Maya start playing basketball?

“Yeah, great,” Zachary said. “I'm working on my hook shot.”

“Yes, you told us this morning,” I pointed out.

Maya made a face at me like,
Shut up, Finley, what is your problem?
And the three of us crunched our way back indoors without talking.

•  •  •

As soon as we were back inside the overheated building, Zachary announced that he had to “deliver some papers” to Fisher-Greenglass, even though he'd already given her a bunch of “papers” before homeroom. Then Maya said she was on the verge of frostbite and didn't feel like finishing her photo session, which was seriously fine with me.

The truth was, I was starting to feel as if the photography thing was getting out of control. It was one thing to take your best friend's picture as a favor so she wouldn't be stuck with a zit photo in the yearbook, but now I was expected to take not only Olivia's picture but also Zachary's. Which would be awkward enough under normal circumstances. My best friend obviously liked him, and as for me, I had a majillion thoughts about Zachary Mattison all swirling around, like my head was a snow globe. Maybe I liked him, maybe I didn't. I definitely thought something was a little bit off about him. And one thing I knew for sure: Now that I'd accused Zachary of lying about the
LUNCH
tattoo, a photo shoot with him would be excruciating.

Also, this was another instance of being decided-for by Maya, the second one that day. And I needed
to be by myself to calm down, or we'd probably be heading for a fight.

So when Maya said she'd just go back to the cafeteria until lunch was over, I decided to go to the school library. It was always soothing in there, and the librarian, Ms. Krieger, was awesome. One time in September when I had cramps, the school nurse wouldn't let me miss gym, so I went to the library and “helped Ms. Krieger with a research project.” At least, that's what the note said that Ms. Krieger wrote to my gym teacher.

Now she was studying me over her lime-green glasses. “Finley, you look frozen. Would you like some hot chocolate? I have the kettle on in my office.”

See? Awesome.

“Thanks,” I said. “Actually, I wanted to look at some camera books. Do you have any?”

“But of course,” she said in a pseudo-French accent that made me giggle. I didn't always understand her strange sense of humor, but she was definitely my favorite grown-up at Fulton Middle.

Ms. Krieger walked over to a shelf near the windows. “Here are all the technical guides. I like this one:
Amazing Face: How to Reveal Character with Your
Digital Camera.
Over here are books of photos. You should look at both types of books, because it's not just about pressing buttons; you want to develop your eye. Are you into landscapes or portraits?”

“Portraits. Definitely.”

“Ahh. This gives me no surprise. You strike me as a student of character, Mademoiselle Finley.”

I laughed. “I do?”

“Mais oui.”

“But how can you tell that?”

“Because,
ma cherie
,
je suis une
stud-ent of charact-aire, too.”

She started piling books into my arms—thick, glossy collections of portraits by people named Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Yousuf Karsh. Then she sat me on her squishy red sofa and disappeared to check on her kettle.

For the rest of lunch period I flipped through pages of faces—some were famous, glamorous people I recognized, or semirecognized; some were just normal people with wrinkled foreheads, stubbly chins, and bad haircuts. A lot of the shots were posed in studios, but some were taken on the street, in cars, on balconies, in alleys—candid shots catching people by
surprise, I guessed. And all of the photos made you wonder: What was the person thinking at that second? Or feeling?

Mostly you could tell right away. But sometimes the answer seemed mysterious, complicated, hidden behind their eyes, or underneath their skin.

CHAPTER 8

When lunch ended, Ms. Krieger suggested I check out a few of the books, so I picked two volumes of portraits—one by Annie Leibovitz, one by Richard Avedon—and the how-to book called
Amazing Face
. But they were too heavy to lug around all afternoon, so I crammed them into my locker, then ran upstairs to Spanish. By then I was already a minute late for the full-period test. And I knew this meant Señor Hansen would humiliate me before I could even pick up my pencil.

But when I opened the door to Spanish, instead of seeing everyone hunched over their tests, I walked in on Zachary standing by the whiteboard.

Hairy Hands barely even noticed me as I slipped into my seat. This was because he was laser-focused on Zachary.

“Well, this was unexpected,” Hairy Hands was grumbling. “I hadn't planned on a new student arriving in the middle of eighth grade.”

“I'm not new,” Zachary said flatly. “I'm just back.”

“Well, you're new to our room, and you're new to our curriculum. And I suppose you'll be needing a desk.” He said this as if desks were something Zachary had invented just to be inconvenient.

“Mr. Hansen, Zachary can sit next to me,” Maya called from the back of the room. “I'll help catch him up.”

It was the same win-win offer she'd made in science. But Hairy Hands wasn't as lazy as Mr. Coffee.

“Thank you, Señorita Lopez, I'll keep that in mind. But I've arranged the desks to maximize conversational opportunities.” He unibrowed the room. “Señor Mattison, please take the seat next to Señorita DeGenidis.”

“No!” Maya blurted out.

The room gasped.

“Excuse me?” Señor Hansen said. He crossed his hairy arms.

Maya's cheeks splotched pink. “I just mean, I don't think that would be a good idea. For Zachary.”

“Why not?” Chloe spun around to face Maya. “You think you're the only decent student in this class?”

“No, that's not what I—”

“You always have to be the best at everything, don't you, Maya. Nobody else gets to do anything. Only you.”

“Girls,” Señor Hansen said. “That's enough now.”

Maya ignored him. “Chloe,
what
is your
problem
?”

“My problem?” She looked at Sabrina like,
Did she really just say that?

My
problem?”

“Right. Your problem. Ever since Halloween.”


Girls
,” Señor Hansen warned.

“You don't actually expect me to answer in front of the entire class, do you?” Chloe said. “Because seriously, Maya, I will.”

My heart was pounding. I knew I couldn't just sit there and watch my best friend get humiliated while Chloe described What Happened in the Laundry Room to the entire class. I had to stop this scene, or at least provide a distraction.

“Zachary can sit next to me,” I announced loudly. “There's an empty desk right here.” I pointed to the
scratched-up, wobbly-legged desk across from mine.

“Or he can move it over here,” Olivia said. “There's plenty of room.”

“Ooh, Zacha-wee, sit over here,” Jarret said in this fake high-pitched voice. He clasped his hands and batted his eyelashes. “Pweeeese.”

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