The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys (9 page)

BOOK: The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys
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So then of course Kyle started guffawing. And immediately, a bunch of other Croakers started squealing, “Ooh, Zachary, sit here, sit here.”

I glanced at Zachary. His face was flushed and he was smiling, but I could tell it was forced.

“Shut up, all of you,” Maya ordered. “This isn't preschool, all right? Mr. Hansen, why
can't
Zachary sit next to Finley?”

Chloe gaped at Sabrina. “I don't believe this. Now Maya's assigning seats? Señor Hansen, she's out of control!”

“Maya and Chloe,” Señor Hansen said through his teeth. “If either of you say
one more word
, you're going straight to Ms. Fisher-Greenglass.”

“Okay, sorry,” Maya said quickly.

For a second the room was quiet.

Then she added: “Although I
really
think he should sit with Finley.”

It was strange. Señor Hansen was evil, and also a terrible teacher, but at that moment he reminded me of Mom—crazy tired, trying desperately not to lose it, even while Smiley-O's were flying past his head from all directions. You could see his jaws clenching and his hairy hands trembling as he mentally scrolled through the Fulton Middle School Code of Behavior.

“All. Right,” he said. “That is
way
more than enough. Maya—Señorita Lopez—go march yourself to the principal's office.”

“Me?” Maya's mouth dropped open. “Why just me? Chloe was arguing too!”

“You mean defending herself,” Sabrina insisted.

Maya glared. “Sabrina, mind your own—”

“Maya, don't talk,” I said loudly. “Just go. Now. Please.”

Maya turned to me, her eyes flashing. “Thanks for your support, Finley,” she snapped.

She flung her red scarf over her shoulder, grabbed her backpack, and ran out of the classroom.

Hairy Hands sank into his teacher chair. “The rest of you open your blue books. As some of you may remember, this is a class, not the Roman Colosseum, and we're due for a verb test.”

“But we won't even have a full period,” Olivia protested.

“That's hardly my fault, is it, Señorita Moss? And why are you still standing there?” he thundered at Zachary.

“I'm not . . . sure where to sit,” Zachary said.

“Just sit wherever you want. We've wasted way too much time on this issue!”

Zachary took the empty desk next to me. I was too upset to look at him, so I just opened my blue book. And while I filled the pages with conjugations, or what I imagined were conjugations, out of the corner of my eye I could see Zachary drawing robots.

•  •  •

“Oh, Hanna, it was totally awful,” Olivia exclaimed at dismissal, as we stood on the steps waiting for Maya. “Maya went completely mental on Chloe.”

“Actually, Chloe went mental right back,” I said.

“Because she had to,” Olivia insisted. “Maya was attacking her in public. She couldn't just sit there and not say anything! And then the way Maya turned on
you
—”

“She was just upset, okay?” I didn't want to think about what Maya had said to me before she left the
classroom, and I definitely didn't want to discuss it with Olivia. Who, I had no doubt, would go reporting back to Chloe. “Hanna, did you notice Maya in orchestra?”

“No, but I wouldn't,” Hanna said. “I'm viola section; she's oboe.”

I nodded impatiently. Of course I knew what instrument my best friend played; to be honest, I always thought her oboe sounded like a goose with cramps. But I never told Maya that, because even though she wasn't as music-obsessed as Hanna, she worked hard at it. Hard at everything. Which is why she was a super student, and never, ever got in trouble.

“I'm just worried,” I said. “I haven't seen her all afternoon.”

“Maybe Fisher-Greenglass gave her detention,” Hanna said. “I mean, really, Finley, talking back to
Hairy Hands
—”

Olivia said, “Yeah. I don't think I've ever seen him that mad.”

“Me neither,” I admitted.

“Oh, but she'll be fine,” Olivia said quickly. “Maya is fierce. And anyhow, it was cool how she yelled at Jarret and the rest of those morons.”

She fluttered her hand at the boys who were standing by the doors. Ben Santino and three other Croakers were shoving each other like they'd just sprouted Croaker arms and didn't know what else to do with them. They were all laughing—rude, croaky guffaws—and when Ben Santino pushed Jonathan Pressman, I could see Zachary standing in the middle. Right next to Jarret and Kyle.

My stomach twisted. What was happening? Were they ganging up on him?

No, Zachary was grinning.

Which was weird all by itself.

And then this happened: Jarret gave him a fist bump.

Jarret.

Gave Zachary.

A fist bump.

“So, Finley,” Olivia was saying. “If I don't look hideous tomorrow, can we please take my photo? Sabrina keeps warning me about this Friday deadline thingy.”

“Sure, no problem,” I answered. But I wasn't listening. What was Zachary grinning about? And why was he being fist-bumped—not bullied, not even teased—by Jarret Lynch? Of all people?

I watched Hanna run off to her mom's car, and Olivia run off to join Chloe. And then I sleepwalked back into the gym for basketball practice, even though I couldn't concentrate on layups.

Because here is what I kept thinking: While Maya had gotten into big trouble trying to protect Zachary, he'd gone off and become a Croaker hero. Or something.

Based on what?

I couldn't imagine. The Croakers had ignored him before today in Spanish. And in Spanish, what had happened, anyhow? Zachary had basically just stood there; the whole class was Maya versus Chloe.

I didn't get what they suddenly saw in him. Although really, the more I thought about it, I didn't get much on the subject of Zachary. What he'd said about wanting another chance—well, you couldn't argue with it. People deserved second chances. Except there was something about the way he kept repeating it all the time. That just seemed weird to me, almost as weird as his Froggy makeover. Or metamorphosis, or whatever you wanted to call it.

And then there was that weirdness about the
LUNCH
tattoo: not just writing it on his wrist, but lying about it.

And talking constantly about his hook shot; that was weird, too.

I mean, if you started thinking about it, there was a ton of weirdness about this boy. Enough for an entire chart.

CHAPTER 9

When basketball practice was over, I didn't go straight home. I told myself that I was just taking the long way, stretching my legs, lalala, but the truth was, I was heading over to Zachary's house.

I wasn't sure why. I just knew that I needed some answers. Maybe, I thought, if I walked past his house, I'd notice something—even a small, random thing— that would help solve the mystery of Zachary Mattison.

From trick-or-treating routes our Green Girls troop had mapped back in the fifth grade, I remembered that his family lived somewhere on Spruce Street. But I didn't know exactly where, and it was a long, busy
block full of snowball fights and squirrels and minivans backing up out of driveways and ladies in down jackets pushing strollers. I didn't want to peep at everyone's mailboxes to search for the name Mattison. And I didn't want to walk over to one of the stroller-pushing moms to ask which house was his, in case afterward she blabbed
(Oh, Zachary honey, this tall, pool-noodle-shaped girl with freckles and boring brown hair was searching the entire neighborhood for you. . . .)
.

So I took out my camera. I pretended that I was taking street pictures for the school newspaper, which all the teachers called
The Bugle
and all the kids called
The Bug
. And I walked up the west side of Spruce Street, snapping photos of garbage cans and fire hydrants, but in reality searching for clues about Zachary's whereabouts.

I did this for about five minutes, until I heard someone shout my name.

“Finley? What are you doing here?”

My heart stopped.

Then I realized it wasn't Zachary; it was Wyeth Brockman, the almost-but-not-quite Croaker, the one who'd told Maya he was seeing that stupid movie,
Battlescar III
.

“You're taking pictures,” he announced. “What for?”

“None of your business,” I muttered.

Wyeth smiled. His face was two-thirds braces, so when he did this smile it was basically wire. I'm pretty sure that back when I wore braces, you could see actual teeth. “This is my block.” he said. “So I think it is my business.”

“Fine.” I sighed. “I'm taking pictures for
The Bug
.”

“Of fire hydrants?”

“Of our town. They're doing a . . . two-page spread about Spruce Street.”

“That would be sort of boring, wouldn't it? Two entire
pages
?”

I looked at him. Not only was Wyeth tiny, he was stick skinny, and his hair was poofy on top. Really, he resembled a Q-tip. If a Q-tip had braces, and desperately needed a haircut.

On the other hand,
he was talking to a girl.
His voice wasn't croaking, or anything, but this was Croaker behavior. A Tadpole mutating before my eyes.

I heard the camera turn off. “Yeah, I guess it would be boring. Although doesn't anything interesting ever happen on this street? Like new people moving in? Or moving back? Or something?”

He thought for a second. “Nah. At least, I can't remember anything like that. But I could give you a tour, if you want.”

“You mean of the block?”

“Yeah. You know, for the newspaper.”

Okay,
I thought. Here was my chance to find out some information about Zachary Mattison. And I didn't even have to ask for it—Wyeth was offering to help. In a very nice, polite, almost Froggy way, actually.

I made a mental note to update his status on the
Life Cycle: Wyeth Brockman, Croaker.
Because even if it looked funny on paper, it was true.

But I couldn't walk with him. I didn't want to have to chat about boy movies I'd never see. Also, I was pretty sure he had a crush on Maya.

Plus, I know this sounds stupid, but I didn't want to risk Zachary looking out of his window, spotting me walking around with Wyeth, and getting some bizarre, warped idea about the two of us.

So I thanked Wyeth for the offer. And ran.

•  •  •

When I got home, Mom was in the kitchen with her laptop and a steaming mug with a picture of the Wiggles on it.

“How was your day?” she asked.

“Oh, you know,” I said. “Basketball practice. Spanish test.”

“Ah,
sí, señorita
. And how did that go?”

“It went.” I grabbed an apple off the counter and took a loud, juicy chomp before Mom could threaten anything about my camera. “Where is everyone?”

“Napping, thank goodness. I tried giving them a bath together after lunch, and it was a disaster. Addie was okay, but between you and me, if I had to listen any more to Max's wild rumpus—”

I rolled my eyes. “Seriously, Mom. He's such a Wild Thing now.”

“Because he's a boy, Fin, honey. They're all like that when they're two.”

“But they grow out of it, right?”

She sipped some tea from the Wiggles cup. “Oh, definitely,” she insisted. “Look at Dad.”

What a random thing to say,
I thought. Dad was like another species compared to Max. Or to the guffawing, shoving, fist-bumping Croakers at school.

I mean, Dad woke up early to make us
blueberry pancakes
. That wasn't even a category of amphibian.

•  •  •

Inside my room I yanked off my stinky gym clothes. Then I flopped on my bed, and took out my science binder.

The
Life Cycle
needed an update.

Wyeth Brockman
: Croaker. Still looks like teeny Tadpole, and hasn't croaked since the word WEEKEND. But talking to girls (specifically, Finley), making eye contact, just offered a neighborhood tour . . .

Although the tour offer was definitely Froggy, so maybe it didn't belong in a description of Croaker behavior. Wyeth was sort of a mess, I thought—all three stages at the same time, a Croaker with Tadpole and Froggy qualities, like one of those half fish/half frog mutants showing everything at once: tail, arms, legs. He wasn't even a specific species at this point; he was just a skinny little blob of amphibian.

But at least he was making forward progress. As opposed to Zachary—who was a Frog (or a more-than-Frog) but who now was hanging with the Croakers. And not just hanging with—fist-bumping and laughing. What did that mean? Was that like doing the
Life Cycle
in reverse? Unevolving?

Could you even do that? I didn't know reverse evolving was technically possible.

“BAMPOW,” Max shouted from outside my closed door. “I'M THE COPS.”

Great,
I thought.
Let the wild rumpus begin.

“Max, I'm doing homework; be quiet,” I yelled.

Quick footsteps, then a few frantic knocks on my door.

“Finny.” It was Mom. “Could you get the kitchen phone, please?”

“It's ringing? But I'm changing my clothes.”

“Okay, but Addie's on the potty and I can't leave her by herself. Could you please just throw on a robe and hurry?”

First I groaned uberloudly through the closed door; then I grabbed my bathrobe and ran downstairs to the kitchen. Maybe it was Maya, I told myself, sneaking a call to tell me she'd survived detention. And wasn't mad at me for telling her to stop arguing with Hansen. And was sorry she'd been all snippy at me. In public.

“Hello?” I said hopefully.

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