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The Dating Game, Page 2

Natalie Standiford

  Hi, Holly,” Keith Carter said as Holly headed for her locker first thing Monday morning. “I mean, Boo—”

  “Shut up!” Derek Scotto elbowed Keith in the ribs, hard. They both cracked up.

  Holly had a familiar sinking feeling. There was something sinister in the air. The school was buzzing with it—vicious gossip molecules infecting everyone who breathed them. She’d been there before, the butt of the jokes, the subject of whispers, the recipient of fake smiles. But why was it happening now? What were they saying this time? And what had set it off?

  All right, calm down. Maybe she was overreacting. After all, Keith and Derek were idiots, and everyone knew it.

  “Hey, Holly—my shirt has ketchup on it.” A skinny kid about half Holly’s height leered and flapped his tongue at her. His friends clustered around him, egging him on. “Want to rip it off?”

  Okay, so she wasn’t overreacting. Stupid ninth-grader. Holly didn’t even know his name. But he knew hers. Great.

  Holly stopped and loomed over the kid. “Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re talking about. I forgot my English-to-Dork dictionary.”

  “Ha ha, dork.” The boy shrank away, his friends taunting him. That took care of that, for now.

  It hadn’t been this bad since eighth grade, when some boy wrote “I felt up Holly” on the bathroom wall. Another boy added, “Me, too. Holly has supertits.” Before she knew it, everyone was not-so-secretly calling her “Jolly Holly Supertits” behind her back. It didn’t stop until Kayla Ashton walked out of the girls’ bathroom with the back of her skirt tucked into her thong. Thank god. Then everybody forgot about Jolly Holly and went after Kayla Asscrack.

  Holly had developed before any other girl in her class. She finished fifth grade a flat-chested little girl, spent that summer growing out of all her clothes, and by the time sixth grade started she was busty as a Barbie doll. It was a shock for everybody, especially her. But that was five years ago, and she was used to her body now. What was taking everybody else so long?

  She came upon a clump of girls, including Rebecca Hulse, who leaned against the wall, sharp knees and elbows jutting out like spikes. They were whispering and giggling. They stopped when Holly approached, but she caught the last little hiss.

  “Did you read the answers she gave? Oh my god. She was rated a total slut!”

  So that was it. The love-aura quiz. And Mads’ stupid joke name, “Boobmeister Holly.” Holly silently vowed never to pull an EWI—E-mailing While Intoxicated—again. And Mads was going to get it.

  “Hey, Holly.” Rebecca’s lips cracked apart, showing her white teeth. Holly supposed it was meant to be a smile. She’d never had a problem with Rebecca before, though she wasn’t as relaxed around her as Lina seemed to be. But now she felt wary.

  “I was just telling everyone how that quiz you sent me was only a joke,” Rebecca said. “Some people actually thought you meant it seriously! Can you believe that?”

  Holly’s brain tried sending relaxing signals to her face muscles, but her face muscles were not feeling cooperative.

  “It was a goof,” Holly explained. “Mads and Lina and I got a little tipsy and we were just fooling around—”

  “I knew it,” Rebecca said too brightly. “That’s what I keep telling everybody!”

  “The weird thing is, how does everybody know about it?” Holly asked. “We only forwarded it to you, Rebecca, not the whole school.”

  “I know,” Rebecca said. “But it was so funny I had to send it to Autumn. How did I know she was going to paste it onto her blog?”

  Her blog! “Nuclear Autumn.” The whole school read Autumn Nelson’s blog. It was a neverending source of gossip, sniping, and drama-queen hysterics. How would Holly ever get out of this? Could she pay Kayla to parade around in her underwear again?

  “I’m really sorry, Holly,” Rebecca said. “I never meant for this to happen—I swear!”

  “That’s funny,” Holly said. “I thought you had total control over your minions.”

  Rebecca’s friends looked horrified, but Rebecca herself didn’t break a sweat. “Come on, Holly, Autumn’s my friend, but I can’t control what she does.”

  Holly wasn’t so sure. The whispering began again as she walked away. Rebecca was hard to read. Was she trying to embarrass Holly on purpose? Was she covering for Autumn or just being mean? Holly knew it didn’t matter. These things took on a life of their own.

  She found a note taped to her locker.

  Dear Boobmeister, If Nick Henin can have you, why not me? I was in line ahead of him. Smooches, Bastiano

  Holly grimaced. Bastiano, otherwise known as Sebastiano Altman-Peck, had the locker next to hers and liked to tease her.

  She glanced at the note again. Nick Henin? What was that supposed to mean? Holly knew who he was—every girl did, he was that cute—but she’d never said a word to him. A great soccer player, he had famously quit the team sophomore year “out of boredom.”

  Holly crumpled up the note just as its author, Sebastiano, slinked toward her, and flicked open his locker.

  Holly tossed the ball of paper in his face. “You’re such a wit, Bastiano.”

  “I know. So just tell me. How did you do it?”

  “Do what?”

  “Bag Nick Henin. Don’t play innocent with me, Anderson. It’s all over school.”

  “What?” Holly tried to catch her breath. “What’s all over school? I mean, besides that ‘Boobmeister’ crap.”

  “You and Nick. Nice touch, by the way. The nickname, I mean. Classy with a capital K.”

  Holly squeezed her eyes shut. “That was Mads’ idea. We were just kidding around. I never meant for the whole school to read it. And I never mentioned Nick. What are they saying?”

  “I read on ‘Nuclear Autumn’ that you and Nick hooked up over Christmas break. Apparently he couldn’t get enough of your smokin’ bod, Boobmeister.”

  “Stop calling me that,” Holly snapped. Her mind raced. What should she do? Nick was a catch—it was no shame to have dated him. In fact, it might be a good thing. Sort of a status symbol. Holly wasn’t sure. But maybe it was best to keep her mouth shut until she sorted this thing out. Nobody would believe her if she denied it, anyway.

  “Who started this?”

  Sebastiano shrugged. “Anonymous posting. Who knows where these things come from? What’s the matter? Isn’t it true?”

  Holly tried to cover her nausea with a mysterious half-smile. At least she hoped it looked mysterious. “What does Nick say?”

  Sebastiano popped two pieces of gum into his mouth. “I’ll ask him next chance I get. Nicky and I are like that.” He wrapped one finger around another and held them up for her to see. Then he slammed his locker shut.

  He slinked away, notebooks at his hip. Halfway down the hall he turned and called, “Later, Boobalicious.”

  Holly banged her forehead against the flimsy metal of her locker door—once, twice, three times. Weren’t her classmates supposed to be too mature for this stuff, the name-calling, the ridiculous rumors? The answer: No.

  “Holly, stop!” Mads called from down the hall. “You’ll give yourself brain damage!” She and Lina raced to Holly’s side.

  “Are you okay?” Lina asked. “There’s no need for headbanging. This will pass.”

  “I guess you heard the rumors,” Holly said. “Mads, why did you have to send that stupid quiz to Rebecca?”

  “I’m sorry!” Mads cried. “I didn’t know she’d spread it all over the school. Has anyone said anything to you?”

  “Oh, no,” Holly snapped. “Every guy in school thinks I’m looser than my grandmother’s neck—before the facelift.”

  “It’s not really Mads’ fault, Holly,” Lina said. “Autumn’s the one who posted the quiz on her blog.”

  “Holly, you were there. You thought it was funny, too.” Mads said. Her eyes were damp. Holly wished she hadn’t snapped at her. It was hard to stay mad at Mads. And anyway, she was right.

  “It’s okay, Mads,” Holly said. “I still think it’s funny. I just wish everyone else could be cooler about it.”

  “You know what you need?” Lina said. “A nice big cup of hot cocoa. Or maybe a latté. Let’s go to Vineland this afternoon.”

  “Sounds good,” Holly said. “Too bad I have to get through a whole day of school first.”

  “Maybe Nick made the anonymous posting himself,” Madison said. She blew on her coffee and took a sip.

  Holly, Lina, and Madison had snagged a prime window table at Vineland, a café in a tiny wooden cottage on Rutgers Street, overlooking the valley. Carlton Bay was a pretty town, bordered on the west by a small bay, with a marina and funky shops and seafood restaurants. From there the town spread across miles of woods dotted with houses to a lush green valley. The girls stared out the window but barely saw the landscape. Their minds were otherwise occupied.

  “You know what I heard today?” Mads said. “I was late for gym and these two juniors were in the locker room. They were talking about some girl named Krista and how she went out with two boys who were friends.”

  “At the same time?” Lina asked.

  “No. First she went out with one, and after they broke up she went out with his best friend. She said they both kissed exactly the same way, as if they learned it from the same person.”

  “Ew,” Lina said. “That’s weird.”

  “And then Jen and her friend were talking about how weird boys look when they’re naked,” Mads said. “All lumpy. I mean, how many naked boys have you seen? They made it sound like naked boys are selling candy door-to-door.”

  “It’s just talk,” Holly said. “Everybody acts as if they know what they’re talking about, but they really don’t.”

  “It sure sounds like they know what they’re talking about,” Mads said. “I couldn’t have made that stuff up.”

  “Did they know you were there?” Lina asked.

  “Not at first,” Mads said. “But then they heard me and stopped talking. And when they saw me they asked me where we found that love quiz, because they wanted to try it. I was surprised they knew who I was.”

  “Lots of people asked me about the quiz, too,” Lina said. “I mean, when they weren’t gossiping about—”

  “Don’t finish that sentence,” Holly said. “I must have been called ‘the Boobmeister’ about a hundred times today.”

  Which sent a hundredth pang of guilt through Mads. “I’m so sorry about the whole Rebecca thing,” she said.

  They looked up to see Rebecca Hulse making her way toward them. Holly steeled herself for more fakey-fakey nice-nice.

  “Here she comes,” Mads whispered.

  Rebecca flipped a long hank of blond hair over her shoulder and leaned her hands on their table. Her white shirt was unbuttoned just enough to show a peek of a pink lace bra underneath. Mads made a mental note to buy a button-down shirt and a pink lace bra as soon as possible.

  “Holly, I hope you’re okay,” Rebecca said. “I’m really sorry. I wanted to say it again—I’m so sorry about this whole thing. I swear I never meant for that quiz to get around the way it did.”

  She glanced back meaningfully at Autumn, who sat near the fireplace facing the other way.

  “It’s no big deal, Rebecca,” Holly said. “It’s given me a chance to work on my snappy comebacks. I was getting rusty.”

  “Just as long as you don’t hate me,” Rebecca said.

  “I don’t hate you,” Holly said. I just don’t like you that much, she added to herself.

  “Thank god,” Rebecca said. “Because I really like you, all you guys, and I don’t want anything to get in the way of us being friends.” She started to walk away, but stopped to add, “By the way, nice work bagging Nick Henin. Okay, see you later.”

  They watched her walk away and sit down with Autumn. Mads tried to read the label on her jeans.

  “Okay, Lina,” Holly said. “You’re Rebecca’s teammate. You know her best. Sincere or insincere?”

  Lina knew a side of Rebecca the other girls never saw. They were both good hockey players, and they worked well together on the field. Rebecca could be snotty, but that wasn’t the way Lina knew her. “I think sincere,” Lina said. “Why would she want to hurt you?”

  Mads squinted at Rebecca and Autumn huddled across the room. Mads didn’t necessarily like Rebecca. She envied her. “Hmmm, I vote insincere. You know what? I bet she’s jealous! She’s hot for Nick! That must be it.”

  “That doesn’t make sense,” Lina said. “That rumor didn’t come out until after Autumn posted the quiz on her blog.”

  “Oh, right. Never mind.” Mads paused, opened her mouth, shut it, opened it again, and shut it again.

  “Mads, do you want to share?” Holly asked.

  “When did you sleep with Nick Henin?” Mads asked. “And why didn’t you tell us?”

  “I didn’t—” Holly began.

  “It was at Ingrid’s Christmas party, right?” Lina said. “You disappeared for almost an hour.”

  “Yeah,” Mads said. “I always wondered what happened to you that night, and you never really explained it. But you must have been fooling around with Nick!”

  Oh yes, Ingrid’s Christmas party. Holly remembered it well. The thing is, she didn’t recall Nick being there. And she hadn’t realized she’d been gone for so long. All she was doing was sitting in Ingrid’s mother’s bathroom reading an article about Gwyneth Paltrow in Vanity Fair.

  “I can’t believe how cool you are,” Mads said. “You fool around with a cute senior like Nick and don’t even say anything?”

  “No, see, the thing is—”

  “Look at Rebecca and Autumn,” Mads interrupted.

  “See the way they’re talking? It’s driving them crazy!”

  “Can I please finish a sentence? I didn’t sleep with Nick Henin,” Holly said.

  “You didn’t?” Mads was confused. How could so many rumors be wrong? “So you just made out a little?”

  “I’ve hardly spoken to him,” Holly said. “We didn’t even kiss. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip.”

  “Huh.” Mads still couldn’t believe it. When it came to the truth, she generally preferred the most exciting version, and this wasn’t it.

  “Then why is everybody saying that you did?” Lina asked.

  “God only knows,” Holly said. “People like to make up stories about me for some reason.”

  “I think you should take it as a compliment,” Lina said. “It’s like a talent.”

  “I do,” Holly said. “What choice do I have?” She was getting impatient. All this talk bothered her more than she wanted anyone to know. “Can we change the subject now? Did any fabulous IHD ideas dropped out of the sky and land in your breakfast cereal this morning?”

  The table went silent. After a few minutes Mads began to think out loud. Sometimes this got her into trouble, but sometimes, she found, it was the only way to solve a problem.

  “Let’s say Nick started this rumor about you,” she said. “Why would he do it? Because boys are obsessed with sex! They can’t help themselves. Sex talk burbles out of them against their will.”

  “It does?” Lina said.

  “How else do you explain it?” Mads said. “They say so many stupid things that don’t make sense. And girls are nice and calm and rational.”

  “Sure they are,” Holly said. “What’s your point?”

  “Everybody knows boys are more into sex than girls,” Mads said. “Our IHD project will prove it. We can set up our own blog, like Autumn’s, just for this project. We’ll take a poll of the students. We’ll ask all kinds of questions, how experienced they are, what they like to do on dates, whatever we want to know. And we’ll use that information to prove that boys have sex on the brain more than girls.”

  “We can make it like a quiz,” Lina said. “Like that love aura quiz we filled out, only better.”

  “But what would the subject of the quiz be?” Holly asked.

nbsp; “‘Are You Obsessed with Sex?’” Mads said.

  “And then what?” Holly said. “People will just answer Yes or No? That’s not much of a project.”

  “We can expand it,” Mads said. “Make it a matchmaking quiz. That way we’ll get lots of responses, and they’ll be more honest.”

  “But then everyone will expect us to match them up with people,” Lina said.

  “So we will!” Mads said. “It will be fun. And we can save the best boys for ourselves!”

  “You’re an evil genius, Mads,” Holly said. “We’ll analyze the quiz answers and prove our hypothesis. Then we can write it all up in fakey scientific language so Dan will think it’s some kind of earth-shaking discovery.”

  “Maybe we will make a discovery,” Lina said. “Maybe we’ll really learn something about the kids we go to school with.”

  “Sure,” Holly said. “And maybe ‘Nuclear Autumn’ will win the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

  But secretly, Holly hoped Lina was right. What was really going on in people’s minds? The minute she hit puberty—and got the bod—everyone’s attitude toward her changed. Why? Did they know something she didn’t? Did the way her body looked really make her different from everybody else?

  Holly was skeptical. But if this project could answer those questions, it really would be a gift from above.


  Sex on the Brain

  To: linaonme

  From: Your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY’S HOROSCOPE: CANCER: Stop obsessing, Cancer! No, your head isn’t shaped funny, your feet aren’t gigantic, and your teeth are plenty white. Yes, something is wrong with you. But not that.

  Class: Interpersonal Human Development

  Teacher: Dan Shulman

  Date: Friday, January 21

  Proposal for “The Dating Game: Sexual Attitudes Among RSAGE Students in Carlton Bay, California”

  by Holly Anderson, Madison Markowitz, and Lina Ozu

  Sex on the brain: Who’s more obsessed, boys or girls?

  Our hypothesis: Boys think about sex more than girls. To prove it, we will create a special Web log with restricted access—open only to RSAGE students—containing a questionnaire entitled “The Dating Game.” Students will answer questions about their sexual attitudes and experiences. To encourage participation, we will set up the Web site as a matchmaking service and actually match people up with dates. We hope these dates will provide still more data to support our hypothesis.