© 1999

       Some guys you meet just want to get you in the sack. Others want to use you for a status symbol. Still others want nothing to do with you. And maybe once in a while you find a prince. I hate to sound jaded, but that pretty much sums up my experience with men. In any case, I thought all men fell into one of these categories: a sex scrounger, a show-off, a jerk, or a true love. But after I met Brady, I realized that maybe my categories weren’t as all-inclusive as I thought.

       They first started coming after me when I hit junior high. I was one of those girls who developed early; I wasn’t tall and I wasn’t beautiful, but my proportions were those of a well-endowed college girl at age thirteen. This caused a big stir, and for a while I was almost popular, seeing as how all the guys dared each other to ask me out and got points with each other for getting to speak to the girl with the tits. But not a one of them talked to me like I was anything but a body, and I caught on real quick that it wasn’t me they wanted. It sickened me. I was sure none of those boys would even know what to do with a girl if they got her in bed (or, in their cases, onto their parents’ couch, listening in fear for the sound of tires in the driveway). But it didn’t matter; I wouldn’t have known what to do either, and furthermore I didn’t want to know.

       I learned to wear a big trench coat that covered most of my body, and this kept people away from me most of the time (since they couldn’t ogle my bootie). But still it seemed guys were able to smell that there was possible sex under that coat, and I still got more attention than I wanted for my body. It made me so mad that one day I just snapped. I thought it was totally unfair that I had to wear a hot coat all the time and was made to feel like an object, while there were plenty of other girls who would have loved to go watch a dirty R-rated film with the pre-pubescent male proto-sluts who were always after me. It wasn’t fair that I was always the target. I decided to do something drastic to keep people away from me forever.

       I was in seventh grade when I cut off all my hair. What was left of it was little more than stubble. I plucked my eyebrows so they pointed down into a murderous frown, and I filed my nails into little points. I pierced my nose myself. And then I went to school dressed all in black, wearing silver on my fingers and chains around my neck. I looked scary. I liked it that way.

       My teachers acted kind of confused at my sudden change, but I’d gotten what I wanted from the students: they stayed away. During my next few years of school, I used much the same tactic to keep people away from me. The few who weren’t frightened away by my appearance I chased off with catlike hisses and bizarre behavior. It took a very short time to change my identity from “the girl with the tits” to “that weirdo.” It didn’t matter if I had tits now; I was a freak and therefore un-screwable. Life was good.

       Since I didn’t have any friends, I was able to devote most of my time to my passion: drawing. I’d always loved to draw, and after many years of doing so I had become very good at it. I always drew in black pen. I never drew people. I would usually work for days on a single project, usually an intricate city or building of some sort. Details pleased me. Lines, shading, the smell of ink. Slabs of stone with no intentions but volumes of living behind them. I put them in their place on the paper and they didn’t move, and they did exactly what I told them.

       Brady was a guy in my high school. He wasn’t on the football team, but he was just as popular as those guys. I knew a lot about him because his last name was very close to mine and we always ended up in the same homeroom, with lockers next to one another. He was always either flirting with some girl or kissing one of them passionately right next to where I was trying to put my books away without gagging. I came to hate the sight of him, especially when he was flashing his baby blues at some poor girl. And of course these little bits of fluff responded to him; he was cute, after all, so a glance from him was a dream come true. I came to hate the guy.

       Most people would think I was jealous. I would like to say that I most certainly was not ever jealous of those girls, or him. I just thought he was disgusting. I wished that sometime he’d try his charming routine with me, so that I could bare my teeth, give him the evil eye, and stalk away, rejecting him. Only for that reason. It disgusted me to have to be so close to him every day at our lockers. And I hated having to sit behind him in homeroom, looking at the back of his golden little neck. It started to bother me more and more that I had to breathe his air so often. I sat through homeroom every day restraining the urge to punch him for being such a charming jerk. It made me even angrier when I realized I was being affected by him at all. To distract myself, I took to sketching during homeroom, even though I hardly had the time since the period lasted for only about fifteen minutes, long enough to take attendance and nothing else.

       One day Brady stopped at my desk and said, “Hey, you’re really good.” I glared up at him, expecting to see his baby-face dimpled grin trying to melt me with a compliment. But when I looked at him he was looking at my sketch, not at me.

       “So what is this place?” he continued, oblivious of my hatred. “It looks like someplace I’d love to go.”

       “It’s noplace,” I answered gruffly, shutting the drawing pad and snatching it up against my chest. “And you can never go there, it’s only in my head.”

       He met my eyes then, and there wasn’t any laughter or teasing or even any hunger there.

       “Well, I’d like to go there, but I guess I can’t if you won’t share.” He shrugged and shuffled off as the bell rang for second period.

       The next day, Brady came right to my desk as if we were friends and squatted down beside me.

       “Have you done any new drawings?” he asked immediately.

       “What’s it to you?” I snapped.

       “I liked the drawing you were doing. I’d just like to see more.”

       “Well, tough,” I said.

       He blinked, obviously not used to girls being rude to him. “I’m sorry, are you in a bad mood or something? Need to talk about it?”

       He looked sincere. Maybe he was just being honest, or trying to be friendly . . . maybe this one truly didn’t want anything. It was a possibility. I didn’t consider myself a bitch, but I sure was acting like it to him, and it might not even be necessary.

       “I’m not in a bad mood,” I mumbled. “You just . . . can’t see my drawings because I forgot my sketchpad today.” I was lying, of course. I could never forget my sketchpad; it was like a part of my body.

       “Well, if you bring it tomorrow I’d love to check them out, if you don’t mind too much.”

       “Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I said blankly.

       “Oh—well, then, bring it Monday.”

       I nodded and hoped he would go away and take his cologne with him, but he stayed bent over next to my chair.

       “Would you just tell me where you got the idea for that city you drew?”

       “I didn’t really get an idea. I just hold the pen and soon enough a drawing is there.”

       His eyes widened. “Oh, wow,” he breathed. “I wish I could do stuff like that.”

       I shrugged and turned away from him.

       “Hey, are you mad at me or something?”

       “I don’t have any feelings about you,” I said, still facing the other direction.

       “You don’t like people much, do you,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.

       I turned back to face him. “It isn’t that I don’t like people,” I replied. “It’s just that I have yet to meet one I liked.”

       “I’m the same way.”

       I couldn’t take that. It was so obviously untrue. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “You’re probably one of the most sociable people in this school, and you say you don’t like people?”

       “I really don’t, in all honesty I’d rather be in that city you drew.” He sighed. “No people. It looked quiet and peaceful.”

       “If you don’t like people why are you always kissing all those girls and sitting at the big table in the cafeteria?”

       His eyes sparkled. “Oh, you mean you’ve noticed where and how I spend my time?” A hint of the teasing, flirty smile crept out. At me.

       I hissed and bared my teeth. He backed up.

       “Jesus, girl, lighten up.” He sat back in his seat for roll call.

       When the bell rang for second period, he dropped something on my desk. It was a note that said, “For the record, I don’t do all those things because I want to. I do them because they want me to.”

       I thought about Brady a lot during that day, even though I hated thinking about him. I still loathed him just as much as ever, but now his note was on my mind. If what it said was true, he was the biggest pushover I’d ever heard of. I wondered if it was possible that his situation was similar to mine. Perhaps when he’d started to look “cute,” girls had started to swarm all over him, like the guys had to me. But instead of rebelling like I had, he had just given in. I couldn’t imagine living like he did. I almost wanted to help him. But then again, maybe this was all an act too. It seemed a lot more likely that he would lie to one freak girl with no friends than lie to the entire student body but only tell the truth to me. I wondered if there was a such thing as truth at all.

       On Monday I showed Brady a sketch I’d done not too long ago of a house etched into the side of a mountain. Again he said it looked peaceful with no people.

       “Nobody’s forcing you to be social, ya know,” I told him.

       “Yes they are,” he replied, wide-eyed.

       “They can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. Just remember that.”

       “I think you underestimate peer pressure,” he said seriously.

       “Forget it . . . if you don’t want to be with people, you don’t have to be, and that’s all there is to it.”

       “It really isn’t that simple!”

       “Yeah it is. Try sitting alone at lunch and you’ll see how simple it is.”

       At lunch that day I watched Brady to see what he would do. I always brought my lunch and he always bought his, so I was already seated long before he’d come out of the line, which enabled me to see everything he did.

       I saw him wanting to sit at the big table with the popular kids. Then I could practically see my words being remembered in his head, and he turned away. He sat down at a small circular table and began to eat his lunch.

       Within minutes, there were a couple of girls huddling concernedly around him, and soon after, some boys came by and patted his back, then sat down at the table with him. With a strange expression, he got up and moved to another table. The group followed, and they appeared to exchange words. Finally they playfully pushed his chair, with him in it, back towards the popular table.

       Brady leaped out of the chair and grabbed his lunch, said something to the people who were harassing him, and then . . . he began to come towards my table.

       No, don’t sit with me, I willed him silently. I didn’t want the popular kids coming over near me; for that matter, I didn’t even want him there. But even though I made warding signals and shooing signs, Brady plunked his tray on my table and sat down.

       “What the hell are you doing here?” I barked.

       “They won’t leave me alone,” he argued sensibly. “They always leave you alone, so if I sit with you they’ll leave me be too.”

       “What if I don’t want you to sit here?”

       “You don’t want me to?” He looked hurt, but not in a playful way.

       “You can stay,” I said, resigned, “but don’t talk to me.”

       Brady kept his mouth full of food until lunch was over, and he didn’t say any words to me with his mouth. He said a whole lot with his eyes.

       Brady talked to me in homeroom, at my locker, and during lunch from that day on. I started letting him, because I didn’t have anything else to do, and I also found that he wasn’t such bad company. And he seemed so interested in my sketches, expressing the wish that he, too, could draw. I would get mad at him, though, whenever he insisted that he couldn’t draw but yet admitted that he’d never tried. One day I made him promise to try his hand at it someday.

       He came to school with a sketchpad after that, but he never showed me what was in it. He claimed it was blank, and that as soon as something was in it I would get to see. I felt strange being interested, and for the sake of my reputation as the unapproachable freak girl I tried not to exchange unnecessary words with him, especially when people were watching. I wondered what the popular crowd thought of us. I shuddered whenever I thought of him and me as an “us.” There had been no “other” in my life since I could remember, and for me to have anyone consistently be in my life, day after day, was a little bit disturbing.

       There was a drawing of me in his sketchpad. He showed it to me at lunch. I wanted to snatch it from him and burn it, and at the same time I had an urge to give him a hug, to kiss his cheek, to act like a girl. It was very, very good, and it captured the sullen expression I’d had in my tenth grade yearbook photo, which was obviously where he’d drawn it from. Why had he chosen to draw me, with my strangely shaped eyebrows, greasy black eyeliner, and peach-fuzz hairdo? Why not one of the cheerleader girls who could probably be a model?

       “Why’d you draw me?” I asked finally.

       “I didn’t start out trying to,” he said. “But I started with the eyes, and they looked like your eyes . . . I got the yearbook out to fill in the rest, and . . . well, here it is.”

       I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just turned away towards my lunch.

       “Well do you think it’s good?” he persisted, shoving it in my face.

       “Get it out of here before I spill food on it,” I demanded.

       “You like it,” he said happily, closing the cover and gloating.

       “I didn’t say that.”

       “You didn’t have to.”

       Rather than lie, I kept silent.

       Brady opened his sketchpad again and looked at his drawing.

       “Ya know,” he said after a reflective silence, “I think you would look a lot better with long hair. Or at least some hair, the skinhead look doesn’t suit your face type.”

       I gave him a flesh-searing glare, silent.

       “Well what’s your problem? I didn’t say you’re not pretty now. I just thought you’d be prettier with hair, that’s all.”

       Underneath my twisted expression I felt myself blush. I wanted to run away so he wouldn’t see. But that would probably be a dead giveaway that I had been affected by his comment. I tried to cool off and kept the angry expression on my face, and soon enough the blood drained from my cheeks.

       “I’m always going to keep my hair this way,” I said, and started eating my lunch again.

       “Why would you do that? Just to purposefully spite me?”

       “I don’t care what you think. I was going to keep my hair this way even if I’d never met you.”

       “You’re sure stubborn. Haven’t you done any growing up since seventh grade?”

       “What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

       “The way you act it’s like you’ve been in some cocoon since you were a preteen or something. Always being so bratty and acting like a little kid about everything—”

       “Oh, so you think I’m a baby because I won’t grow my hair to suit you? If you ask me it’s you who’s acting like a child! You should accept that you won’t always get everything you want.”

       “I do accept that. I don’t expect to get what I want all the time. But you . . . you do things to make yourself all tough because you’re afraid someone might like you.”

       “You know what, Brady? I’m not afraid of people liking me. I know they won’t. I don’t want them to. And I don’t want to look nice, that’s why I don’t grow my hair out. If you want a girl who looks all pretty, go date one of your goddamn cheerleaders.”

       “There you go, all defensive. You really should stop caring about what other people think of you and just be yourself, and get comfortable with who you are instead of putting on this little façade all the time—”

       “I can’t believe I’m getting a nonconformity lecture from one of the most crowd-following people in school! Take a look at yourself!”

       “I’m realizing what I’ve been doing wrong, partly thanks to you. But that doesn’t mean you’re my idol or something. You have your faults too, and you should try working on them since you don’t want to be an eleventh grade girl with a sixth-grader’s brain.”

       “I’m happy the way I am and if it makes you and everybody else think I act like a sixth-grader, I don’t give a shit.”

       “You don’t look happy,” he replied, turning his sketchpad around and confronting me with the annoyed look on the drawing’s face.

       I knew that I wasn’t actually very happy, in all honesty, but having said it I couldn’t go back and revoke my words without admitting that I was wrong or confused. So I just changed the subject.

       “So why are you trying so hard to make me ‘come out of my shell,’ anyway? I think some part of you is just so used to being social that you can’t just be alone without trying to run your mouth.”

       He chuckled, instead of getting angry. As a matter of fact, he never looked angry to me. I wondered why. He didn’t answer my question, but I didn’t push it because I’d already forgotten what I’d asked while pondering why he looked content, and I couldn’t exactly repeat my question if I couldn’t remember it. I let it drop.

       Soon after that incident, Brady started touching me. At first it was simple things, like a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back, or once in a while he would rub my stubble-covered head like I was a little puppy. But then the hands started staying longer and moving to other places, and I started getting worried. He was changing what he was doing so gradually that I wasn’t sure how to tell him to stop. And the worst part was that in some awful way I liked it. I didn’t want to like anyone, and I most certainly wasn’t attracted to him, but it still felt sort of special to just have someone touch me once in a while. Everyone else thought I had a disease, and I had liked it that way . . . but I’d been missing out on the casual touches that humans generally engaged in, and now it felt odd to start them up again.

       “You know what?” he asked me one day at our lockers.

       I grunted to say I wanted him to go on.

       Used to my signals, he understood. “I think I like you. Like I’ve never liked another girl.”

       I didn’t look at him and kept rearranging my books in my locker, acting as if I hadn’t heard.

       “Do you think that’s weird?”

       I still didn’t answer, and I felt my face getting hot.

       “Well, I think it’s weird. You’re not very responsive and half the time you seem to want me to get the hell away. But still there’s something about you. Maybe it’s that you don’t drool all over me like every other girl.”

       “Yeah, every girl wants you, hot stuff,” I said sarcastically.

       “Well, it certainly is refreshing to have a different response once in a while,” he said.

       “There’s a good reason I don’t drool over you,” I said.

       “What’s that?”

       “I like girls,” I lied.

       “I do too, let’s double date,” he fired back.

       “I don’t date,” I growled.

       “Why wouldn’t you?”

       “I’m not interested!”

       “You ever tried it?”

       “Dating? Yes,” I lied.

       “Did you kiss them?”


       “Did you kiss them, did you let them kiss you?”

       I slammed my locker and started to walk away, but he caught me by my arm.

       “I think I’d like to kiss you,” he said.

       “No you don’t!” I yelled. “And if you try it, I’ll punch your face in.” I hissed and yanked my arm out of his grip, tightening my fingers into a fist.

       “You’re so defensive. You’re so afraid!”

       “I’m not afraid, but you are.” I looked into his eyes, accusing. “You’re afraid to be yourself . . . you say you don’t like people but at the same time you don’t have the courage to just dump them all and do what you really want.”

       “What are you talking about?”

       “I’ve seen you after school, in the halls, all that . . . you still do all that social shit you did before, you just don’t eat with them anymore.”

       He sighed. “You’ve been keeping tabs on me. Why do you care so much? What are you, my stalker?”

       “I can’t help but notice it because there’s always a little crowd around you,” I said, “and if you really didn’t like it, you wouldn’t let it happen.”

       Instead of insulting me or challenging me, he just hung his head. “I know. I want to. But I can’t just drop out of their lives like that . . . they want me there, and it would hurt their feelings if I left totally. . . . ”

       “That’s bull. You’re just their boytoy, just a symbol of something. I’m telling you, if you just let them believe you like that kind of friendship, you’re living a big lie, or else you’re telling me one. Somewhere in there you need to ’fess up.”

       “But . . . you have no idea how hard it is to face them with an unconventional idea. Something in me needs that acceptance. . . . ”

       I snorted. “Well, I feel sorry for you.”

       “I think everyone needs acceptance,” he argued.

       “Not me.”

       “I don’t think you’re being entirely truthful here.”

       “Yes I am. I don’t need anyone in this school to care about anything I do, you included. I just put up with you because you seemed to need me there. I’d be just as happy if you left me alone.”

       “You’re lying,” he accused, eyes wide like a small child.

       “You don’t want me, Brady, so quit fooling yourself. You don’t want to kiss me, you don’t want to hang around me . . . you just wish you could do the things I can. You hang around because you want to be like me, and you don’t know how to do anything but copy other people. Why don’t you go rejoin the mainstream? You’ll get a lot more kisses there.” I hissed at him and walked past him to my class.

       After that incident, Brady was still around all the time but he wasn’t talking much. He would say little things to me, like a compliment on my current drawing or how his day was going, or some complaint about too much homework. I didn’t answer back, didn’t open my mouth in front of him for three days. I thought maybe if I effectively ignored him, he would get the message and go away, either back to the popular crowd or off on his own. As long as he wasn’t bothering me, I didn’t care. Or at least, I didn’t want to care. Part of me was agitated that he wasn’t confronting me about my lack of response. It was almost as if all he needed was a warm body to sit next to. He would have been just as happy with a mannequin, I thought.

       On the fourth day, Brady came to lunch and slammed something down in front of me. I looked at him questioningly, thinking the motion had been much too deliberate for him to have just dropped it by accident.

       “Go on, open it up.”

       “What’s this?” I asked.

       “It’s my day planner. Open it up.”

       I did as asked, opening to January first. It said “New Years Party at Todd’s” on it.

       “So?” I spat.

       “Turn the pages,” he demanded.

       I started dutifully turning pages, glancing at all the entries. The pages were marked with homework assignments occasionally, sometimes tests, but much more often, parties and dates were scheduled. I suddenly realized that not a single day was unmarked. Then, in the month of March, the social events started waning in number, while the tests and homework assignments stayed the same. I noticed that for the two weeks in April before today’s date, not a single social event was scheduled.

       “See that?” he asked smugly.

       “What about it?”

       “I’m not going to their damn parties anymore. I haven’t been for a long time.”

       “Well goodie for you.”

       “I just started saying I wasn’t going to come, and I’ve been invited less and less. I haven’t been invited to a party even once this week. Or a date or anything.”

       I looked at him blankly, closing the book. I was trying to remember the last time anyone had asked me to a party. Not that I would have wanted to go.

       “I have to admit that I’m feeling a little depressed,” he went on. “It seems like I don’t really have anything to do now that I’m not at those parties and stuff . . . but I guess when I was at the parties, I wasn’t really doing anything anyway.”

       “You need something like drawing,” I suggested, opening my sketchbook to a blank page.

       He was silent for a moment.

       “Hey, you remember when we first met?”

       I didn’t say anything back.

       “You remember when you said it wasn’t that you didn’t like people, but that you never met one you liked?”

       “Yeah.” I began to shade the rocks I was drawing.

       “And I said I was the same way?”

       “Yeah.” I frowned.

       “Well . . . that’s still true. The thing is, I think I’ve found a person I like.”

       I rolled my eyes and finally looked up from my drawing. “Is that what you’re trying to say, Brady? You like me?”

       “Well, yeah. And I would think that would be obvious.”

       “Yeah, it is.”

       “So what do you think?”

       I considered for a moment before I replied. “I think you’ve got some shitty luck.”

       He laughed. “Why?”

       “’Cause you decided to like a girl who doesn’t like you back.” I capped my thick black pen and reached for my thin one.

       Instead of acting hurt or responding, Brady opened his planner back up. He took out a pencil and started writing in the planner. I wouldn’t let myself look at what he was writing because I didn’t want him to think I cared.

       Brady pushed the planner over to me, so I glanced at it. Written on tomorrow’s block was a question: “Date with Megan?”

       I glowered, enraged. “I sure hope you mean a different Megan.”

       “I don’t know any other Megans I’d like to date. So, can I erase the question mark?”

       “You can erase the whole goddamn thing.”

       He paused for a second. “So is it really that you like girls? Or was that a lie?”

       My conscience was biting me for putting him down while he was vulnerable, so I answered him truthfully.

       “No, it isn’t true. I don’t really pay attention to either sex.”

       “Well, how about paying attention to me, tomorrow over dinner?”

       I looked at him, pondering. There was no way I could say yes. That would be like admitting defeat somehow. But another part of me didn’t want to stay cooped up in my bedroom drawing and watching television for yet another Friday night.

       “I don’t date,” I responded after a long silence. “But I would be willing to spend time with you outside school, just this once . . . as long as you won’t call it a date.”

       Brady took his planner back and erased, then wrote something and passed it back. Now it said, “Dinner with Megan?” He gave me the pencil, eraser side down, and raised his eyebrows. I erased the question mark.

       I’d never been on a date before. Dinner, I reminded myself. Not date. I didn’t know what I was supposed to wear or how I was supposed to act. I felt so stupid, like I’d been tricked or something. I didn’t want anything to do with Brady now that I’d agreed to spend time. More than anything I wanted to call him and tell him I was feeling sick so I couldn’t go. I knew his number because I’d looked it up in the phone book lots of times, for sheer lack of anything better to do. Not because I ever wanted to call him. But now I just wished I’d get a call from him saying he couldn’t come or that he’d changed his mind. Instead, the doorbell rang promptly at seven, and I took a deep breath and answered it.

       Brady was dressed like he was ready for a date. He looked like he’d taken a shower or something, and his cologne smell was around him. I had purposely not bathed so that he would know I didn’t think he was anything to get spruced up for. I had jumped around my bedroom hoping that would make me look disheveled and tired, and I was wearing dirty sneakers. And I made sure my eyeliner was especially smudged, so he would know I hadn’t put any new stuff on for him. Same old worn-out black clothes, same metal jewelry, same slightly annoyed and bored expression.

       “Hi,” I greeted him anemically.

       “Where do you want to eat?”

       We ate at a fast food restaurant, where Brady called me a cheap date. I reminded him that we were not on a date. I liked fast food. And I liked the fact that if I decided I was in hell, it would be over quicker. But it really wasn’t so bad, it was more like a late version of our lunchtime in a different setting.

       “Why’d you get all pretty for me, anyway?” I grunted through my french fries. “You trying to impress me?”

       “No, I just feel good when I look good. I wanted to feel good. Who doesn’t?”

       I didn’t reply.

       When we were finished with our food, Brady asked me what I wanted to do next.

       “I thought dinner was all we were doing,” I replied.

       “It doesn’t have to be. The night is young. You like movies?”

       The thought of going to a movie theater with some guy made me gag. All kinds of ridiculous images burst into my head: sitting close together in the dark, our fingers touching in the popcorn, him trying to put his arm around me, my sneaker planting a footprint on his face. . . .

       “I hate movies.”

       “Aw, come on, you can’t hate all movies.”

       “Well, there sure as hell isn’t anything playing that I want to see. Everything’s really lame nowadays.”

       He laughed. “Actually, I was thinking of going to the video store and popping in a movie at my place or something. The thought of going out to the movies never really occurred to me.”

       I sighed and decided I had time to kill. “All right.”

       We couldn’t decide on a movie so we ended up renting a video game. I had never been much of a video game fan but the fact that Brady would have to have his hands occupied with a game controller comforted me. I would be much less likely to have to beat him up if his hands were busy.

       We went back to his house and played the game. It was strange. For some reason I had this image of Brady as an independent person, not unlike a bachelor-style college student, so finding out that he actually did live with his parents (and two younger sisters) somehow violated my expectations. We played the game amid requests from his sisters to have turns and the sounds of television and dishwashers elsewhere in the house. It was a lot different from my place, which was just a two-bedroom apartment where I lived with my older sister. And my sister practically lived with her boyfriend most of the time. I’d been pretty much on my own for quite a while, so the family environment was something I’d never quite grasped. I was even more surprised that Brady didn’t seem to mind; he didn’t find his family embarrassing, and he didn’t seem to care that our “date” wasn’t just the two of us. I forced myself to not feel like a black sheep amid all the golden people in Brady’s family.

       After we’d abandoned the video game to Brady’s little sisters, we got a couple of chocolate popsicles and sat out on the porch. We didn’t say much of anything. Finally I decided I was bored and wanted to go home, so I told Brady so and stood up.

       “Just one thing,” I said as he got out of his chair too.


       “This wasn’t a date. So don’t you expect me to kiss you goodnight or something lame like that.”

       “Oh, I wasn’t expecting anything like that. Actually I wanted to tell you something.”


       “Let’s talk about it in the car.”

       We got in his car and he backed out of the driveway.

       “Well, the thing is . . . tonight, I guess I realized I don’t really want to kiss you after all.”

       “Well—well, good,” I replied.

       “I don’t like you in a romance way. I like you in a people way. It has nothing to do with kissing. I guess I’m used to it just being ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ . . . and that ‘like’ automatically involves sexual attraction and dating.”

       I didn’t say anything.

       “So is it okay if we’re just friends?”

       I didn’t know how to answer that, so again I stayed silent.

       “Megan? You weren’t actually hoping for more under that tough exterior, were you?”

       “Of course not,” I snapped. “It’s nothing like that.”

       “Then why’re you so silent?”

       “Because I haven’t had a friend in years,” I admitted. “‘Just friends’ is a lot more than you think.”

       “Oh, I understand.”

       There was a pause, and I watched the streetlights flash by.

       “So can we be friends?” he asked.

       I sighed. “I suppose we already are.” I gave him a small, forced smile and looked back to the window.

       Brady used to be the kind of guy that wouldn’t have anything to do with me. Originally he fell into my “jerk” category. Not that I’d wanted him to pay attention to me before, but he was still a jerk because even if I’d wanted him to he wouldn’t have. That was my old conception of him. For a while there he seemed like the “show-off” type; it was almost as if I was his ticket to being antisocial, like befriending the school freak gave him some kind of status of his own. But it turned out that wasn’t really why he was hanging around. When it seemed like he was going to be like all the other guys and just want my body, with the kissing requests and all, I’d thought he’d be a “sex scrounger.” But he wasn’t that either. The only one of my categories left for Brady had been the “true love” yet he wasn’t anywhere near that. It confused me because it seemed like he was the impossible person, the man who refused to be categorized. But then I realized maybe it wasn’t a problem with Brady; it was a problem with how I saw guys in the first place. Because of Brady, I found out that there is a fifth category: boys can actually be your friends.

       So now, Brady and I are friends, as cheesy as it sounds. It isn’t so bad either; I actually have fun when I’m with him, even if I still don’t talk all that much. I don’t really have to. I’m thinking when I get to college maybe I’ll let my hair grow out. That sounds really ridiculous, of course, but I’ve realized also that it isn’t such a big deal to have tits anymore as it used to be when I was only in seventh grade and they were a rare find. While I’m still in high school, though, I have to keep my hair in its peach fuzz style or else Brady will never let me hear the end of it.

See a pencil sketch of the main character