The boy recession has hit Julius P. Heil High, and the remaining boys find that their stock is on the rise: With little competition, even the most unlikely guys have a good chance at making the team and getting the girl. Guitar-strumming, class-skipping Hunter Fahrenbach never wanted to be a hot commodity, but the popular girls can't help but notice his unconventional good looks. With a little work, he might even by boyfriend material.
But for down-to-earth Kelly Robbins, the boy recession is causing all sorts of problems. She has secretly liked her good friend Hunter for a while now, but how can she stand out in a crowd of overzealous Spandexers?
As if dating wasn't hard enough without a four-to-one ratio!
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The Boy Recession
By Meaney, Flynn
PoppyCopyright © 2012 Meaney, Flynn
All right reserved.
CHAPTER 1: HUNTER
“Summer Jobs with Sex Appeal: A Teen’s Guide to Working in Whitefish Bay”
Aviva Roth for The Julius Journal, Special Summer Break Edition
When are you gonna get off your lazy ass and get a job?” Eugene asks me.
I’m so Zen right now, I don’t even realize the kid is talking to me. Eugene and Derek and I are out on Eugene’s sailboat on Lake Michigan. We’re pretty close to shore still, so the wind isn’t too crazy here. It’s just this nice breeze rocking the boat a little bit back and forth as I lie stretched out on the deck, the warmth of the sun on me. Man, this is a nice day.
We live in Wisconsin, and in Wisconsin, you really appreciate days when it’s warm and sunny. In winter this town is freezing. You step out your door in the morning and the whole place looks like one of those nature specials in which a guy brings a camcorder to the North Pole and then the camera cuts out and you hear on the news that he got eaten by a bear. Since school starts next week, I’m taking advantage of the last full day I have to lie on my ass and do nothing.
“Hunter!” Eugene says. “Are you gonna get your act together for the school year or what? You were supposed to get a summer job, and the summer’s over.”
“I tried to get a summer job,” I tell Eugene, sitting up and yawning.
I open my eyes, but the sun is really bright, because I’ve been lying down with my arm over my face for so long.
“It’s, like, a recession, dude.”
It’s Eugene’s sailboat, and he’s doing something sailboaty—tying a knot, or something like that. Like usual, he’s dressed like an eighty-year-old dude on a golf course—pink shirt and shoes with tassels and all that crap. Even though he’s wearing big sunglasses, I can tell he’s rolling his eyes.
“It’s a recession, for real!” I tell him, lifting up my T-shirt to scratch my stomach. “My dad hasn’t had a job for, like, six months.”
Derek’s sitting balanced on the side of the boat. He thinks he’s a badass for balancing there, but the boat is barely moving at all, so he’s definitely not gonna fall off. Derek actually came out here to fish, but we’re so close to the docks and the beach and the people swimming there that he’s not catching anything. Now he puts down his fishing pole and swings his legs around so he’s facing us.
“I thought your dad was a stay-at-home dad, Huntro,” Derek says.
Derek and Eugene call me “Huntro” sometimes. I have no clue why.
“He’s not a stay-at-home dad,” I scoff. “He has one kid, and it’s me. If he’s supposed to be watching me, or whatever, full-time, he’s doing a crappy job. Because I’m out every night, doing stupid shit with you guys.”
“Don’t be sexist, Huntro,” Derek says. “Dudes can be stay-at-home dads, too. I think it would be pretty cool. I’d be one.”
Derek’s totally given up on fishing. He reaches into his pocket for a pack of Marlboros and shakes out one really old, wrinkly cigarette. I’m pretty sure he’s had this same pack since eighth grade, when health class sparked his interest in smoking. He takes out a match, too, and strikes it on the brim of his hat.
“Yeah, you’d be a great role model,” I tell him, lying back down on the boat deck.
Eugene is still all stressed out about my job search.
“Where did you apply this summer?” he asks me. “Did you actually apply for any jobs?”
“I did!” I say, putting my arm back over my eyes to block the sun. Whoa, I don’t smell so good right now. I must be sweating through my shirt.
“I applied at the pool,” I tell him. “To be, like, the snack-bar guy, or lifeguard, or something.”
“Which one?” Eugene asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a job application for the lifeguard, and I wrote about snack-bar stuff.”
Eugene sighs loudly. “What else?”
“Uh… I applied at Culver’s, too. I was there, eating a bunch of Butter Burgers, and I saw a job application, so I grabbed it.”
“So what about that?” Eugene says.
“Still waiting to hear back,” I tell him. “Apparently, no one’s impressed with my eating experience.”
Man, I could really go for a Butter Burger right now.
“Hunter, you can’t just sit around waiting for people to call you back,” Eugene tells me. He stands up and starts to pace the deck.
“Finding a job is about bothering people. You’ve got to go door to door, ringing doorbells, finding old ladies who need you to do stuff to their chimneys. You gotta be willing to do anything. Go out and find something. You’ve got to get aggressive.”
“I don’t know,” I say, yawning so wide I kind of drool on myself by accident. “I’m not a super-aggressive person.”
“You’re Hunter,” Eugene tells me. “Be a hunter, Hunter.”
It is pretty ironic that my name is Hunter. I’m actually much more of a gatherer. I don’t do stuff; I let stuff happen to me. If we were still cavemen, I wouldn’t be out there at dawn, stalking down buffalo and turning their bladders into beer mugs or whatever. I’m pretty sure I’d be sleeping in until someone dragged my ass out of that cave. And if I was hungry, I’d end up eating grass or ants or whatever you could scrounge up in the Homo erectus version of a vending machine.
Derek’s still leaning on the side of the boat, but he’s not smoking. He just keeps lighting matches against his hat and then holding them between two fingers, letting them burn down until they’re close to his skin. Once they burn down, he throws them over the side of the boat, into the water.
“If you wanna help the kid out,” Derek says to Eugene, “why don’t you hire him?”
Actually, Eugene probably could hire me, since he’s an “entrepreneur.” That’s what he calls himself. He makes most of his money buying beer for people’s parties. Eugene’s got a fake ID, and he actually gets away with using it because he looks like he’s thirty-six, thanks to his devotion to tasseled shoes and his ridiculous carpet of chest hair. Besides buying beer, Eugene sells Maxim magazines and cigarettes, and does stuff like make fake notes so people can watch that Miracle of Life video in bio class. That’s part of the reason he has this boat—he stores a lot of illegal shit on here.
“I don’t think so,” Eugene says. “No offense, Huntro, but I work in a high-pressure, high-stakes environment. I just can’t take a chance on you.”
I’m not offended. And I don’t give a crap. I don’t want to work for Eugene. Actually, I don’t want to work at all. It will be hard enough to go back to school next week; I don’t want a job on top of that. I’ve gotten way too used to my summer schedule: waking up at 2 PM, going to the pool, falling asleep in the sun without sunscreen, going home, going to Derek’s house to wrestle in his wrestling ring (which is actually a bunch of mattresses in his basement), going home again to play World of Warcraft until 3 AM, then going to sleep after a day of being generally irresponsible.
“Ugh. Will you look at those douchebags?” Derek says. “Those preppy d-bags piss me off.”
Derek is glaring over at the docks at a bunch of guys we go to school with, the guys who are really into school and sports and crap. These guys are on the student senate, go to dances, and throw keggers—and all the rest of that Zac Efron typical high-school crap. Right now, a bunch of them wearing plaid shorts are doing cannonballs off the dock.
Our town is Whitefish Bay, but people call it “White Folks Bay” because it’s so preppy and privileged and whatever. A lot of the terrible stuff people say about the suburbs is true about Whitefish Bay. There are rich white kids who drink too much. There are spoiled kids who get Bimmers for their sixteenth birthdays, crash them, and then have their parents buy them new ones. This kinda stuff offends Derek; I don’t let it get to me.
“Just ignore them,” I tell Derek. “Let them have their fun with their plaid shorts. Don’t be jealous.”
“They’re probably jealous of us,” Eugene says, letting the mainsail out by unhooking a rope. “We’ve got a boat.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Derek says sarcastically. “We’ve got a boat, and they’ve got girls.”
That’s true. They do have girls. There are about thirty girls over on the dock with those plaid-shorts guys, and all those girls are wearing bikinis. Those guys have girls jumping on their backs, girls diving into the water with them, girls dunking their heads underwater, girls racing them back to the docks all soaking wet and hot. Eugene, Derek, and I don’t have any girls. We never have any girls.
“Look at that crap,” Derek says bitterly. “Look at those pricks with their abs and their… haircuts. Guys like that try to look all clean and shit so no one realizes how sketchy they are. Girls might think we’re sketchy, but those guys are sketchy. Those guys are sexual assaults waiting to happen. Those are the guys who get girls wasted and take advantage of them.”
Derek shakes his head and sits down on the deck next to me. He lights another match against his hat. Derek’s kind of a pyromaniac—in case you haven’t noticed. On the Fourth of July he had this whole plan; he was gonna learn how to become a fire-eater by watching YouTube videos. It didn’t pan out, though, because his mom found out, and she stopped him because Derek’s already been to the emergency room three times this year. So I guess he’s pissed because that plan didn’t pan out.
“Yeah, those guys get girls wasted on alcohol they buy from me,” Eugene says. “Don’t talk shit about my clients.”
“Don’t you ever get mad when you buy all their beer and deliver all their kegs and you don’t even get invited to their parties?” Derek asks Eugene now.
Eugene shakes his head. “I just sit back and count up my money.”
Now Eugene does that. He sits down in what he calls the “captain’s chair,” and he whips out his wallet. This kid carries an amazing amount of cash on him. Sometimes I think about pickpocketing him. It would be pretty easy—he’s only, like, five-foot-three. I’m pretty sure I could rob him, no problem. Right now, though, I’m too lazy.
Derek’s so busy glaring at a guy in plaid shorts who’s groping this freshman girl underwater that he lets the match burn all the way down to his fingers.
“Shit!” he cries out, shaking the match so hard it drops to the floor of the boat.
Eugene looks up from his money, all pissed.
“Do not light my boat on fire,” Eugene tells Derek.
“A boat can’t catch on fire,” Derek says. “If it does, we’ll put it out. We’ve got water all around us.”
He picks the match up off the boat deck and throws it over the side. He stays standing up and shades his eyes so he can watch the dock some more.
“You know who I want to punch in the face?” Derek says, stretching his arms over his head. “Charlie Devine.”
When I sit up, my hair is all over my face. What I really want to do right now is jump in this water. I’m sweaty as balls.
“Don’t you hate guys like that?” Derek asks me. “I seriously can’t deal with those guys for another year.”
“I don’t really give a crap,” I tell him. “I mean, yeah, girls like them better than us, so that sucks. And they have parties and we’re not invited, but… whatever. I mean, we do stuff. And they’re not invited to our stuff.”
Derek rolls his eyes. “We hang out at the gas station and TP people’s houses.”
“And they’re not invited!” I tell him, laughing.
“You know what girls call those pricks?” Derek says. “The guys. That’s what they call them. They’ll be planning their parties and crap, and they’ll be like, ‘What time are the guys getting here?’ You know what that means, Huntro? They don’t even count us. We’re not even guys to them.”
To be honest with ya, I don’t like “the guys” any more than Derek does. But I don’t get worked up about them. I’m not an angry dude. It’s too much effort to get pissed off. The other night we were wrestling in Derek’s basement and he accidentally crotch-stomped me. I didn’t even get mad; I just forgot about it and ate some Fritos.
“You know what you need?” I tell Derek, throwing my arm around his shoulders.
He’s blowing on the fingers he burned. “What?”
“A swim,” I tell him.
Now I wrap both of my arms around him and start pushing him toward the boat railing. I think I can throw Derek overboard. I mean, he’s stronger than Eugene, but I caught him by surprise, so I’ve got the advantage. Unless he lights me on fire, I’m gonna push him into that water.
CHAPTER 2: KELLY
“Summer Lovin’: Tips for Trapping Your Own Danny Zuko”
Aviva Roth for The Julius Journal, Special Summer Break Edition
Do you ever feel bad our lives aren’t more like Grease?” I ask Darcy.
It’s the last day of summer vacation; Darcy, Aviva, and I are at the beach; and for the sixteenth year of my life, I’m disappointed with my tan. You can’t even call this a tan. There’s one strip of pinkish sunburned skin between the bottom of my tankini top and the top of my tankini bottom. That’s it. That’s as tan as I’m going to get this summer. In Wisconsin, we don’t see the sun from October to April, so in a few months, I’ll be able to go skiing naked and just blend in with the mountains.
I reach for Aviva’s tanning oil to rub on my shoulders, but then I think, What’s the point? and throw the bottle at Darcy, who hasn’t answered my question. She’s too busy reading this huge book that’s almost as big as her entire body. When I first met Darcy, I was seven years old and I was jealous of her blond hair and blue eyes because I thought she was like Tinker Bell. I found out pretty quickly that she is nothing like Tinker Bell. I don’t think Tinker Bell would be reading a book called Shostakovich and Stalin.
“Darcy!” I say.
When she gets to the end of the page, Darcy takes her blue zinc oxide–covered nose out of the book and repeats, “Do I ever feel bad our lives aren’t more like Grease?”
“Uh-huh,” I say.
I spray some Sun-In in my hair. As well as being my last chance for a tan, today is my last chance for natural highlights. And by “natural,” I mean highlights made by spraying my hair with sticky fake-lemon-scented spray and then sitting in the sun, crossing my fingers that all those reports of the ozone layer breakdown are true. Maybe if I go back to school tomorrow all tan and blond, people will think I went to some exotic island this summer.
Darcy holds her place in her book with her finger and asks for clarification.
“You mean like ancient, naked-Olympics Greece, or economically corrupt modern-day Greece?”
I snatch Darcy’s huge book out of her hands and put it on Aviva’s towel, which is on the other side of mine.
“You need to stop reading at the beach,” I tell her. “School starts tomorrow. This is our last day to gossip and have fun.”
“That is fun!” Darcy whines. “That’s my fun book!”
“Why would I want our lives to be like economically corrupt modern-day Greece?” I ask. “I’m talking about Grease Grease.”
I grab Aviva’s pink iPod off her towel and scroll through the summer playlist I made for her. I choose “Summer Nights,” which I put on the list after my seven-year-old sister, Lila, made me watch Grease five times in one week, and put the volume up so Darcy can hear the opening notes.
“Oh, the movie Grease,” Darcy says. She’s obviously disappointed I’m not trying to start a conversation about gross domestic product. “The movie Grease? No way. Drag racing and pregnancy scares? I don’t think so, Kell.”
“But it’s so cute on the first day of school, when Sandy’s telling everyone about her and Danny, and how they met on the beach, and they were so cute together, drinking lemonade. I didn’t do any of that stuff this summer. We’re sixteen. Shouldn’t we be summer loving?”
Darcy is slathering her arms in SPF 85. At least I look tan compared to her. She could fly to Canada right now and ski naked—not that she would ever be naked in public.
“It looks like Aviva’s getting some summer loving,” she says, shading her eyes and looking out at Lake Michigan.
My other best friend, Aviva, is with a cute lifeguard on the dock. She just jumped on his back and wrapped her ridiculously long legs around him. The lifeguard is jogging down the dock, and when he jumps off the end, Aviva is still on his back. After a minute underwater, she pops her head up above water and laughs in the guy’s face. When she climbs back up onto the dock, Darcy and I can see down her bikini top from fifty yards away. According to Aviva, it was her good karma that gave her boobs that look amazing in a bikini top that doesn’t even have underwire in it.
She also says that people stare at her a lot because she’s one of the three and a half black people in Whitefish Bay—she’s actually the half, because her mom is black and her dad is white. But it’s actually because she’s really pretty. And because she decided to have a “braless summer.” Now she gets stared at the most often in places with air-conditioning.
“That’s not summer love,” I tell Darcy. “Aviva’s gonna do what Aviva always does. Make out with him, then defriend him on Facebook and move on to someone else.”
Darcy, Aviva, and I have been best friends since fourth grade, when we were in the advanced reading group together. Aviva gives me credit for holding the three of us together. I’m a Libra, which is all about balance, and Aviva claims I balance her and Darcy out with my normalcy. I guess you could look at it that way. Like, Aviva has those amazing boobs, Darcy has no boobs, and I can go either way, depending on how much effort and how many Victoria’s Secret products are involved. Right now, Darcy’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit that the Pope would approve of, I’m wearing a tankini that shows only the decent part of my stomach, and, out on the dock, Aviva’s bikini bottom is creeping toward thong status.
It’s the same thing with boys. Aviva is interested in a different boy every day. Darcy won’t let herself get interested in any boy. (Except Stalin. And maybe Shostakovich.) Me, I just want one normal, nice boy to crush on.
But the thing about being normal is no one notices you. I blend in. I always have. In my fourth-grade school picture, I was in the middle row with a bunch of other girls with long brown hair, bangs, and headbands. My mom pointed to the picture and said, “You look so cute!”
She was pointing to Maddy Berg, another girl in my class.
Blending in wouldn’t bother me, except I think it’s contributing to the patheticness of my pathetic love life. I’ve never had any summer lovin’. And I’ve never had any school year lovin’, either. I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’ve never hooked up with a guy. And this morning, on my Internet browser, an article popped up about women marrying themselves.
Even my wireless connection knows I’m alone.
I’ve been semi-depressed all day, realizing another summer has gone by without me having a boyfriend or even a crush. I’m picturing myself buying my own prom corsage, ordering a giant cake with three layers, and showing up at a scientific lab and asking if they’ve perfected asexual reproduction yet.
My sad daydreams are interrupted by Aviva, who comes back from the lake dripping wet and shakes out her towel, getting water and sand all over me.
“How’s what’s-his-face?” I ask Aviva.
“He won’t last long,” she says, tilting her head and rubbing her towel against her ear.
“You’re sick of him already?” Darcy asks.
“No,” Aviva says darkly. “He has a very suspicious mole on his shoulder.”
Darcy turns to me and rolls her eyes.
Aviva cheers up quickly and says, “I burned off a lot of calories flirting. Can we go get frozen custard?”
“No way.” Darcy shakes her head. “That’s so unhealthy. I brought snacks!”
It’s not a real trip to the beach unless Darcy brings three books, SPF 85, and a mini-cooler—which she opens now, to take out a box of blueberries.
“They have antioxidants!” she says. “They keep your skin young.”
“Young?” Aviva makes a face. “What do I want with that? Darce, stop with the sunscreen and the antioxidants. We already look young. Find me a berry that makes me look twenty-one. Find me a berry that will get me into an R-rated movie.”
Darcy’s about to lecture her, but I interrupt to keep peace.
“Darce, you eat the blueberries,” I tell her. “The ice-cream truck is here. I’m gonna get Viva and me snacks that will make us old and fat.”
“Ooh, Choco Tacos!” Aviva says, stretching out full-length on her towel, with sand clinging all over her wet body. “Those will do the trick!”
As I walk toward the ice-cream truck, shaking sand on the sidewalk with my flip-flops, Hunter Fahrenbach comes at me on his skateboard. Hunter and I are friends and have been in the school band together since freshman year. Darcy calls him Hairface Hunter, because his hair goes down past his chin—and it’s usually hanging in his face. Right now, it’s soaking wet. Actually, all of him is soaking wet—his shirt, his khaki shorts, his socks. His sneakers make squishing sounds as he stops short in front of me and gets off his skateboard.
“I would hug you, but…” Hunter holds out his arms, displaying his wet shirt, and grins.
“What happened to you?” I ask him, laughing.
“I jumped off Eugene’s boat. With all my clothes on… obviously.”
Hunter and I talk a lot during band, but we don’t hang out much outside of class. I guess it’s because he’s busy doing crazy things like hanging around the gas station and setting stuff on fire. And, apparently, jumping into Lake Michigan fully clothed.
“What did you do this summer?” I ask him, adjusting the tankini strap because it’s rubbing against my sunburn.
“Just hung out so far,” Hunter says, putting one foot up on his skateboard and rolling it back and forth. “I’m supposed to find a summer job, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
“Um, you know school starts tomorrow, right?” I ask him, smiling.
“Oh, crap, right,” Hunter says, looking up at me from under his hair. He breaks out smiling when he sees me smiling. “I guess I can stop job hunting, then!”
He takes his foot off his skateboard and asks, “What have you been up to?”
“I worked at a music camp,” I tell him. “I taught the cutest little kids.”
“Oh, yeah?” Hunter says. “The Lieutenant will be happy with you.”
I laugh. The Lieutenant is our band teacher, who was in the Marines for ten years. She makes us call her Lieutenant, and also makes us play patriotic music at every single concert. My dad refuses to videotape our performances anymore, because he’s so sick of the “Armed Forces Medley.”
“Oh, guess what I heard?” I say. “We’re getting a piccolo! A freshman is coming in.”
“No way!” Hunter says. “The Lieutenant is always saying we need a piccolo. What’s that song she wants to play that has a big piccolo part?”
“ ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ ” I say. “I know, she’s always talking about that song! But get this. This is the best part. It’s a guy!”
“The piccolo?” Hunter says. He’s so surprised he lets his skateboard roll away from him, and he has to jog a few steps to stop it with his foot. “We’re getting a guy piccolo?”
I’m sure there’s a male piccolo player in every orchestra in the world. But the piccolo is such a tiny, squeaky little leprechaun instrument that it seems like something a high-school guy would get beat up for playing.
Hunter must be thinking the same thing, because he says, “That kid’s got to have balls to play that weird little thing in public.”
Hunter sounds so… impressed… that I have to laugh.
“Should be an interesting year,” he says. “I gotta take off. I’ll see ya tomorrow, though. Bye, dude.”
“Bye… dude,” I say as he skates away.
I head for the ice-cream truck, and my bad mood returns. Maybe it will be an interesting year for Hunter or an interesting year in band. But I doubt it will be an interesting year for me. It’s hard to have an interesting year when you’re the kind of girl that guys call “dude.”
CHAPTER 3: KELLY
“Popularity of Plaid Shorts Plummets as Preppies Flee Julius”
Aviva Roth for The Julius Journal, September
Happy First Day of School!” Darcy chimes when I get into her car.
Before I can sit in her passenger seat, I have to move Darcy’s huge backpack that’s full of a month’s worth of books. Then I have to buckle my seat belt, because Darcy won’t even shift out of park until I’m buckled.
“What are you so happy about?” I ask her irritably.
I’m pulling on the right side of my hair, which is wet. The left side is dry. Last year I had way too many messy-bun days, so I made this resolution that I was going to blow-dry my hair every morning of junior year. But today I had time to blow-dry only one side of it before Darcy was honking outside my house. On the first day of school, Darcy drives both Aviva and me so she can force us to be on time. Every other day, Aviva drives me, and Darcy arrives freakishly early on her own.
“All the boys are gone!” Darcy announces.
“What? What boys?”
I wish I could tilt Darcy’s side-view mirror so I could see the right side of my head, but she would freak out. She has very strict rules about the angles of her mirrors.
“All the boys!” Darcy says. “All the Devine brothers transferred out of our school. And all the McKennas.”
There are four Devine brothers, all of whom are really smart and cute and preppy. Charlie Devine, the oldest one, is president of our student senate. And there are five McKenna brothers, all of whom are amazing athletes—and also really cute. Mrs. Devine and Mrs. McKenna are really competitive with each other. They fight over everything. They end up taking up three pages of ads in the back of the yearbook every year, because they try to one-up each other by buying more space. Mrs. Devine is always bragging about Charlie’s grades, because she’s still angry that Mrs. McKenna beat her by having that fifth son. The girls of Julius P. Heil High School are really grateful for this rivalry, because, besides being entertaining at school fairs, it’s produced so many beautiful boys for us to look at.
“Why did they leave?” I ask. “How could they leave? They’re involved with so much stuff! Pierce McKenna is the whole reason our football team is good!”
“Remember the budget cuts I told you about? How teachers were leaving because Julius did a salary freeze?”
“Um, sure,” I say.
I didn’t understand everything Darcy told me about the salary negotiations she sat in on as student senate rep. But she did report back that one teacher dropped the F-bomb when talking to our principal—although she wouldn’t tell us which teacher it was.
“So the football coach left for this prep school in Milwaukee,” Darcy says. “And Pierce McKenna followed him, so he can get his college football scholarship or whatever. All the McKennas are going to prep school now, so once Mrs. Devine found out, she found a better prep school in Chicago, and the Devines are going there. They said it was because Mr. McDonnell left, and Charlie needed a good guidance counselor to get into Georgetown.”
“You’re not worried that Mr. McDonnell left?” I ask Darcy as she turns onto Aviva’s street.
Mr. McDonnell was the guidance counselor for all the really uptight kids who started taking practice SATs in the seventh grade—i.e., Darcy. Lots of Mr. McDonnell’s kids joined the band last year after there was an article in the Tribune saying playing the oboe could get you into college.
“Please,” Darcy scoffs. “I’ve had my college essays written for eighteen months now.”
She stops in front of Aviva’s house—the biggest of any of our houses, which is unfair, because Aviva is an only child—and honks really loudly.
“But Charlie Devine is the president of our school,” I remind her.
When Darcy turns to me, she’s grinning like a maniac. She shakes her head.
“Not anymore,” she says.
Wait. Darcy is the vice president of the student senate. And once I caught her in the school computer lab researching presidential assassinations. She said it was for a report on John F. Kennedy, but I secretly wondered if she wanted Charlie out of the way so she could take over. No wonder she’s so happy. With Charlie gone, Darcy takes over as…
“I’m the president of the United States!” Darcy bursts out, unable to hold her announcement any longer. “I mean, of Julius P. Heil High School.”
“Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I caution her.
Great. Darcy is the ruler of our school. Pretty soon, Julius is going to be like Singapore—you’ll get a $500 fine for chewing gum or making out in the hallways. Oh, well. The making-out thing won’t affect me. And the boys leaving won’t affect me, either. My love life couldn’t be more nonexistent if Julius was an all-girls’ boarding school with a moat full of alligators around it. I give up on pulling on the wet side of my hair and let it go frizzy as we wait for Aviva.
Now, I am not a morning person, but Aviva takes not being a morning person to the extreme. Every time we pick her up, she stumbles out of her house like she’s hungover—or still drunk—from some party the night before. It’s not true, because Aviva doesn’t drink, but that’s how she looks. Today she comes stumbling out of her house in a loose black off-the-shoulder top and short black shorts and immediately winces at the sun in her eyes. She fishes her big black sunglasses out of her messenger bag, puts them on, and starts clomping across her wet lawn in four-inch wedges, walking right through the spray of a rotating sprinkler.
Darcy rolls down her window and says, “Dry yourself off before you get in my car!”
Aviva makes some vague attempt to wipe her wet legs with her wet hands, and then gets in the backseat and curls up in the fetal position, moaning.
“Morning, sunshine,” I say, looking back at her and grinning. “I see black is the new black?”
“I’m in mourning!” Aviva declares dramatically.
“You still have to buckle your seat belt,” Darcy says, waiting patiently to shift into drive.
“What are you mourning?” I ask Aviva, watching her buckle.
“All the boys are gone!” she whines. “Pierce McKenna left, so the other guys who wanted football scholarships left, too! All the boys are gone!”
“Well, not all of them,” I say. Then I get nervous. “Right?”
As Darcy pulls away from her house, Aviva starts to count on her fingers.
“All of the Devines. That’s four. All of the McKennas, which makes nine. And then six other guys from the football team!”
Aviva throws up her hands in despair. She ran out of fingers.
“Fifteen boys,” she says. “Fifteen boys, and we go to the tiniest school of all time. That’s, like, sixty percent of the male population.”
Darcy raises her eyebrows right away at that dubious calculation. Without taking her eyes off the road for a second, she corrects Aviva.
“There are approximately two hundred fifty students at Julius P. Heil High School, so we’ll say for argument’s sake that one hundred twenty-five of them are male. If fifteen of those one hundred twenty-five left, that’s only twelve percent of the male population. Not sixty.”
“Aha!” Aviva says, leaning forward to stick her head between our seats. “Twelve percent of the population. But sixty percent of the hotness.”
“You shouldn’t care, anyway,” I tell her. “You already made out with most of the guys at Julius. You hooked up with two Devines and the three cutest McKennas.”
“Yeah, but some of them I kissed before puberty,” Aviva says. “I was gonna give them a second go-around now that they have facial hair.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone,” I tell her. “You always do. You can reignite your imaginary relationship with that cute teacher’s assistant.”
“He probably left, too,” Aviva says. “There’s a complete exodus of testosterone. I don’t know what I did to deserve this. Where is this horrible boy karma coming from?”
“Maybe it’s because you always make out with boys and then refuse to talk to them,” I tell her.
“Do they not like that?” she asks. Then she sighs and asks Darcy, “Can we go to Starbucks? I need an iced mocha to cheer me up.”
“No! We’re turning into school right now!” Darcy says. “I have to get there early to sit in on the budget-cuts meeting with Dr. Nicholas before first period.”
Dr. Nicholas is our principal, who everyone calls “Dr. Nicotine” because every year he tries and fails to quit smoking. I’m guessing if he has to deal with budget cuts, this will be another year he fails.
“What budget cuts?” I ask her. “Is there other stuff besides the teachers leaving?”
“Just frivolous stuff,” Darcy says. “Like sports and the arts.”
“The arts?” I ask her. “What about the arts?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll find out in my meeting and tell you after,” Darcy says. “But don’t worry, Kell. I’ll fight against anything that screws us over.”
I want to ask about band, but Darcy’s making a big show of pulling into the best space in the parking lot—the first front-row spot, the closest one to the school building. This is the school president’s spot.
“Crap,” Aviva says as she takes off her seat belt. “This reminds me—I forgot to enter the parking raffle!”
The parking raffle decides who gets the good spots in the Julius parking lot—the VIP parking. These spots are mostly taken up by senior and junior girls we call “spandexers” because they always wear thongs and tight stretchy pants to school. These girls are so devoted to showing off their asses that they join the volleyball, field hockey, and tennis teams just so they can spend more time wearing spandex. Darcy, Aviva, and I dislike most of them. I would say they’re our enemies, but it’s pretty hard to have enemies when your entire class has sixty-five people in it. You keep bumping into them and being assigned group projects with them, and you figure out how to get along.
Unless you’re Aviva, and you’re in a bad mood because boy karma is biting you in the ass.
“Ugh, look at this place,” she says as she gets out of the car and sees a group of spandexers smoking and drinking coffee in an empty parking space. There’s not a boy in sight.
“There’s so many girls,” Aviva says in disgust. “Yuck.”
It turns out that one of the “frivolous” changes Darcy mentioned was that Julius got rid of the school band. Dr. Nicotine let the Lieutenant go. My first reaction when I heard was to wonder if the Lieutenant was the one who dropped that F-bomb. My second was to feel really bad for her. I hope she found another job, and that some school in Iowa is playing the “Armed Forces Medley” for the first time and is actually excited about it.
After her meeting, Darcy came and found me and promised me she would lobby the school board to get band back. But for now, I’m supposed to sign up for a study hall. I don’t. Instead of going to the guidance office to change my schedule like all the other band kids do, I go to the band room, just like I have every third period since freshman year.
The room is so depressingly… neat. The chairs on the bandstand are in perfect rows. The music stands are all the same height. This is how the Lieutenant always wanted the room to look, and now she’s not here to see it. Personally, I liked the messy chaos when there were fifty people in here—everyone tripping over the open euphonium cases, the clarinets passing around sheet music one of them forgot, the tubas emptying their spit valves onto the bandstand… okay, that last one was not sexy. Maybe I won’t miss that.
My favorite thing in the band room is still here, though: the large-scale score of “Rhapsody in Blue” that’s painted on the wall. It must have been painted there before the Lieutenant, because “Rhapsody in Blue” has nothing to do with the military or the American flag. It’s a jazz-classical Gershwin song.
I love it, mostly because of the first time I played it, in this room. In third grade, we were bused here from the elementary school twice a week for beginner band. There were about fifteen of us learning the flute, but I was the first one to actually make a sound, and the first one to read music. So the Lieutenant let me read “Rhapsody in Blue” and play it right off the wall. Everyone else watched, and when I was done, they clapped.
Now I walk over, climb up onto the director’s chair, which is against the “Rhapsody in Blue” wall, and trace the blue-paint notes with my finger. Then I swing around so I’m facing the bandstand and see that the baton is still on the director’s music stand. I lift it and begin to direct the rows of empty chairs.
Then the door opens. Uh-oh. I drop the baton, and it bounces against the music stand before rolling onto the floor. I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be in this room right now, and I hope it isn’t a teacher at the door.
But it’s not—it’s Hunter. He opens one of the practice-room doors.
Excerpted from The Boy Recession by Meaney, Flynn Copyright © 2012 by Meaney, Flynn. Excerpted by permission.
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