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“No, absolutely not,” Riley Coltrain said, staring at her two best friends. Were they trying to ruin her perfectly vile mood? They had stormed in and for the better part of an hour tried to convince her to go to the Thrashers game. Not that she didn’t like hockey, but she had a particular desire to sit and sulk instead of watching grown men bash into each other in certain ways that weren’t penalties and certain ways that were. The fact that men in general were a mystery to her was pretty much why her friends were sitting there annoying her.
“Come on, Ry, you haven’t been out with us since you and Jake broke up. You’ll have a good time, you always have a good time at the games, and my dad bought the tickets a while ago, and you said you would come then, so you really should come now,” Madison Lewis practically whined. She looked over at Dezzie Cabrums for support, who was busy contemplating getting bangs in the full-length mirror beside Riley’s bed.
“Yeah, you’ll have a blast. I’m tired of talking, get your sorry butt out of bed, stop with the pity party, Jake was a jerk, thank God it’s over,” Dezzie said. “Now, to get down to a serious dilemma, bangs or no bangs?”
“No bangs,” Madison and Riley said in unison, and Riley climbed out of bed and stomped to her closet. She scowled at her friends over a black t-shirt.
“You guys suck,” she exclaimed as she stripped off the tank she had worn to bed and pulled a t-shirt over her head.
“Tough love, baby,” Dezzie called from the bed, now almost completely absorbed in Cosmo. “Julia Roberts has bangs, she looks pretty good.”
“No bangs,” Riley called from the bathroom where she was brushing her teeth. She emerged still scowling.
“You know, Riley dear, you look so much prettier when you turn that frown upside down!” Dezzie said in a dead-on impression of Riley’s mother.
“Can we just go?”
“Lead the way, sunshine.”
Madison just shook her head and walked down the stairs. Riley had been sitting in her room day after day crying over Jake when Dez was right, he was a jerk. He was one of those guys who drank too much, smoked entirely too much pot, and was only good for staring at - the only thing even remotely attractive about Jake Buchanan was his face. Well, he had some nice muscles too, but that was beside the point. Madison got in her car and snapped her seat belt into place and adjusted the mirrors. She made sure they had their seat belts on before they left too. Click it or ticket!
Riley was pissed off. Completely and totally. Not only had she been dumped just weeks before, but now she was being dragged to some hockey game she didn’t care about by her so-called friends. She glared at the backs of their heads.
“You’re dead to me now,” she said. Madison just cranked up the music. They didn’t understand, a girl needs a certain amount of ice cream and moping before she can go out in public. And when she does, it should be because she looks so good her ex-boyfriend will drool all over her and beg her to take him back while she looks superior and graciously lets him lick her shoes. Ry’s lips pulled back in a sneer. Okay, well, maybe he wouldn’t come crawling back. Hadn’t they broken up because she wasn’t what he wanted? Well, too bad. She was perfect just the way she was, even if she was a bit on the cuddly side - but that hadn’t stopped Marilyn Monroe from bagging Joe DiMaggio. And Marilyn was hot. She stared down at her Adidas. They were kind of dirty. A good shoe licking wouldn’t hurt.
Dez contemplated Cosmo. Brown is the new pink, discount shoes, blah blah blah, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, ew. She looked in the mirror. I am definitely getting bangs, she thought, defiantly.
“I feel violated,” Dezzie commented after fighting her way to her seat. “I have been touched by everyone in this stadium, twice.”
“You’re such a goober,” Madison said, muffled by her down jacket.
“You’re both goobers, but not the good chocolate-covered peanut kind at the movies,” Riley said. “You’re the kind of goober that blows its nose and then contemplates the snot for way too long.” They shared a collective cringe. “The kind of goober who rolls the cuffs of her pants up. The kind of goober who gets French manicures on her toes.”
“Outta bounds!” Dezzie called from her seat. “That last one was harsh.”
“Okay, I take back the French toes but I think the rest rings true,” Riley said.
Fire sprang from the mouths of twin dragons hung high in the stadium, cuing the players to take the ice.
“I love this part!” Dezzie said.
“That was Jake’s favorite part,” Riley lamented. “Seriously, you guys, you’re going to do some serious penance for the friend infraction. I need a lot more Cherry Garcia before I can function as a normal, single human being.”
“God, you’d think they were married,” Madison muttered to Dezzie.
“Oh, come on, Mad, three weeks is practically a marriage,” Dezzie replied sarcastically.
“They were the best three weeks of my life!” Riley cried.
“What a boring life you must lead. I would rather take a bath with George Bush than spend three weeks with the crown prince of buttmuncher land,” Dezzie said, which sent the guy she was sitting next to into a fit of laughter.
“What are you laughing at?” Riley yelled and sat back with her arms crossed, determined to have a bad time.
“Riley?” someone asked from the back of the stadium. Someone who sounded a lot like a certain ex. She turned and craned her neck to find the body that Jake’s voice was coming from. He was directly above her, waving casually (Oh my God, he’s so cool!) with his arm draped around a skanky freshman (ew) and eating a hot dog (Who knows what’s in those?) How dare he come to this same game, sit in this same section with the freshman and wave at her. She scowled at her friends who were looking, shocked, toward Jake’s seat.
She focused on the game - well, she appeared to be focused, but really she was imagining all sorts of delightful ways to kill Jake and The Freshman. Someone sat down next to her and her happy bubble vanished into the air. Oh God, it was her new next-door neighbor. Now she had to be pleasant. This day was just getting better and better. Didn’t these people know she had just been dumped?
“Hi, Riley,” Satan, a.k.a. her new neighbor, said.
“Yeah, hi, Jesse,” she replied absentmindedly.
“Um, there’s this guy a few rows up with a really ugly girl who’s waving at you like mad. He’s either eating a hot dog or a very small model of the Lusitania.”
“You think she’s ugly?” Riley asked with great satisfaction.
“Yeah, she looks like she weighs two pounds. I prefer a girl who looks like she eats every once in a while,” he said.
Cue me waking up, Riley thought, because this guy is too good to be true. He was cute, not Jake cute, but he looked a little bit like a poet, or a boxer - maybe a poet-boxer. But he was cute enough. Blue eyes, curly dark-brown hair. But she wasn’t ready to move on yet. It takes a while to get over the love of your life.
“Well, yeah, but she has a pretty face.”
“I guess so. Who’s the waver with the hot dog?”
“My ex-boyfriend, whom I don’t even think about anymore, we are so over. I mean, he’s getting a little obsessed, he followed me here, he calls me all the time ... it’s getting to be a little too much, you know?”
“Yeah, break-ups can be tough. I was a little like that with my ex-girlfriend. But he’ll get the hint, I did.”
“How did you get over her?” Riley asked.
“I’m not sure, I just was one day. I think it helps to date other people, you know, see that there are other people out there.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Riley mumbled and sat back.
“Of course, he’s an idiot to have broken up with you, you’re beautiful,” Jesse said and winked when she blushed. “Your mom told my mom.”
“Oh, okay so maybe he isn’t quite as obsessed as I made him out to be.”
“That’s the hardest part, feeling like they don’t care.”
“Yeah,” she said and teared up, surprised when she was embarrassed. “We just seemed so perfect together.”
“Oh my God, Riley, three weeks does not a lifetime make!” Dezzie said, swinging her head. Hello, gorgeous, she thought when she saw Jesse. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your cute friend, Riley?”
“I’m too depressed for introductions, Dez.”
“I’m Jesse, Riley’s new neighbor.”
“I’m Dezzie, Riley’s best friend when she’s not such a weepy, mopey, boy-crazy weirdo.”
“You love me anyway,” Riley said.
“It’s because I love you that I tell you you’re a weepy, mopey, boy-crazy weirdo.”
“Don’t love me so much,” Riley suggested. As Dezzie continued to lean over her lap to make conversation with Jesse, Riley suggested that she and Dezzie change seats if she was so hell-bent on telling Jesse the story of her sordid breakup.
“I’m fine right where I am, thanks.” Dezzie replied sweetly.
“Well, then, get out of my lap.”
“Touchy touchy. It was nice meeting you, Jesse.”
“Yeah, you too,” he said. Looking back at Riley, he noticed she had stopped crying. “Feeling better?”
“I was, but then they had to put that up there!” She reached for a tissue to blow her nose.
Jesse followed her finger to the big monitors where they were doing a kiss-cam segment at the end of the second period. It zoned in on couples and when they saw themselves they were supposed to kiss. Riley had just come up from her purse when the kiss-cam zoomed in on her and Jesse. She was about to yell that she was not able to kiss for the pleasure of strangers as she was the unwantable ex-girlfriend of a guy with a skanky freshman, when Jesse leaned over and kissed her.
“Maybe he’ll get jealous,” Jesse said and sat back to enjoy the rest of the game. Riley sat back and goggled, which is not as easy a task as some may think.
Back in her bed where she belonged, Riley thought about the game. She hadn’t really been paying attention to the actual game as much as she had been trying to see if Jake had noticed that she, Riley Coltrain, had been kissed by another guy in a stadium full of thousands of people. He decidedly had not because she had looked up, and he had been in the middle of making out with The Freshman. She was miserable. Absolutely miserable. But the new neighbor was something to consider. He was nice-looking, he seemed cool, and he definitely knew what she was going through. And he had kissed her. He may be worth a second look. He was definitely worth being friends with at least. Maybe more, when she was ready.
Across town, Jake rolled over in his bed with a stomachache, thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t have had that fifth hot dog. And then he promptly went back to sleep.
Riley was pulling out of her driveway the next morning on her way to get Dez and Mad for school when she saw Jesse waiting for the bus on the corner. She rolled down her window.
“Waiting for the loser-cruiser?” she asked.
He laughed. “Yeah, I don’t have a parking space until next semester.”
“Hop in. We’ve got room for one more.”
“Okay, thanks. I appreciate it.”
“Hey, it’s bad enough being new, it’s worse having to ride the bus.”
Madison was standing outside her house checking her watch when Ry pulled up.
“You’re late,” she said and climbed in the back when she saw Jesse in her spot.
“Like a minute.”
“Exactly a minute and 47 seconds.”
“Oh my, cry me a river.”
She pulled into Dezzie’s driveway and honked, waited a minute and honked again. This continued for 10 minutes until Dezzie appeared from her house struggling to carry her book bag, purse and coffee while trying to put on her socks and shoes and run; surprisingly, unlike goggling, this was easier than it looked.
“Sorry, guys,” she said and got in the car, smashing Madison in the face with her many accessories. “What are you listening to? Is this NPR?”
“Yeah, I was a minute late and Madison was in such a twit I decided to let her pick the station,” Riley explained.
“A minute and 47 seconds,” Madison piped up.
“Madison, this stuff is guaranteed to make you sterile. Are there any good CDs on the floor, Jesse?”
Jesse looked down between his feet at fast-food bags and candy wrappers, shoes, something that looked like a Furby, and asked, “There’s a floor?”
“Ha ha, well you look like the kind of guy who would carry CDs.”
He handed her a CD booklet to flip through and she screeched in delight when she found Chili Peppers. She leaned over to put it in the CD player and give the volume a big boost.
Madison just stared straight ahead. Peasants, she thought.
Riley sat in homeroom listening to the announcements. Well, at least she appeared to be listening. She was really writing notes to Jesse, who just happened to be in her homeroom.
The note read: Hey Riley. The rest was scribbles.
What? she wrote back.
Would you like to go out sometime?
That’s really flattering but I think we should just be friends. We barely know each other, she wrote back.
That’s cool, you’ll just have to get to know me.
It’s a small town, I’ll know everything about you by next week.
Wanna go out next week?
“Ms. Coltrain, Mr. Chaucer, please put that away and listen to the announcements,” Mrs. Adams chastised.
School went by quickly. For once. Madison, Dezzie and Riley were sitting down to lunch when Dezzie announced her decision to get bangs.
“No,” Madison and Riley both said.
“You’ll get them and hate them and it will take months to grow them out, and you’ll have to wear those weird little barrette things we had in fifth grade because we all realized how ghetto our bangs were,” Riley said, poking at something on her tray. It was supposed to be macaroni and cheese, but it looked kind of purplish.
“See, we all did it back then, I can do it now.”
“But we all did it together then, and bonded over our hair woes. Now you’ll just be a loser who has to wait a long time for her hair to grow out,” Madison said, looking at Riley and Dezzie.
“It’s your turn, I tried the salisbury steak on Friday,” Riley said.
Madison looked at Dezzie.
“Oh no, remember that time I tried the chicken nuggets and had to get that nickel surgically removed from my small intestine? You do it,” Dezzie commanded.
“Fine.” Madison put it in her mouth and after a moment’s contemplation, proclaimed, “It tastes a little bit like cream of mushroom soup.” Someone threw up farther down the table. All three girls pushed their trays away.
“Ice cream sandwiches, anyone?” Dezzie asked.
Dezzie was settled in at the hair cuttery. She looked at the picture she had with her and knew she was going to look great. The girl in the picture looked great, and happy. She looked like she was really excited about her bangs. When the hair artisan (oh, come on, give me a break) came over, she handed him the picture and waved good-bye to her old style.
Riley sat at her open window talking to Jesse, who sat at his window. It was so cliché, like an episode of “Dawson’s Creek.” Well, before Joey dumped Dawson to sail away with Pacey. Or maybe it was when she decided to sail away with Pacey, because Dawson could be Jake and Jesse looked more like Joshua Jackson than James Van der Beek anyway. Okay, so she was being cliché and discovering that not only was Jesse cute and funny, but he was smart. Really smart. He was much better than Jake, she decided. And he liked her.
“Riley?” Jesse asked.
“Huh?” Riley shook herself.
“You kinda zoned out on me there.”
“Sorry, I was thinking about - never mind, you wanna take a walk?”
“Sure, I’ll come get you.”
“Okay, I’ll be right down.”
Riley pulled on her sneakers and raced down the stairs just as he was about to knock on her door.
“Where are we going?”
“Down to the river.” Riley said. “Have you been there yet?”
“No, I haven’t had much time to explore.”
“Well, you’ll like it. People go fishing and swimming and stuff. It’s really nice in the summer.”
“Wanna go skinny-dipping?” he grinned at her. And what a grin it was. Charmed, she leaned in and planted a kiss on his lips.
“What happened to being friends?” he asked.
“I don’t want to be just friends anymore,” Riley said and smiled. They were about to kiss again when her cell phone rang.
Dezzie’s voice poured over the line. “I hate my bangs.”
Riley laughed and linked hands with Jesse. “It’ll get better,” she promised. “It always does.”