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[4 of 5] Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017) Chapters 16-20

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Mathieu, Jennifer. “Chapters 16-20.” Moxie: A Novel, Square Fish, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

I smooth out the pages of Moxie’s next issue on the couch. The glow of the Christmas tree in the corner of our den casts a soft golden light over the pages.

“Looks cool,” Seth says.

“Did I show you what I’m putting inside each one?” I ask, handing him a stack of round, palm-sized stickers.

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“Badass,” Seth answers, flipping one around in his hands. “As long as one doesn’t end up on my locker.”

I raise an eyebrow, and my heart starts to race. “Definitely not.”

“Like definitely not? Or…?” At this Seth leans in toward me, his grin growing. He kisses my neck, just under my ear, and I catch my breath because it feels so good. Then he’s kissing my mouth, pressing into me, the warmth of his chest against mine. He smells like spearmint. I can feel our bodies start to shift down into the soft couch cushions.

“Wait,” I say, pushing him back a little, “don’t squish Moxie.” I take the issue and toss it on the coffee table. “It’s my favorite issue so far.”

“Mine, too,” says Seth.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he answers, grinning. “Now where were we?” Seth says, like a guy in a cheesy movie, and we both start laughing before we start kissing, letting ourselves melt into the couch.

But soon the hoot, hoot of our owl-shaped kitchen clock reminds us that Seth has to leave. My mom will be home from work soon, and even though she knows that Seth and I have been hanging out almost every day over break, I don’t think she’d be too jazzed to see us kissing on the couch.

Or does what we were doing constitute making out?

Either way, it would be best if my mother didn’t see it.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” I say. My lips sting, but in a good way.

“Me, too, but I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” Seth says, and somehow we stand up and make it to the back door. Seth kisses me one more time before ducking out and walking down the block to where his car is parked, out of sight and sound of Meemaw and Grandpa next door. I touch my fingers to my mouth as he walks off, like by pressing my lips I can make what just happened even more real in my mind.

I have a boyfriend. An actual boyfriend.

Grinning to myself, I head back to the den and scoop up all the copies of Moxie and the stickers I ordered online using the Visa gift card Meemaw and Grandpa gave me for Christmas (along with new socks, a set of fancy pens, and a book of recipes for cakes and cookies—Meemaw is pinning a lot on that Magic Squares incident). I tuck the zines and stickers into my backpack as my mom walks in.

“Hey, sweets,” she says.

“Hey,” I say, kissing her on the cheek.

“You okay? Ready to venture back to school tomorrow?”

I roll my eyes. “As ready as I’ll ever be. You okay?”

My mom sighs and drags her hands through her hair. As she pulls it up off her face, she looks younger for the tiniest second. Then she lets her hair drop, and she’s Mom again.

“I just had a little, I don’t know … argument, I guess … with John. He just worked my nerves a little is all.” She pulls a pint of ice cream out of the freezer and my heart flutters a little. I shouldn’t be glad that my mom is upset with John, but I can’t help it.

“What happened?” I ask, hoping that my voice is full of enough real-sounding concern.

She shrugs and carefully peels back the lid of some Rocky Road. “Just this argument about politics. He said he didn’t think Ann Richards was that great of a governor.”

I stare at her, confused.

“Ann Richards, sweetie. I’ve told you about her. She was the governor of Texas back in the ’90s and she was super tough and super smart.” She taps her finger on the bright pink refrigerator magnet that reads, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did—just backward and in high heels.”

“Ann loved quoting that line,” my mother tells me, smiling faintly.

“Oh yeah,” I say. I like hearing about tough ladies, but I’m anxious to make my mother relive something negative about John. “So what did John say?”

“Just that she wasn’t the most fiscally responsible governor, which is bullshit, really.” She takes another bite of ice cream and puts the pint back in the freezer, dumping the spoon in the kitchen sink without rinsing it. Then she looks up at the ceiling and sighs.

“Well, whatever, he’s wrong,” I say. “Ann Richards was awesome.”

“She most certainly was, baby,” my mother agrees.

“So what does that mean for you and John?” There’s a hopeful catch in my voice, and I wonder if my mom picks up on it.

But my mother just laughs at me like I’m some kid, which rankles me a little. “Oh, sweetie, John and I are fine,” she says. “Adults can disagree about politics sometimes. I mean, he didn’t say she belonged in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant or anything.”

I shrug. “I guess. But doesn’t someone’s politics reveal, like, a lot about them?”

My mother grins. “Sure, yes. I taught you that. But reasonable adults can disagree about certain things. John grew up in a very conservative home. He didn’t even go to public school until he was a teenager, so he’s had different life experiences and that’s influenced his views in some ways. Not liking Ann Richards’s financial policies doesn’t make John evil.”

“Okay,” I say. “As long as you don’t forget you’re right and he’s wrong.”

My mother smiles. “I won’t forget. Now get to bed. It’s late.”

As I slide under the sheets, I think about the copies of Moxie sitting in my backpack and Seth’s mouth on mine and how cool Seth is about Moxie. I’m sure if Seth knows who Ann Richards is, he loves her. And if he doesn’t know who she is, I’m convinced he would love her the minute I told him all about her.

* * *

It feels so good to tag Mitchell’s locker first. Ten stickers. For each one I slap on, I think about Claudia. I think about how humiliated and angry and hurt she was in that empty hallway. I think about Mr. Shelly telling her to forget about it. I think about Mitchell’s ruddy face and dead eyes. I think about his daddy letting him do anything he wants.

Slap, slap, slap. I like how loud each slap sounds, my hand making the metal locker reverberate each time I put up a new sticker.

Then I step back and admire my work. I realize my cheeks hurt from smiling.

Mitchell Wilson gets to read that he’s an asshole ten times today. Hopefully more.

As the sun starts to stream in the hallway windows, I tag a few more lockers of the boys I know play the bump ’n’ grab game. Once, I hear the sound of a janitor coming around the corner, and I duck into an empty classroom. I hold my breath as he walks by, the keys around his waist jingle jangling. His heavy steps are inches away, but he doesn’t find me. If he did, I’d be quick with an excuse. I’d smile and come up with something. Because nothing is stopping me today. Especially not some guy.

By the time first period starts, zines and stickers have been distributed throughout all the girls’ bathrooms on the first floor and most of the bathrooms on the second floor. By the time I head to history class, everyone is buzzing about it. I catch Jason Garza scowling and trying to peel the sticker on his locker off with his fingers, but he’s having trouble.

When I ordered stickers, I made sure to order the kind with the “high bond label.”

I smirk to myself.

“Please tell me you saw these?” Sara asks me as I walk into class. I catch Claudia reading the latest issue, a few stickers in her hand.

“Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?” I say.

Sara nods, a smile spreading across her face. “It’s brilliant.”

“Hey, Claudia,” I say, and when she looks up at me, I tell her Mitchell Wilson’s locker is already covered in stickers.

“Seriously?” she asks, her eyes brightening.

“Seriously,” I tell her. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t add another one. Ask to go to the bathroom during class and do it.”

Claudia’s eyebrows rise at my boldness. “Maybe,” she says. She tucks the zine and the stickers into her backpack, but halfway through Mrs. Robbins’s dull lecture on something dull, Claudia raises her hand and asks to be excused. When she comes back, she winks at me.

That wink is worth everything. All the time spent making Moxie. All my Christmas money spent on stickers. Claudia’s wink is worth all of that and then some.

All day long, the stickers spread like a contagious rash, black dots spilling out everywhere, more and more each class period. Girls are smart about how they do it, and the teachers are too dense to catch on. Bathroom breaks, trips to the nurse, requests for a drink at the water fountain. All provide opportunity to duck out and tag some boy’s locker when no one is looking. After each bell rings, it’s like the stickers have been breeding because there are more and more greeting us each time.

Moxie is winning.

And I started Moxie.

And then, on my way to English, my face glowing and my heart racing with pride, Marisela Perez does something magical.

Tim Fitzpatrick—a true asshole sophomore boy who thinks he’s hot shit because he plays varsity basketball—decides to bump ’n’ grab Marisela as we head to lunch. He gooses Marisela around the waist with his thick, clumsy fingers.

“Wait a minute,” Marisela says, grabbing Tim’s shoulder, her voice sticky sweet. “I have something for you.” Dumb Tim falls for it. He holds still and stares at Marisela, like he’s expecting a blow job right there in the hallway.

But Marisela just fishes into the pocket of her jeans, digs out a sticker, and ceremoniously pushes it on him. Right on his chest. She presses down hard enough that Tim actually mutters, “Ouch!” to which Marisela rolls her eyes and walks off, leaving Tim staring at his chest, angrily picking at the sticker that won’t budge.

Lucy, who is standing next to me and witnesses the event, grips my arm and squeals as if she’s in middle school and her favorite boy band member just strolled by.

“It’s like I’m living in a feminist fantasy,” Lucy says. “But it can’t be a complete fantasy because Roxane Gay isn’t here.”

I grin and make a note to look up Roxane Gay later, and Lucy and I keep walking toward class when we spot Seth at the door of the classroom. Lucy eyes me pointedly and heads inside.

“Hey,” he says, giving me a quick peck on the lips. I’m greeting my boyfriend in the hallway in front of everyone. It makes me feel, like, twenty-five.

“Hey,” I say.

“The stickers are all over the place,” he says, his voice low. “It’s so cool.”

“Thanks,” I say, grinning at him. “It’s catching on even more than I thought it would.”

“You’re such a rebel, Vivian Carter,” Seth says, arching an eyebrow, and I feel like a firework.

In English, Mitchell Wilson and his crew scowl and stew in the back row, and when Mr. Davies picks Lucy to pass back the last round of grammar quizzes at the end of class, Mitchell sees it as a perfect opportunity to be an even bigger dick than usual.

“Hey,” he says, eyeing Lucy as she slides his paper on his desk. It has a 75 on it, circled in red. He probably did worse, but Mr. Davies likes football players.

“What?” Lucy says, her voice sharp.

“You’re in that Moxie club, aren’t you?” His beady eyes are staring her down, daring her to say yes. I imagine him groping Claudia in that hallway by the locker room, and I think I have enough anger in me to toss my desk over my head and aim it right for Mitchell.

“There’s no Moxie club,” Lucy says, turning her back on him. She hands out the last few papers and sits down in front of me.

“Yeah, fucking right there’s no Moxie club,” Mitchell says, raising his voice from the back row.

“Students, language,” Mr. Davies mutters from his desk, like all of us have been cursing a blue streak, not just Mitchell. He goes back to shifting papers around in an endless circle on his desk.

Lucy doesn’t turn around, but I can hear Mitchell’s weaselly voice snaking through the room, threatening everyone with his particular brand of poison.

“You did that queer-ass bake sale for the girls’ soccer team,” he says. “You organized it. I saw you.”

Out of the side of my eyes, I catch Seth watching the exchange. I notice Lucy’s shoulders hunch up closer to her ears, like she’s trying to protect herself. My heart is hammering, and I’m trying to figure out what to do. I glance at the clock. Five minutes left.

“You and your little man-hating, lesbo baking club,” Mitchell continues under his breath.

My stomach churns. I want to smack Mitchell Wilson. I want to punch him right in the face.

I clench my fist. I shut my eyes for a moment.

Suddenly my hand is stretching out, up into the sky.

“Um, Mr. Davies?” I never talk in class. Ever. It’s like when you hear your voice on a recording and it sounds totally bizarre to your ears, like it can’t actually be you. That’s what it’s like to hear my voice out loud in a classroom.

“Yes, Viv?” Mr. Davies says, looking at me, surprised.

“I was wondering if you might be willing to review that last grammar concept?” I start, not caring that my cheeks are pink. Only caring that, for the moment, Mitchell has shut up. “I was a little lost on the … what did you call them, the gerundive phrases?”

And then, from across the room, Seth’s voice.

“Yeah, me, too, Mr. Davies. I was a little lost, and we have five pages of homework on them, don’t we?”

I glance at Seth, my eyes grateful.

Mr. Davies groans and runs his hand through his buzz cut like he’d rather not, but he eases out of his desk and starts lecturing again, and his presence in front of us is enough to shut Mitchell up. When the bell rings, Lucy turns to look at me.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

* * *

By the end of the day, Moxie stickers are everywhere, and when I get to my locker to gather my stuff, I’m feeling more than proud of myself. That’s when I spot Claudia darting through the hallway with determination.

“Viv, did you hear?” she says, breathless.

“What?” I ask, slamming my locker door shut.

“Well…,” she says, but then she shakes her head. I can’t tell if she’s happy or scared or both. “You have to come see.”

She tugs me by the wrist and drags me out the side door toward the faculty parking lot. As I follow, I hear the distinct buzz of voices building. Snippets of students saying, “No shit?” and shouts full of the giddiness that comes with good gossip. With the excitement of Something Finally Happening.

And there the something is, in the front row of the faculty lot. Right under the RESERVED FOR PRINCIPAL sign.

There, on the bumper of Principal Wilson’s bright red, late model, extended cab Ford truck are four Moxie stickers, lined up one right after another like floats on parade.

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The assembly is mandatory. And girls only.

We file in during first period on Tuesday, and it hits me that I’ve never been in a space with so many girls before and no guys. Even though I’m sure we’re about to be punished, something about it feels special, exhilirating even. It’s just us. Just girls. I remember seeing some of my mom’s old Riot Grrrl zines and flyers—how they advertised girl-only spaces and girl-only shows, or how they wouldn’t let the boys come to the front of the stage when their bands were playing but reserved that space just for ladies, so all the women would feel safe.

But right now the East Rockport High School auditorium doesn’t feel safe, especially with Principal Wilson standing on the stage, his arms crossed in front of him, his mouth a firm line.

“File in quickly, you’re going too slow,” he commands into the microphone.

“So what’s going to happen to us?” Lucy says, tucking an arm into mine. “Will we be threatened with the gallows? Or burned at the stake? It’s all going to go down very Salem Witch Trials. Mark my words.”

Claudia’s in front and she turns around, her face anxious.

“He does seem pissed, doesn’t he? You don’t think they know who did the stickers, do they?”

“We don’t know who did the stickers, remember?” Lucy says. “Don’t worry, Claudia.”

“But I…” Claudia’s voice drops to barely there levels. “I put one on a locker.”

We continue getting jostled down the aisle of the auditorium as Lucy puts her arm around Claudia. “Claudia,” she says, “I’m betting half of the girls in this room put one on a locker. Did you see the school yesterday? I’m sure Wilson is just going to blow off some steam and give us all a warning.”

“But what if they have cameras?” Sara pipes up.

“They don’t, so don’t worry,” I say. It’s one thing I checked on before I distributed my first copies of Moxie. East Rockport High spends more money on football than security.

Still, my friends’ nervousness is contagious. Maybe someone did spot something. Maybe somehow something has been traced back to somebody, namely me. Maybe Frank at U COPY IT is some undercover spy for Principal Wilson.

Stop it, Viv, you’re being ridiculous.

As we take our seats, I notice Emma Johnson walking across the stage, taking the one empty seat next to Principal Wilson, who is standing at the microphone. She has her hands folded in her lap, her slender fingers wrapped around several index cards. She crosses her feet at the ankles and gazes out at all of us, like a warden at a women’s prison.

“What is she doing up there?” I ask, but no one gets a chance to answer because Principal Wilson raises his hands to get our silence.

“Ladies of East Rockport, your attention, now,” he barks, and my stomach burns at the sound of his voice. His beady little eyes remind me of a snake’s. And of his son’s.

We shift in our seats as Principal Wilson waits for total silence. Even after he gets it he waits a few beats more, his mouth turning into a small frown. Finally he starts talking again.

“Girls, to say I’m angry would be an understatement,” he begins. “I’m livid. There are stickers all over boys’ lockers and reports that girls are placing stickers on boys’ shirts.” I’m surprised he doesn’t mention his truck. I hope it’s because he’s too embarrassed. “This destruction of school property must stop. This bad behavior must stop. Immediately. The cost to remove these stickers will eat into the school budget, so in the end, you’re only hurting yourselves.” I imagine the football budget won’t be touched, but Principal Wilson’s expression is so angry, his voice so stern, that I’m almost scared to think something rebellious for fear he might read my mind.

“Now it’s my understanding this Moxie club has been doing bake sales in the cafeteria for the girls’ soccer team,” he continues, and my cheeks flood with heat. I work up the guts to glance at Lucy. Her name is on the club paperwork in the main office. But she just stares ahead, her expression icy.

“Raising money for an athletic team is a noble goal and is allowed on school grounds, but now that this graffiti has become such a problem in our fine school, I have no choice but to ban the Moxie club from any future activities,” continues Principal Wilson. “Any girl who is caught defacing school property or using this Moxie label will be suspended immediately and I will move to have her expelled.”

The audience of girls breaks into whispers.

“Can he really do that?” Sara murmurs.

But no one needs to answer her. We all know Principal Wilson can do whatever he wants.

“For those of you applying to college, I don’t have to tell you what that kind of consequence will look like on your transcript, but let me spell it out for you,” he adds. “No school would accept such a girl.” I think about the college fund Mom has been building for me since I was in kindergarten. I remember the years she worked Christmas Eve and the times she pulled double shifts to be able to sock away some extra money.

“Now in conclusion, I would like to have your class vice president, Emma Johnson, share a few words with you,” Principal Wilson says. At this, Emma tosses her hair over her shoulder and steps up to the microphone. She gazes down at her note cards for a moment, but she never uses them as she speaks. Instead she looks toward us, but I can tell she’s using that public speaking trick of talking at the tops of our heads. She’s not really making eye contact with any of us.

“Y’all, Principal Wilson asked me to talk with you today about the importance of being a lady,” she begins, her voice soft and even. She pauses and looks out, then takes a breath and keeps going.

“Being a lady means acting in such a way that you show respect to other people and places, too. Places that should be close to your heart, like our school. East Rockport High is our home away from home, and we need to treat it as such when we’re here. So I’m asking you, girl to girl, to please stop all this nonsense with the stickers and remember to hold yourself to the standards of a Texas lady.” She gives us a little nod to punctuate her speech, then steps back and sits down. There’s a smattering of applause from a handful of girls in the front row—Emma’s friends. But mostly I want to squirm. To see one of our own—even someone who always seems to have it all—shilling for the administration is super gross and weird. It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for Emma, but not quite.

Then Principal Wilson steps back up to the microphone.

“I hope you take those words to heart, girls, and I hope you take my warning very, very seriously,” he says. “Now you’re dismissed. Get to your first period classes immediately.”

Quietly, we file up the ratty red carpet that covers the aisles. Girls are looking at each other with wide eyes and open mouths. The buzzing and sense of possibility that I felt yesterday has fizzled into fear. My heart sinks.

Up ahead Assistant Principal Shelly is standing by the main doors of the auditorium, watching us exit.

“Lucy Hernandez?” he says as my friends and I head toward him.

“Yeah?” says Lucy. Not yes, but yeah.

“Try ‘Yes, sir,’ next time,” Mr. Shelly says, scowling. Girls coming up the aisles glance at us as they pass by, then start whispering to each other. Claudia is standing just behind us with Sara and the others, and when I turn to check on her, her face is strained.

“I need you to come with me,” Mr. Shelly says, curling his index finger toward himself like Lucy is a misbehaving toddler and he’s about to send her to the naughty chair.

“For what?” Lucy asks, and the tiny little tremor in her voice tells me that her level of bravado has fallen a notch or two.

“We’ll discuss it in my office,” he says. And just like that, Lucy is spirited away down the crowded halls of East Rockport.

“Shit,” I say once they’re out of earshot, and I turn to look at Claudia, Sara, and the others.

“I wonder if she did make those stickers,” Claudia says, frowning.

“I really believe she didn’t,” I say, turning my focus toward the direction where Mr. Shelly went with Lucy. I should go after them. I should at least tell Mr. Shelly that I helped plan the bake sale. But my feet don’t move. Shame courses through me.

“What do you think’s going to happen to her?” Sara asks.

“I don’t know,” I answer.

Claudia bites her bottom lip. “Even if she did make those stickers, she doesn’t deserve to get in tons of trouble,” she says. “I think girls used them for a reason. Not just to mess with school property.”

“Yeah,” I say, and as my eyes meet Claudia’s, I know that she’s a Moxie girl now for real. But given Principal Wilson’s warnings, being a Moxie girl can only mean danger.

* * *

We don’t see Lucy in any of our classes or at lunch. When I text her, she doesn’t respond. All day long I can’t sit still, constantly checking my phone, willing it to buzz with some message from Lucy telling me she’s okay. Guilt keeps building inside me, leaving me half-queasy.

“I’m worried,” I tell Seth when he meets me at my locker at the end of the day. “She’s going to take the fall for everything because she put her name on that club form to do the bake sale.”

Seth scratches the back of his neck and frowns. “But they can’t prove anything, right?”

“That doesn’t matter here,” I say, my voice barely a whisper. “If they want to pin it on her, they will.”

Seth shakes his head. “You make this place sound like it’s run by the Russian mob or something.”

I can tell he doesn’t get it. “Sometimes it feels like that,” I say, my voice tight.

Just then, at last, I get a text.

Can you please please please come over? To my house? I’m home now. Do you remember where I live? 9762 Memorial? I really need to talk

“Oh, good, it’s Lucy,” I say, holding up the phone as proof. “She’s at home. Maybe the school sent her home early? God, I hope she wasn’t suspended.” Before Seth answers, I text Lucy back that I’m on my way.

“I need to see her. Think you can give me a lift?” I ask, lugging my backpack over my shoulder.

“Yeah, no problem,” says Seth, but he doesn’t sound like it’s no problem.

We trudge out to the parking lot, dodging other students. It’s weirdly quiet between us. “Thanks again,” I say, eager to fill the space. “I just want to make sure she’s okay.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Seth says, clicking open his Honda. “So when do you want to watch the documentary we were going to check out this afternoon?”

“Oh, yeah, that,” I answer, sliding into the front passenger seat. Suddenly I feel like the subject of one of those stupid quizzes in the teen magazines that I used to read in middle school. (“Are You a True Blue BFF or a Fair-Weather Friend?” “Is It Love or Lust?” “Do You Put Your Guy or Your Gal Pals First?” ) Lucy needs me. I promised to hang out with Seth. I don’t want either one of them to be disappointed in me. I want to see Lucy and find out what happened to her today. And I want to kiss Seth again. I really want to kiss Seth again.

But I also want him to get how much trouble Lucy could be in, and how much that matters to me. And I don’t know that he does.

“I’m sorry, I just feel like everything that’s happened to Lucy is all my fault … which it is.”

“No, no, I’m being a dick,” Seth insists. “You don’t have to apologize. You should be with your friend.” He nods his head, like he’s trying to prove to me how he really feels. And maybe to himself, too.

“We can hang out tomorrow? And every day this week? And maybe this weekend?” Why is everything I say coming out like a desperate question? Having a Real Boyfriend is so much more complicated than having a Fantasy Boyfriend.

“It’s cool, Vivian,” Seth says. “I should probably make some more guy friends around here. Maybe start brushing up on my obscure baseball stats so I fit in more with the guys I eat lunch with.” He shoots me a warm smile. The kind of smile that makes me want to evaporate into a mushy, crushy girl puddle. Then he asks for directions, and it’s not long before we pull up in front of Lucy’s grandmother’s house.

“Thanks for the lift,” I say, turning toward him. “And I’m really sorry we couldn’t hang out.”

But Seth doesn’t say anything. Just leans in and kisses me, all soft and warm and perfect, and my head is dizzy as I make my way up the front walk to the door.

“Hey,” Lucy says, pulling open the door in one swift motion just as I make a move to knock. “I was watching for you. Thanks for coming.” Her face looks a little pale, and she’s not smiling.

As I walk in, I realize how little I really know about Lucy’s life outside of school, and how much you learn when you see where someone lives. Lucy’s grandmother’s house is crammed with large pieces of dark wood furniture and tons of knickknacks, like a collection of ceramic sewing thimbles on the coffee table and a shelf full of nothing but conch shells. The walls are decorated in gold-and-white-striped wallpaper, and there are framed photographs everywhere. The smiling eyes of people I can only guess are Lucy’s relatives watch my every move. I focus on a few that must be of Lucy as a little girl, complete with an infectious grin and smiling eyes.

“Are you here by yourself?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “My grandmother and little brother are in the den watching television. Wanna say hi?” She doesn’t wait for an answer as she leads me toward the back of the house, where a woman with salt-and-pepper hair is curled up with a little boy on the couch. They’re watching PBS Kids. Lucy’s brother never breaks his gaze from the television screen.

“Hey, Abuelita,” Lucy says, waving. “This is my friend from school? Vivian?”

“Hi, dear,” the woman says to me, nodding. “Are you here to help keep our girl out of trouble? She’s never been sent home early from school before.” She pitches an eyebrow up high, and Lucy just sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Abuelita, I told you it’s not like that,” she says, and she drags me by the wrist out of the den and up the stairs.

“God, I love her, but I really, really want us to get our own place,” Lucy says, leading me into a tiny room the size of a walk-in closet. She shuts the door behind me, and I let my backpack slide to my feet. Lucy kicks off her shoes and I follow.

“This is where I sleep,” she says, motioning her hand around. “At least I get my own space. My poor brother sleeps on the couch downstairs and keeps all his stuff in my parents’ bedroom.”

Lucy sits down on the unmade twin bed that’s tucked into the corner and motions for me to join her. It’s really the only place to sit since the floor is covered in books and papers and schoolwork. The rest of the room is covered, too, with every inch of wall space decorated in postcards and music posters and ripped-out pages from magazines. Along the side of the one tiny window next to Lucy’s bed is a series of bright-yellow Post-its. Each one has a single word on it, spelling out the vertical message YOUR SILENCE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU. When Lucy catches me glancing at it, she tells me it’s a quote from a poet named Audre Lorde.

“Cool,” I say. “I like it.”

“Yeah, she was a badass. She died a long time ago, though.”

“How long until your family gets its own place?” I ask.

“Well, my mom just got a job doing medical billing at the same retirement home my dad works at,” she says, “so it’s looking up. Maybe by the end of next month.”

“That’s good,” I say, nodding my head. I’m trying to act supportive and casual, but suddenly, I feel like I’m going to cry. I keep picturing mean Mr. Shelly marching Lucy down the hall. I keep imagining her all alone with him.

“So,” she starts, dragging her long hair up and tying it effortlessly into a knot on top of her head, “do you want to know the gory details?”

“Please tell me you’re not in huge trouble,” I say.

“Well, I’m not going to be named student of the week anytime soon, that’s for sure,” Lucy says, her voice softening. “Mr. Shelly hauled me into his office, wanted to know all about the Moxie club. He said everything I told him would be reported back to Principal Wilson and they’re all watching me.” At this, Lucy’s cheeks flush, and she stares down at the bedspread. “I told him I had nothing to do with the stickers. I mean, I left out the part about putting them on lockers, which of course I did. But I didn’t make them.”

“Did he believe you?” I ask, my heart fluttering.

“Maybe,” says Lucy, still not making eye contact with me. “It was hard to tell. But I wasn’t lying, Viv. I really didn’t make them. You believe me, don’t you?” She finally looks up. The half-queasy feeling I had earlier is a full-on wave of nausea now.

“I believe you,” I insist. God, I’m a shithead.

“Mr. Shelly said if I do anything Moxie related, I’m suspended and probably expelled,” Lucy continues.

“And then what happened?” I ask.

“Then he sent me home early,” Lucy says with a shrug. “He said it wouldn’t go down as a suspension on my record this time, but he still wants me to take it as a serious warning or whatever.” She scowls, but then, out of nowhere, her eyes glass over and a tear or two tumbles down her cheek.

“Fuck it,” Lucy says, wiping the tears away. “I’m sorry, I hate crying in front of people.”

“No, it’s okay,” I say, looking around the room for a tissue or a napkin or even a semi-clean piece of laundry for her to wipe her eyes with.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says, shaking her head and sniffling. “I’m fine. I’m … fine.”

I can’t remember the first time I saw Claudia cry or the first time she saw me do it. It was always something we knew we could do in front of each other, but with Lucy, our friendship still feels fresh. Fragile even. I’m not sure if I should hold her in my arms like I did the morning Claudia came over to tell me about Mitchell. Lucy’s eagerness to shut down her crying makes me think she wouldn’t like that, so I just scoot a little closer to her and rub her shoulder a bit.

“I’m sorry, Lucy,” I say. “I’m sorry this happened.” Because of me.

Lucy wipes at her red eyes with the edge of her black T-shirt. “You know what pisses me off the most?” she asks, and without waiting for my answer, she keeps going. “In Houston I never got in trouble. Ever. I was, like, a super nerd in my school. I was a kickass student and in, like, twenty clubs. I was even on the student advisory board. Teachers liked me. The principal fucking loved me!” Lucy moves her hands in the air as she talks, emphasizing her points.

“They had a student advisory board?” I ask, my eyes widening at the idea.

“Yes!” Lucy says, half-wistful, half-angry. And with that she slumps down and curls up in the corner of her bed. “I know I come off like some tough girl here or whatever because I actually care about social issues and stuff,” she continues, “but honestly, I really just want to do well in school and go to college. I can’t get into serious trouble because that could affect stuff like admissions and scholarships and everything.”

“I know,” I say, nodding. “I really know. And I’m really, really sorry you had to deal with all this.” I reach out tentatively and stroke the top of Lucy’s dark curls. She looks up and manages a half smile and the two of us sit there, quiet except for Lucy’s occasional sniffles. I lean my head against the cool glass of the tiny bedroom window and peer down at the front yard. Lucy’s little brother is racing his scooter up and down the sidewalk, his dark hair flying out behind him, not a care in the world. At last Lucy says, “You’re a good friend, Viv. I’m really glad I met you.”

“I’m really glad I met you, too,” I say. But my stomach churns. A good friend would tell Lucy the truth right now. A good friend wouldn’t let her carry the weight of everything.

I open my mouth. Then I shut it.

Maybe I’m not a good friend. Just a chicken.

“You know, Moxie has been a total saving grace for me,” she says, taking a deep breath, “but I kind of hope it takes a break for a bit. Until shit calms down.”

It stings to hear those words, and it hurts to see Lucy so defeated. If I had the guts to admit I started Moxie, maybe Lucy would want to keep the fight going. The only trouble is, I think part of Moxie’s power is that it is a secret who started it. Would it be as powerful if everyone knew it was my idea?

“I wonder if whoever started it got freaked out enough by Principal Wilson to stop,” I wonder out loud, to see what Lucy will say.

“Whoever started Moxie doesn’t seem like they’d get too frightened too easily,” she answers. “But I’m scared. I definitely think the administration is going to be keeping a super close eye on all us girls. I don’t know. I hate to say it, but I really do think Moxie should take a hiatus.” She frowns.

“Yeah, probably,” I say, trying to shake the empty feeling that’s come over me. Did I really just decide to stop Moxie?

Just then my phone buzzes, and I slide it out of my pocket.

Hey how’s Lucy doing?

“Ooh, is that your guy?” Lucy says, kicking me gently in the shin.

I shoot her a look. “Maybe.”

“Well, if it isn’t, he better not know about whoever it is whose texts make your face go all goofy like that.”

“Look, he just wants to know how you are,” I tell her, showing her the screen.

“Wow, an East Rockport guy who isn’t a dick,” Lucy says. “He should be, like, bronzed or something.”

I laugh out loud and text Seth back.

She’s doing okay considering but we’re still hanging out … can I call you later?

A second later Seth writes back.

Yeah sure … just don’t forget your pathetic lonely boyfriend over here

I blush briefly. Boyfriend. It’s the first time Seth’s used that word with me.

I won’t forget you … I promise

“Okay, enough, lover,” says Lucy. “Let’s go downstairs and see if we can raid my grandmother’s Klondike bar collection in the freezer.” At that she pulls herself off the bed and heads for the door of her bedroom. I slide my phone back into my pocket, my head spinning at the idea of a cute boy who calls himself my boyfriend and my heart aching at the feeling that all of a sudden Moxie has stepped on the brakes. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to make sense of it, but I guess it would be asking too much for 100 percent of my life to be 100 percent awesome 100 percent of the time.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

I’m making out with my boyfriend.

Even though Seth and I have been going out for almost two months—since Christmas, really—sometimes I have to stop (briefly) in the middle of a make-out session and consciously recognize that yes, Seth Acosta is my boyfriend. And I get to make out whenever I want.

The way he kisses that place right behind my ear.

The way he can’t stop touching my hair, running his fingers through it over and over until I get goose bumps.

The way he looks at me with his dark eyes, his cheeks flushed, before he collapses into me and we kiss again.

Only normally this happens in his car or by the beach or in my living room before my mother gets home from work. Tonight it’s happening in his house—in his house decorated full of strange paintings and sleek, shiny furniture—the total opposite of Meemaw’s country kitchen vibe. (There’s not a damn rooster knickknack in sight, that’s for sure.) Making out in this house makes the making out seem more grown-up somehow. Or at least more sophisticated.

Finally, we pull apart, catching our breaths.

“My parents are going to be here soon,” he says, blinking. Trying to steady himself.

I peer at him from my end of the couch. I really want to attack him again.

“Yeah,” I say, “I don’t want my face to look all, like, make out-ey when they get here.”

“I didn’t realize make out-ey was a word,” Seth says, grinning.

“It totally is.” A smile breaks out on my face, and I lean in and kiss him again.

It’s a testament to how super crazy I am about Seth that I would even risk making out with him in his house so soon before his mom and dad are set to arrive with dinner. I’ve never even seen them before, but Seth’s mom insisted I come over today, Friday—the weekend before Valentine’s Day—so we could meet in person.

“She’s just, like, into knowing who you are, since we’ve been hanging out,” Seth explained to me a few days ago when he asked me if I would mind coming over.

“Are you blushing?” I’d asked him.

“No,” Seth had answered, even though he totally had been.

Finally, Seth and I manage to stop messing around and it’s a good thing, too, because just moments later his parents come through the door carrying white plastic bags full of takeout from the House of Beijing, the one Chinese place in the entire East Rockport area. Delicious smells float in with them, and my stomach growls just a little.

“Vivvy?” a female voice asks, and I stand up from the couch and see Seth’s mom. Long graying hair in a tight ponytail. Beautiful face with a slash of red lipstick in the middle of it. Black jeans and a black T-shirt with a silver scribble running down the middle. Silver and turquoise bangles line both wrists. She walks right up to me and hugs me without warning. She smells of baby powder.

“I’ve so been looking forward to meeting you, honey!”

“Hi,” I say, anxious about getting this woman to like me and wondering what the right thing is to say. It turns out I don’t need to say anything. Seth’s mom introduces herself (“Please call me Zoe. And please call Seth’s dad Alejandro, okay?”) and then she doesn’t stop talking. Like, at all. Not as she takes out the bright green Fiestaware from the cabinets to set the table. Not as she slides out her phone and taps at it for a moment or two. Not as she slips an arm around Alejandro and kisses him on the cheek in a way that feels a little more intimate than I’d expect from people who’ve been married for a hundred years.

She talks about Austin and East Rockport and art and politics and the weather and the lack of good ethnic food in the area and soul music and manicures and how she likes my boots. She talks about how she just found and ordered a vintage Italian parasol online that she really loves, and she talks about how she thinks she’s just had a breakthrough on her recent commissioned piece. (“I just need to keep listening to it sing to me, you know?” ) Her voice is knowing and lilting and sure of itself, and by the time all of us sit down at the groovy modern all-white kitchen table and chairs, I’m not sure if I should be smiling or nodding or laughing at everything Zoe Acosta says. But I’m pretty sure I’m exhausted.

That’s when Alejandro offers me some wine.

“Red or white, Viv?” he asks, a bottle in each hand. He’s younger than Zoe. Handsome like Seth. A tattoo of a snake slides down his left arm and wraps itself around his wrist.

I thought my mom was cool, but honestly next to Seth’s mom and dad, she looks like the president of the PTO.

“Oh,” I say. I glance at Seth, who’s sitting across from me, calmly scooping moo goo gai pan onto his bright green plate.

“You don’t have to have any, sweetie, but we’re okay with Seth having a little bit of wine with his dinner,” Zoe says.

“I don’t want any,” Seth says, not looking up. He seems tense, somehow, but I’m not sure if I’m imagining it.

“I’m … okay, too,” I say. My mom has let me have a sip of her wine in the past when I was curious (“Don’t tell Meemaw, okay?”) and I’ve had my fair share of crappy semi-cold cans of beer at stupid parties when people’s parents were out of town, but I’ve never been offered alcohol by an adult in a way that felt so casual.

Alejandro doesn’t offer me wine again, and he and Zoe spend the rest of the meal chatting among themselves, with Zoe inserting a simple question or two directed at me every so often, like was I born in East Rockport and what do I think I want to study in college and so on. I manage simple, to-the-point answers and then sit back and listen as Zoe picks up from where she left off before she asked me anything, sliding back into conversation about her favorite topic: herself.

As Alejandro starts clearing the table and Zoe begins to brew coffee, Seth shoots me a look that clearly reads desperate. His eyebrows arched, he carefully mouths, “Let’s go.” I shrug, scared of appearing rude. But Seth just stands up, clears his dishes and mine, and says, “Well, look, I think I’ve got to be getting Vivian home.”

“But you just got here!” Zoe shouts, turning and walking toward me, clutching my hands in hers like I’m about to journey into the woods with no plan to ever return.

“She and her mom have a thing,” he answers, outright lying.

Zoe performs an exaggerated pout, her mouth sliding down into a severe upside-down U.

“Well, we’ll let you go only if you and your mom come by one night for dinner, all right, preciosa?” Her Spanish accent is awful. She puts her hands on her hips and Alejandro comes over from the kitchen sink and scoots his arms around her waist and kisses her on the neck.

“You and your mom should definitely join us one night,” Seth’s dad says, lifting his gaze and smiling at me. I notice he has tiny diamond earrings—one in each ear.

“You ready, Vivian?” Seth says, pocketing his keys off the counter.

“Sure,” I say, standing up and offering Zoe and Alejandro my most polite smile. “It was so nice to meet you. Thanks for a delicious dinner.”

“Thank you for being the cutest thing ever,” Zoe says, slipping out of Alejandro’s grip and swallowing me up in one last suffocating hug.

Outside in Seth’s car, he slides his key in the ignition, but instead of starting the engine, he just looks at me and slumps against the driver’s seat.

“And those were my parents,” he says, sounding like a sideshow barker who’s been introducing the same carnival act for years.

I smile and try to think of what I want to say.

“They were … nice. Really.”

“They drive me nuts,” Seth says, starting up the car. “Wanna go to the beach? It’s not too cold.”

“Yeah, sure.” I pick out a song by this all-girl band from Louisiana that I just found out about and Seth nods approvingly, but I can tell he’s still feeling off about the dinner. “Your parents really are nice, they’re just…” I search for the word. “They’re intense.”

“I mean, they’re fine,” Seth says. “It’s not like I’ve got any reason to complain. They bought me a car. They kind of let me do what I want. They’re not assholes or anything. I mean, I think they’re fundamentally, like, decent people. It’s just that they’re really, really into being themselves. Especially my mom.”

I nod, peering out the window of Seth’s car, watching East Rockport at night zip past. I think about my mom moving back to her hometown after my dad died. Working hard to put herself through school. Raising me as a single parent and always letting me know in big and small ways how much I matter. She always put me first, to the point where I think maybe she forgot to have her own life.

“I wonder if my mom hasn’t been into herself enough,” I say.

“Yeah? What do you mean?”

I’m still working it out in my head, so I speak slowly. “Well, she basically hated living here when she was a teenager and she had this whole plan to leave East Rockport, and she did it. Then because of me she had to come back and live next door to her mom and dad. She works long hours to make ends meet and does it all on her own. This guy John that she’s dating, he’s only the second boyfriend she’s had in my whole life.”

Seth pulls the car into the public beach parking lot. I can see a few other cars here, parked down the row. It’s prime make-out territory tonight.

“Wanna get out and walk for a while?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

We maneuver by a few empty beer cans and an abandoned green-and-yellow beach towel, and Seth takes my hand in his. The lights of East Rockport twinkle at us from the other side of the bay. If you can ignore the fishy smell in the air, it’s almost romantic.

“So you think your mom will ever leave?” Seth asks. “After you do?”

I shrug. “Who knows? I think at this point she’s probably pretty settled. Honestly, things with John seem pretty serious.” I pause, and Seth waits for me while I think. “I know I complain about him because he voted Republican, but the truth is, she really seems to like him and he does actually seem okay. I guess it is good for my mom to do something that makes her happy.”

“I’m sure my parents will head back to Austin after this crazy small-town Texas experiment is over,” he says. “They always follow their whims.”

I’m seized by a horrible feeling. “But not right away, right? I mean, you don’t think they’ll get tired of East Rockport anytime soon?” I try to make my voice sound casual.

But Seth grins. “Why, would you miss me or something?”

“Shut up,” I say. “And yes.”

“I think their East Rockport performance art piece will probably last until I finish high school at least. So I’m not going anywhere.”

Now it’s my turn to grin. We walk to the picnic tables and sit down next to each other. Seth squeezes my hand. I lean my head on his shoulder.

“I liked meeting your parents,” I say.

“Well, I’m glad they didn’t totally overwhelm you,” Seth says. “They’re just weird. God, this one time my mother actually…” He stops, like his brain just caught up with his mouth. “Forget it.”

“Now you have to tell me.”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“What?” I insist, elbowing him a little.

Seth looks out at the bay as he answers. “My mom literally bought me a box of condoms for my sixteenth birthday after I started going out with Samantha,” he says. “She wrapped them in fancy wrapping paper and put a bow on them and everything.”

Seth owning condoms. Seth having sex with Samantha. Seth wanting to have sex with me. Seth and me having sex. Condoms, sex, Seth, sex, sex, and sex. That’s essentially what runs through my mind in the seconds after Seth speaks.

“Did you have to unwrap the present in front of her?”

“Yes!” Seth says, shouting and laughing at the same time. “She put the box on my dinner plate. My dad took a picture. I can only hope to God it’s not online somewhere.”

“You are not serious.”

“I am serious.”

“Holy shit.”

“Exactly. My mom told me it’s what the Dutch do and she thought it was, I don’t know, progressive or something.”

“Wow,” I say, but my heart is hammering. I muster up the courage to ask. “So you and Samantha…?”

Seth shakes his head no, just slightly.

“We never did. I don’t know … I mean, I was … interested, I’m not going to lie. But she wasn’t sure. So it just, like, never happened.”

I tuck some hair behind my ear, suddenly feeling bold.

“So you’ve never, like, done it?”

“No,” he says. His voice drops to almost a whisper. “You?”

“No!” I say, incredulous. “I told you I’ve never even gone out with anyone before.”

“Okay, okay,” he says, squeezing my hand again and laughing a little. “I was just wondering.”

I rub my thumb over one of Seth’s knuckles. I breathe in the minty, yummy smell of him.

“I think if you like someone a lot, like, a lot, and you really care about them, and you’ve been together for a while, it’s okay, though,” I whisper, my body humming. It’s what I’ve always believed to be true. Even before I met Seth.

“Yeah,” Seth says. “Me, too.” Bubbles are exploding under my skin and my cheeks are warm and I’m a little dizzy. I lean into Seth and we kiss and somehow it’s like a new kind of kissing. Kissing full of even more possibility, which is both scary and exciting.

Eventually I have to be getting home, so after one final kiss we pry ourselves apart and head back to his car. As Seth drives toward my house he says, “Valentine’s Day is coming up.”

“Okay,” I tell him, shooting him a look, “but I’m not having sex with you next week.”

Seth bursts out laughing. “I know! I was just pointing it out. Like that this thing, this societally approved day of romance, is occurring next week.”

“Yeah, Wednesday. Please don’t buy me a stuffed teddy bear from the Walgreens.”

“What?” Seth says, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, have we just met? Hi, I’m Seth.”

“The couples at East Rockport get really into Valentine’s Day in this super-cheesy way,” I say. “Lots of teddy bears that say I Wuv U on the tummies. Lots of cheap chocolate and grocery-store roses.”

“I could never do that to a Moxie girl,” Seth says, pulling into my neighborhood.

“Ugh, don’t say that, it makes me depressed.” I frown at my reflection in the passenger window.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to,” Seth offers.

“It’s okay,” I say. “I just wish things were different.” The heady, awesome day that the girls tagged the school with Moxie stickers seems like a million years ago. Since Principal Wilson’s threats at assembly and Lucy getting into trouble, things have gone back to East Rockport’s version of normal. Mitchell and his friends still ask girls to make them a sandwich. There was a brief but vicious streak of dress code checks at the end of January. We haven’t even tried to have another bake sale for the girls’ soccer team because doing it under a different name just isn’t as exciting.

“It’s cool you tried, but it’s hard to believe anything will ever permanently change that school,” Seth says, his headlights illuminating my street. “At least you know you have one more year and then you’re out of there.”

I frown, a little irritated. “Maybe, but it’s not like there aren’t going to be girls left behind after I leave. I didn’t do Moxie for me. I did it for girls.” I shake my head a little. “Forget it, that sounds like I have some huge crazy ego or something.”

“No, I get it,” Seth says, pulling into my driveway. I look up and see the lights are on. My mom’s home.

“I don’t know if you could really get it,” I say, sighing. “Not until someone plays the bump ’n’ grab game with you.”

“You can always play the bump ’n’ grab game with me, if that helps,” Seth says, and the tiny part of me that wishes he wouldn’t make a joke of it disappears as soon as we press our lips together.

“See you later,” he says with a grin, and I melt for the millionth time that night.

When I get inside, my mom is curled up on the couch, watching television.

“How was dinner?” she asks.

“Okay. Seth’s parents are these artists from Austin and they’re a little … I guess you could say intense.”

“Oh man, I know the artist-from-Austin type,” my mom says.

“I’m gonna get some ice cream,” I tell her. “You want some?”

“Sure, I’d love it.” She seems pleased. Maybe because we haven’t hung out like this in a while.

As I scoop out two bowls of chocolate and join her on the couch, I tell my mom about Zoe and Alejandro and even do an impression of Zoe, including her bad Spanish accent. My mother laughs hard.

“Don’t laugh,” I tell her. “They want both of us to join them for dinner one night.” My mother rolls her eyes but she keeps on laughing, and I’m glad. It’s been too long since we laughed together, talked over our days together, cuddled on the couch together. I wonder if John makes her laugh as much as I do sometimes. I hope he does.

We each take a few mouthfuls and then my mom says, “So it seems like you and Seth are getting kind of … do people your age say ‘getting serious’ anymore?”

“Mom, please.”

“I’m just saying you’re spending a lot of time together. I want to make sure you don’t have any questions.”

I think about Seth’s mother gift wrapping condoms and leaving them on his dinner plate. My cheeks redden just a bit.

“Mom, I promise you, if I have any questions, I will ask them. But no, it’s fine.”

“Fine?”

I give her a pointed look. “I really like him. A lot.”

My mom swallows a spoonful of ice cream and smiles. “Just asking. Don’t attack me.”

I decide I need to change the subject.

“Where’s John? I thought you’d be going out.”

“He had the late shift. I might meet him for breakfast tomorrow. Wanna come?”

I shrug. “Maybe. You want me to?”

“It would be nice.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Okay.”

My mom puts her ice-cream bowl down on the coffee table and leans in closer. Her long hair tickles my cheek.

“Thank you. I know you’re not a fan of John,” she says, her voice soft. A little sad.

“No, it’s not that, Mom…,” I begin. I think about Seth’s mom and how she makes her life all about her, and about my mom and how she makes so much of her life about me. I slide my own bowl of ice cream next to my mother’s and nuzzle under her arm. “Mom, do you ever regret getting stuck here in East Rockport because of me?” It’s easier to ask this since I’m not looking her directly in the eyes.

“No, of course not,” my mother answers. “I got away for a bit. I saw the world. I had lots of fun.” I think about the MY MISSPENT YOUTH box.

“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if my dad hadn’t died?” I ask.

There’s a pause, and I can feel my mother’s chest slowly rise and fall. “Of course,” she says, and her voice cracks just the tiniest bit. “But in this life you have to deal with what happens. You have to take what comes at you. And coming back here … I was able to finish school. I made my peace with Meemaw and Grandpa. They got to see their granddaughter grow up. Those are good things.”

“Yeah,” I say. “That’s true.”

“I know John isn’t who you expected me to end up with—if you even imagined me ending up with anyone at all,” my mother says, reaching over and running her gentle fingers through my hair. “Truth be told, when I was your age, I wouldn’t have expected me to end up with him either. But I really like him, Viv. I really enjoy being with him.”

I peer up at my mom, so she can see my eyes. I want her to know I mean it when I say, “I’m glad, Mom. I’m really glad. You deserve someone nice.”

My mom’s smile cracks her face wide open, and she kisses me on the forehead.

“You’re my best thing,” she says. It’s one of the things she likes to say to me. When I was little, she always said it when she was tickling me or braiding my hair or swinging me around in her arms.

“I love you, Mom,” I answer, snuggling up a bit closer.

“I love you, too, my sweet peanut.”

“You haven’t called me that in ages.”

“I know. It’s a little girl’s nickname. And you’re not really my little girl anymore.”

“Oh, come on, Mom,” I say, “don’t be cheesy.” But something about it makes me feel warm all over, like when I was tiny and my mom would wrap me in a fuzzy towel after my bath and snuggle with me.

“Aw, you never let me be cheesy,” she says.

“Fine, okay,” I say. “But just for tonight.”

“All right,” she says. “Whatever you say, sweet peanut.”

And we cuddle together for a while, not even needing to talk.

* * *

On Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, I show up at school and see girls carrying bags of cheap red-and-pink candy to hand out to their friends, and boys holding Walgreens teddy bears and sad, already-fading carnations. I know it’s a stupid, manufactured holiday, but I can’t help wondering if Seth is going to do anything for it. In my backpack is a book of Shirley Jackson short stories since we’d talked about “The Lottery” that one time in class, and Seth had seemed to like the story. I confess I feel pretty cool giving Seth a book of short stories by a horror writer for Valentine’s Day. It’s so not East Rockport.

But I can’t find Seth all morning. There’s nothing on or in my locker. I do get a text from him that reads Happy Walgreens Teddy Bear Day followed by a bunch of red heart emojis, and I wonder if Seth is just too cool for Valentine’s Day. Not even Shirley Jackson cool, but a completely different level of cool where the holiday just doesn’t exist.

My heart sinks a little with disappointment. And this makes me feel stupid.

But then it’s time for English. I walk in, and my stomach twists with nerves because I know I’m about to see him. Around me a few girls clutch their drugstore prizes of teenage love. A few of them are comparing gifts.

Then, as the bell rings, Seth walks in wearing a black hoodie over a black T-shirt. He slides into his seat and looks over at me, smiling.

He is so cute I really can’t breathe sometimes.

With a shrug of his shoulders he takes off his hoodie, letting it fall onto his desk chair. His T-shirt underneath is sleeveless and there, in black Sharpie marker on his left arm, is a carefully drawn heart, big enough for me to spot it clearly from my seat on the other side of the room.

And inside the heart—in coal-back, painstakingly drawn letters—reads the word VIVIAN.

Among the whispers of the rest of the class, Lucy turns to me and says, “Oh my God,” but I can’t see what her face looks like because I am staring into Seth’s dark, laughing eyes and I am grinning at him so hard and I am certain that I’m the first person on Earth to ever feel this awake and alive.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

It’s Claudia’s idea to have a slumber party and invite everyone, including Lucy. She tells me about it as we walk home from school one early March morning, just the tiniest hint of Texas humidity in the air, a signal of what’s to come.

“It can be like when we were younger, in middle school. We can watch a bunch of scary movies, make sundaes.” She smiles at me.

“Look at you, Miss Nostalgia,” I say, smiling back.

“I just thought it would be fun,” Claudia answers. “Unless you’re too busy with your man.”

“No, not too busy,” I answer, blushing, but just a little. It’s getting easier for me to talk about Seth with my friends. Since his public display of Sharpie affection on Valentine’s Day, we are definitely an item at East Rockport High. And the highs I’m getting from our relationship (making out, hanging out, making out, hanging out) are enough to dull the mix of anger and sadness I feel when I think about how Principal Wilson managed to stomp out Moxie in one threat-filled assembly.

So the first Friday in March finds Lucy, Sara, Meg, Kaitlyn, and me huddled in Claudia’s bedroom, listening to music and eating chocolatey, salty snacks while Lucy puts temporary tattoos on our hands and all of us discuss the latest gossip.

“You know, this is way fun,” Meg says, peering at her temporary tattoo of Wonder Woman. “It’s been forever since we did something like this.”

“It reminds me of that slumber party scene in the movie Grease,” says Kaitlyn. “Let’s do mud masks.”

“Let’s not and say we did,” Lucy mutters, and we all laugh. Claudia laughs the loudest. For a moment we are this perfect bubble of girl happiness and nothing can mess with it.

Until Sara stops scrolling through her phone and says, quite plainly, “Oh, shit. March Madness.”

March Madness. How could I forget?

“Let me see,” says Kaitlyn, scooting over to peer at Sara’s screen.

“What is March Madness?” Lucy asks, frowning. “You mean like the college basketball thing?”

“No, not like the college basketball thing,” Sara says with a sigh.

And so, sitting in a loose circle, we take turns filling Lucy in. March Madness at East Rockport is, in fact, inspired by the college basketball championship because it involves brackets and competition, but that’s the only similarity. It’s so gross that I half expect Lucy to break a window or scream in rage. But she just sits there as we tell her about this charming East Rockport High tradition.

Tradition implies something of value being repeated, I guess, but East Rockport High’s March Madness is empty of anything resembling values—not any decent ones, anyway. It’s a system of brackets with sixty-four junior and senior girls, about a quarter of the girls in each class. The rest aren’t included because they’re not deemed ballot-worthy. The brackets are created by the upperclassmen guys who rule the school—the jocks and the popular guys. The Mitchell Wilsons of our world. Over the course of a couple of weeks, they use some complicated system of voting and personal testimony to pit girls against each other as the brackets lead to one girl in the junior or senior class. The final girl is referred to—casually and frequently—as East Rockport’s Most Fuckable.

And the boys share everything online. Every bracket update and every girl’s name.

Lucy eyes Sara’s phone. I expect her to start raging as only Lucy can, but she just shrugs her shoulders.

“What can you expect from this place?” she says. “I need more Doritos.” She crawls away from Sara’s phone and digs her hand into a blue Tupperware bowl full of chips. There’s something about the defeated way she says it that makes me feel half like crying and half like raging myself.

“Claudia, look, you’re on it!” Sara gasps, using her fingers to enlarge the picture.

“What?” Claudia asks, but we all can see it’s true. Claudia’s made the first bracket. The only one of all of us who has. She blushes, and I wonder if she’s thinking about Mitchell in the hallway before Christmas break. I wonder how much that gross incident affected her placement.

“Remember when we were freshmen?” Meg asks. “We wanted to be on it. And we were jealous of the older girls who were.”

“Yeah,” says Claudia, like she’s trying to recall it.

“And now?” I ask, eyeing Claudia carefully.

Claudia just shrugs. “It’s gross. But I’m not going to lie. Now it’s like I’m tempted to check it. To see if I’m advancing or not.”

“That’s fucked up,” Lucy says from over by the Doritos. I tense up, but Claudia just looks at her and nods.

“Yeah, it is,” she says.

“We could make a pact,” I say. “That we’re not going to look at it again?”

Kaitlyn shakes her head. “That’s only going to work if we all agree to bury our phones in Claudia’s backyard and stay off the Internet for the next month. You can’t escape it.” I know Kaitlyn’s right, so I don’t respond. The only sound is Lucy chomping on her Doritos.

“Hey,” says Claudia, finally breaking the silence. “I think my mom has an old bottle of red wine hidden in the kitchen that she’s forgotten about. Everyone’s asleep. Do you want to see if we can find it?”

“Yes, please,” says Lucy. “Red wine goes well with fake cheese, or so I hear.”

In no time we are sipping wine out of flowered juice glasses and laughing at our red-stained lips and teeth, and everything’s okay again, but the truth is that the March Madness brackets never leave my mind, not really. The picture on Sara’s phone has burrowed its way into my brain, and the idea of the girls of East Rockport being measured and ranked and compared on nothing more than their asses and breasts and faces makes it difficult to fall asleep, even after all the other girls—including Lucy—are sleeping peacefully around me, their light snores punctuating the quiet.

* * *

Later that week as I’m walking toward school, shuffling formulas I need to know for an upcoming math quiz through my mind, I spot Kiera Daniels sitting on the stoop of the school’s side entrance, fooling around with her phone. It’s still pretty early, and there aren’t many other students around. The sky is overcast, and it’s chilly, too.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey,” she answers, peering up at me. “What’s up?”

I shrug. “Not much. What about you?”

Kiera shakes her head. “Just looking at this March Madness thing.”

I exhale. “Yeah.”

“I’m on it,” Kiera says flatly, holding the phone out toward me as if I need proof.

I think maybe it’s okay for me to sit down next to her, so I do, the cold cement of the stoop seeping through my jeans.

“Should I say … congrats?” I ask, uncertain. But Kiera just scowls.

“It’s stupid,” she announces. “It’s totally fucked on multiple levels.”

“I know,” I say, glad to be able to talk about it. “But it’s just this … this thing that happens. And nobody questions it.”

Kiera doesn’t answer. Just bites her bottom lip and stares at her phone again before clicking it off and tossing it into her backpack.

“You know what’s so infuriating to me?” Kiera says. “My boyfriend actually thinks it’s cool I got picked. Like it makes him cooler, which is just gross. And what’s also gross is it’s always a white girl who wins, anyway. And all the girls who aren’t white get pissed about it and it’s like, wait, isn’t it screwed up that anyone wins this bullshit in the first place?”

I frown. “I never thought about it like that. That a white girl always wins.”

“Well, no offense,” says Kiera, eyeing me, “but you’re white, so you wouldn’t have.” But then she offers a wry smile, so I think it’s okay. I smile back.

Kiera and I sit there for a bit, not talking. The weedy, sad patches of grass that make up East Rockport High’s poor excuse for a campus lawn stretch out in front of us. It’s a chilly, gray morning, especially for March in Texas, and I’m in a lousy mood.

“I wish we could do more bake sales, like maybe under some name that’s not Moxie,” Kiera says finally. “Soccer season is upon us, and my uniform isn’t getting any newer, you know.” She scowls a bit. “But maybe not even that is safe with Wilson watching.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought the same thing,” I say. “It would be great to do another bake sale, but my friend Lucy, who planned the first one, got sent home on the day of the assembly. She wasn’t even the one who made the stickers, but they sent her home anyway. It just seems too risky. Even if we don’t call it Moxie.”

Kiera nods. “I get it. It just sucks that whoever the girls are who did that newsletter have stopped altogether.”

“Yeah,” I say, deflated. It’s almost like it was some other girl who made the Moxie zines, and she doesn’t exist anymore. Not since she got replaced by a girl who has a super cute and nice boyfriend and spends her free time making out at the beach and thinking about when she should have sex for the first time.

That girl is great, too.

But she misses Moxie.

A breeze makes it way past us, kicking up a few cigarette butts and dead leaves. Then Kiera says, “Maybe something off campus would work. Like a place where Wilson couldn’t get to it.”

It is an idea, and one I haven’t thought of before. But where and how it could happen? It seems like so much work and risk that I don’t feel fired up about it.

“Yeah, maybe,” I say. I don’t want to hurt Kiera’s feelings, so I quickly add, “It’s a good idea.”

Kiera nods slowly, then looks across the lawn and points.

“There’s your man,” she says, and I see Seth heading toward us.

“Yup,” I say, and as excited as I am to see him—I’m always excited to see him—there’s a part of me that wants to sit here and keep talking to Kiera. To try to work out this Moxie thing, even if I can’t tell her I’m the one who started it all.

But Kiera stands up and brushes off the back of her pants. “I’m taking off.”

“’Kay,” I say as Seth gets closer.

“Good talking to you,” she says, walking away.

“Good talking to you, too,” I tell her. But before she gets too far, I call out to her. “Kiera!”

“Yeah?” she asks, turning to look at me.

“Fuck March Madness,” I say.

A wide grin spreads over Kiera’s face.

“Fuck it!” she shouts, popping both middle fingers in the air for good measure.

I stand as Seth approaches, and we share a quick kiss.

“What were you talking to Kiera about?” he asks.

I fill him in on March Madness and tell him Kiera made the first bracket.

“Oh, I saw stuff about that online,” he says. “It’s stupid.”

“Yeah, really stupid,” I add. “But I’m still depressed about it, I guess.”

“Well, just remember,” Seth says, and he sneaks an arm around my waist, pulling me in for another kiss, “not all guys are like that.”

Before I even realize I’m doing it, I ice up and pull back a bit.

“What’s wrong?” Seth asks, frowning.

“I just…,” I exhale. More and more kids are starting to walk up toward the building. I lower my voice.

“I just miss Moxie, that’s all,” I whisper. “I miss finding a way to fight back against all the bullshit in this school. And you telling me not all guys are like that doesn’t really help me feel better. Because some guys are like that. A lot of them, actually.”

Seth’s eyes go wide. I can’t tell if he’s hurt or surprised.

“But Vivian, there are guys at this school who don’t do March Madness,” he says. “The guys I sometimes eat lunch with … the guys who are into baseball stats and shit. They’re not that kind of guy. I’m not that kind of guy. It’s not like this place is all awful. I mean, we’ve got each other here, right? And anyway, you’re going to graduate eventually and you’ll leave. I just don’t want to see you get so upset.”

I take a deep breath. How can I make him get it? He doesn’t understand that Moxie isn’t—wasn’t—just a fun thing I did to be cool or different like his old hipster friends in Austin. I sincerely wanted to change East Rockport High School. Maybe I was naïve to think I could, but deep down I believed it might happen.

“What?” Seth asks.

“What what?” I answer.

“Are you … like … what’s up?” he asks, stepping back from me, his brow wrinkling in confusion.

“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head. “Just forget it.” I’m frustrated with him, but I’m also frustrated with myself. That I can’t find the words to explain it to him. I’m totally sure he’s not doing it on purpose, but Seth is a guy, and he can’t ever know what it feels like to walk down a hallway and know that you’re getting judged for the size of your ass or how big your boobs are. He’ll never understand what it’s like to second guess everything you wear and how you sit and walk and stand in case it doesn’t attract the right kind of attention, or worse, attracts the wrong kind. He’ll never get how scary and crazy-making it is to feel like you belong to some big Boy Monster that decides it can grab you and touch you and rank you whenever and however it wants.

The first bell rings long and loud. By now kids are streaming in all around us, bumping into Seth and me as we stand there and stare at each other, awkward for the first time since we met.

“Can I walk you in, or is that not okay?” Seth asks, and his voice has got the tiniest edge to it.

“I don’t want to fight,” I murmur, looking down at my feet.

“Me neither,” he says. “I really like you, Vivian. Like, a lot.”

I nod. “I like you, too,” I say.

“So let’s go in? Maybe talk about this later?”

I nod again, and Seth and I walk up the steps into the main building. As I head inside, I get smacked with the scent of industrial cleanser mixed with Axe body spray. I hear the shouts of voices—mostly boys’ voices because nice girls don’t shout—and catch words like March Madness and dumb bitch and she’s so hot.

I clench my fists. I feel like a match about to be lit. Or like the first crack of thunder before the storm. When Seth turns to tell me goodbye before heading to his first-period class, I jump, almost like I forgot he was there.

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CHAPTER TWENTY

Lucy’s face is eager and open when she finds me the morning after the fourth issue of Moxie makes its debut.

“They’re back!” she shouts, almost collapsing into me, clutching a copy in her hands.

I yawn and blink. I made the fourth issue last night in an explosive rush of anger. By the time I got it all done and biked down to U COPY IT, it was almost 10:30 at night. My mom had been on an overnight shift, so I wasn’t worried about beating her home. Frank the copy guy insisted it was “the coolest issue yet” and I was on a high by the time I biked home, so nervous and hyper that I’d stayed awake until almost one in the morning, watching old Bikini Kill videos on YouTube and reading the fourth issue over and over. Each time Principal Wilson’s threats from the assembly started to worm through my mind, I played the next video even louder. The risks I’m taking with this issue—the chance that it could hurt Lucy, the chance I could get caught and be expelled—were ever present in my head as I cut and glued and folded. But I’m done with Principal Wilson. I’m done with East Rockport High School bullshit. No more fun and games.

“Yeah, I saw it, too,” I answer.

She flips the zine over and peers at the back, then opens it, her eyes scanning the words and images I carefully chose while listening to Bratmobile and Team Dresch.

“This issue is … I don’t know how to describe it. I think it’s more intense than before.”

“You think?” I ask, peering over Lucy’s shoulder like I’m taking it all in for the first time. But Lucy’s right. When I made this issue of Moxie, I felt rage coursing through me like steam. Like a venomous snake. And when I slipped on a hoodie this morning before distributing the copies, I felt like a soldier on a dangerous mission, determined to succeed no matter what. The anger was enough to make me almost forget what a treacherous position I was putting myself in. And Lucy.

“It’s much more aggressive, I think,” she says, her eyes still on the issue of Moxie. “Only there’s no call to action. No stickers or bathrobes or whatever. It’s just … angry.”

“Well,” I say, slamming my locker shut, “there’s a lot to be angry about.”

“Yeah, obviously,” Lucy answers, and we join the wave of students filing to class, their voices echoing off the walls and their shoes squeaking on the tiled floor. “You know, I’m wondering if that girl Marisela Perez made it.”

My eyebrows shoot up, and I immediately try to cover up how surprised I must appear.

“What makes you say that?” I ask.

“Remember that morning we saw her put her asshole sticker on Tim Fitzpatrick?” she asks. “She just seems like she’d have the guts to do this.”

“Huh,” I offer. “Yeah, well, she’s as good a guess as any.”

“I just hope I don’t get hauled into the principal’s office over it,” Lucy says, and my stomach knots up.

“There’s no way he can know who it is,” I say. “You just thought it was Marisela.”

“Yeah,” Lucy says, shrugging. “You’re right.” But I can tell she’s a little worried.

We part ways with promises to see each other in English class. I scan the halls for Seth’s face. After our conversation outside school yesterday morning, things have felt a little strange between us. A little awkward even. I’m not sure. I didn’t even tell him about this latest issue of Moxie. I’m worried about what it means that I didn’t feel the urge to share it with him.

* * *

That afternoon I head over to Meemaw and Grandpa’s for dinner. After some Stouffer’s mac and cheese and a salad of iceberg lettuce doused in ranch dressing, I join them in the TV room to work on my homework while they watch Wheel of Fortune. As I listen to Meemaw blurt out nonsensical answers (“The Nile River!” “Bridge on the River Kwai!” “‘Old Man River!’” ), I let my thoughts drift back to the fall, back before Moxie started. When I started making the zine, I felt like I was cracking something open. Telling a secret that needed to be told. And for a while it was amazing. And then came Seth, who was—is—smart and cool and nice. That was great, too. But Moxie fell by the wayside.

But since March Madness started something has changed again. With this fourth Moxie zine, I’m itching for something but I’m not sure what.

“You okay, sweetie?” Meemaw asks during a commercial break, tilting her head a little in concern.

“How come you’re asking?”

“Well, for starters, you’ve been sitting there staring at the wall for the whole last round of the Wheel,” Grandpa offers. “You look as confused as a goat on Astroturf.”

I blush slightly and look down at my math spiral. I’m holding a pencil, but I’ve only done one problem.

“Just stuff on my mind,” I say. “Nothing serious.”

“Anything you want to talk about?” Meemaw asks. I think of trying to explain Moxie and Seth and March Madness to my grandmother. As much as I love her, I know she wouldn’t get it. Meemaw and Grandpa see the world one way. You go to church on Sunday, you don’t wear white after Labor Day, and you always say “Merry Christmas,” not “Happy Holidays.”

“I’m really fine,” I say, forcing a smile. “Just tired, I guess.”

Meemaw smiles back. This is an answer that makes sense to her, and it seems to reassure her and Grandpa. They go back to watching television, and I go back to trying to focus on my math until a few moments later when my phone buzzes.

Hey you mind if I come over later? Is your mom home?

Seth. I didn’t really speak to him much at school today. I know he saw the zine because he told me so after English. He said it was “cool,” and that it was “cool” that I was making Moxie again. But we didn’t really have a long conversation.

I text back that I’m at my grandparents’, but I’ll be home in a few minutes.

Cool, he writes back.

My heart starts to hammer. Is this Seth’s version of the “we need to talk” line that always comes before breakups in stupid rom coms and television sitcoms?

I tell Meemaw and Grandpa that I need to head home and give them each a kiss on the cheek. Grandpa walks me to the door and watches until I make it to our house.

“Love you!” he shouts.

“I love you, too, Grandpa!”

I sit in the living room so I can keep an eye out the front door. Seth knows to park down the street to avoid being spotted by my grandparents. When I catch a glimpse of him making his way down the sidewalk, his hands in his jeans pockets, his head bowed low, my first thought is He is so crazy cute. I watch as he slips through the alley between my house and our other next door neighbors’ before coming in through the back door, which I’ve already unlocked.

“Hey,” he says, sliding his hoodie off his shoulders. “I always feel like a secret agent when I sneak in like this.”

I grin. In truth I bet my mom already knows Seth comes by when she’s not here. But it’s just a little bit easier if we can keep Meemaw and Grandpa out of it.

“Sorry,” I say. “But you really don’t want my grandparents to see you. My grandpa owns a shotgun.”

“Of course he does,” Seth says.

This would normally be the moment when Seth kisses me, when we collapse onto the couch and start making out, and I start wondering if and when we’ll go further than we have the time before. But this time he just stands there, and I hear myself blurt out, “Are we breaking up?”

Seth’s eyes pop open, genuinely surprised. “No! What?” He blinks once, then twice. “Not unless you want to break up with me.”

I’m blushing, embarrassed. I feel like I’m playing the part of the anxious girlfriend, and I hate it. I just shake my head and look at my feet.

“It’s stupid,” I say. “But I just feel like … since that morning when you saw me talking to Kiera … we’ve been awkward.”

“You wanna talk?” Seth asks.

I nod, and we end up on the couch together.

“So what’s up?” Seth starts.

I bite my lip and try to find the right words. “I don’t know … I don’t even know what I’m trying to say,” I start. “I just felt like you were … trying to make me think things weren’t so bad. With the March Madness thing. Because you aren’t that kind of guy. And I was frustrated because of course, like, I know you’re not that guy. But there are those guys at East Rockport. There are … so many of them.”

Seth nods, scratches the back of his head.

“Yeah, I can see that,” he says.

“I’m not upset because there are no good guys at East Rockport. I’m upset because there are so many assholes. When I get upset about March Madness, it’s not about you.”

“Yeah,” he answers, exhaling. “I guess I was being kind of a dick.”

“No, not a dick,” I say. “You were just kind of … unaware. Defensive even?”

“I feel like I can’t say the right thing here,” Seth says.

“No, you are saying the right thing. It’s okay.”

Seth gives me a half grin. “I promise I’ll try to be … more sensitive about stuff.” What that might look like to Seth I’m not exactly sure. I think he could just be saying it because he hopes it’s the right thing to say. Honestly, I’m not even sure what I want Seth to say. Maybe there isn’t a right thing.

“I did like the latest issue of Moxie,” he says. “I wasn’t just saying so earlier. It was different this time.”

I pluck at a loose string on my jeans, recalling what Lucy said about the issue. “Different how?” I dare to look up at Seth.

“Maybe a little more intense,” he says. “Not that that’s necessarily bad or whatever. I liked the art you chose. I just think it’s cool you’re doing it again. Plus it makes you happy, right?”

I’m not sure I would describe the feeling of making Moxie as happy. Important, maybe. Necessary? Definitely. But I just smile and nod. At this, Seth reaches out and runs his thumb over my knee, sending an electric shiver up my body. I give him a knowing look.

“Oh, do you want to fool around or something?” I ask, acting like I’m surprised.

“I don’t know, do you?” Seth asks, his voice casual, like we’re talking about what we want to watch on Netflix.

“Shut up,” I say, throwing a couch cushion at his head.

“When does your mom get home?” Seth asks, his voice dropping a little. Getting all whispery. My breathing quickens just a bit.

“Like in an hour or so,” I say.

“Okay,” Seth says, nodding. He’s close to me now, and I can smell his soap and aftershave and the peppermint Tic Tacs he must have popped in his mouth just before coming over. His dark eyes stare into mine.

I want to attack him right there. So I do, reaching over to kiss him and letting myself fall into him, forgetting all my mixed-up feelings and ignoring the sense that the conversation we just had didn’t really change anything at all. That it was just a make-nice before the make out.

But in this moment, with Seth’s hands reaching up my back and his lips making their way to that spot on my neck, I will myself not to care much.

* * *

Not long after I put out the fourth zine of Moxie—maybe a week or so—I’m surprised to find Kiera Daniels waiting for me by my locker one Monday morning. She nods at me as she sees me approach.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey,” Kiera says back. She peeks over her shoulder and then in a hushed voice says, “Even though nothing bad happened after that last newsletter came out, we have to keep this quiet at school. To be safe.” She presses a piece of paper into my hand. I feel like a spy in an old movie.

I look down and unfold the paper.

I look up, smiling.

“You came up with this?”

Kiera grins. “Yeah, me and Amaya. After you and I talked … and after that last issue of Moxie, I got to thinking that I really wanted to make something happen. I know we have to be careful. But it just seems … worth it.”

“This is so cool,” I say, and I realize I’m smiling so hard that my cheeks are aching a little. “How’d you get the hall?”

“My grandfather is a Vietnam vet,” Kiera says. “I told him it was a girls’ club to talk about how to support the football team.” She smirks.

“You didn’t!”

“I really did.” At this she laughs out loud, and I do, too. I flash back to those elementary school days, to when Kiera and I would try to make our own Diary of a Wimpy Kid books together. We even had sleepovers at her house a few times when my mom had an overnight shift. Standing here, talking to her in the hallway, it seems crazy that we didn’t stay friends.

“You know what?” Kiera says. “I broke up with Marcus.”

My eyes open wider. Kiera had been dating Marcus Tucker—the center for the East Rockport Pirates—since the beginning of high school. They were a Serious Couple.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be,” says Kiera. “I didn’t like how he was treating me. Acting like he was God’s gift just because he played football. Him getting excited about me being on March Madness was enough to make me realize I was done.”

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I nod. “Good for you, then.”

“Yeah,” Kiera says. “It hasn’t been easy, exactly, but I just decided to throw everything into organizing this”—she motions to the flyer—“and that’s helped.”

“You need me to do anything?” I ask.

“Just spread the word to any girls you think would be cool with it,” she tells me.

I grin. “That I can do. This will be the perfect way to cleanse ourselves from March Madness.”

Kiera rolls her eyes. “You see Emma Johnson won?”

“I’ve actually been trying to ignore all that shit, but yeah, I saw. I’m not surprised they picked her.”

“Me neither,” says Kiera. “Okay, I got to get to Spanish. But see you Saturday?”

“Yes,” I say, my heart fluttering with excitement at the thought of it. “See you Saturday.”

I think about Emma Johnson winning Most Fuckable Girl when I see her in English, sitting at her desk taking notes as Mr. Davies speaks. I think about inviting her to Kiera’s thing and it’s like thinking about inviting a debutante to a drunken tailgate. Emma hangs with the elite, with the coolest football players and the most popular cheer squad girls. And she was the one who spoke out against Moxie at the assembly.

The reasons for not inviting Emma are good. But a passage from one of the Bikini Kill album liner notes about all girls being soldiers in their own way, even the girls with the big hair who go out with jocks, sticks in my mind. I unfold Kiera’s flyer again and see the words ALL GIRLS WELCOME. As the bell rings, I think about tapping Emma on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, I know we never talk and you barely know I exist, but I was wondering if you wanted to come to this thing for girls who are pissed about all this shit at East Rockport High that actually seems to work to your advantage?”

But I don’t say anything. I just catch the flip of her honey-blond hair as she makes her way out of class.

DMU Timestamp: June 19, 2022 06:44