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[3 of 5] Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017) Chapters 11-15

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Mathieu, Jennifer. “Chapters 11-15.” Moxie: A Novel, Square Fish, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017.


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CHAPTER ELEVEN

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Jun 14
Brandy Y (Jun 14 2022 11:41AM) : Add as many Notice & Note comments and replies as you can in Chapters 11-15 as you read and listen. Watch this GIF (1 min. 20 secs.) to see six reasons to pause your reading, double-click on a sentence or paragraph and comment using the sentence starters. [Edited] more
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It’s early November and chilly enough that my bathrobe over my jeans and T-shirt feels good and not too hot. But my cheeks are still burning from nervousness as I walk toward the front doors of East Rockport High. On my morning walk to school, I stopped half a block away to slip the bathrobe on over my clothes before immediately taking it off, then walking a few more steps, and finally stopping to put it back on again. Now that I’m getting closer to actually walking into school dressed like this, I have to fight the urge to rip the bathrobe off one more time.

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As I approach the campus, my eyes scan the clumps of students in front of East Rockport, checking if I’m the only one who looks like she forgot to get dressed before coming to school. My heart skips up to my throat. I scan left to right and spot jeans, skirts, jeans, skirts, and then, thankfully, a tight circle of what looks to be some sophomore girls all dressed in bathrobes over their outfits. They keep peering over their shoulders like they’re checking to see if anyone around them matches.

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Harry B (Jul 20 2022 5:39AM) : Words of the Wiser more

Without saying anything, much is said in this description about what it means to belong, to stand out, to make an impression, self confidence, and more!

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My heart slips back down to my chest where it belongs. I exhale. I want to walk by them so they’ll see me and know they’re not alone, but just then I feel someone collide into my left shoulder.

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“You did it!”

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It’s Lucy, and she’s wearing not only a puffy pink bathrobe that makes her look like a Hostess Sno Ball, but also fuzzy pink slippers that match.

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“Oh my God, you look awesome,” I say, and Lucy grins and shrugs like she knows.

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“I saw a few other girls by the gym entrance who had them on, too,” she tells me. “I think there are already more girls doing this than the hearts and stars thing.” She eyes the campus carefully. “I wish I knew which girls were the Moxie girls. I mean, they’re here somewhere.”

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The irony is too much for me to handle with a neutral face, so I just urge Lucy along so I don’t have to make eye contact. Along the way into school, we wave to a few other girls who have bathrobes on. I spot Kiera Daniels, and she has on fuzzy slippers just like Lucy, only her getup is lavender. Kiera and I wave at each other. More than half of the girls she’s with have bathrobes on.

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Inside all the buzz is about the bathrobes. I overhear a few guys asking each other what’s going on and some people talking about “that newsletter.” It’s a zine, but whatever, I think as I start toward history. Lucy says she’ll see me in English and we split off.

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Heading into class, I see Claudia in the back row. No bathrobe, just a pale pink top and jeans. She waves at me as I walk in.

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“Hey,” I say, sliding into my desk next to her.

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“Hey,” she answers, and it’s very obvious we are both Not Talking About It. I’m disappointed she didn’t do it, and she’s probably disappointed in me for the opposite reason.

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“I’m so tired,” she says, pushing out a little yawn. It’s forced and weird between us, like it almost never is.

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“Yeah, I’m tired, too,” I say. “I didn’t really sleep well last night.” That’s the truth, actually. I spent most of the night in a half-awake, half-asleep state, hearing Bikini Kill songs in my head and imagining an army of girls in bathrobes, complete with curlers in their hair and wielding blow dryers as weapons.

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Just then Sara files into class, and my heart leaps when I see she’s wearing this dark blue bathrobe with daisies on it that she’s had since we were in middle school.

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“You did it!” I say, grinning. I don’t look at Claudia because I don’t have to. The disconnect between us is almost tangible.

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“I decided at the last minute,” Sara says. “Kaitlyn did it, too. But not Meg.”

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Claudia coughs a little and the bell rings. Mrs. Robbins walks in carrying a stack of papers—no doubt some brain-melting “graphic organizer” for us to fill out using our textbook while she stares at her computer screen. As she sets the papers down on her desk, she looks up at us for the first time and her eyes pop open like she’s finally awake.

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“What’s going on here?” At least five other girls in the class are wearing bathrobes in addition to Sara and me. There’s tittering at Mrs. Robbins’s question, but nobody says anything. I stare down at my notebook, glad I’m in the back row.

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When no one answers Mrs. Robbins’s question, she takes a step closer to us and peers carefully. “Are those … bathrobes? Did y’all not get dressed this morning?”

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More giggles. Kate McGowan in the first row cracks a wide grin. She’s wearing an obnoxious plaid number that must belong to her father or older brother or something.

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“Do you think this is funny, Miss McGowan?” Mrs. Robbins says. “Take that ridiculous bathrobe off right now.”

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“Sure, no problem,” Kate says.

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Kate has always been sort of a badass, talking back to teachers when they won’t let her go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. I’m not sure if she wore a bathrobe just to stir up trouble or if she honestly thinks the dress code is bullshit. But then she drops the bathrobe down to her waist.

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Kate is wearing a bright red bikini top underneath.

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“Miss McGowan!” Mrs. Robbins shouts, barely heard over the hoots and gasps coming from my classmates.

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“See, Mrs. Robbins,” Kate says, like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, “I wasn’t sure if I was following the East Rockport dress code because it’s so weird and unclear, you know? So I decided to be safe and cover myself with this bathrobe so as not to distract any of our precious male students.”

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The class erupts into more hoots and laughter, and of course Mrs. Robbins has no choice but to make Kate put her bathrobe back on. By the time we all calm down Mrs. Robbins’s face is as red as Kate’s bikini top. She pinches her mouth up tight and passes out the graphic organizers, slamming Kate’s on her desk, and then demands that we work quietly and independently.

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The entire time I fill in the meaningless and pointless exercise, I think about the Riot Grrrl Manifesto in my mom’s zine. It said girls are a revolutionary soul force that can change the world for real. My chest feels heavy with something that feels scary and good at the same time. I picture myself running up to Kate McGowan after class and telling her how cool she is. The urge is so strong that maybe I’ll actually do it.

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But right now, there is one thing I can do for sure. In pencil, in the bottom right-hand corner of my desk, I carefully print the words MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK. The letters are only half an inch or so high, but I trace them over and over until the tip of my pencil is dull. I smile approvingly at my artwork as the bell rings.

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I hope a girl is sitting in this desk second period.

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* * *

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All day long girls walk around East Rockport in their bathrobes. Through the grapevine I hear of a few girls being forced to take them off in class, but they put them back on once they file out into the hallways. As we take our seats in English class, Lucy tells me that when her chem teacher asked her about it, she followed the script in Moxie.

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“I just said I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in violation of the dress code, and I didn’t want to tempt any boys,” Lucy says, her eyes triumphant. “Mr. Carlson got so confused. It was hilarious.” She leans over the back of her desk as she turns to talk to me. “And do you know what? I’m pretty sure some girls brought their bathrobes to school and hid them in their lockers until they realized they wouldn’t be alone. I think we’ve doubled in number since this morning.”

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I think Lucy’s right about some girls joining in late, but I don’t know if we’ve doubled in number. The bathrobe-wearing girls are still in the minority. But it’s not a tiny minority. It might be as high as 30 or 40 percent of all the girls in the school. And it’s not just one type of girl but all kinds. Jocks and loud girls and girls on the yearbook and quiet girls and black girls and white girls and brown girls.

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Except for Emma Johnson. Not that girl. She walks in a minute or so before the bell and takes her seat, flipping her hair over her shoulder in her signature move, lining her pens and notebooks up on her desk. She’s wearing a blindingly white hoodie with the words EAST ROCKPORT CHEER stamped across the back in bright orange. When Mitchell walks in he pauses by her desk, leaning on it with his big hand that reminds me of a hunk of ham.

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“You didn’t join the bathrobe brigade?” Mitchell asks.

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Wow, Mitchell Wilson knows how to use the word brigade correctly. Shocking.

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“No, I didn’t,” Emma says, peering up at Mitchell through her perfectly made-up eyes. “I’m not sure I understand it, to be honest.”

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Of course you don’t. You would never get caught for dress-code violations because Principal Wilson knows his son has the hots for you so you’re, like, protected.

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Instantly, I feel bad for thinking this. Emma is gorgeous and demure and all these other things I’m not, but she’s never been anything but nice to people. If anything, it just feels like she’s not one of us. Like she’s actually an actress on a television show about high school, and she’s twenty-five playing sixteen.

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“Well, I’m glad you’re not wearing a bathrobe,” Mitchell says, raising one eyebrow, “because it would be a shame to cover you up.”

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Oh gag me.

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Emma pinks up a little but smiles carefully, then flips her hair over her shoulder again. The bell rings and Seth runs in after Mr. Davies, who starts in about being on time to class.

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“Sorry,” Seth says, taking his seat, and my eardrums melt a little at the sound of his voice.

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Mr. Davies ends up putting us into groups to go over comprehension questions for the short story we were supposed to have read last night. By some miracle, I get put in the same group as Seth, and when we begin the awkward process of dragging our desks into a circle, he catches my eye.

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“Cool bathrobe,” he says to me.

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“Thanks,” I answer, willing myself not to blush.

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As we go over the questions Mr. Davies has written on the whiteboard, it strikes me that Seth is pretty smart. The story is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” which I’ve read once before because my mom told me it was her favorite short story. Everyone in the group is saying how screwed up it is, but Seth says that’s the point.

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“It’s about, like, realizing that just because something is a tradition, that doesn’t make it good,” he says.

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I bite my bottom lip. I never talk in these things. But I want Seth to know I’m smart, too.

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“Some people might say tradition is a good thing, though,” I offer, doodling a tiny circle over and over in the corner of my paper, not looking up. “Some people would argue that tradition is part of what holds us together as, you know, a community.”

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Did any girls get pulled out of your classes for dress code? I type.

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A few moments later she writes back.

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No!!!!!!! Not a single one!

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I can’t believe it worked

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I know right? So awesome

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Stopping under a big pecan tree, I grin at my phone and type out one more text.

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MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!!!!!! I add a few heart emojis for good measure.

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Lucy texts back right away.

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MOXIE GIRLS KICK ASS AND TAKE NAMES!!!!!

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I read the text and laugh out loud, standing there in the middle of the sidewalk.

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CHAPTER TWELVE

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It’s been three days since the bathrobe stunt, and not a single girl has been called out for dress-code violations since it happened. It’s gone down like this before—these weird, cavalier explosions of dress code “checks” on girls by the administration that evaporate into nothing after a few days—but I’d like to think Moxie had something to do with it this time. And that means that I had something to do with it because I started Moxie. Last night after I brushed my teeth and washed my face, I caught myself standing in front of the mirror for a full two minutes looking into my own dark eyes. I grasped my hair and pulled it up into a high ponytail. Squinting, I thought maybe I looked a little like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill.

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But by today’s Friday football pep rally, I’m beginning to feel like the whole thing was some sort of fantastical dream. The band plays the same songs. The cheerleaders do the same flips. The only thing that’s different this time is that if the Pirates lose the game tonight, they’re out of the playoffs.

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“Wait, is that a freaking fog machine?” Sara asks as we sit down in our usual spot, high up and away from the action. All of us peer down at the billowing clouds of smoke enveloping the entrance where the football team is about to make their appearance.

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“Oh my God, it is,” Claudia says, rolling her eyes. The pirate mascot is in a fancy new uniform, too, and there’s even someone dressed as a bobcat, representing the opposing team’s mascot. The pirate is pretending to slice the bobcat’s neck with a sword as the bobcat writhes around in mock terror. These aren’t Halloween costumes either, but full-on, college-level mascot gear.

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“How much does all this shit cost?” Lucy asks out loud. “Have you ever considered that?” She scowls. “Last I checked, the Bunsen burner in the chem lab runs on coal or something, it’s so ancient.”

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“What the football team wants, the football team gets,” Claudia says. “It’s so dumb.”

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“Totally,” agrees Lucy, and I relish this moment where my best friend and my new friend are in harmony with each other. Since bathrobe day I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to Claudia—sitting next to her at lunch, waiting for her by her locker in the morning before history—even while I’ve been sucked into long periods of texting with Lucy after school where we talk about everything from what Moxie might do next to music we want to share with each other. (Unbelievably, she’s never heard of Bikini Kill or any of the Riot Grrrl bands, and after I make her a playlist, she’s hooked.)

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After the rally is lunch, but I eat quickly so I can leave a few minutes early and go to the main office to drop off my permission slip for Driver’s Ed next semester. As I walk down the nearly empty hall, I catch Principal Wilson approaching the office from the opposite direction, barking into his cell phone. I’m the only other person in the hallway, but he doesn’t smile or even nod. I’m a student at his school, and I was in his mind-numbing Texas history class way back before he became Mr. Muckety-Muck at East Rockport High. But I’m not his son or on his son’s team or a cheerleader like Emma Johnson or even a member of the pep band. I’m a nothing on his radar. His jowls quiver a little as he speaks in his thick Texas twang, and he brushes right past me as he enters the office, zooming by like I’m a mosquito or fly.

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I scowl at his back and revel in the tiny rush it gives me. He continues through the labyrinth of secretaries and assistant principals as he heads back to wherever his lair must be.

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After I turn in my permission slip to one of the secretaries, I head back toward my locker to get my books for my next class. At the end of the hall, I spot Seth Acosta, leaning up against a wall, fooling around on his phone. My heart skips.

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“Hey,” I manage as I walk by, wanting to stop but not sure I can or should. So I just slow down a little.

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He looks up. There are a handful of other students at their lockers way down at the other end of the hall. The bell to end the lunch period is a few minutes away.

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“Hey back,” he says, sliding his phone into his back pocket and standing up straighter. All signs that make me think it’s cool if I stop. That he really does want to talk to me.

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“So…,” I start—because I’m the one who should be speaking next, I realize—“… thanks for not saying anything. About … you know.” I raise my eyebrows like we’re in some movie about the Mafia or a government conspiracy, and I immediately feel like an idiot. But Seth just nods and grins. I love that he’s taller than me if only by a little. Ever since those sweaty, awkward middle school dances where I loomed head and shoulders over all the guys and no one ever asked me to partner up, I’ve always been self-conscious of my height.

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“I wouldn’t say anything,” Seth says. “Not even if you covered me in fire ants or forced me to listen to, like, I don’t know … smooth jazz.”

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I grin. “What’s smooth jazz?”

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“Garbage,” Seth says, not missing a beat.

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We stand there for an awkward moment, and when Seth speaks again, he looks down at my feet.

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“Hey, do you feel like … I don’t know … hanging out tonight or something?”

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My heart is beating inside my throat. I hope Seth keeps looking at my feet because if he looks up, he’ll see it just below my chin, all four chambers pulsating at an astonishing rate of speed.

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“You’re … not going to the game?” I finally manage. Great. Now I sound like Suzy School Spirit.

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Seth frowns a little. “No, I’m not. But … you’re going, I guess?”

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“No!” I answer, louder than I’d intended. Of course, I had been planning on going to the game. What else is there to do? Even Lucy was going to come. But that was before Seth Acosta turned my life into an episode of a television show I would totally binge watch.

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“So you’re not going, then?” he asks, confused. He brushes his hair out of his eyes with one hand.

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“I wasn’t really, like, sure what I was doing tonight. But if you want to hang out, that would be cool.”

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I’ve never hung out with a boy or gone on a date with a boy or been asked to a dance by a boy or kissed a boy. Nothing with boys. Ever. And now this. It’s too astonishing to be real.

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But it must be real because Seth is saying something about coming by my house around 7 p.m. and maybe going to get something to eat, and then he is typing my phone number into his phone and saying he’ll text me later.

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“Cool,” I say, like this has happened to me every day of my life since sixth grade.

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Just then the bell rings. I mumble out a goodbye and Seth says goodbye, and as I make my way to my locker, I am totally positive I’m not walking but floating.

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* * *

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Claudia has to be the first person I’m going to tell about my … is it a date? A hangout? A … what? When I find her at her locker at the end of the day, she squeals at my news, gripping my hand and literally jumping up and down with excitement.

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“I hope you don’t mind this means I won’t be going to the game with you,” I say.

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“Screw the game!” Claudia answers, tugging me along after her. The entire walk home she helps me plan what to wear, what to do with my hair, whether I should wear lipstick. (I normally don’t, but it might be fun to this time, maybe.) Claudia has more experience with boys than I do. She kissed a few in middle school—I think her pocket-sized self and her adorable ski jump nose made her nonthreatening to boys in early puberty—and she dated this guy Colin O’Malley for a few months last year before he moved to San Antonio because of his dad’s job. In late night phone calls and texting marathons, she’d told me how she let him touch her under her bra and that it hadn’t felt particularly great—only like he’d been trying to squeeze the air out of a deflating birthday party balloon.

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The difference is Colin O’Malley was just ho hum. Even to Claudia.

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Seth Acosta is not ho hum or meh or vanilla or blah.

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He’s a stone fox.

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“What about your mom?” Claudia asks as we approach my house. “Hey, isn’t that her car in the driveway?”

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I frown. “I thought she’d be at work.” My mom is not something I’ve considered until Claudia mentions it. Since I’ve never had any interest from any guy, this isn’t a topic my mom and I have ever had to navigate.

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“I’m sure she’ll be cool with it,” Claudia says, and I hope she’s right. I mean, isn’t that who my mom is? The cool mom?

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After Claudia hugs me and practically makes me take a blood oath promising to tell her everything that happens immediately after it happens, I walk in and find my mom in the kitchen, making a sandwich.

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“You’re home early,” I say, setting down my backpack on the kitchen table. I thought I’d have at least an hour or two of getting-ready time in which to practice expressions and witty repartee in the bathroom mirror with my music blaring in the background.

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“Hey, sweetie,” my mom says, coming over to give me a kiss on the cheek. “Power went out at work. Something about a screwed-up electrical box. So I get a free afternoon off.” She walks back to the kitchen counter and spreads mustard on a piece of whole wheat.

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“So,” I start, my heart thumping. I’m actually kind of embarrassed to talk about Seth with my mom. I mean, don’t get me wrong. My mom has always been 100 percent straight-up amazingly honest about sex and puberty and all that hormone shit, but it’s a lot easier to have those conversations when it’s all just theory, not practice. I mean, not that I’m going to be doing it with Seth tonight or anything. I’m not even sure he likes me Like That. Even though I totally pray that he does.

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“So … what?” my mom asks. She stops making her sandwich as she listens to my plans for the night. When I finish talking she gives me a small smile, but her eyes are wide with surprise.

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“So, I can go, right?” I can’t believe she’ll say no, but I realize I’m holding my breath.

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My mom presses her lips together, thinking for a second. “Oh … sure. Yes, of course you can go. I mean, I’d like to meet this guy first, of course.” She pauses, then laughs and shakes her head a bit. “Listen to me. I sound like a mom in a John Hughes movie.”

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I exhale. “Well, he’s picking me up around 7.”

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“So you’re not going to the game?”

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“No … we’re just going to get something to eat, I think. You’re going to the game, right?”

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“I was going to go with John, but I can meet him there later.” She glances down at her half-made sandwich, like she’s just remembering it’s there. I stand in the middle of the kitchen. We’re in uncharted territory, and everything feels a little off-kilter.

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“You don’t have to wait or anything,” I say.

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“No, I want to,” she insists. “And as far as what time you should be home … have I ever even given you a curfew, my obedient, well-behaved daughter?” She laughs again, but it’s almost a nervous laugh.

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I shake my head no and bristle a bit at her description of me. It’s true the only places I go are my girlfriends’ houses for sleepovers. Or sometimes to cruise the Sonic or the DQ on Saturday nights. My mother has never had to give her duitiful Viv a curfew. It makes me feel like a dork.

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“Let’s say 10-ish, okay? I’ll be home from the game by then.”

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I nod. Anyway, I’m not sure I’ll even be able to find enough to talk about with Seth for three hours without passing out from anxiety.

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“Well, I hope you have a great time,” my mom says, and this time her cheer seems more sincere. I head to my room to contemplate outfits, trying to shake off the awkwardness between us.

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Butterflies is too small a word to describe what’s going on in my stomach when Seth pulls up to my house at five minutes after seven. I peer through my bedroom window, my heart hammering. I see him get out of the car, slam the door to the red Honda he’s driving, and head up the front steps. I blink and swallow. How can he be showing up to my house? To see me?

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“Viv!” my mom calls out from the kitchen. “Your friend is here!”

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Your friend? You’re making this sound like a playdate, Mom.

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I walk out, hoping my black jeans and my mom’s old Houston Oilers T-shirt are cool but not trying too hard.

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“Hey,” I say.

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“Hey,” Seth says back, nodding.

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“Mom, this is Seth from school.” What kind of a ridiculous introduction is that? Where else would he be from? The bus station downtown? The meth house?

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“Hi,” Seth says to my mom, who’s stretching out a hand. She and Seth shake and she’s pretty normal, actually, only asking how long it’s been since his family moved to town. He gives sentence-long responses, but not kiss-ass answers, which is good because my mom could see through that in a heartbeat.

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“Well,” my mom says as Seth and I start to scoot toward the door, “have fun then, and I’ll see you by 10.” As she walks us out, she presses something into my hand. Once we head outside I peek down and see it’s a twenty. I slide it into my jeans pocket and catch my mother’s eye. She gives me a smile, and I smile back.

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“So, I get the sense the town’s going to be dead, huh?” Seth says, pulling out onto the street. “Because of the game? I didn’t think about that before.”

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“Yeah,” I say. “All the fast-food places are closed. Most of the restaurants, too.” Seth is driving out of my neighborhood, heading up Broadway toward town. He can’t have had his license for too long, but he drives cool somehow, his head back and his hands casually resting at the bottom of the steering wheel. After we get going, he adjusts the volume. The tinny sound of some band I don’t recognize but that sounds pretty catchy starts to spill out of the speakers.

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“Are you hungry?” he asks.

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“Not really,” I say. The truth is I’m too nervous to eat, but I forced myself to down a granola bar before he came so my stomach wouldn’t start grumbling. “Maybe later after it opens we can cruise the Sonic.”

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“Wait,” Seth says, pulling up to a stop light and turning to look at me. “What’s ‘cruise the Sonic’?”

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I grin, and my eyebrows pop up.

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“Cruising the Sonic and the DQ is, like, what we do here on weekends. It just means driving aimlessly around those places to see who’s hanging out there and who you can talk to or whatever.”

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“Really?”

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“Yeah,” I answer. “You didn’t cruise the Sonic in Austin I’m guessing.”

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Seth laughs. “No. Definitely not.” His eyes glance out the driver’s side window at the empty strip malls and storefront churches and resale shops. “I’m still getting used to this place.”

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It feels easier, somehow, to talk when we’re in a moving car. I don’t have to look Seth in the eyes. I can glance out my own window instead.

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“You must miss it, I guess?” I ask. “Austin, I mean.”

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“That’s an understatement,” Seth says. He twists his mouth a bit like he’s considering what to say next. “The things is, my parents are artists. I mean, honestly, they can call themselves that because my mom comes from a shitload of money, if I can speak frankly. My grandparents are loaded and she lives off this trust. So she and my dad spend all their time prepping their art for different gallery shows. They do stuff with, like, textiles. My mom said she wanted to get away from Austin since it’s growing so fast and it’s not like it used to be in the ’80s or whatever. Like she needed some authentic small-town experience to be a real artist.”

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“So they picked here?” I ask, incredulous. “Of all the small towns in America?”

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“Yeah,” Seth says, his voice heavy. “I don’t think it occurred to them that it wouldn’t have killed them to wait two more years until I was done with high school. But whatever.” A tiny frown crosses his face.

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“Do you at least like their art?” I ask, glancing at him.

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“I guess,” he says. “I mean, it gets shown and stuff. I think they’re big names in the world of abstract textile art, which is, unbelievably, a world. People pay a lot of money for it. But to be honest, to me it just looks like a bunch of bedsheets folded weird.”

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I laugh out loud and Seth laughs with me. Just then we pass the U COPY IT with its OPEN sign flashing. I think of Frank in his red vest inside, flipping through a paperback.

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“Hey,” I say, pointing out the passenger window. “That’s where I make the copies of Moxie.”

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Seth peers out the window and nods approvingly. “Cool. That bathrobe thing seems to have worked.”

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“Yeah,” I say. It feels so strange to be able to talk about making the zine out loud with someone. But really good, too. “I’m not sure if I’m going to make another issue. But I kind of want to.”

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“You totally should,” Seth says.

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As we drive through town without a destination, the sun setting around us, I find myself telling Seth about my mom’s Riot Grrrl past and how it inspired Moxie. Then we start talking about bands. He’s heard of Bikini Kill but never heard them, heard them, so at Seth’s prompting I pull up “Rebel Girl” on my phone. From the opening beats, he likes it. I can tell.

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“That lead singer sounds like she could kill you with her voice,” he says, his fingers drumming on the steering wheel. “But, like, kill you in a good way.”

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“Totally,” I tell him, and my heart swells.

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We go back and forth on bands for a while, and Seth describes a couple of live all-ages shows he got to go to in Austin. I’ve never seen a band play live except for the East Rockport High School pep band, and I’m super intrigued as he describes how his ears rang for days afterward and how cool it was to get to talk to the band members while they were selling their own merchandise (only Seth calls it “merch”) at the shows. After I’ve stored up a list of bands in my head to check out later, Seth drives by Eternal Rest Funeral Home on Front Street. A small sign displayed in the front lawn under a floodlight reads DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE! WE CAN WAIT!

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“Wait, is that for real?” Seth says, nodding toward the sign.

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“Yeah,” I answer. “It’s this thing they do. They change it out every once in a while. Once they had one that said ‘It’s a beautiful day—look alive!’”

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“Are you shitting me?” he asks. “And people still give them business?”

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I shrug. “They’re the only game in town, so yeah.”

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At this, Seth makes a sudden right turn and pulls into the funeral home parking lot. He turns up the music a little bit and starts bobbing his head back and forth to the beat as he spins circles over and over.

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“Um,” I begin, turning to face him, totally perplexed, “what are you doing?”

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Seth grows serious. “I’m cruising the funeral home.”

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I explode with a loud laugh. “Cruising the funeral home? Seriously?”

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“Yeah,” Seth insists. He mimes waving at imaginary cars, chin-nodding at invisible people nearby. “This is so dope,” he says. “I feel like I’ve finally figured out what East Rockport is all about. This is such a scene, man.”

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The nervousness from earlier has drained from me, replaced with aching cheeks from smiling so much.

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After we cruise the funeral home for a while, Seth says he’s getting hungry, and we find an open Jack in the Box on the outskirts of town. As we pull through the drive-thru, I offer Seth money, but he says he’s got it “this time.” (Does that mean there’ll be a “next time”?) I order a milk shake and some fries.

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“Y’all left the game early?” the scrawny, redheaded cashier asks as she hands us our food. She looks like she graduated from East Rockport twenty years ago and has been working at the Jack ever since. Her name tag reads SHAWNA.

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“We never went,” Seth answers.

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“Well, you’re missing something terrible,” Shawna replies. “I’ve been listening on the radio and they’re down 35–7 at the half.”

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“Damn,” I reply, my small-town instincts kicking in, ready to express dismay anytime the home team loses. “That’s a serious beating.”

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“I have faith they’ll come back,” Shawna says with a disapproving frown. “Go, Pirates.”

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“Go, Pirates,” Seth answers, holding his Coke up in a salute.

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Seth parks the car in the Jack in the Box parking lot and between slurps of his drink and bites of food, he asks, “Is football this big every year or just, like, this year?”

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I snort into my milk shake. “You are new,” I say. “The answer is every year. Every fucking year.”

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“You know, I played back home,” he tells me.

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I whip around, my eyes wide. “Now you’re shitting me,” I say. He might as well have told me he was studying to join the priesthood.

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“No,” he says. “I’m not shitting you. I mean, I was the kicker. I’m too skinny for any other position. But I was the kicker on the junior varsity team, and I was going to go out for varsity this year until we had to move.”

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I slap the dashboard to emphasize my shock. “You were a football player? And you listen to Black Flag?”

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Seth’s smile cracks his face wide. “Yes! I’m not making this up. I can show you pictures when I’m done eating.”

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I try to visualize Seth in those weird short pants and huge shoulder pads football players wear and my mind goes blank. I never thought I’d have a crush on a football player. For a split second I feel a little like my mom on a date with Republican John. If this is even a date, I remind myself.

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“I’m sorry, I guess it’s just that … I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but here … here the football players are … like…”

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“Total assholes?” Seth offers, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, I’ve noticed. But just because a guy plays football doesn’t make him an asshole. Unless, you know, you think I’m an asshole, and you’re just hanging out with me because you feel sorry for the sad new kid at school.”

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I glance down at my milk shake. “You’re not an asshole,” I murmur, then take a loud slurp. You’re just a hilarious and totally good-looking guy who listens to cool bands and likes my zine, and that basically makes you the boy of my dreams, but you know, whatever.

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“That’s good,” Seth says, grinning. “That I’m not an asshole. Back home football was a sport people were into and everything, but it wasn’t the only thing people cared about, so players were more chill, I guess.”

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“Well, people aren’t chill about football here,” I answer. “Those players are the reason this town and this school exist. I mean, they’re what people get excited about around here. They’re what makes East Rockport worth living in for some people. The chance that this year we’ll make it to the playoffs, you know? The hope. You watch. Starting next week the talk will already be about the next season and how that will be the year we take state.”

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“Damn,” Seth says, taking a long drink from his soda.

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We talk for a while in the parking lot—I tell him how my dad died when I was a baby and how it’s just me and my mom with my grandparents next door. He tells me that his parents are nice enough, just occupied with their art, and that in addition to playing football he wrote a music column for his old high school newspaper. It’s an easy conversation, each of us stepping on the ends of the other’s sentences, wanting to chime in or add something or agree with something. My body hums with the sure sense that I’m the coolest girl in the world. Sitting there in the front seat, the fluorescent lights of the Jack in the Box parking lot shining on us like the moon on steroids, it’s weird to remember that this afternoon in the hallway when Seth asked me to hang out I could barely make eye contact with him because I was so anxious.

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After a while, Seth takes my wrappers and empty cup and gets out of the car to throw them away. I lick the salty tips of my fingers as he walks back toward the car, and I realize that the night is coming to a close. It’s 9:30.

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Seth suggests we head back, and as he drives toward my neighborhood, the Jack in the Box parking lot disasppearing behind us, my breathing starts to tighten up and my heart begins to hammer.

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Seth Acosta is going to kiss me. I know it.

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As he pulls onto my street, I glance into the rearview mirror, pretending I’m checking for something in my eye. My lipstick is still holding steady. Is that a good thing or a bad thing when you kiss someone?

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Seth slides into the driveway. Here, in the inky darkness of his car, he’s going to kiss me. Remember this, Vivian. Remember everything about this.

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I wait for him to shift the car into park. How can you kiss with the car in drive?

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But he doesn’t shift the car into park. He only turns to me and says, “I had a lot of fun hanging out with you tonight, Vivian.”

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It’s definitive, the way he says it. There’s no question that this is The End of the night.

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“I had fun, too,” I say, forcing a smile while dying inside. “Thanks for asking me to hang out.”

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“Honestly,” he continues, “I haven’t really, you know, made a lot of friends since I got here, so, you know … this was really cool. I’m going to check out some of those bands you told me about. Especially more of that Bikini Kill one.” He sort of looks over my shoulder when he says it. Like maybe he can’t wait for me to leave.

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“Cool,” I say, my hand on the door handle and my hammering heart twisting hard.

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I haven’t really made a lot of friends since I got here.

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Friends.

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FRIENDS.

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“See you Monday?” he asks.

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“Yeah, see you then,” I answer, itching to get out of the Honda and into the safety of my bedroom.

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“And I promise I won’t say a word about Moxie. I mean it.”

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“Thanks,” I answer, “I really appreciate it.” I get out, slam the car door, and race up the front steps, grateful my mom is still at the game and the house is empty. Seth waits until I’ve let myself in and then drives away, and as I step into the living room and shut the front door behind me, I can’t help it. I start crying. Not heaving sobs or anything like that. Just a few warm tears peek out of my eyes and slip down my cheeks.

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