#Famous by debut author Jilly Gagnon is the YA (Insta)love story we’ve been waiting for since practically the beginning of
time the internet.
In this modern day love story: Girl likes boy. Girl snaps photo and posts it online. Boy becomes insta-famous. And what starts out as an innocent photo turns into a whirlwind adventure that forces them both to question whether fame—and love—are worth the price…and changes both of their lives forever. Told from alternating points of view, #Famous captures the sometimes-crazy thrill ride of social media and the equally messy but wonderful moments of liking someone IRL. Keep scrolling to read the first two chapters of #Famous by Jilly Gagnon.
Tuesday, 4:15 p.m.
Loving your mom can lead to some seriously bad decisions.
I’d agreed to tag along on her quest for face creams mainly out of boredom. But the mall with my mother on a Tuesday afternoon—as though I suddenly believed in the calming effects of retail therapy? We’d been here maybe ten minutes and already I was regretting it.
We were almost at the makeup counter that was our raison de mall when she grabbed a black, fluttery top with laces winding up and down the front.
“Ooh, Rachel, isn’t this nice?” She held it out to me. It looked like batwings in a corset.
“Not my style.” I pushed the shirt away, turning to a rack of oversized sweatshirts in neon-bright colors. Where had she even found that thing?
“No, not for you, for me. I think it’s cool. Edgy. Don’t you?” She held the shirt at arm’s length. One chunk of frizzy hair fell from behind her ear onto her cheek. She always cut it too short; at that length, hair as electrical-socket nutso as ours would not be contained behind mere ears.
“Sure, Mom.” I’d be pretty shocked to see my mom commit to a shirt she had to lace herself into. Usually her style tended toward neutral-colored sacks, but if she really wanted to dress like a vampire, I wasn’t going to tell her no. Besides, it’s kind of awesome when parents try to be cool, like watching a baby sloth play the piano or something. Terrible on the execution, and therefore adorable.
“Hey, do you care if I go get something at the food court?” I said. “I went straight to ceramics club after sixth period, so I didn’t have a chance to get a snack.” Things would move a lot faster if she didn’t have me to bounce awful fashion ideas off of.
She glanced at her watch. “Meet me back here in fifteen minutes. I don’t want to spend the whole evening at the mall.”
“Sure,” I said over my shoulder.
“And don’t be drinking one of those gallon-sized sodas,” she said. “They’re poison.”
Mom was always finding some new threat to my precious development. Too late: I’d topped out at five foot three years ago.
I felt my phone buzz against my hip bone as I passed by Banana Republic, its faceless, elongated mannequins watching disdainfully as I rounded the Wet Seal, following the faint scent of tasty greases.
(From MO-MO): Do you have a new draft of Twice Removed ready yet? I don’t think I’ll be able to look at it until the weekend, but we need to be on top of this.
(To MO-MO): No, I had ceramics today. I’ll work on it soon—we still have what, three months until the deadline?
(From MO-MO): There’s no point in putting it off.
Mo must be stressed about something; trying to micromanage someone else was always her go-to when she had too much on her plate. We were applying together to a summer playwriting program with Twice Removed, but the due date for applications was forever away, and I was doing more of the writing regardless—Mo was more into performing, which meant she was better at edits. There was no point in calling Mo on it though, unless you wanted to intensify her stress-crazies. The best thing was to divert her to whatever she really wanted to talk about, so you wouldn’t start arguing about not-really-the-point.
(To MO-MO): Don’t worry. I’ll send you something by the time you’re able to look at it. Why so busy?
(From MO-MO): Did I ever mention how much I hate Europeans?
(To MO-MO): That’s racist.
(From MO-MO): You can’t be racist against a continent.
(From MO-MO): Trying to absorb the entirety of their pointless history—which is all just wars and oppressing women, BTW—is making my head hurt. I am SO going to fail this test.
Doubtful. Monique never failed anything. We’d been best friends since we were in diapers, and I couldn’t remember her ever even getting a B. In third grade, she made two entire projects for the science fair in case one was better than the other.
(To MO-MO): That’s what you get for taking smart-kid classes EVEN FOR ELECTIVES. Guess how hard my Art II test will be? Oh wait, we don’t have one.
(From MO-MO): I hate you.
(From MO-MO): I take it back. Distract me. If my head explodes I at least want to die laughing.
I looked around for something I could send to Monique. We had this ongoing game where we’d send each other funny pictures on Flit (basically anything that got an out-loud reaction—from snort to guffaw—scored a point, honors system) and the mall was the perfect spot to play. Monique loved unintentional double entendres or grammar mistakes on store signs. I usually sent funny graffiti or dogs in clothes. There’s something about a dog wearing pants that never gets old.
I glanced around as I made my way across the mall to the food court, but nothing jumped out at me. And now that I was getting close enough to smell all the different kinds of grease in the air, there was no way I’d be able to focus on the game. I was too hungry to hunt down a costumed Pomeranian. Food would have to come first. I spun around slowly, trying to figure out what I was in the mood for.
There was the depressingly beige buffet of breaded meat bits at China House (pass), sushi that was probably fresh off the boat a week ago at Japan EXPRESS (side of food poisoning, please?), Mrs. Butterbun’s Cookie Shoppe (even thinking about putting an inch of frosting on a cookie made my teeth hurt) . . .
That’s when I saw him.
Instinctively I ducked my head over my phone and half turned away, so he wouldn’t think I was staring.
I was, obviously—you couldn’t help but stare at Kyle. He was about a thousand miles away from my type—so clean-cut he could be in an ad for drinking enough milk—and still I went fricking googly-eyed whenever I saw him. Extra embarrassing since I had fifth period with him every single day—it was only a matter of time until he caught me drooling.
He was standing behind the register at the Burger Barn, solemnly counting out change for a little girl who couldn’t be more than seven or eight. She had this dreamy, beaming look on her face, like she was so proud to be getting treated like a grown-up, or maybe like she was half in love with him.
You and me both, babe.
He placed a final coin in her palm and straightened up, his shaggy brown hair flopping over his forehead in perfect just-barely-curls. Somehow he looked even hotter here than he did at school. The bright-orange Burger Barn T-shirt he was wearing made his eyes—a little too far apart on his face, which made them even more beautiful—look greener. He even managed to make his pointed paper uniform cap seem jaunty and alluring.
I looked down at myself. I was wearing a shapeless old oxford I’d stolen from my dad’s Goodwill pile. It was so long it made me look like a little kid playing dress-up, and it had clay all over the hem from where my apron hadn’t covered it up. Then of course there were the faded leggings, starting to go baggy at the knees, the Chuck Taylors that had gotten so scuffed over the summer I wasn’t even sure anymore what color they’d started as, and the sloppy side braid that did approximately nothing to contain the bursts of dark-brown frizz I call my hair.
Great look, Rach. No wonder Monique was always asking to give me makeovers. I was a fricking disaster.
Not that it mattered; I was not the kind of girl guys like Kyle Bonham—or really, any guy—paid much attention to. I’d managed to stay pretty much invisible for my entire high school career by hiding out in the art room. Especially to the painfully adorable lacrosse-star seniors who go out of their way to make even eight-year-olds feel special.
An older couple shuffled up to the register, staring perplexedly at the dozen or so variations on meat and cheese the Burger Barn packaged as “specials.” Kyle watched them blankly, looking like someone out of one of those catalogs where everyone is leaning against rustic wooden furniture just “being themselves.”
I should totally send a picture of him to Mo. After all, what could be a better distraction than a perfect-looking boy? Bonus: if I snapped a picture of Kyle I could look at it on my phone whenever. Yes, borderline pathetic, but it’s not like anyone would know but me.
I walked up behind the old woman, trying to look casual by keeping my phone down by my waist.
I tilted the phone up so Kyle’s face was in the frame. He was staring out over the rest of the food court while the older couple worked out their order. I couldn’t believe I was doing this; he was only a few feet away. Even with my flash and sound off, it would be so easy for him to realize what was going on. But it would be worth it. In fact, this might be my best entry yet. Not like it was hard to find something better than a misplaced apostrophe, but this was gold-star emoji material.
As soon as he turned his head back toward the couple, I could take the picture quick and head over to the Pretzel Hut, like I’d realized I didn’t want anything Burger Barn had on the menu. At least, not on the food menu.
“Well I don’t know, Fred, I don’t think I want triple cheese. Can’t we get regular cheese?”
“Ma’am, if you like, I can substitute the cheese,” Kyle said, smiling easily at the older woman. She seemed startled that he was talking to her. Enough so that she shifted over into my frame right as I was clicking to take the picture.
Well, crap sandwich. Great photo of old-lady shoulder, Rach.
I shifted my weight onto my left foot, easing over as imperceptibly as I could. Just move your arm, Grandma . . .
That’s when I saw her, sulking in the line for the Caribou kiosk about twenty feet past the entrance to the food court. Jessie Florenzano.
. . . and her mom, waving cheerily at me like I wasn’t the last person Jessie wanted to see, especially with her mom in tow. Jessie had been embarrassed by her even before our friendship imploded.
Jessie raised an eyebrow as though she could smell what I was doing. I dropped the phone down to my side and waved back. Jessie rolled her eyes and turned her back on me. I could see her whispering sharply to her mom, who smiled apologetically, then turned to Jessie, frowning. There were very few people I’d rather see less than Jessie, anywhere, ever, but I kind of loved that her mom still automatically acted friendly, four years after Jessie had sliced me out of her life.
I turned back. Grandma was laughing and nudging her husband’s arm.
“You know how I love pickles!”
Ew. Not the mental image I needed before eating.
Kyle smiled and tapped at the register. If I moved my arm a couple more inches . . . but not too far. He couldn’t know what was happening, and Jessie couldn’t guess; it would be way too mortifying. He tapped his fingers on the counter in a rat-a-tat rhythm as the old lady dug through her wallet.
He was perfectly lined up in the frame, the last traces of a smile lingering on his perfectly smooth cheeks.
I glanced over at Jessie. She was resolutely pretending I didn’t exist. There was never going to be a better time.
He looked toward me for a second. Crap, I was totally caught. I could feel my cheeks burning, betraying me. My breath caught somewhere around my sternum and stopped there, trapped.
But then he smiled and turned back to the customer, taking her pile of ones and quarters.
I exhaled, trying not to grin. I cropped the photo, typing in Mo’s Flit handle so she’d see it. This was even better than a German shepherd with a tie.
“It’s Rachel, right?”
I looked up, startled. The old couple had moved away to wait for their order, and Kyle was staring at me expectantly. I checked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else. Like the Burger Barn only served Rachels or something? But I was the only person in line.
“Um, yeah.” I felt my face going hot again. “Rachel. That’s me.” Oh god, I sounded like the worst kind of stupid. Quickly, I clicked to make my screen go dark.
He pointed at himself.
I just stared, totally incapable of forming words.
“We’re in creative writing together? Fifth period?”
As though I hadn’t spent every day of the three weeks since school started thanking all the gods for that fact.
“Right,” I said, trying to sound like a girl who didn’t eye-assault him daily. “You sit in the back, right?”
“Yeah! So Jenkins won’t call on me too much. I’m not as good as you are at that stuff.”
“I’m not that good,” I said automatically, looking down at the counter. Someone had made a ketchupy fingerprint to the right of the register. Like a cheeseburger crime scene. I couldn’t believe he knew who I was. The semester had barely started, and I wasn’t even his year. Not only that, he had an opinion about me. A nice one.
“No, you are. That story of yours that Jenkins read yesterday was . . . well it was really weird, but, like, in a cool way,” he said.
“Oh. Um, thanks.” All my words were melting, puddling around my feet in a big sloppy jumble, too liquid-slippery for me to get a grip on. The story had been about a computer that got a weird virus that convinced the machine it was actually the ghost of Queen Elizabeth I. He’d already summed it up: it was weird. I was weird. I could feel my armpits stinging with sweat.
“Anyway, what can I get you, Rachel from writing class?” he said.
You, shirtless, on a stallion?
“Um . . . what do you mean?”
“To eat?” He frowned. It made his nose wrinkle upward, like it was tethered to his forehead. I was so flustered about him knowing my name that I’d forgotten where we were—in line, at his job. He was being nice because he worked service. For god’s sake, he flirted with the elderly. Even more blood rushed into my cheeks. If you poked them with a pin they’d probably burst everywhere. Like that scene in The Shining all over the Apple Prairie Mall food court.
“Oh, duh. Sorry, my blood sugar must be really low,” I said. That’s always Monique’s excuse when she gets ditzy or snippy. “I was thinking, um, french fries?”
“No, large,” I said quickly. I was starving. He grinned a little, which reminded me that the girls Kyle Bonham hung out with did not eat large fries. They’d probably cumulatively eaten half an order of fries in the last ten years, which was why they looked like miniature supermodels and I looked like the funny friend. “I like how the large container makes my hands look extra tiny and stunted. It helps me get perspective on life,” I said.
Oh dear god, someone take this shovel away from me so I can stop digging my own fricking grave.
He laughed though, shaking his head slightly. “You’re funny. Okay. One large fry is gonna be four thirty-six.”
I dug in my purse for the money. He counted out my change and went to grab the fries. I could feel my heart rate slowing back to “not having a coronary” speeds.
“There you go,” he said. “I think this is the right size for your hands,” he added, grabbing one of my tiny fingers and playfully lifting the whole arm up in the air.
His touch was like an electric shock tingling up my entire arm. I almost snatched it back; guys don’t usually go around grabbing my hands. Only guys like Kyle—guys who win state sports titles and homecoming king crowns—have the balls to do stuff like that in the first place. I hoped I hadn’t nervous-sweated enough to pit out my shirt.
But somehow I managed to keep it together long enough for him to squint back and forth between my hand and the fry box, measuring the two against each other before finally nodding as though I’d passed muster.
“Yup, looks like a fit,” he said.
He dropped my hand. I tried to breathe again.
“HA.” I forced a laugh. Poorly. “I should go. I have to meet up with my mom.” Awesome, Rachel, add to your intrigue by reminding him you hang out with your mother.
“Enjoy the fries, Rachel from writing,” he said, grinning. “See you tomorrow.”
“Sure.” I gulped, nodding too many times, too fast. “See you around.”
I walked away as slowly as I could force myself to, which was just this side of a sprint.
Breathing hard, I plopped onto a bench near the fountain. That had been disastrous.
But at least I’d gotten my picture. That had been the point, right? To flit something goofy to Monique? I finished typing her handle, then—because of course I’m oh-so-witty the minute actual guys have disappeared—I typed in a hashtag.
Immediately, I felt a little twinge. What if he saw it? He’d know it was me.
But that wouldn’t happen. Kyle didn’t follow me—maybe ten people did. I flitted all the pictures in the game to Monique, I’d been doing it for months; no one had ever noticed them before. I think the most attention any of the pictures ever got was a single non-Mo favorite, and that dog vest had been AWESOME. Why would anyone suddenly care about this one?
My phone pinged with the sound that meant I had a reflit.
I opened my feed to see what Mo had said.
@attackoftherach_face tonight’s brain food.
The picture I’d flitted was below. That sweet, goofy half-grin lingering around his lips was too adorable. So much so that it had made me feel sassy enough to flit:
@Mo_than_you_know I’m digging what they’re serving up at Burger Barn today. #idlikefrieswithTHAT
God, I am such an idiot.
Tuesday, 5:00 p.m.
The girls that stepped up to the register looked about thirteen. Middle school age, probably. And they were all giggling.
Jeez, what was with the giggling today? I knew I looked like a tool in this hat, but it had never been noteworthy before. Middle schoolers: utter mysteries.
The ringleader: slick, straight dirty-blond hair and what had to be fake fingernails. Finally she spoke up, hushing her crew with a wave of one hand.
“Okay, so, um, we’ll take three chocolate quake-shakes, please, and a burger for Lau-rie.” She said it with an exaggerated eye roll. Laurie must be the one in the back with the hunched shoulders, staring at her feet. Girls were so crappy to each other. “And a Diet Coke, please.”
I typed it into the register.
“Oh, um, yes, actually,” she said, biting her lip and looking back over her shoulder at her little posse. The group simultaneously giggled and squealed, sort of like a bagpipe laughing. I could see the bands on Ringleader’s braces. She’d chosen bright pink. “I’d like fries with THAT.”
Ringleader burst out laughing and buried her head in the nearest minion’s shoulder. The whole group was giggling louder than ever, whispering “I can’t believe you did it,” and raising their eyebrows at one another dramatically.
Jeez. These middle schoolers: extra annoying.
“That’s gonna be twenty-three eighteen,” I said, trying to make my voice as flat as possible. The less you give middle school girls to work with, the better. I’d learned that pretty thoroughly coaching lacrosse camp last summer. “Soda machine is to the right,” I added, pushing a cup with a plastic lid stuffed inside it across the counter.
After several seconds of dramatic breath-catching and hand fluttering, the girls paid and ran off, staring at me over their shoulders with googly eyes. Oof.
A middle-aged guy with a gut spilling out of the bottom of his polo shirt ordered a “Lite and Tasty.” Then another group of girls squealed their way up to the register. These ones looked older. They were maybe freshmen. But they were all still giggling. Like, a lot. Usually even girls couldn’t find anything funny about the Burger Barn. And I couldn’t remember the last time our clientele had been so female.
Could there be some sort of event at the mall? A pop star or something? One of the girls was pointing at me and taking out her phone, like she was gonna take a picture. Which was weird and kinda creepy. I felt like telling her I wasn’t whoever she thought I was, but that would have made things worse. She might have started talking to me.
This shift could not end fast enough.
I had never seen so many girls order fries in my life. I would have snuck back to my locker to google what was going on, but I was the only person on the register on Tuesdays; usually it was dead my whole shift.
By five forty-five we’d run out of fries. We’d never run out of anything before. By six fifteen, Jim, the manager, decided to close for the night, even though it was two hours early. We were running out of too many things. The only thing left was chicken tenders, minus the sauce.
At that point, the line went past the China House and around the corner by the Gap. It was mostly groups of girls, with a couple annoyed adults stuck between them, and it had to be fifty people long.
Which didn’t make sense at all. I eat this stuff, like, every day. There’s no good reason to wait around for it.
I headed to my locker, rolling my shoulders the way I did after a tough practice. All the girls had been laughing. Most had been taking pictures. The whole thing had been . . . terrifying. It had been kinda terrifying, all of them staring at me, placing the same exact order, even using the same exact words. It was like I was stuck in a french-fries-themed Body Snatchers sequel.
At first it seemed harmless. Like maybe some girls JV team was doing, like, extra-lame hazing. But after the third or fourth giggle-giggle-FRIES-WITH-THAT-giggle-giggle, I wondered if someone was trying to mess with me. Like, me specifically. It could have been Dave Rouquiaux, from lacrosse. He was always doing stuff to try to get a rise out of us after games, or in the locker room. One time he put about half a bottle of laxatives into Eric Winger’s Gatorade because he thought Eric had been hitting on the girl he liked. Another time he stole the entire starting line’s shoelaces before practice, just ’cause. He even took his own, to throw everyone off the scent. Dave might do something like this out of boredom. Dave: just that dude.
But how would he have convinced about a zillion girls to mess with me at the Burger Barn? Did Dave even know that many girls? Not likely.
Sighing, I opened the locker and chucked my hat inside. I checked the pile of T-shirts on the shelf. Only one clean shirt left. I’d have to take the rest home and do laundry tonight. Lame.
I jogged back to the register to grab a plastic bag to put them in.
CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK.
Two girls had been lying in wait. By the time I yelled “What the heck is going on?” they were already halfway across the food court, dodging and weaving around customers holding trays. If they had any stick skills they might have been good at lacrosse. One was making this wheezing sound of excitement, like she might faint. Or pop. This day: definitely getting weird.
I walked as fast as I could back to my locker, stopping to check my reflection in the mirror alongside Jim’s office for pulsing zits, or, like, a full-on snot mustache. Something worth lying in wait to photograph. Maybe something mangled and evil had started growing out of my neck. What were those things called? Parasitic twins?
But there was nothing out of the ordinary. I looked exactly the same as always, except I was still in my grease-splattered Burger Barn shirt. I headed to the locker and started stuffing dirty shirts into the bag. I needed to get out of here. Like now.
After I’d changed and checked the schedule to see when I was on next, I grabbed my phone from the back of the locker shelf. We weren’t allowed to have them when we worked the register.
I pressed the on button.
Ten notifications . . .
The little refresh wheel at the top kept spinning.
Thirty-six notifications . . .
492 notifications . . .
Then it just totally died. Turned itself off. Blip.
What the heck was going on?
I turned the phone back on and set it on the shelf. It convulsed with notifications. Finally it chimed loudly, buzzed one last time, and came to a stop. Cautiously, I picked it up.
It buzzed again.
My eyes went out of focus for a second. This made no sense. I clicked my texts.
It looked like I’d gotten one from everyone in my phone book, plus a few numbers I didn’t recognize. The top one was from Ollie, my best friend on the team. I liked Ollie. He was quieter than the other guys, and he never tried to prank people or anything, but he wasn’t all judgmental when other people did. He just didn’t seem to care. It drove Dave nuts how unconcerned Ollie could be. That was flipping hilarious.
(From Ollie): Dude, you’re a trend topic
What was he talking about? I scrolled back through his messages.
(From Ollie): Did you see this picture of you? Some junior chick has a crush
(From Ollie): Everyone is sharing it, you need to check this out
(From Ollie): You’re blowing up Flit
I opened my Flit app.
jenDintheHEE and 15,822 other users reflitted a flit you were mentioned in.
I looked. It was from Erin Rothstein, this girl on dance team that sometimes hung out with my girlfriend, Emma. Actually, Emma: technically my ex. Anyway, it was just someone else’s flit that Erin had added “OMG that’s @YourBoyKyle_B” to.
I opened the original.
My legs kinda went out from under me until I was sitting on the peeling linoleum floor in front of the lockers.
It was a photo of me behind the register, looking like a dork in my uniform. The hashtag said #idlikefrieswithTHAT.
It looked like it was taken today. And it already had how many reflits? I frowned, trying to make this make sense. That was what all the middle schoolers were saying all afternoon. “I’d like fries with that.” So clearly they’d all seen the picture . . . since my shift started. At four.
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes as I exhaled. Coach Laughton said it helped you focus, but it just made me feel dizzier.
First things first: who had taken the picture? The original flit seemed to have come from “attackoftherach_face.” That could have been anyone. The name on the account was “oh RHEally” so that didn’t help. I peered at the tiny thumbnail picture. It was mostly an explosion of curly, dark-brown hair.
It was totally that Rachel girl, the strange, quiet one from writing class. We’d talked at the start of my shift. I smiled a little. She had a crush on me? She seemed like the type that would be dating a twenty-year-old who smoked cigarettes end-to-end and wore skinny jeans and played bass in, like, some punk band.
Huh. Rachel: unexpected.
Without thinking, I clicked to follow her. It brought her count to twenty-nine. She only followed fourteen accounts herself, and one of them was Alec Baldwin, who had to be older than my parents. Who was this girl?
Oh, wait a second.
I clicked back to my notifications.
11K new followers.
- As in thousand.
This morning I had 289, as in 289. I had checked.
I could feel my heart beating too fast, thumping against my rib cage. What was happening? Why would anyone even want to see a picture of me? I’d always figured I was decent looking. I could never have landed Emma otherwise. But I wasn’t anything special. My brother, Carter, was the handsome one. Or Ollie, he had that brooding movie star thing going on. I could see this happening to Ollie. But me? Seriously?
I stuffed the bag of dirty T-shirts into my backpack and jogged to the back of the store. The door there opened onto an employee parking lot near the food court dumpsters. It was deserted. I’d never been so happy to park next to trash.
I got into my car and gripped the steering wheel until my hands stopped shaking. Thank god the middle schoolers hadn’t figured out where I was parked. I didn’t know how they would have, but I still couldn’t work out how they’d found the right Burger Barn so fast either.
My phone lit up again. I grabbed it, ready to turn the stupid thing off. This was too intense. I needed time to process what was going on.
Emma’s picture popped up, the one she’d put into my contacts a year ago, right after we first got together. She had on bright-red lipstick and was making an exaggerated, ducky pout. She thought it was a better picture of her than I did.
I decided to answer.
“Ohmygod, KYLE. I have been trying to call you ALL. DAY. Didn’t you get my messages?” She was talking fast, even for her. She sounded breathless.
“No, sorry. I was at work.”
“You saw Flit, though.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I saw it.” I squeezed my eyes shut, frowning. I still couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened. It kinda hurt to try. I rolled down the car window; the air inside, still heated from the sunny day, suddenly felt claustrophobic. Even with the smells of rancid fryer grease and a thousand kinds of rotting vegetables, the outside air was better.
“Who is that girl anyway? I can’t believe she took that picture. Totally pathetic.”
I didn’t like Emma calling Rachel pathetic, but I didn’t know what to say. I guess it had been sorta weird. “She’s just some junior.”
“Isn’t that cute.”
Emma’s voice was low and monotone. I shouldn’t say any more about Rachel. Emma had always been kinda jealous.
“Anyway, what are you doing right now?”
“I was gonna go home. We closed early. Ran out of food.”
“Really? I thought you guys had, like, five freezers full of stuff in back.”
“We do. Usually. A lot of middle school girls came by to get fries. I guess because of the picture?”
“Whoa.” Emma whistled. “They tracked you down? That’s insane. Are you okay? That almost sounds scary.”
“Yeah, kinda.” I exhaled. Emma had always been really good at hearing what I wasn’t saying. It was one of the things I liked best about her. Maybe it was ’cause we were both used to people not paying much attention to us. Emma’s dad was too busy marrying and divorcing new women every couple years to be around much. Her mom and stepdad seemed cool, but she always said they loved their kid, Nathan, more than they loved her.
My stuff was less drama. My brother, Carter, was the golden child with the grades and the ambition and the looks. I was like the knockoff version. The crappier mini-Carter that my parents had stopped paying attention to ages ago. At least I was taller.
“I’m just glad they don’t know what I drive. For a second I thought there might be a few camped out in the backseat.” I leaned over to make sure I wasn’t right, but it was empty.
“If you closed early you don’t have to go home right away, do you?”
“I dunno. Why?”
“Maybe you can come over. I was supposed to have dinner with my dad but he bailed at the last minute. Again. I guess Lindsay had some event, I don’t know.” Emma trailed off. She never said much about her dad’s current girlfriend. “Anyway my mom and Martin are out somewhere, and Nathan is over at a friend’s, so I don’t even have him to play video games with. Pretty lame, huh?”
I squeezed my eyes shut tight and leaned my forehead on the steering wheel.
Was she inviting me over because she wanted to get back together? Or was she just lonely, and curious about the flit, and she figured I’d answer? If I came, would it smooth things over, or would she think I was whipped? Emma wasn’t the kind of girl who would get back together with someone she thought she had on too short a leash.
Girls: I definitely need a translator.
“It’d be pretty hard for you to be lame,” I said. It was the least puppy-dog thing I could come up with that was still true.
“So are you coming over? I’ve got the whole place to myself, I think all night. Plus, if you go home there will probably be middle schoolers camped out at your house. And you just said you don’t have any more fries.”
“That’s an excellent point.” I tried not to think about how it might actually be an excellent point.
I couldn’t say yes until I knew what she wanted. If she was trying to push me into the friend zone, I should go home. It would be easier in the long run.
“Does this mean . . . I thought we were broken up?” It had only been a week since Emma had told me she “needed to just be alone for a while.” That put her two weeks ahead of schedule for “missing me so much,” if our last two breakups were any guide.
I know it’s pathetic that I didn’t just ditch her already, but there was something about Emma. She was really hot, obviously, but she was also good at reading people, at reading me. Like if I was down, or if I wanted to leave wherever we were, Emma always knew, sometimes even before I did. It was like she noticed me more than other people. And when no one was around, I’d catch glimpses of this side of her that was so . . . fragile. For most people she was on all the time, but when we were alone she was different. Smaller somehow, and sadder. It made me want to make her happier. And she had this way of looking at me sometimes that made me feel . . . I dunno, like something legit amazing. Emma made you want to be cool enough to hang out with Emma.
“Well we were,” she said slowly. “Do you still want to be broken up?”
“I never wanted to be at all,” I said truthfully.
“I never wanted to be broken up, I just needed me time, you know? It’d be nice to see you. It’s lonely over here.” She sighed. The sound made my heart squeeze tight.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll be over in a little.”
Maybe this picture blowing up wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
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