Umm. . . "Im not a rule kind of person. "

"Whats his name?"

"Ron. . . Ron Barak. "

My mouth opens wide as he takes a big red pen and crosses off my dads name from the list.

"You cant do that!" I say, totally upset now. I paid thirty-five dollars to sign my dad up for the speed dating night. Okay, to be completely honest Maria paid and Im working it off. Its a little side business arrangement I made with her.

Maria takes a seat next to Larry and makes her lips all pouty. "Is there any way you could help her out?" The guy shrugs. "What do you want me to do?" Maria looks to me for an answer.

"Let me go on the dates in my dads place. " I admit it isnt the most brilliant idea, but it does have potential. If I could find the perfect woman for him, screen her personally. . .

Before the guy comes to his senses, I pull a nametag and scorecard off the table.

"Women, please sit at your assigned places. Men, youll go around to each woman, marking off either a yes or a no on the card. Women, youll do the same for the men. Just write their number on your card and mark it with a yes or no. If you get two matching yes marks, well e-mail you each others contact information. Everyone got it?"

Nope. But I cant say anything because Ill be kicked out of this ridiculous shenanigan. Right now Im not blaming my dad. Im so nervous, as if Im going to be judged for my looks and brains and. . .

"Start!"

I head to the only open seat in the place. Im sitting across from a woman with the name Dru on her nametag. She looks really confused. It takes me a minute to explain myself. "Hi, Im Amy. My dad was supposed to be here, but couldnt make it. Well, actually he didnt want to come. Its kind of a long story, but ultimately Im looking for a wife for my dad. What kinds of qualifications do you--"

"Switch!"

Before I finish my question, Im being rushed out of the chair. I take another empty seat and find myself across from another single, confused woman. Shes looking a little old to be set up with my dad, and her gray roots need to be touched up. "How old are you?" I ask.

"Forty. "

"Have you tried nighttime moisturizing face cream?"

"I beg your pardon? This is a speed dating function, not a cosmetic consultation. "

"I know. Im trying to find a woman for my dad, but--" Oops, the lady is raising her hand, getting the attention of the organizers. I crane my neck to find Maria deep in conversation with a guy at the other end of the bar. At least one of us is having luck tonight. "Switch!"

Larry stands over my chair. "Miss, you cant be here. This is a private function for adults only. "

I stand up, defeated. "Im going, Im going," I say, then give a little wave to Maria and head outside.

In our condo, my dad is sitting at his desk, working.

"Ill have you know I went on two three-minute dates or you.

"How were they?"

"Terrible. You know how they say theres a pot for every lid? I think youve got a pot in the shape of a trapezoid. "

"Is that bad?" he asks.

To be honest, the jurys out on that one. Being unique and different is good. But I suspect theres a fine line between being unique and needing major therapy.

16

***

Some people will think differently of me because Im Jewish. Some people will call me names because Im Jewish. Some people will hate me because Im Jewish. Should I ignore them or confront them?

***

Before school the next day, I spot Mitch by his locker.

"You dont break up with someone right before the Valentines Dance," I tell him. "Its rude. "

He furrows his bushy eyebrows, which at one time I thought made him look rugged and adorable. "What do you want me to say?" he says, then closes his locker and walks away from me.

Why can girls be strong enough to confront boys with issues, but boys cant do the same? They make asinine statements and run away. Im going to make a generalized statement about boys, so brace yourself: Boys have an aversion to confrontation. (And commitment, but thats a whole different story. )

But I am persistent. Catching up with Mitch, I tap him on the back and say as were walking, "You hurt Jessica. That wasnt cool. "

Mitch stops, but his curly hair is still bouncing up and down on his head. "Lay off, Amy. I liked you, then I stopped liking you and fell for Jessica. Now I like someone else. "

"Cant you commit to someone?"

"Yeah, while I like em. When its over, its done. Im a teenage guy. I can afford to be picky. "

I want to slap him.

While Im still contemplating his egotistic statement, he leaves me in the hallway standing amongst the student body. How many of these teens are picky? Nathan told Maria I dont like him because he wears old clothes and has glasses.

Thats not why.

I have the sudden urge to share with Nathan why I hate him. Its not that Im picky, or rude, or think of myself as too good to be friends with him.

"Earth to Amy. "

I blink out of my daydreaming. Cami and Raine are standing in front of me, waving their arms in front of my face. "Welcome back to reality," Cami says, laughing.

"Whats on the menu for lunch?" I ask, trying to forget about Mitch and what he just told me. Besides, on Mondays sometimes they surprise us with Unos pizza. (Another high carb food, I know. . . but just as worth it as sushi. )

"Forget lunch. Tell us about that Nathan guy and you going to the Valentines Dance. Everyones talking about it, if you havent noticed. Theyre saying youve gone geek on us. First you kiss the guy in the lunchroom and then you sit at Mirandas table. Whats gotten into you?"

I think about how cool Miranda was after I was rude and how quickly she took my apology without making me feel bad. She could have bitched me out, but she didnt. "Mirandas not so bad. "

Raine puts her manicured hands up. "She smells like Swiss cheese, Amy. Youd think that big Jewish honker of hers would notice it. "

And there it is. My first time since going through conversion someone saying a derogatory remark to me about Jews. More than derogatory. Racist, really. My heart is pounding faster and I feel my throat start to constrict. Im getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"Im Jewish," I say, ready to defend my people even if it costs me popularity-wise. And let me tell you, being unpopular at Chicago Academy is like being a lone rabbit surrounded by a roomful of hunting dogs. Or wolves.

"Yeah, but not really. Youre only half Jewish," Raine says, not getting it.

Eww. Half. Like I can never be whole because my mom isnt Jewish? Wrong. "Um, I gotta disagree with you there, Raine. Im all Jew. If you want to start throwing around Jewish jokes or insults, its not gonna fly with me. "

Raine looks like shes smelling some bad cheese right about now. "Lighten up, Amy. "

"Dont tell me to lighten up when you insult my people," I say.

"I insulted Miranda Cohen, Amy. Not you. Not the entire Jewish population ox your people. Geez," she says, then rolls her eyes.

I desperately want to walk away, to back down and remove myself from the situation like Mitch did to me. But I dont. Because I want Raine to know, or anyone else who wants to fling around Jewish insults, that its not okay. It hurts. I cant even describe how much her words cut right through me, even though I know she doesnt realize it.

My heartbeat somewhat gets back to normal when Raine turns and walks away in a huff.

I turn to Cami, whos pretending to check in her book bag for something. I can tell shes just shuffling around stuff. "Im not mad at you," I tell Cami.

Cami looks up. "That was intense. "

"It wasnt meant to be. "

So now were just standing here and I have to say something to break the silence. "You headed for the cafeteria?"

Cami hesitates before saying, "Nope. I have to go to the Resource Lab first. Ill meet up with you later. "

Yeah, sure. "Whatever," I say, as

if I dont care.

Walking into the cafeteria, I survey my surroundings. Raine is already here; shes talking with a couple of other girls with their heads together in obvious gossip-mode. Did I say gossip was underrated? Well, now that Im on the other end of the Gossip Trail Im not so happy about it. Payback sucks.

Im standing in line, picking out food. Yesterday was a disaster with Nathans kiss. Now Raine is gossiping about me being Jewish. Im sure shes twisting the story around to make me look bad. Im determined to avoid drawing attention to myself.

Oh, no. Nathan just walked in the room. Hes about six people behind me in the cafeteria line. Hes talking to Kyle. Better to know where he is so Im not given another surprise kiss without being prepared for it.

Today I dont take a salad, especially because the lunchroom lady Gladys is watching me like a hawk. I order a turkey sandwich on sourdough bread, freshly made at the deli counter, and scan the lunchroom tables.

Heres where life gets tricky.

The lunchroom. Where the students classify and separate themselves like little granola clusters. Usually Im attached to Jessica. Wherever she sits, I sit. Right now shes at the condiment counter, squirting ketchup into a little white cup for her fries. She has no clue Raine is talking about how she made fun of Mirandas Jewish nose.

Miranda is sitting with her usual cluster. They are not all Jewish. The thing they have in common is they all need fashion advice. Theyre also straight A students. Miranda waves over to me, and I wave back. She probably thinks Im going to sit at her table like yesterday.

Jess sits in Raines cluster before I can get her attention.

Looking back, Nathan is at the cashier about to pay for his two slices of pizza and bottle of Arizona Iced Tea.

Okay, time to make a decision. Cluster with Jessica and Raine, where I usually sit. Or sit with Miranda and her friends again. No time to dawdle, Amy. Popular girls dont dawdle.

As if Im a programmed robot, I sit with my usual friends. I feel like a traitor, although when I glance over at Miranda, shes in a heated conversation with someone else and doesnt even notice Ive chosen the popular girls who know what DKNY means, instead of her table, where theyre probably discussing E=MC 2 .

When I take a seat next to Jessica, the table gets super quiet. Jess is confused.

"So, whats with you and the new guy Nathan?" Roxanne asks with a snicker. "You two put on a pretty good show yesterday. Any chance for a repeat performance?"

I take a bite of my turkey sandwich so I dont have to answer right away. I need time to think of a response, although Im usually quick-witted.

Just as Im swallowing my first bite, I hear Nathans voice behind me. "Can I squeeze in?"

I look up at Nathan and want to say "No" because everyone is expecting us to start making out. Why doesnt he go sit with Kyle and his buddies? Or with the geeks at the geek table?

Jessica makes everyone move down so he can sit next to me. Ugh, all eyes are on us. I do want to talk to Nathan, but in private without being surrounded and stared at by the cluster.

"So, I hear you guys are going to the Valentines Dance," Roxanne says, her beady eyes focusing on my reaction. "Are you two, like, dating?"

I feel like the entire lunchroom is listening to my response.

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