"Whats up, Nelson?" he says, calling me by my last name as he slides skillfully into the seat next to me. Do you think he practices that move?

Im not about to tell him Ive been hyphenating my last name since the beginning of the school year, using both my parents last names. Im now Amy Nelson-Barak. Im not telling Kyle because 1) he wouldnt care and 2) he wouldnt remember even if I did tell him.

"Not much," I respond.

"Thats not what I heard. "

Huh?

"Whatd you hear?" I ask him. Is there a rumor about me? "That you signed up for a dating service. "

"Who told you that?" Its not true. . . exactly. Kyle leans his chair back on two legs. "The new guy. You know, the one with glasses and dorky clothes. "

"Nathan?"

Kyle shrugs his big shoulders and says, "Yep. The dudes my bio partner this week. "

Im going to kill that tall, lanky jerk who wouldnt know the difference between Dana Buchman and Armani. How dare he spread rumors about me!

"So. . . are you that hard up?" Kyle asks. "Cause youre kinda cute, Nelson, and you got great boobage. "

I whip my head around and glare at him. "Boobage? Jeez, Kyle, do you make these words up?"

He puts his hands up in question. "Youd rather I said tits?"

"Shut up," I say before opening my trig book and sticking my head in it. I swear, if he keeps staring at my chest Im going to make sure he cant pass the ball at the next basketball game.

"Miss Barak, would you care to share your conversation with the rest of us?" Mr. Hennesey barks out from the front of the room. Mr. Hennesey is the gym teacher as well as study hall monitor. Study hall policeman is more like it.

If Kyle mentions my boobage to the rest of the room, Im going to kill him. . . along with Nathan Keener.

"Nope," I say.

"Then I suggest you both quit talking or Ill have to separate you. " I wish.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Hennesey walks out of the room. As everyone knows, when a teacher walks out of the room its an invitation to start talking. Right now I dont want to talk.

"You need a date for the Valentines Dance?" Kyle says, loudly I might add.

I cock my head to the side and answer sweetly, "Why? Are you asking me?" Ha! Right back at ya. Nothing like a lowly junior putting a popular senior boy on the spot.

Im sure everyone in the entire room hears our conversation. The snickers and looks in our direction are a clue. I think the words "Valentines Dance" alone would turn heads. Its on everyones mind since the posters went up last week.

"I will, if you want to do a threesome. I already asked Caroleen Connors, but Im man enough to take you both on at once. "

Kyle has the nerve to wink at me. Eww! The guy needs a serious ego adjustment.

Mr. Hennesey walks back into the room, so I cant respond. So now Im sitting here, seething at Kyle for being a male chauvinist pig and at Nathan for spreading rumors about me.

After study hall, I walk to social studies while plotting ways to confront the geek who moved into my building. Is he that socially inept he has to stoop to spreading rumors about me just to get attention?

"Did you see the new guy?"

I look up at my friend Raine, who has no clue my heart rate just jumped and my veins tensed at the mention of him. I look up at her with my patented sneer.

"What did I do?" Raine asks, wide-eyed.

"Nothing," I say. "Just please dont talk about Nathan Keener. "

A guys voice behind me says, "FYI, its Nathan Greyson.

Im left with my mouth wide open, staring at my neighbor and his oversized tortoise-rimmed glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose.

Raine says, "Nice pants," and walks away giggling.

"You and your friends really know how to throw out the welcome mat," Nathan says with a fake smile. "Private schools are a breeding ground for fake, plastic people. This school is no exception. "

I dont understand this guy. Hes geeky, but hes got an attitude that doesnt mix with his outward appearance. "Who are you?" I ask.

"Hell if I know," he responds, and without another word walks away.

Leaving me to wonder if hes a vampire or alien in human form.

I walk into social studies and the last thing on my mind is current affairs. But Mrs. Moore is obsessed with vibrant class discussions on the president, his policies, and making sure we all know whats going on in this great country of ours. I think the mere act of looking at the American flag brings her to tears.

When the bell rings at the end of the day, I stuff my homework in my book bag and trudge through the slush to the bus stop with Jessica, Cami, and Raine. Mitch is standing at the bus stop already, and when Jessica walks close he casually puts his arm across her shoulders. I can tell Jess is still upset he hasnt asked her to the dance. Shes as stiff as the icicles hanging from the bus stop sign.

"Seriously, Amy. Did you join a dating service to get a date for the Valentines Dance?" Roxanne says, and laughs like a hyena giving painful birth to twins.

I really hate her. She knows it, too, because last year we almost came to blows in tennis when I bumped her down from the varsity team to JV. The cheat always pretends to hyperventilate in the middle of a match shes losing so she can take a break and regroup. Nice try, Roxy. I still beat your butt.

"Shes got a boyfriend," Jessica chimes in while rolling her eyes. "Leave her alone, Roxanne. "

I want to cheer Go Jessica Go!, but dont. Jessica doesnt reveal the fact that I signed my dad up on PJSN because she knows it would embarrass me. One of these days Roxanne is going to find herself banned from the bus stop if her mouth keeps running like diarrhea.

Unfortunately, we have to wait ten more minutes for the bus to come. We all live on the Gold Coast and have to take public transportation to school. It doesnt make sense to have a car when you live and go to school in the city. So were at the mercy of the Chicago Transit Authority. Its cool during the summer and spring, but when snow dumps itself on Chicago it can get pretty rough. We usually wait inside the school until the last possible minute, then trudge outside and freeze our butts off until the bus stops and opens its doors.

As if standing next to Roxanne wasnt bad enough, Nathan comes sidling up the sidewalk and stands with us. Hes got his iPod headphones in his ears, highlighting that he doesnt care to start conversations with fake, plastic people. Kyle kind of nods his head in acknowledgment of him. Nathan nods back, then pushes his glasses up again. Someone should clue him in that they sell non-slip glasses now.

The bus turns down the street. Relief time! Im the first one on, ready to get out of Roxanne and Nathans sight even if its for ten seconds. I head to the back of the bus where we hang until our stop. Jess and Mitch--"the couple"---sit across from me. Cami and Raine sit together, so do Kyle and Roxanne. That leaves Nathan and me, the singles.

Nathan doesnt even contemplate sitting next to me as he and his headphones plop themselves down onto a bench in the front of the bus. He makes it very clear he doesnt consider himself one of us.

I have no clue why this irks me so much.

Maybe its because he insulted my school and my friends. And me.

Whatever. I dont care what Nathan Keener Greyson thinks about me. I have my own friends and boyfriend, even if he does live halfway around the globe.

Ugh. I miss Avi, especially at times like these when I need someone just to ramble to. Jess has been depressed lately--I have no clue if its really about Mitch or if something else is bugging her. She wont open up to me.

Cami is studiously doing her homework so she has less to do when she gets home. And Raine is just the opposite, concentrating on putting her lip-gloss on to keep it fresh. She doesnt give a crap about homework. In fact, I bet she probably has her mom do it for her.

Roxanne is flirting with Kyle. Maybe shes moving on to someone who doesnt have a girlfriend. I wonder if she knows hes going to the Valentines Dance with

Caroleen Connors. Probably not by the way shes leaning into him and touching him as if hes her property. I swear, Kyle just eats up the attention. But thank God hes focused on her boobage now instead of mine.

The bus stops on the corner of Dearborn and Superior, where I get off. Of course Nathan gets off the bus, too, and we walk into our building together. Elevators are a strange place to begin with. The creaky sounds and rattling of the doors can put anyone on edge. But when youre in the elevator with someone you dont particularly like, the place can make even a non-claustrophobe feel like theyre stuck in a coffin.

Im on one side of the elevator; Nathan is on the other. He still has his iPod earbuds in his ears, but I have no clue if theres music playing in them. I almost want to say something to test him. I know people who pretend theyre listening to music but are really eavesdropping on conversations when others think they cant hear.

"Im not plastic," I say to him. "Or fake. "

No reaction, except for a little twitch of his jaw. And his breathing halted, just for a millimeter of a second.

Its true. Im as real as they get, no holds barred. My dad says sometimes its a good trait, and sometimes its a horrible one.

We finally reach the fortieth floor.

"Check ya later, Barbie," Nathan mumbles.

Did I just hear right?

Barbie? Um. . . thats not gonna fly with me. No way, no how.

I stop dead in my tracks and turn around. "What did you call me?" I ask.

I should have known the guy would ignore me. Ignoring is apparently Nathans specialty.

Inside my condo, Mutt greets me with a pounce and a germ-infested lick. Most people say that a dogs mouth is cleaner than a persons mouth. But most people havent tested my dogs mouth. He licks too many private parts to be considered clean by anyones standards.

I look up when Mutt runs over to his leash. To my surprise, my dad is sitting at the dining room table.

"You get fired?" I ask.

My dad looks up. "No. Just wanted to be here when you got home. "

Thats a first. "Why?"

My dads attention is taken by Mutt, holding the leash in his mouth and wagging his tail around like a lance. "Lets talk about it after you take Mutt out. "

This doesnt sound too good. "Tell me now. "

"Hes going to have an accident on the floor if you dont take him. "

"Im going to freak out if you dont tell me. Whats worse?"

My dad takes a deep breath and says, "Im new at being a fadder, but I have to try my best. You used my credit card without my permission. You signed me up for a dating service without my permission. That six-month membership is costing me over three hundred dollars. "

That about sums it up. "I said I was sorry. "

"This time, Amy, sorry isnt good enough. "

Now Im starting to panic. Does he want me to leave and go live with my mom and her hyper-allergic husband? Theres no way theyll let me keep Mutt in their pristine suburban house with the new baby coming. And will I have to start a new school with kids I dont know? High school is tough enough without being the new kid, and Im not going to think about Nathan right now because he doesnt deserve my sympathy.

"Ill do anything, Aba. Please dont send me away. "

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