I typed the first sentence of my conclusion and touched my bottom lip. The snake-bite studs felt cold and smooth. Almost too rad to stand. Jessica Butcher was going to die from jealousy, and that made me smile. Then the cursor stopped blinking.
I typed a few words, but nothing happened. Hit the space bar. Hit return. Hit tab and escape and backspace. The cursor didn’t move and I couldn’t stop touching my lip. Then the screen went dark.
I was sitting in the computer lab, missing an entire paper on the Gilded Age and the bell was about to ring. And someone was standing over me.
I looked up to see Franklin Fergusen. He was everywhere, all the time, not talking, not smiling, just hovering. I let my eyelids droop in that way, like I can’t even stand to look at you, you make me so tired.
“What do you want, Froggy?”
He shrugged, staring down at me. His nose was bony and huge.
“Well, I’m kind of busy right now.” I tried to sound bored, but I was almost crying. My makeup was cat-eye glam, and if I cried, I was going to wind up looking like a panda. I bit the inside of my cheek and my throat stopped hurting. “So, unless you know how to get my history paper back, I don’t have time for social hour, okay?”
Froggy nodded. Then he unzipped the pocket on his backpack and took out a CD. “Get up.”
The CD was a burned copy of something, labeled in marker.
I sighed and gave him my chair. “What’s that supposed to do?”
“It’s an operating system. If you used a stable operating system, this wouldn’t happen.” When he slid the CD into the drive, a new screen came up. It was just a black window, full of slashes and random letters. “What folder were you saving it to?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know where you were saving to? Okay, never mind. What was the name of the file?” He scowled at the screen, leaning close. “This would be easier if the temp folder wasn’t full of youtube downloads.”
I stared at the little black window. “It was just haylee_history, I think.”
“This is why I never use Windows machines. Okay.” Froggy hit a button and I was looking at my lost paper. “Is this it? If this is it, I’m going to print it now, before something goes haywire.”
I pulled on one of my extensions and nodded. I was missing my conclusion, but everything else was there. “Thanks,” I said, and it was awkward and weird. “You kind of just saved my life. Is there like something I could do to make it up to you?”
“Go with me to the fall dance.” He said it very fast, standing up and tripping over the chair. “I mean, I know it’s really short notice, but . . .”
I looked up at him. Behind us, my paper was humming off the printer. His hair was too short. His mouth was big enough to park a Lexus in. “Look, Froggy, do you really think I have nothing better to do on a Saturday night than go to a dance?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets. “So, you already have plans.”
“Well, yeah.” I pictured Tyler Strauss, how ace he looked in his Cobra Starship shirt. The Frog was standing in front of me, pathetic and slumped. The paper was worth 25% of our grade.
“Okay,” I said. “Okay, fine. For a little.”
The dress was shamrock green, back from when I was rocking the neon pink extensions, but it looked crap with my new ones, like I was trying too hard to match.
When Froggy showed up at 9:00, he was wearing a tie, and not an ironic one. “You look nice,” he said, and held the door for me.
In the car, he seemed faraway, like he was scared someone would touch him, which was weird. Touching was what boys mostly wanted. We didn’t talk much, but he played Elliott Smith and The Shins. It was different, but sort of nice, too. I didn’t hate it.
When we got to school, the gym was full of disco lights and confetti. As soon as we walked through the double doors, Jessica Butcher was on me, with her pink 80s prom dress and her green-and-platinum hair that was a total shameless copy of mine.
She smiled like she wanted to eat me. “Haylee, I thought you were over school functions.”
I shrugged, trying to act like I wasn’t out of place. Like I belonged there.
“That matchy-match dress/hair combo is boss. I mean, Marie Claire. Really.” She stared past me. “What is the Frog doing here?”
“He came with me,” I said, and my voice sounded cool and flat. Practically runway.
“Ooh—like accessorizing, right? Nerds are smexy!” But she was standing with her hands held out and her fingers spread, like the irony was dripping all over.
Next to me, Froggy was hugging himself, keeping his face turned away, and I missed him. I missed his music and his quiet car. I missed the boy in the computer lab who knew how to save me with six or seven keystrokes.
I turned my back on Jessica, looking up at Froggy. His eyes were tired and resigned, just starting to hurt. He smelled like gum, and I kissed him. Tyler always smelled like Cheetos and laundry, like because he was so insanely hot, he didn’t have to practice hygiene like the rest of us. Froggy was clean and soft and when he pulled back, it felt like I’d lost something. His mouth was warm. I wanted to keep kissing it.
Around us, everyone was whispering. Froggy stood in the middle of the gym with his arms held stiffly away from his body, like he didn’t know where to put them, like he couldn’t tell if I was making fun of him. If my kiss was supposed to save him—give him worth or dignity, it didn’t work. He wasn’t handsomer or better. He was just himself.
Something was happening to me, though. It had to be, because for the first time in months, Jessica wasn’t staring like she wanted to hijack my identity.
She was looking at me like I disgusted her. Like I could turn ugly just by touching Froggy Fergusen.
I grabbed him hard by the shoulders and did it again.