"I want to have sex so badly." Kristina sighed into the phone. "I'm just tired of waiting."
I waved to my mom as I entered the house, glad she was slaving over the ironing board and wouldn’t be able to hear our conversation. "Jeez, Kris. Hire a prostitute already."
"I'm scared of diseases."
Next stop was the fridge. Tossing aside a few yogurts, I settled on a gulp of orange juice, straight from the carton.
“Use a glass!” my mother yelled, which was odd because she couldn’t see me anymore from her ironing-board vantage point. Guess she had a sixth-sense for those things.
“Sorry,” I called out, phone pinned between my head and shoulder. Kristina waited patiently on the line until I’d bounded up the stairs to my bedroom. “So, diseases, then. That's the only thing stopping you?”
“Well not the only thing. But a big thing. I don’t want to be ax-murdered, either.”
The bedsprings on my twin mattress groaned as I dropped onto them. I’d asked my parents for a new bed—a full size—but they insisted no unmarried person needed a mattress that large. Just the idea that I could fit someone in my bed to do the deed before marriage unnerved them.
They thought about sex almost as much as Kristina did.
"Maybe there are prostitutes that come with a clean bill of health,” I suggested. “I bet they'd be pricier, though. You might have to ask your parents to spot you the money. Or you could put it on your birthday list."
"Quit being a jerk,” she responded airily. Her TV clicked on in the background, and a chorus of laughter erupted. “You know, you could help with this. I’ve told you a hundred times, I'm not looking for a relationship. I just want to . . . to know what sex is like. We could do it. It wouldn’t change our friendship, I swear."
A chill of guilt ran through me, but I forced it away with an energetic fluff of my pillow. Out in high school was not in my plans. No matter how much I trusted Kristina as a friend, it was best to keep that secret to myself for now. "We've been over this. That'd just be . . . too weird for me."
"Yeah, I know. Which is why I've got another idea."
"Now what? You've given up on ‘Operation Slut-It-Up’?"
She spluttered something caustic—a combination of jackass, fucker, and a cough. "I was just trying to look more . . . available."
"To no avail."
"You are a freaking nerd, Josh. But lucky for you I'm gonna let you make it up to me."
"Let me . . . what?"
"I need your help for my next plan."
"Hey, is that my mom?" I sat up, fumbling the phone on purpose. "Sorry, Kris, I think my mom's calling." I had half a mind to run down the stairs and make my lie into a truth . . . except then I’d probably get roped into some kind of chore.
"No she isn't. Nice try. Quit dicking around and listen to me."
Well, damn. Kristina knew me too well. The perils of a six-year friendship.
"Fine. But I'm not agreeing to anything up front."
"Great," Kristina went on in that tone that meant she'd ignored me. "You know Brennan Halprin? You were partners in A.P. Bio for that dissecting thing?"
"Yeah, I know him. So what?"
"So, you're like, friends, right?"
I snorted. "Sure. Best buds."
"Okay, so, y'know how the girls talk about him. He watches tons of porn, and he's always joking about wanting sex so bad it hurts."
"He talks to girls about that stuff?" I grimaced. And not just because of the girls part. "Isn't that sort of…disgusting?"
"No, dummy. He talks to the guys, the guys talk to their girlfriends. You know how it goes."
"Sure. Right. The telephone game in high school. I'm sure your information is brimming with accuracy."
"Mhm." Again with the ignoring. "So, what I need you to do is talk to him for me."
"Talk to him about what?"
"About me. About me being available for no-strings sex."
This time the phone slipped from my hand all on its own. "Are you nuts?" I got out as it fell.
"Why? It sounds like a perfect plan to me." Kristina was her confident self when I reestablished contact. "He can get one under his belt, and I won't die a virgin. I call that a win-win."
I rolled onto my stomach, struggling to come up with the right words. I wasn’t even really sure what I thought, actually. I knew how my parents felt about sex—zip, zero, zilch before a committed relationship—and ideally marriage.
But that was old-fashioned, like my parents—not to mention the marriage part wouldn’t even be possible for me in our state. For a while now, it’d just been easier to indulge in Kristina’s free-sex fantasies than to try to figure out where I stood.
Except fantasy was getting a lot closer to reality with this proposal. "You're seventeen, Kris. Are you planning on dying shortly?"
"You know what I mean," she huffed. "I don't want to go to college so inexperienced."
"I don't have a problem with it," I offered, and then wanted to shove a sock in my mouth. Not a good way to lead the conversation.
"Yeah, well, you're you, Josh. And I love ya, but really. It wouldn't kill you to be a little more ambitious in the love department."
I waited until my stomach flip-flops were in check before responding. "And it wouldn’t kill you to think about something besides dick for a while."
Advice we could probably both use . . . ‘cause I was ambitious enough—in my dreams.
She blew me off with a sigh and a likely flip of her auburn hair. "Whatever. So you'll talk to him?"
"Are you kidding me? No way. We barely even know each other."
"You sit next to him in biology."
"Well it's not like we run in the same circles or anything. The extent of our contact is 'Hey, did you read the entire chapter last night? No? Me either.’"
"That and, 'Pin back my frog skin, wouldja?’” Kristina added with a chuckle.
"Exactly. So my answer is obviously no, I can't tell him my friend would like him to devirginize her."
I hated when she said my name that way. It was too much like my mom, when she caught me changing my sheets before a laundry day and just knew what I’d been up to.
"Don't even, Kris. You're . . . you're like asking me to be your pimp. That's gross."
She was silent for a moment. Carefully planning her next angle of attack, no doubt.
"You can deny it all you want,” she began, drawing out her words for emphasis, “but I know you wish you could be friends with that cooler crowd. I mean, I wish I could be, too."
"So?" I grumbled. Sure, I wished that. I wished a lot of things. They rarely came true. “I don’t know that playing the pimp card is the best way to get invited into their circle.”
"No, listen, this is our in, Joshy. You and me. We can break through. I'll be the girl who's cool enough to have sex with a guy for fun, without getting all clingy and shit, and you'll . . . you'll be my best friend."
There was another word for girls like that, but I didn’t want to test the limits of her tolerance. At least not right now.
Besides, she did have a point. As insane as her plan was, it'd give me a reason to talk to Brennan and his friends, and a senior year with the popular crowd had to have its benefits.
"You're totally crazy, you know that?"
"Yes. So you'll do it?"
I turned back around, eyes skimming past the window, where some of my younger neighbors could be seen riding their bikes in wobbly circles. Kris and I had been like them, once. We’d spent summers with super-soakers and winters with sleds on snowy hillsides. We’d played in the woods and built forts in our backyards. But not anymore. Now we had a new playground—one full of relationships and sex.
"I'll . . . I'll think about your . . . indecent proposal. No guarantees, though."
She giggled. "Indecent proposal. I like that.”
Brennan came up behind me on Tuesday, his backpack sliding off the arm of his letter jacket and onto my feet.
“Oops, sorry, dude.” He collected the wayward bag and pushed it under his own desk. “You study for that quiz today?”
“No, not really,” I answered dutifully.
“Me neither.” He hunched over in his chair and rummaged through his pants for a stub of a pencil. “I probably should’ve, though. Can’t afford to bomb this one like I did last time.”
We could study together.
I almost said it aloud, but Brennan had already turned to his book and was busy cramming in last minute facts, sandy-blond hair flopping over his eyes.
Nope, we definitely weren’t more than acquaintances. Which suited me just fine, most of the time. There were hotter guys at school, anyhow. Brennan’s forehead was a little too pronounced, and his nose was slightly crooked. Maybe he’d been hit in the face with a lacrosse stick or something.
“Hey, Bren.” His friend Zeke turned around in his seat. “Guess what my mom was watching last night?”
“What?” Brennan pushed his hair back, revealing clear green eyes.
At least those weren’t bad.
“The Miss Universe Pageant.”
“Aw, yeah, man!” Brennan slapped his thigh, wide mouth cracking in a lusty smile. “What about the Brazilian chick? Was she hot? The Brazilians are always the hottest . . . they have the ass and the boobs.”
“Always with the tits and ass, man.” Zeke chuckled. “I’m kinda into the Swedish chick, actually. She’s got these real pouty lips.”
Okay, so Kris was probably on the right track with Brennan. But I really wished she had higher standards. Did she have to pick the shallowest guy she could find? There had to be someone better out there for her. Even if Brennan Halprin was tall and kept in really great shape and had those sea-foam green eyes.
“Morning, class. Hope everyone’s ready for the quiz.” Mr. Stenson entered the room to audible sighs.
“Shoulda studied,” Brennan muttered.
“Shouldn’t have spent all night jerking off to porn,” Zeke suggested with a wink.
Brennan rolled his eyes and gave me a friendly elbow in the side. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, right?”
Kristina cornered me at my locker before lunch. “Did you do it?”
“Do what?” I asked, just to be annoying.
“Shut it.” She folded her arms under her ample chest, forcing her breasts up a couple of inches. “Did you talk to him or not?”
“Yeah, I talked to him. The same way I do every day.”
Her hand darted out to twist a hunk of skin on my chest.
“Ow!” I jerked my wounded body out of reach. “I’m not into that whole S&M thing!”
“You’re really not living up to your friend duties lately, you know? We barely hang out anymore, and you can’t even do me one little favor?”
That hurt more than the pinch. All right, maybe our friendship was less vibrant than it had been, but that was mostly because our interests were changing.
Or getting a little too similar.
I tried to glare at her, but it was hard to maintain while she stood fuming in a Rainbow Bright t-shirt. “Kris, I just don’t know how I’m supposed to bring that up in conversation. ‘Hi, how’s it goin’? Wanna have sex with my best friend?’”
“Sometimes I think you’re all talk,” I said, shaking my head. At least, I sort of hoped she was.
“Fine.” I slammed my locker shut. “Maybe I will. Maybe you’ll get what you want and you can finally shut the hell up about all of this.”
She blinked thick, mascara-covered lashes at me. “Are you mad?”
“No.” I sighed. Kristina was Kristina, and I’d never had a problem with her before…so it was a little late to start now. “Just quit pestering me. I’ll get to it if and when I want to.”
“Sure.” She tugged up her bra straps. “Lunch?”
I knew I hadn’t heard the end of it, but I took the temporary reprieve. We headed through the commons to our lunch table, where a little brown hand was waving to get our attention.
May spoke around a mouthful of chicken-fried steak as we approached. “Hey, finally! Guess what we’re gonna do with Genji next weekend?”
“Good afternoon, friends Josh and Kristina.” Genji, our pet Japanese exchange student, gave us his award-winning dimpled smile.
“Hey, Genj.” I took my seat. “What’s up?”
“I buy new camera,” he responded. Then he reached into his backpack and dug out a tiny oblong contraption. “It take picture right now. You take picture with me?”
“Uh, sure.” I shrugged. A second later, he was squishing his face against mine and making a peace sign. His other hand stretched out in front of us with the odd-shaped camera, and he clicked a button. After a whirring noise, a piece of plastic popped out one end.
“Oh, it’s a Polaroid!” Kristina moved closer to get a look. “That’s awesome!”
Genji whipped out the picture, which was about the size of my thumb, and gave it a good shake.
“The world’s tiniest Polaroid,” I clarified, taking the photograph so I could examine it. I looked like a dork, as usual—mousy brown hair sticking up on the side like I’d just awoken from a nap. Genji was his charming foreign self.
“We take many pictures, so I have to remember when I go.” He smiled, resting his cheek on his hand so one dimple was extra-pronounced.
“Isn’t he cute?” May gushed. “I’m gonna miss him so much when he leaves.”
Her boyfriend Sam rolled his eyes as he plopped down next to her, even though we all knew he adored Genji just as much as she did. As exchange students went, he’d done pretty well for himself. “Why don’t you marry him? Then he could get a green card and stay in the country.”
“Very funny.” May waved him off. “Why don’t we vote you senior class clown.”
“Actually, I heard Brennan Halprin’s in the running for Most Comical,” Kristina suddenly threw in.
“Brennan?” Sam asked with a quirk of his dark brows, but May was quick to take back the reins of the conversation.
“Anyway, as I was saying before, guess what we’re gonna do with Genji?”
“Hm, let’s see.” Kristina lifted her hands to tick off her guesses. “We’ve already hung out at the Wal-Mart, already taken him to the movies, already stayed up all night and drunk Sam’s dad’s scotch, gone to the mall five-hundred times . . . what else have you discovered in our fabulous corner of America to entertain him with?”
Genji’s dimples slowly faded, and he was left with wide-eyed confusion. His English wasn’t solid enough to follow Kristina’s rant.
“Camping. In the woods,” May finished triumphantly.
“As opposed to camping in your backyard?” I broke open my bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
She ignored me. Girls did that a lot. “Are you guys in or what? And which one of you can borrow a big car so we can all go together?”
“Not me.” I shrugged.
“Doesn’t Brennan drive his mom’s old minivan?” Kristina suggested. One of her hands found its way to my kneecap and she began to tap out a rhythm, like she was trying to communicate in Morse code.
I didn’t know Morse code. But I still got the picture.
“I very much like to go,” Genji added with his innocent smile. I got the feeling the kid knew how cute he looked to us doting Americans and was playing it up for all he was worth.
“We’ll figure something out,” May assured him.
Kristina, of course, had her own plans. She stalked me as I threw out my trash after lunch and started heading for French.
“You have to do this for me, Josh. You have to.”
“Kris . . .”
“It’s the perfect setup. We’ll go off in our own little tent and be able to hookup without having to worry about parents walking in on us . . .”
“I hate to break it to you, but there’s no way my parents will let me go co-ed camping. Would yours?”
“Don’t be stupid.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I’m not going to tell them. And you won’t tell yours, either. We’ll have the guys show up for the guys, the girls for the girls, and it’ll be totally fine.”
I shoved my hands into my pockets. I didn’t want to admit it, but she was wearing me down. And the camping trip did sound sort of fun. Kristina wasn’t kidding when she’d pointed out our town was boring as heck. Anything outside the norm was exciting.
“Besides, we have to go camping anyway, for Genji. He only has a month left.”
“And what’s the worst that could happen?”
“He could think you’re a freak,” I pointed out.
Well, she’d get no argument from me.
Two small hands abruptly landed on my ass. “There he is!” she hissed. “Do it now!”
Before I could get out a retort, she pushed me into the oncoming mass of bodies. I bounced off a few people, mumbling my apologies before landing directly in front of Kristina’s prey.
She disappeared around a corner.
“Heya, Josh,” Brennan said, stopping short to avoid a collision.
I stood there stupidly for a moment, blocking his path. “Uh, hey, man.”
Brennan raised a brow at me. I don’t think he was expecting more than a head-nod greeting. “What’s up, dude. Need something?”
“I, uh, sorta had a question.”
Stepping around me, he headed to his locker. “Okay. Shoot.”
“Well, you know my friend Kristina . . .” I started, and then found words abandoning me—not a surprise, really, considering they were linked to my common sense, which had just left the building.
“Yeah. The redhead, right? She’s a little on the chubby side?”
“No she isn’t.” I frowned, ready to defend her. I sort of forgot I shouldn’t be bothered if Kristina’s plan didn’t work out. “She’s just curvy, or whatever. And she has big boobs.” That was probably something I should be noticing. It was something Brennan would pay attention to, at least.
“Oh, yeah. Okay. What about her?” Brennan waved his hand around to encourage more speech.
“So, she uh, wants to know if you’ll go camping with her next weekend.”
There was ample space on his forehead for all the creases as he looked on in confusion. “Oh. Uh, really? Me and her?”
“Well, no, a bunch of us,” I amended.
“Okay . . .”
“See, I know this is gonna sound nuts,” I closed my eyes, “but she’s been on this whole sex-craze thing lately. And she really wants to, you know, do it, soon, like not for a relationship, but just to know what it’s like.”
When I dared to peel back a lid, Brennan’s mouth was hanging open and slightly to the left. “Uh, so, you . . .” he swallowed and blinked around. “You, um, want . . . advice or something?”
“What?” I nearly ripped through my pockets as I jammed my fists deeper inside than they were meant to go. “No! That’s disgusting. She’s like my sister.”
Brennan threw up his arms. “So what’re you talking about? Look, dude, I’m not getting it.”
“The sex,” I muttered, my cheeks burning. I was already humiliated, so there seemed little point in backing off now. In fact, this was probably the only thing that would allow me to save face. “The no-strings-sex thing. She wants to know if you’d be interested.”
“Me?” Brennan’s eyes grew, catching the light and turning a stormier shade of green. “She wants to do it with me?”
“Yeah. Because she . . . she figured you might be interested. Are you?”
He took a deep breath, his nostrils expanding and then falling back to normal size. His nose wasn’t that crooked, I realized, now that I was observing him up close. It just took a little detour by the bridge . . . maybe it even added some character to his fair features.
“Yeah. Hell, yeah.” A wide smile plastered itself on his face. “I’m interested in no-strings sex . . . and with a girl with those big breasts? What dude wouldn’t be?”
I could come up with a few.
I didn’t see Brennan again until Thursday. I didn’t think about him much, either. Kristina occupied most of my free time, rambling on and on about condom brands and lube flavors and every sex fact she could google when her parents weren’t home.
I figured Brennan was probably making his own preparations. Maybe he’d already spread the word that he was about to get laid. Maybe all the guys would line up to pat him on the back, and then throw him a ticker-tape parade.
All hail Brennan Halprin, the sex-conquering hero. I was more than a little jealous something like that could just land in his lap.
Except, he actually looked kind of nervous when he sat beside me in Biology that morning.
“Hey, man,” I answered, noting the way his fingers twitched around that same miniature pencil he always carried. But today, the bottom of it was all chewed up.
“So, did you . . . uh . . . tell your friend?” he whispered.