How did I get myself into this mess? I stared up at the ceiling, looking for an answer. Of course, I knew it wasn’t up there. In fact, I already knew the culprit behind my predicament was none other than Molly Harris, my BIF. In Molly’s case, BIF stood for “bad influence friend”—the friend who gets you to do all kinds of things you wouldn’t normally do but do anyway because that friend holds some sort of voodoo power over you.
To further complicate matters, Molly was my BFF, too. We’d been friends forever, or at least as far back as second grade, when Molly moved onto my block and I had an instant ally in my very testosterone-filled neighborhood. There were boys to the left, boys to the right, and one particularly annoying little boy in the bedroom next to mine.
Molly had me at hello with her shiny blond hair, cornflower-blue mischievous eyes, a grin that made you believe anything was possible, and a confidence that said she’d be president someday if it weren’t for the countless scandals she’s bound to have a hand in between now and age thirty. We’d been through it all together over the years, and though she could certainly be a bit, shall we say, self-involved, at her core Molly was a good person. When it came down to it, I knew she’d always be there for me.
To be fair, Molly didn’t get me into this mess alone. In fact, I actually started it. After all, I’m the one who decided impersonating a Hungarian national was a good idea. But I was just having fun. This? This situation I was in now? Not fun. Definitely not fun.
It all started today after school. I met up with Molly at her locker, where she was pulling on her raincoat and reapplying her lipstick, and we figured out a plan for the rest of the day. As usual, Molly’s mom was on a business trip—Hong Kong or Tokyo (it’s hard to keep track)—and her stepdad wouldn’t be home until at least eight o’clock. The plan was to hang out at Molly’s house, get some Thai takeout, and catch up on a backlog of seriously good reality TV.
We hopped on the number four bus for the first leg of our journey to Molly’s neighborhood of Wallingford, which she’d moved to right after her parents’ divorce when we were in fourth grade. The bus was packed, so we squeezed into the rear, claiming a tiny piece of real estate for ourselves and our overstuffed backpacks. We added to the hot air fogging up the bus windows by trading horror stories from the school day—Molly’s uncomfortable standoff with a substitute in gym (Molly refused to wear her swim cap) and my continuing inability to bring up my cultural studies’ grade.
By the time we stepped off the bus at Virginia and Third, I was sure we’d been teleported to the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season. Having lived in Seattle our whole lives, we were more than used to the rain. And like every other Seattleite, we never carried umbrellas, thinking there was no storm that couldn’t be weathered with a decent raincoat and a pair of wellies. Except for, apparently, today. And since we had ten minutes until our bus connection, we decided to seek refuge in the corner Starbucks. The added bonus? Caffeine.
As we basked in the warmth and contemplated the assorted goodies on display while we waited to order, Molly brought up my cultural studies grade again. “What’s up with that, anyway?” she probed, shifting my attention from sugar cookies back to my bleak academic reality.
“I have no idea. I just don’t get how Ms. Kendall can be such a cool person in real life, yet such a tyrant of a teacher.”
“She must be on some sort of power trip,” Molly mused.
“Yeah, well, I wish she’d get over it already. If I don’t kick butt on this last unit on Eastern European history, I’m going to get a D.” My voice sank. We both knew what that meant. I had 99.9 percent convinced my parents to let me go to Europe with Molly and her mom this summer, but they told me I had to score Bs or higher in all my classes. We’d made big plans … Paris, London, Madrid. The fate of my unstamped passport lay in Ms. Kendall’s finely manicured hands.
“I just don’t know what else I can do—I turn in all my homework; I study for the tests,” I rambled on. “You know, I bet someone who’s actually from Eastern Europe couldn’t even get a B in her class.”
“Um … isn’t your dad Hungarian, Janna?” Molly asked.
“Well … yeah.”
“So doesn’t that make you Eastern European?”
“Kind of, I guess. But I’m talking about someone who’s from from Eastern Europe. As in, just off the boat,” I explained.
I started speaking in an Eastern European accent. “I’m sorry. Which countries are former Eastern Bloc again? France? Mexico? Alaska?”
Molly giggled, egging me on.
“Please tell me why zis communism so bad?” I continued, laying it on thick. “And does zis Iron Curtain I hear of come in different fabrics?”
I was on a roll by the time we reached the front of the line and ordered our lattes with fat-free soy, plus a caramel marshmallow thingy for me (I’m a slave to sugar). Molly snagged a tiny table by the window so we could watch for the bus while waiting for our drinks. We had just dumped our bags on the floor and sat down when two boys—two very cute boys, I might add—walked up.
Now, it’s not all that unusual for random guys to hit on us, or more specifically, on Molly. It’s that whole blond, blue-eyed, mischievous smile thing. Plainly put, most members of the male species are drawn to Molly like dogs to a bone. Me? I was pretty much used to my place in our friendship. I was the classic sidekick—the best friend who tried to act as if it wasn’t painfully obvious to everyone that she was nothing more than an accessory to the main attraction. It wasn’t that I was ugly. I had nice enough honey eyes that come close to matching my light brown wavy hair. And I’d even been told I had a warm smile. But put me next to Molly and I’ve got “plain Jane” (or “plain Janna”) written all over me. And that was generally okay by me.
Today, however, was different. First off, these guys didn’t come across as your typical supercool guys with heaps of attitude who thought they were all that, like the ones who usually hit on us (I mean, on Molly). Cute? Yes. But more in a boy-next-door-tussled-hair way as opposed to leading-man-chiseled-cheekbones-six-pack-abs way. For whatever reason, something about them was different enough to make us take notice.
But the real difference? Today I was the one being hit on.
“Hi there,” cute boy number one said.
Having just shoved my entire caramel treat into my mouth, I remained mute and wide-eyed as Molly flashed him a winning smile.
“Well, hi there,” she answered flirtatiously.
But the boy, dressed in an army jacket, jeans, and black Converse, flung his hair out of his eyes Zac Efron–style and stayed focused on me. Caught off guard, I continued chewing my caramel marshmallow in slow motion, in part because it was sticking to my teeth (perhaps I should have taken a bite instead of eating it whole?) and in part because I hadn’t a clue as to what to say.
“I couldn’t help but notice your accent,” he went on. “So, what country are you from, anyway?”
What country was I from? I squinted in confusion.
“Your accent?” he continued. “I overheard you talking before. Wait, let me guess. Somewhere in Eastern Europe? Russia?”
Realizing the source of the misunderstanding, I finished swallowing the caramel and was about to set the record straight when Molly blurted out, “This is Janna! She’s an exchange student from Hungary!”
I faced Molly with a look of quiet panic. She returned my gaze with a ridiculously big smile and that damn twinkle in her eye that I’m powerless to resist.
“Hungary? That’s so cool!” He was clearly impressed with my apparent heritage. “I’m Julian, by the way. And this is Spence.” He motioned to cute boy number two behind him.
I froze. I was at a crossroads, and I had to choose a path. I could turn Molly’s declaration into a joke and admit I’d never been east of the Rockies, or I could succumb to the message Molly was sending me telepathically (and with several strategically placed kicks under the table). And then, in a split second, fueled by unfamiliar-cute-boy attention, adrenaline, and little else, it was done.
“Sank you,” I responded in my most authentic Hungarian accent, which, come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve actually even heard before. “I like America veddy much,” I added for good measure.
Julian smiled. “I dig the accent,” he said. “Where do you girls go to school?”
I sank into my chair and let Molly do the talking, too shocked I was actually going along with the ruse to say a word. I felt slightly guilty about the whole thing, but there was no turning back. Molly was already in full flirtation mode with Spence, and, being completely honest, the fact that foreign intrigue had magically made me more appealing to at least one very cute member of the opposite sex prompted me to keep my mouth shut. By the time our bus pulled up five minutes later, cell-phone digits had been exchanged and we’d planned to connect at a club where Julian was deejaying Friday night.
The sound of my cell phone snapped me back to my bedroom ceiling, back to reality. When I glanced at the clock and saw it read 10:01 p.m., I knew it could only be one person … Emmett. If Molly is my BIF, then Emmett can only be described as my GIF—good influence friend. Emmett had rounded out our friendship trio ever since Molly, Emmett, and I sat together in Ms. Lacey’s French class in seventh grade. We’d congregate in the back of the classroom to discuss the guests’ plight on the previous day’s Oprah and commiserate about the complications of past perfect verbs. Somewhere along the way we became a threesome.
The best thing about Emmett? He’s kind of like that gay best friend every girl wants—he’s your biggest fan, thinks you always look fabulous, tells it to you like it is, and is fiercely loyal. Although it should be pointed out that despite Emmett playing this role in my life, he’s not actually gay. Either way, I don’t know what I’d do without him. Emmett gets me in a way that nobody else does, not even Molly. And I loved the fact that I could be so close to a guy without having to worry about uncomfortable weirdness or anything. With Emmett, no topic was off limits, which is probably why we invented the Nightly Rant or NR. Every night at ten o’clock, Emmett and I engage in sixty seconds each of let-it-rip bitching, moaning, dumping, and ranting about any and all frustrations, insecurities, and annoyances. It was kind of like tele-therapy, only free.
Despite the existence of NR rule number two, which clearly stated there were to be no judgments and no advice doled out during a rant (unless said advice was requested, of course), I just wasn’t in the mood to bring up my perplexing predicament. Not yet, anyway. I still didn’t really even know how I felt about everything and wasn’t sure how Emmett would react when he found out what I was doing all because of a guy.
“Hey, Emm,” I said wearily.
“Hi, you. How’s tricks?”
“Tricks are okay,” I responded halfheartedly. “Ready to rant?”
“Ready to rant,” Emmett replied. “Who’s first?”
“Why don’t you go first?”
“Okay. Here’s me.” He paused briefly before diving in. “First of all, I don’t understand how people waiting in line to buy ice cream, ice cream, for God’s sake, can be so uppity and impatient. Don’t they realize that imbibing sugary sweets is inherently a happy thing to do? Don’t they know that since this stuff is frozen, one can only scoop so fast before getting a hand cramp or a brain freeze? Oh, and my dad is still pressuring me to spend a few weeks with him this summer in Hotlanta. And I know he doesn’t actually want to spend the time with me … it’s all about showing my mom that he cares. Which he doesn’t. Send a singing telegram … it’s cheaper. And … what else … ? Wait. I know I have one more thing. Oh, yeah. If the sun doesn’t make a brief appearance in the next day or two, I may actually want to move to Atlanta. All I’m asking for is a five-minute sun break. Five minutes. Is that too much to ask?”
“Hello?” Emmett asked. “Are you still there?”
“Yeah, yeah … sorry. I’m just tired. Okay, here’s me. Big surprise here, but I’m really annoyed with Henry. He deleted all my shows to make room for a Powerpuff Girlsmarathon on Cartoon Network. And I just got back my test in cultural studies, and I did okay on it, but not good enough to get my grade up to a B. It’s just totally unfair that I might not be able to go to Europe with Molly because of the Bosnian War. Especially since it ended more than ten years ago.”
I was running out of things to say. With only one big thing on my mind, I scrambled to come up with decoys.
“And … and I had some disgusting garlicky sausage on my pizza tonight, and I keep burping it up.” Pause. “That’s it.”
“You sure? You still have seventeen seconds left.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Emmett didn’t buy it. “You sound more upset than lost TV shows, your ongoing battle with Ms. Kendall, and bad pizza.”
“Sorry, I’m just kind of out of it. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Alrighty, then. Go to sleep already. I’ll talk to you in the a.m.”
“’Kay. Good night, Emm.”
“Good night, Jan.”
I hung up the phone and toppled onto my bed, the headboard banging against my already scuffed-up wall in protest. I closed my eyes and tried to quiet my mind so I could get some sleep. Not an easy task when you were as confused as me. I kept getting the overwhelming urge to chicken out and call the whole thing off before it even got started. But, even so, I had to admit there was an ever-so-small part of me that wanted to see where this unexpected development in my social life took me. And then the words Scartlett O’Hara famously spoke in my most favorite classic movie of all time, Gone with the Wind, popped into my head. “I’ll think about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Sounded like a plan to me.
© 2010 Deborah Reber