This is the opening chapter of one of my two in-progress young adult urban fantasy novels, Jen Meets Her Match, which I’ll publish in paperback and Kindle format before the end of 2020. Let me know what you think!
Chapter 1. Double-Dog Dare
My boyfriend is a real piece of work. Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard of girls whose boyfriends are vampires, werewolves, or even zombies. Those girls are lightweights. I don’t mean to brag, but they wouldn’t last five minutes with my boyfriend. Not that Frank is undead or anything. That would be too easy.
It all started during the first week of school. Sophomore year. Wednesday, September 4, 1974. Paul Anka’s “Having My Baby” was at the top of the charts, but other than that I was doing okay. I was minding my own business when Frank showed up next to me in the lunch line. He was new and we’d never spoken, but we had a few classes together and I knew his name.
What does Frank look like? He’s about a head taller than me. Reasonably attractive. Pleasantly fit. A good, solid 8.0. Maybe an 8.5.
Me? Don’t ask. Braces. Not enough curves. I’m Jen, by the way. Hi.
Frank plunked down his tray and told the lunch lady, “I’ll have the spécialité de la maison, please,” by which he meant the usual slop. Then he gave me a smile and said, “So, Jen, do you have a date for the dance on Friday?”
“I’m not going to the dance.”
“What’s it to you?” What a jerk! No, of course I didn’t have a date. I’d never been on a date in my life. Or kissed a boy, for that matter. Boys don’t go for the sharp-tongued Brainiac type. He didn’t have to rub it in.
Frank said, “Well, it’s like this. I’m about to ask you to the dance, so I hope you’ve dumped your old boyfriends. I don’t think three isn’t a crowd.”
Wait, what? Was he joking? I mean, yes, of course he was joking. But he seemed serious at the same time. “Hang on.” I picked out a dessert and made my way past the register. What was his deal, anyway?
He caught up and asked, “Where are we sitting?”
I led him to my usual table, which was empty, thank God.
Frank sat down and said, “My name’s Frank. Frank Barron. Which is a fertile field for puns if you like that sort of thing.”
“Frankly, it sounds like a barren field. And I’m Jen. Jen Simonson. But you knew that.”
“Genevieve Aster Simonson,” he agreed. “I hope you never go by your initials. That would be ghastly. So tell me about your current boyfriend or boyfriends.”
“They’re symptoms of your delirium, Frank.”
“You were too good for them, anyway.”
I was impressed! Most boys can’t banter their way out of a wet paper bag, but Frank was good. That bit about multiple boyfriends? Flattering. And so nutty that it was impossible to take offense. Oh, what the heck, why not go to the dance with him?
He said, “So what about the dance? And while we’re at it, let’s go steady.”
“You jerk! Don’t up the ante like that!”
“Now, don’t be hasty, Jen. It’s a great idea. You’ll love it. I’m enjoying being your boyfriend already.”
“You’re not my boyfriend!”
“Bet you a dollar you agree to be my girlfriend in the next five minutes.”
“Done.” I’d take his money. I held out my hand and he shook it. It was a good handshake. He didn’t try to crush my bones, but it wasn’t weak, either. He took his time and did it right. It makes a girl thoughtful.
Then his smile vanished. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I double-dog dare you to be my girlfriend.”
I stared at him. “Are you serious?”
“Deathly.” For the first time, I saw uncertainty in his eyes. He wanted me to say yes and was afraid I wouldn’t.
I took out a dollar and handed it to him. I mean, what else could I do?
He was delighted. I was pretty happy, too. Now, I knew going steady isn’t a forever thing. As likely as not, it wouldn’t last into next week. To be honest, that was one of its attractions. But losing this bet felt … promising.
Then I said, “Now tell me why.”
“You’re my boyfriend, Frank.” I stopped. “That sounds weird! Anyway, you’re not supposed to keep secrets from me.”
“I am, though. I have to.”
This irritated me. Frank Barron was not a Man of Mystery. He was just another sophomore, a fifteen-year-old kid like me. “Frank, honey, sugar, sweetheart, I’ll bet you a dollar that you won’t be my boyfriend five minutes from now.”
Strangely, this delighted him. “Done.” We shook hands again.
“Well?” I prompted.
“You’re going through those dollars awfully fast.”
“Never mind that.”
“You’re my girlfriend. I have a responsibility. Anyway, I’ll tell you the obvious part. I asked who the smartest girl in our class was, and everyone said it was you. Not that I really needed to ask. You know my methods, Watson.”
“What do you care how smart I am?”
“I’m sick of girls whose brains explode when they hear a bit of sesquipedalian grandiloquence.”
“Why would you overwhelm them with pompous nonsense in the first place?”
“The point is that your brain is made of sterner stuff. The rest of you isn’t too bad, either.”
I took out another dollar and gave it to him. I could have run out the clock—I had another four minutes—but I knew he’d won. Any boy who can switch between cave-man talk and sesquipedalian grandiloquence is a boy to be treasured. But I knew he’d railroad me if I gave him the chance.
I said, “We need some rules.”
“No we don’t.”
I jabbed an index finger at him. “Rule Number One: Don’t automatically contradict me. Jerk.”
His eyes twinkled. “Oh, all right.”
“Rule Number Two: If I say ‘time out,’ I mean it. You have to act like a decent human being. If you can.”
“Good idea. And vice versa. You wouldn’t believe what a delicate flower I am.”
I looked at him in deep suspicion. He said, “See? You don’t believe me.”
I buried my face in my hands. Straightening back up, I said, “I thought going steady was a sign of maturity.”
“Poor, sweet, innocent Jen. Don’t worry: I’ll take care of you. Your food’s getting cold.”
I obediently picked up my fork and looked at the entrée without enthusiasm. At least it came with a floor show today. I said, “Protecting me from your own idiocy doesn’t count.”
“Somebody has to. I should get some credit.”
“Eat your lunch, sweetums.”
“Anything you say, poopsie.” He picked up his fork.
“Rule Number Three: Don’t be revolting when I’m eating. No trying to make milk come out of my nose. And never call me poopsie again. Twit.”
He chuckled. He liked the sharp-tongued Brainiac type.
There were a few minutes of blessed silence while we ate. At least he had good table manners.
When Frank finished eating, he said, “I don’t suppose you can dance.”
“I dance like an angel.”
Anyone but Frank would have fallen for it. “Do angels dance?”
“Not a step. Not on the head of a pin or anywhere else.”
“Me neither. Should we learn by Friday or just show up and make fun of everyone else?”
“Remind me, darling: why are we going to a dance if we can’t dance?”
“We’re going to all the school functions, honey bun. It builds team spirit and valuable social skills. I read that in a magazine.”
“Yeah, right. What’s your real reason, sugar bear?”
“If all we do together is homework and making out, cutie pie, we’d get bored. We’d start to argue. I’m timid and bashful. I just crumple up when a girl speaks sharply to me. So we have to mix things up. Or I do—you seem plenty mixed up already.”
“You can keep this up all day, can’t … no, wait, don’t say it. You can keep it up all night, too. Very funny.”
“I didn’t say anything. You have a dirty mind, little girl.”
“And you have a little mind, dirty boy. Where were we?”
“I was telling you that the last few minutes convinced me that I like you and I want to spend a lot of time with you.”
That was more like it! But was it bravado? Frank gave the impression he could take the rough with the smooth, but could he? “Frank, dear, have you ever had a girlfriend before?”
I looked at him as I considered. “Yes, of course you have. Obviously. Poor girl. I’ll bet it killed her.”
He turned his head away, but not before I saw his eyes fill with tears.
“Oh, my god, Frank, I’m so sorry!”
“Not your fault.” After a few seconds he sighed and met my gaze again. “You free after school?”
“Your place or mine?” He delivered the line almost dully, without his usual flair.
I said, “Mine’s fine if you want to meet my grandmother and my two little brothers. They’re okay. It’s about five blocks away.”
“My place will be empty. Let’s go there. We need to talk.”
He was already maneuvering to get me alone. Well, what do you expect from a boy who starts with a double-dog dare?
He saw my hesitation. “I’ll bet you’re still my girlfriend a week from today, doll-face. You have ten bucks? I’m offering ten to one odds.”
“Wait, you’ll pay me a hundred dollars just to break up with you?”
The twinkle was back in his eyes. “Come on, Jen. You know better than that. You’ll forego a hundred-dollar payout just to keep us together. Of course you will. Plus lose a sawbuck of your own money. That’s how serious you are about us. Maybe not yet, but a week is a long time.”
My head was spinning. “I don’t think I can afford you, hon.”
“Sure you can, sport. Just stop betting against us. Put your money where your mouth is. It’s as safe as houses. My house. After school. Let’s walk over together, but I’ll give you my address and phone number anyway.”
So I wrote down mine as well. The bell rang. We had about half our classes together, but fourth period wasn’t one of them, so we parted. It was probably just as well. I was running out of endearments and insults.
Fourth period was dull and gave me time to think. You might think that Frank’s tragic past was romantic. You do, don’t you? You’re an idiot. It was 100% iron-clad board-certified Grade A bad news. Frank was hard enough to manage without going all weepy at random times. I’d never even kissed a boy, and I was entering a competition with another girl—and I was going to lose. Being safely dead as well as more experienced, she held all the aces. I hated her. I wished I knew her name so I could curse her properly.
Did I even have a chance? Maybe? Not a good one. When I thought about it, I just knew he hadn’t acted the same way with her. No, his obnoxiousness was new. A protective shell. Had to be. I mean, how many girls could put up with it at all? And in spite of it being all his fault, the rat, he’d compare the tenderness he’d had with her to the prickliness that he’d saddled us with…
It wasn’t fair. What a jerk. But I had two bucks invested in him and I was going to get my money’s worth if it killed me. Or, better yet, him.
Continued in Chapter 2, White Shag Carpet.