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Keplinger_Kody_Shut_Out_BookFi


For the nomadic novelists: Michelle, Kirsten, Leila, Kate, Lee, Kaitlin, Amanda, Emilia, Kristin Jr., and Kristin Sr.
So many words I could put here, but the Beatles said it best. “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Thanks for keeping me sane.

chapter one
There is nothing more humiliating than being topless in the backseat of your boyfriend’s car when someone decides to throw an egg at the windshield. Wait. Scratch that. Having your boyfriend jump off you, climb out of the car, and chase after the guy, completely forgetting that you’re still half-naked—that trumps it. And there is one thing even worse than that. Having it happen repeatedly. I rolled onto my stomach and reached an arm down to the floorboard, searching for my tank top and praying the windows of Randy’s new Buick Skylark were as tinted as the ones on his old Cougar, the one he’d wrapped around a telephone pole last month. The Buick was older and used, but Randy considered the bigger backseat an improvement over his other car. Not that it was being used at the moment. I pulled on my top and climbed into the front seat. This was the third time the car had been vandalized —with us inside—since Randy and I had started dating sixteen months ago. The other two times had happened last fall, when the rivalry was in full swing, and both times I’d been left in the car, humiliated, while Randy chased after the culprit. Not exactly my definition of a good time. It had been almost a year since then, though, and I’d hoped to avoid the embarrassment this time around, but apparently, I was too optimistic. Here I was again—forgotten, alone, and fighting back tears. Part of me knew I should be mad, but I was mostly just hurt. After more than a year together, I hoped I came first to Randy. But the fact that he forgot me so easily because of a stupid egg on his car? It stung. I shut off the sexy R&B CD Randy had been playing and flipped through the presets on his stereo, stopping at a crackling Oldies station to hear the last few seconds of “Night Moves” by Bob Seger while I pulled my messy make-out hair into the elastic band I wore around my wrist. Thirteen and a half minutes later, Randy returned. “Soccer fags! I’m gonna kill those assholes.” I shot him a look. He knew I hated it when he talked like that. “Sorry,” he muttered, falling into the driver’s seat with a thud. He stared at the egg-splattered windshield, grinding his teeth. “I just can’t believe they did that.” “You can’t?” “Well, okay, I can, but I’m pissed.” “Uh-huh.” “That’s going to be a pain in the ass to clean off.” “Probably.” He turned to face me. “I hate those assholes. God, I can’t believe I didn’t catch the guy. Shane and I are going to have to get them back good for this.” I didn’t say anything. I’d tried to explain the whole “cycle of violence” concept to Randy before, but it just didn’t stick. He didn’t seem to understand that retaliating against the soccer players would lead to them attacking him again. He was giving them what they wanted. Feeding into this stupid rivalry. It would never end if he kept fighting back. Logic wasn’t Randy’s strong suit, though. He was the spontaneous “act now, think later” type. That was part of the reason I loved him. The whole “opposites attract” thing was way true in our case. But

sometimes Randy’s impulsiveness was more stressful than sexy. He sighed dramatically before turning to me. “So,” he said, a suggestive grin sliding across his face. He tilted his head forward, letting his sandy blond hair fall into his eyes. “Now that that’s over with… where were we?” “We,” I said, pushing him away as he leaned in to kiss me, “were at the part where you take me home.” “What?” Randy sat back, looking wounded. “Lissa, it’s only ten thirty.” “I’m aware.” “Look, I know that guy ruined the moment, but we can start over. Please don’t be pissed at me. If anything, be pissed at the guy who threw the egg.” “I’m not pissed, I’m just… frustrated.” “It’s not my fault,” he said. “It’s both of your faults.” “Come on, Lissa. What was I supposed to do?” he asked. “He egged my car. He ruined our moment. He could have been spying on us—on you. A good boyfriend wouldn’t let some jerk get away with that.” “He did get away with it,” I reminded him. “They always get away with it. Whether you go chasing them or not, they get away. So what’s the point?” I wanted to be honest with Randy. To open up and tell him how much it hurt when he left me alone like that. How worthless and cheap it made me feel. We’d been together for so long; we loved each other; it should have been easy to tell him the truth. To let it all out. But all I could make myself say was, “I’m not cool with coming second to this stupid rivalry all season.” “You aren’t second, babe.” “Prove it,” I retorted. Randy stared at me. The corners of his mouth twitched a little, like he was going to spit out a cute answer and then thought better of it. His eyes perked up once before going blank again. He had nothing. I turned away from him, messing with the dials on his radio again. “Just take me home, okay?” “Lissa,” he murmured. His hand closed around mine, gently pulling it away from the radio and lifting it to his lips. He kissed my knuckle, whispering, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that jerk ruined our night.” That wasn’t what I wanted him to apologize for. “I know you are.” His hand slid down my wrist and danced its way back up my forearm and shoulder, stopping when it reached my neck. His fingers cupped my cheek and turned me to face him. “I love you,” he said. “You, too.” He moved forward, and I let him kiss me this time. Just a quick, light kiss, not the kind I knew he was hoping for. “You still want me to take you home, don’t you?” “Yes.” Randy shook his head, half laughing as he reached into the backseat and blindly attempted to locate his own shirt. “You amaze me, Lissa Daniels. Most girls would cave as soon as I gave them the puppy- dog look with these amazing eyes.” “Sorry. I like boys. Not dogs. You should’ve dated a different girl if you wanted someone to bend to your will.” “That’s all right,” he said, pulling the shirt over his head and turning to fiddle with the keys, still dangling from the ignition. “I like having a girl who can keep me in line. You’re tough and smart and

sexy and—” “And you’re still taking me home,” I said, giving him a sweet smile. “Yeah, I figured. But, hey, doesn’t make it any less true.” I shook my head, unable to hold back a little bit of laughter now. “Oh, just drive me home, you brownnoser.” And, just like that, the night’s drama was almost forgotten. Almost, but not entirely.

chapter two
“Dad!” I called out as I walked down the stairs the next night. “Where is Logan? He should be home already.” I paused in the doorway, staring at my father. Or, more accurately, at the big bowl of ice cream in his lap. “Hey, honey,” he said, trying to conceal the bowl from my line of sight and failing oh so miserably. “I’m sure Logan is—” “Dad, what are you eating?” “Um…” I walked over to him and jerked the bowl out of his hands. “I can’t believe you,” I said, taking it into the kitchen. I could hear the wheels of Dad’s chair squeaking across the carpet, rounding the corner after me as I dumped the remaining chocolate-swirl ice cream into the garbage disposal. “Oh, come on, Lissa.” “You heard what Dr. Collins said. You’re supposed to be watching your diet.” I ran the water to rinse out the bowl. “You need to lose some of the weight you’ve put on since the accident or you’re going to have more health problems. Eating this isn’t going to help you with that, Dad.” “One bowl of ice cream isn’t going to kill me,” he argued. “You don’t know that.” I reached for a paper towel and turned to face Dad as I dried the bowl. The look on his face tore at me a little. The one that said he knew I was right but didn’t want to hear it. This wouldn’t have been an issue five years ago, before the accident; his construction job and love of sports kept him in great shape. But it all changed on the January night his car slid on a patch of ice and sent him and my mother careening into the opposite lane. Even after Mom’s funeral, with all the food no one could touch; after he started his new job as a counselor at the elementary school; after he began smiling again—he was still in the wheelchair. No more biking. No more football. For some paraplegics these things were possible, but we couldn’t afford any sort of special chair or bike that would keep Dad active. So it was my job to watch out for them. For him and Logan. Without Mom around, they needed someone to take care of them. That was my responsibility now, even if it meant being a little harsh sometimes. “So why isn’t Logan back?” I asked again, glancing at the clock on the microwave. “He usually gets in right at five thirty-two. He’s almost ten minutes late.” Dad laughed. My muscles relaxed a little at the sound, even if it was my neurosis he found amusing. “Lissa, are you really stressing over him being less than ten minutes late?” Dad asked. “Maybe,” I admitted. “Well, don’t,” he said, rolling his chair up to the kitchen table. “I’m sure he’ll be home before Randy gets here. Randy is coming over to watch the game, right?” “Yeah,” I said, turning around to put the bowl back into one of the cabinets above the sink. “He’ll be here at six.” Randy came to my house every Saturday night. First he’d watch whatever game was on ESPN with Dad, then we’d hang out for a couple hours before he went back home. In the year and a third we’d been together, he’d never missed a date. Even when I was mad at him. Behind me, I heard the front door open and shut. I turned around and walked past Dad into the living room. “Where have you been?” I demanded as my brother untied his sneakers and tossed them into the pile of shoes next to the door. “Um, work?” Logan said. “Where else would I be?”

“You’re late,” I told him. “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you are.” I pointed at his wristwatch. “Look. You’re eleven minutes later getting here than usual. I was getting wor—” “Lissa,” my brother said, reaching out and putting his hands on my shoulders in a way that was so belittling I wanted to scream. “Chill. I was talking to my boss after work.” “About what?” I asked. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, patting my cheek and stepping around me to walk into the kitchen. “Anyone feel like ordering a pizza? If Randy’s coming over we should probably make it a large, right?” I scowled and bent down to straighten up the pile of shoes on the rug. Why couldn’t Logan just answer my question? I hated that he had to make me feel like a child. I was ten years younger than him, but I wasn’t a baby—and eleven minutes may be nothing to him, but that’s enough time for anything to happen. I had a right to worry. Mom was killed in less than thirty seconds. “Lissa!” he yelled from the kitchen. “What kind of pizza do you want? I’m ordering now.” I stood, having aligned the shoes and feeling happy that at least some part of this house was in order. “Sausage and ham. But Dad has to have a salad.” “Oh, come on!” I heard Dad whine as Logan laughed and began reciting his order into the cordless phone. Through the living room window, I saw Randy’s Buick pull into the driveway. Right on time. That was one of the things I loved most about Randy—he was always punctual, unlike my brother. I opened the door for him as he made his way up the front steps. “Hey, babe,” he said, leaning in to kiss me. I let his lips brush mine for just a moment before pulling back. “Still mad?” he asked. “Not mad. Frustrated, remember?” Randy ran his fingers down my arm, lowering his voice so Dad and Logan wouldn’t hear. “I can un- frustrate you if you want.” I swatted him away, my whole body stiffening. “You sure you won’t be too busy cleaning your windshield?” “I’m never too busy for you, baby.” “You were last night.” He tilted his head to the side, batting his long, perfect eyelashes at me. “You’ll forgive me. I know you will.” “We’ll see.” I meant it to be teasing, but it came out sounding cold. “You always do!” he called over his shoulder as he strolled into the kitchen. I shook my head, knowing he was right. I always forgave him, and I was sure I always would. I knew as soon as he walked into the kitchen. As soon as Dad smiled at him. As soon as Logan clapped him on the shoulder. I would always forgive Randy because he was part of my family. He had been since the moment I first brought him home. Watching them now, as I stood in the kitchen doorway, I knew I’d fallen in love with Randy that first night, when he’d walked right up to my father as if he didn’t even notice the wheelchair and shook his hand. He made my family happy, and after all we’d been through over the past few years, seeing them smile like that… well, it made me happy, too. I forced myself to relax, to loosen up a little, as I walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table next to Randy. There was no need to be on edge right now. Not with my family. Not with Randy.

“So how’s the season starting up?” Logan asked as he took a seat across from Randy. “The soccer assholes giving you hell yet?” “Yeah.” Randy sighed, leaning his chair back on two legs and folding his arms behind his head. “But whatever. We’re giving them hell right back.” I bit my lip. “Randy, can you put your chair on four legs, please?” I asked. “You’ll fall that way… and hurt the chair.” “Yes, Miss Daniels,” Randy said, rolling his eyes as he let his chair fall back into its proper position. “But is it me or the chair you’re worried about?” “I plead the Fifth.” Randy gave me a look of mock heartbreak. “My senior year,” Logan said, ignoring my deliberate change in conversation, “we gave all the freshmen soccer players swirlies in the boys’ bathroom.” “Dude, that’s so lame.” Randy leaned forward, grinning. “There’s actually a plan for tomorrow night that—” “That you’re not going to be a part of,” I snapped before I could stop myself. Randy, Dad, and Logan all turned to stare. “I don’t think you should be involved in all that, Randy. It’s stupid. What kind of school has a rivalry between two of its own teams? Plus, what if someone gets hurt?” “Oh, come on, Lissa,” Logan scoffed. “It’s harmless. No big deal.” “Maybe when you were in high school, but the fighting has gotten worse since then. This time last year, Randy and the football team busted all the windows out of the soccer goalie’s car. They could have gotten into some serious trouble,” I informed him, then turned back to Randy. “You won’t participate, will you? Leave it to Shane and the others if they want to be idiots, but you don’t have to do it.” Randy hesitated for a second, looking between me and Logan. I gave him a nice hard glare. A wordless warning of what might happen if he didn’t side with me here. “Fine,” he said. “I won’t be a part of it.” “Promise.” “I promise.” “You’re so uptight, Lissa,” Logan grumbled. “Leave her alone,” Dad said. “She’s looking out for people. It’s sweet.” Sweet, I thought bitterly as the doorbell rang behind me. God, it was so condescending. Like I was an overly sensitive little kid. Couldn’t they see how ridiculous the rivalry was? How continuing to retaliate would just make it go on forever? Soccer, football—they were just games. Neither sport was worth this much drama. I went into the living room to get the door. The delivery boy handed me the large pizza and Dad’s salad. From the kitchen I could hear laughter and cheers as the boys discussed the game they’d be watching that night. Betting on who would win and lose, the topic of torturing freshmen dropped and forgotten. The rivalry wasn’t brought up again until later that evening, when Randy and I sat out on the front porch steps, the game having ended and my dad and Logan already off to bed. “I’m sorry about the other night,” Randy said quietly, his arm sliding around my shoulders, pulling me against him. “Sorry those assholes had to show up and ruin everything.” I had to bite back a sigh of frustration. He still didn’t get it. Didn’t get that running off and leaving me was the part I was upset about, not the fact that someone had egged his car. But at least he was trying, I guess. “Shane’s got a plan to get back at them,” he continued. “A good one.” “You’re not going to help, though,” I pressed. “I know I probably shouldn’t have called you out in

front of Dad and Logan, but I’m serious. I don’t want you involved in all that.” Randy gave me a hopeless look. “Shane and the guys are going to give me hell for backing out.” “Aw. Will they pick on you, sweetie?” I asked. “Should I call their parents?” “I’m serious,” he said. “They’ll call me a pussy.” “And if you help them, I’ll call you a dick. So no matter what you do, you’re going to be some form of genitalia.” I grinned up at him. Finally, I was feeling relaxed enough to joke around. It had taken all night. “Shane and the boys may rag on you a bit, but will that be any worse than what I could do to you?” Randy stared down at me for a second. “What would you do to me?” “I obviously can’t tell you. That’d ruin the surprise.” I poked him in the chest. “But I can tell you that it wouldn’t be this.” I glanced around to make sure there were no cars coming, no neighbors staring out of windows, no one to see. Then slowly, tantalizingly, I leaned up and pressed my lips against his. The kiss was long and hot, but before it got too deep, I pulled back, leaving Randy with an awed, hungry look on his face. And leaving my cheeks on fire. “I bet Shane can’t do that,” I said. “Maybe he can. You don’t know.” “How do you know I don’t know?” Randy blinked at me, and I laughed. “Kidding. I’d never hook up with Shane. You’re the only Neanderthal I can deal with.” “Thanks. I’m flattered.” I kissed him on the cheek and rested my head on his shoulder. “Seriously, though. Please don’t mess with the soccer players. Just let it go. For me?” Randy let out a long sigh. “Yeah… I guess.” “Thank you.” His fingers wrapped around mine and I snuggled against him. Now that he seemed to be listening to my entreaties, I was sure we would get through this autumn; we’d survive the rivalry. I was sure it would all work out. We fell into a comfortable silence, staring up at one of the last starry nights of the summer.

chapter three
I know that most schools have rivalries with other schools, but that’s not how it worked at Hamilton High. Nope. Our biggest battles were fought on the home front. It all started back when Logan was a junior in high school. That’s when the school board decided to start an official school-sponsored soccer team. I don’t know all the details—I was in second grade, and anything that didn’t involve ponies just wasn’t worth my time—but in a small town like ours, taking away half of the football team’s funding to create another fall sport was pretty scandalous. Apparently the football players got pissed at having to share time in the workout room, and the crowds that usually filled the stands at games began to dwindle as more and more people started going to watch the soccer team play. Hostility rose between them—and between the teams’ coaches—and eventually a full-on war broke out. Now, you’d think the drama would fade over time, right? Like, after the teams graduated and new players came in, it would die. So not the case. A decade later, the rivalry was still going strong. Every fall, when sports season started up, the battle would rage again. And the dumbest part was, I don’t think the boys even knew why it had started to begin with. I’d asked Randy once and he’d just shrugged. “Does it really matter?” he’d asked. To me, a girl who had to share her boyfriend with the war every autumn, it did. But not to the players. They just knew that they hated one another. That was enough. “Dickhead!” Randy yelled across the cafeteria as Kyle Forrester, the soccer team’s goalie, gave him the middle finger. I cringed at the volume of the obscenity in my ear, and I tapped Randy on the shoulder. “Hey, would you mind lowering the volume a little? I’d like my hearing to last a few more years.” He flashed a quick smile at me and hooked an arm around my waist as he turned his attention back to the soccer team’s table. I was glad he didn’t notice the way I tensed. I sat at the lunch table, sandwiched between Randy and my best friend, Chloe. Though Chloe was too busy flirting with Michael Conrad to notice the stares we were getting from the rest of the student body. This was so not what I needed on a Monday. I already had a headache from staying up too late the night before. That was the fatal flaw in my weekend schedule—with Randy over on Saturday nights, I didn’t get to do any homework until Sunday. With three AP classes on my plate, that meant lots of homework and late-night studying. Having people yell insults over my head the next day, while I was still exhausted? Not fun. And also completely embarrassing. I rapped my knuckles against the table in a fast, anxious rhythm. “Hey, could you keep it down? Seriously,” I said to Randy just as one of Kyle’s buddies yelled, “Fuck you!” back at us. Randy shot him a glare before giving me an apologetic nod. “You okay?” he asked. “Fine. I just have a headache.” He put a hand on the side of my head and smoothed back my hair, pushing some of the straight black strands from my eyes. “Anything I can do to help?” “Well, you can—” And that’s when the glob of mashed potatoes landed in a disgusting mound on the table, right in front of me. They’d been flung, undoubtedly, by one of the soccer players at Kyle’s table.

“Gross,” I said, scooting my chair away from the table. “Randy, can you please put an end to this?” But he wasn’t listening. He was too busy glaring at the soccer team’s table, a look of deep concentration on his reddening face. For some reason, it reminded me of a caveman contemplating how to make fire. Only Randy didn’t want fire. He wanted a way to get revenge without getting detention—or, worse, suspended—in the process. I stood up just as his best friend, Shane, picked up an orange and pulled back his arm, aiming for one of the soccer players’ heads. “Where you going, babe?” Randy asked, turning away from his enemies and reaching for my hand. “Library,” I muttered, wrenching my hand from his grasp without even meaning to. I let out a breath and rolled my shoulders, willing myself to relax. It was just Randy, after all. He wrinkled his nose in disgust at my words. “Library? Why?” “I need to finish some homework.” I gave his shoulder a quick, reassuring squeeze to let him know I wasn’t pissed—this embarrassment wasn’t entirely his fault; Kyle had been the one to start it, really— before scooping up my tray and edging around the table, heading to the front of the cafeteria so I could dump my barely touched food and hurry away from the madness. At least, that was the plan. Running into Cash Sterling kind of ruined it. One minute I was clearing off my tray and returning it to the rack, thinking of how quiet the library would be, and the next I’d spun around—without checking behind me, of course—and slammed into something hard. For a second I was totally dazed, the top of my head pounding from the impact with something very solid. When my senses came back, I realized that the thing my head had hit was Cash’s chin, and the only reason I was still standing was because one of his arms had wrapped quickly around my waist, keeping me from falling backward into the trash cans. I knew it was him without even looking up. I blushed, embarrassed by the way I knew his scent. Hating that I remembered. “You okay?” he asked in his bass voice. I pulled away from him, hurriedly putting a few feet of space between us. “I’m fine.” Cash was still rubbing his chin where we’d collided. “Sorry. I didn’t even see you.” “It’s no big deal,” I told him, pretending I didn’t care if he noticed me or not. “But you shouldn’t stand so close behind people. Maybe remember personal bubbles next time or… or something.” He shook his head, half laughing, and ran a hand over his buzzed brown hair. “Personal bubbles, huh?” I almost laughed, too. That really had sounded lame. But I forced myself to keep a straight face, to stay cool and aloof. Cash Sterling would not make me smile. I wouldn’t let him. “Yes,” I said stiffly. “It’s, like, a three-foot radius for most people.” He smiled, his green eyes crinkling at the corners. “Would it surprise you if I mentioned that I barely passed geometry?” “Oh,” I said. “Well, a radius is the distance from any part of a circle’s perimeter to the direct center of the circle. It’s half the diameter. So if a circle is six feet across the middle, the radius is three feet and…” And I was rambling. I shifted my feet and took a breath. “And I got an A in geometry.” “I’m not surprised,” he said. “Seems like I should have hired you as a tutor, huh?” “I doubt even I could have saved you if radii are beyond your comprehension.” The joke slipped out before I realized it. “True,” he said, stepping a little closer to me. “But if I’d been smart enough to hire you, maybe I would have been smart enough to learn the material.” I was fighting off a smile when I saw Randy coming up behind Cash. That killed the smile. And in a weird way, I was grateful. It made me uncomfortable to be so comfortable around Cash. Though I also didn’t want to be present for the drama that was about to unfold.

“Hey, loser,” Randy snapped. “Leave my girl alone.” Heat flooded my cheeks as Cash’s face darkened and he turned to face Randy. “Sorry. I didn’t realize Lissa was your property.” “Don’t get an attitude with me,” Randy said. “I’ll kick your ass right here and—” “Randy, stop,” I hissed, sliding around Cash to stand between them. “Don’t do something you’ll regret. There are teachers around.” Randy glared up at Cash, who was at least two inches taller. “If he’s messing with you, I’ll beat the shit out of him.” But I knew it wasn’t about me. Had Cash been any other guy—played any other sport—Randy wouldn’t have left his seat. He really wasn’t a jealous or possessive boyfriend most of the time. This was one hundred percent about the rivalry and the fact that Cash played soccer. I was just serving as a good excuse for a fight to break out. And I certainly wasn’t okay with that. “I wasn’t messing with anyone,” Cash said. “I was coming up here to get a fork”—he pointed at the silverware container by the tray rack—“when I accidentally bumped into her.” He used the same hand to gesture to me. “I was just making sure she was okay. Didn’t realize that was crossing the line. Next time, I’ll just let her fall into the trash cans, if that’ll make you feel better.” “You being a smartass?” Randy growled. “Randy, come on,” I demanded, tugging at his arm. “You’re embarrassing me. Just let it go.” Randy resisted for a second before finally relenting and letting me pull him away. “Prick,” he muttered after we’d taken about three steps. “Yeah, he is,” I said, though I was sure we had very different reasons for thinking so. “Randy, hold up.” Despite my efforts to keep dragging him forward, Randy turned around to face Cash again. “What?” I glanced over my shoulder and watched as Cash took a step forward. “I don’t know if you heard, but Pete went to the hospital last night. Tore his ACL after that stunt you and your buddies pulled yesterday. He won’t be able to play all season. Hope you’re proud of yourself.” I froze. What? Randy shrugged, and Cash turned and walked away. “Come on,” Randy said to me. “The library can wait, right? Let’s go sit down and—” “What stunt?” “Huh?” “What ‘stunt’ did you and your buddies pull?” I asked. “What is Cash talking about? How did Pete tear his ACL?” Randy looked away from me, his eyes darting around for a second before finally coming to rest on the floor. “Nothing,” he said. “I mean, we didn’t do anything to the kid. It’s his own fault. He should have known not to run through the woods when it was so dark, and—” “We?” I repeated. My hands balled into fists at my sides. “Randy, two days ago you promised me you weren’t going to get involved with that stuff.” “Lissa, lighten up. It’s no big deal,” he assured me. “You promised me,” I whispered. I wanted to yell—I was angry enough—but my voice just wouldn’t rise. “You promised me you wouldn’t get involved. Now that kid won’t be able to play all season because of you.” “I swear it isn’t a big deal. Besides, it’s his own fault. He got hurt when he tried to run away from us.” “What were you going to do to him if he didn’t get away?” Randy started to open his mouth, but I quickly shook my head. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that a poor freshman is in the hospital now, and no matter how you try to excuse it, you lied to me.”

“He’ll be fine,” Randy said, shrugging. “I don’t see why you’re freaking out so much.” I just stared at him. After more than a year, I thought we were past this. Past the lying and promise- breaking. After more than a year, I thought he understood me better than anyone. Maybe I was wrong. An injury kept my father from ever playing sports again. Rationally, I knew that Pete’s situation was nothing like Dad’s, but to me, it didn’t matter. The fact that Randy’s actions—the entire football team’s actions—had hurt someone, ruined someone’s season, made me sick. This was bigger than just an egging or a few shouts across the lunchroom. This was dangerous. And Randy, the one person I trusted to understand my feelings on this, thought I was “freaking out.” That was the worst part of all. Worse, even, than having him break his word to me. “I’m going to the library,” I murmured, scooting past him and heading toward the cafeteria doors. The whole place suddenly felt too loud, too chaotic. I could feel the familiar panic setting in as I fought to restrain myself. I needed to get out of there. “Come on, Lissa,” I heard him calling after me. “Don’t be mad. I’m sorry, okay?” But I just kept walking.

chapter four
“You really expected otherwise?” Chloe asked over the phone that night when I told her about Randy and the hazing. “Come on, Lissa. That rivalry has been going on for, like, ever. Promises or not, there’s no way any of those boys are going to miss out on a chance to torture the soccer team.” “Someone got hurt, Chloe,” I said bitterly. “Bad this time. And for no reason. There will never be a winner, so what’s the point? There is none. The fighting is stupid.” “Maybe. But there’s no use complaining about it. It’s not like it’ll ever end.” When I first became friends with Chloe Nelson last year, after Randy and I started dating, I wasn’t sure what to think of her. I heard she’d slept with two-thirds of the boys on the football team. I’d thought she was kind of a slut at first—that’s what everyone called her—but we became friends fast. Faster than I did with any of the other football girlfriends. Don’t get me wrong—the other girls seemed okay, but I hadn’t entirely trusted any of them. Not with my secrets and not with my boyfriend. But in a weird way, I’d known I could trust Chloe. I also knew that she was right. This stupid little war would never end on its own. But I had to do something. I just had to. “I’m sorry for bitching,” I told her. “It’s just… It’s getting out of hand, you know? It’s too chaotic. Too out of control. And even before that kid got hurt, it was getting in the way of my relationship. I mean, he just forgets about me anytime the feud comes up. I hate it.” “Have you tried telling him that?” Chloe asked. “Sort of…” Chloe sighed. “Lissa.” “I know. You don’t have to lecture me.” “Too bad. I’m going to anyway.” She took a deep breath. “You need to tell Randy how shitty this whole thing makes you feel. I know you like to be Little Miss Ice Queen and stay cool and aloof and whatever, but he’s your boyfriend. You need to relax for once in your life and just let him know that this hurts your feelings.” “I know, I know. It’s just… It’s hard. I want to, but I always seize up. I mean, we just got back together a few weeks ago.” “Maybe you two broke up because you weren’t open enough with him.” That so wasn’t why we broke up. But I would never tell anyone, not even Chloe, the real reason. “God damn it, Lissa. You know, you are the only person who can make me sound like a fucking Hallmark card. Just talk to him, all right?” “Fine.” “Good. He’ll probably be nicer to you than I am, anyway.” “I like it when you’re mean.” “Meow,” Chloe said. “Oh, baby.” I laughed. She was really the only person who could get me this loosened up. If anyone else made the jokes she did, I would get so uncomfortable. Not with Chloe, though. “I hate this, Chloe. Instead of it being just me and Randy, lately it’s been me and Randy and the entire soccer team.” “Bow-chika-wow-wow. That sounds like a good thing to me.” “God, Chloe.” “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.” She giggled.

“You know what I mean, though, right? It’s—” Plink. I frowned and stood up from my desk chair, carrying my cell phone with me to the window. “Lissa, you there?” “Yeah. Just a second, Chloe.” I covered the receiver and leaned against the cool glass of the window, staring into the semidarkness below. Plink, plink! The pebbles hit the other side of the glass, right where my nose was pressed. I squinted, trying to make out the figure standing in the bushes by the edge of my house. The orange glow of the streetlamp fell across sandy hair and a blue T-shirt. Both were unmistakable. Randy had about a million Hamilton Panthers shirts in his drawers. Football pride and all that. I put the phone back to my ear. “Chloe, I have to go. Randy’s outside. I’ll call you tomorrow.” “Have fun,” Chloe teased. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” “There isn’t anything you wouldn’t do.” “That’s the point.” “Good night, Chloe.” After tossing the phone onto my bed, I flipped the latch and pushed the window open, careful to move the screen aside before leaning into the warm late-August air. “You are such a cliché,” I hissed down at Randy. “Clichés work, though, don’t they?” “What do you want?” I asked. “I’m proving it.” “Proving what?” “Friday night,” Randy reminded me. “You told me to prove that you meant more to me than the rivalry. I’m here to prove it.” He whipped out a small bouquet of flowers from behind his back and looked up at me with a hopeful gaze, the light from the lamppost glinting off his brown irises. “I’m sorry about today. I want to make it up to you. See?” He waved the bouquet a little, making sure I didn’t miss it. I couldn’t help laughing at him. God, he could be so cute sometimes. A little pathetic, but mostly cute. It was also cute how he shimmied up the drainpipe, trying desperately not to squish the flowers, and tumbled clumsily through my bedroom window. He gave me a lopsided grin as I took the flowers from him and put them in a vase on my desk. When I looked again, Randy was lying on my bed. His eyes were on me, and his arms were folded beneath his head, showing off his toned biceps. I blushed and hoped he didn’t notice me checking him out. His ego was big enough. “Carnations,” he said, raising both eyebrows and jerking his chin at them, all cocky. “You like pink carnations, so that’s what I got. Proud?” “Very,” I admitted. “I didn’t think you’d remember.” “I remember everything you tell me.” He tapped a finger to his temple. “It’s all right here.” “There ought to be plenty of room for it there. I mean, you don’t have much else in that cavern you call a skull.” “Ha, ha, very funny.” He rolled his eyes at me. “Maybe I choose not to study just so I have more room in my brain for Lissa Facts. Ever thought of that? I mean, knowing your favorite color and your lucky number is going to be way more useful to me than the periodic table or, you know, basic multiplication.” It surprised me he could actually think that it wasn’t useful. “Actually, basic multiplication is really important for daily life. It—”

He groaned. “That was a joke, babe.” “Oh.” I shifted nervously and played with my hair a little, feeling embarrassed. It was sweet of him to come over, but having him drop in on me like this had thrown me off. I took a deep breath and told myself to chill out a bit, to loosen up. “Well, thank you. For the flowers.” “You’re welcome.” I could tell by his grin and the sparkle in his eyes that he wanted me to come over to the bed with him, but I didn’t budge. With a sigh, he stood up and walked over to me. One of his hands moved to my hip while the other stroked black locks of hair away from my face. I forced myself to be still, not to shrug away like I did sometimes. There was no reason to be so uptight around him. I closed my eyes, trying to enjoy his touch. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I shouldn’t have lied, but Shane and the others really rode my ass when I told them I wasn’t going to do it. I couldn’t get out of it without being humiliated. I really didn’t mean for that kid to hurt his knee, though. Seriously.” “I know.” For a minute I wondered if he’d been hazed by soccer players as a freshman. Randy was too proud to tell me if he had, but it was possible. In that case, I couldn’t really blame him for wanting some revenge of his own. “So we’re cool?” he asked, rubbing a thumb across my cheek. “Hmm.” I opened my eyes. “Maybe.” He smirked and leaned forward to kiss my lips, then my jaw, then my neck. I let out a little moan as his mouth traveled down my collarbone. My shoulders relaxed and my arms wrapped around him, my hands resting on his back. “Are your dad and Logan still awake?” Randy whispered after his lips had traveled back up to my ear. “Will you get in trouble for having me up here?” “No,” I said. “It’s Logan’s birthday. They went on a gambling boat for the night.” Randy pulled back, a frown spreading across his full lips. “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have walked through the front door instead of climbing up to your window.” I ducked my head. “Well, you’re the one who wanted to prove you were sorry. I think climbing the drainpipe was the least you could do.” He looked a little pissed for a minute, but he got over it fast. “Okay, you’re probably right,” he said with a shrug and a tiny little smile. He leaned down and kissed me again. We stood there in front of my desk, kissing for a while. Both of his hands were on my waist, and my fingers were twisted into his hair. After a few minutes, he pulled away so we could catch our breath. “I love you,” he said, touching the tip of his nose to mine. “You, too.” He pressed his lips to mine again, kissing me for a long moment before easing back just slightly. “Babe,” he whispered against my mouth, “do you want to…?” My eyes opened, traveling momentarily to the bed before moving back to meet his gaze. He was waiting for me. Pleading with me. I kissed him again, relaxing against him, and pressed my hips a little closer to his.
The quiet moments were the best. When our heartbeats had just started to slow down and the only sound was our breathing. It was the most intimate feeling in the world, letting someone hold me like that. Those were the moments when I was reminded just how much we loved each other, when I could finally let myself fully relax, when I thought that maybe Chloe was right and I could really open up to

Randy about how I felt. Those were my favorite moments spent with him. “Okay. I’d better get going.” Well, those moments were great when they lasted more than five seconds. “What?” Randy disentangled himself from me and kicked off the comforter that was spread over us. I watched as he climbed off my bed and moved to button his jeans. “Where are you going?” I sat up and searched for my shirt in the sheets. Suddenly, I felt too exposed, too vulnerable. “Shane wants me to meet up with him in the old Fifth Street parking lot. Some soccer idiots wanna start shit with us because of that freshman who hurt himself. I think it’ll be a good fight.” “You’re ditching me to go fight with soccer players?” I asked. I yanked my T-shirt over my head and turned to stare at him. “I thought you were trying to prove that I came first.” “I did,” he said. “I came here first, didn’t I? I could’ve gone straight to the fight, but I came to see my girl.” He walked over to me and leaned down, kissing me on the cheek. “And we had a good time, right?” “No, you had a good—” “I’ll call you later,” he said. “I was here longer than I expected to be—not that I’m complaining, but Shane’s waiting on me. I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.” He tried to kiss me again, but I jerked away. Randy sighed and shook his head. “Don’t be like this, Lissa,” he said, and then he turned and walked out of my bedroom. I started to go after him. I jumped out of bed, momentarily determined to give him a piece of my mind, but stopped in the doorway. I took a deep breath and forced it all back, forced myself to stay in control. But a minute later—as the front door slammed downstairs and the sound of Randy walking toward his car on the street corner wafted up through my window—I knew this was the last time I would be left behind for this war. I had to do something about it. Put a stop to the stupidity. Get Randy out of this trap he was in. For him. For both of us. And I knew just how to do it.

chapter five
The next morning, eleven of Hamilton High’s female students received an e-mail instructing them to meet in the library during their lunch period. Nine of the girls were dating football players. One had slept with most of the team. And the eleventh girl, a junior named Ellen Brennan, was the longtime girlfriend of the captain of the soccer team… and she was also my ex–best friend. The e-mail directed each of the girls to take a seat at the round table in the back corner of the library, where they would be given details on a plan to end the fall sports rivalry that had plagued Hamilton High for far too long. And you know who sent that e-mail? Me. “I don’t see why you had to send me an e-mail,” Chloe said, leaning her seat back and propping her feet up on the table. She had on really cute white sandals, and her toenails were painted bright red. “You could have just called me.” I put a hand on the back of her chair and pushed it forward. Her feet slid off the table as she let the chair’s front legs hit the floor again. “I thought a group e-mail seemed more official,” I said. “And it’s so much more orderly.” “You’re so freaking neurotic.” Chloe ran her fingers through her brown corkscrew curls. I knew she hated them; they were apparently a pain in the ass to manage. But they just looked so adorable on her. “And I don’t get why you won’t tell me about this plan of yours.” “You’ll find out soon,” I told her, tapping my fingers on the table in front of me and checking the clock. “Where is everyone? Lunch started two minutes ago. It can’t just be us.” “Did you really expect everyone to show?” “Yes.” “Why?” “Because everyone else has to hate this just as much as I do,” I said, crossing my arms. “I can’t be the only one sick of this stupid fight.” “I’m sure you’re not,” Chloe said. “But you’re the only one crazy and controlling enough to think you can do shit about it.” Just then, the library doors opened and a group of three girls walked in, all carrying sack lunches. It took them only a second to locate the table I’d specified in the e-mail, and they took their seats across from Chloe and me. “Hey, Lissa,” they each said in turn. I nodded in welcome. They ignored Chloe completely. She ignored them right back. “So what’s this about again?” Kelsey Foagler asked, twirling a strand of her blond hair around a long manicured finger. “I have a plan to end the rivalry,” I told her. “Oh, right. That’s adorable.” It was her MO to sound incredibly insincere. “Um, thanks?” The doors opened again and a few more girls trickled in with their lunches, taking the remaining places around the table. I smiled at Chloe, realizing that my plan might actually work. Only four more girls had to show up before I’d have everyone from the e-mail list. She just rolled her eyes at me. One by one, the last batch of girls came through the library doors.

Ellen was the last to walk in, and I admit, I was shocked she’d decided to come. I’d added her to the e- mail list more on a hopeful whim than with actual faith that she’d show. We hadn’t spoken in a year, yet here she was, taking the seat beside me and giving me a smile like nothing had changed. But Ellen had always been a better, more forgiving person than I was. “Hey,” I said nervously. “Um, it’s nice to see you.” “You, too.” Across the table, Kelsey was giving her a less-than-welcoming stare, reserved especially for girlfriends of soccer players. I couldn’t help cringing. Tensions from the feud had seeped into the lives of the girls, too. That had been what pulled Ellen and me apart last year. The table was full of chatter. I cleared my throat a couple of times, trying to get their attention, but no one seemed to hear me. “Hey, bitches, shut up and let Lissa talk!” Chloe shouted, and everyone fell silent. Man, sometimes I wished I had her nerve. At least, I did until I noticed Mrs. Hillman, the librarian, shooting us a disapproving glare. Oops. I cleared my throat again. “Hi, everyone,” I began. “So I just wanted to talk to you all about the boys’ sports feud. I think it’s gotten way out of hand. People are getting hurt, and it’s been causing problems in my relationship. I’m sure you are all in similar situations.” “Yep,” Susan Port huffed. “After Luther’s tires were slashed last week, he completely skipped our date on my birthday so he could go have his ‘baby’ fixed.” “At least your boyfriend didn’t have a busted lip and black eye in your homecoming photos last year,” Kelsey grumbled. A general murmur of agreement bubbled around the table. “Exactly,” I said. “We’re all neglected during the autumn because of the rivalry. So, naturally, we should try to put a stop to it, right? Isn’t that what all of you want?” Another murmur of agreement. “That would be nice,” Kelsey said, “in theory. But in reality, what can we really do to end it? Nothing. Those oafs won’t stop clubbing one another on the heads until they graduate or go so brain-dead they forget who to hit.” “Shut up, Kelsey, and just give Lissa a chance,” Chloe snapped. Kelsey mocked surprise. “Oh my God, Chloe can speak? I thought her mouth only worked for sucking dicks. It’s a miracle.” “I’ll show you a miracle, you little—” I grabbed Chloe by her T-shirt and yanked her back down into her seat. “Both of you, please be civil,” I advised. Kelsey sat back down, growling to herself. “Anyway,” I said, “I have to disagree with Kelsey. I think I’ve finally figured out what we can do to end this once and for all.” “Nuke the locker room?” “Seriously?” “Can we just get the soccer program canceled?” “How would we do that?” “Give her a chance to explain,” Chloe said loudly just as a wave of anxiety washed over me. Too many voices talking over one another. She winked and nodded for me to continue. She knew me too well. “So you all want to stop the fighting,” I said. “That’s good. I’m glad we’re on the same page. The fact is that we’ve all tried everything we could think of on our own. We’ve begged, pleaded, and fought, and it hasn’t done a thing. We can’t control them. So the important thing here is to get control of the situation—we need power. And clearly, we haven’t been able to get that on our own. That’s why I

called this meeting. Because together, I believe we can get power over at least one of the sides. And with that power, we can manipulate this war however we want.” “How many times did you rehearse this speech?” Kelsey asked. I ignored her, picking up my pen and twisting the cap back and forth under the table. No way was I telling her that I’d practiced this in front of the mirror… twice. “Okay, so the thing is to get control of our boys, and to do it all together, as a unified force,” I continued. “Because when it was just football versus soccer, it was a stalemate and a never-ending cycle. But add in an extra party—the girls—and it’s possible to totally upend the balance. Finding our leverage is the hard part, and like you, I didn’t think it was possible. I thought we were all just screwed. But last night, I figured it out. I know exactly how we can get control of the boys and end this war for good.” “Out with it already,” Chloe urged. I grinned. “It’s the one thing they could never say no to. The one thing they beg and plead and cajole for. Up until now, I didn’t realize we could use it to our advantage. But last night, I realized that it’s our best shot.” I paused, took a breath. “We go on… a sex strike!” And… silence. Dead silence. For at least forty-three seconds. As I might have predicted, Chloe was the first one to share her opinion, and in typical Chloe fashion, she shared loudly. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” The table rumbled with uneasy disapproval, triggered by Chloe’s protest. I took a deep breath, twisting the pen cap faster and faster. I had to pull them in. I had to get them back in my court—to show them that this was the best option. “Think about it,” I pressed, my voice raised. “Boys only want one thing. They’re all horndogs. If there’s anything we can use to get power, it’s sex. Specifically, denying it.” “You might be right,” Chloe said. “But you’re forgetting one key factor here. Won’t we be denying ourselves, too?” Kelsey rolled her eyes. “Jesus, Chloe. You’re such a whore.” “Fuck you,” Chloe snapped. “I know for a fact that you screwed Terry on your first date. Don’t act so high and mighty.” “Guys,” I said, a little panicked. “Fighting among ourselves won’t solve anything. We’re here to create peace, remember?” Kelsey shot Chloe one more evil glare before leaning back in her seat and folding her arms over her chest, her bottom lip poked out like a pouting five-year-old. “Look,” I said. “You all agreed you wanted to end this stupid war, right? And this is the way to do it. We make them want us, then refuse to give them what they want. Once they realize we’re not giving in, they’ll be like putty in our hands. And that’s when we spring this on them. They have to call off the rivalry before we’ll touch them. I bet they’ll cave within two weeks.” Somehow, I could feel Ellen’s eyes on me. I smiled, trying not to look uncomfortable. “Is that, you know, ethical?” Susan asked. “I want the rivalry to end and all, but sex as a weapon feels a little sketchy. I think there have been whole Dr. Phil episodes about it.” “Oh, come on,” Chloe said. “Every girl has a prerogative to say no. There’s no reason not to exercise that right… even in large groups. Besides, Dr. Phil’s a quack.” “Susan, you pay a freshman girl to do your English papers,” Kelsey said. “Are you really the one to question ethics?” “Hey, I’m busy. I have basketball practice. No time to read The Great Gatsby or whatever. Plus, I pay

her. That makes it ethical.” “This is ethical,” I said, hoping to get them back on track. “We’re not really using sex as a weapon— we’re just choosing not to partake until the rivalry ends. We’re not manipulating them or anything. We’re… boycotting.” “Well, it is a good plan,” Susan said. “I mean, it will probably work.” “I don’t know.” Mary Grisham’s voice was barely loud enough for me to hear over the flutter of whispers at the table. She was a tiny junior with huge blue eyes and dark chocolate–colored hair. I looked at her, smiling, urging her to continue. She shifted nervously in her seat and said a little louder, “I, um… I can’t really do anything,” she said. “Finn and I aren’t sleeping together, so I don’t—” “Seriously?” Chloe said, gawking. “You and Finn have been together for, like, nine months, right? And you haven’t even gotten it on once?” Mary shook her head. “Is he, like, gay?” Chloe asked. “Just because they haven’t slept together yet doesn’t make either of them gay.” It came out sounding harsher than I meant it. I glanced at Mary again, then addressed the rest of the table. “I’m sure some of the rest of you are in the same boat, right?” More silence. I had to stop counting after ten seconds. I just didn’t get it. These were the same girls who called Chloe a whore for having too much sex. I could see their eyes on Mary. See the mocking or disapproving expressions. Like her virginity was a bad thing. “Well, thank you for being honest,” I told Mary as her cheeks turned redder and redder. “It’s cool that you’re waiting. I know a lot of girls lie about it, so I respect your honesty.” “You’re welcome,” Mary mumbled. “Oh, honey.” Chloe sighed. “That’s cute, but you don’t know what you’re missing.” I elbowed Chloe in the ribs and said loudly to Mary, “But you can still participate. Just don’t do other stuff. Don’t, um… Don’t go down on him or touch his…” I felt like my face was on fire. I took a deep breath and forced myself to keep going. “No hand jobs. Or anything he might enjoy too much. If kissing is all you do, don’t make out with him. You’ll find a way. You don’t have to be having sex to make it work. Trust me.” “But won’t they get mad?” one of the girls asked. “Yeah, they will. And then won’t they cheat on us?” “I don’t want that.” “I do. Then maybe I’ll finally be off the hook for kissing that kid from Oak Hill.” “Stop, stop, stop,” Chloe said over the growing wave of panicked voices. “Look, maybe I’m not an expert, since I’m not in a relationship or whatever, but is this really something you’re worried about? If so, that is seriously fucked up.” “Girls like you are the reason we have to worry,” Kelsey muttered. Chloe turned an icy glare on her. “Despite what you think of me, I’ve never slept with another girl’s boyfriend. And I would never sleep with Terry—whiny ass-kissers aren’t my type.” She looked at the rest of the girls again. “Seriously, if the bastards cheat on you, then they don’t deserve you anyway. If that’s a legit fear, then you probably shouldn’t be with them to begin with.” “Lissa,” Susan said, “what about you? Aren’t you afraid Randy will cheat if you do this?” “No,” I said. Though I think I sounded a little more certain than I felt. “I’m not. He loves me. Something like this won’t change that. Besides, this will help the boys in the long run, too. They’re victims here. But unless we do something, something to force them out of the war, they’ll never end it. This is our best option, and a good boyfriend won’t hold the no-sex thing against you.” “Seriously,” Chloe said. “I mean, I like sex probably about as much as any boy does, and even I know

a little bit of abstinence isn’t something to end a relationship over. That’d be pretty fucked up.” “Easy for you to say,” Kelsey snapped. “Have you ever even been in a relationship, Chloe? A real one. One that continues even after you put your clothes back on.” “You know what? Screw you, Kelsey. I don’t have to be in a relationship to know that a guy is a dick if he dumps you because you won’t put out. And no matter what you think of me, I won’t be the one the boys run to when they want to get some. Because… because I’m going to do it. What Lissa said. I’m going to play along. No sex.” I gaped at Chloe, amazed. “Seriously?” “Yep. I’m in.” “Me, too.” I turned to my right and saw Ellen watching me with her hazel eyes. Something in them seemed skeptical, and I wondered if I’d misunderstood her. Then she shook her head and the flicker of disbelief was gone. “I’m sick of this fighting. It’s definitely crossed a line.” She gave me a meaningful look before adding, “I think a sex strike is a great idea, and I can try to get some of the other soccer players’ girlfriends in on it. I bet they’ll help. We’re all fed up.” “R-really?” I beamed at her, half in shock. “Ellen, thank you so much.” After that, a lot of people seemed to hop on the bandwagon. “I’ll do it,” Susan said. “Damn, Lissa, you’ve got some brains. I never would have thought of this.” “I’m in. It’ll make this season more entertaining at least.” “I guess I’ll do it. Maybe end-of-rivalry sex will be even better than make-up sex.” I ducked my head to hide the blush creeping up my face. How could these girls be so open about their sex lives? I barely even talked about mine with Chloe. Hell, I couldn’t even say the words for the things I was doing with Randy without cringing. “We need to make a pact or something,” Chloe said. “Like, an oath. We need to swear to abstain from all sexual activities.” “What do we swear on?” Susan asked. “The Bible?” “That’s kind of inappropriate,” I managed to joke. “Considering what we’re swearing about and all.” “Here.” Ellen placed her backpack on the table and unzipped it. After a few seconds of digging, she pulled out a new issue of Cosmo and tossed it onto the table. “It’s the sex-tips issue. Includes a nice list of all the things we can’t do. We can swear on it.” Chloe picked up the magazine. “Sweet,” she said, flipping through the pages. She paused and visibly cringed. “Ugh. No, don’t try that. Trust me, not as great as it sounds.” I grabbed the magazine from Chloe, half wondering and half afraid to see what she was talking about. I held it up for everyone to see. “Okay,” I said. “So we’ll all take a vow. I’ll lay out the rules, and if you agree, you put your hand on the magazine and say, ‘I do.’ Got it?” Most of the girls nodded. I placed the magazine on the table, putting my hand over the model’s face on the cover. “I hereby swear to abstain from all forms of sexual activity. This includes but is not limited to anything involving body parts below the belt. That’s either party’s belt. Oh, and second base is outlawed, too. Nothing, um, under the shirt.” I forced myself to continue, despite the way this speech made my face heat up. “I’ll stand my ground, even in the toughest of times, and will resist temptation until the rivalry is put to an end.” I slid the magazine to Ellen, still feeling a little anxious when our eyes met. But I couldn’t let my composure falter right now. Not with all these girls watching. I cleared my throat for, like, the millionth time that afternoon. “Do you agree?” I asked. “I do,” Ellen said solemnly.

She passed it on to Susan. “I do.” Susan passed it to the girl to her right. “I do.” “I do.” “I do.” When it came to Mary, I saw her hesitate for a minute. She looked at me, took a breath, and placed her hand on the magazine. “I do.” Then she passed it to Kelsey. “Just pass it on if you’re too chicken,” Chloe taunted. “You call me a whore, but you’re more hesitant about giving up sex than I am.” “Shut up,” Kelsey hissed. “Give me that.” She yanked the magazine toward her and put her hand in the dead center of the cover. Her eyes locked with Chloe’s as she said, “I. Do.” Chloe grinned. To my amazement, after so much disagreement, all eleven girls at the table—plus me—wound up making the oath. Chloe was the last, and she grinned at me as she swore to be celibate. I knew it would be a challenge for her more than anyone. But looking at the others, I knew Chloe couldn’t have been the only girl who liked sex. So many others had been hesitant to agree right away. Surely some of the girls had the same reason as Chloe, even if the others were reluctant out of fear of losing their boyfriends. I wondered what the ratio was—how many of the girls just didn’t want to give up sex versus the ones who were afraid of being cheated on. And I wondered why Chloe was the only girl willing to come out and say she liked sex. Maybe because the others knew she was called a slut or a whore for liking it so much? But I didn’t understand that, either. Like Chloe said, it wasn’t like she slept with other girls’ boyfriends. I also wanted to know why Mary had been the only one willing to confess the opposite—her virginity. Because I didn’t think for a second that she was the only one at the table who hadn’t yet made that leap. When everyone had sworn on the magazine, I handed it back to Ellen. “You can make the soccer girls take the same oath,” I said. “Sure thing.” She tucked

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