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“What, you got connections?”

I shrug. “Maybe.”

Trey dribbles the ball down the court, and I’m on his ass the whole time. Today he’s got some nervous energy that’s making him shoot way too early. We’ve had this rivalry thing since we were younger—we’re too damn competitive to give up that rivalry now, even if he’s missing easy shots and seems too hyper to be focused.

“If I win, you have to buy me McDonald’s,” Trey says in an overly confident tone.

“And if I win, you have to buy me Taco Bell,” I tell him.

“Isn’t that cliché?” he jokes. “The Mexican asking for Taco Bell.”

“Dude, Taco Bell isn’t authentic Mexican food, but it is hella amazing.” I knock the ball out of his hands and dribble the ball to the other end of the court. “For someone who’s gonna be valedictorian, I thought you’d be smarter than that.” I do a jump shot right over his head and make a basket.

He fetches the ball. “Damn. I’m impressed, Vic.” He holds the ball at his side. “So, uh, can you help me with the whole asking Monika to homecoming thing? She’s kinda mad that I messed everything up.”

“Don’t fuck up with her,” I tell him.

He dribbles the ball down the court. “My girlfriend is starting to be high maintenance.”

“Monika is not high maintenance, man,” I say, defending her. “You ditched her freshman year durin’ the homecoming dance when your sister wanted to leave early, and she never complained. She slept with her hand on your chest all night when you were passed out drunk at Jet’s house last summer because she was afraid you’d choke on your vomit. Dude, I was there. She kept askin’ for towels to put on your head because you were sweatin’ like a pig. You spend one night with Cassidy Richards, and you’ll get a taste of what a real high-maintenance girl is like. Monika is…”

I want to say perfect.

I want to say selfless.

I want to say she’s thoughtful and easy-going, but I’m afraid it’ll reveal how I truly feel about her. I’ve already said enough.

He pulls his phone out of his pocket and starts texting quickly, then slips it back in. “Tell me what to do.”

“Listen, if you want to do it right you’ve got to wow her,” I tell him.

“Wow her? Vic, I don’t have money,” he says. “I can get her a teddy bear or—”

“Teddy bear?” Trey is way off. “You know she’s got a thing for penguins. A teddy bear isn’t the wow factor.”

Shut up before he figures it out, I tell myself.

“Yeah,” he says, shaking his head. “Penguins. I knew that.” He makes a basket. “So can you help me with the wow thing?”

“Yeah. Sure.” Because friends do that… they help each other even when it kills them to do it.

*

Two days later Trey has it all set up.

He’s orchestrated an entire night full of romantic stuff, and he enlisted our friends to help. Trey was flaky about everything, so I planned most of it. I mean, the entire time we were arranging the night, he was on his phone or going to the bathroom.

He’s been a crazy mess.

He claims it’s nerves and stress. I don’t question him, but I’m gonna tell Monika she’s not off her rocker. Her claims of Trey acting weird are legit.

I’m in charge of the cake tonight, which has HOMECOMING with a question mark written on it in blue frosting. It’s dorky, but Monika will like it.

I wear jeans and a button-down shirt and put on a stupid tie, which is about as dressed up as I get. The last thing I want to do is act as a delivery boy, but Trey is my homie and, well, I’d do anything for him. I might be an asshole most of the time, but I’m a loyal asshole.

In the family room, Marissa is sitting on the couch reading The Odyssey.

“That’s what you’re assigned to read?” I ask her, wondering how an incoming freshman would be assigned that book when I had to read it junior year.

“No,” she says, not looking up. “I’m reading this for fun.”

What the— “You’re readin’ The Odyssey for fun?”

She nods. “It’s really good, Vic.” She glances up. “You can read it after me.”

“Yeah, right.” I don’t tell her that I didn’t even read it when it was assigned to me. I’m not about to read it for fun, that’s for damn sure. I’m lucky if I can get through reading a class assignment without my mind wandering.

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