Some days it seems like half the backpacks of South Hills High whack me in the head on their way to the back of the bus. And today, the pain is epic because I had my braces tightened this morning. Each thud shakes my tender teeth, reminding me that I am the loser who sits in the front row of the bus, head positioned exactly at the point where kids step on and turn into the aisle.
Samantha Janiskowsky. Thunk. Ouch.
Miranda Beck. Thunk. Ouch.
Kyle Rotrosen. Thunk.
Now, this last pain is not for the aching gums. This pain is inflicted by Lizzie Kauffman, squeezing my hand in a death grip. That can mean only one thing.
Sure enough, sandy hair slowly rises from behind the metal plate between us and the bus steps. Emerging like a god from the underworld, Shane Matthews climbs onto the bus, his adorable smile directed at someone behind and beneath him.
Of course, almost the entire world population is beneath Shane.
“You got that right, babe. Feast your eyes.” He wiggles his butt, which only makes Lizzie crunch my knuckles harder. It doesn’t matter. All pain is numbed by the sight of him, the object of our every fantasy, the subject of our every sleepover, the man candy we can only dream of tasting in this lifetime.
Shane Matthews is about to clock me in the head, and all I can do is wait in breathless anticipation.
Next to me, Lizzie mutters, “Annie, don’t look, don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.” She shifts her eyes as far to the side as they can go without actually getting stuck in her head. I have no such restraint.
And get a navy blue Adidas Velocity II backpack full of history and science textbooks right in the face.
Yeah, we Googled his backpack brand. We’re that pathetic. I resist the urge to touch my cheek, the closest I’ve ever gotten to actual contact with Shane Matthews.
Of course, he doesn’t even look to see who he’s hit. Because to him, I am invisible. Annie Nutter--if he even knows my name, which I sincerely doubt--is simply one of the extras to fill the halls of South Hills High, so low on the social ladder that our only job is to admire the beauty, perfection, and popularity of stars like Shane.
And admire we do.
A distinctive, throaty (and totally fake) laugh floats up from the sidewalk. Lizzie and I share a disgusted look seconds prior to the appearance of silky platinum hair, gloriously tanned skin--tanned, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mind you--and a cheerleader’s smile that bares a row of blinding white Chiclet-like teeth.
Of course Courtney Nicholas is smiling. Who wouldn’t, if you had her life?
“Nickel-ass,” Lizzie hisses. “Of course he’s flirting with her.”
Courtney doesn’t carry a backpack--she probably has Blonde Mafia handmaidens who do that for her--but her Coach handbag slugs me as she saunters by. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she did that on purpose.
But I do know better; I’m not even a blip on Courtney’s radar.
“Nice move, Court,” a girl behind her says, snickering.
“Oh, who did I hit?” she calls over her shoulder.
“Nobody,” the girl says without so much as a sideways glance at my face. “Just move it so we can sit with Shane.”
Nobody. My face burns, and not from the brush with either the forty-four-dollar Adidas Velocity II or whatever designer bags are going for these days. I certainly wouldn’t know, since they don’t sell them at Tar--ghetto.
“Don’t sweat it,” Lizzie whispers, pulling me to her so I avoid the final assault of the backpack brigade. “It’s November. Half these kids’ll have licenses and cars by the middle of the year, and we’ll be the only dweeb juniors on the bus. We’ll, like, own this puppy.” She pats the ripped leather of our seat and raises her voice. “Right, Geraldine?”
The bus driver shifts in her seat to set her meaty face in a frown, but there is a light in her eyes that she saves just for us. Geraldine, whose gravelly baritone and hairy arms make us certain she was a man at some point in her not-so-recent past, has a soft spot for us nobodies. Best of all, she takes absolutely no shit from the posse of populars in the back of the bus.
We love that about her. Him. Geraldine.
“Always changes when they pass driver’s ed,” Geraldine growls as she closes the doors. “Just you wait.”
“So you wanna come over and hang?” Lizzie asks me as the bus rolls over the speed bumps--another slam to my teeth--and pulls out of the school lot. “I don’t have my flute lesson until four-thirty.”
“Can’t. I’m going to beg Geraldine to let me off at Walmart.” I raise my voice so the driver hears me. “To meet my mom for a quick shop.”
Lizzie stares at me. “You’re going to homecoming.”
“What? How did you get that out of me meeting my mom at Walmart?”
“I figure you’re getting a dress and holding out on me.”
I snort. “At Walmart? Jeez, Zie, I know the real estate market is sucky and my mom hasn’t sold a house in two months and my dad barely makes minimum wage at RadioShack, but even we Nutters have some standards.”
“Puh-lease.” She gives an apologetic wave. “As if my mom isn’t always broke.” She waits a beat, searching my face. “But you don’t have a date for homecoming, right?”
As if. “You got nothin’ to worry about, girlfriend. It’s you, me, and the entire season of Degrassi come Saturday night.” I give her a reassuring pat because she truly looks worried. “Trust me, we’re just going to Walmart because my dad needs us to pick up some . . .” Junk. “Things.”
Lizzie crosses her eyes. “Your dad needs more things like I need more freckles.”
My heart squeezes a little, but this is Lizzie, who knows my every secret. Even how embarrassing the mess at home is getting to be.
“He’s working on an amazing new invention,” I say, the need to defend whacktastic Mel Nutter rising up in me.
“Really? What could possibly top the button you could press on the toilet-paper thingie so that you automatically get the exact same amount of sheets every time?”
“The Rip-Off?” I sigh with a mix of amusement and shame. Really, mostly amusement over that one. “Of course he didn’t like my idea for a name.”
“Even though it was pure genius,” she adds, ever the supportive friend. “The name and the idea.”
“Sadly, no one in the world wanted the Rip-Off. But this one? He’s being secretive about it, so it might be good.”
“Whatever happened to last summer’s Flip-Flop Beach Buddy?” she asks.
“Emphasis on flop,” I tell her, the memory still vivid: a double beach towel with corner holder-downers disguised as flip-flops to keep it in the sand. “Well, nobody wanted that, either, because it really wasn’t much different from a blanket held down by, well, flip-flops. Plus . . .” I angle my head toward the window. “There’s a serious beach shortage in Pittsburgh.”
Excerpted from Don't You Wish by Roxanne St. Claire. Copyright © 2012 by Roxanne St. Claire. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.