I was filling out a magazine quiz to see if my marriage was stable.
"You're sixteen, Kelly," said my best friend. "You don't have a boyfriend, let alone an unstable marriage."
"That just makes it more challenging. I have to dream up a husband, work my way through five years of marriage, and analyze our relationship."
We sprawled on the blue denim bedspread in my room while I finished the quiz. "I got a seventy-three, Faith," I told her.
"What does seventy-three mean?"
I flipped pages. "It means my husband and I are not yet verging on divorce, but we should be aware that we have serious marital difficulties that are going to pose major problems if we don't face them right
I dropped the magazine on the floor and lowered my face right into the bedspread. I've been trying to destroy this denim since the day I bought it, so I can have something fragile and pretty instead. But nothing can damage a denim coverlet. Not dirty shoes, spilled perfume, pizza topping or aerobic exercises.
"It makes me sad," said Faith. "You haven't even met this guy yet, and already your marriage is in trouble."
The magazine had fallen open to a home-decorating page. Here was a bedroom for dreams: open and airy, in soft pale colors, no junk around (like my hair dryer, books, makeup, souvenirs, sweaters that don't fit, sweaters that do fit, homework, new laptop, old broken laptop to which I am irrationally attached). The magazine model was also soft and pale, but you knew that lined up outside her door were dozens of men yearning for her. She just had that confident look.
"That confident look," said Faith, "is because she's getting paid so much. She probably doesn't have a date tonight either, Kelly."
"We should have gone to the basketball game," I said. "Then at least we'd be having fun."
"We were at basketball games Tuesday and Thursday," she said. "How many times a week can a girl watch Will, Scott, Mario, Angie and Jeep?"
I looked at her.
"You're right," she admitted instantly. "A girl could admire those guys every night of the week."
I rolled over. My cheek had a trench line from being pressed against a seam in the denim. If we went to the basketball game now, I'd have to wear a mask. "You know what let's do?" I said, struck by a brilliant idea. "Let's invent a romance game."
"I'm sick of games. I want a real romance."
"Maybe one will come out of this. Three of the five starters on our basketball team are in sociology class with us, right?"
"And sociology is a totally boring forty-five-minute stretch of time five days a week. Right?"
"So let's turn the classroom into a game room. Let's make up rules and play for boys."
"Oh, Kelly," said Faith, really annoyed with me. "I'm not like Megan or Honey. I can't glance a boy's way and have him get all excited and flirty. What do you mean, 'play for boys'? I've been going in and out of crushes since I was twelve and what do I have to show for it? Not a single date. I've read every romance book there is, and every article in every magazine from Seventeen to Cosmo, and what do I have junior year? Every weekend free. Don't let's talk about playing for boys. I can't do it, I don't know how, I've given up. Tomorrow I plan to hurl myself down the cellar stairs anyway."
This was Faith's biggest threat. Her house happens to be a ranch built on a slab. But hey, it sounds impressive.
"Who's your crush on this week?" I said. Faith is always in the grip of a crush. The crush seizes her, rules her life and guides her activities. The worst of it is, the boy never notices. I take that back. Once, in ninth grade, the boy noticed. He fled so thoroughly, she never saw him again to keep the crush alive.
"Angie," Faith said dreamily.
That was definitely a dream. Angie--actually Angelo Angelotti--is the beloved star of the Cummington basketball team. All five of our starters are stars, but it's hard to get excited about, say, the stardom of Will, who is very tall, very bony and so conceited I think he may have spoken to six people in the last year, all of whom were teammates or the coach. It's also hard to get excited about the stardom of Scott, who is personality-free and has the IQ of a cold day in January.
That leaves you with Angie, who has such a terrific time playing basketball that you can't keep your eyes off him (you wouldn't keep your eyes off him anyway, because he's so totally cute), and with Jeep--actually George Peters, initials G.P., leads to Jeep--who is centerfold material. Handsome like a soap opera star, with strong memorable features, thick windblown dark hair and soft sad dark eyes.
I forgot Mario.
Everybody forgets Mario. I'm sure nobody ever has a crush on him. He scores almost as often as Will, but while Will is very tall, so you can distinguish him from the other players, Mario is just sort of there. This is probably the last time I'll need to mention Mario.
If Faith had a crush on Angie, she was standing in line with a lot of other girls, and Angie has never been known to date a girl twice.
"There are eleven boys in sociology class," I said to Faith, "of whom three are basketball stars, right? Will, Jeep and Angie. Right?"
"Right. And two of the other boys are Stephen and Alan, who both have extremely steady girlfriends. And two are Avery and Kenny, who are both extremely total losers. And--"
"Be quiet. I'm planning the game. Don't interrupt."
Faith rolled her eyes. She got off the bed, wandered around my room and landed in front of my fingernail polish collection. Last Christmas my two grandmothers, my aunt and the neighbor I babysit for all gave me enormous gift sets of nail polish. I could go into retail right off my dresser. "Can I try the silver decals and the Roseblush Frost?" said Faith.
"You may have the silver decals and the Roseblush Frost. Here's how our game will go, Faith. I've worked it out in my mind. We'll walk into sociology class on Monday."
"I'm with you. We're walking into sociology."
"And there are eleven boys in the room."
"If you count Chuckie, who in my opinion does not qualify as human, never mind being the right gender."
"I am counting Chuckie. This is a game of chance. You take risks."
"I hate chance. I like skill," said Faith.
"If we had any skill, we'd be off somewhere tonight with the boys of our choice."
"Good point." Faith stroked Roseblush Frost onto her left-hand fingernails with precision. Faith's hands never quiver. Mine do, so my nails have a sticky, confused look. When even your fingernails are confused, you know you're in trouble. "Okay," I said. "We each have to select a boy to work on. The selections will be by chance."
Faith shuddered. "If chance gives me Chuckie, or Avery, or Kenny, I'm leaving town."
"Maybe you'll get Angie, though."
Faith started to tell me about how wonderful Angie was, but I knew that as well as she did, so it was a boring conversation. If she went and had a crush on, say, Kenny, who belongs on zoo-cage-cleanup detail, it would be interesting.
Sickening. Humiliating. But interesting.
Excerpted from The Girl Who Invented Romance by Caroline B. Cooney. Copyright © 2005 by Caroline B. Cooney. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 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.