Never Slow Dance with a Zombie
Author:E. Van Lowe

chapter Three

And now a brief note about text messaging: Texting is one of the greatest inventions of all time, right up there with the vaccine for polio and the mosquito ring tone. For it allows us to stay on top of important, life-altering issues while going through our mundane school day.

Sybil, unfortunately, is unappreciative of this great invention. I texted her midway through eighth period:

PCM

Please call me. A simple ok would have done, but Sybil didn't respond. How rude! I know she got it. And I know she knows I know she got it. It's hard enough concentrating at the end of the day. Sybil was forcing me to concentrate on French with my social life hanging in the balance.

My French teacher, Mr. Monsieur--which is obviously a fake name--saw me looking into my lap, frantically typing into my phone.

"Margot, comment vas-tu?" which is French for "stop tex-ting and pay attention."

"I'm fine. Tres bien" I replied, and smiled. I threw in that tiny bit of French hoping he'd think I was paying attention and move on to the next student. My ploy did not work.

"Good," he said. "Would you please come up to the board and write the following sentence enfranqaisl" But of course he said the entire thing in French, and while I wasn't able to follow along word for word, I knew exactly what he meant: It was time for Margot jean Johnson's public humiliation.

"Merci beaucoup" I said as I got up. There were a few relieved snickers from classmates who breathed sighs of relief over dodging the chalkboard assignment bullet. I moved to the board, my mind racing.

"Mr. Monsieur, before we begin I want to thank you for having such a profound effect on my life." I delivered this with such sincerity that a blank expression actually crossed his face. He was trying to figure out if I was serious or yanking his chain. For my part I was buying time, hoping I could come up with a clever reason why I couldn't do the assignment today: I'm sorry, sir, but as much as I'd love to do the sentence, I'm afraid I've been stricken with a sudden case of hysterical blindness. Can someone please help me back to my seat?

I wish someone would explain to teachers that embarrassing us in front of twenty-two of our peers does nothing toward helping us learn. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Teachers should call on the kids who actually want to go up to the board. You know, those kids with their noses so far up the teachers' butts they can tell what they had for lunch. I know, gross--but I'm trying to make a point. Why call on those of us who are doing our best to blend into the woodwork?

"Mademoiselle Johnson" Mr. Monsieur said, his eyes urging me on.

As I started writing, I tried glancing surreptitiously at my phone. Still nothing from Sybil.

"Mademoiselle Johnson, ce qui est dans votre main?"

"Urn. Okay, you're asking me a question... and it's in French, right?"

A few snickers from the class as Mr. Monsieur's brow pinched tight. "I asked, 'What is in your hand?'"

"Oh. Easy. La bibliotheque."

"Ann. So, that's the library in your hand, is it?"

The class erupted with laughter.

I looked around the room, my cheeks flushed, one thought on my mind: I'm going to kill Sybil

"I hope you're happy!" I said when she finally arrived at our lockers. "I totally messed up in French, and now I've got an extra dose of homework, and it's all your fault." Class had been out for fifteen minutes. I'd been waiting by my locker, stress lines snaking across my brow. "Where were you?" I slammed open my locker and rummaged around for my French workbook.

"I was in history class." She had this silly half smile playing on her lips.

"I texted you three times!"

"Five, but who's counting."

"Well?" I found the workbook and stuffed it in my backpack.

"/ Well, what?"

I know she thought she was being cute and funny, drawing out the tension of the moment. But she was actually being ridiculously childish.

I took a deep, cleansing breath. "Did you happen to speak with Dirk?" I was calm on the outside, but my insides were churning as if they'd been thrown into a blender.

"Yes."

"And how did it go?" I wanted to wipe that silly grin right off her face--but I played it cool and smiled back as 1 eased my locker shut.

"Well... I said if he wasn't doing anything tomorrow night, my very good friend, you, would love to go to the carnival with him. And he said... maybe. He'd think about it." She was grinning from ear to ear.

Maybe? Maybe! I couldn't believe my ears.

"He didn't say no?" 1 stammered.

"I know."

"He didn't say 'Margot? Who's Margot?'"

"1 know."

"He didn't say I'd rather stick needles in my eyes.' He didn't say 'Please! I'm going to the carnival with Amanda Culpepper.' He said 'Maybe.' Maybe!" At that moment my earlier embarrassment in French didn't seem so bad, as the possibility of going to the carnival with Dirk once again danced in my head.

For those of you out of the loop, the word maybe is teen boy code for I don't have a girlfriend right now, and while I may have been asked out by someone else, going out with you sounds like a good idea, too. I just need a little time to think about it You've got to admire boys. They can pack a lot into one word.

I was beside myself with the possibility. Sybil said she'd come over after dinner and we'd call him about the "homework."

Later, at home, I again pulled out my high school manifesto and reread my lofty goals: I will be popular; I will go to parties; I will have a boyfriend.

Suddenly those things didn't seem so unattainable. Dirk and I would go to the carnival and I'd laugh at his jokes and he'd tell me how cute my eyes are when they're crinkled with laughter. Then I'd tell him how fond I am of basketball, which isn't a total lie because I have a real appreciation for boys in shorts. And he'll say how fond he is of girls with meat on their bones, which only makes sense since I can't imagine any boy wanting to go out with a girl just to watch her dine on a grape. And everyone at school will say what a cute couple we are, and we'll be invited to all the in parties, but we'll only attend a few, because we'll want to spend most of our free time alone together.

Perfect, I thought. Having a boyfriend was the first step. My high school manifesto was about to become a reality.

At dinner that night I daydreamed about what it would be like having Dirk over for dinner, sitting with my family, playing footsie with me under the table, talking, laughing, sharing his thoughts of the day. Unfortunately, there's a person who shows up at our dinner table every night who'd make that dining experience a total nightmare--my ten-year-old brother, Theo.

I'm sure there are lots of girls who enjoy their younger sibling's youthful antics. I do not happen to be one of them.

1 don't like chicken!" Theo whined as he dumped most of the mashed potatoes from the serving bowl onto his plate.

"Oh, really," I said. "Then why are there two chicken wings on your plate? If 7 didn't like chicken I'd leave that extra wing for somebody who might appreciate it."

"I like wings," he snarled as he inhaled the first. They're not really chicken. Wings are fun food."

"I like wings, too," I said. "I'm sure we all like wings, don't we?" I threw a look at my parents for confirmation. They looked away.

If Dirk were here he'd bock me up,

I turned back to Theo. "Unfortunately chickens are only born with two wings,"I said as if talking to a three-year-old. My cheeks reddened as my patience slipped away. Even thoughts of Dirk couldn't mask the fact my little brother was an idiot.

"I know they have two wings," Theo said, a goofy smirk playing on his lips. He waved the second wing under my nose like a maestro teasing the air with his baton. Then he devoured it, slurping the meat off the bone like a human vacuum cleaner. "All gone," he sang as he hoisted the meatless bone above his head as if it were a trophy.

I shot my mother an exasperated glance.

"You two be nice," is all she said. But what she meant was, You know we always let your little creep of a brother get away with everything; suck it up and grab a thigh!

I looked over at my father, who again avoided my gaze. He scooped tiny spoonfuls of food onto his plate, pretending life with my brother was as normal as the sunrise. A part of me felt sorry for my parents. They had to know that having my brother was the biggest mistake of their lives. If only they'd stopped with me. I'm not saying I'm perfect. But at least I'm not a total embarrassment. I know, some of you are thinking, How embarrassing could it be? Obviously you don't have a little brother whose greatest gift is taking a mouthful of PB& J and squirting it out his left nostril while humming the theme to Skunk Fu!. .. I'm not kidding.

To deal with their misery my parents pretend our lives are normal. But I'm sure if I ever listened at their bedroom door in the middle of the night, I'd hear them crying their eyes out over their humongous mistake. By the way, I'd never listen at my parents' bedroom door. That's disgusting.

The doorbell rang.

I'll get it," hollered Theo.

I jumped up. "It's not for you, you little creep! It's Sybil." I shot an imploring look at my mother.

"Theo, finish your dinner," she said, and smiled at me. Finally some justice.

I let Sybil in, and we went right to my room to make the call.

"What are you going to say to him?" I asked as she punched in Dirk's number.

"We'll ask him about the homework, of course."

"Right, right." I'd forgotten that calling a boy and asking about the homework is a teen girl excuse for calling said boy and talking about anything her heart desires. You don't even need to have a class with a boy to discuss homework. Teen code is so cool. I don't know what I'm going to do when I turn twenty.

"Hello?" Dirk's smooth, sexy voice came on the line. Sybil held the phone between us. I could hear him breathing on the other end. He even breathed sexy.

"Say something," she whispered.

"Huh? You say something."

"He's your date."

"Hellooo?" he repeated.

"But he's not in any of my classes."

"It's not homework, Margot, it's homework."

"Who is this? I can hear you talking, you know."

Sybil eyed me, her lips defiant and tight. It was clear she wasn't going to talk to him. "Umm. Parlez-vous frangais?" The French words crept from my throat. Why I chose a language I could hardly speak I have no idea. I just panicked.

Sybil's eyes widened. "What are you doing? Talk to him in English. He's not going to bite."

"Who is this? Is this some kind of joke?" Dirk demanded.

"Umm, no. No speaky English," I said, and quickly hung up.

Sybil glared at me. "Margot, I made the opening for you. You're going to have to talk to him."

"I know. But I thought you were going to do all the talking this time. You know, tell him what a wonderful person I am and how he was so lucky to be going out with me, while I listened in. Why did you spring him on me like that?"

"Because I knew if I didn't, you'd make some lame excuse why you couldn't talk. And I'm not going to let you blow this opportunity."

"Oh." After a moment I sighed. She knew me too well. "You're right. I just need to work up to it, that's all."

The tension lines around her eyes relaxed. She smiled. "I know you will. Tomorrow."

Suddenly, I was into it. "Yes! Tomorrow I'll show up at school everywhere that Dirk might be, looking ravishing. I'll smile and casually wave in a way that lets him know I'm fun and intelligent but not clingy. No talking involved in that."

It's amazing how much a girl can convey in a smile. Of course, if a girl was, say, shallow and brainless as a tick, her smile would convey that as well. Unfortunately some boys like the brainless type, which is why Amanda and the Twigettes always seem to have boyfriends. But Dirk was different. Any boy who was an athlete and a finalist in the science fair was way too complicated for Amanda's bunch.

"Sounds like a plan," Sybil replied. "Tomorrow we turn that maybe into a yes."