“Sorry,” she finally said. Grudgingly. She flopped down on his bed.
“Why are you doing this, anyway? I don’t really get it,” Mica admitted, crossing his legs and relaxing a little.
“Ryan likes all of this sort of…stuff,” she said as she waved her hand around. “I mean, a little. Not like you guys like it. And I don’t get it at all. I thought maybe if I did, I would get him more. I really like him, you know.”
“That’s…” Mica thought carefully. “Kind of generous.”
“Um, yeah,” Montgomery said, picking at his Star Wars quilt.
The obvious question was finally spoken.
“Is he doing the same thing for you?” Mica finally asked.
“What is this, Geek 101 or the Dr. Phil show?” the cheerleader snapped. “When I want relationship advice, trust me, I won’t be paying the dysfunctional club.”
He made a face. “Touché.”
“What about you?” she relented. “Like…you and Ellen seem perfect for each other. How come you never dated?”
“Who said we didn’t?” Mica said quickly, turning back to the TV and groping for the remote.
“Really?” Montgomery’s eyes widened at the new information. Gossip—even here, among these people—was juicy.
“Look, it just didn’t work out, okay?” he muttered, pretending to fix the screen format.
“Oh my gosh—did you guys do it? Is that what happened?”
“Hey. Monty. Shut your freaking trap and watch the elf, okay?” the geek growled, hitting play. “You’re watching a movie you hate to impress your football-playing BF. Ix-nay on the relationship advice-ay. When I want pom-pom advice, trust me, I’ll go straight to you.”
“‘Monty,’” the cheerleader said, giggling a little. “I kind of like that.”
“So, how’s your…secret project going?” Susan stage-whispered across the table. Montgomery kicked her under it. Her best friend was sitting right next to Ryan, who, breaking convention, was not as dumb as a football player could be. He had already questioned the unmarked bootleg in her purse—something she didn’t usually carry with her cell phone, makeup, and tampons.
Ryan wasn’t paying attention, though; he was shoveling the second of a trio of cheeseburgers into his mouth, the juices dribbling around to his chin. It would stain his white shirt with permanent greasy smears.
“It’s going well,” she said casually, as if it was about something for history class. She studied her limp salad. Then she cleared her throat and got Ryan’s attention by tapping him with her fork. “Hey, there’s a making of Star Wars special on tonight, on the History Channel.”
“Yeah?” Ryan said, surprised. He swallowed quickly. “For real? How’d you hear about it?”
“I don’t know…. Maybe you could come over and we could do our homework and watch it.” Which was really a way of saying “do our homework and make out while we ‘watch it.’” It certainly got his attention.
“Oh, you can’t,” Susan said, pouting. “There’s Reese’s party tonight. You two have to come.”
“I don’t know….” Montgomery said unenthusiastically.
“Well,” Ryan said, torn.
“Come on! I’m going to wear my new top, the one with the zip-down,” Susan said flirtily, wheedling Ryan.
“Hey,” Montgomery warned, surprised at her friend’s forwardness.
“You know I’m just kidding,” Susan said, backing down immediately. “I was just giving some added incentive.”
“Hmm.” Montgomery reached over and stole one of Ryan’s fries, biting it in half, hard.
SF TV: THE SCIFI CHANNEL VS. PBS AND THE MAJOR NETWORKS
After practice Montgomery took the bus over to Ellen’s house for what would be, barring some wonderfully cataclysmic event, an incredibly boring afternoon.
The lone female member of Team Geek promised she would start slowly, beginning with socially acceptable nerd TV (Lost, Heroes, Smallville, BuffytheVampireSlayer), then easing into the more commonly known serious sci-fi with a series of old- and new-school matchups (Dr. Who 1–8 vs. Dr. Who 9 and 10, StargateSG1 vs. Atlantis, old Battlestar vs. new Battlestar), ending with a very brief foray into the hardcore geek-but-not-forgotten (MaxHeadroom, MisfitsofScience, FridaytheThirteenth, plus some sort of Canadian–Luxembourgian Dracula series).
Despite herself, the cheerleader was a little intrigued to see Ellen’s house. She had to admit that this little extracurricular project was interesting at least in how it revealed the personal lives of people she hadn’t really given a wet slap about before.
She could hear the shouting before she even rang the bell.
“Oh, they’re upstairs,” Mrs. Ellen’s-Mom said with a smile, as if nothing was wrong, or she was deaf.
Montgomery mounted the very-normal, very-family wooden staircase with a growing sense of dread. At the top, at the end of the hall, inside a door covered with pictures of stars and space things (and very old stickers of unicorns), was exactly the sort of scene she was afraid she was walking into.
Mr. Ellen’s-Dad was yelling. Ellen was standing as calmly as she could, a thin trickle of a tear along the outside of her cheek. She was obviously trying not to see the cheerleader standing there, but quickly wiped her face, embarrassed.
“Oh, and there you go, crying again,” her father screamed, noticing her gesture. “For heaven’s sake, why can’t you be more like your hero—what’s his name? Schmock? Spock? Something stupid? The one with no emotions. Why do you have to be so emotional about everything? You’re just like your freaking grandmother…crying over everything. Are you going to cry when an employer yells at you?”
Montgomery looked down at the floor and gave a small cough.
“What? Oh, you must be Montgomery,” he said, calming down immediately.
But whatever small token he was paying to social decency failed against an urge he just couldn’t resist. He immediately turned back to his daughter.
“Look at her—why can’t you be more together, like her? She looks like someone who’s going to college! Not wasting her time with stupid online games! Nice to meet you,” he added, striding angrily down the hall.
“Hey,” the cheerleader said after a moment, with a twisted, understanding little smile.
“Hey,” Ellen said back, sniffling, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. Everything was silent in the house. Dust fell; it was hard to tell where Ellen’s father had gone. Montgomery could tell that though they were from opposite worlds, at that one moment the two girls understood each other completely: What had just occurred totally sucked.
The cheerleader noticed Ellen’s outfit with sadness: the tucked-in T-shirt printed with a weird, garish logo, the boy jeans that were actually cut for a boy, the cracked leather belt, the sneakers with duct tape and pins. Not slobby or punk enough to make any statement other than “lame.” Oh, Ellen was going to college. She was super-smart.
She just wasn’t going to interview well.
“Um. I don’t really feel like watching TV. Here,” Ellen finally said.
“No problem,” Montgomery said easily. But she found herself a little disappointed.
Here was just the sort of wonderful act of God she was hoping to preempt the afternoon of très boring geekery—she could be at Ryan’s in forty-five minutes if she raced—and now she sort of felt cheated.
She stole a quick glance around and behind Ellen, trying to take in as much of the room as she could before she left. It was similar to Mica’s, but different in a few key, girly areas. A box of tampons. Some stuffed animals. Paisley bedclothes.
A constellation of plastic painted spaceships—starships—drifting from the ceiling.
On her desk was an explosion of things incongruous to the rest of the room: piles of neatly-folded cloth, measuring tape, diaphanous fluff, cones of thread. There wasn’t a sewing machine or anything else crafty in sight save a neatly organized set of model paints.
“Sorry you came over,” Ellen muttered, kicking her toe.
“We could go see a movie or something,” Montgomery found herself suggesting. “Is there anything science fictiony out? You could coach me through it.”
“Nothing good,” Ellen sighed. “But…I’ll see anything. Bad comedy. Crapulent thriller. Explody spies. Anything except for something dumb and chicky.”
“The Sweet Smell of Success is playing at the Art House,” the cheerleader suggested hesitantly.
Ellen gave her a look somewhere between surprise and respect. “A classic, huh? Okay. Yeah. Sure. That’d be great.”
The two girls regarded each other for a second, suddenly realizing that they had somehow just agreed to go see an (almost) normal movie together, almost normally. Almost like friends.
“All right. We’re outta here,” Ellen said, grabbing her wallet, fleeing the touching moment.
“And maybe we could go to the mall afterwards,” Montgomery suggested with a grin.
“What, is this the cheerleader-turns-the-geek-into-a-beauty montage?” Ellen growled.
“No,” Montgomery retorted, “this is the surprising cheerleader-picks-up-her-asthma-prescription expositional scene…
“…and maybe we’ll just pick you out a new pair of pants. Just one,” she added mischievously.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Technically, it was video-game night. Which meant Mica. But it was hosted at Ezra’s, because he had the aforementioned biggest-baddest TV and greatest number of game systems. Taught by Mica, because he was the expert. Section-led by David, because he was also pretty qualified, and more importantly, wanted to play.
Chaperoned by Ellen because Montgomery refused to go to Ezra’s ever again unless she was along.
The Trekspert was downstairs getting snacks out of the pantry with the host while David, Mica, and Montgomery lounged around Ezra’s bedroom. David sat sort of upside down on the—king-sized—bed, legs up on the wall as if the extra blood rushing to his brain would help. Mica was upright at the computer, logged into the massive multiplayer fantasy rpg of the moment. There were bowls of M&M’s and pizza bagels everywhere.