I have a date.
I have a date.
I have a date.
I have a date!
I’m excited, okay? As fun as my little internet relationships could be sometimes, they weren’t the real thing. Not by a long shot. I mean, those were all really just based on lies. Those guys didn’t really like me. They just liked the girl that I was pretending to be. They certainly weren’t attracted to me.
But Brody likes me. He wants to go out on a date with me. Me! He wants to maybe even… Christ, maybe he wants to kiss me…
Okay, now I’m getting myself nervous.
I feel woefully inexperienced for a 24-year-old going out on a date. I don’t know how to dress, and I’ve never put on make-up in my entire life. The average high schooler probably knows more than I do. Hell, most middle schoolers probably know more than me.
That’s why the next afternoon, I catch Abby when she’s coming home from her step aerobics class. Her cheeks are bright pink and she’s got her hair in a ponytail high on her head that swings back and forth when she walks. She immediately goes to the fridge, pulls out a bottle of water, and drains nearly the whole thing as I watch her.
You know what I don’t get? Water. It has no flavor whatsoever. I mean, I would drink it for nourishment, but I don’t understand how Abby guzzles it the way she does. Like it’s delicious.
“Abby?” I finally say.
Abby lowers the water bottle and gasps to catch her breath. She wipes her lips with the back of her hand.
“Emily!” she says. She sounds astonished that I’m initiating a conversation with her. I guess I’ve been sort of pissy around her since she threw out all my food. “What’s going on?”
I take a deep breath. “I need your help.”
Abby pauses for a moment, then unexpectedly throws her arms around me. She squeezes me to her chest with astonishing strength. “Oh, Emily,” she sighs. “Of course I’ll help you! I’ve been telling you that since you moved in. We’re going to get rid of that weight together, I promise you.”
I grit my teeth. I’m starting to seriously regret my decision to ask Abby to help me prepare for my date.
“I don’t want to lose weight,” I say, pulling away from her stifling hug.
Abby’s face falls. “You don’t?”
“No,” I say tightly.
“Oh.” Abby frowns. “Well, what do you need help with?”
“I have…” I pick at a loose thread on my shirt. “A date. Tonight.”
Abby’s eyes get huge like saucers. “You have a date for tonight?” She frowns, her pink lips pursed together. “But I don’t even have a date.”
“Gee, thanks,” I mutter.
Abby’s cheeks turn pink. “I’m sorry, Emily. I didn’t mean it that way. Honestly.”
Yeah, I’m sure she didn’t.
Between you and me, Abby’s social life is pathetic. I know exactly when she goes on dates, and they’re extremely rare. I’m not really sure why, because she’s pretty cute. And I don’t think she’s all that picky, based on the few losers I’ve seen her with. I suspect it’s got something to do with her personality.
“So, um…” Abby forces a smile. “Is it anyone I know?”
“No,” I say, not really wanting to go into any details. For obvious reasons.
“What’s his name?”
I figure it’s safe to tell her. “Brody.”
Abby nods, still looking a little gobsmacked. “That’s so great, Emily. Really. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” I mumble. Because what the hell else am I supposed to say to that? “Anyway, I thought maybe you could help me figure out what to wear. And maybe I could borrow some make-up?”
“Oh my gosh, yes!” Abby exclaims, clapping her hands together. She’s apparently recovered from the blow of her morbidly obese roommate having a date when she doesn’t. “I’m going to give you a complete makeover! You won’t even recognize yourself!”
That’s highly unlikely. She can do what she wants to my face and my hair, but she can’t change the most important part of me.
Remember that scene in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts goes on a fashion spree and tries on a zillion different outfits, evolving from being a skanky hooker to a gorgeous model during the course of a single song?
Well, Abby giving me a makeover for my date is nothing like that. Nothing. It’s definitely not any kind of fashion montage. It’s more like slight tweaking here and there. Abby breaks out her tote bag of make-up (Abby has literally ten million tote bags), and is able to successfully add a bit of smokiness to my eyes. She chooses a shade of lipstick that isn’t too whorish. She even does my hair with a curling iron, and for the first time in my whole life, my hair isn’t frizzy. I definitely still look like me, but a better version of me.
“You have such a pretty face,” Abby sighs as she examines her handiwork.
I swear to God, I don’t.
The outfit is more of a challenge. Without even checking, we know there’s nothing in Abby’s closet that would even come close to fitting me. Abby stares into my closet for like twenty minutes, moaning, “Why is everything you own black?”
That’s not fair. I own plenty of clothes that are dark brown or navy blue.
Even though it’s getting dangerously close to when I have to leave, Abby talks me into going to the Urban Outfitters that’s two blocks from our apartment, which is the closest clothing store. I’d never set foot inside an Urban Outfitters before, and I quickly find out why—nothing in this store is even remotely my size.
I’m not even kidding. The only sizes I can see are zero through eight. They don’t even have size ten, even though I’m pretty sure I read the average size for an American woman is twelve. Who the hell shops at places like this? Certainly no grown woman.
Not that it would help me if they had size twelve. I couldn’t even zip up a size twelve.
“We should go,” I say to Abby. “I don’t think we’re going to find anything here that fits me.”
“Don’t be silly,” Abby says. “I’m sure they must have plus sizes here. I think it’s, like, the law.”
It’s not the law, Abby. Trust me.
Abby flags down a salesgirl, who seems like she could easily fit into any size zero pair of jeans in the store. The girl is a few years younger than I am, and is popping a piece of bubble gum as Abby talks to her. When Abby explains to the girl that we’re looking for an outfit for me to wear on a date tonight, I want to hide under a pile of size 2 jeans. (Except I don’t think they have enough tiny jeans to effectively hide me.)
“So where should we look?” Abby asks.
The girl looks me over and practically starts snickering. “K-mart. There’s one on Second Avenue.”
Abby blinks, shocked by the girl’s response. I’m far less shocked. If this were an eighties movie, I would leave this store, and come back a few hours later, looking gorgeous and skinny, loaded up with bags of expensive clothing, and say to Size Zero over here, “You work on commission, don’t you? Big mistake!”
But this isn’t an eighties movie. So I tug on Abby’s shirt sleeve. “Come on,” I say to her. “I don’t have time for this.”
In the end, I wind up in a pair of dark blue jeans and yet another black blouse. Abby is grudgingly satisfied. “You only slightly look like you’re going to a funeral,” she says.
I take the bus to the restaurant where Brody and I agreed to meet, even though I’m sure it’s going to wreck the magic Abby did to my hair. As I sit on the bus, trying to keep my distance from the open window, I wonder to myself if Brody is thinking about this as a date or not. Technically we didn’t define it as such. But we never said it wasn’t a date. So it might be. Or not.
I could easily drive myself crazy with this line of reasoning.
When I arrive at the Italian diner, I see Brody immediately. He’s sitting in his wheelchair, right outside the door, craning his neck in the other direction to look for me. He’s waiting for me—he’s looking for me. He’s excited by the prospect of seeing me. It’s almost a little hard to believe.
Before Brody spots me, I take a minute to check him out. He’s wearing a nice dark green dress shirt, and brown slacks. For a moment, the thought strikes me that Brody probably isn’t able to dress himself. I have no idea who dresses him, but he probably had to tell that person that he was going out on a date and wanted to look nice tonight.
“Emily!” Brody spots me. He lifts one of his arms to greet me and gives me a slight wave. It’s not really a wave though, since his hand only hangs limply from his wrist. There’s a woman walking by with her two kids, and the kids stare at Brody so intently that one of them actually walks into a mailbox.
“Hey,” I say, walking over to him.
He looks up at me and smiles winningly. He is really just adorable when he smiles—it gets me all aflutter. “I got you something,” he says. And that’s when I notice the small bouquet of colorful flowers on his lap. He grabs them with his wrists and holds them out to me.
“Thank you,” I say. I hate flowers—I don’t find them particularly pretty and I have no idea how to keep them alive. But it’s sweet that he thought to bring me a bouquet—that he actually went into a flower shop and purchased it for me. “What are they?”
“They’re flowers,” Brody says, giving me a funny look.
Does he think I’m completely stupid? “I mean,” I say, “what kind of flowers are they?”
“Oh!” Brody laughs a little nervously. “I don’t know. The guy at the flower store told me that they were…” He thinks for a minute. “Carnations, maybe? To be honest, I don’t know. I’m not really a flowers expert. Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” I say.
“I hope you don’t mind I got them for you,” he says. “I know we didn’t agree this is a date, but… well, I couldn’t help myself.”
He pauses, looking at me expectantly. I’m not entirely sure what to say. Honestly, I’m so nervous, I can’t really say much of anything. Finally, I say, “I don’t mind.”
Brody looks a little disappointed somehow, but I’m not sure why. I told him that I didn’t mind he got me the flowers. Was he hoping for a more effusive response? Was I supposed to make a big show of smelling them and saying how beautiful they are? Did he want me to do an interpretive flower dance?
“Let’s go in,” Brody says. “I reserved us a table.”
I have no idea what arrangements Brody made in advance, but he’s scored us a table right near the entrance that already has one chair pulled away to make room for his wheelchair. Right now, I see another advantage of being with Brody—we don’t have to sit in a booth. I hate booths. Remember how I almost got stuck in that desk in the classroom? Well, that happens in booths too sometimes. I have actually had to leave a restaurant because the only places to sit were booths and I couldn’t fit.
As Brody opens the menu by using the ball of his hand, I start to wonder about how he’s going to eat. Am I going to have to feed him? I can’t imagine he’d assume I’d do that without asking me in advance. But then again, how in hell could he hold a utensil with those hands?
I try not to think about it as I focus on my own menu. Ordering food in public always makes me edgy. You wouldn’t think my food choices would be anyone else’s business but my own, but that absolutely isn’t the case. If I order anything more substantial than a glass of water and a single lettuce leaf, I’m almost guaranteed to get commentary. Are you really sure you should be eating that?
But Brody wouldn’t say that. Not out loud, anyway. But I don’t want him thinking it either. So I guess I’ll be ordering one lettuce leaf.
“Is the food good here?” I ask him.
“Really good,” Brody says.
“So you’ve been here before?”
“Of course,” he says. “I wouldn’t take you to a place I’d never been before. Got to check it out, you know?”
I don’t entirely know what he means, but I don’t ask. Instead, I study the menu, focusing mainly on the salad section.
Our waitress is a pretty young woman who looks like she could easily fit into anything at Urban Outfitters. She smiles skinnily at us, “What would you like today?”
You know what I really want? The fettuccini alfredo. Alfredo sauce, when cooked right, has this perfect creamy, cheesy taste that makes me oh so happy. Just thinking about it makes my stomach growl. But I can’t order that in front of Brody. So I bite my tongue and say, “I’ll have the house salad, no dressing.”
“Okay,” the waitress says, turning her skinniness in Brody’s direction. “And what would you like, sir?”
Brody frowns at me. “That’s all you want? Just a salad? Without even any dressing?”
No, that’s not what I want! Can we please not talk about it?
“Yep,” I say.
“Emily,” Brody says, shaking his head. “You should get whatever you want. Please. It’s my treat.”
Now both Brody and the waitress are staring at me. I don’t know what to do. Finally, I croak, “I guess I’ll have the fettuccini alfredo.”
“And I’ll have chicken parmigiana with ziti,” Brody says. He flashes the waitress a crooked smile, “Um, do you think you could have them, like, cut up the chicken for me, please? Into small pieces?”
“Of course, sir,” the waitress says. Her voice has a mildly patronizing edge, but I guess it could be worse.
After she leaves with our menus, I’m terrified that there’s going to be an awkward silence between us, but there isn’t. I mean, there’s a moment of silence, but it’s not awkward. Brody is grinning at me, and he seems just really happy to be here. Which makes me happy too. The two of us just sit there for a good minute, grinning like idiots.
“Hey,” Brody says, breaking our sappy silence. He seems like a talkative kind of guy, who doesn’t leave much time for silences. “So I was flipping through my Townsend Harris yearbook last night. I thought we could compare notes.”
I feel my smile slip. I’m not sure I want to compare notes on high school. High school wasn’t exactly a happy time in my life. But I don’t have any alternative topics of conversation.
“Mr. Jeffers,” he says. “Did you have him for calculus?”
I close my eyes for a second and picture a man with curly black hair and a creepy moustache. “Yes, I did.”
“Me too,” Brody says. “You know what happened to him, don’t you?”
I stare at him. “What?”
Brody smirks. “You really don’t know? Oh, man.”
“Oh my God, tell me!”
“He got canned,” Brody says. “He was apparently hitting on a bunch of students. I thought everyone knew about it. Did he ever hit on you?”
No. I was most definitely not the kind of teenager who got hit on by teachers. Even teachers of the creepy moustache variety. Doesn’t Brody realize that? “Not really,” is all I say.
“I’ll send you a link to the article,” Brody says. I gave him my email address yesterday, and he sent me one email this morning to confirm the location for our date. The email was one sentence long and had like three typos in it. Usually typos in emails bug the hell out of me, but I suppose I can forgive a guy who can’t use his fingers some spelling mistakes.
“I thought of someone in your class that I knew,” I say. “Knew of, at least.”
Brody raises his eyebrows. “Yeah?”
“Pete Glasser?” I didn’t know Pete well at all. Actually, the only reason I knew him was because he was kind of an asshole. In elementary school and middle school, I got teased mercilessly about my weight, but in high school, kids don’t do that anymore. If they have something negative to say about you, they’ll usually say it behind your back.
But Pete apparently had the maturity of a 13-year-old because he managed to make several comments to me or within my earshot during my freshman year. Nothing that made me run home sobbing, but enough to sting. The first thing I ever heard him say when he saw the freshman filing out of the auditorium for our first orientation was, “Wow, what a crop of dogs.”
I wasn’t bothered so much by that comment. I mean, there were plenty of hot girls in my class, so I knew he was blowing smoke. But then when I passed him, I noticed he nudged his friend hard. “Holy shit!” he snickered. “Look at that one! I think that’s the biggest ass I’ve ever seen.”
I don’t even like to think about the fact that I was downright skinny back then compared to what I weigh right now.
“Oh, right—Pete,” Brody says, grinning. “He was a riot.”
“Yeah,” I say, studying Brody’s face. He’s such a good looking guy—if he wasn’t disabled back in high school, was he friends with assholes like Pete Glasser? For all I know, he was the guy Pete was nudging that first day. Maybe Brody really did push freshmen down the stairs.
“In our biology class,” Brody says, “Pete took that model skeleton of the human body and started waltzing around the room with it. He almost got suspended.”
“So you and Pete were pretty good friends, huh?”
Brody narrows his eyes at me for a second, then snorts and shakes his head. “Nah.”
He gives me a crooked grin. “Because he was a huge asshole, that’s how come. You really think I’d be friends with the biggest douchebag in the class?”
I blush because, of course, that was exactly what I was implying. “People change.”
“True,” Brody says thoughtfully. He scratches his nose with the back of his wrist. “I wonder what Pete is up to these days. He’s probably either wildly successful or in prison.”
“Isn’t your ten-year reunion coming up soon?”
“Oh, right,” Brody says, shrugging. “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to go. It would be… weird.” He averts his eyes. “I wasn’t… you know. I didn’t need a wheelchair in high school. I really don’t want to spend three hours explaining over and over again to every person in the class what happened to me. I think I’d rather skip it and just look at the photos on Facebook.”
I desperately want to ask him what did happen to him. He’s got a certain comfort level with his disability that makes me sense it isn’t a recent thing. And the scar on his neck makes me think it was probably an accident. That’s about all I know.
Finally, he says, “I was in a car wreck when I was 19. Broke my neck.”
“Oh,” I say.
He shrugs again and that’s the end of it. I have about a million other questions I’d love to ask him, but I decide to keep my mouth shut.
At that point, Brody digs into a pouch on the side of his wheelchair and comes out with something that looks like a thick watchband. He drops it into his lap, and I watch him as he manages to get the loop around the last four fingers of his right hand. “Don’t mind me,” Brody says. “Just preparing for when the food gets here.”
There’s a pocket in the band, and Brody tries to get his fork to go into it. I guess that answers my question about how he feeds himself. Considering I’m pretty sure all he can move is his elbows, he’s struggling a bit with this. It’s a little painful to watch, and I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is. “Do you want me to help you?” I ask him.
“Nope, I got it,” Brody says. He doesn’t though. Well, eventually he does. It takes him about a million tries, but he finally gets the fork attached to the cuff, and I see his shoulders relax. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m usually much faster.”
“It’s okay,” I say.
“It’s just frustrating,” he says. “You know, like, exactly when I’m trying to make a good impression, I do everything much worse than usual.” He takes a shaky breath. “And now I’m even saying stupid things too.”
He looks so incredibly nervous. It’s completely adorable. If I wasn’t so incredibly nervous myself, I would have given him a hug. I wonder how often he goes out on dates. I’m guessing it’s not very much. He could probably give me a run for my money. “Don’t worry about it,” I say.
“Maybe we could start over again, huh?” he says.
“Sure,” I say.
He takes a deep breath. “You look really nice tonight, Emily. Really, really nice.”
Brody is looking at me in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever been looked at before. And it makes me feel a way I’ve never felt before: attractive. Another silence hangs between us and this one isn’t sappy at all—it’s very serious. I get that tingling all over my body, but especially in my underwear.
Of course, it would be that moment when our waitress arrives with the food. My plate is heaping full of fettuccini noodles and tons of thick alfredo sauce. I’m sure this plate has at least a thousand calories on it. As promised, Brody’s chicken is cut up into tiny pieces. He nods and smiles up at the waitress. “Thank you very much.”
Brody lays out a napkin on his lap and digs into his food. I try not to watch, but it’s hard. There are some moments when Brody seems incredibly sexy, but this probably isn’t one of them. Actually, he’s not doing terribly at eating, considering everything. He spills almost nothing. But at the same time, the process just emphasizes how impaired he is.
Meanwhile, my own plate of food is pretty much torturing me. I just imagine my sister Camille getting a dish like this. She would take these tiny, ladylike bites, and end up eating the noodles for the next three hours, and then only half would be gone. And it’s not like she’d even do it on purpose—that’s just how she likes to eat! I don’t understand how you can even taste your food that way, when like one eighth of a noodle is in your mouth.
Still, I try to channel Camille and take ladylike bites because Brody is here. I don’t want him to get totally disgusted by the site of me eating. Then again, I could be shoving food into my mouth with both fists and I’d still probably look better than he does eating.
I’m so anxious, I really wish that I had something to drink. I mean, something alcoholic. Brody ordered a water and he’s been taking sips of it through a straw. I’m guessing maybe it’s hard for him to hold a cup and he doesn’t want to sip wine through a straw. So I just ordered a Coke, because I didn’t want to be the only one drinking. But I think alcohol would really help the situation right now. I think alcohol was invented for first dates.
I swear to God, I was going as slow as I could, but somehow, all the food vanishes from my plate. The alfredo sauce was really good. If I were alone, I’d be licking the plate, but I’m not alone. Brody pushes his plate away when he sees I’m finished, even though his plate is still half-full.
“I’m done too,” he says.
“You don’t have to rush,” I say. I feel self-conscious that he ate half as much as me. He’s a man. He’s supposed to at least be able to match me.
Brody shakes his head. “Nah, I’m good. I don’t walk and burn calories, so my appetite isn’t that big.”
The skinny waitress comes to take away our plates and we’re left staring at each other once again. Brody clears his throat. “So, um,” he begins, blinking his blue eyes with much too long eyelashes. “I don’t want to push you or anything, but at this point, I’d kind of like to know if this is date or not. So if you could tell me, that would be great.”
I swallow. “Oh, um…”
“Because right now, I would really, really like to kiss you,” he says quietly. “But if this isn’t a date, I won’t try.”
“Um,” I say. “I think… yes. It is. It’s a date.”
Brody raises his eyebrows and a slow smile creeps across his lips. “Yeah?”
“Come closer,” he says.
Across the table is way too far away for him to comfortably lean forward and kiss me, considering he has a strap across his chest, so I scooch over to the side of the table so that I’m right next to him. He stares at me for a second, as if doing a few mental calculations to judge the distances. Then he lifts his right arm, brings his wrist to the back of my head, and pulls my face close to his. He goes about 90% of the way to my lips, then I bridge the gap.
And then we’re kissing.
Oh my God, we’re kissing!
I’ve kissed a boy before, if we’re being technical about it. When I was eleven years old, I was at Marybeth Tanner’s birthday party and her parents engaged us in a game of spin the bottle. They probably thought it would be cute. I spent most of the game simultaneously hoping I wouldn’t get kissed and praying that I would. For the first two thirds of the game, every time the bottle would spin in my direction, the boy would claim it was pointed at Naomi on my left or Heather on my right. Then Matt Crane’s bottle landed squarely pointed at me, and there was no way out of it.
“I won’t kiss Emily,” Matt declared. He wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings. He was just showing the honesty of an eleven-year-old boy. But Marybeth was in charge and she insisted that Matt had to follow the rules. A hasty arrangement was made where he could kiss me on the hand. I felt Matt’s lips just barely graze the back of my hand, his face scrunched up in disgust. As soon as he was done, I made up an excuse about needing the bathroom and ceded my turn to the birthday girl.
But of course, this is entirely different. First, because Brody actually wants to kiss me. He’s not just doing it because the bossy birthday girl made him. And he’s not just kissing my hand. His lips are on mine—it’s about as real as any kiss could be.
I wonder if he has any clue this is the first time I’ve ever kissed a man on the lips. It feels so natural, so right, that I don’t even worry (too much) if I’m doing it wrong. At first, Brody stays chastely on my lips, but then I feel his tongue gently lapping at my upper lip, and I know he wants to get inside. I open my mouth to let him in, and oh my God. This is amazing! My whole body starts to tingle as his tongue dances against mine and I feel his stubble graze against my chin.
When we finally separate, I’m literally shaking. Brody’s face is flushed. He mumbles under his breath, “It’s been way too long.” And then he turns even redder.
“It’s been a long time for me too,” I tell him.
“I’m sure it’s been longer for me,” he says.
I’m not going to play this game with him, because I don’t want to admit that no matter how long it’s been for him, I’ve got him beat by a million miles. Even if he hasn’t kissed a girl since he broke his neck, I’ve still got him beat.
“I want to kiss you again,” Brody says and then he does. And can I just say that it’s pretty adorable that he announces it when he wants to kiss me.
After our second kiss, I can’t help but notice that half the restaurant is staring at us. I guess we’re kind of a spectacle. But I don’t even care.
Our waitress comes by with the check. Brody fumbles around in the pouch on his wheelchair and comes up with a credit card. It drops onto his lap and it takes him about five tries to get it into his hand and onto the table. He completely misses the tray that the check is in, but our waitress manages to figure it out.
It’s actually impressive how much he manages to do without use of most of his arms. I guess he wouldn’t have come out alone if he didn’t know he’d be okay. He’s been disabled for eight years, so I assume he’s figured out a way to do most things.
Brody kisses me one more time by the entrance to the restaurant. I have to bend down and it’s a little more awkward than our other kisses, but still really nice. I think he’d like to take me home, but the logistics are just too difficult so we bid each other goodnight with promises of a second date.
When I get back to my bedroom, I look Brody up on Facebook. What can I say? That’s what people my age do when they meet a guy they like.
At least a dozen Brody Nolans pop up, but I recognize Brody’s smiling face immediately. His profile is locked, but I click on his profile picture to enlarge it. It’s just a headshot, and he’s so incredibly sexy in it. I love his smile and those blue eyes with the long eyelashes. I can’t even believe that I was kissing him only an hour earlier.
And then I start to touch myself.
I masturbate. Of course I do. And I don’t think about food or anything ridiculous like that. (Some “clever” kid in middle school suggested that I might.) I started doing it in college, when I’d talk to men online or on the phone and we’d start talking dirty to each other. And I’d imagine a man actually doing those things to me, and I’d get so turned on.
I wanted so badly for it to be real. For Norm’s voice to reach through the phone and touch my breasts, my face, my ass. In my fantasies, I was also the kind of girl that Norm would really want to touch. In my fantasies, I was skinny and beautiful.
But now the thought of actually kissing this man—not just a man, but the man on my computer screen, who is just so incredibly cute, is enough to almost drive me over the edge. I want to draw it out, but I come almost immediately. And then again. And again.
Brody, Brody, Brody… I even love his name. His cute Irish on Irish name.
And best of all, my session is punctuated by a Facebook friends request popping up from Brody. He sends me a message that says: “Had a great time tonight. Can’t wait to see you again. –Brody.”
Actually, it’s more like, “Had a grt time 2niet. Cn’t wait 2 c u agian.”
But I get what his meaning is. He’s trying, that’s the important part.
To be continued....
(Also, if you're enjoying this story, considering checking out my book How to Be Cool)
(Also, if you're enjoying this story, considering checking out my book How to Be Cool)