Jan – You know, I’ve had my suspicions before, but now I’m sure: Ernie is almost as much of a worrywart as Theo is. He just worries about different things, things that are inconsequential (and therefore unnoticeable) to the rest of us. Like the soda machine running out of cherry cola before lunchtime, ants infiltrating the stash of M&Ms in his locker, and, now, the possibility that he may be grounded off of SuperMegaNet for an undetermined amount of time. However, unlike Theo, who tires himself out at his mom’s gym everyday so that he simply doesn’t have the energy to worry anymore, Ernie’s approach is to medicate himself with food.
Chogurt, in this case.
I don’t really want to sit here and watch him convert calories to fat, but I don’t have anywhere else to go. High school kids don’t want to hang out with twelve-year-olds who have thick accents.
“Ernie,” I say, watching him dig chunks of chocolate out of his Mountain High tub, “I think an entire Hershey’s bar defeats the purpose of eating yogurt in the first place.”
“Shows what you know,” he snaps. “Yogurt has probiotic microbes in it. They digest all the sugar while I get to savor all the sweetness.”
“Um…I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“What do you know? Do they even have yogurt over in Brno?”
“Yes.” I fold my arms, narrow my eyes. “And, for your information, they have running water and electricity, too!”
Ernie cradles his tub. “Yeah, well, good for the fucking Czechs and their post-war openness toward modern-day conveniences and premarital sex.”
I sigh. “You’re convinced your grandparents are going to tell you that you can’t use SuperMegaNet anymore, aren’t you?”
“Suppose they do, then. SMN can’t be uninstalled, remember? Not without a hammer, I’m guessing.”
“Or a bulldozer,” Ernie mumbles, and stuffs his mouth with another dollop of chogurt.
“Right,” I say. “Even if Theo’s parents tell our parents what we’ve been doing, and even if our parents end up punishing us, we can probably still find a way to use the program. And if we don’t, not having SMN isn’t such a bad thing, is it?”
“It’s a horrible thing!”
I roll my eyes. “I keep telling you, we live in the same city, we go to the same school. We don’t need SuperMegaNet.”
“But SuperMegaNet is ours. It’s our secret thing! You don’t know parents. You may think you know yours, but you don’t. They’re always working in the background, always doing things, moving pieces around on their parental chessboard. Mark my words, this very moment they’re swarming together to decide what to do about the chat software that’s turned their precious little Kounicova into an exhibitionist.”
“How am I an exhibitionist?”
“Come on. Conveniently falling asleep in your cute little lime-green undies that night Eva sneaked over?”
“It was hot—and I was tired. And I’ve worn pajamas to bed every night since then, just so you know.”
Ernie wags his wooden spoon at me. “Look, stop talking about yourself for a second and listen. We need to formulate our game plan.”
“I wasn’t talking about myself. I was pointing out that—”
“I’ve given it some thought,” Ernie interrupts, “and I’m not letting my grandparents get the drop on me. So, I took some proactive steps. You should, too.”
“What, like deleting the SMN shortcut icons from my desktop and Start menu?”
Ernie shakes his head, unzips one of the outer pockets of his backpack, pulls out a small Acer netbook. It’s pink; on the lid (which is partially covered by frost) is a decal of Shawn Johnson doing a split-leap during the 2008 Olympic Trials. “Let them take away my Internet privileges. Let them replace my computer with a life-sized Jesus statue. I’ll just use this netbook.”
“Ernie, that’s a girl’s laptop,” I tell him.
“Yep. I borrowed it from Summer.” He gives the Shawn Johnson sticker a good, hard look before opening the lid. “That Johnson girl is so hot. I could live inside her ass for a year.”
“That poor girl,” I say, shaking my head. “Lucky for her, you two will never meet.”
Ernie ignores me and starts working the touchpad. “I’ll just log Summer out of her SMN account—” He flinches suddenly. “Holy fuck.”
“What?” I ask. I can’t see the screen—but I don’t need to. Summer’s voice comes blaring through the laptop’s speakers loud and clear:
“Ernie! I should’ve known! You bring my laptop back right this instant or I’m going to—why’s my webcam picture so fuzzy? Is that…are those icicles?”
Ernie lowers his eyelids and waves his hand dismissively. “Relax, it’s just a little permafrost from my backpack.”
Summer’s voice raises several decibels. “You froze my computer?”
“I didn’t freeze it. It’s just a little cold. And besides, it’s only an Acer. If by some miracle I manage to break the thing, what’s that to you? A hundred bucks in couch cushion change?”
“But it’s mine!”
Frowning, Ernie says, “I thought you were an elite gymnast.”
“Well, there you go.”
“There I go what?”
“Everyone knows gymnastics is a rich white girl sport. That makes you a rich white girl who can easily afford to replace her puny little Acer netbook with one of the three or four Alienware laptops lying around your parents’ five-bedroom house.”
“Give me back my laptop, Ernie!” Summer screams, causing the laptop to jump in Ernie’s hands.
“I’m kind of at school right now,” he says.
“But I downloaded your laptop using my home computer. If I upload it from somewhere else, you’ll be getting a copy of the original—”
“I don’t care! Find a way!”
Ernie scoffs. He pushes the Mountain High tub toward me. “Here, cover for me.”
“Where are you going?” I ask as he gets up.
“If she wants it back so badly, I’ll just upload it to her using one of the computers in the school library. Let her deal with the rest, stupid flat-chested, cross-eyed, close-minded gurl!”
Before I can say anything else, he leaves the table, waddling angrily across the quad and shouting at Summer’s netbook at the top of his lungs.
Bože na nebi, he’s going to get himself thrown in detention.