The thing about Eva is, she’s totally naïve. I’m not knocking her or anything, but sometimes she tries to be too nice to too many people—especially people she doesn’t know. This whole friendship thing with Theo, Ernie, and Jan…she doesn’t get that it was just an assignment. She doesn’t need to actually become friends with them.
I’m telling her this from the backseat of my dad’s Ford Excursion as he drives me to Saturday morning practice, my netbook propped on my knees, Eva’s video messenger window filling my screen. “You don’t owe them anything.”
“I know,” Eva says. She’s brushing her hair. “But it’s not like I can delete them from my buddy list. SuperMegaNet doesn’t allow that. At least, not yet.”
“Yeah. Stupid program, if you ask me. Makes you pay for your mistakes.”
Eva looks slightly offended. “I wouldn’t call Jan and his friends ‘mistakes’.”
“You’re not actually going to stick around with them, are you?”
“I’ll keep them as buddies, and I’ll see them at school.”
I roll my eyes. “But they’re weird. You want weirdos for friends?”
Eva looks away. She’s trying to pretend she’s fishing around her desktop for scrunchies. I think she’s blushing.
“Oh, I see,” I say. “You want Jan’s buns—like Ernie wants cinnamon buns.”
From the driver’s seat, my dad gives me a look via the rear-view mirror. “Who’re you talking to, sweetie?”
“Nobody, dad,” I reply, annoyed. “Just pay attention to the road.”
He faces forward again, chuckling to himself. I know I probably shouldn’t talk to him like I do, but, then, I am thirteen, his little darling, his little star—as long as my GPA and national ranking are impeccable, I can get away with the tart-mouth.
I bring my SMN window into focus. Jan’s huffing and puffing with a pair of dumbbells; Ernie’s inhaling a box of sugar cookies; Theo’s staring dully at his screen and typing furiously. “Hon, you need to start hanging around the training room with me and the girls. There are some fine ass guys on the boy’s gymnastics team.”
“Why are you turning Big Sister on me?” Eva asks.
“Because I love you, babe.”
“They’re harmless. Really, they are.”
“Clueless is more like it.” I give Jan another peek. He’s started working his triceps. Most non-gymnasts neglect their triceps—but from what Eva’s told me, Jan’s not on any teams, nor is he training for any reason other than to get the muscles. He hasn’t got any direction. That usually means trouble. “Didn’t you say Ernie embarrassed you in front of everyone?”
“Yeah…but he’s made it up to me in his own way.”
“How? By not spitting cookie crumbs at you when he speaks?”
Eva sighs and says, “You can’t hold everyone you meet to a specific criteria.”
“If you don’t, then you open yourself up for all kinds of heartache. That whole ‘give them a kiss and they’ll ask for the key to your house’ thing.”
“It’s a little late for that. With SuperMegaNet, we’ve all got the keys to each other’s houses now, don’t we? Well, figuratively speaking.”
I say, “Just because you have SuperMegaNet doesn’t mean you should use it. It’s a great idea for a chat program, but it’s socially flawed. You don’t make friends online. You make stalkers. That’s why these people are online in the first place: They think they can get away with everything that’s not allowed in real life.”
Eva gives me an unconvinced look.
“I should know,” I continue. “I was stalked once. Remember?”
“That nerdy creep. The one who saw me at the JO nationals this year. Pretended he was writing some kind of science fiction book and used it as an excuse to hit me up on MySpace. First he was asking about beam routines, then it was waist sizes and undie lines. To make his characters more realistic, you see.”
“I know the story, Summer—”
I cut Eva off again; she needs to get this. “Being a junior elite has taught me more than just the drills and skills. It’s taught me how to see through all the cow patty. You could train and compete at the local level for years and the only people you’ll ever see in the stands are family, friends, friends of friends. But the day you make your first national meet, the day you start getting your picture taken by more than just the moms and dads trying to out-do one another, well, that changes everything. Pictures or videos of you are on the news or the Internet and suddenly you have all kinds of friends, girls who idolize you, boys who want to date you, and grown men who want to become your very own personal bedroom coach. I don’t need to tell you that all it takes is a cute little butt packed tight in Spandex to get the attention of friends you never knew you had.”
Eva holds up her hand, cutting me off. “Okay, look. I didn’t meet the boys online, I met them at my school. We collaborated online afterward. And not one of them has asked to date me or be my bedroom coach. Whatever that means.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“It’s only been a week,” I say. “Things could change if, say, Theo gets the silly notion that you’re easy.”
Eva makes a face. “Why Theo?”
“Babe, he was totally giving you the goo-goo eyes yesterday.”
“He was not!”
“How would you know? You were ogling Jan’s legs the whole time he was downloading.”
The look on Eva’s face tells me I’ve hit home—she’s letting her infatuation with Jan get the best of her and she knows it.
“Jan and Theo and Ernie are there for me,” she says after thinking for a sec. “I know it sounds silly, but…they are.”
“They’re there for you because they have nowhere else to go.”
“So what? It’s hard being the underling at school. You may be a celebrity, you may have to deal with fanboys and stalkers, but I have the exact opposite. No one wants to talk to me or be around me. Everyone’s older, more ‘mature’. They all act like I need someone to change my diaper or fetch me a bottle. It may not be ideal, but with the boys I can spend my lunches not having to wander around the halls pretending I have somewhere to go.”
“So, you’re using them as a crutch.”
“I am not.”
“Babe, that’s not an insult. We all do it. My parents use me as a crutch, for crying out loud. ‘Our daughter’s a gymnast!’ they’re always telling their friends. ‘She just made a sweep of the golds at such and such meet! She’s going to the Olympics in 2012! Isn’t she wonderful?’ Who cares if I’ll even want to go by then? As long as they have a few years where they can ride the prize money and endorsement deal wave, they’re totally cool with whatever it takes to keep me a star.”
My dad looks back at me again, unsure if he’s heard what he thinks he’s heard over the roar of the engine. I simply dimple at him, say, “I love you, daddy!” and the whole thing is forgotten.
I’m such a little bitch.
On my netbook screen, Eva’s become frozen in her SMN window.
“What happening?” I ask.
“Look at Ernie,” she replies.
I switch windows, bringing Ernie’s into focus. He’s stopped eating, and is now standing up, adjusting his webcam. He’s got a sheet of looseleaf paper in his hand; he starts reading off of it:
“In light of my recent blog entry over at Jessture.com, I’d like to take this opportunity to make a formal apology to the writers and readers of SuperMegaNet. I was a little harsh regarding the recent hiatus, and while I was upset, I was by no means entitled to act the way I did. I mentioned that Jesse Gordon was full of shit; I am in fact the one who is full of shit. I was misinformed when I made my the statement. Jesse is a fair and attentive author, and would never do anything to jeopardize the well-being of myself or my fellow characters. There’s also no truth to the rumor that he threatened to delete me, nor is he waiting patiently with his finger above the delete key as I make this statement. Thank you for your understanding.”
He crumbles the paper, tosses it off-screen, and sits sulking at his desk.
“Okay, it’s official,” I say, restoring Eva’s window. “Your new friends are weird.” I want to say more, but we’re pulling into the Toepoint parking lot. I spot Lily, her gym bag slung over her shoulder, hopping out of her mom’s car. She sees me and waves.
“Well, I should be going,” says Eva. “My mom’s taking me clothes shopping today.”
“Wish I could be there,” I say. “TTYL, babe.”