My mom’s driving me home from wrestling practice, and I know from the instant she says, “So…” that I’m in some sort of trouble. Of course, a single word by itself isn’t indicative of how an entire sentence will turn out. She could be about to ask me how school was, how practice went—but it’s the way she says “so” that’s tipped me off. Long, drawn-out, italicized. So…
“So…?” I echo, carefully resisting the urge to squirm in my seat.
“I met the other parents today,” Mom says.
Of course, she can only be talking about a specific set of parents—but I play dumb anyway because that’s how you do it. The less you say, the less can be used against you. “What other parents?”
“Theo’s mom and dad. Mr. and Mrs. Womack. The Kounicovas.”
Huh. Womack. I’ll have to remember to call Ernie that if and when I ever see him again. “That’s nice. Did you all go out to lunch or something?”
“No, we had a little parent-counselor meeting. The topic: SuperMegaNet.”
“What were you thinking, Eva? Networking with a bunch of boys you don’t even know? Uploading to their bedrooms? Letting them upload to yours?”
“Mom, it was a school assignment. Mrs. Thrailkill—”
“Yes, I met dear old Mrs. Thrailkill. Which reminds me: I don’t want you setting foot in her office ever again.”
“I’m serious. She smokes in there. And her idea of counseling leaves much to be desired.”
We stop at a red light. Awkwardness prompts us to keep our eyes on the passing cars—as if we’re watching the procession at a Macy’s Day Parade. Only we’re not.
“It’s no big deal,” I say after the light’s turned green again.
“Of course it is,” Mom says. “Second-hand smoke is more carcinogenic than what the actual smoker is inhaling.”
“I was talking about SuperMegaNet.”
“As far as that goes,” Mom says, pretending not to miss a beat, “they’re boys. You’re a girl. Or don’t you remember that little talk we had about how these things work?”
Yeah, yeah. Boys and girls, the sperm and the egg, cause and effect, ball and chain. “If you knew them you’d know that they’re totally not, um, those kinds of boys. They’re…weird. Theo designs Web sites and listens to Asia; Ernie spends all his time eating and farting; Jan…” I bite my lip. “All he cares about is lifting weights and speaking with an unintelligible accent.”
“Mm-hm. But it’s an entirely different story once their hormones kick in. One day you’re just friends, the next they’ll want, they’ll expect privileges.”
I sigh. “It doesn’t matter. I stopped using SuperMegaNet last week anyway.”
Turning onto our street, Mom asks, “Oh? Why’s that?”
Because I wasn’t comfortable letting myself spy on a nearly-naked boy in his sleep. Because it’s not the boys’ hormones I’m worried about, it’s my own. Because I have no reason to talk to Jan ever again. “I don’t have time, what with homework and wrestling practice.”
Mom seems to relax somewhat—most likely the result of endorphins being released by what she’s about to say next: “Regardless, I want your computer out of your bedroom and in a box in the garage by dinnertime.”
“What?” I exclaim. “Why?”
“Because you’re twelve, Eva, and I don’t like the idea of people using your bedroom as an Internet lobby.”
“Besides my classmates at Boca Linda, I only added Summer, Lily, and a few of the other girls at Toepoint to my buddy list—”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point?”
“Would you like me to upgrade you to an all-around grounding?”
Ugh! “No, ma’am.”
Good? Hardly! Totally unfair is more like it! “How long do I have to stay off the computer?”
“Until I decide it’s safe to go back on.”
“But I told you, the only people on my buddy list are…” I trail off, noticing the way the vein on the side of Mom’s neck is starting to throb.
The negotiations have failed.
We pull into our driveway. Mom shuts off the engine. “Okay. Your dad will be home any minute. Not a word of this to him, understand?”
As if the first thing I’m going to do is blurt out to Dad that I’ve been doing “naughty” things online. As if Dad would have a heart attack or simply implode on hearing such news. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Now get cleaned up for dinner.”
I get out of the car and trudge up the driveway, making a show of dragging my backpack and gym bag behind me. I unlock the front door; my first instinct is to dash down the hall and into my bedroom so that I can warn Theo and the others. Not that they care—not that I should care. Jan hates me; Ernie’s fat and obnoxious and always calls me Bug Eyes; Theo…well, I guess I don’t have anything against him. Maybe I’ll send him a quick instant message—if there’s time.