The Karma Club

Jessica Brody

Square Fish

THE HUNKY DOUGH BOY
 
My phone seems to be ringing louder than usual today. And there’s a certain urgency in its tone that makes this incoming call somehow sound more important than most.
     I stare at it for a moment and then quickly decide to ignore the call. I’m in the middle of studying for a very important European history test and I really don’t want to be bothered.
     The phone rings again.
     I don’t need to look at the caller ID to know that it’s Angie who’s being so freaking persistent. My friends all have their own ring tones. Angie’s happens to be a very popular hip-hop song that she insists she started liking way before everyone else did. Personally, I think she just doesn’t want to admit that she’s in any way “mainstream.” It would damage that subtle counterculture reputation she’s spent so long perfecting.
     Either way, I think this particular song lost its appeal after about twelve rings. And given the fact that Angie calls me at least sixteen times a day, I am now officially sick of it.
     I ignore Angie’s call again and continue reading about the storming of the Bastille. Whatever is so important can at least wait until King Louis XVI gets his head chopped off.
     The phone rings a third time.
     Finally, I groan and pick it up. “What?”
     Normally, Angie would berate me for my unfriendly greeting, but this afternoon, apparently, she has bigger things to worry about than my tone. “Maddy, get down to Miller’s now.”
     “I can’t. I’m studying for my history test,” I say, slightly annoyed.
     “Drop everything and get your butt down here,” she practically growls into the phone. “I promise, it’s more exciting than the French Revolution.”
     “Yeah, like that’s hard,” I reply sarcastically.
     “Just come.” And with that she hangs up the phone.
     Angie has been my best friend since the sixth grade. She probably knows me better than anyone else in my life. For instance, she knows that, right now, I’ll sulk around my room for the next few minutes debating about whether or not I really want to give in to her demands. Then I’ll eventually close my textbook with a scowl, slip on my shoes, and drive the twelve blocks to Miller’s Drug Store, where she works quarter-time as a cashier. I say quarter-time instead of part-time, because although it is a part-time job, she spends only half of the time working and the other half reading magazines from the rack next to the register.
     I pull into the store parking lot exactly nine minutes later, and I know she’ll be patting herself on the back when I walk through the door, incredibly proud of her ability to clock my decision-making process down to the minute.
     I trudge into the empty store and approach the register, where she’s flipping through the new February issue of Contempo Girl, our mutually favorite magazine. Although we have completely different reasons for liking it. I enjoy reading the sections about the new fashion trends, latest celebrity gossip, and relationship advice, while Angie, as far as I can tell, just likes reading it so she can have a replenishing supply of people and products to criticize.
     “What’s so important you couldn’t just tell me on the phone?”
     Angie looks up and, without even so much as a hello, shoves the magazine into my hands. I manage to catch it just before it falls to the floor.
     “Turn to page thirty-five.”
     I shift my weight onto one foot and, with a frustrated sigh, open the now crumpled magazine. As I flick brusquely through the pages, I say, “You know, this history test tomorrow is my only chance to bring my B up to an A and I don’t really appreciate the fact that you dragged me down here just to gripe about whatever—” I stop suddenly with a gasp when I see the page in front of me.
     Angie watches me with a satisfied I-told-you-so grin on her face.
     “Oh my God!” I exclaim as I stare down at the page in disbelief. “They published it?”
     She nods excitedly. “Yes!”
     “They actually published it?” I still can’t seem to wrap my head around what I’m seeing in front of me.
     “I told you it was more exciting than the French Revolution.”
     I fold over the front half of the magazine and bring it closer to my face so I can study the paragraph-long block of text that takes up approximately one fifth of the page. Above it is the name MASON BROOKS printed in large, bold letters, and right next to that is a picture of my boyfriend. Yes, my boyfriend, in Contempo Girl magazine for all to see!
     I submitted his picture to the magazine’s monthly “Meet My Boyfriend” competition. But that was like six months ago. And after three months of running to the store the minute the latest issue was released to see if they had chosen my submission, I pretty much gave up on the whole thing.
     You see, each month they pick only five guys to feature. Mason is our senior class president, just recently scored a 2350 on his SATs, is one of the best players on our varsity soccer team, and he already has an early acceptance letter to Amherst College for next year. Plus, I think he’s hot. Like really hot. I know I’m biased and everything, but he’s got these incredible green eyes and long dark lashes. His skin is olive colored, and the hair on his head is dark and thick, really good for running your fingers through.
     Anyway, I know the fact that he’s hot and an amazing soccer player and manages to juggle being class president is really impressive. I mean, personally I’m impressed by him every day. But I never thought in a million years that Contempo Girl would actually pick him. Well, maybe I’ve had a few fleeting fantasies about it. Something along the lines of Mason’s picture gets selected, everyone at the school sees it, I experience one of those insta-popularities that only happens in cheesy teen movies and maybe even score a nomination for prom queen. My clothes magically become more trendy (either because I suddenly know how to pick out trendy clothes or because everyone simply idolizes anything I wear and so it doesn’t even matter), and just like that, Mason and I become the most popular couple at Colonial High.
     However, this is far more exciting than anything I ever imagined. Not to mention totally surreal.
     “Read it aloud,” Angie insists. “It’s a really good article.”
     I grasp the magazine tightly and begin reading from the page. “Mason Brooks, senior at Colonial High School in Pine Valley, CA, has been hopelessly devoted to his girlfriend, Madison Kasparkova, since sophomore year.” I stop reading and look up at Angie with a dopey smile on my face. “That’s me!”
     “I know.” She rolls her eyes. “Keep reading.”
     I drop my head back down and pick up where I left off. “In a graduating class of just over four hundred students, they didn’t meet until both of them decided to take jobs working as counselors at a local summer camp. They have been together ever since. ‘He’s so sweet to me,’ says Madison, age seventeen. ‘He always knows when I’m in a bad mood or not having a good day and shows up at my door with my favorite candy: Chewy Runts. They’re really hard to find sometimes. They don’t sell them everywhere. But somehow he always manages to find them. Like he has a Chewy Runts Locating Device hidden in his closet or something.’ “
     I look up again. “Yeah, I wrote that! I really did!” I beam.
     “I know,” Angie replies again. “You only made me read the letter like fifty times before you sent it.”
     “It’s funny, right? Do you think it’s funny?” I ask, suddenly paranoid about everyone in the world reading these lines and thinking I’m totally lame for saying “Chewy Runts Locating Device.”
     “Yes,” Angie grudgingly reassures me. “It’s funny. It was funny when you wrote it. It’s still funny now.”
     Somewhat satisfied, I turn back to the magazine. “When Mason Brooks isn’t spending time with his smitten, sweet-toothed girlfriend, he fulfills his duties as senior class president and a part-time chef at a local pizzeria. But don’t get too floured by this hunky dough boy, ladies. Mason and Madison have already made plans to attend the same college after graduation. It sounds like this perfect pairing was made to last.”
     I stand in complete astonishment as I try to grasp everything that has happened in the last five minutes. My boyfriend, Mason Brooks, featured in Contempo Girl magazine! They even called him a “hunky dough boy.” Well, yeah, it’s a bit cheesy, but so what? This is huge! Every girl in the country is going to see this. Every girl in the country is going to be pining after my boyfriend.
     Suddenly, I hear a high-pitched, overly excited shriek coming from the direction of the drugstore’s front entrance and I realize that I wasn’t the only person Angie called with the news.
     “Where is it? Let me see it. How does he look? Oh my God, this is so exciting!”
     Angie and I turn to see our other best friend, Jade, running into the store, completely red faced, her shoulder-length, sandy blond hair flipping wildly behind her. She scurries over to the register and tries to grab the magazine from my tightly grasping fingers. “Lemme see!” she squeals.
     I pass the magazine to Jade and watch intently as her face lights up like a Christmas tree and her eyes skim the article.
     Her head pops up. “They quoted you!”
     My beaming grin never falters. “I know.”
     “That’s so cool,” she muses as she continues reading. I watch her face for further reaction, and then finally she cracks up laughing. “ ‘Chewy Runts Locating Device.’ That’s hilarious.”
     “You think?” I ask again.
     Jade nods with decisiveness. “Definitely funny.”
     Angie shakes her head at us and turns to help a customer who has just appeared at the register. Jade and I instinctively step a few feet away to spare the stranger the agony of listening to our intrusively loud, girlie shrieks.
     “But Mason doesn’t work at the pizza place anymore,” Jade points out.
     I simply shrug. “He did when I sent in his picture. But I doubt it matters.”
     In fact, Mason quit his job at Brooklyn Pizza after only six months of working there. And honestly, I’m not really sure why he needed the extra money to begin with—his parents basically pay for everything he wants anyway.
     Jade finishes the article, then looks at me in amazement. “Wow.”
     I take the magazine back from her and hold it tightly in my grasp, as if dropping it would cause the whole thing to shatter into a million pieces and I might actually wake up from this crazy dream.
     Angie finishes helping the older lady with her purchase of two-in-one shampoo and conditioner and a bag of cotton balls and steps out from behind the counter to join us.
     Jade affectionately puts an arm around my shoulder. “This is big.” She sums up my feelings in three little words.
     I gaze absently straight ahead. “I don’t even know what to do with myself.”
     Angie laughs and shakes her head. “Well, Maddy,” she says in a serious tone. “The first thing you’re gonna do is buy that magazine because, honestly, you’ve already crumpled it all up with your sweaty fingers and it’s completely unsellable now. Then you’re going to go home and study for your European history test because, believe it or not, Mrs. Spitz is not going to take this”—she taps her finger against the magazine—”as an acceptable excuse for not knowing about Marie Antoinette and Louis the Thirty-second.”
     “Sixteenth,” I correct her.
     “Whatever. They’re all ugly with big noses. Louis le Grande Schnoz is more like it.”
     I giggle. Angie’s one of those people that can always be counted on to stay calm and rational during any time of crisis or extreme excitement. If she had been on the Titanic when it started to sink, she definitely would not have been one of those women screaming and running around like headless chickens. She would have been one of the people organizing everyone else and telling them to shut up and get on the flipping lifeboat because screaming is clearly not going to get you anywhere . . . except the bottom of the ocean.
     I reach into the pocket of my jeans and produce a few dollar bills, which I hand over to Angie. She walks back to the register, rings up the slightly mangled magazine, and holds out my change. “Thanks for shopping at Miller’s,” she says brightly and with only a hint of sarcasm.
     I say goodbye to both my friends, mumbling something about my test, and then drive back to my house in somewhat of a daze. I immediately make a plan to go back to the drugstore tomorrow to buy at least twenty copies of the magazine. Or however many my diminished bank account will allow. Because this is definitely the kind of thing you’d want to be able to show your grandchildren when you— Crap! I have to call Mason. He doesn’t even know that his face is plastered in magazines across the country, dressed in his sauce-stained Brooklyn Pizza apron with a smudge of flour on his left cheek. I chose that specific picture, as opposed to the generic shirtless picture that I’m sure every girl chooses, because I thought it made him look humble and down-to-earth and really captured his whole Mason essence.
     I’m totally anxious to get home and whip out my cell phone. My dad has lectured me way too many times about the law in California that prohibits anyone from using a cell phone while driving, unless it’s with a headset. But if you’re under eighteen, you can’t even do that. And not wanting to risk losing my cell phone or my driving privileges, I always wait—rather impatiently, I might add—until I get to my destination before making or taking any calls. This can get really annoying with Angie’s habit of calling repeatedly until I pick up.
     I press the first speed-dial button and wait for Mason to answer. It goes straight to voice mail. Oh, right. I forgot he’s still at soccer practice.
     I am tempted to drive over to the soccer field and wait for him to finish practice so I can show him the article, but I know that my history book is waiting for me upstairs, and I cannot fail this test tomorrow. I need to keep my GPA up if I am ever going to be accepted to Amherst with Mason.
     So I drag myself into the house, up the stairs, and into my bedroom. As I settle back into more reading about the French’s love of the guillotine and the forming of the National Assembly, my phone rings again. This time it’s Jade, and I answer it using the justification that the French Revolution happened like hundreds of years ago and all this stuff is happening right now. And isn’t everyone always telling us to live in the now?
     “Omigod,” she says breathlessly as soon as I answer. “I just realized what this whole magazine article thing means.”
     “What?”
     “It means we’ll finally be able to get into the Loft.” She pronounces the word Loft in a loud whisper, as if it’s the location of a top secret CIA drop point where confidential information is going to be exchanged at 0900 hours.
     “You think? All because of this?” I ask, feeling skeptical.
     “Of course!” Jade yells in my ear. “Hello? Mason is going to be like the most popular guy in school after this. And since you’re his girlfriend and we’re your friends, we’ll totally get in.”

Excerpted from The Karma Club by Jessica Brody.
Copyright © 2010 by Jessica Brody.
Published in 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.