He patted me on the head, possibly mussing my careful French twist. "The guys are pretty taken with you. They think the idea of you getting with an idiot like me is hilarious. They'll keep teasing me about you. I'll keep making sex jokes. I'm just warning you."
"Are you going to keep adding that bit about my ass, too?"
He wagged his eyebrows.
"Fine," I said over the bell that started our half-hour study hall. We headed for our desks. To keep up the facade that I thought the idea of us getting together was hilarious too, I made small talk. "Ready for the game tonight?" I hoped he wouldn't give me a detailed answer I couldn't follow and force me to expose my ignorance about football. I'd never been interested in sports. Over the last few days, Mr. Oakley had given me a crash course in what I hadn't absorbed while dating Noah, so I'd know enough about the rules to catch the important plays through a camera lens. Ideally.
But I did want to know how practice had been going for Brody, and how he felt about the pressure he must be under before the game. I'd been part of the crowd at parties at his house a couple of times recently, but we'd never had what I'd call an in-depth conversation. I knew more about his football career from the local newspaper than from him. Seeing the game through his eyes would help me capture a star quarterback's perspective and immortalize it in the yearbook.
Plus, I enjoyed the way he looked at me. I wished he would give me that narrow-eyed stare again, no matter what emotion was behind it. I might have had a boyfriend, he might have had a girlfriend, and the idea of us getting together under any circumstances might have been ridiculous, but I wanted his attention a little longer.
He stretched his arms way over his head again. Sitting this close to him, it was hard to get perspective on how much taller than me he was, but I never forgot. Then he settled himself across his desktop, arms folded, head down, and closed his eyes. "Don't I look ready?" Conversation over.
Ms. Patel eased into her chair at the front of the room and pulled a stack of papers out of her desk drawer. The people who'd been milling around the classroom slid into seats and hauled books out of their backpacks or, like Brody, settled down for a nap. Ms. Patel had said she didn't care what we did in study hall as long as we kept the noise down to a dull roar.
I pretended to check Noah's calculus homework while gathering the courage to ask Brody about our yearbook photo together.
I was on deadline. Taking the easy route would be smartest. I should schedule a meeting in the school courtyard like I'd arranged for most of the other Superlatives. I could set up a tripod and program a simple picture on a time delay, then dive into the frame with Brody before the shutter opened. But that wouldn't be cute. It wouldn't be original
. It wouldn't contribute to the portfolio I needed to get into a college art program next fall.
And it wouldn't put me in proximity to Brody for as long as I wanted.
I raised my eyes from problem number five on Noah's homework and considered the close-shorn back of his head. If Brody and I discussed the photo here, Noah would hear me. I could say one wrong thing and let on that my weird pairing with Brody had developed into a crush, and Noah would make sure the whole locker room knew what was going on. That would definitely get back to Kennedy. Noah wasn't one to keep his mouth shut about other people's business. His own business, yes. Mine, no.
Quinn sat in front of Noah. He would overhear the conversation too. He wouldn't spread the gossip like Noah, but when Brody slighted me, Quinn would feel sorry for me, just like he had when Noah broke up with me. That would be worse.
And in front of Brody sat Sawyer. He didn't have it in for me, as far as I knew, but if he overheard my awkward request, he would retell the story in the funniest way possible, which would make my life a living hell. That's just how Sawyer was. He might have been asleep, though. His white-blond head was down on his arms, and he hadn't moved since I'd entered the classroom. As our school's mascot-he dressed up like a six-foot pelican at the games-his first act of bringing about student solidarity had been to pass out from heat exhaustion at a practice on the football field last Monday. He probably was resting for his debut at the game tonight.
And that meant at least he would nap through what I said to Brody. As for Noah and Quinn, maybe Quinn had been right: It was time I stopped worrying about how things looked. Once more, I rehearsed what I would say to Brody. We need to take a yearbook photo for Perfect Couple That Never Was, and We need to think of an original way to pose for the photo, and What if we met off campus? Like on a date? We'd be a couple-get the joke? Not a real date, of course. We don't want Kennedy and Grace mad at us! Feeling like I was about to fling myself off a cliff, I took a deep breath and turned to Brody.
He was asleep. In the thirty seconds I'd taken to steel myself, his hunched shoulders had gone slack. His upper body rose and fell with deep, even breaths. I was amazed he could relax amid the buzz of the classroom-but after all, he wasn't a geeky girl whose nerves were stretched taut to the point of snapping because the popular quarterback was an arm's length away.
With a defeated sigh, I faced the front and crossed my legs under my desk again.
"Is my homework that bad?" Noah asked, turning his broad body around. "I thought I actually understood this unit, for once."
"No, sorry, I've hardly started." I bent over Noah's work, checking his answers against mine.