by Jane Lebak (10/99)
"There she is!" Ken hissed frantically to Joe. He started breathing hard, and hid his eyes behind his hands. "How do I look? Is she coming this way?"
Joe bit his lip and snuck a look to where Jun and Jinpei had just entered the cafeteria. "She's going to the fridge to get her sandwich. You look okay, just straighten your sweater."
Ken did that, his cheeks pink with a high flush. His hands shook. Then he looked right at Joe. "How's my hair?"
"I think it's okay. Geez, Ken, I wish I had your hair. You have nothing to worry about."
"I slept on it all wrong. It looks like a mop."
Joe looked sideways, then stifled a squeal. "She's coming this way!"
Ken held his breath, but Jun and Jinpei went to the table next to them instead. He put his head right next to Joe, started to whisper, then thought better of it. He pulled out his notebook and wrote for a while, then handed it to Joe, who shielded the page with his arm as he read.
"She's just so hot. She'd never look at me twice. I know it."
Joe wrote back in blue pen, but first scribbled out what Ken had written, "Maybe you should go over there and sit down and talk to her."
Ken grabbed the notebook almost before Joe finished writing. "Are you crazy? Not while Jinpei's there! And I don't know what I'd say."
Joe leaned over and wrote sideways while Ken was finishing up, "Do you want me to get him away from... Oh, you'd figure out something to say."
Ken whispered, "But Joe, it's her."
Joe raised his eyebrows and bit his lip, trying not to giggle too loudly. "That's so romantic. Just like Jake and Jillian on last week's 'Fantasy Heartland'!"
Ryu walked in and got his sandwich, then came toward Joe and Ken. Ken snatched the notebook and stuffed it into his bookbag before Ryu could get there. Ryu said, "What's up?"
"Nothing!" they said simultaneously. Ken's voice cracked. It had been doing that for three weeks now.
Ryu said, "Have you heard that awesome new song by Cloud Dream Seven?"
Ken sighed. "Oh, it's so perfect..."
Joe nodded enthusiastically. "I stayed up all night watching for the video."
Ken leaned over to Joe and whispered, "It's perfect for me and..." Joe squinted. Ken added, "And...you know!"
Ryu said, "What are you guys talking about?"
Joe said, "Foofur?"
Ken nodded. "Right. Right."
Ryu recognized a code name when he heard one and figured if he listened long enough, who it was would become obvious.
Joe said, "I bet you could request it on the radio."
Ken went pale. "Oh, oh, I couldn't."
Joe giggled. "If you won't do it, I can!"
Ken leaped out of his seat and grabbed Joe by the arm, dragging him into the boys' bathroom. Ryu stayed where he was. When they got inside, Ken shut the door and jumped up and down. "Did you see? I think she looked our way! I think she knows!"
Joe squealed and gave Ken a hug. "That's awesome!"
"It is not! What if--what if--?" Ken ran to the mirror. "Oh, I hate my hair! I look hideous! She'd never talk to me!" He looked at Joe in desperation. "Give me your comb. I left mine in my locker."
Joe handed him the comb, then rummaged through his backpack until he found a small bottle of cologne, mousse, and hair spray. Ken adjusted his hair until it looked about exactly as it had before, except for being shinier and wobblier. He looked closely at his eyes in the mirror. "I'm the Zit Lord, too."
Joe went to stand behind Ken and sighed. He took the comb and ran it through Ken's hair. "Stand still while I fix it in back. I'd kill for hair this thick." After handing the comb back to Ken, he nudged his hair a little more in back and sprayed it again. "And I wish I had your skin. At least you're thin."
"Oh, please. You don't have a gram of fat anywhere on your body."
Before Joe could protest that he was just an elephant on two feet, the bell rang, and both boys darted to their next class, which like every other class of the day was taught by Dr. Nambu.
Upstairs, there were only two seats left in the classroom, one next to Jun and the other beside the wall. Joe darted for the one near the wall before Ken could get to it, forcing Ken to take the seat near Jun. Ken's hands trembled as he took his loose-leaf binder out of his bag. Jun leaned over and said, "Can I borrow some paper?"
Ken opened his loose-leaf clasps. "Sure. Two-sleaf?" He realized what he'd said even as Joe snickered wildly. Jun chuckled as he handed her two pieces of paper. He'd blushed five shades of red. Joe was writing on a scrap of paper, which he folded multiple times, then wrote "Ken" on the outside. He put it on the corner of Ken's desk.
Ken snatched at the paper, then unfolded it on his lap and read, "Way to impress the Foof."
He wrote back, "I'm hopeless!"
Joe grinned at the note, then started writing more. Nambu walked in and said, "Mr. Asakura, would you care to share that with the rest of the class?"
Ken yelped. Joe stuffed the note into his bookbag. "I'm sorry, sir. I won't do that again."
"See that you don't. For now, please impress me with your classroom note-taking skills, and review for us yesterday's lesson on the Pythagorean theorem."
Fifteen minutes into the lesson, Ken slipped Joe another note.
"Maybe you should find out for me."
Joe looked at him and mouthed, "Find out what?"
Ken took back the note and wrote, "Whether I should talk to Foofur."
Joe frowned. He mouthed another message, but when Ken didn't get it, he wrote at the bottom of the note, "Should I ask Raisinet?"
Ken shook his head and whispered, "No! He'll tell!!! Ask Goober."
Nambu said, "Ken! Are you paying attention?"
"If you two keep chattering like hens, I'll have to split you up."
The other three giggled. Ken hunched miserably over his desk. Joe glanced at Ryu, then addressed a note to him, which Ken fearfully passed across Jun's desk, and she dutifully passed across Jinpei's, and Jinpei sent to Ryu. It said, "Need to talk to you."
Ryu wrote back, "About what?"
Nambu intercepted this one and read it out loud. "Joe, Ryu, I'm ashamed of you. If you're going to get in trouble for passing notes, they should at least be juicy, gossip-laden messages."
After class, Joe pulled Ryu into the boys' bathroom. "I've got to know," he said. "Don't tell anyone, but is Jun, you know, does she like anyone?"
Ryu said, "How should I know?"
"You talk to Jinpei all the time."
"That doesn't mean he told me anything." Ryu hesitated. "Do you like Jun?"
"No! This is a total secret. Promise you'd die rather than tell?" When Ryu nodded, Joe whispered, "Ken likes her. It's for him."
"You want me to find out from Jinpei what she thinks of Ken?"
Joe nodded. "But without telling."
Ryu said, "It'd be funny if Jun asked Ken out, huh?"
"Oh, he'd piss. He'd fall on the ground, and he'd piss."
Ryu left the bathroom before Joe so it wouldn't look suspicious. The first chance he had to collar Jinpei, he did. "Joe wants me to ask about Jun," Ryu said. "Does she like anyone?"
Jinpei said, "Did Joe ask, or are you asking and saying Joe wanted to ask?"
"No, Joe wanted to know."
"Joe likes Jun?"
"No, Joe said Ken likes Jun."
"Oh, please. I bet it's really Joe." Jinpei tossed his head. "Why'd he ask you to ask me, anyhow? Is he trying to be your friend? Because if he's going to be your friend, then I won't be."
"Jinpei, you know I'm your friend."
"Well, then don't tell him anything. See if he still talks to you afterward. I think he's using you."
Ryu stared at the floor. "You're right. How dare he?"
Before gym, Ryu grabbed Joe by the arm and brought him to the corner of the locker room. Ken watched desperately, then got overcome by curiosity and went to join them. Jinpei stared in anger from the corner.
Joe sent Ken away. "I'll talk to you later, got it?"
Ken went to comb his hair in front of the mirror. Momentarily Jinpei joined him.
"I hate my hair."
"I know. I should just shave it all off and get a wig."
"You're lucky you're too young to get zits."
"At least zits go away. I've got horrible teeth, and my nose is too small."
Ryu and Joe came back to the sinks and stood behind Ken and Jinpei, checked their hair in the mirror, then went to the gym. Ken dragged Joe off, and Jinpei dragged Ryu away.
"He doesn't know."
"Did you tell him? About--"
"No. But Goober said that Raisinet had no idea because Foofur never talks about it."
Ken shrieked. "You mean she never mentions anyone else either!"
Joe nodded enthusiastically. "That means you have a chance!"
Ken blew the hair from his eyes, then hid a giggle behind his hands. "I filled out that survey in Young Heart Throb during Literature."
Joe gasped. "And? And?"
Ken could hardly stand still. "We had an 8.5 compatibility!"
Joe squealed and jumped in place.
Ryu was saying to Jinpei, "He still says it's Ken who wants to know about Jun."
Jinpei stared past Ryu at Joe. "Huh. Right."
"There's no way he's telling the truth." Ryu had the same dark look. "He didn't change his story one bit."
Jun came into the gym, and all four boys took their places for class. Nambu came in and started their warm ups, remarking that here at least they couldn't perpetually pass notes.
That night, Joe lay on his back in his bed with his legs extended up the wall as he spoke on the phone. "We've got to figure out something for you and her."
"I can't take it," Ken was saying. "I'm going to die."
"You could have talked to her at dinner tonight."
"I can't eat in front of her. I can't even put a bite in my mouth. If she sees me eating, she's going to think I'm fat."
Joe said, "No, she's not going to think that! Just make her laugh. She'll have such a good time, she won't notice what you eat."
"I can't make her laugh. Anything I say to her sounds so dumb when I say it."
"You'll be all right. Really."
The door opened suddenly, and both boys sat up in their beds. Nambu said, "I told you two to get off the phone and turn the lights out fifteen minutes ago!"
Ken and Joe looked at one another sheepishly, hung up their respective extensions, and got into bed. "You two talked nonstop all through your classes today," Nambu said, arms akimbo. "I'd think you'd at least want to be quiet for eight hours of sleep so you'd have something new to say to each other in the morning!"
He turned out the light and shut the door. Joe whispered, "Maybe you could send her a note and ask?"
"I can't! My handwriting would be a mess."
"I'd tell you what to write. Practice here until you get it right, then pass it to her in class."
"Then I'd have a heart attack right there at my desk. I can't. What would I say? Can't you just go ask her straight-out?"
Joe gasped. "No! I'd get it all wrong! I'll have Jinpei do it."
"You think he would?"
At breakfast the next morning, Joe tried to send Ken a reassuring glance when he couldn't put even a bite of cereal into his mouth without choking. Jun was sitting right across from him eating a bagel. Joe gestured to Jinpei and made him go into the hallway. Jinpei looked totally breathless when they got there. "You..." Jinpei was almost shaking with tension. "You wanted to ask me something?"
"Yes. Don't take this the wrong way, but would Jun want to talk to Ken?"
"Huh?" Jinpei had a guarded look. "I guess. But--"
"I know you told Ryu you didn't know, but you have to know."
"I guess she'd think it was cool. I never asked her." Jinpei stared levelly. "Why ask me?"
"Because Ryu didn't tell me anything, that's why."
Jinpei said, "Don't act all innocent. I'm not stupid."
Joe said, "What, is Ryu trying to make us enemies? You know I'm your friend."
Jinpei's gaze dropped. "I know. But he made it seem like--"
Joe grimaced. "Maybe that's why he didn't give me any information. Because he wanted me to be mad at you!"
Jinpei gasped. "You think so?"
Joe folded his arms. "I knew I shouldn't have trusted him. Damn. All that time, wasted." He shook his head. "And I thought he was my friend. But yeah, I'll tell Ken to talk to Jun."
The bell rang and they went to their first class, history. Joe sat next to Ken and wrote him a long letter about what was going on while Ken filled his margins with the following:
Mrs. Jun Washio. Ms. Jun Shiratori-Washio. Mr. & Mrs. Ken Washio. Mr. Ken Shiratori. Ken & Jun 4EVER.
Ken got halfway through Joe's letter and nearly shrieked, then clapped his hands over his mouth. Before Nambu could seize the note, Ken ripped it in half and jammed it into his backpack. He was trembling so much he couldn't even write back to Joe. He was nervous through all their classes until lunchtime, when he grabbed Joe by the arm and bolted with him down to the cafeteria. They sat at a table in the corner.
"I can't ask her!" Ken whispered. "Joe, I just can't!"
"You've got to try! What do you have to lose?"
"Everything! She'll hate me and never talk to me again." He gasped hard. "There she is!" Hiding his eyes behind his hands, he whimpered, "How do I look? Is she coming this way?"
Joe snuck a look toward Jun and Jinpei. "She's just getting a soda. You look fine." Joe looked sideways, then stifled a squeal. "She is coming this way! Oh, wait, other table."
Ken put his head on the table and wove his fingers into his hair. "I can't talk to her. I just can't."
Ryu took a seat. "Hey, you wanna go to the mall after class? I want to pick up one of those new sweaters at Clutches."
Joe said, "Hey, maybe..." He turned to Ken. "Ask Foofur to come with us."
Ken went pale. "No! I...I just can't!"
Joe grabbed Ken's loose-leaf binder and wrote in the upper left-hand corner, next to the clip, "JA & KW, BFF" "There," Joe said. "Now you can do it."
Ken giggled. "Best friends forever?"
"Forever." Joe shrieked as Ken suddenly lunged at him and hugged him. "Hey! You're messing up my hair!"
Ken grinned. "But I won't ask today. Maybe next time. Maybe today it'll be just us guys."