Rules of Attraction(5)

By: Simone Elkeles

Tuck, who has never liked a guy I’ve dated, pulls out a pink skull-and-crossbones notebook from my desk drawer. He shakes his index finger at me. “Never trust a guy who tells you he loves you on the second date. Happened to me once. It was a total joke.”

“Why? Don’t you believe in love at first sight?”

“No. I believe in lust at first sight. And attraction. But not love. Michael told you he loved you just so he could get into your pants.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m a guy, that’s how I know.” Tuck frowns. “You didn’t do it with him, did you?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head to emphasize my answer. We fooled around, but I didn’t want to take it to the next level. I just, I don’t know . . . I wasn’t ready.

I haven’t seen or talked to Michael since school started two weeks ago. Sure, we texted a few times, but he always said he was busy and would call when he got a minute. He’s a senior in Longmont twenty minutes away and I go to school in Boulder, so I just thought he was busy with school stuff. But now I know the reason we haven’t talked wasn’t because he was busy. It was because he wanted to break up.

Was it because of another girl?

Was it because I wasn’t pretty enough?

Was it because I wouldn’t have sex with him?

It can’t be because I stutter. I’ve been working on my speech all summer and haven’t stuttered once since June. Every week I went to speech therapy, every day I practice speaking in front of a mirror, every minute I’m conscious of the words that come out of my mouth. Before now I always had to worry when I spoke, waiting for that confused look people got and then that “Oh, I understand— she’s got a problem” revelation. Then came the look of pity. And then the “she must be stupid” assumption. Or, in the case of some of the girls in my school, my stuttering was the source of amusement.

But I don’t stutter anymore.

Tuck knows this is the year I’m determined to show my confident side— the side I’ve never shown the kids at school. I’ve been shy and introverted my first three years of high school, because I’ve had an intense fear of people making fun of me stuttering. From now on instead of Kiara Westford being remembered for being shy, they’re going to remember me as the one who wasn’t afraid to speak up.

I didn’t count on Michael breaking up with me. I thought we’d go to Homecoming together, and prom . . .

“Stop thinking about Michael,” Tuck orders.

“He was cute.”

“So is a hairy ferret, but I wouldn’t want to date one. You could do better than him. Don’t sell yourself short.”

“Look at me,” I tell him. “Face reality, Tuck. I’m no Madison Stone.”

“Thank God for that. I hate Madison Stone.”

Madison raises the term “mean girls” to an entirely new level. The girl is good at everything she tries and could be easily crowned the most popular girl in school. Every girl wants to be friends with her so they can hang with the cool crowd. Madison Stone creates the cool crowd. “Everyone likes her.”

“That’s because they’re afraid of her. Secretly everyone hates her.” Tuck starts scribbling words in my notebook, then hands it to me. “Here,” he says, then tosses me a pen.

I stare at the page. RULES OF ATTRACTION is written on top, and a big line is drawn down the center of the page.

“What is this?”

“In the left column write down all the great things about you.”

Is he kidding? “No.”

“Come on, start writing. Consider this a self-help exercise, and a way for you to realize that girls like Madison Stone aren’t even attractive. Finish the sentence I, Kiara Westford, am great because . . .”

I know Tuck isn’t going to let up, so I write something stupid and hand it back to him.

He reads my words and cringes. “I, Kiara, am great because . . . I know how to throw a football, change the oil in my car, and hike a fourteener. Ugh, guys don’t care about this stuff.” He grabs the pen from me, sits on the edge of my bed, and starts writing furiously. “Let’s get the basics down. You’ve got to measure attractiveness in three parts to get the full result.”