Everyone at Ross Academy had a school-provided e-mail address. I looked Connor Hughes up in the directory and typed a short message about the bonfire wood, asking him to please e-mail me back so we could discuss the details. I thought about giving him my cell number, too, but ultimately decided against it. I didn’t need my number being passed around by those guys as a late-night drunk-dial prank destination.

He hadn’t written me back by the next morning. I had checked every single period until lunch, when I spotted him at the cafeteria Ping-Pong table with none other than Mike Domski and a bunch of bottom-feeders like Marci Cooperstein.

Spencer clung to my arm. “There he is, Natalie. Go talk to him.” We’d been collecting art supplies and covering the lunch tables with craft paper, in preparation for students to paint pep rally banners after school. I would have preferred talking to Connor on his own, but I needed to know about the wood situation ASAP, since the success of my bonfire hinged on it. And I didn’t want Spencer to think I was intimidated by the presence of Mike Domski.

“Maybe I should come with you.” Spencer was all too excited about this possibility. “I’d give my left arm for a chance to chat up Connor Hughes. That boy is . . . ungodly hot. He looks like he’s been raised on whole milk and fresh blueberry muffins.”

Connor was good looking. It wasn’t any one thing that stood out, but more like everything fit together in this smooth way. He had an easy way about him, like he didn’t have a care in the world. He probably didn’t, either. But Spencer and Connor? Or Spencer and any of those guys, for that matter? Bad idea. Terrible idea. “Go put these supplies in the closet and meet me back here,” I told her.

Spencer looked disappointed as she tried to manage all the stuff I piled in her arms, but she did what I said. And, after a deep breath, I walked right up to Connor.

“Hey. Did you get my e-mail?”

Connor finished his volley, smacking the ball as hard as he could before turning to me. The force of it made my hair flutter. “Yeah, I got it. I’ll drop the wood off Friday morning. No problem.”

His voice was gravelly, like he had the beginnings of a sore throat. And it didn’t sound like it came from his mouth, but from somewhere warmer, somewhere deep in his chest. It seemed a little rusty, which would make sense, because Connor wasn’t the kind of guy who talked much.
Mike threw the ball back at Connor, but it got stuck in the net. I grabbed it for him. “Great. I was worried that I’d have to come up with a backup plan. Everyone’s really excited about the bonfire. It might end up becoming a new school tradition.” I knew I sounded braggy, but I couldn’t help myself from rubbing it in Mike Domski’s face.
And honestly, I expected similarly pleased reactions from the rest of the people surrounding the Ping-Pong table. Not from Marci — that girl had it out for me. But the other football guys, because they were the ones who’d benefit most. The whole thing was practically being done in their honor. Only their faces were utterly stoic and unenthused. Mike Domski flicked his paddle at me, trying to get me out of the way, so the game could continue.

Except I didn’t move. I stood still, because I knew it would make Mike mad. “Will the wood be here Friday morning?” I asked Connor. “Or later in the afternoon? I just want to confirm the details with you, so I can75 coordinate with the fire marshal and get this whole thing crossed off my To Do list.”
Connor laughed. And not in the way where he might sympathize with how much time and effort it was taking me to get all this dealt with. He laughed like I was telling him a joke. “Consider me confirmed, RSVPed, and whatever.” Then he threw his Ping-Pong ball up in the air to serve. But I guess he saw I was pissed, because he didn’t hit it. He caught it instead. “Seriously, Sterling. I promise. You’ll have the wood by homeroom.”

“Dude,” Mike said, in a fake whisper. “Natalie wants your wood. Bad.”

Everyone snickered. Including the girls.

“I don’t need anybody’s wood. I can buy my own wood,” I spat back, allowing my annoyance to clearly come through. It was only when everyone started cracking up that I realized what I’d implied. I walked away as fast as I could, and dreamed about a tragic accident where Mike’s crotch caught fire.

.