Eva’s burning a hole in my head with her gaze. I’m trying to be nonchalant about it, but it’s obvious I’m pretending not to watch her watch me as I sit slumped in first period English and wait for roll to be called. Every other glance, she smiles at me, waves, her ponytail bouncing cheerfully. I wave back the first time; after that it becomes redundant, so I just nod, shrug, and wonder what it was I did or said that got her all into me.
I was kind of hoping that it was the novelty of SMN, that Eva was just temporarily infatuated with the naughty aspect of always-on social networking—but that’s becoming less and less likely with each glance, each smile, each wave. She did sneak into my room that night. I guess I’m intrigued by the fact that a girl wants to see me in my underwear, but Eva…well, not to be mean, but she’s got major bug eyes. I’m not trying to insult her, nor do I want to humiliate her in any way, but I don’t think I could ever find her cute enough overall to warrant us becoming anything more than school buddies. Plus, with the ponytail, the warm-up suit and sneakers combo, there’s a little too much pretension there. Like, I’m discovering as I go along, the jocks who wear their lettermen jackets every day, every week, every month.
I pay her another quick glance.
She’s still looking at me.
I avert my gaze, trying to pass myself off as uninterested but not impolite. This is a first for me. How do you get a girl to un-like you without hurting her feelings? And an American girl, at that?
The teacher—Mr. Johnson—strolls down the aisle, calling off names. “Liza Homma?”
“Present,” answers Liza.
“Present,” answers Mark.
Mr. Johnson passes my desk, his pencil poised over his clipboard. “Jan Kounicova?”
I try not to wince at his exceedingly bad pronunciation of my name. “Actually, sir, it’s pronounced Jan.”
Mr. Johnson stops, turns, blinks at me. He’s totally a vanilla schoolteacher, from his plain white collared dress shirt to his conservatively-combed thinning hair to his totally average features and inability to grapple with anything outside his immediate comfort zone. I can tell from the look on his face that instead of, “Actually, sir, it’s pronounced Jan,” he’d heard, “Ecktwoolee, sair, eats pdonounsed Yawn.”
“That’s cute,” he says, mildly annoyed. “Now lose it.”
“Lose what?” I ask.
“The Chekov impression.”
I don’t know who or what Chekov is.
Eva speaks up: “Mr. Johnson?”
Johnson looks over at her. “Yes, Ms. Taylor?”
“If you mean Ensign Chekov, from Star Trek, he’s Russian. Jan is Czech.”
Johnson looks back at me. “Well, Czech is like drunk Russian, right?”
The class chuckles.
Mark, seated in front of me, reaches back and pats me on the shoulder, pretends he’s whispering even though he’s not. “Don’t mind Johnson. He’s just trying to be friendly.”
“Face forward,” Johnson tells him. Then, hoisting his clipboard once again: “Okay, let’s try this again. Jan Kounicova?”
“Present,” I answer.
The other students chuckle lightly. I’m positive they all heard me say, “Pdesent.”
Johnson finishes calling roll, then detaches the attendance sheet from his clipboard and hands it to me. “Here, Chekov, make yourself useful and take this to the attendance office.”
So, I think to myself, Chekov is to be my American nickname. Should I be flattered?
I take the attendance sheet, rise from my desk.
Eva cranes her neck, watches me leave the classroom.
Out in the hallway, I breathe a sigh of relief. Without her stare the air actually feels cooler, the walls less constricting.
A door opens some ways down. Ernie steps out into the hall. He waves when he sees me, starts waddling over. I’d turn away, but the attendance office is in his direction.
“What’s up, Janny Boy?” he asks when we’re face to face.
I hold up the attendance sheet.
“Oh. Bitch work.” He pulls out a bag of M&Ms from his pocket. He tears it open and downs half of it in a single swallow. “Myself, I’m on my way to my locker. Forgot some homework.”
I pay the M&Ms bag a wary glance. “You still making deals with that Robbie perv?”
Ernie shakes his head. “Fuck him. I have a girlfriend now. She provides for me.”
I frown. “Don’t you feel bad taking advantage of a girl you just met on SuperMegaNet to support your eating disorder?”
“We all have our problems. Me and food. Becky and food. You and Bug Eyes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Dude,” Ernie says, “she’s been giving you bedroom eyes all week. You haven’t noticed?”
I have noticed. That’s the problem. “No.”
“You like chicks, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Of course I do! Just not girls…like Eva.
“Then take it from me: Eva Taylor wants to make it with you.”
“So? Just because she likes me I’m supposed to like her back?”
“Why not?” asks Ernie, looking genuinely curious.
I shrug. “She’s fine as a friend, but otherwise she kind of scares me.”
Ernie thinks about this for all of two seconds, then scowls. “Is it the bug eyes thing?” He puts his hand on my shoulder. “That’s shallow, Jan.”
“You use Becky for snacks,” I point out. “And you’re getting food coloring on my shirt!” I shrug him off of me.
“That’s not true. Me and Piglet have a thing going. Nothing like the sparks you and Eva would have, though, if you two shacked up for just a night, even.”
“If you think she’s so great, why don’t you get with her?”
“She doesn’t want me,” Ernie answers. “She wants a hard-body. A hunk. A muscled-up sex machine. You.”
This is getting out of hand. “I should get going.”
“Ugh, you silly Czech Bastard.”
I narrow my eyes. “Huh?”
“You’re ignoring the chance to tap a fine piece of ass—”
“Not that,” I say, cutting him off, “the Czech Bastard thing.”
“Oh, come on it’s not an insult. It’s like when I call you ‘jerk’ or ‘dork.’ Like a friendly nickname.”
“I already have a nickname.”
“What is it?”
I sigh. “Chekov.”
“The Star Trek dude?” Ernie throws his head back and laughs. “I can totally see that!”
He stops laughing, fixes me with a serious stare. “Hey…”
“It’s only a nickname,” I say, sarcastically. I walk away.
“Think about what I said!” Ernie yells down the hall. “At least get your hands down her pants before you make your final decision!”
I duck into the attendance office—and not a moment too soon, as an annoyed teacher has stepped out into the hall and is demanding to know what all the racket is about.
I approach the nearest desk. “The attendance sheet from Mr. Johnson’s class,” I announce.
The girl behind the
desk smiles at me. “Thanks,” she says, and takes the sheet. “Can I help you with anything else?”
I think for a moment. “Actually, yes.”
“Can you tell me who Ensign Chekov is?”
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