“Happy birthday, by the way,” I say to Eva.


“How does it feel to be thirteen?”

“Everything’s different. You see the world in a whole new way. Food tastes better. Adult jokes suddenly make sense. You just sort of know who you are and what your place in life is.”

“Wow, really?”

Eva smiles, rolls her eyes. “Of course not, dork.”

“I knew that.”

Sure you did.” She looks across the way. “Honestly, though? Thirteen’s one step forward, two steps back.”

I want to say, “Really?” again, but instead I just raise an eyebrow.

“Like, the step forward is that I finally get to wear makeup.”

“I noticed.”

“Mm-hm. It’s a deal I had with my mom. No makeup until I’m thirteen. Now that I am, she wants to push it back to sixteen—and the cycle would repeat itself until I’m thirty and over the hill. But she signed a contract.”

I laugh. “An actual contract?”

Eva nods, whips out her phone from only God knows where, brings up a signed PDF file.

“Very nice,” I say. “And the two steps back?”

“Being thirteen. Everything is about grades, the wrestling team, college, scholarships. I guess it’s always been, but now that I’m here, it’s less about promising to do well in school and life and all that, and more about actually doing well.” Eva shrugs, puts her phone away. Somewhere. “Sometimes it feels like I’m an overstuffed box on moving day. It’s like the bigger you are, the more responsibilities your parents try to cram into you.”

“If that’s the case, Ernie must be Attorney General.”

We both laugh.

“What about you?” Eva asks. “You’re hitting the big one-three soon. Anything special planned?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. Beer, maybe.”

“Beer? Really?”

“No, I just said that.”

Eva smiles. “Well, we’re going to do Marco Polo in a little while if you decide to ditch your clothes after all.” One more glance at Ernie, a shake of her head, and she’s off, absorbed into a gaggle of girls over on the far side of the deck.

I grab a bottle of water, stand holding it, unopened, while I watch her for a moment. I watch her friends, too. Judging by their impeccable physiques and affluent demeanors, they’re more friends with Summer and Lily (who are, of course, in attendance) than with Eva—to the extent that I actually overhear one of them asking another, “Whose party is this again?” The insinuation being that they’re invited to so many parties they can’t keep track. Or, they’re just here because Summer paid them off, supposedly doing Eva a favor when really she’s made it more obvious how few friends Eva really has.

“You’re over-analyzing the situation, aren’t you?”

Mini’s worked his way out of my shorts, and is standing beside me on the pool deck.

“Who invited you?” I ask quietly.

“I’m like your wang,” he replies. “No matter where you go, there it is.”

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El Cassetto: a SuperMegaNet novel by Jesse Gordon

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Jesse Gordon

Geek. Writer. Supreme overlord of the SUPERMEGANET pseudoverse. Author of THE OATMEAL MAN, DOOKIE, and other such wasteful nonsense.