I thought Lisle would be pleased, but she seemed sort of annoyed about it. After all, she kept telling me, the point of the Game was to interact with everyone, and I only interacted with Ben. I didn’t know any of the gossip she knew, and I still stared at her blankly when she talked about who was a drama queen and who was a sock puppet and who had deleted whose journal. Plus I’d been mean to Draco Malfoy, who was a friend of hers. Still, she told me she “shipped” me and Ben together, whatever that meant, and she kept trying to think of ways for me to meet him. Which, since he lived like two states away, didn’t seem very likely.

But then Xena suggested the meetup. She had a condo out by a lake, she said, with a timeshare, and nobody was ever there in the winter. Why shouldn’t she host a party for the East Coast members of the Game? Anyone who wanted could come and crash on the floor, as long as they were eighteen years old. “We’re going,” Lisle told me, with a manic gleam in her eye.

“But we’re not eighteen.”

“That’s what the Internet is for. Lying about your age,” she said, punching out a YES WE ARE GOING message into her AIM messenger box. “Besides. Ben’s going to be there.”

I sank down on her bed, gripping a pillow between my hands, which had gone suddenly numb. “He is?”

Lisle turned around and grinned at me. After that, it was just a matter of lying to our parents about visiting Lisle’s older sister Alice at college, and we were gone. We drove up in Lisle’s yellow Datsun with the radio on, Lisle singing her head off and me quietly freaking out with every mile marker we passed. I’m going to see him, my mind said, over and over. I heard his name in the soft grind of the wheels on the asphalt, the crunch of old snow. Heathcliff. Heathcliff. Then we were at the condo and Lisle was jumping out of the car, slamming the door behind her with a short, decided bang.


“Jane!” The door thuds under my back. Lisle must be kicking at it with her feet. “Jane, open the goddamned door!”

“FINE!” I yell back. I get to my feet and yank the door open and there’s Lisle, looking actually pretty Faith-like since her face is screwed up in rage and her hair’s sticking up.

“Jesus Christ, Jane.” She grabs me by the shoulders. “I thought you were trying to drown yourself in the bathtub in there. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

She glances toward the living room. “Is it Ben? But—he’s cute. Hot, even.”

“I know.”

She smirks a little. “So now you’re freaked out.”

“Yeah. I mean—I don’t know.” I shrug angrily. “I wish you hadn’t run out after me. It makes it look like something’s really wrong.”

Lisle takes my arm. “We’ll tell everyone you got carsick,” she says, “and you totally had to puke. How’s that?”

I pull away, brushing past her and into the living room. The energy in the room has gone up, maybe thanks to Xena’s disgusting drinks. People are laughing and chatting, sitting on the floor and on the arms of chairs. There are bags of chips and snacks all over the floor, torn open, with people passing them around and munching, crumbs flying while they talk.

Ben’s in the kitchen, a row of bottles lined up in front of him, a cocktail shaker in one hand. Jack and Ennis are leaning on the counter while he mixes them drinks, giggling and flirty. Now that they’re both standing up I can see how tall and skinny they are. They almost look alike.

Ben’s friend has taken my place on the couch. He has a fat book open on his lap—a graphic novel, probably. I can see the brightly colored drawings from here.

“What is he doing?” I whisper to Lisle, my eyes on Ben.

“Xena said he promised to be bartender, so—he’s bartending.” She shrugs. “Look, I’ll go see what’s going on with him. You wait here.”

I perch on the edge of the couch while Lisle edges into the kitchen past the gay cowboy girls. I’m sitting next to a group of some of the kids I got introduced to earlier. I can’t help but listen in on their conversation, since they’re practically shouting—arguing about who makes a better starship captain, Captain Kirk or Captain Picard. Kirk, says the guy who introduced himself as John Connor, is clearly the better captain, because he was the youngest captain ever in Starfleet and Picard wasn’t. Besides, Kirk is more virile and “manly.”

“Oh, please. He shouldn’t get points for being a horndog,” snaps Trinity. “Kirk was sexist and misogynistic.”

“He was a product of his time,” points out G’Kar mildly.

“What time is that? The future?” Trinity hoots, and everyone else joins in. Hazel leans forward in her chair, her knitting dangling.

“I think you’re all forgetting that both of them pale in comparison to the greatest captain of all time,” she announces. “Captain Adama.”

“Whoa, a BSG throwdown.” Neo nods respectfully. He looks nothing like Keanu Reeves, of course, but is instead a chunky boy with slicked-back hair and a bright polyester shirt; I can’t be sure if he’s wearing it ironically or not. “Intense, intense.”

I stare at them, mystified. I have no idea what they’re talking about or how I could possibly join in. And I can’t help the feeling that if I tried to, I’d be about as welcome as ants at a picnic. There’s a whole language here and I don’t speak it.

“It’s a dorkument,” says a voice at my elbow. “Your first?”

I turn and stare. The boy who came in with Ben has put his book aside and is looking at me curiously. He has what I’ve always thought of as a “sharp” face: bony, slightly angular, with high cheekbones. His eyes, a warm hazel, soften the harshness. He is cute, though not in an obvious way like Ben is. Maybe he’d be good for Lisle? I glance over at her, but she’s still in the kitchen, showing Ben and the others how to make pie.

“A dorkument?” I echo. “What’s that?”

“It’s an argument between dorks meant to clarify some finer point of geek culture,” the boy explains. “They’ve sort of grown out of the long-held comics tradition of arguing about which superhero could beat up which other superhero. You know: who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman? Alien or Predator? They made a whole movie about that last one.”

“I think I missed it.”

“I think you did.” His hazel eyes spark as he holds out his hand: “By the way, I’m Noah.”

Noah what? I wonder. I shuffle rapidly through the journals I’m familiar with; I don’t know a Noah, but that doesn’t mean he—or his character—doesn’t exist. As Lisle already pointed out, I’m not good at paying attention.

“I’m Cathy.” I shake his hand.

“I know who you are. Ben talks about you all the time.”

My heart flips. “He does?”

“Sure. I’ve seen those pictures of you. I’d have recognized your left eye anywhere.” He smiles. It’s a nice smile. “Hey, I’m getting cabin fever—do you want to come for a walk outside? I wanted to check out the lake before it gets too dark.”

“A walk?” Part of me would love to get out of this close, stuffy room; the other part can’t help looking over at Ben in the kitchen. He’s stirring something in a bowl; he’s got flour on his face; it’s adorable. “I…”

“Uh-huh.” Noah looks from me to Ben, and grins crookedly. “It’ll be at least half an hour before they’re done in there. We can be back by then.”

There’s something about the way he’s looking at me, like a dare. I can tell that if I stay here, not wanting to be away from Ben, he’ll know that’s why I’m staying and think I’m pathetic. Because I will be.

I stand up. “I’ll get my coat.”

No one seems to notice us leaving, grabbing our jackets from the hooks by the front door. Noah’s is a dark blue toggled peacoat that makes his eyes sparkle. The sky is grayish, the air cold and clear. The path runs from the condo down to the lake and around its edges; leaves crunch under our feet as we walk. It’s good to be outside, in the clear, cold air.

Noah is silent as we walk. He bends down sometimes to pick up rocks, juggle them in his hand, and toss them toward the lake water. They fall with tiny splashes like tinkling crystal. “So,” I say, realizing finally that he’s never going to say anything. “I have a question.”

He looks over at me. “Shoot.”

“What’s with the scarves?” I ask him.

“The scarves?”

“The color-blocked scarves everyone’s wearing. It’s like a uniform. I don’t get it.”

“The scarf is from DoctorWho,” he explains.

“Oh.” I try to sound like this makes sense to me. “DoctorWho.”

“I take it you’re not familiar with the good Doctor?”

“I have no idea who he is,” I say, giving up.

Noah smiles. “He’s a character from a long-running BBC science fiction show. He’s an alien.”

“I thought he was a doctor.”

“You can be both. Anyway, it was a cult classic, that show, and they recently remade it, which explains the scarves. Everyone’s excited about watching the new show.”

“Well,” I say, “not everyone.”

Noah doesn’t say anything, just tosses another rock at the lake.

“Why did you ask me to come for a walk with you?” I ask. I’m not usually so blunt, especially with boys, but there’s something about this particular boy—I feel like if I’m not blunt, all I’ll get in return is that strange soft smile. Besides, there’s no reason to be nervous around him, I tell myself. He’s not Ben, just Ben’s friend.

“You looked so miserable,” he says. Which is not what I expected to hear. “Everyone else was having fun, but not you.”