After all the girls had put their names in, Mr. DePaul walked around the room with the hat to let the guys draw their partners. When he came to Sanchez, the star wide receiver glanced at me and made the sign of the cross before pulling out a piece of paper. His body sagged in relief when he read the name on it.
I sighed in relief, too. The last thing I wanted was to be paired up with that bonehead.
“Now that everyone has been paired off, let’s get to work on the genetics.” He gave the hat back to Sanchez and started placing a handful of Popsicle sticks in front of each girl.
The guys milled around, each one finding his “mate.” As I waited to see who I was stuck with, I drummed my fingers on my table. I reminded myself it was just a school project and would be over in a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like I’d be stuck with this person for the rest of the semester.
As luck would have it, I ended up with Brett Pederson standing in front of me.
“You’re not going to rip me a new one if I venture into your territory?” he asked, not waiting for me to answer before plopping down in the empty chair to my right.
My normal response would’ve been to tell him to piss off, but for some strange reason, my throat constricted. He smelled good. I mean really good, like he’d soaked in some sort of pheromone bath. My stomach started fluttering. I felt like one of those brainless twits in a cologne commercial who was drawn to the guy simply because of his scent.
Stupid teenage hormones.
I coughed to clear both my mind and my throat. “Why bother asking if you’re going to do what you want?”
He shrugged and took the Popsicle sticks from Mr. DePaul. “I can’t work with you from across the room.”
“Ah, so you’re the fortunate jock who drew my name from the hat?” Great. That meant I was going to end up doing everything, just as I’d suspected.
“You don’t have to be so sarcastic.” He divided the sticks up between us. “I want an A as much as you do. I’m willing to pull my weight.”
How refreshing. Complete bullshit, but refreshing.
Mr. DePaul was back at the front of the class before I could comment on Brett’s desire for fair and equal work. “If you pull up your assignments from this weekend, I asked you to answer some questions about you and your family.”
Two dozen laptops and tablets flared to life, including mine. I stared at the information I’d put in. Blue eyes. Light brown hair, curly. No mid-digital hair on my fingers. No mental disorders, unless you counted the fact that my younger sister, Taylor, was a cheerleader. No bleeding disorders. No cystic fibrosis. No cancers. All and all, pretty boring stuff.
“Now, if you click the ‘Give Me My Genes’ button, it will give you the alleles for your genetic information,” Mr. DePaul continued. “Please put this information on the sticks I’ve given you, one allele on each side. Once that’s done, you and your partner will drop your genes and create a baby using whatever alleles land face up on the floor. Yes, I know it’s low tech, but I have to make sure you’re working the entire period.”
I didn’t miss the accusing glance Mr. DePaul sent my way with the last sentence.
“I’d much rather drop my other jeans and make a baby that way,” Sanchez muttered from the table next to us, earning a smack across the back of his head from Brett.
I tried to squelch the little surge of admiration for Brett that suddenly rose inside me. Instead, I bent over my sticks, focusing on my assignment. I finished before my partner did and risked leaning in a little closer just to get a second sniff of him.
Yeah, he still smelled good.
He caught me out of the corner of his eye. “Something wrong, Lexi?”
I instantly prickled. “No one calls me that.”
“She’s my sister. Therefore, she’s exempt from my wrath.”
His eyes crinkled when he smiled. “But not me, eh?”
“Not even close.” I crossed my arms over my chest and stared at my computer screen. “I was just checking to make sure you didn’t have any worrisome alleles.”
“Nope. Both my parents are in excellent health.”
Which probably explained his outstanding genetics. I would willingly admit that Brett was pleasing in the looks department. Maybe even a little bit hot. He was six feet tall, lean and muscular with black hair, chocolaty brown eyes, and lashes my sister would pay good money for. He was tanned, too, although he appeared to have that rich coppery glow year-round. And he had to be somewhat intelligent because I’d seen him at Honor Society meetings.
But he still was a jock, and the fact he was dating Summer made me deduct thirty-plus points in my overall rating of him.
He finished labeling the last of his sticks and gathered them in his hands. “Ready?”
“I suppose, if we must.” I followed his lead and dropped my sticks on the floor.
“I’ll call out the alleles, and you enter them in the program.” He bent over, organizing the genetic traits one by one. He waited until the end before announcing proudly that the Y chromosome had reared its ugly head. He held up the Popsicle stick with a proud grin. “Congratulations! We’re having a boy!”
“Oh, joy,” I said flatly, typing in that result a bit harder than normal. “There go half of his brain cells to testosterone.”
Brett drew his dark brows together and studied me. “Do you not like guys or something?”
“Are you suggesting I don’t?”
“Well, the only guy I’ve ever seen you be nice to is Richard Wang, and let’s face it, he’s definitely not in the closet about his sexual orientation.”
My cheeks burned. “Just because one of my best friends is gay doesn’t necessarily mean I am,” I replied, hoping to God no one else was listening to this conversation.
“So you’re just an über-feminist or something, huh?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” I added the “shut the hell up” edge to my voice that usually ended any conversation, but Brett was either too oblivious to catch the hint or completely immune to my Queen B powers.
“Well, you’ve been known to deliver a good kick to the balls with just a look.”
“Would you rather I deliver the real thing?”
“Please don’t—I don’t need half the team on the injured roster this Friday.”
I rolled my eyes and focused on saving our information into a file to email to Mr. DePaul so we’d get credit for this part of the project. Words were my weapons, not physical violence. “Is there a point to this conversation?”
“I was just curious,” he said with a shrug. “Besides, I needed to know if I should be wearing my cup for the next two weeks.”
My lips twitched, much to my dismay. I should be pissed off that he was poking fun at me. I should be reinforcing my reputation as the Queen B of the school. But something about Brett intrigued me. He was the first person in a long time who actually seemed impervious to my barbs.
Time to rectify that. “I doubt you have much to protect.”
“Ow, that was a zinger,” he said with a mocking wince. “I expected better from you, Lexi.”
I balled my hands into fists, fighting the uncharacteristic yearning to whack him. My usual go-to weapons wouldn’t work because Brett transferred to Eastline sophomore year. I had nothing to throw at him, no embarrassing leverage. It didn’t help that he was the school’s golden boy. Nothing stuck to him. If there were any skeletons in his closet, they were well hidden. As far as I knew, he was perfect.
Well, except for the Summer thing.
“I don’t want to waste my energy on you,” I finally said, realizing how lame it sounded as soon as the words left my mouth.
He had the gall to grin as he leaned over close enough to where I could feel his warm breath on my cheek. “Your panties are in a wad because I’m not scared of you.”
My pulse jumped to a sprint, and my palms started to sweat. “You should be,” I replied, my voice not nearly as threatening as I wanted it to be.
Brett laughed as the bell rang, snapping his laptop closed and joining his friends.
I sat there, willing my body to stop shaking. I had to pull myself together, to put my game face on before wading into the masses. I was about to throw my things into my bag when I noticed a folded slip of paper from his backpack had fluttered to the ground. I picked up the slip and read the name of another girl in the class.
Brett hadn’t drawn my name from the hat.
Two questions immediately popped into my head. One: which guy had drawn my name in the first place and was too chicken-shit to work with me?
And two: why had Brett switched places with him?