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Authors: Lili Wilkinson

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BOOK: Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend
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The New Guy's uniform fits. It's clean and freshly ironed. His top shirt button is done up, with the tie knotted neatly over it (a half-Windsor, by the look of it). He actually has his shirt
tucked in
. He's lucky we aren't in Year 7 anymore, or he would probably be beaten up for coming to school dressed like that. Now we're All Grown Up and in Year 10, the other boys will just ignore him, make crude jokes about his mother and possibly pay him to do their homework.

‘George Papadopoulos?' screeches Ms Church.

The New Boy nods. Ms Church makes a note on the roll.

‘Take a seat,' she says. ‘And please try to be on time in the future.'

I have English, Twentieth-Century History and Maths before recess. In each class, the teacher hands out the course outline, tells us that they won't go over it in detail because we can hopefully all read by now, and then stands up the front of the class and reads the entire thing out, word for word. The only variation is in History, where Mr Loriot speaks to a PowerPoint presentation.

I count three spelling mistakes in the English outline (
consistant
,
recieve
and
reccommend
), and a typo (
assingment
) and a misplaced apostrophe (
integer's
) in Maths. History has no mistakes that I notice, but Mr Loriot loses points anyway for having one of those PowerPoint presentations where every single font/colour/transition/background/noise is used to create optimum irritation and confusion.

I'm so completely brain dead after two and a half hours of ‘assessment criteria' and ‘submission requirements' that when the bell goes, I zombie-walk out of class to my locker without even thinking about what is awaiting me.

Ambush.

Tahni is practically drooling with anticipation. I don't even have time to open my locker and put away my new grammatically inaccurate course outlines before she launches the first strike.

‘When is he moving here? What colour are his eyes? Did you pash on the first date? If there was a movie about you guys, who would play him?'

I can't tell if she's genuinely interested, or if she's trying to catch me out.

I try to kick-start my brain back into action. ‘Um. I don't know. Blue. No, but we held hands. Um, an English Zac Efron?'

Tahni drags me to the canteen. I am so flustered that I order a vanilla slice instead of hedgehog. I am frog marched off to a shady corner, where I am further interrogated.

During recess, I tell her that my boyfriend lives in Surrey (I don't even know where that is, but it sounds sufficiently hedges-and-high-tea), is an only child like me and loves watching re-runs of M*A*S*H. He listens to This Broken Tree, but he isn't emo and he's also into The Beatles. He is right-handed. He is a Libran. He reads the classics (Dickens, not the Brontës), biographies (the Dalai Lama and Barack Obama), literary fiction (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and graphic novels, but not comic books. He plays lacrosse.

When the bell rings for the end of recess, I gratefully drag my exhausted brain back to class, where I sit through another two mind-numbing periods of course outlines (Psychology:
cognative
. Politics:
election's
,
govermnent
,
standerd
,
the
five living prime minister's
and
upholding ‘democracy' in Australia
). I have no classes with Tahni – she's doing vegie-maths and as many IT subjects as she can. It turns out that she's good at computery things other than airbrushing. She says she wants to do Digital Design and Communication at uni when we finish. I reckon that first she needs to learn that there are two ‘m's in
Communication
, but that might just be because I'm jealous. I have no idea what I want to do after school. Can you do a Bachelor of Spelling? Or a Diploma of How to Look After Your Eleven Cats in a Caravan?

The new guy – George Papadopoulos – is in my Politics class. He is also in my English class. I sit behind him in Politics (he obviously didn't get the memo about avoiding the first three rows in Ms Green's classes, not without an umbrella, anyway), where he clearly doesn't engage with the wonders of the course outline any more than I do.

Ms Green is wearing what seems to be a peach-coloured dressing-gown. I can see dark leg-hairs squished between her skin and her beige pantyhose. She's surrounded by a cloud of hairspray that makes me wonder if she is a primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Her blue eye shadow goes right up to her eyebrows, and then keeps going. As she lisps her way through the course outline, I consider the possibility that she might actually be a man.

New Guy stares dreamily off into space and doodles in the margins of the course outline. I snoop over his shoulder and see biro sketches of dragons, and knights with swords. What is this guy,
nine
? He is so going to get broken at this school. There's a strange, biscuity smell coming from him, which is not at all what I imagine boys should smell like.

As I'm watching, a little glistening glob of Ms Green's spit lands on his page, near the dragon. The New Guy pauses for a moment, and then draws around it, turning it into a crystal ball thingy being held by a wizard wearing a pointy hat. Oh. Dear.

I think he can feel me watching, because he turns and stares at me. His face isn't too bad – a little pudgy perhaps, with a blemish or two, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a skin peel and a few weeks of no carbs after lunch. He has nice eyes.

He raises his eyebrows at me, and I blush and look away. Nice eyes notwithstanding, he's still obviously a Complete and Total Social Incompetent. I feel sorry for him, but not enough to actually, you know,
talk
to him or anything.

Not that my social status is so high or secure that me talking to the New Guy would automatically confer upon him some degree of coolness. I have, after many years of diligent eyebrow-waxing and lip-glossing, clawed my way out of the rotting mire of uncoolness, and am now desperately clinging to my own little rung of the social ladder. It's not a cool rung, but it's a normal rung, and that's good enough for me.

Tahni's way further up the ladder than me. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but at some point between Grade 6 and Year 9, she became cool. Her body shape-shifted to create pleasing curves, and her uniform suddenly clung and flared in all the right places as though it was personally tailored to make her look beautiful.

My
uniform hangs off me like a shroud. I blame my mother. When we went to the uniform shop in Year 7, Mum decided that in order to save money and natural resources and to lessen the burden on the starving kids in China working in sweatshops, she would buy me the largest size there was, so I could ‘grow into it'. I pointed out that the chances of me
tripling my body size
in six years was unlikely, and that when I did need a bigger uniform, it would be supplying more work to the starving sweatshop kids, but she just called me a capitalist and bought it anyway.

Four years on, the dress is (unsurprisingly) still enormous. Except now it has the added bonus of being rather threadbare from constant wearing and washing, and has a blue biro stain on the side from when my pen leaked in a Year 9 Geography test.

Lunch is much like recess, only worse. I waste time in the queue at the canteen (the boy in front of me orders a ‘headjob' instead of a hedgehog and hilarity ensues), but before long I am once again subject to a long and painful interrogation by my best friend. I mumble and stutter through some outrageous lies about dates and kisses and gifts (he bought me a hardcover early edition of
The Secret
Garden
– my favourite book). Tahni is like a vulture. It's quite scary.

‘It's such a relief you finally have a boyfriend,' says Tahni. ‘I worried about you.'

‘Thanks,' I say. ‘It's so nice to know you care.'

‘Of course I care!' says Tahni, completely oblivious to my sarcasm. ‘I was starting to think you might be–' she looks away and muffles a weird giggle.

‘I might be what?' I say. ‘Destined to end up a lonely old lady with eleven cats?'

‘Never mind,' says Tahni.

I frown. ‘No, what?' I don't like the idea that she thinks things about me without telling.
Oh poor Midge
, she probably thinks,
she's so boring and ugly that she'll never get a boyfriend. Not like
me
(hair toss, re-apply lip gloss, hair toss).

‘I thought–' says Tahni, then laughs again and examines her bare knees.

‘You thought . . .'

‘I thought you were a . . .' Tahni lowers her voice. ‘A
thespian
.'

I raise my eyebrows. ‘You thought I was an
actor
? After my shameful performance in the school production of
Ain't Misbehavin'
last year?'

‘Not an actor,' says Tahni. ‘I thought you might, you know.
Like girls
.'

I can't help laughing. ‘You mean a
lesbian
, not a
thespian
.'

‘Isn't it the same thing?' says Tahni.

I think I just figured out where all those curves came from. They migrated from her brain. And hang on a minute; she thought I was a
lesbian
? Just because I don't have a boyfriend? Not that there's anything
wrong
with being a lesbian. I'm just not one. Oh God, what if I am? What if that's why I've never had a boyfriend? I think about it for a minute. No. I don't think I am. I've listened to Dad's k.d. lang albums, and I feel nothing. And I like boys. The ones on television. I just haven't met any actual real boys that I like. Except for my imaginary boyfriend, of course.

‘No,' I say. ‘Not a lesbian. Or a thespian, for that matter. I just have very high standards.'

Tahni nods, understanding, even though she has lower standards than a burger joint's recruitment process. ‘So when did you last hear from him?' she asks.

‘He emailed me last night,' I say.

‘Really?' says Tahni. ‘And?'

‘It's – ah . . . It's private,' I say. Brilliant answer. Brilliant. I am a genius. Of course it's private.

‘Fail,' says Tahni. ‘There's no such thing as privacy between friends. Remember when I first got my period and I made you check in case it was something else?'

I screw up my nose. ‘How could I forget?'

‘You need to tell me,' Tahni says. ‘I can decipher the boy code.'

There's a
boy code
? Does all that monosyllabic grunting actually
mean
something? Is there a decoder ring for the ‘your mum' jokes?

‘Oh,' I say. ‘I couldn't possibly do it justice. He has such a lovely turn of phrase, and I'm sure I would spoil it if I tried to remember.'

She nods.

Success!

‘Well,' says Tahni. ‘Print it. Bring it to school tomorrow.'

‘Right,' I say. My voice sounds a bit squeaky.

‘And Midge?'

I think I am going to be sick, but I smile at her.

‘What's his name?'

Oh, crap.

3
scheme

–noun; a plan, design, or program of action to be followed; project.

– A Wordsmith's Dictionary of Hard-to-spell Words

B. His name needs to start with a B. B is for Beautiful and Brave and Bold and Bright.

Bert
means ‘bright and glorious', but it makes me think of
Sesame Street
, so that's no good.
Byron
is poetic but girly.
Brian
is much more masculine and means strong, but I have a weird cousin called Brian.

Benjamin
means ‘fortunate' or ‘lucky'. And I will be both lucky and fortunate if I can get myself out of this stupid situation without looking like an idiot, so Benjamin it is.

Dearest, loveliest Imogen,

I can't believe it's only been two weeks since I saw you last. It feels like
an age. I can't stop thinking about you. The photo I have, of us by the river,
is in danger of crumbling to dust; I am touching it so often. I wish it was
you that I was touching . . .

Oh, dear. This isn't going well. Ben sounds like some kind of Mr Darcy-meets-pervert trench coat-wearing freak.

Dear Imogen,

I was reading Proust the other day, and I thought of you.

Who is Proust, anyway? I google. Ooh, Marcel Proust wrote a book called
Remembrance of Things Past
. So Ben could be Remembering the Things that Passed when we spent time together. Very appropriate. And it's French. I'm sure Ben read it in the original French. Maybe in France, where his family has a little chateau that they visit in summer. I can just imagine him, sitting on an old wooden bench in a garden surrounded by green and pink and yellow flowers, and the light is all warm and lovely like a Van Gogh painting before he cut his ear off.

For about five seconds I consider learning French so I can go and hang out with Ben in the chateau and we could eat baguettes and read Proust to each other. But judging from his Wikipedia page, Proust's books are completely unintelligible even when they're in English, so I think I'll pass.

BOOK: Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend
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