The dress in the window of Shelly's Boutique was not a tasteful pink. It was an unnatural, overly shiny, shout-in-your-face pink. Barbie-aisle pink. Putrid-antidiarrhea-medicine pink. Slutty-disco-queen-on-LSD pink.
Or, as the residents of Barton, Texas (population 5,853), would probably refer to it: hawt pank.
Gabriella Rivera automatically curled her upper lip--making her tilde mouth, as her mother liked to call the expression--and muttered, "God, look at that. When did hooker fashions become formal wear?"
Mule quit slurping down his sixty-four-ounce Dr Pepper and shrugged. "What do you expect? It's prom season."
"It is not prom season," Gabby replied. "It is the middle of March. I barely survived the big Valentine's freak-out without throwing myself off a cliff. Now I have to see this crap everywhere for two months?" She gestured toward the display window.
Mule considered the dresses while continuing to sip from his near-empty soda cup, making loud squelching noises through the straw.
"Besides, prom shouldn't even be a season," Gabby went on. "Not like a holiday season or flu season. It's just a dumb party."
"So? It's not like you're going anyway," Mule pointed out. He stuck the straw back into his mouth and sucked noisily. Gabby resisted the urge to grab the monster-sized drink out of his hand and chuck it at his head. She imagined the crushed ice scattered about his brown curls, glistening like jewels, and the weak soda residue spattering his white T-shirt with the faded Captain America image on the front.
She didn't know why she was so annoyed with him today. His know-it-all tone was getting on her nerves even more than usual. Maybe it was because school had been extra-infuriating that day, with everyone shrieking about prom. Or maybe it was the fact that she had to go to her lame job at the lame movie theater in half an hour.
Or maybe it was because her dad was coming for a visit at the end of the week, just like he did every third Saturday of the month. A stale routine of dinner and some sort of god-awful bonding ritual in the form of cheap entertainment--like bowling or minigolf.
Or maybe it was because she knew her younger sister would be an off-the-charts lunatic this weekend. Daphne was usually late and unprepared. But when Dad came she'd spend hours trying on different outfits (tossing her rejects on the floor between their beds) and then sit on the porch waiting for him a half hour early--completely insensitive to their mom's feelings. It had to sting seeing your daughter make a big gushy deal over your deadbeat ex, but did Daphne care? No. Watching her squeal and bounce over his arrival, you'd think he was rescuing her from the clutches of an ogre.
Basically everything in Gabby's life sucked right now. So she really didn't want to hear Mule's actual sucking sounds.
"But don't you hate all this romantic bull?" she went on, hoping to drown out the noise with her own voice. "It's even worse than Valentine's Day. Instead of cheap, five-dollar crap everywhere, there's like chintzy, three-hundred-dollar crap everywhere."
"I don't know," Mule said, making a neutral half smile, half grimace. "It doesn't bother me too much. I figure, as long as they don't make me go, I'm okay with it."
Gabby sighed. Of course he would just accept it. Mule accepted everything stupid and horrible in life. Including his rotten nickname.
Seventeen years ago, for some strange reason, every woman who gave birth to a boy in Fayette Memorial Hospital had named her son Samuel. Four boys--all in the same grade. By the end of elementary school it was all sorted out, though. Samuel Milburn got to be Sam, since he was the biggest and coolest--and he basically claimed it first. Samuel Farnsworth, the next coolest (and most spastic), got to be Sammy. And Samuel Moore got to stay Samuel. That left a skinny, half-Jewish wiseass named Samuel Randolph with nothing but the second syllable to set him apart from the others. Thus the moniker Mule was bestowed upon him, and since none of the other Samuels had had the decency to move away, die, or get a sex change, he'd had to keep it throughout his school career.
"What's the theme again?" Mule asked.
"This year's prom theme. What is it?"
Gabby made her eyes big and dumb-looking. "A Walk in the Clouds," she said breathily.
Mule snorted. "Sounds impractical. Why not call it Bird Crap on My Tuxedo? Or Bugs in My Teeth?"
"A 747 Ruined My Hair!" Gabby mock screeched, grabbing her long, dark waves.
The two of them laughed and pantomimed some more, hooking elbows and flapping their free arms. It was supersilly and totally juvenile, but Gabby didn't care. At least she got a good laugh in before work.
Mule was always good for that--when he wasn't being annoying.
Ms. Manbeck was going to lose it.
Daphne Rivera raced down the corridor from the gymnasium, through a pair of squeaky metal doors, and up the stairs to the 200 wing. The skirt of her JV cheerleading uniform swished rhythmically about her legs and her ponytail swung in an almost complete circle.
She was dead. Ms. Manbeck would surely kill her in some slow, torturous way. This would be Daphne's third tardy this grading period, and her teacher was going to shriek nonstop. She'd probably do that weird twitchy thing, the one that made it look as if her face were being sucked backward into her left eye socket. She might even call Daphne's mom.
That was all Daphne needed. Her mom had been so stressed lately about the bills and her job. If she got a screechy phone call from Ms. Manbeck, she'd start handing out punishments as if they were Halloween candy--a you-should-know-better-young-lady lecture . . . grounding . . . cell phone confiscation . . . and . . . Oh, god! She might change her mind about letting Daphne go to prom this year! From the Hardcover edition.