Chapter 1 It started last fall, at the assembly to kick off the annual magazine drive. The whole school was packed in the auditorium to listen to this jolly old guy who looked like Santa Claus without the beard and red suit try to get us psyched up to sell enough magazines to keep the recyclers in business for another year. He said we should show our school spirit and sell a ton of subscriptions so each class would have a pile of money to do whatever it wanted, the yearbook wouldn't go in the red again, etc., etc. Big deal. I was a junior; I'd heard it all before. I'd do my part by selling half a dozen subscriptions to my parents and a few relatives, maybe nice old Mrs. Maruszak down the street. Right now, though, I was more interested in watching Billy Hagan two rows in front of me as he stretched, then slipped his arm around Sarah Malinowski as casually as if he was at the movies. It was the first time in my life I regretted having 20-15 eyesight. The worst part was that she not only let him, but even snuggled a little closer. Sarah, the girl I dated most of the summer, who had sat with me like that at plenty of movies until she told me out of the blue she wanted to see other people. That was a couple of weeks ago, the Friday before Labor Day. We were parked down at the beach, not even making out or anything, just listening to the night. It was dead low tide, no wind at all, and the air smelled rank. "It's not you, Robby," she said. "It's me." When somebody says that, you know it's you. It was impossible not to watch. When I actually have a pretty girl first like me then dump me, and I can see no reason why she did either one, it's natural for me to be interested when she's cuddling up to some jerk I can't stand, the slimiest slimeball in the whole school. My best friend Jim Dolan leaned over to me and whispered, "Guess he's got something you don't have." That's the thing about a guy's best friend--he doesn't cut you any slack.