Weevil stood outside Neptune High, staring at the doors, and sighed.
It had all started as a bet—a reckless gamble, one that Weevil only took because he'd had one too many Modelos. But in his drunken state, he decided to go all in on a pair of fours.
"Full house, sucka!" crowed Felix, who was much more sober. He plunked his cards on the table so the rest of the guys could see the two jacks and three sixes. Holding out his palm, Felix continued the trash-talking. "Come on, Weevil baby, gimme the cash."
"Aw, dog, you know I don't have that kinda money," Weevil slurred. "Fuck."
"You made the bet!"
"I know, but I thought I was gonna win."
"On two fours? Fool," Felix spat. "Well, you know what that means. You gotta take a dare."
"Aight. What do I hafta do?" He'd been through this before—the dares usually involved shoplifting something for the winner or dangerous motorcycle stunts, both of which usually earned him even more respect from the other PCHers.
Felix looked up to the sky. "Hold on, I need to confer with my colleagues," he said, putting on a posh accent. He turned to Hector and Thumper and they spoke in mumbled Spanish. Weevil's Spanish wasn't as good as theirs and Felix knew it, so it annoyed Weevil when he did that. His friends turned to face him.
"You gotta kiss an '09er girl," Felix announced, clearly pleased with himself for coming up with that one.
Weevil was incredulous. "What? Blech." Then he thought for a moment. "OK, I hear that Pam chick is kinda slutty, so I can probably get somewhere with her…"
"Yo, not just any '09er," Felix said, a smirk crawling across his face. "We get to pick."
"Oh man—if you tell me I gotta go after Madison Sinclair, I'm just gonna get a second job to pay you the money."
The other boys burst out laughing. "We wouldn't do that to you, man, but I gotta warn you—this one ain't gonna be easy."
"All right, give it to me."
Hector could barely contain his amusement. "Meg Manning," he blurted out.
Weevil's eyes went wide. "The Virgin Queen? Are you fucking kidding me? And anyway, she's got a boyfriend or somethin'. That ain't fair."
"Nah, she dumped that fool after that purity test thing. Everyone knows that," Felix said. "That's the deal—besos con Señorita Manning or you gotta come up with 250 bucks."
Drunk as he was, Weevil was feeling brave, so he agreed. "I'll do it, but you gotta give me some time. I can't just walk up and plant one on 'er or I'll get arrested. I gotta take it slower than that."
Felix shrugged. "You take all the time you need to work those smooth Navarro moves. I'm just gonna enjoy the show."
Thumper, Hector, and Felix began dealing the cards to start another hand as Weevil sat out, not willing to let his beer-emboldened mind make the same mistake twice. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes to sleep it off, meanwhile thinking about how he could come up with a quick $250 if this didn't work.
The following Monday, Weevil saw Meg switching out textbooks at her locker. He'd decided on a strategy the night before, and as part of that, he'd worn a long-sleeved shirt to try and cover up some of his tattoos so he wouldn't intimidate her. He hadn't bargained on the fact that she wouldn't be intimidated by him either way.
"Meg, right?" he said as he approached.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Yes?"
He shoved his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet. "I don't know if you know me—I'm Eli."
A tiny smile tugged up the corner of her mouth. "I know who you are. The school's not that big. What's going on, Eli?" She tossed one last notebook into the locker and slammed the metal door.
Something about this girl's directness was unsettling. Most Neptune High girls were either charmed or frightened by him, but Meg Manning was obviously neither.
"Um, yeah, I'm sorta failing English, and I was hoping you might be able to help me."
"Oh? Why is that?"
Weevil shrugged and lowered his eyes, then peered up at her through his lashes. The guys always teased him about his long, full eyelashes, but girls loved them. "Well, everyone knows you're one of the smartest people in our class, so I figured I might as well learn from the best."
"Sure, I can help you," Meg said affably. "But I'll do it because you need help, not because you flattered me, or because of that flirty eyelash thing." She waggled a finger in the direction of his eyes.
Weevil blushed at being called out like that, and was then further embarrassed to realize he was blushing. He silently thanked God that none of his guys were around to witness his humiliation. This girl was throwing him off his game.
"Um, OK, thanks. Should we…I mean…when do you want to meet up?" Weevil spluttered.
"I have study hall for seventh period. We can meet in the library if that works for you."
"OK, yeah, I'm free then too," Weevil said, clearing his throat and trying to regain his cool.
"Good, I'll see you then," Meg agreed. "Wait—what book are you working on your class?"
Weevil had to think for a second. "Um, Pride and Prejudice?"
"Yay!" Meg squeed. "I love that one! This is going to be fun! See you later, Eli."
As he shuffled off to the cafeteria, Weevil shook his head and cursed Felix under his breath. This was going to be harder than he thought.
"Come on, she lost me at the first line! 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife'?" Weevil scoffed. "I don't want to read about how to chase down a rich dude. It's like one of those bad romantic comedies my aunts like."
"The book isn't about how to chase down a rich dude," Meg argued. "Jane Austen is being sarcastic."
Weevil furrowed his brow, unconvinced.
"See, when she just states it like it's a fact, she's really saying that that's what most people in this world think, even if it's not really the case. It's like if I said, 'Everyone knows all the guys from the PCH are criminals,'" Meg said with a twinkle in her eye. "Just because a lot of people think that, it doesn't make it true."
He folded his arms and smirked. "How do you know it's not?"
"Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But I'm not going to judge someone just because everyone else says I should."
"And the cheerleaders still let you hang out with them?"
"See, now you're doing it," Meg scolded.
He smiled and crossed his arms. "Good point. But OK, so Jane Austen is being sarcastic—but the main character still ends up snagging a rich dude."
Meg chuckled. "True, but she didn't like him just because he was rich. And they both had to get past all the rumors and preconceived notions about each other, even though they thought they were above all that. They almost didn't get together because they got all caught up in that, just like everyone else."
"So all the gossipy bullshit that's always going on here ain't nothin' new?"
"I guess not," Meg replied with a big grin. Then she sat up suddenly. "Hey! That would be a really good topic for your paper!"
"Um…" Weevil had gotten distracted by her smile but didn't want her to think he hadn't been paying attention. "Oh—the gossip thing?"
"Yeah!" she yelped excitedly. "You can compare the effects of gossip on the characters in Pride and Prejudice to the high school rumor mill here. Oo, I wish I'd thought of that when my class did this book."
"You really get psyched about this school stuff, huh?" Weevil asked.
"Sometimes," she said, shrugging. "I guess that makes me a big nerd."
"Nah, it's cute," Weevil replied truthfully.
"It's OK, I know what the rumor mill says about me. The Virgin Queen and all that."
Weevil started to shake his head to deny it, but she stopped him.
"Really, I don't care. I know who my friends are. And I'm starting to think Cole is the one who started that nickname, which means that I made a smart decision not putting out for him."
Weevil laughed. "I think that was a smart decision no matter what he said. That dork was not worth your time."
That earned him another big smile from Meg.
"Eighth period is starting soon and I have chemistry," she said. "How about you get started on the paper, then we can meet up in a few days and I'll look at it before you turn it in?"
Weevil groaned at the idea of writing the paper, but realized he was happy about an excuse to meet up with her again. "Yeah, that sounds good, thanks."
Meg scooped up her things. "OK, see you later, Eli!"
As he rolled up the paperback Jane Austen book and shoved it in his jacket pocket, Weevil wondered how settling a bet with Felix turned into more homework for him.
Weevil was watching soccer on cable at Felix's house when he brought up their bet. It seemed like a good time, since they were away from the rest of their gang.
"Hey man, I need you to let me outta this bet," Weevil said, as casually as he could.
Felix barely turned his head away from the game. "Aw, is the Virgin Queen too much for you to handle, homes?"
"Nah, it ain't that. She's just so…" He paused, trying to come up with the right word. "Nice."
"Yeah—she's already met with me twice to help me with an English paper, for no reason other than that she's a good person. She doesn't expect anything back. I'd have to be a major asshole to jerk Meg Manning around."
Felix chuckled. "She's nice, and she makes you do your homework. Sounds like tons of fun—I'm almost sorry I set you up."
"It's aight—she's not, like, boring nice. She's just not full of crap like most of the people at that school. She tells you what she really thinks, but she doesn't say it in a mean way. And she doesn't take no one else's bullshit either. She's actually way cooler than I thought she'd be, even if she does get geeked out about English class."
Felix slid his feet off the coffee table with a thunk, and sat up to look at his friend. "You like her."
Weevil scoffed. "What're you…"
"Don't even, dog, I know you," Felix teased. "You like Meg Manning."
"I dunno," Weevil conceded. "I mean, she's definitely hot… I mean, that little cheerleader uniform?" Weevil exhaled loudly and Felix nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, but all that stuff you just said—I think it's more than the long legs and cute ass," Felix said. "What does she think about you?"
Weevil shrugged. "She's helping me pass English."
"So she can do miracles too?"
Weevil threw an empty beer can at Felix's head, and he batted it away with a laugh.
"Look, homes, if you got a thing for Meg, I'll have your back if you want to go for it."
"Ah, I dunno, it'd be messed up…with her friends, and my friends…"
"Since when do you give a fuck what other people think?"
"I don't!" Weevil replied defensively. "But, you know…"
"Mira," Felix looked around nervously even though no one else was home. "If you like a girl and she likes you, you should be together. It shouldn't matter if other people don't think you should. Fuck 'em. What matters is how you feel about each other."
Weevil sniffed and wiped an imaginary tear from his cheek. "That's fuckin' beautiful, man. Did you hear that on Oprah?"
"Fuck you, pendejo." Felix chucked the empty beer can back at Weevil, who watched it sail past him. "You know I'm right."
"Yeah, maybe," Weevil sighed, standing up. "I gotta go. I hafta finish my English paper so I can turn it in tomorrow."
Felix cackled. "She already got you whipped."
"Shut it. I'll catch you later." The boys bumped fists and Weevil headed for the door.
"Yo, wait!" Felix called after him. "Take those beer cans with you. If my parents find 'em, I'm a dead man."
As he came out of English class, paper in hand, Weevil saw Meg a few doors down the hall and he jogged to catch up with her. He held the paper in front of her face.
She gasped when she saw the grade on the top. "B-minus? That's crap." Weevil was crestfallen until she continued. "That was at least a B paper. Maybe even a B-plus."
Her anger in defense of him was cute. "Yeah well, it's still the best grade I've gotten in anything but shop or phys ed. So, thanks."
Meg flashed him that big smile. "My pleasure, Eli. I'm glad I helped."
Their classmates passing by in the hall were eyeing them suspiciously, no doubt wondering what Meg Manning and Weevil Navarro could possibly have to say to each other.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Weevil asked. "You know, without an audience?"
Weevil opened the door to an empty classroom and let her walk in first, closing the door behind them.
"Um, so I'm kinda failing geometry too—"
"And you want me to work my magic again?" Meg said with a tilt of her head.
He laughed. "Yeah, but I don't want to, like, take advantage of you, so I had an idea. I heard you coming into the parking lot the other day—you need new brakes, girl. Yours are gettin' loud."
She smiled sheepishly. "I know. I had them replaced just a few months ago, but then they started making that noise again and my parents think that I did something to mess them up, so they say I have to pay to fix them this time."
"I can see why they'd think that—I bet you're insane behind the wheel."
She snapped her fingers. "Shucks, you got me."
"So here's the deal—if you can help me out with geometry, I'll get you set up with brakes that will last you more than one semester."
Her eyes lit up. "Really? That would be great!"
"Yeah, some day after school we can go to my uncle's garage, where I work. Maybe tomorrow?"
"Yay! Thank you." She gave him a quick, spontaneous hug. "I'll see you tomorrow. Bye, Eli!"
Weevil just stood quietly and watched her bound happily out of the room.
Rolling out from under Meg's Mercedes, Weevil stopped just short of her sneakers and pulled himself up to a sitting position.
"Looks like you got the wrong brakes, and you got old brakes," he said, wiping his hands on a rag. "The front brakes are for the right model, but they're used—they probably only had a couple thousand miles left on 'em when they were put in. Or maybe the other guy didn't even replace those. But the rear brakes are just wrong—they gave you ones for a 280, but this is a 450 SL."
"There's a difference?"
"Yeah, brakes for the 450 and up are made with a Kevlar and ceramic compound instead of just ceramic, and they're fitted to the construction of those models. They also have a coating on them that's more heat-resistant and—what?" He stopped when he saw her amused smirk.
"You can remember all of this but you can't memorize a few geometry formulas?"
"This stuff makes more sense, you know? It's actually about something, not just numbers," he said, rising to his feet.
Meg leaned against her car and crossed her ankles. "Geometry is supposed to be about something too. Mr. Swanson is just a sucky teacher."
Remembering his conversation with Felix, Weevil decided to say what he was thinking at the moment. "Then it's a good thing for me that the prettiest girl in our class is also the smartest."
Meg blushed and bit her lip.
"Hey, um, I need to tell you something," Weevil said, hoping he wouldn't regret it later.
"When I first came to ask you for help…it was on a dare."
Meg raised an eyebrow. "A dare?"
"Yeah," Weevil said. "I lost a bet to Felix and I didn't have the money, so for a dare he said I had to try and kiss you."
Her expression began to harden so Weevil began talking more quickly. "But listen, listen: That's why I first talked to you, but after I got to know you, I made Felix let me out of the bet."
"Because… I just didn't want to mess with you like that. It didn't seem right, since you were being so nice and helping me out."
To his surprise, Meg looked disappointed. "So you decided you didn't want to kiss me."
"Yeah. I mean, no. Aw, damn, there's no good way to answer this question." Weevil kicked the trolley in frustration.
"Sure there is," Meg said, facing him with her arms crossed defiantly and her eyes flashing. "Do you want to kiss me or not, Eli?"
He swallowed hard. "Yeah…" he said softly.
Without another word, she leaned toward him, tilting her face up. Weevil pressed his lips gently against hers. When he felt Meg's fingers against his chest, he wished he could wrap his arms around her, but remembered that his hands were covered in grease.
Meg pulled back and smiled sweetly. "Lizzie's going to be here any minute to pick me up," she said with regret in her voice. "I should, um, I should head out front to wait for her."
"OK," Weevil said, unable to contain the grin he felt creeping across his face. "I'll bring your car to school tomorrow."
She got her bag out of the car and headed out toward the street, stopping to wave cutely before she left. Weevil waved back.
"What the hell was that?" said Angel, coming up behind Weevil.
"Hey, Tio, that's just a girl from school," Weevil explained, trying not to sound flustered. "I'm fixing her brakes and she's helping me pass geometry."
"Yeah, that looked like some important schoolwork you were doing there."
Weevil didn't answer, hoping his uncle would drop the subject and go back to work.
"Just watch yourself, boy," Angel added.
"Watch myself? I think I can handle her," Weevil scoffed.
"Girls like that can be more dangerous that you think, Eli," Angel said. "These girls from the '09—sometimes they like to come on down to our side of the tracks. Get a little excitement by slumming it with a brown-skinned bad boy."
Weevil rolled his eyes. "Nah, she ain't like that."
"They're all like that, mijo. What—do you think she's gonna bring you a pool party with her cheerleader and football player friends? She gonna invite you over to meet Mom and Dad?"
"Have your fun, mijo, but just be careful about gettin' too involved. I don't want you gettin' hurt." Angel clapped him on the shoulder and went back to the SUV he was working on.
The next morning, Weevil pulled Meg's Mercedes into a parking space that he hoped was out of the way, but as soon as he took the keys out of the ignition, Hector and Thumper spotted him and started walking toward him.
"Hey, where'd you get this ride?" called Hector. "Niiiice…"
With impossibly bad timing, Meg approached at the same time the boys did. "Hi Eli!" she said sunnily.
Before she could get too close, Weevil held her keys out to her. "Here you go. Good as new."
"Thanks!" She took the keys and tucked them into her expensive-looking purse. "So when should we meet up for our next study session?"
"Yeah, Eli, when are we studying together?" Thumper mocked.
"I dunno." Weevil barely looked at her. "Maybe later. We'll see. I gotta go."
As he walked away with his friends, Weevil joked and laughed to cover up the fact that his stomach was in knots.
Weevil decided to leave early that day—seeing Meg was the only reason he'd shown up for classes the last few weeks, so he didn't see the point in sticking around. He slogged down the empty hallway, lost in thought, when he was shoved into an unused classroom. He spun around, fist raised against his attacker, when he saw a tiny blonde glaring at him.
"What the fuck are you doing, Weevil?" Veronica demanded.
"You just fucking tackled me like a Chargers linebacker and you're yelling at me? What the hell, V?"
"Why are you jerking Meg Manning around?"
Weevil faked confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, don't even. Everyone knows you two have been hanging around each other, and then this morning Meg told me about you two making kissy-face yesterday, and then this morning you totally blew her off!"
"Look, V, it's none of your business."
"It is my business, Weevil," Veronica said, pointing her finger in his face. "I have very few friends left at this school, and Meg is one of them. You know what happens to people who jerk my friends around. Are you seriously going to risk my wrath? Speak."
Feeling a little more fearful of Veronica than he was willing to admit, Weevil spoke. "She was helping me out with some school stuff, and we were hanging out a little. That's all."
"And the kissing?" Veronica asked, tapping her boot impatiently.
"It just happened, all right?" Weevil exclaimed. "But she and I can't work. And I'm not going to be some bad boy she can use to rebel against her parents."
Veronica was incredulous. "Do you think you're living in a John Hughes movie? Because she's not Molly Ringwald, and you are no Judd Nelson, my friend."
"Just leave it alone, V."
"No. Meg likes you, Weevil, God only knows why. And she isn't using you—to rebel or for anything else. It's not her style."
"How do you know that?"
"She's too freaking nice!" Veronica yelled, her ponytail bobbing angrily. "She's like a Disney princess come to life, but with a personality. Seriously, Weevil, if you know her at all, you know she's not capable of the kind of bitchiness you're talking about."
Weevil dug the toe of his shoe into a crack in the tiled floor. "Yeah, I guess not."
"And if this is about the approval of those stooges that you hang around with, then you are not the person I thought you were. The Weevil I know has bigger balls than that."
He gave her a lecherous smirk. "Nice to know you're so interested in the size of my—"
"Don't change the subject, Navarro!" Veronica said sternly. "Do you actually like Meg, or are you just screwing around with her head?"
Weevil's arms dropped limply to his sides. He knew when he'd been beaten. "I like her, all right?"
"Then are you going to quit being a jackass and make it up to my friend, or do I have to take out my ample frustrations on your motorcycle?"
"I'll make it up to her," Weevil said. "Do not touch the bike."
"Then don't let me down." Veronica smiled, somehow sweet and menacing at the same time. "I'm so glad we had this little chat."
As he listened to Veronica's feet stomping down the hall, Weevil shook his head in amazement at how cute blondes had suddenly become so much trouble.
When Meg came out of the Balboa County Library that evening, Weevil was waiting outside, leaning against his bike. She paused for a moment upon seeing him, then turned to walk back into the building.
"My sister's picking me up soon," she said coldly. "I'll wait for her inside."
"She's not coming," Weevil said. "She's the one who told me you were here. I said she could stay at her boyfriend's house a little longer if she let me pick you up."
Meg rolled her eyes and sighed.
"And you can't call your parents or they'll know Lizzie didn't stay at the library with you, so I'm your only option." Weevil stood up straight, proud of himself for this scheme.
"What do you want?"
He walked up the steps to her. "I want to say I'm sorry. I'm an idiot."
Her face softened. "Yes, you are."
"I listened to the wrong people and I chickened out. And I want to make it up to you."
"How do you think you're going to do that?"
He took her hand and pulled her gently toward him, slipping her bag off her shoulder and resting it on the ground next to his bike. His arms, which had been aching to hold her for weeks, slipped comfortably around her body as it melted against his. Their lips met, and Weevil couldn't remember why he cared what anyone else thought. All that mattered was her hands on his neck and her soft mouth on his own.
Weevil was holding back as much as he could, but the kiss began to heat up quickly, with Meg sliding her hands under the hem of his t-shirt and grazing the warm skin on his back. He held her even more tightly against his body. To his disappointment, she pulled away when they both felt her phone vibrate.
"It's Lizzie," Meg said breathily. "We have to go home."
He took a strand of her hair and let it run through his fingers. "I'll still see you tomorrow."
"You know our friends aren't going to approve," Meg noted. "Are you sure you can handle that?"
Weevil grinned at her. "For you, I can handle anything."
She smiled back and gave him a quick kiss. "Even a drive up to the 90909?"
"It's actually on my way—I'm going to a poker game at Echolls' house," he said, putting his helmet over her head.
"You're playing poker with Logan Echolls," Megan said disbelievingly.
"Well, the last game I played turned out pretty well for me," he said, kissing her once more through the opening in the helmet. "I'm feelin' lucky."
And that's how the leader of the PCHers gang ended up standing outside the front doors of the school with the Virgin Queen of the '09ers, who was holding out her hand to him.
"Ready?" she asked with a sidelong glance.
He looked at her sly smile and realized that she was amused at his nervousness. Eli nodded slightly and laughed.
"Ready," he replied, clapping his hand into hers. The second bell rang, and they stepped forward together to go through the doors.
Boy, were people going to talk.