These were the first words in Zachary’s head as he tore through the house and bolted to his room: “All I wanted was to be liked! I hate school! My life is over!”

He snatched LouAnne’s picture off his wall and tore it into pieces. Then, he removed the framed picture of himself and LouAnne from his dresser, took a deep breath, and smashed it against his bedpost. The glass had shattered, but Zach proceeded to stab his bed with what remained of the picture frame.

Rusty burst into Zach’s room and grabbed his fists, “Zach, get a grip on yourself!”

Zach was startled by Rusty’s actions, but then he let out a sigh of relief.

In Pinesville, Iowa, Monday morning in the middle of September had a certain chill to it, but not from the fall season. Zach wasn’t especially fond of eighth grade, but he’d been dreading this day. The reason? Today (Monday) was the first school day after LouAnne rejected Zach’s invitation to be his date for the fall dance. A lover’s quarrel would be far preferable to outright dismissal. He would have gladly welcomed the two week Christmas break so she wouldn’t have to see his reddened face.

What’s a twelve-year-old boy to do when this happens? The answer seemed to dawn on him. He turned toward his beloved geek stash: the toy spaceship collection, the crossword puzzles, and Scrabble. He snapped back to reality when Rusty bumped him on the shoulder, “We best get moving. Going to be late for school.”

The boys walked in silence except for the rustling of leaves under their feet. Finally, Zach asked, “I really blew it, didn’t I? I’ll never be a normal kid who has a girlfriend, will I?”

Rusty shrugged, “My friend, expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”

But Zach wasn’t listening. His mind drifted to LouAnne’s face the first day he saw her—the long-flowing red hair, the striking brown eyes…

From out of nowhere, a gruff voice roared into Zach’s ear, “When are you ever gonna grow up, you pinhead?!” Zach was so distracted, he tripped and his textbooks flew across the sidewalk. Laying face down on the concrete, Zach felt his blood start to boil. He would know that voice anywhere.

Blake, amused by Zach’s klutziness, relaxed against the tree, smoking a cigarette. “Didn’t I tell you she would turn you down? Now everyone REALLY knows what a loser airhead you are.”

Both of Zach’s fists clenched underneath his chest, unseen by Blake. But he dared not move or speak. He knew a thing or two about self-restraint.

Blake walked over and kneeled beside Zach. The cigarette stench penetrated Zach’s nostrils.

“But I am your saviour. I can change everyone’s opinion of you. Well, except for LouAnne that is. And you, my geeky little friend, know what you need to do for me.”

Zach’s breathing became labored, though inaudible. He shut his eyes hard, concentrating on not getting up and knocking the wind out of Blake.

Blake patted Zach on the back, “I’ll give you until tomorrow to think it over.” Blake took one last puff, dropped his cigarette right next to Zach, then took off, whistling along the way. Zach slowly rose to his feet, but he couldn’t move for a few minutes. His anger wouldn’t allow him to focus on anything else that day.

Later that afternoon, as the school bell was about to ring, LouAnne lingered next to her locker. She paused just before closing the door, noticing the Valentine’s Day card and a boy’s photo. She took the scissors from her book bag and cut the card and photo into pieces.

LouAnne’s friend Kacie rushed up to her, “Why are you doing that? You need to get over it already!”

LouAnne shrieked, “Don’t you get it?! I’m not good enough for him or any boy! I’ll NEVER be good enough!” As she turned around to leave, there was Zach directly facing her. His breathing hastened.

“You are the HOTTEST thing on two legs since…since…ummm…HILARY DUFF!” LouAnne ran past him, not looking back. Kacie called out to her, but she wouldn’t stop running. She tried to run away from all the painful memories that haunted her childhood: her mother criticizing her lack of friends, her two older sisters ridiculing her weight, the fact that she wasn’t as popular as Kacie.

Of all the girls in the school, why would any boy want to be seen with her?

As LouAnne ran, Blake jumped from behind the corridor, nearly causing her to fall backwards. Blake couldn’t suppress his snickering.

LouAnne regained her balance, “Blake Brimsley, honestly you can be such a jerkface!”

“Awww, come on, you’re just so uptight…”

LouAnne stuck a finger in his face, “I’m warning you, moron. Don’t you dare patronize me.”

The look on Blake’s face changed from amusement to aggravation. “Warning me?! Listen sister, nobody EVER warns me! Everyone thinks you’re this snobby chick who’s better than everyone else. Of course, I know better and I can change everyone else’s mind. And real guys will want to take you out, not boneheads like Zach Williamson.”

LouAnne stared at Blake, but she couldn’t find the words to express her disgust.

“I’ll give you until tomorrow to think it over,” said Blake, then turned and walked away. LouAnne didn’t know whether to slap him or ignore him. Did he really have the power he said he had? What was it about Blake that LouAnne found infuriating and fascinating at the same time? Why was Zach, this nice boy, such a turn off? LouAnne didn’t know herself well enough to figure that out.

The next morning, on his way to class, Zach’s attention was diverted to an interesting sight: Blake and his mother…in the PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE! Zach couldn’t resist the temptation to eavesdrop. He tiptoed to the door, praying he wouldn’t be seen, and quietly pulled it open.

The principal was in the middle of his conversation, “Mrs. Brimsley, if your son cannot get over his fear of…” An announcement came over the loudspeaker and Zach missed that crucial piece of information. The principal continued, “…we’ll have to consider sending him elsewhere.”

Two hours later, during Mrs. Lunsky’s English class, Blake raised his hand.

“Yes, Blake?”

“Mrs. Lunsky, Zachary over there threatened to beat me up if I didn’t let him copy my take-home essay exam,” Blake announced.

Everyone in the classroom froze in their tracks.

Blake continued, “And LouAnne said she would be my date for the fall dance, only if I gave her my notes to cheat on the upcoming test with.”

Zach and LouAnne exchanged puzzled looks, both yelling in unison, “That is a two-faced lie!”

Being the popular big shot that he was, Blake rose from his desk triumphantly and began to pound his chest. The students—most of them “fans” of his—applauded Blake’s latest attempt at world domination.

At that moment, two pieces of paper slid out of his jacket pocket, onto the floor. Panicking, Blake ran to pick it up, but Zach and Rusty were too fast for him. They held him back while Mrs. Lunsky picked up the papers.

“Hmmm, this paper is in Zach’s handwriting. I remember Zach told me he was ready to turn his essay in, but then it mysteriously disappeared.”

Blake stammered, “But…but…but he said…,”

Mrs. Lunsky cut him off. “You think you’re so slick, don’t you? I have heard so many students telling me about the kind of things you’ve done, and you know what? I DON’T LIKE BULLIES!” She made a beeline for him, and was not known for being nice.

Blake’s face turned from glee to fear. He ran around the classroom in a frenzy, screaming like a litte girl. Mrs. Lunsky chased him out of the room, as everyone roared with laughter.

So that was it! The great Blake Brimsley was afraid of authority!

Later that afternoon, as LouAnne gathered her books from her locker, she closed the door to find Zach standing behind it, waiting for her to notice him.

LouAnne looked down at her feet, “I guess the jerk played us both, huh? I was too insecure and snobby to see what a not-so-nerdy guy you are.”

Zach didn’t respond. He was a boy of few words and quiet emotions. He removed two sycamore tree leaves from his textbook. They contained the torn pieces of the photo of her, held together by Scotch tape. LouAnne grabbed it from him, then ripped the taped pieces apart. Zach walked toward her; this time, she didn’t turn away.

Would Zach finally have the courage to ask LouAnne again to the fall dance, and would she accept? Whatever her answer would be, nothing was going to spoil the anticipation he felt. This just might turn out to be a good fall season after all.

It seems like he finally got the girl, at least for now.