"What did you say?" I said. Still stunned from the question, I couldn't believe my ears. Was Renno kidding?
"I'm in.", replied Ricardo. "It's my senior year and I need to do this. I've got to do this at least once."
Ricardo looked stern, filled with conviction. He was usually comical and not very serious about anything. This time he was serious. It was his senior year and I guess it was important to him.
"Well if you guys are in, so am I." said Chad. He was cheerful about it still smiling and ready for the next challenge. He's a gamer, he's always been like that. A risk taker and good honest guy as well. We're always joking around with each other, but this time, things were different. I could feel it, the urgency.
Then they all looked at me; all three sets of eyes bearing down. There was nowhere to run, I felt the compulsion to swallow something, but my throat was dry. I was running out of air.
"So kiddie, are you in or do you have no balls?" said Renno.
That was Renno for you; idiotic, stoic, and always looking down on me. He always got me to answer with my sense of pride and not my brain. His condescension never made any sense to me since we were taking the same science and math classes. Perhaps he was annoyed because he was a year ahead of me. Or maybe that's just what made him Renno.
Filled with a rush of anger and pride I quickly responded. "Of course I'm in."
To what I just agreed to do, I have no idea. Classes just ended, it was the end of the day, and I was tired. I just caught up with the group sitting at the cafeteria table. I was still thinking about what a girl said in my last class. That's what I get for drifting, too many thoughts; too many hormones. The only thing I heard was, "...let's make it interesting, 20 bucks will do." Now what were they talking about? Something about girls...
"OK it's a deal. Otherwise you need to cough up $20", said Renno. "So who's first?"
For a moment, we all sat their quietly; no one willing to fess up. Whispers of conversations 1000 feet away could be heard clearly.
Then I realized something. There was an opening. Renno flawed. It was too easy to get back at him. So I did just that.
"Why don't you go first, unless you're a chicken?" I said. "All talk and no play makes Jack a dull boy." I said with an air of flamboyance.
He smirked. But I could tell he was incensed. He looked at me straight in the face and said, "Fine, after I start it, you can go next."
"No way" replied Ricardo. "It's my senior year and I'm going to go first!"
"Fine." replied Renno. "But the next person has to do it within a week. If you don't, you are out $20."
"Thanks for volunteering", I said. "OK, so it's Ricardo, Renno, and then who..."
My voice quickly rescinded, oh crap. I just left myself wide open. I guess I'm third, I thought.
"Then I'm next." said Chad with a smile. I think he had a plan because he didn't show any fear. He grabbed my shoulder firmly and said, "Mike is the youngest so we need to show him how it's done."
They all nodded in agreement.
Thank god. I think Chad could read my mind, no wonder we were good friends. Whew. That should buy me a few weeks, for what, I have no idea. Gambling two months allowance on something I don't know much about is stupid, but my pride wouldn't let it go. If these jokers could do it, so could I.
Renno and Ricardo stood up in unison, as if marching to the same beat.
"Let's start scouting", said Ricardo.
With a look of determination Renno replied, “Let's do it."
With dedication to duty that I have never seen before, Sir Galahad and Percival went looking for the grail.
For a moment or two we sat there quietly, my pride slowly drained away and common sense beard fruit once more.
"Mike, so who are you going to ask out?" said Chad. He was smiling, but somehow I didn’t feel like laughing.
Whaaaat? What did he say? What the hell did I just get myself into? I turned to Chad and asked. "What did we just agree to do?"
Joyfully laughing, he said. "What, you really don’t know? Mike, some days you really are a kid. We all agreed to stop acting like nerds and to start dating girls. Weren't you paying attention?”
Oh shit! What just happened? I think I just agreed to make a fool out of myself and even worse, to do it in front of a girl.
Completely shocked, I managed to squeak out a remorseful "Why?”
"Look at your brother and Joe. They have girlfriends and we don't." replied Chad.
"We’re all friends and basically the same kind of guy. We hang out together, listen to the same music, play Dungeons and Dragons, as well as football, baseball, and basketball together. But somehow, those two managed to find girls. They’re no different than the rest of us, so why can't we?"
I shook my head in disbelief. With the Rosetta stone in hand I began to translate reality to Chad.
"My brother might seem shy, but he's been good with girls since elementary school. You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you the truth about him. And well, Joe is Joe. He has always been good with people, especially with the girls. I think he has that animal magnetism thing going for him. Plus, he comes off as a rebel and I think girls like that."
"That maybe true, but they are like us. Just a lot less nerdy in public." replied Chad. "That's why Renno and Ricardo want to make the change. I think it will be good change for all of us. Now back to my question. Who do you have in mind?"
"I have a few girls in mind, but I'm still shocked right now. Let's talk about it tomorrow. For now, let's go to the arcade, I like that new Spy-Hunter game they added."
"Sounds good, let's go." replied Chad.
As we left the cafeteria I asked, "By the way, who are you going to ask?"
"Well there is this girl I like, but I think she might have a boyfriend. But I heard she might have broken up with him. If that's the case..." replied Chad.
"Name?" I interjected.
"Well her name is..."
I didn't hear the rest of the name. I was too busy in my own thoughts. I wasn't sure about having girlfriend, being a boyfriend, or joining the dating scene; especially since I never thought about it until now. I was in 10th grade, but I wasn't really interested in dating anyone in particular. Sure there were girls that I liked, we all liked girls. But I was sure that no one wanted to date me. I was an average student, with average looks, and shorter than most. I felt quite ordinary. No clubs, no school sports, no involvement; and to top it off, I had a bunch of geeks and troublemakers for friends. So this challenge seemed like an embarrassment waiting to happen. It wasn't all bad however; after we all failed, I wouldn't be the only one who looked like an idiot. That felt reassuring.
That night, it took a while to fall asleep. I kept on thinking about the bet and who I would ask. The obvious candidates were my crushes and the popular ones. I could ask a popular girl that I was guaranteed to fail with; it would be humiliating, but at least I would come out looking good with my friends. I could ask my crushes. But that could turn into a real nightmare personally, if I got rejected. However, there was one other group that I almost forgot about. The average girls, the ones who didn't stand out, but somehow peeked my interest. The ones that no one notices until you're wide awake at 3 a.m. thinking about who would be fun to go out with. The ones that make you smile and laugh. The ones that make you feel comfortable anywhere. Hmmm I thought, tomorrows going to be an interesting day.
At that point in life, I didn't realize that this very challenge would be the epiphany that shaped the remaining years of my high school life. It was hard to admit it at the time, but this was important for all of us. The wallflowers were trying to bloom.