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Authors: Robin Friedman

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The Girlfriend Project

The Girlfriend Project

The Girlfriend Project

Robin Friedman

Copyright © 2007 by Robin Friedman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publisher.

First published in the United States of America in 2007 by

Walker Publishing Company, Inc.

Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers

For information about permission to reproduce selections from

this book, write to Permissions, Walker & Company,

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Friedman, Robin.

The Girlfriend Project / Robin Friedman.

p. cm.

Summary: New Jersey high school senior Reed Walton has never had a girlfriend, but once he gets his braces off, gets contact
lenses, and turns into a "hottie," his two best friends set up a Web site to remedy the situation.

eISBN: 978-0-802-72149-5

[1. Identity—Fiction. 2. Dating (Social customs)—Fiction. 3. High schools—Fiction. 4. Schools—Fiction. 5. Websites—Fiction.
6. New Jersey—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.F89785 Gi 2007            [Fic]—dc22            2006016088

Book design by Donna Mark

Visit Walker & Company's Web site at
www.walkeryoungreaders.com

Typeset by Westchester Book Composition

Printed in the U.S.A. by Quebecor World Fairfield

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

All papers used by Walker & Company are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing
processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

For my adorable brother,

Jonathan Ben-Joseph,

an Ultimate Nice Guy.

The Girlfriend Project

My name is Reed Walton, I'm seventeen years old, I live in New Jersey, and I've never had a girlfriend.

Yeah. That's pretty much it.

Well, actually, no.

Ive never kissed a girl either.

Pathetic? Sure. Don t you think I know that? I mean, at this rate, I'm headed for the priesthood.

But my best friends, Ronnie and Lonnie White, have decided Things Will Drastically Change when senior year officially starts
tomorrow.

See, they've signed me up for something they're calling . . .

The Girlfriend Project.

I'm in big, big trouble.

I know it's my last hope. But I don't have to like it.

It happens like this . . .

We're in my car—a Range Rover the color of swamp water—and we're parked in front of the Woodrow Wilson Basketball Courts at
the George Washington Municipal Park. I don't know what these two presidents have to do with sports or trees, but this is
New Jersey, like I said. George Washington slept here, and Woodrow Wilson was our governor, and I guess when you're New Jersey,
you have to take what you can get.

A girl—a really cute girl—is shooting baskets by herself. I've been watching her since we got here. I'm doing a better job
at this than listening to my friends' plans for getting me a girlfriend.

"So, Reed, whaddaya think?" Lonnie asks me, leaning forward from the backseat. I can smell his cologne when he's this close,
and I wonder, Should I wear cologne? Is that the secret?

"I think not," I reply automatically.

"You're making a mistake," Ronnie says from the front seat. I trust her opinion more. After all, she's a girl, Lonnie's fraternal-twin
sister. But she's siding with him on this one.

"I don't want a girlfriend," I lie through my teeth, knowing it'll never fly.

"You want a girlfriend so bad I can smell it," Ronnie replies, and sniffs the air loudly to make her point.

Maybe I
should
wear cologne. I feel self-conscious all of a sudden.

"I don't want to make a big deal out of it," I say. "Besides, I can take care of it."

"Yeah?" Lonnie says, and I hear a big-scary challenge coming. "See that girl?" He points, but he doesn't have to. I haven't
taken my eyes off her. "Ask her out, buddy."

My stomach plunges eighteen stories, and I do the only thing I can think of—stall. "What—um—right now—right this very minute—just
like that?"

Lonnie folds his arms across his chest. "Right now. Right this very minute. Just like that."

I gulp loudly. "But. . . It's just. . . You can't. . . What about. . . ?"

Ronnie pokes me playfully in the ribs. "You, cowboy, need
The Girlfriend Project."

They're right. I need
The Girlfriend Project
so bad
I
can smell it.

We're in my room making plans later that afternoon—the day before senior year starts at Marlborough Regional High School.
Ronnie, who has a neon pink clipboard propped on her knees, is definitely working hard on it. Lonnie, on the other hand, just
wants to pig out. She watches him in disgust as he stuffs three brownies into his mouth in rapid-fire succession.

"What?" he asks with his mouth full of chewed-up brownie. "You got a problem?"

"Boys," she mutters. "They never have to count calories, carbs, or fat grams."

Lonnie nods. "We're genetically superior."

"You're genetically mutated," Ronnie counters, then turns to me. "Anyway, Reed, back to you. How tall are you now?"

"Six foot one," I answer. I know this exactly, because I've been diligently measuring my height all summer.

Ronnie smiles at me. "Girls dig tall guys."

Lonnie nods again. "The girl's right."

Well, Lonnie ought to know. He's six foot three and has always had plenty of girls around.

Ronnie studies me. I think she's looking at my hair.

"Sandy," she murmurs.

Lonnie stops chewing and looks at her. "Who's Sandy?"

"His hair," Ronnie replies.

This response doesn't help very much.

Ronnie sighs. "His hair is sandy, you know, the color of sand."

Now Lonnie looks indignant. "The color of
sandV."

"It's dirty-blond, okay?" she sputters.

I nervously run my fingers through my sandy, dirty-blond hair, wishing Ronnie would stop staring at me. But what she does
next makes me blush.

"Eye color," she says, and propels herself into my face.

I try not to blink or move as she gazes deeply into my eyes, but I can feel my cheeks flame.

How will I go on dates with girls when just having my best friend's face near mine makes my whole neck go on fire?

I'm more hopeless than I thought.

"Brown," Lonnie says definitively from across the room. He leans toward me, and for one panic-stricken second, I think he's
going to get in my face too, which would be a real low point. But he just hands me the empty plate of brownies. "The color
of brownies. Refill, Reed."

I take the plate and start to get up.

"No," Ronnie says, and I'm not sure if she's talking about my eyes or the brownies. "More like hazel." She scribbles. "I'm
so glad you finally got rid of the glasses, Reed, you have nice eyes. Girls dig nice eyes."

"The girl's right."

Ronnie ignores him. "Honey," she says.

"Who's Honey?"

Ronnie throws her brother another murderous look, then peers at me in a dreamy sort of way. "Like ajar of honey on a kitchen
shelf when the sun shines through it. That's the color of your eyes."

We look at her blankly.

"Boys," she mutters. "Neanderthals with no imagination."

Actually, I was trying to picture that sun-drenched jar of honey. Maybe I'll examine my eyes more closely later to see if
it's true. I can't believe having eyes the color of honey is going to matter with girls one way or the other, but I'm not
going to argue with the experts.

"Be right back," I say, indicating the empty plate.

I hope they don't strangle each other while I'm gone, but you never know. I head down the stairs to the kitchen. My house
is one of those just-out-of-the-oven-homemade-cookies-cakes-and-brownies kind of house. That's because my grandmother lives
with my parents and me. She loves baking.

Ronnie and Lonnie—yup, those are their real names—have always lived next door to us, and the three of us have been best friends
since kindergarten. And get this, their parents are Bonnie and Donnie White. And their cats are Connie and Johnnie. How can
you not love a family like that?

When I walk into the kitchen, I hear my grandmother making huffing-and-puffing noises as she reaches into a high cabinet for
something.

"I'll get that for you, Grandma," I say.

She pinches my cheek as I retrieve a bag of flour for her.

"You're a good boy, Reed," she says.

Yup, good boy, that's me.

All-Around Nice Guy. Average Joe. Ail-American Boy Next Door.

Most Likely Not to Offend Anyone. Most Likely to Blend into the Wallpaper.

Dorkus Extremus.

The kind of guy who babysits his nieces and nephews, sets the table for dinner every night, and blushes in an
aw-shucks
way when Grandma tells her blue-haired old-lady friends I'm a straight-A student shooting for Princeton.

I'm even an Eagle Scout. Scout's honor! Ha ha ha.

But things may finally change for me. See, over the summer, I got my braces taken off, grew another inch or two, started wearing
contact lenses, and got a car.

Ronnie says girls dig tall guys with nice eyes, a nice smile, and a car.

The Girlfriend Project
—here we go.

Ready or not.

I get the first hint that Things are Completely Different Now when I stop at my locker the next morning. Rhonda Wharton is
there, at the locker next to mine, in a short black dress that hits me like an eighteen wheeler. I try not to be obvious about
it, but it's hard. Rhonda is so hot that part of my brain is melting.

The first day of school is always a blur to me, what with everyone catching up, showing off their not-from-the-tanning-salon
tans, running all over trying to find new classes, getting used to a brand-new schedule. I've got a full load of AP classes
again this year, and the folks at the Ivy League will probably want to see my final transcript. Not that I'm worried about
it. I'm worried about other things.

I open my locker and start the day's Shifting Around of Heavy Textbooks. But what I'm really thinking about is how I can compliment
Rhonda on her dress without coming off like a perv. It would be a nice way to open
The Girlfriend
Project.
Ronnie would be proud.

Rhonda and I have been next-door locker neighbors since middle school. We're seated next to each other in every class the
teacher arranges students by alphabetical order. We're not friends, exactly, more like alphabet acquaintances. If not for
the location of our lockers, a girl like Rhonda wouldn't know I breathed the same air she did. As I'm pondering this, Rhonda
turns to me, I smile, and she does a double take.

"Reed?" she whispers, her big brown eyes as wide as a doe's. "What. . . You're . . . Is that really you?"

I'm not sure whether to be flattered or insulted by her reaction. Those were very thick Coke-bottle glasses I used to wear,
and I had those braces for so long it shocked me, too, that actual teeth were under them. I'm kind of surprised by their whiteness
and straightness. I guess braces really work.

"Hi, Rhonda," I say, as if nothing's different. "How was your summer?"

She wants to answer—her mouth moves—but no words come out. I realize it's the effect I've always had on girls. Even now, being
new and improved, they're not talking to me.

I take a deep breath. "That's a . . . totally cool dress."

Totally cool?
Argh.
That's the best I can do?

But Rhonda smiles at me. "You like it?"

This throws me off. Didn't I just tell her I did?

"Um, yeah," I reply. "Totally cool."

Argh!
—not again. I don't seem to have trouble with vocabulary when I'm writing essays for AP English. Why does that part of my
brain cortex die when I'm around girls?

Rhonda continues to smile, and I can't help thinking I should do something. But what? The way she's looking at me . . .

"You're, like, a completely different person, Reed," she says. Her cheeks are pink. Is she blushing? Because of
mel
"I didn't know you could be so . . . cute."

Cute?

Me?

Me?

I swallow hard. I'm
definitely
supposed to do something. I can feel it. It's in the air around us. But I don't know what it is. I can't decode it. My brain
is all fogged up, frozen, useless. Rhonda Wharton, with her big brown eyes and short black dress, is smiling at me, waiting
for me to do the thing I'm supposed to do, and all I can come up with is this: "Better hurry—homeroom bell's gonna ring soon."

The smile melts off her face. Melts. Just like that. Like an ice-cream cone, a beautiful, perfectly formed chocolate icecream
cone, flattening into an ugly brown puddle. She turns away from me.

I've screwed up big-time. I wasn't supposed to say that. That much I know. But it's too late to fix it. Even if I knew
how
to fix it.

Rhonda slams her locker shut, mumbles something to me, and takes off.

I curse my new and improved self.

. . .

"You were supposed to ask her out," Lonnie informs me at lunch. We're in the school cafeteria a few hours later.

"What—just like that?" I can't get the hang of this spontaneous-asking-out thing. Maybe I'm missing the right gene. It would
explain a lot.

I haven't touched my orange-colored sloppy Joe or soggy French fries. All morning, my stomach has been twisted up in a tangled
knot. All I see is Rhonda Wharton stomping away from me, and all I hear is the angry slam of her locker.

"Yeah, just like that, Romeo," Lonnie replies nonchalantly, tipping back his head and pouring a can of Mountain Dew into his
mouth.

I stab my food with a plastic fork that's missing one of its tines. I wonder if it broke off inside the mysterious contents
of the sloppy Joe I'm not eating.

"He's right, Reed," Ronnie says softly. I can tell from her tone she's feeling sorry for me. They're both sitting across from
me, looking at me like I'm some kind of charity case, which I guess I am.

The noise level in the cafeteria is super-high. We're over by the floor-to-ceiling windows at a brand-new table this year.
The tables by the windows are the best ones, reserved for the senior class, not officially, but in an unspoken-code kind of
way. I can't believe I've finally managed to make it here. So, why do I feel like I'm back in ninth grade?

"But. . . ," I begin, gazing at my best friends, but I honestly don't know where to begin. Where is this stuff written down?

Where do I buy the textbook? How was I supposed to know I should've asked Rhonda out? Besides, what if she said no? I say
this part out loud.

"She
wanted
you to ask her out," Ronnie says. "She wouldn't have said no."

"How do you know that?" I ask cluelessly.

"Because it's obvious, Reed."

"How?"

She sighs, reaches over, and musses up my hair. "You have a brain that can solve calculus problems, write essays about lost
civilizations, and memorize poetry, but when it comes to girls, it turns into mush."

Yeah—that pretty much sums it up.

"I'm a lost cause," I mumble, and I mean it.

"You just need some help. That's what
The Girlfriend Project
is all about."

"I need a class—with a syllabus and homework assignments."

Ronnie leans forward. "Life's not a class, Reed. You can't learn everything from textbooks. You have to
experience
it. You have to get back on the horse."

"Horse?" I ask in confusion. "Does this mean I have to ask Rhonda out?"

Lonnie shakes his head and looks at me with pity. "It's too late for that, buddy."

"Too late?"

"You pissed her off," he says matter-of-factly.

"I did?" This is astonishing to me. "But I didn't do anything!"

"Exactly."

"So . . . ," I say, and immediately hate the whine in my voice. "That's it?"

"That's it," he informs me. "For now."

"But this is crazy!" I exclaim, throwing up my hands. "It makes no sense. You're making it sound like she hates me."

"She does hate you. In a way." This astounding, news-tome statement comes from Ronnie.

"But I didn't do anything!" I say again, feeling very much like the four walls of the noisy school cafeteria are closing in
on me. If this is the way girls and dating are supposed to work, I don't see how I'll ever get it. It doesn't matter how tall
I am, or how much my teeth sparkle, or how nice my eyes are.

Ronnie shakes her head, as if she's trying to explain something very simple to a total ignoramus. Which is
precisely
what's going on here. "I didn't realize how much help you need, Reed, I thought it would be enough that you look different.
But, you know, you don't
feel
different. Not yet anyway. This is going to take lots of hard work."

Ah, the magic words. "I'm not afraid of hard work."

"That's the spirit." A sly expression crosses her face. "Forget Rhonda Wharton. You've got bigger fish to fry."

I try to make the image of Rhonda's long legs and short dress leave my mind before what Ronnie just said sinks in.

"You mean . . . ," I croak.

Ronnie nods. "Marsha Peterman's locker. Last bell."

I actually slump in my chair. "No," I whisper. "She shot me down last time."

"That was four years ago," Ronnie says. "And you've been pining for her ever since. Hasn't the time come? Come on, Reed, it's
not Chinese torture."

"It is too."

She looks annoyed. "Why do boys make such a humongous deal out of asking girls out? I thought you were supposed to be tough
guys."

"We're not tough guys," I mumble.

"Hey, speak for yourself, son," Lonnie says, but I know he's just kidding. Lonnie may have a smooth, pretend-tough exterior,
but like most of us guys, his ego's softer than Marshmallow Fluff.

"It's like you're crybabies or something," Ronnie goes on.

Ronnie, on the other hand, is definitely blunt, but that's a good thing. She's the kind of person who tells you when you have
lettuce stuck in your teeth.

"We're not crybabies," I say quietly.

Ronnie must sense she's hit a raw nerve because she says, "I'm sorry I said that, Reed. I know you're trying. I didn't mean
it."

I want to keep talking about it, but Lonnie's Chick Clique has officially begun. They giggle up to our table to catch up with
him.

I get up before anyone has a chance to notice the new and improved me. I've had enough of the new and improved me.

"Where are you going, Reed?" Ronnie asks me.

"The library."

"But, Reed, your destiny awaits you."

"My destiny is with my AP Spanish textbook, Ronnie.
Adios, amigos"

. . .

The pity party goes on all day.

I try to concentrate on classes, but I can't. What Ronnie said to me won't go away.

People continue to comment on the new and improved me, and girls who have never given me the time of day seem suddenly friendly.
I'm too rattled to pay attention.

Why have I always been so uncomfortable around girls?

Because I'm shy? Or because of Ronnie and Lonnie?

When your best friends have always lived next door to you, why should you get into the habit of making new friends, talking
to people you don't know, or asking out girls?

I've never gone anywhere without one of them by my side, whether it's a party, the mall, the movies, or the school cafeteria.
The thought of doing something by myself is terrifying to me. I guess my life up to now has been one long episode of
Fear Factor.

Fear of being laughed at.

Fear of looking stupid.

Fear of failure.

Fear of being rejected.

Fear of bad breath.

Fear of saying the wrong thing.

Fear of being the wrong thing.

You should know, though, that while I'm definitely a dork, I'm not a nerd. There's a difference.

A nerd has a funny haircut, wears pants that are too short, has ballpoint pens in his shirt pocket, and gets picked on by
other kids.

My hair and clothes are fine (thanks to Ronnie), I don't have ballpoint pens in my shirt pocket, and I've never been picked
on by other kids (thanks to Lonnie).

I guess the three of us all started out at the same place way back in kindergarten, but somewhere around fifth grade, Ronnie
and Lonnie diverged onto the popular path and I diverged onto the dork path. They have other friends besides me—the popular
kids—but I'm the one they trust. That's what they always tell me, anyway. I'm lucky to have them. And I'm lucky that they're
popular enough that they don't have to worry about losing points for being seen with a dork like me.

Maybe being good at school is easier than being good at girls. After all, there are teachers and textbooks and tests—a whole
bureaucracy—to help you get there.

Or maybe it's more like I never had a chance.

Or maybe it's just that I never tried.

By the time the last bell rings, I'm exhausted. I take my time getting to my locker, worried about running into Rhonda Wharton
again. I realize I won't be able to avoid her forever. I can't believe it's the first day of school and I've already made
an enemy of the person whose locker is right next to mine.

But when I reach my locker, she's nowhere in sight. The hallway's crowded with people slamming lockers. I quickly pull out
my stuff and decide to book out of there. But Ronnie and Lonnie pounce on me before I can escape. See, their last name starts
with
W
too, which means they're in the same locker neighborhood as me.

"Your destiny calls, Reed," Ronnie says, pulling me down the hall.

"Let me go," I say through clenched teeth.

"No, Reed," she growls back. "There's only one way to do this. Sink or swim."

"So you want me to drown?" I ask. "You want to kill me?"

She gives me a serious look. "I want you to ask out the love of your life. I give you . . . Marsha Peterman."

And with that, she shoves me forward, right into the maw of the beast.

. . .

I've had a crush on Marsha Peterman since freshman year. Not that I've done anything about it in four years.

No, you don't need to tell me it's pathetic.

No, you don't need to tell me
Ym
pathetic.

Yeah, thanks, I'm fully aware of the situation.

I look behind me, frowning when I spot Ronnie and Lonnie behind a bend in the lockers. Spies, they are. I don't know if that's
good or bad. On the one hand, they'll witness my final, full-fledged humiliation of the day. On the other hand, they'll be
able to provide CPR when I have my heart attack.

Marsha Peterman, a complete vision in robin's egg blue that's stretched tight in all the right places, has finished loading
her backpack when I stumble into her presence. She peers at me questioningly with big eyes the exact shade of her outfit.

"Reed?" she asks in amazement.

I honestly don't know how to respond to these public exclamations of astonishment. Should I be grateful that people are noticing
I'm new and improved? Or should I be mortified that I dared show myself in public before today?

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