HALEY SAID "Oh Fuh!" with such vehemence and despair that her mom, who was just a few feet away in the dining room changing a light bulb, nearly fell off the table. Haley had never said fuck in front of her mother before. In truth, Haley had never before uttered the word out loud, not that she was a prude, not that she was a goodie-goodie, not that she was completely innocent—she had touched Brad Colter's thing that one time—she just didn't think it was a nice word. Her mouth still open, the ck of fuck hanging unvoiced in heavy air, Haley abandoned the Clue board and her best friend Gloria, to rush across the living room into the hall, up the stairs, and into her bedroom, where she flounced on her bed and buried her head under the biggest of her five teddy bears, Clyde, which Brad Colter had won for her at the carnival the tail end of last summer by sledging a weight all the way to the bell the very night she was later to touch, ever so briefly and gently, his... thing. Brad was at college now, playing football, and he'd never answered her letter, dumb jock, but she didn't really like Brad all that much, and she didn't really like Clyde—he was too big—he fell out of the bed almost every night.
"What is it, honey?" Her mother was standing in the doorway.
"Nothing," Haley moaned. "Go away."
Normally, Haley was not rude to her mother. They weren't pals, exactly, but they got along. Haley's mother turned to Gloria, who was also in the doorway, trying without much success to hide a slightly guilty look. Gloria shrugged.
"Okay, then," Haley's mother said. "I'll leave you two to sort it out."
After Haley's mom was safely down the stairs, Gloria slipped into Haley's room and sat on the bed. Several minutes of silence. Finally Gloria spoke. "What are you going to do?"
"Maybe you could call him up and... and bribe him, or something," Gloria suggested.
Haley moaned. "Bribe him with what? Sex?"
Gloria giggled. After a moment, Haley giggled, too. After another moment, she sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.
"It's not funny," Haley said. "Stop laughing. And maybe you should be the one to bribe him. If you hadn't... If you hadn't... It's your fault. And besides, you're more experienced. You've..."
"I haven't," Gloria said. "Not really. Not all the way. And anyway, with Gordon Peters?"
"He's not that bad," Haley said. "He has nice blue eyes. And he's kind of... kind of... kind of kind. And he's... he's..."
"He's such a nerd, is what he is," Gloria said. "And what he's got is a picture of your asshole."
"Well, maybe he won't... Maybe he hasn't... Maybe he..."
"Gordon Peters? Are you kidding?" said Gloria. "By now, he's probably got it plastered all over the Internet. By now, half the nerds in the known universe are riveting their pretty blue eyes to your pretty little asshole, and jetting off to beat the band."
Haley moaned, and burrowed her head back under Clyde the oversized teddy bear.
"It's not my fault," Gloria said.
"Oh, yeah?" Haley answered from under the bear. "Then whose fault is it?"
We could blame it on Haley's ancient, wildly wooly-haired science teacher, Mr. Wilson, who a week ago paired Haley and Gordon for the fall science project. Or we could blame Haley's mother, who'd given Haley the mega-pixel digital camera for her birthday five days ago, which naturally Haley brought right over to Gloria's house so they could try it out, snapping picture after picture of each other. Or we could blame Gloria's older sister who, a few days earlier had emailed Gloria about the Asshole Club at her college.
"Speaking of pictures," Gloria told Haley between test shots with the new camera, and she explained that to gain membership to the Asshole Club, girls in her sister's sorority had to submit asshole pictures. But it was a joke, sort of, Gloria said. Almost all the girls submitted photographs of George Bush. One of them submitted Donald Rumsfeld.
"Pretty funny, huh?" Gloria said to Haley.
"But how did they know not to send in pictures of real assholes?" Haley wanted to know.
Gloria shrugged. "A conspiracy, I guess," she said, "but some girls did send in 'real' pictures, but not of their own assholes, of course—they got them off of the Internet."
"Oh," Haley said. "They have pictures of assholes on the Internet?"
"They have pictures of everything on the Internet," Gloria said. She showed her.
"Gross," said Haley, staring at one of the images on the computer screen. "I can't believe that people, that women..."
"Yeah," agreed Gloria.
"Although maybe if you didn't know what it was, it would be kind of pretty, in a way," Haley said. "Like a dark secret star. Don't you think?"
"If you didn't know what it was, it wouldn't be there," Gloria said, and she clicked off the image. "What are you doing for your science project?"
"Something called the graviton," Haley said. "It's the subatomic particle that causes gravity. It's one of the weakest forces in the universe, but without it things would fall apart. The thing is, it might not exist. No one has ever seen one. Weird, huh? But I can't believe Wilson paired me up with that geeky Gordon Peters."
"At least you'll get an A," Gloria said. "And you won't have to do any work; just sit back and let Gordon do his stuff. He's supposedly some kind of genius. Hey, maybe you and he will take a picture of this graviton and become rich and famous. Smile." Gloria snapped another picture of Haley.
"Graviton," Haley said, frowning. "And we are going to take pictures. When Gordon heard about my new camera, he got this idea of using a photograph of an apple on the cover of our report. To tie it in with Isaac Newton. Pretty clever, I guess. We're going to take apple pictures tomorrow after school. He was pretty excited about it."
"You mean you told him before you told me?"
"I told him when I called him to tell him I couldn't meet with him today 'cause I was coming to see you, silly," Haley said.
"Want me to take a picture of your asshole?" Gloria asked.
Haley's eyes shot open. "Why would I want that?"
"Just to see if it's pretty," Gloria said. "Have you ever seen your asshole before?"
"Come on, let's do it. It'll be fun. You can compare it with the one on the Internet you liked so much. And no one will ever see. Just you and me."
Haley took a deep breath.
"I dare you," Gloria said.
It was done in deep silence and utter seriousness. Haley pulled down her jeans and panties and rolled back on Gloria's bed, hugging her knees to her chest, trying not to quiver. Gloria moved in close. Closer. Pushed the button. A soft, slightly fuzzy click. Two frail beeps. A few minutes later they were looking at the downloaded image on Gloria's computer.
"You are pretty," Gloria said. "I can see why guys..."
"Delete it now," Haley said. "You said you would delete it, so do it. Do it right now, okay?"
"Okay, okay," Gloria said. "There. It's done. Deleted. Gone forever."
"Good," Haley said.
Two days later Haley and Gloria were playing Clue on Haley's living room rug. As usual, Haley had her favorite, Professor Plum, and Gloria was Colonel Mustard. "How come you girls aren't on the dining room table?" Haley's mother asked.