“It’s when you spend eight damn hours at a beauty shop under a hot-ass dryer listening to old-ass women complain to each other about men, kids, and other women that you have to almost beat a hair compliment out of some damn body.”

I laughed because she was right on the money. “Aight, whatever, but I want to do the dunking booth first. I have something I need to do a little later.”

Brina’s eyes bulged. “Something like what?”

I looked down at the gravel, kicking a few pebbles around and blushing. “Just something.”

“Does this something have a name that begins with a J?” I giggled. “By the way, what happened to Mohammed? I thought he was coming. I was surprised when I got your message about coming to get you this morning.”

I grabbed her by the arm and started pulling her toward the field. I was suddenly in a hurry to get the whole sordid business over with, one way or another. I had no clue how I was going to approach the situation, but it had to be done. “Come on, Brina. I’ll explain it all to you later.”

Ten seconds after I sat down on the two-by-four doubling as a bench in the dunking booth, I was regretting letting Brina talk me into the shit. First came the comment from this high-yella, snaggletoothed nucca with a lopsided high-top fade and freckles. “Damn, Youngen, look at her hair!” His little sidekicks, none of them out of the eighth grade, pointed and laughed at me. I just waved them off, hoping they would go try their luck at a cap toss game or something else at one of the other booths. No such luck.

Five minutes later, I was the one laughing at their asses. They couldn’t hit the metal bull’s-eye on the dunking booth if their lives depended on it. They all took turns, wasting some of the ten bucks apiece their mommas probably gave them to get rid of them for the day.

“Damn, Youngen, you didn’t even come close to her!” Snaggletooth was guffawing and hitting his boy on the back after the sorry excuse for a pygmy missed the target by a good two feet, and the baseball ended up in a trash can.

“Shit, not like you did any better,” he retorted, trying to swallow his pride.

I started getting in on it. “Personally, I think all of you need to go home and lift some weights because you all look like skinny midgets from up here where I’m sitting!”

They didn’t know how to react when agirlcame at them like that. They looked at each other dumbfounded, and finally decided to go waste some money on something else. “Come on, Youngen. This shit’s boring!”

An hour later, I was kind of hoping to get dunked, but to no avail. At least fifty peeps had tried, and only three or four of them even hit the edges of the target, much less the bull’s-eye.

It was hot as hell out there. Add in the sun beaming on me through the glass surrounding the top of the booth, and it was ten times worse. I felt like I was sitting in a sauna. Thoughts of an old movie where a boy used a magnifying glass and sunlight to set a cricket on fire flitted through my head.

Just when I was convinced my dry nappy hair was going to catch on fire any second like a pile of bushweed and leave me looking like the victim of a witch hunt in Salem, Jason, Chandler, and the rest of their clique walked up to the booth. She had her arms around his waist. How dare she?

Chandler taunted me. “Look who it is! It figures they would put her in there instead of Ms. Rankin. Half the school would love to dunk her.”

Jason looked from Chandler to me. I got sarcastic with him. “She doesn’t hate me, huh, Jason?”

“Chandler, cut that out,” he demanded, systematically removing her arms from around his waist.

She got dramatic. “What’s wrong with you? Afterwhat she did to you, you’re taking her side over mine? I don’t freakin’ believe this shit!”

Jason looked guilt-stricken. After all, he probably did need to save some face at that point, with all his boys looking on and all. “No, not at all,” he proclaimed. “In fact, check me out while I dunk her ass real quick.”

They all laughed, and Chandler smirked, looking at me like she had just hit the lottery. Jason paid for his three baseballs and threw the first one before I even had a chance to brace myself. It hit the bottom of the target, but I didn’t fall. Damn, I just knew that was my ass, as big and strong as he was, but he missed!

“Ah-ha, Jason!” I taunted him. “I forgot you were blind in one eye and can’t see jack shit out the other one.”

His boys started howling. “Damn, man, she told you!”

Jason’s eyes narrowed with malice, a look I knew all too well, and he threw the

second one. He missed by a mile.

I gave an exaggerated yawn. “Wow, I’m so impressed. Now I know I did the right thing when I dropped you like the plague. Sorry ass!”

Chandler yelled out,“BITCH!”

“Takes one to know one, trick ass,” I replied with a grin.

“Hold up, all of you step back. I got this,” Jason stated avidly. I was positive he would miss by a mile yet again.

Next thing I knew, my ass hit the cold water. I could hear them all falling out laughing before I even came up for air. Jason had his fists thrown up in the air and was prancing around like he had just put Ali down for the ten count. His boys gave him high fives and slapped him on the back while Chandler gave him a big fat hug.

“Forget you, Jason!” I was ashamed, upset, and hopelessly in love with the fool but scared to admit it.

“Forget you, too,” he bellowed while their posse moved away.

Snaggletooth and his buddies came walking past the booth while I was struggling to get back on the bench. Their hands were filled with everything from cotton candy to stuffed animals to corn dogs.

“HAAAAA! HAAAAA! He got your ass good, Youngen!”

I just ignored it and let them enjoy their laugh. I got back up on the bench, hunched my shoulders, covered my eyes with the palms of my hands, and listened to the annoying-ass carnival music.

A couple of hours later, Brina traded places with me. I never thought I would be so elated to put on a clown suit—anything but that damn dunking booth. After Jason dunked me, a chain reaction ensued, and I hit the cold water at least twenty more times before I lost count.Ms. Rankin, who didn’t have the sniffles or any other vague symptom of a cold, gave me a quick lesson on making poodles and other cute characters out of oblong latex balloons and sent me on my way. I had a ball walking around and entertaining the little kids, who were strongly representing that day.

I had on a red, white, blue, and yellow suit with a white, red, blue, and purple wig, white powder makeup with red lipstick surrounding my lips, and huge red clown shoes. I was doing just fine until . . .

. . . I spotted the kissing booth. To say I was severely rattled to see all the hoochies lined up to kiss Jason would be the understatement of the year. There were just as many nuccas in line to kiss Chandler’s skank ass, for some unknown reason. Apparently the cheerleaders andthe players were taking turns at the booth. Jason and Chandler were up at bat.

I was immediately jealous, even though I could see from my vantage point some thirty yards away that he was only giving up quick pecks. Some of the shy, problematic-as-in-uglematic girls looked like they were about to faint when his fine ass kissed them on the cheek.

My heart dropped. I contemplated going inside the school to call Mohammed from the pay phone and telling him to come get me, but I knew getting with him on the rebound wouldn’t suffice. It didn’t work the first time, and it wouldn’t work the second. Something had to be done. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

I bought a ticket for the kissing booth and got in the line behind all the other girls waiting to kiss Jason. What the hell! It made as much sense as anything else I had been doing lately. When my turn finally came, Chandler recognized me under the wig and makeup and grabbed for her man. “Come on, Jason. It’s Lisa and Deon’s turn now.”

Jason’s attention quickened when he realized it was me. Then he grinned from ear to ear. “You want me to kiss you?”

Chandler tried to pull him away by the arm, but he brushed her off, anxiously awaiting my reply. “Jason, let’s go. Now!”

He glared at her. “Chandler, let’s get something straight. You don’t own me, aight?” He gazed back at me. “I asked Zoe a question, and I’d like an answer.”

I cracked a mischievous smile and held my ticket up. “I bought a ticket, didn’t I?”

“Jason, you better not kiss that ho.” Chandler was near hysterics, and all her backup hussies were ready to pounce at a second’s notice.

“Back off,” he replied sourly. He looked deep into myeyes and bit his lower lip to suppress yet another smile. “So kiss me then.”

They had a card table separating the kissers and the kissees, probably Ms. Rankin’s idea to deter any feel-ups if someone got carried away. I couldn’t reach him without him leaning over it, and since he wasn’t budging, I climbed up on top of it on my knees and grabbed him by the collar of his jersey.

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