“So, for the next few weeks you will be paired up with one of your classmates as we launch a new project designed to help you experience some of what it takes to create and stick to a household budget.” Mr. Griego picked up a stack of index cards from his desk. “I have created a scenario with careers and incomes for each couple. Some of you have children, and some don’t. Every few days you will get a new financial situation you have to deal with. Each week of this project will be the equivalent of one month for your budget. You will turn in a complete six month budget, along with a written report at the end of the project. Each couple will also give a five-minute oral presentation.” He started calling names and handing out index cards. There were groans and titters of laughter as the names were called because some of the couples were same-sex. “Josh Harris and Bernie Abeyta.” No one in the class said anything or laughed at the pairing. Josh wasn’t surprised; he had pretty much fallen off the radar over a year ago. He stood and walked to the front of the room to retrieve the index card.
“Who’s Bernie Abeyta?” he asked quietly. Great. I’m paired with a guy. Just what I needed.
The girl with the short, purple hair raised her hand. “Me.” She sounded bored.
“Okay. I’m, uh, I’m Josh.” He stood in front of her desk, awkwardly shifting from side to side.
“Yeah. I’m Bernie.” She glanced up quickly, meeting his gaze, then looked away.
“You have the last fifteen minutes of class to exchange contact information, phone numbers, email addresses, whatever you need to get in touch with your partner. Most of the project work will need to be on your own time as you will need to visit grocery stores and do some online research,” Mr. Griego said.
Josh sat down in the newly vacated desk in front of Bernie. “So.” He waved the index card. “One of us is a teacher and the other is an attorney. Which do you want to be?”
Bernie shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter to me. You choose.”
He looked at her, a half-smile on his face. Close-up he noticed that she had beautiful, smooth, light-brown skin and her eyes were so dark they looked black. She didn’t wear much makeup; she didn’t need to. “Fine. I’ll be the teacher. You can be the attorney.” She looked up quickly. “Is that okay?”
She shrugged again. “Sure. It doesn’t matter. Do we have kids?”
“Yeah, we have two: an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. So, I guess we should exchange phone numbers and email.” He scrawled his information on a page of his notebook and tore it out, handing it to her.
She took the page, staring at it blankly for a moment before tearing a piece of paper out of her own notebook. “Here’s my email.”
He looked at it. “What’s your cell number?”
“Oh. Okay.” Josh had never heard of anyone his age who didn’t have a cell phone. “So, do you want to get together tonight to get started on this? We could meet at my house. Or yours. Whatever you want.”
“Yours. Here.” She pushed the paper back at him. “Write your address. I have to work until seven. I can be there around seven-thirty. Is that okay?” She didn’t meet his eyes.
“Uh, sure. That’s fine. Here.” He handed the paper back. “Do you need a ride or anything?”
“Oh. Great. So, I’ll, uh, see you tonight. I guess.” He had never been so tongue-tied around a girl.
“Yeah.” She turned her attention back to her notebook, clearly dismissing him.
Josh returned to his seat, chagrined. I seem to have lost my touch. Then again, he hadn’t really been trying very hard for a long time. He used to be much better at this whole thing: friends, girls, talking. Now he simply didn’t have the energy anymore. It was October of his senior year and he was biding his time until he could graduate and move on with his life. She’s really pretty, though. He groaned inwardly as he packed his notebook and shouldered his backpack. He knew he had no business noticing how pretty his new partner was; he should be thinking about how gorgeous his girlfriend had looked in her cheerleading uniform that morning during the pep rally. She was beautiful, sweet, and had stuck by him through a seriously dark time in his life. He had really been phoning it in lately with Kayleigh. Jeez, he could do better. He merged with the flow of humanity in the hallway, determined to do right by her, starting tomorrow at lunch.