Vince watched as Spinelli bragged about being the undefeated champion of air-hockey and he couldn't resist.
"I bet I can beat you."
She laughed. "Just because you're like this sports guru doesn't mean you're any good at air-hockey."
"But I am, and you're going down."
"We'll see," she rolled her eyes and they left the group, going over to the air-hockey tables. "Why don't we make this more interesting?"
"What did you have in mind?" He already had an idea in mind for when she would lose.
"If you lose," she looked outside the arcade door and into the mall. She could see the four Ashleys sitting in the nail salon getting a pedicure. "You have to go on a date with an Ashley."
"Any Ashley?" he asked.
"No loopholes," she shot him a dirty look. "You know I am not and will never be an Ashley. No, you have to go out with... Ashley Q."
She was the meanest of the Ashleys but Vince wasn't worried. There was no way he was losing. "Fine, but if you lose," he got closer to her and lowered his voice. "You have to tell TJ you like him."
It had been over a year since she admitted to him that she liked TJ and now he couldn't help but be frustrated at her for not just telling him.
"Not happening," she said firmly.
"What? Afraid you're going to lose?" Vince mocked.
She shook her head and stuck her hand out. "Fine, deal."
He never expected to lose. He went into it so cocky. He had no doubt in his mind that he was going to win. Now, he was hovering outside the nail salon, trying to figure out how to approach Ashley Q when she was with the other Ashleys. He wasn't going to be humiliated in front of all of them. Spinelli was watching. She wouldn't let him wait until school on Monday. She made him stand out there and wait for Ashley to leave the salon. She also made sure he was clear that the deal was to go on a date with her, not just to ask her out. He didn't know how he was going to do that. She was sure to say no or laugh in his face when he asked her. As if that wasn't embarrassing enough, he would also have to keep trying for however long it took for her to say yes. He watched them finish paying and start to walk out of the shop. He looked back at Spinelli, who was not hiding her amusement. He sighed and approached the group.
"What do you want?" Ashley A asked.
Vince ignored her, making eye contact with Ashley Q. "Could I talk to you? Alone?"
She looked to the other Ashleys, who all looked as confused as she did. Somehow they were still giggling though. It made him feel even worse like they were laughing at him.
"I'll meet you guys in Lyla's."
The other Ashleys walked away, giggling and whispering to each other, looking back at the two of them regularly.
"So, what's going on?" she asked in a much nicer voice than he expected.
"I, um," he looked to the side and rubbed his hand on the back of his neck. "Wanted to see if you might want to go out sometime?"
She looked taken aback. "Yeah," She responded immediately.
He hadn't expected that. "Really?"
"I would love to."
"Okay, great." He wasn't sure how to respond. He expected this to be much more difficult but now he had to quickly scramble to make a plan. "Um, does tomorrow night work for you?"
Was that too soon? Did he even care? At least he would get it over with. He didn't want to drag it on until the next weekend.
"Tomorrow sounds perfect."
Vince looked up at the mansion in front of him. He couldn't believe he was about to go on a date with Ashley Q. He had been teased relentlessly from the gang all day. As much as he was dreading the night, he couldn't stop himself from wanting to impress her. He had worn his best button-down shirt and a blazer. He had put on cologne. He had even cleaned his truck. He didn't know why he was putting in all this effort for a lousy date. He knocked on the door and Ashley abruptly opened it, walking out and shutting it fast behind her. He was surprised as he looked at her. She was wearing ankle boots and skinny jeans that hugged her hips nicely. She also wore an emerald green top with a simple gold necklace and held a dark gray jacket on her arm. He had always tried to ignore the Ashleys but there were certain things about their clique that he had never realized he had made assumptions about, like unspoken rules of being an Ashley. He couldn't remember any of them having ever wore anything other than dresses and skirts, so he didn't think jeans (or any pants) were even allowed. He also was shocked to see her in green because he always had the impression that Ashleys weren't allowed to take each other's signature colors.
"You look nice," he said, having to remind himself that this was Ashley Q he was going out with.
"Thanks, so do you."
They walked to the truck and he opened her door.
"So what did you have in mind for dinner?" she asked once he had gotten in.
"La Chateau." It was the fanciest restaurant in town. He was a little concerned because the prices weren't listed on the online menu but he knew Ashley was probably used to a certain standard when it came to eating out and he didn't want her looking down on him for not meeting that standard.
"Oh," she said and something in her tone made him question the choice. She changed the subject. "So what did you think about Mrs. Davis' class yesterday?"
"Oh man, I'm just hoping my parents don't see my grade on that test."
"Well, when the highest grade of the class was a B-, I think it shows a problem with the teacher, not the students."
"I know," he agreed. "And it sucks because I'm actually good at math. She's just so picky about showing all your work."
"Well, I'm terrible at math but there was one problem I had right and she gave me no credit for it because I didn't put a zero before my decimal. In my work. Not even in my final answer."
"Tell me about it. At least it's encouraging to know that we're all failures and none of us will ever amount to anything," she said sarcastically, paraphrasing the lecture Mrs. Davis had given a few days ago.
Vince laughed. "That's true. Although I almost wish someone would've told us that for an hour to really drill it into our brains."
He couldn't help but smile when she laughed. The date was going in a much different direction than he had expected. Granted, they were still at the beginning, but he hadn't expected it to be fun in the least. Yet, there they were, laughing and ragging on teachers like he would've done with the gang. They hadn't had any awkward silences so far. He had expected all the conversation to be forced but he found it easy to talk to her.
"Name?" The lady asked when they walked into the restaurant.
She scrolled her finger down a page. "I'm sorry sir, but I don't see any reservations under that name."
"Oh, um, well how long is the wait?"
"We are fully booked this evening. I'm afraid you won't be able to dine with us tonight without a reservation."
"Oh, okay. Thanks."
He didn't think about getting a reservation. Why had that not crossed his mind? Ashley must've thought he was so stupid.
"I'm sorry," he told her as they left. "I didn't even think—"
"It's okay," she said in an encouraging voice. He knew she could tell how he was feeling. "Honestly, I'd rather eat somewhere else anyway. My parents always take us to these kinds of places."
He knew she was trying to make him feel better but it really didn't help. "Um, well is there anywhere else you want to go?"
"Well, what places do you like?"
"Probably not anywhere that you would want," he said without thinking.
The look she gave him told him that had been the wrong thing to say. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," he tried to backtrack. "I just meant you're probably used to nicer restaurants."
"Okay, so where would you pick?" she asked with a hint of challenge in her voice.
"Uh, I don't know. Maybe Corner Taco."
Vince tried not to laugh as he watched Ashley take a big bite of her food, rice spilling onto her plate.
"Shut up," she said playfully.
"Have you ever eaten a burrito before?" he laughed.
"You know, you make a lot of assumptions about people," she said cheekily. "I was actually really surprised when you asked me out. I always had the impression you kind of thought I was a stuck-up bitch."
That was exactly what he had thought. He didn't respond immediately and his face gave him away.
"You did!" she confirmed.
"I mean, not totally," they were both laughing as he tried to defend himself. "But you and the other Ashleys can be kind of mean."
"Oh, like you and your friends are any better."
"Well..." he said in a way that he did think they were better. He found himself really enjoying the flirty fighting thing they were doing.
"Oh my gosh, you think your friends are better."
"Well, you guys act like you're better than everyone else."
"You do too!" She threw a tortilla chip towards him. "You're doing it right now!"
"You need to work on your aim," he laughed. "And I don't think we're necessarily better. I just think we treat others better."
"Oh really?" she asked sassily.
She smiled at him and rolled her eyes.
"What?" he asked.
"I don't know," she shook her head.
"Yes, you do."
"Fine," she said as if agreeing to play this game with him. "Your group is always acting like they own the school. You act like you care about other people, but most of the time, you guys are just trying to show-off and get praise from others. And the pranks."
"Pranks don't count," he quickly retorted.
"They're mean," she said plainly, then noticing him putting his credit card in with the bill, she added, "and thank you."
"You're welcome. And pranks are all in good fun."
"The syrup all over our clubhouse?" He tried to suppress a laugh. "Quit laughing," she said but she was laughing too.
"Okay but that was sixth grade."
"Last year, Spinelli went into the girls' locker room and put blue dye in my shampoo."
"That was pretty bad," he admitted. "But that was Spinelli's idea. It wasn't a group prank."
"Whatever; you guys are all in it together no matter who's idea it is," she followed his lead and stood up, continuing the argument outside of the restaurant.
"Okay, maybe we have a little bit of a twisted sense of humor, but you Ashleys are like the stereotypical popular, mean girls."
"First of all, your group is way more popular than we are."
"No," he laughed, bumping into her as they walked down the sidewalk.
"Yes," she said, playfully shoving him back. "And we mostly just do our own thing."
He shook his head but instead of arguing back, he asked, "do you wanna get some ice cream?"
"Oh, I don't know. It might have calories," she said, mocking his previous judgments about her.
"I saw you scarf down that burrito, so I wasn't really worried about that."
She laughed. She had a cute laugh. He hadn't realized that before. "Ice cream sounds great."