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Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)
By Amy Spalding
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Riley and her best guy friend, Reid, have made a pact: they’ll help each other pursue their respective crushes, make something happen, and document the details in a shared notebook.
While Reid struggles with the moral dilemma of adopting a dog to win over a girl’s heart, Riley tries to make progress with Ted Callahan, the guy she’s been obsessed with forever. His floppy hair! His undeniable intelligence! But between a chance meeting with a fellow musician in a record store and a brief tryst with a science-geek-turned-stud–not to mention Ted’s own tentative attentions–cute guys are suddenly popping up everywhere. How did she never notice them before?! As their love lives go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye, Riley and Reid’s pact may prove to be more than they bargained for.
Filled with cute dogs, cute boys, and a few awkward hookups, this hilarious tale from Amy Spalding chronicles the soaring highs and embarrassing lows of dating in high school.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions)
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TWO MONTHS AGO
"This summer is a failure."
"Reid, get a grip," I say.
"It's emblematic," he says, and I don't roll my eyes because Reid says things like emblematic all the time. He's a writer, but also he's just Like That. "This is the summer before our junior year, and it isn't going how I wanted."
"It's one sold-out show," I say.
We didn't buy tickets to see Welcome to the Marina in advance because even our bandmates, Lucy and Nathan, said their record wasn't very good, and Pitchfork said they were even worse live. But as soon as we drove up to the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock and saw the line wrapping around the entrance and stairs, we realized we should have just ponied up the extra money for the Ticketmaster fees and bought tickets in advance. "What should we do now? Pastrami and shakes at the Oinkster?"
"I'm too disappointed for a pastrami sandwich," Reid says. "Let's just go back to the garage and see if Lucy and Nathan want to practice more."
This seems like a good solution, even though I'd really been hoping for one of the Oinkster's ube shakes. Today's had been one of those band practices where, if not for Reid and I having plans, we could have played all night.
I love being in a band with people who care about it as much as I do.
We shout-sing along with Andrew Mothereffing Jackson's latest album on the drive back and pull up to Lucy's house less than an hour after we left it. Nathan's car is still there, so we made the right call.
"You guys were wrong," I say as Reid opens the door to the garage. "That show is completely sold out."
A Crocodiles song is blaring from the stereo, but somehow the room still seems completely silent because no one is talking. I see it like a horror movie, all quick flashes of skin and slo-mo devastation. Nathan is on Lucy, or maybe Lucy is on Nathan, but regardless of who is on whom, it's Lucy and Nathan. Lucyandnathan.
Now everything's in fast-forward instead. Lucy and Nathan are fully dressed and talking at exactly the same time, but Reid and I might as well be turned into stone.
"We wanted to tell you guys," I hear Nathan say.
"We were going to tell you," I hear Lucy say.
"Nothing changes about the band."
"Yes. Everything will be exactly the same."
Reid and I manage to break our stone spell at the same moment. I know if I wanted to, I could speak again. But all we do is back out of the garage together and get into Reid's car without another word.
We, the undersigned, agree to document our journeys in search of true love and/or sex. No detail is too small, too humiliating, too stupid.
We will also provide one another with advice on how to capture the attention of the opposite gender. No line items should be taken as criticism, merely assistance and guidance to complete our ultimate goal.
Riley Jean Crowe-Ellerman
Reid Daniel Goodwin
Ted Callahan is walking to my car.
I am trying to act normal. Like a normal person. Pick up one foot, put it down, repeat with the other foot. Do not look like a robot while doing so. Do not tip over. Do not, under any circumstances, let out any joyous squeals. Do not grab Ted's face and scream, "Dear god, you are here and you are real and you are beautiful and you are about to get into my car."
"Thanks," Ted says.
I've been in love with him for at least five months, but he doesn't talk to me often. His words are blue sky, cutting through the clouds of our previously uncommunicative ways.
"It's no problem. I drive this way anyway." It's scary how fast this flies out of me. Stop talking, Riley. "And I never mind driving. I love driving. Ever since I got my license, it's all, if I can get in the car and go, I totally will."
Why did I say that? It isn't even true! I neither love nor hate driving.
Ted nods politely as I unlock the doors to my car. It's as he's about to sit down that I realize something horrifying—way worse than my stream-of-consciousness ode to the open road—is about to occur. When I dropped off Ashley at school this morning, she left behind her copy of… Gill Talk.
On the front passenger seat.
The cover features a pale mermaid with flowing blond locks. Instead of the traditional shell bra, she's wearing a gold shirt that looks like it was purchased at Forever 21, and instead of scales, she appears to possess sequins.
"That isn't mine." I chuck it into the backseat. "I wouldn't read that. It's awful, right? Oh my god, it's so awful."
Ted smiles, but it's like when you're in a terrible situation, such as getting your legs blown off in the war, and you have to pretend for the sake of the children or the elderly that things are actually totally fine, except your crappy fake smile is fooling no one, Ted. Ted! Don't think I'm a weirdo who reads books about teenage mermaids making out with each other.
"I didn't even notice," he says.
"It's so embarrassing." My mouth now works independently of my brain. Or I have some new, secondary brain whose only function is to make boys think I'm stupid. Apparently, this new brain was raised on a diet of bad teen movies and CW dramas. Brain Number Two, I hate you. "One time my sister left that book in this deli, and she didn't realize until later, so I had to go back and ask this old man who runs it if I could have it back. And he doesn't know it's my sister's! So now he thinks I read books that have sparkly people with fins for feet making out on the cover."
Ted fidgets with the zipper on his bag. "Probably he didn't notice."
Then he changes the subject. "What kind of car is this?"
I'm not sure what to make of the question. I do not drive a cool car, and I do not drive a crappy car. I drive Mom's hand-me-down, very normal and nondescript. It's a little dark outside, but he could have figured it out just by walking up to it and getting inside.
Oh! Maybe he's trying to make conversation with me?
"A white 2009 Toyota Corolla." Years pass before the way-too-many words leave my mouth. And why did I say that it was white? The one thing about the car that doesn't need any clarifying is its color.
Ted nods, and I am sure this thing where we exchange words that I can't quite—even being generous—call a conversation is ending. I'm also already turning into the parking lot next to his mom's office building. After Yearbook, when I made this magic happen by offering him a ride, I'd asked him where he was heading. But supertruthfully? I already knew. I spotted him walking here last week.
"Thanks for the ride." He gets out of the car. Swiftly. Too swiftly? Is he afraid I'll lob more word fits at him? Ted, come back! Ted, I'll learn to be normal! Ted, it isn't fair we sat two feet apart and I didn't get to touch your hair!
"Anytime," I say. "Seriously, I don't mind."
"Cool." He picks up his messenger bag and slides it over his shoulder. I admire boys who basically carry purses. They aren't afraid of what the world thinks. "See you, Riley."
He walks off toward the building. I wait for it, a glance back. A glance back would hold so much meaning and potential and material for analysis. But Ted walks toward the big glass doors, tries one, and when it's clearly the wrong side, opens the other and disappears inside.
I plug in my earphones and reach for my phone. I saw Reid when school let out at three, but so much has changed since then.
"The plan is doomed." I know it sounds overdramatic, but I also know it isn't. Not at all. "Ted was in my car."
"Ted? Ted Callahan?" His voice washes over with realization. "Ted Callahan is the Crush?"
"TED CALLAHAN IS THE CRUSH." I sound insane. Brain Number Two seems to be planning an overthrow.
"We'll meet up." Reid is all business. Often, it's what I like most about him. "The usual? Now?"
Reid's Goals (in Order):
3. Hanging out
5. Making out
Riley's Goals (in Order):
1. Witty/sexy banter
2. Listening to music/going to shows together
3. Doing it!!
There used to be four. Lucy and Reid and Nathan and me. Against the world. Well, not the world. Not really against anything.
Lucy and I have been best friends since we were five and stood next to each other in Beginners Tap. Reid went to our school and had since kindergarten. He'd seemed like kind of a dork for a long time, but he sat behind us in freshman English, and he made great jokes about the ancient stuff we were forced to read. More importantly, his taste in music was excellent, though sometimes he could make even that dorky, like by geeking out over original vinyl pressings. Still, once we found out the battered Moleskine notebooks he was never seen without were filled with lyrics—and really smart and funny and heartbreaky lyrics at that—I knew for sure I wanted him around.
Back then Nathan rolled with a preppier and more athletically inclined crowd, but some mutual acquaintance told him we should talk about music, since we often ended up at school wearing the same band T-shirts. And then everything started happening.
The four of us listened to music, and then played music, and then wrote music. About a year and a half ago, we started calling ourselves a band—the Gold Diggers—and then Nathan's cousin booked us to be the opener at his wedding. (Yes, apparently some weddings have multiple bands play—especially if one of those bands is made up of a cousin you feel bad for and his friends.)
It was actually as easy and awesome as it sounds.
Last summer, Lucy's dad let us convert their garage into rehearsal space, I saved enough Christmas and birthday money to upgrade my drum kit, Reid let Lucy and me take him shopping so he'd stop dressing like his mom picked out his clothes (she did), and Nathan designed a band logo and found us two more gigs. Things were Happening. I walked around in the kind of mood where I wanted to high-five people and shout about how great life was.
But then the Incident happened.
Reid and I have talked about it a lot since. Not, like, in graphic detail. But things have shifted. We don't know what our group is anymore, even though Nathan and Lucy say "It's just the same!" while holding hands and whispering into each other's ears and sliding into the booth side of our usual table at Palermo Pizza while Reid and I get stuck in the rickety chairs facing them.
And permanent relocation to rickety chairs is definitely not just the same.
* * *
"Yo." Reid slides in across from me in our new usual spot at Fred 62, which has become our place. It's a diner with old-fashioned orange-and-brown booths and a menu that stretches on for years. It's open twenty-four hours, so it's just as good after concerts as it is after school or band practice.
Maybe I'm just suspicious, but Reid looks smirky. Self-satisfied. Knowledgeable of Things.
His silence is too much. I must make him talk. "Just say it, Reid."
"Ted Callahan?" Reid asks.
I leap forward and shove my hands over his mouth, which is dumb considering he's already said it, and what I'm doing is way more attention-drawing.
"You're a wimp."
"I know I'm a wimp." He leans forward to grab my bag. I don't argue because we've determined it's the safest place for the Passenger Manifest. One of Reid's notebooks seemed like the perfect place to start logging our plans and thoughts on helping each other in our quest to find love. Well, Reid wants to find love, and I want to do more than awkwardly kiss a boy outside a ninth-grade dance I didn't even technically go to. Reid named it the Passenger Manifest because it's some reference from that old TV show Lost, and that guy loves hanging on to random factoids.
Anyway, if I trust Reid with all of my boy thoughts, what do I care if he sees my lip gloss or tampons?
"Don't put his name in that," I say. "Or his initials. Everyone will know who I mean by his initials."
"I'm putting his initials," Reid says. "I wrote down names. No one but us will see this. And if they do, by his initials people could think it's Tyler Cole or Titus Culliver—"
"Gross," I say. "Who would have a crush on Titus Culliver? Sometimes he leaves his prescription goggles on after gym class—"
"Or Tito Cortez," Reid says.
"I had no idea you had some kind of superpower with initials," I say.
"Yeah, it's amazing I don't have a girlfriend, right?" He isn't joking. I have no idea what will happen if everything we've planned works. Reid's identity seems forged around his lack of a lady friend. It's stupid because Reid is good at lots of things that matter: music, school, crossword puzzles. And, apparently, initials. "Oh, this was the thing in your list in the Passenger Manifest: 'Join a club he's in. Give him a ride,'" he says, pointing to the notebook.
"Yearbook," I say. "Last week I noticed he always walks down Sunset to some office building after our meeting, so I offered to drive him."
Reid props his elbows on the table and puts his hands together like he's an evil dictator taking stock of his newly invaded countries. "Not a bad plan."
"I know it's dumb I like him." I lace my fingers and hold my hands over my face like a mask. "You can say it."
Reid laughs. "Well."
I wait for the list of reasons why it's dumb. I'm not breathtakingly pretty, Ted barely knows who I am, I have no boyfriend experience, and I'm aiming too high right out of the gate.
"He's kind of short," Reid says. "And he makes me look cool. You know I'm not cool, Ri, no matter what you and Luce say." Reid makes a couple of strange arm movements, and I realize he's imitating the way Ted moves his hands when he's talking.
I feel like yelling at him, but the resemblance is more than uncanny. I am speechless at how it is the exact opposite of canny.
"He's so awkward."
"What?" A protective sensation rises up within me. I had no idea I'd have to defend Ted, ever. "But he's gorgeous. And a genius! He runs the freaking Fencing Club, you know." The Fencing Club is not, as it sounds, a club for fencing, but an underground blog that used to be an underground newspaper that dates back to 1964, the year our school was founded.
"I know he does," Reid says slowly. "Do you think that makes him cool?"
"Yes?" I stare at Reid. "Do you mean Ted isn't cool?"
"STOP USING HIS FULL NAME!" I kick Reid in the knee. My legs aren't freakishly strong, like my arms are from drumming, but it's easy to hurt someone's kneecaps. "He could have some relative here. Or a friend we don't know. BE CAREFUL."
Reid's clearly trying to act as if he isn't wounded from my powerful knee kick. "I'm just saying."
"I'm just saying," I say in my mocking-Reid voice. It sounds like a cartoon chipmunk, so I don't know why it's my go-to for making fun of him. Reid has never sounded like a cartoon chipmunk. "So you're saying Ted is not out of my league?"
"I'll be diplomatic," he says, "and leave it at that. Yes."
"Riley, you're in a band," he says. "You are a Rock Star. I don't even know if Ted listens to music."
"No, I'm sure Ted listens to music." But the authority I would have made that pronouncement with earlier is gone. "So he isn't cool?"
Reid shakes his head. "He is definitely not cool."
My worldview has shifted. Is it possible I might totally and completely be capable of Getting Ted Callahan?
Ways to Get Someone's Attention, by Reid and Riley
1. Say something funny--everyone likes to laugh, except jerks!
2. Appear to be really smart about something, but be careful. Some topics (like knowing everything about Doctor Who) will make you seem like a geek, not a genius.
3. Let the person know you guys have something in common, like you both love Ted Leo and the Pharmacists or Daniel Clowes or Grilled Cheese Night at the Oaks.
4. Have a little mystery--for example, say something intriguing and then make an exit before someone can ask a follow-up question.
5. Look really hot, obviously.
Looking back, I shouldn't have been so shocked at Nathan and Lucy falling for each other. Together they made sense, sure. That much was easy. But this was my very best friend in the whole wide world.
This was Lucy.
Things were happening with a boy. With Nathan. And my very best friend in the whole wide world hadn't told me anything.
And if Reid and I hadn't walked in on them… maybe she never would have.
I hadn't even known I should have been on the lookout for this stuff. Lucy and I talked lots about the kinds of girls who always had boyfriends. We weren't like them, distracted by kissing and jealousy and birth-control options. That stuff could all wait until college or a national tour—whichever came first—when our band was established and we were Serious Musicians Without Curfews.
Reid clearly felt the same way. He couldn't even talk to girls in class without sweating, after all. And grown-ups always acted like peaking in college was way better than peaking in high school, so we had all the time in the world to worry about it. Sure, there were some rumors about Nathan and assorted girls at assorted parties, but he never brought them up, and I dismissed rumors as rumors.
It wasn't as if I didn't get it. Lucy is the kind of girl who could be a Career Princess at Disneyland if she weren't planning on being a rock-star-slash-sociologist. She has almost black hair and delicate, fair skin. She wears dresses with color-coordinated flats just because, and she's tiny in the way people think is cute and not shrimpy. While I'm of perfectly average height and size, next to Lucy I'm this lumbering giant. And even when I'm determined to get up early and put effort into how I look, I basically stick to a uniform of a T-shirt, jeans—on crazy days a jean skirt—and a pair of Vans or Chucks. And I'm great with this! I am who I am, and whatever other lame identity slogans, but sometimes I see pictures of Lucy and me and wonder what guy in his right mind would pick anyone but the princess.
And I can't lie. Before catching him mid-grope with Lucy, I'd wondered what it would be like to kiss Nathan. (It seems from Lucy's frequent glazy expression and regular application of lip gloss, that the answer is good.) Nathan is one of those guys who hits all the marks, if charting guys were like bird watching or stamp collecting. He's tall, and he probably works out, and he gets good grades but doesn't seem to take that too seriously.
Still, this wasn't supposed to be the track Lucy and I were on, and so it wasn't just that she didn't tell me, and it wasn't just that it was Nathan. It was that my friend was going against so many things we'd talked about, like our two AM conversations suddenly didn't matter at all.
After the Incident, I considered hooking up with Reid to make things even, but I'm not into Reid, not like that. Reid is cute, but I mean that: cute. He's shorter than me, but I'm not short, so maybe that's not a big deal. His hair is better than it used to be, but it's boring brown and fluffy like a baby chick's, and that's not the kind of hair I go for in a guy. Not that that's a deal breaker, but also Reid gets really emotional and worked up over the tiniest incidents—like the time Lucy suggested he buy one big bottle of orange juice instead of two small bottles and he thought we all considered him financially irresponsible.
Plus, from his total disinterest that time my white shirt accidentally got soaked—and everyone could see my bra—I know that Reid doesn't want to hook up with me, either. And while I don't have any sentimental attachment to my virginity, I don't want it taken by an act of retaliation against Lucy and Nathan. I'm not holding out for love, but I should probably aim for higher than spite.
After all, there are plenty of reasons besides revenge for wanting a boyfriend. Love, sex, a guaranteed person to hang out with, et cetera. And by the time you're sixteen—if you like boys—having a boyfriend is something you might as well try out.
And I'm a musician! Musicians are not supposed to be virgins who throw up the first and only time they drink beer from a keg. Musicians are not supposed to keep a secret diary in their dresser that dates back to the fourth grade and includes a list of perfect names for kittens. (Top contenders: Captain Fluffington, Mittens, and Meowser.) And speaking of, while musicians are supposed to rail against their parental dictators, their main fights are not supposed to revolve around getting said kitten.
Also, a lot of guys are pretty great. Not just Nathan and Ted, but guys. Guys are around, abound, aplenty. I've yet to connect with one in any significant way. But they are there.
So I'd already been thinking about them—guys—hypothetically, in general, and thinking about Ted—the guy—specifically. Ted is so many things a guy should be. He has great hair. It's light brown and just long enough that it gets wavy near his ears and collar, and it looks soft, like in a fancy conditioner commercial. He's in extracurriculars, which means he cares about the world or at least his college applications. Midway through sophomore year he still looked like a boy in a sea of almost-men, but then he got a little taller and a little filled out. I noticed, but then, suddenly, I Noticed.
And while I'm great at what seems like enough things—drums, making smoothies, flying kites (not that I'd done that in a while)—I'm unskilled in the ways of boys, plural, and definitely in the ways of boy, singular.
Reid is, undeniably, a guy, and he's around. I realized if I were to need advice about guys, there was one right in my midst. So, on the first day of school this year, I decided to ask Reid what guys were looking for in a girl. Instead of just answering, he handed me one of his beaten-up notebooks, the ones that he carried with him everywhere. Turns out that Reid wasn't just writing lyrics for the Gold Diggers. He was also writing about girls.
Right then, over lunch, we made a pact: We'd help each other figure out the opposite sex and write about it in the notebook. Reid says that "writing keeps us honest," whatever that means.
Neither of us wanted to turn into Lucy or Nathan, even if maybe the unspoken truth was that we were jealous of them and what they had. Nathan was the hot guy in the band, and I guess for some reason I thought maybe I'd be the one to eventually land him. It was probably the same reason that Reid thought the hot girl of the group might be his one day. (The lyrics in "Sugar," one of our earlier songs, about indigo eyes and dreams of demise couldn't be about anyone but blue-eyed, cults-obsessed Lucy, come on.)
Still, jealousy wasn't going to make us liars. And that was something we promised to each other.
* * *
Mom's grading papers at our dining room table when I get home. She teaches gender studies at USC, which means she'd be disappointed if she knew I had a notebook with detailed outlines of how to make boys fall in love with me and ways to make Reid appealing to girls. Romance plans in general are probably looked down upon by college professors, so I'm not about to tell Dad, either, even though he's just a professor of American history.
"Riley," she greets me. "You're late."
"Reid wanted to meet me," I say, instead of THERE WAS A HORRIBLE INCIDENT WITH TED CALLAHAN, BUT ALSO HE WAS IN MY CAR. "He needed help with our English lit homework."
"Really?" Her eyebrows knit together. Worry is Mom's default emotion for me. Probably when she was my age she was already dissecting the world for gender analysis, not playing in a band and trying to do just enough work in school to get by. "It wasn't about the Gold Diggers?"
"Definitely not." I get a root beer out of the refrigerator and swing the door shut with my foot. "Can I skip dinner? I just ate a waffle."
"A waffle? For dinner?"
"No, not for
Praise for Kissing Ted Callahan: A 2016 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection"A not-so-fluffy chick-lit offering rife with angst, rock 'n' roll and lots of kissing."—Kirkus Reviews
- "It's refreshing to see a boy-girl friendship built on mutual support that doesn't drift into romance...Riley's voice is irreverent and funny."—Publishers Weekly
- "Character driven... this book will appeal most to teenagers questioning and exploring romantic relationships....Most readers will find the notebook entries (done in a handwriting-like font) humorous and relate to the confusing feelings that come from acting on a crush or trying to date in high school. Recommended for teens looking for realistic stories without a hefty amount of drama."—SLJ
- "Riley and I became besties immediately...I cackled (and maybe even snorted) my way through this novel in one afternoon, but don't let that fool you. There's plenty of substance in Riley's story, and her trials and tribulations strike an authentic chord that can still be heard over the din of laughter."—Sarah Pitre, Forever Young Adult
- "I laughed so hard I cried. Twice. I have a major crush on Ted Callahan."—Stephanie Perkins, New York Times bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door
- "Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) is hugely fun and full of our favorite things: secrets, shenanigans, and SO many cute boys."—Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, authors of Spoiled and Messy
- On Sale
- Apr 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 336 pages