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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

The Girlfriend Project


Who You Lookin’ At?


Exit 1

My name is Reed Walton, I’m seventeen years old, I live in New Jersey, and I’ve never had a girlfriend.

Yeah. That’s pretty much it.

Well, actually, no.

I’ve never kissed a girl either.

Pathetic? Sure. Don’t you think I know that? I mean, at this rate, I’m headed for the priesthood.

But, my best friends, Ronnie and Lonnie White, have decided Things Will Drastically Change when senior year officially starts tomorrow.

See, they’ve signed me up for something they’re calling…The Girlfriend Project.

I’m in big, big trouble.

I know it’s my last hope. But I don’t have to like it.

It happens like this…

We’re in my car—a Range Rover the color of swamp water—and we’re parked in front of the Woodrow Wilson Basketball Courts at the George Washington Municipal Park. I don’t know what these two presidents have to do with sports or trees, but this is New Jersey, like I said. George Washington slept here, and Woodrow Wilson was our governor, and I guess when you’re New Jersey, you have to take what you can get.

A girl—a really cute girl—is shooting baskets by herself. I’ve been watching her since we got there. I’m doing a better job at this than listening to my friends’ plans for getting me a girlfriend.

“So, Reed, whaddaya think?” Lonnie asks me, leaning forward from the back seat. I can smell his cologne when he’s this close and I wonder. Should I wear cologne? Is that the secret?

“I think not,” I reply automatically.

“You’re making a mistake,” Ronnie says, from the front seat. I trust her opinion more. After all, she’s a girl, Lonnie’s fraternal-twin sister. But she’s siding with him on this one.

“I don’t want a girlfriend,” I lie through my teeth, knowing it’ll never fly. “You want a girlfriend so bad I can smell it,” Ronnie replies and sniffs the air loudly to make her point.

Maybe I should wear cologne. I feel self-conscious all of a sudden.

“I don’t want to make a big deal out of it,” I say. “Besides, I can take care of it.”

“Yeah?” Lonnie says, and I hear a big-scary challenge coming. “See that girl?” He points, but he doesn’t have to. I haven’t taken my eyes off her. “Ask her out, buddy.”

My stomach plunges eighteen stories, and I do the only thing I can think of—stall. “What—um—right now—right this very minute—just like that?” Lonnie folds his arms across his chest. “Right now. Right this very minute. Just like that.”

I gulp loudly. “But… It’s just… You can’t… What about…”        

Ronnie pokes me playfully in the ribs. “You, cowboy, need The Girlfriend Project.”

They’re right. I need The Girlfriend Project so bad I can smell it.

We’re in my room making plans later that afternoon—the day before senior year starts at Marlborough Regional High School. Ronnie, who has a neon-pink clipboard propped on her knees, is definitely working hard on it. Lonnie, on the other hand, just wants to pig out. She watches him in disgust as he stuffs three brownies into his mouth in rapid-fire succession.

“What?” he asks with his mouth full of chewed-up brownie. “You got a problem?”

“Boys,” she mutters. “They never have to count calories, carbs, or fat grams.”

Lonnie nods. “We’re genetically superior.”

“You’re genetically mutated,” Ronnie counters, then turns to me. “Anyway, Reed, back to you. How tall are you now?”

“Six foot one,” I answer. I know this exactly, because I’ve been diligently measuring it all summer.

Ronnie smiles at me. “Girls dig tall guys.”

Lonnie nods again. “The girl’s right.”

Well, Lonnie ought to know. He’s six foot three and has always had plenty of girls around.

Ronnie studies me. I think she’s looking at my hair.

“Sandy,” she murmurs.

Lonnie stops chewing and looks at her. “Who’s Sandy?”

“His hair,” Ronnie replies.

This response doesn’t help very much.

Ronnie sighs. “His hair is sandy, you know, the color of sand.”

Now Lonnie looks indignant. “The color of sand?!”

“It’s dirty-blond, okay?” she sputters.

I nervously run my fingers through my sandy, dirty-blond hair, wishing Ronnie would stop staring at me. But what she does next makes me blush.

“Eye color,” she says and propels herself into my face.

I try not to blink or move as she gazes deeply into my eyes, but I can feel my cheeks flame.

How will I go on dates with girls when just having my best friend’s face near mine makes my whole neck go on fire?

I’m more hopeless than I thought.

“Brown,” Lonnie says definitively from across the room. He leans toward me, and for one panic-stricken second, I think he’s going to get in my face too, which would be a real low point. But he just hands me the empty plate of brownies. “The color of brownies. Refill, Reed.”

I take the plate and start to get up.

“No,” Ronnie says, and I’m not sure if she’s talking about my eyes or the brownies. “More like hazel.” She scribbles. “I’m so glad you finally got rid of the glasses, Reed, you have nice eyes. Girls dig nice eyes.”

“The girl’s right.”

Ronnie ignores him. “Honey,” she says.

“Who’s Honey?”

Ronnie throws her brother another murderous look, then peers at me in a dreamy sort of way. “Like a jar of honey on a kitchen shelf when the sun shines through it. That’s the color of your eyes.”

We look at her blankly.

“Boys,” she mutters. “Neanderthals with no imagination.”

Actually, I was trying to picture that sun-drenched jar of honey. Maybe I’ll examine my eyes more closely later to see if it’s true. I can’t believe having eyes the color of honey is going to matter with girls one way or the other, but I’m not going to argue with the experts.

“Be right back,” I say, indicating the empty plate.

I hope they don’t strangle each other while I’m gone, but you never know. I head down the stairs to the kitchen. My house is one of those just-out-of-the-oven-homemade-cookies-cakes-and-brownies kind of house. That’s because my grandmother lives with my parents and me. She loves baking. Ronnie and Lonnie—yup, those are their real names—have always lived next door to us, and the three of us have been best friends since kindergarten. And get this, their parents are Bonnie and Donnie White. And their cats are Connie and Johnnie. How can you not love a family like that?

When I walk into the kitchen, I see my grandmother making huffing-and-puffing noises as she reaches into a high cabinet for something.

“I’ll get that for you, Grandma,” I say.

She pinches my cheek as I retrieve a bag of flour for her.

“You’re a good boy, Reed,” she says.

Yup, good boy, that’s me.

All-Around Nice Guy. Average Joe. All-American Boy Next Door.

Most Likely Not to Offend Anyone. Most Likely to Blend into the Wallpaper. Dorkus Extremus.

The kind of guy who babysits his nieces and nephews, sets the table for dinner every night, and blushes in an aw-shucks way when Grandma tells her blue-haired old-lady friends I’m a straight-A student who’s shooting for Princeton.

I’m even an Eagle Scout. Scout’s honor! Ha ha ha.

But things may finally change for me. See, over the summer, I got my braces taken off, grew another inch or two, started wearing contact lenses, and got a car.

Ronnie says girls dig tall guys with nice eyes, a nice smile, and a car.

Girlfriend Project—here we go.

Ready or not.