BEING JAMIE BAKER

CHAPTER 1

Most superhero stories start with a meteor shower or a nasty insect bite, but mine actually starts with a kiss. Whether it was a kiss of life or a kiss of death I still haven’t decided, but it was, surprisingly, a really good kiss. Not that I’d ever tell him that.

The kiss didn’t actually give me my powers. Those came earlier, in a freak accident involving toxic waste and something like 40,000 volts of electricity. But it was that kiss that forced me out of hiding and changed my life, eventually making me who I am today, and blah, blah, blah… You know the drill.

Mike Driscoll actually started it, three weeks before our senior homecoming, when he got in an argument with Ryan Miller over who to ask to the dance. Mike and Ryan were basically the two most popular guys in school, and Becky Eastman held that title by a landslide among the female population.

“I think I’m gonna take Becky to homecoming,” Mike said casually one day over his cold chicken patty on a bun and coleslaw.

“Dude, you took her to junior prom,” Ryan immediately protested.

“Yeah, so?”

“So it’s my turn. I’m taking her to homecoming.”

“Over my dead body. She’s the hottest girl in school. As captain of the football team it’s my right to have first pick.”

“Says who?” Ryan laughed. “I’m the quarterback. Everyone knows I’m the real star. Besides, I’m better looking than you. I bet if we asked her at the same time, she’d pick me.”

“Would not.”

“Would too.”

“So would not.”

I’m not sure exactly how long they fought about that, but it was long enough for me to want to rip my hair out.

Superhearing can come in handy every now and then, but most of the time it royally sucks. Especially when you’re stuck in a crowded school cafeteria, surrounded by a bunch of spoiled suburban teenagers, most of whom are having conversations every bit as ridiculous as the one Ryan and Mike were engrossed in. I try to drown out the noise, and it works to an extent, but the annoying chatter is the reason I always sit in the far corner, all by myself. Well, it’s one of the reasons.

I’d managed to block most of the nonsense from my mind by focusing on the sound of my own chewing, but I’m kind of like one of those government computer programs that you see in spy movies, where they pick up key words and then home in on the conversation. Translation: I’m sensitive to my own name, and when it escaped Ryan Miller’s mouth, I was immediately paying close attention.

“Technically,” he said, “Jamie Baker is hotter than Becky. If you want to take the hottest girl in school, then you have to take her.”

Mike burst into obnoxious laughter. “Yeah, she’s hot all right, for an ice queen. Becky is the hottest normal girl in school. Jamie would never go to the dance with anyone.”

“Not even the great Mike Driscoll?” Ryan laughed. “You always say you could get any girl in this school.”

“Jamie doesn’t count. The chick’s a total loner.”

“Maybe she’s just misunderstood,” Ryan teased.

“Maybe she’s just a cold-hearted freak.”

I smirked, quite happy with Mike’s opinion of me. When I first arrived here at Rocklin High, Mike Driscoll hit on me before I got to the front steps. He and his buddies were all hanging out at the back of his truck like they were having some sort of tailgate party before school. I knew exactly what was coming when he straightened his letter jacket and smiled at me with that classic crooked smile that every major womanizer has perfected. Maybe laughing in his face in front of the entire varsity football team was a bit harsh, but it did the trick. He hasn’t bothered me since. None of them has.

Anyway, I’m glad he hates me. Having him spread all those rumors makes it a lot easier for me to keep my preferred “loner” status.

“I bet I could get her to go with me,” Ryan mused, breaking both Mike and me from our thoughts—which I’d bet were the same right then, though I can’t be sure. Mind reading is not checked off on my list of superhuman abilities.

This time I nearly joined Mike in his wild laughter. I don’t know why Ryan thought he was so special, and apparently, neither did Mike. “Jamie Baker? I’ll bet you couldn’t even get her to talk to you.”

“Yeah, I could,” Ryan said. “I bet I could go over there, strike up a conversation, and get her number by the end of lunch.”

“You think you could get Jamie’s phone number?”

“I just said I could, didn’t I?”

“No way,” Mike said.

“Okay, how about this. If I can get Jamie’s number by the end of lunch, then I get to take Becky to homecoming. If not, then you get to take her instead.”

“Make it a kiss, and you’re on.”

“I kiss Jamie Baker, and I get to take Becky to homecoming?”

“Not exactly—anybody can just kiss someone,” Mike said. “You have to get her to kiss you, or the deal’s off.”

I could feel Ryan looking at me again, probably trying to figure out if he could really do it, and then after a moment he said, “Before lunch is over?”

“Yup.” Mike slapped his hand loudly on Ryan’s back. “You’ve only got ten minutes, Casanova. Better go make your move.”

I heard Ryan scoot his chair out from the table and smiled to myself. The guy didn’t stand a chance, but I had to admit, the bet was highly amusing, and I almost couldn’t wait for him to try. When he approached me, I waited for him to quote something I’m sure you could find in any book of cheesy pickup lines, but much to my disappointment all I got was a “Hey, Jamie. Mind if I sit for a minute?”

I had no comeback. It’s hard to insult Ryan if he’s not making an idiot of himself. So, since I couldn’t make a scene worth any gossip, I decided not to make a scene at all. I didn’t even acknowledge his presence. It didn’t stop him from sitting down, though.

Ryan pulled out the chair to my right and turned it so that he was facing me. I’m not sure if he sat like that, thinking it would make me look at him, or if he just wanted to have his back to the other genius behind this master plan, so that he couldn’t see Mike laughing.

He sat there for a minute, no doubt still trying to figure out his strategy, and when I smiled at the way he was bouncing his knee nervously, he immediately leaned forward, resting his elbows on his legs. “Here’s the thing,” Ryan finally began. “If I can’t kiss you by the end of lunch, then I have to let Mike take Becky Eastman to homecoming, and I already made dinner reservations at her favorite restaurant.”

Of all the things in the world, I never for one second expected him to tell me the truth. I was honestly amazed. No, I was impressed. This guy was on a whole different playing field than like 99.99 percent of all humans cursed with Y chromosomes. What he said was ridiculous, but surely it deserved, at the very least, a response. “That’s one I’ve never heard before,” I said dryly, still not bothering to look his direction.

“A girl as hot as you can’t be a stranger to the game, so I figured honesty might be my only shot.”

“I’ll admit, it was probably the closest thing you had to a shot.”

“Okay, what about bribery?”

“Sorry.”

“Aw, come on, Jamie. It won’t mean anything. I won’t even use tongue. You don’t really want Mike to win, do you?”

It was true—Ryan was definitely the lesser of two evils. I sighed, obviously softened by the surprise truth tactic, and finally looked at him.

“I’ll owe you,” he said hopefully.

I studied him for a minute. He definitely wasn’t bad-looking. Honey-blond hair, blue eyes and a tall, lean build. Okay, fine, he was hot. If you like the All-American-boy-next-door type.

Which, unfortunately, I do.

Plus, the pout Ryan was giving me was kind of charming, in a pathetic sort of way, so I considered my options. After realizing that all giving in to his request would do was make people think I’m a freak—which they already think anyway—and give them something to talk about for a few days, I figured, why not? At least this way I could take a little pleasure in Mike’s disappointment and save Becky from a night of drunken groping. “Fine,” I said with a sigh. “Knock yourself out.”

I sat back and waited for Ryan’s shocked look to fade. I smiled when it finally turned to a frown.

“Actually,” he said, cringing, “you have to kiss me or it doesn’t count.”

I already knew that, but I still raised an eyebrow at him. May as well make him sweat a little.

“You don’t have to pretend to like it,” he said, sounding a little desperate for the first time. “Please?”

I didn’t say anything. Just glanced over Ryan’s head at Mike, who was analyzing my every move, then leaned over and pressed my lips to Ryan’s.

It was just over a year since my accident, the one that made me join the comic book persuasion, and I hated to admit it, but I hadn’t kissed a guy since I’d changed. And I know I have a little extra electricity running through me now—I can jump-start a car with my hands if I want to—but I never imagined it would affect something like kissing a guy.

There weren’t actual physical sparks, but something pulsed through me and pulled me to Ryan. I’d meant to just touch my lips lightly against his, but the instant we connected I lost all self-control. I threw my mouth on his so forcefully that he nearly fell out of his chair—not that he seemed to mind any. Energy passed right through me, and I could feel the warmth of my electricity coming from his hands as they found their way to my face. The next thing I knew, I was straddling his lap with my arms wrapped tightly around his neck.

Everyone in the cafeteria went silent, or at least to me the sound faded away, and that’s when I realized what was happening. I knew it was not a normal kiss by any means, and if I acted as freaked out as I felt, I risked Ryan realizing that there was something different about me. I just kept kissing him until I had my emotions in check, and when I finally pulled away we were both pretty breathless.

“You can keep the gum,” I said, trying to keep up my nonchalant reputation, and slowly climbed off him. “Have fun at the dance.”

When I left, Ryan was still sitting in his chair, kind of speechless. I wondered if maybe I’d electrocuted him or paralyzed him or something, but by the time I turned around he was stumbling back to Mike. He was in a bit of a daze, but he appeared to be okay, so I kept walking. I headed straight for the girls’ bathroom, where I could have a minute to completely freak out in private before I had to get to my next class.

I was pretty useless the rest of the day since the only thing I could think about was that kiss. Of course I liked it, and I’m pretty sure he did too, but it was weird. It wasn’t a normal kiss, a human kiss. It was some kind of superkiss. Kind of freakish, like me.

It was just one more thing to remind me that I would never be able to live a fully normal life now, and aside from depressing me it scared me. What if I’d hurt him? What if something bad had happened? What if this meant I could never have a physical relationship ever again? What if someone finds out the truth about me? Or, what if, because of the superkissing abilities I apparently possess, Ryan already knows?

It was that last question that scared me the most, and the one that had my mind so preoccupied during last period that I didn’t hear the bell ring. Nor did I realize that Ryan was there until he plopped down at the desk right in front of mine and spun around. He actually startled me, and that annoyed me very much, but not as much as the fact that he laughed at me for it. I gave him an evil glare, but he just asked, “Do you want to go to the dance with me?” as if we were best friends and the answer was a given.

I couldn’t stop the confusion in my mind from spreading to my face, and he laughed at me again. I glanced across the room, since English was the one class that Ryan, Becky, and I all had in common, and frowned at the girl who’d been the reason for our strange encounter in the first place. “All that effort and she turned you down? Sucks to be you.”

Ryan shrugged. “I didn’t ask her.”

“Hey, I did my part in this idiotic little scheme. You’d better go do yours now. I’d hate to think I made myself the star of the school’s gossip column for nothing.”

“It doesn’t have to be nothing.” Ryan shrugged again. “You want to go?”

I didn’t get this guy at all. Not that I’m like this big scary monster or anything, but talking to Jamie Baker is kind of taboo around my school. People usually avoid eye contact with me, not ask me out.

“Sorry,” I said. “That kiss was a one-time deal, and it wasn’t an invitation for anything else. Trust me, you’ve got a much better chance of getting some action if you go with Becky.”

I wouldn’t say I sounded hostile just then, but I definitely wasn’t being friendly, and when Ryan just laughed at my comment my annoyance turned into real anger.

“It’s not like that,” he said.

“Right.”

“No, really. I just think it could be interesting.”

I gave him the dirtiest look I could, but he shrugged it off like it was nothing. He looked over at Becky just as she left the room, and then looked back at me as casual as ever. “I think it’d be more fun to go with you.”

Okay, now I was curious. I mean Becky and Ryan are basically attached at the hip. Best friends since kindergarten or something ridiculous like that. Ryan worships her as much as every other boy in this school, if not more, so I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he’d ask me when he could take her.

“I know Becky,” Ryan explained when he saw my frown. “But you’re a mystery to me. I like mysteries.”

“Well then, Sherlock, it’s in your best interest to stick with the original plan. If we went to the dance and you accidentally got to know me or something, then I wouldn’t be a mystery anymore.” I grabbed my bag and stood up. “I’m not going. With you or anyone.”

I walked out of the room without looking back, but I heard him sigh as I left. It was the strangest day I’d had since I moved here and the most social interaction I’d had with any one classmate. It hadn’t been bad, but I prayed it was over now and that when I went back to school the next day things would be back to their normal, uneventful selves.