"So it all starts with fanfiction. Have you heard of fanfiction?" I asked.

"Like Inuyasha? Yeah, I've seen some of Nicky's. Is this friend of yours an Inuyasha fan?" Dan guessed.

I could tell this would be difficult. I was glad he was being patient and listening rather than jumping down my throat about Hulky's suspicious note. "No, I don't think so. Have you heard of Real Person fanfiction?"

He looked amused. "I can guess. It's about celebrities, right? A bunch of idiot boys writing stories about themselves and Jubilee O'Toole."

I smiled. "Mostly. Except some of it is about, well, real real people. You and me and our classmates. Everybody has some, at least," I began to ramble, "well, it's mostly a junior high and high school fad, but there are also fics about non-teenagers in whom teenagers would have a reason to be interested, like teachers and parents of teenagers and owners of certain shops." I had adopted this proper, prudish tone, and I didn't know why, except as insulation. "Anyway, I had been away from the fanfiction community for a few months, and when I discovered this--"

"—you looked yourself up," Dan finished. I smiled guiltily. "Anyone would," he concluded.

"Okay, yes. I looked myself up. And there were the stories you'd expect—people who were obviously mad at me when they wrote the stories, people who had some sort of normal interest in me, et cetera. But then I found the romance fics." I was talking pretty fast now, trying to get the explanation out before it ate me or something. "There were four of them, all by this one author… it was a fairly masculine name, and I figured he must like me."

"Whoa, whoa, are you being stalked?"

"No!" I assured him, and hated him for assuming I was nice and normal and mentally balanced. "I sent the guy an effing review. That's sort of a reply to a story with criticism," I responded to his blank look. "I gave him my screen name and flirted, and he flirted back, and that doesn't happen to me much, and don't tell me how messed up I am, because I already know, okay?"

He said nothing, just gave me a look like he was thinking and would answer in a minute.

"I've always thought people were too paranoid about the internet anyway," I concluded lamely.

Half a minute passed. "It probably isn't your stereotypical internet weirdo," he agreed. "It's probably a guy from our school. You wanted to make him happy, and maybe make yourself happy, too, and that's natural. HOWEVER, you're still at a 7.2, minimum, on the messed-up situation scale."

"I know!" I reiterated. Damn, this was where he was going to tell me how pathetic I was.

"I said the situation, not you. You just acted without thinking about things, like how you don't know this guy. I know plenty of girls that would and often do take whatever they can get. I don't understand it!" he raised his voice. "Smart girls. Interesting girls. Talented girls. It isn't just you, Minnie Mouse, guys like this scavenger hunt guy stoop to your level of self-depreciation just to prove they have something in common with you!"

He breathed in. "You know very well you aren't bad looking or boring or a horrible person. But you think your prince won't come unless you act the part of sweet, humble, modest Cinderella. You know you're not an inadequate human being, but none of the boys you know happen to feel romantic about you, so while you're sitting around hoping that will change, you get all emo and despondent until you'll jump at any chance you get, even a fellow emo despondent type whom you've never met before."

"To hell with this!" I respond, ready to walk away right then if this continued. "What would you have me do instead, Mister Cassanova?"

"Dang, I don't know," he admitted. "High school is terrible for this sort of thing. There's got to be something. Try being a flirt, Minnie Mouse. Go to a stoplight dance in a red shirt and try to leave in a green one. Get your first hickey from some doofus behind the football stands and your first broken heart from a good guy with bad timing. One of the most attractive things you can do is have fun."

I sniffed. "But that's not me. I'm not going to pretend to be a ditz that never gets upset just to please a bunch of guys. That isn't a real relationship anyway."

He was drawing closer to me now. "This is true. How about this: be assertive, but still respectful. Go after Mr. Wrong, and Mr. Slightly Less Wrong, and Mr. Still Wrong But Pretty Cute. And if one doesn't like you back, forget him. There are dozens of Mr. Still Wrong But Pretty Cute types in this school, and if you go after one at a time, you're bound to get one eventually.

I looked up at him. "Getting closer."

"There's no rule saying you can't be honest, but save it for a good moment. Show them what you're like when you're enjoying yourself, and when you're alone confess all your fears, too. And…" he whispered, inches from my lips… "always go for tall men, and make them lean down to kiss you."

I took three steps back suddenly.

"What?" he asked.

"Well you won't do," I told him. "Thanks for the advice; it really helped. But there's no way I'd let a guy get away with that kind of… seduction stunt. I hardly know you yet."

"That's my girl!" he smiled.

I beamed back. "Well, anyway, I've got a date with Mister Internet Charm and Smarm. Wish me luck!"