"If I were the sun and you were out of it, what would it be called?"

"A riddle?" I hissed, glaring at Michael. "I thought you were going to ask me something important!"

"Oh, go on Elizabeth," he said, with a well-meaning smirk. "Guess."

I closed my eyes and trying to think of a clever answer, but all I could come up with was a headache. I was terrible at these things. "Well, nothing, obviously. The universe revolves around me."

"Very funny — but wrong," he informed me, with a touch of glee. "It's sin."

+ II + II +

+ II + II +

I met Michael in kindergarten. We had been listening to the teacher read Winnie the Pooh when he turned to me, giggling, and said, "Why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet?"

Jokes were a novel concept to me. My idea of a pun was to say something like, "Mommy! There's someone at the door!" and then follow up with a shouted, "Not!" Or hide when I heard the inevitable words "Bath time." I couldn't figure out how they kept managing to find me. ...Perhaps the hall closet was a bit conspicuous. But still.

I'd shaken my head, shooting a nervous glance at Mrs. Bentham; the very picture of innocence, before turning towards this strange boy with messy hair and saying, "Why?"

"Because he was looking for Pooh!"

Our resultant laughter had gotten us both sent to the principal's office. I was angry, especially when my mom decided to withhold desert that night (cherry pie! I wanted to kill him!). I suppose he must have felt bad, because the next day he tried to buy me back with an eraser shaped like a four-leaf clover.

We've been best friends ever since.

+ II + II +

+ II + II +

"Why did the jelly roll?"

I clutched at my chest. "For God's sake, Michael! You scared me—"

"—Because it saw the apple turnover!"

I rolled my eyes. "Har-dee-har-har."

He tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Where are you headed off to?"

"Spanish." Pausing, I added, "I have a test today."

"I have a flute joke for you, Lizzie," Michael said. "It'll cheer you up."

"I'm thrilled."

He chuckled. "How is a flutist like a seamstress?"

I blinked, then snorted in spite of myself. "Is this at my expense?"

"A seamstress tucks in the frills, a flu—Oh, never mind. There's my friend."

"Wait!" I snapped irately, "You didn't tell me the answer."

Michael grinned. "I'll tell you later. See ya."

He dashed off, and I watched him approach a dark-skinned guy in a yellow T-shirt. They socked each other on the arm in greeting. Typical male greeting ritual. I turned my attention to the riddle instead, trying to figure out the answer. It eluded me, the same way Michael eluded me; I didn't understand either of them. With a sigh, I continued on my way to class.

+ II + II +

+ II + II +

At lunch, I sat at "our" table in the cafeteria—well, actually, we were allocated the edge of a table by a group of stuck-up seniors. They didn't really care for sophomores that much.

"How was your test?" Rachel asked.

"Hell. I think Michael jinxed it." I rolled my eyes, "Him and his stupid jokes."

Savannah giggled. "Michael's really into riddles, huh?"

"It's one of his many obsessions. He probably prints them out and memorizes them."

"He's pretty cute," Savannah said.

Was he? He had a strange face, but that might have been because of his strange glasses. They were thick, black, with square frames. We'd been friends for so long, I barely even noticed what he looked like anymore. Michael had these blue eyes, though, that were really brilliant. In fact, last year in band, he'd one the "most beautiful man-orbs award" to his delight. He'd stuck it up on his bedroom wall with a push pin, and was as proud of it as if it were a gold Olympic medal.

I shook my head. "Cute doesn't even begin to describe Michael Morrows."

Rachel giggled. "Speak of the devil . . ."

I looked up, just in time to see a Cheshire cat grin heading our way.

"Oh no," I muttered. "Not again."

"What part of London is in France?" Michael asked, kneeling down with his elbows on the table.

Savannah pursed her lips. "Could it be the letter N?"

"That's right!" Michael said, looking surprised. "You're the first person to get one right!"

He smiled at her, and she smiled back.

"Lucky me," she said.

My stomach twisted a little.

+ II + II +

+ II + II +


I turned around, along with half the campus to see Michael flying towards me. His blue backpack thudded against the back of his black shirt. It looked slightly painful.

"Yes?" I asked. "Did you need something?"

"When is a girl like a tongue?"

"No clue..."

"When she's down-in-the-mouth. Get it? Down in the mouth? Tongue? Ah, never mind." He paused, studying me intently. "You look kind of down."

I shrugged. "Spanish test and all that. It's been a rough day."

"I bet a riddle will cheer you up."

I tried hard not to smile, but my lip twitched a little. "Your riddles are a pain."

"Come on," he wheedled, "Just one . . . for me?"

My heart wrenched horribly in my chest. "Fine," I said, hugging my books closer. "Just one."

"All right. When is an idea like a clock?"

"There's never enough time for either?" I guessed.

"When it strikes one."

"Ha ha," I said.

"Here's a really easy one."

"No," I said, "No more riddles—"



Michael rolled his eyes. "Even you should be able to get this one."

"You said. Just. One."


It was his face that made me say yes. It wasn't the joke face—the pursed lips, raised eyebrows, and wiggling ears face that had gotten me in trouble more times than I could count—but a rather solemn face. Savannah's words echoed in my mind. He's pretty cute.

"All right," I grunted. "Shoot."

"What did the boy say to the girl?"

I thought about it. Several answers came to mind, but I quickly dismissed them. "I don't know."

"She said, yes."

I grinned. "That doesn't make any sense. You don't even get to know what the question was."

"The question is, Would you like to go to homecoming with me?" There was a pause. I waited for the laughter, but Michael didn't smile. His face was, for once, utterly serious.

"What's the punchline?" I asked.

"There isn't one," he said.

I cocked my head, looking at him. I half-expected him to cackle and say, "Just kidding!" but he didn't. After a few seconds, I was forced to say something. The ease of the moment had slipped away. "Are you asking me?" I asked him, feeling my face heat up a little. "Are you being serious?"

"Do you have an answer?"

"Yes," I said. "It's yes—the answer is yes."

He was wrong. The resulting smile on his face was the best punchline I'd ever seen.