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Mrs. Reidenbaugh gave us our V-Cards on the first day of freshman health. They looked homemade. Laminated construction paper with “This card belongs to ________________ and it is special” in 28 point Arial. Cut small enough to fit in a wallet or wristlet, snug behind your student ID and lunch money.

She told us we should keep them somewhere safe. She said that if we gave our V-Card away, we couldn’t get it back. This must have sounded serious to her, even scary. To us, it sounded like a game.

At first, it was kind of like capture the flag. Girls versus boys, trying to sneak cards out of backpack pockets or notebooks when someone went to the bathroom in study hall or left the table to get another chocolate milk during lunch. Everybody played, except the ones who were already couples. They just gave their cards to each other and kissed by the soda machine.

We traded stories about how other girls lost their cards. Sarah Andrews’s was taken on the school bus home. Her iPod turned up so loud, she didn’t even hear her backpack unzip. Kelly Allen lost hers at a football game. She had it at the snack bar before the game, but when she checked her pockets during half-time, it was gone.

We became protective of our V-Cards. Some girls would tuck them into their bras during homeroom or make decoy cards in art class. The really industrious girls sewed little pockets into their clothes during Family and Consumer Sciences. The boys caught on and started to corner girls in the hallway, rub their palms along their backs and down the front of their t-shirts feeling for false seams, for rectangles of plastic.

Tessa Wood came to school red-eyed and puffy-cheeked. She’d left her card in the secret pocket in her jeans. Her mom had done laundry while she was at choir practice. The lamination on her card had peeled and separated, washing away the ink and leaving the paper pulpy and warped. We passed it around in the locker room before gym while Tessa sniffled, “no one will want it now.”

The boys didn’t seem to do much with their cards. No secret pockets. No false bottoms in their gym bags or hollowed out copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you took a boy’s card, he’d just angle you up against a water fountain, suddenly broader and taller than when the game started. He’d just look at you like he expected you to give him yours in return. Some would call you sweetie or honeypie or peaches or tease or bitch or slut. Tell you it was only fair. That he’d earned it.

During home room, Missy Weaver caught one of the boys sliding her card out of the faux pocket in her binder. She slapped his hand to make him let go. He pushed her so hard that her chair tipped over and she cracked her head against Shannon Reed’s desk. She was sent to the nurse and then to detention. She didn’t see the boy there.

 Girls just started giving their V-Cards to the boys they had crushes on. It was less of a game, but things were easier this way. Lean, tan boys from the soccer team. Shaggy-haired boys who played cello or drums. Never the violin. They would slide the cards through the boys’ locker slats or palm them under desks during World History. Some would just walk right up to a boy and hand him her card. These girls seemed really brave but also really stupid. They never asked for the boy’s card in return.

One of the soda machine couples broke up at Winter Formal. The girl, in her sparkly shoes and department store dress, demanded her card back. The boy wouldn’t return it, repeating Mrs. Reidenbaugh’s rules there in the dark cafeteria. With the disco ball snowing light on our faces, we all stopped dancing or huddling near the snack table or crying in the third stall of the girls’ bathroom, and watched as she tried to wrestle his wallet from the pocket of his dress pants. Two teachers jammed their hands into her armpits and pulled her into the hall. We couldn’t hear her cry over the music, but we could see sitting on the steps, shoulders shaking, until her dad came to pick her up.

That Monday Mrs. Reidenbaugh was on the morning announcements. Because we couldn’t comport ourselves like young ladies, all v-cards would be confiscated. She set up a table outside of the gym. We were split into lines: girls versus boys. We filed past, dropping cards into shoe boxes. The shaggy haired soccer boys and cello players threw down cards by the fistfuls; the girls’ names worn away from so much handling. Mrs. Reidenbaugh smiled at the boys as they dropped cards on the table. Nodded her head. Said, “thank you, young man.”

Most of the girls didn’t have cards anymore, so we just walked past the table. Some of us hung our heads. Others held the hands of belt loops of their friends. It didn’t matter what we did. Mrs. Reidenbaugh never even looked our way.

Meghan Phillips lives in Lancaster, PA, where she works at a public library and a small historical society. She is a fiction reader for Third Point Press.

This story is published in partnership with Paper Darts Magazine, as a celebration of our joint effort to give the literary world a makeover, one short story at a time. 

Published on October 11, 2017.