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Authors: Whitney Lyles

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BOOK: Love Off-Limits
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“Just to let you know, the odor is from Prints William's breath. I'm really sorry. I bet you didn't plan on this when you rescued us.”

“Really? I thought that was your breath.” He smiled. “I know it's the dog, Nat. It's okay.”

“Okay,” she said, still embarrassed.

“Let's not forget Ashley.”

Ashley was his ninety-pound mastiff. “Her breath is deadly.” He laughed. “Seriously, I think it could kill someone. It's toxic.”

She tried to feel better.

“Well, it was my pleasure,” he said as he pulled into her driveway. “Anytime.”

Her heart skipped a beat when she looked at his blue eyes.

He leaned over and reached his arm out. For a moment she thought he was shaking her hand, but his arm went right past her torso. She hadn't been this close to him, and she wondered what he was doing. She held her breath as his fingertip headed for her window. She caught a whiff of the salt water and sunscreen on his skin, and watched as he traced his finger over Prints William's fog on her window. He spelled out
WATCH OUT FOR NATALIE'S BREATH.

She slapped his arm. “Thanks a lot.” It was something her brothers would do.

He took a minute to laugh at his joke. “I'm just kidding. No, seriously.” He put a line through the words with his index finger, then wrote
MATT'S RESCUE SERVICE.
And beneath it,
NATALIE'S SPOT.

The corners of his lips turned up. “Is that better?”

She nodded. It was sweet that he thought that was her spot. But the truth was, that would never be her spot. She felt her heart sink, but forced enthusiasm.

“Much better. Hey, thanks for the lift,” she said. “Your timing was perfect.” The
moment the words left her lips, she realized how ironic they were. In the big picture, his timing couldn't be worse. She was already taken, and any chance they had would be reserved for another lifetime. She watched his car until it was out of the driveway.

After homework and bathing, she headed over to Romeohelpme.

Happy endings

Member: Up All Night

Advanced Member

I was thinking about what Skater Chick said. Do happy endings only exist in the movies? Really, if you think about it, most happy endings are in movies.

She brushed her teeth, then watched the beginning of
Scream,
knowing the entire time that if she was watching horror movie reruns it was going to be close to impossible to get out of bed in the morning. One, she was staying up too late. Two, these kinds of movies scared her. She'd never be able to fall asleep. But she couldn't resist. The movie was such an escape from her crazy life. People running from a crazed slasher in a freaky mask seemed far worse than having the hots for a guy.
Furthermore, she really wanted to see what her regular bloggers had to say. After she was halfway through the movie, she decided to check.

Member: Glamour Girl

Advanced Member

RE: Happy endings

I don't think so at all. There are lots of people who find true love.

Member: Dragon Guy

Advanced member

RE: Happy endings

You're just now realizing that happy endings are only for movies? Where have you been?

Member: Glamour Girl

Advanced Member

RE: Happy endings

Dragon Guy, what is wrong with you?

Member: New Girl in Town

Newbie

RE: Happy endings

No kidding, Dragon Guy. There have to be happy endings. Otherwise, there would be no hope in the world.

Member: Skater Chick

Newbie

RE: Happy endings

But sure, I believe in happy endings. I guess. Who the hell knows why some people get lucky and others don't. Some people get the happy endings. Others don't.

Member: Ralph London

Newbie

RE: Happy endings

Maybe like the writers of great happy endings, we create our own destiny with the choices that we make. Do you have to “believe” in happy endings? I don't know. Maybe we just have to believe in ourselves to find them.

It seemed like no one really knew the answer. The only thing Natalie knew was that no one would be able to tell her this for sure. She was just going to have to find out for herself.

Eight

Natalie yawned as she stared at the crack in Jeremy's parents' coffee table. She remembered the day the glass had broken. Jeremy had been playing Nintendo Wii on that particular day too. Only that time he'd lost. He'd accidentally dropped the remote thingy on the table, and they'd watched with horror as a crack had spidered down the glass. His dad had moved out several weeks before, but Jeremy had worried his mother was going to flip out. The strange thing was, his mother had never even mentioned it. She wasn't blind, so Natalie had figured that she had been consumed with too many other things to care.

It had been more than two hours since
Natalie had sat down on the couch while Jeremy explained that he just wanted to
quickly
check out his new game. Then they were supposed to begin the quest for Howl at the Moon costumes. With nominations officially out, they needed to get busy.

“Yessss!” he hissed before doing a brief victory dance. She watched his hips rotate in circles as he raised his arms over his head. She giggled as he set the remote down. He dove onto the empty spot next to her. “You ready to go find costumes?” Winning any kind of video game—or really anything, for that matter—always put him in a good mood.

“I've been ready.”

“Well, this should make you a little more ready.”

She thought he was going to lean in for a kiss. Instead, he jumped into her lap, pressed his bottom against her thighs, and ripped a fart so loud she thought it would shatter the
entire
coffee table.

“Get off me! You are so gross.”

Somewhere through his howling laughter she heard her cell phone beep, indicating a text had arrived.

“I'm serious, Jeremy. Get off. You're
sick.” He tickled her rib cage and she couldn't help but laugh. In between her squeals of laughter she managed to beg for freedom. “Please! Get! Off!” She gasped for air. “Seriously, I need to get my phone.”

Instead of removing his dead weight from her legs, he farted again, laughing even louder. She took a moment to catch her breath before she pushed his shoulders with all her might. He didn't budge. “I can't breathe,” she moaned. She could still breathe, but she hoped her desperation would motivate him to take his gas someplace else.

“You're so dramatic!” He laughed.

“I'm serious! Get off! You weigh a thousand pounds.”

“Have you practiced your speech for the Oscars yet?”

She was saved by his cell phone. He jumped up, immediately fished his phone from his huge pocket, and held it up to his ear. “What's up, bro?”

Natalie wondered who it was. He had a million “bros,” Matt being his best bro, of course. “Did you find that part for the truck?”

It had to be Matt. Natalie knew he was
looking for some part for his truck on eBay. While Natalie eavesdropped, she looked at her inbox on her cell phone.

Just saw Brian at the thrift store looking for Halloween costumes with Kelly. He said they were just going as friends!!! And he liked my shoes!

XO, Jo

“Oh cool.” Jeremy said. “Right on.” A pause. “And you said yes.” Another pause. “Right on. That should be a good time.”

Said yes to what?
Natalie wondered.
The dance?
Who had asked him to the dance? She was alarmed by the way her heart rate had shot up. Of course someone had asked him to the dance. He was a total catch. It was bound to happen, and she should be happy for him—not dying of anxiety.

“Well, cool. We're going to look at costumes right now, so I'll let you know if we find any good ones.”

There was a pause while Jeremy listened to his friend, and Natalie immediately assumed Matt was sharing his costume ideas. Natalie wondered if he would go as
something really cute and couples-driven, or if his date would be just a friend. Was it someone he liked? She still remembered the bashful expression that had come over his face when they discussed his love life on the way to Denny's. It seemed as though he might have a crush on someone, and Natalie couldn't help but wonder if this was that someone. Would they come up with their own ideas and surprise each other right before the dance?

“All right, talk to you later, bro.” He clicked his phone shut, then looked at Natalie. “That was Matt.” Jeremy shoved his phone in his pocket.

“Oh. How's he?” She tried to sound casual even though she was dying of curiosity.

“Good.”

That was it? Good
? There had to be more. What had Matt said yes to?

Jeremy grabbed his keys from the table. “I'll drive. You ready?”

Reluctantly, she rose from the couch. She still wanted answers. “So what's Matt up to?” Again, she tried to keep her voice as casual as possible.

Jeremy shrugged. “I don't know. Not
much. He was just leaving school. He found that part for his truck.”

Natalie didn't care about the truck. Maybe she had misunderstood the conversation, because Jeremy would've told her if Matt had been asked to the dance. Or at least, she thought he would. Then again, it was Jeremy. He would care more about car parts than dance arrangements.

“Oh, and his parents asked him if he wanted to go to Europe next summer instead of their usual camping trip.”

So that's what he'd said yes to. It was only a family vacation. She felt herself relaxing as they headed out the door. Her relief was almost as alarming as her insatiable curiosity. Then she wondered if she had all these crazy feelings because Matt was off-limits. Maybe she was only interested in things she couldn't have. Wasn't that human nature—to always want what you can't have? She remembered the time she'd been shopping with Jo and was debating over a pair of jeans. They were cute, but sort of out of her price range. It wasn't until the salesgirl mentioned that they were the last pair and she'd just taken them off hold for someone
else that Natalie made up her mind. She had to have the jeans.

They climbed into Jeremy's Ford Explorer. “What are we looking for today? Any ideas?” he asked.

Natalie kind of liked the idea of Cleopatra. Natalie's hair was similar in style, and after all these years of friends suggesting she go as Cleopatra, she was curious to see what she would look like. “What about Cleopatra and Julius Caesar?”

“Who?” He drove over a large bump as he reversed out of his driveway, and his head jolted as he looked at her.

“You know? Cleopatra and Caesar. One of the most famous couples in history. Or you could go as Mark Antony…if you don't like Caesar.”

“The singer? And what? You'd go as J.Lo?”

“Not the singer! Those were her boyfriends—Cleopatra's boyfriends. Obviously, you didn't pay attention in history.”

“I was thinking that we could go as American Gladiators.”

He was dead serious.

She hadn't planned on being cast in a role of female wrestler. She had visions of
bright spandex while Jeremy lived out some masculine fantasy that had been brewing in his little mind. Her Cleopatra idea was much better.

“Sorry, but I don't want to be a Gladiator for Halloween,” she said.

“Well, I don't want to be some girly-looking Roman guy from history. No thanks.”

This wasn't a good start to their Halloween costume—hunting expedition. They weren't even at the costume shop yet. Already, they couldn't agree on anything.

An hour later they stood in front of the dressing rooms in the largest Halloween costume store in San Diego. In spite of Natalie's discomfort she burst out laughing. The spoon costume Natalie wore was so heavy on her body she feared that she would topple over if she so much as breathed, let alone laughed, so she tried to contain herself. Not to mention it was hot. She'd probably sweated off five pounds in the past two minutes alone. So far, the fork and spoon combo seemed to be the only one they could agree on. They'd tried on characters from
Scooby-Doo
and
Star Wars.
Natalie had liked a pair of fifties costumes, but after they had
tried them on Jeremy felt like he wasn't “dressed up” enough and had suggested a gangster and flapper combo, which Natalie felt was too overdone.

Jeremy's face peered from beneath the gigantic prongs that stemmed from his head. He checked himself out in the mirror and laughed. “This is hilarious.” His legs looked skinny in his black tights, and his head seemed to fit perfectly in the opening for his face.

In spite of their disagreements, they'd still laughed hysterically at some of the crazy things they'd tried on. One thing Natalie had always liked about Jeremy was his willingness to try almost anything. He'd try anything on as long as it didn't involve a skirt. But it wasn't just with Halloween costumes. He was always fun to go to sushi with because he would experiment with more than just California rolls. One time they'd been eating Chinese with some friends and there were all these long, stringy, slimy brown things that looked like worms in their noodles. No one wanted to try them without confirming with the waitress that they weren't worms. But Jeremy stepped up to the plate—literally—and threw a few in his
mouth with his bare hands. It had sure made the meal more exciting. “Tastes good,” he'd said. It wasn't until the waitress returned that they learned the wormy strings were actually some form of mushroom.

The face opening on Natalie's spoon kept falling over her eyes.

Jeremy chuckled. “That looks a little big on you,” he said. “But cute. Maybe they have it in a smaller size.”

“I can hardly move.”

“I'll go see if they have it in a smaller size.”

She watched his chicken legs head for help. Just as he rounded the corner she felt herself teetering. “Wait!” she called. But the face hole had fallen over her mouth and her voice was muffled.

She went down like a statue. Once on the floor, she couldn't move. She tried to roll to the left. But she felt as rigid as concrete. Then to the right. It was the same thing. A song she'd frequently heard at dances went through her head.
To the left…To the right…Now shake it!
She tried to shake it, but her legs only flailed around like a wounded bee in a swimming pool. She managed to maneuver the face opening up again so at least she could see. “Jeremy?”

No answer, but she could hear his charming voice from somewhere inside the store. She caught bits and pieces. “Vampires are cool…a wicked costume…western too…” She was glad he was discussing costume ideas at length while she lay on the floor like a pillar from the Roman ruins.

It seemed like eons before Jeremy returned. She knew he had come back the moment she heard him laughing. Peals of laughter filled the area behind her. She tried to turn her neck to see him but couldn't.

“Ha. Ha,” she said sarcastically. “I'm glad I could entertain you. Now help me up.”

“I'm sorry,” he managed in between breaths. “But this has to be one of the most hilarious things I have seen in a long time.” He came to her side, and when he leaned down she thought he was lending a hand. However, he was doubled over in hysterics.

“Okay, real funny,” Natalie said, her tone flat. “Maybe if you take a picture it will last longer.”

“That's a great idea,” he said, breathless.

She didn't expect him to whip out his cell phone. She was being sarcastic. She was horrified as he held his cell over her in camera mode.

“Jeremy, I swear to God. Help me up. Now I'm annoyed.”

“Sorry, sorry,” he said as soon as he was finished snapping the picture. He extended his hand, and when she was back on her feet she was horrified to discover that he'd brought company.

The salesgirl was dressed as a witch. Rather than wearing a long cape and gown, she had donned a short little minidress with bell sleeves and a tattered hem. Fishnet tights, a jet-black wig, and, of course, a pointy hat completed the look.

Jeremy looked at the picture on his phone and his body shook with laughter.

“Jeremy! Give me that!” Natalie said. He was so weakened with laughter that he actually handed it over. She thought for sure she would have to attack him to get the picture. She hit delete, guaranteeing the picture would never leave the costume shop. When he finally caught his breath he was able to inform her that the costume was only available in the size she was wearing.

“Sorry,” the salesgirl said.

“Natalie, this is Brianna,” Jeremy said. “She's in my Spanish class.”

Great!
She went to their school. She
was hoping that if anyone had witnessed her on the ground—dressed as flatware—it would've been someone she'd never have to see again in her life.

Natalie was afraid to extend her hand or even wave for fear she might end up on the ground as though she'd been tossed on the carpet during a toddler's first meal. Instead, she politely smiled and said, “Nice to meet you.”

“Have you guys seen the caveman and cavewoman costumes?” Brianna suggested. “Or there's my favorite—the voodoo doll and the victim.”

Only if I can be the doll and not the victim,
Natalie thought. “Sure. That sounds cool.”

“Let's check it out,” Jeremy said, and followed Brianna.

“Jeremy!” Natalie went down again.

 

“So, did you and Jeremy decide on costumes for the dance?” Natalie's mom asked as she passed a salad bowl around the dinner table.

“Not yet.” Natalie took the bowl.

Jeremy had really liked the whole cave-couple idea, but Natalie felt self-conscious in the cavewoman costume. This was mostly
because the dress was clearly made for a girl who had been gifted with big boobs, an asset Natalie didn't have. She'd spent her entire five minutes in the outfit continuously pulling up the tube top portion of the minidress, worried she might flash the entire dance floor with her A cups.

“I still have that picture of you two as hippies from last year hanging in my office,” her father chimed in.

BOOK: Love Off-Limits
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