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Authors: Whitney Lyles

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BOOK: Love Off-Limits
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“Hippies?” Grandma Jones's voice was loud. “Why in the world would you want to go as a hippie? Those people were on drugs, and they smelled. I know what would be a good costume.”

Natalie's parents stared at Grandma Jones as they often did when they knew something weird was coming next.

“A roll in the hay! One of you could dress as a dinner roll. And the other could cover themselves in hay. Get it?”

“Mother!” Natalie's mom snapped. “I think that's a little inappropriate for a high school dance. We don't want the kids getting expelled, and what kind of a message does that send?”

Natalie felt her cheeks turning red.

“Oh, Tanya, you need to live a little. As
if kids don't know what a roll in the hay is these days.” Grandma Jones shoved a forkful of corn in her mouth.

The truth was, rolling in the hay with Jeremy had been pretty limited to staying outside the barn—period. Natalie always sensed that Jeremy would go further if she let him, but she'd never been quite ready for more than kissing and cuddling. The fact that this had even come up in the presence of her parents was only one more reason to steer clear of Grandma Jones when she'd had more than one gin and tonic before dinner.

“What's a roll in the hay?” one of the twins asked.

Her mother shot Grandma Jones a look. “Now see what you started?”

Due to sheer awkwardness, Natalie wolfed down her dinner and headed upstairs for her nightly routine. Just as she was getting ready to sign on to Romeohelpme, her cell phone lit up. Jo. They'd been playing phone tag back and forth all evening, and they still hadn't had a chance to chat about her Brian encounter at the thrift store.

“Finally!” Natalie greeted her best friend.

“I know. I've been dying to talk to you all day,” Jo said.

“So, you ran into Brian at the thrift store?”

“Yes! He looked so cute. And he came up to me first. I didn't even know he was there and suddenly I heard this familiar voice behind me.” Jo shared every detail of the encounter, including the color of his shirt. “And he said that Kelly and him were just going as friends.”

“In front of Kelly?”

“No. But he said that she has a boyfriend who lives far away and she just asked him as friends.”

Natalie couldn't help but think of poor Vincent, who had probably watched Jo grow giddy with delight as she chatted with Brian. “Was Vincent standing there the whole time?”

“No.” Her tone changed. “He was kind of weird, actually. I don't know what was up with him. He wandered off, and then after Brian left he came back. But Vincent really didn't even say anything about Brian.”

“Gee. I wonder why he was acting weird. It couldn't be because he's had a crush on you since, like, kindergarten.”

“No, he doesn't.” Jo always denied it, but Natalie knew that deep down she had to realize the truth.

They chatted a while longer about the dance and Brian. Then they somehow got onto the topic of who they would vote for if they were able to vote in the upcoming election, and then discussed the latest celebrity gossip. That was how it was with Natalie and Jo. They could talk about anything and everything and their conversations were always so lengthy and interesting. The girls made plans to hang out after school the next day, and by the time they said good-bye, Natalie was exhausted.

After her shower, Natalie quickly headed to Romeohelpme. Her regular visits were starting to worry her a little. She'd started to become addicted to the posts and replies.

Do we only want what we can't have?

Member: Up All Night

Advanced Member

So I've been wondering, is it human nature to want what we can't have? Are we naturally drawn to things that seem unattainable? I can't help but think of all the times I've wanted something only because there seems to be a shortage. Take pizza day at the cafeteria at my school. It's probably the only day of school when most
of the campus buys lunch. And probably also the only day when the cafeteria runs out of food. There never seems to be enough pizza to go around. Does that make everyone want it even more? What if we had pizza every day and there was never a shortage? Wouldn't we all get sick of it? Do you think love is the same way? Do we only want someone when they're intriguing and unavailable? Then what if you get that person and you notice all their everyday habits and you start to get tired of them like pizza?

Maybe it was the costume hunting, but she was exceptionally worn out. As she signed off of the message board her eyes felt heavy. She set her alarm for a few minutes earlier so she could check responses in the morning.

Nine

Natalie was still in her pajamas when she logged on to Romeohelpme. She knew that checking her replies would secure her one of the worst parking places on campus, but that didn't stop her.

Member: Dragon Guy
Advanced Member

RE: Do we only want what we can't have?

Cafeteria food sucks. I would rather go hungry.

Member: Girl Gone Green
Newbie

RE: Do we only want what we can't have?

I agree with Dragon Guy. Stay out
of cafeterias. The plates are harmful to the environment, and the beef they serve probably comes from mistreated cows. But yes, I agree. We always want what we can't have. My parents would never let me eat candy growing up and something about the intrigue made me want it even more. Then I started stealing it from my grandma's house. My parents found out and they made me write down a hundred reasons why candy is bad for you, and watch some terrible video from our dentist's office. It's when we want what we can't have that we get into trouble.

She had a point. All the things Natalie wanted would only lead to trouble. She read several responses, mostly pointing out that there is something in human nature that makes us all want the unattainable.

Member: Skater Chick
Newbie

RE: Do we only want what we can't have?

Last year I liked a guy I couldn't have for a number of different reasons and one of my best guy friends really liked me but I wasn't interested in my guy friend. He didn't
seem like a challenge, I guess. There was no mystery there. And no chase. It just seemed too easy. But anyway, I finally got the guy that I really liked and he turned out to be different from what I had thought, and then I didn't like him anymore. By the time I realized this I started to have feelings for my friend. But it was too late. He'd already moved on. So be careful. What you want might not always be what you need. And what you need might be right in front of your face.

Natalie wondered if analyzing all these responses would make her crazy. Did all this apply to her life? Perhaps Skater Chick was right. She already had what she needed—Jeremy. She just didn't realize how lucky she was. Maybe all these feelings for Matt were brewing only because of the intrigue. She knew she liked Matt a lot as a friend, but then what if she did have a shot with him and he turned out to be a terrible boyfriend and then she missed Jeremy? Her love life was so confusing. Deep down she knew Matt would be a great boyfriend. It was almost painful to think about how wonderful he would be.
He was going to make someone very happy, and the reality was that it wasn't her.

Member: Glamour Girl

Advanced Member

RE: Do we only want what we can't have?

Ditto to the end of Skater Girl's message. It sounds just like that tragic movie
Gone with the Wind.
I had to watch it when we were studying the Civil War. Look at how Scarlett O'Hara ended up—alone. You definitely don't want that.

But wouldn't it be better to be alone than with someone she wasn't even sure she liked anymore? Maybe she wasn't even being fair to Jeremy, either. It wasn't very cool of her to hang on to him while she tried to figure out what she wanted. But breaking up with him in the midst of all his family problems would be like adding insult to injury. She didn't know which was worse—not being honest with him, or not being honest with herself.

Natalie looked at the clock. There were several more replies, but she didn't have time to read them, let alone analyze. She had to get moving. She quickly threw her hair
in a ponytail, rinsed off, dressed in a pair of jeans and her favorite sweatshirt, then ran to the kitchen for one of her mom's gross cardboard bars she bought at the health food store. Energy bars translated into emergency breakfast or empty pantry; Natalie only resorted to them if she was in a hurry or there was nothing else to eat.

Her brothers were putting on their backpacks in preparation for the school bus. Natalie was just about to dart out the front door when Grandma Jones looked up from
Good Morning America
and called to Natalie.

Natalie spun around. “Yes?”

“You know, Natalie, I was thinking. I have so many old clothes. You kids should take a look at my stuff for Halloween. Don't go spend a lot of money. I bet you could come up with something really good. Or raid your mom's old wardrobe—now, there is something to laugh at.”

Natalie knew her mother wasn't Mischa Barton when it came to fashion, but Natalie found her early nineties sense of style more boring than laughable. What would she go as if she raided her mom's wardrobe? A candidate for an
Oprah
makeover segment?

“Okay, thanks,” Natalie said. “Maybe I'll have Jo and Vincent come check it out too. They need costumes also.”
It probably wasn't a bad idea
, Natalie thought as she headed for the Ravioli.

She obeyed the speed limit even though she risked getting detention. Her parents had always threatened to take the car away if Natalie was ever pulled over for speeding. Losing the car would be worse than detention. She parked in the Outer Space parking lot and had a matter of minutes to sprint to first period. She still had to stop at her locker for her geometry book, but decided not having her book was better than detention, so she went bookless to class and hoped Mr. Lopez would be cool enough to let her have the hall pass. She was rounding the corner when Matt popped his head from his own math class door. It was like he knew she was coming, as if he'd been waiting for her. His hair was still wet from a shower and she could smell soap or shampoo. Guys were so lucky that they didn't have to blow-dry and style hair and could still look clean and prepared after simply showering. She would kill for that luxury. Makeup and her expensive flat iron were must-haves in her life.

“Hey, Nat. I put some more ideas together for our costume article,” he said. “I just have to save it to a disk.”

She felt out of breath from running. “Thanks.”

“I'll get it to you later today, maybe at lunch.”

“Sounds good!” She would've loved to stop and discuss his ideas further instead of going to geometry. However, the halls now looked clear of all students and staff—a good sign that the bell was about to ring.

Her foot was barely inside the door when the bell buzzed. “Phew.”

 

Grandma Jones lit a cigarette while Natalie pried open the old trunk. Jo and Vincent sat on the edge of Grandma Jones's bed. Natalie had invited Jeremy to join them, but he was meeting a group of people from his Spanish class to study for a test the next week. Spanish wasn't his favorite subject and she was impressed and surprised that he'd taken the extra time to study for the quiz. It was more Jeremy's style to blow off studying for an afternoon at the skate park. He didn't mind settling for Bs or Cs on tests if it meant he could hang out with his
friends. He'd told Natalie to look for “something good” in Grandma Jones's trunk—“but nothing too girly.” He'd be interested in whatever she found only if it was cool.

“Don't tell your mom I'm smoking in here.” Grandma Jones waved the smoke toward the open window of her bedroom.

“I won't.” Her mother probably already knew anyway. Grandma Jones always smoked in her bedroom against Natalie's parents' wishes.

“Where did you get this?” Natalie asked as she pulled out a red, white, and blue top hat.

“Grandpa wore it one year for a Fourth of July parade.”

Natalie put it on and her friends began to laugh.

“It's a little crooked,” Jo said.

Next Natalie pulled out a gold-sequined one-piece with bell-bottoms and a turtleneck collar. “You wore this?” Natalie asked.

“Oh yes. I wore that in the seventies to a New Year's Eve party. I think there are platform shoes in there to match. I was quite the hit that night.”

“That thing is classic,” Vincent remarked.

Natalie tossed it to him. “Here. One of you guys can try it on.” Vincent passed it to Jo.

“You sure?” Jo held the suit in front of her. “What would Brian think if he saw me in this?”

Vincent was quiet. Jo had never been shy about sharing her feelings around her two best friends. But Vincent always remained quiet whenever Brian came up.

Over the years Natalie and Jo had turned to Vincent as an expert on guys. Back when Natalie had first started hanging out with Jeremy, she'd always asked Vincent questions about guy things, like what kind of Christmas present she should get him or how long she should wait before calling him back. Vincent always had good advice. But whenever Brian came up, Vincent sort of tuned out.

“There's plenty more in here,” Natalie said as she began to pull out one thing after another.

Prints William wagged his pinky-shaped tail as he hovered around Jo's feet. Aside from Jeremy, Jo was one of the few people who actually petted Prints William with vigor. Most people patted him gently, then realized their hand reeked so bad they avoided the dog like the plague.

They discovered all kinds of treasures
in the trunk from Grandma Jones's past. She had saved clothes and shoes from every single decade of her life.

“This would make a cool history project,” Jo said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Vincent added. “You could make a fashion display at school as a glimpse into several decades with all this stuff.”

Sorting through the trunk was a trip down memory lane for Grandma Jones. They pulled out an old Western-style shirt with a matching poufy skirt, and Grandma Jones shared in detail how she used to square dance with a man who later ran for mayor.

They found a beautiful Asian robe. Turquoise blue, it was covered in ornate stitching and came with a matching belt. They also found a karate outfit. Grandma Jones told them how Natalie's grandpa had brought both ensembles back from Japan when he'd been in the army.

Natalie pulled an old bonnet from the trunk. It was dusty and looked like something from the plains, pre—Civil War. “I know you weren't alive when these were in,” Natalie said.

Grandma Jones squinted. “What is
that? Oh, that was from when I starred in
Oklahoma
!”

Vincent immediately began singing a tune from the musical and Grandma Jones joined in.

Jo pulled an old wedding dress from the trunk.

“Now, that you can do whatever you want with,” Grandma Jones said. “Burn it. Turn it into a tutu. I don't care.”

“Isn't this your wedding dress?” Jo asked.

“From my first marriage. You can dye that black for all I care. That husband was useless, and marrying him was like going to a funeral. It's all yours.”

It wasn't until they actually started trying on the clothes that the real laughs came out. When Vincent returned from Natalie's bathroom wearing the gold-sequined New Year's Eve pantsuit, the girls couldn't quit laughing. The pants were so tight, and they rode up his behind, giving him a huge wedgie.

“Those look painful,” Jo said.

“You kids are crazy!” Grandma Jones said. “I'm going to go watch
Nancy Grace.
” Prints William followed her when she left.

The three friends spent a solid two hours trying on Grandma Jones's treasures. They even busted out Natalie's makeup bag and began experimenting with makeup and hair.

Vincent and Jo found success with Grandma Jones's wedding dress. Jo thought it would be fun to go as a bride and groom so long as they could find a cool suit for Vincent. But Vincent suggested they go as a zombie bride and groom. It was a cool idea because the wedding gown looked so old. They were going to paint their faces pale white and put dark circles under their eyes, and Vincent was going to find a really old-looking suit from a thrift store and make it look tattered, as though he'd risen from the dead.

Natalie hadn't found the same success. However, just for fun, she'd tried on the gold disco pantsuit. It was much bigger on her than it had been on Vincent. To top off the outfit she strapped on Grandma Jones's
Oklahoma!
bonnet. The three friends laughed at the combination.

“We have to come up with an
Oklahoma!
disco show tune,” Vincent said. It was only seconds before he began singing the
Oklahoma!
theme song to the beat of “Stayin' Alive.” Natalie and Jo were practically in tears from laughter. He even busted out some disco moves while belting out his song. “I should seriously adapt it for our school.
Oklahoma! The Disco!”
he said. Natalie and Jo laughed even harder.

It was so Vincent to spontaneously come up with something hilarious and creative. Their laughter was disrupted by the doorbell.

“Natalie!” Grandma Jones called. “Can you get that? I ate a salt sandwich for lunch and my ankles are swollen. It's probably that package that I ordered from QVC.”

Jo looked at Natalie. “What's a salt sandwich?”

“I have no idea. But I can't answer the door like this.” Natalie glanced at herself in Grandma Jones's mirror.

“Sure you can! I dare you to answer the door like that.” Jo was still dressed in the old wedding gown.

“No way!”

“Oh, c'mon. You have to. Look at what I'm wearing,” Vincent chimed in. He was dressed in a sombrero and a pair of polka-dot bell-bottoms.

“Well, then you answer the door,” Natalie retorted.

“I didn't dare Vincent,” Jo reminded.

“Oh, fine,” Natalie said, and groaned.

What's the harm?
she thought as she headed to the door.
It's just the UPS man, and he's probably already left the package and is starting up his truck anyway
. Jo and Vincent followed Natalie downstairs, giggling the entire way. The friends hid behind the banister while Natalie opened the door. Instead of finding a package in her driveway she found Matt. The first thing Natalie did was rip off the bonnet. It was a bad move because she could feel her hair standing on end from static.

BOOK: Love Off-Limits
7.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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