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Authors: Whitney Lyles

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BOOK: Love Off-Limits
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“Matt! What are you doing?” she asked as she tried to push flailing strands of hair down with her hands.

He looked her up and down. “More like, what are
you
doing?”

“Jo and Vincent are over, and we were looking for Halloween costumes.”

Jo and Vincent waved to Matt from behind the banister. Their outfits were safely hidden, but the expressions they wore suggested that they were loving every minute of this.

Matt tilted his head to one side with
curiosity. “Don't take this the wrong way, but what were you thinking of going as?”

She felt so silly. “Uh, I'm not sure. We were just messing around. I was just trying on a bunch of stuff.”

“Pretty original costume,” he said, showing his dimples. “You're like
Little House on the Prairie
meets disco.” He nodded. “It could work.”

She chuckled nervously. “Trust me, I'm not going as this. We were just messing around.”

“Hey,” Matt said, lowering his voice as he glanced at Jo and Vincent. “Can you talk for a sec? Maybe outside?”

She glanced over her shoulder at her friends. She could tell they were straining to hear. Then she turned back to Matt. “Yeah, sure.” Her first thought was Jeremy. Maybe he needed to confide that Jeremy was consumed with depression over his parents and they had to do something extra special for his birthday this year. Then she realized it was probably just the column he wanted to discuss.

The bell-bottoms were a little long and dragged on the welcome mat. She closed the door behind her.

“So while I was thinking about the
couples costume piece I was thinking that maybe we should turn it into another column. Have multiple columns this month. Since the column has become so popular, Mr. Moore thought it was a great idea. And someone else wrote in with another question. We thought you could answer three questions this month. If the response is good, we might have you start answering several questions a month with short, simple advice.”

“Um, okay. Sure.” They were giving her more column duties? Just what she needed.

“Great. I thought you'd be okay with it. We've already done half the work on the couples costume idea, so you just have to adapt as though you're giving advice.”

“Okay, I hear ya.”

He pulled a disk from his backpack, then handed her an envelope. “Here's the other question that someone wrote in with.” All the questions that came in for the column went into a small, locked suggestion box for the newspaper. Comments and ideas for other articles were also thrown into the box. “Please don't let Jo and Vincent see the question. They'll figure out what it was for, and then the whole cover for the column would be ruined.”

She pictured Jo and Vincent with their ears pressed to the front door, trying to eavesdrop. They had to be wondering what in the world she was doing outside with Matt. She couldn't blame them if they had turned Nancy Drew. It was a little odd that she was standing in her front yard sweating her buns off in a relic from the disco era while discussing a covert love column with Matt.

“I promise I won't let them see.” She tucked the envelope into a small pocket on the side of the pantsuit, then patted her hip for good measure. “It's safe inside there.”

She said good-bye to Matt and returned to her friends.

Jo raised her eyebrows the second Natalie entered. “‘Talk for a sec'? ‘Outside'?”

“What was that all about?” Vincent asked, equally interested. “Are you guys planning a coup d'état at the newspaper? Is there some scandalous article you're going to break next week? ‘Rat Tail Found in Cafeteria Food'?”

Natalie laughed and shook her head. “No. It had nothing to do with the paper. It was just something about Jeremy. Matt's worried because of all his family issues. I guess he just felt funny talking about it in front of you
guys.” She hated lying to her best friends but if she told them it had to do with the paper they'd put two and two together. Everyone on campus had always wondered who was behind the column and everyone knew that she wrote the occasional feature article for the paper. Jo and Vincent were no dummies.

This answer seemed to satisfy them. “Poor Jeremy,” Jo said.

Vincent commiserated. “I know how the guy feels.”

They headed back upstairs, and Natalie went into the bathroom to peel off the disco suit and change into her regular clothes.

Once dressed, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub and pulled the envelope from her pocket. The envelope was sealed. What's more, the anonymous writer had gone so far as to seal the envelope with a Spider-Man stamp. It was a weird choice, but clearly this person wanted their problem kept secret. She was torn between dread and curiosity. Dread over coming up with advice and curiosity over what the writer had felt was so secret that they needed to seal the envelope with a stamp. The letter was typed, as most were. Advice seekers were very on the down low with their queries. They were so cautious
about revealing their identities that even handwriting was almost always kept secret.

Dear Coyote Courtship,

I have feelings for someone, but if I were ever to act on them I would disappoint and hurt several other people that I care about. This person is taken. In other words, belongs to someone very close to me. What should I do? I don't want to hurt anyone but I can't help the way I feel either. Furthermore, I can't stop thinking about this person. Everything just feels so natural when I'm with this individual, but I feel like a bad person for even having these thoughts. Any insight you have would be greatly appreciated.

Yours truly,
Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

There were a million different ways to answer this, and none of the options she had in mind struck her as the right answer. However, the hardest thing about reading the note was that it felt as though she had written the letter herself. She'd already gone over every possible option in her mind. She wasn't even sure if a good answer existed.

Ten

Dear Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place,

You have a number of options, so I will sum them up in one response.

Option A: Hurt the people you care about, come across as a major lame-o to the rest of the world while following your heart.

Option B: Hurt yourself and remain quiet.

Option C: Give it time and see what happens. Maybe everything will work itself out.

Natalie highlighted the text and hit delete. She couldn't use this for the column.
It was hardly an answer. She had to write what Rock and a Hard Place wanted to hear. Just like Natalie, this person was looking for an answer, not a bunch of options that he or she had probably already pondered at length. But the truth was that Natalie didn't know the answer. Any answer she came up with would be a win-lose situation. There was no win-win situation when you had feelings for someone who was off-limits. She decided to set the column aside for a while and focus on something more fun and productive—something she did have answers for. The quiz for the newspaper.

After Jo and Vincent had left with their Halloween costumes last night, she'd written a first draft for the quiz, and had a blast doing it. The only thing was, she wasn't sure if the quiz worked. It was the first personality quiz she'd ever created, and she was afraid that the scores would come out all convoluted. So she'd sent the first draft to her two best friends and her boyfriend. She had predictions about how all three would score.

If the quiz was a success, she would show it to Matt. She wasn't sure how he would score. He was such a well-rounded person. She'd found ambiguous results for herself
as well. When she had taken the quiz, her results almost could've fallen into any of the five categories. However, she'd had a slight edge in one category. She didn't know whether she should take this as a sign that she was messed up or that the quiz was.

Just to refresh her memory, she read the quiz one more time before reading their e-mails.

What Is Your Halloween Style?

  1. As a kid you went trick-or-treating as one of the following:
    • A. a vampire or a witch
    • B. a princess or a pirate
    • C. a pumpkin or a cute animal
    • D. a baseball player, in your softball or little league uniform
    • E. Your parents forced you to wear their lame costume ideas.
  2. On your list of costume ideas for this year's dance you're considering:
    • A. something that will result in terrified glances from classmates
    • B. matching costumes for you and your date
    • C. originality
    • D. an important historical figure
    • E. watching a horror movie marathon—school dances are stupid
  3. Which of the following costume ideas appeals to you the most?
    • A. Jigsaw from the Saw movies
    • B. Cinderella or Jack Sparrow
    • C. Napoleon Dynamite
    • D. Danica Patrick or Tiger Woods
    • E. If you were to dress as something—which you never would—it would have to be totally original.
  4. Which of the following best describes your perfect Howl at the Moon experience?
    • A. preparty with Red Bull and the latest System of a Down CD before heading to the dance for pictures only (your date insists)
    • B. your dream date (the one you were hoping to go with since summer), a limo, tons of pictures, dinner at a beachside restaurant
    • C. a fantastic date with other fun couples—the more the merrier, right?—fun costumes, and a meal at Friday's
    • D. The dance will be fun, but you're more focused on SAT scores.
    • E. There is so much more to life than this dance.
  5. You hope your Howl at the Moon pictures:
    • A. give people nightmares
    • B. are perfect to carry around in your wallet, send to your out-of-state cousins, and add to your collection of framed photos
    • C. capture all your memories with your best friends so you can laugh every time you look at them
    • D. fit nicely into your memory box
    • E. You just hope you don't have to look at everyone else's Howl at the Moon pictures.

If you scored:

Mostly As, you are
Dressed to Kill

Mostly Bs, you are
Dressed to Dream

Mostly Cs, you are
Dressed to Impress

Mostly Ds, you are
Dressed for Success

Mostly Es, you are an
Anarchist

Dressed to Kill.
If you answered mostly As, you love Halloween because it's the only time of year you can get away with scaring everyone
to death. A free-spirited daredevil, you find enjoyment in doing things that most people shy away from. You don't worry often, and you'd be the first person to run into a burning building to rescue your friends.

Dressed to Dream
. You've been planning for the Howl at the Moon dance long before bids went on sale. You've had a date in mind, and coordinating costumes have been brewing in your head since summer. You spend most of Spanish and math daydreaming about the future. Luxury cars, a soul mate, and nothing but bliss are all part of your fantasies.

Dressed to Impress.
You're the fun-loving friend who everyone wants in their Howl at the Moon limo. Your Halloween costumes vary between original and hilarious and always have your own personal flair. You love dances because you can hang out with your friends and tear up the dance floor. Your creative and positive attitude gives you an eclectic mix of friends. You're the life of the party.

Dressed for Success.
You've probably made honor roll since kindergarten. You like to dress up as things that you wish you could be. High-profile sports figures, celebrities, or superheroes top your list of ideas. You study a
lot and you're also a little anxious to graduate.

The Anarchist.
So you have a style that's all your own and it doesn't involve school dances and holidays that excite mainstream society. But just because you pass up the kind of stuff that's for sheep doesn't mean you aren't wickedly creative. You're understated now, but you'll be the rock star or the next Kat Von D everyone says they once knew.

 

Not bad,
Natalie thought. She was proud of her work, and she only hoped her friends had fit snugly into one category. She opened Vincent's e-mail first.

To: Natalie Dean

From: Vincent Menino

RE: The quiz

What's up, Natty? I guess I'm “dressed to dream.” Looking forward to that luxury car and my dream girl. Cool quiz. Call u later.

This was exactly what she would've predicted for Vincent. She was excited that the quiz had worked. She was afraid everyone else would score all over the map, as she had.

To: Natalie Dean

From: Jo Agassi

RE: The quiz

OMG! I love this quiz! This is so me!! How did you know I was dressed to dream? It was like you wrote the quiz just for me. You know I've secretly always wanted to go as Jasmine from
Aladdin.

Natalie smiled to herself. Another prediction turned out correctly. She should be the one reading teacups. She knew Jo would end up in the dreamer category. In fact, she'd had Jo in mind when she'd written the profile. She was just relieved that the quiz was a success. And the fact that Jo and Vincent were both “dressed to dream” was just one more reason that they were perfect for each other. They were like the male and female version of each other. Now she just wished Jo could see that Vincent was right for her.

She opened Jeremy's e-mail last.

To: Natalie Dean

From: Jeremy Maddox

RE: The quiz

What up, Nat? Please don't make me take any more of these girly quizzes.
I guess I'm dressed for success. I'm out. L8R.

Dressed for success? What? She had banked on dressed to impress or even dressed to kill. But dressed for success? This just went to show how much she didn't know him. Since when did he care about SAT scores? He was practically failing Spanish. Was there a hidden overachiever inside of him that she hadn't met yet? Not only were Natalie's results different from his, but he'd completely surprised her. She sighed as she closed out her computer screen. She was more confused than ever.

Tomorrow she would finish the costumes column and try to return to Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place. She saved the quiz to a disk and put it in her backpack. She would deliver it to Matt at lunch the following day. She was dying to know what he thought.

 

It was a daily ritual for Natalie to head from French toward Jeremy's Spanish class after the bell signaled lunchtime. This route would take her to Jeremy and then on to the cafeteria for lunch, where they would meet with all their friends. Jeremy hated to wait for
anything, so he usually headed in her direction even though it was backtracking for him. Today she didn't see his silhouette headed in her direction. She was so used to seeing his backpack slung over his shoulder and his skateboard tucked under one arm that it felt a little strange and lonely without his presence. Had he forgotten about her? Was he staying behind for extra help? One time when he'd been out of school sick for three days he'd stayed behind to catch up on his assignments, but he hadn't been sick lately.

Crowds of students headed in various directions, but most were also headed toward the cafeteria. Through the herds she spotted her boyfriend. He stood outside his classroom door talking to someone. She weaved her way in and out of traffic, and he didn't seem to notice her until she was standing right next to him. He had his iPod out, and one earphone was attached to his ear and the other to the ear of the girl who stood in front of him.

“Oh, hey,” he said. “You remember Brianna.”

Natalie looked at the girl's dimples and thought she seemed eerily familiar. Then it hit her. She was the girl who'd helped them
at the costume shop. She looked different when she wasn't wearing a jet-black wig and a witch's hat. “Oh yeah.” She smiled. “How's it going?”

“Great!” Brianna beamed. “Good to see you again.”

“I hardly recognized you,” Natalie said. “I would've never known you were a blonde.”

She nodded. “I know. They make us dress up at work. We rotate costumes. Today I have to go as a rabbit!” She laughed, then pulled the earphone from her ear. She turned to Jeremy. “Thanks for letting me hear that. I love it.”

“I was just letting Brianna check out the new Slipknot song. I uploaded it last night.”

“Cool,” Natalie said. She was glad someone could appreciate his music. Natalie thought that most of what he listened to sounded worse than a car accident. She would rather listen to screeching tires than the sound of the Slipknot lead singer's voice, if you could even call him a singer. He was more like a screamer. All the guy did was yell in the microphone. She couldn't even understand what he was saying. She'd tried for a long time to think Jeremy's music was as cool as he did. But the truth was the
sound of the hammering drums and screeching guitar only made her nervous.

“Brianna just moved here from Florida over the summer,” Jeremy said.

“How do you like it here so far?” Natalie asked as they headed toward the cafeteria.

She nodded. “I like it. I miss home a little—and all my friends.”

“Why don't you eat lunch with us today?” Natalie suggested.

“Really?” She seemed surprised.

“Sure,” Jeremy chimed in. He slid his hand into Natalie's.

“You guys are the first people who have asked me to eat lunch with them. I usually just go to the library and study so I don't have to look like a total loner.” Hearing that made Natalie sad. She put herself in Brianna's shoes. She couldn't imagine leaving Jo and Vincent. Even the thought of leaving Jeremy made her feel a little heartsick. Just because she had doubts about him as a boyfriend didn't mean that she didn't care about him. She wanted him in her life no matter what.

“It must be hard to move so far away from all your friends. I would've been scared,” Natalie said.

As soon as they found their lunchtime
hangout, Natalie introduced Brianna to the group. Between Jeremy and Natalie they had a big group of friends, and their posse usually took up the whole left corner of the quad. Of course there were Matt, Jo, and Vincent. Jo had all her friends from the dance committees that she worked on. Vincent had various friends from his drama and art classes. Vincent was the type of person who made friends everywhere he went, and he was always hitting it off with shy classmates who found it hard to fit in. Everyone loved Vincent. Then there were all of Jeremy's friends from baseball and the ones he skateboarded with. Brianna seemed to fit in well. Natalie caught glimpses of her chatting with some of the guys, and she overheard Jo telling her about the best places to buy shoes in the area.

Natalie had packed her lunch in haste, and it consisted of a Diet Coke, a string cheese, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She only bought lunch on pizza day. The cafeteria food was just too greasy and questionable for her. She always ate her lunch next to Jeremy. They'd perch up on the quad wall and after they finished eating, they'd hop off the wall and mingle with friends.

As soon as Natalie had thrown out her
trash, she delivered the disk to Matt. She figured that the best time to hand it over was when a ton of other people were around. That way he couldn't ask her how the column was going. She didn't really want to tell him that she couldn't come up with an answer to the question he'd given her that day in the driveway. The author of the quiz would be no secret, as the column was. Her byline would go beneath the quiz, so it was safe to discuss around their friends.

He was munching on a bag of chips and set them down to take the disk.

“It's just the quiz. I'll try to give you the rest tomorrow.”

BOOK: Love Off-Limits
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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