Set the Record Straight! (3 page)

BOOK: Set the Record Straight!
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“What did you think of the column?” I whispered.

It's not like he hasn't been involved with it every step of the way. Mr. Trigg has to download the anonymous Dear Know-It-All e-mails from the server (there's a scrambler to hide the senders' e-mail addresses), and he has to forward to
me any letters submitted to the Know-It-All mailbox outside the
Cherry Valley Voice
office. He also has to approve my choice of letter for each column and read my answer before it's printed. But he actually lets me have a lot of leeway in what I write. The advice is all me.

He smiled. “Wonderful. And lots of chatter.”

I nodded. “But not all of it positive.”

“That happens. We just want to get people talking, debating, thinking, without being inappropriate or irresponsible. That's our job as journos, right?” He winked at me.

I tried to look more confident than I felt. If he wasn't worried, then why should I be worried? “Righty-ho, then!” I said, using one of his expressions back at him. Trigger guffawed his trademark horsey laugh.

“Wonderful, just wonderful,” he said, taking out a hanky and blowing his nose. “Now, Ms. Martone, I will be announcing this in the meeting, but just to let you know, I am out of town for a few days this week, starting tomorrow. Heading to a newspaper conference in Washington, DC. I'll be back
Monday. I am reachable by e-mail. . . .” And with that he held up a note for me to read, winking and nodding while he kept talking. It said, “KNOW-IT-ALL PASSWORD ON SERVER: wwiinston.”

“And you can leave me a note in my mailbox . . .” he continued, handing me a key with a London taxi keychain (clearly the key to the Know-It-All mailbox). Winking and nodding again, he then handed me a manila envelope containing this week's submission letters so far. Then he continued, talking about other general newspaper details.

Did I mention Mr. Trigg loves cloak-and-dagger stuff? I think he actually wishes he were a spy. Here he is in an empty newsroom, where he easily could say whatever he wanted without revealing who I am, or he could have left an envelope in my mailbox with both the key and the password. But instead he chooses to stage the whole thing like a spy exchange, as if the office is bugged by . . . the enemy? Which is who, exactly?

The door opened in the outer office behind me, and kids began to arrive for the meeting. I
jammed the keychain and envelope down into my messenger bag.
Spies Caught Midtransfer, Covers Blown!

“Okay, Mr. Trigg. Have a great trip! I'll be in touch if I need you!” I winked and nodded, and then backed out of the room while he sat at his desk, grinning and winking, obviously pleased that the whole “transfer” had gone so well. I had to give the guy credit for how he had managed to merge his two passions—WWII and Winston—into a password. Clever.

Out in the
Voice
office, I chose a seat on a little beat-up couch and put my messenger bag next to me to save a spot for Michael. I wondered vaguely if he'd realize I loved him just by the fact I'd saved him a seat. Nah. Probably not, I decided. He sure didn't act lovey-dovey when he rushed in at the last minute.

“Thanks, Paste,” he said. I love having a nickname for my nickname. Not.

The meeting went well. Everyone was pleased with the new issue and had heard good feedback out around school. Mr. Trigg had even had a call
from Mr. Pfeiffer, the principal, to say how great he thought the new issue was. (Phew!) Most of the other writers and editors said that lots of people were talking about Dear Know-It-All. When they said this, they looked around the room searchingly (with an anonymous writer, everyone was suspicious of everyone else), but I kept my cool, even when Katherine Thomas mentioned she'd heard a lot of people saying it was bad advice. I gulped.

“Please keep me apprised of anything more you hear,” said Mr. Trigg, moving on before everyone started to guess who wrote the column, which happened after almost every meeting.

Next it was time to brainstorm article topics for the next issue. I let Michael raise his hand to present our idea.

“We're thinking ‘School Lunch and Why It's So Gross,'” said Michael.

A couple of kids clapped, and Jeff let out a long whistle of approval. Michael and I grinned.

Mr. Trigg folded his arms tightly and tapped his chin with his index finger. That's what he does when he's thinking. “Yesss . . .” he said slowly,
drawing out the word. “But let's not say that's definitely the thesis and certainly not the headline. Start out with some reporting, and when I get back from my trip, we'll review what you've discovered, all righty? Next?” Mr. Trigg turned away.

Michael and I looked at each other, a little surprised Trigger hadn't embraced our idea as fully as we'd expected.

“Weird,” I said.

Michael shrugged. “Do you think he likes the food?”

I giggled. “Probably. What with his history of war rations . . .” Mr. Trigg hadn't lived through World War II, so I was only joking.

Michael didn't laugh, though. He was distracted, thinking.

I sighed.

Men. Boys. They're so unpredictable.

Chapter 3

ADVICE COLUMNIST A SHAM, READERS REVOLT!

The next day was busy from start to finish. I raced from class to class,
wolfed down a plate of rice with butter and salt (thanks for the recipe, Hailey), and at
the very end of the day, commandoed past the
Cherry Valley
Voice
office and swiped a letter from the Dear Know-It-All mailbox when no
one was around.

That night, after I had finished my homework and read the days' blogs
and news websites, which is always my reward for finishing my homework, I pulled out the
manila envelope from Trigger and took out the letters inside. I had had piles of
homework the night before and hadn't had a chance to look through the package
Trigger had given me. (Well, okay, I kind of did have time, but I
procrastinated. I was still queasy about the feedback from my printed answer from this
week's column, and I couldn't face a new set of letters.)

There weren't too many in his package—four, in fact—and I
read through them quickly, having by now realized that most Dear Know-It-All letters
fall into strict categories. They are: the medical (“What can I do about my
acne?” or “How can I grow taller?”), the standard domestic drama
(“I hate my little brother, he's always fooling around with my
stuff”), the nerdy (“What are colleges really looking for in a
candidate?”), and the lovelorn (“No boys like me”).

The fifth letter was the one I had picked up from the mailbox today. It was
handwritten and in an envelope, with a return address, and it turned out that it
didn't fall into any of those categories.

It was from Tired of Waiting.

I turned the envelope over in my hands, and paused. I was dying for feedback,
but what if it wasn't good? Or maybe it was great! Maybe she'd
asked him out, and he'd said yes! I almost ripped it open,
but my stomach clenched. Oh gosh. I couldn't do it!

I sat with the letter in my hand, staring off into space. What
if . . . ? What if . . . ?

Finally, I shook my head. Your
Courage,
Your
Cheerfulness,
Your
Resolution Will Bring
Us Victory
, I thought. I ripped open the letter, like I was tearing off an
old BAND-AID, and my eyes skimmed it quickly. It said:

Dear Know NOTHING AT ALL,

Thanks a lot. I asked out my crush, and he not only said no, he told all
his friends. And now they all laugh at me whenever I walk by. And he doesn't even
talk to me.

Thanks for nothing.

Tired of Bad Advice

Oh no! I collapsed into a heap and threw down the letter,
as if it had burned me. My hand flew to cover my mouth in shock, and I sat there,
slumped in my chair while panic coursed through my veins. This was what I'd been
dreading ever since I'd agreed to write the Dear Know-It-All column a month ago. I
had given bad advice, and someone had taken it, and now I'd wrecked her life!
Advice Columnist a Sham, Readers Revolt!

My first thought was,
Thank goodness I stopped Hailey
before she went too far!
I could only imagine what Scott would have done if
she'd asked him out, point-blank. But poor Tired!

There was a knock on my door, and it opened, without me even saying,
“Come in.” It was my sister, Allie, who is obsessed with her own privacy but
doesn't care a bit about anyone else's.

“Hey, I know you're Ms. Blog, and I was
wondering . . .” Suddenly Allie stopped and actually looked at me
for a change. “What's wrong? You look like your best friend just
died!”

“Oh, it's nothing. It's just . . .
middle-school drama, you know.” I tried to smooth over it. The last thing I
need is Allie finding out that I'm Dear Know-It-All, and a
mediocre one at that. She'd have a field day critiquing my work and torturing
me.

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Allie has a better nose for news than I
do, actually. She runs the high school's website, the student section, and so I
guess she is kind of involved in current events. But what she mostly does is text about
events and post stuff on Buddybook, and talk on the phone with her friends, all of whom
she likes better than she likes me.

“Does this have anything to do with Crushie Crusherson?” Allie
pressed.

She knows I like Michael. And she's friends with his older brothers, so
she has access to him, which really scares me. I'm always praying she
doesn't say anything to him if she sees him.

“No.” I sighed impatiently.

“Hailey?”

“No, stop fishing! It's nothing.”

Allie stared me down, and I looked away. I would not crack, even if she gave
me a major interrogation.

Suddenly her phone began ringing, down the hall in her
room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her react to it, then will herself to remain
standing in my doorway, staring me down. Once, twice, three
times . . .

And then
Allie
cracked!

“Oh, whatever!” And she stormed down the hall to her room. I was
pleased with my steely nerve, and also grateful to whomever it was who had called
her.

I looked back at the letter from Tired. I didn't know what to do. My
first instinct was to call, e-mail, or write to her, but I had no idea how to get in
touch with her. I couldn't publish an apology in the
Cherry
Valley Voice
because we weren't due for another issue of the paper
until the week after next. Plus, it wouldn't exactly make me look good to issue an
apology in the third column I ever wrote.

I thought about calling Mr. Trigg, but that seemed babyish, like I was running
to my mommy for help. Speaking of which, I thought of telling my mom. She is the one
person besides Mr. Trigg who
knows that I am Dear Know-It-All, but
we never discuss it because she knows I need to remain mum on the subject. But
maybe… or Hailey? Could I just fess up to it all? Gosh, I felt like I really
needed her support right now. But . . .

No.

It wasn't that serious. I could handle it. I would just chalk this up to
a learning experience. My future advice should just avoid concrete tips and instead
focus on telling people to do what they feel is right. That way I'm not on the
hook. I'll just kind of coast through this assignment. That's all.

I sighed heavily, knowing that was a cop-out, and I was not feeling better. I
couldn't stop wondering who Tired was and who she liked. And what kind of mean boy
would treat a girl like that?

“Hey.” Allie was back in my doorway.

“Hey,” I said.

“Listen, if you want me to, I can tell little Mikey's brothers
that you like him. That way maybe he'll—”

“No!” I bellowed, jumping out of my seat and
running toward Allie. “No way!”

Allie looked shocked. “Okay, okay. Sheesh! I was just trying to help.
Sometimes if you do a little work behind the scenes . . .”

“No! Just . . . no.” I closed my eyes.

“Fine, whatevs.” Allie was not one to dwell on other
people's problems. Well, unless they were her friends. She certainly wasn't
going to dwell on mine. She abruptly switched gears. “Listen, I need to post a
link on the high-school website to a blog or another site that has healthy snack
recipes. I thought with all your Internetting around, you might have seen
something.” Allie folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the
doorway.

My blood was still boiling, and I really wasn't in the mood to help her
now.

“I don't know. I'll think about it,” I said. I slid
past her and headed downstairs for a snack.

“Think fast,” she said, and she returned to her room.

Downstairs in the kitchen, I found a banana
and some
peanut butter and raisins, and made my version of ants on a log.

“Sam, honey? Is that you?” my mother called from the den, which is
also her office.

“Hi, Mom,” I said. I tried not to sound sad, or she'd come
in here to try to pry it out of me.

Which, of course, she did, anyway.

“What's wrong?” she asked, climbing the few stairs from the
den to our kitchen.

“Nothing,” I lied.

She put her lips to my forehead to see if I had a fever, but I squirmed away,
so she sat down next to me at the kitchen table and then propped her chin onto her
hands. My mom is a freelance accountant and bookkeeper, so she loves concrete facts as
much as I do, even though hers are numbers and mine are words.

“Is everything okay with Hailey?” she asked.

“Yeah, and school's fine, and everything's fine,” I
said.

“How about the paper?” she asked. Then she dropped her voice to a
whisper, “And the column?”

BOOK: Set the Record Straight!
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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