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All's Fair in Love and Words

Chapter 1



“Gah!” The wind mussed my hair. I sighed.

“Don’t worry, Laurel.” The wind merely ruffled Anna Wilson’s long black hair and brought a rosy glow across her high cheekbones. “I’ve got some spray in my bag. You can fix your hair when we get to school.”

She knew that it was totally crucial to me to look good that day because Mr. Bonine, the yearbook advisor, was going to announce the editors of the yearbook committee. I didn’t want to make a last-second bad impression.

I’m glad I’m not unattractive. But at times I’ve seriously wished I were regal, sophisticated, the kind of person who would be taken seriously. Unfortunately, I usually have to worry about people wanting to pat my head. In fact, Anna has always said my whole family, with our wavy blond hair, big brown eyes, and turned up noses, remind her of a litter of cocker spaniels. In other words, cute. Painfully cute.

“I totally think I might be named editor-in-chief,” I said to myself as much as to Anna. “I mean, I was a junior class assistant last year. Plus, I completely want it!”

“Don’t worry,” said Anna, always one to reassure me when I was nervous. “Bonine knows your writing.”

He knows my writing. He knows my writing. He knows my writing. Maybe if I repeated that mantra enough, my yearbook dream would come true.

During the rest of our walk to school my mind was spinning with plans. The first thing I would do would be to eliminate the Who’s Who section. Okay, it was one of the most popular features, but I have my reasons. My parents had been named the Most Adorable Couple in their high school yearbook eons ago, and I didn’t want a label like that to stalk me the rest of my life. Not that I was dating anyone in particular, adorable or otherwise. I just didn’t want to take any chances.

At school, Anna wished me luck before I headed off to my meeting. Just before strolling into the yearbook office in a way that I hoped was totally casual, I took a deep breath, held my head high, and tried to look as authoritative as possible.

“Hi, Laurel.” Mr. Bonine smiled at me over his pink paisley tie.

I hoped he’d considered my “A” average in English instead of my not-so-commanding image. I’d been in clubs and on committees before, but this would be my first time as head of anything. If I was named editor. What would it be like? How would I handle it? I desperately wanted the chance to find out.

As soon as the rest of the committee members were seated, Mr. Bonine said, “And now, this year’s editors!” With a dramatic flourish he wrote the names on the blackboard.

Ruby Melonson, Advertising Director. She was organized and direct. I could easily work with her.

Bret Fleet, Production Manager. Another serious student and hard worker. Things were shaping up.

Matt Stannard, Photo Editor. Hmmm. A new guy at school. I didn’t know much about him except that he was in my U.S. History class and had dark brown hair, big blue eyes, and a cleft in his chin that rivaled my dimples for depth. I noticed, too, that he blushed through his freckles when his name was written on the blackboard. Other than that, he was a question mark.

Okay, so far it seemed like a good group. If only my name would appear next, everything would be perfect.

Mr. Bonine paused, then said, “And now the editor-in-chief!” He started writing. S-A-L-L-Y. Sally? Oh, no! Sally who? I looked around frantically, totally confused. Who on earth was Sally? I didn’t know any Sallys. Not in the whole school!

Mr. Bonine chuckled and erased “Sally.” He replaced it with Laurel Blossom. Me! I guess that was Mr. Bonine’s lame idea of a joke—giving me a heart attack.

Everyone laughed. Me, I tried to look all editor-in-chiefish.

“Congratulations,” Matt said to me.

Before I could thank him, everybody started congratulating everybody else. I thought I congratulated Matt in there somewhere, but I wasn’t sure.

“Now to get down to business.” Mr. Bonine passed out bundles of paper. “This is an outline of the schedule we need to follow, listing all the deadlines for the year. Actually, I’m just here to advise—and censor if necessary.”

He seemed to be expecting a laugh. We did our best.

“You’re the ones who have to do all the work.”

We went over the schedule and marked the most important deadlines. Then we sorted out who wanted to work on what—typing, advertising, writing copy, etc. Before we knew it, it was almost time for school to start, so I suggested that the editors have a quick discussion of our overall goals.

“Since I’m new here,” said Matt, “I’ve had only a few weeks to look over old yearbooks. I’m into photography, so I focused on the candids and the Who’s Who section. I’d like to see them expanded. They get everybody into the yearbook.”

“Well...” I drummed my fingers on the desk. I wasn’t quite ready to try out my new authority. “Don’t you think the Who’s Who section labels people?”

“Isn’t that the whole idea?” Matt gave me a crooked grin. “Recognition for as many people as possible.”

“Recognition? You consider ‘Class Wolf’ and ‘Most Giggly’ recognition?”

“Sure. Not everyone can be a star athlete, valedictorian, or editor of the yearbook.”

Maybe Matt had a point, but I had to look as though I was in charge. “The Who’s Who categories are…silly.”

“I think they’re fun,” said Matt.

“Me, too,” said Bret.

“It’s the first thing I turn to,” said Ruby.

Ack! They were trying to over-rule my first decision. I had to take control! I sat up straight, making the most of my five-foot, three-inches, so I’d look more official. “Now listen...”

The bell rang. I felt a twinge of relief that I wouldn’t have to make a power play just then.

As I hurried to my P.E. class I suppressed an urge to cartwheel down the hall at being named yearbook editor-in-chief. Not that I could do a cartwheel, but I felt like it, even though I’d probably be sent to the nurse’s office for one of those “displays of emotion” Principal Joel frowned upon. Too bad my joy was tinged by freaking out over how I would use my new-found authority. I’d have to be firm, right? But how, and how much? I’d be working with those people all year, and it would be nice if we were all still talking to each other in June. Then there was that troubling fact that I couldn’t help notice how Matt’s blue eyes had sparkled with enthusiasm, even if I hadn’t agreed with his opinion about the Who’s Who.

In the locker room, I filled Anna in on all the gory and glorious details of being named editor.

“Congratulations!” Anna grabbed a hockey stick from the barrel by the locker-room door and handed one to me as we stepped out into the frosty air. Miss Chambers, our P.E. teacher, likes to insist that the cold autumn mornings we have in New England are merely “brisk,” even on days when there’s frost on the ground. That’s how she earned her nickname, “Chilly” Chambers. Since I am neither athletic nor the outdoorsy type, I suffer in P.E. a good deal of the time.

Miss Chambers blew her whistle, which was our signal to take our positions on the hockey field. Anna played goalie because she liked defending the goal, and she’s good at it. I played fullback because it involved the least amount of running. Overall, I preferred pushing pencils to hockey sticks.

The game started. Our forward line drove the ball toward the opposing goal. While I blew on my hands to warm them, Anna paced around, ever ready for an attack on her goal. The wind picked up. I stamped my feet to warm my toes.

“By the way,” said Anna as she kept one eye on the game. “I know Ruby and Bret are definitely yearbook-committee worthy, but who is this Matt guy?”

“Matt Stannard. He’s new this year.” When Anna stared at me, I continued. “He’s in our U. S. History class. He sits over by the pencil sharpener.”

“I just can’t picture him.”

“He—look!” I discreetly pointed to Matt, who I just spotted tearing down the soccer field in another P.E. class. “There he is.”

Anna squinted, giving him the once-over. “Ooh, he’s cute. You know, he kind of looks like you. Hey, you guys would make an adorable couple!”

“Don’t say that!”

“Why? What’s wrong with that?”

“I don’t want to be part of an ‘adorable couple.’“ Anna has never understood my aversion to being viewed as adorable. Probably because she radiates leadership without even trying, while I have yet to prove myself. “Besides,” I said, “if I went out with him, how would I maintain my authority at yearbook committee meetings?” Okay, the yearbook was not like the military, but still.

“You’re being ridiculous—oops! Get ready,” Anna commanded. “They’re headed our way.”

I whirled around just in time to see a herd of hockey players stampeding in my direction. They thundered over and around me. Anna whacked the ball back to midfield where one of our halfbacks sent it flying to the other goal. Our team promptly scored, and by then it was time to head back to the locker room.

In the steam of the showers, Anna continued her campaign to match me up with Matt. Aside from being persistent, she was a believer in perfect couples, probably because she’s been so happy with Stuart, now a sophomore majoring in Physics at MIT. She started dating him when he was a senior here in Kenilworth, and they’ve been a blissful unit ever since. The fact that I’ve had my share of dates doesn’t impress Anna. She’s worried because there hasn’t been a “special” guy in my life.

“If Matt’s been named an editor to the yearbook, he must be reasonably intelligent.” Anna grabbed a bar of soap.

“So?” I asked warily.

“Working on the yearbook also gives you something in common.”

“That’s true.” I thought that if I agreed with her she’d drop the subject.

“He’s totally cute too.” Anna gave me a conniving smile as she rinsed off.

“Agreed.” How could I not, since it was true.

“So why don’t you like him?”

I gave up. I hopped over the cold tile floor to my locker to dry off with a gym towel the size of a postage stamp. But there was no escape.

In a flash, Anna stood next to me, dripping as she continued her inquisition. “I said, why don’t you like Matt?”

I sighed. “I have nothing against him personally. I hardly even know him. But I don’t want to date someone just because we’d look nice together, and I don’t want to create tension in the yearbook committee. You know what they say about ‘office romances’. They don’t work, especially when one person is the, uh, boss.”

“So. You’re looking for someone with whom you have nothing in common who resembles a werewolf.” Anna faced me with her hands on her hips. I might have been intimidated if she hadn’t been standing there in her underwear.

“I give up.” Since I was already dressed, I thought I’d be able to leave and end the conversation. But as I opened the locker room door Anna called after me.

“We’re continuing this discussion after school!”

I figured by three in the afternoon Anna would be way over her interest in Matt and my love life, or lack of it. When we met by the drinking fountain to walk home together, she regaled me with her latest adventure with strange green gases in her advanced chemistry class, so I thought she’d forgotten our conversation in the locker room. No such luck.

“By the way,” said Anna, deftly switching subjects, “how about considering working with Matt as a little friendly cooperation?”

“I plan on cooperating,” I explained patiently. “But the final decisions are still going to be mine.”

“Okay. So make them. As long as you listen to advice first and really consider it, no one is going to fault you.” She paused. “I’ll bet Matt wouldn’t.”

“Look,” I said with an exaggerated sigh. “You date him if you think he’s so great.”

“Whoa.” Anna threw up her hands. “All I want is your happiness.”

A car horn honked. I turned and saw an old green clunker pull up to the curb. There was Matt, signaling us to hop in. Anna grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the car. I quickly opened the door for her and stood so she’d have to get in first and sit next to Matt.

“Hi,” said Anna. She was all smiles.

“H-hello,” I stammered quietly.

“Hi, Laurel. Anna.” Matt offered a warm smile.

“How’d you know my name?” Anna blurted out.

“You’re in my U.S. History class.”

“Oh.” Anna blushed. “That’s right. You must be good at remembering names.”

“I always remember intelligent, attractive girls,” Matt teased as an infectious grin spread across his face. “I know you’re our Fearless Leader, I mean class president, and you’re pinned to some genius at MIT.”

“Hmm,” said Anna. “Very observant. And what, I have to ask, do you know about Laurel?”

I scrunched down in my seat, hoping to melt into the upholstery.

“Not as much as I’d like.”

I could tell it was all Anna could do to restrain herself from shouting “Hooray!” Instead, she said, “This is my house,” as she barreled over me, shouted her thanks to Matt, and closed the door behind her before I could tell Matt to let me off, too. I only had to walk another couple of blocks.

Without Anna’s exuberant presence, the car filled with an embarrassing silence until we arrived in front of my house.

“Well…,” I said. “Thanks for the ride.”

“My pleasure,” said Matt. He put his hand on my shoulder. “Hey, how about going to Shakey’s with me for a soda or something? We could discuss our plans for the yearbook.”

“Uh, thanks, but...I can’t.” I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “I-I’m swamped with homework.”

“Oh. Well. Some other time.”

“Sure. Maybe...” I licked my lips. “Thanks again for the ride.”

“Any time.”

I went into the house wondering why I sensed a twinge of disappointment mixed in with my guilt at turning down Matt’s offer. Could it be because I was starting to feel attracted to him? Hmm. Okay, so maybe the fact that he was cute and we’d make an adorable couple wasn’t really as terrible as I’d thought.




Chapter 2



The minute I stepped in the door I knew something was up. Mom and Dad were both home. Okay, that was not completely unusual, since Dad teaches sixth grade, which lets out at 2:30, and Mom owns her own gift shop, and often schedules it so she comes home early. What was unusual was my sister, Iris, bounding into the hall to greet me.

“Guess what!”

I shrugged.

“Mom and Dad are going bonkers!”

“Would you care to explain that?” I hung my coat in the hall closet.

“Look! They’re running around in the living room, acting weird.”

Cautiously, I peeked in the living room. Sure enough, there was Mom, running to the mirror over the fireplace to peer at her face.

Dad pinched his sides. “Look at these love handles!

“I can’t believe it.” Mom shook her head as she picked up a letter from the coffee table, then dropped it as if it was on fire.

Now, if it’d been Iris acting like that, I wouldn’t have blinked. Everything’s been a crisis with her since she turned twelve a few months ago. But my folks are generally calm, soft-spoken people not given to irrational acts.

“Ahem!” Loudly, I cleared my throat. “I’m home.”

“Oh! Laurel! I didn’t hear you come in,” Mom said.

“Can you imagine what came in the mail today?” Dad waved a suspicious looking letter.

“What? Are you being audited by the IRS?” I asked.

“Don’t I wish,” said Mom. “That I would be prepared for!”

“Twenty-five years!” said Dad. “It doesn’t seem possible. But it’s right here in black and white.”

This was getting us nowhere. I grabbed the letter as Dad swished it under my nose and read it. “This is what you’re so upset about? You’re twenty-fifth high school reunion is coming up?”

“Just look at me.” Dad pushed his hair back from his forehead. “I’m going bald!”

“Dad, your hair couldn’t have receded more than a quarter of an inch!” I exclaimed, trying not to let my exasperation come out in my voice.

“That much? Oh, no!”

“Dad, it’s not even noticeable...”

“Rose.” Dad turned to Mom. “Do you think I have time for a hair transplant?”

“Bud, don’t be ridiculous. Your hair is no problem.

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