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Thursday, September 1
I never would’ve guessed that my own father would resort to using blackmail against me. I mean, I’m his only daughter, his “little princess” even. But it seems my dad has sunk to a new low lately. I suppose it’s just the desperate cry of a frustrated newspaperman who lives in a rather small and boring town where big news only happens once in a great while. Like the time that guy went bonkers and shot a bunch of kids at McFadden
I was still in middle school then, but the whole town was turned inside out over the senseless tragedy. All the big news networks flew in, and my dad ran stories in his paper for weeks–some that were even picked up by United Press International. He actually keeps those articles framed and hanging above his desk, which I personally think is kind of flaky, but I don’t let on.
It’s not like we want these particular sorts of disasters (like the McFadden shooting) to happen on a regular basis exactly, but as my dad says, “That’s what sells papers.”
Of course, we have other kinds of news too. Our local paper recently enjoyed the celebrity of the Christian rock band Redemption. Which is one of the reasons my dad started a new section in the paper called Teen Beat. A pretty lame name if you ask me, although he didn’t. Anyway, I do go the extra mile to keep him informed of Redemption’s latest news (like when they won a music award last spring). And that seems to keep him happy. Well, most of the time.
The reason I keep him up-to-date on Redemption is because Chloe Miller (leader of the band) is a pretty good friend. I’ve actually known her for years, not just after she became rich and famous. There are those usertypes who really take advantage of her generous nature. Like “Chloe is my best friend” just because they had one conversation with her. But here’s what’s weird–she actually lets them use her like that.
She says it’s because she’s a Christian. Yeah, right. I mean, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you should let people walk all over you, does it? Not that she really lets people walk on her like that. But it’s like she doesn’t really mind either. And this seriously confuses me.
Still, I do like and respect Chloe, and despite her whole Christianity thing, she seems like a genuinely real person to me. And even though she knows that I’m not so sure about the whole religion thing myself, she treats me like I’m a decent human being and worthy of respect.
And I can’t say that about all Christians. I mean, we have some kids at our school who are always trying to evangelize EVERYONE. And if you’re not interested in listening to them, they snub you and treat you like you’re Satan or just plain hopeless.
It’s not like I’m a “perfect heathen,” as my mom sometimes teases when I skip out on church–something I’ve been doing a lot lately. But it’s not like I don’t know what goes on there. I mean, I used to go pretty regularly with my parents (well, only because they made me), and okay, I’m sure it’s just fine for some people, but it’s not for me.
And it’s not because my parents go to an “old-fashioned” church (as my best friend likes to call it). In fact, I actually kind of like the oldness to it–the reverent sounds of the organ playing up in the loft, the rich hues of stained glass, and the pungent smell of wood oil on the pews. But that’s about where it stops for me. The rest of it is like one giant snooze. And frankly I’d rather do that in the comfort of my own bed.
Fortunately, I was able to avoid church most of the time this past summer thanks to my job at the mall, which I had to give up because school was starting and my parents felt a job would be “too distracting” to my education. Yeah, sure!
Anyway, back to my dad and how he’s blackmailing his only daughter. I got my driver’s license last year, and I’ve been saving for my own car ever since. My parents told me that they’d match what I’ve saved when I’m ready to get one. And I was almost ready.
But then my parents cooked up this little deal. Mostly it’s my mom’s idea, since she saw this show on “Oprah,” and now she’s totally freaked that I’m going to drive recklessly and get myself killed. They decided that I could only get a car if I keep a clean driving record. That means absolutely NO tickets–period–nada.
So as usual, I was driving my mom’s car to work yesterday. And her car’s just this frumpy 1998 Buick LeSabre (not exactly a race car if you know what I mean). It was my last day to go to work, I’d forgotten to set my alarm, and I was running a little late. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that wailing siren and saw those flashing red and blue lights in my rearview mirror.
Now, if I’d been a praying kind of person, I would’ve begged God to spare me from getting a speeding ticket, but I am not. The policeman said he’d clocked me going seventy-two in a fifty-five-mile zone. Oops.
“You were going seventeen miles over the speed limit, young lady.” He relayed this information to me as if he thought I was unable to do simple math. I almost considered telling him that I was the mental math champion throughout grade school but felt pretty sure it wouldn’t help my case. I’m not stupid; in fact that’s exactly why I gave up showing off my academic superiority several years ago. It never seems to help anything.
“But everyone drives sixty-five through here,” I told him in what I hoped was a respectful tone. “So it’s more like I was only going seven miles over the limit.” I guess I actually hoped he’d change the ticket or something. But this man had no mercy for speeding teenage girls. “The law’s the law.” He had a serious expression as he handed me the ticket. “You better slow down before you get hurt.”
I actually cried when I looked down at the ticket. Not just because it was for $285, but also because I knew this would mean no car.
After work, I went straight to my dad’s newspaper. “Daddy,” I began in my sweetest little princess voice. “I have something to tell you, and I don’t want you to get mad. Okay?”
I could tell by his expression that he was expecting the worst. Like what would that be? Did he think I was pregnant or had a bad coke-snorting habit or was wanted by the FBI or what? Anyway, I slowly told him my sad story, making it as pitiful as possible. But I could sense his relief that it wasn’t something way more serious.
“I’m really sorry, Daddy. And I promise I won’t speed again. I’m sure I’ve learned my lesson, and I plan to pay the whole fine myself.”
I managed to actually work up a few tears (I’m in drama and love putting on a good show). “I just don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t get my own car now. I cannot ride that hideous school bus, Daddy. Think how stupid I will look. And I can’t have Mom dropping me off. How lame is that? I mean, I’m a junior this year. Only a geek would ride the school bus or have her mom drop her off.” I waited for a moment. Then when he looked unconvinced, I told him some horror stories about what happens to geeky kids who ride the bus.
“Oh, Kim,” he said. “I think you’re exaggerating.”
So I put on my best pouty face and pulled out my trump card. See, what I haven’t told you yet is, although my parents are of the all-American white-bread Caucasian variety, I myself happen to be Asian. Korean in fact. I was adopted as an infant, and occasionally I can really make it work for me.
“And sometimes I get teased for being, well, you know, different,” I told my dad with some dramatic hesitation. Now this isn’t completely untrue. But I have to admit, I was really working it just then.
“Oh, honey.” My dad sighed and shook his head, and I wasn’t sure if he felt bad or was seeing right through me. After all, as a managing editor of a newspaper, he is pretty good at sniffing out the truth.
“Really, Daddy. The kids on the bus can be so mean. Sometimes they even call me names.” And then I actually repeat a couple of slang words that my dad cannot stand to hear. Words that have actually been used against me in the past; unkind words I try to forget.
And that’s when I knew I almost had him where I wanted him.
He got this thoughtful expression as he drummed his pencil up and down like a skinny woodpecker pecking on the rim of his coffee cup. Then he pressed his lips tightly together in that I-am-getting-an-idea sort of look. And that started to scare me.
“Okay, Kim, how about this?” He paused to study me for what felt like a full minute before he continued. “How about if we keep this one ticket between you and me?”
“Really?” I could hardly believe my good fortune. This was way easier than I’d expected.
He nodded. “But only if you agree to do something in return.”
“I want you to write the advice column for Teen Beat.”
“Oh, Daddy!” I frowned as I sunk into the chair across from his desk. My dad had been pestering me all summer to do this stupid column for him. He honestly thought that teens would write letters to his newspaper–just like “Dear Abby”–and that they would actually read the answers some lame person (hopefully, not me!) wrote back in response.
“Come on, Kim, we’re making a deal here. Are you in or not?”
“Daddy.” I slouched lower into the chair and folded my arms across my chest; I tried my pouting routine again.
But he wasn’t falling for it this time. “You’re a talented writer, sweetheart. And you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Plus you’re very mature for your age. Honestly, I really think you can do this.”
“But I don’t want to do this.” I sat up straight and looked him right in the eyes now. “Don’t you understand how stupid I would look? I don’t want kids going around school saying ‘Kim Peterson writes that lame advice column in Teen Beat. Like who does she think she is anyway?’”
He held up his hands to stop me. “No, no, you don’t understand, Kim. You have to remain anonymous for it to work. We’ll give you a pseudonym or something. No one must know who writes the column.”
“And you really wouldn’t tell Mom about my speeding ticket?”
“It’ll be part of our deal. You don’t tell anyone you’re writing this column for me, and I won’t tell Mom that you got the ticket.”
“And I can still get a car?”
He nodded. “And you’ll even get paid for writing.”
“I’ll get paid?”
He shrugged. “Well, not much, honey. But we’ll work out something.”
And so that’s how I got stuck with this small pile of letters (supposedly from teens) for “Just Ask Jamie”–that’s the actual name of the advice column. Of course, Dad didn’t just ask if I wanted it called that. But I guess it’s okay. Although I wish he’d come up with something better for my pseudonym than Jamie. But he wanted to use a unisex name so kids wouldn’t know whether I was a guy or girl. Well, whatever.
Also, my dad has linked me up with some “resources” for any tricky questions that might involve the law or anything outside of my expertise. “Like what exactly is my expertise?” I asked him. He just laughed and assured me that I would be fine. We’ll see.
Anyway, I’ve just finished practicing my violin (I have to get back into shape before school starts), and I decided I would “practice write” my answers to these letters in the safety zone of my own computer diary (which is accessible only with my secret password). I figure this will help me see whether I can really pull this thing off or not. I’ve picked the first letter to answer. Mostly I picked this one because it’s a pretty basic question, no biggie. So here goes nothing.
I am fifteen years old, and I desperately want to get my belly button pierced. My mom says, “Not as long as you’re living under my roof!” But I say, “Hey, it’s my belly button, and it should be up to me if I want to put a hole in it or not.” Right? Anyway, I plan to get it done soon. And I’ve decided not to tell my mom. Do you think
I’m wrong to secretly do this?
Holeyer than Some
While I can totally understand wanting to pierce your belly button–because I, too, happen to think that looks pretty cool when done right–I really think you should consider some things first. Like how is your mom going to feel when she finds out you did this behind her back? Because moms always find out. And how will this mess up your relationship with her?
Because whether you like it or not, you’ll probably be stuck living “under her roof” for about three more years.
So why not try to talk this thing through with her?
Explain that you could go behind her back, but you’d rather have her permission. Believe me, you’ll enjoy your pierced belly button a whole lot more if you don’t pierce your mom’s heart along with it.
Okay, now I have a problem. I feel like a total hypocrite because I haven’t been completely honest with my mom. Oh, sure, I didn’t go out and pierce my belly button. Although that might not be as bad as breaking the law, getting a ticket, and then not telling her. Of course, my dad did make a deal with me when he blackmailed me with the advice column. So maybe this is different. But if this is different, why do I feel guilty? Maybe I should write a letter to Jamie and just ask!
From the Trade Paperback edition.