Between the strict social ladder (geeks' lockers left, jocks' to the right), and silly, pointless rules (no hand-holding, no kissing, no breathing!), high school is the single worst place to find a boyfriend. And Laura Sweeney is no exception. She hasn't had a date since...well, ever.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. So Laura is calling in the big guns. She needs guidance. A proven "get the guy" strategy. Luckily she knows exactly the expert to call. He's a matchmaking mastermind who actually has the bow and arrow to prove it. Let's just call him...Cupid.
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By Caroline Goode
Simon PulseCopyright © 2005 John Vornholt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSmart Cody, thought Laura the moment she opened her front door and saw her date for Friday evening. Cody had enlisted a guy from another high school but of the same tribe as himself - a scruffy, handsome skater dude with spiky, dyed-auburn hair. Laura was reminded of Peter, who had real red hair, but she quickly put that image out of her mind.
"Laura Sweeney, this is my bud Rip Durkens," offered Cody, sounding like the perfect host. Cupidity stood on the step behind her date, looking pleased at his show of good manners. "Rip's a senior, too," added Cody. "He goes to the charter school down at the mall."
"Hi," said the scrawny skater, giving her a wry smile. "I didn't know what to expect, but Cody never steers me wrong." He was charming, especially for someone who was trying to act tough, and Laura was definitely attracted to him.
Down, girl, she told herself. You have no idea if Rip even wants to be on this date, or how long it's going to last. So just enjoy it for what it is.
"Cupidity never steers me wrong either," lied Laura, trying to fit in with the theme of the evening. As she stepped out of the house, she yelled back, "Bye! We're leaving now!"
Nobody answered, because her parents were hiding again. The four students walked slowlyto the car, and Laura asked, "So what's the plan? Burgers and a movie?" That's what they had talked about earlier, and she hoped it would be a somewhat normal date.
"Burgers, for sure," answered Cody, "then we've got a couple of parties to go to. And maybe we'll end up at Cupidity's place for a private party."
Hmmmm, thought Laura, not certain she liked the sound of that. "Is your dad home?" she asked Cupidity.
"No," Cupidity answered with a flip of her perfect blond hair. "Daddy Dearest went back to California last night. He just wanted to make sure I was settled in."
Cody laughed appreciatively and turned to his friend. "Rip, can you believe it? Cupidity lives alone. No parents around."
"Niiice," replied Rip, casting a sidelong glance at Laura, who tried not to appear too sultry. "Cody and me are going to get a place, as soon as we graduate."
"Shouldn't college or a job come first?" asked Cupidity as they reached her car. Even though the air was getting chilly, she still had the top down.
"Ahh, we'll be on the pro skateboard circuit by then," answered Rip confidently. "You should see us on the half-pipe."
While they talked about their fantastic future, Laura walked to the rear of the car. She felt her back pocket to make sure she still had the picture of Cupid and his bow. "Cupidity," she called. "I've got this heavy purse - do you think I could throw it in your trunk?"
"Sure," Cupidity replied. Pulling a lever under the dashboard, she popped the trunk lid while she made conversation with the boys.
While they were occupied, Laura looked inside the trunk and saw the duffel bag she knew so well. Even though no archery was planned for tonight's date, Cupidity had still brought her bow and arrows with her, which was rather suspicious. Knowing this wasn't the right time to get nosy, Laura dropped her purse into the trunk and shut the lid.
Rip gallantly held the car door open for her with one hand while he pulled the front seat forward with the other. Laura could've jumped into the back seat, but this was nicer. As Laura climbed in, she began to worry about what Cupidity might have planned for them this evening. If she really was a female Cupid, then she was like a god. She could strike without warning, and Laura might find herself crazy in love with a wild skater boy by the end of the night. The prospect of turning into a love zombie, like Peter and Megan, made her shiver.
Suddenly frightened, Laura almost bolted from the car, but Cupidity started the engine and roared away from the curb, tires squealing. Cody laughed merrily at her reckless driving, and Laura buckled her seat belt. She felt a wiry arm around her shoulder, because Rip was already getting friendly. He didn't even need to be hit by a magic arrow.
"So what are you into?" Rip asked her. "What do you like to do in your spare time?"
"Well," she mused, "I had a job at the Dairy Queen, but I quit that when school started. I like to read."
"Read?" echoed Rip, as if he had never heard of such a thing. "Like what, magazines?"
"Greco-Roman mythology," she answered hesitantly.
Cupidity laughed and said, "Yeah, Laura is really into that stuff - all those silly gods and goddesses."
That remark ticked Laura off, and she decided to give Cupidity a little test. When they stopped at a traffic light, she said, "There are some great love stories in mythology, like Cupid and Psyche. Psyche was the most beautiful woman in the world, and Venus got jealous of her. So she sent her son, Cupid, to make Psyche fall in love with a monster, but instead Cupid fell in love with Psyche. But he was so short and funny-looking that Psyche ran away from him."
"Funny-looking?" scoffed Cupidity. "She never saw him - Cupid was invisible. It was all her stupid sisters!"
Cody gave his date a quizzical stare. "Oh, so you're an expert, too. But look at your name!" He laughed as if he was the first one who had ever made the connection.
Cupidity chuckled uneasily and glanced back at Laura. "I'm no expert ... but I happen to know that story." As the light changed, she peeled away from the line.
They drove to the Gaslight, a 1950s-style diner where the waitresses wore poodle skirts and beehive wigs. It was a good enough place to get a burger, and Laura ate while Cody and Rip told stories about each other's exploits on skateboards, snowboards, and rollerblades. They were a mutual admiration society, and they were both ready to go pro, by their assessment.
All through dinner, Laura caught Cupidity gazing curiously at her, as if measuring her for an arrow. When Laura mouthed the word "What?" Cupidity shook her head and looked away. Even though her father had left, his visit still seemed to be having an effect on Cupidity. Tonight the new girl seemed uncertain, troubled, and just as real as anyone, and Laura began to feel guilty for thinking such bizarre thoughts about her.
I'm crazy, thought Laura. She's just trying to do me a favor, and I'm so suspicious of her. How can I be so ungrateful?
While the boys were laughing at each other's stories, Laura reached over and touched Cupidity's arm. "Hey, cheer up. I'm having a great time. I want to thank you for doing this."
Cupidity brightened. "Are you really? Good, I was beginning to think that it was all for nothing. You do want a boyfriend, don't you?"
"Yes, but it's got to be the right one," answered Laura. "Any dude off the street ... I could do that myself."
"Am I 'any dude off the street'?" asked Rip with a chuckle. "What are you guys talking about?"
"Blind dates," answered Laura, lifting her glass of soda. "I'm all for blind dates. Here's to blind dates!" She hefted her drink in a toast, and everyone joined her.
"To blind dates!" they echoed.
"And you are not 'any dude off the street,'" Laura told Rip, shooting him what she hoped was a sexy look over the top of her glasses. He seemed appreciative, and he set down his burger to reach for her hand. It was a greasy grip, but Laura didn't yank her hand away. She had to get through this date as gracefully as possible and stop worrying about Cupidity.
After dinner, they jumped back into the convertible and took off, this time with Cody driving. It was so cold in the back seat that Laura welcomed the extra warmth when Rip sat close and put his arm around her. At one point he tried to kiss her, but Cupidity turned around and interrupted them. Laura couldn't tell if that was on purpose or not, but she was too cold to do anything but cuddle with Rip.
After a while they found themselves cruising the rust-belt outskirts of town, where abandoned factories, rusty grain silos, and run-down warehouses stood. Every window was broken in these dark derelicts of lost industry, and weeds grew on the railroad tracks that ran along the rear of the buildings. This sure wasn't the movies, thought Laura, and she wondered what kind of party could be happening out here in the boondocks.
Only one parking lot in the deserted district had any cars in it, and Cody pulled in there and parked on lumpy, cracked asphalt. With the top down, Laura could hear the muffled thumping of rock music coming from somewhere nearby, but it was drowned out by the chilly wind. She was thankful just to be arriving in civilization where there might be heat, and she almost jumped out of the car before Rip opened the door for her. He held the door like a perfect gentleman, and Cody rushed to do the same for Cupidity.
The guys smiled knowingly at each other, and Laura glanced at her buddy, who gave her a wink. Cupidity's in charge here, she told herself, not these two smug boys.
"This is a skater rave," explained Cody, putting his arm around Cupidity's tiny waist. "I think you'll have a good time, but you might have to do some skating."
"Skating?" asked Laura uneasily. "What kind of skating?"
"Skateboard skating," answered Rip as if that explained it all. "It keeps the old people away."
"You'd be surprised at what some old people can do," remarked Cupidity.
"Like what?" asked Cody doubtfully.
She laughed as if remembering something funny. "At this retirement home I know, they race their wheelchairs down the stairs. And they dive off the top floor into the swimming pool."
"Cool," said Cody in admiration. "And where do these crazy old dudes live?"
"In Los Angeles," answered Cupidity. "Where I used to live."
"That must be a blast," mused Rip, "living in L.A. and going surfing every day. Did you ever surf, Cupidity?"
"No, mostly I played pool and smoked cigars," she answered with a glance at Laura.
"That's my girl!" exclaimed Cody with a laugh. He gripped her tightly around the waist, making it difficult for them to walk very quickly across the pitted parking lot. Rip held Laura's hand, which was welcome, because her hands were freezing.
They circled around to the rear of the building, where a couple of skaters were standing in the shadows. The grimy warehouse had to be three stories high, and a row of windows across the top were all broken. The muffled music seemed to be coming from deep underground, and a strange smell wafted from the aged railroad tracks in the rear. They walked toward a pair of metal doors that were set at a sloping angle in the brick wall. Farther away a door opened, and a gang of giggling girls staggered out on their high heels.
The doormen approached the foursome, shining a flashlight in their faces. "Cody! Rip!" they shouted when they recognized the guys. They exchanged skaters' handshakes and punched each other in the shoulders like old friends.
"Dudes, you have picked a primo night to party with us!" said the bigger of the two guards. "We're grindin' it tonight."
"Cool," said Rip. "You got a band or a sound system?"
"Sound system," answered the other doorman. "Like normally we would have to charge you five bucks each, but hot chicks like these two are always free." They couldn't take their eyes off Cupidity.
The new girl winked at Laura and said, "It's good to be hot."
Laura shivered, and her teeth chattered. "I don't feel hot at the moment."
"Here's your ten," said Cody, taking a crumpled bill from his pocket and paying for Rip, too. "The party's on me."
Cupidity gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks, sweetie, but we're not going to get busted here, are we?"
"Can't promise that, but you are going to skate to get in," said the smaller doorman. His partner pulled open the metal doors and revealed a long chute that led down into darkness and the din of a party. With a gulp, Laura realized that it was an old coal chute descending to the furnace room, probably long abandoned.
She laughed nervously. "I can't slide down there, I'll get all dirty. I'll take the door."
"You're not sliding." The big doorman pointed to what looked like a pile of lumber, but it was really a pile of old skateboards. Laura saw one of the girls teeter over to the pile and add a board to it. "Everybody skates down, especially first-timers," he explained. "It doesn't matter how hot you are."
Rip put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "There's like air mattresses and pillows down there. I'll go first and look out for you, and you just go down on your knees."
"On my knees?" she asked doubtfully, glad she had worn jeans.
"Come on!" called Cupidity, grabbing a battered old skateboard and heading for the door. Without a moment's hesitation, she knelt on the skateboard and pushed herself down the old metal chute, which rattled under the small wheels. Her delighted squeals pierced the night.
Cody took a board and hurtled down the chute in a crouch, and Rip was right behind him. He gave Laura an encouraging smile and a wave before he plunged into the darkness. Shivering more than ever, she grabbed a skateboard and noted the smirks on the doormen's faces.
"If I have to go to the hospital," she said, "I want to go to Mid City General."
"That's our favorite," answered the shorter one.
With a gulp, Laura edged toward the door and the dark chute. Once she got close, she realized that there was light and gaiety at the other end, along with many mattresses, which Rip was busy arranging for her. It was probably only twenty feet and not as steep as she feared; there was no sense putting it off.
"Xena!" she shouted as she had when she was a little girl, flinging her knees onto the skateboard and shooting into space.
Immediately she knew she was in trouble, as the wheels ground and squealed on the old sheet of metal. Certain she was going to fall off, Laura gripped the front of the board with her hands and screamed. The wild ride reminded her of sledding, which also scared her. Before she could catch her breath, she flew into space and landed in a comforting cloud of old mattresses, followed by Rip's strong arms.
For no good reason, he needed to fall onto the mattress with her and grab her shivering torso. Rip nuzzled her and gave her a brief kiss, which warmed her up at once. "You all right?" he asked with concern.
I'm good enough to kiss, she thought happily. Instead she smiled and said, "Can I get up and make sure I'm in one piece?"
"Oh, you're in one piece," he said, giving her body an extra squeeze. "What are you drinking?"
"Something legal," she answered.
Rip slid off her and vanished into the crowd, which was barely lit by a few strobes and some hokey discotheque lights. Pools of light and people were scattered throughout the huge basement, especially around the disc jockey and his sound system, but there didn't seem to be any good reason to light this dingy space. With all the smoke, it would be hard to see anyway.
Against the wall was a stairwell, which led to the exit they had seen before, and it was well marked by a sign. Some brawny straight-faced guys looked as if they were on security, but the crowd wasn't fighting. It wasn't as warm as Laura had hoped, but the crush of bodies and promise of dancing gave her some hope.
Cupidity bumped into her and shouted over the music, "Hey, princess, what do you think?"
Laura looked around at the funky surroundings and loud revelers and answered, "I just realized, skaters wear more corporate logos than anybody."
"No, I meant the boys!" said Cupidity, looking a bit frustrated. "Do you like Cody?"
Laura narrowed her eyes suspiciously at the new girl. "Why are you always trying to give me your dates? I have one of my own, and he can't keep his hands off me."
"Good," said Cupidity with a sigh. "So you like him and things are clicking. I was ... I was asking about Cody for me, of course. I think he should ask me to Homecoming, even though I can't go."
"Why can't you go?"
"Well, I've got to go out of town that weekend," she answered. "Some family business in L.A. - it can't be changed. I may have to leave suddenly, so if you see that I'm gone, don't worry about it."
Laura tried not to look concerned about this information, because Cupidity was Cupidity. Still it got her thinking about her mission to compare her friend's fancy bow with the one Cupid had in Pompeii. Maybe she was all wrong about the girl's matchmaking skills, but she had to put her mind at ease.
"Homecoming is still a long shot," complained Laura. "Skater dudes aren't known for going to Homecoming."
Excerpted from Cupidity by Caroline Goode Copyright © 2005 by John Vornholt. Excerpted by permission.
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