Read an Excerpt
Dear Coyote Courtship,
I've wanted to ask this girl to the Halloween dance all year, but I'm not sure if she even likes me. Should I talk to her friends before I ask her? Or should I just ask her?
There were a million more Confused Coyotes.
Dear Coyote Courtship,
I really like this guy, but I'm afraid to ask him to the dance. I know he doesn't have a date yet, and he'd probably say yes, but I feel so intimidated. I am really shy. I'm afraid he'll get a date soon if I don't do something. Any suggestions on how to ask him as casually as possible?
And a lot of Chickens.
Hi, Coyote Courtship,
I really want to ask a friend to the dance, but I'm afraid he might take it the wrong way. How do I make it clear that I just want to be friends?
Thanks for the advice.
Several friendly coyotes apparently hung out on campus, because she read a few more letters similar to Just Friends's.
The dilemmas were endless. Natalie Dean never knew one dance could create such anguish for so many people. She'd almost rather take driver's ed again than read the pile of letters from anonymous classmates that sat in front of her in the campus newsroom. All the letters were for the school newspaper's column that she'd taken over when the former love columnist had quit.
The campus newsroom was empty. The only sound was the hum of the computer she was using and the occasional grunts and shouts from the Coyote football practice outside. Even though October was right around the corner, it still felt like summer in their suburban San Diego town, and the warm breezes wafting through the windows made Natalie want to take a nap.
She began typing.
The Coyote Chronicle
It's the season of spooks, and we're all hoping to avoid messages from beyond the grave. With one of the biggest events on campus, Howl at the Moon, right around the corner, many of you are hoping to make this season full of fun rather than fright. I've received a lot of letters asking about how to hook the best date for the dance. I'm dying to ask the one I've had a crush on all year, but I'm afraid. Should I take a friend? Is it okay to head to the dance with a group of friends? I want the one I've had my eye on all year to ask me; how do I get her attention?
The fact of the matter is, I don't have a clue, and frankly I don't care because I wish I wasn't even going to this stupid dance, and anyone who has written in for advice should read their horoscope or contact Dr. Phil. My advice: Avoid love like the plague. Romance is confusing, and if you do think you ever happen to stumble upon true love, eventually you'll end up wondering if it's true or not.
Natalie giggled. She couldn't help it. It was hard to take the column seriously. When she'd first taken over the column, the idea of giving advice had seemed exciting. She'd never admit this, but it had kind of made her feel important and all-knowing. At the time, her own love life had been going blissfully, and she'd savored writing about romance. But lately the column had become a burden. Her relationship with her boyfriend was a source of anguish, and she was starting to feel as though she knew nothing about love when she was supposed to know everything about love. Worse, she'd even secretly been seeking love advice for her own love life via the Internet on a huge love-advice website called Romeohelpme.com. Every time she sat down to work on the column, she felt like the biggest poseur.
She looked over her shoulder. School had been out for more than an hour and she'd been alone in the newsroom. However, paranoia always kicked in when she was screwing around, and she was private about her writing anyway. Her identity as columnist for Coyote Courtship was top secret. The only people on the entire newspaper staff who knew her identity were the newspaper adviser, Mr. Moore, and the editor in chief, Matt Logan. It was so on the down low she wasn't even supposed to work on the column at school, and she had to sign a contract with Mr. Moore promising that she wouldn't tell anyone except for her parents that she was the columnist behind Coyote Courtship. If she violated the agreement, it could result in her failure of the class. That's how seriously everyone took this column everyone except for her.
The only reason Natalie was working in the newsroom today was because she'd been uploading too many songs on freebie websites and her computer at home had taken a hit from some kind of virus.
The first issue of the newspaper for the school year had hit stands a week earlier, which meant that new deadlines had been issued this week. A first draft of the column was due every Thursday after the previous paper hit stands. She'd sort of come to dread Thursdays for this reason. Love and romance were the most confusing topics on the planet for her right now. She'd rather solve equations than try to figure out dating and relationships, and she was supposed to be an expert!
She knew what all the fans of the column wanted to hear. She'd watched all the fairy-tale movies, and it wasn't like happy endings and blissful advice about romance were rocket science.
She glanced at the clock. She cracked her knuckles over the keyboard of her computer and chuckled. She was about to delete her fake column when the sound of skateboard wheels in the newsroom startled her. She swung around in her seat. Jeremy. Detention must be out. She wasn't sure what had surprised her more the fact that he was a half hour early, or the fact that he had skateboarded into the campus newsroom wearing a fireman's costume.
His dark hair peeked from beneath the edges of his hat; his deep-set eyes scanned the room. Jeremy wore his confidence well and he always seemed so secure in every new setting he entered. He was the only person she knew who had the courage to rip across campus in a Halloween costume as if he were in his backyard. Skateboarding on campus was so against the rules.
Jeremy's Ford Explorer was currently in the shop, and he was waiting for Natalie to give him a ride home from school.
"I've come to the rescue!" he announced as he glided over the floor, avoiding a stack of newspapers.
A million thoughts at once. What was he doing in the outfit? And he was early. She thought he had detention before the Halloween flea market. She was too worried he would catch a glimpse of her sarcastic column to find out why he was early. However, she couldn't help but notice how cute he looked. Really, he was drop-dead gorgeous in anything he wore, but the fireman costume really took his broad shoulders and deep, dark eyes to a new level. Even a cat would love to be rescued by him.
Her mind raced, and all she could think was to get her mouse to the close button or the minimize icon whichever came faster. He was the last person she wanted to see her silly attempt to amuse herself. He had no idea that she felt so confused in their relationship, and this definitely wasn't the way she wanted him to find out. She hit minimize faster than her heart raced. The column disappeared.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked as he hopped off his new skateboard. He straightened his fireman's hat.
"Nothing," she said a little too quickly.
He gave her a once-over. "You look startled and you're sweating."
"I am? I mean, hey, look at you!" She turned the focus on him. "Shouldn't I be asking what's up with you?" She put on an enthusiastic smile. "I know it's fire season in San Diego, but I didn't know you were signing on to help out."
He seemed excited by her interest. He tossed her a giant black-and-white ball of fur. "I just found these costumes at the Halloween flea market. Five bucks for both. I got the Dalmatian for you."
Natalie held up the giant costume and looked at a head-to-toe dog costume complete with a collar and a tag that read BUSTER.
"Buster?" she mumbled. She didn't want to hurt his feelings, but this was hardly her vision for this year's Howl at the Moon.
The school held its annual Halloween flea market every year in the gym. It gave the students and staff a chance to recycle some old costumes. Natalie had skipped this year and sent Jeremy to see if he could find something cool for them, or just come up with ideas. She had no idea he would actually buy something without asking her first. He looked wonderful as a firefighter, but going as man's best friend was hardly what she'd had in mind for herself. Did he plan to lead her around on a leash? Not to mention it was eighty degrees outside and could hit the upper nineties on Halloween. This was San Diego. Visions of heat stroke danced through her mind.
"Try it on!" he urged.
"Uh. Well..." She searched for a reason to skip his suggestion.
"Bathroom's right next door," he reminded her.
"You want me to try it on right now? Um...it doesn't look like it will fit. It's a little large." For once her short frame seemed like a blessing. "Who sold you this?" she asked.
"Mrs. Green. She said it was her son's."
"Is her son Hurley from Lost?"
Jeremy laughed. "C'mon. Go try it on. It will look great."
"Let's just wait till we get home. I'll try it on at my house. There are better mirrors there."
"What's wrong with you? Don't be such a chicken. Go try it on."
Jeremy never understood embarrassment, and she doubted he'd experienced a self-conscious moment in his entire life. Always so confident, he felt comfortable in anything. He was daring and bold, and those were two of the qualities that had attracted her to him in the first place. Natalie had always felt safest tucked behind her computer working on a writing assignment. With Jeremy there was never a dull moment. He made everything seem so easy.
He grabbed her arm and yanked her from the seat.
"What if someone comes in," she said, "and I'm standing here in a dog costume?"
"School's been out for more than an hour. Who do you think is going to see you? It will look great, anyway. Just go try it on. What are you waiting for?"
She stood there.
"Nat, no one is here. Just go." He whimpered like a dog. "Please."
She smiled. "All right, all right."
As she headed to the girls' bathroom, she reasoned that it was better to try it on now and let him see how ginormous it was going to be. Maybe he could even get his money back from Mrs. Green or try to sell it at the next Halloween flea market.
She went straight for the handicapped stall. She was afraid she'd get trapped in a regular-size stall. As she slid the outfit on over her clothes, she thought about the fact that people who worked at Disneyland got paid to wear outfits like this. She wouldn't take a king's ransom to wear this to Howl at the Moon. She was afraid to leave the stall and already felt her armpits growing damp. She almost tripped over the costume's legs as she maneuvered her way out of the stall. As predicted, she was swimming in the costume. She looked at herself in the mirror and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She wanted to put her tail between her legs.
Mainly she was just worried someone was going to walk in and see her. The ears came down to her neck and she looked poufy. Her face looked like a tiny speck of land in the midst of a giant sea of black and white. For a moment she debated taking it off and explaining that it didn't fit and her cheeks were squished. Leaving the bathroom and walking into daylight terrified her. She knew if she chickened out, Jeremy would never let her hear the end of it. Besides, he was her boyfriend and pretty much the only person she really needed to worry about looking cute for. He wanted her to wear it.
Natalie headed back to the newsroom. An ear flapped over her eye. As she pushed the ear away she heard laughter. Worse, her boyfriend wasn't alone. She faced her boyfriend and his best friend, Matt. Matt also happened to be the editor in chief of the Coyote Chronicle. She wanted to die. She sort of wished it had been anyone else.
"This is classic!" Jeremy shouted before succumbing to a no-breather.
Matt looked at her with a twist of sympathy and humor in his blue eyes.
Slowly she took a few steps forward. As she moved, she felt her tail take out a chair. She turned to her left to look at the chair, and when she moved, her tail knocked over something else. Judging from the shattering sound that followed, it was safe to say that whatever had fallen wasn't another chair. She was afraid to move and peeked over her shoulder. A pile of broken gray fragments lay beneath the tail.
"What was that?" She was afraid of the answer.
"Just Matt's ceramics project," Jeremy said in between peals of laughter.
"No. Are you serious?" She prayed Jeremy was kidding, but something told her he wasn't.
Matt tried to act like he didn't mind, but she sensed a shadow of disappointment in his eyes. He shrugged. "It's not a big deal. Just some dumb vase that probably would've broken when my mom put flowers in it anyway."
"It was a vase for your mom?" She felt horrible, and immediately crouched down and began picking up the pieces. "Maybe we can put it back together. I am so sorry. I feel terrible. I mean, was this something you worked on for a long time? This was special, wasn't it?"
Matt shook his head. "Nah, it was just some little school project."
"That he got an A on," Jeremy pointed out. "I don't think you're going to be able to glue two pieces of that back together." Jeremy's cell phone rang. Natalie was thankful for the interruption, and felt relieved when he turned away to answer it. He was only making her feel worse.
Matt crouched down next to her.
"Let me clean it up," he said. "Really, it's no big deal."
"Is there some way I can make this up to you?"
"It's okay, Buster." He smiled at her while on his hands and knees.
She glanced down at the collar and tag around her neck and rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah." She felt self-conscious and awkward beneath his gaze.
Sweat trickled down her back as she collected pieces of the vase from the floor. Unfortunately, Jeremy was right. The vase looked like a pile of cookie crumbs.
"I should've never agreed to try on this stupid costume in the first place," she mumbled.
"You look hot," Matt said. She paused to glance at him. "I mean, not that kind of hot." He quickly corrected himself. "The hot where you sweat and you want to cool down. Not that you aren't hot or anything...I mean, just never mind. You know what I mean."
Interesting that he was the one stumbling over his words when she felt like the fool. Not only was she crawling around in a dog costume that was ten sizes too big, but she didn't normally hang out in the newsroom to begin with. He was probably dying to know what she was doing here.
They threw handfuls of clay fragments in the trash, and Natalie felt horrible with every toss.
She never worked in the newsroom.
"I was working on the column," she blurted out. "I didn't have a chance to tell you and Mr. Moore that my computer at home is broken, but I have a deadline on Thursday." She tried to sound nonchalant. "My brother's fixing my computer tonight. So I won't be in here anymore after that. I mean, I'll be in here for newspaper stuff...just not to write." She was babbling now, and she prayed he didn't ask to have a sneak peek at the column.
"Okay." He ran his fingers through his curly hair. "If your computer breaks down again, you can always borrow mine. I don't care if you come to my house. It's better than someone finding out who you are."
"Thanks. I would've borrowed Jo's, but she has a paper due."
"How's the column going?" he asked.
"Don't worry. I'll have something in time for the Halloween issue of the paper."
Matt shrugged. "I wasn't worried. With you, Nat, I know I never have to worry."
If he only knew how ironic that sounded to her. She'd much rather be writing about the lack of vegetarian choices on the cafeteria menu, or even writing the cafeteria menu, for that matter. Or other things she felt passionate about, like, what was the whole point of algebra? Someone had yet to explain this to her. Really, what was the point? And why did she have to understand the meaning of the little letter x?
Matt put his hand on her shoulder. "Thanks for taking this on, Nat. You're doing an awesome job, and I really couldn't picture anyone but you doing this."
She forced a smile. If he only knew the truth. Copyright © 2009 by Whitney Lyles