Teen IdolMeg Cabot
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Ask Annie your most complex interpersonal relationship questions.
Go on, we dare you!
All letters to Annie are subject to publication in the Clayton High School Register.
Names and e-mail addresses of correspondents guaranteed confidential.
My stepmom keeps telling me that everything I like is evil, and that I shouldn’t like this or that because when I die I will go to hell. She thinks liking rock music, reading fantasy books and watching MTV is sinful. She goes on and on about how the music, books and people I like are all evil.
I respect what she likes, and I think she should respect what I like, too. What do you think, Annie
Going to Hell.
Going to Hell,
Tell your stepmom to cool it. You aren’t going to hell, you’re in it.
It’s called High School.
I witnessed the kidnapping of Betty Ann Mulvaney.
Well, me and the twenty-three other people in first period Latin class at Clayton High School (student population 1,200).
Unlike everybody else, however, I actually did something to try to stop it. Well, sort of. I went, "Kurt. What are you doing?"
Kurt just rolled his eyes. He was all, "Relax, Jen. It's a joke, okay?"
But, see, there really isn't anything all that funny in the way Kurt Schraeder swiped Betty Ann from Mrs. Mulvaney's desk, then stuffed her into his Jan Sport. Some of her yellow yarn hair got caught in the teeth of his backpack's zipper and everything.
Kurt didn't care. He just went right on zipping.
I should have said something more. I should have said, Put her back, Kurt.
Only I didn't. I didn't because . . . well, I'll get back to that part later. Besides, I knew it was a lost cause. Kurt was already high-fiving all of his friends, the other jocks who hang in the back row and are only taking the class (for the second time, having already taken it their junior year and apparently not having done so well) in hopes of getting higher scores on the verbal part of the SATs, not out of any love for Latin culture or because they heard Mrs. Mulvaney is a good teacher or whatever.
Kurt and his buds had to hide their smirks behind their Paulus et Lucia workbooks when Mrs. Mulvaney came in after the second bell, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand.
As she does every morning, Mrs. Mulvaney sang, "Aurora interea miseris mortalibus almam extulerat lucem referens opera atque labores," to us (basically: "It's another sucky morning, now let's get to work"), then picked up a piece of chalk and commanded us to write out the present tense of gaudeo, -ere.
She didn't even notice Betty Ann was gone.
Not until third period, anyway, when my best friend Trina—short for Catrina: she says she doesn't think of herself as particularly feline, only, you know, I'm not so sure I agree—who has her for class then, says that Mrs. Mulvaney was in the middle of explaining the past participle when she noticed the empty spot on her desk.
According to Trina, Mrs. Mulvaney went, "Betty Ann?" in this funny high-pitched voice.
By then of course the entire school knew that Kurt Schraeder had Betty Ann stuffed in his locker. Still, nobody said anything. That's because everybody likes Kurt.
Well, that isn't true, exactly. But the people who don't like Kurt are too afraid to say anything, because Kurt is president of the senior class and captain of the football team and could crush them with a glance, like Magneto from X-Men.
Not really, of course, but you get my drift. I mean, you don't cross a guy like Kurt Schraeder. If he wants to kidnap a teacher's Cabbage Patch doll, you just let him, because otherwise you'll end up eating your lunch all by yourself out by the flagpole like Cara Cow or run the risk of having Tater Tots hurled at your head or whatever.
The thing is, though, Mrs. Mulvaney loves that stupid doll. I mean, every year on the first day of school, she dresses it up in this stupid Clayton High cheerleader outfit she had made at So-Fro Fabrics.
And on Halloween, she puts Betty Ann in this little witch suit, with a pointed hat and a tiny broom and everything. Then at Christmas she dresses Betty Ann like an elf. There's an Easter outfit, too, though Mrs. Mulvaney doesn't call it that, because of the whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. Mrs. Mulvaney just calls it Betty Ann's spring dress.
But it totally comes with this little flowered bonnet and a basket filled with real robin's eggs that somebody gave her a long time ago, probably back in the eighties, which was when some ancient graduating class presented Mrs. Mulvaney with Betty Ann in the first place. On account of them feeling sorry for Mrs. Mulvaney, since she's a really, really good teacher, but she has never been able to have any kids of her own.
Or so the story goes. I don't know if it's true or not. Well, except for the part about Mrs. M. being a good teacher. Because she totally is. And the part about her not having any kids of her own.
But the rest of it . . . I don't know.
What I do know is, here it is, almost the last month of my junior year—Betty Ann had been wearing her summer outfit, a pair of overalls with a straw hat, like Huck Finn, when she disappeared—and I was sitting around worrying about her. A doll. A stupid doll.
"You don't think they're going to do anything to her, do you?" I asked Trina later that same day, during show choir. Trina worries that I don't have enough extracurriculars on my transcript, since all I like to do is read. So she suggested I take show choir with her.
Except that it turns out that Trina slightly misrepresented what show choir is all about. Instead of just a fun extracurricular, it's turned out to be this huge deal—I had to audition and everything. I'm not the world's best singer or anything, but they really needed altos, and since I guess I'm an alto, I got in. Altos mostly just go la-la-la on the same note while the sopranos sing all these scales and words and stuff, so it's cool, because basically I can just sit there and go la-la-la on the same note and read a book since Karen Sue Walters, the soprano who sits on the riser in front of me, has totally huge hair, and Mr. Hall, the director of the Troubadours—that's right: our school choir even has its own name—can't see what I'm doing.
Mr. Hall does make all the girls wear padded bras under our blouses for "uniformity of appearance" while we perform, which is kind of bogus, but whatever. It looks good on your transcript. Being in show choir. Not the bras.
The thing I'm not sure I'll ever forgive Trina for is the dancing. Seriously. We have to dance as we sing . . . well, not dance, really, but like move our arms. And I'm not the world's best arm mover. I have no sense of rhythm whatsoever . . .
Something Mr. Hall feels compelled to point out about three times a day.
"What if they cut off her ear?" I whispered to Trina. I had to whisper, because Mr. Hall was working with the tenors a few risers away. We are preparing for this very big statewide show choir competition—Bishop Luers, it's called—and Mr. Hall's been way tense about it. Like, he's been yelling at me about my arm movements four or even five times a day, instead of just the normal three. "And they send it to Mrs. M. with a ransom note? They won't do anything like that, will they, do you think? I mean, that's destruction of personal property."
"Oh my God," Trina said. She's a first soprano and sits next to Karen Sue Walters. First sopranos, I've noticed, are kind of bossy. But I guess it's sort of understandable, since they also have to do all the work, you know, hitting those high notes. "Would you get a grip? It's just a prank, okay? The seniors pull one every year. What is with you, anyway? You weren't this upset over the stupid goat
Last year's graduating class's prank was putting a goat on the roof of the gym. I don't even know what's supposed to be funny about this. I mean, the goat could have been seriously injured.
"It's just . . ." I couldn't get the picture of Betty Ann's yarn hair getting caught in that zipper out of my head "It just seems so wrong. Mrs. Mulvaney really loves that doll."
"Whatever," Trina said. "It's just a doll."
Except to Mrs. Mulvaney, Betty Ann is more than just a doll. I'm pretty sure.
Anyway, the whole thing was bugging me so much that after school, when I got to the offices of the Register—that's the school paper where I work most days . . not to build up my extracurricular, but because I actually kind of like it—I blurted out at the staff meeting that somebody ought to do a story on it The kidnapping of Betty Ann Mulvaney, I mean.
"A story," Geri Lynn Packard said "On a doll."
Geri Lynn jiggled her can of Diet Coke as she spoke. Geri Lynn likes her Diet Coke flat, so she jiggles the can until it gets that way before she drinks from it I personally find a taste for flat soda a little weird, but that isn't actually the weirdest thing about Geri Lynn The weirdest thing about Geri Lynn—if you ask me, anyway—is that every time she and Scott Bennett, the paper's editor, make out in her parents' basement rec room, Geri draws a little heart in her date book to mark the occasion.
I know this because she showed it to me once Her date book, I mean There was a heart on, like, every single page.
Which is kind of funny I mean that Geri and Scott are even a couple Because I, and pretty much everybody else on the Register's staff, expected Geri Lynn to be appointed this year's editor in chief—including, I suspect, Geri Lynn herself I mean, Scott didn't even move to Clayton until this past summer.
Well, that's not quite true He actually used to live here . . . we were even in the same fifth grade class. Not that we ever spoke to each other or anything. I mean, you don't talk to members of the opposite sex in the fifth grade. And Scott was never all that talkative to begin with.
But he and I used to check out all the same "uncool" books from the school library. You know, not the popular books, like biographies about Michael Jordan or Little House on the Prairie or whatever, but sci-fi/fantasy books like The Andromeda Strain or The Martian Chronicles or Fantastic Voyage. Books the school librarian would frown at while we were checking them out, then go, "Are you sure this is the kind of book you want, dear?" because they weren't exactly on our reading level or whatever.
Not that we ever discussed them with each other or anything. The books Scott and I were reading, I mean. I only know he read the same books as I did because whenever I went to check one of them out, Scott's signature was there, right above mine, on the book's checkout card.
Then Scott's parents split up, he moved away with his mom, and I didn't see him again until last summer, when the Register's staff was forced to go to this school-sponsored retreat with our advisor, Mr. Shea, who made us play these trust games so that we could learn to work together as a team. I was just standing there in the parking lot, waiting to board the bus to the retreat, when this car pulled up and guess who got out of it?
Yeah, that'd be Scott Bennett. It turned out he'd decided to give living with his dad a try for a while, and he'd sent in some clippings from his old school's paper, and Mr. Shea had let him on the staff of the Register.
And even though it was a little bit like Scott's head had been transplanted onto the body of one of Mrs. Mulvaney's Greek god statues or something, because he was like three feet taller and had turned totally buff since he was, you know, ten, I could tell he was still the same Scott. Because he had a copy of Dreamcatcher sticking out of his backpack, which I, of course, had been meaning to read.
By the end of the retreat, Mr. Shea had asked Scott to be editor, because he showed such strong leadership abilities and had also written this totally awesome essay during a free-writing session about being the only guy in this cooking class he'd been forced to take after he'd gotten into some trouble in Milwaukee, where he'd lived with his mom. I guess Scott had been a little bit of a delinquent there or something, acting out and stuff, and the authorities had put him in this new experimental program for kids at risk.
They'd given him a choice: auto shop or cooking class.
Scott had been the only guy in the history of the program to choose the cooking class.
Anyway, in the essay, Scott wrote about how on the first day of class, the cooking teacher had produced a butternut squash and been all, "We're going to make this into soup," and Scott had thought she was yet another huge phony liar, like all the other adults he knew.
And then they ended up making butternut squash soup and it changed Scott's life. He never got in trouble again.
The only problem was, he said, he couldn't seem to stop wanting to cook stuff.
Of course, Scott's essay, good as it was, might not have won him the post of editor in chief if Geri Lynn had been at the retreat to remind Mr. Shea—as she undoubtedly would have, Geri not being shy—that appointing Scott to such an important post wasn't fair, since Geri's a senior and has paid her dues, whereas Scott's still only a junior and new to Clayton High and all.
But Geri had chosen to spend her summer at broadcast journalism camp out in California (yes, it turns out there is such a thing—and Geri Lynn is already so good at schmoozing like Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight that she even got a scholarship to go there), and so she wasn't even at the retreat.
Still, she accepted Mr. Shea's decision pretty graciously. Maybe that's something they teach at TV news camp. You know, how to be gracious about stuff. We didn't actually learn anything like that at the retreat—though we did have a pretty good time making fun of Mr. Shea. Like Mr. Shea had us do this trust exercise that involved getting the whole staff over this log stuck between two trees, seven feet in the air, in the middle of the woods, leaving no one stranded on the other side (did I mention trust exercises are really, really stupid?) without using a ladder or anything, just our hands, because this giant wave of peanut butter was coming down at us.
Did I mention that Mr. Shea's sense of humor is also really, really stupid?
Anyway, when all of us just stood there and looked at Mr. Shea like he was crazy, he went, "Is that too corny?"
And Scott was all, totally deadpan, "Actually, Mr. Shea, it's nutty."
That was when we knew that Scott had all the necessary qualities for the job of editor in chief. Even Geri Lynn—when school started up again in the fall, and she found that she'd lost out on the job she'd wanted so badly—seemed to recognize Scott's superior leadership abilities. At least, the first little heart in her date book appeared there only about a week into the semester, so I guess she isn't holding a grudge about it or anything.
"I think that'd be great," was what Scott said about my idea. You know, of doing a story on the Betty Ann kidnapping.
"It'll be funny. We could do one of those missing person's posters of Betty Ann, like they have in the post office. And offer a reward on Mrs. Mulvaney's behalf."
Geri Lynn stopped jiggling her soda can. When Geri's can stops jiggling, it's a sign everybody should duck. Because Geri's got a temper. I guess they don't offer any training programs about that at broadcast journalism camp.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," she said. "A reward? For the return of a DOLL?"
"But Betty Ann isn't just a doll," Scott said. "She's sort of like the unofficial school mascot."
Which is only true because our real school mascot is so lame. We're the Clayton Roosters. The whole thing is pathetic. Not that it matters, since our school loses every game it plays anyway, in every sport.
But you should see the rooster suit. It's embarrassing, really. Way more embarrassing than having a Cabbage Patch doll for a mascot.
"I think Jen is onto something," Scott said, ignoring Geri's scowl. "Kwang, why don't you write something up?"
Kwang nodded and made a note
in his Palm Pilot. I kept my gaze on my notepad, hoping Geri Lynn wasn't mad at me. I mean, I don't consider Geri one of my best friends or anything, but she and I do eat lunch together every day, and besides which we are the only girls on the paper (well, except for a couple of freshmen, but, like they even count) and Geri has confided in me a lot—like the thing with the hearts . . . not to mention the fact that Scott is this phenomenal kisser with, like, excellent suckage.
Oh, and that on Sunday mornings, he frequently bakes apple crumble.
I love apple crumble. Geri Lynn, though, won't eat it. She says Scott uses like a whole stick of butter just in the crust and that she can practically feel her arteries hardening just looking at it.
Since Geri was already mad at Scott for having agreed to do what she considered such a stupid story in the first place, the fact that he assigned it to Kwang just made her madder.
"For God's sake," Geri said. "It was Jen's idea. Why don't you let Jen write it? Why are you always stealing Jen's ideas and giving them to other people?"
I felt a wave of panic, and shot Scott a look.
But he was totally calm as he said, "Jen's too busy with the layout."
"How do you know?" Geri snarled. "Did you ever bother to ask her?"
I went, "Geri, it's all right. I'm happy with my position on the staff."
Geri snorted like she couldn't believe me. "Puhlease."
I couldn't say what I wanted to, which is that doing layout is fine by me. That's because I do a lot more for the paper than just that.
Only no one's supposed to know that. Well, no one but Scott, anyway, and Mr. Shea and a few school administrators.
Because one of the other things that had happened on that retreat over the summer was that Mr. Shea had approached me and asked if I'd be willing to take on one of the most sought-after—and secretive—positions on the staff . . . one that for years has traditionally only been held by a senior, but which Mr. Shea felt I was uniquely qualified for, even though I'm only a junior. . . .