Chapter One

The ballroom quietly buzzed. Seated in attendance were well-dressed teens of both sexes, varying ages and two species. Jeanette felt a glowing within. It was one of those times when she shown the brightest. When recognition was heaped upon her like a snowdrift. With Simon sharing the accolades for their joint project and just simply being there with her, she was simply happy.

On the stage ahead, the MC vacuously grinned and gestured to a large flat video screen that descended and dominated the stage.

Displayed on it was Jeanette wearing a form-fitting suit, a stylized backpack rig, boots and large, ported gauntlets that were connected to the backpack through a pair of tandem cooling hoses and power lines. Before her was a large yet controlled blaze in the center of a ring of cinder blocks. She pressed two buttons on one of the gauntlets and took a step back, looking determined.

From that upraised glove, a scintillating beam of impossible blue flared from the fingertips. It touched the center of the blaze and in seconds, the flames' color reddened and darkened, its size reduced. Soon, the now dying fire was a dark brown and was the size of lit match. Then the fire winked out and after that, the charred remains of its fuel source was a cold, black mass.

Amidst the collected ohhs and murmurs of admiration, Simon had to admit, it felt more like an Academy Awards ceremony, with the audience watching ones best scene in a nominated film, than a gala dinner for The Young Inventors of America. Still, he had to look every bit the cool intellectual, as he glanced around the wide ballroom. Nodding at applauding groups and single well-wishers with friendly indifference. He looked at Jeanette as she bubbled. Her emotions flowing around her made her look almost magical in her formal dress that did things to her teenaged body that sparked imaginations in places where even Simon's intellect couldn't plumb.

Then his nose, a touch more sensitive than a Human's, caught a very, very faint scent. His brain told him that it was pleasing and probably non-lethal. It was a curious mélange, earthy and sweet...and deeply stimulating...

" for the Arctos X-1Rig."said the MC. Simon just caught that. Whatever it was, it affected concentration. 'I better investigate this when I have more time', he mused.

Jeanette was already up and beaming at the oncoming kudos and applause,"Come on, Simon!",she breathed as she went around to where he sat and pulled him into standing."We did it!"

The video screen retracted, revealing from behind it, the winning invention that Jeanette, now dragging Simon, could see on their approach to the stage. The Arctos X-1 Rig stood in all its technological glory, held up by a wire-framed, Chipmunk-sized manikin few feet away sat alone barbecue grill, waiting to be lit and summarily extinguished by the duo in a live demonstration. The winners stood on the wide stool behind the podium that raised them to microphone height.

Jeanette stared out into the audience, speechless and enchanted. Clearing his throat, Simon began the acceptance speech."Jeanette and I would like to thank the YIA for this, their highest award, Most Outstanding Invention: Complexity Seven..."This went on for four minutes.

Despite their decorum, people were mentally nodding off. Jeanette was about to segue into demonstrating the suit's functions when she heard something in the speech. Simon was completely unaware of anything but his speech yet she could clearly see someone else in her boyfriend's face.


There was nothing wrong about that, in and of itself. Simon had every right to feel pride and confidence this night. But what he wound up saying changed her mood, erased her happiness and put her on a rare defensive.

"Hands on assistant!?"she screamed uncharacteristically."I worked on as many major components as you have!"

His rhetoric broken, he addressed her coolly."Jeanette, didn't I scrounge for most of the parts and did most of the design work?"

"Only on the hardware, Simon. The magnetic-bubble system, emission gauntlets and the atomic counter-spin field. Just the hardware,"she countered."Your hardware couldn't get of the ground without my software."

The audience perked up at that, particularly the males in attendance.

"It's my computer software that keeps the systems running together so smoothly," she stated. "Especially the settings to safety-interlock the beam length and charge settings so the rig won't overload, shutdown the mag-bubble containment and blow a hole in your back! Last time I heard, that sort of thing is fatal."

Simon countered back,"That's why I armored the rig's housing. I don't need an assistant to tell me a thing or two about high-energy physics!"

'Again with that word, 'assistant', fumed Jeanette."I was not your assistant, Simon. And if you ever bothered to wonder why we never froze during preliminary tests, you could thank me for my Enviro-suit design. Boy! And I thought Alvin was the ego in your family!"

At that, the audience, already riveted to this little drama and more than a little entertained, started chuckling and murmuring to their neighbors and pointing at the two. Jeanette didn't care in the least of the scene they were making but Simon was visibly hit with that last remark."What! Are you comparing me to Alvin?"Of all the people to be compared to...

Jeanette knew him long enough to know that of all the people to be associated with when they were at their lowest social point, Alvin was the cat-o-nine tails to him. Inside, she grinned in triumph."No, Simon. I'm calling you Alvin."she said with smooth venom.

There was a collective "Whoa..." from the guests. Alvin had a reputation.

"I am not an egotist!"yelled Simon.

"And I'm not some assistant. I thought we were equals in this!"'And other things', she thought sadly."Sorry if working together like this put such a strain on your ego, Simon. The last thing I want to do is insult your intelligence."

Simon smirked, more inwardly than outwardly. 'Sarcasm, Jeanette?' he thought. 'Well! I'll just have to teach you how it's done.'"My intelligence is not in question here, Jeanette. I would question yours, however, but unfortunately, I rarely deal in hypotheticals."he icily said.

Another "Whoa..." from the audience.

Jeanette just froze as if she was hit by their own invention, but, with a fiery streak growing within, instead of going out. 'Hypothetical!' she thought-screeched. 'My intelligence is hypoth...'With the fiercest look her pretty face could physically muster and without a word, she power walked to the Arctos X-1,which was behind them and to the side. She deftly flicked controls on the back of the backpack, awakening its power.

Then she grabbed one of the gloved hands of the manikin and aimed it at Simon. He managed an annoyed glance before he realized, too late, where she was.

Simon was encased in ice before his muscles could tense up for an evading leap.

"Put that in your hypothesis, Snow cone!"Then she walked off the stage and out of the ballroom amidst the growing consternation behind her. Vindicated but desperately holding back the tears of the betrayed.

Seated at a table in the back, a guest quietly regarded the harried rescue of Simon Seville by stagehands and chisels. The guest slightly smiled as that curious scent lingered here and there for a moment and then vanished from detection altogether.

From her and Eleanor's position, Jeanette could see Brittany writhe in the power of her performance, growling her lyrics and chirping her passions.

It didn't seem like their sister was overly concerned that this was the fifth take in the recording studio. Jeanette had only herself to thank for that, flubbing a word here, singing off-key there and generally giving their song all the momentum of an Indy 500 race car...attached to an anchor.

But this time she was more mindful of the emotions she thought she had concealed and focused on work. Eleanor and Jeanette's voices surged out in a delicious harmony with Brittany's in the final chorus.

For a sweet moment during the harmony, Jeanette forgot about their recent graduation to the tenth grade, forgot about their upcoming world tour with The Chipmunks next month, hence this breakneck recording session. Forgot about Simon. Almost.

The breakup of the previous week was fast, ugly and embarrassing. It rankled her just remembering it and she was having strong misgivings about being able to be professional when she and Simon would sing together.

That was, of course, something she never had to worry about before. In fact, when they did sing back-up, she would think sometimes that she and Simon were singing lead and alone with just themselves. No fans, no Alvin and Brittany, no Theodore and Eleanor. No music, either. Just two voices, romancing with vibrato, being intimate with intonation. She didn't need to know how Brittany and Eleanor felt when they sang with their counterparts. She was sure it was the same because she certainly felt the loss of it.

"-thing to eat?"managed to penetrate Jeanette's musings.


Brittany was taking off her headphones and repeated."We're done for today. You wanna get something to eat? Ellie just left."

"Oh! Uh, no thanks, Brittany. I've gotta go to the store to get some more memory for our computer."

Brittany looked a little unsure."You sure?"

Jeanette stiffened inside."What do you mean?"

"Well, it's just that it's been a week since you and Simon sorta broke-"

"There's no "sorta" about it. We broke up."

"Yeah, I know. Anyway, I thought that maybe you'd try dating again, y'know?"

"I will! I just haven't gotten around to it yet,"said Jeanette in as diplomatic a way as shot nerves and a desperate need to internalize problems could produce."I'm in no hurry."'Why are you worried about me now?' she thought darkly. 'Go skip down the street and flirt with the ten or eleven guys you have on stand-by when Alvin gets on your nerves. Some people are too lucky.'

She glanced around at the soundproof window of the sound engineer's booth and thanked God that they, too, disappeared for lunch. She didn't need an audience.

Undaunted and oblivious, Brittany continued."That's okay. I just wanted to say that there are other fish in the sea."

"It's not fish that I'm worried about,"Jeanette admitted quietly before mentally kicking herself for being so blatantly vulnerable. Even if it was only to her sister, who was being uncommonly supportive.

"I know."

At some point, even silence could be deafening at the right moment. At that moment, Jeanette couldn't hear anything but her guilt of thinking so low of Brittany. 'Conflicting emotions and inner turmoil can do that to a Chipmunk,' she thought. Then she brightened inside for a Pico second when she realized that she was deeply submerged in that mental state that all at her age gloried in only after they're long past that age--angst.

"You're right, Brittany."

"Huh?"Brittany was sure that wasn't what she heard. That declaration was as rare as a winter rose coming from Jeanette.

Jeanette surrendered with an exhale. There was no sense in being so defensive this far in the conversation."Remember when we went together to that school dance a while back because neither you, me or Eleanor could get that date with Reuben Walters?"

Brittany nodded. Their first experience with diaries and sororal trust turned ugly. Of miscommunication and mistaken identity involving a studly, assumingly available Human student named Reuben Walters.

Add to the mix several sisterly catfights, bitter recriminations, subterfuge and the last-minute revelation that the Mr. Walters was less available than they realized made for a sobering lesson and the opportunity to reconcile before going to the dance anyway as each other's date.

"You said that we probably didn't have a chance with him anyway because, 'Like likes like.' Jocks like Airheads. Nerds like Nerds...'"Jeanette said.

Brittany looked a bit uncomfortable at that mention, considering her present company. Jeanette was too down to care."And so on? Well, I guess it's true."

"Yeah, right,"Brittany said in jocular disbelief.

"You were right, okay?"Jeanette spat with fierce frustration and obvious pain. Jocularity was in enemy territory as far as she was concerned.

The rude shock that that outburst produced in Brittany didn't live long in her. She just turned it into a sympathetic smile and a disarming gesture."Take it easy, Jeanette! I'm on your side, remember? It's the illustrious Mr. Seville whose guts you hate."

Now Jeanette really felt like a heel. 'Why is she so nice all of the sudden? Better yet, why am I turning her niceness inside out by being so catty?' "Yeah. I-I'm sorry, sis. I just feel so hurt, that's all. And confused. And lonely. And betrayed. And miserable. And tired. And-"

"Okay! Okay! I understand, Jeanette,"said Brittany while making the Time-out sign."Boy! Never let it be said that you couldn't get a handle on your feelings"

That made Jeanette smile. She concluded to herself that Brittany had as much right to the time and place of her kindness as she did the manner and amount shown. 'Have to remember that,' she mused.

"Anyway, I shouldn't have pried. Sorry."

"Don't be. I shouldn't have snapped at you. But you were right. I can't find a date."Jeanette forlornly collected their lyric sheets, subconsciously occupying her mind with that task while consciously bearing her soul. She took a sad breath and went on.

"There's no time, for starters. The tour starts next month and I'm nobody's type. Except Simon's."She took another cleansing breath."I used to like that. We loved each other in our own way and I could always come to him when I was down and vice versa. Even after the fight, I'm afraid I might somehow lose him for good."Then she stiffened, betraying her thoughts.

"I don't want to be alone, Brittany"

That sobered Brittany up fast. In that simple wish, Jeanette had communicated a great fear. One Brittany and perhaps every girl on Earth shared at one time or another. Brittany came over and held her sister's shoulders while giving her that defiantly sassy yet compassionate look that she save for these times.

"Listen, honey. The Statue of Liberty is the only girl I know who should carry a torch that big. Just go out there and try, that's all. Simon's not the only 'munk in the woods, y'know. Besides, when we go on the road, you'll have the pick of all the boys in the world to choose from." Then she smiled a predator's grin."Just promise to leave me the rich ones."

Jeanette smiled warmly, feeling all the love of her sister that day."I promise."Then they sealed the deal with an affectionate hug that seemed to ease all the stress out of the room. They separated and began to finish collecting their personal effects. Jeanette was finished first and was nearing the door.

"Well, I better catch up with Eleanor."Brittany said from behind her."Where are you going?"

"I told you. To get some more memory."

"You were serious about that?"

"Of course."Then Jeanette walked out.

"Of course."Brittany said to no one in particular.

"So, tell me again,"Alvin asked easily from the living room sofa at home."What's it like to put your foot in your mouth?"

Simon didn't lift his head an inch as he studied the solitaire game he was in. To do so would alert Alvin to the fact that he had pressed the correct buttons. So Simon opened his mouth and erased all doubt.

"As often as that has happened to you, Alvin, I would have thought you were a past master of it. And I didn't put my foot in my mouth."

"Okay."Alvin said simply and unconvincingly. The smirk Simon couldn't see was triumphant.

Simon's defenses could be circumvented easily if one kept in mind that he, too, had an ego that could be bent out of shape. Watching him squirm about, trying to cover it up like some wayward politician was absolutely delicious to Alvin. No one was above comeuppance. Jeanette proved that at the dinner.

Simon noticed that Alvin said nothing after that. It was quiet, pleasantly so, but he didn't enjoy it."I had every right to be angry at her. I did most of the work. I came up with the idea!"'Why am I explaining myself... to Alvin?' Simon thought.

"Okay."Alvin said again in Seventh Heaven.

"So please stop trying to make me feel guilty, alright,"he said haughtily."Especially about something I didn't do."A slight tingle, like a chill, passed through his pelt and made his short fur stand."Hmmph! She's lucky I didn't get pneumonia in that ice block she put me in."

"What? You didn't think she'd give you the...cold shoulder?"Alvin couldn't resist.

Simon couldn't scowl down Alvin's self-satisfied snickering, but gave it all he had."Cute, Alvin. Cute. Look, Jeanette can do whatever she wants to do. Stomp around in a huff and freeze half of Hollywood, for all I care. But I'll tell you what she'll have to do, ultimately."

Alvin, still grinning, perked up."What?"

Simon, on a roll, said,"She's going to have to use her logic instead of her emotions and realize, to her deep chagrin, that I was right and she was hopelessly wrong."

He paused to see Theodore enter the room."I'm big enough to allow her to assist me in future projects, but she's going to have keep her emotions under control. They've already been proven to be an unstable element in the inventing process. I'm sure Edison didn't mention anything about emotions when he worked and with good reason. They're too distracting."

Alvin got up from the sofa and was strolling past Theodore. He had enough fun for this hour."Right,"he sarcastically drawled.

"Come on, Alvin. Give Simon a break."Theodore scolded good-naturedly.

"Hey, can I help it if he likes to swim in Egyptian rivers?"Alvin countered in similar fashion.

Simon looked puzzled for 2.4 seconds before it hit him."I am not in denial, Alvin!"But Alvin left the living room by then. Simon sighed in exhaustion. 'A typical battle of wits-Alvin style. He lets you say whatever you like and as much as you like and in the end you still look the fool while he nods and controls you by what you said.' he thought."Give a man enough rope..."

"Hmm?"Theodore asked.

"Huh? Oh, nothing Theodore."

"Oh. Anyway, I just wanted to say, 'cheer up'."

"Thanks, Theodore, but I'm alright."

Theodore didn't seemed convinced of that. Alvin's good-natured ribbing aside, he felt that good old-fashioned support would work better."You know, a little instability's not such a bad thing,"he said sagely.

Simon caught that remark and was inwardly surprised at him. 'Pretty deep,' he considered but then wondered why his brother said this."How do you figure?"

"Well,"Theodore carefully related,"Earthquakes make countries and they're unstable, right? Tornadoes help the weather and they're unstable."

"They're also costly and dangerous, Theodore."

"And love isn't?"

Simon's mind shut down in an instant.

"Come on, Simon. I mince meats a lot better than I mince words so I'll just say,' go next door and apologize'."

Indignation rebooted Simon's mind just as fast."Apologize?!"Then he recovered."My dear brother, I would gladly go across the yard and apologize to Jeanette."

"That's great, Si-"

"If I had anything to be sorry for. Now if you'll excuse me? Star Trek is coming on and I'd hate to miss it."

Theodore looked into his brother's gray eyes and saw the finality of the conversation in them. He turned to leave."Okay, Simon. I'll leave you alone. Just remember, even Spock lost control sometimes."

The living room TV clicked on and Theodore was gone. 'Maybe,' Simon fumed in thought as he put down the remote control. 'But he always bounced back in the end.' His mind ticked away in agitation as the final few commercials heralded the start of the show. 'Great. Alvin uses psychology to make me shoot my mouth off when that's the last thing I want to do and Theodore tries to use logical debate to sway me into a conclusion that's obviously contrary to the truth.'

'Whatever "the truth" is...'his annoying subconscious whispered.

The show came on and his stomach knotted when he recognized the episode.

"This Side of Paradise,"he whispered alone.

Jeanette strolled into "Otto's" from the subdued suburban bustle of late afternoon. A computer store in a suburban location meant that the interior was small and looked a lot like a Radio Shack designed by Martha Steward. Cozy with just enough sterile-looking merchandise to remind one of where he or she was. Impersonal with that personal touch.

"Hi, Otto."She waved to the dark, slightly aging Human lounging behind the wide, clean counter.

He put down his book and returned the gesture."How are you, Jeanette? Did that utilities software work out all right?"

"Oh, yes. Now all I need is some new SDRAM,64 megs. I want to upgrade before I leave to go on tour. What do you recommend?"

Otto mocked a deep-thought pose."Well, anything from PDQ Technologies is always a good bet."

Jeanette struck a skeptical pose and cocked an eyebrow up amiably."Now, Otto. This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that one of your daughters works at PDQ, would it?"

"Mmmmaybe,"he said with a sheepish grin."But don't mind me, girl. You go ahead and get what you want and don't let me hold you up."

Jeanette went further into the store."Thanks. It shouldn't take too long."

She absently picked and sorted at the choices she had on the shelf, less interested in shopping than in wondering what to do tomorrow or the week after that. She mulled over her talk with Brittany and was oblivious to everything else. From what she saw when she came in, it must have been a slow day. She saw no one in any of the aisles she floated through.


Jeanette's brain snapped out of its funk and in surprise, tried to pinpoint the sound's origin."What?"

"Murakami. You wanted a recommendation on some good SDRAM. MurakamiTech makes the best around."

"Oh,"she said, staring ahead at the source of the voice. The other side of the shelves she was currently perusing.

"At least I think so."It sounded male.

"I do, too, but I can't find any here. Besides, I couldn't afford them right now."

"You know what I think? I think that it's not that you can't afford the best. It's that this store can't furnish the best. A store should reflect its patrons and if it can't furnish the best on the market for them then it's an insult to them and to-"

"What a minute. What a minute. Why don't you come over here so we can talk easier?"

"Okay. Hold on,"it said.

Jeanette didn't know how else to handle this admittedly strange scene. The phantom speaker was quite flattering, which she liked, but did so at Otto's expense, which she didn't like. She hoped that he didn't hear them as they had to raise the voices a bit to hear through the aisle. 'Still, it's a chance to meet a new friend,' she thought. That was the last coherent thought she had for several minutes.

The young male chipmunk appeared in the front of the aisle nearest to her and her emerald eyes lit. He was conservatively dressed in his neatly worn shirt, sweater vest, tie and slacks.

She scanned every exposed angle and side of him with silent breathless delight, like a jeweler studying a new stone, this seeming paragon of bookish handsomeness. She tried to identify him, catalogue him in such a way as to describe him to others, if asked, or to herself when she went to bed later. 'Hmm. Simon's looks and fashion sense. Alvin's exuberance and Theodore's innocent charm. Yeah. That'll do for now,' she thought as she stared on.

It would have been rude on her part for staring so, except that he was doing it, too. His brown eyes never straying from her slim, feminine frame whose developing lengths and curves defied her comfortably loose and fashionably oversized sweater's ability to hide.

He dimly knew he was standing but felt like a puppet with cut strings. He couldn't even will himself to move any further towards her. He just basked in the aura of sweetness that he knew resided within her. The tone, cadence and inflections of a kind soul that he had heard moments before. And now, a face, a natural beauty to compliment it, was too much for his already overworked heart to bear. He had to breathe soon and when he finally did, it resembled a nervous rasp.

"Uh..."he said.

"Uh..."she said.

"Uh..."he said.

"Uh..."she said.

'You'll be all night like this, girl,' she thought. 'Say something!'

"Um..."she said. At least it was different.

Suddenly he sneezed and that roused her.

"Bless you."


"My name's Jeanette."She then shot a hand out for him to shake. He took it with the reservation of handling a tenth-century vase. The nude skin of his paw-palm drank in the natural softness of her hand's fur. It felt electric to him.

"Soft,"was all he uttered.

"Your name is Soft?"

"Hmm? Oh! Uh, no. My name is Arthur. Arthur Duval."He smiled awkwardly, she likewise. Then his face stretched and froze in shocked realization as he stared at her again. Jeanette was about to ask him what was the matter when he asked,"Jeanette?!"


"You're Jeanette Miller! From The Chipettes!"he shouted."I can't believe it! I mean, of all the places to meet you...I mean...I just can't believe-"

"It's okay! It's okay!"she said, both flattered and flustered. Arthur tried to breathe slowly."I'm sorry. I sound more like a geek than I usually do."

"No you don't."Inside she was giddy with pride. 'This egostroking's not so bad,' she thought.' Now I know how Brittany feels.'

Arthur fumbled in his pockets until he produced a pen and an old receipt from a long ago purchase at "Otto's".He then gave them to her."I know you must get tired of this, but, could I have your autograph? Just yours?"

This was refreshing."Mine? You just want my autograph?"Blushing, she signed it in her best handwriting."Well, I guess I could."He stammered as she returned the items."I, um, have a few SDRAMs at home I'm not using. I could give you some. My computer is tricked out enough for this month, anyway."

"Really? Could I come over sometime and check out your hardware?"she blurted.

It was a toss-up to see who reddened the fastest.

'Idiot!' she thought."I mean, I'd like to interface with you. I mean, your systems! Your systems!"'Idiot!'

Fortunately for her self-image, Arthur didn't seem to notice her Freudian Slips. Either that, or he was quite the gentleman."That's no problem,"he said in an anxious manner."How much can you input?"

At that, Jeanette just stared at him in a love-sick daze.

Arthur, feeling a little awkward, decide to rouse her.

"Uh, Jeanette?"


Miss Miller's stately Victorian home glowed softly in the sunset. It was a neighborhood jewel, breaking up the ordered, visual monotony of modern suburbia. Only the well-conditioned pink Cadillac resting on the brick driveway in the yard pulled the quiet image of the home more into the Twentieth Century.

Unnoticed to casual eyes, an indistinct figure watched that house silently. Then the watcher moved little further down the hilly street when it saw someone approach the house. A small figure ran through the front yard and up to the white wooden porch. Keys jangled and soon the ornamental door was opened and closed again. The watcher continued to watch the home.

Jeanette dropped her purchase to the floor. Her mind overloading with emotions that threatened to turn her into a nervous wreck. So she vented them in the most expedient way possible.


"Is that you, Jeanette?"Eleanor asked as she came downstairs."Yeah,"she said, coming down from the euphoria."Where's Miss Miller?"

Brittany came out of the kitchen, grinning knowingly."She went next door. She'll be back soon. Sooo, what happened?"

Jeanette felt a blush coming on. She was feeling too good to berate herself for being what she was. A girl with a galaxy-sized crush. She leaned on the closed door with a contented smile."Well, I *guess* you could say that I found someone,"she happily drawled."Or maybe someone's found me."She tilted her head absently."Or some such thing, y' know?"

"You found someone?"Eleanor asked excitedly."Who is he? What does he look like? What's his name?"

Jeanette straightened up to tackle the barrage of questions coming her way."Well, it's nothing really."Her quiet nature wanted her to play down all of it, but she knew that this can of worms wouldn't be closed again until every secret was divulged."He's just a really nice guy I met at "Otto's" a little while ago, that's all."

Eleanor nudged her sister with a sly smile."Yeah? Are you sure?"

"Yeah,"she said bashfully.

Brittany placed herself between the two, an arm over each one's shoulder."Alright! As soon as Simon leaves, you can spill your guts about your mystery date,"she said conspiratorially.

"Simon? He's here? Why?"Jeanette felt her good mood evaporate in her heart and her expressions shift to patterns of anger and pensiveness.

Brittany kicked herself for bringing his name up, now that her sister disliked him."He just came over to give me some strings for my acoustic,"she said, trying to placate her. But Jeanette's mood only became more darkly anxious.

"Well, where is he? I don't want to run into him."

"Don't worry. You won't."Simon said from the top of the stairs. Jeanette's stomach knotted, increasing the anxiety. Right then and there, she wished he was gone. Anywhere but where he was. And right then and there, she had the urge to use the bathroom. 'Stupid soda,' she grumbled mentally.

Simon watched her move up the stairs towards him as he purposely strolled down. For every ascending/descending footstep, their adrenaline levels rose accordingly, each knowing that the moment they were closest, one of them would weaken and say something. Their shields and armor of Cool Indifference were buckling and they were now a stair apart.

Simon and Jeanette reached it simultaneously and gave each other just the barest bit of passing room. Their shoulders brushed and the two of them, feeling the first contact from either since the fight, desperately fought to keep from swooning. Upon seeing themselves weaken, they stoned up again, glaring.

"You could let me by, Jeanette. There is plenty of room up here,"Simon muttered as they were halfway past, shoulder to shoulder.

"The only thing in your way, Mr. Seville, is your ego."Jeanette countered.

As the distance began to grow, more emotionally than physically, she continued, never looking back at him."I don't want to talk to you anymore, Simon. I think you've already done enough damage to our friendship."

She reached the top of the stairs and saw Simon at the foot with Brittany and Eleanor watching them both silently. Simon just stared at the front door."What about when we go on the road?"

Jeanette sighed."We can still work together when we record, go on tour or work in the studios. But that's it."

She looked at her sisters below."Guys, let me know when he's gone. I'll be upstairs."

Simon left the girls' home with no fanfare and Jeanette glided to the bathroom and closed the door.

Brittany and Eleanor stood quietly in the foyer in awe of what had happened. The confrontation had sucked all the joy of Jeanette's news out of the house.

"Boy, this is bad,"said Brittany.

"I'll say. This is worse than when you and Alvin go at it."

"Cute, Ellie. Cute."

"No, you're right, Britt. Nothing's that bad."

Ha, ha. Look, our sister needs moral support and a shoulder or two to cry on. We need to be there for her in her crisis,"Brittany pontificated.

Eleanor knew Brittany better so she simply looked at her skeptically. Brittany got the point."After she tells us about the mystery date!"

Eleanor nodded approvingly."I'll get the ice cream!"