Disclaimer:  This chapter contains dialogue from the film "Scooby Doo" written by James Gunn.  No infringement is intended.

"How could you do that to Velma!?"

That was Daphne, yelling at me for the first time in probably years.  She didn't just not like my flirting, she made it real clear to me that she wasn't going to stand for it—not one bit.  At first I she seemed like she didn't quite believe that I was doing it—she'd shake it off, looking at me funny.  But then one day when we were all hanging out at the park... I don't even remember what it was that set her off—a certain kind of smile, some remark—but I do remember how she blew up in my face about it the second she could get me alone behind the Mystery Machine.  

  "What?"  I said back, looking the soul of disbelief.

"You know very well what I mean, Fred," she pounded back.  "Don't try that innocent act on me."

I just barely held in another 'what' when she said that.  What she didn't know was that I wasn't acting—I honestly had no idea.  It's amazing what self-delusion will do for you.

"Do you really think I don't know don't know about you two?  For heaven's sake, I've known for practically forever."

"It's not really..." I started to deny automatically, but then for some reason one little bit of good sense finally clicked in.  Or maybe it was conscience.  I don't know.  "How did you...?  You know, find out?"  I asked, trying to look as casual as I could about it.  Like I didn't care at all—but I did.  Her words had jolted me all right, and I couldn't stop thinking about how long she'd seen right through everything I'd tried so hard to block.  Practically forever. Since the beginning?  Since two weeks ago?  What?  Or maybe even... for years?

"Velma told me," she answered, surprising me so much that I didn't even get the details.  When had she told?  After Shaggy found out... or even before that?  The more I think about it now, the more I think that was the case.  Velma just isn't the type to sneak around—I should have known.  Not that it really mattered.  "But it wasn't like I didn't already know.  You two were totally obvious."   

            "And...uhhh... you're not mad?"  It was the first thing I could think of to say.

            "No—why would I be mad?  You and I didn't work out, Fred, we both know that.  Maybe it was even because we knew deep down that you and Velma belonged together, not us—and that's great.  When I first found out, I was really happy for you guys." 

            I let out some kind of noise then--  sort of the "hmmph" that people do when they really don't believe something.  It's awful, but I was so stuck on myself by that time that I guess I just couldn't believe that Daphne would be okay with losing me.  "But you're not now?" I went on, all cocky, totally ignoring the angry look that came over her face.  She'd calmed down a little over the past couple of minutes of conversation, sort of patiently explaining things to me like a mother does with a little kid.  Daphne gets that way when she's talking about relationships.  But now she was out of patience.

            "No, Fred—and do you know why?"  she said, her face and voice going all tight and stiff.  "Because you're acting like this—like a total, absolute jerk!"

            "Now Daph..." I sighed, putting my hands up.

            She didn't stop.  She was too upset.  "And now Velma is mad at me, because she doesn't get that I don't like all your stupid flirting..." Her voice was breaking, and I think some tears were even starting to come out, too.  Daph hates crying in front of people as much as Velma does, and she swatted them away, getting an angry look again.  "How can she not believe me!?  She's my best friend."  There was a really long pause, and Daph looked down, talking more to herself than me, I think.  "She was my best friend.  I'm not so sure now." 

            I was just looking around, trying to distance myself from Daph's little tirade.  For awhile it seemed to work—she was so wrapped up in being mad at Vel and the whole situation that I'd thought she'd forgotten all about me.  I was wrong—again.  She looked dead at me and said one more thing before she turned on one heel and left.

            "And it's all your fault, Fred."     

            Things fell apart pretty quickly after that.

            It's awful that in just a few months, a group that had been friends since we were kids was ripped apart, but that's what happened.  Because of one relationship.  And probably all because of me.  I don't know if maybe there were some problems already starting before all of this.  You'd think there'd have to be, right?  That this was just the thing that set it all off.  But I don't know.  What I do know is that before too long, the closest friends in the world—us—could barely stand to be around each other.  Oh, we hid it pretty well for as long as we could, but underneath all the show, the pressure was building up, just threatening to blow up in our faces.  Daphne was mad at Velma for getting the wrong idea, plus, to be really honest, Velma wasn't being that nice to her.  Yeah, she'd always joked with her about being danger-prone-- we all joked about that-- but her teasing got this edge that none of us could miss.  If there's anyone who can hurt you with sarcasm, that's Velma, and whether she knew she was doing it or not, she kept throwing it at Daph.  Velma was of course ticked off at Daphne because of my flirting— but—and I might be way off here—I think she was really more mad at the situation than she was at her best friend, and she was just taking it out on her  And mad at me.  They both were completely peeved at me; I was the center of it all.  And I was angry, too, in a way—at Velms for ignoring me and Daphne for... well, I'm not really sure for what, maybe just not going along with the situation.  I made up for it by going more and more into my own little self-obsessed world.  The only totally innocent ones were Shaggy and Scooby.  Poor guys, caught in something they had nothing to do with.  They just watched the three of us bicker and fight, sometimes trying to step in and bring us back together again, but mostly just watching, sad.  Still, they were the glue that managed to hold us together for just a little while longer.

            Until tonight.  It was supposed to be just an ordinary case.  But it wasn't.  All of our worlds came crashing down.  Stupid "Luna Ghost" or whatever the heck he was.  I don't usually hold a grudge against any of the criminals we stop, but for him I think I'll have to make an exception.  If he hadn't been off "haunting" that factory tonight, we never would have showed up and... 

Okay, okay, I'm not really being fair.  I know, you don't have to tell me.  But right now—you know what-- I really don't care about that.  Yeah, if it hadn't been his case, it would have been some other one that finally got all of us to the end of our fuses and touched things off.  He wasn't anything out of our ordinary experience— old guy dressing up as a ghost in order to scare a toy factory out of business.  (Well, the angle about him wanting revenge over being turned down for a date was a little new.)  Even his name was right out of our typical case files—Old Man Smithers.  Classic.  But it was him, and that's it.  He had to go and capture Daphne, at a point where she'd had just about enough of all of Velma's snide remarks about being kidnapped.  (Okay, so I wasn't being that nice about it, either.)  Velma was the one to come up with a plan to catch him this time, not me, and she wasn't too happy when I barely paid attention to her explanation over the walkie-talkie.  What was I doing?  Fixing my hair, that's what.  And to think that only a couple months before, I would have been glued to the thing, trying to get every last word that she said.  That's not even the worst of it.  My job in the plan (which of course got messed up) was to hit the ghost with a spray of water from the fire hose.  I was aiming for him when he flew through the air, and I accidentally hit Velms instead.  Right off the parapet where she was standing, probably a good fifty, sixty feet up—maybe more.  I think my heart actually stopped as she was falling off that thing—I'm not just using an expression there-- and I tried to yell, but nothing came out.  It was like I was frozen, the way you are in a bad dream when you're trying to run away but your feet are stuck.  If she'd hit the ground... she could have.... she would have.... well, you know what would have happened, and I would have lost her....  but she didn't.  A chain caught onto her foot somehow, and stopped her right above the ground. 

            I wanted to run to her, I really did, and not just to help her out of the chain.  Right then, I felt my whole body kind of jerk forward, like it was trying to get over to her all on its own.  But that's when it happened.  For a second there, my old self had come back, all concerned for Velma—my girlfriend—but as soon as it came up, it left again.  Cool Fred again. 

            "Sorry Velma."  That's all I said.  Said it like I didn't care at all. 

            I acted just the same way when I strolled on over and helped her out of the chain.  A second before I'd been practically frantic, ready to run over to her and help her down and kiss her probably a million times, so relieved that she was alright... I don't know what happened to me.  Maybe if I'd done that, I even could have saved us-- nothing like a near-death experience to bring people back together.  But I didn't, and I guess it won't do me any good to think about it anymore.  I can't fix it.  I can't go back.  All I can do is tell you how it ended.

            Somewhere in all of this mess, the Luna Ghost got caught, and literally seconds later the owner of the factory showed up, along with the press and a whole group of my fans.  All the attention that I should have been paying to Velms (or really the case, even) went—you guessed it—right to them.  I was signing autographs and smiling for a bunch of cameras when some reporters started asking me about our case.  They always went straight to me, now, for the information.  Velma?  I barely saw her.  The way things were going, if she didn't go into the background herself, the press put her there.

            I don't think I need to tell you that I took the credit again.  Standard procedure, par for the course, by this time.  Not even a second thought.  The only thing I did think was weird was that Velma butted into my little press show.  A reporter asked me how the Luna Ghost was able to fly, and just as I was about to come up with something (okay, I'll admit it—I didn't have the slightest idea that time—Velms actually saved my rear end on that one) she stepped right in and explained it all herself.  I didn't mind, 'cause, like I said, I didn't really know the answer, but I did wonder at the time why she did it.  I figured that she was doing it to help me out—a nice, girlfriend-type thing.  Boy was I wrong on that one.  It wasn't that at all.  It was Velma saying that she'd had enough.  In the parking lot, about ten minutes later, I'd find that out.

            She was just plain ticked off.  "Fred, I can't believe you took credit for my plan again," she said when we got out to the lot afterwards.  She didn't even wait until we were out of the range of the news cameras.

            "Vel—ma," I said back, sounding like I was going over something for the millionth time.  Well, we practically were.  I think she was about as used to my taking her credit as I was to doing it— I thought it was a little strange that she even brought it up, actually, at the time.  But it wasn't just the credit-stealing that set her off that night—it was everything, coming to a head.  The bickering with Daphne.  Our problems.  The fact that she could have died and I'd blown it all off.  Why did I do that?!  But I did and now everything's wrong, all wrong and....

            Okay, I've got to slow down.  I told myself I wasn't going to think about that anymore.  Or not until later when I can't help it.

            See, it isn't much longer now.

            Velma wasn't the only one in a bad mood.  "Some plan," Daphne came in.  "That ghost pawed me for an hour and a half."

            "Look, Daph, it's not our fault that you always get kidnapped," I said-- believe it or not, trying to stick up for Vel.  For once.

            It did not go over well.  "I do not always get kidnapped," Daph protested.  "I can't believe you'd say that to me."  She sounded hurt, and for a second I felt a little guilty.

            Velma didn't.  "Oh, please—you come with your own ransom note."

            It was just one sarcastic remark too many for poor Daph.  Tensions were high and I guess no one can blame her for blowing up a little.  But I honestly couldn't believe how she showed it.  She pulled Velma's glasses right off of her face.  And she knew—she knew never to do that.  I know we all laugh about Velms losing her glasses at bad moments, but really, it's not that funny.  It really scares her.  Even when I was around her and she'd take them off on purpose (you know—like if we were making out) she'd hold them in her hand with this vice-grip, and if she put them down she'd reach out and check for them every couple of minutes without even thinking.    Just too many bad experiences with losing them.  So anyway, I tried to get Daphne to give them back right away while Vel crawled around looking for them, but it wasn't going to fly.  She was actually dancing them around above Velma's head so she couldn't' get them.  I don't know if that surprised me more, that or what Vel said next.

            "I'm gonna kill you, Daphne!" she exclaimed—of course she didn't mean it, but I was still pretty shocked.  They'd never fought like this.  I got even more shocked when I felt Velma's hands close around my throat.  She was jerking me back and forth—pretty darn hard, too—not hard enough to really hurt, but still!  I guess she was aiming for Daph, but I'm not so sure she didn't know she had the wrong person.  Me, Daph—she was mad at both of us, though I deserved it way more.  I was so stunned— I mean, Velma's not a violent person—but I did manage to get her fingers off my throat and then say something really dumb about my ascot.  Right away she  crossed her arms and shot dagger-looks everywhere, while Daph gloated and finally let her grab the glasses back.

Shag and Scoob had just been starting at the three of us from the sidelines, but right then good ol' Shagster stepped up to the plate and try to talk some sense into us.  It was weird—he didn't look as shocked as I felt right then.  I don't know if he didn't think our fight was as big a deal as it looked... but probably he was just hoping it wasn't.  I don't think that he and Scoob could get their minds around the fact that Mystery Inc. had been tearing itself apart, and was fast going in for the final blow.  We were too caught up in our argument by that time to even hear what Shaggy was trying to tell us. Something about a banana split and these bogus ice cream flavors... I tuned out after the part about me.  It wasn't until I heard two words from Velma that I tuned in again—and fast.

            They were—"I quit."

            She couldn't mean it.

            But she did.  Or I guess she did.  She stood there holding her chin up, trying to look firm—but I knew her well enough to know that she was trying not to cry.  Should I try to stop her?  Something way back in my head told me that that's what she wanted... just for me to tell her not to leave us... 

            Why didn't I?

            I was so close, so close to telling her how much we all wanted her... how much I wanted her.  But I was too far gone by then.  My stupid pride.  Then, through it all, I heard Daphne quit, too.  At first I thought she was doing my job for me.

            "No way!" she started out.  Didn't Velma's face lighten up a little when she heard that?  "You can't quit!"  It did.  It was.  Then... "I was going to quit in, like, two seconds, and now everyone's totally going to think that I copied off the smart girl!"  No.  Her face fell, then grew hard again.  She was set.

I made my decision, too.  If they didn't want me, didn't want to be in my group anymore (that's what I thought) well then... that was it.  Fine.  I wasn't going to lose face and beg.  Still, when I opened up my mouth to say the words, they didn't sound like they really belonged to me.  But I said them all the same.

            "Maybe I quit."  I didn't sound sure.  Even then, I could've turned back.  But my pride wouldn't let me.  I think I struggled with it for half a second.  But that was all.  "I do.  Yeah, I quit!"

            So that was it.  From somewhere behind me as I stalked off to my car, I heard Daphne say something—sounded like "good riddance."  My thoughts exactly, I remember thinking.  You said it, Daph.  Velma said something, too, that I couldn't catch.  I thought I didn't care—but I turned to look.  And when I did, reality finally came crashing down on me.

You ever noticed how it does that?  You're all nice and happy and disillusioned, and then just when it would be really good to be that way... bam!  Reality turns up and laughs in your face.  Well, that's what happened to me.  It came at first in trickles and little bits, but then in this huge awful rush.  It was the sight of my best friends—and the girl that I honestly (though you won't believe it) loved—walking away in different directions that did it, and Shaggy's voice calling out after us all sad and pleading:

"Don't go!  Come on, guys, don't do this!"  I could practically picture he and Scooby's faces, staring out at as with huge eyes.  They hadn't done anything—anything—and I'd hurt them, too.  "Please don't go."

Please don't go... the words I should have said to the gang myself.  I was the leader.  The words I should have said to Velma... along with about a million other ones.  Now we were walking away from each other in the dark, and we weren't going to come together again.  It wasn't supposed to be like this.  We should have been hanging out at the Malt Shop, Shag and Scoob stuffing themselves silly, Daph just sipping at her milkshake in this delicate way that no other girl can and getting all the guys in the room to trip all over themselves.  All of us swapping stories about our case, teasing each other in the friendly way that we used to... before it turned all bad and hurtful.  Later, it would just be me and Velma in the front seat of my car with the radio going, finishing our milkshakes and talking for a long time, then kissing for just as long with kisses that were all sweet and cool...       

Not ever again.  All of that was gone. 

For a few seconds at least, reality was kind to me.  When I watched my life pretty much fall apart as my friends walked away, I didn't feel anything at first.  It was like I was watching the whole thing as someone else—you know how the expression goes, that you're a "spectator at your own life?"  Well, that's how I felt.  The whole scene was playing out in front of me in  slow-motion, and I just watched for a second, knowing what was going on but not quite getting it.  The message just wasn't getting to my brain.  A couple of seconds went by.  It felt like more.  But then the images started coming.  Realization decided to show up.  The dam finally started to leak, about ready to burst, but only one word came out of me.

"Velma!"  My voice was loud, echoing all over that practically empty lot, but I didn't care.  For once, I couldn't have cared less about what the press saw or thought of me—or just the whole world in general.  Besides, I still felt a little weird and disconnected.  My voice came out of me, but it didn't feel like it had.  It was like it's own separate thing, out of my control.

            She turned around and glared at me then, but her face was all wet with tears.  Her lip was trembling—hard—and her eyes were full.  Even at my very worst, her tears would have killed me.  Suddenly I knew that I'd done it to her.  I'd hurt her—she was hurt and it was my fault.  A little more reality.  My friends were separating.  Was she leaving me, too?  It'll sound stupid to you, but that was occurring to me for the first time. 

            Everything was quiet.  I looked at her and my heart actually started to hurt— the guilt was finally starting to come, too.  I reached out and tried to brush a tear from her cheek.  She slapped my hand away.  And that's when it hit full force.  No mercy.  The whole awful situation.  The gang just broke up.  Everything is wrong.  You and Velma... ruined?...  I stared at her hurt, angry face and could barely get out my dazed reaction to it all.

            "Velma?"  I said. "What... what are we doing?"  I was pleading and pathetic and awful. 

            And she didn't care.  "Jinkies, Fred," she said, bitter—"I think it's called breaking up."  Her voice was hard.  I didn't understand.

            "The gang or... you and me?"  I asked her, lost.

            "All of it, Fred.  All of it."

            Then she walked away, back to her car.  I stood there, too shell-shocked to think of stopping her.  I could hear her crying until she drove away. 

            Then she was gone.  But I can still hear her crying.

            That was what..... three, four hours ago? 

            It's amazing how months of disillusion can just conveniently ditch you in just a couple of hours.  Because now I see everything clearly.  Maybe it would be better if I didn't.  Now I have to face it all.  I can't get Velma back.  I could call her, try to apologize, but stupid as I acted before, I'm know that too much damage has been done for me to ever have another chance.  And Mystery, Inc. is gone—my whole life.  What am I going to do?

            Go on, I guess.  It's not like I don't have a lot going for me.  Velma and me---  we used to talk about what we wanted to do in the next couple years.  She was the first person I ever told about wanting to write a book about our cases, and she said I should go for it.  She was going to help me with the writing...

            I've got to stop doing this. 

Okay, so it all happened just a couple hours ago—thinking about it—about her is going to be natural for awhile.  But it hurts.  Man, it hurts.

            Why do all my memories have to go back to her, include her?  Oh, yeah, this is cruel—why didn't I even think that this book I want to write... it would be full of her, too!  All day, raking up memories of good times with the gang that I've ripped apart...

            So even that's ruined!  What haven't I managed to mess up!?

            Me.

Oh, not the real me, sitting here beating himself up.  I mean Fred Jones—the name, the image.  I liked it well enough before tonight, didn't I, and look where it got me.  But you know what... maybe there's something not all that bad about delusion.  I didn't care about anything but Fred Jones before, but I was pretty happy that way, wasn't I?

            Good thing.  Cause right now...

            Right now, it's looking like all I've got left.

Well, that's it, folks.  I may decided to re-work the first three chapters (just a little) as I think they could be improved, but that's iffy.  Anyway, hope you liked it...

Littlesoprano