(Hello, P&F Fandom! It's been a while. I so completely adored Act Your Age that I had to write a oneshot for it, hopefully not my last. Inspired by Phineas' line: "I think that's when I started having a thing for you." Enjoy! Don't forget, I love reviews! [Cover image belongs to kiki-kit! I ain't that talented!] -Doverstar)
"Phineas? Hey, Dinner Bell!"
16-year-old Phineas Flynn jolted, almost upsetting his drink.
"Are you even listening to me?"
Phineas blinked hard, shaking himself. "Sorry, Bufe'. What were you saying?"
Buford Van Stomm folded his meaty arms, glowering across the table at him. He hadn't called Phineas Dinner Bell in a long time. It felt good to hear it again. On Buford's right sat Ferb Fletcher, Phineas' stepbrother. Ferb was munching a sandwich and Phineas had gone with pizza. Buford had already finished eating, but his plate with a few straggling tater tots was still in front of him.
The cafeteria was filled with the sound of restless, hungry teens, all of whom were almost too ready for this coming summer vacation. Every foot bounced on the floor, several set of fingers drummed in impatience for this last lunch at school to be over.
Phineas himself had so many plans, he hardly new where to start. That was the reason he couldn't focus on Buford at the moment. He couldn't stop drawing up blueprints in his head.
He and Ferb would make this summer count, per the norm. Definitely one of the top three items on the list was to invent a new kind of matter you that you'd use to keep yourself cool. Something thin, almost invisible, that could easily shoot from a ray. It seemed the older he got, the hotter the summers became, and that could take some of the fun out of the days when he and his friends didn't feel like a swim. And then they needed to make a new kind of breakfast food—and an updated version of last year's Ultimate Water Gun—and, of course, build themselves a car. Probably one each.
Buford pulled him out of his thoughts again. "I was saying we gotta get Baljeet outta that stuffy classroom by the end of today. He's gonna rot in there!"
Ferb swallowed part of his sandwich. "I hear college life uses up quite a plethora of one's time, Buford."
"So what?" Buford's gravelly voice nearly cracked in indignation, something it hadn't done since two years ago. His was the first to drop out of the group, naturally. He'd certainly mellowed out since his grade school days. "He graduates early and the guy thinks all of a sudden he's somebody! Even geniuses need a break from all that work."
"Guys," Phineas reminded them with a grin, "Baljeet's break is that work."
Baljeet Tjinder hadn't lost his love of studying and good grades—it had actually increased over time, much to Buford's vexation. The film-obsessed, former bully had been lonely, going through high school without his old 'Nerd'. Phineas and Ferb were right there with him, ready to cheer him up each day, but it was sort of nice to know Buford wasn't anywhere close to forgetting his best friend.
"I'm just saying, maybe if he loosened the reins…"
Buford's voice was suddenly reduced to a background hum as a flash of pink showed up in the corner of Phineas' eye. He turned almost instantly; this time he did upset his drink. Chocolate milk washed over the table and reached the edge, just enough to drip into Ferb's lap.
"Oh, shoot—sorry, bro." Phineas returned his cup to a standing position, wincing.
Ferb calmly scooted his chair backward so that only a few brown stains soaked into the knees of his trousers. He grabbed a wad of napkins from the center of the table and Buford handed Phineas a few more.
While they cleaned up the mess, Phineas paused mid-wipe to glance back at the soda machine. Sure enough, there she was. Isabella Garcia Shapiro, girl from across the street, one of their oldest chums. She was wearing her casual, bright top and white pants, her hair down in a ponytail with that trademark bow. Not a lot of girls would have tried to pull off a bow at that age, but as always, if anyone could do it, Isabella could.
"Distracted?" Ferb's voice came close to his right ear, low so that only the two brothers could hear.
Phineas' arm slipped a little. "What?"
He looked down, realizing every milk-coated spot on the table had been cleared away—apart from the little circle of it under his outstretched, napkin-carrying hand. Quickly he finished the job, handing the napkin to Buford, who was closer to the garbage can.
Ferb was following Phineas' gaze, right to the girl pulling a strawberry soda from the slot.
Phineas shook his head, smiling carelessly. "I'm fine. Hey, did I tell you about the design for our Extreme Go Kart track? I know what we're gonna do today!"
Ferb's pupils slid from Isabella to the redhead keeping his back to her. He gave a thumbs-up, eyelids lowered.
"Did you guys see that?" Buford sat down again. "Holly left a whole blueberry muffin in the trash! Called it!"
"Yeah, yeah, like rock. You were right." Holly, a former Fireside Girls and another of the childhood gang, passed their table and flicked Buford in the back of the head. "Those things are a disgrace."
Adyson Sweetwater, walking with her, stopped to chime in, "I tried to tell her—remember when I chipped a tooth on one last month?" She pointed to said tooth to remind them.
Phineas' attention had drifted back to the soda machine. She was gone. He turned to look around, and his elbow nudged the saltshaker, which fell onto Buford's fork, which had a tater tot on it, which then flew up and hit Adyson in the eye.
Ferb picked the tot up off the floor. "Sorry, Adyson." He threw it, from his seat, into the trash can.
"Ow ow ow ow…" Adyson muttered, hand over her eye.
"Come on, girl," Holly was soothing, "no salamanders. Just breathe."
Phineas sat down, thinking he'd caused enough damage as both young ladies moved away. He saw Ferb watching him in a way that looked all too knowing. Phineas felt his face heat up a little and continued to turn in his chair to look about the room, not dissuaded by his stepbrother's keen eye. He turned a little tighter, craning his neck. (Or what he had of a neck.) She wasn't getting a tray—wasn't filling her plate—wasn't by the silverware station…
There! Just pulling up a chair to sit with her girlfriends, the whole of the old Fireside Girls Troop 46231. She was laughing and twirling her fork so that the spaghetti wouldn't dangle when she took a bite. She did that with spinach, too. And sometimes, when she was eating a bowl of ice cream, he remembered when they were kids, she'd sometimes make the mistake of blowing on it because she was used to blowing on food that was too hot; her brain made her think it would work for food that was too cold as well. Sometimes she added hot sauce to her burger whenever their families had cookouts, because she was so desensitized to her mother's spicy dishes, she craved it on everything she ate…
"Phineas?" Ferb cleared his throat.
Phineas tilted his head. "Remember when she used to sit with us?"
"We're guys. We eat sloppy." Buford shrugged. "They can't handle that, we can respect their desire to segregate."
Ferb raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm not sure that's what he meant."
Buford jerked his head toward Phineas' now-empty chocolate milk cup. "I'm vindicated."
"She used to sit with us every day." Phineas went on. "I wonder what changed."
Ferb and Buford exchanged a glance. There was a moment of silence. Ferb took another bite of his sandwich, and Buford pushed the remaining tater tots around on his plate.
"You guys got a Go Kart thing planned for today?" Buford broke in.
"We gotta get Baljeet before we start. He's got that whole quantum physics jump on…"
Phineas started plucking pepperoni off his pizza. Suddenly he wasn't very hungry. He glanced yet again at Isabella's table. She was listening to something Katie was saying, something Milly was obviously disagreeing with.
He was staring too long. Phineas blinked and looked at the floor. He didn't know what had gotten into him. No, he wasn't an idiot—he did know. Puberty had seemed to strike him last out of all of them, and now, finally, he was noticing girls. Before, he didn't have much room in his head for them, what with the radical inventions of tomorrow all crowding his brain, desperate for his attention. It was hard to concentrate on both seizing the day and attracting a nice lady friend. He had to take one or the other, and sooner or later, he always chose the former. Somehow it was easier, especially when the female of the species hadn't even been on his radar.
But now it was different. Each of the boys was leaning toward butterfly stomachs and late night phone calls. Ferb was already well on his way to courting a certain older brunette. He was practically built for romance, with his London charm. Buford was single and proud of it, but Phineas was sure he had his eye on Gretchen. And Phineas himself…really, if he was being honest (and come on, he almost always was), there wasn't a lot of options flitting about in his heart. That whole half of his head was devoted to one person and one person only.
She'd been his neighbor and his friend for ages, and he'd never thought of her as anything more. Sure, she had meant a lot to him. Probably more than any other girl in his life—except Candace or his Mom, of course. But...best buds and nothing else for quite a while.
Things were changing, because as of a year ago, Phineas couldn't sit still when she came in the room. His ears were tuned to pick up her voice among all the others bouncing from corner to corner. Pink was, as aforementioned, the first color he looked for when he entered the building.
How had he not noticed before how utterly phenomenal Isabella was? He'd lived roughly 15 steps away from her house and it all went over his head for six years. She could sing, she could play the tambourine, she knew the anatomy of an automobile at 8 years old, she could use any accent known to man, she understood triangulation flawlessly, she baked and cooked, she was more than capable of carrying out the duties of a business agent, ambassador for Earth to the rest of the galaxy, and owner of a small-town Mexican/Jewish restaurant. She was an expert at papier-mâché, she could fly a fighter jet, she could knit, sew, and color coordinate like nobody's business. She was extremely selfless and sweet, witty, strong, and generally unstoppable. He couldn't hope for a better match in a jillion years.
Really, though, Phineas hadn't started getting truly sidetracked by Isabella until the last time she'd entered his backyard. It was during the previous summer. He didn't know which day exactly, or which month, but it had been the time when they'd built a theme park ride inspired by the irresistible Slinky toy. She'd opened the gate the way she had for years, asking him what he was doing. He'd almost dropped his wrench on his foot. Suddenly her eyes had seemed very, very blue and she smelled like the cinnamon in churros. He'd gotten through the day with his usual cheerful determination, but he couldn't help gazing her way one too many times.
It had been like that ever since. Usually when he was working on an idea, it took up all his time and attention. It was the same with Isabella. Now if he wasn't preoccupied or had tools on hand, he was thinking about or looking for her. He'd wondered for some time whether he had a chance with her, almost immediately after that day. At first he thought it would probably be weird, having known each other for so long and then switch it up so quickly. And then came the thought Well, why not? After all, wouldn't that have been the best possible way to do it? Best friends before anything else?
The problem was, he suspected she didn't feel the same way at all.
Maybe he would have gone for it by now. He was optimistic enough. But that was the last time she'd showed up in his backyard. A year later, she had been so vacant all summer; he'd once gone over to her house to make sure she wasn't ill. Her mother had promised she'd let Isabella know he'd stopped by to check on her (she had been at soccer tryouts) but later she must have forgotten, because he didn't see her for two weeks. It'd been on and off that way, until finally he just didn't see her at all until school had begun. They said hi to each other in the hall, waved in class, and in the first year at Danville High she'd sat with them at lunch and passed notes with them during lessons. But now she didn't pass notes, didn't sit with them, and barely looked at Phineas. Sometimes she remembered to say hi back, but she always seemed so occupied these days.
He concluded Isabella wasn't into him at all. The only good news he could muster from this was that she didn't seem to be into anybody else either. She was perfectly content with her girlfriends and her full schedule.
Phineas started when he heard her name.
"I heard Isabella's going to that new summer camp this year." Buford bounced a tater tot on his fork, and then decided to down it.
Ferb had finished his sandwich and popped open his bag of chips. "Yes, I've heard that too."
"She is?" Phineas raised his eyes. "How come?"
Ferb's mouth was filled with potato chips. Buford shrugged. Phineas took a bite of his pizza. She couldn't go to summer camp. Summer camps rocked and all, but there were loads more fun things to do in Danville. Compared to what Phineas had in mind for the group, summer camp would be pretty mundane. And it definitely wouldn't be as cool as it was supposed to if Isabella wasn't there.
Okay, he really wasn't hungry. Standing, Phineas took his plate and dumped his pizza into the trashcan, moving to take his tray and plate to their drop-off station. Someone else was already there; Phineas accidentally nudged her arm as they both tried to deposit their dishes.
Phineas turned, looking into the still-very-blue eyes of his newfound kryptonite in pink sneakers. "Oh—hi, Isabella."
Isabella looked flustered. "Hi."
"How's it going?" Phineas rubbed one ankle with the other foot, but he gave her his winning smile, as if nothing had changed between them.
"Fine." Isabella glanced in an antsy way back to her table. "I've gotta—"
"Hey, Buford was just saying you were headed to summer camp this year."
Isabella nodded, meeting his eyes again. "Yep. Debate camp."
"Cool! I bet you'll do great."
"Thanks." She grinned. "Well…" He could tell she was about to leave. It was now or never. Carpe diem.
"You know," he began, just the thought of this chasing his nerves away: "Ferb and I have a pretty full summer in store, too."
"I bet." She folded her hands behind her back, looking at the floor, at the wall, never really at him. "You guys amaze me."
Phineas shrugged modestly. "Just trying to make every day count. We could use your help."
Isabella's expression sort of darkened. "Oh—no—you don't need me…"
"Sure we do!" He crossed his arms. "You've got the most knowledge on engines out of all of us. Except maybe Ferb."
She giggled. He loved that sound. It just screamed exuberance. "What did you have in mind?"
"Go Kart track. Extreme."
"Sounds like fun." Isabella sighed.
"I barely saw you last summer."
"Yeah…y'know, soccer, volunteer work in the park, cheerleading tryouts. I was…kinda busy."
"Oh." Phineas rubbed the back of his neck. "We—I was wondering what happened to you."
Isabella looked up. She had a really nice smile. "So what you're saying is…you missed me?"
Phineas blinked. "Yeah—well, we needed an extra set of hands, and…"
Almost instantly, it seemed, her smile fell. "Oh."
"So…will you think about it? Staying, I mean."
Isabella's voice was brisk. "I think I'm gonna go with debate camp this year."
Phineas could feel his face turning red, but she had already started toward her table. Had he been a little foolish to ask? After all, it was such short notice.
"See you later, Isabella," he offered meekly, lifting a hand.
She sounded almost cold now. "Yeah. See you."
Phineas returned to his table, just as the bell rang for class. Ferb and Buford were on their way out the door; he met them as they walked out. He couldn't resist glancing one more time at Isabella's crew, hopefully, but she wasn't even facing him. He could tell by the bounce of her shoulders that she was giggling again, this time at something Ginger was doing with her hands.
"So," Ferb asked, tossing an arm around his shoulders. "What did she say?"
Phineas looked at the floor as they walked. "She's sticking with summer camp."
Ferb didn't have to say anything, as usual. He just steered his stepbrother toward math class, arm keeping the redhead from turning around again.
Phineas stifled a sigh. He was in the friendzone. He could admit it. It was obvious Isabella wasn't interested. What had he said? Why had she been so curt? Girls were a mystery. He preferred machines.
So, with a forced smile and a head stuffed with blueprints, Phineas made his way to his desk. And he didn't look up when she sat in hers.