Recess High school years

Sophomore Year: The return of Dr Slicer

By Ruff Desperado aka King James

(Rated T for Teen)

Season 2 Episode 4

Spinelli POV


[Opening sequence]

An hypnotic circle spins as it swirls and swirls into outer space.

"You are traveling to another dimension," a mysterious voice says, "a dimension of sound..."

A mirror appears in space. It reflects the face of a teenage girl breaking out in acne. She screams and, in turn, the mirror is breaking apart in shards. That moment it goes cl-ash! and disappears again.

"...a dimension of sight..."

Clout goggles move across space as a flicker of eyes are shown underneath them.

"...a dimension of mind..."

A brain zips by through space with algebraic symbols spinning around it.

"...it's a dimension as enormous as the entire universe and as endless as infinity, like seriously, it goes on and on and on forever, like, it's the point at which the three Ashley's can run out of things to talk about. And it sits right there, lurking between every locker and hiding under every classroom desk. Between hard facts and silly superstitions. It lies in that feeling at the pit of every teenager's stomach and challenges everything we thought made sense. This is the dimension of pure imagination. It is a place which we like to call...The Friend Zone."

[The Friend Zone]

Spinelli, with pep and perseverance, sits right up into TJ's face. Her chair backwards, as she's slightly hunched over. TJ, on the other hand, is sat calmly with his hands together. Spinelli's not running out of questions, but she's running out of patience.

"So," Spinelli says, her eyes bright, intent on inciting him. "What'cha watching these days if its not Bookham & McVice?"

"Nothing," TJ replies, with a quick glance at her.

"Gorged on any new sweets before Gus hit the bricks?"

"None at all."

"Any new games on the Ultrabox infinity?"

"Not that I know of."

"Anything...?" she asks, desperate for him to add something.

TJ shrugs and fetches a book he's left open upside down.

Spinelli disguises her huff with a harsh sigh. She spins her chair back around, and sits on it by her own desk that's behind him. She stares out the window. Mikey places a hand on her shoulder. She jolts her arm in response.

"What?" she asks, with anger building up.

"There's probably no breaking him that way," Mikey suggests, putting a rest on what he's been writing. "Maybe he just needs our support with his new changes. Dont'cha think?"

Spinelli glares at Mikey, she spins her attention back on TJ. "This blows," she says, as she gets up, moving to the other side of the classroom. She walks up to Troy and Molly. "What's goodie, guys?"

Molly puts down a magazine that Miss Milkie had smuggled in. Troy's outstretched on three chairs, being cared for by Ashley A, an ice pack laying on his stomach.

"Samey same," Troy replies.

"Just swell," Molly says.

Ashley A gives a flash of a smile at Spinelli.

Spinelli looks down at Troy and asks him, "what happened to you?"

"Fatal ex-best-friend injury," Troy replies, as Ashley A readjusts a cold rag on his head.

"Oh, brother," Spinelli says, sighing, and crossing her arms.

"Does this look 'oh brother' to you?"

Troy lifts up his shirt revealing two large purple and blue bruises on his abdomen. Ashley A and Molly make a noise. Everyone in eye-shot of Troy's belly winces out in disgust.

"Lemme see," Spinelli goes, as she moves her finger around Troy's stomach. "Cool."

Ashley A scrunches her eyebrows together. "Excuse you, do you so, like, utterly mind not feeling up my BF?"

"He's all yours," Spinelli says, raising her hands up in defeat.

Spinelli turns her head over at TJ, whose reading silently in the corner of the classroom. Molly ushers her to snap out of whatever she's under, and to sit next to her. With no free seat in grasping distance, Spinelli takes a seat on the top of Molly's desk.

Molly smiles tilting her head up asking her, "you wish he was all yours, don't you?"

"Eurgh!" Spinelli cries in disgust. "Gross! Heck no!"

"No, Spin, not T, T-Jay," she clarifies.

"Is it that obvious I'm into TJ?"

Troy laughs.

"Yah!" Ashley A chimes in. "It's so obvi you have the hots for TJ."

Miss Milkie moves up to them. "Hey guys, I overheard, okay? TJ is a bit sensitive right now," she explains, kneeling down, peeking a few times to see if TJ has noticed. "I was there when they—when Slicer turned him into—"

"A nerd Zombie," Spinelli grunts out low.

"Yeah...that works," Miss Milkie replies, turning back at all four of them. "It was horrible. He's become submissive. He dry heaves at pranks. He's frightened to talk to girls—"

Troy goes, "ha! Loser."

Miss Milkie gives Troy a disapproving look.

Molly turns towards Spinelli. "Maybe you could kiss and hug him with some hypnotherapy thrown in."

Troy agrees, saying, "kisuggle...yeah. Flirt the 'loser' right out of him."

Ashley A says, "if you kiss him, maybe he'll turn back into a prankster prince."

Spinelli threatens, "I'll knock your block off, powder-puff."

Ashley A sighs, and shakes her head. "Why did you even call us that anyway? Powder-puff?"

"I dunno," Spinelli replies. "I'd imagine you all would powder your noses all the time or worse."

"Maybe you should powder your nose," Ashley A says. "That morning zimple you've got is unseemly."

Molly says, "a used lipstick is a happy lipstick."

"Right," Ashley A says. "Listen to your friends for once. Nothing is more powerful than a girl that looks good. Molly's Yourvid makeup tutorials could do you won—you've never worn makeup before have you?"

Miss Milkie tries and fails at containing her giggle.

"Hey!" Spinelli says.

Miss Milkie gets stern again, saying, "Spinelli, you're going to have to speak to him."

"No duh, Miss, but he's an all unresponsive book-tard now," she replies.

"Not TJ...Principal Slicer."

Miss Milkie, Troy, Molly and Ashley A look intently at Spinelli for her to make a decision.

"You people are wrecking my head-space," Spinelli moans, rubbing her temple. "I don't need advice from any of ya, aiight? Who I need now, is my day-one."

Almost in rhythm as Spinelli finishes, tutor ends, as the ring is heard around the entire high school.

Spinelli leaves the classroom first. Other doors in the hallway open one after the other. She walks passed a boy leaning by a locker. This boy is wearing a black suit and tie which slightly merges with the uniforms everyone else are wearing. He has a white streak in his dark hair. It's Butch. The bearer of bad news. The keeper of the local tales of Third street school, all grown up into a teenager.

"Meet one, Ashley Spinelli..." Butch says looking right at you, taking a candy cigarette out from the side of his mouth.

He was indeed that voice who was narrating the opening.

Spinelli waits outside another tutor class with a vexed expression. Her white shirt rolled up under her pinafore apron dress, which she alone wears. All the other girls wear smart pants or straight skirts. Vince comes out of his tutor class. She gives him a little knuckle touch, not breaking her arm fold.

Butch continues, "...the cut throat cutie pie of Thad high school. That one gal who would ideally hate the very thought of losing herself to any one person romantically..."

Spinelli hurries everyone out the door and grabs Gretchen, swinging her to the side as they chat intently.

We switch back to Butch at the lockers.

"...That being said, that stinking feeling of old has come back. And she's tried, oh sweet Mike she's tried to shake it off, but it's no use. Her admirer, TJ Detweiler, whose charm could once knock the high socks off any cheerleader, has been deteriorated by Principal Slicer's destructive discipline. Now, Spinelli's ready to unscramble those brains of TJ from being that numb nerd zombie whose sick by the very thought of a girl. Convenient because this will all unfold on Halloween. Inconvenient because this also happens to be, the Friend Zone."

["The Experiment Part 2"]

["Directed by Ruff Desperado"]


"I wanna...I wanna...I wanna, freaking french the freckles off his frigging face," I say.

"Okay," Gretchen replies, her pointer finger curled under her chin. "Progress."

"What am I gonna do, Gretch?" I ask her, finding myself pacing around the hallway. "He's all shy now, and worse, he's all into studying stupid textbooks and stuff."

"I'll try to take no offence to that."

My bestie Gretchen unzips her backpack and reaches her hand inside. She's rifling inside it. She'll use that gargantuan brain of hers. She'll solve this whole thing. She's taking her hand back out and unzipping the bag shut again. So much for that.

We move off.

We're the last ones walking in the hallway.

"I propose that we make an experiment," Gretchen continues, as we reach the stairs. "A second experiment, but this time, you're gonna need to do more than kissing."

"Gretch!" I say, stopping still.

"Hear me out," she says, pulling me back on course, as we reach the first floor. "Not like that...entirely, that's for me to further analyse before I finalize an actual hypothesis. You're gonna need to use your feminine instincts."

"My what?"

"We need this experiment to have a higher probable chance of succeeding. We can prioritize Halloween tonight and make you look kissable as the catalyst. Then, you can go back to being yourself again. You know, just like how a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change."

"Yeah, how could I forget," I say, not bothering to hide my sarcastic optimism.

"Exactly, right?" Gretch replies, sounding like she's actually believing my bull. She pauses as we've reached the second floor. "Don't you have chemistry on the first floor?"

"Yep," I reply, staring back down below at the balcony.

"Then, you have less than sixty seconds before your bracelet sounds off," she replies, peeking at her watch.

"Really? Damn."

Sense suddenly clicks.

I should have gone my separate ways before I walked her up here. Shoot! I spin back around and run back the other way. Speeding passed open classrooms that are being closed one by one by the teachers. Reaching the stairs, I slide my butt down the railings. The light on my bracelet has turned from green to orange on my left wrist. I knew I should've been more responsible and strap a clock on my other wrist like Gretchen does. With a celly, I just don't see the point, though. I race into my class as Miss Watson is closing it.

I made it.

My bracelet has turned to red. Now orange. Now it's reset to green again. A second later I would have been suspended. It's that brutal.

It's chemistry. Something I reckoned me and Teej had at some point. We were so alike. It was like talking to my double, except it's a boy, who I guess, I wanna be with. It's weird even thinking about it.

Daydreaming a ton, it's not long until I have my second lesson.

I'm at history. History. That's something me and TJ definitely share.

I'm at the back of the class with Mikey, drawing doodles as he writes what my pictures are saying with speech bubbles.

Mikey sighs. "It's almost heartbreaking not having the little guy with us."

"I miss him more than the next guy," I reply, focusing on our picture. He's right, Gus would complete our group trio at the back. "But he knew what he was getting in for."

"Still," Mikey says.

After, not an entirely agonizing time, class finishes.

It's recess.

But.

I'm not going to recess. I hit the weird forbidden zone where fun and freedom goes to die. Study hall.

There's TJ, by himself. I breath in and out to calm myself down. What am I nervous for? He's just my friend. It shouldn't be too hard to ask out someone I've known forever.

"Hey TJ," I say, leaning my arm by a bookshelf near him. "How's it hanging?"

TJ pauses on a part he's reading and stares up at me.

I keep going, saying, "so, a coolster like yourself must be busy on a night like tonight, huh?"

"No, not anymore than usual," TJ replies.

"Righteous. Ten-der," I say, not stopping myself obnoxiously nodding. "Um, I ain't doing nothing either and there's a party at Ashley B's. You know, I mean, I heard about some party. Everyone's gonna be in costumes and stuff. It's stupid. But, if we go together, maybe it won't be so dumb."

"Go to Ashley B's party?"

"Yeah."

"With you?"

"Uh-huh."

TJ dry heaves a bit in his mouth into a fit of coughs.

"This ain't an ultimatum, Teej," I say, "I'm a big girl. If I ain't your type or nothing. I can take it."

"No, it's not that. You're really...cute..." he starts.

I feel my stomach flutter and junk. That felt sorta nice.

TJ almost hurls up his breakfast again.

Never mind.

"...Especially on Halloween when girls are dressed so—" he's says, so close to being sick on himself again. He settles down. "Okay. I'll come."

I was not expecting that. Good.

"I'll text you the deets," I say, turning back around to the hallway.

Walking around a little, I reach outside the principal's office. Miss Milkie's right. I have to see what's what. Any clue I have to changing TJ back, he'll know for sure. But, then again he'll know I'm up to something. Not only does he hold my permanent record but these days if I sneeze too loud or look at him the wrong way, I'm suspended. Or worse, I'm on the road like Gus.

The door's knob turns as somebody's getting out.

It's Menlo.

I'd be lying if I said I weren't so relieved right about now. I move up to Menlo and thwack him on his side.

Menlo holds his shoulder. "That a peaceful punch, Spinelli?"

I nod back at him. "What's with the eye bags?" I ask him, noticing his raccoon complexion.

"Word of advise," says Menlo, "don't ever be a school representative."

"Noted."

A girl from first year comes up to Menlo. "Do you know Tyler?" she asks.

A boy next to her goes, "of course he does," before Menlo can even get a word out. He turns to Menlo this time. "I heard that there's a secret club in this school. That hardly anyone knows about. Not even the principal. A prank club."

Menlo smiles wide. "I can neither confirm or deny that there is indeed a prank club in this school," he replies, looking around to see that no one can hear them.

That boy foreman goes, "see, I told you it's real," to that girl.

That girl's going, "how can it be a club if it's not on the school bulletin board?"

"Are you dumb? Principal Slicer wouldn't let this fly."

They walk away from us happy enough they got the answer they wanted. Don't know what that was about. Don't care either.

Especially 'cause Ashley A-hole is apparently talking to Cody Hunter. And, she's doing all those flirty things girls do. Flicking her hair. Laughing hysterically. Touching his arm.

"What the hecks she doing?" I ask. "Ain't she supposed to be with Troy?"

Ashley A turns a few times at our direction. Making sure that we're seeing her. She laughs louder.

"Actually," I say, "she keeps looking back at us."

"Back at me, anyway," Menlo adds.

I follow Ashley A's eyes more closely. The principal's-pet is right. Ashley A's trying to make Menlo get jelly. Now that's interesting.

"Why though?" I say, wondering out loud.


I put on lipstick. I smear off lipstick. I put on some more lipstick. I smear it off again. This isn't gonna work. I've smeared so much of this clown crap off my mouth, I could transform my right hand into a female hand puppet as my second costume.

Adjusting the collar of my black dress, I speed my way down stairs.

It's sorta kinda sweet having my fam and I all costume coded as the Addams family. Me, being Wednesday Addams. Mom looking all silky as Morticia Addams, and Dad looking lively in his striped suit and bow tie as Gomez Addams. They're both by the door, and it's wide open. My old folks are in the Halloween spirit sounding scary and haunting, as they give a couple of kids sweets into their little bright orange pumpkin containers. The happy little tikes leave back out again, as the front door's left open.

I turn towards my parents, saying, "you kids have fun," sliding on my black vans. "I'm outta here, so don't wait up on me."

"Be safe now, honeybunch," Mom says.

"Have I ever not been?" I reply, clenching my fist.

"So, you're ready for your first date with TJ tonight?"

"Yep, I sure am."

Mom and Dad stare at me, not saying nothing.

"What?" I ask.

"Makes a difference, you not trying to pick a fight with us," Mom says.

Dad goes, "you really are growing up, aren't you?"

I say, "let's not get sentimental 'bout this, aiight?" as I leave through the open door.

I hear Mom and Dad shout, "we love you!" to me.

"I know!" is what I reply, as I quickly wave back at them.

This Friday's turned into night outside, but all the technicolor trick or treaters brighten it up. The streets filled with little vampires, mummies and zombies demanding all their neighbors for candy.

Three doors down and I'm at TJ's. With all these kids walking around, it felt longer. I knock on his door.

His costume-less mom opens the door. She smiles wide and invites me in. She's probably ecstatic I'm not another trick or treater.

In her own words she says, "you know you're always welcome to go upstairs."

I peek inside TJ's bedroom through the hinge gap of the door. Hopefully he's decent. Yeah. I don't wanna catch him changing.

Or do I?

Stop.

What's wrong with me?

I back away and knock, but there's no response. His bedroom is bare. And, it's unusually neat with everything in it's own place. His bed's flat with no creases or crinkles.

Did Teej bail on me?

There's some talking further down in Becky's room.

Moving closer, I walk inside. TJ's here, begging his sister for something. He's wearing a full skeleton costume. Bones from his chest, around his back and down to his legs. He even has his face painted into a skull. Nice.

Becky is focused on the TV that's playing a scary movie, twirling keys in her hand.

"Anything bad you do to my car, I'm gonna do to you, okay, baby brother?" Becky says, in a final kind of way.

"Yeah, that's more than okay," TJ replies, in his unusual behaved manner.

Becky doesn't seem like she's buying it. She places the keys in TJ's hand. He moves his hand away, or tries. Becky holds his hand and pulls at it against him in a few tugs before letting go.

TJ turns around. He halts into a dead stop at me. He must've not noticed I was here. He smiles. I've missed that kinda smile he'd do. My TJ is in there somewhere. He puts his hand out for me to lead the way.

We head down the stairs, and outside together.

TJ pauses in front of Becky's pink Beetle.

"You look..." TJ starts.

I brace myself for what he's about to come up with.

"...nice. You look, really nice."

"Thanks," I reply. "You look...scary."

"Thanks. Am I supposed'a kiss you now, or something, or is that at the end of the date?"

"Um, that's the end part. Or maybe during."

"Oh, okay, cool. That's cool then."

We get inside Becky's car. He drives us out of his driveway. We go slowly passed the children in the street, who make way for us. We take it slow until we hit the roads.

We go through the richer parts of Arkansas. Heading up the winding roads. The 'DisneyWood' sign on the hill is close to us now.

We're quiet in the car. TJ's hands are shaky on the wheel.

"Are you okay?" I ask him.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he replies. "I'm fine."

TJ turns the dial for the radio. It switches to Blockhead F.M.

The radio host goes, "muahahaha! Beware all who dare. This night is when ghouls haunt the streets. Enough horror to convulse out your insides. Zombies rising up again from the earth. The purge of trick or treaters will be rambling through town...Just a quicky reminder though, for all parents out there. Please check your children's candy for defectives, razors, poisons—"

SMASH! Something crashes on the hood of the car.

I scream.

TJ swears.

He brakes the car to a stop.

"Holy hell!" TJ yells. He turns back at me. "Are you, all right?"

I nod back in response. I'm too shocked to speak.

TJ gets out of the car. I shine out a bright light for TJ with my cellphone. I stay inside the car. TJ's bending his head down as he investigates. I can't see anything myself. We're the only car on the road.

"What are you looking for?" I ask him.

"A satellite," he replies. "An unidentified flying object. I dunno. Anything."

Wait. There's something over there laying on the road. TJ turns back to me lifting his arms out a bit in frustration. That thing is moving. This thing is a person, and it's standing up. And, it's behind TJ.

My hands are now shaking like TJ's was.

"Teej?" I say.

"Yeah?" he replies, shielding his eyes from my light.

I shine the light on this something that's walking up to us. It's a strange person walking up to TJ. I point my finger behind him, to turn around.

This mysterious person that fell from the sky has he or she's face all hidden in a hoody.

"TJ..." this person says.

"Wh-wh-what?" TJ replies, his voice shaking.

"...I know what you did last summer..." he or she continues.

"You do?" TJ asks, sounding petrified.

"...nah, not really, bro, but would you mind telling me?" that person says, taking off their hoody. This person is a he. "I wanna catch up on what I missed."

TJ says, "Bradley?"

"What's up?" Bradley replies.

"You are," I say, "apparently."

Bradley is back. And, he's had a crash landing.

TJ drives off again with Bradley in the backseat. The car's full of actual convo now. TJ and I take turns explaining everything Bradley's missed. How Gus, Troy and I busted TJ out of juvie. How we came back to our school dance. Attracted the attention of the firefighters, the B.O.E, and eventually Tad White. How we were all on the news. James Stone disguising himself as Principal Third. TJ becoming principal. Swatting Tad White in the summer. Dr Slicer filling in as principal. Then, how he warped TJ's brain into mush, and then how he, Bradley, came hurtling on to the hood of TJ's sister's car.

"Where'd you come from?" TJ asks Bradley, as we've spent time filling him in. "No. Where were you?"

"I was in limbo," Bradley says, contemplating out the window. "It was horrible. It's where forgotten characters are lost in oblivion. And, I'm only here because there's another crossover from a TV show."

I ask, "what the actual frigging firetruck are you talking about?"

"You guys don't..." Bradley starts, pausing, taking turns looking at each of us. "...this is fan fiction."

TJ laughs.

"Oh, here we go," I say, sighing.

"No, no, no, listen," says Bradley. "I went through time because there was a crossover with our show with another show. It was this whole thing."

"That 30,000 foot drop must of rattled your noggin," I say.

TJ says, "not least, it should of killed you...or at least the car."

We've reached outside Ashley B's house. It's big. It's different. Unlike Ashley T's massive mansion, it's not an enormous estate, but it has a lot of grassy space surrounding it. She has no neighbors. It's a large house that's very see-through. With glass showing off the designer kitchen, the living room at the bottom, and even the lounge area at the top.

The gang's already here. Troy's driven everyone from his family's minivan that he stole.

Gretchen's hanging outside. She's dressed as Rick Sanchez from 'Rick and Morty'. A crazy light blue wig, with a long white lab coat. She notices us as we step out. Her eyes shoot open. She holds her mouth in shock.

"Bradley!" Gretchen shouts.

She runs up to Bradley and hugs him.

"You miss me?" Bradley asks, holding on to her.

"So much," she replies.

Vince has caught wind of this and looks at them two. He's dressed as Freddy Krueger. Red and black striped jumper, and gloves with plastic claws coming out. Mikey's menacing as Jason Voorhees. Menlo is dressed as both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with makeup split in half. Troy's Aladdin. Molly's wearing her pink hair shorter, wearing tights and high boots. Gus is just in a bright yellow T, red wrist bands and jeans. Where's the effort guys? Oh, hold on a damn minute! 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World', right? Molly is Ramona Flowers and Gus is Scott Pilgrim. Subtle. Sorta.

The makeup on Vince and Menlo are on point. No way they could have done it themselves.

We get to Ashley B's front door. Mikey, towering all of us, rings the doorbell.

With the sound of bare foot steps, Ashley B swings open the door.

"What the heck are you guys doing here?" Ashley B asks.

"You invited us," Mikey barely says, the hockey mask muffling his voice.

"It's like, ten past nine o'clock."

TJ says, "sorry we're late. You wouldn't believe what happened. We were driving up here when—"

"It's barely nine," Ashley B says again.

"Yeah," I say, making my way near the front, "so, what's your point?"

"You're early, that's my point."

Ashley B's barely dressed. Looking unready in her yellow robe. Her face is minus any makeup. But, she doesn't look that freaky without it, which is kinda disappointing. She waves her arm to the side, where her house, visible from the outside, is completely empty.

Gretchen says, "but that doesn't make any sense," as she shows her phone in front of Ashley B's face. "The invite is for nine o'clock this evening. See?"

Ashley B waves Gretchen's phone away. "Look at me, Gretchen, I'm still getting dressed." She turns her head away from her. "Vince, what the heck are you doing?"

"Who? Me?" Vince replies, with a smile that looks evil because of his makeup. "Mikey and I wanted to actually look scary."

"Vince, you have to change your costume," she says.

Vince laughs. "What are you talking about? I'm not gonna change my costume."

"Just change, Vince."

Ashley B and Vince keep bickering back and forth for a while.

"I'm not gonna change my entire outfit just cause you said so, so..." Vince finally says, adamantly.

"Vince, you're not kissing me with all that gory gunk on your face," says Ashley B.

Vince stops, and slowly blinks twice. "Sorry Mikey, the girl has spoken," he says, turning at him.

Vince scrubs his makeup till it's dangling off from his chin and around his ear. He walks inside first.

Molly sighs, saying, "that scary-drooping-face took me over a week to prep," as she walks inside second.

Molly must have done Menlo's make-up too, by the looks of it.

Mikey, Gretchen, Gus, Menlo, and TJ go in the house as well. Bradley waltz ahead, but Ashley B blocks him with her arm.

"Uh, it's costumes only," she says.

"This is my costume," Bradley explains. "I'm a homicidal maniac, they just look like everyone else."

"That's such a cop out. Like, seriously? Fine," she says, lifting her arm up like a barrier. "Use the fake blood on the counter-top to add to it, please and thank you."

Impressive. I didn't know Bradley was so quick witted like that. He was good enough to get passed the gate-keeping troll, that is Ashley B.

I walk up last. Ashley B stops me.

"What?" I ask.

"Where's you're costume?" she says.

"Aren't you seeing straight? I'm wearing it."

"You come as yourself too? I see you've got you're ponytails back, huh?"

"I'm Wednesday Addams," I explain.

Ashley B gives me no reaction.

"From the Addams family?" I add.

"Hmm, never heard of it," Ashley B says. I step back from the house and mean-mug her. "Well, we're not having the party out here. So, come on in." She lifts her arm up for me. "Just don't, like, stink up the party with your sulking. I wanna fill up my phone with pictures for my Selfiepod. Like, Okay?"

"Like, no probs," I reply.

Ashley B holds me into a hug going, "muah, muah," with two air kisses.

She walks away and spins around giving me a patronizing thumbs up. I give her a thumbs up back. With her back turned, I contort it into my middle finger as I flip her off.

TJ's noticed this. He doesn't look too impressed. Aw, I regret it now.

I'm hanging out with Gus.

"Yeah so," Gus says, picking up a cup, pouring a drink in it, picking it up again and sniffing it. "My Dad's registered me into a military school. I know, shocker. I'll be transferred by Monday."

The army brat is finally leaving us. I'm gonna miss him.

Time takes a long time to go down. Forget about trying to have small talk with TJ. His brain's fried. Troy's followed Vince upstairs. Menlo's mingling with Gretchen and Bradley, and Gus is with Mikey. Molly's keeping me good company now.

"Gus and I are still an item, Spin," Molly clarifies. "Sure he went mad with power, but I'm still in love with him. You must know what that's like."

I take a look at TJ whose by himself, then back at Molly. "Yeah, I sorta see what you're getting at."

Other people from school start turning up. It's ten o'clock. It's pretty exclusive, this party. Some sophomores from school. Not entirely everyone. Ashley B's house could probably hold our whole year if it came down to it, though.

The Ashleys have arrived downstairs. They're here to unveil their costumes. They've spent so much time getting ready. I'm sure they were all upstairs plotting something evil.

Ashley T is wearing a Lieutenant Ripley costume from the 'Alien' film. Full overalls. Mikey lifts his mask up and greets Ashley T. She walks straight passed Mikey without acknowledging him.

I walk up to Mikey. "What's going on with you two?" I ask. "Trouble in paradise?"

Mikey sighs. "I wish there was even a paradise to speak of. We just don't have anything in common."

"But you guys were like," I say, motioning slapping sounds with my hands to show how they used to make-out, "before, so, what's the trouble?"

"We're not compatible, and I think my big appetite sorta grosses her out."

More Ashleys come. Vince has changed into a new costume. He's dressed as Michael Jackson with an authentic red 'Thriller' jacket. Ashley B's had him have a fresh haircut. Vince's hair's twisted, with a fade, a curl coming down his forehead, and two streaked lines on the side. Ashley B is dressed as that actress who played his girlfriend in that music video. She looks all 80's.

Gotta admit. Ashley B can sure spruce Vince up something fierce.

Ashley A has a Jasmine costume to match Troy's Aladdin one. I can't help myself as I move up to her.

"That's a bit much," I say to her.

"What are you jabbering about?" Ashley A asks.

"Your outfit. It's sort of cultural appropriating, ain't it?"

"I so totally respect my boyfriend's muslamic-stic culture," she replies, frantically.

"Calm your tits, babe, I'm just razzing ya," I reply.

"At least I'm not dressed like some little lame-o Amish girl," she says. She turns to her boyfriend. "Troy, let's dance."

Ashley A walks off. Troy chuckles, giving me a knuckle touch, which I accept. Troy follows Ashley A to the open area where people are dancing.

It seems like the Ashleys have had their boyfriends couple together with their costumes, except for Mikey and Ashley T. I'm so out of the loop. These couples-being-like-a-couple thing.

Older people are showing up to the party. College kids.

Joey has turned up. He's almost too old to even be in here. He chose to be Captain Jack Sparrow tonight.

"Yo, bro," I say, punching his arm. "I'ma need you to fix the hood of TJ's car. It's not even his. It's his sisters. But she can't know it got wrecked."

"Sure, but I don't do freebies, someones gotta be paying for it 'cause lately..." Joey starts.

But Joey stops. Joey's voice isn't sounding. The music's gone mute too. There's no sound coming from anywhere. Am I deaf? Everyone and everything is grey scale. Black and grey. Sucked out of life.

"Hey, Tino here."

Who said that? I move around to find this voice.

"So, I know what you're wondering, a high school party would be a downgrade for a couple of new college grads like us. Yes, that's true. But most people don't get to party at Sunbeam Valley."

It's some older boy whose talking. He's dressed in a knight costume. He's the only person making any noise in this whole party.

"You see...erm...Carver he's, uh...well, we've heard that..." this boy keeps saying, as he notices me noticing him.

"What's happening?" I ask him. "How come everyone's turned into mimes?"

"Can you hear me right now?" this boy asks me, looking almost as confused as I am.

"Doi!" I say back.

"That's impossible! Only Tish, Lor and Carver have been able to break the fourth wall for the audience with me."

He's looking straight ahead at someone or something. But nothings there.

"What audience?" I ask.

"Whoa, this is awkward," this boy goes, rubbing his blonde hair.

The music turns back on. I hear people talking again. Color comes back on everything. Did he do that?

"Hey, so, I'm Tino by the way," Tino, I guess, says. "Tino Tonitini."

He puts a hand out.

"Yeah, I've gathered that," I reply, refusing to shake this freak's hand. "I'm Ashley Spinelli."

"Wait one tooth picking minute!" he shouts. "That sounds Italian-American. Do we so happen to share the same heritage?"

"Seems so. Small world, aye?" I say. I walk away. "Bye."

"Wait, Ashley, you've gotta meet the guys," this Tino guy says, grabbing and pulling my arm.

"Hey, don't grab me like that," I say, as I follow him. "And, it's Spinelli to you, bub."

"Sorry Spinelli," Tino says, after he's dragged me up in front of three other people his age. "This is Tish, this is Lor and the cool esteemed gentleman right here is Carver."

They all nicely welcome me.

"You guys are not gonna believe this," Tino starts.

"Hold on," his friend Carver says to Tino, and now at me, "have you seen the one and only pop sensation Cody Hunter the third, around anywhere?"

Carver is dressed as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

"Seen him?" I say. "I know him. He goes to my school."

"You know the platinum record selling artist Cody Hunter?" asks Carver.

"Yeah," I say, not believing this. "He's no big deal. Just a regular kid to me."

"Regular kid? Regular—a reg—just a reg—oh my god!" Carver goes, holding his head in shock as he walks away.

The girl wearing the Captain Marvel costume laughs. Lor, I think, her name was.

Tish, I think, says, "sorry for my socially challenged friend here," as she adjusts her glasses. "Carver can never shake off his obsession of wanting to be famous."

Tish is dressed as an angel. Which is something. Cause this Tino fella's knight outfit is actually the one Leonardo DiCaprio wore in this film that Miss Schwartz forced me and the class to watch. The modern Romeo and Juliet. Tish is Juliet.

Maybe in Ashley logic, Tino and Tish are a couple.

Lor calms down from laughing. "Yeah, it's the only reason we're here."

We talk a little bit. For older college kids, they sure are friendly. And, not even that trying-to-get-something-from-you friendly.

Going back to TJ, I try to spit some words with him. He's like a broken down computer that won't compute.

This is going nowhere. He's still cute. He's turning into a little beefcake after coming out of juvie still, but I can't get two coherent sentences out of him.

The Ashleys are in a circle chatting away.

I'm grasping at straws here. And, I'm gonna do it. I'm actually gonna friggin' do it. I'm asking the Ashleys for advice.

"Hey," I say to them, ready to back off before I've even started. "What do you guys know about, you know, boys?"

Ashley T gasps out loud.

Ashley A places her hands on her chest, beaming as she says, "I have been waiting for this day ever since—"

Ashley T adds, "probably ever since we found out you were an Ashley."

They all giggle in harmony. Screw this.

"If you lot are gonna be idiots about this," I say, as I walk off.

"Hey!" Ashley A goes, holding on to me to stay. "Calm down Spinelli, we mean no harm. Look, TJ Detweiler is all yours, okay? No ones, like, disputing that."

"He's just been acting really different towards me since very recently, though" I say.

Ashley B says, "just give him time," as she smiles wide. "If he doesn't fly right, then make him buzz off. You're way too real and way too pretty to not have a boyfriend by now."

"Really?"

Ashley T says, "yeah, we've always thought you were pretty."

They all hug me together.

Wow. I wasn't expecting any of that niceness.

"So," Ashley A says, pulling me into the circle more. "As I was getting on to business, those pumpkin spice lattes this Halloween have been so so so so good."

Oh my god. I think I've overstayed my welcome.

"Ashley B?" I ask her, as I pull her away. "Wheres your toilet?"

"Upstairs," she replies. "And, sorry Spinelli, I only have one unisex bathroom."

"That's fine, Ashley. Pretty standard for a house, actually."

I make my get-away as I reach the stairs. But, the Ashleys are hovering behind me. I take the first step.

"You said the bathroom was upstairs, right?" I say, with the three Ashleys still behind me.

"Yes," I hear Ashley B say.

I'm halfway up the stairs and I can't shake them off.

"You guys don't need to follow me," I say, taking quick glances at them. "I'm not gonna take nothing."

"I believe you," Ashley B replies.

It's really nice up here. A killer view. An upstairs lounge. I reach the bathroom with a male and female sign on it. But, I'm still being followed.

"So, all three of ya'll need to go too?" I ask.

"No," them three say together.

"Then what gives? Why are you guys putting a tail on me if you don't need to take a leak?"

Ashley A says, "it's girl code, Spinelli. No girl powder-puffs alone."

She gives me a wink.

"Ah, I see what you did there," I say, "but, I'm pretty well potty trained, thanks. I won't be needing the supervision this time."

Ashley T says, "cool. We're here if you need us."

They go back downstairs. Looking back, they're down below waiting at the foot of the stairs for me.

I walk in the bathroom. It's large. There's eight to ten stalls in here. Gus and Troy are there. Gus freaks out at the sight of me. He's using the urinal. His zips his fly up. Too quick, cause he wails out holding himself. He drops, as he rolls around on the floor.

"Troy, I feel I can open up to you about anything," I say, "I'm scared of dating, and falling in love and junk. Ugh! Why can't girls be tough and romantic?"

Troy's confused as he spins his head. He's not sure whether to peer at Gus or at me. It all happened so fast.

"Well," Troy says, assessing this situation. "I hear some guys like to get choked out while they make-out, so, it's not entirely hopeless."

I giggle at that.

"Don't take my word for it," Troy says. "Go. Get out of here." Pointing his finger for me to leave. "Prove to the world you can do both. Be a lover and a fighter. As for me, I gotta help my dude find his nut sack."

"Uhmmh," Gus says, moaning in pain, holding his crotch.

"No?" Troy asks.

Gus shakes his head.

"Your doodle?"

"Mm-hmm," Gus replies, nodding his head this time.

"I got a feeling this happens to Gus a lot."

I nod back. "I actually sorta need to go now," I say, pointing at a stall.

"Yeah right, obvi," Troy says, picking up Gus over his shoulder and leaving.

I use the bathroom.

Finished, I stare at the mirror for a minute. Letting the tap take a leak too. I try to centre myself.

Feminine instinct ain't something I possess, but my killer instinct does, and it's telling me I need to go hard or go home.

I go back down stairs to the party. The three Ashleys surround me. All their boy-talk goes passed me in a whirlwind. I'm not taking much of it in. I'm staring at TJ. Although, I'm sorta getting the impression these gals are as clueless about boys as I am. Maybe they are human. Maybe they're as bad as I am, and we're all trying to figure this retarded thing called 'love' out. I softly push them away.

I walk up to the crowd congregating near the dance floor.

Tish moves up to me. "You know, it's scientifically proven that lateral gravity syndrome will grow out on you and that boy you like by Junior year."

"What?" I ask. "Latery, gravity, what?"

"Lateral gravity syndrome," Tish repeats, "it's the unexplained inexplicable force that stops guys and girls from dancing with each other." She stares down TJ. "He'll grow out of this by next year. Trust me."

Lor says, "yeah," on my other side, patting me on the shoulder, "so, dance with the guy, Spinelli."

Tish reminds me so much of an older-looking-Gretchen.

I move up to TJ. I don't bother ask him, I take his hand and bring him to the floor. We combine together as the music gets bouncier. He's smiling. He's laughing. He's keeping long eye contact with me without making a sickly face. Maybe there is hope with him after all. And so I hope. There's no other guy I'd wanna be with.

We dance the night through, literally, cause the party's over.

The older guys come up to me again, before they leave.

"Hey Spinelli," Lor says, "whenever you're near Bahia Bay, come visit us."

"Yeah," Tino says. "Later days."

Those four wave me goodbye.

Everybody leaves.

The gang leave to go back home. Troy takes Molly, Menlo, Bradley, Gus, Ashley A and T home in his soccer mom minivan.

TJ takes the rest of us home. Ashley B's coming with us, which is odd considering she could just crash in bed now. TJ's driving, I've taken shotgun, Mikey's behind TJ, Gretchen's in the middle, while Ashley B is on Vince's lap, slurping and smacking her lips with his.

We're on the road. Hitting a few potholes, as the car rumbles. A bright green light shines in the car. It's distracting. The light shines all into TJ's face and he has to stop. He rolls the car over to the side of the road. The light is coming from the trunk.

He gets out to inspect. I follow him, as TJ opens it up.

The light is really bright.

Mikey gets out the car to check it out too. "What is that?"

"Uh," I reply, looking back at TJ. "We don't know."

Gretchen comes up to us. "This is mine," she says, putting her hand towards the light. "Ow!" She pulls her hand away.

Ashley B comes out of the car. "What's wrong?"

Gretchen replies, "my portal gun is too hot, it needs to cool down, or we need to find a stick to pick it up with."

Vince gets out the car, asking, "how can a toy replica get hot?"

"Well..." Gretchen says, looking guilty.

"Wait," I say, "you put one of your live experiments in TJ's car, didn't you?"

All six of us spend time looking around for the right stick. Gretchen had to make a real portal gun for her costume didn't she. It might be real anyway.

We have to hurry up, the graveyard behind us is given me the creeps.

I say, "it's all right, Teej. We'll get your sister's car into Joey's garage, and it'll get fixed in no time."

Vince's eyes are transfixed on the car, "are you sure about that?"

A big green circle appears. It's whirling wind around it. It's showing some portal of space and shooting stars. In an instant, the portal pulls Becky's car into it. The car disappears into that big hole. Gretchen's portal gun drops on the ground. It's light finally switches off.

"Eureka!" Gretchen shouts, celebrating with herself. "My portal gun worked! Yes!"

We all turn our heads at Gretchen.

"Well," Mikey says, "on the bright side, Becky's not gonna notice the dents on her car now."

Then, we all turn our heads at Mikey.


Back in the day, the unwritten kids code of honor would say that you're supposed to hold your breath when you go passed a cemetery. I'm glad we've grown out of it. I mean, we'd have to now. We'd pass out if we didn't. This cemetery seems endless. Just graves and head stones everywhere. Even a misty fog hanging in the air.

Mikey suggests, "maybe we should split up."

"No," Vince says, with Ashley B holding on to his arm for dear life. "That's how those monsters pick off people to get killed. I don't wanna be the black guy that dies first in a horror movie."

Gretchen says, "he's right. We shouldn't split up, it's morbidly impractical."

I move up to Gretchen. "Speaking of morbidly impractical. Does your portal thingy work. Could it transport us to a path that leads us out of here?"

"No, I'm afraid not," Gretchen replies, shaking her portal gun, that has no life in it anymore.

We keep walking together for what feels like forever. All this time I keep my eyes on TJ. He keeps turning his head as he's avoiding mines. How come he could let himself go while he's dancing, but walking, he's being shy again?

Ashley B shouts, "ugh! I can't take this anymore!" as she takes hold of TJ. "If zombies aren't killing us tonight, then I'm not gonna let this dang sexual tension do it either, okay?"

TJ goes, "what are you doing?"

Ashley B ignores him and says, "Vince, your hand please?"

"No!" Vince replies. "You're not involving me in this. You can't force my friend to kiss my other friend."

"Kiss?" TJ shrieks.

"Fine," Ashley B says, "Mikey."

Vince holds Mikey back, saying, "no, we won't partake in this."

"Gretchen, hold him down," Ashley B orders.

Gretchen helps Ashley B push TJ against a mausoleum. His arms outstretched apart by the girls.

"Okay, Spinelli, he's all yours," Ashley B says.

I look back at Vince.

I look back at Mikey.

I sigh.

I motion my way up to the restrained TJ.

"This'll just to a sweet sec, man," I say to TJ. "I'm sorry."

I kiss him. The touch of his lips. That feeling. I'm spinning. Pink flowers are sprouting around. A rainbow arcs over my head. Rivers and lakes. That tingly feeling I haven't felt since I was nine. It's back. It's true love.

I pull my lips away. Maybe it worked. Maybe Ashley A was right. Maybe I've turned the nerd zombie back into the prankster prince.

TJ stares at me. His face is unreadable. He moves over to the side. Bending over, he's booting out sick. A lot of sick. He's in puke city.

Vince goes, "aw, man!"

"TJ!" Ashley B says, her fists on her waist. "I'm disappointed in you. Drinking that much when you knew you were the designated driver tonight."

"No," I say, my throat choking up. "He wasn't drunk. It was just me. It's me that made him sick."

Why? Why oh why didn't I let him kiss me on my lawn that night? When I had the chance?

Ashley B runs into me for a hug. I'm so glad she did. I felt a rush of showers that were due to run down my face. She caught my tears and has instantly dried them up within this hug.

"Hey!" Mikey goes. "What's that?"

Ashley B lets me go. Mikey is ahead of us looking at a direction. Following him, we all see what he was looking at. There's a bright light coming from a building ahead. Well, our best bet is to go towards it.

We've reached some exit gates. That big building is familiar. It's very familiar. It's Thad High school. It's lead us back home.

We call it a night. Technically, it's the early morning at this point.

Gretchen gets out her knuckles for me to do my signature dap with her. I change it up. I decide to hug her. She'll be heading to Japan with the tech kids in a few hours. She heads back home.

Mikey says he's off to his mom's house, even though he was supposed to be staying with his two dad's tonight.

Vince takes Ashley B to go to his house with him. Fusion knows if they'll be getting into any hanky panky.

I've stayed behind with TJ.

I wanna investigate.

Getting up to the school, I try to get in through the front doors. It's locked. I manoeuvre up a drain pipe, and into an open window. Once I'm in, I help pull TJ inside. We're in my history classroom.

"What are we doing?" TJ asks, following behind me.

"Seeing what's what," I reply.

We're on the first floor section with all the classroom door's shut. The school at night is haunting. There's a classroom being used near here. It's a science lab.

Going inside, there's different experiments lying around in the classroom. Virtual headsets are hanging from the ceiling. Lie detector tests for the hands. Equations are on the board. Someone's hunched over testing boiling test tubes.

It's Dr Slicer. He hears us and turns around.

"Ashley Spinelli," Slicer says, putting his equipment down.

"What's going on?" I ask, looking around some more. "Why's the school still lit up?"

"Hard work doesn't rest," he replies.

No rest for the wicked, more like. This is the most science-y I've ever seen him. His scar makes his evil-look so complete. But, look at all this stuff. He's not letting up with all this conniving.

"I just...please...I want my old TJ back," I say.

Slicer takes one look at TJ whose too far away to hear us and back at me. "No can do," he says as he goes around the room, testing his gizmos.

"Can't you reverse engineer his brain? Whip out an antidote or something?"

Slicer shakes his head. "No."

"Sir, please," I beg him, getting close up to his grill.

"It's irreversible, Ashley," he replies.

It's no use. I walk back to TJ.

"Do you love him?" Slicer asks.

"What?" I reply, getting right up to him, "shut up."

"You have feelings for him, don't you?" he asks, almost in a full grin.

"Shut your stupid face!" I shout.

"I could help you, you know? Make you just like him. That way, you don't have to keep trying to change him."

"That's retarded."

"But, it's your only hope. It'll be painless, unlike how it was for TJ. I'll place the virtual reality headset on you. Inject you with the same serum. It'll only take the weekend. It can give you a seamless simulation. It blends together your stored memories into new ones. You'll barely notice. I promise. You won't even know you're there."

I look back at TJ and then on Slicer again. "I don't wanna be like him."

"But you wanna be with him. By the time you two are juniors you'll be more maturer anyway, using my methods or not. Except you two will have been together all this time. You worry that he won't like you back, is that it? Well, most of my test subjects have had full recoveries in the romance department. It just takes time. You might have even noticed tonight, am I right?"

I stay quiet.

"It's your choice, Spinelli," he says.

"Spinelli?" I say.

Why is he saying my name how I like it, now?

"What's it gonna be?" Slicer asks, comfortably leaning on the table.

Fine. I'll humor him. I'll try it for a second, just to see how lame it is.

I grab a virtual headset that's hanging and put it on. Slicer guides me towards a chair.

It turns on. I see a wide three dimensional white room that stretches on forever. A lady comes on, asking me if I'm ready. Heck no. I take the headset off.

"This is crazy, this is not me," I say, flinging the headset back for Slicer to catch. "Thanks, but no thanks." I reach for the door with TJ waiting for me. "See you on Monday, Slicey-face."

I leave out with TJ.

I don't regret a thing.

Nu-uh. Not a thing.


Saturday.

I'm sitting upright when I'm waking up. Joey's besides me blazing music. He's driving us both somewhere. I'm just the passenger.

"The sleeping beauty lives," Joey says, chuckling, turning down the volume of the music. "Thought I lost you there."

"Where are we?" I ask, holding my head in pain.

Joey laughs again. "Had a rough night last night, did we?" he says. "We as in you, that is."

Saturdays are only Saturdays when I'm with Joey, but this feels like time has sped up for some reason. I don't remember getting in this car, or even if I drank that much last night.

That's it. I'll never drink again. I'm going straight edge from know on.

I turn to Joey, and say, "you didn't answer my question."

"Bahia Bay," he replies.

"That's impossible, how did you get us here so quick?"

"I have my ways."

Outside the car is the beach strip of San Diego. We're in Cali, but much further away from Gonzo World. There's surfers, sea gulls and sunbathers.

He drives his way outside somewhere called the Snack Shack.

He parks up. I get out. Joey leaves me be as he goes off somewhere. Now, I'm all alone in a place I've never been before. Joey can be so helpful and unhelpful at the same time. Wondering around on some paved path, I notice there's a lot of restaurants here. Everything's laid back. In the distance there's an amusement park. Heading in front of a gigantic building, the mall is like three times the size of the Townsedge mall back at home.

"Spinelli!"

Huh? Someone's called me. Looking around, there's a girl reaching up to me. My minds playing tricks, but she looks like Gretchen.

"You made it," this girl says, reaching up to me.

It's that girl at the party last night. Tish. She tells me that Lor has been waiting for me.

We reunite, as she brings me along to an arcade. It has a sign showing 'FunVille: the gamiest place on earth' on it's front. There's so many games to choose from. It can take QuaterChasers on for size, that's for sure.

Tish stops us in front of her friend who I was introduced to before by Tino. She's on a bike, playing an arcade game where she's dodging asteroids. Finishing with what she's doing, she jumps off and waves to me.

"Hey Spinelli, welcome," Lor says, giving me a high five.

I don't see Tino or that Carver guy anywhere.

"Where are the two guys?" I ask.

"It's time for you to learn to never trust guys," Lor explains, leading us outside the beach area again. "You spend time making plans on Friday for them to only bail on you."

Tish says, "no need to be so theatrical, Lor, we have Spinelli to keep us company now."

We snatch a chug-a-freez to drink, which are like slurpos here.

After that, we're going rollerblading down the strip together.

Next, we're at 'Panic at the Parlor.' A Halloween inspired pizza parlor with the waiter's all dressed in a different scary costume. Well, an attempt to look scary. The pizzas are baked into the shape of skulls. Tish tells me that this is a place they've been hanging around in since they were in middle school. Every week they seem to completely change their theme. No kidding. They're a tad late on the season though, Halloween was yesterday.

We go shopping, which is arguably not my favorite past time, but these girls have made it fun. They've picked a sunbathing costume for me. I hope I don't get to wear it, 'cause it's showing off way more than what I'm comfortable with.

Next, we're in a jewelry shop, trying on gold necklaces and watches. It's not like any of us can afford them. We're just window shopping, or indoor-shopping-without-buying. Same diff. I pick up a gold bracelet to counter the one I'm forced to wear at school.

Lor shows off in the mirror looking all shiny in gold. "I've always been a tomboy, you know, growing up with twelve brothers," she says to me. "But even I can't deny fresh blingage."

"Yeah, okay," I reply.

Was that supposed to be funny.

Tish elbows me slightly. "Lor's not joking, her family's colossal in stupendous proportions."

The worker here shows off the percentage of the real gold that are in these. A gold tester that's kinda in the shape of a needle. Tish has 78%. Lor is rocking 85%. It's my turn. The worker guy misses the bracelet on my arm and pricks me.

"Ow!" I shout.

I feel woozy. I feel like I'm gonna throw up.

I've made it on the beach somehow. I feel horrible. Maybe there was something in that gold tester that made me sick. I'm in my bathing suit. And, there's only boys around. College boys. I'm so out of place. Where did Lor and Tish go?

I feel so uncomfortable. The boys are all staring at me. All their giggling, turns to chuckling, turns to laughing. There's no escaping from it. I push a guy on the beach and threaten another with a knuckle sandwich, but that just makes them laugh louder at me. Have I really got something wrong with me?

"Stop staring! Stop laughing!"

But they won't stop. Boys are taking pictures of me with their phone. They're wolf whistling. It's like Bahia Bay has completely turned into the boy capital in the world.

I run away, but the beach keeps on going. It's on an endless loop. It's how it was like undressing in the girl's changing room in my first year, but amplified to eleven.

I feel so sick.

I'm dry heaving.

And, I'm dying.

Dying from embarrassment.


Sunday.

I'm waking up upright once again. I'm in a bedroom. It has Bahia Bay College scarfs and football kits hanging on the wooden door.

Lor is deep into her textbook by her counter-turned-desk, flicking frantically through the pages.

"What time is it?" I ask her.

"Time?" Lor cries, sounding really stressed out. "There is no time. No time left at all. It's freakin' finals, man."

"Ain't it too early for finals?" I ask her.

It's only the beginning of November. I thought the first year of college didn't really count. Or, at least I thought that's what everyone implies.

Tish says, "that's what happens when you don't study and finals creeps up on you," from behind me.

Turning around, Tish is on her bed behind me. She has a mountain of text books open around her.

Lor goes, "not everyone can be a brainy brainiac like you," to Tish.

It's getting tense in here. Stepping out of their room, I walk in the hallway. I'm in a college dorm by the looks of it. I don't know whether it's really cool that I'm in here, or I should be concerned that I'm a long way away from home.

I feel weird and out of it. What happened yesterday? Saturday felt so out of place.

Tish and Lor ain't the only gals that are panicking. I find myself standing on the side where people are queuing up for something.

"Get your flu jabs!" I hear some lady go. "Don't catch the bug that's going around, so you're all set for finals tomorrow!"

Some students start queuing up behind me. I'm staying away from those people who seem to be running across the hall with textbooks clutched to their chests. Guys chugging Angry Dragon energy drinks ferociously. Others gathering up pieces of paper they're dropping, before speeding passed again, and—

"Ow!"

This nurse pricks me on the arm with a flu jab. I should of been paying attention.

"I'm not a student here!" I shout, rubbing the arm where she injected me.

My head feels heavy.

I'm in Lor's and Tish's dorm bedroom again.

There's a banging on the door.

It's Tino swinging his head around at us. "Are you guys getting any internet?"

The mere presence of Tino's making feel uneasy.

Lor whose on her laptop now, says, "it's down here too," as she constantly refreshes her screen. "I need to send my thesis in ten minutes, or I'm failing my whole life away, hard."

"Uh-oh," Tish says, flicking through her cellphone, "with all the WiFi connections available there's only one free un-booked computer in the library that has a solid connection."

They look at each other. Without a second thought, they breeze out of their bedroom. Tino leading the way.

"Hey, guys," I say, trying to catch up, "wait up."

Oh my fuzzy unicorn! Everyone has gone mad out here. People are racing outside of the accommodation building. It's crazy. I run through the crowd just not to get lost in it. All these older students are busting a gut to get out.

I jump from the balcony to a little drop to get ahead.

People are pushing each other against walls. Grabbing each other by the necks. Others are running with their tablets and laptops in hand like headless chicken.

Looking back, it doesn't look like Lor's gonna make it. She's dropped to the floor and she's getting trampled on. I stop. I retrace my steps, as I go back for her. A hand pulls me away.

"Save yourselves!" Lor shouts, as she gets lost in the crowd of bodies.

I turn to see whose holding my hand. It's Carver. He opens the main door of accommodation, and slams it shut again. He leans against the door, as people bang against it to get out. They're acting like animals.

"What's hecks going on?" I ask him.

I stare at Carver. My belly is caving in. I feel sick. I look away from him.

Carver lays against the door, panting, "there is nothing more insane, more intense, than college students who have left all their studying to the last minute, trust."

There's violence everywhere on this campus. People are fighting each other. It's a race for the first person to get the free computer with the internet at the library.

Carter pulls me along with him. In all of this craziness we've reached up to Tino and Tish. Hordes and hordes of students are behind us, trying to get to the same place. What ever happened to being orderly? College grads are gaining on us.

Tino trips and falls like a klutz.

"Tino!" Carter shouts, as he turns back around to help him.

Looking back as I run, Tino and Carter have completely fallen behind too.

It's just Tish and I that's left. And, we've made it. To the library at least. Tish tells me to hurry as she closes the library doors shut. She drags a chair and forces it shut so no other person can get in.

I follow Tish as she finds the free computer. She sits by it, putting in her login details, and slotting in her memory stick.

"Phew!" Tish says, smiling at me. "That was close, huh?"

I'm too shocked and confused to speak.

"Now, all I have to do is finish my five thousand page report for my professor before the deadline, that's due in ten minutes," she says, getting off her seat and fetching a ton of books.

At least, there's a happy ending here.

I move up to her. Tish takes book after book from the bookshelf. She's carrying too many books. She drops one. Bending down, her glasses fall to the floor.

"No," Tish mutters, dropping the books and fetching for her glasses. "Oh no."

She picks up her specs. They're broken.

"Oh no, no, no, no," she cries.

She's actually crying now.

"Er," I murmur, "it's okay."

Tish is on her knees, holding her broken glasses, with books sprayed all around her.

"That's not fair!" she wails out loud. "There's only a little time left! No! No! Only a little time!"

What the hecks going on?

I walk away from Tish. She's inconsolable. This is some super crazy modern horror. It's as if Halloween never ended.

I can hear students banging on the door outside of the library trying to get in. The chair that Tish left is shattering. Those crazy college students are gonna break in here and cause all kinds of havoc.

I feel sick. So uneasy. My insides feel like they're twisting as if I'm about to spew out chunks.

I need to study.

Studying is the only thing that matters.

I don't wanna be like this one day.


"Thank you for experiencing the Slicer technique, now, please wait for your teacher to assist you...Ashley Spinelli," says this lady in front of me.

Bahia Bay has disintegrated. All the colors of San Diego disappear, into a solid white 3D room with long blue lines.

The Vice principal, Gilda, is taking something off of my head. A VR headset is in her hands. My head feels a whole lot looser. Now I'm in a classroom back in Third high school. What's happening here?

Dr Slicer drags a seat and plops it in front of me. He stares at me, but sorta seems concerned. Turning around, there's a bunch of scientist guys taking notes.

"How are you feeling, Spinelli?" Slicer asks, resting his arm on my desk.

"Dead drowsy," I reply, more calm than I'd like. "But, I feel really sick like, I'm about to barf out my entire mid section."

"Okay," Slicer replies. He whispers something to Gilda who rapidly writes some junk down on a clipboard. He focuses back on me. "What do you feel like doing today?"

"Staying indoors," I say. "Staying away from...boys."

"And?"

"Studying," I say, almost stopping myself. "I have to get my study on. Wait, what the heck did you do to me?"

"What I did, is do exactly what you wanted, young Ashley S," Slicer replies, calmly resting his leg with his other.

"No. No. I said no to you."

"Well, yes you did at first," Slicer explains. "But, if I recall correctly, you tried the virtual reality headset, you gave it a whirl, and you agreed for me to do my experimenting. I suppose once you were under you must've denied it to yourself so you wouldn't feel so compelled with your decision." He gets up from his chair. "You are free to go to recess. Oh, and there's a friend outside waiting for you."

Dr Slicer walks away to the back of the classroom.

"But sir, what's even the day today?" I ask, spinning around.

"It's Monday," he says.

I make my way out of my chair. Huh? I'm in my uniform. My Halloween outfit has been carefully folded on an opposite desk. Oh, my head. It's swarming with dark images. Taking the serum needles from Gilda. Moving from classroom to accommodation. How much did I suppress? This weekend wasn't even real.

Leaving the classroom, there's the friend. TJ. He's stares back at me. Argh! My stomach friggin' kills, whenever I look at him for too long.

TJ says, "Principal Slicer says we can be study buddies together."

I can't speak. I can see myself acting all timid, but I can't stop it. The more eye contact I try to have with TJ, the more I feel like I'm gonna be sick.

"Sounds great," I reply, staring at my shoes.

I walk towards study hall.

I can feel TJ right beside me.

I make some space between us.


[Closing narration]

Spinelli and TJ walk side by side. Heading for study hall, they keep a mutual distance between each other. They're together. They're only friends. They pair together as Dr Slicer's two experimental subjects. Butch stands against the lockers as TJ, and the now new reserved Spinelli, walk passed him.

"Dumbassarey? Desperation? Dented?" Butch asks, staring right back at you, the viewer, the reader. "Maybe. But, tonight's tale serves as a friendly reminder that love can really make people do crazy things. And as I said in the very beginning, all of this will take place on Halloween, as it had, because for Ashley Spinelli, the weekend with The Weekenders has been a very virtual poignant lesson in discipline, taught by Dr Slicer...in the Friend Zone."

Principal Slicer pulls Butch's candy cigarette straight out of his mouth.

"Are you asking for an expulsion, young man?" Slicer asks, seeming bewildered someone would openly defy him. "You're not allowed sweets under any circumstances." Slicer pauses. He measures up Butch and his black and white suit. "Do you even go to this school?"

Butch stares wide eyes at you, and back at Principal Slicer.

"Yoink!" Butch says, taking his candy cigarette back, and running out of the school.

**[PLAY SONG "Kali Uchis - Dead to me" AT THIS POINT]**