Spinelli, Gretchen, and Mikey wouldn't normally have met in secret without the rest of their friends.
The short of it was that Spinelli had a hunch. She felt like only Gretchen and Mikey could be trusted to help her confirm it.
Her hunch was about one Theodore Jasper Detweiler, the undisputed leader of their little group.
Now that Gretchen and Mikey were present- Spinelli could begin.
"Let's just get this over with," Spinelli began. "Before the Ashleys show up..."
Okay, so admittedly choosing the Ashley Clubhouse for their little meeting hadn't been the brightest idea Spinelli had ever had.
She just didn't know a better place...
"I've called the two of you here about T.J.," Spinelli went on. "He's the only one of us who has never manifested even the tiniest crush on anybody. In 4th Grade that might have been normal. In 5th it was little unexpected. Now here we are in 6th, and the kid still displays no interest in the opposite sex!"
"Oh now surely Spinelli," Gretchen cut in. "You don't think?"
"Oh Gretchen," Mikey sighed. "Isn't it obvious? T.J. finds kissing girls icky. He hates Valentine's Day..."
"I guess I see your point," she relented.
"I'll just come out with it," Spinelli stated bluntly. "T.J. is gay. Poor kid can't even admit it to himself. He's probably scared to death of what Vince would say- not to mention Lawson."
"I don't think Vince would..." Gretchen began.
"No," Spinelli agreed, cutting in. "Vince wouldn't hate Teej for it. We all know that. Lawson on the other hand..."
Mikey folded his hands and sighed romantically.
"Alas," he lamented. "Oh cruel world! T.J. can't just hide forever. Everyone should be free to express their feelings."
"Exactly," Spinelli said. "We have to do something to out him. He can't keep hiding forever. He needs to know he always has our support."
Gretchen looked thoughtful.
"Either of you have a plan?" she asked.
"Yeah," Spinelli replied. "I was kinda working on that. Mom and I are going to the mall after school. I was gonna see if he wanted to tag along."
Gretchen kind of thought she knew where Spinelli was going. There was this one shop in the mall...
The sudden sound of sliding on rubber was heard.
Ashley A. managed to land perfectly on her feet and her mouth opened in surprise.
"What are you doing in our clubhouse?" she demanded.
The other Ashleys landed soon after.
They were all glaring at Spinelli. Their arms were folded, demanding an explanation.
"Oh save it powderpuffs!" Spinelli snapped with annoyance. "The Playground Constitution says I can be here. My name's Ashley!"
Ashley A. sighed, unable to argue with that at least.
"Alright look," she said fast. "Could you all, like, just leave?"
"Gladly," Spinelli said haughtily. "We were finished anyway!"
Somehow Spinelli had managed to talk T.J. into tagging along to the mall.
Spinelli's mom was as insufferable as ever, but this was for Teej...
"How about you and T.J. go walk around by yourselves pookie?" Mrs. Spinelli suggested, reaching into her purse.
She handed Spinelli a twenty.
"Oh and if you decide to kiss, use some lip balm, trust me..."
"MOMMMM," Spinelli groaned.
Spinelli was relieved her mom walked the other way without pushing it further.
"Sorry about that," she apologized to T.J.
"No big," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
The two of them walked through the mall.
Spinelli steered them toward one of the stores that looked a lot like Hot Topic with bracelets and stuff.
Spinelli watched to see what T.J. would do, and it was as suspected.
He spent a lot of time looking into the case for LGBT people. There were rainbow bracelets and minature bi-flag pins inside.
He tried to pretend he wasn't looking if she ever caught him at it.
"See something you like?" she pressed after giving him some time.
"Nah," he said. "Nothing I'd feel comfortable wearing."
Spinelli was hearing the implication behind his statement loud and clear.
"Well alright," she said with a sigh. "You wanna grab an ice cream at the food court or somethin'?"
"Sounds tender," he agreed. "Let's go!"
Spinelli felt like it was really pushing her luck to use the Ashley Clubhouse twice in a row, but she needed to come up with another plan.
She'd made sure the Ashleys would stay away for awhile by dropping a rumor about a PTA jewelry sale for charity somewhere inside the school.
"It didn't work," she told Mikey and Gretchen. "He just said he wouldn't feel comfortable wearing anything there."
Gretchen was musing and stroking her chin thoughtfully.
"We need to try something he'll never see coming," Gretchen suggested. "You know that's the only way to get T.J. to open up. He has to be forced out of his shell."
Mikey and Spinelli exchanged glances.
"Now bear with me," Gretchen went on. "I have a hunch of my own. Don't you guys think it is just possible Gus is also gay?"
Spinelli wasn't sure, but sometimes she'd sure thought so.
Mikey thought about it and his eyes lit up.
"Hey yeah!" he exclaimed. "I remember something. That one Picture Day, Gus said T.J. had been the perfect gentleman and made him feel cared about. I'd say Gus was definitely gushing a little..."
Spinelli snapped her fingers as a light bulb went on in her brain.
"Got it! We just need to set up something so crazy it just might work!"
That crazy something turned out to be a blind kiss-a-thon for charity.
Spinelli knew the other Ashleys would help organize it and make it convincing if it were something like that.
Sure enough. The Ashleys had pulled out all the stops.
Ashley T. sat behind a table with a pink cloth, keeping a list of names.
This thing had managed to draw half the student body, including T.J. and Gus.
At very least, the two of them had interest.
It was Spinelli who managed to drag T.J. over to the sign up table, while Mikey talked Gus into it.
Ashley T. informed T.J. that their blind kissing partner could be of either gender, but would be random.
T.J. noticeably looked nervous.
"Oh come on Teej," Spinelli pressed. "You're the one always saying it's the 2000s! Kissing the same gender wouldn't be a big deal..."
"Yeah," T.J. said laughing nervously, and signed his name on the list. "I do say that, huh?"
He figured that he may as well get this over with.
What if he did kiss a boy and like it? Would that be so bad?
Several kids went before him. Some of the pairings evoked laughter.
Randall and Swinger Girl ended up locking lips, and both acted sick afterwards.
Finally T.J.'s name was called by Ashley A.
T.J. swallowed nervously and stepped forward.
The kissing place was the sandy bit of ground in front of the Royal Jungle Gym.
Ashley Q. grabbed T.J.'s shoulders and started to spin him around.
He didn't see who his partner was, and his partner also couldn't tell.
This was making them both dizzy...
Then T.J.'s lips connected with whoever it was.
He was surprised to hear cheers erupt from the student body, and even more shocking was opening his eyes to see Gus.
He carefully pulled back.
Gus smiled at him with shining eyes full of admiration and love.
T.J. found himself smiling back. Then he took Gus by the shoulders and smashed their lips back together, this time kissing him for all he was worth.
Gus brought his hands up around T.J. and stood on his toes.
T.J. managed to hoist Gus up into his arms with some effort. Never once did their lips disconnect.
The student body was going wild with cheers and applause.
T.J. and Gus were both blushing when they pulled back, but smiling so cutely.
Mikey folded his hands and began to tear up at the beauty of it all.
Neither T.J. or Gus needed to say the words. The way they looked at each other said it all.