Historians Note—This story begins in November 2003, three years after the beginning of Tino and Tish's relationship and just two weeks before the gang's sophomore year Homecoming dance.

Awakening: Third Stage

"Autumn Winds"


"Hey, Tino here. Man, long time no see. I was beginning to wonder if you still cared! It's been like forever, but I'll try to get you up to date. We all managed to muddle through our freshman year of high school without being scarred for life, although Lor did have that close one in science class once. Speaking of Lor, you should see her work it on the girls' basketball team. She helped carry our team to the finals last season, it was incredible!"

"Hey Tino!" Lor trotted up from the front steps, running in place as she positioned herself beside her friend.

"Hey. Uh, Lor, you can stop running now."

"Nuh-uh. I'm thinking of trying out for the track team. I know I'm good, but I don't want to take any chances! Carver says if I join he will. This will be like so cool; finally I'll have someone to give me support right on the field instead of just in the stands. Er, no offense." Lor added as an afterthought.

Tino shrugged. "None taken. Speaking of Carv, where is he?"

"Well, we were racing each other from the far side of the cafeteria to here, so that means he should be coming along…..now." Tino and Lor both stared at the front entrance to the school, waiting for Carver to emerge. Several seconds passed, but only a group full of giggling girls came into view. Lor scratched her head. "Huh, wonder what's keeping him, I didn't get this far ahead! Unless…."

Lor's suspicions were confirmed when Carver practically floated out the door and over to his friends. "She spoke to me…" His eyes looked as though they were millions of miles away.

"Who talked to you?" Tino asked.

"Cheri… talked to me…"

Tino turned back to the camera. "Yeah, Carver's kind of managed to escalate himself to his own level. While he isn't one of the "cool kids," it's like he's been accepted as someone who is somewhat cool. And who just happens to be his best friend? Oh yeah, life is good. Of course, Carver's status also means some of the girls are interested. I'm still trying to figure out if he's going to pursue the older woman, Moira. Personally, it would be kinda creepy to have him dating someone who could potentially be related to be someday." Tino shuddered at the thought. "But, stranger things have been known to happen in Bahia Bay."

"She talked to you?" Lor said in amazement as the world resumed its pace.

Carver could only nod, he was too star-struck.

"Man, this is serious!" Tino felt excited. "She's like the most popular girl in the whole school! Carver could end up becoming some new kind of social class!"

"Dude! And if we're on track together, I get a free ride! I'd say this year is off to a good start, and it isn't even Homecoming yet!" Lor grinned ear to ear.

"Maybe I'll have something to do for my Society project in history after all…" Tino mused as the fourth jogged towards them, completing their set.

"Tish!" Lor exclaimed. "You gotta hear the news!"

"Hi Lor!" Tish responded. "Hey Carver. Hello, Pumpkin Pie." Tish smirked, wrapping her boyfriend in a hug and a peck on the cheek before turning back to the others. "So, what's the news?"

Tino rolled his eyes and resorted to another aside while the girls caught up. "Another thing you missed, Tish gave me a pet name. "Although I really wish she had picked something else. Just, don't start calling me that too, okay? Thanks! Anyway, Tish also joined the Drama Club last year. Sometimes it means we miss our Thursday date, but mostly it works out just fine."

"Why are all guys so hung up on appearances?!" Tish felt exasperated.

"So girls have something to nag us about?" Carver shrugged.

Tino tried to come to the male defense. "Hey, I'm not hung up on appearances!"

"And just what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?!" Tish demanded, placing her hands on her hips and seemingly growing two inches.

Carver and Lor immediately took two steps back to avoid being caught up in the imminent danger. "So Lor," Carver began, "tell me more about how the track team is shaping up. . ."

Tino quickly realized he wouldn't be getting any support from his friends on this one. "Tish! You know I wasn't implying anything about you!" He squeaked, feeling helpless.

"I do? Tino, that was a horrible thing to say! I know there are a lot of girls who are prettier than I am, but you don't have to rub it in my face!" Tish felt her cheeks grow red and puffy; it took great effort to resist the urge to cry.

Lor kept trying to block out the conflict, not wanting to be drawn in. She focused all her attention on Carver, making her eyes like tunnels. "Oh, you know, it's a good team they're putting together. It'd be a big help if you join, though. You're pretty fast. Not as fast as me, but fast. You know Laird is on the Campo Fields team, it would give you a chance to rekindle the rivalry."

"Um, thanks. I think. I'm warning you though, I am gonna train hard to beat you. I know I can! All I need to do is find the right pair of shoes. . ."

Meanwhile, Tino continued to plead with his significant other. "Tish, I would never intentionally say or do anything to hurt you like that. I mean, come on here! It's me, Tino. I know I can be sarcastic, but when am I ever openly cruel?

Tish felt drained by the soft words, suddenly realizing that she had no idea where her sudden anger was coming from. "I-I know. Tino. . .I don't know what came over me. I just felt overwhelmed for a minute, I guess. But you're right. I know you better than that. Tell you what, let's just the forget the whole thing. Pizza is on me, okay?"

"You hear that?!" Lor quite literally jumped for joy. "Tish is buying! We are so getting desert!"

"You could at least try harder at pretending not to eavesdrop." Tish rolled her eyes.

"Okay, I've got a crazy idea here." Tino offered. "Why don't we work up an even bigger appetite and cruise the mall for awhile? I feel like buying something."

"Like what?" wondered Lor.

"I dunno. I guess I'm just in a buying mood." Tino shrugged.

"It would give me a chance to peruse the latest shoes." Carver's entire being seemed to radiate enthusiasm.

Lor threw her hands up into the air. "We'll be out till all hours of the night at this rate!"

"Well," Tish chimed in, "If Carver's going to the shoe store, I might as well hit the book store. I should drop by Strings 'N' Things and see Mr. Higgenbotham too."

"So what the heck are Tino and I supposed to do?" Lor whined.

"Like I was saying, shop." Tino explained. "I suddenly feel the need to exchange some of my money for goods and services."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Carver was quick to gather everyone's attention. "There's something very important we're all forgetting. Homecoming is only two weeks away. If we're going to shop for anything, it'd better be for some hot outfits."

"Ugh, I hate shopping for these kinds of things. It's so hard to find something I can stand being in that doesn't make me look like-" Lor found herself cut off by Carver.

"A bum?" Her friend asked laughingly.

"Come over here, and say that Carv, I insist!" Lor wrapped her right hand into a fist, but Tish had the foresight to hold her friend back. "It's not easy for me, okay? I do wanna look like a girl, but I'm not going to dress up in some. . .some kind of frou-frou monstrosity just to turn some guy's head. I don't even think I would do that for Thompson!"

"Kind of a moot point if you don't ask the guy to the dance, Lor." Tino pointed out.

"It's not like I haven't tried!" Lor stamped her foot in frustration. "It's just, every time I try to talk to him about y'know, dating, I just. . . I stand there and a bunch of gargling noises come out of my throat."

"Do you want me to ask him for you?" Tish offered.

"No!" Lor shouted, causing the others to look at each other worriedly. "No. I. . .I have to do this on my own. "If you want to help, though, I do need someone to help me find the right dress." Lor shuddered a little at the last word in her sentence.

"So it's settled." Carver summarized. "We hit the mall and pick our outfits for Homecoming."

"You want to help me choose something, Tino?" Tish asked.

"Um, sure. Of course, I probably won't be able to find something that looks good on myself, so I don't know if I'll be much assistance." Tino sighed at his own ineptitude.

"Just look at it from this standpoint. You're going to have to look at me in it for a whole evening, so say something if we come across anything you really don't like."

"Oh! Okay, I think I can handle that." Tino felt rather relieved that his job had just become much easier.

"Not so fast!" Carver pointed to him. "Helping Tish is fine, but I also have to help you find the right smooth outfit, Tino. You know, one to make sure you get a lot of attention."

"Attention?" Both Tino and Tish asked simultaneously, Tish cocking an eyebrow.

"Yeah! Look, I'm trying to establish myself as my own style of cool. Tino is one of my best friends. So if he shows up at the dance looking like a geek, it'll make me uncool by association. Uh-uh, no way that's happening."

"I don't know about this. . ." Tino worried.

"Relax. I promise I won't steer you wrong." Assured Carver.

Lor shook her head slowly. "Anyone else get the feeling we're doomed?"

Lor emerged from a dressing room feeling like she was being measured. The red dress clung to her tightly, spaghetti straps digging into her shoulders just a bit. While the outfit was by no means frilly, Lor had decided before she even stepped out that it was completely out of the question. To say it wasn't her style was an understatement. It was cut off down by the knees, exposing far too much of her legs, which she had never felt was one of her winning attributes to begin with. Thoroughly disgusted, Lor fixed her gaze on Carver, pupils demanding an explanation. Still one query troubled her. Why had she even come out of the fitting room dressed in this monstrosity? "Carver, I trust there's an explanation for this?"

"Explanation?" Carver felt confused. "Lor, you look fantastic. You're gonna be beating Thompson off with a stick in that thing!"

"I'm about to beat you with my fists! What are you talking about? I look like a giant tube of lipstick in this thing!"

"Maybe red just isn't Lor's color. . ." Tish submitted as she circled around her friend, trying to get a good look at her from all angles.

"Oh not you too!" Carver felt betrayed. "Tino, don't you think she looks hot?"

"What?! Me?!" Tino squeaked. "She, um, looks nice. Yeah, really nice!"

"That's it! I am so out of this thing!" Lor ducked back into the changing room and threw the dress over the other side five seconds later.

"Fine! Don't trust my judgment. I'll just make Tish into the belle of the ball!" Carver said indignantly. "Right Tish?"

Tish flushed slightly. "Um, gee, I dunno. . ."

"Don't worry. I've got everything under control. Would I steer you wrong?" Carver asked, leading Tish away by the arm. Tino noted the pleading look in Tish's eyes as she was dragged away.

Moments later, Lor reappeared from her dressing room, back in her traditional sporty outfit of blues. "Hey Tino, what happened to Tish and Carv?"

"Um, it's like Carver said. He's gonna make her beautiful." Tino replied.

"And she went along with him?"

"She didn't really have much choice."

"You're not worried he'll turn your girlfriend into some kind of monster?"

"I think Tish can take care of herself."

"Your call. So, anyway, um. . .you've had a steady girlfriend for a long time now. Do you think you could, you know, give me some pointers?"

"On what?"

"On how I can get myself in Thompson's arms! C'mon, Tino. This dance is important!"

"Why don't you just try being yourself?"

"It's not that! I mean, I need to find the right dress for this dance. Something that's my style but that will also help me look, y'know, good for him."

"And you're asking me?" Tino felt exasperated. "Lor, what do I know about high fashion. I know what I like and what I don't, but how is that going to help here? I don't know what Thompson does and doesn't find attractive?

"You're a guy aren't you? Okay, let me try another approach. If you could dress Tish up in any outfit you see in this place, which one would really get you excited and feeling a little frisky or-"

"Can you stop there, please?"

Lor chuckled, patting Tino on the back. "You gotta loosen up, Tino."

"I'm perfectly loose!"

"Tino, you're so rigid sometime I worry one day you're gonna break."

"I'm not rigid!"

"Yes, you-whoa!" Lor stared dumbstruck as Carver was leading a very embarrassed Tish towards them.

"May I present to you, Tish Katsufrakis, future Homecoming Queen!" Carver bowed, stepping aside so that the aisle of the store suddenly became a sort of fashion catwalk for Tish.

"T-Tish?" Tino's eyes practically popped out of his head. His girlfriend was dressed in a bright blue dress that came down to just below her knees. The material was just shiny enough to catch the light in a mesmerizing  sort of way, but no so much as to create a glare. It was completely strapless and shoulderless, cut across her chest at a perfect height to entice Tino in a way he had never even thought before, yet still retaining a good deal of modesty.

"I don't believe it." Lor whispered.

"Don't stare!" Tish hid her face behind her hands. "I don't know how he talked me into this!"

"Now remember, I'm not done with her yet." Carver smiled. I've got to get her the right set of gloves, and when the day comes, we're going to have to do something with her hair."

Tish was still largely hiding, feeling embarrassed beyond belief. "Are you sure blue is my color, Carver? And what's wrong with my hair."

"This looks great on you!" Carver reassured her. "And there's nothing wrong with your hair, it's just I think we can make you look like real royalty!"

"This isn't going to be like that makeover you gave her after she was on Teen Canyon, is it?" Lor doubted.

"Perish the thought! No, no, no, no, no! You can't revive an old look! Besides, I'm not reinventing Tish. Just repackaging her for one night!" explained Carver.

"I'm still not sure about this. . ." Tish looked down at her feet.

Carver followed her eyes. "You're right! I can't believe I forgot the shoes! C'mon, let's go find you something to go with this. Some gloves too." Tish tried to say something, but the words got caught in her throat as she allowed Carver to lead her towards the opposite wall of the store.

"Dude!" Lor whapped Tino on the back with the palm of her hand, nearly knocking Tino off-balance. "You are so in! Did you see that? She's going strapless for you! You must've done something really nice for her.!"

"I. . .nothing out of the ordinary. But, um, it's still just a dress, right?"

"Yeah, you say that now. But wait till you're out on the dance floor, all close. You hold her tight during a nice, slow song, you feel the soft skin of her shoulders. . .HA! Tino, you look like a tomato!"

"It's just, I've never really thought of Tish like that before!"

"Are you serious? I think of Thompson like that at least twice a day! I take it back, I think I would wear something like that for him!"

"Ha!" Tino pointed his index finger at Lor. "Now who's blushing!"

"Don't try to change the subject!" Lor waved her arms frantically. "We're talking about you here. Anyway, if you want my advice, you'll help Tish buy that ensemble Carver's putting together. You won't regret it."

"But I don't want to change Tish into something she isn't."

"I don't think you have to worry about that, Tino. I doubt she'd let you. But you'd better tell her how good she looks. I think she'd be disappointed if you didn't take an active interest in it."

"What about you? Are you more eager to accept Carver's advice now?" Tino tapped his foot.

"Maybe. But I'm more eager to see what he's going to put you in."

"Probably something that will drain my allowance for several weeks to come. Maybe I could mow some lawns or something. . ."

Lor couldn't keep from laughing. "Somehow I have trouble imagining you on a riding mower."

"Yeah, you're probably right. I guess I'll just have to wait until next year when I turn sixteen and get a job like everyone else."

"Dude! What about us spending all our weekends together?!"

"Well, I guess we still will." Tino relented. "Just after I get off of work."

"Tell me watching all those fashion shows hasn't paid off!" Carver grinned as he returned with Tish in tow. The girl was now sporting a classy but conservative pair of open toed shoes, a bit fancier than anything she usually wore but not drawing too much attention, a very flat and black color. "Don't worry, T, I made sure not to put her in anything with heels because she's already taller than you. Now, just be careful when you're dancing. Her gloved are white, and you don't want them to start showing dirt.

Tino still couldn't believe it was his Tish standing before him. "Wow, Tish, you look fantastic!"

"Um, thanks." Tish responded hesitantly. "So, you really like it, right? You're not just saying that."

"I mean it, really. I think it's safe to say you'll keep me on the dance floor all night. Even though I'm not much of a dancer. . ."

"It's okay, I'll try to get you into shape before the dance."

Carver stood back, admiring his work once more. "Great, it's settled then. Now, I just have to do something for you two."

"Tino first!" Lor exclaimed.

"Sounds good. All right T, let's see what I can do with you."

"I'm going to change back into the outfit I came in." Tish called, ducking into the changing room.

Lor stood guard beside the door as the guys walked off. "Tish, you looked so incredibly hot in that!"

"It's really a little daring for me, I think." Tish's voice came from behind the door as she swapped outfits. "But Tino really likes it, and it's not like I totally hate it or anything."

"You just have to get used to it. You'll see, once you and Tino are out on that dance floor, you'll be glad you went with it."

"Aren't you going to take any of your own advice?" queried Tish.

"What do you mean?" Lor felt confused.

"Well, you said you want to look good for Thompson. I'm not the kind of person to get hung up with appearances, but Carver might have been on the right track with you before. You can't be afraid to try new things sometimes. Besides, it's not like you can never wear anything else again. Lor, you know Thompson already likes you for who you are. I'll bet if you ask him to go with you, he'll say yes. You can wow him with a cool new outfit but still be yourself."

"I know, I know." Lor banged her fist on the side of the dressing room in frustration. "Oh, sorry. It's just. . .I'm not good at any of this stuff. In my head I know everything you're saying is right, but as soon as I go to try it, I can't handle it or something."

"Well then," Tish smiled, emerging from the dressing room in a more traditional pink top with purple skirt. "I guess we'll just have to give you a little tough love."

"This isn't going to be like one of those after school specials, is it?" Lor began having doubts about confiding in her friend.

"Don't worry, I promise we won't let you chicken out. Come on, let's see if we can't find something to help make Thompson all mushy for you."

As both girls began looking for the perfect Homecoming dress, Lor couldn't help but feel a mixture of excitement and worry. Dice were rolling in her head like a game of Yahtzee, and she knew inside that if she was ever going to do something about Thompson, it was time to go for all or nothing.

And so we reach the end of the first chapter. I realize that things are a little slow to start, but I have to but every roller coaster has to climb up that first hill before the dips and turns and corkscrews start coming on! It's been a few weeks since I've worked with these characters in earnest, so it felt good to get back in the saddle. I look forward to everything this stage brings, and I'm confident that I'm starting things off on the right foot. For instance, this chapter got released on time, which is something of a minor miracle considering everything that's been going on in my life lately! It's been some busy times, but I'm hoping everything will settle down after I purchase my new car next week.

Alas, I wasn't able to get everything done that I had wanted. I had planned on releasing a second trailer on the 26th, but it just wasn't meant to be. If anyone is interested in that, LMK and I'll try to paste one in as a little extra in one of the upcoming chapters. I've also noticed in the reviews from Second Stage that people are already casting their vote to see who will win out when this stage comes to its conclusion. There's still a LONG way to go, and plenty of twists and turns, but I figure a little vote would be fun. Therefore, please go right ahead and cast your vote when you leave a review for my story. You may also change your mind along the way if you so desire. I'll close the voting before I resolve the issue, and the winning faction will receive, uh, bragging rights. I freely admit that regardless of whether Lor or Tish comes out on top in the poll, the outcome of the story will be based solely on my own creative decisions and directions I decide to take the characters in. I just think this sort of thing will be fun and generate conversation :)

At any rate, I hope you each enjoyed "seeing" the girls in something out of the ordinary. I'm a big fan of having fun with characters from time to time, getting a breath of fresh air.

Anyway, you can all rest assured that Third Stage has officially begun. It may be around for awhile, so I hope you enjoy the ride! You can look for the next installment around the usual timeframe, I'll work hard to keep up with your appetites!

A Happy Thanksgiving to all! See you soon!

Lord Malachite


2:06AM, EST

E-mail: ranger_writer@yahoo.com

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