It was sometime after dinner when Tish Katsufrakis retreated to the solitude of her room. She flung her closet doors open, slowly removing her outfit and placing it back on empty hangars. She clipped her purple skirt carefully, putting it in the middle of her rotation, while the blouse found its way to the back of the line. Satisfied that her wardrobe was in order, Tish took a simple white slip out of her closet. Yawning once, she wriggled her socks off her feet and removed her bra, depositing both in her hamper. She donned her nightwear and slid onto her bed, reaching out to the nightstand for her telephone and a bottle of artesian water. She pressed the button without needing to look. Speed dial number four, appropriately listed just under Tino's speed dial number. She felt surprised to hear the line picked up after only one ring—had she been expected?

"Hello, Tish." Dixon greeted her in a voice bordering on sing-song.

Next question, Tish thought to herself. "Hi Dixon. I'm calling about-"

"Another episode of "Love: Geek Style?"

"All right, who put you up to that one?" Tish did not endeavor to keep the ire out of her voice.

"Let's just say I lost a bet."

Tish rolled her eyes. "Tino's Mom totally owns you."

"Yeah. But it does have its upside." The grin was evident in Dixon's voice.

"Great." Tish stretched the word out with a moan. "I really needed that image running around in my head."

"You teenagers today think that everything is about sex." Dixon chided.

"I can't believe you would say that about me!" Tish was taken aback.

"Present company excluded. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure? Still worried about Tino?"

"No. Well, yes, to some extent. But this is more about me. I'm trying to reorganize my thoughts. Trying to sort out where I went wrong."

"I think you already know. Be honest with yourself."

"That's easy to say from where you're sitting."

"No, it isn't. Take it from an old man who's been around. You went through a breakup. And a fairly good one, as they tend to go. Why don't you try asking Tino's Mom about her divorce sometime?"

"I couldn't do that! It would be a violation of her privacy! Besides, wouldn't that upset her?"

"Tish, she likes you. More importantly, she likes how you make Tino feel. Trust me on this one. She's rather possessive of her son. You should've seen her a few years back when Lor's grandmother took you kids up into the mountains. She spent most of the weekend pacing around. She changed the oil on her SUV three times, trying to keep busy so she wouldn't always think of Tino. "

"Sounds like her weekend was a lot more fun than ours." Tish sighed. "But this does explain where Tino gets some of those obsessive/compulsive tendencies from." She flopped backwards on her bad she spoke, darting her legs up into the air.

"Okay, now that one might offend her."

"I'll work on it."

"Good. Oh, and here's a little free advice."

Tish snorted at the remark. "Free advice is seldom cheap."

"Maybe so. But this is good advice. Just expect a little surprise."

"All right, what have you got for me?"

"Talk with your father. He knows a lot more about these things than you give him credit for.

Tish blinked at that prospect, suddenly feeling a little apprehensive. "I wasn't aware that you knew my father."

"Sure I do! He's a card carrying member of the Alliance of Dads. He's a good man. Not enough today willing to join the Alliance. Too many can't be bothered. But we all believe in working towards—well, perhaps I've said too much. Suffice to say that he's a good father, and he's seen a lot in his time. It may not be easy to remember, but he was young once too. Still is where it counts. He's a great example of a man living the American dream."

"I never thought of him like that before. He's always been my dad. He's always. . .he's been there for me. Sometimes I forget about everything he's done for himself."

"Yeah, well, that's kind of typical." Dixon chuckled. "Kids don't usually think of us adults in that sort of capacity. But the truth is that we really aren't so different. We've just been around the block. But there is one thing I can tell you about Tino."

"What's that?"

"You can't just tell him how you feel. You have to show him. He needs that kind of communication and reassurance."

"He's so cute like that. I never can stop my heart from going out to his fragile nature."

"He loves you, Tish. Hard as that may be for you to accept. Remember that it's not as though he's asking you to marry him. He just. . .wants you to know that he takes you seriously."

"Are you trying to make me cry?" Tish fidgeted, her fingers digging into the bedspread. She crossed her legs in the air, feeling nervous.

"Perish the thought! I'm sorry, I suppose I should let you solve your own problems."

"I will. And you're right, as always."

"Ha! Try telling that to Tino's mother. Good hunting, Tish."

"Good night, sweet Prince." Tish giggled.

"I'm more of a salt of the earth guy. Night!" Dixon hung up the phone with a sigh, marveling at his having sent another teenage girl on a good course. Now if he could keep his daughter Moira out of too much emotional turbulence, he would have a good thing going. Like Tish, Moira was headstrong and confident, but a bit awkward at serious relationships. She had had a string of boyfriends in high school, most of them decent young men, but nothing seemed to stick. He understood her frustrations. Not having a significant other could be a trying experience. Of course, maintaining a working, stable romantic relationship wasn't exactly a walk in the park. But maybe the pending resolution of Tino and Tish's quarrel would be a sign of things to come.

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"Okay, so let me get this straight." Carver paced the length of Tino's room in full crisis mode, his mind racing. "You and Lor were up here making out, and-"

"That's not how it went down, Carv." Tino interrupted to clear up the misconceptions. "We were just sitting on my bed, talking."

"On your bed? Man, you guys are moving way too fast!"

"It wasn't like that at all! Look, are you going to listen to me, or are you just going to make up weird, quasi-sexual fantasies about me and Lor?" Tino's frustration began to increase.

"Alright, alright. I'm sorry. I was just tryin' to juice things up a little. So let's hear about your mostly harmless little jaunt."

"Okay then. Anyway, we were sitting on my bed. It was kinda nice. But definitely weird, considering it was Lor. We were looking at old photos. It started out that we were looking at pictures of Tish and I, but then I put the book away and took out my Lor scrapbook, it's full of all these pictures and notations of awards and stuff that she's won. And like I said, it was nice, but weird. Lor isn't exactly the touchy-feely type." Tino sighed. "I'm really confused now."

"So tell me about it." Carver asked.

"What?"

"Lor! Since you've now managed to kiss all three of your best friends, I deserve to know the details about this one!"

"I don't know, isn't this kind of an invasion of her privacy?" Tino hesitated.

"Totally. But hey, don't think she isn't the same way. As I recall, she's always been after steamy details about you and Tish ever since she got over the initial shock of you guys as a couple."

"Great." Tino groaned. "Now I'm gonna lie awake at night wondering what Tish has let slip to Lor about me over the years."

"Yeah, y'know, there could've been some really juicy stuff, T."

"That's what I'm afraid of!"

"Which exactly proves my point. She already knows stuff about you that's private. So spill!" Carver grinned.

"I guess I can't argue with that one." Tino gave. "But you totally can't tell her that I told you anything."

"Hey, my lips are sealed."

"Alright." Tino took a deep breath. "It really. . .it wasn't like you would expect. She was soft, timid. Pretty much the opposite of what you would imagine. She lacked confidence. Actually, she reminded me of myself. Now Tish, she has a totally enthralling technique. She's gentle, but very confident. Whenever she kissed me, it was like, I knew that everything would be all right."

"Wow. That's deep. So you're saying it wasn't that great."

"I didn't say that. It was kind of. . .I don't know, it happened so fast. And it's not like we were actually making out. It was really quick. And then she left so fast. . .I don't even know what I'm going to do about this yet." Tino whispered. "Should I just let it pass? Should I talk to her about it?"

"I dunno. This is a tough one, Tino. But it sure sounds to me like you enjoyed it."

"It's not that I enjoyed it, it's more like that I. . .didn't dislike it."

"Would you do it again?" Carver asked.

"I don't know. I think I might. I mean, not like I would go looking for her. But if she kissed me again. . .I don't think I would object."

"Well, it sure sounds to me like you enjoyed it. And if Lor was the one who initiated it, then she definitely wanted to do it. Unless you think it was an accident."

"No, it couldn't have been an accident. She meant what she did it was too. . .she was so fragile, Carver. When she kissed me, I sensed this total vulnerability in her."

"So, I guess it all comes down to how she felt about it. Do you think she liked it?"

"Oh man! I have no idea! I still don't get girls at all. It's like they're totally crazy. Carv, you've dated girls that aren't part of our group. Are they all like this?"

"Mostly. But trust me, they feel the same way about us." Carver added.

"How did we ever make it this far as a species?" Tino wondered aloud.

It only took a moment for both friends to arrive at the same conclusion, which they exclaimed in unison. "SEX!"

"If only Tish could hear you now!" Carver chuckled.

"Don't be so sure." Tino was quick to respond. "Tish may be a rather proper young lady, but she isn't overly shy about sex. Did you know she's a big fan of Kinsey?"

"Wait a minute, are you talking about our Tish? The prim and proper lady-like Tish?"

"The one and only." Tino verified. "I just don't get it. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not like I want to talk about that kind of stuff with my mom or anything, but teachers aren't much better than parents. Especially if you get one of those ancient types. I mean, really. Talking about sex with old people. Oh yeah, that's my idea of a pleasant way to spend the day, all right." Tino ranted sarcastically.

"Okay, T, I officially forbid you from using the words 'sex' and 'old people' in the same sentence. It creeps me out."

"Objection noted." Tino agreed. "So anyway, with Lor. . .what should I do?"

"I dunno man. There isn't really an easy answer to this one. Do you like her? Y'know, as more than a friend."

"I don't know." Tino sighed. "I never thought of her like that. I really haven't been doing much looking at other women." He paused, giving the nation considerable thought. "She is pretty, isn't she?"

"I think so. It's in the way she dresses." Carver grinned. "Doesn't draw killer attention to herself. And her face is symmetrical, that's a total sign of good looks. Plus her hair, her hair has that real nice tinge, you don't see that kind of thing very often. Plus, she's athletic, so you know she's totally in shape. Man, overall, I'd have to rate her as a solid-"

"Don't say it!" Tino cut Carver off.

"Huh?"

"Carver, we can't be rating our friends like that. It isn't right."

"Yeah, maybe you're right. Okay, so what about Cheri Montagne?"

"Definite 9.5 territory, Carv."

"10-4 on that one good buddy. On account of she's a ten on four separate counts!"

"Okay, so who do you like? I mean, there's got to be a girl you have your eyes on."

"Yeah, Cheri."

Tino rolled his eyes. "I meant a girl that you can actually attain."

Carver shrugged. "Got a yearbook handy?"

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Lor Macquarrie blinked at the designs on her ceiling, as though she could will the white speckles to go away by clearing them from her vision. Her back dug into the mattress, and she clutched a pillow to her chest tightly. She could feel every breath that she took. She was disappointed in herself. After losing Thompson, she had gone through a mourning period where she hadn't done much of anything. Then Christmas had approached, bringing with it an endless stream of perspiration and, of course, the arrival of one Granny MacQuarrie. Suddenly, she had far too much to do to feel sorry for herself. Having reached fifteen years of age, Lor had been placed on full time kitchen duty. Together with her mother and grandmother, three generation of MacQuarrie women cooked up meals, desserts, and snacks capable of feeding a sizeable army. Or in this case, their clan, along with frequent visits from Coach Ned Colson. Cooking had become a therapeutic activity for Lor. She had always been a diehard tomboy through the years, so the discovery that she felt comfortable in the kitchen was a tad unsettling. Unsettling, yet not quite scary. When she closed her eyes, she could picture herself standing in the kitchen, an apron around her waist and kids underfoot, baking holiday cookies. It was not an unpleasant thought. She added it to the box with the thought of being pregnant with Tino's child. She really had to stop pursuing this stuff. It didn't exactly fit in with her image. "Maybe I should open a restaurant or something." Lor mumbled to herself as she turned onto her side, pulling the covers tightly around her. Her free arm dropped to her side, and she shifted the pillow, tucking it between her knees. She was feeling small again, vulnerable. "Why am I so stupid?" She had definitely put her foot in it this time. Would Tino ever forgive her? Worse, what would happen when Tish got wind of the kiss? And she would. Tish had always had a sensitive radar here Tino was concerned. Their three year romance had only heightened her perception, and now Tish stood second only to Tino's mother. Once again, Lor knew she sat with her legs dangling over an emotional precipice. Why did it have to be Tino? Why couldn't it be Diego? Or Josh? Or Murph? Or even Percy! But no, that would've been entirely too easy. Too safe. For whatever reasons, she had developed a penchant for creation complex emotional situations. Maybe her subconscious was trying to tell her something. Either that, or she was just one sick puppy. Lor grunted at that prospect, snapping the elastic band on her underwear and yelping. "I've got to get it together!" A feat that continued to be much easier to say than to actually do. Her life was undeniably losing cohesion, her friendships slipping away. And she knew she was on the verge of destroying whatever remained of the group. If she pursued Tino, Tish would not stand for it. Sure, she talked a good game about seeing other people. Maybe she had even managed to make Tino believe it. But Lor knew better, and she was certain that Tish would consider this a betrayal of the highest magnitude. And perhaps she would be correct. While there wasn't anything technically wrong about it, this was still a black area. Friends didn't date each other's exes. Those were the unwritten rules.

Lor cringed in anguish, calling down curses upon herself. She felt pitiful and angry. A small being trying to attack what she didn't understand. She was beaten and she knew it. The universe was against her. If God existed, the he laughed at her. No matter what she chose to do, she was open to attack. Who would save her now?

Tino could save her. It was just the kind of thing he would do. Except, of course, on those occasions when he was the one who needed saving. He always looked out for his friends when they needed help. Even if it didn't really work. She couldn't help but think of the various times in the past two years when Tino had tried in vain to tutor her in the finer points of algebra. As Lor recalled, she had thoroughly stymied Tino, causing him to curl up into the fetal position, sucking his thumb and mumbling something about the wasted hours of his life. Tish had then taken his place, but a woman's approach hadn't made any significant difference. Her brain just refused to process the complexities of higher math. She couldn't help it. It wasn't that she was dumb, just that stuff only stuck to her when it hit her in a certain way, when it took on a practical application in her mind. It didn't help that she lacked academic confidence. She didn't even want to think about the GPA she would have to maintain to stay on the basketball and field hockey teams. And her father had already laid down the law that when she turned sixteen, her allowance was going to end, and she would either have to get a job or beg off her friends. Neither choice was very appealing, but perhaps she could swing a job where she could work with one of her friends. Yeah! Maybe that was the ticket! She could talk things out with Tino, maybe convince him that they should seek employment together somewhere; prove that she wasn't really the twisted freak she had just made herself out to be. The beginnings of a plan began to form in Lor's mind. Something that Tish had once said came back to her, and now she finally understood what it meant. "In for a penny, in for a pound." Lor grinned, digging herself into her covers for the night. She had a lot of mental preparation to do for the next day; and she would have to get an early start on her day. She needed her beauty sleep. And this time, slumber found her with ease.

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And so ends yet another chapter, my wonderful friends. This outing was longer in coming than I had planned on, largely due to the fact that I came down with pneumonia and it put my life on hold for awhile. Fortunately, the case was not too severe, and I recovered. And then I was able to get back to work, doing what I do and typing stuff out. My feverish brain seemed to think that these would be the right paths to set the characters on at the moment. Surprisingly enough, despite my love of Tish, her segment was the least enjoyable of the three for me to write. I much preferred doing the Tino/Carver and Lor scenes. Maybe I just felt that I had much more to say with them this time, I'm not entirely certain. Sometimes, I feel like I have too many stories in my head to tell, and I have to reign myself in. As it is, I'm under entirely too much stress. So when I read kind reviews and receive flattering e-mails, it makes me feel wonderful, gives me the strength to keep on going.

It's hard to believe that here it is, May 9 already. I've got so much stuff to prepare for this month, I need to get still another Third Stage chapter out of the gate, and I also have to successfully launch a major Hey Arnold! Fanfic on June 13. And that's just my online life! I also have to find a new job and save a bunch of money and plan my vacation out there in the real world. But then, everyone has problems, I guess, so I shouldn't whine too much.

I'm sure that, given this chapter's title, a lot of you expected to see an appearance by Frances. To be honest, I did too. But while I was in the middle of the Lor sequence, I realized that Frances just would've been out of place here. Shoehorning her in would've felt like exactly that—shoehorning her in. Ergo, I decided to stand by the title and forego the obvious connection, I'm sure you all got the reference as it is.

I feel like I don't have as much to say this time out as I should. Perhaps I'm just more eager to let my work speak for itself. I will, however, do some shameless promoting—

Attic Man is working on some wonderful stories, Oblivion and Suitably Ill. They're both works of high quality and I recommend checking them out at your earliest convenience if you haven't done so already. Never one to be outdone, Gerard Dominus continues to work hard on Love, Fate, & Everything In Between, which to my knowledge happens to be the only other Tino/Tish fic in the fandom, although it appears that there may be some intimations in Suitably Ill. And the greatest Weekenders author of all time, Lord Canti, is working on a new tale that should be available soon. Check your local listings for a release, or better yet, sign up for author alert. I also recommend checking out the Weekenders C2 community, maintained by Gerard Dominus. Inside, you can find a link to every Weekenders story available here on FFN, all in one place. It's very convenient.

As for me, well, the next chapter of Third Stage will be available as soon as I'm able to write it. If you're just a fan of my work in general, not only this story, then expect one last trailer for my next big projects, Instant Gratification, to hit FFN in about two weeks. I would also like to take this moment to once again thank all you readers who support us hard working Weekenders authors. A special thank you and my eternal affection to my dearest Holly, who supports me in all that I do. She is often an angel unaware, but without her, none of what you just read would be possible.

Until next time, keep the faith, and spread it like peanut butter. And as always, send your questions, comments, compliments, complaints, love letters, death threats, marriage proposals, and ransom demands to:

Lord Malachite

05/09/05

4:46AM, EST

E-mail: ranger(underscore)writer(at)yahoo(dot)com
AIM: Asukaphile26