Say the Words
Untouched root beer popped and fizzled within its waxy paper cup, doing its best to fill the silenced void left by Kim Possible and her anxious, pensive jittering. A compact mirror sat atop her palm next to the soda, and opened to reflect Kim's features back at her with frequent regularity. The accentuating makeup retained its static perfection at each flip of the miniscule mirror, but the apprehension Kim noticed growing beneath her blush and foundation worried her further, acting in a sort of stop-motion self perpetuation that soon had her perfectly primped face looking as twisted as her stomach felt.
Kim's stomach twisted as a pair of gentlemanly hands operated her seat with equally gentlemanly care, sliding her up to an ornate, carved wooden table whose burning candle smelled faintly of lemons. In the darkened ambiance of the Fancy Truffle, she could hardly see the boyish smirk of one Josh Mankey flash in her direction as he circled from behind her seat to take his own at the opposite end of their cozy dinner setup. Even the breathtaking cityscape laid out before them, from the restaurant's window seats, which Josh must have spent months of patience and earnings on to get ahold of, couldn't deter Kim from a single thought; 'Why did he do all that?'
By contrast, Kim's clothes were a frightful mess of casual comfort. The long sleeve of her Mad Dog sweatshirt obscured her hand as it tapped the worn fabric of her laundry-day jeans, which encased jittering legs that she could not convince to hold still. Though this was her second counter with this kind of nervousness that night, she found this bout no easier to deal with at Bueno Nacho's cramped booth than she had her first episode earlier in her own room.
Clad in a sopping bathrobe, Kim divested herself of her frantic rush within her room's cagelike walls long enough to hear the clack and groan of their front door opening downstairs. She yanked a saffron sundress from between the sliding jaws of her closet as the pleasantries exchanged between her mother and a familiar young man floated beneath the crack under her door. She would later feel like a complete heel for the thought that popped into her head. 'Not now,' Kim's mind bemoaned, 'I don't have time for you now.'
The nervous tic of her leg became so bad that even Kim couldn't help but notice it. She pressed her hands down onto her legs to stop their quaking. Tired green eyes cloaked themselves behind their lids as Kim leaned back and forced a breath through quivering crimson lips. "It's okay," she said. "This is going to be a cakewalk. He'll walk through the door with that big grin of his, and he'll sit down right there." She acknowledged the empty booth bench across from her with a nod. "You talk. He listens. Before you know it, it'll all be done. Easy."
The silence of the empty bench didn't sound convinced.
Kim slumped back into her slouch. Her leg resumed its involuntary twitch of its own accord, resolving itself to let Kim solve her own problems. "Yeah," Kim muttered, "Me neither."
The steps outside her door creaked with a hundred and fifty-nine pounds of Middleton sunshine that hardly knocked before tossing the ineffective barrier to one side. "What up, KP?" Ron sang as he sidled into the tiger's den. For someone who had started courting death from the moment he violated her door, Ron's smile stretched far too wide. Maybe he knew Kim would always cherish his friendship just a little more than whatever grievances he heaped upon her. Though, as he collapsed backward onto her downy comforter, closer to crushing her freshly-laid dress than Kim felt comfortable with, Kim wondered if he was purposely testing their friendship's limits. "So, how goes the date preparations?"
"They just hit a major setback," Kim grumbled, and yanked her sundress away from his side before he could wrinkle its pressed lines. She had spent days picking out the dress for her date with Josh, and wasn't about to let his carelessness wreck a single iota of this night. After relocating the garment to a safer location on a hook on her closet's door, she returned to her vanity and began sorting through the half-dozen fragrances sitting in front of her mirror. Her hair was still a mess, and she still wasn't dressed, and time was running short. "I really don't have time to hang out right now, Ron. I'm busy."
"I'm really glad we're here," Josh said after a moment of uncomfortable, distracted silence from his date. "I know how busy you get."
The inoffensive charm barely cut through the torrential storm of chaos currently wedged between Kim's ears. She looked up from her napkin, which twisted in her grasp until he spoke. "Hmm? Oh, yeah. It's no problem."
What is wrong with you, stupid? Her mind screamed at her above the dulcet tones of a string quartet playing for the gathered elite of the Tri-City area. All throughout the restaurant, mouth-watering smells tantalized her nose. A handsome, talented, and totally hot piece of beefcake sat not two feet away, ready to spend the rest of his evening focusing only on her. Why isn't your head in the game? Say something to him! Stop thinking about all that, and just say something.
'Okay,' she told herself, 'Game time. You're Kim Possible. You're charming, sweet, funny, and interesting. Get your mind off of Ron, and get back to what matters.'
Two seconds passed.
'Why did he do all that?'
Her fingers clenched and unclenched themselves as her breathing became deep and erratic. She reached for her soda and then pulled away, only to reconsider and reach for it again. The unstable cup suffered her enthusiasm and distraction, and sprayed across the table and soaked the sticky seat across from her. Kim said a word that her father refused to believe she knew as she leapt across the table to catch the scudding cup, as if she could somehow shove the spill back into it if she moved fast enough. All she wound up with was a wet cup, a sticky hand, and soda that soaked into the front of her sweatshirt, forcing another, even worse word from her mouth before she bit her lip in dismay.
"S'cool," Ron shrugged into the comforter. "Won't stay long, just wanted to wish you luck before 'Date Number Three.'" His excessively neutral tone deepened as he announced his self-titling of Kim's rendezvous with Josh. He waved his hands in the air, as if to create a giant, flashing neon sign with the words.
Kim caught his waggling eyebrows in the mirror as she checked her makeup for the sixth time. Her hands shuffled through bottles of perfume on automatic, afforded only the hastiest of glances to read their flowery labels. Exotic Lilac. The Rose Experience. New Moon. Kim's eyes were better employed making sure that her face remained flawless. And she still had to get to her hair! "No," she snapped. "S'not cool." Her harried voice mimicked his tone with childish sarcasm.
Ron chuckled. "Snot. Heh."
"I'm not kidding, Ron," Kim groused.
Oh, you have got to be kidding me. You want to think about this right now? Fine. We'll think about it now.
Lucky for Kim, Josh began filling the uneasy silence with talk of his latest art project. What little snatches of his plans for the new mural really did sound interesting to Kim, but she had more pressing issues to sort out internally before she could pay him the attention he deserved. 'Okay,' she began to rationalize. 'Ron's your best friend. Has been since before dinosaurs kicked the bucket. He just did it because he's a good friend, that's all.'
Right. Because if the reverse happened, I'm sure we'd trip all over ourselves to help him sweep some other girl off of her feet, just so she could take him from us.
'Hey,' Kim shot back, adding a nod to keep Josh thinking that she was actually listening, 'I would too. Really. Totally.' Each assurance felt weaker than the last, and churned her stomach with her own pathetic self-delusion. A brief visualization of such an unlikely situation told her exactly what she would do in their reversed roles, and the sight of her own pettiness made her extremely uncomfortable.
Hey, you were the one who wanted to talk about this now. Not my fault you don't like what you see.
Bueno Nacho's door jangled open, abetting Ron's enduring sense of rotten timing by allowing him into the restaurant. Just as Kim had envisioned, he wore that joyful, irritating, infectious smile as he ambled in. In her befuddled state, Kim somehow hoped it would take Ron a moment to notice her, that she would get a chance to compose herself before beginning her arduous task. But the spectacle she found herself the creator and centerpiece of led his soulful brown eyes right to her. "KP!" he greeted her, ignoring the curious stares all around him that shied away to become surreptitious glances at Kim's challenging glare.
"Ron!" Kim jerked up from her seat, sending what little root beer remaining in her cup up into her face. A few drops struck her in the eye, sending stinging sugariness screaming against her emerald iris. She winced and stumbled, falling back into her chair with a gasp of irritated surprise.
Wisps of New Moon lingered in the air as she tilted the bottle into her fingertip. She brushed the aromatic liquid onto the pulse points on her neck and wrists, taking special care to apply just the right amount. Whatever a new moon smelled like, she didn't want it to overpower Middleton's hottest hunk as he nibbled on her neck in the darkened rear of the movie theater. That's what third dates were about, right? "This date is super-important to me, and I don't want anything r…"
The brief flash of despondence Kim caught sight of in the mirror slammed her words to a stop against a wall of guilt. But by the time she turned around, he had morphed the expression into one of bemused acceptance. "No problem, KP." He grinned a little too broadly. "You won't even know I'm here." There was a definite, unfinished thread hanging from the end of his words. Kim couldn't help but imagine it to be, 'As usual.'
"Whoa," Ron said, and rushed to help Kim back to her feet. Tears trickled from her root-beered eye, which Kim kept squeezed shut despite Ron's best efforts at prying it open. Though her stubbornness kept him from checking her temporary ailment, she couldn't stop him from yanking a napkin from the table's dispenser and wiping her face clean. "Will you jus-hold still, Kim!"
"Kim? Kim. Kim!"
The insistent repetition of her name drew Kim out of her losing debate with her own mind. Upon surfacing, she found Josh Mankey's concerned face flickering in the candlelight, and felt at once a new swell of guilt in her already impressive collection of the emotion. "Oh, I'm sorry, Josh," she said with a sigh. "I know, I'm totally distracted tonight. I don't mean to be."
Josh leaned forward and took her hand. The feeling of his skillful hands on her skin usually sent her into shivers, but not tonight. Tonight, she felt something else: a sense of something missing, something she definitely had not long ago. But why now? What had changed?
"You're sure you're okay?" Josh asked.
"I'm fine," she whined, oblivious to how lame and unconvincing she seemed as she squirmed under his administrations. Ron's fingers felt hot against her reddening cheeks, intensifying her blush. Try as she might, she couldn't escape his compassionate grasp, and so she suffered Ron's gentle care. That didn't stop her from resuming her glares at the rubbernecks sitting around the restaurant, who took Ron's intervention as an open invitation to gawk at Kim's embarrassment. Kim rescinded that invitation with another vicious round of glares, and withered their curiosity back into its former submission.
Regardless of what she thought she saw, Kim stood up and stalked back over to her immaculate, painstakingly selected dress and grasped it by its golden sleeves, pulling the plastic hanger out. It clattered to the floor, forgotten, as she held it up to her chest in front of the mirror. "I'm sorry," she said in vain, tightening her grip on the sundress. She would have her perfect night. The third date was always the deciding factor in a relationship, everyone said so. She continued, "This night is just really major, and I need to be ready by the time Josh—"
The last of the soda yielded to Ron's napkin, which he leaned over and shoved into a garbage can. It gave Kim the chance to banish the red from her face, which Ron hadn't noticed before thanks to his masking hands, but would surely pick up on now. "Thanks," she muttered into her chest.
"No problem, KP," he said, and grinned. They stood a moment more, staring at each other in tensed silence, before Ron tilted his head with curiosity. "So what's up? I got your message. Isn't it a little early for a post-date debriefing?"
The fragile seams of the dress couldn't stand up to Kim's startled jerk. Even as the 'guh' in 'DONG' finished ringing in her ears, she held the broken sleeve of the dress in one hand, and the remainder in the other. Josh's polite greeting to her mother followed the same path Ron's had, sneaking under her door before Kim's anguished cry tore it asunder.
There was an honest quality to his voice which Kim knew to be for her benefit. Ron had no real interest in her date, and they both knew it. But that didn't matter anymore. "Uh," she rubbed the back of her neck, "Yeah. Have a…seat." The sopping booth sat behind her inviting gesture, mocking her with spilled soda wrought from her own miniscule funds. It dripped into a puddle of itself on the floor and reflected Kim's chagrin back up at her. Piece by piece, Kim's plan crumbled out from underneath her, leaving her with the sensation of falling that clutched at her twisted insides.
Ron took the booth in stride, even if Kim couldn't. "No offense to your seating choice, Kim, but I think we might want a different one." With that, he left Kim by Lake A&W and walked toward the counter. Kim stared helplessly at Ron's back with goldfishing lips while the clerk behind the register that pretended not to notice her predicament.
'What is it?' Kim demanded of herself as Josh murmured soothing platitudes to her across the table. 'You spend fourteen years without any thoughts like this, and suddenly you can't get him out of your head on the most important date of your life? Get a clue!'
Something must be different, her mind told her.
'No,' razzed Kim snidely. 'No, no, no. He's the same old Ron. He'll always be the same old Ron. Same clothes, same hair, same laugh, same look…'
"Wait!" called Kim. It did her no good; the call of nacos had Ron in their thrall, and beckoned him ever-onward toward the register. The counter clerk already had half of Ron's order punched in before he started speaking. Kim usually found Ron's solidarity (especially in regards to his love for Bueno Nacho) an endearing trait. Now she cursed it, and chased him to the register.
"Kim!" Josh's steps rang out almost as much as his startled cry as he tore up the stairs, propelled by worry for his girlfriend. "Are you okay?"
The knob of her door rattled with his hurried, clumsy efforts. For a moment, Kim stood in abject horror at the thought of Josh seeing her like this. She clapped her hands over her mouth and cursed whatever lame-brained impulse that had made her scream, praying for some way to vanish off the face of the earth rather than suffer this kind of embarrassment.
Ron crossed the distance from Kim's bed to her door in record time, just as the entrance (which Kim was now convinced needed some kind of lock) began to creak open. His foot slammed just above the knob, and Ron received a muffled 'ow' as reward as he leaned heavily into the door. "Kim's gonna be a few minutes, Mister Mankey," he called. "Why don't you go wait in the living room?"
Her horror turned to confusion as she watched the sightless exchange continue. "What's wrong?" demanded Josh through the door. "I heard a scream." He paused, then added, "I'm coming in."
"Uh," struggled Ron, "Um, no. No, you can't, because Kim's…naked."
"What?" Josh shot.
"What?" Kim shot.
"What?" Ron shrugged, looking back over his shoulder. "I'm just getting a little snackage, KP. Haven't eaten in hours."
Kim stumbled after him, tripping over her own shoes. This wasn't how it was supposed to go! She had smooth lines, flippant jokes, soulful tearjerkers, all laid out in perfect symmetry to paint the perfect scene for the perfect moment. And Ron's appetite swooped in to ruin it? Unbelievable! "Ron, will you hold up for a second?"
"Hold up," Josh said, pulling back a moment. Confusion lined his dashing features, turning them southward in an unbecoming frown. "What did you say?"
Kim looked up, and repeated the hoarse whisper which had drawn his tender touch away. "His eyes," she said again. "I saw it."
The register finished beeping with his placed order before Kim caught up. She reached Ron just as money changed hands. Ron's eyes gazed lovingly at the Mexican components being assembled by employees obscured behind heating shelves and cheese dispensers, unaware of Kim's ire or that he had caused it. "So what's the big deal? Did Wade call in with a big emergency?"
Kim listened as Josh retreated back down the steps in uncomfortable silence. "This," she huffed, "Is such an emergency! How could you do that to me?"
Her words bounced off a thick and resolute skull. Ron was already on the move, dashing over to her closet and rifling through her dresses with callous hands. "Do what?"
"Do what?" She repeated his words like he didn't even know what they meant. The dress flapped through the air from her angry hand and struck him in the back, where it slumped at his feet. Stomping over, she hissed, "Now Josh thinks we're naked in here, doing God knows what!"
"What? No," Kim said hurriedly. Business couldn't be further from her mind as she stumbled after him. She reached the condiment counter just in time for him to whisk his tray away. The frantic steps used to catch up to him now became her enemy, and she had to brake herself against the greasy countertop. Lucky for her, a pair of Diablo sauce packets cushioned the impact beneath her palms. Jets of burning red sludge spread chemical burns across her hands and stained her favorite sweatshirt. She spared both a painful curse before continuing her pursuit.
Ron shook his head, rejecting dress after dress based on some underdeveloped instinct he didn't even know he had. "That is totally not true," he scoffed. A tiny gasp of triumph split his reply in half as he withdrew a tight, red little number that went great with Kim's curves. "Josh thinks 'you're' in here naked, doing God knows what. He has no idea if I'm wearing anything or not."
"This isn't funny," insisted Kim. Hell's fires knew nothing of the heat pouring off of her burning green eyes, seeking to boil away the careless humor spewing from Ron's mouth.
"Yeah, yeah." If Ron felt hurt by Kim's indifferent anger, he didn't show it. Instead, he tossed her the dress. "Here," he said, "Put this on. At least then I'll be a liar, and you can be angry at me for that."
"What?" Kim caught the hanger by its hook. The soft folds of the scarlet fabric shone at her examination.
"KP, you okay?" Ron sat at the booth next to the one Kim ruined, already halfway through his first greasy delight by the time Kim gave up and wiped the burning sauce onto her ruined sweatshirt. Makeup and natural beauty aside, she doubted he had ever seen her look so frumpy and not-together, and it bothered her. 'You couldn't wait, could you?' she groused at her own impulsiveness. 'You couldn't get it together first, maybe even wait for tomorrow. No, you ran home, changed into the first thing you could find, and called him in a big panic, because you just couldn't wait.'
But then she realized that she really couldn't wait. She had to say it, or it would eat her away from the inside.
Ron was mobile once more, jetting over to her vanity while she fumbled with the glossy curves of her cherry dress. He next attacked her vanity's drawers, finally coming across a series of hair clips. "Well, unless you want to go with 'nudist' as your Third Date theme, you're gonna need a dress, right? I figure you'll look bon-diggity in that."
The dress rested against her robed front with uncanny ease as she held it up to her chest in front of her mirror for experiment. Had she considered this one in her week's worth of preparation? She couldn't recall, but it looked damn good on her nonetheless. "Wow," she couldn't help but murmur.
"No," Kim murmured, "I'm not going to wait." She stalked forward, sucking in a deep breath as fast as Ron sucked in his shallow bucket of nachos. The cheese covering his face wouldn't deter her; she would tell him, yellow goop or no yellow goop. "Ron, I—" she began.
The spilled root beer from her earlier klutziness betrayed her once more, catching her sneakered foot unawares and yanking it out from under her. Kim found her other foot following suit, and soon felt a jarring impact as the floor connected with her back and stole her precious gathered breath away.
Breathless, Kim changed in a flash, shucking her robe and her old dress in favor of Ron's new choice. Naturally, Ron had his attention elsewhere to afford her the necessary privacy for the operation. Part of her questioned his presence in her room during her exposure as she made some final adjustments to the strapless bra beneath the dress' enticing neckline. But he hadn't even bothered looking up from her vanity, gathering new components for her ensemble. Only once she had her dress on did he glance over at her, and then wordlessly whisk her into the vanity's seat.
"Okay," Ron said, pressing her jewelry box into her grasp with one hand while his other took up her hair brush, "Re-check your earrings, and all that jazz. We'll put your hair up in two shakes. Better leave your bangs down, though." He leaned in, putting his face next to hers as she stared, shocked, at their collected reflection in her mirror. "It makes you look mysterious," he added, dropping her jaw another centimeter.
Ron's jaw dropped as he bolted to his feet, tossing aside the half eaten remains of his latest Mexican conquest. "KP," he said, and knelt down over her. Her head, throbbing from the fall, lifted in his hand as he eased her shoulders up onto his bent knee. There, he began checking her over, making sure nothing but her pride had suffered injury in her tumble. "Are you okay?"
"Are you okay?" Josh asked her. "Seriously, you've been a little out of it since we—"
The chair beneath her toppled as she stood in a rush, gathering her purse and jacket from its fallen back before Josh could begin questioning this latest oddity as well. For Josh's sake, she spared enough time to cast a sincere, apologetic look back across the burning candle. The confusion on his face made leaving him hard, but one look into her heart solidified her certainty; knowing what she knew now, what had taken her fourteen of the dumbest years of her life to realize, she couldn't stay a moment longer.
"I'm sorry, Josh," she apologized. "I really am. But I have to go. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry," Kim murmured, barely able to hear herself over the ringing in her ears.
"For what?" Ron's laughing eyes stared back down at her. For the first time since her epiphany—for the first time ever—Kim saw the real emotion behind that silent laughter. How long had he his it from her? How long had the truth been staring her in the face with those big brown eyes? How could she have missed something so obvious?
Dizzily, Kim returned his smile. "For taking so long."
Kim hoped they weren't taking too long. She hurriedly hooked her ears with a pair of golden loops, watching with half an eye as Ron worked magic with her glowing red locks. His hands ran through the folds of red hair with a strange deliberation reflected in his freckled features. At first, Kim assumed he just didn't know what to do with all that hair. But each gentle tug, each brush of his fingertips, felt too careful to be casual. A sheen obscured his eyes while he worked, though his hands never suffered for it; they moved of their own accord, as though he had considered this out in his mind long before this moment came.
Seconds of silent inactivity drew out into moments. Kim didn't realize how entrancing his methodical, focused administrations were until he caught her staring at him through the mirror. The spell broke as a fake smile shattered his concentration. "Heh, sorry," he said with a lame shrug. A few quick hairclips finished his work, and she doubted she could have ever done a better job with her own hair than Ron had now. "There you are. You, lady, are one date-ready hero."
"Taking too long?" Ron mirrored the look of confusion Josh had given her hours before. Kim had to admit, she wasn't making much sense that night. But as long as she got to say the words, everything would be okay.
She felt the moment coming.
Standing with Ron, Kim suddenly forgot all about the boy waiting downstairs for her, and all the images of kissing him under cover of darkness in whatever movie looked to be the least crowded that night, and all the hopes, so important previously, that suddenly and inexplicably didn't seem to mean a damn. Her room melted away as he smoothed down the creases in her dress' sides and tucked away those lingering strands of hair that obscured her eyes. "Ron…" she breathed, trying to get a handle on what her treacherous mind sought to hit her with all of a sudden.
Ron afforded her no time to sort out the moment's confusion, and instead gave her a kiss on her cheek, careful to not mar her makeup. "Josh is waiting," he reminded her with a whisper in her ear. "Go get him." The look in his eyes burned into hers, and refused to leave her even when she turned away from him in a daze to lurch out her door and down her stairs into the waiting fuss of her mother and her date-to-be.
Two quick breaths passed her painted lips while she sat up, still in his arms, and turned her face to his. Her lungs wanted to heave, but she wouldn't let them, and clenched her chest tight to keep from hyperventilating. Her lower lip began to tremble, intensifying the worried look on his face. She clutched at the back of his neck as his hand shifted, lifting her head to better support it. Their faces practically touched already. It had to be now.
The words couldn't wait.
But they wouldn't come out, either.
She paid no mind to the halfhearted protests Josh flung at her from behind as she stalked out of the Fancy Truffle as fast as her clacking heels would carry her. The startled stares of patrons blurring past her at their stuffy little tables didn't even register with her. When Kim had a purpose, nothing would stop her. And brother, had she discovered one doozy of a purpose…
Of course. That look. How could she not recognize it? That same look flooded her own eyes whenever she looked at him. She just hadn't realized it until now.
The words wouldn't come out. So she didn't use words.
Ron tasted nothing like she imagined: greasy, with the vague flavor of bubble gum swimming somewhere behind them. They tried pulling away to form a question that she knew she couldn't answer, and so she curled her arm around his neck tighter and kept him there. Time froze around their world, which darkened and shrank to include him, her, and the puddle of soda Kim's lower half still occupied. Soon enough, Ron stopped fighting.
Right now, she was supposed to be necking with Josh Mankey, with a belly full of French cuisine whose name she couldn't pronounce, and the firm belief that things couldn't be better. The moment couldn't have been further from Kim's planned rendezvous. A greasy kiss on the floor of a taco joint with her best friend, soaked in sauces and soda, bumped and bruised and ego-battered…
Kim pulled back, feeling more terrified than every life-and-death situation she had ever faced in the past put together. She watched the subtle tug of war on Ron's face as he gazed down at her, still wearing that confused look. A thousand responses swam in his shaking lips, whose flavor she licked clean from her own. A thousand responses waited to make or break Kim's heart, but she only wanted to hear one. She needed to hear the words. She couldn't wait.
Ron's lips returned instead. In the midst of the dizzying taste she never knew before, and couldn't ever get enough of, Kim realized that she still hadn't said the words, those words she had spent a nerve-wracking hour trying to pick out.
Ropy arms lifted her from the floor and pressed her to a warm, T-shirted chest. Let the words wait.
For first time all day, Kim's heart pounded for all the right reasons.