Thanks to MrDrP, campy, Commander Argus, Zaratan, JPMod, continental-line, conan98002, and fortunatexfool for their reviews and to everybody for reading "The Second Date."

You all Hurricane Rock!


Shilo

"If you are captain of a shipwreck / I'll be first mate to your shame" – Neil Diamond

I.

Elliot Stoppable owned every Neil Diamond 8-track that had ever been made. He had inherited the collection, as well as the 8-track player, from his older brother Eugene when the elder Stoppable brother upgraded to a cassette tape deck and re-purchased Mr. Diamond's entire catalog in the new media format. Ten years later, Elliot inherited the tape deck as well as all his older brother's tapes when Eugene upgraded to compact discs.

The running joke in the extended Stoppable family was that Elliot believed that every new piece of technology (video tapes, cable television, Crystal Pepsi) was just a fad with which he needn't concern himself. Although that was true, it was only half of the story. The other part was that Elliot knew that he would eventually get his brother's hand-me-downs (with the exception of cable TV and, ugh, Crystal Pepsi), so it was fairly pointless to purchase them himself.

When Elliot received his older brother's cassette player and tape collection, he passed on the 8-track and the cartridges to Ron, who at the time was all of three years old. Ron loved the player and cartridges not only for the music but because of their size and shape, the cartridges could double as spaceships when he was playing Star Wars with his imaginary friend Rufus.

When he was listening to the cartridges, Ron would wear the oversized headphones that came with the system. The headphones were so big, in fact, that the seemed to double Ron's head size when he had them on. Although his uncle's 8-track collection was not exclusively made-up of Mr. Diamond's work, young Ron found himself gravitating to his albums.

His favorite Neil Diamond song was "Shilo" because from his first listen, Ron was convinced that the song was somehow about him. The singer was a lonely boy who had an imaginary friend. Interestingly, the imaginary friend happened to be a girl. Although that wasn't true for Rufus, Ron still liked the song. Later, when he became best friends with Kim Possible, the song took on new significance. Although she was not imaginary, like the character in the song, she certainly was a "young girl with fire." As much as the song reminded him of his best friend, Ron couldn't help feeling a little sad when he heard it because Rufus was no longer playing as big a role in his life as when he had first heard it.

As it often happened with 8-track technology, there was a glitch in this particular cartridge. Just before the song reached the third verse, the track switched to the next song. So until the fateful day he received his Uncle Eugene's cassette deck and collection of cassettes, Ron never knew how the song ended.

II.

When he was eleven, Ron Stoppable went to a doctor's appointment that would greatly affect the course of his life and cast a shadow over his friendship with Kim Possible for many years to come. The significant event had nothing whatsoever to do with Ron's medical condition at the time. In fact, it wasn't even his appointment.

Bribed with a meal from Bueno Nacho, Ron had been persuaded by his mother to come to one of her annual checkups. Little did Ron suspect that following the doctor's visit, there was a second, unscheduled "appointment" at T.J. Maxx. Ron hated shopping for clothes more than anything. He could only barely stand browsing with KP and her mother; trying on clothes himself, on the other hand, was completely unacceptable for young Ronald. No matter how tightly he or his mother strapped on the belt, any pair of pants he tried on would inevitably fall down and ALWAYS during the period when he had to parade around before her to show how the "well" they fit.

Ron did not like his mother's doctor. More precisely, he didn't like her doctor's waiting room. It proved both incredibly boring and intensely terrifying for him. "Boring" was obvious. "Terrifying" was due to the doctor's specific choice of décor. Most doctors, pediatricians especially, seemed to favor poorly drawn clown pictures. Ron, for all of his phobias, surprisingly liked clowns, normal clowns that is. Unfortunately, his mother's doctor, who was not a pediatrician, did not have pictures of "normal" clowns. Instead he had over half a dozen--Ron had never dared a precise count--pictures of diseased-looking chimpanzees in clown suits. When Ron had come to appointments with his mother when he was younger he always found the pictures vaguely disturbing, but in the post-Camp Wannaweep days of his adolescence, they became bone-chillingly frightening. Since they were hung at his approximate eye level, poor Ron pretty much kept his head down throughout the entire visit.

Fortunately, there were magazines to look at, but nothing a normal eleven year old boy would be interested in. The copy of "Highlights" dated back to 1976, and all the puzzles had been filled in several times over. Briefly thumbing through a few pages, Ron thought he recognized his own handwriting from a few years back. This suspicion was confirmed when he read "Rufus and Ron 4-Ever" scrawled into the corned of one of the magazine's dog-eared pages.

Two other magazines lay face down on the table. From experience, Ron cautiously lifted the first by one of its corners.

"Eeeep!"

Almost quicker than humanely possible, Ron reflexively dropped the magazine. Unfortunately, he was not quick enough to miss the disturbing close-up of the spider monkey that "graced" the cover of this particular copy of the National Geographic. Bugs were something else Ron could not handle. Sure, the monkey didn't look like a spider or any type of bug, but naming a monkey after one was simply sick and wrong. After a few short breaths, Ron regained his poise and confidently picked up the remaining magazine. This was the one he had been looking for.

As stated before, Mrs. Stoppable's doctor's office did not stock magazines that would be of any interest to normal eleven-year-old boys, but Ron had never been normal, and he certainly wasn't normal at age eleven. The 1982 copy of Redbook provided the one glimmer of hope in the dreadful 45 minute to hour wait they lay ahead for him. He flipped to a random page.

"Booyah! Got it in one!" Ron laughed.

Before his eyes lay the recipe for "Super Moist Chocolate Cake" that he had been making improvements on for the last two every time he had been dragged into this office. It was amazing how he never failed to add an ingredient to what--he had to admit--was a pretty solid chocolate cake recipe in the first place, to make it taste a thousand times better.

With his head down, Ron walked gingerly over to the appointment desk and took the clipboard with the chain-attached ball-point pen. He always copied down the recipe on a spare appointment sheet, added a few of his own creative ideas, and took the page back home to bake a cake for Kim and his parents. He had added ginger and nutmeg to his last recipe and felt certain he had taken things as far in that spice direction as he could. He would start from scratch and try attacking the recipe from a different direction this time.

Kim loved his cooking. His cakes never failed to bring a smile to her face, and the fact that they appeared so randomly (coinciding with these random doctor visits), made them nice surprises as well. As he sat back down, Ron mused on how Kim might look after eating a slice this year since she was supposed to get braces put on just that Thursday.

Crumblies caught in her braces? Cuter than ever probably. He smiled.

Ron made a few radical changes to the original recipe; however unorthodox, they were changes that would surely result in a rainbow of unexpected flavors that would no doubt have shocked and amazed the recipe's original author. Unfortunately, Ron discovered he had only been in the waiting room a mere twenty minutes. He knew there were no other recipes that piqued his interest in this edition of Redbook, so he briefly started to scan some of the non-food related articles. What else was there to do?

That's when the pages fell open to the relationship quiz.

It wasn't the first time he had seen the quiz, but it was the first time he gave it any actual attention. Basically, it was a standard personality quiz to determine whether or not one and one's current partner were made for each other. He absently started answering the questions as they applied to himself and Kim. He still didn't think of Kim in a "partner-sense"--romantic partner that is, but his friendship with her was, without question, the most important relationship in his life.

Although he still felt a pre-adolescent boy's seemingly innate queasiness when it came to all things mushy, he would occasionally ponder the possibility that he might end up married to Kim. This was always pondered in the vaguest of terms, the same way he would ponder what he was going to be when he grew up (hip-hop star) or where he might live when he finally moved out of his parent's house (either the Possibles' or Go City). Marriage was not something he liked to think about but it was something he assumed, more or less, was going to happen someday whether he wanted it to or not. When he considered this inevitability in connection with Kim, it didn't seem so bad. If he could be married to his best friend it might even be fun.

He didn't even get past the first page of the quiz before Ron had his first dance with heartbreak.

Each question was followed by a brief summary paragraph explaining the importance of the question and the background research that proved why any answer the quiz-taker made was irrelevant. The summary under question three spelt it out in words that were as final as the death date on a tombstone: "people typically end up married to partners who share the same level of attractiveness." "Typically" is, of course, the operative word, but eleven-year-old Ron Stoppable did not see THAT word. All the others made it clear that he and Kim would never get married.

Ever since he met her, Ron had known that Kim was beautiful, and for the past few years he had been aware, however slightly, that she was becoming even more beautiful as they grew up. However, these thoughts were always shuttered off to a back corner of his mind. In another dark space located nearby was kept the knowledge that he was not attractive. Kim had never given him that impression, but he knew from statements made and signs given by other girls at school (and even by his mother in a few thoughtless moments) that he was awkward-looking at best.

He sighed deeply and lay the magazine face down on the table. Why did he feel so bad? He hadn't exactly been looking forward to getting married had he? So he wasn't going to get married to Kim, big deal. They would always be friends, right?

A second wave of doubt washed over him. What was to say that Kim, once she realized he was awkward-looking, wouldn't stop being friends with him? No, no, that wasn't like Kim. She would never do that.

On purpose.

But what if she couldn't help it?

That stupid quiz made it sound like it was beyond anybody's choice. What if she met some good-looking guy in middle-school and was simply drawn away from Ron and their friendship like a kitchen magnet to a refrigerator door? Oh man.

If Barbara Stoppable had been somewhat surprised later that day when Ron barely touched his chimarito, she was floored when his mood failed to sour at the announcement that T.J. Maxx was their next destination. He didn't even react when the blue corduroys he was modeling dropped to his feet just as a trio of giggling Pixie Scouts walked by.

That day Ron became something he never thought he would become: a bigot. From then on, he was prejudiced against all pretty boys.

III.

Ron couldn't remember the last time he called for Rufus. Kim had made an idle comment about his giant imaginary friend, and it suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't thought about his invisible protector, let alone summoned him, for a very, long time. Maybe even a couple of years.

This discovery mildly disturbed him, but mainly because it didn't disturb him at all. That is, it really didn't upset him, but part of him really thought it should have. Although he no longer believed Rufus was real in the same way he or his parents or Kim was real, it was kinda sad that he was gone. Gone and not missed. Thinking of all the various complications and permutations of this discovery made poor Ron's head hurt. To avoid the encroaching migraine, which wasn't helped by the super slurpster Kim had bought him with her babysitting profits, Ron elected to store this topic back in the darker corners of his mind for another day. He filed it under "Growing Up Tanks."

A few days later when Kim was treating Ron, again with her babysitting funds, to a grande-sized chimirito, the topic of "Rufus" came up again. Specifically, Kim was not quite adjusted to her braces. She had gotten them the previous Thursday afternoon and things had not gone well the next day at school. She was so not looking forward to school on Monday.

"They're so ugly," she moped.

"No, they're not, KP," Ron said, his mouth full of chimirito.

Looking at her reflection on the table's shiny surface, Kim sighed, "They ARE ugly. Besides, food gets stuck in 'em."

"Ewwwwww, gross," Ron said his mouth still full of food.

"Thanks, Ron," Kim glared. Then added, "Look who's talking."

"Sorry, Kim," Ron said. Then catching on a few beats later, he said, "Hey! What do you mean by that?"

Without speaking, Kim leaned over the table and with a napkin mopped up the glop of chimirito mush that had just escaped from Ron's mouth. Without looking, she tossed the wadded napkin over her shoulder. It swished through the garbage can's retractable lip five feet behind her.

"You were … spewing?" she asked him evenly.

"Ok, ok," Ron said covering his mouth, "you've made your point."

Kim shook her head. Ron never ceased to amaze and perplex her. How could someone who was capable, on a daily basis, of exhibiting horrendous (the word was not too strong) table manners at the same time be able to be so well mannered at special occasions –like Nana's birthday dinner the previous week and the Seder feast in the upcoming week. Kim smiled briefly at the thought of the Seder. She always looked forward to the one night that Ron spoke Hebrew. Hmm. When his voices changes, I wonder what it will sound like?

She immediately frowned, however, when she caught sight of her tin-teeth smile in the tabletop.

"What's wrong, KP?" Ron asked, careful to shield his still working "mandibles" from his friend's line of vision.

"What do you think?" she said a little too harshly. "These stupid braces."

Fortunately, Ron could read that tone and knew her displeasure was not aimed at him.

"It's that Bonnie girl again, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Kim sighed pushing the unfinished half of her chimirito over to Ron with her spork.

Ron shook his head. Bonnie Rockwaller was in Kim and Ron's sixth grade class. Although she had been in their classes years earlier (second and third grades) and had been remembered as a shy and, on occasion, nice person, something had happened to Bonnie in the intervening years. Middleton's elementary school had three classrooms for each grade. Students would get shuffled from different classes from year to year. Sometimes a close friend in one grade would be in a different classroom for the next grade, and even the closest of friends might lose touch and become only slight acquaintances when they were reunited a few years down the line. Since Kim and Ron always hung out together after school and on weekends, it seemed unlikely that such a thing could happen to their friendship. Nevertheless, they also had the good fortune of never being shuffled away from each other and shared the same classroom all through elementary school--a fact that made them both very, very happy.

Whatever happened to Bonnie in the fourth and/or fifth grades, it must have been major. She was no longer shy; she was abrasive. In addition, she seemed hell-bent on disrupting the relatively un-stratified system of friendships that heretofore flourished in the Middleton Elementary classes and replacing it with a clique-based hierarchy with herself crowned as Queen Bee. Unfortunately, Miss Rockwaller proved to be as charismatic as she was caustic and, by turns, charmed those she sought as allies and belittled those she saw as being beneath her. Her two-pronged attack was almost one hundred percent effective.

Almost.

IV.

The one time it failed was when Bonnie crossed Kim and Ron on the first day of sixth grade. One of the first people she had tried to charm onto her side had been Kim. A pretty, popular girl who also happened to be one of the best students at Middleton Elementary and was also involved with practically every club (and had even initiated a few on her own), without question, Possible would have been a great ally.

"Hi, Kim," Bonnie said with a big smile and an outstretched hand.

"Uh, hi," Kim replied tentatively holding out her hand to meet Bonnie's. Kim didn't recognize Bonnie, well, not completely, although the brunette did look familiar. However, this was not the reason for Kim's hesitation; Kim was only in the habit of shaking hands with her parent's colleagues and friend's, not typically with other kids.

"You don't remember me do you?" Bonnie asked, still with a smile.

"I'm sorry, no," Kim smiled uncomfortably, "you look familiar, but…"

"I'm Bonnie Rockwaller," Bonnie smiled sweetly.

"Oh, OH, yes, I remember you," Kim beamed, "we were in third grade together." The name brought back the image of a quiet little girl, who had once helped her with an in-class project and had once shared a sandwich with Ron when he had mistaken his lunch box for his seat one day. My, though Kim, she sure has changed. Bonnie certainly wasn't the shy little girl she had once been.

"Bonnie!" Ron exclaimed walking over to the two girls after putting his bookbag in his in-class locker.

Kim just had to shake her head at her friend. He remembered EVERYTHING and everyone. Even from behind, he recognized a girl they probably both hadn't seen in two years. He probably remembers what type of sandwich Bonnie split with him way back then, Kim mused with a smile.

After giving a quick smile to Kim, Ron turned his goofy grin to Bonnie. She didn't return the pleasantry. In fact, she seemed to bristle at his very presence.

"Excuse me," she said coldly to Ron, "we were talking."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Ron apologized, "I didn't mean to interrupt, Bonnie, I was just …"

"And why are you using my name?" Bonnie asked incredulously, "Do I know you?"

As Ron's face fell, Kim snapped out of her stupor. She had been so shocked by Bonnie's hostile behavior toward Ron that she had been momentarily stunned. Sure, there had been bullies who had picked on or belittled her best friend in the past, but she had naturally assumed that anyone who had been eager to extend friendship to her would not have been that type of person.

"Hey, you can't do that! Apologize!" Kim demanded.

"You heard, her, loser," Bonnie smirked to Ron, "Say you're sorry."

Ron looked like he had been sucker-punched and was about to launch into just such an apology.

"Whoa!" Kim said sternly to Bonnie at the same time she gestured for Ron to stop giving whatever apology he could sniffle out. "Don't call him a loser! Bonnie, I was talking to you!"

"I'm sorry?" Bonnie asked, genuinely confused.

"Ron was just saying 'hello' to you, Bonnie. There's no reason to talk to him like that." Kim explained heatedly.

"Ron?" Bonnie asked with distaste. "Don't tell me you know this loser, Kim."

"He is NOT a loser!" Kim couldn't believe what this girl was saying.

Bonnie looked concerned. "A piece of advice, Kim, we're in sixth grade and next year we will be in middle school--the big leagues and you need to start distancing yourself from the pack." She stated these last two words with visible contempt, and meaningfully stepped in between Kim and Ron. "The sooner," she spoke conspiratorially, "the better."

She placed her hand on Kim's shoulder.

Kim jerked instantly away from Bonnie's touch. Her head was spinning. What was going on here? Who was this girl?

The disgust on Kim's face did not, by any means, go unnoticed by Bonnie. Bonnie shook her head slowly at Kim. She felt, in equal measure, pity and bewilderment. "What is it with you and this loser?" she breathed.

"STOP CALLING HIM THAT!" Kim yelled.

Fortunately, class had not yet begun and Miss Harlowe hadn't entered the room yet. Even so, Kim did have all eyes in the classroom on her. She was embarrassed, but she knew she had to make Bonnie understand. In a calmer, yet still heated voice, she explained to the brunette, "Ron is my best friend, Bonnie, and I am not going to stand here and let you insult him."

Bonnie couldn't believe what she was hearing. She started eyeing Kim warily, like she was coming around to the idea that some prank was being played on her. How could she have been so wrong about Kim? To all appearances, Kim seemed like an ideal partner/friend--someone with pull on the popularity chain that she could win over. Her being friends with one of the dregs of the school just didn't make sense. It was obvious Kim was not who she had appeared to be. In fact, it looked like she was going to be trouble for Bonnie; she was going to be a rival.

"What is wrong with you, Bonnie?" Kim asked. "I mean, after all, you split your lunch with Ron."

Now Ron AND Bonnie were staring at Kim in utter confusion.

The clouds lifted for Ron a few seconds later, and his face broke into a grin. "Hey! That's right! Two years ago … it was a tuna salad sandwich on toasted rye," he said happily to Bonnie. "It was verrrry good. Thanks again!"

Bonnie took a few slow but deliberate steps back from Kim and Ron. She had been confused before; now she was flat-out nervous. "Okay," she said looking from one to the other, "you two are whacked!"

Miss Harlowe entered the room at that moment, and everyone made their way to their desks. As she was walking away, Bonnie overheard Kim ask Ron if he was okay and reassure him that he wasn't a loser. Then another thought struck Bonnie. If Kim was that "caring" for someone like Ron, she would undoubtedly give a similar impression to most everyone else in class. If Kim was to be a rival, this might cause a lot of problems. She needed to beat Kim to the punch.

If charming her didn't work, and it certainly had not, Bonnie had to belittle her. This didn't appear to be such an easy task at first. There was very little to attack Kim on. Apart from her misguided principles, Kim was, by all accounts Bonnie had heard, very much on par with Bonnie in every way. Then the solution occurred to her. If she could hurt Kim through her sub-par friends, it would almost be as good as attacking Kim herself. And when it came to that, Bonnie could always pretend Kim and Ron were one and the same.

Bonnie soon learned another valuable piece of information about Kim. As smart as she was, the redhead was also open and trusting to the point of being naïve. Bonnie couldn't fault Kim for that; she herself had once been very trusting. It was just surprising that Kim was still that way. Apparently, she had never been burned by anyone before. Bonnie smiled inwardly (and outwardly for that matter) because that was going to change.

V.

Bonnie's influence on the class had been felt within the first few weeks. Suddenly, things that had mattered little, if at all, to the majority of students started to matter a great deal. Whether someone wore glasses, had freckles, rode the bus or had their parents chauffer them in a luxury car to school, and whether they had braces or not became of tantamount importance.

"Don't worry about Bonnie," Ron reasoned, "when your braces come off you teeth will be like perfect. She's just jealous of how they're going to look."

Kim smiled at Ron, but she self-consciously kept her mouth closed as she did so. He was sweet and probably right, but that didn't help her right now. Besides …

"It's not just Bonnie, Ron."

"Really," Ron asked just as he was about to stuff the rest of Kim's chimerito into his mouth, "what else is bugging you, KP?"

"Not what, but who," Kim answered sheepishly.

"Who?" Ron asked completely at sea. Well, not completely. He could sense that this was something major. Kim was most definitely uncomfortable about something. But if it wasn't Bonnie, who could be causing Kim so much grief?

"It's actually a boy," Kim said, looking despondently at her reflection in the table.

"A boy?" Ron asked both oars still out of the water.

"The new boy from Upperton," Kim sighed. She still sat dejected, her head pointed at the tabletop, but her eyes were closed.

Ron's ears started to twitch. He knew the boy she was talking about, but he didn't think he had ever gotten his name. Apparently, he had suddenly moved to town last week. So suddenly, in fact, that the kid had been introduced to the class in the late afternoon while Ron had been in the nursing station getting "a mishap" at recess remedied. When he got back to class, there was just this new kid sitting in the front row. For some reason Kim had never brought him up, and Ron had never thought to ask about him. Well, that wasn't true. Ron had thought about him, but had decided against bringing him up with Kim. He was a pretty boy after all.

None of that mattered though because it was so obvious what was wrong with KP. And why she was so embarrassed to talk about him.

"Who is it?" Ron asked a rising edge just discernable in his voice.

"Walter. Walter Nelson," Kim managed with a deflated sigh.

Ron exploded.

"Just who does he think he is making fun of my best friend!"

Kim was taken aback by Ron's outburst. She had never seen him so angry.

"He'll be lucky if he has any teeth once I …"

"Ron, chill out!" Kim said lowering Ron's raised arms (and the squishy remains of Kim's chimirito) down to the table.

"It isn't like that."

Kim was still a bit unnerved by Ron's explosion. What had gotten into him? His sudden anger had even scared her a little. "He is NOT picking on me. In fact, I don't think he has even seen my braces."

"Oh," Ron said completely calm again. "So," Ron asked rubbing the back of his neck, "What's the problem then, KP?" Although he was still at sea with what Kim was driving at, a small part of Ron felt the distinct impression that he was taking on water.

"No, Ron," Kim said a little sheepishly, "it is not exactly a problem or anything like that. It's just ..." then she smiled, again careful not to show her teeth and buried her head in her arms, "it's just that I think I like him."

" I didn't catch that, KP," Ron said, "your sweatshirt was kinda muffling what you said."

"I said that I like him!" Kim said shooting her head up from the sleeves of her sweatshirt. She pleaded with her eyes that he would understand THIS time; she so didn't want to have to say it again. For whatever reason, admitting to Ron that she actually liked liked a boy was both difficult and embarrassing for her.

"Huh?" Ron asked. "You like him? Well, I'm sure he likes you too or will once he gets to know you I mean you are ferociously friendly KP and I am sure that even if he is the new guy he's bound to join one of the clubs you're a member of ..."

"No, Ron," Kim had tunneled her left hand into her right sweatshirt sleeve and was anxiously scratching her right elbow, "I mean I like him like him."

"Oh," Ron said.

And then he said nothing for a long time.

A very long time.

In fact, he didn't even seem to be breathing. Kim was just beginning to think something was really wrong with him when he suddenly and unaccountably said, "... Rufus ..."

"Ron?" Kim said shaking his arm; he still seemed to be in some sort of a daze. "Ron, are you okay? Did you just say 'Rufus?'"

"Ahh," Ron shook his head and blinked rapidly. "I think I uh yeah I uh need to go to the bathroom, KP, uh sick yeah going to be sick ..." He stumbled out of the booth toward the restroom. Although he had addressed her as he came out of his "coma," Ron never looked at her or even glanced back to see her worried expression as he was swallowed by the men's room door.

VI.

It was very strange.

This feeling of utter despair was affecting Ron in ways he couldn't have foreseen. Even in his most paranoid nightmares after reading that horrible quiz in his mother's waiting room, he never would have imagined that Kim would start being drawn away from him within a week! Even at his lowest moment, when the Pixie Scouts were laughing at him in TJ Maxx, he had been worried that he might only have a few years left with Kim as a friend. A few years! That little bit of time seemed like forever now. He'd be lucky if their friendship lasted another month. Another month? Walter was a very good looking guy, very good looking. Goodprettyboylooking in every possible way. His friendship with Kim would barely last a week.

Since Ron was in the habit of crying over pretty much everything, he was a little surprised and disappointed in himself when he realized that as he sat moping in the handicapped bathroom stall (the non-handicapped stall was out of order) that he wasn't crying. Then he tried to cry. Tried to pour all the despair he felt out his eyes. But nothing came. His tears ducts were all dry. It was almost as if he felt too sad to cry. That was strange.

After sitting in the booth rocking back and forth for a little over ten minutes, Ron didn't feel better, but he was no longer in shock. He knew he had to go back out and face Kim. If nothing else, he couldn't leave Kim waiting for him forever in the BN lobby. She had already finished her food when he ran in the restroom and probably wanted to go home. Probably so she could write Nelson a love letter for tomorrow and... no. No, he was not going to be like that. For however long (or short) their friendship lasted, Ron was going to be the best friend to Kim he could be. After all, he reasoned, it isn't her fault. It is just the law of the universe. An unwritten law, but still a law. Pretty girls like pretty boys and eventually they don't have time for friendships with awkward guys.

VII.

Kim was definitely starting to worry about Ron. He had been in the bathroom for almost ten minutes. She had already cleaned up the mess he had left of the squashed chimirito (I've never seen him so angry), and couldn't shake the fact that she KNEW he had said "Rufus" before he had staggered and then bolted for the restroom. He NEVER did that anymore. In fact, the last time she could remember him calling out for his imaginary friend it had been, well, it had been a long time ago when they were just kids and she had been trying to teach him to roller blade.

He must really be feeling ill she thought. She was just about to ask one of the male employees to check on her friend when she realized the grande sized Sprite she had had with her meal was starting to take its toll. She quickly entered the Women's room, resolving to grab a BN employee as soon as she got out if Ron wasn't waiting for her.

VIII.

Ron didn't want to believe it. But it was true. Kim had left without him.

When he came out of the bathroom, she was no longer sitting in the booth. Their booth. The booth they always sat in ever since BN first opened. Ron even got down on his hands and knees to make sure she hadn't somehow slipped underneath the table. Not there.

He walked slowly around the dining area twice to make sure he hadn't somehow mistaken which booth was theirs. Since there were no other customers in the dining area (it was three-thirty on a Sunday afternoon after all), the second trip around the dining area was more out of desperation than to serve any practical purpose. What finally broke Ron, what finally broke his heart, was when he looked outside and noticed that Kim's bike was also gone.

She really had left him there.

He slowly opened the door and walked mournfully to the empty bike rack. He touched it gingerly as if he was checking to see if it was real.

When his hands closed around the cold metal, he felt an urge building from somewhere beneath his navel that rapidly rose to his shoulders, twisted its way up the back of his neck and cascaded from his eyes.

Ron could hardly breathe by the time he reached his house. Running the half a mile from BN had not been the best idea, he thought as he collapsed on his bed. He felt like the wind had been knocked out of him and the top of his mouth was burning. But what choice did he have? If he had walked home, he would have had to explain why he was crying to anyone whose path he crossed.

IX.

When Kim exited the restroom Ron was not waiting at their booth, or in the dining area, or in line again (that had happened more than once in the past). He must really have been sick. She asked the young man behind the counter (his nametag said "Ned") if he could see if her friend was all right in the Men's room.

"Oh, you mean the little blonde kid with the big ears?"

"Y-yes," Kim glowered at Ned. She so did not like it when anyone, especially people who didn't even know Ron, made fun of him.

"He left."

"What?"

"Yeah, just about a minute ago. In fact, he took off pretty quick. He was sprinting through the parking lot. He almost got hit by a car."

"Oh," Kim said, very concerned, "thanks."

"Have a muy bueno day," Ned replied with much less enthusiasm then he had invested in telling of Ron's recent departure.

Poor Ron! He must be super sick, Kim thought as she pushed open the doors of Buena Nacho and headed for home. She wondered if she should stop by and check on Ron, but thought better of it. If he is THAT sick, I should probably just give him a call in a couple of hours.

She was so preoccupied with worry over her friend's condition that she automatically walked up to the bike rack to retrieve her non-existent bicycle. "Doi!" Kim slapped her forehead. She had forgotten that the tweebs had appropriated all the spokes on her bike (not the wheels or the tires--just the spokes) the previous evening for some "experiment" of theirs. She had forgotten to break the news to Ron when his mother dropped him off to meet her at BN. He would have been disappointed … if he hadn't gotten sick that is.

Ron loved to sit on the handlebars while Kim pedaled. Not the safest way to travel, but it was fun, and it certainly built-up the muscles in her legs she would need to be in great shape if she was to try out for the cheer squad this summer. Although Kim enjoyed giving Ron rides on her bike, she didn't mind walking, and since Ron was not here it didn't matter anyway.

No, she thought as she crossed the street and entered her neighborhood, I'll at least stop by and see if Ron made it home okay. Kim took the fork that led to Ron's house; she still couldn't shake the memory of Ron saying "Rufus" though. He might have said it because of extreme bellyflips, but something told her that wasn't quite right.

His father's car was in the driveway, so Kim rang Ron's bell and waited.

Elliot Stoppable seemed surprised to see Kim, especially since he knew that his wife had dropped Ron off to meet her at Bueno Nacho just an hour ago. Kim explained that Ron had gotten sick at the restaurant and according to a BN employee had run all the way home. Ron's father had just driven up a few minutes earlier and wasn't sure if Ron was home or not. He invited Kim inside and hurriedly went to his son's room to see if he was there.

Mr. Stoppable came down the stairs a few moments later. Ron had been fast asleep on his bed. Although he was completely dead to the world, Ron's forehead had not felt hot, so Elliot didn't believe he had a fever.

"I'll check on him in about a half hour, but he seems fine."

As he walked her to the door, Elliot thanked her for stopping by. "I know this isn't exactly on your way home … hey—where's your bike."

"A little sibling problem," Kim said making a face.

"One of their experiments?" Ron's father asked with a laugh.

"So they say," Kim said with an attempted smile.

Even at six, the tweebs were known throughout the neighborhood for their inability to keep their hands to themselves or to keep their experiments to their own yard. In fact, one of their first prototype rockets had landed in the Stoppable's back yard. Elliot had been somewhat miffed by the small projectile but when he later learned that a couple of four-year-olds were responsible, amazement had replaced his anger. Like most of the Possibles' neighbors, Elliot Stoppable viewed the young twins with a combination of amusement and wariness.

"Anyway," Elliot smiled, "it was really nice of you to go out your way to check on Ron."

"Well, he's my best friend, Mr. Stoppable, so it's no big." She smiled, almost forgetting about her braces, and waved goodbye.

Thank goodness Ron's all right. She thought as she headed for home.

X.

He was not.


To Be Continued ...