Thanks to campy, MrDrP, Commander Argus, and surforst for their reviews and to everybody for reading!

This final chapter is dedicated to Tahleen, without whose encouragement it may never have been written.


A/N: The opening quotes for each chapter have been from "Captain of a Shipwreck," one of the songs from Neil Diamond's new album, 12 Songs. Highly recommended.


"You're the reason for my today / Was tempest tossed, now I sleep soundly"

--Neil Diamond

I.

Anne Possible watched her eldest child listlessly pick at her breakfast. Kim had been distracted since yesterday afternoon. Although Anne had thought she detected an uplift to her daughter's spirits after speaking with Ron's father a little before bedtime, whatever lift that call had given her had most definitely worn off. Kim seemed more upset than ever.

Anne went to the fridge to get her twin sons more milk. When she returned to the kitchen table and had refilled the boys' glasses, she sensed that something was most definitely off. It took her a few seconds to determine what it was, but when she did she was amused, infuriated, and greatly concerned all at once.

Kim's hair was in pigtails. This was strange because Kim had not worn her hair like that in years, and she most definitely had not been wearing it like that just a few seconds ago.

The reason this sudden change in hairstyle amused, infuriated, and greatly concerned Anne was because the makeshift pigtails had been fastened with strips of bacon.

"BOYS!"

By the time Anne's outraged yell had cascaded off the linoleum tiles of the kitchen, both of her heretofore innocent-looking sons had sprinted out of the room and shot through the front door to await the arrival of the bus all three Possible children caught for Middleton Elementary.

Kim's continued distraction to both her mother's sudden outburst and the removal of the bacon strips from her hair greatly concerned Anne. Something was most definitely wrong.

"Come on, Honey," Anne said as she led her daughter to the kitchen sink, "we have to wash your hair real quick."

"Huh?" Kim asked without noticeable concern.

"The boys put bacon in it."

"Oh," Kim said numbly. "WHAT!" she suddenly yelled.

Anne gave a relieved sigh. Thank goodness!

"Those little …," Kim growled. "Wait! What time is it? I'm going to miss the bus!"

"Don't worry, Kimmie, I'll give you a ride to school -- my shift doesn't start until noon. This won't take but a few minutes; you won't even be late."

Anne grabbed a towel and the bottle of Kim's strawberry-scented shampoo from the bathroom. She wrapped the towel around Kim's shoulders and gently tilted her head into the sink. With the sprayer attachment, she wet down the "baconey" sections of Kim's hair and worked in the shampoo. Since there were only two greasy spots to take care of, this would be much quicker than if Kim had gone to the trouble of jumping in the shower and rewashing all of her hair.

As Anne rinsed the soap from Kim's hair, she couldn't help recalling the last time she washed one of her children's heads in the sink. It had been two summers ago as a matter of fact.

No, wait. That was Ron.

Anne smiled at how easily she had lumped Kim's best friend in with the rest of her children. However, the incident in question was no laughing matter.

Ron had just come home from spending most of the summer at Camp Wannaweep. Kim had been very excited to see Ron, and he had been even more excited to see her. In fact, he exuded a level of desperate relief that, for some reason, reminded Anne of William Holden's character at the beginning of Bridge on the River Kwai. Of course, he would be a freckled, tow-headed, stick-thin, nine-year-old William Holden; nonetheless, Ron was extremely excited to see Kim again and to be in the Possibles' home.

Ten minutes into his visit, Ron asked Anne if she wouldn't mind too much checking him for ticks. Kim had relayed to Anne the "lowlights" of Ron's "vacation" at the camp, and they had both agreed that Ron was either suffering from such a serious degree of homesickness that he was actively hallucinating or that he was simply exaggerating his misadventures in order to get Kim and Anne to convince Barbara Stoppable to bring her son home early.

However, as she began giving Ron's scalp a cursory once over, she was shocked by what she saw. Ron's head was literally alive with ticks. How such a thing had escaped the camp nurse, the counselors, let alone Barbara on the ride home, was completely beyond Anne.

She had kept her shock to herself and instructed Kim to bring her some tweezers and some rubbing alcohol. Although Kim was as fearless as a nine-year-old could be, even she got a little queasy as Ron leaned over the kitchen sink and she saw what her mother was facing.

Fortunately, Kim and her mother's calm demeanors seemed to keep Ron from panicking. In fact, he seemed almost relieved that the ticks were actually there. His scalp had been bothering him for weeks, and he thought for sure he was going crazy when no one had the camp could (or would) find anything wrong with it.

Kim held Ron's hand the entire time and told him what little she could remember about her summer and what she had planned for them to accomplish in the two weeks before school got back in session.

After practically two hours of grueling work, Anne removed the last tick. She then gave Ron a thorough scrubbing with the antiseptic shampoo that James Possible had picked up on his way home from the rocket center. Anne had James surreptitiously remove the lemonade pitcher full of rubbing alcohol where the dozens of removed ticks were being preserved for testing.

Amazingly, none of the ticks tested positive for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or anything else that might have resulted in a drawn-out lawsuit against the camp.

As Kim toweled off her hair, Anne looked at her eleven-year-old daughter. Now that the hair crisis was over, she had sunk back into the same listlessness as before. Anne resolved to utilize the ride to school to find out what could be bothering Kim. Since, last she had heard, Ron was doing better, there had to be something else going on.

As Anne pulled the family van out of the Possible drive, Kim said in a very small voice, "Mom, do you think Ron like likes me?"

"Honey?" Anne had not been prepared for Kim to spill without at least a little prodding.

"I think I made Ron sick yesterday." Kim continued in a downcast tone.

"Okay, Kimmie," Anne said, "I think you need to back up a little." Anne felt somewhat ambushed and needed to get her bearings if she was going to help her daughter with her problem or problems. She decided to tackle what seemed to be the easier issue. "Why do you think you made Ron sick?"

"Well," Kim began hesitantly, "I was thinking last night about what happened just before he got sick, well, I mean just before he said he was feeling sick, and I remembered that the last thing I had said to him--why I didn't think about this before I don't know, I am just so clueless sometimes--was that I like like Walter and—"

"Who's Walter?" Anne interrupted as gently as she could, partly because she had no idea who this person was and partly to stem the rapid tide of words that were now pouring out of Kim so fast that she could only make out half of what she was saying.

"Oh," Kim blushed, "that's right, you don't know about him, do you?" She took a breath, "Walter Nelson. He's, uh, he's the new boy in class."

"And?" Anne asked with a raised eyebrow.

"He just moved from Upperton, and, well, I, uh, kinda like him."

"'Like like' is, I believe, how you originally put it." Anne corrected. She was bemused by how fast her daughter's willingness to talk had stalled once the topic of her conversation had shifted to this crush of hers.

Kim nodded. "Y-yeah."

"Well, why do you 'like like' Walter?"

"He's a hottie," Kim said automatically. A half second later she immediately turned the shade of her hair.

"That's a new one," Anne smiled. "I haven't heard that phrase before! What makes Walter a 'hottie' as you put it?"

"Well," Kim began, looking quite uncomfortable, "his eyes, I guess, and … uh, … Mom, do you really need to know this?"

"I suppose not," Anne laughed. "I just think it's cute—your first real crush."

"Yeah," Kim smiled, her color starting to fade back to normal. Then the furrows in her brow returned, and she started to absently tap her foot against the seat.

Kim stayed silent for a few minutes. When Anne stopped at an intersection not far from the school, she attempted to connect the dots with her daughter. "So," Anne said gently, "you believe that when you told Ron that you 'like like' this Walter boy he got really upset. And he got upset because he 'like likes' you. That was why he ran to the bathroom, and, I guess, ran all the way to his house?"

"I-I think so. After I told Ron about Walter, I-I believe I heard him say … 'Rufus.'"

"Oh, I see." Anne took a deep breath. "Well, I don't know what to tell you, Kimmie. It is possible. Everyone knows how fond Ron is of you. It would not be too big of a surprise to me if that fondness had moved past friendship. However, only Ron really knows for sure."

"Yeah." Kim was tapping her foot more incessantly than ever.

"You'll just have to ask him."

"I know." The tapping had become frenzied.

"Kim," Anne asked casually as the light turned green and she accelerated through the intersection, "do you think it's possible that you might 'like like' Ron?"

The tapping stopped dead.

II.

For the first time since he had fallen asleep the previous evening, Ron was getting agitated. Not much, but enough.

It was ten minutes until class started, and Kim still had not shown up at school. As was his habit, Ron had hung around at the school's entrance once he had gotten off the bus to wait the five minutes or so for Kim's bus to arrive. The first indication that something was off was when Kim's brothers had exited their bus without either running out or by leaping from one of the windows. Their standard helter-skeltered exits were always due to the fact they were trying to escape Kim who was, in turn, trying to wreak vengeance upon them for something they had inevitably done to her during the ride to school. Although Kim and Ron were five grades ahead of Jim and Tim, Ron still thought it was mondo crazy that they were all going to the same school … even if it was for only a year.

"Hey, Ron."

"Hey, Tim, where's Kim?" Ron asked

"I'm Jim, he's Tim."

"Oh, my bad. Sorry, Jim."

"He's just kidding you, Ron," the other twin Possible explained, "I'm really Jim."

"Uh …"

"Or maybe I'm the one that's kidding you, and I'm really Tim and …"

"Okay! You're freaking me out, happy? Just tell me where Kim is? She's not sick is she?"

"Nah, she just missed the bus," explained "Tim."

"Got some bacon in her hair," continued "Jim."

"Huh? How did … never mind. Is she coming to school today?" Ron asked anxiously. Considering the range of emotions he had felt about her in the last sixteen hours, he had been looking forward to actually being with her in person again.

"Don't know," both boys answered in unison. They shrugged in unison as well and walked into the school building, leaving Ron somewhat confused and majorly bummed.

III.

"No." Kim said finally.

To say that her mother's question had taken Kim completely by surprise would have been so the understatement.

However, it should not have.

Kim realized that she had been so focused on whether Ron might 'like like' her and the consequences that would bring if true, that she had neglected to question her own feelings about him. After the question's initial shock wore off, Kim began to seriously consider how she felt about her best friend. It was true that when they were kids she had thought of him as being cute in a goofy kind of why; truth be told, she still thought he was cute in a goofy kind of way. However, once she placed these feelings against how Walter Nelson made her feel, the answer became obvious. No, Kim did not 'like like' Ron.

Anne couldn't help feeling disappointed in Kim's answer. Not that she was disappointed in Kim, Anne knew that no one could control who they loved; yet, Anne had recently begun thinking of Ron differently then she had in the previous seven years she had known him. She had begun thinking that it might be a good thing if, a few years into the future, he were to become more than Kim's best friend, something more than Anne's "third son." As they neared the school, Anne kept an eye on her daughter who, after giving her one word answer, had gone silent again.

Anne sighed. "Well, Kimmie, does knowing that make things easier for you?"

A smile suddenly broke across Kim face. A real smile, braces showing and everything. Anne realized that this was the first genuine smile she had seen Kim wear since she had gotten her braces.

"Yes, Mom, it does," she beamed.

Anne was crestfallen. She couldn't believe that Kim seemed so happy with the realization that she cared more for this new boy than Ron. Even if Kim saw her "crush" on this Walter person as turning into something like "the love of her life," Anne was shocked at how quickly Kim's concern for her best friend seemed to dissolve.

"Well," Anne said trying her best not to allow her own sadness color her words, "what are you going to do?"

"Hmmm." Kim thought a second. "Well, I don't know; I don't think I really have to do anything."

"What?" Anne asked a little louder than she had wanted.

"Yeah, Mom," Kim said, a little taken aback, "I mean I haven't even spoken to Walter yet, why would I have to do anything?"

"Huh?"

"Mom," Kim said, a little annoyed at her mother's slowness, "just because I 'like like' Walter Nelson doesn't change the fact that I love Ron."

The profound silence that followed this statement lasted until Kim's scream gained her mother's attention. Fortunately, it was enough time to prevent Anne from plowing into the back of a parked bus in the school's parking lot.

IV.

After a minute or two of pacing by the bus drop-off, Ron finally turned his aimless feet toward the school building. He still didn't know what to make of what Jim, no wait, Tim … ugh … what the twins had said about Kim. What did they mean she got bacon in her hair? Well, he actually knew what that meant: somehow Kim had got bacon in her hair and had missed the bus as a result. But what exactly did that mean?

He was so focused on decoding this mystery (not to mention whether "bacon hair" would mean his best friend wouldn't be in school that day) that he failed to hear the screaming of the breaks of a family mini-van as it narrowly missed slamming into one of the parked buses at the drop-off.

Once inside, the first person he bumped into—literally-was Bonnie Rockwaller. Ron noticed that she was wearing a jacket around her shoulders, a very strange thing to do on a particularly warm April morning. He also happened to notice that the jacket seemed a little large for her and it had the unmistakable logo of the Middleton Middle School Mongeese was on the shoulder. There was also the name "Connie" embroidered just above the Mongoose's head.

"Watch where you are going, Loser!" she snarled. She reached out and pushed him back a good foot, despite the fact that he had already reflexively stepped back a few feet after they collided.

"Sorry, Bonnie," Ron said distractedly. "How are things going?" Just because he was distracted about Kim didn't mean he couldn't be pleasant at the same time.

Bonnie rolled her eyes and shook her head in disgust.

As she began stalking away, Ron turned down the hall in the opposite direction toward class. He stopped and called after her, "I like the jacket. Pretty badical."

Over her shoulder, Bonnie snarked, "Who asked you, Ron Stupid-able?"

If there was one thing Bonnie truly could not stand it was how Ron Stoppable never seemed to get it. She was as vicious and cruel with him as she could possibly be, but he never failed to be friendly with her. It was so infuriating.

She had learned how to push Kim's buttons fairly quickly and had become so adept at it that it was almost second nature to her. This had become incredibly easy recently. Now that Kim was a brace-faced loser, snarking on her was child's play. Bonnie had truly savored the first time she called Kim "Tin Teeth" to her face. Ron, on the other hand, didn't seem to have any buttons to push. Nothing riled him. Why did he have to be so ferociously friendly?

As Ron walked into his classroom, he looked around at his fellow students. They were clustered into different groups all keeping healthy distances between themselves. Since Miss Harlowe had yet to appear-it was still five minutes until eight, everyone was free to talk to friends about the past weekend. Ron could remember just last year when the groups had been fewer, larger, and the spaces between them were not quite so vast. Until this year, Ron had never even heard the word "clique" let alone know what it meant. Kim probably had, Ron reasoned, but she certainly hadn't started using it until this year. It was probably not fair to blame it all on Bonnie, but she definitely helped the situation along.

Kim tried to be friendly with everyone. If she had been there this morning, she would have been going from group to group asking friends she knew from previous years how they were doing or trying to get them involved in the various groups she was always either founding or leading. The ultimate goal would be getting people from the different cliques to start talking to each other again. Although Ron wasn't always the sharpest tool in the shed, even he realized quite quickly that Kim's involvement in all her extracurricular clubs was mainly an effort to keep everyone involved with each other. Ron was very proud of his friend's noble goal and felt honored because she always enlisted him in her efforts. Unfortunately, Ron also caught the fact that her efforts were not going to be enough to overthrow the new system spearheaded by Bonnie.

Without Kim by his side, Ron had no choice but to join "his" group—the group of lonely kids that just sat at their desks and waited for class to begin.

After a few minutes, Bonnie burst into the room with her posse of friends. Ron noticed she was definitely trying not to look like she was showing off the jacket he saw her wearing earlier. He suddenly realized it was a cheerleading jacket.

Hmmm.

He knew Bonnie, just like Kim, would be trying out for the Mongeese cheer squad next year and figured she must be using the jacket to somehow give herself a mental edge in the tryouts.

Boy, both of them on the same squad? That could be real trouble!

At Bonnie's left elbow was that cute little blonde, Tara Strong. Suddenly, Ron found himself staring at Tara's hair and wondering if it had the same strawberry scent he sometimes caught a whiff of from Kim's hair.

Kim. Where is she?

He absently followed Tara with his eyes, and therefore followed Bonnie, as the latter walked across the front of the classroom. She was making a beeline for Walter Nelson's desk.

"Hi, Walter." She smiled.

Ron heard Walter Nelson return Bonnie's salutation and then he saw him return her smile.

Ron noticed that Walter's smile was a broad smile. However, it was not quite as broad as the one that suddenly erupted across Ron's face.

V.

After hastily pulling into a vacant parking space in front of the school, Anne asked incredulously, "Did you just say you love Ron?"

"Y-yeah," Kim stammered, still quite shaken by the accident they had narrowly avoided.

"But, Kimmie, you just said you didn't 'like like' Ron."

"Mom," Kim said rolling her eyes while still trying to catch her breath, "Ron is my best friend. Of course, I love him. That has nothing to do with 'like liking' somebody."

Anne massaged her right temple. "So you are not saying that you 'love love' Ron, but just that you love him as a friend? And love is better than 'like like'?"

"Yes, Mom," Kim said, her breathing back to normal, "that's what I meant."

"Okay, I see." Anne could not believe she has misread her daughter so badly. "You are willing to forget about your feelings for this Nelson boy to save Ron's feelings."

"Of course."

Anne smiled at her daughter. She was proud of her for being willing to sacrifice a crush on a boy she hadn't even met for her best friend. However, Anne also knew that making the noble decision wasn't always enough.

"So, Kimmie, when you 'like like' another boy are you going to forget your feelings that time too?"

Kim's smile vanished.

"If boys ask you to dances in middle school are you going to turn them down, so you won't hurt Ron's feelings?"

"Uh …," Kim's foot had started tapping against the seat again.

"Are you going to stay home from the Prom so you can watch television with Ron, so he won't be lonely?"

"Mom!" Kim said in genuine anger. "That is so mean! How can you say Ron won't be able to get a date for the Prom?"

Anne was pleasantly surprised at how deep Kim's loyalty and … well … her love for Ron ran. However, Kim was still missing her mother's main point.

"Kim, why would Ron ask some other girl to the Prom if he 'like likes' you?"

"Oh," Kim cast her eyes back to her lap, "yeah."

"Kim, don't get me wrong. I think it is very noble that you would be willing to give up what you feel for this other boy to spare Ron's feelings, but it won't solve everything. In fact, it might make things worse."

"Huh?" Kim was truly puzzled. How could standing by her best friend be a bad thing?

"Without wanting to, you might find yourself in the future disliking Ron, resenting him, because of your decision about Walter. You may start to believe you missed out on something special and might unconsciously blame Ron because you did it for his sake even though he didn't ask you to. Furthermore, what if Ron does 'like like' you? To protect his feelings, are you going to pretend you 'like like' him too?"

Kim was starting to look very confused and miserable.

Anne gently placed a hand on Kim's ankle to stop her incessant tapping. "I know this isn't fair to either of you, but it needs to be faced. The sooner the better."

"But what if … what if?" Kim eyes were threatening to water.

"What if it ruins your friendship?" Anne asked.

Kim nodded.

"That could happen, Kimmie."

All the color drained from Kim's face.

"It is always possible that can happen, Kimmie. But if I know Ronald and if I know anything about you, I think that your friendship will be strong enough to withstand this. You both care very deeply for one another. As you said, you're best friends, and I do believe you love each other. But you have to be honest with each other and be prepared to face whatever that honesty might bring."

Some of the color returned to Kim's checks, and she gave a resigned nod.

"You need to ask Ron how he feels about you, and you need to let him know how you feel about him."

Kim nodded again.

"If you are honest with each other, I'm sure everything will work. It won't be easy, but it will be okay."

"Okay," Kim said.

Anne looked at her watch. It was five after eight; class had already begun. "All right. Let me walk you in, Kimmie, so you won't get in trouble with your teacher."

As they got out of the car, Kim looked at her mother and said flatly, "Ron was right."

"About what?"

"Growing up tanks."

VI.

As the classroom door swept open, everyone who was not already in their seats scrambled quickly to take them. Ron, who was seated near the rear of the classroom, turned around in his chair on the hope that the individual entering the room was Kim. It wasn't.

Mrs. Barkin was known to be one of the sweetest people in Middleton and, perhaps, in the entire known universe. She had been Kim and Ron's third grade teacher and had been Middleton Elementary's vice principal for the last two years. There were rumors that she may be retiring either this year or the next. No one quite knew how old she was, but she had been Kim's mother's third grade teacher. In fact, Kim's mom had been quite surprised that Mrs. Barkin "hadn't seemed to age a bit" since the time she had been in her class. As far as Ron was concerned, that made her at least one hundred years old. Not that that it mattered; she was still his favorite teacher.

"Hi, Mrs. B!" he called happily and waved.

"Well, hello, Ronald," she waved back, "how are you?"

"Just great, Mrs. B!"

"Good to hear." Mrs. Barkin made her way to the front of the classroom. For being over a hundred years old, she was fairly spry.

"Class," Mrs. Barkin announced from the front of the room, "your teacher, Miss Harlowe is going to be a little late this morning. Apparently, she is still having problems with her former fiancée, poor dear. Apparently, Dr. Lovelace forgot, yet again, about the restraining order Miss Harlowe filed against him. Poor fellow was serenading her on her front lawn at six o'clock this morning. She told me when she called that filing the police report shouldn't take too terribly long, so I don't imagine she will be more than twenty minutes late for class."

In addition to being a dear soul, Mrs. Barkin was also the type of person for whom the phrase "TMI" was invented.

"I'm sure Miss Harlowe will greatly appreciate it if you talked quietly among yourselves until she arrives."

As Ron exchanged waves with Mrs. Barkin as she walked past his desk, he thought about how any other teacher would have made them do some rotten worksheet or, ugh, some random word problem just to keep them busy until Miss Harlowe arrived. It was a real shame that she was going to retire. Of course, Ron had learned from his mother that Mrs. Barkin's son was going to start teaching at the high school next year.

Hmmm. That should be pretty cool.

From the hallway, Ron heard Mrs. Barkin say in her warm voice, "Anne … Kimberly! How are you two this morning?"

Ron was out of his seat like a shot.

"Kim! Kim!" Ron yelled as he burst through the door.

"Ron!" Kim replied, surprised both by the suddenness of his appearance and by the good, no great, mood he seemed to be in.

"Ronald." Mrs. Barkin admonished him sternly, well as sternly as she could. "Please, keep your voice down."

"Oh, sorry, Mrs. B. Hi, .P. Kim, I've got to show you something!"

"O-okay," Kim said. As she followed Ron into the classroom, she gave her mother one more look of concern.

Anne's smile tried to reassure her daughter that no matter what everything would work out.

As Kim entered the classroom, the first thing she noticed was that Bonnie was sitting by herself at her desk with a decidedly annoyed look on her face. At first, she thought this was what Ron had been so amped for her to see. However, he was excitedly motioning for her to look at the opposite side of the room.

"Ron, what am I supposed to be looking at?" she whispered.

"Right there," he sort-of whispered back as he pointed toward, of all places, Walter Nelson's desk where a couple of boys were standing around joking with Walter.

One of the other boys must have said something fairly funny because Walter smiled, revealing practically every tooth in his pretty head. Every one of which was encased in silver braces.

"That." Ron said with a smile.

Kim couldn't help giving out a semi-squeal/giggle and a broad "brace-ful" smile of her own.

"Oh, Ron," she whispered happily.

Suddenly, her smiled disappeared, and she was looking at Ron with a very serious and troubled expression.

"What is it, KP?" Ron asked. He had been sure she was going to be pleased that Walter Nelson could have no problem with her braces.

"We need to talk about something serious, Ron," she said a little sadly.

"Oh, okay," Ron replied, more than a little worried about the vaguely familiar sinking feeling that was spreading across the base of his stomach.

Kim took Ron's hand and led him out into the hall. Both her mother and Mrs. Barkin had already left; in fact, the hallway was deserted.

Even though Ron had seemed genuinely excited for Kim's sudden change of fortunes with Walter, she knew how big Ron's heart was and how easy it would be for him to sacrifice his own feelings for someone else, especially for her. She had to see this out to the end. Braces or no, their friendship was worth far more than Walter's smile. When she was quite sure they were alone, Kim said quietly, "Ron, I need to know something."

"S-sure, what is it, KP?"

She took a deep breath. "You didn't really get sick yesterday at Bueno Nacho, did you?"

"Uh," Ron said caught off-guard. "Uh, no, I-I didn't, KP. I was upset, but I wasn't sick … exactly."

She nodded. "Did you get upset because I told you that I really liked Walter?"

Ron's head shot to the floor. He felt so ashamed. But he knew he shouldn't, that he couldn't, keep this from Kim. He nodded and muttered, "Yes."

Kim took another deep breath. Then she said, "Please look at me, Ron."

As he raised his head, Kim noticed that their eyes were no longer level with each other. When did he get shorter than me? "Ron, this is hard, but I need to ask."

"Yeah?" he breathed.

"Ron, do you … 'like like' me?"

Ron blinked twice, obviously taken completely by surprise. "I-I don't know, Kim. I've never thought about it before."

A churning wave of emotions hit Kim. First she felt enormous relief, this was followed quickly by a just as strong current of bewilderment, and, finally, she was stung by a slight prick of disappointment.

These tangled feelings were clearly reflected in her eyes because Ron immediately held up his hands and, in a hurried voice, said, "Now, KP, it's not that I don't think you are super pretty because you are, I just never thought of you in that way before!"

After blushing slightly at Ron's revelation that he thought she was "super pretty," Kim asked, "Then why were you so upset by how I felt about Walter?"

"I-I'm sorry, Kim. I was worried that I was going to lose you as a friend." Ron looked completely disgusted with himself.

"Why would you think that, Ron?" Kim asked.

"Well, gosh, this is so hard to explain." Ron paused for a moment and then gave it his best shot. "You see, I read this magazine a few weeks ago a-and I thought once you noticed some prettyboy you were going to turn into a magnet … you know, like on a fridge."

"What?" Kim arched her eyebrow.

For some reason, that arched eyebrow put Ron at ease, and he was able to explain. "I thought you wouldn't have time for me anymore. That you'd forget me."

"Ron, that would never happen! We're best friends. I mean … if you started really liking someone, would you forget about me?"

Ron briefly thought about Tara, and, sure enough, he found that Kim was right. His new feelings for the petite blonde did nothing to harm his feelings for Kim.

"No, of course not, Kim," Ron smiled. Then the shame crept back into his cheeks. "I'm so sorry for flaking out on you yesterday. But when I came out of the bathroom and you were gone and then I didn't see your bike …"

"Oh, you didn't know Mom had dropped me off, did you?"

"Still, I feel like such a terrible friend for doubting you."

"Ron, it's okay," Kim said placing a hand gently on his right shoulder. "You can't help what you feel. And after seeing how excited you were for me because Walter has braces, I think it is pretty obvious that you are not a terrible friend. Not at all."

Ron smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.

"And as far as Walter or any other boys are concerned, if they aren't cool with my best friend, then I'm not cool with them," she smiled, hugging him close to her with her arm.

"I always want to be your best friend, Kim," Ron said getting slightly misty.

"You always will be, Ron." She smiled and gathered him into a hug.

For a moment, neither said anything; they just enjoyed the hug.

"Mmmmmm. Strawberry bacon!" Ron muttered into Kim's hair.

"What?" she said looking back at him. She giggled and shook her head, "You are so weird, Ron."

"Ha-ha! Look at this," came a sharp cry from the classroom doorway. Bonnie Rockwaller was looking malevolently at the two friends who were still in their embrace. She began to taunt them in a sing-song voice. "Tin Teeth and Loser sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

Kim balled her fists and stepped away from Ron. "What have I told you about calling Ron a loser, Bonnie!"

"First comes love then comes marriage …"

"Bonnie!"

"Tell it to the hand, Possible," Bonnie stated without concern. She took off her cheerleading jacket and whipped it over her right shoulder, just missing Ron's head. She laughed as she turned on her heel and entered the girl's bathroom. The last line of her song echoed off the tiles as the door closed.

Kim was steaming. She turned to Ron and noticed that for the first time all day he seemed sad. "Oh, Ron, don't let her bother you."

"It's not that, Kim."

"Well, what's wrong? Why are you sad?"

He sighed. "I'm sad for her."

"Bonnie?" Kim cried incredulously. "Why would you be sorry for her?"

"Isn't it obvious, Kim," Ron said. "She's never had a real friend."

For the second time that morning, Kim Possible was completely floored by the size of her best friend's heart.

"I'm so glad you're my best friend Ron Stoppable." Kim gave Ron a warm "brace-ful" smile. She slung her arm around his shoulder and marched with her best friend back into class.

VII.

The Stoppables' Seder meal three nights later went very well indeed. Ron had never sounded so confidant. He did all the tellings and, at Kim insistence, he did them all exclusively in Hebrew. Now that Kim's presence had become such an annual event, the meal was not quite as solemn as it had been that first year she had been invited. Jokes were passed with the matzah, and Kim almost seemed as relaxed with Ron's parents as he was with hers. Well, maybe not that relaxed; it was hard to imagine anyone more relaxed in someone else's home than Ron was in Kim's.

As it had been the last three years, the hunt for the Afikomen had been a hard fought affair. This evening Kim narrowly made it back to the table with the prize. Ron, more than likely, would have found it first if he hadn't wasted five minutes rummaging through the downstairs' bathroom for the hidden piece of unleavened bread.

Even though Ron no longer had bad feelings connected with letting in Elijah, he and Kim, as had become their own private custom, both opened the garage door for the prophet.

After the meal and festivities were over, Ron walked Kim to the door where her father was waiting to drive her home. They gave each other a tight hug, and he smiled as he watched them pull out of the drive.

VIII.

Ron had been in bed for maybe a half hour when the four full glasses of watered-down wine started to take their toll.

After finishing up in the bathroom, Ron walked quietly upstairs and tried to make as little noise as he could while walking past his parent's bedroom door. He was a little surprised when he saw the light from their slightly ajar doorway and could hear them talking.

"Well, I definitely think that went very well," Elliot Stoppable said in a satisfied voice. "I think Kimberly had a very good time …"

"Yes," Barbara Stoppable sighed. "Even if it will be the last year she celebrates with us."

Just past their door, Ron stopped dead in his tracks and the hair on the back of his neck stoop up.

"What do mean, Barb?"

"What do you think I mean?"

"I don't know that's why I'm asking."

"Dear, they're practically teenagers. It won't be long now before she outgrows this."

"Outgrows what? The Seder?"

"Yes," Ron's mom sighed, "the Seder, but, more importantly, before she outgrows her little friendship with our son."

"What are you talking about, Barb?" Elliot sounded almost as upset by his wife's statement as Ron was. In fact, the shock that registered in his father's voice was the only thing that kept Ron from fainting right there in the hallway.

"Dear, I like Kimberly, you know I do. But, I also know what type of girl she is."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Let me put it this way, she's going to be a cheerleader next year. Did you know that?"

"Yes, I think Ron did mention something like that, but what does that mean?"

"Cheerleaders only think about one thing: boys."

"Well," Elliot laughed, "Ron's a boy."

"I'm trying to be serious, Elliot."

"What are you trying to say, Barb?" Elliot Stoppable's tone indicated that he was most definitely serious now.

"Elliot, Kimberly is a very pretty girl and Ron … "

"What?" Elliot asked tersely.

"He isn't in her league. Don't look at me like that. You know it's true."

Ron's blood pressure had been on a roller coaster ride throughout the conversation, but in the few moments of very telling silence that followed his mother's pronouncement upon him, he felt as if his heart had stopped.

"Even so," Elliot began finally, "even if that is true, that doesn't mean she won't stay friends with him."

"Elliot, I knew boys who I was "just friends" with when I was her age too. I lost touch with them in high school. That didn't happen because I wanted it to; it just did. I can't even remember their names now."

The thought that in twenty years or so Kim might not be able to recall his name was too much for Ron. He began furiously wiping the few tears that had started to trickle silently down his cheeks. It was one thing to have his own silly doubts, but if they were being validated by his parents?

"Barb," Elliot stated firmly, "I know what you're saying and I agree with you to an extent, but I don't believe that when we were their age that you or I ever had friends as good as Ron and Kim have in each other."

"Maybe," Ron's mom admitted.

"No maybes about it. Furthermore, I really believe you are selling Kimberly short. Did you see the way she was looking at him this evening while he was giving the tellings? Well, I did. There was real love in her eyes."

"Dear …"

"Okay, maybe not 'love love' but love nevertheless. No, you are wrong, Barb."

"I hope you're right."

"I am right. I fully expect to see her at Ron's Bar Mitzvah in two years."

"You really do put a lot of store in their friendship, don't you."

"Dear, I can't imagine anything breaking up their friendship."

"Anything?" she asked suspiciously.

"Well, okay, if something crazy happens, like, I don't know, your office transfers us to Norway or something … then maybe."

Barbara Stoppable laughed.

"Otherwise, I fully expect to see them at each other's weddings."

Ron's mother laughed at again. "What? Is Ron going to be her best man?"

"Why not?" his father asserted. "As far as I can tell, he is her best man."

IX.

As Ron snuggled underneath his covers, he reflected on what a crazy week it had been for him emotionally. And it hadn't even been a full week! He was so tired of crying, so tired of having his heart kicked around like a hackey sac. He was afraid of what the next three days might bring.

No. No. Not going to happen.

He firmly resolved to let nothing anyone said about Kim and his friendship bother him ever again.

Well …

Even Ron knew that wasn't going to work. Instead, he resolved to try to always remember this past Monday when she had hugged him and said she was so glad he was her best friend. And he resolved to remember what he has dad had just said about him being at her wedding and being her best man.

Best man? There's no way that's not going to happen!

X.

And Ron's resolves would be tested. They were sorely tested a little more than a year later when Kim and Walter had their first and very complicated kiss. They were tested even further when the Mankey family moved into town from Go City at the start of their freshman year at Middleton High.

However, Ron always kept those two memories close to his heart, and they served him well. And on the few instances when even these didn't prove to be enough, he would simply look into his heart, where he would inevitably find a cracked 8-track cartridge and a broken video game case.