Thanks for reviewing, ShyFX. I'd also like to thank sammie at the Totally Spies Picture Archive, for being so kind to beta-read the story so far. Anyway, here's the next part.
Chapter 4: Tickets for Two
On the beach near Sam's house, fun and laughter reigned supreme. The barbecue was in full swing, the sun was out, and most of all there were people. Beautiful, friendly people.
"So, Jason, what have you been doing with yourself?"
Sam addressed her old friend, a bronzed youth she and the other two girls had last seen two years ago. Jason Forbes had graduated the year before them, but not before he had become good friends with Sam…once she had gotten over her crush on him. Now he was back on a brief visit with his family in Los Angeles.
Clover sidled up next to him. "Saving the world? Getting the girl? Doing important work for the greater good of humanity?" she baited him, her voice rising in pitch..
"Well, not quite, though my charity work does take me all over the world." Jason took a sip of his cocktail. "It's tiring but rewarding. I wouldn't recommend it if you, uh, like your luxuries."
"Well, that rules us out then," said Alex.
David edged in, "Hey, don't I get a look in?" he said in mock-lament. "Say, the ribs are great, Sam."
"Thanks." said Sam.
Down by the sea, Britney and Dean were chatting merrily, enjoying the feel of the cool Pacific water as it lapped at their toes. They get on so well, thought Sam. Also present were Tomito, the Japanese exchange student Sam knew from Classic Lit class, and Robert, the boy from next door. All people Sam knew and got on with.
It would have been perfect if the other person she had invited had been able – or been allowed – to come along.
A couple of miles away, Arnold Jackson took a sharp breath in and let his head droop right forward into his hands.
He couldn't stand it anymore. The torture. The torture of seeing her every day. The torture of seeing her chat and flirt with boys more handsome and socially adept than he. The times he would allow himself to build his feeble hopes up just a little, only for them to crumble again. It was an unending cycle.
He was especially miserable today. His beleaguered mind flashed back once again to the disappointment of the previous day…
Flashback to Friday Chemistry class…
Sam and Arnold were working together on the day's experiment. Suddenly Sam asked something that took Arnold completely by surprise.
"Arnold," began Sam a little hesitantly. "I was thinking. I'm holding a beach barbecue round at mine tonight."
"Hmm," said Arnold, who was measuring out a half-beaker full of carbonic acid. "That sounds like fun."
Sam moved a little closer to him and dropped her voice a touch, so Clover and Alex wouldn't hear her. "Well…I thought…maybe you'd like to come along."
SMASH! Arnold dropped the beaker.
"Gee, you're such a klutz, Arnold-o," sneered Clover from across the workbench, though without venom. Sam and Arnold grabbed some towels and, ignoring the glances from the rest of the rest of the class, cleared up the split chemical. Luckily the acid was not strong. Arnold took the chance to sneak a response to Sam.
"Me? At one of your beach parties? Gee, thanks," said Arnold. "But if you don't mind me asking, what makes you invite me?"
"As a token of friendship," replied Sam. "Besides, you've kinda been looking a bit down recently. I think it might do you good."
Arnold smiled with joy and adjusted his glasses.
"Well, in that case I'd love to come," he declared.
At that precise moment the bell rang. "It's after school, about a hundred metres from the Divers' Bluff bar. Don't be late." she said cheerfully.
Arnold beamed at her. She looked so gorgeous in her white lab coat. Well, she always looked gorgeous, but the lab coat suited her so well. They cleared up and then said goodbye. Arnold felt something burn deep down inside him as he watched Sam slip out of the white garment. Then they left…
Later, Arnold was fixing himself a 7-Up from the vending machine when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Sam in heated conversation with Clover and Alex. They were partly blocked from view by a stand advertising the annual Woollerton's donation drive, but Arnold could still their faces clearly enough. Looking at them, he could see that Clover, and to a lesser extent Alex, did not appear to be much impressed by whatever Sam was saying. He got his drink and walked past them.
"Hi, Sam. Hi, girls." He always addressed Sam separately from the others.
"See you in class, Sam," said Clover immediately. She and Alex made to split.
"Hi, Arnold. About the, uh, barbecue invitation. I think it might be better if you didn't come."
Arnold's stomach turned over. "Why not, Sam?"
"Well, I don't think you'd like it. I mean, there'll be people like who won't appreciate you being there."
"What, like Clover?" Arnold said the name with a hint more anger than he intended.
"Well, no, other people," said Sam evasively. "Besides, I don't think it'll be your scene. I'm sorry, Arnold. Maybe we could do something else some other time."
"Maybe we could," spoke Arnold emotionlessly.
"Anyway, see ya, Arnold. Please, don't be too disappointed." Sam gave him a brief smile and then walked away.
Arnold stared after her. He wasn't disappointed. He was gutted.
Flash-forward to present…
Well, something positive had come out of it. Sam had wanted him to be at her party, as, she had said, a token of friendship. That gave Arnold hope.
How could he tell Sam how he felt about her? Surely there must be some way…
Arnold lifted his head, opting to stare blankly at the wall instead as he tried to envision ways of trying to tell her. Maybe he could do it when they were alone together, maybe in a nice, quiet, peaceful place.
Or maybe not. God, he needed to deal with it somehow. It threatened to burn him up and consume him from within. People had destroyed themselves because of love. Arnold didn't want that to happen to him.
The young scientist let out a long, frustrated breath. He decided that a shower was what he needed right now. He headed for the bathroom, stripped off and stood himself under the hot, comforting water. That small space had become his refuge over the past few months. A place where he could shut himself away from the cold, hard, world and its cast iron realities. He loved the sensation of the water beating down upon him, not too harshly, not too softly, almost embracing him with its warmth.
Sometimes he wished he could stay there forever.
"So he calls up the rental agency and says he wants the car collected. They ask him where he is, and he says 'It's at the bottom of the pool, - yeah, at the bottom!" And they went there with a huge crane and fished it out!"
The teenagers crowded around the barbecue laughed at Jason's latest anecdote. The sun was setting and the sky had broken into a gorgeous mosaic of red and gold. Dean and Britney turned up at that moment.
"Say, you two have been gone a while."
Dean answered, "Oh, we just took a walk around the edge of the lagoon."
Britney cut in, "Yeah…you can see the uh, sunset even better from round there."
David cocked an eyebrow. Jason motioned to Sam. "You wanna walk with me a bit, Sam?"
They wandered for a little, a few metres from where the waves sloshed lazily at the stubborn sands.
"Say, Sam, uh, why don't we go out at the weekend? Y'know, just as friends?"
Sam beamed at him. "I'd love to. Anything you have in mind."
"Well, I know you like fast cars. And I've got two tickets to the Turbo Formula race at Sun City Speedway."
"Sounds like a change of scene. I like it." replied Sam.
"I'm glad you do."
"And some race it is. It's the inaugural Sun City night race. It's gonna be quite an event." He sounded very enthusiastic about the whole thing.
"What time is it at?"
"Eight. We'll meet up at seven, that time we'll be in time for the warm-up."
Sam was pleased. It would be great to spend some time with Jason.
Sunday morning and another WOOHP mission had been and gone. This time they had to stop Alfredo the Ice Cream Man from taking control of the nation's youth using special drugs. Everything had gone well up until the point where Sam took a dose of Alfredo's "confusion" gas, the result of with she had mistaken the factory's elderly janitor for a handsome prince and badgered him for a date. No way were Alex and Clover going to let her live that one down.
"You two ready for your double date tonight?" asked Sam as they walked back to her mansion.
Clover put her arm round Alex. "Ready as we'll ever be. I'd ask you if you have a date, but I think you answered that one earlier." She and Alex broke up into peals of laughter.
Sam was unimpressed. "OK, joke's over."
"C'mon, Sammie, there's nothing wrong with dating older men," said Alex. "Maybe if it doesn't work out with Mr. Janitor Dude, maybe we could fix you up with Jerry." More laughter followed.
"Hey, Sam, I thought you were hot for British guys," quipped Clover.
Sam rolled her eyes. "I think I'll try and pretend you and Alex are funny." She paused for a few seconds. "Nope, can't do it."
They arrived at Sam's. The redhead went to the answer machine and hit the 'receive' button.
"You have one new message." Sam hit the 'play' button. The message was from Jason.
"Hi, Sam, it's Jason here. Look, Sam, I'm not gonna be able to make it to the race tonight. I've had to fly off to India, they need me at this well project there. Some of the guys have come down with food poisoning and they're short on men. I'm really sorry, OK?"
Sam's heart sank. "Maybe you could go with someone else, yeah? I've left the tickets in your mailbox. Anyway, look, I'll try and see you again soon. Bye, Sam."
"Trouble, Sam?" asked Sam.
"Jason's had to leave in a hurry. They need him in India. Some luck," said Sam. "They must've needed him pretty badly."
Alex laid a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Guess he's just like us in a way, jetting off to the tropics, helping people."
"Well, never mind. I'm sure he'll call some time." Sam managed a smile, and then made a move towards the refrigerator. "Now, who wants ice-cream?"
Alex and Clover groaned.
A bit later Sam paced in her bedroom, wondering. It would be a shame to let the tickets go to waste. But who to take with her?
Arnold. It would be nice to spend some time with him, and it would make up for effectively being blackballed from the barbecue. Sam had been determined firstly to pry him away from the exorbitant amount of work he had been surrounding himself with, and secondly to cheer him up. She had noticed him looking rather forlorn at times, and she had hoped things were all right with him.
The strange feelings she had being experiencing had receded, to be replaced by a strong admiration and respect. After all, Arnold was intelligent, polite, and friendly, qualities sorely lacking among the surfer-dude set at Beverly Hills. He was worth the attention. Mind you, he could bite when provoked, when Clover, and more dramatically Mandy, had found out...
She got out her mobile and dialled his number. The reply soon came. "Hello?"
"Sam? Oh, hi! It's great to hear your voice." He certainly sounds glad, thought Sam. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing really. Um, Arnold? Would you like to come out with me tonight?"
There was silence on the other end.
"I mean, not as a date or anything. I mean, you know, just two friends having a good time. Besides, I feel really bad about not letting you come to the barbecue. Although it wasn't really my idea."
A little more silence and then, "Wow, you really mean that?" Sam could hear the tremble in his voice.
"Yeah. I wouldn't call you otherwise, would I?"
"Sure. So, wh-what do you have in mind?" Arnold was having difficulty keeping his voice even.
"Well, I have two tickets to the night race at Sun City tonight. Do you like cars?"
Arnold swallowed rapid-fire. "Well, my dad's a huge motor racing fan. I'm not, but I like to watch the races on TV. It's the only sport I really have an interest in."
"Well, I'm not a huge fan either, but I thought it would be something different for a change. So, are you game?"
"Yeah, sure. Thanks, Sam! Uh, what time shall we meet?"
"Seven o'clock, at the racetrack fairground?"
"Sounds good to me." Sam was enthused by Arnold's tone of voice.
"See you then."
"I'm r-really looking forward to it. See you then."
Sam hung up, feeling buoyant. A pleasant evening lay ahead, in the company of a guy she liked and respected. After all, why couldn't a girl and a boy go out together without it being a romantic thing?
She flicked her hair back and walked into the living room. "Looks like I will be going out tonight after all."
"Good on you, Sam. Who with?" asked Clover.
"Uh, his name's – " She couldn't say Arnold. She scrambled for another name. "Jer – " No! That wouldn't do. "Gerald. That's his name." Why couldn't I have just said Arnold? thought Sam.
"Never heard of him," said Alex.
"Oh," said Sam tentatively, "No, you wouldn't have. He…keeps to himself."
She took up her place on the couch and began chatting with her girlfriends.
Arnold put down his phone. He was feeling dizzy and he was breathing heavily. He had to sit down. Instead he flopped down on his bed. Oh, boy! he thought. A whole evening with Sam…he could hardly believe his luck.
He had been unable to shift the gloom all weekend, mumbling halfheartedly to his parents whenever they addressed him, staring at inanimate objects with bizarre intensity, unable to focus on his schoolwork or enjoy doing things like reading comic books like he used to. Now it was as if some higher power was rewarding Arnold for his suffering.
I must get a grip on myself, Arnold told himself. I don't want to ruin things by blurting out to Sam that I love her. Or something like that.
He took some deep breaths and sat up. His parents would let him go; of course, there would be no problem there.
God, he'd nearly fainted when Sam had asked him. How he had stayed on his feet he had no idea. That could have been embarrassing. He looked over at the clock on his desk. The time was two o'clock. Five hours.
Five very tense, nervous and excited hours, no doubt.