Tara and Kevin's endless end-of-summer party … ends.
Thanks to all the readers and reviewers. To Jeriddian, who beta read this finale. And special thanks to MrDrP who beta-ed all chapters and without whom the story would never have come to be.
Disclaimer: Disney owns most of these characters. The song "Colorado Girls" is stol— er, secret borrowed from "California Girls" by Brian Wilson and Mike Love.
Kevin Guberman was an outside observer of Middleton High's 'cool' crowd for a long time before Tara brought him inside. This afternoon, he still felt like one. Especially the way this party had developed. It wasn't all that different from a chess club get-together. Sure, the cast of characters was more decorative, but in the end it was just a bunch of teens.
Or, more precisely, two bunches.
He and Tara, Hope and Felix, Crystal and Craig, plus Jess formed a group to one side of the snack table. Bonnie, Liz, Marcella and the other five boys had the other side. There was almost no interaction between groups. Even setting up a volleyball net on the lawn hadn't remedied that.
Liz and Marcella looked like they'd like to cut Logan and Tony out of the herd and cross the divide, but even with the numbers on their side they were getting mere crumbs of the male attention. Bonnie had all five jocks thoroughly entranced. Certainly, Logan and Tony should have known their food chain ranks weren't high enough to rate a date with the curvaceous cheer co-captain. (I mean, c'mon, Bonnie Rockwaller dates quarterbacks. Golfers, or soccer defenders who never score goals, don't rate with her.) But Bonnie's charms had them thinking with other parts.
Actually, Kevin reflected, Bonnie was really only flirting with four of the boys. And surprisingly, it was the highest-status jock who was getting the least attention. Jason Morgan, the best basketball player Middleton had produced in years, sat on the fringes of Bonnie's group. He also seemed more an observer of this party, paying more attention to Tara and Kevin's side than his own. Every time he approached the snack table, however, Crystal would send her broad-shouldered boyfriend over to subtly block his way until he went back. He wasn't going to be allowed to bother Tara.
And hardly anyone had even gone in the water yet, just Hope and Felix. Kevin suspected some of the girls' swimsuits were only designed to be ogled, not for actual swimming. Bonnie's lamé would probably turn green, Crystal's white mesh might go translucent, and as for Jess's bandeau — what would ever keep that top in place if she dove in the water?
"C'mon," Crystal said, interrupting his reverie. "Enough sitting around. Let's play some volleyball. Who'll take on Craig and me?"
Hope laid a hand on Felix's arm. "We're in." Tara and Kevin called winners.
The three couples headed out to the net.
Jess turned over on her lounge to sun her back for a while. Seeing Liz at the snack table, she called out, "Hey Liz, can you come here for a sec?"
Liz came over. "What up, J?"
Jess held up a tube of suntan oil. "Can you do my back?"
"Sure." Liz squeezed some oil onto Jess and spread it out. "I really love your suit."
"Thanks. Yours is way cute too."
"Honestly girl, the way you rock a bikini you should wear them all the time."
"Hey, get Barkin to change the dress code and I'd do it. Don't think for a minute I wouldn't."
"I'm sure. And you tan up nicely considering you're so blonde."
"That's 'cause I'm Swedish."
"As a meatball. I even speak the language. Du ser så vacker ut idag, Liz."
"Okay, I know my name was in there …"
"I said, 'You look really hot today too, Liz.' "
"I meant every word. Same goes for Marcella."
"Yeah, that salsa print is great on her."
"So how come a couple of smokeshows like you two are letting B hog all the beefcake?"
Liz sighed. "What are we supposed to do? It's Bonnie."
"What you're supposed to do is get back over there, do something to grab Logan's attention, and don't let it go until you get tired of his tongue swabbing your pearly whites. Give him a lap dance; pour a soda over his head. Something. I'm sick of watching you two sulk. I'm the only one here with a reason to sulk."
Liz stood up and wiped her hands on Jess's towel. "Thanks, Jess. You're right; I can do this. Logan is mine by the end of this party."
"Or … you could go after Adam instead. That boy is lookin' prime. If I didn't have my studly Stevie I'd be all over those abs."
"Adam instead?" the redhead mused, grinning wickedly. "How about, Adam also?"
She turned and walked to the diving board, and dove into the water with a splash. Bonnie and the boys watched as she swam the length of the pool underwater, then climbed out and, dripping wet, grabbed Logan and Adam by their arms and coaxed them back into the water with her. Marcella followed, and slung handfuls of water at Tony until he jumped in too.
Jess smiled for a moment, then resumed her sulking.
Bonnie picked up her paper cup of soda and found it almost empty. Looking at the group out at the volleyball net, an idea came to her.
Rising from her lounge, she stretched. "Jason," she cooed, "come buy me a drink."
"I'll get it, Bonnie," Todd said.
"Now now, boys, don't fight. I asked Jason this time. You can get the next, Todd."
Jason followed her to the snack table. "You told me Tara's ready to eighty-six the shrimp, Bonnie. I'm not seeing it."
"I said she's getting ready."
"Well, maybe you and me getting together would motivate her." He leered at the voluptuous brunette. "And if it doesn't … well, you and me …"
Bonnie fought down her gag reflex. "I told you, Jason, it's too soon since Brick left for me to think about that. And this Tara thing really bothers me."
"Well I don't know what I'm doing here. I tried approaching Tara but Dalton keeps getting in the way. Maybe I should just leave."
Sweet Mother of Pearl, this boy is useless, she thought. There is no way Tara is ever taking this lummox back.
Maybe she should just give up. She was co-captain of the squad now. That was something. Okay, Connie, and Lonnie and Mom back in her day had ruled as queens unchallenged—but let's face it, Connie's squad had been awful at cheerleading. Their dances had been pathetic. Their acrobatics? A sick joke. And when she graduated and handed it to Lonnie? Things got worse. That squad was a laughing stock. All they'd cared about was being worshipped as the school's sex goddesses and dating all the choice boys. Bonnie was part — a big part! — of a squad that had won Regionals! And probably would again!
Wouldn't it be easier to ditch all the 'Queen B' BS and just be a beautiful, popular cheerleader? With real friends she could let down her hair with instead of a posse of followers she had to obsessively watch lest they wander away from her orbit? That life was being offered up on a platter to her, and all she had to do in order to grasp it was accept Tara's boyfriend.
And really, was Kevin so bad? He was actually sort of a cute boy. He was perhaps another few weeks of iron pumping away from having a bod girls would openly call 'hunky.' He was best friends with Steve Farley, who was one of the most admired and desired boys in school. He really didn't do anything that nerdy except for the chess, which could easily be spun as the latest edgy trend, what with Tara's being so into it.
Yes, it would be so easy to give up. Couldn't Bonnie just take the easy path this time?
"No!" she said aloud.
"Okay, I'll stay if you want," Jason said, thinking she was talking to him.
No, Bonnie would not give up. The Food Chain was eternal and it was her right—her sacred duty!—to rule over it. So was it written in the stars, so would it be done. The only follower she had left was Marcella, who might yet drift away before this party ended, but she could recruit more girls. Those new sophomore girls on the JV squad. I could work with them.
"We can leave once you've talked to Tara." Bonnie knew there was no hope of hooking Tara back up with the dribbling moron, but she didn't care anymore. She just wanted to create some chaos.
"Go back with Todd. I'll get Nerd Boy out of the way, and then you can easily reach her while Craig is on the other side of the net. I assume you can handle Hope's Rolling Blunder if he makes a move."
As he sat back down Jason began to wonder if he actually wanted to date Bonnie.
At the snack table, Bonnie uncapped all the two-liter bottles and took a step back. She made sure no one was watching her besides Jason. Then she delivered a swift, sharp kick to one leg of the table. It collapsed. Drinks and chips and snacks were everywhere. "Hey, G-man!"
Kevin hurried over leaving Tara to referee the volleyball match. "What happened?"
"Your table broke," Bonnie said with a shrug.
He went into the farmhouse to find cleaning supplies. Bonnie gestured Jason out to the volleyball area.
"Tara, I want to talk to you," he began.
Crystal, Craig, Hope and Felix stopped playing. "Dude," Craig said. "You gotta let the girl go."
"Back off, Dalton. This doesn't concern you," Jason warned.
"It's okay, Craig," Tara said. "He can talk to me if he wants."
"You sure, Tara?" Crystal asked.
"So sure," Tara said. "But before he does I'm going to tell him a few things first."
She gathered her thoughts, then spoke. "First thing I want to say, Jason, is thank you.
"It's partly because of you that I'm in the great place I am now. It was those weeks of going out with you that made me think about what kind of guy I wanted in my life. I used to know a man who had qualities you never will. My grandpa. He wasn't a big athlete like you, he was about Kevin's size, but he was bigger than you in every way that counts. Do you know what he did in World War Two, Jason? No, of course you don't. How could you possibly know anything about my grandpa, who you never even met, when the only thing you know about me is I've got nice breasts.
"Grandpa flew fighter planes over Nazi Germany, Jason. I've got a medal the Army gave him. I don't know exactly what he did to earn it, 'cause he never once in his life bragged about it or called himself 'hero.' He did what anyone would have done, is what he always said. You strut around school like you're a hero, bragging about how many points you scored, how many rebounds you pulled in, how you made that winning basket in that 'important' game. I'm friends with heroes, Jason. I'm the granddaughter of a hero. Believe me, Jason, you're no hero.
"That last date we went on I had a lot of time to think while you were shooting the bull with your 'hoops' buds, and what I thought about was how great it used to be to play chess with Grandpa and talk about everything in the world. Sometimes I imagine myself telling him how you used to treat me on dates. You should be glad I can't do that, Jason. Really glad.
"So anyway that same night after our last date I dusted off my old chessboard and soon I'm playing online and chatting with a guy who seems to like me as a person. You never did, Jason, I was just a trophy to you. I'm not sure you like anyone, really. Not even your buddies.
"Then a few days later I meet the guy in person and he turns out to be so great I practically beg him to kiss me. Old Tara could never have fallen for a guy like Kevin, she was way too dumb. You played a big part in turning me into New Tara, Jason, so you deserve thanks for that.
"But when I lose control of myself and throw myself at the guy what does he do? He lets me bounce right back. I figured I just wasn't worthy of him, just some airhead blonde who jumps around shaking pom-poms—that's down to you too, but no thanks due there—but really the reason was he didn't know I'd already dumped you and he was too honorable to go after another guy's girlfriend, even though he'd crushed on her for years.
"Then finally with a little help from our friends he finds out you're history and he asks me for a date and it's the best date I've ever been on. Till the next one, and the one after that, and so on till today.
"So that's it, Jason. That's the way I see our story. We don't have many good times to look back on, but I'll always remember you as the last boy I ever went out with. 'Cause after I kicked your conceited ass to the curb, I went out and I got myself a man.
"Okay, your turn."
As you've probably guessed, there was no water play or volleyball or lounging going on any more. The whole party was on hold, silently listening. All attention turned to Jason.
Whatever he'd been planning to say before, Tara's speech had wiped it away.
Finally, he said, "C'mon, Tara, don't say I never liked you. I liked you a lot. We could have had lots of fun together, 'specially if you'd loosened up a bit."
"By 'loosen up' you mean 'let you grope me,' right? Yeah, trouble with that is, every time you tried a move it's like I could hear you in the locker room the next day, doing the recap for your buds." She affected a deep male voice, " 'Yeah, the Big J was all over Monroe's funbags last night.' That's a real mood killer, Jason. Not that you ever did anything to put me in the mood in the first place.
"Now with Kevin, when we're together it's like … wow! Cue the swelling strings and celestial choirs."
"Tara gettin' jiggy! I always knew that sweet innocence was just an act!" Hope quietly snarked to her date.
"C'mon, Hope, show a little charity," Felix whispered.
"Charity?! What's my sister got to do with this? Are you into her?"
"What? I didn't … oh, forget it," he said.
On the other side of the group, Bonnie sensed someone standing next to her.
"This isn't playing out the way you hoped, is it, Bonnie?" Kevin said.
"Oh shut up!" she spat back.
"I feel sorry for you, Bon Bon."
"Don't call me that. In fact, don't talk to me at all!"
"You had Tara, the most wonderful girl in the world, as your friend, and you don't even realize what you're throwing away. Ever since Picnic you've been scheming to break us up. Don't think anybody fell for that 'grope football' business at the lake. And still she's ready to forgive you if you'd just make the tiniest gesture. Honestly, I don't know whether to wish you would or you wouldn't. 'Cause it would make Tara happy if you did, but I don't think you'll ever really change."
Bonnie clenched her fists and glared at him angrily. Then she exploded. She shoved him hard in the chest, forcing him backwards into the pool.
"Jason! Let's go!" She began gathering up her belongings.
Tara hurried over to the pool. "Kevin, are you okay? Why would you do that, Bonnie?"
Bonnie ignored her. She located her cover-up and pulled it over her head.
Kevin climbed out of the water. "It's okay, Tara, I'm fine. And as for Bonnie, well, I kind of provoked her."
"We're outies," Bonnie announced. "Who wants a ride? Adam? Tony?"
Tony and Marcella decided to leave as they'd arrived, in Jason's SUV. Todd joined that group, perhaps thinking he might have a shot with Bonnie. Swimmer Adam took himself out of the Liz sweepstakes and made six. "Room for one more … Hope?" Bonnie offered.
Hope wavered a few moments, then made a choice. "See you around school, Felix."
Bonnie grinned. Things were already looking up. "Later, people," she said as they piled into Jason's truck and drove off.
Crystal laid a hand on Felix's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Felix. She's going to regret that move soon, if I'm any judge."
"Maybe today, if her parents see her in a car with that crowd," Tara said.
The others made noises of agreement.
Felix shrugged. "Wasn't to be."
A car door was heard from the driveway. Jess, coming to life for almost the first time all afternoon, recognized it immediately as Steve's. She met him at the gate with an embrace and a kiss and led him to the group.
"So, what'd I miss?" he asked. He was quickly brought up to date.
Soon after, Crystal, Liz and their boys decided it was time to go. Felix also flew off.
"How about I go inside and change, Slugger," Jess said. "And then we leave these lovebirds alone?"
"I'll come in with you," Tara said.
The two longtime friends were alone. "Well, G-man, it's just about three years since those two shrimpy freshmen saw those amazing blonde cheerleaders at that pep rally. Ever imagine we'd get to where we are now?"
Kevin couldn't stop smiling. "Never a doubt."
The girls came back, Jess back in her shorts and halter and Tara back in the XXL chess T-shirt.
Jess hugged Kevin and then Tara. "Have fun, T. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," she whispered to her squadmate.
"Oh, I think I can work with that much leeway," Tara said, looking at her beau.
Then with final waves and goodbyes Jess and Steve drove away.
"Okay G-man, time for your private show," Tara said, leading him to a lounge and bidding him to sit.
Then she backed away a few feet and began to sing the Mountain Men's song slightly off-key."… I been all around this great big world and I seen all kinds of girls … " she took hold of the hem of her cover-up and began to take it off. "… Yeah, but I couldn't wait to get back in the States …" Now he could see her black bikini bottom. "… Back to the cutest girls in the world."
Now her toned midriff was exposed and her lovely round breasts were coming into view, covered only by small triangles of fabric.
"I wish they all could be Colorado … wish they all could be Colorado …" She giggled a little as she pulled the oversize T-shirt over her head. "I wish they all could be Colorado girls …" She finished Bikini Reveal Redux and tossed the shirt behind her. "Ta-da! Like it?"
Even most evolved male had to be dazzled by the sight of all that creamy pink skin and the tiny bits of black fabric accenting the curvy bits. He got to his feet and took her in his arms. "Love it," he said. "I love you."
"I love you too, Kevin."
He couldn't stop looking her up and down. "Well, you said you were buying a sexy bikini, and you sure did. Of course you're sexy in everything. Even baggy sweats, like that day at the Frozen Rope."
She smiled and guided him back to the lounge and joined him. They kissed for a while.
"So Tara," he asked. "I just have a question that's been bugging me."
"How did that jerk manage to date you for so long without earning a one-way trip through Mark's wood chipper?"
Tara laughed. "He earned a bunch; but he was just smart enough to keep his distance from Daddy. The only time he met my parents was prom night. He was wearing a tux and he acted reasonably polite. He totally snowed Daddy. Mom, not so much."
Kevin snorted. "I get the feeling very little gets past Jill."
"Oh yeah. She probably knows I'm about to do this …" She pulled him in for another soft kiss.
"Mmmm, we most def have got to get you into a tux for Winter Formal. You'll be so handsome and debonair. My Secret Agent Man."
"With you as the damsel in distress I save in the third act?"
"As if. With me as the roguish international mercenary slash adventuress who teams up with you to infiltrate the evil black-tie reception at the big bad's Alpine schloss."
"His what now?"
"Schloss. Mansion. Castle."
"Why not just say castle, then?"
"Because schloss sounds about a hundred times better, that's why."
"Schlossssss. Yeah, you're right."
" 'Course I'm right," she scoffed. "Who's the brains of this outfit?"
"You are … you're also the beauty."
She squeezed his hard biceps. "You can be the muscle."
"Maybe soon," he said, squeezing back. "For now I think you're still the muscle."
"Okay, so what exactly are you bringing to the team?"
He whispered in her ear.
She smiled seductively. "Bring it."
Cue the swelling strings.
The celestial choirs.
Dedicated to Nellie and Robbie, and to Clara, my favorite California Girl.
Author's note: If the idea of Tara as a roguish international mercenary slash adventuress intrigues you—and honestly, how could it not?—you should (assuming you qualify as a Mature Audience) search this site until you find David Falkayn's excellent novel Double Entendre. Then read the whole thing.