Before we get started here, the lawyers need to have their fun:
As usual, I don't own jack scratch. When it comes to money, I'm flat busted, so don't even bother trying to sue me. The characters belong to Disney, the software belongs to Bill Gates, my kidneys belong to my bookie, and all your base belong to us!
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was famous for saying that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."
F.D.R. never met Steve Barkin…
The Middleton High School Vice-Principal was a living example of the fact that there's no such thing as a former marine. Inactive…yeah. Retired…maybe. …But former? Not on your life, maggot!
Furthermore, any individual so foolish as to challenge this concept in his presence would quickly find himself on the receiving end of a dressing-down so intense, it would have left the likes of George Patton quaking in his combat boots.
That isn't to say, however, that he couldn't intimidate the snot out of someone in a host of other ways as well. At six-foot-three and 250 pounds, the man was built like a Sherman tank. He was barrel-chested with arms like tree trunks, and couldn't have had more than two percent body fat. The going rumor around school was that he once actually slammed a revolving door. Others said that he had died two years prior, but the Grim Reaper hadn't gotten up the guts to tell him yet.
None of this was lost on the group of twenty-some-odd students who were seated facing him at this particular moment, their skittish eyes darting about the room, trying desperately not to make contact with his. Barkin smiled inwardly, (he NEVER did so outwardly), confident that he hadn't lost his "touch."
"ALLRIGHT, LISTEN UP!!!" he finally bellowed, causing two-dozen bodies to instantly stiffen in unison. The sudden jarring of desks on the tile floor shook the oversized windows. Assured that he now had their undivided attention, he allowed himself to continue.
"As you are undoubtedly aware, a large part of the social studies curriculum at this school involves the study of 'cultural diversity,' and other touchy-feely disciplines."
When the good Lord had been handing out tact, Steve Barkin had obviously been stuck in the "muscles" line.
"To that end, today marks the start of your personal history projects. A review, if you will, of the various cultural and family backgrounds which make up the student body here at Middleton High."
With this news, the class perked up. The personal history projects were a long-standing tradition at the school, and were well-known as one of the few parts of the advanced social-studies class that weren't boring enough to kill an Amazonian tree sloth."However," Barkin continued, eliciting a collective sigh from the class. While the projects were well-known for being fun, Barkin was equally well-known for his uncanny ability to drain the fun out of everything he touched. (Some people said that he once straightened a slinky just by looking at it.) His sudden use of that word could only mean that he was up to his old tricks once again.
"This year, we'll be doing it with a twist." He emphasized the last word to drive his point home. "Whereas in past years, students have done their projects on their own families, this year you will be doing them on each other's families."
Two-dozen pairs of eyes blinked erratically. Forget about this not being fun anymore. Things had just slid from "fun," all the way to "mortifying."
As Barkin paused dramatically to let this sink in, a meek voice spoke up from the far back of the room.
"Uh, Mister Barkin… How do we… ya' know… like, decide who we're reporting on?"
Barkin's eyes narrowed, as he scanned the back ranks of desks. He knew the voice well, and it seemed to everyone in the school that he took great pleasure in heaping torment upon its unfortunate owner.
"You don't decide anything, Stoppable!" Barkin bellowed. "I decide who you report on!"
An unruly mop of blonde hair tried its best to hide behind the students seated in front of it.
"Anyway," Barkin said, returning to his speech. "What I have done is to put all of your names into this hat." As he said this, he pulled a steel G.I. helmet from the bottom drawer of his desk. "I'll read through the roll book, drawing one name from the hat for each name on the list. This person will be your subject. If your own name is drawn, then a re-draw will be performed immediately. If you don't like your subject, tough! Fate has rendered its decision." Without allowing an opportunity for anyone to object, he quickly pulled out the roll book and began to read-off names in alphabetical order.
The selection process went along smoothly, as no one ever dared be disruptive in one of Barkin's classes. Names were chosen, and were greeted with reactions ranging from gleeful, to giddy, to indifferent, to sullen, to borderline-homicidal. Maybe this project could turn out to be somewhat entertaining after all?
"Possible!" Barkin called out, as his trademark efficiency meant he was already to the middle of the alphabet by that point.
The Middleton High School head cheerleader responded enthusiastically. "Ready!" she chimed.
Barkin reached deep into the helmet and quickly withdrew a scrap of paper. "Your subject-matter is… Ronald Stoppable."
Kim's eyes shot open as wide as dinner plates, and the lead in her mechanical pencil snapped. Granted, the nature of this process meant that nothing could really be "expected," but of all the possibilities, this was certainly the least expected.
She glanced uneasily over her shoulder at her topic, who replied with a sheepish smile and a weak, five-finger wave.
It wasn't like this should be any reason to be uncomfortable. The two of them had been "going together" now since their junior prom earlier in the year, but that didn't even begin to tell the full story. In reality, they'd been nearly inseparable since the age of four, and as with most people who have known each other for that long, there were few, if any, secrets between them.
Still, the concept of one being the subject of the other's class project was leaning just a little bit toward the awk-weird side of things.
Awkweirdness aside, however, Mr. Barkin had made it clear that the decision of the helmet was final. She had her subject and nothing was going to change that.
The remainder of the class went off without a hitch… Well, except for that one moment when both Kim and Ron nearly fainted. By some strange quirk of fate, Ron was assigned the task of reporting on Bonnie Rockwaller. The leggy brunette had been a thorn in both their sides since middle school, constantly assaulting Ron with a never-ending barrage of insults, put-downs and snide remarks. Her antics had become so commonplace that Ron now scarcely seemed to notice when Bonnie launched into one of her patented verbal attacks. Bonnie was also Kim's chief rival on the cheer squad, yearbook committee, and a laundry list of other extra-curricular activities.
Both of them quickly realized that this was no longer just a class project. For them, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dig up dirt on Bonnie's family background. Drawing her name for such a project seemed to be some sort divine, cosmic justice… A karmic reward for five years of putting up with her incessant flak.
In any case, after what seemed like the longest hour of their young lives, the bell mercifully rang and the students filed into the halls bound for their lockers, followed by whatever subjects that their schedules held in store for them next.
Like nearly everyone else in the student body, Kim and Ron found themselves standing in the hall, studying the insides of their respective lockers, which by pure chance, always seemed to be within a few feet of each other. They could never explain it, but each and every year, they were assigned lockers that were nearly right next to each other. In the end, they always chalked it up to blind luck and left it at that, preferring not to ask too many questions that might wind up jinxing the streak. After all, a very wise person once observed, "I'd rather be really lucky than really good." (Who the heck did say that, anyway?)
"So Ron," Kim remarked. "What do you think the great Rockwaller family heritage is going to be?" There was a strong tone of sarcasm in her voice, with just a slight touch of malice mixed in for good measure.
"Dunno, KP," Ron replied. "She's probably descended from a long line of pig lancers, or something like that."
Kim had to stifle her laughter to avoid drawing unwanted attention to herself. Ron's mind worked in some exceedingly strange ways, and quasi-random thoughts such as this were often the result. Randomness aside, she had to admit that such products of his intellect were usually pretty funny.
His uncanny ability to make her laugh, even when she was feeling dejected or depressed, was one of the many things that she loved about him.
On the surface, the two of them seemed like an unlikely couple. In addition to being head cheerleader, Kim was a straight-A student, a perpetual resident of the honor roll and involved in just about every club and committee offered at the school. On top of that, she was no slouch in the looks department either, and all of this doesn't even get into her world-saving adventures. She was athletic, popular, and perhaps more than anything else, had the Midas touch. Everything she touched, it seemed, instantly turned to gold. She was the girl who could do anything… "Failure" was not a word that you would find in her vocabulary.
Ron, on the other hand, was her polar opposite. His grades were average at best, and he certainly didn't possess Kim's natural athleticism. There was one time when he had actually tripped over his own shadow. He was never much for involvement of any kind, and aside from Kim, had never really had much in the way of friends. He certainly wasn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn't in any danger of winding-up on a magazine cover anytime soon, either. All in all, he could best be described as being "spectacularly average," and if you looked up the word "Slacker" in the dictionary, you would probably find his picture beside it.
To the two of them, however, none of this mattered. They had discovered, (the hard way, no less), that there were things far more important in a relationship than glam-mag looks or stellar smarts. They realized that picking a boyfriend/girlfriend based on looks and social standing wasn't really dating, so much as it was accessorizing. That person was just something fashionable to carry on your arm and impress your peers; no different than a designer purse or a cool sports watch. What they had in each other, they reasoned, was worth so much more than that, even if everyone else around them was either to immature or too shallow to realize it.
To Ron, Kim was his whole world. Being the homely and awkward underachiever that he was, socialization was never his skill set. Couple this with a steadfast non-conformist streak, and his position on the social pecking order was so low that he'd have to kick it up a notch just to be ignored. His parents were no help in this matter, as they always seemed too concerned with their own careers and personal issues to even notice him most of the time.
All of this taken together, would have made for a very lonely life, indeed.
To spite all of this, however, Kim never wavered in her friendship toward him, even when their friendship would have undermined her own position at the top of the high school social ladder. If other people took exception to her hanging out with Ron, then that was their problem, she would say, not hers. (…And it certainly wasn't Ron's.)
For Kim, Ron was her emotional anchor. A steady and stable presence throughout all the years in which they had known each other. Whether she needed a study-partner, a sidekick, a friend to laugh with, or a shoulder to cry on, Ron was always by her side, ready and willing to be whatever she needed him to be at that moment. In times of turmoil, whatever it may be, he was a lighthouse on a storm-tossed sea, a welcoming beacon guiding her back to the safety of the harbor.
He was loyal, he was kind, he was the most-pure hearted person she had ever met, and his iron-clad individuality belied a strength and a courage that went un-noticed by most everyone, except for Kim. Ron was perhaps the most courageous person she knew, not because he wasn't afraid, but because he was afraid of nearly everything, and yet he never let that fear interfere with his absolute devotion to her.
And so they relied on each other, taking strength from one another, and giving strength in return. They carried each other through thick and thin, and in the end, they had come to love each other. More so, perhaps, than either of them had ever dreamed possible.
At first, they had been somewhat hesitant about taking their friendship to such a new level. Those reservations, however, were quickly laid to rest once they discovered that they were both quite comfortable with this new aspect to their relationship. The titles of "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" felt natural to them, and viewing each other in those terms, being together in that way, made them wonder why they hadn't taken this step long before they did. They truly surprised themselves with just how passionate they could be toward each other, more than once taking the opportunity to duck into the janitor's closet for some "extra-curricular activity" of their own, an action which occasionally landed them both in Mr. Barkin's detention period. While he may have secretly approved of the young couple, rules were rules, and as Vice-Principal it was his sworn duty to see that the school's PDA policy was upheld.
"Soooooo," Ron sighed, leaning lazily against his locker. "Whadaya want to do for lunch, KP?"
"Well, the cafeteria menu listed meatloaf for today." Kim replied, eliciting a shudder from Ron.
"Eeeewwwww… sick and WRONG!" he exclaimed. "Tendencies toward being a human garbage disposal aside, there are some things which even I won't eat."
"Well, there is another option in the box."
"Really? You mean it?"
"Would I kid you about something like that?"
"But I thought you were trying to cut back on your fast-food intake."
"Yeah, but considering the alternative…"
"'Nuff said then! Onward to Bueno Nacho! TALLY-HOOOOOOO!!!" Ron cried, thrusting a finger into the air as if leading a charge into battle.
And with that, the two teens headed down the hall toward the place which all but qualified as their second home.
Alright… Trivia time! Brownie points for anyone who can come up with the source of the quote: "I'd rather be really lucky than really good."