A/N: Sorry for the excessive delay in the conclusion to this piece. I've made several changes to Part I, so if you're interested in just the conclusion of the story, you may want to re-read that first. Thanks for being so patient and bothering to come back!
The numbers flipped on the clock, and the alarm began to ring. The volume had been set low enough that it couldn't be heard from the next room, and it certainly wasn't loud enough to rouse anyone from a deep sleep. But the soft beeping was Charlie Thomas' least favorite sound. He rolled over to confirm the time, hoping the insistence of the beeping was just his imagination. "It can't be 5:55 already," he groaned.
Janine Kishi smoothed the wrinkles in her white Oxford shirt as she peered over his shoulder at the clock. "I'm afraid it is," she replied. "You'd better get downstairs."
Charlie turned to kiss her on the cheek. "I guess if I have to." He reached down and brushed her knee lightly. "I was going to go to the big game against Howard on Saturday and then to Pizza Express with some friends afterwards."
"Um," Charlie cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you wanted to come with me."
"Are you suggesting a date?"
"Well, yes, I guess. We've been sneaking around during their babysitter meetings for weeks. I thought it might be nice to actually go out and do something together."
Janine averted her eyes from his gaze. "I don't usually follow athletics."
"Come on," he prodded. "Baseball is all physics and geometry. I know you'll love it."
"I'm not certain that it's a good idea, Charlie."
"What's the problem? I'm good enough for you from 5:25 to 5:55 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but you won't go out in public with me?"
"I didn't mean it like that. It's just that the predominant hierarchy of high school doesn't work that way. Members of my social stratum are not exactly widely accepted by the rest of the student body."
Charlie sighed as he stood up. "This isn't some sociology book. I like you. I just wanted to spend a little more time with you, and maybe stop keeping this a secret from everyone. Can't a guy take his girlfriend out in public, just once?"
"Oh. You... That is, I..." Despite her impressive vocabulary, Janine was at a loss for words.
"I have to go," he replied quietly.
Janine watched him cross the room. He gave her one last glance before silently closing the door behind him. She wondered how everything had gone so very wrong all of a sudden.
Charlie and Janine had grown up just across the street from one another, but they lived in two different worlds. Janine was a genuine genius with an IQ of 196. She'd never had many friends, and her nose was buried in a book more often than not. Charlie, on the other hand, seemed to be the typical popular guy at school, always surrounded by friends or off playing one sport or another.
Now Janine pondered the mistake that had brought them together. Several weeks earlier, Charlie stumbled into her life when he accidentally knocked on her door while trying to find Claudia's room. The two fall into friendly conversation with ease, and it had quickly turned into something more than that.
They had an unspoken agreement not to tell anyone what was going on between them, mostly because they couldn't really explain it themselves. Janine had met few people her own age who didn't tease her or ignore her altogether for being so smart. Charlie didn't blink when she used big words, and he was interested in hearing about her research, even if he didn't always understand all of it.
It wasn't difficult for them to find time to spend together. Charlie's task of driving Kristy to and from Babysitters Club meetings gave them half an hour three days a week to hide in Janine's room talking, laughing, kissing... Janine knew her conservative parents wouldn't approve of her being alone with a boy in her room. But neither was there to object since one of the other librarians had recently gone on maternity leave, keeping her mother busy at the library unusually late, and her father's job in Stamford meant he didn't get home until after 6:00.
Everything had been going so well between the two of them. Seeing Charlie was the highlight of her week, rivaling even the biopsychiatry class she was taking at the community college. Janine knew they hadn't actually talked about keeping things quiet, but she couldn't understand why Charlie suddenly wanted to announce this thing between them, whatever it was, to the entire world. Going out on a date together was a risky proposition. Guys like him just weren't seen hanging around girls like her.
And girlfriend? Janine wondered what had possessed him to call her that. She liked Charlie a lot, more than she wanted to admit to herself, but she hadn't thought much about what this sneaking around really meant. The time they spent together was uncomplicated, and she loved that they could enjoy just being together without worrying about labels or the looks from other people.
"Girlfriend" was something entirely different.
She was distracted from her thoughts by what sounded like a herd of elephants thundering down the stairs. The BSC meeting must have ended, which meant that it was time to start dinner. Janine sighed and headed down to the kitchen before Claudia had a chance to whine about having to do everything herself.