Disclaimer: I don't own Malibu (neither the place nor the drink), iPod (or even AN iPod), Christina Aguilera or her sappy-but-great song Beautiful, the Kinks or their awesomely awesome song Live Life (UK Version), MSN, the Matrix, Enchanted, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Patrick Dempsey, the Simpsons, Sky One, the Yellow Pages, Top Cat, Mr Universe, Lynx or Jamelia.
Now I've done all that, I don't own the Beano either-or any other vestige of Real Life that I have referenced.
"You doing okay now?" Toots asked, holding Danny's nose pinched shut. "I've never seen Dennis hit anyone that hard."
"I'b fyd," Danny replied irritably, upset by the wound to his ego. "Lebt be doh!"
"I don't think so, buster," she said cheerfully. "I can still see blood. Care to inform me what's going on?"
Instead of replying in words, Danny pulled her hand away, took her by the arm, and dragged her to the side of Beanotown Comp. There, in big red letters, she read Dennis Is A Softy: Fancies Minnie (Totally). There was a pause. "And what, precisely, made you decide to endanger your life by writing it?"
"Dennis couldn't kill me if he tried," he protested. "Besides, I didn't write it."
"Um... I think it was Pieface. On a dare." Pieface's fingers had been stained a bright, gruesome red that morning; Danny had overheard snatches of conversation and seen congratulatory hi-fives.
"Didn't think he had the guts to do something like that," she mused. "Ah well. It's true, anyway."
Hearing the sarcasm, Toots laughed. "So, if Pieface did it, why did Dennis hit you?"
"I was nearest at the time."
Toots snorted, and muttered a complaint about boys. Danny laughed, starting his nose off again, and she reached out to hold it closed, apparently not bothered about his blood on her hands. He had to admire that, though he was far too practised to let it show. "So," she carried on conversationally, "how long do you reckon it'll be before this prompts Dennis into proper action?"
Danny shrugged, tugging Toots' hand away from his face. "He won't ever."
"Oh, I bet he will."
He dropped Toots' hand. "How much?"
He picked it up again, and shook. "You're on."
"I think you won the bet," Toots said, sauntering over to Danny and holding out a fiver. "Five weeks and they've still done nothing about it. Unbelievable. They haven't even beaten up Pieface for writing the stupid thing in the first place."
Danny grinned. If he let her keep the fiver, would that make him soft? Unquestionably. He pocketed it. "Natch. They're Dennis and Minnie. If they dated, it would be like... well, it would be time to get the hell away from Beanotown."
Toots plopped down beside him, digging out an iPod and sticking one earphone in. She passed Danny the other one. "Yeah," she replied thoughtfully. "But you would have thought that Dennis would have done something. He can't be... shy, can he?"
Danny shrugged. "Guys get shy around girls that they like." He touched the fiver in his pocket. "Even tough ones. Even Dennis."
"Guys are weird," was Toots' response.
He raised his eyebrows. "And if the guy of your dreams came and offered to whisk you off to Malibu, you wouldn't blush at all?"
"Are you kidding? I'd be in Malibu, baby!" She laughed and began to flip through her songs. Danny regarded the iPod disgustedly.
"Toots, how can someone with a brain and ears listen to Christina Aguilera?"
"It's only one song! And all girls like this song." Beautiful was bellowing into both headphones. Toots conceded and put the Kinks on instead.
"Girls are weird," Danny muttered.
"Yeah, but you love us 'cause we smell pretty."
"Whatever," he said dismissively. Even if he was privately inclined to agree.
"So we need a plan," she announced. "Minnie's plainly going mad. And Dennis keeps hitting people. More than normal." She cocked a brow at Danny's black eye.
"I can handle it. I'm not a softy," Danny protested. "I duffed him back twice as hard."
"Yeah," Toots replied sceptically. "But I happen to like my best friend's face, and I wouldn't want any more damage done to it."
Yes, Daniel Deathshead actually blushed.
Toots felt her day's work was done.
"I want my fiver back," Toots announced. Danny jumped; she'd turned up in his room without so much as a by-your-leave. He quickly closed MSN, flipped his laptop shut and turned to face her. "Your mum let me in," she explained, as he stood up and scratched the back of his head. Toots had been in his room several times before, but since their teens, it had always been with his foreknowledge. There didn't seem to be anything embarrassing in plain view. "I'm sure sure sure Dennis is going to do something soon!" She clapped her hands.
He stared at her. Toots seemed almost transformed to a little girl, contemplating this idea. Normally she seemed mature and aloof and past all childish love of fairy tales. Faintly, he wondered this was some weird kind of reverse PMT. He found his voice, however, and managed, "You'll have to come and get it."
That had not been an invitation for her to pounce on him. It had merely been a joke. All of a sudden, though, he found himself face down on the floor, with her sitting on his back and rifling through his jeans pockets, and he himself regretting his words. Though he wasn't regretting them that much.
"Toots," he grumbled. "You gave it to me a month ago. It isn't still in my pocket."
"Well, I want it back," she insisted. "Dennis nearly snogged Minnie earlier. Underneath a magnolia, of all the uncharacteristically romantic places."
"Long words," Danny muttered. "Would you mind getting up?"
Toots continued to sit on his back. "Can I have it, then?"
Danny grunted, and sat up anyway, tipping Toots onto the floor. "We need to make proper terms for this bet, I think."
He shrugged. "It's your bet."
"Well..." She paused. "To give you a fighting chance-"
"-To give you a fighting chance, maybe we should make it another two months."
"Dennis won't have done anything in two years. He won't have done anything in ten years."
"Well, you won't have any problem making the bet then." She grinned. "I'll call it three months. If they haven't at least publicly snogged after three months, the fiver's yours."
"What? It was a fiver!" she protested. "That's not-"
"Neither is demanding your money back because you thought your luck had changed," he said firmly. "Tenner or no bet at all."
"Tenner." She didn't know where she was going to get the money, since her dear twin was holding her preteen diary to ransom, and upping his rates all the time, but anything was better than backing down. Besides, she'd always been a good matchmaker.
Toots groaned and supported her head in her hands. "Stupid Minnie," she complained. "I'm trying to help."
"Actually, you're trying to win a bet, though I do see your point," Danny corrected her with a smile. He tilted her chin up and rested a bag of frozen peas against the growing bruise, purple on Toots' left cheek. "I suppose you should be grateful that it wasn't Dennis."
"Dennis wouldn't hit a girl," Toots said, trying to convince herself. "After all, you wouldn't, would you?"
"I'm not him, though, unless I haven't been looking hard enough."
Toots laughed, and tucked a leg up underneath her. She was perched on Danny's kitchen counter, not really wanting to go home with an enormous welt to explain away. The excuse "Dennis and Minnie are meant for each other, see, and I was trying to get him to ask her to the disco" might have worked on her mum, but regarding Sidney, it would have been a whole other story. "So, what should we do till my parents notice I'm missing next week?"
Danny had given up objecting to the way Toots spoke about her parents a long time ago, and instead fished inside his schoolbag with the free hand. He held up a DVD of the Matrix, still overwhelmingly his and Toots' favourite film, ten years after it had been released.
"I just decided I love you," Toots announced happily, taking the peas away from him and holding them in place herself. She slid off the counter, and made her way through to the living room. Danny followed her with the DVD.
"There's a condition to the film, though," he said, sticking it in the player and sitting down next to her, remote in hand. "You have to explain to me exactly what insane stunt meant that Dennis and I were pulling Minnie off of you at break."
"Ah." Toots examined her feet sheepishly. "It was technically her fault. And it's not as though I was really trying to matchmake her. It was only intended to put the idea in her head. What's a little harmless teasing?"
Danny rolled his eyes. "Not harmless, obviously."
"She was just being ridiculous. The other girls are always teasing me about-" she broke off. "Never mind."
It was Danny's turn to laugh. "Me?"
Toots snatched the remote, not blushing. Well, not much. "Shut up," she snapped. "They're all too hormone-bound to imagine being friends with a lad without... you know..."
"Snogging behind the art rooms?"
"Shut up. You're making me feel sick. Put the film on or I'm going home."
Danny settled smugly back against the sofa, and slid the remote out of Toots' hand. He put the film onto play, still hearing his friend mutter "I do not," under her breath.
Daniel Deathshead felt very satisfied indeed.
"Dennis is an idiot," Toots grumbled. She was pouring her day's woes out to Danny, squashed into the same armchair as him, cartoons playing distantly on the telly. "I pointed out to him this morning that he didn't have a date for prom, and what did he do?"
"Swept Minnie off her feet into the Distant Sunset," Danny suggested dryly.
She poked him in the arm. "No, you muppet. He asked me to go with him."
"Oh?" Danny suddenly sounded a tiny bit less cocky, less comfortable with the conversation. "What did you say?"
"I told him he was an idiot and in love with Minnie." Hearing the stunned silence, she clarified quickly. "Then I ran."
"Cruel, Toots, you probably broke the Menace's heart."
"If he has one, it probably belongs to Minnie. Though that's a bit sappy so I'm not sure..."
"We all know you're a sappy little softy at heart," Danny replied lightly.
"Secretly I spend my evening knitting," Toots agreed, grinning. "With Walter. And my favourite film is actually Enchanted and not One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest at all."
"Own up, Toots. You loved Enchanted."
"Only because Patrick Dempsey was in it. I'd take a happy-every-after with him, no questions asked."
"Toots, I'm hurt."
"Oh, you should be," Toots said airily. She grabbed the remote off the arm of the chair. "This is rubbish. Isn't the Simpsons on about now?"
"Not all of us have Sky One."
"Well, you should do." She began to channel surf, before giving up and flicking the telly off. "Anyway, this morning got me thinking. On the grounds that I don't have a date for prom, and you don't have a date for prom-"
"You were thinking we should take out some sort of ad in the Yellow Pages?"
Toots socked him in the arm. "If you were any sort of a gentleman, you'd have asked me already. So are you taking me or not?"
Danny shrugged as nonchalantly as he could. "Suppose I could work with that."
"Just so you know," she said. "I'm not going to give you any. I'm only asking so that I don't face further violence or suggestive remarks from Dennis."
"Way to pamper my ego," Danny muttered, missing Toots' blush entirely. "When is prom, anyway?"
"Couple of months away. It's mostly populated by the softies that are staying for sixth, but you know. We can still go."
"You're one of the softies that are staying for sixth," he pointed out. "I don't care how much you say music is different, it's still an A-Level."
"I'm going to miss your ugly mug around school," Toots said thoughtfully. "You'd better not find some new girl to watch cartoons with."
"You jealous, Toots?"
"Oh, you wish."
There was a brief moment of discomfort; he had meant to say that in his head. Danny solved it by turning the telly back on, and Top Cat blasted into the room indiscriminately. There was an instant sense of relief.
"So," Toots continued. "If Minnie and Dennis aren't together by the end of the prom, you'll get your tenner."
"When pigs fly, hell freezes over, and Plug wins Mr Universe."
Toots grinned. "He'd better start practicing his strut then."
"Don't you owe me a tenner?" Danny asked Toots. "It's prom and they aren't even here together, let alone any sight of snogging."
"Patience," she replied, glancing around the cramped school hall. "The music and the spiked punch will have their effect in time."
"The punch is spiked?"
"Course. I think Minnie was going to use vodka, but she might have thought up something a bit more creative since then. I plan to steer clear of it, myself."
"You don't win the bet if they're drunk," Danny complained. "I'd probably snog Minnie if I was drunk."
Toots let go of his arm.
"Which," Danny amended hastily, "is why I don't drink."
Toots ignored him, and began to scan the crowd, looking for Minnie. A group of the more rebellious girls (she'd been part of the crew once, but musical ability and one or two passable grades had got her thrown out) were leaning against the wall, smoking and wearing sneers. Minnie was narrating some kind of story, complete with rude gestures. By way of contrast, Dennis had already entered into a fight on the other side of the room (she made a mental note to keep Danny out of that group of lads, at least for the duration of the evening), and was wiping blood out of his eye. Toots rolled her eyes, and wondered for the umpteenth time what Minnie saw in him.
"I love this song," she said. "Never thought they'd actually play anything decent."
"Considering that you bribed the DJ..."
"It wasn't a bribe, it was an encouragement."
"Considering that you bribed the DJ, it's not really that much of a surprise, is it?" He grinned. "Let's go and find the others. Plug was planning to try hitting on whoever the Prom Queen is."
Toots shuddered. Over the sixteen years of his life, Plug's appearance had continued to degenerate. "Poor girl. It's the stuff of nightmares." Seeing Danny grin, she protested, "I have had nightmares about it. Horror."
"Secretly you want him," Danny joked. Toots gave him a swift shove in the side. "Can you see any of them?"
"Sidney's over there, but... gross, that's my brother and I did not need to see that," she groaned, covering her eyes. "Does he even know her name?"
"Beks," Danny supplied. "Sid's been practically stalking her for two weeks. How'd you miss it?"
"I was too busy luring Dennis and Minnie into abandoned art rooms," Toots explained.
"You know, you're becoming unhealthily obsessed with this whole soulmates thing," Danny observed. "Sure you aren't just determined to beat me?"
"No," Toots insisted. "I'm just right."
Danny rolled his eyes. "Come on," he said, changing the subject abruptly. "If the others are otherwise occupied, we might as well go and dance." He tugged her into the mass of bodies, which stank unpleasantly of Lynx and teenage hormones.
The song had changed (that was a relief; watching people trying to bump and grind to Live Life had been a bit scarring) and something a bit slower and more, er, conventional was playing dustily through the speakers. Toots had always hated R&B of all kinds, but, for reasons she didn't care to examine too closely, she wasn't really listening to Jamelia. With Danny's hands all over her waist and his breath right by her ear (he seemed to have a cold; he sounded a bit husky and it should have irritated her), the dance felt far more intimate than was necessary and not half as intimate as she wanted it to be.
"I hate this song," she said rather desperately, trying to shake her one of her damp curls out of her face. The body heat of the throngs around her meant she was sweating like a pig. Lovely.
"I can't really complain," Danny replied, leaning down to talk above the music. He moved one of his hands to the small of her back. "Besides, the song's about to change."
The song did change. It was much less touchy-feely, and Toots pulled away from Danny with mixed feelings. "I want to sit this one out," she told him, wiping her face. "Go dance with Beryl(1) or something."
"Nah, I'll come with you," he replied, also pulling away. "Fresh air'd be good."
Of course, the air outside was anything but fresh, since half the year had taken the song change as an invitation to go outside and smoke; at least it was cold. Dennis and Minnie were leaning against a wall and he was lighting her fag. Toots wondered when she'd missed that; she'd been trying to keep half an eye on both of them all evening. They must have crept outside during her dance with Danny, when she was unfairly disadvantaged. Bummer.
Wait. Wait. What was that now?
"Danny!" she hissed, grabbing his arm. "Look!"
Dennis had just taken off his blazer to put it round Minnie's shoulders. For someone as anti-soft as Dennis, that was practically a proposal. At least, so Toots insisted.
"I'm only agreeing with you because I'm sick of this stupid bet," Danny said firmly. "You'll get your tenner later. Now, am I free to enjoy this evening as I see fit?"
"Yes... uh," Danny's hand had snaked back to its position during the dance, and this time there was no music for an excuse. Toots floundered.
"It's about bloody time," he muttered, somehow emboldened by her expression, and bent down.
Several feet away, Minnie nudged Dennis, and pointed.
"Softy," he sneered.
"Don't know why you're laughing." She grinned. "Public snogging! Don't you owe me twenty?"
I'm not super happy with the ending; all CC welcomed!
(1) When I was reading the Beano regularly, Beryl the Peril was a Dandy (shock!) character; however, previously she was a Beano character-according to wikipedia, anyway. She was necessary for this small comment; pretend she's an exchange student from Dandytown or something, kay? :)