Author's Note: Remember The Fabulous Five? That late 80s/early 90s YA series about the former haters of Taffy Sinclair?
Yeah, probably not. Anyway, I always had this crazy theory that Shane Arrington, lizard lover and River Pheonix look alike, actually had a secret crush on his best friend's girl. Here's how it might have started....
Disclaimer: I, of course, own nothing other than the story idea.
It was a decent day to start the seventh grade, Shane decided. He pulled on his favorite pair of Chucks and tied the laces as he heard his mother calling him from downstairs. Grabbing his army print messenger bag from the floor, he paused by Igor's cage and poked a finger through the bars to stroke his scaly back. Igor's tongue flicked out in total non-concern. Shane grinned.
"Wish me luck, buddy."
Igor's tongue flashed again and Shane could have sworn he saw his eyes roll to the side. Laughing, he peeled out into the hallway and took the stairs two at a time and came to a near screeching halt in the kitchen. He took a muffin from his mother's outstretched hand, kissed her quickly on the cheek, and tossed out a hurried farewell as he reached for the back door.
"You better not have Igor in that bag," she called after him.
Shane smirked at her and hefted the bag over his left shoulder. He didn't say anything, but he did stop in his tracks to turn around and raise his eyebrows at her.
"I'm serious, Shane. Your teachers at Riverfield might have found it cute when Igor mysteriously popped in, but I sort of doubt that your middle school will be so cool about things."
Shane reached for his the flap of his messenger bag with a heavy sigh.
"Shane! I didn't really think you had him with you! What—"
His mother cut off when he opened the bag to reveal he was carrying nothing other than a single notebook and his ipod. She tilted her head to the side and smiled at him.
"You are such a brat sometimes! Now go get 'em, tiger! And eat that whole muffin! It's organic and it has tons of good stuff in it. And don't get caught with that ipod. Love you, kid."
He gave her the peace sign and tripped down the back steps on the route to Wakeman Middle School. He fished into his back pack for the ipod and scanned through the songs for a suitable first day of school song. Taking a cue from his mother, he settled on "Eye of the Tiger," and bobbed his head along with the beat as he traced the path to school. He paused at the end of his street to throw a couple of fake punches as the song hit a crescendo, but he didn't bother to glance around to see if anyone would notice.
So, Wacko begins, he thought as he tracked the progression of a line of ants by the sidewalk. Out goes the tiny Riverfield, in comes the big bad middle school. Out goes show and tell with Igor. In comes Bumpers. Out goes Laura McCall. In comes… whoever.
It wasn't as if he was girl crazy, but he did have eyes.
Speaking of eyes… he spotted a gaggle of fresh girls dead ahead on the sidewalk outside Nugent's grocery store. He slowed his pace and observed them as they giggled and hurried toward the entrance of Wakeman. Two brunettes, a blond, and two redheads. They were sort of like Charlie's Angels, only there were more of them. He shadowed them through the school gates and watched as they hesitated near the entrance. They all turned to look at each other and Shane glimpsed their profiles. One of the redheads had round, bright eyes she appeared to be talking to a one of the brunettes, whose features were delicate like some kind of elf or sprite. He'd been reading Lord of the Rings- she could hang with them. He was just figuring that there was no time like the present to meet some new ladies and he was gearing up to introduce himself when one of the brunettes surged into the fray and the others darted forward to catch up with her.
As they merged with the rest of the crowd, Shane suddenly took in the broader scene before him and found himself surrounded by teenagers. He peered around the common area and noted that he didn't recognize a single face. Shrugging, he kept walking and nodded his head along with the beat of the newest song on his ipod- a Beatles song from a CD his dad told him would change his life. So far, not so much , but it at least had a good melody.
He started up the steps toward the main building, feeling mildly curious about how many homerooms might cover the whole seventh grade. As he reached for the door, he heard his name from a few steps behind him. Bill Soliday jogged up the steps to meet him and reached out a fist to exchange knuckle bumps in greeting. Shane accepted gladly and walked through the doors with his childhood friend.
"Arrington- how was your summer?"
"Good, good. No complaints. You?"
"Freakin' awesome. I went to fantasy football camp at Giants Stadium. You're looking at the next big place kicker."
Shane nodded at this and decided not to comment on Riverfield's last losing football season. He also decided not to comment on the amount of gel in Bill's hair. Bill was talking again.
"Man, have you seen the intense number of hotties here? In- saaaane."
As he spoke, Bill swung his eyes around the hall as if trying to zero in on a target. Shane glanced around as well and noticed the spritely brunette with a willowy blond up ahead and had an indescribable urge to distract Bill from noticing them.
"Hey- so what homeroom are you in?"
"107." Bill answered but his head was whipping back and forth at girls passing in both directions.
"Groovy. Me too. I think I see it up ahead."
As they wove through the crowd, Shane noted the two girls ducking into Room 107 and felt his curiosity peak. Bill waltzed in first looking as if he were already prom king or something equally distinctive. He paused just inside the doorway with both hands on his hips and a leer on his face. Shane wondered briefly when Bill became a teenage lothario but was quickly distracted when he noticed The Guy.
Since 5th grade, Shane played football for his school team. And since 5th grade, he dreaded playing Mark Twain Elementary because of The Guy. He was much too tall, even in 5th grade, and now he looked as if he could barely fit his knees under his desk. The Guy had an arm like a cannon—Shane was pretty certain the old Riverfield quarterback didn't stand a chance at first string on the Wacko JV squad. It was odd, seeing The Guy. When the Riverfield guys would hash out the games later, they would all talk about him like he was some sort of movie star, and it was strange to see him without football pads on- wearing a t-shirt and jeans like Shane. At the moment, he was smiling and nodding at a super-nerd type sitting next to him and Shane thought he might be an okay sort of dude if he was nice to nerdy types, even though he could probably snap the kid's neck with his thumb.
Bill noticed The Guy at the same and raised his eyebrows at Shane and mouthed, "The Guy!"
Shane nodded and they both glanced at him again before they moved across the room where Shane noticed Laura McCall and some of her cronies clustered together. Bill's eyes had just landed on Tammy Lucero and he looked like a wolf stalking his prey as they drew closer. Shane idly wondered when Bill got a thing for Tammy. Wasn't he all into Laura at the graduation dance last spring? Weird.
Shane settled into a desk and was vaguely surprised to find that his own knees barely fit under the top. He glanced toward The Guy but found his eyes sliding past him to the Sprite Girl. She was leaning forward in her desk speaking quietly to the blond. She had dark hair in curls around her shoulders and she seemed on the small side. She had a friendly face- rosy cheeks and warm eyes. She suddenly glanced in his direction and a full-on blaze of a smile spread over her face. She looked welcoming, genuine, and very pretty. Shane knew she wasn't looking at him, but he suddenly realized he might have his first Wacko crush. Interesting.
The day went on smoothly. Shane strolled from class to class, finding that he recognized a few faces in each of his classes. He found he was more interested in the people that he didn't already know. The Guy showed up in a couple of classes and smiled his way through each one of them. A very tiny girl with horn-rimmed glasses sat next to him in English class and wrote down every word the teacher said. A slobby dude in his math class ate cheetos when the teacher was distracted and left cheese dust all over his desk. A guy with a leather jacket scowled at everyone in history when the teacher forced them to introduce themselves.
The Sprite Girl appeared again in one more of his classes, and he found himself watching her more closely than the other new kids. Shane quickly discovered her name was Jana Morgan and she went to Mark Twain Elementary. She looked wide-eyed and nervous the whole day, but every so often she would flash a blinding, sunny smile and he thought she might be pretty sweet when she wasn't terrified. He wasn't sure why she was terrified in the first place- she appeared to know a few people in every class and they all greeted her happily.
Lunch had been the closest thing to a gossip session that Shane ever cared to attend. He found himself sitting with a bunch of guys from Riverfield, and conversation had quickly turned from buzz about The Guy (evidently named Randy Kriwan) to the new crop of girls.
"I still say Laura McCall is the hottest girl our age," Steve Hernandez said around a mouth of chili.
Shane winced, and not just because he could clearly see the chili sloshing around in Steve's mouth.
"Laura's still pretty smokin', but there are so many new and shiny choices!" Brad Cochran spoke like some kind of game show host.
"Like who?" Steve asked.
"Like Tootsie St Clair," Brad replied.
"Dude, I'm pretty sure it's Taffy Sinclair," Bill smirked.
"I knew it was a candy. Whatever, she's still pretty sweet," Brad grinned at his own joke and Shane rolled his eyes.
"Who else?" Steve pressed as he started in on his French fries.
Bill shook his head and answered, "I don't know what they put in the water over at Mark Twain, but pretty much all of those girls are at least passable. A few standouts- Taffy, of course, Melody something-or-another, a chick named Alexis, and that girl who was on the news for rescuing the baby."
Shane nodded in remembrance of that story from last year. It had been big news when two girls their own age had been all over the news for finding a baby at their school. Their teachers at Riverfield had made them read the story in the paper and write an essay about helping people or something else that was sort of cheesy.
"How do you know it was the same girl?" Shane asked Bill.
"I had a class with her. Some other kid recognized her and asked her about it and she said it was her. Name is Jana, I think."
Shane perked up at this. So she was cute and socially responsible. Two points for the new girl. He was fairly certain he was going to have to talk to her now.
"You know what though? Laura McCall rules because she's freakin' stacked!" Steve held up his milk carton and the other guys toasted him with a chorus of laughs.
Well, that's just about enough of that, Shane thought to himself.
Shane eased away from the table and slapped Bill on the back as he walked away. Glancing around the corridor outside the cafeteria for teachers, he reached into his bag for his ipod and headed outdoors where he would have less chance of getting caught. He parked himself by the front door and let himself zone out to the mellow sounds of Jack Johnson.
So far, not so bad, he figured. Most of the other seventh graders seemed kind of cool and he thought most of the teachers were alright. He could tell he was not going to dig Family Living- the teacher was sort of a stickler for rules and had eyed him carefully when he introduced himself and gave his "fun fact" that he owned an iguana. The class itself might be okay; it was mostly an exercise in learning to be a decent human being. Plus, the class was full of people NOT from Riverfield and he was starting to wonder if the Riverfield kids were all that awesome.
He never fit in at Riverfield. That wasn't to say that he didn't have friends, but he never felt like the other kids understood him at all. They all thought it was hilarious that he had a pet iguana and that his dad wore an earring and drove an old school VW bug and that his mom made him tofu-based lunches. He figured he was sort of a novelty to all of them who lived in houses with starched dress shirts, Labrador Retrievers, and Honda Civics. They all sort of assumed that he was a total hippy too, and that was mostly true- but he sort of loved cheeseburgers and his room didn't have a single candle shaped like a mushroom. He even had a few polo shirts. Shane just didn't like to limit his options and he sometimes felt boxed in by his old classmates. He was The Hippy. He figured the other students at Wacko already had some idea about his reputation, but he also had a chance to just be himself. Which he usually was anyway.
And then there was lunch today and Bill's lascivious comments in the morning. Who were these guys? True that Shane himself was sort of stoked about the new girls, but these guys didn't seem to have very honorable intentions. Shane wasn't sure what they wanted from the girls exactly, but he didn't think it would jive with his mom's lectures on equality.
He was so lost in thought about meeting new people that he almost didn't notice her sitting on the steps alone. It was the pixie girl- Jana Morgan- and she looked as though she had lost her best friend. This seemed like a good enough opening, and he was all ready to shove away from the wall and approach her when both of her redhead friends swooped down on her with excited expressions. Shane tried not to stare at them as he watched them interact with her. One of the redheads was on the tall side, and he recognized her from earlier that morning when he first saw Jana walking to school. She had a pretty face and wide, expressive eyes. At the moment, she was gesturing wildly with her right hand and her face was positively glowing. She might be another one worth knowing, but he was still pretty drawn to the quieter sprite. The other redhead was just as tiny as Jana, but he would never describe her as a pixie. She had a set jaw and sharp eyes—more like a gnome, maybe? At the moment, her mouth was twisted in a bemused smile, but he had a feeling she could lose her temper in a hurry.
The next thing he knew, all three of them were trotting up the steps toward him and it didn't look as though they were heading back inside the building. Sure enough, they came to a halt not two feet away from him. Curious, he thought, they seem like they may want to speak with me. Huh.
Shane politely removed his ear buds and cocked his head as he waited for the trio to state their business.
"You're Shane Arrington, aren't you?" the pretty redhead asked, her arms linked with the other two. Her tone and phrasing suggested this was some sort of scouting mission.
"Sure am," he replied. He wondered if this was all—they just wanted to confirm his name. There was enough gossip going around the seventh grade that he figured some people just wanted to know which face to link with which story.
The redhead went on, "I'm Melanie Edwards. And these are my friends Katie Shannon and Jana Morgan. We're from Mark Twain." She said it all in one breath, paused and kept going, "We wanted to ask you something."
Shane got the impression she was about to ask him something very serious as she was practically squeezing her friends' arms to the point of popping blood vessels. He also got the impression that by "we" she meant "I" because her two friends were exchanging looks with one another suggesting they had been dragged along. He waited for her to continue.
"Is it true that you have a pet iguana?"
So that was it? Just another person wanting to confirm that he was as weird as everyone said? Well, he may as well grin and bear it.
Her wide blue eyes looked like saucers and she glanced between her friends as if to confirm that she wasn't being duped. Shane thought it might be fun to be friends with her just to see what you could get away with telling her.
"Well, do you keep him in a cage?"
Duh, of course I keep him in a cage.
"Nah, he has the run of the house."
This time, Melanie's friends both broke their serious facades. Katie, the tinier and sort of ferocious looking one, quirked her mouth up at one side and let her eyes fly up to the sky as if trying to find some composure up there. Jana didn't try to hide her smile and a rather adorable dimple appeared in her left cheek. Shane had the sudden urge to make her laugh to see what it would sound like.
Melanie seemed to struggle for a moment, "But… what if he has to, you know…go?"
That caught Shane's attention. Most people didn't think all that hard about Igor. They just knew that he had an iguana and it was sort of unusual and that was the end of the conversation. It seemed Melanie might be slightly more interesting than he originally thought.
"To the bathroom? That's easy. He just walks over to the door and knocks once with his tail and I let him out. When he's done, he knocks again and let him back in."
Jana's cheeks rounded as if she was trying to swallow a laugh and Shane grinned at his almost victory. Next to her, Melanie Edwards looked as though she was trying to work out a difficult math problem. On the other side, Katie Shannon was looking right at him, smiling and shaking her head. Well, she couldn't be so bad if she had a sense of humor.
"Um, okay. We were just wondering. Thanks a lot," Melanie said, flashing him a sweet, but sort of confused smile.
He nodded at her and grinned back with confidence as she pulled her friends around to head toward the other entrance. As he watched them go, they huddled toward each other and he was pretty sure the two bookends were telling Melanie that he was likely teasing her.
Still, he had made Jana smile, and she had an extremely nice smile. He had heard a rumor about her and those other girls while in his Family Living class. Two girls sitting behind him were chattering and he saw them gesturing toward Jana and saying she was the leader of a clique from Mark Twain. They called themselves something…Gorgeous Girls? Fabulous Girls? Fantastic Five? He grimaced as he was reminded of the most infamous clique at Riverfield- the Fantastic Foursome. Laura McCall led them around like a princess and her servants. They weren't all bad, except for when they all got together and started acting like everyone else should feel lucky to just be in their presence. He actually liked Laura at times, and Funny Hawthorne was actually sort of awesome. He had a vague crush on her at Riverfield, mostly because she had such a strange name and didn't treat him like an entertaining spectacle.
A bell rang overhead and he tucked his ipod away and went back inside.
The rest of the day went by without incident. Melanie popped up in his biology class with the infamous Dracovitch and she fluttered her fingers at him before she took a seat a couple of rows over. Laura McCall cornered him between classes and informed him she was having a party soon and really hoped he could make it. She also casually asked if he would make it to Bumpers that afternoon and he gave a hazy answer, unsure himself if he wanted to go.
His last period class was gym and that's when he made his first actual new friend. Coach Bledsoe would also be their football coach, and he didn't seem terribly concerned with orienting them to expectations for gym class. He seemed much more interested in assessing who might be trying out for the junior varsity team and what playing football for him might entail. His lecture only lasted about 30 minutes of the total 50 devoted to the class period. He tossed some handouts about appropriate gym class behavior and attire at them and told them to work on homework until the bell. Never mind that no one actually had homework yet.
As the coach drifted off toward his office at the back of the gym, Shane twisted around on the bleachers looking for a friendly face. He was considering tramping up the steps to join Brad Cochran when he heard someone nearby say his name.
He turned to confirm and add with as little sarcasm as he could manage that yes it was true he had an iguana, but he stopped short when he saw who spoke to him. It was The Guy, and he was looking right at Shane with a friendly expression.
"Um, yeah. Good call."
"I remember you from some games last year-- I went to Mark Twain. You're pretty tricky when people try to tackle you. Nice footwork. "
Dumbfounded, Shane just looked at The Guy and finally nodded in thanks. Why was he suddenly star struck?
"Yeah, so, I'm Randy. Um, Kirwan."
Sense finally took over Shane and he extended his hand to shake. As Randy accepted it, he replied, "Good to meet you. I remember you from the games too. Can't wait to catch some of your passes this fall. And it's Shane, by the way. Shane Arrington."
Randy smiled as he released Shane's hand and leaned back against the bleacher behind them and surveyed the other guys in the class.
"We ought to have a good team. I remember you, of course. But I recognize some of the other guys who were pretty good too. I think with all of us together, we should put up a pretty good fight."
Shane nodded and leaned back as well, hardly believing that he was speaking to the rock star of the sixth grade football league and the rock star was identifying him as an equal.
"Agreed. I think the biggest problem will be getting over our old loyalties, you know? We all used to be enemies. I say we give peace a chance though."
He expected Randy to say something about Shane being a hippy because most people would comment on that when he used his parents' 70s lingo, but Randy just bobbed his head.
"I think you're right. The sooner we start practicing the better. Once we all get used to each other and our playing styles, we could be unstoppable."
They continued discussing tactics for a while, and Shane found himself grateful that he met someone that didn't seem to already have him pigeonholed. It was the first person all day that had not once mentioned Igor or his dad's VW or anything related to hippies.
A few minutes before the bell, they lapsed into a short silence, and Shane decided Randy may be a good tool to investigate some of the Mark Twain ladies.
"So, football is awesome and all, but what do you think about Wacko? Pretty different from Mark Twain, huh?"
Randy scratched his chin and rolled his eyes.
"Oh yeah. I got lost about three times today. At least the football field is the same wherever you go."
Shane laughed appreciatively, "Totally understand, dude. I nearly walked into a girls' bathroom."
Randy snorted, "How did you figure out you were in the wrong place?"
And there it was—the opening he needed.
"Actually, I think some girl from Mark Twain stopped me. Taffy, is it?"
"Tall, blond, and, uh, developed?"
Shane couldn't help but feel pleased that Randy didn't seem quite as crass as the other guys.
"Yeah, sounds right."
"If she went to Mark Twain, it's probably Taffy."
"Any other cute ones from your old alma mater?"
A crooked smile fell over Randy's face and he seemed to blush.
"Uh, yeah, actually—"
Whatever he said next was drowned out by the bell ringing. All around them, the other guys starting clomping down the bleachers and horsing around on their way out of the gym. Randy rose to leave as well and a guy with sandy blond hair bounded down the stairs to him and called out, "Hey, Kirwan, hoops at my house after school- alright?"
As the guy joined them, Randy answered that he would be there and introduced Shane as they started for the hallway to the main building.
"Oh, Shane Arrington, right? The iguana kid? I'm Keith Masterson."
Shane nodded and decided Keith Masterson would probably not be his new best friend. But Randy Kirwan might be a cool guy. He probably would have wanted to be friends with him anyway, but it also seemed like a good idea to befriend someone who knew all the Mark Twain girls. Maybe he was friends with Jana and Shane could get some more time to talk to her.
First day of school, and Shane was feeling pretty awesome about things.