The time was recess. The children of Third Street were playing, running and jumping as they should be. As they played, Randall Weems creaked open the door leading to the playground and looked around. No one noticed him. Satisfied, he slithered out into the open and then screen left and out of sight. In the foreground a familiar sextet was coming to a halt on the blacktop.
As they scanned the playground's activity, Gus was first to speak. "Hey guys," he addressed his friends, "have you noticed anything weird about the playground today?"
"How so Gus?" his friend T.J. inquired.
"Well, look around." Gus indicated, "It's been a good fifteen minutes and not one kid has been punished for anything. There's kids littering, kids running on the fancy grass, and even kids getting into the ball bin, but Miss Finster is nowhere to be seen."
"Yeah, and come to think of it, I haven't heard Randall's whiney little voice at all today." noted Spinelli, "I wonder what's up."
"Perhaps Randall has decided to take a day off from his snitching duties?" proposed Gretchen.
"No way," Spinelli argued, "the little rat loves to snitch. He wouldn't stop if he had hepatitis." She put her hands on her hips. "I say we go find the twerp."
"I'm with Spinelli." said Vince, "Who knows what Randall might be up to. He could be planning to bust the whole playground all at once or something..!"
"Must we have so little faith in our fellow man?" asked Mikey, "You never know, he could just be taking a nap." The group stared at him.
"Mikey, this is Randall we're talking about, not some kindergartener." scolded Spinelli.
Mikey looked down, saying heavily, "Oh yeah..."
T.J. took charge. "Alright then, it's settled. We're off on a snitch hunt." The others nodded and started off.
The group looked everywhere they could think of: the cheese block, behind the dumpster, the sandbox, near the kindergarten pen. They even checked, shudder, the old abandoned playground. But it was to no avail. Randall wasn't in any of those places. And then, as they were scouting the perimeter of the school, they found him peering into a window from a shadowed part of the building. The group approached quietly.
Randall didn't notice as they came up near him. They looked at the window, trying to see who or what Randall was snooping at. What they saw was…Menlo. Menlo sat at his desk, scribbling on a few papers in front of him. As the group watched he finished his scribbling, stood, yawned and stretched, then picked up the papers and carried them out of the room. Randall turned to leave, spotted the group and instead jumped back with a short startled scream.
"H-hey! What're you doing back here?" he demanded of them.
"Interestingly enough, we were just about to inquire the same of you." Gretchen replied, adjusting her glasses.
"Yeah Randall," added T.J., "not that we're not grateful, but why're you back here spying on Menlo instead of snitching on us innocent kids out on the playground?"
"Wh-what? Menlo? I'm not spying on Menlo." defended Randall, "No. I was spying on…Ms. Lemon! I think she may be involved in some sort of, o-of typewriter conspiracy!"
"Uh-huh, sure you do." Spinelli rolled her eyes. "Ms. Lemon's not even in there."
"Well, uh, she was..!" argued Randall.
"Hey man, why you getting so defensive?" input Vince, "You love sharing dirt."
"I do not love-mmph!" Randall had clamped a hand over his mouth.
"Well, that's understandable." Gus nodded sympathetically, "I don't love throwing up either. Who does? But what's that got to do with Menlo?"
Something suddenly seemed to hit Mikey, and he beamed a very wide beam. "Randall," he asked nicely, "have you been blessed with the wonders of heavenly infatuation?"
Randall cocked his head. "Huh?"
Mikey tried again, "Has Aphrodite smiled upon you and graced you the warmth and happiness of a thousand suns, the kind that can only be shared with another?"
Randall cocked his head in the other direction. "Huh?"
Mikey's face fell flat. "Do you have a crush on Menlo?"
Randall's eyes bugged. "WHAT?!" he shrieked, causing ears to be covered, "No way! I don't have some kind of gross crush! Only greasy little nerdballs have crushes!"
Spinelli lifted her hands from her ears slowly, darkly asking, "And you are..?"
Hands on his hips, Randall agreed, "Ok, point taken. But I still don't have a crush. Now get lost before I have Miss Finster Wall the lot of you for the rest of recess."
"Why you lousy, no good-threaten me will ya?" Spinelli started, rolling up her sleeves, but T.J. placed a hand on her shoulder.
"No Spinelli. Not this time." he said, "Come on guys, let's leave Randall alone."
Confused by the reaction, Spinelli backed down and the group followed T.J. off to their spot on the climbing dome. They took their respective leaning spots.
"Ok Teej, what was that all about?" demanded Vince.
"I believe I must concur." input Gretchen, "Randall did impress upon us a rather rude and severe threat. I think the phrase is, 'he had it coming'?"
T.J. looked to his friends. "Come on guys, he's obviously just got jangled nerves. And hey, can you blame him? We did just kinda force him to reveal his crush. Nobody likes having that done to them."
The others hung their heads and mumbled in a kind of shame.
T.J. went on, "It's also obvious that he's not going to do anything about it. Now I don't know about you, but after what we just did, I feel we kinda owe it to Randall to at least try and help him out."
Spinelli pushed herself up. "What?!"
"Teej, have you gone bonkers?" fretted Gus, "Why should we help Randall after all the mean things he's done to us?"
"Indeed." said Gretchen, "I calculate that the number of times Randall has been mean far outweighs the instances of his being nice by a ratio of at least 1 to 132."
T.J. shrugged. "I don't keep scores. All I know is that I see a kid in trouble, feel bad about it, and the only thing that'll make it better is if I help Randall out. I mean even Randall deserves this kinda chance, right?"
Mikey pulled T.J. into a tight hug, gushing, "Oh, T.J. I'm so proud of you! We'll make yours the soul of a true poet yet!"
T.J. coughed and choked. "That's...great, Mikey..." he strained, legs kicking in nothing, "Now, how's about…givin' me some air..?"
Mikey quickly put him down. "Heh heh…oops, sorry." he blushed.
On the ground, T.J. rubbed his throat. "No problem. Now, everyone, gather 'round. I've got a plan that's kind of cookie cutter, but for this situation will probably work out just fine."
It took a couple of seconds, but the remaining four reluctantly gathered around T.J. to hear his plan.
"Ok Randall, remember all the stuff I told you." T.J. reminded, an arm thrown over Randall's hunch as he walked him to the dumpster, "As soon as the gang gets Menlo out here, just bite the bullet and come clean. Trust me, it's for the best. You don't wanna let this kinda thing stew. Just ask my sister Becky."
"Hph. I'm still not sure I trust you." Randall said suspiciously, "How do I know you're not planning to embarrass me now that you've finally got some dirt on the snitch?"
T.J. sighed. "I told you to remember what I told you. We feel sorry for poking into a tender area and we're trying to make it up to you. Is that so hard to believe coming from me?"
Randall thought, a hand rubbing his chin. "Hmm, well, no. You are a goody little two shoes." he concluded.
"Eeexactly." nodded T.J. The two suddenly heard the sounds of struggle. Looking towards the sounds they saw the gang coming towards them, Menlo lifted in the air above them. He was the source of the struggling.
"Let me go, you brutes!" Menlo demanded, "I demand you put me down and return me to my working quarters! I could have your pudding privileges for this!"
"He wouldn't come quietly." Spinelli answered the looks they were greeted with. She and the others lowered him to the ground, where he folded his arms in a huff, a sour look on his face.
"Well?" Menlo shot at Randall, who flinched in panic, "I heard you wanted to see me about something?" Randall shook.
T.J. patted his back softly. "Just get it over with." he whispered.
"Uh…I, uh...you...err…" Randall tried. Menlo became impatient.
"If you've nothing important you'd like to say, I have a report on the dwindling quality of copy machine toner to get back to." he said snootily, then added, "I doubt whatever you wanted was quite as pressing, anyway." He started to walk away.
"I…I…I have a crush on you!" burst Randall. Menlo froze, his eyes wide. He looked slowly back at Randall, who was heaving nervously with a hand to his chest. Then, eyes still wide, Menlo turned back the way he was going and walked off silently.
"Ohhhh…" Randall groaned, and covered his face.
"Chill Randall, maybe he just needs time to think." consoled T.J., "Give him a few minutes; I'm sure he'll come around."
Randall looked to T.J. "Y-Yeah. Maybe. Ok, I'll wait a little while then go see him." Then, wringing his hands nervously, he wandered off.
"Well, can't say we didn't try!" announced Spinelli, "Who's up for a game of kickball?"
"Now hold on, Spinelli." Mikey broke in, "We can't just leave poor Randall like this. Just think of how he must feel..!"
"But the twerp's beau isn't even interested!" Spinelli argued.
"No Spinelli." T.J. said, "I just think he needs a little talking to. If he hasn't figured it out by the time Randall sees him, I'll give him that talk."
"Geez, since when did you become Mr. Cupidpants?" Spinelli retorted.
"Yeah T.J., I mean we did try." Vince shrugged.
Gretchen included, "And my records show that an average of 98% elementary school crushes end in disaster. The chances that we could make one boy's first crush succeed are practically zero."
Gus just shrugged.
T.J. looked at his pals. "You guys just don't get it. Everyone deserves this opportunity. Randall may never get it again. I've gotten him this far; I'm not gonna give up, cuz lettin' a guy get a broken heart is a hundred times worse than just embarrassin' him." His friends seemed confused. They exchanged looks.
"I understand. This is all new to you guys." Mikey said, "Your minds cannot yet grasp the wonders of love. Don't worry T.J., I'll explain it. You go see if you can sort this all out."
T.J. didn't really think it was really necessary for Mikey to do that, but he shrugged and took the cue anyway. He left as Mikey sat everyone down for a musing speech.
A short while later, T.J. noticed Randall nervously approaching the school doors. As he disappeared inside, T.J. followed him. He followed Randall to the office, but stopped by the door. Inside he heard Randall greet meekly, "Um, h-hi Menlo. Have you, given any thought to what I said..?"
Menlo stopped writing and looked calmly at Randall. "Yes, I have. And I have come to this conclusion." he started, then stood and shouted, pointing to the door, "Get away from me you freak! I don't have time to be bothered with this sort of thing!"
Randall flinched, his eyes welling up with tears. He covered his eyes with his hands, and then fled the room sobbing. He didn't even notice as he ran past T.J.
T.J. watched Randall flee, anger at Menlo etched into his face. He steeled himself before entering the office himself.
"Hey Menlo." he greeted coolly.
"Detweiler." Menlo acknowledged with an equal cool.
"Don't you think maybe you're being too hard on Randall?" T.J. cut to the chase.
"Why do you say that?" returned Menlo.
"Oh come on, we both know he didn't deserve that." said T.J., "And I know you like him. You're the closest friend he's ever had his own age."
"So what if I like him?" Menlo argued, "That doesn't mean I have to like like him." He glanced a little too calmly to the side. "Besides," he continued, "I am far too busy with my work to pursue any sort of relationship. Not to mention a relationship between a boy and a boy would be against the rules."
"What rules?" shouted T.J., pounding Menlo's desk, "The rules of love? Well lemme tell you something Menlo, love only has one rule, and that's to love who you love. If you can blame Randall for following that rule, then you're an even bigger slime ball than he is. Randall was brave enough to come forward and confess; are you brave enough to give him a chance? Cuz even a slime ball like Randall deserves a chance at happiness."
T.J. started out of the office, but turned back at the door. "You know you don't want to push him away." he said, "Find some courage, will ya?"
And he was gone, leaving a guilty looking Menlo alone with his thoughts.
Outside, T.J. found Randall sulking behind the dumpster.
"Hey Randall." he greeted cautiously.
"Leave me alone." Randall glowered, not facing T.J.
T.J. nodded. "Yeah, ok. I understand. Just thought you might wanna talk." He patted Randall's shoulder, then walked away to find his friends.
After a few minutes of Randall sulking, a shadow fell over him. Angry, he spun around and spat, "I thought I told you to-!" He gasped.
Menlo was there, looking down in an ashamed sort of way. He pulled out and set down a handkerchief before joining Randall on the grunge encrusted ground.
"Whadda you want?" Randall inquired darkly.
Menlo watched his fingers twiddle as he answered, "I…I wanted to apologize."
Randall looked at him in shock. "Wha??"
Menlo nodded. "I feel I was a bit hasty in trying to push you away. I shouldn't have done that. You're the only friend I have, and you're a good one. I was just, afraid. Afraid of what people would think, afraid of how new this whole concept is to me." Menlo paused, and then took one of Randall's hands in his before saying, "And afraid because I…I kinda sorta maybe like you too."
Randall was staring dumbfoundedly at Menlo, so Menlo elaborated, "Wh-what I'm saying is, I'd kind of like to, give this a try."
Randall seemed paralyzed. "…Randall?" asked Menlo.
"…YAAAAAHOOOOOOOO!!!" Randall whooped, leaping up. Menlo was bewildered as he watched the boy spring about going, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!!!" Then without warning, Randall grabbed Menlo's face and brought their mouths together in a powerfully searing kiss.
Randall was beaming wildly when he let go, and the sudden release caused Menlo to topple backwards. Menlo righted himself, adjusting his glasses as he did so.
"Well, that was…unexpected,yet...also interesting." he declared, both dazed and intrigued.
Meanwhile, across the playground, T.J. had found his friends, who had migrated to the picnic tables. Mikey was still waxing poetic on and on about love. Gretchen was paying rapt attention and making several notes on her electronic device, but she seemed to be the only one.
Gus had his hands over his ears and was rocking from side to side chanting, "Make it stop..!"
Spinelli had her head down on the table and was saying to no one in particular, "If I hear one more thing about fluffy rainbows and sunshine happiness I am gonna be sick!"
Vince had simply fallen asleep curled up with a basketball.
"Hey guys, how's it goin'?" T.J. greeted them, looking mildly amused at their situation. Those who were conscious took notice.
"Swimmingly." Spinelli replied sarcastically.
"Indeed." Gretchen smiled, "This 'love' is proving to be quite fascinating. It refuses to compute..!" She beeped away at her gizmo for a second or two, and then asked, "So how'd it go?"
"Well, I think I got through to Menlo." T.J. informed, "The rest is up to him." He suddenly noticed something far off on the playground. "Well, well, speak of the devil."
His friends turned to see what he was talking about. Out by the swing sets, Menlo was walking with Randall hand in hand. T.J. smiled to himself.
"Huh. So the little dweebs hooked up." said Spinelli, sounding somewhat surprised, somewhat impressed.
"Ah, 'tis nothing more beautiful than the air of romance, taking flight with that first glance." sighed Mikey.
"Cram it, corn ball." a sick of poetry Spinelli threatened, shaking her fist at Mikey.
"Gee, I wonder if this means Randall will stop tattling on everyone." Gus thought aloud.
As if on cue, Randall suddenly started to jump up and down, pointing wildly at Gordie, who had just tossed a candy wrapper on the ground. He was obviously calling for Miss Finster.
"No way, Gus." T.J. answered with a smirk, "Randall'll never give up his one true love."