It's almost the end of Summer and I still haven't been able to bust Phineas and Ferb! Today they built a floating carousel with real live animals to ride! I couldn't get Mom home in time to see it before it vanished, of course. It's always the same. She never believes me anyway.
Jeremy hasn't been much help, either. He's seen what Phineas and Ferb come up with, but he thinks their creations are fun. Fun! Jeremy wouldn't know fun if it bit him in the rear. He's always either with his band buddies in a garage or working at Slushy Dog. It's so annoying the way he sucks up to the manager...
Candace lay her pink feather-topped pen down on her journal and sighed. The truth was that things with Jeremy were not going the way she had once envisioned. They did little more than hang out these days, and even the kissing and hand-holding had dwindled away to almost nothing.
I don't even bother to ask him for help busting my brothers any more, she thought sadly. And when was the last time I thought of what our children – Xavier and Amanda – would look like? Not to mention Fred... boy was he a surprise when Phineas and Ferb told me about that trip into the future.
A future I don't see Jeremy in any more.
Candace lay her head on the journal and cried quietly.
Breaking up was easier than Candace had thought.
She had sat down with Jeremy at a booth in the back of Slushy Dog during his work break. After an awkward silence she blurted out "Jeremy, I don't think this is working." Her hands flew to her mouth as she realized with horror what she had just said out loud.
Jeremy didn't look surprised at all, just sad. "You, too, huh."
"Oh, Jeremy, I'm so sorry, I wanted this to work out for us so much and even if I'm always going off about my brothers you know you're important too, it's just that-"
His hand on hers stopped her. "It's all right, Candace. I guess we just aren't long-term material. I'm always busy and so are you. I honestly can't recall the last time we made out. Can you?"
She shook her head and her eyes filled with tears she wiped away quickly. "I.. I can't, either. At least I can honestly say there isn't anyone else. I know you're not that kind of guy."
He smiled sadly at her. "And you're not that kind of girl. I'm glad. I... gee. It's going to be really awkward, isn't it?"
Candace sighed. "I know... At least there's enough time before school starts that there won't be too many embarrassing questions. I hope."
Jeremy had looked like he wanted to say something more. It wasn't hard for her to figure out what it was.
"It's okay with me if you come on over sometime to see what Phineas and Ferb are up to. If I can live with Stacy being seduced by the coolness, I can live with seeing you come by, too."
"We.. we're still friends, aren't we, Candace?"
She frowned for a moment, then smiled. "Yes, Jeremy. Yes, we are."
A couple of weeks later Candace was walking homeward with Stacey on an extra-hot afternoon, not really listening to her friend's babble on the topic of shoes.
Sure, shoes were an awesome accessory as well as a necessity, but for the five-foot-eight Candace, four-inch platform heels were out of the question. She was already too tall as it was, and boys didn't appreciate a girl that was six feet tall in the latest Christian Louboutins. Her mother wouldn't let her wear heels until she was eighteen, anyway.
" – so I was thinking that I could get the real shoes and wear a knockoff dress for Homecoming, since everyone knows the real time to wear an authentic designer gown is the prom, and it doesn't matter if I wear the shoes again because the dress will be new and the shoes are a classic style that goes with everything and – Holy Hannah!"
The exclamation snapped Candace out of her funk. She looked to where Stacy was staring and saw –
Her brothers were in the back yard. So were several other people. Swimming through the air.
"Oh, those two are so busted!" She hit the speed dial on her cell phone. It rang twice then went straight to voice mail.
"Hello, you have reached Linda Flynn-Fletcher. If this is about antiques, you can call the shop at 555-OLDY; that's 555-6539. if this is Candace, I have just about HAD it with your paranoia!"
The recorder beeped. "Mom! Phineas and Ferb are doing something in the back yard again! Wait, what? Paranoia?"
Her mother really did think she was crazy. Candace sighed and shut her phone. She would have to drag her mother home again.
First she would make sure exactly what was going on in the back yard.
"Come on, Stacy! Let's see what those two are up to!"
They ran to the gate which Candace kicked open, yelling "You guys are so busted!"
To her shock she was greeted with a chorus of "Hi, Candace!" by more than just the usual suspects. Jeremy was there, too, as were Irving, his older brother whose name escaped her, Ferb's crush the Goth girl, and Stacy's almost-boyfriend Coltrane, all of them floating anywhere from twenty to fifty inches off a very large platform with a heavy-gauge mesh surface. The platform itself was surrounded by a number of mattresses and cushions.
"What's going on here?"
Stacy just squee'd and jumped in, easily swimming her way to Coltrane.
Phineas greeted her with his usual annoying cheerfulness. "Oh, hi, Candace! This is our AirSwim platform! Do you like it?"
"You guys are so busted! I'm calling Mom!"
A manly voice spoke up behind her. Why don't you give it a spin first? You might actually like it..."
Candace turned and saw it was a nerdy older teen. She recognized him after half a second. He was that creepy kid Irving's older brother. He was also the only person who had ever been even marginally helpful in trying to bust Phineas and Ferb.
Albert. That was his name.
"I can't waste time fooling around, Albert! I have to bust my brothers!"
"Because I do! They always get away with all this weird... stuff!" she raged. It was so unfair!
Albert raised an eyebrow. "So, you're saying that the only reason you won't try this thing out is because you'd rather bust your brothers? And, despite how that never works out for you, you still think that it would be more fun to watch your only brothers get briefly scolded or punished for having their own fun? Even when all they want is for you to have fun, too?"
Candace folded her arms and scowled. "Well, you don't have to put it that – HEY!' she exclaimed as Albert grabbed her wrist. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Come on. Fun time is now."
"But – " Candace began to protest.
Albert lost what little patience he had for her complaints. He growled "I said now," and swept her up off her feet, unceremoniously tossing her onto the platform.
The blast of air was cooling, and after a minute or two of spinning around Candace finally managed to gain some semblance of balance. Ferb came closer and did rings around her.
Phineas swam up to her and smiled. "I'm so glad you joined us, Candace! Especially since this is Albert's going-away party we're throwing."
"Going-away party?" That surprised her.
"Indeed, my fair damsel," Albert replied, doing a lazy backstroke past them. "I'm going back to boarding school, leaving the day after tomorrow. I won't be back until Christmas break. Therefore I must socialize all I can while I can." He dove closer to the platform surface, clearly enjoying himself.
"Oh..." For some reason the idea of Albert going off to boarding school bothered her.
"Hey, Candace!" Phineas exclaimed, poking her lightly on the arm. "Tag! You're 'It'!"
"Why you little – get back here!"
"Hey, everyone, Candace is 'It'!" Phineas laughed as he swam away.
She could have sworn she heard Albert dreamily murmur "Indeed she is..." before she swam after the others, trying to catch one of them.
It was a wonderful afternoon.
A few days after school had started Candace was surprised to find a letter waiting for her on her bed. It had come from some sort of quasi-military academy. The sender was identified only as "Cadet 87234."
She shrugged and opened the envelope. A faint scent of lemon juice wafted from the paper. As she unfolded the letter, the signature became visible, making her blink in surprise.
It was from Albert.
The letter itself was rather stiff and formal, printed out with a lot of space between each line.. She was about to toss it when something caught her eye. A mention of lemon juice being used as invisible ink... but no word on how to make it readable.
It took her two hours of racking her brains until she got a headache before she finally gave up and swallowed her pride.
"Hey, Ferb. Is Phineas still in the shower?"
The green-haired boy looked up from his sketch pad and nodded.
"Um... would you by any chance know how to make invisible ink appear?"
Ferb extended his hand. After some hesitation she handed over the folded letter. He sniffed at it, then went to the bathroom and returned with...
"A hair dryer?" Candace was confused.
Ferb gave her a tiny smile, flourished the letter, and put the dryer on high heat. He kept the letter steady on the night stand with one hand, the other making slow, even passes with the dryer. After a few moments he took a quick peek inside the paper, then handed it over. Candace opened it and smiled as she saw a neat script between the lines of print.
"Thanks, Ferb!" She kissed his head. He gave her a thumbs up and went back to his doodling.
Albert's letter was quite amusing, telling about his life at the Academy and the antics of his roommates. He also told her about the censorship all letters were subject to. The lemon juice trick worked because of the laundry detergent the Academy used. Most cadets kept their paper under their clothing or extra bedding, so the paper smelled like lemons anyway.
Candace thought for a while, then sat down at the computer to draft a cover letter. Once it was done she went to the kitchen looking for some lemons.
Candace and Albert's correspondence took on a certain frequency. They exchanged views on music, movies and food. She confided in him about her breakup with Jeremy and he told her about a girl he had dated earlier in the summer, before they had met. He taught her the basic points of the Stumbleberry Finkbat movies and she explained how the "Twilight" series was supposed to work. After a couple of months she admitted she was still a Ducky Momo fan. He didn't make fun of her at all. Instead he told her he found it rather sweet, to the point that he started addressing her as "Duckling". She countered by calling him "Dragon". It was intended to be a poke at his usual ComicCon outfit, but it applied just as well to his love of martial arts films.
They saw each other a couple of times in passing over the Christmas break, but with all the family commitments both had, sitting down to really talk was impossible.
That suited Candace just fine, because she was getting more and more confused about Albert.
He was nice. He didn't make fun of her, was actually rather good-looking behind the thick glasses, he was certainly in shape – Jeremy could never have tossed her with such ease – and it was more than obvious he had something of a crush on her... but he was a nerd.
What would everyone think of her if she started dating a nerd?
Candace stood outside the Spring Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention, her Ducky Momo costume in its duffel bag. She steeled herself and went in.
"Oh, there you are, Candace!" Isabella, dressed as a fairy princess, waved her sparkly wand in greeting. "We've all been waiting for you! Why aren't you wearing your Ducky Momo costume?"
Candace groaned loudly. "Does everyone know about it?"
"Pretty much!" Isabella was taking far too much pleasure in letting her know, or at least it felt that way to Candace. "I think it's sweet that you still like Ducky Momo at your age."
"Great, now I feel like a spinster aunt." She trudged off to the nearest women's restroom and got into her outfit.
The rest of the day went better. Apparently most people had forgotten about her coming out of the fan-girl closet at the last con, and she managed to float around the place without being made fun of. Jeremy's little sister Suzy squealed when she saw her, but by now Candace had no fear of the tiny terror. She even agreed to a few pictures and Suzy ran off happily. Jeremy barely had a chance to say "Thanks, Candace!" before running off after his baby sister.
Seeing Jeremy turn away didn't hurt any more.
The disadvantage of the costume was that it blocked her peripheral vision. She bumped into someone and was turning around, already apologizing. Candace was surprised to discover it was Albert in his dragon costume.
"Hi... Dragon. I didn't know you would be here."
"I expected you wouldn't know. I almost didn't come, but the Academy is being fumigated. Someone brought bedbugs back from Christmas break."
"Indeed. Say... would you take the head of that thing off a moment?" He removed his own dragon's head. "I'd like to see your face a moment, lovely Duckling."
She was afraid of what he might say. "I..."
He grinned at her and declaimed "Off with your head!"
His jest made her feel better and she took it off. It was starting to get really warm in there, anyway.
"Lovely, as always," Albert said, bowing and taking her wing to kiss it. "I wanted to ask you something."
"And that would be...?"
"Well, I'm graduating this summer, and wanted to know whether your parents would allow you to come up to the Academy as my date for the prom."
"Buh-buh-buh-but... your prom date? Wouldn't that be like telling everyone I'm... your..." She swallowed hard. "Your... girlfriend?"
"Well... yes." He took her wing again and held it. "I really like you, Candace... I was hoping you liked me enough to at least try."
"I..." She decided honesty was the best policy. "I don't know, Albert. I mean, we're friends, you're really nice and all, but, well, even f you're something of an athlete and are graduating from military school instead of some weird private school, you're still a nerd, and I don't know if I could date a nerd." She blushed, deeply ashamed of herself for hurting her friend – but better to hurt him now than to string him along and hurt him more later.
"I don't see what the problem is." he smiled warmly at her. "You're one of us, after all. As it should... uh, be."
Candace was shocked. "What?"
The smile turned to an outright grin. "You're one of us, Duckling. You're a nerd, too." He stepped closer.
"I am not a nerd!" Candace fumed. "Okay, so maybe I'm too old to still be dressing up like a cartoon duck, but everyone has to have something weird going on!"
"You're the top-ranking Ducky Momo trivia master for the Tri-State area, right?" His expression was all innocence.
"Yeah, so?" What was he getting at?
"So, a Ducky Momo nerd is still a nerd, my dear."
Before she knew what was happening one surprisingly strong arm was wrapped around her waist, the other hand at the back of her neck, fingers tangled in her hair. He spun her around and tilted her back. She was about to complain but he had already pulled her in and his mouth was on hers. Her arms wrapped around him instinctively, trying to keep herself from falling, but he was strong enough to keep her steady. Before she knew it she was kissing Albert back.
It was the best kiss of Candace's life.
By the time they came up for air the rest of the kids were closing in on them. Albert put his dragon head back on quickly. Candace was still breathing hard, perfectly aware that her hair was disheveled and her cheeks were pink.
Maybe nerds weren't so bad after all, Candace decided.
Phineas' expression turned to slight worry when he saw the state his sister was in. Ferb was his usual unflappable self, and Isabella was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
"Candace?" Phineas asked, "Are you okay?"
"Oh yes," was her answer as she put the duck head back on. She felt Albert take her hand in his and she gave it a small squeeze. "Everything's just Ducky."
Author's Note: Many thanks to I am the Poptart, without whose help this would not have been written, much less titled.