Pigeons took flight in their effort to remove themselves from the blading path of Pepper Ann Pearson. They lifted off in all directions just as the red-headed girl in question lifted off of a four-step cement stair in the sidewalk and, surprisingly, glided onward with little difficulty. Not that a misstep was likely to hurt very much. Past experiences made Pepper Ann a spokeswoman for safety, and she was always properly outfitted with a helmet and pads. She was considering investing in a pair of gloves as well, because when she did take a tumble, the palms of her hands often substituted as breaks. Unfortunately, when the palms of her hands and the pavement challenged each other to a duel, her hands had a tendency of losing the battle. Half a year ago she remembered scraping them so hard that there were tiny fragments of rock embedded in them—not only had her hands lost the war, they had gone over to the other side! Playing Crunch Pod hadn't been much fun for a week and a half after that little incident.

Given the current set of circumstances, though, Pepper Ann was willing to throw a little caution to the wind. Her friends needed her to save them, for a change. Besides, if she didn't get them unstuck soon, she was going to miss Crazy Twin Shenanigans! Fortunately, the hardware store wasn't too far away from school. One of the advantages to living in a suburb was that all of the shopping needs were accessible either on Main Street or at the mall. As much as she might've enjoyed a little jaunt to the mall in search of the perfect useless artifact to waste her allowance on, her better judgment prevailed and she set a course for the small shops of Main Street. She felt focused, uncharacteristically so. As far as her balding went, she was in the zone. It had been ages since she had felt such precise control. She was a woman with a mission, and nothing was going to distract her—

"Hey, Pearson!"

For one brief, shining moment, the world had made sense to Pepper Ann Pearson, age 12 and a quarter. Then Craig Bean had spoken to her. It was unfortunate that the eighth grader had such a tendency to do these kinds of things to her. She felt her feet turn sideways she tried to make a very hasty stop. She succeeded in sending the sand of the sidewalk flying everywhere. Her own body was spared all but the most minor injuries as she managed to embrace a convenient light post, which she realized had saved her from falling unceremoniously on her rump. "Ugh." She moaned as she released the light post and began sweeping the sand off of herself.

"Nice entrance. You cool?" Craig inquired.

"Huh? Oh! Yeah, I'm cool!" Pepper Ann laughed hesitantly. She found her eyes unable to look at him, and they drifted downwards, towards his shoes. "Oh, Craig! I got all this sand on your sneakers! I'm sorry!"

"No sweat. They're only sneakers. Besides, it was worth the show."

Pepper Ann took a modest mock bow. "Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week!"

"Got any plans?"

"Just running an errand for my friends. I guess you could say they're in a sticky situation, and now they need me to get them out of it."

"I get you. That's cool. I'm meeting some guys over at the Freezy Pleezy in a few. Wanna come with?"

Pepper Ann resisted the urge to bang her head against the light post. Why was it that Craig was always inviting her to stuff when she was busy? Why did the purveyors of pre-adolescent romance mock her so? "I'd really like to Craig, but I promised--"

"S'okay. I understand. Seeya around, right?"

"Yeah." Pepper Ann hung her head. "Seeya around."

Craig turned and began walking away. Pepper Ann turned in the opposite direction, but before she could launch herself onwards, she heard the sounds of her own voice escaping her throat. Funny, she never recalled commanding herself to speak.

"Craig!" She called after her increasingly not-so-secret-crush.

"Yeah?"

Pepper Ann quickly bladed over to Craig's new position. "Listen, I know I seem to be busy more often than not as of late. I'm sorry, I keep kind of a full schedule. I could go to Freezy Pleezy with you after soccer practice tomorrow!"

"That would be cool. But hey, don't stress yourself."

"It's no trouble. We're friends, right? It's my fault we never hang out. I just wanted to let you know that I notice."

"You're pretty cool, Pearson. All right, you got yourself a deal. Seeya tomorrow?"

"Count on it!"

This time, Pepper Ann glided off with a much happier heart. So happy was she that she had to stop to admire herself in the window of the local computer shop.

"Did you just make a date with Craig Bean?" her reflection asked.

"Um. . .maybe? I wouldn't really call it a date. More like a rescheduling of the event he proposed for today."

"Look at you, you're not even nervous!"

"That's because I'm in the zone today. I mean, check it out! I'm off to help my friends out of a jam and I didn't even come up with a crazy scheme that would only make things worse and tax the boundaries of our friendship. I'm just going to buy the dissolvent and bring it to them."

"Whoa! Okay! Who are you and what have you done with the real me?!"

"Of course it's me! Otherwise you couldn't be my reflection, right?"

Her mirror image seemed to ponder this for a moment. "I guess I can't argue that. Okay, so what's the deal? Why no crazy scheme?"

"Eh, gotta save something for the next episode, right?"

"Point taken. Okay, I'm buying. But it still seems a little off."

"Okay, okay! Fine! If you must know, I was planning on taking a picture of them and selling it to Tessa and Vanessa! Sheesh!"

"I'd be careful if I were you. Antagonizing them might unleash Nicky's dark side. Need I remind you of what she's capable of when she goes off the deep end?"

Images of Nicky chasing her around with an axe began filling Pepper Ann's mind. Recoiling in horror, she shook her head vigorously to clear it. "Point taken! Okay, your right, no picture. It's a shame, too, because I could've made enough off of it to buy that black velvet Fuzzy painting I've always wanted." She sighed. "I guess I'll just strictly play the good Samaritan today. Curse you, conscience!"

Pepper Ann's reflection folded her arms across her chest in offence. "Hey! Without me, you'd probably be doing hard time, or be on the lam, or getting into Fuzzy only knows what kind of trouble. You owe me, sister!"

"Yeah, yeah," Pepper Ann mumbled as she gave a raspberry to her mirror image and resumed her blading, cursing yet another get-rich-quick scheme gone bust.



"How long does she expect us to stay like this?!" Nicky groaned.

"Hey, c'mon, it could be worse. She'll be back soon, I'm sure." Milo tried to soothe his friend, but to little avail.

"Milo, this is Pepper Ann we're talking about. She probably got distracted by a game of Crunch Pod, or by a sale on back issues of Fuzzy comics, or some totally buff hottie walking down the street, or--"

"Have a little faith, will you?"

"I don't have time for faith!" Nicky squealed. "I should be studying for the history test tomorrow!"

"We can get a start on that now."

"How?!!"

"By going back to that most classic form of expression, the poem. Observe." Milo took a moment to clear his throat, then recited a couplet that every self-respecting school boy and girl knows. "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Now, you try."

"I don't know, Milo. . ."

"Just try it."

Nicky blushed a little before finally giving in. "Many a lady found him quite svelte, say hello to Roosevelt!"

"See, you're getting the hang of it already."

"If you say so." Nicky flipped her hair back, taking Milo with her through the motion.

"Hey, watch the sudden moves!" Milo called as he rubbed his sore cheek.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot."

"That was weird."

"What was weird?"

"I can't remember the last time I saw both your eyes at the same time. You're always obscuring one of them with your bangs."

"I guess that's just my thing."

"They're nice eyes. You don't have to hide them, y'know."

"Stop it! You sound just like Stewart! It's. . .unsettling."

"Sorry."

"Besides, you prefer Gwen Mezzrow's anyway, don't you?"

"Sometimes. I don't think I have a crush on her today. Maybe I do. I dunno, I haven't seen her."

"Please explain that one to me. How can you two have this kind of situation! Either you have a crush on her or you don't!"

"I don't know, Nicky, but it's a scientific fact that Gwen Mezzrow and I just can't like each other on the same day. For that to happen, the planets would have to be in some sort of weird alignment or something."

Nicky sighed. "Men."

Milo snorted in retort. "This from the girl who said my 'guylessness' is what makes me desirable. I don't think I'll ever understand women."

"Indeed, it's amazing that the human species has managed to propagate for this long."

"Why do you think that is?"

"I chalk it up to dumb luck."

"I'd sure have loved to buy them a Coke, my good friends, Raleigh and Roanoke."

Nicky sighed and began searching her mind for another stupid history limerick. "Hurry, Pepper Ann, hurry."

To Be Concluded. . .

===============================================================

Author's Notes—This story has grown a wee bit larger than I originally intended, but I suppose that isn't necessarily a bad thing. There will only be one more installment, I promise. In all honesty, I could've squeezed everything into this part, but that would've taken another week or two, and I feel it's high time I updated this thing. So here you are. I admit that I'm having a very good time writing this story. As I mentioned in the previous installment, my goal is to write this as though it were an episode of the series. Since I seem to be getting some positive feedback on this story, I will confide in you that I've got all the makings of a Pepper Ann feature film in my head. I don't think I'm ready to unveil all the details just yet (well, maybe if you write in and beg and plead and offer to name your children after me), but if I decide to write this thing, I'm pretty confident there will be fans out there screaming to see it animated. But that's enough tooting my own horn for the moment.

If you are enjoying this story, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know. The love and adoration of my work is what keeps me writing it. I like to make people happy with what I write, so if I'm making you happy, tell me, okay?

Leave a review, folks, but never be shy to contact me at ranger_writer@yahoo.com I love making new friends! See you soon!

Lord Malachite





STOP! Did you know that you are reading an inferior version of this story? This version is called the Mass Market Version (MMV). The Author's Preferred Version (APV) is available exclusively at Swead Entertainment http://www.intcon.net/~sonny/se/ Chapter 2 contains two additional scenes that are not in this version. See what you're missing?!