Chapter 6: The Kiss

Her face brightened as she saw me.

"Hey, Nelly!" She said, in her slightly high-pitched voice. Eloise was very pretty, with her curly blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. No one would suspect that a girl like her would be so into hard rock music and Karate. But she was. She had a black belt in Karate. Very often, we would do Karaoke at a school function, and laugh about it afterwards.

She was a very supportive friend, and so didn't berate me as I told her what had happened between Charlie and me the previous day.

"I'm so sorry, Nelly! I never would have thought that Charlie would break up with you like that." She hugged me.

"It's okay. I'm getting over him as each hour goes by." I sighed, glad I didn't tell her about the North Pole or Santa.

"Well… What about that guy you met, like, 10 years ago? You know, after your mom started to combine businesses with my daddy?"

"Yes, Elle. I know. We became inseparable after that!" I smiled at her.

"Oh, what was his name? You know what, you probably remember it better than I do." Eloise leaned forward. I blushed.

"You mean Bernard?" I said, now very red in the face.

"Ooo! Have you seen him again?" She asked, giggling.

"Yes. He… dropped by this morning." I was still very red.

"Did you kiss him?" She said, waiting.

"What?! Gosh, no! We just talked and he made a bet with me. And he said he'd be at school tomorrow. You'll meet him then." I smiled, thinking of how Bernard would look tomorrow.

"Nelly, will Sarah and Jason also meet him?" She asked.

"Elle, if you meet him, you can be sure they will too!" I smiled at her. Sarah Teal and Jason Waters were my other two best friends. We'd met when I was 8. Eloise had introduced us. Sarah had light brown hair, which contrasted with her tan skin and bright green eyes. Jason had jet-black hair and brown eyes. He looked like a lost puppy, and no one but us knew he was a huge Superman fan. We often called him Clark Kent because of his obsession.

"Speaking of them…" Eloise stopped talking as her door opened again.

"Hello girls!" Jason said, embracing us. Jason didn't look like he was awake yet. He was wearing a sweater and sweatpants. He had his hair all over the place, and was wearing his usual square glasses.

"Since it's a Saturday… I brought Sarah, and she looks okay. Although I do applaud her for wearing a Superman Tee shirt." Jason laughed at the mutinous look on Sarah's face. She was teasing him though because she joined our laughter.

"Okay, Clark Kent! What are you going to do for getting a girl to notice you this year?" Sarah said, in her best valley girl impression.

"The usual. Nothing at all!" He said, grabbing her shoulder. She screamed in surprise.

We all laughed again.

"Oh, you guys! My make up's running!" Eloise complained.

"Someone call 9-1-1!" I said, in mock concern.

"Stop the presses!" Sarah gasped, in equal mock surprise.

"Oh no! Anything but the make-up! Take me instead!" Jason pretended to swoon. Sarah and I caught him.

"We knew him well!" I said, pretending to cry.

"Indeed we did!" Sarah put a hand dramatically on her forehead, palm facing out. "Tragic! Jason Waters died to save Eloise Martin's make-up!" Sarah and I chorused together.

"Oh, shut up!" Eloise snapped, although she smiled.

A moment later, I told Sarah and Jason what I'd told Eloise. I left out the parts I wanted to keep secret. Afterwards there was a moment's pause.

"Oh. My. Gosh! That's absolutely amazing!" Sarah said, embracing me. I was so surprised that I fell out of my chair. Sarah was still hugging me and laughing.

"Look out below!" Jason shouted, as he tackled Sarah and me. Eloise gave a yell and latched onto all of us.

"Guys! I can't breathe!" I said, through my laughter.

We heard the door open again. With a small scream we all broke apart. It was Charlie.

"Uh, hey there Char!" Jason said, getting off the floor.

"Hi, guys!" Charlie saw me and his smile faltered. I bit my lip.

Sarah looked at Eloise and whispered: "Awkward!"

"So, you two have a lot to catch up on. We'll be in the kitchen, Nelly." Eloise grabbed Sarah and Jason, and went into the kitchen. After a long pause, Charlie and I spoke together.

"Look, I'm sorry about what happened," we said in unison. I stopped talking.

"Pen, I'm sorry that things ended the way we did. I never meant to hurt you. I know it probably doesn't mean much to you, but-" Charlie was cut-off by me.

"Just don't," I said.

"Penelope-" Charlie stopped again by the door opening.

Mr. Martin came in.

"Hello, Penelope. Hello Charlie. Always a pleasure to see you two." He smiled at us.

"Actually, I was just leaving Mr. Martin." Charlie nodded at me and then left.

"What's going on?" Mr. Martin asked.

"Charlie and I broke up yesterday," I explained.

I took a deep breath and went into the kitchen. Eloise looked up from a card game that Sarah and Jason had started.

"Hey, Nelly! Did Charlie go home?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, and your dad's here, Elle." I threw a pillow at Jason. He fell out of his chair.

"Oh please! It's a pillow, not a piece of Kryptonite!" Sarah said, rolling her green eyes.

"Ha ha, very funny!" Jason said, getting up from the floor again.

"Well, I hate to be a downer, but I've gotta go. Daddy's gonna take me out to lunch and I hate to make him wait. See you later, then?" I said to them.

"Duh! Of course you will," Sarah and Eloise said.

"For sure!" Jason said, although he had a sort of accent on the words so it sounded like: "Fur shoer!"

I left, and ran into someone.

"Hi there, Santa!" I said, then did a double-take. Santa's beard had turned almost grey and he was thinning out faster than I'd expected.

"Hey, Penelope! How're you doing?" He asked, looking as jolly as he could.

"Um, I'm fine. But you're… Thinner?" I said, faintly.

"Yeah. Oh, and it's a month and a half before Christmas now. You're calendar is a week off." He said.

"Oh my, that means-" I stopped talking.

"So, you and Bernard made a bet?" Santa said.

"Yeah. It was kinda stupid, but I thought it was good at the time." I blushed.

"Look, Penny," Santa took me off to the side. We sat down on a park bench.

"It's okay to be scared of something. Trust me, I'm scared to find a wife!" At this we both laughed a bit.

"Santa, I'm not scared of liking… someone. I'm just-" I caught his twinkling eye, and blushed again.

"You're afraid of change, aren't you?" He said.

"No." I looked at my hands, clasped in my lap.

"And yes. I'm not afraid because I'll have someone who I might really love. But, at the same time, I'm afraid of getting hurt again." I said this, and a tear ran down my face.

Santa's eyes stopped twinkling.

"Charlie broke up with you, didn't he?" He asked. I nodded.

"Well, it's his loss." Santa said, sincerely. I looked up from my feet.

"You know, Charlie always talked about you. He said you were the best girlfriend he's ever had! Then again, you were the only girlfriend he's ever had. But I did love seeing you together because you reminded me of how I was with the first woman I loved." Santa smiled at me.

I returned his smile.

"Besides, think of how Bernard will react when he finds out you're in love with him!" Santa winked at me. I gasped in shock.

"I'm not in love with him!" I shook my head, "No. Way."

"You are as stubborn as you were when you were 7." Santa got off the bench.

He was thinner now then ever, and his beard was now just scruffy.

"I know, I know! But, Santa, I refuse to admit to Bernard that I might like him. I certainly don't love him, though!" I folded my arms across my chest.

"You know, you'll have a time getting him to admit that you've won! I swear, you and him were meant to be!" Santa winked at me again. I let out a disbelieving noise.

"Now, Penny! With that attitude, you're sure to be on the naughty list forever!" He tapped his nose. I wrinkled my nose like I always do when I feel sassy. He patted my head, and got up.

"So, you ready to go, Penny?" He asked.

I nodded again. Santa walked me back to my dad's house.

"There you are! I was wondering where you'd run off to!" He embraced me. Santa said goodbye to me and left. Dad blinked rapidly.

"Was that-? No, impossible!" He decided. I smiled and shook my head.

The next morning, I woke up at 6. I stretched and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I took a shower and wrapped a towel around me. As I stood by my closet door, still wrapped in my towel, I heard the front door open.

"Hello, Mr. Halloway. My name is Bernard."

I froze at this.

"Hello, Bernard. What exactly are you doing here?" I heard my father say.

"Well, um… I, uh, met your daughter some years ago."

"Did you now? She's never mentioned someone like you."

"I'm sorry, sir. What's wrong with me?" Bernard sounded offended and defensive at the same time.

"Fair question, Bernie!" I said, coming down the stairs wearing a tight fitted long sleeve blue shirt and white jeans.

"Penelope! You look, uh, great!" Bernard gave a nervous chuckle.

I hid a smile.

"Angel, you do know this boy?" Dad asked.

"Yeah. He's a dear friend of mine. He's not from around here, so he dresses funny. I'll be sure to help him blend in, though." I smiled at both of them. Bernard narrowed his eyes and shook his head at me. Dad gave a small chuckle and went into the kitchen.

Bernard glared at me.

"Hey, I just saved you from getting thrown out! You should be thanking me!" I said, folding my arms.

"Fine! Thanks for absolutely nothing! You haven't done anything to help me, yet." He still glared at me.

"If that's your attitude, then good luck at school today!" I flipped my hair over my shoulder, and turned to go into the kitchen.

"Wait, wait, wait, wait just a moment!" Bernard grabbed me roughly by the arm.

"Ouch!" I said in protest.

"Oh, sorry!" Bernard was sincere.

He released the pressure on my arm.

"Thanks, but can you let me go?" I asked.

"Not until I tell you this… I do need your help, okay?" He looked imploringly at me.

"Fine. But if I do this, and you wind up falling in love with me… Then I win the bet!" I said, freeing myself.

"Keep in mind, my end is still there as well!" Bernard retorted.

I rolled my eyes and threw an outfit at him. He changed in the bathroom.

"Elf clothes, Bernard. Give!" I said, through the crack in the door. He threw them out.

"Okay, then. I guess that settles things." I said, my back to the door.

"Really?" He said, opening the door so fast that I fell backwards.

"Whoa, careful now!" He caught me.

"Thanks!" I said, happily.

I did a double take as I saw Bernard in his full outfit. He looked very handsome. "Uh, you look very nice." I said, blushing a bit.

"So one part of your bet came true. And one part of mine. You didn't last a day with me as your neighbor. We already had our first fight." He smirked at me. I grimaced, then I smiled.

"Okay, fair enough. Now for the other two parts!" I said getting up and flipping my hair in his face.

"Okay you two troublemakers! Breakfast time!" Dad held out two trays piled with breakfast items. I looked at Bernard. He shrugged.

"Well, you do clean up nicely!" Dad said, smiling. I laughed.

We caught the bus to school.

"So, what do you guys do in school?" Bernard asked. He was getting funny looks and laughs because he still had his hat on. I quickly took it off of him and threw it into my backpack. His curly hair covered his ears perfectly.

"Uh, try not to be noticed for one thing!" I snapped. Eloise sat next to Sarah and Jason plopped down next to Daphne Laurel. Daphne was the head cheerleader and one of my close friends. She had long red hair and brown eyes, and light tan skin. We got to school and I marched off the bus.

Bernard followed me.

"Okay, granted that you must shadow me-" Bernard cut me off.

"You're not backing out of the deal, are you?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. Daphne spotted me and grabbed my arm.

"Oooooohh! Who's the hottie?" She asked, in her silky voice.

"Daph, he's just someone that…" I stopped talking as I noticed Charlie.

"He's an old friend of Charlie Calvin's. I met him 9 years ago, and something just… happened." I said, being careful not to speak too quickly.

"Sure he is!" She smiled at me.

"Oh, shut up!" I snapped.

"Fine. If you really don't care about him, then you wouldn't mind me doing this!" She marched over to Bernard.

"Daphne!" I whispered, running after her.

I was too late, and stopped in my tracks. Daphne was flirting with Bernard. I sighed.

"Daph, it's time for Geometry. Let's go!" I said, as Eloise found us.

"Elle!" Daphne squealed and hugged her tight.

I introduced Bernard to Eloise and Daphne. Someone grabbed me from behind and spun me around. I started laughing as the person set me back down.

"Morning to you too, Jay!" I said, still laughing.

A shadow went across Bernard's face.

"Oh, sorry! Bernard, this is Jason Waters. Jason, this is my friend Bernard." I explained. Jason held out his hand. Bernard looked at it and shook it.

"Nice to meet you!" Jason said.

Sarah came over suddenly, and glomped me.

"AHHH! Oh, hi Sarah." I said, getting over my shock.

"Nelly, I'm so freaking happy right now! You won't believe it!" She let out a cute giggle.

"What? Did Trey ask you out?" I said. "Yes!" She squealed and I did too.

"Sorry, I'm neglecting you again!" I turned to Bernard.

"Bernard, Sarah Teal. Sarah, Bernard." I said.

"Oh… You never mentioned that he's hot!" She said, winking at me.

Everyone laughed, except Bernard. He was surprised. I blushed deep red.

"Go on, then. Do what you've been wanting to," Eloise nudged me. The first bell rang.

"No! I made a bet I wouldn't!" I said, folding my arms.

"Oh, come on Penelope Halloway! I know and you know that you've wanted to kiss him for over 10 years!" Eloise said.

"And I do too!" Sarah butted in as we went to Geometry together.

"Okay, okay! I'll do it next month!" I said.

"Next month is in seven weeks!" Sarah said with Daphne.

"Fine!" I pouted. Pretty soon a rumor spread around the school, and I knew I had to put a stop to it. The rumor was that Bernard and I were secretly in love with each other.

It wasn't half off. I never admitted it, and neither did Bernard, but we had fallen for each other. In time, we forgot about the bet. A month before Santa would find a wife, Bernard asked me a question.

"So, Penny… About the bet…" He stopped talking.

"You know what? Forget about it!" I kissed him flat on the mouth. His eyes widened, but then he kissed me back.