I Want You Back

By Reid M. Haynes

Disclaimer: "The Wonder Years," and all characters within, was created by ABC Television and the writers and directors that contributed to it. I am writing this without permission, and I am making no money.

Legend:

( ) Denotes Narrator's monologue

[ ] Denotes thoughts

Note: This story is a direct tie in to Episode 21, "Square Dance." In it, Kevin is paired up with a dorky girl for a PE square dance, who he shuns in order to save face in front of his peers...despite growing to like her. Although the episode was enjoyable, I felt the ending was a let down, and it left a bitter taste that didn't sit well with me. So therefore, in the name of wishful thinking and changing everything I don't like, I've written this story in response.

Enjoy.

XXXXX

Looking back...

(When we go through life, we make choices along the way. Some are good, giving the self-satisfaction one needs to hold up against adversaries. Others are bad, and change into bitter memories that deserve nothing more than contempt...

Then, there are the Inexcusables. Mistakes so wrong that they scar the hearts of both the slighter and the slightee. Time dosen't heal these wounds, but only hides then, like Band-Aids over limb stumps. Opportunities Lost, Loves Jilted, Turns taken Wrong. They all fell in this category, and they all lead to disappointment and regret.

In these cases, there's not much to do. Just get on with life, and try to suppress the hurt as best you can.

...and then again, if you were to look hard enough, you might find another way to go. It's a rocky, poorly worn road, but it leads to a destination much more hopeful than had you kept going. It requires you to backtrack, and risk everything you had worked for on your current ill-fated path. But, in the end, there are times when you could no longer run from your fears.

You had to fight.)

SLAM!

(And here was the perfect battleground.)

Through the double steel doors of the school, Kevin Arnold emerged with a crowd of children as his escort. Dwarfing him from left to right, the kids clambered and pushed by him, rushing to get to whatever class they had first. He felt himself jostled around, getting knocked from his simple path to the lockers. Still, he kept passive and non-confrontational, wanting to cause no trouble. Wave-makers were always splashed out in the end, after all.

Kevin continued walking through the hallway, a slightly nervous expression on his face. Turning his head peripherally, he sneaked looks at his fellow classmates, mentally filing them away in his Book of Shadows.

(My school. My Holy War. Among the soldiers here, there were few loyalties; only factions that grouped together in order to survive.)

To his left, he saw a group of greaser-like thugs, fingering what were probably cigarettes in their pockets. Their eyes shift back and forth and meet up with Kevin's, scaring him away before he could figure out what they were planning.

(There were the mercenaries, ruthless young men who didn't give a damn about the school board...or fresh breath, for that matter.)

To his right, he found a cluster of trendy jet setters: boys and girls whispering tightly closed secrets to each other. One of them fingered the boy, setting off another wave of murmurs throughout their circle. They all started laughing, and Kevin saw fit to abandon them before it persisted.

(There were the spies; clever people who knew how to manipulate the game, and eliminate anyone that didn't conform.)

More and more miscellaneous cliques appear, and Kevin spent less and less time glancing at them. Finally, he stopped paying attention all together and concentrated on finding his locker.

(Liars, fakers, cheats, and thieves. It was a dangerous world in RFK Junior High. You didn't have to be one of them, but you couldn't go up against them. True, it was cold. Some people were cheated. Others were wounded...)

Arriving at last, he opened up the metal door, and wandered through it for his books. Kevin grabbing his folder, packed some papers into it, then situated it in his arm. With his free hand, he plucked up a few NO.2 pencils, and kept them wedged semi-securely in-between his fingers. His eyes darted back and forth, wondering if any of his friends were here to greet him. Finding neither Paul nor Winnie, he started to bring his gaze back to the locker, until he caught a familiar image in the corner of his vision. He turned towards the blurb, looking for the person.

He fought a gasp.

(And then there were the abandoned.)

A few lockers down, struggling with way too many books, was a scrawny girl with an odd three-pigtails adorning her hair. Plain, yet not ugly, her face was obscured by thick glasses, the kind of glasses that became a part of your personality. Indeed, she fit in perfectly to the dork mold, awkward and clumsy. And it appeared she had all the dork habits, for her struggle was caused by an unwieldy fish tank, full of bugs, fleas, and various types of caterpillars.

(Margaret Farquhar. The Four-Eyed-Goat of PH 202, with a sightlessness that extended beyond her eyes. Her idiot questions burned away at the last reserves of your patience, and her honking laugh inspired legions of students to rub her out with chalkboard erasers. There was never anyone so goofy. Someone so stubborn...)

Suddenly, her eye caught Kevin's, and she slowly turned to face him. With the fish tank in her arms, Margaret looked at him, and a fiery spark appeared in her eyes. In that instant, the glint of the fluorescent lights slid off the lens, and the boy could see pain, determination, and himself reflected in her irises. The moment lasted only a few seconds, but he felt he was frozen forever in the confines of a lost age. A time he had thought about, but never experienced.

(Someone who could've been my friend.)

The moment passed, and Margaret broke the lock on his eyes and turned quickly away. A thin mask settled over her face, and she stonily resumed packing her stuff up. As to avoid looking at him again, she spun towards the hall, slinging a backpack over her shoulder. Finally getting all her materials together, she stumbled down towards her Biology class, leaving Kevin to stare in her wake.

(But wasn't.)

Kevin maintained his stare...and an anguished frown melted into it. He contemplated going after her, but stalled in mid-step and looked at the people around him. The people that were staring, the people that were judging. So, with a sense of regret, he turned away, and resumes getting his books together.

CRASH! ...and all of a sudden, a sudden smashing prompted him to turn back, finding a catastrophe in the making. Margaret was on the ground, her arms splayed to either side, and her books scattered in a pile on the cold floor. With a moment to compose herself, she pushed herself off the ground, and started to gather her books back up. Soon, that composition shattered in a burst of confusion, as she heard an odd croaking from the mess. Her eyes peered towards the noise, then blossomed into pure horror, as she grasped the full situation.

The fish tank. Broken. And the bugs, fleas, and grasshoppers everywhere.

Erupting throughout the hall were the various students of RFK Junior High, joining each other in a fit of laughter. Margaret looked at the kids, a pained look etched in her manner. Then, ignoring them, she scrambled after the various insects, which were now hopping away all over the hall. Diving at them, reaching around people's legs, she did her best to try and retrieve the creatures, but they persisted in leaping away from their master. Which of course caused the kids to laugh louder.

During this whole charade, there was one boy who wasn't laughing. Kevin had a blank expression on his face as he watched the girl struggle by her lonesome, amidst the taunting of her peers. He stood there passively, but heard all the laughter as if it was directed at himself. He stood there passively, but saw all the students, doing nothing to help her.

He took a step forward.

(For a moment, I felt I could help her.)

"Hey, look at Farquhar over there!"

(Then I remembered: I couldn't even speak to her.)

Kevin stopped his approach with a jerk, and turned his head to find two unsavory individuals leaning over his shoulder. Randy Mitchell was chuckling loud enough to provoke tears from his eyes. His sidekick, Mike, was also there, repeating the motions of the other. Both heads were quite weighty on his shoulder, and Kevin thought of shaking them off. But he just stayed there, and took the load without complaint.

"Hey Arnold, lookie there at your 'square' dance partner!" Randy crowed, finally noticing the person he perched upon. "Betcha wanna be dancing with her now, on the floor!"

Mike snickered back. "Yeah, but the only thing she's gonna dance with is her goopy bugs! Har!"

Kevin turned to the latter, and presented to him a false smile. "Yeah, heh heh..." he stammered, laughing shallowly. Tears were in his eyes too, but for a different reason.

The two boys, still hooting vulgarly, turned from the display and began walking back to their own classrooms. Kevin stood there for a moment more, his mind darting back between his acquaintances and Margaret. For a quick second, he almost started towards her again. But, of course, reputation won out, and the boy headed with them to...wherever they were going.

(Who was I kidding? A girl like that would destroy my rep, which I just gotten quite respectable. Besides, I had already made my choice.)

Kevin's eyes lost their focus, even while he was walking. Regarding the hallway as a distant dream, his mind started to wander, and the images of the past entered his conscious...

["We can be...Secret Friends...!"]

["Why don't you want to talk to me?"]

["I thought you were different..."]

Phasing back to reality, Kevin blinked a few times and, against his wiser nature, took a final look at Margaret.

(I had already made my choice.)

Then, with a regretful sigh, he dashed to catch up with Randy and Mike, the calls of "Lucifer, come back!" and "Please stay put, Hobbes!" echoing out behind him.

(Even if it wasn't a great one...)

XXXXX

The roar of the children echoed throughout the relatively small room, drowning out each other and becoming mostly indistinguishable. Like the hallway, just about everybody kept to themselves, in the same little groups as before. Like our hero Kevin was doing.

"So get this, man," Randy was saying to the other two, appealing to them with wide hand-gestures. "I was walking over to the girls' locker room, when I hear this squealin' coming from the showers. I sneak inta the place, trying to be discrete, and made my way to the showers. And there, screamin' like a newborn babe, was Heidi Gambowski, top off, dancing like a Mexican jumping bean!"

"Oh dude, that's richer every time I hear it!" Mike agreed, slamming his hand on the table. He then adopted a lecherous look. "Too bad it all ended with your butt getting' kicked by every girl in the 8th grade, not to mention the whole makeup thing!"

"Shaddap!" the other bit back, whacking him on the noggin. "You were supposed t' keep that a secret!" Mike gave him an angry look, hitting Randy back. Soon, the two were engaged in a scuffle, knocking ketchup bottles all around the table where they sat. Kevin did his best to dodge the chaos, but couldn't keep a few globs of mayonnaise from landing on his jacket. With an irritated look on his face, he brushed the sauce from his clothes, and resumed watching the show. A small smile formed on his face, and he leaned back in his chair with a satisfied air.

(Okay, maybe these guys weren't the most sophisticated lot in RFK, but that didn't matter in times like this. They were friends, comrades of war. And I needed to stick with them, like a friend should.)

The two had ceased their fight as about as quickly as they started it, and were now engaged in a food fight of sorts. Randy and Mike were using french fries as hockey sticks, and were batting a corn kernel back and forth along the table. Randy was apparently winning, for Mike was cursing and shouting in words we can't print in a PG-13 story. Kevin paid them no mind, and calmly waited his turn.

(Yup, me and the guys. Like peas in a pod.)

The battle was escalating, and the kernel was bounding about like a bullet. Mike had a determined look in his eye, eager to rebuke his earlier loss. The other boy wasn't bending an inch, and only increased the speed of the projectile, forcing him to fight harder. Mike grunted, and let loose a massive swing that knocked the kernel straight past Randy's defenses, making its way to the mayo jar that acted as the goal post. But, alas, it also knocked over the mayo jar, spilling about a pint of the stuff on poor Kevin, who retched in disgust.

(Or...like mayonnaise in a jar.)

The two looked a bit embarrassed at this happenstance, and glanced at each other at what to do. Then, almost simultaneously, they burst out in raucous laughter.

"Hey pal, looks like ya got a little cream on yer clothes." Randy started, grinning evilly and waiting for his friend to complete the punch line."

"Better savor it while you can, Arnold," his friend joined in, putting a clammy arm around Kevin. "It's the closest thing you'll get to th' real thing! Har har!" They both starting howling like wolves, letting out obnoxious whistles, and the boy just stood there and blinked, astounded by the idiocy of his acquaintances.

(At that moment, I realized something...)

Kevin was frozen in astonishment, barely able to move. At last, he came to his senses, and gather up some napkins to clean himself up. But just as he brought them to his face, Mike put a finger on the blotch of mayonnaise on his jacket. "Woo woo!" he said, swirling the stuff around with the finger. Then, he was back laughing again with Randy, both leaning back in their chairs and almost falling off...with Kevin less amused.

(...I hated those two.)

In disgust, Kevin turned away from his "friends" and set about cleaning himself up. With a frustrated hand, he clawed away at the mayonnaise cloaking his features, doing his best to tune out Randy and Mike. This proved impossible, as they made too much noise for him to put up with. So he was left downtrodden, and saw no other avenue than to lean his cheek against his hand, and sigh exasperatedly.

(What was I doing here? Randy and Mike aren't my friends. Randy and Mike were NEVER my friends. I only hung out with them to keep up appearances.)

He tentative glanced back at them, seeing Mike aim a bottle of mustard at Randy. And, as he squirted out a stream to the call of "Snot!", Kevin decided that was a bad idea, and moved back to his former position.

(Whatever appearances those were.)

Kevin's eyes, forlorn as they were, wandered the cafeteria for any sign of his real friends. As he did so, he still couldn't keep his mind from mulling over the issue, and he felt himself being torn up from the inside.

(Sure, I kept up with the social rules of the school, and definitely knew my place in the pecking order. That didn't mean I had to like it. At times like this, I wanted to get away, back to my old chums and where I really belong. Sometimes, I even wanted to shove their jokes down their throats. See how they like mayonnaise all over their favorite jackets...)

Though his futile search was finding no one, Kevin continued to look for people to talk to, more as an exercise of boredom than doing anything of real value. After scanning the popular tables, he started to seek through the rejects, hoping there might be some nerd that wouldn't give him too much trouble. It was getting harder to see, as a crowd of kids were getting up for seconds. Soon though, they filed in a line to the lunch lady, giving the boy a better view of the table they sat at...

...and there she was, siting in a spaciously used corner of the far table. Kevin almost double-took at the girl, but he kept his cool and just watched silently. Margaret was, of course, sitting all by herself; her chair set up quite a ways from the others at the table. Probably a good thing too, for the entire area around her was disgusting. Though all the food was organized neatly around her, the things that she liked to eat were unbelievable. Beans sprouts, eggplants, and raw turnips made up this girl's menu, and woe to anyone that could actually eat the stuff.

Kevin hardly noticed this at all. Rather, he continued to concentrate on Margaret herself, taking in her posture and facial expression. The girl was taking time, eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and ignoring anything that didn't directly relate to it. She seamed fine for the most part, as clueless and introverted as ever. Maybe a little bit sad, but she was always kind of like that too...

(At times like this, I start to wonder...)

Kevin was staring more than what was really wise in a school situation. Yet he was really somewhere else now, and brushed off everything else in favor of the thought coming to his head.

(...Was it really worth it?)

He sighed into the poorly air-conditioned room, and laid his head on his arms like he was going to sleep.

But, at the earthshaking crunch of a foldout chair, that wasn't feasible right now.

"I told'ya to button up about that!"

(We'll find out.)

Kevin looked at the two goofballs, and saw that he shouldn't have tuned his back on them so soon. Mike and Randy were at odds over a carrot, pinching each end of it and trying to pry it away from the other. "Why?" Randy was telling him, tugging the root back to his side of the table. "It's not like everybody dosen't know already."

"Yeah, but Arnold dosen't know!" Mike responded, yanking back. "We can't let that kid have one over on us!"

"One over on YOU!"

"Cut it out! And give me back my carrot!"

"Nuh uh! I saw it first, so it's mine!"

"Mine!"

"Mine!"

"Actually, I'll take it," Kevin lurched at the new voice in the argument, as did Randy and Mike. The two quarrelers, with the carrot still suspended between their hands, slowly looked up. And their fierce expressions curdled into abject horror, when they saw a burly man of about 30, with strong arms crossed and an authoritative fire in his eye. "Better yet, I'll take both of yer butts to the principal's office," he said, looming over them like a bronze god. "We've have quite enough of your shenanigans during lunch."

Kevin just watched this scene, wondering what was going to become of them. Then, catching the gist of where this was going, his facial features relaxed, and his head slumped over the table. (The Calvary.)

"Ah, c'mon Mr. Brooks!" Randy protested, struggling against the man's grip. "We were jus' havin' a lil' fun!"

"You're not at school to have fun, you're here to learn," Mr. Brooks pointed out, non-plussed by the objections. "And by God you'll learn some respect for others while you're here."

He wrenched the two, still struggling, out of their seats. "I believe both of you have some makeup work to do in my Pre-Algebra class," he stated, moving his grip to their shirt collars. "Perhaps you should be working on that instead of causing trouble." He started moving to the door. "Let's go."

"Oh man, not more of that 'exponent stuff!'" Mike whined, trying to stick his heals into the ground. "Please, anything but that!" Randy begged, as he and his friend were carried out of the lunchroom, and to another part of the school.

Kevin rolled his eyes at the display, and went back to poking at his lunch. (As a certain blockhead would say: Good Grief!) He picked up his ham sandwich, which was mostly untouched, and brought it to his mouth. At the smell of eggs, he jerked back and took a closer look at his meal. And, to his dismay, he discovered the sandwich had taken the tool, drenched in mayonnaise and totally uneatable.

(Only Margaret could eat something like this...)

Kevin made a face at his ruined lunch, shaking his head. Then, on sudden impulse, he dropped it and put his hands on the table, as if he had something to be embarrassed about.

(I mean Farquhar.)

Of course, his eyes were already wandering in her general direction, and Margaret Farquhar was soon in his sights again, who still hadn't managed to notice his frequent peeks. When he realized what he was doing, he of course began to break course and look somewhere else, anywhere else...and yet, he found his fear was subsiding. With the absence of Randy and Mike, a good deal of the pressure was off, and he felt he could do a little bit more than just stare. For once, he could think for himself, even about things he was ashamed of.

(Still, I wondered how she was doing. I haven't even greeted her since the last day of the Square Dance. 'Course, I never really greeted her to begin with. Even during the time she was at my house, when I got to find out what an interesting person she could be...)

An uncertain ghost took over Kevin's wavering pupils, as he battled with indecision yet again. His skin plucked up in goosebumps, and the small hairs on his neck bolted longwards...

(I think...)

His hands formed into fists, and his eyes shot open. He swallowed nervously...

(Aw, heck.)

Then he got up, and started heading toward Margaret's table.

Moving inconspicuously through the crowd, Kevin pressed by the group of students gathered around, trying not to step on anyone's toes. Dodging chairs and incoming kids, he maneuvered out from the tables and moved carefully to where she was sitting; slowly, really.

(That's it, man. Play it cool, and turn on the ol' Arnold charm.)

With sweat unbecoming of a 13-year-old, he eased over to the area Margaret was. A drop of wafer fell from his forehead, and he took a deep breath.

(Nothing to worry about. Just ask how she's doing, and it'll work out from there.)

He was right next to Margaret, standing just to the right of the chair. If she had noticed him, she made no indication of it. He could still bolt, and make it back before someone saw he was here. Still, he just settled for a quick look around to see if anyone was paying attention. They weren't, so he stayed put.

He took another large gulp of air.

(Just a few, simple things...)

Then, he darted down into the empty seat, slamming his hands on the tabletop like it might suddenly zip out from under him. He kept his eyes closed, waiting for a bomb of problems to detonate around him. Nothing was happening, at the moment, so he exhaled the stress he was holding back. After he was breathing normally again, he shot a glance at Margaret...and saw she was peeking at him, though tentatively, through the corner of her eye.

Kevin turned to look at her, causing the girl to dart back towards her food and resume eating as if he wasn't there. He ceased his stare for the moment, a bit discouraged by this silent treatment. But for once it passed by, and he kept up the ship. He just gathered a little nerve, turned to her, and said "Hi," surprisingly with little stutter.

(Gotcha!)

Kevin gave the reject girl a slight, uncertain smile. Rather, he gave the back of her head a smile, for Margaret had not turned to face him again. She sat there, having seemingly forgotten that she had noticed him earlier. She picked up her pb&b sandwich and took a somewhat sloppy bite, though she at least chewed with her mouth closed. Then, she reached for a glass of milk and started to wash it down.

His smile, already fairly wan, drifted off and left him a lowly frown. And Kevin was left scratching his hair, at a loss for words.

(Now, what was I supposed to do again?)

Keeping his hand on the side of his head, he tried again to say something coherent. "Um...I haven't, uh, seen you around lately," he said, a ghost of causality in his voice.

(Minus those times I was staring in crippling guilt.)

He coughed in an apologetic manner, moving back against the chair back." "Well, what I meant to say was...I haven't talked to you..." Kevin ran his hand through his hair in a somewhat boisterous manner. "Y'know...since the Square Dance..."

This time, Margaret did respond. Minutely. "I thought you didn't want to talk to me," she said in a little-girl-squeak, laced with an icy wire.

(Ouch.)

Kevin didn't look at her, but kept staring towards the wall. "Ah, well, I didn't actually say that," he explained, his head shaking oddly. "I just said...um...well," then he stopped and looked back to his drenched sandwich again, feeling they both knew well enough what he had said.

(Kevin Arnold, 0. Margaret Farquhar...)

He looked back at Margaret. She still hadn't made any move to look at him, nor did she look any better for his efforts.

(...0.)

The two reverted back to an uncomfortable silence, lines of communication fried and slow. Rather than being the repairman, Kevin was forced into playing with his food, not quite right with either talking or walking away. Margaret was eating again, but now her eyes were droopy and her posture was pride-less. Both were pouting, and neither were quite as stoic as they would like to be.

Kevin was growing increasingly jittery at the lack of action happening. More over, he was getting worried than someone would notice him here and flush him out. Frequently, he would look around to see if he was already the target of a vicious classmate or upperclassman. Still, he had thus far diffused their suspicions, and he was safe to continue.

"S-still..." he said, loud enough as to grab her attentions. "It's just...that I had some problems and stuff, and it got hard to keep up..."

(Huh?)

"Anyway, it's all over now," Kevin continued, bringing some clarity into his voice. "...and...I just wanted to say..."

For the first time since this morning, Margaret looked at him directly, dropping the sandwich on the table for later. Her eyes bored into his, carrying question, anger, and just a little bit of hope.

Kevin sweated furiously as he felt the ante go up. His hands were quivering, and he found that he was forgetting what he was going to say. "I..."

(Be smooth, darn it. Be smooth...)

"I just wanted...to say that I..." he begun again, trying to get his thoughts in order. Margaret looked on, raising her eyebrows at the confusing display. "I..."

(Come on...!)

"...I think your food's interesting," Kevin burst out in a panic, deciding it was the safest thing he could say.

(Brilliant! Just like James Dean!)

Margaret didn't respond, but just sighed wistfully into her food, her mouth etching in a half-frown. Kevin blinked a few times, then looking over at the strange vegetation, and tried to go from there. "So, er, you don't like meat, huh?" he asked, rolling his eyes over the odd collection of edibles. "Are you a vegetarian? I mean, it's alright if your are, but it's just..."

"Gluten Intolerance."

"W-what?" Kevin jerked back from the veggies, giving Margaret an odd look.

She was unperturbed for the most part, instead pointing at her lunch. "Gluten Intolerance," she reiterated calmly. "Most meat products will upset people with Gluten Intolerance, so I usually avoid them," Her finger moved towards the peanut butter and banana sandwich. "All wheat, rye, and barley products have glutens in them, so I can't touch them." She sighed exaggeratedly. "That's why I only eat Wonder Bread and vegetables."

Kevin took all of this in with wide eyes. And, strangely enough, he was fascinated. "Gluten Intolerance, huh?" he said, moving into a more relaxed position. "You know, I think Paul's grandma has that. She dosen't eat any meat either."

"Is she from northern Europe?" Margaret asked, nodding her head to the side.

"Wha...?" Kevin murmured, drawing a blank.

"People of northern European descent carry the Celiac Gene, which leads to gluten disorders." Seeing Kevin looking at her weirdly, she let out a slight laugh. "You have to know a lot when you have a problem. Besides, my mom's a biologist."

"Ah," he nodding with understanding, giving her a small smile. She hesitated for a moment, curious as this kind treatment. But soon, Margaret returned it wholehearted, and the two of them were engaged in a warm moment, for a school situation, anyway.

(Yeah, it was pretty much the dorkiest conversation I've ever had. With a dork, no less.)

Kevin moved his gaze from Margaret's slightly crooked teeth to her eyes, lying behind ten feet of glasses. She met it with earnest, a few questions, statements, and things-to-say contained within her own.

(And yet, I could get lost in those innocent eyes of hers...)

He kept looking at Margaret's eyes for a while longer, savoring the calm moment. Soon, though, he caught sight of a few new people moving in his peripheral vision. He concentrated past her head, beyond the hair and the third pigtail, hoping that it wasn't what he thought it was. But, like most things in the Arnold boy's life, he wasn't to be saved. No less than four people were looking at them, shaking their heads curiously and probably preparing to laugh.

(Which I just might have to do, if I wanted to save my skin.)

Like a gopher, Kevin bolted from his chair, already starting to gather up his slimy sandwich. "I-I just remembered I left something on the other table," he stammered to the surprised girl, a fresh wave of worry overtaking his actions. "I gotta go get it..."

It was unconvincing, even to Margaret. "Kevin?..." she ventured, the hope in her flying fast away. Leaving a dark sence of dread in its place.

He noticed this, but only on a subconscious level. The kids were already starting to poke their fingers out at them "I'm sorry," he apologized, while looking back and forth rapidly. "I need to go. The milk's going to get cold and the fruit'll be burnt..."

But "GO!" had already been passed, and Kevin was fooling no one. "Stop it, Kevin!" Margaret interrupted, an edge of anger seeping in her voice. She glanced around, knowing full well what was happening, and that she'd lose yet again. But still, as he tried to slip away, she lashed out and grabbed him by the arm. "Do you want to be my friend?"

Kevin blinked in confusion, halting his movement in more than one way. "Margaret, what..."

"Do you want to be my friend?" she snapped, her tone raising to almost a yell.

Margaret suddenly stood up, her hand still clasping the kid's biceps. And then Kevin tore away from her iron glare, and took his first look around the cafeteria. The noise they had been making had attracted the attention of everyone there, whoever wasn't looking at them earlier. The preppies all stared, the honors students stared, heck, even some of the faculty were looking on, though they were trying not to appear like they were doing so. One thing was clear, among the preps, nerds, teachers, and all the rest. They all were finding this confrontation immensely entertaining, and were waiting for the exciting conclusion.

Kevin darted back and forth between Farquhar and the rest of the world, at another odd turning point. But like always, when faced with a problem, he blanked out, and went into his own little world.

(Hell would be a more pleasant place about now.)

A slight sound broke through his mental wall, jerking him out and forcing him to pay closer attention. Kevin looked over the lunchroom, trying to avoid the faces of the other students. He spied the doors to the hallways, finding them open, with two kids standing causally under the frame. And in those kids' expressions, he found much to be desired.

"Hey Arnold, whatza matter!" Randy and Mike called in unison, cupping their hands over their mouths. "Lovers spat?"

(And here were the devils.)

Kevin gaped at his callous classmates, wondering how they had gotten back into the cafeteria. But his contemplation was cut short, as it was clear they had much more to say. "Look at that, folks!" Randy shouted out to the congregation, pointing his finger outwards. "Arnold and Farquhar are takin' wedding vows! Har!"

At this remark, some of the other students let out a few titters as well, evidently noticing something that the persecuted two didn't. Kevin brow's furrowed as he searched for the problem, and found Margaret still had a hold on his arm. Dismayed, he yanked his arm back from her, making a show of hiding it from everyone. This only increased the giggles, however, and pinned him down as groom of the weird one.

Right now, Margaret had had all she cared to take. Tossing a last sorrowful look at Kevin, she pushed by him and made for the exit sign. The boy watched as she moved through the crowd, ignoring the other still laughing students and going to the double doors. Passing by Randy and Mike, she continued out, then quickly jerked back, finding that the boys had taken a hold of her pigtails in jest. She solved this quickly with a few kicks to the shins, and was free to continue out, leaving a pair of injured goofballs in her wake.

Kevin almost wanted to stop her, to call her back. At the very least, he thought he should explain himself to the group and shed some light on the situation. But right now, he felt he hadn't the strength to do anything more than stay put and take his lumps. Not that the decision really helped out any.

"Ho ho!" Mike straggled out, nursing his injured shin and hopping up and down. "You're a real smooth operator, pal!"

"Hope she's THAT energetic when makin' out!" Randy added, getting a quick laugh from his audience. "Duh! Duh, duh!"

Randy and Mike had soon lapsing into a series of "duhing," and Kevin felt like melting into the ground at the stupidity. Just then, another hand suddenly darted out and grabbed onto him, yanking him out from his stance and forcing him to walk along. He felt his feet almost drag along the ground as he was carried down through a Red Sea of laughing children. Soon, he was past the swinging doors and out of the cafeteria, away from the kids and teachers and all the rest. Hopefully to some much needed sanctuary.

XXXXX

Dimly lit and somewhat ominous, the hallway had the sterility of an abandoned hospital unit. During this time, everybody was still in the lunchroom, so people that came in would have the place to themselves. The only one still present in the school was the custodian, who minded his own business mostly. He didn't blink when two kids strode in all at once, the two other "only ones" in the hall.

Paul maneuvered his friend past the janitor and through the school, going to the locker area. Once they had reached Kevin's, he dropped him off and waited for the other to catch his breath. "Are you okay?" the spectacled boy queried, standing a few feet away. The exhasted boy waved him off, and Paul leaned against the lockers, folding his arms and getting into a semi-relaxed position.

Kevin let out a few last wheezes, shaking the remainder of the cafeteria crisis out of his hair. Rubbing some left over mayonnaise from his hand, he turned to his best bud with a relieved demeanor. "Thanks, Paul," he gasped, a tired smile forming from his lips.

"Don't worry about it," Paul answered, shaking his head nonchalantly. And with the danger finally over, Kevin finally let the grin reach his eyes.

(Paul Pfeiffer. Man's best friend, besides for his dog. The kind of guy who'd stick with you through thick and thin. There was no one better in a scrap than him. No one you'd rather have at your side, at your time of need.)

Paul stepped a bit closer, with a curious front. "Are you really going out with Margaret Farquhar?" he asked, cocking his eyebrow upwards.

(What a rat.)

"What?" Kevin jerked away from the boy, like he had suddenly sprouted three heads.

"Hey, I mean, it's all right if y'do, but..." Paul leaned closer, like he was whispering a secret. "C'mon, it's 'Margaret Farquhar!' You can't be seen necking with her!"

"It's not like that, Paul!" Kevin exclaimed, moving his ear away from the other's mouth. "It's just that..."

"The last person who tried talking to Margaret, Percy Johnson, thought he could get away with it, too," he persisted, as if Kevin had never spoke. "He got teased for weeks, even after he stopped speaking with her. Do you want that to happen to you?"

"Cut it out!" the polish-esque one snapped out, the earlier calm of his psyche completely vaporized.

"Kevin, I'm just trying to..."

"I don't like her, alright!" he continued, with wild gesticulations for every syllable. "She's weird, she's annoying, she's everything everybody says she is, so would you, Randy, and the rest of the guys just GET OFF MY CASE ABOUT HER!" After he said his piece, he turned heel and stormed off, leaving Paul flattened against the lockers with a look of astonishment on his face.

(And that was that.)

XXXXX

FWEEEE!

Inside the gym, a fierce melee had broken out among the bitter conscripts. It was Dodge-ball time, and the kids were divided in two groups for a direct, head-on battle. Admiringly, most of them weren't really too interested in it, and were just giving a half-hearted effort for the Coach's eyes. But a few had gotten into it, throwing balls with their full enthusiasm. And this time, Kevin was among them.

(I'd had it.)

Today, no one was fiercer than the Arnold boy was. Instead of cowering like normally, he was up at the frontlines, giving his all and beyond. In a distracted rage, Kevin ripped up balls from the waxy floor and hurled them to the other side. Surprisingly, he was having decent success at downing his enemies, now that his throws had emotion backing them up.

(I was through with Paul, through with Randy and Mike, and through with Margaret.)

Dodging an incoming bullet, Kevin ran to the nearest rubber ball and gathered it up. Then, he went to the next-nearest ball and took that one too. The pattern continued on, until he had collected no less than four balls, making his arms strain with the extra bulk, This weight he soon released from himself, as he chucked them all at the hapless troops, on by one.

(These people had done nothing but cause me problems.}

Kevin deflected a ball with one of his own, and tossed his makeshift shield out as return fire.

{And I was going to get them all.)

He scooped up a ball, which he spied rolling to his side. Cocking it like a major-league pitcher, he readied the weapon and fired it.

(Starting with these nobodies in the gym.)

And the ball flew in a red streak towards the target, bypassing all that didn't pertain to its mission. Save for the petite brunette that darted in its path.

"Oww!" she wailed holding her face in pain. "My nose!" Falling to her knees, the girl who ended up getting hit was nearly in tears, shaking in pain. The children stopped throwing balls and turned in curiosity, wondering who could've done this. A few seconds later, a whistle blew out, courtesy of Coach Cutlip. Then, the fierce shouts of "Time out! TIME OUT!" halted the game officially, and the coach ran onto the court, ready to check for injuries.

While the rest of the class tended to her, Kevin hung back, worried for himself as well as the girl. Slowly though, among the angry stares of his classmates, he inched over to Cutlip's side, hoping to get a better look at the one he incapacitated. It was a bit hard to make out her features, due to the blood flowing from her nose. But there was no mistaking the face of Winnie Cooper, who he'd know anywhere, at any time.

Winnie's weary eyes met Kevin's, looking confused as to why her friend would do this to her. Kevin's eyes met Winnie's, wondering why this always had to happen to him.

(Oops...)

"Arnold!" the cutting voice of Cutlip snapped, breaking him from her gaze. Kevin guiltily acknowledged the coach, responded, "Yes, sir?" in a meek sort of voice.

"Get to the counselor's office on the double," he ordered, sternly pointing to the gym's ext. "There's no excuse for the injury of a woman on my watch, especially when you were told specifically to take it easy on her."

Kevin almost protested to this persecution, having already had a bad day beforehand. Deep down, though, he knew Coach Cutlip was right, and walked away from the scene of the accident, with head hung and tail between his legs.

The other kids followed him with their eyes, with the same silent reverie of seeing a man off to the gallows. Yet Ed Cutlip saw a different picture before him, having watched Kevin's performance earlier on the court. He crossed his arms, taking on a fatherly stance to the boy. Then, his gaze turned misty, and he had to fight a tear coming to his eye. "What a fighter. What a fighter..."

XXXXX

"Mrs. Betta will see you now."

Kevin looked up momentarily at the receptionist, then rose from his chair and headed to the door. He had been waiting in the office for about ten minutes, his eyes darting around mindlessly over bookcases and odd knickknacks on tabletops. Now, he turned the door to the school counselor's office, opening it up to walk in. Hoping that some good would come out of all this.

(Well, maybe this would turn out for the best. After all, this was a trained professional, with vast quantities of experience under her belt. Certainly she could help me with my problems. Who better, in fact?)

Slowly entering the office, Kevin tried to maintain a rough optimism heading into the meetings. Fortunately, the surroundings helped facilitate that feeling a good bit. Everything in the room was neat and organized, almost obsessively. From the stress removers placed on the shelves to the shiny nameplate on the desk, it had a placating effect on the student, allowing him or her to relax and say what was on the mind.

Keeping his gaze on the nameplate, Kevin stood semi-patiently in front of the desk. He read "Mrs. Dalla Betta" from the gold label while waiting for a cue from the woman in front of her. He couldn't really see her, for the chair was turned backwards away from him. Still, a fluff of frizzy hair showed someone was there, and he felt it best to stay put for the moment.

The long wait was getting unnerving, and Kevin was still left standing there. But just as he was started to get fidgety, a gravely voice broke through the silence. "You're Mr. Arnold, I suppose?"

Kevin bolted up, and panicked for a response. "Y-yes, ma'am," he said politely, nodding.

"Splendid," she said, a lighter note coming out from her. "Perfectly splendid," With that, she spun her swivel chair around, letting him take his first look of her. "Perhaps we have something to discuss," she continued, cocking an eyebrow and resting her hands in front of her. Kevin was shocked beyond words.

The woman before him was a far cry from the stiff orderliness of her room, he could see. Dalla Betta looked for the entire world like a carnival gypsy, ready to tell some poor sap's fortune. Hoop earrings, shawl, it was all there, really blatantly telling her origins and personal tastes. Even the very manner in which she sat was a dead give-away, which really put Kevin on edge, making him sit further back in the chair and hide away.

(On second thought, maybe Karen would be better suited to talking with her. I should go get her. Yeah...)

"Now, it's seem to me that we have a problem," she said methodically, putting an end to Kevin's thoughts of escape. "Angry behavior, displays of violence, these are all signs of an equilibrium disorder. Perhaps stress at school, or problems at home." Dalla ended this list with a readjusting of her posture, obviously trying to look understanding. "Why don't we start from the beginning, and see where this imbalance is coming from? Hmm?"

Kevin regarded this creature with a bit of trepidation. Understandable, considering those earrings. Still, he thought he should at least make a token effort to tell his situation, so he tried to say his thoughts. "Well, to tell the tru..."

"Wait!" Dalla cut him off, thrusting a circular object in front of him. "First, let's consult the Wheel of Feelings." Kevin looked down, and nearly fainted at the ridiculous object before him. It was a small circle cut from posterboard, and it was separated into six pie-like parts, each representing a different human emotion. There was "Happy," "Sad," "Angry," "Surprised," "Nervous," and "Thoughtful" listed on the pieces, written in permanent ink. "Choose whatever one best reflects your heart," the woman said, as if this decided everything. "Then your answer will be revealed."

(Hmm...is there a section for "Nauseous?")

Kevin was a bit miffed at this kindergarten-like treatment, but decided not to be rude, and placed his index on the mood that he felt best represented his current state. It was "Surprised," and this seemed to please the psychologist. "I see," she said, lowering her head cryptically.

"Yeah," he smiled, actually buying into it for a moment. "I'm hoping that you could..."

"What we have here is a failure to adjust," Dalla went on, while pulling a notepad from the desk drawer. "Surprise indicates a disbelief in the reality of the world, which leads to disillusion and social angst." She put away her pen and looked him carefully in the face. "I suggest we continue meeting like this, and perhaps take some medication on the side. Are you allergic to Valium, or..."

"But I don't have social disillusionment!" Kevin blurted out, before she could go on. "I don't even know what medication you'd take!"

"Oh?" Dalla was so surprised by his that she missed his unintended insult. "Then, what is the problem?" she asked, putting away the Wheel of Feelings for the moment

Kevin started to speak, then stalled, forgetting what he wanted to say. It only took a moment, so soon he was ready to talk again. "Well, you see, I have this friend," he said, going into the typical schoolboy method of confession. "He knows this geeky girl, and thinks she's kinda interesting. But everybody else still thinks she's a dork, and so he can't talk to her without looking like one too...a dork, I mean."

"Ah," Dalla breathed, shaking her head. "So you like Margaret Farquhar, do you?"

(Was there some sort of conspiracy going on? Did everybody in the state know I've talked with Margaret?)

"Listen, Kevin," she said, in an instructionally tone. "When you find a shaky sea, the best thing to do is to sail on. Like Ulysses, you too must brave sirens, giants, and of course the indomitable Poseidon."

Kevin blinked.

(Riiiiiggghhht...)

"But know this," she began again, regaining the boy's attention. "Whatever enemies you encounter, you can always find strength in a special tool all your own. Like Ulysses' Athena, you have your power source, and can call on it at your darkest moment."

Hearing these words, Kevin's heart picked up, thinking she might have an answer after all. With renewed interest, he stared at Dalla, waiting for the end of this riddle.

Dalla reached behind her, grabbing a mystery object from the shelf. She then turned back to him, a mysterious smile in her manner. "I present to you..." she said, in a ominous whisper. "The Abacus of Time!" And with a flourish, she whipped the ancient treasure out from behind her back, placing it on the desk to properly present it to Kevin.

An abacus.

Kevin blinked again.

(-rimshot-)

XXXXX

In the dark sky, a distant storm rumbled through the suburban neighborhood, flashing between the trees and setting shades of oaks across the forest. At the Arnold residence, all was quiet, and even the crickets wouldn't chirp among the thunder and lightning. A small lamp shone in the medium-sized house, offsetting the other lights by a bit. This was Kevin and Wayne's room, and the home of yet more confusion and indecision.

Kevin glanced briefly to the window, then resumed fiddling with the "Abacus of Time," which he still had no idea what it was for. Sliding a bead over to the right, he tried looking at it again, wondering if had some sort of symbolic meaning.

(Well, even though that lady was a quack, I still wondered if there was something in what she said. As clich as it was, the thought of shaky seas and menacing gods was usually at call to action. A call to arms.)

He dropped the abacus, laying his head on his arms and settling down against the pillow. Staring at the ceiling, he took a breath and sighed, his breath sailing off to the whirling fan. "Maybe..." he whispered to himself. "Maybe I should go over there..."

"To the Farquhar's place, right?"

Kevin jerked up from the bed at the sign of danger, quickly looking to the door and steeling his muscles for trouble. Wayne was calmly leaning against the doorframe, making a face similar to a piranha hungry for blood.

(Of course, Ulysses never had an older brother, did he?)

"So you got the hots for that four-eyed loser," the elder of the Arnolds said snidely, slowly walking into the room. "What's wrong, Kevy? Winnie not putting out?"

"Shut up!" Kevin bit back, gripping the sheets fiercely. "I just want to talk to her, and try to settle some things!"

"What kind of talk? What things?" Wayne snickered, giving his brother the evil eye. Kevin was about to answer him, when he grasped the full subtext of what was actually being said, and shrunk back in a furious blush.

The other smiled, his needling finally hitting a soft spot. "I knew it!" he crowed, moving over to Kevin and preparing to put him in a strangle hold. "Kevin and Margaret. A match of two dorks!" He wrapped his arm around the adolescent's neck, using his knuckle to deliver a vicious noogie. "Ha ha hah!"

"What's going on here?" Both Wayne and Kevin ceased their struggle and found their mother and father staring at them from outside the door. "What are you talking about?" Norma Arnold questioned, putting her hands on her hips.

Wayne smiled at his mom, while pushing Kevin's head to the mattress. "He's goin' over to see that dopey Farquhar girl," he said with a sneer. "The Butthead's new girlfriend."

"Wayne!" Kevin hollered out, trying to free himself from his brother.

"Margaret Farquhar?" she wondered, putting her hand to her temple. "Isn't she a little...strange?"

"She's a moron," Jack Arnold called in a rough voice, emerging from the hallway. "Last time that girl was here, she kept the entire family up tryin' to save a damn ladybug." Carefully maneuvering past his wife, he moved into their room and folded his arms. "You should stay away from her Kevin, for your own good. This can't amount to anything worth the trouble."

"That's what I keep tryin' to tell 'im," Wayne agreed, finally taking his hand off of Kevin's head and letting him breath. "But the peewee here just won't listen." He shook his head in mock-disappointment, while the boy tried to catch his bearings again.

"Kevin, I think you should really listen to your older brother on this one," Norma gave him a concerned look. "He might be right."

"For once, anyway," Jack amended, knowing his son well enough.

"Hey, cool off Dad!" Wayne complained, giving his father a defiant look. "I mean, what should I care if Kevin and Farquhar have little dorklits crawling all over the place? He should be lucky he has such a sensitive brother backing him up!"

"Would all of you please shut up!" The entire family promptly quieted down, looking at Kevin in shock. In the new silence, he pushed over Wayne and swung his legs over the bed. "All I'm going to do is try to patch things up with her. I'm not going to marry her, and I'm not going out with her." Tying his shoes into a knot, he headed out. As he pushed by his mother and father, he let out one last complaint. "Geez!"

(Heh, that should take care of them. What was the big, fat deal anyway? All I wanted to do was try to apologize...or something to that effect. All I wanted was go over to...)

XXXXX

KKKRRACK! The saffron bolt of Zeus fired down from the heavens, illuminating the stormy night like a cracked flashbulb. Silhouetted in the blanket of light was a one story house, somehow standing alone among the other buildings. Shutters flapped, and windows shivered, as the squall made strike after strike on its shaky frame. Yet, the haunted dwelling seem to revel in the madness, knowing that it would take more that that to silence its evil. One could almost hear a ghoulish laugh emitting from the building...

(...Castle Dracula?)

He stood at the sidewalk in front of the house, having second thoughts purely based on the frightening facade the weather was giving it. With eyes like dinner plates, he shivered before the habitation from Hell, wondering if it was already too late to back out of this. However, he gathered up his nerve and refused to be cowed further by the amusement park effects. He just swallowed the last of his fear, clenched his fists, and started the march up to the house, fathoming he had no choice.

(Well, here goes nothing...)

Step by step, Kevin traveled up the cobblestone path leading to Margaret's front door. Trying to keep his nervousness from overtaking him, he ignored the numerous touches the Devil thought it entertaining to give his journey. The whimsical movement of the leaves around his shoes, the howling winds that even now seemed to be an otherworldly shriek. Every sound seemed to be creeping closer and closer to him, the shadows seemed to take human form, reaching out for him with gnarled claws...

Then, from the hellish night, the cry of the damned broke Kevin out of his stride, and he spun around in a panic...to face his enemies.

Out of the shadows of the nearby houses, the mirages solidified into more than just illusions. Three moaning zombies lurched into the Farquhar's lawn, looking desperately for some life to fuel their rotting bodies. And that wasn't all, for the ground below was giving way, as more blood-soaked ghouls tore from the weeds and sunflowers. The monsters kept coming and coming, until Kevin found himself surrounded by suburban zombies, forming a rough circle around him. Then, a light flashed in soulless eyes, and one of their own started to approach.

As the monster moved in, Kevin wasted no time in drawing his whip, bringing it to bear just as it reached within striking distance. With a fierce holler, he fired the leather snake in a solid strike towards the zombie, striking a gash hot enough to encase it in flames. It wallowed around in its own incinerating evil, spinning around and flailing sparks everywhere. Finally, it fell to the ground with a final moan; its soul shrinking down to the pit from which it came...just as two more zombies came for the boy.

Livid with a slaying rage, Kevin fought like mad against the demon hoard coming beyond the sprinkler. He cut down three more with a single swipe, torching them just like their brother. He ducked and rolled to evade the claws of their sinister limbs. He was cutting and dodging, moving his whip in wild waves to try and decrease the multitude of foes he was forced to contend with. Worse still, as soon as he got rid on one group of zombies, another bunch would fly out from the graves, making him fight even harder to save his life.

A distinct sound of human feet came from Kevin's backside, alerting his danger sense. He waited a brief moment, pretending he heard nothing, then spun around to fling a glowing, boomerang crucifix towards his mysterious foe. But the hunter was dismayed to find it stopping in midair, courtesy of a small hand motion by the figure. And with another motion, the weapon bolted off to the side...and now Kevin couldn't move.

He strained and shook against the ethereal force binding him, tossing an angry look towards the personage. Then, he recoiled in abject horror, as Margaret Farquhar appeared from the dimly lit porch. "Kevin, it's so nice that you could come!" she cried, showing a saccharine smile. "We were just about to have dinner. Care to join us?"

Kevin didn't know what it was, but he could feel there was something not quite right about Margaret. So he tried his best to stay away from her as she approached, even though he was still frozen.

The girl was twirling her third pigtail absently, looking in his general direction. "I think you'll like what we're serving," she said, and Kevin could distinctly feel a slight edge creeping into her voice. "It's squash casserole." Her eyes flashed yellow. "With a side of KEVIN!" she finished, showing pearly white fangs. And in a burst of smoke, she transformed into Medusa, wicked woman of Ancient Greece. Each of her pigtails had turned to snakes and were flailing about her head, eager to escape. And her eyes...well, it was always a bad idea to look into her eyes, so we're saved from having to describe them.

Medusa and her zombie troop moved in on Kevin, who was frozen with fear, as well as magic. She looked at his unpleasant appearance, then gave a false, evil smile. "Don't like casseroles?" she asked, tilting her head to the side. "Well, maybe you'll like it better...on the ROCKS!" Beams of light shot from her pupils, straight towards Kevin's feet. "Ha ha ha ha ha!"

Spellbound by the hollow laughter, it took a moment for Kevin to look down at...well, what used to be his legs. Now, they were nothing but rock columns, and the dreaded stone gaze was slowly moving up to his torso. He looked for some sort of escape, but all he could see were the zombies slowly closing in on his body. Moreover, the evil laughter of Medusa continued to ring out, providing a stark symphony to his ultimate destruction.

The hideous, living corpses were close enough to smell now. And all he could manage was one, horrified scream.

"AHHHhhh...huh?"

Kevin opened up his eyes, as if waking from a dream. After a moment, he discovered he really could move his legs, and that he wasn't set in stone. A little while later, he began to see that there were no zombies, and that he was standing in the middle of the Farquhar's lawn, apparently having let his imagination get away from him. He was only too lucky nobody was out this night. Especially since he was still trying to crack a garden hose.

Kevin dropped his "whip" on the grass, hoping it would lose itself in between the blades. He proceeded to stand there, and let his thoughts dwell on the false terrors.

(If I were growing up in the 1980s, I'd blame this on videogames.)

His eyebrows wavered below his brow, oscillating between confusion and relief. In the end, they settled on uncertainty, and he nearly fell to his knees in a mound of depression.

(But since I was a product of the '60s, I had only my own cowardice to look to.)

(I was scared. Scared of my classmates, of what they would say if they knew what I was doing. Scared of myself, wondering how I had been unable to solve this problem. But most of all, I was scared of Margaret, and the thought of having to face those sad eyes of hers again.)

Kevin felt his foot moving almost before he willed it. Yet he did not stop its path, and let it carry him away.

(It was this fear...)

His fists clenched up.

(And this courage...)

His eyes hardened.

(...that drove me on.)

Then he began walking.

Taking an easy pace, he transgressed the rest of the pathway. Not even stopping to look at the shadows, Kevin skipped up the three steps leading to the empty poach. With aid of a candlelight coming from a table, he found the doorbell off to the side. Moving his finger over it, he prepared to press the small button. He halted for a moment.

(For one second, I thought of bolting again. I still had time. I could still forget about it.)

The finger waved over the button, shaking slightly with a small tension.

(But I didn't.)

The doorbell was then rung.

On that poach, in Kevin's own mind, an eternity of seconds passed by, coasting all generations, past and present. He felt himself change instantaneously: from child, to adult, to old man, each stage lasting both a minute and a year. His eyes were frozen in place, and his ears only minutely heard the clomping of loafers from inside the house. And his soul was only just coming back to reality, as a shadow approached the bug-screen.

Kevin almost fainted, as he heard the knob turning in front of him. But he was stopped by the slant of homely light, as the heavy wood door eased outwards with a slight creak.

He waited for a moment, not fully believing that the home had opened up for him.

So it was left for the soft, melodious voice to instruct him of his destiny.

"Come in."

(At that moment, I truly knew there was no turning back.)

Kevin looked into the door, trying to make out the kindly face that had welcomed him.

(Whether it was Heaven or Hell, I was going in.)

He then walked into the house, and the matron closed it behind him.

(And not Randy, nor Wayne, nor even myself could tell me otherwise.)

SLAM!

-End Part 1