I Want You Back: Part 2

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 song lyrics

XXXXX

Resting against the wood paneling of the house was an ornate cuckoo clock, designed to look like a dogwood tree. Its innards clicked and jolted with a rustic precision, like hungry termites in a real tree. Atop the realistic-looking branches sat a small tree house, with working lights and a hinged door. No doubt behind the door was some sort of odd creature, ready to crow, hoot, or otherwise signal the passing of another hour in the home.

Kevin eyed the Farquhar residence with the rhythm of the pendulum of the cuckoo clock, shifting uneasily between the round, Norwegian vases, and the pure-grain oak shelves with the various knickknacks. Pictures of old relatives lined the walls, showing generations of family leading all the way up to Mr. and Mrs. Farquhar and Margaret. An ice cream churn sat abandoned next to the sink, stained slightly with the leftovers of Pineapple Frozen Yogurt Crunch. Indeed, it seemed like a normal house in all respects.

SPLAT! That was when the banana cream pie hit his face.

"Hardy har har!" a old geezers' demented cackle broke through the banana flavored stuffing and pie crust covering Kevin's ears. "Just like the Three Stooges!"

The boy scrambled to knock off the pie gunk from his face, brushing it off to the side. He then sighed pitifully, and rubbed his brow with something resembling abject pain.

(Wait, let's go back.)

XXXXX

"You must be Kevin, right?" a light, feminine voice broke the uncomfortable silence. Still standing just inside the doorway, the boy found himself staring at a handsome woman in her late thirties. The woman bore a defining resemblance to Margaret, with dark blond hair twirled in a single braid down her back. Seems that pigtail-like hairstyles ran in the family.

Realizing he was supposed to say something, Kevin shook himself out of his short stupor. "Yes, ma'am," he said, gulping slightly with the effort.

The woman, obviously Margaret's mother, smiled good-naturedly. "My Margaret's told me so much about you," she prattled, bringing a slightly shamed flush to the boy's face. "I understand you were her Square Dance partner at school."

"Yes, ma'am," he tried again, shuffling as many boys do when meeting their friend's parent. Or secret friend. Or something.

If she noticed his nervousness, she didn't show it. Nevertheless, Mrs. Farquhar obliged Kevin's silent pleas to end this line of conversation. "We were just having dinner," she said pleasantly, clasping her hands in front of her apron. "Perhaps you might join us? It's squash casserole."

Gulping a bit at the unintended reference to his overactive imagination, Kevin lowered his head slightly in a mix between respect and feer. "That's fine, but I just ate," he said, trying to keep the fib from showing on his face.

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Farquhar burbled, moving around to the boy's backside. "That little tummy of yours is just dying for some good, home cooking." Pushing gently behind Kevin, the woman led him out of the foyer and into the small hallway that lead to the den. "Scoot scoot!" she said cheerily, oblivious to the silent protest evident in his body. "Meal's getting cold now."

At a lost for words, Kevin simply allowed himself to be herded on through to the den area. He took his first deep breath of the night when he found himself at last in the house of the girl he had spent so time avoiding, pushing away, and thinking about. The kids at school made it seem as if the Farquhar house was some sort of sinkhole into the oblivion of Hades, but all he could find was a relatively normal living area. There were easy chairs, a TV, everything you would expect from a middle class home of this time period.

It was the people in the room that made all the difference in the world.

"All of us were about ready to start," Mrs. Farquhar said enthusiastically, spreading her arm to acknowledge three figures on the couch and easy chair. "Why not get yourself aquatinted, Kevin?"

(And that's when the rest of the family made their presence.)

At the left end of the couch, there was a grizzled old man in his early eighties, with a halo of white hair encircling his otherwise bald head. He seemed to be missing a few teeth, but this didn't stop him from letting loose the creepiest smile Kevin had ever seen.

(Meet: Grandpa Banes, two-time reject of the old folks home, without a trace of senility; he was just born crazy.)

On the right end of the couch, there was a well-built man in his thirties, wearing only a muscle short and some sweats. His rough beard didn't hide his sneaky smirk as he sized up the boy like a piece of fresh meat.

(Uncle Joey. This man can find an innuendo inside a Catholic seminar, mostly because he brought the damn thing in)

In the large easy chair was an older man nearing a healthy middle age. His countenance and goatee were firm, and his features had the look of someone who had faced the devil, and was willing to give the red guy a rematch.

(And, of course, don't forget Sergeant Farquhar, the head of the household, and a man with enough grits to make Coach Cutlip wet his pants. Enough grit to make ME wet my pants, anyway.)

Kevin looked uneasily between the terrible trio of Farquhars, feeling like a stage performer that had just forgotten his act. Then, he slowly raising a hand in greeting, smiling his best fake-smile at the guardians of this castle.

(Best to appease the demons.)

XXXXX

Back in the "present," Kevin had finished wiping off the banana cream pie crud off his face, turning his napkin into an ugly, waterlogged mess. Grandpa Banes and Uncle Joey had only now stopped laughing at his unseemly plight, and were returning to their meal. (and no doubt their scheming) St. Farquhar remained as stoic as even, and seemed now to be starring at him with some sort of disapproval. All in all, rhe atmosphere was rather unfriendly, and the boy was beginning to wonder if maybe he was safer with Randy and Mike.

"It's so nice to hear Margaret invite a friend over," Mrs. Farquhar beamed, bringing another helping of casserole to the dinner table. "And a boy, too!"

"Not a surprise, really." Uncle Joey chimed in, leaning forward so he was hovering over his own meal. "You know how wild those pigtail girls can get, doncha Sergeant?"

"What?" St. Farquhar suddenly launched up in his seat, a twinge of anger forming in his military physique. "What have you done to my daughter, boy!" he demanded of Kevin, jabbing his fork into his food as it was a whale-hunting harpoon.

"N-nothing!" the boy protested, waving his arm around to discourage the strong man from implementing any of his basic training.

"Heh, heh!" Banes chuckled, slamming his fists onto the table and making the dishes clatter and clank. "Fight, fight!"

"Oh dear, hush," Mrs. Farquhar reprimanded her husband, dishing out some of the casserole onto his plate. "We know very well that Kevin isn't that sort of boy."

"Yeah," Joey said with a small snicker. "He didn't the sailor's life like you did, Serge."

St. Farquhar hissed at the intuition, but didn't make effort to deny it. Instead, he turned back to the boy, ready to grill him like only a solider could. "I understand you were my little girls dance partner at school," he started, wiping him mouth free of some foodstuffs. "Did you treat her right?"

"Um " Kevin was left at a lost of words, as his behavior towards Margaret that past week hadn't really been nice at all.

(Now, how to break this gently. Like, in a way other than: 'No, I left her to the wolves.')

"Of course he did," Mrs. Farquhar saved him from trying of conjure a dirty lie with a perfectly lovely half-truth. "Margaret already told us how nice he was to her at his house."

The boy had nothing to say to this either, mostly because of the intense guilt it pumped up within his heart. He only finished chewing his bite, washing it and his regret down with a tall glass of milk.

"Hmph, boys," the stern commander groused, placing another morsel of casserole into his mouth. "Bunch of weak little slugs with no brain, I say, Nothing like us men." He pumped his thumb towards his washboard chest, well kept even after all the years off duty. "It's blood and sweat that separates us from the rest of the pack."

"But certainly some things are better learned by instinct," Mrs. Farquhar said, coming to Kevin's aid yet again. "I'm sure that's what's guiding Kevin's heart to our Margaret."

"I know I could've never learned what I know," Joey said cryptically, his eyes darting away as if thinking back to an old conquest.

(It was almost too much to stand. There was one person here willing for defend me, and all I wanted to do was tell her how wrong he was. How much I felt the Sergeant was right about me and the rest of us.)

Kevin remained silent at the dinner, blocking out any further ongoing conversation. With a sigh, he went back to the casserole that he had hardly touched, and made as it to put another frigid bite into his mouth.

"I'm home!" The voice of the young girl nearly caused the boy to choke on his bite, and the hairs on the back of his neck bristled with tension. Turning around wildly, he sought quickly to check out his available options, wondering he should hold his ground, like the good soldier Farquhar would've wanted him too, or mount a hasty retreat. The latter was, of course, impossible, so he found himself staying put in his too-uncomfortable seat, waiting for the inevitable. And, like all things inevitable, it came sooner than one would think, and the girl was already in the room with a direct view of her family and their interesting new visitor.

Margaret Farquhar stood stunned at the doorway connecting the dining room to the kitchen. She was dressed in a loose T-shirt and a pair of denim shorts, both covered with a variety of mud and grass stains from her previous jaunt. In her hands was a bug catching net and a collection of bottles, each carrying the various new insect friends she would out in the suburban jungle. In her eyes was the wavering image of Kevin, along with the strangest mix of pain and excitement.

The two adolescents locked eyes for a moment longer, frozen in a moment of time. Then, without a word, Margaret rushed past the family and out of the dining area, probably to her own room. Kevin stared after the girl's retreating form, wondering was it was he was supposed to do. This time, he managed to do the right thing, and quickly excused himself from the table to chase after her.

St. Farquhar regarded the boy's exit with an approving glimmer in his eyes. "Kid's more of a soldier than I thought," he resolved, tapping his finger to his dimple in admiration.

"Pineapples," Banes agreed, gorging himself on a mass of rutabagas that were smashed up for easier chewing.

XXXXX

The room was what you would've expected it to be, in all honesty. Quiet and lonely, with a perchance for buggery and nature. All sorts of memorabilia of the girl's oddball hobbies were scattered here and there, like science fair awards and bronzed insect shells. Most eye-catching was a lone bat hanging upside-down in a cage, acting as guardian to whomever would harm its master.

Margaret carried a small container over to the single bed in the back of her room, setting it down gently on the goose-feather mattress. Like a surgeon, she placed several canisters of food beside it, arranging them in some sort of secret order. Beside the bed, Kevin stood enraptured by the girl's strange actions, wondering where all of this could be going. She paid his questioning gaze no mind, and proceeded to open up the top of the container to feed the insects within.

"Bugs can be a greedy sort," she begun, kneeling down and picking up one of the food canisters. "In the wild, you're always fighting to survive in one way or another. Everything's fair game, and there are no hard feelings. Just winners and losers."

To demonstrate her point, Margaret shook some of the food out into the container, making sure it was spread out evenly throughout. Almost immediately, the bugs sprung out from their various hiding places for a make-believe hunt. Kevin observed how they would shove each other out of the way in pursuit of their own helping of the somewhat-sparse quantity of food. Somehow, the scene was eerily familiar to him, like he had seen it someplace else, a place he didn't want to think about.

"I was kinda hoping that school would be different." she said, observing the violence below with some measure of detachment. "That people would be willing to help the ladybug without anything to eat. But don't you see, its all the same there as it is in here! Don't you see?"

(And the sad thing was: I did)

Kevin just stood silently, not feeling like he was in the position to speak.

Margaret sighed tiredly, letting some of the earlier tension settle down into a general moodiness "But I should just accept things as they are," she affirmed with a melancholy frown, looking back down at the battling bugs. "Things will never change in the world of nature." She closed the container with a hint of finality, gripping onto its sides like it was a lifeline. "I'll just keep being the weakest link. And I'll find a way to be fine."

Margaret turned to the boy, a sad smile on her face. "Thank you for coming over to my house, Kevin," the girl said sincerely, her eyes twinkling behind the frames. "Me and Mortimer forgive you."

And with that she hugged him, wrapping her arms around the boy and pressing her head in her shoulder. Kevin was shocked by this action, and nearly panicked trying to figure out what to do, besides hugging her back. But despite his uneasiness, he didn't pull away from the girl. He just looked silently on, as Mortimer the Bat appraised the situation with his ever-powerful sixth sense.

XXXXX

(And then I was free.)

SLAM!

Through the double steel doors of the school, Kevin Arnold emerged with a crowd of children as his escort. An unreadable expression was on his face as his hair hid his eyes from the waspy group of kids that even now rushed past him. With the sense that everyone seems to develop around this age, the children avoided the somewhat solemn-looking boy, rushing past him like rushing water around a large stone. In this way, Kevin was like an amalgam of Noah and Moses, adrift in the sea yet untouched by it as well.

(Free to make my own choices, my own path.)

A strange, calming serenity was radiating off of Kevin's body as he continued to the next hall. His steps were almost mechanical, not wavering even with the crowds that he navigated. He was a like a golem, impassive, impenetrable. Perhaps this is why the children avoided him like the force of nature he was.

Then, his rock-steady walk halted, just as he neared the group of lockers that harbored his own. Ten feet in front of Kevin were Randy and Mike, approaching fast. The somewhat craggy smiles on his face indicated that they hadn't forgotten about the little incident in the lunchroom. But this time, the boy didn't flinch at the presence of yesterday's tormentors, as it was a new day and a new Kevin walking the halls.

(Free to be safe.)

"Hey, if it isn't the dweeb sympathizer!" Randy started up, being the alpha-male in the Randy/Mike ravenous wolf pack. "Ready to sweep the nerd girl off her feet?"

"Oh Farquhar, Farquhar!" Mike joined in, managing to add a touch of Shakespearean elegance to his taunt. "Wherefore art thou Farquar?"

Kevin lowered his head, his bangs shadowing his eyes even more. His mouth let out a soft sigh as he quietly ponder edthe issue before him.

(No harm in playing along now.)

Randy, meanwhile, was following up on the role-play, actually pulling up his hair in an imitation of Margaret's hairstyle. "No time for love, Kevio," he squeaked, in a rather bad imitation of Margaret's voice. "I already got my bugs!" He then chuckled meanly

"Wait, dude," Mike interrupted, forgetting momentary to insert into the exchange his own vacuous laugh. "Farquhar's supposed to have three pigtails."

Kevin just remained silent through this exchange, still seemingly interested in more thought and more foot-inspection.

(I was one of the guys, again.)

"I only have two hands, dink," Randy snapped, his voice loosing the cruel joviality it had before, though the cruel part was left in. "How am I supposed to support that stupid style without a third hand?"

"Well, um " Mike stood silent for a brief moment, then started reaching towards the other boy's hair.

"Hey, don't touch the doo!" Randy brought up his arms to ward off Mike's intrusive hand, which even now was making grabbing motions for his messy locks.

Kevin raised his head up savagely. "Stop it!" he suddenly shouted out, a sharp, freezing look on his face.

"Huh?" Randy gasped, halting his feverish struggling.

"Huh?" Mike gasped, actually bringing his hand away from the other's hair.

(Huh?)

Completely heedless to the surprise of the both the boys and the narration, Kevin advanced upon the duo, his frosty demeanor erupting into a livid anger. "How can you just stand here making fun of someone who never did anything to hurt you? Why do you do stuff like this?"

Taken off guard by the boy who they had practically forgotten about, Randy and Mike just took the brunt of the verbal assault, almost frozen by the volcanic ire swirling in the air. For once in their lives, they had nothing to say.

"What, don't have an answer?" he continued, the silence from the boys not swaying him in the slightest. "I never wanted to hear it anyway! Because of you guys, I've lost the most interesting friend I could've ever had. I I can't stand you two!"

With his stony fa ade from earlier completely shattered, Kevin blazed aside his fake friends, practically shoving them out of the way on his path to his locker. Muttering obscenities that would have made his father proud, he opened up the iron door and began to snatch up books and supplies at random, not even bothering to make sure if they were for his next class. Once he had piled up an impressive collection of mismatched books in his arms, he let the locker door slam shut, a few loose papers caught in-between the crack. He then stalked off from Randy and Mike, surprisingly, in the correct direction to his homeroom.

More inspiration hit as he had made it halfway across the hall, causing him to turn back towards his now-nemesis'. "A-And I like Margaret's hairstyle, too!" he called off righteously, surprising with little stutter in his conviction.

Randy and Mike's eyebrows raising slightly at this new ammunition, again thrown for a loop by Kevin's tirade. But unfortunately for the righteous boy, this was the remark that finally gave them ammunition to retaliate. "W well, why don't you go over to your little girlfriend and braid those three pigtails for her?" Randy tried, managing to conjure up a ghost of his old venomous self.

"Yeah," the sidekick piped up, feeling less pressure being the one to go second. "You can even buy little ladybug clips to show your feelings for the Farkster."

Kevin looked a bit stunned for, wondering if he had said something that he shouldn't have.

(Well, I was off to a good start.)

But to his credit, he quickly found the strength to avoid intimidation. His scowl forming on his lips once again, he turned away from Randy and Mike once again, this time making sure it was for good. He hadn't gotten rid of the dynamic duo as neatly as he had planned. But he was confident he would never speak to his "friends" again, not even for a chat in the hall.

(But it made no real difference.)

Behind him, the boy were yelling out various uncreative insults relating to Kevin and Margaret, with the occasion "Duh, Duh!" thrown in. But Kevin just kept walking, a golem of a different mold than the one that has enter RFK Junior High.

XXXXX

(I wasn't free.)

Inside the confines of the classroom, Kevin lazily slumped over on his small desk, emotionally drained. Protected by a blanket of silent students, he somehow felt both comforted and lonely even amid all the boys and girls. The professor's droning voice made for a somewhat pleasant white noise that made falling asleep in class all the easier for the bored attendees. Nevertheless, Kevin managed only to maintain a light state of drowsiness, having too much on his mind to bother succumbing to the temptations completely.

(I hadn't been free ever since I first stepped into this school six months ago.)

In a curious motion, Kevin brought his hand up to bear, tracing the veins on his hand like a road map. He admired his appendage like it was a holy artifact filched in one of those mummy movies. It was the instrument of action and inaction. A powerful tool that only the mighty could truly wield.

(I was doing what Randy and Mike wanted me to do, what Paul wanted me to do, maybe even what Margaret wanted me to do, but not ever what I wanted to do.)

He finally managed the emotion to let loose a sigh, falling over on his desk and knocking an unsharpened pencil to the ground.

(Was looking over my shoulder all I could do?)

CLA-ACK! The pencil snapped in two as it hit the ground.

It didn't seem anyone was awake enough to comment upon the sharp sound penetrating the silence, for only a few students bothered to glance towards the direction of the broken pencil. The teacher didn't seem to notice either, continuing on with his lecture like some sort of life-sized, wind-up doll. "Next, we will discuss the lifestyles of the ladybug," he droned, sounding perhaps vaguely interested in the topic. "Fascinating subject."

At the mention of ladybugs, Kevin suddenly jerked up, just as the lights went off.

"The ladybug is not a social creature, nor is it a sympathetic one." The man continued onward, obvious to well, just about everyone. "When a ladybug is attacked by a grasshopper, the other ladybugs will not assist it in any way, instead leaving it to a grizzly death."

Kevin was starting to fidget heavily in his seat, the words dredging up more and more memories of his one-time friend. Worse still, this teacher was the sort that enjoyed showing slides, as now there was a translucent portrait of a demolished ladybug spreading its innards all over the grass. The grasshopper was currently having a grand ol' time chowing down, looking like it was about to pull out some mustard for some additional tang. And to complete this disturbing slide, there was a flock of ladybugs darting away from the scene, desperate to escape despite the pain of their comrade.

The boy's mind was creating all sorts of interesting metaphors for the photo to his life. Haunting visions of two grasshoppers named Randy and Mike finding a meal on a pigtailed ladybug. That was when his eye caught on one particular ladybug, one that had separated from his particular group. It seemed a bit more concerned about, but still sat by and watched the carnage without providing a bit of help.

He hadn't been staring at it for more than two seconds when the ladybug's stout features morphed into his own. It almost was too nauseating and sick to stand.

"Perhaps it is merely survival instinct that leads them to this unsavory action,' the teacher continued as he prepared to click to another slide. "But I believe I speak for everyone when I say: that's not very ladylike."

"I didn't do it!" Kevin called out, unconsciously slapping his hands on the desk. "I didn't hurt the lady bug! It was all those grasshoppers' fault! I swear!"

With a large, simultanious gasp, the students all lurched out of their slouches. All eyes were on the strange lad who somehow bore guilt for what had happen in a forest perhaps hundreds of miles from here. Even the teacher saw fit to break his lecture, turning around from his beloved mutilated ladybugs to the source of this distraction. His countenance was no more calm that the rest of his class.

Kevin looked left and right at the students, who all bore incredibly confused expressions on their faces. Then, a small bead of sweat rolled down his temple.

(Um that's right.)

XXXXX

Outside on the parking lot of RFK Junior High, a single black sedan was coasting up the drive, coming close to where the student carpool would be if it was that time. But alas, it was four in the afternoon, and the parents had already picked up the majority of the kids. If the driver had been paying closer attention, he would've noticed that one of the classrooms was still lit up with light, revealing the silhouette of one young boy that was still there. Alas, he was more concerned about picking up his daughter, so the kid remain invisible to the driver, who had already parked his car at a space close to the front doors.

Kevin leaned back in his desk, letting the faint light of the slowly setting sun penetrate through his squinted eyes. A look of light contemplation was in those eyes, managing to shine even through the gold cast upon his face. His emotional ineptitude had drained away during the earlier outburst, leaving a more capable person in its wave. A person who could put together the twos-and-twos of the situation, and end up with the correct number.

(My first detention here at school, and I wasn't even mad about it. I even felt like I still belonged here.)

As it turned out, even the stoic teacher had his limits in dealing crazy kid disrupting his class and bringing them away from his exciting lecture. He hadn't been harsh about it, but Kevin still received the slip that obligated him to staying after school. He was fine with it, actually. He needed the extra time before going home to think about his next move, and if he was going to move.

(There was something I wanted to do these great halls. Something grand and brave.)

Leaning forward from his rested position, Kevin put a hand to his chin in contemplation. After a few seconds of that, he gave it up with a huff, waving his arm loosely in a fit of frustration.

(If I could only figure out what it was.)

"Hi," A soft, slightly droopy voice drove Kevin's from his slightly confused pondering, bringing him face to face with another young teenager. She was a girl about his age, with long brown hair that reached almost all the way down her back. She was a bit of a prep in the way she dressed, but there was a mighty benevolent look shining from her dark eyes. That look was kindly focused on the boy, with a slightly bemusing aspect to her smile.

There was a small bandage on her nose, but it was easy enough to tell who it was. And soon, it was time to follow through with the traditional Kevin/Winnie pleasantries. "Hi."

His longtime next door neighbor was quick on the uptake today, promptly responding to his greeting with a question. "What are you doing here?" she said, tilting her head to the side in a movement that Kevin could only find too cute.

"I got detention," he admitted, a slight shame in his voice. .

"Oh," Winnie trailed, seemly confused at what her friend could've done to warrant him staying after school. "Well, I had to stay back at the school nurse's because of well, you know." She pointed towards the bandage on her nose.

"Yeah, sorry about that," Kevin responded, putting his hand behind his head in embarrassment over the now-famous dodge ball incident. "How's your nose doing?"

"Better," she responded with a smile, obviously holding no grudges towards Kevin the Dodge Ball Barbarian. "The doctor said I could take off the bandage tomorrow."

"That's good," Kevin responded automatically, not knowing what else he could say. Winnie nodded just as automatically, seemingly unsure of how she should respond. The two continued in the silence that all friends get into from time to time, where you want to be with that person but don't know what next to say. At least, this is what Kevin thought of it, having been in the situation with this particular female many times before.

As it turns out, the girl was only bidding her time. "Are you friends with Margaret?" Winnie asked, innocence and insistence in her tone.

(And here's another opportunity to embarrass yourself!)

At the mention of Margaret's name, Kevin went into danger mode, putting up his old defensives again. "N-No!" he stammered, wide-eyed as a squirrel in the middle of the road. "It's nothing like that!"

Winnie looked at him curiously, wondering why her friend was so frazzled. Upon the girl's questioning gaze, Kevin managed to catch himself perpetrating the same bad habits that had got him into this mess. He sighed in defeat, turning away for a moment to gather his composure. " But if I was, what would you think?" he asked her, appealing to her with his own dark eyes.

"Huh?" Winnie brought a finger to her cheek, apparently having to honestly think about it. "Well, I guess that would be alright," she decided, bringing some much needed optimism into the conversation. "I know she's not very popular, but I could probably get to like her if I got to know her. I mean, we didn't have many friends when we first met, either."

"Huh?" Somehow, Kevin was taken off guard by the girl's seemingly simple statement. "Winnie, what are you talking about?" he asked her, finally conjuring up strength behind his words.

She looked at him. "Don't you remember?" she asked, staring into his eyes.

Kevin's face retained the same expression it had when Winnie had begun her shocker. But soon his eyes started widening, as they became filled with new knowledge based on old memories...

XXXXX

(That's when I remembered the day Winnie, Paul, and myself met.)

In a park somewhere near Harper's Woods, a young be-spectacled child of seven was resting against a large tree, picking his nose with his finger. He had a very lonely air about himself, not entirely content to sit by and engage in disgusting bodily hygiene. Suddenly, two older kids sprung from behind the oak, sizing up the kid like foxes on carrion. With smiles entirely too mean for their eight years of age, they began to hassle the poor boy, taking off his glasses and playing a nasty game of keep-away with them.

(Back then, Paul was even more awkward that he was at thirteen.)

Just as the be-spectacled boy was about to burst into tears, another boy came onto the scene, with black, curly hair that probably could be traced to the Polish. Followed by a girl with glasses and short ponytails, this second boy proceeded to the bully that was currently holding the glasses. They proceeded to have a short conversation, with the curly-haired boy stretching out his hand for the spectacles. A conversation that ended, abruptly, with the younger boy getting knocked to the ground.

(He was weird and gawky, with the oddest hobbies that you could think of.)

This didn't intimate the curly haired boy for long, for he soon rose up and pushed the bully back, sending him against the tree. Unused to having anyone confront him, the bully promptly burst into tears, and ran off with his friend calling for their mothers. The be-spectacled boy promptly rose from his spot on the grass, and began pumping the curly-haired boy's hand in gratitude. While the ponytailed girl gave her hero a twinkly eyed, eyelash fluttering, lovey dovey look. (much to the chagrin of the curly-haired boy)

XXXXX

(And he was the best friend I ever had.)

Kevin rose up from his seat, as righteous as his counterpart from the memories. "I've got it!" he cried out, nearly sending Winnie backwards with the force of his voice.

"You got what?" the girl asked, looking at him as if he suddenly transformed into a pink and purple polka-dotted mushroom.

"Oh nothing," he responded, chuckling lightly as he gathered up his books, which were still incorrect for the classes he had attended. "Just got some sense knocked into me."

Winnie actually took a step back away from the boy, looking at him like he had lost his mind. She was about to ask a question pertaining to that when she discovered Kevin already at the door. "My detention's up now, so I gotta go," he told the gawking girl, opening the doorway and revealing the hallway. "I have somewhere I needa be."

"Kevin, where are you going?" she managed, chasing after him to the door.

The boy turned to the girl, a mysterious smile on his face. "I gotta date with someone," he replied simply, his charm on full blast despite not even trying. "Thanks for settin' me up." Before Winnie could say anything more, Kevin gave her a quick peck on the cheek, causing the girl to back away with the shock. Not really noticing her response, he quickly rushed out the door, leaving the slightly flabbergasted girl behind in his new quest.

Winnie stood alone in the classroom, still frozen solid by the boy's brain freezing lips. Then, she smiled softly to herself, holding the cheek that the boy's lips had pressed against. She sighed in contentment at the thought of her crazy, yet cute friend. Weirdness like this the girl could deal with.

XXXXX

(At that moment, I knew what I needed to do)

Illuminated by the mid-afternoon light pouring in from the window at the end of the hall, Kevin's silhouette traveled this corridor alone, spreading a wave of shadows along the empty lockers. With no children to block his way, his darkened form was free to move through the school as it pleased, heedless of any possible confrontations with teachers. Not that anyone would be able to stop the boy as he was now. Eddie himself would think twice before challenging the waves of energy radiating from the formerly indecisive lad.

(I needed to do what I wanted to do, no matter what anyone thought of it.)

An almost gritty look of determination was etched into his jaw, offset only by the shining benevolence in his eyes. This was a tough man, alright, one that made means to ends when there were none. His single-minded pursuit was carrying him quickly through the school, leaning him towards the large double doors whose slam seemed to start and end every episode of the game of Life. This time, it would serve as a battle bell for the boy, a clash of cymbals for the rounds yet to win.

Kevin walked briskly up to the door, grasping firmly on to the handle. His face still alight with purpose and pride, he yanked open the door, letting it swing widely to his side. Striding outside to this crisp cool air, he let the winds play freely with the curly locks that so resembled the hero he wished to be. It was the last game he intended to participate in, as now he was ready for a serious encounter with whom would hopefully be a new friend of his.

(And nothing was going to stop me getting what I wanted.)

{B-BWONG!} A loud, rustic sound hit Kevin like a ton of bricks, jerking him out of his heroic countenance and back to his more frazzled state. He jerked backwards from the shock, just in time for the swinging door to smack him on the small of his back. "Ow!" he squealed, rubbing the point of impact sorely his hand. He then turned tentatively to the source of this interruption, wondering what horrific sound could've broken his iron will.

(Except maybe the sound of square dance music)

Kevin's ears craned up to catch the melody of this song, which indeed was the same music he had been listening to all that past week. The tune had the annoying feel of dumpy adults trying to catch hold of an age that had already passed on; square in more ways than one. Yet, there was also a strangely alluring quality to the music, a nostalgia that begged to be part of the future. It was enough for the boy to gather his wits again and chase after the music, running across the grass like a fox after a rabbit.

The boy followed the musical strain like a trail of breadcrumbs all the way to the presumed empty gymnasium, unlit and looking like a ghost house. Despite its unwelcoming appearance, he trusted his ears and placed his hand on the handle. Surprisingly, Kevin found the door unlocked, and he was able to open it to reveal the seemingly quiet state of the gym. Quiet, except for a few important things.

The gym was mostly a shadowy affair, with only narrow windows providing a source of sight in the lonely old building. They shone unto the slick floor spots of lights that added in a certain dramatic, stage-like quality. A cheap record player was in the small office over next to the concession stand, playing the square dance tunes. But most eye-catching of all was the lone girl dancing in the middle of the brightest spotlight, alive only to the music she heard, and of course to Kevin.

Margaret moved and span across the gymnasium, running through the steps of the dance she had learned in that class seemingly ages ago. In her methodic movements, there was a certain grace and sadness, like a princess who had but one last dance with her prince. An invisible partner in arm, she bounded around in a tight circle, completely unaware to the entranced eyes that followed her every move. She was like a water nymph, dancing with mysterious forces that none without a magical lineage could understand.

(It had to be said: in her own three-pigtailed way, she was beautiful.)

As if being twirled, Margaret glided across the gym floor over to the center spotlight. But before she could follow up with the next steps, her glass covered eyes caught sight of Kevin's, now standing only three feet away from the girl. The two stood staring at each other, across a gulf of hurt, hope, and affection. Each waiting to see if the other would dare to cross the river that had separated them as people, and as friends.

Being a gentleman in his own way, Kevin was the first to begin speaking. "Hi," he begun, his mode of operations similar to that with Winnie fifteen minutes ago.

"Hi," the girl responded gingerly, leaning back slightly from the boy who had interrupted her shadow dance.

"What what are you doing here?" he asked with friendly, refreshing concern in his manner.

"I liked the music they played in gym," Margaret responded bluntly, only a little bit abashed by the question. "I wanted to dance to it one more time."

"Ah," Kevin responded somewhat weakly. Margaret nodded hesitantly, just as record player finished by the song clicked off. The two dove into the silence of the gym, both of them just as shy as the other. Wondering what the next step was to mend their broken connection.

(I wanted to tell her how sorry I was, that I really was different from all those guys. That any time she needed to talk, I would be there.)

But before Kevin could make the next move, he was hit with a musical interlude of a different sort. The beginning of it was muddled, due to the slow startup of the needle, but the rocking tune soon became very recognizable. It was "I Want You Back," sung the rising Motown ground "The Jackson Five." A group with kids as old as himself, and therefore amassing much popularity among the younger generation.

As the squeal of little Michael Jackson filled the echoing chamber, whatever eloquent statement Kevin had planned on saying was lost forever. Instead, he found himself moving closer to Margaret, a bit stiff in his posture. "Hey, wanna dance?" he asked shyly, stretching out his hand for his former partner.

The pigtailed girl's smile broke through the clouds like a beam of sunlight. "Sure." she said, gleefully, accepting the offer with her hand.

(Ah, this was okay too.)

Both of them clasped fingers as the song kicked into the first verse.

{When I had you to myself I didn't want you around Those pretty faces always made you Stand out in a crowd.}

Margaret was the first one to start moving, stepping back and forth with a grooving rhythm that no one would think came from a school nerd. Her teeth bit onto her lower lip in an excited smile, as she yanked the boy's arm in various dance maneuvers that he wasn't quite able to match. Being a bit slow on the uptake, Kevin tried weakly follow along with her, matching his movements to hers using what little knowledge he had of couple dancing. He was a quick study, however, and took the necessary steps to make sure his newfound friend didn't leave him in the dust.

{Then someone picked you from the bunch One glance was all it took.
Now it's much too late for me To take a second look.}

When they reached the second verse, Kevin got more confident with his dancing and began to move easier. Taking it as it came, he was able to match Margaret's box step to the point where he could take the lead if he wanted to. They both found themselves giggling when they realized their movements closely matched their square dance routine from gym class. So when the chorus started to break, they opted to try something a bit different, and soon moved into a more modern form of dance and more fun.

{Oh, baby, give me one more chance (To show you that I love you.)
Won't you please let me Back in your heart.}

With only two verses as practice, Kevin and Margaret nevertheless in full swing. With their arms firmly around the other, they shot about the dance floor in maneuvers that one would think came from. Twirling the girl with his hand, Kevin sent Margaret's three pigtails flying up in the air, nearly smacking the boy in the process. But these minor nuisances were brushed aside as the two danced and dance, swimming through a stream of friendship and forgiveness.

{Oh, darling, I was wrong to let you go (Let you go baby)
Cause now since I see you in his arms}

(So in the end, I got to have a real dance with Margaret after all. Of course, not everything was smooth the next day at school. The guys teased me for weeks about my "girlfriend," even though I tried to tell them we were just friends. But it was tolerable, and Paul and Winnie ended up liking her fine, which was all that really mattered.

After many frustrating moves, the military Farquhar family decided to settle down permanently, happy that their daughter had found a real friend. Despite the social stigmas, I was happy too, both for my square dance partner for and my new realization about life. We make mistakes and we deal with them, that's what they say. But how we deal with them will always be up to us, no one else.)

{(I want you back)
Yes, I do now (I want you back)
Oo oo baby (I want you back)
Yeah yeah yeah yeah (I want you back)
Now now now now}

XXXXX

Inside the office next to the gym, the thin, be-spectacled boy finished putting up the dinky old square dance album back in its sleeve, placing it on Coach Cutlip's desk next to the bandages. Going next to the record player, he made as if to take his "Jackson Five" single off from the needle's reach, when he spied Kevin and Margaret still dancing out of the window. The duo's faces were both alight with the same joy and fulfillment that they had been lacking ever since that fateful week. It was this that prompted the boy to just quietly leave the gym, leaving his music to be picked up sometime tomorrow.

Unnoticed by either the dancers, Paul Pfeiffer slipped out into the brisk, early evening air. The parking lot was completely empty, with the detention students having left a little while earlier, and Winnie having left long ago. There was a small bike rack close by the front door of the school, where a shiny red bicycle sat parked in a perfect, almost obsessive manner. The boy let out a sigh of relief at having it be un-tampered with, and quickly proceed to his vehicle of choice for a quick exit.

With a small smile, Paul uncooked his bike from the rack and set it on the concrete, ready to leave his friend to his own devices. Hey, if Kevin really wanted to have such a weird friend, he would just had to deal with it. Heck knows he wasn't much different just a few years back. Between him and Winnie, they would find a way.

With a slight chuckle, Paul placed a finger on the bridge of his glasses, pushing them up until they aligned with his eyes. Then, with a loud SCREECH, he was off down the road, heading home to rest up before the next exciting day.

-The End

XXXXX

Author's Notes: Well, that should've been a more uplifting experience, eh. Anyhoo, I'd like to dedicate this story to my friend Matt who, when he was young, looked so damn much like Fred Savage that it was horrifying. It's chilling just to think about it

Yes, that's right, Winnie was actually part of the solution instead of just being the problem, like in every other Wonder Years episode. Hey, the girl's gotta have a good day sometime or another, right?

Additional Disclaimer(s): "I Want You Back" belongs to the Jackson Five, and to all other artists who contributed to this song. Wonder Bread is made by whoever makes Wonder Bread.

Until next fanfic, Ja ne! ^_^