Year One – Gratitude (Part One)

"You haven't heard a single metal band like… ever?" It was Chad's turn to stare in disbelief. "You live under a rock or something?"

"Funny, I seem to be living in a very nice mansion." Rachel popped another strawberry into her mouth. "I told you to take that colorblind test…"

He made a gesture across his neck telling her to shut up. Interestingly enough, she did. "Not one. Single. Metal. Band."

Rachel made a face, her irritation growing. "I thought we already went through this? Unless I'm experiencing déjà vu…"

"Cage Fighter Killers? Forehead Bashers of Kickbuttsica? Dead End? Power Cylinder Seven? Death of a Mailman? C'mon, you have to be familiar with Death of a Mailman!" And she called herself a teenager? This was just sad and his dubious frown showed it. She rubbed her eyes with an annoyed sigh.

"I don't know any of those! And really, those sound horrible." Death of a Mailman? Really? "Lemme guess, the band jumps around wearing bulldog masks?"

"Close, but no cigar. They wear pit bull masks."


Chad paused in mid bite of his toast. "What did you say?"

Rachel frowned at him. "Metallica. AC/DC. Twisted Sister. Iron Maiden. Black Sabbath." She thought for a moment. "KISS."

Alright, he had to bite on this one. "Now? With me?" He grinned when her cheeks turned a bright red. Chad Dickson: 1, Rachel McKenzie: 0. She began to splutter angrily and really, if she didn't set herself up like that every single time…

"The band, you creep." She made another face and tossed a strawberry at him. He caught the bit of fruit with his amazing reflexes and popped it into his mouth. Unfortunately, his little trick did nothing to impress her like it would have the others. The enigma, thy name is Rachel McKenzie. "I know those bands." Rachel huffed and returned to her breakfast. "I'm not completely hopeless."

"Ah, so the said rock-mansion you live under only has old people music? Why am I not surprised?"

On cue, Rachel's father walked into the kitchen, humming to himself while looking through the financial section of his newspaper.

"Mr. McKenzie, is this your doing?" Chad asked innocently. Catching on, Rachel tried to get Chad to shut up by tossing another strawberry at his stupid smug face, but the damage had been done. Her father looked over in confusion.

"Pardon, son?"

"Metallica. AC/DC. Twisted Sister. Iron Maiden. Black Sabbath." Chad mimed and smirked at the little blond spitfire. She mouthed what was probably a voodoo curse in his name. He was paying far too much attention watching her lips form the words. "KISS."

Rachel's father positively beamed at Chad's vocabulary of rock. "You know those bands?! And here I thought they were lost forever! Youth these days—wanting the be-boops and their synthesizer music. And here I thought we went back to the 80's. Kids these days don't appreciate some good, wholesome rock." Horrified, Rachel watched as her father continued on this tangent about the music back in his day being at the industry's most prime. "70's music was wild and dangerous! It was at a time where adults back then were so scared of words like death and destruction. Almost taboo, really. Total metal." She sighed and palmed her face. Here we go again.

But Chad was positively amused, letting her father pop a chair and talk about the good ol' days of rock and roll. "Do you remember when you were a teen, Mr. McKenzie?"

"Yeah. About 3.5 million years ago." Mr. McKenzie winked. Rachel couldn't help but giggle at such a lame joke. "When I was your age son, I was the cool cat. The guy girls loved to date, but their folks absolutely hated." Rachel placed her head on the table and groaned. Now he was reliving into his 'bad boy' days. She didn't need to hear this!

He didn't need to hear this!

"Concert pianist you say? Oh, well Chad's quite the violin player! We took him to this really nice talented violinist for lessons all the time when he was younger! All of his teachers said he was such an exceptional student. Always so polite just like we raised him!"

"You don't say?" Rachel smiled, chin resting on her palm while Chad's mother started another ramble about how good of a boy Chad was… or is. She didn't quite believe the latter in her opinion. Said teen of interest was now banging his head on the table, hoping that enough of it would cause a severe concussion.

It was supposed to be a routine get in and get out scenario from his house. He found that he forgot his wallet when he was driving Rachel to her Saturday gymnastics session and needed to double back to retrieve it. It was an amazement that he didn't get caught by any cops for driving without his permit on hand. Rachel had tried to jinx it once or twice just to get him to slow down more than usual though. In the end, he was forced to drive under the speed limit to avoid Murphy's Law.

But Murphy's Law was a fickle monster, and his mother caught him trying to sneak out when she witnessed Rachel sitting impatiently on the bike while she was doing the dishes. After a ten minute session of chewing him out for leaving 'a lovely young lady on a live bike in the snow', ("It was propped! It's not going anywhere!") his mother quickly ushered Rachel in for some hot cocoa to ease the chill of the day's early snowfall. That was where the pain really began for Chad Dickson.

"Aren't we going to be late for your gymnastics session?" He asked, teeth beginning to gnash together as his mother went on another prattle about his extensive trophy shelf. Instead of giving them the incentive to leave, his mother practically gushed at his words.

"Gymnastics too? Oh, your parents must be so proud! Do you compete, dear?" She asked Rachel excitedly, wringing her gloved hands together. Chad thumped his head back onto the table.

Rachel played the model daughter and politely waved her hand in a modest motion. "I do it more for the exercise than to compete. But I've won a couple of ribbons here and there."

"And so modest! Oh, Chad, you've really outdone yourself this time! I mean, I know your father and I aren't allowed to 'meddle' in your relationships," His mother air-quoted 'meddle', which made Rachel snicker into her cup. "But the last one was a bit… well, scary. This one's very nice!"

Chad raised his head, a piece of Christmas laurel stuck to his cheek. "…what?"

Rachel caught on faster than him, eyes widening at the misunderstanding. "Oh… no. You must be mistaken. I'm not his girlfr…"

"Honey! Come in here! Chad's got a real nice girl here to meet us!" His mother hollered into the next room, selectively ignoring Rachel's tentative retraction. "And she's not SCARY!"

There was a secret escape pod in the garage. If he could manage to make his way there before his dad came by to make things even more embarrassing, he'd have five whole minutes of relief before crashing into the sun. The idea was becoming an appealing solution with each passing second. Unbeknownst to his mania, Rachel took another sip of her drink, trying not to burst out laughing for appearance's sake. Because hey, if this was getting Chad's underwear up in a bunch, then who was she to complain about it?

"Why is it that people think we're a couple?" She did have to whisper the obviousness aloud, more to herself than Chad. They didn't act like a couple, not traditionally anyways. He, however, simply blew the bangs out of his eyes in distaste.

"It's probably your fault. Your little crush is so obvious, even I can see it."

Rachel shot him a disgusted glance. "I think I can do better."

"Think is the key word here." He sneered back.

Before she can snap back at him, Chad's father appeared and eagerly shook her hand. "Why hello there! Aren't you just a doll?!"

"And look how pressed her attire is!" His mother piped up happily. Rachel smiled awkwardly at that. Chad's parents were awfully… sprightly. They were nothing like her own parents.

Chad's father took one good look at her, beamed, and then thumped his son heartily on the shoulder. "Son, you've outdone yourself! This one actually looks like an honor student! Well, the other one seemed wholesome enough… what was her name?"

"Roxy?" Rachel tried to supply helpfully. Unfortunately, that didn't seem like the correct answer because Chad went back to having his forehead meet the sleek wood varnish of the table. Harder this time. It was enough to make Rachel's hot cocoa shake violently in place.

His mother blinked at her. "Who's Roxy?"

"Roxy? Never heard of her. No, it started with an 'S' I think… or was it 'C'?" His father rubbed his square like chin and then, like a ton of bricks, it hit Rachel. Oops. She covered her mouth and smiled apologetically at Chad. Maybe he didn't want his parents to know about Roxy in the first place.

Chad's forehead was three sizes too red that day.

"Okay, that was really nosy of me, Chad." Rachel frowned as they finally stopped in front of the building. Chad was uncharacteristically silent throughout the whole ride. "I really am sorry. I didn't know."

"It's fine." He growled, more angry at the fact that his old junk motorcycle helmet wouldn't clip off fast enough. Rachel mistook that for anger on her part and fell silent, giving his middle the occasional sympathy squeeze until he turned off the engine. For all the ribbing she enjoyed giving him, she wasn't really looking to legitly piss him off.

His mother had become increasingly distressed when Rachel mentioned Roxy, wondering if Chad broke the poor girl's heart or if she was just as scary and demanding as the last one. Or worse, why he didn't bother to invite her while they were dating. Then when his father tried to chime in about responsibility and then went on about the birds and the bees, it was an extremely awkward experience for both of them.

But Rachel was good at fixing conflicts, so she tried a gentler approach to cheer him up. "Let me make it up to you?" She fixed him her best puppy dog look once she was off the bike and onto the snow. Sometimes when she used the look, he'd scoff and walk away. She was almost afraid he'd gun the engine and drive off without so much as another word. Other times, he'd cave. She hoped this time was the latter.

Chad fixed her a dispassionate stare, refusing to give in to such a lousy, yet somewhat effective tact. To his credit, he only succumbed once because that instance had been his fault, so there was no need to enforce that stupid look. If she thought he was going to easily fall for that face again…

She brought her hands together, trying to look as lost and miserable as possible. "Pleeease forgive me! I'll do anything!"

Anything? The dark air around him practically lifted away. "Kiss me."

Despite it being a pretty cruel joke on his own part, she reacted much better than he anticipated. It would be an exaggeration if he said that she jumped three feet back. She jumped at least around five. "W-what is wrong with you?!" She spluttered angrily, dropping her façade.

"Hey, you said you'd do 'anything'," He egged her on and propped his helmet against his hip. "You should know better than to offer reparations you won't afford, Ms. Lawyer." Another thought hit him and his grin turned feral. Pulling at her proverbial pigtails was always a stress reliever for him. "It's our six month anniversary anyways."

She predictably turned a bright shade of red. "You call this… thing between us worth of an anniversary?!"

His expression was so self-serving and smug, she had an itching to punch his face in. He was the only guy she knew so far who can drive her to physical conflict with so much ease, it was almost an art form. "You got it."

"You slime ball! This is your dastardly plan to get Roxy to lynch me, is that it?!" She demanded with a snarl, but she needed more practice at such a threatening face because she ended up looking more pouty than aggressive.


Rachel stared at him in disbelief. "You gotta be kidding me. That's the third one since I've known you!"

Chad allowed himself to be smug. It was the holidays after all. "Well you know how picky I am about girls. Once Roxy started calling Christmas x-mas I just knew it wasn't meant to be."

He's insane. "You're horrible. Even when you joke." Personally, she found Roxy scary. Scary and very angry and possibly very vindictive. How Chad managed to break up with her with all his limbs intact was biggest mystery of them all. Maybe Chad was an escalating kind of guy, jumping from one frying pan and into a hotter one. There was only one way to find out. "Is Jade… more passionate than Roxy?"

He looked up, pretending to think hard on an answer. "Define 'passionate'. Do you mean is her personality's as aggressive as Roxy's, or are you wondering if she's a good kisse-"

"Never mind. Forget I asked."

Chad swung a leg back over his bike and jumped the gas pedal, causing the bike to loudly growl back to life. "So are ya gonna follow through with my 'reparations', or are you just gonna stand there like an idiot while I drive-"

It was just a tease, another way of getting under McKenzie's skin as payback for the crazy thing with his parents. But when she clenched her hands into fists and then looked wildly around before quickly coming back to him, he found himself unable to move an inch, barely contemplating her next move. Her brown eyes darted from left to right again, almost like she afraid that his new girlfriend would pop up any minute and kill her.

He just didn't expect her to actually do it.

Her gloved fingers suddenly reached out to grasp the front of his jacket and lift him off the bike just a fraction, looking deathly scared but determined. One of her best strengths was that she always followed through with her promises, something he had come to admire of what little time he had known her, KND and out. Soft warm lips pressed a bit sloppily against the corner of his own and it felt like time had stopped from there. Or it was obscenely fast because as soon as he felt the slight pressure on his cheek, it went as quickly as it came.

His mind had almost short-circuited for a moment, and when he was finally able to rub two brain cells together to figure out what the heck just happened, she was already halfway into the building, the only evidence of what just happened was the heavy blush on her cheeks.

"…I'll, uh… pick you up in a couple of hours then." Was all he could force out of his throat, watching with a strange acuteness as she ducked her head out the door to answer back.

"J-just don't be late like last time!" She shouted after him, then ran into building and out of sight.

Chad sat there in the parking lot longer than necessary. Eventually he shook his head, strapped on his helmet and finally zoomed off.

An auburn haired teenager no older than thirteen loudly clicked her bubblegum, bringing a pair of binoculars up to watch the store from her perch in the adjacent bush. The store was bustling for a while, most of them being adults. Adults, however, weren't their targets. Sure, their purchases would most likely be expensive, but even they couldn't do anything with them. She was petty, but not stupid.

"Duh… how about that one?!" A large bumbling teen snickered to her right, pointing to a couple happily walking out of the store. "I bet they gots some expensive things!"

"Yer stupid or somethin', Little John?" She snorted, smacking him upside the head. That was a great feat, seeing as he could barely fit in his own bush as it is. "We're not going after adults!"

"We're not?"

Growling, she bonked him on the head again, this time with her binoculars. "Ye want a one-way trip ter juvie, be my guest ye oaf! Look fer teens! Teens!"

Little John rubbed his head ruefully. "Y'mean like dem ones going in?" With a great squawk, she quickly put the binoculars back on and saw a gaggle of teenagers make their way inside. A slow grin appeared on her face.

"Well boys, looks like we got ourselves a target!" She looked over her shoulder, signaling the others. "You ready Merry Boys?!"

A group of teenage boys dressed in green approached them, all sporting evil grins. And when another teen pulled up in his bike and walked right on in, her grin only got bigger.

"Let's show 'em they can't keep anything expensive while Robin Hood and 'er Merry Boys are on the prowl!" She popped her gum loudly.

Unbeknownst to them, a young man had situated himself in a nearby tree, watching the group down below plot no good things. "Make your move, Hood. It'll be your last heist for the season!"

It took Chad another good minute to unhook his helmet. He was ready to just toss the sucker into the nearest trash bin where it belonged… and almost did. Weighing the pros and cons of trashing it and face Rachel's wrath about road safety, he gave up and decided it wasn't worth the earful. "Stupid thing…" He grumbled anyways, propping the bike up and swinging off of it. Maybe he should've gotten a car instead. He was pretty sure they didn't require helmets.

The shop he went to was small business. With his salary, he couldn't go get super fancy custom orders from Tiffany's and really, why would he bother? This was cheaper. However, his recipient was of a fancier cloth. It would probably be easy to spot that it wasn't of real silver or something.

Or at least, he hoped she couldn't tell it wasn't silver when he walked in to pick it up. It was still expensive and he wasn't in the mood to get gipped out of his own hard-earned cash. Even if he did supply the crafter with the metal. Chad waited in line for his turn near a glass case of what looked like custom high school rings, taking a special interest on what looked like the state final football MVP ones. Almost lost in the fantasy of owning one the day he led the Knights to absolute victory, the old man had finished ringing up a customer, beamed at Chad and waved him over eagerly.

"Ah, yes I remember you! Your order was one of the hardest break even on, y'know?" The old man gestured at a case filled with holiday jewelry. "Looking for something to match it? 'Tis the season!"

Chad didn't even bother looking at the case. "I've already spent enough on the order. Any more and I'm pretty sure I'd get flagged by the guys for spoiling the girl."

The old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, point taken. She won't be disappointed that's for sure! One of my best work. Almost afraid to sell it off, actually. It'd be a showstopper to put on display-"

"Just give it to me already before you go and start hoarding it off instead." Chad said in a bored deadpan, drumming his gloved fingers on the glass. With what he saw was reluctance, the old man retreated to the back, returning a second later with a thin dark velvet case.

Chad tried to reach for it. The old man slapped his hand before setting the case down. "Honestly! Patience young man! You could tarnish it if you touch it wrong, y'know!"

With a grumble, he raised his hands up, initiating surrender. Satisfied, the old man slowly opened the case. It was so bright and shiny, Chad had to blink a couple of times to make sure it actually existed. He wasn't the only one. Soon, the rest of the store had paused in their browsing to take a look at it, many oohing and ahhing at the custom design. No doubt the found the sheen of the metal almost otherworldly. Chad wisely shut it in case the other shoppers got funny ideas.

"How much again?"

This heist was going to be easy. Get in, demand their goods, escape. Robin Hood was never one for fancy-schmancy elaborate plans. "On my mark!" She shouted, pulling out a bow and a quiver of arrows with little plungers stuck to them. Drawing one against her bow, she shot her arrow at the shop, the giant plunger sticking to the glass door. Pulling at the rope attached, she opened the door from there, signaling her boys to launch a slew of arrows into the shop.


As teens inside started to freak out at being struck by toy arrows, Robin Hood and her Merry Boys charged in, arrows ready. "This here's a stick-up!" She yelled out over her green hoodie. "Drop all yer stuff and we'll let ye go courtesy of Robin Hood and her Merry Boys!"

Little John pounded his large fist into his hand. "Heh… what she said! Stick up!"

One girl leaned toward her boyfriend. "Hey, are these guys elves? They're kinda rude."

"SHUT YER YAP AND HAND OVER YER STUFFS!" Robin Hood aimed her arrow at the couple. "Ye don't need 'em! All yer stoopid rich moneys could be put to better use instead of ovahpriced trinkets but noooooo! Ye had to be greedy! Well cough 'em up cuz each end of these arrows got a stink bomb attached! Ye wanna smell like garbage?!" She smiled as teens left and right fumbled to hand them their packages and she nudged at one of her men to collect them into a big bag.

All except for one.

"Oh, savin' the best fer last, are ye?" Robin Hood taunted, aiming her arrow at the blond-haired teen. "I saw what ye got! I'm afraid yer guuuurlfriend is just gonna have ta make do without! Now hand over yer package!"

Unlike the others, the older teen regarded her with something akin to annoyance. A fly on the wall to the grander scheme of things. He was going to be a difficult one, she knew it already. "If you think I'm going to let you rob me, you're stupider than I thought."

"HEY! You don't talk to our leader like that!" Little John growled, stamping his way towards Chad. He easily towered over him, but the defiant teen just stared coolly back up. "Hand over yer stuff or yer gonna pay!"

"Who's gonna make me?" Chad grinned darkly. "You? That little brat you call a leader?" His grin evolved into a determined scowl. "I'd like to see you try." Confused by Chad's cool defiance, Little John looked to his leader for orders. That was when Chad grabbed his helmet and swung as hard as he could at the big oaf's head, hearing it connect with a satisfying smack. At least his beat up helmet was good for something.

Little John roared, stumbling back in surprise before heavy kick to the chest had him tossed onto his back on the carpet, dazed and moaning. Robin Hood and her boys stared in shock before she shook out of it. "BOYS! FYAR!"

Chad flipped backwards behind the cases before the first wave hit him, plungers smacking left and right at the glass instead. He waited until their ammo was depleted before going on the offensive. The teen bystanders started to run for it, dodging the arrows as they escaped from the store. Once the smoke cleared and many of their ammo was wasted, Chad emerged from the cases, his grin wolfish.

"My turn."