A/N: First off, I apologize for the shortness of this chapter. I tried to make it longer, but before long I was waxing poetic and using purple prose. I decided it was better to use a short, good chapter than a long, hard-to-read one. As always, I don't own Ed, Edd, n Eddy. They are the property of AKA Cartoons and Danny Antonucci.

Please, enjoy!

Chapter 8

Practice started at 5:45, and much like last time, everyone sort of wandered off to shout their lines by themselves. That said, their wild yelling seemed a bit more coordinated this time. Edd could hardly believe it had only been a day since this whole situation began. Already it felt like months had passed, and yet it was just the beginning.

Edd was a little bit irked by his classmates' lack of punctuality, and had started by himself forty minutes earlier than everyone else, reading his script quietly and trying to ignore the meaningful glances and expressions Marie kept tossing his way. After the first five minutes, he hardly noticed her at all, although his body remained tense and his stomach knotted up due to her proximity.

Marie herself seemed to get bored of trying to taunt him without physical contact being allowed, and ended up pulling out her headphones and leaning back for a quick nap, the soothing sound of hard rock pounding in her ears and lulling her into a shallow sleep. After a minute or two, her strange, flutelike snore reached the object of her affection's ears.

Edd glanced her way once or twice through the next ten minutes, mostly to make sure she really was asleep and not trying to fake him out. He was not surprised to see that without a cattish grin or bloodcurdling scowl on her face, she looked much, much less threatening. Almost approachable, in fact. He could grudgingly admit that Marie was, well, pretty. Maybe not exactly ladylike, but certainly alluring, in a very scary way he'd come to associate with her, and- oh, great.

Cursing the hormones in his bloodstream, Edd turned back to his script, intent on at least memorizing his lines for the first act, forcing the thoughts of his tormentor out of his head.

The first to arrive was Jonny, chattering with Plank loudly enough to pierce through Marie's headphones, waking her with a snarl. Edd had to suppress a shudder, and Marie wrinkled her nose. Out of ALL the cul-de-sac kids, she could say without a shadow of a doubt that the bald little troll weirded her out the most. Even the foreigner had cute moments. But this one? Blegh.

Thankfully, Jonny moved to the far side of the gym, evidently still remembering the indentation his head had made just yesterday against the lockers. Marie allowed herself a smug smile at that. One less problem to deal with. Damn, she was good. And speaking of good... She turned back to look at Edd and sighed dreamily. It was cute that he felt he could double-cross her on this.

Marie Kanker wasn't blind. She knew what her Oven Mitt had been up to in the library. She found the concentration on his face as he labored over the contract to be simply adorable. She sighed again at the memory. She LOVED seeing her man looking so intense and determined about something. It had made her all tingly inside, like she'd shook hands with someone holding a buzzer.

She wanted to feel that sensation again. She wanted to feel electrified, mesmerized. She wanted to pin Double D against the wall and kiss him until he started kissing back. She wanted him. She wanted to own him.

Marie paused. And snickered. Own him? Have him come to her of his own free will? Have him kiss her back? "Bitch, you burned that bridge ages ago," she thought. "The best you can hope to do is what you're already doing, so be a big girl and suck it up already."

With a sigh, Marie slipped her headphones back on and murdered that line of thought with music. There were things a Kanker simply would not allow herself to think, and she'd been getting dangerously close to crossing that line. "Regret", much like "defeat", wasn't a word in the Kanker vocabulary.

"Whaddaya MEAN, my voice is too flat?! ... Well, maybe YOU should try this! ... Okay, so maybe your voice is better than mine! I STILL got the part, buddy!" Jonny took to reciting out Wagner's lines while Plank "read" the other characters' dialogue. Edd kept reading his own lines, mumbling under his breath and holding two fingers to his temple in concentration. And Marie kept doing her best to focus on her music. Which was notoriously hard to do when in the vicinity of Jonny's notoriously irritating voice.

This arrangement, dysfunctional and segregational though it was, worked well until about 5:35, when Rolf made his entrance, accompanied by Nazz and the rest of the play's actors, all talking about various topics. And, much to Edd's dismay, Kevin walked in with them.

"Rolf does not understand why you are here, meatheaded Kevin boy! Rolf had understood that you thought this play was, how you say, for beardless sissy turnip-stealers, yes?" the eccentric farmer asked. Kevin grimaced, hands in his pockets.

"I'm just curious, alright, dude?" he said, half wishing he had slipped in later so as to avoid attention. He felt a slender arm hook around his waist and pull him close. Almost instantly, he felt his legs wiggle as he melted like butter.

"Well, I think it's pretty cool Kev wants to watch," Nazz said, defending her closest friend. She was still wearing her cheerleading outfit, and a few rivulets of sweat ran down her skin. Cheerleading practice had run on far too long. Rolf wasn't looking at them, so he didn't notice the meaningful glance Kevin gave to Nazz, and her smile back at him. Edd, however, was looking. He could see that Kevin was troubled, and his first impulse was to stand up and go talk to him, see if he could help in any way. He managed to get it in control, thankfully, and sat back down before the jock could glance his way. If he were lucky, Kevin would ignore him altogether.

Unfortunately for him, the luck of the Eds held fast.

"Double D Ed boy!" Rolf greeted him, making him wince. "You are still alive, Rolf is hearty to see! No burning of Nana's old underwear will be needed this night! For this, Rolf is thankful, as the stench would have soured the turnips."

"Y-Yes, that's nice, Rolf," Edd managed, glancing worriedly at Kevin. The jock glanced his way irritably, but much to Edd's relief, went back to talking with Nazz soon after.

"Perhaps logic has made its way into his grasp of the situation," he thought, hopeful. At the same time, it made him annoyed to think that might be the case. If Kevin was really calm now, then it would mean Edd had struck a deal with his stalker over nothing.

Marie herself smiled wanly at the sight of Kevin quietly looking away. She didn't buy the quiet act for a second. She knew he was up to something. Hell, she HOPED he'd try something. It had been far too long since she'd gotten in a good scrap. Her sisters were tough bitches, but they always held back a little with one another. But a good old fight with hat-boy here? She wouldn't have to fear going too far then.

Practice proceeded as one might have expected. The kids all went off to different corners to practice their own lines, and although chaotic, it was much less so than the day before as they each learned to modulate their voices. The tone inflection was still off in many ways, but Edd was pleased to see several kids had started joining in small groups to practice bouncing their lines off of each other.

Edd himself stayed in his own corner. He had memorized most of the lines by now, but he was still struggling not to sound mechanical when he said them.

""I've studied now Philosophy and Jurisprudence, Medicine and even alas Theology-" No, no, too straight, I must add a short pause in there somewhere..." he mumbled, scribbling notes on his printout of the script. He paused and read it through again, nibbling the end of his pencil in thought.

"Let's see... if I inflect here and here, then make a small pause here, and lower my voice two octaves here..." he kept mumbling, and kept scribbling. He was so concentrated on his acting notes, he only looked up when he heard Marie growl.

"What's up, dude? What're you working on, here?" Nazz asked, sitting beside him. Edd felt his entire digestive tract tie itself into one huge knot in his abdomen and felt his stomach fluttering with a massive swarm of Ornithoptera alexandrae.

Nazz. Was sitting. Next to him. His face and ears went a deep scarlet at the thought. This was really happening! It wasn't that one dream he kept having (there was a lack of dancing microscopes, for example), and it wasn't an illusion.

"N-Nazz!" he said, nervous and ecstatic at the same looked at him expectantly, and he remembered she'd asked him a question. Feeling like a complete idiot, he looked at his notebook. "Oh! This, well, um. It is a systematic set of ideas so as to improve my performance in the theatrical facade we are to perform!" he explained, a huge nervous grin on his face. Nazz took it from his trembling fingers and gave his annotations a quick glossing over.

"Oh, dude. These are good ideas and all," she said, sounding a bit disappointed, "but if you really wanna act, then you gotta feel it, not think it!"

"I... I'm afraid I don't follow," Edd said, glancing away nervously. Nazz rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

"Here, dude. I'll show you." Thus saying, she stood up and grabbed Edd by a bony wrist. The poor boy's eyes went wide, and he mumbled something unintelligible as he was dragged a little way onto the gym floor.

"Okay, Double D. What's your line?" Nazz asked, turning around and facing him.

"It's... um... oh! "I've studied now Philosophy and Jurisprudence, Medicine and-"" he recited mechanically, before Nazz interrupted him with a shake of her head.

"No, you're going at it all wrong," she said. Edd wilted.

"I-I am?" he asked in a small voice.

"You're just standing there. The first part of getting into a character is acting like him, dude. Slouch a bit, like you're feeling heavy!" she said, walking over to the nervous Edd. "Here, like this!" she added, putting her hand on his shoulder and helping him lean a bit forward, like there was a heavy weight on his shoulders.

Within a matter of minutes, a good part of Edd's fear and nerves had vanished, as Nazz helped him get into the mood of each scene. Edd was surprised at how knowledgeable she was about manipulating a crowd's emotions through the use of certain gestures. Then again, she was the head cheerleader. It was only reasonable to assume she had some amount of coercive skill.

"Alright, now see, here you wanna get the crowd happy about your situation, yeah?" she was saying, pointing at a certain line of dialogue. Edd nodded wordlessly, far better at listening than at giving input here. "So what you gotta do is smile, move loosely, and talk clearly. Go on, try it," she said, giving him a gentle push on the shoulder. Eddward gulped and held up his script.

"I hear the noise of the village, even-" he began, but Nazz again shook her head.

"No, no... you're still moving too stiffly. I'll help you, dude." She moved behind Edd and began to help him get into a more relaxed position. If she didn't know any better, she'd think "relaxation" was a foreign concept to the poor brainiac.

Edd flushed and stuttered, unsure of how to react to this proximity to Nazz, his childhood crush, and the attentiveness she was showing him. She'd always been helpful, but not to this level. Maybe she was just that determined to see him succeed?

"Does it really matter?" a more visceral, instinctive part of him asked. Edd did his best to quell it before it got too out of hand. First Marie, now this... if he ended up embarrassing himself because of these hormones, he would find a way to purge them from his bloodstream!

As the two teenagers kept practicing, two others looked on with barely concealed disgust.

Marie was seething. She'd gone red in the face, and was gritting her teeth with such intensity, a nearby bookworm's glasses cracked from the sheer vibrations. A keening growl was escaping between her teeth. But she controlled herself. Somehow, her rational side won out over her need to absolutely destroy the little blond hussy. She was regretting (heavily regretting) agreeing to Double D's added clauses to the arrangement. Now she couldn't stomp over and pound in Little Miss Perfect's face.

She'd have to draft a new one, she thought. One with a few loopholes in it to exploit. Just regarding her honey-muffin's new conditions, of course. Or maybe just an amendmind, or whatever you called those little things that got tacked on afterwards.

One way or the other, she had had ENOUGH of that little homewrecker moving in on her man.

Kevin wasn't having a much sunnier outlook on life either. He was sitting on the other side of the gym, opposite Marie. That trailer skank creeped him the hell out. He was sure he'd seen her several times today, looking at him almost... hungrily.

He shuddered at the thought and turned back to watch the dork macking on his girl, and his scowl deepened until his eyes were almost hidden by red eyebrows.

After his little altercation with Double Dork at the cafeteria, he'd felt a bit of remorse. He wasn't really being fair to the brainy kid. After all, they were friends. Maybe not Best Buddies, but they got along. Double D had suggested those cool improvements for his bike last year, and in turn Kevin had tweaked the guy's physical education grades (being the coach's assistant had its perks). Just a bit. Nobody knew. Not even Double D himself had found out.

Besides, he'd also learned that Double D hadn't been lying. He was falling behind in Literature. So Kevin had figured, hey, it's just one quick kiss. Maybe I can let him get away with that much.

But watching this... Watching him get so close to Nazz, watching the looks he gave her... It made his blood boil. He knew it wasn't intelligent. It wasn't rational. But it was something inside of him, a caveman desperately trying to break loose and wreak havoc. He hadn't intended to beat the smart Ed before, just maybe scare him a little. Talk big, puff up his chest. But now, he was itching to get some pounding done.

And when someone needed pounding, Kevin was only too happy to comply.

A/N: Again, sorry for the shortness. It was really not that large of a chapter, and to tell the truth, I'm not quite proud of it. The thing is, after Snowstorm, I kinda got a small soft spot for the Edd/Marie pairing. And I think that bias can actually be seen in this chapter. The entire point of this story is trying to avoid any sort of bias for the characters. As such, chapters might be a bit slower in the making as I regain my neutrality and smooth over anything I write that might include any sort of preference.

I'm also working on another story. Since it is shipping-neutral, it might help me regain my neutrality on this topic.

As always, thank you for reading, and please, leave a review with your opinion on it here. They are greatly appreciated at all times.