Wow. Just wow. You guys have been awesome! I'm so glad so many of you have enjoyed my story - I love each and every one of you! This particular ride is coming to an end, but I hope to have other stories for you soon. Enjoy the last installment of And Where It Stops, Nobody Knows, and feel free to let me know what you think!
Vanessa was still snickering as Ferb led her away and out of the gym, making the rest of the gang that had gathered smile and chuckle at the display. "Someone got her wish for the evening," Adyson said, sharing a wink with her fellow Fireside Girls.
"Well, someone else," Ginger corrected, taking Baljeet's hand and squeezing it. He gave her a small smile of appreciation as he returned the gesture.
"True," Adyson agreed, grinning. "There are a lot of happy members of this group tonight." She pointed toward the DJ table in time for them all to see Blake lean over and give Gretchen a quick peck on the cheek. "I will admit, though," she continued once they'd all looked away again, "that I wasn't expecting this." She gestured vaguely between Katie and Buford, who stood awfully close to each other.
"That's okay," Katie said, unfazed. "Neither were we." She wrapped her arms around Buford's right one, making him look at her in happy surprise. After a beat, he relaxed and shifted his weight to lean even closer to her.
Adyson's reply was left unsaid when her dance partner stepped over to them. "Here you are. I lost sight of you for a bit." He smiled at the brunette.
Adyson smiled back then gestured at the others. "I'm sure you've guessed these are my friends. Guys, this is Peter."
There was a round of greetings to the newcomer who smiled and returned it. "You look like you all have been having a pretty good time tonight," Peter said.
"Definitely," Ginger said, squeezing Baljeet's hand again.
"We usually do," Buford said, gently pulling his arm out of Katie's grip and laying it across her shoulders. His smile grew when she snuggled a bit into the embrace.
"That's good to hear." Peter looked at Adyson. "Would you mind terribly if I pulled you away? I was hoping we could get a couple more dances in before the end of the night."
She nodded. "They don't need my help anymore to have fun."
Isabella snorted, covering a small wave of hurt and jealousy she was feeling. "We never needed that," she said as the new couple began to move away. Adyson merely looked over her shoulder and gave Isabella a raspberry.
The other two official couples moved out onto the dance floor soon after, leaving Phineas and Isabella alone. "We could dance again if you'd like," Phineas offered.
"You don't have to do that just to keep me entertained," Isabella told him with a weak half-smile.
"That's not why I asked," Phineas refuted lightly. "I like dancing with you. I always have."
"Thanks," Isabella said, surprised at the simple statement. Her smile grew wider and stronger. "But I think I'm still okay. In fact, I think I'm going to get something to eat and drink then just watch everyone else. If you really want to dance, I'm sure there are some people who would love to have you ask."
Phineas shook his head. "I'd rather join you, if that's all right. If you want to be alone for a while, I'll understand, but people watching can be fun, especially with a close friend."
Isabella gave a silent mental sigh behind her softened smile. "I'd love to have my best friend join me. You're right; it'll be fun."
The two of them grabbed glasses of punch and small plates of random remains from the snack table and sat in the middle of the bleachers to watching the dancing, milling crowd. They pointed out people they thought they recognized, sometimes surprised at the people they were dancing with, sometimes laughing at the confirmation of rumors they'd heard here and there. Gretchen waved to them from her seemingly permanent position by the DJ table when they looked her way. They saw Baljeet and Ginger swaying ever so slightly to the music, more interested in pressing their foreheads together and talking in low tones if they were interpreting things correctly. Buford and Katie were dancing about as much as Baljeet and Ginger, but that had more to do with the laughing they were doing. They saw Adyson and Peter sharing tiny kisses as they danced, a soft conversation happening between the expressions of affection. Ferb and Vanessa were still nowhere in sight.
"Do you think they'll start dating?" Isabella asked once she noticed the last pair's absence.
"Ferb and Vanessa?" Phineas asked, having seen her looking around with a small expression of confusion and quickly figuring things out after she asked her question. "I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest. They've gotten pretty close over the past few months, even if they didn't really realize how close until tonight."
"Did you know?" she asked, her tone a tad bit wistful.
Phineas shrugged. "For sure? No. I was wondering if something was going on, but I didn't have any solid evidence one way or the other."
Isabella smiled. "So you really were just teasing Ferb when Vanessa got here tonight?"
Phineas chuckled. "Oh, definitely. Then they kept looking at each other off and on as the night went along so I thought I'd push a little. Or a lot." He shrugged. "I may have gone a bit too far. But I guess I never had to do anything."
"They make a cute couple."
"They're good for each other. Vanessa is smart enough and social enough to keep up with Ferb, and he can keep her grounded and her spirits up when her mood gets a bit dark. They balance each other."
"Sounds like you've really thought it through," Isabella mused, turning her head to look curiously at his profile as he continued to stare out at the crowd.
Phineas shook his head. "Not really. It's just an easy conclusion to come to considering what I know about both of them, that's all. I never had to think about it before now."
Isabella frowned. "You hadn't thought about it?"
Phineas looked at her. "No, why should I? My relationships with them separately have nothing to do with the relationship they have with each other, and neither of them ever came to me to talk specifically about relationships or emotions or anything like that. Nothing seemed to be bothering either one of them regarding the other. It didn't affect me."
"But once you noticed they had feelings for each other…"
"Then I thought about it, yeah," Phineas said with a nod. "Their feelings made me consider it. I might not have ever done that if I hadn't noticed."
"Oh," Isabella said softly, his phrasing making her consider a few things she'd always thought of as absolute before.
Phineas nudged her after a few silent moments. "I will say this, though." He grinned. "I can't wait to see how Ferb acts right after they officially start dating. I mean, his first look at her had him so stunned he blindly grabbed that wrong blueprint."
Isabella giggled at the mischievous expression the redhead wore. "I wish I could see what they were doing right now."
They both laughed and went back to people watching.
Isabella might not have been very impressed with the scene Ferb and Vanessa had created, not sitting particularly close to each other on top of the shadowed half-wall that marked the far edge of the commons area outside the gym doors, their feet resting on the cushioned seat people normally used to sit on as they waited for a bus or other form of transportation.
"So, we've established that we're both okay with what happened in there," Vanessa said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the gym doors.
"Repeatedly," Ferb said quietly.
Silence fell upon them once again.
After a couple minutes had passed, Vanessa cleared her throat then spoke. "I know about the crush you had on me when we first met," she blurted awkwardly.
Ferb finally turned his gaze on her in surprise, a slight flush staining his cheeks. "How did you find out? Was I that obvious?"
"A little," she admitted, looking him in the eye. She smiled. "I wasn't a hundred percent sure, but you weren't exactly drooling all over me, so I thought it was cute."
"Wonderful," Ferb said, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose. His face got even redder.
"What made me even less sure was that you didn't react badly to me telling you about Monty when I asked you and Phineas to plan that Halloween party in my dad's castle. I guess I just figured you either didn't have a crush after all or you were already over it. And then I didn't think about it at all." She shrugged.
Ferb put his hand back on his thigh as he reopened his eyes narrowly. "So how did you find out now?"
Vanessa hesitated. "Um, well…"
Realization dawned on Ferb. "Buford told you one of the times the two of you spoke." It was a statement, not a question. "So how much was he laughing?"
"He didn't," Vanessa rushed to assure him. "All he said was that you had good taste and that you used to have the biggest crush on me. That's all."
"Interesting." Ferb considered it for a moment then shook his head. "I have a feeling whatever brought up that discussion is likely none of my business, so I won't ask."
"I don't know, maybe it is," Vanessa said. She bit her lower lip then took a deep breath. "I was feeling jealous when you were caught under the mistletoe with Isabella, although I didn't understand why at the time. Buford noticed and we had a little talk that ended with his mention of your crush."
Ferb's eyes widened slightly. "You didn't understand? That would suggest you do understand now."
Vanessa sighed. "I do. You've been a wonderful friend since we ran into each other again last semester, and we've gotten pretty close since then. I just finally realized how close, at least on my end. The kiss we shared under the mistletoe and what you said beforehand hinted kinda strongly that you might feel the same way, but…" She sighed again. "I don't want to assume or read too much into it and ruin things between us. You mean too much to me for that."
Ferb smiled gently. "You mean a great deal to me as well." He blew out a short breath. "I had a bit of an epiphany myself tonight, quite similar to yours actually. While I was already sure who I would prefer to share a square with should it be spotlighted, it wasn't until I had a flash of jealousy myself that I realized why. But like you I didn't wish to jeopardize our close friendship, at least not right away. I was considering testing the waters over the next little while, see if I could detect any possibility of you being open to taking our relationship to another level."
"But then we got caught in the spotlight." Vanessa gave a laugh. She scooted over to bump shoulders with him. "I wonder how long we would have danced around each other if that hadn't happened."
"Not nearly as long as you'd think. I've seen a prime example of what happens when you sacrifice deeper feelings for the safety of a secure, deep friendship for too long to want to go through anything similar myself. I would have spoken to you about it before too much time had passed." Ferb's smile grew.
"I think I'm just glad we didn't go through that."
Ferb nodded and let his smile relax to one much smaller as he held Vanessa's gaze for a long, silent moment. "Vanessa, would you do me the honor of dating me?" he finally asked softly.
Vanessa gasped lightly then felt a bright smile light up her features. "The honor would be all mine, Ferb."
"Thank you," Ferb whispered just before leaning in to capture her lips with his own. Vanessa returned the kiss full measure.
The new couple slid down onto the seat proper and further into the shadows it provided to continue to explore the newest facet of their relationship with the smallest chance of interruption.
Back inside the gym the latest mistletoe round had begun, and five of the original group of friends had gone out to participate. They had been separated, although they were within relatively clear sight of each other. Adyson had also just caught sight of Peter, who was a ways away from the others sharing a square with a girl from one of her drawing classes that she wasn't very fond of. At least she was pretty sure that was the person sharing his square. She wasn't happy about it.
She was even less happy when the mistletoe stopped and highlighted the square. The disliked young woman squealed in delight, jumping up and down in her enthusiasm… and Adyson could no longer see what was going on as a circle of onlookers formed around the chosen square. What little she could see between shifting gawkers suggested a pretty enthusiastic kiss being shared by the two parties.
Adyson scowled darkly and crossed her arms over her chest. It shouldn't matter, it really shouldn't; she barely knew the guy. But he'd seemed quite interested in her, and the talking they'd been doing prior to the latest round made her think there might be a chance for more than a winter dance fling, even if it probably wouldn't be anything terribly long term. It hurt to think he'd only been toying with her until he'd found something better.
"That was close."
Adyson straightened in surprise and let her arms drop to her side. "Peter?" She turned around and found the man in question standing right behind her. "I thought that you'd…" Her voice trailed off as she gestured vaguely toward the area where the crowd was dispersing, the show over.
Peter laughed. "I was afraid of that for a second myself. But it was the square next to mine. The girl seemed pretty excited about it; she nearly jumped on the guy she was with as I slipped away."
"Didn't stick around for the show, huh?" Adyson asked with a small smirk, calming her ruffled feathers since she'd apparently been overreacting. She'd have a good laugh at herself later.
"Why should I watch when I might be able to participate?" The shy smile he gave her belied the nonchalant tone.
"I like the way you think," Adyson said, completely relieved. He really was interested. "Why don't we slip away and talk some more, maybe figure out if we'll be putting on a show of our own?"
Peter's smile widened. "That sounds like an awesome proposition. Lead the way, my lady." He bowed slightly and gestured toward the gym doors with a sweeping arm.
Adyson, in her ever so forward way, just laughed and grabbed his extended arm before proceeding to pull him off in the direction he'd been pointing. Peter didn't resist.
Phineas, Isabella, Baljeet, and Ginger watched their friend lead the way out into the hallway from where they had gathered at their usual spot on the bleachers. They shared amused looks.
"One of these days she's going to go all reverse-caveman and club a guy over the head before dragging him off," Isabella said with a laugh in her voice.
"And hopefully one of us will have a camcorder on hand to memorialize it for the ages," Ginger added with a wicked grin.
"Is there a Fireside Girl Patch for that?" Baljeet asked slyly.
The other three laughed. "I so have to check my manual tomorrow," Ginger said.
Phineas gave Isabella a light elbow to the ribs. "Don't you know?" he asked her. "You were always so on top of the patches you needed."
Isabella's eyebrows rose. "And take away the joy of discovery from Ginger? No way."
"Always the troop leader," Ginger said with a shake of her head.
"We wouldn't want her any other way," Phineas said fondly.
Ginger gave him a speculative look while Isabella blushed slightly, then grabbed her girlfriend's hand. "Come dance with me," she said, giving the appendage a tug. "I love this song."
Isabella rolled her eyes. "Someone's been taking Adyson lessons." They all laughed.
Before the ladies took more than a step, Ginger looked at the remaining pair. "You guys can come, too, if you want," she offered. "It would be fun to see what moves you still have."
"Actually, that sounds fun," Phineas said. "Let's go, Baljeet."
"Oh, all right," the black-haired young man said with a sigh. The tiny smile that twitched at the corners of his mouth upward spoke of his lack of reluctance, however.
The four of them joined the thinning throng and let themselves move to the music. They stayed out after the song finished, talking and laughing as they danced to the next numbers Ezra and Blake dialed up. Before too long, the mistletoe was sent out again, with a reminder that this would be one of the last chances everyone would have as it was getting close to closing time. They all checked their wristbands and separated with one last shared smile.
Phineas was standing in the square that was Isabella's destination when she wandered her way to the letter-number combination she wore, the redhead looking off in a different direction with curiosity and a smile as he saw the different pairs come together and begin talking with various degrees of shyness and awkwardness. She couldn't help but double check her wrist to make sure she'd seen it correctly. "Phineas?" she asked once she'd pinched herself as a final test of her sight's veracity.
He turned to face her with a touch of surprise that quickly changed to delight when she settled in next to him. "Oh, wow, we're sharing? Cool!"
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking," Isabella replied with a smile of her own. "Do you know where everybody else ended up?"
"Baljeet's next to the DJ table with a girl a head shorter than him," Phineas answered, pointing. "They seem to be getting along all right. And Ginger is close to the bleachers, also with a girl who's a head shorter than her. They're not getting along as well from what I can see." He pointed again in the new direction.
"Oh, I think that's Alice," Isabella said when her gaze followed the last gesture. "This could end up getting ugly."
"Alice? As in 'Oh my gosh, she's totally trying to sabotage my chemistry lab results at every turn!' Alice?" Phineas asked.
Isabella nodded. "Yeah, her. The animosity hasn't faded."
Phineas cringed. "Yeah, this could be ugly."
Isabella watched for a moment longer then deliberately turned her back on the image. "Did you see anyone else?"
"Yes and no," Phineas said with a laugh at the forcefully cheerful tone she'd used. "Gretchen is still sitting the rounds out and sticking close to Blake. Buford and Katie are sitting at the top of the bleachers; that's the first time I've caught sight of them since the last mistletoe round."
"Gee, I wonder what they've been up to," Isabella said, her tone and grin saying she was more than willing to make a suggestive guess.
"Yeah, I wonder." A widely grinning Phineas was obviously willing to make the same guess. "Anyway, neither Adyson and Peter nor Ferb and Vanessa have come back yet. We'll see if they do before the dance is over."
Isabella giggled then sighed. "Yeah, well, I don't blame them for taking the opportunity when they had it. I bet they're having fun."
Phineas looked at her speculatively. "Or they could be talking things out. I'm not quite as ready to say either pair is just making out like they would be if they were barely in high school, especially Ferb and Vanessa. Making sure each half of the potential couple knows where they both stand and what they both want out of a relationship is pretty important."
"Oh, I know, and I totally agree," Isabella said quickly. "Both people should definitely know how each of them feels about the other and a relationship before assuming they know where everything is headed." She blushed, although she wasn't entirely sure why. She supposed it could have been that this was the closest she'd come in a very long time to discussing romantic relationships in the abstract – and thus how she would feel about them with someone, say Phineas – with the young man before her. It had always felt like the chance to give herself away was so much greater if she talked about it with him.
"Yeah, talking about feelings and where they're headed is a good thing," Phineas said quietly, his expression still speculative. "Vital."
The conversation died there, Phineas lost in thought as he watched Isabella, and Isabella not willing to take the chance that she'd give her feelings for Phineas away if she kept the topic going. A few silent moments later the mechanical mistletoe clunked to a stop making them both look up just in time to be blinded by the spotlight that turned on to illuminate the square they were standing in. They blinked away the spots in their vision as they brought their heads down to share a surprised look.
Then Phineas smiled. "I'm glad I could share this with you," he said quietly as Isabella licked her lips nervously, then reached out and placed his left hand on her waist and cupped the side of her head with his right to gently pull her in for a light, lingering kiss.
Mental fireworks went off behind Isabella's quickly closed eyes as she received something she had fantasized about for years. She kissed back with equal pressure, not willing to try to take it any further, still afraid of scaring Phineas off and destroying the precious friendship she shared with him. Her nerves tingled wherever he touched her, and she knew she would treasure this moment for the rest of her life.
Unbeknownst to either one of them, the rest of their friends, including Gretchen, had gathered at the base of the bleachers, kept from catcalling or rushing off to surround them by a recently returned Ferb. "They needed this," he said intensely. "And they don't need us interfering. That includes teasing," here he looked at Buford and Adyson, "and interrogation." He looked at the former Fireside Girls. He ignored Adyson's frown at being included in both admonishments. "Let's just find our seats on the bleachers and let them join us when they're ready."
"You take all the fun out of this," Buford complained half-heartedly.
"You can do all of that later if you truly feel the need," Ferb said with a tiny smile. "Just give them a chance to establish something to really tease and interrogate them about."
"You're as awful as Phineas," Vanessa said with a chuckle.
"We are brothers." A hint of impishness blossomed in Ferb's smile.
The others laughed as they trooped up the bleachers and sat in a group near the top.
There wasn't a single thought being spared for their friends as Phineas and Isabella finally separated and met each other's gaze. Phineas let the hand that had been cupping the side of Isabella's head slip back down to his side and smiled fondly. Isabella, on the other hand, struggled a bit wide-eyed to keep her composure and control both her breathing and her heartbeat.
A long moment later, the young woman spoke. "That was… very nice," she said softly and a bit shyly.
Phineas nodded. "I liked it, too. I think it even answered some questions I had."
"Questions?" Isabella asked, confused.
"Yeah." He looked around and frowned slightly in thought, then let his expression clear as he looked back at Isabella. "Would you mind going somewhere private to talk?"
"Oh! Well, sure, that would be fine." Isabella's response tumbled over itself as she said it and she wanted to kick herself.
Phineas smiled. "Great. Why don't we try this way?" He pointed toward one of the doors behind the DJs.
Isabella nodded. "Lead on." She did her best to just shake off the embarrassment she was feeling and follow her favorite redhead.
The two of them walked silently through a maze of hallways and eventually ended up in the middle of the physical education department's offices. Phineas lowered himself to the floor and leaned back against one of the doors, the top of his head just peeking past the bottom of the frosted window that hid the contents of the office behind it. He gave a vague gesture. "Pull up a seat anywhere," he said with a half-smile. "There's plenty of room."
"So I see," Isabella replied with a short giggle, then sat down against the door opposite him. "So what did you want to talk about?" She figured there was no point to beating around the bush. Whatever he had to say had something to do with the kiss they'd shared, and it was probably best to face whatever that was head on, even if she'd end up disappointed with the results.
"I noticed something about myself tonight that I'd never noticed before, and it made me start to wonder," Phineas began calmly. "You caught my eye a lot, more than anyone else here whether I knew them or not. My gaze would linger on you without thinking about it, and I'd take note of little details about your appearance, or the tone of your voice, or the way you were walking… and so on and so on. But I didn't even realize I was doing it until Ferb asked me if there was someone I'd prefer to be paired with under the mistletoe and then I heard you laugh. You were standing with Katie and laughing at Ferb's and my predicament and I kept staring longer than necessary. I asked myself why; I let myself mull over the question in the back of my mind through the rest of the night."
He paused there and began to fidget slightly. "I have to admit to something here, though," he said awkwardly. "The last few times I danced with you, I used the chance to really look at how I felt when I was in such close proximity to you, if I felt any different than any other time I was with you and if the intimacy affected anything. I still enjoyed myself, I really did," he continued quickly, "but my original intentions weren't entirely altruistic. I'm really sorry about that."
Isabella was silent, her eyes almost impossibly wide as she needed to remind herself to breathe every now and again. Was Phineas admitting what she thought he was admitting? Was he saying that he was trying to figure out if he might be romantically attracted to her? She discreetly pinched herself and replayed his last statement in her head as guilt started to seriously transform his expression. "Um, no, no, that's fine," she finally said a bit distantly, feeling a little overwhelmed by the turn of events. "You had some things to work out, and I never felt like you were treating me differently." Obviously, considering how blindsided she felt by the conversation.
Phineas blew out a breath of relief. "Thanks, Isabella. That's one of the special things about you, how understanding you are. You know me so well." He smiled fondly.
"Yeah, well, I've had a lot of time to piece it together." She returned his expression with a slightly shaky one of her own. "So, um, did you come to any conclusions?" She winced internally when her voice cracked on the last word.
"Nothing concrete," Phineas admitted with a little shrug. "But I think I'm ready to take the next step." He took a deep breath and let his gaze drop to his lap. "I don't know if you've ever thought of us that way, of course, but maybe… I mean, I don't want to make you uncomfortable or anything, I just needed to figure things out."
"No, no, I'm not uncomfortable," Isabella said quickly, shaking herself out of her shock. "And I'll admit the thought has crossed my mind a time or two… about us getting together… maybe…" She wasn't about to mention the detailed wedding plans she written and rewritten out any number of times over the years when she let herself daydream about such things. That would probably freak him out a bit.
Phineas brought his head up again and smiled brightly. "That's good to hear." He gave a small chuckle and shook his head. "I wouldn't want to wreck our friendship over this, but I think if we do this right we can just add another layer to it, a more intimate one. That would be something special, don't you think?"
Isabella swallowed nervously. "Yeah, I do," she agreed softly. She blew out a little breath through pursed lips. "So does this mean you're asking me out?"
Phineas' smile grew gentle and tender. "I suppose it does. Would you be willing to take that next step with me and start dating? We can sort out our feelings for each other together."
"That would be wonderful," Isabella whispered, her eyes welling up with tears. "That would be absolutely wonderful."
"Are you really okay with this?" Phineas asked, concerned at the tears. "We don't have to…"
Isabella interrupted him with a choked laugh. "I am more okay with this than you'll ever know, Phineas. I promise." She sighed and smiled. "These are happy tears."
Phineas crawled over to sit next to her. "Happy tears are good." He slowly put an arm around her shoulders and smiled when she leaned into him at the invitation. "I can deal with those."
Isabella sighed again. "I should tell you the thought of getting together with you has crossed my mind a lot more times than just a few to be honest," she murmured, draping an arm over his stomach. "Maybe some daydreams, too."
"Really?" Phineas asked, surprised. "You never said anything."
"You never seemed interested in that kind of relationship. Not with anybody," Isabella said. "I didn't want to make things awkward between us."
"Oh, wow," Phineas replied. He considered it. "I guess I can understand that. I wasn't interested, not until tonight. And I still don't know just how interested I'm going to be in the long run."
Isabella nodded against his chest. "I understand. And as of right now I'm okay with however this turns out. Our friendship is important to me, too."
Phineas laid his head against the top of hers. "With that thought so important to both of us, I think we'll do just fine, no matter what."
"Yeah," Isabella whispered. She pulled her head back to look him in the eyes. "We'll be just fine."
"Yeah." Phineas smiled again and searched her eyes, then leaned down and kissed her, enjoying how she melted into it and returned it with passion. It encouraged him to continue.
"We should get back to the gym," Isabella said between kisses a few minutes later.
Phineas nodded in the middle of another kiss. "We should," he whispered and kissed her again.
"Our friends will be missing us," Isabella murmured another few minutes later.
"We're going to get teased," Phineas added softly.
"I'm going to get interrogated."
"Buford's going to have a field day with me."
Isabella groaned, only partially because of the tight squeeze Phineas gave her. "I do not want to get caught alone with Adyson," she said.
Phineas chuckled against her lips. "I don't have a choice with Ferb. We share a bedroom at the house, remember?"
They finally pulled apart and smiled at each other. "We're doomed," Isabella said.
"Oh, yeah," Phineas agreed.
They both sighed. "We better just get this over with," Isabella said reluctantly.
"I really shouldn't miss the end of the dance and the game," Phineas said with just as much reluctance. After a beat he blew out a breath and shook off the mood. "Come on, let's get back to the party. There's more fun to be had." He pushed himself to his feet and offered her a hand up.
"I suppose you're right," Isabella said as she accepted his offer. She brushed herself off and ran her fingers through her hair to make sure it wasn't too much out of place.
Phineas gave her a grin and offered an arm, then the two of them headed back the way they came.
"There they are!" Ginger nearly shouted when she caught sight of Phineas and Isabella reentering the gym through the door they'd left earlier.
"You don't have to announce it to the whole gym," Katie told her, smacking the other young woman's arm.
"They are not holding hands or smiling at one another," Baljeet said, disappointed.
Ferb shook his head as Vanessa chuckled. "I'm not sure I'd come walking in being that obvious around you guys either," the graduate student said wryly.
Buford smirked and pointed. "They are walking pretty close to each other," he commented.
"They do that all the time," Katie said. "They always have."
"It most likely has something to do with them being best friends," Ferb added.
"I still think something happened between them," Adyson insisted, crossing her arms over her chest. "Isabella is glowing."
All of them were surprised and a little disappointed when the scrutinized pair stopped just out of earshot of the bleachers and started dancing to a slow song that had started just beforehand. "Now that's just not fair," Buford groused, frowning.
Baljeet looked at him with a disapproving expression. "Perhaps not, but it is their choice." He turned his gaze to Ginger. "I also believe it is an excellent idea. Would you like to join them?"
Ginger laughed and nodded. "I'd love to." She took the hand he offered and the two of them made their way down to the dance floor.
"Let's do that, too," Katie said, standing up and tugging on Buford's arm. "I don't want you to sit here and mope."
"Fine," Buford grumbled, pushing himself to his feet. "I'll just have to get them later."
"Yeah, it's not like you live with them or anything," Adyson quipped, grinning.
Buford shot her a narrow-eyed look. "Quiet, you."
Katie rolled her eyes and tugged again. "No, quiet you. Let's go." She successfully pulled him down the bleachers and into the swaying crowd of college students.
"They make such a cute couple," Gretchen murmured, her small smile a touch on the wicked side.
"Which pair?" Adyson asked, standing up with Peter.
"Both, really," Gretchen replied. "But I suppose I was talking about Katie and Buford. I never saw that coming at all."
Adyson snickered. "No one did. And they'll never live that down." She looked at her companion. "Shall we sway with the rest of that bunch out there?"
Peter smiled. "That sounds pretty good. Let's do it." The two of them headed down.
Vanessa looked at Gretchen. "Are you really going to spend the rest of the night over here instead of at the DJ table?" she asked.
"Blake said he and Ezra had to start wrapping things up since the dance is almost over," Gretchen explained. "He wouldn't be able to give me much attention, and he didn't think that would be fair." She blushed. "He did invite me to stay afterward, though. He said he didn't want me to slip away without saying goodbye properly."
"Well, well, well," Vanessa said with a suggestive rise of her eyebrows. "Aren't we the lucky one tonight?"
"I'm obviously not the only one who received a gracious amount of luck this evening," Gretchen shot back, blushing even more.
Vanessa turned toward Ferb sitting to her left, who returned the look with raised eyebrows of his own. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. It's been a good night all around, I think."
Ferb placed his right arm around her shoulders. "I agree wholeheartedly," he said.
"Do you believe that about Phineas and Isabella as well?" Gretchen asked.
"Whether or not Isabella is actually glowing, she isn't upset in any way," Ferb said. "In fact, she pulled on Phineas' arm to stop him while they were coming this way and was most likely the one who suggested dancing instead of joining us. If Phineas had said anything to her that included rejection or even maintaining the status quo, she would be devastated. And I don't believe she would be able to hide it to this extent."
Gretchen looked out to where Isabella was dancing with Phineas, her arms looped around his neck and her body pressed quite close to his. Phineas had his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, and their noses were almost touching. And they were both smiling softly at one another. "I see your point," she conceded easily.
A few silent moments went by before Gretchen turned once again to the couple she was sitting near. "Aren't you going to share the dance?" she asked. "I'll be fine here by myself for a song or two if that's what's concerning you."
Ferb and Vanessa shared a look. "We're fine sitting this one out," Ferb said with a tiny smile.
"Besides, the song is at least half over," Vanessa added. "It wouldn't be worth the effort, and we can sway together right here if we really feel the urge."
"Oh, we'd have to be careful doing that here," Ferb said cautiously, his expression becoming serious. "One lean too far and we'll end up tumbling all the way to the bottom. Bodies and egos could end up quite damaged."
The two ladies snickered at the subtle humor. "Not to mention how unfair it would be not to include Gretchen," Vanessa said, struggling to wipe her amusement from her face. "And a three-way sway is just so scandalous."
Ferb's tiny smile returned. "Quite right," he said with a nod. "We'll have to simply sit sedately and await our friends' return. It would only be proper."
"And proper is the only way to be," Gretchen said, schooling her features into something prim and haughty as she straightened her posture, folded her hands in her lap, and crossed her ankles.
"Most certainly," Vanessa agreed, mimicking Gretchen's stance as Ferb did the same.
It only took a few beats for the three of them to break down into laughter.
The trio had only just gotten over their fit of the giggles when the rest of their party rejoined them at the top of the bleachers, Phineas and Isabella in tow.
"Decided to finally face the music, did you?" Vanessa asked the last pair as they sat down next to her.
"We knew we couldn't put it off forever," Isabella said wryly, smiling.
"No matter how much we wanted to," Phineas added with a wide grin.
Adyson gasped and brought a hand to her chest in mock offense. "And what did we ever do to make you feel that way?" she asked. The upward twitching of the corners of her mouth ruined the innocent image she was trying to project.
The others laughed. "I don't actually have to answer that, do I?" Isabella shot back through her giggles.
Adyson gave up the pose and shrugged. "No, not really. So what happened while you two hid yourself away from prying eyes?" She grinned wickedly. "Or should we just guess?"
"No guessing," Phineas said quickly. "We talked. We agreed to start dating so we can sort out our feelings for each other. That's it in a nutshell."
"And there may have been some kissing involved, but I'm not saying any more than that," Isabella added.
Ginger leaned forward and met her gaze. "Later?" she mouthed.
Isabella smirked. "Probably," she mouthed back.
Phineas was looking at Buford. "So when does the teasing start?"
"Teasing? What makes you think there'll be teasing?" the muscular young man asked, his attempt at innocence about as successful as Adyson's had been.
"Only the fact that you have prided yourself on being a bully for the majority of the time we have known you," Baljeet said before Phineas could.
"Well, true, but I haven't done that since we got to college," Buford protested. "I could have changed."
Every last one of the others, even Peter, stared at him incredulously.
Buford frowned. "What? I could have!"
The others still stared.
"I'm waiting to hear more details," he finally admitted, frowning. "Then it's gonna get good."
"Yeah, that's what I expected," Phineas said with a chuckle. He reached over and took Isabella's hand. "I suppose it's worth it in the long run."
"That's so cute," Katie said, grinning. Without changing expression, she elbowed Buford in the ribs when she heard him make a low gagging noise.
Phineas shook his head at the sight then looked at his brother. "And what about you?"
Ferb gazed back blankly. "I have time later to satisfy my curiosity and take whatever other action I deem appropriate. I can be patient."
"You're just a little bit evil," Ginger said to him, staring at him with wide eyes.
"You didn't realize that before now?" Adyson asked. "It's one of the things we like best about him."
"Definitely," Vanessa agreed, and gave her new boyfriend a wicked smirk.
"You're all very strange," Peter commented, looking a bit unsure of himself.
Adyson laughed. "You'll get used to us. You might even grow to enjoy it."
They all joined in the laughter as the song that had been playing came to an end. A beat later, a click echoed from the speakers and the sound of a breath being taken could be heard. "All right, ladies and gentlemen, time for the last round of Mistletoe Madness before we wind down with the last couple of songs of the night," Ezra announced as he activated the grid and the mechanical mistletoe. "Everyone check your wristbands and get out on the floor for your last chance at a Christmas kiss!"
The majority of the thinned-out crowd did just that, pairing up in the light-lined squares. On the bleachers, none of the old friends made any moves to join in.
"Really?" Adyson asked, looking around at the others. "No one's doing it one last time?"
"I don't need to," Ferb said simply. He turned to Vanessa and kissed her briefly.
"The last time was enough for me," Phineas agreed, giving Isabella's hand a squeeze as he spoke. "Someone else can have a chance."
Gretchen gestured toward the DJ table. "I got what I wanted."
Ginger grinned at Baljeet. "So did I," she said softly.
Buford made another gagging noise that was cut off by another elbow to the ribs. "Yeah, I'm good," he said before snatching Katie from the seat next to him and planting her on his lap. "I'm real good. How about you?" he asked the young woman sitting on his legs.
"I'm just fine," she said with a smirk. She leaned in and kissed him thoroughly. "I'm more than fine," she whispered when she was finished.
"Me too," Buford whispered back, smiling.
"You don't want a last chance at another kiss, do you?" Peter asked Adyson.
She turned to face him. "Well, yeah, actually I do." She grinned when he looked taken aback by her answer. "But I can get it right here." She quickly leaned forward and captured his lips with her own. After a moment of surprise he returned it wholeheartedly.
Isabella chuckled. "Adyson can be so dramatic," she said. She laughed louder when Adyson waved her off without stopping what she was doing.
They all ended up watching as a square was randomly chosen and the pair standing there shyly kissed. When the spotlight shut down and the music started up again, the majority of the crowd began to drift away with the knowledge that the dance was about to end. The group of friends on the bleachers decided to take advantage of the nearly empty gym floor to get in one more good slow dance, each couple with more than enough room to themselves while still maintaining their camaraderie. Blake even came out and kept Gretchen from having to sit and watch alone.
They all danced through the last song of the night, not letting go of one another until the gym lights came up to mark the official end of the dance. They'd all had a wonderful time and hated to see it end.
"Will you wait for me?" Phineas asked Isabella as the last of the people that weren't part of their circle of friends departed. "Ferb and I have to take down everything and make sure there hasn't been any damage."
"Of course," Isabella told him, smiling.
"I'll keep her company," Vanessa said as she joined them. "Ferb offered to be my ride home since the rest of the group I came with already slipped out without saying goodbye."
Gretchen and Peter joined them as well, Blake walking back to Ezra and the table of DJ equipment while Adyson hurried out to do a final tally and take care of the money and paperwork for the IT Club. "Do you mind if we sit with you as well? Blake asked me to stay until he was done, and Adyson is in charge of wrapping things up for the club."
Vanessa and Isabella gave her a welcoming smile. "Of course," Isabella said. "The more the merrier."
Phineas waved the rest of his friends over. "I've got an idea, if everyone's up for it," he said once they'd all gathered. "Why don't we all go over to Honey's Place together for an after-dance afterglow and midnight snack? I know I'm not quite ready to head home and crash yet." He looked over at Blake and Ezra. "You guys are welcome to join us, too. It'll be fun."
"I'm in," Blake said quickly, looking at Gretchen. Ezra laughed and added his affirmation.
"Then we should make quick work of this," Ferb said to Phineas once the others had also agreed to the plan. The redhead grinned and nodded his agreement.
The gym clean up and IT Club accounting were taken care of without much delay, and it wasn't long before the large group was heading out to their favorite twenty-four hour restaurant together. They laughed and joked, filled with an inner warmth that easily combatted the cold outside. With one last look at the dance poster posted outside the main doors, they all realized just how much of a success the event had been. They had all definitely celebrated the romance of the season and discovered the passion of the holidays. Even better, they knew they'd be holding onto those feelings and carrying them into the future together.
What a magical end to a magical evening.