Chapter 2 - HERO?

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Now, distant worlds and exploding magic are pretty cool. Frankly, I quite like the bit about shape shifting sand. But don’t get distracted.

Aren’t you wondering who the Council is watching?

 

 

Miniskirts, frosted hair, lipstick, and fingernails.

Wendell shuttered as he moved through the crowd.

Doesn’t she know how ridiculous that looks?

Not that Wendell was a mean or cruel teenager…it was just such a shock!

Dodging a wild kick from an Asian girl being swung about by her exuberant father, Wendell had nearly collided with one of many mothers within the crowd.

Wha—WOAH! Knees buckling, Wendell caught himself from smacking into the woman. The visual of her explosive, multi-colored hairdo, coupled with the orange skin, tight, faded jeans and sequin covered pockets,  well…it made his eyes hurt.

A lot.

Maybe it was the neon green eyeshadow, bright red lipstick, and open mouth gun chewing that backhanded his senses?

I’m going to need therapy.

Luckily the woman hadn’t noticed his expression and Wendell could quickly scurry away without disturbing the joyful family occasion.

Then again, he had to wonder—was this kind of makeup-meets-the-trowel technique something older men found attractive?

Pushing the golden tassel from his face, Wendell bounced up again, trying to get a better view of the field which had instantly flooded with expectant parents after the ceremony. Hundreds of people hugging and squealing, cheering and whooping alongside their high school graduates.

Another jump. Come on, mom—where ARE you? Timing was critical at this point.

They would be looking.

Hundreds of parents, wherever Wendell looked, smiled, laughed and took pictures of their high school children…all amidst a sea of black robes.

Wendell snorted to himself as he shifted through the crowd. We look like grim reapers at an old people buffet.

The humor was fleeting. Time was running out.

Just breathe, Wendell. Stay calm. As soon as you find mom, you can ditch this field of crazy people and never come back. You’ll never have to see any of them again.

Another jump.

Nothing.

He pushed on.

Principle Larsen stood in a small circle of teachers and smartly dressed parents, occasionally wiping the sweat from his chunky cheeks and a receding hairline. There was no secret that Larsen was more interested in securing his retirement than anything else, which meant creating and maintaining social connections in the community. If there was one path to job security, influential friends and benefactors were it.

“Dipmier!” he snapped, seeing Wendell pop into view.

Skidding to a halt, “Sir!”

Larsen waved a pudgy finger in the opposite direction. “Your mother is looking for you, young man. I think she’s lost. Saw her not over four minutes ago.”

Giving the principle a mock salute and a, “Thank you, SIR!” Wendell dashed off in the showed direction. Principle Larsen was one of his least favorite people, but there was no doubt about the fat man’s timing and dedication to order. If you were ever caught late in the halls, Larsen could tell you by how many seconds, without looking at his watch or the wall clock, AND tell you exactly where you needed to go.

Irritating, yes…but impressive…and something you could count on.

Another minute of pushing, dodging and nearly being knocked over, Wendell skidded to a halt.

A familiar face shifted through the sea of bodies.

Crap. Crap. CRAP!

Eyes eagerly bouncing from each social cluster, the broad-shouldered youth, jaw clenched tight, growled to himself.

Wendell backed away, ducking behind a family debating the best college or trade school alternatives.

What do they do, breed these guys with dogs? How do they keep finding me?

The young man hesitated for a moment, looking around him in a full circle before moving on. Wendell gave a sigh of relief.

I’m never going to find mom in time! They’re going to find me snooping around here and then…

He smirked to himself. Oh, for goodness…why didn’t I think of this before?

Making his way back to the stage, Wendell hopped up onto the ledge.

There we go! Just stay low enough so as not to draw too much attention and….OKAY…now, where are you, mom?

At first, it looked like little more than a mass of confusion. Hundreds of people, swarming about made it difficult to focus on any one person for more than a few moments. Yet once Wendell let his eyes relax, he had to stifle his laughter. Amidst the layers of black were explosions of disorderly color. Hawaiian shirts, neon sunglasses, dangling shimmers of gold and silver-plated earrings, blue hair, hot pink lipstick, purple, pink and orange eyeshadow.

He squinted.

Stopping to speak with familiar faces in the crowd…was his mother.

Gotcha!

Even among the hundreds of people shifting about, Mrs. Dipmier stood out. In her late forties, her long, curly hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail, the end resting gently over her shoulder. She didn’t wear thick eyeliner or mascara, or even lipstick that you could see. Just a clean, smooth complexion, thin wire-frame glasses, a simple white blouse with a powder blue sweater that stood out from among the bright colors and animal patterns, glittery handbags, Botox smiles, and bleached teeth.

Truth be told, Mrs. Dipmier looked more like the attractive mother from a 50’s television show than a mutant version of Britney Spears.

Wendell smiled. I made it, mom. Actually survived and graduated high school. Then he frowned, Almost.

Considering Wendell’s history, it was quite an achievement. School was tough enough for any teen, but high school? That was a whole new beast in and of itself.

Social status was an important aspect of a youths survival. Status was won, earned or given by the elite (which usually meant genetically beautiful and strong), while the rest of the livestock fought for the crumbs…or got sacrificed for sport. Survival became a matter of who you knew, not what you knew. A teachers' approval, which you sought for in grade school, quickly became a death sentence in the wrong groups of high school…and once you left the protective vision of a teacher, anything could happen.

For the last week of school, Wendell made it a point to collect as many memories as possible. Students, teachers, class settings and activities…all on his smartphone. Not because he wanted to keep them—but more for discarding them at specific moments of his future life.

It was a way to remind himself of what he’d gone through…and survived.

Not over fifty feet away an irate woman, at least 60lbs overweight in a grey business suit, snapped at a girl with pink hair and a black eye. The youth stood there, stunned…until the woman burst out laughing and gave the girl a hug. Looking on behind them was a calm and sympathetic old woman, dressed in a white outfit.

After today, I’ll never have to see you again, Vice Principle Stacey…and thankfully, nurse Aubrey, either.

Wendell’s hand scratched the ridge of his nose subconsciously.

Each challenge he had faced left him with scars…mostly emotional, but there were some physical doozies, too. He’d been a regular visitor of the school infirmary.

Broken nose.

Cut finger.

Broken nose.

Multiple staple removals.

Sprained wrist.

Broken nose.

Broken arm.

Tack punctures.

Broken nose.

Black eye.

Broken nose.

Split lip.

He scratched the ridge of this nose again.

This is not a place I will miss, but…

Pulling his phone from his pocket, Wendell snuck a peek at his #1 golden memory…and slapped a hand over his mouth as he laughed.

Jeffery Chapman was a football linebacker and widely known as San Ramon High School’s #1 bully. For nearly three years he’d been the bane of Wendell’s existence. Exploding lockers, countless flat bike tires and even being chased from the locker room showers, across campus in his underwear. Wendell had endured it all.

The picture displayed Chapman lunging, towel almost revealing the teen's unmentionables, while chunks of foaming hair dripped down his face and shoulders, revealing large bald spots across his scalp. Eyes narrow in a rage, hands reaching for the camera…while boys laughed hysterically in the background.

“Now you know what happens when you mix ladies' hair remover with shampoo, Jeffery,” Wendell snickered triumphantly. The risk had been worth all the humiliation he’d received over the years. Luckily, it had been the last day of P.E. class and Jeffrey’s personal items were sitting on the half wall of the showers.

No one ever messed with the equipment of a football player.

All Wendell had to do was fake a nose bleed, run back to the locker room, add his mother's hair remover to the shampoo bottle, shake it up and rejoin the class on the field. It had been that simple.

Once he got dressed, the damage was already done. Seeing Wendell as the only person NOT laughing, Jeffrey had guessed what they had done and lunged at Wendell as he ran.

All he had to do was avoid Jeffery and his minions for the last 48 hours. That meant the whole of the graduation ceremony.

Not wanting to call further attention to himself, Wendell located his mother once more and jumped from the stage. She’d stopped to talk with their neighbors, the Matthews.

Keep talking until I get to you.

Pushing and weaving, Wendell made his way quickly through compacted bodies and private conversations.

Come on, Wendell, he prodded himself, faster…FASTER!

High school hadn’t all bad, though.

Sure, there had been the bullies and the constant challenge of fitting in, but something…or someone usually made the experience worth it.

At least eventually.

He jumped up, making sure his mother hadn’t moved from her spot.

“Wendell!”

“WHA!?!” Wendell shrieked, nearly falling over as he spun around, hands whipping up in defensive positions.

“Woah! WOAH there, buddy!” chuckled William, lifting his own hands in response.

Heart pounding, Wendell slapped a hand over his chest in relief. “S-sorry, William. You scared the crud out of me! Can’t…stop right now. Gotta, ya know—find my mom, take some pictures…she’s so proud.”

“Yeah, okay bud,” William grinned awkwardly, “congratz, right?”

Nodding, “Absolutely. Gratz…for sure. Talk soon, okay?” and off Wendell dashed.

William James was a quiet kid around most people—champion chess player and leader of the math team. Always kind…and always picked on. Wendell had met him during their first visit to the nurse's office…a broken nose versus a fat lip.

Wendell pushed past Barry Compton, telling his new joke to anyone who would listen. Barry was known as the class comedian. Problem was, Barry never realized that people were laughing at him and rarely with him. Wendell admired the boy—who never spoke an unkind word…even when he found Barry in a ditch on his way home. Bruised face and torn jeans, Barry’s bike had been mangled, but all he would say about his attackers was, ‘They probably had a terrible day.’

“Have an awesome summer, Wendell!” Barry shouted after him.

Wendell paused long enough to return the smile and wave.

There was Cory from economics class, Trent from history, even Julius from geography—who coughed aloud, then shoved his inhaler into his mouth like an auto-matron. All standing about with family and friends, smiling, laughing and congratulating one another.

Nerds. That’s what they all were.

Wendell wasn’t sure which was worse…that his only connections were considered rejects from schools popular society…or that none of them were close enough to officially call them ‘friends’?

They were little more than fellow students who—didn’t beat him up.

And now it’s over.

Wendell’s pace slowed. Good or bad, the whole awkward process was about to start all over again…in the ‘real’ world. School was over, sure—but now the next test was staring him in the face.

He was going to have to find a job, maybe start a career and learn how to survive on his own soon. Learn how to provide.

Especially for his supermodel girlfriend.

There had to be a reason girls didn’t go out with him, and his guess was maturity. High school girls felt…outclassed. His rugged looks, unusual confidence, overwhelming talents still waiting to be discovered—it was a lot for a girl to cope with!

Supermodels had to be the answer. They knew talent and could smell the wealth. Which was why Wendell had to make sure he had a great job—to support her in style.

However, the only job Wendell had ever secured was being a waiter at the fish market cafe. Not the most luxurious of jobs.

Suddenly the thought of leaving high school didn’t sound so appealing.

He looked down at the rolled piece of paper in his hand…a golden ribbon wrapped around it. What did this diploma in hand mean?

What the crap am I going to do now?

“Well hello there, DIPmier.

Wendell froze.

Standing in his path, head smooth as a newborn’s butt, was Jeffrey Chapman.

The near six-foot slab of muscle cracked his knuckles in his usual intimidating fashion (which always worked)…and did a quick shuffle in Wendell’s direction.

Endowed with a superhuman fear to survive (that, and not wanting to cry in front of all these strangers), Wendell spun reactively on his back heel, while throwing his arms out to avoid Jeffrey’s strategic grab attempt and…ran into two more jocks.

A wall of irritated muscle and aftershave slid together in a black curtain in front of him, closing off Wendell’s escape route.

Uhhhhhh, Wendell moaned internally, this is gonna hurt.

Strong arms wrapped around him in a mock hug, smiling at onlooking parents, while locking the nerd into place between them. For all people knew, they were just a group of friends saying their last goodbyes.

Smiling as authentically as he knew how, Wendell squeaked, “Jeffery, look…I,” but a sharp jab to the ribs knocked the wind from him.

“What? Were you leaving without saying goodbye, DIPmier?” the bully grinned to show his gleaming white teeth…his canines looking a bit too big and pointed for any ‘normal’ kid. “That hurts me,” Jeffrey said softer, placing an open palm over his chest, “Truly. I’ll miss all the quality time we spent together over the years.” Looking to his partners in crime, his smile flashed to a scowl, “I think we should have one more private party, don’t you boys?”

Both nodded with a low chuckle.

If Wendell had actually believed in Deja Vu, there should have been a legion of black cats dancing across the grass about now, with top hats and canes…but he didn’t. This just happened to be a consistent event with Jeffery and his ever-present minions, grabbing Wendell at the most opportune times (for them). They would find a secure location, away from prying eyes…and proceed to damage the gawky youth physically, requiring anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks of healing time.

Considering this was the last time they would likely see one another, Wendell guessed that the three boys would want to make this final experience last.

Crap, crap…CRAP!! What do I do now?

The easiest thing to do would be to scream HELP, being surrounded by hundreds of adults. Teenage pride, however…and the fact that the last thing Wendell wanted to be remembered for was screaming like some nerd pansy at graduation…meant it wasn’t an option.

With a firm yank on both arms, the jocks lifted Wendell onto his tippy toes, dragging him towards the snack shack at the opposite end of the field.

I could yell ‘He’s not my daddy! He’s not my daddy!’…but he sighed, Yeah, THAT would go over well. What are you, THREE, Wendell? Think…THINK!!

A smile slithered across his face.

Wendell had learned in a community self-defense class that people doing what they weren’t supposed to be doing, always dreaded one thing above all else: attention.

So what was the one thing that ALWAYS got people’s attention?

One…two…

Wendell took the deepest breath he could manage and screamed.

“FIRRRRRRE!!!!!”

The shriek was so loud, it would have made a B movie bimbo proud.

All three jocks spun around, trying to find the location of the fire…along with most of the parents and students.

Stomping the closest foot, Wendell yanked his arms free and bolted across the grass.

It didn’t matter what people thought at this point. They’ll think I’m running towards the fire, not running away from bullies trying to pound my face into the concrete. Run, Wendell…ruuuuunnnn!!

Lungs burning, Wendell pushed himself harder than ever before…which was saying something. He wasn’t a jock, nor was he above average in strength, but four years of running from bullies had developed some serious long-distance stamina.

In less than five seconds the gap opened up between lions and gazelle. It was useless to hide, and waiting around for his mother to appear was a stupid plan. This was escape time.

School was over. This part of his life complete.

“We’re gonna GET you, DIPmier!” Jeffrey shouted from behind.

… and ready to be discarded.

Grabbing the top bar of the closed fence, Wendell jumped, using the wall to run up without losing his momentum and down onto the ground.

He grinned to himself. If only there was a ‘getting away from bullies’ competition in the Olympics… Thoughts of gold medals flashed in the back of his mind.

All three jocks slammed into the gate, rattling the chain.

“Just bring your face closer to the chain, DIPmier!” seethed Jeffery. “I wanna pound that nose with my knuckles one more time.”

Wendell grinned and took off. I’ve got maybe another minute to widen this gap.

Dashing down the main hallway, past the front office—all he had to do was get off school property and onto the adjoining golf course. There were hundreds of places to hide within the perfectly grown and manicured forest of the Diablo Country Club. Jeffery would never find Wendell.

He smiled wide as an angry cry echoed from the hall behind.

Make that two minutes head start…he stopped and leaned against the wall to catch his breath. Maybe ditching high school altogether isn’t such a bad thing.

Life would change. The groups formed in school didn’t have much weight in a bigger world and those who claimed their fame were just ordinary kids once they walked off campus.

Wendell chuckled to himself and decided it would be better at this point to just walk home instead of trying to find where his mom was at this point.

He pulled out his smartphone and started to dial. Just call my mom and…

WHUFF!

The impact of Jeffrey’s fist slammed Wendell back against the front office wall, knocking the wind from his lungs.

“Unghhhh,” he moaned, sinking slowly to the ground. “Good…hit…Jeff.”

The bully snarled, his two minions closing in on either side, “Though you’d get away from me this time?” He shook his head, “I don’t think so, sucker. I had to tell my girlfriend I shaved my head on purpose, you butthead! She hates it!!” A small bead of sweat trickled down the smooth surface of his scalp.

Wendell coughed, then forced a grin to his face, “Technically, you’re the one who looks like the butthead.”

Jefferey’s foot slammed into Wendell’s side.

“OOFF!” Wendell grunted.

“Enough!” boomed a deep voice.

Large hands gripped shoulders, pulling the jocks apart.

Jefferey backed away, hands upright. “Sure thing, Evan. We’ve got no beef with you, man.”

“Maybe you don’t,” Evan growled, turning his attention slowly to Wendell upon the ground, “But I have a beef with him.”

Wendell blinked once. The huge figure stood in the direct sunlight, which created a bright white and yellow halo about them.

“Y-you’re mad at me too?” Wendell gasped, trying to get his breath back.

Large hands gripped him by the shoulders, lifting him from the ground effortlessly…and an angry face came into focus.

“More than you know.”

A furious face.

Jefferey and his minions laughed.

Wendell sighed heavily.

Crap.

 

 

****

 

 

“You can’t do that!”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t feel that way about her…you do, Wendell!”

Wendell shrugged, “But she doesn’t know that…”

Evan shook his head, rubbing a temple with a thumb. “That’s the point, buddy—you’re supposed to TELL her you like her. Not frame your best friend!” His face dropped into his palms with a heavy sigh of frustration.

Girls were always an awkward subject between the two.

Wendell pondered. True, he hadn’t totally thought the whole process through when it came to Mandie Sanders, his longtime crush. He’d had over 50% of his classes with her through high school but never got further than offering her a replacement pen during all that time. Well, he had drawn some incredible pictures of her riding horses (one of her passions) and slipped it into her backpack one year. Unfortunately, when Mandie asked the class ego and known artist, Daryl Ross if he’d drawn them.

The jerk took credit.

Mandie and Daryl dated for that whole year…and most of the next.

Wendell grunted at the painful memory. Don’t want to repeat THAT mistake again.

For several minutes, Wendell watched Evan in silence. It was bad enough he’s screwed this up and put his buddy on the spot with a girl Evan wasn’t interested in—but even more so after being rescued from the clutches of Jeffrey Chapman and his thugs. This was supposed to be a perfect day.

“Yeah, but girls always like you, so…”

Evan ignored him.

Wendell shrugged, “I just figured, maybe we could invite Mandie and Susan over, then try the backup plan?”

Evan sat abruptly upright, “What?!? Are you serious? That’s even worse!”

Oh, good. He is listening. Wendell knew that locking the door behind the girls seemed….well, serial killer. Even he could hear the sirens, see the blue and red lights flashing through the front window. He didn’t want to scare them but he was feeling a little desperate. Wendell was determined to work out the details of ‘The Plan’. (Operation: GWG - Get Wendell a Girlfriend)-(Mission 101: Find a Girl)

The invigorating energy in fresh-cut grass and cool, crisp chlorine filled Wendell’s nostrils as they lounged by the pool in Evan’s back yard. Looking past the back fence the wild grass bowed to the playful persuasion of the warm summer breeze and the corn lilies and columbines bounced their jeweled heads, laughing and teasing butterflies. Even the Cooper’s hawk atop a nearby fence post, content with feasting on a woodpecker knew it was a perfect day.

When Wendell woke up this morning, he knew today was the day to turn plans into reality. High School and graduation were finally over and he wanted, no, he needed to play. He sat up in the creaky lounge chair, chatting away and waving his lanky arms to emphasize his ideas, while Evan stretched out, hands behind his head, showing off his bulky biceps barely contained in the white t-shirt, eyes closed and yawning.

Evan did not understand how hard it was for Wendell to be his friend. They lived in separate universes. Everything Wendell wanted and worked for came so easy to Evan. Friends, relationships, grades, opportunities, you name it…the world seemed to revolve around the blonde hair, blue-eyed stud.

Wendell was tired of being just ‘Evan’s friend, Wendell’.

Evan was the hero. Always in the right place at the right time, with impeccable manners and bronzed, greek-god, good looks. He already had a great job with Mr. Stolsen at the nearby garage. The fact was, Evan always had options and prospects. Turns out his deep passion for engines and racing was exactly what Mr. Stolsen had been looking for. He’d been offered the mechanics job the moment Evan pulled up in a car he’d customized with his own two hands.

Of course, Wendell had helped with the car too. Every time Evan needed to check the engine, Wendell was there to turn the key in the ignition. But did Wendell ask for recognition?

Not once.

Evan’s job gave him plenty of time to work on his roadster and hang out with the girls.

Ahhh, the girls.

Fact was, everybody wanted to be around Evan, especially the girls. It was one thing about him Wendell really enjoyed. There were always girls hanging around. Evan was the magnet. Course, none of them took notice of Wendell…

Yet.

Usually, Wendell felt grateful that his best friend wanted to hang out with him. Part of what made Evan so great is that he always shared and included Wendell in his own plans. It didn’t matter what other people thought. Somehow Evan made him feel as if Wendell were the great one and Evan was lucky to have him as a friend.

When they were eight years old, it really confused Wendell. Nothing was ever said between them at first—but the odd looks they’d receive from others, even parents, affected Wendell. It bothered him. but he learned to not think about it and be grateful. They had a lot of fun together, so did it really matter?

It did to Wendell.

“Why are we even friends, Evan…we’re nothing alike?!?” he’d asked one day.

With a genuine smile, Evan had grasped Wendell’s hand in a firm handshake and replied, “Because buddy, when you’re around, I feel like we make a complete person.”

It sounded corny but Evan Matthews had backed that very statement with 13 years of undeniable proof.

Wendell looked over at his best friend. Silently frustrated, Wendell’s entire upper torso sagged. “But what if they just leave…again?”

Evan took one glance and his expression softened. “No, man. Patience. We have ‘The Plan’. It’ll work. I promise. This is not the twisted social structure of high school. No more bullies, no more jocks and no more locker room pranks. And remember, Wendell, girls don’t care about blue ribbons from a belching contest or the latest victory at the role-playing conventions.”

“Hey! That was a huge regional victory—team Brimstone hasn’t been beaten in over…”

“Seriously?”

“Ohhhhh ,” Wendell resigned. “Can’t a guy hope to meet a girl with an imagination…and maybe throw in addiction to dragons and wizards?”

With a wide grin, “You can hope, but I doubt you’ll get it.”

Wendell folded his arms with a scowl, “Dream killer.”

“Hey, I’m just calling it as I see it, buddy.”

“Let’s have a pool party, then.”

Evan peeked through cracked lids, “Yeah. Okay. What for?”

“How about the first step completed in ‘The Plan’…to celebrate me getting my own place.”

“What?” Now his eyes were wide open. “You didn’t tell me. Where? How? You haven’t even turned in that resume we’ve been working on. You actually moved out?”

“Moved the last box in right before our graduation ceremony. I’m tellin’ ya, it feels real good to be on my own. I am…” he said with exaggerated conviction, “a man of the world.”

Evan chuckled.

Wendell sat upright, frowning. “What? I thought that was a key part of our plan. Get our own place, remember? When are you gonna break free?”

Evan just shrugged. “Just figured I’d keep my options open for now. Not in a rush. Save some money,  work towards some personal goals, that kind of stuff.”

“Yeah. Okay….” Wendell made a mental note to ask about that later. He was bursting with good news. “I’ll tell ya’ Evan, it wasn’t easy breaking it to my mom like that, ‘cause I didn’t want to leave her on her own. You know, with dad being gone. But, let’s face it, moms never think there’s a right time to leave home. But a man needs his space! So, I walked into the kitchen and said, ‘Mom, I love you and you’re the greatest, but I’m not a child anymore. I’ve decided to move out into the trailer.” Wendell grinned wide. “She was all choked up, Evan. Laughing on the outside to hide the heartbreak on the inside. I will sure miss her.”

Turning his face to the heat of the sun, Wendell pressed his lips together in a self-satisfied smirk and lifted his arms to link his fingers behind his head.

Dumbstruck, Evan had to ask, “You’re moving into the trailer?”

“Uh-huh.”

“In the backyard?”

“That’s right.”

Evan was sitting up now, thick arms folded, staring at the concrete with one hand over his mouth. His eyebrows going up, then down, then together, then up again. There was a snort, a muffled gag and finally the unmistakable guffaw, “HAHAHAHAHA!” Evan couldn’t help it.

“Does it come with maid service?” he taunted, but Wendell tried to ignore him. “How about free food or laundry options?” Wiping tears from his eyes, Evan wrapped a huge arm around his stomach as he gasped for breath.

Wendell grit his teeth and glared, heat rising to his cheeks. What a dirtbag! I can’t believe he’s laughing at me! “Well,…technically I moved out,” Wendell muttered with a weak sigh. Folding his arms across his chest he sank into the chair like a deflated balloon. “I didn’t want to go TOO far.”

Evan didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. Sometimes, Wendell just didn’t get it.

“I’m sorry, man,” he said soberly and jabbed Wendell in the shoulder. “Fact is, you already took a step ahead of me. Look at you, Mr. Adventure.”

Wendell returned an over-enthusiastic slug to the gut.

Truth was, he could never stay mad at Evan for long. The return jab was the sure sign that all was well. Best friends. Always had been—always would be.

Evan bounced out of his chair which creaked in protest, reaching out to jab Wendell in the shoulder again. “Alright, let’s have that party! What do you think, I’ll go make some phone calls?” He paused, expectantly.

“Seriously?” asked Wendell. “Mission 101: Find the Girl?”

“Of course. It’ll be great!”

Wendell smiled to himself, “I can do the BBQ, or…OH! How about I make some of those liverwursts and potato chip sandwiches, like my dad used to make! Mom said they were always attention getters.”

Evan shook his head, “Uhhhh, I’m not sure your mom meant that in a positive way, buddy.” But Wendell wasn’t listening. “Look, you stay here, relax, enjoy the day—I’ll go make a few calls, then we’ll drive over to the Burger Barn and have Emily make us a party plate.” Then with a nudge of a finger, “Sound good?”

“What? Oh. Yeah. Yeah, sounds good! Maybe I can finally try some lines from the book I just bought: Geeks Guide to Getting Girlfriends.”

Evan scratched the scruff on his face. “Hmmm.” Rolling his eyes he trotted to the back door. This will be interesting.

Wendell started making a list of all the girls he wanted to invite as soon as the screen door screeched and clunked closed behind Evan. Man, I wonder if there is any way to get the girls from the Wiki-Tiki Ski Shop to show up. We would be the talk of the town! There was no guarantee that Mandie would show up once she found out Evan wasn’t interested. Not to worry. A vision of the owner’s daughters, Ashley and Britney lingered in his mind. The head cashier always smiles ear to ear when Evan walks through the door, and…oh, yeah!…

 

BAMPH!

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