Kim was a little annoyed that the jocks only seemed to miss Ron's running back prowess and the wins it gave the team, but Ron grinned. 'You know it!' he said in his always-innocent tone. 'Mad Dog's still got the mad moves!'
Nick nodded, then he and the others moved down the hall. Ron whistled. 'Wow!' he said. 'I've never seen Nick get that emotional! I think he really missed me.'
Kim wondered for a moment how guys could tell that sort of thing, but stopped short of asking because the cheer squad was following not far behind the football team. They spotted Ron and greeted him warmly, though seeing Kim holding his hand seemed to stop any of them from trying a hug. One of the cheerleaders, however, did not look pleased to see them.
Bonnie was standing next to Tara and the others. 'Kim.' she said, and her voice was cold. She made only a half-glance at Ron. 'I see you found him.'
Kim nodded curtly. 'I suppose this means you want to take over as squad leader again?' said Bonnie.
'Uh... ya think?' said Ron. 'The squad needs their bon-diggety captain at the helm!'
'For your information loser,' said Bonnie, again without fully looking at him, 'The squad was doing just fine without her.'
Bonnie kept her eyes fixed on Kim, and as such, she did not see every other member of the squad frowning and shaking their heads behind her back, looking imploringly at Kim.
'Well as tempting as it would be to leave you in charge,' said Kim, matching Bonnie's sarcasm, 'As of today, practice resumes with me as head cheerleader.'
Everyone in the squad except Bonnie whooped. Bonnie tossed her hair and stumped off, glowering. Ron stared after her. 'Was she always that snarky or have I been away too long?' he said.
'Both.' said Kim.
'Ron! Great to have you back!' came another voice, before they had gotten much further. Felix was gliding down the hall in his futuristic wheelchair.
'Felix! Long time no see - I mean, really long time!' Ron and Felix high-fived, and Kim saw Monique coming down the hall as well.
While Ron and Felix chatted, Kim greeted Monique. 'Everything cool now that you're back home?'
Monique nodded. 'House is still in one piece.' she said.
'How about your mom's work place...?'
'It'll be down for another week or two. That giant golem thingy did quite a number on the business district. But... we'll get by until its up and running again.'
Kim wasn’t' sure what to say. After learning in Riddleton that Monique's family was short on funds, and even more so after the golem attack, she wanted to help in some way. And there were countless other people out there who had also been affected by Monkey Fist's scheme. She knew it sounded hollow and feeble, but she couldn't stop herself from asking. 'Is there anything I can do?'
Monique shrugged. 'Not unless you know building construction and repair.' she said. Then as if trying to change the subject, she turned to Ron and Felix. 'Nice to see you made it to school, Ron.' she said. 'After all the trouble we went through dragging you back.'
'Yeah, sorry about that.' said Ron sheepishly. 'Hope it doesn't happen again!'
'So, what was it like anyway?' Monique asked, putting forth the question that Kim herself hadn't asked him directly yet. 'Probable said you were in 'The Spirit World'. What's life like on... the other side?'
Ron looked uncomfortable, tugging at his own shirt sleeves. 'Well... it's kind of hard to explain...' he said.
'Can it wait a minute?' Felix spoke up. He was biting his lip nervously, looking back and forth among the four of them. 'Uh... Kim, Monique, could you give us a second?' he said.
Kim smiled and pulled Monique back a few steps. Ron looked politely puzzled as Felix gestured him closer and started speaking in conspiratorial mutters.
Monique was shrugging free from Kim's grip. 'What's up, girlfriend?' she said. 'I don't want to miss anything!'
'Monique, ixnay!' Kim whispered. 'Felix needs to ask Ron something!'
'So?' Monique answered. 'He can ask while we're there, can't he?'
'No.' said Kim firmly.
'Because it's about Zita.' said Kim, nudging Monique's shoulder.
'What about her?'
'You remember?' said Kim, pouring on a sly tone to her voice. 'Felix wants to ask Ron... about Zi-taaaa?'
Monique's hands flew to her mouth in a comical gasp of remembrance and she stopped questioning at once. 'Oh....' she said. 'You think he'll be down with it? He kind of wierded out when Yori said she was fine with him dating. Won't he freak if someone he dated starts going out with his best friend?'
They heard Ron suddenly squeal 'Whoa!' They leaned their heads and saw him looking at Felix with a surprised smile on his face. They spoke a few seconds more, and then Ron's smile went lopsided and he started digging a fist into Felix's arm. Felix's face was totally red and he was hushing Ron desperately.
'Rufus was right.' said Kim, smiling. 'Looks like Ron's down with it.'
'Rufus is always right somehow.' said Monique. 'That's gotta be annoying.'
Ron was still thumping Felix on the back even as he was wheeling away. He had a dazed look on his face as he rejoined Kim and Monique. 'Wow - Felix and Zita?' he said. 'I must've been in the Spirit World longer than I thought! Did anyone else start dating while I was away?'
'They haven't started dating yet.' said Kim, but she was smiling too. 'He just wants to ask her out.'
'Well, Felix can be pretty smooth.' said Ron, rubbing his chin. 'I wouldn't be surprised...'
Finally they got to her locker. As she opened it, the computer screen inside blipped on and Wade was there, looking perfectly normal, comfortable, and at home behind his desk. 'What's the sitch, Wade?' she said, and Ron leaned in to listen.
'Hey Kim.' Wade answered. 'Thought you'd like an update on Riddleton.'
'You found them?' said Kim, surprised.
Wade's face looked crestfallen. 'Not yet.' he said regretfully. 'I've tried zeroing in on all the bugs I left while we were there. So far none of them are responding to my signals. I'm just tracing the last one...'
'Well it was worth a try...' said Kim, but she heard a loud beep from Wade's speakers.
'Hold it - this one's still active!' Wade looked delighted. 'Tracking...'
Kim held her breath, and Ron crossed his fingers. 'Oooh, this could be our lucky day!' he said, and Rufus nodded from Ron's hip pouch.
Wade's face looked baffled. 'According to this, the signal is coming from.... outside.'
'What?' said Kim.
Wade suddenly disappeared from his chair, and there was the sound of a door opening and closing. After a minute, Wade came back into the room carrying an unmarked package. He opened it up and Kim saw him dumping out a cascade of chunky, grey powder. Finally, there was a thunk as a tracking chip slid out and fell on the desk, along with a dusty note. He picked it up and stared for a moment. Then he glared and started reading.
'Dear Wade: Here are your tracking devices. Some settling may have occurred during shipping. Love and hugs, J-Girl.'
Kim, Ron and Wade stared silently at each other for a few seconds. Then Wade grumbled and turned back to his keyboard. 'I'll double check and see if they missed anything.' he muttered.
'Please and thank you.' said Kim, trying to smile.
'Well after all that, I guess we couldn't expect finding them to be easy.' said Ron, shrugging.
Kim thought back to the Mystical Monkey's advice - that the good guys work harder and that's why they win. Somehow though, she couldn't feel grateful to Team Probable for presenting such a challenge.
'Well, first period starts in a few minutes.' said Ron, glancing at the hallway clock. 'Guess I'll... see you at lunch.' He gently laid his hand on her shoulder and leaned closer. Kim knew he was going to kiss her, and she felt a twitch of momentary panic. But she forced it down, willing herself to relax....
The sharp bellow of Mr. Barkin's voice made Ron squeal and try to hide behind the door of Kim's open locker. Mr. Barkin was standing before them with an expression like an angry thundercloud.
'You only just got back,' he growled at Ron. 'And you're already trying to break my PDA rules! I thought maybe you'd spend at least some of your time away learning to respect authority.'
'The sun was in my eyes!' said Ron, cringing. 'You saw me out of context! I forgot what the meaning of the word 'is' is!'
Mr. Barkin talked over him, ignoring his babbling. 'But I'm prepared to overlook the attempt, since I'm glad to see you back, Stoppable. The team hasn't been the same without you.'
Ron seemed to lower his guard, but only a little. 'You're glad?' he said. 'Is this some kind of trick?'
'Not at all.' said Mr. Barkin. 'In fact, I have a welcome home present.'
Ron brightened. 'A present? All right! It's about time the Ron-man got some appreciation!'
'I couldn't agree more.' said Mr. Barkin. He lifted up a sizeable block of paper which he had been carrying, and dropped it heavily into Ron's hands. 'And I'd appreciate you handing in this homework as quickly as you can. Graduation is still coming at the end of the school year, and you've got some catching up to do.'
'Homework?' Ron wailed. 'Aw man!'
'Not to mention you have some work shifts to make up for at Smarty-Mart.' Mr. Barkin went on. 'It won't be easy, but you should be able to finish all the homework and still pass your finals.'
'Come on, Mr. B!' Ron pleaded. 'It's not like I was off on vacation! Isn't there any way you could ease things up a little?'
Mr. Barkin raised an eyebrow in his characteristically stern expression. 'Yes, if you don't mind going to Summer School.' he said. 'Of course that would mean you wouldn't get your diploma with the rest of the Seniors.'
Ron had smiled hopefully on hearing Barkin say the word yes, but fell back into a dismayed frown after he finished. He looked back and forth between the pile of homework, and Kim. 'Not graduate with the others?' he said, his voice now weak and doubtful. He sighed heavily and hefted the pile of homework in his hands. 'Guess I'd better unplug the Y-Box.' he said. Then he turned to Kim. 'You'll help me out, right?'
Kim had a mental rush of images of Ron and herself, working on his homework. They might be sitting on the couch together, and Ron would be very close... close enough to hold hands... or kiss... She realized she was hesitating, and quickly blurted out, 'Spankin! That sounds... great.'
Ron seemed to notice something off about Kim's response, but Mr. Barkin was talking again. 'Welcome back then, Stoppable.' he said. Then he bellowed, 'Now both of you get to class before I give you detentions!'
Ron cowered again, then a second later he was rushing down the hallway, looking back at Kim and waving awkwardly while still holding onto his bundle of homework.
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At Riddleton High, Rhonda had gone through a similar gauntlet of being welcomed back by the Chess Club, the Track Team, by Cousin Mary, and Felicia. Donnie Stoneport had simply shaken his head and rolled his eyes, as if the sight of Grimm and Rhonda walking down the hall together was inconveniencing him somehow.
'Nice to know everyone's doing OK.' said Rhonda, fishing books from her locker. 'I can't believe Zack Powers asked Felicia out - who knew?'
Grimm felt his blood boiling slightly as he thought back to the time when Rhonda had been crushing on Zack a couple years ago. At the time he hadn't minded, but now... 'Me neither. I never liked him.' he said in a low grumble.
Rhonda caught his change in tone at once and playfully mussed his hair a little while bumping her locker closed with her hips. 'You're so cute when you jel.' she said in her chirpiest voice.
'I'm not jelling.' he answered defiantly.
'You're cute when you're not, too.' she said.
Grimm smiled and leaned against the lockers. Her voice had gone soft, and she was looking at him and standing in a way that he knew was her open invitation for a kiss. Their lips were just about to touch, and he could feel the warmth of her...
Rhonda screamed and dropped her books as she jumped, banging the back of her head against the lockers. Ms. Darken was standing barely three feet from them, looking livid. 'You know my policy on public displays of affection within these halls, do you not?' she said.
'Good Morning Ms. Darken.' said Grimm flatly, while Rhonda scrabbled on the floor to pick up her books.
Ms. Darken glared at both of them. 'Come with me.' she said, and her voice was deathly cold.
Grimm and Rhonda looked at each other, and followed Ms. Darken down the hall. Rueful slipped inside Rhonda's book bag and zipped it shut. Ms. Darken led them towards her office. 'You missed several weeks’ worth of classes.' she said.
'It wasn't on purpose!' said Rhonda pleadingly. 'And I've got a perfectly sane explanation! You see, an Indian shaman used magic powers to send me to another dimension, and then there was this talking monkey...'
'Silence!' Ms. Darken shouted. Grimm signaled to Rhonda that now was not the time for interruptions, and they resumed following her without speaking
'While I'm glad you're back safe,' Ms. Darken continued, her heels clacking on the tiled hall floor. 'Your unscheduled furlough means you'll have quite a lot of catching up to do if you want to be on schedule for graduation.'
Rhonda's mouth fell open. She'd heard speeches like this from Ms. Darken enough times to know what was coming. 'You're giving me homework?' she squealed.
'Technically, I'm merely giving you the homework you missed while you were away.' Ms. Darken answered.