Absence Makes the Heart Growth Flounder
Kim glumly closed her locker at Middleton High. It was two days since she broke up with Ron, and the school rumor mill had been predictably buzzing. People would stop talking when she walked by, then start again after she'd passed. She didn't know if what they were saying about her was good or bad. But even if it was bad, she thought she deserved it.
It wasn't long after Ron had left that Kim realized she hadn't taken several things into account - first on the list being how this would affect their friendship. Kim was too ashamed to ask him to just hang out as a friend. And she knew he would be too timid to bring it up. He respected her feelings too much - it was one of the things that had made him so great.
But there was also the question of missions. Sooner or later, she was bound to get another one. And having Ron come along on a mission would feel so awkward she wasn't sure she could face it. It was too soon.
She turned from her locker and saw Ron heading down the hall to his classes with a jumble of books under his arm. They shared a painful glance at each other before he turned a corner and passed out of sight. It had been like that the whole time. Both of them were too afraid to speak to each other for fear of making things worse. So neither of them said anything at all.
And she felt doubly guilty, because she was sure he was having a rough time with all the homework Barkin had dumped on him. And she had said she would help him - but that was before she had broken up with him. She still wanted to help, but how could she?
She missed his company - not just as a boyfriend, but as a friend who was a boy. And she had to keep a tissue handy to dab her eyes, sometimes even during classes. There had been no hiding it from Monique. She cornered her during lunch hour of the first day after the break up.
'Girl, are you nuts?' she had said, her voice low and her back hunched, trying to screen everyone else in the cafeteria from the conversation. Kim only shook her head. 'Kim, we spent the last three-odd weeks trying to find Ron so you could be with him again!' she said. 'What happened?'
'I can't talk about it.' said Kim.
'Can't?' said Monique. 'Girl, you can do anything. You know you can talk to me.'
'Not about this.' said Kim, shaking her head. The visions of her spiritual journey were simply too personal.
'Did he do the bon-diggety dance in public again or something?'
'No!' Kim said quickly. 'It wasn't anything he did. Please just... don't ask me.' Kim could see the cogs working in Monique's brain, using what little information she had given away. 'If it wasn't Ron, then it must have been...'
But Monique couldn't think of any way to ask it directly. Kim had just laid it down, and Monique couldn't press the subject any further without going against her wishes. Which brought the conversation to a halt and left only silence filled with confusion, curiosity and a desire to help with no way to act on it. And it didn't help when Ron walked by at that very moment. He looked wistfully at the table where Kim and Monique were sitting, then wandered off looking for an empty spot somewhere else.
Kim's eyes followed after him until she saw Monique's hand right in front of her face, her fingers snapping. Monique sighed. 'Girl, you miss him.' she said. 'You think I can't tell? Just talk to him. You've been friends since Pre-K. Whatever's goin' on, you know he'd understand.'
Kim winced. She knew Ron had seen her battle with Kim-i-i. Had he seen any of the other things that Kim had seen on her spiritual journey? In a way, she knew he had. He had been the central figure of each vision - both he and she had lived through each of them. But to have seen them all in that context, realizing exactly what they meant, how shabby she had treated him... The thought of it filled her with shame. 'I just can't.' she said helplessly, looking over to where Ron was still looking for an empty seat. 'I can't.'
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Ron was having his own issues to deal with. Everywhere he went, he heard similar whispers and muttered comments. 'Kim Possible finally dumped Ron.' As he went from class to class, he was almost sure he'd seen some of the students putting away betting ledgers as he approached. He wouldn't have been surprised. They'd probably been running odds on their relationship from the day he and Kim had shown up at Junior Prom holding hands.
He'd been let down by girls before, and he'd heard all the old lines. 'I like you as a friend', 'you're like a brother', 'it's just not working out', 'I'm busy that night' and a host of others. But there was something about breaking up with Kim that made it much worse. At least with other girls he could fool himself into believing their excuses because he didn't know them all that well. Maybe they really were 'busy that night'.
But he knew when Kim was busy and when she wasn't. They knew pretty much everything about each other. And so in his mind, there was no getting around the fact that Kim just didn't want him around anymore.
He hadn't talked to anyone about it, not even his parents. He didn't want anyone to think Kim was being a jerk, and he wasn't going to do anything to feed the rumor mills at school. He bore it in silence.
But he hadn't been able to lie to Felix. Felix had known something was up on the very first day, and it only took him a little bit of fishing to get more information. 'You and Kim broke up?' he said, shaking his head. 'Dude - that's harsh! I was going to ask you to go doubles with me and Zita next week.'
Ron rubbed the back of his head, poofing up his cowlick. 'Yeah, I'm gonna have to bail on that one.' he said. 'It'd be kind of awkweird, you know?'
Felix was still shaking his head as if in denial. 'Dude - how'd it happen?' he said. 'For three weeks, she was focused on finding you like a laser beam. It was all she talked about. Now she just ups and says 'it's splitsville'? It's not another guy, is it? Because if it is, then that's more than harsh, it's brutal!'
Ron shrugged. 'I don't think so.' he said. 'But... maybe. I don't know. She wouldn't explain anything.'
Felix drummed his fingers on the dashboard of his high-tech wheelchair. 'Girls.' he said. 'What's the deal with them?'
Ron couldn't answer, and even Rufus was holding up his paws in helpless bewilderment.
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The second day was ending, and Kim was in cheer practice. Part of a cheerleader's training was to look happy and enthusiastic on the field. You had to be radiant. Even when it was raining, or snowing and you were freezing or soaked to the skin. Through spills, bumps, bangs and abrasions, you had to keep smiling. That applied to bad moods as well. Even if the very last thing in the world you felt like doing was smiling and cheering, you had to do it anyway. It was just part of the job.
But the peppy tune that was playing while they practiced was the very opposite of how she felt. She felt dull, listless and miserable, and it was carrying over into her performance.
The squad formed a perfect pyramid, their voices thundered through the gym. 'Goooo Mad Dogs! Gooooo Mad Dogs! Gooooooooo Mad Dogs!'
And Kim vaulted to her place at the top of the pyramid, raising one arm. 'Go Mad Dogs.' she said in a flat monotone.
And the routine ended as if someone had just dragged the needle across and old-style record player. The rest of the squad dismantled the pyramid with mutters and sighs. Bonnie however, was a bit more vocal. Once everyone was back on the ground, she started.
'We've been doing this for like an hour.' She said it indignantly, as if cheer practice and being popular was keeping her from other things she'd rather be doing. 'Aren't you always the one saying 'head in the game'? Where's your head today? Because it's sure not here.'
'Don't start with me today, Bonnie.' said Kim, but she sounded more tired than angry.
'Why, because you're still pining over your ex?' said Bonnie mercilessly. 'You're the one who dumped him, right? So why are you wasting everybody's time acting like it was the other way around?'
Everyone in the squad winced as Kim and Bonnie glared at each other. But again, Kim looked like she was too tired to argue, or that she just didn't care. 'Fine.' she said. 'Practice is over for today.' Then she stumped off to the showers. None of the rest of the squad followed her.
Once Kim had gone out of sight, Tara rounded on Bonnie. 'What is with you?' she hissed.
Bonnie was examining her fingernails and looking totally detached. 'I don't know what you're talking about.' she said, and it sounded like she really didn't.
'She and Ron broke up.' Tara said. 'Show a little sensitivity!'
'I know they broke up. Why all the drama?' said Bonnie. 'You're acting like it was a bad thing. All that happened was that Kim wised up and sent Ron to loserville where he belongs. He's back with his people, and Kim doesn't have to confuse anyone by dating a geek. It's just the food chain re-establishing itself. Kim should be celebrating instead bringing down everyone else with her moping.'
Tara glared like she couldn't beleive what she was hearing. Then her face hardened. 'Do you remember how you fell apart when Brick dumped you like a sack of garbage?' she said.
Bonnie's face reddened and suddenly her attention was focused completely on Tara. 'Yes.' she said with a low, dangerous growl. 'And I thought it was agreed that we would never speak of it again.'
'Well, did Kim gloat and say Brick was better off without you? Did Kim say you deserved what you got? Did she take it out on you, even after you kissed Ron right in front of her?'
'Noooo.' said Bonnie slowly, her teeth gritted. 'And I'll thank you not to mention that again either!'
'Kim even helped you find a new BF.' said Tara. 'So for once in your life - will you just shut up?' And she headed off to the shower room.
Bonnie's mouth was hanging open. 'Oh you did not just tell me to shut up!' she said. But Tara did not answer or look back. 'Oh you are not walking away from me!' Bonnie said.
One by one, the rest of the squad filed out of the gym until Bonnie was standing alone. She shook her head. 'I can't believe you just walked away from me...' And her voice echoed in the now empty gym.
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After practice, the football team trooped into the boys' lockers. All except for a few. Ron stayed on the bench, acting as if he hadn't heard the whistle ending practice. Nick Tragg, Matt and Cliff hung back as well. 'We sacked you twice, Stoppable.' said Nick. 'Normally we can't lay a finger on you. What's the deal?'
Ron winced, nursing bruises around his ribcage. 'Sorry guys.' he said. 'I guess there's not much hustle in my bustle today.'
'I know what's wrong.' said Matt, using his voice which was as dense and muscular as he was himself. 'He's off his game 'cuz Possible dumped him.'
'Oh yeah.' said Cliff. with a forced nonchalance. 'I heard rumors - that true?'
Ron sighed. 'Well, yes. But don't say it like that!' he answered.
'Tough break, Stoppable.' said Nick. 'But cheer up. Now that you're on the team, you'll have plenty of girls to choose from.'
'Yeah,' Matt guffawed. 'Man, being on the team is like girl-nip or something.'
Ron hadn't considered that. He was the team's star running back after all. And it wasn't just cheerleaders - lots of girls admired the football team, even if it was for shallow reasons. But he didn't like to think about finding another girl so soon, like picking up a pebble on a beach. 'Uh, can we talk about something else?' he said.
'Hey, Senior Prom is coming up fast.' said Cliff, shrugging. 'Might as well find some new arm-candy.'
Ron had almost fogotten about Senior Prom with all the other things that had happened. The thought of going with someone else left him feeling totally flat, but he knew the team wouldn't leave him alone until he said something. 'Yeah, I'll get right on that.' he answered weakly.
'That's the spirit.' said Nick. 'Let's hit the showers - you coming, Stoppable?'
Ron shrugged. 'In a minute.'
'Suit yourself.' said Nick, and he started jogging off the field.
But Cliff was scratching his head, looking even more like a gorilla than usual. 'Speaking of Prom... does this mean Possible's available?' he said.
Ron winced and felt his face get hot, ready to rush to Kim's defense. But then he remembered that Kim didn't need 'defending' from people asking her out. With a hollow voice, he answered. 'I guess so.'
'All right!' said Cliff, and he and Matt high-fived each other before walking off.
Ron felt sick. It certainly hadn't taken them long to try and move in. But he no longer had any claim on Kim's affection. She was free to turn it to anyone she liked. He allowed himself a bitter chuckle, knowing that both Matt and Cliff's dealings with girls was at least as boorish and clueless as Brick's had been. 'I wonder if Kim will punch them through a window?' he thought with a joyless smile. Then he remembered with a jolt that as clueless as Brick had been, he had dated Bonnie for a long time. Clearly, thick-headedness wasn't a disqualifier for getting dates with cheerleaders. And had his own dealings with Kim when they were dating been any less clueless? He couldn't honestly say that he had been any better.
He kicked his heels idly on the bench, staring across the empty field with its gently waving grass. 'Maybe next time, It'll be different.' he thought. 'For whoever I wind up dating.' but still, he could only picture Kim's face.
Ron flinched, catapulting himself from the bench and landing with a thud on the grass. As he scrambled to his feet, he saw Mr. Barkin standing in front of him, glaring. He wondered for a moment how a man so muscular could move with such stealth.
'I heard about your recent break-up.' he said, and while his voice was still stern, it was slightly less stern than usual, which Ron guessed was his way of trying to sound gentle. 'It's never easy, kid. My sympathies. If you ever need to talk about it, my door is open.'
'Uh... thanks Mr. B.' said Ron warily. 'But I'm not really feeling talky yet.'
'I understand.' said Mr. Barkin. 'Fortunately, I've discovered a sure-fire way to ease the pain, and I'm willing to share the secret with you.'
Ron brightened. Anything that might help ease the emptiness he was feeling, even if it was an idea from Mr. Barkin, was something that grabbed his interest. 'Really?' he said.
Mr. Barkin nodded. 'Really.' he said. Then he lifted a sheaf of papers and handed it to Ron.
Ron's jaw dropped. 'More homework?' he wailed. 'Aw, man...!'
Mr. Barkin patted Ron on the shoulder. 'Believe me, there's nothing that solves life's problems better than solving school problems.' he said. 'It helps keep things in perspective. An hour or so working on these, and you'll be right as rain.'
As Mr. Barkin left the field, Ron had to admit, the sudden addition of homework had made him forget about Kim for a few seconds. Finally he made his way to the lockers, wondering if he'd wind up doing homework for the rest of his life to try and forget Kim.
The places where spiritual entities resided were beyond mere description. Most people who encountered a spirit being, in their linear way of thinking, somehow imagined that such beings faded in and out of existence completely, unless they were interacting with a mortal. Only then could they 'exist', in the minds of mortals, because only then were they visible.
It was a short-sighted, ignorant and naive way of looking at things, sniffed the Mystical Monkey. But mortal minds simply couldn't comprehend infinity. Mortals preferred a room with four walls close around them when contemplating the eternities, and most of them could only understand the things they could see and touch.
The Mystical Monkey had existed for eons before Kim Possible, before Toshimiru, before Japan. And he would exist long after they were all gone. His dealings with mortals were brief and limited, and as such, they were the stuff of myth and legend. But at the moment, he was gazing with his vision at Kim Possible, as she wandered through her days with a grey cloud about her. And at Ron, who was similarly veiled, as if the darkness he had endured in the Spirit World had somehow followed him, though Ron could no longer see it.
'Oh dear.' The Mystical Monkey shook his head. 'She learn her lesson, but now she taking it too far. Does this girl ever do anything half way? I'm a spiritual entity with the wisdom of the ages and the fury of the ancients. I can't believe the fate of the world depend on me playing date doctor to a pair of teenagers - what a life!' He sighed and squared his shoulders. 'I guess I better go talk to her and straighten this out....'
The Great Bear Spirit was also there, seeing, hearing, and encompassing the same things. His voice rumbled and he shook his head. 'That may not be necessary.' his deep voice boomed, though his jaws did not open. 'If I am correct, events have been set in motion that should resolve things.'
The Mystical Monkey stared up at the Great Bear curiously. 'What going on?' he said. 'You supposed to be the flashy, theatrical one. I the quiet, smart one. What you got cooking?'
The Great Bear merely stared off into the distance. 'Let us wait a bit and see.' his voice rumbled.
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Grimm was walking Rhonda home after school. They were making headway on Rhonda's homework, though it took him a lot of effort to keep focused on the assignments rather than sitting close to Rhonda. Having spent a month with her missing, he was feasting on the sensation of having her there again. But as much as he wanted to sit next to her while doing the homework, and hold her close, he resisted.
There was, after all, a lot of homework, and one of his many life philosophies gleaned from studying Tai Shing Pek Kwar was, the time for fun is when the work is done. So he focused his energy on helping Rhonda get caught up - so that when all the homework was out of the way, he could turn his attention to her properly.
'History tonight.' he said. 'And an essay on Native America - well, that one should be a snap. You've lived some of the legeds just over the last few weeks. Should be interesting to describe...' he trailed off.
But again, Rhonda did not rise to the bait. She had been tight-lipped on what she had experienced in the Spirit World since she got back. She mumbled and half-nodded without looking at him as they reached the sidewalk near her house. 'So you'll be over after dinner?' she said.
'Yeah, I...' he started, but then his communicator beeped. He fished it from his hip pouch and turned it on in one practiced movement. 'What's the sitch, Jade?' he said. 'I thought we were putting jobs on hold until after everything worldwide is back to normal.'
'Not really a job.' said Jade's voice. 'More like a follow-up. I just had word from the Middleton based Irregulars. It looks like Possible and Stoppable have broken up.'
Grimm didn't say anything for several seconds. Neither did Rhonda, though she was holding her school books more tightly. At last, Grimm spoke one word. 'Details.'
Jade leaned her head. 'Only know what they heard from the school grapevine. That Possible was the dumper, and Ron the dumpee. No one knows how it went down except Kim and Ron, and they ain't talkin'.'
Grimm's eyes were unfocused, but gleaming. 'Stay on it.' he said. 'We'll be in touch soon.' And he turned off the communicator.
'They broke up?' Rhonda said quietly. 'Why? They just got back home, they just went through all that misery...'
Grimm didn't answer. He looked surprised, delighted, and also relieved - as if he had just won a lottery jackpot. 'It's over.' he said quietly. 'We won! With Kim and Ron breaking up, they're not a team anymore!'
He whooped and gave Rhonda a quick hug, not noticing the ashen look on her face. 'This couldn't have worked out any better if we'd planned it!' he said, smirking. 'The coffin is already shut - we just have to nail it and throw on some dirt. Whatever else may come out of that business with the golems, Team Possible is finished.'
He headed towards the sidewalk, talking almost to himself. 'We need to get to Jade's place.' he muttered. 'Communications are still spotty, so her network is the best bet to coordinate things. Now that Kim's dumped Ron, all we need is to have the Irregulars do some subtle sabotage. Then we get each of them thinking that the other is behind it as revenge for the breakup. It won't be long before we have them at each others throats!'
He turned his head, expecting to see Rhonda walking beside him. But she wasn't there. He looked back and saw her, still on the walkway leading out from the porch. She looked strange. Her eyes were down, and she was frowning.
Grimm held out his hand. 'Come on, what are you waiting for?' he said. 'This'll be fun. We can pay them back for everything you had to go through in the Spirit World.'
Rhonda lowered her head. 'I... I can't.' she said, almost in a whisper.
Grimm stared. 'What?'
She looked up at him, and Grimm was astonished to see tears welling in the corners of her eyes. 'I don't want to 'get even' with Ron.' she said, and she sighed as if preparing to jump into cold water. 'You keep trying to get me to talk about what it was like in the Spirit World.' she said. 'Do you really want to know? It was a nightmare. It felt like I was being roasted alive. And it was my own bad vibes that made it that way. I was this close to snapping, and he saved me. He didn't have to, but he did. Even after everything we've pulled on them.'
Grimm shook his head. 'Babe, don't go soft on me.' he said. 'They're not our friends. This is our chance to put and end to them as competitors once and for all! And because of a little spirit hocus-pocus you're saying you don't want to?'
Rhonda wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. 'A little hocus pocus?' she said. 'Grimm, I'm not the smartest girl in school, and I can't think of how to explain it. You just don't know what it was like in that place! If it wasn't for Ron, I'd have gone crazy. He saved me, Grimm. I can't hurt him anymore. I can't.'