Chapter 1: Chip Tolentino Would Like To Publically Request Puberty to Leave Him Alone
He shouldn’t be here. He should be onstage, working his way to champion. But thanks to some cute girl, Chip was in the loser's room. Alone. God, first one out. Embarrassing. His parents were going to pitch a fit.
He didn’t want to watch the bee. Why bother? He's not winning, so it didn’t matter.
Though he didn’t want to admit it, he took a second to consider watching it for Marcy. She was hot and smart. Smarter than him.
"I only remember top ten," she had said.
What a bitch. Marcy would never give him the time of day, especially after getting eliminated because he had been painfully hard for Marigold when he went up to spell. Tittup, like a horses hooves. Tittup, tittup, tittup. Trotting away like his shot at nationals.
Grudgingly, he set up the chairs he had flipped and thrown when he entered. Losing wasn't the only thing making him upset, of course. Barfee, a total dick, was still somehow getting attention from sweet little Olive. Marcy had ignored his every attempt at flirting. Logainne was too stressed to even pay attention to him. And Leaf, who was constantly moving and making noise, was somehow, somehow, staying in the bee longer than him. He couldn't even remember what he could ask!
It's a spelling bee, all of the words are real, fucking idiot, he bitterly thought. How was he getting all those words right? It was unfair. For a second, Chip wished he was as distracted and carefree as Leaf.
Whatever. He found where he had thrown his juice box and opened it, along with a bag of M&Ms he nabbed from the PTA candy box. Peanut M&Ms. If they got to embarrass him with that, then he got free food.
He tore open the bag and lost himself in chocolate peanuts and apple juice. He didn’t notice Leaf throwing open the door. Or Leaf sitting next to him. It took Leaf loudly slurping his juice box to get his attention.
Chip jolted forward a bit.
Leaf smiled. "Hi." He waved at Chip, tapping his feet rapidly against the ground.
Chip grunted in response and focused on finding a trash can. He stood up and, spotting one next to the door, took his time walking over and throwing his trash away. He’d normally take a shot, but he didn’t want to risk an embarrassing miss. He also wanted to spend less time around Leaf. It was awkward knowing that he had gotten an erection for the sister of the kid who was trying to play 'Hot Cross Buns' on a juice box.
With a sigh, he sat back down next to Leaf. After another minute of terrible music, Chip wearily asked, "Do you have to sit directly beside me?"
Leaf stopped for a moment, the straw resting on his bottom lip. "No, but I don't like being lonely, cause not being around people sucks and I don't like it."
Chip was only twelve, and that argument was sound enough. Before Leaf arrived, he had been fine with the silence. The absence of juice box music was starting to wear at him now. With Leaf in here, silence made him reflect on today, and today was not a day he wanted to reflect upon.
Chip turned his head. "What?"
"I got out on chinchilla. There's two L's." Leaf fiddled with the bow of his cape.
"And two T's in tittup," Chip added before he could stop himself.
Leaf snickered, eyes focused on the red ribbon between his fingers. "Mr Panch didn't think that was real funny." Abruptly, his fingers froze and he looked up at Chip. He had green eyes, just like the ones that had stared up at Chip from the audience. But Leaf's were sharper, Chip realized, like a tree in the summer. That sounded dumb in his head, but it was true. He wondered if that was where Leaf got his name.
Shit. Leaf was looking at him funny. "Did I, did I say something?" Chip asked.
Leaf shook his head ferociously, reddish brown hair swishing around his face. "No, I asked you something! It's kinda funny, cause it's like when you got eliminated, when you were distracted, which is what I was asking about! Why was everyone laughing? You just messed up a word. I do that a lot and my family doesn't think it's funny." His eyes crinkled as he smiled at Chip expectantly.
Chip really didn’t want to explain the whole thing to Leaf, who probably wouldn’t understand it. "It's because I won last year and got out first this year. Ironic."
He nodded slowly, face scrunched up like he was thinking hard. "Okay. I didn't really get it at first. I asked William, and he told me to go away, and Olive and Marcy wouldn't say anything about you, which I don't understand cause you seem real nice, but I think Olive's just shy and it's Marcy that doesn't like you, and Logainne turn red for some reason and tried to explain, but half of the words got lost because there were snacks, and I was eating, and they were good! Not as good as crunchy candies like Kit Kats but cookies are good! But it didn't make sense so I figured I'd ask you if I saw you again."
Chip definitely wasn't paying attention during that. Not because he thought Leaf was annoying, which he was, but because he was thinking. He'd been wondering who that pretty girl upfront had been. After Leaf had done his weird spelling thing, Chip had realized they looked like siblings. He was right. Both had the same hair color, Leaf's wavy hair just long enough to get into his eyes. They had a similar eye color, although Chip knew that he was wrong about them being exactly the same. Marigold's were hard to see from the stage, pale and washed out. He could see Leaf's from a mile away. Grass after the snow melts versus trees.
Leaf. Instead of Marigold, his thoughts were turning to Leaf. How soft his short hair looked. How round and cute his face was, even as he babbled on and on. The thought arose that maybe Leaf wasn’t innocent because he's homeschooled, but because his focus is so bad. He had to give Schwarzy some credit for trying to explain Chip's erection to him.
There was a break of silence. Chip said, "Yeah, it's just been a rough day for me."
That was enough to get Leaf talking again. As he started, Chip noticed how he bounced around with each word, full of energy. God, this kid had just lost a spelling bee. How was he this lively?
"Same! My siblings were SO rude this morning! I was trying to get ready, and they said I shouldn't wear the cape or the helmet, but I wore the cape anyways and snuck my helmet in! It's a good thing, cause I fell off of the bleachers!"
His stomach felt light. He had thought Leaf looked like Marigold, and that's why he tolerated him. Now, though, it felt like Marigold looked like Leaf and that's why he thought Marigold was cute. Not only was Leaf his competition, Leaf was, well, a guy!
"I told them though, I said that I would wear anything I wanted! I said maybe next year I'll wear the tie-die skirt I got from mom! Or those toe socks Pinecone got me for Christmas!"
Every guy in his troop talked about girls. When the councilors weren't around, they'd all whisper and giggle about girls they liked and wanted to kiss. Some had even kissed a girl before!
"Mom lets me wear whatever I want, cause she says it doesn't matter anyways and they're just clothes. I don't think dad likes it but he hasn't stopped me yet. Sometimes Marigold makes fun of me and says I'll never get a girlfriend, but I don't care! Girls are nice n stuff, but there's guys too! Like James from the library! He helped me find a book on dinosaurs from the Triassic era, and he asked me why he hadn't seen me at school in the Basin, and I told him it was because I was schooled at home with my siblings! And he asked me their names and when I told him them he laughed a little but he didn't make fun of us for our names!"
Chip wasn't sure about girls. They were pretty, and soft, and they could be nice, but so was Leaf. Nobody he knew ever talked about guys in that way. Sometimes, though, they joked about 'homosexuals' and said that word that the head councilor had yelled at Charles for.
"He said he liked my cape and that dinosaurs were cool and asked if we could hang out sometime! I gave him a hug when we left the library, cause hugs are great and I love them, and he gave me his number and I gave him mine so we could stay in touch! Ya know, sometimes Brooke talks about a guy she met at the movies one time, and they kissed, which mom got kinda upset about, and she talks about butterflies and I like talking to James cause he gives me that butterfly feeling!"
The more Leaf talks, the longer Chip stares. He had freckles around his eyes, Chip noticed. Right in the corners. He hadn’t seen them at first, but if he looked long enough, they showed up. Could guys get that weird light feeling from guys? Leaf was soft and funny and, if Chip was being honest, smart, even if he himself didn’t think so. That makes him much better than Marcy or Logainne, who were both smart but too serious.
"James doesn't come over much, but he's pretty nice! We play with the plastic dinosaurs outside, which most people think is weird, but we both like it! Oh, or sometimes we play in the woods nearby, cause there small enough so we don't get lost!"
He watched Leaf light up. Yesterday, Chip would've never thought excessive talking would be cute. Now, he had been given the chance to watch Leaf really emote and it was kind of cute, actually. As he observed, his mind wandered. He imagined just leaning forward and kissing him, which, wait, that was weird, did guys kiss guys? Then, he thought about how soft Leaf’s hair looked. He just wanted to touch Leaf in some way, establish contact. One part of him wanted to pull Leaf closer, maybe even into his lap.
Chip, experiencing emotions similar to when his name was called at the bee, looked down at his lap. Oh, Christ. That was a problem. He had no speller number to cover it this time. There were two outcomes. Either Leaf wouldn’t notice (possible, since he seemed to have missed the first one) or Chip would have to make a run for it.
"But it's real fun, and hey, if you want, maybe we could hang out after the bee! It's fun havin people over even though my siblings like to tease and stuff, and what's wrong with your pants?"
Chip looked up, real fear in his eyes, and ran for it. Someone was pushing the door he was pulling, and he rammed into Marcy on his escape. She watched him run out and laughed.
Chapter 2: Weren't We All Wondering How Leaf Would React? Here's My Guess
Leaf has no clue what just happened. Marcy (thinks) she does.
Leaf Coneybear was absolutely perplexed.
Chip had just bolted when Leaf asked him that question. Then Marcy came in all cheerful, which was GREAT but strange cause wasn't she all sad and serious before?
Then she had said, "Jesus, Chip, got it hard again?"
Again? Wait, was THAT what had happened to Chip during the bee??? If it was, then it would make sense for people to laugh, he guessed. A bee was a bad place for that to happen!
"So Chip just really likes someone?" He wondered aloud.
Marcy looked startled. "You know what that means?"
Leaf snorted. "I'm twelve years old with siblings. I'm not that smart, but I know some stuff!"
She giggled and laid down across a row of chairs. "You could've saved Schwarzy a lot of embarrassment, Leaf. That girl was as red as your hair." She paused, then giggled again. "Or your sister's."
He tilted his head, fingers twisted in his ribbon cape bow again. "My sister? Raisin, Marigold, Brooke, or Pinecone?"
"Mari-Marigold," she said, over barely contained laughter.
Face scrunched up, he tilted his head even further. "Why are you laughing? Did she do something funny while I was out?"
Marcy shook her head, still laughing. "Chip was - no, obviously still is - super into her. You know," she said, indicating down there.
Everyone connected. His eyes went huge.
Marcy stopped laughing. "Oh, crap, I broke Coneybear!"
Chapter 3: Avoiding That Awful Car Trip Home
Chip really doesn't want to go home yet. Maybe, if he waits long enough, they'll forget the whole incident. Olive's father still isn't here. Chip offers to wait with her.
It wasn’t fair.
Everyone else got to walk away from that spelling bee fine, changed for the better. (Well, maybe not Logainne, but spelling 'vug' wrong hardly compared to what he suffered.)
Chip watched everyone leave. First was Marcy, dragged out by her parents before she could say goodbye to anyone.
Then it was Logainne, who had been found by her dads and was being comforted as the trio left the building. Though Carl(?) seemed disappointed, he didn’t stop his husband from promising her ice cream on the way home.
Barfeé left third, surprisingly early for a champion. He gave Olive a hug goodbye and left with his incredibly proud mother.
Leaf's parents shuffled all six kids out the door, creating a noticeable noise drop in the room. Chip's eyes dwelled on Leaf. He felt a floating sensation in his gut again and quickly looked away. Instead of thinking about Leaf, he searched for Olive, the only person he hasn't seen leave.
She stood by the door, beaming with pride at her second place accomplishment. Lacking his previous bravado, Chip approached her.
"Is your dad here?" He asked, trying to sound as meek as possible.
She looked at him, surprised. "Oh! You're still here!" She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Uh. No. He won't answer his phone. I might just take the bus."
"I can wait with you," he blurted, momentarily surprised that he said that. It was a genuine offer, though.
"No, you don't have to do-"
"Believe me, I want to. I'm delaying that awful, awkward car ride home."
Stifling a giggle, Olive nodded. "I see. I'll give him..." She flipped open her phone to check the time. "Ten minutes. I left a voicemail saying the bee was over and that I got second. I'll call him if I take the bus."
Chip sat on the ground. He was quickly joined by Olive.
"Good job," Chip said. "Honestly, I didn't think you'd be in the top two."
Olive shrugged. "Me either. But I don't think anyone expected you to be selling candy."
He sighed. "I know, I know. I really dropped the ball there. Still..." He grinned haphazardly. "I didn't think I'd have it that bad for Leaf..." He realized that he had trailed off. "Leaf's sister! Marigold. Her," he added quickly.
She raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
He couldn’t stop himself from covering the slip up. "I mean, you can’t blame me. Soft hair, green eyes, round face..." He was stuck. Marigold's face got replaced by Leaf's while he was in the loser's room and no matter how hard he tried, he could only remember what Leaf looks like.
Olive caught on. "Red hair, helmet, cape?"
His face turned red. "Mm. Mhm."
She didn’t hold back on the laughter. To be fair, Chip deserved it. The biggest dork, the loudest, most inattentive kid? Too much for Chip's crotch to handle.
"You poor, poor kid. Logainne tried to explain the whole," she gestured vaguely, "situation. I don't think he paid much attention."
"No, but I'm sure he found out later in the loser's room."
Olive looked at him, wide-eyed. "No..." She whispered, horrified.
Now Chip's neck was red too. Why was he telling this to Olive, some girl he barely knew? But, it felt nice to get it out.
"He was talking, and I, I got distracted because I was looking at him, and suddenly he was asking what was wrong with my pants. There wasn't a contestant number to hide it that time, so I just ran to the bathroom. Of course, it was right when Marcy came in."
"Did you go back?" She asked.
As embarrassing as the whole thing was, it feels nice to get some sympathy. "No. Hid in the bathroom until I heard people out of the gym. I think my parents are still looking for me."
"Geez, Chip. It's been a hard day for you." She giggled.
For a second, he was confused. Then the pun hit him and he raised an eyebrow. "You can make jokes?"
"It's like a different way to play with words! Instead of anagrams, it's hiding a word inside of another word or phrase." She checked her phone again. "Two minutes."
"Chip!" A woman's voice echoed down the hall. Chip went pale.
"Chip Tolentino!" A man shouted. "Come on, we need to leave!"
He winced. "My parents. I gotta go."
Olive smiled. "Thanks for sitting with me. It was nice not being alone."
Chip grinned at her. "Well, it was nice being around someone that won't get me hard."
Olive laughed loudly, snorting and chuckling. "You're not so bad, Chip."
"And you're not so quiet and innocent, Ms Pro-Choice."
She laughed even harder.
"But seriously," he added, "I think you can win it next year. If I don't make it, at least. See ya later, Olive." He waved and jumped up, running to his parents.
Olive checked her phone again.
As she walked out the door, a familiar car pulled up. The window rolled down.
"Need a ride?" Her dad asked.
Stunned, she nodded. The doors unlocked and she sat in the passenger's seat.
"Sorry I was missed it.”
Okay. That was all he was going to say, apparently. “The second place prize covered the entry fee, so don’t worry about it.” Maybe that would get some conversation started.
“Good,” was his reply. The car fell silent again. There wasn’t even a radio to fill the quiet. Olive shifted and stared out the window, going through the bee over and over in her head. At least she had managed to make a few friends.