Chapter 1: Chip Tolentino Would Like To Publically Request Puberty to Leave Him Alone
He's not supposed to be here. He should be onstage, working his way to champion. But thanks to some cute girl, he's in the loser's room. Alone. God, first one out. Embarrassing. His parents are going to pitch a fit.
He doesn't want to watch the bee. Why bother? He's not winning, so it doesn't matter.
Though he doesn't want to admit it to himself, he takes a brief second to consider watching it for Marcy. She's 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 was painfully hard for Marigold when he went up to spell. Tittup, like a horses hooves. Tittup, tittup, tittup. Trotting away like his championship and alpha male status.
Grudgingly, he sets up the chairs he flipped and threw when he entered. Losing wasn't the only thing making him upset, of course.
Barfee, a total dick who was still somehow getting attention from sweet little Olive.
Marcy, ignoring his attempts at flirting.
Logainne, too stressed to even pay attention to him.
And Leaf, who was constantly moving and making noise and 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. How was he getting all those words right? It's unfair. For a second, Chip wishes he was as distracted and carefree as Leaf.
Whatever. He finds where he threw his juice box and opens 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 gets free food.
He tears open the bag and loses himself in chocolate peanuts and apple juice. In fact, he doesn't notice Leaf throwing open the door. Or Leaf sitting next to him. It takes Leaf loudly slurping his juice box to get his attention.
Chip jolts forward a bit.
Leaf smiles. "Hi." He waves at Chip, tapping his feet rapidly against the ground.
Chip grunts in response and focuses on finding a trash can. He stands up and, spotting one next to the door, takes his time in walking over and throwing his trash away. Normally, he'd take a shot, but he doesn't want to risk an embarrassing miss. He also wants to spend less time around Leaf. It's awkward knowing that he got an erection for the sister of the kid who's currently trying to play a fucked up version of 'Hot Cross Buns' on a juice box.
With a sigh, he sits back down next to Leaf. After another minute of terrible music, Chip wearily asks, "Do you have to sit directly beside me?"
Leaf stops for a moment, 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 is only twelve, and that argument is sound enough. Before Leaf arrived, he was fine with the silence. The absence of juice box music is starting to wear at him. With Leaf in here, silence makes him reflect on today, and today was awkward enough.
Chip turns his head. "What?"
"I got out on chinchilla. There's two L's." Leaf fiddles with the bow of his cape.
"And two T's in tittup," Chip adds before he can stop himself.
Leaf snickers, eyes focused on the red ribbon between his fingers. "Mr Panch didn't think that was real funny." Abruptly, his fingers freeze and he looks up at Chip. Green eyes, just like the ones looking at him from the audience. But Leaf's are sharper, Chip realizes, like a tree in the summer. Which sounds dumb in his head, but it's true. He wonders if that's where he got his name.
Shit. Leaf's looking at him funny. "Did I, did I say something?" Chip asks.
Leaf shakes 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 crinkle as he smiles at Chip expectantly.
Chip really doesn't want to explain the whole thing to Leaf, who probably won't understand it. "It's because I won last year and got out first this year. Ironic."
He nods slowly, face scrunched up like he's 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, he'd realized they looked like siblings. He had been right. Both had the same hair color, Leaf's wavy hair just long enough to get into his eyes. The same colored eyes, 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 are turning to Leaf. How soft his short hair looks. How round and cute his face is, even as he babbles on and on. The thought arises that maybe Leaf isn't innocent because he's homeschooled, but because his focus is so bad. God bless Schwarzy for trying to explain Chip's erection to him.
There's a break of silence. Chip says, "Yeah, it's just been a rough day for me."
That's enough to get Leaf talking again. As he starts, Chip notices how he bounces 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 feels 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 got hard. Not only should you not feel like that about your competition, Leaf's, well, another 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 Jack 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 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 Marigold 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 llike talking to Jack cause he gives me that butterfly feeling!"
The more Leaf talks, the longer Chip stares. He has freckles around his eyes, Chip notices. The corners. You couldn't see the at first, but if you looked long enough, they showed up. Can guys get that weird light feeling from guys? Leaf is soft and funny and smart, even if he doesn't think so. That makes him much better than Marcy or Logainne, who are both smart but too serious.
"Jack 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 watches Leaf light up. Yesterday, Chip would've never though excessive talking would be cute. Now, he's given the chance to watch Leaf really emote and it's adorable. As he observes, his mind wanders. He imagines just leaning forward and kissing him, which, wait, that's weird, do guys kiss guys? Then, he thinks about how soft his hair looks. He just wants to touch Leaf in some way, establish contact. One part of him wants to sit in his lap and make good use of his erection.
His what?? Oh, Christ. He tries to subtly glance down, and yes, that is indeed an erection. There's no sign to cover it this time. Either Leaf won't notice (possible, since he seemed to have missed the first one) or Chip is going to have to 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 looks up, real fear in his eyes, and runs for it. Someone's pushing the door he's pulling, and he runs by Marcy on his escape. She watches him run out and laughs.
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 is absolutely perplexed.
Chip had just bolted when Leaf had 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's a bad place for that to happen!
"So Chip just really likes someone?" He wonders aloud.
Marcy looks 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, Jesus, 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's not fair.
Everyone else gets to walk away from that spelling bee fine, changed for the better. (Well, maybe not Logainne, but spelling 'vug' wrong hardly compares to what he suffered.)
Chip watches everyone leave. First it's Marcy, dragged out by her parents before she could say goodbye to anyone.
Then it's Logainne, whose dads had found and were trying to comfort her as best they could. Though Carl(?) seems disappointed, he doesn't stop his husband from promising her ice cream on the way home.
Barfeé leaves third, surprisingly early for a champion. He gives Olive a hug goodbye and leaves with his incredibly proud mother.
Leaf's parents shuffle all six kids out the door, creating a noticeable noise drop in the room. Chip's eyes dwell on Leaf. He feels a floating sensation in his gut again and quickly looks away. Instead of Leaf, he looks for Olive, the only person he hasn't seen leave.
She stands by the door, beaming with pride at her second place accomplishment. Lacking his previous bravado, Chip approaches her.
"Is your dad here?" He asks, trying to sound as kind as possible.
She looks at him, surprised. "Oh! You're still here!" She tucks 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 blurts. It's a genuine offer.
"No, you don't have to do-"
"Believe me, I want to. I'm trying to delay that awful, awkward car ride home."
Stifling a giggle, Olive nods. "I see. I'll give him..." She flips 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 sits on the ground, quickly joined by Olive.
"Good job," Chip says. "Honestly, I didn't think you'd be in the top two."
Olive shrugs. "Me either. But I don't think anyone expected you to be selling candy."
He nudges her playfully. She laughs. "I know, I know. I really dropped the ball there." He grins haphazardly. "I didn't think I'd have it that bad for Leaf..." He realizes he's trailed off. "Leaf's sister! Marigold. Her," he adds quickly.
She raises an eyebrow but says nothing.
He can't stop himself from continuing his charade. "I don't know. Soft hair, green eyes, round face..." He's stuck. Marigold's face was replaced by Leaf's while he was in the loser's room and no matter how hard he tries, he can only remember what he looks like.
Olive catches on. "Red hair, helmet, cape?"
His face turns red. "Mm. Mhm."
This time, she doesn't hold back on laughing. Though, to be fair, Chip did deserve 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 gestures 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 looks at him, wide-eyed. "No..." She whispers, horrified.
Now Chip's neck was red too. Why was he telling this to Olive, some girl he barely knows? But, it feels nice to get it out.
"He was talking, and I, I got distracted, 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 asks, intrigued.
As embarrassing as the whole thing is, it feels nice to get attention. "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 giggles.
For a second, he's confused. Then the pun hits him and he snorts. "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 checks her phone again. "Two minutes."
"Chip!" A woman's voice echoes down the hall. Chip turns pale.
"Chip Tolentino!" A man shouts. "Come on, we need to leave!"
He winces. "My parents. I gotta go."
Olive nods. "Thanks for sitting with me. It was nice not being alone."
Chip grins. "It was nice being around someone that won't get me hard."
Olive laughs loudly, snorting and chuckling. "You're not so bad, Chip."
"And you're not so quiet and innocent, Ms Pro-Choice."
She laughs even harder.
"But seriously," he adds, "I think you can win it next year. If I don't make it, at least. See ya later, Olive." He waves and jumps up, running to his parents.
Olive checks her phone again.
As she walks out the door, a familiar car pulls up. The window rolls down.
"Need a ride?" Her dad asks.
Stunned, she nods. The doors unlock and she sits in the passenger's seat.
"Sorry I was late, Olive. Boss asked me to do an extra shift, and since your mom's not here, I thought we could use the extra money. I called between shifts. Oh, shit, the fee." He fumbles his wallet out. "Twenty five, she said?"
"It's okay, dad! Second place prize was twenty five dollars in cash, so I was able to pay it! It was great!"
Her dad smiles. "Really? Why don't you tell me about the whole thing on the way home. I'd like to see what I missed."
She nods enthusiastically.