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Shilo

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"Flesh and blood, I'm yours forever / And forever, it never dies." -Neil Diamond

I.

When he awoke from disturbing dreams that he couldn't remember, Ron Stoppable had trouble determining what time of day it was or, indeed, what day it was in the first place.

The sky outside his window was deep purple, the half-light of evening … or of morning. He didn't remember falling asleep, but he must have. Running nearly a mile at top speed and crying all the way, he must have worn himself out. Or maybe he just fell asleep to escape what he had been running from.

He still couldn't believe Kim would have taken off without him. She was his best friend; she'd never do something like that to him. It was all like some horrible nightmare.

Maybe it was a nightmare. And now it was morning, Sunday morning! Kim still hadn't gone to church yet. They were still going to meet at BN afterwards. None of it had happened yet!

As these thoughts rushed through his mind, Ron excitedly thought about calling his friend as soon as possible. He had overslept that morning, no, he had dreamed he had overslept that morning and missed out on joining her family for church. But that wouldn't happen now. He had to go, and he would hug her tightly when he first saw her, no, no he would act natural. He might tell her about the dream, but no! He would tell her he had a bad dream, but not about what. He would do anything he could to make her happy, to make her want to never stop being friends with him, he would …

"Burp!"

Simultaneously, three things occurred that told Ron the sad fact that it was Sunday evening, not morning, and that the horrible day had not been a dream.

First, the sky grew noticeably darker, not lighter. Second, Ron heard the hum of the TV antenna changing position on the roof. His father always fiddled with the antenna on Sunday evenings to try and pick up PBS. Finally, the distinct chimerito flavor to his belch confirmed the awful reality of the day he had just undergone.

Ron bitterly vowed never to eat at Bueno Nacho ever again.

He was too depressed to get up. He lay in his bed and allowed the night that was slowly darkening his window to wash over him. He felt like he had lost everything he had ever cared about, and, as painful as that feeling was, he wanted to wallow in it. The only pleasure he saw in the darkness of his friendless future was throwing a gigantic pity fiesta for himself. Laying awake all night in utter darkness seemed like a good start.

For five minutes. And then the grande-sized root beer he had drunk a few hours earlier started to kick in.

With an annoyed groan, Ron pushed himself out of bed and wandered to his bedroom door. Even with the lights off, he knew where every toy, book, pair of semi-clean underwear lay on his floor. Inside his room, Ron had the radar instincts of a bat. So why was he so clumsy everywhere outside of his room in broad daylight?

As he walked down the stairs, Ron didn't seem to feel the steps. His mind was so awash and numb with despair that he felt unconnected with his body … with the obvious exception of his bladder. He didn't even hear his father calling him until the elder Stoppable patted him on his shoulder. Of course, this resulted in Ron almost not making it to the bathroom.

"Are you all right, son?"

"Y-yeah, y-you just scared me a little, Dad," Ron stammered, trying to catch his breath and otherwise recoup.

"Are you sure?" his father asked, "I called you about four times and you acted like you didn't know I was there." Ron's dad placed the back of his wrist against Ron's forehead. "Still no fever."

"Dad," Ron said testily, moving away from his father's touch, "I am fine. Whatever gave you the idea I had a fever, that I was sick?"

Elliot Stoppable didn't know what to make of his son's sudden show of temper. Ron was not usually like that; however, he wrote it off to after effects of his sudden illness at Bueno Nacho. "Well, Kimberly said that you were sick. That you even ran all the way home from the restaurant."

"Kim?" Ron asked hopefully. Then he forced his mood to blacken again. So she's feeling guilty about dumping me there. Fine.

"Did she call or something?" Ron said acidly and turned toward the bathroom.

"No," his father still couldn't make out why Ron seemed so angry, "she stopped by a couple of hours ago to see if you made it home all right."

Ron barely heard him as he walked in the bathroom and shut/slammed the door closed.

II.

Kim had been staring at the same word problem for five minutes, doodling in the margins of her notebook and oblivious to the chaos going on around her. Her father was chasing after her twin brothers who, in addition to the spokes of her bicycle, had "borrowed" some of his blueprints from work. At the same time, the television was on full blast on Country Music Televison because in addition to the spokes, and the blue prints, Jim and Tim had also "modified" the universal remote for the Possible entertainment system so neither the channel or volume switches worked anymore.

In the kitchen, Anne Possible acted equally oblivious to the pandemonium in the living room; of course, she was focusing on preparing dinner. Kim, however, was oblivious to every male member of the family as they each jumped over her prone form on the floor because she was completely unfocused.

Well, maybe not completely unfocused. On the right margin of her notebook she had scribbled the following:

Walter

Walter Nelson

Kim + Walter

Walter + Kim

Kim Nelson

They were heartless doodles since neither Walter's first or last names contained any "i"'s, and it seemed silly to Kim to dot the "i" in her name with a heart.

The last video she had heard before the modified remote had gone haywire was from one of the older country guys that her father seemed to like. She hadn't really been listening or watching but she did catch his last name: "Nelson." And that had started her down the daydream path with the pretty boy from Upperton.

Suddenly, Kim's mind switched back to its previous topic: Ron. On the bottom half of the page, she had absently doodled a couple of crude, stick-like pictures of Ron: smiling, waving, running, goofing. As pleasant a diversion as Walter had provided for the briefest of moments, her thoughts and feelings about him couldn't keep her mind off her growing concern for her best friend.

"Okay, guys!" Anne Possible called in a pleasant voice that also conveyed unequivocally that she meant business, "It's time for dinner!"

James T. Possible and his two namesakes immediately stopped horsing around and piled into the kitchen. Lost in thought, Kim did not move.

"Kimmie, time to eat." Anne called.

"Huh?-oh, I-I'm not hungry, mom."

"Are you feeling sick, honey?" Anne knew about Ron's misadventure at Bueno Nacho earlier in the afternoon, and although she knew food poisoning typically took more than twenty-four hours to hit, it was still possible that Ron had some other type of bug that might be affecting Kim.

"No," Kim looked up, "just worried."

"Why don't you give Ron a call? I'm sure once you find out he's going to be fine, you'll get your appetite back." Anne could tell when her daughter was moping about her best friend. When Ron had spent the summer at Camp Wannaweep, Kim had been this listless for weeks straight, and it took everything Anne could come up with to get her daughter's spirits up.

"Okay."

"Oh, and Kim, could you turn the television off? That music is driving me crazy!"

"O-oh, sure. I didn't notice it."

III.

When the phone rang, Elliot Stoppable had just sat back down at his desk. Since he was not expecting a call and did remember the phone's ringer being turned up so loud, he gave a slight yelp and jump that caused the stack of compact discs on his desk to cascade to the floor. He took two deep breaths and then picked up the receiver.

Just at that moment, Ron started to leave the bathroom.

"Oh, hi, Kimberly. No, Ron's awake." Elliot said cheerfully. "In fact, he is right here … Ron!"

As stealthily as he could, Ron tiptoed back into the bathroom and shut the door.

Elliot looked bewildered at the shut door; he could have sworn he saw Ron coming out seconds before.

"Actually, Kimberly, he is in the restroom right now. Can I have him give you a call back? Okay. No, no, he still doesn't have a fever. Yes, I think he will be all right. I'll let him know you called. Bye, now."

After he hung up the phone, Ron's dad stared at the bathroom door. From the way the shadows fell against the light coming from underneath the jam, he would swear Ron was pacing in there. He shook his head and began restacking the discs on his desk.

IV.

Ron was trying his best not to start crying again. But, as it seemed practically everyone in his life was always reminding him, his best was not always good enough. As he tried to muffle his cries with his hand, the thought occurred to him that the only person, other than maybe his father, who never doubted his best was Kim. This just made him cry harder. He was grateful for the churning of the exhaust fan; hopefully, his father wouldn't be able to hear him.

Ron suddenly became aware of a melody coming from the other side of the door. His father must have just started playing music. The tune seemed very, very familiar, but who cared?

He had so wanted to run to the phone when his father had answered it and had spoken his best friend's, no, his former best friend's full first name. Heck, he had felt a strong pull at the first ring, even before his father picked up the receiver. At the same time, however, the cool feel of the bike rack came back to him.

Why did she do that?

Sure, he was a loser. He knew that now, and he couldn't really blame her for realizing it too and wanting to stop … to stop being friends with him.

But why didn't she at least say good-bye to me?

If she is feeling guilty now, good. She should!

He would have done anything for her. He would have given up their friendship freely without regret … at least without much regret … or at least not THIS much regret if she had just asked him to. He wiped his nose with the last bit of toilet paper on the spool and then looked underneath the sink for another roll. There wasn't one.

Great!

For the second time that day, Ron felt a strong urge to call out to his imaginary friend. He fought it as best he could, but all his feelings were crowding around him. He needed some kind of release to give him emotional breathing room. Ron sniffled twice, tried to steady his quivering lower lip, wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve, and gave voice to his misery in a quiet cry for help.

"Kimmmmmmmm."

Wait I minute! I didn't say Rufus! Why did I say Kim?

Suddenly, it occurred to Ron that he had been friends with Kim for so long that Rufus wasn't there anymore. Like the Neil Diamond song that he used to listen to constantly, Kim-the Kim that until that afternoon had been his real friend-had taken the place of his imaginary one. For some strange reason, this made Ron feel a little better. And then he realized something else; the music he had heard his father playing a few minutes earlier had been that very song. He half smiled.

Maybe if the real Kim was no longer his friend, her memory – his Kim – could still be. That way Kim could still be his friend in his heart.

As crazy as that sounded, and it did sound crazy, Ron couldn't deny that it also made him feel good and that he was no longer crying. Maybe crazy wouldn't be such a bad thing to be … at least for a little while.

V.

As Ron made his way through the living room toward the stairs, his father swiveled in his desk chair to face him, "Kimberly called."

Ron tried his best not to noticeably wince at the sound of his former best friend's name. "Oh yeah," he said as cheerfully as he could, mentally running through happy memories he and Kim had shared and trying to focus on one long enough to keep himself from tearing up.

"She wanted to make sure you were feeling okay."

"Yeah, cool," Ron answered with a half-smile. He was thinking about how Kim had helped him with a planet mobile made from Styrofoam balls in fifth grade. They had gotten high marks because, unlike every other group that had only given Saturn rings, they-with insider knowledge from Kim's dad-had placed rings around Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune as well. No matter what it was they did, Kim always made him feel important … or she always had, that is.

Don't cry, don't cry …

"You really have a good friend in Kimberly …" Elliot Stoppable continued as Ron tried to make it up to his room as quickly as possible without looking like he was trying to make it up to his room as quickly as possible.

Man! It is almost like he knows and is trying to torture me!

Ron wasn't sure if he could maintain the plastered smile on his face if his father said any more nice things about Kim.

"I mean to walk all the way out here …"

"Huh?" Ron froze.

For the second time in a half hour, Ron's dad gave a yelp, jumped out of his seat, and knocked over the tower of compact discs at his right elbow. This time it was because Ronald, who mere seconds before had been at the top of the stairs, was suddenly at his left elbow.

"What do you mean 'walk?'" Ron asked.

After letting a small groan escape, Elliot bent over to collect the discs from the floor and explained that by "walk" he meant … well … walk, as in to travel by foot. "Oh," he continued, "I guess you didn't know. The terrible twosome apparently did something to Kimberly's bike yesterday, so she walked here."

When his father faced Ron again, he could have sworn his son had just undergone a growth spurt. He seemed to be standing a full two inches taller. His eyes were alert, if somewhat bleary; he looked wired. Elliot, as a precaution, waved a hand in front of his son's face. No reaction. Still more bemused then worried, he took Ron's wrist in his hand and felt for a pulse. Yes, even though he didn't seem to be breathing, Ron was still alive.

"So," Elliot Stoppable continued, as if everything was normal – he had learned from experience that this was the best course of action whenever his only child seemed to be acting … well … bizarre, "have you tried it out yet?"

"Huh?" Ron shook his head vigorously and blinked a few times, as if he was just waking up for school after not getting enough rest. The only difference, his father noted, was that when Ron woke up for school, he typically wasn't wearing a broad grin.

"The cassette player," his father explained. "You were really dead to the world, Ron. I set up the player while you were sleeping. You didn't even budge when I knocked one of the speakers off your shelf. Don't tell me you didn't notice your new sound system."

Ron then noticed the large stacks of compact discs on his father's desk and then his eyes shot to the entertainment center. Right below their betamaxx was a "new" compact disc player with a five disc carousel where the old cassette player used to be.

"Gene just got some new thing that plays those CDR, MPG or MP3 things, and he said I could have his old player and all his old compact discs."

"Wow!" Ron exclaimed as he jumped in the air and proceeded to dance in place. Ron was, of course, excited by the new technology but not as excited as he was letting on to be. In fact, he was channeling what he was really excited about – the fact that the end of his friendship with Kim had been, after a fashion, a bad dream.

VI.

Kim had been staring at herself in the mirror for five minutes trying to practice her best smile without opening her lips. So far, the best non-teeth, non-brace smile looked like an uncomfortable grimace. The worst smile looked like she was trying to hold back a yell after someone had stomped on her foot.

This is so not happening! I can't even say "Hi," "Walter," or "Nelson" without my braces showing!

She was getting pretty frustrated. There was no getting around it; she had braces and there was no way to hide them and still look normal. Just as she was about to switch off the light in disgust and head off to bed in a funk, Kim remembered something Ron had said to her earlier in the day.

She dropped her hand from the switch and looked straight into the mirror. Taking a deep breath, she slowly, hesitantly, smiled her best smile, braces and all.

She was still not happy with what she saw, but she had to admit that the braces didn't look too horrible, and she did look normal with them showing.

"Hi Walter! I'm Kim Possible. Nice to meet you, Walter, I'm Kim."

She couldn't help noticing how red she got when she spoke Walter's name. It was crazy; her cheeks were almost the same color as her hair!

Kim so hoped she wouldn't be blushing this much when she really spoke to him the next day. Then she realized that if she was concerned about her cheeks, she was no longer bothered by her braces. Wow!

She smiled broadly and practiced her greeting one more time with a noticeable downshift in the blush factor. She could do this, she could.

No big!

As she flipped off the light, Kim happily whispered to the darkness, "Thanks, Ron."

VII.

Ron couldn't sleep. He was too excited. Too excited about his new cassette player and the new collection of tapes he had inherited from his father. Of course that was all gravy to the immense feeling of relief that had washed over him when he realized that Kim hadn't abandoned him at Bueno Nacho. She was still the same caring friend she had always been.

Of course, that relief had been replaced by a few minutes of intense guilt over how he had been feeling about her earlier.

Oh man! How could I have ever doubted her? And then refused her call? Oh man, I am such a jerk!

By the time he realized that he was a jerk with the best friend in the world and not a loser without any friends, it was almost ten, and Kim would already be in bed. So he would have to wait to apologize until he saw her at school the next day.

Then again, how could he apologize since she didn't even know he had been a jerk? Maybe it would be best to pretend nothing had happened since nothing had, in fact, happened?

No, that wasn't right; something had happened—he had mistrusted his best friend even if she didn't know it.

This is going to be hard.

Then the perfect solution occurred to him. His father's tape deck, well, his tape deck, was a dual tape deck. He could make Kim a mix tape and give it to her as a surprise present tomorrow! Ron's father had made his mother a tape a few years ago for their anniversary. Why couldn't he make one for Kim?

Fortunately, part of Elliot Stoppable's cassette collection contained a half dozen unopened blank tapes. Unfortunately, the collection was not exactly ordered as meticulously as it could have been. In addition, his father had thrown out all the cases for the tapes (they took up "too much" space), so, at first glance, all the case-less tapes pretty much looked alike (most were made of white plastic with black type on them – a handful were white with light blue type). In short, searching through the various stacks of almost identical cassette tapes for the song Ron knew would be the "perfect first song" took a great deal of time. By the time he had the original tape and the blank tape cued up to begin recording, it was practically eleven.

Ron hooked up the earphones which fortunately fit in the cassette's output jack as well as they had in the 8-track's. The earphones no longer looked comically oversized on Ron's head (in fact, they fit his ears perfectly); all the same, they did look disproportionately large on his head.

As the song played, Ron bobbed his head to the melody as he mouthed the words. He knew the song so well that he could sing (or mouth) along while he wrote up a set list of songs he wanted to record next for Kim.

Wow! With ninety minutes I could put like fifty songs on it! Boy, is Kim gonna be surprised!

Math had never been one of Ron's strong subjects.

Then something strange happened. Ron was bobbing along to the melody when he realized that the song hadn't stopped where it should have. It just kept going and then, even more disturbing, the singer kept signing too. It wasn't like the chorus was being repeated either; these were words he had never heard before.

When the song really did end, Ron rewound the tape and played the "new" section of the song again. Then he rewound it a second time and played it to the end again. Ron was so agitated that he failed to notice that he hadn't stopped recording on the second deck.

After he rewound the tape a third time and listened to the song's last verse one final time, he shut off the stereo's power. He slowly took the earphones off and let them drop to the floor. He stared at his hands as they lay in his lap and tried to control his breathing. He didn't know what to do.

"Shilo" was the name of the singer's imaginary friend, but it was NOT, as he had always thought, the same person as the "young girl with fire." That was the singer's real friend … or his girlfriend. And at the end of the song, she left him. She left him, and he was alone with nobody. Nobody but his imaginary friend. His nothing friend. The song ended with the lonesome singer calling out for this friend, this friend that had never existed in the first place.

It wasn't just that Ron had been fooled by what the song was really about for so long. Although that really tanked.

It wasn't just because the song was now completely inappropriate for the tape. He wasn't going to make the tape now anyway.

What upset him was the fact that what the song was really about was what he feared was going to happen to him and Kim. Maybe not today or tomorrow. But it would happen. It would.

Man, I am so tired of crying.

His chin started to quiver, but he fought against it. He ejected the original tape, snatched it from the player and chucked it as hard as he could across the room. Fortunately, Ron's throw wasn't hard enough for the cassette to reach the opposite wall of his room; it landed harmlessly on his bed.

In a rage, Ron jerked the drawer to his desk open, dug through the papers, pencils, and 8-tracks that lay jumbled inside, and tore out the Neil Diamond cartridge. His hands trembling with anger, he placed it on the floor and stomped his heel down on it as hard as he could.

With bitter satisfaction, he raised his foot and surveyed the damage. The top of the plastic case was caved in and he could see a few crinkled magnetic strips inside.

Then he remembered.

A surge of complex emotions washed over his features. And as Ron Stoppable went to his knees on the carpet of his bedroom floor, he started to cry again.

But there was a difference. This time Ron was happy.

VIII.

For an entire week during the August of their tenth year, Kim refused to go to Ron's house or even to speak to him.

Ron had received a belated birthday gift from his Aunt Naomi at the beginning of the month. Well, "belated" wasn't exactly correct. "Replacement" was better, but not right either. The important point was that Aunt Naomi had arrived to visit on the Fourth of July with Cousin Shawn in tow. Fortunately for her, Kim had been with the rest of her family spending the holiday with Nana in Florida; she had yet to meet Ron's horrible cousin. During the course of the holiday, the two-year-old had somehow managed to destroy Ron's Atari 2600 video game system. How he had gotten a hold of the fireplace lighter and the screwdriver (both of which had been locked away in cabinets far too high for even Ron to reach without the benefit of a kitchen chair AND a stepladder) was a question that Elliot Stoppable could neither answer nor really wanted to. Although his sister-in-law's son was family, he simply could not shake images of the movie The Omen from his mind whenever Shawn's name was mentioned. He had once even absentmindedly referred to the toddler as "Damien" in front of his wife. Barbara had not been amused.

In any case, Aunt Naomi had purchased Ron one of the newer state-of-the-art video game consoles to replace Ron's barbequed and eviscerated unit. The day it was delivered, Ron excitedly called Kim over to play with his new system.

That is when the trouble began. It wasn't so much that Ron beat her at every game, and beat her soundly. True, that was annoying, but the problem was that when he was playing he didn't even seem to notice she was there. After a particularly thorough bashing at his hands in "Blood Sport III: This Time It's Really Personal," Kim got up to get a glass of milk from the kitchen. When she asked Ron if he wanted some too, he didn't seem to hear her. When she came back, she found that he had started playing another game without her. After watching him beat the computer opponents to bloody pulps for about a half hour, Kim started to get bored.

She tried clearing her throat to get his attention. Nothing. She started tapping her foot rather loudly against the coffee table. Still nothing. Finally, she reverted to tossing some of the shipping peanuts from the box the game came in across his line of vision. He was so grimly focused on the images jumping on the screen that even this did not faze him. Finally, more than a little upset, Kim got up and announced that she was going home.

"Cool, KP, see you tomorrow," Ron said without averting his eyes from the screen for even a split second.

Kim rode her bike home slowly; as mad as she was, she was still more sad than angry.

The next day Kim arrived at the Stoppable house to find Ron still playing games on that stupid console. If it wasn't for the fact that he typically wore the same things everyday anyway, she would have seriously questioned whether he had moved an inch during the past 24 hours.

He didn't even respond to her saying hello. After fifteen minutes of stewing in silence as she watched Ron grimly blast mutant gerbils on the television screen, Kim stood up and left the house without saying goodbye.

She pedaled her bike home at top speed; she was no longer sad. She decided then and there that she was not going back over to Ron's house until he called her and apologized for being such a jerk.

A week went by.

When Kim came back from an extended bike ride to the Middleton Mall one day, her mother had a message from Ron. He had called and wanted her to come over. Anne couldn't remember exactly what Ron had said, only that he said it was "very important."

Kim's initial reaction had been extreme relief. However, she immediately covered her feelings over with a mask of stern indignation. Why had it taken him a week to call? Wasn't their friendship worth more than that?

Secretly, Kim had started to worry that Ron would never call and that she had lost him forever. As irrational as she knew that fear to be, she had still had trouble getting to sleep the last few nights.

As angry as she tried to make herself, Kim couldn't hide the joy bubbling through her as she pedaled furiously over to Ron's house. The fact remained that even though he had been a jerk, Kim had missed Ron terribly.

It was a weekday afternoon, so it was not surprising that the Stoppable's cars were not in the drive. Kim thought that was a good thing. Since they were going to have a fairly intense discussion (this had been the longest fight in their very long friendship), it would be best if she and Ron were alone.

As Kim marched to the door, her resolve started to weaken. Up to that point, she had been steadfast that Ron would have to apologize before she would speak to him, but now she just wanted to see him. He didn't have to apologize right away. If he wanted to come around to it after they had hung out for a while it would be fine. Ron sometimes felt nervous when it came to serious discussions after all.

Although Ron was in the habit of coming into the Possible's house without knocking, Kim had never felt comfortable doing that when she came over to his home. Maybe it was because she never felt as comfortable around Ron's parents as he felt around hers. In any case, even with Ron's parents gone, she didn't feel right just barging into someone else's house. She knocked on the door. No answer.

After a few minutes, she knocked again. No answer.

She took a deep breath and gently turned the handle and opened the door.

"Ron?" she asked from the doorway. No answer.

"Ron?" she called a little louder. Still no answer.

She was trying to decide whether to call again or to knock on the door and then call again.

"KP! Come on in!"

"Eeep!" His call had been so sudden that Kim had jumped. As she walked in and closed the door it occurred to her that Ron's voice hadn't sounded particularly concerned, much less apologetic.

She walked into the living room and there was Ron in almost the exact same position she had left him a week ago. He didn't even turn around when she came in the room. Before she could even register the disappointment and anger that was started to course through her, Ron called out, without turning to face her, "Wait 'til you see this new game, Kim, it's badical! Oh, and could you fetch me a glass of milk, thanks!"

Kim had never been angrier. Ron had no intention of apologizing. He probably didn't even know he had done anything wrong! And that request for milk wasn't a request at all. Underneath the white hot anger she was feeling was also a deep hurt. A small voice was crying in her head asking, "Did he even notice I was gone for a week?" This same small voice had actually been crying off and on all week long. She had missed him, and he, evidently, had not missed her.

Without fully knowing what she was going to do, Kim walked up behind Ron. He still didn't turn around; he was too fixated on that stupid game. She looked down at the console and before she could stop herself, all the anger and hurt that had been simmering within her for over a week erupted from her heart, shot down the length of her right leg, and exploded in a violent kick she gave Ron's game console.

"DUDE! What do you think you're doing!" Ron yelled.

"Don't call me 'Dude,' Ron!" Kim yelled back at him.

"Man! Don't kick my stuff!" Ron yelled back.

Kim had started to roll her eyes in response to Ron replacing "dude" with "man" but then she realized, much to her anger and dismay, that she had started to cry.

"I-I," she sniffled and then erupted again, "I HATE YOU, RON STOPPABLE!"

Although she couldn't see it happen because she was crying too hard, all the anger immediately drained from Ron's face. "Wh-what?" he asked.

"Y-you care more about these stupid games then about our friendship! Then you do about me!"

"K-Kim, I," Ron said raising his hands and shaking his head.

"I haven't been here in over a week, Ron! And you didn't even notice, did you!"

Although she hadn't meant it as a question, Ron treated it as such. "A week?"

"Yes! An entire week! I'm your best friend and … and, oh, forget it!" She turned and stomped toward the door.

"Kim, please," he had gotten up and was trying to catch up with her.

"Don't say you're sorry, Ron!" she was running toward the door now.

Ron didn't know what to say but he had to say something, something to keep her from leaving, so he asked the obvious. "Where are you going?"

"HOME!" She screamed as she ran through the door and slammed it shut in his face.

She didn't even reach her bike before the noise reached her. Ron was crying. Even though he was still inside, even though she was a good twenty feet from his door, and even though she was still crying, she heard him.

I don't care. He is such a jerk. I DON'T care.

But she did.

Immediately, she recognized his cries. Since they were little kids, he had cried often over minor things. He had steadily gotten better at controlling his emotions, and Kim had noticed that in the past year Ron had only cried during action films. As much as it had always pained her whenever her best friend cried, only once had it broken her heart—when they were six and she had skinned her knee. He was crying just like that now.

She ran as fast she could through the Stoppables' yard, threw open the door and looked desperately around for her best friend.

"Ron?"

From the doorway Kim could see him in the living room jumping up and down. She walked quietly into the room. He was smashing a game under the heel of his shoe.

"Ron! Please stop!"

At the sound of her voice, Ron stopped, turned to face her, and collapsed to his knees in tears. She ran to him and fell to her knees. They embraced each other tightly.

They stayed that way for several minutes.

Days later Kim offered to pay to replace the new game Ron had smashed. She had just started babysitting and could afford it. Ron would not hear of it. Other than that, they never spoke about what happened again. They didn't even say they were sorry for what each had done to the other.

They didn't have to.

They were alone in the house, so there were no witnesses. It had nothing to do with like liking each other. No words were passed. Yet as they kneeled on the carpet, hugging each other tightly and crying, Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable silently pledged their love for each other.

IX.

Almost two years later, a cracked Neil Diamond 8-track cartridge reminded Ron Stoppable of a smashed jewel case for a video game whose name he couldn't remember.

Within moments, he was in bed sleeping peacefully.

X.

Kim Possible, however, was not able to sleep.

Even though she had gone to bed in a good mood, having tentatively overcome her "braces ish," she was restless. Even the tried and true trick of using her Pandaroo as an extra pillow hadn't helped.

The problem was Ron. Although she had been reassured about her best friend's condition when she had last spoken to his father, something about it still troubled her.

For some reason she kept thinking about the moment when Ron first got sick. It had come on so suddenly. At first she had thought there was something ferociously wrong with his chimerito. Of course, her mother had reminded her that it typically took more than a day for true food poisoning to take effect. Furthermore, Ron had always had an iron-clad stomach; she had never known him to get sick to his stomach unless he was riding a rollercoaster. And, of course, there was the fact that it had been her chimerito that he had been eating when he got sick. She certainly didn't notice anything wrong with the half she had eaten.

As she replayed the moment in her memory, she suddenly recalled what she had said just before Ron complained of getting ill.

She had revealed to him that she like liked Walter Nelson.

Wait a minute. No. No. It couldn't be.

But it could.

She was now sitting up in bed, a very worried expression on her face.

Could it be? Does Ron like like me?


To Be Continued ...