“Hey, Bells! Check this out!”

Chance dropped and swung precariously back and forth by his knees from the metal bars. His shirt flopped in his face, and Bella just snorted.

“Wow, Chance. You are amazing.” Her voice was dry and monotone.

“Ha. Ha. Now come here.” Chance swiped the shirt away from his eyes to find a right-side-up Bella staring at him nose-to-nose.

“Well,” she rolled her eyes. “I fail to see what’s so impressive about that. Any five-year-old can hang upside-down on the monkey bars.”

“THIS!” Chance grabbed her by the waist and pulled her toward him. “SPIDER-MAN KISSES!!!”

Bella squealed in a way that Chance had only ever heard her do for him, and he loved making her giggle. She squirmed against his kiss and pushed him away.

“CHANCE!” she scolded and slapped at him.

“What?” He laughed before he realized she was actually upset.

Frustrated, Chance watched her retreat silently to the swing a few feet away. He sighed, kicked off the bar, and flipped himself upright to follow her.

She flopped down and intently dragged her feet through the dust below the swing. They both watched abstract patterns forming behind her toes as he wracked his brain for words.

“Bells? What did I do?”

“It’s Bella, Chance. Bell-a!” she snapped and kicked her feet, sending dust flying and the swing soaring into the air.

“I’m… sorry?”

He couldn’t figure her out. He plopped down on the swing next to her and watched her float back and forth, waiting for her to talk. Eventually she would, even if he had to text her phone to get her started.

There was never a time in his life he couldn’t remember her being in it, even though he’d only been in Gap since second grade. They’d been best friends and worst enemies — the closest thing he’d ever had to a sister, he supposed.

Wait.

Is THAT what this was about? He shook his head in disbelief.

So.

Very.

Bella.

“Is this because I kissed you?”

The slight flinch told him she’d heard him, but she said nothing. Her continued swinging was making him impatient.

“Bella! YOU kissed ME first! Christmas? Remember? Dubya-Tee-Eff?”

Her dark hair flew behind her as the swing came down to a sudden halt, covering her face as if it hadn’t gotten the memo that there was a sudden change of plans. Bella clawed at it with her black nails to glare at him from between the tresses.

Beware the wrath of a woman scorned.

It was… her voice… in his head.

Chance shook his head to clear it and couldn’t help but smile in spite of himself. She was so beautiful. Mysterious. He had loved her since the day he’d met her. It may have been an accident that landed him in this place, but he was determined to make the best of a bad situation.

“CHANCE ELROY SEBASTIAN FUDD!”

Chance dropped the smile.

That’s right, buddy. The full-fool name.

He tried to hide the returning smirk, because he knew it would just piss her off further. Years ago, Bella had made up a name for him, since no one seemed to know what his real name actually was. They’d called it his full-fool name, because it was nothing but ridiculous. She used it to tease him mostly, but when she was angry, she used THAT tone of voice and he knew there was trouble.

“Bella? What? I really don’t know what’s going on.”

“I …” she stammered and her lips stopped moving.

I kissed you because… I was…

He lost her thoughts, as if she’d trailed off.

Chance had never seen her this flustered – and it was something more than just anger. In fact, he was fairly certain the anger was a ruse. He stepped toward her and gently brushed back the remaining strands of ebony hair from her face to study her eyes.

“You were what?”

“How did you –” Bella stared at him in disbelief. “You heard that?”

Chance nodded involuntarily, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. He didn’t remember ever doing this before with Bella, but he may have; some things in their past were incredibly hard to remember.

“I was… supposed to.” Bella’s eyes dropped to the ground.

“Huh?”

“Chance… I looked at you and knew I was supposed to kiss you.”

“You didn’t want to?” He tried not to be hurt. He’d been thinking of little else since the surprise kiss from her, and how he could reciprocate it. He’d decided to hedge his bets today. Now that he had…

“That’s not what I said.” Her voice broke and her eyes snapped back to meet his gaze, and he saw the usual defiant challenge in them.

image by David Pringle, Pringle-art.com

“Ah… there’s my Bella. Was afraid you’d gone soft on me.” Chance winked and watched her eyes melt uncharacteristically. For the first time in his life, he was seeing her vulnerable.

Yours?

“You always have been my Bells.”

Snorting, she turned away again.

“Now, I know you’re messing with me. You’re a bigger player than anyone else I know.”

“They’re distractions, just like your phone –” Chance raised a hand to stop her protests. “You know it’s true, Bella. We avoid what’s really going on inside of us and just go about our business — finding superficial, inane distractions — just hoping we don’t have to face our real demons.”

“Heh,” she scoffed. “There’s a lot of that in this town.”

Chance nodded, and suddenly noticed the street light flickering on overhead. Time seemed to pass more erratically when he was with Bella.

“We should head home. You know I can’t handle being in this place after dark.”

“I know, but… wait… just a minute?”

Chance sighed and nodded.

I knew you wouldn’t say no to me.

Bella searched the ground as Chance watched in confusion. What was she doing? More importantly, what were they?

She finally found what she was looking for under the park bench nearby. She held up a sharp stone in triumph, and motioned for him to watch. He leaned closer as she carved into the wooden planks: CESF + BK, and then put a star around the letters.

“Why a star?” he asked.

Bella shrugged.

“Well, it’s not love yet…”

but it’s definitely written in the stars.