Wade sat on the bed and stared at his closet. He had no idea what to wear. “Next time I'm going to ask her for something specific.” He didn't know what they were doing and had no idea what he should wear. He didn't even know if there would be a next time, and if it went as badly as he feared he was sure there would not be a chance for a second. He put on a suit, and realized it was a mistake as soon as he looked in the mirror. Before he could change, however, he had the misfortune of being seen by his mother.
“Get the camera, Lontaine, we need to take our baby's picture.”
“Please, Mama, you're treating this like I'm going to the prom or something.”
“You were a Senior in high school when you were eight. You're never going to get a Senior Prom, so I think it's important to get a picture of you before your first date.” Wade wasn't sure if the tear she wiped from her eye was real or imaginary.
“I'm not going to wear this, I look like an idiot.”
“No you don't, you look handsome. Doesn't he look handsome Lontaine?”
Wade had the feeling his father wanted to laugh.
“So, what are you and Joss going to do? Where will you take her? When are you coming home?”
“I don't know any of that, Mama. This was just sort of spontaneous. I wanted to make sure she was okay after the rescue and she suggested we go out.”
“I'm not clear,” his dad interrupted. “Did you ask her out or she ask you out?”
“It seems like kind of a mutual thing. Is that important?”
“Terribly important,” his father intoned solemnly. “The one who asks makes the choice of destination. You ask her out, you decide where you're going. You've got to learn the rules son if you're getting into the dating pool.”
“He's not getting into the dating pool. He's just going to see a friend. Now, Wade, movies are good for first dates. That way you don't have to talk if you don't want to, and have something to discuss after the movie. Very safe. Ask her what movie she wants to see. It shows you listen to her -- she wants to know you listen.”
“Don't do it, son. She'll drag you to some chick flick and then complain you're not sensitive enough if you don't cry -- and will think you're a wimp if you do.”
Wade's mother glared at her husband. “Dancing. Girls like dancing. You get to hold her in your arms and stare into her eyes. And that's the only holding you'd better be doing on a first date. Back when we were courting your dad and I went to dances all the time.” She glared at her husband again, “And our wedding was the last time we danced.”
His father shrugged, “Best way to a man's heart is through his stomach, for a girl it’s the dance floor.”
“Yeah, if I knew how to dance. Ron got her to try and teach me how to dance at Kim's wedding. I was sweating like a pig. I know I'm not ready for that.”
“No man is, son. But the good thing is that you never have to dance again after you get married.”
“You be quiet, Lontaine, or I'm sending you out of the room. You could take her roller skating,” she suggested.
“Roller skating? That's so tween. Come on Mama, I'm almost seventeen.”
“Well there's nothing wrong with some innocent roller skating. It gives you a chance to talk, and to hold hands. It's fun.”
“It gives you a chance to fall on your ass,” Wade's father warned. “No girl is ever going to respect you after watching you fall on your ass.”
“Could you both just leave the room and let me change?” Wade requested. “I am totally scared all by myself and don't need your help.”
Some twenty minutes later, decked out in LL Bean and Land's End, Wade headed downstairs. His mother had lain in ambush and snapped three pictures and shed real tears over ‘her baby’ before he got out the door.
Joss didn't have it any easier, although not owning any suits made the process a little easier. “What do you think, Aunt Jean,” she asked, holding up two outfits.
“Wear the one on the right.”
“I mean for both of us.”
“Both of you?”
“Yeah. We're the same size. Wade wanted to make sure I was okay, so I thought Miss Blue should come along. I don't really know whether this counts as a date or not.”
“I'm not sure what he's going to think about you taking Joss2,” Jean warned before going downstairs. She was the one who answered the door a half hour later when the bell rang.
“Wade, you look very handsome.”
“Thank you, Dr. Possible.”
“If you call me Dr. Possible I'll call you Dr. Load.”
“Wade, you're looking well,” James said when Wade got to the living room. “ My brother sent me a shotgun. I was supposed to be cleaning it when you got here, but he's on the phone now -- he wants to talk with you.”
Joss, unfamiliar with dating rituals, was ready and got into the living room as her uncle handed Wade the phone.”
“Hello?” Wade asked nervously.
“Howdy son, how old are you?”
“Almost seventeen, sir.”
“That's about right I figure. How are you doing in school?”
“I'm not in school.”
“Not in school? Let me talk with Joss.”
“Sir, I can--”
“Give the phone to Joss, son. Don't talk back to me.”
“Yes, sir.” Wade turned to Joss, “He wants to talk with you.” Joss2 entered the room also. Wade noticed the change of clothing. It made him a little nervous, but he remembered he would plead ignorance if questioned. Listening to Joss1 on the phone didn't help his composure.
“You may not go out with that young man. I will not have you dating a dropout.”
“No, daddy. But what Wade wanted to tell you is that he is finished with school.”
“At seventeen? A high school education isn't enough. He should be doin’ something more with his life than sayin’ he's done with school.”
“Actually, daddy, he's done with college.”
“An AA degree from some tech school?”
“He has a Ph.D. Daddy, maybe two.” She glanced over at Wade who held up three fingers. “Make that three Ph.Ds, Daddy.”
“In something useful, or stuff like basket weaving and poetry?”
“I'm not sure, good practical stuff though.”
“Does he have plans?”
“Well, he and a partner are starting up a tech firm, already have some government projects.”
“I don't mean those kind of plans, Sweetie, what are his plans with you?”
“Daddy!” Joss blushed.
“I was seventeen myself once. I know how boys think. Slap him now, just on general principles.”
“Goodbye Daddy, love you.”
“Love you too, Sweetie.”
“Well, what are you two going to do?”
“Us three,” Joss told her uncle.
“Three?” Wade and James said together.
“I thought Joss2 would some along,” Joss told Wade. “I mean, she's just me.”
“So, what are your plans?” Jean repeated. They looked uncertain and she handed them the Weekend section of the Middleton Clarion. “Here, all the movies, concerts, plays, and everything else in the tri-city area.”
The teens sat on the couch and sought inspiration, which Joss found on page four. “Oh, look! Monster trucks at the Lowerton Civic Arena!”
Wade looked at her, “Monster trucks? Are you serious?”
“Well, we modified some trucks out on the ranch to get around in the brush. An’ sometimes after a big rain we'll do our own mud racin’ with them. So Daddy took me to some shows an’ rallies. I think it's sorta fun to watch… Course, if you don't want ta go…”
Wade didn't find the monster trucks as entertaining as the Josses, but just being with her and watching her excitement was all the entertainment he desired. After forty-five minutes he excused himself to go to visit the restroom. “Can I stop at the snack bar and get you anything on the way back?” he asked.
“A.diet.soda.and.nachos.please,” Joss2 requested, Joss1 didn't take her eyes off the track.
“This date is sure weird,” he thought as he left. Weird and unpleasant he would discover. The genius was too busy thinking about Joss to notice two members of the audience who got up and followed him out towards the restroom.
Joss was too engrossed in the show to notice at first, but it took Wade a long time to get back. She wondered how long the line was at the snack bar and was about to send the Bebe to look for him when she saw a police officer escorting Wade back towards her.
Wade was holding a bloody napkin to his nose, had a split lip, and it looked like his left eye was well on its way to swelling shut. Before Wade returned to his seat he scanned the area around where he had been sitting.
“Do you see them?” the officer asked.
“Well, give us a call if you do.”
Joss stared at him when he sat back down. “What happened?” she demanded.
“I don't want to talk about it.”
“I'm not gonna take that for an answer.”
“Two guys beat me up in the bathroom.”
“I told you, I don't want to talk about it.”
“You're not gonna to tell me?”
“We're leaving, now.”
“We can't stay ‘till the end?” he really did not want his first date to end this early and this way.
“No we can't. I want you to tell me what happened to you. I'm givin’ you a choice. We kin go somewhere an’ talk, or you kin take me home. It's your choice. But I want to go somewhere an’ talk with you.”
It was a silent walk across the parking lot to where Wade had found enough room for the hovercraft.
“Where do you want to go to talk?” he said as they entered the craft.
“I don't know. I didn't eat much supper tonight. I was kinda nervous… Is there a place we could get something to eat?”
“A new House of Pizza opened in Middleton. I can break diet once or twice a week.”
“Do ya like pepperoni?”
“How about double pepperoni and extra cheese?”
Joss laughed, “Monster trucks and pizza, this really is a date.”
They found a booth in the back. Wade sat on one side, the two Josses on the other. Conversation lagged until the server brought their pizza back. Wade found the spice in the sauce and pepperoni stung the cut on his lip and he gave up trying to eat after one slice.
“So what really happened?” Joss began again.
“What do you think happened?”
“Does it have something to do with me?”
“Oh, Wade, I'm sorry.”
“So am I. Apparently they saw us together and didn't like it. They followed me into the bathroom, started hitting me and telling me I should know better than to be with a white girl. Some other guy came in to use the bathroom and they took off running. The man who rescued me insisted I go to the first aid station and file a police report.”
“I wondered why it took you so long to get nachos… I'm sorry Wade, this is my fault.”
“This is your fault?”
“Gee, I don't know. Did you make those two stupid? Anything else your fault too? Bubonic plague? Stock Market crash of nineteen-twenty-nine? World War two?”
“That's just silly.”
“Is it any sillier than saying you're to blame for two idiots beating on me? Unless you're God I don't think you have any responsibility in their being bigots. ‘Course, if you are God they're going to have to change a lot of paintings in the churches.” She smiled. “Although, if it's not sacrilege, can I say you look divine?”
That actually got a giggle out of her. He smiled, it hurt to smile, but he didn't care.
“Yeah, but maybe if I hadn't suggested the monster trucks it wouldn't have happened.”
“Bing! Bing! Bing!”
“Stereotyping alert,” Wade told her. “You're guilty. Bigots can be anywhere. It didn't matter that we were watching monster trucks; it could have happened if we went to the opera--”
“You like opera?”
“That's not my point. My point is that it could happen anywhere. It's not your fault for wanting to enjoy something you like. And I don't know if the next guy into the bathroom at an opera would look scary enough to make two guys run. He was huge!”
“Do you think they'll catch the guys?”
“I don't know. I doubt it. All you white folk look alike to me.”
She stared at him for a minute. “That's a joke, right?”
“Yeah, not a very good one. Do I get points for trying?”
“Yeah, you're very brave.”
“Not hardly. I was too scared to think about getting a description when it happened. They ran off so fast the guy who saved me didn't get one either. Fear shut the magnificent Load brain down.”
She took a bite from a second slice of pizza, chewed and swallowed before she spoke again. “It must be awful hard, bein’ so smart an’ all. I know a lot of smart folk, but you were in college earlier than any of ‘em were… Are we all idiots around you? I heard you talkin’ with aunt Jean and Dr. Porter in there the other day. They listened to you. I don't think any of you listened to me -- and I know better what's goin’ on in my head than any of you.”
“I'm sorry. We should have listened better. You're not dumb, you have to know that.”
“Oh, I know I'm pullin’ straight A's in school if that's what ya mean. Don't know why some kids think that's hard. But I sound so country everyone thinks I'm a hick and treats me like I'm dumber than a post. Makes me wonder why a smart fella like you would be seen with me.”
Wade took awhile to answer. “This is really the first time I've been out with a girl. I was in college when I still thought girls had cooties. When puberty hit I wasn't interested in girls my age, they were still in grade school and I couldn't talk with them. I had an older girl I liked…”
“How much older?”
“Doesn't matter, she never noticed me. I was really fat and dumpy then. I don't think she'd have noticed me even if I was old enough for her.”
“You were fat?”
“Yeah. Mama had Shego put me on a diet and exercise program.”
“Miss Shego seems like a good person. I know Daddy doesn't like her though.”
“I thought your dad said you should judge a person by his actions and not by things that don't matter.”
“Well, I sometimes think Daddy is better at sayin’ the truth than followin’ what he says. ‘Course Miss Shego and the Doc were out by our ranch one time and Kim had to stop ‘em from some crazy plan, that could be why he doesn’t like her.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember that. Is that the only reason?”
“Well… “ Joss hesitated, and made little air quote marks with her fingers as she answered, “I think he's scared they'll try an’ ‘corrupt’ me.”
“So, do you think your Daddy might object if he met me?”
Joss looked a little nervous, “I don’ know. I sure hope not.”
Wade decided he wanted to change the subject, “So, anyway, I don't have much of a dating history. Then I met this girl who came in to stay with her aunt and uncle while she went to high school. I thought she was really sweet and hoped I could get to know her better… I'm afraid the story of my love life until today is pretty dull. How about you?”
She laughed, “Oh, you learn about the birds and bees real fast with all that livestock around. What we don't have much of are neighbors. School was about the only place I ever saw kids my age. I kissed a boy when I was in the third grade. I don't think he talked to again until we were in the fifth. I guess I'm better with older folk than people my own age ‘cause that's mostly the people I'm around. I wanted to know kids my own age, that's one of the reasons I talked my folks into letting me come here. But I'm the new hick in school. It's really pretty lonesome. I've been over at Kim's talkin’ with Ron and the people there a lot. I've never been on something I'd call a real date before. After the rescue I wasn't even real sure if this was going to be a date or you just wanted to make sure I was healthy. I didn't know what to wear, you hadn't really said anything for sure.”
“I'm sorry. I get all nervous around you.” There was more nervous silence, and then Wade asked, “You really think that smart people look down on people who aren't so smart?”
Joss toyed with her straw, unsure how to answer.
“Why.don't.we.try.and.think.of.a.name.for.me?” Joss2 asked.
“We'll get to you in a minute, my blue friend. Do you agree with me that girl with the auburn hair from the big sky country is trying to change the subject?”
Wade still addressed his comments to the blue girl, but they were meant for Joss, “Why do you think she is too ashamed to answer my question?”
“No ashamed, exactly. More like scared you won't like me if ya know the truth.”
“Ah, as Pontius Pilate once asked, ‘What is truth?''”
She stirred the ice in her drink a little more with the straw. “I think I looked down on people who weren't as smart as me. I always had the highest grades, sorta felt like I was better than anyone else ‘cause I did so well. I was plannin’ to do my advanced work in electronics and physics… But there's you, and Jim and Tim, Doc… Drakken's a smart guy even if he seems none too stable, Justine over at Kim's house, heck that Dr. Porter seemed like a real smart woman the other day. I just don't feel so smart around you folk -- wonder if I have any business thinkin’ about grad school. I kinda looked down on the dumb people, and now I'm one of ‘em.”
“Don't ever think you're dumb, Joss.”
“Right!” she snorted, “from the man with three Ph.D.s.”
“Look, you said back home you compared yourself with people who weren't getting grades as good as yours. Here you're comparing yourself with geniuses. Tell me, are you any different than you were back home?”
“You really feel like you're any smarter, or any dumber, than you were.”
“Well, I may be smarter, hanging around with Jim and Tim during their experiments. I guess I haven't dumbed down any, but I don't feel as smart as I did.”
“You're the same person. And you're smart. And you'll do great at anything you want to do.”
She stirred her ice a little more, but she was smiling now. “I think I could stand to hear that some more.”
He smiled again. It still hurt to smile. He couldn't stop. For an hour they talked of likes and dislikes, sometimes amazed at a common like or dislike and sometimes surprised that the other could disagree on a subject so obvious.
At a rare pause in the conversation the Joss2 returned to an earlier subject. “What.are.we.going.to.call.me?”
“Was it Jim who suggested Joss-Bot?” Wade asked.
“I think so, but I don't like it. Don't like Aunt Jean's Joss1 and Joss2 either.”
“What's the problem with those?”
“Well, if she's really going to be a distinct person I don't know if she needs to drag my name around with her.”
“You could take just the first couple letters of your name: Billie-Jo, Bobbie-Jo, maybe Bebe-Jo.”
“I'm country from the West, Wade. Not the South.”
“Sorry, and scratch the suggestion, you don't want the initials.”
“Why not, I… Oh. Hey does she have to have the black hair?”
“Why don't you leave her the way she is? You said you didn't like Joss2 because it was too much like your name if she eventually ends up as her own… person. Let her look different. I think the Shego look works for her.”
“Think we could something with Shego's name?” Joss wondered aloud. “Anyway of putting that with Bebe?”
Wade and Joss looked at each other and exclaimed, “BEGO!” at the same moment.
Joss laughed, and the robot stuck out her right hand to Wade, “Bego, happy.to.meet.you.Wade.”
“Pleased to meet you. Will you think I'm rude if you aren't invited the next time I ask Joss out?”
“I was hoping maybe for next Friday, do you know if she's free?”
“It.appears. she.is. available.I. am.afraid. I.will. be.washing. my.hair. that.night. But.you. should.ask. her.before. someone.else. beats.you. to.it.”
“You're probably right.” He looked over at Joss, who was having an attack of the giggles, “Is there anything else I should know before I ask her?” he asked Bego.
“I'm really not an opera fan, but there are a couple I like. But I was wondering if you knew anything about her taste in movies?”
While Bego's facial expressions were limited she managed a smile, “I.can. probably.tell. you.as. much.about. her.taste. in.movies.as.she.can.”
They talked more, and Wade was startled to see it was eleven-thirty when he looked at his watch, “I've got to get you home!”
“Yeah, I guess we need to move. You don't have to make it sound so urgent. Uncle James talked daddy into letting me stay out ‘til midnight.”
“Well, he didn't talk to my Mama. She told me I was supposed to be home at eleven. I'm still under partial grounding for the night of the rescue -- and I think she's worried about me in general, this being my first date and all.”
The three ran for the hovercraft. Six minutes later the hovercraft sat down on the front lawn at the Possibles. Before she left the craft Joss leaned over and touched a spot on Wade's right cheek. “Look's like they really beat on ya. Does this spot right here hurt?”
“No, it may be the only place on my face that doesn't.”
She quickly kissed him on the cheek, “Thanks for askin’ me out” She left before he could collect his wits and say anything.
He smiled. It hurt to smile. He kept smiling. His face was in agony when he got home.
Mama was waiting up for him, “Young man,” she started as soon as she heard the front door opening, “what time did we… What happened to your face?”
At the Possible home Joss got ready for bed. Her robotic half sat on the chair and Joss plugged in the power cord. Given how little energy she expended during the average day the robot could probably go more than a week without a recharge. But Joss planned to add the power charge to her nighttime ritual; it seemed appropriate even if unnecessary.
After brushing her teeth Joss came back to the bedroom and pulled on a nightgown. Before she turned off the light the metal girl spoke, “Why.is. the. color. of.a. person's.skin. important?”
“Yeah, that's the question, isn't it,” Joss wondered as she flipped the switch and crawled into bed. She was almost asleep when her eyes went wide open, “Did I just say what I was thinking through the robot -- or did she ask that question on her own?”