1 -

"The secret," Malcolm began, "Is cologne."

Stephen looked sideways at him from the book he was reading, "You don't say?"

The bus ride to school was as normal as ever that morning, with Malcolm ranting about something that he thought totally mattered (but didn't) and his lifelong childhood friend Stephen listening and trying to sound supportive when in his heart of hearts he knew no one, apart from his loving and eccentric friend, really cared.

"It's scientific, my friend." Malcolm said, "That's all it boils down to. If you can get science on your side, then you can win at life."

"I didn't know you were such an advocate of science." Stephen half-smiled.

"If it can get me through this mystery of women," Malcolm said, "I'll advocate anything"p

Stephen shook his head. His friend was hopeless. He didn't want to even begin to imagine how much of a handful he was going to be as they approached puberty.

"I don't know how the previous generations did it, Stephen." Malcolm rested his arms and head on the bus seat in front of him, "Chicks are crazy."

The hiss of the bus breaks sounded as the vehicle came to a halt.

Malcolm threw his backpack over his shoulder as they started off the bus, "Not that I have enough time to prepare for tonight," He said, "I have to find the most popular cologne and just bathe in it I guess."

"Tonight, huh?" Stephen said, "What happens tonight?"

"The Pub, that place downtown where all the bands play." Malcolm started, "They're having a Teen Night every week now. Tonight is the first one. Kimmie and Audrey can come with us and we can get them to introduce us to other girls."

Kimmie and Audrey had grown up alongside Stephen and Malcolm in the same neighborhood, and the four of them were close. Thick as thieves. Though, Stephen mentally noted, Kimmie and Audrey weren't particularly known to socialize with the other girls at school so it was unlikely they could introduce the two boys to anyone outside the four members of their little group.

Still, for as long as he could remember, Stephen's role was that of support and he didn't really have the energy to get into a defensive back-and-forth with his buddy Malcolm.

"Ah, Genius." Stephen said, not trying very hard to mask his sarcasm.

"Right?" Malcolm said, determined. "I mean, if they're all only as complicated as Kimmie, how scary can girls be?"

As they stepped off the bus, Malcolm accidentally bumped into a tall, slender girl with long black hair that covered her face - which was framed with a giant pair of glasses.

"Oh!" Malcolm said, taking a step back as he bumped into her.

"Hey!" Another voice called from behind him, the person he had backed into.

"Sorry!" Malcolm called back, as the nameless person passed him, they took the liberty of giving him a firm punch on the arm.

"Ow!" Malcolm said, letting out a pathetic whine.

"Dumbass!" The person called back.

"Jeez, cut a guy some friggin' slack!" Malcolm exclaimed.

"Perhaps," The girl he had bumped into said softly, "You should simply watch where you're going."

Malcolm smiled sarcastically, "Thank you, now be a nice little walking cliché and scurry along."

The girl simply looked after him with a soft leer as he walked off.

Stephen looked at the girl, who was still staring after Malcolm, "Please excuse my friend." He smiled awkwardly as he followed Malcolm.