Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right
Aside from being extremely talented entertainers, the kids of Kids Incorporated were very much your average teens. They suffered the trials and tribulations of discovering the opposite sex right along with their peers, but the band had a massive influence on their social lives - both good and bad.
The afternoon audience was filled with the usual school friends and acquaintances, all wanting to grab a little second-hand prestige by establishing that they "knew someone in the band".
Today, everyone was popular. Even Renee had been snagged by several girls as she left the stage. By the time everyone else was finished fraternizing, she was still encircled.
"Hey, Renee," Ryan called to her, "c'mon."
This immediately set off the overly excitable teen girls. They began giggling and shoving Renee. "Yeah, Renee, go over there!" one teased. Renee made a face at them, rolling her eyes as she wasted little time getting away.
"I didn't think you hung out with those fruity types." said The Kid.
"No, they're actually Ryan's fan club." Renee replied. “I just didn’t have a chance to run before they spotted me this time.”
“What do they want?” asked Ryan.
“You. I don’t when you suddenly became the school’s most eligible bachelor, but you ought to get yourself another secretary, because despite me telling them over and over again that even if I did have your phone number, I certainly wouldn’t give it to them, they keep stalking the both of us – and I swear, their voices get higher and higher each time. It must be the helium in their heads.”
Stacy was watching the girls fawning over Ryan. “Hey, I know her. That’s Abby. She’s on the cheerleading squad.”
Renee nodded. “The brains of the operation.”
“She’s the girl who can’t spell ‘go’.” said Richie.
“I was being generous.”
Still unbelieving, Ryan looked over at his admirers and gave a little wave. The girls nearly fell to the floor, squealing as if they’d seen Elvis. He chuckled.
“They really like him.” said Connie.
“Even more evidence to suggest they’re not all there.” Renee joked.
"Well, obviously," said Ryan, "if they think you'd put a good word in for them." He and Renee glared at each other.
"I'm not your dating service, Ryan! Nor am I interested in which shoe you put on first or what brand of mousse you use or any of the other stupid questions they ask me all throughout lunch!" She spared a glance at the girls, then swung around sharply so that her back was facing them.
"The left one." was all Ryan said.
"Oh, good, now my life is complete." Renee retorted.
"Well, don't worry," Ryan continued, "I will get them to stop bothering you even if I have to personally talk to each and every one of them...say, over pizza...or at the movies..." Everyone laughed.
The hormone- fueled attacks did lessen over the week, but the whole issue was about to break wide open.
Several afternoons later, the younger kids were hanging around the bar waiting for the school newspaper staff meeting to end and return their senior band members to them, as it did every week, when Renee coasted in with a rarely seen smile on her face.
"Well, good afternoon, Renee!" said Riley. "You wouldn't happen to have brought Don Juan with you, would you?"
Renee raised a hand to stop him. "Please. I have actually been enjoying my Ryan-free week, and I'd like to keep it that way, thank you. In fact, I wouldn't mind never hearing that name again."
Too late. "Hi, Ryan." said Richie as Ryan came into The P*lace.
"Shh!" said Ryan. "Don't say my name out loud!"
"Thank you! At least someone actually listens to me." said Renee. As soon as Ryan heard her voice, however, he threw himself in the chair next to her.
"You!" he shouted, then realized he was blowing his own cover and lowered his voice. "This is all your fault! What did you tell them?"
Renee was highly amused. "Oh, believe me, I wish I could take credit for this, but I haven't said a word." Ryan leaned back and covered his face with his hands.
"Since when are you afraid of girls?" The Kid asked him.
"These aren't just any girls." said Ryan. "They're relentless! I keep finding little love notes shoved into my locker. My phone has been ringing off the hook."
"Oh, that reminds me," Stacy said suddenly. To Renee, she said, "Jules called you this morning."
Renee sighed. "Shoot, I was supposed to say goodbye to him! He hates to fly, and he'll be stuck on a plane to some cousin's wedding or something." She swatted at Ryan. "Your relationships are ruining mine."
"So who are you doing that stupid project with?" Ryan asked her.
"What stupid project?" asked Connie.
"It's one of those 'you're not ready for the real world' Health class projects." answered Renee. "You have to marry someone for a week."
"Yeah, it's supposed to teach you how to communicate and interact better with other people." Ryan added. "They're really only trying it out. I heard there was a huge faculty argument over whether or not it was appropriate."
"I don't think it sounds appropriate, either." said Riley. "Marriage is supposed to be a serious commitment."
"They're taking it very seriously." Renee said. "You actually have to get a marriage license from the principal and have your parents sign it."
"You'll never catch me doing that!" laughed The Kid.
"Laugh now," Ryan warned him, "but if they get good results, they'll be doing it next year, too."
"I think it sounds like fun, though." said Stacy.
"Good for you," said Renee, "because Billy the Gweeb was lurking around when they announced it, and he's already picking out china patterns."
"EW! I'm not marrying a gweeb!" cried Stacy, and everyone laughed at her.
"Don't you want to learn how to communicate with him better?" said Kid.
"Yeah - I'd like him to understand the meaning of 'Get Lost'!" replied Stacy. A few extra voices seemed to be added to the laughter.
"Cheerleaders at 12 o'clock." said Riley, and Ryan attempted to hide under the table.
Abby and two other girls came running over to Kids Inc's table, blushing and covering their mouths. "Where's Ryan?" chirped Abby.
"Is he here?" asked a redheaded girl whose hair was defying gravity.
"I saw his hair." said the other girl, snapping a huge wad of gum that seemed to match her eyeshadow. "Nobody else has hair like that."
"Are you hiding him?" Abby said accusingly, and the girls stared down Renee.
Renee actually shrank back. "Why would I do that?" she said nervously. "He was just telling me the other day how much he enjoyed spending time with you - ow!" she yelped as Ryan balled his hand into a fist and pounded her foot. She reached down and grabbed him by the jacket collar. "Oh, look at that - I found him!"
"Hi, ladies." Ryan managed to croak.
Again, they giggled. "Hi, Ryan!"
The other members of Kids Inc. just looked at one another.
"So, um, Ryan," Abby began, "did you hear about that Health project?"
"Health project...Health project, Hmm...no, I don't believe I heard about any Health project, no." Ryan shook his head vigorously.
"But Ryan," said Richie, "we were just talking about - "
"I'm pretty sure I never heard anything about a Health project." Ryan repeated.
Abby continued. "You have to pick out a girl in your grade who really likes you...and marry her."
"Oh, that Health project! Gee, I can't imagine how I could've forgotten that."
Renee couldn't resist the opportunity to poke fun at Abby's one-track mind. "An entire Health project just for Ryan?" she gasped with fake astonishment. "The rest of the school will be so jealous."
“Well, we know who you’re gonna pick.” Bubble Gum said derisively. “Aren’t you, like, going out with that boy that follows you around or something?”
“Who else would?” muttered Red, and the girls laughed.
Once again, Richie’s loose lips brought another ship crashing down. “But Jules isn’t here.” he blurted out.
“If you hold him down,” Renee whispered to Ryan, “I’ll knock him out.”
“Works for me.” Ryan replied.
"So, anyway, Ryan," said Abby, "Who are you picking?" The girls began primping themselves as if Ryan were a beauty contest judge, each trying to outsmile the other.
Ryan had an idea. He nudged Renee, and wordlessly tried to offer her two and two to put together. Renee's eyebrows were very alarmed.
"Well, I have until the end of the week." Ryan said quickly. "Why rush into things?"
"How hard can it be?" Bubble Gum said.
"I'm sure no one would mind if you started early." Red schmoozed. "You're all smart, and stuff." The other girls nodded.
Again, Ryan wordlessly appealed to Renee. She shook her head.
"Everybody else has already picked someone." said Abby. "I'm sure you can think of some really cute girl you'd like to marry, right?" They leaned forward. Ryan leaned back.
"He can't." Renee forced herself to say.
"Why not?" asked the girls.
"He, uh, promised me."
Ryan was relieved. "Yep! That's right! I did! Sorry, ladies - I did promise her. Guess that settles that, huh?" He mouthed "thank you!" to Renee.
His stalkers didn't seem to hear him. "You witch!" yelled Abby. "You knew all along we liked him, and you strung us along so you could keep him for yourself!" She stormed off.
"I knew you were lying when you said you didn't have his number!" Bubble Gum added. She and Red followed in Abby's wake.
"Oh, I've got your number, all right!" Renee said angrily to Ryan. "As of right now, your number's up!" And she left, too - she stomped off to the storeroom.
"Why do I have the feeling I just traded one headache for another?" Ryan said nervously.
Word traveled fast, and by the next day, the cheerleaders were completely shunning not just Renee, but Ryan as well. The newspaper editor was throwing a fit because nearly every copy of the paper had been found in the trash outside the cafeteria. As sincerely as Renee tried to explain the situation to Jules, his plane ride had put him in a bad mood, and he was also furious. Ryan found out (through Stacy because Renee had quit speaking directly to him) that one of Jules' friends had a sister on the cheerleading squad, and the news was delivered to him almost immediately - with some scandalous details added, of course. When the project drama threatened to break up the band as well, Ryan decided to do a little extracurricular work.
The kids were slowly filing in for rehearsal when Riley noticed there was one missing. "Where's Ryan?" he asked.
"I think he's going crazy." answered The Kid.
"The last time I saw him, he was at the drugstore hitting the candy machines." said Kid.
"Did he say why?" asked Connie.
"No, he asked me if I had any quarters."
"Don't ask me." Renee muttered. "I'm only his wife." At that moment, Ryan came in. For the first time in days, Renee spoke directly to him. "Where have you been? Brendan thinks people threw out the paper because the front page stunk, and I am not telling him the real reason."
"I'll take care of it." said Ryan. "Listen, I know you're still mad at me for forcing you into an elopement."
"Wow, you really are 'all smart and stuff'!"
Ryan ignored this. "And I never did get to thank you. So I figure, if we're going to do this, we might as well do it right." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic egg.
In spite of herself, Renee laughed. "You didn't!"
"I just spent at least 20 dollars on sticky Martians and glow-in-the-dark bouncing balls before I got to this." said Ryan. He opened the egg to reveal a little fake ring. "What do you say? Will you marry me for a week?"
Renee feigned shock. "Why, Ryan, this is so sudden! I hardly know you!" she gasped. "Oh, what the heck!" she said, and stuck out her hand.
"Awww...said Riley and the rest of the kids.
"I really hope this doesn't turn my finger green." said Renee.
"I hope not! I'm broke." said Ryan. "Good thing your parents are supposed to pay for the wedding."
"Too bad they have two daughters." said Renee.
"I already told you, I'm not marrying Billy the Gweeb!" Stacy insisted. She looked sideways at The Kid and said, "It sure would be nice if one my friends would come to my rescue and help me out."
"Don't worry," said Kid, "I'm sure Richie will marry you." Everyone (except Stacy) laughed.
That afternoon, Kids Inc. quickly put together a mock wedding. Everyone put on their best clothes. Renee had a few details from Jules' cousin's wedding, and Ryan got a ceremonial book from the library.
The kids gathered at the steps by the jukebox and began their rendition of The Wedding March. "Da, da da-da.."
Renee stuck her head out from behind the door. "You call yourselves a band?" she asked. "You sound horrible!"
"I can see you." warned Ryan. Renee quickly slipped back behind the door.
The singing began again. "DA, DA, DA-DA..."
Renee came out with a small bouquet of flowers and The Kid led her down the steps.
Riley was officiating. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here this afternoon to join these two people in academic matrimony." he began. "Ryan, do you take this woman to be your lawfully-wedded lab partner, and promise to support her grade point average until this assignment is over?"
"Um, yeah - I mean, I do! I do." said Ryan after Renee elbowed his side.
"Renee, do you take this man as your lawfully-wedded lab partner, and promise to keep him from forgetting to do his homework?"
"Then I now pronounce you man and wife for the week. You may...uh...hug the bride."
Richie approved of the last minute alteration. "Thank goodness!" he said.
"Don't they look happy?" said Connie.
"Better them than me." Stacy replied. Renee tossed the bouquet in her direction and without thinking, she caught it. "AAH!"
Unbeknownst to the wedding party, they were being watched from a distance. "Look at that!" said Abby. "They think they're really getting married or something! I can't believe that Renee was such a sneak!"
"I think she was just using us to get to Ryan." said Red.
Bubble Gum agreed. "Did you see how he kept looking at her before he spoke?"
"I don't think he promised her anything." Abby decided. "I think she tricked him into it. I'm sure he was going to ask me."
"Was not!" said Bubble Gum. "He was looking right at me."
"Yeah, you wish!" Red teased her.
"Shut up!" Abby yelled at them. "They're still talking." As they watched, Ryan and Renee hugged and everyone cheered.
"Maybe he does like her." Red said softly.
"No way!" said Abby. She watched in anger as Renee tossed the bouquet and laughed at Stacy freaking out. "So you think you can steal my boyfriend, huh? Well...two can play that game..."
Unfortunately, the wedded bliss did not last long. As soon as the project got underway, the happy couple was having their very first fight.
From the storeroom, everyone heard Ryan yelling, "Look, I don't see what the big deal is! I know you don't have a head for numbers, you told me you'd rather not do the math, so I did it."
"But you didn't ask me, and that's the whole point!" Renee was shouting back at him. "This is supposed to be a union, not a dictatorship!"
"Sounds like the honeymoon's over." joked Riley.
The door opened and the two came thundering out. "I thought that the whole point of this marriage of convenience was to get through it as quickly as possible." argued Ryan.
"Why? So you can get back to your girlfriends?" said Renee. "If you really wanted a failing grade, maybe you should have married one of them!"
Before things could get out of hand, Stacy attempted to step in. "C'mon, you two. This is a school project, and school's over." she said.
They were immediately ashamed. “I wish it were that easy.” said Ryan. “I’m beginning to feel sorry for my parents. No wonder they argue!”
“Maybe that’s the point.” Kid said.
Renee sighed. “I think we’ve failed already,” she said, "because we can't stop yelling at each other."
"Maybe the principal will give us a divorce certificate if we claim irreconcilable differences." said Ryan.
"What's that mean?" asked Richie.
Before Ryan could answer, Renee said, "That we can't get along with each other for five minutes." When Ryan stared, she added, "Yeah, I know how to read, too!" She would have said more, but she spotted a familiar face. "Jules!"
Jules had come into The P*lace looking lost as usual. "Oh, um, hi, Renee."
She tried to hug him, but he pulled away. "How was the wedding?" she asked instead.
"Not as good as yours, I guess!" he said, surprising everybody. "You didn't have to wait until I left town, you know. You could have just told me."
Renee could feel tears in her eyes, so she looked away. "It wasn't like that at all. It's just for school." she said.
"That's not what Abby says."
Abby herself appeared instantly. "Are we talking about me?" she giggled. "Oh, Jules, honey! There you are. Come, we've got to do our homework - hee hee!"
Jules shrugged as Abby began dragging him off. "Sorry. I didn't have anyone else to do this project with."
"Isn't he darling?" said Abby, hanging all over him. "And definitely worth waiting for." She proceeded to take him to a table all the way on the other side of The P*lace.
Before anyone else could say anything, Ryan stepped up and took hold of Renee's arm. "Let it go." he said to her. "She's just trying to get to you."
"It's working." Renee blurted out.
"No, it's not. Come on." He led her towards the stage, but Renee's mind was already racing faster than either of them could go, and she broke free of Ryan's grasp to pursue her own brokenhearted agenda.
In full view of nearly all the customers, she removed her sweater vest and the ribbon that held her hair back. As the rest of the band watched in shock, she sauntered - they weren't even aware she knew how to saunter! - onto the stage and retrieved one of the microphones that had been lying on the floor. Slowly. As fate would have it, the next number was hers.
Ryan was actually impressed. It was as if Renee’s mic had been turned off all this time and was suddenly switched on. Jules was indeed watching her every move – and so were all the guys in the audience. Abby looked fit to be tied. In spite of himself, Ryan realized he was watching Renee, too. The fun ended with the song, however, as Renee high-tailed it back to the storeroom.
"What just happened?" asked Kid.
"Isn't it obvious?" Connie answered. "Renee took Ryan from Abby, so Abby took Jules from Renee, so Renee has to make Jules jealous to get back at Abby, because Abby's getting back at Renee for Ryan."
"Makes perfect sense to me." said Stacy.
Kid just shook his head. "Girls!"
Renee's sweater was still lying on a speaker like a discarded cotton cocoon whose butterfly was now free. But Ryan knew enough about butterflies to know that their wings should have time to dry before they flew. She'd probably want her sweater back.
He didn't even see Renee at first, because she was holed up in the alcove with the curtain drawn, hugging her knees to her chest and trying very hard to melt into the wall.
"Why'd you let me do that?" she said quietly.
"I don't know if you've noticed," said Ryan, "but it's pretty much impossible to stop you from doing something."
"I guess you think I'm crazy."
"Actually, sometimes, I think you're one of the most courageous people I've ever met. C'mon, I'm the guy who ran from cheerleaders." That got him a little smile. "But I've never seen you run from anything."
Renee looked at the sweater slumped in a chair as if it were tired. She couldn't blame it one bit. She was tired, too - tired of fighting, tired of compromising herself. Stacy had been right all along; this was only a week-long school project, and everyone had blown it way out of proportion, including her.
"Sorry you married me?" Ryan asked.
"No." Renee answered. They smiled at each other, and for a moment, it looked as if they were actually going to get along. Suddenly, she said. "You're just very lucky I decided to rescue you."
Ryan smirked. "Yeah, I was wondering how long it would take you to get to that."
"Oh, you'd be lost without me, and you know it." Renee teased, so Ryan threw the sweater at her. She went to put it on, then remembered why she took it off in the first place. "Are they still out there?" she asked.
“Probably – along with half the guys in The P*lace.” said Ryan. “Next week, they'll be hassling me during lunch.”
Renee sighed. “Somehow, I doubt Jules will be one of them.”
Ryan shrugged. “Too bad for Jules. He didn’t know a good thing when he had it.”
“Neither did I. What is it about cheerleaders?" Renee continued. "Honestly? Am I missing something? Should I braid my hair and get a megaphone?"
"You do not need a megaphone." laughed Ryan. When Renee threw her sweater back at him, he fled out the door, and she was right behind him.
Anybody left watching would indeed be confused to see Renee and Ryan come out of the storeroom laughing and playfully teasing each other. It continued to give Jules the wrong impression as he approached the couple.
"Just for school, huh?" he said.
“Jules, I -” Renee began.
Jules cut her off. “Don’t interrupt me!” he barked. Renee was stunned. “I have something to say. Abby said that it was your idea to get married, but I don’t believe her. She says a lot of things, a-and I don’t like the way she talks about you.” His newfound courage was beginning to falter. “I know you’re not the kind of person that goes behind someone’s back, so this guy,” he pointed to Ryan, but quickly looked away before Ryan could make eye contact with him, “this guy must’ve forced you into it.”
“Exactly how long have you known Renee?” asked Ryan.
But Jules wasn’t finished. “You may have a way with women,” he said to Ryan, “but that doesn’t mean you can go around taking other people’s girlfriends, you…you…jacket-wearing…jerk! You wanna fight?”
Ryan had to laugh. “What?”
Jules was actually putting up his fists. “C-Come on, t-tough guy.” he stammered. “I can t-take you.” When Ryan began to come down the steps, however, he jumped back fearfully.
“Jules, sit down before you give yourself an asthma attack!” ordered Renee. "You're being ridiculous."
“Okay.” Jules replied meekly. He sat down.
Ryan was still very amused. "Jacket-wearing jerk?" he echoed.
"Let it go, Ryan." Renee said to him.
Abby, unfortunately, would not be silenced as easily. "Jules! Where have you gotten to?"
At the sound of her voice, Jules leapt up and attempted to hide behind Renee. "Don't let her see me!" he cried. "She's driving me nuts! She wants to have kids named Barbie, Ken, and Skipper, and paint every room in the house pink!"
"And I thought we had problems." Ryan couldn't help but say.
"Why didn't you stand up to her?" asked Renee.
"Are you kidding? Her glares are worse than yours!" Jules replied. True to form, Renee glared at him. "Well – maybe not that bad!"
"Jules!" Abby had nearly reached them. "Where are y - there you are!" Her cheesy grin turned itself upside down. "What are you doing with her?" Furious, she turned to Renee. "Trying to swipe my husband, now? You already have Ryan! Maybe you should make up your mind!"
Jules went and sat back down at the table to avoid being in the line of fire. "Get up, Jules." said Abby. "We're leaving." Jules stood up.
"Jules, sit down." said Renee. Poor Jules sat down again. Steam came out of Abby's ears.
"Thanks for returning my boyfriend." Renee said to her. "Hope he wasn't too much trouble. Bye now!"
But Abby didn't leave. "You forget - we're still married." she smirked. "There's no way I'm doing this project by myself...unless you're willing to give Ryan back."
"I never belonged to you in the first place!" Ryan said suddenly. Abby was shocked. "I'm not your boyfriend, okay? I'm never going to be your boyfriend! You're sneaky and manipulative, and everything's a competition with you.” A crowd had started to gather. “You could care less about Jules. I'm surprised you even bothered to learn his name! The only reason he's over here is because he was actually willing to fight to get Renee back. That ought to tell you something."
It was Jules who had the last laugh. Standing up without being told, he came over to stand in between Renee and Abby. "Time for you to g-o." he said.
“We are definitely getting a divorce!” screeched Abby as she stomped off. Everyone laughed.
The crowd dissolved until only the members of Kids Incorporated were left. "Now what have I missed?" asked The Kid.
Connie sighed. “Jules thought Renee was with Ryan, so he went with Abby, but he really wants to be with Renee. Renee was only with Ryan because he didn’t want to be with Abby, but she really wants to be with Jules. Abby wanted to be with Ryan, but she went with Jules because she thought Renee was with Ryan, too. Ryan doesn’t want to be with Abby, so he went with Renee, but he knows she’s really with Jules.”
“Honestly, Kid, it’s like you’re not even paying attention sometimes!” said Stacy, shaking her head. There was nothing coherent Kid could say to that, so he just threw up his hands and admitted defeat.