Episode Fifty Two It took an hour to sort and count all the ballots. By the time they were finished, low shafts of late afternoon sunlight cast long shadows among the stacks of books in the library. Milo swept his things into his backpack into and turned to leave the library. He threaded his way through the empty tables and chairs, pushed open the door and stepped into the hall. As the door closed behind him, Milo heard a crash and a dull thud behind him, and realized that one of the book cases must have fallen over. The hall was outside the library was in semi-darkness. Milo skidded slightly and he felt his leg twinge again. He guessed that Fred, the janitor, had been moping the floor in the hall just outside the library. Milo picked his way carefully down the hall, skidding several more times on the wet floor and his leg protested loudly several times in response. Milo pushed open the door and stepped outside. The school parking lot was deserted. The sun hovered low in the sky, just above the houses. Lights were starting to flick on in nearby windows as people came home from work and school. Milo walked across the school parking lot, stumbling slightly as his foot caught on the concrete block at the end of Principal Milder’s usual parking space. He trudged through the slushy snow across the lawn to the sidewalk. Patches of dull brown grass appeared here and there through the snow. The foot of snow that had fallen on Danville had most melted. The late afternoon air seemed to hold the promise of spring. Despite the low sun on the horizon, the air felt slightly warm.He stepped off of the lawn and on to the sidewalk in front of the school. As Milo crossed the street he unexpectedly found himself thinking about his exchange with Amanda and he suddenly felt slightly guilty. She had been right, Milo decided, this award had been his idea. You wanted to show Zack your appreciation for overcoming his claustroavoidance in San Fransokyo, he thought, he’d appreciate getting it from his best friend. As he made it to the other side of the street, dodging around a hole in the road, which had opened almost directly beneath his feet. As he stepped on to the sidewalk, another voice spoke in Milo’s head. What about Melissa? he thought, she wanted to nominate Zack for Most Dependable Friend, I bet she’d love to do it. As soon as the thought occurred to him, Milo felt a hot flash of emotion that he’d never experienced before. He immediately decided that he didn’t like. Milo took a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Where did that come from? he thought. As soon the thought occurred to him, the little voice spoke again. It almost seemed to be laughing at him. Oh, Milo, you’re such a dope sometimes. Isn’t it obvious? Zack has a crush on Melissa. Milo missed a step in surprise, as this thought struck him. The tines of his winter spikes caught in a gap in the sidewalk, and Milo fell. Pain shot through his left leg, and Milo winced. He slowly got to his feet, the calf muscles in his left leg throbbing. Milo started walking again, limping slightly. His leg protested loudly with every step. As he continued to walk, the little voice in the back of his head returned. Zack has crush on Melissa, it said again. Milo almost missed another step. He put his right foot down very, very slowly, then took a step and another, then another. Milo laughed to himself, Zack doesn’t have a crush on Melissa, he thought, then he paused, does he? Milo suddenly remembered an incident that had occurred just before he had been abducted by the Octalians for the second time. He had planned to meet Zack and Melissa for lunch at the mall. “Hurry up,” Melissa had called to him from three floors above, after his phone had broken,“this is starting to feel like a date.” “No it isn’t,” Zack had protested. Milo had spent most of the afternoon, trapped in an elevator with Scott, Coach Mitchell and Lydia. See, he thought, Zack’s not interested in Melissa. As Milo dodged around a falling tree branch, the little voice mischievously asked, are you sure, Milo? Milo took a quick extra step forward, as a street light came whistling down and landed with the tinkle of breaking where Milo had been standing a few seconds before. Another memory came floating to the surface of Milo’s thoughts. It had been after they had successfully dissipated the Sphere of Calamity. Melissa had kissed Zack and Milo suddenly recalled teasing Zack afterward. Wait, Milo’s eyes widen slightly in surprise, does Melissa have a crush on Zack? If she did, she had never said anything to Milo, and we tell each other everything, he thought. But you never told Zack and Melissa that you had a crush on Amanda. Milo felt himself suddenly grow hot at this. It was true that he had never really talked about he felt about Amanda with Zack and Melissa. She’s a friend, he thought as he barely avoided a man hole cover, which flew into the air at his approach and landed with a dull thud somewhere behind him, that’s all. As Milo crossed the road marking the edge of his subdivision, he heard the squeal of tires and crunch of rending metal as a city garbage truck slid through the intersection and hit a light pole. As he picked his way around the edge of the accident, to the sound of sirens and the smell of garbage, the the little voice in the back of his head returned. Is she? he thought. Milo had been surprise when Amanda has presented him with Weird Al tickets for his birthday and he had been overjoyed when she had presented him with one of Reggie’s drawings as a Christmas gift. If she’s just a friend, the little voice ask him, why has she gone out of her way to spend so much time with you over the last year? Milo didn’t really have a good answer for that. He had always liked Amanda. Unlike many other people, she had never been anything but polite to, which he had always appreciated, even though she had kept him at arm’s length. However, Milo was long used to that and hadn’t really thought about it much. It hadn’t been until after the school dance last year that Amanda’s perception of Milo begun appreciably change. She had become noticeably more relaxed around Milo and had been elated when he had helped her win on Cake ‘Splosion, her favourite competitive baking show. She had regularly hung around with Milo, Zack and Melissa ever since and had been visibly relived when the three of them had come back from Octalia, tired, disheveled and covered in cuts and bruises, but otherwise unharmed. By the time Milo approached his own block, the sun was slowly sinking behind the surrounding houses, casting long shadows over the neighbourhood. He suddenly remembered what Sara had said to him last summer, after the four of them had gone camping in Coyote Woods. “You know,” she had said, “you could do a lot worse than Amanda Lopez.” Milo’s eyes widened slightly in surprise as a sudden thought struck him. Does Amanda actually have a crush on me? he thought wonderingly. The little voice was back again, well, gee Milo, of course she has a crush on you, it said, you’re always putting everyone else ahead of yourself. Milo suddenly and unaccountably felt slightly defensive, and what’s wrong with that? he asked. Nothing at all, said the little voice innocently, how many times have you gone out of your way for Amanda? Two? Three? Milo thought for a second. In addition to ending up on Cake ‘Splosion together and winning , Milo had saved the school dance when when Murphy’s Law had struck and threatened to ruin Amanda’s carefully planned event, and before that he had found himself backstage at the Danville Opera House during a performance of The Mezzosopranos, where predictably, everything that could go wrong had. It had also been the night that Milo had finally worked up the nerve to talk to Amanda, after months of agonizing over how to talk to her. You see? said the little voice in the back of his head, Amanda appreciates everything you’ve done for her. As Milo turned onto Druid Drive he thought, well yeah, but I’ve helped out Zack and Melissa as well, he thought, loads of times, and I’ve been friends with Melissa since we were six, they don’t have a crush on me. The little voice chided Milo, no they don’t, but what about that summer when you were eight? When Milo had been eight years old, he had convinced Martin and Brigitte to let him go to summer camp. He had also convince Melissa to go with him. They had both practically been on pins and needles for the last two weeks of school. It had been the first time Milo had been away from his family for an extended period of time. He had been looking forward to a whole month of camping, hiking, swimming and fishing. Milo had had a ball. He had gone horseback riding, learned to tie knots, went rock climbing, hiking and fishing. Then half way through their month at camp, Murphy’s Law had struck. In retrospect, he had felt as thought he should have seen it coming. In addition, the camp’s various outdoor activities, the campers were also required to undertake light chores. Milo and Melissa had been washing and drying dishes in the camp kitchen, when the gas fired oven had exploded. The force of the exploding had knocked Milo and Melissa through a wall. Milo had had a mild concussion, but had otherwise been unharmed. Melissa, however, had broken her arm in three places. Both Milo and Melissa had to leave camp early early as a result. Milo had spent three days in the hospital under observation, while Melissa had had required surgery to reset bones in her arm. Milo had felt somewhat conflicted in the wake of the incident. On the one hand, Milo had been glad that Melissa had recovered quickly from her injury, but on other hand, Milo had found afterward that he couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of protectiveness toward Melissa. He had tried to apologize to her for what had happened, but she had waved his apology away. In the intervening five years, as Milo and Melissa had grown up together, Milo had increasingly come to see Melissa as a surrogate member of his family. Sara had teased him on more than one occasion about his close friendship with Melissa. “Its almost as if you have a crush,” she had said more than once. Milo would frequently stammer and blush. “What? No I don’t!” Yes you do, said the little voice in the back of Milo’s head, of course you do, why else do you spend so much time with her. Milo felt himself grow hot again. Melissa is my best friend, he thought, she’s amazing- Milo could see his house halfway down the block. Martin’s battered looking Range Rover was parked in the driveway. You want to be more than friends, it said, more than even best friends, you wanted her to be your girlfriend. Milo felt himself flush even more deeply at this thought. That’s just-I never thought that, he thought to himself, It’d just be weird, like going out with my sister, and he reflexively shuddered. With considerable effort, Milo pushed these thoughts out of his head and walked the rest of the way down the block to his house, head full of ringing silence.