Mission Status: FAILURE

The bell clangs, signaling the arrival of more customers.

"KT," Carrise complains, "How long does it take to buy a package of brownies?"

"A long time," I shoot back, my voice muffled by the shelves.

"What?" he asks.

"A long time," I reply back, louder this time. I hear him sigh and I don't have to straighten up to know that he's rolling his eyes. It's a Thursday afternoon and the air is unseasonably warm for January, not that I'm complaining. Monday is MLK Day, which means after tomorrow, there's a three-day weekend. Which also means the Zip Mart will be closed and I have to stock up on brownies this afternoon. I meant to run down to the Zip Mart right after my math class earlier today but I met Karen Dupree at the entrance of Worchester Hall and got sidetracked with plans for tonight. It was already five by the time I got back to my room, and of course, Carrise, ever-punctual Jeff Carrise, was already waiting for me, talking to my roommate Natalie, glancing impatiently at his watch.

He dragged me down to the mall to buy a birthday present for his girlfriend Nicole. One argument and three vetoes on my part later, we finally emerged with a teddy bear, perfume, and a really nice sweater. Up to this point, I had completely forgotten about my brownies, until we ran into our friend Sam on our way back to campus.

"Have you gone to the Zip Mart yet?" Sam asked me. I smacked my forehead. Crap! My brownies! "Oh, good," Sam replied, "David wanted me to ask you if you could buy him a couple of packages too." After promising that I would and receiving David's ten dollars set aside for the sole purpose of brownie purchase, Carrise and I were on our way to the Zip Mart, where I was currently inspecting brownies while Carrise tapped his foot impatiently on the linoleum floor.

The selections for David were easy-he liked mint fudge and double chocolate. After digging through my wallet, I realized that I only had five dollars left and some odd change, which meant that I could only buy a limited number of brownies and I had to choose carefully. My favorite is double fudge, followed closely by chocolate chip and peanut butter, but with only five dollars, I could only buy three packages. Did I want double packs of double fudge or single packs of each? All this decision-making was driving me crazy.

"KT," Carrise begins again, "Nicole's showing up at eight. It's seven-thirty already. It's not much of a surprise party for Nicole if no one's at the restaurant to surprise her. Can we please go?"

Rashly, I decide to forgo the peanut butter and pick up two double fudges and one chocolate chip. "Okay, let's go!" I say cheerfully, straightening up, hearing my bones crack from being cramped up for so long. Suddenly, Carrise grimaces.

"What?" I demand.

Without explanation, he ducks behind the shelf of brownies.

"What are you doing?" I ask, amused. "Shh!" he hisses. I look around the Zip Mart to see if there's anything out of the ordinary to explain Carrise's behavior. Everything looks normal and all the other occupants-the clerk and the pretty girl browsing the magazine stand, all look undisturbed as well.

"What's going on?" I ask again, as he glares at me and pulls me down to his level on the linoleum floor.

"Did you see that girl wearing the yellow shirt?"

"Oh yeah," I say brightly, oblivious to his intent, "the magazine girl!"

"Shh!" he hisses at me again. "She's a…Flavia is…she's…"

I shoot up to take another quick glance at her, while Carrise is in his babbling state. She's tall, blonde, reed-thin, and very much Carrise's type.

"An ex-girlfriend!" I exclaim gleefully. Carrise winces noticeably.

"Not so loud, KT!"

"Oh, sorry," I say, unable to suppress the grin that has broken out on my face.

"Just tell me when the coast is clear, okay?" Carrise begs.

"Alright," I promise, standing up to ponder the double fudge/peanut butter conundrum again.

The ex-girlfriend selects a Cosmos, pays for it, and leaves.

"Pst, Agent Double Fudge to Agent Orange. Over."

"Has she left yet?" Carrise asks, annoyed.

I stamp my foot on the floor. "You're supposed to say 'over' at the end of each transmission. And yes, Suspect Yellow has left, Agent Orange. Over."

Carrise rolls his eyes, stands back up, and follows me over to the cash register.

"Was Suspect Yellow really that suspicious? Over." I ask, while the clerk rings up my three packages of brownies and David's six.

"What-? Can you say that in plain English, please?" Catching my aggravated expression, he adds, "Over," hastily to the end of his request.

"Agent Double Fudge would like to know why the macho Agent Orange was on his knees at the sight of Suspect Yellow, even though Agent Double Fudge does concur with Agent Orange that Suspect Yellow looks like a lovely girl. Over."

Carrise's ears are tinged with red, and the color spreads to his face when the clerk pauses and looks at Carrise, also waiting curiously for an answer.

"It ended badly, okay? That's all."

"How badly is 'badly?' Over." I ask, feigning blindness to his embarrassment, figuring this is payback for all the ugly sweaters he made me model in the mall this afternoon.

"She told me I would never be able to find another girlfriend."

Oh.

"I'm sorry, Carrise," I say softly, back to my normal tone of voice, squeezing his hand, "That's terrible." I'm feeling ashamed of myself for teasing him now.

"It's okay, Agent Double Fudge."

"She was wrong though, you know," I say, hoping to cheer him up and make amends.

"Yeah," Carrise says thoughtfully, "You're right. Suspect Yellow was wrong. Screw all Suspect Yellows in the world."

Tentatively, I smile at him. He grins back, unabashed. "Over," I remind him gently.

Carrise rolls his eyes and I know things are back to normal, no harm done.

The second after the clerk hands me my change, I accidentally drop it on the floor. Since I'm juggling nine packages of brownies and my wallet, I ask Carrise to pick them up for me.

"Agent Double Fudge to Agent Orange. Please secure escaping legal tender. Over," I say.

Carrise hands me my runaway money. "Why am I Agent Orange?" he complains, "Do you even know what Agent Orange is, KT?"

"Yes, I do," I reply, tucking my wallet back into my pocket, "It's because you ARE orange, not because your personality is like Agent Orange."

"Thanks," he says dryly, opening the door for me.

It's true. Jeff Carrise is orange. Very much unlike his best friend and my Jeff, Jeff Barron, who's decidedly brown. Carrise has flaming red hair, which is more carroty than fire-engine hue, hence the very appropriate codename, Agent Orange.

Carrise is much taller than me and therefore has longer legs and soon sets a pace back to campus that I can't match.

"Hurry!" he urges, "We have ten minutes to make a twenty-minute drive."

Because I'm so slow, he carries my brownies for me. But not before I manage to slip out two packages of double chocolate. I suspect if Carrise didn't already have a girlfriend, he would have picked me up and slung me over his shoulder like the bag of brownies too. I concentrate on walking and furtively helping myself to one of David's double chocolates (I'll pay him back later) while Carrise feigns deafness to the crinkling of cellophane. Mmmm…double chocolate…

BAM!

Yowsers! That hurt!

I rub my forehead gingerly and wait for my vision to clear.

"Geeze, KT! Are you all right!?"

All I can see is a bright mass of carroty-orange hair. I sneeze and Carrise recoils. He pulls me up from off the ground and brushes me off.

"Barron's going to kill me," he mutters as he checks me over for scrapes and bruises.

"I'm sorry!" a feminine voice gushes, "I completely didn't see you!"

"That's okay!" I tell her cheerfully as the stars in my field of vision finally clear.

"Are you okay?"

Silence.

I blink.

This girl's pretty, tall, with long blond hair, reed thin, wearing a yellow shirt…oh hey, it's…"Suspect Yellow!" I exclaim.

She doesn't respond at all and then I realize it's because her eyes are not riveted on my tasty, tasty, double chocolate brownies, but rather to the guy standing beside me, who sheepishly shoves the bag of brownie goodness in my direction in an effort to look more debonair.

"Hi, Carrise," she says softly.

"Flavia…" Carrise returns uncomfortably, "How have you been?"

"Well," she responds quickly, "And you?"

"I've been pretty good too."

Silence.

Crickets chirping.

Crickets humming the Blue Danube.

Crickets crooning Beethoven's 9th symphony.

Taking advantage of the intermission, I start on a mint brownie.

"So I guess you've met KT, huh?" Carrise says and she shoots me a quick glance, summing me up, before smiling warily. We exchange hellos, her shaking the hand I use to wave at her.

"Would you like a brownie?" I offer kindly, in an attempt to appear less menacing.

"Um…no thank you," Suspect Yellow responds, obviously cautious.

"They're not poisoned, I promise!" I say earnestly, flashing her a peace sign.

She wears an expression of uncertainty on her face now. Understanding her dilemma, and not wanting her to live with the feeling of regret I nearly experienced fifteen minutes ago in the Zip Mart, I thrust the remaining double chocolate and the two mints in her direction. I even add in my own double fudge as an extra show of goodwill.

Hands full, Suspect Yellow still looks highly uncomfortable. "Um…thank you…I guess."

"You're welcome!" Still working on my appearance of approachability, I smile cheerfully at her.

Carrise slings his arm around my waist. "KT's clumsy as hell," he informs Flavia, "You've gotta watch out for her or else she'll pull you into a head on collision."

Flavia laughs politely and he pulls me closer, changing my angle so that my foot stomp ends up on the brick walkway instead of his feet. Carrise kisses my cheek.

"Play along, Triss," he pleads into my ear.

"Like hell," I mutter back, highly offended by his earlier comment. Plus, I hate it when he calls me Triss. My middle name is Tristan and I already have a nickname. Kenley Tristan KT. NOT Triss.

"KT's also the holder of the most impressive collection of bruises and scratches you'll ever meet," Carrise continues, ignoring my pinch on his forearms as he wraps his arms around me and rests his chin on my shoulder.

Flavia's smile falters slightly as she notices how I'm glaring at Carrise.

"Honey," I say sweetly, "we should be going, shouldn't we?"

"Oh yeah," Carrise responds quickly, "It was nice meeting you Flavia. Take care."

"You too," she says and they smile at each other one more time, like the way you smile at your dentist when he tells you he has to drill a huge hole in your gums to do a root canal, and we finally leave.

"More details, please," I order immediately as soon as we reach the parking lot.

Carrise groans.

"She's just a girl I used to date," he says in a tone that makes me know that there's a lot more to the story.

"Just a girl you used to date…?" I say, baiting him.

He swears under his breath as a huge tractor trailer cuts us off on the highway.

"Jeff Carrise!" I intone, pseudo-astonished, "What would your mother say?!"

"My mother would say the same thing about that fucking bastard."

I tsk but that doesn't stop him from cussing out every car that we pass on the road.

With a few more choice words, we finally arrive at the entrance of Traviata. We go in to find that, as usual, we're one of the first people to arrive. Karen and David are both already here, talking to the hostess, making some last minute arrangements. Suddenly, I'm aware of the near non-existent weight of the plastic bag I'm still clutching. Nervously, I examine the contents inside.

Oh, crap.

I duck when David looks over in my direction.

Barron, who just got off work an hour ago, slips behind me, squeezes me and then kisses me hello. Uncannily, his fingers slide over the still raw surface of my elbows.

"What happened to you?" he asks, concerned.

"Suspect Yellow!" I tell him impishly. He shakes his head but decides that if I can joke about it, then I'm really okay.

"Brownies and Trivial Pursuit in Spumock's common rooms after this, okay, KT?" someone says from behind us. I flinch visibly when I realize who it is.

"You DID buy those six packages of brownies for me, didn't you?" David asks, becoming anxious when he notices my expression.

"Yes…" I say, trailing off.

"Uh oh," David replies.

"Don't say 'uh oh!" There's a perfectly reasonable explanation, I promise!"

"They were abducted by hungry aliens?"

"No."

"You were robbed and the only thing the two guys in Groucho Marx mustaches, armed with NERF darts, took were the brownies?"

"No!"

David gives a world-weary sigh. "You ate them all."

"Well…"

"KT!"

"Let me explain! I didn't actually eat ALL of them…"

"So says the girl with chocolate all over her hands," Barron interjects, examining my fingers.

"Hey! Whose side are you on anyways?!" I demand to know.

"The BCLU-Brownies Civil Liberties Union." Barron replies patiently.

He and David exchange a look while I sit there, with my mouth unattractively open.

"We're pulling your leg, KT," David explains hastily when he realizes I haven't yet recovered. "Barron figured something like this would happen and bought a dozen packs in the grocery store on his way here from work."

"Oh," I say. "Well, that's good then."

The two of them continue to peer at me to make sure I'm really okay.

"I'm starving," Barron finally says, to change the subject.

"Me too," David agrees.

I guiltily think of all the double fudge brownies.

Barron locates a partially empty bench while David wanders off and Carrise wanders by. They talk hockey, an assignment for their math class, and plans for tonight. Suddenly, Baron stops mid-sentence.

"What?" Carrise demands.

"Shh!" Barron hisses, "Jeff, don't look behind you if you know what's good for you."

"Why?" Carrise asks, following orders but curiously suspicious.

I twist out of the spot next to Barron to peer behind Carrise and Barron steadies me by putting his hands on my shoulders.

"Agent Double Fudge to Agent Orange. Suspect Yellow sighting. Over."

Carrise groans audibly and I kick him in the shin when I realize his groan has caught Suspect Yellow's attention. She waves to me and I wave back cheerfully.

"What's going on?" Carrise asks with clenched teeth, trying to slouch to make his 6'1'' figure appear less like a mountain and more like a mole-hill.

"She's coming this way," I inform him brightly.

"Hi, KT!" Suspect Yellow greets.

"Hi, Flavia!" I reply back with the same gusto.

"Hi, Flavia. Long time no see," Barron says, pulling me back into his arms again.

"Barron…" she blinks confusedly for a second before realizing that Carrise is standing opposite of her. Just as she opens her mouth to speak, Nicole pops up next to him, throwing her arms around his waist.

"Thank you! Thank you!" she gushes, kissing his cheek, "You're the awesomest!"

The look on Carrise's face is priceless.

I guess it might be a while, or even the last time, he's going to be hearing those words from Nicole.

"Wait a minute," Suspect Yellow says, looking from me in Baron's arms to Carrise with Nicole hanging off of him, "What's going on here?"

"Pst. Agent Double Fudge to Agent Orange. Accomplice N has blown your cover. Abort mission. I repeat, abort mission. Over." I say urgently.

Carrise looks at me and groans.

"Mission aborted. Over," he says, pretending to plunge a knife into his chest and falling into a heap on the floor. Nicole is silent for a moment before she joins forces with Suspect Yellow in demanding in explanation.

Mission aborted, indeed.

A/N: Please, please, please review! With large plateful of brownies (mint, double fudge, peanut butter, and chocolate chip) on top!