Finalization

It is almost three days before Alvin has put his life back in order enough to attend school. To his dismay Annabel is waiting for him excitedly. "I'm so glad you finally showed up," she beams at him. "I thought you weren't coming again."

"I said I'd be here, didn't I? I keep my promises."

"Do you?" she narrows her round eyes suspiciously.

"Yes," he frowns. "Stop pestering me or I'll never give you an answer."

"What's with them?" Lucy asks Greg while leaning across Annabel's desk.

"Excuse me," she pushes her face away. "We were having a conversation."

"With him?" Lucy pretends to be surprised. "What could you possibly want with that weirdo?"

"He's a hundred times better than you, so shove it," Annabel spouts. Alvin hides his face behind his text book. He does not like having attention drawn to him. Despite her best intentions, she is only making him more of an outcast.

"You've changed," Lucy scoffs. "I don't think we can be friends anymore."

"Were you ever?" Greg laughs.

"Are you guys going to be talking throughout the entire lesson?" Rebecca turns around in her seat to glare at them.

"Sorry," Alvin whispers from behind his book. Annabel sinks into her chair apologetically. Lucy sticks her tongue out at Rebecca while Greg just turns away.

"You two," Rebecca points to Annabel and Alvin. "Mr. Alexson wants to see you after class." The pair shares a confused glance before returning to their text books for the rest of the lesson.

After the rest of the students have filed out into the hall at the end of the day, Rebecca leads them both up to Mr. Alexson's desk where he is sitting on a tall stool marking on the chalkboard. "Um…" Alvin tries to get his attention.

"Yes?" he responds without turning around.

"You wanted to see us," Annabel speaks up.

"What?" he turns around on the stool. "Ah yes, it's you, sweet lips. You're back; both of you now."

"Yes, we're back," Alvin nods while adopting an annoyed expression. The way Mr. Alexson talks to Annabel never bothered him until now. "I wasn't aware you noticed our absence."

"Noticed? Why I caused it," he beams proudly. Both Annabel and Alvin share a sarcastic expression, not believing him in the slightest. "I can see you're not convinced. No matter. I would like to ask you two what you observed on the other side."

"What?" Alvin is taken aback.

"I'm quite aware of where you've been. I went there once as well. It is very important to my research to know what you experienced."

"You're joking, right?" Annabel is shocked.

"It would take forever to explain everything that happened to us in detail," Alvin answers.

"I have all the time in the world," Mr. Alexson smiles. "This is a very important discovery. I'm willing to reward you both handsomely."

"I don't understand," Alvin remains confused.

"He would like your cooperation in researching the existence of the world in which you two were trapped," Rebecca explains.

"And what about you?" Annabel is suspicious. "Where do you fit in?"

"I'm already on the payroll," she answers monotonously. "Mr. Alexson informed me of the other world's existence when he realized that the research was too extensive to be done alone."

"You'd actually devote your time in high school to this?" Annabel is not convinced.

"This will be the discovery of the century," she answers calmly. "If we can prove it to the world, I'll be set for life."

"Well, good luck," Alvin snorts while walking off with Annabel's hand in his.

"I'm prepared to offer you compensation," Mr. Alexson speaks up. Alvin does not stop. "For all the time you spent in the other world plus any additional time you will spend there."

"Excuse me?" Alvin finally responds. "We are not going back."

"I require additional readings of the place. You will need to guide my assistant as she records the data with these instruments," he motions from Rebecca to a large set of gadgets on his desk.

"I wasn't aware of this," Rebecca tries to hide her alarm.

"It's quite natural really," he shrugs. "That's why I need you, to coordinate the research on the other side."

"Isn't it dangerous?" she sounds slightly concerned.

Mr. Alexson looks at Alvin for an answer. "Very!" he nods rapidly.

"Which is why I need you two to guide her," Mr. Alexson smiles happily.

"Not on your life," Annabel shakes her head.

"What she said," Alvin concurs.

"Oh come now, there must be something you both enjoyed about the place."

"No," they spout at once.

"You seem rather fond of each other's company now," he grins.

"She is," Alvin scoffs.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Annabel glares at him with her hands on her hips. "You don't want to be near me?"

"I didn't say that," he rubs the back of his neck nervously while averting his eyes.

"Seems like you two are having problems," Rebecca states the obvious. "Perhaps waiting a while before giving us an answer would be acceptable."

"No," Annabel speaks up. "We'll accept the offer."

"Are you out of your mind?" Alvin shouts. "We can't go back there."

"We can and we will. There's nothing wrong with that place. It was where I was happiest. It was where you promised to be my reason for living."

"I…" Alvin is left speechless.

"You said we would be together and if dragging you back there is what it takes to remind you then so be it. We won't find the shadows this time; they are gone. Besides, we have each other and that's more than enough to overcome any trauma we have in our past."

Alvin looks extremely uneasy as he debates what to do. Rebecca looks as if she hopes he will find a reason to say no. Finally he gives a large groan before stating his answer. "One more trip," he informs Annabel. "And we stick together this time. We bring supplies and we avoid anything dangerous. I am in charge and you," he points at Rebecca, "you don't stray from us at all."

"Understood," she half shouts in a squeaky voice. Her pale expression shows that she would rather not do this. Mr. Alexson seems overjoyed though. Annabel grabs Alvin in a hug as their teacher searches his desk for paper and pencils.

The pair takes their seats again as Mr. Alexson hands them each a questionnaire to fill out. He then retreats to the corner of the room to help Rebecca set up the electrical current experiment again.

"I can't wait," Annabel giggles happily. "I'll win you over again, just you wait."

"We'll see," Alvin's response is less harsh than before. He has already gotten past his initial displeasure and is now trying to think of this as his second chance to break out of his pessimistic routine. "Mr. Alexson," he calls to the teacher.

"What?" the man snaps loudly from the middle of his preparation.

"Are we allowed to bring others as well?"

"If you like," he shrugs. "I can't be held responsible if you can't protect them, though."

"Oh, she can take care of herself," Alvin chuckles.

"Who can?" Annabel asks.

"Renae," he answers with a smile. Her round eyes immediately light up. This has just gone from a reluctant journey to a new adventure. She begins to scribble on the questionnaire with renewed speed, absolutely excited for the bonding experience that waits ahead.

Alvin gives a slight smile before lowering his head as well. They are both looking forward to revisiting the world that felt like it belonged to them alone. This time they are not afraid.

The End?