How to Buy a Red Panda

Written in response to: Write about a school trip that takes a turn for the unexpected.... view prompt


Funny High School Romance

[A Continuation of 'How to Slushy a Fuckboy']

"I realize he's shy... but it's been almost three months," Summer whispered under her breath, twirling a piece of her golden brown hair between her fingers. Karina nodded along with what she was saying, crossing her legs the other way where she sat on the rubber bus seat riddled with holes and pencil graffiti. She wore a pair of khaki shorts with a pink crop top that had a sweet rhinestoned heart on the chest. She never went anywhere without platforms, so she paired the outfit with a strappy pair of sandals that gave her about three extra inches of height. Her long blonde hair was braided back out of her face, and for the sake of being outside all day she wore her favorite pair of cat eye sunglasses, also pink. Summer, Karina's best friend since the two were in diapers, had on an identical outfit though her top was a sage green and matched her shades respectively.

"I know, I know," Karina admitted, turning halfway in her seat to face Summer who sat behind her, "I just don't wanna rush anything..."

"Since when are you not one to make the first move?" Summer asked then, raising an eyebrow at the girl as other kids shuffled onto the bus around them. Among them was Oliver, dressed in a pair of mesh athletic shorts and a polo shirt Karina had gotten him for his birthday. His messy brown hair stuck up in places, and his eyes stayed pointed on the floor as he walked back toward where Karina was sitting, carrying two bottles of water for them.

"He's different," Karina said, hushing her voice as Oliver grew closer to the girls, "I want him to want me."

Summer slid her shades down the bridge of her nose, peeking over them at Oliver to get a better look at the boy. He tripped over his own feet and laughed sheepishly, halfway to his seat. Despite Karina's influence being somewhat incorporated into the boy's life, i.e. she bought him clothing like it was her job, he still had that dorky aura about him.

"I really don't understand you," Summer scoffed playfully, sitting back in her seat as Oliver finally plopped down next to Karina, who was beaming already.

"I got your water," Oliver smiled, handing one of the bottles he'd retrieved from the school's vending machine over to the girl.

"Thanks," Karina said gratefully, placing the bottle into the purse at her side. She also had with her a stick of sunscreen, some bug spray, a chapstick, and her wallet. She didn't think she would need much else for a trip to the zoo, and wanted to pack light.

"You look pretty," Oliver said quietly, leaning into Karina so she was the only one who heard. Though, Summer sat behind them already rolling her eyes.

Karina blushed happily at the comment and scooted a bit closer to the boy, taking his hand into hers, "and you look adorable in your polo."

Oliver, now blushing as well, leaned back into the bus seat, intertwining his fingers with Karina's.

"Barf," Summer interjected from behind, causing for all three of them to laugh infectiously.

Forty or so minutes later, the bus arrived at the zoo and all of the high schoolers on the trip unloaded before getting the go-ahead to roam around. They would all meet up again in the lot by the bus at the end of the day, and of course, they were responsible for upholding the school's values even when off by themselves. The usual field trip spiel everyone half-listened to.

"So, where should we go first?" Summer asked, looking around at one of the zoo maps posted on a big wooden board. Karina and Oliver stood behind them facing one another while the girl used her sunscreen stick on the boy's face.

"It tickles," Oliver remarked, flinching slightly at Karina's touch. The girl smiled at the boy and helped rub in his sunblock with her fingers, admiring the freckles that speckled his nose and cheeks. She finished and pushed Oliver's round glasses back onto his face.

"Let's just go in order, so we see everything," Karina suggested, taking Oliver's hand once more as they started through the crowd. Summer followed along beside the couple, basking in the beautiful sunlight. It was the perfect day for such a trip; warm, cool wind, with not a cloud in the sky.

They navigated the zoo well, following other groups of people from exhibit to exhibit, enjoying the view of the animals. Oliver, who'd brought a disposable camera, insisted on snapping photos of Karina with almost every animal they found. Especially his favorite, the red pandas.

"Do I look cute?" Karina asked as she smiled for the photo, holding up a peace sign around one of her eyes, winking the other. Oliver cranked the film and then snapped a shot of her, a small red panda in a grass covered sanctuary in the background. Kids squealed at the sight of the animal a little ways away.

"The cutest," Oliver assured as Karina returned to his side once again, wrapping her arm around the boy's waist. Summer snatched the camera out of Oliver's hand and quickly readied it for another shot, taking a photo of the couple smiling.

"Thank me later," Summer smiled smugly, pushing her sunglasses up on her nose as they waltzed to the next area. On the way they grabbed some drinks at a stall off to the side. Summer got an iced coffee while Oliver and Karina shared a huge blue slushy. They always had to get one when it was on the menu, it had become their first real inside joke.

"Your lips are blue," Karina giggled as the three stood admiring an exhibit of flamingos, turning to Oliver and swiping the pad of her thumb over the boy's mouth. She licked her finger without thinking and had to bite her lip when she noticed the boy's flustered expression at her actions, stifling a giggle.

"I've never felt so single," Summer grumbled, reapplying a bit of lip gloss as the two laughed at her remark.

"What happened to that girl you were seeing a few weeks ago?" Karina asked then, grabbing a seat at a bench, where Summer and Oliver soon followed.

"Fundamental differences," the girl explained as she sipped her iced coffee daintily, leaning back on the bench beside her friend.

"Meaning?" Oliver piped up, furrowing his eyebrows at the explanation.

"I wouldn't ask," Karina advised before Summer could reply, handing the slushy back to Oliver after she took a gulp, "last time I asked the answer was 'foot fetish'."

Oliver turned to look at Summer, who nodded her head to confirm this and shivered for added effect.

"Enough said," the boy agreed, throwing up his hands in surrender.

"I have to pee," Karina declared then, standing up from the bench a second later. Oliver got up too, offering his company to walk to the restrooms. She waved him off, which made him sit back down next to Summer, though she did leave her purse with him.

"We'll be here when you get back," Oliver reassured, smiling up at the girl as she turned to go. Karina felt her heart swell at his continuous insistence on treating her so kindly. She'd never had such an attentive and easy-going boyfriend before. It was a change of pace she never quite got used to.

"BRB," Karina replied, leaving a quick kiss on the boy's cheek before she hurried off toward the restrooms. Oliver smiled to himself as the girl disappeared from sight, carefully cradling her bag in his lap.

"She's waiting for you to kiss her," Summer blurted out after a moment of silence, stunning Oliver with her bluntness. He turned to look at her but no words came out, mouth agape.

"Honestly I think she wants to do even more than that with you," Summer added, her perfectly glossed lips slipping into a suggestive smirk. Oliver's cheeks glowed, shiny with sunscreen.

"How do you know?" Oliver asked innocently, fiddling with the zipper on Karina's purse, avoiding eye contact as he tried to calm his heart rate. The idea of kissing Karina alone sent him into a lustful spiral... anything past that... even fantasizing, might send him into cardiac arrest.

"I'm her best friend. Even when I'm not with her I know what she's thinking," the brown haired girl stated matter-of-factly, running a hand back through her beach waves.

"Um..." Oliver tried to form a coherent sentence, chewing at his lip, "do you have any suggestions?"

Summer snickered at his ignorance, and then her face froze as it dawned on her, "Oh god... you've had your first kiss haven't you?"

The boy smiled sheepishly, which in itself was answer enough, though it was coupled with a sunburn level blush of embarrassment.

"Just kiss her, she's going to like it even if you suck," Summer admitted after a silent moment of pondering, "she's obviously in love with you."

Another hot button topic for Oliver, who struggled daily not to pop the three big words to Karina, for fear it was too soon. He brightened up hearing this.

"You really think so?" the boy said, eyes full of unbridled hope. Summer couldn't help but smile at him, maybe he really was the one.

"Listen, I promise you, she's super into you. But she wants you to make the first move," the girl advised seriously, followed by Oliver's concentrated nodding. They kept talking for a while until it became very apparent Karina had been gone for a suspicious amount of time. Oliver was the first to speak on it.

"Do you think she's okay?" he asked, looking off in the distance toward the restrooms. Summer's eyes trailed in that direction too, her brows furrowed with curiosity.

"Maybe she's just touching up her makeup," Summer offered, shrugging her shoulders lightly. Oliver shook his head gently, gesturing to the girl's purse in his lap, noticing also that he had her phone too.

"Shit. She even left her phone in here," the boy noted, standing up and looking around, putting Karina's bag on his shoulder. Summer stood too, leading the boy over to the restrooms. She headed inside to look for Karina while Oliver waited nearby. No luck though, Karina wasn't there.

"Let's split up then, we can cover more ground if we go in opposite directions," Summer insisted, gesturing to her cellphone in her hand, "call me if you find her."

"Okay," Oliver nodded determinedly, heading deeper into the zoo while Summer turned and went back the way they came. His eyes carefully picked apart the crowds, searching for any sign of Karina. He walked for a while, his worry growing significantly as he time and time again found nothing.

Oliver headed next inside the aquarium part of the zoo, everyone bathed in gentle blue light from the tunnel fish tanks. He kept on his toes, particularly searching out blondes. Each girl he inspected though, wasn't her. He was weaving through families and other groups of students, shuffling his way through when he brushed shoulders with someone and dropped Karina's purse, her tinted chapstick rolling out onto the floor. He kneeled to grab it, cursing under his breath when his hand brushed another person's.

"You," the voice said, sounding familiar to Oliver. The boy looked up and it was Danny Jameson, dressed in a muscle tank and bucket hat, holding out the tube of chapstick to the boy. Oliver was at a loss for words, thinking what are the odds out of the 300 kids on the trip he would run into this dickweed.

"Thanks," Oliver said flatly, taking the chapstick and putting it back into the girl's bag before he put the purse on his shoulder once more. He was about to turn to leave, not wanting to see how this interaction played out, when Danny grabbed his shoulder.

"Hey, I'm sorry for what I did a couple months ago," he started, seeming genuinely apologetic to Oliver's surprise, "I wasn't in the best place. I had a lot to figure out. That's no excuse... but I've learned. And... anyway... it's nice to see you again."

"Um..." Oliver looked for the right thing to say, not sure how to react to such a thing from his girlfriend's ex. He noticed Danny eyeing the pink, heart shaped purse and worried he might recognize it as Karina's. Oliver tried to hide it behind his hip, and Danny smiled in response.

"Hey, you don't have to be embarrassed..."

His tone was weird, Oliver couldn't read it at all. Then he went on.

"Do you have Grindr?" Danny asked a little quieter, his eyes snaking from Oliver's sneakers all the way back up to his eyes. Suddenly there was an odd tension in the air that Oliver wanted away from as quickly as possible.

"I don't-"

"Here," Danny grabbed Oliver's phone out of his hand and punched his number in, handing it back like he'd done the boy a favor, "If you ever wanna... hang out... let me know."

A wink later, Oliver was left standing alone in the aquarium completely flabbergasted. He quickly shook himself out of it and went back to searching for Karina, a task that was becoming more and more worrisome as time went on.

Summer called him an hour later with bad news. She hadn't found the girl anywhere, and his search had been fruitless as well. Karina had been gone for an hour... maybe an hour and a half--they'd both lost track of time. It was around then Oliver decided he was going to have to let one of their teachers know. He was going mad with anxiety, worried something bad had happened to Karina. Though, on his way to the parking lot to find an adult, Summer's phone started ringing.

She picked it up and Karina's voice giggled on the other end, willing them to stop where they were. They turned and the girl came running toward them, holding a brown paper bag in her arm. Karina's face was bright with excitement, and she hurriedly pulled something from the bag as she finally met with the two.

"Look! Look! Ollie I found it!" Karina laughed jovially, holding up a red panda plush about the side of a soccer ball. She beamed with pride, holding it out to the boy, her cheeks rosy with happiness. "This is the one you wanted, right? The line was soooo long! I went to go find it before they sold out. I got the last one-"

Oliver stepped forward, taking Karina's face in his hands, connecting their lips without hesitation. Karina melted against the boy, the plush squished between them as they embraced. When the boy finally pulled away, Karina buzzed with satisfaction, her eyes practically hearts as she stared up at the boy.

Oliver took the plush and beamed, taking in the fact that the girl had been gone finding him a gift all day. His heart threatened to climb into his throat at the sentiment, bringing him in once more to peck the girl's lips lovingly.

Summer, after sneaking the disposable camera out of Oliver's back pocket, snapped a photo of their quick kiss, smiling at her friends' display of affection. She typically wasn't a romantic... but they had the potential to change her.

"I love him," Oliver said, smiling down at the plushie. Karina bounced with excitement, once again wrapping her arm around the boy's waist.

"Did you guys do anything fun while I was gone?" Karina asked then, as they all walked back to the bus. "Sorry I didn't tell you where I was going. I wanted to surprise you, and I accidentally left my phone in my bag."

"Not really, I just went around looking for you," Summer said simply, adding playfully, "I got some ice cream during my search though."

Karina laughed and then looked up at Oliver, "what about you?"

He thought back to Danny, how he now had the boy's number, and the odd sexual tension he'd felt from him. What an odd day, Oliver thought to himself, that morning having imagined their zoo trip as mundane as they come. But he should have known better... everything he did with Karina was anything but predictable.

"It's actually kind of a long story."

Summer and Karina grinned, exchanging curious glances before they spoke in unison: "We've got time."

May 14, 2023 18:40

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Wally Schmidt
02:03 Jun 02, 2023

From slushies to plushies, it's nice to see these two together. Somehow you make the ordinary exciting to read about and the characters are really endearing. I'm thinking the best friend gets a bit snarkier in the next episode, but I guess I'll have to wait to find out.. Nice job Brynn!


Brynn Helena
14:15 Jun 02, 2023

thank you so much!! :)


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Viga Boland
19:58 May 15, 2023

Nicely done Brynn…even though it reminded me how many decades older I am than you, Karina, Summer and Oliver! 😂 That said, it also reminded me how little has changed when teens are falling for each other and hesitate to say it. Oh the teenage angst and insecurity you’ve captured here. Bravo! 👏


Brynn Helena
20:27 May 15, 2023

thank you so much!!! glad you enjoyed it :) <3


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Mary Bendickson
19:01 May 15, 2023

Whew! Glad the culprit was a stuffed red panda. Could have been much more sinister.


Brynn Helena
19:13 May 15, 2023

thanks for reading!!! <3


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Mike Panasitti
23:22 May 14, 2023

This is nothing like that cynical 80s coming of age film I mentioned in my last comment. The elephant in the room here is the "odd sexual tension" Oliver feels from Danny at story's end. Also, is Danny's cordiality sincere? Is he willing to forgive and forget the slushy incident, or is his friendliness a front? Much potential here for coming of age rom-com drama.


Brynn Helena
00:25 May 15, 2023

i sort of wanted to play at the fact that perhaps Oliver has some discovery of his own to make. i always love bisexual/pansexual/label-less representation in media. i wholeheartedly believe he is in love with Karina, but i find the buzzing sexuality just behind the curtain in this story (and the first part) to be engaging. teenage sexuality is a great jumping point for drama and revelation and wittiness. as far as Danny goes, either way i think the story would entice me. if he is lying, why? to get at Karina? to get at Oliver? another reason...


Mike Panasitti
11:17 May 15, 2023

There are many intriguing ways you can continue to develop this story, if you choose to do so. Developing characters different than myself is a task (and art) I find difficult. However, I think personalities are totipotent - meaning, capable of anything, so sometimes idealized characters are reflections of what we'd like to become. Other times a character can reflect what we would dread becoming. Kinder characters are appealing (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield), because the world is full of so much cynicism, but there's always the risk...


Brynn Helena
11:39 May 15, 2023

my characters usually come as a result of inspiration from other characters/other people i know in real life/people i don't know but find interesting. my brother and i love to play a game in public where we both pick an unsuspecting stranger and try to guess what their life is like just by looking at them, slowly filling in the blanks of who they are. i doubt we've ever gotten anywhere close to right, but it's fun! and i always find the process of writing characters to be similar. come up with a visual in your head and then just ponder. thou...


Mike Panasitti
19:30 May 15, 2023

The game you describe sounds like it can fuel the creative process. I'll try it out and see if it helps me become a better writer. Take care.


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