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River in Egypt

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So here I was, back home. Back in Cali. Boring little suburban Hillridge, CA, where nothing exciting ever happens. Not like Rome, the Eternal City, where everything that happens is exciting.

So you must be asking yourself, what the hell, Lizzie McGuire? In Rome, you had everything. Confidence, poise, a cute Italian pseudo-boyfriend and a budding career as a pop superstar. Why'd you give it up?

Call me crazy, but I just couldn't bring myself to leave 'boring little Hillridge.' This place is a sleepy stop dead center in Dullsville, USA, but it's home. And I mean, I don't know any Italian. I know 'ciao' and 'pizza' and a two-word vocabulary does not a jet-setter make. Plus, this is where my family is. It's where my friends are. (And with the International Music Video Awards under my belt, I was sure to make an impression starting high school.)

Okay, okay, river in Egypt, I know. I really was ready to live in Rome, throw away the boring high school lifestyle and lap up every second of fame and fortune. I was this close to saying yes. There was just one tiny thing that was affecting my decision.

Two things, really. I'm sitting there, parents in the next room, talking to this agent guy about signing a contract, staying in Rome with a recording deal, and these gorgeous, sensitive blue eyes just popped into my mind. And I couldn't pick up the pen. Not for the life of me.

Am I crazy? Should I base my entire life around one person -- one person that isn't me? I mean, Gordo is the best best friend you could ask for. He's smart, he's funny, he's creative, he always goes along with my harebrained schemes, even when he knows they won't work, just to make me happy. I mean, who does that? Who freaking does that?

Gordo does.

And I couldn't leave him behind. I thought about it, I thought long and hard about it. I thought about living in Rome, lifestyles of the rich and famous. And I thought about life without Gordo. The two things were one and the same, and suddenly, it wasn't all that appealing.

I mean, what would I do if I had a major life crisis? Figuring out time zone differences is way too complex for me, and while a marathon phone conversation is often the staple of our relationship, it's not the same if I can't finish it with, "You know, why don't you just come over." Because that would entail long flights and all sorts of unnecessary hassles.

Okay. So. I went back to Hillridge with the rest of the tour group. And I did it for Gordo. Not for Matt (no way!), not for even my parents or Miranda. But for Gordo.

I am crazy.

I gazed at the index card in my hand, trying to memorize my locker combination. First days suck. Especially when it's the first day of high school, and your best friend (Miranda) is still in Mexico and your other best friend (Gordo) isn't there yet, and you're confused and alone and slightly lost.

"Lizzie!"

I turned around, thrilled that someone was talking to me, no matter who it was. Then I saw who it was.

"Oh. Hey, Larry."

Well, you know, Tudgeman isn't all that bad, really. He's a little weird --okay, he's a lot weird-- but he's sweet and he's good at science. "So, how was your summer?"

He shrugged. "Apparently not as good as yours. Do tell, how was Rome?"

I wondered if he'd heard. "Oh. Rome. It was...you know, good."

"Please, Lizzie, you think I don't get cable? You know, I always thought you bore a striking resemblance to Isabella."

"Isabella? You know about Isabella?" Tudgeman was not exactly the type to follow pop music. Not unless they were, like, singing about Star Wars. Did anyone even do that?

"Know her? I'm not allowed within a hundred feet of her. Why else would I be skipping a two-week trip to Rome?"

I cocked an eyebrow, unable to find words. Man, Tudgeman was weird sometimes.

"So, what made you come back to this place? I'm hardly one to talk, but Hillridge isn't exactly the swinging social capital of the world."

At that moment, I could see Gordo over Larry's shoulder, coming down the hallway. I smiled at him and waved.

Larry glanced over his shoulder, and then looked at me, grinning. "Ah! Not a what, but a who."

That jolted me back to reality. I stared at Tudgeman. "Say what?"

"So, was there a romance blossoming in Rome?" he said, sounding way too amused for my liking.

"What?" I repeated, then shook my head slightly, which managed to jostle a few more words from my muddled brain. "You're crazy."

"Crazy..." he said, leaning in uncomfortably close, "or insane?" He winked. "Hey there, Gordo," he said, then left.

Gordo stared after him, squinching up his face in confusion. "Tudgeman's weird."

"You're telling me," I said. I coughed, and returned my attention to my locker again, if only to get myself to stop staring at him. "You, um...you look good," I choked out, cheering mentally as the door swung open without a Herculean effort on my part. Already high school was a thousand times better than middle school.

And he did look good, I realized, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. He'd spent the remainder of the summer at chemistry camp --what a way to top Rome, right?-- and this was the first time I was seeing him since we'd come back. He was a little taller, maybe, so that he was at my exact height level, and his hair was a little longer, curly, floppy, and...oh, God, what was I thinking? I immediately turned my attention to my locker, blushing slightly and grateful I had that metal door to hide my face behind. When the hell had my best friend become so good-looking? Where was I for this?

"Thanks," I heard him say. "You, too."

I was blushing even more now, even though he had told me I looked good only a million times in my life. This was just a million and one. Once I had finally forced my face back to its normal color, I removed my head from my locker, and smiled at Gordo. "Thanks. So, um, how was camp? Your postcards were very..." I groped for words unsuccessfully. "They had equations written on them, Gordo."

Gordo laughed. "Yeah, well, it's pretty much how you would expect it to be. Filled with people like...well, like me."

Intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, caring people that could always make you laugh?

"What do you mean, people like you?"

He shrugged as we started down the hallway. "You know, too smart for their own good, won't ever get a girlfriend, one step away from being full-on Trekkies... Actually, most of them were Trekkies."

I had to laugh at that, although my mind was linger on the girlfriend bit. Was that a subtle hint? Did maybe he like me? I know Kate had hinted several times that he had, but really now, this was Kate. The girl who lived solely to make me the most miserable human being on the planet. Between Kate and Matt, it was a wonder I wasn't a suicidal wreck. I digress, however...the fact of the matter remains that Kate Sanders is not the most trustworthy person you can come across, and therefore, I shouldn't believe anything she says.

"Really, now," I said. "Don't hate on the Trekkies, Gordo. I mean, even Tudgeman isn't that bad, and he must be king of the nerds."

Gordo shook his head in amusement, and his hair flopped back and forth like it had a life of its own. I was mesmerized. "When did we become such elitists?" he said.

"Rome changed us," I said glibly, shrugging.

He looked at me, and his eyes were so intense, drawing me into them like a traction beam. "Rome didn't change us," he said, softly and seriously, and I was absolutely hypnotized by that forceful stare and that gravelly, commanding voice. "You changed Rome."

That was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to me. I stopped dead in the middle of the hallway, staring at him, at a loss for words. We were in our own moment, just me and Gordo, and the words were on the tip of my tongue, that I was here because of him and only him.

The bell rang, jolting me from my more-than-friendly train of thought and interrupting that weird little bubble we'd been in. Instantly my words flew from my mind, and I said, "Well, you know, Rome had all those ruins and things...it just needed the McGuire touch."

Gordo laughed, and the mood was killed, and we walked to class.

Chapter Text

First days, as I said, suck. Teachers make you fill out those boring little 'name-address-phone number' index cards, and they pass out their little detailed plans of everything they hope to accomplish this year down to the exact date, which never ever work out. Because there will always be those days with substitutes, and those days where you end up discussing current events, and things like that. And this morning I had had at least three teachers inform me (well, not me specifically) that "this isn't middle school -- it's preparation for the real world."

As if middle school isn't preparation for the real world.

Of course, everything is much more dramatic in high school. There are social hierarchies unlike anything you've ever seen, and midterms. Why, I ask myself on a daily basis, can't we all just be who we want to be and hang out with who we want to hang out with and not have it completely mar our social status? 'Cause once we graduate, none of that matters anyway. There aren't cliques in the 'real world,' unless you count, like, country clubs and cults and things.

This is me starting to think more like Gordo, you see. Not that it's a bad thing, necessarily, because Gordo is completely and totally his own person.

Thinking like Gordo... Likewise, I'd been thinking about Gordo all morning, pretty much. I hadn't been sitting in the first row like I almost always do, instead I'd been sitting behind him, staring moonily at his hair. God, I'm a sap. Overnight I'd become completely transfixed by how staggeringly awesome Gordo was. So much so that it had turned me into a blithering idiot only barely capable of coherent speech, and the sort of person who would just sit there for forty-five minutes and gawk at the back of someone's head.

By the time lunch rolled around, I was a mess. High school was draining me, and it was only the first day. Maybe it was because I had only been half paying attention. I would be listening to every word the teacher said; absorbing, you know? And like, Gordo would reach up to scratch his arm or something, and I would freak out and lose track of everything.

What was wrong with me? I was acting like I...

Oh, God. I was acting like I liked him.

I could not have a crush on Gordo! I couldn't! He was Gordo! I mean, I had flipped out when I had found out that Gordo maybe had a crush on me last year. 'Cause, you know, I didn't think of Gordo like that...I thought of him as Gordo, my best friend for ages, not Gordo, potential boyfriend.

So what was going on? Things hadn't changed in Rome that badly. I mean, we were still the same people.

Except we weren't the same people. We were...different. Augh. Because I had kissed him. It had been a thank-you kiss, and he must've known that, because he never asked about it. Not that I would've known what to say if he had. My brain wasn't wrapping around this. I mean, Gordo was still Gordo, and I was still Lizzie, so why were things so different all of a sudden?

'Because he would give up everything for you,' a nagging voice sang in my mind. 'And you've given up everything for him.'

"Shut up," I muttered, just as he was putting his tray on the table.

"Excuse me?"

I looked up at him; he was blinking at me in confusing. Fantastic, McGuire, you're officially talking to the voices in your head, and your best friend thinks you're loony-tunes. Which you are. I coughed, smiled nervously, and offered a feeble, "Oh, nothing."

He shook his head slightly and sat down across from me. "And you say I'm weird."

"You are weird. You just like, stare off into space for forever, and sometimes, you open your mouth to speak, but you never actually say anything, and when I ask what's up you make up some excuse and run away."

Was it my imagination, or was he blushing? "Yeah, well, I have a lot on my mind," he mumbled.

"You could clue me in sometimes," I said, my voice laced with attitude. I hadn't meant to sound so irritated, really, and it was more frustration with myself than him.

"You don't wanna hear what I'm thinking half the time," he insisted.

"Sure I do. You're smart and interesting."

He stared at me, contemplating what I'd said. I was floundering under his gaze, and I felt like a huge idiot. I get the feeling sometimes like he's trying to draw my energy out through those stares of his, impossibly forceful and deep. "Sometimes...sometimes I think you'd think I was out of my mind."

I wanted to respond back lightly, something along the lines of 'I thought you didn't care what people think,' but I was locked in that intense moment with him, and I found myself blurting, "Gordo, have you ever been in love?"

Okay, so maybe it wasn't subtle. And it definitely wasn't bright. Why had I said that? For one, I wasn't in love with him. I wasn't. It was just a silly crush from a silly high school girl. But I was on the edge of my seat mentally, waiting for his response.

He blinked at me, and I thought for sure he was going to ask if I was feeling okay. I guess he realized the seriousness of my question, understood that it wasn't some flippant thing, that I really respected our relationship and wanted to talk about things like this. "Yeah," he said, picking up his sandwich. "I have." He bit into it.

"So you don't think we're too young to be falling in love?"

Wait. Did that sound like I meant that we specifically, are too young to be falling in love...with each other? I hadn't meant it like that. Please don't read into it. Please.

"Nope," he said around a mouthful of sandwich, then swallowed and shook his head. "I think love doesn't have an age. Like, you're capable of loving your parents at a very young age, so why can't you also truly love another person? If the person is right, then you fall in love. There's no specific date to do it."

I nodded. "Yeah." He was so damned insightful sometimes. I liked that.

He looked at me pointedly. "And you?"

What? Oh, wait, he thought we were having a conversation. We were having a conversation, at least until the point where my brain took a leave of absence and started focusing on my best friend.

"Yeah..." I said slowly. "I mean, well... I think that loving someone and being in love with someone are two different things. But I think that when you love someone, I mean, love them, than that's it." I frowned. The things I said, even my deep stuff, sounded ridiculous next to Gordo's little speeches.

But when I glanced at him, he was nodding like he agreed with me. "That's what I'm saying."

"You said it a lot better than I did," I admitted.

"So, um...why do you ask?"

Oh, no. No, no, no. Don't ask that! I can't tell you!

Because I'm beginning to think that as crazy as it is, maybe I am in love with Gordo.

"I...I don't know..." I said feebly. I picked up my pizza and took a bite, just to take the focus off myself.

"Lizzie..." He was staring at his sandwich like it held the secrets to the universe. "Why did you come back with us? I mean, you could've stayed in Rome. They were offering you your dream life...and you didn't take it."

I stalled for time by chewing my pizza laboriously. What was I supposed to say to that?

"I mean, not that I'd want you to stay in Rome. Well, I mean, I would, if it meant that you were happy...but I'd miss you, you know? But like, they were handing you your future on a silver platter, and you got on the plane with the rest of us peons."

"Maybe that wasn't the future I saw for myself," I said slowly. "I...I don't know. I thought about it, I really did, and something held me back."

"Can I ask what?"

"The, um, the...people. The people." Well, one person in particular. I was blushing despite myself, and my eyes were absolutely glued to the table, and he must've known. He couldn't not have known. I was this close to bolting, my legs were burning with the desire to be used and used fast.

"The people," he repeated.

"Mhmm."

"Any...um...person in particular?"

Was he really asking me that..? I coughed. "Um. Well. Maybe. I guess. I don't know."

"Oh."

"But it wasn't, like, Ethan, or whatever, if that's what you're thinking," I put in quickly. I chanced a glance at him, and he looked away when he saw me looking.

"Well, um, good. I mean, Ethan's nothing special."

"No way," I agreed readily, and he looked at me then, confusion etched on his face.

"Are you kidding me? This from the girl who followed him around mindlessly for a year and a half?"

"It wasn't that bad," I said, but we both knew it was.

"So you're over him?"

"Yeah, yeah I am," I answered honestly. "Is that okay?" Suddenly I was desperate for his approval.

"Of course that's okay." Gordo got this look on his face for a second, like he'd said too much or something.

"I mean, you know, you were...well, you were right. About Ethan," I said. "So, you should be happy."

"I'm always happy when I'm right."

"So you must be this big huge ball of smiles," I blurted, and he looked at me, and we both burst into laughter. It had come out of nowhere, but I think we were both trying to ease the tension. Ever since...that day, we'd been alternating between these comfortable moods to total awkwardness. Like we weren't really sure about each other.

Which is weird, because I'm totally sure about Gordo.

We sat there, just coming off of that mindless-laughter high, smiling goofily at each other. And...it happened. I leaned across the table, and I kissed him.

This was definitely not a thank-you kiss, and we both knew it.

I pulled back from him like he was diseased. Not the most subtle of reactions, but my entire body was burning. Partially from the excitement of having kissed the guy, but mostly out of total embarrassment. I pushed my tray away from me and leapt from my seat. "I...I gotta...gotta go," I stammered, pushing my hair out of my face just to have it flop back. Whatever. Having it there only hid my face, so it was all good.

I ran from the cafeteria.

I had kissed Gordo.

Gordo. Kiss. Kiss. Gordo.

My brain was running in crazy circles, torn between wanting to enjoy the kiss, and wanting to commit hara-kiri for having even considering it. GordokisskissGordo.

I had kissed Gordo.

Chapter Text

In my mad dash from that crime scene area (the yellow tape kind), I ended up smashing right into someone. I muttered an apology, refusing to look up, hoping to just get on my way without an embarrassing showdown.

As I brushed past them, they reached out and grabbed my arm, however, forcing me to stop. "Yo, Lizzie, what's up?"

Ethan Craft. Of all people. Of all days. Now was the time he wanted to start being all super-friendly.

"I really don't wanna talk about it, Ethan," I muttered.

"Liz, you look real upset," he observed. "You sure you don't wanna tell me what's going on?"

At this point, I was so messed up that it didn't even matter. What did I have to lose by telling Ethan everything? Knowing him, he'd probably just get distracted by a bird in the next five minutes and forget everything. (And I had liked this guy. For two years. Two years!)

"Okay, so what it all comes down to is this, basically," I said, and blurted out the whole murder-mystery-party-Rome-Gordo-sacrificing-the-trip-of-a-lifetime story, running through a list of all the times I'd kissed him (three, if you counted my crazy stunt on picture day) and how I'd just flat out run away from my best friend.

Ethan nodded throughout my entire rant, and it looked like he was actually listening. And understanding. "So, it sounds to me like you really like Gor-don." Well, no duh, Mr. Craft. Like that wasn't obvious by now after my entire story. Of course, this was Ethan, and he was slow. I had to keep reminding myself that. Sometimes it's not that good of a thing to spend so much time talking with Gordo. He's really smart and he's known me my entire life, so he pretty much knows what I'm going to say, and what I'm not saying. And...

Oh, crap, now I'm thinking about Gordo again. Stupid brain!

"Yeah, I guess I do," I said.

He grinned at me, and I couldn't lie that he was still pretty hot. I mean, he didn't compare to a certain someone...

Had I just said that Gordo was hotter than Ethan?

That was something I never would have considered back in the day... never would've even though about it.

I really did have it bad.

"So, you should ask him out."

"I will do nothing of the sort," I said indignantly.

Ethan, who normally looks soft of confused, looked truly confused at this. He screwed up his face, deep in thought, and asked "Why not?"

Why not? Why not? I'll tell you why not--

Wait a minute. He had a point. Why not?

"I mean, Gor-don and I aren't exactly the tightest peeps--" Understatement of the century, Ethan. "--but it's pretty obvious that he likes you, Lizzie. And if he likes you and you like him, then you should ask him out."

'I think I like my best friend as more than a friend. What should I do?'

Out of nowhere, that line popped into my head. Where had it come from..?

Oh, yeah, my Dear Lizzie column. Funny how well it applied now. I could've written it myself.

Wait a minute. You don't suppose... no way... maybe... Gordo wrote it? 'Confused Guy,' the pen name had been. Well, Gordo was a guy... and this could confuse anyone, definitely (it was confusing me).

"Ethan, I gotta go," I said. "Thanks."

"Yeah, sure, I--" Ethan started to say, but I was already running down the hallway, back to the caf. "Gordo!" I yelled, bursting through the doors, hoping he was still there. Everyone was probably staring at me, wondering what was up with this drama queen freshman, but screw them.

As I reached our table, I noticed that he most definitely wasn't sitting there. I panicked. If you were Gordo, and your best friend had just kissed you in the middle of the cafeteria for no good reason, and then went running off, where would you go?

Well, if I was Gordo, first I would've finished my sandwich. Then I would've thrown out my garbage.

I glanced to the cans, but no sign of my mop-topped best friend.

Okay. Still half an hour of lunch to kill, I'd go...to the library.

Of course. The library.

I jogged out of the cafeteria again. Falling for Gordo was a lot more physically draining than I would've expected. I wound through the hallways of Hillridge High, getting lost only once before I located the library. I burst through the doors, expecting to get shushed by some bespectacled old lady, but I guess even the librarians need a lunch period.

My instincts had been right. There he was, sitting at a back table, next to a huge picture window. There was a book open in front of him, but he wasn't looking at it.

"Gordo!" I called to him, not caring who I was disturbing because I was pretty sure it was just us in here.

He looked up, and I was too far away to read his eyes. He wasn't making any moves to get away from me, though. That was a good sign.

"Lizzie, I--" he said, getting up, but I didn't listen to him. I closed the distance between us, grabbed his face, and pulled it to mine for a kiss.

Have you ever felt the world stop? Try kissing your soul mate. Because I'm pretty sure that's what Gordo and I are: soul mates. In that whole lovey-dovey sense, I don't know, but I just get this feeling like we're always supposed to be together, whether it's as friends or otherwise.

It was like the universe stopped. I know I'm relatively new to the whole kissing thing, but not so new I didn't know it was good. I honestly don't know how long my lips were on his, but it was long enough for him to kiss me back.

He was kissing me back.

This time when I pulled away from him, I didn't run. I was still pretty embarrassed, but I met his eyes. A little daily humiliation was nothing new to me, and at this point, who really cared? My entire future rested in the balance of what happened next.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm sorry I never realized before."

A smile was playing at the corner of his lips, almost smug. "Didn't realize what?" he asked, an undertone of amusement in his voice.

So he knew. Well, fantastic. Does everyone know everything about my life before I do? That hardly seems fair. But it wasn't the time to dwell on that, and I answered, "How I felt about you."

The amused-slash-smug look grew more intense, like he was holding back laughter. "And how do you feel about me?"

Well, duh, you moron. Like you couldn't tell everything from that kiss.

"I like you, Gordo." I realized too late that that was what I always said, because I did like Gordo, but I also liked-liked Gordo, and that was what I'd come here to tell him. But still, I was annoyed that he couldn't just own up to his own feelings about me. I glared at him. "How do you feel about me?" I countered.

He blushed. He actually blushed. It was so cute! But I couldn't let myself get all gushy again, because then I would lose my position of power. "Um," he said. "Um. Well."

"Spit it out, Gordo."

"Olive-Ulysses," he said, staring at his shoes. At least, that's what I think he said. It was all just this big rush of words. At least when I talk fast, it's coherent. I narrowed my eyes at him. "At a speed that humans can understand."

Gordo sighed, met my eyes, and repeated, "I love you, Lizzie."

I take it all back. That was when the world stopped turning. I felt hot, I felt cold, I felt faint, I felt all sorts of things that I can't even begin to describe. Gordo loved me. Me. Lizzie McGuire. David Gordon loved Lizzie McGuire.

I couldn't get that out of my head. I didn't want to get it out of my head. I don't know how long my brain repeated that phrase in my mind, but it must have been for two long, because Gordo's face fell and I realized I hadn't said anything. The hope in his eyes had been extinguished and I was just staring blankly at him.

"Never mind," he muttered, bowing his head again, then reaching for his backpack. "I'm out of here."

He brushed past me, and that's when my brain finally jumped into gear. "I love you too."

He was behind me now, and we turned to face each other at the same time. "You mean that?"

I put my hands on my hips and rolled my eyes. "David Gordon, have I ever said anything I didn't mean?"

Gordo stared at me, nonplussed. "I can think of about a million times," he deadpanned.

I bit my lip, holding back laughter. My boyfriend, the comedian.

Hold up. Boyfriend? Were we..?

"Well, whatever. But I mean that."

"Oh. Um. Cool," he said, bowing his head as to hide the fact that he was grinning like it was Christmas morning (okay, I know, he's Jewish, work with me here).

"Gordo," I said nervously. "Um, are we..?"

He shrugged, looking up for a fraction of a second. "I don't know. I guess we are. Do you want to be?"

"Yeah, I guess I do."

"Okay, then, we are."

We smiled at each other, but it was a flash of a smile, tentative, confused. I laughed at the absurdity of it all. He cocked an eyebrow at me, easily segueing back into Lizzie-and-Gordo-best-friends-forever mode. "What's that all about?"

"Look at us!" I said, still giggling. "We've known each other our entire lives, and we don't know what to say. It's so pathetic."

"Totally pathetic," he agreed.

"But, you know..." I said slowly, "when I'm around you, the silence isn't, you know, bad. It's more...comfortable."

He smiled at that. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

I took his hand, and I swear, the tingle running through my body must've been what it was like to get electrocuted, only about a hundred times stronger.

We were grinning at each other doofily. But it was all good. Me. And Gordo.

Cool.