Simple Physics

Chapter 14 - Oscillations

oww,” whined Danny, shirking away from the press of a peroxide-coated cotton swab—and Tucker hit him for his efforts.

“Hold still,” he demanded, scowling and gripping Danny’s shoulder more firmly with his spare hand before returning to his previous activity: clearing away the last flecks of rubble from an open cut on Danny’s bicep with a damp rag and following up the sweeps with dabs of the anti-bacterial disinfectant. “It wasn’t my brilliant idea to run headlong into a bunch of flying debris in the face of—dammit, Danny!”

“It stings though,” Danny whimpered, puckering out his lower lip and succeeding splendidly in an obvious attempt to look as tortured and pitiful as possible. Tucker remained merciless.

“You’ll thank me when your whole arm doesn’t puff up all purple and green and pus-infected with ghost slime…” he replied flatly, all too familiar with Danny’s simpering to fall prey to the puppy-dog pout at this point.

“You’re—owww—cruel. I hope you never plan to be a—shitnngh—doctor…when you grow up,” Danny panted, watching with wary eyes when Tucker finally pulled back and folded out a large, surgical band-aid over the damaged area. “Does that mean you’re…done, then?” he asked, sounding almost pathetically hopeful, and Tucker raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I’m done,” he answered, smiling in spite of himself when Danny whooped and shaking his head. “You know…for a superhero, you really must be the least pain tolerant-”

“Hey, look, I recognize pain for what it is, ok?” defended Danny. “Pain is my body’s way of telling me something bad is happening to me, and that if at all possible, I should make it stop. If it’s unavoidable pain…ok, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Tucker rolled his eyes. “Uh-huh,” He began packing stuff back up in the first aid kit laid out on the bed, “which is why it makes perfect sense to pick a fight with the school’s star quarterback and-”

“Hey, that’s not fair, he hit me fir-”

“Oh, right,” snapped Tucker in sarcastic apology, “I forgot. And that was right after you made an innocent comment about the weather, right?”

Danny frowned. “Ok, whatever,” he grumbled. “He still hit me first.”

Tucker snorted. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…snap…but…what did you say to him anyway?” he asked, and then, after a moment, “…and what the hell inspired you to piss him off so bad?”

Danny blushed, the color rising slow and warm in his cheeks—and he dropped his eyes to the comforter. “Just…stuff,” he muttered. “We were paired together in class, and…he…” His frown deepened, lips thinning, and he crossed his arms. “Maybe he just irritated me, ok?”

“Oh, I see,” countered Tucker, matching Danny’s folded arms and settling stubbornly against the headboard—Danny wasn’t getting off that easily, “and that all makes perfect sense because we both know Dash is a brilliant manipulator…not to mention you obviously lack the emotional maturity to know how to handle yourself and recognize when to quit…I can picture it being very difficult for you to outwit him if it came to that.”

“That’s not-” Danny scowled. “You…” He paused again, “it was just…” A half-second later, he huffed, toeing a dip in the quilting. “Whatever…I think you’re being overly touchy about it…”

Touchy?” repeated Tucker. “Right, and that’s weird…because, I mean, really, why would this subject bother me?”

Danny raised his eyebrows. “No, really…why?”

Tucker stared, incredulous. “You know what…never mind.” He slid around, slinging his legs off the side of the mattress.


“Whatever, forget it,” Tucker cut him off, “it’s not important,” and he dropped off the side of the bed to the floor. “Just…don’t pick at the bandage, and obviously keep it under your shirt or something if you don’t your parents raising a spit about it. I’m…gonna head back to my house and-”

“No, wait,” Danny halted him, “really, Tuck, what’s wrong?” he asked, insisting, and Tucker hesitated.

It would have been better to just leave—really. What good would it do indulge any further? And yet…

Tucker sighed.

“He could have killed you, Danny.”

Immediately, the look on Danny’s face said otherwise. “He couldn’t-”

“Well, no,” Tucker amended, “you’re right, he couldn’t, because you could have stopped him…but that’s just you, Danny. You could have phased out if you really needed to, or gone invisible or, hell, floated straight up through the roof…but he didn’t know that. As far as he knows, you’re just some kid half his size throwing insults around. For all he knew he could have killed you…one wrong hit to your nose and a bone puncture to your brain, or one knock too hard against the tile, and yeah, of course it would have been an accident, and he probably didn’t even think of that possibility till you were already laying there fucking bloody and halfway to unconsciousness, but…that wouldn’t have mattered…you know? It was dangerous and stupid, and…it just…” Tucker folded his arms tighter, suppressing a shiver and shaking his head. He waited a bit before continuing, softer this time. “It’s been almost a week…and I haven’t let him get a word in edgewise,” he admitted. “He’s approached me several times but every time I see him, all I think of is…” He trailed off, expression deepening into a thick frown. “But I guess that’s good news, right?” he asked, lifting his head and fixing Danny with the look. “That was the goal…wasn’t it? To get me away from him?”


“He keeps calling me, Danny, and I shouldn’t want to talk to him,” Tucker insisted, “ok? I know I shouldn’t. He bludgered you senseless! He took my best friend and pounded him into the floor even after he stopped fighting…and he probably didn’t think twice about it. Hell, he didn’t even get suspended for it! It’s not something to just ‘get over’ and talk about over tea and fucking cookies or something, but I…no matter how much I try and just think about it logically or work through it, I…I can’t…I just want…”

Danny was watching him—pensive, evaluating. When Tucker’s words came to a breathy, uncertain halt, Danny frowned. “Well…you said it yourself,” he murmured, “I did taunt him. He never would have attacked me out of the blue like that, and he wasn’t trying to kill me…and I did stop on purpose in the end…so that it would be his fault…”

Tucker shook his head. “That’s not the point though. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you did…he shouldn’t have done…that. I mean obviously you shouldn’t have done…whatever you did…capable or not, something could have gone wrong…but he should have had better control too, not just…fly off and…it’s-”

“I told him I’d break you two up,” Danny cut in, and Tucker looked up sharply, “in addition to, you know…calling him a dumb fuck…telling him that you didn’t give a shit about him and were only putting up with him for…whatever the hell it is you two do together, and umm…” Danny swallowed, “…promising that I’d take good care of you for him once you dumped him and he was out of the picture…”

Tucker stared. “You…what?

“I’m…sorry?” defended Danny weakly, and Tucker’s stomach gave a sickening jolt—suddenly he was grateful to be sitting.

“But…why would you…”

“You said that that was all it was about!” said Danny. “You said it was just sex and you didn’t even know his favorite color and-”

“Danny, that was months ago!” cried Tucker. “I can’t even…this is nothing about…” At Danny’s look, he blushed, “…ok, well maybe it’s still some about that, but…it’s more than that too, now, ok? I mean yeah, he’s still hot as a branding iron and the sex is better than two lesbians in a wet t-shirt con-”

“Ok, I get it,” grunted Danny.

“But the point is,” Tucker continued, skipping the rest for Danny’s sake, “he’s not like you think. Once you get to know him, he’s considerate and careful…and he’s not dumb either…don’t look at me like that! I’ve worked with him, Danny, and yeah, he has to work a bit harder than you or I would, but if you approach it right, he does work hard…and he works until he gets it…and…he’s actually like that with a lot of stuff. You’d think he wouldn’t be because he does have a temper like a time bomb on steroids or crack or both, I won’t lie, but…that’s just his temper. Outside of that, he’s patient and methodical…he doesn’t mind waiting, as long as he’s making progress, and sometimes…he can be really…sweet…”

“Ah,” said Danny, looking terribly skeptical. “Yeah. Sweet. That’s, umm…that’s exactly the vibe I was getting as he pounded my face in…”

“Ok, whatever, Danny,” Tucker snapped, about ready to bite somebody’s head off, “it sounds like you were begging for that anyway, and at this point…I almost envy him that chance to sock you good for it. You…I can’t believe…”

Danny sank slightly against the headboard, eyeing him charily. “But…what if that was you…” he ventured, and Tucker glared sharply.

“Oh, right, because it would totally make sense for me to taunt him and tell him I was…” His rambling slowed, “…breaking…up with him…” and his glare softened, morphing into concerned consideration as the idea actually began to sink in.

“See what I mean?” Danny asked softly. “It’s not so impossible. What if you did want to break it off someday? Or you found someone else and told him? Like you said, I can handle it…but you can’t phase through fists, Tucker…”

Tucker opened his mouth, but nothing came immediately. “I…” He frowned, “…well, yeah, I know that, but…” He tried to detach himself from the matter, think about it rationally—would Dash do something like…? “No,” he said aloud, “it’s…that’s different. He wouldn’t…he’s not like that. At least, not…not to…”

“You?” Danny finished, and Tucker looked up.

“Yeah, Danny,” he said, “not to me,” and Danny took a moment before answering.

“You really do like him,” he said finally, making it a statement, and Tucker weighed the words, letting the meaning slowly settle. Then, he nodded.

“Yeah,” he answered, “I really do.”

“But…do you…? That is, you’re not…” Danny hesitated, looking anxious, and Tucker frowned, missing the lead-in.

“I’m not…?”

Danny blushed. “You’re…like…you don’t love-”

“No!” Tucker hastened to jump in, and immediately returned Danny’s blush at the look his hurriedness received. “I mean,” He swallowed, “…no,” he reiterated, quieter. “No, I’m…” He diverted his gaze from Danny’s pointed stare, redirecting it to the carpet, “…I’m not in love with him,” he mumbled, forcing down the sudden warm, knotted feeling rising up from his chest to his throat.

“Ok,” said Danny, sounding calmer and relieved, but not—Tucker noted with some unease—entirely convinced. “So…”

“I just like him,” said Tucker, “…a lot…but I am mad at him, too…or actually beyond that, really, ‘cause at this point I don’t even…I can’t…I mean, what if you weren’t you? What if something had gone wrong and you had ended up…if he’d…”

“But I am, me,” said Danny, looking as if he couldn’t quite figure out why he was defending Dash but proceeding anyway, “and I wouldn’t have done it if I weren’t and didn’t know I could handle it, and…maybe’oushldjusttalktohim…”

“Uhh…what?” said Tucker.

“I said…” Danny took a breath, “maybe you should…you know, just…” He swallowed, obviously taking pains to get the words out, “…talk…to him…”

It took concentrated effort for Tucker not to gape. “You…but…then what was the point of you getting yourself pulverized if not to get us apart?”

“No, that was the point,” said Danny. “That was pretty much the complete and total point…besides my just wanting to throw a fist in his jaw, too, ‘cause don’t get me wrong…I hate the bastard. I hate him, and I hate the idea of you being with him, but…I guess…I didn’t know it would affect you this much,” he admitted more timidly. “I thought you really were just messing around and that it was dangerous and…well, obviously, I still don’t trust him, but…in the end, I suppose you being miserable is worse than all those other things bundled.”

Tucker blinked—and wondered how much it took out of Danny to say that. “But…he still beat the crap out of you…”

“Well, yeah, but…I wanted him to,” said Danny, rolling his shoulders and then folding his hands behind his head. “I set him up, he fell for it, and I mean, you can’t really blame him for that. He’s not exactly brilliant, no matter what you say. Besides…it’s not like it’s all that hard to get him riled up…and that’s never gonna change, so…”

Tucker observed his best friend, watched him shut his eyes and lean his head back against the headboard. “I guess…” he conceded eventually, “I’ll…think about it,” and he pushed up off the bed again, standing.

After leaving, Tucker silently considered that in all fairness, he likely ought not to have been speaking to either of them. It really wasn’t fair to blame just Dash—and he didn’t, not really. He knew the entire ordeal was at least as much Danny’s fault, if not more so, but that didn’t change the fact that it was easier to blame Dash—or at least, easier to avoid him—and Tucker needed time to think anyway.

School let out for Christmas that Friday, and by mid-week, he already missed the distraction of classes. While the surprising lack of ghost activity was nice in its own right, Tucker almost missed that too, because the plain truth was, without school or ghosts, all he had was time. Time to tinker with his gadgets and avoid his family. Time to wriggle out of mediocre, seasonal chores—like cleaning up everything in preparation for relatives or bringing down all the old Christmas sets and ornaments and decorations from the attic. And, of course, time to think.

Unfortunately, for Tucker, thinking meant catching a brief glimpse of sky through cloud cover as he helped his dad drag down dusty boxes of Christmas lights and suddenly wondering what Dash was up to. It meant walking past the lake in the park with Sam and Danny only to gradually fade out of the conversation, wondering if Dash would ever teach him to skate now—and it meant just barely stifling the urge to throw something when he caught himself staring idly again at Dash’s number for probably the fiftieth time that week. He supposed, technically, it should have relieved him when Dash quit calling—but it didn’t.

“Hey, Earth to Tucker,” A hand waved in front of his face, drawing him from a distracted reverie, and Tucker looked up to find Danny, eyebrows raised, “…anyone home? The land of the living calls…”

“Uh…huh?” he blinked, and Sam gave him an odd look too. “Oh, yeah, right, I was just, umm…thinking about something. What’s up?”

Danny looked speculative, but just shrugged. They were at the park again, two days before Christmas, and the lake was filled with skaters of every sort: families, couples, young children and old grandparents. The sidewalks entertained a similar crowd. Apparently, the park was a great excuse to gather everyone together, young and old, for a little family cheer. That, and there was a Christmas tree lighting and some scheduled carol performances due to occur later that evening—Sam’s excuse for dragging them there this time around.

“We were just gonna check out the mini-booth over there…looks like the Presbyterians are putting on a Christmas bake sale or something, but you kina zoned out. You in?” Danny asked, and Tucker shook his head to clear it.

“Oh, uh…” He frowned, swiping a glove over glasses gently dusted with snow and already slightly fogged. “No, umm…that’s ok, you guys go on, I’m not hungry. I’ll…catch up to you in a bit,” he said.

After a moment of looking curiously puzzled—Tucker not only ‘not hungry’ but also refusing sweets was a miracle moment, perhaps the first of its kind—Danny shrugged. “Ok, suit yourself,” he replied, “but don’t look surprised if we bring you back something anyway. You look like you could use some sugar.”

Tucker raised an eyebrow, and Sam gave him one last questioning look before she gave in to the tug of Danny’s hand on her coat, urging her off. Once alone, Tucker absently meandered closer to the lake, shoving hands in his pockets and playing with the possible effects of steamed breath as he watched the various townspeople do their loops on the ice.

Understandably, the degree of skill from person to person varied as much as they did, everything from wobbly first timers—like baby deer learning to stand—to near-experts, sweeping through the steps and occasionally spinning tricks, comfortable as dolphins in their element. It didn’t take long, though, before a particularly daring group of older skaters caught his attention—four of them, in their late teens, judging by their size, and probably from Casper High, but indistinguishable due to distance and several layers of cover.

As Tucker watched, they weaved in and out, moving significantly faster than the rest of the crowd, and seemed to make a game of seeing how close and fast they could pass slower attendees without actually hitting them. Steady, but still semi-balance-conscious pre-teens were their favorite targets, often dodging in especially close to those chosen victims and laughing when the teasing resulted in a startled fall. Tucker frowned. Of course, what kind of a sport was it if somebody didn’t get bullied?

Sighing, he shut his eyes and wondered in passing if Danny and Sam had found anything good—actually, now that he thought about it, he was hungrier than he’d let on. About a half second before finalizing his decision to chase after them and scrounge up some food after all, he cast a single glance back to the ice—and the four were racing.

Swerving and tricks forgotten, they cut across the lake like dancers, fluid and fast, upper bodies low to the ice, and instead of teasing, now they made traffic dodging look effortless. They came from the opposite side of the lake—aligned at first—but almost immediately, a gap began to form, slowly, and then faster as the slower two seemed to concede, leaving the race mostly to the leading half. It came out extremely close, and Tucker worried for a second about their abilities to pull off a clean stop after coming in so quickly—but neither had an issue, and both finished winded, laughing, and close enough that if they hadn’t been wearing hats and mufflers, he could have picked out faces. Then, the winner pulled off—her?—hat and scarf, and Tucker blinked, startled—Valerie?

Oh yeah, definitely Valerie, Tucker thought, watching her shake long, thick hair free of her confining jacket and sending loose, rolling black tumbles all down her back as she rolled up her loosened muffler—and Tucker didn’t wonder what Danny had seen in her. As if on cue, she looked up.

She offered an acquaintance’s wave upon recognizing him before turning promptly to Second Place and nudging—Tucker assumed—‘him.’ Third and Fourth Place had arrived somewhere in the middle of her uncovering stage, and Second Place looked up at the nudge, catching sight of Tucker about the same time he tugged off his hat to reveal—Kwan. Almost immediately, Kwan spoke with Third Place. By that point, Tucker was almost positive that—yup, suspicions: confirmed. Third Place—i.e., Dash—shucked his cap just as Kwan got his attention, pulling his free hand back through mangled blonde hat hair while he listened and then, after a cursory glance in Tucker’s direction at Kwan’s cue, the two began arguing heatedly.

They spent a good half minute at it, Dash looking defensive and Kwan gesturing in Tucker’s direction, but eventually—defeated, by the looks of things—Dash’s shoulders drooped and he tugged at his scarf, muttering some last comment before moving to the edge of the ice and stepping off. As Tucker watched, he sat, removed his scarf and skates and re-donned his sneakers before standing, and—Tucker knew—this was the time to back away. In fact, about three minutes ago when he first suspected Dash was even possibly among them would have been an even better time, but as Dash trudged over, tucking scarf under one arm and skates slung over his shoulder, Tucker’s legs might as well have been partially encased in several feet of ice for all the budging they did. When Dash stopped in front of him, he trampled the urge to gulp and forced himself to hold Dash’s stare instead.

The very small portion of his brain not devoted to getting oxygen into his lungs, screaming at him to flee, or demanding that he order Dash to back off immediately, observed that it really wasn’t fair that Dash managed to look extremely hot even flushed and sweaty and scowling—or perhaps because of all those things, Tucker wasn’t exactly in the state of mind to logic it out.

“Umm…hi,” greeted Dash.

Tucker dropped his gaze to the collar of Dash’s jacket—easier to face than those eyes, anyway—and he meant to say nothing, just stand there and wait, maybe, until Dash either said more or just walked away, but then Dash shuffled, uneasy and anxious, and some of Tucker’s resolve broke. He ventured an upward glance. “Hi,” he said, watching the play of Dash’s expressions from just under the upper rim of his glasses, drawn in by the rare display of hesitancy in a boy usually so confident. “What’s up?”

Dash appeared to debate. Of course there were a hundred ways to start the conversation, each as obvious as the next: Where have you been? Why won’t you answer my calls? Are you still mad? Or, the other approach: I’m sorry; It wasn’t my fault; I won’t do it again; Can you forgive me?—but he didn’t start with any of those.

“I didn’t, umm…see you here,” he said instead. “How long…?”

Tucker watched him frown, shift his weight and adjust his hold on the skates over his shoulder; he returned his gaze to Dash’s jacket collar. “Not long,” he answered, and then, hating the silence that followed more than the prospect of speaking up again, he added, “Just a few minutes, really. I saw you guys skating...didn’t know it was you, but I suppose I should have guessed.” He glanced over, behind Dash’s back to where Valerie and Fourth Place—some other girl he didn’t recognize—were still talking, and it looked like Kwan was through skating too. “I noticed you didn’t let the break stop you from exercising your physical prowess over the weaker links in the social ladder.”

“Hey, I…” Dash blushed, “…we…it’s not like any of ‘em got hurt,” he said. “We were only messing around…” Tucker shrugged, opting not to comment, and Dash took his silence as a chance to wisely change the topic. “What are you doing here anyway? You’re not…by yourself, are you?”

Tucker looked up again. “Huh? No,” He shook his head, “not alone. Sam thought it would be cool watch the lighting of the Christmas tree, but I didn’t feel like wandering around anymore, so…just waiting, for now.”

“So…you’re here with her?” Dash asked.

Tucker blinked. “Well, her and Danny,” he said, “and actually, Danny’s parents overheard the idea and thought it sounded cool so they wanted to come too, and then because we were all going and it’s Christmas, they decided to invite mine and Sam’s parents…but, well, Sam’s parents couldn’t come, so…”

Dash took a moment to process it all. “Right, ok, so…it’s you…and the…umm…Manson chick…and your parents, and the Fentons?” he asked.

Tucker nodded.

“But,” Dash made a passing inspection of the surrounding area, “they’re not…”

“Danny and Sam are checking out a bake sale. The ‘rents got distracted early,” Tucker explained. “I think Ja—err…Danny’s dad started talking with security about issues with having so many people gathered together in one open place with no ghost protection or something…and…I got no clue where mine went off to, they might have just hung around with Danny’s parents.”

“Ah,” said Dash, “cool…” and Tucker guessed that was probably just filler since none of what he said seemed particularly ‘cool’ in any sense of the word, but then another silence stretched between them and he didn’t care what was cool as long as one of them said something. “So,” Dash obliged his silent wish, “…how’s your, umm…break been going?”

Tucker glanced to Dash’s foot—busily toeing a small pit into a thinner patch of snow—and when two shoots of grass poked through, he frowned thoughtfully. Well, let’s see, he mused, I spend about half the time trying not to think about you, and the other half thinking about you anyway…I can’t look at a patch of blue sky without wondering if you’re having even half as much trouble as I am before I remember that you pulverized my best friend, and then I—Tucker pulled his eyes off Dash’s shoes and glanced to the left, distracting himself by watching a little girl some ways away run squealing and giggling away from her mother, large candy cane in hand and pigtails bobbing.

“It’s been…ok, I guess,” he said eventually—where ‘ok’ in this case means ‘mediocre, verging on completely boring, frustrating, and pathetic,’ the more morose portion of his mind added sullenly. He frowned—God, that sounded emo. He stuffed his hands deeper in his pockets, focusing on not scowling—and the last thing he needed was to go all inner-self depressive. “You?” he asked trying to keep the conversation going at the least.

Dash glanced up, as if surprised to be asked. “Oh, it’s umm…it’s been…err…ok too, I guess,” sounding about as enthusiastic about it as Tucker, and Tucker opened his mouth to make some comment to that effect when—

There’s a kiddo!” interrupted a powerful voice from so close behind him, Tucker almost jumped, and they both turned to face—Jack, grinning from ear to ear. Maddy followed up right behind him, also smiling.

“Hello, Tucker,” she greeted, her eyes sweeping the area before she asked with a small frown, “Have you seen Danny and Sam recently?”

Tucker pointed. “Bake sale that way last I saw,” he said, willing them to calmly move on, and then maybe he could just—

“Oh, there you are, darling.”

—or perhaps not, thought Tucker, working hard not to wince at his mother’s voice. At least the Fentons were moving away. “Oh, hey, Mom…”

She smiled, approaching with his father at her side—apparently all the parents had been together after all. “You kids all ran off so quickly, left us in the dust,” she said, stepping in and catching his hand, pulling his glove on tighter before moving to his scarf and attempting to re-wrap it better despite several wordless protests. “Had your father and I a bit worried…” She frowned. “Honey, are you warm enough? These gloves are a bit thi-”

“Fine,” Tucker nearly squeaked, cheeks burning as he tried futilely to back out of his mother’s—err—mothering, and finally, she noticed Dash—who, for the record, looked so terribly amused Tucker suddenly hoped Danny had socked him really hard.

“Oh, hello, there,” his mother greeted, oblivious of his mental cursing and temporarily pausing her onslaught—to Tucker’s immense relief—as she turned to Dash.

“Evening, ma’am,” said Dash, dipping his head and flashing a smile, charm coming on like a faucet, and—Tucker resisted the urge to roll his eyes—of course Dash would be good with parents. It just figured.

“Well, Tucker,” His mother looked back at him expectantly, “aren’t you going to introduce us?” she asked, and Tucker blinked.

Oh, right.

His eyes flicked between his mom and dad, and then to Dash. Great, he thought, wasn’t the ‘meet the parents’ portion supposed to be a significantly advanced step in a relationship?

Aloud he said, “Umm…sure, ok,” and cleared his throat. “Mom, Dad…this is Dash. Dash, these are my parents.” Dash stretched out a hand, catching his father by surprise at first, and then earning a wholly pleased smile and a hearty return shake. “Dash is my…” unofficial, semi-ex-boyfriend whom I never actually dated but came pretty damn close and am now unsuccessfully avoiding at all costs, Tucker frowned, “…err…well, he’s the guy I’ve been tutoring for physics, anyway,” he explained, and his mother looked surprised.

“Oh, I thought you were tutoring a…” About there, she obviously rethought her words. “Well, never mind, I suppose,” she said, brushing off her own comment. “I must have just been making assumptions,” she apologized and smiled at Dash, but her eyes moved quickly back to Tucker afterwards, looking curiously inquisitive.

Tucker decided to leave deciphering that look for a later date. “We’ve been working together since almost the start of the school year, so we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, I guess…but his main thing’s sports. He’s captain of the football…and basketball team?”

Dash nodded, accepting Tucker’s dad’s clap to the shoulder good-naturedly as the man grinned.

“Now there’s a man, for you,” Tucker’s dad stated solidly. “That’s what’s healthy for a growing boy…gets the blood pumping and adrenaline running…and develops leadership skills too! Always loved sports as a boy…never managed to pass that onto my kids, though. Well, only had one kid…” Tucker looked indignant, “wonderful kid…” He calmed a little, “sharp as a box-cutter…but never much into sports. It’s all tech and gizmo these days…” His dad shook his head, “…you’d think sweat and sore muscles were toxic.” Tucker folded his arms, and his dad raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t suppose you’ve picked up any new habits from his company?”

Tucker thought of jerking off in public theatres and dropping his pants in broom closets—glanced to Dash, who winked—and blushed warmly. “Define ‘new habit,’” he grunted, and Dash’s low chuckle raised a shiver up his spine that had nothing to do with winter weather.

“I never could work up much interest in the football idea,” Dash filled in, saving him from further explanation, “but he did say something about learning to ice-skate, and I figured that was the least I could do after all he’s helped me with.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely idea!” his mother jumped in. “I remember the first time Tuckard tried roller-skating, poor thing. Barely five years old, tripped and scuffed his knee once…wouldn’t touch the things for years. Not to mention he cried for-”

Tucker proceeded to cough up an imaginary lung. “Alright, then,” Tucker interceded once she took the hint, “now that everyone’s introduced, maybe you guys could just-”

“Hey, Tuck!” Danny bounded in, an interesting brown cinnamon roll looking thing in one hand and a half-eaten, festively colored cupcake in the other. “Here you are. My parents want me to let you know they’re over at the tree, and we’re about to…” He trailed off, stiffening barely perceptibly, and his eyes flicked from Dash, to Tucker, to Tucker’s parents, and then back. “Dash,” he greeted finally, barely civil, and the What the hell are you doing here? rang through clear as a bell to Tucker’s ears.

Dash grinned—and suddenly Tucker thought of those close ups of sharks’ teeth on the Discovery Channel, right before they chomped a minnow. “Hey Fen—ahh—Danny,” Dash said, working his lips afterwards as if using the first name left an odd taste in his mouth. “How’s your face? I mean…uhh, how’re you feeling?”

“Fine,” Danny bit out, bristling like a wildcat with his hackle’s raised, and Tucker wondered which would win in a fair fight—a great white or a saber tooth? After a brief mental snapshot of teeth and blood and patches of flying fur and partially gnawed-off flippers, he swallowed thickly and decided it probably best not to find out.

So, Danny,” Tucker cut in anxiously, “you were saying something about your parents wanting us to…?”

“I…huh?” Danny glanced over to him, ending an unofficial contest to see who could will the other to spontaneously combust from staring alone first. “Right, right, yeah…they, umm…want us all to start grouping up. The thing’s about to start.” He eyed Dash again, and managed to say, “Are you coming?” in a way that sounded distinctly more like “You’re not coming, are you?” than anything else.

Dash glanced back to the lake—where Kwan, Valerie, and whomever that other girl was still stood patiently, Kwan looking on, and Valerie and the other girl still talking. He shook his head. “Nah, I got…stuff. Valerie’s cousin from out-of-state’s in town and we were showing her around…turns out she liked skating is all, but I’ma have to go, so, umm…I’ll leave y’all to it, but,” He turned to Tucker’s parents, “it was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. and Mrs. Foley. I always enjoy working with your son…and I’m not sure my grades would have survived the past semester without him.”

His parents returned the pleasantries, and after a few last words everyone started moving out and away. Just before he got out of range, Dash caught his jacket with a small tug, urging him to linger a second longer as the other’s moved ahead—and Tucker complied. When he opened his mouth to question though, Dash stepped in, his hand slipping to Tucker’s hip, discretely tucking a folded sheet of paper into his pocket, and holding it still when Tucker reached.

“Not now,” he muttered. “Just study that when you get home, alright?”

“What is…” Tucker met Dash’s eyes, suddenly abruptly aware of how close they were again and that if his parents chose right that moment to look back this might look a tad suspicious but then he really didn’t care because Dash’s breath was a gentle roll of misted heat on his lips, tangling indistinguishably with his own in the three inches left between them and—Tucker nodded, resisting the urge to gulp—“Right, ok, I will,” he agreed.

“Good,” said Dash, and he lingered a half-second longer—then backed off. “Have a nice night.”

“I, umm…” Tucker tried hard not to feel the disappointed lump associated with having Dash’s lips that close only to not—he clamped down on the thought, hard—but the disappointment persisted, and he sighed. “You too,” he said.

Several hours later, Tucker lay back on his bed, eyes shut, fully dressed save for shoes, and thinking, when a gentle knock sounded at his door. He glanced up. “Come in, it’s open…” he said, mildly surprised to have a visitor this late—his parents usually went to bed around ten. “Hey, Mom…” he greeted when she entered, “what’s up?” but the pleasantry turned almost immediately into a groan when he caught her expression. “Oh, no…”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh no?” she repeated, smiling as Tucker squinted at her warily.

“Yes, ‘Oh no,’” he confirmed. “You have one of those looks…” he accused. “It’s that parent-only look thing that says ‘We’re going to have a Talk, whether you like it or not, so buckle up…’ and Talks are never good…”

“I see,” she humored him, “and what do you think this ‘Talk’ will be about?”

Tucker snorted. “Heck if I know…” He waited, picking at the corner of his pillow and watching. Then, finally, he sighed. “Ok, so spill, I give. What is it about? It’s not about sex, is it, because Dad already hit that one a long-”

“That boy today,” his mother cut in, and Tucker failed in his effort not to wince. He pulled a pillow over his head instead. “Tucker…”


“He seemed like a nice young man…polite, friendly…”

Tucker peeked an eye out from under his pillow. “Okay…so what’s wrong with ‘im? Wha’d’we have ta talk about?”

“We don’t have to talk about anything…” his mother answered. “I had just…well, assumed…” She hesitated, “…that you were tutoring a-”

“-girl?” Tucker asked softly, returning his head to beneath the pillow and thus blocking out his mother’s expression.

“Yes,” she said after a moment. “You’ve spent a lot of time at this ‘tutoring’ since the school year began. I had thought you might have…well, as I said earlier, I suppose they were only assumptions…a mother’s instinct, or wishful thinking…”

Tucker frowned into his cover. “Wishful for what?” he asked, pulling the pillow back to let his mother see the frown. “Wishing I’d finally find a girlfriend?” The question held more malice than he meant to let on.

Her expression was impossibly gentle. “Wishing you’d find someone special, honey, that’s all,” she said, and for a fraction of a second Tucker knew she knew—knew about him and Dash and everything, ever—just knew. He looked away, cheeks warm. “I just want you to remember that your Daddy and I are here for you, no matter what, and we love you, and if you ever need to talk to us about anything…”

Tucker shut his eyes, throat suddenly tight, and he wanted to shout I’m not gay almost as much as he needed to whisper Wait, don’t leave… when her hand touched the door, and the words He’s not my boyfriend came just as close to the tip of his tongue as I just don’t know what to do anymore—but he swallowed the lump and the words and nodded instead. “Ok.”

She sighed. “Alright…g’night, baby.”

“’Night, Mom,” he mumbled.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too…” And he waited for the soft ‘click’ of the door before rolling, stomach down, burying his face in the pillow and—something crinkled in his pocket—he frowned. What on earth…? Flipping back over, he dug curiously in his pocket, quickly locating the culprit, and—oh, right—his cheeks warmed as he tugged out the tucked away sheet of paper—Dash’s ‘study assignment’ for the night.

Not trusting his eyes to read well in the dim light, Tucker sighed and leaned closer to his nightstand, propping his elbows against the dresser top and undoing the folded note under the lamplight, squinting to read Dash’s neat scroll. It contained only two, short sentences:

I’m sorry. Forgive me?  



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