The Swing of Things #4
Tracey couldn't help but wonder just how many new people the store took on for the holidays. Another new girl looked as though she was ready to hide behind Dinah at any moment, nervous from more than a dozen pairs of eyes checking her out.
"...I'm going to give Charlie the Spark Notes tour of the place. Don't think I'm not watching you," Dinah concluded, grinning. She turned to Charlene B., nicknamed Charlie, and led her off.
"C'mon, Tracey. Time to go," Kathleen stated, grabbing an extra flat-bedded sled as she went off to set up. "It's slam day."
Both Matthew and Tyler were smiling at him as he looked one last time in their direction. They were going to plot and plan, and they were going to figure out just what Patti Donovan did in her spare time. Or, more correctly, who.
Thankfully, time seemed to literally take wing and go for both distance and speed. Dinah was fifteen minutes late calling break because she too had gotten caught up in the breakneck speed that seemed downright infectious. When Kathleen had called the day 'Slam Day', Tracey hadn't really understood just what she meant by that. But Thursdays were the day where everything had to be done in the clothing departments by eight o'clock no matter what, which had the five crew members over there scrambling and also trying to recruit others.
Tracey was even sure he saw the weary Matthew stumbling around the accessory department, but he didn't have time to stop and chat.
The entire crew seemed to collectively collapse into the cafe area, a few of them automatically putting their heads down onto the tables and attempting a quick nap.
Charlie appeared following closely to Tyler.
"We have a secret weapon," Tyler said, grinning ever so slightly. "This is Charlie, psychology major, over twenty-one, and willing to help us investigate."
"So this means..."
"Hi... Tracey, right?" Charlie stuck out a hand in Tracey's direction and smiled weakly. "You and I will be working together on this."
"Do I even want to know what you've cooked up, Tyler?" Matthew asked. "I tried to be the leader this time but you just... You've got something awful planned, don't you?"
"If Charlie and Tracey can pretend to be dating, they can go shoot pool and watch Patti," Tyler stated.
Both Tracey and Matthew winced. Charlie blushed. Finally, seeing the desperation in Tyler's piercing green eyes, Tracey relented.
"I'll do it, but it'll be awkward."
"I might be able to use this for a paper," Charlie commented.
"She told me she works tonight," Tyler stated. "If you can..."
Just then, Kathleen came over to drop into the conversation. "A spy game? Can I go?"
There was a moment of polite silence.
Tracey walked into the Student Union building of the community college, looking around near the cafeteria for any sign of Charlie. They had decided to have lunch together as a way to get to know one another in preparation for the great big important fake date later in the day.
Not seeing her, he sat down on one of the well-used sofas that lined the inside of the building. After such a breakneck morning and two intense classes, Tracey was exhausted. He had no idea how he was going to make it through the evening.
He hoped he could get a nap in before going out for the evening. He also hoped he could get away from his family for long enough to put the plan into motion. The next day was another day off, so at least Tracey knew he could go home and sleep for the night before meeting with Tyler and Matthew to spill the results.
Taking out his History book to do the reading assigned earlier, Tracey couldn't help but hope that Patti really was a cheating bitch. The more he talked to Tyler, the more he really liked Tyler. And the way Tyler looked after the somewhat socially-awkward Matthew was quite endearing.
He remembered Matthew having a secret and couldn't help equating it with his mysterious notion that Matthew had a Canadian girlfriend. But Matthew being Emily's brother made it not such an implausibility. If Matthew did spend time in Canada, it made much more sense for Emily to be writing for a Canadian magazine.
His history text was set down beside him in order to pull out the already somewhat battered copy of Remote Transmissions that he had been carrying around all day with the notion that eventually he was going to pull it out and finish reading it.
Assuming that the Matthew in question, who shared the same last initial with the Matthew he knew, had been in Canada during September and then returned to America at the beginning of October, then there was a chance that Matthew's secret was about all of that. And since the store's stock crew seemed to tightly knit, it would have to be relatively new secret in order for Tyler and Matthew to be so intensely protective of it.
Obviously they all knew that Matthew had taken leave, so other than that... There was obviously still something very, very missing from the entire equation.
And then Tracey remembered a very vague comment that Tyler had made. Something about Toronto, but nothing more detailed than that little bit of…
Tracey, startled, looked up to see Charlie standing above him. She looked considerably different than she had at work. Now she had her hair swept up into a messy bun and seemed more like a librarian than a student. Tracey had sudden doubts about being able to get her into something remotely like bar clothing.
"Have you eaten? Sorry I'm late. I got stopped by my last prof about the semester project I'm working on," Charlie said in a rush. "I don't have another class for a couple of hours though. And I'm a little nervous about what we have to do tonight."
Maybe, Tracey decided, everyone who worked overnights was a socially inept dork, potentially including himself.
"I haven't eaten," he replied. "I was just trying to figure out a few things about my little sister's new friend."
"You have a sister?" Charlie asked, smiling.
"Two," Tracey said. "Vicky and Rebecca."
"I have a younger brother," Charlie explained as Tracey gathered his things and stood up. "But he's actually just a year younger and goes to school here too. We grew up more as classmates than siblings."
There wasn't a line in the cafeteria, and both left with full trays.
"We don't have to, um, do anything too physical tonight, do we?" Charlie asked suddenly, blushing again. "I'm sorry, but for a psychology major, I'm really not so good with people."
"Don't worry," Tracey said quickly. "At most, I'll just take your hand or something, okay?"
"I can handle that," Charlie agreed. "So... how long have we been dating? When did we meet? Are you any good at pool?"
Tracey laughed, bringing a napkin up to cover his mouth.
"Let's see," he began as soon as he'd swallowed his mouthful of sandwich. "We've only been dating for a couple of weeks, which is why we aren't being overly physical."
"And I think we met through a mutual friend, who never needs to be named. And I played pool fairly often in high school so I shouldn't suck too badly," Tracey concluded, laughing. He suddenly wasn't so sure about the last part of that statement.
"I may need a little more help than that," Charlie commented. "But we're going early right? More possibilities for illicit activity if the place isn't packed yet."
"And we'll be able to get a table," Tracey added. "It sounds like a plan to me."
Charlie burst out in a snicker-fit. "What's your last name?"
Well, Tracey decided after going through another dozen questions with Charlie, it may not be a real date but it did at least involve getting out for a bit. And Charlie was a genuinely interesting person. She definitely wasn't his type, whatever his type really was, but spending the evening on a mission with her certainly was going to be more fun than trying to handle spying on Patti by himself.
As Tracey got ready for his evening out, he realized that he still hadn't managed to read Emily's story. It was instantly added to his list of things to do first in the morning, before meeting up with Tyler and Matthew for breakfast.
He had decided to go with basic blacks, a move he was sure his new fashion adviser, Tessa, would have approved of. While finishing up the hanging racks that morning, Tessa had been actively picking out clothing for him, attempting to push her taste in skulls, flames, and barbed wire onto him. She had chosen some rather nice stuff, but Tracey wasn't quite ready to admit to it. He did like that sort of thing but didn't want to feel like he was suddenly interested just to impress or even weave rapport with Tessa. He knew that if he did, it would come off as fake and Tessa wasn't the sort to let that go lightly.
As Tracey turned on to the street Charlie lived on, his fourth speaker crackled on, sputtering for a moment before staticing and cutting out again. Tracey attempted to interpret that as a sign, but since he never really missed the rear passenger speaker, he couldn't figure if its spurt of undeath was a good omen or a bad omen.
Charlie lived in a nice enough house for the part of town she was in. Tracey guessed that at least one of her parents worked for a car factory, based on the late model vehicles that cluttered the yard. Tracey considered staying out in the car and honking, but he wasn't sure just what Charlie had told her parents about where she was going.
Being as much of a gentleman as he could muster, Tracey parked and went up to the door. There was no discernable doorbell, so Tracey just knocked and then waited. He always felt really stupid while waiting for people to answer the door and this was no exception.
Finally he heard footsteps inside and was thoroughly taken aback when the door was swung open and he found himself face to face with a girl quite a bit more attractive than Charlie. Charlie had only mentioned a brother so...
"Are you Tracey?"
And then it all made a bit more sense. Underneath the overly large clothing, long hair and doe eyes was not a girl but instead Charlie's brother, Timothy. Tracey swallowed hard, really hoping that his accidental few seconds of intense interest and arousal were just a glitch in the system.
Tracey nodded, nervously.
"Come in. She'll be ready in a minute," Timothy explained, standing aside so that Tracey could enter. "Our parents both work second shift, so don't worry about having to explain the crazy thing you two are about to do."
"I tend to be overly compliant," Tracey commented, pausing for a moment before following Timothy to the living room and taking a seat.
"Actually, I'm amazed Charlie hasn't done an entire profile on you yet. I know you two just meant today, but usually she has everyone psychoanalyzed within about ten minutes," Timothy said, settling down himself. He had long, nearly-black hair that fell raggedly around his face, obscuring any feature that would label him as male. He looked even more feminine than Matthew, who had only recently taken the award for being the girliest guy in known existence.
"She probably has a few ideas," Tracey replied, chuckling. He was a little curious what Charlie though of him and his immediate willingness to help out someone he'd really only just met. But it wasn't that he was desperate for friends - he genuinely liked Tyler and kept focusing back on that thought every time he came back to himself and asked why on earth he was going along with such a crazy plan.
Charlie stepped into the room, awkwardly dressed to kill. Apparently her wardrobe had a little bit of anything and everything in it. However it did make an appropriate outfit for an early date between two people trying to get a feel for one another.
"Do I look okay?"
"Yeah," both Tracey and Timothy replied in unison.
"Not too... overdone?"
Her eye makeup was a little dark, Tracey noticed. But it absolutely made her character at that exact moment.
"I don't think so. So are you ready to make a bad attempt at private investigating?"
Charlie laughed. "As ready as I'll ever be."
Once out the door, Charlie turned to Tracey.
"I'm sorry about not warning you about Timothy. He can come on a little strong sometimes," she said, looking back at the sidewalk for a moment.
Blinking, Tracey wasn't entirely sure what Charlie meant at first.
"He was, um, rather normal," Tracey explained quickly. "I just thought he was a girl."
"I thought you were a girl until I saw you," Charlie countered. "I've never met a boy named Tracey."
"I've never met a girl named Charlie."
They were both laughing as they got into the car. At least one thing was going right.
The Pint Bar was not overly far from where Charlie lived, which was fortunate. They were in a part of town where Tracey was not overly familiar with the streets and he was thankful that Charlie was a good navigator.
There were only a few cars parked out front, a reflection of the time of day. The sun was still working its way beneath the horizon, casting an eerie glow over everything for just a few moments as Tracey helped Charlie from the car. He hadn't even thought about getting her door for her but once the handle decided not to work properly from the inside, he realized he was going to have to do something.
"Sorry about that," Tracey said, trying not to chuckle. Perhaps a new vehicle was somewhere on his list of things to get once he had a bit more money saved up.
"It's okay. So... do you see her car?" Charlie looked around the parking lot, perhaps expecting to see flashing neon announcing that their target was within sight.
"I can't remember what she drives," Tracey replied. "If I even knew to begin with..."
"Some of these look girly," Charlie commented, bouncing over to peek into car windows.
Tracey groaned. Tact did not seem to be one of Charlie's strong suits. It did make sense though - she seemed to be the book-smart type, not the life-smart type. Hopefully, at this seedy bar in the bad part of town, she would not do anything stupid enough to get them maimed.
"Let's go in," Tracey suggested, looking warily around at the rest of the lot and the group of young boys loitering on the next block. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"I would love to do a project analyzing people based on the things in their cars," Charlie said quickly as she ran to catch up with him. "Wouldn't that be fascinating?"
Actually, Tracey thought, it wouldn't. All his car would say about him is that he couldn't be bothered to fix a broken speaker, mangled tape deck, and that he drank way too much Coke for his own good. But then again, that could be an analysis all by itself.
It was strangely quiet inside the bar. A couple of blue collars were sitting at the bar, but not much was going on. The bartender, whether it was Patti or not, was nowhere in sight.
And then, he while looking over at the corner the pool tables sat in, he saw her coming out of the bathroom. Patti's eyes locked with his in a very brief moment of confused recognition. She obviously sensed he was familiar but she didn't seem to be able to figure out just how she knew him.
"Can I get you two something to drink?" she asked, plastering on a fake smile as she reached up to adjust her hair.
"A Bud for me and... you're driving," Charlie said quickly, putting herself between Tracey and Patti. "A Coke. Or Pepsi... I can't remember."
"Coke," Tracey supplied. "Pepsi is too sweet."
Charlie nodded convincingly. So far Tracey thought they seemed fairly inconspicuous and it didn't look like Patti was going to ask any questions just yet.
Tracey wandered over to throw a couple of quarters into the pool table while Charlie followed Patti to the bar. He could hear them talking, but he couldn't make out their words. While he was racking the balls, Charlie came back over and set their drinks on a nearby table.
"I have quarters for the jukebox," Charlie said, bouncing over towards it.
"Good idea," Tracey said, sliding up behind her so he was a bit too close as Charlie leaned over the machine, trying to read what was inside. He reached over to rest a hand on the small of her back and couldn't help brief amusement at how she jumped ever so slightly. It was all part of the act, really, but Tracey couldn't help wishing he was with someone he was interested in who was interested right back.
"Right," Charlie whispered after a moment. "We'll be able to talk without being heard if there's music playing."
"So what do you like?" Tracey asked, louder. "I just want something with a good beat."
"This thing looks like it hasn't been update in five years," Charlie said, laughing. "I don't know much about music, but I do remember listening to some of this stuff in junior high."
"Well, we get ten songs for all those quarters you dumped in, so you pick five and I'll pick five," Tracey said, watching as Charlie flipped the pages in the machine. He had his fingers crossed to be able to find that Keeping Still song again. He wanted to hear it because he was still singing it in his head.
"Anything against Cher?" Charlie asked with a laugh.
"I told you anything, so I won't go back on it," Tracey replied, still scanning for anything interesting.
His precious Keeping Still song wasn't anywhere in the mix, but between the two of them, they did get ten songs picked out. While they had been doing all of that, another guy had wandered into the bar, settling down near the end of the bar.
Charlie slammed about half of her beer and smiled. "It's really nice to just be out."
"I know," Tracey replied, picking out a stick for himself and also one for Charlie as an afterthought. The music wasn't overwhelming, but it did seem to blot out anything but their own conversation.
"I just haven't been out in so long. I worked for a couple of years to save for community college because I wanted to do it alone, without help," Charlie admitted, awkwardly taking the pool stick from Tracey and realizing she'd have to set her bottle down. "I think I got too boring somewhere in there."
"I was never exciting to begin with," Tracey replied. "I feel like I'm drifting."
"Everyone finds their something at a different time," Charlie stated. "At least you're out there looking."
Tracey decided they'd never get on with their game if he didn't at least break. He had planned on letting Charlie, but she seemed suddenly too caught up in her emotional breakthrough to do anything but stand there and stare at the...
Turning, Tracey realized just why Charlie had locked her gaze. Patti had gotten very close to the newest patron, snugging her body up to his and dancing to the song currently playing. At that moment, Tracey rather regretted the pounding beat he'd chosen.
"Pool," Tracey hissed. "Unless you want to dance too."
Charlie winced, snapping back into herself. "I like you plenty as a friend, but that's pushing it."
"I do think that's about all the proof we need though..."
"That is her, right?"
"Yes," Tracey replied as pool balls scattered across the table. It was a good break, sending each ball in a slightly different direction. Charlie would get a good shot if she could figure out how to hold the stick. "And I did expect this to be an easy mission."
"I didn't want it to be this easy," Charlie replied as she attempted to shoot. She hit the cue ball perfectly, but it went sailing at the total wrong angle and bounced off the edge of the table before slowing to a halt nowhere near anything. "Shit."
"It takes practice," Tracey replied. "And I agree on the anticlimactic evening."
"Gross when you think about it though," Charlie said, looking away from where Patti and her side dish were currently tongue-dancing. "Tyler's such a nice guy."
"Everyone at work is nice," Tracey commented. "Tyler and Matthew seem to just be part of that."
Charlie nodded, going for her beer again. The song changed, switching to a rock track.
"So what do we do now?"
"Play pool," Tracey replied. "Talk. Drink. I'll get you home before your brother starts to worry."
"Timothy really isn't the worrying type," Charlie replied. "I think he's more likely joyfully raiding my closet, hoping I never come back."
Tracey raised an eyebrow.
"Androgynous and homosexual," Charlie stated. "An interesting subject to study, but I can't help loving him too much to try to get to the root of the problem, if there even is a problem. It's hard to want to be a therapist when I believe that some people are better off with their quirks. And Timothy is one of them."
"He seems normal," Tracey said quickly, realizing that perhaps he hadn't chosen the best words.
"That's pushing it."
Tracey had called out a farewell to Patti, by name, as he and Charlie left the bar. She opened her mouth in shock but didn't actually say anything. The man still clinging tightly glared and Tracey was rather sure that Patti would have to make up something quickly if she didn't actually remember who he was.
Charlie laughed all the way out to the car, which was thankfully unharmed. Tracey just chuckled. In all honesty, he was starting to feel really horrible. He was going to have to sit down with Tyler and Matthew in just a few hours and recount everything he had seen. He really didn't want to have to tell Tyler. He didn't want to confirm Tyler's suspicions that his one and only wasn't anyone's one and only. For a moment, he thought he was going to be ill.
"What's wrong?" Charlie asked as Tracey reached into his pocket for his keys.
"Think about it," Tracey said slowly. "Now I have to tell Tyler about all of this."
"Oh..." Charlie was silent until they left the parking lot. "Oh."
"I know it's not our faults - not anyone's faults. Those two were just apparently not compatible," Tracey rationalized. "But damn... I don't suppose you want to ride along for the grand exposition tomorrow morning."
"You had Miss Faulkiner for English 101, didn't you?" Charlie asked, smirking.
"Thought so. Her ridiculous vocabulary tests are obvious in your word choice."
Tracey frowned. Maybe there was a bit to Charlie's skill at reading others. Or maybe she'd just run into quite a few other Faulkiner-ites around the school. It seemed that half of the community college population got stuck with her at least once in their time there.
"So about breakfast..."
"I really need to spend the day at the library," Charlie said softly. "I'm behind on my semester project and even if I only go for breakfast, I'll probably keep rationalizing hours away until suddenly it's time to get to bed again."
"I understand," Tracey replied. He knew she was dead serious about school and didn't want to interfere with that, either. He actually felt a little bad about dragging her out wearing not enough clothing and having her drink beer just to spy on a friend's soon to be ex-girlfriend in a seedy little bar.
Tracey found himself wondering if everyone's lives went from zero to crazy when they started on the stock crew. Apparently Matthew's had taken a few twists and turns, but until he knew more, he didn't even want to mention it to Charlie.
They were back at Charlie's house before Tracey had finished half the thoughts in his head.
"Would you like to come in?" Charlie asked. "We just got surround sound speakers set up and Timothy and I keep watching the first Lord of the Rings movie. It sounds almost like in the theatre!"
He had no other plans, so Tracey just nodded and turned his car off. Following Charlie inside, Tracey felt just a bit awkward again. He looked around the empty-looking house, realizing that while Charlie's family certainly did have some things, there were plenty of things that were beyond their grasp. It wasn't to say that the place was shabby; just well used.
"Let me run up to my room and change," Charlie stated before pointing at the living room. "You go have a seat and I'll be right back."
Certainly Charlie did need to change outfits. Her hair was starting to frizz wildly around her and there was no way her pants could be comfortable at all. For a moment, Tracey was rather happy about the double-standard that existed with beauty.
And Tracey was not surprised when Charlie came into the room, followed by Timothy. Somehow Timothy seemed smaller, more fragile than he had before. For a girl, he was sized appropriately, but for a boy, he was thin and wiry.
"I can't wait for the third movie," Timothy said, smiling. "I saw the first two at midnight showings and I'll see number three that way too."
"Do you get a discount for being an elf?" Charlie asked, chuckling to herself as she got the DVD set up.
"I'm not an elf," Timothy replied as he sat down at the other end of the sofa that Tracey was sitting on.
"You look like one," Charlie shot back before settling herself into a reddish and very threadbare reclining chair.
Halfway through the movie, Tracey was positive he was the only one who was awake. However, he wasn't quite sure if he should just leave or if he should stay for the rest of the movie. And to top things off, he rather had to go to the bathroom. But he had no idea where the bathroom was.
Charlie was snoring lightly, not loudly enough to disturb the movie but loud enough that Tracey knew she was asleep. Timothy had found a pile of blankets and settled into a bit of a nest. He hadn't moved in quite awhile, so Tracey assumed he too had conked out after one too many slow parts.
Tiptoeing through the room to a hallway, Tracey was thankful for a well placed nightlight to guide his way. He found a bathroom on his second try and his bladder thanked him for it.
Timothy was sprawled across the sofa when Tracey made his way back to the living room, overly careful not to make any noise and still managing to crash one foot into a door frame.
"You're still here," Timothy whispered. "I thought you had left."
"I went to the bathroom," Tracey said. "I didn't mean to wake you up."
"You didn't," Timothy said. "If you'd been that noisy, you would have woken Charlie up too."
Tracey smiled before settling back onto the sofa. Timothy rearranged himself again, silently offering to share his blanket with Tracey. And though he felt a little weird about it, Tracey accepted. The house had a bit of a chill and it wasn't as though he was somehow committing himself to anything more in depth than the last few minutes of the movie.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!