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The Swing of Things #5



Tracey, Tyler and Matthew sat at the Crack of Dawn cafe at just about the crack of dawn. Tyler and Matthew had shown up together, making Tracey wonder a little more about their relationship before thinking that perhaps it was just in case Tyler didn't feel much like driving home.

Tracey had been painfully early, not entire sure how long it would take to get to their meeting spot. Thankfully he was still carrying around the now permanently battered copy of Remote Transmissions and finally read Emily's story while he waited.

As Matthew set down his menu, he saw the magazine that Tracey had casually tucked over by the salt and pepper shakers.

"Is that..."

"What?" Tyler asked, lowering his menu. "I thought we decided no talking until after we ordered."

"Rebecca gave it to me to read," Tracey stated, wondering why Matthew had suddenly gone so pale.

"So you've read it."

"That's what people do with... oh..." Tyler set down his menu quickly. "Then it's... you... er..."

"I'm not sure what the big deal is," Tracey said, utterly confused. Something was very much going on without his knowledge and he felt like a complete idiot for not having it figured out yet.

"I guess Matthew really wasn't ready for..."

"Shut up," Matthew hissed at Tyler. "Just..."

For a moment, it looked as though Matthew was going to cry. Then he looked at Tracey and Tracey couldn't help but feel a vast pit of emotion echoing through Matthew's eyes.

"So you were in Toronto and met some crazies," Tracey said slowly, hoping he wasn't about to make an utter ass of himself. "And some girl."

"Girl?" Tyler said, voice an octave too high.

"Tyler..." Matthew looked away but Tracey could see his eyes watering.

"Can I explain?" Tyler was asking Matthew, who was reaching for his napkin.

Matthew nodded, obviously not wanting to talk himself.

"You're a little backwards there," Tyler began. "But I guess being a boy named Tracey would probably affect how names become gendered in your head."

And then it all made sense. He was a boy named Tracey who knew a girl named Charlie but there was no girl named Billy, just a boy named Billy. And that made Matthew gay but not out as gay to anyone besides a select few people, potentially only Tyler.

"I didn't mean to assume," Tracey said quickly. "It's okay. I mean... You're still very much you."

Suddenly Matthew was laughing. Both Tracey and Tyler looked at him for a minute as though he was crazy.

"I never thought I'd hear anyone apologize for thinking I was straight!"

And then they all laughed until their waitress finally showed up to get their order. Thankfully Tracey never got the chance to admit that had let another boy fall asleep on him just hours before. And thankfully by not admitting that, he never got the chance to ruminate further on it, continuing the line of thought that had kept him up for the better part of the night.

"Down to business though," Tyler said as soon as the waitress scampered off to put their order in. "Based on you not bursting out that my worries were for nothing, I can only assume..."

"Your worries were all for something." Tracey looked away for a moment, instead focusing on Matthew. Now that he knew Matthew liked boys, he could definitely see some of the ways he interacted with Tyler as being more than friendly, even if it was only one-sided. And either Tyler didn't know or Tyler chose not to pay attention to them.

"That bad?"

"If I were you, I'd never speak to her again," Tracey admitted. "And that's not because I'm biased, either."

"If you'll excuse me," Tyler said softly. "I'm going to cry into my hot chocolate now."

"Tyler..."

"I mean it, Matthew. Talk to Tracey. Tell him about Billy. Tell him about Toronto or about Kathleen using you as a purse rack or about all the video games we play or whatever. Just... I don't feel like thinking right now so please just ignore me!" Tyler sighed and poked at the rapidly melting whipped cream on his hot chocolate.

"And this, Tracey, is the first awkward day of the rest of your awkward life," Matthew said, half-smiling.

"It's the job, isn't it?" Tracey commented. "When I was out last night with Charlie I realized that both she and I were doing something completely crazy that we never would have done otherwise."

"Could be," Matthew replied. "But not everyone there started off sane. Tyler was never sane."

"Thanks," Tyler muttered, poking at his hot chocolate again.

"I didn't mean it like that," Matthew said with a sigh. "Maybe it would be safer to tell you about Toronto. Sans graphic details, of course."

"Be thankful for little things," Tyler said unexpectedly. "I had to hear them."

"You could have stopped me."

"What kind of friend would I be if I didn't listen to you?"

"Thank you, Tyler," Matthew said, smiling and reaching over give Tyler a reassuring pat on the back.

"I'm going back to my hot chocolate now," Tyler stated before doing just that.

"This sounds utterly lame, but my mother sent me to Toronto because she thought I needed a bit of a change," Matthew began. By the time Matthew had finished his short, non-graphic run through the previous month, their breakfast had been served and Tyler was doing more than poking at his with a knife.

"So what do we do now?" Matthew asked suddenly, looking at Tracey more than Tyler.

"Play video games until we fall asleep," Tyler said, managing a smile. "Just like we do every day. And if Patti calls, I'll tell her I'm throwing her stuff to the curb. If I have any of her stuff. Which I think I do... Let's have a spontaneous stuff-throwing party."

"And who will we invite?" Matthew asked, snickering.

"Well, you invite Billy even though he can't make it and Charlie even though she's at the library and everyone at work even though I don't have their phone numbers," Tyler replied. "And I'll invite you and Tracey because I know you both can come."

"You know, I've wanted to do this for awhile," Matthew confessed before shoving a piece of rye toast into his mouth.

"But it still hurts," Tyler finished, his voice dropping off to somewhere near inaudible. "And I guess it will for awhile."

"Right..." Matthew rolled his eyes. "I've known you for nearly a year, Tyler. About the nicest thing you ever said about Patti is that she gave good head. And I can do that."

Unfortunately for Tracey, he'd just gotten a mouthful of orange juice in his mouth. And unwilling to spit it all over, he attempted to swallow it but was laughing so hard he started choking. Finally after sputtering for about five minutes and attracting the attention of half of the cafe staff, he declared himself fine and gave Matthew a hefty scowl.

"Don't ever say that again."

"At least," Tyler commented, "you didn't actually think about it when he said it."


Tracey marched through Tyler's apartment holding a bra at arm's length between pinched fingers.

"I found this behind the sofa," he announced, waving it for a moment to attract Tyler's attention. Tyler had a construction hat perched on his head, perhaps as close to an army hat as he could round up in the craziness of his apartment. Tracey could certainly see why Patti had grown tired of Tyler. While Tyler was a genuinely nice guy, Patti's tastes were not compatible with someone with Lord of the Rings posters in his hallway and more video games than pairs of socks in his dresser.

"Good work, soldier!" Tyler exclaimed before pointing to a box marked 'Contraband'. "All weapons of crass destruction must be removed from the premises."

"That didn't make a whole lot of sense, Commander," Matthew commented from where he was rummaging in the kitchen. He'd somehow gained a bandana around his head and Tracey felt a bit left out of the little game.

"Found it!" Matthew exclaimed a few seconds later. He held up a blue Tupperware container and smiled. "It's from January when Patti brought over that barely edible whats-it that her grandmother made. I think she was trying to kill you."

"Why do you remember that?" Tyler asked, scratching his head as best he could without removing his hard-hat.

"You tried to give it to me," Matthew deadpanned. "I gave it to the garbage can before washing the container up because you don't do dishes, I do."

Tracey grinned. Somehow he could see them as an old married couple, even if Matthew's relationship and Tyler's orientation were slight deterrents. As for himself, he really just hoped he wasn't intruding.

And also, he was still holding the bra. He did not want to know how Patti Donovan's bra had ended up back there, but since he knew it was Patti Donovan's bra and not just a piece of fabric with lace and padded cups, he did not want to know. Taking aim, he threw it into the box. The Tupperware went sailing in a moment later.

"To the bedroom," Tyler ordered. "And Tracey, you need a bayonet or something. You look out of place. Hmm..."

As Tyler dug in the hall closet, bother Tracey and Matthew marched down the hallway. Tracey paused to check in the bathroom, sure something feminine lingered in there. Just as he was opening the medicine cabinet, a plastic battle axe was thrust in his face.

"Close enough," Tyler commented before peering over Tracey's shoulder. "Soldiers, we have lipstick. Like little irresistible missiles of destruction, they, um... Fuck it. Get Patti's stuff out of here and then fight in the parking lot with all of my plastic weapons."

"Sounds like a plan," Matthew said, poking his head in. And after a very quick run through of the rest of the apartment, they marched Patti's things to the apartment door, set them outside, and made for the parking lot, laughing at their own expense.


"I told you that it gets easier," Kathleen said the next morning as she watched Tracey bound through the morning unload, enough numbers in his head to sort everything with near-accuracy.

"It looked so hard at first," Tracey replied, sticking out his tongue. "But this isn't so bad."

"You just have to get into the swing of things," Kathleen commented as she grabbed the box Tracey just finished and collapsed it in one move. "And no one does that on their first day. They expect it to magically come to them, but I've never had a job like that."

"Neither have I," Tessa commented from a few feet away. "Save for when I was working as a receptionist for another vampire. Since most of his callers were also our kind, there was at least a nice rapport already forming..."

"And then business died off, right?" Kathleen interjected, laughing hysterically at her own joke.

Tessa sighed. "You could say that."

"That's bad, Kathleen, even for you," Laura said as she crashed out of the mens department and into their sorting aisle.

"Well, if they'd only turn the music up, I wouldn't have to say such ridiculous things," Kathleen said, glaring up at the tinny overhead speakers which were broadcasting some local radio station too low to hear properly. Tracey seemed to be able to tell whether it was a commercial or a song, but not what anything was more specifically.

"I mean, I don't really care what we listen to," Kathleen continued. "I just like some sort of background noise with a good beat. It makes everything go quicker when there's a tune helping me boogie along."

"Yes, louder music," Tessa echoed. "So I can't hear Kathleen."

Tracey knew one thing at that moment - it was going to be a long morning.

"It's Saturday," Tyler said as he sat down at their table for their first break.

"Amazing, really, that you figured that out," Matthew commented, already halfway through a snack bag of chips.

"What I meant was that both you and you," Tyler stated, pointing at Tracey and Charlie, "can come over and play video games or watch movies or whatever because I know you don't have school on Saturdays."

Charlie blinked once. "I don't know... I'm not really much for that sort of thing."

"All you have to do is mash buttons," Matthew said, mouth half-full.

"All Matthew does is mash buttons," Tyler reiterated, chuckling.

"I'm in," Tracey said. "But I have to be home at a reasonable time. Mom's working today and while usually Vicky and Rebecca are okay by themselves, sometimes I worry."

"What's your definition of reasonable?" Tyler asked.

"One or two," Tracey replied. "And Vicky knows enough to call me if anything is too far beyond their means."

"Would you mind if I pawned Emily off on you some Saturday?" Matthew asked. "She's really quite taken with you."

"Well, she's talented and quite nice, but about a decade too young," Tracey shot back.

Tyler just burst into a snicker-fit.

"Right... You're doing so much better," Tracey shot back.

"Can I get a subject change?" Tyler asked, straightening up and leaning back in his seat. "Um... Hey!"

Tyler pointed down the nearest aisle, grinning. A moment later, a muscular man with short, black hair came into general view.

"Caz-man!" Tyler yelled, waving.

Tracey was intrigued. This was the mysterious Cassiel Wyler whose music had been haunting him for the last couple of days. Somehow Tracey hadn't expected someone so normal looking. But normal was quite nearly the term for Caz. A couple of tattoos peeked out from beneath Caz's ragged long-sleeved green shirt, and he had a couple more visible piercings than most men did, but otherwise, he seemed quite normal. Tracey knew that if he just saw Caz on the street, he would think nothing of it. For some reason, he sort of thought that even an almost-rockstar should look a bit larger than life.

"Hey," Caz replied, leaning over the low wall that separated the cafe from the main aisle of the store. "Looks like your crew is picking up a few newbs too."

"This is Tracey and Charlie," Tyler explained, pointing at each one of them for the second time that morning.

"Aren't your names backwards?" Caz asked, smiling a charismatic smile. "But I can't say anything. You should try growing up being named Cassiel."

"Nice to meet you," Charlie said, waving from her seat.

"Ditto," Tracey said quickly, promptly wanting to hide under the table. Ditto? That sounded absolutely fucking stupid and the best course of action would be to dissolve into the very substance of his chair and never be seen again. However, that not being an option, Tracey still felt incredibly stupid for having just said ditto to an almost-rockstar who looked rather like he could bench-press small automobiles based solely on the way his muscles bulged beneath that perfectly ragged green long-sleeved t-shirt.

"So where have you been, anyway?" Tyler asked, thankfully distracting from the amazing embarrassment that Tracey was suffering and everyone else had never felt the need to have a second thought about.

"Well, since our vacation time gets locked in a week, I took off for a few," Caz explained. "Went west to visit Valentine and my parents. Then south to visit my sisters. Then up north to see Angel-Fur."

Tracey wondered if those names mentioned were family or band mates. He could only imagine that the band had been a family of sorts. It must have been an interesting life, if nothing else. Tracey found himself wanting to ask, but he knew it would be in bad taste.

And Tracey hadn't known just how close Tyler and Caz were. But if they'd both worked in the store for as many years as they claimed, anyone was bound to get friendly just from daily close quarters.

"But not..." Tyler trailed off, glancing down at the table.

"That'll require a little sweet-talking to his brother," Caz confessed. "Legal guardianship and hospital rules and other bullshit."

Now Tracey was just curious. Of course Keeping Still had broken up. That much was obvious just by Caz's day job and the impression that Keeping Still vanished right on the verge of stardom.

But that was something that did not seem at all appropriate. Instead, Tracey decided to do the proper thing - either ask Tyler later or look online at the first available chance.

"So how big are pulls?" Matthew asked, smiling demurely. Tracey wondered how anyone could seem so innocently naive and sweet as Matthew yet obviously have such an interesting dark side. But then again, after meeting Emily, he sort of assumed the entire family was like that.

Tyler and Caz continued to chatter about work and Tracey found himself mentally drifting. He was tired, but not so tired that a little caffeine and a hot dog or two once the store opened wouldn't perk him up to at least a workable level of alertness. He was almost thankful when Dinah yelled over the public address that it was time to get back to work. If he sat any longer, he was going to fall asleep. And he hadn't even been that tired while working, which was the oddest thing. Apparently, he just had to keep moving and he would be fine.

Unfortunately, there were few things less exciting than helping Tessa shuffle lacy girls dresses from rack to rack to try to make room for new, exciting lacy dresses in a slightly different color. They were actually all rather ugly and Tracey felt bad for whatever girls were stuck having their holiday pictures taken while wearing one of the atrocities. The problem with most of them was that the waist was too high and it would give them all whale-syndrome.

Tracey was a little scared that he knew that, but he rationalized it by assuming it was living with three members of the opposite sex that had at least taught him what looked reasonable on most humans and what didn't.

"You're staring at those like they're toxic," Tessa commented, screwing up her face into a half-wince. "Not that they aren't."

"Horrid waist-lines," Tracey said quickly. "My little sisters wouldn't touch these things."

"Agreed," Tessa said, laughing. "At least you have good taste in little girls clothing."

"That sounded weird."

"Around here, you get used to saying really weird things," Tessa explained. "One day Kathleen was walking somewhere with an armload of pants and drops them."

"So?"

"Well, she turned around and just sort of said 'Oh! I dropped my pants! We were all in stitches before she realized just what she'd said," Tessa recounted, smiling.

Tracey didn't think her sort of person was supposed to smile as much as Tessa did, but he wasn't about to say anything. Her fangs seemed very real and very sharp and he did not want to risk it.

In his mind, he could see Kathleen doing exactly what Tessa said. And while anyone else doing it may not have been quite so funny, Kathleen's general cheerfulness made such a double-meaning delightfully snicker-worthy.

Once he was finished, Tracey went back to the rack he'd been working on. It was nearly clear and the perfect amount of space. Somehow he knew he'd never be quite able to tell anyone he casually ran into that he was now hanging clothing at a mall store. Some jobs were embarrassing, and some were just downright silly. But the sort of stigma that went along with his current task was just mind-boggling. Even more confusing was the fact that the more Tracey did it, the less he minded it.


"Do you have a Dreamcast?" Charlie asked, peeking under Tyler's bed as if one would suddenly appear and potentially bite her ankles.

"No," Tyler replied, pulling cables from behind the television in his bedroom. He was trying to get the PS2 free so it could be moved to the living room. Four people packed onto Tyler's bed had been deemed too many by Matthew. And since Matthew seemed to hold some sort of creepy domain over Tyler's bed, both Tracey and Charlie were unwilling to question any decision the inseparable pair made.

"You should get one," Charlie continued, giving up on her search for the console which obviously was not there. "My brother Timothy has one and there are some great fighting games for it. Have you ever played the first Soul Calibur?"

"No again," Tyler muttered, giving one stubborn cable a yank. It flew free and almost clocked Tracey in the head. He stood in the doorway, holding a pair of controllers and waiting patiently in case anything else small and lightweight needed to be carried.

"I thought you said these things weren't your thing," Tracey commented.

"Not mine, but definitely within Timothy's interests. I've just sat through a whole bunch of them," Charlie explained. "And written a paper on it."

"Do you write papers on everything?" Tyler asked, speaking to Charlie from directly over her shoulder.

"It probably seems like I do. Please tack the almighty loser-L to my forehead," Charlie deadpanned as she stalked from the room.

"And that was an accidental buzzkill," said Tyler as he looked down at where one end of his a/v cable swung in a narrowing arc.

"Give her a break," Tracey said. "College isn't the easiest on everyone."

"Which is why I sat it out." Tyler marched down the hallway, purposely making his a/v cable swing and hit the walls with a series of quiet pings. Following, Tracey was amused to see Matthew wearing an apron and attempting to make enough food for the four of them. They had all stopped for groceries, but Tracey had never really thought about who would do the cooking.

"The problem," Tyler explained when he saw where Tracey's gaze had gone, "is that Matthew doesn't really cook very well."

"I heard that, he of the frozen pizza," Matthew shot back, sticking his tongue out and making moose antlers with his hands.

"Whatever," Tyler muttered as he crossed the room to actually hook up his PS2 instead of standing dumbly with it. "You cook. I set this up. Then we party like the geeks we are!"

Charlie couldn't help smiling at that, Tracey noticed.

"I promise I won't write a paper on this," she said, settling into a black and white striped beanbag chair. "Unless one of you does something very, very interesting."

"Like what?" Tracey asked, still standing awkwardly holding the pair of controllers. But it hadn't really clicked that he was just standing there doing nothing.

"I'm not sure," Charlie admitted. "I'm not sure what any of you could do to actually be weirder than you already are. And that just did not sound right, did it?"

"Nope," Matthew said, watching from over by the stove. The kitchen and living room weren't separated by anything other than a difference in the flooring, making it easy for everything to happen at once.

"Just for that, I get first go at you," Tyler said, his voice sounding muffled since his head was behind the television set. "Which also didn't sound right."

"We could just ban talking," Charlie suggested.

"Or we could just deal with it," Tracey replied. "We're adults with dirty minds. We'll find innuendo anywhere."

"And just wait until you play this game," Tyler said, popping back into full view. "You'll never think of cross-dressing little boys the same again."

"He's sixteen," Matthew deadpanned.

"You want him to be sixteen."

Charlie raised an eyebrow. Tracey decided it was safer just to go plug in the controllers he was still clutching like some sort of safety blanket against the growing craziness that seemed to be wafting through Tyler's apartment.

"Do I even want to know?" Charlie asked finally, breaking the sudden, creepy tension.

"There's a character named Bridget who's a little boy wearing a nun's habit that Matthew has a thing for..."

"Is the character I play best with," Matthew loudly corrected. "I can't help that he's a sixteen year old cross-dresser."

"Where on Earth are you getting sixteen from?" Tyler shot back, frowning. "I've never found his age anywhere."

"Internet."

"Because everything on the internet is the truth," Tyler stated, rolling his eyes and going back to the final set up of the system. Somehow he had managed to turn a two minute task into a twenty minute one.

"Well, yes," Matthew said, sighing. "And I let you have your delusions of I-no flinging her shirt when it's really just her jacket, so let me have mine of my favorite character not being jailbait."

"Next time I'll bring the Dreamcast. And maybe my brother, if it's okay," Charlie stated, smiling as the loading screen appeared on the television.

"Next time?" Tracey asked, suddenly feeling as though he had been being very silent. He was always a bit of a watcher.

"Next time!" Tyler exclaimed, grabbing a controller and handing the other one to Charlie. "Now... it's time for a little bit of humiliation!"

Matthew was laughing by mid-round, as Charlie's random button-mashing was thoroughly showing Tyler just who the reigning champ was going to be.

At the end of the day, after Matthew had gone to dream on Tyler's bed and Charlie had headed home, Tracey was helping Tyler clean up. It was almost three in the afternoon, but Tracey hadn't had time to worry about his sisters. Tyler had finally shown Charlie who the true champion was, but Charlie had accepted defeat gracefully.

"Do you think it's weird?" Tracey asked suddenly.

"Every thing is weird," Tyler replied. "I think you need to be more specific."

"Matthew sleeping in your bed, I guess," Tracey said, suddenly feeling weird for even having brought the subject up. He knew how protective Tyler was and yet he'd just overstepped his bounds anyway.

"He's just sleeping," Tyler replied. "And it's just Matthew."

"But..." Tracey really wished he could just duct tape his mouth closed for all eternity.

"You mean that he has a bit of a thing for me..."

"Yeah, I guess that's what it is." At least Tracey didn't have to explain that much. Which meant it was as obvious as Tracey thought it was while watching the two interact over the last couple of days.

"I can't make his feelings go away," Tyler said with a shrug as he picked up a pop can. "I mean, I still have serious warm fuzzies for Patti but I also think she's a fucking bitch. Those warm fuzzies may hang on forever though, and I won't stuff them into some pit just because I'm a guy. But I'm really, really not gay, if that's what you're asking."

Tracey was stuck for words, so he just sort of puttered around straightening things.

"You know, I really should get home," he said, finally. "I can only hope that Vicky and Rebecca haven't burned anything down."

"If we didn't, they didn't," Tyler said, grinning. "And you really need to learn to loosen up a bit. I don't bite."

Suddenly, Tracey thought it might be useful to be able to flush himself down any random toilet and never be seen again.


...

Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!
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