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The Swing of Things #6

There were four members of Keeping Still, the ever-truthful internet proclaimed in curling black font as Tracey surfed an in-depth fan site. Their names were Cassiel, Angela, Valentine, and Johnny Danger.

And that was only the beginning. Apparently Keeping Still had been on a prestigious tour with Vampire Dawn, a band whose name actually rang a bit of a bell to Tracey. But something, the website did not specify, had happened which involved both Johnny and Vampire Dawn's lead singer, Eddie, ending up in a psychiatric ward. Eddie later died under mysterious circumstances, but Johnny was out there somewhere.

Tracey was amazed. His life had always seemed so pathetically uninteresting but this just flat-out put the nail in his proverbial coffin. He was downright boring in comparison to just about everyone he knew. Even his sisters were more exciting than he was.

And in that instant, he could think of absolutely nothing he could do about it. So he clicked on the next link and went to stare at pictures of Keeping Still.

The fuss over Johnny Danger was understandable, Tracey decided as he looked at the page of pictures. Johnny seemed nearly animated in his movements - each photo captured someone very much alive and potentially bordering on a loss of control.

"Internet now."

Tracey turned around to see Vicky standing in the doorway.

"I told Rachel I'd be on to chat in five minutes, so I need to be there," Vicky elaborated, her hands on her hips.

"Just a minute," Tracey said quickly, selecting one of the photos without really thinking and then hitting print.

"Who is that?" Vicky asked, crossing the room as the printer fired up and started whirring. "He's ugly."

"I think I want to draw him," Tracey explained.

"Boring," Vicky commented, glaring until Tracey stood up, retrieved his print out, and left.

Another instance of boring was not quite what Tracey was after. He wished that just for a moment that something exciting would happen to him as opposed to everyone else.

Back in his room, he dug under his own bed for his meager collection of drawing supplies. He knew that with his first paycheck new things would not really be an option. He had bills to pay. But after that, if he had a little bit of cash before Christmas, he would get some decent materials.

He hadn't drawn in awhile, but it was calling to him. As he settled at his desk and put pencil to paper, Tracey couldn't believe he'd managed to stay away from creating for so long.

Lacking anything to color with, Tracey was a little frustrated. Johnny seemed so vibrant and Tracey was having trouble conveying that. He was out of practice and obviously tackling something too difficult at the moment.

"Jorin," Tracey said out loud, wondering what he had done with his faerie sketch. Thankfully it had not gone far - just to sit on his dresser until it could be tacked up on the wall.

Looking around at his walls, Tracey started analyzing each one of his drawings that graced them. Some were abstract, some were landscapes. But so many were people, either people he knew or people he found in magazines, since they were generally more interesting t draw.

As he sat back down, Jorin's lines came easier than Johnny's had. Jorin was angular, able to express emotion with just the tilt of his mouth and thickness of his eyes. Jorin was not boring. And an hour later, when Tracey finally looked down at his roughly shaded sketch, he realized it was not so much a sketch as a complete re-imagining. Jorin looked interesting in his style, and he suddenly wanted to give the sketch to Emily to repay the one she had given him.

As he went back to the sketch of Johnny, now full aware of how to fix it, Tracey heard his name being called. His mother was home and the rest of the day was going to be lost to him.

It was Monday morning; three A.M. Tracey was a little stuck on what he wanted to be for Halloween since Dinah had just told him it was okay to dress up.

"Ready to be a line-bitch?" Tyler asked, sliding up behind Tracey and attempting a maniacal laugh.

"Don't scare him," Matthew's voice chimed in a second later. Tracey couldn't help but hold onto the idea that there was more to the pair than either would ever admit. He knew girls formed that sort of close platonic friendship but Tracey had never seen guys with a bond like that. It was a little creepy, in his opinion.

"I'm not scared," Tracey said quickly. "So what are you two going to be for Halloween?"

"A red mage," Tyler replied.

"A catboy," Matthew said, slower and trying not to laugh. "Because at least it'll look fairly natural with my uniform, as opposed to trying to explain why a red mage is working here."

"Aren't you the life of the party?" Tyler threw back, frowning.

"And you, Tracey?" Matthew asked, finally catching up with Tracey instead of being a slightly disembodied voice over his shoulder.

"I don't know. Maybe I'll let my sisters decide for me. I was never much for dressing up."

"That's a little scary," Tyler commented. "I'm not sure I'd trust girls to dress me."

"I could always let them pick out something here," Tracey replied. "Most of the costumes here are safe, right?"

"Obviously you have not been over to costume-land," Matthew stated. "Because I'm not sure just how we're allowed to sell some of that stuff."

Suddenly, Tracey realized he was blushing. Thankfully they were passing through an exceptionally dark part of the store and he was rather sure that no one could tell.

"So how does this work?" Tracey asked, looking at the still line of rollers set up to expedite freight.

"Easy," Matthew explained. "Two peons throw boxes from the trailer onto the line. Two other peons scan the boxes into the system and mark the aisle numbers. And four of us peons grab those boxes and match them to the numbered plastic pallets they go on. Then four other peons take those pallets out and put the boxes in the right aisles so they can be stocked."

"That doesn't sound easy," Tracey commented.

"You'll catch on fast," Tyler said. "And besides, with me and Matthew and Scott backing you up, there's nothing to worry about."

Both Tyler and Matthew were right - it was a rather simplistic ritual after the first couple minutes. His boxes were marked clearly and not much actually came to his area. He also finally got a chance to talk to Scott, a heavyset by cordial fellow who much preferred his late-night lifestyle and was happy to have a job that matched it.

Tracey couldn't help but be amazed by how many of the people he was meeting seemed to fit into a mold that not a one of them had thought existed. Somehow a large band of outcasts had become a family. And he was being included in it.

"What's today?" Tyler asked as he threw a box across the line towards a pallet of electronics. Tracey realized Tyler had just thrown a couple-hundred dollar DVD player. He now fully understood why just about everything came with ten inches of styrofoam packed around it. And he had broken enough glasses to make a full set.

"Tuesday," Matthew replied. "I think."

"Wednesday," Scott corrected, chuckling.

"Wednesday the what?"

"It's December." Tracey winced when he realized he had just said that. He really needed to do some quick, tidy Christmas shopping.

"Where did November go?"

"You blinked and missed it," Matthew said, grabbing a box nearly twice his size but thankfully half his weight and throwing it down onto a pallet.

"I hate when that happens," Tyler muttered, attempting to literally juggle three boxes of deodorant as there was a slight lull in the line.

"And yet it does, every year," Scott continued. "In no time we'll all be back on the normal schedule and trying to figure out why it's January and what that bright glowing thing in the sky is."

"I'm just glad my last class is today," Tracey said. "Ever since we switched to overnights, I've been really struggling through the day."

"You're supposed to be sleeping through the day," Tyler explained. "Your problem is this college thing you feel inclined to do."

"I don't want to work here forever," Tracey stated, crossing his arms and waiting for more boxes to come his way.

"Neither did Dynamo," Matthew said, grinning. "And neither did Lainey."

The name sounded vaguely familiar. And then it clicked. She was the haphazard supervisor that he'd had to suffer through an interview with.

"Lainey just proved that dumb luck happens to dumb people," Tyler said.

"You're still angry?" Scott asked, looking genuinely surprised.

"I'm just... I don't get it. She wasn't anything special. She certainly thought that we all worshipped her, but in her delusion she just became a legend in her own mind," Tyler explained, grabbing boxes as they came whirring by him again. "And for each of her successes she had a dozen failures. Yet all she had was one good interview and suddenly she thinks she's the queen of the store. I wish I could just walk up to her and tell her she was better off as one of us, instead of fucking things up from the top down."

"Wouldn't it be better to wish her the best?" Matthew asked. "She's doing all she can."

"She was one of us, not one of them. And now she's just nobody!"

There was a brief moment of silence before Scott tentatively opened his mouth.

"So... Tyler... What about that new Final Fantasy game?"

"Right, sorry... I guess I was going on a bit. But, Scott, that was a question guaranteed to make me rant until this truck is finished," Tyler replied, grinning.

"But it's a safe topic," Matthew commented, brushing back his hair while still managing to catch all the boxes he needed to.

"Fair enough," Tyler said. "And while I know everyone thinks it's a derogatory game, it's really just Square deciding to have a little fun. The critics complain about Square breaking the rules, but since Square wrote the rules, who is anyone to say anything when they get broken? I mean, I really would have liked a larger party, but everyone is customizable enough to do anything necessary, so that's really a moot point.

"Is it true that there's a code for a nude dress-sphere?" Scott asked, practically salivating.

"One can hope, my friend. One can hope."

Tessa and Tracey were racing, attempting to see who could finish more racks before lunch. So far, Tracey knew Tessa was in the lead. And she had taken some of the most complex departments, like Mens, which lacked both rhyme and reason. Tracey was somewhat embarrassed to be losing.

The problem was that his mind kept wandering. And it had plenty of reason to do so.

Eventually, somewhere during the last month, Timothy had become an unofficial member of their little work group. He was suddenly around any time anyone wanted to play games or hang out or do anything. And the problem was that no one minded, especially Tracey.

Matthew had simply said that Timothy reminded him of a good friend from Toronto. Tyler thought Timothy was a bit like Matthew. And Charlie was quite obviously enamored with her younger brother in the same sort of creepy protectiveness that Tyler had for Matthew.

The issue for Tracey was that Timothy kept getting physically close to him, leaning against him, falling asleep on him, and so forth. Timothy even started tracking him down at school randomly, chattering for a few moments before running off again.

The cause was obvious. Timothy was crushing, and hard. Tracey supposed he should have minded, which was where things became really awkward in his head. Because he didn't mind, not at all. Part of him really liked Timothy and part of him just really understood what Tyler had said that one day, about not being able to change feelings quickly or easily.

Wait... Tracey liked Timothy as a person, but not any other way. He didn't like anyone in that way, which he found to also be somewhat, well, it was a cross between boring and disturbing. The more Tracey labored away at too many things to ever finish anything and continued to half-assedly hang out with Tyler and his friends, Tracey came to the conclusion that he truly was the most boring human in all existence.

He felt detached, and it was not a good feeling at all.

It was an even worse feeling when lunch break was called and Tracey was assured by a fang-flashing Tessa that he was further behind than even he had previously thought.

Settling down with a pair of hot dogs, Tracey grabbed the sketchbook he had set down earlier. He was midway through a very stylized version of Tessa, something he decided to do long before he became annoyed at her speed and persistence.

Her lines were easy. She was shapely, a very traditional feminine hour-glass mold that showed off her assets and worked well with the long, flowy clothing she generally wore.

Matthew seemed to be watching him curiously, though pretending to be engrossed in the vapid rerun that was blaring from the television. Then again, Matthew in general was quite curious, at least to Tracey. Tracey really wished he could just lay open the book of Matthew's life and figure out what was going on.

"You have until the end of the month," Matthew said suddenly but softly, his voice not disturbing anyone else who was in the room and thoroughly involved in the sitcom.

"For what?" Tracey asked, confused.

"To figure out your direction," Matthew replied. "I don't know why or how but I can see you struggling with it. You're afraid of something, but you don't need to be. This place is as good of a support group as you'll ever get. Sure, there are plenty of differing opinions, but in general, anything you do isn't going to alienate you."

Tracey was taken aback. He hadn't expected anything so learned to pour from Matthew's mouth. Still, Matthew seemed to have found a joy in living that was enviable. And Tyler and Charlie were spending a fair amount of time with one another.

Yet he found himself pulling away, scared that if he got too close, he would only get hurt. He had never had close friends like Matthew and Tyler seemed to want to be. He had never been anything but the aggressor in a relationship.

The problem seemed to be that he just couldn't handle anything good that came his way. And things were looking strangely good.

"Do you always say completely crazy things?" Tracey asked, putting down his pencil.

"I just like to see people actually living, not fumbling through their day to day existence without purpose."

"And you expect me to find that in a month?" Tracey questioned, rolling his eyes as he spoke.

"No. But if you find the beginning, I'll take you to the Chinese buffet. For dinner," Matthew said, smiling. It was possibly the best bribe in existence.

"And," Matthew added, "I won't even call you grasshopper."

"Maybe," Tracey said tentatively. "But I can't help thinking that there's something for you in all of this."

Matthew raised an eyebrow. "There's nothing wrong with passing along a potentially helpful strategy."

Somehow, that did not make Tracey feel any better.

Tracey sat at his desk, staring at the notebook Matthew had given him. It was a standard notebook, similar to all of his college notebooks. Except this one had a very specific purpose - this notebook was to be the one to help Tracey figure out life. A big task for such a small, thirty-seven cent thing, Tracey thought as he looked at the first very white and very blank page.

He couldn't bring himself to write a single thing, despite also having a nice new rollerball black pen which he was supposed to write with. He just didn't write in general, except for his papers. And those were all for school. Somehow writing about himself seemed infinitely more intimidating.

Finally Tracey flipped the page, not wanting to disturb the pristine whiteness of that first page. Maybe, lost in the safety of the second page of paper, he would find words.

The problem was that Matthew did not tell him what to write. That may have been the point, of course, but it made for lousy inspiration.

'Things I Like', Tracey finally wrote across the top. And then he stopped again. He wasn't sure what he really liked and how to classify them. While he knew the notebook was personal and for him alone, he still felt much too self-conscious to put anything down onto paper.

He just couldn't admit anything to himself.

"Maybe if I just go with the easy stuff..." Tracey muttered, trying to figure out just what was the easy stuff.

Somehow, finding oneself was quite a bit harder than Tracey had though, which was probably why he had never tried it. Coasting through everything was easier and probably why he got stuck in the rut of doing it.

"I like video games," Tracey finally said aloud and promptly wrote it down. "And..."

'Keeping Still', Tracey followed with, thinking of his newest obsession. So far he had managed to hide it from everyone else, especially Caz, who seemed to be a genuinely cool individual. Tracey was afraid that he would come off as a fanatic and...

There was that word again. Afraid. He kept coming back to it and it was really starting to make sense. He was afraid.

"I am afraid," Tracey whispered, smiling. "I am afraid."

Quickly, Tracey turned the page and titled the next blank space as just that.

"I am afraid," Tracey said one more time and then started writing, words coming to him as though a dam had burst deep inside of myself.

'I am afraid that for some stupid reason, the people who accepted me into their circle will throw me out once I get close. I am afraid of that rejection. I am afraid I will never have the kind of friends that everyone else seems to have, despite the fact that I have people right now who would like to be that close to me.

I am afraid of closeness in general. Even my own family is at a distance. I rarely do anything besides eat a quick meal with them and help Rebecca with her homework. I even took a job that seems to purposely keep me away from them.

I am afraid of the real world. I am lagging through my college classes with no real direction because I am afraid that when I finally get somewhere, there will be no place for me.

I am afraid that'

And Tracey paused. Despite it being only pen to paper, his heart was in a knot and he felt a bit like crying. He suddenly felt like a complete failure. And he had only begun to touch on things.

What was next had to be the hardest thing...

"I am afraid that..." Tracey read, not continuing except on the paper.

'I have gotten a little too obsessed with Johnny Danger. And that worries me because he is someone I'll never meet and I don't even know what I would do if I met him. However I keep drawing him, burning his image into my mind day after day, looking for something through him that I just can't find myself. I want to know the truth about what happened to him and somehow I know that some things I'm not meant to know. I didn't think I would ever find myself so fixated on a person who is basically fictional to me.

'I am afraid that I'll accidentally ask Caz something too personal. And I respect Caz and his right to live as a normal person. I get the feeling that he cared very much for Johnny and that prying would only hurt him.

'I am afraid that what I feel isn't normal and I am afraid of not being normal. Somehow growing up in suburbia with a very basic set of rules about what is normal and what is not seems to have effected me much too much. I can't see past so many things.

'I am afraid to be the self that I keep deep inside. I am afraid of letting myself out.

'I am afraid because I seem to be blurring lines that have always been so clearly defined.'

Tracey realized he was starting to cry - not large, blubbery tears, but small soft ones that were slowly falling onto the paper. He couldn't remember the last time he had cried. It could have been the time he had broken his arm in sixth grade, but the correct answer didn't matter.

Tracey wanted to run out and do something, but he understood that he had more to get out. Only with a full understanding could he begin to plan.

But not at that exact moment.

Closing the notebook, Tracey hid it underneath a couple of textbooks on his desk. They were for the next term - he had picked them up at the unofficial campus book-swap that followed final exams. Most of the smart and savvy students just hung out in the Student Union afterward with their textbooks in front of them. Anyone was welcome to trade, and Tracey was happy to have gotten two books he needed in exchange for two of his own. He had easily saved at least a hundred dollars, which at this point was a hefty sum.

Matthew had told him to take it slow and explore things. But damn, Matthew hadn't mentioned how much it fucking hurt to suddenly have every single personal flaw laid out on a page to taunt back about how worthless and how coward-like...

Tracey pushed his chair back forcefully, standing up and clenching his fists. Part of him wanted to just punch a hole in the wall and part of him wanted to curl up in his closet and just wither into a little husk of a human. It certainly couldn't be worse than he was now.

But what he really needed to do was get a bit of sleep before work. He had been up for much too long and he couldn't help but put a bit of his sudden emotions on nothing more complex than a lack of sleep.

Sleep had to be the best option. Complete nothingness. But he needed a shower first.

Tracey turned on the taps to let the water run for a minute. One of the panels seperating the tub from the rest of the room was a mirror and Tracey stared at himself, not much liking what he saw.

He had a decent shape, not heavy but not thin either. He had a fair amount of muscle, mainly from working in the restaurant. That had definitely always kept him well fed. His hair was growing out, a sandy blonde that threatened to get darker with each passing year. Part of him was tempted to bleach at least highlights into it but he had never been able to get past the feeling that hair coloring was much more of a woman's thing and something he really shouldn't be messing with.

Even under the red light of the heat bulb, Tracey could clearly see the colour of his eyes. They were a greenish blue, the sort of colour that changed depending on whether it was light or dark, sunny or cloudy. No one else in his family had eyes like that and while he had taken enough science classes to know that a colour like that was a recessive trait and could have been passed down for generations, it still made him a little nervous and curious. When he was fifteen, he had invented a crazy story that he had been switched at birth and that his real family was out there somewhere, rich, famous and looking for him in order to take him away from the duldrums of suburbia.

It had always been such a nice fantasy but now...

It was a nice fantasy. But now he wanted Johnny Danger to come find him, to take him away.

He was still afraid. And he really had to get into the shower. The water had to be hot by now. He'd been staring narcisistically at himself for a good five minutes while lost in his own mind.

The water was definitely hot and Tracey jumped back while quickly reaching to adjust the temperature. At least, in the shower, he didn't have to look at himself.

Still, the more he thought about Johnny, the more he absolutely wanted to meet Johnny, to somehow posess him. His train of thought scared him but yet it comforted him too. Knowing that there was someone so interesting as Johnny out there made life a little bit easier to take. If he could have Johnny, then he wouldn't be so boring.

If he could have...

If he could have?

The way his thoughts shifted brought him out of his reverie. He had not been thinking about owning Johnny Danger. He had not been thinking anything besides... There was suddenly no rationalizing any of it.

Tracey shook his head, not wanting to be alive. He just didn't want to exist for one second longer. Yet as if he was being guided, he went through his usual shower ritual, washing his hair first before washing the rest of his body.

By the time he stepped out of the shower, Tracey felt like nothing more than an animated corpse. He was nothing. Nothing. It was so much better not to think than to bother thinking and just being a fucked up bastard.

Somehow he managed to exist for three whole days in that state. And on the third day, he bought himself a one-hundred count bottle of generic store-brand painkillers. It was the best way to go, he decided. No pain, no mess.

He would just go to sleep and not wake up. He would just drift off and then...

No one was around when he got home, thankfully. His mother was working and Vicky was probably off with her friends being that it was very much Saturday and Saturdays were very much social days. Rebecca... Well, in all truth, Tracey just couldn't bring himself to care about anything. He walked slowly to his room, strengthening his resolve.

Instead of writing a note, Tracey simply grabbed the notebook he had been writing in for the last couple of days - the one Matthew had given him. It would explain it all. And tucked in between the pages were the series of sketches he had done of Johnny, some beautifully rendered in the most compromising positions Tracey could fathom. As much as those pictures made him want to reach down and touch himself, he just couldn't.

It would break him and he was already so damned broken.

Sitting down on his bed, Tracey opened the box of painkillers and pulled out the bottle. For some stupid reason, he read the instructions, noting that he should not exceed six in a day. That was perfect. With a little luck, he wouldn't have to take the whole bottle. That was one heck of a lot of pills to swallow after all and he wanted nothing annoying to go along with his perfect, cowardly death.

Before, before he had never thought he could hate himself so much to be so willing to just end it all. He had never understood depression until November. He had spiralled. And the main factor was himself. He was just a mess, the sort of mess that no one would ever want and that no one could ever fix. He was nothing. Nothing. Nothing. He was an insignificant speck that everyone would forget about in weeks and probably never speak of again. He would not be missed.

The lid was child-proof, something that seemed a bit silly and unnecessary at this point. Still, the lid came right off and after disposing of a large wad of cotten, Tracey found himself staring down into the white plastic bottle at the pile of little blue pills nestled inside. At least they were small, he thought, as it would be much more annoying to have to swallow a whole bottle of large pills.

This was his death and it was going to go off without a hitch.

Shaking the bottle so a couple of pills fell out onto his hand, Tracey paused. If there was any turning back, this was the time. If some bit of divine intervention was going to take place, it had better happen.

Any second now... Divine intervention. Miracles. Someone yelling about a fire. Johnny Danger in bondage gear. Matthew and his damned wisdom-filled notebook. Tyler wanting to play games. Charlie wanting to talk about school. The phone. A door-to-door salesman. A loud noise outside. A racoon on the roof.

There was nothing. All Tracey could hear was the rattling through the heat vent that meant the furnace would come on in a minute or two. It hadn't been a particularly cold November, but December was looking to be miserable. He wondered if it would inconvenience someone to have to dig his grave in the cold.

He wondered if anyone would come to his funeral. If he even had a funeral.

And still, the phone did not ring.

Tracey popped the first pill so far into his mouth that he basically swallowed it without trying.

Only ninety-nine more. Ninety-nine little blue pills in the jar, ninety-nine little blue pills.

He took another one, wondering if there really were an exact hundred pills in the bottle or if they were packaged by weight like potato chips.

Ninety-eight little blue pills... And still no divine intervention. He really must need to be dead, if no one was going to burst in and save him. The last minute had kind of already passed.

As he popped number three, leaving just ninety-seven little blue pills in the jar, Tracey thought it would have been smart to at least grab a glass of water. Not like he could suddenly have a slightly smarter death just be doing so. Actually, the water would probably slow everything down. Water was a bad idea. He would just have to suck it up and grin and bear it one more time.

For the last time.

His door flew open and Rebecca stumbled inside, attempting to knock before falling face-first onto the floor.

"Tracey, guess what! I have a new issue of..." Rebecca paused, looking at the bottle in Tracey's hand. "Sorry, do you have a headache?"

What the fuck had he been doing? Were things really that impossible? Was there no other way?

"Just a small one," Tracey replied, capping the bottle and setting it on the bed-table beside him.

"Then I'm sorry for barging in," Rebecca said, looking down at the floor she had just picked herself up from. "I mean, I just wanted to tell you that Emily gave me a copy of the new issue of Remote Transmissions and I wanted to share. It has some kinda adult stuff in it, so don't tell Mom, okay?"

Tracey smiled for what was likely the first time in days.

"I don't think I'd have any reason to."

"Well, anyway, get some sleep, Tracey. I'll give you Remote Transmissions when you get up this evening," Rebecca said, smiling back and leaving the room with more grace than she entered.

"Yeah, sleep," Tracey replied to the empty room.

Divine intervention.

Sometimes a person has to hit rock bottom before realizing what sort of climbing needs to be done. And Tracey realized as he was falling asleep that he had hit that point. The next day was free time and there was an open invitation to lunch at the Chinese buffet for anyone willing to make the trip and spend the six dollars for food.

If there was any place to start, that had to be it. However there was more than plenty of time to kill in the interim. His body really had adjusted to the time shift, sleeping during the day and being up all night. It was only about one in the afternoon and he needed rest, desperately.

Sleep. Real sleep. Sleep that he would wake from. And when he woke, he would be transformed. Or at least be willing to transform.

When he woke, it would be the first evening of the rest of his life.

Maybe Matthew and his damned notebook were on to something after all. But Tracey couldn't help but think that he wasn't doing it quite the way Matthew had wanted him to.

Sleep without dreams.


Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!
Disclaimer: I don't own it, I'm just playing with it. All titles and characters belong to their respective creators and companies.