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The Swing of Things #7

He felt a bit like he was coming out of a fog. At first it was confusing, but then he remembered what had happened earlier. The painkillers had put him into a deep sleep and now he had to cut through that in order to return to the world of the living.

It was the first evening of the rest of his life. And there was only one thing he could think to do. Climbing groggily off of the bed, he dug around in his discarded work pants and found his phone.

Matthew answered on the second ring.

"What's up?" he said, sounding very clear.

"I'm glad you're up."

"Well, you know yourself that I'm not much of a cook. So I normally get up for dinner," Matthew explained. "But you still haven't explained why you called."

Tracey sighed. This would not be an easy explanation.

"Could you just come over for a bit? I don't think anyone will mind."

"Man... That doesn't sound... Sure. I'll be there in a few," Matthew said, changing his paths quickly as he spoke.

"Thanks," Tracey said, wondering just how to end the conversation.

"Well, yeah. Bye."


That part was easy, Tracey decided as he locked the keypad on his phone and set it down on the bed. Now he just had to figure out how to explain things to Matthew. For some reason that didn't actually seem like the hardest thing in the world to do. Matthew had to be the most open-minded and kind person he had ever met.

Now, now he just had to wait.

Part of him just wanted to hand that damned notebook over to Matthew, to thrust his fears, agony and revelations into Matthew's face and force him to digest what his meddling had brought forth. Yet somehow Tracey knew he needed the purge. He needed all of this. He needed to realize that life was worth clinging to and building on.

The notebook had those crazy sketches in it too. Matthew had seen his work - had seen his version of Jorin and some of Emily's other characters: Lek and Aanor and others he couldn't remember the names of at that exact moment. And he had drawn Tessa and Charlie and was working on others. Somehow, even in the darkest depths of his depression he had kept drawing.

Standing, he walked over to his desk and pulled a few sheets of paper from his sketchbook. And he smiled.

Everything was going to be okay. He just needed to hear it. Everything was going to be okay.

But damn if he couldn't get away with hearing it from his own mind.

Again, beneath his pencil appeared a lithe, agile form that slowly took on the features of Johnny Danger. Longish, unkept black hair that poured down over his shoulders. Tracey had the expression down now... Johnny always used it for staged photos, a perfect come-hither complimented by expressive body posture. Some of the things Johnny wore showed enough that Tracey could fill in the details.

Tracey was so caught up in the beauty he was pulling from what seemed like an explosion in the universe that he almost missed the soft, quick knock at his door.


Eyes wide, Tracey set his pencil down and pushed his chair back. Matthew's voice had brought him back from somewhere he was a little worried to have been. And even worse, he was most definitely aroused from being there. Staying seated currently ranked very high on the list of good ideas.

"Come on in," Tracey replied, suddenly overly nervous again. Matthew was going to reject him. No one would ever be able to handle the level to which he...

The door opened and Matthew slid through the smallest possible opening he could.

"Your sisters are crazy," Matthew noted before sitting down on the bed. "I've been here for nearly fifteen minutes but the one on the sugar-kick didn't want to remove herself from my leg. And even the little gothy sane one was getting creepy."

"Sorry," Tracey replied, actually accidentally smiling. "I hadn't realized that they needed muzzles yet."

"It's okay," Matthew said, pulling his legs under him to sit perfectly cross-legged. "So what has you all bothered?

"Wait, let me guess - it's that stupid notebook isn't it? I kinda forgot that I had a small army of help with mine. Probably not so bright to go it completely alone."

"You're a mind reader," Tracey commented.

"Nope, just someone who has been there and done that and thankfully all the better for it, so far."

"I'm not sure the notebook was such a good idea," Tracey admitted.



And suddenly it was easy to say.

"All that stuff just really overwhelmed me and I think I tried to kill myself this morning."

"You failed," Matthew said. "But that's actually a good thing."

"Somehow I thought you'd be a little more uplifting," Tracey shot back. Everything felt... better.

"I'll get there.

And I know you were a little down in the dumps these last few days, but I didn't think you'd do anything so permanent," Matthew said. "Maybe you'd best just talk until you can't think of another thing to say. Obviously the notebook isn't enough of a venting ground."

"I don't know," Tracey replied. "It's all a little..."

"You think that you can come up with anything that'll rattle me?" Matthew asked, interrupting. "I dare you."

Well, Tracey thought, here goes... everything...

"Can I ask a question first?"

Or not. There was always the option to stall like crazy.

"You're stalling."

"Yes, but I want you to answer my question," Tracey said.

"Fine. When you're done talking," Matthew replied, very firm in his words.

"I'm not going to sneak out of this, am I?"

Well, at least his erection was taken care of. The cruelest of deaths had been awarded it, long, agonizing conversation.

"Not a damned chance."

Tracey sighed and looked down at his carpet. He really needed to vacuum.

"I think I'm afraid of everything."

And then there was silence.

"Like spiders?" Matthew asked, a menacing grin on his lips. Tracey mentally cursed the younger man for being so much more... comfortable. It just wasn't fair.

"You're getting off on this, aren't you?"

"You're snappy for someone who wanted to end it all a few hours ago," Matthew replied, shifting positions ever so slightly.

"You're just being an ass because you can, right? All settle down into your happy little..."

"So fucking happy that I'm closeted to everyone besides my family and a literal handful of friends... Do you have any clue what would happen if I came out at work? Do you have any clue?"

For the first time, Tracey could see both pain and fear in Matthew's eyes. He hadn't even thought about it.

For some incredibly stupid reason he had never put two and two together between Tyler's over-protectiveness and why no one ever really talked about Matthew's sexual orientation. As comfortable as Matthew seemed to be, it was only around those he trusted to know such intimate information.

And Matthew trusted him to know. Tracey couldn't help the warm feeling that coursed through him with that thought. With all of his fears of being abandoned by those he thought were his friends he hadn't realized that some of them felt the same way and could only hope that confidences weren't broken.

Why the hell had he thought these people would be so simple-minded and petty? How could he not see?


"Sorry, I guess I forgot this is all about you, huh?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"You know... You could have called sooner," Matthew said, brushing his hair back from his face.

"I think I needed to fall on my face first," Tracey countered. "In a way, I think it's felt kinda good."

"Mmm. A masochist," Matthew commented.

"You may not want to keep saying things like that," Tracey admitted. "I seem to be rather darned gay myself."

"Are you saying that I'm contagious?"

"I'm saying that I just am so damned..." And at that exact moment, both men burst out laughing.

"Contagious?" Tracey stammered a few minutes later, when he could finally talk again.

"I can't believe I said that," Matthew replied. "But it sure did lighten up the moment."

"And you just totally shrugged that off..."

"Who am I to judge?" Matthew asked. "But I'm guessing this was not the entire reason for your near-trip to the land beyond."

"I feel like an idiot now," Tracey said, shaking his head and looking back at the carpet. It still needed to be vacuumed.

"Well good, we can form a club. But in all honesty, it's always good to talk things out."

"My lack of direction just got to me," Tracey finally confessed. "And now because of work I've become freakishly obsessed with Johnny Danger."

"Caz's Johnny?" Matthew questioned. Finally the position seemed to get to him and he shifted so that he was basically lying on his stomach on Tracey's bed.


"You should meet some of the Remote Transmissions crew - the best of them are blatantly in love with cartoons and the others are just off in their own little worlds," Matthew said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with it."

"I've been doing sketch after sketch of him in these... poses."

Matthew raised an eyebrow.

"You may need to let me see those. For research purposes, of course."


"Gay pervert," Matthew corrected. "And thankfully the object of my daily obsession is very much flesh, blood, and planning a visit before Christmas."

Tracey frowned. He really did not want to hand those photos over to Matthew yet a part of him really did want to show them off. If he had to just up and bare all, metaphorically of course, it was probably best to do so.

"You're stalling again."

"You just have no idea, do you?"

"Shows how much you know about me," Matthew said. "Maybe I'm just lucky that I ended up in Toronto when I did... I can see myself as you."

"I'm not handing them over."

"Fair enough. So is there anything else you'd like to talk about?"

Tracey sighed again. "Everything, I think. Tell me about... Tell me about yourself, I guess."

Tracey waved to Matthew, knowing full well he would see the man again in a couple of hours. But they had both agreed not to mention their all-night chat to anyone else until Tracey felt a little more comfortable with just about, well, everything.

Matthew had also given him the most ridiculous advice ever... Somehow Tracey couldn't even find himself wanting to think about it. Yet somehow a bit of truth rang through... In order to figure out just what the hell turned him on, Matthew had suggested Tracey take a nice long shower and jack off, paying attention to just what was the most arousing.

If he had ever thought Matthew to be anything other than insane, that had thoroughly changed for all time. And despite that, Tracey found himself staring at the shower door mirror, wondering just what his problem was.

He needed to be clean anyway for Chinese, so a shower was part of his game plan anyway. But there was something about masturbating on demand that seemed completely and utterly wrong.

Still... This was all in the name of self-discovery. This was all in the name of... Here goes nothing.

The normal cleaning ritual came first. It was the only way Tracey could keep from bolting from the shower and going to hide under his desk. He felt downright ridiculous and not at all sexy. Not at all in the mindset for anything so explicit and obscene.

Slipping down to the bottom of the tub, Tracey found himself in the perfect position to relax while thankfully not getting any water in his eyes. Now all he had to do was everything else.

Silently, Tracey cursed Matthew for being so damned pushy without being pushy. For being so suggestive with suggestions that actually made stupid amounts of sense while...

Fuck it. Things obviously just had to be dealt with.

And the sexiest thing that Tracey could find to think of was Johnny. It was always Johnny. He had never taken a shower with anyone besides his mother, when he was still quite small, which was an unsexy thought right there. Yet somehow it was natural to think of being in the shower with Johnny, tending to Johnny's hair for him, helping him. Because obviously with Tracey's help, Johnny would get better, be better, be his and his only.

And Johnny would touch him, running slender but strong fingers over his body, washing him in return. Johnny was always so wanton in his lust, not at all embarrassed to draw attention to his arousal while Tracey still felt so nervous about his.

There was no need to be nervous though. Not with Johnny. Not with anyone who obviously wanted him in return.

Back in reality, where Tracey was laying alone in his tub, he grabbed some of Vicky's body wash and poured it onto one hand. It would do for what he needed.

Running that hand down over the beginnings of his own erection, he fell back into his fantasy. He would press Johnny against the back wall of the tub, letting Johnny grab the towel bar for support. And then he would press up against Johnny, letting Johnny know just how badly he was wanted, how badly he was needed.

He would reach around Johnny, feeling for Johnny's erection so he could stroke it to tease his lover. He would want to keep Johnny desperate with need. He would want that sort of control. Johnny... Johnny with his come-hither expressions and teasing body would beg and bow before him.

But Johnny, Johnny was begging not to be fucked, Johnny was begging just to drop to his knees and remind Tracey just what he could do. And in his mind as his hand roughly stroked his own arousal, forgetting everything but his fantasy, Tracey agreed.

In his mind he was fucking Johnny's mouth, thrusting in and out and slowly losing all control he had over the fantasy and his own motions with his body. Orgasm left him shuddering and feeling empty, shocked at just how intense everything had been.

Yet... As stupid as it felt, his mind nagged that he hadn't taken care of Johnny, hadn't done anything for his lover. He wanted to think about that, too. But not in the shower. Tracey felt overly saturated and liable to slide down the drain himself if he wasn't careful.

Rinsing himself off, he struggled to stand on legs that threatened to give out on him. And not bothering with more than a quick once-over with a towel, Tracey ran the short distance to his room and promptly locked the door.

Throwing himself down on the bed, Tracey pulled a thin blanket over himself and reached down between his legs again. He would have Johnny - only in his mind but if that was the only way he could it was okay. And damned if he didn't have the motivation now. Damned if he didn't want to seize the opportunity his brain was allowing him.

If feeling both ridiculous and horny enough to fuck the world was what life was all about, Tracey figured he had finally gotten something through his thick head.

In his fantasy he pushed Johnny onto the bed, telling Johnny to look at him, to lay on his back so Tracey could watch him. And then he kissed Johnny. He had never, for some reason, kissed Johnny. It should have been the first step, but Tracey had never been one for doing things in the most sensible linear pattern.

Johnny tasted like candy, sweet and addictive. And it felt right. Tracey licked Johnny's lips, savoring the godlike creature beneath him. He felt Johnny's arousal pressing against him as his own pressed down into Johnny. He knew that beneath his body was a crisscrossing map of tattoos, each one telling a story across Johnny's skin.

And a bit unsure as to how things would actually work, Tracey started kissing his way down Johnny's body, worshipping it as best he could while trying to fill in every detail. For all the times that he had drawn Johnny, Tracey still found it a bit difficult to remember subtle lines.

The hell with it...

Bringing a bit of his own pre-come to his lips, Tracey wondered if Johnny would taste the same. He would have to be similar, yes. It didn't seem so weird to be imagining something so intimate. Every time he drew Johnny's cock at full arousal, he had found himself wanting to lick it.

Of course, he hadn't exactly told Matthew that. That probably would have just straight out damned him to the bowels of Really Damned Gay. Not that he wasn't sending himself there just by thinking about it.

Tracey knew the little howls and pleasured murmurs Johnny would make, did make. Perfect. Embarrassing only himself, he came again before managing to get his mental Johnny off.

And he now had a little over a half of an hour until he was supposed to meet everyone at the Chinese buffet.

Genius. Absolutely genius. But he was finally somewhat sure of a few things. Maybe.

Tracey hoped a fluid existence was possible. That way he didn't ever really have to figure things out completely. He could decide to be absolutely confused at all times. It seemed somewhat safer.

There was only one notable moment about the entire day, and that most curiously involved the distinct tingles that raced through his body when he accidentally collided with Timothy as the two raced to get seconds. But other than that... Thankfully Matthew kept his mouth shut on the subject, instead choosing to poll everyone on just how much of their Christmas shopping had even been thought about.

Ten minutes. There were only ten minutes left. Fuck! There were only ten minutes until the lights came on and the store was open. The overnight crew was literally racing to get everything cleaned up before that moment happened.

"Get everything off the floor!" Dinah yelled, making sweeping gestures before grabbing empty boxes herself and helping get the last bits of debris off the floor of the very last aisle.

They had absolutely gotten fucked for the day. With two trailers about to burst at the seams, there was literally no way they could have made more than a sizable dent in the freight they were faced with. But everyone had stayed pleasant about it, going about their night much as any other, only moving just a bit faster as though their timing had been tweaked ever so slightly.

Tracey and Tessa had raced with their racks, finishing at nearly the same time about an hour before the massive clean-up effort had started. So side-by-side, they had cleaned.

Finally, with half the crew running out the front doors and the other half clustered in the back throwing styrofoam into the garbage and cardboard into the bailing machine, the lights came on and the store was a store again, not a place of joyous cussing and random insanity.

Dinah looked once at Tracey before thrusting a broom into his hands.

"I don't care that we're open. Go sweep one last time," Dinah ordered as she searched around with her eyes. "You too, Tyler. Grab a broom. Scott, work on the garbage. Matthew, start taking the trash cages apart..."

Dinah was still delegating when Tracey pushed through the backroom doors and started sweeping. Truthfully he knew the place needed it and first thing on a Monday morning, even in December, it wasn't likely that too many people would see him.

And besides, the floor really needed it. He had one of those nice, wide floor brooms that could do entire aisles at once. If Tyler was doing the same thing, it would only take ten minutes to get the place into perfect shape.

Dinah would be happy too, which was one of the best things about the entire deal. She had seemed overly stressed for the last week and Tracey could only imagine what sort of pressure his supervisor had to be under.

Somehow, Tracey felt comfortable in his body, comfortable in his life at least for the time being.

"Excuse me."

Tracey was startled from his reverie. He hadn't even seen anyone... He hadn't seen... Tracey blinked. He couldn't believe his eyes. Standing just a couple of feet away was one of the most strangely beautiful creatures he had ever seen. If Tracey hadn't known better, he would have thought it to be an angel. But the voice sounded like that of a man, a man more feminine than even Charlie's little brother.

"Yes?" Tracey responded.

"I'm looking for one of your co-workers," the man said, smiling ever so slightly and reaching up to brush his hair back from his face.

Tracey swallowed hard as he found himself trapped in the man's deep green eyes.

"We're all on our way out for the day," Tracey explained. "Who are you looking for?"

"Matthew Andersen," the man replied, his smile widening just a bit as his hair fell back over his eyes.

"I think he's still in the back," Tracey said. "If you wait around a bit, he should be out."

"Thank you very much."

And as Tracey pushed his broom just a bit farther along the aisle, he realized that the man had basically vanished into thin air.

Near the front of the store he literally bumped into Tyler, or, most correctly, Tyler's broom.

"You just have something absolutely bizarre happen to you?" Tyler asked, a very weird expression on his face.

"I wouldn't call it absolutely bizarre," Tracey replied. "More like stupendously strange."

"In that case, that was who I thought it was," Tyler commented, leaning on his broom handle for just a moment. "This should prove interesting."


"Sweep this way, Grasshopper," Tyler instructed, heading towards the back of the store and careful not to lose any of his carefully collected debris.

Tracey followed, definitely quite curious now. And anyway, he really did have to get finished with this chore so he could get punched out before anyone saw him.

There was definitely a bit of a stigma that came with working on the overnight team - no being seen, no being heard, and certainly do not leave any evidence of being anywhere, save for stocked product. It was a strange existence, but as Kathleen always said, it was okay once everyone got into the swing of things.

Once Tracey got back by the stockroom doors, he realized that there wasn't just one strange, beautiful creature. There were three. And they were prowling the back aisle as if they were sharks circling.

As much as Tracey wanted to watch them and find out just what they were up to, Tracey really did need to unload his broom. By the time he got the last of the gathered dirt into the garbage, both Tyler and Matthew were back talking to Dinah, more than likely about leaving. Only a couple of crew members were still in the back, finishing up the last bits of things.

"C'mon, time to get going. Charlie is probably upstairs wondering if we were eaten by penguins or something," Tyler called as he and Matthew walked over. Tyler winked. Matthew seemed nonplussed, which was strange unless... Tyler hadn't told him.

"Penguins?" Tracey repeated, following through as best he could. He only had to deny knowledge for twenty more seconds. He only had to not crack any sort of expression that would give away the presence of...

And then it dawned on him, much like a pile of bricks harnesses gravity to fall on the most hapless person. One of those three was Matthew's significant other and the two which weren't were... Well, they seemed to be along for the ride.

Duh. Just duh.

But by the time Tracey contorted his face into a disbelieving stupid wince at his own denseness, the three of them were just about to the door. It didn't really matter. Tracey and Tyler both simultaneously did an unplanned step in front of Matthew and parted the swinging doors for him.

Hopefully the sharks were still circling.

"Aren't you two friendly today?" Matthew tossed off, chuckling softly. "I'd think you were..."

Tracey thought the universe to have a wonderful choreographer. Just as the three of them had emerged from the back, the three sharks had all circled right into the main aisle where the stockroom doors dumped any travelers. So in that moment, the six of them came to stare right at one another (and another, and onward...) separated only by twenty feet of aisle and a tiny box of building blocks that had tumbled off an over-stocked shelf.

"Billy," Matthew said softly, his mouth staying open once he finished speaking.

"Couldn't manage to get out of the city any closer to Christmas," the blond shark, Billy, replied, smiling. "So Merry Christmas and all of that."

Matthew still seemed to be stuck in his bout of stunned silence, so Tyler chose to take the plate.

"Well, both Grasshoppers and I need to punch out and grab our thing," he said quickly. "So let us be off to the front of the store."

"Of course," replied one of the other sharks, the red-haired one who seemed amusingly uncomfortable.

"Nnn. Jameson, can we shop a bit?" the black-haired angelic shark asked the red-haired one, grabbing onto his arm and pointing over at the massive department containing all things Christmas.

"We aren't here to..."

"You said maybe when were in the car,"

"Ethan." A defeated sigh. "Yes, for a few minutes. Quickly."

"We'll meet you back here," Billy said, finally closing the distance between himself and Matthew. They were definitely an interesting couple. For some reason Tracey hadn't imagined Matthew's lover to be so aesthetically pleasant. He'd never seen a man with hair like that and couldn't help wondering just what planet he was from. Of course, the other two were equally exotic and seemed helplessly out of place in such a domestic locale.

"When did you get here?" Matthew finally asked, his face a glowing flush as the four of them walked towards the front of the store.

"We drove over this morning and can stay for a couple of days," Billy explained. "And when Jameson mentioned wanting to come over, I just had to turn it into a bit of a surprise."

"You're too much," Matthew said, laughing. "Just too much."

"That is the entire point," Billy replied. "And would you mind introducing your friends, despite the fact I'm rather sure who they are?"

"Oh! Oops." Matthew turned so he was walking backwards and could point. "This is Tyler and Tracey. And I've probably talked about them enough..."

Tracey winced inwardly, wondering just how much Matthew had mentioned about any and everything. Hopefully it was nothing too in depth. But Billy seemed nice enough, and friendly. And polite, not making a move on Matthew in a place where Matthew wasn't currently out.

"It's nice to meet you both," Billy said, smiling. "I'm not ruining any plans, am I?"

"We were just going to head to the diner for dinner," Tyler said. "But I guess you can get breakfast."

"We just need to grab Charlie too, so she can call Timothy," Tracey added.

"There are alot of us these days," Matthew explained as they reached the front of the store. "And we'll just run up, punch out, grab out coats and be right back."

"Don't worry about rushing," Billy replied. "I think Ethan wants a few minutes to look around. For someone so used to shopping at the Bay, I don't know how he'll handle this place."


"Time is Dynamo's money," Tyler said sharply. "Come on."

And with that little reminder, the three of them rushed up the stairs. Matthew got to the time-clock first and flew through his employee number.

Tyler had vanished, Tracey noted. But then he appeared a moment later, down near where their work-schedules were posted. Charlie was with him, pointing at something.

As Tracey punched out, he noticed a bowl of candy on the table beside him. May as well... Taking a couple of pieces, he turned around to where Matthew currently wasn't...

"Ready to be out of here?" Tyler asked. "Charlie has a bit of an issue though. Looks like she may get sent to the backroom team."

"I'm scheduled for training," Charlie said flatly. "I mean, I like Caz but I don't know if I can handle being trapped in the back all night."

"Worry about it tomorrow," Tracey replied. "Today looks to be one of those time-of-life sort of deals."

"I already called Timmy," Charlie said. "He's saving space for five of us but hopefully three more won't be a problem."

"That place isn't known for a big breakfast crowd," Tyler stated. "We'll be fine. Besides, knowing them, they gave us the ten person table anyway."

"True, true." Charlie flung her scarf around her neck and headed for the stairs as Tyler quickly punched out. Tracey was a couple of steps behind her and jumping three steps at a time, Tyler was momentarily right behind Tyler.

"So do you think that... Ahhh..." Tyler's voice dropped as they looped around the stairs and saw Matthew and Billy locked in the most passionate of kisses, hidden from the world (except those standing on a ten-foot section of stairs) in a small fire-tunnel.

"I'm going to keep walking and pretend I don't find that disturbingly hot," Tyler finally said, quickly looking at the wall.

"It's cute," Charlie replied.

And Tracey just stared.

Gay. Really damned gay. And suddenly a little more okay about the whole thing.

"Maybe we should just go find Jameson and Ethan," Tyler commented, walking past Matthew and Billy as casually as he could.

"Cute," Charlie reiterated. "Really cute."

Ethan had already half-filled one of the little green shopping hand-baskets when Tyler, Tracey and Charlie found him merrily murmuring in the ornament aisle, apparently trying to decide between a selection of small, mid-tree angels.

"I thought angels weren't boys or girls," he said, pointing at the selection as soon as Tyler got close enough. "And all I see is boobs."

"All of them?" Tracey asked, getting closer. Truth be told, he had never actually looked at the ornaments very closely. And he had certainly not looked at the cleavage the angels actually were all happily displaying. In a family store, at that.

It did seem a little silly.

"All of them," Ethan reiterated, smiling. "Which means I'll only pick out a couple for Jameson to buy me."

"Did you get a glass pickle?" Tyler asked suddenly. "Everyone loves a pickle ornament."

"Oh! Where?" Ethan questioned, smiling. "That could be fun. And I'm sorry, I'm assuming you're Mister Tyler, but I've completely been rude in that respect. I'm Ethan Minewin and my partner, wherever he has snuck off to, is Jameson Sinewood."

"Tyler," Tyler said. "And this is Tracey and Charlie, not to be mistaken for the genders their names go with."

"Charlene!" Charlie stated forcefully.

"It's wonderful to finally meet you," Ethan said as he followed Tyler around the end of an aisle. "Matthew e-mails me almost every day and tells me wonderful stories about all sorts of things. I want him to write for Remote Transmissions, but so far I've been denied."

"Right here," Tyler interrupted, pointing at the row of nicely-painted glass pickle ornaments. "It's a good German tradition, I think. Apparently they used to hide a real pickle on the tree and whomever found it got to eat it and got an extra gift too."

"Perfect!" Ethan exclaimed, grabbing one. "Deliciously amusing."

With that, Ethan brushed his hair back and caught Tyler within the trap-cage of his eyes.

"Do you know any more ornaments that I might like?"

"Well, I do get to help Matthew stock 'em sometimes, so I can guide you around a bit..."

Ethan held out his hand and Tyler took it, pulling Ethan off towards the beginning of the section.

"I don't know what to make of him," Charlie commented after a moment. "Because no one else in the universe could get Tyler to do that. Not even Matthew."

"I don't think he's human," Tracey replied. "And I do think we'd best keep our eyes on them."

"Why don't I?" Charlie asked. "And you find the missing third member of the party. So maybe we can leave before this becomes a debacle the size of Cleveland."

Tracey paused. "How big is Cleveland?"

"Just go!"

"Fine, fine," Tracey muttered as he wandered off towards the electronics section. That was where a normal guy would linger and he had definitely picked Ethan's partner out as being quite a bit more normal than the rest of them.

Tracey circled through the computer accessory aisle, trying not to be lured in by the promise of a new mouse pad. His mother had spilled coffee on theirs and ever since it'd had the obnoxious odor of rotting coffee. Even a bath hadn't really helped.

Then through the phones, hoping that he was at least looking in the right direction. And then, as Tracey made his way into the first of two video-game aisles, he struck gold. The red-haired shark, Jameson, was carefully scanning over the selection of memory cards as if...

"Your prices are certainly more reasonable here," Jameson said as he looked over at Tracey. "Though you could stand for a wider color selection than blue, blue, or blue."

"Yeah, I know. You should see Tyler's mem-card pile. It's like an ocean with no fish," Tracey replied, feeling instantly stupid yet again.

But Jameson chuckled. "But I'm assuming it's time to get going. Where did you last see Ethan and in which direction was he heading?"

"He kidnapped Tyler and was running around seasonal talking about pickles," Tracey said, shrugging. At least Jameson was amazingly easy to talk to. For the sort of upper-class aura he exuded, Jameson was politely down to earth.

"That's quintessential Ethan," Jameson explained, grabbing one of the blue memory cards and heading past Tracey to the end of the aisle. "And I would like to offer the explanation of just why I love him, but most of the time I'm just not sure."

"As long as you're happy, right?"

"Something like that," Jameson said as they walked down towards the holiday decorations. At that moment, Charlie popped out of the end of an aisle, and upon catching sight of Tracey she just shrugged.

"Lost him," she admitted once they were closer. "Lost them both."

"Don't worry about it," Jameson said, extending a hand. "I'll assume you're Charlie."

"Yes, sir," Charlie answered, shaking his hand. "And still, I'm really sorry..."

"He'll miss me and come back," Jameson stated. "He always does."

"Up to the front then?" Tracey suggested, pointing. "Maybe we'll find Matthew and Billy as well."

"And if not, I'll just call 'em," Charlie said, pulling out her cell phone. "Which is what I should have done to begin with."


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