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The Swing of Things #8

They were a motley bunch, gathered around a pair of large tables in the back room of the diner. At least there were relatively few other patrons around who could possibly be offended by the somewhat off-kilter activities taking place (that didn't involve food).

Tracey found himself in the middle on one side of the table, pressed between Timothy and Ethan. Jameson was at the head of the table, the furthest distance from Charlie. And on the other side sat Matthew, who was being over-protected on both sides by Billy and Tyler. The two kept glancing at one another, sizing each other up.

"Quaint place," Jameson commented, adding a bit of sugar to his coffee.

"Well," Ethan commented, reaching over to stir Jameson's coffee for him, "at least the pictures of the food looked nice in the menu. And I highly doubt that Matthew would try to poison any of us."

"Um, still sitting right here," Matthew said, looking nervously at his silverware. The longer they all sat there, the more tension built.

"Maybe someone should tell a story or something," Charlie said. "Like, about whatever has happened in the last few months..."

Everyone stared at her.

"That could work," Ethan said. "And I'll happily start."

"You would," Billy commented, obviously meaning no malice.

"As for the members of the Remote Transmissions gang not with us, all seem to be doing well. Myra is on crutches as she usually is this time of the year," Ethan explained, sympathy clear on his face. "Rae and Rhyn seem to be working on some scheme, and Robbie... Is..."

"Robbie has just started a new job as a mover," Jameson picked up, smiling and reaching over to squeeze Ethan's hand. Tracey wasn't sure just what the big deal was, but Ethan obviously looked upset about something. "And because of his sense of self-dependency, he's taken an apartment in a different part of town."

"Away from me," Ethan said softly.

"But you can still see him fairly often, right?" Matthew asked, smiling. "It's not like you'll be apart for years again."

Ethan brushed his hair back and smiled. "Right."

"Miss Skye keeps asking about you," Billy said to Matthew. "As do my sisters."

"Oh, so Nikki is your sister now?"

"May as well be," Billy replied, chuckling. "I guess she's too old to legally adopt though."

"Well, Emily is excited about being a part of the Remote Transmissions team," Matthew said. "And she's gotten some really nice e-mail from people too."

"Her stories are adorable!" Ethan exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "I hope she can write novels when she's older. They'll sell."

Tracey realized Timothy was watching Ethan, confused. Now he understood Matthew's strange comment about their being two of them. Timothy and Ethan really were cast from similar molds.

"I'll tell her you said that," Matthew replied, beaming.

"Well, tell her yourself," Tyler said to Ethan. "If you'll be here a couple of days, you'll have to meet Matthew's family."

And then there was another moment of strange silence.

"Yeah, of course," Matthew finally said. "And they can't say a thing because they helped me meet everyone to begin with!"

Most of the table laughed at that, knowing just how true it was. At least Matthew had parents who cared about him and were around. Tracey rarely felt that way about his mother, instead seeing her as someone he exchanged services with for room and board. He cleaned; he took care of his sisters. And she was almost never home.

When she was, she was with his sisters, not him. Though he couldn't say the whole distance was his fault. One of these days, he really needed to talk to her. She was his mother after all.

"I heard from Patti yesterday," Tyler confessed once the laughter had died down.

"You didn't mention that," Tracey said, a bit shocked. Surely a confrontation of any sort involving Patti Donovan should have been front page Tyler news.

"I guess I forgot," Tyler replied. "All she really wanted to do was tell me that I did the right thing and that she was a coward for not breaking it off when she, erm, got other interests."

"Which is strangely the Patti you started dating and not the super-bitch," Matthew commented.

"I keep playing it over in my mind. But damn, I don't want her back," Tyler said.

"And you'd better not take her back, not after having to wear that ridiculous outfit just to catch her in the act," Charlie stated.

"You looked cute," both Timothy and Tracey replied at the same time. And in an incredibly awkward moment, their eyes met and both found themselves laughing. There was something in Timothy's smile that made Tracey actually think about taking the chance.


"I looked like a cheap hooker," Charlie shot back.

"Which is apparently cute," Tyler said, setting off more snickers.

"Talk about Tracey already," Charlie said, looking as though she would duck under the table and hide for the rest of the morning. "He's an artist. Maybe he can do something for your magazine."

"You draw?" Jameson asked, raising an eyebrow and pausing with his coffee cup midway to his mouth.

"A little," Tracey admitted, looking more at his silverware and accidentally at Timothy than at Jameson. For some reason the first thing to his mind were his pages upon pages of hardcore imaginary Johnny Danger poses. And knowing that Jameson would not find them shocking in the least.

Thankfully for everyone, at that moment their food came, which sufficiently shut them all up.

Tracey was very, very tired. It was past the time he usually went to sleep and the whirlwind of activity still blurring around him was not making sleep out to be any sort of easy task. He had made himself at home on Tyler's beanbag chair and was steadily losing his grip on alertness. With a little luck, he would actually be asleep before anyone noticed otherwise.

Eight people crammed into Tyler's apartment was not an easy fit, spreading everyone between the kitchen and living room. Billy and Tyler were still vying for honor by trying to annihilate one another at every possible video game while Matthew could only watch helplessly. Charlie was making an attempt to clean up, but it seemed futile.

Jameson had grabbed a copy of the Wall Street Journal from a box outside the diner and seemed content with it while politely ignoring Ethan and Timothy's rather random and spontaneous cuddling on the sofa.

Tracey wished he was a bit more coherent so he could draw the two of them. After Ethan's outburst about the gendered angels, Tracey had been studying Ethan in even more depth. Now, lounging with Timothy, Ethan did really look androgynous. Put onto paper wearing different outfits, they could easily become a pair of angels.

As best he could, Tracey saved the image in his mind. He could do a quick sketch later, after a little sleep.

It was a heck of a lot later when Tracey woke up. The room wasn't totally dark yet but he knew it had to be sometime in early evening. The sun was going down before five since it was so close to the solstice, so it had to be... He stretched and looked around. Everyone was gone, leaving only Tyler laying on the sofa with a controller in hand, sleeping as well.

The last thing that Tracey wanted to do was wake Tyler up, but any sort of movement on the beanbag chair made a very distinct squishing noise that seemed infinitely loud in the dim light of the silent room. Even the television had the sound down, most likely so that he could sleep.

If he went slowly... The slower Tracey tried to go, the louder and more permeating the noise from the beanbag seemed to be. This was one of those lose-lose situations. Finally, Tracey got to the floor and then scrambled to his feet.

"It's okay, I'm not asleep," Tyler said, turning to look at Tracey.

"Then why did you just let me..."

"Fun to watch," Tyler admitted. "I think I'll be fine on the couple of hours of sleep I can get if I nod off in a few. I do it all the time."

"Where did everyone go?" Tracey asked, stretching more.

"Probably off to Matthew's or home or to a hotel or something," Tyler explained. "And you know, I guess I really do have to admit that they're good people."

"They seemed nice enough," Tracey said, sitting back down on the beanbag chair for a moment.

"I was worried that Matthew, in all his charming naiveté, was running around with some really shady folk." Tyler set his controller down and sat up to face Tracey. "And I guess a part of me just really had to check out the sort of person that Matthew deemed appropriate for a lover. I mean, I'm okay with the whole gay thing or at least I think I am but I just feel really weird about it and not just because I'm saying really alot or anything and... Do you have any idea what I'm trying to say?"

Tracey raised an eyebrow. He had developed a little theory during breakfast but he didn't just want to out and say what the most obvious explanation was.

"You're his friend and you care about him," Tracey said. "I'm guessing this is only natural."

"It's still just weird. I mean, I'm really glad to have gotten the chance to meet Billy and I think he's really cool and he wailed on me in Soul Calibur 2 like I can't believe and I think it's that..."

Tracey didn't want to say anything. Tyler seemed to be on the verge of realizing the same thing that Tracey had figured out hours before. And the last thing Tracey wanted to do was jump in and ruin that perfect epiphany that Tyler was reaching for.

"He wailed on everyone in Soul Calibur 2, don't worry about it," Tracey finally said.

"I guess I was expecting someone more... more like Ethan or Timothy. More gay, I guess, not someone so perfectly normal-seeming. I mean, Billy seems just like..."

Tracey smiled as it finally seemed to sink into Tyler's brain just what was going on. And why Matthew found a match in Billy's personality.

Tyler looked over at Tracey and saw the smile, quickly putting it all together.

"And you figured it out first?"

"Watching the three of you at breakfast really nailed it," Tracey admitted. "Matthew can't have you and it was his dumb luck to find someone so much like you who he's compatible with and who seems to genuinely care about him."

"But what if..." And Tyler just sat there, mouth agape, staring at the wall.


"I think I need a new brain, Grasshopper Number Two. For my brain just had the audacity to wonder if Matthew is thinking about me while knocking boots with Billy. Which they are probably doing right now. Which I really don't need to be thinking about but am. That's normal, right?"

"Beats me," Tracey said, leaning back. "I'm rather sure I'm bisexual bordering on rather gay myself."

"I am a magnet!" Tyler exclaimed, snickering. "And as long as you are not harboring secret feelings for me, you can live."

"Actually, I'm hung up on Caz's former band mate. Which I blame on you and your introducing me to Caz to begin with, but not really since I chose to follow through and..."

"Maybe I should just be gay," Tyler mused out loud. "Sorry to interrupt your blame-fit, but really... It's been ages since I've had a blow-job and queer boys seem to be coming out of the woodwork."

Tracey couldn't help himself. He started laughing. And he kept laughing. Every time his eyes met Tyler's, he started into another fit of laughter.

"Stop it, stop it," Tyler finally muttered, shaking his head. "I didn't mean to say it like that. But in all honesty, you saw everyone today. I think every last person here would have jumped onto that little black-haired flirt..."

"Like you, who was running around holding his hand..."

"I did not..." Tyler paused. "Oh crap, I did, didn't I? What the hell was I on about with that?"

"Just be thankful I'm not hitting on you," Tracey said, finally standing for the last time. "Now I really need to get home and shower and change and then we can do it all again."

"I think I need a beer," Tyler replied, standing as well. "And my head checked. You have a good evening, sir, and I will see you in a few hours."

"We could just be contagious," Tracey offered, throwing out Matthew's line. "Or..."

"Be gone with your strange ideas. Leave me to wallow in my confusion," Tyler ordered, grinning as he pointed at the door. "Lest you never leave."

Tracey laughed as he closed the door behind him. Tyler was certainly a good sport about way too many things, including letting everyone and anyone sleep at his place. For a second back there, Tracey had been a little intimidated at the thought of Tyler actually asking for a blowjob. Sure, he'd gotten good at giving them in his head, but to a real person? Sadly he couldn't even admit to having had anyone give him one before. It was just something he knew well from watching the occasional porn video and the sort of rowdy talk that wend on in the back of the restaurant.

As usual, there were few signs of life when Tracey got to his house. He couldn't help but wonder if his mother had found someone to date again. He had no problem with the concept, save for the fact that it sometimes caused her to forget her own family. And Vicky was more than likely cheering her happy little heart out at some sort of eight-grade sporting event.

That left just Rebecca, who was mindlessly watching syndicated sitcoms with the volume turned nearly all the way down.

"What's up?" Tracey asked, leaning over the sofa where she lay. Rebecca jumped, obviously startled.


"Sorry, I didn't realize you were... um, oblivious."

"I was just watching the people, not really the show," Rebecca confessed. "Emily told me she does this sometimes just to see different types of people or different clothing. And I want to write like she does. Or draw like you do. Or both, I guess."

"But," Tracey said, circling around the sofa so he could sit in the space between the arm and Rebecca's feet, "remember to make sure you're doing your own thing instead of just riding along with someone else's dreams."

Rebecca smiled. "That doesn't sound like something you'd say."

"Well, I think I'm accidentally growing up," Tracey admitted. "Is that okay?"

Frowning, Rebecca twisted until she was sitting up as well.

"Only if you don't get like Mom. She's off with people from work again," Rebecca said, confirming at least part of Tracey's suspicion. "It gets lonely here, even when you're here but sleeping."

"You can have Emily over whenever you'd like," Tracey told her, reaching out so that she could close in for a hug. With his arms around her, he sighed. "Missed seeing you. I like working overnights, but I miss seeing you and even Vicky."

"You aren't missing much with her," Rebecca said. "Don't worry. And are you sure about Emily? You don't think she's weird or anything? Other people at school think she's weird."

"If you like her, that's what matters," Tracey said. "As long as no one is getting hurt, I think it's always best to just go with whatever you feel you need to - like friends or lovers or whatever. Don't bow to what everyone else thinks."

"Mmm. Tracey?"

"Yes, Rebecca?"

"You sound like an after-school special."

"Thanks, brat," Tracey said, letting her go.

"So what are you doing this evening?" Rebecca asked. "Do you need to sleep more?"

"Not really," Tracey admitted. "I slept for a bit at Tyler's and feel rather good."

"So what are you doing then?"

Tracey smiled. Now was the time for little indulgences. "What is it that you'd like me to do?"

"I have a ton of math homework but it's stuff I understand now. If I sit at the kitchen table and work on it, will you sit out there and work on something too?" Rebecca smiled before looking away.

At that moment, angels flashed in Tracey's mind and he knew exactly what he could work on while spending some time with his sister.

"Of course," Tracey said. "Let me just go grab my stuff and I'll meet you out there. I have something I need to empty from my head before I forget it."

"Cool!" Rebecca exclaimed before bounding off to her room.

Tracey took a little longer to gather his things. First, his notebook and the sketches of Johnny Danger had to be tucked away safely in the bottom drawer of his desk. And then he grabbed what he needed and headed to the kitchen, trying not to think about the erotica he'd scanned over as he placed it lovingly into the drawer.

Rebecca was already sitting at the table when Tracey walked into the kitchen.

"You sure you understand all of that?" he asked, pointing at her math text.

"I just have to find the value of X a billion times," Rebecca said. "Nothing too difficult."

"I saw a pair of angels today," Tracey explained as he sat down. "And I think I need to draw them in order to get them out of my head."

"Real angels?" Rebecca asked, setting down her pencil. She was obviously curious. But Tracey suddenly wasn't so sure he even knew how to explain everything to her. She was old enough to understand all sorts of things but he didn't know how much general homophobia had been implanted into her mind just by growing up in such a middle-class white suburban neighborhood.

"Not real angels," Tracey admitted. And then he remembered the existence of Remote Transmissions. Obviously Matthew's friends were amongst those who published it, so Rebecca might recognize their names. He couldn't remember if any of the issues he had tried to read had decent pictures or not, and even if they had, he probably hadn't found Ethan any more interesting on paper than anyone else. Ethan seemed to be the sort of person that had to be met to be believed. He was a unique being and Tracey was definitely curious about the man and even more so about his straight-faced, doting lover. They seemed like such an odd couple but also perfect foils, the sorts of opposites that attract with such force that there would never be anything capable of stopping their togetherness.

That was what he wanted to find someday, Tracey thought. And probably why Johnny Danger held his interest - a complete opposite. Still, Johnny was a nice fantasy.

"Then what?" Rebecca asked.

"Well, do you remember the name Ethan from anywhere in Remote Transmission?" Tracey asked.

Rebecca scrunched up her face in thought before finally replying.

"Kinda. But what does he have to do with angels?"

"I met him today," Tracey explained. "He and some of his friends came to visit Emily's brother and we all had breakfast together. He looks unlike any human I've ever seen."

"So you're going to draw him?" Rebecca asked, picking up her pencil again. "Cool. I really want to see."

"I'll draw a whole stack if you'd like. And maybe you can meet him too," Tracey said. "But he's only going to be in town for two more days."

"That'd be cool," Rebecca agreed. "But now you need to draw and I need to write."

Tracey looked down at the blank sheet of paper in front of him and looked for the image of Ethan and Timothy within it. And then he could see them, lounging together. Ethan against the arm of the sofa, one of his arms draped over it, the other possessive around Timothy, holding him close. Timothy was more laying than Ethan, his head at an odd angle. And changing their clothing to robes helped hide some of the awkwardness of the pose. Even though Ethan's eyes hadn't been showing, Tracey drew so that Ethan's hair could be brushed back, vibrant eyes clearly visible and more than willing to suck any viewer into their spell. They were nowhere as captivating as the real thing, but Tracey was giving it his all. And as beautiful as the sketch was becoming, there was something wrong with it.

For angels, they lacked everything angelic about them. They had no wings, harps or halos. There was nothing divine about them. But then again, it would have to be difficult to sleep with feathered wings.

There was a bit of an option. Working carefully, he changed their hands so that Timothy could hold a small harp and Ethan could hold a thin trumpet. They weren't the most wonderfully accurate instruments, but Tracey thought them workable. It was just a sketch after all. He would do a better version if someone wanted him to.


Tracey looked up, not realizing how oblivious he had been while working. Rebecca was staring at his paper, fixated.

"They're beautiful. You draw them like you love them."

Tracey raised an eyebrow. That was something he had never heard before.

"What do you mean by that?"

"The art teacher Emily and I have, Miss Randall, says that the most beautiful expression comes when the artist is in love with the subject," Rebecca explained. "Not like romantic love, but just a true appreciation for whatever. Like, if I really liked, um, my math book, I'd draw it better than I probably would draw it right now. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," Tracey said. It explained the brilliance of his sketches of Johnny and the dull unfinished quality of things he had randomly tried to draw. It explained the subtle details in his portrait of Tessa and the visible fun in the series he had whipped out for Emily featuring some of her favorite and most written-about characters.

The people helping him find his place were not those he had expected. And somehow, with all this newfound knowledge that threatened to border on joy, Tracey could not believe that it was just a handful of days previous that he had decided to end it all.

Life was full of surprises.

"What?" Tracey asked, hoping he hadn't heard what he thought he had just heard.

"Tessa's sick," Kathleen replied, pushing a shopping cart full of still-bagged clothing in Tracey's general direction. "You miss all the good dirt when you're off being a line-bitch."

"So how am I supposed to..."

"You do it by yourself," Kathleen said firmly. "You're too reliant on Tessa. Race yourself if you have to. But once you get into the swing of things, you'll be fine."

"I don't know..."

"You're only going to have a few racks anyway," Valerie, the deceivingly strong one of the group chimed in. She had a full pallet behind her, but most of it was bulky pieces of infant furniture like car seats, strollers, and high chairs. "We've got ourselves an easy day, ladies. And Tracey."

"We just usually never have boys on this side," Laura explained, leaning over to grab something of hers off of the pallet. "I sort of like it. You can reach the high shelves."

"Is that all I'm good for?"

"Nnn. Tonight you're doing all of the hanging, too."

He was working rather fast, Tracey noticed as he finished his second rack. So far both the boys and girls departments were finished and he was heading on to the infants section. With a little luck, everything would be taken care of before the first break and he could find himself another section to bide his time in, preferably somewhere near Matthew. Natural curiosity was coming heavily into play and obviously he hadn't had the option to out and ask while on the unload line.

Matthew had been oddly quiet. Instead of his usual banter about video games or something equally light-hearted, he'd been silent and somewhat dreamy. It looked good on him though. Tracey assumed the glow Matthew had about him was a very good sign.

Tracey felt just a little bit like hitting himself in the head. He was standing amongst an array of fluffy infant sleep-n-play outfits while actively thinking about gay sex. Arousing gay sex. For the first time all morning, Tracey was suddenly happy the vampire wasn't around to taunt him about being nearly a rack ahead of him.

And after laboring all evening on several other sketches of Ethan and Timothy as angels, Tracey found himself even more interested in both men. He couldn't help that though his love of the drawings that he'd found a new interest in the men.

Both had the beautiful dark hair that Johnny did, and the ability to charm the daylights out of him. Why on earth had he not seen it before in Timothy? Timothy was capable of that same come-hither that made Tracey absolutely rock hard. Which he currently was.

A quick look showed him that no one was around so he unceremoniously walked over to the nearest wall, which was actually just a hard surface in the shape of a support pillar, and knocked his head against it. It didn't at all help the straining erection taking up any and all of the free space in his pants, but at least it cleared his mind for all of three seconds.

Thankfully his penis was under control by the time the first break rolled around. He was into the mens department by then, woefully behind where he wanted to be, but not completely behind and in need of a scolding by Dynamo.

"Tracey!" Matthew called as soon as Tracey made it within view. "Need to talk to you."

"What's up?" Tracey replied, casually leaping over the low ledge of the cafe area so that he landed nearly perfectly beside Matthew. The jump had taken a couple of weeks to perfect, but now it seemed effortless.

"You've been invited to a fancy dinner tonight at The Grand Swordfish, courtesy of a certain rich red-headed businessman," Matthew said, smiling. "Well, we all have. If you can be awake for it."

"What time?" Tracey asked. He already knew he wouldn't miss it for the world. But he was sort of lacking for an outfit for such a fancy restaurant. At least he knew quite well what his options were - he'd just been putting them out onto their respective racks.

"The reservation is at seven-thirty," Matthew said. "About a decent time for breakfast, don't you think? And still time to get here by eleven. Just bring a change of clothes with you."

"Wow..." And Tracey trailed off, not really knowing what to say. Dinner at a place like The Grand Swordfish would be a huge blow to his wallet on a normal day, but being treated... He felt a bit like he had just won the lottery. "So who all is going?"

"Same group as at breakfast yesterday. I feel a bit bad for Charlie though, being the only girl amongst all of us. But I guess in that respect I should feel a bit bad for Tyler, too," Matthew snickered. Thankfully he was talking softly and no one else was really down in their part of the area. Charlie was fighting with the ice-dispenser, apparently trying to get some for her pop. But she was out of hearing range too.

Tyler had yet to be seen, but Tracey knew he sometimes skipped breaks in order to do more important things like browse the video game aisle or run around with the toy light-sabers. Tyler was generally unpredictable, one of the more amusing of his traits. He was also a total slob when uninspired to be otherwise. Amongst his few assets was Matthew, his cook, maid and best friend rolled into one. That was something Tracey wasn't jealous of, either. Hopefully he would never need anyone so... devoted. It would be better to have a partner for fun and then share the actual work.

Sometimes Tracey knew he was dreaming.

"But yeah, nothing this morning," Matthew continued. "Which is not meant as a snub but Billy and I kinda want to spend some time together, alone, unbothered by even Ethan."

"Understandable," Tracey said, smiling. He could see the emotion on Matthew's face, explaining in more than words just how welcome some alone time with his lover truly was.

For a relationship to hold on even with distance and a myriad of other things to get in the way... Tracey was suddenly in awe. And here he was going on about how rough his life was, stupidly getting lost in all of his fears and his shortcomings. There was so much more in the world and he was being ridiculously blind to that fact.

"Yeah, so I think we're just all going to meet there, if it's okay with you. They have a lot without a valet so you don't have to worry about the cost of that," Matthew explained, barely looking up when Charlie slid into the space opposite Tracey.

"I'll drive, if you'd like," Charlie said. "Since you don't live too terribly far away even if it is the next town. And you drove last time."

"Last time?" Tracey asked.

"Our ill-fated not-a-date involving Tyler's not-a-girlfriend," Charlie reminded him, smirking. "How could you forget that? Nevermind, I should thank you for forgetting that, as no one should have any sort of coherent memories of me in that outfit."

"You looked fine," Tracey said.

"I think Timothy just dressed me for some action I obviously neither wanted or was going to get. Er, no offense," Charlie said quickly. "I mean, you're very nice and rather attractive but..."

"Would you like a shovel?" Matthew interrupted.

"No, it's okay," Tracey said quickly. "That's about how I feel about you, if I haven't already told you. I think I have, but maybe I've just kept thinking it because we always seem to be lumped together."

"When we should technically be bitter rivals," Charlie continued. "We're vying for the same potential permanent positions after all. We should be trying to out-do one another and make the other look bad at every turn. I don't know if there's a psychological term for..."

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," Matthew interjected. "That's an easy one. I was hired in as seasonal too and the seasonal crew is always friendly to one another. It comes from starting at the same time and being able to share in the general feel of lost-ness that comes with everything here."

Both Tracey and Charlie stared blankly at Matthew.

"What? I made it through a semester of college before unceremoniously dropping out to work here."

"I know, but..." Charlie didn't even make it through her sentence before Dynamo's voice rattled their bones, telling them it was time to stop slacking and time to start working.

"At least she words it differently every day," Matthew commented. "Sometimes the other supervisors seem to get stuck in a rut and keep telling us the same things over and over like we're completely unskilled."

"Nnn. I think some people here are," Charlie said. "But apparently once you make your ninety-days, there's no getting rid of you."

"Sad but true," Matthew verified as he stood and stretched. "And now I must return to my hell of shiny baubles."

"You're the only person I know who hates Christmas ornaments," Tracey said, walking alongside Matthew down the main aisle that divided the store. It was just a bit out of the way for Tracey, but for some reason he felt the need to linger with Matthew for just a few more seconds.

"Just the ones we have four-hundred of," Matthew answered, fixing a few stray bottles of bleach on his way, apparently not even registering that he was doing it. Tracey wondered if that level of anal-retentivity was a result of working in the store or if Matthew had always been that way.

"I've gotten really sick of them. Earlier, I just couldn't help myself. There was a box with a couple of balls already broken so I did what anyone would do..."

"You threw them?" Tracey asked, not really wanting to hear it. Somehow sweet, gentle Matthew didn't seem the type to...

"Off a ladder. They were going in the garbage anyway and it really did make me feel better, sick as that sounds."

"I think I'm going to go play with some jeans now," Tracey said, pointing off in his intended direction.

"See you at lunch," Matthew replied, veering off to where lifeless Christmas trees sat, their power disconnected for the evening and their branches nearly picked clean by customers.

And so Tracey went back to his rack, finishing it as quickly as he could. There was just one left now, the dreaded lingerie rack. These days the bras and panties really didn't bother him. It wasn't that he suddenly found women repulsive, but these were just pieces of fabric, not really belonging to anyone or with any sort of specific purpose yet. He knew the brands, the sizes, the colors. Yet he knew nothing of quite how they actually fit onto a woman.

The more Tracey thought, the more he realized he was quite truthfully sure that he had avoided women more often than not, or at least relationships. The two pathetic relationships he'd had that actually led to sex had left him unfulfilled and he honestly wasn't surprised when one girl never called him back.

Maybe he was...

Maybe he was learning to accept himself for just what he was.

Tracey held up a black, lacy bra that would be a perfect fit on Charlie. He tried to imagine it on her. And he couldn't.

Somehow he felt a little better about that. Charlie seemed almost too cool to ruin with any sort of lust. Besides, Tracey was rather sure Tyler had taken a shining to her and didn't want to interfere with that. Tyler seemed like the type who didn't just up and ask people out though, which made Tracey instantly curious as to how Tyler had ever ended up with someone so flamboyant as Patti Donovan.

Things change, people change.

Tracey was almost done with the rack when Laura popped over and nearly startled him half to death.

"I didn't mean to sneak up on you, I swear!" Laura claimed as she stood in front of Tracey, hands on her hips more in a weight-bearing position than one of anger. "But when you get your wits about you, would you mind doing the women's folded tables too? I usually do them but the backroom just found another four boxes of miscellaneous mens drawers for me and I'll be a bit."

"Not too hard, are they?" Tracey asked, a little nervous. He honestly never paid attention to the things on the tables, just the things on the racks. Especially in the women's department where he had little to no use in remembering. Occasionally something caught his eye as being particularly Vicky-like, but other than that, his knowledge of the tables came mainly from accidentally walking into them.

"You really do need to learn to challenge yourself," Laura replied as she walked off, not waiting for what was going to have to be a yes. "I have things to do."

At least people had been so kind lately as to point out every single one of his personal flaws. That was commendable. Apparently the universe had gotten so damned tired of him fucking up that it was using those around him to teach him the lessons that he'd been so happily trying to ignore.

As he pushed all the empty racks to the back, Tracey got a quick glimpse of Tyler chasing Matthew between aisles with some sort of giant foam-ball shooting gun. The ladies who took care of the clothing had their own beautiful tribe going, but sometimes all the fun looked as though it were elsewhere.

Because, of course, he was there to have fun and not to work. Sighing, Tracey pushed the racks back and tried to decide what to get everyone for Christmas.

His ultimate decision was to get the three ladies of his family gift-cards for the store. That way there would be no fighting over who got more things and who got something more extravagant. They would each get the same amount and could buy their own trinkets. His extended family rarely did more than cards, so Tracey wasn't concerned with them.

As for his new friends, they posed a greater challenge. Each one had specific interests that he knew and understood, but he wasn't sure he wanted to present them each with something expensive and fancy. Or worse, something they knew the exact retail of. There had to be a better solution. He could just give them all drawings...

That was perfect! Drawings! Now the only hard part was to decide exactly what each piece would be of.


Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!
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