Proposition (3/3)
Northlight, with plot ideas by Bekquai
temporaryblue at yahoo.ca
April 1-May 7, 2003.


Merton had never been so glad to see the end of a school day--and he'd had some pretty miserable days at school before this one. It wasn't as if Merton enjoyed being stuffed into his own locker, but at least that was familiar. Unwavering good will was something rather out of Merton's usual realm of experience.

Pleasantville High had churned up some odd rumours in the past: Chuck's secret sex change operation! The Lunch Lady's torrid affairs! Principal caught burying F-student's body!--but most people got a laugh or two from those rumours before moving right along. But this time, everybody--everybody--seemed to believe in Tommy and Merton: Gay Fairytale. From students to teachers to the unilingual Spanish janitor, the school was practically overflowing with well-wishers. Merton shuddered at the memory of his joint session with Tommy at the councillor's office that afternoon: "no need for denial anymore, boys! I'm on your side!"

It was all so incredibly disturbing.

"Hey! Hey, Dingle!"

Merton groaned and let his forehead drop to rest against his locker door. Of course, he thought--the Fates, Gods, Powers that Be, Whoever, weren't finished enjoying the second-rate comedy that was Merton J. Dingle's life.

A sudden anger drove Merton away from his locker. He wheeled around to face Rick as the other boy trotted towards him. "No," Merton said shrilly, waving his hands about in warning. "Just stay back! This is all your fault--I'm more popular than I ever dreamed of being just because you thought I'm a desperate football-groupie willing to put out at the first sign of kindness!"

The rubber soles of Rick's shoes squealed as he came to an abrupt stop. He blinked. Stared. "Whoa! Hold on just a sec, Dingle. I didn't think any of that." Rick cleared his throat. His bent head and shuffling feet might have been cute if Merton hadn't been busy entertaining visions of Rick vs. Fang Face, Round 1. "I just thought that you were, you know. Kinda--cute."

"Beg pardon?" Merton gaped. Fang Face had taken a sudden punch to the gut and a dive face-first into the mat.

Rick rolled his eyes. "You heard me."

"Really?" Merton beamed. He shook his head roughly--he wasn't flattered! He was still grievously offended! Now if only Fang Face would get his spiky rear off of the floor and get back to the business at hand. Unfortunately, Fang Face was still looking a bit too stunned to do much more than look back at Merton and shrug. Merton rallied himself and sniffed disdainfully. "You might want to work on your pickup lines."

Rick actually blushed--blushed! Merton thought with amazement. "Yeah, well. You're the first guy I've ever tried to pick up. So. A little leniency from the judges." He grinned a little at Merton's stunned expression ("your face is going to freeze like that," Merton's mother chided, shooing Fang Face off the mat). "But I didn't realize how serious things were between you and Tommy."

"We're not--" Merton began, took one look at Rick's apologetic face and sighed. "No problem, Rick."

"Good," Rick said with relief, "that's great." He paused, hooked his thumbs through his belt-hoops and looked at Merton from the corner of his eyes. "So. I hear that you might be selling some tapes--"

Normally, Tommy would have waited for Merton at his locker. Today, though, they both needed a little time apart before tackling their current problem. Tommy had never realized quite how much time he and Merton spent together until their classmates began ooh-ing and aah-ing every time they happened to touch. That and the giggling girls with their blushes and bright, inquisitive eyes had made for a long day. Tommy felt like he had barely survived an especially cutsey episode of Full House. That, or a Very Special Episode of some teen melodrama.

Sure, Tommy had heard gossip about his relationship with Merton before--but then again, he had also been informed, quite seriously by a terrified junior, that Lori had threatened to beat up any girl who so much as looked at him while they were dating. Tommy just hadn't realized that he and Merton had become TommyAndMerton to most of the school months before now.

It was really, really weird, Tommy decided with a sigh.

"Tommy!"

Tommy froze mid-way up the stairs, flinching at the sound of his mother's Concerned Parental Voice. Maybe he would be lucky, and his parents only wanted to talk about his college applications, or his grades, or, or--ease him through the news that they were expecting a baby. Tommy couldn't manage to draw forth any cheerful optimism: he knew, absolutely knew, that his parents had heard about Pleasantville High's new Favourite Couple.

His parents were visibly set up for a bout of earnest parenting by the time Tommy made his way to the kitchen. Tommy cleared his throat and eased into the seat his mom had pulled out for him. Best to cut his parents off before they really got started, Tommy decided and threw himself into a firm: "It's not what--"

Tommy's words were muffled as his mom threw her arms around him. "My baby!" she wept, "my baby is all grown up! And gay!"

"Gak!" Tommy protested.

"You're strangling the boy, Sally," Bob Dawkins said. His voice was oddly scratchy, too. He clamped a hand on Tommy's shoulder the instant Mrs. Dawkins pulled back, wiping at her teary eyes. "Tommy. Son. We just wanted you to know how proud we are of you."

Was everyone going to accept the idea that he and Merton were together without question? Tommy wondered, rubbing at his throat. Not acting to discourage Rick's mistaken impression was one thing; having everyone at school and his parents--his parents!--think he and Merton spent their time at the lair cooing at each other was something entirely different.

"I'm not--" Tommy said. Started to say. He wondered if he would ever be allowed to complete a sentence again as his mom cut across his denial.

Mrs. Dawkins slid into the chair next to Tommy. She took both of his hands in her own and looked at Tommy earnestly. "It's a difficult life, baby, but your father and I are here for you and Merton. We'll support you all the way. Although," she bit her lip lightly, "we do have some concerns about you getting married so young."

"We aren't--" Tommy said. Excited parents must have been calling the Dawkinses all day. Didn't anyone have anything more interesting to think about than Tommy's love life? Tommy's thoughts slid into another, frightening direction: He hoped his parents hadn't heard about those tape rumours. His sudden blush wasn't helping his protests.

"We think that you ought to wait until after college," Mr. Dawkins said, firmly, reasonably.

"That--" Tommy tried again.

Mrs. Dawkins nodded enthusiastically. "That will give us time to get to know the Dingles better as well. We should invite them over this weekend, don't you think?" she said, casting a glance in Mr. Dawkins' direction. "Something fun and not too formal. . . A barbeque!"

"Wonderful idea!" Mr. Dawkins smiled. "Tommy?"

"Barbeque is always good," Tommy agreed before shaking off visions of juicy hamburgers and steaks, "but--"

"Barbeque it is!" Mrs. Dawkins beamed. She leaned in to hug Tommy again. "He is a cute one, baby," she sniffled against Tommy's ear. She paused and lowered her voice. "I do hope that the two of you use pr--"

Tommy's eyes went huge. "Mom!" he yelped and pulled free from her arms.

"Sally," Mr Dawkins said reproachfully. "This isn't the kind of thing a young man wants to talk about with his mother." He turned to Tommy, his eyes shining with determined helpfulness. "There's a book on your bed, Tommy. We think that you might find it--helpful. If you have any questions or concerns, we found the phone number for a support group for gay teens."

This was all some sort of really weird dream, Tommy decided. Or he'd eaten another batch of Merton's special cookies ("the extra sugar is theorized to give those who ingest it--get ready for it, Tommy!--super speed! C'mon, Tommy--give it a nibble. Nummy, nummy!") In either case, the best thing to do was probably crawl back into bed and sleep until everything went back to normal.

"I," Tommy said faintly, "I have. . . homework to do." He fled.

Bob Dawkins frowned after his son's retreating back. "Tommy seems rather defensive about his relationship with the Dingle boy," he said.

Mrs Dawkins nodded sagely. "He's probably worried about how people will react to having an openly gay couple in town." She paused thoughtfully before beaming at her husband: "but I think I have the perfect solution!"

"Wonderful!" Mr Dawkins grinned, "just wonderful!"

As much as Becky might resist the siren call of melodrama, over-acting and -reacting was something Dingles displayed a natural talent for. She had been stewing all day ("Really, Becky--your brother is actually kinda cute. I mean, Tommy Dawkins wouldn't like him if he were a total dweeb, right?") and was now hovering at the peak of a righteous snit. She was primed, she was ready, and oh, was the Freaker going to get it this time!

Becky's hands were angled on her hips. She had been biding her time in the lair for minutes, ready to strike the moment Merton slunk through the door and collapsed against the wall. She took a deep breath, hiked her voice into perfect teenage girl shrillness and wailed: "I can't believe you turned Tommy Dawkins gay! You just had to ruin the cutest boy in school!"

Merton might have hugged her for that: finally! someone who wasn't planning out the Perfect Wedding for Merton and Tommy. Still, though, Merton really wasn't in the mood to do anything more than turn up the volume of his dreariest CDs and spend the rest of the night brooding with well-honed stylishness. Merton glanced longingly at his favourite brooding chair; Becky was still bristling irritably when Merton turned his gaze back towards her.

Merton blew out a sharp breath. "Out! Out!" he cried, making exaggerated shoo-ing motions at Becky. Her jaw tightened and Merton knew that Becky wasn't about to be shoo-ed anywhere--and to hell with anyone who tried to remove her before she had spoken her mind to its fullest, in the most disdainful tone she could summon forth. "I'm going to have to write a firm letter to the guys who sold me those anti-sibling wards," Merton muttered darkly. He flung his backpack to the floor, slid past Becky's sharp elbows and marched towards his bed.

Merton dropped face first into the bed, letting Becky's tirade was over him: blah, blah, i can't believe blah blah, so selfish, blah, blah, never been so humiliated blah blah, supposed to like me, blah, blah, yadda. Becky stopped to take a deep breath and Merton was sure that she was about to demand "have you heard a word I said?" before launching into another round of her Why Merton is the Worst Brother Ever speech. Instead, Becky's voice went soft as she ventured a curious: "Freaker? How'd you do it?"

Merton cautiously lifted his face from his pillow. Becky's eyes were wide and vulnerable--and damn it, Merton never could resist playing the caring older brother. "Do what?" Merton asked.

Becky rolled her eyes: you are suck a dork! and said: "you know, make Tommy like you."

Make him like me? Merton mouthed: what did Becky think? That he spent his evenings whipping up love potions on his Bunsen burner? Well, yes, but that was besides the point. "Must be that fabled Dingle charm," Merton said and offered Becky his best Superior Big Brother Smirk, "give it a little time, Becky, and I'm sure you'll be reeling them in, too."

Becky gave a huffy little shriek of outrage. "You're blackmailing him, you must be," she said fiercely. Merton squawked as Becky tried to shove him off his bed, questing for any incriminating photos under his pillow or the damning letters under his mattress.

Merton clung to his mattress with one hand while batting at Becky with the other. She looked ready to tickle him into submission when the basement door opened and Mrs Dingle's platform shoes could be heard clattering on the stairs. Merton and Becky shot a look at each other: truce for now, they agreed, and set about straightening themselves up as best as possible. They were seated in front of the TV, equally innocent expressions firmly in place by the time Mrs Dingle tottered into the lair.

Despite her appearance, Mabel Dingle hadn't been stoned out of her mind since the sixties and she had never been a fool, thank you very much. She shot her children a look that said, no, she wasn't in the slightest bit fooled by their shiny white grins. "It's nice to see you getting along so well for once," she said dryly. "Becky, I'd like to speak to Merton alone, please."

"You've heard," Merton said with quivering despair as Mrs Dingle smoothed out her skirt and lowered herself into the chair Becky had just vacated. Merton's mother smiled serenely and nodded her head. "Dad?" Merton asked.

"Yes," Mrs Dingle said. "Don't worry, Merton. Your father always did want to have a football player in the family." Indeed, Spencer Dingle had been weeping with joy at the thought of gaining the kind of son he'd always dreamed of. Mrs Dingle had prepared some warm milk for her husband and had tucked him into bed before Mr Dingle worked himself into a state he might never return from.

"Glad that he approves," Merton muttered, "but Mom--"

"Did I ever tell you about my best friend back in high school?" Mrs Dingle asked.

"Ms Patterson?" Merton said. Doris Patterson still visited the Dingle household every-other Christmas. She was a dumpy little woman with dyed red hair and she insisted on giving Merton studded dog-collars on every gift-giving day of the year (he'd kept them in a dresser drawer before the combined weight of all that metal had sent the drawer's bottom cracking down the middle). "What about Ms Patterson?"

"Doris and I were very. . . close, too," Mrs Dingle said.

"That's nice, Mom," Merton said, "but what does that have to do with--" Merton choked and squawked and flailed, his eyes bugging out as he realized exactly what his mother was saying. "Mom!" he protested with a pained whine, "I didn't need to know that. I really didn't," and by all that was holy, he'd never be able to look at Doris Patterson again without his stomach making as if it were filled with Mexican jumping beans.

"I just want you to know that I understand what you're going through, Merton," Mrs Dingle said, "and that I accept your feelings for Tommy without any reservations."

Merton sucked in a deep breath: "Tommy and I are not together!"

Mrs Dingle nodded. "I know, honey, I know. But you'd like to be, wouldn't you?"

Merton gaped at her. "I. You. Wha--? No. Huh?"

Mrs Dingle smiled and patted Merton's pale cheek soothingly. "Some things, a mother just knows."

It wasn't the sort of thing that Tommy had ever questioned: every night, before turning in, either Tommy or Merton would pick up the phone and call the other. If Tommy had ever thought about this nightly ritual, he might have come to the conclusion that it was something of a survival mechanism. Tommy being Tommy, Merton being Merton and this being Pleasantville, there was a good chance of one of them being abducted by the Monster Under the Bed or being sucked down a sink drain, or--whatever.

Beyond the inherent oddness of there being actual odds in favour of being sucked through a drain into an alternate dimension, Tommy had never considered that being unable to sleep well without checking in with his best friend was in any way out of the ordinary. But the "Tommy and Merton are in Luuuuv!" rumour be damned, Tommy wasn't about to change his behaviour just because it made him look obsessively dependent on Merton.

He and Merton knew the truth, and that was good enough, Tommy thought decisively--

And flinched as Merton finally picked up the phone on the twelfth ring. "Listen here, you freak! There are no tapes, nor will there ever--"

"Merton?" Tommy said, drawing the receiver away from his ear as Merton's voice climbed to a full screech (Hysterical Voice Number Five: I'm At the End of My Rope, the Merton-cataloguing section of Tommy's brain piped up helpfully). "Merton!" Tommy shouted at the phone.

"--swear to all the gods man has ever worshiped--heck, that man has ever considered genuflecting towards, that--" Merton said before his voice cracked with belated recognition: "huh? Oh. Tommy!" He cleared his throat. "Um. Is anything wrong?"

"Wrong? No. No, nothing's wrong," Tommy said. Tommy punched his pillow into a shape more to his liking and arranged himself more comfortably against the headboard. He shot another look at his door, making sure that he had indeed locked it: he didn't want his mom or dad (or God forbid--another dose of both of them) bustling in while he was talking to Merton. "It's just--"

"Just?" Merton prompted.

Tommy sighed. "My granma called from Florida. She knows of a 'perfectly respectable' adoption agency in Romania. She suggested we start looking into adopting as soon as possible--long waits, you know."

Merton drew in a sharp breath and made a small, distressed sound before countering Tommy's statement with one of his own: "My aunt called, she assured me that she'll plan the wedding: cheap, but it'll be glorious, just glorious."

By the time this was all over, Tommy thought with something not quite like humour, he and Merton would be at the center of a worldwide Tommy'N'Merton mania. "My dad has been fielding calls by advertisers who want to sponsor the wedding," Tommy said.

"I've had people calling me all night expressing interest in a threesome," Merton said. "I don't know why everyone is asking me about the weird sex stuff." Tommy's surprised choke set Merton to snickering on the other end of the line. "Maybe I should have started the rumour myself years ago: the girls love it."

"And you make fun of my plans," Tommy gasped around his laughter. And this was good, he decided, laughing with Merton about all of the weirdness springing up around them. Good that they still felt comfortable together when everyone seemed determined to turn their relationship into something it wasn't.

"I have yet to fine tune it," Merton said. "However, I assure you that with a bit of polishing and tender care, that plan would be the envy of schemers and plotters everywhere."

"Uh huh. I wouldn't dare question your scheming abilities," Tommy said solemnly.

"You had better not," Merton said haughtily. "Hey Tommy?"

"Yeah?"

"I," Merton paused, cleared his throat and forced the sudden seriousness from his voice: "you'll still respect me in the morning, won't you?"

"Go to bed, Merton."

"And citizens throughout Pleasantville shiver at the sound of those words coming from Tommy Dawkins," Merton said, and Tommy could hear the smirk in his voice. "'Night, Tommy."

"G'night, Merton."

"You hanging up?"

"Yeah."

"Me too."

"In a minute."

"In a minute," Merton agreed.

Oh boy, Tommy realized: we really are dating. And didn't let go of the phone.

Tommy was acting oddly, Merton thought. It had been one heck of a week: the emotional equivalent of a tilt-a-whirl, but still--Tommy was solid and dependable and kind enough to leave the panicking and other emotional overindulgences up to Merton. Not that Tommy was panicking (he should be, Merton thought sourly: "this isn't the time for planning! It's a time for panic! Panic!"). Tommy looked--thoughtful, which was disturbing in its own way and damn it, Merton thought with a flush as Tommy turned to look at him, had he been staring again?

Tommy's face reddened too, and they sat there blushing at each other. The blaring music that accompanied Action News reports broke the boys out of their confused staring match and sent their gazes swinging towards the TV screen. Tommy's mom had insisted that he tune into the evening broadcast--considering that cameramen had been stalking both Tommy and Merton for the past few days, they both had some suspicions as to what they were about to see.

"The Love That DARES!" the TV screamed in bold red print as the music swelled to its breaking point. "Oh, God," Merton groaned while Tommy's still-pink cheeks took a sudden dive towards sickly.

Sally Dawkins was beaming on screen. "Tonight, we have a very special episode for all you viewers out there. I think everyone should hear about the bravest two boys in Pleasantville: Tommy Dawkins and Merton Dingle! Two boys with a love so strong that they are willing to stand together and face Pleasantville, America and the world!"

"I'm not," Merton whimpered, "I'm really, really not."

"We are speaking to Stacey Hansen from Cheerleading College via phone."

Tommy squawked, so surprised he didn't even try to cover his reaction with a manly bout of throat-clearing.

"Tommy is gay?" Stacey said thoughtfully. "You know, that actually explains a lot."

Lori was the next to be interviewed. She was standing in front of her locker, books balanced on one hip as she swung her lock shut. "Yeah," she was saying, "Tommy and Merton have always been close--closer than most best friends I've ever known." The camera panned to Tommy and Merton standing at the other end of the hall and no way did they always stand so close, Merton thought. "They've been through a lot together and I'm sure they'll come out of this stronger, too," Lori concluded as the camera turned back to her smirking face.

"Traitor!" Merton gasped. He was rather glad that he didn't have any ex-girlfriends to interview, seeing as both of Tommy's were so enthusiastic about Tommy being gay. He wisely kept that thought to himself.

"We are now speaking to a random sample of Pleasantville students!" Sally Dawkins chirped as she reached into the lunchtime crowd and dragged forth a skinny junior with big teeth and bigger glasses.

The boy nodded as Mrs Dawkins questioned him: "No, I'm not surprised. I've been hearing about TommyAndMerton since my first day of school."

The next random student--this one a girl--that Mrs Dawkins fished out blushed at the camera. "I've seen the limericks in the girl's washroom," she explained while her friends giggled madly behind her. Merton didn't think that they intended the microphone to pick up on their contribution to the show: "Tommy is such a bottom," the first one said; the second one nodded enthusiastically: "Merton has him wrapped around his little finger--or maybe his--"

"Gak!" Tommy said. "Gak!"

"I don't know," Merton said, "I'm suddenly feeling rather manly."

Tommy glowered at him: "shut up, Merton."

"Here with me now are some of Tommy's football buddies," Mrs Dawkins enthused, waving at Chuck, Rick and various other guys Merton had never bothered to attach names to. "What is your reaction upon learning of Tommy and Merton's relationship?" Mrs Dawkins asked.

Chuck sneered at the camera. "I'm not surprised in the slightest. I always did figure Tommy was a little gay." The other guys nodded in agreement. "Hell, he practically lives out of Dingle's pocket," Chuck added while the other guys hooted.

"We're rooting for you guys!" Rick added.

"I knew I caught Tommy checking out my ass once," Unnamed Football Jerk Number One said; he didn't sound upset, Merton noticed.

"This is really quite enlightening," Merton said, watching as Tommy's face went from red to purple. "You're gayer than I am, Tommy."

Tommy paled then flushed before paling again. He shifted around on the couch so that he has facing Merton. "About that. I mean. It's just that--"

Becky's voice drowned out Tommy's. "At first, I was really upset--I mean, God, Merton is such a freak and Tommy is, well--hot. But," Becky squealed as she pulled out a fistful of envelopes from her coat pocket, "since the news broke, I've been invited to dozens of parties! Sure, Merton is still a freak, but he's a cool freak now."

"I'm touched," Merton muttered.

Tim and Travis filled the screen after Becky. Merton looked tiny between T'n'T as they closed in on him, teary-eyed. "We'll miss you, Dingle!" Tim said. "You were always our favourite victim!" Travis said. T'n'T closed in on Merton, crushing him in a bear hug.

Merton winced, watching himself being crushed on the television. "Can't. . . breathe. . ." he mouthed in time with himself.

T'n'T finally released Merton, who sank to the ground, clutching at his chest. The brothers rounded on Tommy who was tugging Merton back to his feet. "Dawkins, man, you've been our friend for years, but if you break poor Merton's heart, we'll pound you into the ground." They nodded at each other and Tommy before grinning at the camera: "T'n'T rule!" they shouted before bouncing their stomachs together.

"I've seen enough," Merton said and turned off the television.

"I don't know what you're complaining about," Tommy said. "I've just learned the school's entire population has thought I'm gay for years now."

"And yet, you've still managed to get more dates than I have," Merton sniffed. "Just look at this as yet another example of the eroticisation of close homo-socio bonds," he told Tommy as reassuringly as possible. Merton nodded in agreement with himself: "unable to comprehend a close friendship between two men--something our culture does not encourage--observers read a sexual element into--" Merton took a look at Tommy's blank expression and sighed. "That is--we're getting all of the responsibilities of being gay and none of the perks."

Tommy's head cocked. Of course, Merton moaned, it was just his luck that Tommy chose to hear that tidbit. "What sort of perks?" Tommy wondered and he suddenly sounded really, really curious.

"Huh?" Merton said with his best look of dumb innocence. Unfortunately, the look rarely worked as Merton was anything but dumb and rarely innocent of what he was being accused of. Still, though: try, try again was his motto in life.

"I think I ought to know about any perks connected with this rumour," Tommy said.

"I didn't say anything about perks," Merton insisted. "I said that we're getting all of the responsibilities of being gay and none of the--parks."

"Parks?" Tommy echoed. "Was that really the best you could come up with, Merton?"

Merton threw his hands up: "Well excuse me! I happen to be under a lot of pressure, Tommy! Even geniuses have their off days and--"

"I think we should go back to the perks," Tommy said firmly, "and their exact nature."

Merton blinked. And flushed. And lost most of his vocabulary as he reluctantly met Tommy's gaze. "I. I dunno," he said helplessly, "um. See. I meant. You know. . ."

"The other day, I just realized why everyone is so certain that we're together," Tommy said, smiling slightly at Merton's confused babble. "It's 'cause we are."

"We are?" Merton said.

"And, well, here's a perk for you," Tommy said and--

And oh, oh boy, Merton thought because Tommy's hand was on his hip and his lips were on Merton's and Tommy was kissing him and what to do? what to do! and maybe mothers really did know best because this wasn't as weird as it should be and hoo yeah, Tommy was really, really very good at this and kissing him back might be an excellent idea about now and, yes, yes, it was an excellent idea--award worthy, even and--

"Let's get one thing clear right now," Merton gasped when they finally separated: "I'm not wearing the wedding dress."

Tommy's answering grin was goofy and cute--so cute and Merton would never, ever get tired of seeing it. "Okay," he said, "okay," and leaned back towards Merton and wow, just wow and this had to be the best rumour ever churned up at Pleasantville High.

Merton would think about getting Rick a thank you bouquet later.

end