A/N: So this was supposed to stay at 250 words for a series of drabbles I'm doing, but as you can see it rather took on a mind of its own. On the one hand, I'm quite pleased with it. On the other, now I have to think up another idea for my Tracy drabble. Alas:) In case anyone wonders, the parallel between the end of this and the end of my other fic, Two Way Street, is intentional.
Reviews would be lovely if you have the time.
Tracy Turnblad absently bit down on her pencil as she attempted to focus on her Geography homework. The question had something to do with earthquakes – define the term 'epicentre', explaining how triangulation is used in determining the epicentre's location. Every time she read the sentence, though, the meaning of the words seemed to get lost on the way to her brain. She tried one more time, gave up, and flopped back into her chair. Oh, well. It wasn't as though she would ever need Geography, anyway.
As she made a game out of keeping her pencil balanced between her upper lip and nose, her gaze fell on the lightly stencilled words she must have unconsciously doodled up the side of the worksheet earlier in the evening.Tracy Larkin
She let her grin fill up her whole face; the pencil tumbled uselessly to the ground. It had been two months since the Miss Hairspray Pageant, two months since she and Link had kissed on live television for the whole of Baltimore to see, two months of hand-holding and drive-in dates and long phone conversations that she always got in trouble for later. Going steady with Link Larkin was the stuff of her dreams, and she was thrilled to learn that dating him for real was even better than she had let herself imagine it to be. He made her happy, made her feel loved and wanted and special.
The fantasy of 'Tracy Larkin' seemed a whole lot closer than it ever had before.
There was only one flaw, one single wrench in the works of their relationship: after two months, Link had yet to introduce her to his father.
Tracy frowned as the thought occurred to her. It had a tendency to drift into her mind when she was feeling particularly pleased or content, and like all bad thoughts it would grow and grow until she had blown it quite out of proportion. She knew that Link's parents were separated (though she didn't know the circumstances behind it) and that he lived alone with his dad. But even after all of the family dinners Link had come over to her house for, he had never taken her to meet his father.
Once, sitting in Link's black Cadillac while on their way to a date, she had managed to get up the courage to ask him why he had never introduced her. With eyes pointedly toward the ground and hands wringing nervously in her lap, she had asked him stiltedly if he was ashamed to have her as a girlfriend.
His reaction had shocked her. He had slammed his foot down on the breaks and, regardless of the fact that they were stopped in the middle of the road, turned and pulled her into a searing kiss. When he had finally let her go amid the honking and swearing of drivers behind them, her breath was ragged and his eyes were wild.
He had taken her chin in his hand and tilted her face up so that she was looking right into those bright, bright blue eyes. They had seemed to crackle with electricity – and something else.
"Baby doll, don't you ever, ever think that again. I could never be ashamed of you, not in a million years. You two not meeting has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him, do y'hear?"
Tracy had nodded weakly; a hint of a smile had drifted over his lips, and he had given her another quick peck on the lips.
"Good," he had said, starting the car. "Then let's get going to the burger place – I'm starvin'!"
He had never mentioned the incident again, but she had not forgotten it. She twirled the now-retrieved pencil in her hands absently, lost in thought.
She was jerked rudely out of her reverie by the screeching ring of the telephone in the living room. She ignored it a moment, waiting for someone else to pick up before realizing that she was alone in the house. Her mom and dad had gone out on another one of their 'dates' (which there seemed to be more and more of since the pageant). She dropped the pencil and dashed to the living room, just able to grab the phone before it finished its final ring
"Turnblad residence, Tracy speaking," she said mechanically. She was always supposed to be polite when answering the telephone in case it was one of her dad's joke shop deliveries.
The silence after her greeting stretched on so long she thought she must have missed the person after all. But just as she thought about putting the phone back on the receiver, she heard a tiny voice respond.
"Trace, hi. It's Link."
She grinned. "Link, I was just thinking about you! What's up?" She plopped idly onto the living room sofa.
More silence came from the other end of the line. A thin crease of worry appeared in Tracy's brow, and she was about to try talking again when he spoke.
"Nothing. Nothing's up, except… it's just… could I –" His voice cracked. He coughed, and then tried again. "Could I maybe come over?"
Something about the quivery tone in his voice made her sit up straight. "Of course you can, Link," she said, slightly more gently than before. "Come right on by."
"Okay. Thanks." He hung up without saying goodbye, without saying the 'I love you' they usually ended their calls with.
The ten minutes she spent waiting for him to arrive were a flurry of anxiety. She paced the length of her living room several times, long hairspray-free tresses swishing back and forth with every step. She wracked her brain in an attempt to determine why her boyfriend was so clearly upset: he had been fine in school earlier. The irrational thought of he's going to break up with me had barely grazed the borders of her mind before she chucked it away as useless. Certainly not. This was something else, something big.
When the doorbell rang, she practically threw herself at the door in her attempt to open it. When she did, the sight that greeted her was not an altogether pleasant one.
Link stood there, hands jammed into his pockets and an unreadable expression on his face. He looked rumpled, with one of the buttons of his sweater left undone and a long shoelace left trailing on the ground. His trademark curl looked somewhat wilted, and he seemed to be blinking more than usual.
"Hey, babe." He tried for his usual cool smile, but it came out rather unsteady. "What's shakin'? You look great." He leaned down to kiss her, but she put a hand loosely on his chest to stop him.
"Link, what's wrong?"
For a moment the expression on his face turned defensive before returning to the unconvincing grin.
"There's nothin' wrong, baby doll. It's just…" He ran a hand nervously through his hair, rendering it even more uncharacteristically messy. He had yet to look her in the eye. "It's just family stuff."
Tracy put one hand on her hip and took his chin in her hand, tilting his face downward so that he had nowhere else to look but in her eyes.
"Link Larkin," she spoke slowly. "I think I know you well enough after two months of dating that I can tell when you're upset. C'mon." She let go of his chin and instead grabbed his hand, leading him into the sitting area. He stood awkwardly for a moment before she instructed him to sit; he then perched lightly on the green couch. She followed suit. Her hand lay loosely on his knee.
They sat in silence for a minute, during which he ran his hand through his hair twice more. He couldn't seem to stop staring at his knees. After a few more moments, just as she had worked up the nerve to question him again, he began to speak.
"It's just… god, Trace, I never wanted to get you mixed up in all this." He laughed humourlessly, then raised his head and fixed his stare across the room. "I don't even know why I called."
"I'm glad you called, Link," she said softly, squeezing his knee. "You're always there for me when something goes wrong, and I want to be there for you, too."
This seemed to be the right thing to say. Link let out a big breath of air, then covered her hand with his and returned the squeeze. His thumb started absently tracing little circles there, but all of her attention was on the words that next came out of his mouth.
"It's my dad," he blurted out all at once as though the words simply couldn't remain inside of him anymore. "He… I mean, it's been bad on and off since she left, but tonight was… just terrible." He took a few steadying breaths, seeming to realize that she hadn't the slightest idea what he was talking about, and started over.
"My dad cheated on my mom a lot when they were together. A whole lot. But when she left – I guess he realized what a good thing he'd screwed up, and he started drinking." Her eyes widened, but he didn't notice because he was still staring unwaveringly straight ahead. His fingers tightened around hers, but he went on.
"I mean, he's not bad all the time. He's still my dad, and all that. It's just that when he gets drunk, he doesn't even know I'm there." His words were gaining speed. "He just starts calling out for my mom, just sayin' 'Alison, Alison,' over and over. And it's been worse lately, with him starting earlier and getting sicker."
Now that Link had started talking, it didn't seem like he could stop. His grip on her hand was almost painful, but she didn't move it out of his grasp.
"And tonight it was bad, real bad. When I got home from school it had already started, and after I cleaned him up and put him to bed the house was so empty, Trace. It was so empty and I was so lonely and I needed you." With a great, shuddering breath Link let go of her hand. He brought both of his own hands up and rested his head in them.
Tracy took a moment to process all of this information, her breathing unnaturally steady. She rose from her position on the couch, and knelt down in front of her distraught companion. She pulled his hands away from his face, and rested her forehead against his. His eyes were shinier than usual, but he was not crying.
"I am so, so proud of you," she began, speech slow and deliberate. "You've handled all of this so well, Link. You've been so responsible, and such a good son. But you don't have to handle it alone anymore." She drew back and cradled either side of his head with her hands. "I will always be here for you. I will always, always be here for you no matter what, do y'hear?"
He let out a weak but genuine laugh and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her very tightly to his chest. She held him tightly right back. She could feel his whole body shaking, and his breaths were deep and unsteady. One of his hands was buried in her hair. She heard his voice, muffled from its position buried in the crook of her neck.
"I love you," he mumbled, voice so quiet she could barely hear him. "I love you."
"I love you, too," she said back, her own voice starting to waver, a choked feeling in her throat. They stayed like that for a few minutes, rocking back and forth to music that was not there, before he pulled away looking slightly awkward. He coughed.
"I should be going," he said suddenly. The whole ordeal seemed to be rather more intimacy than he could handle, but Tracy wasn't offended in the slightest. Before her, she knew, Link had never really had anyone he could open up to or be honest with. His previous relationships had only ever been about appearance, and his family… well. He tried so hard, but she knew that he still sometimes got overwhelmed by the closeness of their relationship. It was unlike anything he had ever known.
"All right," she said quietly. She took his hand and walked him to her front door. Before he turned to leave, she got onto her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his in a long but chaste kiss. He ran his fingers through her straight, dark hair one more time.
"Bye," he said in a somewhat hoarse voice.
"Bye," she said back, and he turned and walked out. She waited in the doorframe until he was safely in his car and driving away before she closed the door.
Tracy walked into to her room, mind swimming with the weight of what had just happened. She took her framed photo of him off the dresser and fell into bed, clutching it to her chest. She had disposed of her shrine of promotional photos after she and Link had started dating; the only picture she had was one she had taken with her father's camera. It was of him laughing, looking not nearly as cool as he generally pretended to be.
He certainly hadn't been cool tonight. She let herself float through the details of his visit, transcribing every one to memory. This was a part of Link that no one saw but her, a part of him he had trusted her with above anyone else in the world.
She fell asleep that way, holding the picture of him close to her heart.