Chapter Ten: What a Squirrel Needs
It was strange. He thought he'd be crying more. Heck, he thought he'd be outright sobbing and leaving big wet stains on his pillow. But no, it wasn't anything quite so dramatic. No sobs broke the silence of his room, no tears rolled down his face other than the slight wetness to his eyes. He just felt blank and hollow inside. Like he couldn't feel anything anymore. Which pretty much wasn't far from the truth. He felt the vague pulls of anger and sadness and heartbreak, certainly, and he was sure he'd feel them full force eventually. But for the most part he was just numb, unsure if he could ever even begin to wrap his mind around what he'd seen.
Not that what he had seen was confusing or ambiguous in any way, of course, Tedd thought with a slightly bitter laugh. That part was pretty clear. Grace kissed Alex. And he could say that with pretty solid confidence, rather than the other way around. It was painfully obvious that it had been Grace doing the kissing and making the advances. She'd been pressing him to the wall, practically crawling on top of him in her eagerness to squeeze their lips together, so insistent on it that Alex had barely seemed able to get a word in edgewise, figuratively speaking. Tedd had once liked to think that that part was never lacking in their relationship, that maybe despite his physical inadequacies, just maybe, he might not be too bad a kisser. But good lord, he'd never seen Grace kiss anyone like that before, least of all him. That level of passion just didn't ever come out of her while they were together.
Clearly, however, Alex brought it out of her almost without even trying. He and Grace had known each other for a few days at the most, and already he had her so turned on she couldn't keep herself from furiously making out with him in public. There was no way in hell Tedd could compete with that. And really, he should have seen it coming. From the moment she had met Alex, she just hadn't been the same. Somewhere inside of him, way in the back of his head, a small, meek voice had known days ago that it was the beginning of the end, but like an idiot, he'd pushed that voice down and suppressed it, had dared to hope that things would turn out all right.
But just like his mother, Grace had ditched him. That voice had been right. Of course it had been right. It was always right. He should have listened to it. He should have known better. Maybe then he could have spared himself at least a little of the heartbreak he felt…
A soft knock at his door reached his ears just then, telling him it was Grace who was behind it. She was probably stopping by to tell him it was over. He hoped as much, anyway. At least if that was the case it would mean she was done lying to him, Tedd thought with a sudden and very unpleasant swoop of anger. If she'd wanted to be with Alex so bad she could have had the courtesy to not lead him on for a few extra days with insincere kisses and fake 'I love you's.
"Tedd…?" he quiet voice drifted in through the door. "Are you in there…?"
"It's open," Tedd grunted, surprising himself with how hollow the words sounded.
Grace must have been surprised by it too, because it was several seconds before she actually opened the door, and several more before she stepped far enough into the room so that she could see him, her audible footsteps telling Tedd she was human for the moment. He felt another slight bit of surprise as he saw her as well, and noticed her eyes were red and puffy, like she'd been crying. For a second it yanked violently at his heartstrings and made him want to jump up and hug her and kiss her and do anything to make her feel better; but then he remembered what he'd seen at school and why she was probably here to see him, and that desire was pushed down again.
"…So…" Grace began slowly, "…I guess…you saw what happened at school…"
"I'm surprised you even noticed me. You seemed so busy," Tedd shot back, more bitterly than he'd intended, and he was thankful he wasn't looking at her at the moment because he was sure the words would make that look on her face even more gut wrenching.
Indeed, though he didn't notice it, Grace winced and had to blink back a couple of tears before she could go on. "Tedd, you have no idea how sorry I am, you have every right to be upset…"
"I'm fine," Tedd lied. "I get it. You want him. That's great. Go on, you can have him. I don't care."
"Yes you do, Tedd…" Grace said knowingly. "But it's not like that, I swear…"
"You made out with him. In public."
"I know, Tedd, but-"
"You never kissed me like that even in private."
"Tedd, I swear, I can explain-"
"Well maybe I don't want to hear it!" Tedd suddenly shouted. "Maybe I already know exactly what you're going to say and I don't need to have it rubbed in my face! I get it, okay? We're over! You don't want me anymore, you want him!"
"We're not 'over,' Tedd, I swear! Please, Tedd, just let me explain…" Grace begged. "I understand why you're upset! I would be, too! But I swear, if you just give me a chance to-"
"To what?" Tedd stopped her. "Give me a good reason for lying to me the last few days with all that 'I love you' talk?"
"I'd never!" Grace said back immediately. "I'd never lie about that, Tedd, I love you more than anything!"
"Then what, was making out with Alex just an 'experiment' or something?" Tedd suggested with a derisive sneer.
"No, Tedd, I swear, that…that wasn't me…"
"Don't lie to me!" Tedd shouted. "The only way anyone could be pretending to be you is with your clone form in the TF Gun, and no one's used that without my knowing it!"
Grace winced again. "No, I mean…it was me, but…it wasn't…me…"
"It was you but it wasn't you?" Tedd snorted disbelievingly. "What, are you schizophrenic now or someth-"
"Tedd, STOP IT!" Grace suddenly screamed.
If only in sheer surprise, Tedd shut his mouth, and his surprise kept growing when he realized just how upset she looked now. Tears were running freely down her cheeks, though she did nothing to stop them or wipe them away, and she was shaking so badly Tedd wondered how she was still standing. What was going on? Why was she so upset…? Were things really not the way he'd convinced himself they were? Could he really dare to get his hopes up…?
"Please, just…stop talking like that…" Grace said, her voice dropping to a meek whisper. "It hurts…it hurts so much…"
Once again Tedd felt that intense pull at his heart to jump up and pull her into a crushing hug and never let her go. And this time the urge wasn't going away. That little voice in his head was still telling him not to be a fool, not to get his hopes up again, but even that part of him hated seeing the pain in Grace's expression and agreed to shut up for the moment.
"…All right," Tedd finally said. His voice still sounded hollow, but at least the anger and malice was gone from it. "…I'm sorry."
"…It's okay…" Grace said back. "…I've probably hurt you even worse than that…"
Tedd said nothing to that.
"…But I swear, Tedd, I never, ever meant to hurt you…just give me a chance to explain what happened…"
"…Okay," Tedd agreed, against the urge of that voice in his head, that didn't want him to get his hopes up. He couldn't listen to it. The risk was worth it. He loved her too much not to hope. "…I'm listening."
"Thank you…" she whispered, and took a few breaths to collect herself. "…Tedd, there's…something I've been keeping from you for a couple of days…"
In the pit of his stomach, Tedd winced immediately. That was not the start he'd hoped for.
"I…haven't really been myself lately. I've been having these weird feelings and dreams and…urges, all week."
"…Like what?" Tedd dared to ask.
"I've been…noticing boys more, for some reason."
Again Tedd winced inwardly. "…Oh."
"…At first it really wasn't much of anything…little things like…noticing Justin's hair looked nice, or Elliot had a cute smile, or…"
"…Um…" Tedd muttered, coughing.
Grace blushed. "…or…having…naughty dreams…"
Tedd blushed right behind her. "…O-oh…"
"I didn't really think anything of it at first," Grace quickly moved on. "I mean it was a little weird, but I was handling it…until I met Alex…"
"…So you do like him," Tedd said quietly.
"…I…found him attractive, yeah…" Grace admitted. "But it was still weird. When I was around him…I'd just go blank. I wouldn't even be aware of what I was doing. I would just fawn over him and laugh with him and get all overheated watching him play sports and-"
"Is this supposed to make me feel better?" Tedd stopped her. "Because it's not."
"Tedd, I'm trying to say, it wasn't me feeling that way. Not really. Not this me standing here. Some…other part of me took over every time I saw him, and I…I couldn't control myself, Tedd…that awful part of me did whatever it wanted…that's the part of me that…kissed him…"
Tedd frowned. "…Grace, I know hormones can be really strong and really confusing, but you can't blame it on some kind of 'other self.' Everyone had urges they have to keep under control."
"Not like this," Grace insisted. "This is way worse than that, trust me. Ellen's seen it, Ellen knew something was really, really wrong with me…and just today she figured it out…"
"Figured what out?"
"…Tedd, d'you know what happens to a lot of mammals after winter is over? Including squirrels?"
"Well of course, after they wake up from hibernation, a lot of mammals go into a reproduc…tive…cy…cle…" Tedd trailed off.
Grace nodded slowly, blushing deep. "…Yeah…"
Tedd's eyes widened, staring at her. "Are…are you saying you're…"
Grace nodded. "…That's what Ellen thinks, anyway. Because of my squirrel DNA. And it fits. It explains…why I kept noticing boys, and why I was all over Alex. When certain mammals are in heat, including squirrels, they get really, really strong urges to find the most…physically appealing mates. And to…um…"
"…Have sex with them," Tedd finished rather bluntly.
Grace shuddered slightly, but nodded. "…Yes."
Tedd stared at her for a long time, trying to comprehend everything she'd said. Was it really possible? Did she not really want to go out with Alex instead? Was it really just primitive, basic instinct that made her kiss him? Because he was a 'physically appealing mate?' But then why Alex? Why not him…?
"…You're really serious about this," Tedd eventually stated.
Grace nodded slowly. "I'd never lie about something like this, Tedd. I swear it's the truth. These instincts keep telling me to…find the best mates I can…"
"And you chose Alex," Tedd added, his tone slowly darkening again.
"No, Tedd, I didn't choose anyone!" Grace quickly corrected him. "I didn't have any control over it! The instincts just kept taking over! My body was doing it all on its own!"
"It still chose Alex. It's pretty obvious what that means."
"But Tedd, you're-"
"Don't say it, Grace," Tedd muttered. "You know it's a lie. I've always been this shrimpy little stick figure with big stupid glasses. Alex is a Greek God compared to me. Of course you'd pick him over me. You'd pick anyone over me…"
"No, Tedd, I wouldn't! That's the point! How I felt had nothing to do with it!" Grace shouted.
"Yeah, well, I guess it doesn't matter now," Tedd blew it off. "Obviously these instincts of yours are telling you to have sex with Alex, so you might as well go and-"
"Tedd Verres, don't you DARE finish that sentence!"
Tedd nearly stumbled at the suddenly furious words flowing from Grace's lips. He'd never heard her talk like that before. Not once.
"No, you be QUIET and LISTEN to me!" she ordered him. "I don't care what those stupid instincts want me to do! That horrible side of me just wants nothing but empty, meaningless sex! It doesn't care even a little bit about love! But I do, Tedd! I don't want meaningless sex, I want to be with my boyfriend who I love more than anything else in the whole world! I love YOU, Tedd! I want YOU, I…I need you…!"
Tedd's knees shook. "Y…you do…?"
"Of course I do, you stupid idiot…!" she insisted, her anger fading and her normal self slowly returning. "I don't care who these stupid instincts are telling me to latch on to! They can tell me all they want that I should be having sex with Alex, but no matter what, Tedd, I will never, ever, ever want that, and the only person I ever would want that with is…!"
"…is…?" Tedd slowly asked, blushing hard, somehow already knowing her answer.
"…is…you…" Grace whispered the last bit.
"…O-oh…" Tedd murmured, stunned nevertheless. "…R…really…?"
Grace, too, was crimson by now. "…who'd you think the dirty dreams were about, huh…?"
"…So there," she finished. "That's why…all this stuff that's been happening this week…that's the reason. I'm sorry, Tedd…I should've told you in the first place…I was just so embarrassed, I couldn't make myself say something…and then it just kept getting worse…"
Tedd put a hand to his heart, still feeling crippling pain there. But it was a new pain now. Now instead of the pain of thinking he'd lost Grace, it was the pain of berating himself for ever thinking anything badly of her. He'd been a fool, all right. Not for hoping, but for ever giving that hope up.
"…Can you ever forgive me…?" Grace whispered.
Immediately Tedd drew her into the tight, protective hug he'd been wanting to give her since the conversation started. "I'm the one who should be apologizing, Grace…I'm the one who let myself think badly of you…I'm the one who didn't trust you…"
"I still should've told you the truth…" Grace countered. "Maybe if I had, none of this would've happened…"
"You had no way of knowing what was really happening to you…" Tedd assured her. "No one did. Yours is a…pretty unique case…"
"Yeah…" Grace admitted. "Not many squirrel girls in the world, huh…?"
"One is all I want…"
Grace looked up at him with a renewed smile, and before he could say another word she was kissing him and he was kissing back, the weights that had been hanging over them finally lifted.
Tedd felt Grace break the kiss earlier than he would have liked, and as he opened his eyes he saw that she was oddly flushed and breathing heavier than usual. "Grace?" he asked. "Are you okay…?"
"Yeah…" she assured him. "It's just…you know, the instincts thing…"
"…They're still getting worse, aren't they?"
"…Yes," Grace admitted, and again she began to blush. "…I…I don't think I can keep fighting them anymore, Tedd. If I do, sooner or later…something's going to snap…"
"…Well…" Tedd started, looking off distantly in thought. "I could…look into some TF Gun modifications and try to isolate and suppress that gene-"
"No, Tedd…" she said, putting her hands on his cheeks and pulling him to face her again. "I meant…I don't want to fight it anymore…"
"…" Tedd suddenly gulped. "O-oh…um…w-wow, Grace, I…"
"…Like I said…if I keep fighting it, it just gets worse. It's just like any other instinct. You fight sleep and the instinct to sleep gets stronger and stronger. Same with eating. Same with breathing. And the only way to really get rid of the instinct is to…do what it says…"
"B-but…Grace, it…it wouldn't be right…" Tedd stammered. "You haven't been yourself…I-I don't want to take advantage of…"
"You're not…" Grace insisted. "Honestly, Tedd…I'm thinking more clearly now than I have been all week. And…there's nothing I want more than…to be with you…"
"…I…want to be with you too…" Tedd admitted.
Grace smiled wider, not needing to say anything else. She kissed him again, and this time it was much more electric, much more heated and passionate. He almost couldn't believe it was happening, really. But when they fell back and landed on his bed together mid-kiss and bonked their heads together somewhat painfully, he was pretty positive it was real.
"S-sorry…" Grace murmured.
"It's okay…" Tedd assured her, and gulped again at the feeling of her gentle weight pressed on top of him. "You, um…you're sure about this…?"
"…" Grace nodded. "Completely…"
A second later their lips met once again. And unlike the previous ones, it would be quite a while before this one was truly broken.
Epilogue: One romantic weekend later…
"Wow…no wonder I didn't hear from you 'til this morning."
Grace nodded, wearing a big smile on her face as she rooted around through her locker amidst the general din of the Monday morning masses chattering and slamming locker doors in the minutes before the first bell of the day. "Yeah…I guess I was pretty busy…hehe…"
"So you patched everything up with him?"
Grace nodded. "Mmhmm. He was so understanding…I can't believe how understanding he was…"
"He must really love you."
Grace glowed. "Yeah…he really does…and I really love him too…"
"Guess that kiss was really meant for him, then, huh?"
Grace winced at that, and closed her locker so that she could see her friend's face. "…About that, Alex…"
Alex shook his head, slapping his own locker closed and dropping his books for the day in his backpack. "Grace, you really don't have to-"
"Yes I do…I have to say I'm sorry," she cut him off. "…I was…totally out of line the other day."
"…It's okay, Grace, really…everything turned out okay, didn't it?"
"Still…it could've been a lot worse. But I swear it's never gonna happen again," she added quickly. "I didn't even know what I was doing, I wasn't thinking straight. Normally I NEVER would've done something like that. I was just…repressing a lot of stuff…but it's taken care of now. And I'd…really like it if we could still be friends."
Alex smiled slightly. "Of course we're still friends, Grace."
"Really? You're not mad or anything…?"
"Nah…trust me, I know what you mean about being repressed…and it was just a kiss."
Grace blushed a bit. "I'm really sorry…I hope I didn't mess things up with your boyfriend…"
"I promise, we're fine. Forget about it. Water under the bridge."
Grace smiled at that. "Thank you…"
"Don't mention it," he said, smiling back. "Still want to have that video game night sometime?"
Grace nodded immediately. "Absolutely…but um…can I bring my boyfriend…?"
"The more the merrier," he agreed. "We can make a double date out of it, even."
"Awesome," Grace said with a grin. "And maybe we can try playing foots ball!"
"Oh, right…and um…how do you play, again?" she asked, turning to walk to class.
Alex chuckled, and turned to walk with her. "Alright, alright…it goes something like this…"
Thanks for reading, everyone. More EGS fics are in production, hopefully they'll see the light of day, eventually.
Comments and critiques are welcomed and appreciated, as always.