Chapter Nine: What a Squirrel Wants
"Where are you where are you where are you where are you…?" Ellen chanted under her breath, darting down the halls of the school and stopping in every bathroom, open classroom and empty hallway she could, desperate to find Grace. She'd hoped that the girl had patiently waited right outside the biology classroom so they could meet up again, but obviously that hadn't happened. Grace was nowhere in sight, and that didn't sit well with Ellen at all. If Grace ended up running into Alex and went off with him because she hadn't been there to keep her promise…
God, how could she have been so stupid? The obvious answer had been right there in biology class the entire time. It fit perfectly, right down to the last little detail. If only she'd paid more attention…
No, Ellen told herself with a sharp shake of her head. She couldn't think that way yet. The most important thing at that moment was to make she the girl was okay, separate her from Alex if necessary, and get her home without any further incident. There would be plenty of time to feel guilty once she found Grace.
IF she found Grace.
Ellen bolted outside, her eyes sweeping over the small mob of people climbing onto the school buses, but there was no sign of Grace there. Her gaze darted to the parking lot next, hoping perhaps she was waiting by the car ready to go home, or at the very least walking to Alex's car with him…but no, she wasn't there, either.
Wait a second, what about Tedd... she suddenly remembered. He was going to come and pick her up…
Her eyes did another quick search, and this time, with a rush of relief, she noticed Elliot's car just beside the buses, and Tedd's purple-haired face behind the wheel. Her relief quickly evaporated, though, when she jogged closer and saw the tortured expression on his face, as he stared at something. And as Ellen followed his stare, her relief vanished completely, to be replaced by sheer horror at the sight that greeted her.
Grace and Alex stood together against the nearest wall of the school, leaning heavily against it. Or at least Alex was. Grace was leaning rather heavily on HIM. In fact it looked like she was practically trying to lay on top of him, the way she was grinding her body up against him and wrapping her arms around him. But the worst part of it by far was the almost sickening image of Grace furiously kissing Alex, shameless and uninhibited and, from Ellen's point of view, open-mouthed.
"Oh dear god I'm going to hurl…" Ellen murmured, holding her stomach.
Ellen nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound, and her nose curled at the foul odor of burning rubber that followed right behind it. She whirled to look toward the dual affront to her senses, and saw Elliot's car in motion, a broken-looking Tedd driving it away from the sight as fast as he could.
"Oh no, no, no, no, NO, DAMNIT!" Ellen shouted in frustration, but it did no good. He was already gone.
Great. Now she REALLY felt bad.
Ellen growled and clenched her fists, spinning back to glare at the lip-locked couple. Obviously this was the sight that had driven Tedd away, and Ellen couldn't say she blamed him. Grace had just created a veritable laundry list of problems to pile on top of her existing ones, and Ellen was suddenly determined to stop the bleeding. It was time to start fixing things, and the travesty before her was the first thing on the list. She stomped up behind the pair, lifting her arms and opening her mouth, but before she could do a thing with either of them, Grace was pushed away from Alex's body, landing in Ellen's waiting, and surprised, arms.
"I said NO!" Alex blurted out as he shoved her, gasping for breath and looking around wildly.
"Whoa! What the hell?" Ellen shouted, catching her, and glaring at Alex. "What was that for?"
Alex, though, again to her complete surprise, looked more awkward and embarrassed than Ellen thought was possible, looking apologetically at Ellen for just a moment before looking around them again, as though searching for anyone who might have seen. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be that rough, but I didn't know what else to DO, she was all over me!"
"What, suddenly you grew a conscience?" Ellen snarled slightly, not letting herself be fazed by his odd reactions. "The hell is wrong with you, hitting on a girl with a boyfriend?"
"She has a boyfriend?" Alex echoed as he suddenly stared at her again, clearly shocked. "She never mentioned a boyfriend!"
"…" Ellen's jaw dropped slightly, her gaze turning on Grace now. "You didn't tell him about Tedd?"
"Mmm…who's Tedd…?" was her dreamy response, her eyes focused on Alex.
"…" Ellen's eyes became as big as saucers. "Ex-CUSE me?"
"Do you mind…?" she murmured, looking right past her at Alex again. "I was enjoying that kiss…even if he is playing hard to get…hehe…"
Ellen's jaw was practically to the pavement by now. "Okay, you have officially gone COMPLETELY off the deep end. I am taking you home, NOW."
"Hey, wait a minute, will someone explain to me what's going on here?" Alex nearly demanded. "One second I'm hanging out with someone I think is a nice new friend and the next second she's trying to…make out with me!"
"Like you were complaining," Ellen growled, hoisting Grace up.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I was!" Alex countered. "I tried to tell her I wasn't interested in her like that, but she wouldn't listen! If my boyfriend saw that, he's going to flip!"
"Oh, please, you'd have to be gay to not want Gra-" Ellen froze mid-speech. "…I'm sorry, did…did you say…your boyfriend?"
"…" Alex reddened for a brief moment. "…I, uh…um…whoops…"
"…Whoa. You ARE ga-"
"Shh! Not so loud!" he shushed her, looking around conspiratorially. "Oh man, I hope no one heard that…"
"…So wait, all this time, you weren't, like, hitting on her?" Ellen marveled.
"No, of course not. I was just trying to make a friend, and I thought she was doing the same thing," Alex insisted. "Jeez, can't a guy be nice to a girl without being accused of hitting on her or getting hit on BY her?"
"…" Ellen stared at him in shock, and part of her wanted to probe further, but she shook it off after a moment. Grace had to come first. She could worry about getting his side of the story later. "Listen, um…Alex…I really, really hate to run off right now, but I need to deal with Grace, she's…um…she's going through a weird time, it's a long story, and I don't know exactly how to explain it. But I'm sorry she caused you trouble."
Alex sighed and rubbed his forehead, but eventually nodded. "It's alright…just, uh…don't say anything about…"
"I won't," she promised, and with a quick wave goodbye she dragged Grace away from him toward the parking lot.
"Heyyy, what're you doing? I wanna be with Alex…" Grace whined, sounding completely unlike herself.
"Grace, I love you and all…but shut up," Ellen ordered, hauling her into the car.
By the time Ellen had gotten her back to the Dunkel residence, Grace had returned to her right state of mind again. Ellen, however, would have almost preferred she was still lost in fantasy land, because the moment she realized what she'd done, she broke down into hysterics and began crying into Ellen's shoulder, and hadn't stopped for the last half-hour.
"Um…there, there…" Ellen tried awkwardly to comfort her as they sat on the living room couch. "It's gonna be okay…"
"No it won't…it won't ever be okay…!" Grace wailed. "I KISSED him! I KISSED ALEX! Why did I DO that?"
Ellen cleared her throat. "Yeah, um, Grace, about that, I think there's something you need to-"
"Oh God, what's WRONG with me?" Grace cut her off with another sob. "I just completely lost control, I didn't even CARE for a minute, I…!"
"Yeah, I know, Grace, just listen for a second, you're-"
"I felt like I wanted…like I wanted to-!"
"I know!" Ellen shouted, stopping her. "…I know."
"Yeah. You wanted to have sex with him, didn't you?"
Grace jolted, partly from the unpleasant reality of Ellen's words, and partly in surprise that she had figured it out. "How did you know…?"
"…Grace, I think I've found out what's been happening to you lately," Ellen began.
"You have?" Grace nearly burst out, wiping roughly at her tears. "Tell me, please! Whatever it is, tell me, so I can get rid of it!"
"…Uhhm…see, that's the thing…I don't think you CAN get rid of it."
"Wh…what? Why not?"
"Well, because…you see…well, if it's what I think it is, anyway…you wouldn't be able to get rid of it because it's kinda sorta ingrained into your DNA…"
"My DNA is making me cheat on Tedd?"
Ellen reddened a bit. 'N-not exactly. It's more like…"
Ellen reddened even further. "…Grace, I think…I think you might be in heat."
"…" Grace stared blankly for a moment, the words apparently meaningless to her. "In heat…? You mean like…I'm getting too much sun?"
Grace squeezed Ellen's shoulder. "Ellen, you gotta tell me…I want to know…"
"…" Ellen sighed, and nodded resignedly. "Okay, but you're not going to like it…"
"It's not like I don't deserve it, after what I did…" Grace murmured dejectedly.
"No, Grace, don't say that…"
"It's the truth…"
"No, it's not!" Ellen insisted. "That's just it, Grace…what's been happening to you is totally out of your control!"
"See…we learned something new in biology class today…we were talking about how smaller mammals reproduce, and well…"
"Yeah…?" Grace probed.
"…Most of them have this…cycle…where they get a super-powerful urge to…well…have sex."
"…" Grace's eyes widened a bit. "Wh…why?"
"So they can have babies, basically. It's all part of the whole circle of life thing. Ensure the survival of the species an' stuff."
"…Aww…" Grace managed to coo, warmed just slightly by the thought of little baby animals.
"Yeah, so…basically they get that instinct, and it's called being in heat, and it happens to a lot of small mammals…including squirrels."
It was then that Grace started to get it. "S…squirrels…?"
"Yeah…and since you've got some squirrel DNA…I figured that's what was happening to you. Because, see, it's supposed to be this really super-strong instinct that they can't really control, it just makes them look for the best-looking 'mates' and, uh…y'know…makes them wanna…"
Grace was pale as a ghost by now, staring blankly at Ellen. "My DNA is making me want to run out and…and do…dirty things with Alex because he LOOKS GOOD? So I can have babies?"
"…Basically, yeah, if my guess is right…and since you were focusing a lot on good-looking guys like Alex, I figured those instincts were probably tellin' ya it'd be a really good idea to, uh…y'know, um…get some lovin' on with him…and uh…that's how I knew…" Ellen finished, blushing horribly by contrast.
"…" Grace fell silent, turning to stare blankly off into space, as though she'd gone numb. But at least she wasn't crying anymore, Ellen thought, and that was surely a plus.
"…Grace?" Ellen tried.
"…So that's why…why I felt so attracted to all the guys?" Grace asked. "Why Tedd and Elliot and Justin all felt really attractive? Why I…kissed Alex…?"
"…Well, it was kinda way past a kiss by the time I got there, but…yeah, basically," Ellen said.
"Ohh God, I can't believe I did that…" Grace moaned pitiably, burying her face in her hands. "What's Alex going to think of me now…? He probably thinks I'm insane…ohh, and how am I gonna tell Tedd…?"
Ellen felt a jab of guilt at those words. "Uhh…about that…um…Tedd kind of…saw you."
Grace twitched violently, whirling on her. "He what?"
"Yeah…I'd talked to him earlier and told him maybe it would be a good idea for you guys to spend some time together instead of with Alex, and he was coming to pick you up, but then he saw that and…well…" Ellen trailed off, wincing.
"Ohh God, this is the worst day EVER…!"
"I'm sorry, Grace…I thought it would be a good idea, it just…backfired…"
Grace hung her head again, looking about ready to collapse into renewed tears, but she held them back, resolved to just sniffling now.
"…Are you…gonna be okay?" Ellen asked after a few moments.
"…I don't know…" Grace murmured. "Tedd saw me kiss another boy…he must HATE me now…"
"Oh, come on, I'm sure he doesn't HATE you…"
"After what he saw, he probably thinks I want to…break up…"
"Grace, come on, be reasonable…if you just explain everything to him, he'll understand…"
"It doesn't matter…even if he doesn't hate me now, he probably will soon," Grace countered with another sniffle. "If…if what you're saying about my DNA is true, then…what am I supposed to do about it? It's been getting worse and worse every day. How can I even trust myself to go outside if I'm just going to pounce all over any boy that I see…?"
"I…I don't know. I wish I had an answer, Grace, but I just don't know enough about the subject. I don't know how to make a natural, basic instinct just go away…"
Ellen looked down in defeat as she spoke, but Grace on the other hand seemed to gain a sudden concentration at her words, as though something had hit her.
"…natural instincts…" she murmured, dawning comprehension growing across her face as she jumped to her feet. "I…I have to see Tedd…"
Ellen blinked in surprise. "…Right now?"
"Yes…right now…he deserves to know the truth…"
"…" Ellen nodded. "Yeah…that's a good idea. Better talk it out ASAP then wait around until it gets really bad…"
"Thanks, Ellen…I don't know what I would've done without you today…"
Ellen shook her head, guilt returning to her quickly. "Don't say that. I'm the whole reason this mess got this far. I wasn't paying attention and let you walk off and miss class…if you'd been there we could have figured this out together right then and there, and that stupid kiss never would've happened…I'm sorry, Grace, it's all my fault…I broke my promise…"
"None of this mess is your fault, Ellen," Grace assured her. "It's all MY weird DNA…there was no way you could've known."
"But still, I-"
"No, Ellen," Grace said firmly. "Don't blame yourself. I never should have put the burden on you. This is MY problem, and darn it, I'm gonna go FIX it!"
"Fix it? Fix it how?" Ellen echoed. "You can't just make instincts like that go away…"
"Maybe not…or maybe I can. I have an idea."
"…what kind of idea?"
"…I'll tell you later. If it works…" Grace murmured.
Ellen searched her expression for some hint of what the other girl was planning, but found nothing. Which seriously worried her. "…Grace, are you sure you know what you're doing…?" she probed, her curiosity unwilling to be suppressed.
"I hope so…" Grace said, far from convincingly, and was out the door before Ellen could say another word.
Comments and critiques are welcomed and appreciated, as always.