They were to Venice Beach again, but this time they were relaxing. Taking time off, as Jeb had put it. He'd been looking worriedly at Max as he'd said it, and it was obvious to everyone as to why. Max had lost a lot of weight recently, she had bags under her eyes big enough to fit Akila into, and they all knew about the nightmares.
Max had protested, saying that they still had too much to do, still newly-discovered Itex branches to destroy, still the rainforest to save, and then there was that conference in Geneva that they'd been asked to attend. Jeb had firmly suggested that they arrive in New York in time for their flight out, but get the hell away from anything resembling work for the time between now and then.
Max had protested.
Nudge had whispered something suggestive in her ear.
Max had smiled, blushed, and agreed to leave for some sunshine as soon as they'd packed.
Jeb had shaken his head, torn between glaring at Nudge for 'corrupting his daughter' and relief at the fact that Max had agreed. If he'd had his way, Max and Nudge would be on opposite sides of the globe, not in each other's beds, but Jeb never had his way anymore - it was sort of a payback.
Gazzy didn't exactly care.
Fang had spent the last three hours describing, in as much detail as possible, the 'assets' of every half-attractive girl who strolled by. Iggy had spent the last few hours staring into space with his mouth half-open. Thank god he wasn't drooling, or Gazzy would have to completely disown the two of them. He didn't know what it was that made eighteen year old guys so braindead when girls came along, but he hoped it never affected him.
Angel giggled from her towel. Gazzy thought some swearwords at her that he hoped Max would never get wind of.
Angel scowled, then got up and stomped away to the sea for another swim. Gazzy got the distinct impression that if there was a door around she would have slammed it.
He squashed down a flicker of guilt, figuring that if she was listening to his thought then she deserved it.
Max and Nudge arrived back from wherever the hell they'd been for the past few days right before they had to check out of the hotel. Both were way too happy and smiley and all that kind of crap. Jeb wouldn't have been approving at all.
Gazzy wasn't either.
The flight sucked. It was long, boring, and he had to stay in close proximity to his family the whole damn time, although he couldn't exactly say why he was annoyed at them.
Max and Nudge spent the whole time sleeping, because everyone knew that they hadn't been. Angel had made clucking noises for a while, tucked blankets around the older girls, and then had gone to sleep herself. Fang and Iggy had spent the whole time ogling the hostesses' bums.
Gazzy had taken one look. It hadn't appealed.
He'd spent the rest of the flight glaring a hole in the wall.
It took a week after the conference finished before anyone realised that he was giving them the silent treatment. And even then, it was the dog.
Gazzy considered kicking Total, but he just knew that he'd be really, really dead if he tried. Angel was fiercely protective of the aging dog, and she really wasn't happy with him still.
He sighed, ignoring the dog's droning monologue. Flying away would be rude. Staying was torture. Screw the dog.
He'd arrived back from his 'escape', to find dinner had arrived from the Italian place downtown. He sat down on the armchair, leaving everyone else to have the sofas. He didn't want to sit next to anyone right now.
He ate half a pizza, a couple of chips. Seeing Fang and Iggy drooling over some chick on some TV ad made him nauseous, and he didn't know why. He quietly excused himself.
Max shrugged after he'd left. "What's eating him?"
Nudge had grinned, "Dunno, but I can tell what's gonna be eating you..."
Gazzy had listened to the groans and shrieks that he left in the room behind him, and wondered why he felt like this.
"Dude, you're thirteen." Iggy sat down beside him. Gazzy was staring out at the forest. Iggy looked like he was staring out the forest. He would be if he could.
"Is this going anywhere, or do you have an obsessive need to state the obvious." Gazzy didn't bother looking around to see if his remark had hit any nerves. Iggy didn't seem to have any nerves these days – it'd be a pointless exercise.
"You're a teenager. It means you get moody, angry, sad, all that crap. You don't want to deal with anything, and your head's suddenly some strange place where nothing's right. And you get sidetracked by ...stuff."
Gazzy felt like snapping. But he didn't. "Oh, I'm sure you've got everything about me sorted out just fine, Iggy," he said coldly.
This time he did hit a nerve, Iggy hissed in surprise at his tone. "Hey," He said gently, "no need to be like that..."
Gazzy chuckled darkly. "Like, what? A teenager? All moody and angry and all that crap?" He swung around to look at Iggy's crestfallen face. "No, I suppose not, me being a teenager and all. But you've got me all figured out, so I suppose it's okay, right?"
Iggy reached out with one hand, but Gazzy knocked it away. "Leave me the hell alone, Iggy. You don't know anything."
Gazzy listened as Iggy got up slowly and headed back inside. As the door closed, he put his head in his hands and tried not to cry. He didn't succeed.
He knew that he was getting the others angry at him. But he didn't think that was a bad thing right now. He felt wrong. He felt that they should stay away.
They sat on the pier: another beach, another escape by Nudge and Max. Angel was eating icecream. Fang was describing girls to Iggy. Iggy was drooling. Gazzy was finding the girls they were talking about, spotting them in the crowd.
He didn't find them attractive.
He tried to feel something. Anything at all.
He wasn't right. He wasn't like Fang and Iggy. He should be like Fang and Iggy. He knew that being... well, he wasn't...
The fights that had started because of Max and Nudge had been horrible. Fang had been so angry, Iggy hadn't spoken to anyone for days. Max's mom had spent a week crying. Jeb had been more furious than Fang had. Ella had ignored them all. Angel had locked herself in her room. Gazzy had watched it all with wide eyes. He'd spent as much time out of the house as he could, staying at the park, on the swings until late at night. He'd swing for hours.
Gazzy didn't want the fights to start up again because of him.
Max and Nudge arrived back, Nudge carrying half-eaten candyfloss and completely hyper. Max was laughing. Gazzy felt like vomiting.
They all made their way back to the hotel, Max regaling them with some story about some guy they'd seen on their walk who'd done something 'completely hilarious'. Gazzy walked behind them all, head down, staring at cracks in the pavement.
After a while, Iggy dropped back to talk with him. Gazzy didn't know why – they were all angry at him, and God knows he deserved it with the way he'd been acting.
"Hey," said Iggy cheerfully, "Cheer up Gaz, we're at the beach. Sun, sand, waves, pretty girls in tiny bikinis..."
"Oh shove off," Gazzy snapped, not in the mood to listen to anyone else being happy. Iggy sighed, turning away to leave him alone. Max wasn't going to though.
"Gazzy, apologise." she said, frowning.
"I'm not going to, so just leave me alone."
By now the rest of the flock had gathered around, wearing annoyed and exasperated expressions. Max huffed. "I don't know what the hell's gotten into you, Gasman, but it better get the hell out before I..."
"I said leave me alone." He yelled at them, shoving past Fang and storming away.
He was sitting out on the balcony of their hotel room when the rest of them returned, watching the people in the pool, head leaning against the railings. Sometimes there was too much going on inside his mind.
Iggy came and sat down next to him. "Being a teenager sucks, but you don't have to take it out on us."
Gazzy just sighed and turned away. "Come on, Gaz." He said. "Just come inside, have some dinner, you know..."
"Pretend." Gazzy said flatly. "Pretend everything's happy, and okay, and..."
"We're not normal, Iggy!" Gazzy hissed, frustrated. He banged his head against the railing
"I know. But you gotta try. We'll have dinner, Max ordered Chinese, and we'll watch a movie tonight. You know there's that movie out, Flightline..."
Gazzy banged his head again. "How domestic." He said wryly.
Iggy grinned. "That's better. Come on." He offered a hand up. Gazzy took it, and they headed inside. The rest of the flock looked a little relieved.
They ate their Chinese on the couch, the TV turned to the news. They talked during the ads. Gazzy didn't have much to say, but he made an effort.
He couldn't sleep that night, and finally decided to just give up on trying at midnight. He slide out of the room and onto the balcony, staring out at the sea, thinking things over.
Iggy and Fang joined him not-half-an-hour later. "Hey," said Fang. "Nice one, Gaz! Why didn't you come and tell us that there are girls skinny-dipping in the pool!"
Gazzy looked down. "I honestly hadn't noticed." He said, but neither were listening, because Fang was describing and Iggy was drooling.
It wasn't much of a thinking spot anymore, so he got up and went back to bed, leaving them behind to talk and drool.
Breakfast was annoying, because Angel was giggly about something Nudge was obsessing over, and Max was watching them both with her mother-hen look. Gazzy quietly ate his cereal, and waited for the guys to get up. They were going to fly to some island off the coast for an explore, which should be fun. No pretending, after all.
It was late, nearly lunchtime when they left. Flying meant that you could stay quiet, especially when the Nudge channel was at full volume. And then lunch when they landed meant that he could stay quiet – eating occupied your mouth.
Nudge disappeared after that, dragging along Max, who didn't seem too eager to stay, and Fang was content to watch Angel as she swam. Gazzy mumbled something about exploring, and left them to it.
His version of exploring meant finding a comfy spot to sit, with a nice supply of rocks to throw at anything he could see. He didn't think that the rocks appreciated it, nor the trees, but after all the "Save-the-environment" crap that they'd done recently, he was pretty sure that trees owed him one.
"Isn't this better?" Iggy asked. Gazzy didn't bother asking how he'd been found, it was pretty obvious.
"Isn't what better."
Iggy sighed. "Being a sociable person, rather than a lump of icky teenage angst."
Iggy came and sat down, and Gazzy threw more rocks.
"Why'd you go back inside?" Iggy asked, after rock number five. Getting Iggy to talk was easy – he didn't like the quiet.
Iggy rolled his eyes. "Last night, doofus!" he exclaimed. "With the hot naked girls in the pool!"
"I don't get what that's got to do with anything." Gazzy retorted defensively.
"Dude," Iggy drawled. "Hot girls. You know, make your insides go all fluttery, make your head spin, make your heart beat faster. Hot, naked girls."
"I still don't get it." Gazzy said quietly. "Only thing that makes my insides go fluttery is a fart, and my head spins when I keep it too long before letting rip.
Iggy snorted, but then paused when he realised what Gazzy had really said. "You don't like looking at girls." He stated, to make sure.
"Damn. You can look at them but don't want to, and I can't but do." Iggy said, shaking his head. Gazzy half-smiled. "Fine pair we make."
They sat in silence for a while, just listening to the waves. This time it was Gazzy who couldn't stay quiet. "What's it like," he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
"What you said. Insides all fluttery, head spinning, all that."
Iggy paused. "Bit like this," he said softly, and leaned in to gently press his lips to Gazzy's.
'He wasn't kidding', Gazzy thought, as his head spun and his heart rate tripled. It felt like his insides had been replaced with a million-million butterflies...
They broke apart. "Oh." Gazzy whispered. "Like that."