"Alright, alright I'm coming!" Spencer Shay rushed to meet the visitor tapping a cheerful tune against the other side of the door. Honestly, even after he came out on top of that demon-child of an adversary, he just couldn't have a moment to enjoy the fruits of his labor!
Even still, he swung the door open for his guest, the same one that came in on his own less than five minutes ago—one Fredward Benson. "Hey, what's up?"
One Fredward Benson that quickly grew a frown on his face. "Hey. Why did you take your pants off?"
"That's enough, thank you!" Freddie, for once, was more than willing to leave the blanks unfilled.
Spencer graciously dropped the matter. "Anyway, if you were looking for Carly and the twins, they just left."
"No that's fine, I was just retur—" Freddie promptly fumbled the sentence in his mouth. Offense recovers; Second and Goal. "...What'd you just say?"
"...Yeah, you just missed them going down the elevator. Carly, Sam and Melanie."
Freddie barked a laugh, after a tense second. "You can stop playing along with Sam's silly mind games, you know."
"Oh okay....what mind games exactly?" The older man scratched his head.
"You know, that whole Melanie nonsense!" he responded, with the usual flamboyant amount of stress.
"...Wait, wait." Spencer was with his eyes closed, one hand in the air as he searched his memories. Then he snickered. Clown Day. "...Just out of curiosity, you haven't been hounding them about this all week, have you?"
"Well, not anymore," Freddie fired back. "Sam's owned up to it now. That's why I said you could stop playing along."
"And...up until then, it never occurred to you that all of it was the truth?" He pressed. Normally he just left stepping between the forever-bickering friends to his sister. But this...this was perfect.
"Well I—actually...no." Freddie admitted. "But come on. It's Sam. I don't think it needs to be said how stubborn she is."
"Fair enough. I'll grant you that." Even off the top of his head, Spencer could produce a number of Samantha Puckett Originals too hare-brained for television's standards. "Still...you should probably come see this."
As he stepped back and invited Freddie to cross the doorway, he could swear he could already see cracks on the smile the teen wore. Darn, it wouldn't be nearly as amusing if he can already see how silly he was being. Maybe he was lucky and it was because he still hadn't put his pants on.
In any case, Spencer led the way to the back of the spacious Shay duplex, Freddie keeping a hesitant pace behind him. Up ahead, the midday sun relentlessly pumped light through the large window. As nice as their apartment was, it didn't offer the best view of Seattle, but fortunately for today it didn't have to.
There was more than enough room for the both of them to see out of it, but Freddie rooted himself a step away. "I don't see what you could possibly have to show me."
Any minute now...there was no way they missed them...
"I mean Sam told me all about it! I've said so already, right?"
With training honed by merciless hours of Pack Rat, he reached back and grabbed Freddie by the shoulder, and forcefully guided him to the empty spot at the window. Without losing sight of the target—please, hold the applause. Freddie opened his mouth to protest, but it merely took a finger to silence him, pointed outward.
The teen carefully traced the digit's arc, and his eyes drew him to a sidewalk on their street. From there it shouldn't have been too difficult to see what Spencer was getting at; despite it being the middle of the day the streets were relatively bare of things for him to watch...
And he watched.
And he watched.
At last Spencer asked, "See it?"
He saw it alright.
More specifically, he saw the three retreating figures as they waited to cross the street. One brunette, dressed exactly as he had seen her dressed a minute ago. One blonde, dressed exactly as he had seen her dressed a minute ago. And an identical blonde, dressed differently yet sporting a ponytail he'd grown accustomed to over their past three meetings.
It was Melanie. Even from a few stories up, even from down the street, he knew; he was staring down the proof he recalled himself demanding—even right before he asked her out, at that!
Freddie tore himself from the window. "So that...wasn't..."
"Nope." Spencer supplied.
He rubbed his temples. "So when she...that was..."
"Yep." Spencer confirmed.
"Son of a..."
"Bitch?" Spencer once more lent a helping hand. "You okay?"
"...Yeah." Though he now leaned against the staircase, his kneecaps proudly stood their ground under his weight. "I'm fine, I'm just...overwhelmed, you know? With..."
Relief? Disappointment? Anger? At what? Maybe it was alarm? No, that's what he feels every time Sam is in the same room, and this was most certainly not the same!
Sam. That really should have been his moment of enlightenment. How she so easily yielded to his suspicions at the very end? Yeah, Sam didn't do 'easily'; it just wasn't in her vocabulary. Even in the not-so-rare moments when she knows she's in the wrong and they're in the right, she'd never admit to it without a lot of kicking, screaming, and maybe after a quick trip to the dermatologist. After all...
Momma plays to win.
The prickles in his face sucked him back to reality. Spencer had made off to the kitchen, washing a suspicious red substance down the drain. "Hey, um...I think I'm gonna head back. Get some fresh air."
Or a smoothie. A cold one would be good.
He'd rather not find out why he was going to town on what appeared to be his bike helmet, but the older man still nodded him off. Freddie made for the door, but then doubled back. "Oh, I almost forgot! Uh..." Why did he come here in the first place?
Something shifted awkwardly against his leg as he stepped back. Oh yeah. "Your scissors. I'm...returning them." Maybe something with strawberries in it.
Unfortunately he had to call a time out for his date with strawberry-banana swirly goodness. Stupid tick bath.
Though he could make out the dim touches of nightfall over the horizon, the sun still beat strongly against his back. He turned at the corner, offering himself reprieve; the Groovy Smoothie was in sight. A man walked inside, revealing several customers and a working staff through the open doorway. His trip would likely be a grab-and-go; after all, it was rapidly approaching Sunday evening and it wouldn't likely stay open past the hour.
As...relaxing...as his tick bath was, it gave him ample time to ponder the state of things. He probably owed a few people an apology, not the least of which was Sam. She sure as hell wasn't going to get one, but he at least acknowledged the fact.
It was just something about the blonde, he'd realized for some time, that brought out the worst in him. All the stupid bets, the pointless pranks, he put it upon himself to challenge Sam every turn of the way.
And no matter how many of his pants he ended up getting soaked, no matter how many dead things that made it's way inside his locker, he was all too happy to return fire and engage her in ways that made his mother worry and dote on him more than she did already; that made Carly always step between them in her futile efforts to stem the tide. And as the events that weekend showed, she hardly had to do anything to elicit that reaction in him.
It just occurred to him that their webshow may not be the sole reason that their names were virtually synonymous with each other at school.
Another person had stepped up to the shop. A girl. Her golden ponytail swished lazily behind her as she opened the door and walked inside.
Freddie blinked. For some reason, she was the last person he thought he'd run into today.
Even as he crossed the threshold himself, he debated the wisdom of initiating conversation. After all, he did embarrass himself last night, and if she was anything like her sister—
His hand met her shoulder. "Hey...Melanie."
Apparently that in of itself was enough to amuse the blonde. "Freddie...I didn't think you'd ever say my name without putting air quotes around it," she teased.
"Yeah, about that...I want to apologize." He found a seat at the counter where Melanie was already enjoying her c beverage. "I just...got caught up with myself and I ended up acting like a total jerk to you and you didn't even do anything to deserve it. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," she said immediately. "I already said I don't blame you for acting suspicious."
Freddie couldn't help but squint his eyes with wonder. "Just like that? You're letting it go...just like that?"
"Just like that," she giggled. Another omission from his friend's dictionary. "Sam always thinks of me as a doormat." Her smile lingered, though the rest of her face betrayed her sobered condition. "...Personally, I just think it's healthier to let people through the door in the first place."
Melanie wasn't the only one to feel the mood shift. "This past week, all I've been hearing about was how you two never get along."
She gave a small shrug. "Yeah, she pretty much doesn't like me at all. But that's just kinda how Sam is, you know? In fact it makes me worry about her sometimes, that she is like that."
Freddie nodded sagely. "I know what you mean. She worries me...all the time."
"That's not exactly what I meant. But..." Her eyes glazed over, as if pondering things long dead and forgotten. Finally she shook her head, cracking a slight, subdued smile. "Nevermind. It's kind of a long story."
And then Freddie surprised himself. "Tell me. I want to know."
Her smile grew in strength, though her eyes clouded with curiosity. "Really?"
"Really...I mean, if you don't mind."
"Okay then." She clicked her tongue, as she nearly visibly turned her mind's eye towards some old, dusty compartment of her memory.
Then she began. "Hanging out with you guys this weekend has really made me think about how much has changed. You could look at us as we are now, and then look back to maybe ten years ago, and assume I was some high-maintenance crybaby growing up. Heck, if anyone was a crybaby, you'd never think it'd be Sam."
She snickered; he must have been making a face. "It's true. I'm sure you've heard bits and pieces about our home life. About how it's...unorthodox, to say the least?" Images of many unpleasant tattoos were brought to Freddie's mind. "Sam had a really hard time coping with a lot of the stuff we were exposed to."
She took hold of her cup and drew a long sip. "It got even worse once we started going to school," she continued. "I must've been her only friend through most of elementary. To be honest, she used to get on my nerves following me around all the time, doing everything I wanted to do."
Freddie caught himself blinking, for probably the first time in a while. It occurred to him not for the first time just how much Sam Puckett didn't talk about herself. "So...what happened?"
Melanie shrugged again. "I guess she decided enough was enough. I don't really remember how it happened; some random day, everything just clicked for her. It wasn't long after that before we met Carly and Spencer."
A server began wiping down tables in the edge of Freddie's periphery. He leaned further against the counter.
Melanie spared a quick glance at the time on her phone before going on. "The same thing probably happened to me. We both probably got tired of the lives we were living, so we both changed ourselves. Only we decided to go in completely different directions. I try to be everything that isn't what I grew up with. As for Sam...well, you can see for yourself. Tell me, have you ever have a situation where she'd wait until the very last second before doing the right thing?"
Probably more times than he could count. He told her as much.
"That right there's what worries me about her. I know she wants to do right by you guys, and I don't mean to knock on her lifestyle, but...sometimes they end up contradicting each other, you know?"
She looked back up at him holding a gracious smile. "That's also why I'm glad she has friends like you and Carly. If it weren't for you, she'd probably have gone off the edge a long time ago."
He smiled back...and then he frowned. "Wait, that's...probably Carly you should be thanking the most. I'm just the guy for her to throw eggs at on a slow school day."
"Oh...is that a fact?" Melanie asked, just a touch too sweetly.
"...Among other things...but yeah, pretty much," he affirmed, ignoring the cold sensation in the back of his head. That crooked smile she appraised him with unnerved him for some reason. Many reasons.
She didn't leave him much time to figure out why. "'You swore we'd never do...' what again, exactly?"
She had a surprisingly exceptional Freddie impression; it made the taste in his mouth that much more sour. "Look, we just...wanted to get both of our first kisses over with. You remember those webcasts from a few months ago. Right?" He really hoped she remembered those webcasts. "...Anyway, the kiss didn't mean anything. We weren't even supposed to speak about it again. There's absolutely nothing going on between us."
"I believe you. There's nothing going on with you guys." It was almost surreal how sincere Melanie sounded to him, and yet without changing her facial expression even a little.
She excused herself to throw away her empty cup. Alone with his thoughts, he considered the fact that within ten minutes of sitting down at the Groovy Smoothie he knew more about the family name that was synonymous in his household with terror than he thought he would ever ask about. And just for a second it occurred to him that, for all that he now knew, it didn't stop him from wanting to ask.
When she returned, she carried along with her a new subject. "It's too bad that I've gotta go back to school tonight. I think you'd make a great date if I can get you to sit still."
Freddie fought to catch his senses. It was getting increasingly hard to keep up with the blonde. "I guess I'm, uh...flattered that you're willing to give me a second chance."
That was a pretty good joke, going by the heap of giggles Melanie fell into. "I like you, Freddie," she told him after she recovered. "I love Sam, but I like you. You're a treasure. Let's see how long you stay buried."
Now this was getting ridiculous. When was this woman planning to stop talking over his head?
He looked down at the counter. Melanie was writing something down on a piece of paper. "In any case, here's my number. I'll...keep in touch." An implicit question rose out of her eyes as they met his.
Freddie broke eye contact first, only to establish it once more with a chuckle."...You're a strange one alright." It must run in the family. Content with his response, she flowed like silk as she slid from the counter.
"Coming from you, I'll take that as a compliment." She reached into her purse, and surfaced with a single bill. Which wasn't in the least surprising; after all she was Melanie Puckett, who always—always—paid for her meal.
"Knowing me...you probably should." Almost imperceptibly slow and deliberate, she leaned toward him. Had he thought to speak, he would have complimented her on her choice of perfume.
"It probably won't come as a shock that I'm not much of a fighter." She lowered her volume; he strained his ears so he could pick her up. With affectionate care, her five dollars and seven digits pressed against his open palm. "I'm not strong enough that I can just pick every single battle that comes my way." She didn't stop inching closer.
She was past his face when she finally came to a halt. Her breath tickled his ear.
"But." He swore he felt her words more than he heard them. "When I do choose to play..."
Her voice lathered in honey but her words tinged with a note of something acidic.
"Momma plays...to win."
It was as he approached Bushwell Plaza, the settling sun painting soft hues across his hazed expression, when Freddie remembered that he wanted to order a smoothie.
I believe Dane Cook phrased it best: She just ninja'd his brain.
Random A/N: Ugh, stupid internet. Meant to have this up much earlier. Oh well; hope you enjoyed.
Random A/N 2: Slept on it. Woke up and fixed some glaring typos. Sorry 'bout that.