From the album Greatest Hits...So Far!
August 23, 2012
It was one of those perfect days right at the transition between summer and fall, when the leaves changed colors and the air turned crisp. Cool enough to get away with long-sleeves, but warm enough not to need a jacket. The sky was an impossible blue; the kind of blue that makes you lose your breath just for a second if you looked hard enough. The sun was shining, sending rays of warmth to Earth below.
The citizens of Amity Park were not ones to waste such gorgeous weather, especially not on a Saturday. Happy voices and the laughter of children wafted through open windows, which allowed wisps of steam rising from apple pies and chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven to slip through in return. The air was full of excitement and joy; after three months of searing heat and near 100% humidity, the fall weather was like a gift from the hands of God Himself.
Even the ghosts seemed to be enjoying the weather; Johnny 13 and Kitty were spotted cuddling in the park, Skulker and Ember held hands as they walked through the city's square. Even the Box Ghost seemed to be taking the day off, as he was seen happily stacking cardboard boxes into a fort with several children from the local elementary school. For once, the city was free of any reports of a ghost attack in progress.
Amity Park's resident halfa, while he much prefered spring, was not one to pass up the opportunity that came with the new cooler weather. He traipsed around town, allowing his two best friends to tow him to and fro, a lazy and easy smile on his face. Danny was in one of those moods again: the kind of mood that made him sit back and look at everything in his life. Overwhelming gratitude, as Jazz called it. Overthinking weirdo, as Tucker called it.
Tucker did not appreciate Danny's thankfulness, as it made Danny very quiet and thoughtful. Sam did not seem to mind, much. She spent those days having small arguments with Tucker, all for Danny's amusement. Though, on this particular day, it seemed Tucker was the one causing most of their strife.
"Nasty Burger, Nasty Burger, NASTY BURGER!" Tucker screamed as they walked down the street. Sam could not wipe the massive grin from her face, though her annoyance with Tucker was growing stronger and stronger by the second.
"We're on our way there!" She shouted, slapping the back of her hand against Tucker's abdomen. She laughed at the whoosh! of air streaming out of Tucker's lungs on impact, and grinned even wider when Danny laughed as well. "You are such a two-year-old. It's not like they're gonna run out of meat."
"You don't know!" Tucker declared. They were passing the park at that point. Sam glanced past Tucker at the rolling hills blanketed in crunchy fallen leaves, and the swell of temptation drove her to steer Tucker toward the entrance. Over Tucker's complaining, she heard the scuffling of Danny's shoes on the sidewalk just behind her, and she smiled again.
"C'mon, don't you wanna play in the leaves like we did when we were kids?" Sam whined, spotting an impressively large pile of leaves off a distance to the right of the entrance. Tucker opened his mouth to disagree, before the pile came into his line of sight. He shut his mouth immediately and allowed Sam to direct him to the edge of the pile.
"I'm not jumping in." He said stiffly when she released his shoulders. She laughed and skirted around the pile to the opposite end, her eyes twinkling merrily. Danny was watching her, that same peaceful smile on his face, as he plopped down on the ground a few feet away.
"What, is the techno geek afraid of a lil' pile of leaves?" Sam taunted, hands on her hips.
Tucker huffed. "Why doesn't Danny have to play?" Tucker whined, pointing to his best friend.
"Danny Phantom does whatever he wants." Sam said, not glancing at Danny. She felt his eyes on her face, but she continued to smile at Tucker. "Quit changing the subject and jump in!"
Tucker eyed her a moment longer, before dropping his gaze to the pile. "Well..." He said, chewing on his lower lip. "Oh, fine!" He dug through his pockets and pulled out his cell phone, iPod, and PDA, thrusting them into Danny's waiting hands. "Hold these." He grumbled.
Sam's smile was blinding. "On three?" She asked, excitement causing her voice to be hushed.
"One..." Tucker said, bending his knees.
"Two..." Sam said, mirroring his movements.
"Three!" They shouted together. The air was full of flying leaves for a moment, so all Danny was able to see was a wall of brown, orange, and yellow. He could hear Sam's uncontrollable laughter, which drew a chuckle from his lips, and Tucker's panicked screams.
"I can't see!" He shouted. The leaves were beginning to settle, allowing Danny to catch a glimpse of Sam, who was doubled over in the middle of the pile, clutching her stomach for laughing so hard. Leaves were caught in her hair and tucked into the folds of her clothes, clinging to her body in a way that reminded Danny of the Sam he befriended in the second grade. Tucker was on his back, wiping his eyes behind his glasses furiously, spitting the leaf dust that had blown up on impact out of his mouth.
"Oh my God!" Sam choked out between laughs. She seemed to be having a hard time catching her breath, made all the more difficult when Tucker suddenly lunged forward and caught her around her waist. He tackled her into the leaves, laughing when she shrieked and attempted to roll away.
"It's not so funny now, is it, Manson?" He demanded. Sam could not seem to answer; her laughter mixed with coughs as she inhaled the leaf dust strewn about the pile. Danny leaned forward, concern flashing in his eyes for an instant, before Sam rolled to her side and shoved Tucker off of her. She scrambled to her knees, still laughing, and pinned Tucker down. "No!" Tucker shouted, trying to manouver his legs around Sam's to give him the advantage.
After so many years of ghost fighting, Danny knew Sam was more than capable of keeping her hold on Tucker in this position. So, naturally, he was a bit surprised when Tucker was able to plant his knee in Sam's abdomen and force her up and off of him. She landed in the leaves and curled into the fetal position, still laughing uncontrollably.
"Stop, stop!" She gasped, holding her hands before her as Tucker moved to attack again. "I can't breathe!"
Tucker threw his head back and laughed, sending his beret fluttering to the ground behind him. "Bit off more than you can chew, Manson?"
"You win!" She chortled, sitting up and wiping the tears from her eyes. "I give up!"
"So you have to buy Nasty Burger!" Tucker declared triumphantly, ramming his head back into his beret.
"Fine." She said, still smiling widely. She stood and offered her hand to Tucker, who took it willingly. They both turned to face Danny, Sam raising her eyebrows in question. "You coming?"
"Absolutely," Danny said, allowing them both to pull him to his feet. He let his hand linger in Sam's for a beat longer than necessary, before shoving both of his hands into the pockets of his jeans and following his friends out of the park.
"You should just cut all of it off." Tucker said matter-of-factly as they neared the resteraunt. He was attempting to help Sam pick the leaves from her hair as they walked. "How does it get so tangled?"
"I don't know, maybe there's some hair-tangling ghost that's out to get me," Sam grumbled through her smile. She chuckled again as the memory of Tucker leaping into the pile returned to her. "You looked like a five-year-old."
Tucker's expression darkened. "You looked like a mental institution escapee." He shot back. He shoved his hands in his pockets. "You can pick your own hair, now. I'm not helping you anymore."
Sam widened her eyes in mock surprise. "Oh, no! Whatever shall I do? The great Tucker refuses to help me!" She slapped him on the shoulder. "It's not like I don't have other friends to help me."
"You only have two friends! And one of them is me!" Tucker said in exasperation.
Sam did not appear to be phased. "And the other one is right here." She smirked, falling back in step with Danny. She fixed an adoring stare on Danny's face, fluttering her eyelashes in a way strangely similar to Paulina. "Danny?" She asked, her voice dripping in false sweetness.
Danny could not contain his chuckle. "Yes, Sam?" He asked, deciding that playing along with her would be far better than going with Tucker.
"Will you help me pick the leaves out of my hair?" She asked, tilting her head to one side and poking her lower lip out in a very good imitation of his own puppy-dog pout.
Danny laughed. "Of course!" He said.
Sam turned to Tucker and stuck her tongue out. "Ha! I do have good friends!" She shouted.
Tucker rolled his eyes. "Well, of course he's gonna say yes, he's in love with you!"
Sam rolled her eyes in return. "Doesn't matter, still got help." She said, though Danny noticed a slight blush coloring her cheeks.
Tucker's eyes darted back and forth between the two, before he shook his head and turned away. "I give up!" He declared, skipping toward the Nasty Burger.
Danny and Sam paused outside of the front doors, laughing at the amount of leaves caught in Sam's hair. "It's like a black hole!" She said as she yanked two leaves out from the hair at the base of her neck.
"You would think, since your hair is so short, that it wouldn't catch as many," Danny laughed, pulling yet another leaf from just above her left ear.
"It's 'cause it's so thick," Sam grumbled. "It wouldn't tangle as much if I didn't have such thick hair."
The way she said it was like a slur, like the way she spoke of Paulina. Danny frowned, his hands hovering beside her head.
"I like your hair the way it is." He said softly. Sam glanced at him, and finding his face to be suddenly serious, she flushed. "No, really! I do."
"Thanks," She mumbled, dropping her gaze to the sidewalk.
"No, seriously," Danny said, suddenly feeling convicted. He conjured the image of Sam rolling around in the leaves, tears streaming down her cheeks for laughing so hard, and tried to think of the words to describe the amount of joy he saw in her. "You're perfect."
Sam froze. She turned to him, allowing her hands to drop limply to her sides. "Danny," She said, laughter in her eyes. "I'm far from perfect."
"Okay, fine. You're perfect to me." He amended, crossing his arms over his chest. Sam blinked, looking as if she would very much like to argue, before closing her eyes and shaking her head.
"Alright, then," She said, stepping backwards toward the front door. "We'll go with that."
Danny followed her, smiling a little at the memory of her in the leaves. "You both are, you know," He informed her.
"We're both what?" Sam asked as they entered the resteraunt.
"Perfect," Danny shrugged as they stepped behind Tucker in line.
"Are you guys talking about me?" Tucker asked, turning and wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.