A/N Intro: Okay. So. This happened thanks to the TATS September Drabble Challenge. That (plus resultant Twitter discussions) led me to the realization that there was still an aspect of Twilight I had yet to examine in fic: Gender Issues.
My goal in this is not beautiful prose, or arguments for canon-compliance (because a white boy raised by Renee and a native girl raised by Billy simply have too many variables for any interpretation to be the final word in how they turned out), or to come up with "fixes" for the source material. My goal is to examine several critical J/B scenes and see how personal preconceptions about gender in society a) changes the way I write a scene and/or influences my character choices, and b) changes the way I feel about the behavior of the characters, even if they're largely doing the same thing they did in canon. I'm hoping other people do the same (that is, think about how Bella being a boy and Jacob and Edward being girls influences what they think about the actions and thought process of all three). I think really, really awesome discussions could result.
That being said, it's also just a fic, which can be enjoyed as such without turning it into a joyless freshman seminar. (Which I do with basically everything.) Hopefully it'll be a fun read on that front, too :)
Thanks to Mera Naam Joker, grrlinterrupted, and FatedFeathers for cheerleading as I flailed through the first draft. Thanks again to FatedFeathers for the pretty banner (Logan Lerman and Keisha Castle-Hughes, for anyone who's wondering). Thanks to the husband, who acted as the Teenage Boy Consultant ("Yeah, like that, but with more bitterness and masturbation").
Title of the fic is taken from Meiko's song of the same name. Names of characters are chosen from history (Mary is the most popular girl's name of the decade in which Edward was born), family (Ruth is a traditional Hebrew name, like Jacob, Rachel, Rebecca, and Sarah), and guesses of character (Lucas is a popular soap opera name, and I maintain that Renee chose Isabella from daytime television).
Nine scenes taken roughly from the series/movies (this is heavily movie!verse) plus two non-canon extras. Probably 30k-ish words. Weekly updates.
Everything covered? Excellent.
Boys with Girlfriends
in my dream i was almost there / then you pulled me aside and said you're going nowhere
Arcade Fire, "Modern Man"
He hears the radio before he even gets out of the truck. The music rattles in a cheap-speaker-on-max kind of way, but the voice accompanying it is real. "And my heart hit a problem in the early hours, so I stopped it dead for a beat or two..."
It's also scary off-key.
He crosses the yard and nudges open the door to the garage. Inside, a teenage girl is waxing the roof of a car with one hand and singing - with great enthusiasm - into a wrench with the other. "So I sent it to a place in the middle of nowhere with a big black horse and a cherry tree!"
The girl rubs at an imaginary spot on the paint, then, apparently satisfied, tosses the dirty rag over her shoulder. It lands in the seat of a rusty fold-up lawn chair. She grooves across the concrete, hopping on one foot, and starts throwing tools into a cardboard box... in time to the music.
"And I said nooooooooo, no, nooooo no-no-no, I said noooooooo, no, you're not the one for me..."
Her dancing is worse than her singing, and he finds himself starting to smile - at least, he thinks so, 'cause it's been awhile and he's not sure he remembers exactly what it's like.
She executes a twirl on the tip of her combat boot. Their eyes meet.
"Hi, Ruth," Lucas says.
Ruth drops the wrench to the ground with a clang. "Lucas," she squeaks, eyes wide. "Um. Hi. I- I was just... uh..." She scrambles to the radio, nearly falling over a bench as she does, and smacks her hand against the plastic casing until the music stops.
He feels bad for having embarrassed her, but not bad enough to be sorry he watched. "I like that song," he offers, opening the door the rest of the way.
He can still feel the smile on his face, that's weird.
"Oh. Cool." Ruth pulls her ponytail out from the collar of her sweatshirt. "So," she says casually, "what's up?"
Lucas jerks a thumb over his shoulder. "I've got a couple of bikes in my flatbed," he tells her, "and a proposition for you."
Ruth flashes a sunny grin and says, "I love propositions."
Lucas had told his mom that he wanted to spend more time with his dad, y'know, now that he was growing up. He said he wanted a change of scenery. And these things were kind of true.
Mostly, though, he wanted to get away from Phil.
Renee, without fail, always attracted the Alpha Asshole of any given area. The first time Lucas had taken the bus by himself was when he was seven, to pick up chocolate ice cream from the store so that his mom would quit one of her crying jags over whichever douche had dumped her that time. It wasn't the one who had stolen their DVD player, he'd been a few years earlier, but it was before the one with the tattoo on his neck of a naked chick wrestling a squid.
By comparison Phil was decent. Lucas couldn't figure out why the fuck they'd decided to get married, which was stupid and pointless, but he couldn't deny that Phil hadn't stolen shit yet and didn't appear to have any major communicable diseases. There was, however a severe problem: Phil had gotten it into his head that the best way to bond with his stepson was to be friends. He wanted to hang out. And why not? Lucas was seventeen and Phil was twenty-five. There was no particular reason they shouldn't get along, aside from the fact that Lucas found the whole thing monumentally creepy.
The third time Phil and Lucas had been mistaken for brothers while at Dick's Sporting Goods Lucas finally called his dad and asked if he could come live in Forks. After two minutes of stunned silence, Charlie had said Sure, son, as long as it's okay with your mother.
Renee had sobbed, which was usually what made Lucas cave. She had a way of being like that, of being all Oh baby you should do what you want don't worry about me that left Lucas half dead of guilt and immediately taking back whatever it was that he'd been trying to say. But for once in his life he stood firm. He was leaving, and his mom would be all right without him, Phil could find her car keys and remember to pay the gas bill and bring her chocolate ice cream all that other stuff. If Lucas didn't get the hell out of there he was going to wreck his hearing turning up his iPod to full blast to block out the sound of bed springs creaking in the next room. Anywhere would be better than Phoenix. Even Forks.
He'd reevaluated that assessment when he walked from baggage claim to the cruiser and his t-shirt soaked through with rain. Lucas hadn't been to Forks in years. He'd forgotten that it was cold, and wet, and cold, and cloudy, and cold, and had a population of three thousand probably inbred hicks for whom the local Wal-Mart was the rockin' Saturday hangout, and cold.
After three days of icy drizzle Lucas was starting to think that Phil hadn't really been so bad. Maybe he could just get more powerful headphones.
Then he had his first day at Forks High.
And he met Mary Cullen.
"Wow," Ruth says as she climbs in the back of the truck. "These are messed up like whoa."
Lucas' heart sinks. What's left of it these days, anyhow. "So you can't fix them?"
"I didn't say that." In seconds Ruth is elbow deep in the first engine, feeling around and making tsking noises against her front teeth. "Where did you pick 'em up, anyhow?"
"Some guy's front yard."
"And you decided you had to have them?"
"I get that," she says, like it's not weird at all to randomly purchase broken vehicles you pass on the road. "I didn't know you liked bikes, though."
Lucas shrugs. "It's a new interest," he says, and feels familiar bitterness curling through his chest. "I'm branching out."
He's branching out into anything Mary would have hated.
"If you can fix them," he continues, "you can have one. Whichever turns out better, I don't care. I'd actually rather have the one that's more likely to shake apart."
"Nothing I fix shakes apart," Ruth says indignantly.
"You know what I mean."
"Mm-hmm." When she pushes stray hairs out of her face she leaves smears of oil on her forehead. Lucas notices that her awkwardness from earlier disappeared the moment her hands touched metal. "Need riding lessons, too?"
"Of course I don't," he lies. "I know how to ride a motorcycle."
Ruth gives him a Look. "These are dirt bikes, not proper motorcycles, and if you don't know the difference then no, you don'tknow how to ride them."
He scowls to hide his blush. Stupid pale skin. "Okay, fine, I don't know anything about this stuff." It's true; whenever he tries to repair something it either breaks worse or blows up. In eighth grade there were so many snickers from the other guys in shop class that he'd rearranged his schedule and taken band instead. He wasn't any better at the trombone but at least no one had laughed.
"That's okay," Ruth says brightly, "the riding lessons are free. I can't have anyone getting squished like a bug on something I made." She jumps up and rubs her hands on her cargo pants. "Now let's get these suckers in the garage and see what's what, yeah?"
"And don't worry. They're gonna be super-cool by the time I'm done."
Lucas watches as she starts wrestling the first bike out of the flatbed, and smiles again, 'cause it's kind of hard to be quite so down around someone quite so cheerful.
Mary. Was. Gorgeous. The kind of gorgeous that didn't even make sense, like some combination of a runway model and a movie star and a pin-up girl, all rolled into a perfect red-haired package then covered with the most amazing perfume Lucas had ever smelled, and he didn't even like perfume.
In other words, Mary was one-hundred percent out of his league. Which was probably why she had seemed to detest him on sight; in his experience, gorgeous girls usually did detest strange guys who drooled over them. Not that he drooled. Not literally, anyhow. Probably. It was hard to tell when he couldn't do anything but stare at how absolutely flawless her skin was, and her smile, and her figure...
...okay, yeah, maybe he drooled.
Anyway, all that staring had obviously been offensive enough to make her flee school for an entire week, which was a new level of depressing loserdom for Lucas. But then she came back and wanted to be friends, which was weird, then she rescued him from getting crushed by a van and mugged in Port Angeles, which was extremely weird, then it turned out she was a vampire, which was so far into the realm of weird that Lucas no longer remembered what normal looked like.
And she loved him, which was the weirdest thing of all. A literal goddess like Mary Cullen was in love with him for some unfathomable reason that Lucas couldn't begin to figure out but, Jesus, he was not going to question or complain. It didn't even matter that he couldn't do anything more than give her a couple of kisses on her cold lips. He just spent a lot of time jerking off in the shower instead, which he figured he'd have to do with any girlfriend who held Very Strong Victorian Beliefs, so he couldn't really fault the vampire thing on that one. Not that he would have pushed her anyway. He'd watched how douchebag guys operated since he was a toddler and if there was one thing Lucas was sure of, it was that he was notgoing to be one of them, goddamn it. He'd make Mary happy.
You are my life now, she had said.
And so Lucas Swan devoted everything he had to her, and kept nothing for himself.
Lucas tries not to be embarrassed that Ruth seems to do more of the heavy lifting than he does as they move the bikes into the garage. Being weaker than Mary had been one thing, given the supernatural stuff; he'd gotten over that. Being weaker than a sixteen year old girl with baby fat still in her cheeks is something else entirely. He's got to start lifting weights.
"Alright-y." Ruth circles the bikes several times, drumming her wrench against her palm. Lucas almost turns the radio on, just to see if she'll start dancing again. Probably not. "I can fix 'em. It'll take some parts, though, and that's not cheap."
"Not a problem," says Lucas. "I've got some money." He'd been saving it for college, but whatever. He's not doing a lot of planning ahead these days.
"And time," Ruth warns. "I'm good, but I'm not a miracle worker. Yet. It's a pretty big job, not gonna lie."
Lucas sits down on the lawn chair and looks at the bikes pensively. "What if I help?" he says. Probably he can't make things toomuch worse if he's just handing her tools and stuff like that. "Would that make it go faster?"
She blinks. "You want to help?"
"Yeah. I'll just come over after school, and we can work on it for a couple of hours each evening."
Ruth drops her wrench again.
"Or not," Lucas says hastily. He's not an idiot and knows he's really bad company these days. Plus there's, y'know, the whole blowing-things-up problem. "Whatever works."
Ruth's on her hands and knees, reaching under her car, which is where the wrench wound up. "No, no, that's great," she says, and her voice is a little higher pitched than before. "Uh, come over, sure, just as often as you want, that'd, um, that'd be- oh shit come here you fuckin' thing-"
Lucas gets down and reaches under the car too, using the awesome magic skill of having longer arms to grab the escaped tool. He hands it to Ruth. "Here."
"Um. Thanks." Ruth clutches the wrench to her sweatshirt.
"No problem." Hey, at least he can do one thing right in a garage.
Mary didn't take it well when Lucas nearly got killed by the crazy tracker vampire. He understood that. He didn't take it well that she'd nearly gotten killed by aforementioned crazy tracker vampire. But Mary became obsessed with his "fragility" after that, and seemed to look at him at least once every half hour with a haunted expression, like he was about to drop dead on the spot. I wouldn't be able to take it, she would say. If something happened. My existence is meaningless without you, love.
That kind of talk absolutely scared the shit out of him.
Lucas pointed out multiple times what the obvious solution was. If she changed him, made him into a vampire too, then, hey, problem solved. Everything would work; there'd be no reason for her to drive herself crazy, and she wouldn't have to be so miserable all the time, and they could, uh, finally be together without danger of anyone getting maimed, and, and, and...
And the fact of the matter was, he would die one day. It was kind of part and parcel of being human. And if he died Mary would kill herself, which would be one hundred percent his fault, and he had no idea if there was an afterlife but he was sure the guilt of what he'd caused would follow him through eternity either way.
But Mary wouldn't budge, no matter how strenuously he argued. You're just perfect the way you are, she would say, and then she would kiss him, and he'd drop it, because that was the way things were with them.
Until his second brush with death, when he'd been stupid enough to give himself a paper cut in front of Mary's family. Lucas had actually thought that that would convince her to see reason. If he changed then her brother wouldn't lose his shit over a couple drops of blood, and there would be nothing to worry about anymore, and she would be happy.
Instead she took him out into the woods and dumped him.
Don't do this, he'd begged. This is such a stupid thing to break up over. It's an easy fix. I'll be fine, and then you'll be fine, and then we'll be together-
I don't want to be together. Mary had stared at a point over his shoulder, and she had really never been as beautiful as she'd been in that moment.
I should never have let this go on so long. I don't want you to be a vampire. I don't want you to change. I don't want you. And that's it. Goodbye, Lucas.
She was gone before he could catch his breath.
Ruth is a talker, but not in a bad way. The chatter of the girls at school drives Lucas nuts, even more so now, because he always compares them to how Mary had sounded - amazing - and it puts him in an even worse mood.
In fact, he spends most of his time these days comparing every girl he sees to Mary, and they all come up short. Every single one. By a mile.
But Ruth's different. Lucas is sure that if he tried comparing her voice he'd find her inferior, too... but he's not sure he can compare them. She's disassembling the engines onto a blanket and either praising or cursing each piece of metal, and she's so unlike Mary that it's apples and oranges.
Besides, Mary never cursed.
"You, now, you're okay," Ruth says to some pipe thing that Lucas couldn't name if his life depended on it. "You get to go in the good pile. You're all right by me."
"Why are you talking to them?" he asks, curious in spite of himself.
She gives him an Isn't It Obvious look. "Because otherwise they get low self-esteem," she says, "and then they break. It's all about positive reinforcement with the thingies."
Ruth points at the scraps of whatever on the blankets. "Thingies," she explains. "It's a technical term."
"What happens to the bad thingies?"
"See that hammer?" Lucas glances at the epic-sized mallet hanging on the wall. "The bad thingies get smashed. As a warning to the others."
"Jesus! That'syour idea of positive reinforcement?"
"Well, you need a carrot anda stick." She's focused on prying out some rusted piece of wire from the gears. "Gotta keep a balance. Otherwise things get out of hand around here."
Lucas gapes at the girl with the ragged fingernails. "You're kind of twisted, anyone ever tell you that?"
"It's come up," she says. Then she pauses for a half second. "Is that a real bad thing?"
"No, it's not bad, it's just..." Lucas has listened to the conversations with the thingies for the last half hour and weirdly enough he really doesn't want to see any of them get smashed. "Do me a favor and don't kill them, okay?"
Ruth ducks her head and scratches the back of her neck with a screwdriver. "If it means that much to you."
It actually does.
The following months fucking sucked.
There were times that Lucas thought he actually might be going crazy. He'd get in the truck intending to go to the store for milk, and then he'd look up and realize he had just driven past Port Angeles. He snapped at everyone and got into furious shouting matches with the neighbor over the leaves from her maple landing in their driveway. He was having an absolutely ridiculous amount of wet dreams, since apparently his body had decided to taunt him about what he'd never had and now never would.
Mostly, though, Lucas sat around the house and stared at the wall and went over that last conversation with Mary again and again and again, trying to figure out what he could have said or done that would have changed her mind. There had to have been something. In some half-assed way he thought that if he could figure it out, then he could go find her and convince her to take him back.
Around January Charlie sat down and gave him a talk, man-to-man. Listen, son, I know it's hard. Lord knows I know it's hard. He'd clapped Lucas on the shoulder. But there's lots of fish in the sea. You just have to get back out there.
Something hard settled inside. Yeah, Dad, Lucas said sarcastically, how'd that work out for you?
Charlie had dropped his hand.
That was the day Lucas decided it hurt a whole lot less to hate Mary than it did to miss her. He started doing all kinds of things he knew would have made her upset, reckless things, stupid things. Like buying broken down motorbikes that stood a very good change of flattening him into a tree. That would really have pissed her off. Well, fuck her.
She didn't want him anyway.
It's dark outside by the time they've finished cleaning the garage. "So, uh, you're coming back tomorrow, then?" says Ruth.
"Yeah," Lucas says. He really wants to finish those bikes ASAP. "If it's not a problem."
"Nuh-uh. Not a problem. Nope."
He's almost out of the driveway before Ruth comes pelting after him. She looks like a puppy tripping over too-big feet in those combat boots. Lucas rolls down the window in surprise, and she shoves a shoebox at him. "Here," she says. "See you tomorrow." And she turns and runs away again just as fast as she came.
He opens the shoebox. It's filled with the bad thingies, padded by scrunched paper towels.
On the drive home, Lucas reflects that this is probably the least miserable day he's had in a long time.
Next: The Bike Crash