Author's Note: This story was done to cheer myself up because I've been feeling generally kind of "blah". Not much else to say, so...read on whoever's out there. I warn you, there's just awkward and adorable ahead because I have a heart made of jelly.
"So, we'll see you in a bit then?"
"Yep, I'll get there around noon. Maybe a little later since you know how traffic can be," Jackie replied fingers drumming on the arm of her couch as she quietly wished for the telephones with cords you could twist around your fingers when you were anxious. Cordless phones were great, but there was something to be said about rubber-coated wires. "Oh, and Mom…there's one more thing."
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Jackie bit her lip, wondering for half a second if her mom could read her mind like some kind of superhuman power that most kids are convinced their mothers have, now taking to twisting her hair around her fingers in the absence of a telephone chord.
"And what's that?" her mother asked with parental skepticism. The kind anyone could recognize whether it was coming from their parents or not. It was layered thickly with "I'll still love you, but if this is anything stupid I'll have your head", which was never quite as comforting as parent figures would have liked to believe it was. Maybe she should just keep it a surprise, but Jackie cleared her mind before it got too swamped up with rationales. She was doing this. There was no reason not to.
"I was going to bring a friend of mine. I've kinda…wanted to introduce you to him since he's such a good friend and all."
"A friend?" he mother asked. Jackie made a pathetic face as if she expected it to make a difference to the person on the other end of the line. It didn't work when she was a kid, and she knew it wouldn't work now, but still, it was worth a shot. Better to try and fail or something like that. "Sweetie, you know I know better than that." Crap. "So, who is he? Is he cute?"
"Moooom…" she whined, any and all ability to be a well behaved adult leaving her. Few people enjoyed getting those kinds of questions from their parents when they were teenagers, and it would seem that for this situation it hadn't gotten any less awkward with time. Heck, even among friends such conversations were often wrought with well meaning teasing.
"Don't you 'mom' me, young lady. You know I know better than that. I raised you, and I know your tricks."
Jackie groaned, moving the phone away from her face and burying her face in her arm momentarily at being put in her place. She was adult and yet it still only took a few words to set her back to being a child. How embarrassing. "Yes, Mom…he's cute," she forced out, bringing the phone back to her ear. "But look…don't read too much into it ok?"
"Don't read too much into it? But that's impossible for me not to. It's my job to do just that. So, tell me, what's he like? Does he have a name?"
"Of course he has a name," Jackie replied rolling her eyes and avoiding the question. Not because she had anything to hide, but because the teenager that resided in the back of her mind didn't want to give her mother the satisfaction of an answer.
"You just rolled your eyes at me."
"I did not."
"You did too. I could here your attitude through the phone. Drop it or I won't let you bring you friend over."
Jackie thought to stick her tongue out, but she figured her mom would notice that too since today it would seem she was putting her mom powers to full use. There was no fighting it. Might as well give in at this point. "His name's Tom."
"Tom? Oh, I've always liked that name. It's quaint."
"Yes, well…I wouldn't say his name quaint to his face. He's a bit uppity about stuff like that."
"You could say that," Jackie shrugged as she searched her mind for a better description. "He's really weird actually." Ok, that hadn't exactly been what most would call better, but well…it was something.
"He just has odd habits. Quirks, mannerisms…he takes a bit of getting used to, and he's just about the most stubborn man I've ever met in my life. He'd give Dad a run for his money. And…well, he's funny. Kind of in an unfortunate way. Makes you want to take him home and take care of him. Like a puppy or something."
"He sounds charming," her mother laughed, which lifted Jackie's hopes up. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
"He's something," she nodded. "I assure you of that."
"And you said he's cute?" the older woman added teasingly, and Jackie could almost see that tightlipped smirk of hers on the other end.
"Oh, yes, very cute," Jackie said shaking her head with no shortage of playful sarcasm. "Really cute if you like pirates…" she added quickly under her breath.
"What was that?"
"Eh, nothing. Don't worry about it. He's cute. I promise."
"What was that for?"
"Oh, nothing. So…" Jackie frowned. Not her mother's "so". It always ended up leading to something bizarre or uncomfortable. It never failed. Ever.
"What?" Jackie asked reluctantly. She knew she was going to be asked anyway, but she might as well make it seem like she was inviting it. Maybe it'd feel less awkward that way. In the same way asking your dentist how they planned on pulling your teeth out would make it less awkward and painful and bloody.
"How's the sex?" Less awkward? Not a bit. In fact, this was the one question Jackie had filed away under "things my mom won't ask me". Seems she'd have to save it into a new folder now.
"Mom!" Jackie blurted out, her face going red. The "so" had struck once more and with deadly accuracy. Really, Jackie had convinced herself that her mother could sell her mind games to the government for serious money, but she never listened. Mother never listened. Jackie scrunched her face up, biting her cheek trying to work the surprise off of her face even if it was pointless. What kind of a question was that for a mom to ask? Well, not so odd considering how her mother was, but still…
"What? Haven't you?"
"Well, how is it?"
"I really don't think that's any of your business…"
"Oh, come on. I'm a cool mom. I can handle it. You told me about the first guy y-"
"Relax. I'm just teasing you. Calm down."
Jackie exhaled slowly, jaw clenched, her whole form giving off vibes of "that's really not funny", but she couldn't bring herself to vocalize it. Instead, something entirely unexpected came out slowly, falling out of her mouth of their own accord, the rebellious edge from her teenage years poking its head out. "It's good…"
Jackie bit her tongue, but she knew he mom had heard that. If the ship was sinking there was no stopping it now. Besides, she was an adult. Adults did what they liked…as long as their parents didn't mind. "It's good. I like it a lot," she grinned, suddenly finding her ability to admit it most pleasant. Take that mom. I answered your question. So there.
The silence on the other end made the woman's heart skip a beat, maybe two. Perhaps her moment of boldness hadn't been worth it. "Well, I can't wait to meet the boy. Seems you got yourself a keeper."
"This Tom fella, sounds like you might actually have something this time."
"Oh, Mom…come off it. I'm just introducing you to a closer than normal friend of mine," Jackie insisted.
"Don't give me that. I'm your mother, and I know how you are. You wouldn't be bringing this Tom guy along unless you were serious. I know how careful you are. You don't do anything unless you're sure. Why don't you just admit it?"
"I…" Jackie's voice trailed off as she found she had no proper comeback. Her mother had gotten her again. Defeated, rebel hiding away once more, she continued. "I'll see you in a little while…"
"Alrighty, bye-bye then."
Hanging up the phone, Jackie sighed, letting the fact that her mother could still put her back in her place sink in, bringing her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them for effect.
"Something up?" Tom asked coming from the hall, looking to have been fidgeting with his shirt. She couldn't tell if it was light blue or one of those shirts with the color and white striping that only made it look light. Still, that wasn't her focus. It would appear that he'd buttoned it up wrong in whatever haste he'd been in leaving one button at the top without a hole and an extra hole at the bottom. He was giving her the "dumb look" and he was leaning his weight to one side, looking relaxed. Jackie wanted to smack him for it even though she realized she really couldn't hold anything against him. That and he was just acting like such a damn pathetic thing with his face relaxed but questioning.
"Nah, just talking to my mom. She's excited to meet you," Jackie replied, getting up from the couch to fix his shirt, which was bothering her something terrible, and it would distract her from his irritating nonchalance.
"I can do it myself," Tom said, sounding mildly indignant but not moving to do it himself.
"I know, but you didn't."
Tom uttered some kind of groan in the back of throat, but again he didn't make a move, letting his arms remain limp at his sides. Jackie finished fixing the button fiasco, patting his chest lightly to get his attention, which appeared to be off in space as he stared out in front of him. The pat seemed to snap him out of it, but Jackie could tell his was still thinking. He had his poker face on, but Tom's poker face always meant he was thinking on something very hard. He needed a poker face for his poker face or else he'd never fool anyone again. Perhaps that wasn't a bad thing. Tom really should have come with an instruction manual, but that was neither here nor there.
"Got something on your mind?" Jackie asked.
"I always have something on my mind. It's a problem I have," Tom answered flatly.
"And my problem is that I care about what you're thinking," Jackie countered. Tom wrinkled his nose, but he didn't look like he was going to challenge the idea. He rather enjoyed the thought of others giving a damn about his thoughts. There really needed to be more of those.
"You sure they'll like me?" Tom frowned, tapping his knuckles together anxiously, his fingers curled a bit making his hands look a bit more like paws than they should have before he let them drop again. "People don't like me. I put them off or something. What if I say something stupid? I hate being stupid. Shit…they're all going to hate me…"
"Please be quiet," Jackie sighed, bringing a hand up to Tom's mouth in a half-joking manner. It shut him up for a second or two, but soon she felt something warm and wet on her palm, which caused her to pull her hand back to her. "Oh, that is so gross! Why…" Jackie felt her voice die in her throat as she observed the victorious look on Tom's face, his tongue sticking out between the teeth he was bearing and calling it a smile. She grimaced, but she knew she should have expected that from him. Well, expected or not she hadn't planned on having a moist palm, so she promptly wiped the saliva off on Tom's sleeve. This was one battle she didn't feel like fighting. "Whatever. Be ready to go in a few minutes. I just have to grab some stuff."
The ride was remarkably quiet with Tom leaning back in the passenger seat, staring out the window; occasionally pointing something out before going back to quiet observation. An interesting tree here. A garishly painted car there. The occasional shreds of tires and some road kill. He seemed to be finding any and all possible ways to distract himself for what was ahead even if he didn't know one way or the other which way it would go. He was just being cautious, but Jackie felt a twinge of concern as his anxiety mirrored her own.
At one point Tom perked up saying something about how Sebs had advised him not to bite and be civil or else they'd have to take him to the pound and put him down. Jackie almost laughed since Tom was smiling, but he turned away again before she could respond. She thought on the appropriateness of late or unwanted laughter for a few minutes as he looked ahead before looking over at Tom again. Staring out the window, no surprise there.
Jackie thought to say something to him. Something to calm him down since he was so obviously agitated the way he was gripping his shoulders and making a face to go along with an unknown thought from time to time. He didn't look unhappy, but he was anxious. Jackie couldn't say she didn't understand since she was rather anxious herself. Something like this was nerve-racking for everyone, and Tom was human after all. A bit more bite oriented than most, but still human if not more so than most. It was simply nerves. They'd pass. He'd just have to find a way for his to go by quickly, and Jackie didn't know how to do that, so she left him to it.
Tom had dozed off, his chin in his chest and his breathing slowed, and as Jackie parked she nudged his shoulder, wanting to wake him but not suddenly. He was quite the spazz when he was startled. "Hey, sleeping beauty. We're here."
"I wasn't asleep," Tom yawned, making little effort to make his lie convincing. Jackie simply shook her head as she unbuckled her seat belt and opened her door. Tom followed her Jackie's example, getting out of the car and walking toward the house, trailing a few steps behind her, his movements jerky and tense. Jackie was about to ring the doorbell when she noticed that there were no footsteps behind her. Turning around she spotted Tom a few feet back, glaring at the door, feet firmly planted on the ground, with his arms up tight against his sides and his fists clenched.
"What is it now?" she asked, feeling the beginnings of annoyance. She really didn't have any intentions of standing outside during football season. Fall on the east coast. It wasn't a matter of if there'd be frost. It was a matter of when and how much. She pulled her jacket tighter around her as she waited some response.
"Did you tell them?"
"Tell them what?" Jackie asked, shifting her weight to one foot and tilting her head. It was always vagueness with Tom. Vagueness or disturbing amounts of specificity.
"Tell them…about me," Tom clarified without truly clarifying.
"Well, yeah, of course I did. I don't just bring people by surprise."
"No, not like that. Did you tell them? Warn them about who they're letting in." Tom's voice dropped, but his focus was straight-ahead, making eye contact the entire time. So, that's what he was on about. Stuck somewhere in between the past and the present, unable to take a step forward or backward.
"Oh you mean…" Jackie made a sympathetic face as she caught on to Tom's meaning, walking over to him. "No, I didn't say anything. It didn't come up. I wouldn't have said anything even if it had."
Tom looked genuinely surprised, eyebrows raised and the corners of his mouth turned down. "You didn't say anything?"
"Why would I?"
"Oh, I don't know…maybe because most people would like to know if they're letting a murderer into their house," Tom said pointedly, his brow going from raised to furrowed. As he thought more on it he half bared his teeth, wrinkling one side of his face into a weird partial snarl.
"You didn't tell me right away," Jackie countered, arms folding across her chest, the event gone by of Tom's "reveal" flickering past in her mind.
"Yes, well, I…" he began, but he bit down on his tongue to stop himself noticing the sharpness that lingered in the back of Jackie's throat.
"Didn't want me to hate you. Yeah, I know. We went over this," she continued, but the sharpness had dropped off, changing into familiar acceptance and as much understanding as she could muster.
"But why didn't you tell them?"
"I didn't think it mattered. It's not relevant," Jackie shrugged.
"How is it not relevant? I'm going to be in their house."
"I just want them to get to know you. That's all. Like I did…without the bullshit attached, you know?"
Tom didn't react right away, but he was doing the half snarl again. He very rarely did react in overt ways it would seem. Sebs had said he used to be a lot more reactive and that he was more hesitant these days, which was understandable at the very least. At most it was admirable. However, something strange came over his face as he stood there, thinking, the snarl melting into complete blankness.
"Yeah, I get it," he finally replied, moving his weight onto his toes as opposed to how he'd been digging his heels into the ground only moments before, suggesting less resistance to moving forward. Jackie watched him closely as he took a slow step forward before continuing toward her at a regular pace. "But if they end up hating me I'm blaming you," he added with something close to humor though his face remained deadpan.
"They're not going to hate you," Jackie assured him, giving him a light tap on the nose, playfully scolding like one would do a disobedient pup. Smiling, she ignored the knot that had formed in her stomach as she turned around to face the door.
"Just like everyone else?" Tom added dryly, casting a sidelong gaze Jackie's way. She didn't even bother giving him a proper answer as she rang the doorbell in what she believed to be a forceful way. The more she stalled the worse it would be. The pair only stood there in an uncomfortable silence for a few seconds before the door opened revealing an older woman, one of the ones with the friendly faces that couldn't look threatening if they tried. As much as he wanted to Tom couldn't feel nervous and he even allowed himself a bit of a smile that pushed its way through his grimace.
"Ah, Jackie," the woman smiled. "You made good time."
"Yeah, traffic wasn't bad. Amazing isn't it?" Jackie reached out, embracing the other as Tom felt himself leaning back onto his heels once more, his smile fading as he watched the scene in front of him as he felt an almost reactionary want squeezing his gut. He would have made an actual sound if his tongue hadn't been stuck to the roof of his mouth. Perhaps there were words somewhere in there, but they were caught up in his throat and suffocating as he denied them air. He just stared at the door, not even seeing it as he felt the need in his stomach buzz around in his head.
"And you must be Tom."
Hm? Tom? Who's Tom? Hearing his name as well as a light touch on his shoulder brought the door and the people in front of it back into focus. It was Jackie who'd touched him, hand on his shoulder as if she were rousing him from sleep as she had earlier, but the voice had not been hers. It had been her mother's and the older woman was still smiling, and it didn't even look forced. He raised his eyebrows in surprise having expected a different kind of staring. Something that reminded him more of freak show patrons' faces as they looked at the oddities rather than this expectant but welcoming gaze.
Were her eyes bad? Could she not see how the air of trouble came off of him like Pepe le Pew's scent trail? Couldn't everyone see how bad of a person he was? Or that at the very least he was a damn pirate? But no, she was looking at him, eyes focused as if he had both available to look into. It wasn't a look he got very often these days from strangers, and he couldn't remember if he enjoyed it or not.
"Yeah…I am," he croaked out awkwardly due to the dryness of his throat and nerves constricting his throat further. He wrinkled his nose and grinned, but the pause after his words bothered him, and he let his face drop. "Wow, I'm sorry. I don't know what that was."
"Wow, Jac, you were right," the woman began. Tom braced himself, biting his tongue again but harder this time. "He is a cutie," she concluded with a well-meaning laugh. Tom perked up immediately, mouth slightly agape, tongue still somewhat sore.
"I am? I mean, yes, I am." Tom looked over at Jackie then to his feet and back up again; trying to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
"Well, there's no sense in you just standing out in the cold. Come on, I'm old and the cold's making my joints hurt," Jackie's mother continued taking a step outside and somewhat forcefully nudging Tom inside. He hadn't expected her to be as strong as she was.
His feet reacted faster than his brain, and he was inside, staring at the walls of the house. Taking it in as best he could with his head spinning a bit from surprise. The paint job was new, but the wood paneling wasn't. It smelled clean without being overbearing, and the lights weren't too harsh, which felt nice after the brightness of the outdoors. It was comfortable, and it made him sleepy as he felt his general posture droop. Jackie had moved away from him, and he didn't want to move for fear of messing something up even if he couldn't see anything that he could really break, but he never could tell with himself. He could hear her in the other room greeting her father, explaining, catching up, and again Tom felt the need scrape his sides again at the familiar but long ago sounds.
Why'd it make his stomach clench up the way it did? Why did he need? Why did he want and allow himself to be affected by the childlike pining? He covered his good side to block out the world and to ponder further until his thoughts were interrupted.
"Something bothering you, dear?"
"Hm?" Tom turned and removed his hand to see Jackie's mother standing behind him, looking up at his face like she had before, holding a dishtowel tightly in her hands and her eyes speaking of worry. He'd seen the same look a million time's on Jackie's face. Must have been a genetic ability to give a damn.
"Something bother you, Tom?" the older woman repeated.
"No, nothing's bothering me," Tom replied, surprised with the ease in which the words left him. "It's just been a while since I…I don't know." Tom bit his cheek, fearing he'd said something wrong. Revealed something he hadn't, or at least had prompted some questions that he didn't know how to answer.
"My daughter hasn't told me too much about you," the woman began, and Tom felt himself shrink back. She hated him. She didn't trust him. This couldn't be anything good, and he felt the beginnings of an apology forming on his lips before he was stopped by more words. "But you know what? That's ok, because I could recognize someone in need of a little love from a mile away, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you could really do with some love." Tom didn't move or even properly react, but he assumed that somehow he must have given himself away for soon he felt a pressure around his body as the older woman hugged him. Before he could think he returned the gesture, feeling the lump of want in his stomach dissolve. She hugged a bit too hard, and it hurt his back, but he didn't care.
Finally, the arms dropped, but Tom felt something strange. "Now, that's quite the smile you got there," he heard the older woman say fondly. "Maybe you should do it more often." Her eyes were soft but keen, and Tom felt no inclination to make his smile smaller. "Well, I have some things to do, so don't let me hold you up." Tom nodded, but didn't move, and he didn't turn back around until she was on the other end of the room. He looked up to see Jackie walking toward him from the opposite end of the house. She looked comfortable, her gait easy and relaxed.
"Hey, Jac," he said, his smiled having diminished not because of a diminished mood but a stiffness in his jaw.
"Getting along with my mom?" she joked, standing up on her toes and placing a small kiss on his cheek.
"Yeah," he nodded. "I am."
"Good, because my dad's much less enthusiastic," Jackie laughed, leaning back onto a flatfooted stance. "So, you coming or have you glued your feet to the floor?" Tom quickly looked over his shoulder at the door, but he did not linger on it. He didn't want to be outside. It was cold out there. Out there need ate at his insides and made him sick.
"Yeah," he replied, his feet in fact not glued to the floor. "I'm coming."