Daniel couldn't deny he still had doubts about the whole thing. He had no idea what there was to do at the convention, for one thing. For all he knew, he'd be bored out of his mind. And it wasn't like he was knew Sam and his friends that well. They were different ages, belonged to different social circles, and Sam being Lindsay's little brother made things even weirder. But he also couldn't deny that Dungeons & Dragons was a lot of fun. Not just a lot of fun, but something he had never imagined he'd enjoy. So here he was at ten in the morning, sitting in the Weir family's kitchen with Sam, Neal, and Bill.
It didn't hurt that coming over to Lindsay's place meant eating a good breakfast for once. Lindsay's mom had been feeding them all morning like she was fattening them up to be sent off to a slaughter. It was a different experience than it was at Daniel's house, that was for sure. Mrs. Weir wasn't much like his mom. He sat wolfing down a plate of eggs, sausage, hash browns, and bacon as he listened to Bill finishing up a story he'd been telling:
"And that's when I knew peanuts would kill me."
Daniel yawned widely as he nodded. He wasn't trying to be rude; it was just that this was earlier in the morning than he was used to getting up. Especially in the summer. Sam had called him and gotten his parents on the phone earlier, who had shaken him awake to answer it. Apparently Mr. Weir had had a change of heart, and now the trip to the convention was back on at the last minute.
"Fascinating story, Bill," said Neal. "So, where's your Carlos the dwarf costume, Daniel?"
"Yeah, right," he laughed through a forkful of hash browns. "No way I'm dressing up like anything."
"Most people don't," said Sam. "It's just something you can do for fun if you want to."
Daniel eyed him skeptically. "Maybe we'll leave that for some other convention, if I like this one."
Daniel had no intention of ever dressing up like some comic book character, but he was humoring them. A Carlos the dwarf costume would be funny, actually, but of course he was too tall to pull that off. Maybe it could be like a joke, like he was saying that Carlos wasn't much of a dwarf at all. He was thinking about the implications of a Carlos costume when Lindsay stumbled into the kitchen, yawning and stretching her arms. She did a double take when she saw him at the table.
"Daniel? What are you doing here?"
"Uh, nothing. Just hanging out."
"We're all going to the comic book convention," said Sam. "It's today."
"Oh. I had no idea. You're going too, Daniel?"
He nodded. Lindsay looked at him strangely for a moment – as far as Daniel could tell, it was like she was half pleased and half amused. Then she looked around the table at her brother and his friends as they finished their breakfasts. "Man," she said, "this is just weird."
"Can't I talk to your friends?" asked Sam.
"Of course. I was just meant it was a weird image, all you guys sitting around the table, that's all. I'm sure the convention will be fun."
"Hey," said Daniel, "I heard you hung out with Nick yesterday."
Lindsay nodded hesitantly.
"How's he doing?"
"He's cool – we're cool."
Daniel was relieved to hear it. He was pretty sure Nick was imagining things when he thought Lindsay was giving signals, but he definitely didn't want things to go weird like they did the first time those two got together and broke up. Nick had picked up Sara last time as a rebound, so if things went bad again, there was no telling what he'd do. Maybe date that chick they had in their biology class last year with the hairy upper lip or something. Or like an ax murderer. He had to admit Sara wasn't that bad, though. She had started picking up on how nobody else in the group liked disco except Nick – who Daniel still thought was just faking his interest – so she toned it down around then. When she talked about other things instead, she was okay.
"Where's dad?" asked Lindsay.
"He's out in the garage," said her mother. "He's going to drop by the store to open it up to let his new manager run it for an afternoon as an experiment while we're gone. But he's keeping it closed after today."
"While we're gone?" asked Lindsay, sounding confused.
"Oh, didn't the boys tell you? I'm going too!"
"That's cool. I think I'll go keep dad company when he stops by the store."
"Yeah. Just in case he needs any help getting things ready."
Her mother smiled. "That sounds like a good idea, honey."
Lindsay kissed her mother on the cheek and gave her brother a playful slap on the back of the head before heading out of the kitchen. Before she left, however, she turned back to Daniel. "Have fun," she said with a grin. "You gotta tell us all about it when you get back, Carlos."
Daniel froze. How had she heard about his D&D name? He felt violated, somehow – but the feeling soon passed. He knew she was giving him a hard time. He was also glad to see that she was being friendly with him again. The other day Lindsay had been giving him the cold shoulder since he had been kind of rude to her little brother about not going to the convention when he had told Sam he would earlier. Now that he was going, she seemed to be happy with him again. Sometimes he felt like he'd never understand women.
"Do you want some more sausages, Daniel?"
"Yeah, sure, Mrs. Weir. Thanks!"
Mrs. Weir threw a few more sausages in the pan for everyone at the table. She had insisted on cooking everyone a big breakfast, because apparently it was important to have a good meal before you went on a trip. She also seemed to think it was really cute that Daniel was hanging out with Sam and his friends. This was definitely a weird image, as Lindsay had said. But when it came with sausage and hash browns, Daniel could get used to a little weirdness.
All of a sudden the convention was a family outing. Lindsay wondered if Sam had been anticipating that when he asked his dad permission to go. Sometimes you had to compromise to get what you wanted; she supposed her brother would have to deal with their parents hanging around while he tried to have fun with his friends. She couldn't help grinning at the thought. Maybe it would build his character. In the meantime, though, she needed to spend some quality time of her own with her father before he left, which was why she was riding in the car with him.
The drive over to A1 Sporting Goods had been unusually quiet – or maybe it wasn't that unusual, considering the way things had been between Lindsay and her father. Still, he didn't seem angry with her, or even disappointed, the way he had been before. It was more that he wanted to say something, but couldn't. She could relate to that. "So you decided on taking Sam and his friends to the convention after all?" she asked, hoping to break the silence.
"Yep. Sam and Jean both talked me into it."
"Well, I'm sure that'll be fun," said Lindsay with a wry smile. She caught her dad flashing a quick smile in return, but the conversation trailed off as they arrived at the store, pulling into the parking lot as someone leaning against another parked car waved at them. Probably the floor manager her father had hired. "Hey," the man said laconically.
Her father looked annoyed that Kevin had just said 'hey' without even a 'sir' to add to it.
"Ready to run the store alone for a day?"
Kevin nodded indifferently. Lindsay was already getting the feeling her father would end up complaining about this guy down the line, but then, knowing her father, he's probably complain about anyone's job performance. Still, her dad seemed to want to give someone else some ability to run the store from time to time. He hadn't done it before – she had always gotten the impression she liked things done his way when it came to running a store.
Lindsay waited while her father unlocked the front doors, and then the three of them went inside as they began to set things up for the day. Her father asked Kevin to open up the registers and put in the starting cash before heading back to his office. Lindsay followed him. "I never would have thought you'd actually hire somebody else to run the store while you're gone," she said. "Remember how much you complained that one time you hired that kid for a week?"
"That kid was a punk," said her father. "I guess I'd just like to cut down my hours a little bit. It's been tough lately. I'm not getting any younger," he admitted with a frown. "And if I hire someone to help me out, I could keep the store open seven days a week. It's an experiment, but if it brings in any more money, it'll help."
"Well, you know, if you need someone to help out sometimes, I'd be happy to put in a few hours."
Her dad looked surprised at her offer. Lindsay was kind of surprised that she had made it herself, but she was trying to be conciliatory - and really, it wasn't such a bad idea. She could use some spending money. She had been around the store – and heard her father talking about it – long enough to know some sporting goods basics, too. "Just keep in mind I'm not working for free," she said. "even if I am your daughter."
Her father laughed. "Fair enough."
"And it doesn't mean I want to do it all my life or anything. I just wouldn't mind helping out sometimes."
Even before she finished speaking, Lindsay wondered if she had said the wrong thing. Would her dad take offense? He had worked hard on starting the store and making it successful; maybe he had expected one of his children to follow in his footsteps, even if he hadn't really mentioned it before. He gave her a strained look, which Lindsay thought was anger at first, but realized it was something else.
"Lindsay," her father said, "I don't want you to follow in my footsteps."
Lindsay was confused.
"Uh – really?"
Her father motioned for her to sit down, and the two of them faced each other on opposite sides of the desk in his little back office. He looked around, quietly taking in the room. She wondered how much time he had spent in here – how much time he had spent behind those cash registers where Kevin was standing now. "I like this job, Lindsay," he said. "I know how to sell sporting goods. I can call my own shots, and I've gotten used to the routine. But it's been a hard road. And I was damn lucky to get here in the first place. When I think about how many problems I had to overcome, how many times I felt like there wasn't any way to-"
Her father trailed off. Lindsay understood what he meant, and she finally knew what to say. She remembered saying it before when she first got back from her trip, but her father hadn't bought it at the time. And he had been right – she hadn't really meant it. She was just trying to get out of trouble. But that wasn't the case this time.
"I'm sorry, dad."
He had been lost in thought, staring down at his desk. He looked up.
"Sorry about what?"
"I'm sorry about lying to you and mom about the academic summit."
"Oh. Well, that's good. I'm glad you see it was wrong."
Lindsay nodded. "It was wrong. But, the thing is – I don't regret going on that tour. And I don't regret skipping the academic summit, even if I should have talked things out with you and mom first. It's just – I just knew it would be the same kind of thing as the Mathletes, the same over-the-top competitiveness and posturing. I've seen all that before, you know? I don't know what I want to do with myself, but I want to see what the world has to offer. That doesn't mean I won't work hard, but I want to have fun, too. You might worry about me, and maybe I let Kim and Daniel and all of them pressure me sometimes before, but I'm more comfortable with myself now. It's hard to explain – I just know I'll be okay."
Even if it was true, Lindsay knew a pitch like that was a gamble with her dad. He just wasn't the kind of guy who went in for the whole 'finding yourself' kind of thing. She could picture her dad wagging his finger, telling her that 'finding yourself' was a good way to find yourself starving in a trash heap. She didn't blame him; maybe she didn't know all the details of his life, but she knew things had been harder for him than they had been for her. He had struggled to make life easier for her and Sam. But she hoped part of why he had done that was to let them have more freedom to do what they wanted, and to find their own path in life.
"I know you'll be okay, too," her father told her.
Lindsay smiled. So maybe he did understand. She suddenly felt sad about her family heading off to some convention for a few days; just when she was patching things up with her father, she'd be left alone in the house. Of course, that wasn't the end of the world. After narrowly avoiding a family disaster after her trip with Kim, she didn't really feel like hosting any big parties again in her parent's absence, but having the house to herself could still be relaxing. Maybe she'd even borrow a few more albums from Mr. Rosso. Although he probably wanted American Beauty back sooner or later.
Harold tapped a finger hard on his desk. "You still need some kind of punishment, though. Lying to us was a pretty big deal."
"I guess that's fair," said Lindsay. Her father's words put her on edge again, although she knew he was right. She braced herself for whatever was coming. "What do you have in mind?"
A smile crossed her father's face. It wasn't often that she saw her dad smile, and this one looked particularly strange - like he knew something she didn't. Or like he was about to play a prank on her.
"What are you up to the next few days?"
The road ahead stretched onwards, leaving Michigan and heading east. Lindsay idly watched the double yellow lines zipping by, wondering how her dad had managed to throw her such a curve ball. She was getting a ride for the second time that day - but instead of her parent's car, she was in the passenger seat of Daniel's car. Daniel was driving, and in the back sat her mother and Neal Schweiber.
Her parent's car was ahead of them, being driven by her father, who was also taking Sam, Bill, and Gordon with him. Her father had given Daniel strict instructions to follow behind his car the entire way from Chippewa to New Jersey, and Lindsay got the feeling that she and her mother were there to keep an eye on him while he drove. Lindsay thought her dad was being a little paranoid - although with Daniel, maybe that wasn't entirely unreasonable.
"Oh, this is going to be so fun!" said her mother. "We haven't had a family outing in a long time. And I'm looking forward to getting to know you better, Daniel."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Weir," said Daniel. "That'll be cool."
Lindsay and Daniel exchanged looks. Being volunteered for this trip had not been the kind of punishment Lindsay was expecting, but it was definitely going to be uncomfortable. She had no interest in a convention - but a family outing with Daniel coming along? That meant guaranteed weeks of embarrassment when he got back and told all her friends about it. Although it could be equally embarrassing for Daniel, so maybe that would keep him quiet. At least Daniel had actually wanted to come along.
Neal spoke up in the back seat. "What about me, Mrs. Weir?"
"What about you, Neal?"
"Aren't you looking forward to getting to know me better?"
Lindsay rolled her eyes. Neal was usually sweet, but sometimes he had a way of saying things in a totally creepy way, even if he didn't mean them like that. Her mother either didn't notice or didn't mind, and laughed at the comment. "I already know you just fine, Neal. You hang out with Sam all the time!"
"Oh, fine. By the way, it's a pleasant surprise to see you coming along, Lindsay."
Lindsay cocked her head to the side for a moment to indicate she heard him. "Thanks, Neal."
Neal had been about to ride with her dad and his friends before they set off, but had switched cars at the last second. Lindsay could guess why. She thought his crush on her was endearing, although hopefully she wouldn't have to reject him in a few years like she was getting used to doing with Nick. Guys could be a lot of trouble sometimes. She glanced at Daniel again and suppressed a laugh at his sour expression. "Looking forward to the convention?"
Daniel smirked. "Totally. You?"
Lindsay nodded and looked back out at the road. She was glad Daniel was coming along, at least – the two of them would probably have fun, even if the convention turned out to be boring, and while having Daniel around her parents on an extended basis would probably be embarrassing, she began to realize it would probably be more embarrassing for him. And that would be amusing to watch.
It was a long way to New Jersey - and from the sound of it, her parents had planned a whole itinerary beyond the convention, turning the trip into more of a family vacation. So who knew what they would end up doing when they got there. This wasn't how she had anticipated spending the next few days, but she didn't mind a surprise now and then. As annoying as they could be sometimes, there were worse things than spending time with the ones you loved.
Notes: That's it for the story. I thought I would upload the last chapter on Friday instead of waiting until Monday.
I know Lindsay and Nick didn't get together, but I figured they wouldn't jump back into things so quickly. And in case anyone misinterpreted it, the last few paragraphs are not some kind of secret "oh, she gets with Daniel!" curve ball... I know how much people care about pairings, hehe, but I wasn't really going for any romantic developments in this story. I thought it would make sense for Lindsay to take some time for herself.
Anyway, thanks for the reviews, and I hope you guys enjoyed the ending!