It's funny how closely writing a story is to life in general. You write the first chapter, and satisfied with the results, you continue on to the second, then the third and so on. Sure, there are times where you rewrite a couple things, tweak the plot, but eventually you get there. Then, out of the blue, you hit a plateau. No matter how many times you try and think of a solution to the problem, nothing seems to fit properly and it leaves you frustrated. Do you drop it all together and start over? Do you force yourself to continue even though it's not exactly what you wanted? I guess sometimes you have to choose a road and hope it's the right one. Though what, exactly, is "right" anyway?
Chapter One: Closing Time
They were what some people called 'the dog days of summer', that prolonged period of time where summer begins to close its eyes to slumber and autumn wakes, stretching its arms to rise into the world once more. Shadows are just a little bit taller, the nights become a little cooler, and blankets are retrieved from closets that were long forgotten in the days of sunshine. Even the trees would begin to shiver, their leaves falling to the earth below.
As day began its descent into evening, this shift of seasons was not lost on a certain park, in the middle of a regular city. The sky began to dim, becoming a royal blue across the horizon. A lone streetlamp began to flicker on, rays of light streaming into the twilight, capturing what was left of the golden patches of sky. Hidden in the growing shadows of dusk was a sea green Victorian-style dwelling that certain characters in this park called home. Its paint had long started to chip, its floors creaked with every step, but that was alright; these traits brought a sense of comforting nostalgia to the people who appreciated them. It was amazing how this structure was even standing, considering the history of peculiar adventures it had been a part of.
On the peeling steps of this old house sat a small raccoon, his body reclining against the slope of stairs, arms propping his weight. His head was tilted upward, eyes ascending from the fading ball of sun up to the first speckle of stars, almost if they were just holes dotted in a canopy. He let out a small sigh, letting a small grin spread across his muzzle. His paw flexed with a stretch, eager to be free of the pen that had been occupying it for the last two hours. It was a much-needed break from sitting inside his room on that old wooden chair that constantly squeaked, desk lamp no match for the natural light his instincts craved. Besides, he had earned this time; his eyes had grown weary of the same lines of text in those same books.
Watching the sunset had always been the favorite part of his day, even since he was young...well, younger, if you wanted to get technical about it; it wasn't like he was 'old' by any stretch of the word. Still, it wasn't like he was a teenager anymore. No, it had been several years now since he could lump himself in that category. Guys his age were supposed to be well into college, thinking about future careers and even future families with a future wife.
"Future wife," he said repeated out loud, chuckling to himself. Was the American dream still alive? The picket fence, two kids, all that? He shook his head still with a grin. But hey, maybe, anything was possible. He could imagine his best friend standing in front of him, egging him on should he share those thoughts. "Just think of the wedding, dude. You know you'd love to see Eileen in a wedding dress," he would joke, maybe even elbow the mammal with gusto. The raccoon would then roll his eyes, maybe shake his head, denying that would ever happen. It's not like the avian was dead wrong; in fact he and Eileen had gotten pretty close over the months that had passed since that infamous camping trip. They enjoyed talking about video games and other random topics, and there were always laughs to be shared. The thing was, that's all it really amounted to: good times with a new friend. Anything like a date was just...not in the cards really. Although, maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the-
The raccoon jumped at the sound of his name, heart almost leaping into his throat. He turned with a sharp jerk, his wide eyes meeting the calm ones of the best friend he had just thought of. The bluejay immediately realized he had startled him and began to laugh, his wings clutching his stomach.
"Dude, you are going to go down in history as the most terrified guy on the planet, you know that? I should call some world record officials right now!"
"Ha, ha, Mordecai, you're so freakin' funny. You should do stand-up." Rigby replied sarcastically as his blood pressure returned to normal. He stood up on the step he was just laying on, brushing the dust off of his fur.
"I'm just messing with you dude," Mordecai noted as his laughter subsided, a grin still plastered on his face. "I went upstairs to check on you and you weren't there."
The raccoon nodded, arms now at his sides. "Just taking a break, dude. So many numbers...so many words...my brain is starting to melt!" he whined slightly, wobbling his head to demonstrate his point.
"No surprise there," the blue jay laughed again, winking. He stopped immediately though as he saw the scowl on the mammal's face in response. "But seriously, you've been doing really well. It's impressive man."
Rigby's scowl disappeared, his ears perking up. "Thanks, I'm actually glad I've stuck with it."
In fact, it was the blue jay's idea for the raccoon to get his GED in the first place. It was no secret that Rigby was a high school dropout and that education wasn't exactly the first thing on his mind, and when the subject was brought up, its reception was left to be desired.
"...I just think that you should get it so you have more options," Mordecai had noted, the one time his eyes weren't completely focused on the robin of his dreams. All attention was on his friend. "We can't be groundskeepers for the rest of our lives."
Rigby looked around the almost-empty coffee shop and took a small sip of the steaming beverage in front of him. What was this about? "Of course we can. Our lives are fine."
The blue jay had sighed, rubbing his temple with a wing. "Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, you could do more with yours? If you learned to control your temper, you'd be a great public relations person, or-"
"This coming from a guy who did nothing with his art degree," the raccoon interrupted, pointing a finger at Mordecai. "I don't get why you're lecturing me, of all people!"
"Fine, dude, I was just trying to help," the jay huffed, crossing his arms. "Sorry for actually caring."
As Mordecai took a sip of his own drink, Rigby inwardly flinched. It was that guilty feeling that hit every time he knew his best friend was right. It never failed to peak his emotions, though he'd always try never to show them. Admitting Mordecai was right was just, well, hard. It was a strange situation; he had never cared what his family or others had thought of his life decisions, but the jay's opinion of him always meant something. Right now was no exception.
Moredecai's eyes widened as he set down his mug. "Excuse me?"
"I said...you're right," Rigby mumbled under his breath, his stare darting in the opposite direction. "I guess it wouldn't kill me to at least see what the courses were like."
The jay smiled; he knew what it took for Rigby to actually go along with someone he wasn't excited about. He couldn't help but be proud of his friend.
"I'll help you when you need it, you know."
The raccoon looked back, no longer defensive. "Hm, hm. I'll hold you to that."
Mordecai DID keep his promise, and HAD helped when Rigby needed it. Studying was torture with the raccoon's difficulty in concentrating, especially after a full day of work, but he had prevailed so far. It was really the first time Rigby had tried following through with anything in his life, and while he wouldn't admit it to anyone, he was proud of himself. He couldn't stop now; it was something he knew he would finish. It would be impossible to quit now after coming this far.
Rigby noticed Mordecai stretching his wings, letting out a loud yawn. "Well, you wanna come finish and we can play a couple rounds of Dig Champs when you're done? I'm getting pretty tired."
The raccoon snickered. "So the old man needs his sleep, alright then."
Mordecai gave him a playful punch in the arm. "Maybe when you work as hard as I do, you'll understand. I won't hold my breath."
"Whatever," the ring-tail said with a dismissive paw, following his best friend back into the house, locking the front door behind them.
Not even twelve hours later, Rigby found himself sitting back on the staircase for a completely different reason, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. His fellow co-workers looked less then thrilled as well; no one ever liked the daily morning meetings, especially because it meant getting up earlier than usual. He looked over at Mordecai, who grinned at him softly.
"So what do you think the meeting's about?" Mordecai whispered to the raccoon, as Muscle Man was busy cracking another joke about his mom to Skips and High-Five Ghost, both looking unimpressed. Pops appeared to be ignoring them all in favor of a fluttering butterfly near him, emitting a giggle or two every so often.
Rigby grinned, shrugging. "Don't know, don't care, dude." The ring-tail was completely honest in that statement; nothing ever changed with these stupid meetings. Benson would probably give kudos to the others for a job well done and chew himself and the jay out.
"Oh yeah, don't forget the screaming," he thought, rolling his eyes nonchalantly.
"Nothing could upset me today, man. Margaret and I are going to that new chick flick tonight," the jay continued to smile, looking pleased.
"Yeesh, you mean 'Sharing Feelings 2'?" Rigby asked, grimacing. "You said that looked terrible when we saw the trailer on TV."
Mordecai looked hesitant for a split second, his smile only slightly wavering. "Well...I mean, yeah. It does. I don't mind sitting through it with her if it means we can spend more time together."
"Fair enough," Rigby replied simply, a yawn escaping his muzzle.
He still surprised himself at times with his acceptance of the two birds dating; as much as he teased his friend about making a move with the robin, in the back of his mind he understood there was a chance of it happening. Now that it had, things weren't actually as bad as he initially thought they would be. They still went out as usual, their adventures still keeping them busy, but now the raccoon was forced some nights to find something to do by himself. He discovered very quickly this was quite a challenge at times. However, as selfish as Rigby appeared to be on the outside, he just wanted what made Mordecai happy. The raccoon could deal with a little jealousy...or so he told himself.
"It's cool, right? I mean you said you had plans," the avian spoke again, breaking him from his thoughts.
Rigby quickly nodded, a half-hearted grin replacing the look of surprise. "Yeah, I wanted to catch up on some gaming. I'm going to beat you soon, you watch," he forced himself to chuckle.
"Yeah right dude, in your-" Mordecai started to say, but was cut off as the golf cart rounded the corner, its engine puttering loudly. In the driver's seat sat their gumball machine boss, who as usual, was stone-faced behind his pair of aviators. With a screeching grind that only ancient brakes could make, he parked it and stepped out, walking towards the group.
He removed his glasses and his expression actually made the duo do a double-take; it was almost melancholy, far different from the norm.
"Benson looks like he got kicked in the gut," Rigby whispered to the bird, who in response just shrugged softly.
As if this were on cue, Benson let out a sigh, shaking his head softly. "Guys, I have some news, and it's far more serious than anything we usually discuss in these meetings."
"Benson, I swear, I had no idea that toilet didn't work or else I never would have-"
"Rigby!" the gumball machine groaned, cutting off the babbling raccoon, holding his palm out in a 'stop' gesture.
"Look, none of you are in trouble. I just have no easy way to say what I'm about to say so..."
He scanned their questioning faces, and couldn't help but look down at the ground.
"The park is closing."
A collective gasp rang out from the steps, as expected. Benson sighed, and closed his eyes, bringing a hand up to cover his face. He hated being the one dropping this bombshell; it was the worst part of being in a position like this.
A sudden string of laughter surprised him, a noise he was never expecting this morning. This was enough to make him look up, and found the source to be none other than the biggest troublemaker of the bunch, who was practically hunched over.
"Rigby, what is so funny?" he spat angrily, the glass of his head already beginning to heat up.
The raccoon tried clearing his throat, but chuckled again instead. "Benson, that was hilarious. Look at everyone else, they totally bought it," he motioned with a paw to his fellow co-workers, who looked back at him with matching icy stares.
"It's not a joke, you moron," Benson said through gritted teeth, the tint of red now noticeable through the glass. "Do you think I would make something like this up?"
"I..." Rigby started, nervously scratching the back of his neck. "I...didn't..."
"No, you never do," Benson said, shaking his head, taking a deep breath. He waited until the heat extinguished from his body and took another deep breath for good measure. He had to do this professionally.
"It isn't a joke guys, although yes, I wish it was. Mr. Maellard called me himself this morning and-"
"Excuse me, Benson," Pops interrupted quietly, his usually sweet demeanor lost in the moment. Bright tears rimmed his eyes. "Why didn't my father inform me of this?"
The gumball machine sighed. "About that Pops...he said you would be too sensitive to handle something like this alone." He tried to smile, but it looked awkward and misplaced. "Besides, the house is yours, he's not kicking YOU out obviously."
This news did not affect the lollipop man's sad expression. "That doesn't make it better, no, it makes it worse! How could Papa do this? You are all my friends, I can't...I won't let you leave!"
"Pops, we really don't have a say this time," Benson sighed again, looking at the shell-shocked faces in front of him. "Trust me, I tried to reason with him. I want to keep my job as bad as the rest of you."
Mordecai raised a wing as if he were back in school. "Benson, there's gotta be a way. Remember zombie movie night? Couldn't we do one of those again to raise money?"
The gumball machine shook his head. "It's not about the upkeep or lack of funding. Mr. Maellard just doesn't want to pay taxes for the land anymore. His exact words were, 'The park isn't worth my time any longer.'"
"Greedy old-" Rigby suddenly growled out loud, but was silenced with an elbow to the gut, courtesy of the bluejay. The raccoon looked up and flinched at the jay's angry look, who motioned his head towards Pops, who looked absolutely devastated.
"Sorry," he whispered, now feeling like a total hole. Usually he wouldn't care about possible backlash, but the soft spot he had for the elderly gentleman rose his conscience.
Benson cleared his throat to get his employees' attention. "Look, I know this isn't easy. I understand the anger, sadness, all of it. The truth is, though, we have to be professional about this. You guys have two weeks, then...well, you guys get it I'm sure. I will personally write a recommendation letter for each of you for your next employer; it's the least I can do."
He paused, clearing his throat once more. How in the world did it become this emotional?
"Let's make the next two weeks pleasant, guys. Just because the park is closing doesn't mean we can't be friends after all this. That's all, if you have any questions to can come up to my office. Skips, would you mind assigning the chores?"
The yeti nodded with a grunt, reaching into his jean pocket, pulling out a crumbled piece of paper. As Skips began to read out the list scribbled on it, Benson began to walk towards the steps. He stopped in surprise as Rigby stood up and scampered to him, blocking his path.
"Benson, you can't do this man!" the raccoon begged, his eyes wide. "This isn't fair."
"Tell that to Mr. Maellard," his boss muttered coolly. "You think I like losing my job? We're all in this together Rigby. I'm sorry."
The raccoon could only stare, watching his soon-to-be former boss walk into the house, the door slamming behind him. He jumped slightly as he felt a wing on his shoulder.
He looked up at the bluejay, defeated. "Mordecai, this sucks."
The avian gave a nod, sighing. "This doesn't make sense. At all." He looked back at Skips, who had been trying to comfort Pops. "Skips, please tell me you didn't know about this."
"I'm as shocked as you guys. I'm going to talk to Benson after I assign the chores and see what exactly is going on for sure," he grunted in his rough voice, then turned back to Pops. It wasn't quite the answer he was looking for, but Mordecai couldn't blame Skips, not in this confusion.
"You know who else gets fired from a job unexpectedly?" The avian and raccoon turned at the sudden shouting, the usual suspect confirming the source.
"My mom!" Muscle Man yelled triumphantly, peeling the gray shirt from his chubby green body, swinging it around like a lasso. The annoyed looks he received didn't seem to phase him, his ghostly counterpart giving him a high five as they headed off to do their assigned work.
The duo shook their head, that scene never failing to cause a cringe or two. Normally it would be unbelievable that someone could joke in the midst of a situation such as that, but it was Muscle Man they were talking about, so it actually made sense in a twisted way. How could he not care?
"Guys, let's do this," Skips had waited to instruct, bringing them back to reality. It didn't matter they only had two weeks left; they were still employees, and there was work that needed to be done.
Rigby looked back up at his best friend nervously. "What are we going to do?"
Mordecai wished he had an answer.
The work day had gone excruciatingly slow as expected, the minutes slowly ticking by as the bluejay and raccoon tried to focus as best as they could. Small talk seemed awkwardly forced, only talking when they needed to communicate about a task.
As the day began to wind down, Rigby couldn't stand the awkwardness any longer. "Dude, we need to figure this out! I don't want to move back in with my parents!"
Mordecai put down the rake he had been using and wiped his brow with a wing, facing the ring-tail, whose face was almost pleading. He would have actually felt sorry for Rigby, that is, if he wasn't in the same situation. The thought of moving back in with his own family made the bird cringe; it wasn't as if he hated his parents or anything, but his pride would be broken. It would be as if he had failed himself.
"Rigby, don't freak out yet, alright? We have a couple weeks to come up with a plan. There's other places in this city hiring for sure," Mordecai assured his friend, but the cloud of doubt still hung heavily despite his "cheery" outlook.
"Another place that offers free room and board? Doubtful," he reminded himself, and grumbled under his breath. It was true that the best perk of working at the park was the fact it also provided a place to live. No, not just a place to live: it was home. Even if they were lucky enough to secure a job in the coming days, they'd surely need to get an apartment or at the very least a room somewhere.
"We are so screwed," Rigby muttered, obviously dismissing the jay's advice. "So so screwed."
Mordecai felt himself clenching his fists softly. It was a voluntarily action that had been mastered over the years due to putting up with the raccoon's persistent whining, and most of the time it seemed to help.
"And you think saying 'we're screwed' over and over is going to help any?" he interjected, the temper in his voice quickly rising despite those tightly-balled fists. "Man up, dude, and we can think through this like adults."
The jay's comment made the raccoon look back up at his best friend, his eyes narrowing. If it was one thing that really set Rigby off, it was people implying he was a child, especially Mordecai. He loathed when the bluejay treated him like the younger brother, as if he were his guardian...as if he were superior to him.
"I am an adult, in case you forgot," he sneered.
"Pfft." Mordecai let out a harsh laugh, crossing his arms. "You know, sometimes I wonder Rigby."
"Stop talking!" the raccoon screamed, his wild eyes wide as he lunged at the jay, who calmly sidestepped away with a small scoot. The shorter one landed onto the grass with a thud in the spot his friend just stood, groaning softly. Mordecai shook his head in pity; it was almost pathetic, the way Rigby did this. Didn't he know by now this was the way it always ended?
After a few moments of silence, Mordecai nudged the raccoon gently with a foot. "Get up."
Another moan escaped Rigby's muzzle as he slowly lifted himself up, brushing leaves from his fur. "Jerk."
"You're the one who tried to attack me, you hole," the bluejay noted, shrugging his shoulders. "Don't get mad at me because you're the one freaking out."
Rigby emitted a low growl, the metaphorical smoke steaming from his ears. "You know what, I don't need this! I'm outta here!"
"No, you're not leaving me with the rest of-" Mordecai began to shout, but it did no good as the raccoon dropped to all fours, breaking into a feral run. He thought of chasing after his friend, to drag him back to finish their work, but he knew how fast the raccoon could run when upset. The avian let out a frustrated yell as he watched Rigby finally travel out of sight, throwing his wings up into the sky.
"So damn predictable!" he angrily spat to himself, shaking his head. "I'm ALWAYS the one picking up the slack. I'm sick of it!"
"You won't have to worry about that for long," a sarcastic thought crossed his mind, but he brushed it off quickly. It wasn't about what job he was working, or where.
No, it had always been like this with Rigby, way before the two of them had moved out on their own, or gotten jobs, or even thought about life in the adult world. His thoughts traveled to their school days, when Rigby would whisper across to him during tests for answers. The times their teachers caught them and failed them both. He had plenty of examples of the moments where Rigby had left him to take the blame for things.
Well, he wasn't going to let himself down, and someone had to finish raking the leaves. Mordecai walked over to the rake he had discarded to chat with the raccoon, picked it up, and began the tedious task once more. The sounds of the tool scraping against the grass were strangely calming; he was grateful for anything that eased the tension.
As the bluejay continued to work, he couldn't help but go back to the thought of being considered a duo. What if a job presented itself but not for Rigby? He wouldn't decline it just because it would only be for himself, would he?
"No, I wouldn't," he thought, though it was more of a command if anything. He cared the raccoon immensely, but he wouldn't let his life spiral out of control for anyone. He still had the ability to make new friends, and best of all he had...
He laughed, a smile crossing his beak. Of course, why hadn't he thought of it sooner? It was a long-shot of course, but maybe there was a way to keep himself from losing everything.
The jay's gaze darted to his cheap cell phone he had set down near him, his heart beginning to pound. The excitement of this idea was getting to him, and for the first time that day, there was hope.
He picked the phone, fingers trembling slightly as he punched in the numbers, finally holding the plastic case to his ear.
"Hey Margaret, it's me. Yeah, I was still going to pick you up, but uh...mind if I stop by your place earlier than we planned? There's something I need to talk to you about."
There it is, the opening chapter! Hopefully you guys enjoyed it, reviews are very much appreciated. As a quick note, the sequel to 13 Steps 'Some Assembly Required' is on indefinite hiatus. Something didn't feel right about continuing, but that could change in the future, who knows. Feel free to check out my new tumblr, username: arieshasrabies, for updates and Regular Show/random goodness (it'll have adult humor and such so beware if you're not into that). Take care and see you readers next time!