Author's Note: So I jump the shark in this chapter by making things even more complicated. A glimpse of Tucker's parents, more of Imaani's town and life and general misunderstandings and angst go around. Hopefully I've kept everyone from being the worst character ever/designated villain so far. Go ahead and tell me if I've messed this whole thing up with this. Comments, ideas, criticism, and general remarks are all welcome. I'm still learning to write, as this fic clearly shows.
Tucker needed sadder music.
He flipped his iPhone onto the next song, one of the many 80's original Goth bands Sam had gotten him into. Between her, his own love of techno and Danny's love of indie rock, there should have been something in there that would accurately capture how bottomless the world felt right now. He had never been a spiritual person, but he desperately hoped it was hormones. It was just hormones, and once he'd cried like an emo kid, he'd feel better afterwards, all he needed was the right music. He cruised by band after band, song after song, finding neither Fields Of The Nephilim nor Neon Trees offered anything substantial.
Aware that his satellite signal could be weak, he'd spent most of his time after dinner working on it. It was almost complete now, and he had to attach it to the side of the window to make sure it worked. This meant having his window open in his room, but it was okay. The readout said he was now operating at an internet speed even the Japanese would be enviable of. Although it would get cold in his room, he'd set up all his blankets in his closet, where the heat from the next room over as well as downstairs crept through. He could sit there and talk to Imaani like that all night, all weekend, if he wanted. Maybe it was a little obsessive. But then again, maybe he was a little tired of not being taken seriously.
He swallowed back a lump in his throat as she came into view, colors a little washed out on the screen. Tucker smiled at the dozen or so braids her hair was in today. He tried to remember enough Inuktitut to say something. Although her English was great, he was sure she'd used words and not told him the real meaning. It was the same as him saying 'I like like you' and watching her not get the implications. It wasn't fair. One day he'd man up and say things to her the way they really were. Step one was being able to carry on a conversation with her in the first place.
"Qanuippit?" Tucker asked, struggling a little at what he considered to be the harder sounds.
Her weary smile bloomed into a sincere one. "Taqajuq, qujannamiik. Silasi qanuippa?"
His words were slower than hers, but they helped him focus on something besides the knocking on his door. "Nuvujajuq. Anuraaqtunni-"
The knocking became insistent. "I think you should answer that."
"I don't feel like being laughed at again," he said loudly enough for his father to hear it on the other side of the door. "I think I'll sit in here and talk to my imaginary girlfriend instead."
"Akautsianngittunga," he choked out, the nngs rolling off his tongue, his expression downfallen for an entirely different reason. "Danny talked to my parents. My parents think I'm making you up. And that's hilarious, isn't it? Good old Tucker, so pathetic he makes up a girlfriend in Canada, so far up north nobody will ever see her. It's funny, right?"
"None of this is funny, Tucker. None of it ever was. But I've got something that'll cheer you up – you remember that Brazilian ghost hunting team, how their YouTube stream went silent? Well it's been up like a beacon for four hours, nonstop content. This further proves the existence of ghosts! It'll make headlines everywhere! And they didn't have to endanger anyone like in Amity Park, either."
He felt his attention divert. "How'd they manage that?"
"Ghosts can't utilize ghostly powers on anything too close to scolecite. The team took cameras and wore Scolecite chip necklaces. They got enough footage and uploaded it to so many places it's going viral as we speak."
Tucker grinned. "That's amazing. We'll do a review and write ups for our blogs and spread the word. This validates your theories on there being truth in folktale and traditional ways of dealing with ghosts."
"I hope so! I was going to go see the ghost of Okolli Island, but Akiaq wouldn't let me go alone. He's getting supplies ready instead."
"You were trying to go twenty miles away on foot, of course he wanted to get supplies. God, Imaani, you can't just go do things like that."
"But the SCIENCE, Tucker!"
"There's plenty of safe science here."
"I had equipment prepped," she pouted, but she was grinning. "I'll send you tons of footage when we go."
"Good. Otherwise I'd have to find some way to block the fifty million Danny Phantom videos out there."
They chuckled, and began loading up the videos.
Tucker's father sighed, walking downstairs to the dinner table, where Tucker's food stayed untouched.
"He's got it bad."
His wife nodded smugly. She'd called it.
"He's really serious."
"And I really messed this up."
"Honey, it's Tucker. Would he joke about a girl?"
"Well, I just thought… Canadian? Inuit? Geek? How many of those are out there?"
His wife rolled her eyes. "One. And the way the world works, he found her. That's how love is."
"But she's from some kind of reservation place. She can't be all that bright." He raised his hands as his wife gave him a sharp glare. "They don't have the resources we have. She's not bound to be a genius. I'm surprised she even speaks English." He chuckled. His wife's expression remained stony. "Come on, you can't seriously support his crush on some girl he'll never meet."
"Oh, I have objections. But they're miles away from matching up with yours."
Dawn found Imaani gently turning off her iPhone, having sent a message to Tucker to call her when he woke up. She looked around her small room in the house her grandparents had carved out for her family. Working with metals and stone had made insulating it a nightmare, but the solid sheet rock kept it grounded even in the worst of winds.
Her room was crammed with everything she had, every gizmo and gadget and half abandoned project, all the manuals on computers and communication and ghosts piling up high. There was no window in her room – it would only have let more cold in – so her shelves and boxes held everything they could, her clothes packed into four chests that she stored under her bed. The wooden frame was old and everyone expected it to go out some day, but it was the best they had. She had crammed her computer onto a small rectangle drawer set that faced away from her bed. Those drawers had all her school books in them as well as her diary and school bag. If she set her computer there she could plug it in and turn it so she could sit on her bed and use it.
Her tiny square of a room was also coated with gifts from Akiaq. He'd made her rugs and blankets until the entire household was convinced of his skills. He was trying so hard to make his father proud he didn't mind when his shoulder gave out from scraping hides, just put one arm in a sling and did his best to prepare them with the other. Imaani slipped into her boots, pulling on a long, thick atigi he had sewn for her as a future wedding present. It was fur lined, caribou skin, long enough to go past the knees without making movement hard, and had served her well ever since she got it.
Akiaq was at his father's garage as always, working on repairing an old motorboat. He turned at the sound of her footsteps. "I found it on the bay and brought it in last night. I think it's a sinker from some other part of the bay, but if we look at it together, maybe we can get it going so you can go to Okolli."
"…you hauled this all the way in from the shore yourself? How did you even manage that?" Imaani asked, looking him over, well aware of his tendency to put himself last.
"I got my mom's dogs to help pull, and I put the base on a lengthy piece of sheetmetal. I attached the dog harnesses to the front and curved the back with tools so it wouldn't slip off. It's only a two-seater, so it wasn't too bad." He looked ready to toppled over, but his smile only faded when he saw her face. "Don't you like it?"
She pulled him close, embracing every lanky inch of him, burying her head in the fluff of his own hand-me-down parka, tears leaking out of her eyes. "You can't keep doing this. It's killing you. It was cold enough to freeze the Bay solid last night, you could've…"
"It's okay, Imaani. I'm tough." He seemed very convinced of this fact. "All my dad's sons are. And once you have a boat you'll be able to do your investigations like you always wanted. Everyone will be happier like this."
"I don't need you to die so I can be happy," she stressed, shaking her head violently, pulling away from him. "I don't want you to put yourself in danger for – for what? For a boat?"
"I just wanted to see you smile again," Akiaq said in a very small voice, and her eyes widened as she realized how deeply she'd wounded him. She reached for him, but he turned away, grabbing a rag. "I've got a lot of cleaning to do. Maybe you should come by later."
"Akiaq, I just-"
"Just drop by around dinner. I'll make this better, I promise. I'm sorry."
He scrubbed at a black stain so vigorously that when he was done he could see his reflection in it. By that time, his wife to be had left, leaving behind nothing but footsteps in the early morning. He forced his eyes back onto the boat, feeling a cold emptiness in his chest he tried desperately to ignore. He would finish this, clean it until he could work on the technical damage, and then they would go out on the water together, and maybe then, maybe then she would kiss him. Akiaq would give anything to be kissed and have it mean something. His father had told him that Imaani was lucky they agreed to this arrangement at all, but he'd always felt it was the other way around. She was the smartest girl in all of Nunavut, maybe all of Canada.
For a while his father had tried to get him to win the affection of Qurlurniq. She was gorgeous, with a strong lineage and many friends, a gossip and social butterfly who knew everything about everyone. She could be charming when she wanted to be. But when he made her things, she often gave them away or forgot about them, lost in a sea of gifts she had from her many male admirers. Her parents had been smart in not promising her marriage to anyone. They always had enough for the fire at their house and they never lacked for food. They pushed her to be social and although he remembered her as an awkward and shy child, she'd learned her part well over the years. No one wanted to let their parents down. She did her best to be a charming traditional girl even when it strained her, unlike Imaani who flat out refused to play the game.
Qurlurniq had a smile that made Akiaq uneasy and a voice that never seemed quite right, and he said nothing. One of his coats for her had instead ended up in the hands of Ullaq, a remarkably bland looking, icy and vicious boy whose very expression melted when he caught sight of her. Ullaq had no siblings, his mother having died giving birth to him, and it was believed he was bad luck. Though he was extremely intelligent, good at improvising and a team player when it came to hunting, he was forever on the outskirts of Cape Dorset, figuratively and literally. Qurlurniq had kissed Akiaq once because she knew his angry, vindictive father was watching. That had been three months ago. Since then she was back to playing the field, able to have every boy in Cape Dorset except the one she wanted. Her plastic, almost artificial energy gave way to soft smiles when Ullaq was near.
As Akiaq was cleaning the boat, he heard the door open. Qurlurniq came in, looking grim. Her boots had been embroidered on by Akiaq himself, her coat was intricately patterned around the chest and the bottom of it was trimmed in fur tassels. Her bobbed black hair had two fake plastic yellow flowers in them. Ullaq had given them to her; Akiaq knew it because she wouldn't say where they were from and she was such a gossip and she would have made the giver of such an expensive and thoughtful gift known immediately. Sometimes she talked to fill the awkward silences or gaps in conversations with people. Sometimes her nervousness overcame any charming qualities she might have, and she was nothing but jitters and shaking limbs and a too-loud voice and teary doe black eyes. At moments like this it was easy to see her not as a bad person but just another fifteen year old kid.
"Your – your dad sent me to tell you," she swallowed a big gulp of air, "I didn't want to tell you, but he's so scary, I knew you didn't want to hear it from him, and I know I may have been rude to you but I like you, you've always been nice, so I…"
"Tell me what? Breathe." He set his dirty rags down, turning to her. "What happened? Is my family okay?"
"Yes," she nodded frantically. "This is worse."
"Is Imaani okay?"
"Well, um, see, she's part of what your dad asked me to ask you," she rambled, looking at the floor. "I'm so sorry, I don't want to do this to you, it's none of my business, or maybe it is but it's still going to hurt and…"
"And what?" Akiaq asked, utterly confused. "Spit it out."
"Imaani's birthday is soon. That means she'll be able to get married and so am I, so your father wants you to pick one of us." She held up a hand to stop his objections. "And before you say you want to marry Imaani, I found this by her desk at school. It must've fallen out by mistake. My – my mother said I had to be honest with a man if he was going to be my husband, that's why I'm showing it to you, I, I don't hate Imaani, I don' hate anyone! I don't love you! I just thought you should see what I found before you make the decision!"
He wanted to ask her why she didn't return it, but he found himself unable to speak at all as the implications of what he was seeing dawned on him. The picture showed a young black boy with startling robin's egg green eyes, his smile warm and cheerful. Imaani had been carrying it around, had written the boy's name in hearts all over the back. Everything was plain as day now. He was such a fool to think she ever thought of him as anything more than a pathetic charity case, an abused boy who needed coddling. This was who she really wanted.
Akiaq found himself in the consoling embrace of a girl for the second time that day as Qurlurniq tried to awkwardly console him, but he felt colder than if he had been alone.