"Ghoulia, you know what you need to do?" The zombie groaned back confidently at Cleo, who turned to Frankie seated next to her in the backseat of Draculaura's car. "She's got it covered."
It was the following afternoon and Mrs. Stein was spending the day visiting with Jackson's mother at home while Frankie had supposedly left to meet the ghouls at the Maul. Which she had - to put their heads together and figure out a way to get Frankie's mother out of the house so Frankie could get the information she needed from Mrs. Jekyll. Now the ghouls sat in the car in front of Frankie's house finalizing their plan conceived in a secluded corner of the Die-ner.
"So Ghoulia will hack into Mr. Stein's phone and text Frankie's mom, saying there's been an emergency out at the community college," Cleo explained. "Hopefully we've come up with a big enough emergency that she'll feel she needs to go out there and help."
"How long will that give Frankie with Mrs. J then?" Draculaura asked, nibbling on her bottom lip nervously with her left fang.
Cleo watched Ghoulia's laptop screen as the zombie frantically typed away. "Given the time it will take for Frankie's mother to drive out there, realize it's a mistake and drive back home..." She looked up at Frankie again, "I can guarantee you one hour, give or take a few minutes."
"That should be enough," Frankie nodded, pleased at how simple yet effective this plan sounded. Still, deceiving her parents had not originally been part of getting step three off the ground. But then again, how else was she going to keep from worrying them about her freaky vision dreams while looking for an excuse to have a private conversation with her mom's best friend?
"Having second thoughts?" Was Cleo part mind-reader or something?
"I just feel a little uneasy about this," Frankie admitted.
"Aw Frankie." Clawdeen turned herself around in the front passenger seat and glanced at her almost pityingly, "Don't tell me this is the first time you've ever lied to your parents."
"No, of course not!" Frankie said indignantly - what kind of goody two-shoes did Clawdeen think she was? "I've been telling them everything's perfectly fine ever since these stupid nightmares started!" She shared a quick knowing glance with Cleo out the corner of her eye - neither of them had told the other ghouls about the book Cleo had stolen from her father's study.
"Alright alright, sorry," Clawdeen held up her sharp nailed hands in defense. It was very rare the ghouls saw Frankie this irritated, and Frankie instantly regretted it whenever she found herself dismissing or snapping at one of them. The sooner the plan went into action, the sooner Frankie would have the answers she needed.
"Okay, I'm going in," Frankie exhaled, undoing her seatbelt and getting out of the backseat of the car, hitching her purse over her shoulder.
"You got this, ghoul!" Draculaura grinned, fangs bared and giving her a thumbs-up while Ghoulia moaned back in agreement. The car pulled away as soon as Frankie was halfway up the driveway - and now, without her ghoulfriends physically behind her, she was more nervous than ever. Even once the plan succeeded, how in the world was she going to get the information she needed from Mrs. J without hitting a nerve, a sensitive topic? What if she just plain wouldn't tell Frankie because she was a child who didn't need to know these things? Narrowing her eyes, she straightened up as she reached the front door, digging out her house key with unnecessary force. She wasn't a child - she had the body and mind of a fully developed seventeen-year-old young woman. And I'm going to handle this on my own, she repeated her mission's mantra to herself as she jammed the key determinedly into the lock and clicked it open.
High-pitched laughter greeted her ears as Frankie stepped into the front hall leading to the living area. If she hadn't known Mrs. J was over, this might have startled her to sparking level. But at this point she knew what to expect when hers and Jackson's mothers got together. It was less like a friendly chat between two seemingly middle-aged women and more like two college roommates at a ten-year reunion.
"Oh my lord, Viv - only that could happen to you!"
"I know! I was mortified I had made such a big deal about it - and they just sat there and laughed at me!"
"Well, you know the wonderful working relationship between college faculty and administration-"
"Frankie!" Mrs. Stein called cheerfully from the armchair she reclined in, holding a half-full glass of wine. "You're home early! I wasn't expecting you for a few more hours at least."
"Not much to do at the Maul," Frankie shrugged, thinking about the sale at Abercreepy and Witch she was missing. See Clawdeen? I can lie to my mom all day if I want to.
"Come in and say hi to Mrs. J," Mrs. Stein said, throwing aside a pillow on the sofa so Frankie could sit. The woman holding a slightly less amount of wine looked over and waved at Frankie. Like Jackson she wore glasses, with more stylish frames, had yellow highlights in her shoulder length dark hair, and like Frankie's mother looked far younger and more attractive than she should have at her age.
"It's been awhile, Frankie," Mrs. J said, patting the seat next to her and Frankie sat down gingerly. "Come on, I don't bite - hard," she joked.
"Well, a few more glasses of wine and we'll see what Sydney Hyde has to say about that," Mrs. Stein chortled, taking another sip.
"Viveka I told you, I haven't transformed while inebriated in over a decade." Mrs. J rolled her eyes, looking over at Frankie and cupping a hand around her mouth, "Don't listen to your mother."
"Don't worry, I usually don't," Frankie joked back without missing a beat, and Mrs. J let out a hoot of laughter, raising her wine glass as if in a toast.
"Congratulations Viv, your husband has created a true teenage daughter!"
"Oh trust me, his credit card bill is fully aware," Mrs. Stein replied, looking Frankie's high-heeled platforms, fishnet tights, short magenta maxi dress and lightning bolt necklace up and down. "You are so lucky you have boys."
"Boys come with their own set of problems," Mrs. J sighed wisely, "Especially when they're so different from each other." As if right on cue, Mrs. Stein's text tone - a lightning strike sound effect - went off and Frankie sat up straighter. Here we go...
"I don't believe this," Mrs. Stein furrowed her brow, shaking her head at her phone screen. "Viktor caused a power outage at the community college during his class." Frankie's hopes sank - maybe she really didn't believe it. But she relaxed as her mother got up from the chair to take her glass into the kitchen. "I'm going to have to go down there and make sure all my computer files are backed up."
"Want me to come and help?" No! Frankie almost shouted. If Mrs. J went too, it would ruin everything!
"No it's fine, I should be back shortly," Mrs. Stein called back from the front hall where she was searching for her purse. "We had such a good track record going, too. He hadn't blown a circuit out there since before Frankie was created - Oh Frankie!" Mrs. Stein rushed back into the room as if she had just remembered her daughter was there, "Would you mind keeping Mrs. J company while I'm gone?"
"No problem, Mom," Frankie said with a wide toothy smile. Perfect, absolutely perfect.
"I'll be back soon!" Mrs. Stein called from the doorway, "And don't let Sydney near the wine!"
"Viv!" Mrs. J called back in an annoyed tone, then just laughed as the front door shut. "Oh, your mom makes me feel young again - in monster years."
Frankie giggled, "She really values your friendship you know."
"And I value hers," Mrs. J said in a touched voice, pressing her hand against her heart. "Both of your parents are wonderful monsters, Frankie. You're lucky to have them."
"I feel lucky every day," Frankie said truthfully, moving a bit closer to her mother's guest on the sofa. Time to get down to brass tacks: "I'm actually glad we're alone. I really wanted to talk to you about-"
"Holt's episode at the party," Mrs. J finished for her, her smile slipping. "Mark my words, he really heard it from me when he got home that night."
Frankie looked at her, alarmed. "Did he hear it from you...or from...?"
"Oh don't worry sweetie, it was definitely me," Mrs. J assured her grimly. "I'm so used to his temper getting him in trouble by now that it's not even worth the effort to unleash 'Big Bad Mommy' on him anymore." She chuckled, "That's what I used to call it when he was young."
"I feel awful about the whole thing," Frankie sighed, staring at her hands clasped in her lap. "I don't know, I just feel partially responsible for some reason..." She was still debating whether or not to bring up the series of nightmares.
"Frankie, I'm sure it wasn't anything you said or did that night," Mrs. J said, patting her folded hands soothingly. "Holt was defending you. 'You should've heard the things he wanted to do to her, Ma!' he said to me. Still wasn't any excuse for hospitalizing that gargoyle, but...he did it because he cares about you and doesn't want to see you hurt." Frankie felt like a dozen butterflies suddenly took flight in her stomach, trying her hardest not to let it distract her.
"But still, has his temper gotten worse over the years?" she asked leaning forward curiously. "Is his condition getting more severe? Did this happen to you? How is his transformation different than yours was?"
Mrs. J was silent, studying Frankie's face for a few moments. "There is no power outage at the college, is there?"
"What?!" Frankie sparked violently and Mrs. J sat back nodding satisfactorily, her question having just been answered.
"You got your mother out of the house so you could have this little chat with me," she confirmed, a wry smile crossing her face.
"How did you know?" Frankie exhaled in defeat, burying her face in her hands.
"I grew up with an alter ego, Frankie," Mrs. J said matter-of-factly. "I spent a lifetime lying to my parents about things she did and who was to blame. I know the signs of a ghoul hiding secrets."
"Okay..." Now that she was caught, the chat seemed significantly less friendly than she expected it to be. But with only forty-five minutes to go, Frankie couldn't stall any longer. "I...I want to know more about Jackson and Holt's condition specifically. I mean, was he always like this? Since he was born?"
"Oh no," Mrs. J's smile was completely gone now, a sadness replacing the sparkle in her eyes. "He wasn't. Jackson...he was such a beautiful baby. So healthy, so happy...it never even occurred to me back then." She pensively fixed her gaze on the adjacent window overlooking the front yard. "He was two and a half when I found out. The sun had just set and all of a sudden, my shy quiet little boy was blue with flaming orange hair, babbling and jumping up and down on his bed. That was the trigger throughout his childhood - time of day. Every night, he was Holt Hyde. Jackson never even saw the moon before until he was fourteen." Mrs. J swallowed hard, "When I saw what had happened, I panicked. I absolutely lost my cool. I sent him to bed even though it was only six o'clock - he started crying because he thought I was angry at him. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and just cried and cried. I was so sure the gene would skip a generation, as it had with my parents. And for the longest time I just hated myself, and my grandfather and this experiment of his that had now been inflicted upon my son." She laughed bitterly, wiping the corners of her eyes. "Jackson's father though - I could tell he was thrilled. He had a monster for a son after all. Meanwhile my heart was breaking, as any mother's would."
"And Jackson never had any idea?" Frankie asked more gently, and Mrs. J shook her head.
"'Blackouts' we would call them," she went on, and Frankie cringed inwardly seeing her use air quotes. "It wasn't until you came along that he knew the truth." She looked up quickly and caught Frankie's apprehensive gaze. "Oh honey, I'm not blaming you! I knew as soon as we enrolled him at Monster High that he was going to find out. Headmistress Bloodgood was the only one who knew beforehand and I implored her to keep it secret. She very reluctantly agreed - she's always been one for exposing and embracing monster heritage as opposed to hiding it. But...I was just so protective of my boy. Both of my boys. I didn't want Jackson to endure any of the same pain I had." She looked Frankie straight in the eye now, reaching out for her hand, and Frankie took it and held it firmly.
"I have always had a very difficult time finding someone who would accept both sides of me for who we are," Mrs. J said, rubbing her thumb over Frankie's hand affectionately. "I still resent her - Hyde - for ruining so many special moments and chasing away people I could have had in my life." She was smiling genuinely at Frankie now, "But I was so happy when Jackson and Holt met you. Not just because you were my best friend's daughter, but because you were such a sweet ghoul. You're so kind and friendly and accepting of everyone, and you don't know how much my boys needed that in their lives."
"I like them just for being true to who they are," Frankie responded, covering Mrs. J's hand with her other hand. "Jackson is the sweetest guy I have ever met, and Holt is so fun and electrifying. But together...they both make me feel special, they both make me light up inside, they both have my back and they're both so important to me. I care about them..."
...Just as much as they care about me. And for the first time, Frankie was having second thoughts. Not about this conversation with Mrs. J, but about another conversation she'd had several months ago - when she told Jackson and Holt separately that she needed to give them space. Now voicing her feelings, her true feelings aloud, all barriers down, Frankie was wondering if this difficult decision she had made was actually the right one.
Mrs. J squeezed both of her hands, "Then you understand that it won't always be like this."
"What won't?" Frankie asked, fearing the answer.
"Jackson's trigger has changed since he was young - obviously you know now it's music," Mrs. J explained. "He's eighteen now, and it's a certainty that his trigger will change at least once more before he reaches adulthood."
"And what will that mean?" Frankie asked, a note of desperation in her voice.
"I don't know," Mrs. J said slowly, shaking her head hopelessly. "The gene varies from generation to generation, person to person." She paused for a moment, as if choosing her words carefully. "Edward Hyde was a full grown man, nearly fifty. Normie accounts depict him as a murderer. And while that information is technically untrue, it's merit is not unfounded. Edward did kill people, but it was never in cold blood and almost always accidental - a consequence of his rage. Could you imagine applying these same implications to a teenage boy, already so confused about the world, himself and his future?"
She pressed a hand to her mouth and Frankie handed her the tissue box from the coffee table with shaking hands. "I was lucky - so lucky," Mrs. J choked out, taking off her glasses to dab at her eyes. "In college I managed to gain more control over my transformation than anyone ever anticipated I would. My Hyde hasn't caused any real harm or destruction for years, and we've reached a compromise. But Holt...his temper only appears to be getting worse the older he gets. He flies into these rages and there's just no reaching him." She looked back up, "Frankie, thank goodness you didn't try to break up that fight at the bonfire. I'm almost positive he would have hurt you as well." Frankie nodded, her hands still shaking in her lap. She didn't need to imagine what could have happened - she had already dreamt it.
"And...it's only going to get worse..." Frankie trailed off, completely at a loss for what to say. Her overwrought mind could barely formulate words and instead gave way to uneven breathing.
"It's a definite possibility," Mrs. J answered. "And unless it gets better, it will eventually affect Jackson as well." Her voice quivered on the brink of tears, "If it takes him and Holt too long to compromise, the animosity between them will cause their personalities to bleed into each other. And once it reaches that point...the transformation, and their behavior, will be beyond anyone's control."
Frankie gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. "Oh my ghoul..."
Mrs. J took her by the shoulders and held on firmly. "Frankie, I wouldn't tell just anyone everything I've told you today. But you're an important part of their lives and you have a right to know. You were the first monster to accept them both as they are, and I need you to continue to be that support. Because as things stand now, they are not alright."
Frankie drew in a shaking breath, "I understand..." The corners of her mouth managed to turn upward slightly. "Thank you for trusting me."
For several moments, they sat in silence until the front door creaked open. "Ugh, all the way out there for nothing - and at these gas prices!" came Mrs. Stein's irritated tone.
"I won't tell her you lied," Mrs. J whispered, "if you keep your promise to me."
"Done," Frankie said without hesitation. But inside, a struggle was taking place that felt like it was tearing all of her artificial tissue apart. And every possible solution seemed to point to a dead end. Jackson and Holt were doomed to merge and become a true monster, one that could rival any false interpretation a normie Hollywood producer could cook up. Unless...there was one tiny sliver of hope, one possibility that could help. But it would mean throwing all caution to the winds, and taking a plunge that Frankie wasn't confident she was able to take.
"Jackson?!" she shouted. The fog was so thick she could barely see her hand in front of her face, let alone locate the source of the call. "Jackson, is that you?!"
"No way, Fine Stein - it's me!"
"Holt?!" Frankie called back, trying to swat the mist away like cobwebs. "What's going on?"
"Tryin' to take over normie boy's body!" Holt shouted triumphantly. "I'll win control, and best of all I'll win you back!"
"Holt, that's not funny!" she cried out, looking every which way for where their voices were coming from. Why couldn't she find them?
"Who said I was jokin'?"
"Taking over Jackson's body wasn't part of our agreement!" Frankie said angrily, beginning to run in the direction of Holt's reply. "You and Jackson need to communicate with each other!"
"We have, but we can't agree on anything." It was Jackson again coming from Frankie's left, and she turned on her heel to change directions. He grunted painfully, and she picked up speed.
"Not on anything except you, that is." Holt again, on her right. She flung herself back the other way. She needed to find them fast.
"Holt, you can't do this," Frankie said to the thick air, panting as she ran. "What will happen to Jackson if you do?"
"You're as smart as you are fine, Frankie," Holt chortled. "It doesn't take a mad scientist to figure it out..."
Eyes widening, Frankie made her decision and charged left. "Jackson?! Jackson, can you still hear me?!"
"You won't gain anything if you do this, Holt - including me!" Frankie screamed, stopping dead in her tracks as her whole body shook with fear and anger. "I swear, I'll never forgive you!"
"Frankie don't!" Jackson coughed violently, "You'll get hurt if you stay here! Get out of here!"
"No! I'm not! I'm not leaving either of you!" Frankie collapsed to her knees, feeling her battery draining charge. "Holt, this isn't you. You may be hot-headed and you may lose your temper and you may do things before you think them through, but you are not the monster they make you out to be."
"What do ya think you're doin'?!" Holt roared, grunting as his voice bled into Jackson's - back and forth to the point where Frankie could barely discern one from the other.
"I'm protecting her," Jackson breathed heavily, sounding angrier than Frankie had ever heard him. "Do whatever you want to me, but leave Frankie out of this!"
"Protecting her from what?! I care more about her than you do!"
"No you don't!"
"And I have more to offer!"
"She left me because of you!" Frankie gasped as both voices chorused the last phrase at once, clenching her hands as she found the strength to stand again. As if the power of Jackson and Holt's confrontation had cleared the fog, she found herself staring at the freakiest sight she had ever seen. A body - a strange mixed hybrid of Jackson's hair and glasses with Holt's skin and tattoo - lay on the ground, nearly still.
"Jackson! Holt!" Frankie rushed up and knelt beside them, holding the hybrid face in her hands. She knew what happened by these repercussions - they had both tried to repress the transformation at the same moment. Now they couldn't speak or move, and they couldn't survive like this. All they could do was stare up at her as their final moments ticked away.
"No! It wasn't supposed to happen like this!" Frankie cried out, hugging them to her chest. "You were supposed to work things out! You promised me!" Her voice broke into hysterics as she gasped to form words. "Jackson!...Holt!..."
Frankie let out a scream as the ceiling of her bedroom came into view. Panting, whimpering, her pajamas drenched in sweat, she had managed to kick the covers completely off her bed. That was...no...it felt way too real to be a...
Oh no. How loud had she screamed? She grabbed the blankets up from the floor and managed to wipe the sweat and tears from her face just before both of her parents burst into the room. Sitting up and arranging the covers back over her from the waist down, she tried to appear as natural as possible.
"Frankie, what is it?" Mr. Stein asked, reaching the bed first and sitting down beside her. "A nightmare?"
"What happened?" her mother asked hushedly, following suit with her eyes wide in panic.
"Don't tell me it's nothing!" Mrs. Stein pointed at her before she could speak. "I've never heard you scream like that before."
"You were calling for Jackson, then Holt," her father said, unhooking her sparking neck bolts from the generator and trying to study her face. But she kept looking away and shaking her head, so he cupped her chin and physically turned her face to his. "Frankie, tell us."
It's okay, go back to sleep. Her head told her to just repeat that, as she had to Draculaura and the Glitterati.
"It's - it's-" But it wasn't okay. No, everything couldn't have been further from okay. She looked into her parents faces, worried for her, wanting to understand what made her so afraid, and she didn't want them to go back to sleep. She wanted them right here with her, more than ever before.
And suddenly, as if a barrier had been broken down in her heart, Frankie's face crumpled and she started to sob. Her father whispered her name soothingly as he pulled her into his lap, holding her close. She felt her mother on her other side stroking her hair and kissing her forehead, feeling safe and secure if only while in her parents' embrace. And at long last, Frankie launched into the entire story between gulps of air. With every sentence, it felt like she was becoming lighter and lighter as each weight on her shoulders came off one by one, the words coming easier and faster - to the point where she forgot to skip over mentioning the novella. Only then did her father pull away sharply.
"You read what?"
"I-I just skimmed it," Frankie lied, but after several long minutes of telling the truth it was far from convincing - and her father didn't buy it for one second.
"What have I told you about all of that normie fiction?" Mr. Stein growled, the last word dripping with venom. "Where did you even get this book?!"
"Cleo f-found it in her dad's study," Frankie stammered, jumping as her father stood suddenly and began pacing the floor. "Dad, just listen-!"
"Viktor," Mrs. Stein said evenly as her husband muttered under his breath in their native German. "Viktor, stop. She no longer has the book, does she?" She looked at Frankie for confirmation, who shook her head.
"I'm calling Ram de Nile this instant," he grumbled angrily, "and letting him know what his 'little princess' did."
"No, Dad!" Now her slip up was going to get Cleo in trouble!
"Frances Stein, hold your tongue," Mr. Stein shot at his daughter, who fell silent - as silent as she could while crying softly.
"Viktor!" Mrs. Stein shouted, pulling Frankie into her arms. "Es gibt eine zeit und einen ort. Und das ist es nicht (There's a time and place. And this isn't it)." Mr. Stein looked from his wife to his daughter, then unclenched his fists and sat back down next to them stiffly. Frankie could only grasp a handful of the German language, but whatever her mother had said must have calmed him.
"We'll discuss this at a later date," he said firmly. "But I never want you doing that again, Frankie. If you wanted information, you should have asked Sydney Jekyll-"
"I did," Frankie said quietly. She went on to explain the conversation she'd had with Mrs. J in great detail, watching her father's expression grow softer and sympathetic the more she revealed. By the time she had choked her way through her latest dream, he pulled her into a hug once more.
"I wish I could tell you everything will be alright," Mr. Stein sighed, rocking his daughter gently. "But..."
"I'm just glad you're here," Frankie sniffled, wiping her eyes on her dad's shirt.
"You shouldn't have kept this from us," Mrs. Stein shook her head, running her fingers through Frankie's hair again. "I know there's not much we can do to help the situation, but Frankie - you can't keep something like this bottled up. As long as we're here, you don't have to bear any burden alone."
At that, something clicked in Frankie's mind. She was right, she didn't have to bear this alone. No one should have to bear any sort of burden alone. "I need to call Jackson," she said aloud without thinking.
"Not now, it's 3:30," her father said as she pulled away from him, grabbing at her phone charging on top of the generator. "You can call him in the morning."
"No, it has to be n-!"
"In the morning," Mrs. Stein whispered, shushing her as she lay her back down on the table bed, pulling the covers up around her. Frankie sent a quick text to Jackson anyway (NEED TO TALK TO YOU ASAP THIS MORNING) before snuggling down under the covers.
"Sleep well, my sweet girl." Mr. Stein kissed her forehead before yawning and heading back to his charging station.
"Could you stay here?" Frankie asked her mom timidly, who had gotten up to follow her husband. "In case the nightmares come back." Mrs. Stein looked at her for a moment, then nodded.
"Of course, sweetheart," she said. She pulled Frankie's desk chair up next to the bed, chuckling lightly, "I'll use all of my mom powers to make sure there are no more bad dreams and no more tears tonight."
Frankie smiled genuinely and closed her eyes as her mother began to sing a soft German lullaby, comforted greatly by her voice. With the promise of tomorrow still up in the air, for now she was just grateful to finally drift into the refuge of a dreamless sleep.
The park bench was wet from the summer shower earlier that morning, causing Frankie to have to sit on a towel so she wouldn't spark out of control. But this was where Jackson had told her to meet him when he got back to her around 7:30 that morning - once Frankie had insisted this conversation needed to be private. And that was where they left it off. She had no idea what was going to come of this meeting, and she only had a vague idea of what she was going to say. The rest would depend on Jackson's reaction when she told him she knew everything.
Pulling out her compact, Frankie checked her reflection one last time. She'd taken great care in her appearance this morning, choosing a sweetly modest navy blue sundress, silver heeled sandals, minimal makeup and had pulled the sides of her hair back with a butterfly clip. If she ended up taking the plunge, she wanted to be prepared.
She snapped her mirror shut when her phone buzzed - Jackson, telling her he had just pulled up. Leaning back on the bench, she stared up at the early morning grey sky threatening to downpour yet again as she breathed deeply. She really hoped that whatever happened this morning, it wouldn't completely destroy whatever relationship they had left.
BEHIND YOU, the next text read. Frankie sparked and whirled around, seeing Jackson approaching her from the parking lot across the street. She waved him over, plastering a large smile on her face as he drew nearer to her. "Thanks for meeting me so early."
"No problem," Jackson gave her a half smile. "Holt hasn't had many gigs lately, so I've been able to catch up on sleep." He came around the back of the bench and sat down beside her. Was it just her, or had Jackson combed his hair? Something told her he might be having some of the same thoughts about this private meeting as she was. "You look...really nice."
"Thanks," Frankie said, smoothing out the wrinkles in her knee-length skirt. She looked up to meet his gaze, expectantly waiting for her to break the ice. Her mouth went dry and her mind went blank - how could she do this to him? He looked so sweet and innocent staring at her like that...
"You wanted to talk to me...privately?" Jackson finally said, scratching his neck nervously with his still bandaged hand.
"Yeah - yeah I did," Frankie snapped back to earth, blinking a few times. "I...um...I need to tell you about some things. Some things that have happened - some things that have been happening to me. And...you." He stared at her blankly and she cursed herself for getting off to such a terrible start. "I've been having these dreams," she blurted out at last.
"Well not exactly dreams, more like...nightmares." She swallowed hard, "And you and Holt have been...in them. They started out really vague, then started to get clearer and clearer - but also got worse and worse." She stumbled through as detailed of an account as she could of these past several evenings, Jackson's expression growing more concerned the longer she spoke.
"So...you've dreamt about our condition becoming similar...to my great-grandfather's?" Jackson gathered, and Frankie sighed in relief that he had understood.
"I talked to your mom the other day," she said softly, fiddling nervously with the hem of her skirt. "And she told me...she told me all about your transformation specifically. And Holt's behavior getting worse, and...the consequences that may come from that." Jackson remained silent, but his eyes flashed suddenly - as if his mom had told her something he didn't want spread around.
"Jackson, she chose to confide in me - I didn't force her," Frankie leaned forward, laying a hand on his arm. "But I'm glad she did, even though it...it terrifies me."
Jackson looked away from her and stared at the ground, his hands gripping the seat of the bench. "I didn't ask for this," he said so softly that Frankie almost missed it. "I mean, growing up in a monster neighborhood, I wished I could be a werewolf or a vampire or something that wouldn't make me feel like an outcast normie. Then it actually happened and...I wanted to take back every wish I ever had back then. Holt's always been a thorn in my side, but in the grand scheme of things he was generally harmless. Unless...his temper flared up." He looked back over at Frankie, "It's been happening more often, hasn't it?"
"According to your mom, yes," Frankie nodded, trying to keep her voice even. "She was pretty sure that Holt would have attacked anyone who got in his way that night at the party. Including me."
Jackson's eyes widened. "Frankie, we wouldn't - we couldn't hurt you."
"He's completely blinded to reason when his temper reaches the boiling point," Frankie cut in, his stunned expression breaking her heart. "And she - your mom - said that if your condition doesn't make some sort of turnaround, you'll begin to merge to the point where your transformation and behavior will be completely unpredictable. And if this happens with Holt's temper being so violent - Jackson, you will become a true monster! A danger to everyone, even those you care about most!"
"But there's nothing anyone can do, Frankie!" Jackson finally cried out, slamming his hands on the bench as he stood suddenly, wincing at his broken hand. "I've been dragged to who knows how many doctors throughout my entire life. I've been on medication. I've kept my mom up all night crying over what my future holds. You have no idea how hard it's been, and lately it's only gotten harder! I feel like I have no control over anything, not Holt's life or my own!" He stared out across the street, breathingly heavily. Looking down at his clenched fists, he gazed slowly back up at Frankie and unfolded his fingers. "See? It's starting already...and nothing can help it."
"I can," Frankie stood to meet his gaze at eye level. "I can help, Jackson."
"How?" he let out a grim laugh. "No offense Frankie, but you have a tendency to be overly optimistic. This isn't one of those quick-fix problems that'll all work out fine in the end. This is something I've been living with for eighteen years and will keep living with until the day I die."
"I know that," Frankie said, getting sick of everyone treating her like she was so naive. "I know that this can't be fixed overnight, but it can be fixed. All it involves is a commitment."
Jackson furrowed his brow, "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that the solution to this problem lies with someone...just one person pledging to stay by your side. No matter what happens, no matter how out of control you both get, even if there isn't a solution to this at all! Just one person...who sees you both for what you really are...two sides of one voltageous person."
"...You?" Jackson breathed as she stepped closer.
"Why else would I be the one having these dreams?" Frankie concluded, practically feeling the final puzzle pieces fall into place. It was such a relief.
"No," Jackson said without even bothering to think it over. "I can't do that to you. I can't have you throw your life away on me."
"I've already made up my mind," Frankie said firmly, keeping her feet planted as she stared Jackson down. "All you have to do is let me."
"No!" Jackson repeated even louder, "You don't deserve this!"
"Neither do you!" Frankie matched the volume of his voice - why was he being like this?
"How can that possibly help my transformation?!"
"I don't know, but I can find a way!" Frankie shouted stubbornly, stomping her heel into the grass exactly as she had when arguing with Holt at the party. "My dad's a mad scientist - I can find a million ways!"
"I've been to scientists, I've been to doctors - name any kind of specialist and I've tried it! I've tried everything and nothing has been able to stop it!"
"Then I can - I - well - I can't just stand by and do nothing, Jackson!"
"There's nothing else you can do, don't you get it?! Do you realize the enormous risk you'd be taking if you did this to yourself?! It's way too dangerous - to your health, your safety and your life! I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy let alone you, Frankie!"
"I don't care!" Frankie finally screamed, as close to his face as she dared allow herself to be. "I don't care what kind of risk there is to me because it's nothing compared to the risk to both of you if I just watch helplessly from the sidelines!" Tears began sliding down her cheeks and off her chin, and Jackson's anger at her persistence ebbed away. "I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I knew this horrible change was evolving and I did nothing to try and keep it from overtaking you! That's - that's just the kind of ghoul I am, and I can't change that! Please, Jackson - please just - let me do something!"
She launched herself forward, digging her nails into his sweater vest as she began to cry weakly into his chest. Jackson immediately wrapped his arms around her tightly, resting the side of his head against her temple as he felt guilt, sadness and compassion for the ghoul he cared about so much wash over him.
"I'm sorry," he said after several long minutes of just holding her, tears having welled up in his own eyes. "I'm sorry you had to get mixed up in this, Frankie..." He doubted she heard him while crying so hard so he went back to shushing her gently in her ear, wishing he could say it was okay - but he wasn't going to lie to her after she'd been nothing but honest with him. They stayed that way for what felt like ages until Frankie regained her composure, then Jackson broke away slightly so he could look her straight in the eyes.
"Are you sure...this is what you want?"
Frankie looked back at him with wet puffy eyes and nodded. "Yes - you can't be alone during this, Jackson," she whimpered, noticing the tears glistening behind his glasses. "As long as I'm here...you don't have to bear any burden alone." She managed a small smile as she repeated her mother's words, bringing a hand up to stroke his cheek comfortingly as Jackson hung his head.
"Thank you," he said thickly as Frankie reached up to embrace him again, allowing him to unleash the pain of his burden on her shoulder as well. In that moment, in the stillness of the morning, Frankie felt complete - at ease and happy for the first time in days. So when she turned and kissed Jackson on the cheek as he raised his head from her shoulder, she was just as shocked as he was.
"Oh my ghoul!" she jumped back, sparking brightly in the dim grey light of the morning. "I can't believe I just did that! I don't know what I was-!"
"I'm not complaining," Jackson shrugged, a rather goofy smile spread across his face - but Frankie was positively mortified. Rushing back to the park bench, she began digging through her purse. "Hey, what're you doing?"
"I need to talk to Holt." Frankie pulled out a set of headphones, walking quickly back over to him.
"Aw, c'mon!" Jackson whined, clearly happier about what had just occurred than Frankie was.
"Just for a few minutes," she assured him, slapping the headphones over his ears and stepping back as a bright flash of green light morphed him into the fiery DJ.
"Huh?! What's goin-?!" He reached up and wiped his still damp eyes, "Aw man, have I been cryin'? Holt Hyde does not cry!" He noticed Frankie standing there and broke into a grin, "Well okay, maybe in front of you I would, Frankie Fine."
"Hi, Holt," Frankie smiled knowingly. "How much did you hear?"
"A lot, actually," Holt replied, bringing his arms around her waist and pulling her closer. "I dunno what it is Frankie, but it seems like you can reach us both, even when one of us is on the down-low." His face softened into concern as he studied her worn features, "You okay, hon?"
"I am now," she nodded, looking up into his sunset-colored eyes. It was hard to believe that this same guy who had pulverized a gargoyle in a flying rage the last time she saw him was gazing at her so affectionately now. That those same arms that had thrown punch after punch were wrapped so gently around her waist.
"I'm...I'm not the bad guy, Frankie," Holt said, lowering his eyes in what Frankie thought was shame. "I mean - maybe I am, but...I don't wanna be. You feelin' me?"
"Yeah," Frankie said, absentmindedly reaching up to trace the tattoo around his left eye. "You're not a bad guy, Holt..." He in turn cupped her face in his hand, running his thumb softly along the scar on her right cheek.
"I'm feelin' that..." It was the last thing Frankie heard Holt say before he brought his lips to hers. Something screamed inside of Frankie to push him away, to say she wasn't ready for this, to shock him with a bolt of electricity - but another quieter part of her prodded lightly, Just let him have this. So she did. It was short, it was tender, it was sweet, and to say she hadn't enjoyed it would have been an outright lie.
"What're ya thinkin', Fine Stein?" he said as they broke apart, obviously having enjoyed himself as well.
"I'm thinking you're moving a little fast, Holt," Frankie poked his chest in mock scolding, yet somewhere in the back of her mind she was just grateful that she was apparently a good kisser.
"The Holtster's not one for takin' it slow, baby!" his voice rocketed back up to shout level. "But...I think I can make an exception for my number one ghoul."
"Just promise me you'll keep talking things over with Jackson," Frankie said, placing her hands on the headphones. "And if you need any help, or you get angry and need to cool off, I'm right here...I'm not going anywhere, Holt."
"Now that is what I like to hear!" He tried to punch the air in triumph just as Frankie pulled the headphones from his ears.
"Talk to you later," she said as his face dissolved back into Jackson's, clutching his head at his abrupt return.
"Whoa, why do I feel so light-headed? The only time Holt gets this way is when he-" Jackson stopped and looked down at Frankie's glowing face. "You gotta be kidding me!" he groaned, throwing his hands up in the air. "You kissed him first?!"
"Actually, he kissed me," Frankie said shyly, wringing her hands in front of her.
"This is what I get for being the nice guy, the respectful guy," Jackson ranted mostly to himself as Frankie inched closer to him. "We could've talked this over, but nope, he's gotta ruin everything like he always does. He just moves in for the kill like a rude delinquent when I would've asked 'Frankie would it be alright if I ki-'" He was cut off as a pair of lips briefly met his, Frankie's slight arms wrapping around his neck and remaining comfortably on his shoulders as she pulled back.
"What was that for?" Jackson asked breathlessly - the goofy smile was back.
"I just needed to check something," Frankie said, the glow more prominent in her face. "To test a hypothesis, sort of. And I was right."
"Right about what?"
"Your lips are the same as Holt's," she said softly, "You both kiss exactly the same." Frankie took Jackson's broken hand in hers, lacing her fingers carefully through his. "It's like I've always known: You're both so different, but you're still the same guy. That's how I know there's hope."
"So - you don't want to - you know - we're not getting back together then?" Jackson's face fell.
"I'm not ready for a romantic relationship, Jackson," Frankie said truthfully, "And until you two work things out, I don't think you are either. But what we have, what all three of us have...I think it's even better than that. It means a lot more, and it's really special."
"Yeah, you're right...maybe it is," Jackson smiled, squeezing her hand lightly as he walked her back to his car.
The future was uncertain for all of them. For Frankie Stein it excited, terrified, made her sorrowful and gave her hope all at once. But in the end, if she was able to make a difference for just one person - or even two - then she really couldn't ask for anything more.