Tod McNulty sat, worrying a loose spike on his leather bracelet and trying to decide what to do next.
They weren't friends with each other, was the thing. They had in Marshall in common, but up until now Tod had probably never said more than eleven words total directly to Dash. And three of those had been "Pass the ketchup" about fifteen minutes ago. And Dash hadn't even done it.
Besides, what would he say? "Sorry Marshall yelled at you" sounded hollow not to mention like Tod was taking responsibility for something he had almost no part in.
"You didn't deserve that" had similar problems, with the added bonus of Tod not being sure just how much Dash did deserve it. And not because Tod had even minded about the fries, really.
Marshall didn't usually lose his temper with anybody for no reason and it had been one of those fights that wasn't really about whatever it was about. Tod hadn't been there from the beginning—they'd already been sniping at each other when they'd walked through the door of the World O' Stuff and only stopped long enough for Mr. Radford to bring everybody their usual—but that much had been obvious from the way it seemed to have started up again at Dash swiping a couple of fries off Tod's plate without asking then exploded until phrases like "criminal menace to the entire space-time continuum" were being thrown around along with a lot of name calling and, songwriting and performing aside, some profanity Tod wasn't sure he'd ever feel comfortable using in front of a kid Simon's age.
And then Marshall had stormed out.
Simon, with an apologetic look over his shoulder and a shake of his head, had followed.
Tod thought at first Dash would go next, out the door and then away as fast as possible in the other direction. Instead, Dash had merely shrugged and helped himself to Marshall's now-abandoned black cow.
Which left Tod alone with him, unsure of what to do.
He considered whether he should leave instead, maybe follow Mars and Simon and find out what was going on. But Simon's body language suggested that wasn't a good idea. Besides, he'd already paid money he'd had to fight himself to part with for the jumbo fries and peanut-butter-and-banana milkshake he'd ordered plus the respite from tonight's family dinner that hanging out here and eating them with friends was supposed to bring him.
Then there was the problem of Dash not being allowed in the World O' Stuff without supervision. Which was Tod now, he guessed. If he left, or even if he got up and changed seats, there was a good chance Dash would have to leave too, whether he wanted to go or not. And that wasn't fair.
So he stayed and kept his eyes fixed on his shake and the fries he was dipping into it, discretely licking the residual drops of ice cream from his black polish-tipped fingers as he contemplated his next move.
Maybe he should at least ask Dash if he was okay. Some of the stuff Mars said had been brutal.
He snuck his first real look at his companion out of the corner of his eye. Dash was still sipping Marshall's cow, chin resting on one tattooed hand, eyes straight ahead and unfocused in a way that suggested he was lost in thought rather than carefully studying the workings of the Cornade machine. He didn't seem particularly upset, but then again, it was hard to tell from his expression what in particular he was feeling, if anything.
Tod started to speak and found the words were stuck in this throat.
There was something about Dash that always made him self-conscious.
He was never sure how much of Dash was on purpose—like all of Marshall's friends, Tod had been warned to never, ever bring up the hair or the tattoos—but there was something in the way he carried himself, the looks he managed to pull off with a wardrobe that fit in a single duffle bag and a sense of personal grooming that always suggested he'd just rolled out of bed, the smirking confidence he could display when facing things ranging from certain death to someone he was trying to con, that made Tod envy him just a little.
Plus, he was free in ways most of them weren't. Tod knew better than to ever say it aloud, especially in front of Dash, but he envied the things he knew Dash didn't have, too. The lack of family. The lack of parents. The lack of memories of there ever having been any parents. Even the lack of a permanent address.
The total lack of responsibility to or for anyone but himself alone.
Yeah. No wonder Marshall and a noticeable portion of the teenage female population of Eerie not named Janet Donner or Melanie Monroe found him fascinating.
Tod McNulty—and he was still thinking about changing that after he graduated and before the band got bigger—was a product of his own creation, a persona he'd invented and re-invented over the years until it had settled into something he was generally happy with. He was an overflowing closet of clothes and a tackle box full of accessories and eyeliner. He was contacts, dyed hair, and at least forty-five minutes in front of the mirror every morning in a room of his own in a house that wasn't, the band posters currently lining the walls chosen only after weeks of careful agonizing.
And even after all that, he sometimes still slipped into the same nervous kid he'd been before he started it all.
No wonder he was never going to be that fascinating to anyone.
Dash's eyes suddenly focused and narrowed and Tod realized he needed to say something fast.
He swallowed down "I'm sorry" along with "Marshall's not usually like that" and a few other excuses he wanted to make for his friend and for himself.
"Fries?" he asked instead, scooting the plate over until it rested between them. He took some, then indicated that Dash should do likewise.
Dash made a noise that may or may not have been thanks and grabbed a handful.