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In Context

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They make sense in context.

Everyone tells Wally that long-distance relationships never work out, and he argues that for it to be a long-distance relationship, they'd have to actually be in a relationship. Which they totally aren't, if you were wondering. Wally likes to point out that it is actually impossible for them to be in some sort of regular, normal-person relationship, since Caroline Malloy is incapable of doing anything the way normal people do.

Okay, so maybe he's not sure what it is exactly that they're doing -- it's not "dating", since they've never even been on a date -- but it's not a relationship. They're…friends. Friends that make out sometimes.

So you see, when you put it that way, his -- thing -- with Caroline Malloy makes more sense. Right?

"Look, man," Tony Benson says. "I'm not gonna tell you what to do with your life. But sticking your tongue down Caroline Malloy's throat -- that's not something I'd advise, personally."

"Yeah, but Beth Malloy's throat, that's totally okay," Jake says dryly.

"I was young and dumb," Tony responds primly.

Jake gives him a look. "It was two months ago."

"You lost your virginity to -- "

Wally knows they've forgotten about him, and he doesn't particularly care to hear the story Tony's about to tell again. He slips out of the basement to go finish his homework and watch the rain.

(The thought of calling Caroline briefly crosses his mind, but he ignores it and tries to focus on the Warsaw Pact.)

~

"Wally!" Josh bellows from downstairs. "Phone! It's your girlfriend!"

Wally stomps downstairs to yank the phone from his brother's hand. "You're eighteen years old, and you're still making girlfriend jokes?" he asks, then retreats to his room.

"Hey, Wally," Caroline's voice comes through. "How are you?"

"Good," Wally says. He hesitates, wondering if he should tell her about all the crap his brothers have been giving him.

"You sound weird," she says.

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do. What's up?"

Wally picks at a stray thread in his jeans. There's a hole forming. He should ask his mother to patch it, but he knows his brothers would mock him for that, too. You're dating Caroline Malloy and you want mommy to patch your jeans?

"My brothers are being jerks," he finally says.

She sighs. "Tell me about it," she says. "Eddie won't shut up about you and me. Like she and Jake didn't -- "

"Eddie knows?" Wally cuts her off. He feels a bit bad for interrupting, but really, how many times is that story going to be rehashed in one day?

"Um, yes?" Caroline says, the question more sarcastic than anything. "She's my sister."

"Well...I didn't tell Jake and Josh," Wally admits. (Peter, for all intents and purposes, doesn't factor into this discussion, mostly because he's more interested in building ham radios than mocking his brothers.)

He's not sure why he's letting overdramatic Caroline know that he's been keeping her a secret. It would have been so easy to pretend that he wasn't hiding their...weird not-relationship thing, what with her living in another state and all. Caroline Malloy brings the honesty out of him, somehow.

It's irritating as hell.

"Why not?"

"They'd rag on me," Wally says, tugging at the stray thread. Maybe he'll just rip a hole in his jeans and leave it that way. "I mean, they assume we have a thing anyway, so they're already bugging me, but…I kind of don't want to confirm it to them. At least, not right now," he adds quickly.

"I get it," Caroline says, her voice surprisingly gentle. "It's okay. It's not their business anyway."

"You're not mad?" Wally asks. Somehow, he was expecting more yelling.

"I wouldn't have told either," Caroline admits. "But Eddie wanted to know why I wouldn't go to one of the dances with any of the guys, and so I just kind of told her."

"Oh," Wally says. "You could have gone." The words taste strangely bitter as they leave his mouth. He's kind of annoyed by the idea of Caroline going to dances with whatever guys are at her school (because, you know, he's heard bad things about Ohio boys, that's all -- really, that's all), but it's too late to take them back.

"Really?" Caroline's voice grows sharper. "Why? Is this like a seeing-other-people-thing, because -- "

"No!" he says quickly. "Just -- I don't want you to, like, not go anywhere because of me -- "

"I'm not suffering," she snaps. "Dances are stupid, and if you're going out with someone else without telling me, just because I'm in another state, I will come back to West Virginia and end you."

Ah. There's the Crazie he knows and…loves? This is a bad time to think of that cliche, Wally thinks. Tolerates, there you go. The Crazie he knows and tolerates.

"I'm not," he squawks helplessly. "I just thought you wouldn't want to wait around for me and maybe there's some guy you get along with and -- "

"Shut up, Hatford," Caroline laughs. Her voice softens. "I like you better than any of them, anyway."

Wally manages to snap the thread in half. There's definitely a hole in his jeans now. "Yeah, I like you better too," he says. It feels stupid, saying it out loud, and yet -- he's glad he's said it, too.

There's silence for a moment, companionable rather than awkward. It's always been this way with Caroline. He doesn't have to fill in conversation or explain himself to her.

"I should go," he finally says. "Josh wants to use the computer tonight."

"Yeah, Beth has to use ours, too," Caroline says. "Bye, Wally."

"Bye," Wally says, and hangs up.

~

"What, no 'I love you'?" Jake mocks through a mouthful of Cocoa Pebbles when Wally comes back to hang up the phone.

You don't know I didn't say it, is Wally's first response. He doesn't actually say it, because that would just give Jake more ammo, even if it's untrue.

"Nope," he says. "Did you say it after -- "

"Not again," Jake groans. "How many times are we gonna bring that up in one day? I should've never told you guys about that."

"Welcome to my world," Wally says.

"Really, though," Jake says. "What, exactly, are you two doing?"

Wally shrugs. "Hanging out. Making out." It's the most honest answer he can give to that particular question, not that he wants to talk about it with Jake anyway.

His brother frowns. "That's it?"

Wally considers. That's not it, not in its entirety -- it doesn't include the quiet understanding, the way just talking to her makes him feel better, the years they've known each other, and the years they've grown to know each other. It doesn't have a label, and Wally's not sure he understands it himself -- but it's still something.

"It makes sense in context," Wally says, and then he grabs Jake's bowl and begins to eat.