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If You're Down to Get Down

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High school's a pretty decent scene, if you don't mind the aliens full of school spirit. (No, Wendy really did see a UFO land, and the Strumford family really did step off a spaceship wearing GFHS sweatshirts. She's never told anyone, it's not her secret to tell, but--aliens, man. Aliens full of school spirit.)

It's like, you go to your classes and sometimes you fall asleep but sometimes you also learn cool stuff. There's also friends, and man, Wendy has some good friends, even if they're jerks sometimes. It's high school. You form a group and make sure someone in it has a car and then you just drive off when you need to get away. So high school is pretty good to Wendy Corduroy, except when it isn't.

"I want to start a band," she says halfway through sophomore year, after one of her brothers (she's not sure which one, honestly, they all kind of look the same) leaves her his guitar after he decides to hitchhike to Tokyo, paying his way with his lumberjacking skills. There are a number of flaws in his plan, but Wendy keeps them to herself and also keeps the guitar.

"I already have a band," Robbie says, not even sounding sorry. "So good luck with that." Her friends nod along, like it's absolutely impossible for even one of them to be in two bands at the same time.

This would be one of those times high school sucks. Wendy puts the guitar in her closet, where she's pretty sure her family won't try to chop it down by accident. The Corduroy men: weird about wood. Heh.

She forgets all about the guitar until a few years later.

*

Wendy gets into an art college no prob, although everyone from her favorite professor to her roommate is convinced that the things she films back home are just really elaborate costumes and staging. Sometimes she'll show a film that hello, she directed and shot and edited all by herself, and the questions are all about who she gets to do props, or was that all done with CGI?

"Oh, that was my cousin, Jell-O Seattle," Wendy deadpans. "She got her start costuming when she played bass guitar in a Star Wars band. We've been estranged ever since she ran away to join the circus."

Turns out art students aren't good at recognizing sarcasm when it's not wrapped up in thirteen layers of irony. Wendy keeps the joke rolling with tales of her cousin's thrilling exploits. Maybe she'll make a movie about it when she's back home.

Summer break comes too slow and too fast, like it always does. Wendy digs college even if finals are way more work than she likes to do. Most work is way more work than she likes to do. Summer break means a return to her other job of not doing much of anything at the Mystery Shack.

It's actually pretty boring until the Pine twins come back, although Wendy and Soos invent the honey barbecue slushie.

"Dude, you gotta try this!" Soos says by way of greeting. Dipper goes green and Mabel... Mabel looks blue, despite the psychedelic rainbow dolphin sweater. Wendy frowns. That girl is definitely more of a pink person.

"Why the long face, home skillet?"

Mabel takes a slushie and sips at it. "This delicious beverage is like ash in my mouth. My voice is being stifled by commercial interests."

"Her friends have jobs this summer and don't want to start a band," Dipper translates. "I've been trying to explain to her for the past hour that she can just sign up for the talent contest by herself."

Wendy doesn't like contests. Never seemed to be any point in proving that you're better than the other guy at one particular thing. She remembers being fifteen and trying to bust out of the same old person you'd always been. Mabel's a sweet kid, a weird as hell kid, but now it seems she's stuck.

"Be back in fifteen," Wendy says.

*

When Wendy comes back lugging a guitar case, Mabel's eyes widen and her pupils dilate like she's tripping on some serious shit. It's the most normal she's looked all day.

"I'm in the band."

"I'm also in the band!" Dipper shouts, then he just laughs nervously for two minutes straight. Weird. "I can... I can play? Drums? Sticks on things?"

"Cool," Wendy says. "Stan has a gag drum kit out in back. Watch out for the drumsticks, they spray Gatorade."

"I love Gatorade!" Dipper says, still way too loud. His voice cracks on the last word.

Mabel climbs up on top of the counter and shouts, "Bandmates, assemble!"

Soos raises a hand. "Can I assemble? I really liked playing keyboard."

"All are welcome in--" Mabel pauses and pulls out her phone, fingers hovering expectantly over the keypad. "We need a name."

"We should be a punk band," Wendy says, trying to remember how to tune her guitar. "Fewer chords."

"'Fewer Chords' doesn't exactly give us a marketable image," Dipper says, then turns bright red when Wendy raises an eyebrow at him. That kid gets more and more awkward every summer. It's cute in a three-legged puppy kind of way. Three-Legged Puppy would be a pretty cool name for a punk band, but Wendy thinks better of suggesting it.

"Mayonnaise," Soos says, pulling a sandwich out of nowhere.

"Do you need some?" Dipper asks.

"No, I think more things should be named after food."

"Not... not mayonnaise, okay?"

Mabel looks up from her phone with a wail of despair. "You guys! We can't call ourselves the Mountain Goats because it's already taken! I bet those guys don't even like goats the way I do."

"How do you like goats?" Wendy wants to know. "Like, do you think they're cute, or are they artistic inspiration?"

Mabel stares at her. "You get inspired by things that aren't cute?"

They spend the next half an hour trying and rejecting various names: Starfish Queens, Pepperoni, Pepperoni Pizza, Furious Zebras, Steak and Bread, Pistachio Dan and the Pleiades, Sequins and Glitter, Guys I'm Hungry, and Twisted Unicorn. Actually, it's Dipper who rejects all of the suggestions. His reasoning is sound for every one, but when asked to offer a suggestion, the only thing he says is, "Pine Needles? Because we're Pines and Wendy is a lumberjack and Soos is... there... like a tree..."

"I've got it!" Mabel says, falling off the counter in her excitement. From her crumpled position on the ground, she exclaims, "The Sweaters!"

"Yeah, okay," Wendy says before Dipper can say anything, and it's settled.

*

The Sweaters rehearse in the Mystery Shack, since Stan likes to tell tourists that they're actually chanting incantations to pacify the ghosts. Mabel always takes that as her cue to take a solo on air guitar and shout, "Ghost guitar! Ghost guitar! Rockin' on my ghost guitar!" Soos then joins in with car horn noises until he finds the spooky door key on his keyboard.

"You guys, we don't have a single song written and the talent show is tomorrow!" Dipper cries in despair after their fifth Ghostly Tourist Break of the day.

"Inspiration comes to those who procrastinate," Mabel says.

"That's what I always say," Wendy says, giving her a fistbump. "Maybe I'll use that as the tagline for my documentary."

Yeah, she's turning their little summer band experience into a film. It doesn't count as work if it's not for school, or for anyone but herself. If she plays her cards right, she can sell it to her professors as her final project in an upcoming class, citing the fulfillment of a childhood dream as evidence that she can do film that's more artistic than zombies attacking a college to the tune of "Disco Girl."

The doorbell jingles.

"Hey," Robbie says, hands jammed in his pockets like always.

"Hey," Wendy says with a wave.

"So," Robbie says.

"Yeah," Wendy says.

Robbie turns around and walks back out the way he came.

"Ugh!" Wendy says, turning to the others. "Can you believe that guy? Did you hear what he said to me?"

"What?" Dipper asks, sounding frantic. "What just happened?"

Mabel hisses, "Robbie walked in, saw Wendy holding an instrument that he plays, and all he said was, 'Hey' and 'So.' He doesn't think we're any good!" She raises her fist toward the ceiling. "But we'll show him! We'll show them all tomorrow night!"

Wendy's glad that she positioned the tripod camera to capture the most Mabel. She's good at those poses. If filmmaking doesn't work out, Wendy's going to draw a comic series based on her.

*

They still don't have a completed song a few hours before the talent show. Dipper keeps making agonized noises and hitting his drumsticks on things that aren't drums. Mabel keeps telling him to relax until Pacifica Northwest stops by to taunt her, after which she runs off to the woods to "commune with sugar and inspiration."

Soos and Wendy exchange looks, then shrug. "She would fit in great at my college," Wendy says.

"We're going to be exiled," Dipper moans.

"Take a deep breath," Stan says from the corner, dropping the pretense of ignoring their rehearsal. "If the town didn't exile me over that time with the cheesecake and the cricket fights, you'll be all right."

"I remember that," Soos says. "That was a dark day in Gravity Falls."

Wendy heads for her video camera. Might as well focus on one art form while the other is taking a header. Unless Mabel comes up with something super awesome, their spot in the talent show will last a total of three seconds. Wendy has finally figured out how to play some chords without her guitar sounding like it's dying, but that's about the limit of her musical talents. Soos is way more interested in experimenting with the weirdest combination of sounds on his keyboard. Dipper has progressed to thrashing on the ground and moaning about his fear of public humiliation.

"Dramatic penultimate scene," Wendy says, zooming in on Dipper's agonized expression. "Cheer up, Dip. In movies, this is the part where our hero returns to save the day.

"We have to leave for the show in five minutes," Dipper says, staring up at the ceiling. "Life is a cold, cruel farce."

At this point, Mabel kicks the door open, holding a sheaf of papers up to the sky. She cuts a sparkly, impressive figure against the setting sun. "Bandmates! I've written us a song that reflects the synths of Soos, the ironically unironic non-detached detachment of Wendy, the gentle pop sensibilities of Dipper--"

"Hey," Dipper says weakly.

Ignoring him, Mabel continues, "--and the eternal optimism that is MABEL PINES! Oh, and I found us a bass guitarist sitting on a giant flower when I got lost in the woods."

Another girl steps into the doorway. She's a tall, lanky redhead wearing a spangly leotard and carrying a large guitar case. Her eye makeup is the best Wendy's ever seen.

"Hey, cuz," she says, nodding at Wendy. To the others, she says, "I'm back from the circus. Name's Jell-O Seattle."

*

There actually isn't time for questions, as the cliche goes. The Sweaters, now clad in matching matching stegosaurus sweaters that Mabel sequined herself, still have to learn their brand new song and figure out how they sound with a bass guitar. All in the next fifteen minutes and without making too much noise, because they sprinted to make it backstage for the talent show.

Wendy's lived in Gravity Falls for her entire life. She can roll with the punches.

"This wasn't even written for guitar," Wendy says. She's not complaining, but... she doesn't want the others to be disappointed by her sound. Maybe. A little bit.

Weird how that weighs on her more than the appearance of the cousin she made up.

"Groovy synths," Soos says, nodding his approval. He turns to Jell-O Seattle. "What was your name again?"

"Jell-O," her so-called cousin responds.

Soos presses a hand over his heart. "That's the most beautiful name I've ever heard. Wanna go out sometime, dude?"

"Sure."

Well, at least Soos is finding true love with a person who doesn't exist. Wendy concentrates on memorizing her sheet music in their limited rehearsal time. Sometimes the entire band even plays the same parts at the same time, which is always exciting.

"Guys, we're sounding really good!" Mabel says, clapping her hands. "When we get onstage and I break out the dance moves, try not to get so distracted you stop playing. Hands in!"

One team circle later, and they're onstage. And then--something clicks.

The lyrics are pretty vague--something is always a good time, Wendy didn't have time to ask what in rehearsal--but the tune is catchy, and she taps her foot to the beat as she plays guitar. Dipper is mostly hitting the drums, Soos has his keyboard going, and Jell-O--Wendy meets Jell-O's eyes across the stage, and they exchange a smile.

When the song finishes, the crowd cheers and stomps their feet. Wendy can hear Stan whistling through his fingers above the rest of the din. She hopes that he's doing what she asked and filming from the audience.

"So," she says to Jell-O after the Sweaters troop backstage to await the judges' verdict.

"So," she echoes.

"I don't really have a cousin named Jell-O," Wendy says at last. It seems like a good place to start.

Jell-O shrugs. "You do now."

"Yeah, but... why?"

"Gravity Falls is a weird place," Jell-O says. She opens her mouth to say more, but then the Sweaters are announced the winners of the talent show and Mabel draws them all into a crushing hug.

"We did it! We did it! We did it!" she shrieks.

"We're alive! We're alive!" Dipper adds.

"It's because I cared about something, right?" she asks Jell-O as Mabel drags them all onstage. "So now what, are you gonna disappear?"

"Nah," Jell-O says.

In her enthusiasm, Mabel scatters her acceptance speech index cards everywhere, so all she says is, "Thanks, guys! Thanks especially to my band for believing in all of us!" Wendy can't keep the huge grin off her face. She's going to look like a total dork in this part of the documentary, but whatever. It's cool.