Stan looked around the shopping center for his next
victim target customer. There, that older guy over there with the nerdiest long black coat Stan had ever seen. Or wait, maybe it was actually an awesome coat, and it was just the guy making it look nerdy. He definitely could make something look nerdy, sitting by himself out in front of a burger joint with a textbook and some kind of notepad he was scribbling on. Guys who went out to eat alone and read like that were always either desperate for company or desperate to be left alone. In the first case, Stan could pretty much always sweet talk them into buying something, a lot of somethings, not because they wanted it or needed it but because they were grateful that someone was actually talking to them. In the second case, they were always quick and very direct with their no, so at least Stan didn’t waste a bunch of time on someone who was never going to buy anything anyway. Either way it was a win for Stan.
“Hey there buddy, my name’s Stan, and I’ve got exactly what you need.” Stan used to lead into that pitch by “accidentally” spilling something so he could demonstrate the shammy’s cleaning power, but it turned out there was a reason he’d got that dye so cheap, and blue hands didn’t really sell buyers on the merchandise.
The guy looked up at Stan for a second, then went back to his book. “I don’t need anything, thanks.” So Stan was guessing lonely, but maybe a little shy and a little wary of some stranger that had just plopped down at his table unannounced. Sensible of him, probably. Stan could work with that.
“I know what you’re thinking: who the heck is this guy? I’m the founder and CEO of Stan Co. Enterprises. My card,” Stan said, holding up a business card. People loved business cards. It didn’t matter that Stan Co. Enterprises was something Stan had made up about a month ago, you flash a business card and all the sudden you were legitimate. Plus when he showed someone a business card up front, they were less likely to ask for one to take later, which meant one less business card Stan had to print up.
Then there were guys like this guy, that when Stan just showed them his card, they took it anyway, out of habit or something. When that happened Stan had to remind himself not to tighten his grip on the card. Yeah, he didn’t have the money to waste, but a business card you wouldn’t let people take was even more suspicious than not having a business card at all. The guy glanced at the card, then did a double-take. An actual double-take which Stan hadn’t even realized was a thing people really did outside of cartoons. Then he looked up at Stan very, very closely.
Shit, did this guy know Stan? There was something kind of familiar about him now that Stan was looking closer. He wasn’t someone Stan knew personally he was sure, but he could be one of Pa’s business associates or maybe married to one of Ma’s friends from synagogue. Stan had thought being an hour away from Glass Shard Beach would be far enough, but now with this guy looking at him, he was a lot less sure about that. Just as Stan was about to deny knowing anyone named Flibrick or Caryn Pines and actually he didn’t have any family, thanks for asking, the guy said, “Aren’t you a little young to be doing this? Shouldn’t you be in school right now?”
Stan laughed, loud and obnoxious. “School? Buddy, I’m twenty-five.” The guy wasn’t buying it. Stan knew he didn’t look twenty-five, but he’d been hoping for one of those “it’s such an obvious lie, it has to be true” kind of deals.
Other hand, what did it matter anyway if this guy figured out how old Stan really was? What was he going to do about it, call Stan’s parents? Even if he did know who they were, and Stan was starting to think he didn’t, all that would happen is Pa would laugh in this guy’s face for thinking he gave a rat’s ass about Stan. And school, who needed school? Big stupid nerds who cared more about some dumb college than achieving their lifelong dream, that’s who. Not Stan. Stan had personality.
The guy stared at Stan, and Stan stared back. The guy broke first. “What is it you’re selling?”
“The Sham Total,” Stan said, whipping one out of his bag. “It’s made from-“
“How much are they?”
“One for a dollar or three for five dollars.”
“That math doesn’t… okay, I’ll take three,” the guy said.
Maybe the guy really did want to be left alone, and he figured this was the fastest way to get rid of Stan, but Stan thought he was probably buying them because he felt bad for him. There was a part of Stan that was too proud to take that kind of pity, but that part of him had frozen to death back when he’d had to weather the first snowstorm of the year inside his car. “Sold!” Stan said. He gave the guy three shammies, took his five dollar bill, and then got the hell out of there before the guy changed his mind.
Stan counted his meager collection of bills, then counted them again. Hell, why not count them a third time; it’s not like it took very long to do. Rent for his motel room was due first thing tomorrow morning if he wanted to stay another week, and he was finally starting to run low on pitchforks, so he needed to set some money aside to buy new merchandise to replace them. Probably not pitchforks again, those hadn’t been his best idea. Once he set aside the money he needed for those two things that left him enough for dinner tonight or breakfast in the morning, but not both. He could take the money he was supposed to be using for new merchandise and use that for food instead, but he’d already done that the past two nights. He kept doing it and eventually he’d run out of merchandise, and he’d have no money left to buy new merchandise with. So, breakfast or dinner? Breakfast or dinner?
There was a knock on the door. That couldn’t be a good thing. Praying the landlord had just decided to stop by and collect a little early, Stan looked out the peephole. He recognized the awesome but nerdy coat first, then the guy. He was the one who had bought those three shammies yesterday because he’d felt bad for Stan. Somehow Stan didn’t think he felt sorry for him anymore, and why had Stan ever thought putting the address to his motel room on his business cards was a good idea? Yeah, the card looked weird without an address, but he should have left it off anyway. Next time. This time, maybe if Stan stayed real quiet the guy would think he wasn’t here, then decide whatever he was upset about wasn’t worth it, and leave and not come back.
The guy knocked again. “I know you’re in there; I can hear you.”
Geez, this guy must have freaking bat-like hearing. “No refunds!” Stan yelled through the door.
“I’m not here for a refund. I was wondering if you dyed the shammies yourself? The chemical additive I created to help the dye adhere to the cloth better isn’t working as well as I hoped, but I thought maybe if you added it into the dye directly it could work.”
Stan made sure the chain lock on the door was latched – he could never decide if it was a good thing his door had a chain lock or if it was a sign of what a shitty neighborhood this was – and opened the door. “Why did you make a chemical to fix the dye on my shammies?” he asked, giving the guy a suspicious look through the crack in the door.
“Because they stained my hands and bathroom counters blue,” the guy said, holding his hands up so Stan could see the blue tint to them.
“Yeah I got that, but why are you coming to me with this stuff? Did you want to buy a new set made with the new dye?” If that was the case, and if this guy was willing to give Stan this chemical stuff for free, then maybe Stan wouldn’t have to choose between breakfast and dinner.
“No, I’m good for shammies. I just thought you would want it, assuming I can make it work.”
“I bought cheap dye for a reason,” Stan told him.
“Why? I can’t possibly be the first one to have complained about this; you automatically assumed I was here for a refund. Wouldn’t it be better if people were coming to see you because they liked the product so much they wanted to buy more?”
Yeah, that’d be great. You know what else would be great? If a million dollars suddenly fell out of the sky, and Stan could buy his way back home again, but that wasn’t going to happen either. “Look buddy, I ain’t buying your chemical whatever.”
“I wasn’t trying to sell it; I was just going to give it to you,” the guy said.
“Sure you were,” Stan said flatly. “Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”
“I was. I just want to help.” the guy insisted.
“I ain’t stupid. Nobody does something for nothing, so what are you getting out of helping me?”
“Nothing. I…” The guy tensed for a second, then shook it out. “Ten percent of the gross profit on the sales of the shammies.”
“Gross profits? Is that some kind of crack?” Stan asked.
“No. The gross profit, as opposed to the net profit.”
“I don’t sell nets,” Stan told him. Although, those might make a good replacement for the pitchforks.
“No, not nets. I’m talking about gross profits and net profits,” the guy said. Stan stared at him blankly. The guy sighed. “Okay, so you’re selling the shammies for a dollar a piece. If you sold ten of them, then you’ve made ten dollars, right? That’s what’s called the gross profit. But you didn’t get those shammies for free. How much does it cost you per shammy?”
Stan scratched his head. “I don’t know.” He knew how much a crate of shammies cost him and he knew how much a bottle of the dye cost him, and he’d been thinking about trying to save up to do a commercial and he knew how much that would cost him, but he hadn’t figured out what that added up to per shammy.
“We’ll just say it’s fifty cents. That means ten shammies cost you five dollars. That’s your expenses. Now if you take the gross profit of ten dollars and subtract the expenses of five dollars then you get your net profit of five dollars. That means you have five more dollars at the end than you had when you started,” the guy explained.
Stan thought about that for a minute, then nodded. It made sense. And, you know, maybe the guy had a point that Stan should know all those numbers. “So what you’re saying is you’ll give me this chemical to make the shammies better for free up front, and in return I give you ten percent of the gross profits for selling them?”
“Exactly,” the guy said.
“I’ll give you five percent of the net,” Stan countered.
“Deal,” the guy said way too quickly. Stan gave him another suspicious look.
“Why exactly do you want to make a deal with me anyway?” he asked.
The guy had to think that over for a few minutes. Not a great sign. “Well, I’m a scientist. Presently I’m working on a project of upmost importance, but one that’s not exactly lucrative. If I could get a passive source of income, then I could spend less time worrying about money, and more time working on completing my project.”
“So you want to be the nerdy scientist who makes discoveries and invents stuff and for me to be the salesman with lots of personality that makes the money to support us?” Stan asked.
“More or less,” the guy agreed.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Stan definitely should not take this deal. He didn’t know this guy from Adam and he’d been acting pretty suspicious this whole time. He might be an axe murder. But how the fuck was Stan supposed to say no to that? He closed the door, unlatched the chain, and then opened it again, all the way this time. “You got a deal,” Stan said, and they shook on it. He led the guy inside his motel room. “C’mon, the dye is in the bathroom.”
The guy walked in, then paused as he looked around at all the Stan Co. merchandise. “Is this all cheaply-made junk?” he asked.
“Hey, it’s not junk,” Stan protested. The guy held his blue hands up again. “Yeah, okay, it’s a bunch of crap.”
“I’ll see what I can do about the rest of this stuff too.” He touched on of the pitchforks and the head fell off. He sighed. “This might take a while. Here, why don’t you order us a pizza? You can get whatever you want on it; I’m not picky.” The guy pulled his wallet out and handed Stan a ten dollar bill.
Stan stared down at the money. So. Breakfast and dinner. Breakfast and dinner and a new partner. Maybe this one would work out better than the last one. Probably not. On the other hand, it could hardly end worse.
“Hey buddy, I never caught your name,” Stan said.
“Hmm?” the guy said, already deep into nerdy concentration. “Oh, it’s Dipper. Nice to meet you.”
ahhh, i have no idea what i'm doing, someone stop me, please send help
Dipper managed to get a lot done that first evening, but fact of the matter was Stan had a good amount of merchandise. There just wasn’t time for Dipper to fix every single piece of it up even if he would have had all the supplies he needed on hand. So he came by again the next evening, this time with a bag of tools and two big sub sandwiches in tow. He took the tools and began tinkering around with the proto-type StanVac while idly munching on one of the sandwiches. The other sandwich Stan gobbled down before working on his own project. He’d managed to pilfer some loose sheets of paper earlier that day – hey, if no one had found that cat by now, they weren’t going to, so that flier wasn’t doing any good any way – and a pen, and now he was going to figure out all those numbers Dipper had been talking about yesterday.
It was hard. Yeah sure, there weren’t a lot of complicated equations with letters and weird Greek symbols instead of numbers, but knowing how to solve the equations didn’t help if he didn’t know how to put the numbers together to make the equation in the first place. And it didn’t help when he managed to solve an equation and then forgot what he was solving for because none of the numbers were organized in any way on his sheets of paper. It was frustrating, and there was no Ford to copy the right answers off of. There was Dipper, but Stan was supposed to be the one handling the business side of things, and he could. It just might take him a few tries.
He set the pen down for a minute and looked over at Dipper, still working away on the vacuum. “How’s that coming?” he asked.
“It’s coming. I think I might be able to make it run on solar power,” Dipper said, peering down at the engine.
“Wouldn’t that make it hard to use in the house?” Stan said.
“Oh. Good point,” Dipper said. “Maybe if I make a battery for it…”
That still seemed like more work to Stan than just letting it run from the outlet, but he figured Dipper had been right about that chemical stuff for the shammy dye, so he’d leave him to it. Course, that left Stan without a distraction from the numbers he was supposed to be working on. “How’s your other project coming? The science-y one you said you were working on?”
Dipper grimaced. “Stone knives and bearskins, that’s how it’s coming.”
“I’m guessing that’s a bad thing?” Stan asked.
“Yeah, it is, sorry. I was quoting a TV show. Wagon Train to the Stars.”
Stan frowned thoughtfully. “Oh yeah, I think I remember that now. That was from when they got stuck in the past and the science guy was trying to make a computer, right?”
“That’s it exactly! You watch Wagon Train to the Stars?” Dipper asked, looking all bright-eyed and excited like a puppy. Figures that a nerd like him would be really into that nerd show.
“I saw some episodes when Ford used to watch it,” Stan said.
Right. Stan probably shouldn’t have said that. Too late now. “My twin brother, Stanford.”
“Stanford and Stanley. That’s clever,” Dipper said.
“Yeah well, clever or lazy. Take your pick.” Stan knew what his money was on.
Dipper hummed in acknowledgment as he kept tinkering away at the vacuum. He was sitting on the floor working on it, and there was nowhere he could sit where there weren’t some shadows being cast, so he was currently trying to juggle a flashlight, a screwdriver, and a wrench. Guy needed at least three hands. Possibly three more. “So where’s your brother now?” Dipper asked, and Stan really didn’t want to get into this conversation.
“Right now he’s probably sitting at his desk studying,” Stan said dismissively. Then he remembered he’d told Dipper he was twenty-five, which would mean his twin brother would also be twenty-five, which would make him too old to be sitting at a desk studying. “Because he’s a total nerd, the kind of guy that graduates high school and goes to college then graduates from college and goes to more college and will probably be going to school until he dies with a million fancy degrees.” It was a smooth lie, probably because it was mostly true. But it was also a lie that would fall apart really easily if Dipper asked any follow up questions whatsoever. Time to change the subject. “Anyway, that show. It’s alright, but I didn’t like that episode.”
“What? How can you not like that episode; it’s a classic! They get stuck in the past and the captain meets his perfect woman, only to find out the only way to preserve their timeline is if he allows his new-found love to die. It’s such a tragic moral quandary.”
“No, it’s dumb,” Stan said. “If he really loved her he shouldn’t have let her die. Timeline, schimeline, you have to look out for the people you care about.”
Dipper smiled a little. “That’s exactly what Mabel always used to say. Oh, Mabel is my twin sister.”
That was probably Stan’s cue to ask about Mabel, same as how Dipper had asked about Ford. Be polite or whatever. But Stan really didn’t want to hear about how his new business partner had his own twin and how the two of them had a perfect happy relationship because no one fucking needed Stan. He grabbed his papers again. He was going to force these numbers to come together if it killed him.
“You know, I don’t think the captain really did care about that lady,” Stan said, as he aggressively stabbed at the paper with his pen. That times that, plus that times that, minus that times that. “Because if it had been the science guy who had to die to save the timeline, the captain never would have done it. He would have kept looking until he found another answer.” Multiplication first, so now it was that plus that minus that. “Because they were the two that really cared about each other. They were best friends and they had each other’s backs. No matter what, they never would have turned on each other, especially not just because one of them made a stupid mistake.” Now add and subtract everything together and get four. Four. What the hell was the four supposed to mean? “Stupid numbers!” Stan shouted and threw his pen to the ground.
Dipper was looking at him like he was a crazy person. Like he finally realized what a stupid bum Stan was and was trying to figure out how to tell him he didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore. “Stanley, are you… that is do you want to, uh… do you want to come hold this flashlight for me? I could show you what I’m working on.”
Stan blinked a few times rapidly. “You want me to help you?”
“That’s what we’re doing, right? Helping each other out,” Dipper said.
That’s right. Stan had a new partner now, and if he messed up again then Dipper wouldn’t – actually Stan didn’t know what the fuck Dipper would or wouldn’t do then. Hell, if you’d asked him three months ago he would have sworn up and down that Ford never would have abandoned him no matter what, so showed what Stan knew. Well then genius, just don’t fuck it up this time. “Yeah, I’ll help,” Stan agreed. He grabbed the flashlight and shone it exactly where Dipper told him to and listened to every single word Dipper said like his life depended on it. Within the hour the two of them had the StanVac purring like a kitten.
The next evening Dipper stopped by again, even though there wasn’t really anything left for him to do until Stan got more merchandise. Stan would have thought he was just coming to get his cut of the take, except he showed up with Chinese food and a funky looking notebook.
“It’s a ledger,” Dipper explained. “It’ll help you keep track of all your profits and expenses and all those other numbers you were trying to work on yesterday.”
“I can handle it,” Stan said quickly. Dipper was holding up his side of things with fixing all Stan’s products, and Stan could hold up the business end. Don’t. Fuck. It up.
“I never said you couldn’t. I just thought this would make it easier. No reason not to make things as easy as possible for yourself, right?” Dipper said.
“Right.” Right. Dipper wasn’t trying to say anything, he was just being helpful. He was a weirdly helpful guy. Plus, the better Stan did and the more money he made, the more money Dipper made, so it made sense that he’d want to help Stan do better. Stan took the notebook – the ledger, and sat down with it at the little desk in the corner. He flipped open the front page and, oh geez. There were all these rows and columns and some of them were highlighted in different colors, and this was supposed to make things easier?
“Here, why don’t I show you how to use it?” Dipper said. Stan was about to tell him he was fine and he could handle it, but then Dipper quickly continued, “Because the way I use it might be different than the way you might want to, and I want to make sure I can understand it if I ever need to look over the books.”
“That makes sense. I wouldn’t want you to get confused,” Stan agreed. And if that meant Dipper explained to Stan how this stupid confusing book he’d brought was supposed to work, then great.
Except it turned out the book wasn’t that confusing after all. Once Dipper explained it, it made a lot of sense. Way better than the papers Stan had been using. It really did make the numbers easier to handle. Dipper filled out the first two rows based off the receipts Stan had, and then Stan took over and did the next five rows, three of them from memory.
“You catch on fast,” Dipper said. “I’m impressed.”
“Heh. First time anyone’s ever said that about me,” Stan said. What he didn’t say was how people – Pa – had gone out of their way to say how not impressed they were with him, or how Stan had spent the last seventeen years trying to get someone – Pa – to say exactly that to him. If Dipper thought Stan was impressive, then Stan wasn’t going to tell him how wrong he was.
“Oh.” So maybe even what Stan had said had been saying too much, because now Dipper was giving him a look. Like maybe now that Stan had pointed out that no one else thought he was impressive, Dipper was suddenly realizing it was true. “Well.” Dipper put his hand on Stan’s shoulder, his grip strong, solid, comforting. “Those people must have all been a bunch of idiots.”
So this chapter was going to be longer, but then Stan almost had an emotional break-down over "City on the Edge of Forever" and, oh my god, I did not see that one coming. But of course Stan would watch Star Trek with Ford when they were little, and of course Stan would identify himself and Ford with Kirk and Spock respectively. And when The Motion Picture came out in 1979, of course Stan would sneak into the theater to watch it and then have to leave part way through because he was about to literally start sobbing in public because Spock had abandoned Kirk and now that he was back he was acting so cold when Kirk just wanted to be friends again. And Stan would try a few times over the years, but he could never get all the way through the movie until he and Ford sat down to watch it together post-Weirdmageddon. And Stan still cried, but this time during the sickbay scene, and this simple feeling, and, and, I'm sorry, I need a minute. *fans self while blinking heavily*
Okay, so, yeah, that happened. The point being, this part ended up feeling better separated from the next part and wound up being shorter as a result.
Dipper didn’t come over every evening, but probably two out of every three. That would have made sense if he was coming over to get his cut and he felt like he had to do it so often because he wasn’t sure if he trusted Stan yet, but Dipper had yet to take a single cent from him. He said they’d settle up once a month every month on the first. Then they spent the rest of that evening talking about how to put together a monthly budget so Stan could manage his cash flow and not be taken by surprise when he had big bills to pay. Actually that was pretty much what they did every evening. Dipper would bring dinner over – and how he thought he was going to be making money off Stan when he kept bringing him free food, Stan didn’t know – and then they would talk about some sort of business or marketing or sales kind of thing. Though it was really more Dipper talking, and Stan listening and learning, but not taking notes because he wasn’t a nerd and this wasn’t school.
It really wasn’t like school, even if Stan was learning stuff. For one thing, the stuff Dipper was teaching him was actually useful. When in the real world was Stan ever going to need to know the parts of a cell? But knowing how to put together a good marketing plan, that was the kind of stuff that would sell more products and make more money. That was the kind of stuff Stan cared about learning.
And Stan was learning it. That was another way this was different than school. Yeah, maybe he wasn’t learning it as fast as Ford would have if he were here, but he was learning it and figuring out how to use all the stuff for himself. It was just a little discouraging that there was so much of it to learn. Every time Stan thought he’d gotten one thing down, Dipper would come over again the next evening with a whole new thing he wanted to talk about. Stan hadn’t realized that there was this much stuff involved in being a successful salesman and running a business. He guessed he knew Pa kept pretty busy in the pawn shop, but Stan hadn’t known he was doing all this.
That was a thought Stan made the mistake of saying out loud when it occurred to him. He knew it was a mistake, because the minute he said it, Dipper’s expression darkened. “Your father owns a pawn shop?”
“Yeah,” Stan said, frantically trying to think why that would piss Dipper off. Maybe he did know Pa after all, but he just hadn’t made the connection until Stan opened his big mouth.
“Your father runs his own small business, and yet you knew nothing about any of this before I started teaching you?”
“I didn’t know nothing. And, you know, it’s not like Pa sat me down to give me lessons on all this stuff or anything,” Stan objected.
“Oh, I know he didn’t. Because you’re good at this, and you seem to enjoy it, so the only possible explanation for how you wouldn’t know some if not all of this already would be if your father refused to put any effort into engaging you.”
It took Stan a minute or two to sort through that one. “Wait, you’re angry at Pa?”
“Who else would I be angry at?” Dipper asked. Like it genuinely hadn’t occurred to him that Stan was the one who didn’t know all the stuff he was supposed to know and who was supposed to be saving Dipper time to work on his science project but instead was taking a bunch of it up because Dipper had to come and teach him all this stuff.
Of course, if it hadn’t occurred to him, then Stan wasn’t going to point it out. “I don’t know. Somebody else,” he said off-handedly.
Then again, maybe Stan shouldn’t’ve said anything at all, because even that was enough to have Dipper giving him a knowing look. “If you don’t know something because you never had the opportunity to learn because no one was ever willing to teach you, that’s not your fault.”
Stan guessed he could kind of see how Dipper had a point, but he wasn’t totally convinced he was right yet. The weirdest thing was Dipper didn’t say it like he was trying to convince Stan it was true. He said it real matter-of-fact, like maybe he thought it was so obvious there wasn’t any reason he needed to try to convince anyone it wasn’t Stan’s fault. It made Stan feel weird. Not bad weird exactly, but weird and prickly and he didn’t know how to handle it. So he did what he did best when he didn’t know how to handle things: changed the subject and avoided it.
“So who exactly taught you how to do all this stuff?” Because Dipper sure did know a lot about business for someone who was supposed to be a scientist. More than enough that he could have done all of what Stan was doing himself. But Stan supposed if Dipper were trying to run a business and be a salesman, then he wouldn’t have time to do any of the scientist stuff he wanted to do, which was exactly the reason he’d brought Stan on in the first place.
“Uh, no one. No one taught me this stuff, I just picked it up. As I became an adult. You know, adult stuff that you pick up,” Dipper said.
Okay, so never mind Dipper had just said Stan couldn’t be expected to know if no one taught him, there was no way Dipper was telling the truth right now. “Why are you lying?”
“Lying, I’m not lying. Prove that I’m lying.”
That one stumped Stan. Because yeah, Dipper had gotten all nervous and sweaty, but that didn’t exactly prove he was lying. And it wasn’t like Stan had any idea how Dipper had actually learned this stuff, so he didn’t have any evidence to throw at him or anything. When Stan didn’t say anything for a minute or so, Dipper gave him a smile that screamed, “see, you can’t prove it,” and then kept on with what they had been talking about before Stan had brought up Pa.
Technically there was one thing Stan could have said as proof Dipper was lying. He said he’d picked all this up just being an adult, but as far as Dipper had been told, Stan was twenty-five and an adult too. So if Stan was an adult and he didn’t know any of it, it couldn’t all be stuff that you just picked up as an adult. Problem with that proof was Stan knew that Dipper knew he wasn’t really twenty-five, and Dipper knew that Stan knew that. So the only reason that lie was still going was neither of them had brought it up since Stan had first told it. If Stan brought it up now, Dipper would probably question it and then he might find out Stan’s real age and then… and then Stan didn’t know what he’d do. And that was the problem.
Though maybe not as big a problem as the other possibility. The possibility that it wasn’t just momentum keeping that lie going, but Dipper had a reason to keep pretending he thought Stan was twenty-five. So if Stan reminded him he was supposed to be an adult, Dipper might agree and say that as an adult Stan probably already knew everything else they had to go over, so no point in wasting time anymore, and he’d see him on the first. Stan didn’t want that.
It wasn’t that Dipper was that great a teacher or anything. Not that Dipper was teaching Stan, they were just talking and Stan just happened to be learning. But if Dipper were a teacher, he wouldn’t have been a great one. He was a little too much like Ford, where he’d get excited about whatever and then start going too fast and jumping ahead, assuming Stan already knew all kinds of things he didn’t. Then Stan would have to interrupt and ask him to slow down, go back, and explain it. The nice thing was that also like Ford, or at least how Ford used to be, Dipper never acted like he thought Stan was stupid for needing to ask questions. He’d always be willing to explain and explain as many times as Stan needed him to and he even apologized sometimes, like it was his fault for going too fast and not Stan’s fault for being too slow.
Well, okay, there had been one time when Dipper had made Stan feel stupid for asking a question, but that time it really had been Stan’s fault for jumping to conclusions. He’d asked a question that was kind of about what Dipper had been talking about, but mostly about something else. Dipper had looked up at him like a deer in the headlights for a second before saying, “We can cover that tomorrow.” Stan took that to mean he’d finally asked a question so dumb Dipper didn’t even want to bother answering it, and he was giving Stan the brush-off. Stan had kept his mouth shut the rest of the evening, not daring to ask another stupid question and piss Dipper off for good. Except then the next day Dipper had opened the conversation by parroting back Stan’s question almost word for word and then launching into a whole long answer. After that, anytime Stan had asked a question Dipper had said they’d cover tomorrow, they always did cover it the next day. Eventually Stan decided Dipper just liked talking about one topic at a time. One way he was different than Ford, since once you got Ford started rambling on one topic, there was no way to be sure what topic he’d be on by the time he was done.
So yeah, Dipper wasn’t exactly a great teacher, but at the same time he was also the best teacher Stan had ever had. Because Dipper actually wanted Stan to learn this stuff, and he cared if Stan was getting it, and he wanted to help if Stan was confused, and he really did seem to believe Stan could learn it. Hell, he’d flat out said Stan was good at this stuff and impressive and all that, multiple times even. Sure Stan knew that it made sense that Dipper would want him to do well, since the better Stan did at all this, the more money he made, and the more money Dipper made. But caring for selfish reasons was still caring, and Stan had learned a thing or two about shutting the hell up and taking what he could get.
It was about two-and-a-half weeks after Stan had first met Dipper that a woman came up to Stan while he was out making door-to-door rounds. “Are you the one who sold me that shammy the other day?” she asked.
“No I, uh-“
“Because it’s been great, and I was hoping to buy another one. Another few if you have them,” she said looking at Stan expectantly.
Stan looked blankly back. That was new. He gave himself a mental shake and gave her his best salesman grin. “You’re in luck, because supplies of the Sham Total are very limited, but I do have a few left. It’s one for two dollars, or you can get all three of my remaining stock for six dollars.”
“Oh, well I better grab all three before they run out,” the woman said. Then before Stan could even try to bring it up she asked, “Do you have any other household supplies type of products for sale?”
“Well, I shouldn’t even be talking about this since it doesn’t hit the markets until next week, but I do have one unit of the brand new StanVac, the world’s first cordless vacuum cleaner.” Stan slid effortlessly into his pitch, and before the woman walked away, she ended up buying the shammies, the vacuum, his very last pitchfork, and pair of butterfly nets for her kids. Plus she took five of Stan’s business cards because she said she was going to brag to all her friends about her new cordless vacuum, and they were bound to want to get ones of their own once they were officially available.
Stan could barely contain himself until Dipper came by that evening. His first repeat customer. His first repeat customer who had been so happy with the first thing he’d sold her, she’d practically begged to buy more and was ready to go brag about her new stuff before she even tried it out. She was going to go get new business for him without him having to lift a finger for it. That was amazing.
The second Dipper walked in the door, before he could even set the food down, Stan was spilling the whole story to him. It was only after he’d said the last word and closed his mouth that he was gripped with a sudden sickening feeling. What the hell was he getting so excited for anyway? Lots of businesses got lots of repeat customers all the time. Stan had now had one ever. That wasn’t impressive. Dipper would probably say something like, “that’s a good first step,” because the guy was too nice to call Stan out for how stupid he was being to his face, then they would sit down and eat and talk about business stuff like any normal night because it was any normal night. Today really hadn’t been anything special at all.
Dipper clapped Stan on the back. “That’s great; I knew you could do it. What you say we leave this food for next time and go out to celebrate, my treat,” he said, grinning like he thought Stan had accomplished something worth being proud of. Like he was proud of Stan for accomplishing it. It felt good having Dipper grin at him like that. Weird, but really, really good.
On the evening of the thirty-first, Dipper told Stan he was going to have a lot going on the next day and would probably be too busy to swing by that evening. Stan hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. Yeah, Dipper came over more evenings than he didn’t, but him not making it over wasn’t that uncommon either. The only thing that was even a little weird was the first was supposed to be the day Stan paid Dipper his cut for the past month, but then Dipper was the one who had originally wanted to push it out so far in the first place. He’d probably decided it was worth waiting one more day so he could nerd out over his science thing or whatever it was he was going to be busy with. So on the first, Stan had stuffed Dipper’s money in an envelope, got his own dinner, and hadn’t worried about it.
When Dipper had come over the next evening, Stan shoved the envelope at him the second he walked in the door. Dipper looked confused by it for a minute. “Oh, right. Thanks,” he said, grabbing the envelope and stuffing it in his pocket.
“Aren’t you going to count it?” Stan asked.
“Later,” Dipper said absently. He sat down in the chair and began pulling the food out of the bag. “I brought burgers from that one diner. Those are your favorite, right?”
That was weird. Not the burgers or even that Dipper knew the burgers were Stan’s favorite; Stan had probably mentioned it before, and if he had, Dipper definitely would remember it. It was weird Dipper didn’t want to count the money right away. Didn’t he want to check it was all there? Not that Stan would have short-changed him. He would short-change a lot of people if he thought he could get away with it, but Dipper was his business partner. Dipper was also a weirdly good guy who had helped Stan out a lot, and Stan owed him for that. He wouldn’t cheat him even if he thought he could get away with it. Which he couldn’t. Dipper knew where he lived, and he was bound to count that money sooner or later and he’d realize if there wasn’t as much there as there should be. Then, best-case scenario, Stan would be out a business partner. Probably that’s why Dipper hadn’t counted it, because he trusted Stan not to be that stupid. Still, there was something about it that felt weird.
And it kept feeling weird. Dipper was acting kind of nervous and twitchy and he kept making awkward small talk. Not that they always went straight into talking about whatever business topic Dipper wanted to cover, they chatted about random stuff, but it wasn’t normally awkward. And if it was feeling awkward then they usually got into talking about business stuff. Today though, Dipper seemed to be avoiding bringing any of that up. He was avoiding…
Oh. Stan got it now. Dipper was unwilling to talk about business and nervous about something. If he was nervous then it had be bad news. Bad news for Stan after Dipper spent all day working yesterday had to mean Dipper had finished his science project and now he could spend more time doing money-making stuff. He didn’t need Stan anymore. He was just trying to figure out a way to break it to him.
Stan stuffed the rest of his burger in his mouth and swallowed it down. “Okay, dinner’s done. Time for you to go,” he said, grabbing Dipper by the arm and pulling him up. He couldn’t break the bad news if he wasn’t here to break it. Plus, thinking about it, just because Dipper didn’t need Stan to make money for him anymore, that didn’t mean there was any reason to throw a free source of money away. Not unless that source of money was taking up way too much of his time with needing to teach business stuff. So it was fine, Stan knew a lot more now, and he could figure out the rest from here. He would take what he could get and not fuck things up again because what he could get wasn’t as much as he wanted.
He managed to get Dipper standing up before he tugged his arm away. “What’s the sudden rush? I have something I need to talk to you about.”
“No you don’t,” Stan said, pushing Dipper toward the door.
“Yes, I do. It’s important,” Dipper insisted.
“Not as important as your science stuff. You can tell me about it tomorrow.” Or never. Preferably never.
“We need to talk about it now. It’s just as important.” Dipper kept trying to pull away from him, but Stan had a firm hold on his shoulder now.
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it – Stan I want you to move in with me.”
Stan’s hands dropped. “What.” What? He didn’t… what?
Dipper pulled his jacket straight, fussing with the sleeves past when he really needed to. He cleared his throat and looked Stan right in the eye, “I want you to move in with me.”
What? Just, what? Why would Dipper want Stan to live with him? Unless… “Is this some kind of weird sex thing?” You heard about stuff like that. Nobody talked about it, but you heard about it anyway. Guys who were into other guys instead of girls like they were supposed to be. And there were always older guys that were into people way younger than them. If Dipper was one of those kinds of guys then fine, Stan wouldn’t judge. But Stan wasn’t into that. If that’s what Dipper wanted then tough luck.
Except… Stan wasn’t into that, didn’t want it at all, except he didn’t want Dipper to pack up and go either. What if that was what Dipper wanted? What if this whole time part of the reason he’d been willing to help Stan out was he wanted to… to Stan? It would make sense, wouldn’t? Nobody did something for nothing, and Dipper had done a lot for Stan. Stan owed him. So maybe it wouldn’t be that bad if Stan just didn’t think about it and let him…
“What?” Dipper said, utterly shocked. “No! Not even a little bit. No. Just, no. Definitely not.”
“You don’t have to make it sound like I’m some kind of leper,” Stan grumbled. It was kind of insulting, even if Stan was mostly relieved.
“That’s not what I meant. I’m sure you’re very appealing to someone of the appropriate gender.” Dipper’s eyes went wide. “Which can be whichever gender you want it to be; I don’t care. Or even both. Is that a thing, both? Whatever it is, it doesn’t bother me. I mean whatever you like doesn’t bother me, it does bother me which it is for me. That is, I mean… I like women.”
“Me too,” Stan said, giving Dipper a look. That was weird.
“Okay. Good. So. I’m sure you’re very attractive for girls, but not for me. Besides I’m a lot older than you; even if I was into that I would feel like I was taking advantage,” Dipper said.
“You can’t take advantage of me if I don’t let you,” Stan said, resenting the implication.
“That’s true,” Dipper said, though he didn’t sound like he believed it.
“Okay, if it’s not some weird sex thing then why the hell do you want me to move in with you?” Stan asked.
“Because you shouldn’t be living in this motel room,” Dipper said as though it should be obvious. “You shouldn’t be living in any motel room really, but especially not this one.”
Stan couldn’t really argue with that, but… “How is that skin off your back?” Stan could understand Dipper being patient enough, or just desperate enough, to be willing to put the time in to teach Stan how to become a better salesman because he knew eventually Stan would be bringing in money for him. But that didn’t have anything to do with where Stan was living.
Dipper actually looked kind of hurt by that. “We’re business partners right? I’m allowed to care about your wellbeing.”
“I guess,” Stan said.
“I am,” Dipper insisted. “But besides, I never told you my full name did I?”
“Nah, just your weird alias,” Stan said.
“That’s not an alias, it’s a nickname. That’s what everyone’s called me since elementary school. Haven’t you noticed my birthmark?” Dipper said, pushing the hair back off his forehead.
“Huh. That’s definitely the Big Dipper,” Stan said. “I thought you were just terrible at thinking of aliases.”
“No, it’s my nickname. My real name is Mason Pines.”
“So.” That was unexpected. “We’re family or something?” he asked. Stan wasn’t sure how he felt about that. On the one hand the idea of Dipper being family sat well with him – Dipper even kind of looked like they could be related now that Stan was looking for it – but on the other hand, he didn’t like the idea they’d be going this long without Dipper having ever mentioned it before.
“No, we’re definitely not related. Well, actually… it’s possible we are related from a certain point of view. I’m not entirely sure how the genetics with that would work. The point being I’m not your long-lost uncle or anything,” Dipper said.
“There’s something you don’t know?” Stan asked. Dipper was the smartest person Stan had ever met. Probably smarter than Ford even, but only because he had an unfair advantage, being so much older.
“I’m starting to realize there are a lot of things I don’t know.” Dipper sighed. “Stanley, how old are you really?”
“How old are you?” Stan shot it back automatically because that’s what he did with things he didn’t want to deal with: deflect and avoid. He had expected Dipper to maybe shoot an answer back real quick before getting mad at Stan and insisting on an answer. He hadn’t expect Dipper to look thoughtful.
“How old do I look?” Dipper asked after a minute.
Okay, so, that was a response. Stan looked Dipper up and down. At first glance, Dipper looked a little older than Pa, but at a second look he had that air to him of someone who aged well. He probably ate healthy most of the time, exercised, all that junk that Pa didn’t do, so Dipper was probably really a good bit older than Pa. “Fifty-three,” Stan finally guessed.
“Fifty-three? Yeah, that sounds roughly accurate,” Dipper said, nodding.
“I guessed right?”
“Sure,” Dipper said. “I trust your judgement.” But why? Why would Dipper trust Stan, why would he care about him? Every time Stan thought he had this guy figured out, he went and did something else that threw Stan completely for a loop. “Now answer my question, how old are you really?”
“How old do I look?” Two could play that game.
“Stanley.” Dipper didn’t sound mad. Stan didn’t know why he expected him to get mad, or why he kept expecting Dipper to react like Pa when he was so much like Ford. Because he did sound like Ford just now, like Ford had been sounding a lot recently, and Stan had been pretending not to notice. Like he was just sick and tired of Stan’s antics. Like maybe he was just sick and tired of Stan.
“Seventeen,” Stan said quickly. “I’m seventeen.”
“That’s about what I thought,” Dipper said. He took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. “I’ve mentioned my sister Mabel before, right? Mabel is a… unique person. Always has been, and our dad didn’t have a lot of patience for her. Our high school had a science fair every year, and when we were seventeen my project was something amazing. I had pretty much the best school in the country interested in coming out to look at it. Before that I had been looking at some nearby schools, and Mabel wasn’t happy about me suddenly wanting to move eight hours away to the other side of the state. She broke my project, so dad kicked her out of the house.”
“What the hell is this? Have you been following me around or something? Is your last name even Pines?” Stan demanded.
“What? Of course it is. What are you even talking about?” Dipper said.
“What am I talking about? Did you really think I was too stupid to recognize my own damn story thrown back at me just because you changed it to your sister?”
Dipper did not react the way Stan was expecting him to. He brightened and sat up straighter. “Really, exactly the same?” he asked. He looked around and ended up grabbing Stan’s ledger and flipping to the back page to begin scribbling away on it. “Sorry, I’ll rip this page out when I’m done. So you said it was the same story, was it the same college, West Coast Tech? And what about Ford’s project, was it also a perpetual motion device?”
“Yeah,” Stan said. Shouldn’t Dipper know this already? He did, right; that’s how he was asking these questions. But why would he be asking questions if he already knew?
“And are you actually from Piedmont, then? I had assumed from your accent you were from around this area.”
“I am. Where the hell is Piedmont?”
“California,” Dipper said. “What about your parents’ names?”
“What?” This conversation was taking a weird turn.
“What are your parents’ names?” Dipper asked, looking up from the ledger at Stan.
“Filbrick and Caryn.”
“Filbrick, Filbrick,” Dipper said, tapping his pen against his chin. “Oh, Filbrick, right.” He scribbled something down. “Do you have a grandfather named Sherman? Or a brother?”
“Brother,” Stan said. “What the hell is going on here?”
“I have no idea,” Dipper said, and he sounded real excited about it. “Exactly the same would be one thing, but all these parallels with distinct differences. I can’t begin to imagine how it happened.” Stan had a lot of experience with this kind of nerd excitement Dipper was into right now. He wasn’t faking it. Which meant this weird massive coincidence had really happened. It explained a few things at least.
“That’s why you’re helping me. Because I remind you of your sister.”
That seemed to knock Dipper out of his excitement. He set the ledger and pen down and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I was really mad at my sister after what she did to me. I’m still mad at her, but she’s a good person. I couldn’t – wouldn’t help her when she needed me, and now I’m never going to see her again. I met you, and I thought about her, and I thought about what she would do if she were here now, and honestly she probably would have adopted you already.”
“I don’t want to be adopted by some random crazy lady,” Stan protested.
“Trust me, Mabel would have talked you into it,” Dipper said. “Look, I’m not trying to adopt you or anything, I’m just saying I’m renting a house, it’s got three bedrooms, and I think you should move into one of them.”
Stan licked his lips. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t like the idea of it. But he couldn’t go back to riding on anyone’s coattails either. “10% of the net,” he said.
“I’m not going to – half of whatever you’re paying for this room,” Dipper returned.
“How is that a good deal for you?” Stan objected.
“Because, because… because if I’m going to try to bring in income by renting out my spare bedroom it’s worth it to make a little less to have someone I trust in the room.” Dipper gave him a slightly uncertain smile. “We’ll call it the family discount.”
He really did have a knack for making offers Stan couldn’t say no to, didn’t he? “Okay,”
Stan said. “You’ve got a deal.”
They decided to move Stan over that night. He’d already paid ahead for another three nights at the motel, but he couldn’t think of a single reason to stay in this room when he had another option. He could come back over tomorrow morning to get a refund for the days he wasn’t going to be using it for. For now they packed up all of Stan’s merchandise and his duffle bag full of personal stuff, then Stan followed Dipper to his place. Their place.
It looked about the same size Stan’s parents’ place back in Glass Shard beach, but instead of a shop on the first floor and living space on the second, the house was spilt into two separate living spaces down the middle, so they shared one wall with their neighbors. Which, hey, was a pretty big improvement on sharing both walls with his neighbors back at the motel.
Dipper pulled up on the side of the street in front of the place, and Stan pulled up right behind him, but Dipper immediately got out of his car and started waving at Stan to do… something.
“What’s going on?” Stan asked, sticking his head out his opened window.
“There’s a garage around the side,” Dipper said. “I’ll open it up for you, so you go ahead and pull your car in.”
“But…” Stan glanced at Dipper’s car. “Don’t you want to park your car in there?”
Dipper also looked as his car, looking really confused for a second before his expression cleared. “Oh, that’s not my car, it’s a rental. I figured having it would make moving easier. Moving you, I mean. I thought it would make moving you in easier.”
There was something a bit off about the way Dipper had said that. Yeah, him having a car had made moving Stan over easier – he maybe, probably could have fit all the merchandise and his stuff into his car, but no way he could have fit all that and Dipper too – but Stan didn’t see why Dipper would need to clarify he was talking about Stan. Unless, “Is there someone else moving into the other spare bedroom?” he asked. Not that Stan minded if there was, not at all, Dipper probably had other guys he had worked out similar deals with as the one they had going and that was okay by Stan, completely okay. He just wanted to know what he was getting into. That was all.
“What other spare bedroom? There’s your room, my room, and my lab-slash-study,” Dipper said.
“Right,” Stan said, way more relieved by that than he would ever admit to. “My mistake. Let’s see that garage,” Stan said.
Dipper gave Stan a look, like he thought Stan was the weird one of the two of them, then shrugged and motioned Stan around the side of the building. There was a detached one-car garage, a big one, big enough for Stan to park his car in there and for them to store all the extra merchandise. Once Stan had parked his car and they had unloaded all the stuff out of Dipper’s rental – this place was in a nicer area than Stan’s motel had been, but it wasn’t so nice they could leave valuables in the car on the street overnight – Dipper closed and locked the garage and handed Stan the spare key to the padlock. It occurred to Stan then that he’d have to deal with a lot of extra nonsense every day what with constantly having to unlock and open and close and lock the garage door, but he didn’t care. They had their own garage. His baby had never been parked in a garage before. That was classy as fuck.
They went around to the main house next. Dipper unlocked the front door, and led the pair of them inside. Then something fucking unbelievable happened. “Are you taking your jacket off?” Stan asked.
“Um, yes?” Dipper said, pulling his arm out of his other sleeve. “I don’t wear it around my own home. You know, take your coat off, stay awhile?”
He said it like it was all casual, no big deal, but in the entire time Stan had known Dipper, he’d literally never seen him without that coat on. At most sometimes he would push the sleeves of it up when he was really deep into some hands-on work. Stan had been starting to think it was sewn onto him or something. Seeing him take it off was weird. And an opportunity.
“Let me see it,” Stan said, intercepting the coat as Dipper went to hang in on the hook by the door. Stan held it up in front of him, turning it this way and that a little so he could get a good look at it. “I was right, this jacket is awesome. It was just you making it look super nerdy.”
“Hey, I’m not that nerdy,” Dipper said, crossing his arms.
And wow, okay, maybe they had both making each other look nerdy. Because, yeah, Dipper still looked kind of like a nerd, with his khakis and loafers and collared shirt, and sweater vest with that diamond pattern on it, but the collared shirt must have been old or something, because it was kind of worn and tight and it did not hide Dipper being fucking built. Not built like a brick shithouse or anything, but guy had some muscle on him; he looked like he could throw a serious punch. Not that Stan would say that to his face. “You’re pretty nerdy. But, eh, not the worst thing you could be.”
“Thanks, I think,” Dipper said. He gave Stan a pat on the shoulder, then took the coat from him and hung it up. “C’mon, I’ll show you around.”
The place was long and narrow, which made sense considering. The front door opened into a little front room with stairs, but Dipper ignored those and led Stan through the doorway to the right into the living room. “What’s the deal with all the old lady furniture?” Stan asked, holding up a lace doily that had been draped over the back of the sofa. This really wasn’t what he had been picturing.
Dipper shrugged. “I’m renting the place furnished, and this is the furniture it came with.”
“Huh. I guess it’s worth putting up with grandma furniture if it means you don’t gotta go out and buy your own,” Stan said putting the doily back down.
“My thoughts exactly. Through here is the dining room,” Dipper said, walking deeper into the house. The dining room had more of the old lady furniture, more doilies, more needlepoint pictures framed up on the wall, and all that kind of stuff. It also had a shelf on the left wall, lined with dolls in perfectly pressed dresses with big dead eyes staring at them. Dipper looked at them and winced. “We can pack those away in a box somewhere.”
“Good idea,” Stan agreed. Only question was why Dipper hadn’t done that earlier. “Kitchen in here?” he asked, walking into the next room to get away from the creepy dolls as quickly as possible.
“Yes. I don’t suppose you know how to cook?” Dipper asked.
“Probably not,” Stan said. At home Ma had always cooked, and Stan hadn’t exactly had an opportunity to learn since then.
“Too bad, but I guess I’m decent enough at it. It would be good if we could save some money by not eating out all the time,” Dipper said.
“You can save money by making food yourself?” Stan asked. Yeah, he knew you could go get a loaf of bread and sliced turkey for real cheap, but there was only so many times a guy could eat a plain turkey sandwich and all the real food, like actual meat from the butcher or even fruits and vegetables, always seemed so expensive.
“Of course you can. Anything’s cheaper if you do it yourself. As long as you know what you’re doing anyway.”
That was a very good point. “Maybe you ought to show me where stuff is in here, just in case.” Stan said it all casual, but truth was he was one hundred percent going to learn to cook now. For one thing, he needed every trick he could get to save money if he was ever going to save up that million dollars. For another… well, Dipper could call it whatever he wanted, Stan knew he was getting way too good a deal on the rent on this place. So if he could learn how to cook and fix up all their meals for them, like how Dipper had been bringing him dinner most every night for the last month practically, then maybe Stan could make up a little what he owed him.
“Sure,” Dipper said, and he started opening up cabinets and showing Stan what was inside. Most of the stuff Stan knew what it was, even if he’d never used it before; what kind of idiot couldn’t recognize a pot and pan? Some of the stuff Stan knew what it was, but Dipper had to tell him what it was for – like the fat hammer used to smack the crap out of your meat and make it tenderer. Then there were the weird things that Stan had no idea what they were – like the little metal cage on a stick that Dipper said was a whisk for mixing stuff – and the things that neither of them had any idea what they were – like the metal squiggle on a stick.
They went through every cabinet and drawer except one, which Stan opened up because, well just because really. Dipper said he was showing Stan where everything was, so Stan figured if he hadn’t opened this last cabinet – which was kind of off in a corner and out of the way – it was because he wasn’t keeping anything in there. That turned out to be not true; Dipper was keeping exactly one thing in there.
“Alright,” Stan said, grabbing the bottle down. “Let’s have some… gin.” Huh. Well, it wouldn’t have been his first choice, but booze was booze.
Dipper took the bottle from him and put in back away, closing the cabinet again. “No alcohol for you.”
“Come on, why not? It’s not like I’m a little kid or nothing,” Stan protested.
“I mean, technically…”
Stan made a face at him. “Seventeen is not little. And I’ll be eighteen in June. That’s less than half a year; I’m basically eighteen already.”
“June, really? Not August?” Dipper asked, getting that nerd excitement look again.
“Uh, yeah. June 15th,” Stan told him.
“Interesting,” Dipper said. He pulled open on of the drawers and pulled out a pen and notepad he had stashed in there – and if Dipper didn’t have little stashes like that hidden all over the house, Stan was going to be real disappointed – and jotted that down before sticking the notepad in his pocket. “Regardless, I believe the age of majority and the legal drinking age in this state is twenty-one.”
“That’s because this is a dumb state. If we were in New York I’d be allowed to drink at eighteen.”
“Okay, then we can revisit this discussion when you’re eighteen,” Dipper said. “And live in New York.”
Stan shot him a dirty look, but in the end it wasn’t like Stan could say nothing. It was Dipper’s booze and if he said he wasn’t going to give any to Stan, then he was allowed to say that, even if it was for a stupid reason.
Dipper did not look like he gave a rat’s ass about Stan’s dirty look. “Let’s continue the tour upstairs, shall we?” he said, leading the way back to the front of the house. Upstairs was an open hallway with five doors off of it, including a pair of those folding doors with a washer and dryer behind them. Stan nearly just stuck his whole duffle bag straight in there, and probably would have except Dipper didn’t have any detergent. The one open door led to the bathroom, which was kind of small, but big enough for just the two of them. Two of the closed doors led to Dipper’s room and his study, both of which were off-limits for Stan. That left just the one door down at the end of the hallway for Stan.
“I know the bed situation is a little odd, but like I said this place was already furnished, and I needed the lighting in the room with the double bed for my study. If you want we can switch the beds in the two rooms,” Dipper said.
Stan swallowed, then forced himself to relax. “It’s fine,” he said, tossing his bag onto the bottom bunk. The room was a little smaller than the one he’d had back ho- than the one he’d had back in Glass Shard Beach, but it would just be him in here, all by himself, so it would be… it would be….
“Stan, are you okay?” Dipper asked.
Stan pasted on a big smile. “Yeah, I’m great. This is a great place. It’s all… great… I’m going to go to bed now.”
Dipper didn’t look reassured by that. Not surprising. But he didn’t fight Stan on it, which was all he was really asking for. “Well, okay. I guess it is kind of late. I… I’ll be in my study for a while yet. Knock if you need anything, okay?”
“Will do.” Absolutely not. Stan was fine. He was, whatever Dipper and the state of New Jersey might think, basically an adult. He could handle this on his own. “Goodnight.”
“Night,” Dipper said. He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, leaving Stan alone. With the bunk beds.
Stan yanked the zipper on his bag open and began putting his things away in the dresser. He’d have to take it all back out tomorrow once Dipper picked up some laundry detergent, but, you know, it was probably good to unpack it. Get settled in and all that junk. He went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and even washed his face, like Ma always used to get on their cases about. He got all his toiletries put neatly away in the bathroom – something he spent way longer at that he needed to considering how little he had. Once he had stalled with that for as long as he could manage, he dragged his feet back to the bedroom. He stared at the bunk beds. You know, maybe he should go out to the car and finish getting that unpacked too. He had been planning on leaving that part of it until morning, but why procrastinate. No time like the present. Ford always said-
Stan grimaced, and forced himself to shuck off his jeans and climb into bed. It was a pretty comfortable bed, really. The sheets were nice and clean, the blankets were warm, the pillow was a little old and beat up, but still good. It was just kind of quiet. Which was dumb. It wasn’t like beds were known for making noises or anything, not on their own. Beds didn’t creak or rustle or breathe softly or let out the occasional snore – dammit!
Gin, that’s what Stan needed. Screw Dipper and his sensibilities, Stan needed some gin. To celebrate, obviously. To celebrate his great new partnership and this great new place he was staying, and just how great everything was. Including these bunk beds. Fucking fantastic.
Stan padded softly down the stairs and into the kitchen. He pulled the gin out of the cabinet and poured himself a big glass. There was a lot to celebrate, so he needed a lot of booze. He took a big gulp and very nearly spit it right back out. Geez, Dipper actually like this stuff? It was disgusting; it was like having a mouth full of pine needles. Still, Stan made himself to swallow it down and take another drink, which he also almost spit right out again.
He was so busy trying to force the disgusting stuff down, he didn’t even hear the footsteps approaching. Not until Dipper said, “Stan? What are you doing down here in the dark? Is something wrong?”
Stan had enough time to chug down the rest of the glass, but before he could even begin trying to hide the bottle, Dipper flicked the light on. Stan watched as Dipper took in the sight of Stan, took in the bottle in his hand, recognized what the bottle was, and realized what Stan had been doing. His expression fell as he looked up at Stan again.
Stan just about shriveled up and died right there. He kept waiting for Dipper to get mad, to tell Stan he was a screw-up and worthless and couldn’t do anything right, but Dipper kept not doing it. Instead he was looking at Stan like he’d expected better, like he knew for a fact Stan was fully capable of better and had just chosen to do the stupid thing anyway. Dipper wasn’t mad; he was disappointed.
Dipper didn’t say a single word. Stan stood there, frozen in place, as Dipper walked up to him, plucked the bottle from his hand, and put it away. He stood looking at the closed cabinet for an extra beat before turning around and saying firmly, “Goodnight, Stanley.”
That broke whatever spell had been holding Stan in place, and suddenly he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. “Sorry,” he said quickly. Then he scurried back to the front of the house, up the stairs, into his room, and slammed the door shut.
The next morning Stan woke up early. Because he had a lot to do that day, that was all. He had to unpack all the merchandise he wasn’t going to need for the day from the car, he had to drive over to the motel to check out, and he still had to work today, and Thursdays were always the hardest day of the week for selling, so he needed as much time as possible if he was going to hit his numbers. That was all there was to it.
Stan crept downstairs, even quieter than he’d been the night before. Because he didn’t want to wake Dipper up, obviously. But that turned out to be pointless, because Dipper was already up, in the kitchen cooking.
For a second Stan seriously considered ducking out the front door. Yeah, Dipper hadn’t been mad about Stan sneaking some of his booze last night, but that had been last night. He’d had plenty of time to change his mind about it since then. But in the end, Stan decided against sneaking out. For one thing, if he ate a big breakfast for free right now, and planned on having a big dinner for free when he got back this evening, then the only meal he’d have to pay for today would be lunch, and he’d could probably get by with something small and cheap. Plus, if Dipper really was like Ford, then the longer Stan left things, the more Dipper would stew over them and the madder he would get. Better to get it over with.
Stan made his way back toward the kitchen, though of course Mr. Bat-Ears heard him before he’d even made it to the dining room.
“Perfect timing.” Dipper tossed Stan a grin over his shoulder before turning back to the stove. “The eggs are just about done. You do like scrambled eggs, right?”
“Um, yeah?” Stan said. Dipper didn’t seem mad…
“Good. Go ahead and sit down; I’ll bring it over in a second. Did you want anything else while I’m at it? Some toast or something?”
Okay, so unless Dipper was pulling some sort of long con – which didn’t really seem like his style – he definitely wasn’t mad. Was he over it already? Stan had apologized – he was pretty sure he remembered saying sorry before he’d run off – so maybe that was the end of it? Maybe. It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing Dipper had done.
Stan slid his way into one of the dining room chairs. “You have any bacon?” he asked hopefully.
“We have bacon,” Dipper confirmed. He pulled a package out of the fridge and pushed the eggs around in the pan to make room. A few seconds later, the room was filled with the sizzle and aroma of bacon frying, hitting Stan with a wave of nostalgia.
Ma had always insisted on all them keeping kosher, something Pa had backed her up on. At least, he had when she was home. But sometimes when she went out, Pa would have Shermie run down to the store and buy a package of bacon, while Stan and Ford opened all the windows and doors, to make sure the smell aired out afterwards. It was probably Stan’s favorite memory of his dad. He could see Pa now, standing at the stove, having taken his sunglasses off so he could see the color of bacon better and make sure he cooked just the perfect amount. Stan could hear himself and Shermie bickering over whether Shermie should get the first piece as the oldest, or Stan as the youngest. And then Ford–
“Hey Dipper?” Stan said, plucking at the decorative stitches in the tablecloth.
“Yes?” Dipper served the bacon and eggs up onto a pair of plates and brought them into the dining room.
“You think we could trade those beds out after all?”
“Oh,” Dipper said. He stared at Stan’s face for a long minute, though hell if Stan knew what he was looking for. “Of course we can. We’ll do it this evening after dinner.”
“Great. Thanks. And thanks for breakfast too.”
Dipper smiled at him. “My pleasure.”
“This is really good Stan,” Dipper said before taking another bite of the dinner Stan had made.
Stan gave a one-armed shrug. “It’s nothing special. Just browned some meat then poured a can of sauce over it, then poured that over some noodles.”
“Hey, it tastes good, and nothing’s burned or undercooked. It doesn’t matter how easy it was to make, that’s still a success in my book.” Dipper said.
“You know, you wouldn’t burn so much stuff if you didn’t keep getting distracted writing stuff down in one of your nerd notebooks when you cook,” Stan pointed out.
“I can’t control when inspiration strikes.”
“Uh-huh.” Ford used to say the exact same kind of things, and Stan hadn’t been impressed by his excuses either.
He twirled his fork in the spaghetti and took another bite. Dipper was right about it being good, mostly. It definitely wasn’t bad, better than a lot of the diner and fast food he’d eaten and a lot cheaper, but it wasn’t… Well, it wasn’t good, like go outta your way to compliment it kind of good. It was fine, but the flavor was just… boring. “It’s not nearly as good as what Ma used to make.”
“That’s not really a fair comparison,” Dipper said. “Your mom has been cooking for your family decades, and her mom was probably teaching her how before that; that’s a lot of practice. You’ve only been cooking for… what, about a month now? But if you did want to get better at it, we can find you some cookbooks and you can start experimenting around in the kitchen. Maybe you’ll even figure out what that squiggly tool is for.”
“I’m telling you, it’s some kind of torture device.”
“A torture device that a seventy-year old lady was keeping in her kitchen?” Dipper asked skeptically.
“You saw those dolls she was keeping in here; that lady has gotta be into all kinds of creepy shit. I’ll bet she’s putting voodoo curses on the nurses at the old folks’ home right now,” Stan said.
Dipper glanced over his shoulder at the now empty shelf and shuddered. “You might be right about that. So, should I expect your culinary experiments in the near future?”
“Nah, I ain’t got time for that.” Stan wasn’t having to work seven days a week to keep a roof over his head and food in his stomach anymore, but he was still out working every day. He had to if he ever wanted to make millions. All day every day he was out either selling merchandise or sometimes buying it. Then when he came home at night he and Dipper still spent time talking about business stuff and Stan had to work on his numbers – figuring out profits and losses, what products were selling well and what weren’t, keeping an eye on if his prices were right, figuring out if he should be spending more or less on advertising – plus even though he wasn’t a neat freak or anything, Stan still felt like he had to spend some time doing his part to help keep the place clean. With all that, he barely had enough time to cook regular meals; he definitely didn’t have time to spend on trying to get better if he was already doing okay.
Dipper was frowning at him now. “Did you want me to learn to cook better?” Stan asked. Maybe he didn’t have time for it, but if that’s what Dipper wanted, he would make time. Stan still owed Dipper for everything he’d done for him.
“No, only if you wanted to,” Dipper said easily. “I was just thinking… tomorrow is your slow day right?”
“Yeah, Thursdays are always pretty light for customers. People are a lot more willing to buy stuff right after payday than right before it,” Stan said.
“Great. Do you think you could take tomorrow afternoon off then, maybe come back home around two? There’s something I want your help with.”
“You got something new for one of our products?” Stan asked. Ever since that first StanVac, Dipper had always made a point about showing Stan exactly what he was doing to fix up the products. Stan might have thought Dipper would have wanted to keep him as far away from that as possible, but he guessed Dipper knew Stan wasn’t going to use that knowledge to try to cut him out. If nothing else Stan didn’t have the time to fix everything up himself. Plus Dipper had made a pretty good point about how the better Stan understood his products, the better he could do at selling them.
“No, it’s something else,” Dipper said.
Stan blinked. “You want me to help you with some of your science stuff?” Not the project Stan assumed; Dipper was pretty secretive about that. But he had other stuff he worked on, probably because he seemed to be having trouble finding all the parts and equipment he needed for his main project. Unless that’s what he wanted Stan’s help with – he wanted to talk Stan through some of the stuff he needed to see if Stan had better luck turning it up than Dipper was having.
“Not exactly. You’ll see tomorrow. You can take the afternoon off, can’t you?” Dipper asked.
“Yeah, sure if you need me,” Stan agreed. He didn’t love the idea of missing out on any chances to earn more money, but if Dipper needed him, then that was that.
So the next morning Stan got up early so he could knock out his meetings with his suppliers and squeeze in a little door-to-door time before heading back home. He got back about fifteen minutes before two; that way he figured he could scarf some lunch real quick before he helped Dipper with whatever it was.
Walking in Stan was expecting Dipper to have a bunch of stuff set up on the dining table. He usually was pretty good about keeping his stuff up in his study, but Stan figured since Dipper was getting his help he’d want to bring all that downstairs. So the piles and piles of paperwork everywhere weren’t a surprise. The game board with all the elaborately carved figurines and the oddly-shaped dice the multiple decks of cards on the other hand…
“You’re here early. I haven’t finished making the nachos yet,” Dipper said as he sprinkled liberal handfuls of grated cheese over a plate of tortilla chips.
“What the hell is all this?” Stan asked. He picked up a card off the top of one of the decks and flipped it over. It had a picture of some armor on it and read “Gygax’s Mythical Chainmail; AC -700.” Whatever that meant.
“It’s only the best game of all time: Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons! I got us the advanced edition, but don’t worry if you’ve never played before; I am happy to walk you through everyth – wait no, don’t look at that.” Dipper came rushing out of the kitchen to pull the drawing of some kind of map out of Stan’s hands. “That is for Probabilitor’s eyes only. Oh, that’s me. Your character sheet is, ah…” Dipper shuffled through some of the piles, then snatched one sheet and handed it to Stan, “here! I went ahead and made your character for you. I figured you’d rather just get started with the game and flesh out the details of your personality and backstory later.”
“Grunewald Dragonforge,” Stan read. So that was a name. “What you needed me for was to play this nerd game with you?”
“Of course! You can’t play this game with just one person. It’s best with five or six people, but we can still have a lot of fun with just two. It’s been ages since I’ve had anyone to play with and I know you’re going to love it.”
Stan had some serious doubts about that. Honestly, he was pretty sure he ought to be refusing to play any game involving this much graph paper on principle. But Dipper just looked so freaking excited. Of everything in the world that he could be asking Stan to do for him, this seemed like a pretty dumb choice to Stan, but he was asking. “Alright, I’ll play one round.”
“Great!” Dipper said, looking like Stan had agreed to just give him a million bucks, not play some dumb game. “Why don’t you go ahead and familiarize yourself with Grunewald while I finish up these nachos, and then we can get started.”
“The door slowly creaks open. The sound you’ve been following gets louder, like wind gusting through a giant pair of bellows. You peer into the gloom and slowly a great, glowing eye opens. That’s when you realize what the noise is: it’s the sound of the monster breathing. And that’s probably where we should stop for the night.”
Stan gave a small jerk of surprise. “What? No we can’t stop there; I gotta fight the monster!”
Dipper chuckled. “See, I told you this game was fun,” he said. “But we really do need to stop. It’s past midnight.”
Stan blinked confusedly up at the kitchen clock. When had it gotten so late? Heck, when had it gotten to be nighttime at all? Never mind; didn’t matter. “I’ll just be tired tomorrow. We gotta keep going. I’m this close to saving Princess Stupidname.”
“Princess Unattainabelle,” Dipper corrected. “And not to spoil the story, but we’re not even close to the end yet. This is only the first dungeon; there’s lots more to go. I figured if you liked it today, we could get a normal session going every Thursday afternoon and evening.”
Stan’s first instinct was to want to say yes. This wasn’t the way he had hoped for it, but he and Grunewald were having adventures together and finding treasure and there was going to be a babe at the end of it here. He wanted to say yes, but… “I can’t take every Thursday off work.”
“Stan, you work seven days a week, every week,” Dipper said.
“So do you.”
“My work is also my hobby,” Dipper countered. “And I do other things with my time. Like playing DD&MD with you.”
“Look, this game is surprisingly not terrible, but it ain’t making me a millionaire either. That’s what I gotta be working on right now.” It was the only idea he had to make things up to Ford right now: make millions and then tell Ford he was sorry about the science fair project, so here was the money to make hundreds more way better projects and to bribe that stupid school into letting him in.
“And you’ll get there. You’re clever, resourceful, driven, charismatic. I have no doubt you can accomplish anything you really want to, and if becoming a millionaire is it, then I’m sure you will. Just not if you burn yourself out first.”
“I…” Dipper was just looking at him, and he was so fucking earnest, and Stan didn’t know how to deal with this. Two months ago Stan had been basically homeless with no prospects. Four months ago he’d overheard his school principal, who Stan got called into see so often it felt like he talked to him more than his own dad sometimes, tell his parents Stan wasn’t good for anything better than scraping barnacles off the salt water taffy stand. And now Dipper… “You really think that.”
“Yes, obviously,” Dipper said and he was just so. Fucking. Earnest.
Fuck it. Dipper was way smarter than that dumbass principal anyway. “Okay,” Stan said, though he couldn’t quite meet Dipper’s eyes when he said it. “We can play again next week.”