By William Easley
What was that about best-laid plans and men and mice? Robert Burns or somebody? Anyway, that November, things did not go as planned.
The Pines twins—Stanford and Stanley, that is—had invited the whole family to come up to Oregon for Thanksgiving, and Alex and Wanda had accepted the invitation. Dipper and Wendy face-timed and made plans, and you can bet that Mabel and Teek did the same.
It looked as if Dipper and Mabel's family could take the entire week—a nice break in the school year—and they got almost as excited as they used to get about Christmas. Dipper planned to take a copy of the manuscript of his newest book up to give to Wendy. Mabel was knitting matching sweaters for her and Teek. Even the dog, Tripper, seemed unusually excited, as if he sensed something joyous was coming up soon.
The big day had been set for Sunday, November 20—get up before the sun, load the RAV4, and take off on the long drive. Dipper was already packed. Mabel had already packed and unpacked and repacked twice.
However on November 17, one week before Thanksgiving, things changed. It had been a cool, windy day in Piedmont, one of those days with a moderate humidity and a high in the sixties that made track practice feel good. Dad came home from work in a happy mood, Mom made carne asada tacos—one of Dad's favorites—for dinner, with sides of guacamole, Mexican slaw, and corn on the cob, and flan for dessert.
Abuelita was still the benchmark chef for Mexican specialties, but as Mabel said, nobody could touch Mom for MexiCal cuisine. They gathered around the dinner table at seven—it was just full dark outside—when the phone rang.
Alex Pines pushed back from the table. "Always at dinnertime!" he said, but he grabbed the phone from the counter and stepped out into the living room to answer it. Dipper heard him say, "Pines residence . . . yes, speaking . . . What? What is it? Oh, no. I just spoke—when?"
Dipper and Mabel looked at each other, both with the certain knowledge that this wasn't the good kind of phone call.
Alex's voice sounded tight and tense: "Yes, I—I'll come out. That's right, California. She did? Yes—yes, if that's what she wanted, that's . . . yes, do it. Well—I'll have to call you back . . . that should be all right. No, I—thank you. Wait, let me write that down—" he stepped back into the dining room and snatched the grocery-list pad and clicked his pen. "Go ahead. Silberman and Sons, 72nd Avenue, Hollywood, Florida, got it. Do you have their number? Thank you . . . . Yes, tomorrow. OK, and your number? Yes, I'll be there tomorrow. Thank you."
He hung up and stood for a moment facing away from them, slumping. Then he turned, pale and drawn, and said quietly, "Mom died a few minutes ago."
"Oh, Alex," Wanda said, rising to go to him and hug him.
Alex said numbly, "I talked to her on the phone last Sunday, like usual, and she seemed fine. That was Mr. Brightwell from her assisted-living apartment house. He, um, says she didn't come down for dinner, and when a residential assistant checked on her, she was napping. The woman says she was sleeping normally then. They thought they'd give her a couple of hours—the residents can order special meals if they miss the regular ones—but the lady went back and—Mom was gone. The staff doctor came up and said it had happened within the last five minutes. He thinks a heart attack."
"Grandmom's dead?" Mabel asked, her eyes spilling tears.
Dipper felt odd. A little dazed. The younger twins had hardly known their grandmother. Her husband, Sherman Pines, had died only a few months after they were born, and shortly after that, Monica, his wife, had sold their house and business and had moved to Florida. Dipper could remember their going to visit her for a week one summer when he and Mabel were, what, seven or eight years old? He felt guilty, but he remembered Disney World a little better than he did his grandmother. She was . . . not a typical Nana. Not doting at all. Polite, but sort of cool and distant.
Dad said that's just the way she was. He'd told them once, "She had a hard time when I was born. She wasn't a bad mother, but—I think she just never warmed to me the way most mothers do to their kids. It's OK. She and Dad always put food on the table, and they made sure that I had a good education."
Now he looked a little lost. He ran his hands through his hair—like all the Pineses, he had that little twin floof at the back of his head. "I've got to fly out," he said. "She, uh, she left a will. The assisted-living place will take care of boxing up her effects and shipping them to us. Um, a little money's also coming to me from the insurance. She made arrangements out there for—what she wanted. Her will directed, um, that she be cremated, and she's asked for her ashes to be buried next to Dad."
"When are you going?" Mabel asked.
"Got to leave tonight," he said. He smiled weakly. "We ought to get this done before sunset tomorrow. Jewish tradition. Son, I'm a little rattled. Could you see if you can find an airline connection I might make?"
"Sure, Dad," Dipper said. "I'm sorry."
"Well—she was a very private kind of person," Alex said. "Even with me. But God rest her soul."
Mabel said, "I'll call Grunkle Stan and Grunkle Ford."
Alex touched his forehead. "Oh, of course—thank you, Mabel. I'm not thinking clearly."
Dipper went to Dad's computer and looked at the various flights. His dad hurried upstairs, quickly packed an overnight bag, and then came into the home office. "Any luck?" he asked, leaning on the back of his chair.
Dipper shrugged. "OK, you can probably get this one if you leave right now—it takes off from Oakland at 9:15, but it arrives in Orlando at 7:35 tomorrow morning because of the time difference. But the problem's getting back. There's no way you can make it back before sunset tomorrow."
"Well, in cases of a death in the family, the rules are flexible about the Sabbath," Alex said. He thought for a minute. "What if I stayed over for Friday night? I'm Reform, much as I'm anything, so I don't mind traveling on a Saturday. And Mom wasn't Jewish, except by conversion. See what's possible."
Dipper said, "I already have. Uh, I don't know if it would make you feel better, but here's a flight that leaves Orlando at 5:35 p.m. on Saturday. There's a short layover in Salt Lake City, but you'd get back to Oakland at 11:40 p.m."
Dad patted his shoulder. "So I'd be traveling after sunset on Saturday," he said. "Thank you for thinking of that, Mason. It's a kind gesture. And it will give me Friday and Saturday to take care of things. See if both flights have a seat."
They both did, Dad sat down and booked them with his credit card, and then he said, "Wanda, will you drive me to—oh." His wife stood there with the car keys in her hand. He picked up his overnight case. "Will you kids be all right until—of course you will. You're not six any longer."
The printer was spitting out pages. "Here you go, Dad," Dipper said, folding them and putting them in an envelope. "Your tickets."
"Wow, I've got to clear my head," Alex said, trying to smile.
Mabel urged, "You didn't even finish one taco. Get some snacks in the airport. Your blood sugar's probably low!"
He nodded, impulsively hugged both Dipper and Mabel, and then said, "Better get on the road if I'm going to make that flight."
Dipper and Mabel watched them drive away. "Is this gonna screw up our Thanksgiving?" Mabel asked.
"Mabel!" Dipper said.
She shrugged. "Well—I'm sad that Grandmom's gone, but we barely knew her."
The house phone rang, and Dipper went back to answer it. It was Grunkle Stan. "Hi, Dipper," he said, a little softer than his normal boisterous tone. "Alex there?"
"He's gone to the airport," Dipper said. "He's flying out to bring Grandmom Monica's ashes home."
"Ashes, huh?" Stan asked. "Well, I'd never go that route, but I bet that's what she wanted."
"Yeah," Dipper said. "She left a will that specified everything."
"So what's our plan?" Stan asked.
"Um, Dad's going to go wrap up things out in Winter Park, and then he'll fly back home late Saturday night. He'll get in not long before midnight."
"Then the services will be Sunday," Stanley said. "Look, kid, tell Wanda we don't want to impose, but Ford and me are comin' down tomorrow with our wives. Can you or Mabel pick us up at the airport tomorrow morning?"
"We have school," Dipper reminded him.
"Oy, I keep thinkin' of you as older than you are! How about—ah, never mind, we'll Uber it. Ford's gonna get all four of us on a flight with his priority"—despite the occasion, Dipper couldn't help grinning, because in his mind he could see his Grunkle's finger-wiggle as he pronounced the word—"status. We oughta be there around eleven in the morning. Tell Wanda we're coming, and as much as we can, we'll take care of stuff for her. Ford will even talk to Alex's rabbi and all. Is the burial—"
"She wanted her ashes to be buried next to Granddad."
"Yeah, it's a nice place, Beth Shalom, I've visited before. Kid, did you ever sit shiva?"
"No. I know sort of what it is, though."
"Yeah, well, in this case it ain't possible for people to sit in Monica's home, which is traditional, so it goes to the oldest male relative's house. Technically, that's Sixer, who's like fifteen minutes older'n me. I mean, face it, none of us is that religious, but this is probably what Shermy would've liked, so the burial service will be on Sunday, I'm pretty sure, and then everybody will come up here for the week. We'll honor Monica's memory and all. Shame she didn't much like the Pines side of the family, but—well, it's sad she's gone. Hey, is Mabel there?"
"Right beside me."
"Yeah, she called with the news. She, uh, doin' OK?"
"I think so."
"Let me talk to her."
Dipper handed her the phone and she said, "Hi, Grunkle Stan."
She talked to him for a few minutes, then hung up. "They're coming down," she said.
"Yeah, he told me." Dipper took a deep breath. "Do you feel—grief?"
She shook her head. "Just sad, but not, you know, deep. It's been so long since we saw her, and except for birthday cards, she never wrote to us or called us. I guess I feel guilty, though. Maybe if we'd made an effort—"
"Look," Dipper said, "right now I think we need to help Mom and Dad all we can. So let's toss the leftovers and clean up the kitchen."
"That's a good idea," Mabel agreed. However, she did eat one more taco before they started disposing of leftovers.
Their mom was away for about two hours, and when she came back, it was nearly ten p.m. She found them in the living room, sitting on the sofa with a subdued Tripper between them, as if trying to offer them a little comfort. She smiled at the sight and said, "Alex made the flight. And as I came through the kitchen, I saw what you did. Thanks, guys. I love both of you."
Dipper and Mabel stood up and hugged her, and she cried. "I—you know, I never got to know Monica all that well. She was my mother-in-law, but—just sort of nice, polite, and distant all the time, you know? I—I hope I haven't been that way with you kids."
"No, mom!" Mabel said. "You know better!"
She smoothed Mabel's hair. "You're so grown-up looking. I wish there'd been a book of instructions for how to be a good mom. I might have done some things wrong."
"You did so much right that we never noticed," Dipper said.
When she had calmed down, they sat in the living room, and Dipper told her of the conversation he'd had with Stan.
"Oh, they have to stay with us!" Wanda said.
"Mom—they don't want to intrude," Dipper said. "They just want to help out however they can."
"I suppose I have to call the Rabbi, don't I?" Wanda asked. "I feel funny—he knows I'm not Jewish—"
"Grunkle Ford will do that for you as soon as he gets here tomorrow morning," Mabel said.
"And Lorena and Sheila are coming, too," Dipper added.
Wanda brightened up a little. She liked the elder Pines twins' wives immensely. "I think that will help more than anything," she said. "To have some family members to talk to."
When they'd all asked each other if they were all right, and each one assured the others that he or she was, they finally went to bed. Outside her bedroom door, Mabel said, "I don't suppose we can finagle a day out of school?"
"Sure we could," Dipper said. "But, you know—so many kids say their grandmothers have died—"
"But this one's not bogus, and Mom will back us up. I'm gonna call tomorrow morning, Dip," Mabel said. "I don't want to leave Mom alone."
And that was a bit of a surprise, because Mabel was Daddy's girl. Wanda had always been warmer toward Dipper—not that she was a bad mother toward Mabel, far from it, but the kids could tell their parents had favorites.
"OK," he said. "No track practice tomorrow, anyway—yeah, let's call and talk to the assistant principal. I think she knows we wouldn't lie, and we can offer to bring in an excuse."
Then, reflecting that Mabel really was growing up—which meant that he was, too—Dipper went to bed and, uncharacteristically, whispered a little prayer that his dad would have a safe trip and would find comfort.
And if it did nothing else, at least it made him feel a little better and a little less confused.
(November 18, 2016)
For the first leg of the trip, Alex Pines fitfully napped. He had been stuck with the last row on the starboard side of the airplane. He didn't even have a window. However, he also had no seatmates to share the three cramped tourist-class seats—no one else had claimed one, though they were the last three available—and that was a blessing. He could, by sitting in the center seat and stretching a little awkwardly, recline and be only moderately, instead of severely, uncomfortable.
He slept a little, though not deeply, and he woke when the plane landed for its forty-five-minute layover in Atlanta. About half the passengers deplaned there, the rest remaining in their seats, either for Miami or to make connecting flights to the Bahamas or other points.
Alex got out of the plane long enough to find a real restroom and a coffee kiosk, then returned. He wondered what time it was in Atlanta. He was so fuzzy-minded that he wasn't able to figure it out. He drank his coffee and soon fell asleep again, to be awakened when the plane took off. Now the cabin was only about three-quarters full, so without asking permission, he moved himself and his overnight bag up two rows and sat in the window seat, looking out into the night.
All the time he thought about his mother. He wished he had known her better. Maybe their strained relationship was his fault. He knew that she had loved his father, Sherman. Shermy, as she called him. Alex's dad had told him the story of his birth and Monica's problems, but he had the feeling that Shermy had soft-pedaled it.
She'd had some terrible childbirth difficulty, and finally, Sherman Pines had told his son, the doctors "had to take you." Alex gathered that meant a Caesarian. And then complications. Monica had spent weeks in the hospital, fighting some infection, and it had ended so, as Sherman said, "she couldn't have any more babies."
Of course Alex could remember none of this. He'd been only a baby himself. When he'd grown up, though, and gone to high school and then college, he'd learned about postpartum depression.
Maybe they were apart too long for the normal bonding to work. Something. Though she'd never been harsh and had only rarely spoken a word to him in anger, Monica was more dutiful than loving. And he knew that for many years, she battled what back then was called "the blues" and nowadays would probably be "clinical depression."
There were nights when he could hear her sobbing and the murmur of Dad's voice as he tried to comfort her.
So maybe when he became a father, Alex thought, he had overcompensated. Wanda kept warning him he was spoiling Mabel. Well, maybe so. He hoped not.
The flight from Atlanta to Orlando was comparatively short, and the sun was peeking over the horizon as the plane angled down. The pilot came on: "Folks, we've received clearance for landing in Orlando. It's gonna be a beautiful day. Winds are calm, temperature is sixty right now going to a high of about eighty, little bit of light fog to start with, and then clearing. I'll ask the crew to prepare the cabin for landing, and y'all can help us by closing your trays and raising your seats to their full upright position. We should be at the gate by seven-ten, a few minutes early."
The landing was a little bit bumpy, not all that bad. Alex gathered his belonging—the overnight case, singular—and shuffled down the aisle with the other passengers. He found a Cinna, Mon! restaurant in the concourse and had a quick but malnourishing breakfast of a cinnamon bun, rubbery scrambled eggs, and weak coffee. While he ate, he used his phone to look up things.
The funeral home would open at nine. He supposed he ought to go to the apartment complex—Serene Sunsets—first. He called, got someone on the night staff who said that Mr. Arnold would be in at eight, and made an appointment for eight-thirty. He debated renting a car, but then settled for an Uber for the trip to Winter Haven. He hadn't been in the area very often, and his mental map was hazy.
The driver showed up, a cheery plump woman in her forties, and he told her his destination. She said it would be about a forty-minute ride and then asked him, "Visiting relatives?"
"My mother lived there," Alex said. "She died yesterday."
The subdued driver said, "Oh, I'm so sorry."
"I think she was ready to go," Alex said.
The driver dropped him off at an enormous apartment complex, and he found the main office. Mr. Arnold, a heavyset man with a pink face and a high balding forehead, expressed his condolences. "What do I need to do here?" Alex asked.
"Well, the lease runs through the end of the month. It's all paid up, and Monica doesn't owe anything. If you want, you can go up and take any personal mementos now, or you can just trust us to box and ship everything. We take every precaution with fragile items, but, you know, if you want to pre-pay the shipping and insurance—"
"Sure," Alex said. "Uh, can I go up to the apartment now? I flew overnight, and I'd like to take a shower—"
"Certainly," Mr. Arnold said. "Just a moment." He stepped into the outer office and came back with a key card. "Here, and you don't need to return this. We'll change the coding for the next tenant. Monica was in Tower B, Apartment 1183. I'll walk you to the elevators."
Alex had visited five or six times over the years, but he was glad for the guidance. He shook Mr. Arnold's hand, and the man said, "Monica was a very quiet, calm resident. We'll miss her."
"So will we," Alex said with a smile.
Outside Monica's door was a glass vase with three roses in it. Alex picked it up and went inside. The bed had been made, the apartment tidied. He found a card attached to the vase: "WITH DEEPEST SYMPATHIES from Ruth, Alan, and Martie."
Well, at least Monica had friends. That was a relief.
He showered and changed to fresh underwear, socks, and shirt, though the pants would do. As he repacked the dirty clothes, first in a bag and then in the overnight case, he noticed an envelope on the desk addressed to MY SON ALEXANDER.
He opened it. Two pages, one typed, one a handwritten note. The note inside had been dated nearly a year before. The handwriting was his mother's.
I think the time is coming. I want everything to be as easy for you as possible, so I've changed my will to make all the necessary arrangements here. I will ask that you inter my ashes next to Sherman and take care of the tombstone and other details. There's a provision in the will for such expenses, and I believe everything will be adequately covered.
There is a small safe in my closet. The combination is your birthday, month, date, and last two numbers of the year. You will find a box with my good jewelry and a thick envelope with some bonds and other financial information. The jewelry is for Wanda, or if she wishes, it may go to Mabel when Mabel is 21. My will directs that the bonds go to you. Please divide half of the proceeds and give one half to Mabel and one half to Mason, again when they are 21.
Also in the safe is the silly tiara that Shermy gave me for our twentieth wedding anniversary. I wore it only once. Give it to Mabel. When she was a little girl, she admired it. Also you will find Shermy's gold pocket watch, which I inherited from my grandfather and gave to Shermy on our first anniversary. That goes to Mason. They can have these keepsakes immediately.
Keep the services short and simple. I have lived enough of this life, and I am prepared for whatever comes next.
I apologize for not being closer, son. It's my fault, not yours. I think I have something missing in my heart. I gave all my love to Shermy, and there just wasn't much left over, but please know that I was always proud of you, Alex. Don't be too harsh in remembering me. Bless you, and I wish you, Wanda, and your children a long and happy life.
Alex took a long breath. "Thanks, Mom," he whispered. He glanced at the print-out and shook his head, smiling sadly. It was a meticulous inventory of all of Monica's possessions, and at the end was the admonition, "My son Alex will take care of how all these things are disposed of." And her signature.
He stood and went to take care of the things in the safe, as she had asked, and then after a while he set about the trip to the funeral home and the other grim details of the day.
Mabel managed to get Grunkle Stan on the line before he and the others reached the Portland airport, and she gave him the word that she and Dipper were out of school for the day. "It's an excused absence," she said. "I talked to the assistant principal. So let me know what time you'll be landing in Oakland, and we'll pick you up."
The plane landed at 10:45, and Mabel and Dipper waited for their Grunkles and Graunties in baggage claim.
But the first one they saw was Wendy.
"Aw," Dipper said, running toward her. "You came!"
She hugged him and held him tight. She said, "Oh, Dipper, I'm so sorry."
"It's—it's all right," he managed. But then the tears finally came despite all he could do.
A minute later, Ford and Lorena, Stanley and Sheila, showed up. Each one had a bag to claim, as did Wendy. "Hope we can all fit in," Stan said after Mabel had given hugs all around.
"We brought two cars!" Mabel said. "I'm driving Helen Wheels, so I can take, um, eeny, meeny, miney, Stan and Sheila, and my brobro can take Ford and Lorena. And I'm guessing Wendy, too. He's driving Mom's RAV4."
Sheila said, "Kids, we were so sad to hear about your grandmother."
"We'll help in any way we can," added Lorena. "You and your parents are welcome to spend all next week at our house."
"We have plenty of room," Ford added. "Two guest rooms, and then there's—"
"I—think I'd rather sleep in the Shack, if that's OK," Dipper said. "It—it seems like a second home to me."
"That'll be fine," Wendy said. "Abuelita just took off for her winter in Mexico last Wednesday, and Soos and Melody and the kids are gonna be off visiting Melody's family all Thanksgiving week. As Manager, I give you my blessing."
"Yeah, and as half-owner, don't you break nothin' and anything you take, you pay employee's price!" Stan said, but from his expression, Dipper knew he was kidding.
Stan's and Sheila's suitcase showed up first—"How do you have such incredible luck?" Ford asked, and Stan just grinned.
Then Wendy's case, an olive-drab, much-scratched metal job with worn and faded US NAVY decals, popped up. "Where'd you get this?" Dipper asked as he hefted it.
"Inherited it from Dad's uncle. He was a sailor in World War II. Can you carry that thing?"
"Yeah," Dipper said, though admittedly he grunted a little.
Ford said his and Lorena's luggage was no problem—it had wheels—and when it appeared, they all left for the parking lot.
As he loaded the suitcases into the hatch of the RAV4, Wendy said, "Dip, is there anything we could do today to help?"
"Mom may have something," he said. "But if you want to—" he handed her the keys. "I'd rather you drove back."
"Sure," she said with a smile. "Hey, aren't you gonna say it?"
He shook his head. "I know you'll try not to hit any pedestrians."
Mr. Silberman, Junior, conducted Alex to the viewing room. "Your mother left instructions for us to dress her in this clothing," he said. "She didn't mention anything about having a viewing, so—however, we assumed you would wish to see her and say goodbye."
"Thank you," Alex said.
His mother's body lay in a coffin—though Alex understood she would not be cremated in it—and wore a pink dress, not fancy. She looked placid, her white hair neat, and she might have been dreaming. Alex spent a little time with her, and then kissed her forehead. "Goodbye, Mom," he said. "You didn't do so bad, at that. You'd be proud of your grandchildren."
Mr. Silberman had Alex sit in an office and sign the requisite papers. Then he explained the rest of the process: The cremation would take two hours that afternoon. The ashes would be returned to the funeral home and Alex could pick them up even on a Saturday, after two p.m. "Will you want an urn?" Mr. Silberman asked.
"Yes, and—well, I'll fly back to California, so—"
"We can securely package the urn," Silberman said. "We do that all the time. Here, this brochure shows you the various choices."
After a lot of thought, Alex chose one—a bronze one with a Star of David medallion—and Mr. Silberman's assistant, Mr. Myrick asked if it should be engraved. "Can it be ready by tomorrow? Alex asked.
Myrick gave him a card, and he penned an inscription for the urn:
MONICA KAREN CURTISS PINES
BELOVED WIFE, MOTHER, AND GRANDMOTHER
"Is this birthdate correct?" Myrick asked, showing him a card.
"Yes, it is."
"Then we'll add the dates, too, just beneath her name. Do you have any preference as to type font? No? I'll suggest Elegance, which is a beautiful script font."
"That will be fine," Alex said. By that point, he just wanted to get out of there, away from the greenhouse aroma of floral tributes.
He returned to Serene Sunsets and went through Monica's belongings with a woman from the apartment complex office, a young lady named Catherine. Some things could be given to charity, others he asked to be boxed and shipped. Then he handled the shipping and insurance fees. "Is it all right if I stay here tonight?" he asked.
"Of course. The lease isn't up until December first," Catherine said. "You're welcome, if you won't feel—"
"I think it may make me feel closer to her, actually," Alex said. "Thanks. You've been very kind and very helpful."
Catherine smiled sadly. "I lost my Gramma last year about this time," she said. "I kind of know how you and your family feel."
"Thanks again," he told her.
He realized he had skipped lunch, but it was early for dinner. Heck with it. He went out, found a kosher deli—Sherman would have approved, he thought—and had chicken soup, the Israeli salad, and a salmon plate. Though normally he paid little if any attention to dietary laws, this was a special occasion. He needed comfort food.
That evening, he called home and spoke to Ford and Stanley, thanking them for their thoughtfulness. "Mabel and me are plannin' to come to the airport to pick you up tomorrow night," Stan said. "How was it, kid?"
"Rough," Alex admitted.
"Look, Alex," Stanley said. "I'm no good at this kind of stuff, but keep one thought in mind, OK? You're bringin' your Mom back to where she wants to be. A time like this, that's the most you can do. You're showin' your love by doin' it. Don't worry about her. She an' Shermy are gonna be together again. She wouldn't ask more than that."
"You know what, Stan?" Alex asked quietly. "You're wrong. You're very good at this."
That night he slept well.
(November 19, 2016)
On Saturday morning, following a long phone conversation with Alex, Ford and Stan drove to the Beth Shalom Memorial Gardens and in a dark-paneled office they met Rabbi David Lowenstein, who was in his mid-thirties and looked tanned, muscular, and good-humored. They sat with him and arranged the services for Sunday afternoon.
"I'll take care of the announcement," Lowenstein told them. "You're, what, uncles? I thought so—you and Alex resemble each other. I'm afraid I never knew Monica or Sherman, though. Before my time, I guess."
"Yeah, Shermy passed in spring of 2002," Stan said. "He was older'n me and Stanford, but you'd peg him for a Pines. That goofy hair, you know, and the same kinda nose. Red noses run in our family."
The Rabbi instantly chuckled, which won him Stan's respect, anyway. Ford added, "Monica was from the East, and she moved back there about a year after our brother died. She's been very private, and our family respected her privacy—no turmoil, we kept in touch, but she wanted to live her own life, so—" he trailed off, running out of words.
Lowenstein nodded understandingly "Well, I'll get the announcement out this afternoon. How is Alex holding up?"
"He's doing well," Stanford assured the younger man. "He's out in Florida, taking care of the details there. He told us on the phone just now that he's been given copies of the death certificate. He's, um, having her cremated, according to her wishes."
Lowenstein nodded. "That's pretty common in our Temple. I know older people don't like it, it reminds them too much of the horrors of the Second World War, but we're Reform, and it's an acceptable choice. Monica was Jewish by birth?"
"No, Catholic by birth," Stanford said. "She converted when she married Sherman."
"But she was a good Jewish wife and mother," Stan put in. "Which means you gotta counsel Alex some, because he's got the regular load of guilt."
"When it comes to that," Lowenstein said, "all mothers are Jewish mothers! But yes, I'll offer what help I can. Any special instructions?"
Stanford reached inside his jacket and produced an envelope. "Alex telefaxed us his mother's requests regarding the service," he said.
"Very organized woman," Lowenstein said, opening the envelope and scanning the single page inside. "Simple, short, sincere," he said. "This we can handle. Ah—no flowers, donations to the Temple. Very thoughtful of her. She's practically planned out everything."
"Her daughter-in-law musta learned that from her," Stan said. "Wanda's as organized as they come."
"You have to respect that in a woman," Lowenstein said. "Come with me, gentlemen." He walked them to a small auditorium. "This is where we'll say our farewells. Is it adequate?"
"It'll be fine," Stanford said.
Next they went out into the cemetery, a peaceful expanse of green, dotted with trees. Not far from the funeral home building they found Sherman Pines's grave, marked by a handsome marble stone. Beneath the inscription PINES was, on the left, his name, SHERMAN FILBRICK, his dates, and beneath that BELOVED HUSBAND, FATHER, GRANDFATHER. In a plain rectangular tablet under that was the quotation "Blessings upon the head of a righteous man."
The cemetery was well-kept, the stone clean. A row of pebbles ran across the base of the stone, showing that visitors had come to pay their respects. "I didn't think," Stanford said.
Stanley reached in his pocket. "I didn't think you'd think," he said, "so I thought for both of us. Here you go, brother. That's somethin' I picked up that time when we visited Jersey."
Stanford humbly accepted the pebble, one like the ones he and Stanley had left when they visited their parents' graves. "Thank you," he whispered.
"No sweat." Stanley leaned forward and placed his pebble with the others. "Hiya, big brother. Sorry we haven't visited more often. Hey, your beautiful Monica's comin' back to you tomorrow. I guess you were the most righteous of all three of us, so—you deserve those blessings."
Stanford didn't say anything, but quietly placed his pebble, too.
"I assume the ashes are to be buried?" Lowenstein asked.
"Yes," Stanford said. "Alex is having them placed in a bronze urn. It's six inches in diameter at the widest part and ten inches in height."
"Sherman's pre-need arrangements will cover the expense of an urn vault. I'll see to that and also arrange for the excavation," the Rabbi said. "Well, Dr. and Mr. Pines, though it's a sad occasion, it's been a pleasure meeting you. I have Alex's home number, so if anything comes up, I'll call. Otherwise, I will see you tomorrow afternoon at 1:30."
And that was that.
Though Wanda initially protested, Lorena and Sheila cheerfully helped her clean the house. They chatted as they worked, driving Dipper, Mabel, and Wendy out. Dipper suggested going to visit the cemetery, and, though it made her a bit subdued, Mabel agreed that would be nice.
Dipper drove Helen Wheels, with Wendy in shotgun position and Mabel in the back. "How you doin' back there, Mabes?" Wendy asked.
"You know, coming to terms and all," Mabel said. "Mom's told me about our grandmom, things I never knew. She was great at crocheting and knitting. She loved animals. I just—I wish she hadn't moved away when me and Dip were just babies."
"She kind of lives on in you," Dipper said.
"But not so I can tell her goodbye," Mabel murmured.
They reached Beth Shalom not long after Ford and Stan had visited, though they didn't know that. Dipper went to the office—he could never remember quite where the grave was—and came back with a map. They found the stone, and Wendy asked, "What do the pebbles mean?"
"Those are left by friends and family who come to visit," Dipper said. "If I'd thought, we would have brought some."
"We'll bring some tomorrow," Wendy promised.
"There's a lot," Mabel said, counting them. "Nineteen. I guess our granddad had friends who still remember him."
"It's a very peaceful place," Wendy said. "No flowers?"
Dipper shrugged. "Flowers on graves aren't a Jewish custom," he said. "I think it's because ideally the graves for rich and poor are supposed to be alike." He grinned a little. "Of course, if you go in the mausoleum on the other side of the offices, they're really grand! But Dad says he likes this side better."
Mabel said, "We've been here before, and I knew that Grandmom's name was already carved next to Granddad's. I guess we ought to add something?"
"Well, it already says 'Beloved Wife and Mother,'" Wendy said. "So I guess her dates, and then add 'And Grandmother.'"
"And a quote," Dipper said.
"Your granddad's is from Proverbs," Wendy said.
"I didn't know that!" Dipper said.
"Yeah, well, you're a heathen," Wendy said, giving him a teasing elbow-bump. "I dunno, it's probably different in the Jewish Bible, but how about something like 'Her children rise up and call her blessed?' That's also from Proverbs."
"That's it," Mabel said decisively. "I'll tell Dad when we see him again. That's gotta be it."
Saturday brought a stream of visitors—people from the Temple, neighbors, and friends—who came with condolences and offers of help, along with flowers. The Pines family had a great many non-Jewish friends, as it turned out, and the flowers filled the house. Some visitors also brought food. "This is like the old-time Southern funerals my Aunt Sallie talks about," Wendy said. She, Dipper, and Mabel were dressed for company, as were Mom, Lorena, and Sheila.
Ford and Stan—well-dressed and (for Stan) on their best behavior, helped out, too. A dozen of Alex's coworkers and friends from work came by and gave Wanda an announcement that, in Monica's name, they had collected fifteen hundred dollars as a donation to SoloFlights, a charity supporting single mothers. Mr. Solano, who owned the firm where Alex worked, told Wanda that Alex could take the whole week after Thanksgiving as a paid vacation if he needed the time.
Kids from Dipper's and Mabel's high school turned up, offering their condolences. Mabel went for a long walk with two of her bff's, Piedmont branch, and came back saying she felt better and calmer now. "It just helps to know people care," she said.
Wanda nearly broke down in tears as Lorena and Sheila prepared dinner for the family and their guests. "I'm just overwhelmed," she said. "Thank you so much."
"It's family," Sheila said. "We gotta love you. It's in the contract."
"Stan's having an influence on you, Graunty!" Mabel said.
"I hope he is!" she returned brightly.
They gathered around the dinner table, some Jewish, some Protestant, some agnostic, and Stan gruffly said a Hebrew blessing, and then Sheila added, "And one from our side: 'We thank you, Lord, for the food before us, the friends among us, and the love between us.'"
"Yeah," Stan said, grinning, "your guys stole that from us!"
Ford quietly said, "I think the term should be 'share that with us.' And may I add, humbly, 'Amen.'"
Wanda didn't have to do a thing that evening. The elder Pines twins had reserved rooms at the Holcroft, a nice hotel not far away, and Wendy had spoken of going to the Rusty Roof, a not-so-nice motel only blocks away, but Wanda had insisted that she take the guest room. "You're practically a member of the family!" she'd said, hugging Wendy.
"Yeah, sometime in the next two years, Dad will have to add on a nursery," Mabel said. "'Cause Wendy's planning on having twins!"
"Maybe not quite that soon," Wendy said, laughing.
Over Mabel's protests—she'd wanted to drive—Ford and Stan went to the airport on Saturday night to meet Alex's flight in. He showed up not long before midnight, with Stan carrying his overnight bag and Alex a nearly cubic cardboard box.
"Is that her?" Mabel asked.
Alex opened it and showed them the vase—a thing of melancholy beauty, really, with its careful engraving. "Mom was Mom to the end," he said. "She made it so easy for me—everything planned out. Oh, Mabel, Mason, she wanted you to have some little keepsakes."
He opened the overnight bag and took out two small boxes. "For you, Mabel. Mason, this was your great-grandfather's, and now it's yours."
Mabel opened the box and took out the tiara. "Oh," she whispered. "When we were little and we visited her in Florida—she let me wear this. And—all this time—she remembered."
Dipper stared at the gold watch. It had a spring-powered hinged lid that popped open, a face with the hours marked in Roman numerals, an inset dial for a second hand, and inside the case the engraving "West and Central RR, to Alexander Curtiss, 1927." The watch was ticking, the second hand revolving. The box also held a gold watch chain with an engraved fob: Dist. Supt. W&C RR.
"I—this is—thanks, Dad," Dipper stammered.
"Think of your grandmother when you wear these," he said. He stretched. "God, it's good to be home. Now let's get through tomorrow, and we'll be able to leave for Gravity Falls."
Mabel put the tiara on her head and wordlessly hugged Dipper.
"You ready for tomorrow?" he asked her softly.
"Have to be," she said. "This—is harder than I thought."
"It should be, Mabel," Wendy said, embracing both of them. "It hurts, but it'll get better. Just think of her with love."
"Well," Alex said. "Let's get to bed."
No one disagreed.
(November 20, 2016)
From the Journals of Dipper Pines: Sunday, Nov. 20, 6 pm: Every time I look at my Journals, I think "I should update those more often," but Senior year is a busy time, and so much has happened.
Our grandmother died down in Florida, most recently. We had the funeral today. More about that later—it's hard to write about—and first I'm going to catch up on Mabel and her play, because that was a high point.
OK, so Mabel got the role of Eliza Doolittle in the Senior production of My Fair Lady. She was better than good in the role. She was fantastic! And I'm not just saying that. I'd even say it to her face. I might as well because I know she'll sneak a look at my Journal anyhow.
But it came with a price. In the play, the Cockney girl that Mabel played is raucous and wild, and she has to learn to be self-controlled and speak proper English and successfully pose as a Lady.
Eliza in the play works her butt off for her teacher, Professor Higgins. In real life, Mabel ran herself ragged learning the songs, the dances, and the language. She had the lines down like at the second rehearsal. She was the only one "off-book," as she called it. But the rest of it—well, her grades went down a little. Still an A overall, but in two classes she's right on the edge of a B. She says she'll buckle down and bring those grades up by Christmas break.
Oh, and the play ran for three days a week, two weeks in a row, and Mabel got home so pumped up from the performance every night that she could barely sleep at all. That didn't help.
But the worst thing was Trey Moulter. He got cast as Freddy, the young guy who's in love with Eliza. I will refer to my personal Journal 1. There I can find the story of how Trey was Mabel's first boyfriend in Piedmont. He treated her so bad—well, I'm not gonna go there, just make myself mad.
Anyway, he was a total jerk and an a-hole, and she finally got mad and really beat him up. One day when we're out of high school and we're together with Grunkle Stan, I'm going to make Mabel help me tell that story. I know Stan will get a big laugh out of it, especially if Mabel acts it out blow-by-blow!
Well, Trey got the role of Freddy, and he's always held a grudge against Mabel since back then. I have to admit he's got a pretty good voice, he's sort of a low tenor, I guess, and he sang the songs well. But he couldn't hang onto his upper-class British accent, and he kept sounding like a British guy raised by a couple of Valley girls. Like, fer shure.
But he kept making fun of Mabel—not when the director or the music director were close by, but he'd needle her about things. He'd say she was making mistakes when she wasn't, try to make her nervous and all. And he'd make up "funny" lyrics that he wouldn't sing when any of the teachers could hear him. In that one where Freddy says he's often walked on that street before, old Trey threw in a change-up: "But I've never ever met a Cockney girl before." Except instead of "girl," it would be the wh- word that rhymes with "door." Very mature stuff, right?
Mabel finally got Diana, one of her friends in the cast, to secretly record Trey singing that and then they accidentally (on purpose) let Mr. LeCroix, the music director, hear Trey's "improved" lyrics. He took Trey aside and Mabel says he must have given Trey holy hell (what a concept) because for the rest of the time Trey behaved, more or less. But I saw the show twice, and both times whenever Trey came onstage, you could feel the energy just go down.
But Higgins and his friend Pickering and Mabel were excellent, and the kids and parents loved the show. Wendy wanted to come, but because of work and her college classes—she had a big exam and a couple of papers she had to finish—she just couldn't swing it. Mabel arranged to have a (probably not legal) recording made, though, so Wendy did get to see that.
Oh, Mabel's looked at the projected fall 2017 schedule of the Redwood Town 'N Gown Players, a community theater group made up of just ordinary folks plus students from both Western and Olmsted, and she says she's going to try out for Avenue Q when we start college next fall. I don't know what that is, but she says it's a cute musical show with puppets, so I know it'll be charming.
All right, caught up with that. Right now we're all—our Grunkles and Graunties, Mom and Dad, Mabel, me and Wendy—aboard an airplane heading for Portland. Grunkle Stan actually bought the tickets for everybody. He said it was his gift in lieu of flowers, but I know he and Ford also contributed to our grandmother's charities.
So. The little chapel—I guess it's not a chapel, really, the auditorium—at the funeral home was just full of people—Mabel's friends, even a couple of guys from the track team and Coach Dinson, three of our teachers, a bunch of people who work with Dad, members of Mom's women's group and some of her friends, and one really nice old couple who flew all the way from Orlando. They were grandmother's next-door neighbors in her apartment house, and they said they came as representatives of all of her friends.
Rabbi Lowenstein said the prayers and gave grandmother a nice eulogy. Dad and Mom both cried, and Mabel, and when I saw a tear running down Wendy's cheek, I lost it and cried, too.
But the rabbi said that grief was right, it was normal, it was God's gift to us so we could say farewell to loved ones, get through the pain, and then go on with only the happy memories. Ford, who had been the closest to our grandfather, had given Rabbi Lowenstein a few things to say. I didn't know most of them.
He said that our grandfather left home early, working at first as an apprentice to a watch repairman. But he wanted to better himself, so he went to night school, studying electronics, and met Monica Curtiss there, who was studying to be a legal secretary. They fell in love and married young. Both families didn't fully approve, but Monica and Sherman were happy together for nearly fifty years.
They both wanted children, and Dad came along and the birthing problems made Monica barren. Alex Pines had grown up an only child. The Rabbi spoke of how Dad remembered her—a good cook, a conscientious wife, and a companion who encouraged granddad to go into partnership with a friend of his. Their electronics-repair shop prospered, and she was his right-hand woman, keeping the books and negotiating the contracts.
I had not known any of that.
Then when granddad died, grandmother felt lonely for her family. Her older brother and his wife had retired to Florida, and she went to live near them. Now all three of them had passed away, and as she'd always planned, Monica had come home to Sherman.
The whole service was only about an hour. And then we spent some time accepting the well-wishes of all those friends. Coach Dinson came and asked, "How are you holding up, Dipper?"
I told him it was sort of rough, but I was OK. He squeezed my shoulder. "You're going to be a fine man," he said.
So. Just the family went to the grave site, where they had dug this incredibly neat square hole in the plot next to our granddad's grave. They put the urn in a purple velvet bag and then into a stone vault and lowered that down. Dad said a few words and thanked Stan, Ford, and Sheila and Lorena for coming. He also thanked Wendy—"I'm glad she can see what kind of a family she's getting into," he said. "Right now I think she's giving us the best of the deal."
Stan said, "Well, Sixer here didn't pay attention so good in Hebrew school, so if God don't mind hearing from an atheist—"
And from memory he recited a prayer in Hebrew, five times breaking into English to tell everyone, "And say 'Amen.'" Ford stood next to him and put his arm around Stan's shoulders and wept.
Then Dad thanked the rabbi, and he gave him our contact information for the next week. Dad says our group doesn't take shiva as mandatory as the Orthodox do, but we do plan to spend time each evening remembering grandmother.
So that's over, and Monica and Sherman Pines are together for all of eternity. I think it helped a lot. I have a sense of closure.
Mabel is sitting next to me. I'm in the middle seat, Wendy is to my right at the window. Mabel asked, "Do you remember that time-travel thing where we were in the hospital on the day we were born?"
I nodded and made a little shushing sound. Strangers were sitting right in front of us.
She got what I meant and said, "I mean, the time we saw our grandfather. I wish I'd taken a better look at him then. Got to know him better."
"Me, too," I said.
"So," Mabel said, "let's make a deal, OK? We won't drift away from Mom and Dad or each other. Or our Grunkles and Graunties. Somehow—more than ever—now I know what family means."
"That's mature, Mabes," Wendy said softly.
"Yeah." Mabel smiled, sort of sadly. "I made a deal with myself, too. From now on, I'm going to be very mature and sensible. One day every week."
"Well," I said, "that's progress."
She blew a raspberry, irritating the guy riding just in front of her. "Sorry,' she told him. "This week, my day's next Saturday."
(November 21, 2016)
"You feel like it, Dip?" Wendy asked on Monday morning.
"I've been looking forward to it since September," he said as he tied his running shoes.
"OK," his Lumberjack Girl said. "It's gonna be a lot colder than you're used to. Track pants, sweatshirt, knit cap, gloves."
"I didn't bring gloves," he said.
"No sweat, I got an extra pair here you can borrow. They're just lightweight knit, but they'll keep your fingers from freezing off."
It was getting close to nine a.m. That was a lot later than Dipper normally slept, but being back in the attic bedroom of the Shack, getting over the strain of the weekend, had plunged him deep into slumber, and Wendy had let him sleep.
She was staying down in the guest room—Mabel's normal room in the summers—but that night when Dipper was already dreaming, she came up quietly to the attic and slept in Mabel's old bed from their first summer in Gravity Falls, back in 2012.
She hadn't wakened him, not even with a kiss. That morning, with the sun shining in through the triangular window, he woke up on his own, stretched, and said, "Glad to be back, Shack."
Wendy had chuckled, startling him. "Morning, Dip!"
"Whoa, I didn't know you were over there!" he said, sitting up. The Shack had been pretty cold the day before—Wendy had turned the heat way down for her trip to Piedmont, and it was still warming up—so he lay under a blanket and a thick quilt. "Um, I'm just in my underwear," he said.
She got out of bed, wearing long flannel pajamas, green, of course. "You ought to dress for the weather," she said. "Man, the floor's still cold! Scoot over."
He made room for her.
Wendy climbed under the covers with him. "Place will be warming up soon," she said. "Soos put in one of those programmable thermostats, so it'll heat up to 68 before long. Meanwhile, this is nice and warm."
"Yipe!" he said.
"Just warmin' my feet, dude. Feels good. Let's share the warmth, man." They cuddled for a little while before Wendy had asked the big question: "Wanna go running?"
And that's where they were as of 8:50 that morning. Dipper had bundled up, toboggan hat, heavy gray track pants and sweatshirt and gloves and all, but when they stepped out onto the lawn, he gasped. "It is cold!" he said.
"Twenty-eight," Wendy said. She wore a black sweatshirt and gray track pants, together with a red toboggan cap—except she called it a toque, the Canadian term—that Mabel had knitted for her. She exhaled, and her breath came out in a cloud slivered by the sun. "Pretty cold, still. You want to call it off?"
"No, we're dressed out and the sun's shining, so—let's do it."
"Nature trail," Wendy said. "Take it slow. You don't want to frost your lungs."
"Is that even a thing?" he asked.
She chuckled. "Who knows? My dad always warns me to be careful so it doesn't happen. Let's stretch out."
They did, and then they set off at an easy lope down the Mystery Trail. The chilly air stung Dipper's cheeks and nose at first, but he began to feel warmer from the exertion.
The tall grass alongside the trail had yellowed and now sparkled in the sun, glazed with frost. "Won't see any Gnomes today," Wendy told him as they passed the bonfire clearing. "Jeff and his Council decided that the day the Shack closed for the winter was the day they closed up their homes, too, so last week they made the move to their winter digs."
Dipper knew the last word was meant literally. Once the Gnomes had spent hard winters above ground, sheltering wherever they could—usually in the thick boughs of fir and pine trees—and often going hungry, but they had learned that if they dug shallow tunnels, just beneath the frost line, they could stay warm and the Mole Men from deep underground wouldn't detect or attack them.
That made Gnome survival easier. Now they could store food in underground larders—on the surface it froze and spoiled, or the more aggressive forest animals would steal from them—and make it comfortably through to the spring thaw.
Not that none of them ever came up to the surface in winter—it wasn't unusual to see them downtown on mild days—but now they could be with their families and rest during the coldest months instead of scrambling to steal and forage food just to keep them all from starving.
Though the Gnomes were absent, Dipper and Wendy glimpsed other denizens of the Valley. As they neared the Talking Rock, allegedly a relic of Native American art (and actually mostly an example of Grunkle Stan's handiwork), they saw a hawk circling far overhead, probably on the lookout for any rabbits that had missed the dawn curfew. "That's a rough-legged hawk," Wendy said. "They hang around all winter."
When they reached the summit of a high hill, Wendy stopped again and reached out to stop Dipper, too. "Dip! Look way over there—the mountain, see it?"
He could see it, a distant conical green shape with trees and stones interspersed on its slopes. "What about it?"
"OK, see the patch of white-gray rock there? Watch it. There, see that moving thing?"
Yes, squinting he made out a dark something moving up the slope. It might have been man-sized or larger, he couldn't tell. "What is it?"
"Black bear. Probably scavenging a few last meals before going into hibernation. That's Beehive Hill. Dad says it's called that 'cause it's got lots of shallow caves in it. Bears love to den up in 'em. But I've also heard the name people gave the mountain is 'cause in pioneer days it had lots of hollow trees that bees made hives in. That's how the Valley honey business got its start—the pioneers raided the mountain not just for honey, but for the queen bees, and domesticated them."
They resumed their run, never going full-tilt, but keeping up a pace that warmed them. They doubled back before reaching the meadows with the Lonely Man standing stone and Moon Trap Pond. They had run for twenty-five minutes. It was still chilly, and Wendy said, "Don't want to make you sick on your first day here."
They eased up on the way back to the Shack and walked the last quarter-mile. In the morning sunlight, Dipper saw that Soos had buttoned down everything for the winter—the tram and golf cart had been stored under the shed Soos had built a little way behind the Shack, back in the trees. The pig sty stood empty, because Widdles and Waddles were spending the winter with Wendy's Aunt Sallie, where they'd have a heated sty and plenty of company. The only cars in the lot were Wendy's forest-green Dodge Dart and Soos's brown pick-up truck with the extended cab—he'd bungee-strapped a heavy tarp to protect it from the weather.
"Little bit strange for the place to be so deserted," Dipper said.
"I know, right?" Wendy said. "It's kinda creepy sometimes at night when I'm staying here on my own. I'm not scared or anything, but the whole place creaks and settles, and sometimes I could swear I hear whispering."
They went inside—the heat had definitely come on—and as he tugged off his cap and gloves, Dipper asked, "Are you sleeping up in the attic?"
She grinned. "In your bed," she said. "Where else?"
"The whispering's the Invisible Wizard," Dipper told her. "He either lives in the closet or he's stuck in there. He's not a ghost, but for some reason he won't communicate. But Mabel and I figured out he was in there. Remember how my shoes always came untied? That was his doing. And Mabel says one time during a sleepover, Grenda went in there and kept kissing him."
"Invisible, huh? Have you, like, felt for him?" Wendy asked.
"Nothing to feel. Grunkle Ford doesn't think it can really affect us."
"Right. In the Journal, he wrote that he could dimly make it out with night-vision goggles, and it looked like a handsome wizard wearing robes. But Fiddleford invented a viewer that showed it was this sort of grotesque starfish-shaped dude standing on two of its points with real tiny hands at the end of the arms. Ford believes it might be a refugee from Bill Cipher's Nightmare Realm, not a henchmaniac. It doesn't seem hostile, and it's not in our reality far enough to affect us. It may be a recluse or it may just be lonely. Anyway, it's not a human ghost, because nobody's died in the Shack. And Ford had it built originally—well, you know, your dad did the construction."
"Yeah, that was the first time Dad ever built a house all on his own," Wendy said, patting the parlor wall. "One for somebody else that he got paid for, I mean, he'd built our place, but he had a crew of ten to help with that. Constructing Ford's house all by himself took a year, even though it wasn't real fancy. Ford had spent, like, hundreds of thousands of dollars on having that huge cellar excavated, and all that was already done with a concrete shell around the whole thing when Dad started on the surface construction. He said the concrete made a good foundation, and he framed in and finished the house all by himself, no help from anybody. Ford wanted it that way, 'cause he was a little bit paranoid about letting people know much about the place."
"Wow," Dipper said.
"Only thing, they did get a stonemason to come in for the fireplace and chimney biz." Wendy reached down to the waistband of her sweatshirt and peeled it off over her head, shaking out her hair. "More comfortable in here now."
"For you, maybe," Dipper said, his gaze glued on her.
Standing there in her pale-green bra, Wendy laughed. "Dude, you've seen me in a lot less than this! I'm gonna take my shower in the downstairs bathroom. You can have the attic. Unless you maybe want to—?"
"Thanks for the invitation," Dipper said. "I guess even Mom wouldn't have a heart attack if we, you know, went ahead now that we're engaged, but . . . it would feel wrong to me. We did promise each other. I want the first time to be special and worth waiting for."
She kissed him. "Yeah. You're right. Be a shame to quit runnin' when we're so close to the finish line. OK, you got fifteen minutes to shower and dress, and then—breakfast!"
Dipper took a hot, steamy shower, all alone.
And the whole time he kept thinking, I'm sorry I brought up the promise!
At ten, finally, Dipper and Wendy drove to Greasy's Diner and ordered the pancake breakfast. "Might as well not have run at all," Wendy said as she munched. "But we can run harder tomorrow and make up for it. Hey, look who's comin' in—Hi, guys!"
Manly Dan and Wendy's two younger brothers strode through the doorway. Wendy moved over to Dipper's side of the booth, they scrunched close together, and Dan and one boy crowded on the opposite bench, while the smaller of the two Corduroy boys sat on the outside next to Wendy.
"Everything OK at the Shack?" rumbled Dan. Lazy Susan was stacking a couple of trays—Dan had a regular order and unless he bawled out a desire for a change as he came into the diner, the breakfast was always the same, pancakes and scrambled eggs and ham with red-eye gravy.
"Fine," Wendy said. "Dipper stayed over last night."
"Did you behave yourselves?" asked one of Wendy's brothers mischievously.
"None of your business," Wendy told him sharply. "But for the record—yeah, we behaved. Nobody was in the mood to misbehave. Remember, we came in after a funeral, guys."
Dan glanced at Dipper. "Yeah, Wendy told us last Friday about your losin' your grandma. Me and the boys are sorry, Dipper." The two Corduroy boys looked embarrassed and a little intimidated. They, too, mumbled condolences.
"Thanks," Dipper said. "She went peacefully, they told us. It's hard on Dad and I think Mabel's been more upset than she shows, but—you know, Grandmother Pines was old and said she was ready."
The enormous quantities of food came, and the male Corduroys made short work of it. "Me an' the boys are goin' over to Chinook to scout out a new camping' area for Apocalypse Training," Dan said as he gobbled his way through pancakes, ham, and eggs. "Want to come along?"
"I've been there plenty times already," Wendy said. "No, thanks. Anyway, there's some stuff to do around the Shack, dust cloths for the merchandise, storing some things, stuff like that. Me and Dipper are gonna work on it. This afternoon I'm driving Mabel up to Aunt Sallie's so she can visit her pigs and Gompers."
"Gompers?" Dan asked. "Oh, yeah, right, the goat that had that weird kid that he fathered on that mountain sheep. It gives me the willies."
"'Cause it's so small and it follows you around and stares at you," one of the boys said.
"With them yellery-orange eyes," agreed Dan with a shudder.
"Aw, come on," Wendy said, grinning. "Geepster's cute!"
"Yeah, but it's like that there weird panda-bear duck toy you have," Dan said. "Just don't look natural."
"Mabel's got a strong tolerance for strangeness," Dipper said.
The guys had made all their food disappear. Dan pulled out a roll of bills—he didn't carry a wallet usually—and peeled off a twenty and three tens. "That's got your bill, too," he said. "Dipper, you and the family come and visit us. We'll be home Wednesday, but then on Thursday there's th' big Corduroy family get-together at Cousin Walter's this year, outside of th' Valley. I'd invite you, but generally there's some wounds to stitch up and busted bones to set, and I don't want that you get stove up here before Christmas time. Also, it ain't my house."
"That's all right," Dipper said. "We're all having a Thanksgiving dinner at Grunkle Ford's. Wendy's invited, if she wants to come."
"Up to you, gal," Dan said.
Wendy leaned across and patted his big hand. "Aw, Dad—I wouldn't miss this Thanksgiving with our family for the world. Next year this time, I'll be a married lady!"
Dan blinked. "Got some pancake flour in my eye," he muttered. "See you around, Dipper. Boys! Let's get a move on!"
They hustled out, and Dipper took a look at the check. "Huh. Theirs was twenty-one dollars, and ours is just ten. That's a big tip!"
"Dad always tips big beginnin' Thanksgiving week," Wendy said. "His way of recognizing the holidays, I guess. It's OK. 'Bye, Susan! It was scrumptious!"
"You're welcome!" Lazy Susan said cheerfully.
As they left, Dipper said, "I never thought of it, but Geepster's eyes, and Gompers's too, both look like you-know-who's eye. Pupil just a slit, and when Bill Cipher changed color into, I guess, negative mode and his body turned jet-black, the white of his eye looked yellow, too, just like Geepster's."
"Yeah, Dad still has nightmares about Bill," Wendy said. "I haven't mentioned Billy Sheaffer to him yet."
"Hold off on it," Dipper said. "He and his family are off somewhere for Thanksgiving week, and when they get back Mabel really has to have a talk with him about his crush. Will you talk to her about that?"
"Glad to," Wendy said.
"Good," Dipper told her. "When it comes to letting a guy down easy, you're the best."
"Glad it didn't take the last time I did it, though," Wendy said, reaching to hold his hand as they walked back to the car.
They spent the rest of the morning getting the gift shop ready for the winter. Mabel walked up the hill from Grunkle Ford's house, and they stored a lot of the dust-prone souvenirs—plush toys, things like that—in big plastic bags in the staff room. The other stuff and the shelves they just draped in dust covers. In the early afternoon, Wendy slapped her hands together. "There. I now declare the Mystery Shack officially closed until April first! Want to have lunch, or drive straight up to Aunt Sallie's?"
"Can't we do both at once?" Mabel asked.
Neither Dipper nor Wendy was hungry yet, but at Mabel's request they drove through Los Hermanos Brothers for a take-out order of three tacos and a Pitt cola for her.
She sat in the back seat and happily crunched down. "Funny," she said, "these aren't the best tacos in the world, and I wouldn't want them all of the time, but every now and then I get such a craving for 'em!"
"I know, right?" Wendy asked. "With me it's the Burger Pit in Portland. Really run-down place where they serve these little teeny burgers, sort of sliders, you get five for like two bucks, and they're not all that good, but sometimes when we're over that way, I just gotta have me some. And that one time lasts me for maybe a year or more!"
They made the drive northward with Mabel polishing off her lunch and all of them talking about guilty-pleasure food places—Dipper's was this strange Bay Area restaurant where you could get a macaroni-and-cheese taco with hot sauce and sour cream—and laughing and enjoying each other's company.
The afternoon looked great, clear and not all that cold, warming up into the fifties. Dipper resolved to enjoy it while he could. Later that evening Dipper and Mabel, and Wendy, if she wanted to come, planned to sit in Ford and Lorena's living room looking at Pines family photos and reminiscing with the rest of the family. It would, Dipper knew, make him feel sad again.
But beyond the sadness, he knew life would go on.
And right at that moment, with Wendy at his side and his sister Mabel giggling and making silly comments behind him, life felt sweet and good.
(November 22, 2016)
Tuesday morning, Mabel kept trying to sort out her feelings. Sad: The family had spent the evening before looking at old photo albums and even some old home movies (though they were really videos, since Alex had digitized these a couple of years back). She had seen photos of Monica Pines before, but they had all been taken later in her grandmother's life.
Now she saw Monica in old black-and-white Polaroids as a teen, sitting in a swing while a young guy who resembled Dipper—well, maybe a twenty-year-old Dipper—pushed her. Then there was a faded color family snapshot, taken in what looked like a cluttered but cozy apartment, with Filbrick and his wife Caryn sitting on a red sofa, with two young boys—Stanford and Stanley—kneeling in front of them and Sherman and Monica, both of them somewhere in their early twenties, standing behind them.
Mabel studied her great-grandparents. Filbrick wore sunglasses and a brown fedora, even indoors, apparently. He resembled the present-day Ford and Stan, but he had a little double chin and a grumpy expression as he sat with his arms folded across his broad chest, as if being photographed under protest. Beside him, Caryn Pines, in a red dress and with her dark hair in a kind of beehive, did at least smile in the direction of the camera.
Stanford, in front of his father's knees, smiled shyly, closed mouth, no teeth. Stanley, in front of his mother, had a broad grin that revealed missing baby teeth. He had also crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue.
Sherman Pines, who again resembled Stan and Ford—though much thinner, rather frail-looking even in his youth, stood with his left arm around a beautiful Monica. She'd reached across, and his right hand was holding her left. They were looking more at each other than at the camera, and they appeared deeply in love, Sherman in a brown suit that seemed to be baggy on him, as if he'd been sick and had lost weight, and Monica in a light blue and white gingham-checked dress.
"She's really pretty," Mabel said.
"Yeah," Stan said wistfully. "Me and Ford both had a huge crush on her. But we got over that quick."
"How?" Mabel asked, tilting her head, eager for information on that very subject.
Stan laughed. "Shermy whaled the tar outa both of us for wolf-whistling at her out on the front stoop!"
"What's that?" Mabel asked.
"Aw, for cryin'—don't guys whistle at girls any more? It's a wordless way of tellin' a girl you think she's hot. Like this." Stan put two fingers in his mouth and gave a sharp, shrill WHEET-Whee-ew! whistle.
"Whoa!" Dipper said, wincing. He was sitting right beside Stan.
Sheila nudged Stan. "I better not hear you doing that for any other girls," she warned, "Or I'll whale the tar out of you!"
"First time I've done it in thirty-odd years," Stan said with a grin. "And it was for you, babe! I've hung up my whistle—'cept for you!" They kissed, and Alex and Wanda discreetly turned a page in the photo album.
"Whaling the tar" wasn't exactly a big help in Mabel's situation with little Billy. There were lots more photos and some movies, lots of reminiscences from Alex and Stan and Ford. They got a little misty-eyed sometimes, and they laughed at some memory at other times. The session left Mabel feeling that she knew a little more about her grandfather and grandmother—but somewhat sad.
So that was one thing.
On the other hand, Teek and his family would be back from Indiana later that day. She had texted him when they got the news about Monica's passing back on Thursday, not knowing that he and his folks had gone out to Hawkins, a small town in central Indiana, to visit his uncles and aunts in a pre-Thanksgiving family reunion.
He had face-timed with her, agonizing because he couldn't be there for her, and had promised to see her somehow over the Thanksgiving break. When it turned out that the Pines family could, after all, travel up to Gravity Falls, Teek had made a date with her for that afternoon. That perked her up. She had missed him badly and wanted to show him the, um, unofficial video of the Piedmont High production of My Fair Lady, though admittedly the sound wasn't as good as she might have wished. But still.
And that was another, happier thing.
After breakfast, she walked up to the Shack and Wendy and Dipper, just back from another chilly morning run, met her and she had a moderate second breakfast with them—Wendy made some delicious hot chocolate, not from a mix but from scratch, with a peppermint candy melted into it, yum! And Dipper and Wendy had eggs, toast, and turkey bacon. Mabel contented herself with one slice of bacon and one piece of toast.
After breakfast, they sat on the sofa and Dipper got out his laptop—Mabel had suggested checking in with Tripper and had taken out her phone, but Dipper's idea was better, bigger picture—and he logged onto the Pacific Animal Daycare Service—P.A.D.S.—and went to the live-stream cameras.
"There he is!" Mabel said, bouncing on the sofa. Their little short-haired brown buddy raced around the doggy play yard with three other dogs his size, joyfully leaping over barriers and occasionally pretend-wrestling with one of his canine pals.
"See if he can hear us!" Mabel said.
Dipper clicked on the microphone icon. They instantly heard the dogs' yips and barks. Dipper waited until Tripper sped toward the camera location, then said, "Tripper! Here, boy!"
Tripper practically skidded to a halt. His head came around, sharp ears straight up as he zeroed in on the camera. He came to within only a few feet of it and sat looking into it expectantly.
"Hi, Tripper!" Mabel said. "This is me, Mabel!"
Their dog raised his hindquarters so he could wag more enthusiastically. He yapped a greeting.
"OK, boy, sit!" Mabel said.
"Are you having fun?" she asked him.
He raised his right paw and tapped once. That meant yes.
"Do you miss me and Dipper?"
Another single tap, and an appealing little whine.
"We miss you, too! Listen, this is Tuesday morning. Tuesday. Let's see if you remember. We'll be back home and we'll come to get you late on Saturday. Saturday before the sun goes down. OK, how many days is that?"
Tipper tilted his head and seemed to frown in concentration. Then he tapped five times.
"Whoa," Wendy said. "You told me he was smart, but that's—"
"That's a Gravity Falls dog!" Dipper said proudly.
"OK," Mabel said. "You remember, in five days we'll see you again. Five. Now every morning when you have breakfast, you tap your foot and count them down. Tomorrow there'll be four days. And then the next day, three. And then two. And then one. Can you remember that?"
Tripper tapped yes.
"Good dog!" she said. "OK, I'll check in with you again tomorrow and see if you remember. Now go play! Have fun!"
Tripper stood on his hind legs and waved both paws, then re-joined the dog-pack race.
"I wish I could show him pictures," Mabel said. "He'd like to see the ones I took of the Shack, and he'd know where we are."
"What are your parents doing today?" Wendy asked.
"Oh, Stan and Sheila are gonna drive them over to Mount Hood. There's like a museum and an alpine village and stuff they want to see. I don't think they're going skiing."
"Probably not," Wendy said. "We haven't had much snow so far. Just flurries last night."
"It snowed?" Mabel asked.
"Not much," Wendy told her. "Grass wasn't even white. But when I first got up and looked out, some snow was blowing around. Gonna get up into the forties today, so what little fell won't be here long. Weathermen say we might have a better chance in December, so when you guys come up for Christmas Break, I may teach you to ski."
"Wait," Dipper said. "You can ski?"
She looked at him. "Well, yeah, dude! You never picked up on that?"
"No," he said. "I never saw any skis in your house or—anything."
"Don't you remember that first Christmas when you guys came up and the Gnomes were stealin' stuff? They took our ski poles, remember?"
"But we were using them with snowshoes," Dipper said. "I didn't see skis."
"'Cause Dad and my brothers had taken them with them on their camp trip that time. And off-season, we store them under the house," Wendy said. "Yeah, I can ski. I'm not great, now. But skiing was part of Dad's Apocalypse Training every year. You guys can learn enough to go down a bunny slope."
"Bunnies?" Mabel asked excitedly.
"Not live ones," Wendy said. "Bunny slope just means a gentle ski slope, not real challenging. Everybody starts out on one. Maybe we could go a couple of days if we get some snow. I know some hills that would be good for that."
"I'll probably break my leg and miss out on track season," Dipper said.
Mabel nudged him. "No, you won't! Don't be such a Pessimistic Pete!"
"Pessimistic Pete?" he asked.
"You know what I mean. What time is it? Ten?"
"Little past," Wendy said. "About three or four minutes after ten."
Mabel subsided onto the sofa. "Rats! Teek probably can't get here until sometime after two."
"Where's he been?" Wendy asked her.
"Some dinky little town in Indiana. Hawkins, I think it is. He's got family there, and they had this reunion, so he was gone from last Wednesday until today." She sighed. "He tried to help me over Grandmom's dying as much as he could by texting and face-timing, but I want a Teek hug. I can't wait." She tossed her head back on the sofa. "Oh, hurry up, Teek!" Then she said, "He told me they saw a couple of strange things out there."
"I'll bet we have stranger things in the Valley," Dipper said.
"No contest," Wendy agreed. "Hey, you started to tell me about Stan and Ford conditioning your parents. What did you mean?"
Dipper started to answer, but Mabel cut in: "It was my idea. See, when you and Dip get married, and then when Teek and I finally do—augh! Come back Teek, I need you!—Mom and Dad are obviously gonna get to know more about Gravity Falls and all. Well, now we're old enough so they won't forbid us from coming up just 'cause we run into things like demons and ghosts and monsters. So gradually, Ford and Stan are going to let Mom and Dad in on some of the strangeness around here."
"Jeff and Shmebulock are going to visit us after Thanksgiving dinner," Dipper said. "Stan arranged that. The Gnomes are grateful for the leftovers, and there'll be lots of them. And Jeff is going to tell Mom and Dad the truth—the Gnomes aren't really the descendants of circus performers, but a whole different race of, um, not humans, but humanoids. Jeff will put them at ease. I mean, he can be pretty reasonable and clear when he wants—he still drives me crazy sometimes by being so literal, but that may be deliberate. Anyway, he'll tell them just enough to get them used to the idea."
"Yeah, we're starting small," Mabel said. "See what I did there? Gnomes? Small?"
"They're . . . not gonna tell your mom and dad that they once kidnapped you when you were twelve and tried to force you to marry a thousand of them all at once, are they?" Wendy asked.
"Pffbtt! No. That's all water under the dam," Mabel said.
"Over the dam, under the bridge," Dipper corrected.
"To Grandmother's house we go!" Mabel sang. She instantly grimaced. "Sorry. That was in bad taste, considering what happened. I didn't mean—"
"It's OK," Wendy said. "I think Monica would've smiled to hear that."
"We looked at all these photos last night, remembering," Mabel told her. "This evening, Stan and Ford are gonna read some from letters their parents got from Granddad over the years. They were in storage out in—what's the place where they grew up?"
"Glass Shard Beach, New Jersey," Dipper said.
"Yeah, and our Grunkles visited there and got the letters and some pictures and stuff from one of their cousins. Anyway, there's a few dozen letters, and we're gonna remember Granddad and Grandmom by listening to some of them."
"Is it helping?" Wendy asked.
"Yeah, it is," Mabel said. "I feel like I'm finally getting to know them a little."
"Me, too," Dipper said. "I guess the shiva idea works."
Mabel hung out at the Shack, had lunch with Dipper and Wendy, and then at about fifteen minutes past two, she jumped up from the sofa—they had been watching The Wild Northwest, a nature documentary show—and yelled, "I hear Teek's car!"
She ran to the gift-shop door, threw it open, saw Teek just getting out of his silver Focus, and leaped off the porch, sped across the lawn, and jumped into his arms, wrapping her arms and legs around him.
Teek staggered from the impact, but somehow he didn't fall. Mabel put her feet on the ground and hugged Teek fiercely, and his first words were, "I'm so sorry—"
"Sorry later," she gasped. "Right now, this!"
Watching from the gift-shop doorway, Wendy whispered to Dipper, "Oh, man! I think you and me just slipped to second place in the passionate kiss competition!"
"We'll train for the playoffs," he told her quietly.
But they didn't laugh or tease when Teek and Mabel came inside. Mabel had needed that kiss. And it looked as if Teek, though a little dazed, had needed it too.
(November 23, 2016)
Wednesday dawned cold again, and once more Wendy and Dipper did a truncated run, a little over thirty minutes. The afternoon before, on their way back from Wendy's aunt's farm (Waddles and Widdles were overjoyed to greet Mabel, and Gompers the goat stood beside his strange, small offspring Geepers and stared at them stoically), Dipper had Wendy stop at a department store.
He purchased not only gloves, but a ski mask to help keep his face warm. They helped, but after seventeen minutes of running in 25-degree weather, he gladly agreed when Wendy said, "Let's turn back. This wind's fierce."
It was a blustery, breezy day, and in the Shack, Wendy overrode the thermostat to make the place feel a little more comfortable. Dipper suggested starting a fire in the big fireplace, so they hauled in some wood, took kindling from the wooden box beside the hearth, and soon had a crackling fire going.
Fires are romantic and all, but they have one disadvantage: Like the planet Mercury, one side of you is always hot, the other always cold. But it was nice after breakfast to sit on a sofa they'd scooted a little closer to the fireplace and just snuggle and occasionally kiss and share their thoughts.
"Granddad Shermy really struggled for a while," Dipper told Wendy. "Ford read us some of his letters from right after he and Monica moved out to California. The first year, they didn't even live close to Oakland, where he worked, but in a crummy little rental house in Livermore. It had a living room/kitchenette combo, a bedroom, and a tiny bathroom with just a shower, no tub. But it was all they could afford."
"Hey," Wendy said, "if a couple's in love, they don't need a whole lot, am I right?"
"I guess so," Dipper said. "Shermy seemed happy enough in the letters, and he never complained or asked for money or anything. I saw some of the envelopes. They were all addressed to 'Mom and Dad Pines' in Glass Shard Beach. Mabel's guess is that Caryn read them, but Filbrick didn't."
"He's the one with the grudge, huh?"
"Yeah. Great-granddad had a knack of chasing off their kids. A few years after Shermy and Monica had moved to California, he threw Stan out of the house."
"Mm, yeah, he told me stories of how his dad wanted him not to come home until he'd made like a zillion dollars. And you've told me about the fight between Stan and Ford."
"Not so much a fight as a falling-out," Dipper said. "When it all blew up, Stan was most hurt because Ford didn't take his side against their dad. He didn't even have a high-school diploma, and he floundered a little before he became a traveling salesman."
"Term he used with me," Wendy said, "was 'grifter.' What's that mean, exactly?"
"Con artist," Dipper said. "A guy who makes his living by finding gullible people and swindling them."
"Yeah, Stan's good at that," Wendy agreed. "But he said he was going nowhere when Ford sent him a letter asking him to come to Gravity Falls."
"Funny," Dipper said. "Stan could sell anything, but he had to keep on the move because the stuff he sold was junk, and people would chase him down to get their money back. He wasn't really successful at anything until Ford disappeared and Stan took his place and turned this house into a tourist trap."
"Yeah, he made lots of money doing that," Wendy said. "Know what? I think the key was that when he was running the Shack, Stan had a real goal in mind—not earning a zillion dollars, but getting Ford back through the Portal. He always had the talent; he just needed the goal."
"I think you're right," agreed Dipper. "Maybe that's when his luck changed for the better. Though Grunkle Ford still suspects there's something paranormal about that. I've heard him tell Stan, 'It baffles me how preternaturally lucky you are.'"
"Dude, I've gotta work on my vocabulary. 'Preternaturally?' Is that like 'supernaturally?'"
"Not as extreme," Dipper said. "It means 'beyond the normal limits,' but it's not, you know, ghosty and woooooo."
Wendy laughed. "A succinct definition! How was that?"
"Perfect," Dipper said.
"So what are your folks doing today?"
"Well, Grunkle Ford and Grunkle Stan are driving them around outside the Valley. Ford's going to give them a tour through the Institute, and then they're going to look at waterfalls. Kind of cold for sight-seeing, but they'll be entertained. Mabel's over with Teek and his family. They're going to watch the Senior play video together."
"When do I get to see it?" she asked. "I hated missing the performances, but I just couldn't work the time in. I had this monster botany report to finish, and an essay for my lit class, and Soos was pushing hard to get the Shack ready for closing, 'cause he and his family were planning to fly down to Mexico. They're gonna be there until after New Year's, so when you and Mabes come back for Christmas break, we'll have the Shack all to ourselves."
"Are we going over to visit your folks?"
"Depends," Wendy said. "I left instructions for what the guys needed to do to clean up and tidy up. Come noon, I'll run over there for an inspection, and if they pass, yeah, your dad and mom can come over this afternoon."
"Cool," Dipper said.
Many, many months before, Wendy had at last had it with her slobs of a dad and brothers, and she'd laid down the law about sharing the housework. She told Dipper it wasn't easy, and the guys still tended to backslide unless she nagged, but they were doing better.
Dipper was down at Ford's house, having lunch with Mabel, Sheila, and Lorena, when his phone rang with Wendy's ringtone.
"Hi," he said.
"Hey, Dip. OK, Casa Catastrophe passes inspection, though I'm gonna attend to a few details that Dad and my brothers overlooked. Your parents back yet?"
"Not yet, but Stan called and said they're having lunch over in Hirschville, so they should be here in an hour or so."
"Great, let's say bring them over around three. They don't have to stay a long time, but Dad wants to meet them and I guess talk over our engagement. Or maybe wedding plans. I really wouldn't want Dad to plan out a lumberjack wedding, but sometimes he surprises me."
That would work, and after getting back to Ford's house, Alex and Wanda sat and rested for a while. They kept telling Mabel and Dipper about all the wonderful scenery around, and Dad was definitely impressed by the Institute. "There are a few dorm students who haven't gone home for the holidays," he said. "They're working in the labs and library. Imagine that!"
"Either dedication or they're bonkers crazy," Mabel said.
Ford drove them over to the Corduroy house—Dad said, "Look at that! I've got to take a photo!"—and a very polite Dan greeted them. He was wearing a shirt and tie (the only one he owned, Wendy confided later) and showed them through the compact log cabin.
"Did you build this yourself?" Alex asked.
"Oh, sure," Dan said. "Nothing to it. Then later on, after I built Dr. Pines's house, the Shack, I mean, people started asking me to do carpentry and construction work. That got to be a good sideline—lumbering ain't exactly a twelve-month-a-year thing, and, shoot, I can build even when the weather's freezing, when most contractors don't! Long as we get enough warm weather for concrete to cure, that's all I ask. How's your house, Dr. Pines? Any complaints? 'Cause I can fix 'em!"
"No complaints at all, Dan," Ford said. "And, please, call me Ford, the way you used to."
"Aw," he said. "Back when I built your first house, the Shack, I mean, I didn't know anything hardly. Didn't know about college degrees and all. So I wasn't respectful when I called you by your name."
"You were a good friend then," Ford said firmly, "and you still are. Don't be so formal. Lorena, do you have any complaints about the house Dan built for us?"
"No, I love it!" she said. "It looks rustic and homey, but you and Ford put in all the conveniences I could ask for."
Ford chuckled. "And Fiddleford nearly put in a bunch that neither of us would ask for. I draw the line at robotic chairs and refrigerators and such."
"Glad you like it," Dan said, beaming.
"Hey, Mabes, Dip," Wendy said. "Let's go for a walk out behind the house. I want to show you a warm spring—never freezes over, and the water temperature's always around eighty, even on the coldest days. We can let Dad and your folks gossip about how Dipper and me are marrying at such a young age."
"Aw, Baby Girl," Dan said. "I wouldn't do that."
"OK, it's not mandatory," Wendy said as Dipper and Mabel bundled up. "But if you want to, now's your chance!"
As they left, Dan was brewing coffee for his guests and trying with his giant fingers to put an assortment of cookies and little muffins on a serving tray. Wendy led the twins down a trail through the woods. "So is Teek coming over tomorrow?" Wendy asked Mabel.
"Yeah, but after his folks have their own Thanksgiving dinner," Mabel said. "That's why he's not with us today—he's gonna do a fair share of the cooking, and they're getting ready. They liked my video! So I guess maybe tomorrow we can all see it?"
"Make it after about four p.m.," Wendy said, "and you got a deal. Take me that long to drive back from the Corduroy annual Thanksgiving Feast and Free-for-All wrestling meet."
"Is your Aunt Sallie going?" Mabel asked.
"Sure is. She's bringing two, please excuse the expression, great big hams. Nobody you or Waddles or Widdles know, though."
"I don't mind," Mabel said. "I've sampled real ham and bacon—"
"'Sampled!'" Dipper teased. "The school lunchroom once cut you off after three helpings!"
"I was hungry that day!" Mabel said. "I mean, you know, we're not all that strict about pork and shellfish."
"You didn't eat your lobster," Dipper reminded her. "That time Gideon took you on a date."
"I couldn't!" Mabel said. "Knuckles had these great big lobster-puppy eyes!"
"Gideon should have told you it's customary to cook them," Dipper said.
"He was distracted by my beauty," Mabel said. "Anyway, Knuckles is a special lobster. He was bright red already and didn't need to be cooked. My theory is that when they took him to the kitchen and he realized what was in store, he crept up onto a plate and grabbed a tuft of parsley in each claw and then held real still, so the waiter thought he was already cooked. He wasn't though. He objected when I tried to stick a fork in him."
"Very logical thing to do," Dipper told her.
Way down at the bottom of the hill, Wendy said, "There it is. See the water dripping out of that low bluff over there?"
"It's steaming," Mabel said.
"You should see it on a really cold morning!" Wendy told her.
They made their way across a very small creek—it was frozen—and came to the spring. Somebody, probably Dan, had built a little stone catch-basin at the foot of the bluff, and when they tested it with their fingers, the water was, as advertised, quite warm—not as warm as Wendy's favorite hot spring, where she and Dipper had gone more than once to do a little hot-tubbing, but definitely on the warmish side.
For that matter, though they were on the shady side of the hill, it was warmer there than out in the open near the cabin, because the hillside was a barrier against the wind, which gusted up to twenty miles an hour and added a chill factor to the cold air.
They got back, sat with the others for another half hour, and then Dan rose as his guests got ready to go. "Hey, don't be strangers!" he said, beaming. "Come back and see us again!"
"You come and see us when you happen to be down in the Bay Area," Alex said.
"Yeah, well, I feel all out of place in a city, you know," Dan said bashfully. "But, yeah, when I get some time, I'll make a point of coming down and paying you a little visit. Wendy's told me so much nice stuff about you—and then Dipper beat me at arm wrasslin', I won't say how, but get him to tell you the story."
"Maybe after the wedding," Wendy said. "Don't want to prejudice Alex and Wanda!"
"Too late," Alex said. "I'm already way prejudiced in your favor."
Wendy planned to stay home that night, since the next morning the Corduroys would all get up early and pitch in to prepare foods they were taking to Walter Corduroy's pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner, but she gave Dipper a kiss on the cheek in the parking lot of the Shack before getting into her Dodge Dart for the drive back home. "See you tomorrow evening," she said. "You guys have the best Thanksgiving ever."
"You gotta see the video, remember!" Mabel said. "Teek and I are gonna MST3K Trey's performance."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Wendy promised. She hugged Dipper and gave him that kiss and whispered to him, "But Friday, man, that day belongs just to you and me!"
(November 23, 2016)
On Thanksgiving morning, everyone remembered that only a week before, Monica Pines had passed away. It made them pause and remember.
But then the bustle of preparing the big meal—this year they'd decided on a do-it-yourself feast, not a catered one—got them all busy. Lorena was cooking a gigantic turkey, Mabel was preparing a cornbread dressing from a recipe she'd got from Wendy's Aunt Sallie, who'd lived in the South for years, and Sheila and Wanda were busy with a half-dozen different side dishes.
They'd invited Fiddleford and Mayellen over for the meal. They showed up without their son, Tate, who was off with his new wife's family. "We get them next year!" Fiddleford said.
Mayellen had brought dessert—two home-made cakes, one chocolate, one strawberry. She joined the other women in the kitchen while the guys relaxed in the big downstairs family room.
Stan took one of the recliners and put his feet up. Fiddleford, looking natty in a brown tweed suit and moccasins—he'd gone barefoot so long that he preferred them to "citified shoes," as he called them—leaned back in another one and strummed his banjo softly. Dipper hadn't brought his own guitar, but he borrowed one from the attic storage room in the Shack. Stan didn't remember whom it had belonged to, but thought that some guy had traded it to him for a souvenir once. It was a basic acoustic, strings not in great shape, but Dipper tuned it.
He and Fiddleford played duets—"Over the River and Through the Woods," and then Fiddleford taught him the melodies for some bluegrass tunes: "Cripple Creek," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and "You Are My Sunshine." Dipper already knew the last one, but the others were new. The two made their way through them, and even though Dipper made mistakes, it didn't sound too terrible.
"You oughta git yourself a banjo an' try it," Fiddleford suggested.
"Little too busy with other things," Dipper said. "I'll stick to the guitar for now."
Finally, they left off playing duets, and Fiddleford just noodled around on the banjo, softly, as they talked.
Alex didn't want to talk about Monica. Instead, he spoke about how relaxing Gravity Falls was, peaceful and without the city's rush and roar.
Stan chuckled. "You just ain't been here when things were really poppin'," he said. "Sometimes when everything goes crazy, you'd swear it was the end of the world!"
Ford coughed. "It's a unique location," he said. "There are creatures here that you'll find nowhere else in America."
"Or on th' planet," Stan added. "You'll meet a couple this afternoon."
That got Alex's curiosity up, but Ford said they'd talk about all that later.
So instead they chatted about work. Alex was now a department manager at his software firm, and he spoke about some programs the company was designing for productivity and for systems control. "With the Cloud services now being created, there are all sorts of apps that are going to be needed," he explained. "Home security surveillance systems, some government contracts that I can't talk about, tons of other stuff. We're about the leaders in our field, and it keeps us busy."
Ford talked about starting his graduate school. "It's the first and only University-level institution in the country devoted entirely to exotic studies. Our students are exploring things that you've only seen on Star Trek. Right now, for instance, one class is experimenting with a very crude method of molecular replication."
"What's that?" Stan asked.
"Eventually, it means you can start with a basic mixture of materials, oh, sand, carbon, nitrogen, a few more, and using carefully-controlled exotic energies, transform them into a delicious steak dinner."
"You guys doin' that?" Stan asked.
Ford shrugged. "Well—not now. Right now the best they can do is to change the elements into a kind of semi-organic putty."
"What does it taste like?" Stan asked.
"Regular putty," Fiddleford explained. "But we'll git there some day!"
The morning passed, and then in the early afternoon, Lorena called down the stair, "Come up to Thanksgiving dinner!"
They gathered around the big table—Ford had put in the extra leaves—and did what had become their annual custom, going around with each person mentioning something he or she was thankful for. When Dipper's turn came, he said, "I'm thankful for all of you, for our whole family, and for Gravity Falls, and for Wendy."
Mabel was thankful for family, Teek, and animals everywhere.
And so it went. Even with Mabel trying her best, there were tons of leftovers. At three, as they all pitched in to clear the table, box the leftovers, and clean up, the doorbell rang. "I'll get it!" Mabel said.
She came back with Jeff and Shmebulock, dressed for Thanksgiving. That is, each had added a bow tie to their normal outfits, though they had to hold up their beards to show them off.
"Mom, Dad," Mabel said, "This is Shmebulock and this is Jeff. Jeff's the Prime Minister of the Gravity Falls Gnomes. Guys, this is our mom, Wanda Pines, and our dad, Alexander Pines, but you can call him Alex."
"Pleased to meet you!" Jeff said, taking off his pointed cap and bowing.
"Shmebulock!" said Shmebulock, imitating the bow.
"Hello?" Wanda said in a small voice.
"It's a speech impediment," Jeff explained. "It's almost the only thing he can say. He got cursed years and years ago."
"He says it smells so good," Jeff explained.
While Mabel and Dipper got the leftovers ready for the Gnomes, Jeff and Shmebulock perched on chairs. Alex and Wanda sat—they looked as if they needed to sit, too—and Jeff explained the history of the Gnomes.
"We were a mighty race in the old days," he said. "Our group emigrated from northern Europe more than a thousand years ago."
"That's a Gnome thousand," Dipper explained.
Jeff went on to talk about how they had a hard time fitting into the human society, how they had moved further and further west until they had found Gravity Falls, and how their first colonization had been nearly wiped out by an invasion of Mole Men—"See, we lived in deep tunnels back then, and we didn't know that the Mole Men lived even further down, until they started to eat us."
Wanda nodded, looking dazed, but Alex seemed really interested. Jeff spoke of how the Gravity Falls Gnomes had become arboreal, but adapting to surface life had its own perils. "Winters here are cold, and food is scarce," he said. "Every year we'd lose lots of Gnomes because they'd freeze or starve. But that's changed now. We have our own businesses!"
Dipper interrupted him before he could go on to explain how Gnomes killed pests like mice and rats—and ate them—and how they collected human garbage—and ate a good part of that, too. "We're going to have a lot of food for you today," he said.
"And we're thankful for it!" Jeff said, picking up his cue neatly. "Mabel and Dipper helped us to join in the community," he said to their parents. "We've made heroes of them in the Gnome Tunnel of Fame."
That was about the best thing he could have said. It won Wanda over, and she adjusted immediately to the idea that a whole different species of humans—well, humanoids—actually lived in the same world as she did. Mabel showed her photos of some Gnome babies, who were not much smaller than adult Gnomes, but who were undeniably cute, and she cooed over them.
When all the parcels of food were ready, Jeff summoned a group of Gnomes—Dipper wasn't sure how they did that, but he suspected it was some form of ESP or magic, one or the other—and they formed a caravan to take the packages back home. "A lot of families share with us on this day," Jeff said.
"And that brings them good luck," Mabel told her mom. She did not add that the good luck came in not having food stolen from their homes at night by the stealthy Gnomes.
Jeff took his leave with another bow. "It's a pleasure to meet you," he told them. "Alex, your wife is as beautiful as her daughter!"
When they had left, Wanda said, "They seem very nice. I was surprised that they weren't dwar—I mean little people, though!"
"Well," Ford said reasonably, "they are people, and they are little, so I suppose you aren't far wrong. Their DNA is interesting. They don't seem to be in the hominid line at all. Indications are that they descended from something like lemurs."
"What's a Mole Man?" asked Alex.
Stan said, "It's like a burrowin' mouse, dude."
Alex didn't get it.
"That's hard to say," Ford told Alex. "It's a subterranean creature—as Jeff said, they live in extremely deep burrows, perhaps five hundred feet beneath the surface. They don't seem to be numerous, and I've personally never seen one. I did find skeletal remains once, which seem to have come from one of the creatures that pursued the Gnomes ages ago. I estimate that a live one might weigh about seventy-five pounds, much larger than Gnome. Anyway, it looked more mole than man, and I suspect its intelligence was negligible."
"I've never even heard of such things," Wanda said.
"Yes, conventional science overlooks oddities," Ford told her. "Exploring such things is a major goal of the Institute of Anomalous Science."
Mabel said, "When you wrap your head around Gnomes, Mom, I'll tell you about some other things—unicorns and fairies and merfolk, for example."
Wanda laughed. "At this stage, I'd almost believe you, too!"
Dipper nudged Mabel. She nodded. That was probably as far as they should go in their parents' first introduction to Gravity Falls weirdness, so they left it at that.
After everyone else was lazing around after the Thanksgiving feast, Wendy showed up and then Teek, and the kids went out on their own. Wendy said she was surprised Dipper's parents hadn't freaked out, but Mabel said, "It's kinda hard to deny that something like the Gnomes exists when they're sitting there talking to you."
"We're introducing them to the idea a little at a time," Dipper said. "Next time, we may let them meet a young Manotaur."
"Like getting into cold water an inch at a time," Teek said.
That idea might have popped into his head because all four of them were shoulder-deep in the hot spring near Ghost Falls. It was still a coldish day—low forties—but they had built a campfire near the shallow cave mouth, and the spring was always pleasantly hot, and so Teek and Mabel, Dipper and Wendy, had gone hot-tubbing.
Oh, they wore bathing suits this time. And after they finished, the guys were prepared to be chivalrous and hold up a beach blanket for modesty as the girls changed clothes, and then the girls would return the favor.
It wasn't skinny-dipping, in other words.
But seeing the gleam in his sister's eyes, Dipper could tell that Mabel was getting that idea.
Big deal, he decided. After all, she and Teek were engaged to be engaged.
And truth to tell, by that time, Wendy and Dipper had gone hot-tubbing without suits three or four times.
One of the benefits of being an engaged couple, he decided.
OK, their official week of mourning would end that Thanksgiving night. One full day and night would be left, and Dipper meant to spend it all with Wendy.
Then on Saturday morning, the Pines family would fly back to Piedmont for the stretch of school running up to Christmas break.
And on the afternoon of Christmas Day, Dipper and Mabel, sans parents, would return for another week in Gravity Falls.
Dipper was no longer looking back. Now he turned his gaze to the future, with hope and with love.