Hollis was capable of many things.
They could pull off the most difficult of stunts, they could manage the stress that came from being the leader of a gang of millenials, and hell! They could fight off alien monsters with a damned baseball bat. It would stand to reason that Hollis could do pretty much anything.
Yet there they stood, shivering in the snow and waiting for a phone to ring, because whilst they could punch a super sized ostrich to death, Hollis was too stubborn to admit that Keith might have been onto something when he suggested a crop top wasn't the best clothing choice for a trip out in the middle of December, particularly when your current place of residence was Keplar, West Virginia.
Hollis had provided two key reasons for his decision to ignore Keith’s wisdom- the first being it wouldn’t be a long trip, and the second being the far more important declaration that, “I look cool and fuck you.”
But, standing inside the (lack of) shelter provided by the booth of Keplars pay phone, aka the only device for miles with international reach, Hollis' midriff did not appreciate the decision to stay exposed.
The Hornet was all too close to giving up, hanging up the phone and calling it a day, when a familiar voice finally picked up.
"Hollis, you know I'm glad to hear from you but what the fuck kid? It's almost nine pm, and I'm not THAT old, I know how Google works so I can tell you for sure we're in the same timezone don't even try that again-"
A sense of deja vu hit Hollis, and before they could object they were fifteen again, sulking out back of the forest rangers station whilst a certain employee locked up, chiding them
"You can't just.. Run about in the forest alone like that, it’s dark! You could get hurt."
They remember scoffing, hands firmly planted in the pocket of their hoodie
"I wasn't running, jeez. But what's gonna happen, a killer tree attacks me? I'm big enough to handle some branches"
"That’s not- you kids read too much Lord of the Rings or whatever, I just- its too late for this, its well past eight.. Shouldn't you be in bed or something?"
Had fifteen year old Hollis possessed a shred of common sense, they would have shut up, or maybe even tried to be civil. But in that moment they were so overwhelmed, so fed up of bottling up their emotions, they couldn’t help letting it out at Duck, for a moment allowing themselves to pretend he was the source of all (well, most of) their problems, the embodiment of adults and authority figures who didn’t understand or care
"What the hell are you, ninety? I'm sorry to stop you from going home to all your cats, but I haven't had a 'bedtime' for years cause I'm not fucking BORING. Nobody asked you to be here, did they? The hell do you care if I’m out in the big spooky woods after dark, the only reason you bothered stopping me is because if I got lost it would mean more paperwork for your lazy ass!"
The man had appeared taken aback, and Hollis allowed themselves a moment of smugness. They reckoned the extent of his experience with teenagers was those annual, mind numbing "forest safety talks" he'd deliver at Keplar High, the ones Hollis had skipped every year.
"It’s.. Literally my job to 'be here' and stop you from getting mauled by a bear. The hell would your parents think if you died on them?"
Hollis had frozen. Shit. Shit, shit, *shit*. They slowly looked up, pushing their hood back and meeting Duck's eyes with a pleading look
"You aren't going to tell my mom about this, are you? I told her I was round a friends house but we fell out and I really don’t wanna go home yet.."
And even though he had been the polar opposite to this teenage ball of angst, Duck Newton saw himself in Hollis. He recognized the oversized hoodie, the beanie tucking up the hair, and the signature slouch he knew all too well.
“No, I won’t tell your mom. The office has a new hot cocoa machine if you want to give it a go.” He allowed as he opened the door
“I have some work to finish up.”
“I’m not a six year old or stupid. Why would I go into the office of a stranger for fucking hot chocolate, of all things?” Hollis had argued, glaring at the man opposite, who’s only response was to shrug and turn away, calling a response over his shoulder
“I’m not gonna murder you, kid. If I wanted to I’d do it outside, where there’s no CCTV camera.”
And though Hollis had grumbled, “I’m not a kid”, as they walked in, they had drunk that hot cocoa. And it had been disgusting. But, ranger Newton was nowhere as bad as they’d assumed, and something- Hollis insists it was guilt- stopped Hollis from wandering in the woods along at night. And, that same thing resulted in Hollis not skipping Duck’s forest safety talk that year, or any year following. It also meant that an odd form of bond formed. Their difference in personality, age and pretty much everything meant it couldn’t exactly be described as a friendship, but Duck wasn’t exactly a solid mentor either. It was the sort of bond that came from being the only two trans people in a small town, that meant that even if you didn’t really see each other, you wanted to know the other was okay. So they continued occasionally checking in, and maybe- just maybe- it was at Duck’s recommendation they ended up listening to the Ramones, sparking their love of punk.
“Are you still there? Jesus, don’t tell me I got out of bed for nothing.”
Duck’s complaints snapped Hollis back to the present, and pulled a laugh from them too. They weren’t surprised, but the fact that the Chosen One, who saved this planet and another, went to bed at eight never failed to crack them up
“No, I’m here. I would apologize for the fact I’m late if I wasn’t still so horrified by the fact you go to sleep so early”
Duck’s huff was audible, but despite his tired tone Hollis knew he wasn’t insulted. Or, if he was, he’d spent six years pretending he wasn’t and honestly Hollis was too tired to even begin contemplating whether Duck had been lying to him for years about a dumb joke that came up almost every time they spoke.
“Did you feed Petunia?”
Duck’s redirection of the conversation caught Hollis off guard, and they swore. This was far from the first time Hollis had forgotten to feed the cat, but tonight, as their breath frosted the glass of the booth on one side while nature frosted the other, Hollis dreaded the idea. And somehow, Duck picked up on this
“I’ll tell you what- leave it tonight, then get her tomorrow and move her into your place. I know you’re allergic to fur but she’s shorthair and I have tablets, and it’d save you the trouble of trekking to my apartment every day.”
Hollis took a deep breath, and though they’d had this discussion before they found they were too tired to disagree.
“Seriously? Thankyou! You won’t even notice she’s there”
Hollis knew Petunia was there.
Their leather jacket was constantly covered in white hair, along with all the black clothes in their wardrobe- which was, to say, half of them. She sat on their head every morning long before their alarm was set to go off, and if Hollis’ violent sneezes weren’t enough to wake them they *swear* she’d stay still long enough to suffocate them. They even seemed to permanently have the red nose associated with winter, despite usually priding themselves on not getting sick. Petunia was a living nightmare, yet Hollis couldn’t bring themselves to tell Duck. They figured they’d give it another week or so, at the least.
That morning had been particularly frustrating, and after a particularly aggressive set of sneezes Hollis had been so desperate to get out of the house they hadn’t even bothered with their usual morning coffee.
Maybe it was down to the lack of sleep and caffeine, or maybe it was down to the wind blowing in their eyes, already bleary from allergies, but they somehow managed to miss the figure yelling their name until he snowboarded to a halt right in front of them- and Jake Coolice, clad in clothing that looked to have witnessed the explosion of multiple highlighters, was a difficult figure to miss in the endless white of the slopes.
“Hollis! What’re you doing out here? The Hornets don’t have practise for another couple of hours”
Hollis decided not to wonder for too long how Jake’s clothing hurt more to look at than the sun itself being reflected off the surrounding snow, instead raising an eyebrow
“Why do you know when we start?”
Hollis had immediately winced, their words sounding harsher than intended, but they had no reason to fear- Jake didn’t look hurt, just confused.
“I just do.” He told them, like it was obvious, and they found themselves believing it was- he used these slopes too, it would make sense for him to know when they’d be busiest.
Jake looked at Hollis again, head tilted, and they fought the urge not to look down or blush. Their stupid crush on Jake Coolice had been around for as long as they’d known him- it fluctuated, sure, and for a while after the two stopped talking Hollis had managed to convince themselves it was gone. Unfortunately for Hollis, their returning friendship had also meant the return of their feelings, and they’d be lying if they said that wasn’t a big reason for them keeping Jake at arms length. Still, they refused to allow themselves to blush or look away, because despite everything else Hollis had a reputation, and they were not the kind of person to get flustered, no matter how pretty they thought the boy standing opposite them to be.
“It’s the cat.” Jake decided, detaching himself from his board and tucking it under his arm
“You look exhausted, cmon”
And Hollis was exhausted, so it took them a moment to register the brightly mittened hand enclosing their wrist and dragging them back up the slope, staring at it for a moment too long before asking
“Where are we going?”
“The cafe.” Jake responded instantly, still holding on tight
“If I’ve ever seen someone who needs a cup of coffee, it’s you.”
And Hollis, almost delirious from their lack of sleep, wasn’t in any place to argue. So whilst being dragged wasn’t their usual style, they figured they could put up with it when it was Jake.