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We Deserve To Thrive

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Normally, Wendy enjoyed slow days at the Mystery Shack. Fewer customers meant more time to bunk off: more chances to read magazines or sneak up to the roof. But today she found herself wishing for the distraction, for anything that would take her mind off things. She couldn’t help letting out a sigh, glancing over the empty isles.

No matter how she tried to ignore it, her thoughts kept looping back to the same topic: her adventure in the so-called Author’s bunker the previous day. It wasn’t the bunker itself that was giving her grief, though fist-fighting herself had definitely been an experience, but the aftermath. In the heat of things, Dipper had finally confessed the feelings she knew he harboured, and they’d talked things out afterwards.

That conversation was replaying for the hundredth time that day in her head. It had gone about as well as she could have wanted; rejection was always awkward to talk about, and Dipper was probably the most awkward person Wendy knew, but he had taken it fine and still wanted to be friends. So why was she still circling back?

“I’m too old for you,” her own voice echoed in the back of her mind. “I mean, you know that, right?” That was the crux of it; deep down, under a layer of denial that today seemed to be trying its hardest to erode, Wendy knew the truth. She hadn’t been trying to convince Dipper, she had been trying to convince herself.

The sound of the bell above the gift shop door snapped her from her spiralling thoughts. She looked up, hoping that maybe a customer had finally shown up. Instead the sight of Mabel Pines greeted her; she was wearing a new sweater, blue with pink and white stripes on the sleeves and a cartoon watermelon stitched into the front.

“Hey Wendy!” she said, waving.

“Hey,” Wendy replied half-heartedly, unable to muster her usual enthusiasm. The girl’s smile faltered, and she stepped over towards the desk.

“Is something up?” she asked. Wendy shook her head, not wanting to drag Mabel into her own issues. She already knew it was stupid. “C’mon, you can tell me.”

“I’m fine, dude.”

“Okay, something’s definitely up.” Mabel’s eyes narrowed, unconvinced. She took a step forwards. “This isn’t about Dipdop, is it? He told me you guys talked after he confessed his crush.” She frowned. “He’s not like, mad or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I know he’s not mad,” Wendy forced a smile, slipping back behind her laid-back front as best she could. “Dude, we’ve got a movie night planned this evening; things aren’t even awkward between us.” Inside she cringed at how unconvincing her own words sounded. Mabel’s expression shifted, suspicion replaced with curiosity.

“Huh,” she said simply. “So that talk went well, then?”

“Yeah,” Wendy replied, an involuntary hint of sadness creeping into her voice. “Like, I think he always kinda knew things wouldn’t work out, like how I knew he had a thing for me. He’s really nice, and it’s, like super flattering, but I’m just too old for him.” Saying it again didn’t make it any easier; it wasn’t a lie but it felt like one.

Mabel didn’t reply; looking down over the desk, Wendy could see her eyes had gone wide and her mouth hung slightly open. Suddenly she blinked, hands coming up and slapping against her cheeks as her mouth widened into a grin.

“You like Dipper,” she accused, “don’t you?”

Wendy didn’t reply. She wasn’t sure she could. There it was, laid bare: the thing she had been too afraid to admit even to herself. Somehow Mabel had seen right through her.

She wasn’t sure how or when, but amid their many summer adventures she had caught feelings. A part of her had always been weirded out; he was younger than her, and she couldn’t ignore that. But she didn’t think of Dipper the way she had thought of Robbie or any of her previous romantic partners. It was hard to put into words, even in her own head, but the closest she could get was her feelings towards him were softer.

When she thought of him she thought of more adventures, of stories and experiences shared; of holding hands and cuddling on movie nights; of just wanting to spend time together in a closer way. If there was a grey area between friendship and love, a strange fuzzy region that maybe only existed for her, then her feelings for him were square in the middle of it.

“You do! I knew it!” Mabel’s voice snapped Wendy out of her reverie. She really wasn’t focusing well today, she thought dryly.

“Okay, dude, maybe I do,” she conceded. Mabel was still beaming, though her hands were no longer on her cheeks. She didn’t seem fazed. “You don’t think that’s weird?”

“Nope.” Mabel shook her head. “Why would I? I know you’re cool, and you’re not that much older than him.”

“I know a bunch of people who would disagree with you,” Wendy denied, unable to stop herself; all of the thoughts holding her back seemed to be spilling out at once. “Like, my friends would probably freak out, and so would Stan. I know Dipper’s not a little kid, and you do too, but that’s all they’re gonna see.”

“But all that stuff’s what other people think,” Mabel countered. “If you don’t think you and my bro would be a good match, or you don’t think you could keep it secret, or you just wanna keep all that bottled up inside then go ahead. But you can’t deny your feelings ‘cause of anyone else; in love, the only people who matter are you and the other person.”

Wendy blinked, not quite sure what to say. Part of her wanted to trust Mabel, to throw caution to the wind and follow her heart. But the rest of her still hesitated; if there had ever been a chance to do that, she was sure it had already passed.

“I already told him it wouldn’t work out,” she said quietly, “yesterday. I can’t just, like, go back on that now.”

“Why not?”

“Because then he’s gonna know I lied.” She shook her head. “It’s not fair on the dude to mess him around like that.”

“We both know Dipper,” Mabel said firmly. “I know he won’t mind, and you do too; think how awkward he was about liking you.” She met Wendy’s gaze. “So long as you tell the truth, he’ll understand you’re a little awkward too. So, what do you really wanna do?”

All her defences stripped away, Wendy couldn’t help letting out a sigh; because deep down, she knew Mabel was right. She was out of excuses, her own fears the only things holding her back.

“You’re right, dude,” she conceded, taking a breath. “Really, I wanna take back yesterday, but that’s not like, an option. Practically, I wanna tell Dipper the truth. See, I guess, if he still wants to try being more than friends.”

“That’s the spirit!” Mabel grinned again. “And quit moping; I just know it’s gonna be fine. You’re just as much of a dork as my brother.” Wendy couldn’t help a snort of laughter at that. For the first time that day, she was smiling

“Thanks, Mabel.”

The sun was going down by the time Wendy returned to the Shack that evening, butterflies quietly buzzing in her stomach. Mabel’s words had usurped her own for space in the back of her mind, the girl’s encouragement drowning out her own reservations. She hid it all under her familiar facade, a laid-back smile on her face as she reached the door.

The door swung open before she even had the chance to knock. Dipper was standing just in the doorway; he had clearly been watching for her arrival. On his face was a small, nervous smile. It was cute, she thought to herself.

“Hey, Wendy,” he greeted, stepping aside to let her in, “you ready for movie night?”

“Sure am, man,” she replied, burying any hesitation and walking over the threshold. “What’s on TV tonight?”

“Something called ‘Old Jeb’s Revenge’.” He shrugged awkwardly, shutting the door behind her. “I’ve never heard of it before, but I think it looks good.” She nodded in agreement, and he lead her across the gift shop to the living room door. She couldn’t deny there was something awkward in the air, a tension that hadn’t been there before; she found herself scrambling for topics to break the silence.

“Is your family in?” she asked. He shook his head

“We, uh, have the place to ourselves,” he explained. “Mabel needed some fresh glitter in a hurry, so Grunkle Stan’s taken her into town to get some.” Internally, Wendy found herself thanking his sister; no doubt that had been a ploy to get her and Dipper alone.

She kept up her smile, following him into the living room. The TV was already on, tuned to the bargain movie channel; commercials cast a pale grey glow across the room. Opposite a bowl of popcorn was perched on the seat of a worn yellow armchair. Dipper paused beside it, reaching up to rub awkwardly at the back of his head.

“I, uh, already made popcorn,” he began. “You can have the chair.” He winced as his voice cracked. “When Grunkle Stan’s here he takes it, so I’m used to sitting on the floor.” Wendy stepped past him, an idea forming in her mind.

“Or,” she began, plopping herself down on the carpet in front of the chair, legs stretched out towards the TV, “dude, we could sit together.”

She patted the ground beside her, leaning back into the front of the chair. A pale blush dusted his cheeks as he nodded, easing himself down to sit beside her. She reached over his head, grabbing the popcorn off the chair and setting it down in the space between them. He gave her an awkward smile, before reaching in and grabbing a handful from the bowl.

Wendy looked up at the screen; she still had a few minutes until the movie started. She had no idea when Stan and Mabel would be back, if they would get another moment like this alone together. If there was ever a moment to take yesterday back, this was it.

In her head she thought back over everything, over the summer, over the last two days, over what Mabel said, trying to reassure herself. She knew, deep down, exactly what she wanted to say, and she was pretty sure she knew how Dipper would react. But that didn’t make it any easier to take the final step.

“Uh, Wendy?” Dipper’s voice cut though her introspection. She looked over; he was looking up at her with concern, head cocked to one side. “Are you okay? You, uh, kinda spaced out there.”

For a moment she didn’t reply, not sure what to say. But looking down at him, at the awkward care in his expression, at the brown curls tufting out from under his hat, at the concern in his brown eyes, and the rounded face she loved so much, she found the words coming up unbidden.

“No,” she said finally, “I’m not.” His expression changed in an instant, panic rising as he worried he’d upset her. She shook her head, bringing her knees in. “It’s not your fault, dude, it’s mine.”

“You can tell me about it?” he offered. “I mean, only if you want to, of course.”

“I made a decision that I thought was smart,” she explained cautiously. “I thought I was doing the right thing. But, like, whenever I look back all I can think is I messed up. ‘Cause I didn’t do what I really wanted to, and now I regret that, y’know?”

“I guess?” He shrugged. “I know what it’s like to do bad stuff. N-not that whatever you did was bad, of course; how would I know? But you get what I mean, right?” Gently Wendy reached out, putting one hand on his shoulder. It felt like her stomach was squirming inside her.

“It’s okay,” she reassured. “Dude, Dipper, you remember when we talked last?” That snapped him out of it. He seemed to freeze up, every limb halting where it was, and she knew in that moment he was just as scared as she was.

“Outside the bunker?” he asked gingerly.

“Yeah,” she said quietly, giving his shoulder a squeeze she desperately hoped was reassuring. “The truth is, dude, I don’t think I’m too old for you. I’ve…” she paused, taking a deep breath, letting the last scraps of her facade fall away, “I’ve liked you for a while now.”

He went beet red, eyes going wide as her words sunk in. For a moment everything was silent, save for the quiet crackle of the TV; Wendy could feel her own heart pounding in her ears and she was sure he felt the same.

“What?” he finally asked, barely above a whisper. “This can’t be happening.”

“It’s true,” she said softly, unable to keep from smiling a little at his reaction. “Everything else I said yesterday, about how boring this summer was before I met you, about how I have more fun when we’re together than any other time? That still stands.” She took another deep breath, before continuing.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a crush; like, it’s not how I felt about Robbie or anyone before him. It’s unique, like you, dude. With you, I just feel better. Like I want to hang out and hug and hold hands and do all that mushy stuff that I’d never do with anyone else.”

She could feel her own cheeks heating up as the words spilled out. A glance showed he was listening intently, eyes still wide open, processing what she had said,

“I was worried for a long time about what everyone would think,” she admitted. “Like, you’re younger than all my friends, and we only met this summer, and it feels different. But I’ve realised, none of that matters.” She sighed. “Letting you down like I did hurt, ‘cause it wasn’t true, but I did it anyway ‘cause I was too scared. Sorry, man.”

She wasn’t sure what was harder, admitting her feelings or admitting she had been afraid of something, but there it was. Her secret was out, in the open, and all her certainty of what would happen had gone out of the window.

“Huh,” he said quietly, a look of quiet disbelief settling on his face. He looked away, too nervous to meet her gaze, hands fidgeting awkwardly in his lap. “I think I understand.” All thoughts of watching the movie were long gone. “So,” he began again slowly, drawing out the word. “If I said I still liked you, and I wanted to try dating, or whatever, what would you say?”

Before she was even thinking she reached out, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him into a tight hug on her lap. His hat was knocked askew by the sudden force, falling to the floor besides the forgotten popcorn bowl.

“Wendy?!” It came out mingled with a nervous laugh.

“I’d say yes, dude,” she replied softly, voice full of affection. “I can’t even imagine saying anything else anymore.” For a moment they stayed like that, quiet settling on the room. All Wendy could hear were both their heartbeats, thrumming in unison; the movie, just starting up, was a distant memory.

“So,” Dipper broke the silence, uncertain hope in his voice, “we’re a thing now?”

“Yeah,” she said contentedly. “We are.” She felt one of his hands, small and clammy from nerves, find one of hers; she gently intertwined their fingers. She felt an impulse bubble up from somewhere warm in her chest, and decided to follow it. “Do you mind if I kiss you right now?”

“Uh, no?” Dipper’s voice cracked, leaping high. “I-I’d like that.”

“You’re such a dork,” she couldn’t help saying affectionately. Gently she leaned down, placing a quick peck on his forehead, right on the birthmark. He seemed to melt into her embrace, the tensing and nerves fading, and she let out a contented sigh of her own.

She felt herself slipping into the warm haze that surrounded the pair, all worries forgotten. In that moment it didn’t matter that her face was flushed, or that her back was already starting to ache from leaning against the chair, or that she was going to have to figure out how to hide this from her friends tomorrow. Everything just felt right.

Stan still wasn’t entirely sure why his niece needed seven buckets of purple glitter. She had mentioned some project, but he wasn’t quite sure he believed that. Call it old man’s intuition, or years of cold reading to run scams, or just the fact that not even Mabel could use that much glitter in one go, but he was starting to suspect he’d been had.

At least the craft store stayed open late, he thought dryly as he pulled the Stanmobile up to the back of the Mystery Shack. He killed the engine, glancing back to where Mabel sat, cradling half a dozen plastic buckets of glitter in her lap.

“Alright kid, we’re home,” he said. “Get out.” He opened the door, stepping up into the evening air. Mabel followed suit, smiling up at him as she stumbled out of her seat.

“Thanks, Grunkle Stan!” She grinned, hurrying over to the Shack’s back door. He made sure the car was locked, then followed after. Looking up he could see she was practically vibrating with excitement; something was definitely going on, he decided.

She darted through the door as he approached. He rolled his eyes, used to her antics, and followed, stepping into the foyer. It was dark, with no sign of light through any of the doorways save a faint glow from the living room; had Dipper already gone to bed? Stan hadn’t even made dinner yet.

“Dipper!” he called.

“Shhhh!” Mabel cut him off. Looking down, he met her gaze; she was standing at the living room door, her glitter haul deposited on the stairs beside her. “Come look!” she whispered, gesturing frantically with one hand.

He walked over, only to stop dead as he saw past her. Beyond, lit by the pale light of the old TV, his gaze fell on the sleeping forms of Dipper and Wendy. The girl was sitting on the carpet with her back against the armchair, while he was fast out on her lap, resting against her. She had both skinny arms wrapped around him, her right hand intertwined with his left.

Both were flushed, contented smiles on their faces, breathing softly in unison. Dipper’s hat was off, lying on the floor beside a half-empty bowl of popcorn. It was a cute scene, and just about the last thing Stan had been expecting to see.

A glance at the forgotten TV showed it halfway through a movie; as Stan watched an actor in cowboy clothes pulled a gun out of some strange machine and started firing at people in unconvincing zombie costumes. No wonder those two had found each other’s company more interesting.

“See?” Mabel whispered, eyes so wide that he was sure he could see stars in her pupils. “Romance!” She raised her hands, shaking them for emphasis.

“Maybe,” he acquiesced, unable to keep a small smile from creeping onto his face. But he got the sense, somehow, that wasn't quite what he was seeing between the pair. Either way, it was cute. “I guess I can let them rest.”

He turned away, trying not to be too loud as he headed for the stairs, only to stop at the sight of the glitter haul blocking his path. Suddenly everything fell into place; so that was why she had been so ardent on getting him out of the house.

“Wait, did you make me buy all that glitter just so Dipper and Wendy could have some alone time?!”