Tracy’s in a bad mood, she’s angry and tired and Ajay tried asking her out earlier this morning so she has very little patience left. The lockers are right there , she just needs to get her books and then she can leave and enjoy spring break—
“I need you to spend spring break with me!” Angelo blurts out from behind his locker’s door.
Tracy startles and punches the wall just above his head.
“You gotta be kidding me,” she groans. Her fist hurts from colliding with a wall for like the fifth time today but she brushes the discomfort off. “You want me to what ?”
Angelo closes his locker and turns to Tracy, trying very hard to avoid eye contact. “So uh, you remember when you said you were my girlfriend during the whole ‘bet I can stay silent longer than you can keep from snitching thing’? Well I kind of forgot about telling my parents it wasn’t true.”
“They want you to meet my grandmas during spring break.”
Like that’s ever gonna happen. Tracy scoffs, patting Angelo’s head as she tries to walk away, only to be grabbed by the wrist. She totally doesn’t blush at the contact.
“I kind of panicked and said you’d be there,” Angelo explains.
This time her fist plants in Angelo’s chest, the boy yelping in surprise. “What the fuck , Angelo?”
“I’m sorry!” he exclaims, “But my grandmas were super excited to meet you and I didn’t have it in me to break their hearts.”
“I’m not going to just spend spring break with you!” Especially if she has to pretend she’s his girlfriend, like, yeah she likes him but pretending to date him is a whole different thing than secretly pining over him.
Angelo’s still gripping her wrist, tugging unconsciously as he taps his foot on the floor. “If you meet my grandmas I’ll make no plans for a month.”
Tracy considers the offer and yanks her wrist free to cross her arms. “Two months.” She cocks her head to the side and waits for an answer. If she’s really doing this she needs something big for the trouble and the possible heart wrenching rejection she might face.
“Fine, okay two months, deal?” Angelo extends a hand and Tracy shakes it firmly. “Awesome, here’s my phone number—” he hands her a piece of crumpled paper—“ I’ll tell you the details tonight.” And just like that he’s out of Tracy’s sight, gone through the front doors like nothing happened.
Tracy has a bad feeling about the whole thing.
After an extremely boring dinner with her extremely boring parents, Tracy goes back to her room and throws herself on her bed, her head hitting the pillow with a soft ‘thump’. Her ceiling is glaring back at her until Tracy’s eyes are tingling and itching and she has to close them.
Right, she needs to call Angelo.
Her phone is too bright for the unlit room and Tracy curses under her breath, turning the brightness down. She creates a new contact and presses the ‘call’ button.
Angelo picks up after the second ring. “Tracy?”
“Yes, you have thirty minutes to explain before my parents leave for their date, I have to tell them tonight or I won’t be able to go at all.”
“So you would be staying with my family at my grandmas’ house from this Monday to the next one, it’s gonna be the first time in years the whole family is together so that’s why it’s such a long stay.” Angelo explains, and the more he talks the less Tracy wants to go. A week with Angelo? Her heart’s not going to handle it.
But at the same time escaping from her family is too sweet of a deal for her to refuse just because Angelo makes her knees go weak. “I’m fine with that, where do your grandmothers live?”
“In the Pyrenees,” Angelo squeaks.
“The what ? Angelo, that’s on the other side of the country!” Tracy’s hand that isn’t holding her phone is gripping at the sheets until her knuckles turn a yellow-ish pale color. The fucking Pyrenees? That’s like, a ten hour drive to get there.
“Come on, you’ll like it, I promise.”
Well, the Pyrenees are on her list of places to visit, and it’s not like she had anything else to do. Maybe she’ll even like it. “How’s the weather back there? I need to choose nice clothes.”
“Thanks Tracy, you’re really saving my butt,” Angelo says, his smile audible even over the phone, “and the weather’s gonna be great.”
“I’m not doing it for you,” Tracy lies, because she’s totally doing this just because he asked if she’s honest.
“Right, you really want those two months of peace, huh?”
“Exactly, two months of peace, can’t say no to that.”
It’s a mystery why her parents were so happy for her to go as far away as possible for the holidays, but Tracy’s not complaining. Her suitcase is packed, her phone is charged, her glasses are clean and her hair looks amazing, she’s feeling great today.
Angelo’s father is stepping out of the car, extending a hand in a greeting. “Good morning Tracy! It’s nice to see you again.” He gives her his usual child-like smile and shakes her hand.
Tracy’s in such a good mood that she makes the effort to remember his name. “Hi Charles, it’s nice to see you.”
“Here, let me put your suitcase in the trunk.”
Tracy walks around the car to sit next to Angelo, and that’s when she realizes someone is missing. “Where is your wife?” she asks as she opens the door.
“Oh we dropped her off at the airport, she’s picking up her brother and renting a car with him. We’ll see her tonight when we arrive.” Charles explains.
With her questions answered, Tracy finally sits down next to Angelo who’s squished between her and Peter, he smiles at her. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself,” Tracy responds, because that’s a thing she’ll do if they were dating, which is what they’re pretending to be. She fastens her seatbelt without breaking eye contact.
Angelo nods and leans closer to whisper, “Seriously thank you.” His breath tickles the hair behind her ear. “My grandmas would’ve killed me without you here, now I have the ‘girlfriend pass’.” His face is very close and his breath is very warm , fuck.
“Hey, stop making out in the back!” Elena says, punching Angelo’s leg. “I don’t want to see you two snogging while I couldn’t bring my boyfriend .”
Tracy turns red at the thought of her and—holy shit—Angelo kissing . Next to her Angelo looks exactly like her, redder than a tomato. “We weren’t—”
“Come on, Elena, leave the kids alone,” Charles interrupts, “you and Hunter were exactly like that when you were their age.”
And there’s ten hours to spend like that.
She’s going to die.
Tracy counted one hundred and thirteen cars in the first hour, she has her headphones in her ears to silence the horror that is Slobber, on full volume in the car. Different Trains by Steve Reich is a way better thing to listen to. It’s still in the early morning, the sky takes that weird blue-gray color that looks uncomfortable and cold. The car speeds up just as the violins in her ears start to grow erratic and panicky, it feels funny, like Tracy’s inside the music.
Peter is sleeping against his window, his head bonking on it at every movement the car makes. The same goes for Elena, she’s practically snoring at this point.
Well Tracy got plenty of sleep already, she’s not falling asleep anytime soon. She’s just… resting her eyes for a minute.
The car comes to a stop and Tracy startles awake, they’re arriving already? No, no they’re just taking a pause she realizes. Her neck hurts from how her head hung over her chest, she rubs her hands on the point where her neck meets the back of her head, her fingers tangling in her hair.
“You okay?” Angelo asks, he’s grabbing at his shirt and pulling like the fabric is constricting him.
Tracy nods and yawns. “I’m fine, you?” She gestures at where he’s touching his ribs.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just… itching.”
He’s lying, his eyes are avoiding her and his voice has that tone that means he’s hiding something. But alright, he can keep his secrets.
“Anyone want to go to the bathroom? Charles asks, “Peter, you’re forced to go, you know the rule.”
“I’ll go with him,” Angelo says, he leaves the car with Peter, the air from the door he left open messing with Tracy’s hair.
Tracy takes off her headphones when her music comes to an end, stretching her arms over her head. The air is warm, and this time when she looks at the sky it’s bright blue with no clouds as far as she can see. The sun is right in her eyes but she can’t find it in her to care.
“It’s nice huh?” Charles asks as he’s switching places with Elena. “I love going in the south, it’s always so warm and sunny.” Tracy hums in approval, even if the sun isn’t the only thing that make her feel warm.
It’s another three hours on the road until the next stop, Tracy is back to counting every car that passes by—three hundred and eighty six, by the way—when Elena gets the brilliant idea to roll the windows down. “Ever did that Tracy?” she asks when she notices Tracy’s reaction in the rear view mirror.
“No, mother says it’s annoying to have the windows down.”
“Try putting your hand out of the window,” Angelo suggests, nudging her in the ribs with his elbow.
So Tracy tries, and holy shit it’s amazing. The wind hits her palm and pushes it backwards, she feels air kissing her skin, twirling around her fingers and it’s the best thing to ever happen to her. It makes Tracy smile so brightly and she huffs out a laugh and wiggles her fingers, her skin is warm under the sun. “Th-this is… this is perfect ,” she whispers.
Angelo’s looking at her weird, he’s grinning and blushing and he looks so proud and it makes Tracy’s stomach twist in a way that’s completely opposite to the way she feels when her parents tell her she’s not good enough.
Putting her hand out the window is her new favorite thing to do she decides.
Angelo gestures at her hand. “It’s awesome right?”
He chuckles, it looks painful judging by the way he twists and grabs at his torso like his ribs are being squeezed together. He takes a deep breath and reacts as if it hurt him to do so, exhaling in useless little huffs. He grabs at his shirt once again and straightens his back almost painfully against the seat. Something’s definitely wrong with him.
Her hand doesn’t feel that warm anymore.
“Alright what’s going on?” she asks when they stop for lunch, grabbing Angelo by the wrist and pulling him away from the rest of the family. They sit on a bench and she glances at him, waiting for an answer.
Angelo shifts in his seat and looks away. “Nothing, I’m fine.”
“You’re lying. What’s wrong?”
“I said it’s nothing!” He huffs and runs a hand through his hair. “Seriously, drop it, I’m fine .”
Tracy crosses her arms and glares right in his brown eyes, ready to stay like that for hours if it means learning the truth. He’s got very light, very discreet freckles under his eyes and across his nose and a small scar over his left eye, she never noticed that before. “Take your time,” she says, “I have all the time in the word.”
Angelo’s getting impatient, tapping his foot on the ground and scratching at the bench as he huffs another painful looking breath. “It-it’s my binder,” he finally admits, “it hurts to wear it while staying still for that long.”
“Your binder ?” Tracy asks, surprise clears in her voice. “You’re wearing a binder right now?”
“I am! Got a problem with that?” Angelo’s turning away, his body language more defensive than ever.
“Uh, yeah I got a problem,” Tracy spits, Angelo flinches at the words, “How stupid are you to think it was okay to wear your binder for a ten hour ride? You’re gonna hurt yourself—you’re already hurting yourself!”
Angelo’s head turns back to her so fast he might’ve hurt his neck. “What?” he asks, flabbergasted.
“What ‘what’? You thought I have a problem with you being trans? Fun fact: I don’t, now go to the bathroom and take your binder off young man.” Tracy shoos him away with her hands. “I’m serious, if you don’t take it off I’m kicking your ass.”
Angelo’s practically running to the bathroom at her threat and Tracy’s rolling her eyes at the stupidity of all of this. She waits for him at the bench, and he returns five minutes later with a bunch of black fabric crumpled in his hands. “here you go, happy?”
“Very. Come on, I want a sandwich before your dad eats them all.”
Tracy feels very happy with herself when Angelo sits back into the car and doesn’t look like he just lost a lung, his binder is back in his suitcase and except the faint unconscious slouching he does, he doesn’t look that sad about it being gone.
Charles is back at the wheel this time, putting Slobber back on and this time Tracy decides that she doesn’t mind much. “Alright kids, we’re halfway there, take a nap, play a card game, enjoy the view!”
By ‘the view’ he probably doesn’t mean Angelo but that’s what Tracy’s looking at. She’s still not over the fact that he has freckles , it’s so… unexpected on him. So it’s really his fault if she’s stuck looking at him, she’s pretty sure she’s gaping too, fuck she’s absolutely smitten . And then Angelo looks at her and—yep she’s dead now, she died and now she’s in heaven, or hell or wherever she goes after death.
“What?” he asks, tilting his head to the side.
Tracy bites her lip and clenches her fist until her nails dig into her palm hard enough to hurt. “Nothing... just—” she runs her free hand in her hair, gripping and pulling until she’s focused enough to get her shit together— “enjoying the view, you know?” Whoa, real smooth Tracy, totally not gonna sound weird after that.
Angelo blushes and smiles and he really needs to stop doing that, it’s killing her. “Oh, thanks!” he says, “you’re a nice view yourself.”
No, stop it. Her palms are sweaty, it’s disgusting and he just keeps being cute and ugh she wants to either punch him or kiss him. The irrational part of her brain tells her to kiss him, because they’re kind of supposed to be dating and like an idiot Tracy agrees.
It’s just a little peck on the cheek, really. But Angelo’s eyes are wide open with shock and Tracy’s head is screaming. Holy fucking shit.
It’s eight in the evening, they’re still on the road but they traded the highway for small roads that twist and turn along the hills, everything’s so green here, and Tracy can actually see the Pyrenees in the horizon, all gray and pointy and there’s still snow on top of she squints. Her phone buzzes on her lap, she turns it over and it’s Angelo messaging her.
So maybe I should warn you about some people in my family.
Another message arrives after that, it’s a whole novel:
So there’s my uncle Tom who’s coming with my mom, right? Sadly he’s coming with his wife, Maddy, she’s a massive bitch and I never liked her. She’s the classic homophobic aunt you know? So yeah she usually treats me like shit and treats her kids (they’re called Ayden and Cayden by the way) like little prodigies. She’s gonna try to make you like her and then she’ll talk shit about me behind my back to make you ‘break up’ with me.
By the looks of it it already happened in the past, and that rubs Tracy the wrong way. Plus, you know, pissing off angry ladies is one of her hobbies so yeah, she’s gonna be at Maddy’s throat the entire week.
Okay. She types back, a branch hits the car’s roof when she presses ‘send’.
Okay Angelo’s grandmas are either super rich or super lucky. Their house is enormous , the garden is so big she might get lost in it, it’s full of trees and well trimmed bushes and flowers and they’re a coop with fucking chickens at the very back.
Another car is already parked in the driveway, so Elena—who went behind the wheel an hour ago— parks in the street behind a red pick-up. The air’s still warm when Tracy steps outside, it smells homely and sweet and fun, and also a bit like someone baked a cake.
“We’re here!” Peter yells, running to the door and knocking like a madman. “Nana! Mama!”
A woman opens the door, she’s thin and old and full of wrinkles and she laughs when Peter calls her ‘Nana’. “Hi Peter! Oh it’s so good to see you!” She hugs him and presses little kisses on his cheeks. Yep, definitely a grandma.
Angelo presses a hand on Tracy’s back and pushes her forward. “Hi Nana, this is my girlfriend Tracy.”
Tracy gulps and extends her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Oh hello young lady, please call me Nana and give me a hug would you.” Nana grabs her arm and yanks her into a hug along with Angelo. “Oh look at you all grown up,” she says to her grandson, “You’ve become a handsome man, dear!”
Angelo chuckles when she pinches his cheek—typical grandma move, you see—and runs a hand through his hair. “Thanks.”
And the next moment Nana is leaving to hug Elena and Charles. Tracy exhales and digs her hands into her pockets.
“You good?” Angelo asks.
“Yeah, just… lots of affection, I’m not used to that.”
“Poor thing,” he says and he places his hand on her back again to push her inside the house, “come on, you only met Nana yet.”
The rest of his family is gathered in the dining room, around a large wooden table that looks really fancy and old, it probably saw dozens of family reunions like this one. Tracy wonders if Hunter felt the same way she does when he was in her place. Probably differently, because she and Angelo are not dating.
“Angelo!” his mother exclaims, kissing his cheek, “We were just talking about you, come say hello.” Angelo smiles and walks around the table to greet his other grandma and who seems to be uncle Tom, aunt Maddy, Ayden and Cayden. “Hello Tracy,” Angelo’s mother continues, “how was the ride? Not too tired I hope?”
“No, it was fine, it’s good to see you, Silvia.” Tracy smiles and it’s not as fake as she thought it would be. She joins Angelo at the edge of the table and introduces herself to the rest of the family. “Hi, I’m Tracy, nice to meet you.”
Uncle Tom—who’s really fucking ugly by the way, crooked nose and greasy hair and small piercing eyes—stands up from his seat to shake her hand in what seems to be a firm ‘I’m a father and I need to be respected’ handshake. Tracy grips his hand with a strength equal to his and gives it a harsh shake. “Well, would ya look at that!” he laughs, “ya got a killer handshake Tracy, nice to meet you, I’m Tom.” And yeah he’s ugly as hell, but he’s funny and his body language is full of comfort and kindness. He’s okay, Tracy decides.
The next person to greet her is Mama, she’s all smiles and crude jokes and she pats Tracy’s back like they’re friends since kindergarten. “Hi there kid, I’m Mama,” she says, “welcome to the family, sweetie.”
And then there’s Maddy and her two sons, Maddy is tall and thinner than even Nana, she has her nose raised high and that look in her eyes Tracy only ever saw in her mother’s eyes before. “Hello,” she says, voice so fake it hurts Tracy’s ears, at least pretend you’re invested in the lie. “I’m Maddy.”
Tracy nods and turns to Ayden and Cayden, the youngest is small and large and reminds Tracy of a mini Manetti, his brows are knotted together and his sweaty little hands leave wet marks on the table when he pushes to stand up. “Hi, I’m Cayden.” He extends his disgusting hand and Tracy has to suppress a gag when she shakes it. “This is my brother Ayden,” the boy says, gesturing behind him.
Ayden is taller but he’s as large as his brother, he looks smart and reckless, like the kind of kid who dares other kids to do dumb things in a game of truth or dare. “Hey,” he says, looking at her the way Ajay did when he asked her out.
“So how did you two met?” Maddy asks, already putting her nose in other people’s business.
“At school,” Tracy deadpans, she crosses her arms and puts on her ‘no bullshit’ face, shoulder leaning on Angelo in a way that’s maybe a bit too possessive. “I’m sorry, can we talk later? Angelo promised me he’ll show me around the house.” He didn’t but Tracy wants to get away.
The chickens are adorable, they look so angry all the time it’s hilarious. Angelo’s giving them grass while Tracy sits down on the bench next to the coop. “What a family huh?” he asks.
“Tom and your grandmas are okay,” Tracy answers, “it’s Maddy and her sons that I’m afraid to punch.” She runs a hand through her hair to shake off the stress. “Ayden is freaking me out to be honest, he looked at me like I was fucking candy .” She shivers in disgust.
“Hey, maybe Maddy will like you enough to try to make you date Ayden instead of me.”
“No way,” Tracy spits, “it’s you or nothing.”
“Guess we’ll have to show them you’re not going anywhere anytime soon then.”
She’s gonna be so in love with him Maddy will puke, just you wait. And if she’s lucky enough, maybe Angelo will like her back. That’s one hell of a plan, fake dating and then real dating, simple. “That means I get to kiss you?” she asks, maybe she’s too eager but really right now she couldn’t care less.
And then she’s not on the bench anymore, the grass is cold under her legs, and Angelo’s hair is soft in her hands, and his lips are real fucking soft too. They should pretend to be dating more often.