first day back

Dipper blinks in the soft morning illumination, slowly rising from the gentle depths of sleep into the new light of day. He's on his back in bed, looking up at the rafters of the attic, his sheets lumped around his legs and his brain still fuzzy from a deep and dreamless state. The RV finally trundled along Gopher Road late last night, its tired passengers disembarking in the empty lot and entering the darkened house. Soos gave Wendy a ride back to her place while everyone else went to their rooms without much in the way of conversation, all of them eager for real rest.

Dipper isn't sure what time it is, but he feels like he slept in. When he sits up, he's surprised to see that Mabel isn't still in her bed. When it comes to sleeping in, she usually has him beat. He yawns and stretches for a minute, kind of reluctant to leave his bed; he's not tired, just so comfortable. What's even going on today? The Shack is still closed until tomorrow, so… unpacking, and that's about it. The Shack sits under that curious feeling of lassitude which follows a return from a long trip, the taking stock and preparing to resume. Even the results of Ford's observations will have to wait until the equipment can be returned the lab and the files transferred, beginning their transformation from raw data to useful information.

He takes his time getting dressed, and it isn't until he's descending from the attic on the old wooden stairs that he checks his phone: it's a little past noon, and breakfast has just become lunch. When he enters the kitchen, he's delighted to find pizza already waiting for him on the table, about half of it already gone. It's room temperature, but he's not that picky when it comes to pizza. He finishes his first slice and piles another two onto a plate with the intention of eating in front of the TV, but just as he steps into the hall, his attention is diverted by banging sounds from the gift shop. He goes down the hall and pushes through the door.

Stan is restocking the shelves on the far side of the giftshop for tomorrow's reopening, but he isn't the source of the noise. The banging is emanating from the contact between a dolly stacked to overcapacity and a doorframe; Ford and Soos are trying to maneuver the dolly through the vending machine door, which sits about an inch too low for them to just wheel the equipment through.

Realizing that any attempt to help in such a limited space will only ensure he gets in the way, Dipper meanders over towards Grunkle Stan and looks out the giftshop door. He finishes his second slice of pizza as he gauges the weather; it's an almost empty blue sky above, which he hopes will stick around for the rest of the week. Clear skies mean clear exploration.

Grunkle Stan is putting some more bobbleheads out on one of the floor displays. The merchandise makes Dipper think of Gideon, which in turn makes him realize he hasn't told either of his great-uncles what happened with the miniature tycoon. Ford will be more concerned with the details than Stan, but unlike most of what Dipper gets up to, Stan has a vested interest in Gideon—if that's an appropriate way to describe pure enmity.

"So, uh, things didn't go that great with Gideon," Dipper says.

"I kinda figured when you came back without your knuckles bruised," Stan says. "That was a letdown."

"You think we could have gotten away with that in Portland?"

Stan pauses his restocking for a moment. "…Eh. Not if you ever wanna go back," he concedes.

Dipper sighs. "He made this point about what he was doing, and it just threw me off, because I think he was kind of right, but not all the way right, you know? But what— oof!" His musings are interrupted when Stan shoves a box against his stomach, which Dipper barely catches with one arm.

"If your gonna yack my ear off then at least stock somethin'," Stan says.

"I'm eating," Dipper protests, holding up his plate.

"It's not my fault you slept through lunch, kid. What am I payin' you for?"

"You're not paying me!"

Grunkle Stan just increases the intensity of his glare.

"Alright, I'm stocking stuff, see?" Dipper grumbles, setting his plate aside and opening the box of assorted postcards. "Geez."

Stan places a few more things on the display in silence before continuing, "Look, any bad day for Gideon is a good day for me, but maybe you should just forget about it."

"But he's selling magic!" Dipper argues, waving a postcard for emphasis. "Don't you think that's dangerous? It brought Greg here already, it could bring even more. Maybe too many."

"You ever see that giant tree-thing that's out there sometimes?"

Dipper takes a moment to adjust to the sudden change of topic. "No, not yet. Great-Uncle Ford called it 'Steve' in the journals."

Grunkle Stan rolls his eyes. "Yeesh. You call that tree-thing 'Steve?'" he yells at Ford.

Ford's voice echoes up the basement stairwell. "It looks like a Steve!"

"Anyway. I think it was maybe aught-four," Stan says to Dipper. "I had a busload of rubes hooked, but right when I'm about to close the deal this big hand comes outta the woods and now I've got two halves of a bus in the lot. Everyone saw it, it was right out in front of the whole slack jawed group." Stan's expression makes it clear that the memory of all those wallets slipping from his grasp still hurts.

"Wow. In 2004?"

"Somewhere around there," Stan says uncomfortably.

Dipper realizes that Stan probably can't tell the difference between a memory lost by self-sacrifice and one simply lost to time. He quickly steers around the subject. "I bet the Blind Eye was all over that."

"Nah, that's the thing. They rented another bus and were outta the valley within the hour. Nobody from town ever heard about it. And I never heard about it either, not afterwards, not ever."

"I don't get it. Why didn't they tell anyone? I mean, if it was just one person, maybe they wouldn't want to sound crazy, but out of a whole bus there had to be someone who would talk, right?"

"No one ever does." Stan finishes with the display and turns away, lugging another box towards the far shelves. "The valley keeps its own secrets, kid. It's always been that way."

Dipper retrieves his slice of pizza and takes a contemplative bite. There is little doubt that Gravity Falls has kept itself isolated and unknown for centuries. The question, as always, is how.

Finishing his food, Dipper puts another box of merchandise on the shelves so he can duck out without Grunkle Stan yelling at him. He heads for the basement now that the way is clear and finds Great-Uncle Ford in the process of setting up again. The musty smell of the concrete cavern and the deep hum of the Quantum Generator core bring back the feeling of being home again. There's the Weirdness Emission Spectrometer console, its green screen dark, and there's the maze heart, still silently palpitating in its wire cradle.

Ford is typing on his new (well, new-ish) laptop. "Dipper," he says in acknowledgement, glancing up from the screen. "It'll be a couple days at least before I've unpacked the equipment. Stanley is insisting I remove the sensors from the RV, as if that's what makes that wreck an eyesore. Once I unpack the gear, we can unpack the data!"

Dipper spends the next several hours helping Ford carry down some of the equipment from the trailer, carefully unknotting cords and checking fittings and seals. Ford has accumulated a dizzying array of devices, but almost all of them are bulky and out of date. The more Dipper works with Ford's equipment, the more aware he is of how badly they need to update it, and how far outside their current budget that process is. Dipper always loves to think of himself and Ford as scientists—and in many respects, they are (mostly Ford, if he's being honest). But the truth is that Dipper is just a kid, and Ford is unemployed. That doesn't lend them much in the way of resources.

Dipper's neck is starting to hurt from being bent over a table for so long. He begins threading the screws that hold the outer shell of Ford's handheld spectrometer together, having given the inside a thorough examination for any debris, loose wires, or damage to the PCB. He's spinning the last nut down to its washer when Ford speaks up on the other side of the room.

"This doesn't belong here," Ford says, hefting a plastic bag. He looks inside. "Ah, some items from our afternoon shopping trip. Is any of this yours?"

It takes Dipper a moment to remember that it is his, along with the reason he had put it in the trailer instead of the RV. "Oh, yeah, that's mine."

He takes the bag and stops for a moment to finish fastening the casing before heading upstairs. He figures he's probably on his own for dinner; Grunkle Stan's likelihood of providing a meal wanes in direct proportion to how much activity he's already had to do, and after unpacking and making sure the shop and museum are ready for tomorrow, Stan's probably not going to bother with cooking. Dipper looks into the living room on his way to the kitchen, but no one's there and the TV is off. He realizes he hasn't seen the girls all day. Did they go into town, maybe to see Candy and Grenda? He's sure Mabel went at some point to bring Waddles back, so maybe Pacifica went with and they stayed for a while.

The pizza is long gone by this point, so he makes himself a PB&J. After he finishes eating, he picks the shopping bag back up and ascends the creaking stairs to the attic, where he finds the door half-shut. Privacy has never really been an issue with the twins; they take turns changing in the bathroom and if one of them really wants to be alone, there are better places to find solitude than their room. Still, he hesitates, made uncertain by the state of the door. Even at night they usually leave it open to aid the circulation of air. Should he knock?

He raps his knuckles against the door. "Mabel?"

"I'm here," she says.

He opens the door. Mabel is on her bed, propped up on a few pillows. She's got her phone on her lap but she's not using it, her thumbs tapping idly against the case. Waddles is sleeping next to her, his curly tail sticking up over the mound of blankets he's burrowed into.

Dipper puts the bag down at the foot of his bed. "Have you seen Pacifica?"

"She went downstairs to change," Mabel tells him.

Dipper notices that parts of Mabel's clothing are damp. "Wait, did it rain?"

Mabel shakes her head distractedly, picking her phone up and poking at the screen. "Grenda ambushed us with the hose."

Her lack of tone is beginning to weird him out. Something's not right. "Are… you okay?"

She gives him a sideways glance that has 'duh' written all over it. "I miss Brendan."

"Oh." Dipper relaxes a little, relieved it's not something more serious. "Hey, I'm sorry that things didn't work out, he seemed like a cool guy."

"What?"

Dipper shrugs. "I thought he seemed cool, at least compared to the other guys you dated. And it sucks that we won't see him again."

Mabel sits up straight, her eyes now fixed on him. "I'm going to see him again."

"I mean, maybe—"

"I will, because he's going to be here for the Woodstick Festival, Dipper!" Mabel says, and now the anger blooms in her face and posture, unmistakable. "Maybe you'd know that if you said goodbye!"

He opens his mouth to defend himself, only to discover his memory is blank. He said goodbye to Brendan, right? Or at least waved?

Except he can't remember doing either.

"Did I not do that?" he replies weakly.

"No! You just went back into the RV because you don't even care," Mabel accuses.

Dipper can feel his face flush. He knows he's in the wrong, but his awareness of that fact only serves to make him even more defensive, and he gets angry right back at her. "Yeah, well, maybe it's hard to care when you're going to get tired of him anyway! Why should I be his friend when you're just going to want a new boyfriend in a week?"

She doesn't say anything. She just looks at him for a moment, eyes shiny and mouth pinched, and then makes for the door.

Dipper is already feeling the first pains of regret, his shoulders slumping. "Come on, Mabel, I… Mabel!"

She leaves, not looking back. Dipper is startled to realize that Pacifica is standing in the doorway, and he has no idea how long she's been there. He nervously adjusts his hat, hoping she didn't hear the fight, but knowing she probably did.

Pacifica's eyes bore into him. "Even I know that was a cruddy thing to say," she snaps. She turns on her heel and follows Mabel.

Dipper just shuts his eyes for a moment, left alone in the attic with his frustration and guilt.


First Day Back by Somos (Tiny Engines, 2014)