i hope you never find me

Not every day in Gravity Falls is spent in outdoor pursuits. Sometimes a day of rest is in order, or it's time for a trip into town, or Dipper gets too caught up in the lab to venture out. Or, as is the case today, sometimes it rains, and not the kind of gentle rain that can be ignored with a poncho and a little determination. While most of the rainwater collects in the lake (and in the alien spaceship, as they discovered not too long ago), the hills surrounding the valley make flash floods a dangerous possibility. Better to ride out the inclement weather in the comfort of the only slightly leaky Mystery Shack.

It's about noon and rain is furiously lashing against the Shack, thumping on the windows and clattering dimly throughout its wooden halls. Pacifica is seated at the table in the living room, enjoying Mabel's culinary apology for her behavior yesterday—a big helping of Pacifica's favorite French toast for lunch, complete with 'sorry for being a butt 😊' written in powdered sugar. Pacifica is magnanimously accepting the gesture and the sugar, stuffing herself way more than she should.

Mabel's apology extends to Dipper as well, which Pacifica is glad to see, if only because it will smooth over any lingering resentment. The twins are over by the TV, watching a very staticky broadcast of Gravity Falls Public Access as rain interferes with Stan's ancient antenna; Blubs and Durland are acting out some sort of anti-drug advertisement, though they mostly just make drugs look cooler in contrast to how lame the two cops are. Dipper is in Stan's chair and Mabel is curled up on the floor in front of it, leaning her head back against the cushion to look at him upside down.

"I was so mad because I thought you didn't say goodbye to Brendan on purpose," Mabel is saying. "I thought you didn't like him."

"It didn't even occur to me," Dipper says uncomfortably.

"Well, I was pretty boy crazy last summer. I get it that you thought it was the same," Mabel says. "Sorry I blew up at you so fast. I guess… being mad at you was easier than being sad Brendan isn't here."

"It's cool. I mean, I don't know what I'm going to do when—"

Pacifica's attention wavers when a piece of French toast betrays her, falling off her fork and back to her plate, spraying small dots of syrup on her shirt. "How dare you," she says to her meal, looking aghast at her spotted shirt.

She retreats to her room to change, making sure to touch up her stained shirt with a bleach pen. When she returns to the living room, she finds Dipper bustling around the TV, pulling wires from a box that hadn't been there before.

"Check it out," Mabel says. She's claimed the chair for herself and points to the box. "Wendy gave us her Gamestation 180!"

"She did? Why?" Pacifica asks.

"There's a tournament next week at the arcade and I told her I was pretty good at Medal of Duty," Dipper explains as he untangles yet more cords. "She's on shift right now, so she's letting me borrow her system."

"Now we have state-of-the-art ultraviolence, pew pew pew!" Mabel happily proclaims.

"It's not state of the art," Dipper corrects. "But it's still pretty cool."

Pacifica peers into the box, looking at the off-white console. "If it's so great, why don't you have one?"

"I have a PC, remember?" Dipper says. "It's much closer to actually being state of the art."

Dipper gets that elitist tone in his voice when he talks about his PC, which is weird. What's so great about having a computer? Isn't the game console just a smaller computer? She may not understand his sense of superiority, but she recognizes it just fine. Pacifica is nothing if not well-acquainted with snobbery.

Dipper has the console set out in front of the TV and its light is on, which Pacifica presumes indicates power. The TV still shows nothing but static, though.

"Is the adapter not working?" Dipper wonders. He tightens a few connections and turns it off and on before eventually figuring it out. "Oh, the TV has to be on channel three. That's dumb."

The game blasts to life with a very loud and bombastic title screen, and Dipper uses one of the controllers to navigate to the kind of split screen multiplayer that Pacifica became accustomed to in Piedmont. She had also become accustomed to getting her butt kicked all over the racetrack, and still gets a little heated just thinking about all those turtle shells the twins sent careening into her poor little cart. But this doesn't look like a racing game, which is different. She knows Dipper has all kinds of games on his computer, but they rarely seemed like something they could play together on the same machine.

"Okay, so you pick your gun and then you use the sticks to move and look around, and the triggers to aim and shoot," Dipper briefly explains. "The person with the most kills when the round ends wins."

"You'll never take me alive!" Mabel declares as she sets her loadout.

"You can't take people alive, Mabel, we're supposed to kill each other," Dipper says.

"Well, you'll have to double kill me, you salty dog!"

"We're not pirates, we're spec ops."

"Yaaar, tell that to me hook hand!"

Pacifica isn't sure she likes any of this. She gets frustrated enough when her character falls off the road, and at least then she's still alive to limp across the finish line. Being dead in the game sounds boring. What's she supposed to do then, press A to rest in peace?

It's hard to see anything on Stan's ancient TV, so they crowd up close to it, cross-legged in front of its dusty screen. Pacifica can see her own faint reflection in the slightly curved glass of the monitor, her blonde hair visible between the stippled blobs of Dipper and Mabel, and this is strangely comforting. Maybe she's not going to have any fun, but she's with the twins.

The match starts and, sure enough, she spends the first half of it wandering around half-blind, trying to interpret the interface and traverse the complicated map. She gets shot repeatedly from directions she didn't even know she could go to. Still, there's something exciting about this kind of game… It makes sense, the way the sticks work—the way the aiming snaps to target. It's not that hard to shoot stuff, she just isn't sure what's going on most of the time. The match ends and she frowns at the zero representing her kills. She can do better.

And she does. The next round is on the same map, and this time she knows the general route around all the half-destroyed houses and dust-choked streets; every time Dipper shoots her from a new place, she remembers where that place is and spends time learning how to get to it. She tags Mabel a couple times, then catches the other girl unaware and bags her first kill.

"How could you?" Mabel gasps. "Backstabbed by my bestest friend!"

"I'm sure you did something to deserve it," Pacifica says haughtily.

"Yeah, prolly."

"You're getting better at this," Dipper congratulates her. "A good trick with that gun is to aim for the chest and then get a headshot off the recoil— uh, like that. You got me."

"Oh, did I?" Pacifica says breezily.

Dipper's eyes narrow and he leans forward, posture suddenly intent.

It quickly becomes clear that he hadn't been trying very hard before, which makes sense. Pacifica is brand new at this kind of thing, and while Mabel has some skill, she spends most of her time goofing around, making her own little games within the game, trying to hit a grenade with a throwing knife or shoot every bucket on the level. Dipper's newly applied effort puts Pacifica back at square one; she keeps getting shot from every direction but the one she's looking at.

Pacifica is getting frustrated. She's trying to learn the map, but that takes time, and whether he's doing it intentionally or not, Dipper can always see where she is to some degree in his peripheral vision, whereas the information she can glean from his corner of the screen rarely means anything to her. However, over time, a pattern becomes clear, establishing her one advantage: she's faster. If they come face to face on an even playing field, she can sometimes win through sheer reaction time.

"How are you so good at this?!" he exclaims as she guns him down in the middle of the town square, just quick enough on the trigger to beat out his advantage in accuracy, leaving him dead and her screen mottled with the red of near-death.

"Looks like Pacifica's the fastest gun in the West, pard!" Mabel drawls, apparently having forgotten she's supposed to be a pirate.

"I'm just naturally good at things," Pacifica says casually.

She's not winning according to the game's scoring system, though that doesn't really matter anymore. The game is fun, but not as fun as making Dipper's face all red, which is the real victory. Pacifica starts to wonder if she can skim enough kills off Mabel to catch up to Dipper…

"Northwest? Kid?" Stan's voice echoes from somewhere near the kitchen. Pacifica looks away from the game right as he comes around the corner of the door. "Hey, uh… Pacifica."

Stan doesn't usually address her with that kind of familiarity. It makes her uneasy.

"It's your mom," he says.

"Mrs. Pines?" Pacifica says, unthinking.

"No, your mom mom."

Dipper has gone still, and Mabel's attention is no longer on the game.

Pacifica puts down her controller and stands. Ice water runs down her spine and begins to pool in her stomach, making her breath catch. Mother hasn't called all summer—not one word from her or Father. Pacifica has been more than happy to maintain that state of affairs.

Dipper is standing, like he's going to follow her to the phone; or maybe he's waiting for her to give him a signal to do so. He doesn't look like he knows what he's doing anymore than she does. But she doesn't want him to see whatever's about to happen (what is about to happen?) and makes a motion with one hand, telling him to stay before following Stan into the kitchen.

The phone is sitting on the table, its receiver muffled with an oven mitt. She stands over it as her world shrinks to wrap around its glossy black shell, the grey rotary dial staring back at her like a circle of eyes.

Stan lingers nearby for a moment, clearing his throat uncomfortably. "You see that trim?" he says, indicating the bottom of the nearby wall with his foot. "It's loose. Kick it a couple times and maybe the phone will 'disconnect.' Happens sometimes. Bad wires, y'know."

She just nods, grateful but breathless. Stan shuffles out of the room and then it's just her, stiff beneath the ceiling lamp.

There's no point in dragging this out. She pulls the oven mitt off the receiver and raises it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Pacifica, there you are," her mother says. Her voice is unchanged, and thankfully at least sober-ish. "I thought that awful man just wandered off. Why haven't you been answering your phone?"

"It's being repaired," Pacifica says briefly, having no desire to get into the specifics with her mother.

"I see," Mother says, though she can't possibly. "Well, how have you been?"

"I'm—"

"Good, good," Mother says, already moving on. "Well, I'm sure it's no surprise, but it's final at this point. Your father and I are getting divorced."

Pacifica feels nothing, not even relief. "Okay."

This flat response throws Mother off for a second. She pauses, as if waiting for a more emotional reaction, before continuing, "We haven't talked about it too much, but I think you'll be staying with me."

Pacifica knows this is the optimal outcome for her, yet still, she feels nothing at all. "Okay."

"I know this is hard, but it's for the best. You'll need to decide what you're going to keep. I'm afraid given the situation I will have to… downsize," she says with great reluctance.

Pacifica is living in a roughhewn wooden shack stuffed to the rafters with odds and ends. If Mother expects sympathy, she'll have to keep waiting. "Okay."

"I was looking at a few different places that are… Well, they're… affordable," Mother says delicately. "We won't look outside California, of course, we aren't desperate. The weather on the East Coast is dreadful. Your father was being quite snide and mentioned Chicago, of all places. Can you imagine? Northwests in flyover country—his idea of a joke, I suppose."

"Okay."

"We'll get you a ticket for Malibu and I'll have you picked up at the airport. Your father should be here by—"

Feeling at last surges through Pacifica, hot and bitter. "What? Why?"

"You need to get your things back from that… place. Piedmont," Mother says, the way someone else would say 'skid row.' "We have things to finalize as well, we're going to sell the house."

"What do you need me for?" Pacifica demands. "I don't care about your stupid divorce, you and Dad figure it out!"

"You're still a Northwest, and this is family business."

"We're not a family!" Pacifica retorts, coming close to shouting. "That's what you just spent a year deciding! We are not a family."

"Pacifica Elise Northwest, I am still your mother—"

"Who cares when you never act like it?! Why don't you just LEAVE ME ALONE?"

Silence. Pacifica can hear nothing but the thundering of her own heart in her ears, feel nothing but the bile churning in her stomach and the scald of the blood in her cheeks, the burn of the acid tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. She's painfully aware that she shouted that last part, her voice a shriek shot through with tears, and the whole house probably heard her.

"…What's another month going to prove, Pacifica?" Mother asks, and her voice is now brittle, defeated.

Pacifica sighs raggedly into the receiver. "This isn't about you," she says. "Don't make me leave yet. Please."

Another silence, punctuated by a long exhale and the clink of a glass. "I suppose you can come back when your friends do. The end of August, isn't it? But it's not going to change anything."

Pacifica doesn't respond. She stretches her leg out and kicks her toe into the baseboard twice, and the line goes dead.

As if in a dream, she leaves the kitchen and goes to her room, dimly aware that the twins are watching her. She pushes through her door and collapses back upon her bed, staring up at the ceiling. It's alright; she's safe. She doesn't have to leave yet. She's not surprised by the news, and not all that dismayed that her parents are separating; it's seemed inevitable for a long time now. But the close call is a reminder of what waits at summer's end. What she tries so hard not to think about. (The road trip is over—the deal with Dipper is off).

She almost sinks into the welcome escape of an afternoon nap, lulled by the patter of the rain against her window, but after some indeterminate time she can hear the twins whispering just outside the door. They must be conferring on how to approach her. She doesn't have the energy to tell them to come in or go away and isn't sure which she would prefer.

It's Dipper who comes in first, and despite her indecision she feels a small bit of relief. She doesn't think she can handle Mabel's positivity right now.

Dipper closes the door behind him and approaches her like she's a pressure-sensitive bomb, practically tiptoeing across the room to hover nearby. "Do you have to leave?" he says anxiously.

"No," she says. "I can stay the rest of the summer."

Dipper's posture slumps with relief and he sits on the edge of her bed. For some reason he's holding a plastic bag, which crinkles loudly. "You were fighting with her, so I thought…"

"She's the worst," Pacifica mutters. It's too soon for her to want to talk about it; she instead focuses on the bag he's holding. "What's in the bag?"

"Oh, this is from our last day of shopping in Portland. It got put down in the lab by accident," he explains as he opens it. "This is for you."

He hands her a stuffed animal. She takes it and turns it around so its head is facing her; it's a plush seal, smooth and silky with huge, dark glass eyes. It's adorable. Pacifica is in a vulnerable enough emotional state for Dipper's thoughtful gift to send her teetering towards the edge, and she hugs it to her chest as tears fill her eyes.

Dipper looks panicked by her apparent distress. "Uh, I thought it might make you feel better," he stammers.

"It does. It's perfect," she sniffles, burying her face into the seal's soft side. She reaches out blindly with one hand, searching for him. "Stop sitting so far away."

He scoots closer and she puts her arm across his front and pushes him down onto the pillow next to her. She puts her head on the slope of his chest and shoulder, her mouth and nose still buried in the seal she holds with one arm resting on Dipper, her other arm tucked behind the pillow. With her ear pressed to his shirt, she can hear his heartbeat, and she begins to calm.

Dipper tentatively snakes his arm beneath her neck and wraps it around her, his hand resting above her hip. "We're gonna get in trouble," he notes without much evident concern.

"It's just for a minute," she rationalizes, voice muffled by the seal.

She is exhausted, and he's so warm and comfortable that she's certain she is about to fall asleep. But this is prevented by the sound of whispers from the hallway, and an anxious shuffling of feet. She cracks one eye open to see the door is no longer fully shut, its knob slowly turning.

"Dipper!" Mabel whispers loudly. "What's going on?"

"She doesn't have to leave, everything is fine," he says.

Mabel lets out an explosive sigh of relief. "Well that's good," she says.

"Yeah, dude, for sure," Soos says.

Pacifica pushes herself up, glaring at the door. "Okay, how many people are out there?"

"Hey, don't worry about it!" Wendy replies.

The sound of multiple footfalls fades away. Pacifica wants to lie back down, but the moment is broken. Besides, with the rest of her summer vacation having come so close to being terminated, she's not sure she wants to stress the hospitality of the Stans by flagrantly breaking the rules. Instead, she sits up, and when Dipper does the same she leans into him, taking up a less risky position with her head on his shoulder, hugging her seal to her chest.

"First time she's bothered to call all summer. I wish she'd just keep not calling," Pacifica says quietly.

"Summer's not over. We've still got all kinds of stuff to do," Dipper says, a note of forced cheerfulness in his voice.

It's not too late.

He's right. The Woodstick Festival isn't for another week or so, and they've got the entire rest of August to fill. Pacifica has plenty more vacation to enjoy.

It's just now that she's been reminded of what comes after, she has to forget it all over again.


i hope you never find me by Tapestry (Strictly No Capital Letters, 2016)