"This is it, right?" Mabel says, looking at her phone for the umpteenth time.
"It has to be. There's literally one hotel in town," Pacifica says.
Part of being a Northwest is possessing a surface knowledge of the valley's civic history. Pacifica knows there's exactly one hotel within city limits, a ramshackle old building that bears the unfortunate title 'The Brokhen Arms,' named after original proprietor Jeronimus Brokhen. This is one of many facts she was expected to memorize back when being a Northwest around here meant something. And given that her ancestor was not the actual town founder, she's not sure how much of what she was taught is true.
But she's quite certain that The Brokhen Arms is the only hotel in town, so Mabel's concern that she's at the wrong place to find Brendan is unfounded. Brendan's family must have booked far in advance, because the 'NO' part of the hotel's vacancy sign is lit, an extremely rare occurrence. Pioneer Day brings in people from the county, but Woodstick is the only valley event that draws a crowd from out of state. Well, that and Northwest Fest, which drew a much more select group—not that it matters, since that's not a thing anymore.
The Woodstick Festival is this weekend, and its impact goes far beyond no vacancy at the hotel. Circle Park is filling with RVs, already close to capacity, and the same is true for pretty much every flat space in the valley. The old Tent of Telepathy field is packed with vehicles, as is the backlot at Gravity Malls. There are new faces everywhere, tourists pouring in from US-26 and the Redwood Highway, packing the hotel and filtering through the tourist traps. Stan has added more daily tours, keeping himself, Soos, and Melody busy. The twins' work strike has temporarily been broken, ended by the new labor crisis as Stan finally grew desperate enough to threaten calling their parents. Even Pacifica has been putting in long shifts at the counter.
She can't help but wonder how all these new people don't seem to notice the strangeness of the valley. She's visited Gravity Falls every summer for most of her life, making her a person of interest in Ford and Dipper's research, even though her reason for never discussing the supernatural is very simple: Her parents told her not to. Besides, she never harbored a desire to be a weird girl who told stories about monsters.
Still, she has to agree with Ford and Dipper—someone in all this crowd must be willing to be that weirdo. So why haven't they?
Whatever. She'll have plenty of time later to hear Dipper discuss this with himself while staring at a blank page in his journal and loudly clicking a pen.
This trip to the hotel doesn't have anything to do with her, but she's in town because she's been in the Shack all day and Mabel's reunion with Brendan is a convenient excuse to get outside. She's also just kind of curious about the two of them, honestly. While Mabel's matchmaking impulses are ones that Pacifica is only too familiar with, Mabel's romantic side is a version of her that Pacifica doesn't really know. Which makes her the odd one out, judging from Dipper's exasperated familiarity with Mabel's love life.
Pacifica missed a lot last summer, and she never likes being reminded of that. Following Mabel to her meeting with Brendan is sort of a weird way of making up for it, a little bit, and feeling less left out.
"Oh! He's meeting me right inside!" Mabel says eagerly.
They go through the double doors into the lobby, which looks like it's kept most of its original décor and furnishings and hasn't been renovated for about a century. The scuffed hardwood floors sit beneath antlered-chandeliers and tarnished brass fixtures with dimly flickering bulbs. Pacifica has never been inside before, and it immediately strikes her how similar it is to a rundown version of the manor.
There's a scattering of people among the furniture; not quite a crowd, but enough that it takes them a second to spot Brendan as he strides out of an opening elevator. Mabel hops up and down, waving both arms as if she's trying to catch his attention in a packed airport. Pacifica turns slightly to the side and pretends they don't know each other.
Brendan comes over with a brilliant smile. He's not really Pacifica's type—his hair is almost as long as hers and he dresses like it's the early 90s. But she must admit, he is pretty hot; he's got a teenaged-Keanu Reeves thing going on that dovetails with his fashion sense (and how appropriate that Mabel is into a boy who seems as immune to the heat as she). And there's definitely something strange about him, probably something supernatural, given he knows Chortley. Mabel isn't telling, and Pacifica isn't interested enough to dig. Mabel and Brendan are just lucky that Dipper is still oblivious.
"Hey!" Brendan says. He's got eyes only for Mabel, and again they lock gazes for an uncomfortable amount of time. "You made it!"
"It's not a bad walk, we live not too far outside of town," Mabel says.
"Right, at the Mystery Shack," he says. "Oh, hey, Pacifica," he adds, as if he's just now noticing her presence.
"So are you all set?" Mabel asks.
"Yeah, let's kick it," Brendan replies. "I went to the Mystery Shack once, but I was, like, five or something, so I don't really remember."
Pacifica had not been aware that the goal was to bring Brendan back to the Shack. If she had, she could have saved herself the walk. Oh, well. The exercise will contribute to keeping slim and fabulous.
They step back out into the summer day. It's warm, probably about eighty degrees or so, and there's scarcely a cloud dotting the bright blue sky. The festival is in no danger of getting rained out; according to the forecast, it's clear skies and sunny afternoons for the whole weekend. Hopefully, there will be more of a breeze for the festival because the air in the valley is unusually calm today, and it makes the heat that much more uncomfortable.
After leaving the town's limits, they pass through the tunnel of the trees and emerge in the clearing where the Shack sits, baking in the sun. Thanks to Ford's souped-up air conditioner, Pacifica knows the inside will still be pleasingly cool; she wonders if that's also been a contributor to the increase in tourists. Mirroring the rest of the town, the Shack's gravel lot is close to capacity.
They access the interior through the museum entrance, which Pacifica belatedly realizes she's never used before. She was never a patron before skipping straight to resident. Stan has a group of tourists gathered around another of his chintzy attractions. Mabel leads Brendan to the back of the group.
"Ladies and gentlemen: behold!" Stan declares, sweeping aside a moth-eaten curtain. "From the deepest, most punctual seas: The Clocktopus!" He reveals an octopus with a clock stapled to each limb. Pacifica can't tell if it's actual taxidermy or plaster, but it's at least slightly horrifying.
Stan taps each clock with his cane. "Eight limbs, eight clocks, eight different time zones! He's... well-traveled!"
"Isn't the time an hour off?" one of the tourists says skeptically.
"They don't observe daylight savings at sea."
There's a collective rumble of assent with understanding nods.
Stan is about to say something else when he spots the girls and Brendan at the back of the group and does a doubletake. He sidesteps the tourists as they crowd around the Clocktopus for photographs, flipping up his fake eyepatch.
"Came to see your great-uncle at work, eh?" he says jauntily.
Pacifica frowns. "We're not related."
"Lucky for you and the kid, blondie. This is Oregon, not Alabama." Stan turns his attention to Mabel and Brendan. "Who's this? You come in with the rest of those freeloaders?"
"Grunkle Stan, this is Brendan, remember?" Mabel tells him. "He's my… friend."
Stan catches the hesitation. "Yeah, sure." He pokes his cane at Brendan. "You be good to my niece, longhair, or I'll kick your butt back to Berkeley."
"I'm from Grand Ronde?" Brendan stammers, leaning away from Stan.
Stan lowers the cane, his expression perking up with genuine interest. "Oh yeah? They got a good casino out there."
"Yeah, uh, I can't go to that yet," Brendan says.
"Grunkle Stan, be nice!" Mabel chides him. "Also, there's little kids climbing the exhibit."
Stan spins around and pushes back through the crowd. "Hey, hey! Hands off the merchandise!"
"So that's my Grunkle Stan," Mabel says, waving one hand in Stan's general direction. "You learn to love him. Anyway, my other great-uncle is probably deep underground doing crazy science stuff, it's pretty neat," she adds nonchalantly.
"He's the guy who's studying things, right? Like… weird things?"
"That's the guy!" Mabel shoots a quick glance in Pacifica's direction, then steps closer to whisper something to Brendan. Pacifica makes out the beginning of the sentence and the end: "You don't need to worry—" and "—totally ethical!"
Yeah, Pacifica called it. Brendan is either supernatural or part of something that is. Whatever. By this point, Pacifica is starting to accept that weird is the new normal.
They follow the tour group for a while longer, and then Mabel takes Brendan into the gift shop to see the merchandise and say hi to Dipper and Soos, who are restocking between tours. Pacifica doesn't get how the tasteless displays of junk would appeal to anyone, but Brendan seems to like what he sees. He's looking at an overpriced collection of keychains when Stan brings his tour into the shop.
It doesn't take too long for most of the tourists to grab what they want and leave; the tour wasn't that large of a group (judging from the sounds echoing out of the curtained door, Melody has a larger group in the museum). Stan props his eyepatch open and counts his cash as the doorbell jingles with each exit.
Dipper is saying something to Soos, gesturing towards him. Soos straightens his baseball cap and approaches Stan a bit nervously, a snow globe still in one hand. "Hey, uh, Mr. Pines? You got a minute?" he asks.
"Not now," Stan says, still deeply involved in counting cash.
"It's just, I had some ideas that I think we should—"
Stan interrupts. "Forget 'em. Go clean something, Soos."
Soos sets down the snow globe gently but firmly. "Stan, I need you to hear me out."
Dipper and Mabel trade a disbelieving glance, clearly shocked at what they're seeing.
Stan is equally taken aback. "What's gotten into you? Is Waddles in your body again?"
"No, Mr. Pines, this comes straight from my pigless heart," Soos says.
Stan crosses his arms. Pacifica is sure the old man is about to lay into Soos; instead, Stan says, "Alright, let's hear it."
"I know you hate the festival, but people need space to park, and we've got a whole empty field! It's like I told you at the end of last summer: people love this place! This is the shack that saved the town," Soos says insistently, his eyes shining with sincerity. "It's not just one of the touristy places anymore, it's, like, a community center or something! Everyone knows it. And it's not just the lot, we could be doing so much more with the big room: Weddings, bar mitzvahs, local bands, meet-and-greets for that fertility cult; all sorts of gatherings, dude! This is more than just the Mystery Shack. It's the soul of Gravity Falls!"
Stan's expression doesn't change: arms crossed, unimpressed.
"And we can charge them out the butt for all of it!" Soos adds.
Stan's eyes light up. "You had me at 'out the butt,'" he says, clapping Soos roughly on the shoulder. "Get on it, apprentice!"
From there, Mabel takes Brendan on a short tour of the residential sections of the house (excluding the basement, which, despite no longer being top secret, is still a place people don't go without Ford's permission). Brendan seems genuinely interested in the building, which Pacifica sort of gets. True even when she considered it a dirty hovel, the Shack has an air of mystery that's oddly enticing. She can't help but feel a strange sort of pride to know that she stands behind the velvet rope, walking freely where others are barred access—not a tourist, but a tenant. This, despite the fact it's just a gross old shack.
Not long after, all the kids convene in the attic for a 'planning sesh' at Mabel's insistence; Candy and Grenda arrive from town, along with Wendy. They crowd around an official map of the festival that Mabel has laid out on the floor, complete with a variety of scribbles not unlike the ones that festooned the map for the road trip.
"Behold the festival of dreams!" Mabel says as they all look at the map. "Tent after tent of all the best foods: powdered sugar on everything! There are six different funnel cake stands this year, so we'll have to pace ourselves…"
"Mabel, there's more to do than stuff ourselves with sugar," Dipper says, rolling his eyes. "Which reminds me: We should probably avoid the Love God."
"He's not playing," Wendy says.
"Yeah, the festival changes every year," she explains. "This year it's less nu-folky and more pop punk. Gotta get that sweet Wrenched Tour money, yo."
"But I saw so many Volkswagens!" Grenda says in confusion.
"There's still plenty of hipster bands playing along with everything else," Wendy says with a shrug. "They got a bit of everything, it just kind of leans one way or the other."
Brendan nods. "Last year was actually kind of weird since the bands were so similar."
"You were here last year?" Mabel gasps.
"Yeah, we come most years. Almost didn't this year, but I really wanted to," he says with a half-smile.
"Aw, we missed a whole year of knowing each other!"
"We'll make up for it," Brendan laughs.
Wendy leans forward. "Listen, I know you're all psyched for the festival, but you gotta duck out for a couple hours to see my cousin play at the arcade."
"Yeah, okay," Dipper says. "I mean, I think we all want to go to the festival just to go, right? I don't even know any of these bands."
Neither does Pacifica; her tastes run in a much glossier and more choreographed direction. She doesn't care if she's at the festival or a different show, so long as she's with Dipper.
Their date beneath the gloaming has set things right again. And it wasn't like she wanted to be apart from him, but she had just been so angry, so afraid of all the things that could have happened. She knows that Ford deserved her anger more, but he's an adult, an authority figure; Dipper is a more approachable target. But he's also the single most important person in her new life, and the distance hurt her as much, or maybe even more, than it hurt him.
But that's over with, and she couldn't be happier to move past it (even if she's not above rubbing his face in it now and then). This weekend isn't for thinking about that stuff. She's going to go to the festival and have fun and look good doing it.
The rest of the kids' meeting is mostly hashing out the boring details of going to the festival as a group. Pacifica tunes most of it out; she lives at the Shack and is obviously heading out tomorrow with Dipper and Mabel, so as long as at least one of them knows what the plan is, she doesn't have to.
Later that night, the non-residents have left the Shack, ready to return bright and early tomorrow. Pacifica follows Mabel to the downstairs bathroom to retrieve their homemade tie dye t-shirts. She's not normally in the habit of making her own clothing or wearing tie dye (wouldn't have been caught dead in tie dye a year ago), but Mabel wants the full festival experience this year, which apparently includes tie dye. Besides, Pacifica remembers her bet with Dipper from earlier this summer, and is looking forward to being able to say, 'I told you so.'
Pacifica notices that Mabel has a smaller piece of cloth which has also been tie dyed. "What's that for?"
"The scrapbook," Mabel says, unfolding it. "Make sure to take lots of pictures while we're there!"
There had been a period when Pacifica viewed Mabel's scrapbooking with bemusement, but that time was brief. She was won over by the activity quickly, and by this point views the ever-expanding scrapbook with a sense of ownership almost equal to Mabel's. It's a living document of her summer, too.
With the tie die complete and hung up to dry, the girls turn to their next tandem task: washing Waddles. The pig enjoyed splashing around in the muddy puddles left behind when Soos washed his truck and needs to be cleaned before he's allowed to roam the Shack again. They douse the pig with tepid water from large fast-food cups and rinse him with a light amount of baby shampoo. Waddles rests his chin on the edge of the tub, eyes closed as he grunts at contented intervals while Pacifica scrubs behind his ears with a brush.
"So are you and Brendan getting serious now?" Pacifica asks.
Mabel sighs and lets her washcloth droop for a moment. "I hope so. But at the same time, it's like… we aren't going to get to see each other much, you know?"
Pacifica thinks about what she told Dipper at their picnic. She meant it, but the extent to which she can make herself believe it changes moment to moment. "Maybe you can make it work, like, over the internet."
"You guys can," Mabel says, and there's no doubt in her voice. "But you and Dipper have a crazy deep destiny romance. I really like Brendan, a lot a lot; I just wish we had more time…"
Pacifica has always envied Mabel's absolute faith in Dipper and Pacifica's relationship. Maybe it's naïve—maybe Pacifica is nuts to appreciate that kind of sentiment from someone whose mind is so attuned to hearts and rainbows. And yet, it can be a real comfort, even if it also feels like a lot of pressure sometimes. Mabel is genuinely rooting for them, and always will be.
"If Dipper and I can make it, then you can too," Pacifica says firmly, as much to herself as to Mabel.
Bedtime comes as the sun disappears and stars wink above the treetops. Pacifica goes up the rough wooden stairs to the attic, ready to say goodnight. Mabel isn't in the room, so she must still be in the bathroom. Dipper is in his bed, hair tousled and wet from his shower, journal propped open on his stomach as he sketches something.
"If you're drawing the giant rat, make sure it has extra stink lines," she tells him.
He grins at her over the top of the page. "Not exactly."
Curious, she walks over and sits at his side, swinging her legs up when he scoots over to make room (it's only for a minute, to see the journal; no one's getting in trouble). She leans in, pressing her cheek to his shoulder, his skin still heavy with the scent of soap and warm water.
It's not the rat—it's her. Drawn in blue ink, she sits on the picnic blanket, legs folded beneath her. Her gaze is fixed on something past the page, her face in profile, her hair blown back in a breeze. The drawing isn't finished yet; her legs are just outlines and she's missing a hand, but her face is rendered in surprising detail, surpassing anything she's seen him draw so far.
"It's not done yet," he says quickly, eyes darting nervously to gauge her reaction.
Captivated, she reaches out and presses a finger near her own inked visage. The Pacifica that Dipper has drawn is different, somehow. She's comfortable there, on the page, on the hilltop. She's… at peace.
"I didn't want to forget how you looked," Dipper says quietly.
She runs her finger across the blank portion of the page. "Then you should draw yourself there. For me."
Dipper nods slowly, his eyes locked with hers. He raises his pen and perches it above the paper. "So how many stink lines should you have?"
She's just about to swat the pen out of his hand when Mabel comes flying through the door in her pajamas, a towel wrapped around her head like a fluffy pink beehive.
She careens full speed into her stuffed animal-covered bed. "Grunkle Alert! Grunkle Alert!" she hisses, waving her arms spasmodically.
Pacifica instantly rolls off the bed and straightens her nightgown with a quick sweep of her arms. "Goodnight, Dipper. Goodnight, Mabel," she says loudly, finishing the last syllable just as Stan comes slouching into the room.
"Goodnight!" Mabel says, wisely hiding her expression behind her pillows.
"Yeah, goodnight," Dipper mumbles, doing the same with his journal.
"None of you ingrates ever come over to tell me goodnight," Stan complains as Pacifica makes a quick exit.
"We're still mad at you!" Mabel retorts.
"Yeah, but even before that."
Alone in her room, she snuggles beneath her cool sheets with her stuffed seal, listening to the Shack as it settles in the night air, timbers creaking. She thinks about Dipper's drawing, and the scrapbook, and the stuffed seal clasped in her arms. Are these the only things that are going to be kept of this summer? Will she be left with nothing but the memories?
I'll still be me and you'll still be you and we'll be together as long as we want to be…
She can only hope that's true.
And tonight, at least, the hope comes easily, and leads her into a sound and dreamless sleep.
Against Forgetting by Jack's Broken Heart (Not On Label, 2000)
I hate writing author's notes because then everyone comments on the note and not the chapter. But I owe you an apology for the execrable lateness of this chapter. I am trying to get another out as soon as possible to make up for it.
Additionally, I keep noticing mistakes in older chapters, such as quite a few missing words during the Windigo arc, which frustrates me. I could edit my old chapters again, but that seems like a bad idea given how it would further impede my already slow forward pace. So, I may be looking for someone to go over the existing chapters for me to find mistakes. I'm not sure yet, but that's probably my best option.