Full chapter title: In Fair California, Where We Lay Our Scene
Dipper sat at his computer desk with a pencil in his mouth, chewing on the eraser. He'd written the list for all he needed for summer vacation in Gravity Falls. In fact, he'd written the list a dozen times already. After each one, he felt dissatisfied and would throw it away. His trash bin was filled to the brim with a final paper ball when Mabel strode into the room, all smiles.
"Dipper! Stop writing the list and pack, already! We leave tomorrow!" She grinned, flopping stomach-first onto his bed. "I'm glad we finally get to go back. Between the whole coming back, Gruncle Ford reappearing, and summer homework thing, we haven't had any time to go back these past summers."
Dipper nodded absently, grunting to himself then wadding up the paper he was writing on and throwing it into the waste basket. The paper bounced off and landed halfway across the room. Dipper sighed.
He's stayed in fairly constant contact with his friends in Gravity Falls, but with the spotty internet there, skyping was far from an option on their end. He'd gotten pretty close (sort of?) with Robbie over the years, seeing as he now understood why he acted the way he did. Teen angst and all that. Wendy and Soos were still close with him too, but other than them and the occasional letter from his Gruncles, he didn't have any people close to him or that talked to him. Minus his twin sister, she doesn't count, he told himself.
Mabel frowned. She still was not entirely used to the feeling of her braces being off even though it had already been two weeks since their removal. She licked across her teeth, half-expecting metal brackets. "Why are you not excited right now, Dipper? We get to see Gruncle Stan and Gruncle Ford and our friends but you are so down in the dumpy-dumps."
Dipper exhaled sharply, "That's just it, Mabel. They are my friends, but they're my only friends."
"When we started high school, I thought things would be different. That we would be different, but here we are- exactly the same. I stay up all night studying for tests, you listen to music and don't even study. You get better grades than me. You make friends, and I stay the loner loser who doodles like an idiot in the front of my classes."
Mabel's tone turned sympathetic, "Dipper..." She stayed quiet for several seconds before leaning forward to him, wrapping her arm around his shoulders and setting her head on his shoulder. "I get that it's hard, believe me, but not everyone is like you, Dip. No one could really understand all we went through, that's why it's easier to avoid the topic. Plus," she smiled, trying to cheer him up. "If anyone here found out about us saving the universe, there would be so much paparazzi following us around that we'd have to spend all our fortune on disguises."
Dipper smiled a little, appreciatively. "We'd have to dress Waddles up too."
"You're right!" Mabel's eyes grew wide and excited, listing off possible disguises for Waddles, her pet pig.
Dipper started writing another list, a remark to his sister's antics here and there, but overall feeling a little better. Reaching the end of the list, he realized he had pretty much everything he needed for the trip except for a clean journal. Since his days in Gravity Falls, he documented his life thoroughly through journals on the off-chance they may be helpful someday. Especially if, in his aging years, he would begin to forget the life that meant so much to him. He doubted it, but he still liked the thought of writing it all down. Maybe he'd be famous, and the journals would become best-sellers, he reasoned.
"Hey, Mabel?" Dipper asked, his sister stopping her train of thought and focusing on Dipper.
"Yeah, Dippy Fresh?"
"Oh god, spare me," Dipper laughed. "Don't remind me of that nightmare. I'm gonna head down to the book store and get a new journal for the summer. Want to come along?"
Mabel shook her head, "I am finishing the sweaters I'm knitting for our friends when we get back there. Do you want one, Dipper?"
Dipper nodded, "If it's not too much trouble. Can you make one with the pine tree on it? Like the hat I gave to Wendy?"
Mabel grinned, "You know that I can knit faster than anyone you know! I can knit a sweater in 3 hours! Besides, I thought you were over her."
"I just really loved that hat," he smiles, pulling a duffel bag from his closet.
"I remember," she laughed. "But you never wore Wendy's after we got back to California."
"Well, it's California, and hot all the time. It's a fur-lined hat, Mabel." Dipper pointed out, rolling up each individual shirt and pair of pants to fit more in the bag.
"Touché. Are you walking to the book store?"
"Well, make sure you tell Slappy I said hi."
"I am not telling the Puppet Burger mascot you said hi, that thing gives me the creeps."
"Fine, Dipper." Mabel pouted, "Well, off I go. You should leave soon if you want to get there before they close."
Dipper checked his Bigfoot watch and stopped packing immediately, grabbing his wallet and red baseball cap.
"Thanks, Mabel. Be back in an hour!"
"You better! We have to be at the bus station by 9 am and it is an hour's walk to the bus station! Mom and Dad can't drive us so we have to walk!" She yelled behind him, grinning.
Mabel returned to her room, getting out a large ball of blue yarn and a smaller ball of white yarn to start on Dipper's sweater.
Dipper made his way to the bookstore and greeted the man behind the desk like he always did when he came in. He followed his familiar path to the back of the store, where he heard someone talking in a one-sided conversation.
"Well, I don't know what to tell you, Freida. I don't know anyone here, I just moved here. How would I know where you're buri-"
Dipper came into the boy's view and his eyes flew wide. The boy pretended he had just snapped his phone shut.
"Sorry, forgot about the no talking thing." the boy muttered.
The teen's hair spiked wildly off his head, ears large and dark circles under his eyes. He shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets, the red material stamped with the face of a zombie wearing off from the thread.
"That's libraries, not so much in book stores. Mostly because you're buying something, different environment."
"Wait, do you go to the high school a couple blocks over?" The boy asked.
"Yeah, my name is-"
"Dipper, right? That's what everyone calls you."
"Well, the teacher when they call your name."
"You just moved here last month, right?"
"Yeah. I'm Norman."
There was a short silence between them as Dipper looked through the shelves to find a leather-bound journal similar to his other ones. He usually had to get a new journal at the turn of every season, so the owner noticed the pattern and tended to make sure at least one was always stocked during that time. He used what little allowance he had every month to pay for said journals.
Norman watched Dipper curiously, it had been very obvious that Norman had been more or less talking to the air (in the form of a spirit named Freida who wanted to be properly buried but didn't know exactly where she was stashed), and yet Dipper pretended like he hadn't heard anything.
"So, Dipper," Norman started, trying to find something to start a conversation. He had noticed Dipper was a bit of a loner, like himself, so he figured they may somehow bond over that. "Why are you back here? No one ever really comes back here except me."
"You come here often?" Dipper asked idly, finally finding a leather-bound journal and opening it to make sure it was the right one. That one had the wrong page color, he liked cream pages instead of white. Mabel thought his page color preference was dumb, but Dipper didn't care too much about his quirks.
"Every day, except Sunday- since it's closed on Sundays. You seem to know what you're looking for. A, uh," Norman glanced over, "leather journal? What's it for, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Just to write in, I guess, talk about my day." Dipper answers, looking over at the boy a few inches shorter than him (if you ignored the height of his hair).
"That's cool. I come here to read."
"Read what?" Dipper asked, interested, finding the correct journal and holding it against his hip.
"Zombie stories mostly, sometimes old penny dreadfuls if I can find them."
Dipper saw a spark of excitement in Norman's eyes at the question. He saw Norman around, he was in almost all of his classes. Except Dipper took creative writing and Norman took... something. Dipper figured they had hit it off enough he could ask without seeming desperate to talk, he was just curious.
"You're in all but one of my classes. I take creative writing that period, what do you take?"
"Amateur film-making," Norman smiled, looking a bit sheepish. "I wanna be a director."
"That's cool that you know what you want to do. I don't really know what I want to do. Something in research, maybe."
"Well I heard there's a folklore and mythology major at Harvard, is that something you'd be into?" Norman asked, he was trying to gauge how possible it was to be able to talk with Dipper. The guy seemed easy-going enough, and gave off a vibe of maturity, so Norman thought this inkling may be a hint as to whether or not they could find some common ground.
Dipper grinned, "Really? That's a thing? That sounds amazing."
"If I was smart enough to get into Harvard it would be an awesome thing to do, if I was a bit less into film, that is." Norman laughed awkwardly.
Dipper smiled, "I should go pay for this before they close. Maybe I'll see you around?"
Norman's heart sank a little, he hoped they could talk more. "Yeah, sure."
"If you see me, make sure to pull me aside, okay? You seem really cool to talk to."
"It won't be during the summer, if anything," Norman admitted, smiling. "I'm going to my cousins' house for the summer, gonna stay with him."
"I'll be out of town too. I'll be hanging with my great uncles and some friends around there."
"See you when the new school year starts then?" Norman offered.
"Yeah," Dipper beamed, "if we have any classes together we should share a table. Plus, there's always lunch."
"Okay, see ya, Dipper."
"See ya... Norm? Or do you prefer Norman?"
"Whichever is fine," Norman shrugged, waving once before making his way out of the book store.
Dipper took his wallet from his front jeans pocket and walked to the desk to pay for his journal. The man smiled politely, waving as Dipper left.
...A Passing of Time...
Once Dipper got home, he set his keys on the hook in the kitchen.
"Mom? Dad?" Dipper called, then noticing a note on the counter, he picked it up and read it aloud. "Dad has to work late tonight and I have to go to a charity function for work. There's money on the counter if you want to grab food. If not, split it between the two of you and keep it. I'm sorry, kids. Maybe we can have family dinner when you get back."
Dipper picked up the two twenty dollar bills from the counter, glancing at the clock on the wall. 7 pm. He'd been gone two hours rather than one. "And buy what? Dinner at the Olive Garden? Gees," he muttered, shoving the money in his pocket. "Maybe Mabel will want take-out."
Dipper opened Mabel's bedroom door to find her asleep on her bed, a finished sweater curled in her arms. Dipper smiled, "You work too hard. You didn't have to rush so fast." He pulled a fleece blanket from her closet and stretched it across her body.
Slinking his way through the door, leaving her door open, he made his way down the stairs quietly. Going into the kitchen, he opened the fridge, then the pantry and sighed.
"Looks like we have to work with what we have. It wouldn't be smart to go out for groceries at this time of night when mom and dad took their cars." Dipper muttered to himself, settling on making whatever he could manage.
...A Passing of Time...
Mabel woke up with the smell of food cooking downstairs, and yawned as she sat at the table in the kitchen. "Mom and dad out again?" she asked.
Dipper nodded, "Sorry, I came home too late to get groceries. I have to work with what we have, sis. I hope it's okay."
"You cook pretty good without many options, Dip. It'll be fine," she yawned again, smiling. "Did you see your sweater?"
"It's great," Dipper grinned, "thank you."
"No, thank you." Mabel insisted, her voice getting a little more bored. "Why are they gone this time?"
"Mom's at a charity function, dad's at work."
"Did they say what for?"
"There was a note. It's on the counter if you want to read it." Dipper responded, pouring the noodles from the pan into a colander.
"Oh." Mabel muttered, not bothering to read the familiar wording of every note they received.
"Anyway, I met this guy at the book store. We talked a bit, which is why I ran late." Dipper noted, trying to veer away from the topic of their parents.
He grabbed a potato, ran it under the tap in the sink, and began peeling it carefully, trying to remember all the bits and pieces of cooking tips he's heard and observed over the years. He finished the potato and started to chop the potato into small chunks, then once he finished he started on another potato.
"Mabel, can you open two cans of chicken, a can of green beans, and a can of corn from the pantry?"
Mabel nodded, getting the cans and using the can opener on them, "What's on the menu, Chef Dipper?"
"Not entirely sure yet," Dipper admitted with a laugh. "Kinda following my gut here. Can you grab all the meat sauces from the pantry and fridge? Like A1, that beef flavoring sauce, those kinds of things."
"On... chicken?" Mabel sounded hesitant.
"And get some lemon juice too."
"Okay," Mabel laughed, "I'll follow Chef's orders."
Once all the cans were opened, and she brought the sauces and lemon juice to him, he smiled. "Perfect. Mind draining the cans?"
Mabel smiled, she loved when her brother got happy like this. Nowadays, it always seemed like he'd put on a brave face. Now he genuinely looked content. "Of course, lovely twin of mine!"
Once everything was done, Mabel stood behind Dipper to watch what he'd do. He took ramen noodles from the colander and put them in a large bowl and added the chicken to it, putting lemon juice and sauces here and there. He put the two chicken-flavored spice packets back in the pantry for Mabel to add extra flavor to hers in the future.
Then, he poured the potato cubes, green beans, and corn all in one bowl and added butter, salt, and pepper to the bowl and put it in the microwave. After everything in that melted, he mixed everything around in the separate bowls and set them both on the counter closest to Mabel's chair at the table.
"This should cover enough food groups," Dipper laughed.
Mabel's mouth watered as she jumped up, "Man that looks great, Dipper! Let's split it in half and dig in!"
Dipper smiled, grabbing glass plates and handing one of them to Mabel as he watched her spoon half of each bowl onto her plate. He genuinely loved his sister, especially in moments like these. They sat across from each other at the table, and a pleasant silence settled as they ate.
"Mhm?" Mabel answered, her mouth full.
"When did mom and dad stop?"
"Stop what, Dipper?" Mabel asked, a bit taken aback.
"Stop being our parents. Was it just one morning they stopped being there for us, or did it happen over time? Because, honestly, I can't remember." Dipper muttered bitterly, setting down his fork.
"Dipper, that doesn't really matter right now. We can take care of ourselves as long as they pay bills. Be grateful they don't make us pay for everything or get jobs yet, as some parents do." Mabel offered, sighing. "I know you're mad because they haven't been around like they should lately. I get it, Dip, but... they're trying."
Dipper looked at his sister and sighed. Even if his parents weren't trying to be there for them, he thought, Mabel was right about not being forced to pay for anything. He picked his fork up and went back to eating. They ate the rest of dinner in silence.
~~~A Change In Perspective~~~
Norman checked his watch as he walked home in the dark. 8 pm. He flipped open his phone and called his dad's cell phone. After no one answered, the answering machine picked up the call. "I'm on the way home now, hope you guys are having fun in Toronto. I'll call you guys before I leave tomorrow. Bye."
The thought of the empty house at the end of the street made him deflate. His sister would be coming home from college all summer to watch the house while he was more or less agreeing to be shipped off so Courtney could be alone and not have to watch her little brother. It was unfair how highly they thought of Courtney, Norman argued, she may have been 'normal' but he could not control his gift.
A ghost of a pitbull trotted up beside him, a gash in his neck, and Norman sighed mournfully. "Poor dog." He petted the dog as it walked beside him, then watched it go its own way once Norman reached his own yard.
Opening up the door, he took off his sneakers and carried them in his hands. Opening his bedroom door, he took a look around. It didn't look that much different from his old room. This one, however, did have a noticeable difference. It was much smaller.
... Flashback Time ...
"Houses in California are expensive," his dad explained on the day they were driving the U-Haul to the new house, "because you aren't paying for the houses. You're paying for the beach 10 miles away. In our old neighborhood, you could buy a house twice this size for the same amount."
"So why didn't we?" Norman asked, bothered he had to leave his only friends behind.
"Because your sister wants to go to college in California and family sticks together."
"You should make her pay for her own college," Norman huffed under his breath.
"After all we've gone through over the years, you'd think you'd get it by now. Family sticks together."
... Present Time ...
"You'd think," Norman said mockingly to himself. "But I doubt you'd do the same for me."
Grabbing a bag of chips he'd left on his side table, he picked up his sketchbook and composition notebook and went back to working on concept sketches, camera angles, and a script he'd been working on. The alarm on his digital clock already set, prepared to wake him up in the morning. Eventually, he falls asleep against the wall, notebooks in his lap and pencil in hand.
I actually make food like Dipper described all the time. The recipes, if you can call them that, are approved by me. Haha
Anyway, sorry for the 'Absentee Parents' trope but seriously... the shows/movies all have them too xD Therefore, I don't feel so bad. There will be less absenteeism with the twins once they reach Gravity Falls. 'Cuz the Gruncles are the best.
Also, Slappy is a reference to Slappy from Goosebumps and Puppet Burger to Danny Phantom's Nasty Burger diner xD