Three teens stood in front of the entrance to Wonder Wharf, silently eyeing one of their companions. An air of discomfort swallowed the trio whole.
Zeke, standing to the front of their little group, tried to shoot small curious glances to the lone female with them. Jimmy jr. stood right at the wrestler’s shoulder with a pouting glare, something that wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the ginger probably would’ve liked. Finally, Tina stood back, eyes trained unflinchingly on Jimmy jr.’s back. With the three of them caught in a cycle of one-sided, incomplete looks, a loud cough interrupted the fragile hormone riddled ecosystem. Each teen glanced back to see Louise, glaring at them.
“I don’t know what you’re doing but you’re in my way. So move. I’ve got a small business to sabotage.” Marching past them, the bunny-eared girl paused at the sight of the Pesto child. “Andy and Ollie won’t be home until late tonight. They’re undercover as a health inspector.” She let silence consume the group before speaking out one last time. “Hey. Send them to drama camp. The natural stupidity of humanity will only carry them for so long” With that, the child disappeared into the small amusement park.
Coughing to call the trio’s attention to him, Zeke offered a loose grin to his two companions. “Let’s do this!” he declared cheerfully, chucking a thumb behind him at the entrance.
Jimmy jr. nodded somewhat seriously while Tina pulled out the spiral notepad she’d used when investigating the Mad Pooper. Zeke fought down the wave of memories that threatened to overtake him while Tina clicked the release of her ballpoint pen. This was going to be fun. Zeke was supposed to be enjoying himself. He’s just spending some time with his good buddy and his crush. Everything was fine. It didn’t mean anything anyway. He could never win her over. Tina was stubborn to a fault. She’d never sink her teeth out of Jimmy jr., no matter how much the ginger scorned her. Zeke was fine with that. He was just young and full of hormones. He’d fall for someone else eventually. The wrestler just had to wait it out. He could hold on till then, clutch to a flimsy thread of hope, stretched to the limit by every wistful sigh the girl huffed from her unpainted lips.
“Imma destroy you at darts!” Zeke declared, rushing forward and keeping his eyes everywhere but on the competition’s spectator.
It didn’t take long for Jimmy jr. to forget how he’d been goaded into coming along. Within five minutes he was laughing gleefully, caught up in Zeke’s energy. After the first game of darts (which the wrestler easily won), Tina had given up on keeping score and instead began writing friend fiction on the pad. She stumbled after the two competing boys, mumbling about zombies with her head bent down, fixated on her prose. These were the times Zeke would look back on when he was forty and divorced, listening to his next favorite pop song on an oldies radio station in a car he couldn’t afford, the boy told himself as he glanced between his redheaded bestie and the too smart girl he liked too much.
Half an hour in and the ginger needed a bathroom break. The remaining two sat on a bench right outside the rundown shack, silent- or they had been until Zeke spoke up. “Do you suppose you n’ J-ju are gonna get married one day?”
Tina frowned thoughtfully. “Yeah,” she answered after a pause. “Probably.”
“You cool with me bein’ the best man an’ makin’ a speech?” He mused aloud, not making eye contact. “Seein’ as you don’t really like me n’ all.”
There was silence for a long moment. “It’s not that I don’t like you,” Tina spoke slowly, jotting down loose thoughts on her notepad. “You’re just in the way. Once you stop distracting Jimmy jr. so he can pay attention to me, we’ll get along fine.”
Zeke laughed boisterously while he settled back into the bench. “Good plan, T,” he declared with a grin.
“I think so,” Tina spoke without hesitation, “yes.”
“So I’m thinkin’ my speech should start with an old reference- really, really old. Old now old. If anyone under 50 laughs, I’ll have failed,” the Southern teen mused.
“Okay,” the Belcher teen replied immediately. “I’ll remember that.”
Zeke smiled a painfully strained smile while something twisted tortuously in his gut. Heaving himself off the bench, Zeke faked a stretch just so he wouldn’t have to look at her anymore. With his back to her, he let out a weary sigh he tried to disguise as a tired one. “I think I’m gonna head out- I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone. See you later!”
“Oh,” Tina sounded pleasantly surprised, he could tell by the slight inflection in her voice. “Bye.”
Zeke waved without turning around as he ambled away from the bathrooms. He couldn’t do this. He’d tried, he’d tried a lot of things, but it didn’t work and it hurt so much. Zeke was the alpha dog. He was supposed to get his pick of partner but Tina was the exception to the rule. Of course she was. He needed something else to think about, something else to occupy his time and his mind. Something to help him get over Tina. He thought he could build up an immunity to her so it stopped feeling like his organs were draining out of his body through the soles of his feet every time she sighed wistfully at Jimmy jr. but that clearly wasn’t working and he was running low on organs by now. So the alpha dog fled with his tail between his legs and a sopping trail of guts in his wake.
Zeke sat in front of his computer, staring down the pop-up.
You must be 18 years or older to access this website!
Are you 18 years or older? Yes / No
He sighed and scratched his head absently. He need to reprogram his brain to find something other than Tina attractive, so what was the opposite of Tina. Blonde, skinny, stupid, lots of make-up-- well, he should have an easy time then. That sounded like a classic. The athlete typed as much in the search bar and scrolled through the results as they appeared. Now he just had to jerk off to enough of these and he should be all nice and brainwashed into preferring the type of girl he was supposed to, right?
Hot blonde begs for more caught his attention. It was highly rated and, judging by the thumbnail, didn’t look like it was shot on someone’s old iPhone so it should be a good starting point. Zeke clicked on the link and waited.
He wondered how it was going for Tina and Jimmy jr. back on the wharf. Hopefully, J-ju stuck around even after he left. Maybe he was finally going to get his act together and treat Tina halfway to decently so the girl could live her happily ever after and Zeke would have a genuinely good excuse to move on. It’d be so, so much easier to move on if the girl was actually happy, if she was respected and valued for being the, frankly, brilliant woman she was. A creative powerhouse, a scholar, a witty comedian-- she was going to take the world by storm and she’d do it all while being awkward and adorable. Socially awkward will be the new cool when her best seller hits the shelves. Jimmy jr. could be her husband, live off of her work and never have to take over his father’s restaurant. Free from financial burden, he could dedicate himself and his time to dancing. Maybe open up a dance studio-- hell, he’d probably have an affair with another dancer. Tina’d be in the tabloids: smeared for not being able to satisfy a man who never loved her in the first place, shamed for being brilliant, for being more than a wife was supposed to be, for robbing her husband of “a good wife” in exchange for gifting the world with her genius and insight. Zeke growled and his fist curled into a tight ball. She didn’t deserve that shit. Tina’s a hopeless romantic, she couldn’t help falling in love with the wrong-
Oh, shit. The video had already ended. Zeke sighed and pulled a hand through his short hair. So far, his plan to get his mind off of Tina was going super swell. Whatever, he hadn’t been interested in that video anyway. Maybe the next one would work better. Aimlessly clicking on another thumbnail of a blonde with orange skin, the athlete settled back in his chair for what even he could recognize was an exercise in futility.