Ghosts in the Closet

What Goes Around

Three and a half years after the accident
Age 17

"She what?"

If Tucker hadn't already felt bad enough, he would have withered under Sam's fury as she stared him down across their booth at the Nasty Burger. Gritting his teeth, he repeated himself. "She's gonna take Alex to Senior Prom." He said the name like it was the kind of disease one could only catch under highly suspicious circumstances.

"But Prom is a week from Saturday! I know Valerie likes this guy, but I can't believe she'd ditch you less than two weeks before! It's—"

"It's pretty cold," Danny agreed, putting a comforting hand on Tucker's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, dude."

Tucker shrugged, which was kind of hard to do with his chin resting in his hands. "She didn't really ditch me, per se. It was obvious she wanted to go with him, and I didn't see any point in forcing her to go with me, so…"

"Still." Sam looked ready to pound her fist into something. "It's just wrong. I can't believe Valerie would do something like this to you. She's supposed to be your friend."

"Well, that's just it, isn't it? She only agreed to go with me as friends, and that was before she met Alex."

A mere hour before, actually, and Tucker wanted to choke on the irony.

He'd asked her to be his date to the prom three weeks ago, finally working up the nerve when they were in Indianapolis for a run to support breast cancer research. The Grays ran twice a year, every year—Chicago in the fall and Indianapolis in the spring—in memory of Valerie's mother, who had died of breast cancer when Valerie was nine. This year, the entire Fenton family decided to join them in Indianapolis, and Tucker and Sam came along as well. If nothing else, the trip had been worth it just to see Sam willingly put on a pink shirt. Even Mr. Fenton wore one—over his orange jumpsuit, of course. The only ones in their group not wearing the official race shirt were the Grays themselves. Their shirts were pink as well, but on their backs were matching pictures of Valerie's mother, a beautiful woman with long, dark-brown hair offset by ivory skin and pale blue eyes. Underneath the picture were the words, In Loving Memory: Meredith Gray and the years of her birth and death. Across their chests, Mr. Gray's shirt said I run for my wife, and Valerie's said I run for my mother.

It might have been the different location, or the camaraderie of coming together with thousands of others for a common cause—and one that had nothing to do with ghosts, for a change—but after breakfast the morning of the race, when Tucker happened to find himself alone with Valerie for a few minutes, he finally bit the bullet.

"So, uh, Val. You know, Prom's next month, and I was sorta wondering, if you didn't already have a date, maybe you and I could go together?" When she didn't answer immediately, he started talking really fast. "We could go with Danny and Sam. I thought it might be fun, the four of us, going together."

She raised her eyebrows. "No one else you asked said yes, huh."

"Uh…" He wondered if she could hear his heart beating hard enough to pop out of his chest. For most school dances, he started asking any girl he came across months before the event. This time, there was only one girl he really wanted to go with. "I haven't asked anybody else, actually."

This clearly surprised her. "Aren't you a little behind schedule? There's only, what? Five weeks 'til Prom."

He gritted his teeth. "I just thought, you know, since the four of us have been hanging out so much… But if someone already asked you…"

"Well, there's Nathan. He did beat you out by, oh, about three years." She made a face. "But I think I'd rather go with you."

He beamed, until he realized that could be taken two ways. "Hey, wait. Is that a 'yes,' or an 'anyone'd-be-better-than-Nathan-but-I'm-still-not-going-with-you'?"

She laughed. "That's a 'sure, why not?' Sounds like fun, and since neither of us are seeing anyone, we might as well go together."

Tucker had been thrilled, but apparently the neither-of-us-are-seeing-anyone part had been an important qualifier, one that became particularly relevant when, not an hour later, she met Alex.

A freshman at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Alex was another one of the racers staying at their hotel. He was tall, athletic, blond, and charming, and Tucker hated him on sight. Like Valerie, Alex had lost his mother to breast cancer, and the two of them bonded over shared memories of surgeries and chemotherapy and slowly watching their mothers slip away. He ended up running with their group, and since both he and Valerie were more athletic than Tucker could ever hope to be, they quickly outpaced him, and he didn't see her again until after the race was over.

Before leaving Indianapolis, Valerie and Alex had exchanged e-mail addresses and IM nicknames, and the weekend after that, he'd driven to Amity Park to see her. For the past three weeks since the race, he'd become almost as regular a fixture in Amity Park as the ghosts—and about as welcome, as far as Tucker was concerned. Actually, the ghosts were more welcome, because every time one showed up, Valerie had to drag herself away from her new boyfriend to help round them up. Tucker wasn't exactly sure why things were so busy the last couple of weeks, but he'd never been so grateful to see Technus or Ember or even the Box Ghost in all his life. He could see it in Alex's eyes—the impatience with her always running off with her friends, always putting them first, or so it must seem from his point of view. And Tucker would get her all to himself on Prom night. He'd already gotten Danny to promise that he and Sam would make themselves scarce, and he had high hopes that that would spell the end of Alex.

Until Valerie dropped the bomb on him. She didn't dump him, not exactly, but she did hint around at wanting to go with Alex to the point where Tucker felt he had no choice but to let her out of her promise to him. Dejected and defeated, he'd retreated to the Nasty Burger with Danny and Sam to vent his frustration and drown his sorrows in a Mighty Meaty Cheesy Melt Super Value Meal.

Danny shook his head. "Sam's right. How are you supposed to get another date with only two weeks to go?"

"I don't want another date. I am officially boycotting Prom and all things prom-like. You guys just go without me."

"Oh, come on, Tuck! We've gotta all go together! This is, like, the last big hurrah of high school."

"Yeah. And I'm not gonna be yours and Sam's third wheel, thank you very much."

"You're no third wheel. We're a team. There must be—" He stopped, snapping his fingers. "Jazz!"

"What?" Tucker looked up at him.

"Jazz would go with you!"

"You're gonna hook me up with your sister?"

"What? No, I'm not gonna hook you up with my sister. But why not go as friends?"

"I dunno, dude. I'm not really into the whole Prom thing anymore." Like he wanted to see Valerie there with Alex.

"Come on, Tucker, you have to! We won't have any fun without you! Besides, you already bought tickets."

Sam slapped her hands down on the table and stood up. "That's it. I'm gonna go talk to Valerie. I know she likes this guy, but that's no excuse for bagging on a friend."

Tucker's eyes widened in fear. "Sam, no—"

"Don't worry, I won't tell her you like like her. But I am gonna give her a piece of my mind. Especially since this is the second time she's done this to you."

Tucker and Danny both froze, exchanging nervous glances. "Sam, wait…" Tucker started, but it was too late. She'd already stomped off, looking furious.

He looked at Danny. "This so can't end well."

When Sam arrived at Valerie's, she was in her room… IMing with Alex. With a growl of contempt, Sam crossed her arms and leaned against Valerie's bedroom door. "Turn off the computer. We need to talk."

Valerie turned away from the screen to face her. "Hey, Sam. What's wrong?"

"What's wrong? You just blew off Tucker two weeks before Prom, that's what's wrong!"

She looked genuinely surprised by this. "I didn't blow him off. He told me he understood that I was sorta seeing someone now, and that I could ask Alex instead."

"Of course he did! He's not an idiot! He can pick up on subtle hints, like 'Oh, if only I could go with my new boyfriend…'!"

"So what's the big deal? Tucker and I were just going as friends, because neither of us were seeing anyone. And now I am. It's not like I dumped him or anything."

Sam tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to bite back her irritation. "The big deal is that there's less than two weeks until Prom! He already bought the tickets, rented the tux, and every other girl at school already has a date. What's he supposed to do now?"

"He could take Danielle. She's dying to go."

Sam barked out a bitter laugh. "Oh, right. Can you imagine the cow Danny would have over Tucker going out with Danielle? Even as just friends? So not gonna happen."

"Jazz, then."

"You are missing the point, Valerie!" She clenched her fists in frustration. "Tucker's your friend, and you ditched him. And it's not even the first time!"

Now Valerie looked puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"You were supposed to go to that dance with him freshman year, but you blew him off the day of the dance. Now, I expected that from you back then, because you were a self-absorbed bitch. But now? You're supposed to be his friend!"

Valerie cocked her head and crossed her arms, her eyes flashing in anger. "I may have been a self-absorbed bitch, but Tucker ditched me for that dance. To take you, if I recall correctly. And you didn't hear me making a federal case out of it"

Sam blinked. "Are you nuts? Why would he dump an actual date—rebound though it may have been—to take me as just friends?"

"Maybe he liked you."

Sam laughed again. "Yeah, I don't think so. He told me you canceled on him, and asked me as a friend."

"Well, he lied. He canceled on me to take you, so draw your own conclusions."

Sam shook her head, confused. "Wait a minute. So, then, is this some kind of payback?"

"Please. I don't care about that. Sure, I was mad at first, but like you said, I was a self-absorbed bitch back then." She gave Sam a tight smile. "Going with Tucker wasn't exactly gonna raise my social standing, now, was it? I hadn't told anyone on the so-called 'A-List' I was going with him, so no one knew he'd dumped me, and it was a toss-up whether getting dumped by Kwan and having no date or getting dumped by Kwan and going with someone that far down on the social ladder instead would be worse, so I got over it pretty quick. This has nothing to do with any of that. I met a boy I really like, and I want to go to my Senior Prom with him, not someone who's just a friend, and that's all there is to it. Tucker can go with Dani or Jazz as friends, and everyone wins. So what's the big deal?"

Only that he really, really likes you and is crushed, that's all. But she couldn't say that, so instead she crossed her arms and grumbled. "I just think it's wrong to back out on a promise, that's all." Which is exactly why she was going to get to the bottom of who backed out on whom before that dance back when they were freshmen.

"Don't look at me; it was Danny's idea."

"Thaaaaanks, Tuck."

Tucker shifted nervously under Sam's lethal gaze. "Sorry, dude, you're on your own. I'm not taking the fall for this."

"Oh, you're not getting off that easy, Tucker Foley." Sam was leaning against Danny's bedroom wall, her arms crossed, and looking like she was out for blood. "You were the one who'd made the promise to Valerie, so you shouldn't have listened to him. It's not like he can make—" She stopped short, her mouth hanging open as if she were frozen.

Tucker and Danny winced, waiting for the inevitable.

"Oh, no. You didn't." At least now she was directing her fury solely at Danny. "Tell me you did not overshadow Tucker to make him dump Valerie to take me."

Danny's face was bright red and he looked like he wanted to sink into the floor. If he were smart, he'd do exactly that, Tucker thought. Instead, he started stammering, then finally got out, "Why are we talking about something that happened over three years ago?"

"Because there's no statute of limitations on being a complete asshat!" Sam was clenching her fists so hard, she had to be leaving nail marks in her palms. "I don't believe this! Why on earth would you do such a thing?"

"Because I felt bad that you didn't have a date, and that we hadn't figured out sooner that you wanted to go, and since I was already going with Paulina—"

"You figured the solution was to overshadow Tucker, ditch Valerie, and ask me on a pity date?"

"It wasn't a pity date!"

"What else would you call it? You said it yourself; you felt sorry for me. Not sorry enough to break your own damn date. Just sorry enough to make Tucker break his!"

"Hey, I did Tucker a favor! You looked hot in that dress you wore that night, and Tucker was thrilled—"

"HELLO! MISSING THE POINT, MUCH?" Sam looked madder at Danny than Tucker could ever remember. Even angrier than the time they'd had the fight where she'd wished she'd never met him. Her fists still clenched, she growled again, almost loud enough to qualify as a scream. "Do you even bother to think these things through? Valerie thinks Tucker stood her up for that dance three years ago, and you don't think just maybe that might have played into her deciding it was okay to stand him up for Prom? What goes around, comes around, Danny, only this time, it's Tucker who's getting the fallout from you using your powers to be a colossal jerk!"

"The Prom thing has nothing to do with that. This is because she wants to go with Alex—"

Sam flew at them, and Tucker and Danny both cowered back against the opposite wall. Ignoring Tucker completely, she reached out and grabbed Danny by his ear, pulling him up off the floor.

"OW! What are you—? Let go!"

"You are so going over to Valerie's right this second and explaining what happened, and you'd better fall all over yourself apologizing to her. Then, if you're lucky, I might forgive you in time to go to the prom with you."

Tucker backed away, cringing. "Uh… just so we're clear—I'm the innocent bystander in all of this, right?"

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