Ghosts in the Closet

Thanksgiving: Part I

November
Eleven years after the accident
Age 25

Tucker hefted his carry-on bag over his shoulder and trudged, weary, off the plane. Having just finished his very first session in Congress—well, more like a quarter of a session, since he was elected only two months ago—he was exhausted and more than ready to get back to Amity Park. Initially, he'd planned on taking a shuttle from the airport, but Danny and Sam had insisted on making the hour-long drive out to O'Hare to pick him up, even though his flight didn't get in until after nine at night. He'd felt guilty at first, but now that he was here, he was thrilled that he wouldn't have to wait for a shuttle. It had been a crazy two months, and he just wanted to get home.

O'Hare was crowded, as usual, but not as bad as it could have been, considering it was only two days until Thanksgiving. It would be much worse tomorrow. He made his way through the terminal towards baggage claim, scanning the crowd for Danny and Sam as soon as he passed the security checkpoint. When he finally saw a familiar face, it wasn't either of the ones he was expecting, and he stopped short, almost dropping his bag.

"Valerie?"

She smiled and waved, as if her being here was the most natural thing in the world. Never mind that he hadn't seen her or even spoken to her since their break-up the night of his victory party. But he knew her well enough to see the tension under the surface.

She was nervous.

"Hey, Tucker," she said brightly as she approached him, apparently giving up on waiting for him to get over his shock and start moving again.

"Val? What are you doing here?"

"Hope you don't mind, but I got Danny to tell me when you were coming in and talked him into letting me come and pick you up instead."

He blinked. "Why?"

"Because I wanted to see you."

"Why?"

The smile disappeared. "Are you really that mad at me?"

He sighed, setting the bag down between his legs. "I'm not mad at you, Valerie. I'm just… I wasn't expecting this."

"Did you think you wouldn't see me once you got back to Amity Park?" She shifted, looking uncomfortable. "We do have the same friends."

"Yeah, I know. I knew I'd see you, but I didn't think it would be tonight, at the airport. You kinda caught me off-guard, here."

She looked down at the floor. "I know I hurt you, Tucker, and I'm really sorry. That's why I wanted to see you first thing, to try and make things right."

He sighed again. "There's nothing to make right. I… I never wanted us to not be friends. I just needed a couple months to…" He shrugged. "You know."

"Yeah." There was a moment of awkward silence while they both sort of shuffled their feet, then she finally looked up at him. "So… how've you been? You like being a member of Congress?"

"Yeah, I think. It was kinda crazy, coming in so late in the session and trying to get up to speed. I think it'll be a little less intense in January when we're all starting from a clean slate instead of me jumping into the middle."

"And you like the committees you're on?"

"Yeah, I do. They put me on the Homeland Security Committee—in Ecto Affairs, of course. And Science and Technology. Loving that."

"I'll bet." She smiled. "Introduce any legislation?"

He snorted. "I was too busy just trying to keep my head above water. But when I go back in January, I'm gonna slam 'em hard. I'm introducing a Ghost Hunter's bill similar to the Indiana Ghost Hunter's Act. I'm talking the whole package—licensing regulations, a prohibition against hunting ghosts who aren't engaged in illegal activities as defined by the same civil codes governing humans, rules pertaining to the capture and release of ghosts into the Ghost Zone, and a ban against holding them in the Human World without extending the same rights as human prisoners."

She raised her eyebrows. "Wow. If you got that passed on a federal level, it would completely gut the Anti-Ecto Control Act."

"Exactly. I've already started working on it, and I'm gonna get Sam to help me draft it while I'm home."

"You think it has a shot?"

"Probably won't get past committee, especially if it gets assigned to the Ecto Affairs Subcommittee, which is the most logical place for it to go. We're in the minority. But pushing on the ecto codes is what I was elected to do. We have a shot at getting a majority after next year's election, and then I think I can get it past committee and heard in the full House. Maybe even get it as far as the president's desk—not that he'd sign. But for now, I'm mostly looking to be the pest they can't get rid of."

Valerie smirked at him. "Oh, I think you'll be great at that."

"Thaaaaaanks."

The smirk faded, and her nervousness returned. "So, uh… what else has been going on? Danny and Sam… they won't tell me what's up with you. They say they don't want to be stuck in the middle, which I guess I understand, but I just… I wanna know how you've been."

"I'm… good."

"You been keeping busy? Making new friends?" She glanced away, trying to appear casual. "I saw your picture online at some fancy dinner or something. Pretty girl you were with."

His stomach took a queasy tumble. He wanted to be able to just slip back into something resembling a comfortable friendship with Valerie, but it wasn't as easy as he would have liked. He'd been too busy in Washington to really feel her absence, but now, with her standing right in front of him, he felt like he'd just ripped a scab off a still-fresh wound. "Let's… let's not go there right now, okay? It's too soon."

Her face fell. "Oh. Okay. So, uh… we should probably go get your luggage, then"

"Yeah, I guess we should."

He picked up his bag and slung it back over his shoulder as they walked in uneasy silence, but before even making it to the escalator down to baggage claim, she stopped short and turned to face him. "This is all wrong. I… I made a huge mistake."

He swallowed. "You don't have to stay, Val. I can catch a shuttle or a cab back to Amity Park. In fact, I think it would be better." The thought of an hour alone in the car with her was more than he could bear at the moment. Tomorrow, when he was rested and he had Danny and Sam there to act as buffers, they could try again.

"What?" She looked stricken. "I... okay, then. If you want me to go, I will, but I have something to say first."

"Val—"

"No. I screwed up, Tucker. I don't mean coming here tonight, though maybe that was a mistake, too. I screwed up two months ago, when I let you walk away. I thought…I don't know what I thought. That if you were in the public eye, everyone would find out about me, and about…" She looked around, remembering they were in the middle of a busy airport. "Well, you know what I'm afraid of everyone finding out. But you were right. It was just an excuse. I… I'm completely tied down to this life because of the choices other people made for me. Vlad, Technus… and you, going off to D.C. right when I was finally hitting my groove in Amity Park."

Tucker let out an exasperated huff of air. "I told you, Valerie. All you had to do was say something. I didn't have to run for Congress. I liked my job at Axion, and being in the state General Assembly. I could've stayed if you'd have just said something."

"Said what? 'Don't do what you really want to do with your life because I have issues'? Come on, Tuck. You were meant to do this. You're gonna change the world through your legislation, and no way am I gonna get in the way of that. I just thought that if we could keep things the way they were, I could have everything I wanted without one more tie holding me down."

He clenched his jaw. "Well, far be it from me to tie you down."

She sighed. "You have every right to be mad—"

"I told you, I'm not mad. I'm just… I don't know what you want from me, Valerie. I don't want things to stay the way they were. For seven years, we did the push and pull thing, and I can't do it anymore. And I don't want to rehash it. What's done is done. Let's just… let's try and get past what we were and figure out how to be friends again, because we both love all the same people and, for them, we have to make this work."

She looked at him a moment, her expression one of acceptance and quiet resolve. "Okay. If that's all you have left, I'll have to live with that, because I'm the one who did this. When you asked me to marry you, all I could think was, that's one more 'forever' in my life. But then you left, and now the forever I'm looking at is forever without you, and I hate it. I… I love you, Tucker. I love you, and I'm sorry. That's all I wanted to say."

She turned and started for the escalator, but before she could step onto it, he called out to her. "Valerie, wait!"

She stopped and faced him, moving aside to let people pass and get on the escalator behind her.

"That girl in the picture you saw? It was a one-time thing. The friend of an aide who went with me because I needed a date. I didn't even care that she was hot. Well, okay, I cared a little," he amended when she arched an eyebrow at him. "But mostly, I'm still hung up on the girl I asked to Senior Prom."

Her face softened into a smile. "I hope you don't mean Jazz, seeing as she's married and just had a baby, like, two weeks ago."

He started walking towards her. "No. I don't mean Jazz."

Then, he was in front of her, drawing her into his arms and into a long, breathless kiss, oblivious to the people around them trying to get on the escalator. She snaked her arms around his neck, pulling herself closer to him in response. When they broke apart, she looked up at him, her eyes searching his. "I don't want to be just friends, Tucker."

"Yeah... I kinda got that. I don't want to be just friends, either."

"Can we... do you think we can try again?"

He nodded, pressing his forehead against hers. "I… yeah. I'd really like that."

This time, she initiated the kiss, and it was a long time before she released him. When she did, there was a mischievous glint in her eye. "You got any plans, say, next Thanksgiving weekend?"

He frowned. "Next Thanksgiving?"

"Yeah. I figure that's a year for me to find out what kinds of options there are for a ghost hunter in D.C. when Congress is in session. Elections will be over by then and, even if the session hasn't ended, they probably won't reconvene until December. Seems like a good time to get married."

He blinked. "Hold up. Did you just propose to me?"

"Yeah. I think I did."

"Five seconds ago, we weren't even together, and now you wanna get engaged? Don't you think that's a little fast?"

She started to respond, but before she could get out a word, he cut her off. "Oh, who am I kidding? I really don't care." And he kissed her again.

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