Below her own shaky breaths, the brunette could vaguely perceive the presence of someone else in the attic. Her lidded eyes all but blinded her, which, as she believed, heightened her other senses. A soft, almost inaudible, sigh was emitted from behind the slightly ajar door, and she knew he was there. The twelve-year-old girl glanced to the door, wishing he would step out and say something, gosh! She struggled to turn onto her side, a garbled shriek rising in her throat as unbearable agony seized her chest.
Mabel Pines waited one, two, three minutes, giving up on trying to mentally coax him back into their attic bedroom. She turned her attention to the window, where the dying breaths of twilight ghosted delicately along the horizon. The sunset was so pretty. In fact, Mabel had always wanted to knit a sunset sweater, with all the beautiful colors of the sky. Maybe she could persuade Grunkle Stan to find her some new yarn, yarn that almost glowed!
The eternally optimistic girl couldn’t help but giggle, even though it made her injury ache. If she had to be confined to the bed, well, she could work on her sweaters and maybe even draw up some maps of Gravity Falls. Mabel smiled, letting one arm drift to the floor, where her favorite notebook, spackled with smiling hearts, was waiting. Tomorrow, definitely… she was getting kind of tired.
The floorboards creaked quietly where Mabel knew he was lingering. Seriously, he was acting strange. She brushed her chocolate bangs out of her eyes with one trembling hand, and reached for her nightstand, where her prized weapon rested. Mabel aimed it, straining to direct the hook. With a faint grunt of frustration, she forced her forefinger down on the trigger. Her grappling hook never failed her: Mabel pulled the base back, which opened the door. “Hi, Dipper.”
The dark-haired boy stepped back inadvertently, one hand going to his neck, force of habit, you know. “Uh, hi Mabel. How are you feeling?”
“Dipper, silly goose, I’m okay. I fired a grappling hook,” Mabel added, brandishing her tool with a brace-filled grin. Yes, she was aware why he was so tense, but, really, he had to get over it. What happened earlier today was not his fault. By pressing the “return” button, the hook jetted back to its barrel, where it clung to the outside like some hideous spider.
“Yeah, I-I saw that. I just came up to, you know, say hi.” By the turn of her head, Dipper had the feeling she didn’t believe him. He adjusted the bill of his cap, hoping it shaded his eyes well enough to conceal his concern.
“Dipper, no offense, but you’re the worst liar ever,” Mabel said with a headshake, propping her quivering body up with an elbow. Her favorite purple nightgown hid the bandages, yet, no matter how she pushed them away, Mabel understood it would never leave his mind. “If you’re gonna say something, you should go ahead and say it.”
She might have been somewhat naïve, but she read him like a book. Guess that’s part of the pros and cons of being twins. “Uh, I came up here to say… well, I’m really-”
“Dipper, it wasn’t your-”
“Yes it was, Mabel!’ The brunette was silenced, eyes widening as her brother raised his voice. A “man” of few and wise words, he rarely needed to shout, especially at her. Dipper turned away from his sister, unable to even meet those innocent, glimmering eyes: the guilt was crushing. “I never… should have gotten so caught up in the whole hunt thing. If I hadn’t been so crazy… you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”
“Oh, come on, Dipper. It was an accident. Besides, who ran in circles for two minutes and then ran all the way back to the Mystery Shack? You did!” Mabel jabbed her finger in his direction, laughing when a dull blush began to creep up his neck. “And the doctor who put my bandages on was definitely a vampire! He saw my blood and got this hungry look in his eye… if he were younger, I would want to date him!”
It was amazing how rapidly Mabel was able to change topics. She was obsessed with finding a vampire boyfriend, convinced she would end up like the particularly drab protagonist in those stupid preteen novels. Way below his own crusades to vanquish the supernatural creatures living in Gravity Falls. Despite the fact she didn’t blame him or anyone for what happened, Dipper couldn’t chase away that feeling of guilt. He should have pointed out the wooden slats to Mabel: he was preoccupied with the book, what else was new?
The sky was an inky velvet, so soft and inviting. Mabel could feel the affects of her painkillers, their shadowy tendrils tenderly wrapping themselves around her and dragging her slowly, surely, towards unconsciousness. “I’m going to sleep now, Dipper. Tomorrow… we’re having a teeth-brushing race… and I’m gonna win.”
“Heh, we’ll see about that,” Dipper replied, and he started towards the door, giving her some peace. Before he was entirely out of earshot though, he could hear her half-conscious ramblings through the door.
“It’s not… his fault…”
“It sounds like it isn’t your fault.”
If his mouth wasn’t full of ungodly hot Chinese food, he would have, once again, explained why it was. Wendy must have expected this, because she smirked, her beautiful smirk, and tucked a lock of her shimmering red hair behind her ear. Ordinarily, he might have choked on the steaming noodles at this motion, but Dipper’s mind was miles away from the dinner table. The kitchen was chilly, the food was greasy and hot, and yet, there was nowhere else he’d rather be than eating take-out food here, talking to Wendy.
She harbored a similar feeling, minus the romantic aspect. Wendy loved the twins, thought they were a smart, curious team capable of feats that were greatly unappreciated by the authorities. It takes a kid to know a kid. And after hearing what happened to Mabel, Wendy had stepped on the gas, grabbed two meals to go at Golden Rice, and endured five miles of rocky terrain on her old tires.
Thank God, she did. Dipper really needed it. The story she had heard from the police and Stan greatly differed from how he viewed the situation. Granted, he had been there, but he was blaming himself for it. “I mean, you’ll move on from this. Mabel will get better. She forgave you, why can’t you forgive yourself?”
“I’ve told you Wendy, I saw where the well began. I should have pointed it out to her!” Dipper repeated sullenly, raking his fork through the mixture of chicken, vegetables, and noodles. “Besides, Mabel will forgive anyone. A goat half of her sweaters and she treats it like a pet.”
“Okay, so maybe you didn’t warn her about the well. You didn’t even know what it was. Beating yourself up about this won’t make you or Mabel feel any better. Believe me Dipper, it won’t do you any good.” She took a sip of tepid water, and leaned in further, hoping a riveting tale from her childhood would snap him back into reality. “When I was ten, I left my backpack on the bottom stair. My older brother tripped over it, lost two teeth. I felt guilty for so long, but after he was able to talk, he convinced me that it wasn’t my fault. He forgave me. I had to forgive myself.”
All right, so maybe it wasn’t a lightning-flash revelation, thinking wrong the whole time, but Dipper began to realize that, maybe, Wendy was right. He loved Mabel, he would never intentionally harm her, and, okay, she did forgive him. “I guess you’re right, Wendy.”
“Oh, you guess. You can always trust your old pal Wendy.” Her smile seemed to glow, ignite his doubts and fears. Radiance. Absolute radiance. “You gonna eat that egg roll?”
Things don’t heal lickety-split. In fact, he can’t recount a time when they have. As night envelops Gravity Falls, Dipper kept himself curled into his pillow, the images dashing across his blank field of vision. The patched blanket was either damp with tears or perspiration. Probably the latter. It was always stifling in the attic, no matter the time of day. So he can still perceive the sound of those planks obliterating beneath her weight, the brief shriek before she tumbled to the bottom of the well. So he can see her petite body, unmoving and broken, down there, a shaft of sunlight gently highlighting the brilliance of her hair, the suppleness of her cherubic cheeks. So he can see the blood beginning to pool around her star-eyed sweater.
…two broken ribs, maybe a third cracked one… minor concussion, bruises and lacerations… a lucky fall, really…
A few hours later, five minutes after the witches hour, he heard springs groan somewhere in the room: beside him. The first cold clutches of panic were banished away when Dipper felt a pair of arms wrap around his torso, clinging to him for protection. Her soft-as-sighs hair tickled the nape of his neck and he could now discern each breath, a whisper of relief in his ear.
“It’s okay,” he said quietly, safe in Mabel’s arms. “It’s okay.”