Tyson loves her house. It was her grandmother’s house. It lends a certain nostalgia when she’s coming down the stairs and phantom memories come careening by the same way she and her sister used to slide down the banister. Little glimpses of the past are everywhere, from the hallway where she slipped and lost a few baby teeth to endless games of ball hockey in the driveway.
To clarify, Tyson’s grandmother isn’t gone. When the house became too big for her to maintain, she turned it over to Tyson, who had just gotten a job at the high school around the corner. It worked out for everyone; Tyson can walk to work most of the time, and Nan is enjoying life at the retirement community, playing bingo and volunteering at the library.
Parts of Nan are still in the house, like the majority of her good china and some of her quilts. Still, Tyson’s making it her own, repainting most of the rooms and slowly investing in furniture that’s not from Ikea. She’s even trying her hand at gardening, with mixed results.
And if “her own” also means she’s making things explode in the garage or backyard, well. It’s not so different from when she was a kid, except now she can truthfully say it’s part of her job.
“No neutral roller?” she asks, eyeing Other Tyson - Josty, physics - as he attaches crowns to the upper and lower rollers of the Van de Graaf generator that is slowly taking shape.
He grunts. “One negative and one positive will have better results.”
She glances over at JT, who teaches biology. Together, they’re the unholy science trinity and the reason why the fire department keeps visiting the school. Somehow, admin thinks they’re great and made them responsible for the after-school Science Club as well as the acting coaches of Avalanche High School’s Science Olympiad team. Well, they are great - they have a chance at state, if not nationals, this year. Tyson is utterly unapologetic about the dent they’ve made in the budget to get there.
JT shrugs and takes a sip of beer before turning back to the PVC tube he’s using for the generator’s column. “Sounds good to me.”
“Helpful,” she mutters, returning to her own task - assembling the sphere.
They chat as the generator comes together, trading gossip about teachers in the other departments (EJ’s Shakespeare unit is coming up, which usually results in raids of the theater department’s costumes, much to Colin’s disgust) and speculating about how long it will take Science Club to replicate their results (a week, tops - they’re bright kids).
“I’m running out of room for the next pieces of the Rube-Goldberg device,” Josty complains as the entire lower brush and roller is assembled. JT has moved on from the PVC to the plastic enclosure for the lower unit. “I’m not removing the old components - you know I have former students email me to ask if they’re still there? I’m not breaking their hearts.”
“Who says you need to take any of the old ones down? Build them out to another room. Think of it as another challenge. Brutes’ room is right next to yours,” JT points out.
“And your room is right across the hall!”
“My room has live animals! We don’t need mechanisms disturbing them!” He’s very protective of his assorted frogs, lizards, and snakes.
“There are chemicals in mine!”
Josty blinks at Tyson, his eyes wide and hopeful.
She heaves a sigh. His puppy eyes are the worst. “All right, fine. But only if your students can figure out a way to get the whole thing going from your room to mine without obstructing the hallway. And only around the top of the room. Bench space is reserved for things that go boom. Make sure the building materials aren’t flammable,” she says as an afterthought. So many things catch on fire in her room as it is, she doesn’t need more reasons for the fire department to hate her.
“Yes!” Josty pumps his fist in the air.
The generator comes together seamlessly. They play rock-paper-scissors over the right to test it first and Tyson wins, hopping on the insulating mat while Josty charges it up. “Wait, my hair-” she says belatedly, hands already on the sphere.
“Is going to look great,” JT assures her, grinning madly. Josty gives her a thumbs-up. “Best way to test this thing, honestly.”
Her curls are halfway to standing straight up when the garage next door rumbles, its door presumably sliding open. Josty cranes his head, trying to peer down the driveway. “Met your new neighbor yet?”
“Not yet.” She’d gone over when the first moving van pulled up, toting a tray of her best double-fudge brownies only to find that they’d sent the movers ahead. Still, she’d left the tray and it turned up on her doorstep a few days later, cleaned and with an apologetic note about missing her and that he (Gabriel, apparently) would see her soon. “According to Mrs. Patel, he’s young and very handsome but she says that about you two, so I’m taking that with a grain of salt.”
“Well, here’s your chance to judge, Brutes.” JT jerks his head towards the driveway. “Because I think the welcome wagon has finally arrived.”
“That’s not the way it works,” Tyson begins, the words dying in her throat when she gets a glimpse of the man making his way towards them. Is man the right word? Tall, blonde, buff (if the way he fills out his suit is anything to go by) - he has to be a Viking. Or an angel. An angel Viking? A Valkyrie, then, except he’s not a woman-
Fuck. She’s babbling in her own head. That’s never a good sign.
The broad smile on Angel Viking Neighbor’s face - Gabriel, the tiny helpful part of her mind reminds her - wavers a little bit as he draws closer and oh. Right. Tyson’s testing the generator and her hair is probably fully haloed around her head at this point.
Fuck her life.
“Hello,” he calls out cheerfully, hovering at the entrance of the garage. He peers at them, a little puzzled but still friendly. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Not at all!” she squeaks, dropping her hands from the sphere. “Just testing the Van de Graaf generator. We’re science teachers, it’s for our students.”
He brightens. “At the high school the street over? That’s so cool. Maybe if I’d had science teachers like you guys, I would have been a better student in school.”
Tyson looks doubtfully at him. Clearly, he did something right because that suit has to cost more than her couch, the way it’s tailored. If he flexed a little bit, buttons would be popping everywhere. Not that she would complain. Not that she’s thinking about buttons popping and his chest underneath it and whether it’s as defined as his biceps totally are and-
“Thanks, man,” JT says sincerely. “We’re always here tinkering on stuff with Tyson. Maybe you’ll pick something up.”
“Yes, Tyson! That’s who Mrs. Patel said lives here. I’m Gabriel, but you can just call me Gabe.” He extends his hand to Josty, who laughs but shakes it anyway.
“Wrong Tyson, but nice to meet you, Gabe. You can call me Josty. You’re looking for Tyson Barrie.”
Tyson waves weakly. “That’s me.”
And oh. The smile Gabe turns on her is devastating. Bright, even teeth. Maybe he’s a model. Angel Viking Model Neighbor. That’s quite the mouthful. “Nice to finally meet you, neighbor,” he begins, holding his hand out. And idiot that she is, she begins to return the gesture.
“No!” JT and Josty yelp together and right. Van de Graaf generator. Tyson pats at her hair, internally screaming the entire time. It’s still mostly standing on end, how much charge did she build up?
“I wouldn’t, not unless you want the shock of your life.” JT’s struggling to hold back a smile, maybe even a laugh. He’s enjoying the whole thing, damn it.
“It’s not that bad,” she protests, pointing at her aluminium blinds. Even from six feet away, they rustle. Well. It might have been a little bad.
Gabe whistles. “Wow, you’re like a superhero.”
“With all of the things that explode around her, she’s more like a supervillain.”
Tyson scowls at JT. “You say that like it’s some sort of spontaneous thing that happens. They’re all controlled explosions!”
“You set the floor on fire,” Josty points out.
“On purpose!” It was an experiment with liquid methane and honestly, it’s like they’re purposefully trying to make her look bad. Well, joke’s on them because she can do enough of that herself, thanks.
Gabe laughs and Tyson’s only mildly surprised that a heavenly chorus doesn’t start singing. And also, now that she thinks about it, that he’s not outright laughing. Everyone outright laughs. “I think I’m going to enjoy living next door to you, Tyson. Thanks again for the brownies, I’ll have to give you some Swedish cinnamon rolls in return.”
And just like that, he’s found the way straight to her heart. Baked goods are her weakness. They’re her love language, the best way for her to express how she cares because while she’s shit at advice, she’ll happily stuff you with cookies if you’re having a bad day.
She also has a massive sweet tooth but that’s beside the point. “Great!” she squeaks. “Really looking forward to it. I love cinnamon rolls. Baked goods. Even ice cream. Hell, chocolate is always accepted in this household.”
“Good to know.” He shakes hands with Josty and JT, before turning to her. “Is it safe to shake hands now?” he asks curiously.
She grabs at Josty to be sure, and laughs out loud when he yelps and jumps away. “Oh come on, you big baby. It wasn’t that bad.”
There’s a tiny jolt when she takes Gabe’s hand, but that could just be the static electricity. His hand engulfs hers, a big palm and long fingers with surprising callouses. They feel good. Tyson is officially screwed. And not in the fun way, to her endless disappointment. “Nice to meet you,” she manages.
“Likewise.” The creases at the corners of his eyes are so endearing, Tyson can’t handle it. “See you around!”
JT waits until he’s out of earshot before turning to her, a shit-eating grin on his face. “I could practically hear you monologuing the entire time.”
Tyson glares. It’s rude to call out one’s superiors on attractions. “Whatever. His head is huge.”
As far as Tyson’s concerned, that’s it, really. Gabe will remain Angel Viking Model Neighbor because as much as she’d love to catalyze a reaction with him (so to speak), he’s so far out of her league he might as well be in the next galaxy.
The fact that she’s basically doing her best literal trash can fire impression every time she meets him might also be part of the issue.
“How can a man so beautiful be so much like a bad penny?” she whines to Nate over drinks. “It’s like he has a second sense for Tyson Disaster Time.”
“What I don’t understand is how you still had sodium hexafluoride in your lungs.” Years of friendship and late-night study sessions have made Nate extremely proficient in chemistry. He can even balance equations - Tyson’s very proud.
“Look, that stuff is dense and density was the topic in Science Club that day. And he was literally walking his dog right outside the school.” She can still remember his look of sheer horror as she dropped to her knees to coo at his dog, only for her voice to come out sounding like a villain in a B-movie.
It shifted to amusement soon enough. He hid it well, but the amusement seemed to roll off him in waves. Unfortunately, she’s used to that kind of thing. “Hello, neighbor. Your voice didn’t sound like this last time.”
Things Tyson has learned about Gabriel Landeskog since he moved in: he has the cutest dog in the world; he’s Swedish and therefore seems to love ABBA by default; he wears a suit to work every day and she’s fast becoming a connoisseur (of suits, not Gabe, though a girl can dream); he’s surprisingly good at hockey and wants to join their beer league.
He’s also something of a shit, but no one’s perfect. Tyson’s grateful, because she has a hard enough time keeping it together around him as it is.
(That’s a goddamn lie. She does not have it together around him. He’s too pretty and pretty makes her brain short-circuit.)
“Damn, you discovered my secret.” With every word, her voice returns to normal. “You’ve inhaled helium from a balloon, right?”
She grins, shouldering her backpack as they fall into step with one another. “You’d be surprised. Anyway, sodium hexafluoride has the opposite effect.”
“Sodium what now?”
“That doesn’t sound so bad, right?” Nate asks, jerking her out of the memory of Gabe’s very blue eyes and the way he’d listened to her blather the entire way home. “He was curious.”
He has a point. Most people (who aren’t Nate or members of the Terrible Trio) aren’t curious. They cut her off mid-ramble, or change the subject. Gabe listens and asks questions. Informed questions. “So, you’re saying I should just lean into it, then?” The more she thinks about it, the more she warms up to the idea. Gabe’s her neighbor, he’s just going to have to get used to the weird. Who cares if he’s seen her covered in glitter (thanks, Josty), or hauling home equipment that looks like it belongs on the set of Breaking Bad ?
He doesn’t light up around her. Josty can shut his whole lying face.
“T-Bear, your whole MO is leaning into it. You don’t apologize for who you are and that’s awesome. A hot neighbor doesn’t change that.”
Affection fizzes in her chest, light and bubbly like the champagne the principal had gifted them when Science Olympiad made it to state last year. Nate’s the best and she’s so glad she never actually managed to get rid of him after being his RA. “Aw, thanks bud. I think I’ll let you buy me a drink.”
“I’m always buying you drinks,” he complains, even as he waves the bartender over.
Tyson stretches, eyeing the pink drink of the woman next to her with interest. “Gotta take advantage of my bestie being a lawyer somehow, right? Especially since you can’t argue me out of a traffic ticket or something.”
“Nope, you’d have to get someone else for that.”
Lean into it , Tyson repeats to herself a few days later.
A hand sneaks into her peripheral vision, inching towards the marble brownies. She slaps it away, ignoring Cale’s yelp. “No sneaking leftovers until the bake sale is over, rookie. You know the rules.”
“School is over, you know,” her student teacher comments, sliding into the seat next to her. “And shouldn’t the students be running the table?”
“And deprive them of the joy of showing off?” She nods towards where the combined contingent of Science Club and Science Olympiad are gleefully showing off their own homemade Van de Graaf generator to the members of the student body slowly streaming out of the school. “Admin didn’t want the generator on inside the school during passing period, even though we told them it was totally safe.”
“That sucks,” is the sympathetic comment. “Looks like you’ve managed to sell a lot.”
“Of course. My baked goods have a reputation.” The extra hours last night cutting and shaping cookies and cutting Nanaimo bars were worth it.
Not that baking is a hardship for her. It’s a spot of comfort in the chaos of her life, a time when her thoughts, usually flying around at breakneck speed, settle into the background. Any frustrations she might have, any nagging worries, disappear with every turn of the dough or every meticulous pipe of frosting. It’s not so much that she stress bakes (although that has been known to happen) - it’s that when she bakes, she just feels more settled. More present. Ready and willing to face whatever life throws at her, whether it’s students who can’t be trusted with Bunsen burners or unfairly hot neighbors.
Of course, the chemist in her loves that baking is basically edible chemistry. Any excuse to eat sweets is a good one, in her opinion.
“Is Nate coming?” He’s nibbling on a cookie - where did he get that?
“Soon. He said he’d be working from home with his new partner at the firm and would try to convince him to take a break around now. Apparently he lives around here.”
“Your new neighbor, right? The hot one?”
Tyson stares at him. “What - no? Nate would have told me.” She talks about Gabe all the time - hell, she’s definitely mentioned Nate to Gabe a few times, too. There’s no reason for Nate to withhold that kind of information from her.
Cale jerks his head towards the entrance. “Isn’t that him though? With Nate?”
There’s definitely no mistaking that giant head, that bronze hair, or that blinding grin. There’s also no mistaking the Grade A hunk of Canadian beef next to him who Tyson would normally call her best friend, but for right now she’s going to call dead meat.
“Tyson!” Gabe calls, his grin stretching wide as he catches sight of her and Tyson just...despairs. How can any one person be so pretty? On one hand, she’d like to thank whatever higher power is out there because, damn, that’s a gift. On the other hand, she kind of feels like she’s being tested and is utterly failing. “I had no idea that your Nate and my Nate were one and the same.”
“You can’t have him, he’s mine,” is the automatic response. “Best friend code. Speaking of which, I need your help with something Nate. Rookie, you’re in charge until Josty gets here - entertain Gabe for us, will you?”
Nate has his hands in the air the moment she tosses him into the nearest open classroom - Colin’s tucked right behind the auditorium. “In my defense, you only ever called him Hot Neighbor or some variation of angel, model, or Viking. Though the Viking thing should have tipped me off,” he says as an afterthought, and probably a last-ditch attempt to stop her from strangling him. “I swear, it didn’t click until he gave me his address and I was pulling in next door to yours. And then he brought up the bake sale and it all kind of snowballed from there.”
It’s pure Nate, in terms of an apology - definitely contrite, but also stubbornly defiant. Tyson sighs, her shoulders slumping. She can never stay angry at him for long - hell, she can’t really stay angry, period. Sometimes it’s a failing, but overall she sees it as a plus. “What did he say?”
“It’s Gabe, what do you think?” His chest puffs up with pride. “He said it was no wonder the two coolest people he’s met are best friends. See? He thinks you’re cool!”
“Wait, he’s your partner ,” Tyson blurts out, her brain filling in a few important blanks. “That explains the suits.” Nate wouldn’t even have a functioning work wardrobe if it wasn’t for her - he’d probably still be wearing too-big pants and too-small shirts, as well as really horrible ties.
“Yeah, he has great suits, said he’d introduce me to his tailor. Maybe it’ll put you out of the job, eh T-Bear?”
“You wouldn’t dare deny me the joy of taking you suit shopping. At the very least, take me with you.” She takes a moment to ponder Gabe buying suits and immediately discards it. She’d probably die on the spot.
“Cool. You done freaking out now?”
Just for that, she smacks his shoulder, taking far too much pleasure in his yelp. “Let’s go.”
Outside, Josty and JT have magically appeared, and Gabe is standing by the Van de Graaf generator, surrounded by the Science Olympiad team. His brow is furrowed and he’s nodding along to whatever explanation they’re giving him and it’s clear that he’s listening - really listening.
Tyson’s heart probably grows two sizes. She wonders if he knows at all, if he understands how teenagers just want someone to listen to them, to pay attention to them, to simply care. Even when their behavior screams apathy and leave me alone , that need is still there. And for someone to just give them that? Freely, and without expectation?
“Having a nice time?” she asks, strolling up. She can’t help but smile at the mental image of Gabe with his hair standing on end.
“This is really cool stuff, Tyson,” he replies sincerely. “It’s nice to know the science behind it.”
Her students are glancing between them with speculative looks on their faces. Students are a gossipy lot, sometimes even more so than their teachers (and she would know). “How do you two know each other, Ms. Barrie?” Mikey asks, seemingly innocent.
“Oh, we’re neighbors,” Gabe replies cheerfully. “I actually met Tyson when she was building her version, and her hair was like this.” He gestures around his head, approximating the halo she’d sported when they met. Tyson kind of wants to drop through the floor, especially when her students’ expressions shift from speculative to outright glee.
She loves her students, she really does. She doesn’t regret the lack of formality in their relationship, not when they feel comfortable enough to open up to her about the things they’re going through. Keeping it fun and casual means that they’re more engaged in class.
But it also means things like this happen, and she’s kind of cornered. They’re going to tease her about this for ages. They know better than to ask if he’s her boyfriend - she swears every upperclassman passes on the story of her thirty-minute tirade about sexism and gender roles to the underclassmen, just so that she doesn’t explode again, and they definitely know better than to try and hook her up with, well, anyone. One team had even tried to play matchmaker between her and Josty, of all things. That had resulted in a sit-down with both of them that left the team so embarrassed they couldn’t look them in the eye for two whole weeks.
So, her students know better but it won’t stop them from being adorable little shits about the whole thing. Gabe’s enough to give them fodder for weeks .
Oh well, she thinks. Lean into it. “Why don’t you try the generator out, Gabe?” she asks, all innocence. “In the spirit of fair play, and all that.”
The smile he sends her way is somehow sincere and touched with an innocent type of joy - yet it also seems to say, I know what you’re doing, missy . “I thought you’d never ask.”
It’s one of those rare nights when she doesn’t have a whole stack of lab reports to grade and her prep is pretty minimal, so she’s taking advantage of the free time and the clear night.
Next door, she can hear the tell-tale creak of the back door opening, followed closely by the scrabble of paws on the deck and Zoey’s joyful bark as she lumbers out for her last run of the night. It isn’t long before Tyson hears snuffling on the other side of her gate, and a few sharp, excited barks.
“Zoey, what have I said about bothering - Tyson?”
She raises a hand. “‘Sup, neighbor?”
“You’re not usually out here at night, especially with-” He squints. “A telescope.”
“What, a person can’t just sit out and enjoy the stars?”
Gabe’s chuckle spreads warmth through her like the best hot chocolate. “Well, when you put it that way, it seems a little dumb not to.”
“There’s plenty of room. Zoey can even run around here, if you want.”
Which is how she ends up with her hot neighbor peering through her telescope while his dog sniffs around her backyard. Tyson tugs her blanket around her shoulders, the slowly settling night chills nothing against the happy chills she’s getting from the scene in front of her.
“So, I have a space and chemistry question, actually.” He’s turned off all his lights at her behest, eliminating a tiny bit of light pollution. The starlight that falls down on them is weak, but still enough to turn his hair silvery-pale, like he’s some sort of fae prince. It’s so unfair.
She swallows, ignoring the thought that she’d totally be dragged to the Seelie realm if Gabe were the one doing the dragging. “Hit me.”
“When Watney made water in The Martian - is that something you can actually do?”
Oh, these kinds of questions are her jam. “In theory? Sure. In practice, it’s super dangerous and I definitely would not recommend trying it at home.” She can’t help but laugh. “It’s rocket fuel - hydrazine in specific, which is so toxic even I can’t get my hands on the stuff to fully try the experiment. You need, like, a full suit to handle hydrazine.”
Even in the darkness, she can tell that he’s grinning at her. “Something tells me you’re really disappointed you can’t recreate that.”
“Of course I am! It involves burning and rocket fuel, what’s not to like? Beyond the explosions, because decomposing hydrazine for the nitrogen and hydrogen involves an explosion way bigger than the one in the movie. Again, rocket fuel .” She sits up straight, warming to the subject. “So not only do you have this incredible exothermic reaction - 800 degrees Celsius - but you have this expansion of gases that happens super quickly. It’s a good way to get cooked, and therefore way too risky to chance in order to get a steady supply of water.”
“Stay away from the hydrazine, got it.” He mulls over the explanation, thinking through her explanation. “So, how would you get water on Mars?”
She shrugs. “Extract it from the soil, probably. It’s the best long-term solution, especially if you want to establish a colony.”
Zoey comes running up to them, collapsing in a happy pile at Gabe’s feet before taking off again. “Do you think about colonizing Mars a lot, Tyson?”
“Who doesn’t?” And she’s definitely not going to admit just how long she’s spent thinking about it, especially after she read the book.
“So, what would you bring to Mars? If you were part of the expedition. Like how one of them had a laptop with games.”
“A personal item?”
“Yeah. Top five.”
“Canucks hat. Does a stick and ball for ball hockey count as one or two items? Let’s call it one.” She ticks the items off on her fingers, smiling as Gabe chuckles beside her. “Deck of cards. S’mores kit.”
His eyebrow goes up. “S’mores kit?”
“Listen, sweets are really important and I probably can’t bring an oven and baking ingredients. All you need for s’mores are a fire or hell, a microwave. Last thing is Nate.”
He coughs, surprised. “Nate?”
“Gotta have a Nate on Mars.”
It takes a minute before he says, “Nate means a lot to you.”
“He’s my best friend.” She doesn’t feel embarrassed when she says it. She’s done enough embarrassing herself in front of Gabe to last a lifetime. Admitting Nathan MacKinnon is her platonic soulmate is one of the easiest things she’s told him. “Life’s not amazing without him.”
The silence that falls is one that feels a little weird. Not uncomfortable, but tense. At least until he says, “I hope I find someone important enough to take to another planet with me.”
“You will.” She gives into the instinct to nudge into him a little, a jostle that reminds him she’s sitting here too. “When you’re not looking for it.”
He’s looking at her and she knows it, so she turns to meet it. It’s not fair when he looks that good, and his eyes are that blue, and he’s looking at her like she’s something else. Okay, that last one Tyson’s pretty used to. The way her stomach drops as she swallows, and it’s not entirely thrilling. She braces herself for the comment about how ridiculous she is, about how weird it is to say something like that to a guy she barely knows.
“You’re pretty smart, you know.”
She straight up startles. “Um. Thanks.”
The way he says it is so matter-of-fact. Like it’s the truth and there’s nothing else to it. Tyson knows she’s smart - she doesn’t need anyone else to validate it for her, but it’s still nice to hear. She sneaks a glance at him out of the corner of her eye, wondering for the umpteenth time if he’s real.
He probably won’t appreciate it if she reaches over and pinches him, she muses.
Zoey comes waddling back, her tag wagging joyfully, and all other thoughts fly out of her head because, well. Dog. “I’m going to steal your dog,” she informs him. Zoey pants happily, and rolls over for belly rubs.
“You can try,” he teases, sitting back in her chair and looking incredibly comfortable and happy with the whole situation.
Tyson is, too.
It’s no secret that Tyson loves decorating. New Year’s Eve? Everything gets to be glowy and sparkly, and it lasts all through January to lighten the gloom. Give her all of the hearts and arrows for Valentine’s Day, Star Wars-themed things for May the Fourth, and maple leaves and star-spangled everything for Canada Day and the Fourth of July, respectively. The entire month of October is for Halloween, with jack o’lanterns galore and dry ice for the day itself - it pays to be a chemistry teacher.
But once it rolls into November? That’s when the decorating begins. Lights? Check. Tinsel? Check. Wreaths, holly, cranberries, and mistletoe? You betcha. Green, red, and gold? The more, the merrier. The goal is to make it look like Christmas threw up on her house and oh, does Tyson deliver.
“Wow,” Gabe says admiringly, as Zoey scampers off to investigate. Luckily, Josty-proofing is basically like dog-proofing a house. “You know, I should have expected this, considering the outside, but I’m still blown away.”
“Gabriel Landeskog, did you bring something even though I specifically told you not to?” Tyson demands, hands on her hips as she eyes the tray in his hands. It doesn’t matter that it smells goddamn delicious and therefore probably is delicious.
“My mother would kill me!”
“Oh, well we can’t have that, can we?” She takes a moment to just watch him as he puts away his boots and hangs up his coat. He looks good in her space, comfortable in his jeans and Fair Isle sweater, a combo that somehow manages to look high-fashion. He takes the tray back from her and heads deeper into her house, exclaiming over her decorations as they walk through, from the homemade pinecone wreaths to the hand-carved Nativity set she found at a garage sale. “You’re serious about your decorating. I should have realized this from the outside.”
“Here in the House of Barrie, we take holiday decorating very seriously.”
It’s easy in the same way the talks on her back porch have become, watching him wander into the kitchen to set down the Pyrex and reach for a glass, easy as he pleases. Even the slide to colder weather hasn’t stopped them from meeting outside: they both bundle up, Tyson usually brings a thermos of hot chocolate and a couple of blankets, and Gabe has set up a fire pit. It’s cozy and comfortable and they talk about anything and everything and Tyson just wants.
Tyson’s not a stranger to wanting, but this is the first time she’s felt it so strongly. It’s never scared her this much, because she can see the potential, both good and bad. She’s had a lot of things blow up in her face - kind of comes with the territory.
But she doesn’t think about that, not right now. “What is this, anyway?” she asks, sniffing at the tray.
“Swedish meatballs, of course,” is the proud reply. He opens his mouth to say more, but instead bursts into laughter. “What is that?” he asks with delight, stepping up to inspect the tree on her kitchen island. “A chemistree ?”
Tyson’s tallest ring stand sits front and center. Attached are multiple clamps, and every imaginable type of flask, from round-bottomed to flat, filled with different colored liquids and stoppered with a cork. Green garlands and tinsel twine through the “branches” and up the trunk of the chemistree.
“I’m very proud.”
He chuckles, tapping a finger against one of the flasks. “You should be, it’s very clever. What’s inside? No actual hazardous chemicals?”
“Actually, they’re poisons I use on unruly students,” is the deadpan response. “I have an identical one in my classroom that I threaten them with once the holidays roll around.” She doubles over laughing at his incredulous look. “Kidding, it’s just water with gel food coloring. I rarely have to threaten my students. They’re good kids.”
“With all of the cool things you do, it’s hard to imagine that you’d have any bad ones. It seems like they really enjoy everything.”
“That’s all I can ask for.” She’d ended up loving chemistry despite not having the best teachers in high school. She promised herself that she would run her classes differently, in an attempt to grow the same kind of love she had for the subject with her students.
The doorbell rings again and again, friends piling in one after another. If Tyson didn’t know better, she’d think Gabe was the host. He jumps into the duties seamlessly, grabbing coats, pouring wine, and mixing drinks with a welcoming smile and a quick word for every person that walks through the door. They fall into a quick and easy rhythm with the food, moving from the kitchen to the dining room in a coordinated dance. At one point she looks up to find Nate eyeing her curiously, an eyebrow arched in question.
She just shrugs. She has no idea what’s going on here either but frankly, she’s not going to speculate. Clearly, Gabe loves entertaining and she’s not going to refuse help - especially when JT and Josty are preoccupied with teasing Cale about his very obvious crush on EJ’s student teacher.
Tyson jumps. It’s embarrassing. Double the embarrassing because it’s Gabe behind her, urging her on. “I’m hosting.”
“It’s running smooth,” Gabe answers. “You know you want to.”
Yeah, she really does. Cale’s the same color as her tablecloth but he’s not refuting anything and at the end of the day, EJ’s student teacher is super cute and they’d make an adorable couple.
(The students have no idea that their teachers are every bit as nosy and obnoxious about relationships as they are.)
“But the casserole is still in the oven,” she frets.
“I’ve got the casserole. You set a timer, didn’t you?” He gently pushes her towards the table. “Now, go.”
Tyson can’t help her little cackle as she bounds over, verbal ammunition at the ready. Cale spots her and groans, faceplanting into his luckily clean plate.
Spectacular food, amazing friends, and a whole lot of giving each other shit, wrapped in a festive atmosphere? Now that’s Tyson’s kind of party.
The next morning, there’s a gift from Gabe under the tree and Tyson looks at it for way too long to even think she’s not freaking out about it. Instead she drops her head into her hands and just breathes. They are friends. They are good friends. Good friends leave presents under Christmas trees. She has one for Nate.
At least until she unwraps the small box and opens it to find a set of earrings. She’s had people give her jewelry before, she tells herself. It’s not that big of a deal.
Until she recognizes the pattern of the lines and dots.
The happiness hormone.
How the hell is she not supposed to read into that?
“Why would you invite him?” Tyson hisses under her breath, waving back at Gabe as he makes his way over to them from the pool entrance. Several students have already spotted him, whispering behind their hands and staring. She doesn’t blame them - he looks like he stepped right out of a Taylor Swift song, all tight blue jeans, white t-shirt, and a leather jacket. In other words, a certified babe (Baberiel????).
The Science Olympiad kids are all grinning in a way that is...worrisome, to say the least. She glares, all but projecting the words, “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT” above her head. They smile angelically.
“Why wouldn’t I invite him?” Josty asks, far too reasonable to be innocent. “Besides, he already knew about it from Nate and asked me about it.”
Someone’s going to die once they’re back from Pittsburgh, she thinks darkly. She needs warnings, dammit. Because she’s had… questionable interactions with him since Christmas, since she’d found the goddamn happiness hormone in his gift and tried with all her might not to make a bigger deal of it than it probably was. Friends make friends happy. Well, for the most part. Considering she’s largely reverted to making a fool of herself in front of Gabe - a habit she’d thought for sure she’d been mostly over, at least the tragic incidents - she feels like she can’t get her shit together.
“Hey guys!” Gabe strolls up to them, his gaze avid as he looks over Josty’s fifth period class and the boats they’re bringing in from outside. “Thanks for inviting me. I’m so glad I only had a half day today, this is going to be great.”
“Glad to have you, bud. You’re in for a good time, especially next period.”
“AP Physics,” Tyson explains as Josty is pulled away by some of his students. One of them is waving a roll of duct tape in the air, which is never a good thing. “He challenges them to build a bigger, better boat than what they did the first time around.”
“With extra points for creativity,” JT adds. “Some of them made a giant Trojan Horse last year. No one thought it would float but the damn thing did. They had to assemble it inside, though, since they couldn’t get it through the outside doors.”
He looks suitably impressed. “Wow.”
Some of Tyson’s students scurry in just as the last bell of the passing period rings. “Excuse me for a second, just gotta wrangle my class.” Grabbing the railing, she heaves herself up onto the concrete ledge. “Listen up, nerds!” she calls cheerfully, her grin widening at the chuckles and good-natures eye rolls she receives in return. “You know this is a preview of what’s in store for you next year, but that doesn’t mean you’re just going to sit here looking pretty all period - that’s Mr. Landeskog’s job, give them a wave, Gabriel.”
The class titters and Gabe flushes, but obliges. Good man. “I expect your observations on each race - why some float, why some sink, why some go faster than others - on Monday. Otherwise, have fun and don’t bother me unless it’s urgent. I’m on lifeguard duty, you know?”
“Yes, Ms. Barrie,” they chorus.
“Okay, I’ll turn it over to Mr. Makar to take attendance.”
“You think I’m pretty, Tyson?” Gabe teases as she strolls back over after leaving Cale in charge, his eyes glinting in a way that simultaneously puts her on edge and turns her on.
“Without any makeup on,” she agrees automatically. “The massive head takes away from things a little bit, though.”
JT groans, cutting in before Gabe can respond. “Why are you quoting Katy Perry?”
“How dare you, that song’s a classic!” Besides, she’s sure that any number of their students would be willing to vouch for Gabe’s status as a bona fide teenage dream. Tyson’s fallen victim to it too often to count - there are definitely a few T+G hearts doodled in some of her notebooks.
Gabe just makes it so easy. Yes, of course he’s beautiful, there’s no denying that. But Gabe is kind. He’s genuinely interested in people and is curious about their passions. If she starts going on about making amino acids fluoresce, he might not understand it but he’ll listen and try his best because it means something to her. In that respect, he blows most of her exes out of the water.
He’s steady. He’s responsible. He loves his dog. Hell, even when he’s giving her shit for her disaster of the week, there’s nothing malicious about his teasing. It’s warm and brimming with affection, a sense of you’re an idiot but you’re my idiot . It’s like they’re sharing the joke rather than making her the butt of the joke.
Tyson’s heart lurches unsteadily in her chest and fuck. Fuck. The Annual Physics Boat Races are not the place to have the realization that she’s more than halfway in love with Gabe. God. She feels queasy.
Thankfully, Josty and JT are quick to get things underway, giving the welcome spiel and setting up the first two teams at the starting line. “I’m taking the finish line, rookie,” she says decisively.
“Wait, you had that last period-” Cale protests, but she’s already walking away. Josty raises an eyebrow at her as she settles opposite him, hefting the checkered flag in her hands with the rescue tube at her feet. Luckily, he’s too far away to do anything but blow the whistle.
And then they’re off. Tyson loves seeing each and every cardboard and duct tape creation. Most do pretty well. She can’t help but laugh at the teams whose boats float, but their members can’t seem to paddle their way out of a paper bag, zig-zagging across the pool until they eventually reach the opposite edge. There are always a few speed demons who manage to make their way across the pool in seconds.
Of course, there’s always that one boat that tips over, built for speed but forgetting to take into account buoyancy and stability. “Need a hand?” Tyson calls, crouching at her end while the crowd claps with sympathy.
“No thanks Ms. Barrie, we got it,” one of the students calls, towing along the upended boat with one hand.
“I told you it needed to be wider at the base!” their partner bitches, pushing the boat from behind. “That, or make it longer, like a canoe!”
Then it’s AP Physics. The class is smaller, so there are only three groups. Their boats are too big to race against one another, so Josty arranges for their own heats. One is a truly impressive catamaran, proudly presented by its fully Pacific Islander/Asian crew. The second appears to be the boat version of Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, crewed by Disney princesses - not all of them female. Rounding it out is - Tyson squints as its crew begins to bring it through the doors - what appears to be a to-scale version of the Titanic, complete with a Jack and a Rose.
“Are you two going to see if you can fit on the door afterwards?” she laughs.
Rose, real name Ayesha, a senior and captain of the Science Olympiad team, snorts. “Mythbusters already proved they could have! But we promised we’d do a reenactment.”
She glances dubiously at Ayesha’s costume, a long white nightgown and a trench coat, just like the final scene, rather than Rose’s iconic red dress. “Can you swim in that getup if necessary?”
“Swim team, Ms. Barrie, remember?”
“Hey, we gotta make sure we adhere to the risk assessment. You’re not using an actual door for the reenactment, right?”
Ayesha shakes her head, her curls (much more tamed than Tyson’s own) bouncing with the movement. “We just reinforced some cardboard with more cardboard.” She takes a step closer to Tyson, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “Hey, I heard your cute neighbor came to watch, is that true?”
Tyson groans. “I can’t believe you guys are gossiping about this. No comment.”
“Aw, come on, Ms. Barrie! We totally ship you two-”
Before Tyson can even begin to contemplate the horror of that , one member of the Titanic crew loses their footing on the slippery pool deck, the entire ship lurching to the side and right towards Ayesha. Tyson doesn’t hesitate, dashing forward and pushing her down.
Which leaves Tyson to meet the cardboard Titanic, much like the real-life Titanic met the iceberg. Unlike real life, Tyson is not an iceberg, so it’s the Titanic that wins, knocking her into the pool and skimming right over a cowering Ayesha.
Tyson surfaces amidst a couple of screams and gasps from the audience. “Oh my god, I’m fine,” she sputters, as Gabe grabs one arm and Josty grabs the other, hauling her onto the deck. “I’m a certified lifeguard, for fu-heaven’s sake.”
Gabe doesn’t seem to be listening, running his hands over her head and body, checking for injury. She’d be enjoying the attention if she wasn’t so humiliated. Of all the things that could have happened - that have happened - now she falls in a bloody pool thanks to a cardboard boat. “Did you hit anything? Are you all right?” he demands. “Can someone get the nurse?”
“On it!” Jack, aka Yunho, exclaims, running off.
“No - Yunho, I don’t need a nurse, come back!”
The Titanic crew, having righted themselves before the boat could land on top of her, stream around them, blabbering apologies.
“I told everyone to wear pool shoes, Ms. Barrie-”
“We’re so sorry!”
“Are you okay?”
Tyson sighs and swallows down any irritation. They’re good kids and she loves them. The embarrassment she feels for all of this happening in front of Gabe is no excuse to be short with them - or anyone around her, for that matter. “Guys, I promise I’m okay, and we’ll let Nurse Matty look me over, all right? It’s no one’s fault, it was an accident. Come on,” she wheedles, as they stare at her with pinched expressions. “You need to get ready, you have boats to float.”
“I’ll sit with you,” Gabe volunteers from where he’s been hovering behind her, prompting suspicious looks from the non-Science Olympiad kids.
“Okay!” Josty claps his hands, relieved. “See everyone, Ms. Barrie will be in good hands while she’s waiting for Nurse Matty, so let’s get this show on the road. You sure you’re okay?” he asks Tyson in an undertone as they finally shuffle away, shooting guilty looks at Tyson that all but break her heart. “Gave us one hell of a scare, there.”
“Seriously, Brutes,” JT intones from her other side, handing her a towel. When did he get that?
“Come on. The pool was the best possible thing to break my fall. It’s just, you know. A pool.” She pulls the towel around her and tries not to seize up when Gabe’s hands land on her shoulders over the fabric, rubbing her arms.
“You’re going to catch a cold,” he frets, and okay, Tyson melts a little bit at that.
“I’m fine , Gabriel. But thanks.” Oh god, she’s making googly eyes at him, isn’t she?
Oh hell, she forgot about this period’s class. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” she says for the millionth time, walking back over to the railing and ignoring Gabe’s noise of distress. “See, all in one piece. Anyone manage to get footage of that?”
A few hands go up, paired with sheepish expressions. “Cool, email them to me, my sister’s going to think it’s hilarious.” Nate will, too.
Yunho comes running back in, with a resigned Matty following close behind. “So. You fell in the pool.”
“Not on purpose!”
“Good, because that usually means your injuries are even worse.”
“I’m intrigued,” Gabe comments. Tyson elbows him.
“No, you’re not.”
Matty glances between them, an eyebrow quirking up. “You must be the neighbor.”
“That’s me.” Gabe’s grin widens and Tyson senses impending her impending doom. “Have you been talking about me, neighbor?”
She sends a pleading glance at Matty, who must be feeling generous today. “Word travels fast.” He gestures at the teenagers around them. Most of them are watching the Titanic team as they maneuver their boat into the pool for its test run, but a fair number of them keep glancing over their way with speculative eyes. Tyson’s pretty sure one of them has been live-texting their friends about the whole thing.
Matty proclaims her to be in good health and strides away with a warning to avoid the pool deck altogether. As if.
“Everything good, sötnos ?” Gabe asks in an undertone as Team Titanic prepares for launch.
She eyes him warily. That sounds...oddly like an endearment but she’s not going to ask. That way lies madness. “Yeah. Great. Fantastic. Wonderful. I’m going to go-”
Gabe nods with a little fond smile. Tyson doesn’t exactly run but she can’t exactly say she doesn’t either. Cale falls into step with her as they make their way to the finish line. She doesn’t bother booting him from his spot this time - the kids will need help hauling their boats out of the pool.
He hands her the clipboard with her class attendance lists. “So that thing with Gabe.”
Tyson goes so damn tense.
“It, uh. Sounded intimate.”
“Nope. Nuh uh. No way. Stop.” She will jump back in the pool if she has to.
“ Rookie .”
Cale’s hands go up. He’s always had good instincts. He, unlike some of her previous student teachers, hasn’t accidentally set anything on fire. “I’m just saying.”
“We’re not talking about it.”
“Cool. Sure. But like. That was totally a pet name.”
She punches him.
“You’re really okay?”
It takes a lot to raise her eyes from the fluff of Zoey, and she regrets it almost immediately. Gabe’s worried face is something else entirely, and it’s very unfair to have that much intensity and emotion directed at her. “Did you bring Zoey over so I’d open the door?”
“Wasn’t sure you’d take it well otherwise,” he admits with a shrug that should be nonchalant, but she thinks might miss by a country mile. “If I came by to check on you.”
Which. He’s maybe not as wrong as she’d like him to be. “I can take care of myself.” But she says it without as much heat now, weirdly aware that he’s not checking on her because she can’t take care of herself - another late night back porch confession - but because they’re friends.
It helps that he’s blase about all of her experiment accidents now. Even the ones she’s reverted back to because of a stupid set of earrings.
“Yeah,” she repeats. “I’m really okay. It was water that broke my fall. Water doesn’t hurt.”
“Obviously you’ve never done a belly flop.”
It makes Tyson laugh as she stands and impulsively pulls him in for a hug. She doesn’t think much about the way his hands run down her back. “Gabriel. No injuries. Maybe a little bruising. I’m not even sore.”
There’s the sound of a heavy breath and Tyson can’t stop the way her stomach leaps. It’s all adding up so fast in her head that it makes her dizzy. “Okay. Then you can come for dinner.”
She laughs. “Fine, remember?”
“Call it a repayment,” he responds, stubborn. It’s in the line of his mouth when he pulls back as much as she can hear it in his voice. “You feed me all the time. The least I can do is feed you.”
And Tyson says yes, because of course she’ll say yes. Why would she do anything else? It’s not a hardship. She likes Gabe - she likes Gabe - and she likes food. It’s not his fault he doesn’t know food is love to her. It’s not his fault he doesn’t know this is a love letter. It’s not his fault she can’t convince herself otherwise.
Except when she walks into his house an hour later it’s largely quiet. Zoey is subdued when she comes for a hello and doesn’t let Tyson rile her up. There are soft strains of music she can hear floating through speakers, and the lights are dim. Her heart leaps into her throat because there is no way this is what she thinks this is. No chance.
She hopes she can manage a smile when she looks up at Gabe. She hopes that smile doesn’t fall off her face as she takes him in, nice jeans, a nice sweater, and- “Is that an apron?”
He is not blushing. He can’t be. It’s a trick of the very dim light. “I like this sweater. It’s cashmere.”
“So do I,” she finds herself murmuring to Zoey. Finally she stands, smooths down her own sweater. She feels weirdly underdressed. “What’s for dinner?” Whatever it is, it smells delicious as she toes off her shoes and follows him back into the kitchen.
“Sit.” He waves to the island, the fashionable barstools. “Wine?”
Tyson blinks for a moment, even as he brings over a glass.
“We’re having chicken, so I went with white-”
But Tyson’s not listening. She’s looking around, at the way the table is set, the way he didn’t have to reach for a glass or scramble for wine. This is planned. The kitchen isn’t a mess, and are those candles on the table? “Is this a date?”
Gabe straight up freezes. She can see it when she looks back to him. His mouth is even a little bit open. There’s a thrill and a certainty that settles in her as she looks at him. “Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?”
His forehead creases. “Tyson. We’ve - haven’t we been dating?”
“What?!” She all but chokes on her own spit. “Gabe, I - we -”
“We haven’t been?”
“When have we been on a date?!”
He gives her a funny look. “Every time we sit out back? Every time you come with me to walk Zoey? Movie nights and grocery runs…Tyson, sparks flew when we met-”
She can’t help but laugh. “Gabriel, there was a real, live Van de Graaf generator present when we met, so of course there were sparks - literal sparks, even.”
“Tyson.” There’s a smile threatening at the corners of his mouth, though his eyes holding hers are still so, so serious. “It doesn’t matter if the sparks were literal or figurative - or both. They were there, and I pay attention to that kind of thing. I wanted to know more about you. Every time we meet I learn something new and I...I want to keep doing that, Tyson. I love that you’ve thought about how to get water on Mars, or that you’ve been calculating how much elephant toothpaste it will take to fill up the school pool, so that you can challenge your students to do the same.”
He heaves a breath, and Tyson can see how it rattles as it goes in and out of his lungs. He’s nervous? He’s nervous about her ? “And I know you said you’d take Nate with you to Mars, but I’m hoping that in time, you’ll want to take me along with you. Because Tyson, you have to know that you’re the one I’d pick to take with me. Every time.”
She can’t move. She can’t think. Hell, is she even breathing? “That’s - you’re - “ she stammers, trying desperately to say something, anything . Of all the times for her motormouth to fail her.
Gabe deflates. That’s the only way to describe the way he folds in on himself, those broad shoulders of him hunching forward, the bright, hopeful light in his eyes dimming. “Shit,” he murmurs, almost too softly for her to hear. “Tyson, I’m sorry, I jumped to conclusions-”
Ohhhhh hell no. “Gabriel!” she yelps, panicked, because like hell if she’s going to ruin the most goddamn romantic thing that’s ever happened to her. “You’re the sodium to my chloride!” The moment it comes out of her mouth, she wants to disappear in a puff of smoke. Of all the ways for her to respond, she had to say that ?
“Sodium to...chloride?” His brow furrows. “Salt?”
Tyson covers her face with her hands and groans.
“Tyson.” His hands are so gentle as they peel hers away from her face. “Tyson, look at me. Are you saying I complete you?”
“Maybe?” she squeaks, sneaking a look at him and oh. Why did she think he would laugh at her? Gabe has never laughed at her, not once. And he gets it. He knows exactly what she’s trying to say. “I mean,” she begins, confidence beginning to seep back into her at the sheer amount of adoration he’s radiating her way. “You said you’d take me to Mars, so I thought it was only fair to let you know.”
Gabe laughs, and it’s sunny and beautiful and everything she ever wanted. And now it’s hers . “I’m glad,” he breathes. And then he simply stares, like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. His hands tighten briefly around hers before slowly skimming up the line of her arms, the callouses on his fingers leaving goosebumps in their wake.
Around the curve of her shoulders they go, one settling around to her back while the other continues upwards, from her neck to the messy tangle of her hair. “I love your curls,” he confesses, his voice low and a little growly as his forehead comes to press against hers. “They’re so wild and full of life, just like you.”
“Glad to know my Medusa impression didn’t scare you off,” she jokes. She doesn’t remember reaching for him, but his beard is a beautiful, rough scrape against her hands and this...this is the first time she’s really touched him.
“Never,” he promises.
The press of his lips against hers is more of a caress, soft and teasing as they get to know one another. Kissing him is the easiest thing in the world, electric shocks sparking between them like they’re touching the Van de Graaf generator.
Eventually, the kiss breaks naturally once the need to breathe becomes a thing. Tyson groans, burying her head in his sweater. She can see why it’s his favorite, it’s really soft. “The kids are going to be unbearable , I know they were betting on us.”
His chuckle is low and rumbling. “I think we can handle the kids. Nate, on the other hand…”
“He’s going to give you the shovel talk.”
“Been there, done that.”
Tyson tilts her head back to stare. “Wait, what?”
Gabe’s smile is so fond as he brushes his thumbs over her earrings. “He sat me down when I showed these to him. I wanted to know if you would like them.”
“But...that was at Christmas! That was months ago!”
He rolls his eyes. “Dating, Tys. Forever, remember?”
She’ll never get used to it, she doesn’t think. It makes her blush and it makes her stomach turn over pleasantly. “We need to go on a real date.”
“I’ve been telling you-”
“No, like, one where we both know we’re on a date,” she insists.
Gabe’s amusement is all over his face. “Dinner is ready.”
Tyson laughs. “Hey. Hey Gabe.”
“Go on a date with me.”
“To my kitchen?”
She kisses him again, soft and certain, because she can now. “As long as it’s you and it’s a date I don’t think it matters where it is.”
“And you thought I was a sweet talker.”
But he directs her to a chair, even pulls it out for her while Zoey, who seems to have picked up on the change in mood, skitters joyfully around their feet. And dinner is not all that different to all the ones before, honestly. Except it is . Tyson can reach over and hold Gabe’s hand and she does, her stomach exploding with butterflies at the way he tangles their fingers together, and then hooks his ankle around hers.
It’s the same, but so much better. “So,” she begins, thoughtful.
Gabe hums in response, abandoning his lasagna in favor of twisting one of her curls through his fingers.
“Want to help chaperone Science Olympiad when we go to regionals?”
He grins at her. “I thought you were worried about the kids finding out.”
“I’ve decided I don’t care. You’re right, we can handle them.” She points her fork at him. “And in case you were wondering, that’s totally a date too, nosy highschoolers aside.”
The brightness of his smile is nearly blinding, but Tyson figures she has time to get used to it. Does she want to get used to it? Probably not. He leans over and presses a kiss, soft and sweet, against the corner of her mouth. “I can’t wait.”