Author X Audience

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Chapter 10: Conventional Convention

October passes. Or, mostly anyway.

“Are you alright, Alexis?” I look up from my Ziv desk to see Maria looking down at me with concern.

It’s October 31st. Halloween, and a Monday. I’m at Ziv, apparently outwardly distracted enough that my boss feels the need to inquire about my wellbeing.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lie, redirecting my attention away from my phone and back to the manga I’m currently proofreading. Can’t be distracted when proofreading, makes for bad work. I move my finger back to the first bubble of the page and start again. “Just forgot I wouldn’t be seeing any of my friends for Halloween.”

“Ah, that can be hard… Why don’t you come out with me, Angelina, and some of the other editors and designers? We’re going to a Halloween trivia night!”

“I learned too much about Halloween when I wrote a blog post about pumpkins in Japan. I’d probably end up arguing with the MC.” I move my finger back to the top of the page again. “Haunted houses, costumes, and scaring trick-or-treaters; that’s more my speed.”

Maria laughs and says, “Yeah, I can see that for you.” She puts a hand over my book and I look up at her. “But maybe you’d spend your time better organizing the new titles we’re considering, yeah? It’s a little more mindless than this.”

I rise from my desk with a sigh. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry. I know this is going out soon.”

She waves her hand at me. “One day won’t break the project.” Stress on this. The world of editors, and Ziv especially since they often put things out simultaneously with Japan, is one of deadlines. I’m lucky this one wasn’t pressing. So, so lucky.

“Just go have some fun tonight and try again tomorrow, yeah?”

“You got it, boss.”

I slip away to organize the new arrivals, and my phone buzzes.

Speak of the devil, it’s my other boss.

You really think I wouldn’t dress up for Halloween? he texts.

I text back, My basis for you and Halloween is based on Cassie and Clint.

I guess you’re not one of the fans that Twitter-stalks me then.

Well, not right now, I’m at work. Can’t go mooning off after someone when I’m at work. That would make for even worse proofreading.

I’m not going to tell him about the hours I wasted grinning over the stupid things he’s said at cons that people had the foresight to record and put on YouTube, though.

I’m drawn out of my thoughts when my phone buzzes again.

He’s sent me a picture this time. Red dress shirt, black suit—definitely not his usual plaid—horns and a pitch fork.

It’s quickly followed by the caption, Everyone’s disappointed because I didn’t dress up at all.

This asshole.

The fans are probably dying!

DOES HE KNOW WHAT HE DOES TO US?!

I look at the picture again and realize he probably does and on top of that probably really fucking enjoys it.

I snap a quick pic of myself making an unamused face in my absolutely normal outfit. Too bad I’m not the famous one, since I totally dressed up.

Angel costume, huh? Patron saint of comics or editing?

I blink at my phone. Okay, I’ll admit: that wasn’t the response I was expecting, but it was pretty dang smooth. I’ll take it.

His typing icon pops back up and I wait to see what he’s going to say next.

Buuuuuuut, how about I put on a costume and we hit up the dive bar near my house next time you’re down? It won’t be Halloween, but it’ll be close enough with the creepy decor and regular ghouls it attracts. Oooh, scary~

Still typing…

I know how important Halloween is to you, and how far away you are from the people you usually do it with, so, you know, if I can help…

I respond then.

Have you been Twitter-stalking ME?

I haven’t told him a damn thing about my Halloween traditions, but my Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter have been loaded with swag and loud rants from my sister about how we’re not making pumpkin soup this year because her dumb fantastic older sister is too fucking busy doing awesome stuff and how proudgery (that’s a combination of proud and angry) she is about it.

Lizzy may have shoved the pumpkin soup recipe at me over one or two private messages and texts too… But you try finding a Cinderella pumpkin in San Francisco when you’ve only got one day to shop and all you wanna do is lie in bed and watch anime, too exhausted to even put in the effort for video games. I told Lizzy we could do it if she brought over the pumpkin and ingredients, but she said it just wasn’t the same if she did it instead of me.

It’s not my fault your sister is loud enough for the both of you, Terry says.

You’re Twitter-stalking my SISTER?

I may be following her on Tumblr.

Since when do you even HAVE one of those??

😉

This cheeky, frustrating, attentive asshole.

Seriously, though, he continues. Haunted dive bar Halloween? It’d be a good opportunity anyway since it’s been, what, just over a month you’ve been with us? That’s anniversary material, that is.

Anniversary.

Worked up as I am, my heart still flutters at the word.

Is it really the start of my Bizney internship we should be using that word for? Then again, he and I still haven’t really put a word to whatever it is we have going on either.

As far as I can tell, he’s not seeing anyone else, and I certainly don’t have time to see anyone else, all of my free time going to Skype dates with friends back home and helping my little sister get settled in San Francisco.

I’ll have even less time soon… November is tomorrow, and I’ve got that script to finish and that script writing bet with Lizzy to win.

I shake off those thoughts and text him back. Okay, intern month anniversary drink at haunted dive bar. I’ll take that and getting up a little early on Saturday as recompense for not seeing you on Halloween.

Why are we getting up early on Saturday?

What? To watch D for Declaration of course! Saturday’s the fifth!

Oh! Right, your tradition! Okay, deal.

Say hi to your ghosts for me when you get home and scare all of the children that come to your door.

Oh, I’ve got that part covered, don’t you worry…

I settle back into organizing, daydreaming of the sort of haunted house Terry could really put together if he had the time and the help…

But when I show up at Bizney on Thursday, there’s no time for daydreaming.

“Okay, people, we’ve got less than twenty-four hours before we have people breathing down our necks with questions at the convention and we have got to move!

Ron’s inspirational as always. I lean over to Terry as Ron goes on and whisper, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

He shrugs, keeping his eyes on Ron—probably so he can’t be accused of not paying attention. “I assumed you would know.”

Right. The man who works at Bizney full time assumed the part-time intern who barely has time to brush her teeth in the morning before she flies to Los Angeles Thursday morning is going to remember something like Bizney’s colossal B23 Expo—of which she only knows because he was interviewed at the convention two years ago and she watched said interview.

“How dressed up does Ron mean when he says we need to look sharp?”

“More nicely than if we were going to the dive bar, even for substitute Halloween.”

“You’re just going to wear plaid, aren’t you?”

He grins and I catch it out of the corner of my eye.

“Gotta give the fans what they want,” he says.

I sigh and roll my eyes. “I don’t think I have anything nice enough. My zombie Robbie cosplay just isn’t gonna cut it.”

Terry shifts next to me, a defeated sort of smile playing over his face as he raises a hand to his forehead.

“You know the MonsterPeaks AU,” he mumbles.

You know the MonsterPeaks AU?!”

I’m too loud. Ron’s head whips around. I cover my mouth and giving him my best wide-eyed apologetic face. He grimaces and then launches into the next strain of his speech.

“Of course I know about the MonsterPeaks AU,” Terry says. “It’s my job to know about all of the alternate realities the fans come up with.”

“No, it’s not,” I hiss back. “There’s a very delicate balance of existence for these things, and it all comes from the illusion of you not knowing.”

“And yet you brought your MonsterPeaks AU cosplay all the way from San Francisco to wear on spooky bar Halloween our date tomorrow tonight.”

“You said you liked it when fans cosplayed.” I remember the video in which he said this, but the year and event escape me. I remember how warm it made me feel, him saying how much it meant to see something he’d created living and breathing in front of him, brought to life by the love of a fan.

He smiles softly at the floor. “I do.”

Hot Belgian Waffles, he’s beautiful…

I take my eyes off Terry before Ron can catch me looking.

“I’ll wear it anyway,” I mumble. “Ron can deal.”

“Bizney can’t,” Terry chuckles. “What about the dress, the blue one?”

“I have a lot of blue dresses.”

He shakes his head, like he’s amused I’m making him say it. “The plaid one.”

I sneak a look at him through my eyelashes. He’s staring forward, for all intents and purposes the perfect image of attention to whatever it is Ron’s saying now. But I know the dress he’s talking about. He likes that dress. It’s definitely conservative enough for a Bizney exhibition, with the high neckline and full skirt that falls to just below my knee. The boat neck and bare shoulders of the tank-top bodice seem to be his favorite aspects of the dress, however.

“Why would I wear that one in particular?” I tease.

“It’ll be matchy,” he murmurs.

Matchy. He wants me to match him.

I try to fight the smile I feel coming on, but from the way he chuckles I can tell I’m not doing a very good job. “It’s a good dress for that,” I admit, “But how are the fans going to feel about a strange woman being matchy and wearing your signature thing?”

He snorts. “I may really, really enjoy giving the fans what they want, but we can’t let them forget I’m a real person with a social life, even if it is lodged pretty heavily inside of my work life. Besides. Although I may diverge from red upon occasion, we all know the fans think of red plaid as my signature thing.” He winks at me.

I roll my eyes and give him a light push with my shoulder. “Okay.”

His fingers dart into my palm and give my hand a quick squeeze. “Good. Ron’s getting to the stuff I don’t already know, so I guess maybe…”

“We should tune in, yeah.”

Ron could drawl on for another hour, give me the most meaningless job at the entire expo, and imply I picked the wrong lipstick today and I’d still be ready for tomorrow.

I get to wear matchy plaid with Terry Walsh and nothing can take that away from me.

* * *

The next morning, Terry and I don’t go to work—we go to the fucking huge-ass convention center in the middle of LA.

“So,” I say, stepping out of the car in my matchy plaid dress, “where exactly are we setting up…?”

Terry has his phone out and is texting. He’s been texting since we left, corresponding with everyone, making final arrangements—so busy he even asked me to drive. “Hang on, Ron’s typing… Okay, we’re—holy shit—we’re on the main floor!

This is one of the moments where I have yet to acquire the lingo of the world he lives in and can only gauge the importance of this by his tone and blown pupils. I push the coffee I insisted we stop for on the way to convention center into his hand. “Breathe.” Maybe Ron assigned me to Terry because he knew with a crush like mine I’d at least take care of him. Didn’t realize how important that was going to be until this morning where he paraded three nearly identical red plaid shirts by me before choosing one. It’s kinda cute seeing him nervous about his show, though. Nice to know it isn’t just us common folk who get nervous about presenting ourselves and our work to the world.

“Right, right, breathing,” Terry says. He tucks his phone back into his pocket and takes a swig of coffee. He wipes his mouth and gazes at the convention center with this mad gleam in his eye. “Okay, let’s do this!”

I have to trot a little keep up. Practical pumps only add so much to one’s stride, and he’s got long legs and a mission. Soon keeping becomes less a matter of leg work and more a matter of attention span.

And I thought walking into Bizney studios was overwhelming.

Ha!

Picture this: humble fan comes in at the elbow of the man who made the cartoon based on her hometown, and sees Bizney in their full regalia, strutting their stuff, booths and walkways and swag strewn so thickly as to turn even the scroogiest of penny-hoarding college student’s heads with magnificence and affordability—as well as non-affordability. Walking turns into a comical pattern of me lagging behind, and then ripping myself away to catch up. At least until I catch sight of our booth.

“Whoa…” I say.

“I know,” he replies, sliding easily under one of the red velvet ropes boxing the booth off from the walkway. He unhooks the rope for me.

“This is all ours?” I ask, walking through.

The voice that replies is lower and boomier. “Everything the light touches…”

I squeak and whirl. “You did not—

“Just quote The Lion Duke at you?”

I cover my face with my hands and say, “Never mind, send me home, I can’t do this.” I can feel the excitement racing through me, the breath and adrenaline and my heart beating fit to shake down the whole freaking building. Being a fan is truly an act of masochism.

“Hey,” he says, voice soft and close. His hands slide around my wrists, gently parting my hands. “Look at me.”

“No,” I reply instantly, eyes still shut.

He laughs. “You’re going to have to all day.”

“I don’t care.” I wiggle my fingers and he lets me go. I seize him by the plaid and hide my face in his chest. Oh whoa, he’s humming with the same energy I am. I peek up at him, confounded. “Your heart’s going just as fast as mine,” I say, like this is the discovery of the century.

He gives me a manic grin. “You think you’re the only one who’s terricited?”

Did he just smoosh terrified and excited into one word? Not the first warranted face-palm of our relationship, but the first one I’ve done in front of him. “Of course you made up a word for this.”

“Happens when you need a word for something often enough.”

Okay. Okay. He’s as scared as I am. This isn’t new, this isn’t me being incapable, this isn’t him coming down to my level to make me feel better—this is both of us on fire for Serenity Peaks.

“What did you do with that coffee?” I ask. He magics it from somewhere and offers it to me. I take a sip and square my shoulders and then hand it back. “Okay. Where do want me?”

Terry smirks and points at the ground next to him. “Right here.”

I give him a mock salute and say, “You got it, boss.”

“Just make sure you don’t go oogling certain people in front of the camera,” Ron says behind me, causing me to jump.

“Where did he come from?” I hiss at Terry.

“Behind you?” Terry grins. I glare at him and then turn around to offer Ron my best smile.

“Won’t be a problem,” I tell him.

“So long as you don’t send us any foxy reporters in skirt suits,” Terry adds.

Ron raises his eyebrow at Terry. “Really, Terry, if you have a fetish like that, you should have told Rhonda ages ago so she could stop torturing you by wearing them.”

“Okay, two things,” Terry says. “First of all, Rhonda is way out of my league.” Yeah, mine too! “Secondly, I’m not talking about me.”

Ron blinks and then gives me a good-natured look of surprise.

I drop my eyes and blush. Thank goodness my Greek, olive skin makes it difficult to tell when I’m blushing. It’s not like I mind Terry telling Ron I’m bi, but Ron’s already intimidating without the vulnerability required to share personal facts about my life with him. When I look up, however, Ron looks like he’s trying to hide a smile and is pointedly looking at his clipboard instead of me. “Playing for both teams, huh, kid?”

I shake my head quickly, because I’ve gotten used to nipping that certain misconception in the bud. “More like mine and any other teams that might be out there. But yeah.”

Ron blinks and then smiles wider. “Respect. But no. No oogling. Can’t have one of our interns looking unprofessional.” He finishes scribbling whatever I’m sure he’s pretending to write and lowers the board. “Speaking of which, the only reason you’re getting away with that plaid monstrosity of a dress is because it matches his poor fashion sense and our brand awareness. Clear?”

“As crystal,” I breathe, amazed I came out of this encounter unscathed.

It’s not until after a slog of interviews and the most frenzied lunchtime of my life that I realize what I agreed to when I told Terry I’d stay by his side. This is at least the fifth camera they’ve pointed at him today—and by extension, me, his silent blue-clad shadow. I can already hear the fans asking “Who’s she? What’s she doing there? Why does she get to stand next to him?” We’re soooo fucked.

Ron seems relatively tense about me being in front of a camera too. I don’t know which is worse: being there and not saying anything, or being there and trying to say something. I’m just talking whenever they ask me to—and the only two things I’ve said are “Hello!” and “Yep, I’m the intern,” whenever Terry mentions the intern and then gestures to me expectantly. It’s all making me more and more self-conscious by the second. Then again, if I’m behind the velvet ropes and next to the creator of one of Bizney’s hit shows, I should be contributing as part of the creative team, right? I’m not just a fan attending, I am the intern. I’ve been in the writer’s room. Terry keeps me around for scope. Maybe I should offer something up. It’s not like they can’t cut it from the interview if they don’t like it. None of this is live, I don’t think… Augh, but what if I say something stupid?

That’s probably exactly what Ron’s worried about.

I’m snapped out of my internal debate when our stylish reporter asks a question I can’t ignore.

“So, some fans have been wondering: given the time period in which Alex and Xander grew up, was Philbrick Pines the sort of father that believed in corporal punishment?”

Terry, who has been on the ball all day with his answers, makes the one noise that would surely make Ron’s heart stop if he wasn’t currently dealing with a streamer collapse at the booth across from us. “Ahhhhhhuummmmm….”

Terry doesn’t know?!

My mouth is open before I can think better of it. “I think it’s safe to say he isn’t.” In my peripheral vision, I see Ron drop something and spin to look at us. Terry is a little less pronounced in his reaction, turning just marginally towards me.

“Can you elaborate, or will it spoil some grand scheme?” the reporter asks, the only person in the immediate space that doesn’t seem to know there’s something going horribly wrong right now.

“Well, we can’t speak for schemes, but I think it’s kind of implied that Philbrick doesn’t believe in corporal punishment in ‘A Tale of AleXander’ when he kicks Alex out. He lectures him, packs him a bag, and throws him out, but he doesn’t hit him.” I pause and take a deep breath. “If he was the sort of parent that hit the boys when they were younger, his anger over Alex ruining Xander’s chances at getting into university definitely would have brought that violence back out somehow.”

“That’s true,” the reporter says. They smile like they’re gearing up for another question, and my stomach flutters nervously. Bring it, I could talk about this particular angle all day, even if there is a camera and a microphone pointed at me. “But then how do you explain Philbrick’s enthusiasm for enrolling Alex in boxing at such a young age?”

“Easy,” I say.

Ron pinches the bridge of his nose.

Terry swallows and waits patiently.

I look at the reporter and inhale.

“Boxing is a way for Alex to defend himself and his brother, not attack other people. It’s about discipline and strength, not violence, intimidation, or power plays. Besides…” I swallow. I might be getting a little too personal with this next bit and projecting, but the words are already in my throat. “Any parent that used corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool wouldn’t want to empower their children by teaching them how to fight. One day, their children would use what they learned to fight back.”

The reporter smiles and nods like they’re pleased with my answer. “Of course, that makes sense.” They turn to Terry. “Anything to add?”

He smiles winningly and gestures incoherently. “Not at the moment.”

The reporter nods again, and I can see Ron leaning against the booth across the way, clearly relieved and exhausted.

Finally, the reporter has asked all of their questions and thanks us for our time. We show them off the floor and, within the instant, Ron bears down upon us.

“You are so lucky that sounded legit,” he tells me.

I grimace. “Do you really think I could have tricked Terry into giving me this job if I wasn’t legit? I’m a fan of the show, not an idiot.” Usually I wouldn’t talk back to Ron, but I just faced down a camera and gave them a real answer and used “we” like part of the real god damn team!

“Yeah, yeah, okay.” He waves his hand through the air, dismissing the issue like he always does when he agrees but doesn’t want you to know. “Good job.”

My jaw drops. A sincere word of praise from Ron? He really must think I did a good job!

Ron doesn’t give me any time to process his comment before he moves on to Terry. “You okay over there, buddy?”

“Hm?”

Wait, hang on. Scratch thinking about the compliment Ron will probably kill me for ever mentioning again. Terry’s distracted?

Ron seems concerned too. Both of us give Terry the same evaluating look.

“I said,” Ron repeats slowly, “you okay over there?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah… Sorry, just thinking.”

Ron raises an eyebrow and unhooks one of the velvet ropes. He comes in and puts the rope back into place behind him. He stands in front of Terry and crosses his arms, tucking his clipboard into his armpit. “About?”

“Um, excuse me…”

I turn around, surprised. A short beautiful man with a microphone is smiling at me. “I’m from Made Up Stuff. We have an appointment for 4:30?”

“It’s fine,” I hear Terry whisper to Ron. “We’ll talk after work, yeah?”

“Okay, but don’t think I’ll forget,” I hear Ron say.

I smile brilliantly at the reporter and lift the velvet rope for him and his crew. “Right this way, please.”

Thank goodness Terry is only scheduled to be here until 5.

Our last interview and a few fan interactions later, we navigate our way back to the VIP hideaway. Terry is walking fast, like he needs to talk to Ron right this very second or the ground will crumble out from under his feet.

Ron, of course, is waiting.

He thrusts cups of water into our hands. “Drink,” he says, like he’s our mother.

Whatever, he’s probably right. Smiling all day, even if it is for Bizney instead of insert-soul-crushing-customer-service-position-here, will leave you dehydrated. I gulp my mine down.

Terry barely sips his. He agitatedly passes his cup from hand to hand instead.

Ron watches him and says, “Spit it out.”

For a split second I see the corner of Terry’s mouth tip up, can already hear him saying, “The water or what’s bothering me?”—but then it’s gone, as if it never existed.

I stop drinking. That’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen him do.

“Do you think Philbrick believed in corporal punishment?” he asks.

Ron looks at Terry hard, and then his gaze falls to me.

Oh fuck. Oh shit. Did I actually mess up here? I can feel my shoulders tightening, my breath going shallow, my chest tensing up for a panic attack… No no no no NO! Of all the things I could have done today, I did not want to fuck this up!

Ron shifts his eyes back to Terry and a little more air finds its way back into my lungs. “This has been eating at you since they asked, hasn’t it?” Ron asks.

“Yes,” Terry says. He draws the word out, like it’s painful to admit and has to be forcibly ripped from his mouth.

“Can’t decide?”

Terry nods in a defeated sort of way.

Ron sighs and looks back at him. “Honestly? I think Alexis nailed it.”

My breathing has all but stopped. It’s like my anxiety thinks that if Ron and Terry can’t hear me, I won’t be in danger. But I still feel like I’m in danger, because even though Ron clearly thinks I did a good job, Terry still seems unsure.

He shifts from foot to foot. “You think so?”

Ron throws his hands up in the air. “Seriously?!” Terry jumps a little and looks at Ron with wide eyes, but Ron doesn’t let up. He points an accusing finger at Terry’s chest. “You hire this little twerp because you want to have a fan’s perspective and then you doubt her when she finally says something relevant? Stop being sore that you didn’t think of it first and say thank you.”

He doesn’t give Terry time to reply before he whips back to me. “And you.”

“Y-yes?”

“Don’t let this go to your head, you hear me? You earned this one, that’s all.”

The panic in my chest shatters as I take a deep breath in. “Okay!”

“Now both of you get out of here and go do something fun or, so help me, I’ll add you to the clean-up crew.” He turns us by the shoulders and marches us towards the door. “And find a damn recycling bin for those cups, they’re paper!” Ron pushes us out into the hallway and then swiftly returns to the interior of the room, undoubtedly dealing with the next managerial phase of the convention.

Terry stands in the hallway, clutching his paper cup like it’s a lifeline. I stand there sweating beside him, not sure what to do or say.

“Sooooo…” I try.

“Hm?”

“Still up for spooky-dive-bar belated-Halloween drinks?”

He gives me a blank look for a second and then jumps. “Oh! Oh yeah, that’s right, sorry! Sorry.”

His smile breaks through and his eyes go soft. I know he’s in the process of putting away work mode. He raises his hand and lightly brushes my cheek. “Sorry…”

I lean into the touch, relieved that he still wants to touch me. “S’okay. You’re here now.”

“Yes,” he says. “Yes I am.” His hand slides down my arm to take my hand, and he faces forward again. “Ron’s right, though. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me because he told you to…”

“No. No! What would make you…? No.”

He lets out a sigh of what sounds like disgust, and then tosses back what’s left of his water. “Come on, let’s go to the car. I need a real drink and to buy you one because you saved my ass out there on the floor when I didn’t have an answer, and that’s why I’m being such a dick. I just hadn’t thought about that part of Alex and Xander’s home life.”

“This can’t be the first time that’s happened…?”

“You’d be surprised. Is that a recycling bin?”

He points and I blink, and yes, yes it is.

Cups dealt with as per instructions, we finally make for the car.

This time when he takes my hand and thanks me, I don’t doubt him.

* * *

Terry wasn’t lying when he described this place as a dive bar.

I like how slightly removed from everything it feels and how many trees are huddled around the run-down stucco building, though. It’s exactly what old California is supposed to feel like. It’s a little chilly for Cali now, what with the oncoming November and December weather, but looking at the building from the car, it doesn’t feel like it could be anything but warm and comfortably familiar with a touch of run down inside. I can’t help but feel content that my expectation matches the interior when we walk in.

The bartender shouts out a welcome to Terry like he’s an old friend and tells him to find a seat anywhere. “Ooh, and who’s this you’ve got with you?” she asks. She winks at me and says, “Howdy, sunshine. My name’s Alexia.”

I look at Terry in amazement. He shrugs and I laugh and call back, “Alexis.”

“Charmed,” she says, and ushers us in again.

Terry leans over and asks, “Where do you want to sit?”

“Hmm.” The bar is pretty decently filled, it being a Friday night and all. The corner by the door would be my go-to, but a couple of old guys seem to have taken it over pretty completely. I always like corners. You can see everything from them, and no one can sneak up on you. They can work in reverse sometimes, though… That’s why I always like sitting in the ones by the door. Makes for a quick escape if the bar patrons get a little too rowdy or friendly. Always better to avoid a fight than start one, my Taekwondo teacher used to say. Thank goodness Mom had me take those lessons. Then again, with Terry here, what am I worried about? The far bar-side corner seems unoccupied, and there’s even a window with the last of the evening sun spilling through it, making the corner all the more inviting. I point.

Terry nods, and gives me a little push. “You go save it. I’ll get drinks. Something with whiskey, right?”

I smile at him. “You do pay attention.”

His mouth curves. “Nothing gets near your mouth without my noticing.”

“Terry!” I make a mock scandalized face. He just grins and laughs and then pushes me gently again. I stick my tongue out of at him and then go and set up shop in the sunlight corner. It looks like Terry really does know the bartender. He’s chatting with her while she makes her drinks, which means I’ve got a few minutes to spare…

I snatch my notebook out of my purse and I flip to where I left off in Lizzy’s script. National Novel Writing Month is a nerve-wracking race against time. In order to write fifty thousand words in a month and win my bet with Lizzy, I need to write 1,667 words per day—or, for those of us with too much work and a Greek family that turns Thanksgiving into a week-long affair every year, two thousand words per day with five days off. It’s already day four of November, and I’ve only managed a few thousand words. I’ve been writing on my breaks, but usually when I get home from work I’m too exhausted to contribute much to the script. I’ll take any stolen time where I’ve got energy that I can get at this point.

I push thoughts about binge writing on my only day off per week to keep up with NaNo’s relentless pace out of my head and tap my pencil against the page, trying to think of what that main character of hers, Finean, should say next. He’s been having a lot of monologues since the person he talks most to is his cat. A lot of inner monologues too, since he’s not being outright possessed by his soma like the other stork god’s host. But now he’s talking to the leader of the resistance, and Finean talking to other people just feels like it should be different from Finean talking to his cat or what’s essentially now part of himself. The kid spent so long being experimented on by other humans. It makes sense he’d have some issues with them, even if they’re not trying to hurt him.

Maybe Lizzy can help me. These are her characters, after all. I know a lot about them, but not enough to really get their voices down like I want to. I fire off a text, asking her to tell me more. Her reply is vague and noncommittal. She probably knows I’m asking because I’m writing and doesn’t want me to win our bet. I tell her she’s cheating, but she just sends me drawings of the main character Finean making a “What? I can’t hear you over the sound of how many fucks I don’t give” expression.

Unknowingly, she’s just helped me with Finean’s voice. Knew I could count on her.

I steal from the mood of her drawing and start writing. Terry isn’t going to take forever, and I’ve gotta get this script finished, even if it sucks. Lizzy didn’t say what quality the script had to be in, and at least when it’s finished I can edit it with her. Boy, I’m looking forward to working on something with her. Greek though we may be, it’s been tough to really feel like a family since—

“Alexis…?”

That’s not Terry’s voice, even with the range of his impressions and voice-acting ability. That’s definitely an older man’s voice, and it’s too deep for Terry. But who the fuck around here would know my name? I guess anyone in here could since I just introduced myself to Alexia, but the way this person is saying it is like a dusty memory, not an introduction.

I look up slowly, halfway convinced someone is talking to a different Alexis close by. Then I’m staring into a pair of familiar blue eyes, and I know I’m the Alexis he was looking for.

Dammit.

“…Hi, Dad.”

Looks like he finally got the white-guy skullet and beard combo Mom had the good sense to forbid him from during their marriage. Thank goodness Mom’s divorce lawyer was such a lioness, or he’d have gotten more than that out of the divorce. Smug bastard. He’s going to split his face smiling like that. Or I am. Smiling like he’s happy to see me? Tch. Please.

“I can’t believe it’s you! What are you doing here?” he says.

There are a thousand things I want to say: Working, what the hell are you doing here? Cheating on your mistress with someone else yet? Before you’re even finished divorcing Mom? Sending feminism back to the Dark Ages by teaching that other woman’s son it’s okay to treat women like disposable hand wipes and break your vows to them like they’re made of sugar glass—only good until you get sick of her and can get another nearby woman’s vagina wet? Just seeing him again ignites the bitter taste of fury in the back of my throat. A divorce would have been fine, maybe even better for both of them with the way they were constantly sniping at each other. It was the affair that tore us apart. But it doesn’t matter what I say. He and I have had those discussions—or should I call them fights? Passive aggressive correspondences over email that made me cry with every new message in my inbox. He couldn’t understand that this new betrayal, this new abuse of my trust and love, shoved all the other times he’d done it back into the frame. The email where he felt the need to define beating as throwing a punch and leaving a bruise just so he could validate the way he hit me when I was a kid was the last straw.

I just wanted him to be proud of me, but he’ll never love me like I wanted him to, like I thought he used to. Our relationship was always about him: look at my fine young daughter and how much she loves me, obviously I’m great.

Ugh.

“…Just getting a drink.”

“Yeah? Me too. I came down to visit your Grandpa Jerry—”

He’s not my grandfather. Papu was my grandfather, the only one I had. Papu actually gave a fuck about what was going on in my life, actually talked to me. That man’s just another two-timing, selfish asshole like you that doesn’t give a fuck about anything but the satisfaction of his penis. That man didn’t even wait a week after my step-grandmother was buried before he found another girlfriend. Then he thinks it’s okay to bring her to a family dinner without telling us? That wasn’t about Lizzy or me, that was about him. He robbed us of the ability to meet her on our terms, made the freshly buried woman I’d come to think of as family seem like she was nothing to him but some sort of living fleshlight—

“And your Grandma Edith—”

Who also doesn’t give a damn about us because she’s too busy devoting her life here on earth to being a Jehovah’s Witness. You’d think she could have found something more constructive to do with her life after being divorced—or did you forget about how that affected the family? Go on, tell me about how the aunt I never really got to know is doing too, the one that’s dead to your mother because she wouldn’t conform to your mother’s damn religion. That woman might have looked down on our side of the family, but at least Nana’s atheistic view on life gave more of a damn about the people around her than her immortal soul—

“And you know I used to go to college around here—”

Yeah, don’t remind me. I’d rather remember the side of my family I liked when I come here. Hollywood, Pasadena, Chatsworth, Burbank, LA. These places belong to the Culolias Clan, my mother’s family. Just because you showed me a school building and the place you used to take young women to wow them with the city lights and then “park” doesn’t mean I want to associate these places—let alone any place—with you anymore.

“And just happened to reconnect with a couple of old school friends. They brought me here.” He smiles at me like nothing’s wrong, like we’re still family. “Never dreamed I’d run into you here too. Small world, huh?”

I just look at him. I would trade every life on his side of the family for the four that I lost on Mom’s side.

“Maybe you should go back to them, then,” I say, finally, turning my eyes back to my notebook. I really need to get moving on this project. Tomorrow’s the fifth of November. Not only do I need to write like a maniac so I can win my bet and make time to eat Thanksgiving dinner with my real family, I’ve got a movie with a declaration in it to watch.

“Don’t be like that.”

I can’t hold back the sigh. You’d think a year in Japan would have taught me how to keep my emotions contained, but I’m just not an internal sort of person. “Like what, Dad? I don’t want to talk to you. Haven’t I made that clear?”

Like, seriously, blocking your phone number, email address, and social media accounts wasn’t enough of a fucking clue? Oh, and the email where I told you not to contact me? Respect a woman’s god damn wishes for once in your miserable life.

I scribble something down viciously, trying not to let him get to me, trying to work. I’m really feeling Finean’s defensiveness towards people right now due to the violence he experienced in his childhood with the Half Moon Project. I mean, they experimented on him and gave him a fucking brand he hides with a scarf and everything. He’d say something catty here, I bet.

“You can’t mean that. I’m your father.”

“Tch. Yeah, that hasn’t meant much recently, has it?”

I don’t need to look to know which face he’s making. I’ve been getting that same, put-upon, I’m-about-to-become-very-angry-in-a-way-that-you-won’t-like-if-you-don’t-shape-up look since I was big enough to form the words to argue—and to be hit for my trouble. That’s right, Dad, just get angry with me. It’s solved so many problems before.

“That is completely unfair.”

“I don’t care, Dad!”

Fuck.

Fuck fuck.

Didn’t mean to blow up, didn’t mean to react, didn’t want to respond.

I sigh and put my head in my hand. “This isn’t all about you.”

“You’re right. It’s about your inability to forgive people who make mistakes.”

I glare up at him. “I’m sorry, what?” I can feel my lips peeled back in something like a manic grin, something like a growl.

Then my father sways.

Oh.

Well, he’s drunk.

Does that make this better or worse? He never used to get drunk. Why is he drinking now?

“You’re drunk right now? Really? It’s barely even six o’clock.”

“I can be drunk if I want to be.”

“What about your heart murmur? You know what the doctor said excessive alcohol usage cou—” No, that’s not my problem anymore. For all I care he can drop dead, remember? “You’re such a selfish jerk,” I mutter.

“Excuse me?!” Oh, here we go. “You say that to my face again, young lady!”

Suddenly, a delicate cocktail glass filled with burnished amber liquid and toting a little sugar on the rim cuts into the conversation, just in front of my nose.

“Alexia called it a Rusty Nail,” Terry proclaims loudly, drawing attention not just from me and my father, but everyone else in the room. When did it get so quiet in here? Maybe it’s just my imagination. People are still eating, talking softly. Just a few eyes flick across us occasionally, obviously aware that something is happening, just not sure what.

I take the glass from Terry and take a large sip, barely appreciating the taste of the cocktail. I just want something to ease the tension in my neck, my shoulders, my clenched jaw.

Terry sets his own cocktail glass down on the table and turns to my father, placing a hand securely down on his shoulder.

“Now, if you don’t mind, sir, I think you’re bothering the lady.”

“Back off, buddy. That’s my daughter.”

“Really? It doesn’t sound like she thinks so.”

I finish my drink and put down the glass just in time to see my father’s body tense. I know that look too.

In an instant, I’m up and out of my seat. I get between Terry and my father just in time to catch his hooked punch with my cheek. My sloppy block isn’t enough—the angle was all wrong. The blow catches me just on the edge of my cheek and my glasses go flying off my face. The force of impact assures me some of the blow was absorbed (even if it wasn’t much) as I fall back. Even if my block did soften it, getting punched in the face is still getting punched in the face.

Terry catches me as I hit his chest. I hear both him and my father say my name in unison.

I feel Terry’s hands tighten on me, as though drawing me away from someone else that might be trying to touch me, and my eyes flash back open.

My father is there, looking hesitant and scared. Good. ‘Bout time he was finally afraid of the things he’s done with those hands.

“Does it count as beating now, Dad?” I hiss at him. “Or do I need a bruise for it to fit the definition?”

The worry and concern on my father’s face immediately blooms back into anger. I feel a warm feeling of satisfaction welling up in my stomach. This is how it’s always been, huh, Dad? You can’t win with words, so you’ve gotta win with blows. Bring it on. I’m not the same helpless little girl. You may not remember the day I made you stop hitting me, but I do—the day those Taekwondo lessons Mom enrolled me finally paid off and I threatened to break your arm if you ever hit me again. Give me a reason. I’ll fuck you up. Come on.

It’d be a certain kind of justice after everything you’ve put me, Lizzy, and Mom through.

“Alexia, call the cops.” Terry’s voice cuts through my bloodlust, clearing my head, bringing me back. His hands tighten around me again, this time like a harness, holding me together safe and secure, tied to the ground by the kite strings of his fingers so the wind of fury can’t steal me away.

Alexia balances the phone in her hand, giving my father a bored, dead look, like he’s the gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe. “What are we calling it, Ter?”

“Assault, I believe.” Terry’s voice is soft, but hard. I’ve never heard him sound like this before. It’s quiet, calm… but there’s another word I need, something sharper.

Deadly.

Yeah, that’s the one.

I smile, safe, watching my father visibly pale from the throne of Terry’s arms.

“I didn’t mean to hit her,” my father yells. “She got in the way; it’s her fault, not mine.”

“Fuck you,” I breathe.

“Her, me, I don’t think it really matters to the police,” Terry says. He leans over me, towards my father, menacing him now. “And I’ve got a room full of people who will testify about what they just saw.”

My father looks like a trapped animal: scared, angry, and desperate.

This is what I want. This is what I want. This is what I…

“If you’re not here when the cops get here, I won’t press charges,” I say.

My father blinks at me, and I can feel Terry waiting for me to make that make sense.

I reach out, pick up Terry’s drink, and throw it in my father’s face.

“You’re not worth the breath it would take to testify in court.”

Then I reach back and take Terry’s hand and say, “Can we go home?”

Terry looks over at Alexia, who is directing someone who looks to be the bouncer—he must have been on break or something—over to my father. When she sees Terry looking, she waves him out. “On the house, dude,” she says. Terry nods, and surges forward, keeping himself between me and my dad. He snatches my glasses up from the floor and hands them back to me. I hook them in the neckline of my dress. I’m probably still too tender to wear them comfortably until I get some ice on this. As we pass the end of the bar, I hear the bouncer engaging my father and Alexia pushes a bag of ice and a clean cloth into my hand. “For your eye. I know a thing or two about shitty parents. Good show, dude.” I take the ice, and she salutes me before turning back to the bar. I emerge out into the California night feeling like I won something and destroyed something at the same time—but at least I have ice. I press it to my face as Terry helps me into the car.

We’re both quiet in the car. Neither of us says anything as we pull away. It’s another quiet five minutes before Terry says, “I don’t think Philbrick believed in corporal punishment after all.”

 

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