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Chapter 12: A Whole Lot of Work

Once I get upstairs, I close my door and start shedding undergarments. I step into the shower, biting my lip and thinking about what just happened.

It’s glaringly familiar to the first time I went home with him—a shower, a moment away, an inability to calm the fuck down because I need to squee so badly—and as I reach for my shampoo, I hesitate.

Why not make it more familiar?

I kinda just rubbed him all over my face anyway.

How taboo is using his shampoo gonna be now?

I pop the cap and pour some into my hand. As I work it into my hair, I revel in using it as proof to fully believe that what just happened happened and isn’t some silly lie or dream that I’ve come up with and that, yes, indeed, I can have what I want sometimes.

I smile to myself when I think that—because now I’ve got Terry.

I get out and towel off, feeling refreshed and warm and happy. Then I walk into my room and stop.

Terry isn’t there, but he must have been because there’s a medium-sized box on my bed, and an outfit.

Not that he’s made a habit of this, but I know why he did it this time. I must have left it sticking out of my suitcase this morning when I upended it trying to decide if I really wanted to wear the blue plaid dress to the conference or not…

Because right there, smack dab in the middle of my bed on top of Terry’s favorite pair of jeans (yes, I know he likes them because I catch him staring at my legs whenever I wear them), is my father’s old red plaid shirt.

I’m sure this is supposed to be some sort of symbolic fashion statement about our day—a mantra I use to be brave and live while I’m alive, an inferred joke about putting pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, and his signature thing—but I can’t see beyond the second meaning of this shirt, the one Terry doesn’t know.

I can hear Terry in the back of my head as my shoulders tense again, going, “No no no, we just fixed this!” all over again, but it doesn’t help this time.

I stride over to my door and throw it open. “Terry!”

“Kitchen!” he sings back.

“I can’t wear this!”

“Hearing you over the smell of all this meat is difficult, love!”

I growl and go back into my room. I throw on most of the clothes he picked out for me and then dash downstairs with my father’s shirt in my hand.

“This,” I say, holding it up as I stride into the kitchen. “I can’t wear this.”

He looks from the stove top where he’s currently grilling—yep, those are steaks, wtf, we were planning on eating out and he has steak on hand, stop being perfect—to the shirt in my hand to my face.

“Look, I swear I don’t have a monopoly on red plaid,” he says. He gestures to his own shirt, which is now blue plaid. “Sometimes I even take a day off.”

“Oh. Oh you think… No. No, I can’t not wear this because of you.”

Terry’s eyes do that sharp alert thing. He raises a finger and turns back to the stove. He checks the meat and then transfers it to the plate next to stove before turning the whole thing off.

Then he turns around and settles against the counter. “Okay, now that nothing’s on fire, tell me why you can’t wear that.”

For a minute, words elude me. I don’t know where to start or what to say. Eventually, I suck in a breath and go with the simple explanation. “This was my father’s…”

Terry is a master of the poker face. He has to be with his job. But here, in his home, he doesn’t use it as much, and the face he makes conveys a lot of things: concern, anger, confusion.

“Then why was it—”

“Why am I carrying it around?”

He takes a breath and raises his hands to his temples. “Yes,” he says, rubbing them gently.

For some reason his anger reassures me.

“It meant a lot when he gave it to me. I… It was my twenty-second birthday. I’d just figured out I was bi in the midst of getting together with my first girlfriend, and our whole family was still devastated by the losses we’d suffered.” I pause, trying to figure out where we were in that year. “I guess Nana hadn’t passed yet, but if it was late March she was probably already in the nursing home, and we’d only just buried my cousin Jay over Christmas break, and it’d only been weeks since Lizzy’s…” I cough and realign. “Anyway. I was fighting with my mother, I didn’t know how to help my sister, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. I told Dad how much his old work shirts reminded me of when I used to sit with him at his work bench, or play in front of the heater nearby, and he gave it to me. As my birthday present. He said if it made me remember such happy times, I should have it. With everything changing around me, it made me feel safe like I did when I was little. Calm, you know? Like even if this changed, it would still be okay. Because I couldn’t actually go back to when I was a kid and everything seemed simple. Like, just look at this shirt.” I gesture to the gaping tear in the left sleeve, the mismatched buttons, the fraying stitching on the breast pockets. “It can’t go back either, but it’s still here. It survived everything it was put through, and it’s still as warm and red as ever.”

“And that’s all?” he asks. “It doesn’t make you think of him anymore?”

My eyes fall back to the shirt in my hands. “It did,” I say. “After everything went to hell with him, I thought about getting rid of it. I left it in my closet for a long time, but what it meant to me had nothing to do with the person my father is now. It was my dad who used to wrap me in this shirt when I wouldn’t leave his work bench to get a coat, not the man you saw in the bar today. They’re like two completely different people. I couldn’t wear this without thinking about the family I’d lost, and the sense of warmth and belonging that it held for me meant too much to me for me to throw it away…” I pause and bite my lip, trying to decide how to word the next part. “But then you came along. You and your show. You came out of nowhere and started redefining things. Suddenly red plaid and flannel belonged to you. Suddenly, this shirt wasn’t the only thing that gave me feelings of warmth and family and security in the face of change. Suddenly…”

I let my breath out and then let the shirt fall out of my hands and onto the island as I walk over to him. I run my hands over the plaid covering his stomach and he stands up a little straighter. “It reminded me of you,” I say gently.

He sighs and folds his arms around me.

“If I gave you one of mine, would you be able to let go of it?”

I shake my head. “It’s all I have left of the man I knew…”

“What can I do?” he asks.

I can feel it in the way he holds me like I might shatter at any minute: he’s scared. He doesn’t know what to do about my father, but he’s done with the way it hurts me. He wants a solution.

But the questions stands: what can he do?

I think for a moment. “Can I give it to you?”

There’s a pause. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I can’t get rid of it, but if you have it—if you wore it, then…” I stick my nose into his hair. “Maybe I could only think of you when I see it.”

I inhale. He must have used the downstairs shower because his hair is still damp. I must have taken longer than I thought if he managed to shower and start dinner. The scent of soap is still strong on him, but even with that there’s something’s different about his smell.

“Did you use my…” I start drawing back, but I don’t get to finish. He kisses me.

“I’ll do it.” He unwraps himself from me and grabs the shirt. “Just wait there a second.”

He strides out of the kitchen like a man on a mission, and I stand there with my hand over my mouth bewildered. That was the way my hair smells after I shower. He used my shampoo!

He comes back a minute later with a T-shirt and my plaid shirt on. The box that was on my bed is in his hand too.

“Here,” he says. “You gave me my anniversary gift. Here’s yours.”

There’s that word again. Anniversary.

“I didn’t realize interns exchanged gifts with their bosses every month,” I say, taking the box.

“That’s not what… Look, I know we haven’t put a word to this, this thing we have.” He breaks into a laugh and mutters, “—two writers and we can’t seem to do that, wow, we’re dumb…” He looks up alarmed. “No, I mean, you’re not dumb! I mean I’m dumb, the situation is—ah, hell. Just, just open the box.”

He crosses his arms and leans back against the wall, resolutely shutting his mouth as if to keep himself from sticking his foot farther into it.

I give him a small smile and open the box.

“A-a Guy Fawkes mask?!”

“You said you didn’t have one,” he grumbles. “And if you’ve got a tradition revolving around the freaking movie, you should have one. That one was mine. I want you to have it.” He takes my hand. “Because I want you to think of me too. It’s only been a few months, but you see the work, and I just—” He takes me up in his arms again, roughly this time. “I don’t want to go back to before I saw your face after you watched my movie, or the way you crumbled over Alex’s death in Xander’s dream, or what you said about River and Jesús. I can’t go back to before again.”

I slip my arms around him, thinking he doesn’t know how right he is. None of us can go back to before anything that happens to us, no matter how much we may want to or not want to. I’ve spent the last four years crying over just that. All I wanted was to go back to before everyone died, before my family went to hell, before I grew up and found out people who worked hard and kept their heads down couldn’t always do what they dreamed of—and the only thing that got me through it was him and his stupid show about my dumb hometown where things were both “before” and “after” at the same time.

I pick at the collar of my old plaid shirt—now his—and pull it forward so he can see it. “Don’t you think of anyone but me when you wear this, okay?”

He’s smiling again, the gentle one I only see when we’re alone. He leans down close and says, “You got it, boss.” I reach up a little more and fit my lips to his. It feels like sealing some sort of pact, because when I run my hands over that same damn shirt that used to belong to someone else, I already can’t think of anything but him.

Terry’s stomach growls and ruins the moment. He swears and I break down into laughter.

“Really in need of dinner?” I ask him.

He grins sheepishly, and we separate to finish preparations. He cuts the steak, I throw together a salad, and we take it out to the living room. I run back for my mask, and while I’m in there I put the kettle on. We’re only a few minutes into the movie when it whistles and I leap up to get it. Terry makes fun of me for interrupting my own tradition. I tell him he’s ruined it anyway, because it’s not the right day. He quips at me about early birds and I tell him he’s not using that phrase right; but how do you argue with someone who kisses like that and tastes like steak?

In the middle of the movie, he turns to me and says the single most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.

“I don’t think I could choose revenge over you.”

I turn and think for a second. “Could I have both, or do I have to choose you over a new world order too in order to be as romantic as you’re being right now?”

He laughs and draws me into a hug. He nuzzles my nose and says, “I would expect nothing less than both from you.”

* * *

The next day I wake up in a bed that is decidedly not mine with most the beautiful man in the world—not because of his looks, but because of what he means to me—lying there next to me.

As if all my dreams weren’t already coming true.

He has me questioning if it might really be a nightmare by 10:30, though. He wasn’t kidding about the amount of work he was going to put me through.

“What do you mean I need to write more visually?” I groan. I lean back in my chair and push my fingers into my hair. “You’ve been saying that the last three times we went over this scene, and it’s obviously not making sense to me since you continue to say it.”

He sighs, holding one of my pages at arm’s length from his perch on the arm of the living room couch. Why he insists on printing each new draft of my failed attempts at a scene is beyond me, but he muttered something about his process when I asked the first time. I suppose having his work station in the open space of the living room is part of his process too. I can’t handle being interrupted when I’m writing, but since he lives alone, writing in the main room isn’t a problem. I imagine a man like Terry would feel confined writing sealed off in a room with no windows, and I already know that his insomnia makes for a very strict “no work in the bedroom” policy.

What I don’t understand is why he’s having me go over the same scene over and over again when the whole point is just to get the script written.

“Yeah, I’m getting that,” he says. He lifts himself off the arm of the couch and comes over to the desk. He holds the page in front of me and points to a specific description. “This part’s new, right?”

I train my eyes to the page. He’s pointing to a sentence about Finean playing with his scarf. “Yeah, that’s new,” I say. “Why?”

“You describe him as playing with his scarf nervously.”

I cover my face with my hands and let out a noise of frustration. I’m getting really sick of him picking on little details that don’t matter. I push my hands up off of my face and smooth my hair. “Listen, Terry, I get you’re trying to help, but I’m gonna need you to tell me what exactly is wrong with Finean playing with his scarf nervously.”

He’s giving me an incredulous look, his eyebrows two confused squiggles. “Alexis… You’re writing for a comic.”

“You don’t say?” If level of sarcasm and exhaustion in my voice isn’t getting my frustration across, the glare I’m shooting him probably is. “And?”

He sags and sits on the edge of the desk. “What does ‘nervously’ look like?”

My thought process grinds to a halt. “Huh?”

“Someone has to draw this, Alexis. What does playing with a scarf ‘nervously’ look like? Are Finean’s fingers pulling at the tassels? Is he clutching it? Is he pulling at it? What’s his facial expression? What is this supposed to look like?”

And here I thought he just wanted me to give more visual cues for the characters.

“That’s what you’ve been trying to get me to do all morning?”

He throws his hands up in the air. “Yes!”

“Okay,” I say. I steeple my fingers and lean on the desk. “So let’s say I wanted to convey that someone smiled smugly…?”

“Your description would be more like, ‘character smiles with half lidded eyes and slanted mouth.’” Terry provides. “Granted, you could always just say ‘smirks.’ Specific wording can help your artist to how to draw something too.”

“And if I wanted to say someone ran their fingers through their hair frustratedly?”

Terry gives me an unamused look. “You can nail that one yourself. You’ve been doing that all morning.”

“Humor me.”

“Fine. ‘Character leans elbows on desk and pushes fingers into hair. Eyebrows remain neutral, but eyes are sharp with a glare.’”

“…My eyebrows are neutral when I glare?”

“Only when you’re frustrated, not actually angry.” He pushes off the desk and walks away with his eyes on my script. “Now give me another draft of this scene since I finally figured out how to convey this visual writing thing.”

I spin back to the keyboard. “Aye aye, captain.”

This time I get it right. Learning how to write a good script is its own reward, but the way Terry smiles and runs his eyes over the page like he’s devouring what I’ve written is the next best thing. We spend the rest of the day fixing what I’d already written. I feel accomplished when I kiss Terry goodbye at the airport that night.

“Thank you for helping me with my script,” I tell him.

“All part of Bizney’s cutting edge internship program, designed to create creators!” Terry gives me a thumbs up like he’s some sort of corny advertisement. I laugh and he joins me with a gentle chuckle. “Seriously, though. It was a pleasure to finally get to read some of your fiction.”

I feel myself flush gently. “You really liked it?”

He holds out his hand, flexing his fingers to ask for mine. I clasp his hand in mine.

“Remember when I told you I wouldn’t have given you this internship if I didn’t think you could have made it to Bizney on your own?” he says.

“Yes.”

“Well, I stand by my earlier statement.” He winks.

I feel my flush go from gentle to full on volcanic. “I have to catch a plane!” I blurt out. I pull him down for one more kiss, then race to the security check point without looking back. I thought I was over letting his words overwhelm me, but I guess not. It’s not until I’m in my seat on the plane that the heat in my cheeks starts to fade and my cognitive functions are restored. Finally with a moment to think, I reflect on how much it means to me that he believes in my work the way I want to.

* * *

Two weeks later, it finally hits me that I’ll have to see my mother when I go to my aunt’s for Thanksgiving. You’d think “seeing my family for Thanksgiving” would have given that away, but the familial unit apparently doesn’t equate to each individual person in my head.

I call Terry. He answers the phone like he doesn’t know who’s calling.

“Hello?”

“Next week is Thanksgiving,” I say.

A pause. “And…?”

Right. He has no idea what that means in Culolias family terms. “You remember my mother’s side is Greek, right? This is one of the excuses per year we use to get together and eat, drink, and make merry.”

“Isn’t that quote used for Christmas?” I can hear the grin in his tone of voice.

“Shut up. You know what I mean.”

“Yes. Yes, I do. Well, take the week off then, eh? We can do without you for that—”

“Don’t let me go.”

He pauses. It sounds like he shifts—he must be at his desk. His voice drops low then, as if we’re telling secrets, and he asks, “Why?”

I fidget and then blurt out some half-assed thing about not finishing Lizzy’s comic script on time, to which Terry replies, “You’re doing that thing. That thing when you’re lying and want me to know you’re lying.”

Crap. I have a tell? Since when?

“Look,” I say. “I’m scared stiff of seeing them, okay?”

“I thought your family was Greek—bound to eat, drink, and make merry at the barest mention of a holiday.” His voice is light, jovial.

“It’s going to be pretty hard for me to do that if I’m constantly worried about upsetting my mother.”

“She’s your mother, Alexis. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you.”

“Listen, Terry… You’re not wrong—I know she’ll be happy to see me—but it’s not going to keep me from worrying the whole time that I’m going to say something to upset her! We—” My voice falls away. “I’ve told you a little about what happened between us when everyone died, right?”

“A little.”

“It… It wasn’t good. I don’t know what she went through, but it wasn’t what I went through. Grief is different for everyone, I get that. But she couldn’t tell me what she needed. I’d ask her if she’d taken out the trash, and she’d look at me like I’d just asked the impossible. I didn’t get it. I still don’t. What the heck does her father dying have to do with taking out the trash?”

I wait, but there’s no answer from the other side. “I mean,” I say, furiously backtracking, “I know that sounds callous, but he was my grandfather, and it’s not that I think she shouldn’t be upset, but I just wasn’t experiencing the same thing! I wanted to understand so I didn’t aggravate her grief, you know?”

“Ah,” he says. “But I’m taking it she didn’t see it that way?”

“I don’t know how she saw it,” I admit. “All I know is that whenever I questioned her about her grief, she yelled at me and looked at me like I was some sort of monster for not being able to understand it without an explanation. It made me feel heartless. Inhuman. Like I was alien or somehow incomplete for not feeling Papu’s death the same way she was. And it just got worse when her brother died and worse again when my cousin went. Things were finally starting to stabilize again when the doctors found the tumors in Nana’s brain.”

I stop there. I know he’s heard the abridged version of all this before, but it’s difficult to believe he can really hear all this and not judge me somehow.

“It sounds like it was hard for both of you,” he says.

“It was pretty fucked up,” I murmur. “We’d already lost people. It’s not like that wasn’t already big enough, she had to make me feel like a monster.”

“All the more reason to run away to Japan?”

“All the more reason to run away to Japan,” I agree. “I didn’t want to be scapegoated anymore. I didn’t want to blame myself for my mother’s pain anymore. I didn’t… I didn’t…” What? I didn’t what? “I didn’t want to be stuck in this god damn god complex anymore, Terry!”

He laughs. “God complex?”

“Yeah! Like everything that had happened and how bad things were was somehow my fault! If I had just grieved like my mother, been able to empathize more, been able to take more of her yelling without letting it affect me, it would be okay. Like, what the fuck? What kind of twenty-three-year-old thinks every decision they make holds some sort of cosmic sway? It’s not like I could have done anything. I studied stories, not cancer-curing biochemistry! It’s not like I could undo death! And just because my grief hinged on the acceptance of that and honoring my loss instead of pretending death is some sort of terrible injury that we don’t know is coming eventually and like the death of another is somehow an injury to me instead of just another aspect of life—” I cut myself off. “Sorry, I’m being insensitive. Mom said I was always a morbid kid, always ruminating on death, so I guess I’m just a lot more comfortable with it than other people.”

“Living is worth dying, right?” he says. “I think I remember you saying that.”

I’m touched he remembers.

“But you’re not scared of it?” he asks.

I think for a moment. “I’m not sure ‘afraid’ is the right word. I mean, when it happens, it’s not like I’m going to be around to care about it.”

“Ha! I guess that’s true.”

“It’s not like I’d be okay with dying any time soon, though,” I say. “Or ever, really. Part of living is fighting like hell to stay that way, right?”

“Our brains are really committed to keeping us breathing and stuff.”

Boy, ain’t that the truth. Sucks when the neural pathways get overzealous and start associating things like talking to your mother with life threatening situations, though.

“Are you going home Thanksgiving?” I ask him.

“Um, well… The office is closing on Thursday.”

Apparently I’m not the only one who does a thing when they’re lying and want someone to know about it.

“I’m having a really hard time thinking through the finale of the show,” he admits.

Whoa. The finale.

“Wait, really?” I say, all thoughts of my own Thanksgiving predicament forgotten.

“Yeah… I’ve got my own deadlines, you know, and this… Well, this is the end. I don’t wanna lose the focus, and… To really nail it, I think I’m gonna stay down here. If I go home, I’ll talk about it to Titania, and if I talk about it to Titania, Ma and Momma will find out, and then they’ll give me their opinions.”

Oh, I know that feel. I stopped talking about my story ideas with my mother at age fourteen.

“Then let’s make a pact,” I say, desperate for a way out the anxious hell I’m sure going to see my family will be. “I’ll save you from your lonely Thanksgiving if you save me from mine.”

He hesitates. “You really should go home. I’m sure they’d love to see you, and it might help to see your mother.”

“Please don’t make me go.”

Another long pause. Then: “You better make this out to be Bizney’s fault, because if I ever meet these people, they’re going to want to know why I—”

I don’t let him finish his sentence before I overwhelm him with thank yous.

I fly into Burbank Wednesday night after I get off work at Ziv. The airport was a lot more crowded than usual, due to the holiday traffic, but I survived the crowded onslaught. It’s funny, I wouldn’t have had to fly anywhere if I’d just gone to my aunt’s house out in Bodega Bay. Instead, I’m going through the trouble to get away from my family. Lizzy wasn’t happy about it when I told her I was going to be too busy with work to come to Thanksgiving. Aside from not getting to see me, apparently I was screwing up her plans to mess with my script writing and keep me from winning out bet. Mom didn’t question me too strongly. My aunt said she was going to send an email to Bizney about their holiday policy. My uncle promised me he’d make sure the letter was worded so it wouldn’t make trouble for me, since my aunt was never a force that could be stopped once she had made a decision. All in all, the family took it well.

It’s not like this was the first time, either. They’d done without me last year when I was in Japan. They could do it again. Maybe they’d even send me a picture like last time. That’d be nice.

I feel a pang in my chest. I miss them. It would have been good to see them. I walk through the security checkpoint and see Terry leaning against a wall, yawning. I took a later flight to avoid as much holiday traffic as I could, and he’s out a little past when he’d like to in order to pick me up. The melancholy I felt about not seeing my family melts away. I may not be getting to see them, but I will be getting to have Thanksgiving with Terry. If there’s anything I’m grateful for this year, it’s him.

He waves as he sees me. I trot over to him.

“Ready to get home?” I ask.

“You have no idea,” he says, taking my suitcase. “It was a looooong day at the office.”

“Oh?” I say. “Longer than usual?”

He quirks an eyebrow at me. “I pull a fourteen-hour day one time—”

“There’s this thing called sleep that I hear you’re pretty bad at and that it’s been scientifically proven human beings function better with.”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, longer than usual. Remember I told you I’m working on the finale?”

“How could I forget?”

He smirks. “Careful, you’re making your rabid fan face.”

“I have no idea what that looks like, but I believe you when you say I have one of those.”

“You do realize you’re going to end up completely spoiled for the finale by hanging out with me this weekend, right?” He pulls out his keys and puts my suitcase in the trunk.

“You know spoilers don’t bother me,” I say.

He closes the trunk. “Alright. But I’m stuck, so you’ll have to carry the burden of the hundreds of alternate timelines for these episodes too.”

“It’s a multi-episode finale?!”

He groans good-naturedly. “See, look! You’re already picking it apart. What was I thinking letting you come here for Thanksgiving?”

He laughs, but—irrational though it may be—a flash of fear darts through me.

His eyes lose their mirth as he looks at me. Then he reaches out and touches my shoulder. “Hey,” he says.

“What?” I ask.

He jerks his head towards the car and smiles reassuringly. “Just get in the car.”

The fear recedes. I stroke his arm. “Okay.”

Once we’re in and free of the parking garage, I turn my attention back to his work. “So what about writing the finale is giving you trouble?”

He sighs and changes lanes. “I just don’t know how to say what I want to say.”

“I have it on very good authority that whatever it is, you’ll need to express it visually.”

“Oh my god, shut up,” he laughs. He pauses as he merges onto the freeway. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that a lot of American TV shows end with an ‘and they continued on’ sort of ending?”

“When they even get an ending instead of just getting canceled,” I grumble.

“I don’t want Serenity Peaks to be one of those shows,” he says. He speaks slowly, his tone meditative. “I want it to have an end. Something that gives this story closure and leaves the way open for Cassie, Clint, Alex, Xander, and everyone else to go their own ways and make their own new stories, you know? Life isn’t stagnant. Summer ends. We have so many stories about returning to what once was instead of moving on, and I want to write something that really delivers on the theme of change and growth.”

“An ending about endings,” I say thoughtfully.

“Something like that,” he says. He gets into the fast lane. “I just don’t know how to get my characters and my plot to articulate it.”

I fall silent and stay that way until we park in his driveway. “There are a lot of expected ways to show what you’re going for with the finale.”

“I don’t want to go with any of those. Like, yes, sending the kids back home to their parents will convey an ending of a sort, but it’s easy. Yes, having Alex and Xander work out their sibling rivalry will show an ending as well, but it’s also easy. But these are still things that I want to work into the plot. Ugh!” He unlocks the door and kicks it open. “This show has been a fantasy romp through the woods the whole way through, and I’m going to end it with conventional plot points?”

I follow him inside and set my backpack down where he left my suitcase by the stairs. He heads straight to the kitchen and starts filling the kettle in the sink. He’s had me here long enough now that making tea is his first reflex when we come home together. I stand in the kitchen doorway, watching him. It’s a sweet gesture, but he’s just doing it to keep his hands busy. He’s got that hunch to his shoulders he gets when he feels uncertain.

“Well, there’s an obvious solution here,” I tell him.

He puts the kettle on the stove and turns on the burner. “Do tell.”

“Just do something unconventional with the conventional plot points.”

He turns to face me and runs a hand over his face. He looks at me with lost eyes. “Like what?”

“Well, what else has to happen in the finale?”

“Buck has to take over the town of Serenity Peaks. He gets to threaten the normalcy of everything when he does that.”

I lose my focus for a second. “Holy shit, that’s going to be fun to animate…”

Terry grins. “The finale has some things going for it.”

Okay, okay, rein in the fangirl, Alexis. “If Buck’s threatening the normalcy of everything, why not work in the normal decisions like Cassie and Clint deciding to go home and Alex and Xander deciding to make up as plot points for defeating Buck?”

Alex’s expression goes from tired and lost to manic and bright-eyed in an instant. “Shit, that could work.” He strides past me into the living room. He heads for his desk, grabs a notebook out of one of the drawers, and starts scribbling in it.

I take the kettle off the stove when it starts to whistle and pour two cups of tea. I take his to him at his desk and set it down next to him before making for the stairs. “Make sure you get some sleep tonight,” I call from the staircase.

“Mhm!” he says back. I shake my head and climb the rest of the stairs. There’s no sense waiting up for him when he gets like this. It’s already midnight, but he probably won’t quit working for another four hours if I know him. I, on the other hand, need to go to bed if he’s working—because I won’t be able to keep myself from literally looking over his shoulder to see what he’s cooking up for the finale if I don’t!

Tea and luggage in hand, I take everything into Terry’s room and unpack. My room has gone pretty untouched since our encounter on the couch. It’s nice getting to fall asleep next to someone who thinks so much of me and my writing. Tonight when I slip into bed, I feel a different sort of satisfaction. “I can’t believe I helped him,” I trill to myself as I turn out the light.

The next morning I wake to find him curled around me, sound asleep. I turn towards him—moving slowly, trying not to wake him—and stroke his hair.

I wonder when he finally came to bed.

My thoughts turn to the finale. Eventually my curiosity gets the better of me, and I sneak out from under his arm to go check his desk. Two stacks of paper sit on his desk. I approach the desk hungrily. My hand goes immediately for the script, but pauses halfway there. What’s this other stack of paper? I change targets and pick up the other stack. The first page is just a drawing of Clint holding out his hand to Cassie. The second is of Cassie holding out her hand to Buck, as if to make a deal with him. A few pages later, the twins are hugging, and then after they’re holding hands while giving Buck a determined “never say die” sort of look.

Hang on, what the heck are these?

I pick up the script and skim it, flipping through the drawings as I go.

Eventually, I figure it out. Terry made rough boards for his script! He’s got a whole team of artists who are going to board this episode for him, though, so I can’t imagine why he was doing it himself, unless…

Did this help him think through the story better?

I mean, he’s always rambling on about how one needs to write visually. Maybe actually visualizing it helped him write the script.

I put the script and the story boards back in order and set them aside. I turn to the computer and pull up my script. I’ve been keeping it in a living document since I’m traveling so much. That way I can work from his station or my computer without having to worry about whether it’s the most recent version or not. I scroll to the bottom of the script to see where I left off. Right. Finean finally unleashing his soma in its fully awakened form in the climatic final battle. I stopped because I was having trouble describing just what Finean’s “awakened” soma form looked like.

I sneak back upstairs and steal my phone of the night stand. I bring up the original sketch Lizzy sent me of Finean, and then flip through her descriptions of his soma power. When I get back to Terry’s desk, I pull a pencil one of his sketchpads to me and start drawing.

It’s well past noon when I hear Terry come down the stairs.

“What in the world are you doing up so early on a holiday?” he asks me, leaning over my chair and embracing me from behind.

“You left your script unguarded and I got curious,” I say.

“Aw, man, you already read it?”

“Nah.” I say. “I only got a little ways in before I figured out what the stack of drawings was, and inspiration sort of struck.”

His languid and relaxed arms suddenly grip my shoulders excitedly. “You’re boarding?!

“Listen, don’t get excited, they’re not very good—”

He reaches out and snatches the sketchpad off the desk. I try to take it back, but he dances away from me, flicking through it. “These are great!”

“No,” I say again. “They’re really not. I’m not a graphic artist.”

“Oh, no, of course not, these are really, really bad if you were to look at them from that perspective—”

Thanks, friend.

“—but just look at this!” He turns the sketchbook around to flips through the drawings I did of the process of Finean’s soma materializing. “You’re not going to have any trouble writing this visually now!”

He turns the sketchbook back around and regards my drawing. “Want three stupid tips to make these better?” he asks.

“…Are you offering me a private drawing lesson?”

“It’ll only take a moment!” he pleads, looking at me hopefully.

“I’m supposed to be working on Lizzy’s script.”

“This is definitely part of working on the script! Besides, didn’t you say you were in the climax? You’re a few solid hours away from done at most.”

“What about figuring out Thanksgiving dinner, then?”

“Oh.” He gives me an abashed look. “How about Chinese?”

I laugh and pluck the sketchpad out of his fingers. “Even if you give me tips, I’m still going to be a terrible artist,” I say, picking my pencil back up.

“Indulge me,” he says, covering my hand with his.

At the end of the lesson, I’m still a terrible artist—but his tips help me flesh out the details of Finean’s transformation. If nothing else, Lizzy will be just as tickled as Terry is that I ended up drawing for the script, even if it was really, really poorly. He reverts to editing his work from the night before while I work on finishing Lizzy’s script. A creative zen seems to fall over the room as we work, focused, sharp, and intense.

Terry runs out for Chinese around eight while I put the final touches on my script. He darts into the kitchen when he gets back. I try not to listen to him clanking around in the kitchen as I send off an email with the script and a cheeky victory note to Lizzy. When I hear the distinctive noise of a cork being popped from its bottle, however, I get suspicious.

“Finished?” he asks when I walk into the kitchen.

“Yes, it’s done.” I sit at the island with a colossal sigh. “Dinner is something I could go for, but what is this you have in your hand?” I ask, poking at the bottle of wine in his hand.

“Champagne,” he answers.

“With Chinese food?” I ask. He shrugs. “You sure we should do this now? It’s late, and we’ve got work tomorrow.”

“What’s life without the occasional sleep-deprived day at work?” he asks, filling two flutes.

“Responsible and stress free?” I ask.

“I think I can help with that last one.” He winks and hands me a glass.

I smile and bury my face in my arms on the counter. “What are we toasting to?” I say through my arm.

“Why, to your triumph, mademoiselle!”

I look up and he’s striking a god damn pose.

“You faced down an entire month where your entire raison d’etre was to create a script, and you conquered it.”

He raises his fucking glass, and I can’t.

“Why are you using French words to convey this?” I look at the glass. “Is it the champagne? This isn’t actual champagne, is it? Just sparkling—” I turn the bottle and read the label. “Oh.” It’s not just sparkling wine.

“I took French in high school.”

“And what, murdered it?”

He clears his throat and raises his glass again, “And you have conquered it!!” Smooth segue, dude. “To you, your achievements, and finally getting enough sleep,” he says.

“Hear, hear!” I clink my glass with his and take a large sip of actual champagne.

He chuckles and refills my glass. “Before we get too far into this bottle, I’ve got two questions for you.”

“Yes?”

“First, what do you think we should fill the vacant Saturday work time with now?”

I shake my head. “No idea. Too difficult a question for a Thursday night. I’ll figure it out Saturday morning. Next.”

“Secondly, how do you feel about taking this Saturday off and coming to a wedding with me?”

I pause mid sip. Champagne is a little too expensive for me to do a spit take with. I swallow and put my glass down.

“Say that again?”

“This Saturday. Do you want to go to a wedding. With me.”

“…You’re not proposing we elope, are you?”

His face goes red. It’s been fun figuring out how to make him blush over the past month.

“Wow, phrasing, I need to work on phra—Titania’s a wedding planner!”

“Oh!”

Honestly this is the first I’ve ever heard of Titania’s occupation. She’s pretty good about keeping her personal life away from the fandom. The most we ever got was a tweet once about her and coworker getting free food and wine in a warehouse. Now I can only assume the “coworker” was a bride and Titania was pulling that my-mug-says-number-two-because-you’re-number-one Cassie mumbo-jumbo with her clients.

“And she invited you?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

I give him a skeptical look. “That doesn’t sound like I’m invited.”

“Well, okay, here’s the thing. Tai invites me to all of the weddings she plans—it’s kind of a thing with her. But this time it’s someone we know. I can’t say no.”

I take another sip of champagne. “Do you usually say no?”

He passes his hand through his hair. “I always say no.”

I lean forward, looking expectantly at him over my champagne glass.

“You want the story.”

I nod.

He raises his arms in a gesture of defeat and starts to dish. “Remember my moms?”

“How could I forget?”

“There was a lot of grief over their marriage certificate being ‘valid.’”

“Oh, because they were both women?”

“No, because one of them is trans.”

“…Wait, wouldn’t that have made it easier to—”

“You would think, wouldn’t you?”

Terry sighs and drains his glass. “When my mother changed her name, she couldn’t officially change her gender. Because of that, when my parents got married, they received a marriage certificate that bore the correct names, but not the correct genders. It got flagged a lot for having two women’s names on it, so it was more trouble than not having one at all or having one with the wrong name.” He pours himself another glass.

I sip on my champagne thoughtfully. “So, you don’t like weddings because you think they’re a lot of bureaucratic nonsense?”

“Bingo,” Terry grumbles, “but my mothers and sister fucking love them.” He takes another large sip of champagne, large enough that I question if he’s giving the expensive wine the attention it deserves.

“…Now I’m starting to understand why Cassie is so boy crazy in the show.”

Terry smiles. “Always chasing her happy ending.”

“Is that why she does it?” I ask. “Titania, I mean. With the wedding planning.”

“Yeah. She’s always loved a happy ending.”

“That’s sweet.” I pause, playing with my glass. “Is that why she invites you too?”

“Maybe? I’m not sure. But always, she sends me an invitation with the plus one already checked.”

“Wait, she expects you to bring someone?”

“‘Expects’ might be too strong a word.”

“She wants you to bring someone?”

“When I asked she told me it’s because I’m too good-looking and famous now and if I don’t have someone on my arm all the eligible bachelors at the wedding will think I’m her boyfriend instead of her brother.”

I can’t help laughing at this. “Well, she’s certainly not wrong about the good looking part.” I reach out with my leg and run my foot up his thigh.

He slides his eyes over to me with a seductive smile.

“So why accept this time?” I ask, before he can pounce and derail the conversation. I’m curious, and much as I like it when he pounces, he doesn’t pause for breath to talk about his family often when he kisses me—or when he’s going a thousand miles a minute about plot progression, story structure, and craft.

“Well, like I said, it’s someone my family knows. Secondly, my mothers are going, and, as you know, I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving—”

I grin at him. “Do you really regret that choice, though?”

“No.” A small smile tugs at his lips as he plays with his champagne flute. “But since they aren’t getting to see me today, they’d like to see me at the wedding. And last but not least…” He slides his hand over mine. “The wedding is happening in Boring, Oregon.”

I feel myself break into a grin. “Heeeeey, I live there.”

He cocks his head and gives me a look of mock surprise. “You do?! And here I thought you had this weird time share thing going on between here and San Francisco all this time.”

I roll my eyes. “Knock it off, you know what I mean. I grew up there. Still got a room with a bunch of stuff in it at my mother’s house since my room with Elizabeth is more of a temporary lodging situation for the duration of the Ziv internship. Boring’s a small town, though. How do you know someone there?”

“I don’t. I know someone from San Francisco who moved up to Portland and asked my sister to arrange her wedding. Told Tai she didn’t care where it was so long as there were trees.”

“Boring is a pretty good place for trees…”

“As is the chapel there, I hear.”

“So…what? You’re asking me along to be your tour guide?”

“If you’re offering, I’m not going to turn you down; but that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

“Terrance Robert Walsh, are you asking me on a date?”

He leans in. “Do I need to ask you on those at this point?”

I kiss him. “You will always need to ask me.”

“Then yes.”

I look at the ceiling thoughtfully for a second and then swear.

“I didn’t come packed for this,” I hiss at him.

He breaks down laughing on the counter. “We’re going to your hometown, stupid.”

I stare at him. “You think I left pretty dresses in my closet at my mother’s house? I brought them all down to California because of you!”

He continues to laugh.

I slap his shoulder. “It’s not funny!”

“It’s a bit funny.”

I finish my champagne and take the bottle from him, grumbling as I refill my glass and finish off the bottle.

“Let me buy you one,” he murmurs.

“No.”

“Come on.”

“No. We’ve had this discussion. You don’t get to spend your obscene amounts of movie-star money on me. We’re already going to be messing with the airfare that Bizney is so graciously giving me, I’m not even sure how I’m going to get from here to Oregon and back to San Francisco on what a ticket from here to San Francisco costs…” I let my words trail off in favor of another sip of the exquisite champagne.

“So you’re saying you’ll come?” he asks.

“If I can figure out how to do it and what to wear, yes, of course I’ll go out with you to meet your amazing family and witness a happy ending in my hometown, but—”

“Then don’t worry about the airfare.”

“Terry, you’re not taking care of the airfare.”

“Bizney’s never paid for your airfare.”

I gape at him. He stares at his glass, twirling it absently between his fingers, like what he just told me doesn’t completely change the ground beneath my feet.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I know how you feel about me spending money on you. But I wanted you to come. You were so obviously meant for something like this… And no one can survive on unpaid work—which is what this internship would have been if Bizney had to foot your travel costs—so I lied to them about how close you lived and footed the bill.”

I should be furious with him.

He went behind my back. He lied to me.

But this is different. This lie isn’t about him, like all the ones my father told me. It’s about me.

I put my fingertips under his chin and lift his face so he’s looking at me. “I’ll go to the wedding and I’ll be your tour guide, but you gotta let me pay for half. And you have to let me pay for half of the airfare from now on too.”

He shakes his head, “That’s completely unfair with what I’m making. Can you even afford—?”

“Yes, yes I can. I’m not working six days a week for more than minimum wage for nothing, sweetie. Besides, Elizabeth’s not charging me half as much for rent as she should be. She loves my family too much.”

“But—”

“No. This isn’t negotiable. I want to see you too.”

That shuts him up.

He looks at me long and hard.

“You have to let me help,” I say.

“Each one of your dollars is so much more of your budget than mine,” he says. It’s not an argument, just a statement. A pained, angry statement.

“You wanna do the math and tell me the exact percentage I should be paying to be contributing equally from my salary?” I joke.

“Can I?”

“We’re artists, sweetie,” I say nuzzling his nose. “We’re not good at math.”

“Thank goodness for calculators,” he murmurs. Then he sighs and says, “Fine. Half. But you have to let me use the miles we’re racking up for your payments, okay?”

“I’ll take half of them.”

He laughs. “You are insufferable. Just let me do something for you!”

“Shut up. You’ve already done so much.”

I kiss him again, and he picks me up off of my stool and sets me on the edge of the counter so he doesn’t have to bend down to kiss me, and the conversation is left there until a few hours later when he gets me to agree to let him buy me a dress for the wedding after all—although his methods of convincing me were not what I would call either chivalrous or fair.

You just don’t say no to a man who’s got you an inch away from orgasm if you want to actually get any sleep instead of trying to scratch the itch he’s left you with all night. It’s a futile attempt to try and do it as well as he would have anyway, because you just can’t affix your lips to same places on your body that he can, or get that fucking magic angle he seems to know by heart now.

I can’t bring myself to be angry with him either. Instead, I drift off to sleep in his arms feeling satisfied and grateful. All the work we’ve done, this thing we’ve found? Best Thanksgiving ever—even if he is coercing me into letting him buy me a dress.

I couldn’t be more excited to go home with him on Saturday.

 

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