Author X Audience
Chapter 3: Ice Cream for Breakfast
My neck hurts. The lack of the feel of my heavy comforter means the ratio of blanket to me is a lot less than usual too, but I’m not cold for some reason. Huh. That’s weird. I guess the flannel sheet under my hand is pretty warm, but really? I open my eyes with a dazed sort of awareness. Where exactly am I, anyway? I remember the amazing dream last night, but I don’t remember where I fell aslee—
I push myself up and away in surprise from the flannel-clad Terry Walsh beneath me.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a dream that I fell asleep on top of a man who’s work I admire, crushed into a couch that’s way too small for the both of us.
Guess that really happened then.
The absurdity of the situation overwhelms me and I bite my palm to try and keep myself from laughing. But it’s no use, I shake with laughter even though I’ve muffled the sound. It’s half nerves and half joy. This is amazing, and I don’t know what to do with amazing. Thank goodness Terry is still out—leaned back slightly off the couch cushion with his mouth open. Goddammit, how does he make that look good?
My laughter subsides as I look at him and remember the way he read for me last night. I just feel so…thankful is the wrong word. Yeah, I’m thankful, but Terry doesn’t know me. What happened last night was not about me. It was about his audience. His fans. I can’t help feeling cherished anyway, as one of those fans. He cherishes us so much. He made that evident last night with the way he read. As if the love he puts into his story—every painstaking inch of it—could reach out and speak to every one of his fans in his stead.
I let my head fall back to his chest and, in that moment, I allow myself to love him for that.
Hang on, that’s a jarring thought. Love? I know nothing about him. And being creepy after what he did for me last night would make me so damn mad with myself.
I do my best to get off of him without waking him. Thankfully, I succeed. I grab my clothes, and then check Terry’s watch—for the life of me I don’t know what he did with the hotel clock, but maybe he’s got a thing against digital clocks or red light or something?
It’s 11:59 am.
Oh, Lizzy is going to kill me.
When did I tell her I’d check in? I scramble around the room looking for Terry’s phone, but after a fruitless search of the room, I’m still phoneless. I turn back to Terry and consider the possibility that he fell asleep with it still on him.
What had I just said about not being able to live with myself if I got creepy with him after last night?
But just how long do I expect Lizzy to wait after noon to call the police? We’ve had enough shit go wrong that I know it won’t be long. And Terry will probably be a lot less thrilled to have a police officer on his door than me checking his pockets for his phone.
I squat in front of the couch and study Terry’s pants. Since he’s lying on his back, I’m completely screwed if he put it in his back pocket, but I study the front ones carefully. Damn men’s jeans for having real pockets, I can’t tell if he’s got anything in them. Really, I should just wake him up and ask him, but the man worked hard last night, and I figure he deserves a little more sleep.
Whelp, I think to myself, taking a deep breath, it’s for a good cause.
I lift my hand and let it inch shakily towards his pocket… and jump two feet off the ground and swear when music starts playing loudly from the desk chair behind me. I dash back across the room and yank the chair away from the desk to find Terry’s phone’s lying innocently on top of my clothes from yesterday. I seize it and silence the alarm. I hold my breath and look over my shoulder at Terry. He’s still blissfully asleep. I let my breath out and quickly message Lizzy to let her know I’m alright and will be out a while longer.
Now. What to do?
I look back down at my clothes and see the leftover cash from the twenty I threw into my pocket for the concessions counter last night peeking out of my jeans. Guess it’s a good thing I decided against the snacks. I snatch the money out of my pocket and count it. Okay, sixteen dollars.
…I’m gonna get this man coffee as a thank you for putting me up last night.
I toss the phone back down on the chair and give it a dirty look; as if it’s the phone’s fault I almost molested Terry in his sleep. I change clothes, write Terry a quick note, and take the spare room key from the white envelope on the table as I leave.
Now, where to find coffee?
I know we’re somewhere in Hollywood, but even though I used to visit this place a lot growing up when my folks brought me down to visit their folks, I have no idea where in Hollywood I am. Thankfully, the lady at the hotel counter points me in the direction of the nearest coffee place. We’re shit out of luck for breakfast, though—which is fine for me since I hate breakfast food, but what the fuck does Terry like? The closet restaurant is an ice cream place, and someone grown up and successful like Terry would hardly eat ice cream for breakfast, would he? Although, I mean, what do I know about him? I don’t even know if he drinks coffee! He could be a tea person like me. Maybe he straddles the canyon between the two with drinks like dirty chais—who knows!
In the end, I come back to the room carrying one black coffee with tiny packets of cream and sugar and one Earl Grey tea.
At least this way he can have his pick.
He’s still out like a light when I get back. I sit down on the floor next to the couch with our drinks and pick up the script from last night. Just to see it. I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever really handled an official script before. It’s like studying for me. Like a wet fucking dream, really. I love this stuff.
Before I know it, I’ve read the whole thing again, and made it halfway through the tea. Maybe I should wake Terry up before he doesn’t have a choice between coffee and tea anymore. I put the script down and turn to wake him up—and freeze.
He’s already awake, lying there with his eyes open, watching me.
My throat does one of those close-y things again where all the things I was going to say get stuck in it and I say something stupid instead. This time, it’s “Why the hell didn’t you say anything if you were awake?!”
“You looked busy,” he murmurs.
I drop the script and shove the cup I’m holding into his hand. “That’s tea. It’s half gone, and it’s your own fault for not saying anything.” Then I point to the other cup next to me on the floor. “That’s coffee. Take your pick.”
He has the nerve to smile sleepily and say, “You brought me tea.”
He sounds so tickled, like this was something sweet and unexpected, but I’m just a mental mess of “OF COURSE I DID YOU IDIOT, DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU FUCKING ARE?!?!!?!”
He was so much easier to deal with when he was asleep.
I do my best to keep my face straight. “And coffee,” I say.
“And coffee,” he repeats.
“Which do you even like, anyway?” I ask.
He shrugs and says, “It’s all caffeine.”
I know I must be giving him the most judgmental look in the world, because it’s certainly not all just caffeine to me, but he just laughs and asks me which one I like.
“Well, I like both.”
“Then why the face? That’s exactly what I said too.”
“No, it’s not. Liking both is completely different than being indifferent.”
“Oh, of course!” He conks his head with the heel of his palm lightly as if he’s just had a revelation. “How could I be so crass? Do excuse me.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. He smiles at me and takes a sip of tea. Ugh. I can’t stay mad at him, and it’s dumb— but at least the tight nervous feeling in my stomach from last night is gone. And he’s still here.
“So.” He reaches up and puts the empty cup on the windowsill. “Breakfast?”
I snort. “You mean lunch?”
He checks his watch and his eyes blow up. He swears and leaps off the couch.
He’s got his belt halfway undone over by his suitcase before he freezes and turns back to me and says, “Sorry, I’ve got a meeting in like an hour and a half and… Shit, I didn’t mean to sleep this late.”
There’s a pang in my chest, because I knew it was just one night. It was already more than enough, and I was so lucky to even get this. But…
I fidget. “Do you need me to go?”
He bites his lip and looks at me, and I don’t know what it means. Not knowing what something means is always panic inducing. I can feel it rising in my throat. But then he sighs and says, “Just hang on for a second while I change, yeah?” He picks up his clothes and heads towards the bathroom. “We’ll figure it out after that.”
And I wait, because I don’t know what else to do. The tight feeling is back, the panic braced just behind it ready to break over me and berate me for getting us into what turned out to be a mess after all.
He was so amazing, and the time I got to spend with him was amazing, and…of course it was going to hurt when I lost that. It was too good. I was lucky to even have this. I wasn’t anyone, and it’s not like the real world is really gonna be affected. But I don’t want to go back to being an anonymous voice in the sea of his fans.
I try and readjust my face to look like I’m not sad when I hear the bathroom door open. It’s made a little easier by my surprise over how well he’s dressed. Whenever the fans see him, even at his most dressy, it’s still plaid, even if he’s actually buttoning it all the way instead of just wearing it over a T-shirt. The only time I’ve seen him in a suit was when he was photographed with Rebecca Sucrose at the Emmys. Maybe he’s meeting with Bizney execs or something. I suddenly feel a little self-conscious over my day-old geeky T-shirt and messy ponytail. “Heh. That kind of meeting, huh?”
“Yeah,” he says.
I shift and give him a wry grin. “Probably for the best we aren’t getting breakfast then. The closest place is ice cream, anyway.”
His eyes sparkle. “Wait… Ice cream?”
I laugh, trying not to be sad about him having to rush off. “Yeah, I know, right? Hilarious. I mean, it’s not like anyone does that for breakfast once they’re an adult, right?”
Terry extends a hand to me and I look at it blankly. “What is this for?” I ask, poking at his hand, still trying to seem lighthearted.
“Taking you out to breakfast like I said I would last night.”
“Um, Terry? Have you been listening? There’s nothing close by, and you don’t have time, so… Where?”
“For ice cream, of course.” He seizes my hand and marches me out of the hotel room. “I have to save you from this strange ‘grown up’ attitude you have about not having ice cream for breakfast. Besides…” We reach the end of the hall and he pushes the elevator button. “I still want to hear you talk about the movie.”
Oh, right. I’d forgotten about that.
“What did you think?”
I look at him, and his eyes are hungry. I think I know that feeling—that moment when you know you’re going to get some really good feedback because the person about to give it to you cares about the story you’ve told as much as you do, and anything they have to say is only going to make things better than they already are, not worse.
The elevator dings and interrupts me.
“Wow,” Terry says. “That must be the fastest damn elevator in existence.”
I grin at him sheepishly. “Maybe it knows I need to gather my thoughts.”
He nods, like he gets it. “Okay. Ice cream first, your thoughts second.”
A few minutes and a walk around the block later, we’re holding ice cream and leaning against the wall of some self-important, tall LA building with ice cream he insisted on paying for in hand—and I’m being a food snob.
“Really, for someplace so hot, you’d think California would have more artisan ice cream shops.”
“Don’t complain about Baskin-Robbins,” Terry chides. He licks at the ridiculously colored “rainbow cream” he got and sticks his nose in the air.
I scoff at him and take a bite out of my “daiquiri ice” ice cream. “Whatever, dude. You don’t know what ice cream is until you’ve had Salt & Straw.”
“Oh my gosh, you sound like one of those food bloggers.”
I don’t respond. I was one of those bloggers a little while ago.
“Anyway,” he continues. “About my movie.” His voice is full of intrigue, and the sharp way his eyes hold mine makes me giddy.
It’s fun getting taken seriously.
The distance between us seems to close again as I talk about the strange inter-connectivity of dreams in his source material and how he really utilized that as a method to explore the subconscious of his characters and convey what they’re really feeling even when they’re being unreliable about it in what they say or think they feel.
“Like, other stories often try to do that with body language,” I say, “and that’s so hard to do with anything but comics or film, but even there, it’s not always as reliable as we’d like it to be. Like crossed arms, a cocky smile, an open stance? All of those things say things, but it’s often up to how it’s interpreted, you know?”
Terry nods, looking enraptured.
I gulp and look away.
“Whereas, in your movie and in the big reveal of Specter in the Shell, a stream of recurring symbols from the subconscious contradict what the characters are saying, and we’ve had the whole story to build up the meanings of those symbols so that when the audience sees them it really drives a specific meaning and connotation. It’s… Well, it’s really powerful.”
“Yeah,” he breathes—and I don’t know what to say.
I’m not saying anything special. He knows this already, doesn’t he?
“Hang on,” he says. “I’m gonna go get some napkins from the ice cream shop.”
He hands me his ice cream cone and takes off.
“What are we gonna need napkins for?” I yell after him.
He turns mid-run and continues running backwards as he shouts, “I forgot my notepad!” With that, he’s gone and into the ice cream parlor.
What could he possibly need his notepad for?
He comes out with a stack of napkins in hand. When he gets back to me, he pulls a pen from his breast pocket, flattens a napkin against the concrete wall of the building, and starts scribbling.
I peak over his shoulder. “What are you writing down?”
“The thing about the building of the symbols.”
He looks up at me, confused. “So I won’t forget, silly.”
Again, I don’t know what to say.
I start eating instead. I really shouldn’t have dissed Baskin-Robbins, because even though I could still visit them when I was studying abroad in Japan, the flavors were all different and they definitely didn’t have daiquiri ice or rainbow cream. “Damn, I missed American ice cream while I was in Japan.”
And Terry looks up and asks, “You were in Japan?”
“Yeah, for a year. Just got back like a month ago.”
“Language study,” I say, smirking. “See, I wanna be a manga editor as my day job. Or at least that’s the dream for the moment. And I think if you’re gonna adapt a story from a different culture, knowing as much of the language as possible definitely can’t hurt.”
I start rambling about all the steps I need to take to achieve the manga editor dream, how cool it would be to work with comics, how I’ve been writing for years and Lizzy’s so good at art, and maybe making comics with her would help me be a better editor, and before I know it, I’m stuck on how great it would be to get an internship—specifically with Ziv Media, the biggest publisher of manga in the United States.
“That would be the coolest way to finish up my MA,” I daydream. “I love San Francisco, plus for once this would be a paid internship.” I sigh a long sigh. “It would be really fucking nice to be making money for a change without having to sell my soul to customer service.”
He interrupts me with a laugh. “Alexis, let me give you the resume of Terry Walsh before Bizney cut him a break…” He gives me the resume of stupid jobs he had before he made it big, and it’s just so encouraging to know that he was everything from a dishwasher to a street artist. It makes me giggle to think of him there when he’s where he is now. My head tips forward as I laugh, my hand coming in to cover it instinctively so he doesn’t think I’m laughing at him. But I’ve still got his ice cream, and instead of a clean gesture of apologetic politeness, I end up with a streak of rainbow cream cold against my cheek.
Before I can hand Terry back his ice cream or ask him for a napkin to wipe it away with, Terry presses his thumb against my face, swipes the colorful ice cream away, and then tucks it delicately into his mouth.
While I’m mortified and gaping at him, he murmurs something about my cheek probably still being sticky, and whips out a plaid handkerchief from his breast pocket.
“You have napkins!” I protest.
“Yeah, but those were for notes, and napkins don’t hold up well when wet,” he says, dabbing the cloth against his tongue before applying it to my skin.
Tch, like I was protesting this part of the cleaning process and not the part where he ate ice cream off my face.
“Now hold still,” he says, in what has got to be the most ridiculous impersonation of a grandmother I’ve ever heard. “Wouldn’t want to erase your whole face, now. That’s what grandma spit does, you know! Apply it too liberally, and ka-blow! No more face.”
I’m dying of laughter. I try to hand him back his ice cream so I don’t get any more of it on me. He reaches for it, laughing himself. I misjudge his grip, and let go before he’s ready. We both lunge for the ice cream. The good news is that we both manage to catch the falling cone. The bad news is that my hair is now in it, and my ice cream bumped against his neck, leaving a translucent blue-green smear just above the white color of his shirt. Time seems to go in slow motion after that. My mind is racing over the possibilities. He hasn’t wiped the ice cream from his neck. Instead, he’s dealing with my hair. Which means it’s my responsibility to deal with his neck, right? And, well… He touched me first…
I reach out and whisk the ice cream off his skin with my fingers.
Terry shudders and gasps.
I stand there, dumbfounded, with ice cream on my fingers and Terry’s hand in my hair, trying to commit to memory the way his pulse stuttered against my skin and convince myself I was imagining it at the same time.
Slowly, he pulls away. I’m thankful to suddenly have the room to breathe again, but mourning the loss of his closeness. I don’t have long to be sad. The way he looks at me floods me with heat. His mouth is really too close to my ice cream-laden fingers. He’s not… he’s not gonna lick them clean, is he? He parts his lips and my mind chooses this moment to flood me with every image and paragraph of knee-weakening mouth-to-hand interactions I’ve ever read in steamy fanfiction and my mother’s old paperback romance novels. Then he presses his handkerchief to his tongue again and wipes the ice cream from my fingers, making me feel like an idiot with an overactive imagination.
He moves to put his handkerchief away, and I find my voice again. “Wait. What about—ahem—what about your neck?”
He shrugs. “It’s fine.” He covers the spot absentmindedly with his hand, like a kid that shook a movie star’s hand and never wants to wash their hand again. He lets his hand fall away from his neck and reaches out to touch my hair. “It’s more important that we got all of it out of your…” His voice dies out and he frowns. Then he sniffs my hair lightly.
Why is he doing that? Is he Hannibal Lecter now? I’m no Will Graham, so why…?
I USED HIS SHAMPOO.
“Did you… Did you use my…?” He’s looking at me with something that looks like amazement, not anger, but I’m still so worried. Then he blushes—and it’s so cute I could die. But I worked so hard to keep from creeping him out, and now this?!
How do I fix this?? I’ve got to say something! “I-I’m sorry, I—”
“Don’t apologize.” He drops my hair and looks away, muddling the hair at the back of his neck with one hand. “I told you to use anything in there. Besides, it um… It smells nice on you.”
My heart trips over his words and falls flat on its face. This whole time, none of this was supposed to be a date, and yet, now I can’t keep my heart in check.
I’ve loved him long enough superficially, as an idea and an icon. With the little I know about him, it’s probably alright to let myself love him a little bit as a person… I don’t think I could control it anyway. The heart has a funny way of running to what it wants without the owner’s consent.
“Shit, I gotta get going soon,” Terry says. He takes a big, noisy slurp off of his melting ice cream cone.
“Heh, yeah. Better finish these quick.” I take a slurp off mine. “Probably sweeter that way anyway.” Yeah, I think, taking another slurp. Short and sweet. That’s the way to cherish ice cream. The stuff just doesn’t last anyway. Gotta enjoy it while you can and just make the most of the memory.
We eat in silence, focusing on finishing our cones before they’re more mess than enjoyable edible treat. We ditch the remains in a nearby trashcan, and Terry’s handkerchief makes a reappearance to deal with our sticky hands. I’m getting ready to hand it back to him and depart with some sense of dignity, when he takes my hand.
“Listen, Alexis,” he says. “I had a really great time with you. And Ziv is in San Francisco, right?”
“Yeah?” I say, not seeing the connection.
“I’m from Piedmont. It’s right around there. When you get this internship, give me a call, okay? I’ll… I’d like to show you around.”
IS THIS PROFESSIONAL COURTESY???
IS THIS NOT PROFESSIONAL COURTESY????
I. DON’T. KNOW.
I do the logical thing: “Is that professional courtesy?” I ask.
I tug on my hand a little jokingly. “Then I’m not sure I can accept the offer, Mr. Walsh.” I am not just some fangirl, and I am not going to interpret this incorrectly.
He lets his hand follow the movement of mine, keeping his hold, not letting go. “Consider me invested?” he says. “I… I want to know how it works out. With your sister and her drawing, and you and your aspirations. And…” Here he looks up at me. “I want to hear what you have to say about future episodes.”
That’s what kills me. I could email him about Lizzy and me. And if this is seduction, he could get a hell of a lot more tail a hell of a lot more easily from groupies of his show. This man doesn’t lack anything, but when he says that he wants to hear what I have to say, I go weak in the knees.
“O-okay.” I say.
He fits his phone into my hand. “Will you give me your phone number?”
“Yes,” I breathe. I concentrate on the act of entering in my contact information. It feels ethereal, as if this is still the dream I’ve suspected it’s been since the beginning. As soon as I finish entering this in, I’m gonna wake up. I can feel it.
I pass him back the phone and look up, but nothing’s changed. He’s still there. I’m still there. Reality hasn’t crashed its cruel, waking grip down upon this fantasy.
I try to process this while he taps on his phone screen.
“There,” he says. “You’ll have a text from me when you get back to your phone.” He flicks his eyes up from his phone screen and smiles. “Thanks.”
“No, thank you,” I say on reflex. Then I shake my head. “Wait. Wait, no. You actually mean that?”
Terry blinks. “Which bit?”
“The bit about being invested.”
He blinks again and then his face morphs into something like alarm and indignation. “Of course I do!”
“Oh,” I shout back. “Oh!”
He keeps looking at me like I’ve grown two heads. I’m incapable of processing this scenario anymore, so I stick my hand out into the street and yell, “Taxi!!” so loud that he jumps.
The taxi misses us by a stretch of sidewalk. “Race you!” I say, and take off.
“Wait, wh—that’s not fair!” I hear him take off after me, but he’s totally gonna lose. I’m just so hopped up on energy. I’ll never run fast enough to express how thrilled I am in this moment, and I’ve never wanted anything more than the feel of the wind on my face and the sound of his panting behind me.
We catch up to the taxi too quick for my tastes. I laugh at Terry as he catches up to me. He’s panting hard. “Not only…am I…in a damn suit…I was…an asthmatic as a kid… How dare you?”
I take his arm and sling it around my shoulders. “Suck it up, so was I,” I tell him. He gives me a sardonic look. I can only meet his expression with a goofy god damn grin, because I could wear his arm like a banner.
Not because it’s the arm of Terry Walsh, the creator of Serenity Peaks, but because I’ve made a friend this day, and he gets me, and he’s invested, and it feels like the distance between us has completely and utterly closed. I open the taxi door and more or less dump him inside.
He turns back to me, still giving me the same baffled looked.
“Thank you,” I bark at him.
“You’re welcome!” he laughs, looking confused. He leans back into the car and murmurs something to the cabbie. Then he’s out of the car and pulling me into a hug. “Really, though. Thank you.”
I laugh and push him back into the car. “Go to your meeting!”
He gives me a quick salute. “See you around, Alexis.” Then he closes the door.
I wave bonelessly after him as the car pulls back into traffic, still expecting to wake up. Then I turn around and run back to the hotel to ask the receptionist about bus routes. Once I’m on the way back to Lizzy and our hotel room, I massage my temples and decide that if I do actually have a text message from Terry Walsh on my phone when I get home, that I will finally regard all of this as something that really happened and not some freak waking hallucination that I caught off of some spare cocaine in the Hollywood bathrooms.
When I get back to the hotel room, Lizzy is a bouncing bundle of excited questions. Through the mess of them, I catch bits about Terry’s process and if he really just got lucky to get a contract with Bizney or if there was some sort of artistic goat sacrifice involved to get him that contract. I disregard her questions for a minute—there will be plenty of time for them after I check my phone. I march across the room and fish my phone out of my purse.
Sure enough, I have a notification, a text from an unknown number. I swipe it right and read: Remind me to put that napkin in my notepad later. –Terry
I flop back onto the hotel bed and let my sister’s questions wash over me, answering mechanically when she pauses for breath.
There’s going to be a later.
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