Author X Audience
Chapter 4: Midnight Phone Calls and Midday Flights
What length of time best suits the definition of later?
I’ve been trying to decide that for a week, and here we are: 3 AM, in bed, playing with my phone again. I must have fiddled with it a thousand times today. And yesterday. And all the days in between receiving Terry’s text and trying to decide when to reply. Right away seemed too soon. That evening seemed good, but I was on a plane, and then it was late, and then it was the next day, and he had work, right? I didn’t want to distract from that, or sleep, or his freaking process or something…
All of that has led me here, 3 AM on a Friday ni—okay, Saturday morning. No one worked then, right? Not for Bizney, anyway. This was a time where people were either out partying or catching up on their sleep debt so hard that a tiny little notification wouldn’t wake them. Besides, he’d probably have his phone on silent, no alarms set… It was perfect. I could pretend I waited a week on purpose, and he could wake up to a friendly reminder. No harm, no foul, right?
I try to take deep breaths as I type out my message. Remember to put that napkin in your notepad. I hit send before I can talk myself out of it. Again. I’ve typed that message a lot. Could probably type it in my sleep. Probably just did, I’m so tired.
I roll over, ready to get some sleep now that the stress of sending that text is off my shoulders. My phone erupts into violent song, sending me three feet into the air at least.
Who in the name of Godric Gryffindor is calling me at this—?
Terry motherfucking Walsh, my phone informs me.
I pick up. “H-hello?”
“Hi!” A pause. “Are you awake?”
What? “Well, yes.”
“Great! Listen, I need your opinion on something. If you were Jessie, and you had to do something with your siblings, what would it be: camping or backpacking?”
I blink. This is a stupid question. He realizes that right? “Terry, those are essentially the same thing.”
“Yeah, but which one is more Jessie?” Jessie is the cool, older girl that works at the Serenity Peaks tourist trap the twins’ Grunkle Alex runs. She invented too cool for school, but her plaid-wearing lumberjack family doesn’t have the faintest clue as to what that means. It makes for a wonderful blend of do-it-yourself badass and unattainable first crush in Jessie’s character. Camping, backpacking, she could be forced to do either with her family and pull it off flawlessly.
“You’d know better than I would.”
“Nah, I’m too wrapped up in it. I can justify both, and I need an outside perspective.”
I sigh and pinch the bridge of my nose. “Why are you even working on this right now? It’s the middle of the night!”
“Can’t stop. Gotta finish it. I’ll lose this groove if I stop now.” Jeez, I can almost hear the caffeine in his voice.
“Did you enjoy your coffee?” I ask sarcastically.
He pauses for a second, as if he’s confused. “Oh! You mean the coffee you brought me! It was great. Totally forgot about it until I got back from my meeting, but it was bliss when I got home. I always hit a slump after meetings. They’re just so tiring.”
Okay, not what I meant. Let’s try and make this point again. “Because you have to listen to people nitpick over things that are essentially the same thing?”
“Hahahaha!!! Sometimes. Oh my gosh, some times. But, no. No, usually it’s because I have to really sell something. And you know how it is when you’re pitching, you just—”
That knocks me out of the conversation for a minute. “You know how it is”? No, Terry, no. No I don’t. I’m nothing like you, sweetie. You’re amazing. You have a TV show. You just made a movie. I’ve never really pitched anything to anyone serious, let alone motherfucking Bizney. But he thinks I know how it is. Does that mean…he thinks of me as a creator like him?
I tune back in to what he’s saying quickly. “…you just get so worked up. You’re so excited about the story you want to tell, and you have to work so hard just to find the right words to communicate it to these uninspired people who just want to know if they can sell merchandise off of it, and some of them care, and some of them don’t, and…” His voice is trembling with passion. I can almost see his wild gesticulations. Is that what I sound like when I get passionate too? I’m super familiar with passion. I know what it’s like to love a story that you have inside of you so much and just not be able to get the words out. I know that feeling for sure, even if I don’t know what it’s like to pitch it.
“It can just be really exhausting to try and explain a story to someone who doesn’t speak writer,” he finishes.
“Yeah,” I breathe. I realize I’m swooning and clear my throat. “Anyway, I’m glad the coffee helped.”
“The tea was nice too.”
That catches me off guard.
“It was Earl Grey, right? Is that your go-to when you get tea?” he continues.
Why are we still talking about me? I shake my head to clear it. “Didn’t you want my opinion on something?”
“In a minute,” he says. “I’m pushing the tea question to the front of the queue.”
When someone you admire asks you to tell them your favorite tea, you don’t say no. Even if it is three in the morning. Besides. I missed him. I switch the phone to my other hand and lay back down in bed.
“I guess you could say that,” I say. “I’m a pretty big fan—” Ugg. FAN. Starting to hate that word. “—of tea in general, but Earl Grey is an easy fallback wherever I am. Like, preeetty sure even when we go galactic you’ll still be able to find it in every store, cafe, and restaurant.”
Terry chuckles and I hear what could be the scritching of a pencil. “Hang on, I’ve gotta tell that one to Justin. He might be able to use that.”
Justin? Who’s…? OH. Of course, the creator of the hugely popular sci-fi cartoon Mick and Rorty. I always forget every person who makes things that I admire knows every other person who makes things that I admire, like it’s some sort of cosmic bad joke.
I can’t be mad at him for working anymore, though. He’d be working in his dreams if he’s the sort of person who writes down things to tell their creative friends later while focusing on his own projects and problems at three in the morning.
“Never a dull moment in the life of a writer, hmm?” I say, mollified.
“Yeah,” Terry responds. Then he yawns and it sounds like he shifts. Maybe he’s finally giving in to the absurd hour and lying down. “But you already know that.”
I blink. I’m not published. Not really. How the fuck does he know if I’m a real writer like him or not?
“What makes you think I know that?” I ask, mostly because I want to know. He’s a pro, and he thinks I’m worth something as a writer. I want to know why.
Terry chuckles. “You don’t listen to yourself talk about stories, do you?”
“No, usually I’m talking about them.”
“Well. As someone who’s heard you talk about them, it’s obvious that you understand them. Not just as a fan”—I feel myself cringe a little at the word—”but as a creator yourself.”
I want to argue with him. I’m so happy, but I want to argue with him anyway. He’s never read any of my stuff. What real-world basis does he have to tell me I’m a creator like him? I’m still IN school, for crying out loud. Twenty-five and still not done with being a student. All this knowledge, and not a real, tangible thing to show for it.
“Besides,” he mumbles. “I know you’ll help me figure out if Jessie would go camping or backpacking…”
Terry uses “Adorable Sleepy Voice.” Alexis has been Charmed.
“If it’s for leisure,” I start, “she’d go camping. That’s old hat for her, not hard at all. If it was supposed to a challenge or another one of her dad’s silly survival training things, it’d be backpacking…but probably only with materials they’ve made or tools in their backpacks instead of supplies.”
“Ooh,” Terry says, sounding like he’s perking up a bit again. “I like that. You’re right about that.”
“Good. Write it down and then go to sleep.”
He sighs. “You sound like my producer.”
“…Did you call them before me?!” How many people does this man harass when he’s working?!
“Shh, don’t worry about things like that. I called him before midnight. You only got this because I finally got your text.”
“Right…” Finally. Like it’s the phone company’s fault he’s getting my text at 3 AM and not mine.
“Wait… That wasn’t the phone company unnecessarily delaying your text message just to fuck with me?”
“…When do you think I sent it?”
A pause. “A week ago?”
It’s too late/early for him to say that. I tear my phone away from my mouth as I devolve into giggles.
“Oh, come on!” I hear him say, his voice distorted into small tinny phone voice. “You can’t realistically tell me you waited a whole week to send me this reminder, can you?”
I bring the phone back up to my ear and say, “Terry, I waited a week to text you.”
There’s a shocked silence emanating from the other end of the line as I slowly start giggling again.
“Why!?” he asks, sounding completely astounded. “I could have put that napkin through the wash by then! Did you think I wasn’t being serious about—”
“Do you know who you are?!” I ask him.
“Do you?!” he retaliates, and my giggles become guffaws. “I ask only because it took you a week to text me.”
“I didn’t want to disrupt your process!”
“You think I have a process?”
“You called me at 3 AM to ask me to weigh the characterization of backpacking and camping against each other!”
“Okay,” he starts, for all the world sounding as if he’s going to give me a valid excuse for this. “I’m not saying you don’t have a point… But that was important.”
“If you say so, your process-ness-ship.”
He snorts. “Don’t call me that.”
Lord of the Process? Processy Duke? King of Processington?”
His laughter sounds helpless, like he wishes he could stop and can’t. I grin, but I can feel my exhaustion setting it. I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open.
“These are only so bad because I’m literally on the verge of falling asleep,” I mumble at him.
“Should I sing you a lullaby?” he asks.
“Is that your 3 AM brand of crazy?”
Terry clears his throat and then puts on one of the many voices he contributes to Serenity Peaks—the voice of the wise-fool handyman of the resident tourist trap of the town of Serenity Peaks, Jesús. “It’s my gift to this world,” Terry quips at me.
I giggle and roll my eyes behind my eyelids. “Jeez, at least I only do wordplay.”
He chuckles. “I’ll let you go so you can sleep. Thanks for helping me out so late at night.”
“Thanks for getting back to my text so quickly.”
“I’ll always respond quickly if it’s you,” he says. I hold my breath, trying to process what he could possibly mean, but he’s talking again. “Don’t take another week to text me again, okay?”
“Okay,” I tell him.
I hang up, feeling starstruck again. Then my phone buzzes, and I look down to see I’ve got a picture from Terry. I flick it open, and it’s him, holding a card with his name and phone number on it, giving me a concerned look and pointing to himself. The caption? This number belongs to me, I promise. Here’s proof and a reference card so the government spies that are probably monitoring your brain waves can’t erase me or my phone number from your mind forever.
Leave the conspiracy theories to your show, I text back.
But this already got you to text me back so quickly!
I can’t deal with this adorable idiot. He’s too much. I text him goodnight and roll over to snuggle my teddy bear. Maybe I’ll pretend that instead of my bear, I’m holding a curly-haired ginger someone in my arms tonight.
No harm in dreaming. Right?
* * *
A month later I’m in the airport, and I realize that I now know the harm of dreaming. The harm of dreaming is getting that internship at Ziv he was sure you’d get and trying to decide whether you call him like you said you would or if you keep your mouth shut about it.
I find myself hoping this is a dream—but whenever I dream of flying, my flight is on time. Today I’m stuck waiting for it, so this must be reality. What to do, what to do? Usually, I’d just spend the time people watching since it’s my favorite thing to do in airports, but this time, even though people are bustling around me, all of my attention is focused on my phone screen.
I bite my lip and ask myself again, “Should I call him?” Instead of a coherent answer, my brain is supplying me with every daydream I’ve had about the damn man and making me feel like a horrible creepy fan that shouldn’t have his number instead of a reasonable person that he likes and gave his number to of his own volition.
Finally, my brain has had enough of the general muddle I’ve turned it into and splits into parts to have it out and select a winner.
Well, he did say he wanted us to tell him when we got the internship.
HE EVEN SAID WHEN!!!
And you got the job like a week ago…
Yeah, yeah, I know, but did he mean it?
DOES IT MATTER? WE HAVE A REASON TO CONTACT TERRY WAAALLLSSHHH!
You stopped being able to count his texts and calls on one hand two weeks ago, smart one. That gives you at least a one call pass even if he doesn’t mean it.
Trust him, you idiot. Why would he lie to you? He keeps trying to get you to text or call him first anyway, and his schemes just keep getting more and more outlandish.
Maybe he was just being nice! Creators do that, right?
Creators don’t call their fans at two in the morning to ask you if they’ve gotten a bit of dialogue right and then humor you when you tell him you need to hear it in context and then voice act half an episode over the god damn phone, sweetie.
The argument stops for a minute as I thumb through my contacts and find his name.
Then I take a deep breath and hit call.
It’s an eternity between the first and second ring. Then he picks up too fast, and I’m not ready, and he’s saying “Hey! What’s up?” and I’m talking over him because I can’t hold it in now that I’m doing this, and I say, “I got it. I got it. My plane’s late, but I got it, and I’m gonna be in San Francisco—well, Oakland, really, but same thing—in like two hours.” And there’s just silence from his end for a second. I don’t know what to I’m supposed to say next, so I just say it again. “…I got it.”
He’s still quiet.
Fuck. Voices in my head, you have led me astray. Commence freak-out about how you shouldn’t have called him after all. Three, two, one…
“OH!” he says, finally. “Oh my god, the internship! You got it?! That’s awesome.”
Wait, he didn’t get that part? I run back over what I said when he picked up, and—oh. I didn’t fucking tell him what “it” was, did I? “Yeah, yeah, sorry. I should have said. I’m just so excited—”
“I understand!” His excitement is contagious and it gets me grinning. I love getting to see him excited like this.
“Two hours, you said?”
“Yeah. Yeah, the plane’s a little behind, but soon.”
“Give me your flight number.”
“I’m gonna track it. That way I’ll know if you’ve been delayed or I’m just not looking hard enough to find you in the terminal.”
I take a moment to process what he’s saying. Like, wait, isn’t he in LA right now? Is he saying what I think he’s saying?
He breaks in with an explanation. “Oh shit, sorry. I forgot to even ask: can I pick you up? I’m in San Francisco right now.”
That’s ridiculous. The die roll necessary for that this level of lucky happenstance is so high that it’s stupid, and the only word I can rip from my mouth to express that is “What?”
“Um…is someone already doing that?”
“What are you doing in San Francisco?!”
“Why aren’t you in LA?!”
“Bizney didn’t cancel you or something, did they?!”
He’s gives this sort of invincible laugh and says, “They couldn’t cancel me if they tried, and I’m here for work.”
“Oh.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s okay then.”
He laughs again. “What are you, my manager?”
“You have a manager?”
His voice goes a little lower and he says, “Bizney made sure of it.”
I can’t tell if he’s joking or not, but either way it’s funny and I’m laughing. I missed talking to him like this. Why the fuck had I been worried about calling him?
“Yeah, you can pick me up. I mean, if you’re not busy or anything. I can get where I’m going on the BART light rail.”
“Oh. You don’t have tons of luggage?”
“Sent most of it.”
“Moving’s always weird,” he says, as if he’s done it a lot. “But yeah, I’ve got time. Could do with a break anyway. Would love your opinion on this little Jesús arc anyway.”
My heart flutters at the thought of another creative session with him.
I give him my flight number, he says he’ll be there, I tell him he better be, and we hang up. People probably think I’m crazy because I’m grinning and flushed and stupid looking now thanks to that phone call. At least I’m not wearing red plaid on top of it. Letting him pick me up is one thing. Letting him pick me up dressed in his signature wardrobe choice is another. Thankfully, I always dress the same way when I travel—T-shirt, light blue knit cardigan that’s just the right weight for a slightly chilly seat or a slightly warm seat, practical pants of a sturdy material, boots (because the only time I’m not wearing boots is when I’m devoted to my flip flops and bare feet in the summer), and my grandmother’s golden ankh on the leather strap my mother found for her. I clasp the ankh lightly and spend a moment missing her. My grandmother really got me, especially when it came to life and death. “Live the way that makes you happy and makes you feel like it matters,” she’d tell me. “Because ain’t none of it going to matter afterwards.” I wonder if she’d still say the same thing, now that she’s gone, after watching Papu, Uncle George, and her grandson go before her…
I look at the ankh cradled in my palm and then slowly run my thumb over it. Nana was stubborn. Not much would change her opinions about things. Besides, that’s why I wear this when I travel—to remind me that wherever I’m going, I’m going there to live in a way that makes me happy. But the ankh isn’t just a symbol of life, it’s also a symbol of death. Which is the other reason I wear it when I travel. Because sometimes terrible things happen, and they’re out of our hands. If my plane crashes, or my boat sinks, or my train throws itself off the rails, at the very least I’ll have something to hold onto—a piece of my family to give me comfort.
I couldn’t have worn the red plaid I own anyway. Terry’s changed what plaid in general means to me, but that old, oversized, beat-up flannel shirt has a place in my memories from before everything changed with Dad. It’s easy to think of Terry when looking at it—I may have been guilty of dressing my teddy bear in it so snuggling with him felt more like snuggling with Terry—but wearing the shirt myself? I can’t do it without thinking about Dad. It makes me think of sitting near Dad’s work bench in the barn. It used to get so cold out there, and I was never warm enough. But I’d stand there shivering anyway, not wanting to stop looking over his shoulder as he tinkered with a new radio or soldered something together. It always seemed like magic to me, the way he could take something broken and make it work again, and I didn’t want to miss any of it. Instead of insisting I go inside and put on a coat like my mother would have, he’d take one of his work shirts from the little rungs he’d drilled into the side of the barn, and fold it over my shoulders. It was always so warm. Real, fuzzy, heavy flannel—not the fashion stuff all the hipsters wear these days. It’s a miracle any of Dad’s old shirts survived all these years.
Then again, the same could be said for all of us, I suppose. I stroke my thumb over Nana’s ankh one more time before dropping it and rising to my feet. It’s time to get to my gate. After all, when the plane lands and I walk out of the gate, I’m going to be the happiest girl in the world.
When I do step foot off the plane, it’s like stepping onto a different world. This is the place where Terry is. It doesn’t quite feel real, and I almost leave my suitcase behind on the plane. I’m trying to ground myself with the familiar landmarks of the airport from previous visits to my aunt as I walk past security, nearly-forgotten suitcase in hand. Then there he is, all ginger hair and flannel, and I’m not sure my idiocy matters anymore as he smiles and waves. I trot up to him, and then stop short. How does one such as me greet whatever Terry is?
I don’t have long to question it before he puts his arms around me and draws me into a quick hug. He did it first, so it must be okay, right? I slide my arms around his torso and let myself nuzzle his flannelled shoulder a little. It feels safe and warm and just like the abstract concept of home we all carry around waiting to find again after it’s gone.
I step back. I don’t know how long I’m allowed to hold him, and it’s enough to be back in his presence. I reach back for my suitcase, but he grabs it before my hand is even halfway there.
“So!” he says, drawing the suitcase to him. “Hungry?”
My stomach growls. I feel my face heat up and he laughs.
“Okay, taking that as a yes. Preference?”
“Whatever you want is fine with—”
He tsks and shakes his finger under my nose. “It’s your party, lady. You got the internship.”
I look back up and his smile is too genuine to be nervous around. The anxiety slides off my shoulders like a glacier.
“Ethnic,” I dictate. “And delicious.”
“I know just the place,” he says. He walks off with my suitcase so fast that I have to trot to keep up. He finally starts slowing down when we get to the parking garage.
Oh gosh, did he drive here? What is he driving? He doesn’t live here anymore, right? So it’s probably a rental car? Not his? Unless he drives from LA to visit his family. I really hope it’s not fancy. Thankfully, when he stops in front of a parking spot, the car occupying it is fairly unremarkable. This, on the other hand, gives me plenty of time to gape unmolested from the car window when he parks outside of a building that looks like one of the pagodas I remember from Japan.
Japanese food? In San Francisco? Where the Chinese food is to die for?
I quirk an eyebrow at him.
“What?” he says. “You lived with this stuff for a year, didn’t you? You must get cravings like the rest of us.”
“Do you get cravings?” I ask, astounded.
“Well, maybe not for Japanese food,” he admits.
I’m five seconds too late from coming up with a witty retort about how the tears of his fans must make a much more desirable dish or something, because he’s moved on and is out of the car. Opportunity lost, I follow suit.
When we walk in, Terry tells the host we’ll need a table for two and it sounds sinful and indicative in his mouth. He doesn’t seem fazed, and neither does the host, so I must be the only one hearing it that way. I look around as the host leads us to our table. The restaurant is beautifully decorated. There’s plenty of warm wood and artistry to practical things like chairs, chopsticks, and the little soy sauce and ginger pots. A few well-placed plants help bring the place to life, but the restaurant itself is nearly deserted. I guess it’s a little late for lunch and early for dinner, though, so that makes sense. Besides, if it really wasn’t awesome, Terry wouldn’t have brought me here, right?
The host seats us and then asks if she can get any drinks started for us. I ask for tea, and when the host asks me what kind and starts listing off all the Japanese tea they stock, the triumphant, knowing smirk Terry gives me has me torn between licking my lips and kicking him. I go with the genmaicha and then grab my menu as an excuse to ignore him while he orders a Portland microbrew. It’s not like I’m listening, but when someone specifically orders something from your neck of the woods, you gotta wonder if they’re doing it on purpose or if the typeface on the menu is just so stupid it can’t properly hold your attention.
I look up from my menu when the host walks away. Terry isn’t looking at his. Instead he’s watching me.
This is like my first date with my second girlfriend all over again where she just kept looking at me until I was reduced to a blushing babbling mess and going on and on about how fucking green the trees outside were. I don’t even have a lucky window to blame for my inability to meet Terry’s eyes this time.
He reaches over and points at something on my menu. His finger is hovering over the listing for dobin mushi, a seafood soup that I haven’t been able to find since I got back to the States.
“Whoa! They have that here?”
Terry nods. “Yep. They’ve also got…” He flips the page and points again, this time at their ramen menu. When you go out for ramen in the United States, you’re going to get one of a few things. A standard “Americanized” version of ramen, or the legit family-run joint with not only different kinds of ramen, but different broth types. The legit places are few and far between, but this place? Not only do they have obscure broth options on the menu, they’ve got a scale to select noodle hardness from too! Just like the place I used to eat all the time in Japan!
I nearly trap Terry’s hand in the menu as I flip back to the front of the menu to look for the restaurant’s name. I whip out my phone with my other hand.
“Hang on,” I say, hoping he’ll excuse my behavior once I explain. “I’ve got to write this down.”
“For your blog, right?” he says.
I look up from my phone at him, not sure if I’m supposed to be elated or ashamed that he found my food blog from when I was in Japan. “That’s, that’s…” Finally I gulp down whatever it is I’m feeling and finish my sentence. “Inactive,” I finish. “I didn’t think I’d keep writing there after I got home, but this would make a good follow-up post.”
I finish up my notes to buy myself some time to think of what to say next. I put my phone away when I finish, hoping that will help us move on to another topic, but he’s still just sitting there—attentive and freaking me the hell out. I can’t get over this irrational fear that he’s going to start telling me how I could have done better, all the little things I fucked up. I don’t want to hear it. Not from him.
Fucking internet, being accessible to everyone.
I clear my throat—where the hell is that god damn tea?—and say, “You really did your research.”
He shrugs. “You know how that goes. I liked the one about the pumpkins.”
Great. Not only did he find my blog, he actually read enough of it to have an opinion about it. Great. Just great. I feel my eyes prick and a lump form in the back of my throat. I drop my eyes and I don’t want to look up. I feel tricked and exposed. This isn’t like asking someone for feedback on a draft, this is Terry fucking Walsh finding the blog that I never expected anyone in the professional world to give a fuck about—aside from acknowledging that I’d made it and therefore had some modicum of ability when it came to time management and writing.
I don’t want him to say anything about my blog. I don’t want to hear how much better it could have been or how rough and beginner-ish it still is.
He starts talking and I tune back in. Even if I don’t want to, I’ll always listen when he talks. “This might make for a nice wrap up of your Japanese arc,” he says. “You’re in San Francisco now, so if you wanted to switch to Chinese or just the food of San Francisco, you could do that. It doesn’t really matter what you talk about so long as you’ve got something you can relate to your media tie-ins, right? Those are the real meat of your posts.”
Okay, that’s not too bad. I didn’t ask for editorial advice, but he makes a good point. This would be an easy transition. Speaking of transitions…
I grin and meet his eyes. “The ‘meat’ of my posts, huh?”
He blinks at me, then groans and lets his face fall into his hands. This is the sort of response I’ve come to expect from my puns. Beautiful.
“I walked right into that one,” he complains through his hands, and I just cackle.
Laughing helps me feel a little more like myself, a little less like a child listening to a master praise their shoddy clay sculpture.
“Either way,” I say, opening my menu back up, finally able to focus on the words, “should be fun eating here.”
“Yeah?” he says. He sounds hopeful.
“Yeah,” I answer. “Food’s kind of important to me. Now, should I get a craving, I’ll know where to go.” I keep my head down and flip a page, because I know I’ll say it stupidly if I look up at him to say this. “Thanks.”
He doesn’t say anything.
I look up and then immediately back down, because I am blushing. He looks so fucking happy and pleased. There should be a law against that because I’m not sure my heart can take it—and how will I sue him for murdering me if I die of cuteness?
Maybe…that was what he was trying to do with this? Just give me a good place to eat food he knew I’d miss from my time abroad? Maybe this wasn’t about pointing out my childish forays into media journalism and instead about making me…happy?
I give myself a mental shake, tell myself to not be so fucking self-important, and go back to looking through what to eat. In the end, I settle on ramen. I can’t help it, it’s hard to find a good bowl of the stuff in America.
Our waiter shows with our drinks and asks for our orders. Terry gestures at me, so I order first. Then he says, “I’ll take the same thing as her, please.”
The waiter makes a quick note in her pad and then walks away. I’m still gaping at Terry once she’s gone. He gives me a nervous smile and says, “Well, I mean, you must know your stuff when it comes to this cuisine.”
“That’s the stupidest excuse I’ve ever heard for not looking at a menu,” I tell him, and then I realize he really didn’t look at the menu. “Oh my god, you had this planned from the start!”
“Well,” he says sheepishly, drawing out the L’s like a catty school boy.
I really wish it was acceptable to throw things at people you admired. Instead, I take off my glasses, let my hands run over my face, and rub my temples.
I hear what sounds like a glass sliding over the table, and I open my eyes. Terry’s beer is sitting in front of me. “You look like you could use this more than I could right now,” he says. He sounds unsure and strange. Almost like he’s trying to apologize?
I can’t think what he’s apologizing for, because I haven’t told him how I’m feeling, and he can’t know, but here he is suddenly looking grave and sounding unsure, and I don’t like it at all.
I take the beer, and take two big sips. It’s one of the delightful nutty wheat ones that I like, so I do the appreciative humming thing that I do when I like something, and take one more big, slow sip. “That’s gonna go fucking fantastically with our ramen,” I tell him, sliding it back to him.
He looks a little happier as he takes the glass from me. “You would know. It’s evident how much you love food from your writing.”
I falter and my eyes trip back to the table. Back to this again?
I grab my tea and let the warmth seep into my fingers to calm myself down. After a minute, I say, “It’s weird that you know all these things about me that I didn’t tell you.”
I don’t know what else to say, so I put my cup up to my lips. I keep it there, trying not to look at him and taking quick glances anyway, watching him process what I’ve said with a very puzzled expression.
“I… You know, it might just be a little difficult for me to imagine that after working on Serenity Peaks,” he says slowly.
It sounds like an admission, like he’s trying really hard to understand, but totally not getting it.
“I mean, you know tons of stuff about me, right?”
I choke on my tea.
He’s not wrong. I know his twin’s name, I know that he does in fact have a twin, that he and she are the inspiration behind Cassie and Clint. I know he gave symbolically gave his twin the pet pig she’d always wanted by writing it into Cassie’s character arc.
I knew he grew up around San Francisco before he told me.
I know how old he is, I know his birthday, and even his middle name. Even if I forget these little details, I can find them immediately through the internet without even being his Facebook friend.
“Y-yeah,” I say, putting my tea down. “But that’s different.”
“Well, you’re… You’re famous.”
He slaps a hand over his face and leans back in his seat.
His lips are moving, but I can barely hear him, so I lean forward and catch, “Of course. Of course, I’m an idiot, of course.”
He sits back up and clasps his hands in front of him and meets my eyes. “I thought this was a me knowing things about you from the internet thing, not a ‘Why the heck do you know this stuff, none of my readers care’ thing.”
He takes a quick inhale of breath and lets it back out. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel… Is ‘stalked’ the right word in situations like this?”
I purse my lips and waffle. Not really. I’m not sure I’m being honest with him either. It is strange him knowing all this stuff, but mostly I don’t like feeling distant from him, and when he talks about my work, I do.
I only want to talk about his work. But I don’t want him to know that.
“Maybe,” I say, putting my glasses back on.
“Okay then, stalked. I’m sorry for making you feel stalked.” He holds out his hand and asks, “Are we okay?”
I don’t know if I’m okay, but I know that I will always be okay with Terry so long as he wants to see me. I take his hand and smile at him, and we shake. I’m just about to take my hand back when his light grip tightens, just a little.
“I just wanted…” he murmurs.
He looks into my eyes. I look back, scared of what he’s going to say.
There are so many things he could say.
So many things I want him to say.
So many things I don’t want him to say.
And some that fall into both categories.
Please don’t fuck this up, Terry. This is enough, really, just don’t ruin it, don’t take this from me, don’t take it away.
My hand tightens around his, unbidden.
His breath hitches and he returns the pressure, and all I want to do is reach across the table and pull him to me and bury my face in his chest again and remember that he’s just a skin’s breath away and not a state away. He’s right here and so am I, and does any of the rest of this noise even really matter right now?
Then the waiter is back with our ramen. Our hands jump apart like lovers caught in the bushes by nosy parents. The moment’s over and gone, but I’m astonishingly aware of how empty my hand is now. I rub it absently and then pick up my chopsticks because I hate looking like a sentimental idiot in front of people who I want to take me seriously.
I grab a bunch of noodles and tuck them neatly into my spoon. Everyone slurps ramen in Japan. It’s actually considered impolite not to slurp your food over there—essentially, if you’re worried about your table manners, the food isn’t delicious enough and you’re insulting the chef—but I’m not in Japan anymore, and my father told me that someday there’d be some boy I wanted to impress and I’d have to impress him with my table manners. No mention of the girls I’d want to impress or even the men and women I’d want to impress after deciding high school lovers weren’t going to cut it, but whatever.
Aside from being fairly certain that my father was and always will be full of shit, this is how I eat ramen in the US. I dip my noodle laden spoon into the broth, put the whole thing in my mouth, and then die by way of foodgasm—because this is just like I remember and where has this place been all my life?
My Papu would be ashamed of me if good food didn’t physically make me have a moment. “We’re Greek!” he’d say, by way of chastisement. “What were you, born without taste buds? You’re not appreciating your food!”
Not to worry, Papu. I’ve learned my lesson from when I was five and not taking my time with the feta and your perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey—but oh my gosh, if you could just taste this ramen!
I start to come down from my expression of appreciation. As I let out my last satisfied little sigh, I catch Terry’s eyes on me. They’re shining again, just like they did the last time we were together back in LA. They capture me the same way they did before too.
“That,” he says softly. “I just wanted that.” Then he goes back to his soup.
I blink. Maybe I misheard him, but I don’t think I did. The flush I feel must be from the ramen anyway. It’s so hot and delicious, and what could he possibly mean by “that” anyway that could possibly make me flush, and… Wow, he’s really bad with chopsticks…
His noodles flop back into his broth for the third time. This time he managed to get them far enough out of the bowl that there’s a splash. The splash misses him entirely, but my glasses aren’t so lucky. Broth splatter coats the left lens of my glasses. He and I both look at it—he from afar and me from up-close and personal. “H-here,” he’s saying, reaching for my glasses.
“No, no, I got it,” I say, pulling my glasses off my face. I can just use my shirt, it’s not a big deal. But then he’s got that damned handkerchief out again, and I have to admit that’s better. I relinquish my glasses when he extends his hand this time.
While he’s got his hands busy, I dish up another spoonful of soup and say, “I thought you grew up in San Francisco. You should be a chopstick wizard, shouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, well, my mothers preferred western utensils to chopsticks,” he says as he polishes my glasses. “So, plenty of Chinese food but none of the mad skills.” He finishes up with my glasses and turns to give them back—only to be confronted with my spoonful of soup, which I consider fair payment for his assistance and he better too if he knows what’s good for him.
He hesitates for a moment, then puts my glasses down on the table, leans forward, and fits his mouth around my spoon. I… really didn’t think this through—but then who the fuck looks good eating soup? Apparently him. I feel my legs tighten, one ankle ducking behind the other to keep it together and keep from shivering.
He leans back, making the same dumb happy face I was probably making during my foodgasm, and says, “Damn, that’s good soup.”
He hands me my glasses and I use putting my glasses back on as an excuse to give myself some time to process how pretty his mouth is.
“Yeah, tasty is an understatement,” I say. Then I change the subject. “So, you’ve got moms?” I ask, choosing this to focus on rather than the indirect kiss that is now residing on my spoon or that I’ve got his fingerprints on the frames of my glasses now.
Terry smiles at me. “One of the many things the internet doesn’t know.”
I grin at him, thinking he has no idea how much the idea of getting to know things about him the internet doesn’t know means to me. “What are their names?”
“Well, to me, they’ve always been ‘Mom,’ ‘Mother,’ or ‘Ma’am,’ depending on how much trouble I was in on any given day…”
“But I hear they’ve been known to go by Ida and Izzy.”
“Your family has a thing for making pairs off one letter, don’t they?”
“So you do know Titania’s name!”
I flush, trying to decide if knowing his twin’s name is something I should apologize for or not. He smiles, so I let it go.
“This might sound like a stupid question,” I say, “but… Well, coming from a family where the word ‘mom’ only belonged to one person, how did you…?”
“Oh. Well, it was based on tone, pronunciation, situation—super easy when only one of them was home. But my mother Izzy always loved it when I called her Momma. She said there was just something feminine about it that she loved, so if I really needed to get her attention that’s what I used. My mother Ida would answer to anything, even if it wasn’t meant for her, so she was just ‘Mom’—although she was definitely the one my sister and I both called ‘ma’am’ when we were in trouble.”
The corner of his mouth curls, as if reminiscing. “Sometimes they’d both answer, no matter what we said. But, I don’t know, it was never hard.” He makes a face. “Except when people in offices asked about my ‘father.’ Poor Momma was so upset by the word. She’d just finished transitioning before Titania and I were born, so even though we knew who she was, these silly pieces of paper and the people reading them didn’t.”
I give him a sympathetic look. “I get it. It’s not quite the same, but I’m bi. People think they can define you by things like the gender of your partner or silly pieces of paper.”
His annoyance slides away to be replaced with an easy look. “You’re going to fit right in in San Francisco.”
I beam at him. “I guess your ease with the word ‘mom’ is why it’s easy for Cassie and Clint to have two great uncles with essentially one name and not get confused, huh?”
He beams across the table. “You know, I never considered that that’s where the inspiration might have come from.”
Gee, I like it when he praises me. I eat another spoonful of my soup. He tries to do the same and fucks it up again. I snort and tell him to give it up and just ask for a fork.
He says no, like a petulant child, and I tell him how disappointed his mothers would be with his disdain for western utensils. He says I’m just worried about getting broth on my lenses again. I ask him who wouldn’t be, and then accuse him of just wanting to touch a real pair of Grunkle Alex glasses, and then he looks like he’s choking on air. His eyes dart up and he gives me this disbelieving look.
“What?” I ask.
“I didn’t want to assume,” he says. “I mean, they’re just glasses. I know you’re a fan, but…” He drops his face forward into his hands on the table and I hear his muffled voice say, “They’ve even got triangles on theeeeeemmm.”
I’m grinning like the Cheshire Cat, because he’s fangirling. He’s honest to god fangirling right now. Over my black square-framed glasses that just so happen to look remarkably like the ones of Grunkle Alex from Serenity Peaks.
“Did you see the brand name?” I ask. “Prada made these. Prada.”
And Terry is just dying.
“Oh my gosh, noooooooo,” he moans, clutching his ribs and trying to stop laughing. “Oh my god, this has gotta be some joke. You made those, didn’t you? You’re just kidding.”
“Ha, I’m not that talented,” I fire back.
“Don’t lie to me,” Terry said.
“Oh my, Mr. Walsh, you have my word that I would never lie to you,” I say, really lathering on the grandeur, as one does when making fun of someone. “Especially not about something as grave as Prada Grunkle Alex glasses with golden triangles on them.”
He’s laughing again. “I can’t believe it, this is ridiculous.”
I slide them off my nose and say, “Wanna touch them again?”
He’s like a giddy child, biting his lip and taking them from me as if they’re the most fragile thing on the planet. I watch him pass his thumb almost reverently over one of the golden triangles at the edge of the frames, and for a moment, I understand what it must mean to him to have someone pick out glasses that make reference to his creation.
It must feel amazing to have someone love what you’ve made so much—so much that they’d choose to carry it with them everywhere they went, that they chose to wear it on their face and show it to people with a smile, regardless of whether those people understood or not.
“Your soup’s gonna get cold,” I whisper.
“Yeah,” he breathes.
He’s totally not listening to me.
I reach out with my chopsticks and steal a piece of pork and some of his noodles.
That sure gets his attention. He reaches out after them even as they disappear into my mouth. I probably couldn’t be more smug.
“Stop being good at that,” he growls.
I spread my hands in front of me and say, “You’re just jealous. Besides, you’re too involved with my glasses to properly appreciate your soup. I’m helping you.”
He gives me this disbelieving look and shakes his head slowly.
But now I’m on a roll. I lean forward, gesture to my glasses and ask, “Shall I set up a wedding for you two?”
He blushes. It’s fun seeing him so worked up.
“You just seem to have grown so attached.”
He slips my glasses into his breast pocket. “That’s it, I’m keeping these.”
“What?” I stare at him incredulously. “Those are my glasses! I need those!”
“You’re the one who offered to set up the wedding,” he counters. He picks up his bowl by both sides to slurp broth and then shovel noodles, meat, and vegetables into his mouth with his chopsticks as nonchalantly as one can shovel things into one’s mouth.
“Yeah, okay, true,” I say, “but I didn’t mean it.”
He sticks his nose into the air and says as if he’s lecturing me, “You shouldn’t say things you don’t mean. The Grunkle Alex glasses and I are serious about our love, and if you’re too blind to see it, then that’s just your loss.”
“Besides.” He brings his face down to meet my eyes and smirk at me. “You told me your vision isn’t that bad.”
I’m gaping at him because… Well, because he remembered.
Yeah, he’s being ridiculous—I’ve come to expect that from the man—but he remembered what I said about my vision. He didn’t take my glasses thinking I couldn’t see, he took them knowing I could.
Knowing that, I’m tempted to let him keep them for the moment.
After all, if he’s going to remember the things I tell him, there’s no reason for me to see perfectly when I’m with him. I don’t have to worry about being constantly vigilant or looking for signs of danger. If he’s listening so well that he remembers something I told him more than a month ago, he’s got it, and…I don’t need to worry.
It’s been a while since I felt like that.
“Fine,” I say, sitting back in my seat. “But understand that you’re getting into a pre-existing relationship here. If you’re serious about my Grunkle Alex glasses, you’re going to have to respect our bond, and the time we need to spend together away from you.”
Terry puts his hand over my glasses and his heart. “Anything for these glasses.”
I can’t take it, he’s being too funny. I start laughing, and it builds into the full-throated uncontrollable thing that helped friends track me down even in the nosiest bars back in college. Terry is trying to eat his soup again, a small curl of a smile tucked into the corner of his mouth. I’m attracting the wait staff’s attention with my laugh as he continues to fail with his chopsticks. Finally, I make eye contact with one of them and ask if they wouldn’t mind getting him a fork.
“I don’t need a fork,” Terry protests.
“And I don’t need my glasses, but we’re both so much better off with them.”
When the fork comes, he begrudgingly picks it up and uses it to finish off his soup. After, he reaches for my glasses, but I stop him with a hand. It looks like our waiter’s coming with the bill. I spirit my debit card out of my purse under the table. “You hang on to those for a second,” I tell him. “I don’t want to see this.”
He gives me a quizzical look, but then the waiter arrives. His expression changes from quizzical to shocked understanding as I hand her my card before she can put the bill down or I can see how much this is going to cost me. I need him to know that I don’t forget things, either. “You paid for ice cream,” I remind him as the waiter walks away.
“Are you sure you wanna pay for all that without looking at the price?” he protests.
“No. You’ve got my glasses, and I didn’t look.” I flip my hair, because I wanna be cool when I say this next thing, and I’m probably hamming it up too much, but still. “You’re not the only one who doesn’t forget things.”
He snorts, but leans back in his seat acceptingly. When the waiter comes back, Terry hands me my glasses so I can see the bill this time.
For a second I’m proud of myself, and then I see what I just paid for two bowls of really, really top-notch ramen, a beer, and some tea, and I’m not feeling all that proud anymore.
It must show on my face, because Terry says, “I have cash,” in a tempting voice, sounding for all the world like the dream demon from his show. Go away, Buck, I’m not gonna make a deal with you. But that is not what you say to the creator of the show you’re referencing, let alone the voice actor of Buck Puzzle.
I pick up the pen and sign away more money than I was expecting to part with that day and thank my lucky stars that the family friend Elizabeth that’s taking me in for this internship is too kind to let her best friend’s niece starve while staying under her roof. Bringing myself here when I have cravings will have to wait until I start getting that internship pay.
I pick up my card and slide it back into my wallet and say, “Consider it payback for last time, gas money for picking me up, and…” It’s okay to ask for just a little more, right? He wanted to see me today, it’s not outrageous to think he might want to see me again. “You can buy me an obscure Portland microbrew next time.”
His lips split into a smile. There’s something about the way his eyelids lower that looks both pleased and promising at the same time and makes me want to shiver. “Deal.” He enunciates the whole word, and I can almost feel his tongue touching his teeth on the “L”. My next intake of breath is a little quicker than usual.
Shit, what do I keep getting myself into? You’d think a few flustering encounters with this man would be enough for me, but noooo. One of these times, I’m gonna fuck it up! I should know better than to keep coming back for more.
With that, the voices are back:
Well, um, you do know better, you’re just doing this anyway, idiot.
YEAH YOU LIKE IT.
You like him.
No, no, no, no! I like his work, this is about his work.
“You said something about a Jesús arc earlier?” I say, trying to set the conversation back on a track I can actually process without overheating.
“Oh. Oh yeah. You ready?” he asks.
“Yeah, let’s go.” I honestly don’t want to think about how much money I just parted with anymore, and Serenity Peaks sounds like a much better thing to fill my head with.
When we get back into the car, he asks if it’s cool if we go back to his place to talk about the Jesús script. I agree automatically. For all I know, he’s not even allowed to talk about unreleased material in public. That’s how things get leaked, isn’t it? It just makes sense to go to his place.
And then I think about it. “Wait, ‘your’ place’?”
“Like, where you grew up?” Like…meeting his parents his place? Like where they eat Thanksgiving and open Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever-winter-holiday-they-celebrate gifts together?
He tips his head to the side thoughtfully and says, “Well, I guess we could.”
TOO MUCH TOO SOON.
NOT READY FOR THIS SHIT TODAY.
I’M NOT IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO GO THERE.
I’VE GOT NO RIGHT AND THE INTERNET DOESN’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT HIS MOMS.
“No, that’s okay.” I say. “I wouldn’t want to bother anyone. If you’re staying somewhere else, let’s just go there.”
Terry chuckles and says, “We’ll probably be able to focus better if we go to my hotel, but believe me, I don’t think you could bother anyone in that house.”
I’m at a loss for how to interpret that remark. As he pulls onto the freeway, I let myself get lost in thought. He probably needs to concentrate on traffic anyway, and I need to calm my giddy heartbeat and get serious so I can focus on Serenity Peaks.
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