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Chapter 5: Stories Brought to Life

Terry on the freeway is an experience I imagine other people have had in the passenger seat of my car… That’s what I get for learning from California drivers, though, I guess.

Having just spent the last year in a country where the main form of transit was by train, and not having driven much in the two months since my return to the US, my heart is racing when we come to a stop in the parking lot of what I can only assume is his hotel. I can’t be sure, because I’ve had my eyes closed for the last ten minutes or so.

I open them when a rush of wind hits my face as he opens my door for me. “Are we dead?” I ask him, unbuckling my seatbelt.

He laughs. “Not yet.” He slides his hand down my arm to my hand, takes it, and pulls. “Come on.”

Terry’s hotel room is, in a word, adorable. Not too big, not too small, and—according to Terry—just the right distance from his parents’ to keep them from harassing him when he’s working without being inconvenient. The warm reds, chestnut, and ivory coloring of the bedspread, desk, and other décor create a warm, inviting atmosphere. Not bad for a temporary home away from home.

“How many people did it take to scout this place?” I ask.

“Oh, my relatives always stayed here when they came from the East Coast to visit.”

“Convenient for writing and family get-togethers. Nice. We’ve definitely got some of those in my hometown.” I reach up to my shoulder and fiddle with the end of my travel hair—it always seems to end up in a braid when I travel—for what must be the third time, still standing awkwardly in the entryway. You can really only make so much small talk when there’s a main event you both want to get to.

Terry presses back against the wall and swings his arm out to invite me to go into the room before him. I march all the way across the room to the window in the far wall. I take a peek outside. It’s a convenient excuse to make sure I’m out of his way, even if the view is pretty unremarkable since we’re on the first floor. Then I hear tapping behind me. I turn around to see him at the desk with a sheaf of papers in his hands.

“Ready?” he asks.

My eyes drink it in. Him with another script in his hands, asking me if I’m ready to hear it.

Idiot, he doesn’t need to ask me.

I’m always ready for this.

“Yeah.” I drop my purse, take the few steps over to him, and take his free hand. He leads me back across the room to the couch by the entryway, and we arrange ourselves: he sits first, and pulls me after him. I adhere to his side. I pull my glasses from my face and hand them to him. It doesn’t really matter if he has them or not since I can read without them, but it’s the symbol of the thing. He puts them back in his shirt pocket as I curl my legs up next to me, my knees bump his thighs. He pulls my hand from my far side across his stomach so I’m facing into him instead of forward and my chin is supported by his shoulder. I tell myself it’s just so I can feel his voice better, just so I’m more connected to this story, so I can be of better use to him, and ever so slightly allow my fingers to curl into the fabric of his shirt before I let my eyes slide shut and I wait for him to start.

His chest expands with one deep breath to prep. Another to get me used to the motion of it. The third one’s bigger, more powerful; real.

And we’re off.

This episode really is a Jesús arc. He and River are having trouble with their long-distance relationship. That is until Cassie discovers one of Xander’s old inventions. Turns out it’s a teleportation device. Clint gets it working with some help from Xander’s old journal, and Cassie suggests Jesús use it to go and pay River a visit. Suddenly River and Jesús’s problems seemed solved! That is, until Jesús starts abusing the device to teleport everywhere.

When Jesús over hears Grunkle Alex telling Grunkle Xander that he needs to know what sort of experiments Xander’s doing in the basement, Jesús decides to do the detective work himself. Xander is usually pretty tight-lipped with his brother, especially concerning experiments and inventions. And Alex is always concerned with the safety of Cassie and Clint, so it makes sense he would push for an explanation when things like explosions at 3 AM are a result of Xander’s work. And with the way Jesús looks up to Alex—always calling him Mr. Pines instead of Grunkle Alex like the younger set of Pines twins do—it also makes sense that he would try to use his newly acquired power to put his foot in the middle of the mess between the older Pines twins. Of course, in doing so, he completely forgets about going to visit River.

Cassie and Clint convince Jesús to let them come along. Clint’s sure Xander has all sorts of new research and inventions tucked away down there. Cassie is convinced Xander might be holding mythical creatures captive against their will. Jesús agrees that both things might be plausible—based on absolutely no evidence except the twins’ enthusiasm. Cassie gets Xander out of the basement by telling him that Alex is looking for him. Once Xander leaves to go find his brother, the gang teleports into the basement to investigate.

The episode then cuts to River, who has apparently just been stood up. Since she and Jesús had a romantic evening planned—“With reservations and everything!” he told her—she’s obviously both annoyed and concerned. She makes for her car and then sets a course for Serenity Peaks to see what the heck is going on. When she arrives, she runs into Alex. After she explains what’s been going on, Alex gets suspicious because Jesús has been making all his shifts, and that means he wouldn’t have time to drive up to Portland to see River too. Obviously something fishy is going on, and his brother’s science shtick is probably to blame again. Xander comes in just as Alex tells River that whatever’s happening with her boyfriend is probably his brother’s fault. Xander rejects the accusation, and the two men start bickering. It’s River that finally shuts them up and asks them if there’s anywhere they should look. Both men look towards the basement.

River and the Grunkles bust into the basement to find Jesús snooping (poorly) through Xander’s notes. Cassie and Clint, on the other hand, have found an old robot copy of himself Xander made to be both a stand-in for formal speaking events and function as his research assistant. Apparently there’s good reason for it to be deactivated in the corner, considering not long after its completion it went haywire. Xander admits he always meant to fix it, but got distracted by more pressing research. Alex cuts him off to tell him the only pressing situation at the moment is the safety of their great niece and nephew, just as Cassie and Clint start up the robot.

Everyone leaps into action—except for Jesús, who is still preoccupied with Xander’s notes, not noticing anything that’s happening around him. The grunkles stop bickering as the robot charges the kids. Xander goes for the kids while Alex puts his old boxing skills to use breaking down the robot version of his brother. The robot executes some sort of spin maneuver, and Alex is thrown back. The robot turns and selects River as its next target. Jesús finally looks up from what he’s doing when he hears her scream. He runs to her, grabs her in a hug, and then teleports them away. The robot hits the wall hard, stunning it. Xander quickly flips the kill switch, shutting the robot down for good. River and Jesús tumble back into existence on top of the pile of Xander’s notes Jesús made while researching, and the wrap-up begins. Alex and Xander agree to communicate more about what they’re doing, for the safety of the kids if nothing else. Cassie and Clint decide that some inventions/mythical creatures are better left undiscovered in the past. And Jesús and River figure out there isn’t a quick fix for any kind of relationship, but that theirs is going to keep on working for a long while. I mean, when someone drives halfway across a state to check if you’re okay or abuses questionable technology to come and visit you, you hang on to those people, right?

Jesús makes amends with Alex and with River, and the teleportation device and the robot-Xander are both put back into storage where they belong—the robot maybe slightly more disassembled than it was before at Alex’s behest.

Terry finishes, and drops the script to one side. I’m sitting with my head on his chest, listening to him breathe, and I could swear I can hear him shift out of his acting and back into his own skin just from the way his chest rises and falls.

It’s strange and makes me want to do the little Japanese house call of “welcome back.” I’ve never felt someone come back to themselves before and it makes me a little giddy.

I sit there, trying not to smile, not really wanting to open my eyes, listening to him breathe like it’s the only important sound in the world. I can’t possibly imagine why he wants my thoughts on this episode. It’s already perfect from my point of view. “What is it you want me to focus on?” I whisper finally.

“River,” he replies, and it rumbles up through his breast bone into my cheek.

That wasn’t what I expect him to say. “Isn’t Jesús the main focus of this episode?” I ask.

Terry shrugs and says, “Sort of. We see his actions most, definitely, but the only reason he’s acting in the first place is because of River.”

Hmm. Okay, point. “What is it you want me to focus on about River?”

“Is she real?”

That prompts a snort from me, and I laugh, “What?”

“No, really, is she real?! Like, Jesús is a great guy, and she’s pretty head over heels for him, but what motivates someone to up and leave the place they live, drive for maybe six hours, and go looking for their significant other just because they haven’t heard from them in a bit?”

I take the bait and chew on it. “In this case, the kind that’s paying attention, I think.”

Now it’s his turn. “What?”

“Well, Jesús isn’t just ‘acting weird,’ he’s teleporting, right? River’s capable. You wrote her that way in the episode where they met and started dating. You also wrote her as fairly independent and communicative, proven in this episode by her ability to manage and sustain a long distance relationship with someone, not just Jesús. She’s going to notice something actually strange is going on, and she’s capable enough to make room in her schedule to come down and check.”

“Yeah…” Terry says, but he sounds unconvinced.

I feel my mouth twist into a thoughtful line. “You’re worried about her seeming clingy and needy, aren’t you?”

Terry sighs and puts his hand over his face. “Yes.”

“…I don’t know the process, but is the…‘timeline’ for when things happen in the episode already set in stone?”

“It’s still in script form, we haven’t gone to storyboards yet. I can play with the timing as much as I want.”

“Okay, then add a phone conversation with Stan.”

He huffs. “How does that solve anything?”

My breath stops in my mouth for a second. Maybe I’m way off. Maybe I’m not helping at all. Maybe the last few times I’ve helped Terry were just flukes and I really have no fucking clue what I’m talking about—but I can’t hold my breath forever. I push my breath out, and the sentence I had ready before he turned me to stone comes out with it.

“W-well, like we said, River’s smart and capable. Why wouldn’t she call the cabin first?”

“If that’s true, why wouldn’t she just call Jesús’s cellphone?” Terry fires back.

He sounds frustrated, and now I’m annoyed.

“Take it away,” I say, lowly.

He goes still, like he’s thinking that over. Then his hand falls away from his face. He picks the script back up and squashes me up against him as a byproduct of reaching around with his other hand to sift roughly through the pages.

I’d probably be happier about being nearly in his lap if he wasn’t arguing with me and if my anxiety would let my heart rate slow. But the smell of his hair is nice. Soothing. My annoyance slowly evaporates as I breathe in the familiar, nostalgic scent of it, remembering how my hair had the same way for days after our encounter in LA.

He’s still looking through the pages when I decide I have more to say.

“Distance can be really hard,” I say softly into his ear. “You forget how the other person moves, feels, smells… Whether they need a haircut…” I reach up around his shoulder and tuck a bit of his hair behind his ear. It’s getting a little long, and he lets out a small breath as my fingers slip past his ear. “I think if River couldn’t reach Jesús on his cell, and got through to Alex on the phone, he could definitely talk her into coming down without making her seem needy or clingy.” I lean a little closer. “Let him be the voice of River’s Id.” I breathe the words over his ear and I hear his breath catch in his throat. “Let her play the Super Ego, and then her decision will look as thought-out and commanded as you want it to be.”

Terry full-on shivers and the papers crinkle in his fingers.

I didn’t expect a reaction so big—but big is what I got. I’m stuck—eyes wide, mouth open, still next to his ear—wondering what I’ve just done.

But then Terry is talking again, and I have to listen, so I break out of my stupor.

“So what you’re saying,” he says, “is that River really wants to see Jesús, and just won’t admit it to herself?”

I frown. “Well, I’m not sure that’s the most driving factor—there’s the teleporting and the wanting to protect her partner… I mean, if you were in a relationship with someone, and you were worried they were in danger or might need help, wouldn’t you want to go to them too?”

“Yes.”

There’s something really strange about the way Terry says that, and I pause again. I lost my read on him when he shivered. I don’t know where he is, even though I’ve got my arm around him.

I want to draw away, I want to back up, start over and make sure I’m not about to step on anything fragile. I don’t want to lose this. My face is heating up, and I feel my chest constricting, my shoulders turning inwards, trying to be small and unobjectionable, and I want to stop it, but my breath won’t fill the span of my rib cage, and I can feel the nervous sweat starting on the back of my neck.

My arm draws away from his side to constrict back to me, but as my hand moves across the space in front of his stomach, he touches it with his fingertips and I halt.

Slowly, he wraps his hand around mine, and I look up to see him looking pained. His eyes are shut and his mouth is set in a tiny grimace. He squeezes my hand a little and says, “You don’t think those feelings are needy or clingy?”

“No.” For once I don’t have to think about the way I’m answering him. “I think those feelings are completely natural when you care about someone.”

The air is tense, like he’s still waiting for something. After a moment, I open my mouth again. “Look, you’ve already allowed River into this relationship. Don’t rob her of the good bits just because you’re afraid your viewers are gonna think she’s ‘too feminine’ or ‘a stereotype.’ She’s a person, and you’ve handled all of that really well when it comes to Clint and his masculinity, so…”

I feel like I’m rambling, and I’m still hot and worried. I puff out some air and push the hair that’s fallen out of my braid out of my face. “Where the heck is this coming from, anyway? She’s fine. Worry about when Xander built that robot instead—because the fans are gonna have theories about when and why he made it, so you better know.”

“Ha!” It’s just a quick, short, monosyllabic laugh, but Terry’s body is shaking like he’s guffawing. He grins—teeth gritted, but grinning nonetheless—and his head falls forward so his forehead is resting on our entwined hands.

“You’re right,” he says, and finally opens his eyes. He looks sideways at me, and gives me a reassuring lopsided smile. “I’ll make the edits and send it off tonight.”

My eyes flick over to the clock and I say, “Well, you better take me home then.”

Terry looks up and he groans at the clock. It reads 7:30. Elizabeth must be starting to worry, because I definitely didn’t think I’d be out this late and also definitely didn’t remember to call her since I’m with Terry fucking Walsh.

But making edits and sending something off isn’t something he’s going to have a lot of time for if he sticks with me, and we both know it.

He pops his chin into his hand and eyes the clock. “Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.”

At which point I say, “Is this why I have to wait so long for new episodes?!” because I can’t handle the pressure in the room anymore, and I need it to lift and go away, because I still don’t know what just happened and the weight on my chest isn’t lifting.

He laughs and I laugh, and I pull at my hand, saying I’ll get us some water, because he must need some after all that reading anyway, right? He agrees and lets me go. I snatch the cups from the desk and scurry to the bathroom as quickly as I can and run the water. I splash some on my face and then focus on my breathing while I dry my face. I’m still trying to normalize my breathing as I fill the cups. I down one and fill it again, and down another half of my cup before I get back to Terry.

I hold out the fuller cup to him. After he takes it, I sit next to him, a sliver of couch between us this time.

I’m done with my water again before he’s so much as had a second sip of his, but at least I’m breathing a little more. I don’t feel as hot or constricted, but I’m definitely not feeling relaxed. Terry eyeing me over the rim of his glass isn’t helping either.

His glass isn’t even half empty when he puts it down and says, “What did I do?”

“W-what?”

“What did I do?” he asks again. “You weren’t…” He reaches out, and I feel myself doing the deer in the headlights thing.

He drops his hand back to his knee and looks away. “…afraid of me before we did this.”

I can’t think of what he might mean. Afraid of him? Why would I be afraid of Terry?

“I-I’m not—”

“I know it’s pretty evident that our relationship has had some influence on this episode’s script, but I…”

He’s pausing. Maybe he’s looking for the right word, I don’t know, but suddenly the entire terrain of the situation has changed and I’m not listening; I’m re-evaluating.

The episode he just read me was about us? Our relationship had an effect on it? My mind races through comparisons, and I’m sure my eyes are getting wider and wider by the second.

“That’s why you were worried about River seeming needy or clingy,” I whisper.

Terry shifts—a rolling motion, as if he wants to reach out and touch me but isn’t sure what might happen if he does.

“Am I… Are you…?”

“I’m River,” he says.

I give him a mischievous look and say, “I thought you were supposed to be Clint.”

“Alexis.”

“And don’t you voice three different characters in this show, all of them probably of the male persuasion?”

“You don’t know. Buck could be a girl.”

“Or non-binary.”

“Or non-binary,” Terry concedes. “Or gender fluid. Or intersex.”

“Doesn’t that imply the presence of certain human genitalia?”

There’s a silence as we regard each other, and then he slips his phone of his pocket. “You know, I don’t actually know…”

I take out my phone and do a search too, pulling up Merriam-Webster as my source, because they’re a fairly trustworthy dictionary. I look up, mouth half open to tell him what I found and he nods and says, “Yeah, seems like it implies human.”

“Are you looking at the Merriam-Webster entry?”

“…No, I’m actually not. Google.”

I flip my phone around. “Looks like technically it doesn’t.”

“But colloquially…”

“Colloquially, your audience might make some assumptions,” I admit with a shrug.

“I don’t know,” Terry says, holding my eyes. “They’re pretty smart.”

I look back into his eyes, trying to figure out if he’s talking about me or the audience of Serenity Peaks as a whole. Then my phone buzzes, interrupting. I jump, and Terry reels back a little at my sudden movement. His eyes zero in on my phone as I pick it up.

“What is it?” he asks.

I slide the notification over to be confronted with another uncaptioned picture of Lizzy’s sketchbook. She sends these fairly regularly. I know she’s not looking for hollow praise, but she’s my sister. If she gets to lecture me about latent talents whenever I feel like I’m a hack instead of a writer, I return the favor whenever she sends me these uncaptioned cameos of what she’s drawing. This time, it’s a griffon. “Looks like my sister’s working on something new,” I say, angling the phone towards him so he can see. “She’s got a thing for realistic wing anatomy.”

Terry studies the screen. “May I?” he asks, gesturing to my phone.

“Sure.” I hand over the phone. He brings it up to his eye level and studies it again, his face taking on the eagle-eyed gaze of someone appraising a work of art.

I wouldn’t mind watching him appraise lots of things if it always makes him look this beautiful.

“She’s really good,” he says.

I smile, proud like a big sister should be. “I like to tell her so anyway.”

“Has she applied for any internships like you?”

“No,” I moan, flopping back against the couch. “She’s scared of getting rejected. Plus, although she doesn’t have a problem with the companies offering internships, she doesn’t like the shows they’re airing.”

“What?” Terry’s mouth is agape as if he’s appalled. “What’s not to love about the stuff Cartoon Nation is airing?”

“Well, I agree with you, but my little sister is very particular—and Steven Multiverse didn’t speak to her.”

“Rebecca Sucrose and her work are a gift to this world!”

I grin, feeling silly and at ease again. “Have I listed all the things Lizzy won’t eat for you yet?”

Terry leans forward and purrs, “Oh, do tell.”

We both snort and shake with quiet laughter for a minute before I catch another look at the clock. It’s a little past 8. It’s surprising that Elizabeth hasn’t called me in a panic, honestly. Maybe she isn’t worrying.

Terry and I both jump as my phone starts violently vibrating in Terry’s hand.

Ah. There she is.

He hastily offers it to me palm out. Sure enough, the caller ID reads Elizabeth Jenkins. I snatch the phone out of Terry’s hand and answer while throwing the phone up to my ear. “I’m so sorry, Elizabeth!” I start. “I hadn’t meant to be out so late, I should have called.”

“Oh, thank goodness, darling girl, you’re alright! You are alright, aren’t you?”

“I’m fine, fine, completely fine.”

“Oh, thank goodness. Truly, thank goodness. Phil and I were completely distraught, weren’t we, Philip?” There’s a muffled cadence of agreement in Phil’s reassuring old-man rumble, and then Elizabeth is talking again. “When will we have the absolute pleasure of seeing you, dear? Has your plane gotten in yet? I remember you did call to say you might be delayed…”

Oh. I had called to say that I might be delayed, but if she interpreted that as my flight being delayed, it’s no wonder she isn’t panicked. I guess that’s why she didn’t call until now. “Yeah, yeah, I got in a while ago. A friend just happened to be in town and—”

“Oh, say no more, darling girl, I understand. A young, busy, beautiful thing like you must have her freedom.”

My eyes flick over to Terry. He’s got his eyebrows raised and is grinning like an idiot. I guess he can hear her. I make a face at him. He shrugs and mouths, “She’s right.” I shove his shoulder to push him off balance and say, “I’ll probably see you soon.”

“Try to make it back before ten o’clock, or you may have to ring the bell like a mad woman. If you had your key I’d hardly dare to call you back so early, but this first night you’ll need to settle in anyway, I imagine.”

“Yes, you’re absolutely right, I’ll be sure to get there before ten,” I say, shoving Terry again. He’s enjoying this phone call entirely too much. His expression is inscrutable now that the sun’s gone and it’s dark in the room, but his snickering is enough. Here, alone, in the dark with Terry, I feel contained in a way that doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic, but like there’s only space for me, him, the space between us.

“Oh, listen to you, so ready to be off the phone. Go on then, you spectacular thing, off with you. We’ll see you when you get in. Toodaloo.” She hangs up before I have a chance to say anything else.

“So,” Terry says. “Who was that?”

His tone is entirely too Buck-ish for his own good, and I’d give him the evil eye if I could see him. Instead I just slip my phone onto the arm of the couch and say, “That’s the spectacular”—I mimic Elizabeth’s way of saying the word—”woman whose attic I’m going to be living in during my internship.”

“Friend of yours?”

“Of my aunt’s. Her name’s Elizabeth. She sells books. Loves illustrated children books best.”

“Sounds like a real lady.”

“Yeah. You would like her, wouldn’t you?” I say, thinking about the way he laughed during the phone call.

“I like lots of people,” he says, innocently.

But the sharp edge of his grin in the half light from the window tells me what’s coming isn’t going to be innocent.

“Loooooooooots of peeeeeopllllle,” he says, drawing the words out the same way he must have in the booth when recording Buck’s line from the show.

I crumble, because I’m a fan, and I told him people love Buck for his swagger. I fall against his warm, soft flannel covered shoulder. He hums a chortle into my hair.

“You really are a fan, aren’t you?” he murmurs, stroking my hair.

I hum back at him, both in agreement and in appreciation for the way his hand slides down over my neck and shoulders. “That wasn’t fair.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“You knew what it would do.”

“Maybe so. But fair or not, you seemed to enjoy it.”

I gasp, shocked, because we—the collective “we” that is the fanfic-writing, fanart-rendering, shit-post-creating subjects of the fandom—don’t talk about this. We don’t talk about the creators knowing how much we like it, how shamelessly and pornographically we like their characters or how it drives us to the point of smutty fan content creation; and yet, here he is, using it against me.

My hands curl into the square lines of plaid on his chest, and he makes this sound—something between a whine and a sigh. Then he hugs me; and this isn’t the sweet gentle hug of before when he greeted me at the airport. Oh no. This is crushing, clumsy, and urgent.

My options are to keep myself curled up and have my nose crushed against his collarbone, or to open up and fit with him. And have you ever had one of those slow motion moments? Where you know you’re of two minds and both sides have really good reasons, and they drag it out and fight about it and finally reach a decision, but everything is happening too fast for your conscious mind to keep up? I’m sure the side that was for getting my nose crushed had some pretty valid arguments about how we were a fan, and we weren’t supposed to arch our necks against his, or nuzzle his shoulder or twine our fingers in his hair or breathe in his scent like a drowning woman…but they lost.

The other side’s trump card was probably this: It felt like the right thing to do. It felt natural, like falling to earth under the force of gravity—even though it wasn’t and I could hear the loyal fangirl in the back of my head screaming her lungs out about the trouble this was going to get me into and all of the terrible what ifs… But if you’ve ever felt body-warmed flannel against your lips, you know exactly why I told that part of my brain to fuck off. Because, just then, it didn’t matter that he was Terry Walsh, creator of Serenity Peaks. It mattered that he was Terry Walsh, the man who was worried about crowding me when I came to San Francisco, and listened when I talked about stories, and just wanted to see me smile.

“Alexis…” His voice is small, quiet, and reverent. He doesn’t need to be any louder when he’s so close to me.

“Yeah?” I prompt when he hesitates.

The stray bits of my hair move as he sighs, and he draws back and stands up. He keeps one of my hands and reaches up behind him with the other. Suddenly the room is filled with light, and I groan and screw my eyes shut.

“Why would you do that?” I accuse, rubbing at my eyes with my free hand. “I was looking up at you.”

“We should get you home before poor Elizabeth calls you again.”

“Oh, you remember her name, she’ll be thrilled,” I grumble, using our connected hands to help myself stand up.

“I might need to know it,” he rationalizes.

“If you didn’t walk me to the door and didn’t say anything she’d STILL invite you in for tea,” I tell him. I drop his hand, grab my phone back from the arm of the sofa, and then cross the room to grab my purse from where I dropped it earlier. “Let’s go, you can decide on what kind of tea you’d like her to invite you in for on the way.”

He laughs, and I make for the entryway. He bumps into me when I stop short. I lean back around the entryway hall to the couch and pick up Terry’s discarded script.

“Is this your only copy of this?” I ask him.

He tsks in the back of his throat and says, “Who only has one copy of their work?”

“Right, I’m taking this then,” I say, and stuff it into my bag. He immediately starts protesting, some flabbergasted bullshit about Bizney.

“You can’t! It’s… It’s Bizney’s property, technically, I think!”

“Then cover for me,” I tell him. “You already read it to me. What do you think I’m going to do, post it on the internet?”

I’m joking, but when I look back over my shoulder at him, he’s standing in the doorway of his hotel room, and the hall light shows me the flash of fear in his eyes. I turn the whole way around and say “Whoa! No! No, no, no! I would never! I just wanted to…” My voice trails off because I don’t want to tell him that I wanted to read it again and look for the influence of us in it.

But then he bites his lip, and I can’t do worried Terry, okay? I just can’t.

I bite my lip and stare at the wall on the opposite side of the hallway. “I wanted to read it again knowing what I know now about the influences behind it.” I hazard a glance at him, and the fear is gone.

“That’s okay, then,” he murmurs. “If it’s just for you.”

I spin right back around and start walking again. I’m not going to let myself stand there and moon about the joyful way his eyes just sparkled or how perfectly I’m sure I could fit my lips to that stupid surprised, open-lipped smile of his. “Hurry up, one with the car keys!” I say. “You’re losing this race too.”

“Oh, fuck, not again,” I hear him say. His hurried steps push me to take the stairs faster, and I can’t help but want to beat him to the car now.

Why do I always end up running like a little kid around this man?

I run anyway. I don’t want him to catch me and see my face after what I said to him, what he said to me. Maybe most people would read into this. Maybe most people would be overjoyed to feel like there was something big and strong and magnetic forming between themselves and someone they admired.

For me, it’s just another thing I could lose.

It’s only when I’m standing next to the car, panting with my hand firmly on the hood to declare my victory, that I feel I might have outrun all the possibilities of actualization of that strong, heavy magnetism. I watch as he comes out of the hotel entryway, a good way behind me, walking as if he was never really going to try to beat me. His gate is steady, measured, unyielding.

Maybe that magnetic feeling isn’t something I can outrun. Maybe it’s like a zombie apocalypse, where no matter what you do or how you try to reason with them, the zombies just keep coming, hunting you down slowly and steadily even when you pause to eat and sleep.

God I hate zombies.

There’s no way to fight something like that. That scares the shit out of me.

But as Terry smiles down at me from the stairs, I feel that fear melt and my panic ease.

Terry’s nothing like a zombie. He listens. He cares.

And today was good.

Letting my anxiety ruin that with my fear of the future isn’t fair to me. It isn’t fair to him.

I take a deep breath and smile back at him.

For now we’re beyond the future’s reach. For now, we haven’t turned into something with big stakes and drama and inevitable loss. So, for tonight at least, I can let myself be happy.

 

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