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Chapter 7: Can I?

I’m wired when I wake up. It’s always like this on big, important days. The inability to choose an outfit, the rushed breakfast, the arriving early… I change clothes three different times before I vault downstairs and shove an apple into my mouth as I run out the door. I’m so nervous about getting the train schedule wrong and showing up late that I show up to the train station ahead of schedule and manage to hop on an earlier train. As predicted, there I am on Ziv’s doorstep a half hour before the main office is actually supposed to open. The receptionist is there though, and he sees me through the glass office walls. He gives me a sympathetic look, lets me in, and then tells me to take a seat until Maria gets in. He even brings me a cup of coffee and a tiny muffin from the staff room.

I thank him and eat while repeating the name he just said in my head. Maria. Oh, thank goodness, they put me with Maria Diaz. I know her. She actually responded when I asked Ziv if I could interview one of their editors for a research project. I like Maria. See, things are already looking up. My brand of anxiety doesn’t play well with reality, though, so I’m still shaking in my boots. I try not to be nervous and fidgety until Maria comes out to get me. Her smile helps a little.

“Alexis,” she greets. She brushes her pretty black hair out of her face. She’s wearing the same rose flower earrings that bring out the glow in her brown skin she was wearing last time I saw her. “Good to see you back.”

“Good to be back,” I say, sounding so much more confident than I feel. I stand and follow her into the office. We pass by the wall-sized character decals, the library of possible manga acquisitions all still in the original Japanese, and the anime-swag laden conference rooms. Being back…it feels like hiding under a blanket with a flashlight during a thunder storm, giggling with your sister because the power’s out and there’s nothing to do but listen to the wind and rain and the power boom of thunder and just marvel at it all. It’s just as I remembered it, just as awesome as when I visited to interview Maria before—except now I have a desk here!

“You remember my desk,” Maria says, coming to a stop just after the designers’ desks. She then points to a desk by the window three rows back from her. “That one right there is yours.”

“So, close by, then.”

Maria shrugs. Her desk is on the aisle but set right up against the edge of the person to her right that has the window seat for their desk. “We want to make sure I’m accessible whenever you need something, and that you don’t feel crowded or watched or anything right off the bat.”

You hear that, anxiety? This is a considerate workplace too!

“Alright,” Maria says turning away and shuffling through things on her desk. “Since you’re new, you’re going to be playing catch up for a few days.”

“Right,” I acknowledge. Unless she had a new project starting that very minute, I’d have to play catch-up with whatever series she put me on.

Maria hands off a bunch of scripts to me. “Here’s that homework. These are old Skip-a-Beat! scripts, the originals that my translator gave me. I want you to study up on how the adaptation differs from the translation. I would have shared them with you before since I know you’re using Skip-a-Beat! as one of your case studies for your thesis, but you weren’t with the company then.” She winks. “Now that you are, I guess we can bend the rules and get you initiated.”

It’s difficult to contain myself when she’s essentially handing me everything I’ve wanted for the last three years of my existence. I thank her profusely and manage to make it back to my desk without crying. Once there, I give myself a moment to put myself back together, and then start in on comparing the translations to the published adaptations. This is like streamlining my thesis material. Before I know it, the work day is over and Maria is tearing me away from my desk for a celebratory first-day drink.

There are a lot of reasons to be grateful to Maria. To begin with, she’s showing me around town by inviting me out. For another, she’s making it easy to feel like work is going to be a place where they’ll appreciate me and actually be invested in my growth as a member of the industry, rather than sticking me away to do their holiday mailings. Third: I really needed this glass of wine.

She laughs as I ramble about all the things I noticed with how far through my Skip-a-Beat! comparison I got.

“Hang on a second.” She puts her wine down and gives me a hard look. “You took a break to eat lunch, right?”

“Oh.” I take a minute to think and then feel my cheeks heat up. My stomach chooses that exact time to grumble at me about the lack of food. “Um…”

She laughs at me and flags down the waiter and asks if we could get some food as well. I take a sheepish sip of my wine and think to myself. This is it, Alexis. This is everything you wanted. This is it, right here in your hands.

I mean, it’s really just wine right there in my hands, but it’s wine Maria bought me, and it’s proof that I get to do things like forget to eat lunch because I’m so in love with what I’m doing now.

Finally.

A wave of elation fills me up, and I feel so full of that I’m pretty sure I’ll never need another meal ever again. Then the bartender Maria ordered from sets some sort of hot meat sandwich thing down in front of me. The scent reaches my nose, my stomach growls, and I shovel it down while Maria chatters about industry knowledge she must know I’m dying to hear.

Maria catches the bill, calling it part of her first-day boss responsibilities. I go home, feeling warm and satisfied. Elizabeth asks about my day when I get in, and I rave to her. She insists we celebrate with more wine, and I go to bed early feeling content and worn out.

I wake up the next day before my alarm, ready to do it again.

It only takes me another day to start bringing things home with me. It’s Friday night, and I’ve still got scripts to compare. My own personal books showed up in amongst my other shipped belongings the day before, and since Maria has me working on two series I own, I bring the scripts home after work. I park myself at the dining room table so I can spread my work around me and read through my Friday night, fascinated by what I see as I compare the scripts. I even bring Terry’s script down from my room to see if his TV script reads more like the translated or adapted manga scripts. Maybe it’s a silly thing to wonder, but the formatting is slightly different. The manga scripts dictate panels, actions, sound effects, and speech balloons. Terry’s script is for a moving medium, so he references cues or types of cues rather than dictating the way sounds should be written.

I become so absorbed with my observations I stop paying attention to the time. It’s only when it starts getting easier to read without my lamp that I wonder what time it is. Wait… I look up at the window and frown. “Is that the sun?”

I press a button on my phone to check the time, only to discover my phone is completely and utterly out of battery and dead. I’m just getting up to check the kitchen clock when there’s a loud knock on the front door.

Fuck! It’s Saturday!

I dash down the front hall to the front door, unlock it as quickly as I can, and then throw it open. Terry stands on the porch with two cups of something warm and steaming in a tray in one hand, and a brown paper bag with what is undoubtedly some sort of food in the other.

“Sorry,” he says. “I tried calling but…” He looks me up and down, taking in the collared shirt I wore to work yesterday and the fleece pajama pants I changed into for the sake of a comfy Friday night in sometime around 10 PM the night before. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

He’s asking me this like it’s a fucking serious question. I could just die of embarrassment.

“What time is it?” I hiss.

“Uh…” He shifts, trying to look at his wrist without spilling the beverages. He stands up on his tiptoes and brings his hand down a bit.

“7:05—which means we’re cutting it close.”

“Whatever this is can’t wait?”

He blinks at me and says, “If I could slow down the earth’s rotation for you and keep the sun from rising, I would. But, since I can’t, and it’s the sunrise I’m trying to show you—”

I swear. “What time does the sun rise?”

He grins. “You know, I knew that when I set this up.” He kinda gestures with the coffee and bagel bag and says, “I bet I could find out if I had hands.”

“Be my guest,” I say. I hold the door for him, then realize my mistake when I try to squeeze by him in the hallway without jostling him. “You figure that out, I’m gonna go put on pants!”

He almost drops the coffee in his haste to put it down and catch me. “We don’t have time for pants.” He shoves one of the cups into my hands and fumbles with the bag, still holding me by the wrist to keep me from running away.

I open my mouth to argue, and he just fucking shoves a bagel into it, which is a super effective way of keeping me from arguing with him.

Terry uses “Bagel Brandish.” It’s super effective!

Food is a great weakness of mine. The warmth of whatever is in the cup he pressed into my hand seeps into my fingers and the smell of the whole grains from the bagel—he got whole wheat bagels, what a nerd—reaches my nose and the last throes of my resistance are over.

I tear off a bite of the bagel and chew. He seems satisfied that I’m not going to run off, and fiddles with his phone for a second. Then he swears.

He grabs scoops up his cup. “We gotta go or we’re gonna miss it.”

I dunno, I’ve been up all night. How important is one sunrise?

The other side of my brain kicks me and says, When the fuck are you ever going to watch a sunrise in San Francisco with Terry Walsh again, you bitch? Put on your flip flops and get the fuck out there.

I’m chewing for the duration of this inner monologue, and Terry is giving me this increasingly more and more panicked look. I push my tea at him and mumble “Hold this” around my mouthful of bagel and dash back up to my room where I quickly put on pants and flip flops.

I’m doing up my zipper when a thought hits me. Shit, do I need money? “Are we coming back, or do I need my purse?” I call down to Terry.

“So help me, Alexis, you don’t need anything, just get back down here and finish your breakfast!”

I can’t stop the laugh that rips out of me. I’m still giggling as I grab my ID, credit card, and keys and then throw myself back down the attic ladder. It’s not so much climbing down as it is falling and catching myself every few rungs—the product of actually growing up in a house with a barn and a hayloft. “You’re going to make a great mother one day,” I tell him as I walk through the kitchen to get back to where he is in the dining room.

“God knows I’ve had enough examples to learn by.” He hands me my drink and I take a sip as I pass him in the dining room’s entryway.

“Bagel?” he asks.

He must mean my lack of one. “You’ve never eaten a bagel with one hand and put on pants with the other?” I take another sip of my drink as his eyebrows skyrocket. “Come on, two-hander. Do we have a sunrise to catch or what? You’re the one who wanted me to save time.”

“I stand corrected,” he answers. He grabs the remaining bagels and sweeps past me. “Let’s go.”

I nod and follow him out before I comprehend the temperature.

Fuck, it’s cold outside in San Francisco! Dammit, northern California. Be hot like your southern cousin! Terry’s car gets warm quick since he was just using it a few minutes ago. We drive away from the city and up into the suburb hills. It’s getting lighter and lighter by the minute. Then we get to the top of the hill, and suddenly you can see the whole city peeking through the bay’s morning fog. The way the scenery progresses from valley to bay to skyline… It’s a beautiful progression of civilization against the mixture of trees I know from Oregon and the ones I know from my grandparents’ old home in LA. The iconic red dirt hills of the Californian wilderness bring it all together, and I feel a pang of nostalgia looking at them. I miss getting to see them when visiting my grandparents. If only I could still visit them…

Terry parks the car and bolts out. He turns back to stare at me incredulously when I don’t immediately follow suit.

Not the best idea to be nodding off or appreciating the scenery when one has a sunrise to catch, I guess.

I get out, still sipping at what did turn out to be Earl Grey tea. It occurs to me that I should remind him I like other kinds of tea. Then again, maybe not. Will it really matter in the future? I mean, how many times in the future do I really think this man is gonna be buying me tea?

Regardless, thoughts for later. Terry grabs my hand and swiftly walks us towards a path. He lets go of me when we get there and says, “Watch your step here.”

“Dude, isn’t here good? You can see every—”

“No.” Terry starts climbing down and beckons. “You’ll see when we get there. Hurry! The sunrise is gonna peak soon!”

I’m too tired to argue with him, but if he’d warned me there was going to be hiking involved I would have worn more than just flip flops. I hurry as much as I can, given my footwear, until I come upon a small alcove in the rock. Now I see why we came down here.

Here, tucked away in the rock face, there are no trees to impede even the peripherals of our view of the city. Plus the pale sandy color of the rock behind us makes the whole little cave seem to glow as the light increases.

“Whoa,” I say, completely blown away, even though I’m shivering. “How did you find this?”

“Shh,” he says. He takes his jacket off and drops it around my shoulders. “Watch.” He sits down on the edge of the cave. I sit down next to him.

I look out over the city. It’s still covered in fog. But as the sun finally comes up over the edge of the horizon and breaks over the city, the fog just fucking runs from it. I knew San Francisco had fog, but this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

We go from fog-covered city and valley to spare tendrils of mist that disappear down the roadways as they evaporate. I’m not sleepy anymore, I’m awake. That was cool, and now I know why this sunrise mattered. We could have seen the pretty clouds all pink and golden from anywhere, but we never would have seen the fog run from the sunrise from anywhere but someplace like this.

“Well,” I say, taking another sip of my tea and swallowing before continuing. “That was fast.”

“Yeah. The change is pretty instantaneous.”

I look away from the sunrise and over at him. He’s got this funny peaceful smile on his face like he could look at the sun forever, regardless of how hazardous to his eyesight it might be.

“It’s just this white blanket of fog covering everything until, bam!” He throws out his hands to both sides, leaning back away from the edge we’re sitting on so his hands can encompass the whole view. “Suddenly everything changes.”

I smirk and look back at the sunrise. “Change is always like that, I think.”

A small voice in my head pipes up, Yeah, don’t we know it. How many of those have we had already? Death, death, death, anxiety and depression, discovering our bisexuality, graduation, terrible job market, back to school, death, divorce, etc… Need we go on?

Internship, I spit back at the voice, taking another warming sip of my tea. Terry, I continue, scooting just a little closer to him, too tired and happy to be careful. Sunrises that scare the shit out of fog.

My anxiety backs down, properly cowed. It’ll let me have this moment, at least.

“So now can I ask how you found this place?” I ask.

“My parents found it,” Terry says. “Apparently Mom found it close to the beginning of their relationship, and Momma’s such a romantic.” Terry waggles his eyebrows.

I’m thankful he’s looking forward at the sunrise—although I suspect he’s watching me out of his peripheral vision. I just hope his peripheral vision isn’t good enough to notice the stupid way that eyebrow waggle made me forget about the cold. I’m so warm, I feel like I must be completely beet red. He took me to a place special to his parents!

“They shared it with me and my sister as soon as they were sure we were big enough to climb down here and not go falling off to our deaths.”

“Oh, so recently?”

His mouth drops open and he turns his head to raise his eyebrows at me. “You did not just…”

“Sorry. The lack of filter gets worse when I pull all-nighters.”

“Oho!” He laughs. “So that’s what was up with the collar and pajama combo, huh?”

He shifts so he’s facing me a bit more and crosses one leg over the other in that funny square-shaped way that people do and leans his hand into his chin. “What was so engrossing that it kept you up allllll night?”

I smile and my eyes dart to the side, not looking at anything in particular as I recall the absolute dream I’ve been in for the last few days.

“Just work,” I murmur. “There’s a lot to do here at the beginning, even though I’ve read so many of their books. It’s not the same as getting to make them.”

My eyes flick up to look at him, and my breath hitches in my throat.

He’s fucking beautiful; light spilling everywhere, setting his red hair alight, his eyes soft and warm and fixed on me, his mouth a gentle curve. He’s looking at me like he looked at that damn sunrise, and I’m stuck.

“W-what?” I finally manage to whisper. It doesn’t feel like anything more than a whisper is acceptable now. He’s made this place, this moment, feel holy. Fuck, how do people do that?

“Sorry,” he says, breaking his eyes away and sitting up straight. “I just, um, I never hear people say things like that in the tone you just did. It’s usually a complaint when people talk about work, you know? But you… you’re so happy about staying up all night to work.” His eyes flick back to me and away again and he chuckles awkwardly. “It’s, um…”

My mind is supplying a lot of finishers to that sentence, some of them appropriate, some of them not.

He mumbles something. “…ot,” is all I catch.

“I’m sorry,” I say, leaning in, “What?”

“Grah,” he sighs. Eloquent. “You have those moments where you know there’s a better way to describe something but you just fall back on the same damn words everyone else uses all the time because they’re familiar?”

“Yeah,” I answer with absolute certainty. “All the time. A lot when I’m around you.” Fuck, tired Alexis is dumb. Can’t she lie a little or just not be so honest?

Terry laughs and looks at me. There’s this strange mixture of hesitance and hope in his eyes, and I have no idea what to make of it, but again, I’m too tired to really let it bother me.

“What did you say?” I ask, incapable of much shame this early in the morning. The awake feeling is wearing off now that the sun has risen and I’ve run out of tea.

“The same thing anyone would say,” he replies softly.

“That doesn’t really answer the question, does it?” I say, but I’m getting sleepy, and I can feel myself nodding off with my head in my hand. It’s a good enough pillow, right?

Terry hums a noncommittal response, and then taps my forehead gently with a finger. “Don’t fall asleep here. We’ll fall if you make me carry you back up.”

“Aww, you’d carry meee?” I sing-song, eyes still closed, comfortable and disinclined to move. I grin and open my eyes anyway to see how he’s taking my teasing.

He’s got these stupid little pink spots on his cheeks. It’s not fair he gets to be so cool and so fucking adorable at the same damn time.

He’s right, though. I don’t feel like falling to my death now that things are finally going my way, so I hoist myself back to my feet and ooze around him to the path back up.

“Alright, where to next?” I ask over my shoulder.

He gets up and follows me. “Well… I did have a plan for the day…”

“Yeah? And then what happened?”

He laughs. “Apparently your work life.”

It takes me a second to process this. “Wait… We’re not going because I was up all night?”

“San Francisco will still be there next time I’m in town,” Terry says. “You’ll enjoy it more if you’re awake for it.”

I glare at him momentarily in mock annoyance. He’s right about that too, but it still feels like getting robbed. Sleep does sound good, though, I think with a yawn.

“Fiiiine,” I say, going to my side of the car. He unlocks it and we get in. Maybe it’s the slightly hollow feeling in my stomach or the new amount of traffic now that everyone’s woken up, but the way back seems to take a lot longer. I don’t want him to leave. Next time he’s in town, he said. When is that? Is he leaving soon?

It’s hard to keep my eyes open and worry at the same time. I can feel myself sinking into the car seat. I’ve never slept well in cars, but I’ve never done very well with all-nighters either, and the tired is finally winning out…

The next thing I’m really cognizant of is waking up.

Which alarms me, because if I’m waking up that means I was asleep and when did that happen?

I jolt up, needing to be aware of my surroundings and—

I’m in bed. In my attic room. At Elizabeth’s.

I lunge for my phone, which is still dead and useless in telling me the time, but I still haven’t unpacked all of my things yet so there’s no other clock in the room.

I climb down the ladder into the kitchen to find a clock. What fucking time is it? Did I actually go out with Terry or was that a dream? Did he come and leave? Did I miss him completely? What—

It’s 2:14 in the afternoon. I’m not in my pajamas, and I’m wearing the pants I put on while multitasking with that bagel, so that’s a good sign, but Terry…

How did he even get me up that ladder?

I dash down the hall to see if his car is still there, and as I pass the dining room there’s a flash of red plaid. I backpedal and peek around the corner. There he is. Just sitting at the dining table, flipping through my scripts and my manga and nonchalantly sipping a cup of something—because no one ever goes unrefreshed in Elizabeth’s house for very long. He’s looking at me over the rim of his cup, and raises one hand in greeting, as if it’s perfectly natural for him to be here.

Terry uses “Composed Disposition.”

Alexis faints.

Really, though, weak knees apparently are a real thing, and I lean against the wall before they can give way.

“You’re still here,” I breathe.

“Yeah…” His eyes flick between my work and me. “Sorry, I know I didn’t ask.”

“Whatever,” I say, still not sure I’m completely awake and not just hallucinating. “I don’t mind.”

I just want to reach out and touch him. I’m happy and relieved and wistful. Why am I wistful? What the fuck is there to be wistful about? But he’s still here. Oh, he’s still here.

“Did you get enough sleep?” he asks.

“Maybe?” I reply. Who cares, I think.

He grins. “Y’hungry?”

“Why are you always feeding me?” I ask.

“People eat, right?” Terry flicks his eyes about as if he isn’t sure and I guffaw.

I sag against the wall, the adrenaline wearing off. “I didn’t think you’d still be here,” I murmur.

Terry puts his cup down, and offers me a slight smile. “I’m still here,” he says.

“Can I…” I reach my hands out towards him kind of vaguely. I want to touch him, to know that he’s there—him, not my image of him, but the flesh and blood version with two mothers and whole wheat bagels and dumb jokes.

A spark of sorts goes through his expression. A moment later he gets up from the table and takes a step towards me, just one, and then stops, looking hesitant. It’s like he’s unsure if he should take more or not. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.”

I step over to him and slide my arms around his waist, pulling him into me and burying my face in the soft flannel just over his collarbone.

His arms settle across my shoulders, holding me gently, stroking my hair slowly as I take a few slow breaths, reassuring myself with his scent and his warmth and the steady, full beat of his heart that he really is here and that this isn’t just some stupid dream I’ve invented to torture myself with because I’m a terrible person who falls in love with fiction.

He nuzzles the top of my head, and I nuzzle his collarbone, and I feel all the stress and tension go again. If they put what touching him did to me into a pill, I would take it every day. Fuck yoga, hugging is the shit.

“How did you get me up the ladder?” I ask finally.

Terry chuckles softly against my hair. “How do you know I carried you?” he asks.

“You said you would.”

“Touché.”

“So?”

“Skillfully,” he replies.

“Heavier than you expected, huh?”

“I believe the term Elizabeth used for you was ‘solid,’” Terry replies.

“S’a good word.”

“She does have a way with them.”

Doesn’t she?”

We both chuckle, the small atmosphere of our words and breath secluding us in our own little world.

“Where is she now?”

“She went out to work. Phil too.”

“And they left you here with me all alone?” I gasp, mocking shock.

Terry clears his throat. “Elizabeth may have said some mildly embarrassing things about young people and how she expected me to control myself.”

“Sounds about right.”

I peek around him, and tap his shoulder to get his attention, and then gesture to my books. “Is that when you found my stuff?”

“Yeah, after I got you in bed.”

Can’t help it, who couldn’t waggle their eyebrows at that. Ugh, such an embarrassment. Why do I do these things to myself? But he blushes, so ten points to me!

“You know what I mean!” he protests.

“I do.”

“I was just curious,” he says. “I mean, it must have been good to keep you up all night—”

“Most things that keep me up all night usually are.”

His head falls to my shoulder with a groan, and I laugh.

“I’m on a roll today, huh?”

“Sure,” he says. “Let’s call it that.”

I give him a small squeeze and nuzzle him again.

“Did you enjoy it? That’s a shoujo series, which means the Japanese usually market it towards girls—”

“But we both know gendered marketing is bullshit, and yeah, I did.” He huffs. “I did have a question, though. What exactly—” He cuts off, turns in my arms, and tries to grab one of my translation scripts. I relinquish most of my hold on him, only keeping one arm around his waist so we can both turn to the table.

“What exactly are these? Like, they’re pretty similar, but the notes on this script make it seem like it was written by someone other than the editor…”

“Oh. You know, sometimes I forget people don’t know how this works,” I laugh. “I’ve just been studying it for so long, you know?”

He’s looking at me with that by-now-familiar gleam he gets in his eye whenever I talk about writing. He knows.

I clear my throat and pick up one of the scripts. “This is the translator’s rendition of the story. Once a story is translated, it then goes to the editor of the manga, and the editor adapts the translation so that the story can evoke the same experience for English readers that it did for Japanese ones. Or at least, that’s the theory as Ziv believes in it. Adaptation is a tricky line to walk, because you can adapt something too little and have it fall flat, or too much and have the material suddenly become a caricature of itself like… Did you ever see any early 90s anime?”

Terry nods. “Ash Ketchup was my man.”

Oh good, he’ll get all my Pocket Monsters references.

“Well, think like that, where they call rice balls jelly donuts because they think little girls won’t watch Sailor Luna if she doesn’t eat sweets all the time.”

“Oh, ugh, I remember that,” Terry brings a palm to his head. “So that’s what was going on, huh?”

I nod. “I’m surprised you didn’t cover at least a little of this when you were at school. I mean, you studied animation, right?”

“Yeah, but not adaptation. I was a little focused on creation.” He shrugs.

I frown. “Well, there’s creation involved with adaptation.” I flip over to a passage I remember reading last night/that morning. “See how the translation has this same line three different times?”

“Yeah?” Terry says.

I hunt out the corresponding section in the manga. “Look at how it’s presented here.”

I watch Terry’s eyes as they flick over the page and slowly widen. “Oh! They changed it.” He picks up the book to look closer. “Wow, this really adds to the scene…”

“Yeah. Exactly.” I sigh and press the book to my chest. “I could just study this forever.”

“I don’t think ‘study’ is necessarily the right word for what you’re doing now.”

I look over and meet his eyes.

He’s kinda close. “I mean, yeah it’s an internship, but look at all this…”

I can’t help it, my eyes flick down to his lips for a second as he speaks before jumping back up to his eyes.

“It’s just research,” I breathe.

“It’s work,” he breathes back, insistent.

“Part-time, that I’m paying for in order to get graduate credit, that might not go anywhere…”

I feel like I’m not arguing with him about my internship anymore for some reason.

“Wait… you’re only part-time?”

I blink, not having expected that to be his response. “Y-yes?”

“So… theoretically, you’ve got… say, another part-time job’s worth of time on your hands at the moment?”

“Um, yeah, actually. I was going to ask Elizabeth if she might be able to hook me up since she does bookselling, you kn—”

“No, no, don’t do that.”

“What? Why not? Bookselling is an importa—”

“Oh, no, totally, but you’re not going to be a bookseller.”

I just gape at him open-mouthed. Like, yeah, I hope I don’t end up a bookseller, but anything is better than nothing in this industry, and how can he just be so fucking sure?

“Do you hate flying?”

“Okay, see, what does that have to do with aaaanyth—”

“We’re doing a storyboard session at the end of next week.”

I thought I was gaping before.

“What are you saying?” I ask. “I can’t… I can’t come to that.”

“Yes you can.”

Nope, back to dream mode. I’m asleep somewhere and this is a dream. That’s the only explanation for this. “I’m not an animator! Offering you my take on something you’re working on is one thing, but a storyboard session? That’s—”

“The visual equivalent of the presentation of a script that’s been okayed. You work with comics. You know what good visual representation looks like.”

“You don’t know that.”

He taps the book still in my hands with a knuckle. “Yes I do.”

“I’m not employed at Bizney! What if they—”

“I’ll create an internship position for you.”

“In a week?!”

“Trust me, kid. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.” Then he fucking winks.

My cheeks go hot and I look away. “Buck is rubbing off on you,” I mutter.

“Nah, I hear it’s just swagger.” He catches my eye again. “People are into that, right?”

“Your team isn’t going to like you bringing me in,” I say instead of replying to his question. “They’re going to ask you what sort of credentials I have. I don’t have—”

“You’ve got plenty! It’ll be part-time internship, and the moment they hear you talk about the show they’re going to think you’re as amazing as I do. I mean, just look at you. I know I haven’t read anything of yours except your blog, but both there and just in daily conversation, your amount of insight is… momentous! I know it’s scary because you’re just starting out and you feel like you have to make something amazing, but you’ve got what it takes, and you’re going to shine, and I just want to…”

He looked away from me when he started speaking, started gesturing when he got excited, and now at the end he looks back down, and I wish I had the strength to turn away, because I’m about to cry.

I love this man’s work. Love it. I love the thing he made. And here he is praising me, my work, my potential. Telling me he wants to make me shine.

“Shit.” His hand leaps to my face and his thumb strokes away a tear. “Tell me what I said, I’ll take it back.” He hugs me to his chest like he thinks if he holds me tight enough he can stop my tears from falling—which of course only makes them bleed into his shirt. “You don’t have to come if you really don’t want to you. You don’t have to. I just… I just…”

“I’ll come,” I say into his shirt. Of course, what comes out is more along the lines of “I’bl knnm.”

Terry draws back a little so my face isn’t mooshed against him anymore. “What?”

I wipe my face with my hands and try again. “I said I’ll come. I want to, I want to come, I want…” My fingers curl into the flannel over his chest and I look up, trying to see if he’s hearing me, if he’s hearing how grateful I am and how much I want it, and what it means to me.

We just look at each other, like words aren’t enough to communicate this, like they haven’t been invented yet because feelings this big don’t fit into the stupid fucking alphabet.

His hand comes back to my cheek and I say his name and he breathes out like it’s my fingers whisking ice cream off his neck all over again. I pull at him a little when he does that because I need him closer, and I duck my eyes when I say this because I don’t want to look at him if he says no. I try to say, but only manage to whisper, “Can I kiss you?”

I know it’s stupid. I know it’s dumb. Bizney probably has all sorts of red tape with people dating each other, even if they’re just interns, but I can’t contain the way he’s made me feel. I can’t. I know I’m a fan, I know he’s famous and I’m nobody, but he wants me to shine. He doesn’t see some crazy girl that just loves his shows and someone he’s not—he’s looking at me. He wants to look at me. And, dear sweet tea, I want to look at him.

Terry sighs through his nose and grips my hair with more force than is actually necessary, but in the pleasant sort of way that makes sparks run down one’s spine and settle between one’s legs.

“Do I get to kiss you back?” His voice is heady and low and has this extra thick layer to it that I don’t think I’ve ever really heard before.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Elizabeth told you to control yourself.”

I run my hands down from his chest over his stomach and settle them at his hips, where I can feel the waistband of his jeans through his shirt. I let my fingers rest there as I raise my face to his, the curve of my open-mouthed smirk brushing against his cheek.

He grins. “Oh yeah, you’re going to be great in next week’s session…” He turns towards me, and I raise a hand to guide him to me. Unhurriedly, I fit our lips together—serious, all traces of the playful smirk gone, because this is something made of risks and impossibilities and it’s heavy and rich like the taste of pomegranate seeds in a traditional Greek mourning cake.

When we come up for air, I’m not quite sure I remember how to properly breathe. It doesn’t really seem all that important with his fingers in my hair and his breath on my throat.

This has gotta be every fan’s wet dream, I think to myself, and completely dissolve into giggles.

Terry holds me in his arms, giving me this slightly baffled look.

“Okay,” he says when it’s been a minute or so and I don’t show any sign of stopping, the giggles renewing every time I look at him for too long. “I’ve heard of being kissed silly, but I did not envision it this way.” He chuckles and shakes his head, the laughter rumbling through him and through me pleasantly. “What the hell is so funny?” he asks. My giggling must be slowly infecting him, because he can’t say anything without laughter breaking it up into smaller pieces.

“Do you have any idea how many fangirls would kill to be me right now?”

He lowers his eyelids a little and dips his head to mine and says, “I doubt any of them would kiss as well, though.”

“You haven’t read the real person fanfiction, have you?” I tell him.

His eyes go wide and he looks at me in amazement. “You have?

I blush and he leans in close. “Am I as good as they make me out to be?” he asks.

“Kiss me again and I’ll tell you,” I retort. He obliges and I merge up into it. It feels natural, like the way rain moves to the earth. Although rain doesn’t happen all that often in California, so maybe I need a better metaphor. Kisses are hard to describe when they’re this good. We kissed, it was good.

Of course, this is when my constantly growly stomach decides to go off again: while we’re still lip locked. I snort and he chuckles, and before long we’re both choking up with laughter and have to break away from each other to breathe and to laugh.

“So, people do eat,” Terry says.

I shake my head and pull away to head into the kitchen. He follows me and I dig out sandwich fixings, then give him a thoughtful look.

“What does the great Terry Walsh put on his sandwiches?” I ask him, completely straight-faced.

He manages to look embarrassed and happy at the same time, like he can’t believe I’d actually call him that. I’m really not joking, but he can take it that way so long as I get to say it.

“Really, anything’s fine.”

“Such humility from one so talented,” I say, reaching for the mustard.

He catches my hand and squeezes it lightly. “Please stop it. I’m… I’m not any more special than you.”

Forget fucking sandwiches, I could kiss him all over again, this adorable, thoughtful, sentimental man. Of course he’s more special than I am. He’s got to know that. I know that because of his show. He’s already done something, made something that touched so many people. I would give anything to do that, and it’s his daily life. What about that doesn’t translate as some sort of importance?—but he doesn’t think of himself that way, and that’s what makes me want to stop him from saying such sweet things with my lips.

I always hated people who thought they were better than me. Suppose I have my father to thank for that one—but Terry’s nothing like him.

I draw Terry to me and nuzzle his shoulder with my nose. “You can make your own sandwich then, normal guy.”

“Okay,” he murmurs into my hair. He takes the mustard and gets to work.

We’re nearly finished with making our sandwiches, and maybe in the middle of a good-natured war over the last few pickles, when the phone rings.

Now, normally, I don’t pay any attention to phones that aren’t covered by my phone plan. This time is no different, but when it goes to voicemail and my mother starts blabbering about how my phone is dead and she didn’t know how else to get ahold of me, Terry wins the pickle war as I sprint for the phone.

Where does Elizabeth even keep her landline?

Mom’s halfway through something about Lizzy and college when I finally find it.

“Mom, Mom, slow down, I’m here.”

“Oh, thank goodness! Why is your phone off?”

“Sorry, not off. Dead. I… got caught up in work. Is everything okay?”

My eyes dart back towards the kitchen when I tell Mom I was caught up in work. It’s not technically a lie, but the way Terry waggles his eyebrows at his sandwich is enough to remind me that I’m omitting some pretty important other contributing factors. A tiny thrill runs through my stomach, but I stifle it when I ask my next question. “Are you okay?”

My mother heaves a big sigh and says, “Sort of? Lizzy decided she wants to go to school in San Francisco.”

I frown. “What about her friends? She wanted to stay at UW because she’s comfortable there, right?”

“Well, with Avida not talking to her, your friend Jane moving to Portland, and Slyvanna transferring to some other school Lizzy has absolutely no interest in…”

Then my heart races. “So she’s coming here? Which school?”

“I don’t remember the name, some comics program or something—”

“That’s AWESOME!”

My mother makes an annoyed sound and I remember she called sounding troubled.

“Well, in that she’ll be close to you and Elizabeth and studying what she wants to be, yes, but the paperwork really isn’t easy, and—”

“Wait, paperwork? What paperwork?”

“The paperwork for explaining the sudden change in expenses for my side of the divorce case.”

I groan and sit down heavily in one of the dining room chairs. I can see Terry’s head pop up to focus on me, but I don’t want him to see any more of this stupid stuff than he has to.

“Yeah?” I say. “And where do I come in?”

“I just want you to talk to your sister. Apparently your father tried to talk to her about money again and she’s upset about it.”

“How did he even find out she was transferring?”

“Well, you’re not talking to him, and neither is she, so I thought I should—”

“Dammit, Mom, you didn’t!”

“He needed to know, it’s not like I could change that!”

“These are the sorts of things you do through your lawyer! So you don’t ever have to talk to him again, and can keep him from using your feelings for him to manipulate you!”

My mother sighs again. She sounds tired. I know she’s tired. I know I shouldn’t yell. I don’t know what else to do, though. When she’s constantly walking herself into situations that leave her crying and financially exploited, what am I supposed to do?

“I know,” she says. “You’re right. It’s just hard.”

I soften. “I know, Mom.”

There’s a pause—my mother probably caught up in her own thoughts about this whole mess of a situation just like I am, I’m sure.

“Anyway,” my mother says, “your sister is just upset again, and she won’t listen to me since I’m reason he found out. You’ve always been so helpful when she gets like this…”

“Yeah, don’t worry, Mom, I’ll give her a call or something so she can vent.”

“Thank you, dear. It’ll be such a weight off my mind… I hate how this is affecting you girls.”

I smirk kind of sardonically. Yeah, right. If she hates it so much, why does she keep making choices like this? It’s not like this is happening to just her, all of us are upset. Lizzy was Dad’s favorite. She’s taking this way harder than I am. Mom loved him—but that’s not an excuse to keep doing things that hurt the rest of us.

At least she called me. At least she told me what I could do this time. That’s progress from how she was during the grief. I should give a little credit where credit is due.

“No problem, Mom. Good luck with everything. Love you.”

“I love you too, sweetie. Oh! Wait! How was the first week on the job?”

“Great. Half week, but really great. Unbelievably great, you have no idea how great.” This time, my eyes do wander over towards Terry. He’s standing in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen, holding two plates with sandwiches and watching me. So what if I’m only looking at his shoes? He’s still there, real and solid and holding food.

“Glad to hear it, darling.”

“Yeah, makes me pretty happy too,” I say, twirling my finger in the phone cord like I used to when I was a teenager. “Anyway, I really need to eat…”

“Oh, say no more, I’ll talk to you later. Turn your phone back on!”

I snort. “Yes, Mother.”

“Talk to you later, sweetie.”

“Bye.”

I hang up and kind of stare at the wall in front of me for a minute before sighing and looking up at Terry.

“Soooo,” he says, finally coming into the room. He lays the plates on the table and sits down. I turn my chair to face the table again. “What was that?”

I plaster a smile on my face and say, “Lizzy’s coming to San Francisco to study comics!”

“That sounds like good news.”

“Yeah! It really is.”

I pick up my sandwich and take a big bite so I don’t have to say anything else, but Terry isn’t eating. He’s fucking calculating, isn’t he? Guh, no use hiding stuff from a guy this sharp. I mean, I just kissed him. It wouldn’t kill me to let him in a little.

I swallow, sigh, and put my sandwich back down.

“Sorry,” I say. “You weren’t born yesterday.”

“Thankfully not,” he says.

I feel the corner of my mouth tip up, acknowledging the joke. “Lizzy’s transfer is affecting some of my parents’ divorce stuff, and apparently my father tried to talk to my little sister again.”

“Bad thing?”

“Very bad thing.”

I push my hair out of my face and continue, “But it’s okay, Mom just asked me to make sure she’s okay. And she will be. She’ll be fine. We all will.”

“Okay.” Terry finally picks up his sandwich, but hesitates, still not taking a bite. “But you’ll tell me if I can help?” He sounds so lost. Like he’s uncertain what the best thing to do in this situation is. After so many other people who thought they knew what I needed, it’s refreshing to have someone let me come to them.

“Yeah,” I promise.

He gives me a quick smile and then finally takes a bite of his sandwich. I follow his example.

We eat in silence. It’s been a while since I haven’t felt the need to talk to someone during a meal, and I take another bite with a smile, comfortable here, now, next to him.

Fuck the little bumps; life rocks.

Elizabeth gets home just as we’re washing up and invites Terry to dinner, as any host of Elizabeth’s caliber would, but Terry begs off saying he should really go home and get some work done. I turn this over in my mind, wondering about that, because hadn’t he set aside the whole day to show me around?

I ask him about it when we’re at the door and he’s about to leave.

“Well, I had set the whole day aside for you,” he says, “but now I’m gonna have to spend some of my work week begging Bizney to let me have a new intern.” He winks at me, and I grin back at him.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” I say, reaching out a hand to him.

He takes my hand and holds it. “Don’t.” He dips a kiss into the palm of my hand and then lets go. He jots down the porch stairs to the sidewalk. There he turns around, hands in his pockets, every inch an over-excited puppy of a man walking away from someone he really doesn’t want to leave. “I’ll see you in a week, yeah?”

I nod, rubbing the inside of my palm happily. “Yeah.”

He smiles this radiant thing of a smile at me—we probably could power street lights off of sun-bright smiles like that—and throws a hand up in a wave before getting into his car. I wave back and then go inside, not trusting myself to watch him drive away without running after him.

Once I get there, I lean back against the door. I stare at my hand and try to process the day I’ve had. It kind of resists and I just end up grinning like an idiot and nuzzling my palm with my nose because I’m dumb and the skin his lips touched feels like a souvenir, proof that all of this is really happening.

Elizabeth calls down the hall and asks me if I’d like be willing to pop out for Chinese food, and I run back to the kitchen to talk logistics with her.

If nothing else, having to plan dinner definitely proves that this isn’t a dream.

I take a moment to take it all in while sitting in the driver’s seat of Elizabeth and Phil’s little blue car on my way to pick up kung poa chicken and vegetable lo mein. Then I break out into a smile and punch my hand through the open sun roof with a whoop.

I really can’t wait for next week.

 

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