So let me tell you about my friend Tom Wong. He is a hilarious karaoke master who will carry your drunk ass home and watch Project Runway reruns with you until you sober up. He is a talented writer who has totally worked on actual TV shows. He is also a gigantic nerd who can blather for hours about Starcraft and immediately knew what I meant when I started ranting about D&D alignments mere moments after we first met.
Tom is one of the first people I send my writing to when I’m working on something and he gave tons of helpful feedback on One Con Glory. In fact, he was so willing to talk about OCG with me all the damn time that he eventually started suggesting “joke” alternative storylines involving “The Tom Character.” (Most of these storylines involved TTC getting naked with Jack Camden. In a totally believable and organic way, of course.) We laughed about it. But when I was working on “With Violet Light,” I started thinking: this story could absolutely use The Tom Character. Also, if I were to add TTC, maybe he would finally shut up about it. So I did. And this is the one and only time I will actually cop to basing a character completely on a real person. Yes, Evan Chang is Tom Wong.
Now that you’ve all read “With Violet Light” (and if you haven’t, all the parts are collected here), I thought it would be fun to interview Tom and get his impressions on how The Tom Character turned out. Warning: there are SPOILERS for the story in the following piece.
Oh, and the pic above is Tom doing his best Julie pose (based on Max Riffner’s illustration) with my husband Jeff. Perhaps someday he will have his own Evan illustration to emulate!
Tom: [Affecting high-pitched “girl” voice] “What was it like having a character based on you?” [Affecting smarmy “awards show” voice] “Oh, it was such an honor! I felt really touched that you think of me that way!”
Sarah: Yeah, everyone will know that’s not what you said. Or at least, everyone who knows you will. Can you tell the nice people reading—because they haven’t had the great privilege of listening to our many conversations—what your initial pitch was for The Tom Character?
Tom: I think basically all of my pitches were just to put me in the story—which means someone super-smart, really good-looking, and irresistible to everybody. Most comic bookish stories don’t have that hot gay guy who’s just gonna go and, like, wow everybody. Which is my basic life experience. But seriously: I was just joking. You didn’t have to include a Tom Character.
Sarah: You say you were just joking, but you seemed to have a lot of rather detailed thoughts about what The Tom Character would be doing in the story.
Tom: Well, it’s just always what I think that type of character should be doing, which is seducing all the hot guys. But I was very surprised when there actually was a Tom Character.
Sarah: You were a beta reader for “With Violet Light”—when did you realize you were reading about you?
Tom: As soon as there was an Asian male in the story, I was pretty sure it was based on me. And as I read, I sensed he was based on me. My initial reaction was, “Oh no, she better not.” And then you did.
Sarah: Um, excuse me, but there are other Asian males in my life. Including my husband. Why did you assume it was you?
Tom: Of course it’s gonna be based on me. It wouldn’t be based on [your husband] Jeff, because he wasn’t the romantic interest. And Julie’s based on you.
Sarah: SHE IS NOT.
Tom: Puh-leeze! [Makes patented “Girl, please” face.] My expression needs to make it into your transcript somehow…
Tom: Anyway, I figured I’d be the next choice, because who else would you want to write about? I know I’m coming off great here. Everyone reading will be like, “Who is this douchebag?!”
Sarah: You’re just…being you. I thought maybe the “I Hate The Battlestar Galactica Finale” bit is what tipped you off, that being one of your trademark speeches and all.
Tom: That was a complete confirmation that it was supposed to be me. But I had a feeling.
Sarah: Okay, so then you go, “Oh no, she better not.” What was your fear?
Tom: I didn’t want you to attach him to Braidbeard—the really annoying guy! The guy no one likes!
Sarah: But why did you think that was where it was going? Because he’s introduced very innocuously: he’s just the guy who works at the comic book shop.
Tom: Because if the character’s based on me, he’s going to have some sex at some point and there was only one option. And it wasn’t a good option. You’re an efficient writer, which is good—so you wouldn’t just introduce some random character, give this character a name, set up a relationship with your main character if he’s not gonna have a bigger role down the line.
Sarah: Thanks—I’ll take that as a compliment coated in indignation. I just want to say this for the record, though: you were also a beta reader on One Con Glory, and you kept saying, “Braidbeard sounds HOT.”
Tom: That was before you told me what he was really like. And also, I was just trying to get on your nerves, because you kept saying, “He’s so annoying!” I was like, “Oh, he seems hot.” And then you were like, “NO HE’S NOT HE’S NOT HOT.” So I was like, “Oh, that annoys Sarah. I’m feeling like I want to annoy her.”
Sarah: Alright, dear friend, setting that aside: now that you know the whole story and The Tom Character’s role in everything, how do you feel?
Tom: Well, I like The Tom Character. I like the name Evan. I like that he’s smart, a little spirited. Obviously adorable. What I don’t like is that his boyfriend’s so annoying. [“Girl, please” face.] I have to say, I wouldn’t put up with that. But then again, he’s not me.
Sarah: In Evan’s defense, I will say that he kind of doesn’t put up with it, and I think that’s why Braidbeard likes him. When Braidbeard is doing his usual annoying thing with Ghost World, Evan’s kind of like, “No, shut up.” And then he schools him, which I think is what you would do.
Tom: I would school him, then I would dump him.
Sarah: Okay, I can see that. I’m sure you’ve had many other characters inspired by you inserted into other works of fiction, but how weird was this particular instance?
Tom: I don’t think it’s weird. I will say this is the first time that I know of someone putting a character based on me in something. But the character’s minor, so you don’t have to go too far into his psyche: it’s not like you’re putting all of me on the page. So it’s not uncomfortable that way. And also, I think the character is pretty much positive all around. I don’t think anyone would dislike this character. It’s one thing if this character were, say, Braidbeard: “Guess what, Braidbeard’s based on you, Tom!” I’d be like, “Do I act like that?!” I would say Evan is a less annoying version of me. He’s not a complete asshole.
Sarah: You’ve talked about why you disapprove of Evan’s storyline here—I think you had an alternative, fanfic-y storyline in mind?
Tom: That’s a jokey alternative storyline. But yeah, I actually think Evan should’ve gotten Jack. For me, that would’ve been the happiest ending, the most suitable, and the most realistic.
Sarah: But that’s kind of unhappy for the protagonist, no?
Tom: I don’t know if it’s unhappy for her! I think she’d be like, “Whatever. I had my time with him, it was sweet.” She’s a realist. No, no, I would never deprive Jules of her true love.
Sarah: That’s very nice of you.
Tom: Also, it’s not Evan’s story. If I were to co-opt your character, I’d write a different story. It wouldn’t have to involve Jack! It would involve a different hot guy.
Sarah: Well, sometimes, supporting characters get their own stories. Would you want Evan to have his own, like, stand-alone spin-off or something?
Tom: I think that would be an interesting character to explore, but honestly, I kind of think Braidbeard would be more fun to write. The Adventures of Gay Braidbeard. I don’t think the premise could be that he and Evan are still dating. It would be that they are no longer dating, but they’re friends and Evan is trying to get him to go out and date.
Sarah: Like his Gay Fairy Godmother?
Sarah: It’s interesting that you once again cast yourself as the supporting character in this story. Is that just because you’re so perfect, you have nothing left to learn?
Tom: Probably. No—Evan is, in a lot of ways, an idealized version of me. I’m kind of an ass. So he’s too grounded and pleasant and those characters are less interesting as the leads. Unless you want to give Evan some flaws, his journey’s not going to be as interesting. Braidbeard’s got a lot of flaws. Braidbeard is basically all flaws.
Sarah: Is there a flaw you’d give Evan, then?
Tom: Maybe an Evan flaw would play off a Braidbeard flaw. Like, Braidbeard’s really jaded: maybe Evan is just too innocent.
Sarah: But he still hates the finale of Battlestar Galactica, right?
Tom: He so does.
Okay, folks—this is the last part of our saga. The end!
But is it…(dun dun DUN)…THE END?! As in, the ultimate fate of these characters? The period on their unwieldy, reference-laden sentence?!
The answer is simple: I don’t know. This does feel a bit like a natural stopping place, but sometimes random things (like the phrase “male Star Sapphire”) make me think of other random things and then it leads to writing words down and suddenly I’m asking Paul if he can draw Julie in a Green Lantern outfit.
So. We’ll see. Enjoy the final installment of this little story, and please come back next Friday— I’ll have a special behind-the-scenes extra to share!
“There is something…sort of funny about all this.”
Layla and I are sitting on the Comics Bee’s slightly grotty carpet, propped up against the counter, my head leaning on her shoulder for support. All the other customers have long fled. Braidbeard and Evan are having a hushed-but-spirited debate about Ghost World over in the indie corner, a soft chorus of passionate whispers and the occasional “actually…” wafting through the shop.
“Oh?” I snuffle pathetically into a crumpled tissue. “Why don’t you enlighten me?”
She smiles at me, zen-like. “Well. Tonight we learned you and Jack have yet another thing in common: really bad gaydar.”
“Oh, shut up,” I say, but there’s no heat behind it.
“Just teasing,” she says. She squeezes my shoulder. “He’ll come back.”
“Maybe,” I say, frowning into space. “He turned his phone off, so I have no idea where he is. I’ve just…never seen him blow up like that.”
Layla nods and we sit there for a second in contemplative silence. My eyes zero in on a Witchblade poster plastered to the wall above us. There’s something almost soothing about scrutinizing the ridiculous, anatomically impossible lines of her form, something that turns my brain off and keeps me from thinking. I trace my gaze over her mostly-naked ass.
“Listen…Jules.” Layla’s voice cuts through my borderline pervy thoughts. “I know our matchmaking plan didn’t exactly work out like we thought it would, but I gotta say: it was really fun hanging out with you? Like, in a girly way? Maybe we could do it more often?”
“Eh?” I sit up straight and shoot her a puzzled look. “We do hang out. Like, all the time.”
“I know, but I mean…just us. Without the boys. And maybe we could do girly stuff, like, um…get our nails done? Get cocktails…”
“…with little umbrellas in them?” I finish, cocking a bemused eyebrow. “You really do want us to be like Sex and the City, don’t you?”
She nods eagerly. “I think we could pull it off. And I get a little sick of all the comics-and-action-movies talk.”
I laugh. “Okay,” I say. “You are, honestly, the first real girlfriend I’ve had. And I couldn’t ask for a better one.”
“Hold that thought,” she murmurs, her eyes fixating on something over my shoulder. I turn, following her gaze to the Comics Bee entrance. And there’s Jack, looking exhausted, sheepish, and just a little bit lost.
He crosses over to us, and I stand, trying to prepare what I want to say to him. But before I can open my mouth, Layla’s positioned herself in front of me, hands on her hips.
“Listen, you,” she says, jabbing her pointy index finger into Jack’s chest. “Jules is my girl and I’m not gonna let anyone stomp all over her. So you better be ready to explain yourself, or I’ll…I’ll kick you. In a not nice place! Cause that’s what girlfriends do for each other!!”
Jack holds up his hands in surrender, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I have a really good apology prepared,” he says. “Awards-worthy.”
“Well…okay.” Layla steps to the side, still frowning at him, then turns and lays a hand on my arm. “How was that?!” she asks anxiously. “Super Charlotte-y?”
“More like Samantha,” I say, patting her hand. “Beautifully done. A-plus.”
“Yes!” she exclaims, pumping her fist in the air as she trots off toward the indie section.
Jack stuffs his hands in his pockets, his gaze shifting from side to side and finally meeting mine. “So. I overreacted.”
I cock an eyebrow and look at him expectantly. “Uh-huh…?”
“What I said, the way I acted, that was…incredibly dumb. Almost He-Man grunty, in an energy drink-chugging, Maxim-reading kind of way. I’m an idiot.”
I reach over and gently tug one of his hands out of his pocket, threading my fingers through his. “Lucky for you, you’re a cute idiot.”
He gapes at me. “You’re gonna forgive me just like that?”
I shrug. “Usually it’s me flying off the handle and acting like a demented wildebeest. I guess you’re allowed a turn?” I squeeze his hand. “And I’m sorry, too. Bringing you here and ignoring you like that was really shitty.” I bite my lip, trying to put the words together. “I just got so…preoccupied. Trying to help Layla. And Braidbeard, even. But you have to know: you could never be an afterthought. Not to me. You’re, like…the opposite of that.”
He regards me thoughtfully, then takes my other hand and pulls me close. “I love you,” he says, those blue eyes piercing right through me. “You know that, right?”
Tears prick my eyes and I nod quickly, not trusting myself to speak.
“I…can’t do this long distance thing anymore,” he says slowly, reaching down to brush my hair off my face. “I, um, hate it. Like, really hate it. A lot.”
“Me, too! A lot!” I squawk. “But I didn’t want to freak out on you by saying…that. I was trying to act, you know, like a normal person.”
He shakes his head at me, exasperated. “Since when have you ever done anything like a normal person?”
I give him a look.
“Sorry, that came out wrong.” He exhales slowly. “When I saw you with Evan, my brain sort of…spiraled. I realized he’s someone you could hang out with every day, just because you share a city. You could get comics every Wednesday and fall asleep together every night and…and…do all the little things. Like grocery shopping. And laundry.”
I frown. “Those are little things,” I say. “Kind of stupid little things.”
“Stupid little things I want to do with you,” he says.
I stop breathing for a minute, my heart crumbling like a three-day-old cookie. I realize, suddenly, that I want to do laundry with him, too. Desperately. If someone handed me a basket of dirty clothes right now, I would sort the shit out of the lights and darks.
“Let’s move in together,” I blurt out.
He opens his mouth, closes it. And gives me a somewhat peevish look. “That was supposed to be my line,” he says. “Are you ever gonna let me do anything like a real manly man?”
“Probably not.” I give him a tentative smile. “Can you, um…live with that? So to speak?”
His gentle hands cup my face, his eyes taking in every inch of me. He’s the only person I know who looks at me so intently, so earnestly. Always seeing me for what I really am.
“Hell yes,” he says softly.
I throw my arms around his neck, drawing him closer, our bodies fitting together like they always do.
“Oh, hey,” he says, pulling back and rummaging around in his pocket. “This was supposed to be for you.” He pulls out the ridiculously pink Star Sapphire ring.
“Me?” I laugh, holding out my hand. “Since when?”
He tries fitting it on each of my fingers, but the plastic loop is way too big—designed for more fanboyish hands. He finally slips it onto my thumb.
“Perfect,” he says, bringing my fingertips to his lips. “And I really think you ascended to Star Sapphireness just now. By proposing the whole ‘moving in together’ thing.”
“But you had the same idea!” I protest.
“Doesn’t matter. Come on, say it: ‘for hearts long lost and full of fright, for those alone in blackest night—’”
I shut him up with a kiss. It’s probably a Star Sapphire-y thing to do, but damn—it sure is effective.
“Wow, that’s really pink.” I narrow my eyes suspiciously at the perky concoction Layla’s set in front of me. We’re sitting in a too-loud bar, wearing too-short dresses, trying for something resembling a conversation over all the noise.
“It’s a cosmo,” she admonishes, gleefully piling tiny umbrellas in the glass. “It’s supposed to be pink!”
“Yikes.” I snatch the fruity thing away from her before she can attack it with yet another umbrella.
“Here’s to us!” she cries, clinking her glass against mine. “I’m having sex again and you’re on the verge of cohabitation!”
We both take healthy guzzles.
“Speaking of,” I say, as the vile pink stuff burns my throat, “we finally made a decision: I’m moving to L.A. And I need you to help me figure out how to break it to the guys.”
She freezes for a moment, frothy glass halfway to her lips, and her eyes get very bright. “You…you’re telling me first?” she asks, her voice tremulous.
“Well…yeah.” I give her a little half-smile. “I was also thinking you could help me drive everything down—you know, road trip-style. Like Sex and the City-type girlfriends do? Or so I hear?”
“Oh, Jules!” She throws her arms around me, splashing alcohol all over my stupid dress in the process. I hug her back, trying to ignore the sticky feeling of the flimsy fabric clinging to me.
“Hey, I have to show you something.” I whip out my iPhone and tap the Facebook icon. “Check out Braidbeard’s new avatar,” I say, gesturing to the screen.
“Ohmygosh!” she exclaims. “What an adorable shot of him and Evan!”
“Mmm,” I agree. “And it’s the first documented instance of B using a photo—rather than a comic book image—as his icon.”
She smiles at me: a sweet Layla smile, full of optimism and fucking sunflowers. “Was I right or what?” she beams. “Love for all: anti-social misanthropes included.”
I twirl a tiny umbrella through my fingers. “You said it, Charlotte.”
A couple notes…
1. A lot of folks assume Julie’s geek sacred cows are mine as well. And…okay, sometimes they are. Maybe a lot of the time. But let the record show that I am, in fact, a raging Pryde/Wisdom fangirl.
2. I have never played Starcraft, but there was a good month of my life where I had to listen to my husband and one of my best friends talk about it INCESSANTLY. So. Certain conversations may have sort of occurred in real life.
“Oh, thank God.” Evan sweeps me into a panic-tinged hug before I’m all the way through the Comics Bee door. “You guys made it!” he exclaims, his voice pitched just a little too loud. His straight, white teeth arrange themselves into a rictus-like imitation of a smile.
“Um, Evan,” I mutter. “Are you…have you been…is there alcohol here?” I scan the shop, which is stuffed to the gills with various permutations of pierced-and-dyed San Franciscans, many of whom seem to be having discussions about what is and is not “organic.”
“No, no…ugh. I wish.” His face collapses and he shoots a dagger-ful glare across the room, where Jill appears to be lecturing customers on line etiquette. “Lady Hydra is in fine fucking form tonight,” he hisses into my ear. “I’m just hoping your geek super-heartthrob can save me from her evil clutches.”
“Consider us your reinforcements,” I say, giving his arm a little squeeze.
“What’re you nerds whispering about?” brays a nasal voice.
“Sorry, Braidbeard,” I say, raising my voice over the din of the indie murmur. I gesture to the motley crew that’s assembled behind me. “Evan, this is my friend Braidbeard and my boyfriend Jack—and you already know Layla. Guys, this is Evan—he works here.”
Evan’s gaze flicks over all of them in turn. “A pleasure,” he says. “Any friends of Julie’s are…well, pleasant acquaintances of mine.”
“Quite a crowd you’ve got here,” says Jack, slipping an arm around my waist, eyes warily sweeping over the room.
“Yeah…of the lame variety,” sneers Braidbeard, his scraggly, plaited facial hair swaying back and forth as he scans the shop. “Julie said you guys were hosting some kind of Doctor Who trivia contest—classic Who only, none of that Russell T. Davies-engineered soap opera crap. As reigning champion of the TARDIS Online Trivia Madness-a-thon, it’s my duty to attend those kinds of events. But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening here.” He glowers at me, eyes thinning to tiny slits behind his clunky glasses.
“Reigning champ…wait, you’re Baker4Evar82?” Evan shoots Braidbeard a look of unabashed admiration. “I’m K9isMyCopilot on the boards,” he says. “I almost beat you in the last quarterfinal.”
“Ahhhh—I remember.” Braidbeard nods, crossing his arms over his chest and trying a little too hard to play it cool. “Frakkin’ Sarah Jane questions always trip me up.”
“What are they talking about?!” Layla whispers, her eyes widening to dinner plate size. “I…this…we’re wasting time! We need to get Braidbeard to Jill!” I sigh, giving her what I hope is a soothing back-pat.
“Um, anyway,” I interject, before everyone gets swept into an hours-long Companion debate, “I’m sorry, B—I must’ve gotten the dates mixed up.”
“Riiiiiiiight,” says Evan, playing along. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t hang out for a bit. Personally, I’d love it if y’all stayed. No booze, but we have snacks—well, sort of.” He gestures to a card table festooned with a single bowl of wan-looking tortilla chips.
“Ooooh, look at that, B—they have your favorite chips,” coos Layla.
His brow furrows. “Chile-Lime Fritos?”
“Your, um, second favorite.” She beams, plastering a slightly manic grin across her face. “Let’s go get some?”
“Well, okay,” he says, allowing her to drag him over to the table. “But they better be unsalted.”
“I’ll see if I can maneuver Jill over to the snacks—and then I’ll work my conversational magic,” says Evan. He gives me a conspiratorial wink. “Catch you later.”
“God.” I exhale slowly. “Who knew this match-making stuff was so fucking nerve-wracking?”
“It’s nice to meet another one of your friends,” Jack says, not really hearing me. “Evan seems very…friendly.” He drops his arm from my waist, his gaze drifting over the shop, all traces of energy slowly draining from his face. I’m suddenly aware of how noisy the place is, how crammed with sweat and humanity and general chaos.
“Hey.” I reach up and cup his face, stroking my thumb gently down his cheek. “You okay?”
He looks down at me blankly, eyes still unreadable, like he’s wrapped up in his own little thought bubble. “Um.” His gaze shifts back and forth. “I guess…it’s just kind of loud in here. And this…really isn’t how I was hoping to spend tonight?”
I wince as a vintage-swathed pixie girl dashes past, screaming “TEMPERTON INNA HOUSE!” a little too close to my ear. Re-focusing on Jack, I tilt up and brush my lips against his. “I’ll make it up to you later,” I murmur against his mouth.
“Okay,” he says as I pull back, the word coming out in a vaguely robotic-sounding monotone.
I raise an eyebrow. “You know I meant sex, right? Like, lots of sex?”
“I…sorry.” His gaze seems to clear and one side of his mouth quirks into a lopsided grin. “Let the record show that I am for that. Very for that, in fact.”
I squeeze his hand. “Let’s go look at the back issue bins. This place has an awesome selection of ’90s era Excalibur…the Warren Ellis stuff? Maybe Evan will give us a discount.”
“Okay,” he says, allowing me to lead him toward the back of the store. I cast a sidelong glance at him. His eyes have gone a little blank again, like he can’t seem to focus on anything in particular.
Well. I really will make this up to him later. Possibly with the aid of that Black Queen-esque leather corset I found on eBay.
“Here we go,” I say, reaching our destination and tapping a finger against the “E” bin. “Have at it.”
As he starts to paw through, I scan the room for Braidbeard, finally locating his pasty form by the snack table. Evan’s chattering at him animatedly. Jill stands between them, lips pressed together, the usual superior-than-thou expression plastered on her face. Layla’s off to the side, looking like she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself.
“Ugh, that looks…not so promising,” I mutter, frowning at the weirder-than-weird tableau.
“I better go talk to Evan,” I say, patting Jack on the arm.
I scoot through the hipster crowd, shuffle my way around a muscleman with a Katchoo tattoo dancing across his bicep, and finally land in front of the snack table.
“—but I still think the Zerg are, by far, the most awesome,” Evan’s saying. “They have the Defiler. You can’t beat that.”
“I guess,” says Braidbeard. “I mean, if you want to play in the most suped-up, unoriginal way possible. I’m a Terran man myself.”
“Terran?” Evan hoots. “So pedestrian. You’re a human every day of your oh-so-mundane life. Why not spice things up a little with an amazingly gross insectoid-alien…thing?”
“You’re both stuck in the past,” says Jill, rolling her eyes. “Who plays Starcraft anymore?”
“Only everyone,” snorts Braidbeard. “It’s the dominant national sport in Korea.”
“Um, Evan,” I interject, laying a hand on his arm. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Suuuuuuure,” he says, cocking an eyebrow as I drag him away.
“What’s going on?” I demand, once we’re away from Braidbeard’s prying ears. “You’re supposed to be facilitating a love connection, not getting B all worked up over old-ass videogames.”
“We’re getting there,” he says. “I—”
“Baby, check this out.” Jack pushes through the crush of people, waving a packet of back issues. “They’ve got the entire Pryde and Wisdom miniseries for a mere dollar.”
“That’s great,” I respond mechanically, still frowning. “Evan—”
“Seriously: just chill.” Evan rubs my shoulder soothingly. “I can handle this.”
“I—okay,” I concede, as he crowd-surfs his way back to the snack table.
I turn to Jack. “A dollar, eh?”
He looks at me quizzically, his expression a little foggy. The noise in the store crescendos and I realize it must be really getting to him.
I slip my arm around his waist and lean into his shoulder. “Maybe,” I say affectionately, “that’s cause the only person who wants it is you.”
He snaps out of it, his eyes refocusing. “Whatever. There’s some seriously sexy stuff in here.” He grins, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“And that’s the problem,” I say, happy to see him looking a little more animated. “Kitty Pryde is how old?”
“Old enough.” He brushes his lips against my temple. “Why don’t I buy this and we’ll continue this conversation somewhere more pri—”
“Goddammit.” I pull away from him, my eyes latching onto the snack area …where Jill is wandering off, shaking her head in disgust. Braidbeard and Evan are so locked in heated debate, they don’t even notice.
“What is Evan doing?!” I growl. “This is so not what we discussed!”
“Hold on,” I mutter, stomping my way back over to Evan. This time I grab his arm and drag him to the side with no preamble. “Now you’ve driven Jill away completely?” I hiss. “How is this helping? You’re totally…cock-blocking.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I’m cock-blocking?”
“Yes! You! Who else is there?!” I say, my voice taking on a deranged sort of cadence.
“Hmm.” He studies me for a moment. “I really think you need to just wait and see how this plays out.”
“What does that even mean?! I—”
I cut myself off, vaguely aware of my name being called from across the room. I whip my head around and see Jack standing by the register, gesturing excitedly to something on the countertop. I give him a little wave, then turn back to Evan.
“Look,” I growl. “I realize Braidbeard’s not the easiest person to…like, but if anyone’s gonna hit it off with him, it’s gonna be Jill. And you promised to help with that!”
“Okay.” He holds his hands up, placating. “I’m sorry if what’s happening doesn’t appear to be…productive. But you need to trust me. I got this.”
I let out a frustrated exhale and flap my hands at the snack area. “Just…get Jill back.”
I elbow my way through the crowd and land by the back issue bins, nearly running into Jack in the process.
“Hey,” he says mildly. “Did you see me by the counter? I was trying to show you something.”
“Right…yes,” I say, glaring in Evan’s direction. “I couldn’t tell what it was from over there.”
He brandishes a tiny, Barbie-pink piece of plastic. “Um, Star Sapphire ring? I thought it was perfect—”
“Oh, nice, it’ll look adorable on you,” I say absently, craning my neck in an attempt to find Braidbeard in the crowd.
He frowns. “Actually, I got it for—”
“Gah…what the fuck?” I growl, my gaze locking on the snack area, which is suddenly deserted. No Braidbeard. No Jill or Evan. “Where did they go now?”
Before I can continue that line of thought, a blonde tornado whirls out of the crowd and lands in front of us. “Would you mind telling me what, exactly, you were thinking?” Jill growls, her ponytail sticking straight out from her skull—it’s gone from insolent to seriously pissed off.
“Wha-huh?” I sputter.
“You’ve thrown my store into utter chaos,” she sneers, shooting me a glare that would easily reduce Doctor Doom to a sniveling wuss. “I run a tight ship here, lady. And tonight, it’s just me and Evan and neither of us can afford to be distracted.”
I’m vaguely conscious of Jack slipping a protective arm around my shoulders. “I don’t understand,” I say, my brow furrowing. “What are you—”
“Julie.” Layla sidles up next to Jill, her wild eyes projecting a strange mix of anxiety and glee. Jill modifies her bitch-glare to encompass both of us. “Um…” Layla twists her hands together. “You need to…”
“Take care of the problem,” hisses Jill. “Or I will ban you from this shop for life. And I will be forced to unfriend you on Facebook.”
“At least then I won’t have to hear about it every time you want to make a fucking grilled cheese sandwich in CafeWorld!” I yell as she tornadoes her way out of view.
“Damn,” I say, shaking my head. “Even Braidbeard deserves better.”
Jack rubs my back. “Sorry your master plan tanked. But I’m thinking this means we can go now?”
“No!” Layla’s hand shoots out, latching onto my arm. “Julie, you need to see something. Now. Evan is…just come with me.”
“Gah, fine,” I say, allowing her to drag me away. “I’ll be right back!” I call over my shoulder.
I allow Layla to steer me over to the indie section, a wild woman on a mission. As we push through the last mini-crush of people, my eyes settle on Braidbeard, who’s scrutinizing a particular page in Ghost World as Evan looks on.
“See, this is just dumb,” he smirks. “Why do we spend umpteen million pages on this chick’s search for a frakking bondage mask? Who cares about that shit?”
“Millions of readers, judging by how many times it’s gone back to press,” Evan says evenly. “And that story is about more than just, you know, a bondage mask. We’re watching someone try to define herself through superficial means.”
“Oh, God,” I breathe. “This is what Jill was talking about: Braidbeard’s fucking trapped Evan.”
Layla puts a hand on my arm. “Just watch.”
“Huh.” Braidbeard squints at the page. “I guess I can sort of see that. She’s an outcast like the X-Men or whatever.”
My jaw drops so far, I swear I feel it scrape the floor.
“Right.” Evan nods approvingly. “And who hasn’t felt that way at some point?”
Braidbeard looks up from the page and regards Evan seriously. “Maybe you could, like, explain more of this dumb book to me later. I mean, if I decide to buy it.”
Evan raises an eyebrow, a half-smile playing over his lips. “You are so buying it. And I’ll only explain it to you if you admit that the Defiler is the most awesome thing ever invented.” He holds out a hand. “Deal?”
I wait for Braidbeard—who I’ve never known to welcome any kind of human touch whatsoever—to recoil. Instead, he shuts Ghost World and takes Evan’s hand. And maybe holds onto it a teeny bit longer than is strictly necessary. “Deal.”
I honestly didn’t think it was possible for my jaw to drop farther.
“Hey, guys,” Layla says, as I unsuccessfully attempt to shut my gaping mouth.
“Damn, I was wondering where you losers wandered off to,” snits Braidbeard. “Can we go yet or what? This party blows. Well, mostly,” he quickly amends, casting a sidelong glance at Evan.
“Oh, shit,” says Evan, panic dawning in his eyes. “How long have we been standing here? Jill’s probably looking for me…” He hurries off.
“So?” Braidbeard demands. “Go? Now?”
“Are you…are you GAY?” I splutter.
He shrugs, tucking Ghost World under his arm. “What of it?”
“I…you…when did you become GAY?” I squeak.
“Um, Jules.” Layla glances over at an androgynous-looking couple in matching “Veganism is Beautiful” t-shirts shooting disapproving looks our way. “You might want to keep it down.”
Braidbeard makes a big-ass show of examining his nails. “Unlike you,” he says, “I like to keep certain things private.”
“What do you mean ‘unlike me’? And…and…what do you mean ‘private’?”
He hugs Ghost World to his chest, the ultimate indie-kid shield. “I mean,” he says, giving each word maximum enunciation, “that I am known for certain things. For, like, possessing kick-ass taste when it comes to shit like DC’s various crossover disasters. And for being generally awesome—like Batman. Everything else is on the Bruce Wayne side, which means it’s my frakking business and no one else’s.”
My forehead crinkles. “I don’t get it.”
“Of course you don’t,” he says patronizingly. “Your only concern these days is ramming your tongue down Jack’s throat in as many public places as possible.” He shudders, making exaggerated gagging noises.
Hot fury flushes my entire body. “Excuse me, what the fuck—”
“Wait, wait—whoa.” Layla places a gentle hand on each of our shoulders. “I think I get what’s going on here. Let me translate from Geekanese to…normal person language.” Her gaze slides from me to Braidbeard and then back again.
“Julie,” she says, her voice taking on the soothing cadence of a diplomat trying to broker world peace, “Braidbeard is about as comfortable expressing himself sexually as you were pre-Jack. Which is to say…not very. Or not at all. I think you can understand that, yes?” I open my mouth to protest, but she shakes her head firmly. “And Braidbeard: if you can learn anything from Julie’s example, it should be that you can love someone freely and without reservation and still maintain your essential, um…geek…crankiness. Er, uniqueness. Whatever you want to call it.”
We stand there in silence for a protracted moment, Layla’s words echoing and re-arranging themselves in my brain. Braidbeard hugs Ghost World a little tighter, and gives a non-committal sort of shrug. But when he meets my eyes, there’s a flicker of understanding.
I feel myself starting to nod. “I guess that…makes sense. Sort of.”
Layla beams and pulls us both closer, squeezing the breath out of me with her bizarre strength. “It takes a very special person to bring you…unique types out of your shells,” she trills. “And Evan seems soooo sweet!”
“He thinks Tennant is the best Doctor,” sniffs Braidbeard. “But no one’s perfect.”
Despite Braidbeard’s pleas, we end up staying for a good while longer and Layla and I spend a few giggly moments debating how we’re going to relate the entire tale of our not-exactly-successful-matchmaking to Mitch. I keep scanning the crowd for Jack, but he appears to have disappeared permanently into the back issue bin jungle.
As the party begins to dwindle, Layla wanders over to Terry Temperton’s table, having decided to get her newly-purchased copy of Angst Sundae signed. I lean against a shelf of Marvel trades, trying to process the evening.
“Not exactly the night I was expecting to have,” says Evan, sidling up next to me. “I should thank you for that, probably.”
I smile wearily. “I don’t think so. My scheming skills are more Wile E. Coyote than Sydney Bristow. And I guess I was actually cock-blocking you?”
“You’re way good at it,” he says with a chuckle. “Cock-blocker extraordinaire.”
I roll my eyes. “I’ll put that on my resume.”
He smiles dreamily. “I can’t believe I have a date with Baker4Evar82.”
“I can’t either, especially since you’re so…well, nice?” I raise an eyebrow.
“No judgment, missy,” he says, poking me in the arm. “Doctor Who trivia is way sexier than it sounds on paper. And we all have our types.”
“Yes,” I say. I notice Jack heading our way and a dorky smile overtakes my face. “I guess we do.”
“Hopefully I’ll be seeing you on more non-Wednesdays,” says Evan. He gives me an impulsive hug and peck on the cheek. “Especially if my date goes, you know…well.”
“Guh,” I shudder as he saunters off, still not quite willing to picture Braidbeard in any sort of remotely sexual situation.
“Hey, you,” I say, as Jack approaches. “You’ll never believe—”
“You want to tell me what’s going on?” he says softly. Too softly. I scrutinize his face and realize he looks like a bomb ready to go off. His hands clench and unclench, like he’s barely keeping himself together. The vicious hurt radiating from his eyes cuts into me, precise and sharp and awful.
“Baby,” I say gently. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I hazily realize that’s the first time I’ve ever called him that. “What’s wro—”
“What’s going on with you and…and…him?” he says abruptly.
“Him.” He waves an arm in the direction of the register, where Evan is ringing up the last few customers.
“’Him’ as in Evan?” I look at Jack incredulously. “Are you asking what I think you’re asking? Because if so, we need to back the fuck up.”
He rakes a hand through his hair, causing it to stick up in a wild parody of his usual casually-mussed coif. “You’ve spent the entire night chasing after him. And he’s not exactly resisting.”
“Whoa.” I cross my arms over my chest. “I can pretty much assure you that he’s not interested in—”
“You’re my girlfriend,” he growls. “I know when some other dude is trying to—”
“Where is this fucking possessive Alpha Male act coming from?!” I say. “Are you gonna turn into a wolf now?”
“Don’t—don’t joke about this.” He shakes his head vehemently. “I know this long distance thing sucks, but that doesn’t mean you have to treat me like an afterthought.”
“I…what?!” Waves of frustration crash into me, and I feel my hands balling themselves into tight little knots. “How can you say that? I love having you here. I—”
“Right, that’s why you keep telling me I shouldn’t feel obligated to visit. That’s why you suggested we spend our only night together hanging out at some random party so you can flirt with some equally random guy.” His voice cracks on the last word and I realize his eyes are bright with angry tears.
“That’s not fair,” I say, my voice trembling dangerously. “And that wasn’t flirting. For fuck’s sake, Jack—Evan’s gay.”
He deflates, his arms dropping to his sides. “You know what,” he says flatly. “It doesn’t matter. That’s not even the point.”
“Then what is?!” I ask. “Please. Let’s just talk—”
“No.” He shakes his head slowly, his anger giving way to dull hurt. “I’m done trying to get your attention. Why don’t you go talk to Evan.” With that, he turns on his heel and storms out of the store.
As I stand there with my jaw once again scraping the floor, Layla rushes to my side. “Did I just see Jack make an…uncharacteristically dramatic exit?” she says, brows knitting together. “What’s going on?”
“You tell me,” I say, right before bursting into tears.
Welcome back, friends! You all read Part I, yes? If not, go do that.
Now! Let us once again gaze upon the beauty of Paul “Cool Jerk” Horn’s crazily amazing illustration as we read—this is the week where it truly becomes a central piece of the story.
A note before we launch into Part II: though this is the official One Con Glory sequel, I also wrote a little bridge story that takes place between the book and “With Violet Light.” It’s all about the idea of retcon, the importance of saying a certain handful of words to someone when you feel a certain way, and the secret behind “Men’s Pocky.” For reals. You can read it in this issue of Grok.
Okay. Back to Julie.
“But we’re Facebook friends.” I try to affect a beseeching sort of look, but it has little to no effect on the tiny, blonde wall of hostility in front of me.
She shrugs. “I have 3,747 connections on the FB. I am not acquainted with most of them personally.” She returns to shelving Invincible Iron Man hardcovers, her three-sizes too big Green Lantern shirt hanging precariously off her spindly frame.
“But you added me,” I whine, crossing my arms over my chest. Jesus. I’m about two seconds away from stamping my foot, a la Jubilee on a fireworks-fueled tantrum.
There’s that shrug again. “You probably have Comics Bee as one of your fan pages, right? I make a point of adding everyone on there. Encourages excellent customer relations.”
“I can see how that would be very…effective,” I say, fighting like mad to keep the sarcasm from leaking into my voice. “But I’m a regular here. We’ve had actual conversations. I explained my theory on why Nova could totally beat Hulk in a fight and you agreed with me.”
She pauses, cocking her head to the side, affecting the appearance of a freckle-faced robot scanning her way through all of her past human interactions. I can practically see bits of 11001110 data flying through her brain. “That’s hardly a unique theory,” she finally says. “I’ve had that conversation at least 67.5 times.”
“I was interrupted one of those times by a pressing back issue mis-numbering fiasco. Hours of my life gone, thanks to incompetent help.” She shakes her head and her insolent little ponytail wags back and forth. “Like I said,” she says, popping the last hardcover into place on the shelf, “I don’t know you. I don’t know your friend and I have no interest in meeting him. Good-bye.”
“Gah.” I turn on my heel and stomp across the Comics Bee’s rather spacious quarters to Layla. She’s perched on the counter, chatting easily with the cute, spiky-haired guy manning the register—Evan Chang, the shop’s other assistant manager.
“Ah, Julie,” he says, eyes sparkling with amusement. “Am I hearing this right? Are you really trying to hook Bitchy McContinuityNazi up with a boyfriend?”
“It’s all for her,” I grumble, inclining my head towards Layla.
“So she says,” says Evan, brushing a stray piece of lint off his form-fitting—and strangely logo-free—black t-shirt. “I must say: I was hoping you’d stopped by on a non-Wednesday so we could continue our ongoing debate over the series finale of Battlestar Galactica.”
I shrug. “You won’t admit that it was seriously epic, so…”
He smirks a little. “If ‘epic’ means ‘shoddily slapped-together and fueled by someone’s hallucinogen-spiked spirit quest,’ then I’m with ya. Anyway, I actually think I can help with your little love quest.” He leans forward conspiratorially, a grin spreading over his impish face. “We’re having a signing tonight—Terry Temperton, local guy. Writes and draws Angst Sundae?”
“I know it,” I say. “Black and white, heavy inks? Lots of people feeling all their feelings?”
“Affirmative,” says Evan. “As you might imagine, Jill hates that stuff. But she’s being forced to work the event and will basically be drowning me in her misery the entire live long night. If someone were to bring her a like-minded, superhero-loving geek to talk to, I bet she’d be eternally grateful. Well, sort of. ‘Grateful’ looks different on Jill than it does on normal people.”
“That’s perfect!” Layla shrieks.
“I’d be happy to provide the introductions and engage them in sexily scintillating conversation, just to get the ball rolling,” he continues. “And if this somehow results in Jill being in love and out of my hair…well, I’ll be eternally grateful.”
Layla rubs her hands together with glee. “I can already see the nerd-sparks flying!”
“Be here at 7,” says Evan. “Oh, and Julie: While I admire your dedication to geek-centric romance, Layla tells me you just left a gorgeous, half-naked man all alone in your apartment.” He shakes his head disapprovingly. “Priorities, woman.”
“Yeah, a dead asleep, gorgeous, half-naked man. And I left him a note…wait a second.” I raise an eyebrow at Layla. “How do you know about the half-naked part?”
She has the good grace to blush. “I’m sexually-deprived and your bedroom door was a little bit open,” she blurts out. “I might’ve sneaked a peek while you were in the bathroom.” She blinks at me, all Bambi-esque innocence. “And, um…damn, Jules. That chest belongs in a museum somewhere.”
Evan’s eyes widen with interest. “Did you take a picture?”
“No!” Layla crosses her arms over her chest, trying for “indignant.” It only lasts a few seconds. “Okay…yes,” she admits, shooting me a guilty look.
“Layla…” I sputter.
“I’m an artist!” she says defensively. “It’s my duty to capture beauty wherever I see it.”
“Maybe try seeing it in naked people who aren’t my boyfriend,” I grumble.
“This is, by far, the girliest conversation the Comics Bee has ever played host to,” Evan says bemusedly.
“Oooooh!” Layla turns to him, the very picture of puppy-like eagerness. “So I guess I’m a Charlotte. But which one is Julie?!”
He studies me thoughtfully. “Miranda.”
I plant my hands on my hips. “And Jack keeps trying to stick me with the Emma Frost label. Why am I always the bitchy one?”
Evan and Layla exchange an all-too-knowing look. “Well,” says Evan, “if the white pleather bustier fits…”
Jack is still dead to the world when I return home. As usual, he’s somehow managed to annex the entire bed territory in his sleep, one arm flopping haphazardly over what’s supposed to be my pillow, legs entangled in the clump of bedding, drool pooling next to his half-open mouth.
I think he’s maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
I ease myself onto the two square inches of mattress that aren’t taken up by his fully-sprawled form and gently brush his sleep-matted hair off of his face. “Hey,” I whisper. “Sleeping Beauty. You’re snoring your entire visit away.”
I move in closer, resting my head on top of his pillow-stealing arm. “Come on,” I say, raising my voice a tiny bit. “Otherwise I’m just gonna watch you while you sleep. In a totally creepy way. And darling—” I press my forehead to his and affect a terrible Transylvanian accent. “Your neck smells like freesia.”
“Mrph.” One eye pops open. “You actually read those books?” he asks, voice husky with sleep.
I bring my index finger to my lips. “I’ll never tell. ”
He lets loose with a mighty yawn, his features eventually resolving themselves into a lopsided grin. “Hi,” he says, all lazy warmth, his half-lidded eyes slowly taking me in. I brush my fingertips down his cheek, studying the angular planes of his face. I feel my entire body relax—happy to be so close to him, surrounded by quiet and soft sheets and a glorious lack of distractions.
“I wish it could be like this every day,” I murmur.
He studies me intently, suddenly looking a bit more awake.
“Right, right, as soon as they finally invent that Trekkian transporter machine.” I cup his face in my hands. “You look better. More rested. But, you know…you don’t…when you’re wiped like this, we don’t have to do the weekend visit thing. I don’t want you to feel obligated.”
“Seriously? ‘Obligated?’” He raises an eyebrow, trying to keep things light. But hurt flashes over his face, his eyes clouding over. “That’s, uh…romantic.”
“Sorry…I’m sorry.” I bite my lip. “That’s not what I…anyway.” I plaster a bright, hopeful smile across my face, racking my brain for a quick fix. “I’m trying to get better at…girly stuff.” I sit up in bed and hold my hands out in exaggerated “I am about to give an amazing presentation” style.
“For instance!” I exclaim, a little too excitedly. “I never mark things on the calendar—never! But I’ve made note of July 17—a mere month from now—in permanent ink and do you know why?”
He props himself up on an elbow and looks at me quizzically.
“July 17: GinormoCon! Our anniversary!” I grin triumphantly. “Or, uh…the anniversary of the first time we…you know.”
A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth, the humor returning to his eyes. He sits up and runs his fingers through my unruly mop of hair, smoothing out errant tangles. “And the second time,” he says, leaning in to feather kisses along the line of my jaw. “And the third. And—”
“Okay, okay,” I say, my neck going all goose-bumpy. “Does that still count? As our anniversary?”
He pulls back and locks his eyes with mine. “Yes.”
My face flushes with pleasure. “So certain! How do you always just…know these things?”
“Romantic things…love things…oh my God.” My eyes widen, realization dawning. “You’re totally a Star Sapphire.”
His lips twitch. “Baby…”
I sit up very straight, not really hearing him, my brain hooking into the meat of my thesis with ruthless, single-minded intent. “You always know how to be all direct and no-bullshit and somehow it’s the most romantic fucking thing ever,” I say. “All you need is a power ring and a super-boobsy pink spandex costume…er, sorry, violet costume, except those outfits always look pink to me, and then you can properly display your, um, love power.”
He cocks a teasing eyebrow, a wicked grin spreading over his face. “I’m pretty sure my…love power is on display right now.”
I blush, heat creeping up the back of my neck. “Yes, I can, um…feel that. But this is serious!” I clasp my hands together, and look at him pleadingly.
“I want to forsake my rageful Red Lantern ways!” I insist, my voice taking on a desperate, shrieky quality—like Black Canary and Siryn on a combined scream bender. “Teach me the way of the Star Sapphire! Teach me how to be chill and romantic and…and…love powerful!”
Unable to hold back any longer, he bursts out laughing, then gathers me against him and presses his lips to my forehead. “I’ll teach you tonight,” he says. “I made a reservation at Dante’s and then I was thinking we could take a walk by the waterfront—”
He frowns, brows knitting together. “Crap. That’s way touristy, isn’t it? Okay. New plan: your busted living room couch, Thai take-out from that place around the corner, and Shaun of the Dead on repeat.” His lips brush my earlobe. “Clothing optional.”
“That sounds…perfect,” I murmur, leaning into him. “But we sort of have to go to this party tonight.”
He pulls back, his face slowly falling. “Party…?” he says, trying to mask his disappointment. “Like, on our only night together? Like, with people who aren’t you and me?” He frowns skeptically. “Is the fate of the world somehow dependent on us attending this party? Because otherwise, I can’t see how it’s worth it.”
“Not the fate of the world, exactly, but the fate of…something.” I quickly fill him in on Layla and her Braidbeard-contingent sex quest.
“Luckily,” I conclude, “we’ve got Evan in our corner. And unlike the vast majority of nerds, he’s pretty savvy when it comes to interpersonal relations.”
“Evan…have you told me about Evan?” Jack asks, fingertips idly tracing my collarbone.
“He’s kind of a new friend,” I say. “Basically, the very model of an opinionated-yet-non-judgmental comics shop guy. Even if he is wrong about BSG.”
“Ah.” He nods absently and I notice that he still looks more than a little bit tired.
“We won’t stay long,” I say quickly. “I just need to set up this potentially vomit-inducing love connection. Then we can come back here and hang out.” I lean in, brushing my lips over his neck, feeling the rhythm of his pulse quicken. “In a…clothing optional environment.”
“Just not sure about the comics shop…thing,” he says, his breathing going uneven as my mouth grazes his ear. “With all the, um…fans?”
I pull back, my lips curving into a bemused half-smile. “Afraid of being mobbed, R-Pattz style? Aren’t we cocky.” I clap my hands over my heart and flutter my eyelashes, mock-swoony.
“OooOOOoooh!” I chirp, pitching my voice several octaves higher than necessary. “Is that Jack Camden?! I totally have his last Tiger Beat pin-up in my locker! OH-EM-GEE SQUEEEEEEEE!!!”
“Stop that!” he says, doing his best to look stern. The effect is ruined by the sheepish grin playing around the corners of his mouth. “It’s a valid concern.”
“Relax, heartthrob.” I ruffle his hair affectionately. “This isn’t your crowd. Super-indie. Most of them can recite the entire oeuvre of Chris Ware, but would never admit to owning a TV set.”
“You have such a…unique way of putting things, Red Lantern,” he says, the grin finally overtaking his entire face. “Forget about the love power—I think you’re pretty perfect as-is.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Neurotic?”
He kisses the inside of my wrist. “Sensitive.”
Pressing his fingertips to my shoulders, he eases me onto my back. “Passionate.”
“Temperamental to the point of psychosis?”
He slips warm, gentle hands under my t-shirt. “Well…yes. But I find that kind of hot.”
“Perv,” I say softly, biting my lip in a useless attempt to stop smiling. His mouth drifts over my neck and finds that sensitive spot, sending little shivers coursing through my nervous system.
“Mmmm…” I sigh. “See, this right here…very Star Sapphire-y.”
He grins, clever fingers sliding up my back to unhook my bra. “I do look good in pink spandex.”
Hello! So before we begin, let me tell you a couple things. This story (a mini-sequel to my geek novella One Con Glory) was totally inspired by…well, many things, but most importantly:
It ran previously in an issue of Grok (as did an additional mini-sequel, “My Epic Win”) and now I’m serializing it here with a few exciting extras. First off, check out that incredible “Jack and Julie do crossplay” illustration by Mr. Paul “Cool Jerk” Horn. So pretty. And as you will see, so key to the story.
Second, I have a little set of Halloween-themed BPAL prototype scents (courtesy of our pal Geek Girl Diva) that I’d like to give away in honor of the story’s launch here on the newly-redesigned Alert Nerd. The scents represent the spookier side of Julie’s hometown (San Francisco), Jack’s current city (Los Angeles), and a couple places in between. They are, like most BPAL scents, quite delicious. To enter the giveaway, just @ me on Twitter with an explanation of your current avatar (yes, in 140 characters or less).
Okay? Okay! Let’s go.
I know I’m going to fall on my ass a millisecond before it actually happens. I’m running, slipping, tripping my way across the apartment when my stupid feet slide out from under me like they’ve been dunked in Crisco and suddenly it’s all, “Oh, hi, hardwood floors, nice to fucking meet you.”
A string of muttered profanities later, I’m popping back up and skidding over to the door and flinging it open and drinking in the sight of a phenomenally cute boy in a ratty Silver Surfer t-shirt.
“Morning, sweetheart,” he says, bright blue eyes dancing with amusement as they take in my beyond-disheveled form. “What’s…going on here?”
I tug the shirt I’ve hastily thrown on over my barely-covered backside and make a fruitless attempt to brush the angry snarl of wet hair out of eyes. “I was, um…getting out of the shower when you knocked,” I stammer. “I thought you were coming…later? Not that I’m not glad you’re here. I just thought I’d have more time to get ready and…”
I trail off as a full-on grin overtakes his face and he steps inside, slipping his arms around my waist, pulling my damp, unkempt form into the irresistible warmth of his body. I melt against him, inhaling the scent of soap and sweat-on-skin, fluttery little sensations blooming in my gut.
“I especially like the part,” he says, lips brushing my hair, “where you’re not wearing pants.”
My face flushes and before I can retort, he scoops me off the ground and into his arms and brings his mouth to mine, hot and sweet and delicious enough to scramble my brain for a few dizzying seconds. “Wait…Jack,” I gasp, desperately trying to maintain coherent thought as my legs wrap around his waist. “I’m not…let me finish getting—”
“Dressed?” His mouth finds a particularly sensitive spot on my neck. “Why?”
I inhale sharply, the fluttery gut sensations morphing into something decidedly more pornographic. “I…don’t have a good answer for that.”
He kicks the apartment door shut and stumbles toward the bedroom with me in his arms, our lips locked together the entire way. “Your bag…” I murmur against his mouth. “…mrpmh…still in the hall…”
“Don’t care,” he breathes as we tumble into bed, a muddle of tangled limbs and half-shed clothes.
I pull back and study him as he makes quick work of the buttons on my shirt. “Hey,” I say softly, reaching up to cup his face in my hands. “Slow down for a second.” I brush my thumbs over the deep, dark circles under his eyes, my brows knitting together with concern. “You look exhausted.”
“Back-to-back 14-hour shooting days.” He undoes the last button and peels off my shirt. “I walked off the set and got in my car and made a break for it.”
“What…you drove all the way up here on no sleep?” I place a hand against his chest. “Why would you do that?”
He brushes my still-damp hair off my face, blue eyes giving me that oh-so-earnest look that I’m a total fucking sucker for. “I wanted to see you.”
He kisses me again and all errant worries fall out of my head. I yank his shirt off and skate my fingertips over his back—his beautiful, naked back—then pull him against me, our bodies twining together, all sweat and heat and oh, God, he’s doing that with his tongue that he knows I—
We freeze, mid-makeout. I frown in the direction of the front door, which seems to be on the receiving end of a rather thunderous knock. He follows my gaze. “Are you expecting—”
“Shhh.” I press a finger to his lips. “Maybe they’ll go away.”
BOOM. BOOM-BOOM. BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM!!!
“Or not,” I growl through gritted teeth. I reluctantly untangle myself from him, throwing on my discarded shirt and a random pair of shorts.
“Tell them you’re in the middle of…doing something.” Jack grins lazily and leans back against the pillows, hands clasped behind his head, mouth-watering chest on full display. I hear myself whimper a little.
“Don’t move,” I command, stomping into the living room.
I throw open the door and am greeted by the sight of a morose figure clad in a flannel shirt mis-buttoned over a coffee-stained tank. “I haven’t had sex in three days,” she blurts out, her delicate features twisting into a mask of from-the-gut distress. “Um, also…did someone lose a bag?” She proffers Jack’s abandoned duffle.
I let out a slow, supposed-to-be-calming breath. “Layla. You have no idea how not sympathetic I am to you right now.”
Her big, doe eyes fill with tears. “Can I come in? Please?!?”
I snatch the duffle from her and open the door a little wider. “Fine. But this better be seriously epic. Like, Tigh-finds-out-he’s-a-Cylon epic.”
She sweeps in, all long limbs and balletic grace, her off-kilter elegance somehow enhanced by her messy appearance. Then she whirls around, hands shooting out to lock my shoulders in a death grip. “You,” she breathes, still-teary eyes narrowing suspiciously. “You had sex recently.” Her head twists as she wildly scans the room, evoking unpleasant Exorcist-type imagery. “Is Jack here?”
“First of all: ow,” I say, batting ineffectually at her claw-like fingers. “Your Hulk-on-fucking-steroids strength never ceases to amaze me. Second of all: Yes, he is. And I would be having probably amazing sex right now if you hadn’t interrupted. So if you’re making it some kind of bizarre mission to perceive when people last copulated…well, your sexdar is broken.”
“I call it my ‘sex sense,’” she says sagely.
“I like ‘sexdar’ better. Now what, exactly, is so damn important? Because three days isn’t that long for most people and isn’t Mitch out of town for the weekend anyway?”
“Auuuuugggggggh.” With that anguished cry, Layla pirouettes herself onto my rickety couch and slumps over in defeat, deflating like a sad little balloon.
I try for another long, calming breath. Really not working, especially since all I can think of is Jack’s hand stroking its way down my—
“What the frak is wrong with me?” she moans, raking her fingers through her birds’ nest of hair.
I goggle at her. “Excuse me, but did the queen of pop cultural ignorance just correctly use ‘frak’?”
“I think I’ve managed to absorb a fair amount of Bubblestar Galactica terminology from you guys,” she says, eyes focusing and unfocusing as her gaze wanders distractedly around the apartment. She leans back in her seat, looking utterly lost.
And also like she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“Hold on,” I mutter, shuffling back to the bedroom. Jack’s flopped on his side, comforter pulled around him like a makeshift cocoon, his breathing soft and even.
“Oh, no…nononono.” I crouch down next to the bed and he makes a valiant effort to open his droopy eyes a little wider. “It’s Layla with some sort of universe-shattering emergency…but I’m getting rid of her!” I insist, my voice twisting into a cartoon character-like squeak. “Don’t fall asleep! We can still—”
“Mmmm.” His eyes drift closed. “Totally…awake…”
His breathing morphs into soft little snores.
I heave the mightiest of sighs. “Forget universe-shattering,” I say, pressing a gentle kiss to his slumbering brow. “This ‘emergency’ better rock my fuckin’ multiverse.”
Layla’s problem comes out in a torrent of sighs and stream-of-consciousness monologuing. But it basically boils down to a single word.
“Braidbeard,” she sighs, her leggy form curled into a little ball next to my coffee table. “Ever since me and Mitch moved in together, he’s over constantly. All hours of the day. And, well…the night. He even has his own toothbrush in our bathroom.”
“That does…suck,” I murmur, casting furtive, longing looks toward the bedroom.
“I love living with Mitch,” she continues. “But I didn’t realize they were, you know…a package deal.” She uncurls herself and sits up, then flops her head onto the coffee table with a dull thunk. “And his presence keeps us from being…intimate. Instead of sex, it’s, like, round-the-clock Braidbeard commentary on why such-and-such ‘pwns’ and why so-and-so ‘suxxors’ and I never know what he’s talking about and when I try to ask, he interrupts me and—”
“Kinda like you just interrupted me?” I mutter, drumming my fingers on the coffee tabletop.
Her brow crinkles. “Julie,” she says, ultra-serious, “this isn’t a very good pep talk.”
“And…since when have I ever claimed to have a talent for at such things?” I narrow my eyes suspiciously. “Are you trying to have…what are you trying to have? Girl talk?”
She lifts her head from the table, her mouth quirking into a hopeful half-smile. “Why not? I mean, usually when we hang out, it’s with the group—with boys. And in that crowd, I’m mostly just ‘Mitch’s Girlfriend.’”
“I don’t think of you that way,” I lie.
“Actually, you do,” she says matter-of-factly. “Y’all are heavy on the comics and action movie ‘biff pow’ talk. Not a lot of, like, sharing.”
I can’t help but roll my eyes. “So it’s time for us to conform to our socially accepted stereotype? Would you like a drink with a little umbrella in it?”
Her smile upgrades to a full-on beam. “Oooooh! Like that show with all the brunch and blowjobs!”
“…Sex and the City?”
“Yes!” She claps her hands together. “Let’s please share like we’re on Sex and the City! I mean, Jules, I know you and Mitch are best friends cause you can blab about Iron Mans and Cyclones—”
“Cylons,” I mutter.
“—’til the cows come home, but don’t you ever just want to talk about relationships and cute dresses and the size of Jack’s—”
“Layla.” I shake my head at her, trying to tamp down on my shock. “No. And…I have to say, I don’t think any of that is exactly your thing either? Aren’t you usually more interested in, I don’t know, the latest advances in yoga posing?”
She bites her lip. “I just want to…try it. The girl talk thing.” She cocks her head to the side, doe eyes widening. “Do you have any umbrella drinks?”
“…gah.” I throw up my hands. “Fine. Let’s girl talk and get it over with.” I stalk into my miniscule kitchenette and snag a carton of nearly-expired orange juice, a dusty bottle of vodka, and a pair of plastic cups.
“Here,” I say, marching back into the living room and plunking everything in front of her. “Will this do? I don’t have any umbrellas.”
She holds up a pair of umbrella-like shapes that appear to be constructed from origami paper and twisty pipe-cleaners. “Done,” she says, smiling beatifically.
I can’t help but soften in the face of her impromptu crafting. “Do you just carry that stuff around with you at all times?” I ask, settling in next to her.
“You never know when you’re gonna have a crafts-related emergency,” she says, pouring us both heavy-on-the-vodka drinks.
“Okay,” I say, trying to focus on the task at hand. “So what exactly can we do to get you back on the sex train? Designated date nights? Slutty outfits? Murder?”
She takes a healthy slug of her drink, then reaches over and gently slides my laptop across the coffee table. “I have a plan,” she says, just a bit too enthusiastically. “With your computer savvy and my sex sense, we’ll be unstoppable!”
“I think you need to decide which sex powers this ‘sense’ of yours actually encompasses,” I say, flipping open the computer.
She flaps her hand at the glowing screen. “Log on to Friendspace…”
“And go through all your geeky friends and find Braidbeard a girlfriend. A perfect match. Someone else he can spend all his time with.”
I gape at her. “You’re kidding, right? Are we still talking about Braidbeard? The guy who won’t let anyone else get a fucking word in edgewise? Can we revisit my ‘murder’ idea?”
One claw-hand locks onto my right shoulder, ruthless and death grippy. “Julie. Don’t you believe in love now? Love for all? Love for even the most anti-social of…” She jabs her particularly pointy index finger into my arm, emphasizing each syllable. “Mis. An. Thropes.”
“Ow. Fine,” I grumble, typing my way over to Facebook. “I’ll play along, but I resent the implication. Braidbeard’s the extreme end of the spectrum: I’m a moderately anti-social misanthrope.”
She peers over my shoulder, guzzling her cocktail as I click through long-forgotten high school friends who won’t leave me alone about their fucking Farm/Mafia/Quiz Where They’ve Learned They Are This One Kind of Snack Food.
“A certain sweet boy brought you down to ‘moderate,’ love,” she says, some of the usual zen-master calm creeping back into her voice. “Speaking of which: is he here for the whole weekend?”
“Yeah,” I say absently, deleting a request to join someone’s zombie horde. “Or at least until tomorrow afternoon.”
“Mmmm. Kind of a drag, that long distance thing.”
“More than kind of…goddammit, why does Kirstie keep ‘suggesting’ I become a ‘fan’ of Red Lobster?” I mime little air-quotes.
She rests her head against my shoulder. “Have you guys discussed…you know, the next step?”
“You mean the one where I block her ass for trying to forcibly induct me into the cult of Cheddar Bay biscuits?”
“I mean the ‘you guys’ that involves the cute boy.”
“Oh.” I scroll back through the middle section of my friends list. “It hasn’t come up. Wait a second… That just might work,” I murmur, lingering on a particular profile.
“What do you mean by ‘hasn’t come up’?”
I tear my eyes away from the screen and frown at her. “Is this also part of the girl talk deal?”
She drains her glass. “Yes.”
“Fine,” I say crossly. I take a deep breath, and toss back a hefty portion of my own drink, gasping a little as the booze burns through my gut.
“‘Hasn’t come up’…means ‘hasn’t come up,’” I say slowly, sounding the words out. “It means we spend every second we can together, but never talk about how it’s a lot of work, given that we live in different cities. It means I try not to think about the fact that he can’t move because of work and the fact that I’ve lived here all my life and am not exactly a creature of change. And it especially means that I’m doing my damndest to resist every single neurotic tendency in my being, because God knows there are a whole hell of a lot of them.”
Layla pours herself another round. “Maybe this is something you guys should, like…talk about?”
“No.” I shake my head vehemently. “He’s so…easygoing. Sweet, like you said. And I’m always the one who freaks out about the stupidest little relationship whatevers and I’m just trying to be…you know, normal. A nice, non-freaking-out girlfriend. Besides, I don’t really think of any of that stuff until he has to leave.”
I stir my drink with my pipe-cleaner umbrella, suddenly mesmerized by the bright orange liquid. “When he’s here, I’m just, um…happy.”
Layla gives me a mushy-faced “awwww” look, then chugs the rest of her second drink. I swivel back to my computer, all business. “Anyway. You might wanna slow down a little. Even Sex and the City girls aren’t much for getting tanked before noon.”
“Which Sex and the City person am I?!” she squeaks. “I’ve never actually seen an episode.”
“Uh, well I guess Charlotte is the most cheerful? The most…idealistic?”
“Oooooh! So I’m a Charlotte.”
I give her slovenly, now-slightly-tipsy form a once-over. “Actually, you’re…none of them. And I think you should keep it that way.” I scoot to the side so she can get a better view of the laptop screen. “So here’s our best Braidbeard date candidate, in my opinion. Jill Sloan. Assistant manager at Comics Bee on Divisadero. Obsessive, cranky, not terribly good at…interacting. With people. In other words, sort of a female Braidbeard?”
“Ah.” Layla squints at the screen, then gestures to Jill’s Facebook icon. “What’s this picture?”
“That,” I say proudly, “is what cinches it. Jill’s current avatar is Jessica Jones from New Avengers. And then we have Braidbeard…” I click over to Braidbeard’s profile and point to his avatar.
“Um?” She frowns, a vision of bewilderment. “That’s…a drawing of…a very muscular African-American gentleman? Who looks nothing like Braidbeard?”
“Luke Cage!” I shriek, punching the air triumphantly. She gives me a blank stare. “Dammit, I need Mitch here to translate. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are one of the coolest couples in the current Marvelverse. A One True Pairing if ever there was one.”
“So…Braidbeard and this random girl are perfect for each other because of the not-quite-accurate way they’ve chosen to represent themselves online?”
I roll my eyes. “If you’ve got any better ideas, please share. If not, we’re taking a little field trip down to Comics Bee.”
“Hmmm,” she says. “I suppose it could work.” She gives me another moony, mushy-faced gaze, a tiny hiccup escaping her lips. “True love does bloom in the strangest places. As you know.”
I throw her a look that’s half exasperation, half affection. “No need to lay it on so thick, Drunky. Let’s go do some recon.”