With Violet Light, Part III

With Violet Light, Part III

Oct 22

Thank you for returning for the penultimate episode of our little tale. You should totally go read Parts I and II if you haven’t already.

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.

Sarah Kuhn

**

“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!”

“Julie—”

“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.

“…who?”

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.

Read Part IV

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