The first phone call, unsurprisingly, was from Anna, on the day the full page ad ran in Comic Collector's Monthly.
"I'm really impressed, Cohen. Twenty-four years old and you're already starting your own publishing house? Very bold of you."
"Yeah, well, DC and Marvel and the independents wouldn't hire me, so I figured I might as well blow the trust fund all at once instead of, you know, just living comfortably on the interest for the rest of my life."
The crystalline tinkle of Anna's laugh echoed through the phone. "You sound a little nervous there, Seth."
Seth ran his free hand through his hair and sighed. "What if it sucks? What if no one reads it? What if I single-handedly ruin the entire graphic novel genre?"
"Well, I promise you, you'll have at least one devoted reader in Pittsburgh. Oooh, hey, what are the chances I could get a signed first edition? I need to start thinking about my retirement."
Seth blushed. "I don't think it'll get that big."
"Confidence, Cohen! Confidence!"
The second phone call came a few days later.
"Hey! Ryan! How's it going, man?"
"Pretty good. I hear you're about to make publishing history."
"The first issue goes to the printers tomorrow," Seth said proudly. "I am now officially a writer and an artist, instead of a mere... doodler."
"Don't say doodler. But hey, that's great, man. I'll be sure to pick up a copy."
"Dude, you don't have to. You're on the subscription list. Technically, you are the subscription list, but I have high hopes."
"I'm looking forward to reading it."
The next phone call was from his parents, the day the first issue hit the stores.
"Oh, honey... I'm so proud of you! The artwork is just amazing!" Kirsten said warmly.
"I hear Stan Lee is trembling in his boots," Sandy added.
Seth blushed. "It's just a comic book," he said depreciatingly, to which his father, well-trained, quickly interjected, "Ah ah... graphic novel."
Seth squirmed. "Right. Most new graphic novels don't take off, though, so I'm not holding my breath. Many are called, but few are chosen."
Sandy scoffed, "Nonsense. You're a talented artist and an intelligent young man. It'll sell like hotcakes."
After a few minutes of continued cooing on the part of Seth's parents, and embarrassed self-deprecation from Seth, Kirsten hesitantly asked, "Do Summer and Marissa know?"
Seth froze. Stuttering, he said, "Ah... no. No, they don't. But they don't read graphic novels anyway."
"Ryan? Did you read it?" Seth asked eagerly.
Ryan laughed, the warm chuckle that Seth had always treasured. "You wrote yourself into your own comic, Seth?" he said, amused.
Seth blushed, and was grateful for once for all the miles between them. "Hey... if I'm going to actually have my own comic book, then I might as well live the dream, right?"
"Ah, ego gratification strikes again."
"I knew I never should have signed us up for intro psych. Besides, I'm only the sidekick, not the hero."
"Why not go all the way?"
"Please, Ryan. The hero never gets to have any fun. Always with the world-saving, and the angst... no, sign me up for a life of comic relief and the bad guys not always trying to kill me."
Ryan laughed again. "Seriously, man... it's good."
"Really? You liked it?" Seth felt the rush of his blood to his face, warming him from inside out.
"Of course. Does Summer know?"
"Ah... not so much."
Two issues later, Summer found out.
"Oh my god, Cohen! I can't believe you didn't tell me!"
"I had to read about it in the Harbor alumni newsletter? What's that all about?" She was indignant.
"Sorry, Summer," Seth began, in his best placate-the-ragebeast tone. "I know I should've told you, and I'm sorry if you're upset..."
"Upset? God, no! This is totally awesome! I went to the store and bought all three issues, and I've showed, like, everyone I know. I can't believe my ex-boyfriend made a comic book series about me. This totally rocks!"
"Well, actually, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental..."
"Cohen? Please." Seth heard the rustling of pages from the other end of the line, and Summer began to read from the intro to the second issue. "Rachel Bilson, mild-mannered graduate student by day, crime-fighting superheroine Autumn Breeze by night?" She paused. "Yeah, and about that -- was it really necessary to give me the boat's last name? Eew."
"Boats don't have last names, Summer."
"Whatever. I'm just glad to see that you're comfortable writing a strong woman as the hero of your story. Not to mention that it's me."
"Well, you know, for my first title, I wanted to buck the trend a little bit. I assure you, misogyny will abound in the other series I have planned if the company succeeds."
"Cohen, was it really necessary to make my boobs that big?"
"Bear in mind that my target audience is teenage boys, Summer."
"Fair enough. Ooh, hey... this sidekick guy? Adam the Wonder-boy, or whatever. That's you, isn't it?"
"Yeah, kinda. But not really. It's fiction, we're just, you know, the template..." he said, trying to back away from that issue.
"And the villain?"
"You know, she's going to kick your ass when she finds out about this."
"I know, and am prepared to face that eventuality. Just, don't tell her, okay?"
"Ah, you can probably take her."
"Your confidence in me is unexpected, but appreciated."
"Seth." Ryan drawled, voice full of disappointment.
"Don't you think you're being a little harsh on Marissa?" he chided.
"It's not Marissa. It's fiction. It's a fictional supervillain who... just happens to look a little like Marissa."
Ryan snorted. "Right."
"Cohen, is this some kind of a joke?"
"Ah, Marissa. I see that I've put the last nail in the coffin of our already-dying acquaintanceship," he commented drolly.
"You put all of us into your sick, twisted little comic book reality?" she said, voice tight with anger. Seth heard papers being shuffled, or possibly ripped, on the other end of the line. "Oliver's the villain in the first issue? And... who is that, the guy who shot Luke? And then the third issue... what did I ever do to you to deserve this?"
"Well, where should I start? You did everything in your power to turn my best friend into a neurotic mess. You drove him away from m... Newport. You broke his heart, over and over again, and stamped on it with your little Prada-clad cloven-hooved feet. You know, he would've done anything for you. He did do everything for you. And you left me to pick up the pieces, over and over." He was speaking into the dial tone. She'd actually hung up on him.
It wasn't like he'd ever been jealous of her, or anything. No, not at all.
Seth leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers as he thought. In the next issue, he'd have the evil but innocent-seeming femme fatale Ms Barton kidnap Rachel's super-sexy next-door neighbor, Ben. Then Autumn Breeze and her trusty sidekick Adam would save the day by breaking into her secret lair, to rescue the boy from Ms Barton's demonic-but-doe-eyed clutches. The only thing remaining to decide was whether there should be a chick-fight between Autumn and Ms Barton, which was always good for sales, or if he should go with his heart and have Adam rescue Ben all by himself.
"Seth?" Ryan asked, slowly.
"Is Ben supposed to be me?"
In issue #8, Seth drew the first kiss between Adam and Ben. Sales went through the roof.
Seth braced himself.
"Is there something you wanted to tell us, Seth?" Sandy asked carefully.
"You know we love you no matter what, honey," Kirsten added.
"Uh... hey, Ryan. What's up?"
There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment, then Ryan spoke softly. "Man, you should've just told me."
"Told you?" He decided to play dumb.
"The comic, Seth."
"Oh... yeah, sorry... there was a mix up in the subscription department -- which is still mostly just me, by the way. Some of the issues weren't mailed, so, you know, sorry you missed it..."
"That's not what I meant, Seth." His voice was gentle, patient.
Seth closed his eyes and swallowed. Maybe if he hadn't made Adam half-Jewish. Or Ben a successful young architect...
Slowly, carefully, Ryan went on, "I've known you since we were sixteen, Seth. We're supposed to be brothers. Why didn't you tell me you were..."
"Bad at counting correct postage?"
The silence stretched out for a minute that felt like forever.
"Uhm, Ryan. There's something I need to tell you."
Ryan didn't say anything at first, but Seth could imagine him, back in Newport, rolling his eyes.
"Seth? Why don't you just wait until we see each other again?"
"Why? So you can kick my ass in person?"
Ryan sighed heavily into the other end of the phone. Ruefully, he said, "No. Because page fourteen can't happen for real unless we're both together."
"I really hope you aren't referring to the chick-fight."
Ryan laughed again, a low, throaty chuckle that made Seth's stomach flutter. "Trust me, I'm not."
The doorbell rang on Seth's end, but Seth remained in his chair, processing that. "You don't mean...?"
"Aren't you going to get that?" Ryan asked, as the doorbell rang again.
"This is way more important. Are you saying that you're...?"
Ryan cut him off. "Get the door, Seth."
In a daze, Seth shuffled to the front door of his apartment and opened it.
"Oh." Of course. Ryan, on his cell phone. Ryan flipped the phone shut and shoved it into his pocket, looking a little embarrassed.
"Sorry... I know this is a bit too romantic-comedy..." he said, smiling nervously.
Seth grinned. "Hey, you know I'm all about the grand gesture. I can't believe you flew all the way to..." He was cut off by Ryan, who took a deep breath and grabbed him by the front of his shirt (page 13, panel 6) and pulled him in for a long lingering kiss (page 14, panel 1) which soon evolved to include tongue (off the script entirely, but Seth sure as hell wasn't complaining.)
When they finally pulled apart some time later, Seth was breathing heavily, his mind incapable of coherent thought.
"Now... about Ben's tendency to be the damsel in distress..."
"Completely negotiable," Seth managed.
"My hero," Ryan breathed, and kissed him again.