"Thanks again for coming with me, Dale," Calvin says as he and Dale get out of his car and Calvin locks the doors. "Even Rusty wouldn't come." Calvin tries not to think too much about the implications of the fact that, while Rusty eagerly rearranges his schedule for events like photographic retrospectives of Stephen Hawking's childhood and has gone to ComicCon since he was a little kid, he thought that this convention was too embarrassing to attend.
"No problem, Calvin," Dale says eagerly. "I'm always happy to support some nice, wholesome television, what with the filth that's on basic cable these days. I mean, Criminal Minds? Who comes up with this stuff? Honestly. And I think it's good for you to get out of the house. You know, shake off your breakup with that Grant."
It's both disturbing and a little sweet that Dale so quickly picked Rusty's habit of referring to Grant as "that Grant." They both seem to get a certain pleasure out of saying it now, like they were right all along.
"Right," Calvin says, and they both look up at the giant "LEOPARD BOY CONVENTION X" banner that's hanging across the front of the Cyrus Convention Center. "Let's do this."
As they make their way across the parking lot, Calvin gets several approving nods on his Leopard Man hat. He'd chosen the classic black one, and lent the more whimsical leopard-print one to Dale. There are way more people milling around the parking lot than he'd expected, and by the time they manage to get inside, the convention center seems like it's bursting at the seams.
"Wow," Calvin mutters, taking in the rows of booths selling Leopard Man memorabilia and costumes, the loud conversations about whether or not the show was better before they killed off Leopard Boy's dad and the plotlines took a a dark and noirish turn, and the hundreds of people in full Leopard Boy costume. There's even blond guy dressed as Tiger Kid, Leopard Boy's sidekick, and Calvin realizes he's flat-out staring, but Tiger Kid's really working the tiger-print tights. It looks like he even has whiskers painted on his face. "This is huge."
"All these old TV shows are popular again," Dale says. "You know, with the people smoking their marijuana and watching television all day instead of going to class."
"So, most of CRU, then," Calvin says. "I did hear there was some renewed interest in a movie."
"Yeah, word on the street is that Lady Gaga might do the theme song. You must be thrilled."
Calvin's not going to touch that one. "What do you want to do first? The panels don't start until noon, so we can just browse the booths until then, if you want."
Dale nods agreeably. "That reminds me, I have to remember to pick up three copies of the novelization of the first season. I'm going to submit it to Booktacular for consideration, for when we're done with Ulysses."
"Three?" Calvin asks, momentarily distracted by a giant poster of Leopard Boy wielding a sword with a leopard-print handle. That must be one of the promos for the season after his father died. Leopard Boy never resorted to violence until he went mad with grief and a need for vengeance. "I thought Booktacular was just you and Cappie."
"We added a new member. I tried to get Casey to join, but for some reason Cappie thought she was too busy. Anyway, she recommended this girl Katherine to Cap, and I think we all know that the rumors about Casey Cartwright's word being as good as gold are true."
Calvin thinks there are probably more rumors about the one time Casey and Rebecca apparently kissed, and whether or not she once had sex with a high schooler when she was 21, but he keeps that to himself. "Oh, that's cool."
"Yeah, she really keeps the meetings running on time," Dale says dreamily. "Oh, hey, look, snow cones!"
Calvin treats himself and Dale to a couple of snow cones. The guy making them only has two bottles of flavoring, one black and one brown, and Calvin's confused and a little grossed out until he sees what their snow cones look like when he's done. He's made them leopard-print snow cones. Calvin tips his hat to the guy.
"I almost don't want to eat this," Calvin says.
"This is art, right here," Dale agrees. "No naked ladies, just pure artistry and skill."
They finally dig into their snow cones, and wander around the halls for a little bit, checking out the merch. Calvin gives in and buys the sword poster, and when he looks across the room, wondering if he could have gotten a better deal at one of the other booths, he catches sight of a broad-shouldered guy in a button-down, tie, and panther ears. He's staring down at his program guide, but even though Calvin can't see his face, he looks strangely familiar. When he looks up, Calvin grabs Dale's arm. "Dale! Look, it's Evan! What do you think he's doing here?"
Dale almost drops his snow cone. "Probably the same thing we are. I think it would be hard to put on a pair of ears and wander in here by accident. Though not impossible, if what Papaw Kettlewell used to do while sleepwalking in his barn is any indication."
"This is amazing," Calvin says. "Come on, we have to go over there." He drags Dale across the room, and he can pinpoint the exact second Evan notices them, because he's so surprised, he trips over someone's bag of Leopard Man merch.
"I'm-" Evan tries as they walk up to him, and looks wildly around the room, but he can't seem to come up with an excuse. "I'm, uh- I'm- wow. This is embarrassing."
Calvin grins. "I thought you had to work!"
"Yeah, well, I thought you were playing hockey with Matt and Tony!" Evan crosses his arms across his chest defensively. "Nice Leopard Boy hat."
"You're wearing Pammy the Panther ears, so I don't think you really have to room to mock, Evan."
Evan cracks a smile. "Yeah, okay. I didn't realize you were a fan, too."
"The biggest," Dale says. "Yeah, he's got, like, three different Leopard Boy hats-"
"Dale," Calvin hisses. "They're collectors' items! The one I lent you? Yeah, there were only three hundred made. It's from the episode where the evil cockatoo Screechy Sammy puts a spell on Leopard Boy, and he starts identifying more with his leopard side than his human one. He even stops speaking English."
"I love that episode," Evan says. "It's so crazy. The whole thing is subtitled, because he's just growling, but then all of a sudden, Tiger Kid and Pammy the Panther find a way to reverse the spell-"
"And his growling turns back into words!" Calvin nods. "Total hall of fame episode. Right up there with the one where Leopard Boy almost drowns, and he gets saved by Dolphin Danny, in his introduction to the series."
"Classic," Evan agrees, shaking his head ruefully. "Oh, Dolphin Danny! When will he stop showing up and causing so many hijinks?"
"Well, the show's been off the air for about ten years, so I don't really think you have to worry about that anymore," Dale says, and both Evan and Calvin glare at him. "Right. I'm going to go look for that book now, Calvin."
Calvin waves at Dale, and then turns back to Evan. "So, what panels are you thinking about going to?"
"There's this one at noon, the In-World Implications of Cross Species Relationships," Evan says, and Calvin nods eagerly.
"Yeah, Dale and I were looking at that one, too. I'm hoping they talk about how there was always all that angst about Leopard Boy and Pammy the Panther getting together. It's like, his mom is a human and his dad is a leopard, so why is it considered taboo for him to date a panther?"
"I know, right? At least they're both members of the big cat family!" Evan studies his program guide. "Although, you know what, that might actually get covered at this Nitpicking the Canon panel, too."
"Oh, right. I bet they're going to talk about how they call Leopard Boy's dad Leopard Man, even though-"
"He's just a leopard and has no human blood at all," Evan finishes. "Man, I have so many unanswered questions about that."
"And we totally have to go to the Q&A with the guy who directed the series finale! I've been wondering about authorial intent behind that last shot for years."
Having Evan there with him makes the convention even more fun than Calvin was expecting. The first panel they attend is actually a little boring, but Calvin spends half of it doubled over with silent laughter at Evan's quiet Dolphin Danny impression. Man, he has Danny's slightly nasally voice down pat. Things start to heat up at director's Q&A, and the Heroes and Antiheroes: Is Screechy Sammy Actually the Moral Center of the Leopard Boy Universe? panel blows Calvin's mind. It would have been amazing even if they didn't surprise the audience with an appearance by Jack Tripp, the voice of Sammy, who's so drunk that he almost falls off the stage after slurring that Sammy's the only one who "knows a damn about anything, so fuck Leopard Boy!"
"There goes my childhood," Evan says, in mock horror, after Jack Tripp is escorted from the panel by several security guards. "Actually, I wasn't even allowed to watch anything other than PBS when I was a kid. I used to sneak down to the family room after my parents and my nanny were asleep and watch Leopard Boy reruns on- on, shit, Channel 12, I think."
Every time Calvin thinks he has Evan all figured out, something always surprises him. He had been under the impression that Evan's parents were the kind of people who thought that PBS taught kids how to become communists and have premarital anal sex. "I used to watch reruns after hockey practice," Calvin says. "I was, like, twelve, and I hated the hockey team I was playing on. Why did I- oh, man. I had a crush on the coach and I was always worried he would be able to tell, and that he'd throw me off the team."
"Shit," Evan says, and Calvin says, "I know." The weird this is, he'd almost forgotten about that entirely. He mostly just remembers his parents yelling good-naturedly if he left his hockey bag in the hallway in his rush to get to the TV.
Calvin's yawning by the time the closing ceremonies are over, but he feels tired in a good way. "Evan, that was amazing." The ceremonies had ended with the entire audience rising to their feet and reciting the Leopard Boy pledge in unison, then finished with a rousing version of the theme song. It was nothing short of electrifying.
"I know." Evan takes his ears off and looks at them for a second before jamming them in his coat pocket. "Time to go back to the real world."
"I should go find Dale. I'll see you back at the house, where we will never, ever speak of this again."
"Hey, Evan," Calvin says suddenly, just as he's about to walk away. He can see the tips of the panther ears sticking sadly out of Evan's pocket. "Listen. I have the complete collector's edition DVDs, so if you ever want to clear up that issue of whether or not Leopard Boy's short-lived mentor is a crocodile or an alligator-"
"Yeah, for sure."
"Cool." Evan sticks his hands in his pockets, looking strangely shy. "And, uh, you should wear the hat more often. It looks good on you, Leopard Boy."
"So if I'm Leopard Boy, does that make you Pammy?" Calvin means it as a joke, but Evan shrugs, grinning a little, and Calvin grins back before walking off to find Dale.