Morning, the Star Girl studio.
Kristen — in the wardrobe designers' idea of a classy junior-prom dress, which was glittery and asymmetrical and totally not her style, but which she was making work for her regardless — blushed. "Gosh, Lisa, you think so?"
"I don't have to think," said Olivia. Okay, this part took a little acting, delivering such ridiculous lines with absolute sincerity. "I know so." On impulse, she caressed Kristen's arm, as they gazed into each other's eyes.
"Cut!" shouted Charlie from the director's chair. "Girls, girls, what is this? We are not filming softcore lesbian porn, here!"
Softly, so that their mics wouldn't pick it up, Kristen whispered, "We're not? Then what's the point?"
Olivia manged to keep it together long enough to do one more take, which Charlie decided was acceptable. When the shooting was done and they were back in their normal clothes, she rendezvoused with Kristen at lunch. "You should totally be writing for this show," she said as they dithered over which yogurt cups to grab. "You're so much funnier than anybody here."
"Only because there's no competition," said Kristen. "You've been watching Gravity Falls, right?"
"Are you kidding? I don't miss an episode. But I tend to zone out when Mabel isn't on screen."
"You are so missing out," Kristen chided her. "The stuff we rehearse that doesn't make it into the final cut is still ten times better than anything I can write. And believe me, I've tried."
She scooped up a chicken wrap and veered away from the dining area altogether, heading for the doors. Olivia grabbed the first sandwich she could get her hands on and trotted to catch up. "C'mon, can't you stay a little longer? At least have lunch at the studio."
Kristen grimaced. "I can't. Mom told school I'd be back in time for fifth period, and my lit teacher threatened to drop my grade if I show up late again."
"Hey, you're participating in creating literature! Sort of," said Olivia. Scripts that were written to be performed still counted as literature, right? It worked for Shakespeare. "That has to count for something, right? Tell her...."
"Tell her that I'm deconstructing archetypes and motifs from mythology, folklore, and classical horror literature and recontextualizing them in a modern narrative reflecting the sensibilities of 21st-century youth? I mean in Gravity Falls, not Star Girl, obviously."
"Obviously!" agreed Olivia with a nervous laugh. "And yeah, that sounds great! Try that."
Kristen shook her head. "That's the one I used last week."
They stopped in the middle of the hall; Kristen shifted her lunch-to-go and the associated plastic utensils into one arm, freeing up a hand to tuck some of Olivia's long dark hair behind her ear. "I don't like it either," she said, with that particular adorable pinup mournfulness she was unexpectedly good at. "But if my grades tank, my parents can totally pull me out of acting for the year. They can still do that, you know. I don't have crazy-powerful managers who can roll right over them like you do."
"Yeah," said Olivia glumly. It was too bad. Managers who could override her mom were basically making her life bearable right now. "See you tomorrow night, I guess."
"See you then."
After seeing Kristen off, instead of going back to the buffet, Olivia took her sandwich and yogurt to her dressing room. She'd settled on vanilla for the latter, which was just begging to have something with a kick added in. And since she'd started concealing her work stash of vodka in a couple of (well-washed) perfume bottles, Mac and Will and the rest still hadn't noticed that she was keeping it around again.
Meanwhile, at the Shout*For studio.
The director of their show complained a lot about having to change all the scripts. Stephen didn't understand what the problem was. "See, Jon? Your character really did only like Taylor as a friend all along! Just like I said!"
Jon didn't understand what there was to complain about either. "Only because the writers took all my lines for the romance scenes and gave them to Jimmy! And then Craig has the nerve to act like we've screwed up his grand creative vision for these deep and well-developed characters? Give me a break."
It had barely taken one scene to redirect the arc. The gimmick with Jimmy's character was that he was always trying to matchmake his friends; all they had to do was show him extolling the virtues of "Taylor" to "Jon", and then to have "Jon" turn around and say, "Geez, Jimmy, maybe you should ask her out!" Just like that, now Jimmy and Tina were alone on one of the "school" sets, barely even acting, just being effortlessly adorable for the cameras.
(Jon and Stephen were hanging out on the sidelines watching. They were already dressed and made-up for the next scene, and didn't have anything else to do until then.)
"I don't know why you can't appreciate this amazing storytelling," grumbled Stephen.
"Hey, I appreciate some things about it," said Jon. Lowering his voice even further — they were already talking quietly, and everyone in the room was too busy working on filming to pay attention anyway, but it couldn't hurt — he continued, "I appreciate that I didn't have to kiss Tina after all."
"Oh, I'm sure that would have been fine," said Stephen, like he hadn't been the one distraught about the possibility just weeks earlier. "She's cute and she's nice, so you wouldn't have hated it, right? And considering what she looks like, it wouldn't have been hard to imagine a certain even-more-attractive face, which would help you sell it."
"Do people really do that?" asked Jon. "I feel like it would just be distracting, trying to stay in the moment and picture somebody else all at once."
"I've done it," said Stephen promptly. "Like, with Olivia in The Princess and the Pop Star, I —"
He stopped, and inexplicably clammed up. Jon scanned the area around them to double-check that nobody was too close. Sure enough, the crew were all still busy, and their chairs were close to the wall so it wasn't like anybody could sneak up behind them. "What is it?" he asked under his breath.
"Well, obviously it needed to be someone attractive," muttered Stephen. "And of a certain genetic configuration. And of the right, you know...height."
Jon frowned. "What guys do we know who are as short as Olivia?"
Stephen shot him an uncomfortable glance before averting his gaze, biting his lip.
"Oh, come on," whispered Jon. "I have at least four inches on her."
In a soft voice, Stephen answered, "She was wearing heels."
Jon opened his mouth to complain further — high heels be damned, Olivia was still tiny — when his brain caught up with what this meant. "Hang on. Back then, we weren't...I mean, that was like two months before we...."
"Well, I always knew you were objectively attractive," said Stephen, flushed even in the low light over here. "And like I said, it was mostly height-based."
Before they could get into it any further, someone really did come over to pick them up. "Come on, boys, it's time for audio checks. Let's get to the auditorium set."
They were doing yet another of the show's amazingly cutsey musical numbers: after "Jimmy" tried to tell "Taylor" how he felt, he would bring her to the "school auditorium", where his "three BFFs" were ready with their instruments to back him up as he sang her a love song. (One of Shout*For's latest hits, of course.) Jon alternated between thinking it was stupidly cheesy, and wishing he didn't suck at actual songwriting so he could do something like that for Stephen.
Tucker had been conjured up from somewhere, and the three of them lined up with their instruments: Jon and Tucker on their guitars, Stephen today on keyboard, freeing Jimmy up to do the solo.
Each of them played a scale or two. The sound guys reported that it all checked out. It wasn't long before Craig showed up, the actors were all ordered into their places, and the lights on the stage were dimmed. (Apparently "Jimmy" had also coordinated the whole stunt with people in his school's theater department. Not that it ever came up in the script. To watch the show, you'd think professional-quality stage lighting just magically appeared when people started singing.)
In the semidarkness, Jon fingered his E-string, tried to come up with things he could do for Stephen, and waited for his cue.
<3 Olivia <3
important non-tv-high-school question here:
<3 Olivia <3
is jr prom a real thing schools have?
I don't know about all schools, but mine does.
<3 Olivia <3
<3 Olivia <3
just a thought, stop me if Im bein crazy
<3 Olivia <3
would u invite me?
OMG are you kidding? In a heartbeat!
<3 Olivia <3
assumin Im even ungrounded by then ofc
If not, at least you'll be 18 by the time senior prom comes around, so you can do what you want.
<3 Olivia <3
& assumin Im not scheduled 2 be in NY or whatever
<3 Olivia <3
oh hey, ok, when Im 18 I can make my own schedule :)
<3 Olivia <3
if were even still 2gether. not that I dont want 2 b! but u know us crazy bisexuals, cant ever settle down w/ just 1 person...
Haven't you heard? The word bisexual is a problem because it reinforces the idea that gender is binary.
<3 Olivia <3
Don't you pay attention on Tumblr at all?
<3 Olivia <3
u know perfectly well my tumblr xperience is srsly filtered against any1 likely 2 have opinions on whether Im a feminist role model
<3 Olivia <3
also afaict Im attracted to 2 kinds of ppl
<3 Olivia <3
the kind I can admit 2 & the kind I have 2 keep in the dark
Ooh, that's so insightful! Do you mind if I steal that for my next paper?
<3 Olivia <3
<3 Olivia <3
will ur teachers believe u if u say "full credit 2 Lisa Munn"?
Jon drove Stephen back to his place after work, but told Stephen and the puppy to wait downstairs. Alone.
Stephen did a bit of pacing. Jon's aunt passed them on her way out, exchanging a couple of hurried hellos — apparently she had a book club to get to — before disappearing without a backward glance. Briar Rose jumped up on the couch. Since Stephen wasn't sure if she was allowed to be there, he decided to play it safe and not tell her off.
Finally Jon called, "Okay, you can come up!"
The strange smell hit Stephen halfway down the hall. It wasn't bad, exactly, just impossible to place: not weed, not any other kind of plant he knew, not any food he recognized either.
Then Jon ushered Stephen into his room, and everything became clear. The blinds were down, the lights were off, and Jon had lined the place with the bright, fragrant flames of at least two dozen of those assorted scented candles Stephen had ordered for him.
"Figured I should at least try to use them," he said with forced nonchalance. "I, uh, probably should have tested the smell combination beforehand."
"I think they're wonderful," said Stephen. "Now sit down and don't move while I figure out which ones to blow out."
Jon sat politely on the edge of the bed while Stephen circled the room. Out went the mango candle in the tin on Jon's computer desk, the tall pine one standing between a couple of Batman figurines, the vanilla-coconut one burning on the windowsill. The honeysuckle in the glass jar on the shelf with his Springsteen records could stay, as did the prettily-colored lavender one on the low bookshelf against the bed, and the rose one carved in the shape of an actual rose.
"I'm like some kind of cool-candle-finding savant," he observed at the end of his task, collapsing backward onto the mattress.
Jon took a deep breath. "Oh, that's much better. Did you use some kind of cologne scent-combination principles or something?"
"Huh? No, I just blew out all the ones that weren't flowers. Especially the Christmas ones. Those are totally not in season yet."
"Wait, which ones were Christmas ones?"
So Stephen explained how gingerbread, pine trees, pumpkin bread, cinnamon, and peppermint were all totally the property of Christmas, and couldn't possibly be taken in a secular context. Jon made the occasional humming sort of noise of interest, which Stephen took for agreement and appreciation.
Until Jon lay down beside him and started kissing his neck. "Mmmm."
"Jon! Are you even listening to me?"
"'Course I was. You were being ridiculous," said Jon cheerfully. "You can keep going if you want. It's cute."
"There is nothing ridiculous about the pine tree being a Christian conifer," sulked Stephen.
Jon looped an arm over his chest. "Don't worry about it. If you weren't ridiculous sometimes, I might forget to appreciate it those times when you're really awesome."
With that, he nipped at Stephen's earlobe.
Stephen squeaked in surprise, and rolled to face Jon for some nice normal kissing on the lips. (With a brief pause to fumble off his glasses and set them down next to the rose candle.)
For a follow-up, Jon hooked a leg over Stephen's and rolled their hips together, sending a shock of heat through Stephen's body and making him writhe in pleasure. So far, so normal. Jon always did most of the sexual escalation, with Stephen happily following his lead. And if Stephen got anxious about turning his boyfriend down sometimes, it was okay, because Jon was so good about not pushing him too far.
Except that tonight, Jon didn't seem to be pushing at all.
He settled into the slow grind, and stayed there. It wasn't that he was having a hard time getting it up; Stephen could feel Jon's erection swelling just fine against his own. For some reason Jon just wasn't rushing to push his arousal to a climax. Unlike every other time they'd been together, he was staying calm and present, enjoying it for what it was in the moment.
It was gentle. It was loving. It was starting to drive Stephen crazy.
Wherever Jon had gotten this upwelling of Zen from, it wasn't contagious. Stephen wanted to pump his hips faster. He wanted to grab himself and stroke...or maybe to grab Jon's hand, and drag that down to handle the stroking instead. He wanted to grab Jon. What would Jon feel like, thrusting into his fist? How would it sound when he came in Stephen's grip?
The mental images went straight to Stephen's gut, glowing like coals. He clung to Jon's back, only to feel the muscles shift and the spine curve as Jon's body moved, which made it that much worse.
This time he was totally lucid, too. No Vaxasopor fugue or alcoholic stupor to mess with his head...which meant Jon had no reason to put on the brakes. Any time Stephen wanted, he could go for it, and it would happen. Right this second, even.
But if he gave in to his urges...well, he wouldn't be ruined by them (Jon said that was BS and Stephen believed him), but he'd be different somehow, and, and....
Shaking, he gave Jon a gentle push and wriggled backwards.
Jon let him go. Not that Jon himself stopped moving; he just started moving his hips in a lazy parabola against the bed, keeping up a slow but steady level of friction. "What is it?"
"I can't," said Stephen, and then waved frantically toward Jon's pelvis. "Do you have to do that?"
"Wha...?" Jon's face twisted in confusion. "You don't even want me to...Stephen, are you trying to kill me, here?"
Stephen felt miserable. Of course it wasn't fair of him to shut Jon down like that. Jon wasn't asking anything Stephen hadn't happily done with him before.
When he didn't get an answer, Jon said, "Is there something going on?"
"I mean...if there was something wrong, you would tell me? If I did something wrong, or if you were worried, or...or anything."
With all the derision he could muster, which was plenty, Stephen said, "Jon, when was the last time you heard me not complain about something?"
"Just thought I would check," said Jon defensively. "Listen, if you're not in the mood...if you want to maybe run downstairs for five minutes, I could, you know, take care of it."
That was a compromise Stephen could live with. Especially if it gave him five minutes alone in a bathroom. "Yes, please."
On the night of the Col-bert networking party, Mac once again had to argue Olivia out from under Mom's clutches. At least this time Olivia was dressed and ready when her manager showed up. And since it wasn't a public event, she could get away with wearing a navy skirt that showed off most of her thighs and a lacy white blouse that undercut just a bit of cleavage.
Stephen's house was all lit up and surrounded by expensive cars. Inside, someone took their coats and showed them through to the main room, where Mac cooed in excitement at some of the guests. "Oh my, is that Lisa Lambert? I've been trying to convince her that a line inspired by your fashion sense would be a great opportunity for ages. Come on, let's go say hello!"
"You do that," said Olivia. "I gotta find Stephen, okay?"
With a brief trip to the sommelier first. There were a lot of important strangers around here, and she needed to be able to deal.
After downing a tall glass of red wine from a county in France whose name she couldn't even pronounce, Olivia was relaxed enough to rendezvous with Stephen. Her fake boyfriend and his creepy manager were talking with a toned, dark-haired Jewish woman, who didn't seem bothered by the way Ned kept running his hand down the back of Stephen's semi-formal jacket.
Olivia threw her arms around Stephen, incidentally knocking Ned away. "Hi, honey! Who's your new friend? Introduce me!"
"Olivia! Hi," said Stephen, blushing. "This is Allison Silverman. She writes people's autobiographies for them. Allison, this is Olivia Munn. But you probably knew that."
"Pleasure to meet you," said Allison, holding out a hand. She probably expected a handshake, but Olivia was too busy hugging Stephen to clue in on that until it was too late, and the ghostwriter tactfully withdrew. "Stephen overstates my job a little. All I do is talk to people who want to write an autobiography and help them get their thoughts in order."
"She'll have her hands full with Stephen," put in Ned. "He's got thoughts going all over the place, don't you, buddy?"
"Stephen is very thoughtful, yes," said Olivia sweetly. "Speaking of being thoughtful, sweetie, wasn't there something you promised to do for me tonight...?"
"Oh! Yes, of course," stammered Stephen. "Excuse us for a minute."
As they headed away, Olivia steered them to the left.
"The guest room Kristen's in is that way," hissed Stephen, trying to tug her to the right.
"And the sommelier is this way," whispered Olivia. "C'mon, it's a party! We gotta celebrate properly."
The makeshift bartender was happy to pour them each a fresh glass. Arm-in-arm, Stephen led Olivia around through a corridor that was mostly empty, and up one of the back staircases.
A series of vaguely-familiar eight-by-ten headshots, some of them featuring children and none of them older than maybe twenty, lined the upstairs hallway. "Wow, who are these people?"
"Well, that one's me." Stephen pointed to a startled-looking toddler. "And that one, and that one, and this one over here, and the other one...All the ones that aren't me are my brothers and sisters. Our parents frame a new photo whenever we start a major new project. That was me when I got my first commercial spot. Towards the end there is the one from when the band started."
"Gosh," said Olivia. "They must be really proud of you."
Stephen looked kind of affronted. "Of course they are. Why wouldn't they be? We're amazing."
He'd been using present tense this whole time, and it struck Olivia that this didn't match up. "All these photos are really young, though. Your siblings are a lot older than this by now, right? What do your parents do for the stuff they've accomplished after their twenties?"
"None of them stayed in showbiz after that."
"Yeah, but they must have done other stuff. Didn't one of your brothers pass the bar exam?"
"Lots of people pass the bar exam," scoffed Stephen. "But it isn't just anybody who can say they were on Barney and Friends." He knocked on a door, through which Olivia could hear the faint sound of a TV. "Kristen? I brought you a present!"
There was a scrambling sound, and the clicking of a lock. "For me?" exclaimed Kristen, swinging the door open and clasping her hands. "You shouldn't have!"
Stephen handed Kristen her glass of wine and took off, leaving her and Olivia to hang out together and watch TV and braid each other's hair and whatever else it was that two girlfriends did together. (He still wasn't totally sure. Even the fanfiction where he and Jimmy were "Stephanie" and "Jamie" hadn't done much to clear things up.)
Unlike Olivia, he was excited to get back down and rejoin the crowd. A few dozen people who all wanted to see firsthand how wonderful he was? What could be better than that?
He got lost in conversation with a brilliant director who talked at him about how to make a moving, heartstring-yanking romance, and dropped hints that his ideal eye-candy-for-the-ladies male lead would look a lot like Stephen-in-ten-years. Papa found them just in time to catch that last bit, mentioned that in his opinion Stephen's acting skills were worthy of any movie you could possibly throw them at, and moved on, leaving Stephen with a warm glow inside.
The glow lasted exactly up to the point when Ned's arm went around him again. "C'mere a minute, Stephen. We need to talk."
Stephen was not moving a single inch with his manager for anything less than the house being on fire. "We can talk here."
"It's confidential," said Ned. "Business. Just you, your father, and me."
Oh. That was different. As far as Stephen was concerned, "Papa wants you to be there" ranked right up there with "the house is on fire" in terms of reasons to go somewhere.
They met up in Papa's study, evocatively dark with only a few yellow lamps to throw light on the oak paneling and the leather furniture. "Congratulations, son," said Papa by way of greeting. "Allison Silverman is interested in a book deal."
"That's great!" exclaimed Stephen. "Wait, are we talking about a memoir? Or something else? Maybe a children's book? I have at least one idea for a bestselling children's book."
"We're talking about a memoir," said Ned, ruffling his hair.
Stephen tried not to wince. This was awesome news, after all. At sixteen and a half, he had a ton of memories to share, and the regular interviews he did with the band didn't do them justice. The world deserved better! "Sounds perfect. When do I start writing?"
"That's where we run into the problem," said Papa. "Allison's standard schedule doesn't fit into yours. There aren't enough hours in your day."
"Not while you're sixteen, at least," added Ned.
"Oh," said Stephen, not bothering to hide his disappointment. So much for his big dream of authorship. Even Papa couldn't change his age, or make time slow down so that he could get more done in an hour....
"Which is why I've suggested, and your father has agreed, that it's time you apply for emancipation."
Papa nodded. "Elizabeth did the same thing when she was around your age. Do you remember?"
"Kind of," said Stephen. That would've been during his That's So Rachel days. His sister had been in a musical or something, hadn't she? And they had needed her to work practically all day. That had been Elizabeth's last big project, before she abandoned the art world for business school. "I would be able to work full days, right? And...would I have to handle my own accounts and things?"
"I'll keep handling your finances and contracts," Papa assured him. "You won't have anything extra to worry about. And talking with Allison won't be physically demanding, although of course you can go back to your prescribed Vaxasopor dose if it does become too taxing."
That little complication hadn't even occurred to Stephen. "Can I have some time to think about this?"
Papa folded his arms. "Is there a problem, son?"
"No! Not a problem! I just...want to make a sober, rational consideration of my options?" The phrase sounded good in Stephen's head. Spoken, though, it wasn't making much of a dent in his father's disapproval.
"Go ahead and head back out," offered Ned, addressing Papa. "I'll talk to him."
"Bite me," whispered Olivia.
The only light in the room came from the TV, which was playing a nice soothing documentary of humpback whales to cover any noise they made. Shades of blue played over Kristen's face as she pouted. "Rude."
"I didn't mean that like 'you suck'," said Olivia crossly. Like she would risk interrupting things now, with Kristen down to her underwear and Olivia herself naked from the waist up. "I meant, like...would you bite me?"
"Ohhhh," breathed Kristen. "I get it now."
She kissed her way down Olivia's neck and sank her teeth into the soft skin of Olivia's shoulder, right where it would be concealed by the collar of her discarded top. The jolt of adrenaline made Olivia's whole body shiver. Oh, but that was good.
Stephen lay in bed, unmoving, staring at his fish.
He was still in his clothes. Hadn't even managed to kick off his shoes. The lights were out, but of course he hadn't taken any pills yet, so there was no chance he'd fall asleep. He just didn't have the energy to do anything.
(Briar Rose, not similarly affected, was snoozing peacefully at the foot of his bed.)
Time passed at a crawl. It might not have been passing at all, except that eventually he heard the rumble of cars starting up outside, the guests leaving.
It was stupid. Didn't make any sense. All Ned had done tonight was kiss him, which was practically one of the least awful things he'd put Stephen through. Certainly not bad enough to make him feel like there were lead weights strapped to all his limbs, like he was constantly sinking in spite of being on a solid surface.
That sure wasn't a problem for his fish. In the moon-bright water of the aquarium, Pluto, Perdita, Copper, Lady, Slinky, Zero, and Max paddled around without a care in the world.