"No way," Cecil says, as his dad carefully cleans out the gash on his arm, "no way am I working in that death trap another day, no way in hell."
"Language, sweetheart," his dad murmurs, wincing as he pulls more of the tiny white teeth from Cecil's shoulder.
Cecil ducks his head. "Sorry, dad."
"You don't have to go back if you don't want to," his dad continues. Cecil hisses through his teeth as the tweezers dig too deeply under his skin. "Oh, oh, sorry, buddy. You know, it's times like this I wish you'd been born without pain receptors."
"Yeah, I wish I'd taken after mom, or mother."
"Hey, you do get one or two good qualities from me. Ask your mom, she'll back me up."
The bathroom is really quiet. Cecil shifts anxiously on the edge of the tub, listens to the quiet tink, tink of teeth dropping one by one into the bowl by the sink, and reevaluates his life choices.
"So I can quit? Even after just one day?"
His dad meets his eyes, obviously worried. Cecil feels like a loser, giving up so soon, and he's sure his dad's going to say that he needs to stick with it. But his dad just smiles and presses a kiss to Cecil's temple.
"Of course," he says softly. Then, because he's the best dad ever, he changes the subject. "So, you gonna ask that Hector kid to go to the dance with you, or just blush at him forever?"
Cecil rolls his eyes. "Tell me again how you ended up in the hospital the first time you tried to ask mom and mother out."
"Let's hope you didn't get that from me, too," Cecil's dad laughs. He sets down the tweezers and runs warm water over Cecil's wound, washing the blood away and leaving the skin clean and brown.
But the next day Cecil does go back to the radio station, figuring he probably has to give his notice or whatever. The moment he shows up he gets roped into scutwork, and spends the morning doing the same boring stuff he did the day before: making coffee, filing stuff in the records office, fighting a medium-sized snake to escape the records office, appeasing Station Management with gifts of milk and shame. The head intern, Steve, is kind of a dick, bossing him around and stuff. Cecil can't quite bring himself to tell Steve that he's quitting – Steve would probably be a dick about it – so he resolves to find someone higher up the ladder to tell by the end of the day.
He's grabbing lunch in the station break room, glaring at the graves of previous station interns, when the host of Welcome to Night Vale walks in. Cecil sits up straight and stares stupidly for a few seconds before thinking to brush the crumbs off his shirt. He's seen her picture in the paper, of course, but she looks different in person. Older, more frazzled. She's wearing battered, stained jeans and a fraying cardigan; the buttons on the cardigan are done up, but misaligned, so that one side trails too far down and the other side flaps uselessly at the top. Her hair is a frizzy mess, pens and pencils sticking out of it, and there's a hand-rolled cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
Cecil's never been more impressed by anyone in his whole life.
She's not paying any attention to him, just getting some orange milk from the fridge, but after a moment she sees him out of the corner of her eye and does a double-take.
"Hey kid," she says, in a voice even more familiar to him than his own. Her eyes linger on the scrapes on his face and arms from the baby attack the day before. "How's it going?"
Cecil shrugs. He tries to open his mouth and say something, but it stays stubbornly closed. This is the real reason that it's stupid of him to go for a job in radio; when he's by himself, or practicing with his parents, he thinks he sounds pretty good, but with strangers, under pressure, he gets tongue-tied.
How could he ever speak to a whole town of strangers, every single day?
The host of Welcome to Night Vale takes a drag of her cigarette and blows it out slowly.
"It was a pretty hectic day yesterday," she says, "what with the baby attack, and then the floor cleaners being in and all. Kind of a rough first day for you, I bet."
Cecil is full to the brim with questions, things he wants to say, things he's always wanted to say to her, but none of them will push past his lips. When she swings a leg over the chair opposite him and sits down, Cecil is caught between elated joy and outright panic. He manages a nod.
She nods back slowly, considering. She smokes for a while. Then, leaning back in her chair, she stubs the cigarette into the overfull ashtray on the break room counter. Cecil grimaces; he's pretty sure Steve told him he'd have to clean that thing out.
"You don't talk much, huh?"
Cecil opens his mouth and tries, really tries, but after a moment she cuts him off with a wave of her hand.
"It's fine, I get it." She takes a drink of her orange milk. Cecil wants to squirm under the appraising look she gives him, but he doesn't, and he still doesn't say anything.
She stands up, about to leave, and Cecil is already cursing himself; why couldn't he just talk to her? He talks to her every day, has since he was old enough to speak: replying to her rhetorical questions, telling her what he thinks about the new municipal regulations she announces, offering her traffic tips based on what he's seen while out riding his bike. He's grown up with her voice, her words, a constant in his life since the cradle, and now he can't even say one word back to her.
"Did they finish giving you the tour yesterday, before the attack?" she asks, interrupting his train of thought.
He shakes his head no.
"C'mon, then, let me show you the booth. There's buttons and stuff."
Cecil stands up fast, knocking his stuff to the floor, then blushes as he picks it all up, throwing his apple core in the garbage and stashing the rest of his lunch in the fridge. She waits for him by the door.
"I guess I'm maybe not what you were expecting," she says, a little self-consciously, playing with the unbuttoned flap of her cardigan. "You'll get used to it. People who work in radio don't give a fuck."
No adult has ever casually said the word fuck to Cecil in the entire fifteen and a half years he's been alive. That might be what finally unlocks his tongue.
"It's just that you're this old woman," he blurts. He then immediately wants to crawl into the graves in the break room and hide below the soil with the other interns. He might do that later.
To his relief and further embarrassment, she chuckles. "If you know what's good for you, kid, you'll never call me 'old woman' again. Leastways, not till I retire." She swings a friendly arm over his shoulder to show him that she's just kidding. She's warm, and her arm feels solid, dependable. She smells like smoke, and sweat, and a dark, elusive perfume. The smell suits her, matches the rich voice that's spoken sweetly in Cecil's ear every night since he can remember.
"Call me Josie."
The recording booth, as it turns out, has an awful lot of buttons, and in the middle of the buttons, gleaming and silver, is an old-fashioned carbon microphone.
Cecil falls in love instantly.
After a few minutes, Josie can't get him to shut up.