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they will take care of you [until they get bored]

Chapter Text

We didn’t have to go in the first place.

There is a surprising market for odd faces in show business. This has been proven time and time and time again.

I had done all of my prerequisite skill-building things for this sort of job. I started in event-planning, I advertised for event-planning… I ‘accidentally’ bumped into the iridescent director Lorene Scafaria’s intern (Jenifer, she’s really nice) outside of an Einstein Bros. Bagels, gave her my number and bought her a few coffees over the next few weeks as an ‘apology...’ I wormed my way into the inner circle of some discreet directors I’d studied for my film classes in college, and I slowly befriended them in the least sleazy ways I could find (through coffee and wine). I laid the foundation for my career as a doormat to the stars, my dream.

I was incredibly lucky – they were kind. Lorene started inviting me to mixers as her plus two (myself and her intern, peas in a pod), just as I’d hoped. We’d sit in the corner and observe, peering over our drinks. I always admired how imposing Lorene could look. I think I picked up a thing or two from her.

I had a front row seat to the rest of my life. I had a copy of my resume downloaded into my phone, ready to go. I just had to spot one of the odd faces. The unique ones are usually kind, they’re forgiving of their assistants when they fall asleep and miss a call, and if they aren’t? Well, I’m always willing to take a little abuse for money. You take what you get. Show business, baby.

One night, Lorene held a party at her house. She let me plan, of course, so I got to put my name on the invite. My name, right under Lorene’s, right beside her address in the Hills – best self-advertising you can manage. I wanted to snatch one to frame on my wall but I didn’t want to be too clingy. Jenifer and I mailed the invites by hand because Lorene’s always been a stickler for authenticity. I even bought some of those color-changing lights just so that I could make the night that much more dramatic, a real movie scene with pulsing music and unnatural hues.

I walked around all night searching for the person I’d sign my soul away to. The shoes Jenifer had bought me for my birthday were beautiful but weren’t made for moving around in, so around midnight I escaped out the back to hide on the balcony and rest my bones. I sunk onto one of the abstract lounge chairs looking out over the city, carefully took the steel monstrosities off and placed them beside me. I almost wanted to fall asleep. But Jenifer’s always said you can’t trust your unconscious self around these people, especially not these days.

It was cold and blue outside, so different from the warm purple I’d crafted inside. Lorene’s glass sliding door was so clean you could almost mistake it for an open space had it not been for the distant music playing, the bass shaking the panel nearly off its railing. After a few months of constant movement, being consistently wedged between Lorene and Jenifer (and their many sponsors), I had forgotten how heavy it felt to be alone. It was a moment straight out of a movie, just not the kind of moment I was hoping for.

The music became loud, and then muffled again. I heard the sliding door click back into place and a long sigh behind me. I didn’t want to risk eye contact, for fear of upsetting one of the high-class don’t-look-at-me guests.

“Oh, sorry, am I interrupting something?”

The voice didn’t sound as invading as I’d expected, deep but soft, so I took a chance. I shifted ever so slightly, placing him in my field of vision.

He looked familiar. I couldn’t tell if I’d seen him in anything recently, though every part of me screamed that I’d recognize that face if I had seen it before.

“I thought… I didn’t see you, you’re all hidden in that… uh, chair,” he rubbed the back of his neck. Humbleness was hard to come by. Still is. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I remember saying. I pivoted the rest of the way and tried on a smile. “Do you need some alone time? We can trade spots.” I couldn’t tell what his deal was, yet. Maybe he needed a smoke. Maybe he needed to shoot up. I couldn’t be sure. What was the catch? So far, he was a slice of heaven.

“No, I just… uh, I needed a break,” he said quietly.

“From the people?”

“From these shoes.” As soon as he said the words, he looked down and saw my own shoes discarded. He smiled, and I melted. (Don’t tell him I said that.) “Ah.”

“Yeah, beauty is pain.” I gestured to the chair beside me. “Take a seat.”

He took his time meandering over in my direction. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he seemed shy. But he’d started this conversation, so that couldn’t be the case. He was just cautious. Fascinating. He was so tall up close, a skyscraper of a man, but I regained my breath when he sat down next to me.

“What’s your name?” I didn’t expect him to ask first, but he did. (Of course he did.) I was planning to lose him forever at this rate, but he asked my name and I felt secure. He was looking at me with those kind eyes, unlacing his pointy-toed shoes without taking his attention off of me.

“I’m… uh, Ryan,” I didn’t hold a hand out to shake. I’d gotten tackled by a few agents over that.

“Nice to meet you, Ryan,” he said. He held his hand out – he held his hand out – to shake. I did, probably more eagerly than I should have. “I’m Shane.”

“Shane…?” No last name? No agency? Either he was new to acting or he was an intern. I was hoping (praying) he’d be an actor – if he was this pleasant to be around, I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible.

“Oh. Oh, Madej. Shane Madej.” He nearly held his hand out again, I saw it twitch in his lap. “I’ve never been to one of these before.”

“Intern?” I asked, trying my hardest to keep a poker face.

“What? No, I… I guess I’m an actor.” Shane cringed at the words, unsure if he was allowed to say them, but I could feel my face stretch into a smile. He was a dream come true, quite literally.

“Yeah? What are you in?” I propped my head on my hand, ready to listen to whatever bombshell list he had to offer.

“Just a war movie, so far. Few commercials. I’m pretty new to this.” (His ‘just a war movie’ comment was a great understatement. He was the lead in the Best Picture for that year, Five Months Lost, the only war movie I’ve ever cried to. As soon as I got home that night, I made sure to watch it. He was incredible.)

“Clearly.” His eyebrows shot up but I held a hand out. “You’re nice, I mean. You don’t have to be nice, you know.”

“Why wouldn’t people be nice?”

“Why be nice when you’re rich?”

Shane scrunched his face and looked over the balcony. He cleared his throat, “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine.” I touched his shoulder. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Really. You’re a gem, Shane.”

“Thanks,” he grinned at that, bringing his shoulders up to his ears and dropping them. “You seem nice. Are you a… do you act?”

“Ha! No, I’m not cut out for that sort of thing. I’m just an assistant.” This was the first time I called myself that. It felt nice. Particularly after Shane’s eyes lit up.

“Wow! For who?”

“No one, yet. That’s why I go to these,” I threw a gesture vaguely in the direction of the party. “Trying to find someone to, I guess, assist. I, uh, planned this one.”

“You planned this one.” Shane repeated, nodding slightly. He blinked. “Oh! Oh, Ryan Bergara. Yeah, I saw your name on the card.” He reached into his inside blazer pocket and pulled it out. Everything he did amazed me. “I can’t believe you know Lorene. She’s one of my favorite directors.”

Finally. The moment I’ve been waiting for. “You wouldn’t want to… meet her, would you?”

He looked at me for a long while. It left a gap in the conversation, not too wide to hop over but just wide enough to make me rethink my decision. He shrugged, “Maybe another time.”

I hadn’t expected that. Against my own wishes, my stomach sunk. “Okay.”

“Not like… I fucked that up,” he rubbed his eyes. “I meant… I would love to meet her sometime, but I’m having a spectacular time talking with you.”

I met his agent that night. He was slightly less nice, but Shane talked about me to him as if we’d known each other for years. Shane didn’t even ask for an interview. He didn’t ask for my resume. He didn’t ask anything of me. Except for my name.

As soon as I saw Shane, it’s almost as if I realized how different my life was about to become. I didn’t know details, how could I have, but it was that rumble in my chest as I watched him slide into the back seat of the car that told me I’d better buckle up.

He waved as he pulled away.

Chapter Text

He didn’t want the job.

I hate Robin. I hate her with everything I have, and that’s a pretty tidy sum right now.

Between the time I first met Shane and the time Robin came stumbling into his (and our) life, we’d created a momentum that I’ve never experienced before. I was getting up at 5 in the morning on most days with no resistance, writing emails and revising proposals and fielding messages. I was a productive machine. For the first few months, Shane would buzz me into his apartment and we (myself, Shane, and Taron the Agent) would talk over what was coming up, what we were doing, what we’d done. It was fantastic, all I’d ever wished for. I’d been dreaming of coffee meetings in a posh apartment, and now I was living in one.

I moved in after just under a year. It was building to this, anyway. He was one guy living in a three-bedroom apartment, and I was coming over here daily anyway, so why not let me stay? We got along well, and I was sleeping on the couch every other night. Jenifer had taught me how to keep my belongings light in case I ever had to move quickly, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle. One day I wasn’t living there, and then one day I was. And I told myself it wasn’t going to be anything, that I was an assistant and this is what happens, but of course I can’t allow that. I planted the seed of doubt and boy, did it grow.

It bore fruit by the name of Robin Howse. She was an aspiring actress that settled temporarily for modelling part-time and a craft services job on the set of Shane’s newest project. I tried not to hate her immediately, I promise. I took the coffees she gave me, even if there was never enough sugar, and I thanked her. But then she’d look at me with those insincere eyes, and I heard my inner voice start forbidding that she ever lay eyes on Shane. Apparently, the forces of the universe take my ill wishes and turn them into reality – within a month, Shane couldn’t keep himself away.

I’m still not sure what she wants with him. Maybe my hatred clouds my judgment, but I can’t imagine that she could feel anything for him other than envy. She wanted to be an actress, but she was serving him little triangle sandwiches for months while Shane did the acting. She had to be a little spiteful.

That was ages ago, though. Now she seems to have left acting behind and likes to take over the position of micromanaging me.

“Ryan, have you sent the email to the Norwegian clothing line?” She asks, because she knows I haven’t. She wants me to say, no, Robin, I haven’t sent the email to the Norwegian clothing line, so that she can say, well, you know that email should have been sent yesterday. But I couldn’t send it yesterday, because Shane fell down in the shower last night and I had to drive him to the ER. And she knows that.

I smile at the ceiling, a practice, before I swivel in my chair to aim it at her. It’s impossible to smile straight at her. I have to take a running start. “No, Robin, I haven’t sent the email to the Norwegian clothing line yet.”

She peers at me over her glasses. “Well. You know that email should have been sent yesterday.”

“You’re right,” Shane has his head in his hands, leaning over the dining room table. He’s got a migraine. He hasn’t told us, but he hasn’t uncovered his eyes in about an hour, and Robin certainly hasn’t picked it up yet. His voice is still groggy, not to mention, and he woke up a few hours ago. “But he couldn’t send it yesterday, because I fell down in the shower last night and he had to drive me to the ER.”

“Oh,” she says. She’s still so committed to pretending that she doesn’t know what’s going on. I hate her. “Right. Well, make sure to send it today.”

“I’m working on it. I have other things to do with varying levels of urgency.” [This is particularly petty to say because, five months ago when Robin moved in, Robin had said this exact phrase regarding the organization of her closet. I’ve never let her live it down.]

“This is a high commitment job. You need to manage your time better.”

“If you want to send the email, go for it.”

“If you’d sent the email last night, this wouldn’t happen.”

“I’m sorry. I was too busy taking care of your boyfriend.”

“Guys, please.” Shane stands up, nearly falling over, knocking the chair to the floor in the process. “I don’t feel well. Ryan, take your time with the stupid email, it doesn’t matter. Robin, if you could call Taron and tell him I have a migraine, that would be great. I don’t know if I can make brunch.”

“You have a migraine?” Robin asks, surprised.

“Yeah, since last night,” Shane and I say in unison. He smiles behind his hands. “Ryan, will you help me? I’m blind.”

“Sure.” I stand from my very high commitment job to help my boss walk to his bedroom with his hands over his eyes. “Take it easy, big guy. You need me to bring you anything?” I keep my hands on his shoulders, steering him down the hallway. I ignore all of the framed images of Robin’s headshots. I hate her.

“I’d kill for a coffee.” He laughs, stumbling. “I don’t pay you enough for this, do I?”

“I’d do this for free, buddy. It’s all about the memories.” As we pass his dresser, I grab one of Robin’s sleep masks and wear it like a bracelet. “Your bed’s ahead. Couple steps, and you can just fall forward.”

“Great,” Shane sighs, jumping onto the mattress as soon as his knees feel some resistance. He presses his face into the comforter. I lift his forehead carefully and hook the elastic band of the mask around his huge noggin. He makes a confused noise.

“Sleep mask. Robin’s.”

“The blue one?”

“The zebra one.”

Ryan,” he says dramatically, mostly joking. “I must look ridiculous.”

“No one can even see you. The blinds are closed. No flash photography.” I sit on the bed as he pushes himself up, adjusting the mask over his eyes. He falls back into the pillows, shaking his head. “What? It’s not that bad.”

“I wish you and Robin could just get along.” Oh. He says it in that hopeful voice that makes me feel incredibly guilty. “I thought you guys would settle in, but it’s only gotten worse.”

I have a lot to say. I want to talk about all the times she’s deliberately forgotten my name, or the times she’s ‘forgotten’ that Shane had a press meeting and planned a party that Shane has to go to. I want to talk about how, when Shane leaves, she doesn’t even look at me. I want to ask him how someone so unnecessarily kind ends up with someone so deeply… not.

“Sorry,” I say instead. “I just get frustrated.”

“I know. You’re allowed to, you know. Just… be gentle,” he drapes his arm over his face. “She’s not going to budge. And I’m sorry that you have to.”

As long as he knows she’s fucking stubborn, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.

“It’s fine,” I say. “I’ll get that coffee for you. You just get cozy.”

Shane does. He feels around for the edge of the blankets and pulls them back, tucking his long legs under. “Thanks.”

“Anytime.”

“Oh, and!” Shane pushes himself up onto his elbows. I can’t help but feel that he can still see me, even though he’s practically blindfolded. He always seems to stare right through me. “Just. Let me know if you ever need a break. Or a vacation. I know this stuff is stressful. Seriously. All you have to do is ask. All expenses paid. Anywhere you want to go.”

I don’t know what this means. I don’t know if he wants me to take a break – and if he does, I don’t know if it means he needs a break from me. Being Shane’s personal assistant has spoiled me. If I didn’t meet Shane, and I got picked up by some Alec Baldwin type, I wouldn’t be so mushy. I’d be taking calls and being worked to the bone. He’d kick me in the stomach and I’d fucking thank him for it.

No. Shane had to go and care for me. And I had to go and fall for him. The white boy of the month.

“I’ll let you know,” I say.

I linger in the doorway for a few seconds, wondering if I should say anything else. Ask what he means. Shane must think I left, because he falls limp on the bed with a heavy groan, cursing under his breath. Maybe he’s the one who needs a vacation. I creep out of the room as best I can, closing the door behind me (turning the door handle so it doesn’t click as I leave). 

“That took a long time,” Robin says, not looking up from her magazine (of which, surprise, she is on the cover). Funny. I almost forgot she was here. Almost.

“Yep.” I shuffle into the kitchen, grabbing Shane’s favorite mug. “You know how he is.”

She laughs in that posh way she does, the way that makes me sick. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. She flips through the magazine, searching for her credits. I face the coffee machine, switching it on as it whirs to life. I have a terrible feeling in my stomach, that she’s going to be here for awhile. I’ve been holding on to the hope that eventually things would go back to normal.

I think I’ve lost normal forever. I can’t even mourn properly.

Chapter Text

He stepped out alone.

Taron is a tall and imposing figure. The first few times I met with him, he was wearing an impossibly black suit and tie with his hair perfectly shaped. I have a hunch that this was because he was trying to impress Shane, as certain of his stardom as I was, as he’s downgraded over time. It was an exponential change – he lost the suit jacket first, then the tie, swapped the shoes to sneakers and, finally, invested in Wrangler jeans. All that’s left of his professionalism is the dress shirt, but I often worry that he’ll discard of this as well.

Shane’s standing at the coffee machine as I check the camera. He’s forgone hair gel today. I almost didn’t recognize him.

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” I press the button with my finger as he waves to the camera.

“Place your bets now.” Shane unplugs the machine when his cup stops brewing, he’s been trying to cut down. He’s been feeling sluggish. I told him it must be the caffeine. “What’s your guess?”

“No clue. He’s not wearing hair gel if that gives you any clues.” I retreat to the couch, pulling my laptop onto my lap to continue my play-pretend progress session. “If he was wearing a suit, I’d be more concerned.”

“Fair,” Shane says. He laughs afterward, far back in his throat. I want to kick myself for feeling so proud. Not a moment goes by when I wish I hadn’t met Shane for this reason. This can’t go on forever, and at some point, I’m going to have someone who doesn’t praise me. And it’s going to rip me apart. Can’t wait.

Taron knocks once before entering without pause for an invitation. “Good morning, everyone.”

I make a face. Not sure what the face conveys, but he gets that it isn’t good.

“What’s the news?” Shane seems to summon a croissant out of nowhere. “Do I need to put pants on?”

“Not yet,” Taron says, which sounds like an invitation. I raise my eyebrows. “Not like that.”

“Sit on the good news couch,” Shane says following a huge bite, gesturing to the couch with his pastry. “I’ve decided that’s the good news couch. Take a seat.”

“What happens if I have bad news one day?”

“Then you’ll take me out for lunch and I’ll forgive you,” Shane grabs a napkin to place on the counter to act as a sort of croissant coaster. He holds a hand out, another cue to start talking, “Go ahead.”

“Right. So. Exciting news,” Taron says with all of the excitement he can muster, which is none. He sits on the couch stiffly, holding the posture of a man in a suit with not a single stitch of the class. “I just met with one of Germaine Connolly’s people. He saw Five Months Lost and fell in love with you. Said he must have you on one of his upcoming projects.”

Shane takes a long sip of coffee, akin to the way private detectives take a long drag of a cigarette in the movies when they sense a lie. “You just met with his people?”

I bite my lip, looking back to Taron. He’s been caught with lightning speed.

Taron sputters, crossing his legs. “Well. We met after a few months of… hm, recreational fine dining.”

“Uh-huh,” Shane leans on the counter, pressing a palm to his eye. The migraine’s back. We need to get him in to a doctor, soon. “And he hasn’t even seen the movie, has he?”

“Not personally. But he heard great things.”

“Right,” Shane says. He’s already turned off. He’s admittedly picky about roles, always searching for an upcoming box office disaster. Taron’s just trying to get him out there, but I understand his hesitation. “What’s the point of lying to me? I can see right through you.”

I like it when he gets stern. It reminds me that I have a job to do. Maybe the usefulness is undercut by the fact that he’s not wearing pants.

“Shane. If you don’t sign onto something in the next year, we’re going to lose our momentum.”

“So find me something worth signing.” He says it as if it’s the easiest task in the world. Shane’s privilege shines through in these moments. For someone behind the scenes, he doesn’t seem to know much about what happens here.

“You don’t even know what the movie is yet,” Taron falls back into the cushions. His frustration is satisfying. He runs a hand through his hair, the lack of product making it much easier. It flops onto his forehead. “You didn’t let me finish.”

Shane places the mug down on the kitchen counter with a shallow thunk. “Go for it.”

“Trilogy deal. Three movies over the course of the next decade, roughly. You’re the lead, you get the cool costumes.”

Shane squints. So do I. He’s leaving so much out of this as if we don’t know how this part of the process works.

Cool costumes? Taron.” Shane shakes his head. He’s got some sort of disbelieving smirk painted on his face, mixed with exhaustion and frustration. Like a disappointed father. I don’t know how to help.

“What?” He throws his hands up like he doesn’t know. He’s so terrible at convincing Shane of things when he’s already made up his mind. A sigh breaks through his lips, “Fine. Fine, okay, it’s a… it’s a superhero type deal but – “

Taron.” Shane might as well say, don’t kid yourself.

“I know that’s not your thing, but! – “

“Ryan, are you hearing this?” Shane turns to me, and for a second I’ve forgotten that we know each other. It’s different, seeing someone like Shane look like this (genuine, messy, tired, frustrated) after seeing them projected so high above your head so many times with perfect hair.

“Yeah,” I sink into the love seat further, crossing my arms. “Taron, why’d you even meet with these people? You know how Shane feels about that shit.”

“They’re offering 250.”

Shane stills. I hear him stop moving, feel the air stick in place. My laptop screen dims. “Thousand?”

“Million.”

Okay. Okay. Maybe that changes things. I look at Shane through the corner of my eye, not daring to move. We’ve never gotten an offer like that before. And, not to discredit Shane, but I hadn’t expected this to happen so soon. I mean, these are Keanu Reeves numbers.

“Why?” Shane’s voice is the same. Judging by Taron’s reaction, he’s surprised by the question. “What… I don’t understand.”

“Germaine wants to meet with you over the weekend. But he’s on his Bahamian property, so he says we’ll have to meet him there.”

“Bahamian… like, Bahamas Bahamian?” I ask.

I hear the bed springs creak from the other room, followed by the stumbling patter of feet. I don’t care to greet her as she enters. I see Shane spare a glance to her, but he’s too frazzled to say anything. “The Bahamas?” Robin asks.

“…Uh, yes,” Taron pushes himself to sit up. He doesn’t like Robin either. She’s disrupted many a conference call. “He says he’ll pay for the trip.”

“I don’t care about the trip, man,” Shane sounds so tired. He’s too young to be so jaded (I say, younger than him). “I want to know why they want me for a superhero movie. Have you seen me? What’s the appeal?” He lifts his arms. His sleeves ride up his forearms as he does. He seems thinner than usual.

Taron gives him an up and down glance as if he’s forgotten. “It’s different. They’re moving from muscle to, um, relatability, I suppose.”

Shane opens his mouth to reply. He closes it, thinking carefully. “I don’t know if that makes me feel any better.”

“The Bahamas, Shane,” Robin says. “I haven’t been to the Bahamas since my shoot with Evangeline, do you remember?”

“We’re not going,” Shane says. I almost expect him to stamp a cane, as that’s what the tone allows for. “I’m not taking the deal, Ro, there’s no rhyme or reason.”

“Shane, you can’t just make decisions like this on the fly,” Taron says. He sounds like a negotiator in a crime show. That is to say, a bad negotiator. “Besides. He says there’s no obligation to accept if you meet with him. He just wants to sit down, see you in a relaxed setting, feel out your personality. Practically a free vacation.”

“No one just wants to sit down. There’s always an obligation.” I don’t think, I just say it out loud. I haven’t spoken in a few seconds and it’s driving me crazy. Robin’s clinging to Shane’s arm in the corner of my eye, looking up at him with those please, for me eyes. I can’t look for too long, for fear that the image will be burned into my eyes. “Superhero franchises are different than anything we’ve done so far. Shane’s never been put onto a lunchbox before. Do you think it’s wise to jump into this stuff?”

“It isn’t a lunchbox deal, Ryan. It’s… they’re humanizing the in-humanizable. That’s what Shane does best.”

He has a point. Shane clears his throat, “How?”

“I don’t have the details yet, you can get those during your trip, but it’s relevant to the things that haven’t been focused on in the past. Emotional intelligence. Uh, mental health.” Taron sounds like he’s pitching to a group of suits. Shane doesn’t say anything.

“We could use a trip to the Bahamas,” Robin says, almost as if she’s not been listening. She probably hasn’t been. “And that salary, Shane. This is what you’ve been working towards, isn’t it? Why not just take it? Your acting skills, you’d shine.”

He stutters for a moment. He must feel as confused as I do. “I’m not… I can’t just take it because of the money. It’s more than that.”

“Is it?”

I let my laptop fall onto the cushion beside me as I rise onto my feet, “We’ll talk about it.” I hold my hands out to pull Taron up. One of these days, he’ll accept my offer. He scoots out of my way and stands on his own. “Thanks for coming by.”

“I’ll call you later. We still haven’t watched that documentary on the Ghostside killer, like you promised – “

“Sh, later,” I place my hands on his shoulders and walk him out. “I’ll text you.”

As soon as the door clicks closed, Shane lets out a sigh. He bends over, bracing forward on the cold countertop, his hands behind his head. I try to tune out my inner monologue.

“I’m going to go lay down,” Robin kisses his shoulder and disappears. I have to bite my tongue. (I need to call Jenifer. I need some more lessons on Hollywood. They’re together, she’s supposed to do that, I’m just a monster.)

Shane hums. He doesn’t change position, even after she’s left. Even after I’ve cleared my throat a few times. I should ask if he’s okay, but that question always gets Shane a little bit mad. I should be able to tell, I just can’t.

“Talk to me,” I find my voice eventually. I sink onto the couch, a few centimeters away from the spot Taron occupied. For a while, it’s just us – me, sitting stiffly across the room from him, and him, possibly crying but probably not. I can’t tell. I just stare at him. If he is crying, I begin to realize, I should probably leave. “Come sit on the good news couch with me.”

Shane slowly stands. He isn’t crying, he’s just normal. Thank God. “Don’t use the good news couch against me.”

“I’m not trying to.” I pat the spot next to me. His shoulders fall lax and he starts to head my way. I don’t have any ideas of what to do or say when he gets here. I’m hoping he’ll start the conversation, but it’s kind of my job to do that.

“What do you think I should do?” He spins and falls into the space beside me, nearly landing in my lap. “Maybe I’m just being difficult.”

“I mean. I know I’m supposed to get you work and support your craft, but… uh, this doesn’t sound like your craft, I guess.” He leans into me.

“Whenever they say they’re utilizing a new take on stuff like this,” Shane says, more to himself than me, “Have you noticed how it’s never in good taste?”

I scoff. Not sure why. Shane looks at me. “Yeah. You can’t force relatability.”

“They keep trying to monetize mental illness, they’ll never stop.” Shane’s fingers tap on his leg. He shakes his head. “I can’t be tied to that for ten years. I get how they think that would be empowering, but it’s such a fucking scam.”

“I know.” I can’t believe I’m saying this. As much as I hate her, “Robin was right, though. You need a vacation. Taron and I won’t let you get locked into this if you don’t truly want it. Just take a trip, you know? Swim in the ocean. Have a good time, for once.”

Shane leans back, resting his head on the back of the couch. He locks his eyes onto the light fixture above him. “I haven’t been to the beach in a long time.”

“There’s the spirit.”

Chapter Text

She met him outside.

It’s almost an 8-hour flight from LAX to the Bahamas.

I’m no stranger to these long flights. We’ve used the private jet (I know!) all of two times, now. She’s relatively new to our lives, but I don’t know how we lived without her. I guess I’m speaking for myself, most of all, because Taron’s been in others. I’m just glad to be here.

I brought very little when it comes to clothes. Jenifer taught me that no one cares what I look like a few years back, and I’ve never been the same since. Just like there are only so many outfits a comedian wears, there are very few fashionable risks an assistant can take. One pair of miscellaneous pants, two boring shirts. Pair of swimming trunks. Everything else is work-related. I can fit everything I own back home in a backpack. It’s my secret talent.

Shane and Robin fell asleep a few hours ago. Shane tried to go back into the bed section behind the curtain, but Robin told him they could stay out here. I wish she wouldn’t have. I might be biased, but I have a feeling she did this on purpose. Just to show him off.

I wonder if, when people say they “fit together” with others, if they really mean it. Physically. Because I’m looking at the two of them – and he’s so tall his legs are hooked over the arm of the couch, and she’s half his size, and it looks so uncomfortable. Maybe it’s comfortable when you’re in it. If you’re sleeping, it shouldn’t matter. But from where I am, those pieces don’t fit at all. Who am I to talk? I wouldn’t fit any better.

Abruptly, Taron slides into the booth seat across from me, bracing his hands on the table, “We need to talk.”

“I brought the documentary with me if you still want to watch it,” I sigh. The irritation I feel fades ever so slightly, allowing for clarity. Taron doesn’t deserve snippiness, right now. This is his first vacation. It’s my first vacation. Wow. I get a vacation.

“No, it’s not about that.” He says it like a movie character with a troubled past. Which is weird, because that’s the exact opposite of what he is. “It’s about Shane.”

Okay, now I’m listening. “What’s up?”

“Okay. So, I don’t want to freak you out, but I can’t just keep this to myself. I’m going crazy.” Taron reaches into his front pocket, dragging his phone out onto the table. He fumbles with it, “I went into Shane’s room this morning while he was helping Robin pack and I found… this.”

He holds his phone out to me. I take it in my hands, squinting at the screen. I pull the blinds down, a futile attempt at increasing visibility. “What am I looking at?” I’m starting to get that sour taste in my mouth. I don’t even know what I’m dreading yet.

“His laptop. He was looking up condos in L.A.” His eyebrows are raised, searching for evidence that I understand. He’s panicking. That doesn’t make me feel great. The only time I’ve ever seen him truly panic is when Robin chose to throw Shane a birthday party.

“Huh,” I tilt my head for a moment. The different angle doesn’t help. What’s so bad about us moving? We’ve lived here for a while anyway “It’s, uh, nice? It’s big, got a great view.”

“Not better than the one you’ve got. Look,” Taron takes his phone back before I can even open my mouth. “The value is two times as expensive as Shane’s current place.”

“Well, I guess he’s earned it.” I scoff as he runs his hands over his face, too exasperated for words. “What? Just tell me what’s wrong, that’ll make this a lot easier.”

“Tell me why it’s 1.7 million dollars, four thousand square feet of space, a wonderful view…” Taron turns the screen again to face me, lowering his voice. “And it’s got only two bedrooms.”

I blink. My hand reaches out to take the phone before I can even command it to. “What, so you and I would… have to sleep in one room together? That’s kind of weird.”

“Ryan,” he locks his phone again, stuffing it into his pocket. “He was looking at a house nearly an hour away with only two bedrooms. I have a feeling he’s not looking for four people.”

“So what’s… I don’t understand.” I do understand. My eyes take a second-long peek at the tangled nap fest on the couch. “Has he bought it? Did he….?” He couldn’t have bought it. I would have known. He would have told me. Or Robin would have opened her mouth and blabbed about it.

“No. He was browsing. But it’s the principle,” Taron pinches his fingers together in that businessman way. “He’s already planning ahead.” He spares a glance where I did, to Robin’s arms knotted around Shane’s stomach. Shane stirs, just slightly, shifting in his place. “Follow me.”

Taron grabs my hand and pulls like a child. The corner of the table clips my thigh, hot pain I can’t manage right now, tugging me to the other side of the plane.

“What are we – “

“We can’t talk about this out here,” he says, pulling the bathroom door open. He gestures forward, ladies first, and for some reason, I step inside. All signs point to an awkward moment about to happen, but I’ve never seen Taron this close to a breakdown. I shuffle inside, unsurprised but anxious.

The bathroom is surprisingly small. Still ridiculously expensive, but small. The lip of the sink digs into my back as Taron slides the door closed. He turns, and our chests are nearly touching.

“We need to do something,” he whispers, eyes wild. “We can’t let him move in with her.”

“Why?” I ask, still concerned. For me and for him.

“We just can’t. Trust me.”

“Look, I hate Robin too, but we can’t just… we can’t force Shane to fall out of love with her.” I would have figured it out. I would have done it already. “We might just need to accept that he’s trying to settle down – “

“She’s not…. She isn’t good for him. I know it, I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve seen it, and it can’t happen to Shane.”

I don’t know what is happening. I’m trying to come up with a real reason why he might be acting this way, but there is none. He’s gone feral. There’s a genuine worry in his eyes.

“We’re still going to be working for him, I don’t understand why you’re going wild over this. We’ll… um,” I scrub my hand over my face. I’m trying to be positive. I hate having to do this – usually, Taron’s the optimistic one. I have fifty thousand things to say, but all of them are negative. “It won’t be such a big change if it does happen. We’ll still come over, we just won’t sleep there.” I’ve kept my belongings light for so long for this exact reason, but I feel the disappointment sting in the back of my throat.

We both jump at a knock on the door.

“Are you … both in there?” Shane’s voice is muffled.

Taron looks at me. He drops his wild act, an attempt to look composed. I feel like I saw a ghost.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Taron whispers. He clears his throat, “Do you have an excuse?”

“I’ll come up with one,” I say. I don’t have time to do that, though, because Taron is opening the door and stumbling out. Shane is left in the doorway, gawking at me, waiting for an explanation.

He smirks, holding a finger out. He sweeps his attention between me and the space where Taron used to be. “Were you two…?”

“No. Just talking about Robin’s birthday party,” I say. I’m nauseous. “Needed some privacy. You were waking up.”

“Oh. That’s nice.” Shane nods, looking around. “Well, I have to go. So if I could just…”

“Right! Of course, go for it.” I stumble out and start toward my seat. Taron is sitting back in the booth, tapping his fingers on the table. He looks up at me through his eyelashes, almost a cry for help or some sort of warning sign.

“It’ll be okay,” he says. It’s the opposite of convincing. Robin is sitting up on the couch, now, scrolling through her million notifications. That isn’t a slight on her, more on me. I can’t help but wish I was popular sometimes. I’m weak to the powers of social media on my self-worth. “We’ll figure it out.”

“I know…” I don’t. But if I say that, Taron seems as though he’ll rip the escape hatch open and jump out into the ocean. “We always get through.”

“Maybe he’ll change his mind.” Taron pinches the bridge of his nose. He sighs. I want to hug him but there’s no reason to. Well, no reason not to either. I can feel Robin staring at us.

She takes a breath in. I know it’s coming. “Have you gotten in touch with Connolly’s people yet?”

“Yes.” It almost hurts my feelings, the look of surprise on her face. She reaches for her glasses. “I sent it before we boarded.”

“Did you forward it to Taron?”

“Yes,” Taron says. He stands (knocking his knees into the table, falling back down, and trying again), storming off to the bed section. I don’t try to stop him. He needs some time to decompress. He throws the curtain to the side and yanks it back behind him.

Shane pokes his head out of the bathroom. He looks at us. “What’s going on?”

“Airsickness.” It isn’t a lie, necessarily. He seems content with that answer.

Chapter Text

It was too windy to hear what she said.

The landing is a blur.

We were ushered off by some people in suits. They tried to take my backpack to search, but I think Taron lunged at them like a cornered animal and they backed off. I’m not sure. It’s not very in character for Taron, but nothing is normal anymore with him. He’s gone off the deep end.

A few cameras were going off. I’m not sure if they were freelance paparazzi or Connolly’s professional photographers, but I made sure to keep out of the shots of Shane and Robin holding hands. Taron made sure that he was in them. We got to ride in the van. It was pretty cool. Love a good van.

During the trip, we were trying to theorize what kind of living situation we’d be in. The email had been vague, that his staff would take us to our living quarters. It was likely that Connolly had some stake in the tourism business, maybe owned some hotels, but we hadn’t been banking on an entire house left for us. It was cubic and white, huge and placed steps away from the roaring ocean. Taron and I went inside first, simply to see if anyone was inside. We were in denial that this was all for us – as if it was for us. It was more for Shane than anything else, an attempt to convince him to take this stupid movie deal. I’m certain it won’t work. Shane hasn’t sold out, yet. Yet.

“Is it wrong that part of me wanted to find someone in here?” Taron asks, looking at me through the window-esque opening above the kitchen sink. “Like, just to prevent them from coming in here for a little bit?”

“I don’t think so,” I say, but I’m not really sure. The best course of action is just to agree with him. “I’ll get them. They get to pick their room first, and then we’ll find ours.”

“Together?”

“I mean?” I look around. The living room is the size of my entire old New York apartment. “I bet they have at least ten bedrooms, by the look of it. But I wouldn’t mind.”

“We’ll figure it out,” he says. He has his hands on his hips like an old explorer. “You go get them. I’ll keep searching. There’s gotta be something.”

Shane’s talking to a man in a golf cart while Robin pulls her bags up the stairs. I’ve always been fascinated by people with three suitcases full of belongings. I thought it was only something that happened in movies. Shane’s the same way – but half of the shirts he packs never see the light of day. Robin finds a way to rotate through her wardrobe accordingly.

“We’re clear,” I hike my thumb over my shoulder. “You guys get the first pick. There’s a huge room on the second floor I think you might want.”

“Thanks, I’m sure it’ll be great. We’ll take that one.” Shane smiles. His hoodie is falling off his shoulder, but he doesn’t seem too bothered. He looks heavenly. “Will you grab my stuff, Ryan? I’ll come up in a little bit to change.”

I don’t want to, but I have to. “Of course.” I don’t want to be alone with Robin. I don’t know what to talk about with her, but she always finds a way to turn small talk into a systematic torture tactic.

I grab as many of Shane’s bags as I can manage, weighing approximately 1,000,000 pounds, heading up the stairs before Robin can catch up. I don’t know why I suggested the second floor. My fingers are slipping from the case I’m holding sideways as a foundation. If the bottom case falls, the two that are on top will fall as well and then I’ll get crushed. (Which wouldn’t be that bad.) I adjust my grip, walking faster. I can hear Robin’s rolling-case thudding on each step behind me.

“Ryan! Wait up!” She says.

“Sorry, grip’s slipping! Can’t stop!” I sprint up the final steps, speeding to the third door on the right. I resist the urge to throw it all on the floor and instead gently place the bags on the mattress. Neatly stacked. Long exhale. Relax time. Almost a catastrophe. Narrowly avoided.

Robin walks slowly into the room, her one case trailing behind her. “You carried all of those? There’s such a thing as a second trip, you know.”

“Yeah. Just…” I need to choose my words carefully. “Thought I’d hurry up this part, so you guys can get to the ocean faster.” Punctuated by my award-winning liar’s smile.

She lets the case fall somewhere random. “I guess that makes sense. Thank you.”

I blink. Oh. Gratitude? “No problem.”

“He has one bag left,” she says. She waits for me to leave first, but my hands are still throbbing. “Do you remember the way back down?”

Fuck you. It was such a brief moment, being able to tolerate her. “Yeah. I’ll just…” I shake my hands, as if the pain will roll off like water, and start down the stairs. She follows, closely. I wonder if I should let her pass. “Sorry, am I in your way?”

“What were you and Taron talking about?” She doesn’t answer my question, spitting out her own. I’m tempted to stop and ask why, but I keep going. “On the plane.”

“Secret.” I shake my head. That wasn’t good enough. She’ll say something about how there are no secrets I should be keeping, and that I should tell her and Shane and that I should –

“Not in the bathroom,” she says. “At the table.”

Oh. I turn around on the platform, the small square space between steps, and try to look confused. “What?” My heart is beating in my ears. Is she going to brag about it? Are they really moving out without us?

“You were talking about Shane, something about an expensive place.” Her shoulders are squared like she might try to tackle me. “What was that all about?”

She doesn’t know. Oh my God, she doesn’t know. I have to find Taron. “I don’t know. I think Taron gets pretty airsick. Might have been hallucinating or something.”

“No, you were in agreement, it sounded like.”

“I mean, he’s feral. I had to agree or he’d kill me.”

She looks me up and down. I feel disgusting. It’s slow and judging. “Okay.”

She steps around me and down the stairs. There’s no time to dwell on how miserable she makes me. I have a mission. I look around for Taron, but he’s nowhere in sight. I step out onto the porch, hot air brushing my hair back, but he’s gone. Instead, Shane spots me and starts toward me.

“Hey,” he says. “Thanks for getting the big ones. I’ll grab this little one.” He holds the smaller case up.

“What? No, I got it. Don’t worry.” I’m a little frazzled. He’s so handsome. I make a mental note to call Jenifer later. She always has the answers to these types of situations, the ones that wreck me.

“No, no.” He pushes my hand away before I can grab the handle. “Are you looking for someone? You look lost.”

“Oh, um. Yeah, I need to find T-Man. Have you seen him?” I don’t know why I called him T-Man. I think it was an attempt to lighten my spirits, but it’s left me feeling pretty idiotic. Shane laughs at it, though, so I feel a little better.

“He went up to change into his trunks. I said the saltwater might clear his head,” he shrugs as if to say but I’m no doctor. “You should change too. It’ll be fun.”

“Anything you say, boss.” I thought saying that would make me feel better, but it does the opposite.

I watch as he passes me, climbing the steps with no worries whatsoever. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. Why didn’t he tell Robin? That’s Robin’s number 1 rule, being open.

As Shane disappears up the stairs, Taron takes his place. He almost stumbles and trips, but I catch him before he can fall on his face, hauling him to the side. He’s wearing bright pink swimming trunks. Cute. I whisper, “Taron.”

“What?” He whispers back, eyes glittering. Whispering means secrets. He loves secrets.

“She doesn’t know. About the new house.” We look out the window as Shane helps Robin pull the rest of her belongings out of the back of the van.

“She doesn’t?” He leans closer to the window. “Weird. Maybe it’s going to be a present or something.”

“No, they don’t keep secrets from each other. Remember last time he tried to surprise her with a necklace and she said it was almost as bad as cheating?” I shake my head, stuffing my hands in my pockets. I feel giddy, but also incredibly anxious. For what’s to come. “But why wouldn’t he tell her?”

“Holy shit,” Taron almost throws his hands up, but I catch them before they can go above his head. “It isn’t for her, then. It’s for us!”

“But why?” I ask. As much as I hate to admit it, they look happy together. “I mean, we’re at the Bahamas? Why would he be planning to break up with her before a trip to the Bahamas?”

“Can’t be a good sign,” Taron gnaws on his lip. “I’ll try to figure it out. You get changed.”

I don’t want to go swimming. But maybe some fresh air might be nice. “Okay. I’ll be right there.”

My brain doesn’t consciously dial Jenifer, but it happens anyway. I hear the hum of the tone and hold the phone to my ear as I climb up the stairs. The straps of my bag are digging into my shoulders. I take the room at the end of the hall. It’s far enough away from the couple, but close enough. I drop my bag somewhere, I don’t pay attention. Plus, the bed is comfortable as I flop onto the mattress waiting for Jenifer to answer. If she doesn’t, I’ll cry.

“Ryan?!”

“I am so glad to hear your voice,” I say, practically into the mattress. I roll onto my back. “You’re always so good at dealing with a crisis.”

“Oh, God. What’s happening?”

“I’m in the Bahamas with Shane and company,” I fiddle with the string on the lamp. “It’s great so far but with a little, teensy problem I might need help to eradicate?”

“… His girlfriend?”

“More like me,” I scoff. “You warned me that when they’re nice they’re hard to keep calm around.”

“Jesus, Ryan. Already?” I can hear a door close on the line. “I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but…”

“He’s just so… strange.” I don’t know why that’s my pitch on why I should be in love with him, but it seems to resonate.

“Aren’t they all?”

“I just need advice. Or some sort of potion,” I try to sit up. I’m glad she can’t see me. I’m sure I look like some sort of turtle. “How likely is it that I have a chance?”

“Oh, Ryan. These people don’t see us like that. We’re friends at best. Companions, like fucking dogs. We’re not worthy of love, you know, not in this business.”

“Shane’s different,” I say. I sound desperate. (I am.)

She sighs. “You can’t keep saying that to yourself. You can’t. You think that now, and I’m sure he’s lovely. But you’ll tear yourself up from the inside trying to figure out why you’re not good enough. It’s easier to tell yourself that he sees you as worthless rather than self-destruct and change what you think you need to, to make him love you. He won’t.”

She’s telling me the truth, I can hear it. In the last word, in the punctuation at the end. A promise.

“Then…” I rub my palm on my shorts. Why am I so sweaty? Shane can’t hear me. “So, how do I stop myself from…”

“Ryan, my sweet. It’s impossible to fall out of love. Believe me, I’ve tried more times than I can count.”

“… With Lorene?” I hadn’t noticed. Maybe that’s a testament to how well she’s gotten at this. At emotional abstinence.

“Yeah. It’s rough,” I can hear rustling on the other end. “For a while, I thought I could compete with Bo, but no one can. Eventually, I just had to tell her – “

“You told her?” I sit down on the bed, carding my fingers through my hair. I couldn’t imagine looking Shane in the eyes and telling him how I feel. About anything, much less this. “Why?!”

“It made it easy. I didn’t have to worry about hiding myself. I told her, and she said ‘thank you for telling me,’ and that was it. She sent me to get coffees, she didn’t fire me. She just… stopped letting me help her change clothes. Ha.”

“Damn. That’s… that’s…” It’s cruel. “Brave.”

I can’t imagine what Shane would do. I don’t think he’d send me to get something after. I think he’d… I hope he’d sit down and we’d talk about it, but I’m not even sure I’d want that. I’m not sure I’d want to tell him that I fell in love with him from the first moment I saw him, or how gutted I felt as I watched him gravitate toward Robin. I wouldn’t have the words.

“You know what’s helped me?” Her voice wavers. I blame it on the connection. “You need to come up with some sort of chant or mantra, something to keep you humble. Whenever I’m missing her on long trips, or I… I look at her and I can only think of how much I want to… be with her, I just repeat ‘I’m not Bo’ in my head. Because I’m not him, and I’ll never be someone she’d look at like that.”

“Jen, that’s fucked.”

“But it works.”

I bite my nail. I hear the golf cart outside, the sound of laughter. I lean forward and tug the curtain to the side. There they are. Shane’s wearing a yellow shirt and black swimming trunks, and I cannot stop my fond thought of bumblebee. I have a problem. This is a problem. I am a problem.

“So what should mine be?”

“That’s up to you. Whatever would be the most… um, I don’t want to say painful. Persuasive, maybe.”

I chew on my lip. “Okay. Okay, I’ll find mine. I’ll, uh… Yeah. Thanks.”

“Be safe out there, Ryan, we love you. If you ever want to come back and stay with us, you’re welcome to.”

“God, I miss you guys so much.” I flop back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “When we get back next week, do you guys have any events lined up? I’d kill for an excuse to come over.”

“We don’t plan without you, silly. You were our star. We’ll come up with something. Have a good time in paradise.”

I don’t want the conversation to end. It’s practically come to a conclusion but if she hangs up, I’ll be left alone. I’ll be left with Shane and Robin (drowning in bliss), and Taron (losing his mind). I feel so lonely here.

“Okay,” I say, finally. “I’ll talk to you later.”

The knock on the door must be almost silent but it scares the hell out of me. I scramble to sit up, try to regain some sort of dignity. Staring at the ceiling like an idiot. Nice light fixture.

“Hey, we’re heading out in a few. I thought you were getting dressed.” Shane’s voice. I turn to look at him, offering a smile. “Taron’s changed his suit because he didn’t want to clash with me, which is funny, and – hey.” His voice goes soft and his shoulders fall.

I don’t understand. I’m still trying to think about my mantra, trying to come up with my phrase, but there’s no time. It’s happening right now. I’m watching him walk over to me, an arm outstretched. And I’m in love with him.

“What’s wrong?” He’s closer. I feel his arm around my shoulder, warm from the sun, and I feel him tugging me into his side. One of his hands is on the back of my head, pulling me into the crook of his neck. I’m confused. I still haven’t come up with my mantra. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. His thumb swipes under my eyes and I realize – oh, I must be crying.

“Nothing, I don’t know why I’m – “ I laugh, but it falls flat. I’m crying on his vacation. I’m crying because I’m lonely, and now I’m crying because I’m being seen crying. “Sorry, this is… weird.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s okay, Ryan, don’t worry about it.” His hand is petting my hair and, for a moment, I think I genuinely might be dreaming. I know I’m not, though, because I can hear Robin yelling outside for us to hurry up. If this is a dream, she shouldn’t be here. “Are you… I mean, do you want to talk about it?”

“Just a little homesick. That’s all.” I try to sit up but Shane holds me down. “Sorry I’m being a baby. I’ll call Germaine’s assistant and figure out what his schedule looks like.” I reach for my phone, where I discarded it in the middle of the mattress. “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

“Ryan, bud. What’s happening?” Shane snags the phone from my hands. I stare at him. My eyes are stinging the way eyes tend to do when you hold back tears. This is my worst nightmare. I grab for the phone again. He sticks it in his pocket. “Stop. Stop, Ryan, Jesus.”

“I don’t even know why I’m crying, I just want to do something to be busy.” I stand. His arm falls off my shoulder, and he’s looking up at me like I’m a puzzle he’s trying to put together in real-time. “I’m sorry I’m ruining your first day. Must be jet lag.”

“You’re not ruining anything, Ryan. I’m glad you’re here.” He doesn’t move. Neither do I. We’re just staring at each other. “Do you want me to grab Taron? Or would you rather be alone?”

I don’t want to be alone at all. But I know I need to be. I need to get better at this. One day Shane’s going to need something better than a friend who sends emails sometimes.

“I’ll just… uh, I’ll see you when you get back?” I sniff, a pitiful sound, and smile. Shane stands and pats me on the shoulder. I feel as though I need to apologize just because he’s had to touch me. “Sorry.”

“If you keep apologizing, I’ll make you come with us.” He looks serious, but his eyes are sparkling. He takes my hand and places the phone in the middle of my palm. “I’ll see you later. Don’t work too hard.”

I’m supposed to work too hard. I’m supposed to be stressed to the point of illness.

“Okay,” I lie.

As for my mantra, I think I’ll go with this is a problem. It’s all I can think right now, and I think it’s working quite well.

Chapter Text

She braced her hands on the hood of the golf cart.

I’m not allowed in the first meeting that Germaine and Shane have. I accompany him to the front door and I give him his water bottle. I punch Taron in the shoulder before he enters the big glass building behind Shane. That’s the extent of my help. I’m free for the rest of the day, without any of the people I can stand.

This is the trouble with this job. I’m on vacation, and I’ve only had one thing to plan – the meeting Shane’s going to be in for seven hours. Everything else I would have to do banks on this meeting, how well it goes. Until then, I’m left to my own devices. I hate my own devices. I can’t go back to the house, because Robin is there. I hate Robin more than I hate myself.

I walk around for a bit. For some reason in my mind, I thought it would be an easy thing to do to distract myself for seven hours. I thought I was capable of walking for seven hours, which was incorrect in itself. I must have traveled 100 miles on foot, just wandering up and down every boardwalk I could find. I remember going to a beach with my family when I was younger, going to this one boardwalk and finding that it was lined with shops. It was basically a mall, miles and miles of aquariums and sports stores, exhibitions and museums, restaurants.

Now, I stare out at the open ocean, a few islands bobbing on the horizon, and I’d give anything to be there right now. Nothing against the ocean, it’s certainly beautiful, but I’m trying to distract myself, not suffocate in my own mind. I’m the only one here, too, no one to talk to or stare at. I wonder why that is.

I turn on my heel and head back from where I came, looking over the side of the railing. There are only a few people on the sand, but they seem to be packing up. It’s almost as if I’m here when I’m not meant to be. Like it’s a movie scene and I came in too early. I need to get out of here.

There is no part of my brain that has helped me with navigation ever in my entire life. I couldn’t find my way out of Shane’s place the first few weeks I went there. So I meander. I follow signs, my hands in my pockets, probably the worst kind of tourist.

The powers that be lead me to a bar, because of course they do. I feel terrible for even entering – the entire main room is empty, just me and the woman standing behind the bar. [She’s about my height. Her hair is dark. Her eyes are dark. Reminds me of somebody.] She doesn’t sigh in disappointment when she sees me but I know she wants to. She’s probably about to close. Damn it.

“Sorry,” I say, immediately wincing at my delivery. “Are you about to close?”

“No, we’re open all day.” She pulls her hair up. “It’s only three in the afternoon.”

“Yeah, but it’s pretty slow. If I left, would you be able to close?”

“Probably not,” she shrugs. She leans over the counter, resting on her elbow, “What can I get for you?”

“Something for three in the afternoon, please.” I cross the room. I can hear my sneakers thud on the hard floor, so I consciously try to make my steps quieter. “What’s your name?”

She gives me a look. Some sort of it’s too early for this tone to it. “Taja.” She turns around and makes something for three in the afternoon. I can’t see what she’s grabbing, but I don’t stare – I’ve already made this awkward.

“Nice to meet you, Taja.” Just my luck, I sit on the one stool out of all of these that wobbles. I live with it, though.

I wonder if all bars on the ocean have to have this kind of décor. The neon signs and the fake palm trees and the chalkboards with beach puns. I’ve been to this bar before – not precisely, but I know I’ve seen that giant flipflop sign before. And the bathroom sign is a surfboard. Jesus.

“Yeah,” Taja says. She slides the drink across the counter. It’s bright blue. “I know. They’re bad, aren’t they?”

“Thanks,” I take the drink. “I didn’t say anything about something being bad.”

“You’d think they’d go with something a bit more… Bahamian.” She gestures to the flipflop with disgust on her face. I’m glad she’s not looking at me like that. “Have you ever seen a Bahamian celebration?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Well, they’re amazing. Beautiful, colorful, loud… pinks and yellows and blues. It’s a real culture, you know.” She laughs, annoyed, “But no. Let’s go with surfboards and swirly straws.”

“I can’t imagine,” I shake my head. I’m glad we agree. I take a sip and cough. “What is this, again?”

“Vodka with food coloring.” She smiles at me, too sweet to be genuine. “You’re in a bar at three in the afternoon. Probably to forget something, am I right?” (Kind of.) “Besides. Everyone else is at home drinking their own booze.”

“Yeah, I was gonna ask about that,” I say, taking one more drink before placing it on the coaster in front of me. “Where is everyone?”

“Hiding from the storm.” It’s ominous, her voice. She points up at the television. “Haven’t you seen?”

I follow her finger to the screen above the shelves of alcohol. Sure enough. Forecast projects rain all day for the next three days. Great timing.

“Huh,” I say. “And… the storm. Is it a hurricane?”

She looks at me like I’m an idiot. I probably deserve it. “No. We already had our hurricane season. Should just be a little thunderstorm.”

I don’t think that’s how hurricanes work. “I don’t think that’s how hurricanes work.”

“Would you rather me tell you that it’ll be the biggest hurricane of the last decade?”

That warrants another gulp of blue vodka. “I don’t know. Will it be?”

“You’re the hurricane expert.”

She doesn’t like me. That’s fair, I haven’t been the best customer. I pat my pockets to find my wallet, dragging it out onto the counter. My head is swimming already. I’m a disaster. “Here. Sorry. Have a good day.” I pull out the one hundred dollar bill I always keep in my wallet ‘just in case,’ and hand it to her. I’ve only been here three minutes but I still feel as though I’ve been an inconvenience.

She takes it, holds it up to the light, and looks back to me. Her demeanor has changed, just a slight switch from disgust to concern. “Why?”

“I don’t know.” I rub my forehead, “Great service, maybe.”

She laughs. It cuts a hole through the tension, and my shoulders relax. “Right. Ha, right. Thanks.” The bill is dropped into the tip jar. “You have a good day, weird guy.”

“You too, Taja.” I just hope I know how to get back to the house.

There’s a balcony around the bar with wooden stairs that lead down directly to the beach. I decide to take that route. I could see the beach from the house, so I could probably see the house from the beach. I stumble in the sand, my sneakers scooping the grittiness up and inside. I can’t stand this much longer. I need a shower.

The clouds are coming. I can see them, sitting steady on the horizon. They don’t look too threatening, so I pay them no mind. I hold my hand over my eyes. I hate sand. It reflects, it hurts, it doesn’t care about your feelings. Fuck sand. I’m tipsy.

I see the top of the house, white and blinding, and look for the closest dune walkover. It’s perfectly placed, parallel.

Whatever buzz I’ve created immediately dissipates as soon as I reach the top of the wooden stairs. The door is open when I walk up the driveway. Sand has made its home in the soles of my sneakers, I should have thought to bring sandals but I didn’t, and I can feel myself walking funny. But I need to walk faster. Because the door is open and Shane’s not home yet. The door is open.

Some of Shane’s shirts are already out in the hallway. Every time I climb a step, another is thrown. Then a watch, a phone charger. A shoe is thrown – it bounces off the wall across from the room, knocking a picture frame off its nail. Luckily, there’s a pile of clothes to cushion its fall.

It isn’t smart, I know. They could have guns or strength, and I have sand in my shoes. Some part of me wearing Jenifer’s voice tells me that, if I die, I’ll get an article. But then the rest of me, the part with my voice, says the picture for that article will have Robin and Shane holding hands in the foreground. So I’d better not die.

I step, full-body vulnerable into the doorway. In for a penny. A button-up shirt catches on my shoulder, I catch it before it slips onto the floor, and then my eyes focus enough to see through the light filtering between the curtains.

“What are you doing?” My voice cracks, but I close my mouth before I can do something about it.

Robin looks up at me. She’s wrist deep in his third case, fists full of belongings that aren’t hers. Her hair is in her face. I guess she put it up before she started this tirade, the hair tie is tangled in her mane, but she must have shaken it loose.

She stands. I expect her to run at me, but she doesn’t. She just takes me in, and she doesn’t smile or try to come up with an excuse. She stands like she doesn’t have to prove anything to me. I am just a pet, after all.

“Do you know where Shane’s laptop is?” She places her hands on her hips in that dainty I wasn’t just ripping through my famous boyfriend’s belongings way. “Can’t find it anywhere.”

“Hm,” I reply. Shane’s laptop – the laptop that has a search history full of big mansions with two bedrooms. The laptop that’s not hers. The laptop that Shane took with him into his meeting today. “Can’t say that I do. What do you need it for?”

She stares at me. She doesn’t blink for what feels like minutes. I’m standing in a pile of Shane’s clothes. This is not how I thought I’d be standing in a pile of Shane’s clothes.

“Clean this up,” she says. Her throat is dry. She drops the pair of boxers she’s gripping in a manicured fist. She steps on it as she leaves. Her shoulder knocks mine. I look at the mess she’s made and part of me is annoyed, but the rest of me is… elated. She’s jealous. I thought she trusted him.  She's just like the rest of us. This knowledge brings me great joy. 

I’m surprised, though. Robin’s never spoken to me that way, not directly. Maybe it’s because Shane’s not here. Maybe it’s because I found her out. Because I know something about her that Shane doesn’t.

It’s a good thing I helped Shane pack. I know where everything was before, I helped fold it. He won’t suspect a thing.

Chapter Text

He asked her to go inside.

By the time I get out of the shower, clouds have settled over the ocean. They’re not so dark that I’m worried, necessarily, but they’re here regardless. There’s still an hour or so until Shane and Taron come back, and I’m clean and sand-free so I certainly won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Part of me wants to go to my room and wait for them to come back. Taron would come to find me and give me the debrief on what happened. But I want to be the first thing they see when they come in if I can be honest with you. I want them to tell me what happened first. I’m selfish like that. (That is a problem.)

I can hear the television in the living room. I can’t help myself, creeping down the stairs as quietly as possible. When I was little, I would sneak down and peek between the bars of the railing and watch the shows my parents did. I remember feeling like a spy. There’s nothing fun about this, though. At some point, I’m going to reach the bottom of the stairs and I’ll have to say something to Robin.

I know what she’ll say. She threw me for a loop with the gratitude yesterday, but now that I know more about her, I have a better grasp on things. She’s not going to say something about what happened earlier. She’s not going to say anything about the laptop. She’s going to ask about the weather because it’s easy. And it’s going to infuriate me, simply because it’s easy. I want her to snap. I want her to slip and fuck up and I want Shane to be there to witness it.

She doesn’t meet me at the bottom of the stairs like I was dreading. Instead, she’s lounging on the couch, drinking tea. I start to wonder if I might have hallucinated the earlier event.

Robin tilts her head back as I walk around the couch, leaving space between myself and her. “Hey,” she says.”

“Hi.” Short. Simple. Don’t let me down, here.

“Have you seen the forecast?” She points to the TV. The same channel I saw in the bar. “Weather’s supposed to be bad.”

I smile, even though it doesn’t match the conversation at all. Just because I’m right. “Yeah. Saw the clouds earlier.”

There are 7 places to sit in the main room. There are yards of space between the couch where Robin sits and the television against the far wall. I sit beside the television, as far from her as I can, settling my laptop in the basket I make with my legs. Robin stares at me. I don’t engage. I will not engage.

“Is that Shane’s laptop?”

Okay. Okay. There a few things wrong with that question. I go through them in my head.

1) I have a PC, Shane has a Mac.
2) She knows it isn’t Shane’s laptop.
3) Why would I be on Shane’s laptop?
4) Even if I were on his laptop, why would I tell her?
5) She’s trying to get a rise out of me and it’s fucking working.

In other words, I have to engage.

“No, Robin,” I say impatiently. I can’t look at her. I’m sure she has that what’d I do expression on her face. “This is my laptop. I have a PC, Shane has a Mac.” I’m not going to ask why she needs it. I don’t even want to know. Some snooping shit, probably.

“Ah, of course.” She nods, turning her attention to the weather again. She can’t focus long. “I’m going to go take a shower.”

“Have fun.” I give her a wave, not looking up from my password screen. She doesn’t answer. I take it as a victory.

The minutes move slowly enough for my hair to dry before Shane and Taron pull up in their little golf cart. I hear Taron blabbering about something and I have to force myself to stay in my chair. I can’t make it look like I missed them too much. I type in my password to pass the time (about two seconds).

Taron peeks his head in first, almost as if he’s expecting Robin to be standing here with her arms crossed, and smiles when he sees me. “Where is she?”

“Shower,” I open my browser (to look like I’ve been doing something, I guess) before placing my laptop on the ground beside the chair. I stand. “How’d it go?”

Shane closes the door behind him, slumping against it. “Painful.”

“That bad?” I don’t know what I expected.

“There is an upside, though,” Shane stands up, nudging Taron.

Taron lifts his bag and pulls out a packet of paper. A transcript. Holy shit. I take it in my hands, flipping past the title pages. “There you go,” Taron says. “Read the first thing that Shane would have to say. Please. It’s highlighted. Just to get a taste of the torture we’ve had to go through for the past few hours.”

I squint at the page.

“Out loud, please.”

I nod slowly, clearing my throat. “Okay, it says… I’m not just a superhero. I also have manic-depressive disorder.”

My legs almost buckle, I’m laughing so hard. I can feel my face turning red, but it’s fine because Taron has already fallen on the floor. Shane leans against the wall, shoulders shaking and covering his mouth with his hand.

“We haven’t been able to laugh at this for seven hours,” Taron squeaks between gasps for air, clutching his stomach. “Can you imagine?”

“He stared us, in the eye, and asked what we thought of it,” Shane holds his hand out to pull Taron up. “We just said it was… thought-provoking.”

“Good move,” I wipe my eyes, trying to take a deep breath. “Jesus. And he’s offering you millions of dollars for this?”

“He’s very proud of it,” Shane makes sure Taron is stable on his feet before he crosses the room and flops onto the couch. “God. I know what he was going for, but he just doesn’t have the knowledge. Check page twenty-five.”

I sit next to him on the couch, flipping the pages. “You say… uh, you say what do you know about me, and some woman named Louise says I know everything I need to know, and then you…” Oh, God, this is terrible. Shane’s smiling through the pain, waiting for me to read it. “… you say, do you know I have manic-depressive disorder?

Taron is on the ground again. Shane covers his face with his hands, body racked with giggles. I can’t believe we were flown all the way out here for this. Every time I glance back down to the page, not even reading, I collapse into laughter again. Shane called it, but this is particularly catastrophic.

“He was looking at us with such pride, Ryan,” Taron crawls over to sit on the ground in front of us, legs crossed. “I wish you could have been there.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to keep it together, and you know it.” I let my head fall back, handing Shane the transcript. “The format is all wrong too. Did he even send this to get proofed?”

“Of course not. He’s a billionaire, it doesn’t matter who reads it, it’ll get made anyway.” Shane takes the pages back and shakes his head. “The weird part is the romance is the most fleshed out part of this whole thing. That’s not normal.”

“Romance?” Robin’s hand snatches the transcript out of Shane’s hand, holding it up to her face. She’s in a towel – well, two. One around her head and one around her waist. “What romance?”

“We got the transcript for the movie today. It’s spectacularly bad,” Shane runs his hands through his hair, not turning to look at her just yet.

“It says you kiss her.” The air goes still. Even the breeze coming through the open window is repelled by her. Taron looks between Shane and I. I watch her flip through the pages. Shane rubs his eyes with his fingers as she does. “Twelve times, no less.”

“It’s not real, Ro. This is just part of the job.” He hooks his arm over the back of the couch to look at her. “If I were crazy enough to take it, I’d come right back home and kiss you for real.”

She isn’t satisfied. “We’ll talk about this later.” She throws the packet of paper at him. It barely misses his head. He jumps, hard, eyes closed and everything. It reminds me of my little brother playing basketball when we were kids, petrified. She leaves the room before any of us can say anything.

“It’s not like you’re even taking the job,” Taron offers, an attempt to take that startled look off of Shane’s face. The curtains have started swaying again. “Is she okay?”

“Maybe,” Shane finally says. I wanted him to say something stronger than that, but he loves her for some reason. So, of course, he wouldn’t. “I don’t know, she might be tired. Not sure.”

He stands up. Taron does as well. I’m not sure when he appointed himself as Shane’s bodyguard, but he really jumped into the role with gusto.

“When she says later, she means now,” Shane pats Taron’s shoulder. “In the meantime, will you guys figure out something for food?”

Pizza. We’re getting pizza. Didn’t take too long. “Sure, Shane.”

“Be safe,” Taron mumbles. Shane nearly glares at him.

We wait until he climbs the stairs to relax, our shoulders falling from their place close to our ears. It’s always so tense. His footsteps fade, we can hear Robin say something before the door closes. Then it all goes quiet.

“What was that all about?” Taron collapses on the sofa next to me, speaking in harsh whispers. He wraps his arm around the back of the couch. “She’s not usually that openly aggressive. Did you do something?”

“Found her searching through Shane’s bag,” I mutter back, grabbing the remote from where Robin placed it on the glass coffee table. “She didn’t seem bothered that I caught her then, but I guess she’s really bothered. She was looking for his laptop.”

“Huh.” Taron blinks. Whatever picture he has in his head of Robin going through Shane’s stuff is not as bad as it really was to witness. I think he already knows that. “So much for not keeping secrets.”

“We just need to make sure she doesn’t get a hold of it. I’m sure she has her doubts, but if she figures out that he’s leaving her for sure, then she’ll never get on the plane back home,” I lull my head to the side. Taron’s staring forward at the TV, grimacing, already dreading the flight back. Trying to visualize.

“Right,” Taron says eventually. “I guess I’ll just keep it in my bag, then.”

“And hide it when it’s not on you, too.”

“My bag’s always on me.” He smiles as he says it, and it brings me just a moment of safety. “We’re going to make it through this stupid trip. One way or the other.”

We order three pizzas, for some reason. I have Shane and Robin’s orders memorized, it’s my job, and they’re exact opposites so I figured I wouldn’t trouble the one pizza place in Grand Bahama Island with a split pizza situation. Taron and I wait at the door for our orders in near silence, mostly to listen to any conversations that might be occurring upstairs. Shane and Robin’s pies are placed in the oven to keep warm, and the two of us run up to my room to eat ours. I have the Ghostside killer cued up for us to finally watch after about a month of distractions. This will be our opportunity to destress, even if it’s before any of the real stress hits. We haven’t had a sleepover in ages.

Shane enters around an hour later. He peeks his head in the room carefully, scanning until he sees us on our respective twin beds.

“Hey,” he says quietly. “How’s it going?”

Taron pauses the movie, even though it’s only the opening credits. “Pretty okay. How are you doing?”

“Fine.” Very convincing. “Uh, I’m assuming you got pizza?”

“Yeah, I put yours in the oven. Top is pineapple, bottom is artichoke.” I send him a salute, reaching toward the nightstand between us to grab another slice. “Are you sure you’re doing okay?”

“Yep.” He nods for a moment if only to convince himself. He taps his fingers on the doorjamb. “Well. Robin’s going to bed early, so… keep it down, kids.”

He slips out of the doorway, closing it behind him before either of us can say a word. I look to Taron. He looks to me. I’m rolling off the bed before I can help myself. He just looks so lonely. Maybe I’m just projecting myself onto him, but when I open the door, he looks over his shoulder with what I can only describe as hope.

“Um.” I step out, walking halfway down the hall. I keep my voice down. Robin can’t be asleep that fast. “She was looking for your computer earlier.”

He closes his mouth and nods once. Like he was expecting that.

Before he can turn around again, I keep going. Not sure why. “If you want to grab your box, you can come join us. If you want. Not sure if you like gritty documentaries, but…” I just thought you might not want to be alone.

Shane doesn’t move. He just stares at me for a long time, probably five seconds that feel like days. My movie brain thinks for a moment that he might cross the hallway and take my face in his hands and kiss me drunk. (This is a problem.)

“Alright,” he says, still all the way across the hall. He smiles at me. “Sounds good to me. Be there in a moment.”

I pretend not to notice him nearly skipping down the stairs. When he comes into the room with his pizza, he sits on the floor (much to our objection) and rests his back on my bedframe. I feel special.

Chapter Text

I couldn’t say anything, I just watched until I couldn’t anymore.

Germaine’s agent calls again in the morning. I hear the phone buzzing on the bedside table before I open my eyes. I don’t want to open them. I’m having the most miraculous dream. Shane is taking me to his new movie, the big premiere, and I’m on his arm. I didn’t have to book his suit because someone else has booked mine because I’m on his arm. I’m in the pictures and I’m smiling.

“Are you going to get that?” Taron moans into his pillow. “Please say yes.”

“Fine,” I say. I squirm my way out of the blankets, stretching my arm out. “This better be good.”

It isn’t good. They want another meeting today. I tell the man on the phone that I’ll get back to him. He says, “If Mr. Madej is available, Mr. Connolly requests an answer now.”

So now I’m walking down the hall in my underwear (because it’s urgent, and I need to go to him immediately, and immediately I’m a piece of cloth away from being naked) and I almost fall a few times. The sleep isn’t completely out of my eyes when I pass Shane and Robin’s room, door open, noting that only Robin can be seen in the bed. Okay. A little further.

I nearly die on the steps. Five times. I can hear the guy asking if I’m still here, but I just keep walking. The people in this business need to get used to waiting. It hasn’t even been a minute, yet. Jesus.

I hear Shane curse in the bathroom downstairs, the one just around the corner from the stairwell. Something clatters, Shane curses again. I hold the phone to my ear, “Sir, Mister, uh, Madej is occupied at the moment. I will get back to you.”

I place my phone on the bottom step, taking my time around the turn. It’s five in the morning. Why is he awake? And what is he doing in there?

I’m almost able to convince myself that I shouldn’t interfere, but the door is open just a crack. If it were that secret, he would have closed it. Locked it, even.

“Hey, Shane?” I keep my voice quiet. I don’t look in the door. I’m still not sure I should be here right now. Stupid phone call.

“Oh,” Shane drops something in the sink and opens the door. His shirt is draped over the shower rod, his hair a mess, his pajama pants resting dangerously low. The sun isn’t up yet. The only light in the house is coming from the bathroom, behind Shane. He looks like an angel. (Shut up, Ryan. You are the problem.) “Um, hey! Sorry if I woke you up.”

“No, I got a phone call. Came down here to get you, but you sounded like you were in distress so I…” I gesture to my presence. He smiles. He’s squinting at the bathroom light. He’s got a migraine coming on. He just doesn’t want to admit it.

“You’re always here when I need you. Right, um, I think my back is a little fucked and I’m trying to heal myself but I’m incapable of even doing that,” he runs a hand through his hair. “Would you…?”

“Of course, man.” I don’t know how bad it is. I’m still a little fuzzy, but he looks so tired. “Yeah. You could have woken me up, you know.”

“I guess I could have.” He shakes his head. “Guess I wanted to try and be independent for a change. Look where that got me.”

I don’t know what to say. The look on his face is crestfallen, and I want to say something about that, but then I see his back. And suddenly I’m wide awake.

There is a lot to unpack. There are little streaks of red down his back, surrounded by millions of dashes and dots of a darker red. I can’t help but reach out and touch, but I try to keep my hands to myself. He hasn’t told me what he needs help with yet. I don’t even know if he knows how bad it looks. It looks like he’s been stabbed with a million tiny needles. I don’t tell him that, though, in case he does know.

“I can’t reach around myself,” he says, turning back around with a cotton ball and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I don’t know how he thinks I’m going to be able to do anything with a square inch of cotton. I take the bottle and wave off the cotton, grabbing a black cloth on the edge of the sink. “Thanks. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Please, let the doctor work.” He faces the mirror and I’m left with the bloody canvas again. Any of the blood that’s left is already dried and I hope that, once I clean everything, it’ll look much less horrific. It takes a moment to open the bottle, which has never been opened, and pour it out onto the cloth.

“What was the phone call?” Shane asks his reflection, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the lip of the sink. I step back before we can make any unsolicited contact. “You said you came down here for the call. Did someone need me?”

“Yeah, Connolly’s people called trying to set up another meeting. I told them I’d get back to them.” I dab the cloth on the bigger splotches first, as I have no idea how to start otherwise. “I don’t know. I figured you’d want some time to think on it.”

“It’s alright. He flew us down here for a week, the least I can do is listen to his bad pitch for another few hours.” He hisses as I start to work on the long streak from between his shoulder blades that disappears into his waistband. I don’t dare to venture too far. “We can talk about times a little later.”

“The storm’s coming in, anyways,” I offer. “We don’t want to travel via golf cart in the rain. We’ll figure it out.”

Shane’s making some noises I cannot describe to you. “Right. Thanks.”

While I take a moment to pour more alcohol onto the cloth, I notice a spot of light on Shane’s back. I squint, reaching forward. I move slowly, making sure I’m not still asleep. I take it between my fingers and place it in my palm.

A shard of glass. A tiny, near-circular shard of glass, stuck to Shane’s back.

I freeze. I roll it around in my palm. It isn’t sharp, necessarily, but it’s here nonetheless. Glass. Where did it come from? What the hell happened? How –

Oh.

God, my head is so stupid.

I remember now. I’m fully awake now.

[Last night, Shane left mid-way through the movie. We watched him go, not sure why he didn’t say a word. Within ten minutes, we had to turn the volume up because the ungodly noise that they were making was drowning out the words. Yes, that kind of noise. I almost threw up a few times. Eventually, I heard something shatter, and I almost fell on my face standing to check. Taron told me to calm down, that we can pay for whatever they knocked over in their love fest. I remember my attention straying to the glass lamp on the nightstand. I remember walking over and flicking it to see if it was real glass. I remember Taron making fun of me for doing it.]

That must have been what broke. But how the hell did it get into his back? Well, I have an idea. I have a few. I decide consciously to tell myself that he must have fallen out of bed onto some glass from the lamp. Uh, fallen on his back.

“How’d you scratch yourself up this bad?” I ask quietly. I pour the rubbing alcohol down his back. It nearly sizzles, even lukewarm, on his skin. Do I want to know?

“I was clumsy, this morning. Fell in the shower. While shaving.”

I don’t tell him that that’s bullshit. I don’t ask why he’d come all the way down here to tend his wounds in privacy if he had the same materials in the upstairs bathroom. I don’t show him the piece of glass. I fold it into the cloth and place it on the counter, grabbing another. I don’t even try to rationalize why he would lie to me. He has his reasons. I need to keep telling myself that. He has his reasons.

I work in silence for the next minute, trying to work fast but also trying to work carefully. What if there’s more? What if I missed some? Shane is tapping his fingers on the ceramic sink, waiting for me to be finished.

“Okay.” I step away. It does look better. Some of the scratches are more pronounced, but he’s been wearing a shirt to the beach anyways – another topic I haven’t found the opportunity to mention. “I think you’re good.”

He sighs in relief. “Thanks.”

“You’ve been falling in the shower a lot recently,” I murmur. He pivots on his heel to face me, his eyes wide enough for me to notice. “We need to get you some mats, or something.”

“Yeah,” he laughs quietly. He pats my head, simply because he has nothing to say. (This is a problem.)

He leans on my shoulder almost all the way up the stairs. I try not to take it as a compliment. I have a dustpan and brush balancing in the crook of my elbow. Shane doesn’t ask about it. He opens his mouth to stop me before I enter the room beside him.

“Now, what’s this?” I ask, gesturing to the lampshade on the ground just barely visible on the ground on the other side of the bed. There’s a reason why I’m not the actor here.

“Oh, uh. We, uh.”

“You just lay down. And mind the glass.” Robin is all curled up on the bed, so Shane crawls carefully from her side to his own. I want to make a sex joke but I worry it’ll come off too cynical, so I keep my mouth closed.

If the lamp had just been knocked over last night, I’m glad to adopt that into my memory. That still doesn’t explain the glass in his back. If Shane’s into something weird, fine. Great. But I would have known that. Robin would have been bragging about it every time she came with me to get groceries. Any chance she would get to mention it, she would.

Anyway. If I can be blunt with you and myself, I don’t believe that the lamp was knocked over. I can’t. This is thick glass, it would take more force than a two-foot drop for it to have shattered completely like this. Even more, it would have taken a completely different situation to have shards of glass on the windowsill. How could it have jumped from the ground up here? It couldn’t have. That’s how.

Shane watches me as I sweep the shards from the window into the dustpan. He watches me as I cross to the bathroom to empty the pan a few times. Nothing I can say could help. He knows what happened, whatever I’m conjuring up might not even be close to accurate. What am I supposed to ask? I don’t deserve answers.

Eventually, I stand. I have some small glass debris stuck in my knees, but it isn’t breaking the skin. I want to think Shane’s asleep. I tell myself I won’t check, but then of course I do, and his head is barely visible but he is staring at me.

“My head hurts,” he says finally. His voice is muffled by the duvet covering his mouth.

“I’ll make you a coffee.” After I put pants on. I need to clothe myself at some point today. I cover the window with a towel to block the sunlight that will appear in the next few hours.

He closes his eyes in response. A slight nod. I’ll take it.

About four hours of sleeplessness later, Taron joins me downstairs on the couch. I point to the cup of coffee I made as soon as I heard him moving around upstairs. He fell asleep in his jeans. The zipper in the front has twisted almost to his hip. I'm not even going to ask how he squirmed until his shirt turned backwards. 

“Hey,” he grumbles. “How long have you been up?”

“Since five,” I shake my head as he gapes at me. “You told me to take the stupid phone call.”

“Couldn’t have lasted that long, though.”

“No.” I bite the inside of my lip. “Jesus, Taron. Something’s wrong here.”

Taron nods. He brings his mug to his mouth, just feeling the warmth. I know something that he doesn’t know. I know so many things, but there are no words I could use to describe just how wrong everything is. I want to kick myself. I wonder how long this has been going on, or if I could have stopped it in some way. I can’t say I’m entirely certain what is happening, in truth, but I know it’s bad. I know it is.

“I don’t think we’re going to make it,” I say before I can even think. “As a unit. One way or another, we’re losing a person on this trip.”

“Robin, right?”

I hope so. I dread to think the Shane we take on the plane isn't the same Shane we brought here in the first place. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

I stood between them and braced my forearm on her chest.

It all happens so fast, simply because my life can’t slow down.

I know that’s in my job description but, until this stupid trip, it was pretty damn slow. But now I’m assistant, caterer, and nurse. Two times I’ve had to drive Shane to the ER in the past month, six times in the past two months.

I will admit, this week has brought some more clarity to why we’ve had to spend the night in hospital so many times so often. But I still have little to no answers, so I can’t do anything. (This is what I tell myself.) I can only drive the golf cart while Shane sits beside me, head resting back with his arms over his eyes.

Another migraine. Well, maybe the same one. It’s hard to keep track. He’s almost living in them, now. We waited it out for a bit, allowing Shane to sit in the dark bathroom closet for a while with a bottle of water to see if it would pass. It didn’t. Of course it didn’t. Last time we went to the hospital for a migraine, the doctors told us that it was because of sleep deprivation – that we needed to make sure he rested, made sure we reduced stress factors. We did that. They still happened. So it’s something else.

Shane moans, his palms pressed to his eyes. “Are we close?”

“I think so.” It’s dark, still. It’s three in the morning.

Shane’s been waking up at ungodly hours the past two days. Maybe he’s sleep-deprived again. I don’t know. When I started planning for this job, I was expecting to be dealing with emergencies related to personal choice – dragging celebrities out of mangy houses in the Hills, yanking the needles out of their hands. Shane’s done nothing to deserve this.

I can see the signs for the memorial hospital, dimly lit by spotlights shining from below. It’s the only hospital within golf cart distance that’s open 24 hours.

“Shane, I’m sorry, but I need you to open your eyes for a second.” Shane groans as he sits up straight. “There’s a pocket on your side. Inside is a pair of sunglasses, I think. If you put those on, it might help. Hospitals are bright.”

“Right.” His voice is groggy. He grabs onto my arm to keep stable as he reaches to grab the shades. “Thanks.”

“Of course. Taron is on his way.” I can’t help but smile at the vision of Shane with those bright pink sunglasses on as we drive toward the bright lights that shine through the glass doors. I don’t know whose they are, I just remember catching sight of them yesterday. “It’ll be great.”

The hospital is near empty when we arrive. I feel idiotic parking the golf cart in a space, but there seem to be three cars among hundreds of spots. A minor evil.

I sign Shane in at the front desk as quickly as possible – a record time, actually. I’ve practically memorized these forms by now. Shane holds onto my shoulders as I write my name at the bottom of the sheet alongside Taron’s – we’re his visitors.

They give him one of the rooms with a TV for some reason. I didn’t even have to tell them Shane was famous. Frankly, I hadn’t thought out anything here. We’re – and by we, I mean Shane – incredibly fortunate to be in the pocket of fame that doesn’t warrant public intrusion. If Shane takes this stupid movie deal, we’ll have to wear disguises to the hospital or enter through an underground tunnel every time Shane hits his head. Luckily, we’re safe for now. Paparazzi only follows Shane if his movie has recently been included in an awards show lineup. We haven’t needed to hire bodyguards yet.

A nurse enters after about thirty minutes of watching the pilot episode of Supernatural on mute. Shane still looks incredibly cute in his hot pink sunglasses. (Not important, Ryan. You’re a problem.) She asks the basic questions; what happened, where does it hurt, how often do you get these migraines, do you have insurance… the usual.

She places a folded pair of scrubs on the edge of the bed before leaving. She closes the door on her way out, so it’s just the two of us. I’ll give it to this hospital, their guest chairs are incredibly comfortable. I can certainly sleep here if it comes to that. I already texted Taron to bring my backpack when he comes. I think they’re going to keep Shane for a few days. They’ve already given him a room. We’re halfway through this night, but Shane looks incredibly pale. He hasn’t spoken in about twenty minutes. Usually, when I take him to the emergency room, he’s a Chatty Cathy all the way through the visit. Not now. He’s just still against the bed.

“We probably need to put these on,” I say quietly. I pick up the scrubs. “You can probably do it yourself, right?”

Shane hums. He turns his head to the side. I place the scrubs on his chest.

“I’ll turn my back. Just let me know when you’re done.” I turn in the chair, crossing my legs. My knees press against the back. I refuse to get out of this chair. It’s too comfortable, even backward.

I wonder where Robin is. I know Taron woke her up to tell her where we were going. So why isn’t she here? I know the answer to that one. Because she never has. It’s difficult keeping myself from putting these pieces together now. I have them all spread out in my head, I just don’t know what order they go in. What shape they’re supposed to reveal. Do I want to know? Do I want to put it together? It’s not about me, I know that. So, if I did put them together, would it help him? Would it be worth it?

“Mm. M’done.”

I turn back around. Shane is standing, pink glasses and green scrubs, looking incredibly adorable yet still concerning. Maybe it’s the scrubs, maybe it’s the lights, but he looks like a skeleton.

“Honey,” he says croakily, “I’m home.”

“So very handsome,” I smile, patting the cot. At least he’s talking. “Climb on in.”

Eventually, the doctor enters. His name is Dr. Galy. He’s much kinder than any of the other doctors we’ve seen back home. He makes me step outside for a minute so he can do a check-up. Shane asks if I can stay, which almost makes me cry for some reason, but Dr. Galy insists. It makes me nervous as if I’ve done something wrong.

“Alright. I’ll see you in a bit, big fella.”

The hallway off of the room is long and bright, almost migraine-inducing, right off to the side of the secretary’s desk. I run a hand through my hair – I need a shower – and search for Taron. He should be here by now. Hesitantly, I stray from right outside of the door toward the waiting room I spotted when we first entered.

Taron is scrunched up in one of the chairs, his bag between his feet and mine in his lap. I wait for a smile that never comes. In his scramble to get out of the house, he somehow managed to grab his suit jacket to establish authority. It’s somehow working.

“Hey,” I say.

He looks up at me through his eyelashes. Not moving to stand. “How is he?”

“The same. Doc’s checking him out, but they admitted him for the night at least,” I take my bag from where it balances on his legs. “We need to go home, man. Shane’s pretty much dying here. It’s either that the Bahamian air has made him clumsier or it’s a ghost, but something’s wrong.”

He doesn’t move. He doesn’t laugh or acknowledge my attempt to lighten the mood. He just stays still. What is it with him and Shane and staying still?! “You’ve been saying something’s wrong for days. Do you have anything useful to add to that, or are we just playing games?”

I blink at him. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

“You’re the agent, correct?” I hear Galy’s voice over my shoulder and I step to the side. I press my fingers to my right eye to keep from crying. Taron’s never talked to me like that before and I’m admittedly sensitive right now. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

“Of course.”

It’s moments like these that remind me that Taron’s job is more important than mine. I’ve told you this a million times at this point, but Shane’s spoiled me in this way. He’s kept me so comfortable in my little shell that I forgot that people look down on me.

They wait for me to leave so that they can talk about important things. I return to Shane’s room. At this point, he’s the only one who really seems to like me. Maybe it’s because I’m biased. (Problem.)

“Are you doing okay?” I ask quietly. I flip the lights off as I enter. Shane pushes his sunglasses up on his forehead but his eyes stay closed. “How’d the check go?”

“Fine,” Shane says. He turns to face me as I sit down, opening an eye. I drop my bag beside me. “Did you tell him about me falling in the shower?”

“I mean. I told the nurse. She asked when this migraine started, so. Did you?” I cross my legs.

“Well, he checked my back. I thought we were in here for my head.”

“We are.” I rub the back of my neck. “I don’t know why he’d…” Yes, I do. He’s a doctor. They do that kind of thing, try to heal the wounded.

He rests his head on his hand, fully present. I wonder what he’s looking for. Searching for, in my face. I want him to find it soon so he’ll stop staring at me like this.

“Why haven’t you asked?” He sounds dead. I don’t like it. “About the lamp. You cleaned it up but you didn’t ask about it.”

I couldn’t ask about it. What if that was where the line was? What if I asked and he snapped and he fired me, or something… for… for… something. I don’t have an excuse.

“I don’t know,” I finally tell him, because I don’t. I sink down in the chair. “I should have. I’m just…” Terrified. Of what? Don’t be stupid, Ryan. You’re always so stupid.

“Just what?” Of course he presses.

“Why was there glass on the windowsill?” I ask instead. He doesn’t answer, his silhouette judging me silently in the dark room, so I start over. “You and Robin were being… uh, loud. And if there’s one rule of my job, it’s to leave you alone when you’re getting busy. So that was why I didn’t ask at first.” I shouldn’t continue. But I’m so lonely right now, I want to go back home, and Taron just snapped at me. And I can’t stop. “But it didn’t just get knocked over, did it? It wasn’t an accident?”

“Of course it was an accident.”

“Please.”

Shane pushes himself to sit, slowly. I scoot back ever slightly, the chair squeaking. He freezes for a moment. “Why’d you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Move away.”

“I don’t know.” I know he wouldn’t hit me or anything. So I don’t know. This isn’t about me. I’m tired. That’s all. This isn’t about me.

Shane settles upright. His legs fold into a basket, completely turned to face me.

“It’s complicated, Ryan. You wouldn’t understand.”

What, because I’m stupid? Because I’m just an assistant? What? I don’t reply.

“Not like that,” he says. He’s always been able to read my mind. The air conditioning is buzzing from somewhere in the room. No one’s hooked him up to an IV or anything yet, no heart monitors. I wish they would. At least we’d have some noise.

“I want to understand, Shane. Not as a job, but as a friend. Please.” I get hit by a wave of insecurity, of exhaustion, of desperation. “Because I don’t know what to do, here. Where do I even start? I know you’re entitled to your privacy, but Jesus.” My heart hurts. At least I won’t have far to go if it gives out.

“It’s complicated.”

Before I can open my mouth, the door opens. Shane practically hisses at the light and burrows his nose into his pillow. Taron apologizes quietly, looking at me.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?”

I don’t want to talk to him, right now. I’m scared of what he’ll say because apparently no one is a big fan of me right now. I stand anyway because I’d rather Taron rip me to shreds than sit through this cryptic, frustrating conversation with Shane’s shadow.

“Sure.” I stand and walk to the door without another word.

It’s a real journey from my seat to the hallway. I’m preparing to be scolded. I step outside, biting my tongue. I’m anticipating whatever hurtful nonsense is about to be said –

“You said something is wrong,” he says again. His voice is a little clearer, a little calmer than earlier. “What did you mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“What’s in your hand?” I point at the pamphlet that is clutched in his right hand. “What’s happening? Just tell me, please. I’m tired.”

“Dr. Galy took a look at Shane. He says his migraine is the result of a concussion, and that his back is fucked up. Looks like he was hit with a bottle or something made of glass.” Taron hands me the papers. “And then he gave me this.”

I look down at it. It takes me a moment to read the words Take A Stand – Against Domestic Violence. I don’t have words yet. My brain has the final piece and the puzzle is coming together and I want to vomit. Once again, perfect setting.

Taron continues, voice even quieter. He's struggling with his words, but it makes me feel slightly better. I'm not the only one who's losing their mind. “I’m sorry I got frustrated at you. I thought you were being difficult, but I… well. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Before I can even process the apology, he hugs me. He hugs me. Years of working together, and he hugs me for the first time now. In a Bahamian hospital on one of the most overwhelming days of my life. I try to hug back and hold back tears at the same time. I’m so emotional right now. I’m trying to blame it on the time. He lets me go.

“It’s okay.” My voice wavers. Stupid. “I don’t… I don’t know what to do. I’m sorry, I’m being so useless right now. Um…” I try to think of something useful. “I’ve never had to deal with this before…” That’s not helpful. “When the lamp broke, it wasn’t an accident.”

Taron nods. He reaches into his shoulder bag and grabs a piece of paper. He writes something down I can’t see. “How do you know?”

“Glass on the windowsill.” Now I’m just being repetitive. I feel sick to my stomach. It couldn’t have been this bad for long, right? We couldn’t have missed this for long. I couldn’t have prevented this. “We thought they knocked the lamp over on accident, but it… she threw it at him. That’s why his back is fucked. He told me he fell in the shower.”

Fuck. He’s used that excuse so many times. Six times. How many times has he lied? How many times have I let him lie? Was it this bad every time? Couldn’t have been. Shane, what did you do? Why did you hide?

“It’s okay,” Taron says as if he knows, scribbling my words down. He’s so calm, it makes me nervous.

“I’m nervous,” I tell him. He looks at me. “I don’t know what to do. How do I help? What do I – “

“Leave it to me. It’s okay. It’ll be a process, but I’m prepared for these things.” Taron pats the back of my neck like my father used to do when I was upset. I can’t relax. “Shane wants to break it off, we know that. So he knows he isn’t safe, he just thought he could do it alone. We’ll help him.”

I get a sour taste in my mouth. “I can’t believe we let her into his life.” I can’t believe I didn’t ask about the lamp.

“There are many things we can protect him from, but it’s hard to see these things in the beginning.” Taron tucks his notes back into his bag. “We have a lot to focus on right now. Are you doing okay?”

No. “Yeah.”

“Great. I’ll make some calls. Will you email Germaine’s agent, set up a meeting for tomorrow morning?” Taron is pulling his phone out of his pocket. “We need to start wrapping up here so we can head home.”

“Is Shane going to be discharged by tomorrow morning?” I can feel my heartbeat in my ears.

“If not, they’ll meet us here. We’re leaving tomorrow night.”

Chapter Text

She screamed at me and then at him.

When it comes to crisis regarding Shane, I am very little help. I check my email, maybe. I ask Shane how he’s doing. I offer my input, though it’s often wrong. It’s only noon, less than 10 hours after we entered the hospital, but it feels like it’s been days.

I wish we could just leave, but I know that would be too easy. There are so many facets to regular life, and even now we’ve far surpassed normal life.

Not only do we have to pack our things and get on the plane – we (and by we, I mean Taron mostly) have to talk to Shane’s lawyers and let them know what’s going on, we have to create a breakup plan for when we get back, we have to try and plan for any press that might pop up following Robin’s departure from our lives… we have to do all of this without Robin knowing. We haven’t gotten to the packing part yet, we’re going in order of urgency, but I know that when the time comes… I will be the messenger.

I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think I can talk to her in a civil way anymore. But then again, they haven’t told me I have to be civil. They haven’t told me anything.

“I’ll be calling the lawyers with our options later tonight,” Taron clicks his pen against his leg. Once. Twice. Three times. “I need us to be clear on your intentions with Robin.”

“My intentions with Robin?” Shane croaks, eyebrows drawing close together. His hair is greasy and his collarbone is practically piercing a hole through his scrubs. Yet he is still beautiful. (Problem.) “The hell does that mean?”

“Are you intending to break up with her?”

Please say yes.

“Yeah. Yes. That was the original plan, to… uh, break up with her once we got back. But I didn’t expect this to happen so fast.” He fumbles with the thin blanket over his body.

“When you say I didn’t expect this to happen so fast, do you mean you didn’t expect Robin to hurt you or you didn’t expect us to find out about it so fast?” Taron looks up from his notepad, waiting for a response. I think we’ve gotten the full range of emotion from Taron on this short trip – panic, happiness, sadness, disrespect, professionalism. (Is professionalism an emotion?) I’ve never seen him so stern. I feel as though I’ve disappointed my favorite teacher or something.

Shane chooses his words wisely. “I didn’t expect Robin to hurt me.” Lie. Lie, lie, lie. I can’t blame him, I understand why (not entirely, as I’ve never been in his situation, but within reason), but he’s safe. I wish we could make him safe.

Taron writes down his response anyway. “Okay. Taking notes for later. So, to clarify, you’re saying she’s never attacked you in any way until this trip. Correct?”

“Correct.” Bullshit. Bull. Shit. Shane, what do we have to do? Is there anything we can do?

“Your original excuse for your injuries was that you fell in the shower. And you’ve said that to us before. But you’re absolutely sure that she’s never hurt you before this trip.” I’m glad Taron is pressing, but he sounds condescending.

“I already answered.” He’s closing off, Taron, shut up.

Taron shuts up. He nods and writes some things down I can’t see from the other side of the bed. “Alright.”

As we sit in silence, I have some time to reflect for the millionth time today. I’m tired of reflecting. I’m tired of being useless, here. I want to scream at Shane and Taron – but they’re doing the best they can, and I’m just sitting here. I have my arms in between my legs like a fucking puppy, like a child put in time out. Taron’s taking notes. Shane’s been going through a traumatic few months practically alone. My experience is absolutely worthless here, I have nothing to contribute. They haven’t talked to me in a few minutes –

“Are you okay?” I jump at the voice, shifting my attention from the floor to Shane. Shane is in a hospital bed, and yet he still wants to know if I’m okay. Damn him.

(Doesn’t matter.) “Yeah, of course. Are you?”

“I’m spectacular.” He smiles like I can’t see him laying there, attached to so many wires. “Headache’s gone.”

No, it’s not. “Great news,” I keep myself from patting his hand like I want to. I look to Taron, who was probably in the middle of a thought when Shane interrupted.

Anyways. Ryan, I need you to run back to the house and pack Shane’s things. When he’s discharged in the morning, we’ll grab the bags and head directly to the jet. If Robin asks what’s happening when you get there, Ryan, tell her to pack as well. You tell her we’re leaving before sunrise in the morning, okay? If she asks why... say we’re leaving before the storm hits.”

I don’t know why she deserves such a stupid excuse. As soon as this thought occurs, I realize why she needs an excuse at all – because she treated Shane this way when he loved her, so what would she treat him like without that pretense? What’s crueler than cruelty?

“Okay,” I say. I stand. “I’ll take my bag with me. Uh.” I clutch the strap of my backpack so tight, I’m afraid my skin might rip. My heart is beating out of my chest. I don’t have the right to be so terrified of Robin, she’s done nothing to me. And I’ve done nothing to her. (Yet.)

“While you’re gone, I’ll call Connolly’s people. We’ll need to tell them we’re leaving as well. Shane, you’re not taking the deal, am I correct?”

Shane’s eyes widen in that do I need to answer? way.

“Alright.” Taron nods and turns to me. “You can go ahead and go.” I know he’s busy, but I’d kill for a little support. Maybe another hug. I’m still thinking about that hug. Maybe I’m touch starved. I miss Jenifer. “Call if you need anything.”

I have a few questions. There are so many ways this could go wrong, even though I’ve been given such a simple task, but there’s no time for me to ask about them. So I just nod and I leave. That’s the most helpful thing I can do – do what I’m told. That’s my job.

One forgets how slow a golf cart moves when one is not in a golf cart. It almost feels ridiculous to be in one right now – the hum of the engine is almost nasal, I’m moving slower than I could run. All of this seems to be spoiling the mood of the day, like when you play a happy song when you’re crying just to stop yourself from crying.

The house isn’t on fire when I arrive. That’s wonderful news. I don’t know what I was expecting. Robin hasn’t yet admitted to guilt, nor does she know that we know about the guilt, so she wouldn’t do anything grand. I don’t know what grand would be, with her. I know very little about her, I realize. That doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. I don’t know what she’s capable of. Fuck.

I park a few yards away from the door, much farther than I need to. I need to think of the possibilities. I focused my time on the ride over here thinking about the sound the golf cart was making. Fuck. Stupid.

Okay. Lists are good. Here are some options for what is about to happen, mainly for my benefit but you may read along if you wish:

1) I enter the house. Robin is asleep. Great. I sneak in and pack all of Shane’s stuff, and pack Taron’s as well simply because I have time. Nothing is interrupted. Everything goes well. She stays asleep until morning. No confrontation to be had. Perfection.


2) I enter the house. Robin is in the shower. Fine. I sneak in and pack all of Shane’s stuff, and pack Taron’s as quickly as possible before Robin can hear me moving around. I run downstairs and turn the television on before she can suspect a thing. Maybe she asks how Shane is, but she probably won’t. She talks about the weather. Confrontation, but with very little consequence. Tolerable.


3) I enter the house. Robin is in the kitchen making coffee or something. Yikes. I tell her I need to grab something from my room. I run upstairs and pack all of Shane’s stuff, maybe packing Taron’s bags if she doesn’t come up to see what I’m doing. I come downstairs, maybe sit on the couch, maybe hide in my room and text Taron that the job is done. If she comes looking for me, I’ll tell her I’m tired. I’ll go to sleep early so that I can be completely awake at three in the morning when I need to get up again. That’s a benefit.


4) I enter the house. Robin is in Shane’s room, awake, just sitting on the bed. Worst scenario. I enter. She asks what’s going on. I tell her that I need to pack Shane’s things so that we can leave in the morning. She asks why. I tell her we need to leave before the storm hits. She calls bullshit. I’m out of options. I pack Shane and Taron’s things anyway. She can’t really do anything about it. Confrontation levels off the charts, but hopefully I’m confident enough to deal with it.

Okay. I’ve prepared four possible scenarios, I think real life must fall in the cracks between them. I’m hoping for the first one. God, I hope for the first one. I force myself up the steps toward the front door. I force myself to hold my hand out. I force myself to handle the doorknob, to turn it, to push.

Scenario 5. She has created a fifth scenario that was worse than the worst scenario I could have even considered.

When I enter, Robin is sitting on the couch. She is staring at me. The television is off. She’s been waiting. She has been waiting for me to return, sitting there with no makeup on and a messy blonde bun and I feel my stomach drop down into my left foot. She hasn’t even been doing anything. She’s been sitting in that spot, watching the door, with no distractions. It’s particularly unsettling. The silence she’s been sitting in for ten fucking hours. Waiting.

“Where is he?” She asks. It sounds more like a demand and I think about turning around and leaving. She doesn’t move to stand. I don’t move to go upstairs, which I should.

“He’s in the emergency room. They admitted him for the night.” It’s like my shoes are made of cement. There is still so much sand, but I doubt it’s enough to keep me in this spot. I tell myself to move, but I can’t. I’ve already made this suspicious by freezing. Once again, I am a child in the presence of stress.

“For what.”

Fuck you, Robin. Fuck. You. Does she think I don’t know? If I didn’t know, that question would be understandable. But it’s the way she delivers it. Cold. Clinical. She knows that we know. So, why ask? Is she testing me? What am I supposed to do? This wasn’t in the scenario list.

“Migraine,” I say. I want to continue: From a concussion. Do you know how he might have gotten a concussion? No, I decide against it. Once again, she hurt Shane. I’m led to believe she cares for him. She could give less of a shit about my existence. She could destroy me, no doubt.

How would you react? In the room with someone so evil. Would you bother to keep up appearances? Are you stronger than me? Likely.

She doesn’t say anything. I figure it’s an ending to the conversation.

I move to the stairs.

“Where are you going?”

She knows where I’m going. I’m going upstairs.

“Upstairs.”

“Why?”

“To pack.”

“You have your bag.”

“To pack Shane’s things.”

“I can do that.”

“I’ve got it.”

I drop my bag by the door before I start the long walk up the stairs. I can hear the couch creak as she stands. I have no reason to feel the fear I do. I cannot imagine what Shane feels. I have no reason to feel anything but shame. I am a problem.

She follows me. I wish she wouldn’t, but she does anyway. This is a theme. She seems to enjoy doing the things that others wish she wouldn’t. God. I can hear her moving faster than me. I can hear her gaining on me up these stupid stairs and I’m not sure if I should turn and acknowledge it or not acknowledge her at all. I choose the latter, hesitantly.

It’s been rummaged through, again. The largest case. The largest case has Shane’s clothes – I know it hasn’t been touched since I last repacked it following Robin’s tirade because Shane has been wearing the same house clothes since the day of the meeting when he last touched the suitcase.

I can feel her presence behind me as I realize this – as I flip the case open and look at its contents. As I grab Shane’s chargers and strewn shirts. As I grab everything in the bathroom that he owns. As I try my best not to say anything. As I bite my tongue.

I go through the checklist in my head. Twenty shirts – five dress, fifteen casual – check. Four pairs of bottoms – one PJ pant, two pairs swimming trunks, one dress pant – check. Laptop charger, check. Laptop is with Taron, so check. Hairbrush, toiletries, check. Phone charger, check. Phone. Phone. Where is his phone?

“I can’t find Shane’s laptop anywhere.” I hear her voice come from the doorway. “Are you sure he brought it?”

The tone of her voice makes me sick. She knows she sounds insincere, she’s trying to make it clear to me. She knows that we know, and she knows why we’re leaving, and she knows because she has his phone. I should have brought it with us.

“Yeah,” I whisper. My voice can’t get much louder. “You wouldn’t happen to know where his phone is, would you?”

She pulls it out of her pocket. It’s unlocked. I’ve told him thousands of times to lock it. I bet she convinced him otherwise. She holds it up, a trophy.

“What is so important on the laptop, that you hide it from me?” A strand of hair falls loose from her bun like it’s trying to escape. It doesn’t get far. “Why do you hide from me? I don’t get it. You and Taron, both so scared of me. I don’t get it.”

I didn’t get it before, but I do now. I understand all the hatred I’ve held in my cheek for the past six months. All the reasons why I could hate her were hidden this entire time for only Shane to see, and I’m fucking furious at myself that I missed it. I think she’s having a blast right now, so relieved to finally breathe without that stuffy mask on.

“What’s…” Fuck. I’m hoarse with rage. And simultaneous despair I have no time to analyze. “What’s so important on the phone that you wait until Shane’s out of the house so that you can snoop through it?”

“You are shameless.” I don’t know what that means. I hope she’ll continue. “Shameless in your texts to Shane. Some of these are ridiculous.” Good, she continued. And good, she continues to sound like an absolutely crazy person. She looks down at the phone in her hand, scrolling through our correspondence like it’s a court transcript to be investigated. “A yellow heart emoji, Ryan. I mean… really.”

I remember the first text I sent Shane after we first met. It was a classic, hey, just met you at the party, needed to text before I lost your number. The first and last time I’ve ever sent a yellow heart to Shane. That’s what she was doing over the past few hours. Scrolling back through three years of text messages, reading every single one.

“I thought the yellow heart would be less conspicuous.” I don’t know why I’m telling her this. Maybe it’s because Shane isn’t here. I’m still on my knees. By all estimates, I should be feeling more vulnerable. All of my senses are clouded by some sort of fury/weakness/exhaustion mixture. Deadly.

She sighs. It makes my blood boil. I don’t want false pity, I want the real thing. “Even after he was taken, you still continued.”

Why am I even responding? She’s just got a great face to debate with and I have a lot of material.

So I stop responding. I continue packing. I stack the smaller cases on top and stand to move to Taron’s things. She’s in the doorway. This is a problem. For once, it isn’t me.

“We’re leaving in the morning. Is your stuff together?” I ask as if this conversation didn’t happen. I’m trying to suspend it long enough to get to the other room.

“What a shallow lie,” she says. This surprises me. “We’re here for a week, Ryan.” Get my name out of your mouth. “We’ve still got four days to go. And once Shane accepts the Connolly film, we might get an extension.”

Once again, the things she is ignorant of are so fascinating.

“We’re leaving in the morning,” I repeat it, and it feels so good to do so. I get to be in charge, I get to know something, I get to be worth something. Just this once. “Taron called Connolly’s people. Turned it down.”

Her villain character fades if just for a second. Genuine emotion: anguished disappointment.

“Why would he do that?” She asks.

I don’t answer. For some reason, my confidence has consumed my entire body and I feel comfortable walking over and sliding between the open space between her and the wall. I just slide past her, and she doesn’t grab me, and I think I’m home free.

Taron’s low maintenance, so it’s fine. It’s fine. I’ll pack his things. I’ll take Shane’s phone back. I’ll go back to the hospital and we’ll go from there.

I make it to the doorway.

“Did you tell him not to take it?” She asks.

I don’t freeze as much as I want to just to give myself time to unpack that question. I kneel beside Taron’s twin bed to grab the suitcase underneath.

“Did you tell Shane not to take the film deal, or did you get Taron to ask him for you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Damn it, Ryan, stop engaging. I have to engage. I just did.

“You’re not worth two hundred and fifty million dollars.”

Okay. Pause. “What does that mean?”

“If you think you can get him to love you by keeping him humble and broke, you won’t.”

This is not… what I expected to happen… and now I don’t know what to do. It takes some work to keep my hands moving, to keep pulling the suitcase out from beneath the bed. Never has my self-esteem dropped from such a high place to such a low one. Broken bones, my self-esteem has, but I’m not giving up.

“He chose it himself.” My teeth clench after I finish my words, just to keep any more from coming. “It’s not his… craft.” More words come out anyway, worse than the first ones.

“You’re not his craft either,” she says. That doesn’t even make sense, says the part of my brain that’s still battling for security.

“I didn’t say I was.”

“You’re nothing, Ryan.”

It comes out of the left-field, but it hits me. I want to say it doesn’t, but it does. She’s very talented at this, I have to admit, being terrible.

“I know,” I say. I wish the words would stop, but I can never give up an opportunity to fuel my lack of self-worth. I can sense a prospect from miles away to kick myself in the back of my own knees. Show business.

“So why do you keep trying to sabotage Shane? I can’t get that. Do you think he’ll stoop low enough to see you, ever?”

Time to stop talking. I don’t tell her that I already know that. I don’t tell her that I’m not sabotaging anyone. I have given her too many of my words, and now they’re all gone.

Taron already had all of his things together, save for his charger plugged into the wall. I could have just left when I was ahead. I think I might change my mantra to I am not worth two hundred and fifty million dollars. It’s all I have.

I leave. I don’t know how long it takes to leave, but I do. I’m on the beach. I don’t know how I got here, I’m certain I walked, but I can’t focus on any one thing. [I am not worth two hundred and fifty million dollars. I am not worth a million dollars. I am not worth anything.]

I know, I’m presently thinking about this, that this is not about me. Nothing in this situation is particularly harmful (in the long term) for me. Shane is in the hospital, and I’m standing in the sand and thinking about my value (and the lack thereof). What a waste of time. Yet I don’t move to change my behavior, my position. I just stand here, staring out at the ocean, thinking in the most cliché way I can manage by the seaside. When Robin entered our life, she changed it forever. She’s leaving with a bang, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to settle so easily back into life.

The rain starts after a few minutes. Maybe an hour. I’m not sure. Time is an illusion. What I know is that, in the time I’ve stood here, an entire dune has wedged its way into my sneakers. Maybe a century has passed. There are bigger problems than sandshoes.

I feel my phone buzz against my leg. The rain picks up. When I pull my phone out to check, it’s difficult to read the message through the drops of rain that quickly build to a lake on my screen. I wipe it off with my shirt, which is useless as my shirt is also wet. I deal with it.

Taron sent a message. Jesus. Fuck. Shane discharged himself a few minutes ago and is headed to the house. You’re still there, right?

Okay. Don’t panic. I respond, absolutely.

Hurricane Robin has arrived. The rain is flying so fast, so sharp, it stings my skin as I attempt to navigate back the way I came. I can’t even see. The sand in my shoes is soaking up the water that’s seeping into the cloth of my shoe, creating a quicksand situation.

I stumble. I make a few unfortunate noises – I can only liken it to the sound a kindergartener would make when hit with a dodgeball if that helps – and I make my way in the direction of the house. I’ve never been great at navigation but, even though I can’t remember coming out here explicitly, my feet seem to.

I see the porch lights on, bright orange and yellows shattered by the onslaught of the rain. And in the light, I see a silhouette of a golf cart. And I see the silhouette of a man in scrubs stumbling out of the cart. And I see the silhouette of a woman standing on the stairs.

I can’t hear the first words they say. I miss the beginning of the fight, smothered by the storm.

Chapter Text

And then everything was quiet.

I take my shoes off before I start running. I don’t know where I throw them, it isn’t really important. It’s too difficult to pick up speed when you’re sinking in your own shoes. I have to get to Shane before she does. If she’s five steps away, I’m a mile further out. For some reason, the logic settles in my head that I’ll be able to get there first. By the time I finish that thought, I can see her standing in front of him. Fuck.

I wish the rain would stop. Now, of all times. I can’t see too far in front of me as the rain picks up, can’t hear – God, I wish I could hear. I know they’re talking, they have to be. It’s getting dark, now. The sun is setting faster than I thought it would be able to. We’re left only with the porch light.

I slow down as she looks at me, sees me coming. I don’t know how I can tell, she’s only a shadow in the downpour, but I can. My sprint turns to a reluctant jog. My clothes are getting heavy, holding the maximum amount of water it can already with nowhere to go. I can feel myself being dragged to the ground. Where the fuck is Taron? I’m not helpful, here. I’m wet and I’m cold and I’m sensitive, I’m no help. More useless now than ever before. Taron’s probably angry and panicked, like a feral creature ready for the gate doors to open. I wish he’d let himself free on Robin.

Have I walked only this far? I’m still yards away. The wind is picking up, pushing my hair out of my eyes but also pushing the shards of rain into my face. I stop completely to wipe the water from my eyes before deciding I need to pick up the pace anyway. The faster I’m there, the faster this is over. Right? As if I’m the only one on the planet who can set the pace of this natural disaster.

By the time I’m in earshot, still compromised by the rumble of the clouds and the noise of rain hitting the hood of the cart, I’ve completely missed Robin’s transition into a fight. I wonder how she did it. I wonder if she asked if he was okay before doing this, before screaming at him and finding her own way to portray a victim. Somehow, she’s nearly completely dry. Even in the deluge. She can’t be human.

The first thing I hear her say is this, and I know even now that this will boil my blood for years to come. The yelling halts, transformed into a mellow sort of conversational volume, and she says, “You could have just told me what was wrong.”

I can barely see Shane. His face is muddled through the storm, and for awhile I’m sure it’s as bewildered as my face must be, but I realize that he’s not doing anything. He’s just standing there, expressionless, waiting for her to finish. Waiting for her speech to end, though he knows full well it never will. Never has.

“I would have listened.” She sounds vulnerable. She’d be a perfect ventriloquist. I wouldn’t have believed that she was capable of sounding like that – someone with emotion. She might have even been half decent at acting. “I would have listened, but you… you were so secretive. We have nothing if we don’t have trust.”

We have nothing if we don’t have trust. Hell of a lot of trust she had in him, ripping through his bag when he was gone. But he doesn’t know that happened. There is so much he doesn’t know. Neither of us have much knowledge about our experiences with Robin, alone.

He’s just standing there. Just watching her speak, his hair falling into his eyes. He doesn’t move to push it away. His arms are useless at his sides, even as she moves toward him. Even as she reaches out to touch him. Shane watches her, looks down at her outstretched hand. Doesn’t take it. Doesn’t dare.

“Let’s go inside,” he says, finally, so quiet I barely catch it. I don’t know if he’s seen me yet. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here, when I stopped walking and just froze, a bystander.

“Is it because of him?” She points at me. Well, now he’s definitely seen me. Fuck you forever, Robin. He turns his head, keeps his body angled toward her, to search for me through the storm. “You don’t want him to see?”

He doesn’t answer her. He takes a step to the side as if to start the collective move inside, but she moves to block him. I need to keep moving. She’s made contact – she has her hand on his arm. I can’t see how tight the grip is.

Every step I take, the concrete seems to move five steps back. All of these things I have to focus on, trying to organize things that I’ll have to remember for later. The rain has favored certain parts of the driveway, washing away pockets of sand and revealing the sharp gravel and shells underneath, and it’s killing my feet. It’s raining, I can’t see and I can’t hear very well yet I still completely know what’s going on in the context of the past few days.

I’m trying to organize myself, my responsibilities – I’m probably a witness. This is the definition of being a witness. Am I going to have to remember what she’s saying? I know I’ll have to remember that she’s being aggressive and he isn’t. I know I’ll have to remember that Shane should be in the hospital, but he came early to the house (probably trying to leave early, probably thinking he could do this alone). What time is it? I’ll need to know that.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot my feet hurt. I’m never going to be able to voice these complaints out loud, so I just keep repeating these things over and over for consolation, maybe. I’m cold. I’m wet. I hurt. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about me.

I hear my name. I’m snapped out of my misery, and now I see that she’s looking at me. Is she talking to me? Did I do something?

“He’s had it out for me in the beginning.” She’s yelling, now, again. She’s pointing at me. The rain is starting to perforate the layer of hairspray in her hair, and she’s becoming one of us. One of us… feeling folk. She’s feeling angry, maybe a little scared that things are changing. Scared that he’s starting to see her the way she is. This isn’t helping. “He’s… he’s envious of me because I have you and he can’t.”

“Let’s go inside,” Shane says again. He won’t look at me. He knows I’m here, but he won’t look at me.

She takes a step in my direction. I’m getting close now. Her mascara’s running. She wasn’t wearing that when I left. Did she dress up for this? Must have. I’m sure she saw this going in a different direction. She lifts her hand to gesture to me, “He’s so in love with you he’d probably… kill me to get to you.”

“He’s never done anything to you.” Thank you, Shane.

“Thank you, Shane.” I’m close enough to be part of this conversation. I expect Shane to turn to look at me, but he doesn’t. He still doesn’t. I don’t know what that means. “Let’s go inside, now, everyone.”

“This doesn’t involve you.” Her voice is poisonous, I’m sure of it. I don’t want her to look at me anymore.

“It does. It really does.” I try to wedge myself between them, my shoulder in front of Shane’s. “We can go over my job description again once we get inside, so – “

“This isn’t going to work,” Shane says. I almost don’t recognize the sound. I blame it on the rain. Fucking rain. “I thought we could work it out, but this isn’t… I can’t do this anymore.”

Robin blinks. Thunder rolls over our heads. “What… what isn’t going to work?”

“When we get home, you need to pack.” I’m proud of him. I don’t know when he decided to do this now, our plans are completely screwed, but he’s done it. “I’ll help you find someplace to live, but this isn’t… this isn’t healthy.”

“What… no.” Her eyes have glazed over. I can tell even through the rain. She takes a step forward. I hold an arm out. She pays no mind. I brace my elbow on her chest. “Shane. Don’t do this.”

“We’re getting drenched. Taron is no doubt on his way, we can all talk this out.” I feel I have to mention the first part, as neither of them has so far. “I’ll get some towels. We’ll figure it out.”

“This isn’t about you,” she practically spits at me. Shane takes a step forward.

“There’s nothing to figure out, Ryan. It’s okay.” Shane puts his hand on my shoulder. “When Taron gets here, we’ll come up with something. For where you sleep tonight, Robin.”

“Shane,” she says.

I open my mouth to try and usher us inside. Shane isn’t done. He steps forward, pushing me and Robin forward. I step to the side. I don’t want to get any closer to her, thank you very much.

“I was thinking on the way over here,” he says, “that we’d go inside and it would be fine and we’d get over this. But I was also expecting some sort of… I don’t know, an apology? Or maybe concern. Every time this happens, you’ve at least acknowledged the fact that I was in some sort of condition bad enough to be in the hospital.”

“At least you’re better now,” she replies. She can’t even manage to be a good person, right now.

“I’m not. Can’t you tell how not-better I am?” He holds his arms up, a look at me gesture. “I wasn’t supposed to leave this early. They wanted to keep me overnight. I’m still wearing scrubs. Can you see me, right now?”

She looks him over, searching for something that shows health. She can’t find anything, so she keeps her mouth closed. Rain is dripping off her nose. It’s running into her eyes, but she doesn’t blink. The vulnerable act she was playing has completely dropped from her face. Just blank. Unsympathetic. Show business.

“You put me in there.” Shane pushes his hair back from his face to see better. He wipes his eyes with the backs of his hands. “Do you remember that? Are you aware of that? Because I’d kill for an apology.”

“What do I have to apologize for?”

Shane shakes his head. He looks to me for a moment before returning his attention to her. He waits. He crosses his arms over his chest. A puddle forms in the crook of his elbows. It overflows.

She looks at him and, after all this time to think, has the audacity to say, “I never hit you.”

As if that discredits everything. The pain on his face as she says it. The scars on his back. The scrubs he’s in.

“But you hurt me,” Shane says. I can’t imagine how hard it is for him to say these things. I wonder if he’s only saying these things because I’m here, he feels safe. Before he saw me, he was silent. I hope he feels better with me here. “So it doesn’t matter how.”

She pauses. She listens to the words he’s said. She leans down slowly and grabs a handful of sand under her feet, wet and dense. Then she rears up and throws it at Shane.

Fuck you.” She screams it, the battle cry of someone who is losing. Shane holds an arm up to cover himself. The rain washes the sand right off of him. She grabs two handfuls, one for me and one for him. It lands in his hair. In mine. It all washes away. This is pointless, and I’m sure she knows that. Shane steps in front of me to shield me. I don’t know what this means, or if I should be protecting him, but I’m shorter than him so my effort would probably be squandered. “A year of my fucking life wasted on you! The both of you! Why did I even bother! You had eyes for your fucking pet the entire time!

Over the rain and the yelling, I can hear the familiar sound of sirens. They’re slightly different in tone and pace, but they’re sirens nonetheless. I grab a fistful of the fabric of Shane’s shirt, trying to pull him back. Trying to signal that help is on the way, that we’re almost done. He yields, a few steps backward. She follows. She’s created a hole in the ground deep enough to reach pebbles. One clips my cheek. It hurts – I can’t imagine how Shane’s face is feeling. He’s gone through so much with her, I wonder if this stacks up to the rest of the shit she’s done.

The savior fleet is only two cars worth, with Taron in the passenger seat of one of them. He stumbles out of the car as they arrive, the lights dousing Robin in red and blue. She’s never looked better. She screams and fights against them, they have to drag her – they have to drag her – to their car. She still thinks she’s done nothing wrong.

I can’t focus on what the officers say to me, to Shane. The rain is in my ears, battering the top of my head and my face. I feel Taron put his hands on my shoulders, watch him look me in the eyes. He tells me to get Shane inside, dry yourselves off. I got it from here. Sounds great to me.

I put my hand on Shane’s back, the universal symbol of let’s get out of here, maneuver him toward the stairs. I nearly fall into Crater Robin on the way. I dread to think how fucked my feet are at this point, but it isn’t about me. This isn’t about me.

The roar of the rain gets louder and louder as we climb. Shane’s back is taut with stress – or maybe I’m just feeling his spine. I can’t tell. I retract my hand. He knows where we’re going.

The chaos stops as soon as I close the door behind us. The rain turns into a near-silent drone in the background as soon as we hear the click. The air conditioning turns the already cold rain to ice on our skin. Shane leans against a wall to catch his breath I didn’t notice he’d lost.

“I’m…” I gesture upstairs. “I’ll go get some towels, and then we can… we can talk.”

“I’ll come with you,” Shane croaks. “Need some first aid anyway. That okay?”

“Yes. Of course, big guy. It’s what I’m here for.” I start up the steps. He’s still against the wall. It’s dark, even inside. I want to turn on the light, but he still has a migraine. And the mood requires darkness. “Do you need help climbing?”

“Uh…” Shane looks up at me. “I probably need it.”

I hold my hand out. He takes it. (There will be time to reminisce on this moment later. The feeling of his hand in mine… This isn’t about me.) “You go in front of me, I’ll support from the back.” Story of my life.

Now that we’re out of the rain, the stairs are the hardest obstacle we have. Shane’s gone quiet, I’m sure to focus on his steps. I can’t see shit in this house. I hope he didn’t rip his IV out like he was in a movie. Clearly, he didn’t tell Taron he was leaving. I wouldn’t put it past him to completely ignore his own safety. Especially knowing he was coming to the house to do this.

I pull the towels off the rack on the way into the bathroom. I hang one on his shoulder, the other on mine. He leans on the wall opposite the sink, a luckily small area.

“What all do you need?” I ask, fumbling my way through the bathroom drawers in the dark. “First aid wise.”

“Well, first, I probably need help with this.” He holds his arm up, but it’s still pitch black in here.

“I don’t…” I shake my head. I hate doing this. “I can’t see you, bud.”

“Ah.” Shane grunts as he stretches his long arm out and flicks on the light. He squints at the visual intrusion, but he doesn’t complain. “Right.”

“Thanks – Jesus, Shane, what the fuck did you do?”

He did rip the IV out. Of course he did. The rain must have kept the wound open. It isn’t a worrying amount of blood, but it’s there. A pinkish trail from his forearm down to his middle fingertip, a tiny pink puddle by his (bare) feet. So careless. We always end up like this, simultaneously barefoot at the worst times.

“It was a split-second decision,” he smiles slightly. I’m glad to see a smile. I’m sure he wants to do anything but smile. A smile just for me. (It isn’t about me.) “Taron almost passed out.”

“You know how he is.” I’ve always wanted to say that. “Alright. Let’s see if we have any bandaids.”

I’m trying to keep it light. I’m trying to keep his mind off of this situation we’re in, but at some point, we need to go back to it. We need to talk about this. If not to comfort, to help. To help Shane understand that he didn’t deserve any of this. That she doesn’t deserve to hold a spot in his mind anymore.

I sit on the sink. I can feel the fabric of my pants stick to the surface as I ruffle my hair with the towel. I watch Shane hesitantly do the same. I look away before he can make eye contact. Just a couple of guys soaked to the bone, drying their hair. I’m trying to work the courage up to tell him he needs to get those scrubs off and get back into normal, dry clothes. But it’s inappropriate right now to tell him to strip.

“Do you think Taron is mad at me?” Shane asks, pulling his towel around his neck. He sighs, staring at himself in the mirror behind me before finally meeting my eyes. It’s warm when he sees me. Even soaked to the bone.

“Oh, absolutely.” I smile, to make sure he knows what I’m trying to say. “But he’ll be happy to rework the plans. I’m glad you broke it off, man. Really. I’d rather us write a few more emails and make a few more calls than you live with her for any longer. Can’t have you hurt anymore.”

“I hope it isn’t too much trouble.”

I let my towel fall into my lap. “Don’t say that.”

“What?”

“Don’t say those things about yourself, Shane. Jesus. You’re perfect.“ Needlessly to say, I didn’t expect that last part. He doesn’t seem to mind it. Thank God. I don’t think he’s even listening. “You’re safe, now.”

He shrugs. It makes me a little angry – maybe I have no right to be, but clearly, I make a habit of feeling things I shouldn’t. It’s crazy, his attitude about this. It’s almost like he doesn’t think he was in any danger before. I’m sure he looked it up, right? I’m sure he knew what was happening with her, he just didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure if he could escape. He knew these things escalate. So why are you shrugging like you don’t?

“Thanks,” Shane says. He tries to dry his hair further. It sticks up on his head. He clocks his hedgehogginess in the mirror and flattens it with his palm. “Thanks for showing up when you did. I think I may have chickened out on the big break up if you hadn’t been there.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner,” I tell him. I scan his face. Some of the pebbles Robin threw must have really done a number on his face. The bruises are showing already. “I’m really sorry, Shane.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Ry.” A new nickname. Be still, my beating heart! “Really. If I had to have company during this, you’re my first and only choice.”

“Wow, thanks.” It does mean a lot. I’m still hazy from the nickname.

“Well,” Shane says. “I should probably get changed.” He pushes himself to stand.

“Ah.” Do you need any help? I’m not going to ask it. It’s inappropriate. More now than ever. “Okay.”

He puts his towel on the rack as he leaves. I turn the light off as I follow. I need to change as well. If it’s possible to drown on land, I’m doing it. I limp my way down the hallway. I want to lay down. I want to take a hot shower and lay down. I’ll settle for changing clothes and diving into bed. I’m exhausted.

Something in me decides to incite a riot. I feel it in the bottom of my throat, the protest of an opportunity squandered. I can’t just let him walk away. He can’t go to sleep like this, thinking he’s alone.

I wait until he’s far enough away that I nearly can’t see him. For some reason, it makes me feel more confident. He’s a few steps from his bedroom. If he doesn’t want to listen, he can just close the door.

“This isn’t the right time to say this, and I’m sure there will never be a right time. But I’m… hm.” I shift on my feet as he slowly turns around to look at me. For a pitch-black hallway, his attention is quite a spotlight. “Um. She was right, earlier, about what I feel about… well, I’m trying to say that I do. And I don’t want to watch you change, now.”

Shane doesn’t move. He stays where he is. He’s standing close to the doorway of one of the guest rooms we haven’t entered. The door is open, and there must be a window there, as the flashing red and blue is just barely bouncing off of Shane’s silhouette. “What do you mean?”

“You broke up with her, and I’m so fucking proud of you. Really, Shane, you’re so brave and… and you did it and you’re here.” I place my cold hand on my warm face. I can’t believe any of this is coming out of my mouth. “But you can’t keep to yourself, now. We know how she treated you, now, so you can talk with us about it. Or not, but just… Please. I can’t sit around while you fade away.”

“I’m not fading, Ryan. She didn’t treat me like anything.”

“You’re right. She treated you like you were nothing.”

“I broke up with her. It’s done,” he says quietly. He holds his hands up, are you happy? No, Shane, I’m not. “Okay?”

I feel like he’s completely glossed over my attempt at a love confession. “I feel like you’ve completely glossed over my attempt at a love confession.”

Shane shakes his head. Jenifer’s words are echoing through my head. He doesn’t see me as a pet. I’m almost sure of it. But the way he says my name just now, the way he whispers, “Ryan…,” makes me feel doubt.

“I love you.” Ow. It hurts to say, but it also makes me feel light-headed. “I’m not saying that to get a reaction, but you need to know. And because she certainly didn’t tell you. Am I right? So. I love you.”

“You don’t,” he says. That’s not what I expected.

The weird thing is… right now, I cannot remember a time when he wasn’t looking at me. I can’t even picture him from any other angle than this one. I am and always have been in this moment when the only thing he’s focusing on is me. When the only thing (person?) he’s looking at… is me. He sees me.

“How do you know?” I should just take the way out he’s offered me. But what would be the point? I’ve already said it. I need to claim it. I love him.

“Because you can’t.”

Am I about to be sent for coffees? “I can’t?”

“You can’t.”

“Because I don’t have a chance with you, or because you think it’s impossible.”

Shane runs a hand through his hair. It catches on the damp tangles. “I’m going to get changed.”

Now? Now, of all times? “Okay.” What else am I going to say, no? I don’t want him to get sick in the Bahamas. He definitely should change out of those scrubs. He must be freezing. “Alright. Your stuff is all packed, but I put your pajamas in last.”

“Great.” He’s tense. “Thanks.”

He turns finally to continue to his room. A stray thought worms its way through my woes, bright and white, interrupting the flow of our parting. She still has his phone.

“Fuck,” I mutter. Every part of me tells me to let it go, but I can’t. I turn on my heel, the soles of my feet screaming. I look at Shane as he nearly steps entirely into his room. “Oh, and uh. She had your phone earlier. I don’t know what she did with it.”

He pauses in the doorway. He raps his knuckles on the wood of the door for a moment before he turns to look at me. For a moment, my worry turns to fear. I’m not sure why. Everything I feel right now is amplified.

Without a word, he starts walking towards me. His silhouette getting larger and larger. He passes open doors, red and blue giving me some sort of idea exactly what is going on. He doesn’t look angry, from what I can see. He’s just Shane.

When he reaches me, I have no expectations. I try to keep the hopeful ones away and fuel the terrifying ones. I wait, and I stand. And then he reaches out to me.

He holds me in his cold hands, thumbs on my cheeks while his fingers wrap around the back of my head. His fingertips tangle in my unbrushed hair and I curse myself for not making myself look good for this moment I couldn’t have ever anticipated. I feel small in his hands, small as I look up at him and search between his eyes for a game plan or a synopsis of what he plans to do with me. The rain is tapping against the windows, not too loud to be annoying but audible enough to be notable.

Shane sighs. It’s a heavy one, nearly blows my hair back. His breath smells like hospital coffee. He looks like he wants to say something but the words are fish hooks caught on the roof of his mouth.

Instead, he sweeps in on me, gives me a kiss that’s too fast and too cold for me to understand or savor it. I want it to last forever, but I’m troubled by the logic that it can’t last much longer than a second. So the second passes, and he retreats with his hands and his lips – and I’m crying on the inside because I can’t remember what it feels like – and he smiles at me. He smiles in a way that is the antithesis of happiness. This is a problem.

He says, “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like. To kiss someone that really loves me.”

It hurts. It’s like a thumbtack through the center of my ribs. I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing, and I watch him back away from me and disappear into the room. He doesn’t bother to close it all the way. Normally I would take that as an invitation, but I see this as what it is: an experiment. He wanted to see what it would feel like. Couldn’t have been that good. It couldn’t have been worth it. Fuck.

If I could do it again, I would have stopped him. Before he would have kissed me, I would have put my hand on his mouth like in a movie, and I would have said something smooth and comforting. Like, “You’re not in your right mind right now,” or, “You don’t want me, you just want this moment.” Something. Instead, I’m left alone in this hallway and the simultaneously best and worst moment of my life has just occurred but I have no one to share it with. When we get back, I need to start going to therapy.

So, I go back to my room. I peel my wet clothes off and leave them in a pile to deal with in the morning. I’m glad I brought these pajama pants, they’re soft and perfect for what I need right now. I still smell like rain and I’m still cold, but it’s better. I’m holding in my sniffles even though I’m the only one here. Trying to maintain some sort of dignity to a second party that doesn’t exist. Stupid. God, I’m so stupid. Jenifer was right. This is all I can think as I trudge over to my bed. Jenifer was right. I’m worthless, here, and I’ve got evidence. I’m just a pet. I’m –

I hear the door hinges creak. I fight the urge to yelp.

“Sorry,” Shane says. He holds his hands up. His voice is deeper than it was a few minutes ago. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s fine.” My heart aches. Should I smile? Would that make this better? I decide against it. I just stand up, ready to do what’s asked of me. Sleep can wait. “What’s up?”

“I…” Shane looks around. A few minutes ago I was all he could look at, now he can’t even manage that. Fuck. “I was thinking and… uh – wow, it’s pretty cold, in here.”

“… Yeah.” I noticed. “I think the thermostat’s downstairs if you need me to go turn the AC down.”

“No, I mean… in this room. S’cold,” he has a hand on his hip, gesturing to the room with the other. “It’s warmer in the guest room next door.”

“Ah. Well, I’m okay.” I don’t know what game we’re playing. I just want to sleep. “Thanks, though.”

Shane rubs his left eye with his fingers. “Uh. I’d really like you to stay in the guest room next door. It would make me feel better.”

 I swallow a deep sigh. It’s the least I can do. He’s gone through so much and I stupidly launched my personal problems onto him. What an idiot. “Okay. Yeah… I’ll, I’ll sleep next door.”

He nods, biting the inside of his cheek. “Great, thanks.” He taps the doorjamb once before leaving.

More steps to take. Fantastic. I allow myself a deep exhale, my eyelids already halfway down before I make the long fifteen-step journey from where I am currently to next-fucking-door. What a cruel joke.

I continue my trudge. Fifteen steps. Lovely. Fifteen steps from freedom from consciousness.

I peek into the room, squinting through the dark. I can identify a body in the bed. I can definitely see someone in the bed. My eyes adjust.

“Shane?” I whisper. I step inside just to get a better view. “What are you doing?”

“Um.” He pushes himself up to sit. He pats the open space next to him. “I don’t really know how long the grace period is supposed to last. But I don’t want to sleep alone and I… well, you’re my best company.”

I blink. I don’t know what’s going on. Did I fall asleep already? “Oh. Well. Why are you in here, then?”

“The bed’s bigger in here.” He runs his palm over the comforter to prove it. “And I thought it would be awkward for us to stay in the bed that… uh, she’s been sleeping in.”

Oh. “Oh.”

“You don’t have to…”

“No, it’s fine, I’ll…” I don’t know how to approach. But my urge to sleep has doubled, if not tripled, so I walk pretty fast. “Yeah, it’s fine.”

I crawl onto the mattress. God, it feels like a cloud. I’m so exhausted. But it isn’t about me. I leave enough space between us for a third person. That’s bed-sharing etiquette with your boss, right? That’s how it goes. You leave space.

“Your feet are cold,” Shane says.

“Mhm.” I don’t know what else to say to that. Should I apologize? “Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine.” He takes a long breath. “Wait, were you wearing shoes? Outside?”

I laugh, for some reason. Probably because it’s ridiculous. “No, I… I threw them. It was hard to run in them, with all the sand. So I took them off.”

Shane shifts. I won’t look at him. “We’ll find them tomorrow.”

“It’s kinda funny.” Is it? “The, uh, the first time I fell in love with you and the time I told you I love you… we were barefoot both times.”

“First time you…” I can see Shane turn his head to look at me in the corner of my eye. I keep my attention locked on the ceiling. “When was that?”

“When we met.”

Silence. For a long time.

I’m not sure what the intention here is. For a long time, in the silence and the dark, I wonder if this is just Shane’s attempt at a response to my confession earlier. It’s misguided, it’s leading me on, but I’m glad to be lead. I’m not sure what his intention is – that is, until he stretches his arm out and pulls me into his side. Warmth. I don’t dare to look up at him for fear that he might have mistaken me for someone else. For fear that he might change his mind.

I feel his lips brush the side of my forehead. I still.

“Sorry,” he says quietly. “I’ve been so miserable the past year with her, must have been a nightmare for you and T-Man – “

“ – I’m still sorry I called him that – “

“I could have been so incredibly happy with you.” He wraps his arm around my shoulders, my head resting on his. I’m still not completely convinced this isn’t a dream. His choice of words is really doing a number on me. “That was pretty stupid of me.”

He’d make me happy. I don’t know what’s happening. Is this a long, drawn-out rejection? The second time around? Is he going to say, I could have been so incredibly happy with you, that was pretty stupid of me… oh, well. Guess I missed out?

“You can still be happy,” I offer. Not sure where it comes from. I’m both wide awake and falling asleep. Those are fighting words. Those are hopeful words. When did I start spending my hope so carelessly?

“You’re right,” he says. His thumb rubs up and down my upper arm.

I fall asleep only after he has. I press my cheek against his chest, hearing his heartbeat. Letting his breathing lift and drop my head at its own pace. I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. I don’t know if this will last, but I hope he feels as safe as he makes me feel. That’s the last thought I have as I drift out of consciousness.

I hope he feels as safe as he makes me feel.

Chapter Text

It’s weird, coming to a party I’ve not planned. I feel as though I’m a leech, like I need to perform a service just to be here.

They kept the lights. That’s nice of them, a little piece of me left in every mixer they host. I haven’t gone to one of these since I met Shane, and I’m glad to see that Jenifer has kept my legacy alive by not changing the formula. The playlist is the same. That’s a relief. It’s like I’m coming back inside from the balcony after the trip I took outside all those years ago. It’s been minutes since I first met Shane. The purple lights are still purple. Nothing’s happened at all.

When we enter through the front, I can’t spot them immediately. We’re fashionably late, whatever that means, so they’ve already started the one-hour-in walk around the perimeter of the main room. I can see Bo’s head over the rest of the crowd. I doubt Lorene’s beside him, now. That would be too easy.

“I’m going to go find food,” Taron says into my ear, punctuated by a pat on my shoulder. He’s back to suits. I think, following the trip, he realized how easy it is to be vulnerable when you’re in casual wear. He’s left his hair alone, which was a nice thing to keep. “Do you want anything?”

“Nope,” I wave him off. “I’m good. Go mix.”

“I might,” Taron says. Another pat on the shoulder. Thanks.

After all this time, Shane still looks like a newborn deer at these events. Eyes wide and searching for faces he recognizes, usually coming up empty. The purple lights make it difficult. That’s the whole point.

“Who are you looking for?” I ask, even though I know the answer is oh, nobody.

“Oh, nobody,” he says. Takes another scan around the room before finally looking to me. “Aren’t you going to go find your friends?”

“They’ll find me first.” I smile. Reassurance. “Haven’t seen them in awhile. I feel like they’ll know something’s out of place.”

“Huh,” Shane nods. He scratches the side of his nose. I wonder if he feels the same as me, like everything froze in time as soon as we left that original party. He’s looking out at the people like he might be. “Maybe I’ll finally get to meet Lorene.”

“To be fair, I offered.”

“You did,” Shane smirks down at me. “There were other things to do, then.”

“And now, but you seem set on meeting her tonight. She’ll find us. Don’t worry.”

Before I can attempt to speak again, Shane’s being pulled away by Taron. “Shane, Steven Spielberg’s cousin is here and he’s a big fan of your work.”

Shane looks at me, eyes sparkling. Taron’s taking five steps per Shane’s one. “Why Steven Spielberg’s cousin?”

“I don’t know! But we need to go!”

There’s not an opportunity to protest before Shane’s out of focus, the top of his head bobbing among a thousand others, swathed in purple. Taron’s back, at least. Back to his old self. I can’t wait to start hearing about all the lunches he’s going to have with Steven Spielberg’s cousin. I miss those stories. It’s only been a week or so. Time is an illusion. Show business, baby.

It’s hard to remember what life used to be like when I’m not here. It’s easy to discount memories when you aren’t living in them as if they shouldn’t mean much if they’re so easily forgotten. I’m not even sure I remember what Jenifer’s voice sounds like when it isn’t muffled through a phone receiver. It’s difficult, with memories, to get them right. And it stands to reason that, if the memories you have are happy, it shouldn’t be bad to embellish. I don’t know anymore. I wish I’d paid more attention then.

I feel a tug on my sleeve before my arms are full, arms are around my neck, all I can smell is expensive perfume.

“We’ve been looking for you everywhere, my sweet. Have you been here this whole time?”

That voice warrants a returned embrace. “Traffic was hell.”

“Classic excuse.” Jenifer releases me. She looks younger every day. “Tell me. Who are you wearing?”

I don’t know. “I don’t know. Taron loaned me this suit.”

“You look mind-numbingly handsome.” Jenifer grins as she brushes non-existent dust from my shoulders. “I must know. How did the trip go? Are you a beach bum now?”

Oh, shit. I haven’t talked to her since we returned. She doesn’t know.

“Ah. Well, we have a lot of catching up to do, I suppose.” I rub the back of my neck. She gets the message. “Everything hit the fan after we last talked, I – “

“Here,” she takes me by the arm. I look for Shane in the crowd, if only to gesture that I’m going somewhere, but he’s practically got his head in his hands sitting across the room with Taron and supposedly the cousin of Steven Spielberg. He’ll be fine. “Let’s go outside.”

What a choice of a discussion spot, this balcony. They’ve changed the chairs to something far more abstract, but it doesn’t change it too much. I don’t even know how one would sit in those things. They look like inverted eggshells... if that paints a picture.

“Tell me,” Jenifer says. She walks over to the railing and leans on it, crossing her arms over her very expensive purple pantsuit – I need to remember to compliment her on that. “Was it the mantra? Did something go wrong with that, or something?”

“Well, I don’t really need the mantra anymore, truth be told.”

She stares at me. “Did you… did you actually do it? Figure out a way to get over it, or something?”

“No, I…” I clear my throat. Suddenly my tie is very tight. I didn’t have to dress up for this, so why did I? “I ended up… just kind of telling him how I felt.”

She doesn’t move. “Oh, honey. Is that why you came alone?”

“Oh, I didn’t. I came with Shane and Taron,” I hike my thumb over my shoulder as if they’re right behind me. “No, it… uh, it went well.”

“Yeah? So you’re still assistant?” She shakes her head. “I swear, the guys in this biz never see what’s right in front of them.” I open my mouth to respond, but she continues. “Wait. You said Shane and Taron. Didn’t the girlfriend want to come? What was her name…”

“Robin,” I say. Hopefully, I’ll get to a point where I won’t have to say her name anymore. “Right. Um, that’s the thing… she’s kind of...”

“Sick?”

“Arrested.”

Jenifer can’t smother her laugh. She covers her mouth with her hand. “What did she do? Break into a tanning salon after hours?”

“It’s not really important.” I don’t want to say it. “She’s not really in the picture anymore.”

“Ah,” Jenifer nods. She scans the party through the glass doors behind me. “So, when you told him. What happened? What was the excuse? I know when I told Lorene, Bo was in the next room. We had a little discussion about that. I know it can be hard, but I can walk you through it – “

“He actually…” I try to hide a smile. Resistance is futile. “He actually kinda kissed me.”

Jenifer spins around, looking for something to hold onto. She seems to forget the railing in her craze. Her arms go into the air, “What! Ryan! That’s amazing!”

“Yeah!” It wasn’t at the time, but I’ve come to terms with it. It’s just glad to talk to someone about this. I know I’m making it sound like we’re together-together, even though we aren’t really. But it’s fun to pretend.

“So what happened?!” She walks over to the eggshell disasters and sits down. Huh. That seemed easier than I thought. “Tell me, tell me. Was it all a dream? Was it a stunt double?”

“Am I really that undesirable?” I say it in jest. Mostly.

“No, no, honey. No, I just… you know, I don’t hear many success stories. And it hasn’t even been that long since we called, so I was… waiting for the other shoe to drop, I guess.” She brushes a strand of hair behind her ear. “Is it a success story?”

“I think so.” I do. It’s nice to be positive about my situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt genuine joy to wake up in the morning, even if I haven’t slept beside him in a week or so. I’m sure that would be sad in retrospect, but I feel great. “I wasn’t sure at first, but I’m pretty secure.”

“Great. That’s great.” I appreciate the genuine smile I’m given. “Perfect.”

“I’d say so.” I turn back to the party. I don’t know where this conversation can go from here. I wish it would go on forever, but I worry I might jinx it. Everything. If I say too much about how wonderful I feel, it might be ripped away from me.

There’s so much I want to say about the past few months of my life, the past few days. But there will never be a good time to talk about it – at least, not all of it. 

After a few minutes of silence and searching, I spot Shane’s head bobbing above the crowd. He sees me after what seems to have been a long pursuit, starts sorting through the crowd to come to the door. Every time I’m stuck, he seems to know. Hell, he seems to be stuck himself.

“Hey,” he peeks his head out to look at me. He’s gripping the side of the door so tight I worry for his fingers. He opens his mouth to ask something, but his eyes move to the chairs. “Oh, they changed.”

“I know, kind of a bummer.” I look to see Jenifer sitting on the abstract monstrosity, beaming at me. She hasn’t said anything yet. I’m worried about what she’ll say when she does. “Anyway. What did you need?”

“Oh, I need your help with something.” He holds his hand out and I take it, even though I’m not sure if that’s what I’m meant to do. Shane looks to Jenifer, unbothered, “Is it okay if I steal him for a while?”

“By all means.” She waves to me in an unnaturally elegant way, probably hamming it up for Shane. “He’s all yours.” Ew. I knew she was going to say something gross. I can’t even look at him, I’m too embarrassed, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking -

“Thanks.” And then we’re inside. I’m pulled from the cold balcony to the warm party in seconds, no time to focus on anything that just happened.

I want to apologize for what she said back there. I’m still not entirely sure what I am to Shane. He certainly holds the right to change his mind about me – and I may have assumed something that wasn’t there. I tend to do that. We haven’t talked about it. We’ve just kind of gotten closer in a way I can’t describe. I’m scared to label it. If I label it, it might disappear.

I bump into his back, not paying attention. He’s stopped by the front door, looking out across the crowd.

“Sorry,” I say.

He can’t hear me. He places his hand on my shoulder, pointing up and over the crowd. He leans down to speak in my ear. “The only way I could escape Taron was if I said I had to meet Lorene.”

“Ah.” I needed an excuse to find her anyway. I hold my arm out, and he takes it. “Right this way, sir.”

She meets us in the middle, against the wall near the hallway where my bedroom used to be. She has a drink in her hand and Bo on her arm – Lorene and I are eye-level to each other, as are Shane and Bo. I’m sure there’s a comment on that in my brain, but I’m trying to come up with some words. Worlds are colliding. I thought this would be easy.

“I thought I saw you, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.” Lorene isn’t a hugger. She has no hands open to shake mine, so I just stand and smile. I’m so glad to be back. “You didn’t RSVP.”

“There’s a first time for everything.” My voice hurts. I practically have to yell over the music. I haven’t been yelling as much as I used to. “It’s fun to be an inconvenience.”

“You couldn’t be an inconvenience if you tried.” She grins, letting go of Bo – letting go of Bo – to reach for me. I hold my hand out, but she pulls me into a hug. Jesus, they must have really missed me. My first Lorene hug. “Welcome back, honey.”

“I missed you.” I’m careful in my return of the hug, still not sure what the boundaries are (even though I used to live here). “The turnout is really impressive, Lor.”

“Jen’s been using some of your old schmoozing tips. They work like a charm.” She winks as she pulls back from me, turning her attention to Shane. His shoulders are tight and he tries a smile. I’ve never seen him so starstruck. “And this must be Shane.”

“Shane Madej.” He sticks his hand out, robotic with nerves. “So wonderful to meet you. I’m such a fan of your movies… I watched Seeking a Friend for the End of the World every night for about a year.”

“I can say the same for you.” Lorene scans over his face, shaking his hand. “It’s a wonder you’ve only starred in ten films in the past few years. Your range is exquisite.” Funny how she knows how many movies.

“Wow…” Shane blinks a few times. I can see the words am I dreaming on his lips. He keeps them in. “Wow… I… thank you so much.”

“Humble, too. Fascinating,” she says the second part to me before turning back to him, releasing his hand. “Robert Block and I are working on a script. There’s a character I think you’d be perfect for.”

Shane looks at me, his eyes wide, before running a hand through his hair. “Really?”

“Are you free this weekend?” She asks him, stepping backward to link with Bo (who has never been a fan of these things but has also always been a good sport). “Not to sign anything. We haven’t finished everything yet. Just for lunch.”

“…Yeah. I’m always free… uh, for you.” He rubs his eye as soon as the odd words emerge, “I’m sure Taron won’t mind moving some things around.”

“Moving things around?” Of course he shows up now. He has a sixth sense for deals. He glances around our circle, eventually seeing the other party. “Oh. Hey, Lorene.”

“Hello, dear.” She doesn’t give him a handshake. I’m still buzzing from my hug. “Lunch this weekend. Shane can make it, right?”

“Uh, yeah, of course.” He sticks his hands in his pockets. He’s terrified of Lorene sometimes. “We’ll find time.”

“We always do,” she smiles.

Before we leave, I push Taron over to meet Jenifer. I can’t stand for these two to sulk any longer. They’re even matching tonight. What are the chances of that?

I facilitate the trading of numbers. I definitely give a thumbs-up behind his back as we walk away, and I definitely catch Jenifer’s returning thumbs-up. It’s a shot of serotonin, playing matchmaker. If I had more friends and more time, I’d do it more.

As soon as we step outside, the weight of reality settles back in. The light isn’t purple anymore. You can hear a whisper from a few feet away.

“I’ll go get the car,” Taron says, stumbling over to the valet stand. He pulls his phone out. I think he’s texting her already. I can’t wait to see more of them together.

I turn to Shane as soon as he’s out of earshot. “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty well.” He stares up at the sky for a moment. “Tired.”

“Yeah?” I hate how soft my voice gets around him. I wish I could be strong about these things. “Well, when we get home you can take a shower and hit the hay. I’ll swap your sheets while you’re doing that.”

Shane keeps his eye on the stars for a long while. “Do you want to sleep in my room tonight?”

Okay, wow. Chills down my spine. “Uh.” Not sure what to say to that. Not sure why it’s making me react this way.

“We haven’t talked about it since that night.” Shane can’t meet my eyes. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. “We slept in the same bed and we haven’t talked about it since.”

“Um.” This is coming out of nowhere. “Well, I thought maybe… you know. Maybe you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I do. It’s… we gotta talk about it at some point, really. Right?” It’s fun to watch him search for things to fix his attention on, except for me. He isn’t about to say something negative like I thought. He’s… nervous. “You told me you loved me, and I didn’t know what to say so I just… waited.”

“That’s okay,” I tell him. I mean it. He doesn’t have to love me back. He didn’t have to indulge me with a cuddle. I could have died a happy man after he kissed me.

“I guess I’m nervous.” Called it. “To jump into something else so soon – “

“You don’t have to, Shane. Really. It’s fine, I’m not – “

“I want to.”

Oh.

Shane closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. “I’ve known you for a long time, Ryan. I don’t want to start from the beginning and… and, I don’t know, skirt around the real stuff. You already know all my flaws, I already know you don’t have any – “

“I resent that.”

“ – so I just want you to put all your things beside all my things and I want you to sleep in my room. I just want you to… you know, I just want you.”

My mind is blank. All I’ve ever had in my head are the words he’s saying now, and the way his face is all curled up in concentration. He has this superpower, to keep me in the moment.

“Okay,” I say. He tilts his chin down, looks at me as though he’s surprised. “Yeah, I would… I would like that.”

“Okay.” Shane nods, shifting on his feet. He looks down at his hands, reaches out to take my hands in them. “I can’t afford to waste my time on people that aren’t you. I’ve built quite a bit of debt.”

He’s crazy. “You’re crazy.”

“But you…” Shane bites his lip, trying to hold back a giddy smirk. I think it’s contagious. “You love me anyway.”

“Mm-hmm.” I don’t know what to say to that. I do, I really do, and I am terrified for the next era of my life. It’s hard to get my mantras out of my head, I’ve accumulated quite a few of them. I’m certainly not worth millions of dollars. I know plenty of people inside that party that would probably be more worthy of him. I can’t keep thinking that, though. At some point, I need to try to be optimistic. Shane’s standing here, holding my hands as though he isn’t sure what to do now that he has them. He’s as terrified as I am.

“I don’t know what to do,” he says quietly. “I didn’t have a plan, so I’m treading water right now.”

“As long as you’re not drowning,” I offer.

He laughs. Wonderful sound. “Right.”

Taron stumbles back over to us. “Hey, the car’s on its way…” He stops mid-step, staring at us. “What’s this. What’s happening right now?”

“Nothing that concerns you,” Shane says. He runs his thumb over the back of my hand. I have no doubt he saw it in a movie and is trying it out. He seems to like it enough to do it again.

“I have a feeling it concerns me a little bit.”

“Nah.” I have to laugh as I say it. Taron is actively pouting, most likely because he missed a monumental moment. He loves those.

“You can have Ryan’s old room,” Shane doesn’t look away from me. I want to jump up and down but I can wait until Shane’s in the shower. “Move out of that tiny little room of yours.”

“Commanding,” Taron mutters. He turns to go pester the valet people some more, overwhelmed by change and trying to hide it.

Shane swings our arms. It’s getting pretty ridiculous now, but I can’t bring myself to complain. This is a dream come true.

“You know,” Shane murmurs, sliding his hands up to my shoulders. I slide my hands into my suit jacket pockets. “I think you should start to invest in some new clothes.”

What? “What?”

Shane must realize how that sounded. “I mean… like, more clothes. More than a backpack full.”

“Oh. Right.” Is he asking me to settle in?

“I know you try to keep things light in case you have to move but… if I have things my way, hopefully your way as well, you won’t be moving in a long time.”

I hope the car comes soon. I’m moved to tears, nearly. I’m worryingly dehydrated. I’m 70% wine at this point.

“I’d like that,” I say. I’m not sure how easily I’ll be able to part with my backpack method. It’s useful. “I might need to go shopping anyway. I’ll probably be showing up in a lot more pictures.”

Shane grins. He sweeps down for what I initially think is a hug, only to be lifted in the air. I grab for something to hold onto – carefully, of course, because his suit is expensive – and end up just wrapping my arms around his neck and holding on for dear life.

He chuckles, arms around my waist. “I don’t know why I did this.”

“I don’t know either.” I rest my chin on his shoulder. “Which movie did you see this in?”

“Don’t know. Grease, probably.” He doesn’t let me go for a long time. Not that I want him to, but these things are only practical in films.

“Car’s coming, boys. Detangle and meet us at the curb,” Taron shouts, hands cupped around his mouth in the most unnecessary way. I hope he knows this doesn’t mean anything will change between us. He isn’t losing us. He’s behaving like a kid. We’re still going to watch true crime docs together.

Shane lets me go (lets me climb down, technically). Maybe it’s the light from inside reflecting through the glass, but his face looks red. “I’m so excited to spend time with you, like this.”

Jesus. It’s like he knows exactly what my cry points.

I press my fingers to my eye. I take his hand in my free one and start dragging him toward the car. “Me too.” I choke on the words. “We need to get in the car before I lose it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry – “

“No, it’s okay. Uh, welcome to my flaws.”

“Can’t wait to meet them.”

“Shane. Please.”

I almost dare to ask if he’s wasted this stupid cliché-ness on Robin for all this time, but I would have caught a glimpse of it. She would have talked about it. Would have posted videos of it on her Instagram story. No, this is for me. This is all for me.

I think I’ll tell myself that he’s been saving these stupid one-liners for a long time. If not a week, then a month. I don’t dare to think longer. I think I’ll tell myself that he’s been categorizing things in folders – one for me, one for her… waiting for the day he might open the former.

I think I’ll tell myself that the reason why he’s so eager to take and hold my hand on the trip home – home, I can’t wait to get home in this wonderful new way – is because he’s thought of all the times he could have done it.

When he gets out of the shower an hour later, he finds me stretching the fitted sheet over the mattress. He says “I love you!” in that certain and rushed way of an overthinker. He crosses the length of the room and kisses me again, again, in what I assume is the most movie-like fashion he can manage.

That settles it. That’s all the answer I need. For every time I looked at him and told myself I was a problem, he had to have placed another scenario in his head. It’s good to know in retrospect that I wasn’t alone.

I guess that’s how I end a story that’s just started, then. An admission of being found. Found by such a spectacularly odd face.