TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 38 — The Calm Before The Hyperstorm

True Believers is a full-length novel by Thom Dunn, based on his play of the same name. It’s a satirical tale of star-crossed lovers, aspiring comic book creators, crazed fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans, women in refrigerators, real-life superheroes, and girls who dress like Slave Leia as their lives intertwine over a whirlwind weekend at a comic book convention in the early 2010s.

The book will be serialized on Medium throughout the month of April 2020. Here is the first chapter. Check back every day for more chapters!

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“Look, I understand what you were going for. I get that it was well-intentioned. But you can’t just show up like that wearing a Slave Leia costume, Chloe. It’s just not — ah, fuck.”

Ted cancels the recording again and deletes another message from the game. He leans back in the leather desk chair and briefly admires the cleaning job that he finally got around to doing today, in between his sad attempts to communicate something, anything with the beautiful woman that he utterly — stupidly — horribly — blew off this afternoon.

After his meltdown in the DC Comics Booth, Ted came straight back to his apartment to collect himself. He tried several times to go back to the convention, but every step felt like a heart attack. At least here he could do something. Cleaning has always given him that sense of control, of mastery over the chaos of the universe.

Of course, in this case, that chaos is inside of him. But on the off-chance that he’s able to make things work — to fix things with his sweet Chloe — then at least she won’t have to walk into the squalor and filth of his urban bachelor lifestyle. He owes her as much, especially after his very-public display of indecency.

It doesn’t help that her scent still lingers on his neck.

He tries and tries to record the right message, deleting each take and wishing that he wasn’t a 46-year-old man whose last desperate hope is to communicate through a video game with a girl in her mid-20s.

Kathy would have a ball laughing at his pitiful situation. This realization only serves to salt the wounds of embarrassment from his post-traumatic freak-out.

Ted looks at the bottle of Lagavulin 18 on the cream-colored linoleum counter of his cramped kitchenette. He considers how that old friend might help to take the edge off. Or at least, make him worry less about what he wants to say, until the truth of his heart flows right off the tongue.

But that was Kathy’s problem too, wasn’t it? She always criticized his drinking. Every issue that arose, Ted used as an excuse to take the edge off. And at a high-pressure job like his, there’s always another issue. It’s the nature of the beast. So why doesn’t his favorite scotch have the same effect as his favorite sexy sci-fi outfit? The bottle lets him know that he’s over Kathy — hurt, sure, but certainly in no rush to reconnect.

Except for the pieces of his Star Wars collection, of course.

Was that what set him off? Seeing someone he loved, wearing something that he loved, but that he could no longer claim ownership of?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t Chloe fault. Ted knows that — somewhere inside him, anyway. And he knows that he needs to say the same to her. He needs to gain control. Of himself. Of the situation. Of everything. That’s how he works, how he thrives, how he breathes. And he needs Chloe to know that, from this day forth, he will always be in control. That he will always take care of her. That what happened today will never, ever happen again.

Ted pours two fingers of scotch. He sits back down at the computer and records a message for Chloe: “Hey. It’s me. Before I go any further, I just want to say I’m sorry. And to be clear, I want you to know: I am sorry. I never expected to react like that. But…it happened, I guess. Like I said, it wasn’t about you, babe, and I mean that. I just didn’t expect to see you in that — and you looked incredible, absolutely stunning, but — it must have triggered something…I’m really sorry, I don’t know what else to say. Please message me back, at least let me know where you are, if you’re still with Kt or whatever. Okay. I love you.”

Kt steps out from the hotel bathroom, now that her radical side-part is gelled up right and she’s found the right red dress to rock beneath her leather jacket. She sighs when she sees Chloe still listening to Ted’s same message on repeat, with no lights beyond the desk lamp in the corner of the room. And also that Chloe has cracked open Kt’s pint of Ben & Jerry’s, having already finished her own.

Such is the sacrifice that must be made.

“Come on, you don’t want to stay cooped up in here all night, do you?” Kt says.

“No.” But Chloe still hits play to listen to the message again. It’s at least the fourteenth time by Kt’s counting, and she’s not even keeping track — that’s just how many times she’s blatantly noticed it, unable to ignore or tune it out.

Her body’s constitution for un-sobering substances is about the only thing that Kt misses from her early 20s. But there’s no way she would trade her 30-something hangovers for this kind of bullshit melodrama.

In truth, she’s torn: she was pretty pissed about Ted’s behavior earlier, and normally something like that would be enough to Kt to cut the person out and say, “Fuck that shit, dude ain’t worth it.”

Also the fact that he’s more than twice Chloe’s age. But again, Kt doesn’t want to judge. And she’s known Ted long enough that she could tell there was something else going on with him.

For Chloe’s sake, she shouldn’t support it. But if the two of them really do have the kind of connection they claim, then Kt’s got no choice but to keep on cheerleading like a…normal…gross…hormonal…human.

Weird.

“How ‘bout you come with me and we hit up that party I was telling you about?” Kt says cheerfully. Either way, it’d be foolish for her not to indulge in the traditional Saturday night Comic-Con after party at the Omni Hotel, where all the real fun happens.

Or at least, that’s how it was the last time she was in New York. Which was also the time she slept with Chad, after that same afterparty.

Still, she swears it was fun.

…Right? Wasn’t it?

“Are you sure I can get in? I’m not even twenty-one yet,” Chloe says with a pout. Which means yeah, they definitely have to go, or else Kt’s going to end up stumbling home at 4 in the morning to find Chloe wallowing in a puddle of ice cream and self-pity, neither of which is a becoming look on anyone, particularly when they’ve spent two days rockin’ the best Leia outfit this side of Kansas City.

“It’s not like they card you to get into the hotel, and it’s just the lobby,” Kt says. “Besides, you’re with me. And seriously, this chick? Huge fuckin’ deal, kid.” She snaps her fingers on both hands and points her thumbs at herself for added (awesome) emphasis.

Chloe chuckles, which is at least a good sign. Then she laments, “I just wish I had something else to wear.”

But Kt ain’t puttin’ up with that shit. She yanks Chloe from her chair and says, “C’mon, you look pretty hot the way you are. I told you, the whole Hipster Leia thing’s got an edge. Even if it was originally kinda fucked up and sexist. But hey, you’re like, reclaiming that shit for awesomeness, ya know?”

It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s still enough to get Chloe out the door and smiling.

<< Go Back to Chapter 37 | Read on for Chapter 39 >>

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Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.

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