TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 39 — Truth and Just Us

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!

It would be a disservice to refer to the mood-lit vaulted ceilings and immaculately carved mahogany molding in the front room of the Omni Hotel as a mere “lobby.” To Chloe, it feels more like the foyer of a majestic but mysterious mansion, the kind of place where important Hollywood parties happen.

The clientele match that atmosphere as well. There are noticeably fewer cosplayers or clever slogan t-shirts, and more fashionable dress wear with funky ties, button-downs, and cute patterned dresses. Chloe feels more underdressed here than she has all weekend, feeling certain she stands out among the sea of cool comic-con rock stars.

Case in point: Chad Mailer. It could be the alcohol talking, but Chloe finds him disarmingly attractive in his shiny purple shirt with the matte black skinny tie. Like a My Chemical Romance music video, only purple-er.

“I don’t know, I always thought Season 2 was just perfect. I’ve always been Team Angel,” she says as she takes another sip of the sweet pink drink he’d given her. Whatever it was, it tasted wonderful, and the cool liquor magically made her warm as it went down.

“Come on!” Chad says with a melodramatic wail. “Spike loved her so much that he went out of his way to get a soul for her. That is commitment. It would take a lot for a girl to convince me to get a soul.”

Now that Chloe has him alone for the first time, she’s surprised at how charming, playful, and smart he is — at least, compared to the overeager nerves that he displays whenever Kt’s around (which Chloe understands, of course; Kt is like way cool, so it must make everybody nervous).

“But Angel was so committed to her. It was so sweet. Even though he know they could never sleep together, he was still there for her.” Chloe takes another quick sip through the cocktail straw before she punctuates her point with an example from Buffy’s sixth season: “And then Spike — “

“Oh come on, that’s not fair!” Chad interrupts. “He didn’t have a soul! You can’t hold a person to the same moral standards as the rest of us if he doesn’t have a soul!”

“Hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.” That’s when Chloe sees Kt walking up with an opaque black pint in one hand and a splash of some caramel-colored liquor in a small-but-still-too-big-for-the-serving glass in the other — and armed as always with a well-timed quip.

Chad sees her too. He leaps to his feet like a gentleman to welcome her, scrambling to correct his posture and present himself well. It’s the first time Chloe notices the energy around them, and wonders if there’s more going on between Kt and Chad than she’d realized. It’d be disappointing, but hardly a surprise; Kt Watts seems like an obvious catch.

“Kt, hey, there you are, I was looking for you,” Chad says.

“Clearly you weren’t looking very hard.” Kt says, before looking down at Chloe with an angry eyebrow raised. “Where’d you get that drink?”

“I bought it,” Chad says, making sure to keep his voice down as much as he can without being drowned out by the loud, busy bar lounge. Chloe is impressed by his confidence and cool, and also his willingness to break the rules. She takes another sip to hide her smile.

“Chad, she’s 20.”

Chloe swallows, and then chimes in. “I’ve had alcohol before.”

Chad nods to Chloe, as if to confirm what she said, then says to Kt, “Like you never drank when you were under age. Look at you!”

At first, Kt refuses to answer this accusation. She squints her eyes and glares at Chad, like she’s looking for some kind of read. When she doesn’t find it, she says, “Meaning what exactly?”

“Just…you’re a fun girl, you know how to have a good time,” Chad says, fiddling with his intertwined fingers and snapping right back to his normal nervous self.

“How is that every time you start to insinuate yourself back into my favor, you manage to dig yourself an even deeper hole?” Kt says with a roll of her eyes. Then she addresses Chloe directly: “Is he bothering you again?”

“No, not at all, why?”

Kt gives Chloe the same incredulous, leering look that she had just given to Chad. “Just making sure.”

Chloe finds it hard to ignore whatever tension is swelling between Chad and Kt. She doesn’t know what’s going on, but it’s clear that something is, and she doesn’t want to insinuate herself into the middle of it. Okay well actually she kind of does but also it’d be rude and kind of awkward and plus Chad’s cute but she doesn’t want to make a thing of it, so she decides to make an exit.

“I’m actually going to run to the girls’ room really quick,” Chloe says. “Do you mind holding this?” Without waiting for a response, she hands her cran-peach drink to Chad with a playful smile and makes her off through the well-dressed crowd toward the bathroom.

Chad watches Chloe’s ass-cheeks bounce as she walks away, and he realizes that the three G & T’s he’s pounded in the last hour or so are already starting to hit him. He shakes his head to clear his mind and return to the room, which is when he notices Kt’s death-stare snarl.

“Okay, that is a look,” he says.

Kt folds her arms in front of her and shakes her head in disapproval as she cocks out her curvy red-dressed hip out from under her sleek leather jacket. “Chad, she’s 20.”

“So? What does that have to do with — “

“She’s twenty years old, she’s feeling vulnerable, and you’re a charismatic professional comic book writer,” Kt says before correcting herself. “Well, has-been.”

“I’m charismatic?” It’s the first compliment that Kt’s given Chad all weekend, and it feels so nice that he doesn’t even care if his face can’t hide his shit-eating smile.

Kt sits down on the stool beside Chad, elbows on her knees and her head propped in her hands. “I’m just saying, I know how you can get,” she says, with a breathy air of exhausted apathy.

Kt’s comment makes it seem like it’s a conversation they’ve had countless times before, but Chad doesn’t recall this particular criticism coming up at any point this weekend. So he does what he does best: deflects.

“Wait, can we back up to what you said before that? About me being charismatic? Because that may have been the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Chad. I’m serious.” Kt leans in close to Chad, looks him straight in the eye. “Don’t,” she says, stabbing her finger into his chest for emphasis.

“Don’t? Don’t what, don’t fuck her? Is that what you’re getting at?”

At first it feels like a joke, like Kt’s delivering her tough-guy mafioso shake-down just for shits and giggles. But when the severity of her sullen face doesn’t change, Chad understands that it’s serious. That regardless of whatever attempts he’s made these two days to remedy their relationship, to own up to his actions and maybe reconnect, Kt Watts never bought a single word. As far as she’s concerned, he’s a dog, and a leech, and probably lots of other pedantic primitive animals too.

But what hurts Chad the worst is the possibility that she’s not wrong, that he is exactly as awful as she thinks he is. It’s a truth he’s been afraid of for his entire life, that he’s done everything to disprove but somehow always falls back into.

“Because you know what? Fuck that,” Chad says. And once he’s opened his own verbal floodgates, he can’t stop the words that flow out after. “If that’s rude, then I don’t care. But the point is: you don’t know me, not like you think you do. Not outside of us. You don’t know who I am, who I’ve been, what I want to be, and you don’t know what I’m like or how I get around…anyone.

“Anyone but you.”

Chad pauses, and making sure that he has Kt’s undivided attention before he continues. He stares into her dark brown eyes — as much as he can, in the low-lighting of the room — and tells her what he should have said years ago. “It was different with you. You were always different. The first time we ever spoke about the book, I knew. I thought I was so fucking clever with that story, but you were sharp, you were so much better, and I…I’m sorry.”

He hears the words coming from his own mouth, and realizes that he’s never even said them to himself — not so directly, anyway. He continues: “I don’t know how else to say it. I panicked, on the page and the hotel, and I fucked up. I fucked everything up. And I’m sorry.

“I always thought at the end of the story, he’d ride off into the sunset with the girl and they’d live happily ever after or whatever, but it’s clear that wasn’t the story. That you were better than that. I really thought I was going somewhere back then. I was such a better writer when we were talking — a better person — and I want to get back to that. I want to be that way again.

“But, I don’t know how. In case that part wasn’t clear, judging by my success rate so far.

“So the point is I’m not trying to sleep with her, or with you, or anyone else for that matter. I’m just trying to get my shit back together, and I could really use a friend. Or at least a fresh start.”

Chad’s right. As much as it pains Kt to admit, he’s right. There was a spark between them, a connection that could have blossomed into something bigger, something incredible.

Well, maybe; but Kt’s never been one for lingering regrets, and the thought of it had hardly crossed her mind in the intervening years.

Maybe she has been tough on him this weekend. But it’s only because she was dreading this exact conversation, because she didn’t to give him any ideas about some great reconciliation, that inevitable moment between two passing souls.

And yet, here it is. And for all that Kt doesn’t care to dig up the past, she finds her surprisingly touched by Chad’s sentiment. None of it changes what did or might happen. But it’s still nice to hear that maybe they were on the same page after all, the right page — and that Chad understands how his shitheadedness fucked everything up.

Cold comfort, sure, but it counts.

Chad seems anxious from awaiting her response, so he tries to keep the conversation going himself. “Look, I don’t know if you got my message earlier — “

“I did, yeah. Sorry,” Kt says, the first words she’s spoken in a few minutes — which for her is quite the feat. “I was — we were busy.”

She motions broadly out into the room, to make clear that she’s talking about Chloe. Because the truth is, she wasn’t just blowing Chad off (well okay she was a little bit). She was trying to help a lonely girl out, against her better judgement. Of course, even that could have gone better than it did, though it would still have had little bearing on Chad’s offer of a dinner date.

But this? This confession was getting to her in that heartplace that she hides so well. Kt wonders if it’s a relationship worth repairing after all.

“I know it’s too late tonight,” Chad says. “But if you still wanted, you know, maybe tomorrow morning — ”

Then Kt jumps, after feeling her cellphone buzzing in her pocket. Chad politely — appropriately — stops his thought, like he’s finally learning the rules of human interaction.

“Shit, I should really take this,” Kt says as she pulls the phone out of her pocket and checks the notifications screen. “It’s my agent. Wow, that sounds incredibly douchey, ‘I have an agent.’” Kt chuckles to herself, laughing at the insanity of her own weird world. And this time, she notices Chad smiling in sync with her — and also understanding.

There’s that connection again.

Kt stands up again and takes a few steps toward the door before turning back to Chad. “Look — tomorrow morning,” she says. “There’s a little Scottish dive-y place just off Bleecker and Eighth that I used to go to back in school. Best fucking bacon on the planet.”

“Okay. Sure,” Chad says with a smile. “Tomorrow morning then.”

“9am. You’re buying. And don’t be too hungover, ya filthy fuckhead,” Kt says. She smiles, too, then slides open the screen on her cellphone and greets Eric, her agent at Gersch, as she makes her way outside of the bar to hear the call.

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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