TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 40 —One Weird Trick

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!

The room seems to open up as Chad watches Kt go, the din and buzz from the busy bar fading around him. For the first time in years, he feels the weight of his frustrations fall away, sees the path before him finally becoming clear.

It could be the gin, or the swath that Kt has cut through the crowd in her departure. Or it could be the clarity of Chad’s creative thoughts that he’s buried beneath his disappointments for so long. Chad was always looking to prove his worth — to out-clever himself by out-clevering the world, and earn the adoration he so thought he deserved. But he was so busy blaming everyone else for his professional pitfalls, and trying to dream that One Weird Trick to establish himself in the industry that he’d lost sight of the stories he’d wanted to tell. He was so determined to show the world that he had something to say than he’d forgotten what it was to actually say something.

But now he’s said it, spoken that one mental block and put it out into the world. And what’s more, someone listened and heard him (or at least, it seemed like Kt picked up what he was throwing down). Maybe now that he’s re-kindled that human connection, maybe Chad will finally find another story to tell — something that really matters this time.

His thoughts are interrupted when Chloe returns to the cluster of cool leather ottomans with another sparkling pink drink in her hand. Chad remembers the almost-empty drink of hers that he’d put down beside him, and checks to see that it’s still there.

“Where’d that come from?” he says as she approaches, suddenly more concerned about boozing up a twenty-year-old.

The corners of Chloe’s lips curl up in a smile as she takes in a sip of her Sex on the Beach (which Chad is only now realizing could be perceived as kind of creepy). She swallows, and tilts her head back toward the bar. “The guy in the blazer with the fez over there, he bought it for me. Said he liked my costume.”

At the bar, a genderbent Eleventh Doctor in a skirt suit gives a lascivious look in their direction, presumably at Chloe. For a moment, Chad considers correcting Chloe’s pronoun use, but he’s not sure what the right one would be.

“The bartender didn’t really care about my ID. He said I didn’t really have anywhere to put it, anyway.” Chloe takes another sip of her drink — this one’s going down much faster than the half-full one that Chad’s still guarding — and a curious expression falls across her reddened face. Her eyes dart around the room and in a concerned tone she asks, “Where’s Kt?”

“Oh, she had to take a phone call.”

“She’s not mad at me is she?”

Any part of Chad’s mind that was still left wandering in the warmth of his recent self-rediscovery slips away. “What? No, why would she be mad?”

Chloe plops down on the ottoman, shoulders slumped as she sips her drinks. “I don’t know, I’ve just been such a burden to her all weekend that — “

“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” Chad says. Something about Chloe’s insecurity makes her impossibly young — and yet endears her all the more to Chad, who’s no stranger himself to imposter syndrome and feeling out of place (especially in regards to Kt).

“She’s such a cool girl, you know? She’s so put together.”

“Yeah,” Chad says, glancing back at the way that Kt left and noting how the well-dressed late-night bar crowd had once again reformed to close the gap like some large amorphous blob en route to a hip urban semi-formal. “She’s something, all right.”

There’s something deep and brooding inside of Chad; Chloe noticed it the very first time they met. A dark, swelling fire within him, hidden beneath his self-deprecating charm. But here in the dim light of the Omni Hotel Bar, she can feel the heat of its glow like a moth flying towards a flame.

Or it could just be the alcohol. These drinks have been pretty strong, and Chloe is feeling overheated for the first time this weekend (which isn’t that surprising, she realizes, considering how little she has to wear). The more she thinks about it, the more certain she is that it’s the alcohol. But even in the deafening bustle of screaming semi-pros and bass-heavy club jams, she can’t help but hear that small voice inside of her encouraging her to go along with it.

“So like, did you always want to be a comic book writer? Like something you went to school for, or…?” Chloe says as she unzips her hoodie, feeling the cool air wick away the warm sweat sprinkling her skin. It sounds like small talk, sure. But she is genuinely curious, just as she would be with any professional entertainment celebrity who would give her the time of day — especially one who had remembered her, had shown an interest in her struggles. Maybe Chloe should have listened earlier when he was warning her to stay away from Ted.

Chad nods with a crooked half-smile on the left side of his face. He looks touched by the question, like no one’s ever taken an interest in his life like that — which Chloe is certain isn’t true, but it still endears him to her that much more.

“Well I guess I always liked telling stories,” Chad says. “I used to make these movies with my friends on my mom’s camera when I was like ten — always lots of aliens and cardboard box spaceships and low-budget decapitations with expired strawberry syrup, that sort of thing. Somehow one of those masterpieces managed to get me into film school in the city here. But I was always into comics, and did an internship at Marvel one semester. I made some contacts in the industry, sent some pitches in. And the rest, as they say, is…on Wikipedia with questionable accuracy.”

There it is with the self-defeating jokes again. It’s a sweet and humble way to downplay his accomplishments, and Chloe can’t help but smile at the casual, everyman quality about it.

“That’s so cool,” she says. And then, without thinking: “You’re cute.”

“Uh, thank you,” Chad says, and Chloe takes his fluster and his swelling red cheeks as a good sign. “But so well what about you? What do you, what’s your deal, what are you…doing?”

It’s a small and simple question, but when the words come out, Chloe realizes that it’s something Ted had never asked her. She told him, of course — or tried to, anyway — but he never broached the subject himself.

“I used to think I wanted to be a teacher,” she says, “but I started taking classes at the community college, back in Kansas, and I’ve kind of gotten into developmental psychology and stuff? I think it’d be neat to work with like adolescents and teens with Asperger’s and that kinda stuff.”

“Wow. That’s, we got a genius here!” Chad announces this to the room around him, hands displayed like some official presentation. Of course, no one seems to notice, but it’s still sweet.

“Stop. It’s not that impressive. Maybe some day” Chloe gives Chad a playful push on the shoulder. At first, he seems surprised, and Chloe is concerned that she overstepped a boundary. But once he makes sense of it, Chad plays along, dramatically swaying away as if she’d shoved him with a gale-force wind.

Chad’s torso bends just enough to reveal a familiar figure moving through the crowd behind him. There’s no mistaking the furl of fiery hair topped by that trademark flatcap, and the salt-speckled beard beneath his chin.

Ted.

A feeling of paralysis falls upon Chloe as she watches him turn his head and scan the room. She waits, still and silent, in hopes that he won’t notice her. That the man she came to meet won’t find a way to ruin the one good thing that came out of this horrible, horrible weekend.

Chad takes notice of Chloe’s pause, and opens his mouth to fill the emptiness in that protective, predictable way that he does. “Still, that’s awesome,” he says, leaning forward with a reassuring grin and his face propped in his hand with his elbow on his knee. “Really. We need — “

Chloe crosses the threshold between them and presses her mouth to his.

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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