Notes: We’re at the con!!! Much fun awaits. This section is coming so easily, it’s hugely fun to write. I hope you guys enjoy it.
PS--the Paradise page on this blog is finally complete. The whole story is there if you want to re-read. I’m going to get it ready to go up on Literotica soon.
Title: Love Letters
Part Twelve: So, What Are You Supposed To Be?
Ben didn’t know much about the con, but he knew going in a suit would either make him stand out like a sore thumb or make everyone think he was cosplaying Tony Stark or something. Since he didn’t have a costume yet and honestly had no intention of putting one on until he absolutely had to, Ben went with some of his more casual clothes. It was a minor miracle there were any in his closet at all.
When he’d been doing the publicity tour for his book it had been Linda, naturally, who’d insisted that Ben get some “lovely but casual” clothes for the smaller readings. Because she had absolutely no faith in Ben’s ability to dress himself in anything other than suits or sweats, that had led to an incredibly embarrassing hour with Linda in a department store picking out outfits and trying things on. In the end Ben had just said yes to everything she pointed to in order to get it over faster, even the conceited fingerless gloves.
Actually, those gloves had gotten a lot of use. The heating in his house wasn’t always the most efficient, and sometimes it was hard to type without an extra layer to keep his hands from freezing.
All of her efforts now led to Ben in a nice pair of jeans that he’d forgotten he’d owned, a blue Henley, a black wool jacket that was ridiculously comfortable, and a knitted green scarf, courtesy of Linda’s own knitting needles. And also the gloves, because damn, it was cold out today.
Not that the low temperature had stopped other people from dressing up. Walking up to the hotel Ben saw three elves, all of them wearing little more than gauze and a few strategic leaves, smoking cigarettes and bouncing up and down for warmth. Inside the revolving doors the lobby was packed with people, some of them in costume, some not, all of them chatting excitedly. Ben pushed through the crowd toward the desk with a sign above it indicating that it was the check-in and waited in line next to a blonde girl in a black and grey top, military fatigue pants and a complicated-looking gun holster, complete with orange-tipped gun. She caught his eye and grinned.
“You like it?” she asked, giving him a spin.
“You look great,” Ben said honestly. After a moment of speculation her grin got wider.
“You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“Well…no, but that’s probably no fault of your costume.”
“Of course not, because my costume is perfect,” she said with a saucy head-toss. “I’m Starbuck.” Ben looked at her blankly. “Kara Thrace?” He winced and shook his head. “Battlestar Galactica?” Still nothing. “Oh Jesus, really?” She reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. “You poor thing, you are so deprived. How can you not have seen Battlestar Galactica?” The line moved forward minutely.
“I don’t watch a lot of TV,” Ben said.
“Fair enough, but it’s all available on DVD and Blu-Ray and Hulu now, you should check it out.” She looked him over. “Let me guess…more of a Trekker?”
Her eyes narrowed a bit, assessing him. “Well there’s no way you’re an epic fantasy fan, because otherwise you’d be dressed to the nines. Those guys are crazy.”
“Pardon me,” a voice echoed from a giant paper-mâché dragon’s head to their left. “Mind if I sneak by you guys?”
“No problem,” Starbuck said. They stepped back and let the blue dragon-person through. He even had a jointed tail that swung behind him. “Must be ‘cause the Eragon guy is here,” Starbuck mused. “See what I mean about crazy, though? Who wants to wear that all weekend?”
Ben had to laugh a little. It all seemed kind of crazy to him, but who was he to judge? “I’m not a fantasy fan, no.”
“Not even of Harry Potter?” she asked as they inched closer to the desk. “You could kind of pull of a very adult Draco Malfoy right now if your scarf were a little more Slytheriny.”
“Not even Harry Potter,” Ben confessed.
“Damn. That’s sad.” She shook her head. “We have to fix that for you this weekend, man. I’ll request some Galactica in the screening room. Tell me at least you’ve seen ‘The Walking Dead!’ They’ve got a zombie shooting range set up in one of the parlors.”
“I’ve never seen ‘The Walking Dead,’ sorry.” At this point Ben really was starting to feel like a bit of a freak.
Starbuck put her hands on her hips. “Then why on earth did you come to the con?”
Ben was saved from answering by their arrival at the desk. A plump woman in daisy dukes, a mostly-unbuttoned checkered shirt and sporting what were probably custom fangs looked up at him and smiled. “Hi there, welcome to MileHiCon! Are you preregistered or do you need to register now?”
“Preregistered,” Ben said slowly, unable to look away from the two thin trickles of blood that crept down the side of her chin and neck and into her very ample cleavage. They had to be uncomfortable. “Ben DeWitt.”
“Nice costume,” Starbuck smirked at the woman. “Let me guess: Southern Vampire?”
“You got it, sugar.” The lady flipped through page after page of paper, starting to frown. “Gosh, I’m not seeing you, Ben. Are you sure you’re preregistered?”
“It might be under Kuzniar,” Ben offered. “He’s the one who actually registered me.”
“Kuzniar? As in RJ?” The woman’s extremely long acrylic nails fluttered up to her cheeks. “Oh jeez, you’re his guest! Why didn’t you say so? Guest passes are in a special section.” She reached under the desk and rummaged around in a “special” cardboard box. “Aha! Here you are!” She pulled out a lanyard with a nametag attached as well as a half-full plastic bag. “Here you go! Keep an eye on everything in your welcome bag, it includes tickets for the zombie shoot, the costume contest and for the banquet at the end. You get two free drinks included with that.” She handed it all over with a big smile. “I’m so happy the organizers got RJ to come this year, my kids can’t stop reading Janie and the Phantom. I’m going to try and get him to sign a copy for them. Maybe you could help me out with that?” she asked with a wink.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Ben promised.
“Great, honey! Well, again, welcome to MileHiCon! Next!”
Next to him, Starbuck was just finishing her registration, and the look she gave him said, Don’t you go anywhere yet, mister. And because Ben had yet to receive a text from Ryan letting him know the younger man was here, he didn’t mind some company in this crowd.
“What did you get in your bag?” she asked as soon as they were clear of the desk.
“It looks like…” Ben glanced inside. “A bunch of papers, a t-shirt and a few books.”
“Nice. I just got a t-shirt.” She looked at it and grimaced. “And they never give me the right size; I’ll have to switch it out later. You stayin’ in the hotel?”
“No, I live close.”
“Me too, but I always stay for the weekend. The bars are open late for the con and that’s the best time to talk to the authors and artists, because they open up a lot more when they’re a little drunk,” she grinned. “You want to leave your stuff in my room for now so you don’t have to carry it around with you all night?”
Ben could just put his stuff in Michael’s office; he knew where it was and how to get in. But he was in the mood to be sociable. “Sure, thank you.”
“No problem. I’m up on the fourth floor, c’mon.” She led the way over to the elevator and they squeezed in next to a family of wizards. Starbuck smiled at them. “You guys doing the Avistrum Academy?”
“Yes!” the youngest one, maybe six or seven, said excitedly. “It’s my first time! I can’t wait to see where they sort me! I hope it’s Gryffindor!”
“Nope,” her older sister said. “You’ll be Slytherin for sure.”
“Stop it, no I won’t!” The little one smacked her sister with her wand. “Mom, make Katie stop saying I’ll be in Slytherin!”
“Mom, make Stacy stop hitting me with her wand!”
“Katie, Stacy, stop it,” her mother said dutifully. “Although Stacy, you know, there’s nothing wrong with Slytherin, honey. Uncle Phil got sorted into Slytherin last year and he had a wonderful time! And look, this man’s in Slytherin and he’s not unhappy with it!” The mother looked at Ben expectantly.
“Not at all,” Ben said after a moment’s pause. The little girl didn’t look mollified.
“No no no, I want Gryffindor.”
“And here’s our stop. Good luck, guys,” Starbuck said as the elevator stopped. She and Ben got out and headed down the hall, Starbuck snickering. “Man, you couldn’t pay me to run the Academy,” she told him. “A bunch of kids fighting about sorting and spells? No fucking way.” She stopped in front of four-ten and pulled a card out of her pocket. “C’mon in.”
Ben followed behind her, completely bemused. She set her bag on the table across from the bed and checked her reflection in the TV. “I need to touch up this tattoo,” she muttered. “Give me five minutes, okay?”
“Take your time,” Ben said. She disappeared into the bathroom and she sat down in one of the bland, comfortable chairs and stared at his nametag. Ben DeWitt was on the first line, and below that was Special Guest: RJ Kuzniar. Ben had forgotten that Ryan wrote his books as RJ. He traced the letters with his index finger and wondered how much longer it would be before he could see Ryan.
His phone went off. “Thank Christ,” Ben murmured, pulling it out of his back pocket and checking the text. It was from Ryan.
Im here finally. Stupid storms over Chicago. R U at the hotel?
Yes, Ben wrote back. Being educated. Turns out I know nothing of scifi/fantasy. I’m a fish out of water here.
Oh baby Ill protect uJ Should be there soon.
I can’t wait, Ben typed. And wow, his fingers were trembling. He really couldn’t wait.
“Done,” Starbuck announced as she came out of the bathroom. “I should have done these in marker in the first place instead of relying on the decals, but it was so cool that I found them in the first place that I couldn’t resist. Ready to go back downstairs? The ballroom’s not open yet but the dealer rooms are.”
“Sure,” Ben agreed. “Consider me your duckling.”
“And such a cute duckling you are,” she said, ruffling his hair. “Don’t worry, you’ll be a swan by the end of the weekend.” They headed back out into the hall and down the elevator. Happily they were alone in it this time. “So how do you know RJ Kuzniar? I mean, graphic novels aren’t my forte but I’ve heard of him.”
“Family friends,” Ben said after a moment’s consideration, because while that wasn’t everything they were, the rest of it was pretty complicated.
“And you’ve at least read his stuff, haven’t you?”
“Yes. I loved it,” he told her, with more enthusiasm than he’d been able to muster for anything else they’d talked about so far.
“Yeah, he does a lot with symbolism, right?” The elevator stopped and they got out, skirting a group of what might have been Jedi Knights. “I hear it drives his fans nuts. I don’t follow those threads, but sometimes people cross-post and it’s always someone who’s either convinced that RJ’s predicting the end of the world or someone who’s having a fight with someone else over the meaning of something he wrote, or how he drew a particular scene. His fandom is rabid, man; better not let them know who you are or they’ll bug you constantly.”
They entered the dealers room, which was a spacious square meeting room packed to the walls with table after table of books, clothing and what looked like a hell of a lot of leather accessories. “Keep your eyes open for someone selling cigars, okay? I left mine at home and the look just isn’t quite complete without one.”
“Sure.” They wandered through the crowd, Starbuck still leading the way, one hand looped around Ben’s wrist like a leash. They stopped at a few places but didn’t buy, mostly just made small talk and looked before continuing.
“Harry Potter/Battlestat Galactica crossover?” one of the vendors asked with raised eyebrows as they looked at some whips. “Really?”
“We like to live on the edge,” Starbuck said with a wink before moving on.
They did finally find her a cigar, which she stuck in her mouth but left unlit. “Now I feel right,” she said.
“You really take this pretty seriously, don’t you?” Ben asked. He felt like an alien visitor on some strange new planet.
“Not that seriously. I haven’t pretended to shoot anyone yet.”
Ben would have said…something…but his phone went off again. He pulled it out and looked. Im here! In the lobby.
“That your family friend?” Starbuck asked knowingly. Ben felt his face heat up. “Go do what you gotta do, but find me before the opening ceremonies, all right? I’ll save a seat for you.”
“Thank you,” Ben told her sincerely, then let his feet carry him through the crowd like he was mist, slipping between people without breaking stride. He made it to the lobby faster than he knew how and looked around.
There was Ryan, in a corner facing away from the horde. Ben could only see his back, but he knew it was him. He made his way over and gently touched Ryan’s shoulder. “Hey.”
Ryan spun around, almost dropping the phone clutched in his hand. He was dressed for the weather in a leather jacket and black scarf, and for the first time Ben saw him with his piercings in, a silver hoop in his left eyebrow, a stud in his labrum and two more silver hoops in each ear. They looked really good on him, but they were nothing compared to the smile that broke out on his face as soon as he realized who he was looking at.
Just imagine the piercings, guys...
“Oh my god, Ben!” He threw himself at Ben, wrapping his arms tightly around his neck. “Holy shit, you’re really here,” he said into Ben’s neck, the words muffled by his scarf. Ben held back just as tightly.
“So are you,” he said, one hand finding the back of Ryan’s neck and lingering there. “It’s so good to see you.”
“It’s…you have no idea.” Ryan gripped him so hard his ribs creaked. “Oh my god, you’re here.”
“I’m here,” Ben confirmed, stroking gently. Ryan’s hair was soft and smooth at the base of his scalp, and Ben wanted to keep touching it, to delve further, but he held back. He still didn’t really know what was going on between them.
“I missed you.”
“We talk every day,” he reminded Ryan with a chuckle.
“I still missed you,” Ryan insisted. And yeah, Ben knew how he felt.
“Do you need to go check in, get ready for the opening ceremony?” he asked after a moment. The con was supposed to kick off in less than an hour, after all.
“In a minute,” Ryan said, relaxing his grip a little but not moving away. “Just…not quite yet, okay?”
“Okay.” Ben closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. He could handle another minute, or hour, of this.