We all stand around for a moment, basking in the awkward.
Beta says, “If anyone needs me, I’ll be on my server.” He waves goodbye and uploads.
More awkward ensues.
Mini motions for Jan to follow him over to the TV, and just like that, they’re playing a game of Splatoon—as if nothing untoward whatsoever has transpired in the last twenty-four hours.
“Why am I not surprised by the décor, Mr. Ivanovich?” Thrill-Kill asks, appreciating the various features of Theo’s room (or possibly looking for a cigarette).
“I…don’t…know?” Theo shifts away from her, comes up to me, totally tries to pretend he’s not checking me out. He holds up Jan’s phone. “Well, I guess you should be getting home.”
“Yeah,” I reply, suddenly self-conscious. Like, is he checking me out simply because I’m in my underwear, or is there some pimple or blemish that I should be made aware of? “Uh, thanks for saving me and all.”
“It was no big deal.”
“It kind of was.”
“Just so you know,” I say, “down in the dungeon, the holding hands, that was just—”
“Of course. And the loving you thing, that was just—”
“You thought we were going to die.”
“Yep. Same here. Not that the only way I’d ever hold hands with you is if I thought we were going to die, but…you know what I mean?”
“Totally. I’m your Wil Wheaton.” Theo smiles nervously, still holding up Jan’s phone, still not sending me home.
“Yeah, like in that Members of the Board song where Peter Template sings, ‘You are my Wil Wheaton, my hero, my idol, my very first crush, but this can never be, you’re just a painting, and I’m just the brush.’”
“Why doesn’t it surprise me that you listen to a band called Members of the Board, with a singer whose name is Peter Template?”
“It’s not his real name. Each member has a stage name that goes along with the starched shirt-and-tie image of the band—kind of like how Kiss does the makeup thing. Or how Asia Afrodesia always performs naked.”
I’m almost afraid to ask, and yet I can’t resist: “What are the other members’ names?”
“Richard Chart, Stephen Guide, Lee Motif, and Andy Diagram every now and then when he isn’t working with James.”
“You would listen to a band like that. But wouldn’t it be the other way around? Wouldn’t I be your Wil Wheaton?”
Theo blushes. “Oh, yeah. I guess.”
“So, are we cool?”
I point at Jan’s phone. “Goodnight, Theo.”
He sends me home.
Eva has a point: it does make more sense that she’s my Wil Wheaton, and not the other way around.
That kind of sucks.
Still, Mini smirks up at me. “She so wants you.”
“Shut up,” I tell him, and face Thrill-Kill. “Should I call you an Uber or something?”
“That would be much appreciated, Mr. Ivanovich.”
I use Jan’s phone to request a ride, then open the bedroom door a crack and peek out into the quiet dark. I beckon for Thrill-Kill to follow me, through the hallway, down the stairs, and out the front door. I imagine this is what it’s like when teenage boys sneak their girlfriends home at night—except Thrill-Kill’s not a teenager, and she’s definitely not my girlfriend.
Outside, we stand side by and wait in silence, staring off into our respective distances, she the stars, me down the street. Then:
“What’s with the dungeon and the slaves and the giant block of demon-cheese?” I blurt out.
Thrill-Kill raises an eyebrow.
I wait expectantly.
“If you must know, it was a piece of cheese I let sit too long in my refrigerator.”
“That doesn’t explain why it’s living in your dungeon—or why you have a dungeon at all, for that matter.”
“Some people can’t bear killing the spider they find in their pantry, and so they carry it outside instead. Live and let live. My own philosophy happens to extend to aged cheeses.”
“What about your ex-husbands?”
Thrill-Kill shrugs. “They had it coming.”
“And so you keep them locked up in your dungeon?”
“The poor bastards discovered Bloodcoin. It’s the closest thing on God’s green Earth to free money—if you can facilitate and put up with the misery of mining it. We were all good friends, once. I’m not the type to burn my bridges. I re-married, and had no problem with the men in my life mingling. Then one of them gets altcoin fever, and suddenly they’re out in the backyard digging out their own dungeon and saving shit in buckets. They’ve turned a simple investment into, well, what you saw under my garden shed. They’ve made a fortune through their own suffrage, but it’s not enough. They won’t give it up until it’s a bull market again. They can’t. Not now, not when cryptocurrency is on the brink of the mainstream. That’s the gimmick—it’s always another year or two off. It’s always been a few years away from exploding, and it always will be.” She sighs, wipes a single, unexpected tear from her cheek. “I haven’t imprisoned my ex-husbands. They’ve imprisoned themselves.”
I nod semi-knowingly. “Dark times.”
Thrill-Kill’s ride pulls up in front of us.
“Come by my office tomorrow,” she says, “and I’ll reimburse you.” She stoops slightly, whispers, “Just so we’re clear, if you tell anyone what you saw in my garden shed, I’ll make your life a living hell. Got it, sweetie?” She pats me on the butt—you know, just like any other everyday, ordinary guidance counselor would—and gets into the car.
I watch it pull away, then, brushing the residue of old-lady palm from my bottom, I go back up to my room, where Mini and Jan are watching the news. Well, they’ve got the news on, but neither is paying any attention. Rather, Mini’s staring intently at Jan as Jan stares intently at me.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
“My apartment’s back,” Jan replies.
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