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Chapter 11: Human
We sit in silence for a while as he drives, but I can feel the tension in the air growing. I know he wants me to explain.
I don’t know what to tell him. I worked so hard to be strong, I don’t want to tell him about how weak I used to be.
Finally, he breaks the silence. “How long did he…?”
That’s an easy one. “Until I was fourteen.”
He doesn’t ask anything more, so I ask a question of my own. “That obvious, huh?”
He closes his eyes for a fraction of a second before refocusing them on the road, like he hates what he’s seeing. “You said ‘Does it count as beating now,’” he murmurs.
I don’t reply. The tension grows until we pull up in front of his house. I can feel it in my shoulders, in my neck.
I need to write. I need to write. If I just do that, maybe it’ll go away. Terry’ll forget about it, I’ll catch up on my word count, I’ll win my bet with Lizzy, and everything will be fine.
Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine.
I walk meekly behind Terry to the house, acting like a shadow. He unlocks the door and we go in. Once inside, I walk straight into the open space of the living room and sit down on the couch. I flip my notebook open and then stare at the blank page, tapping my pencil.
Come on, words. Work with me here.
Give me something.
It’s no use. My eyes may be on the page, but my ears and my focus are back with Terry. He must still be by the door. I haven’t heard him move.
I wonder what he’s thinking.
Ugh, my head’s a mess. I need to write!
If I don’t get this done, it’s all going to hell. Lizzy needs this, our family needs this, I need this…
Finally, I hear him move. The tension in my shoulders spikes again, but he doesn’t come towards me like I thought he was going to. Instead, he moves off into the kitchen.
My shoulders relax marginally. He gets it. He’ll let me work. I just gotta get this done, and everything will be okay.
I stay there, tapping the page and trying to write, messing it up—my eraser can’t handle my indecision much longer. I’m getting more and more frantic.
Terry comes back in and comes over to me. He sits down next to me on the couch and placing two steaming mugs on the table in front of us. Then he sits back with a book in his hand.
I peer over, but he doesn’t react. He just sits there, reading. He turns a page. He ignores my gawking until I say, “What are you doing?”
“Being accessible,” Terry retorts, as if it’s the most matter-of-fact thing in the world. He doesn’t even look up from his god damn book. “Oh, and I made tea.” He looks up from his book and smiles at me. “It’s a chamomile lavender blend or something. Daron says it’s good for relaxation.”
Of course the creator of Star vs the Forces of Malevolence drinks relaxing herbal tea. I write out another line, then cross it out and write it again. “You think I need to relax?”
Terry’s eyebrows raise and he puts his book down. “I didn’t say that.”
“You can’t fix this.”
“I’m not trying to fix this.”
I purse my lips and glare down at my notebook. I’m angry. Really angry. And he’s the only one here. I’ve gotta get this written! If he’d just leave me alone I could do this.
“Is this about your father?”
No. He can’t see this. I don’t want him to. He’s… He’s my hero. He saved me from this mess. His creation gave me solace. He gave me the biggest shot at the storytelling career I’ve wanted since I was twelve. I don’t want him to see the scars, weigh the baggage…
I clear my throat. I’ve got to sound calm, like I’m the right person for the internship he gave me instead of a frazzled faker who doesn’t have her shit together. “What makes you think this is about that?”
“Because that’s what it would be about for anyone.”
I snort. “I’m not ‘anyone.’”
Terry sighs heavily and throws his book behind the couch. Then he puts his now unoccupied hands around my waist and lifts.
I yelp, surprised. Next thing I know, I’m sitting in his lap, breathing in his exhale, stuck in his eyes.
“You’ve got tension dripping off your shoulders,” he seethes. He strokes a hand down over my shoulder blades, running it along my spine and stopping at the base of my back. I inhale sharply as he does it. “Tell me why.”
“You don’t want to see this,” I hiss. “It’s dark and it’s gritty, and you won’t—” I cut myself off, but my mind finishes the thought. You won’t like me so much after you hear it. Dammit, Terry, you don’t know what you’re asking for. This isn’t the damaged backstory of a damsel who needs help. These are battle scars of someone who picks every fight, who doesn’t know when to back down, who’s lost the ability to understand why people might prefer to stand clear and let the battle pass over their heads while they hide from the confrontation or adapt to the consequences of losing.
“Don’t tell me what I’ll do.” His tone is flat; not harsh, not jarring, but resolute. “I don’t know what’s happened in your past, but don’t let it make you stupid. You don’t know what’s going to happen. This isn’t some story book where you know the tropes. Anything could happen, so don’t do this stupid hero bullshit and shut me out.”
Okay, you know what? Fine.
I grab him by the shoulders and throw him back against the couch. “You want to know why?” My voice drops into my low register. It radiates with the quiet sort of anger, the kind you’ve visited so many times you don’t need to yell about anymore to understand it. “Because whenever I disagreed with that man, he hit me; because it didn’t stop until I was fourteen and I was finally big enough and strong enough to threaten to break his arm if he touched me; because he broke his vows to my mother like they were worthless and lied to all of us for a year; because he destroyed my family; because he’s still destroying my family; because I can’t let him; because I have to get this script done or he wins; because NaNo is here and I’m working six days out of seven with only one real day to work on this script every week; because if I don’t get it done, Lizzy won’t work on her comics…” I grip his shoulders more tightly, swallowing the tightness in my throat away. “Because I’m done with life taking from me, with people taking from me, stealing things I have a right to.”
A father and a family come to mind, but I know I’m talking about more than that now. I’m not just talking about love—I’m talking about respect, the kind everyone is entitled to, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or age.
“I’m sick of the violence,” I whisper. I sit back and sift a hand through my hair. The trauma is bigger than a man who hit me as a child. It’s the people who think they can hit me figuratively but just as hard now that I’m an adult. Because I’m a woman. Because I’m young. Because I’m queer. Because my own mind holds me hostage and I need so much energy just to leap over the road blocks it puts in my way daily. “Do you know how many shootings we’ve had in the last year in America?”
His answer takes him a moment, but he clears his throat and answers. “Yes.”
“How many of them have been men who feel they are owed something?”
“I’m sick of men taking things from me.” My head drops, despair ripping through me—despair to pain to anger. I was never one to stay down long, and twisted laughter bubbles up through me. If Terry ever decided to give Buck an evil girlfriend, this laugh would suit her. “Do you have any idea what I’d like to do to all those assholes who push people down? How badly I could fuck them up if I could just get my hands around their throats?”
Ah, here’s the menace. Hello, my old friend. It’s been a while. Yeah, I’ve been happy lately, that’s why I haven’t come around to visit. But don’t worry, I’m back now. Just give him a second. He’ll see you and lose his temper or run screaming. It’s always one or the other.
Women like me… We’re not allowed to have this. Even rage belongs to straight white cis men. “Self-defense” gets defined by those people too.
Terry will cast us out just like everyone else. Like Mom did when she was grieving, like Lizzy did after she’d been raped, like Dad did whenever “because I said so” wasn’t a good enough reason for me. When even the familial ties you’re never supposed to doubt have been broken, how can you trust anyone who says they’ll stick around?
I listen, waiting for the shoe to fall.
I flinch as his thumb grazes my cheek. Why is he touching me like that? Isn’t he going to throw me off his lap? Yell at me for not seeing it his way?
“If you could get at those guys,” he says, “you’d do a lot more now than just break their arms, I bet.”
I come up to stare at him, shocked.
He’s been listening?
There are two kinds of listening: the kind where people hear what you say, and the kind where people hear what you mean. Terry is doing the second kind, judging by his response, and that’s new. Maybe not for him, but I sure as hell don’t know what to do with it. Usually when I get like this even my best friends don’t know what to do with me. I just have to rage until I burn myself out or break it off and manage to put it away again.
No one’s ever been able to stand in this firestorm with me before.
Yet Terry reaches out, easy as pie, strokes my hair out of my face, and says, “I doubt your dad would have stopped if you weren’t a threat.”
He says it like an endearment: sweetly.
…The fuck is wrong with this guy?
“I can only imagine how frustrating this is for you,” he continues.
“W-what?” He’s lost me.
“Having all this power and knowing better than to use it like that.”
He runs his fingers from my hair down my back and I shiver, shards of tension breaking off my spine in the wake of his touch.
“Look at you. You know you’ll never win this fight by resorting to violence and domination—although I certainly understand the inclination.”
I chuckle in spite of myself. He must be incapable of being completely serious, regardless of what’s happening around him.
“You’ve got your family, you’ve got your work, and on top of all of it you’ve got a cause. You’ve got everything, Alexis. They haven’t taken anything from you—and you know better than to make yourself one of them. If you ask me, that’s why you’ve got a shot at winning.” He winks at me, and I feel myself relaxing involuntarily in his arms. Despite my distress, seems like he can still get the fangirl in me to swoon a little.
“Still—” I object.
“Shh, let me finish.”
A moment ago, I probably would have bitten him for talking to me like that, but with his fingers sliding from my hair to the base of my spine over and over again, it’s like he’s smoothing the ferocity away, bit by bit—and marveling at it while he does it.
No one’s ever marveled at my ferocity before. It and I have always been too aggressive, too extreme, too mean—to the point where even I started thinking those things in the darkest times… And yet he sits here, petting me and singing my praises like it’s easy.
“On top of all of that, you have time. Do you know where I was when I was your age?”
“It doesn’t matter. You—”
“It does matter. I was in college. I was still in school.”
“Yes, so are you, but you’re also working and getting paid for it at two of the biggest companies in the storytelling business this century.” He raises an eyebrow. “You gonna sit there and scoff at that?”
I open my mouth, wanting to argue: It doesn’t mean anything. Greater people have failed. Stronger things have broken. Nothing is certain.
Instead I say, “You don’t know.”
“You don’t know what’s going to happen to me, Terry. No one does. I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
His arm tightens around my waist, pulling me flush up against him. It forces me to stop talking so I can suck in a breath.
“Would you stop fighting me on this for five seconds and let me make my point?” he asks.
I cover my mouth with a hand—a physical reminder to shut the hell up for a second—and nod.
He searches my eyes for a moment, as if he’s waiting to make sure I’m not going to launch into another argument the moment he opens his mouth, then continues. “You’re never going to let anything be taken from you, Alexis. Look at what you’re doing: you’re fighting, and in the right way no less. No one is ever going to take anything from you. You’re too tough. You’re too relentless. You’ll never stop. I know you. I know what you’ll do, and I’ve only known you for a matter of months.” He brings his hand up and cups my cheek. “But you’ve gotten used to all that brilliance looking at it in the mirror every day, haven’t you?”
I make a small, quiet sound, close my eyes, and push my cheek against his hand.
I can’t look at him when he looks at me like that.
I don’t deserve it. I’m not worthy. I’m just a fan that got lucky. I’m no one; a monster who’s lost everything, including her direction. How can he look at me like I’m the moon and the stars and the rising sun over San Francisco?
A small voice in the back of my head reviews my thoughts behind the shield of my eyelids and whispers to me:
They’ve brought you down.
They’ve made you think so little of yourself.
When did you start believing you were small?
That you didn’t deserve things?
Another voice pipes up:
TAKE IT BACK!
I reach out and find Terry’s cheek. I press my lips against his like he’s breaking my heart—sweet and soft and tortured.
He takes a deep, steady breath—in and out through his nose—then slides his hands around my back.
I break away from our kiss. “Don’t touch me,” I say gently.
“You want me to believe I can have what I want?”
I run my hands down his torso, letting my fingers catch on the buttons of his shirt.
“Mm,” he hums, trilling under my fingers. “Yes.”
“Then don’t touch me right now unless I ask you to.”
He opens one eye and regards me, head leaning to one side, curls askew and relaxed. He gives me a soft, cocky smirk. “You got it, boss.”
His words send sparks through me. I reach out, take him by the hair, and kiss him again—harder.
He sighs into my mouth and yields. His hands stay perfectly still at his sides.
I want to believe him now, as if this is proof enough that he won’t take from me—but it’s not. I trust him, just not the future. And I need proof.
I break away from his mouth and drop mine to his neck. If it’s true, he won’t be provoked no matter what I do. I press my teeth into his flesh and the sound he makes… I could get used to hearing him like this. His fingers twitch and I pant for a moment against his neck, watching.
He raises his hand, but only to card his fingers into his hair and grip at it tightly.
Okay, first test cleared, Mr. Walsh, but let’s see if you can keep it up…
I chew on his collarbone, undoing the buttons of his shirt while I work. He eggs me on with small “Yes”s hissed through the ends of his sighs, his fingers clenching and unclenching in his hair like a physical representation of all the effort it’s costing him not to run his hands over me right now.
I get through the last of his buttons, and sit back, just to look at him for a second. His eyes closed again somewhere in the midst of this, and the flush that started at his cheeks has run down his neck and paints the top of his chest. His stomach is pale, framed by the open red plaid of his shirt. A ginger trail of fine hair runs down from just above his belly button and disappears into the hem of his pants.
He looks… human. I can’t help but smile as my mind supplies me with the word. I’m a fan of human, I think, bending down and fitting my tongue against the skin of his stomach.
His voice cracks and crescendos as I run my tongue up his torso. His hands rest where they are.
It’s still not enough.
“Undo your belt for me,” I say into his ear.
He gasps and his eyes crack open. “W-wait,” he manages. “What are you…?”
“I’d like to use my hands,” I say, tiptoeing my fingers up his chest. “Maybe my mouth.” I lick his throat, and he moans. “…Can I?”
“Yes, yes, fuck, yes, ahhh… I just, mm, don’t have any condoms sta—aah—shed down here in the living room, so, ah…”
I blush and bury my face in his shoulder. This man thinks of everything. He’s too good, too good, too good.
“Undo your belt,” I say again into his shoulder.
“Yes,” he says, and his fingers fall between us. He shifts, and I gasp. Right. I’m wearing a dress. That means there’s a layer of denim and a very thin layer of cotton between my clitoris and his erection. He shifts again, working at the belt, and it’s like lightning. I sway. Something whips around my waist, steadying me before I can fall. I look down, expecting to see Terry’s arm, expecting to have been proven right, that he would touch me eventually, and instead see the leather strap of his belt looped around my waist. He’s holding it by either end, an alarmed look of concern on his face.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Fine,” I say. “Elated” is what I mean. We’re still going.
I right myself, and after a moment, he drops the leather away to the floor.
“Get the button for me too?”
Artists have such nimble fingers…
“Zipper?” he asks.
His hands fly away from his waistline, settling against the couch, fluttering like nervous birds.
I trace the line of his stomach down to his zipper and he huffs.
God, he’s beautiful. I’m tempted to pull the plaid from him to see more of his back and shoulders, but the sight of his mouth, lower lip bruising between his teeth, is more than enough to keep me occupied for now.
“Terry…” I say, as I begin dragging his zipper down.
“Yeah?” he pants.
“Will you kiss me?”
His lips twitch like that’s a stupid fucking question. He opens his eyes and leans forward.
I don’t help. He fits his mouth to mine as I take him out of his pants and, to his credit, barely jolts when I run my fingers down his length.
His hands stay where they are.
I quicken my pace. He moans into my mouth. I can feel his muscles raging beneath his skin. I trace them with my fingertips, and still his hands stay where they are.
Even if it wasn’t, I’m not sure I could have held out anyway. “Ah, fuck, Terry, touch me,” I whine.
I expect him to seize me.
I expect him to take over and run the show from here.
I expect this to be the end of my control over this scene.
He’s the director, not me. I’ve been guest starring. This is the way it’ll go, right?
Apparently not. His hands do move, but slowly. Instead of taking hold and manipulating me, he fits them to the perimeter of my skin, loosely caressing the place where my neck meets my jaw, holding me as if he could drink from my lips forever.
I could cry.
How dare he? I finally give him permission, and he touches me like this? So gentle? So reverent? So, so… How can he just touch me and make me feel like something sacred?
I gasp in his hands, inflamed, uncontrollable, desperate, hands racing over his flesh; but no matter how I rage, strain, or provoke, his hands stay soft and kind and sweet—and it leaves me incensed.
“Terry, I swear to god, if you don’t put your fingers inside of me right now, I’m going to—”
“What?” he whispers. “Scream? Cry? Turn into a raging chaos god hell-bent on shattering reality as we know it?”
I shudder as one of his hands drops from my neck down my front and under my skirt. “What was that last one?”
“D-doesn’t matter. You, ah… you’ll never need to.” He presses a kiss to my neck. “You’ll always get what you want.”
His fingers are warm sliding up against my thigh, and I realize he’s not just talking about here and now and this. Even here, he hasn’t lost the thread of our conversation. He’s still talking me down.
And the crazy thing?
I believe him.
I set to work in earnest now, because I want to hear him cry out. It’s difficult to keep it together when he’s got two fingers inside of me and my body wants nothing more than to focus on the sweet sensation of his touch. I could get off on the furrow between his eyebrows, the dewy curls at back of his neck, the sound of his broken breathing. But I want to hear him go first.
“Come on, Terry,” I breathe between kisses. “Come on. For me.”
He chokes out something like a sob and then spills, beautiful and human and perfect.
The sight, the sound… They’re too much for me.
He’s always been too much for a fan like me anyway, hasn’t he? As I fall apart, my voice catches in the first syllable of his name. He draws me to him as I crumble, and nuzzles me, placing kisses on my forehead, my neck, my hair, anywhere he can reach. He says my name in response when I come down enough to finish saying his. And he sits there, breathing with me, holding me, real and solid and true.
Real and solid and true—
—ly the great Terry Walsh, creator of Serenity Peaks, and your BOSS, YOU IDIOT!
OH WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I JUST DONE?
He must feel the tension that shoots through my body, because his hand jumps to the space between my shoulder blades, keeping me against his chest. “No, no, no!” he says. “We just fixed this, you stop that right now!”
“Oh, I’m so fired, so fired, so fired.”
“Shut up, no you’re not. I’m your boss, and I say you are spectacularly un-fired.”
“But you get it? That’s it! You’re m-my boss. Y-you’re, oh fuck, you’re—”
He seizes me by the chin and shoves his tongue in my mouth. It’s an effective way to shut someone up, if slightly inelegant.
When he draws back he says, “Hi. My name is Terrance Robert Walsh, and I’m a person, just like you. Put my pants on one leg at a time, just like you too, I promise.”
“…I’m not wearing pants.”
His eyebrows spring skyward. “You don’t say!”
“But I bet you’re in just as desperate need of a shower, a meal, and a load of laundry as I am!”
“Maybe,” I admit.
“What a coincidence! It’s like you’re human too, or something.”
I laugh again, and he smiles.
“What do you say we take care of those few things, and then watch D for Declaration?”
“No, that’s tomorrow. Today’s the fourth, we can’t—”
“You’re not going to have time for it tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
He grins. “Tomorrow, you and I are going to have a one-on-one script-writing workshop. All part of your internship, of course, but it’s going to be very work intensive.”
I gape at him. He can’t be serious. He’s giving me intern time to work on Lizzy’s script?
“You see,” he continues, “part of being in this industry is knowing how to make something, and so we’re going to have you make something of your own, probably something original, so we can go over that process… Do you have anything like that you could work on tomorrow?”
“You can’t just go around solving all of my problems like this.”
His grin widens and he leans in, nose crinkling. “Just try and stop me.”
I giggle, nuzzle his nose with mine, and then kiss him lightly. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. Now give me your dress and get in the shower.”
“So in need of dinner. Chop chop.”
“Is that a pun, or am I dinner?”
“Do you want to be dinner?”
I take this as the cue to take off my dress, and am rewarded with his hungry eyes. I drop the dress between us and scoot off his lap. “I’ll go take my shower now.”
“Better hurry,” he calls after me. “The water’s gonna get cold after I start the washing machine.”
“What kind of TV show creator doesn’t have real hot water?” I yell at him.
“The human kind!” he yells back.
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