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I paused at the edge of the bedlam and smiled for what felt like the first time in over two years.
Around me, people rushed passed, anxious to get to their event, or get some limited edition item. A pair of Batmen strolled past holding hands. An overweight man dragged a trolly behind him stacked full of comics to get signed. A trio of teenage girls dressed up as anime characters I didn’t recognize giggled and posed for what was likely the first of a thousand pictures taken of them over the weekend. Banners announcing cosmic events featuring women in serious, and seriously uncomfortable poses hung from the rafters. It was early and already the noise level was bordering on uncomfortable. Perfect.
Comic con. Christ I’d missed it. I almost hadn’t made this one. The amount of wrangling, well-meaning “are you sure?” and offers to come along with me “just for some company” were well meaning, but maddening. I understood their concern, honestly I did. And part of me was deeply touched that my friends and family, who had kept me sane after Beth and the accident, were still worried about him, after two years.
But a man can’t stay coddled forever. I was creeping up on 50 and was determined I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life dwelling on a moment. I had to live again. I had to remember how to be happy.
Family and friends didn’t get it, of course, but there were few places on Earth that made me as happy as wandering around a convention room floor filled with tens of thousands of mildly crazy geeks. That many people, all so happy to immerse themselves into a thing they loved…it was like a massive positive energy generator. Positive energy I was more than to absorb. I could feel the muscles in my face ache slightly, unused to their current configuration. They’d get used to it. Adjusting the straps on my backpack, I put the cane forward and began slowly walking through the con.
It was a different pace for me. At previous cons I was going flatout almost all the time, convinced I was missing something cool. Some signing, some exclusive, a cool panel, some hot shot artist who was only taking commissions from the first 5 people to come to his table. The walking stick and the knee brace made sure that wasn’t happening. People rushed past me, some uttering a brief apology if they jostled me. It was my new reality and I was going to have to adjust. This time I had to be content enough to ramble down the aisles and past the booths and tables and just soak it in. I needed my joy back, not a ton of stuff.
But it was still a comic con. Comic cons are, by design, made to suck your money away. The only people who didn’t spend a ton of money there were the ones who didn’t have any. And even those people sometimes found themselves at event ATMs, paying outrageous fees, so they could take out enough to get that thing.
Comic cons had a distortion field. Every decision made at the con made sense. It was only after you left the building and walked a couple of blocks could you look at what you had bought and go “what the fuck was I thinking?”
Five hours in and so far I’d managed to avoid any outrageously stupid purchases. Some new graphic novels, signed by the creators. A fun t-shirt. The page of art was an extravagance, but I’d always liked that artist. And I highly doubted it was the last page I was going to buy before this weekend was over.
Still, I was feeling good. I knew my friends were worried I was going to come here and freak out and just make a series of bad decisions. I was getting texts asking how things were going, which I responded to with happy emojis just to keep them from worrying. But it was nice that so far they were completely wrong about disasters.
That’s when the witch slammed into me, sending me flying onto the floor.
I loved cosplayers. I really do. Anybody willing to spend weeks and hundreds, hell, thousands, of dollars on a costume so they could pretend to be Boba Fett, or Elvis as a Stormtrooper or Spider-man…I admired them. I really did. It wasn’t my thing, but they were fun and mostly harmless.
An occupational hazard of cosplayers is that they were often oblivious to their surroundings. The older ones eventually developed some radar sense. But the younger ones were normally too excited to be at a con, happy to be with their friends and, well, broke from putting together their costume. So their main thrill was hanging out and posing for photos for everyone who asked.
This one was so eager to do a dramatic Scarlet Witch hex pose that she really didn’t notice I was walking behind her. Bam. Splat.
If my knee wasn’t fucked up, I probably would have managed to stay upright. If it wasn’t aching after overdoing it and spending hours walking around concrete floors, it probably wouldn’t have hurt when I landed on the concrete floor.
Since my knee was fucking up and aching, it meant when I landed awkwardly, I yelled out “Ow, fuck!”
“Oh, my God! I am so sorry,” I heard.
Then there were peals of laughter. cihangir escort “Christ, Ashley, why are you always such a ditz? You just about killed that old guy.”
So it turns out that five hours at a comic con wasn’t quite enough to repress two years of anger and depression. I was fully gearing up to tear the head off this stupid bitch and her friends and then possibly do something that was going to get me tossed out of the con and likely committed to an asylum
I looked up and there was just…
I still don’t have the words. It was like all the pent up anger just switched off. She was…adorable. Not sex personified or anything like that. You just immediately wanted to pick her up and put her in your pocket to keep her safe. Big, luminous green eyes, pouty lips and a mass of red hair kept barely in check by the headpiece she was wearing. She had a face that made it almost impossible to stay mad at, and was young enough that she didn’t know she had this particular super power and how she could use it for evil if she wanted.
She also appeared to be about 100 pounds soaking wet and maybe five feet fall. More pixie than anything else. I suspect normally she would have bounced right off me, but she must have caught me at just the right angle and had some momentum on her side.
She also looked utterly horrified.
“Oh my God,” she yelled. “I am so sorry! I’m such an idiot, I was posing for a photo, and I don’t have my glasses on because they clash with the costume and I didn’t see you there and oh Jesus, are you ok?”
I was sprawled on the floor and my knee was singing a minor aria, but I managed to find it in myself to give a small laugh.
“I think I’ll live,” I said, using the cane to leverage my way up. The girl grabbed my arm to try and help pull me to my feet. Except this was when my knee twinged, I lost my balance and since I was easily twice her weight, she didn’t have the strength to keep me upright, which meant she also lost her balance. I went back down on the floor with 100 pounds of cute redhead landing on top of me.
And now we were in a sitcom. I could hear people laughing around me. She got up on her hands enough to look down at me, utterly horrified.
“HI there,” I managed. “You ok?”
“Oh my god!” she yelled, getting to her feet so quickly I briefly wondered if she might not have super powers.
“Jesus, Ashley. You’re such a clumsy bitch,” said a girl nearby, one of her friends, I’m guessing.
Before I could say anything further, a dark figure loomed over me.
“Need a hand up?” asked Darth Vader.
Perfect. I grabbed his hand and he easily leveraged me up to my feet. He was well over 6 feet tall and I had the feeling it was all him, and very little of the costume.
“Thanks, Lord Vader,” I managed.
“Don’t mention it,” he rasped. “Literally. Bad for the reputation.”
I surprised myself by laughing again. A minute ago I was ready to commit murder; now I was laughing. I looked around for…Ashley? She was a couple of feet away, looking utterly mortified. Her two friends were still laughing at her.
“I mean, honestly, Ashley, that was hilarious. I just wish I had the camera going. That would have made an awesome TikTok video. You’re such an awkward bitch.” That’s when her friend, dressed up like Rogue, finally noticed me. She stepped back and, with what she thought was stealth, slipped her phone out to record what she was sure was going to be an epic meltdown on my part.
“You ok?” I asked? She looked dumbfounded.
“Am I ok? I just crashed into you and then landed on top of you. I almost killed you!”
A brief flash of the crash shot through my head. I repressed it.
“I’ve been almost killed by heavier things than you. I’m fine. On the other hand, I’m concerned you might die of embarrassment. It’s ok,” I said. I wanted to put a reassuring hand on her, but I was a fully clothed middle-age man with a foot of height on her and she was, maybe, 18 in a red swimsuit, stockings, thigh high boots and cape. Discretion won out.
Sensing a blowout not in the making, Rogue turned her phone off in a huff.
“She’s always a ditz like that. I don’t even know what to do with her,” she said.
“Perhaps try being kinder and a better friend,” I said, knowing instantly how that was going to go over.
“What the fuck do you know,” said the other friend, who was an anime character I didn’t recognize. That’s when I realized getting into drama with teenagers at a comic con was something I absolutely did not need. I ignored the two friends and turned to Ashley.
“I’m fine, I promise. Don’t spend the rest of the con beating yourself up on this, ok”
“But maybe do wear your glasses even if they clash with the costume.”
“Ok,” she said with a hint of a smile.
And that was enough drama for me. Fortunately, there was a room nearby with a panel getting ready to start in a few minutes. I had no particular interest esenyurt escort in a History of Archie comics, but it would let me sit down and give the knee a break and escape the drama. I hobbled off towards the room, feeling death glares from a pair of teenage drama queens drilling into the back of my skull.
I’d felt worse.
After Archie there was another panel on how to become a writer for geek publications, which seemed to be entirely about how this was a terrible idea if you enjoyed things like food and shelter. I kind of felt bad for the eager young hopefuls who kept asking questions like “no, there has to be a loophole somewhere.” There wasn’t.
By the time it was over my knee felt ok enough to walk to the hotel. Typical of a con, I’d forgotten to eat lunch, so some room service, followed by pain killers and maybe a soak in the hotel’s jacuzzi.
The panel was the last of the day, so the con was breaking up, with streams of people heading out the doors. For some, it was their only day. For others, like me, it was just day one the ultra geek marathon. I joined the streaming hordes and began to make my way down to street level. From there, it was a short hobble to my hotel. That’s when I heard a voice call out from behind me.
I turned around and it was my witch. She had a puffy coat on over her costume, but it was still fall and she was still in a modified one-piece swimsuit. She looked cold…and embarrassed.
“Ashley, you’re freezing! Why are you out here?”
She looked baffled for a second. “I told you my name?”
“Your ‘friends’ said it when they were giving you shit.”
She blushed even deeper. “Oh yeah, right,” she said. “Look, I just really wanted to apologize, but properly. I know I was babbling a lot earlier, and I was just mortified by what happened and my brain kind of locked up. Are you ok?”
That she managed to ask that with her teeth chattering was kind of impressive.
“I’m fine, but I’m going to have to take you to hospital for hyperthermia. How long have you been waiting out here to apologize to me?”
She glanced down at her shoes. “I dunno, 20 minutes or so. Heather and Lesley said I was nuts and they blew me off to go get ready for an after-con party they got invited to. But I just felt really bad. And you dealt with it so nice even after they were so bitchy toward you and I hate it when people think badly of me and…”
I put my hand up. She paused.
“I babble sometimes,” she said.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s ok, it’s kind of adorable.”
Crap. Crap. Crapity crap. Now I was being the creepy old guy to the nice girl trying to apologize. Crapity crap.
Fortunately she didn’t seem to mind. She just smiled. And then shivered again.
“Anyway…Sorry!” she said, laughing. “Now I should run back inside and get changed and track down the girls.” She reached down to grab the backpack at her feet.
I glanced back at the convention center and noticed a couple trying to get in. Security wasn’t letting them, despite a lot of pleading. I nodded in that direction and Ashley looked, and moaned.
“Ohhhh nooooo. I really don’t want to have to go all the way to Queens to change at the hotel and then come back to Manhattan.”
I had just been mildly creepy, but decided to chance it.
“Look, my hotel is just a block or so away. There’s a washroom in the lounge area. Just pretend you’re my daughter or something and go in there and change. That way you’re not freezing your ass off on a subway to Queens and dealing with potential crazy people.”
She brightened up rather than be grossed out. “Really, you don’t mind? That’d be awesome!”
“You stayed out here to freeze and apologize rather than go party with your friends. It’s the least I could do. Come on,” I said, hobbling towards the hotel.
She slipped her arm into mine and burrowed a bit. I glanced down at her.
“I’m freezing and you’re warm. Come on ‘dad’. Let’s get you to the hotel.”
There was minimal hassle at the hotel and after hearing her stomach snarl as we walked passed the lounge I managed to persuade her to have some food with me.
“I’m the one who knocked you over. You shouldn’t be buying me food,” she complained, but without much conviction.
“You can’t go out drinking with your friends with your stomach grumbling like that. You’ll be hammered after two sips.”
She giggled. “I’m a lightweight at the best of times, but I’m 19. They won’t let me drink here. But I am too hungry to argue. So thank you.”
We agreed on a burger and she went to get changed. I found a spot in the lounge that was near a fake fireplace, but it threw off some extra warmth.
It was a toss-up on which was going to arrive first, the food or Ashley. As it turns out, it was a tie. Just as the food was being put on the table, she came out of the bathroom. It turns out that transforming from the Scarlet Witch to a petite redhead etiler escort in yoga pants and a cardigan takes a while. Although I did manage to notice she’d fixed her hair and put it back in a ponytail which went about half way down her back. She’d washed her face and put on some more subtle make-up. And, with amusement, I saw she’d put on a pair of glasses.
She plunked down in the chair across from me and took a moment to both enjoy the heat and look ravenously at the hamburger.
“I’m going to thank you now because I might not talk much for the next few minutes. I haven’t eaten except some granola bars around noon,” she said, reaching for the burger.
“I won’t take it personally. Go ahead.”
I’ve found there are three kinds of thin people. Those who are regimental about their weight, counting every calorie and using precise exercise routines to ensure they stay in an exact weight range. Those who are simply picky eaters and don’t seem to really care for food. And finally, those with freakish metabolisms that can process the most garbage food without gaining an ounce.
Judging by the way Ashley messily dismantled the burger, I suspected she was the latter. In less than 5 minutes, the burger and fries were gone and she was eyeing my food in a way that made it obvious she was wondering if it would be bad manners to steal some fries. I tipped my plate in a way to indicate I was willing to share, and she grabbed one and dipped it in some ketchup.
“Let me guess, you blew all your money on your costumes, then travelling here, and a con pass, you’re sharing a room with your friends and you failed to budget that you might need food this weekend,” I said.
“How’d you guess?”
“Hardcore cosplayers tend to frown on any expenditure that doesn’t go towards fabric and props. True?”
She nodded. “I have the madness. My mom and people in my high school thought I was a nut. Thank god for the internet where I can meet other madwomen with a similar addiction.”
“Is that where you met…”
“Heather and Lesley, yeah,” she said, making a face. “We met online, and then we were all going to the same university together so we’ve been hanging out for a few weeks now. I’m not sure I like them, but, well, I’m kinda stuck with them for the weekend.”
I knew for a fact that I didn’t like them. Of course you can give your friends shit when they do something stupid or make a mistake. I did it to my friends all the time, just like they did it to me. Those two seemed less inclined to do some good natured teasing, and more like putting Ashley down to make themselves look better. I knew the type from my time in university. I had no time for them then either.
“So what’s your addiction, dad?”
I looked startled and it was my turn to blush a bit.
“I don’t think there’s any risk they’re going to ask you to leave so you don’t need to call me that now.”
“Oh, I know, but you haven’t actually, you know, told me your name. You’re just the dude I nearly killed.”
I shook my head. Christ, I actually hadn’t told her my name. Apparently the senility must be kicking in.
“My name is…”
She reached over across the table and put a finger on my lips. It was warm and I could vaguely taste salt and ketchup on it.
“Nope. You’re my dad now. You’ve missed your window to tell me your real name. If we’re still talking at the end of this con, you can tell me your real name. For now, it’s dad.”
This was the moment I was glad for the table, which was covering my quickly growing erection. Daddy-daughter play was always one of those unrealized fetishes for me. My wife was never interested and considered it weird. And now I had a sexy 19-year-old redheaded geek calling me dad with a bratty smile on her face. This was going to be an interesting, and possibly really painful weekend.
“I’ve learned to pick my fights carefully with redheads,” I said, shrugging my shoulders in defeat.
“Good call, dad,” she said. “So, what’s your vice…comic book wise, of course.”
Oh yes, she was going to be an entertaining pain this weekend.
The next hour was spent arguing the merits of different characters and comic books. She lit up when I said I loved Batgirl, but frowned when I said I preferred Cassandra Cain over Barbara Gordan. She felt compelled to defend the redhead sisterhood at length. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I laughed and relaxed quite so much. I was quite sad when her phone buzzed and she looked at it and frowned.
“They’re wondering if I’m dead. I should probably get going. There’s a party at some bar I’m missing,” she said, reaching to put on her coat. “I’d honestly prefer to stay. This has been fun.”
“Likewise. It’s been a rough couple years so this has been quite nice.”
She looked at me with a tilt of her head like she wanted to ask more, but decided it wasn’t the time.
“Big plans for the rest of your evening?”
“Dad’s an old man,” I said. “I think I’m going to soak in the jacuzzi for an hour and then go to bed.”
“See, now I’m really regretting going,” Ashley said. She managed to say it in a tone balancing the fine line of making me wondering if she was serious or just teasing. It was an impressive skill set for her age. Or maybe they all had it and I just wasn’t used to paying attention.
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