Claire loves the show Demon Heart. Forest is an actor on Demon Heart who dreams of bigger roles. When the two meet at a local Comic-Con panel, it’s a dream come true for Claire. Until the Q&A, that is, when Forest laughs off Claire’s assertion that his character is gay. Unfortunately for Demon Heart, when the video of the disastrous Q&A goes viral, the producers have a PR nightmare on their hands. In order to help bolster their image within the LGBTQ+ community, they hire Claire to join the cast for the rest of their publicity tour. But how far will Claire go to make her ship canon? And to what lengths will Forest go to stop her and protect his career?
I steel myself. “I… Actually, Jamie, I have a question for you.”
“Oh.” Jamie exchanges a look with the volunteer standing next to me, who reaches for my mic, but I draw away from her, closing my fingers over its cold metal even tighter. I have a question and I have this microphone and I’m not going to sit back down until I’ve asked it.
“You’ve built this really strong relationship between Smokey and Heart,” I say, and the volunteer steps away, unsure what to do now that I’ve seized control. “They presumably hate each other, but they’re also kind of obsessed with each other.”
Jamie narrows his eyes, but I can’t stop. I have to know if my idea of Smokey and Heart is what the show intends; I have to know if what I feel about them is real.
“Some people would even suggest…” I say, my lips close to the microphone. “Some people would even suggest that Smokey and Heart…” I can feel Tess’s eyes on me from three rows up. She wants to know, too. We all want to know.
“Are they in love with each other?” Dead silence.
I continue, “I think they are. So I guess my question is, are they going to realize they’re in love with each other by the end of this season … and kiss?”
There’s a collective holding of breath as all the eyes and phones in the room turn to Jamie, and I swear to god my heart simply stops beating for a second while I wait. Jamie looks at me with a completely neutral expression that I can’t read, as he probably deliberates what to say next, but already the pause has gone on too long. Was this a big mistake?
Jamie is raising the microphone when another voice interrupts him.
“You think Smokey is gay . . . for Heart?” Forest asks slowly, like I’m an idiot. He’s smirking at me. Smirking.
His accusation just hangs in the air.
“Forest—” Rico starts, and Forest shoots him a look. “Obviously they have a strong connection . . .” Jamie says diplomatically, finally finding his voice.
“Yeah, but not that kind of connection.” Forest talks over him.
“We’ll see their conflict play out in the coming episodes,” Jamie says.
“No disrespect to people who are, but Smokey definitely isn’t,” says Forest.
“You’ll have to keep watching if you want to see more,” says Jamie.
And then Forest just cracks. He drops the mic into his lap and lets his head fall backward. “Jamie!” he says to the ceiling, then turns to stare at him. Jamie meets his eyes and it’s a battle of wills. Rico looks back and forth like a kid watching his parents fight.
Forest hisses, “What are you doing? What are you talking about? This is crazy. She’s crazy.”
And he’s covering the mic with his hand, so I genuinely don’t think he means for us to hear it, but we still do, and the hall is silent. The volunteer takes my microphone back from me and my ears are burning hot and I start gathering my things because suddenly this room is too small, they are too close, and all of this needs to be on a laptop screen and not happening in real life.
I vaguely hear Rico’s admonishment: “Forest. Dude.”
Then Jamie fills the dead air. “The finale is coming May twenty-second. You’ll just have to tune in to see what happens.” But I’m already edging out of my row and speed walking down the aisle to the back of the room as the moderator wraps up the panel and there’s sparse applause and I push out the doors and I’m gone.
I shove through the crowds of still-happy nerds in the lobby laughing and chatting and pretend-jousting with each other, but they no longer feel like my people. They feel like strangers, because they are.
Just because I like something doesn’t mean it likes me back.