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2. Cramped

The trio sat together for five minutes, silent aside from the restless tapping of feet and fingers, before the rumble and squeak of a huge vehicle rolled up to the hotel entrance. They all looked up in unison, eyes widening in nervousness and excitement, as a man walked from the behemoth of a bus and in through the lobby’s glass doors.

He stopped in the entryway, scanned the room quickly, then smiled when his eyes landed on them. He raised a hand to wave, and the three of them quickly shot out of their seats to approach him.

“Guys! So good to see you in person!” He greeted, grinning with clean straight teeth and an enunciated Californian accent. He was neatly dressed in a v-neck shirt similar to Isaac’s, with slim jeans and crisp white sneakers, and short dark hair that was neatly parted. He looked incredibly average, while also incredibly professional, and Beau was eager to find out what he was like underneath it all.

“Mark! You’re real!” Adelaide exclaimed, beaming back at him as she leapt at him for a hug. He startled at first, but laughed as he relaxed into it and gave her a quick pat on the back.

“Adelaide,” Mark responded warmly, nodding at her as they parted. “And Isaac,” he then turned to Isaac, hesitating to lean forward when he noticed Isaac’s straight posture and blank face.

“Mark, nice to meet you,” Isaac replied instead, and held a hand out to shake. Mark looked relieved to take it.

Then he turned, his gaze landing on Beau and his smile widening as he looked up to meet the roadie’s eye. “And you must be Beau.”

Beau swallowed another thick lump in his throat as he forced out a smile and held out his hand. Mark took it in both of his own, shaking it eagerly.

“It’s so good to meet you! I’m sorry we never got to call together!”

Beau simply nodded, his inner monologue already berating himself for clamping up so quickly, but Mark didn’t seem to notice his internal battle, nor judge him for his silence. He simply smiled at Isaac again, then beckoned them all towards the front door.

“How was the flight?” He asked as he led them outside. Adelaide quickly caught up to his stride and took over the small talk, leaving Beau and Isaac to stare up in wonder at the enormous black bus parked directly in front of the hotel entrance. The conversation quickly turned to white noise in Beau’s mind as Mark opened the door and stepped inside, the trio following in single file as they crept up the steps and into their home for the next three months.

“The outside isn’t much, but it’s been renovated inside pretty recently, so it should be comfortable at least,” Mark began to explain as he walked them through the bus. It was a proper tour bus, like the ones Beau had seen rockstars using, with a kitchenette and dining area, then a long hallway that led past a bathroom and bunk area. They even had a little TV mounted on the wall above the fridge, and Mark made a show of pointing out the soundproof booth at the very back of the bus for recording any voice lines they’d need for their show.

He was right about the shift from outside to inside, too. While the outside was painted black all over, with a few discoloured panels that covered up old advertisements and logos, the inside was filled with shiny laminate and pine wood textures. It was a little outdated perhaps, but it looked totally functional and perfectly clean. Isaac would be happy about that.

“This is so fucking rad,” Beau breathed out without thinking. He suddenly tensed, remembering something his mum had told him long ago about Americans not swearing the way they did back home, but Mark was relaxed and laughing at his honest review.

“I’m pretty excited, not going to lie!” Mark nodded. “I haven’t gotten to do anything this hands-on in a really long time. But I think Paranomads is such a perfect opportunity for it, and we’re going to have a great time.”

As Mark hoisted himself up to sit on the kitchen counter, Adelaide made herself comfortable in the booth that hugged the dining table, and Beau began to wander down the hall to examine the bunking area. He continued to listen as he trailed further down, running his fingertips along the walls and the curtains to feel the various textures of the bus’s interior decor.

“So, it’s just us?” Isaac asked. With his back turned from the conversation, Beau imagined him folding his arms and taking an astute sip of his coffee.

“Just us,” Mark confirmed. “I’ll be honest, it took a bit to convince everyone at Webflix to keep the team this small. But I made it clear that you’ve been making this show for 6 years without any outside help, so in the end they were happy to let me handle everything for our convention circuit.” He paused, then added more quietly, “I really meant it when I said we want to don’t want to meddle in what makes Paranomads what it is – I just want to get you in front of as many eyes as possible.”

There was silence for a beat, then Isaac let out a short hum of approval. “Great. It’ll be easier to travel this way, too. Less people to stress over.”

“Yeah,” Adelaide piped up, with a grin in her tone. “I’m enough stress, aren’t I?”

“You are,” Isaac muttered, then turned back to Mark. “So, how do we introduce you and your role to our fanbase?”

“Hmm…” Mark seemed to think for a moment. “It’ll probably be easiest to refer to me as your new producer. As you know, I’m more like your liaison with the streaming company, but I am kind of like your manager now too, to help keep you guys on track. I’ll also keep a schedule of all your bookings with the convention circuit.”

“Ah, let’s go with ‘manager’,” Isaac agreed after a moment’s thought. “I know you are producing for us now, but… Our fans are very dedicated. I’m sure they’d be supportive of me stepping down from the producer role, but I don’t want to risk any misunderstandings.”

“Of course, got it,” Mark nodded. “I’m your manager, then. Anything you want to go over about the bus before we start loading up? I’ll be handling most of the driving, but I’ve hired someone to take us to our first city, so we can get moving while I discuss the convention plan with you.”

Beau stopped at the end of the hallway, scanning his gaze around the modest audio booth setup and nodding his approval to himself. He then turned back to look down the hall at his friends, impressed with the length of the bus and the sheer size of their living quarters.

“No, that’s alright,” Isaac replied. “I know we’ve got a schedule to stick to, so let’s start loading. We’ll wait to talk once we’re moving.”

Beau smiled down the hall at Isaac, the host of his show, his friend since kindergarten. He smiled at his aptitude, at the eager glint in his eyes, and the confident lean of his shoulders where his arms crossed over his chest. He tried not to smile at the curve of his neck under his freshly shaved jaw, of the way his heather-grey v-neck hugged his thin frame, or the tilt of his hips where he leant his shoulders against the wall of the bus. He tried not to, but when he looked at Isaac, his mind wandered, and his smile always landed on something it wasn’t supposed to.

He took a deep breath and nodded to himself, trying to shake those thoughts again. It was fine. He’d just spent fifteen hours crammed into a plane with him, another twelve in a tiny hotel room, then a rushed morning dodging him in a steamed up bathroom. Beau just needed a little space to clear his head, then they’d be good to go.

As he opened his eyes and made his way back to the kitchen, Beau had to stop when he found Isaac suddenly approaching the hall. “Calling dibs on a bunk, huh?” Isaac accused, flashing him a little smile before he was bending down to poke through the curtains that separated each bunk from the hallway.

“Ah! No – Just checking everything out,” Beau stammered, taking a step back to give Isaac a little more room.

“Hmm. I think I want this one,” Isaac thought aloud as he peered into one of the lower bunks. “What about you, then?”

“Um,” Beau turned around to glance at the options, trying to figure out if he cared. There were two bottom bunks and two top ones, but he already knew that Adelaide would be calling a top bunk. It was her only chance to be tall. “I guess I’ll go bottom.”

“Nice. I love quick decisions.”

Beau snorted and turned back around, grinning down at his friend. “I know you do…” he started, but his smile faltered when he saw the excited twinkle in Isaac’s eyes, saw an eyelash on his cheek, saw the shine of gel in his hair, and realised just how close he was standing to him. They were practically chest-to-chest, with little space in the hallway to create any further distance.

He quickly cleared his throat and turned so he was standing sideways in the hall, to try and let Isaac through, to try and move this along in some way. But Isaac just looked at the tiny gap Beau had made, then cocked an eyebrow at the roadie, as if to say ‘that’s not going to work’.

Because, fuck, maybe this bus wasn’t as big as Beau had first thought. Not when he was trying and failing to shimmy down the hall past the love of his life, not when he was trying to create distance between them to let his heart breathe a little bit before taking off on this three month adventure together.

“Yous alright down there?” Adelaide called out.

Isaac laughed. “Yes. Just trying to figure out how we’re going to fit two lanes down this hall.”

“Ah, we all have to make adjustments,” Mark lamented, then finally hopped down from the counter. “I’m going to have to actually do things, for example. Like loading all your damn equipment into this bus–”

“I’ll help!” Beau quickly piped up, practically shoving himself past Isaac to get out of that tiny hallway.

Mark startled at Beau’s enthusiasm, but skipped down the steps to join him outside. Beau vaguely gestured towards the hotel and led Mark back inside, where they grabbed the caddy loaded with bags and wheeled it out to the bus together.


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