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3. Paraphrasing

Their awkward silence didn’t last long before Mark was handing Beau keys and explaining the hidden latch for the under-bus storage. He transitioned quickly from instruction into idle chatter, and Beau found himself incredibly thankful they were being managed by someone who seemed as socially capable as Adelaide. After a few little quips and mundane questions about their journey, Beau’s shyness began to ease up, and the stifling tension slowly unwravelled his tongue from where it had been stuck in his throat.

By the time Adelaide leapt down the tourbus steps to join them on the pavement, they had just about finished loading their cases on board. Beau helped her find the suitcases she and Isaac were keeping on the bus with them, then kept a tight grip on his own as Mark locked up.

He was back on the bus far too soon, crammed into the dining booth between Mark and the window, Adelaide and Isaac sitting across from them. They opened the curtain over the dining table window to watch as they drove on, waving goodbye to their hotel and collectively cheering when they hit the highway. Beau smiled and joined them, but fiddled anxiously with his hands under the table all the while.

“Now then,” Mark began, “Let’s go over everything once, all together.”

Isaac nodded curtly and opened his laptop, the glow of the manufacturer’s logo cutting through the overlapping array of stickers that covered the lid. Mark clicked around on his own, and Beau couldn’t help but glance at the screen over his shoulder, but it was just filled with various tabs of calendars and spreadsheets. Walls of text, coloured boxes, and annotations all swarmed the screen.

“We at Webflix are so thrilled to have acquired your webseries, Paranomads! As we’ve discussed online these last few months, and confirmed in our contract, we don’t have any intention to change or alter the direction of the show.” The trio instinctively nodded together, pleased to have this reiterated. Mark continued, “The show has grown popular because of its honesty, but also from the dynamic between you guys. So Webflix is supportive of letting you keep the team small, and will only be here to supply additional employees if you request it.

“But I think we can all agree that one of the largest contributing factor to your show’s popularity is the fan base,” Mark added, which prompted a sharper nod from Adelaide in particular, who prided herself on her fan engagement and social media management. “Paranomads already has its own subreddit, but we want to use our resources to nurture and expand the fanbase even further beyond that.”

“What are you thinking?” Adelaide asked, eagerly leaning forward over the table. Beau only just noticed she already had her phone in her hand, and would bet anything that she had their Instagram profile open on the screen.

“We’re thinking a fan-run podcast would be great exposure for the show, and we’ve already got a couple of creators in mind that could head it. I just wanted to find out if Adelaide had any names you wanted to pass on, since I know you’re very active in the community,” Mark nodded at her, and she immediately dropped her head to start tapping and scrolling through her phone.

Isaac was squinting in thought, but eventually turned to Mark and nodded, pleased with the idea. “So that’s Reddit, Spotify, and Instagram covered–”

“And Archive Of Our Own,” Adelaide added, never one to let her favourite fan fiction website go unmentioned.

Isaac cleared his throat and nodded stiffly. “And AO3,” he repeated. “And we have the website, which we want to keep simple. Do we need more than that?”

“Oh, Tiktok is a big one,” Beau piped up despite himself. Everyone turned to look at him, then quickly looked back at each other and nodded in agreement.

“Good thought,” Mark agreed. “Tons of growth on there, too. If your plate is full, we can have a look at some of the Paranomads meme channels on Youtube to see if anyone would be interested in making edits for a Tiktok account. Great idea, Beau.”

“I’m excited,” Adelaide grinned, eyes glued back on her phone. “This is going to be great. Should we go over the convention schedule, then?”

Isaac sat up straight and set his hands on his laptop, ready to get down to business the moment schedules came up. Mark finished tapping something out on his computer, then switched to another tab and readjusted his laptop in front of him.

“Alright, here goes: We have you booked for eighteen panels across twenty-two different conventions, twelve official convention photo-ops, and seventeen unofficial meet-ups.”

Adelaide let out a low whistle and Beau clenched his hands into fists under the table. That was a lot of meet-and-greets for a guy who lived his life behind the camera, not in front of it. Isaac barely blinked, just typed into his computer, then looked back up at their manager.

“How long are the panels, and what’s the structure?” He simply asked.

Mark switched to another tab. Beau’s head swam as the windows changed and more colourful text and annotated boxes filled another page.

“All of them are hour-long slots. We’ll start with doing a 50-50 split, with fan questions in the last half of each panel, and use the first half to talk about the merger to ease anyone’s mind about the direction of the show. It’ll be good to make it clear from the get-go that this is a good thing for you, and means more content for them.”

Isaac and Adelaide were nodding yet again, but Mark’s gaze landed on Beau’s stoney figure.

“How are you feeling about all this?”

Beau blinked out of his nervous trance and nodded down at Mark. At least, he tried to, but after a moment he realised he was frozen still, simply staring, while his fingernails dug sharp crescents into the palms of his hands.

“What do we do about… Me?” He finally asked.

Isaac’s hands stilled over his keyboard, and Adelaide’s eyes finally broke from her phone. The three of them stared at him, Isaac’s eyes filled with confusion, Mark’s with sympathy, and Adelaide’s with excitement.

“What do you mean?” Isaac asked, like he’d completely forgotten the fact that Beau had never once been featured on the show before.

“I mean, am I in the panels? Should I come to the meet-and-greets? Do these people even know me?” Beau asked desperately, his nervousness making the words trip and spill out all at once.

“Babe, you’re going to be fine,” Adelaide interjected before Isaac could make it worse. “You’re absolutely going to come, and the fans are going to love you. Don’t forget, your episode airs tonight!”

“Oh god,” Beau muttered unintentionally. He dropped his head into his hands, transferring those tight fists from digging into his palms to scratching at the shaved sides of his head. “I’m going to puke.”

Mark reached a hand up instinctively, then paused before touching him. He looked at Adelaide for approval, who gave him a quick nod, then placed a gentle, comforting palm against Beau’s shoulder.

“They’re going to love you,” Adelaide reiterated. “You’ve been a fan favourite for years anyway, even without your face. Don’t forget, you’re the elusive Roadie! If anything, they’ll be more excited to finally meet you than they will be to see our old faces again!”

Beau lifted his head from his hands to meet her eye, feeling somewhat relaxed by her kind smile. He glanced at Mark beside him, who was silently rubbing his shoulder, unsure of what else to say. Then, he turned to Isaac, who was blank-faced as usual.

But when Isaac gave him a short little nod, a smile pinching the corner of his lips, Beau got all the confidence he needed.

“You’ll get the hang of it in no time,” Mark finally added as he returned his hand to his laptop. “It’s gonna be nerve wracking to go out there for the first time, trust me. But when you get to see these people face to face, it’ll quickly turn into excitement, and it won’t be long before you find yourselves a rhythm to it all.”

That helped more than Beau thought it would – the acknowledgement that it would still be hard, but they’d get through it anyway. It felt real, it felt honest; and if there was anything that this trio of sceptical ghost hunters appreciated, it was a reality check.

Mark finished transferring some of his many lists and calendars over to Isaac, then finally excused himself from the table to leave the co-stars in peace. He headed for the front of the bus, where he joined the driver in the passenger seat, his laptop in tow.

Once they were alone, Beau’s composure crumpled, and he felt free to dramatically collapse across the table with a sigh. Adelaide laughed and poked him, trying to prod him back to life while Isaac silently shifted his laptop out of Beau’s path. When the roadie refused to sit upright, Adelaide gave up on poking, and instead entertained herself by running his ponytail of thin dreadlocks between her fingers.

He laid like that for a few minutes, with Adelaide stroking his hair and Isaac’s gentle keyboard clacks filling the silence between them. Eventually he turned his head over in his arms so he could look up at their host, who focused so intently on his computer.

“I’m not nervous about them liking me,” Beau quietly admitted, and Adelaide’s hands stilled. “I mean, I am. But I’m more nervous about fucking it up, or saying the wrong thing on stage, or…”

“You’ll be fine,” Isaac said quietly, without looking up. “Just be yourself. That’s who they already love, just as a disembodied voice behind a camera. Just pretend you’re filming us.”

Beau let out a shaky exhale and Adelaide’s fingers began to move again, gently twisting his dreads into a bun. He gulped, now nervous for a different reason.

“Thank you…” he murmured once he’d finally mustered the courage. He tilted his head up and rested his chin on his arms, looking up at Adelaide. “For inviting me to stay on as your cameraman.”

She dropped her hands from his hair and slowly ran her fingers down his cheekbones to his jaw, smiling brightly all the while. When she finally spoke, Beau was not expecting her to say, “Don’t thank me.”

He blinked and turned to look at Isaac, who kept his eyes on his computer but had suddenly stopped typing.

When he said nothing, Adelaide continued. “It was all Isaac’s idea. Mark said we could have a whole team of cameramen if we wanted, but he said ‘nope! We want Beau, and only Beau. We won’t go if Beau isn’t coming with us!’”

“You’re paraphrasing me again,” Isaac muttered, then poked the flat of his tongue out to clamp his teeth around his tongue piercing. A nervous habit, Beau had noticed, which always made his heart flutter.

The weight of Adelaide’s words made it difficult to speak. Eventually he cleared his head and laid his head back down on his arms, grateful when Adelaide’s hand returned to his hair and blocked his view of their host.

“Thank you,” he said again, quieter this time, and hopefully Isaac knew it was directed at him. He didn’t have the courage to ask why, what that possibly meant, or why Isaac would give up so much funding and professional advancement for one friend. All he knew is that he’d have to figure out some way to slow his heart rate if he was going to survive twenty-two conventions on this bus.

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