Beau was awoken by the rattling sound of curtain hooks, and opened his eyes to see Isaac crouching beside his bunk, his curtain ripped open. Beau blinked to clear his bleary vision and sat up against his elbows.
“We should eat,” Isaac said, his words sounding matter-of-fact, but his head nodding like he could fall asleep again at any moment. “C’mon. Meet-and-greet is in an hour at the park.”
“It doesn’t take an hour to eat,” Beau murmured, his voice rough and deep with sleep. “We could rest a bit longer.”
“No, but it will take an hour to queue at the convention food trucks,” Isaac pointed out, then finally rose to his feet. “Unless you want to eat Starbucks croissants for breakfast and lunch.”
Beau grumbled, then reluctantly rolled out of his bunk. “Good point,” he mumbled, then grabbed his set of bus keys and followed Isaac out onto the pavement.
Walking around the convention centre without a camera or a manager was an entirely different experience. They had dedicated fans, but their show was small enough that people didn’t recognise them when it was just the two men wandering around together. Neither of them quite had the energy to brave the show floor and shop amidst the stalls, but they admired the crowds and colourful mix of characters from afar as they found an appealing looking food truck to line up for.
The tiredness had begun to wear off by the time they were close enough to get a good look at the menu, which was hand written on a board above the server’s window. Beau picked out what he wanted almost instantly, then stood quietly at Isaac’s side while he decided.
With the sleep-fog clear from his mind, the silence began to weigh on him. The line took another step forward, and Beau dared to lean forward and clear his throat to get his attention.
“Um,” He faltered as Isaac looked up at him slowly, evidently still a little tired. “Good… job. With preparing those questions, I mean. You made the panel go really smooth, and… I admit, it was a good idea in the end.”
Isaac blinked, startled by the compliment. “You’re not allowed to call me a control freak anymore,” he grinned tiredly.
Beau smiled sheepishly and fidgeted by rubbing his nails against the uneven buzzcut at the back of his neck. “Yeah, alright. No more names. You’re free.”
Isaac chuckled and shifted his weight as the line moved on again. “Well, you did great too. Adelaide was right: We all nailed our first panel.”
Normally, standing so close to Isaac in such a crowded area, looking down at his soft, genuine smile, would send Beau on the verge of a love-stricken panic attack. But it seemed his energy was already depleted for the day – his heart could tell that his mind was too busy buzzing with anxious convention energy, and couldn’t spare a single thought for unrequited love. Rather than stammer his way through shy panic and infatuation, he simply swayed by Isaac’s side, letting the wave of adrenaline that had kept him on his feet all morning carry him just a little further.
Isaac’s estimation had been right, and they finished their food with only a few minutes to spare. As if on cue, Adelaide called Isaac to try and meet up, and together they managed to find each other outside the Starbucks across from the park. Mark even treated them all to more coffee, this time choosing their drinks for them and selecting them all some sugary or flavoured concoction. It was indeed better than their previous experiences, and the trio all decided they would rather force themselves to enjoy it than admit to the realisation that they were stereotypical Australian coffee snobs after all.
With so little time before the meet-and-greet was scheduled to begin, the park was already filling up with a small crowd of Paranomads fans. Mark was adamant they wait until the scheduled time to head over, lest they burn out on bad habits of overextending themselves for these kinds of events.
Adelaide was practically buzzing in place with excitement, and when Mark finally said they could head on over, she flew out the door of the cafe to be the first one across the street.
The moment the first fan spotted them approaching the park, the crowd gathered together in a cheer and applauded their arrival. The enthusiasm was still loud, but felt very different to the echoing halls of the auditorium where they’d run their first panel. Standing on the same level as everyone and looking their fans in the eye felt incredibly intimate, and all the more overwhelming.
Even Isaac appeared to get a little flustered when he signed his sixth art print, and a fan told him his show gave them something to wake up for in the mornings. Everyone respected his request for no hugs, but Beau could see when he started to wrap his arm a little tighter around people’s shoulders in their photo op, trying to give that little bit of love back in some way.
Adelaide talked with as much vigour and enthusiasm to the 50th fan as she had with the first, and it was the perfect example of why she was the best social media manager Beau could imagine. It wasn’t just extroversion or an outgoing personality; she genuinely loved these people, and interacting with them brought her as much joy as Beau got from a perfect waveform or well cut video transition.
What he didn’t expect was how many people flocked to him, and how eagerly they approached him with questions. They wanted to know everything about the man who had been behind the curtain for six years, from what his favourite episode was to what flavour of coffee he’d just been drinking. He tried to keep it short and sweet to get through everyone, but their warmth made it so easy to unwind and chatter as he took photos and signed papers.
As the afternoon turned to evening, the crowd slowly dwindled, until Mark announced that they needed to get going for dinner. They said their last goodbyes to fans who had hung around while clutching their signed merch to their chests, then walked sleepily to the closest restaurant they could find.
“I can’t believe we actually got through everyone today,” Adelaide sighed with relief. “There were so many people that showed up for the meet-n-greet! And Beau was so popular!”
Everyone nodded along as they ate their sushi, happy and agreeable but totally wiped from an intense first day. They ended up getting the last of their food to-go, and after a short argument about the phrasing of ‘take-out’ versus ‘take-away’, called an Uber to deliver them back to the bus.
By the time they dragged themselves aboard, even Adelaide was starting to fall quiet as they changed into comfier clothes and washed up for bed. Beau was looking forward to a long, full night of sleep, sure that he would be too knocked out to care how thin his blankets were. But as soon as he settled down into his bunk and laid his head back on the pillow, Adelaide had ripped his curtain wide open and crawled into the bed next to him.
“Meme review! Meme review!” She chanted with miraculously newfound energy.
“Addy, please,” Beau begged, but still shifted onto one side to give her room in his bunk. “Let’s do it tomorrow.”
“No way, we have to look while they’re fresh. It was your first day in the spotlight, there’s so much good stuff!” She demanded, wiggling into place and thrusting her too-bright phone screen into his face.
Beau looked up when he saw a pair of skinny legs coming down the hall and pausing in front of his bunk. Suddenly Isaac was bending over, peering into the bunk and cradling a mug of tea in both hands.
“She’s right,” he murmured, giving Adelaide more reason to wiggle excitedly. “Let’s have a quick look before bed.”
Beau couldn’t say no to Isaac, and found himself chewing his lip and nodding involuntarily the moment Isaac said they should. He hiked himself up onto his elbows as Isaac sat down on the floor of the hallway, leaning into the bunk. Adelaide held her phone out so they could all see, then opened up one of several tabs she’d curated from their subreddit.
When Beau saw the first picture, which was a professional looking photograph taken by someone in the front row of the panel, his chest swelled with an odd mix of emotions. It was strange, at first, to see himself shared, and see his face on their forum. He had never imagined such a thing to ever happen, but at the same time, it felt so right to see himself up there with his best friends in front of the whole world. The number of upvotes and comments made him feel confident and capable, and the sense of pride he felt emanating from his companions in the bunk had his chest feeling hot and tight.
He reached out to scroll down the page and was hit with an onslaught of all-caps comments and delighted reaction gifs, many complimenting the quality of the photo or the stars’ appearance that day. When it started to feel a little too much, he brought his hand back to his side, and gave a little nod. “Wild,” he mumbled to Adelaide, cuing her to move on to the next post.
She swiped to the next tab, and Isaac let out a shout-laugh that was so loud it made Beau jolt and bump his head against the ceiling of the bunk. When he settled down and looked upon the picture, he immediately turned his face away at the sight of a photoshopped meme, in which someone had likened Beau to Handsome Squidward. In the background was a stock image photo of an angry looking cat and a barking chihuahua, which had been labelled as ‘Isaac’ and ‘Adelaide’.
“Next!” Beau suddenly announced, only making Isaac laugh harder.
Adelaide took them through a few more of her favourites, all of which had a startling amount of upvotes, and some touchingly kind comments. She’d also screenshotted some particularly sweet commenters, as well as some longer posts that detailed the convention experience and recounted their panel for anyone who wasn’t able to make it.
With a few tabs left to go, Isaac hoisted himself up to his feet, careful to balance his mug as he went.
“I gotta get some sleep,” he yawned, then kicked Adelaide’s foot for seemingly no reason. She kicked him back. “Congrats on being welcomed so warmly, Beau. I told you so.”
Beau smiled as Isaac crawled into his own bunk and drew the curtain, and nudged Adelaide when he noticed she was poking her tongue out at Isaac all the while.
“Two more, then I’m going to sleep,” Beau yawned, with a little pat on her shoulder. She nodded and swiped to the next tab, showing off yet another overexposed meme that compared a night-vision screenshot from Beau’s recent episode, to his well lit, nicely dressed appearance at the panel.
Beau reached out to swipe onto the next tab, but Adelaide suddenly pulled her phone out of reach. “No! With more fanfare than that!” she whisper-shouted, before carefully holding the phone back in front of him. “The last one is the best one. A true honour, and your ultimate christening into the Paranomads fandom.”
Beau frowned and laughed at her, then reached out more slowly. She made a little trumpet sound with her mouth as he swiped onto the next tab, which took him to a page off Reddit that he didn’t recognise. Adelaide finished her song and held the phone up higher, waiting for Beau to react to the wall of text. He did not.
“Your first fan fiction!” She eventually announced, elbowing Beau in the stomach for not being as excited as she’d hoped.
“Oh!” Beau laughed, now that he understood what he was looking at. “For real? That was… so fast!”
While Beau and Isaac browsed their subreddit every now and then, neither of them paid much attention to fan content beyond reviews or memes. Beau had heard Adelaide talk about fic quite a lot, sometimes even messaging their group chat excitedly when a new chapter of a long series was released. There was apparently a huge community of fic writers who watched their show, and they took their ships very seriously.
Adelaide held the phone up for him to take, and Beau gently pried it from her fingers.
The second he held it up to his face to read the tiny text on the screen, his smile fell. He was suddenly incredibly grateful that Adelaide was laying with her back to him, unable to see his expression drop or the panic that glistened over his eyes.