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8. Definitely A ‘No’

Beau was never more grateful to be behind a camera than when they were interviewing obvious scammers. He curled his shoulders inwards to try and hide himself behind as much of the equipment as possible, cringing to himself while he watched Isaac’s blank stare deflect the pageantry of two arrogant motel owners.

If he had to guess, about half their interviews went this way, but they usually had the luxury of doing their interviews over video calls or lengthy email threads. It was always easier to hide their distaste for a potential client when they weren’t looking them in the eye.

“You don’t believe us, do you?” The woman scoffed as she folded her arms and turned away from Isaac.

He remained calm, and kept his expression and his tone as neutral as possible. “...If it helps at all, I rarely believe anyone,” he tried, which was always an easier line than lying about ‘oh how interesting’ their sham of an establishment seemed to be. “How much do you charge per night, again?”

“It’s really haunted,” the manager’s husband piped up in her defence. He was just as loud and aggressive as she had been during the whole conversation, but even worse of an actor. “I’ve seen some incredible things here.”

“Well,” Isaac quickly interjected. “Thank you for your time, and all the information you’ve given us. I’ll look over everything once more, and let you know if we decide to set up a filming schedule with you.”

He turned away without another word, and Beau’s gaze instinctively followed him as he left the frame. Once he was out of the shot, Isaac waved a hand at Beau to signal him that they were finished.

Beau tensed when he saw the motel manager approaching him, so he quickly busied himself with ending the shot and shutting down the equipment.

“You know, we’re a very popular establishment,” she announced from the other side of his camera, arms still folded. “I bet people would tune into your show just to see us. But I don’t even think I want to be a part of your little project if you’re so clearly going to paint us in a negative light.”

Beau let go of the camera and turned to give her his attention, whilst wanting nothing more than to shove his face behind the viewfinder and scamper back into the shadows.

“I assure you,” he started, trying his best to be earnest, “We just document what we experience, and try to be as objective as possible with our findings.”

“Ha!” The manager laughed humourlessly, lifting her head in an over dramatic display. “I hear your little jokes, all your little snide remarks to each other. So unprofessional.”

Beau panicked, terrified to be the one to paint the Paranomads in a bad light if this conversation went wrong. “W-we may joke around and have our own fun with it… But at the end of the day, we’re only sceptical to try and give our findings more value. I promise, we–”

“Beau,” a voice called from behind him. Beau whipped around, thankful for the interruption, the knot in his chest instantly loosening when he saw Isaac was standing aside and waiting for him. “Come here, I need you for something.”

Beau turned and gave an apologetic nod to the owner, before snatching up his camera by the tripod and carrying it over to his host. When it was just the two of them alone, far from the motel owners’ earshots, Beau finally released a heavy, relieved sigh.

“What did you need me for?” He asked as he set the camera back down.

Isaac huffed out a short laugh through his nose. “I needed you to stop getting bombarded by that carny. Did you know your shoulders twitch when you’re stressed? I never noticed it before.”

Beau laughed again, trying to ignore the way his chest filled with heat at the thought of Isaac watching him. “Thank you,” he muttered, then leaned his weight against the camera to rest his tense posture. “So… it’s a ‘no’ for these blokes?”

“Definitely a ‘no’,” Isaac muttered as he pulled out his phone. “I hate it when it’s so obvious from the get-go. No one enjoys that. Despite what everyone assumes, I’d actually like to find something someday. Like, why waste time looking for ghosts in a place like this?”

Beau chuckled and laid his head against his arm where it was slung over the top of his equipment. “Yeah,” he murmured. “Me too. We’ll keep looking.”

“Don’t bother with the rest of the B-roll, then,” Isaac instructed him. “We don’t need to waste our efforts on this–”

Amazing location!” Mark announced gleefully as he rounded the corner into the motel’s front lobby. “Such a creepy vibe – don’t you guys love it?”

Isaac inhaled and slowly turned to look at their manager. Mark stilled and his smile fell, and Beau felt proud that Mark was already starting to learn the difference between Isaac’s blank-faced sleepiness and his blank-faced rage.

“I’d love to leave it,” he bit back as he dropped his phone into the chest pocket of his shirt. “Let’s move on and do something productive with our time, come on.”

Mark skipped forward to touch Isaac’s shoulder before he had a chance to storm back to the bus. Isaac stayed still as requested, and looked at Mark expectantly.

“It’s just, that…” Mark began, visibly cringing at himself as he struggled to find the words. “I thought this place would be a great start for your run of American episodes. It’s incredibly famous, and you’ve even had a few fan requests for it. Plus it’s close, and location is pretty important while we’re on the road.”

Isaac threw a momentary glance at Beau from the corner of his eye, but Beau stayed silent. This had always been Isaac’s call, and he wasn’t about to put himself in the firing line between their new professional producer and his oldest closest friend.

Eventually, Isaac rolled his shoulders back to try and relax himself, then nodded to show he had taken in Mark’s words. “Still no,” he said curtly when he lifted his head. “I’m not about to sacrifice the integrity of our show for convenience. We’ll find somewhere else.”

He turned to walk away again, but Mark’s hand remained, holding him back. Isaac frowned at him.

“I get it,” Mark said with an earnest look, but a firm voice. “And I won’t push it if you’re set on it. But I’ve already done the research on locations that lined up with our availability, and it’s a short list.” He finally lowered his hand, but Isaac’s frown remained hard. “If you want to cancel here, then fine. But then I’ll be booking the next one.”

Isaac’s eyes fell shut and he exhaled slowly. Beau found himself wincing again, just as desperate to be hidden behind his camera as he had been during the interview. After a moment, the host looked down at his feet, then back up to give Mark a cursory nod.

“Fine,” he murmured. “Can I at least see your list, so I can do some research before we arrive at the next location?”

“Yes!” Mark responded, eager and clearly relieved to see some traction. “Absolutely. That’ll surely save us all time and effort in the long run. I’ll give you everything I’ve found so far. Thanks for understanding.”

He gave Isaac a friendly pat on the arm, then turned to jog towards their bus. Beau couldn’t tell if he was really eager to get back to work, or if he was simply seeking refuge away from Isaac’s glare.

When they were alone once more, Isaac dropped his head back to look up at the sky, letting out an audible groan. “Well, that sucks,” he muttered to Beau, but kept his gaze high. “Can’t wait to see where the fuck we end up next.”

“It’ll be alright,” Beau said in a weak attempt to comfort him. Despite his unconvincing tone, Isaac nodded and gave him a joyless smile before making his way back to the bus.

Beau could feel the palpable tension on the bus as Isaac sauntered his bad mood around. Over the years, he had gotten better at not making his anger anyone else’s problem. He didn’t slam things, he didn’t snap at people – if anything, he spoke quieter, and moved slower. But Adelaide and Beau, who had known him intimately for over twenty years, could always tell when something was off.

He could feel it so strongly that it was suddenly very clear when it was gone. He had been talking to Adelaide about something, watching some Tiktok on her phone, when he looked up and realised the tour bus felt extremely quiet. Isaac was definitely gone. Beau turned to look at Adelaide to see if she’d noticed as well, but it seemed that she’d successfully distracted herself with her video feed, and was happily oblivious to the bus’s new atmosphere.

He wandered down to check Isaac’s bed as inconspicuously as he could, then drifted back into the kitchenette when he found nothing. He muttered something about a walk so Adelaide wouldn’t be suspicious of him, then trotted down the front steps to exit the bus.

As soon as Beau set foot on the pavement, he heard the sound of Isaac’s voice coming from close by. He walked quietly down the side of the vehicle, careful not to interrupt Isaac’s one-sided conversation, just listening close enough to see if he would be disrupting anything important or private.

When Beau reached the back of the bus, his friend’s voice became clear enough for him to decipher, enough for him to relax. He couldn’t understand every word of the strained Vietnamese that came from Isaac’s lips, but he could hear the tension in his voice; a recurring theme whenever Isaac spoke in his mother’s tongue.

Now that he knew who Isaac was talking to and that it would be safe to show himself, Beau stopped creeping and stepped to the back of the bus. He found Isaac leaning against a taillight, with his phone held up in front of his face.

As soon as Beau rounded the corner, Isaac glanced up at him, then waved him over with his spare hand.


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