[If you are playing #TakeAShotOfAlmondMilk, you're going to need a bigger glass. Or, alternatively, just down the whole bottle. I am not even a little sorry. Parts 1 - 3 can be found here if you need to catch up. Thank you for reading!]
[Ps -- The cupcake song is a real thing. It's linked if you want to hear it.]
“We ready?” James asks, sitting down in front of his laptop. He waits for Kira’s nod. He turns to the webcam and types BOO! into the chat attached to the livestream. Where is everyone? Hopefully our internet works. Fingers crossed. So who’s excited to see ASH! Anyone got any questions? He pushes thoughts of Michael aside and pulls a face. It makes him think of cupcake crumbs spraying out of Alexander’s nose. That’s enough to bring out a real smile. He adjusts his hat and stares into the camera.
“How’re ya’ll doing?” he says, using a silly voice Alexander loves. “Everybody good?”
He reads the chat messages as they fly past at breakneck speeds. A couple of people are complaining about the quality of the stream. He looks back at his invisible audience. He keeps the voice going.
“It may not be the best quality in the world, but we sure are doing our best over here with the internet…Ya’ll would think that we’re in the middle of nowhere, but we’re actually in Montreal!”
He twists his face even further, imagining the reaction it would get from Alexander. It makes his heart happy.
In his peripheral vision, he checks out the chat. A few more people are complaining. He catalogues their messages in his head. Lagging, buffering, no sound, no picture, what a waste…
He gestures to Kira that they need to get on the server and sort it all out. She nods and disappears into another room. He returns his focus to the webcam and continues to talk to the invisible audience. He wonders if anyone is even seeing what he is doing, based on the messages in the chat. Irritation begins to creep over him. After his conversation with Michael, the last thing he wants is another problem to deal with. The chat messages increase. Lagging, buffering, no sound, no picture…
What the hell is Kira doing about this?
The livestream shuts down.
Something greater than annoyance twists in his stomach. He tries to turn it back on, but after a few moments, it shuts down again. He takes a steading breath before calling Kira over.
“Yes?” she asks, peering over his shoulder. He tries to remain calm.
“Kira.” He looks up at her. Another person who isn’t doing what they are supposed to. Another person who needs to be coddled. His attempts to remain calm dissipate. “You get what I asked for,” he says, shaking his head. “Test it. You guys didn’t test it. It’s not working. The internet’s not fucking good enough.”
Kira stares at the screen like she can will it to work.
“Did you try changing settings on the laptop?”
Under the weight of Michael’s demons and anxiety over being away from Alexander, he snaps.
“It doesn’t matter! It’s not that; it’s fucking lagging and shutting down.”
He bangs out a message in the chat for the thousands of people waiting for him. Wanting him.
Internet no good. Trying to fix it. Stay tuned.
Kira tries to speak again, but he cuts her off.
“It’s not the settings! Let me…” He stops himself. He knows he’s not being fair. He can’t take things out on everyone else. He lets out a long, suffering sigh and shakes his head. He reminds himself that he promised himself he wouldn’t be this person anymore. He wouldn’t be the kind of man who gets angry over small things. He wouldn’t be the kind of man who loses his temper or goes out looking for a fight. He would be a good role model for Alexander. He would become the infallible hero Alexander thought he was.
“Have you tried refreshing?” Kira asks. Instead of answering her, he takes a deep breath and lists his top ten favourite memories with Alexander. By the time he gets to five – Going to Six Flags one stormy weekend – he feels considerably calmer.
“Just fix it,” he says, though the edge has left his voice. “Please.”
Kira nods and hurries away with his laptop. Bradley pops his head around the corner.
“Hey, sorry, man. I got held up on a call. One of my other clients sent a series of unfortunate tweets last night…” He chuckles and shakes his head. “Is it over?”
James shakes his head. “We’re just having a few internet issues. We’ll be live again in a few.”
“Cool,” Bradley says. “I’ll hang out then. Make sure you don’t say anything too inappropriate.”
He grins and leaves. James watches him go. Irritation and stress still gnaw at his stomach. He thinks about calling Michael. Even though he’d been trying not to see it, trying not to admit it…It was crystal clear. He couldn’t avoid it any longer.
Michael was drinking again.
He pulls out his phone, ready to call him, ready to apologize and beg him to get help. He plans the conversation in his head. Plays out every possible scenario.
It never ends well.
Kira comes back.
“They’re saying that maybe we should try at the venue instead,” she says. She looks tightly wound, like she is expecting another verbal lashing. He feels a little guilty.
Just a little.
“Fine,” he says, returning his focus to his phone. “Just give me enough power to jump on and tell everyone that.”
She nods and turns on his laptop, handing it to him. He takes a deep breath. He can’t let his cracks show. He can’t fall apart. There’s only one person who lets him fall apart, and he’s not here.
He smiles for the camera.
On the way to the venue, James chooses to ride alone. He sits in the back of the car and scans through his emails, but he can’t seem to focus. The words all blur together so he turns off his iPad and tosses it on the seat beside him. He almost regrets his decision to ride alone. At least if Bradley or Kira were there, he wouldn’t be alone with his thoughts. He’d have someone to talk to.
But what I really want is to talk to Michael.
He bites his bottom lip and pulls out his phone. His fingers hover over Michael’s name.
Don’t call him.
His phone vibrates. Another email. He sighs and opens it, expecting to add another thirty thousand things to the list of things he needs to do. Alexander’s face pops up. It’s a video message. He scans the email.
I know you’re busy, but Alexander insisted on sending you this…
Good luck at the screening.
He opens the video. After a few moments of shakiness, the camera is placed on the bench and Alexander’s face comes into view. There’s white powder in his hair.
“We’re making cupcakes!” he squeals, holding up a bowl full of cake batter. “I’m going to save you one, okay? For when you come home!” He puts down the bowl and licks his fingers.
“Ew,” Jenna says. There’s white powder in her hair, too. “Nobody is going to want to eat your cupcakes now! Go wash your hands.”
Alexander giggles and hops off the bar stool. James hears him running towards the bathroom.
“Sorry to bother you all the time,” Jenna says, staring into the camera. “He is just so taken by you. I thought an email would be less invasive than a phone call. Anyway. Have a great screening.” She smiles. Alexander comes bounding back into frame.
“Is he gone?” he asks, staring into the camera. “Can he see me?”
Jenna laughs. “It’s a recording, silly. I’ll send it to him when we’re done. Now say goodbye.”
Alexander grins at the camera. “Goodbye, James! I’ll sing you a song so you don’t feel sad that you’re gone, okay?” He dramatically clears his throat.
“You're my honey-bunch, sugar plum
You're my sweetie pie
You're my cuppycake, gumdrop
Snoogums, boogums, you're
The apple of my eye
And I love you so
And I want you to know
That I'll always be right here
And I want to sing
Sweet songs to you
Because you are so dear...”
“That was beautiful, Alexander,” Jenna says, reaching for the camera. Her long, red hair fills the screen as it falls over the lens. The shakiness returns. The camera faces the ground, filming their shoes. Jenna’s voice is muffled. “I’ll send it to him, okay? Now let’s get these cupcakes made.”
“We have to save one,” Alexander says. “We have to save one for Jam—”
The recording stops.
James stares at his phone, hits save video, and watches it on a repeat loop until he arrives at the venue.
Later, once they manage to get the internet to cooperate, James makes an appearance on livestream. After his fourth laughing fit in front of the camera, James wipes his eyes, smiles, and says to his invisible audience, “I’m sorry. I’m drunk on vegan cupcakes.”