“Have you been sitting there all night?”
I snap up, my head peeling from the keyboard. Gross. Did I fall asleep here? Again?
“Jules, you’re not going to hear back from them right away. When did they say they were announcing the results?”
My head turns toward Kara, standing in my doorway. She was dressed in her work uniform, tying an apron around her waist.
“I wasn’t looking at that. I promise. I just got in late.” I wipe the saliva from my face, praying that I didn’t mess up my keyboard.
“I don’t know how much I like your overnight shifts at work.” She walks down the hall, her voice becoming more muffled as she talks. “Promise me you won’t obsess over the contest!”
“When have I obsessed over anything?” I yell back.
I got my entry submitted. It only took a small pep talk from Kara that was mostly her yelling and me mixing my tears with digital paint. I sketched, lined, and colored seven poses from a fictional detective story based on one of the episodes from Kara’s favorite podcast.
It’s been two days since I sent everything in, and it’s been torture the entire time. The results aren’t being announced until the end of the month, so I have weeks of waiting ahead.
“And Jules! Do something with your day or I’ll kick your ass again!” Kara’s voice rang through the apartment before the door closed. She is off to work, while I’m stuck here alone with the contest website.
She’s right. I shouldn’t obsess over this.
I refresh the webpage a mere twenty-seven times before getting up and showering. I throw on some clothes and consider what I can do with my day.
My hand instinctively grabs the remote and navigates to the next episode of “Doctor Magician, MD.”
I pour myself a bowl of cereal, a late breakfast, as the credits play. Cliché items used in magic tricks are interspersed with medical tools and surgical equipment.
Aw, man! Are we really out of normal milk? Did I not get some the last time we went grocery shopping? All we have left is Kara’s almond milk. She’ll be pissed if I drink it, but I can’t eat dry cereal. That’s just uncivilized.
I sit down with my ill-gotten cereal as the episode starts.
Two men are running down the sidewalk, chatting about their wives.
“Did you remember Stacy’s birthday?”
“Only barely. I was able to squeeze in a reservation at Grigorio’s for Saturday. Should buy me some time.”
“Hey, hold on, I need a quick break.”
The two stop jogging, one putting his hand on a nearby wall, trying to catch his breath.
“I didn’t think you were getting that old, but I’ve been wrong before.” His friend jokes.
The one catching his breath is having trouble. He can’t breathe.
“Jackson? Are you all right? Jackson!”
Jackson is wheezing heavily, as he clutches his throat. Soon a white bird bursts from his mouth flying off into the sky.
Jackson is immediately able to breathe once it’s gone.
“I think I need to see a doctor,” he says.
“Or maybe a magician,” his friend replies.
Ah, this is a great episode. The return of Dr. Magician’s arch-nemesis, the Plague Wizard. He uses his sleight of hand skills and medical knowledge for chaos.
I crunch down on my breakfast, wondering what I can do to take my mind off my contest. Binging TV shows all day would certainly accomplish that, but then Kara will be upset. I could go out, but where to?
The man from Multiversity Comics enters my head and I feel my face get flushed. I mean, he probably isn’t there. He can’t work there all the time, right?
But what if he is?
I finish scarfing my cereal, then run to my room and quickly put on some shoes and grab my wallet and laptop. As I leave, I turn off the TV.
As I walk down the sidewalk, I consider the sun. It feels pretty good right now. Not too hot, maybe a little bright for my tastes. While I’m used to walking everywhere, I’m also used to walking when I’m more awake.
It takes longer than I expect to get to the comic shop, but the sign appears in my line of sight soon enough.
I enter the front door, the cool air relaxing every muscle in my body. Thank god. I’m probably in terrible shape, seeing as it wasn’t that far of a walk, but man, air conditioning is the bees knees.
“Oh hey! Jules, right?”
Michael calls out from behind the counter. Oh my god. I can’t believe he’s here.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, incredulous.
“I kinda work here,” he smiles. “Did you submit for the contest?”
“Yes! It was good. Very, uh, very good.” What should I do? I can’t leave, he already saw me come in. Plus, I’m really tired. But I can’t handle talking to him without support. Maybe I can buy a single book and leave? Walk a little bit to a café to read and catch my breath? Somehow, I’m blaming Kara for this when she gets home.
“Are you okay? You’ve been standing there silent for like, five minutes.
“…Yes,” I slowly respond, not at all looking like a weirdo. “So, Michael. How long have you been working here?”
Oh god. I’m engaging him in conversation. This is a bad idea.
“Well, since I opened it last month.” He seems to laugh in his tone.
“Oh! So you were here for the opening? How did you get a sweet gig like that? Do you know the owner?”
“I would hope so. You’re looking at him.”
What does that mean? Is there someone else here, or…
“You own this comic shop!?”
“Yeah! Well, I own the business. I rent out the shop space itself.”
“How? Isn’t it expensive to open a business? You’re so young! Getting contracts with wholesalers must be a process, but if you-”
“Slow down, Julie-boy.” He stepped out from behind the counter and crossed over to me when I wasn’t looking.
“It’s a long story. Though, I’m having a problem. You’re the first return customer I’ve had.”
“How? You’re in a great location, especially since you’re so close to the mall.”
“I thought so too, but it isn’t working out that way.” He crosses the store to a gaming table and pulls out the chairs, he gestures to me to sit down.
“That’s insane.” I’m having a normal conversation with him. Oh man, this is so great.
“I’m worried my father was right. He told me there wasn’t a market for comic and game shops anymore. Everything is online.”
He isn’t wrong, I think. I’ve seen a few places shutter up, despite the popularity of superheroics and new games. But others have thrived.
“Well, you got a good idea here. People may be able to order games online, but they need physical places to play them,” I point to the gaming table. “And maybe you just need some buzz, like some local ads, or um…”
“Like discovering a super star artist?” He grins.
“Yeah! That’s be great if you were lucky enough to…”