~This episode contains scenes of sexual assault and harassment~
The giant banner stretched all the way across the hotel atrium, the swirly purple lettering twinkling from embedded leds: welcome to fairy con. At last! The promised land. The lobby was already teeming with people, many of them in costume, or at least in con-going garb, letting their geek flags fly. Three little girls dressed as Elsa, Tiana, and Mulan ran across her path, giggling as they went, followed quickly by a harried-looking couple with matching crowns. Elli couldn’t wait to join them in the fun. She tiredly pulled her rolling suitcase across the atrium, her other hand cramping under the weight of the garment bag she held by the hangers. The shoulder bag she’d balanced on top of the suitcase chose that moment to slip off, and she came to a stop to try to rearrange everything. If only fairy wings were actually as weightless as spider silk. Cosplay was a heavy hobby.
To one side of the lobby she could see the immense line to check in to the hotel, to the other, the equally large line at the registration tables for the con. She really wanted to get her badge in time to get to the Steven Universe meet-up, but dragging all her luggage with her was going to be impossible.
Maybe they’d let me just leave the stuff under the registration table? It’s only for a little while. I’d come right back to get it after the meet-up . . .
A male voice came from behind her. “Ahem. Elli?”
She turned to see a near-perfect recreation of Mr. Tumnus from the Narnia movies, except for the fact that he was six feet tall. Cosplay only went so far, after all. “Yes! It’s me! Tyler, is that you?”
“It is.” He stroked his beard. “Like the new whiskers?”
She hugged him, happy to see a familiar face. “Ah, they’re perfect! Are they real or—?”
“They’re real,” he assured her with a warm smile. “My natural color, even. I wasn’t sure if it was you! Last time I saw you, you were wearing a blue wig, and I’m a little face-blind.”
His legs were covered in plush fur, ending in realistic-looking hooves, while on his upper body, all he wore was a ribbon around his bicep and a pan flute on a leather cord. “Oh! Your horns match your hooves! They look real, too!” she exclaimed.
“They are real,” he said, chuckling. “Feel them.”
She reached out and ran her fingertips along the horns sprouting from his forehead. “Where did you get the material? Is it actual bone? And where’s Del?”
“Oh, ah.” He grimaced. “Del and I split up.”
Elli gave him a sharp look. “You mean . . . she’s off seeing the dealer’s room or something, right?”
“No, alas. I mean we aren’t a couple anymore,” Tyler said with a sigh. “I wasn’t even going to come to the con. I’ve been so depressed, and I know I’m going to run into her here. But then I thought maybe getting out of the house would still be the best thing for me. See all my con friends.”
“Like me!” Elli enthused, giving him another hug. “You poor thing.”
“Now, the other reason I came over to see you,” he said, eyeing Elli’s luggage, heaped around her feet. “They told us at the volunteer info meeting that we’re not supposed to block the way.” He bowed at the waist. “May I be of assistance toting your things elsewhere?”
“Oh, yes, um.” Ah, so that’s why the safety-orange ribbon didn’t match the rest of his costume. It designated him as a con volunteer. “I should try to check in to my room and get my badge, but I really want to make it to a meet-up that starts in half an hour. How long do you think that registration line will take?”
“How about this,” he said, picking up the garment bag, slinging it over his shoulder, and exposing his full chest. Elli supposed his copious, curly chest hairs were real, too. “I’ll help you get this stuff over there and then I’ll go hold a place for you in the registration line so you can zip right up.”
“Oh, my goodness, that is so nice of you! But shouldn’t you be helping everyone, not just me?”
Tyler grinned. “My formal volunteer shift doesn’t start for a while yet. I may as well lend you a hand while I can. Where’s the rest of the gang? Are you at the con alone?”
“Yes. Unfortunately.” Don’t think about Ruby, don’t think about Ruby . . .
“And I did volunteer so that I could be helpful!” He led her toward the front desk. “Let’s try to make it happen.”
“You are magic, Tyler.”
Friday night. Finally. Michelle plopped down her bag and things on the kitchen counter and went straight into the bedroom to get dressed and brush out her hair. No girly curls tonight. She was going for the bitch-queen bun. Mistress Buffy was throwing a party, and the only men there would be submissive.
She looked herself over in the mirror. She had been aiming for a sort of boardroom look, with a blazer and pencil skirt over fishnets. But she had missed the mark.
I look like a demented librarian.
On second thought, maybe demented librarian would work. She thickened up her eyeliner...