Sunday, September 23, 2018

Guard Me Sherlock

Alrighty. Remember how I thought I'd take another stab at Guard Me Sherlock after the combined Dear Otome app from the Shall We Date? people came out? No? Well, I did. And I'd decided that I would refrain from passing judgements on a game until completing at least one route. Because sometimes, one route is utter crap and in the Wheel of Fortune of life, I often seem to pick those first. I dunno why.

So. Yeah. There's a few things I like about this one and a lot of stuff I don't. Your mileage may vary. At this point, I've nearly completed three routes: Inspector Lestrade, John Watson (Season 1), and am nearly done with their current release of Edward Hyde (of Dr. Jekyll & Dr. Hyde fame).

What I like about it...the heroine is pretty plucky and proactive and has opinions of her own and the guys all treat her like an intelligent asset to whatever investigation is going on.

Um...that's mostly it.

Okay, not entirely. In the one route that I enjoyed (John Watson), the story was pretty engaging and mostly made sense (kind of). The characters had some chemistry together and it was nicely romantic.

But, apparently there are two types of stories in this app -- the earlier (?) ones where it's one character on a route (like the John one). And then these later ones (like the Edward Hyde one I'm on now and the Inspector one) where it's sort of like pitting the character you're after vs. Sherlock...except there's no way to actually pick Sherlock? It doesn't really make sense. And it winds up quite annoying as Sherlock sort-of vies for your affection at the same time as the other dude but correct character answers only lead in one direction. I'm not sure if they were going for a Love Tangle type of quandary but it really just doesn't work.

After I finished the Edward Hyde one, IF I play another route, it'll only be the single character things. The other ones are too annoying.

Anyway, things that I don't like...

A random example screen. The reason I had chosen the Inspector (centre) as my first route was because he was the most attractive option out of what was available. But he's kind of a bumbling idiot. And a couple of the dudes look more like ladies (like Hercule over there). Which I don't mind, but then I'd rather they were ladies that looked like ladies. And there's a kid who's supposed to be the landlord (?? in London? hahaha) and there's a route for him too? Grown up a bit but, yeah, it's kinda weird

The artwork is...well...kind of crap. Most of the guys don't look attractive at all. Mycroft is probably the worst. I literally cannot imagine a situation where I would try his route. All other otome games and routes have mysteriously disappeared from the world? I dunno. Of course, it doesn't help that he's pretty jerky, which is how he's always portrayed too? Bleh. And half of your options are really bad guys (Moriarty and his henchmen who, you know, kill people...)

And besides the normal gacha stuff, the point thing you have to do is sort of stupid and annoying and very slow. It's like a hide and seek where you just randomly click things and get these "kiss points" and then you have to click the character to "kiss" him and earn points/tokens. It's hard to earn enough of the points/tokens this way. Takes forever AND is boring.

Then they throw this extra bonus thing in where they randomly insert little brain teasers into the storyline where you can earn extra stuff or tokens/cash. They break up the story, which is annoying, but also most of them are kind of stupid. I realise they were going for something to tie into the Sherlock / Solve a Mystery thing but it's so random that it's very off-putting. Take the last one I did...they were literally running away from someone who wanted to bodily harm them but somehow they have time to stop for a random quiz? Like, really?

Then there's the stories don't make much sense and they aren't very clever. Take the Edward Hyde one. You're an actress and you go to Sherlock because you're engaged to a man and you think maybe he's not what he seems. An old acting friend (Edward) shows up and sort of goes all crazypants and destroys the room when he finds out you're Gilbert's (?!) fiancé because he's seen Gilbert do sketchy things. Anyway, everyone gathers together to investigate because, I guess, it's not enough for you to just hear that the dude is sketchy + your gut feeling.

As you investigate, it becomes pretty clear that the dude is sketchy as all hell. Though, to be fair, so is your good friend Edward. But we're supposed to like him, even though he's randomly violent and uncontrollable. There's a big scene at Gilbert's house where dude is literally acting all evil, polite mask removed, etc. and trying to freaking KILL you. You escape with some evidence on a USB stick. But why the F-ettyF do you even need to see what's on the USB? Dude just tried to KILL you all. With a knife. And extreme malice. But she's all, oh good now I have evidence and can break off my engagement lalala. It's just so stupid.

Anyway. Can't say that I particularly recommend this one. They also set the thing in London and then get stuff wrong about the city all the time (especially directionally and distance-wise). That annoys me, since it's my city.

Though, the John Watson route was decent. It wasn't groundbreakingly noteworthy, but it was nice. So, I guess, I'd say this app is ok...if you stick to the single character routes and not the weird Sherlock vs. someone ones.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

About Time

So, after watching What's Wrong with Secretary Kim (the first K-drama I actually really liked it), I was excited to try a new one. I started watching A Witch's Love with the little dude (as it seemed a bit goofy, which is the kind of stuff we like to watch together) and About Time (aka A Moment I Want to Stop) by myself.

Just finished it this morning and wanted to get my thoughts down. I was intrigued by the premise initially -- Choi Mika (played by Lee Sung Kyung), a woman who can see the lifespan clocks of everyone she meets (including herself), is facing her last days. She's running out of time and she can see it slowly ticking away. She meets a man, Lee Do Ha (Lee Sang-Yoon) who seems to have the ability to stop her clock from moving forward. Will he change her fate? Will they fall in love? Will there be a happily ever after? Can there be a happily ever after when, in her experience, nothing can be done to change your clock?

Things are, of course, complicated by a number of factors. But you knew that. To begin with, she's not sure exactly how or why or when he is affecting her clock. At first, it just seems to stop when she's near him (and that distance is variable). Then, once they get closer, it even adds time. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly (this is one of the areas where the mythology of the piece is a bit iffy; it's inconsistent and never really explained and obviously used purely for heightening tension within the plot...which I'm fine with in general, but sometimes it was a bit clumsy and too-convenient plot-wise). And how does a musical actress get close to a richy-rich third generation chaebol? And one that is engaged, no less? And has anxiety issues (due to a very bad past breakup experience)? And has quite possibly one of the most contemptible families in history (well, the dad and one brother, anyway)? And...and...and...there's a lot of complications. Not the least of which is getting close to this prickly man at all.

Let me just stop and say here that overall I really did like this one. The acting, other than a few hiccups in the early episodes, was very good. I enjoyed it, even the heartwrenching moments (of which there were many). The supporting cast was fairly well developed (other than a couple of things I'll talk about later). It was good. I'll look out for other things by these actors. I wanted to say that up front because now I'm going to break down the things that didn't work as well for me and I have to admit that it's likely because I'm a writer and stuff like this gets under my skin. But it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy this one. In fact, it's because I enjoyed it that the bits that were off are nagging at me.

The arc with the nice older brother of Do Ha was a good one, though sad (though his death seemed to come too soon based on how much time she'd said he had left on his there was a time jump of sorts that wasn't really explained, especially as all the other ongoing plot threads didn't seem to jump as well.). The digression into the romance between Mika's best friend and younger brother seemed to have been inserted to lighten the dramatic tension and was welcome because of that--there did need to be some laughs in-between the intense crying scenes or it would have been far too depressing. The stuff with the babyfaced genius director sometimes went on a little long, but that was partly because the writers were setting him up as a red herring of sorts as a potential love interest (more on that in a minute).

There are 16 total episodes in this drama. It's possible that there were about 2 too many or 2 too few. The first few, setting up the premise and characters, move at a decent pace. The middle sometimes drags, but is mostly okay. The end is where things fall apart.

There are two major plot threads that are working to keep them apart.

The most straightforward one is the fiancé, Bae Soo-Bong (Im Se-Mi), who at first is playing hard to get (it's an arranged marriage type of thing and she's turned down Do Ha's proposal, like, ten times) and then morphs into absolute batshit crazypants "If I can't have him, I'll destroy us all" territory. Im Se-Mi does this well and Do Ha's father is her willing accomplice (seriously, he's a terrible dad...the writers kept trying to throw out little redemption tidbits for him but, no, he's just awful). But then...after ramping up the stakes again and again with both Soo-Bong and the dad, it's resolved FAR too easily. Soo-Bong, after one last desperate plea for attention, is about to commit suicide. Mika and Do Ha stop her (Mika having been alerted by Soo-Bong's clock wavering between 54 years or 2 minutes). And then...she just kind of gives it up. Returns the rings. Stops all of the intense business bullying, etc. Basically disappears as an obstacle in the space of 20 minutes. It was too sudden, especially as the father as an obstacle (threats of disowning Do Ha, etc. etc.) aren't even MENTIONED at all. There's no resolution there. When you finally do see the dad again, they are simply having yet another uncomfortable family dinner. There were no repercussions. There was also no resolution of evil big brother either. The only movement there is that you see that his wife gains a little independence and confidence by the end of the series.

I mean, I realise why they did this. They were, hahaha, running out of time and they had to wrap up the main plot thread--Mika and Do Ha's fated love story. But it bugs me because it felt lazy. They should have either toned it down and wrapped it up more neatly OR expanded it out and done it properly.

So, anyway, the main obstacle, of course, is that once Mika discovers that she is stealing time from Do Ha (he had 61 years to start with, while she had about 80 days), she feels she has to run from him. She can't kill the man she loves. But she doesn't tell him this, instead drawing it out over a number of episodes as she keeps trying to give him excuses ("I don't like you." "I made it all up.") to push him away but he keeps pursuing her. All of that was fine, story-wise. It was painful to watch, but it works. That's the story. That's their love; while it may have started under strange circumstances, they are both the kind of people who put others in front of themselves. She doesn't tell him that the reason she is running from him is because she is taking his time because she KNOWS that he would be all too willing to give it.

Once he discovers her deception, that is what he wants to do. Of course it is. But she, of course, can't accept that because she loves him just as completely as he loves her. They come to a compromise of sorts (and all of this pretty much plays out over the last 3 episodes--rush, rush, rush) where she promises not to run and he promises to stay far enough away while she acts the leading role in a musical (I didn't talk at all about all the stuff going on with the musical...and I'm not going to even though it's a huge part of the story because, ultimately, it's part of the vehicle of the plot but it isn't the driving force and I've already written too much about this). But, he says, after it is done, she has to "do things his way." Well, you and I know that there's no way she'll do that. I don't know why Lee Do Ha thinks for a minute that she will. But I suppose love--and hope--are blind.

Predictably, closing night comes. She is down to a small amount of time. A handful of days. Lee Do Ha takes her hand. He makes sure to cover her clock and his, hoping that if she can't see it, she won't focus on it. They spend a nice day & night together. He is blissful. She, on the other hand, is enjoying it like an inmate on Death Row enjoys his last meal. And the first chance she gets to see her clock, she does. And there it is, rapidly sucking away his days. Remember how I said up above how it was annoying that there was no consistency with how the time passes between them? Sometimes it was just seconds passing by at normal this point it was days getting sucked up. After she (of course) runs and he (of course) finds her (with the help of her mom because, once mom finds out what's up (of course) she's going to do everything she can to prolong her daughter's life), there's the dramatic scene where the years are passing from his clock to hers over the space of seconds. She's panicking. They are in the street. They both get hit by a truck.

An effing truck. She apparently has really bad luck with cars (her grandmother saved her from one and sacrificed herself).

Which, by the way, you freaking knew was going to happen because the preview at the end of the last show TOLD YOU IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. That kinda pissed me off. Anyway. Way to spoil the dramatic moment.

And here is the most annoying thing. Oh no, she's thinking as they lie there bleeding in the street, after all of this and I've killed him, oh woe, what kind of fated love is this? Then it cuts to her in a hospital bed. She wakes up. Looks at her clock. We don't know if she can see it or what the number is or anything--a blaze of light as the door to her room opens and....CUT to a new scene.

Okay, remember how I said they'd given little red herring hints of the Director being a possible love interest? They tried to shove that in here in the last episode as a little gotcha thing (I get it, I get it, as a writer I get it, but it really pissed me off). It's too disjointed. And unsatisfying. And rushed.

She's dancing and it looks like a scene from early on when the Director who has turned her down for casting a couple of times sees her performing for herself and tells her some kind words (sort of; he's snarky because he thinks a lot of himself). Same song as the first one at her first audition. Same song as the first time she wound up kissing Lee Do Ha. I appreciate the symmetry, I do. But the execution is a bit clumsy. It's too long and you feel like you're in just another random flashback (there are SO many flashbacks in this, like they don't trust you to remember things on your own and have to force feed it to you) and when you finally get to the point where you figure out it isn't a flashback but possibly some new future and are they are pushing Director boy but then finally Lee Do Ha enters the scene and you're like oh FFS. At least I was. Then it goes into all these other little wrap-up scenes: the ex-fiancé having dinner with a new man, the younger brother & best friend sharing time, that uncomfortable family dinner of the Lee family, a visit where Lee Do Ha finally meets Mika's dad...and I'm like, okay, great, you tried to do a brief fakeout and then you go into the epilogue, basically, but just tell me what happened already, would you? The pacing was just all over the place in the last episode. Too fast, too slow. It was both satisfying and not at the same time. They do finally come back to it, him opening the hospital door, them both having survived being hit by a truck and her ability to see clocks gone.

But they just left that hanging there. The viewer is left not knowing how much time they have left. They don't know either. And that's not necessarily a bad ending but it felt unsatisfying, especially when one of the wrap up scenes is with Madame Oh (who also can see clocks) and you SEE HER LOOKING AT MIKA'S CLOCK but then they don't tell you. I'd rather they either left it alone OR gave it a concrete resolution. Like the most likely thing would be that the time he had had been split between them. Or, (more happily but less likely from a world building point of view), they now both had the same amount of time (some 60 years).

And there was the stuff thrown in at the end about all of the fated lover stuff that I'd already guessed WAY early on -- when Mika's grandmother had died after saving her from a car accident, it had been Lee Do Ha as a child in the car and how it was him bumping into her on the street that had first made her clock visible to her -- they threw it out there but then didn't really do anything with it.

Yeah. So. I feel like I've complained a lot about this one. Mostly it comes down to the last episodes feeling rushed and incomplete. It could have gone longer...or shorter, if they'd wrapped up some of the fiancé angst earlier. I dunno. There are definitely things I would have done differently. But maybe some of this is also a cultural thing for the Korean audience? I'm not sure. The first few K-dramas I tried I found really unwatchable. I'm not Korean and I'm likely far too Westernized, even if I am half-Chinese. Watching things like this is almost a surreal experience. Some of it I identify with so much and other things feel so foreign. Being half something is sometimes hard. It's a foot each in two worlds.

BUT to sum up...I more liked it than not. The actors really were excellent and they all grew on me. Especially Lee Sang-Yoon--he was so stiff in the beginning but then once he warmed up, was just lovely. Also like that in real life he majored in Physics. I feel a little sad that I wrote up all of this nitpicky stuff when I did like it so much--mostly because of the cast. Viewer's guilt? Well, this blog is just for me anyway. I write things for myself to remember them and I do want to remember this one. I am disappointed but still happy that I watched it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Brain dead

Today I had to take my random scribbles of story notes (much of which, to be honest, were just half-formed thoughts in my head that I'd never bothered to write down at all) and turn them into brief descriptions of 4 books that do not yet exist for two different series. My brain is now officially fried. And I really wish I could drink more than one coffee a day without getting shaky. But, it's done! Yay, me!

And, hopefully, what I wrote up makes a modicum of sense. I think it did. Not entirely sure. Will find out soon. The agent said it looked good. But he was also on his way to the airport and drowning in last minute tasks and emails. :)

Also started A Witch's Love (another Kdrama) and watched it on the train into London. Not liking it as much as What's Wrong with Secretary Kim, but I'm waiting to see how it develops. The one thing I've learned about Kdramas so far is that you have to give it a few episodes to decide...well, unless it's truly horrible. I think I'm partly confused as to who the love interest is. And disappointed that it seems like it's going to be yet another childhood trauma storyline. Surely they can't ALL go there, right?

It was little dude's big test day today so I bought him some manga as a reward for getting through it. And myself a book on how to make comics. Hadn't mentioned before, but the editor of my third book emailed me and asked if I was interested in doing a proposal for a graphic novel for them.

Um, hell yeah I'm interested in doing a graphic novel!

It'd be a re-telling of a classic story (something like Shakespeare) but with multicultural aspects and brought into a modern-day setting. It'd obviously just be the story part, with someone else illustrating as, while I enjoy drawing, I can't draw characters consistently. I can maybe draw it once, but it ain't never gonna come out the same again. Going to meet a friend next week who's done graphic novels before and pick his brain on how you structure the manuscript. While I've read lots of graphic novels (manga included, obviously), I've never written one before. I think I'm fairly well suited for it, as my main strength when writing YA is dialogue. So crossing fingers. Also nice that I only need to do a synopsis/outline rather than having to write the entire thing out AND that she's not in a rush as hopefully I'll have some good news / steady work shortly.

So things looking up and good timing, as with summer over and little dude back in school, it's back to work for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?

Ah, I've made it through summer break and a few rounds of guests (not going to get into the MIL visit because I don't even want to think about it) and now the little dude is back in school. I have news but I don't even want to write about it (mostly) anonymously here as I don't want to jinx myself. Hopefully I can talk about it in a week or so. Until then, I am a bundle of nerves.

So...let's talk about What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?

I'd pretty much given up on finding a Kdrama that I liked after a few attempts (like with A Gentleman's Dignity), even though I kept hearing good things about them. But I kept seeing bits about this one and then someone mentioned how the main guy character was like a combination of Zen and Jumin  (and he totally seemed that way from the, stuck on himself businessman who actually has a good heart) so I thought I'd try it out.

And I love it. Loved it. Just finished it today.

Okay, it's still a bit like watching a live action anime with some funny/silly sound effects but here it wasn't annoying. It was just cute. The acting was MUCH better and both the leads and the supporting cast were really excellent.

But let me start over.

Kim Mi So (the secretary in question) has been working for 9 years for the young and handsome Vice Chairman of a huge corporation. He's a HUGE narcissist. When she suddenly tells him that she wants to resign, he's thrown for a huge loop. Why would she do such a thing? He's determined to keep her by his side. At first, you think it's just for superficial reasons, but you soon have hints that there's something much deeper going on and that there's a history between them.

That history is...well...a bit convoluted. Maybe unnecessarily dramatic, but I suppose they don't call these Korean DRAMAS for nothing. I actually wouldn't have minded if all of the past trauma stuff has been taken out and it had been a simple love story between the two of them -- characters from such different backgrounds and circumstances -- BUT, that said, I didn't mind it because it was handled fairly well and all the loose ends were wrapped up and it even wound up making sense. Mostly. That part did drag on quite a bit in the middle episodes (there are 16 total).

The humour was great and I absolutely loved the supporting cast, even the over-acting of Section Chief Se Ra. Secretary Yang, her love interest, was adorable and altogether too pure for this world. The best friend of the Chairman was hilarious and I'd love to see him again in anything. All of the side stories were tied up AND satisfying in their own right. Even the sisters of Secretary Kim were done well and I was worried they were just going to be foils in the beginning.

I'm sad it's over.

It was all so very adorably awkward and sweet.

And GAH I want to talk about all the other things going on in my life right now but I can't at the moment, not even here, so that'll be me done for the day. At least I can say, hey, I'm back! Summer break is over!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Dear Otome

So, the Shall We Date? people did a combined app similar to Love 365. Well, kind of. It doesn't have all their games, but it does have a lot of them and basically you use it to switch between apps (and can delete the standalone apps once you've imported everything). So, yeah, not really like Love 365 at all except for making it more of a one-stop shop. Kudos to them: they made it a SUPER simple process to set up without having to put in codes or whatnot. Just click and done. And it has cleaned up my phone since I was playing 3 of the games pretty regularly (Ninja Shadow, Love Tangle, and Blood & Roses). The other games in Dear Otome are Wizardess Heart, Lost Alice, and Guard Me Sherlock, all of which I had tried and stopped playing.

Caesar's got a lot going on here.
I'll be honest. I previously pretty much totally detested Wizardess Heart when I tried it. But, somehow, with the combined thing, I found myself trying it out again. Some people on reddit had said the later stuff was better too (when she's no longer new to the magic school but has become a prefect and had a hand in solving all the problems that pop up). So I'm trying out the latest new release (Caesar -- Prince of the Filthy World (er...what????!@£!? Huh?)...a dude with a curse and lotsa secrets and any time anyone kisses him...he turns into a pig. Honestly, the whole thing was just so out there I thought I'd give it a go.

I am a bit weirded out that he looks like a girl. He reminds me of Kashima from Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, the princely girl character. What's up the bellybutton, man? I guess he's just drawn that way... Big hands,, whatever. I'm down with androgynous characters but how he acts doesn't really match his look. He's kinda dodgy.

Anyway, it is better than the routes I'd tried before. I'd still say that I'm not impressed with it in general and I'm not sure why I'm bothering to play it. I did like that this route starts off with him confessing after they've already known each other a long time so there wasn't all the dilly-dallying about. But...yeah, I think I'm too old for the teenage hijinks in this one in general. Even if I do write for teens.

Anyway, I picked up Lost Alice and Sherlock again too. Trying out Aldo (newest release) in Lost Alice and it is also better than the original route I'd tried (which was, I think, one of their first). Like, the writing actually makes sense whereas it really didn't before. The art is still lovely. The MC is relatively plucky and proactive. So I might stick with it. It's a bit of a grind-y pain though as it is hard to earn the in-game coins to progress. Sherlock...well, the MC is okay, which is what I thought before, but there's something about most of the art that really turns me off. Sherlock and Mycroft are hideous. sum this is rambling all over the place...their combined app does make the games easier to play, was easy to set up, and accomplished what they wanted (I'm now playing more of their games). Though it also serves to highlight the imbalance in some of their games. Love Tangle, which still annoys me, but is also the easiest game by far to progress in -- easy to earn in-game coins, more dresser space than you can throw a stick at or some other clichéd saying that makes more's why I haven't stopped playing it. I contrast that with Ninja Shadow where I am always out of dresser space and Lost Alice, where it's going to take me days to earn enough coins to unlock the next bit. I do spend money on these games sometimes, but I won't do it until I'm sure I'm going to play it awhile and I want to support the particular game, and I'm still deciding on Lost Alice. Is that bad? Like, I won't spend money on Love Tangle but I will on Ninja Shadow? Ah, well. That's me.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Audible Magic, Take Deux

After a bit of feedback, here's the (current) updated and complete version of the story (see here for the first draft). I don't have to post it until the 1st, so I might still fiddle with it a bit. It still has a few rough bits, but considering what it's for (and the other work that's piling up, it's probably about as done as it is going to be). It wound up close to 4000 words. I'm quite liking the characters. I wish I had more time with them.

If I hadn't mentioned it before, this story was written because of a yearly bet I have with a few other authors (Catherine Ryan Hyde and Brian Farrey + some others over the years) around the Kentucky Derby. I lost again, as I do every year, and thus had to write a story with a title given to me by someone else. The story from two years ago wound up turning into a book that's currently out for consideration with Scholastic. I wouldn't mind if this one turned into something bigger, though it's gotta wait in the queue. There's at least two other things I need to finish first.

Anyway, I'd been working on two different fantasy books (one middle grade and one YA) so I thought it would be nice to do something different and go real world for once. Let's be honest; I can generally only write realistic fiction in short bursts. I prefer fantasy and paranormal, though I do tend to at least ground the YA in the real world. So, the title led me to thinking about what audible magic would be and I immediately thought of music. Because music is life. Heck, music was an important part of my fourth book and also the YA I'm working on now. And, since I like to twist things around and approach things backwards/widdershins/sideways... 

Audible Magic

I’ve known Becky since I was seven. She’s been talking me into things for fifteen years. Things like moving to the city without finding a job first, dying my hair purple, and that very ill-advised tattoo of a twerking penguin that I will never, ever let my dad see.

She knew me back when I played tuba in our middle school band, back when I thought I was the coolest girl on the block for being able to dah dah dah dum da da dum da da dum out a recognizable version of the Imperial Death March. Back when you couldn’t find me without my Beats on. A lifetime ago.

We’d gone to our first concert together when we were thirteen. All the other girls were mad over One Direction but not us—we were above that. No big box stadium shows for us. No boy bands. No, we snuck into some dive of a bar to listen to a band so bad that they wound up splitting up on stage because the bass player was falling down drunk and was, apparently, sleeping with both the lead singer and the drummer. I can still remember the smell of the beer and the sweat of the crowd. The smell of doing something you weren’t supposed to.

Yeah, Bec can talk me into anything. She can even talk me into things like going to a concert I have no desire to go to.

But she was right. I had promised. And the tequila had definitely had something to do with it, but also the twinkle in her eye whenever she talked about Tom. Bec had incredibly bad taste in men and the jury was still out on him, at least as far as I was concerned. Sure, she’d met him at the grocery store instead of on Tinder, but he wore his baseball cap backwards and he worked in finance. It wasn’t promising. He’d been there buying avocados and granary bread.

Bec was only fifteen minutes late picking me up, which didn’t leave her any time to make me change out of my most comfortable pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt. She was wearing a little black dress and some thigh-high boots. She eye-rolled hard at me, swiped some heavy black eyeliner along my eyes, and twenty minutes later she was pushing me to the front of the line at some club I’d never heard of. Clubs weren’t my thing. Too dark to see who you’re with. Too many people. Too much.

The bouncer was huge, with a nose like a potato. He held up a hand to stop Bec’s full frontal assault and pointed at first us and then somewhere in the vicinity of the back of the line. It snaked down the block. I couldn’t even see the end of it.

Bec just smiled at him and pulled two lanyards with passes out of her bag. She threw one around my neck and put one on her own. No telling how she’d managed to pull those. It was nearly always better not to ask. I wasn’t the only one that Bec could talk into things.

The guy that had been first in line didn’t look very happy with us. I smiled at him and gave the universal shrug of sorry dude, what can you do, amiright?

The bouncer poked me in the shoulder and I jumped.

“Hey, man,” said Bec, signing to me at the same time, “don’t get handsy. She didn’t hear you. She’s deaf.” She turned to me and signed I.D. show.

I nodded and pulled my driver’s license out of my pocket and held it out to him. He tilted his head to the side as he looked at it, then said something to Bec that I couldn’t catch any of.

She pursed her lips at him, signing her answer at the same time. “Yeah, she can drive. She’s deaf, not blind.” I hoped she hadn’t also said the idiot she’d added onto what she’d signed to me. He was way too large to insult.

He bent over to peer at me like I was a bug under microscope. “Can you read my lips?” he asked.

That phrase right there is one of the only ones I can consistently lip read from a stranger, but only because I’ve been asked so many times.

“No,” I said. I can lip read Bec a good deal of the time, since I know her so well, though I don’t have to since she’s been signing with me for years. She learned it along with me. Half the time I know what she’s going to say before she says it. But other people? Not so much. Especially since the hipster trend took over and every other guy out there had a porcupine growing on his chin or a handlebar mustache that belonged back in the Wild West.

He stared at me, processing that. I got the feeling his job didn’t normally require him to do much thinking. And he probably didn’t get a lot of deaf people coming to shows, not at a club like this. The chance of a place this size having an interpreter was slim to none. He finally spoke. “_____ how ___ ___ know what __ ____ ____?” That was all I got from his lips, but I could guess what the rest of it was.

“Because everyone asks me that,” I said. Seriously. If I had a dollar…

I could even guess what he was going to say next, but this time he turned his attention back to Bec like I wasn’t even there.

Now she was starting to look pissed and I was starting to regret that she’d talked me into coming. “And what exactly are deaf people supposed to sound like?” she told him. Yeah, he’d asked what I thought he would. I wasn’t sure why she was getting so wound up about it though. I’d had this conversation about a million times before and she’d been there for many of them. It was annoying, but it was normal.

“Bec,” I said sweetly, “Tom’s already in there waiting, right? Can we go in now?” I smiled up at the bouncer. Full charm. Lots of teeth. I wasn’t going to go into the full story for his benefit. How I’d lost my hearing when I was a teenager. How I could still remember what the sound of my voice was like. I remembered how it felt to speak, the feel of my tongue against my teeth, the breath in my lungs, the movement of my lips. How I practiced enunciating every word now. How people told me I sounded more like a news announcer than like I’d used to.

I’d gone deaf, not stupid. I could do anything the big dumb bohunk could do, other than hear. And throw people across a room. I wasn’t really sized for that.

Some of what I was thinking must have come through, because he shuffled uncomfortably out of our way and waved us in. I grabbed Bec and pulled her through the door and into Hell.

At least, that’s what it felt like. The cool night air, gone, replaced by a stagnant, almost antiseptic smell layered over with perfume and alcohol. It was dimly lit, tiny puddles of reddish light from uselessly artsy light fixtures around the outside edge, while the center of the large room pulsed with flashing strobe lights. There was a bar at one end of the space and a stage at the other. Clusters of tables and booths on one side, but not nearly enough for the number of people that were already inside. How were they going to fit the rest of the people in line? How were we going to find Tom? Why had I let her talk me into coming? She knew I hated crowded spaces filled with strangers.

One of my questions was answered almost immediately. Bec made a beeline across the room, dragging me with her. Her guy-dar was on full throttle. She’d spotted Tom all the way across the room standing near one side of the stage. At least he wasn’t wearing the hat today.

He was two-handed with drinks, sipping something whiskey-brown out of a glass in one hand and holding a blue martini with a plethora of fruit sticking out of it in the other. It looked like a Bec kind of drink. She was surprisingly frou-frou. The more things poking out of it, the better. He handed the concoction to her with a smile as we came up to him.

“You remember Callie?” she said to him and gave him a very unsubtle elbow in the side. He smiled and waved at me and managed to sign a passable how are you to me. Okay, he had potential. More than Bec’s normal picks, anyway. The last guy she’d dated wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

Good I signed back, saying it out loud at the same time. I didn’t want to make him work too hard.

“Great spot,” Bec said, nodding at the stage. “Right, Callie?”

“Perfect.” Whatever. I pointedly spent some time looking at the instruments on the stage as she got down to greeting him in a more personal manner. There was a well-loved bass guitar on a stand right in front of us, a couple of faded stickers decorating it. Drum kit, center stage towards the back. A red guitar on the other side. A single microphone down front, another guitar next to it. Huge black speakers on either side on stands. No fancy set dressing. Just the instruments. Well, you couldn’t say we’d changed much since we were young, though this club was both better and worse than that dive bar we’d gone to for our first foray into live music. I’d bet the drinks were a lot more expensive here, that was for sure.

The house lights flashed. I looked around and saw that the room had filled up even more. It was a wall of people behind us, undulating like a beast, like they were one body with many arms and legs and mouths. It was even hotter now, like a wave of heat washing over me. Hell. Seventh level.

I looked at Bec, ready to make a face at her but she was smiling at me, so happy. I couldn’t do it. “Showtime!” she said. Love you she signed to me. Ready? Dance you me. She pointed to the stage and then flung an arm around Tom’s waist, hips already ready to go. No one loved to dance as much as Bec.

 I turned back to the stage, putting the crowd at my back, trying to pretend they weren’t there. The band was coming out. All guys. But there was no way they were a boy band; not unless boy bands had gone sexy and dangerous since I’d paid any attention to them. Harry Styles eat your heart out.

The bass player was dressed like me, t-shirt and jeans, though somehow, they managed to not look basic on him. Maybe it was the hair. It was long-ish and tied back in a ponytail. No facial hair, unlike the lead singer, who was sporting a full-on hipster beard. I wouldn’t be lip-reading him. The drummer was tattooed and shirtless. The guitar player had on tight leather pants and some shiny shirt. Silk? God, he had to be melting in the heat.

I could feel the crowd behind me now as they clapped and shouted and stomped. Like a heartbeat. A drum beat. No, that was the drum beat. The drummer had started playing. And the bassist too. A line, a thread…it vibrated inside me, a drawn out thrumming I could feel in my chest. In my bones. Boom. Boom. Boom. The speakers were quivering. So was I.

Boom. Bah Bah Boom. Like a race car had suddenly let loose inside my veins, gone screaming through the bends of my heart and come out the other side. I could feel the music. It was there. Like I could reach out and touch it. Cradle it. Take it inside me, but I didn’t need to. It was already there.

I put my hands on the stage in front of me, near one of the speakers and closed my eyes. Yes. There it was, the pulse of the song. I stayed that way, nodding my head in time to the music, feeling it all the way down to my toes, like I was inside the song. A minute, forever, too long, not enough, I wasn’t sure and then the song was over. I opened my eyes as the thrumming left me. The singer was talking. I didn’t know about what. I didn’t care. He should shut up and sing.

I tapped Bec on the arm. “I was in the song,” I said but she shook her head and cupped her hand to her ear. The crowd was too loud. She couldn’t hear me. Song I signed. Music I am. Was I making sense? Beautiful! I didn’t care. Feel music inside. Boom. Boom. My hand to my chest. She smiled at me and laughed. Good good she signed. Did she get it? Did she understand?

We could talk about it later. Another song was starting.

I closed my eyes and this time I leaned into the stage, wishing I could take my shoes off and feel it even more, from the soles of my feet up. I didn’t know what the song was, but I did at the same time. It felt like I remembered. It felt like music and freedom and doing something you shouldn’t but you oh-so-should.

I kept trying to explain it to Bec between songs, but I wasn’t sure she could understand. I feel too she signed. Band good. Song good.

It wasn’t good. It was amazing. It was magic.

Bec touched my arm. Last song. Too soon. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Next band half hour she continued. I felt like I could stand here all night, so long as the music kept going. A half hour felt like forever away. Drink?

Okay, I signed. Bar you me drinks. But not yet. Not until after the last song. Shut up. Feel-me-need. I pointed to the stage. Words weren’t enough. She laughed and nodded and went back to Tom. He was doing the white man dance and I didn’t even care.

The last song began and this time I kept my eyes open, wanting to take it all in. The drummer, sweat shining on him, making his tattoos glisten in the lights. The guitar player, down on his knees, head thrown back. The lead singer, cradling the microphone like a lover. I wished I knew what the words were. Man, I didn’t even know what kind of music this was. It felt like rock. It could be punk. It could be anything. It didn’t matter. It was music. I’d ask Bec later.

And the bassist—I looked up at him to find him staring down at me with his dark eyes like he’d been waiting for me to notice him. He smiled as our eyes caught. He took a step or two toward me and then knelt down right in front of me, still playing. He nodded at me. Nodded at my hands pressed to the stage. What? What did he want? Was I in the way? Crap. I lifted my hands and would have pulled them back, but without missing a beat he grabbed one of my hands with one of his and put it flat against the bass. Then he went on playing, nodding his head in time with the music, his eyes still on mine.

Oh. My fingers thrummed. Buzzed. Hummed. I felt like it was in time with my heart or maybe it was the other way around. I smiled up at him. He had no idea. He was making magic and I—I was feeling it. Buh buh buh bum ba bum

He stayed on his knees in front of me until the end of the song, watching me, like he was playing just for me. I knew I was smiling like a loon, like an idiot, but I couldn’t help it. I’d never thought I could feel the music again. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it was in all the right ways. It was the feeling of it, that bubble that builds up inside you as the music takes you and grows and grows until you overflow.

And then it was over. I didn’t take my hand off the bass until it was gone. Done. No more hum, no more vibrations, no more music. “Thank you,” I said to him, not sure if he could hear me over the crowd or not. I would have said more, had more words on the tip of my tongue, but Bec pounced and wrapped me up in a hug. She let me go, signing fast and furious. Amazing! How feel? Good? Love? Fingers out in horns, smile on her face. You rock!

Tom, behind her back, smiled at me too. He mimed drinking something and pointed at the bar. I nodded. I needed something. I felt drained. Alive, maybe more alive than I had felt in years, but like I’d run a race.

He pushed through the crowd, making a path. Bec took my hand and pulled me after her. I looked back toward the stage but the bassist was gone already. I let her pull me along through the crowd. I should have said more to him. Something. Anything. Thank you wasn’t enough.

Tom was a paragon. He found us a spot right at the corner of the bar. Definite talents. I was liking him more and more for Bec, especially without the baseball cap. They were a matched pair, working in tandem. She insinuated herself into the line up at the bar with a sneaky hip and pulled me in next to her.

Usual? she signed.

Please, I signed back.

She held up a hand to get the bartender’s attention when someone tapped both of us on the shoulder. I turned around, ready to be annoyed, but it was the bassist. He was tall and lean and some bits of hair had escaped his ponytail to curl around his ears.

“May I?” it looked like he said, looking first at me and then at Bec.

“Yeah!” she said, with a huge grin. “Gin and tonic for my girl here,” she told him. “I’ll just be…over there…” She signed an added Go, girl at me. Then she grabbed Tom by the collar and disappeared, swallowed up by the crowd before I could even get my thoughts together.

Ah. And I hadn’t brought my notepad. I usually carried a small one, just in case, but I hadn’t bothered tonight. Hadn’t thought I’d need to talk to someone I didn’t know. Hadn’t thought I’d want to.

He’d managed to order some drinks before I got myself together enough to realize I should say something.

“Um, hi,” I said. “I’m Deaf.” I didn’t usually blurt it out like that. Jesus. I’d even pointed at my ears, like he wouldn’t know what deaf meant.

He nodded. Opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again. Then looked frantically around.

I pulled out my iPhone and opened the Notes app. It would do in a pinch. I wasn’t sure how loud the club was, but I didn’t want to shout, so I leaned over to him. “I’m Callie,” I said. “What’s your name?” I held out my phone to him and mimed typing on it.

He took my phone.

My name is Jack.

Did you enjoy the show?

 “I loved it!” I said and then I started babbling about the music, all the things I’d been trying to tell Bec in between songs, how I’d felt it, how it had run through my body, through my veins, how I hadn’t known that it would be like that. That it could be like that. All the while, my hands were talking too. I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.

The drinks arrived and he handed me mine with a smile. God, what a smile. I took a sip if only to stop myself from spewing words. What was I doing with this verbal diarrhea?

“Sorry,” I said. “That was a little much, wasn’t it?”

He shook his head no and typed something out on my phone. He held it up for me to read while I sipped, hoping the glass was hiding my face. I was pretty sure I’d gone red. Though the gin probably wasn’t going to help with that.

I’m happy you liked it.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone enjoy our songs that much before.

Yeah, embarrassing. I tried not to imagine what I’d looked like, my hands on the stage, my head nodding in time, my eyes closed. Inside, I was still that dork playing the Imperial Death March.

“I’ve missed music,” I said.

I’m glad you’ve found it again.

“Thanks,” I said. Now was my chance. “I mean, really, thank you. Thank you for the music. For helping me find it.”

You’re welcome.

Awkward. So awkward. He was probably thinking I was an idiot. But I hoped he understood what I was saying because I did mean it. Every word.

I took another sip, trying to think of what to say next that wouldn’t sound scatter-brained. I didn’t even know what the name of his band was. Or any of their songs. I certainly couldn’t ask, not now. I mean, hello, thanks for the show, enjoyed it, loved it, who are you guys again? I couldn’t even ask him what kind of music he liked. I didn’t know what kind he played!

I just knew how it made me feel.

He handed me back my phone, held up a single finger and smiled. One? One minute? One moment? One what? Then he disappeared into the crowd, into the dimness of the club, the mad heat. I’d lost track of the crush while we were talking, but now I felt it again. People pressing against me on every side. An elbow in my back as someone walked by, pushing me into the bar.

Oh, I’d done it. I’d sounded like some kind of crackpot groupie. Where was Bec? I texted her but she didn’t answer. She was probably off in a corner with Tom. I looked around, but all I saw were nameless faces. A blur. Should I wait? Stay? I finished my drink, debated ordering another. The high I’d felt from the music was nearly gone now.

There was a soft tap on my shoulder. He was back. Jack. His smile had gone a bit crooked. He squared his shoulders and raised his hands and—signed. Date, two-of-us, go-to you want you?

I was so surprised that I didn’t respond. Just gaped at him. Then I saw Bec over his shoulder, beaming at me. He must have gone to find her. Asked her to show him the words. My language.

He lightly touched my forearm to bring my attention back to him, his head ducked down a bit, staring me right in the eyes. Not looking away. Looking right at me. You I like, he signed slowly. Together music?

Together music, I signed back.