The Art of Being Okay

Chapter 7

The New York Times: The Eminent Fall of Rise

Clark Kent reports.

Rise, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000 by renowned illustrator, E. Aster Bunnymund is on a dangerous financial precipice. Aster has had quite the financial rap sheet, due to alcoholism and the subsequent fall out with his agent over a screw up in his booking deals and payment clauses that robbed Aster of nearly all his money.

Since then, Aster, now recovering, has been forced to work largely paycheck to paycheck. Sources report that he is, "Completely sober, and looking great for it." Aster has done a near complete one-eighty on his life and outlook, choosing to immerse himself in nature, outside the box art based on embracing limitations, and, in 2000, the nonprofit organization Rise.

Despite having done well in recent years, Rise now appears to be mimicking the financial instability of its founder and being sued for tax fraud.

According to the official spokesperson of the IRS, Bruce Wayne, "It's our job to investigate all people and organizations, no matter how pure they might be. Would it be too much of a stretch to question Aster's ability to, as they say, 'stay on the wagon'?" The truth of that sentiment has yet to be seen as Rise continues, full steam ahead, with their summer program to help jump start the careers of young illustrators. Rise, mean-

Fall of Rise, continued on E7

...


...

Pitch, to be entirely truthful, hadn't known that beating the pompous 'E. Aster Bunnymund' would feel quite so … good. I mean, there was a certain about of endorphin rush to be expected, but past that - it felt fantastic reading that article by the mousey journalist.

This winning, this fear he was spreading was an absolute, utterly unhealthy, rush.

It was like meth. Only … Actually, it was exactly like meth. You stopped caring, except for about the next hit. It became your life and you would do anything to keep it rolling in, in these waves of pleasure and power.

It left you twitchy, with sunken in eyes and a death wish marauding as an immortality complex. There weren't any more lines to cross, because you had already crossed them.

Worst of all? It only took one hit and you were stuck. Almost permanently addicted and rehab, you could already tell, was going to be as helpful as a bad meal: you'll feel like complete shit the entire time, but by the end, it's still only temporary relief. Why fight?

An imperfect metaphor on top of a perfect one is probably a little obnoxious, but it's not like you could tell that if you were on meth.

Moral of the story: don't do meth, and Pitch was screwed from the second he was hired by the IRS.

Technically, none of this one his fault. It was practically in his nature, which is an interesting concept to play around with.

The idea of free will goes something like this: we all have a choice. The flaw in that goes something like this: if each set of circumstances creates who a person is, are we not only people reacting to circumstances? Further, isn't it true that we were, in way, because of our past and our genetics, always going to react that way to that specific situation?

When, essentially, we're tossed into a brand new future, we will inevitably make the same decision, no matter how many times we replay it.

So: while events and freak accidents are not set in stone, our reactions are.

We are at the hands of fate, and our decisions at the hands of everyone else.

At least, that was the only possible reason that Jack could come up with for Pitch, when sitting alone in a hospital bed after reading Slaughterhouse Five.

Pitch, as opposed to contemplating his inevitability, was instead rejoicing at the imminent destruction of Rise.

Granted, Rise was no Guardian, but a win was a win.

Especially with Sandy out of the picture – quite a lucky break, Sandy's cancer was.

As lucky as it was, Pitch almost – no, definitely – upset that he hadn't been the one to orchestrate that. However, even despite that minor upset, Pitch felt that today was a good day to be him.

Most days, in fact, were good days to be him, because everyone else was either too soft, too idiotic, or too pathetic.

Honestly, the only other person Pitch could stand wasn't even a person: Man in Moon Publications.

They were ruthless in collecting and dropping authors, and yet were loved.

That was admirable and Pitch was only slightly ashamed to admit that that kind of thing got him a little hot.

Pitch spent the night winning as he watched Rise's funds dip lower and lower from the bright glare of his computer in the dimly lit console at the top floor of the IRS.

He remained this way for the rest of the night, joyfully unaware of the emergency Guardian meeting that was going on.

"I call this emergency meeting of Guardian to order at eight-twenty-one, July 16, 2013." Tooth started. "All recorded witnesses include: Toothiana Faery, E. Aster Bunnymund, and Nicholas St. North."

"Does anyone know where Frost's got ta?" Bunnymund interrupted.

"I try. He does not pick up phone." North replies, looking more somber than anyone can ever recall seeing him.

"We'll just have to move on." Tooth looks harried and exhausted, hair springing wildly out of it's braids. "Bunny," Bunnymund doesn't even bother correcting her. "How's the situation at Rise?"

Bunnymund snorts and turns his head, bitter. "Ya dingoes care now, huh?"

North leans forward, resting his hand on Bunny's. "My friend, we always cared."

Bunny gets up, shrugging both Tooth and North off. "Yeah, yeah. Alright. That's how ya know we're failing, I'm sure."

Tooth goes white. "You're failing?" She sputters.

Now North's arm is slipping around Tooth's shoulder, providing comfort where it knows it will be accepted. "Why did you not tell us?"

"Mate, there wasn't opportunity. Look, I'm flat broke and so's Rise and the damn program is too bloody exy. Let's get bloody drunk while we're at it, considering the rest of the world is already going down to hell in a handbasket!"

"What?" Tooth sounds shocked, flabbergasted.

Bunny just about snarls at them. "How many young artists are goin' ta have their dreams crushed – by me? How many of the ankle bitters are goin' to have their hopes raised, only to be dashed, again? It's like … it's not even 'bout me anymore –"

Creeeeeeeek. Click.

Bunnymund turned slowly to the figure in the door, late because Jack had been counting all the steps twice over on the seven floors up and remembering to breathe. "The fuck are you doing here?" Bunnymund asked Jack rudely.

"Standing." Jack made a face at Bunny, leaned over, and tapped him with Babytooth's magic stick before resting back against it. "Holding the key to your salvation."

There is silence. Bunny is breathing heavily.

"Solution:," he describes, "Give them the day off tomorrow. You know," he adds at the sight of Toothiana opening her mouth, "the kids." Jack finished triumphantly. "I'll take care of them."

There is another silence. Bunnymund clapped once, a loud ringing single sound that became the only sound.

"Well, now, there's absolutely no bloody way we could have done without those brilliant words. Thanks a bundle, really, Jackie Boy."

"Kay, one, I'm going to ask this again, 'cause I never really got an answer the first time, but why do we let him around children? And two, I wasn't done. I'm sorry I'm late and all but - it's worth it."

Jack stopped talking to looked around the room at the three people at the end of their tether.

"We give Pitch and the IRS this Friday and then we give up the building to save our money and in the meantime we can hold classes in the outside amphitheater where we are planning on having our "show". All we've got to do is make the money last until the end of the program. We're bloody -"

"Bloody's my thing. Get your own, frostbite."

"Aw, cotton tail, getting sensitive about words over there? Why don't you go back to painting and leave the word claiming for the writers."

"You're not a real writer! You're not even legally a person!"

"And yet, there are books, by Jack Frost, by which I earn my living. Honestly, that's more than I can say for you."

"Jack!" Tooth reprimands, and the same time North calls out Bunny. They speak in tandem. "Stop it, you two. We have work to do."

"Listen Bunny, you're a right pain in the ass. But them? That?" Jack looks at Bunnymund, shrugging one shoulder and smirking. "That's just plain creepy."

"Despite bein' a bastard of an ankle bitter, I'm goin' ta have ta agree with ya."

The two shared a smile, before looking away, horrified at their newfound camaraderie.

"Anyways," Jack continues, once he's recovered himself from the horror of bonding with Bunny, "the point is, we are crazy lucky it's a Thursday, because now we've got the weekend to figure out this amphitheater thing. Like, which amphitheater we are going to use and how much that'll cost and we'll probably still have some food issues -" If Jack was going to say more, it's drowned out by Tooth leaping out of her seat to hug him.

It was nice, the hug and the relief at any sort of solution no matter how temporary, until North asks him where he had been.

Jack rubs his palm stiffly against the back of his neck. "I was with Pippa." He replies quietly. "Stopped in on Sandy, for a bit." Jack looks down, ignoring the concerned looks Tooth is giving him. "But how could I miss partying it up with you crazy cool kids?"

Everyone ignores the joke. Jack doesn't mind. It wasn't very good.

"Does anyone have even the slightest idea of how we are going to defeat this lawsuit? At all?"

Everyone ignores Tooth as well.

"Nog?"

No one really ignores North.

There's a heavy feeling in the air, a feeling like they are fighting inevitability, but then Jack is jumping around and teasing Bunny and North is letting out giant guffaw.

Slowly, amongst friends and plans and law books, a spark of hope burns and glitters, guarded.

In that moment, something shifts, something in the act of friends and drink and plans consolidating. They are happy.

No one mentions Rise and Jack shoves the files into his proverbial backpack.

...


...

Email: Dear Parents and Children Involved in the Guardian Program,

We regret to inform you that, due to complications dealing with staffing and monetary issues, we have postponing classes until next Monday where we will be in a different location.

We at Guardian wish to apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you, and would like to encourage the children to continue working on their novels, despite the lack of personal aid. Again, this is a one-time deal, a temporary reprise for us, the Guardian staff, to get back on our feet after a recent tragedy.

We would, finally, like to remind you about the upcoming showcase. It's to be held next Saturday, from ten-thirty in the morning to four o'clock in the afternoon. It is our wish that your child be there and participating for the duration of the show. Alternate arrangements can be made if your child is unable to make it. Please remember to show up and support your child and our program with a donation! Cash or gift donations are acceptable and all work will be open for silent auction bidding.

Thank you, again, and have a fabulous day!

Toothiana Faery

Toothiana Faery

Manager of Guardian


...

Jamie's jaw dropped as his saw the email his mom had just showed him. "Awesome!"

Jamie's mom rolled her eyes.

"I'm going to call Kat! Mom, please, please, please can I call Kat and Caleb and Monty and Cupcake and the whole gang?"

"I'm leaving for work in a few minutes and Kat'll be here to take care of Sophie then. You could invite them over here, but you're not to let your sister out of your sight, you hear?"

Jamie deflated, slightly. "Alright, mom. And you know I never do!"

"I know. Goodbye sweetheart. I love you. Tell Sophie I love her when she wakes up, 'kay Jamie?"

Still in his pajama's, Jamie rolls his eyes, "Duh," and practically shoves his mom out the door. His mom is gone minutes later and the door has just closed when it's swung open again by Kat.

The second Jamie catches eyes with Kat, he grins and bounds quickly over to the door to greet her.

"Hey! Hey, Kat! Guess what? You'll never guess. I know you'll never guess."

"What? They cancelled the program?"

"What! No! We've been given the day off."

"Oh, grow up Jamie. I read the papers. Guardian is failing, if Rise hasn't already. Maybe they didn't cancel the program this time, or the next time or the next time, but they're screwed and they're going to burn up next time's really quickly."

"Like hot butter through a knife!"

"I think you meant that the other way around." Jamie doesn't mention that he was kind of trying for a joke there. Instead, he takes a closer look at Kat. She's seems so much older. That's ridiculous, right? It's only been … when was the last time Jamie saw Kat? It couldn't have been right before the program started, could it?

No, they met up with Jack a day or two ago. But Kat had hardly stayed for longer than ten minutes. Just enough time for her to fangirl over Jack before leaving.

Time, Jamie thought in hindsight, had flown. Jamie regretted that a little bit, because he hadn't even realized how much he missed Kat.

Sometimes, forgetting someone was better than forgetting why you wanted to remember them. Why dragged up all sorts of questions that simply forgetting someone didn't.

Jamie's mom would say that a lot, and Jamie used to think she was talking about his dad. But the quote was kind of sad and not very healthy either way so he kind of hopped not.

Kat looked tired. More than that, Kat looked exhausted and dirty and just like most kids who lived in the bad parts of New York City. It saddened Jamie, because Kat was better than that.

He remembered when Kat hadn't acted fourteen and wondered why she was now acting forty.

..


Jamie had gone to see a couple of his other friends, but they'd had to stay at home or help their parents work.

Cupcake had pushed him when he tried to talk to her.

That hurt.

Jamie didn't miss the way things were, because he loved what he'd done with Guardian and how he had changed already.

But Jamie did, because his friends didn't seem so broken down and sad then.

Jamie didn't really know what he missed, he supposed, but it was definitely something.


...

Possibly Jack's favorite part of owning an iPhone was simply that he owned an iPhone. Owning an iPhone was a stanch reminder that not only did he have money, but he was practically crapping out money instead of food.

The only person Jack really texted with it was Sandy, although he hasn't been able to since Sandy was diagnosed with cancer; he'd gotten his number about two days after meeting him, coming to the immediate conclusion that Sandy was definitely a pretty cool dude.

Then Sandy had stolen his phone during a meeting with North, Tooth, Sandy, and Bunnymund over the tax problem and changed Jack's ringtone to Ice, Ice Baby. Jack changed his mind about Sandy being a pretty cool dude because Sandy was way, way better than that.

In fact, Jack was so delighted at Sandy's apparent deviousness that he hadn't even noticed, let alone cared, when he was kicked out of the meeting for 'being a disturbance' and his 'godforsaken inability to stop laughing'.

Jack is legitimately saddened that he can no longer text Sandy, because Sandy was funny and classy and got Jack to read weird sounding books like Good Omens and Armageddon in Retrospect.

Now, the only person who really texted Jack was Babytooth, who seemed to like texting more than talking.

Ping. Jack looks down at his phone, stabbed out of his thoughts by the jarring, generic ringtone Sandy hadn't gotten around to changing.

Meet me for coffee? Bring your stick. –Avery

Not too busy ogling that boss of yours?

I don't ogle. I lecherously check out. -Avery

Babytooth, it's time you stop kidding yourself. It's a lustful gaze.

I consider it more of a loving caress. W/ my eyes. -Avery

You mean eye sex?

I absolutely mean eye sex. Coffee, Teh Cage, 5 minutes. -Avery

*the -Avery

Chuckling, Jack doesn't reply. He slips his phone off and back in his pocket before stepping into the The Cage, New York's most popular token miserable writer cafe.

Technically, The Cage is the most popular coffee shop for writers, artists, and really, anyone else of the starving bohemian persuasion; but everyone knows that's code for The Cage was the most popular cafe for broke idiots.

Babytooth grins at her phone, waiting for Jack to arrive and stalks over to stake out the comfortable couches.

Many patrons glare at her.

The comfy couches are the best seat in The Cage. They are possibly the only comfortable seats in The Cage. In The Cage, the seating options mainly consisted of: metal seats that, no matter how much you shifted and placed your weight forward, always dug into your hips, couches that rivaled rocks in their hardness, or slumping against dirty, splitting walls by the locked bathrooms that everyone was too scared to actually use.

They say that great novels are born of pain, and even they don't, that's the thought, the hope, that gets the writers through their sessions at The Cage.

The Cage is and had always been, without a doubt, a place of pain. It was more of a bar than a café and contained only glorified footstools for tables, hell for seats and two comfortable couches in the corner opposite the door.

Their baked goods case that was always empty and everyone knew that they had a menu somewhere but no one could ever find it.

There was never a sign on the door and The Cage was down a shady back street alleyway in New York that didn't have a sign up either.

The reason, the only reason, that so many writers came to The Cage, was the prices.

The owner was never there, the non-alcoholic beverages and food always took forever and the place seemed to such all the hope out of you, but it was dirt cheap. Literally. The place might sell you alcoholic food, but you could stay there all night with the terrifyingly believable excuse that you were still waiting for your coffee, muffin, tea, or anything that wasn't alcoholic and not pay a cent.

Besides, The Cage was living proof that anywhere was better than the streets.

Even though the entire thing had the limited color palette of black and grey, always kept at a freezing temperature and completely windowless. Honestly, you could commit mass murder in the place and it would take several months for anyone to be able to distinguish the smell.

It is a very shady but you'd be hard pressed to find a writer in New York who hadn't spent a night in The Cage.

Jack has spent a fair amount of time in The Cage himself. Enough time to know how hard it was to get the comfy couches. Why Babytooth would chose to meet him here and how she'd managed to save him a seat on said comfy couches was therefore curious and miraculous.

"How'd you know I'd be here in five minutes?" Jack asks, watching Babytooth's face light up in delight from - score! - the left comfy couch.

Babytooth looks directly at him, happily taking on the role of the mysterious best friend. "Because you would." She smiles, patter her hands on the couch. Brand new, brightly colored bracelets clank against each other, muffled by the couch.

"Orange," Jack points out, looking at her bracelets, "Isn't really anyone's color, but it's definitely not yours. Possibly the ultimate not-your-color color that's not your color."

"I'm willing to bet that sounded better in your head."

"Hm. And I think that you'll have better comebacks when you're not trying to derail the orange bracelet shame. Spill."

"Why does it feel like we're sassy gay people in a high end movie?"

"Maybe because we are. Gasp."

"Jack, we're in The Cage. I think that's as far away from a classy, high end movie that you can physically be."

"See? Don't even need me and you're already proving yourself wrong."

"Can it," Babytooth tells Jack's smirking face.

"So," Jack continues smiling naively up at her, "how'd you get the seats anyway?"

"Wouldn't you just like to know?"

"Are you resorting to cheesy movie quotes now? Because one, embarrassing. And two? Not helping the whole movie vibe."

Babytooth ignores Jack in favor of readjusting her feet on the couch.

The Cage, needless as it is to say, was not a place for manners.

"Look," Babytooth looks up at Jack with wide, dark eyes. "Be serious with me for a second Jack. Tooth told me about Sandy."

Jack wants to crack a joke and there's a snarky comment waiting on his lips but he doesn't utter it. Instead, he swallows back everything he was going to say and waits it out.

Eventually, he speaks. "What do you want to know?"

"I want to know if you'll visit him with me." Gazing straight into his face, Babytooth's eyes shine with determination and a speck of fear.

Jack is stunned. "Not exactly what I meant," he quirks.

"Come with me." Babytooth speaks plainly.

Jack hesitates. "I barely know you."

Contrarily, Babytooth does not hesitate, jumping desperately onto the end of Jack's sentence. "I barely know you."

"How does that help your point?" Jack asks.

"How does that help yours?" Babytooth returns.

Against his better judgment, Jack is grinning. "Whenever you feel like quitting the parrot act, we'll get going." On second, Jack is rising up from the comfy couch and the next, banglely jewelry and all, Babytooth is tackling – sorry, hugging – Jack back down into the comfy couch.

He's too busy telling her that there is no way she's not related to Tooth with the way she hugs to hug her back but Babytooth doesn't mind.

"Wait," Babytooth pauses at the door to The Cage. "My coffee!"

Jack gestures with his stick in an elaborate signal clearly meant to convey the likelihood (zil to none) of Babytooth ever getting a coffee in there.

"You're right," Babytooth sighs and the two of them walk out the door.

Babytooth clearly is weird enough to get the entire message. Jack is oddly proud of his friend-making abilities.

On the way to the hospital, Jack asks her why she cares and she calls him rude. They laugh and he says really and she explains.

She explains that she saved the comfortable chairs in The Cage because she had a thing with the owner that said owner may be under the delusion they still have.

Jack laughs, which is to be expected. What's that got to do with anything is his next question. The answer is nothing. Babytooth tells Jack that it's got absolutely nothing to do with anything, let alone Sandy but it was funny and a fun fact.

"Babytooth," Jack looks at her more fondly than he'd ever expected to after only two days, "Why is this so important?"

"I want to buy off The Cage. I want to re-decorate it. Hire new people. Turn it into something that half way resembles a bakery and sell damn good pastries quickly. For the same price."

The connection between her dreams about the cage and anything else they've talked about is not readily apparent. Still, Jack thinks that if cage were ever going to be fixed, no one would stand a chance at doing it better than Babytooth. Opening his mouth to tell her, she continues, and his mouth mimics a bad mousetrap.

"Sandy's my idol. I took his class. I'm an architect and I was hoping he'd sponsor and/or hire me." She pauses for breath. "Oh, and we're here."


...

Bunnymund is glaring at his desk again.

His secretary, had he not been forced to let her go because of the goddamn issues with the bloody account freezes, would have been gazing curiously at him.

Bunnymund misses people gazing curiously at him, because that deprived him of the chance to engage in witty batter with them or, preferably, insult them. Insulting people calmed Bunnymund greatly.

Bunnymund honestly considered it a real pity that Jack Frost was a writer and wouldn't come work for Guardian.

It would be such a stress reliever and such easy fun.

Right now, Bunnymund could use some easy fun. More to the (original) point, Bunnymund could use some stress relief.

Rise was going for broke – had been for a while, before this whole thing with Pitch and the IRS even cropped up – and Bunnymund would be going with it, had he not already gone for broke years ago.

Now, it wasn't about trying not to be broke but about trying not to fall too deep into debt.

Bunnymund was aware that this wasn't necessarily a good thing. Despite that, he still funneled most of his own personal funds into Rise yearly.

For almost the entire run of Rise, ever since Bunnymund created it in 2000, he had been solely fueling the entire thing.

And that was why, now, Rise was far worse off than Guardian at the moment. Guardian got most of the publicity and money and therefore, donations. It was a running joke at Rise about how artists never become famous until they were dead and how they were all screwed.

Bunnymund never found the joke all that tasteful, despite containing a possible grain of truth.

But as grumpy as he might have pretended to be, that's all that was: a pretense. Bunny's life was Rise now. Despite the years, nothing in the way Rise had operated changed, because the company itself was a carefully kept, fragile secret.

That was now being ripped open like vultures through an already-dead-and-rotted animal carcass.

Rise could never have stood on its own before and it couldn't now.

Rise need Bunnymund and money and right now, there was no way Bunnymund could give it either. Not if there was to be any chance in saving Guardian.

North would instantly point out how much more Guardian did, how much more it helped, how much more money it made. But Bunnymund had created Rise himself and embodied it for years. That is a lot to cast away.

Tooth would just look at the entire thing logically and then explain how it's the logical choice to drop Rise's program because there is no way they are going to ever get enough money and they don't have any more left anyways.

For Tooth, because she's a logical, brilliant, girl, would have no problem explaining why his energy could be better wasted working on Guardian.

North would be worse, for all the opposite reasons. North would be worse because North would care about Guardian as much as Bunnymund cares about Rise and North wouldn't be able to get that.

Bunnymund isn't even going to consider Sandy on his mental talk-to list because – for god's sake! Mans in the hospital dying!

Guardian had their half-way showcase, but Rise had squat.

Bunnymund had tried but it hadn't panned out, wouldn't pan out for Bunnymund and Rise this go 'round, and that's all we can say on that subject. .

Point is, Rise was screwed, completely and utterly, whatever way you looked at it, and Bunnymund couldn't find it in him to give up on the program.

It was times like these that Bunnymund wished he was more religious, because he could really use a prayer right now.

...


...

Hospital Rules and Regulations: Visitation

1. No more than three visitors may see one patient at a time to reduce noise pollution.

2. Unless cleared with hospital staff in advance, no visitor is allowed to stay past 9:00 PM. All visitors must adhere to all visiting hours, unless, as previously stated, otherwise allowed.

3. No smoking inside the hospital.

4. To decrease noise for our sick patients, please refrain from lingering in the hallways.

5. No calls to any patients will be allowed after 10:30 PM.

6. Be courteous to hospital staff, patients and others visitors.

7. Visitors must wear visitor name tag at all times to identify themselves.

For more information, please ask at the front desk or email us at: NY_hospitalcare Thank you, and have a nice day.

Stifling giggles, Jack reads the previously unseen, obviously outdated hospital notice outside Sandy's room out loud to Babytooth. It's Saturday night and two of them were waiting for the nurses to return and allow them into his room, which had thus far taken more than a bit.

Despite Babytooth's initial plans involving keeping a straight face and exhibiting propriety in the hospital, she completely loses it at Jack's imaginary cigarette and faux gangster attitude.

Nurse Mare came back just as Jack finishes reading the poster, in time to glare at them disdainfully before letting them in.

Sandy was up and alert, waving at the two from his bedside.

He looked confused at Babytooth's presence for a moment before his face cleared.

By the time all of that happened, Babytooth was well into her speech. "Hi, I'm Baby – fuck you, Jack – I'm Avery. You probably don't remember me – but that's not a bad thing. I wouldn't remember me. If I wasn't me. But I am. Me, that is. I'm me. You probably – definitely, what am I saying? – already knew that and slash don't care." She paused. Took a breath.

"Right. Moving on. I attended your class. Um, last year. And I wanted to say – oh! And I'm Tooth's sister which is why I knew you were here. I promise I'm not a creeper. I just … maybe stalked you here? But, really, it was all a string of lucky, lucky coincidences.

"Not. Stalking. Absolutely not stalking, because I am a normal, passionate – why'd I tell you that? – happy person who is normally not this nervous."

Pausing for breath, Jack took the moment for what it was: an escape.

"Sandy, this is Babytooth. Babytooth, Sandy. Sandy doesn't talk ever, but occasionally writes wise stuff down. Babytooth never stops talking and occasionally writes insults down –"

Babytooth cuts him off with a violent gesture and a scowl. Jack morns the passing of the moment of silence with a cry of "Alas!" tragically reaching his hands up threatening at the ceiling.

Babytooth defends herself. "Only good insults, so I can use them later. I have a pretty awesome data base." She pushes Jack sideways, both to drive her point home and because Jack won't stop worshiping the ceiling or whatever the arm thing is.

"Ow." Jack complains after regaining his balance.

"And I already knew that about Sandy not talking, Jack. It was really cool how he used visual displays and projections to lecture. I mean, you." Babytooth looks away from Jack to look at Sandy.

He smiles widely and waves his hand again. This, for some reason, seems to put Babytooth at easy. She relaxes a smidge.

Jack, obviously, must therefore ruin it, taking an obvious step away from Babytooth before speaking eagerly. "I can't believe you just got Babytooth to –"

Babytooth interrupts him with a furtive glance at Sandy and an eye roll. "Avery."

"You care?" Jack returns, impishly.

"No, but –" Jack barely gives Babytooth the chance to get past the 'no' before he is trampling all over her sentences again.

"Right, so," Jack, wisely, is backing further and further away from Babytooth as he talks, "I can't believe you got Babytooth to relax even a smidge. I've been trying the entire walk and she is still vibrating. People don't vibrate, Babytooth. That's just not normal."

"Contributions not needed, thanks," Babytooth informs Jack without looking at him, now vibrating with irritation.

"See? She's doing it right –"

"Out! Fuck! Shit! Fuck! Why in the hell did I ask you to come with me again? Get out, Jack!" Babytooth screeches at him, mostly teasing.

Jack shrugs and skedaddles. "Suit yourself." He swings out the door and then pops his head back in. "I'll be out here."

Babytooth doesn't acknowledge him. Instead she turns back to Sandy who has finished scrawling something on the notepad by his desk.

Bye, Jack. Thanks for the visit!

"Oi! I'm not calling him back in here."

"That is rude." Jack calls from outside.

Babytooth frowns at Jack's comment for a second before her expression clears again and she smiles. "Yeah," she says, walking towards the door, "That's what I thought too, until I remembered that I don't care."

She shuts the door audibly. "Sandy says goodbye."

"You're a lot meaner when –"

"Sandy says goodbye Jack." It takes a bit, but eventually his grumbling subsides. Babytooth looks around at the situation and starts thinking that she's a serial killer or something.

It's okay. I feel safe.

"Awesome! That's like, you read my mind. Cool."

Sandy nods.

"I really think you're going to be okay. Okay? Platitudes over. You are my idol. I probably mentioned that already, but I just really wanted to tell how much you mean to me. Actually, I am not quite sure why I needed Jack gone to say that but," she hesitates, reflective. She shrugs. "He was being obnoxious."

Sandy laughs at that.

Sandy's laugh is an odd thing, Babytooth notices. Like Sandy, or an old movie, the laugh was silent. A lot of Sandy was like an old silent movie, except Sandy had color. And Sandy had color in spades.

And diamonds and hearts, if you want to talk spades and clovers and cards, because Sandy was passionate and warm and filthy rich on life experiences and the money from those life experiences. Besides, more suits, more colors, and that was Sandy in a nut shell. Sandy was more.

And when Sandy started laughing, it began with his chest, right below his collar bone, and rippled down his entire body outwards, escaping at his fingertips and toes.

It shone through his face genuinely, in the way things never do, lighting up his eyes and tugging Babytooth's own mouth opening into its own expression of joy spilling out. Everything about Sandy seemed to speak for his silent laugh, so much so that you knew he would never have to speak to be understood. More than that, it was contagious.

When they're both finally under control, Babytooth speaks. "You know what, Sandy? You're right. I can do it! I just need to give the manager a really good offer!" Sandy's not quite sure what's she's talking about. "Thanks, really." Babytooth gives him a half smirk.

Ikr?

Babytooth completely loses it for the third time that day and the second time in an hour.

When Babytooth comes out of the hospital room, newly inspired, she's almost surprised to see Jack hunched over, pressing a hand to his head. Upon seeing him, she pauses. "Are you okay? Jack?"

Jack lifts his head up, smile firmly on his lips, laugh trickling out of his throat. He says something sarcastic, but Babytooth doesn't really hear.

It's nothing like Sandy's, the raspy little noise in the back of his throat parading around as a real laugh because it's genuine at all and Babytooth feels the shock impact her.

Jack's standing – because apparently he's caught on to the fact that 'are you okay' is about the dumbest phrase ever uttered - because no one ever answers honestly – but the laugh is refusing to leave his scared face.

And Babytooth's just stepping backwards because the closer Jack gets, the easier it is to see the dark circles under his eyes that look more like purple bruises, weights sinking into his face and pushing him down. "Babytooth, what's wrong? I'm fine!" He's laughing again, damn him. Babytooth is starting to hate that surprisingly deep laugh of his.

Jack doesn't get that he's saying all the wrong things yet, but he will – give it time – because Babytooth's not good with surprise revelations and she's not good with digesting bad news and she thinks she's going to faint.

Babytooth almost feels awkward because she doesn't know Jack that well, but she's her and Jack's bones are on hers. She's kind of refusing to call them fingers right now, but that's okay because they really aren't. Right now, they're bones and they feel like ice.

She remembers him mentioning being anemic in their texts. Something felt off about that but. (and that was the problem: but, period. But, stop. Something was wrong but. Full stop. Nothing. But nothing.).

Jack's entire hand is on her wrist, skeletal, weak and faintly trembling and he's finally stopped laughing but it doesn't help because his hand feels like the physical bucket of ice she was metaphorically hit with seconds ago.

Babytooth faints.

Her first words, when she wakes up, will be, "Knew it." Her next will be a laugh and then she'll freeze, horrified.

Jack won't be there, and she'll be alone.

Jack will refuse to reply to her increasingly urgent texts and the hospital staff will refuse to let her out of the hospital and she'll miss her shift at the psyche hospital she works at and that'll be the thing that saves her.

Her Doctor Asshole, Doctor Something, Doctor Whatever whose name Jack never bothered to learn will kick Jack out of Pippa's room five minutes early and close down the hospital.

Fueled by her dream of remodeling The Cage, Babytooth will kiss him when he shows up.

Her life will be coming together because Jack's is falling apart.

But he won't kiss her back.

He's gay.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Bunnymund was trying to be clever.

It wasn't working.

Here's why: Bunnymund was playing chess. He was playing chess with a very overworked metaphor, because on a chessboard, this chessboard, Rise might not be the King but if it couldn't be the king, it sure as hell was the queen.

And sometimes in chess games in real life and quite a lot in chess games played in novels – psychically and mentally – you had to sacrifice the queen.

But what happened when you were the queen? Or as good as? How did you sacrifice the queen you were emotionally attached to and was going to die in two moves anyways?

This was Bunnymund trying to be clever, and this is why it wasn't working and he wasn't a writer.

The ironic thing, the perfectly melodramatic, literary thing, was that it only took a push of a button.

No muss, no fuss, just a button pushed and no clean up. Problems solved and Bunnymund could crawl miserably into the happy ending sunset.

There was a reason for this.

Things at Rise had, ever since its creation, been a button push away from complete chaos and collapse.

And Bunnymund was nothing if not predictably anal and brilliant. If things were going to fall to shit, they were going to fall to shit in a neat, organized manner with click of a button.

Bunnymund pushed the button.

He might be anal and he might be bitter and he might be broke, but there was more than that to him. Bunnymund may have had to make the hard choice, Bunnymund may have just destroyed himself, but Bunnymund did it for a reason.

Reasons were good. Reasons were pain and fire and connections to something. Having a reason, having that burning fire, was what kept you alive.

Sometimes, Bunnymund wished he wasn't, wasn't alive, wasn't too involved in the lives of the Guardian staff, wasn't sober, but North was always there with a cookie to reassure him that he did, actually.

Bunnymund shrugged his shoulders heavily. His shoulders slumped and he went home despite it being barely past eight.

It was the last long day he was going to have in a while but the start of what was going to look like a future of long, endless nights.

There weren't many people up to see the sunrise that morning.

It was beautiful. The sky was stained colorful, pinks spewing themselves across reds and oranges, cloud wisps curling playfully in, entire sky stretched and saturated with lights and patterns and emotions and everything else was just quiet.

It was beautiful and no one saw it.

In later editions, the sunset no one saw is edited out of books, along with the lines about going to the bathroom and that bedroom scene where you're inexperienced fingers didn't know when to stop saying cock.

I think I shall include it here, though, a little crack in the fourth wall for everyone to see through.

This is the bare bones of a broken story about broken people.

Real life is broken people and broken stories. Real life is cracks. Real life is the sunsets no one catches. Real life is when you can't shit for weeks. Real life is dying of anorexia and not having a great big come to Jesus moment. Real life is on a heart moniter in a hospital bed, real life is skin sunken and white with self loathing, real life is bruises every time you move, real life is the ugly color of blood, of crap, of snot from tears, of scars from beatings; real life is being trapped within yourself as you drive yourself to pieces, real life is enjoying your resolve as you watch yourself shatter, smiling with bloodless lips convinced that you are right until the end.

Real life is always trying to measure up to a story or a social code. Real life is being told you should be skinny and real life is never looking the way you want to because you could always look better. Real life is when nothing is ever enough and you keep eating up absences and thigh gaps and air and nothing to make yourself as small as possible, as loved as possible, as in control as possible. Real life is not stopping even when it doesn't make a single difference. Real life is listening to that voice that tells you your useless.

Real life is looking for an instruction manual with a buddy because if you don't know about the instruction manual or make it up as you go, you're going to fail.

In real life, it's easy to get swept away.

But you've got to stop. You've got to stop and say "fuck this." Sometimes, you've got to storm off from life and watch the goddamn sunset.

I fucking love sunsets.



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