Alex: Sorry, Ryan’s running late.
God damn it. Steph glared at her phone screen, irritated, as she stood behind the counter of the record store. Her thumbs flew across the screen as she typed out her reply.
Steph: What the hell?
Alex: He says he’s sorry. Jessie’s car broke down, so he had to drive her to the mine before he came in.
Steph: That was two hours ago!
Alex: Don’t know what to tell you, babe. He’s on his way back.
“Inconsiderate mother fucker,” Steph growled, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
Steph: Fine. I’ll wait.
Alex: No. Take your dad’s call and catch up. I’ll be there as soon as I can.
Steph: I need you here.
Alex: You WANT me there.
Steph: Let’s just say it’s both.
Alex: Sorry, there’s a bunch of people I need to wait on. If you’re not talking to your dad when I get there, I’m making you drink a Kiwi shot.
Ugh. Steph closed her eyes with a reluctant sigh. I cannot do another one of those. It might actually eat through my stomach.
… come to think of it, I’ve done a lot since we met. I need to check that bottle. I bet she got a new one and snuck it into the bar when I wasn’t looking, so she could keep making me do them.
The laptop beside her started beeping. She glanced over to see the incoming call notification. Her heart skipped a few beats as the word DAD rocked back and forth in the corner of the screen.
Okay. Relax. It’s not like he’s a creditor or something, he’s your father. She exhaled slowly as she moved the cursor to the ACCEPT button. Let’s just… go with the flow.
The video popped up as soon as she hit the button. After which she did an immediate double take. “Dad?!”
George Gingrich smiled at her from what looked like his home office in Seattle, wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. “Hey, Sweets. You expecting somebody else?”
“Yea, someone without a full beard!” She answered incredulously. “What the hell happened to your face?!”
“Do you like it?” He held up his chin and rubbed his facial hair, displaying it proudly. “I decided to grow one out and see how it looked. What do you think?”
“I think you look like a freaking lumberjack!”
“That was what I was going for. Is it good or bad?”
“It…” her voice trailed off as she looked at the screen closely. “… I don’t know. I have no words to describe how I feel right now. It’s so weird seeing you with it that I’m still processing my feelings.”
“Well, so long as your first reaction isn’t that I look like a vagrant, I suppose I can live with it.”
“When did you start growing it out?”
“Oh…” he looked up. “I want to say March sometime? Maybe April?”
Steph felt a pit in her stomach, as a guilty feeling swept over her. “… has it really been so long since I video-called you?”
“I think so, yea.” Her father smiled through the screen. “It’s great to see you, Sweets. You look good.”
“Thanks.” Steph lowered her gaze, itching the back of her neck. “Sorry I haven’t been reaching out.”
“It’s okay, kiddo. I know you’re busy out there. I’m just happy to see you now.” He leaned forward. “Are you still working as a DJ?”
“How’s that going?”
“They haven’t fired me yet, so I guess I’m doing a good job.” Steph cracked a smirk. “They pretty much gave me free run of the place, so long as I keep making them money.”
“Well, it’s always nice when your bosses have your back.”
“What about you? Are you still working at the production company?”
“Sort of.” He grinned. “We were acquired by Pixar last month.”
“You were WHAT?!”
“You heard me. I’m officially a Disney employee now.”
“Are you serious?!” Steph gaped at him. “That’s awesome! What are you working on? Any cool movies? What can you tell me?”
“Yes, I’m working on a cool movie. But no, I can’t tell you about it.” Her father thumbed over his shoulder. “They made me sign the most ruthless NDA I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Yea. I think if I break it, they’ll take my blood so they can clone me and sell my organs twice.”
“Aww.” Steph pouted. “I want some insider info.”
He shrugged. “You can watch it on Disney Plus in a year or so, if it makes you feel better.”
“I don’t have a Disney Plus account.”
“That’s okay. I’ll get you one.”
Steph shook her head. “You don’t have to do that, Dad.”
“Perk of the new job, Sweets. I can give up to three friends or family members free accounts.”
“Oh.” Steph paused. “In that case, thanks. I was just talking about re-watching the Star Wars movies, and how we should watch them all in a row.”
“Well, you can-” he stopped and tilted his head. “… we? Who’s ‘we’?”
“Um…” Steph squirmed. “‘We’ is me, and, uh… my girlfriend.”
George’s eyes widened. “You have a girlfriend?!”
“Well, jeez, Dad, you don’t have to act so surprised about it.”
“I’m not… okay, that came out wrong.” He scooted closer to his laptop. “That was ‘happy’ surprised, not ‘I can’t believe it’ surprised. What’s her name? How long have you guys been together?”
“Alex. And about five months. She’s a part-owner of the bar down the street.”
“Is it serious?”
“Yes. I, uh…” Steph glanced at the door, looking back quickly. “I actually called so I could introduce her to you. But she’s stuck at her job until her replacement gets back.”
“You’re gonna introduce her to me? Like, right now?”
“Whenever she gets here, yea.”
“Oh. Shit.” He looked down at his t-shirt. “I need to change.”
“What? Why? Your shirt is fine.”
“I’ve been wearing it for two days. And I’m not meeting your serious girlfriend for the first time while wearing a shirt without a collar.”
Steph raised an eyebrow. “Do you OWN a shirt with a collar?”
“One or two, for meetings.” He stood up, his chair sliding backwards and revealing a pair of sweatpants covered in British police boxes. “It might take a few minutes, I think they’re buried in the back of my closet. Be right back.”
Ryan winced as he breezed through the door to the Black Lantern, quickly removing his jacket. “I know, I know, I’m sorry.”
Alex glared at him as she grabbed her sweatshirt from behind the bar. “You told me you would be back forty-five minutes ago!”
“I’m sorry, Alex, we got held up. Are you late?”
“YES!!” Alex snapped as she stormed from behind the bar, struggling into her hoodie. “I TOLD you I’m meeting Steph’s dad! You couldn’t have waited until after your girlfriend gets off work for a fucking roadside quickie?!”
From the table beside them, Alex heard someone do a spit-take. Ryan’s face turned a shade of red. “We did NOT stop for a-”
“Whatever. You’re lucky I’m in a hurry.” Alex brushed past him on her way out the door. “Don’t forget to wash your hands before serving food.”
Someone’s choking laughter followed behind her as she raced out the door, zipping the hooded sweatshirt against the fall chill. The temperature was dropping quickly; Duckie told her that she could expect snow within the next two or three weeks, and that she should make sure to stock up on winter clothes.
Good thing I’ve got some extra money for my wardrobe. This high in the mountains, pretty sure it’ll get colder than Portland.
The jog to the record store was quick. Alex shoved her way inside, combing her hair with her fingers as she pulled off the hoodie. Steph looked up from her laptop with a smile. “There you are.”
“Here I am.” Alex walked around her and glanced at the monitor, noting the empty chair. “Where’s your dad?”
“I told him he was going to meet my serious girlfriend. And he insisted on getting a collared shirt.”
“… did he really?”
“I told him not to worry about it, but he was insistent.”
Alex hummed as she leaned against the counter beside Steph, her hand finding the brunette’s. “How’s it going?”
“Good. We’ve been catching up.” Steph shrugged. “Also, he works for Disney now. So we’re getting a free Disney Plus account.”
“Wait, he works for who?”
“Well, technically Pixar.” She shrugged. “But same same.”
“Okay, that’s fucking cool.” Alex nodded. “What does he do? Is he an animator?”
“No. I edit the video so that it’s cohesive.” Alex turned to see Steph’s father drop back into his seat, wearing a white button-up shirt. He smiled widely as he got closer to the camera. “I do help the animators, but it’s mostly to determine the best camera angles. You must be Alex.”
“Hi.” She waved to him sheepishly. “It’s, uh, good to meet you, Mister Gingrich.”
“You too. And please call me George.”
“Sure. Nice sweatpants, by the way.”
Steph snickered into her fist as her father’s face fell. “… dammit. You weren’t supposed to notice.”
“Were they from Doctor Who?”
“They were. One of my favorite shows.”
“Mm.” Alex looked at her girlfriend. “I see where you get your nerdy side from.”
George scoffed. “My kid WISHES she was as nerdy as me.”
“I really, really don’t,” Steph lamented dryly. “There’s nerdy, and there’s taking it to extremes. Ask my dad about the months he spent restoring an old Doctor Who episode.”
“It was the ONLY surviving copy of that episode, thank you very much.” Her father shook a finger at the screen. “One of the eighty or so episodes that were thought to be lost for good. Someone found a low-quality copy on a tape somewhere in New Zealand, and my company was one of the few who had the older equipment needed to process it. It took five months of work.”
“You didn’t come home for days at a time.”
“I was busy.”
“Mom said there were six other people in your company who could’ve done it.”
“They weren’t as committed as I was. But I digress.” George looked back at Alex. “So, my daughter tells me you guys have been together since May?”
Alex nodded. “Almost five months now.”
“How did you guys meet?”
“I lost while playing a guessing game, and she made me drink a shot of Kiwi Schnapps.”
“Okay, I didn’t MAKE you drink it,” Steph protested as her father raised his eyebrows. “You agreed to.”
“Yea, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been cool.”
“Kiwi Schnapps, though?” George asked with a pained facial expression. “I mean, God, you didn’t have something better to drink? Like antifreeze, or diesel fuel?”
Steph rolled her eyes. “Shockingly, neither of those were being served at the bar.”
Alex shook her head, before turning back to the screen. “Anyway, we started hanging out from there. That was April, and we started dating in May.”
George nodded. “What’s your guys’ plan? To stay there? I know last Steph and I spoke, she was considering moving back to Seattle.”
“Not anymore.” Steph reached around and squeezed Alex’s shoulder. “She brought into the local bar. And I’m not leaving without her, so I think we’re here for the long haul.”
“That’s nice.” He smiled, a look of relief on his face. “I’ll be honest, you traveling with your band used to really make me worry about you. I’m glad you’ve found someplace to call home.” He paused. “Though I was hoping it would be closer to Seattle.”
Steph winced. “Sorry.”
“Would you consider coming out to visit?” Alex asked. “Have you been out here before?”
“I have not.” George hummed. “I… don’t hate the idea. Assuming my daughter is willing to put up with me for a week or so.”
Steph scoffed. “Of course I am, Dad, come on. I know it’s been a while since we talked, but… I miss seeing you in person.”
“Yea, it has been way too long since I gave you a proper hug.”
“Agreed. But you’d better remember that I’m twenty-five now.” Steph pointed at the screen. “A proper hug will NOT include a noogie.”
“A proper hug from your father will always include a noogie.” He smirked, then looked up in thought. “Well… given how long it’s been, I’d love to see you for Christmas, Sweets. Unless you guys have already made plans?”
They looked at each other and shrugged. “I don’t think we’ve thought about it yet,” Alex admitted. “Though it would be a little late if we were, it’s only a couple of months away.”
“Neither of our places have room for a visitor, though,” Steph added. “Could you survive in a hotel?”
“I do twice a month, when they fly me down to California.”
“Then you should totally come out. We can show you the town, and the mountains…” she paused. “And that’s pretty much it. This place is really tiny.”
“So long as I get to see you, I don’t care.” He smiled. “Now I’m really looking forward to the holidays.”
“Okay, back to Alex.” He turned to her. “Steph has never introduced me to any of her previous girlfriends, so I haven’t had the chance to play the role of interrogative father. Are you willing to entertain me for a little while?”
Alex smirked. “I don’t see why not.”
“Good, because tradition dictates that I show you baby pictures first.” He held up a pink photo binder with the word ‘Stephanie’ bedazzled on the front, just above a picture of an infant. “This is what actually took so long to dig out of the closet.”
“Oh, come on,” Steph groaned. “Seriously, Dad? Baby photos?”
“Yes!” Alex pushed Steph aside as she got closer to the screen. “Show me EVERYTHING.”
“So was it as bad as you thought it’d be?”
Steph raised an eyebrow as they walked back towards the Black Lantern. “Which part? The baby photos, or the embarrassing stories from my childhood?”
“I was actually asking about before I got there,” Alex clarified as she squeezed Steph’s hand. “Did you guys catch up okay?”
“Honestly… it was like nothing had happened,” Steph admitted. “Like, yea, it’s been a while since we talked, so let’s catch up for a few minutes before I let slip that I have a serious girlfriend.”
Alex hummed. “So you DIDN’T need me.”
“No, I suppose not,” Steph agreed. “I… guess I just need to work on being a better daughter.”
“Well, seeing him for Christmas is a good start.” Alex hesitated, biting her lip. “Sorry for inviting him out without talking to you first, by the way. I didn’t think about it until after I said something.”
“That was… definitely unexpected,” Steph stated. “But I do like the thought of him coming out here. He threw himself headfirst into his work after Mom died, and with me gone, I don’t know if he’s taken any vacation since.”
Alex nodded sympathetically. “Then it sounds like coming out here is exactly what he needs.”
“You know…” Alex looked at her. “He doesn’t have to get a hotel room. If we clean up your place, he can stay there and you can just stay with me.”
“Hmm.” Steph pursed her lips. “That’s… definitely cheaper than a hotel room. And I’m at your place more often than mine at this point anyway.”
“True. Why haven’t we moved in together?”
Steph stopped in her tracks. So suddenly that Alex accidentally tugged her hand away as she kept walking. “… huh?”
“I…” Alex blinked as she looked at her girlfriend. “I think the barrier between my brain and my mouth forgot to engage.”
“Uh… yea.” Steph tilted her head. “Do you… want to move in together?”
Alex scratched at her neck, as she tried to formulate a response. “… really, what would even change?” she finally asked. “Like you said, you spend more time at my place than you do at yours. I don’t think you’ve gone home for almost a week now, and I don’t even remember the last time you slept there.”
Steph looked up in thought. “… shit. I don’t either.”
“Well, that’s your fault,” she countered. “I’ve gotten used to sleeping next to you, and now I don’t think I can do without. You’ve done gone and gotten me addicted.”
Alex smirked. “I’m so terribly sorry.”
“You better be.” Steph inhaled slowly. “We’re talking about living in your apartment, right?”
“I don’t pay rent, so yea.”
“How do you think Ryan’s going to feel about that?”
Alex winced. “… maybe we should talk to him about it tomorrow,” she admitted. “I kind-of insinuated that he was late because he stopped for a quickie with Jessie on the side of the road.”
Steph snorted, holding a hand do her mouth. “No you didn’t.”
“Yea. And by ‘insinuated’, I mean that I yelled it at him in front of the entire bar.”
Her girlfriend’s snort turned into a full-on hysterical cackle, as she stomped her foot on the ground. “Oh my God, are you serious?!” she finally exclaimed. “Ryan stopping to bang his girlfriend on the side of the road? I’d bet ten bucks that he wouldn’t even do it in the kitchen, never mind THAT far from his bedroom.”
“I know. I was mad at him for making me late.”
“I bet. Oh, man.” Steph grabbed her hand. “Come on, let’s get back.”
“What? Why the rush?”
“Because I want to see how much Kiwi Schnapps he makes you drink.”