Episode #34 of Nocturne, “I’m All In”, is a one-off episode featuring a new cast of characters who start the episode playing a friendly game of poker. In the actual episode, The Fangirl wins the hand and The Tailor’s request for a fanfic doesn’t get fulfilled. But after it aired, I couldn’t stop wondering: what would have happened if she had lost? This story is my take on that alternate reality.
In the Lucky Rabbit, five mysterious acquaintances sat around a table playing cards. This particular hand was starting to get rather intense, with the betting coming down to two individuals: The Tailor, and The Fangirl. Their names were false, but once the two ran out of poker chips to bet, they had to offer up goods of real value in order to keep the game going.
The Tailor pulled out a business card with a free voucher printed on the back: good for one pair of custom-made gloves. Nobody said so out loud – most just chuckled, or smiled mischievously instead – but everyone at the table knew that these gloves had a magical touch, so to speak.
Especially between lovers.
The Fangirl was visibly flustered. She wasn’t sure what she could possibly offer that would even come close to such a highly valuable item. Bemused by her stammering, The Tailor interrupted her in order to provide a helpful suggestion:
“I would like you to write me a story. I would like you to write me some fanfiction; and I believe you know what I mean by that.”
She did indeed blush, knowingly. The other three sitting at the table cackled quietly and took turns adding their two cents in the form of lewd remarks. Once the call was made, the two revealed their cards and the winner was…
Well, that depends on what branch you’re in and who you ask. Time is fucky like that. But somewhere out there is a branch where The Tailor won that hand, and The Fangirl did, indeed, have to write him a story.
Our friend The Fangirl is sitting in that branch right now at a small table. More specifically, she’s sitting in a coffee shop called the Sleepy Bean where they offer free cupcakes on Fridays (appropriately named “Free Cupcake Friday”) and no one has ever heard of a beetle or a butterflap or an unsettling ritual requiring the most disturbing and unfortunate use of a cat.
As The Fangirl looks around the room for inspiration, she sees a young woman standing behind the register taking customer’s orders and politely handing them their coffee. This young woman has a blue streak in her hair, a name tag that says “Briar” (or is it “Blair”?), an entire sleeve of tattoos on her left arm, and several interesting piercings.
A tall, confident-looking man in a flannel shirt and a trilby hat (or is it a fedora?) walks into the shop, flicks off his designer sunglasses, and proceeds to make a very complicated order. The Fangirl loses track after the third skinny-half-caf-triple-shot-of-whatever he is requesting, but the young woman behind the counter takes all of his details with ease and hands him a perfect cup of coffee after a surprisingly short wait. His cup of coffee has “Trick” written in large letters on the side.
The cashier beams at her customer and bids him a good day with a slight trace of awkwardness in her voice. He tips his hat back to her with the grace of a southern gentleman and drops a surprisingly large cash tip into her tip jar before sitting down to enjoy his beverage.
Those two might make a cute couple…our friend The Fangirl thinks to herself.
She smirks and does a happy little wiggle as she settles into her chair and pulls a spiral notebook out of her messenger bag. She likes to write down her thoughts the old-fashioned way with pencil and paper when she’s trying to feel inspired. She then glances around the room to make sure no one is staring at her, and clenches the edge of the table in order to steady herself. Her eyes roll so deep into the back of her head that all you can see are her sclera. Everybody in this coffee shop is so preoccupied with free cupcakes and coffee that they don’t notice. A few moments later, when The Fangirl comes out of her trance, her irises are a very different color than what they were a minute ago.
At the exact same time, the young woman behind the counter flinches and rubs her forehead as she sucks in an audibly loud hiss of pain. But her splitting headache mercifully vanishes almost as quickly as it appears. She shrugs it off and goes back to work while The Fangirl begins to jot down some notes.
Nobody in the coffee shop is paying enough attention to her to notice this, but her smirk slowly starts to soften into a neutral expression, and then gradually slumps into an angry frown. The change in her expression matches the increasingly frustrating forcefulness with which she scribbles her notes. Finally, The Fangirl slaps her pencil down onto the table, rips the page out of her notebook, and loudly crumples it into a ball.
Dang it! They would make a terrible couple she thinks to herself. It’s an awkward pairing, like trying to force two mismatched puzzle pieces to fit together. She can’t ship it. Not without feeling a little bit dirty – and not in the good or the fun way.
The Fangirl is distracted from her own disappointment by the tinkling of a bell. It’s the bell that hangs above the door and rings every time a customer enters or leaves the shop. A different young woman wearing scrubs and walking a pitbull enters the Sleepy Bean just as Trick is throwing away his coffee and getting ready to leave. Her hospital badge says Emma Carne, and a large, shiny metal medallion hanging around the dog’s collar says “Lilith”.
Trick, an apparent dog lover, is so eager to skritch Lilith’s adorable ears that he almost forgets to ask permission first. Nurse Emma grants it with a smile and some small talk as he lovingly pets and strokes the dog’s head.
“Good girl,” he says to the dog once he satisfies his desire for animal cuddles. He smiles politely at nurse Emma and says goodbye before tossing his coffee cup in the trash can and leaving the Sleepy Bean.
Would they…? The Fangirl ponders, unable to finish her thought due to the sudden and exuberant greeting that nurse Emma gives “Mr. Miller”. He was apparently sitting down and waiting for her to arrive. She greets him loudly, giving him a big hug. The two appear to be very warmly acquainted. They’re almost cute together.
The Fangirl steadies herself once again as her eyes roll back into her head. This time, it’s Mr. Miller who coincidentally flinches and clutches his forehead in pain a moment later. When The Fangirl’s eyes roll back down, she sees nurse Emma pawing at Mr. Miller’s head, insisting he let her examine him despite his objections.
The Fangirl wants to ship them. There’s warmth there; but there’s also a lot of pain. Too much pain for her to reconcile. Instead, she draws a happy, shaggy dog frolicing through a meadow and chasing butterflies in a land far, far away.
After several minutes, The Fangirl begins to lose her hold on her new identity and rapidly blinks away the strange color in her eyes. She is once again herself, and nowhere near closer to making good on her debt. Then she suddenly remembers something else The Tailor had said that night:
“A story with me in it would be…enjoyable.”
Fine then, have it your way, Tailor she thinks to herself and prepares for one last shift. This time it is much, much harder due to both the distance, and the fact that he’s not a rabbit. She clenches the table so hard that one of her perfectly manicured acrylic nails splits horizontally just below the quick. The Fangirl doesn’t notice the pain or the blood dripping from her finger until after her eyes roll back down into their normal position.
Back at the Lucky Rabbit, The Tailor is dealing a new hand of cards for a very different group of people. He suddenly feels a stabbing pain attacking his skull from all sides. But as suddenly as the headache comes, it vanishes just as quickly.
The woman to his left asks him if he’s alright; to her surprise, he responds with a small, uncharacteristically emotional grin as he straightens his posture.
“The Fangirl has made good on her debt. I’ll be able to collect on it tomorrow,” he explains, adjusting his tie. He ignores their confused looks and calmly collects the cards he spilled a moment before.
“Now, where were we?”
The next day, The Tailor finds himself walking into the Sleepy Bean where The Fangirl is waiting for him. She even orders him his favorite cup of coffee: a large, decaf blonde roast with skim milk and three packets of artificial sweetener: one blue, one pink, and one yellow.
He can’t help but notice the triumphant smirk on her face, and wonders what sort of trick she has up her sleeve. The Tailor takes a cautious sip of his coffee, nodding silently in approval.
“You’re good,” he assures her.
“Oh, you have no idea,” she smirks back, pushing a spiral notebook across the table at him.
The Fangirl watches The Tailor closely as his eyeballs dart back and forth, reading the piece line-by-line. The first few paragraphs set the scene: a young woman who loves old movies and novels meets a well-groomed gentleman in a small town coffee shop called the Sleepy Bean. The coffee shop she describes on the pages looks exactly like the cafe he is sitting in right now.
The Tailor looks up at her after a few brief minutes of reading. “This is about us. Right here, right now. I don’t understand?”
“Keep reading,” she insists, nodding at the spiral notebook.
He obeys her. When he gets further down the page and turns over to the next, he reads something about a young, handsome man dressed in all black sitting behind him and slightly to the left. The Tailor breaks eye contact with the page to look up at The Fangirl, his jaw ever-so-slightly slack with a lack of comprehension. She nods again in the direction of the handsome stranger, and The Tailor finally looks back over his left shoulder. Sure enough, there’s a man dressed all in black sitting alone at a table along the wall. He’s wearing black jeans with a black graphic t-shirt, and he has a mop of slightly greasy jet-black hair dangling over one eye.
Upon closer inspection, The Tailor realizes that the young man isn’t actually that young. He may be dressed like a young hipster who indignantly refuses to conform to societal expectations; but the deep lines in his haggard face hold a mountain of sad memories that most people will never know (and he will never tell). He is holding a spiral notebook of his own in his hands. He looks as though he’s been fixated on this notebook for quite a while, number two pencil in hand, the old-school kind that you have to sharpen manually with a bladed device. It is hard for The Tailor to tell what he’s working on from so many feet away, but his best guess is that it’s some sort of dark, moody poetry that doesn’t rhyme on purpose for artistic reasons.
The Tailor watches him for several minutes, transfixed by the melancholy that is radiating off of him. The Fangirl watches The Tailor watching him, excited to see her work come to life. The mysterious man in black begins twirling his pencil deftly around and between his fingers. At one point the man gets lost so deep in thought and so frustrated by whatever is on his mind that he stops twirling the pencil, clenches it too tightly, and breaks it into two pieces. But the pencil doesn’t just break in two. With serendipitous force, the broken part of the pencil with the pointy end sails through the air propelled by the momentum of the break – and lightly stabs The Tailor in the back of his left shoulder.
He winces and lets out an unintentional cry of pain, surprised by how deep such a seemingly harmless object manages to burrow through his suit jacket and through his dress shirt and into his skin. He quickly snaps his head back around to shoot an accusatory look at The Fangirl, his furrowed brow expressing his confusion without words.
Her sly grin only spreads further across her face and blooms into a full-blown mischievous smile. She nods back in the direction of the man in black, silently commanding The Tailor to turn back around.
“Oh, hey, dude, I’m so sorry-” the dark stranger tries to apologize, his hands hovering over the small piece of sharp pencil that is sticking out of The Tailor’s shoulder. He’s not sure whether it would be appropriate to pull it out or not.
The Tailor is touched by the concern of the handsome stranger. He alleviates the stranger’s guilty burden by plucking the pencil out of his own shoulder and attempts to hand it back to him. “No harm done, friend,” he assures him. “‘Tis but a flesh wound.”
“I ain’t your friend, pal” the brooding stranger snaps back moodily. The Tailor looks back at The Fangirl, confused, his furrowed brow and bewildered eyes asking: what now?
But by the time he turns his head to look at her, she already has a white-knuckle grip on the edge of the table and her eyes are rolling so far back into her head that all he can see are her sclera. A moment later her body jolts, and her eyes roll back down. She wipes away a drop of blood from the edge of her nose and looks up at the dark, mysterious stranger with eyes that are the exact same color as his, saying:
“But you two could be friends. You two could be very, very good friends.”
The Tailor looks back at the man in black. He is relaxed now, and looking down at The Tailor with a smitten gaze. “You’re right,” he repeats, compliantly. “We could be very, very good friends.”
The Tailor’s gaze darts back and forth between the handsome stranger and his friend The Fangirl. She smirks and nods for the last time, urging him to make a move.
The Tailor stands up from his seat, the rubber stops of the chair legs making a loud, awkward noise as it scoots across the tile floor. A barely perceptible nervous tremor in his left hand is all that betrays his calm resolve. He cups the stranger’s hand with his left, and presses the broken end of the pencil into the strangers palm with his right. The Tailor feels a shutter of nervousness (or is it pleasure?) coming from the brooding man’s hand as he cups it between his palms.
“Can I…buy you a cup of coffee, or something?” The brooding man in black asks him.
“I would like that. I would like that very much,” comes The Tailor’s deceptively calm reply.
The Fangirl then turns to you (yes, you) with a sly smile on her face and says “You’re an intelligent reader. I’m sure you can guess what happens next. So how ’bout we give these two love birds some privacy, okay?”