I never expected to meet someone like him. I had encountered a few celebrities in my role as fundraiser for House Sugar, our non-profit organization. But he was different, more famous than the others, a real rising star. He stood around at our fundraiser with his small entourage waiting nearby. He was clearly uncomfortable, not talking to many people, a drink in his hand.

We locked eyes for a moment, but he looked away. I kind of wanted to say something to him, but his demeanor was forbidding and unwelcoming. Best to stay away from those types. I didn't even know why he attended our event or who he was with.

I lost track of him in the crowd. Many New York-based celebrities floated around the room, attracted to the politically correct idea of our non-profit—we granted seed money to women artists, writers, filmmakers, playwrights, etc. We were popular during this "Me, Too" era. That was fine by TJ, Jess, and me. We believed in what we were doing.

Of course, my participation in House Sugar was a bit different than funding women artists—but, tonight, we were focused on raising money for our grants. I didn't push my own agenda on this crowd.

After making the rounds and shaking innumerable hands, I stepped out on the balcony, even though it was a bit chilly in NYC that evening. It was too warm inside with all the people walking around, breathing, and chatting.

The man I lost track of was there, the most famous New York resident to grace one of our benefits. He turned, surprised by me opening the door and stepping outside. No one else was there.

"Excuse me." I moved back, not wanting to intrude.

"No, it's fine," he murmured and looked at his phone. It was tiny in his huge hand. He put in his pocket and surveyed my face for a moment. "Are you one the co-founders of House Sugar?"

"Yes," I said. "Joey Wood." I reached out my hand and he took it in his large paw. His hand swallowed mine. I smiled at him. He frowned instead, drawing his dark brows together.

"I'm Adam," he said. He understood that I knew who he was. Adam Ferris, rising star in the film industry. He'd been based in New York for quite some time and was tapped to do a major franchise movie seven years ago. Since then, he had become popular, starring in a series of movies outside the franchise and making a name for himself. I didn't even know he would be at our little shindig.

"Thank you for coming out tonight," I said, politely.

He nodded at me once, his expression still grave. "It's all due to my friends, Nicole, uh, Charles. She wanted Noah, you know, Manheim, to be here to show support and…" He rolled his eyes slightly. His face lost its frozen look for a moment. His friends were also well-known directors who lent their support to House Sugar.

"And Noah pressed you into service." I nodded in sympathy. "Well, your sacrifice is much appreciated."

He looked a little stricken. "That sounded rude. I don't mean that I didn't want to… Well, I didn't. But the cause… you know. It's about women artists and I'm trying… but…" He stopped and pressed his lips together. He touched them with two fingers.

I watched in amazement. "Well, you just did a whole little thing all by yourself."

He laughed and shook his head. A lock of hair fell onto his forehead and he raked it back with one hand. "I… yeah… I did. I'm trying to say that it's a good cause."

"Even if you didn't want to show up."

He opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again. "Shit. No, no. It's… Well, yeah, that is kind of the truth."

"No problem," I said, laughing.

"What's your role?" He gazed into my face, his whole attention suddenly focused on me.

"Oh, you can stop pretending now. It's okay if you're not interested."

"No, I am. I founded a non-profit. I'm not as directly involved anymore because I'm too busy, but I remember what it was like to have these events and try to fundraise. I fully appreciate the work it takes to pull this off."

Maybe he was genuinely interested.

"I'm in charge of amateur content creators," I explained. "And I don't mean that as a slur at all. Some great works come out of the amateur wing of our organization. Our definition of the term covers those creators who are not represented by agents or being paid for their work."

"I understand," he said. "What does the amateur wing consist of?"

I warmed to my subject. It was my baby. "It's a server, the Sugar Server, we call it. It's a place where women—or I suppose men, if they so desire—post original or fanfiction works online."

He seemed to ponder that idea for a moment. "Works, like written pieces or artwork?"

"Both. We don't have the capacity at this time to host films. But we can host a lot of fiction, poetry, essay, fanfiction, etc."

"What's fanfiction? I've heard that term before. What exactly is it?"

I looked him in the eye. "I'm not sure you want to know."

He stared back. "Why not?"

I sighed and wondered exactly how much to tell him. "How fragile are you?"

His eyebrows shot up. "Pardon?"

"I'm speaking of anxiety and the pressures of fame."

"I'm not fragile at all," he said sharply, brows drawn together again, lips tight. "I'm able to handle a lot."

I'd heard he didn't like to watch his own films but decided not to say that to him.

I held up my palms in a gesture of surrender. "All right, then. Fanfiction is a story in which writers use characters from a popular film, TV show, game, or other medium within a new plot. The story can follow or diverge from the original work." I rubbed my arms as I talked. My small black sweater wasn't keeping me especially warm.

He nodded. "I've heard that. What does that have to do with me?" He watched me holding my upper arms. "Do we need to go inside? Are you cold?"

"Sure," I said. I had started shivering a bit.

Adam held the door open for me. I noted exactly how tall he was; it was obvious I could almost walk underneath his arm, though I didn't. Once inside, I pointed to a more secluded spot with a cluster of comfortable chairs off to the right of us. He allowed me to lead the way. "I want to hear more about this," he said, taking a seat and resting one long leg on top of his knee.

I sat next to him. It was a bit loud inside the room, so I leaned over toward him to be heard. I could smell his expensive cologne and whatever hair products his stylist put on him.

"Fanfiction is not a new phenomenon," I said. "Parodies were often considered a form of fanfiction, as writers chose to take a piece already written and morph it into something else."

I watched a small group gather nearby our seats. One of the women, with long blonde hair, might have Adam's stylist, if I recalled correctly from social media. She stood next to a few others, presumably his agent, assistant, and publicist. A man standing behind the group looked like he might be security. They all glanced over at Adam from time to time.

A small woman walked away from the group for a time and came back with a drink in her hand. She meandered over to us to hand the drink to Adam. "Would you like this?" She shot a worried look at Adam and then at me.

"Yes, thank you." He took the drink and smiled at her briefly. He didn't offer an introduction. "I'm fine."

"Okay," she said.

I raised my brows at Adam. He set his drink down on the table next to him. "They are checking to see if I need rescuing from you."

"Do you?"

"No," he said. "Though it's rude that Lily didn't bring you a drink. Would you care for something?"

"No, thanks," I replied. "I'm working this event."

"I see." He took a sip of his drink, which looked like whiskey on the rocks. "Continue."

"You asked what fanfic has to do with you. Should I make that connection for you?" I really wondered if he wanted to know.

He gave me an odd look. "Yes, that's why I asked."

"We ask writers to tag their fanfiction to categorize the stories into fandoms. Your franchise has a rather large fandom."

One of the women stepped forward upon hearing my words. "Miss…" she started to say.

Adam waved her away. "It's okay."

I could see the wheels turning. His drink was half-way to his plush lips. "My franchise?"

"Yep," I said. "Specifically, the last few films."

"The ones I'm in." He sipped the drink and then twisted the glass in his hand.

"Yes, that is correct."

"The stories are about me." His eyes were serious. He was holding himself still, like he was afraid of the answer.

"No, not about you, per se. About the characters in the films. The stories are called fanfiction."

He placed his drink on the table again, sat up, and clasped his hands together. "I've heard of that. I heard that people were… invested in our characters being romantically involved."

"Correct. And many stories have been written to explore that idea."

"I see." He nodded slowly. "I see. Listen, even though the movie's out now, I'm not going to talk about it." He raised his eyes to the woman who tried to stop me from speaking.

"I'm not asking you to," I assured him, glancing at her, too. "I'm telling you that there is fanfic out there. Your franchise, though, is probably our biggest fandom at this time."

He looked a bit shocked. "Why?"

"Well, unless you want to get into a discussion about the films…"

He interrupted. "No." He waved at the woman again to stop her from saying something.

"Then, I can't tell you why. I mean, I can, but you probably don't want to hear it."

"No, no. I don't. So, the stories feature characters doing different things?"

"Some plots follow storylines laid out in the films. Some diverge quite a bit. It depends on the writer."

"What else is out there? Anything about me as a person?" His gaze held mine.

"You don't want to know that, I promise." I shook my head.

"That's dangerous," he said. "It's not… not at all good. You have no idea. Tell me the rest. It's better if I know than if I don't know."

"I'm sure your security team and publicist know all this, Adam. They probably don't tell about it you for a good reason," I said in a low voice. I was unwilling to be the one to hand out this information.

He leaned in closer to me. "I need to know." He enunciated each word clearly. His gaze never wavered. I could see how he could be intimidating.

"Fine." I took a deep breath. "There's a thing called Real Person Fiction, and, yes, it would be about you as a real person. Hence the name."

He leaned back and blew out a long breath. "Fuck." He darted a look at me. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize. It sounds kind of fucked," I agreed. "But, look, writers know the difference between fiction and real life. They write about characters."

"Some write about me, though, like they know me."

"Fame is a bitch," I said. "I'm just guessing, though. I really don't know."

He laughed shortly, sarcastically. "You don't have to tell me that. People writing that stuff are just fucking creepy, you know? Weird. Do you support it?"

I chose my words carefully. "It's not for me to police what people write."

"But do you support it?"

I cocked my head to one side and considered my answer. "I support it. The server is part of our mission at House Sugar—so, yes, I believe in fanfiction. It's an outlet for women. It's a way to be creative."

"Do you think it leads to people becoming obsessed and blurring the line between fantasy and reality?"

I realized suddenly that I was not dealing with a stupid person here—some celebrities didn't have opinions and didn't think for themselves. Not this guy. He was fucking smart, articulate, and well-educated.

I answered carefully. "I don't believe there's a direct correlation between writing a short story and being obsessed with a celebrity. That's too big a leap to make."

"It can happen. It has happened," he stated, vehemently.

"I don't doubt it," I replied. "But not everyone travels that path. I understand that it's scary to think about, but the majority of writers distinguish between reality and fiction—and they don't wish to harm you."

He leaned back and twined his fingers behind his head for a minute—stretching. "How many times do you think I've had to move because some idiot published my address?"

"In how many years?" I asked.

"Say, the last three."

"I don't know," I said.

"Three. Once a year. I've needed—no, that's wrong—I've been forced to move because it was intolerable having fans parked in front of my building. People followed me, took photos, tried to get autographs—all because my address ended up on the internet. I bought a house in upstate New York and the address was published. Now, I have to ramp up security there or dump it. Either way, it's a fucking pain in the ass." His voice was rising above the low hum of chatter.

"Got it," I said.

Another woman came over upon hearing his soliloquy. She was short with dark brown hair. "Adam," she said. He looked at her. "I'm just checking in. I can order the car anytime."

"In a bit," he said. "Thank you."

She nodded.

He looked back at me. "Can I read some of this fanfiction?"

"Oh, oh, God, no. You don't want to do that," I said, horrified.

He laughed at my expression. "Yes, I do. I want to find out if it's dangerous."

"You are out of your fucking mind," I gritted out. Then realized who I was talking to. "Oh, sorry. Sorry. I really don't think that is a good idea."

Adam laughed out loud and clapped his hands. "I liked the first answer better. I am out of my fucking mind." From the table, he snagged a copy of program that my colleague, TJ, had designed for the evening. He wrote on it with a sharpie he pulled from his jacket pocket. "Here's the email. Send me a couple of stories."

I took the program like it was a snake about to bite me. "Okay. Are you sure?"

"Yes." He pointed a long finger at me. "Send me a good one—one that wouldn't offend—and a bad one—one that would freak me the fuck out. Send me a real person one."

I shook my head. "You really, really, really don't want…"

He placed a hand on my arm. "Yeah, I do."

I tore off part of the program. "I'm going to give you this part back. If you'd like to talk about what you read, my email and phone number are on here. Let me know what you think."

"You want to know if I get freaked out." He smiled, full on, right at me. I caught my breath. He was fucking gorgeous when he smiled—his dimples showed, his eyes crinkled, and his face lit up. He tended to look grumpy when he wasn't smiling, but that's why he was often cast in intense and difficult roles.

I swallowed hard. "I'd really like to know whether you think it's dangerous."

He took the piece of program between his fingers and waved it at me. "I will."

He stood. I did, too. "It was nice to meet you, Joey." He shook my hand again.

He strolled out of the room in his expensive suit with his entourage of women, and one lone male security guard, at his heels. His long legs ate up the ground and he left them all in the dust.

I told the girls about my encounter the next day at our tiny House Sugar office space downtown. We were debriefing about our event and the money we raised.

TJ and Jess were very excited to choose stories for Mr. Ferris to read.

Jess was all for choosing as much BDSM as we could throw at him. She kept singing, I will be your Father Figure / put your tiny hand in mine…

TJ just laughed and said she'd find a good Real Person Fiction for him. They both searched the servers, while I chewed a nail and wondered what the actual fuck I was doing.

We finally decided on a straight-up fanfiction story based directly on the franchise, a modern story that diverged quite a bit, a BDSM story, and an RPF story about Adam Ferris finding his doggie, Marvin.

I put some blinders on my terror and went ahead with the email. The ladies helped me write it. It took an hour to complete because I wanted to be extra careful about what I wrote. Jess was the only one of the three of us who wasn't about to go fucking insane. I will be your Daddy, until the end of time, she sang. I wanted to bean her upside her head.

Dear [we debated here and decided to use his first name] Adam,

The women of House Sugar and the Sugar Server have chosen a selection of stories for you to read. [We also debated about whether to tell him what they were about. In the end, we decided that knowledge was power, and we should give him summaries.]

Truth Hurts is a story that follows the first sequel movie, asking the question of what would happen if the heroine had to rescue the villain after she wounded him in the forest. She takes him aboard a ship and they have to work together or die.

Friends with the Monster is a modern-day, real-world story about how the hero of the franchise helps a group of foster children and meets the heroine, their foster mom.

At Your Service: Knights of Ren Escorts is a BDSM story with an emphasis on Daddy Dom / little girl dynamics. In it, the heroine employs an escort service to try some different kinks in the bedroom. This is called "Porn Without Plot." [TJ wrote this while I freaked out at my desk, thinking about Adam reading it. She thought it was better that Adam knew upfront what this story was about. I wanted to cut it and was voted down.]

Marvin and You is a Real Person Fiction story written in second person, where the reader is the main character, along with Adam Ferris. It tells the story of how Marvin was adopted and bears little resemblance to real life.

Please let us know your thinking about this fanfiction.

Joey, TJ, and Jess

I embedded the links, said a tiny prayer, and hit send. The girls made me promise to share details if I heard anything back from Mr. Ferris.

I will be the one who loves you 'til the end of time…

Jess threatened to add that quotation to the end of the email. Kill me now.

My cell phone rang while I was in the middle of grading someone's poetry paper. It was not an especially good discussion of William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow." I grabbed the phone, grateful for the interruption.

A woman's voice came on the line. "Is this Jo-anne _ speaking?"

"It's Jo-hah-nna _. Yes?" I was used to getting calls from a variety of places—could be a student, a publisher, an editor, someone trying to reach us at House Sugar. I was also used to people mispronouncing my name.

"I'm sorry. Jo-hah-nna. This is Lily. I'm Mr. Ferris's agent. Is this a good time?"

I almost swallowed my tongue. Holy shit. "Yes."

"Please hold." The phone clicked and another voice came on the line.

"Joey?"

"Hi." I stood up and starting to pace. My palms began to sweat, and I thought I might drop my phone.

"It's Adam. I read the stories."

Yes," I said. Oh so erudite.

"May I just say… something?" His voice was rich and deep on the phone.

"Uh, sure," I said.

"Holy fucking shit! What the fuck is this shit? What the fuck?" He was shouting.

"I told you, you damn maniac," I shouted back. "I told you it would freak you out."

"He… He… spanks her. Good God, what is this shit?"

I bit my lip. "Adam, you had a spanking scene in one of your movies."

"That was acting!" he hollered. I swear the paint started peeling off my walls.

"Okay, so it's dangerous, in your opinion." I tried to sound reasonable.

I heard him breathing like a fucking dragon on the other end of the phone. "What do you think?"

"All right, calm down," I said. "I'll admit. It was hard to think about you reading this stuff. I let the others pick for me because I couldn't quite stomach the idea of you reading fucking fanfiction."

"HA!" he snorted. "HA! See, I'm right. It's too weird—even for you."

"HA!" I yelled back. "Even for me? What does that mean?" He had a point, but I was not willing to concede.

"HA!" he bellowed. "It means, I win. What do I get for winning this argument?"

"What?" The word burst out of my mouth.

"Yeah, I won. What do I get?" He sounded calmer. I could hear the good humor in his voice.

My mouth must have dropped open, even though he surely couldn't see it. "Not one thing, sir. I can't stop fanfiction from being written. I'm not… I mean, I can't… This server is up and running. I'm not in a position to…" This fucker had me speechless—and I suspected he was enjoying my misery.

"What. Do. I. Get?" He was chuckling outright.

"You get to ride this train to glory." I was not to be outdone.

"What the fuck?"

"I mean, honey… I hate to tell ya, but… this horse has left the barn. This ship has sailed—and it's got you on it, my friend. Fanfiction, real person fiction, is a thing. That's what you get."

"Well, that just sucks."

Truer words were never spoken.

"I still win," he said.

"Like I don't know that," I replied.

Adam said goodbye and hung up laughing. At least he wasn't angry at me. He may have been flipped out but not angry.

I thought about that phone call and Adam's problem with fanfiction for another day or two. It occurred to me that a kind of doxxing had happened to me a while back. Oddly enough, I wanted to tell Adam about it. I realized he might understand, perhaps better than anyone else, what had happened to me.

I wrote another email just from me this time, carefully worded.

Dear Adam,

Please forgive my further intrusion into your life. I do not want you to think I'm one of those people who takes advantage of a short-term connection. However, I thought of something regarding our conversation. I had an experience in which I was "outed," for lack of a better term, by a writer. It was quite disconcerting. I would tell you the full story here but don't wish to have it floating the internet. If you are interested in discussing the idea of privacy and fiction—or whatever theme we want to call it—please let me know. If not, no hard feelings.

Joey

I sent the missive into outer space, wondering what would come of it. I was sure that Adam had to be very careful in his interactions with others. I could see how my reaching out again might raise red flags for a security team. I suspected I would not hear from him again. It would be too risky.

I continued to walk through my life of writing, teaching, working on our Sugar Server, and doing all the things I normally did. But there was a layer of awareness in my consciousness, a bit of insight that I was waiting to talk to this intriguing individual again. I should not wait. I should not hope. But I did.

Two days later, an email popped up on my phone while I was teaching a class. I stared at it. It was from Lily. Shit. She was probably telling me to buzz the fuck off.

I couldn't read it until I finished talking about yet another great American poem, "This Is Just to Say." And, of course, students picked that day to ask a million questions and stand around wanting to speak to me after class. I tried not to be short with them. It was just Adam's agent telling me to fuck off. Why hurry to read it and feel sad?

Except that it wasn't. It said:

Do you know where Paddy McGee's is? 5 pm. Can you make it tomorrow? A.

I looked up Paddy McGee's and found it. I sent the reply back immediately.

How in the world could he go to a bar? I wondered as I sat there in a dark corner. No other patrons were inside. The bartender watched the door and looked over at me. He nodded. I guess Adam was on his way in.

He walked in quickly and scanned the room, saw me, and came over. He wore a hoodie on top of a baseball cap. He sat down.

"Hey," he said, softly.

"Hi," I said. I had already ordered a gin and tonic for myself.

The bartender brought a whiskey on the rocks for Adam, while he dropped his hood and took off his hat. He shook out his hair and thanked the bartender.

"So," he said, fiddling with the glass. "That was an interesting email. What's going on?"

I blew out a breath. "You're the first person I thought of when I remembered this incident. I wanted to tell you that I was part of a Real Person fictional story. Someone wrote me into a story."

His eyes were bright with interest. "What? What happened?"

"Ex-boyfriend, a real dick, got the writing bug and wrote a novel. Unfortunately, I was the main character in it."

Adam leaned forward in his chair. "How do you know?"

"He used my name."

He nodded. "It's an unusual name, that's for sure. Did he use your last name, too?"

"No, just Johanna. But it was me. Some incidents in the story mirrored events in our relationship."

He closed his eyes. "Shit. You must have felt … Well, I don't know. How did you feel?"

"Horrible," I said, simply. "Violated."

Adam took a sip of his whiskey. "So…?"

"It wasn't a very pleasant experience. The thing is, he was my first real boyfriend when I was eighteen. I fell in love."

Adam listened without interruption.

"He wrote a sex scene into the book. Definitely based on our relationship."

He sat back in his chair. "He didn't."

"Pretty much."

"Fuck him." Adam looked into my eyes.

"Yeah, I thought the same thing. The thing is that I felt violated by him and his writing. And it's out there. It's published, and he used my name. It's just like real person fiction."

"Do you think anyone makes the connection?" He cut himself off with a wave. "Never mind, that's not the fucking point, is it?"

I shook my head and tears pricked the corners of my eyes. I blinked hard. Dammit, I would not cry in front of this man. I made a fist and squeezed.

Adam reached out and covered my fist with his hand. "That's bullshit. It's so fucked up to betray a person like that. I live in fear that one of my ex-girlfriends will jump out of nowhere and do that to me."

I sniffed back the tears. Adam handed me a napkin, and I wiped my eyes. "I just bet you do. Maybe she's vindictive and wants to tell a bunch of lies about how awful you were."

"Yep," he said. "That's exactly it. Or maybe I really was an asshole to her. You never know."

I chuckled a little. "At least fiction is fiction. The fanfiction writers don't know you. The ones who write about characters aren't even writing about you at all."

"True. Those stories were… different but ultimately had no relation to me as a person. I could think about the character as a character, though…" He shook his head. "I really want my character to remain the creation of the screenplay."

"Well, it's your creation, too," I reminded him. "Your interpretation of that character, which you embody and bring to life. It's not just words on a page, Adam. It's your body, voice, and expressions that breathe life into the character. So, while you do what the directors tell you, they also see what you do and agree to it. In part, you are a creator, too."

He shrugged and gazed around the empty room. "I like to think of myself as a conduit for their vision."

"Fine, but their vision would not exist without you and your choices as an actor."

He met my eyes. "Yeah. It wouldn't."

"Do you feel the need to preserve the character as he is on the screen?"

"Maybe."

We sat in comfortable silence, each of us thinking about that idea. He took a swallow of his drink. I did the same.

"It seems to me," I offered, "that writers, real fanfic writers, are exploring the character further. That's all."

"Is that what your ex was doing? Exploring your character further?"

"No, he was obsessed with me."

Adam swirled his drink. "I understand why."

"Why?"

He placed the glass on the table. "You're smart and beautiful. He probably never got over it when you dumped him."

I couldn't look at him. "Thank you. I appreciate it." I couldn't believe he had just complimented me. I took a deep breath. "How did you know I dumped him?"

Adam pressed his lips together briefly while thinking about my question. "He wouldn't have written the book if he wasn't working out some issue. What else could it be?"

I hadn't thought about that before. "I don't know what his motivation was in writing that damn book. But it was distressing."

"So is the fanfiction. At least it is to me."

I understood his point of view. "My only defense is that fanfiction has no impact on you unless you let it. You shouldn't read it."

"Your ex's book can be the same. Don't read it."

"I only read it once to see what was there. I wish I hadn't. I'm over it now, though."

"Well," Adam said. "There are people who are going to act creepy no matter what. Those people will find a way to enact their fantasies on me whether they write fanfiction or follow me around town. Clearly, I can't stop it. I just wish…" He paused.

"It didn't exist?"

"Maybe. Or that I wasn't famous." He stopped and ran his hand down over his mustache and beard. "Fuck. You didn't hear me say that."

"I would never repeat anything you said to anyone."

"Not even your friends or co-workers?" He raised his brows.

"Not if you tell me something in confidence. Is it all in confidence?"

He rolled his eyes. "My whole life is in confidence. I don't like to tell anyone anything about me or my life. I don't even know why I'm risking this conversation with you. You're not in Hollywood."

I shrugged. "I've met famous people before. Not that impressed, to tell you the truth. I might have been a bit starry-eyed at first, but, now, not so much."

"Any particular reason?" He grinned at me. "Off the record, of course."

"There is no record, on or off," I said. "Some celebs are not that bright. Present company excepted."

"Why, thank you for the backhanded compliment. I will cherish it." He dipped his head regally.

"Shut the hell up," I said.

Then he laughed, a lot. It made my day.

Adam got a phone call and spoke briefly. He apologized, like a good Midwestern boy, and said he had to leave for another engagement.

We both stood up and Adam reached for my hand. He leaned down and brushed his lips against my cheek quickly. "Good to see you again, Joey," he said. He brushed the other cheek as well.

"Good to see you," I stammered back.

Adam stuck his hat on his head, pulled up his hoodie, and pressed a button on his phone. He nodded at the bartender, then started speaking into the phone. He turned and waved a big mitt at me as he walked out.

I stared into space for a minute, wondering what just happened. The whole thing felt a little surreal.

The bartender asked me if I wanted anything else.

"No," I replied. "How much do I owe you for the drink?" I walked up to the bar.

"Nothing," he said. "Adam took care of it already."

I felt horrible. I hadn't even thanked Adam for inviting me or for the drink or anything. My brain apparently shut down in his presence.

When I searched up Adam with fans on the internet, I could see the same look in the fans' eyes. Stunned. Amazed. Speechless. Adoring, even.

Shit.

Back to the email I went. This time, I really felt crazy emailing again, but I needed to say thank you, like a good Midwestern girl. I wrote to Lily and asked her to please thank Adam for the invitation and the drink. I told her that I hadn't said it at the time and felt bad about it.

I got a text message from Private Caller.

Youre welcm had fun A

I wondered if that account was Lily's email—or a puppet account for Adam. No way to know. Anyway, I was grateful that I could thank him.

I tried hitting reply to the text, but it bounced back. Just as well that I didn't have more access to him. I would be tempted to send him updates or find some other excuse to reach out.

Another text message popped up two days later.

Hv thgts on fics meet?

Shit u cnt answr sry I call

My phone rang. I heard a deep voice say, "Shit, shit, fuck, hang on." Scrabbling sounds and more swearing.

"Adam?" I said into the phone.

"Yeah, I dropped my fucking phone on the floor of the car. Sorry."

I laughed. "Got it?"

"Yeah. I have thoughts on the fanfics. Can we talk?"

"Sure. I wasn't entirely sure what your message said."

"Yeah," he sighed. "My texting sucks."

"Your phone is perhaps a bit small for your hands."

"Huh," he said. "Probably. Like breakfast? I'm on a fucking diet again, but I can drink coffee and eat some peanut butter on oatmeal. I think…anyway."

"Sure."

"Has to be early or else I get mobbed."

I clutched the phone. "How early?"

"Rusty will open for me at 5:30."

"AM?" Gawd.

"Yeah. Wanna talk fanfiction at five in the morning?" He chuckled.

"Oh sure, why the fuck not."

He laughed. "Sorry."

"What's the name of the place."

"Uh, Rusty's."

"Oh," I said. I heard more snickering. "Dude, now you're just pissing me off."

"Yeah, I have that effect on people. All right." I heard him clicking his tongue in the background. "Day after tomorrow."

"See you there. Can I buy this time?"

"Aw, fuck no, you can't. Bye."

He hung up on me. Unreal.

Adam was late and texted me the letters, l8 sry. He rolled in with his hat and hoodie on again, his hair damp. He leaned in to say hi to me, pulling off his hat, and giving me a little squeeze on the shoulder and a kiss on my cheek. He smelled like shampoo. He plopped his big self into a too-small chair and tried to arrange his massive feet somewhere under the table.

Rusty, a red-haired individual with a big mustache and bigger belly, came up to us. I ordered oatmeal. Adam looked aghast.

"No, no. You don't want that here. Rusty's omelets are the best. Bring Joey your special veggie one." He smiled at me. "You should try it. So good."

"Okay." I was a little taken aback.

Rusty grunted and left to get us coffee.

I put cream in mine while Adam took a sip of his.

"So," I started. "You have thoughts?"

Adam wiped his mustache. "Yes. After my initial freak-out about the stories, I have been thinking about them. I read them again, trying to divorce myself from the … character or context or whatever."

"All right," I said. "Tell me."

"The Marvin story—about how I got my dog—makes some sense, even though that's not at all what happened. I can see how someone would want to…" He stopped and stared off into space. "No, never mind. I don't get it at all. Or, well, I didn't get it. I kind of get it."

Rusty came up with a plate for me and a bowl for Adam.

Adam pointed at my eggs with his spoon. "Tell me what you think."

I took a bite. He was right. It was an amazing omelet. I told him so and he smiled so broadly that his dimples showed.

"Didn't I tell you?" He made a face at his oatmeal. "This stuff is like fucking sludge."

"Want a bite of mine?"

He lifted his head and stared at me. "Yes," he said, softly. Then he shook his head. "No, no. Trying to be good."

"One bite is not going to throw you off your diet." I raised my brows at him and waved a piece of omelet at him before shoving it into my own mouth.

"Fuck." He stared at my plate.

"I won't tell."

"You're a bad influence." He picked up a fork and cut off a bite of omelet. He ate it and got this look on his face like he was in fucking heaven. I wondered if that's what he looked like… Never mind that. Jesus. I pulled back from that thought so fast that I got brain whiplash.

"Good?" I asked.

He rolled his eyes. "So good."

"Why the worries about your diet?" I asked before I could stop myself. I was prying into his private life. Well, kind of.

He stared at me for a minute. I was about to take it back.

Then he said, "I bulk up for certain roles and then have to drop weight for other roles. The camera adds pounds. It depends on what is required."

He returned to eating his oatmeal—I to my omelet.

After he finished the bowl and slurped some more coffee, Adam said, "This writing is a way for fans to speculate on what it would be like if they were my …" He swallowed hard. "I can't even fucking say it."

"Girlfriends?" I supplied.

He stroked his beard. "I guess." He was clearly uncomfortable. He shifted his feet under the table. I moved my own feet back under my chair.

"Yeah, I think that's the point," I said softly.

"Fuck. It creeps me out."

"I do understand that."

"It could lead to obsession. Someone writes this story and then decides to come find me. Like it's real." He rubbed his eyes—he looked tired.

"It could lead there, I suppose," I replied. "But the act of writing the fantasy out doesn't necessarily lead to acting on it. It could, instead, meet the need."

He looked disgusted by that idea. "She wrote about the 'you' character being an actor, a thing which was supposed to get me interested."

"Would it?"

"I don't know. I guess. In theory. But that's not how I…" He stopped and pressed his lips together again.

He didn't want to reveal anything about his private life. I was amazed he was talking to me at all, so I said nothing. I kept my face impassive, I hoped.

"Did you have any thoughts on the other stories?"

His eyes shifted back to me. "They are really not about me. I don't recognize much in them that has any connection to my life, other than the name of a character I played."

"Did you like the stories?"

He showed no expression whatsoever. "I'm not going to judge the stories. They are not to my taste, I suppose."

I laughed. "They are not written for you anyway."

Rusty refilled our coffee cups and asked about our meals.

After he left, Adam settled back in his seat. "Who are they for?"

"Fans—as readers. But I think they are also important for the writers. Fans are creative. They are interacting with the stories and characters in creative ways. They are making their own artworks—written or otherwise."

Adam shook his head. "I don't know. I still wonder if it doesn't foster a climate that is dangerous to actors who play these roles. I'm not convinced that everyone has your grip on the difference between fiction and real life."

"Well, you shouldn't use me as a gauge of that," I replied. "I'm not a fan."

He rolled his eyes and tapped his fingers on the table. "Now ya tell me." Then he winked at me.

I almost fell out of my chair. "I don't mean it like that," I said. "You know what I mean." I felt my face redden.

He grinned. "No, I don't. Explain it to me."

"Just because I curate fanfic doesn't mean I write it."

Adam digested that idea. "I see. Well, could you? Are you a writer?"

I nodded. "I am. I write other kinds of fiction, but my main focus is on writing poetry. That's my area of expertise."

He shook his head slowly. "Fuck, you would be a poet, wouldn't you?"

"What does that mean?"

He waved his hand at my outfit. "You look like one. Long, wavy hair. Those little hippie tops in winter."

"Huh. I didn't realize there was a poet outfit." I tilted my chin up and looked down my nose at Adam.

He started to smile and hid his laugh behind his fingers. "Well, there is." He raised his eyebrows, then squinted, and looked me up and down.

I stuck my tongue out at him and produced another round of laughter.

"I guess you saw my poetry movie, then." Adam gazed at me, amusement crinkling his eyes.

"I did. I enjoyed it. I had to see what it was about."

"Jim… uh… Featherstone, the director, was trying for a poetic feel."

"It worked. I could see the influence of William Carlos Williams in the storyline and the character. Williams was a doctor by trade who wrote poetry, including a poem called about the New Jersey town. I read that Featherstone made the movie as an homage to him."

Adam's mouth dropped open. "You sound exactly like a professor.

He was in fact correct about that. "I teach poetry as well as write it. I'm deep into a unit on Williams right now."

"Huh," Adam said. "I learned about Williams and his poetry when I studied for the part. I didn't know a whole lot about American poetry until I took this role."

"Now you do," I said.

"Now I do. I also know about fanfiction." Adam paused. "Hey, why don't you write something?"

"About what?"

He shrugged. "The franchise, I guess. Or whatever."

I shook my head. "I don't know enough about the plots and characters to do that."

"Neither do some of these writers. My character adopts kids? That's not even in the franchise universe."

"It doesn't have to be," I said. "It's a Modern Alternate Universe story. Or something like that. The fanfic world has its own terminology."

"Why not just write original characters? Why does my character go to Manhattan and wander around?" Adam genuinely wanted to know.

I took a fortifying sip of coffee. How was I the explainer of all things fanfiction when I didn't even write it?

"I have a couple of theories, I suppose."

He raised his brows and leaned forward. He looked so eager that I almost laughed. Why was he interested in this?

"One theory is that writers find it easier to work with familiar characters. They have parameters to guide them and don't have to create as much context or characterization. Another is that they like to play with these characters." I started warming to this topic. "And maybe they enjoy sharing their love of the characters with others who might appreciate reading about your character in Manhattan. Maybe it's a game to see how such a character would deal with adopting kids with a woman he just met."

Adam paused. I watched him think about what I'd just said. "It's a protected community of like-minded people, like theatre. Actors and directors mess around with characters and put them into situations and see what happens."

"Yep," I said.

"The writers do that in writing. We do it physically."

"Do you borrow characters to see what would happen if they were in a different environment or storyline?"

He slowly nodded. "Yes. Absolutely. Hamlet goes to Manhattan. It's usually done as improv."

"There you go," I said. "Same thing."

"But," he pointed a finger at me. "Hamlet's not real."

"Ha," I replied. "Neither is your character."

"Fuck." He crossed his arms. "Fuck."

"What do I get for being right?" I smiled at him.

"We're not done with the debate yet." He took a sip of coffee and thunked his cup down on the table.

"Whatever. I won this round." I stuck my nose in the air and gave him the side-eye.

He watched with a smirk forming on his lips. "Write me a story."

"Oh, hells no. That would mean you won. You write me a story."

He shifted around in his chair. "I'm not a writer. I have no idea how to write a fucking story."

"It would be interesting. The Villain Diaries by Adam Ferris."

He put his head down on the table and banged his fist. "No, no. Stop the nightmare. The writers would kill me."

I almost fell off my chair laughing at him. He tried to look mean but ended up chuckling with me.

Soon thereafter, Adam checked his watch and said he had to go. He texted someone and stood to leave.

"Can I pay?" I stood and looked around for Rusty.

"I already said no. Your money's no good here." He leaned in for a kiss. The man was all about those cheek kisses. Both sides.

"Huh," I said, making a kissy noise nearby his ear.

He looked at me. "Well, all right. Do it, then." He touched his cheek. I had to tiptoe up and he had to bend down. "You are so fucking tiny," he remarked as I pressed a quick kiss on one cheek. He turned his head and pointed to the other side. "Here, too." I'm afraid I giggled. Jesus, what was my problem? I kissed him on the other side, too.

"Thank you. See, I remembered this time," I said.

He shook his head at me, not saying a word, just giving me a narrow-eyed look. He turned to leave, said goodbye to Rusty and called back to me. "Write me a fucking story, Joey."

"No," I called after him.

I heard him laughing as he left the diner.

Later in the evening, I got a text. Write me a fucking story. See, I spelled it all out. I hate this phone.

Of course, I couldn't reply by text. The fiend had not given me his real number, so I couldn't respond.

I wrote an email to Lily.

Please inform Mr. Ferris that I may be able to accomplish the task he set for me. I have an idea. Maybe. Will be in touch.

The next day, another text message. Good. Character in Manhattan = theme.

I sat down as soon as I could, cracked my knuckles, and wrote the story. I gave Adam's villainous character what I thought would be a typical day in Manhattan. I used every franchise reference and character I could think of to make the day full of surprises.

I sent it attached to an email with a Here ya go message. I realized I was writing to Lily, so I added a Thanks, Lily, for passing this along statement, in case she was wondering what the hell was going on.

Two days later, I got a text message. Not complete no love story more.

Oh my God, the man was giving me notes. He who was freaked out about fanfiction was giving me fucking revision notes.

I gritted my teeth and wrote, Fine, in an email, deciding to forget about Lily entirely. I was pretty sure this was a puppet account for Adam anyway. I pulled up the story on my laptop and revised it to add a meet-cute date with the heroine at the end of the story. Then, I decided I couldn't just tack the fucking meet-cute on, so I rewrote the whole thing to include the heroine as a love interest from the beginning.

I sent it again and wrote: You asked for it. I didn't add, motherfucker, though I kind of wanted to. He was making me nuts.

I waited, knowing he was going to say something else. Just waited. He sat on it for three days while I stewed.

The next message popped up while I was in class, teaching. Sex scene?

I lost my train of thought with my students, who were watching me glance at my phone repeatedly.

I seriously wanted to call and yell at Adam. I jumped on email when I finished up my class: OMG, you crazy man, you don't want to read a fucking sex scene in this!

An email popped up an hour later. Lily thinks you are a stalker. LOL. Sex scene or else! Not a real fanfiction story. Make it good. Lots of giggling, dancing emojis followed.

I added the most ridiculously explicit sex scene I could write, with dicks, cunts, and clits everywhere, and sent it with gritted teeth emojis.

Another email came through two days later: Very dirty writing, could have written for porn site, wtf? Now, who's getting spanked?

I did not know how to reply to that question. Lily seemed to be reading these emails, after all. I pondered my answer for a day. Fuck. How could I write a spanking scene into this idiot fiction that this crazy fucker was making me do? I was shaking my head over the whole thing. And worse yet, I couldn't tell anyone. He'd made me promise at Paddy McGee's.

A text message followed the email. Yes? Who?

I sent an email. You, if you don't shut the fuck up.

Five minutes later, my phone rang. Private caller. Now I was going to yell at him. I answered and heard snorts of laughter on the other end.

"Me?" he gasped. "You… you…" He was hee-hawing like crazy. "You're what, five feet tall, maybe 100 pounds, maybe? I could put you in my shirt pocket and carry you around all day. I haven't laughed this fucking hard in years. So much fun picking on you."

"Clearly," I said. I groaned. "I'm so going to kill you. This is not at all amusing."

"Yes, it is. I know you're laughing."

"I am not laughing in the least." I smiled. "Though you're clearly enjoying yourself."

"And you're not? Yes, you are. I can hear you smiling."

"Yeah, I am."

There was a long silence. "That's what friends are for," he said, softly.

"Are you my friend?" I asked.

"Nope." He chuckled again. "Maybe. I don't know."

But, oddly enough, he was.

I didn't hear from Adam again for a couple of weeks. I felt a little sad because I had enjoyed talking to him. Fanfiction drifted out of his consciousness as he went on with his life. The whole thing had been a momentary diversion.

Out of the blue, I got a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. I answered.

The caller mumbled, "We got your boyfriend's address. Check out what we did. You might be next." She hung up.

The photo that came through my message was of a house with slurs painted on it. They were odd slurs, though, calling someone a racist and an Islamophobe. I didn't know what was going on.

As I stared at the photo, I got a text from a private caller saying that I might be next. Then I got scared.

TJ was in the office with me. "Holy shit. Did you see?" She shoved away from the desk and turned her laptop around

"I got a weird phone call." I stared at my phone.

"What?"

I looked at her laptop and saw the same house with the same slurs. "What is that?"

"That's apparently Adam Ferris's house. Somebody broke through the security systems and spray-painted this shit on the outside."

"Holy fuck. Holy fuck." I was horrorstruck. "Someone called and threatened me."

"Oh, shit."

I showed her the photos and the text.

TJ called the police.

With shaking hands, I emailed Lily, though I didn't think it would do any good. They were probably on total lockdown at this point.

The police arrived and I showed them everything. They said there wasn't much they could do for me. They seemed unconvinced that I knew Adam Ferris. I was afraid they might take me into custody as a crazy fan who might be—at worst—responsible for this graffiti, or—perhaps—taking advantage of this situation.

Jess rolled into the office and we brought her up to speed on the situation. "I would lock down your account. Maybe change your number," she said

I sat in a stupor. It was way too weird.

My phone rang again, another number I didn't recognize. I stared at the phone, wondering what to do.

Then I answered it.

"Thank fuck," Adam said. "I've got her. Joey, are you all right? Where are you?"

"At the office."

"Okay, sending security there now. Write these phone numbers down." He barked out orders like, well, he was in the military. I wrote the numbers down with numb fingers.

"The first one is security. My team. The second—take me off speaker."

"You're not on."

"The second is my number. I'm not supposed to… Yeah, I know that…" he sounded irritated. "But she's… they named her. No, fuck, no, she's not… Because I know."

"They think I'm involved."

He sighed. "Yeah. Everybody's losing it. Including me."

"Adam, this isn't due to fanfiction."

He blew out a breath. "I know. It's not. Look, when the team gets there, would you be willing to go with them?"

I paused. "Where?"

"Here."

Adam said he wanted security to talk to me. He wanted to make sure I was safe. I agreed and found myself in a black, non-descript SUV with a driver and another gentleman in the front seat. They said their names, but I couldn't remember them.

We drove around back of a building and the driver opened a garage door with a remote. We parked and all three of us got out of the car and onto a freight elevator. One gentleman used a card to swipe a small pad before he was able to press the button. The elevator rose to the top floor and he swiped again to release the doors.

We emerged into a hallway that looked a lot like a hotel. They headed to a door and knocked. Lily opened it and we all went inside into a long, plain white hallway. I heard a dog woof in the background and Adam's voice shushing Marvin.

We walked down the hall into the apartment itself. It was palatial with a huge open space and a large island in the middle. Sunken seating areas were clustered around big picture windows with gorgeous views of the city.

Adam rose from the bar stool he'd been perched on at the island. Marvin lay underneath the chair and raised his head. He wagged his tail and started to rise.

"Leave it," Adam said, softly. Marvin settled back down.

Adam's face was drawn and tense. He looked tired but permitted himself a small smile when he saw me. He took my hands in his and searched my face.

"You okay?"

I nodded and felt tears start in my eyes. I blinked hard and saw him notice my tears.

"Aw, shit." He tugged me into an embrace. "I'm sorry about all this." He hugged me tight, my nose squashed against his chest because he was so tall. One big hand stroked my hair.

"Adam." I heard someone say.

He let me go. "Oh, for fuck's sake. She's crying. Give me a break. And give her a fucking tissue."

Lily got up and pulled off a paper towel. She handed it to me. Adam still looked annoyed.

He spoke to the team of people around him. "It's not her. You checked her out." He gave me an apologetic look. "Sorry, we had to do it."

I waved my hand. "I get it. You guys don't really know me from…" I stopped.

"Adam?" he finished for me.

"Just an expression," I said. "Not trying to joke here."

His lips twitched with a tiny smile that reached his tired eyes for a second.

Then, we got down to business. The team made many recommendations and gave me handouts to read. Adam got me a bottle of water and cracked one open for himself. Marvin emerged from under the chair to put his nose in my hand and check me out. I stroked his head and received a doggie lick. Adam caught my eye.

"He likes you," he whispered.

The main security fellow stopped talking. "Pardon?"

"My dog likes Joey," Adam said.

"Oh."

Adam and I exchanged glances. He rolled his eyes and I tried not to laugh. Marvin settled down in the space between Adam's stool and mine.

The final recommendation was for me to stay with a friend tonight—or better yet, a hotel. I was reeling with information, so I said I had to think about it.

Adam shooed everyone out. He and Marvin walked them all to the door. "Let Joey have some time to think. You guys go meet downstairs. Call me if you have updates."

I stared at my phone. "I can call TJ and stay with her."

"Yeah." He perched on his stool. "Is she the red-haired one or the dark-haired one?"

"Red-head."

He nodded and we sat in silence.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I feel like this is my fault somehow."

He shook his head. "Pure coincidence. It's the work of obsessed … I don't know if fan is the right term. But… they are crazy. It's not about fanfiction at all."

"Maybe there is a connection between people indulging in fantasy and slipping over the border into obsession." I looked at him.

"Could be. The team thinks they're just crazy people looking for attention." He reached out and took my hand in his. He squeezed it. "I'm not supposed to do this. They're having a fit because…" He looked away and gave a short laugh. "I want to ask you out."

I raised my eyebrows. "Out? Like out on a date?"

"Yeah." His eyes met mine. "I like you. But I've been advised against it."

I stared at him. "Oh, be still my heart." I pulled my hand out of his.

He scratched his nose. "I'm not good at this."

"Ha," I said. "That's true."

"You don't have to agree so quickly," he huffed. "Anyway, in doing some research, I found out some things about you. I'd like to, uh, go out. Whatever that means. I guess, well, try to see if we could… you know, date. Each other. You're not in my world of famous... You know. I kind of like that."

"Okay," I said. I gave him my hand. He clasped it in his.

"You're from the Midwest, like me."

"Yeah, Michigan."

He rubbed his thumb on mine. "Ohio."

"Yeah, I know."

"Your dad was a minister?" he asked, though I'm sure he already knew the answer. "Mine, too. I grew up going to church…"

"Singing in the choir, acting in the holiday plays, learning to play piano…"

He raised his eyebrows at me. "Yeah. How'd you know? I don't remember telling anyone…"

"I wasn't talking about you. I was talking about me," I interrupted.

"I was in a lot of school plays, too." He smiled at me.

"Youth theater workshop every summer. I sucked at acting, though, so I ended up singing in choruses. I'm a horrible actor, and I have a minor in theater."

Adam laughed out loud. "You do not!"

"I so do. I'd show it to you, but it's back at my house. I still suck as an actor. My minor is in teaching theater at the secondary level, not performing."

"Directing?" He was almost chortling.

"Yep. I probably suck at that, too. So, I behave myself and write poetry."

He stood up and tugged at my arm. "And fanfiction."

I hopped off my chair. "I don't write fanfiction. What are we doing?"

"Going over here to the comfy seats," he said, dropping a long arm around my shoulder. "God, you're tiny. I can't date you. You're too fucking small. I'll accidentally break you in half or something. Step on you because I can't see you."

Marvin followed us and plopped on a bed in the corner with a great big doggie sigh.

Adam sat down on the sectional and pulled me with him. He put his arm around me and snuggled me close. He kissed my temple.

"You know what really got me, though? The real reason I want to date you, Joey?" He looked down at me, lips twitching.

"Yeah?" I narrowed my eyes at him. "What is it? Our common background?"

"Nope." His eyes roamed over my face. "It's because we share a birthday, and I won't have to work too hard to remember yours."

"That's what did it, huh? And here I thought it was my spectacular fanfiction." I smiled up at him.

"That, too." He dipped his head down and stopped just next to my lips. "Kiss?"

I nodded. He touched his lips to mine.

I didn't stay with TJ that night—or any other night. I didn't even stay at my apartment again—due to Adam's ongoing security concerns. I let my lease go.

He said it didn't matter anyway since it was my duty to wander the fucking globe with him. He suggested I write a series while we were traveling.

I gave him my usual side-eye, while he struggled to keep a straight face.

"What series?" I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to know the answer.

"Adam Ferris lives in France. Adam Ferris films a movie…"

"Oh, fuck," I said.

"Don't forget the sex scenes," he added with grin.

He is so not funny.