Bad Bear Day by Milly Taiden

Chapter Two

What will I do if this guy shows up in some nylon onesie with Velcro in the back? Jasmine worried while finishing her hair and makeup. She’d trusted Gerri on the setup, but now she feared that she was about to waste one of her favorite days of the year on a complete dud.

When Jasmine revealed to Krissy that she’d agreed to a blind date for Saturday’s event, Krissy had found courage enough to ask her long-term crush, Ben, if he wanted to go with her. He’d said yes, and even asked her if she wanted to go in matching costumes.

So even if this blind date is a complete disaster for me, it at least forced Krissy to finally make a move on Ben. That’s a pretty good win.

Plus, it meant Jasmine was free to pick her costume without needing to consider Krissy’s opinion on it.

She’d hemmed and hawed about it for days, oscillating between going as something new or picking out a good old tried and true.

Finally, she’d decided that if Gerri really wanted to prove that Jasmine’s date was right for her, she should go with one of her absolute favorites — which happened to be a lesser-known — and less popular — costume. Meaning, it would be hard for Mr. Blind Date to just pick something off the rack.

Unless he happened to be a big anime fan. Specifically of one called Demon Hunter.

And if he was?

Well, Jasmine would try her best to enjoy the day, though her dating doubts would be hard to tamp down. Some things in life just didn’t work out the way you wanted them to. With her, it was dating. She wasn’t able to find a good man. In fact, she’d been quite skilled at finding plenty of bad men.

But so what? She had a number of other things going for her.

The only problem with that philosophy was the difficulty of bearing the loneliness at times. When that happened, it was just too easy to open a dating app and swipe a few times until she found someone to fool around with. And every time she did that, her stupid heart always ended up telling her something along the lines of maybe this one could turn into something…

Any time she’d tried that, it had ended in catastrophe.

Like her last relationship, she found Kirk’s muscular body, soulful eyes, and sexy and swiped right. Pillow talk turned to a discussion on their favorite sci-fi shows, and their shared nerdiness had caused her to give dating him a chance.

By the third time she caught him cheating, she finally saw the truth of it all.

Turns out, when a man is a beefcake nerd who knows he can get any geeky girl he wants, he doesn’t hold himself back from the buffet.

So she cut herself off from dating. Allowed herself months to heal from her broken heart — more than enough time for her to see how absolutely blind and idiotic she’d been to let Kirk get away with so much — and made the decision to just accept that occasional loneliness was just a part of her life she’d have to live with.

And if she kept herself busy enough, the loneliness didn’t have time to creep in.

Mostly.

A knock on her door alerted her to the fact that her time was up.

Time to face the music.

Time to look fate in the face.

Time to just get it over with so she could go back and tell Gerri nice try, but…

Jasmine opened her apartment door and lost her breath for a moment.

“Hi, are you Jasmine?” A nearly seven-foot hulking man dressed in a suit greeted her. Though his massive size and chiseled jaw didn’t quite fit the character, he somehow pulled it off. He wore a black wig, so she couldn’t tell what his natural hair color was, but his dark eyes held a friendly twinkle and even a bit of mischief that instantly pulled her in.

Whoa! Jasmine! What happened to keeping your guard up? She forced herself to breathe and focus.

“Yeah, hi,” Jasmine said, shaking herself back into the moment. “You must be Austin.”

“I am. Nice to meet you.”

She shook his offered hand. “I’m ready. Let’s go!”

She pulled her keys from the little pouch she had tied around her waist, hidden beneath her robe, and stepped into the hall, locking the door behind her.

When they exited her building, she started to turn left, but he stopped her. “We don’t need to take the subway. I have a car waiting.”

Jasmine blinked in surprise and followed him to the vehicle, scooting in when he held the door open. Then he slid in beside her, and the driver pulled into traffic.

“So. Demon Slayer,” he said, once they were rolling. “I’m glad Ms. Wilder didn’t steer me wrong.”

Same,Jasmine thought. “Well, I thought about Scarlet Witch, but I kind of figured there would be lots of her this year. And then I thought Squid Games because that would be easy to do a group costume, but Krissy didn’t want to wear a jumpsuit.”

“Krissy?”

“Oh, my BFF. We’ve been going to these things since high school.”

“Lucky,” Austin said. “I didn’t discover these things till college, and I’d moved far from home by then, so I didn’t have anyone to drag with me.”

“So this is your first time doing a coordinated costume?”

“Yeah.” His shy smile caused her heart to flutter, and she again had to warn herself away from falling for him.

Remember… Kirk lied all the time. You can’t just believe everything a man says. Be smart.

“And you’re okay with it?” she asked, focusing on the conversation instead of her schoolgirl-like giddiness that kept bubbling up. “I mean, that’s a heck of a Muzan Kibutsuji.”

“What, this old thing?” he said, preening. “I just threw something on, is all.”

She laughed. “Right! Right… sure, everyone has a white fedora, white tie, and white pants in their closet. It’s the embroidered labels on your jacket that I’m pretty sure are a bit uncommon.”

She could tell from her vantage point that it was custom done. “Who did that work?”

Based on the luxury car they were driving in, she didn’t expect the rich man to know who the artist was or even where he’d purchased it from.

So she was floored when he replied, “Would you think less of me if I told you I did?”

Swoon.

Putting your own blood, sweat, and tears into your costume threw you into a whole different stratosphere of geek.

A very sexy stratosphere of geek.

Don’t believe everything men tell you! The last little voice of reason screamed for her to listen.

“You did not,” she challenged. “Big hunk of man like you, sitting down with a needle and thread?”

“Sure I did,” he said, rubbing his fingers across the design. “Traced it with fabric pencil and then hand embroidered it while watching all thirty-one episodes.”

“You did not finish that in thirty-one episodes,” she countered.

“So maybe I watched it a few times…”

“I thought so.” She enjoyed the fantasy image of Austin working on his costume, and right then, she hated Kirk for making her distrust men so much. She wished she could still believe people when they said things and not have to caution herself against blind faith.

“And you? Gender-bent Tanjiro. Nice.”

“Well, you know,” she shrugged, suddenly a bit self-conscious in her red wig, black jumpsuit with a white belt, and loud green checkered robe. “I could pick the female characters, or I could dress like a guy to be the protagonist, or I could change it to fit me.”

“I like it. That’s what it’s all about, right? Dressing up as your favorite characters and getting to be them for a day. However that might work for you.”

She smiled, her insides flooded with relief and joy, knowing that he understood and accepted her.

She forced her inner warnings to quiet down. You promised Gerri you’d try to enjoy the day. Let’s do that, okay? Let’s just pretend that Kirk doesn’t represent the entire world of people. Let’s trust Gerri and just have a good time today.

The driver took them as close to the convention hall as he could, but they still had to walk for several blocks with the rest of the crowd — some cosplayers, some not. Con-goers quickly began asking Jasmine and Austin — the hero and the villain of Demon Slayer — for photos.

It felt good. Not just to be praised for her costume, but to be in photos with someone who stood side-by-side with her.

Unlike Kirk, who’d always had to be in front of her — whether for photos or walking through a door…

Not Austin. He held the door for her. Waited for her to look around in awe and then choose which ticket line to go in. Allowed her to hand over her own ticket.

Yeah, it was pretty nice.

Once they were through ticketing and security, stepping inside the convention hall, the swell of excitement hit her. Being immersed in an environment that not only accepted her obsession with geekdom but also celebrated it gave a high better than any drug, second only to sex, in her opinion.

“There you are!” Krissy screamed, running over to her. “Whoa, you two really do go together…” She assessed them both with wide eyes, and Jasmine could almost hear her thinking, a perfect match.

Jasmine had to rein in those kinds of thoughts herself.

Protect the heart at all costs, the little warning voice piped up.

Krissy and Ben had decided to go as Spiderman and Spider Gwen. “You look great,” Jasmine told Krissy, who really pulled off the spandex one-piece.

“I can’t believe I’m in a skin-tight suit,” she whispered, out of earshot while the guys introduced themselves.

“And you’re really owning it,” Jasmine told her.

“We’re waiting to find out what time they’re going to a group photo of all the spider-people. It’s so exciting!” Krissy twirled, allowing the hoodie to fall from her head and then giggling when Jasmine yanked it back up for her.

“And how are things going between you two?”

Krissy smiled widely. “So good! He said he’d been wanting to ask me out for a really long time and was glad I finally did. Said he’d thought he’d been friend-zoned. Well, I quickly corrected him on that.”

“Krissy!” Jasmine teased. “Did you and Spiderman do it before the con already?”

“No!” she squealed. “This was all when we were waiting in line to get in. I just told him I’d been into him for a long time too and was glad to be with him today.”

“Krissy! We gotta go!” Ben called.

Jasmine looked to see a large parade of other Spider folks heading in their direction — a con tradition. When they passed any other spider person, that new person had to join the train, so Krissy and Ben had no choice but to leave, waving at Austin and Jasmine as they did.

“They’re a cute couple,” Austin said.

“Yeah, they are,” Jasmine mused. It had only taken them two years to finally get there. As she watched the spider parade worming through the crowd, she laid eyes on another character.

One she’d hoped not to see.

A city as big as this, a con as big as this, and he still manages to find me?

“Shit.” She ground her teeth in annoyance at the sight of a man wearing a gold shirt and black pants with a silver insignia on his breast. Captain Kirk. Her ex Captain Kirk that is.

The man thought he was as suave as the Star Trek character and just as entitled to as many women as he wanted.

And her breaking up with him and repeatedly telling him to leave her alone didn’t stop him from acting like he had some kind of ownership of her.

“Hey, do you mind if we run over to Booth 42?” she quickly asked Austin, spinning on her heel and heading in the opposite direction of Kirk. “I want to see if I can nab one of the con exclusives.”

And avoid one of the con’s illusives.