FACE-FIRST • by Eva Schultz

The temporary face tattoo had seemed like a good idea until Emily realized she’d used permanent ink. Sure, the intricate dark green design she’d drawn across the left side of her face had been perfect for the sci fi convention. But she hadn’t exactly planned on wearing it on her flight home.

She sighed and shifted in her seat, trying not to think about the way the TSA people had stared. Apparently they weren’t fans of Jake Williams from Space Thrones, the greatest sci fi drama to air on basic cable in the early 2000s. Emily had faithfully copied Jake’s alien tribal tattoo, and it had gotten her a lot of attention from other fans at the Space Thrones cast reunion panel. She must have posed for twenty photos while waiting for the actors to arrive, though all the good seats were taken by the time she sat down. She was disappointed that the podium blocked her view of Jake, but his hands, forehead, and the front part of his hair had looked great every time he leaned forward to talk.

The con had been a nice way to get her mind off her breakup. Brian had never understood her love for all things geek. She’d spent two weeks re-watching every Space Thrones episode after he left, and she’d ordered a cardboard cutout of Jake Williams for her apartment. Maybe she’d lost her shot at love with Brian, but at least she had an oversized paper doll waiting for her at home.

Another passenger stopped at the empty aisle seat beside her, and Emily ducked her head and angled herself toward the window. Southwest Airlines flights have open seating; why had she dropped into the first open seat she found? She should have gone all the way to the back, or at the very least, she should have planted her face in a pillow and pretended to be asleep the moment she sat down. Maybe she could cut holes in the airsick bag and wear it on her head.


A chill of horror shot up her stomach and chest. She knew his voice immediately. She turned unwillingly to see Brian seated beside her.

Brian. The Brian. This was the guy she’d spent almost a year with. The guy her mother had practically begged her to lock down. The guy who was supposed to be her ticket into the “normal grown-up” world of marriage and kids and not collecting any more plastic replica space weapons.

He was sitting next to her. And she was wearing half a face of sci fi marker tattoo.

“Why are — what are you — why?” Great, that sounded smooth. Not like a crazy person, or anything.

Brian stared hard at the left side of her face and said, “I was in town for the convention.”

“Wait, what, the con? You were here for the Space Thrones con?” Emily’s heart thumped with hope and confusion. Did he understand about her fandom at last?

“Um, no, I meant the marketing convention,” he said. “It was at the hotel across the street from your… thing. I kept seeing people in, like, space suits, or something, going in and out of your hotel.”

“Oh, well, I — this is—” Emily felt her own treacherous finger pointing at her face tattoo, in case he’d missed it.

He looked at her expectantly. Go on, Emily, his expression seemed to say. Explain yourself. Justify the fact that you’re a grown woman who plays space dress-up and is in love with a cable TV actor from 15 years ago.

“It was part of my costume,” she finished.

He looked at her. She looked at him. Every comment he’d ever made about her fandom flashed through her mind. Every withering look, every sharp chuckle and head shake, all shot out of his eyes like a laser blast.

“I have to go.” Emily tried to stand up with her seat belt still fastened and bounced back into her seat. Brian didn’t say anything, but then, he didn’t really have to. She wrestled her backpack out of its too-small space under the seat and rose. Without a word, Brian moved into the aisle to let her go.

Emily could feel his stare as she moved past him. She tried to say something, anything, but all that came out was a strangled little laugh.

She moved down the cabin aisle, trying to ignore the other passengers’ eyes following her. Every seat was filled. She was going to have to go back and sit beside her ex for three hours of silent judgement.

Then, at the back of the plane, she saw it – one blessed, beautiful aisle seat. She threw herself into it, ready to put up with any comments her new seatmate could come up with. It had to be better than sitting next to the one-that-got-away-and-clearly-didn’t-regret-it.

Jake Williams was in the window seat. Her Jake Williams. Of all the flights leaving the con, he was on hers.

He looked at her, and though his eyes were a little more creased than they had been back when he starred in Space Thrones, he was still the handsomest thing Emily had ever seen.

“Hey, you’ve got my tattoo!” he said.

Emily clapped her hand over her face. “It wouldn’t wash off,” she said, but even as she spoke, she saw that he was not laughing at her. She let her hand slip back down.

“Well, you did a great job with it,” he said. “Space Thrones has the best fans in the world. I just love getting to meet you guys. Tell me, what did you think of the con?”

Emily grinned at him. “It was perfect,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Eva Schultz lives in Naperville, Illinois. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Daily Palette, VerbSap, Rockford Review, and Buffalo Carp. She lives with a big orange cat named Gus, and she enjoys drawing, painting, and watching pro-wrestling. She has never tattooed her face, but she has geeked out at a number of fan conventions.

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