Gilbert Finch was a veteran of a moderately well known sketch comedy troupe in Chicago, until television dragged him to New York City. From there, he headed to Hollywood, where studios spent very little money on his craft, but earned from it a fortune. Critics loathed Gil Finch’s oeuvre, which they said appealed only to the lowest-common denominator. This mattered little to America, because the most lucrative marketing demographic–eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old white men who said bro a lot without irony–quoted his dialogue to each other like scripture, as did the preteen boys who would one day grow up to be eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old white men who said bro without irony.

Emma was not a preteen boy, nor an eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old white man who said bro without irony, nor was she the lowest-common denominator. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her high-school class, and did pretty well in college, especially when you factored in her part-time job and all the partying. And she loved Gil Finch, so, so much. His latest, Addicted to Chaos, wasn’t quite as good as his now-legendary second flick, The Night Before, but it was still worth seeing on a Tuesday night.

One scene in particular stood out: during crucial dialogue, Gil and his costar, Lane Wallace, retreated to the kitchen, where Lane accidentally turned on the stove. At one point, Lane sneered, “Bro, you are a liar,” followed by the most perfect of all comic beats, and Gil’s polyester slacks suddenly ignited. It was the dumbest of puns, but the humor was in the manner in which it was served.

Timing. It was everything.

Even over a post-show turkey burger an hour after the credits rolled, the pants-on-fire-gag made her giggle.

The same could not be said for her friend, Max, who had accompanied her both to the movie and to the diner, and had not smiled once in the past three hours. It wasn’t that he was a particularly somber guy. Hell, he was one of the most hilarious guys she’d ever met. He always had the perfect wisecrack in the chamber, and could draw, aim, and fire it with laser precision–as if he’d been waiting for that moment for a week.

Yet she sat on one side of the booth, her cheeks and sides sore, while he sat on the other side, looking bored. Finally he spoke. “You know,” he said, “most people have the self-respect to treat that kind of thing as a guilty pleasure.”

She hadn’t realized how much tension his silence had been cranking into her spine until his words released all of it. “Fuck you, dude!”

“Relax,” he replied. “We’re in public, remember?”

“Why are you such an asshole?” she asked. “Why would you even watch it if you hate it so much?”

“I watched it because you invited me to.” He ate one of her French fries and raised an eyebrow, signaling that it was her move.

She folded her arms and grunted. “You could have said no.”

“Why would you invite me if you knew I’d hate it so much?”

“Because you forced me to sit through that gay, French art film last week,” she replied.

You forced yourself to go to that,” he reminded her. “I fucking warned you.”

She shook her head. “I just wanted some company.”

Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“There’s some software bullshit going on at work again.”

“You could have waited for that to clear up,” he said.

“I just wanted to see this fucking movie, okay?” She pouted in earnest. “I thought it would be nice for you to go out and have a good time.”

“Look,” he started.

“You look!” she snapped. “Why do people like you always say movies have to be deep and shit. Do you just get off on judging people?”

“I was just about to ask you the same question.”

“Why can’t movies just…” Her rant came to a halt when she noticed his eyes rolling.

“Oh,” he groaned, “not the ‘movies-are-supposed-to-be-fun’ defen–oh my.”

Through gritted teeth, she asked, “Oh your what?”

“Whatever you do,” he declared slowly, but solemnly, “don’t. Breathe. Deeply.” He added, “Especially through your nose.”

She couldn’t help herself. She sniffed, and something forced its way through her nostrils–something terrible. It reeked of wet, moldy, sun-baked death, and it burned. God, did it burn.

He shook his head, and the corners of his mouth began to twitch. His eyebrows knit together, desperately holding something back. He spoke in a strained whisper. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“What the fuck is that?” she shrieked, on the verge of fainting, until she realized that she was about to witness history. Since they’d first met, Emma had seen him grin, snicker, and smirk–the latter of which was his best feature. Try however hard to amuse him, however, and the best you’d get was a stone-faced, “That’s funny.” Max never, ever laughed.

Yet there he was, tears in his eyes, fighting off the reflex like it would kill him and his whole family. “Silent…” he gasped, “… but violent…” And then he exploded.

Timing. That’s what it was all about.

… And then…

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