Aditi rushed into the lobby of the hotel where Fairy Con was being held. She was exhausted, and running on coffee, anxiety, and adrenaline. After Elli’s call for help that morning, she’d quickly found a flight, thrown clothes in a roller bag, driven an hour to Milwaukee, and waited impatiently until she could hop on the next flight to Toronto. After what felt like an interminable line through customs, she’d finally caught a cab and headed through Saturday night traffic. The con was in full swing with some kind of party—there were incredible, intricate ball gowns, diaphanous and iridescent wings, and more pointed ears than you could shake a stick at. The whole thing had a playful, imaginative vibe that Aditi imagined would’ve been perfect for Elli. That said, she could detect a sexual, almost sinister vibe running through the playfulness—one that Elli might not have seen.
Well, she sure as hell knows it now, Aditi thought, gripping the handle of her bag tightly, wishing it was that guy’s throat.
She took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. Elli needed her support right now, not her anger. She quickly texted the group: I’m here at the hotel, in the lobby. Where is everybody?
Michelle answered immediately. Room 1408. I’m already here, and so is Christina.
Aditi stopped short, causing a tall Thranduil knockoff to bump into her, muttering. He looked down his regal nose as she apologized, waving her off as she scurried to the side of the hallway for a minute.
She hadn’t talked to Michelle directly since severing their working relationship, and honestly, she’d been in such a hurry to get to Elli that she hadn’t thought about what being face-to-face with her would be like. The whole group so rarely saw each other in person that it was always a big deal, always planned—especially for Michelle—so Aditi didn’t feel prepared for this. She didn’t regret switching editors. And she was still a little pissed off. But damn it, she missed her friend. She missed texting with Michelle about random things—laughing about her latest Tindr misadventures, bagging on Ted’s post-divorce douchebag tendencies, discussing books they both loved. She wondered if it would be weird now, like seeing an ex-lover. Or would Michelle freeze her out, in that super-professional way of hers?
Oh, GAH, that would suck.
Aditi straightened her back, then headed for the bank of elevators. It didn’t matter. She hadn’t frantically traveled all day only to punk out now. Elli needed her. Needed them. That was what mattered. Whatever static Aditi might have going on with Michelle was a distant second to that.
She made it to the room, knocking softly. “It’s Aditi.”
The door opened. It was Michelle, looking uncharacteristically frazzled, her tailored slacks wrinkled, her blouse sporting a small coffee stain. “Aditi,” she said, her eyes welling with tears as she ushered Aditi in.
Aditi immediately felt her stomach knot, and she hugged Michelle reflexively as the door shut behind them. “Shit. Is she okay?” Her eyes automatically scanned the room from over Michelle’s shoulder. Elli was bundled up in bed in her Pikachu pajamas, the hood drawn up. Christina rubbed her shoulder. Aditi could hear the strains of music from Yuri!!! on Ice coming from a laptop propped up on the bed.
“Oh, sweetie,” Aditi said, releasing Michelle and rushing over, sinking down on her knees beside the bed.
Elli turned to her, her large blue eyes full of pain and confusion. “You didn’t have to come all this way, but I’m glad you did,” Elli said. She was pale as parchment and looked as fragile. “I mean, I feel so bad that you went through all this trouble . . .”
She squeaked when Christina gently poked her in the side. “If you’re going to say that every time one of us shows up, you might as well wait until Taneesha gets here in an hour and hit us all at once,” she joked, but Aditi could see Christina was seething. Her eyes were bloodshot but her gaze was furious. Her pupils didn’t look too dilated, either, suggesting she was sober—which was either promising or frightening.
“You’d do it for any one of us, and you know it,” Aditi said, before Elli could protest. And it was true: Elli was the most emotionally supportive of five of them. She had a soft heart, and she was always the first to offer an online shoulder to cry on. Even though she was usually broke, she’d volunteer to sell something and jump on a plane if she thought it would help. Hell, Michelle had to actively convince her not to fly over and bake cookies when Ted left.
Michelle sat on the edge of the bed at their feet. “Are you sure you don’t want to report it to the police? Or at least to the convention?” she said, looking at Aditi.
“You mean she hasn’t reported it to the con?” Aditi blurted out.
Elli’s whole body tensed, and she shut the laptop with a click. “No! No,” she said, lowering her voice. “What would I say? That I was stupid? I invited the guy into my room, let him...