“You don’t have a dog?” Sensei Domino says in disappointment.
I shake my head.
“Aw,” he says, frowning. “I was hoping there’d be a dog.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I think I’m getting a dog sidekick in the webcomic?” I say, “or, at least, we have the mockup for one.”
“Ooh,” he says, “that’s fun. They won’t let me be in it.”
I make a confused face at that.
He shrugs. “I don’t know, they say it’s a security issue, I think it’s just because I’m not cleared for the field and they don’t want to explain who I am to the general public.”
“I mean…why?” I say, “it’s not like people don’t know we have instructors hanging around.”
“Right?” he says, “every now and then they do a shoutout to support personnel, but not in particular, just in the general.”
“Except for Sid,” I say.
“Oh, well, that’s different.” Domino shakes his head. “I think that’s because Sid knew the artist – one of the artists – he got someone to do it on short notice, who wrote him in as thanks.”
“He doesn’t show up that often, anyway, so I guess it’s fine,” I say.
“You’d be surprised,” he tells me.
“How often Sid shows up?” I ask.
He shrugs expansively. “I mean, I don’t follow it? But I have a couple friends who do, and apparently he’s a fan favorite, I can’t tell if he has his own side comic, or, I don’t know, maybe it’s a fan thing? But, yeah, he shows up a lot, and he acts nothing like Sid, also, so that’s weird.”
“Ooh,” I say, “your friends didn’t start a letter writing campaign, did they?”
“Thank god, no,” he says, “they managed to send off one note telling them to put me in the comic – you can guess how that turned out – but I got to them before they started a petition.”
“Hey, Domino?” I say.
He raises an eyebrow at me.
“We’re friends, right?” I ask.
“Uh,” he says, “weird that you didn’t use my real name if you’re going to ask a question like that. But, sure, okay.”
“Jeff,” I say.
He laughs. “You don’t have to use it, it doesn’t bother me or anything, but I kind of – are we about to have a heart to heart? Should I get hot chocolate or something?”
I sigh. “How do you feel about having people at your place?”
“In general?” he says, eyes narrowing slightly.
“In specific,” I say.
“Uh,” he taps his fingers against his desk. “I kind of – I have a personal policy against getting involved with coworkers. Sorry.”
“Wait, what?” I say.
He crosses his arms. “What, not overnight?”
“I mean, yes, overnight,” I say, “not like – I mean, I need somewhere to stay tonight.”
He frowns. “Short notice. Why?”
“I know, I know it is, sorry, I just,” I sigh. “Darren’s – well, he was mad at me, I assume he still is, since I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, what with all the dogs.”
“Oh, that’s why so many people are missing,” he says.
“What?” I say.
“Dog allergies, right?” he says, “or, I guess phobias or whatever.”
“Uh, sure,” I say.
“Sorry, I just realized – wow, that was, uh, sorry, go on.” He grins sheepishly.
“I, um, haven’t seen him? So I have to assume he’s still mad at me,” I say.
“What, since yesterday?” Domino asks me, “where did you stay last night?”
“With a friend,” I tell him, “I’m just worried I’m wearing out my welcome, or will soon, I don’t know, I thought maybe I should line up somewhere else I could go.”
“Oh,” he says, drumming his fingers again. “I mean, yeah, that’s reasonable, but my place is tiny. Like, I have a couch, but not one big enough to sleep on.”
“Oh,” I say.
“Sorry,” he says.
“No,” I tell him, “this is entirely on me. It was not a fight I should’ve started.”
Domino clears his throat. “Uh, okay, this may be overstepping my bounds, but, I mean, if you’ve decided we’re friends, and of course, can’t get more awkward than our failed flirting, so tell me if – well, do you…maybe want to talk about it? Or?”
“Why does everyone want to talk to me about this?” I snap, then clap my hand over my mouth.
“Wow,” he says, eyes widening, “sorry.”
I shake my head vigorously. “No, sorry, it’s not you. It’s. Okay, I don’t know, I’m bad at discussing things, that’s on me, I just don’t want to talk about it, nothing about you at all.”
“You sure?” he asks. “Kind of sounded like it was maybe aimed at me.”
“Oh my god can we discuss something a little less difficult,” I say.
He coughs into his hand. “You should’ve brought a dog. We could discuss the dog.”
“I could go get a dog,” I say, “almost the entire rest of my team has them, I could, I could get one right now, do you want me to get a dog.”
“At this point, almost,” he says.
“Fuck,” I say.
“Yeah,” he agrees.
“Let’s, uh,” I say, “maybe start with something less –”
“Fraught?” he offers.
I sigh in agreement.
“That’s probably a better idea, uh – do you prefer Travis or Fox, because I hear both.”
“Either is fine,” I tell him.
He frowns slightly.
“My name is Travis. I mean, my legal – whatever, you have my file.” I run my fingers through my hair. “Fox is a nickname I’ve had since I was little, and it catches on easy.”
“Is there a story behind that?” he asks, with a slightly tilt of his head.
“Yes, but it’s boring,” I say.
“Oh, well,” he says, getting up to get a cup of coffee. “I have time, if you want to tell it.”
“It’s not long,” I say, “it’s just boring.”
“Well, then, there should be plenty of time,” he says, with a shrug. “Or I have paperwork.”
I sigh. “My uncle has the same name I do.”
“Travis?” he says.
I nod. “When I was little, I got upset that we both had the same name, you know how kids get, so they had me pick a new name. I liked foxes. That’s literally it.”
He takes a sip of his coffee. “Are you named after your uncle, or are you both named after the same person?”
“No, I’m named after him,” I say.
“Huh,” says Jeff. “I’m named after my uncle, too.”
He laughs. “You suck at small talk.”
“I do not suck at small talk,” I tell him, “you’re the one who assumes people are hitting on you when they so much as ask a question – fine. What’s your favorite book?”