They took one of the studio's complimentary trams up the hill to the main entrance. Excitement buzzed in the air. Jack and Dex exclaimed over the ridiculous seventy-seven dollar entry fee per person. As Jack showed his ID and received three free passes, he marveled at the families around them with multiple kids. The children's rate was only a few dollars less than the adult price.
"Can we get a free year, Daddy?" Nick tugged at Jack's shirt tail. "Huh? Can we?"
Jack noticed the sign saying, "Buy a day, get a year free." He had to explain they couldn't get a free year because their tickets for the day were free.
"Oh." Nicky looked crestfallen.
They went through the security rigmarole of having Dex's backpack inspected and then moved to the turnstiles with their passes.
Nicky had looked so disappointed about not getting a free year--and on top of it not being able to get his fingerprint for it, but now as they entered the amusement park, he was all excited again. He hopped from one foot to the other as they made their way through the lot. Nicky studied his map.
"We have to go downstairs for the studio tour." He went berserk when he noticed the Shrek 4D ride to their immediate right.
"Can we start with that, Daddy? Can we? Can we?" He was all over the place with his enthusiasm. Jack laughed.
"Yes we can start here." The line was only a five-minute wait according to a sign underneath the ride's name. They each picked out a pair of 3D glasses from a barrel and waited. Jack had called his parents earlier to let them know they had a change of plans but had reached their voice mail. His cell phone chirped and he checked the readout. It was them.
Dex gave him an eye roll. Jack ignored him and took the call letting his mom berate him. She was understandably upset. She began to harangue him.
"This isn't fair," she said a couple of times. "We are so disappointed, Jack."
"Why don't you meet us for dinner?" he suggested. Dex narrowed his eyes but what could he say? They were Nicky's grandparents. Of course they wanted to see him.
"Can we have dinner at The Counter, Daddy? Can we? Can we?" Nicky was hopping around again. The boy was a burger fiend, as was his grandfather.
"That's in Studio City," Jack's mother said. "I see it here on Google. It has a pretty good Yelp rating. We'll meet you at six-thirty." She ended the call. Jack could feel the waves of disapproval radiating from his phone. He turned it off, wondering if his parents would cancel before the day was over. They always liked to be in control of their plans.
Jack sighed. He was the only one working, between him and Dex. He knew Dex was looking for another mortgaging job but the tough economy had played havoc with the real estate market and men like Dex had suffered. The loans they'd once been allowed to write had been nixed all over the country. Almost nobody could qualify for a loan anymore. But underlying Dex and Jack's problems was the fact that Jack did the work and a lot of the housework, but to let Dex still feel... manly, he gave in to his partner's decisions way too often.
If Dex spent more time trying to find work instead of squabbling with Jack and his parents, he'd probably be gainfully employed.
Enough. We came here for a vacation. Enjoy it.
Dex quickly kissed his cheek. "It'll be okay."
The line suddenly sprang forward and they ran indoors. In total darkness, Nicky sought his hand. They loved the pre-show entertainment with Donkey, Lord Farquaad, the Gingerbread Man, and other characters giving them hilarious instructions for the ride. A bunch of doors opened and the small crowd ran into the theater where they took their seats, Nicky sitting between them. They put on their glasses when instructed and the show began. The seats bucked and bumped as the simulated ride mimicked a horseback journey. Donkey turned and sneezed at the audience. Water sprayed everyone's faces.
Everyone roared with mingled surprise, amusement... and slight disgust.
Jack turned to look at his son, making sure he was okay, but Nicky was screaming with laughter. As spiders crawled over their legs and neck, Nicky hooted with the rest of the crowd. Donkey sneezed again but Nicky was still having fun. Jack relaxed and gave himself up to laughter as Shrek careened around a haunted forest. He had a blast until the jolly green ogre and Donkey tumbled over a waterfall and once again the audience was splashed.
No. Not splashed. Drenched.
This time even Dex turned his head toward their son, making sure he was okay. Nicky was still having a blast. Thank God. They left the theater, returning their 3D glasses to a barrel and headed toward the studio tour. Once again, Nicky became distracted, this time by The Mummy ride.
"Can we go on this, Daddy? Can we?"
The line wasn't long but one of the amusement park officers standing nearby overheard their conversation.
"You should take the studio tour now," she advised. "You'll be able to go through the Wisteria Lane set for Desperate Housewives. If you wait, they'll be in production and you'll miss it."
"Cool!" Dex and Jack chimed in unison.
"What's Wisteria Lane?" their son wanted to know. He wasn't happy about the detour until they'd descended the ten-thousand, or so it seemed, levels of moving stairs to get to the entrance for the studio tour. Nicky grumbled until he saw the attendant passing out 3D glasses for the ride.
"Oh, yeah!" he shouted, excited again.
The line moved quickly, their tram driver proving to be quite the comedian. On a video screen above them, Jimmy Fallon, the tour's official comedian, was playing guitar and cracking jokes. Nicky wore his 3D glasses even though they'd been instructed to wait. He was riveted by everything he saw.
Jack's heart swelled with love for his child. Twenty-five years ago, at the age of eight, Jack had come to the studio tour with his parents for the first time. He'd loved every second of it. Back in those days there had been no rides. The tour was the entire thing. He would never forget Lucille Ball coming out of her dressing room to wave to the occupants of the tour tram. From that moment on, Jack had been in love with Hollywood movies and longed to be a part of it. Now he was and he adored his work. Thanks to the magic of telecommuting, he could live in the place he wanted, yet do the job of his dreams.
As if on cue they passed a slew of posters for Universal's upcoming fall release, the vampire movie, Banpaia.
"There's your campaign, sweetie," Dex said, snapping a pic of one of the posters. It had been one of the biggest joys for Jack, creating a successful, award-winning promotion for a movie about gay vampires in Little Tokyo. He'd managed to snag a marketing bonanza with a limited edition, pre-release graphic novel and billboards all over town saying Banpaia is Coming.
Jack felt warm and squishy inside, proud of his work. He kept his arm around his son as they ventured into Old Mexico and a simulated flash flood. Nicky, however, took it in stride.
"Way cool!" he shrieked, water splattering his 3D glasses.
When the kid finally got to the 3D portion of the tour--the breathtaking and utterly astonishing battle between King Kong and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, Nicky went into orbit.
"I want to go back on it," he said as soon as the tour concluded. Dex was happy, too. He'd glimpsed Felicity Huffman, his favorite actress in the whole wide world, running across Wisteria Lane, her hair in curlers.
Nicky pulled at their hands. "Come on. We have to go on The Mummy. Then we can come back and take the tour again."
The line for The Mummy took thirty minutes. Dex left his family to queue as he went to the locker room and stowed the backpack in one of the units. When he returned, he showed the park map to Jack and pointed out a special feature for the ride.
"Look, they've got this thing called Child Switch. We can take turns going on the ride with Nicky. They have a special holding area where one parent waits while the other one rides."
"Sounds good," Jack said. He'd hoped they could all ride together, but the attendant loading people onto the rollercoaster said that they'd have a more comfortable ride with only two people in each set of seats.
Jack went first with Nicky who loved it. He screamed and waved his arms in the air. He seemed fearless. The ride was over quickly. He traded places with Dex and stood in a freezing section to the left of the landing bay and waited for his family to return. He had the weirdest feeling... a pang of separation anxiety he couldn't explain.
I worry too much. I have to relax. I have to stop thinking something will happen to Nicky. Millions of people take this ride and they don't fall out of the rollercoaster. Dex loves Nicky. He'll protect him.
He stood and waited, watching out for his husband and son. A family came to stand beside him, exchanging with him the tight smiles strangers always did. And then a man and a child approached him.
"Daddy, that was sooooo cool!" The little boy stared up at him.
At first, Jack thought the kid was talking to the people beside him. Then he realized the child was talking to him. He stared at the little boy. A lump had started forming in his throat. The kid was dressed exactly like Nicky.
The man who stood with his hands resting on the child's shoulders beamed at him. He was dressed exactly like Dex.
Except they weren't Dex and Nicky.
"Who are you?" Jack asked. This was freaky. How could they be dressed exactly like his husband and son?
"It's me," the man said. He looked exasperated. "It's me. Dex. Don't you recognize me?"
"What's wrong, Daddy?" the little boy asked, his round blue eyes staring up at Jack.
He wasn't Nicky. No. No. No.
Jack began to scream.
The little boy began to cry.
And Jack's world had just gone haywire...