"Are you going to the party?"
The one you need a special invite for. I'm a Clarion West grad and a writer (really, I am) so, yeah, I'm going.
"Neil will be there," she says breathlessly. "He's got his people with him. I think he's got a bus."
His people. A bus. Well, well. You've certainly come up in the world since Sandman, Mr. Gaiman, since the days I was one of a small group of fans who gobbled up your early issues at the comic book store.
The party is large and loud. There are a lot of people. Writers, publishers, students, board members, old friends. You can tell where Gaiman is by looking for the impassable knot of humanity, all straining forward toward a central point of black-clad, soft-spoken handsome Englishman, hoping for a touch of magic.
"Have you met Neil yet?" someone asks me. I'm confused about why it matters, but I answer.
"No need," I say. "I met him five years ago. Said everything I needed to say then."
"What did you say?"
"I told him I'd been a fan for 20 years. He said 'thank you very much.' There didn't seem much more to say."
I don't like the celebrity game. The one where you stand next to someone famous and try to pretend that you could become best-buds in a few seconds of small-talk. Or that perhaps by standing close some of their fame might rub off on you.
"Have you met Neil yet?" someone asks me.
"Where is he?"
I have things to do here. Talk to friends, publishers. Visit with His Potency, aka the excellent Jay Lake. Tell him "I love you" while I still can.
Lots of people, lots of noise. It doesn't take long before I'm ready to leave.
You got the foreshadowing reference, right? You know where this is going.
I'm putting my things together to leave when I notice a black-clad fellow surrrounded by only a few fans just a few feet away. I sigh, resolute, and walk over to pay my respects. After a moment he turns to me.
"I thought I'd come over and breathe the same air as you for a few moments," I say. "It seems to be the thing to do tonight."
He smiles. "And you are?" Ah, the lovely accent, the handsome face. He's a little older than when I saw him last, but aging with exceptional grace. I give him my name. He offers his hand. We shake.
"I'm Neil," he says.
"Yes," I say, "I know."
"I know that you know," he says, matching my tone, "but I have to say it, because it's the polite thing to do."
"And," I respond, "I know that you know that I know. Yes, you're very polite. Everyone is talking about how gracious you are. And how gorgeous."
"Oh, I couldn't say about the gorgeous part," he says modestly, "but I certainly do my very best to be gracious."
I assure him he has succeeded.
And I've had my minute. He turns away to be gracious (and gorgeous) to someone else, and then a woman tugs on my sleeve and asks me to introduce her to him. I laugh silently and introduce her to this man who won't remember me tomorrow but is, without question, gracious. And gorgeous.
I take a moment to inhale before I step away, to see if the air tastes any different here. Any more magic.
Oh, maybe just a touch.