THIRTY-SEVEN.

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(...surprise? hi friends! it's been a pretty long time, hasn't it? we're back on track (mentally and physically) so i'm proud to say sld's back to it's regularly scheduled program. in the original outline, this chapter was going to be the last of this part, but i've broken it apart for pacing and story reasons. prepare for next chapter. it's going to be an absolute monster. for word count, that is. hope you enjoy! missed you guys so much. love u all tons! -mags)

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JESS HAD A relatively simple evening planned out for himself. It involved two things; one, getting takeout from the dingy little Chinese place that (as far as he was concerned) had the best eggrolls in the city and ordering enough to eat his weight in them, as well as a box of chicken lo mein for Marley, as he knew she liked to snack after she'd had a couple of drinks. And two, parking himself on his couch for however long it took to finally get his manuscript to where it needed to be.

He'd finished the first draft about two weeks ago and every time he looked at the damn thing he ended up getting frustrated and slamming his laptop shut. Jess was well aware of the importance of looking at your first draft with a fresh pair of eyes, but he had no idea how long it was going to take. And it would have been one thing if it was bad or he hated it. But it wasn't and he didn't. Frankly, Jess was proud of what he'd done. He just knew it was missing something.

The issue with writers is that many of them are narcissistic. A lot can't see fault in what they've made until it's pointed out to them, and even then, they'll get so defensive that they won't listen. Jess knew his flaws; he did indulge a bit in that narcissism, simply because he knew he was good at it. It was one of the few things he took pride in, so he figured he was allowed to be. But he wasn't defensive about it. Marley had been brutal enough to knock him down a few pegs while editing over the years. So, for Jess to know he was missing something without Marley even mentioning it to him... that's when he knew it was real.

And his plan was going smoothly for the first four hours after he got out of work. He locked up Truncheon, grabbed his egg rolls, fried rice, and lo mein, got into the apartment to find that Bowie had knocked over another one of Marley's plants (the pot didn't break so he told the demon cat that the secret would stay between them) and sat down and stared at the ridiculous amount of words he'd written.

But of course, just when he'd come to some sort of breakthrough, just when he'd realized he had a completely useless and unresolved subplot and needed to either finish it or take it out completely, he was interrupted. He hadn't yet figured out what he was missing, but it was something.

And the sight that interrupted sure was something too. Marley stood in the doorway with a look on her face that Jess hadn't seen in years. She was wearing this bittersweet, tight-lipped smile that was completely overshadowed by the heartbreak in her eyes. Jess drew his brows together in confusion but gave her a hesitant greeting.

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