Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole

Chapter One


Reggie stared at the email she’d just dictated via voice transcription software, wondering whether sleep deprivation had caused her to enter an altered state or someone else had temporarily taken over her body, like in the anime series she’d binged the night before when sleep had yet again refused to come.

The comic book and manga character figurines on the shelves above her desk seemed to look down at her with pity, as if asking, Oh no, baby, what is you doing?

Reggie was asking herself the same thing. She was a successful Black woman in online nerd culture, which took stamina and thick skin to say the least. She didn’t let anything get in her way—she knocked social media trolls off their bridges like she was the biggest billy goat gruff. When she navigated her wheelchair through crowded conventions, people parted before her like the Red Sea or got the backs of their ankles fucked up. After years of working as an analyst at her parents’ real estate investment fund, and being damn good at it, she’d quit to embark on turning her inclusive nerd culture website, GirlsWithGlasses.com, into a full-on media empire.

She didn’t shy away from going after what she wanted, because life was too fucking short and full of unpleasant surprises for that, but here she was, nervous about one simple email. There was sweat at her hairline, despite the fact that her tight curls were up in a bun and the air conditioning was set to Hoth to stave off the heat and humidity blanketing the borough of Queens.

Ugh, I hate this.

Asking for something was like revealing a soft underbelly when Reggie prided herself on not being soft. She worked out six days a week, two of those days with her longtime physical therapist, doing everything from boxing to going for strolls at the nearby park with the assistance of a walker. She read every site related to comics, games, movies, and pop culture she could find, analyzing what they did right and wrong and applying it to her own site. She trawled social media and the internet, looking for interesting posts ranging from every-nerd material to the esoteric, so that she was always providing her followers with unique content. She made sure her site was pleasing and streamlined, accessible to as many readers as possible, and a safe space to geek out; hateful people weren’t welcome in her community and were banned with extreme prejudice. This all took a lot of work, which she delegated when appropriate, but she clung fiercely to her desire to never have to ask for things.

She lived alone in a two-story house because she’d fallen in love with the beautiful, impractical, old-style Colonial in Flushing when her parents had wanted to flip it; it looked like a tiny castle. Reggie was the kind of woman who thought waiting for a prince or princess to get a castle for her would be a waste of her valuable time, so she’d gotten it for herself.

She was independent, and would cut anyone who implied otherwise, but acknowledged that her independence was linked to her bank account and inherited wealth: cleaners to help manage the chores that her disability made difficult and time-consuming, personal trainers to help maintain her physical health and make sure she stayed on track in physical therapy, a nutritionist to design meal plans that supposedly benefitted her, and doctors who offered the latest medications to help with her ataxia.

She loved GirlsWithGlasses because it was something that she’d built herself, first on a free microblog platform, then a small, self-made site, then as a growing social media empire. She’d done it without her parents’ input or even their knowledge, spending long nights building her internet clout and carving social media breaks into her work schedule, until it had become too big to hide. It was the one thing she could point to that was indisputably the result of her hard work, and it was her shrine to the art that had kept her sane and given her joy during and after her recovery. She was really, extremely fucking busy with taking GirlsWithGlasses to the next level and was in the midst of planning their big push for the Anime Con coming up in a few months. She wasn’t going to let insomnia ruin everything.

Reggie couldn’t slip up now. She needed to do more work, get more likes and follows, make sure every post was fun, interesting, unique, and grammatically correct—she needed to become the best geek site the internet had ever seen, because if she didn’t . . . She thought of all the people who followed her, so excited to have a safe, diverse community where their race, sexual orientation, or disability was respected as a matter of course. She thought of her staff, all from marginalized backgrounds that usually didn’t have this opportunity.

She couldn’t fail. She needed to sleep or the business she’d spent the last few years building up might come crashing down. She’d beg this guy for his help if she had to, though she’d rather scoot down glass-covered stairs than beg anyone for anything.