the town is empty
The men sit in a half moon. Their hands move faster than their mouths, electronic, quick enough to feel hyperreal. Their eyes are narrowed, their speech too rapid for Art to follow along. He's sleepy, deep into his benzo buzz, and he puts his head on his assistant's shoulder with no regard for how this makes him look. Weak, he thinks. Weaker than the ones wearing suits at 6 o'clock in the morning. They are men the same age he is, some older, some younger, but they don't live on the same planet. They don't walk through the same halls. If he were someone less than who he is, he would be nothing to them. As it is, they survey him like a thing, and he is thankful for it. Most days, he cannot stand to be more than this - a product, something consumed and spat back out, a Diet Pepsi, a fistful of Skittles, something easy, cheap, lost and found and born again.

Everyone has an idea for what to do with the Tonight Show. They speak of the show in the abstract, "the hiatus is only two weeks, will the news boost the ratings or destroy them? We have to be weary of Colbert, our audience can't take a punch to the gut like this, they need to stay invested in the show." He watches them volley back and forth, eyes drifting from one corner of the room to the other, distracted only by the slightest quiver in Abby's shoulders. "Are you going to cry?" he asks in a whisper, and when she says nothing, he feels a sudden rush of affection for her. She has worked for him long enough to cross the threshold from employee to family; he holds her hand under the table, a quiet comfort for the both of them.

The men have not glanced his way. He's the catalyst for all of this, but he isn't their primary concern. No one refers to him as what he is, a person, living and breathing and real. He isn't Art to them, he's never been Arthur, he is only Artie Grein of the Tonight Show with a trademark symbol beside his name. He is exactly what he always wanted to be: a concept. There's no irony in his satisfaction. "This is a dream come true," he murmurs, and if Abby is put off by his honesty, she doesn't say.

Twenty minutes pass, and then an hour, and soon Lorne is there and everyone is quiet. His arms are warm around Art's shoulders, and for a brief, terrifying moment, he is not what he was: he isn't a show, a concept, a thing, he's Art. Living and breathing and real. He doesn't want this. He cringes away, suddenly sheepish, embarrassed. With Lorne's arms still around him, he shakes his head. "Get away from me. You're going to make me cry," he jokes, but a part of him means it. Not here. Not in front of this crowd.

Lorne promises they will do right by him, right by the show. Art believes him, believes in him the way some men believe in God. He nods, mute and reassured, and it takes only an instant for him to realize everyone is watching him now. This is the Tonight Show Starring Artie Grein. There doesn't need to be a camera in the room for him to feel the stage lights burning up above. Every moment he breathes, he's in the thick of it. What else is there? What more could there ever be for him? He sits up straighter, lets go of Abby's hand, and feels the switch flip. He's on.

"Okay. So what's the plan?"