“You wouldn’t believe the things girls here get up to. Or maybe you would. You seem the type.”
Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007
GM: True to her earlier word, Cécilia sits through more auditions with Em. Some of the girls are pretty terrible—more or less what you can expect from high school actors. Cécilia thinks they should still get parts as extras, just so they can still be involved in the film. “They did go to the trouble of showing up, after all.”
Most aren’t terrible, but don’t have enough presence to carry the film’s lead role. Cécilia marks them all as good candidates for speaking but non-central parts.
Emmett: He agrees with her assessment—more importantly, and unspoken, is the fact that most of the girls they give parts to have last names that mean something to the city’s elite. More doting, influential parents to show up is only a plus.
GM: Cécilia seems to be very popular at McGehee, as she’s able to get a lot of girls interested in the movie. Bentley Downs doesn’t have much talent but seems particularly bubbly with enthusiasm: Cécilia promises to find something for her, “Though I’m not really sure what, El, do you have any ideas?”
Emmett: “We need somebody for a friend of the lead, I think,” he suggests. “Humanize her a little, give her life outside the lie a face.”
He makes sure Bentley knows she did a great job. “You should definitely consider getting into entertainment,” he even adds. “You have a real disposition for it.”
GM: “My dad thinks so too,” the freshman replies, gushing at Em’s praise.
Isabel Flores is actually a pretty decent actor. She plays up the ham just a little, but she’s got a haughty demeanor that would make a good ice queen. Cécilia thinks she’s one of the better actresses they’ve gotten.
“We might be able to use her somewhere,” the other senior remarks thoughtfully. “But on the other hand, I was thinking about approaching her mother for the aunt’s part… getting older female actors is trickier, unless you have someone in mind?” She frowns. “I just know we shouldn’t use both. I hear things are strained in their family.”
Emmett: “I think the mother’s the way to go—and we’ll make sure Isabel goes home feeling uncheated, too.”
GM: “Oh, how were you thinking?”
Emmett: “The niceties go a long way. If you can let people down nicely enough, they feel taller at the end of it. Especially if they know you’ll remember them.”
GM: “Maman says the same thing,” Cécilia nods.
Emmett: Of course she does.
He makes sure to sit in on both daughter and mother’s auditions, though they’re tactfully scheduled for different times.
GM: The daughter’s is first. Em’s prompt of “be mean to me” actually seems to take the black-haired and gray-eyed girl somewhat aback at first, but she draws herself up to her full height and declares,
“Look at you, just… sitting here! Like you belong here, directing your stupid little movie! Oh, but I know, we all know! You’re just trash, and you’re the one who’s acting, trying to fit in with us! Slithering up from the gutter! O’Tolley’s ketchup packets and Dollar Store hand-me-downs, that’s what you are! Your brother died in a gangland shooting, and good riddance! Good riddance to him and all your filthy kind!”
The McGehee junior seems to deflate slightly as she drops her adopted persona, looking at Em with some concern. “Uh, I hope that wasn’t too mean?”
“The ketchup packets bit was a surprise,” Cécilia laughs.
Isabel gives a chuckle of her own. “Yeah, it… just popped in.”
Emmett: He laughs in good humor. I probably would have been meaner.
“No, no that was really excellent. What were you thinking about? Knowing your inspiration can help a lot.”
GM: “Oh, well, it was just that documentary on O’Tolley’s, Ultrasize Me, and how unhealthy the food there is. I mean, I liked a Glee Meal as much as any kid, but you know how some families have to eat out there all the time, because it’s so cheap. So I guess I was mean to you for having to always be cheap.”
Emmett: ‘El’ lets that sit for a moment, smiling still. “That’s interesting. Why do you think that’s where your mind went?” He makes sure the question feels kind, curious instead of judgmental. He wants her to think about it, not blanch.
GM: “Because it’s mean to say you have to be cheap,” Isabel repeats. “I wouldn’t want to be, would you?”
Emmett: “Go on about that. This isn’t part of an exercise, just for conversation’s sake. Is it mean because you’re pointing out somebody’s lack of wealth and that it makes them less of a person, or is it mean because it doesn’t make them less of a person but you’re acting as though it did?” He glances at Cècilia. “I feel like you’d have an interesting take on that, as well. What’s it mean to be mean?”
GM: “Hmm. I don’t think you were saying that El was less of a person just because he had to eat out at O’Tolley’s all the time,” Cècilia observes to Isabel.
“Rather, eating out at O’Tolley’s all the time is something that none of us would obviously like to do, because it’s unhealthy. Is it right of me to say you were being mean to El by saying you wanted him to have to do that unhealthy thing?”
“Yes, that’s it,” Isabel nods. “Although I suppose I wasn’t saying, ‘I want you to eat out out at O’Tolley’s all the time.’ I was saying, ‘You already do eat out at O’Tolley’s all the time.’”
“That is a fine distinction,” Cècilia nods back. “What sorts of implications could it have?”
Emmett: “Poor, underfed,” Em muses. “And you mentioned me pretending too. Maybe because O’Tolley’s is sort of like fake food that people pretend is actually nutritious.”
GM: “I guess it’d be more, I don’t know, technically accurate to say ‘I hope you eat at O’Tolley’s all the time,’” Isabel remarks. “But that doesn’t really have the same ring as an insult.”
“I think that’s because ‘you do eat at O’Tolley’s all the time’ is passing a judgment,” Cècilia says. “It can implicitly say a lot of things, like, ‘You aren’t educated enough to know O’Tolley’s is bad for you,’ ‘You know it’s bad for you but aren’t considerate enough to take care of your health,’ or ‘You aren’t financially successful and have no choice but to eat at O’Tolley’s.’ All of those would feel like much meaner insults, if someone said them to me, than ‘I hope you eat at O’Tolley’s.’”
Cècilia wraps up the discussion and tells Isabel they’ll be in touch. Isabel says the audition was fun and takes her leave.
Emmett: He’s happy to hear that, and equally happy to receive the older Flores. Her role is important, after all.
GM: “Oh, you know, I think I actually found another actress we might be able to use,” Cécilia raises. “Mrs. Achord, she’s the school psychologist. Her husband’s actually done some acting at one of those historical reenactment societies.”
“I’m not sure which of them would be better for the part, that’s what we’ll audition them for, after all. But it’s nice to have some choice.”
Emmett: “She a good therapist?”
GM: “I haven’t talked with her too many times, but I think so,” Cécilia nods. “The school brought her in after… that tragedy with Rebecca Whitney. So many students were so upset, and she was very understanding.”
“Or so all my friends tell me, I wasn’t going to McGehee in 2004.”
Emmett: “Yeah, you were still in Avignon. Well, understanding people can bring a lot to an audition. We’ll see what we see.”
GM: “It’ll be nice to get to know her better through this, too,” Cécilia says as she checks her watch and packs up her things. “That was such a huge part of everyone’s lives at the school I feel like I missed out on.”
Emmett: “Surely for the best though,” he says, looking at her curiously. “Things like that bring people together, but they’re rarely fun in the moment.”
GM: “They aren’t, but maybe I’d have been able to help if I’d been there. At least a little. I’d have liked to have known Rebecca, too. I’ve heard so many stories about her from so many people. She was very loved.”
Emmett: “You know, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who thinks that way.” The admiration in his voice isn’t fake, so much as it is buffed to shining.
GM: Cécilia looks at once appreciative of the compliment, yet also a little sad for Em. There’s other people who think like that, she mentions. She’ll have to introduce him to some of them.
It’s two days later on Monday afternoon when the two make their way across McGehee’s pretty campus to one of the other buildings, having done their female cast auditions in a spare classroom. Cécilia says she thinks it’d “seem more polite” to stop by the two adults’ offices (“well, real adults”) instead of asking them to swing by, since they’re the ones doing the teenagers a favor.
Mrs. Achord works longer hours after school than Mrs. Flores does, given that many students see her after sixth period gets out, so they stop by the dance teacher’s office first. Em remembers seeing her in passing as a chaperone during McGehee’s homecoming.
The sandy blonde-haired woman seems very happy to see Cécilia, who she calls “One of the best dancers in our school, no question,” and seems pleased to meet Em as well. She casually remarks on his handsomeness and how “you’re just the reason my students wish they had male partners in class.”
“All righty, I reckon we should get down to it… did you two have some kind of audition for the part in mind?” she asks with a humoring smile after a little while.
Emmett: “Okay, sure. Here’s your challenge: make us feel uncomfortable.” He holds up a hand and smiles. “Not all at once, ma’am, don’t worry about having to just bother us. Just over the course of a conversation. If you could be unsettling without being rude, I think you might have the essence of what we’re looking for.”
GM: Isabel’s mother, who’s dressed in a sunflower-printed dress with heart-shaped earrings, actually holds up a hand to cover her mouth as she laughs.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but I don’t know… you two look so happy together, I’d feel bad! Are you really sure that’s what you need for the part?”
“We’re sure, ma’am,” Cécilia smiles. “I think El’s hit upon exactly what we need. And we would feel very good if you could unsettle us. It is a horror movie, and a lot harder for us to find actresses who aren’t teenagers.”
The dance teacher looks between them. “All right, unsettling how? I’m afraid my husband always said I couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler, so I might not be your best bet,” she adds with a fainter laugh.
Emmett: “On the other hand, a grade schooler doesn’t know what to be intimidated by,” El replies easily. “That said, ma’am, in some ways it’s up to you. I think that there’s a lot to be said for following your instincts in roles like this. But if I had to give you one piece of advice, it would just be to play with us. We aren’t people you’re trying to impress or intimidate. We’re mice talking to a snake. Not that I expect you to bite, of course.”
GM: “Well, all righty then. Playfully unsettling… no,” she chuckles, “unsettling by playing with you. Important distinction there. So tell me, El, how did you and Cécilia get together? You make such a sweet match.”
Emmett: “That’s lovely of you to say, Mrs. Flores. That’s a story Cécilia can tell better than me,” he chuckles, giving her the floor.
GM: “Oh, El’s much too kind. He’s the storyteller—the film’s his idea,” Cécilia demurs.
Emmett: “I never want to tell a story about myself that makes me sound too good to be true.”
GM: “Well then, since you’re both equally modest, how about you tell the story together?” Isabel’s mother smiles.
She listens attentively as the teenagers tell her how they met (“I thought you looked familiar from somewhere, El, I was a chaperone at that dance”) and remarks on how glad she was that El was there to “rescue Adeline’s evening. She’s a sweet girl, and shy—so much shyer about her body than other French girls I’ve known.”
Emmett: “Hardly a rescue, just an intervention,” he demurs. But he’s interested in Cécilia’s answer as well, looking to her when the older Flores asks.
GM: “Whatever you want to call it, it meant a lot to us both,” Cécilia smiles. “Adeline’s always been an introvert. I don’t think she’ll be going to many more dances, unfortunately.”
“Oh, no!” Mrs. Flores exclaims. “Your whole family’s so light on their feet… maybe we can talk her into taking my class, if you think that’d help get her comfortable again?”
“That might help a lot,” Cécilia thinks. “There’d be only girls, and in a safer space… I’ll see what I can do. Thank you for the idea, ma’am.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. Your family’s all such good dancers, it’d be like vandalizing a painting not to encourage you.”
Emmett: “How did you get started at McGehee’s, ma’am? You seem to have a real passion for dance, I bet you’re a treat to learn from.”
GM: “That’s so kind of you to say,” Mrs. Flores smiles. “After I retired from ballet, I knew I still wanted to have dance in my life. So I thought maybe I’d teach instead, and had just my luck to get hired by the school where two of my kids were going.”
Emmett: He nods, not quite seeing the unsettling bit yet. “Did you ever teach your own daughters? Isabel was in here auditioning, earlier.” He watched her face carefully when he says her daughter’s name.
GM: “Oh, she was? In that case, maybe I should drop out—at her age I’d have found it a lil’ weird to be in the same play or movie as one of my folks.”
Cécilia gives the faintest of frowns towards Emmett.
Emmett: “Oh, who knows how these things turn out—she might or might not end up joining the cast, but I hardly think she would want you to drop out mid-audition, ma’am. In fact, one of the core parts of the role we have in mind has to do with a somewhat maternal relationship. Why don’t you tell us about her a little? I’ve always believed that the heart of acting is honesty.”
With a smile like that, who could disagree?
GM: “Oh, I completely understand, Mrs. Flores,” Cécilia interjects. “I know there’s so many teenagers who’d be embarrassed to be in the same play or movie as their parents, or at least find it weird. Especially if they were in the same scene. Why don’t we see how things shake out with Isabel, and then get back to you if she ends up not being interested?”
Emmett: “Let’s slow down a moment,” El insists. “Ma’am, I only brought up Isabel stopping by to say that she’s a brilliant young lady, and that clearly she gets it from somewhere. I recognize there’s some discomfort at the idea of working together, and Cécilia’s right to make that offer, but I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a director if I didn’t try to find the best woman for the part. We’re here now and just getting to know each other—is there any harm in finishing what we’ve started? Maybe I’m too thick-skulled to see it, and if there is, of course we can do as Cécilia says and reach out if she isn’t interested or right for what we need. But I think you have a lot to offer this project, Mrs. Flores, and it’d be downright negligent of us not to see that notion through.”
GM: Mrs. Flores looks between the two teenagers and gives another laugh. “Well, aren’t you two sweet as cherry pie. That’s really so thoughtful how you don’t want to embarrass Isabel, but I guess El’s right that if we’re all here, we might as well see things through…”
The dance teacher asks El about his personal interests, choice of college, and professional aspirations. She seems like she already knows that stuff about Cécilia, though she still asks the Devillers scion how her mother and sister are doing. A lot of Cécilia’s siblings actually take ballet lessons with her.
Eventually, she gets around to the acting.
Mrs. Flores does her best to make the later back-and-forth unsettling. She seemingly gets caught up again by the small talk at a couple points, only to veer back towards her ‘unsettling’ persona. “My, my, my… film school. You sound like you’ve got your life all figured out, don’t you? If only you knew, my dear boy… if only you knew…” she chuckles darkly in a played-up voice, as if wanting the teenagers to be sure it’s not the ‘real her.’
Where she does best is through body language. Her posture shifts as she adopts the ‘unsettling’ persona and leans back in her swivel chair, tilting it perpendicular to the teenagers’ view to casually claim more of the space while partly hiding her face. She sweeps her arms across the desk and wheels the chair to and fro as she speaks, making flowing and imperious gestures that give her a larger than life and constantly ‘shifting’ persona to leave the teenagers physically off-balance. Sometimes she idly taps her fingers over Elliot’s knuckles or condescendingly taps Cécilia on the nose to punctuate a dark chuckle. It’s more physical and dance-centric than Abélia’s ‘performance’ was. It’s also less scary.
Then again, it probably shouldn’t be as scary.
The audition comes to a rather anticlimactic end when Mrs. Flores rises from her chair to punctuate a particularly overweening hand motion, only to clasp her leg and quickly sit back down.
“Oh, owww… I’m afraid the leg’s actin’ up again. I think I’m about tuckered out for this afternoon.”
“I didn’t scare either of you two, did I? You’d have asked me to stop if I was?” she asks the teenagers, looking concernedly between them.
Emmett: “You didn’t scare us, miss,” Em says completely truthfully. “And don’t you worry, this was a great audition.” More of an outright lie, that.
GM: “Oh, it’s Mrs.—I don’t know if that ever came up,” Mrs. Flores fibs. Somewhat transparently, given the number of times both teenagers have called her by that address.
Emmett: “I know, I must have misspoke—anyway, a delight nonetheless.”
He makes sure to walk the dancing teacher to the door—after all, her leg hurts.
He’s more concerned with Cécilia’s thoughts on everything, however.
GM: At Em’s offer, she remarks how “that’s so gentlemanly of you. We really do lose at least something havin’ only girls here.” Still, she’s not in any hurry to leave her own office.
“I’ll feel better after I sit for a spell. I’ve got plenty work to do here, anyways.” She adds with a wink, “Your teachers don’t tell you they get homework too.”
Emmett: He laughs at the quip about teachers getting homework, and waits until he and Cécilia are walking back to their car before asking her what she thought of that.
GM: Cécilia exchanges fond goodbyes with the dance teacher and speaks up as soon as they’re out of easy hearing.
“That was mean, El. Why did you keep bringing her daughter up, when I told you things were tense between them?”
Emmett: “I wasn’t trying to be mean. To be honest, I didn’t catch on that that’s what you meant by strained. I though I assumed she’d be happy to know her daughter was doing something exciting, so it slipped out. What’s going on there, though?”
GM: Cécilia doesn’t look much happier. “I told you we couldn’t use them in the same movie, because things were that strained. I don’t understand why you’d tell Mrs. Flores that Isabel was auditioning too.”
Emmett: “I knew we were trying to be sensitive to the eventuality we liked both of their auditions, not that you meant to, you know, kind of deceive her like that. I’m sorry that I messed that up, though—and I’ll only be able to realize how sorry if I’m told more about why you’re so upset. More than her, even. I realize you think I’m quite smart, but I can’t read minds, Cécilia—what are you thinking?”
GM: “If you’re going to apologize you shouldn’t fill it with conditionals or turn it around on me. That’s not a real apology.”
Emmett: He pulls up short and looks her dead in the eyes. “Cécilia, I’m just trying to be polite and diplomatic the same way I was bought up. I’m sorry, I am, but I feel like I’m missing context and I’m not going to pretend otherwise just to make you feel better. Because I decided a long time ago to stop lying to the people I love.”
It takes a moment before ‘El’ seems to realize what he just said, and he colors slightly, but doesn’t break eye contact.
GM: Cécilia blinks.
“You’re seriously picking right now to say that? After another fake apology? You can walk home.”
She starts walking away.
Emmett: “Wait—I still have your keys. I drove us here from your place, remember?” He tosses them to her. He doesn’t have to fake the hurt on his face—his pride is stained by the botched lie.
“I am sorry, Cécilia. I hope you can at least see that.”
He doesn’t try to chase her right then. He isn’t sure he has the energy even if he wanted to.
GM: Cécilia doesn’t stop to pick them up, but continues walking. Perhaps now for longer than she’d planned.
Emmett: He waits until she’s out of sight before calling the number for the Devillers driver she gave him all those weeks ago, and lets him know Cécilia might need a ride home.
It’s the gentlemanly thing to do, after all.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 September 2007
GM: The rest of today and a better chunk of tomorrow goes about as okay as any two school days can. Em’s parents don’t share dinner or breakfast with him. It wasn’t that long ago they decided he needed to fix his own meals—maybe because they were tired of doing “unappreciated” things for him, maybe because they didn’t enjoy “his attitude” at the table, probably both.
School goes as school goes. Six hours of listening to people besides himself talk. People have been telling Em he’s put off college applications for too long. Is he taking off a year? What’s his plan for after that? Does he care about his future?
Ever since the movie, the answer to that question has been complicated.
School always takes too long before the last bell rings. Will Simpson isn’t loaning out his sister’s car anymore: she picked up what he was doing and was furious, and their dad got mad too when she told him. Em catches a ride off some classmates who are going to the Quarter. It’s a tolerable enough streetcar ride from there to McGehee.
The empty classroom Cécilia reserved for auditions sits empty. She hasn’t called or texted.
Emmett: Not unexpected, but still an unwelcome confirmation of her current feelings towards him. He has to think his way out of this before it catches the whole damn house on fire.
So why’s he smiling? He doesn’t know.
It was tiring, always feeling like he had been with her. Always wondering whether he would be discovered, whether the next bluff might be a shade too bold; yes, it was thrilling at first, but the sustained attrition of it had been making him chafe.
No more. Abèlia’s daughter might have caught him stumbling, but now that they are fighting he can fight dirty.
The room is still empty when he shakes himself from the thoughts. Brooding doesn’t suit his posture.
“Ah, there’s an afternoon gone,” he says to the empty classroom.
GM: Some part of it, at least. It’s only a few minutes until the first of the auditions are due to start.
Emmett: He takes a seat, and waits.
It’s nice. He isn’t alone much, these days. Not that he used to value solitude much, because being alone meant having nobody to talk to, to cajole and impress and show off to.
But somehow, between the movie, classes, the bare minimum of a life at home, and his insatiable, relentless friends, he’s never felt able to relax.
The real problem with lying to everybody around you is you only ever get to be honest when you’re alone, he thinks, and then he thinks, Fuck, that’s a good line. I should make a movie.
It’s just a few minutes, anyway.
But they’re nice minutes, and he enjoys them.
GM: The girls buy the family excuse easily enough. Answers about what they’re doing are varied. Cécilia and a boy from another school (or from Tulane) are making a movie together. It’s his movie, and Cécilia’s helping. It’s Cécilia’s movie, and he’s helping. He’s her boyfriend. He’s not her boyfriend. He’s a family friend. He’s hired help. He’s a screenwriter at Zodiac.
“Artie said you were a ‘very’ special friend of his,” the dark-haired girl mentions. “If it’s true Cécilia isn’t into boys, there’s a few people wondering if this is going to be a gay pride movie.”
Emmett: She takes his interest much more aggressively than the lingering curiosity he feels towards Cécilia’s view towards him.
“I remember you,” he laughs after she makes her cute little snipe. He’s caught a little off guard. “You and Artie seemed friendlier than we ever got, though. But he is a friend.”
He sort of tilts his head at her, a shade less pretentious than framing her face with an imaginary camera but with all of the same artsy glamor. “You’re a little mean. That could be good, for this role.”
GM: The girl looks about El’s age. She has a narrow nose, straight-angled face, somewhat plain brown eyes, and pale skin. Her features are cute, even comely, though just a little on the ordinary side. It’s the kind of cute someone sees on a lot of faces. She wears her long black hair in a messy bun with several loose-hanging strands that frame her cheeks.
“You’re a little witty. That could be good, if I’m interested.” She sort of tilts her head, a shade less pretentious than framing his face with an imaginary camera, but definitely mimicking him. “So why’s Cécilia really not here?”
Emmett: She’s smart. Or, whatever, she’s as smart as I am.
He relaxes and sits back in the chair.
“If you weren’t a little interested already, would you be here?”
To her other question, he smiles ruefully. “She finally got a little sick of me. My fault, naturally. I normally don’t talk about girl troubles to strangers, though. What do you like to be called?”
GM: “Sami,” the girl answers. She tilts her head at Em a little more fully, as if examining and not just mimicking him now. “She got bored, huh? She does that.”
Emmett: “No, not that. I think I just showed her a bit too much of myself faster than she was ready for.” He pauses. “That sounds bad, I didn’t show her my dick.”
Coarser than El normally gets. But somehow he thinks she’s the right audience for that joke.
“You sound like you have an opinion about her,” he ventures.
GM: Sami smirks. “I hear things. You wouldn’t be the first boyfriend who’s not been good enough.”
Emmett: He raises an eyebrow. “Oh? Is that because she really is into girls, and feels super guilty because of how religious her mom actually raised her? Because that’s what she told me.”
Delivery, it’s all about delivery.
Yeah, he’s missed this.
GM: Sami raises an eyebrow back.
“Did she say the girls she really is into were her sisters?”
Emmett: He smiles, really smiles, and he’s actually laughing. “You’re good, you’re really, really good. Want the part?”
GM: The girl offers another answering smirk. “Isn’t that presuming I was acting?”
Emmett: “I hope not. If you’re always like this, you won’t need to act at all, except as if you like me.”
GM: “So what’s the part?”
Emmett: He tells her.
“But that’s all detail,” he says, a minute of specificity later. “What’s important is that you’re somebody who has to have what she wants, because she can’t imagine existing without it. Somebody who knows how to believe a lie she tells often enough. Can you be that?”
GM: “Everyone who goes to this school is acting,” Sami answers. “Even if they think they’re not. Or they’re acting everywhere else, like your girlfriend.”
Emmett: Em can humor her, she’s humoring him.
“That’s a mean thing to say. Back it up for me. You’re talking about my girlfriend, after all, even if she ain’t keen on me just now.”
He doesn’t try to sound too upset.
GM: “Yeah, it’s really too bad,” Sami remarks. “You’ve got a cute face.”
Emmett: “Just my face?”
GM: Sami actually smiles at that. The simple expression looks good on her everyday-cute features, actually really good, like an LBD at a cocktail party: hard to go wrong with.
“Well, it’s the only part of you I can really see.”
She saddles up to him, sits down, and starts unbuckling his belt with all the casualness that someone might enter a locker combination.
Emmett: He grabs her hand to stop her, but doesn’t move her hand far, just holds it relaxed. “You know if I did that, I’d get slapped? That’s a big risk to take on a guy. Especially if he already offered you the part.” He’s not teasing, or trying to be mean. He seems genuinely impressed and curious.
He’s also very obviously happy to see her, because he doesn’t have anything in his pocket. Which probably helps.
GM: Sami runs a teasing forefinger over Em’s nose, still smiling, as if to say not to ruin the moment with words, and then resumes unbuckling his belt.
Emmett: He still holds her off.
Where the fuck were you at the dance? he thinks ruefully.
“Use your words, would you? I’m not an easy fuck like the last teacher you seduced. I like to know who I’m with.”
GM: “Okay, El, how would you like to get to know me?” she asks cheerfully, still sitting on his lap.
Emmett: He looks her in the eyes, not trying to put any distance between them or pull away. “Why are you doing this? Really, why? Because I don’t think it’s just for me.” He laughs slightly, and the air between them gets warmer.
“I’m flattered, though. It’s nice to feel wanted. How’d you even end up at a school like this? You’re a whole different kind of Catholic schoolgirl, and you clearly don’t think Cécilia’s such hot shit—which I can’t blame you for. Not very fun, is she?”
GM: Putting distance between them would be hard anyway. The plastic chairs are bolted to the desks. There’s enough room for one person, but not so much for two.
“Mommy and daddy want the best for their little girl, and the school lets in anyone if they pay enough,” Sami answers. “I’ve had a really long and boring day, and I want someone to fuck my brains out before I go home.”
She winks at him. “Also, McGehee isn’t Catholic.”
Emmett: “D’aw, really? Must be all projection.”
He leans in close, and tilts his head as if to kiss her, but turns his head at the last moment to whisper in her ear: “I’m really flattered. But I have a conscience, you know. I can’t cheat on my girlfriend with somebody I just met. The part’s still yours if you want it. I hope you do. I think you’d be better at it than any of the other girls here. Actually, I know you would.”
He doesn’t push her away, or stop touching her. Not that he easily could, if he properly wanted to.
GM: “Fair enough,” Sami says, seemingly taking the rejection in stride. She shifts in his lap, bending over to unzip her backpack and pull out a thermos that she un-corks. The liquid inside is a scent-less dark orange. Em knows booze when he sees it.
“To your movie. And my getting the lead part.”
She raises the thermos in toast, takes a brief swig, and offers it to Em.
Emmett: He takes take a sip, regarding her curiously. “What do you have against her? Anything I get to know?”
GM: “It’s kind of a long story,” Sami answers. She re-corks the thermos and puts it away.
Emmett: “I’m not going anywhere,” he says pointedly, glancing at her legs crossed over his.
GM: “I guess not,” Sami observes.
“Look, how much do you really know about her? I mean, I’m going to take a random guess you don’t go to McGehee. You ever talked to many of her ‘friends’ and classmates?”
Emmett: He smiles at the McGehee crack.
“As much as she wants me to,” he says after a moment. “What she wants everybody to see. And no, I haven’t met her friends. Just her family, a little.”
GM: “She has a reputation here.”
Emmett: “Don’t you?”
GM: “Not like hers. She’s Little Miss Perfect.”
“That’s the funny thing,” Sami goes on. “All the girls here want to be that, too. They want to be her. The richest, the most popular girls, they all have skeletons in their closets. You wouldn’t believe the things they get up to.”
She looks at Em thoughtfully. “Or maybe you would. You seem the type.”
Emmett: “I’m the kind of guy who likes stories,” he agrees.
GM: “Seem like the kind of guy who likes to cause them too.”
Emmett: He just smiles, and shifts a little closer, as if to acknowledge the point.
“I’m still listening,” he prompts her gently.
If Miranda’s taught him one useful thing, it’s that girls get horny, too.
GM: “For a guy who likes stories, you picked the wrong girlfriend. She doesn’t get up to anything. She’s the most popular girl in school, but you don’t get to be popular here just by being sugar and spice and everything nice. All of her ‘friends’, the ones all clawing and scraping and fucking and backstabbing to get where she is, have so many skeletons in their closets you can’t even fit in a key past all the bones.”
“That’s how it’s supposed to be, anyway. Your girlfriend doesn’t have anything. We’ve looked. Believe me, we have. It’s unreal. She’s either a saint in the making or ten times better than anyone here at hiding what she really is.”
Emmett: “We? You seem kinda single-minded.”
GM: Sami laughs. There’s little humor in it. “She’s the queen bee here. You think there aren’t other girls who want to be that? Who wouldn’t do anything for that? Half her friends are complete fakes. And she’s a saint to them anyway.”
“It drives them nuts, how nice she is when they all want to just bend her over a hood and fuck her. They honestly don’t know if she’s being oblivious or just that much better at playing the game than they are.”
Emmett: “Are you one of them?”
GM: “What, one of her friends?” Sami gives another humorless laugh that makes Em’s head feel light. “She doesn’t have any. Real ones, anyway.”
Emmett: He frowns at that.
GM: “The half who aren’t complete fakes are just subtle fakes.”
Emmett: “I meant, one of the girls who wants what she has,” after letting her finish her thought.
GM: “Oh, I sure do. We all do. We’re all just waiting for her to slip. To make that one, one, screwup.” Sami’s voice is soft with poison. Em has to strain to hear, and it seems to strangely echo. “It’s not fair what she does. What she gets away with. It’s like the rules don’t apply to her.”
Emmett: “What’s she do?”
GM: “I just told you,” Sami says irritably. “Though I guess I can’t blame you if you’re feeling a little off.”
Little off is right. Em really wants to just lie down. Sami’s face looms all-too close to his. She’s not smiling anymore. The expression’s as casually discarded as an LBD on the bedroom floor. It might have looked nice on her, but it never really seemed like it fit. Not like it does on Cécilia.
Emmett: “Well, you’re very forgiving,” he agrees. “I meant, what’s she get away with that nobody else can? What happens to people who try to mess with her? There are lots of ways I’m sure you could come up with to shake things up. But you haven’t, which is at least part of why you’re on my lap.”
GM: Em’s words sound slurred to his ears. The edges of his vision are dark.
“Oh, you bet.”
Emmett: “Ah, thas th… trick…” he slurs. “Dirty…”
GM: Sami pulls Em’s belt out his pant loop, unzips his crotch, hitches her skirt, and sits down on his cock.
“Yeah. Welcome to McGehee.”
Tuesday evening, 25 September 2007
GM: Em’s still not sure if he’s dreaming or awake for a while. He feels dizzy and really tired. Sounds echo strangely in his ears. The numbness is at once alien and hauntingly familiar. He supposes he’s always felt a little numb. His pants are still unzipped. There’s some cum on the plastic seat, along with a sheet of notebook paper, its message written in a girl’s neat pencil handwriting:
Emmett: “Hotmail,” he hears himself say. “Ugh. Nobody leaves a number anymore.”
The joke falls flat even in the room of one.
He has to get up slowly. His cock feels weird. Sore.
He wishes he could at least remember finishing.
The note, he uses to absentmindedly mop up the worst of the fluid.
He’s so tired.
He checks his phone for the time.
GM: A couple hours later.
His head hurts. It feels like someone drilled out the part of his head that remembered all the details, but left the part that just felt awful. He still feels like he could drift away.
There was something he said. To get at her. Before she got him. What was it?
Emmett: “The funny this, you don’t even know her real secret,” maybe. He’d been wondered how bad what was about to happen would be. He thought he could get out of it.
It was a shame. She was, is, really something else.
His head still hurts. Of course, it’s only now that he feels like he needs a drink.
He takes public transport home, throwing up twice on the way there for reasons he isn’t entirely sure of, and eats dinner with his family. He’s quiet.
GM: There’s even less to complain about when his parents don’t have dinner with him. They got tired of doing that a while ago. Em’s left to heat up some food in the microwave. He’s forgotten what it is by the time he’s plopped it inside a bowl and hits ‘three minutes’. It swirls around and around and then goes ding. Ding. Ding.
It’s hot in his hands, and hurts without a napkin or oven mitt, but he doesn’t much notice. He’s forgotten how it tasted by the time he’s done, or how long he’s spent staring out the window into nothing as afternoon dies and night steals over sunset.
His cellphone rings.
Emmett: He answers it with the same “Hello,” he always does. The fan in his bedroom he hasn’t turned on in years makes such an interesting shadow across the ceiling. He can stare at it moving for hours.
What if he killed himself? Would it really change anything? It might just be the easiest answer, like Cécilia said.
But then the phone rings, so he forgets about that.
GM: He could hang himself. From the fan. There’s instructions online. Wonder what Mom and Dad would think, if they stumbled in on his suspended corpse—
“Yo, Em,” comes Mick’s wheedling voice. “I swiped a phone off some idiot, you wanna buy? Brand new model!”
Emmett: “Uh, maybe,” he says. “How much?”
This fucking guy. Em met him during one of the better nights out with his cousin.
But sometimes he’s helpful. And he talks a ton.
Em doesn’t like silence, very much.
GM: “Well, these things go for $730 on the open market… but for my good pal Em, I’m thinkin’ a hundred bucks, ten-ten smack-aroos, all the way off!”
The words might sound boisterous or gregarious coming from someone else. They’re sort of a… greased-up whine, coming from Mick. Like a squeaky hinge someone has poured grease all over, only they didn’t have grease, and used butter instead. It halfway does the job, but sticks and smells too.
“It’s a Nokia N95! Year’s hottest! I gonna get a looot of buyers! Stole it right off a real faggot, hyeh-hyeeh-hah!”
The man’s laugh makes Em wonder if his phone’s reception is breaking up.
Emmett: It’s that, or the movie, or he thinks about his day and hits Sami up. He’ll have to, eventually.
“Okay, Mick, okay. I’ll meet you at Jackson, aight?”
GM: “A’ight, Em! You da man! Man of style and taste! See ya then!”
The line clicks.
Emmett: “I hate that weird fuck,” he says aloud to the empty room, and gets up and turns off the fan. He doesn’t need a new phone, but it might make him feel like a new man. Or just a man.
He opens his secret money stash and takes out what he needs.
Then he heads to Jackson Square.
GM: It’s ten minutes later on the too-crowded streetcar when the thought occurs to Em he could’ve been talking about himself, when he said that. Dissing himself in front of an audience of none, in his lonely room.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
People jostle against Em in and out of the streetcar. Their touch is rough and ungentle, and the car feels too crowded, the driver’s voice too loud. He gets off wherever, remembers throwing up earlier, and walks the rest of the way to Jackson Square. Buskers play for change. Palm-readers hawk how they’ll tell his future. Painters sell paintings. A mime gets tossed change without saying anything. Everyone just wants money.
There’s a sense of sullen pointlessness to the whole affair, to the entire nature of commerce, when Mick Zyers shows up by the horse-mounted statue of Andrew Jackson and loudly hawks and waves the silver-colored phone in front of Em, a “personal offer!” and “special deal!” all just for him.
No one cares about him.
All they want to do is use him.
All people do is use anyone.
Emmett: “Keep it down,” he says, not bothering to dress it up in a nicer tone. “Lemme see something.” He pulls out his own phone and gestures to the Nokia. He compares them.
GM: “You got it, Em! Quiet as a whisper!” the short and runny-eyed man loudly exclaims in his whiny voice. He moves around a lot when he talks and makes Em’s head hurts. He spits a lot too, and somehow it makes Em feel dirty. Mick even says he’ll throw in “in the story of how you gotcher new phone!” for “free, all free!” like he’s cutting Em a sweeter deal.
It was this stupid faggot, some idiot with $730 to blow on new phones, who was wandering around a cemetery with his cunt girlfriend. “Not even in a tour group! They sure was easy! Ha ha! Sure was green! Ha ha! Spat on his fag daddy’s grave, and he just went and snapped pictures! Ha ha! Wearing a Jew hat too! And he was black! Niggerjew! Niggerjew!”
Emmett: Em’s reaching into the lining of his jacket for the bundle of fifties when he glances up at that. “What?”
GM: “Yep! Yid and a nigger! I didn’t even know those were real, ha ha!”
Emmett: He shakes his head. Stupid coincidence. “The fuck was there to do in the cemetery, anyway? All the money’s in the Quarter, isn’t it?”
GM: “Oh, there’s lotsa stuff to do in the cemeteries, Em! Ask your cuz, he’ll cut you right in. Niggerjew just wanted to see his niggerjew daddy, ha ha! Those graves, plots, whatever, they get to be like OVENS! Ha ha! Niggerjew shoulda stuck in his head!”
Emmett: “You’re a lot, Mick.” He glances around. “Yo, I brought an extra hundred with me. You want it?”
GM: He gives Em an oily grin. “Does a hooker want dick!”
Emmett: “Yeah, well, my cuz said you get a rise out of, like, pain? Like, that’s how you get freaky?”
GM: Mick gives a hyena-like laugh. “Guess I get around!”
Emmett: “Long as you know what you’re getting paid for, pal.”
He takes a moment to square up before slamming his foot into the man’s groin as hard he can.
GM: Mick’s eyes bulge out of their sockets like china planes as he gives a strangled half-scream, half-gleeful shriek, the corners of his mouth tug-o-warring in simultaneous directions to express agony and ecstasy. A few bystanders stare as Mick sinks into the ground, clenches his eyes shut, and shudderingly massages his battered testicles.
“Ooooh…. thas’… thas’… sooo, goood!” he wheezes.
“You the… the man, Em! The main… main… man!”
Mick winces more deeply as he cups his balls in both hands.
“Oh, oh… yeah…”
“H… hey! You want a fake ID! I gots… lot more, off that fag! And his cunt GF!” Mick exclaims, his eyes bulging as he clenches his teeth in a somehow smiling grimace. “You wanna be a… Hillary Cherry!? Got her ID! Nah… nah! Not you! But maybe… you know some… girls! Ha! Ha ha! Ha!”
Emmett: “You’re a joke, man,” Em says as he drops the money messily over him. “But you’re one I needed. Thanks, I feel better now.”
As he steps over the squirming mess, he realizes he’s not even lying.
Whatever the hell he is, he could be a lot more pathetic.
GM: “Wait! Wait! C’mon, man!” Mick whines after him. “It’s a good ID! Hillary Cherry, man! You can have her ID! Real cheap, just for you! Stand-up Em, my main… ooohf… man!”
Emmett: He turns exasperatedly, then he processes that name. “Wait, really?”
He holds up a hand before he starts talking. “Show me.”
GM: “You bet! Hillary Cherry! We gonna pop her cherry, ha ha… ha! U… ugh…”
Mick gingerly removes his hands from his crotch, slowly reaches inside a pocket, and produces an ID with the picture of the girl who auditioned for Em’s movie.
Emmett: He pinches his nose.
Chinese is a bullshit language.
“Give it to me and I’ll kick you again.”
GM: “Naw, naw, this goes for money too! But kick me again, I’ll give you a discount! Just for Em, main man Em!”
“You’re a real looker, you know,” he leers, and then Em feels the still-prone man’s fingers hungrily massaging his crotch.
Emmett: He stares down at the petty crook.
Not long ago, he might have felt threatened. Vulnerable. Even cautious.
“Zygers, give me the ID. I already tossed you the extra hundred. That, and a kick I wanna give you. Or I just give the girl you stole it from your name. I know Hillary, jackass.”
GM: “Hey, hey, what? C’mon, man! Me and your cuz, we’re all right! I’m givin’ you a deal! I give you lotsa deals!” Mick whines.
“Kick me one more time, man, all right? Then it’s all yours!”
Emmett: He rolls his eyes and obliges. It’s only slightly less fulfilling than the first time.
“Oh, shut up,” he snaps at the next round of noises, and he snatches the ID up.
GM: Mick doesn’t look as pained or as surprised either. Actually, he doesn’t look surprised. He’s a moaning, shuddering mess at Em’s feet as he gingerly tries to hand over the ID, only to be preempted by the younger man’s action.
“That’s… Em! Main man… Em!” Mick wheezes after him.
Emmett: Home waits for him.
Victim, victimizer—his own role changes at every turn—but it’s the changing that’s the thing, he realizes.
What a shit day.
But the show must go on.
Tuesday night, 25 September 2007, PM
GM: Em emails Emil that he has his stolen phone and girlfriend’s ID. A little while passes, then a longer while. There’s no response.
Emmett: He isn’t worried about it. The “niggerjew” (okay, maybe Mick had a point, that was kind of funny) can solve his problems in his own time; Em’s concerns, however, are fast coming to a head.
He goes home, taking up as little space and noise and attention as he can. He writes. He goes over the scripts, the notes on different endings, the post-its — actual post-its, him the student who had never once taken a note — and he thinks, and he writes, and he talks to himself in the mirror.
“How,” he asks his reflection at one point, “do you win a game you don’t know the rules to?”
No answer is forthcoming. He’s thinking about it when he forces himself to email Sami.
I’m glad you took the part. Send me your # so I can hit you up with a call. We have a lot to talk about
Next he spends twenty minutes talking to himself, watching his lips move as he experiments with phrasing. “I know you’re angry. No, I understand you’re angry. Nah. ’I’m sorry I hurt you.’ That’s her kind of thing.”
He runs through other parts, too.
“Can’t apologize for something I still feel.”
“Can’t say sorry for something I still wanna say.”
“Always told me, ’can’t ever be sorry for saying what you feel.’ No…”
Finally he calls Cécilia.
He waits for the voicemail.
He’s timing himself. Two minutes. That’s the golden ratio for monologues.
GM: “You’ve reached Cécilia Devillers. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” sounds her voice.
Emmett: Even her voicemail leaves entirely too much to the imagination.
“Hey, Cécilia. It’s me.” He lets that beat pass for a moment, checks himself in the mirror and continues. “I’m sorry I hurt you. You’re right, a real apology shouldn’t be conditional. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, but I did, and I hope you know that I never meant to, because if you didn’t know that, I’m not sure I could ever ask you to look at me again. Which you don’t have to, obviously. I mean, if you don’t want to.” He affects the pained, nervous expression that worked so well that very first night. It’s like the melted chocolate Hitchcock used in Psycho; close enough to blood that you’d never realize without smelling it.
“Look,” El breathes after a moment, “I just… I need you to know, whatever you want to do, that it isn’t just talk. What I said. And I’ll say it again, because it’s true, and I know you didn’t want to hear it, but dammit—”
He takes a deep enough sigh for the machine to register it, and says, “I love you. I really, really love you. I have ever since that night in Woldenberg. And I wish I had a simple, easy reason why, but I don’t, because you aren’t a simple, easy person, no matter how much you act like you are. I love you, and all of this, everything that this movie is, is for you. So if you don’t want that anymore, neither do I. Because I can’t imagine making this without you, and I don’t want to, and you can be as angry as you need to be, but you could kick down my door and shoot me and tell me you hate me, and I would still love you, because I’ll never stop seeing the woman I saw in your eyes that night. Because I don’t know if I believe in a whole lot, Cécilia, but I believe that.”
He stares into his reflection’s gaze the whole time.
The words come easily.
“You don’t have to call me. Obviously. I don’t think anybody can make you do anything. But if you do, I’m here. And if you don’t… at least now you know.”
That’s two minutes. He hangs up.
He doesn’t like weed anymore. Cigarettes are cheaper and they distract him less. Was he really worried about cancer, a few months ago? What a lazy fucking fear. Who wants to live past fifty, anyway?
So he puffs nicotine-laced smoke out his window’s screen, watches it scatter and fray into the humid Louisiana night, and waits.
Tuesday night, 25 September 2007, PM
GM: Em waits for the better part of that humid Southern night until sleep steals over him.
He dreams of being pinned, held down, silently screaming and suffocating. He ejaculates into a cloying darkness that parts to reveal Sami’s and Cécilia’s laughing faces, but the laugher is all wrong too. It’s the wrongest part of all. He bolts upright, drenched in sweat, as the fluttering sound echoes in his ears.
He gets ready for his day. It’s easy, after waking up so early. Emil still hasn’t answered his email.
The six hours of classes pass like they did the day before. Lots of listening to other people talk. The thought of skipping school to do others things idly occurs. It’s not like he needs a diploma if he’s not really going to film school.
Brother Martin has been out for a little while when Cécilia calls him on his cell.
Emmett: He showers. Cold water jetsams the dried jizz off his pelvis and leg and Lou Reed sings in the background.
He actually likes the idea of Emil as a cop, and it makes him keep that role in the movie. It makes sense, in a bumbling, kind of bleak comic relief way. “Hey, look who they just let have a gun.”
He takes a moment to compose himself. The hardest part will just be remaining silent. The conversation pressure is on his side, and if he did his job right, she’s already one over.
So he says, “Hi, Cécilia,” in the voice he knows she likes and waits.
GM: “Maman said I shouldn’t drag things out, so I’ll keep this brief. Or at least, the first part.”
There’s a pause on the line.
“I appreciate the apology. I still want to make the movie. But I don’t love you. Not in the way you say you love me. You’re talented and funny and smarter than you think. You really are. But I just don’t feel the same way.”
Emmett: “You don’t have to,” he says. “You never owed me anything. Especially not now.”
GM: In contrast to Em’s earlier words, Cécilia’s don’t sound planned or rehearsed at all. If his were smoother and more polished than ever, hers sound at their least.
“Thanks for taking it well.”
Emmett: “There’s nothing to take badly,” he says. “I just have one condition, though. And if you can’t handle it, you don’t have to, and you don’t have to feel bad about breaking things off. Okay?”
GM: “Okay. What is it?”
Emmett: “I never want to pretend I don’t love you. I can’t pretend you don’t mean what you do to me, and I’m not going to act like I don’t, because if I did, I don’t think I’d have a single thing to say. Because I do love you, and right now, that’s all that matters to me. Okay?”
GM: “El… we can’t be together.” Cécilia’s voice sounds strained for the first time Em can recall hearing. “Not after something like… like this. We can be friends, but… that’s all.”
Emmett: “Okay. That doesn’t change things for me, even if I’ll miss feeling like you feel safe around me.” He pauses. “The best part of love is friendship, Cécilia. If I can hear your voice and see your face and steal your attention longer than a mosquito, that’s enough.”
GM: There’s another pause. “El… I don’t want you to chase a fantasy, that I could return your feelings, when you could be meeting other girls. I don’t want to get in the way of that for you.”
Emmett: “Loving one person’s enough. If it changes, it changes. But I don’t think it will.”
He sighs. “Look, this is a lot to do over the phone. Do you want to meet up at Creole Creamery? As friends? I’ll behave, I promise.”
GM: There’s a longer pause. “El… that really doesn’t sound healthy. At all. Still wanting to love me like that, I mean.”
Emmett: “If want had anything to do with it, why would I choose to? It is what it is, Cécilia. I’m not going to chase you when you don’t want to be chased, but you can’t make me want somebody else. This is a country full of people making unhealthy decisions just because they can. I’ll pick my poison like anybody else. It ain’t your job to stop me being a fool, is it?”
He laughs softly. “Creole Creamery. I’ll see you in an hour, okay? Bring a sister if you want.”
GM: Another pause. Cécilia’s voice sounds slow and withdrawn. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Emmett: “Okay. But I’ll be there.”
GM: “No, don’t. I’m not going to be.”
Emmett: “I think I just want ice cream.”
GM: “Okay, fine, if you want ice cream. Treat yourself. El, this was never going to last anyway. I’m going to college next year, at Wellesley. That’ll be four years. And I’m going to grad school after that. Probably in France.”
Emmett: “Why does a thing have to last to be worth having at all? Ice cream melts. You enjoy it while it lasts.”
GM: “You don’t carry around the cone and napkins forever after it’s melted, though. You… you feel happy when you remember it, but you move on.”
Emmett: “They don’t have directors in France? What about all those movies you keep telling me to watch?”
GM: “What are…” Cécilia falls silent again. “El, tell me you’re not thinking of moving to France, just to be around me.”
Emmett: He just laughs. “You don’t lie to the people you love, Cici. I’m getting some ice cream. You don’t have to come, but you can, even if you don’t think you can. Try making a decision you want to make, instead of what people say you should want.”
She can hear him smile. “And change your voicemail. Friends don’t let friends stay boring.”
He hangs up. It’s funny, he realizes, as he sneaks out the window he always has.
He actually does want ice cream.