“I’m going to fuck your daughter, Abélia. It used to be lust, but now it’s personal. I’ll love her out of hate for you.”
Tuesday afternoon, 11 September 2007, PM
Emmett: Em makes the call (he made sure to get the number before they parted ways at the dance) at noon the next day. Easy enough to find some space during lunch.
“Artie, right?” he asks when the line is picked up. “Or do you prefer Mr. Dolan?”
Arthur: “Are you assuming my gender?” he asks. The man on the other line then gives a short chortle before telling Em that “Artie” is fine.
Emmett: “What?” Em doesn’t quite understand the joke, but he gives Artie a charity chuckle. Must be some weird, chef humor. Everybody says restaurants make people crazy. Or maybe Artie’s just cracked. Who knows? He’s still his best shot.
“Artie, then. I want to ask you something. The people you work for, that your family feeds and charms and does everything for. Do you like them?”
Arthur: “I like everyone,” Artie replies. “Why do you ask, Em?”
Emmett: Oh, bullshit. I thought this guy was on the level.
“Yeah, I like everyone too,” Em agrees. “But sometimes, I get the feeling I’m fighting uphill to get them to feel the same way about me. I’m kind of doing this in a roundabout way—I should ask, do you like movies?”
Arthur: “Are you trying to ask me out, Em?” he asks, offhandedly. “This is sounding a lot like you’re trying to ask me out. I have to say, Em, as flattered as I am…”
Emmett: This time the laugh is genuine. “You got me. I’m asking you to be my partner. I’m working on a film for Abélia Devillers, and I need somebody with connections to help me spread the word about it, and to vouch for it. Maybe even to host a screening at a certain high-class venue. I’m asking a lot ‘cause I have a good feeling about you, Artie—and you can save the fag joke, I’m not into redheads like that.”
Arthur: The redhead laughs. “I am sure I could change your mind given the chance, Em. I don’t like to brag, but I am a firecracker in the sack,” he responds, jovially. Then there is silence on the other end of the line as Arthur seems to ponder something for a moment. “I have to admit I am curious to say the least, Em. What exactly will this film of yours be about?”
Emmett: “The only thing worth half a damn or a full ride anymore, Artie. Love. It’s the new immortality, ‘cause we can’t kid ourselves we want to live forever anymore. People just want to believe in love.”
Arthur: “I want to believe in you, love,” Arthur replies, pink lips curling into a smile. Not that Em can see that over the phone. He then adds flirtatiously, “We should have lunch sometime and discuss things more intimately.”
Emmett: Wait, fuck, is this guy actually trying to sleep with me? Shit, I’m not ready for that kind of dedication.
Arthur: It’s possible. The redhead has been nothing but unabashedly flirtatious with the young man up to this point.
GM: The lunch bell rings overhead. The sound of footfalls and adolescent chatter fills the hallways as Emmett’s schoolmates make their ways back to class. He and the amorous chef have several remaining moments together.
That’s when Em spots the teacher spotting him talking into his cellphone. Mr. Lewis, who’s never liked him. Perhaps not so many moments.
“Emmett-” the frowning man calls out.
Emmett: “Time for me to get back to class—let’s talk some more, though. The sooner, the better. I have a feeling we’re going to be very happy we met each other, Artie.”
He dearly contemplates giving the Theological Values teacher the finger as he walks back to his classroom, but his self-interest wins out over his contempt. For now.
Tuesday afternoon, 11 September 2007, PM
GM: It’s not overlong before Cécilia calls Em the next day after school.
She’s glad to hear his meeting with her mother went so well. Abélia said he was “devilishly charming” and had a “spellbinding cinematic vision.” “She really couldn’t say enough good things about you, El.”
Emmett: “Lucky me—I look awful when I blush, but you can’t hear how red you’re making me. She’s really sweet, too—I bet she has great things to say about most people. I can see where you get it from.”
What are you, Cécilia? Are you in on it, too? I don’t think so. Mommy seems like she’s at least as flexible with the truth as I am.
He’s been thinking. Thinking incessantly. What is she? Is this real? There are probably other explanations. He could have been drugged. Maybe even pranked. Maybe Abélia is some kind of bizarre, perverted special effects artist.
But he loves his stories. He loves the grandeur and whimsy, the terrible, unreal realness of them.
Abélia scares him. But she’s obsessed him, too.
GM: “Now you’re the one who’s making me blush.” Em can’t see over the phone, but Cécilia’s tone sounds like she might be.
“I’m really glad the two of you got along so well. Maman says you met Simmone too—and that she pranked you.” The smile behind her voice is audible. “She can be a little terrible.”
Emmett: “The sweetest kids always are. That’s how people learn that their actions affect others. I was a handful when I was two, too.”
I had brains and balls. Simmone has a she-devil’s teat. That one’ll come out an utter mess.
“She got me good, though. I’m sure her first memory of me was a look of complete confusion.”
Bitch. Ugh, I can’t call a kid a bitch. Little asshole. Little fucker. There we go. Little fucker.
GM: Cécilia laughs. “Well, hopefully it’s the first of many happier ones for you both. Do you think you might have a part for a toddler in your movie? She’s already a bit of a diva.”
Emmett: Waiting on Maman to give me the rubber stamp before jumping in completely, were you? Interesting.
What’s the bat’s game? She loves her daughters, but not like most people do. Which is a given.
“Why, I rather fancy that one would have sold any human…”
He convinced her he was good for her daughter. Insofar as she could be convinced. Which means that her ideas of good parenting are probably a few pears short of an edible arrangement.
And yet, and yet, she promised him a guillotine, too. She’s going to ruin everything, unless he makes it too inconvenient for her to oust him at time of her choosing.
I’m going to fuck your daughter, Abélia. It used to be lust, but now it’s personal. I’ll love her out of hate for you.
“We ought to be able to—anything I make, I’m making for you and yours, first of all.”
The longer he waits, the more things get out of control. The lower the buy-in, the more likely Abélia calls his bluff.
“Hey, this is crazy, but what are you doing tonight?” he asks. He’s doing that thing again, where he talks first and thinks later. He’s learned to trust the part of himself that doesn’t think too hard.
GM: Cécilia laughs again. The time is around 6.
“On a Tuesday? Well, now that I’m home, mostly homework. Mine, and helping my sisters with theirs.”
Emmett: “Ah, well. I know better than to get between you and your family. I can show you another time. It’s best late at night, anyway. Say hi to your sisters for me.”
Ask, ask, ask. I’m the perfect boy and I’m doing the right thing, but it doesn’t hurt you to ask, does it? I said it was late at night, so you can even take the initiative and suggest what I can’t. Ask, dammit.
GM: “Show me what?” Cécilia asks, intrigued. “You could stop by later in the evening, if it won’t take too long.”
Emmett: “That’s the thing,” he says. “It’s kind of an excursion. There’s a place I like, in the Quarter. Not like a club or anything, just a spot outside—it’s by the river. When it’s night there, you can see the whole bridge. I used to go there a lot, as a kid.” He laughs softly. “It’s beautiful. I just thought of it, now. Silly idea, anyway.”
And just how badly do you want to pay me back for all my kindness? You know I’ll never push, so how safe are you really going to play things with sweet, sexy El? Come on, you French stereotype. You’re really going to leave him hanging when the ball’s in your court? I don’t think so, Cici. I think your whole life, you’ve been making other people happy. You don’t know how not to. So say it.
He counts the seconds and waits. Say it.
GM: The seconds pass.
“All right, El. That does sound very sweet, and not at all silly. It is a school night, so no more than an hour, all right? How’s 9 for you to pick me up?”
Emmett: “That’ll work,” he laughs. “I’ll be there.”
GM: “Great,” Cécilia smiles. She adds that she’d also called Em to talk about “the fine details” of making his film—actors, equipment, budgets, dates, and similar production-related concerns. Cécilia’s mother, who she describes as “More of a big picture person” has left those to her. They can talk about that stuff later tonight, though. Maybe Em’s riverside spot will even give them some creative inspiration.
Emmett: Hanging up a short time later, he breathes in, holding for a count of five before exhaling. Meditative bullshit he doesn’t believe in.
But he’s going to have to start believing in a lot of things if he wants to come out of this.
Maybe even that he deserves to.
Tuesday evening, 11 September 2007, PM
GM: Em’s parents always told him they weren’t made of money when he wanted something. The two social sciences professors make a comfortable enough living, but that never made them comfortable enough to get him his own car. The past few years have been rough.
Em makes do hitting up Will Simpson for a ride. The hospitality entrepreneur’s son is possessive over his own set of wheels, but proves all-too generous with his sister Julia’s. He cheerfully lends Em the keys to her red minicooper without a second thought, or even inquiries as to when he plans to return the car.
It’s easy to be generous with another person’s things.
Emmett: Okay, so it’s not his preferred ride. He makes do with what he has. It’s after making a few other calls that he’s on the road, waiting outside the Devillers household and shooting a text to Cécilia within. He keeps the engine running. He doesn’t ever want to be back inside that place.
GM: The teeth-like iron gate silently swings open to admit Em’s car. The white house looms tall and large over its surroundings, and the drooping willows’ shadows are dark and long. Em can make out motion from behind the windows. It’s apparent that far more people than Cécilia are home.
It seems almost certain that she is.
Emmett: Engine running. How fast can a fucking minicooper drive, again?
GM: The faint, laughing rustling of wind through the trees is his only answer.
A text shoots back from Cécilia after a moment.
My family’s old fashioned. Ring for me at the door, please? :)
Emmett: Oh, come on. What happened to it being a school night?
Ring he does, though. He only looks half a twat, with the bright red cooper parked behind him. The other half is all grace and gentleman, devilishly charming smile in place like he can’t wait to Fall.
Bullshit old world monster and her bullshit old world manners.
GM: It’s not overlong before the door swings open. The woman who answers is pale, willowy, and has Abélia’s face.
For a heart-stopping moment he thinks it’s her. But the eyes are light rather than dark. The hair is blonde. She’s dressed in a more casual sleeveless white top and blue skirt, too. It’s Cécilia.
Emmett: Stay focused. Tonight won’t be like last time. Tonight, she belongs to you.
The arrogance keeps him strong. “Hi! You look great. How was homework?”
GM: “Thanks, El, so do you,” Cécilia smiles as she gives him a light greeting hug.
“Yvette and Yvonne had a bunch of fractions to do tonight. They got it down really when Maman measured things in actual cups for them.”
Emmett: I would have just explained it in terms of interracial marriage, I bet Hitler Youth would have picked that up real quick.
He accepts the hug with a bit of surprise he doesn’t have to fake. He’s always just a little taken aback when he realizes he’s won people over. Trust is the only thing you can’t get back once you deal it out, and people keep giving it away anyways.
“That’s a cute way of doing it,” he says. “My mom taught me with cooking. Grits and things.”
GM: “That must have been a tasty way of doing it,” Cécilia laughs as she follows him to his borrowed car.
Emmett: “Absolutely, if not a super educational one. Neither my culinary or mathematical skills are much improved from when I was ten.” As they pull out of the driveway, he jumps straight into conversation. The more she’s reacting, the better. “I wanted to say, I’m grateful for everything you’re doing. I wasn’t sure at first, but this project has given me a lot of…I don’t know. Fire. Among other things.”
GM: “That’s wonderful, Em. And, actually, a good segue into…”
True to Cécilia’s earlier word, she starts asking about specifics at this point. Scripts, locations, prospective actors, estimated budgets, the while nine yards. Her mother knows some “friend of a friend” people who work in the film industry. She can put Em in touch with them to get production started.
Emmett: He plays along for the moment. He’s been thinking too hard about it to not get some of it out through discussion.
The script is his first concern—if nothing else, he needs to see it on paper before he knows what exactly he wants it to look like on screen. He’s typed up broad, messy notes already—how could he not have, after such an inspiring meeting?—but he’ll be writing like a demon over the next week at least. If he’s going to be directing, though, he’ll need to get somebody he trusts to do the lion’s share of the actual, line by line writing. He has his own ‘friend’ in the local film industry—not that Mom would approve if she knew they were talking—but he’d love to put his friend in touch with hers.
Inwardly, he feels a coil of unease at that particular revelation. Abélia wanted to have her eyes on production, or if nothing else he has to assume so; which means he’ll have to be careful if he wants the vague shape of his scheme to coalesce e into sharp reality.
Actors are an interesting question, as is the budget. It might seem backwards, but he can’t help but feel that he’ll have to tailor the budget to fit the film, not the other way around. He has no intentions of doing anything that would require resources far beyond what any amateur could whip up, given time and patience, so he has to trust in his vision’s conservatism before he reconciles or compromises it with budgetary constraints.
Actors will tie into that, as well. El thinks it’ll be key to actually make wide use of amateurs, particularly people their own age who will make up the core of the cast.
“I’d feel a little silly trying to find pros when I’m still a rookie myself,” he laughs. “But I think that managed properly, coached well, even amateurs can deliver pretty awesome stuff. I was also going to recruit local—not just New Orleans, but St. Martins and McGeehee, other schools like them. People like seeing faces they know, and I have a feeling that this is going to rely as much on presentation as it is on its own two legs, you know?”
GM: Cécilia nods. “That’s a good way to save on budget costs, too, if students are participating in this for fun. I know a bunch of girls at McGehee who’d probably like to.” She smiles. “Me included, when Simmone already does.”
Emmett: What’s this? Fancy yourself an actress?
“Almost cheating, showing your mother her own daughters’ faces on screen. Then again, maybe I’d be cheating myself not to put you in front of a camera—you have a great energy for it.”
Looks. You have looks.
“Have you done any acting, before? I feel like there was definitely a school play or two in your past.” The more he can keep the conversation on her, the better tonight will go.
GM: Cécilia nods again. “I was in a couple plays when I was younger. I wouldn’t expect a lead role or anything, of course. That should go to someone with more experience.”
Emmett: “If experience was king, I wouldn’t be behind the wheel. We’ll see. I’m thinking the main character should be a girl our age, anyway. If I don’t get to set my sights low, neither should you.”
It’s a short drive. Palatial estates give way to merely beautiful ones when they cruise through Riverbend. Then those make way for the apartments on the outer edge of Mid-City, the closest thing that neighborhood has to a pretty face.
Then the Quarter’s in sight. Em and El might disagree about why, but it’s the best part of the city.
“I want to live here, one day,” he says, unbidden but wistful. “I’m close by, in the Marigny, and it’s fine—but it’s not like here. I mean, yeah, the Quarter is crazy and a little dangerous and you get all types. But it has a soul, too. Character, I guess, even ignoring the history, the culture, the architecture, though those definitely add to it. You know when you’re in the Quarter. You can feel it in the air, like too much chlorine in a pool. It’s a place. Not a zip code or a bunch of streets or some gerrymandered district. It breathes, almost.”
He shakes his head. “Yeah, if I’m going to film anywhere in the city, I have to start here.”
GM: Cécilia is flattered that El wants to give her the lead role, but demurs that they should “at least look into” other girls with more acting experience, especially ones who want to pursue careers in the performing arts. “This is the sort of thing you’d put on a college application—it’ll probably be a lot more useful for them than me.” Still, they can consider casting once development of the script is fully done.
She smiles as the conversation turns to other matters. “That’s a beautiful description of the Quarter, El. You should use it as a line in your movie somewhere.”
She looks thoughtful for a moment. “A lot of people complain how Disneyland-ish parts of the Quarter are getting. But there’s a lot of parts that don’t, too.”
“A lot of people complain how Disneyland-ish parts of the Quarter are getting. But there’s still plenty of parts that have a ton of character, too. That’s really touching, even inspiring, how that’s what the Quarter still is to you.”
Emmett: “What can I say? Once I get something into my head, it doesn’t slide out easily. I get attached. What about you? Do you have a favorite place? Two countries to call home, you’re more spoiled for choice than I am.”
GM: Cécilia thinks. “There’s a lot of great spots. But I really like the Garden District. You can walk around for hours looking at all of those beautiful old homes and sculptures. It feels so at harmony with nature, too, with how many trees and gardens there are. I guess that explains the name. I’m really glad to get to live there.”
Emmett: “Nature’s important,” he says.
Believe me, I got told how important three times a day, just sitting around the damn table. Look at me, Dad—did you think I wasn’t listening?
“Especially these days. People don’t want to be told they have to take care of it, don’t want to pick up their mess or worse, stop making it in the first place. Not that I can talk. I’d be a hippie if I wasn’t too busy being a hypocrite. What are y’all like, politically? I know your mom’s pretty active in that world.”
He parks the car near Jackson Park—fucking Quarter parking, and not even his car, but shirk the meter and he’ll have to explain the ticker to Simpson the Simp—and says, “It’s just a short walk. Kind of a hidden spot. Undiscovered, maybe.” He offers her his arm out of his car.
GM: “Oh, Maman’s much more focused on philanthropy than politics…” Cécilia answers his initial question. “People in both those worlds rub elbows, but they disagree a lot less over the former. It’s much easier to actually help people through philanthropy.”
She takes his arm as he opens the door. “Lucky me to have a local guide.”
Emmett: “Or maybe unlucky. The places you find by yourself are the ones you can never forget, I think.”
He keeps up the mildly flirty small talk as he walks her to the place.
He remembers when he found it, three years ago. In a world before Katrina. Before the anger, before he just couldn’t try anymore—he remembers finding this place.
He almost wishes he could find it all over again. A small kindness, a tiny piece of himself, for her to see.
“Like I said,” he says as he leads her through Woldenberg Park, an ugly name for a beautiful place. He hops over the picturesque railing by the riverside trail, and offers her a helping hand to do the same. The spot is a rocky outcropping, not too sharp to sit on. “You can see everything.”
The sky is blue-black, a suit too rich for church and too plain for a party. The skyline of this side of the Crescent Connection’s gobbled up most of the stars, trapped them in its lights like burning flies in a metal web, but there are still some. Still a precious, bare few, burning across the sky eons after they’ve died. The bridge itself burns less brightly, but more colorfully. Headlights and taillights shine through the night, the late-night rush flooding the Connection with angels and devils both—the golden headlights headed one way, the red glare of the taillights going the other.
It’s a quiet spot, and it’s beauty is quiet, too.
But it’s there.
GM: It’s a small spot, and it’s hard for the two teenagers to avoid touching as they sit. Cécilia’s skin is soft, and she smells really nice, too—some kind of light floral scent that the mind doesn’t notice but the nose does.
“Oh, that is beautiful,” Cécilia murmurs. “I’ve been down this park before, but I never thought there was anything past the railing. You can almost forget the rest of the city is behind you, like you’re floating over the water.”
Emmett: “See, I’m not the only one who has a knack for describing things,” El smiles.
“Look, I thought you should know… I haven’t done this before.” He waves a hand around him at the setting, and by extent the two characters within it. When it comes down, it’s carefully, quietly near hers.
Careful, says the director. Don’t overplay your hand, El… and don’t you dare fold.
“I’ve had crushes, and I’ve had the shitty high school dating experience, and I guess I’m kind of good at it. But this… you… feel different.” His eyes bore into hers, lose themselves in a blue that lets him forget the terrible, mirthfully dark gaze that’s seared itself into the back of his mind. “You feel… special.”
GM: “That’s very sweet of you to say, El,” Cécilia smiles back. “Why is that? I’m not that different from most girls at McGehee, I don’t think.”
“Well,” she amends with some mirth that seems so much lighter than, but still not altogether unlike her mother’s, “besides getting to see a view this pretty on a school night.”
Emmett: “Do you really think that?” He shakes his head in not-at-all-feigned disbelief. “I don’t think most girls are as selfless as you, or as generous. Most wouldn’t have gone out of their way to pay me back just for doing the right thing, beyond treating me as a guest in their own home.”
“I guess what I’m saying, is… yes, you are special. If for no other reason that people like you, happy people who only make others happy, are rare. And you should take that from me, even if you don’t want anything else.”
Attaboy. You have to play it like a dance—and it’s on her to follow your lead.
GM: “Oh? What else would I want from you?” Cécilia asks, not uninvitingly, even as she smiles at El’s answer regarding her ‘specialness’. The breeze over the water is blessedly cool in the hot and muggy September weather, still stubbornly clinging to summer’s unforgiving heat.
Emmett: It’s about a straight line as he’s going to get.
Em has no idea if he’s a good kisser—the idea of asking has always distinctly bothered him, like he’s giving somebody permission to know he’s human as well.
But he knows the art of when to take, the three-card-monte of giving somebody they don’t ask for and leaving them thinking they did. It can’t be coercive, not overtly, unless you don’t mind burning any future bridges with your mark.
He moves quickly—too quick to stop properly, too slow to be bum-rushing her, and his mouth covers hers before she can process what’s happening.
Another dirty trick. But it’s all about the timing, like any other sleight—when the answer isn’t clearly no it’s always “maybe.”
GM: Em can feel Cécilia’s initial surprise at the kiss: the tension in her body and the accelerated beating of her heart. Her mouth is soft and tender against his, and feels very nice. It’s no great stretch for the teenager to picture her breasts having a similar texture, if he were to fondle those. Or her lower lips, if he were to plant his dick inside her. Maybe she’d scream if he didn’t ask there. Or maybe she’d just whimper. It’d be a soft sound, too, like a wounded doe. Perhaps she’d cry. They’d be soft and silent tears, slowly trickling down those pained and disbelieving blue eyes as he pinned down her wrists. He’d ravish her, fuck her, ruin her, make her feel the same emptiness eating away his own soul like cancer. He’d make her a slut, make her a whore, make her cheap, make her family revile her—he’d drag this pampered princess off her throne and bring her down to his level—
It’s almost a disappointment when El realizes she’s kissing him back.
Cécilia looks at him when he finally pulls away. Her cheeks are tinged faintly red as her chest softly rises and falls. She doesn’t say anything, initially—leaving an empty canvas for his words to paint over.
Emmett: “I couldn’t say,” he says softly, finally answering her question. “But anything you’d want, I’d be happy to give.”
His hand’s moved closer to hers, too, inviting but not forceful. Something mild and sweet after a bit too much spice.
But he knows it’ll be fine. He’s driving, now.
And besides. She liked it.
Thursday evening, 13 September 2007, PM
It’s two days later when Em swings by a condo in the French Quarter, right by Harrah’s and the Windsor Court. According to his parents, and especially his mother, he’s not supposed to be here. He’s not supposed to be doing a lot of things.
When he rings the door after inputting the gate code, it’s answered by a half-clothed girl who looks old enough to be in the same grade as him. She looks Em over once and giggles.
“Oh… you’re not who I was expecting.”
The man she lets him inside to see (“you might as well, now…”) looks around three times her age. Ronnie “Ron” Landreneau is a wide-nosed, mustached man in his middle years with a receding hairline and expanding paunch that speaks to a life of comfortable self-indulgence. Scattered articles of female clothing also speak to it.
Em’s uncle himself is reclining on a leather couch while football plays on the TV. His condo’s décor is quirkishly tasteful falling just short of tacky, and includes a painting with ‘I play so much zydeco—make your feet hurt’ lettering and a Saints flag with the team’s chant. Em’s mother had once remarked the place is more than her brother should be able to afford even with his film director’s income.
“There’s my man. How ya been, Em?” Ron grins, extending a fist for him to bump in seeming alternative to getting up. Football noises continue to sound from the TV.
Emmett: “Hey, Ron. I’m good. Better than good, I’m young. Can I get you a drink? I think I still remember where you keep the good shit.”
He returns the fist bump and adds a stupid little flair to it. “If I’d known you had company over, I would have come later. Or just bought my own.”
Ron’s a good uncle. Actually, he’s a terrible uncle, but he’s the best bad uncle a boy like Em could want. And Em is a good nephew. He knows how to keep a secret, and he’s very good at getting secrets to keep.
He plops down next to Ron and smiles at the girl. “Can you see the resemblance? I get all the good looks from his side of the family. One or two from him, even.”
GM: The girl giggles again. Then she looks Em over again. “Oh, I can, though you’re a lot thinner…”
She gives a startled yelp as Em’s uncle swats her backside. Not hard enough to really hurt, but hard enough to really sting. “You’re getting the drinks for that.”
She rubs her rear. “Ow, fine…”
Ron’s grin returns as the girl’s bare feet lightly smack against the floor.
“Savor it while it lasts, kid. I was young and thin once too.”
“So what brings you around? It’s been… sheeeit, how long? I’m betting your mom doesn’t know you’re over.”
Emmett: “Six months, probably. And nah, she doesn’t. But how could I stay away? New school, more rules, and she doesn’t like me seeing you. She talks about you, though.” She doesn’t.
GM: “Yeah, talks shit about me,” Ron scoffs at the remark on his sister. Exclamations go up from the televised football game.
Emmett: “I actually came to pick your brain about the biz. Remember last year, when we were talking about me maybe coming to work with you? That day might have come, I’m thinking.”
GM: Em’s uncle smiles at his next statement. “Well how ‘bout fucking that. We’re not filming our next Katrina movie yet, market’s been a damn gold mine for those, but there’s a campaign commercial for one of Joe Kelly’s kids we could fit you in. Few early parts like that’ll get you a bigger one in the real movies.”
Emmett: He pauses. “That might work really well, actually, but I have something bigger. A real opportunity. But it’s strange and a little dicey, so I’ve got to ask going in, Uncle Ron,” (Ron is that kind of uncle who enjoys the full address when he’s being wheedled) “can I trust you with a secret? A really good one?”
GM: The girl comes back with several filled glasses. Ron smirks at Em, then looks at her.
“What he said earlier about his looks? He’s right. His dad’s ugly as shit. Dunno what my sister saw in him. She had a body like you wouldn’t believe back in the day—could’ve had her pick of any guy.”
The smirk widens. “From how Em turned out, maybe she still did…”
He winks at his nephew. “Secret’s been safe with me.”
Emmett: Em blinks a little at that. He knows the two don’t like each other, but sometimes he isn’t sure when Ron’s joking.
He is, right?
Doesn’t matter. Can’t get distracted.
“You know the Devillers, right? The rich French lady and her daughters everybody’s trying to impress? I’ve gotten friendly with her oldest daughter.” He coughs and grins with the bare minimum of shame, a pale mirror of the older liar’s sins. “Maybe a bit more than friendly. And her mom, Abèlia—she wants to help me get into film school. Actually, she wants to help me make a movie.”
GM: The girl, meanwhile, just laughs along at Ron’s remark as she sips from her drink.
“Damn,” Em’s uncle says between one of his own. “You must have been a hell of a lay. How was she?”
Emmett: The moment Em takes isn’t to struggle with his conscience. He’s just letting his smile grow a little more discrete. Like he practiced in the mirror this morning when he couldn’t sleep except for dreams of dark, fluttering laughter. The anecdote he tells is obviously exaggerated for comedic and scandalous effect, but just as clearly based on something.
“There is one slight catch, though,” he says, mock-sheepish. “She doesn’t know my real name.”
GM: Ron laughs at the story and remarks on how “French girls always put out fast.” The girl laughs along with him.
“Yeah, I bet that’s not all she doesn’t know,” he then remarks. “Trickier though when you’re making a movie with her.”
Emmett: “Tricky, yeah. But not impossible. And here’s the crazy part—her mom knows. But she’s, um—look, there’s a reason I’m coming to you with this. My parents wouldn’t understand, but you will. I don’t know where else to go with this.” He purses his lips as he pretends to hesitate a moment longer before he says, in that perfect secret-singing voice:
“I know a secret about Abèlia Devillers.”
The delivery has to be perfect. You can’t walk back a story like this.
GM: Ron’s about to take another sip of his drink when he blinks at Em’s declaration.
“Mama Abèlia knows you’re bullshitting her daughter?”
The girl seems undecided on whether to laugh again at that ‘joke.’
Emmett: “Yeah. It came up when she told me to take my clothes off when I visited her after school Monday.”
GM: The girl isn’t undecided anymore. Her laughter joins Ron’s uproarious guffaw.
“How about fucking that! Em, you smooth bastard!”
Emmett: “It’s an awkward position!” Em protests, his indignation well-feigned. “I had no idea what to do! Sweat was running down my asscrack, I thought I misheard her—but I couldn’t make this shit up if I wanted to. But the thing is, Ron, I don’t know who I’m supposed to go to about the super rich French bitch who’s gently blackmailing me into having sex with both her and her daughter.” He clutches his forehead. “It’s hilarious, but it’d be funnier if it wasn’t happening to me!”
GM: Em’s uncle snorts. “Awkward my ass. That stuff doesn’t take an instruction manual.”
“Not sure what you’re coming to me for though. I’d just keep doing what you’re doing. Get her on as a producer if you haven’t already. If you had already, get more money out of her. Milk her sweet tits and lap up every drop that comes out.”
Emmett: “Yeah, that’s good right now. But you’ve gotta understand, Ron, milk sours. Right now everything’s sweet, but I’m only safe as long as the lady feels like I’m a fun fuck. And yeah, maybe I didn’t mind the first time, but I don’t wanna spend my whole life as Abèlia’s booty call. The moment she’s done with me, she can take away everything she’s given me, and burn my reputation at the same time. I think she’s banking on my film being good, but with her name being the best part about it.”
He drums his fingers on the table between them. “But if I make something so good, so loved, that she can’t pretend I don’t exist: then, maybe I’ll have some shit to shovel back at her. But the only way I do that is if this movie is the biggest film event this city’s seen in years. And a movie like that, at a time like this—that can bring a lot of people what my redneck uncle calls ‘high cotton.’ You see why I’m hitting you up yet? Other than your dating advice?”
GM: “Well, here’s some right now. Don’t make such a big deal. Yeah, the woman ain’t gonna marry you. And you’re not gonna spend the rest of your life as her booty call. Every thing like this ends sooner or later.” Ron smirks. “Unless she does marry you. But I wouldn’t bet on it. No, she’s eventually gonna get bored and move on to some other young piece of ass. But she’s not gonna ruin you just ‘cause you went into this with open eyes. Why would she? You think she does that to all her booty calls? Unless you’ve done something to really piss her off, she’ll just drop you and move on.”
He leers at the girl. “All this sounding like good news to you, babycakes?”
“Yes, definitely,” she nods.
“If you’re still worried or you really want out when the movie’s done, though, I’d find some other sweet piece of ass to distract her. This lady’s a cougar, right? Give her another mouse to go after.”
Emmett: “Yeah, maybe,” Em says. “But there’s more than survival at stake here, Ron. This isn’t about survival anymore.” He clutches at his chest. “It’s about power. You get power, right? The thing that makes everything about everything. Look, I could just ride this out, but then I’m left out in the cold and her bitch to boot. As long as I rely on her, I have to keep her happy. But if the movie becomes something bigger than her, then suddenly she needs me for more than a dick. If she controls production, I got nothing. But if you got in on it with me… then the problem starts to look more like an opportunity. For both of us.”
GM: “Long as you’re taking her money, Em, she has power,” Ron declares somberly. “Trust me on that.”
“You really want her out of this… make it without her. Screw and dick around and give her a fat lot of talk ’til she gets tired of you.”
Emmett: “I wanna make it without her,” he says. “But I know a better way to do it. Get in bed with me, Ron. She can bring influence and money to the screening, can get the show out in front of powerful people, but if I have you helping me make the actual movie, there’s not a goddamn thing stopping me from becoming a real name. Even if it isn’t really mine. When’s the last time one of your projects had a name like hers on it? There’s a lot of ways this can go good or bad for me, but it’s nothing but golden eggs for you. Get your name on this film, do some mentoring and get your name all twined up in hers, it’ll come out clean. Respected.”
He looks uncle Ron dead in the eye. “I got an itch, Ron. I got an itch for people to talk about me. To wonder about me when they go to bed. To respect me so hard it almost feels like they know me. I got an itch. I don’t think I got it from my dad or my mom. I definitely didn’t get it from the Cajun side of things—they’re itchy in a whole other way. I think I got it from you. And it’s time to scratch.”
GM: Ron smiles. “Well, kid, here’s some of the ways we can.”
He first quizzes Em a little further about intentions regarding Abèlia, and cautions his nephew against “shoveling shit” upon she who holds the purse strings. When a director clashes against their producers, or an actor against their director, things can get real ugly. Usually for the latter party.
“Back when I worked in Hollywood, there was an actress who got a little greedy. She was sleeping with her director and had a good thing going, but then she tried to blackmail him with for a leading part. Threatened to release pictures to his wife. Know what happened? He called up some friends. They got her a leading part, in another film. Another kind of film.”
He adds, deadpan, “Masked guy slashed her throat on screen and stuck his dick in the spurting wound.”
Then he winks. “Or so I heard. More likely she lost the part and knew better than to bother him again.”
When Ron hears Em simply wants more control over production and to rely less on Abèlia, he’s more sympathetic. “What every director wants. Short of paying for the whole movie yourself, there’s no way to have total control. But there’s ways to get closer.”
First, there’s crowdfunding. Em’s a popular kid at school, isn’t he? He and his friends could go around school asking for donations. Include prizes like X dollars gets you a free ticket to the showing, a nice seat, or a minor part in the movie.
There’s also fiscal sponsorship. If a nonprofit company with 501©(3) takes the film under their umbrella, the movie can accept tax-deductible charitable donations. Since investors aren’t actually losing money when they open their checkbooks, well, it’s a lot easier to get them to. Or to open those checkbooks wider. (Tax-deducted funds cannot be used to market or distribute the film, however, which is illegal.) Em could get his classmates to ask their parents for funds this way.
There are lots of organizations which provide fiscal sponsorship to films, all with different criteria. Ron can get Em’s movie cleared by one. They take a 5-8% fee from every donation, but in his eyes, the benefits are worth it for a newer director. It’s money you might not have made anyway, and the prestige of being associated with a sponsoring organization (they provide an official letter and everything) is a good way to impress would-be investors that your film is serious.
There are also grants—what essentially amounts to free money, with some qualifiers. Documentaries get the most grants by far, but narrative films with a social impact can also qualify. Many grants are oriented towards students and young people, too. If Em doesn’t mind sleeping with another woman twice his age, he can probably get an even bigger one.
Also, it goes to say that you can’t simply accept these kinds of donations into your Bank of Columbia checking account (not unless you’re relying purely on personal donations for an obviously home film, anyway). Forming an LLC gives a place for funds to go, protects you from personal liability, and keeps your film yours. Em will want to register his script with the U.S. Copyright Office and assign its rights to his LLC. Otherwise, Abèlia could do whatever she wants with his script. She could even register it in her name and deny Em the rights to make a film based off it, if she felt like it.
Ron’s got an entertainment lawyer who can take care of all that stuff. He doesn’t expect Em wants to be involved.
Finally, there’s the matter of Ron’s own, direct involvement. There’s two ways they can do things.
First, Ron can bring in his film company, Zodiac Productions. He can finagle Em into getting a starring role, and credit as a scriptwriter, but a lot will be out of his nephew’s hands—for good and ill. Zodiac will own the rights to the film and get to make changes to Em’s vision. Em also won’t get to be director—that’s not happening at 17. However, the upshot is that Zodiac can bring in their own investors. Abèlia will just be one voice out of many, useful but not indispensable. This will also mean a higher budget for the film and more publicity. Em won’t have to worry about anything outside of writing and acting. Essentially, Em will be trading Abèlia as his master for Zodiac, and a bigger budget for a longer production time (depending on just how big the film is able to get).
All of this is contingent on his script being good, of course. If the producers don’t like it, forget it.
The second option is that Ron can sign on as a producer and help with fundraising, but the movie will still belong to Em. He can be director and do whatever he wants, subject of course to the will of his producers—Abèlia most prominently among them. How much influence she has will depend on how much of her money Em wants to take, and how much he’s able to raise from other sources. Ron makes clear that while he’s willing to contribute and bring up Em’s film around others, he won’t be able to bring in the same amount of cash as a private individual that Abèlia or Zodiac could. The film will stay a ‘local’ production and be put together by Em’s AV club and other high school friends. If Zodiac took over, it’d all be done by a professional film crew—“Though some girls might get parts, if they’re willing to get on their knees,” Ron blasely observes.
“That’s the lay of things,” he finishes. By the time he does, the three’s glasses are empty and the skies outside are purpling with dusk. “So how do you wanna scratch that itch, kid?”
Emmett: Em sits still and listens while Ron talks. He hates listening. He can do it in conversations, but the moment somebody’s giving him a lecture, his attention slips. But he wants to pay attention. Needs to.
This is the moment his scheme breaches reality, the point of no return. Then he feels it, that irascible disorientation, that delayed thump of reaction, the stutter of a heartbeat tripping in its stride.
A single thought: What the fuck am I doing here? and then a terrible appreciation of the absurdity of it, of his silly little life, his silly little dreams, his silly little quest. He thinks, for a moment, that he is utterly doomed—and feels a terrible glee.
“Well,” he says, shaking his head as if to clear it when Ron asks the question. “It sounds like if I want to keep this, I’ll need to sweat for it too. That’s at least a language I understand. But I guess I’m wondering if there isn’t a way to make the best of all worlds.” He drums his fingers on the table.
“Here’s a question. Bear with me. Can I publish the film under any name? Same with the LLC shit. Is there any reason I can’t conduct all that business with a name of my choice?”
GM: “You mean like a stage name?” Ron asks.
Emmett: “Yeah. Like a stage name.”
GM: He shrugs. “Marilyn Monroe didn’t get famous as Norma Mortenson. Legal shit like the LLC and copyright’s all got to be in your real name, but what goes in the movie can be whatever the hell you want.”
Emmett: “Okay. So let’s talk.”
Talk they do. Em has questions—questions about eyeballing the finances, about finding and using local actors—the project’s shape is a small, local one. He’s aiming for a feeling of high quality, but also the intimacy that comes from local, even undiscovered actors and shooting. He does wonder about the feasibility of talking to some of Ron’s people, Zodiac techies and film professionals who he can recruit to consult. It’s important to Em that the movie look like a real movie—he doesn’t want anybody to glance at a wobbling frame and think the work is amateur.
Then there’s the question of length. The movie doesn’t need to pass ninety minutes, and might be closer to an hour. The question becomes, then, how long a project like that demands in real time. How many months? How much money?
That’s the most important part. How big is the cage he’s built himself, and how tight are the handcuffs he needs to magic himself free from?
But despite the tensions Ron cannot know plague him, Em is calm. His thoughts, like they always do now, dwell on her. If he goes through with his plans, he’ll be provoking her, whether she realizes it or not.
It’s happening now, whether he likes it or not. The only question is how long he’ll last, and if he’ll hear her laughter break before he does.
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