“Love is sacrifice—compelled by blood and requited in blood.”
Monday afternoon, 10 September 2007, PM
Emmett: School, again. Somehow smaller and fuller after a night full of color and bright fortunes he stole from somebody else’s cookie. He’s always been the kind of guy people like gossiping to, and he always gives as good as he gets. Give or take a few embellishments.
Classes will take up most of his time—part of the frustrating role he has to play if he doesn’t want shit going sideways on him all at once—but Em, back in his own skin, keeps an ear out for the fallout from last night. He doesn’t give a shit for the exposed brat, but his sudden spate of conscience means that he needs to do something, anything, to remind himself he isn’t all bad.
Because he isn’t. Obviously.
GM: The boys at Brother Martin are talking about the incident with Lee Malveaux, who no one has seen at school today. Rumors variously claim he stuck his hand up Adeline Devillers’ dress, felt her up, or simply had sex with her. Somewhere in there is also a ‘version’ of the story where her breasts fell out of her dress. Most boys are laughing or oggling the thought. They also hear he beat the shit out of Em when he tried to pry Lee off of Adeline?
His audience is eager for details, and wants to know if he banged either of the Devillers himself.
Or both of them. At once. That would be so hot.
Emmett: Not so bad, all considering. Really, why not take credit? Easy enough to play both sides, work with the story—
—that fucking snake.
So he does the—okay, maybe not the right thing, but the less wrong thing.
Sure, he wishes he had gotten lucky, he says. But the truth is simpler, a little more boring. Lee was drunk (not the first time, right?). When the cute freshman turned him down, he got a little handsy—but in this story, Adeline isn’t a victim. She slapped him, he pushed her down, Em tried to help “the little alkie” from starting something he couldn’t finish, and got hit in the face for his trouble (“But, whatever. Dude was throwing a tantrum. I think she slapped him harder than he did me.”).
Ha, yeah, that would be funny if her breasts fell out—but that’s not worth getting excited about, he has a way better story.
GM: Em’s audience eagerly crowds in to hear the rest.
“You banged them, didn’t you? Both at once?” leers one schoolmate.
“Do you have pictures?”
“No, no—did you film it?”
“How the hell would you film that?”
“AV club, stupid.”
Emmett: It almost physically hurts to not start whispers about him having both of them.
Bet I could have done, anyway, a quiet angry thing inside him snips.
But he doesn’t need to be more popular. Instead, Em laments, he had to go home with blue balls after that whole clusterfuck. The sisters weren’t about to seek more male attention after a drunken disaster like Lee.
But speaking of sisters putting out—Charlie Ren, the asian kid in his club, told him he went home with both the Pavaghi girls.
“Not like they have to worry about their family’s reputation, right?” He laughs at the imbecile who brings up filming. “Nasty, bro. But maybe he did. I dunno. He’s a gentleman, won’t tell me much.”
GM: Guffaws go up from the crowd of boys.
“He’s lying. That’s total bullshit.”
“Dunno, I could see it with those girls.”
“Yeah, they’re not prudes like the Devillers.”
“Indian girls are all slutty.”
“They’re not Indian. They’re American.”
“Indians in America.”
“Look, I could see it, just not with Charlie.”
“Pics or it didn’t happen!”
Emmett: “Plus, it’s a cultural thing. They wanted somebody who looked like them. Ren’s Thai, he’s used to that kind of curry smell.”
GM: “What, they shovel curry in their pussies?”
Emmett: “Bet they called him Chuck, too. Daddy issues…”
He makes sure to pull the bespectacled Asian AV nerd aside, when he sees him. “What’s up, Charlie?”
GM: “Oh, hey, Em!” Ren exclaims, affecting a casual poise. “Oh, just chilling, you know? What’s up with you?”
Emmett: We work with what we’re given.
“That’s cool—so hey, you aren’t gay, right?”
“Not that I have a problem with you if you are,” he adds airily.
GM: “Who said, told you that? I’m not gay!” the glasses-wearing teenager retorts.
Schoolmates in the small crowd around Em start snickering.
Emmett: “Nobody, nobody thinks that. Obviously. Look at you.”
He pulls the younger kid aside after the small crowd disperses and they can be alone.
“Look, Charlie, I’ve always thought you were kind of cool. But you’re quiet, so some assholes were talking shit last week.I felt bad hearing that. Also, just asking again, no shame, you’re straight, right? I wanna make sure I didn’t bend the truth too much when I stuck up for you.”
GM: “You said I was gay in front of all those people!” Charlie angrily gawks.
Emmett: “No, I helped you confirm you weren’t gay in front of all those people,” he corrects.
“Anyway, nobody’s thinking about that now. People think you had a three way with the Pavaghi girls after homecoming. That was the quickest thing I could come up with. End of the week, you’ll be the biggest stallion in school. I just want you to know you’re being watched out for, alright? Relax. You have friends here. You have me.”
Ren’ll believe him. Em’s too good a friend to not have.
GM: The AV nerd’s angry and accusing eyes gradually turn doubting and conflicted as news of the supposed three-way sinks in. They aren’t quite grateful, but Em supposes it’s another testament to his tongue that he’s moved them this far.
“End of the week,” Charlie says slowly.
Emmett: “Steady as a paycheck,” Em swears. “Anyway, it’s not much of an exaggeration. Guy as smart as you definitely could have—its all confidence.” He glances around before saying, “I actually might have a project I want to work on with you, too. That trailer you helped put together for the club showed a lot of talent. You interested in making a movie with me?”
GM: Em’s not sure what it says about Ren’s self-respect when the bespectacled AV nerd eagerly turns to the topic of filmmaking with all the enthusiasm of a cuffed dog that’s now being stroked. Actually, Em is fairly sure what it says about the other teenager’s self-respect, and it’s a relatively consistent ‘saying’ for people their age. Perhaps it even applies to him.
Ren is excited to work on the project, in any case, and inquires what the movie is going to be about.
Emmett: What else are people watching anymore? It’s 2007, and the future is looking bleak.
Everybody wants a love story.
The rest of the day, he just does what he does best. He teases and cajoles, swears and politely refuses to elaborate. He tells the story he needs them to believe, and he does it by not telling them a single thing.
Life is good. Or, it should be.
Monday afternoon, 10 September 2007, PM
GM: Em’s own popularity seems to work against him—or at least against Ren. No one seems to believe the confidence-lacking nerd banged the Pavaghis, and besides, isn’t he gay? They’re far more interested in Em’s sexual exploits and hungry for details about his speculated conquest of the Devillers girls. His silence makes those speculations all the more grandiose. He banged them both, didn’t he? Didn’t he? Why isn’t he bragging? Did he do something too incredible to believe? What the hell did he do?
His fellow students can but speculate as the school day runs by. 4 PM finds him back at the Devillers household. A demure woman dressed like a housekeeper greets him by name and ushers him inside to the living room, where two of Cécilia’s apparent relatives await.
If the Devillers sisters look like distorted reflections of one another, the mother from their family portrait resembles her daughters through a glass darkly. She shares their pale skin, willowy figures, swan-like necks, and delicate, high-cheekboned features. Her eyes are a dark rather pale blue, however, and her hair is deep black rather than light blonde. Her facial features show more age and definition, but she remains a strikingly beautiful woman well into middle age. It’s easy to imagine her as the spitting image of Adeline and Cécilia some twenty years ago. She wears a wide-hemmed navy dress so deep that it seems almost black, and a gold pendant depicting two birds circling stylized flowers. Em’s eyes feel like they could follow its looping patterns forever.
“You must be Elliot,” the woman smiles as she enters the room, extending a hand towards Emmett.
“I’m Cécilia’s and Adeline’s mother, Abélia. My girls have such good things to say about you.”
Emmett: He tears his eyes from the peculiar necklace to her gaze as he smiles widely. “Oh, I hope so. I don’t think I could think of a bad thing to say about them if I tried,” he laughs, taking her hand. “It’s great to meet you. Thanks so much for taking the time—I know you’re super busy. I don’t understand how one person could be involved in so many important things.”
GM: Abélia’s smile widens at the contact. “This is the point at which you shake or kiss it, my dear boy.” The woman’s tone is mirthful, but it doesn’t feel as if she’s making light of Emmett at all.
Emmett: He laughs at himself as he shakes (southern boys don’t kiss hands) and takes a seat. “Well, let’s chalk it up to nerves. I feel out of my depth—you’re a very impressive person.”
GM: Abélia’s gives a light and fluttering laugh as she assumes a seat on a cushioned rocking chair across from Emmett’s couch.
“My girls said you were chivalrous, considerate, and quite a few other qualities, Elliot, but they didn’t mention you were so modest—or had such a knack for making other people feel important. You’ll go far with that, let there be no mistake. It’s so much more precious a skill than simple flattery.”
“As to your earlier remark,” the raven-haired matriarch smiles, “I’m involved in nothing that’s so consequential as properly meeting and thanking the young man who saved my daughter from no small humiliation and embarrassment. Thank you for that, Elliot. It’s so fortunate you were there. It’s almost like someone planned it all, isn’t it?”
She gives another fluttering laugh. “A guardian angel, maybe, who sent you to my daughters in their moment of need.”
Emmett: “That’d make me feel better, actually. It feels strange to have been there, believe me.”
He keeps her gaze. Something about her unnerves him. Why does she look so much like that portrait? A portrait is always a little off. But somehow, she is both unreal and uncomfortably undeniable. He feels like she knows him. And instead of worrying if she’ll like him, he’s just wondering if she’ll let him be, if she might in her unknowable mercy decide to stop paying attention to him.
But no. She’s still here. And her gratitude feels poisonous, simultaneously unreal… and undeniable.
GM: Abélia’s smile widens, lighting all the way up to her dark eyes.
“Oh, I’m so pleased we agree. That would make me feel better too, Emmett—knowing there was a benign higher power taking care of everything behind the scenes. Making sure everything all worked out. It’s almost flattering, in fact, to think that mere mortals such as we might deserve such attentions, isn’t it?”
Emmett: “Okay, so—” he puts his hands up, smiling and trying to turn the scream into a laugh. “I wanted to talk about that, actually—I’m actually glad you know, it makes this so much easier.”
Abélia gives another fluttering laugh.
“Oh, I would presume to know nothing where such spiritual matters are concerned. Perhaps I haven’t been very good at explaining my thoughts. It’s just what you said—it got me thinking. That’s another valuable trait, too, being able to get others to think. It seems as if there is an implicit absolution and forgiveness for one’s sins, in any case, in the notion that a higher force—a guardian angel, if you will—safeguards one’s well-being. Now you might know better here than me, as I’m hardly an expert in scripture, but I can’t think of any parables where an angel safeguards an evildoer from harm—can you? Very few souls seem so privileged as to have a guardian angel.”
Abélia gives another fluttering laugh and a seemingly self-admonishing shake of her head. “It almost feels like committing the sin of pride to say this… but for all the reason one has to be thankful for an angel safeguarding one’s person, it seems as if the real reason to be thankful is for what such an angel’s attentions say as to how God has judged one’s soul.”
“Perhaps I’m waxing esoteric… but my point, Elliot, is that knowing you were there for my daughters at just the right moment… it makes me feel as if a higher force has taken its measure of their souls and judged them worthy. Judged them worth protecting and preserving. Perhaps I’m just being a little, or more than a little, overly emotional—you’re very understanding to listen to me ramble on like this, especially if you’re not religious yourself. But I can’t begin to tell you what a gift your actions last Friday were, or how much joy you’ve brought me.”
The dark-eyed woman’s smile is positively radiant.
“It feels like a truly blessed event for you to have entered my family’s lives, Elliot.”
Emmett: He forces himself to calm down. She’s so hard to read. But act like everything’s fine—it’s never a losing strategy.
“I’ve honestly been blessed too, Ms. Devillers,” he says carefully. “This opportunity is something I would never have dreamed of asking for myself. I’m lucky Cécilia talked me into it. She seems determined I make the most out of things. But I would have been happy just to have made friends with her.”
Let’s see if she knows how happy I make her little girl.
GM: “My dear boy,” Abélia begins in a simultaneously amused and chiding tone, “I’ve birthed and raised six girls. That rather earns a Mrs., wouldn’t you say, even if there is no father in the family picture?”
Emmett: “Of course,” he agrees. “A slip of my tongue. Awfully inconsiderate—I hope you don’t mind my nerves.” His mouth feels dry as she mentions the picture. “Mrs. Devillers.”
Weird, weird lady. Just have to keep lying and she’ll let me be.
Maybe she secretly wants to fuck me. That’s a thing that might happen, right?
GM: Abélia’s smile returns in full.
“It’s so thoughtful of you to draw attention away from my own shortcomings like that, Elliot. Why, here we are, and I haven’t even offered you anything to eat or drink. I’m sure a growing young man like you must be famished after a long day of school. That simply can’t do—what can my housekeeper get for you?”
Emmett: “Some water would be great,” he agrees. “Only if you’re getting something as well, of course. My dad told me never to ask for something if the host isn’t having. A diplomat thing, I suppose. Or maybe just the way he grew up.”
Distract, distract. Has to keep his cool no matter what, control the conversation.
“Can I tell you a secret, Mrs. Devillers?”
GM: Abélia gives another fluttering laugh. “Sage advice, wherever it might be from. Can we have some water, please? And some finger sandwiches, just in case Elliot feels peckish?”
There’s a muted reply from behind the couch. Em feels his gaze drawn to the dark-eyed woman and her ever-present smile.
“There you go again, Elliot, making me feel so important. I don’t know that I’ve earned your trust yet—but I’ll try to be worthy of it.”
She leans in, holding a hand to her ear.
Emmett: “I really like your daughter,” he says, surprised by himself. “Cécilia. She’s clever and has good taste and makes me feel stupid without taking pleasure in it. I hope I don’t make a bad impression by confiding that to you.”
He has to flip her off balance, get her flustered and touched, needs to get to her like she’s gotten to him.
“And I was wondering… well, this is old fashioned of me, I admit. What can I say, I’m a careful person. I don’t like intruding where I’m not wanted. Before I asked her out, I wanted to ask… if not your permission, than your blessing. And I wanted to get that out of the way before we talked about the project. I want to do this right. If there’s a right way to do this.”
Now, smile—okay, golden. You’re golden, kid. I didn’t overdo it, did I? No, not after how she’s been going about tonight. I have this. We have this.
His smile could deflect a nuclear blast.
GM: That’s when a voice shouts in his ear:
Emmett: He jumps, blinking as he turns. His heart’s hammering.
GM: No one is there.
Abélia’s gay and fluttering laugh sounds.
Emmett: Well, fuck that noise ten thousand ways from Monday.
“Ha… ha,” he manages. “That’s—impressive. Are you a ventriloquist in addition to everything else?”
Hidden mics? Something else, like one of those whisper corner thingies? What the fuck is this?
GM: “Oh, we Devillers do have a bit of the devil in us!” Abélia chuckles as her laughter subsides. She stares about a foot to Em’s left and coos something in French.
A small toddler peaks out from behind the sofa, grinning up at Em. She’s quite a bit shorter than Yvette or Yvonne, and her young face is pudgy with baby fat, but her milky skin, blue eyes, pale hair, and even the cast to her expression remain eerily similar to her sisters’.
“That’s very flattering of you to presume of me, Elliot, but no—I’m no ventriloquist,” Abélia smiles. “This is Simmone, my youngest. Simmone, can you say hello to our guest?” she asks.
“Hallo,” the small child repeats, looking up at Em almost bashfully.
“I’m so sorry if we gave you a startle—I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive us,” Abélia smiles. “As I said, just a bit of the devil…”
Emmett: Hell. This is what hell feels like. She’s keeping me off balance. Playing me. I don’t know how, but she’s messing with me.
“Of course,” he smiles. “We all need a little devilry in our lives, don’t we?”
Devilry, look at me bringing out the big guns. The big, boring guns.
“You really got me,” he tells the little cherub. The annoying little cherub.
GM: The toddler holds her hands to her mouth and giggles.
Abélia rises from her seat, stoops to the floor, and holds out her arms. Simmone scampers into them, still giggling. Her mother re-assumes her seat with the child on her lap.
“What need have we for angels up above, Elliot, when we’re privileged to enjoy them for a precious few years here on earth?”
“It says something, I think, that children can let in a bit of the devil and still seem to us as perfect little angels. Do you want any yourself, Elliot, or does it feel rather early at this point in your life to say?”
Emmett: “Definitely a little early,” he admits. “But…”
But what? A brat to feed and wipe?
But, it’s one of those things you’re supposed to want, right?
“…maybe when I know I’m ready,” he simply says.
GM: Abélia smiles serenely as the housekeeper arrives with two glasses of water and a platter of finger sandwiches with what looks like ham, lettuce, and tomato.
“Yes. I’m certain you will,” she agrees, plucking up one to feed Simmone. The toddler eats it with that slow, almost exaggerated chew endemic to small children.
“Did you get your start as a filmmaker with home videos, Elliot? I should fancy your parents are very lucky, if that’s the case… all those happy memories preserved by a steady and certain hand.”
Emmett: “I wish I was so industrious,” he says, laughing. “Most of the home movies from back then were of me, not by me. But I don’t mind. I like that I’m starting fresh. Less baggage to weigh me down.”
GM: “Yes, you do strike me as someone who likes to be free, Elliot. Free to fly, free to soar, free to bring his own creative vision to life,” Abélia concurs. “Cécilia had such glowing things to say about that vision, too. Absolutely glowing.” She helps herself to a finger sandwich as Simmone continues to eat.
“Tell me, what sort of movie are you interested in making? Don’t be modest, now. I would love nothing more than to hear the same magic you captivated my eldest with.”
Emmett: “Freedom is something most people want right now,” he says simply. “But freedom is always best when it leads to choice, to commitment that otherwise would never have been realized. That’s a good lead in to the movie—I’ll admit my ideas are bigger than my eyes right now. But I think that if I want to create something real, something that makes sense to people even if they’re my age or decades older, I’ll have to create a movie about love. If you’d be interested in seeing such a thing, of course. Do you enjoy any particular genre of movie, Mrs. Devillers?”
GM: “Love,” Abélia repeats fondly, stroking her still-eating daughter’s hair.
“What more timeless subject is there, save death—and the two are but different faces of the same coin, aren’t they? To live without love is to merely exist—someone far wiser than me made that observation first. You’re right that love is a timeless subject which speaks to people of all ages and backgrounds. Love is to humans as the sun is to a blooming flower. To love is to live.”
She smiles down at her daughter and wipes some crumbs from her mouth with a napkin.
“Now that you’ve gotten me thinking about it, Elliot, I’ve always had a soft spot for dramas that deal with those two topics. Death and love. La Regle Du Ju has always been a favorite of mine—critics make a great deal about it being the French Citizen Kane, and a war film that never mentions or depicts any war, but it could just as easily be described as a love film too. I won’t bore you with any further details if you haven’t seen it—it’s not very well-known here in the States. Tell me more about your film. What sort of love will it explore?”
Emmett: “I haven’t, but now I have a reason to,” he replies brightly.
The anxiety he feels around her provides a kind of creative crucible when she prompts him. He has ideas, but when he pitches them to her, he realizes they aren’t just ideas. They’re anchors, and they’re all that might keep her from carrying him away like a bad tide.
Elliott talks, and as long as he talks, he is real, and if the romantic sap is real, then his ideas must be too. What’s he saying? Does it matter? At a certain point in a conversation, if both people let it, then trains of thought don’t need to be waved and conducted like late arrivals to the middle of nowhere. At a certain point, the words just flow, like water from a split bag or blood from a cut.
And Em feels cut. This woman bothers him, unsettles him like a shadow stretched across too much space.
He talks, and he talks for his life. He talks about what makes a movie matter are the moments, the strange and perfect moments that linger like the sweetest bits of frosting.
He admits to her, frankly, that he doesn’t know what love means to him. If he did, he wouldn’t want to make a movie about it, would he? No, love is interesting because everybody seems to have it at some point, in some way, and yet nobody ever sees it coming. Defining love is tricky—but showing it, exploring it, sharing it through a screen is possible.
So how does one show love without ever using that word, without ever diminishing it with its own imperfect name?
He stops talking for a moment, drawing a long breath. “A lot depends on the audience too, if course. People see love differently—particularly people who have actually experienced it. I’d probably be missing out if I didn’t ask what it means to you, Mrs. Devillers?”
God, I hate talking like this. I actually miss my classmates.
GM: “Love to me means sacrifice, Elliot,” Abélia answers.
“‘Well done is better than well said’, or so it’s said. One must demonstrate one’s love if its object is to benefit from its warmth. Anyone with a knack for speechcraft can turn a pretty phrase or compose a pleasing sonnet.”
Abélia strokes her daughter’s hair, who’s since started on another finger sandwich.
“Such diversions have their place, but they are but springtime gaieties that cannot forestall winter’s encroach. Winter is hard. Winter is cruel. Winter is ineluctable.”
“Warmth is abundant in spring. To love another is to warm them when warmth is scarce and needed most. To love another is to give of one’s self to ease, prevent, or simply share in their pain. To love another is to preserve spring’s happiest day during winter’s bleakest night, even at the cost of one’s dying breath.”
“Love is sacrifice—compelled by blood and requited in blood.”
Perhaps it is Emmett’s imagination that his surroundings seem utterly silent. Birds do not chirp. Cicadas do not buzz. The grandfather clock does not tick.
Then Abélia smiles.
“But you are young still. This simply marvelous film of yours shall explore love’s happiest springtime moments, I imagine, with all the lingering attention one would pay to the sweetest bits of frosting?”
The grandfather clock chimes as Simmone bites into her sandwich.
Emmett: Listening to her is absorbing, oddly enmeshing. He feels almost smothered, and he has to stop himself from starting when finally addressed.
“Well, maybe, but I think that any story about love that only shows the best parts isn’t very interesting. Summer doesn’t mean anything without winter, right?”
He’s getting his steam back, slowly but surely. “If love is about sacrifice, then sacrifice must also be about love. Good times are defined by the bad, but it follows that bad things must be complicated by the good.”
GM: “I think you know about bad things where this topic is concerned, Elliot, even young as you are. You don’t believe you’ve known love, do you?” Abélia inquires.
Emmett: He pauses. “I would never pretend to know love like somebody older and more experienced, ma’am. I wouldn’t say I haven’t known any kind of love, though. It might be childish and weak, or I suppose cute depending on how you look at it—but love isn’t one size fits all, is it?”
GM: “Heavens no. Simmone, what do you believe love is?” Abélia asks.
“You’re love,” answers the toddler.
Abélia gives a fluttering laugh and strokes her daughter’s hair.
Simmone tugs at the front of her mother’s dress.
“Patience just a moment, mon tendre, for our guest.” Abélia’s smile turns towards Emmett. “Would you be comfortable if I breastfed her? We are in America, so I completely understand if you aren’t—it’d be no trouble to warm some milk from the fridge.”
Emmett: Of course this would happen to me. Is this karma?
“It’s your home before my country,” he says, laughing (not too eager, dammit). “I can go wash up myself, if you’d feel more comfortable.”
GM: Abélia only laughs and replies, “Oh, that Southern hospitality.” She obliges this time when Simmone tugs at her dress and undoes several buttons. Emmett seems some cleavage and a flash of nipple past the toddler’s head as she zeros in.
“Thank you for being so understanding, Emmett,” Abélia beams. “I might just be imagining things, but it was some of the language you used earlier, that I suppose made it sound like love was a foreign thing to you.”
Soft sucking sounds go up as Simmone’s head faintly bobs.
Emmett: He smiles tightly. “Love always feels foreign when it isn’t right in your face, doesn’t it? When you don’t have it, you can’t imagine one day feeling it again.”
He tilts his head, and makes himself meet her eyes despite the bizarre scene. “Ma’am, I don’t know what you think of me. I’d like to discuss that openly, though. Why do you keep calling me Emmett?”
Bluff. Bluff this bitch back to Paris or wherever the fuck she came from.
He doesn’t know what game she’s playing, but he wants to beat her at it.
GM: Another fluttering laugh sounds as the raven-haired woman strokes Simmone’s hair.
“Why, it’s your name, my dear boy. You’ve been very charming, but you’ve seemed so tense… you haven’t touched your water or sandwiches. It’s a relief to bare one’s self before others and be accepted for who one is, wouldn’t you agree?”
Emmett: He laughs a little, taking a sip. “Well, I wanted so badly to impress you. But when I’m in this house, I am Elliott. Sometimes a new name is as freeing as any other thing—and if it’s not too much of a burden, I would like very much to remain Elliott for the time being. He suits me, really, like a good coat or a pair of shoes. I am lightened by carrying him. I am more myself than me.” He regards her carefully. “You seem to understand that, though. Wearing masks.”
Big gamble, here. If the game is up, the game is up. But if it isn’t…
“I think you understand that very well, actually. In as much as I would presume to know anything about that, Mrs. Devillers.”
GM: Mirth seems to dance in Abélia’s dark eyes.
“Continue, my dear boy.”
Low suckles continue to sound from the toddler at her breast.
Emmett: “I’m very good at reading people,” he says carefully. “And I confess, Mrs. Devillers, you have me at a disadvantage. I wasn’t expecting to hear that name, and certainly it threw me off balance. It would make sense if I looked at you and was unsure of what I saw. If I was second-guessing myself at all the little jumps and hops a face makes.”
He reaches for a sandwich, takes a bite, chews.
You’re on a tightrope, El. Keep. Walking.
“But,” he says after swallowing, “I’m not confused when I look at you. I know what I see, and it’s nothing. You can’t read anything behind a mask. Which I can appreciate. For obvious reasons.”
He glances at the sandwich in his hands. “These are very good, thank you.”
GM: The sandwich is slightly tough ciabatta bread with a softer prosciutto ham, cambozola and brie cheese, and roasted tomato interior. Artichoke pesto, basil, walnut oil, champagne vinegar, and mustard round out the flavor with some sharpness.
Emmett: One day, I’ll be rich enough to have appetizers on command, too.
GM: “You’re welcome, my dear. I’m so glad to see you enjoying them. They’re a recipe from back home, and always a hit with guests,” Abélia smiles, taking a dainty bite from a second sandwich.
“Openness brings so much more joy to everything, doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s presumptive of me, but I wonder if you might even explore those concepts in your film—masks and openness. It’s such timeless advice to write what one knows.”
Emmett: “Surely no more presumptuous than I’ve been,” he protests lightly. “And advice I’ll heed, likely.” He considers her a moment longer.
“I have to be getting home, eventually. I wonder whether you’ll be discussing Emmett with Cécilia—I don’t think he needs to come into anything just yet. I understand if your perspective is different, of course.”
Yeah, I’m so understanding if you decide to squish me under your heel like a bit of fallen sandwich. And fuck me, how thirsty is the little tyke?
GM: A steady suckling continues to sound from the child at Abélia’s breast.
“Would you ask me to omit the truth to my own daughters? A lie by omission is still a lie, Elliot,” the dark-eyed woman chides, stroking her daughter’s hair.
Emmett: “What truth?” he says simply. “Life is what we make of it. I am Elliott here, I am Elliott with her. Are you so concerned with things that she will never be exposed to? An illusion is not an illusion if it is perfect; I forget who said that, but I quite like it. I would never presume to ask you for anything you could not give, Mrs. Devillers. But it seems as though you would not have met with me today were you not at least intrigued by my character.” He smiles slightly at his own double entendre. “I want to be the best man I can be, ma’am. And Elliott Faustin is that man. Do you disagree?”
He can feel the bomb ticking as he looks into her eyes. No fear. No doubt.
Confidence. That’s all he has left, so he milks it and oozes it and bleeds it.
All he has left.
Not least because of the newspaper wrapped bundle he’d given Lena yesterday. Fancy overnight shipping. It’s a birthday message for a friend, he’d said. Had to be recorded way in advance, that was part of the gag. If she would pop it in a post box on the date there (about a month and change from now), he’d be soooo grateful. Best sister ever.
The truth was, he couldn’t trust himself to send it. A week or so after Halloween Cécilia’d get it, and learn about a very nasty trick played on her.
And also an apology. He’d even cried. Oh, it had been hard not to edit that one out. He’d come clean about everything, even encouraging Westley to “go for it” with Adeline (though he didn’t go into detail there—no need to shoot himself in the head while he was digging his own grave).
The only thing that wasn’t in there was his name. And he needed this rich, peculiar bitch to let go of that.
He stayed up all last night, wondering what he’d done. But that’s done, and this is now. His conscience is clear, even as it warps in two. He’s played all his cards.
And all that’s left is the confidence.
GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh as she strokes her suckling daughter’s hair.
“My, my, my. You are a bewitching young man, aren’t you, Elliot? I rather fancy no one should care a whit as to the difference between truth and illusion after listening to you speak.”
“This settles it, of course, that you’re going to make the film. Some might say art is little but convincing the viewer of the artist’s illusion.”
“Perhaps we are of a like mind in our beliefs. Truth and illusion are grand and deeply complex ideas deliberated at length by enlightened minds. I am no theologian. I am no philosopher. I am but a humble mother, whose heart only desires what is best for her daughters.”
“Emmett Delacroix, son of Philémon Delacroix, shall be revealed for who he is—in due time.”
A smile returns to Abélia’s face as she looks up from the still-nursing Simmone.
“For now, he has a film to make. He’ll be a perfect gentleman to my Cécilia, of course.”
Emmett could have sworn he was sitting too far away for Abélia’s fingers to brush across his cheek, but they do. An almost rippling shudder courses through his skin, as if his very flesh seeks to flee the ’woman’s’ touch.
“He is, after all, so very talented in selling illusions.” Mirth dances in her dark eyes. “Why, I rather fancy that one would have sold any human…”
Simmone smiles up at Em.
The milk staining her mouth, and her mother’s bared nipple, is black as pitch.
“Would you like a dessert sandwich, Elliot, if you’ve had enough ham and cheese?” Abélia smiles. “We have nutella.”
Emmett: He opens his mouth, considers screaming.
Then he just turns. He just turns and fucking runs.
He doesn’t think, or talk, or do a single damn thing. Except run.
There’s no grandness to it or any kind of flourish. No rationalization or argument from his ADD-riddled mind. Every part of him is in agreement.
GM: The house’s front door slams shut behind him. Perhaps was the one to close it. He can hope. The keys to his car’s ignition cannot be turned on fast enough, but pulling them from his pocket and fitting them in seems to take a thousand years. The tall white house races past the rearview mirror as he burns rubber.
High, fluttering laughter still rings in his ears.
Monday evening, 10 September 2007, PM
GM: Going home and getting stoned in his room helps Em, a little. But mostly it doesn’t. Googling “black breastmilk” turns up results for minocycline therapy. That seems to be associated with acne, which doesn’t seem at all associated with any of the Devillers’ milk-smooth complexions.
Rain starts to fall after he gets home. It’s a moderately breezy evening out. As the sun dies and passes into night, every rustle of wind through the trees seems to carry Abélia’s high and fluttering laughter.
Emmett: Bullshit. That’s all it is. She’s messing with him. She’s obviously, clearly playing with him. That’s what people like her do.
“I fancy any human…”
“Fuck,” he mutters, taking another absentminded hit. He needs to tell somebody about this. He can’t handle it all by himself. A partner in crime, that’s what he needs.
GM: And people for his film. Mrs. Devillers said it was “settled”. He was going to make one.
Emmett: Settled. Like the game was over.
His hand tightens into a fist.
He might not be a good son. He might not deserve the things he has, the baubles and trinkets, the benefit of the doubt that he keeps pulling on like a tape measure that never reaches its full length. Yes, he might be an asshole; Westley has that much right, even if the others haven’t caught on yet. But if there’s one thing Emmett Delacroix despises more than himself, it’s everybody else.
“You want a movie, you vicious French cunt?” he whispers to the laughing night. “I’m going to give you one nobody will ever forget.”
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