A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Good-Bye to All That"
"It happened back when I was in high school," you explain to Sydney. "Well, back when this guy was in high school," you correct yourself.
You're finding it very hard not to get mixed up. Paul Griffin has a strong personality—he couldn't have bullied his way to minor-supporting-role stardom on a low-rated CW show without it—and the fear he feels at having to deal with Carmen Oliver merges seamlessly with your fear of the same. No way I'm ready for this, you think. And neither am I, someone else inside you adds.
You're perched on the hood of the Mustang, with Sydney sitting beside you, as you tell the story.
"It was seventeen years ago. Jesus, has it been that long?" You rub your brow, and make a face as you do the same calculation that the disbelieving Paul Griffin has done so many times. "I'm— Paul is as old now as she was then."
"He slept with her?"
"Yes. She was the drama teacher back then. Mr. Wilkes was over at Eastman. She— She was hot," you stammer.
No, I was only horny, you correct yourself. And I was a stud. Nailing a girl like Naomi Henderson, in the back of my car, out on the street, in front of Jerry Chandler's house while the party was going on—that was nothing. Nailing a teacher, though ... Especially one that was telling me I could have a career, a real career ...
"She, uh, quit at the end of the year, and Mr. Wilkes moved over. It was my—Paul's—junior year when it happened. Paul heard she had a baby, but he didn't— Well, he didn't ask about it. He wondered about it, felt guilty. But he, uh, forgot about it when he graduated and went to California."
You force yourself to relax. You were starting to "turtle up," hunching your shoulders up around your ears.
"Anyway, he didn't hear anything from her until this summer. Which was a surprise, he figured that if he was ever going to hear from, uh, Carmen, it would have been while the show was still running. When he never did, he figured that left him in the clear, that it meant for sure that, uh, the baby wasn't, uh—"
Sydney cuts through your stammers. "So what does she want? Money?"
You have to shrug. "I don't know what else. She was very ugly about it, in her email. Fuck." You rub your brow again. "She'd been emailing m— Paul's business manager since April. Threatening to take it public. Freddie kept her bottled up, he didn't even tell ... Paul." You suppress a shudder. "But then Paul had to fire Freddie because he just didn't have the money to pay him anymore, and Freddie dumped it all in his lap. That was at the start of August. So after some nasty emails, Paul finally gave up and came out here to have it out with her. I guess it's about money. But Paul's been putting off meeting her." You suck in a deep breath. "He's been staying his folks. Saving money."
You can sense the look that Sydney is giving you. "He has to save money?"
You return her the kind of look that Paul Griffin would love to give anyone who thinks there's actually any money in Hollywood for people like him.
"It's been a year since he had a part," you growl. "Any part. And it's not like there was a lot of money for him in Enchanted U." It's cold comfort to add, silently, And there wasn't a lot in it for Adrian Marcus Murray, either. "That's why he had to fire his business manager." You don't need to have a business manager when you're glancing through the ads for management positions at Appleby's.
"Is this guy really our ticket out to Hollywood?" Sydney asks in a shocked voice.
"Yes," you assure her, "if the point is to get to get to people who, you know, are doing better. I— Paul knows people who know people. He's only one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon," you add with a note of wry pride. "If we can get past this thing with Carmen—"
"So what was she doing at the school today? Was—? Were you supposed to meet her?"
"Yes. Paul's been dancing around it with Carmen, telling her he can't meet with her just yet, 'cos his mom's sick. Which she isn't, but—" You grind a knuckle into an eyeball. "He just needs to bite the bullet and get it over with."
"So go do that now," Sydney declares to your surprise. "Or don't. I guess it's interesting gossip, but if you just blew town now without seeing her, we could be get back to California—"
"So why should I see her?"
"I just got through saying you don't have to. But if you do, so what? You talk to her, you have it out, you get it done, then you go back to California. It doesn't matter either way."
You suppose that's true. The question is, will it be messier to deal with Carmen or to completely blow her off?
You take out your phone and look at her message again: At least have the decency to text instead of blowing me off, it says.
"So I— Paul was supposed to meet her up at the school today. He was late and he missed her. Not on purpose but not accidentally either, not exactly." You sigh—a feeling like a dagger is sliding into your lungs. "I'll go meet her now."
"Will," Sydney says as you slip off the hood of the Mustang. She hesitates. "If we need to use any of the ... stuff ... to make it work out, we can do that."
You mean use a mask on Carmen? you want to ask. But you don't. You just nod and say, "Thanks. I'll try to take care of things without it."
"I'll stay here and work on stuff, just in case," Sydney says. She hops off the car and gives you a quick hug.
* * * * *
The barista was flirting with me, you think as you nurse a fresh coffee in a back booth of The Flying Saucer. Did she recognize me? Did she think she recognized me? Or did she just think I was hot?
Three years ago, in certain neighborhoods of Los Angeles, there would have been no need to ask yourself such questions. Of course they knew who you were and of course they thought you were hot. Or, even if they didn't think you were hot, they thought you were hot because they knew who you were.
Even today, in those neighborhoods, you get the look. Hey, aren't you—? Weren't you—? Didn't you used to be—?
And when they come out and ask, you grin and say, "Yeah! How you doin'?" and "Yeah, it was fun!" and "I'd love it if we did a reunion movie!" when what you really want to do is arch your eyebrows and look down your nose and drawl, I am big! It's the pictures that got small!
Of course, no one today remembers movies that came out only two years, so they wouldn't get the reference. And it would hurt too much to give in to the self-parody. Once upon a time, you thought it was a great line. Nowadays you wonder how Gloria Swanson—herself as forgotten as the silent movie queen she was playing—could bear to have uttered it.
You take a big gulp of coffee, even though it won't steady your nerves. It's the kid-inside-me's fault, you chide yourself. I don't usually get this morbid. He's just getting the wet-behind-his-ears toweled off, realizing that—
Then you jerk a little in shock as Carmen Oliver comes striding in.
Damn, she's still hot.
That's what you wish you could say, but the fact is that she was never "hot." Just striking. It was the chance she gave you to fuck a teacher—to show her you were a stud, and that you didn't need her to teach you anything, either—that made her presence so exciting back then. Now she's—
Well, she's still striking. But her large, luminous eyes have shrunk into their sockets, and the severe lines of her cheekbones have turned gaunt. Dark hair that once writhed with life is now limp. I can see the skull under her face, you think. Not clearly, she isn't old, not yet. But I can see it.
You scramble to your feet, and give her a look up and down. She notices, and is flattered, so that her smile widens and warms slightly. She's dressed in black, with a white shawl over her shoulders. At least the skin of her neck is firm and tight, as is the black silk choker she has wrapped about her throat.
"Uh, hello Carmen," you stammer. "You look—" You reach for her hand, then change your mind and lunge in to peck her on the cheek. Big mistake, you chide yourself as you step back. Her gaze has turned wintry.
"Thank you. You look nice too." She pauses. "I wish I'd gotten a chance to tell you that earlier."
You grind out a sigh and drop back into the booth. She slides in opposite you. "You want something?" you ask.
The muscles under her face suddenly pop out.
"Yes, I would like a little respect," she snaps. "I would like not to be ignored. I would like not to be fobbed off with underlings, myrmidons, and excuses. I would like to express myself, from the heart, in person, without having to beg for the chance!"
You blink once, and have to suppress a smile.
Her speech—so arch, so brittle, so obviously composed and practiced—is like a fat, slow, juicy pitch. Your only regret is that there isn't a camera, set to catch you in three-quarter profile in a medium shot, just behind her shoulder, rolling to capture your perfect (and perfectly honest) riposte.
"What I meant was, do you want a coffee or something? My treat."
Next: "The Actors' Studio"