Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Would Faust Do?

The press photos splayed across the table were familiar. Erica had seen them in magazines and on paparazzi sites all documenting the incredible rise of Hollywood's newest golden boy.

He's not bad looking, if you are into all American types. Which I'm not.

She slowly inhaled a focused breath, determined not to let her nerves betray her. She kept her hands locked together on her lap. Three sets of eyes watched her intently while playing the same nonchalant game, but they were desperate for her agreement.

"And how long are we talking about exactly?"

Mr. Pierce sighed. "Potentially? 'Til death do you part."

Laughter tickled the back of of Erica's throat. The last thirty minutes had been ludicrous. Her audition was a mere formality to precede a twisted offer. Three sirens sat across the lacquered table from her singing songs of fame and wealth; if she only agreed to one impossible favor.

"You understand how ridiculous you all sound, right? I mean, people don't just do things like this. You can't force someone to fall in love with another person." Her fingers gripped the edge of the table grasping for something solid within the strange circumstances.

"No one said anything about you falling in love," Mr. Pierce corrected.

Erica didn't like his critical tone. "I wasn't talking about me," she shot back. "I meant him. You can't just throw two people together like that and pull some strings and expect them to dance."

Mr. Pierce cleared his throat and nodded at the woman to his left. Her face was bright with the knowledge of conspiracies and dark secrets. "We have gone to careful lengths to make sure the woman we chose would be right. You happen to resemble the high school sweetheart he left behind when he left his small town to be an actor." She relaxed back into her chair looking smug.

"So I look like an old girlfriend. So what?"

"You will resonate with all those powerful memories of youth and innocence that we need him to find again before things get out of control." If Mr. Pierce found any romantic notion in the idea, he hid it exceptionally well.

"And then what? Some puppy love cures him of his current string of bad choices and I'm out on my ass? Why would anyone agree to that?" Erica's chair screeched on the stone floor as she rose to her feet. "I'm afraid you will have to find a more agreeable puppet."

"How are you enjoying your waitressing job, Miss Snow?"

Erica halted at the question, but Mr Pierce didn't bother to to look surprised. "It's fine." She picked up her purse to continue to the door.

"And are you enjoying that cramped studio apartment?"

"I think it's cozy."

"Fine and cozy? Is that how you imagined your life out here?"

She pictured the peeling paint on the walls of her apartment. Most of the appliances didn't meet city code, but her landlord couldn't be bothered and knew her only other option was the street. She spent shift after shift faking painful smiles at the insipid conversations of self inflated egos to scrape bigger tips.

They had certainly done their research. She was miserable, and they knew it.

"You're positive this will work?"

A suggestion of a smile appeared on Mr Pierce's face. "If you do as we say."

Erica smoothed out her skirt with damp palms and returned to her chair as the third member across the table slid a folder towards her. He had yet to speak a single word, but his silence was as intimidating as Mr. Pierce's no fluff attitude.

She poked through the pages with the tip of a pen, afraid to burn her fingers on the file. The contract wasn't a novel, but it was a substantial read. "This is a pretty heavy contract."

"It is for your protection as well as ours." The lawyer spoke with a pleasant, soft voice. It made him even more frightening to Erica.

"Protect me? From what?"

Mr. lawyer sighed and folded his hands on the table. "At the end of your contract, you will have the option to sign a continuance. If you opt out, you keep any assets acquired during the agreed time frame. That includes any salary from film offers and gifts you may receive from either your charge or resulting from your career."

"My charge?"

"He will be your responsibility while under contract," Mr. Pierce interrupted. "Your job is to point him in the directions we want him to go. It's that simple."

She knew it wasn't. "And if I can't? Or what if I refuse something?"

"You refuse, we terminate the contract. That includes any roles you might currently be involved in or currently under consideration." Mr. Pierce stared her down with a look she had seen on her father's face when she would try to defy him. "We have a very long reach and a lot of friends, Miss Snow. Don't think you can take your little acting job and run. You screw us over and you will find yourself blacklisted by every producer, director, casting agent and even make up artist involved with quality films. All you will have left is home camcorders making porn."

The concept of bowing to this trio's demands constricted her throat. She eyed the contract again, but knew it outlined her guaranteed casting in a major production, a monthly salary in addition to the film and a clause allowing her to leave without penalty should the relationship become threatening or abusive. She wasn't required to sleep with him, although it was highly recommended.

Her hand was sweaty and the pen slid through her fingers the first time she pressed the tip against the signature line. A nervous laugh and a dry hand later, she scratched her name across the paper.

Mr. lawyer snapped the file closed before she could change her mind. Once it was in his possession  the static in the air dissipated.

"Well, Miss Snow," Mr. Pierce stood and extended his hand. "I suggest you start practicing your acceptance speech for the academy."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Talking Headstones

"I'm pretty sure you are going to be alright. You're still kind of the new guy around here so people will still visit. I am a little worried about Mr and Mrs Hawkins. No kids, so I'm pretty sure no one even remembers they are here."

Chloe fumbled with the bundle of white roses in her hands. The shade of a large elm hanging over her chilled the grass under her bare feet as she edged closer to sit.

"I guess I just wanted to say thanks for listening." She laughed quietly to herself. "Like you really had a choice about it, right? I hope I didn't bore you too much. Sorry I'm not the most interesting person..."

She froze with the sudden awareness someone was walking up the path directly behind her.

The funny thing about cemeteries was how the living stood out. Footsteps that could creep silently elsewhere were announced far in advance on the brick paths that wound through the park.

She scrambled to collect her roses and shoes and attempted to scurry past the visitor.

"You don't have to leave. Take all the time you need. I can wait over there."

"No, it's fine. I was just leaving," she mumbled and knocked into the other person in her haste. Her shoes fell to the grass with a plop.

"Let me get those," he offered as Chloe stopped to grab them first. His hand brushed against hers and she made the mistake of glancing up to meet his eyes.

She recognized the wide eyes response of shock when he saw her eyes.

"Whoa," breathed out as a whisper, but audible enough to make her flinch. "That's amazing. I've never seen a person with a blue eye and a brown eye. I thought that only happened in..." He cut himself off, visibly embarrassed at the correlation he was about to make.

"Dogs, I know." Chloe shrugged. She debated breaking into a run to escape, but now that he had started a conversation it seemed like a rude way to leave. "Eyes like these will get you all sorts of fun nicknames."

"I'm sorry. I honestly didn't mean it that way." He attempted an apologetic smile and extended his hand. "I'm Kyle, by the way."


"So, you knew my brother?" he asked, gesturing at the grave behind them.

She gasped at the sudden recollection of Steven having a twin. "Um, sort of. I knew of him."

Kyle shifted his weight on his feet, unsure of a response. "But you come out and visit him?"

"I visit a lot of people out here." His uncomfortable posture triggered her defensive mode. "It's not like I'm bothering them. Obituaries aren't exactly classified information."

His eyes widened further and Chloe bit down on her tongue. Some things just sounded better before they made it out of one's mouth. "I'm just gonna go now."

She made it three full steps before he stopped her.

"Chloe, you don't have to leave. Please stay."

She hesitated on the walkway. She didn't normally converse with the living, at least not here. It was why she came to this place. No judgement. No awkward tension.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Look, no one is ever here when I come by, and to be honest, this place kinda freaks me out."

Chloe turned and tried to hide an amused grin. "You're scared of a graveyard? During the day?"

"Well, not scared." He rubbed the back of his neck and surveyed the area. "Just not exactly comfortable. It would be nice to have someone around that actually talks back to me."

" want me to hide behind that tree and pretend I'm your brother?"

Kyle's not amused face was all the answer Chloe needed. "I was just offering. Not sure why you would want to talk to me." She sought out refuge from the May heat under the nearby elm with Kyle close behind.

"Who wouldn't want to talk to a girl that hangs out in cemeteries?"

"I won't be doing any rituals if that's what you are thinking."

"Oh? Well that's a relief because I'm fresh out of goat blood."

Chloe narrowed her eyes and put up her shields. "Are you just going to mock me?"

"You opened the occult door. I just walked in." Kyle grinned and picked at a blade of grass by his foot. "I'm sorry. I have a bad habit of trying to be funny and just ending up mean."

Chloe relaxed and leaned against the trunk of the elm. "I guess we have that in common then. Mostly I get into trouble because I tell people the truth."

"You mean like when everyone else is telling some girl she has cute shoes you tell her they are ugly?"

She dangled a dollar store flip flop off the edge of her finger. "Do I look like the sort of girl that comments on footwear?"

"No," Kyle laughed. "No, you certainly don't."

They entered a quiet lull in conversation and Chloe rested her head against the tree trunk to enjoy the serenity. After her years of visiting, she knew that cemeteries weren't filled with the sorrow or fear as people associated with the headstones and grassy hills. There was peace and acceptance. It was possibly the only place to find such things in a pure state.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Chloe opened a lazy eye and shrugged. "Shoot."

"If you didn't actually know my brother, what were you doing out here?"

She sighed and tried to determine the best way to answer his question without sounding like a mental patient.
"I guess the term "knowing someone" changes in meaning once that person dies."

In his defense, Kyle tried to look like he understood. For a moment anyway. "I have no idea what that is supposed to mean."

"Wipe away all that bull shit we put so much emphasis on like social status or materialistic items. Once you die, how much of that matters? You just end up buried in the same cemetery as a washed up country singer from the sixties. You become a person, not a celebrity. People are more accessible once they die. Your brother doesn't care that I'm the girl with the freaky eye. I'm just someone that likes to remember him and stop by for a visit."

She watched Kyle process her speech. "People should be remembered no matter how big or small they were in life. They should know they mattered. I try to make sure that happens."

"So how often do you come by here?"

"Every Tuesday. The groundskeepers make their rounds Tuesday night collecting anything left on the sites. If I notice something that looks like it may be significant, I tuck it away and come back the next day to replace it."

"Why would you do that?"

"I got the idea from the country singer over there. When he died, his wife made it a point to come by as often as she could and collect things his fans left behind. I heard she has an entire room filled with items. When she died, her daughter took up the habit. The dead don't need those items, but they are important to the living so I try to get them to the people who would find them significant."

"And you do this every week?"

"For the last few years. Just sort of became a habit. Most people find their lives outside of these gates and try to forget about the people in here. I wasn't okay with that."

Kyle stared through her, hands folded in front of his mouth, elbows propped up on his knees. He considered her words for some time before asking, "You think we forgot about him?"

"Not at all," she answered. "I said they try to forget. I think people get busy with living. Some just can't handle the grief and have to close a permanent door. I'm pretty sure it's impossible to forget someone you lose."

"Especially when you see them each time you look in a mirror," he added.

"That must be hard."

"Being the constant reminder to your family of what they lost? You could say that." Chloe didn't miss the bitter edge to his voice. "Do you know how he died?"

"Car accident the night of graduation?"

"That's the sad story everyone paints, right?" He shook his head and let out a small laugh. "Couldn't tarnish his image after such a tragic death."

Chloe fiddled with the petal on one of her roses. The living were such strange creatures. "Does it matter so much how he died?"

"It did to our parents. Dad was an old friend of the sergeant that found Steve's car wrapped around a tree. He asked him to leave out of the report that he was most like drunk since the car was full of empty beer cans. I guess they figured no one else had been hurt so what did it matter if that little detail was left out."

The new perspective was interesting, but Chloe couldn't understand the significance of the circumstances. "He made a mistake. People do that. Some mistakes have higher consequences than others."

Kyle shook his head. "It wasn't the first time he drove drunk, just the first time he got caught. He even wrecked his car once before, and I covered for him."

"You? Why?"

"I must have been caught up in everyone else's belief that mister student body president had a great future ahead of him. I didn't want to see him screw everything up because he acted like an idiot now and again like the rest of us."

Chloe remembered the perfect image of an overachiever Steven had portrayed. Friendly with everyone, enrolled in honors classes and top of the high school food chain. She had only finished her freshman year when he died, but his ghost remained on campus. A sad memorial occupied a glass trophy case in the main hall, but Chloe often thought she was the only one who noticed it was there.

"So you took the blame for his mistakes and got labeled as the bad twin?"

"Something like that. I certainly didn't deserve all the credit they gave me for things." A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. "And do you know how that bastard repaid me?"

Chloe shook her head with a silent "no".

"Stole my girlfriend. Caught them that night. She was the one person in my world that didn't see me as a complete fuck up and never made me feel like I was second best to Steve. Then she chose him anyway."

Kyle's face still had the same scowl Chloe recalled from high school. It kept most people away, but she remembered a lovely brunette full of life that melted away Kyle's icy presence.

"I'm so sorry," were the only words Chloe could manage, but the sentiment was sincere.

"Don't apologize for something you didn't do." He glanced over his shoulder where his brother's body rested. "So now that you know about the man behind the mask, still plan on chatting it up with him every week?"

Chloe slid her shoes back onto her feet and gathered her pile of roses. "I would, except I won't be here. I came by today to tell them all good-bye."

"You're leaving?"

Chloe nodded as she fished around in her pocket with her free hand. "Scholarship out of state. I'm leaving to start summer session." Her finger tips found what they were looking for and she produced a gold locket on a chain from her pocket. "I was going to put this back today. It was on Steven's headstone." She handed over to Kyle, unsure if he would want to claim it.

His hands instinctively reached for the locket as it dangled in front of him. Chloe began to walk by as he fumbled with the tiny latch, but she hesitated and brushed his shoulder with her palm. "Sometimes people do the wrong thing for the right reasons."

She made her way onto the brick path not needing to see what was inside the locket. She had watched the day before as an attractive brunette had placed the locket on the headstone while wiping away silent tears.

"Hey, Chloe?" Kyle called out through a strangled throat.

She turned halfway and saw Kyle sitting in the same spot, shoulders slumped as he hugged his knees to his chest. "Yes?"

"You should try interacting more with the living. I think you are better at it than you realize."

"Only a weirdo who talks to girls in cemeteries would think that."

A small laugh trembled through his shoulders and Chloe continued onto her rounds. She stopped at each of her regular plots leaving a single white rose and thanking her friend for their patience and wisdom. When she reached the over sized memorials of Mr and Mrs Hawkins, Kyle rose from the ground and approached his brother's grave.

He gently placed the locket on the headstone and gave a nod of understanding. He visibly exhaled the weight residing in his chest before walking away.

Chloe smiled at his departure, confident he would be back next Tuesday.