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October 22, 2012

I Hraet You (48)

Beat 48: Showdown Time!  Don’t Hurt Yourself, Now!

Ha ha!  Success!  At last, I have returned -- and it only took thirty chapters!

Lloyd couldn’t help but feel a swell of joy at the sight of the audition room, appearing before him in all its colorless, outlined glory.  The curtains, the stage, the wires, the lights, all of it eased his mind…but only for a moment.  Almost immediately, he jerked in his the director’s chair and stared at his lap -- nothing there but some well-tended pants.

Fortune smiles upon me, he thought with a quick swipe at his brow.  Not only have I returned, but I’ve done so without an assault on my senses, as was the case with Miss O’ Leary.  He jerked his head to the side.  I really need to look into that -- but for the moment, I should just be happy that I’m not in the midst of guarding my loins from a potential grandmother.

He placed his hands on the desk before him.  It’s been a while since I’ve been through the proper procedures, but I think I remember enough to carve out a win here.  He glanced at the stage for a moment -- no sign of Mrs. Overdose just yet.  I need to work carefully, but thoroughly.  If I can strike the root of her innermost issues, I may easily be able to boost her star count to four and move towards winning her favor.  But any missteps on my part could lead to a dangerous outcome.

Lloyd covered his mouth.  Though to be frank, even if I succeed in this room I still don’t have a foolproof plan to deal with the issues later.  Even if I help Mrs. Overdose, there’s no guarantee she’ll lend me or my comrades a hand.  She may be even more inclined to help Gaston, or otherwise use that gun of hers to great effect.  He swallowed hard.  I think I would like to avoid that outcome.

But in the end, I suppose I have no choice.  All I can do right now is lend whatever aid I can to her, and hope that what I do here can help her -- and my brother, and my comrades, and my town, and myself -- upon my return.  She deserves a better life than monetary servitude to Gaston…and I intend to give it to her.

As soon as Lloyd finished his thought, he heard the tap of footsteps and the shifting of paper from the stage.  Sure enough, Mrs. Overdose had appeared atop it; thankfully, she hadn’t brought her trusted boomstick with her, but she compensated by looking surlier than ever before.  Her eyes shifted left and right across the room as she wore a slight but distinctly-canine scowl -- and as she set her eyes upon Lloyd he feared she might break into an all-out growl.

In spite of the tension -- or maybe because of it -- Lloyd offered her a smile, and spread his arms wide.  “Mrs. Overdo- Mrs. Delgado!  So glad you could join me here!  I hope that the trip was a pleasant one.”

“Cut the crap.”  She folded her arms and scowled at Lloyd, with a glare so nasty he wanted to hide under a bed…in Germany, just to be safe.  “So let’s talk money.  How much am I lookin’ to make here?”

“Eh?  E-er, um…”  Lloyd shuffled through the sheets on his desk.  Payment?  Could the manifestation of one’s inner thoughts and emotions even get paid?  “Um…I actually don’t know the amount you’ll receive.  That’s something I think would be left to the treasurer of this world -- whoever, or wherever he may be.”

“You don’t know?”

“I’m, er, not exactly too familiar with how things work here.  I’m a bit of a greenhorn when it comes to matters like these -- though I’d like to think I AM learning at a remarkable rate.”

Mrs. Overdose tossed her script onto the ground.  “Oooooo-kay, I’m outta here.”

“Wh-wh-what?!”

The gunwoman turned her back on Lloyd, and started for the back of the stage.   “You give a little, you get a little, kid.  You give me money -- and lots of it -- and you get me.  If you don’t, then there’s no reason for me to waste my time here, now is there?”  She raised a hand and waved it, allowing Lloyd the privilege of seeing her oscillating backhand.  “See ya.”

“No, stop!  W-we haven’t even gotten started yet, and you’re walking out!”  He slapped a hand against the desk.  “That’s very unprofessional of you, ma’am!”

Mrs. Overdose stopped, and turned her head a sliver towards Lloyd.  “What do you know about bein’ professional?”

“Ehhhhh…eh heh heh, not much, to be honest,” said Lloyd, sinking back in his seat and rubbing the back of his head.  “Economic matters aren’t particularly my forte…but that aside, I wouldn’t be so quick to depart if I were you.  The particulars may not be clear, but isn’t it the potential that makes it worthwhile?”

“…Nope.”  And she started walking again.

“Now just hold it right there, ma’am!”  Lloyd slammed both hands down and sprang from his chair.  “To walk away from an opportunity, a road not yet traveled, is the greatest folly a man can commit!  I refuse to make any wild claims about your compensation, as it would be little more than a placating lie.  However, I speak with firmness and honesty when I declare that what I offer is more valuable than money!”

Mrs. Overdose stopped.  “You’re sure?”

“Positive!  I only ask that you give me a chance to prove myself, and to help you!  Work alongside me…work towards a future I envision…work to open your mind and your heart to new possibilities, and I guarantee days brighter than even the most lustrous of golden coins!”

“And if you can’t?”

Lloyd shook his head.  “I will.”

“What if you can’t?”

“I will.”

Mrs. Overdose groaned and turned around, head cocked as she looked down at Lloyd.  “You’re still just a kid.  What’ve you done to make all that big talk, huh?  No money…no big office…no employees to call your own…all you’ve got is some crazy ideas about how the world should be, and WAY too eager to ignore how the world is.”  Her scowl started to shift; for the first time, she bore a smile -- a taunting, haughty, almost villainous smirk.  “I wonder what you’re tryin’ to run away from.”

 If he could give her an answer, he might have.  But he couldn’t.  He felt his throat squeeze, and struggle to keep working, but it felt as if he’d swallowed a knife.  He clamped a hand against his chest, hoping to get his heart and lungs working -- but even with a slight touch, he felt as if he’d shoved a dozen burning matches into them.  With wide eyes and clenched teeth, he looked up at Mrs. Overdose, hoping she hadn’t noticed his quivering form.

But of course, she had.

“Looks like I hit a nerve.  Hard,” she called out.  “Just like a kid -- always wearin’ your heart on your sleeve.”

Somehow, Lloyd managed to regain his bearings.  “Ha…true enough.  But I’m afraid that even the most scathing slight will be unable to…”  He would have finished the thought, if he hadn’t caught a glimpse of his right arm.

Mrs. Overdose’s words rang truer than Lloyd would have ever thought possible.  A heart -- a crystalline, humming heart -- hovered just above his bicep.  If he could sell that carnation-hued jewel, or even a chip off its rounded tip, he likely could have retired then and there…at least he could have if a massive fissure hadn’t started to spread across it.

“What in the world…?!” Lloyd asked, feeling breathless all over again as he watched the crack speed across the jewel.  But the moment he’d even thought of reaching for it, it burst into a ring of pink light and vanished.  “This…this can’t be…!”

“Hey.  What’s wrong?” asked Mrs. Overdose, who’d long since gone back to her callous scowl.  “Where’s all that swagger of yours from earlier?  If you’re gonna waste my time, at least try to make it a little fun.”

Lloyd shook his head quickly.  “Oh, I intend to.  Insult me all you want, but before this day is done I’ll have you at my side!  Whatever it takes to sway your heart, I’ll do it!”

“Damn, you’re persistent.  Aren’t kids today supposed to be moody and lazy and selfish and all that crap?”  She groaned and waved a hand through the air.  “Well, I guess goin’ all in with somethin’ like this makes you a little more likable…and a LOT more pathetic.  So here’s what we’re gonna do.”  She stepped back toward the center of the stage and picked up the script.  “I’ll do this whole tryout thing of yours.  And if I’m up for the job, I’ll do it -- and you give me whatever amount I ask for.  No questions asked.  But if it turns out I’m right -- if it turns out this whole thing really is a waste of time -- I’m leavin’.  But oh, I’ll be back, believe you me.  And I’ll be sure to bring all my guns.”

She’s still treating this like an audition…but I suppose that’s the best I could hope for right now.  That aside…  Lloyd pressed a hand against his chest, and then against his right arm.  That jewel that appeared…it’s more than just a coincidence, I’d wager.  To experience such a spasm and to have such a sight appear before me as a consequence -- or perhaps as a cause -- does not bode well.

Perhaps I’ve misjudged the extent of this audition room.  Perhaps this encounter with Mrs. Overdose has shown me more than I would have ever thought possible.  It’s not only the woman onstage that’s in danger; I may very well be putting my own heart on the line.

And if that jewel breaks…if my heart breaks…what would happen next?  But before he could deduce an answer, he clapped his hands against his face.  No.  No!  Absolutely not!  It matters not if I put myself at risk for the sake of another.  All that I should care about is helping Mrs. Overdose, and to hell with the dangers involved!  All I have to do is succeed, and we’ll both be off to brighter days!

A smile started to stretch across his face.  “Mrs. Overdose.  If you would have me as your judge -- no, as the rival who would test his ideals against your own -- then I would gladly accept your challenge.  Come forth, and show your strength!  Let us see whose will is truly unbending!  Let fantasy and reality duel for the sake of our honor!”

“Kid, you are WAY too excited,” said Mrs. Overdose with a shake of her head.  “I’m just here to get paid.  A lot.  But whatever.  If you wanna see what I can do, I’ll be happy to.  Just make sure you and all your friends keep your wallets close by.”

“As you wish.”  Lloyd dropped into his seat and crossed his arms, smiling and trembling in anticipation.  “I trust you know what to do?”

“Don’t take me lightly, kid.  I may be gettin’ old, but I’ll blow your ass away if you give me a chance.”  She gave him a brisk nod.  “So let’s do this.  Make me a star!”

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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