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August 12, 2013

I Hraet You (82)

Beat 82: That’ll Take the Wind Outta Your Sails

Sheila sucked a few gallons of snot back into her system, and took a deep breath.  “O-okay.  I guess this is it, then,” she said to herself -- though more than loud enough for Lloyd to hear from the floor below.  She reached into her shirt and pulled out a roll of papers.  “Um…sorry you had to see that just now.  Things can get a little…uh…weird when I’m around.”

Lloyd’s eyes darted to the wall.  Sure enough, Deidre’s legs still dangled from it like a mounted trophy.  “I can imagine.  Although I am glad you made your grand debut.  Any more delay, and I suspect I’d be little more than a smoldering smear.”  He turned back to Sheila and nodded.  “I’m thankful you decided to step in, Miss O’Leary.”

“Y-yeah, well…um…you know…”  She pressed her fingers together.  “It’s just -- I-I’m kinda responsible for this mess I’m in.  I mean, that girl is…well, she’s a part of me.  And I guess I need to start taking responsibility for her.”  Her eyes shifted around the room.  “But, um, I never thought I’d be doing that in person.  This whole thing is kinda nuts -- I-I mean, I thought I was just coming here for an audition, and then all of a sudden I’m drop-kicking my imaginary friend.”  She scratched at her temple.  “And I think there was something about you turning into a girl…”

“Oh, so you saw that,” Lloyd said with a nervous laugh.  “Not my finest hour, that.”

Sheila shrugged.  “It’s okay.  It’s kinda my fault, after all.  If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have had to go through all of that.”  She lowered her head and sighed.  “S-sorry.  I hope that letting you get turned into a girl doesn’t hurt my chances here…although it looks like you’re the forgiving and gullible type.”

Poorly-veiled insults seem to be part and parcel of Miss O’Leary’s dialogue, Lloyd thought.  But he waved a hand through the air.  “No matter.  What’s important is that you’re here now, in the flesh -- relatively speaking -- and the process can now begin in earnest.  It may have taken quite some time to get there, but we ARE there.  And we can help one another ascend to greater heights…provided, of course, you’ve the will to let me help.”

“And the talent?”

“I don’t think you have to worry about talent, Miss O’Leary.  But we’ll cross that bridge once we get there.”

“Do you think we can?”

“Honestly?  I’m convinced you can do so yourself.  But it’s always good to have a bit of support.”

“I know what you mean.”  Sheila took a deep breath.  “I-if you think I have a chance, then I…I’ll do my best.  But I’m gonna need your help -- and lots of it -- if we’re going to do this.  So…you know, if you don’t mind, then…then…make me a…a…a…”

She fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands.  “I can’t do it!  It’s just too much!”

“Too much?  You’ve got that wrong, Miss O’Leary!”  Lloyd leapt out of the director’s chair, and slammed his hands atop the desk.  “You’re so close!  You’re only a word -- no, a syllable away!  Don’t lose heart now; if you can beat your imaginary friend, you can best any trial that comes your way!”

“But that’s just it, sweet cheeks.  She can’t beat me.”

Lloyd turned to the wall -- and sure enough, Deirdre pried herself out of it with a heavy tug.  As chips from the wall pattered against the floor, she floated to the stage and landed a few yards away from Sheila.  “As you can see, the two of us may share a body, but we couldn’t be more different.  There are certain things that only one of us -- only I can do.”  She cast a cool eye at Lloyd; to his dismay, she’d long since regained her composure.  “You say that I’m all offense and no defense?  And just what’s wrong with that?  I don’t mind going on the attack if it’ll get me what I want.  The problem is that Sheila here doesn’t.  She’s all defense and no offense; never moving, never acting on her own.  Only reacting.  Only holding out against whatever comes her way.  She’s not the kind of person that can cross something off a grocery list, let alone any bridges.” 

“You’re quick to dismiss your other half, Miss O’Leary,” said Lloyd.

“Can you blame me, boy?  You’ve pretty much got it right -- I was born because a lonely little girl wished for me to be born.  And I was born to be strong for a girl that couldn’t be.  It’s been nearly a decade since.  That girl might have filled out, but she still hasn’t grown up.  So why should I expect anything different now?”  She knelt down and cradled Sheila’s chin in the palm of her hand.  “I say it’s time for a little role reversal.  That’s why it’d be best if I take over from now on.  Sheila O’Leary should be the imaginary one -- the one that should fade away.  And when that’s done, Deirdre O’Leary will take the world -- and hearts and minds -- by storm.”

Lloyd furrowed his brow.  “Miss O’Leary?  Do you agree with that sentiment?”

Sheila raised her head a few hairs.  “I…I-I don’t know.  I guess so.  I mean, she has a point…”

“Does she?  You just finished kicking your better half into a wall.  And mere moments ago, you seemed resolved to begin moving forward -- taking responsibility for your own actions, and taking a stand in your life.”

“Was I?”

“Yes.  Er…well…um…”  He rubbed his crown sheepishly.  “I might have inferred a few things here and there.”

But Sheila shook her head.  “S-sorry to get your hopes up.  But Deirdre’s right.  I don’t have a chance.  Not with you.  Not with anyone.”  She held up her stack of papers and unrolled them…or at least, what remained of them.  They looked as if they’d been munched on by a junkyard dog.  “I…I only have half of the script with me.  Without that, this audition’s pointless.  There’s no way I’ll be good enough, even for a guy with low-standards like you!”

Where is she pulling these insults from?  But he shook his head rapidly.  Never mind that.  It seems my rabbit-eared rival is back to her old tricks.  It seems as if every time I try to start an offense against her, she endures and returns to her usual composure -- her groove, as it were -- shortly after.  Her defenses are almost unassailable -- and even if she can’t directly attack me with her powers, all she needs to do to win is force me into a stalemate.  He glanced at the exit -- still shrouded in thorny vines, just the way he liked it.  Or if I’m unable to make a strong offense, she’ll just whittle Miss O’Leary down and force her -- and most likely me -- into compliance.

He covered his mouth.  I may have been going about this in the wrong way.  Calling in the real Miss O’Leary was a vital step, no question.  But I think -- or at least hope -- I can see the error of my ways.  I can’t accommodate one or the other here.  If I’m to succeed, I have to change my attack pattern.

I won’t just be striking or supporting one or the other.  If I want them to reconcile, I’ll have to be the one to balance them first.  And I think I know just how to do it.

“Miss O’Leary,” said Lloyd.  “May I ask you a question?”

Sheila lifted her head, but Deirdre stood up and stepped forward -- and nearly shoved Sheila onto her side.  “A question?  For me?  Oh, so you want to know my three sizes?  Careful, boy -- that kind of information just might blow your mind.”

“There’s no need for that.  My question is this: when did you begin to look like Miss O’Leary?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“An important one.”  Lloyd crossed his arms.  “There’s no denying that the form the two of you have now is beyond extreme -- but even if it is, there was a point where the mere concept wasn’t even a consideration.   It took a great deal of time and genetic delegation for her to become the woman she is today.  So in the meantime -- in, at the basest, the one-year period between your birth and her growth -- what sort of form did you take?”

Deirdre scoffed at the thought.  “Isn’t it obvious?  I just looked like a young Sheila.”

“Did you really?  I have my doubts.  On the surface your claim is believable, but I believe I can argue against it.”  He held up a finger.  “From an outsider’s perspective, that makes little sense.  If Miss O’Leary had such little confidence in herself that she couldn’t bring herself to make a single friend, why would she create an imaginary friend in her own image?  To have a reflection of her failures drift about her at all times?” 

“Who knows?  How should I know how a schoolgirl’s mind works?”

“Actually, given that you’re inexorably connected to Miss O’Leary, and can speak with her at your leisure, I’d wager that you should know EXACTLY what she’s thinking at all times.”  He tapped his finger against his elbow.  “The only reason you’d suggest otherwise is that you’re trying to protect yourself.  Lying, as it were.  Though I suppose if I wanted the truth, I could turn to Miss O’Leary.  I wonder if she has a direct answer.”

Sheila lifted her head a few centimeters -- but before she could say anything, Deirdre held a hand in front of her face.  “As if she could tell you anything, boy.  She’s too busy trying to stop stuttering!”

“And were I to make a claim about the truth -- and accurately, no less -- what would that mean for you?  Would your composure begin to crack even more than it has now?  Could you, the purest offense, withstand a truth bred from mere reason?”

Deirdre kept her grin intact, but Lloyd could see the tension in her face.  “Do your worst, boy.  You don’t have a single weapon against me.”

“Oh, but I do.”  He gestured toward the faded quill -- once so full of energy, but now more still than the average brick.  “Until recently, Miss O’Leary was willing to give you free reign, and act under your own forceful discretion.  But from the time in which I first appeared to this very moment, something unexpected has changed the particulars of the struggle.  And that ‘something’ is, obviously, the appearance of the family matriarch.

“From what I could gather, Miss O’Leary and the madam regularly have violent interactions.  Whether that was by your suggestion or by virtue of their deteriorating bond, that’s not the important point at the moment.  The key to this struggle is nestled within the past; once upon a time, the mother and the daughter were close friends, and only began to diverge as a practical joke went awry.  Even so, certain bonds and certain lessons could hardly be removed -- only concealed.  Hidden.  Buried.”

“Elegant words,” said Deirdre.  “But what are you getting at here?”

“My point is that even if the mother and daughter should engage in some destructive arguments in the present, there’s still a strong bond between them -- a bond born in, cherished, and ultimately idealized in the past.”  Lloyd pressed a hand to his chin; he could still see the tension in Deirdre’s face, but he’d long since noted the lack of it in Sheila’s.  “An imaginary friend offers the chance to create whatever the mind and heart desire -- either a representation of a child’s dreams, or the zenith of a child’s standards.  It makes little sense for a child to imagine themselves when they can create something far greater.  And at that point, the most ideal form to imagine...”

He thrust a finger forward.  “Was none other than the madam herself -- Jane O’Leary!”

Deirdre reeled in shock.  “N-no way!  There’s n-n-no way that’s right!”  She shivered as if she’d suddenly been dumped into the arctic, and her back looked ready to give way; even her rabbit ears started to droop and bend.

“There’s no better answer.  And judging by your reaction, you’ve given me all the confirmation I need.”  Lloyd folded his arms and smiled brazenly.  “Whether you were imagined as a young madam or an older one, you were created in her image -- a tribute to the woman that meant so much to Miss O’Leary.  It was an act of love, and respect, even if it would only be beheld by a single girl.  And as such --”

“Wait.”

Lloyd and Deirdre alike froze in place.  Sheila didn’t; with a few sniffles and a brush at her frizzy bangs, she stood up and looked down at Lloyd.  “Miss O’Leary?  What are you --?”

Sheila shook her head slowly.  “You’re wrong.  You’ve got it all wrong.”

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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