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August 19, 2013

I Hraet You (84)

Beat 84: Now THIS is Hot Blood!

It’s at times like these where I have to wonder what sort of deity I’ve irritated to reach this point, Lloyd thought with sagging shoulders.  But he perked up quickly, and focused his gaze dead ahead.  But even if I’ve incurred the wrath of heaven, that’s no excuse for me to stop now.  I need to figure this out.  And soon.

He watched Deirdre’s stars closely.  One fully dimmed; the other, well beyond half-empty.  It almost looked as if some cruel cartoonist had taken his eraser to the star’s light, rubbing away every last bit of gleam -- of hope -- he could reach.  Despite that, Deirdre looked remarkably calm; she’d dropped all pretenses of looking comely and seductive, and merely stood in place with crossed arms and a slight smile.  If Lloyd didn’t know any better, he’d have thought she’d found inner peace.

“Better work fast, sweet cheeks,” said Deirdre.  “If you don’t figure out what you’ve missed, then you’re going to have to live with the consequences.”

As if I needed a reminder.  Lloyd pressed his finger onto the line again.  And just like before, Sheila peeked above the walls of a bathroom stall, stammering a request for some late-night fun.  That’s as straightforward a statement as one could make.  But what is it about that line that’s worth my attention?  What could I have overlooked?  He pressed down on the line again, forcing a repeat -- and again, and again, and again.  Same words.  Same inflection.  Same motions, right down to the…

Lloyd leaned forward, eyes wide.  Hold on.  What was that?  He pressed down one more time, but ignored Sheila’s words.  He just kept an eye on her body -- or rather, the head that poked out from the stall.  Her left ear -- has it always wiggled like that as she spoke?  He pressed a finger to another line almost at random.

“I…I-I’m doing all I can to try and change myself!  I don’t wanna be a loser anymore -- that’s why I need you, Lloyd!  Let me bear your children!”

That time, her ear didn’t wiggle.  Was that just a coincidence?  No, no, it couldn’t be…there has to be some secret.  She wouldn’t do it unless…unless…  He tapped another line.

““Nuh-uh.  If I have children with my true love, then the curse that’s been in my family for generations will finally be lifted.”

There.  There it was again -- the ear wiggled.  Could there be a connection between the two lines?  Or perhaps a connection to several lines?  And if so, what sort of stake would an imaginary friend have in…  Lloyd gasped sharply.  Hold on.  Could it be that…?  Yes, let’s give these lines a try.

“UWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Sheila wailed, pawing at her face.  “It…it wasn’t supposed to be this way!  I was gonna…we were gonna…WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

No wiggle.  And as confirmation, there’s also…

Sheila stumbled backwards onto a suddenly-appearing bed.  “I…I did everything she told me to,” she moaned.  “What did I do wrong?”

Still no wiggle.  And yet, if I press this line…

“If that’s true, then I bet I can get you all fired up -- and give you the hottest meal you’ve ever had.”

There it is!  And with that, I can turn the tides of this battle!

Lloyd turned to Deirdre and nodded.  “I can see it now -- what you hoped I would see for myself,” he began.  “It goes without saying that you’ve been offering counsel -- however troublesome -- to Miss O’Leary.  But the precise frequency of it was a mystery until this point.  Now I understand that you’ve been more than just an assistant she would consult every now and then, or when she had a moment’s peace; you’ve been whispering in her ear, feeding her lines for the sake of an outcome of your preference.  I’d wager that, were I to sift through every line of dialogue up to this moment, a hefty percentage of them would be lines orchestrated by you.”

Deirdre just stood there and smiled.

“That said, you can’t control her at every moment.  You can make suggestions, but Miss O’Leary’s natural willpower and psyche will act on their own regardless of your intentions.  It’s when she’s at her most emotional that she’ll act spontaneously, independent of you and dependent on her own burst of thought.  And it’s when she takes back the reins that you’re most likely to fret.

“Even so, that’s only a small facet of what’s at play here.  The takeaway from this is not your fear, per se, but your bravery; you have the confidence to say, think, and do what Miss O’Leary herself cannot -- and because of your influence, she does things that she would never do on her own.  In essence, you’re already effectively a part of the real world, even if it’s indirectly.  Simply put, you are more than just an imaginary friend -- you’re an irrevocable part of Miss O’Leary.  You ARE Miss O’Leary.  And if she were to lose you, she’d be missing one of the most important parts of herself.”

Deirdre chuckled.  “Not bad, boy.  Not bad at all.”

Lloyd watched as Deirdre’s star vibrated -- and with a sudden chime, reversed its ebb.  The light that couldn’t be bothered to reach every corner splashed into every inch of it.  I’ve done it!  I managed to pull off a small win.  Now that I have the momentum, I can…

He glanced at Sheila -- and sure enough, her half-star began to empty.

 “Congratulations, boy -- you managed to point out the obvious,” Deirdre said with a slow clap of her hands.  “But me oh my, it feels good to have someone say it out loud.  Thing is, I’m guessing that there’s someone else who can’t take the news quite as well.”

No!  I’ve been tricked!  Lloyd nearly bit his thumb in two.  I was too careless.  Of course something like this would happen; I was the one that said I’d have to balance out the two halves, and now I’ve completely shattered it!  He watched Sheila carefully; the lady herself began to slump and pale, as if she’d run a marathon on five minutes’ worth of sleep.  Her half-star had long since turned into a quarter-star (and less) -- and the golden glow turned into a pulsing red.  Each revolution left the stars moving slower and slower, struggling to stay in orbit; each new pass let loose a low-pitched beat. 

Lloyd didn’t even have time to think, or even register his sped-up heartbeats.  He just started talking.

“Miss O’Leary!  Don’t lose heart yet!”  He slammed his palms on the desk.  “I won’t allow you to fall prey to despair!  That, I promise you!”

It looked as if it took all of Sheila’s energy for her to look at Lloyd.  “A-as if you’ve got a say in the matter…”  She started to sway and buckle.  “It’s no good…I’m nothing without Deirdre.  What can I do without her?”

“You can still stand on your own!  I believe in your strength, even if you don’t?”

“What strength?”

“I…it’s…”  Lloyd shook his head rapidly.  “You’re braver than you think, Miss O’Leary!  You just have to realize it!”

“No.  No, I’m not.”

“Then you…there’s still…y-you may have faced problems in the past, but each new day brings with it new hope!  Tomorrow awaits, and brings new promise!”

“But what if I don’t want to see tomorrow?”  Sheila lowered her head.  “Maybe…maybe it’s better if I just…disappear.”

“Miss O’Leary, you have to --!”  Lloyd chomped down on his tongue.  No.  That’s no use.  There isn’t a single word of praise that I can offer to pacify her -- anything I give will just bounce right off her.  What I need is evidence.  Something that not even she, with her low esteem, could deny.  But what?  What can I offer her now?  What?  WHAT?

 He clutched his head and stooped over; if not for his elbows propping him up, he might have slammed his head right through the desk.  Damn it…this is my fault.  I failed her.  I did my best, but in the end I couldn’t do anything to help her.  All I did was make things worse!  He clamped his eyes shut, using so much force that he thought he might tear his muscles apart.  I failed her.  I failed her…I…I…!


Lloyd looked up from the desk, and followed the sound to its source -- straight to Deirdre.  “What happened?” she asked, her gaze growing steely.  “Where did all that confidence go?  I thought you had this thing all wrapped up and ready to go.  Don’t tell me you’re the one losing heart!”


“Didn’t I tell you already?  The only ‘but’ that matters is mine.”  Her eyes darted to Sheila -- to a star barely holding on to a tenth of its light -- and then back to Lloyd.  “You care about this girl, don’t you?  That’s why you’d stick your neck out so far for her.  That’s why you’d go toe-to-toe with me.  And that’s why, when all’s said and done, I can’t help but admire your efforts…even if they might be the end of me.”

Lloyd opened his mouth to speak, but Deirdre held up a hand.  “Seeing you squirm like this is seriously a turn-off.  So stand up.  Be a man.  If you’re going to be the hero, then be the hero.  Prove that you’re worthy of being my toy…and worthy of being her special someone.”  She crossed her arms and chuckled heartily to herself.  “Would you listen to me, giving my would-be killer a pep talk…but I guess it can’t be helped.  If I’m going to lose, I want to lose to someone who’s actually worth talking about.”


Deidre cocked her head and smirked.  “I’m in the mood for a gamble, Lloyd!  So roll the dice already.  Let’s see who comes out on top!”

Lloyd ran his eyes up and down Deirdre’s form -- confident and brazen, but with a calm posture; she was a far cry from the forceful seductress he’d known just minutes ago.  He ran his eyes up and down Sheila’s form -- she looked mere seconds away from collapse.  In a few moments, her star would barely have five percent of its light left.  And after that…

He stood up straight, took a deep breath, and smiled.  “It seems as if I’m more fragile than you’ll ever be, Miss O’Leary.  To make such claims and promises, and let myself nearly fall prey to a panic attack…and to be rescued by one of the women I’m supposed to be saving…I truly am a shameful person.  Shameful, indeed.  But I suppose that’s why…that’s why I…”

He curled his hands into fists -- and slammed them against the desk with enough force to kick up a few gales.  “I cannot allow myself to give up now!  I cannot -- I WILL NOT fail you, Miss O’Leary!  I won’t allow you to vanish from this world -- and by my beating heart, I’ll see to it myself that you can face the world with a smile!”

Deirdre closed her eyes and laughed.  “That’s the way to do it.  Now, follow through on those pretty words of yours.”

“Don’t worry.  I intend to.”

“B-but…but can you?” Sheila asked.  “What can you do with a zero like me?”

“More than you know, Miss O’Leary.  It’s precisely as I said -- I have every intention of turning zero to infinity.  BUT, I won’t be doing it alone.”  He clapped a hand to his heart.  “Faults, failures, and foibles are endemic to my very being.  My words can only do so much, and even this passion I wield like a blazing sword dulls and chills in the face of reality.  But weaknesses -- imperfections are a part of us all.  We may overcome them, and we may live with them…but there is always the risk of being blinded by them.  We may refuse to see the possibilities that exist within us, merely because we obsess over our inability to reach perfection.  And that’s precisely why I’m here for you, Miss O’Leary.”

He held out a hand.  “I’m right here.  If you would refuse to accept your strength -- to accept yourself -- then allow me to fulfill my duty.  Let me remind you of the power that blooms within.”

And he clamped his hand into a fist.  “It starts with this.”


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