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August 22, 2013

I Hraet You (85)

Beat 85: To the Chewy Chocolate Center and Beyond

Deirdre hummed to herself, and pressed a finger to her chin.  “Oh my…I think I’m starting to fall for you, Lloyd.  All that passion coming out so freely…it’s enough to make my heart beat faster.  I don’t suppose staying a while is in the cards right now?”  She winked at him and blew him a kiss.

But Lloyd didn’t even register it.  The kiss, her voice, even her presence; he just stood his ground, his palms digging into the desk and threatening to snap it in two.  His stare had intensified to an almost lethal degree; the heat it cast could have started a fire, and each eye shone brighter than one raging in the wilds.  If he could have, he would have gladly given that light to Sheila.  She needed it desperately -- her stars had long since started their final, pathetic spasms.

But that was fine.  Lloyd had made his decision.  He’d made his stand, his choice, and his pledge.  And now…

“It’s time, Miss O’Leary.  Let’s begin.”

Sheila shuddered and fell to her knees, but found just enough energy to look up at Lloyd.  “I-it’s hopeless,” she said breathlessly -- between pained breaths, no less.  “I…I’m…I’m useless.  There’s…nothing left for me to do…I-I..I’m just too…worthless…”

“YOU’VE GOT THAT WRONG!”

Lloyd’s outburst nearly forced Sheila back onto her feet.  “You’re wrong, Miss O’Leary!  Humility is a virtue, but to constantly devalue your being does no one any favors -- least of all yourself!”  His hand sped over the papers strewn across the desk.  “I’ll show you your power -- and prove to you your right to exist!”  He thrust his finger into just the right line.  And sure enough…

“Explain how you were gonna cheat on me?  I’m the only one you should care about.  Me.  Me.  Me, me, me, me, ME, ME, ME!”  Sheila snapped toward Lloyd, wearing some mix of a smile and a scowl, and letting fly a noise like a dying hyena’s laughter.  “I love youuuuuuuuuu…you love meeeeeeeeee…you think that I’M SO PRETTY!”

Deirdre reeled in shock.  “That line?  Why the hell would you --?”

“Her ear wiggled.”

“What?”

As Sheila returned to her previous stance, Lloyd kept a finger trained upon the line.  “Her ear wiggled.  That means the words she spoke at that moment were lines fed to her.  Not her own.”

“Okay, so those were lines I gave her.  So what?  Isn’t that the kind of things that would hurt your case?”

Lloyd shook his head.  “You’re missing the point.  Both of you are.  It’s true that the words were fed to Miss O’Leary -- but nothing else was.  The mannerisms, the tone, the credibility…communication is a mixture of both verbal and non-verbal actions, and that’s especially the case with acting.  And indeed, Miss O’Leary’s delivery was so flawless, so affecting, that even IF they weren’t her words she spoke them as if they were.  Never in my seventeen years of life have I been so genuinely fearful for my life; from those words alone, I could feel the reaper’s scythe speeding across my neck.”

He gestured toward the stage.  “And look where you are now, Miss O’Leary.  You’ve come here under the pretenses of becoming an actress, yes?  Then you’ve made a wise choice, indeed.  So the words you’ve spoken haven’t always been your own?  So what?  That comprises almost the entirety of acting as a trade -- of COURSE you aren’t going to be speaking your own words.  The true skill, and the true merit, comes from being able to deliver those lines in a satisfying and affecting matter.  If you couldn’t perform as needed, then your imaginary self could never begin to rely on you for a performance.  She would be aware of your weaknesses and limitations, and act accordingly.  She wouldn’t expect a mere extra to handle a lead role; conversely, she can ONLY expect a flawless performance from the one person she knows can deliver.  The one person she can trust most, precisely BECAUSE of her skill and potential.”

He thrust his finger forward.  “Miss O’Leary!  You’re a natural-born actress!”

“N-n-natural born…?!”

“There can be no doubt about it.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and felt it in my very soul.  Were I to listen to your audition at this very moment, I would have no qualms about giving you a lead role, even if I had to pen a play myself!   You have that vital essence… you can give a performance that shakes all takers to their very core, and transforms the fledgling performer into an artisan of legend…that is your power!  If you won’t believe in anything else, then believe my words.  Believe in your ability -- believe in your strength!”

“My…strength…”  Sheila stared at Lloyd for ages -- and then, at long last, she stood up.  She dusted off her knees, and held herself up with some semblance of poise.  Not much, but more than enough to keep herself steady.  Why, Lloyd could quickly guess.

She now had a full star.

“Wha…what is this I’m feeling?” Sheila asked, examining her hands.  “This is…I-I don’t know how to describe it.  It’s like -- like --”

“That’s what you call pride,” said Deirdre.  “Feels good, doesn’t it?”  She waved a hand through the air.  “Of course, if that’s all the boy can do, then he’s still got an uphill battle ahead of --”

“I’m not done.”

Lloyd held up a finger.  “It’s one thing to be an actress, but there are still many matters that need to be attended to.  And for your sakes, I intend to sort them out…and I’ll do it in one fell swoop.”

“C-can you really…?!”

“Think you can, boy?”

“Just watch me.”  Lloyd folded his arms.  “Miss O’Leary.  If I may ask, what exactly is your goal here?  Suppose I take you on as a lead actress, and have you perform in a play of my choosing.  Then what?  Or if that question is too complex for you, then let me ask this: why become an actress in the first place?  If you’ve only now become aware of your inherent skill, then surely you had some goal in mind.”

“Ah -- w-well, I, um…”  Sheila clasped her hands and looked down.  “You know…I just figured that I could give it a try.  J-just make a little money on the side, I guess.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Huh?”

Lloyd shook his head slowly.  “Your goal and your persona are in complete contradiction of one another.  Why would a timid girl such as yourself even consider stepping onto a stage -- and ultimately, stepping before hundreds of theater-goers -- if you’ve a severe lack of self-confidence?  On the surface, it makes no sense.  But I’d like to think my mind is just twisted enough to trace the line of reasoning.”  He tapped a finger against his elbow.  “Miss O’Leary.  What is your dream?”

“Dream?  I…I don’t know.  I guess…I-I-I never had one.”

Lloyd shot an eye at Deirdre, who gave him a nonchalant nod.  “I see.  Well then, I think it’s about time I venture a guess.  We’ll start by resuming my train of thought from earlier.  That’s the best course of action to take at the moment.”

“What are you talking about, boy?” Deirdre asked.  “I thought that train of thought was a dead end!”

Lloyd shook his head again.  “The terminus was wrong, but the path leading up to it was correct.  So, if I take a few steps backward, I can come to the conclusion I should have in the first place.  It’s the process of elimination; you’ve helped me figure out the truth by revealing what it isn’t -- and now I’ll gladly present it to the two of you.”

Deirdre pursed her lips. 

“It should be evident by now that Miss O’Leary holds something very dear to her heart: family.  Her relationship with her mother may be a bit terse, but I would think that she has an extreme amount of respect for her parents -- her mother, as well as her father.  To hold a lie so dear to her heart, even after all these years, has to count for something.  That said -- contrary to the madam’s last words -- what’s important in this case isn’t necessarily the lie, but the intent behind it.

“Miss O’Leary’s intent isn’t necessarily to have a child for the sake of having a child; even with this so-called ‘curse’ in mind, that’s only a minor perk at best.  No, the key element is that by having a child, a son or daughter to call her own, Miss O’Leary has the chance to meet the standards now ironclad in her mind.  In her view, to become a mother is to become whole.  To become worthy.  And who do we know that could put that standard in her mind in the first place?”

Sheila gasped.  “Wait, are you saying --?”

“That’s exactly right.  It was the mother herself, Jane O’Leary, who secretly impelled you to become a mother in your own right.  She was there for you in your time of need, and even after your falling-out she continued to support you.  It was her duty as a mother, and a kindness no man or woman would soon devalue…but, that same kindness corrupted your mind.  Rather than uphold the idea of ‘I must become the best person I can be’, you were led to believe the mantra of ‘I must become as good as my mother’.  And you intended to do that by becoming a mother.”

“I…I guess that makes sense, when you think about it.”

“There’s more.”  Lloyd’s eyes scanned the stars -- a full one for Sheila, and a full one for Deirdre.  A perfect balance.  But he knew what came next; if he blew it, he’d disrupt that balance.  He’d lose his progress once more…and risk doing irrevocable harm.

He took a deep breath.  A slow inhale, followed by a slow exhale.  And with that done, he began again.

“I said before that the imaginary Miss O’Leary didn’t originally have her current form; rather, she took on the form of the mother in question.  And I stand by that.”  He gripped his elbows tightly.  “But I see now that I ended up derailing myself based on a naïve assumption.  The expectation was that the young daughter would create an imaginary version of her mother to fill in the gap left by her perceived betrayal.  But that was wrong.  Why would a girl wronged by her mother immediately turn around and create an idealized form of her mother?  The answer is simple, really.  At the outset, Miss O’Leary didn’t create an imaginary friend…but an imaginary enemy.”

Deirdre looked as if she’d been kicked in the gut -- and chained to a furnace for good measure.

“What was intended to be a simple prank came off as an utter violation to the young Miss O’Leary.  It was an unforgivable act, requiring retribution; the problem, of course, was that at the time, Miss O’Leary had no hope of reclaiming her honor in a physical confrontation -- especially if the madam was even half as strong as she is today.  So in order to compensate, she create a version of the madam that put them on equal footing.  One that would bend to her will, her beck and call…and of course, her force.  Simply put…”  He turned to Deirdre.  “You weren’t her friend.  You were her punching bag.”

Deidre wrapped her arms around her stomach, and turned her quivering legs inward.  “I-it was terrible.  Just…just terrible!  You don’t know what kind of th-things she did to me b-b-back then, Lloyd!  She was so mean, I…I couldn’t take it!  I HATED it!  How could she keep torturing me like that, day after day?!”

In spite of Deirdre’s wails -- or likely because of them -- Lloyd’s gaze remained hot, yet focused.  He’d cracked Deirdre wide open, and found the truth he needed.  His eyes slid toward Sheila; she held steady, but she looked away, and stroked an arm absentmindedly.  He’d made a stride, and dealt a blow against them both. 

And that blow knocked them both down to a half-star.  A half-star, and in a few seconds’ time, less than that.

This is it, then.  It all comes down to this.  If I can’t put the pieces together now -- if I’m wrong -- then I’ll have failed them both.  I can’t allow that to happen.  I would sooner give up my own life before slighting either of theirs.

But I’ve no reason to fear.  I know what I have to do. 

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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