By Kaye Branch
Ciel sat on Charlee’s couch, which smelled and felt like the suburban life she’d tried to escape. The theater where she squatted was occupied by a late night rehearsal. Her only other friend was Adrienne, a fellow witch, would only let her come into her apartment on rare occasions. This first sentence is too long. Adrienne said she didn’t like to entertain guests, but Charlee let a procedural thriller do that job for her, and Ciel was irked.
By the second commercial break, Ciel figured out the identity of the killer and his motive, which was, predictably, financial.
“You’d think,” Ciel said, turning away from the screen. “That these shows would do well with teenage boys. There’s lots of blood, like in horror movies, and they sometimes get into the technology police officers use to catch criminals. But teenage boys don’t really watch them. They’re really popular with single women.”
Charlee nodded. “In high school, after my parents got divorced, and I came home late,, I’d always find her watching one waiting for me.”
“You stayed out late?”
Charlee nodded and smirked. “I used to act out.”
“You worship your mother.”
“Not quite.We haven’t always been as close as we are now.”
“Anyway, I have a theory about why it does so well with single women.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“The audience always empathizes with the victim. Male or female, this is someone who is feminine because he or she is a victim. After that, the masculine detectives- even the female ones are masculine- swoop in and hold everyone who did anything wrong to them in the events leading up to the murder accountable. No matter what the victim did, it’s all right because no one deserves to get murdered. Single women watch these shows because they feel like they’re absolved of anything they did wrong and they’re protected. It has nothing to do with actual murder.”
“I can see where you’re coming from. But I’m watching this show because I auditioned for it and got a call-back.”
“Are you auditioning for the role of witness or victim?”
“Victim. I play a woman who got molested as a child but grew up to open a clinic to help the victims of child molestation, which she ran until she got murdered.”
In the weeks following her hushed D and C, which marked Ciel at the age of twelve as a molestation victim, she had stumbled onto a procedural drama about a molestation victim with a connection to a murderer. It stuck with her, sometimes oozing into her nightmares, because they’d gotten everything so wrong.
The theater would clear out soon. Soon enough.
Ciel ran out of Charlee’s front door.
Ciel thought she made it into the theater without getting discovered until one of the co-owners found her, and scowling, passed her a white cordless phone.
“It’s for you,” she said and passed the phone to Ciel, who suspected the next sentence she would hear from the owner’s mouth would involve use of the words “trespassing” and “police”.
“Hello?”. Ciel had no idea who was on the other end. She didn’t even know theater’s phone number to give it out as contact information. “Who is this?”
“Adrienne. Listen- can you come over? Right now? I’ll pay your cab fare, I promise.”
Ciel looked around. She remembered a magnet with the number of a cab service stuck to some surface in some room, but couldn’t find it.
“I could but I don’t even have a number for a cab service.”
Adrienne read a number for a cab service off to her twice so that Ciel could write it across her arm with a pen she found on a cabinet.
“It’ll be worth it,” Adrienne said. “I promise.”
Adrienne was a model. She should have a boyfriend who would drop everything for her because that was what a model deserved for working so hard to achieve such a high standard of beauty. Even if it meant eviction, Ciel didn’t mind taking the trip to atone for such an injustice. Witches like Ciel and Adrienne should always look out for each other.
Ciel called the cab service using the phone in the theater, hoping she would have another place to live before the owners found the charge on their phone bill. The cab driver’s slight smile when he realized she was female and sober served as almost the antidote she needed to the theater owner’s scowl.
Ciel found Adrienne collapsed and barely conscious on the cold cement floor of her living room. She cradled Adrienne’s head as Adrienne passed her the money to cover cab fare plus a tip. You use the name Ciel a bit too frequently, don’t be afraid to replace them with ‘She’so it doesn’t get too repetitive.
“Thanks for coming,” Adrienne said after Ciel made a quick trip outside to pay. She smiled. “This connection I have with pain- I can feel someone else’s and you know, transfer my own- sometimes leaves me isolated.”
“Don’t blame magic,” Ciel said. She lifted Adrienne’s torso in an attempt to bring her to her feet, and was met with futility. Though she was light, Adrienne’s body didn’t want to hold itself up. “You need a doctor.”
Adrienne seemed to understand it so well, Ciel didn’t have to utter a syllable before she dialed nine one one. Adrienne didn’t need a doctor; she needed an ambulance.
Two medics arrived in good time, and called Ciel a good friend, and told her Adrienne would probably make a full recovery in quick time.
When they arrived at the hospital, the two medics wheeled Adrienne’s bed in to see a doctor, who shooed Ciel out, citing federal law that kept the details of Adrienne’s health a mystery to all but close family.
When Ciel was able to enter, a feeding tube was being inserted into her arm.Adrienne warned Ciel her mother was coming.
Though Adrienne’s mother lived nearby, Ciel had never met her or even seen a picture of her. She imagined a woman who was slender, elegant and artificially youthful, but Adrienne introduced Ciel to a slightly overweight woman with judgmental eyes in an expensive-looking outfit designed for a much younger woman. As they shook hands, Ciel sensed a lack of fulfillment radiating from her.
“Honey,” she said. “I don’t understand why you could call a friend, but not the photographer who booked you tonight! This is business! You should always be professional.”
“I needed help,” Adrienne shrugged. “That photographer wasn’t going to help me.”
Her mother turned to Ciel. “I think it’s time you got out of here and let me deal with my daughter alone. About her career. I’ve invested a lot in her career over the years and I’m not about to let her throw everything out the window now!”
“It’s Adrienne’s hospital room,” Ciel said. “She should decide who stays and who leaves.”
“The career you’re referring to won’t last much longer,” Adrienne said. “I’m looking into apartments in Santa Monica so I can take classes at the college next fall. I was going to tell you later, but-.”
“-Those are plans that won’t go into effect for months,” Adrienne’s mother said. “You need to book things now.”
“I can deal with the photographer myself. I’ll call him and say I’m really sorry I couldn’t make it but there was a medical emergency. I’ve seen them let other models get away with much more before.”
“That’s really not I…” Adrienne’s mother stormed out, deeming both of them too corrupted (?) not sure that’s the right word here to hear the end of her sentence.
“Sorry you had to see that,” Adrienne said. “She’s usually not that bad. Most of the time.”
“My mother can’t handle change either,” Ciel said.
Adrienne turned on the television and let Ciel pick the channel.
Three shows in, Adrienne fell asleep and Ciel decided she had to get away so she called Charlee.
“Sorry I stormed out like that earlier,” Ciel said in lieu of a greeting. “But my timing was perfect. As soon as I got home and my friend called. She asked me to come over and she collapsed because she’s anorexic, so I took her to the ER. They won’t let me spend the night, so could you drive me somewhere?”
It took Charlee a moment to digest what she’d just heard, but her gut reaction was a “yes”. Someone needed help.
“Okay,” Charlee said. “Which hospital are you at?”
Ciel gave her the name of the hospital and the number of Adrienne’s room in the emergency wing.
Charlee came midway through the second program. Ciel had made an effort to avoid procedural dramas but she’d ended up with a primetime soap opera with so many relationships fractured in so many different places, Ciel couldn’t figure anything out. The actresses looked the same to her.
Charlee knocked before she came in, even though the door was slightly ajar.
Adrienne looked up.
“I don’t think you’ve met before,” Ciel said. “Charlee, this is Adrienne.”
“Nice to meet you,” Adrienne said. She didn’t look that unhealthy to Charlee, who could only see Adrienne’s face over the covers.
“Charlee’s an actress,” Ciel said. “She was on television last year. Her show got canceled a few months ago, but she got a call-back with a procedural drama.”
“Good for you,” Adrienne asked. “What role are you auditioning for?”
“A woman who survived molestation, and went on to do great things.” Charlee looked at Ciel, who nodded. “She became an activist for molestation victims by opening a center, which she ran until she got murdered.”
Adrienne pointed at Ciel and brought her finger back to herself. “We both got molested. You could ask us questions about our experiences to prepare for the role.”
Without giving Charlee a chance to respond, Adrienne let her hand rest by her side and wriggled her fingers.
Charlee took Adrienne’s hand to comfort her, and found her eyes forced shut by an avalanche of another’s emotional pain . Charlee might have guessed that Adrienne was a model and could infer from her eating disorder that she’d seen the darker side of the industry, but she wasn’t sure how dark what Adrienne had seen was until she showed her first sexual encounter at age eleven with a much older photographer that took place without her consent, and crippled her with an overwhelming sense of shame. Adrienne fought pain with silence and felt it had both increased and decreased over the years as she turned to deprivation to lessen the pain. Not only did Adrienne refuse to eat, she refused to pursue deep relationships.
When she opened her eyes, Adrienne and Ciel were engaged in a conversation as if Charlee wasn’t even there.
“You have to go back to my place,” Adrienne said. “At least for the night.”
“I like being disconnected,” Ciel said. She’d had the same argument when Charlee offered her the couch in her living room. “There’s a shelter nearby. I could stay there while I look for a place to squat.”
“I know, but I just bought a fern. It’s the first attempt I’ve made at sustaining life. If it dies, it might take me longer to get better. I might have to go to rehab instead of college. Is that really what you want?”
“If I say yes, will you drive me?” Ciel asked Charlee.
Charlee jerked back to attention. “Of course.”
“So that’s a yes?” Adrienne asked. Ciel nodded.
Adrienne gave Charlee directions.
“Adrienne got you, didn’t she?” Ciel asked Charlee as Charlee fastened her seatbelt.
“Got me how?” Charlee asked.
“ If you touch Adrienne, she can feel all of your emotions or transmit hers to you.”
“So it’s kind of like she can become the other person? Like acting?” Charlee asked, backing her car out of emergency room parking, pausing to take a breath and hope that none of the cars around her would have to make a return trip.
“Not quite. Well, I don’t act, but I’ve found that no matter how hard I try when I write, I can’t quite feel someone else’s pain.”
Charlee could lose herself in a character to the point of tears, yet the pain always faded soon after the end of the scene, while Adrienne’s still maintained a firm grip on her psyche.
“When I write, it’s all lies. It’s all metaphor for my pain and other disruptions. To actually feel someone else’s pain… It seems like a curse to me.”
“I guess so.”
Charlee wondered how she could get through the audition by recalling Adrienne’s pain. The script focused on the victim’s strength, which, though extinguished, had carried her almost to the end as she scratched at her murderer’s hands.
“Is Adrienne’s talent common?” Charlee asked. Charlee had only just discovered her uncanny ability to attract witches to her.
“I don’t know.I don’t know many other witches. She’s the only one I’ve met so far who can do that.”
After Charlee dropped her off at Adrienne’s apartment, Ciel took a sigh of relief.
The crisis was over. She could reexamine Adrienne’s apartment.
Adrienne’s living room, with its open space and unfurnished walls and floor, felt like a warehouse. Ciel left it the moment she could.
Her bedroom felt cozier than Ciel remembered. Adrienne had taken some of the generic decorations that had dominated the space down and set up the television so that it was visible from the bed.
Ciel couldn’t resist the lure of the television after she found the remote next to the bed. She flipped channels and settled on a badly dubbed anime, which she fell asleep to only to wake up to a worse show hours later.
With her eyes closed, Ciel thought of the night seven years ago, when at the age of twelve she saw Charlee on late-night television and fell asleep.
Standing in a hallway a few days later, waiting for her second audition, Charlee realized she didn’t want the role. She relaxed when she heard her name called because it meant her agony was almost over. She answered all the questions that came at her with a smile and remembered to make all of the right pauses and changes in intonation while acting out the scene she’d memorized the night before. Some of the pain crept in, but Charlee almost welcomed it because she’d finish the audition soon, and move on with her life.
A few days later, Charlee got a phone call that forced her lips into a smile when she found out she’d gotten the part she didn’t want.