Believer – Scene 2

“Honey, I’m home!”

Cecile playfully kicks the door to her apartment shut and jangles her keyring, making her presence known to the inside.

“Oh I forgot, I’m not married.”

Shrugging lethargically and emitting a noticeably fake sigh, she hangs her keys on a lonely screw in the wall and sets her messenger bag down in no particular location, blanket still draped over her shoulders like an oversized shawl.

Batman Returns, Michelle Puh-Fifer.  Your self-pity is unoriginal and you should feel unoriginal.”

Cecile tilts her head from side to side, contemplating the responding voice’s statement and the intentionally-mispronounced actress’ name as she unclips her tally sheet from the folded-up newspaper.  Both are set on the petite dinner table for the time being as she wanders into the “kitchen.”

“Well, but, that’s just from that one show on Fox, and whatever the guy’s name is that does half the voices on that show,” she retorts from inside the refrigerator.  “So we’re all in this together no matter what we do.  Can’t stop the rock.”

There is an audible pause in the conversation for no less than four seconds.  “Remind me again why we’re living together?”

“Because you can’t make rent.”

“Oh.  Right.”

Hidden behind the various cardboard boxes, plastic totes, and unarranged pieces of furniture is the off-white walls and off-white carpet of the newly-occupied Room 213.  It resides in the middle of the second floor of an apartment complex with a cookie-cutter name that could be “Brook Creek Apartments” as easily as it could be “Pine Court Apartments” or “Lakewood Drive Apartments”.  Though the original designers spared several expenses, its maintenance staff is of a dying breed that believes in the continued well-being of the buildings more than the continued well-being of their wallets.  The suite itself is fairly typical: a sprawling great room with countertops partitioning off a humble kitchenette, and barely-a-hallway leading to barely-a-bathroom and a surprisingly large bedroom with a surprisingly large walk-in closet.  Cecile is making plans to sleep in the closet if her bedframe fits; it’ll save space.

Her presence here is the ultimate result of a series of conversations that shared the common thesis of, “Now, we don’t want you to think that your mother and I are kicking you out, but one day you really should start thinking about getting your own place.”  Which of course had the exact same effect as kicking her out, only more drawn-out, and with more repressed guilt.  She had no real problem with moving, per-se:  she had a stable job, stable car, stable back account, and vaguely-adequate cooking skills.  She had just simply never bothered to worry about leaving the nest.  Shallow skeptics would call this apathy.  More thorough skeptics would call this fear of the unknown.  She prefers not to call it.

Rummaging around the sparsely-populated shelves of the fridge, she grabs a Styrofoam box and squeaks it onto the laminate countertop.  “I’m gonna heat up this steakhouse chicken from last night; you want any?” she asks as she peaks inside the container.

“Why the hell, would you go to a steak-house, and order chicken?

“So that’s a no, then?”

Not really waiting for a response, she squeezes the food into a microwave just barely large enough to accommodate it and idly watches it spin around and around, the miracle of modern technology breathing fresh air into a stale body.  Quickly satisfied with her daily quota of microwave-watching, she diverts her attention to preparing the remainder of her dinner of champions, which subsists of a glass of milk, and also that exact same glass of milk.  Clearly, a feast worthy of a true bachelorette.  As she watches the seconds tick down on the microwave, she wonders if there is a Bachelorette Propriety Handbook anywhere, and how many rules from it she is breaking with this meal.

Along those lines, she asks randomly to no one in particular, “Do you ever wonder if we’re doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing, or if maybe we’re already doing them but we’re just doing them the wrong way?”

“This conversation is not happening again,” comes the irked response.  “I’m not a part of it, I’m not caring about, and you’re not talking about it to anyone.  It’s over before it even began.  Don’t.

She ponders the response as the microwave emits its shrill four-beep cry signaling the completion of its duties.  Is the conversation not happening?  Or does the response by definition make it a conversation regardless?  Or what defines the word “conversation” in the first place?  Conversation is a word meant to give structure and meaning to a more abstract concept.  If she were to talk to herself out loud and discuss some topic, would that count as a “conversation”?  Would this dialog she is having with herself in her head right now count as a “conversation”?  And can anything be over before it begins, if it doesn’t yet even exist to be over?  “Don’t”?  Don’t what?

Unable to do much of anything else, the microwave yells out again, trying to remind Cecile that whether or not “this conversation” is happening, food is happening.  She twitches her head and shakes away her musings, returning to the real world and retrieving her food.  She apologizes to the appliance for her negligence, and pats it on the head it would have if it had a head. She thinks it would like to sigh and respond melancholically, “Don’t worry about it…  It’s just my job.”  As it is unable to do so, she sighs for it instead.

Not one to be outdone by mere mortals, the loud plaid couch sighs as well, puffing out a thin cloud of dust as Cecile eases herself into the cushion, the particulates twinkling in the afternoon sun.  Her eyes follow the swirling specks as they settle down, wondering if it might be pixie dust, instead of dead skin and cotton lint, which is what she knows it actually is.  Her slippers are kicked off and her legs are kicked up as she curls her feet underneath her, grabs a remote from the top of a pile of unsorted blankets, and resumes her movie from its seven-hour stasis.

“Couldn’t find any again today,” she mentions offhand, wiggling herself deeper into the cushions as she sets the chicken box across her thighs.

“I’m sure that’s very nice, but I have no idea what you’re talking about right now.  It’s like…  You always just assume I know what you’re thinking about.  That’s the kind of attitude that’ll get you slapped in the real world, you know.”

“Yeah, I know… but, I know you know what I mean,” she retorts weakly, glancing at the screen where the goofy-yet-endearing male protagonist has found himself in an awkward situation with the female object of his desire.  He says something foolish in an attempt to dig himself out of the proverbial hole he has fallen into; it’s not working.

Cecile emits a little sigh.  “I feel sorry for the girlfriend.  She’s too good for him.  I mean, I know I’m supposed to like the guy, ‘cause he’s funny and he’s trying really hard, but…  I don’t.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s because he’s not real,” her roommate says sarcastically from the gigantic bean bag in the corner.

You’re not real,” she snaps back, throwing one of the blankets in the roommate’s direction.  It flops harmlessly onto the bag, currently occupied by exactly zero real people.

Cecile Smith has what most people except herself would call a problem: a habit of talking to things that are not real.  She is no more schizophrenic or delusional than the average human being, despite stark assumptions made by those who only vaguely know her, and simply has what may be called an “overactive imagination”.  She knows full well that the things she talks to are not real, that she is not actually seeing them, and that any responses those things give are just a roundabout way of her talking to herself; she accepts these as simple facts of reality, and in this respect she is leagues ahead of those who suffer from legitimate mental disorders.  However, these facts of reality do not in any way prevent her from talking to the illusions anyways, and in this respect she is somewhat behind those who suffer from legitimate mental disorders.  She does however tend to tone it down when in the presence of other real people.

Usually.

There is no roommate sitting in her beanbag watching a romantic comedy with her.  But if there were, he would be a young man about her age, tall and gangly with a thin mustache and messy hair the same color as hers.  He’d likely be wearing plaid lounge pants, socks with sandals, and a t-shirt with a catchphrase birthed from the internet that nobody has ever heard of.  His name would be Cecil Lawrence Smith, and he would be what Cecile might be like if she were a pessimistic and sarcastic male, instead of an optimistic and soft-spoken female.  They might talk about having some sort of a relationship together, but would become quickly distracted by contemplating the logistics of dating an opposite-gender clone of yourself that also knows exactly what you’re thinking as you think it.

If Cecil was real, he would grab the blanket that was thrown at him and roll it up into a pillow as the pair continues to watch the movie.  The male protagonist confides his many girl problems to his long-time male friend, and the two share a moment of solidarity in their male-ness.  Cecile continues to poke away at her chicken.

“It’s because he’s a loser,” Cecil responds blandly, picking up exactly where the conversation had left off two minutes before.  “His career is going nowhere, he’s obviously desperate and obviously trying too hard to act like he’s not, his haircut sucks, hi—“

“I like his haircut,” she interrupts, instinctively fiddling with her own hair as she says it.

“Okay, you like his haircut.  But point is, it’s just… Never mind, we’ve had this discussion before, it ends with us agreeing that Canada has a lot of good actors.  Whatever.”

“Canada does have a lot of good actors.”

“This is not helpful.”

Cecile ponders upon this vague statement, as she is oft wont to do.  Chewing idly on her fork, she posits to Cecil, “Do you mean this discussion we’re not having isn’t helpful, or that Canada isn’t helpful?”

Cecil glowers at her.  “Why did you even turn the movie back on if you’re not going to watch it?”

She shrugs.  “Ehh.  I’m watching it, I’m just not paying attention.  I mean, I’ve seen it before.”

The glower continues.  “You’ve actually seen it before about five times, this year.  You need to get out more.”

“I was out all afternoon, remember?”

“In the hallway, doing a crossword, people-watching in one of the worst places ever to do it.”  He shakes his head at her with an agonizingly grave tempo, rays of condescension emitting from his eyes and bouncing harmlessly off Cecile’s cheery personality.  “I told you, Cess, you’re better off doing a door-to-door survey if you’re trying to find interesting people here; at least then you’ll only be weird, instead of creepy.  Also, you still need to get out more.”

The young woman pouts as she sinks back into her couch, seeing the moving pictures on the screen but not truly watching them.  He’s got a point: the most direct way to find out about people is to just ask them, and the average person doesn’t mind being asked all that much, not if one veils it in the guise of, “Hello, I’m doing a survey for my sociology class”.  The average person certainly wouldn’t ask if said surveyor is actually in a sociology class; she still looks young and naïve enough to be a student, after all.  And she does need to get out more, especially now that she’s in a new city and officially knows not much of anyone in it.  But she thinks she has a point too, doesn’t she?

Thirty minutes later, she comes to the conclusion that she does not actually have a point.

The stalwart male protagonist reaches a low point in his life.  His constant blundering and endearing-yet-problematic social habits has possibly lost him the girl of his dreams, and also that other girl who maybe liked him too.  He comes to the crushing realization that his life sucks and he is a hollow shell of a man he might never have even been in the first place.  Cecile actually feels sorry for him now, even though he deserves it.  She’s always hated these low points in film, where everything goes to hell in a handbasket right before new resolve is found and a happy ending is achieved.  The inevitability of such ends still does nothing to ease the awkward pain she feels every time, no matter how often she’s seen it play out.

She plods over to the corner and hugs Sven “The Fuzz” Fernando for comfort.  The Fuzz is a giant purple and yellow lizard with a baseball glove and a Boston Red Sox cap, won for her on a date by not her boyfriend, who drained thirty-five dollars trying to get the ring around the bottle.  He was a real go-getter in the minors, but just never got the call to move up, and after he broke his arm back in ’04 he wasn’t the same ever again.  Claims that there wasn’t a curveball he couldn’t hit were greatly exaggerated.

“So what’d’you think, Sven?” she asks him as the pair plops back down onto the couch.

“Ehh, ‘e’s gotta point y’know, missy,” Fuzz responds in a New England drawl.

Cecile’s brow furrows.  “Does he, though?  I mean…”

“Well a’course he’s got a point,” he interrupts, noticing that Cecile is making no moves to finish her sentence.  “When’s the last time you had a night on the town, girl?”

“I don’t really do nights on—“

“Ah-bup-bup-bup-bap, nope, no excuses!  Nigh’ton the town, girlie!”

She drums on her cheek with her ring and pinkie finger, trying to recall.  It’s not as if she makes a habit of organizing when she goes out and when she doesn’t; it’s mostly the same in her mind.  “Last night, when the family went out for steak and stuff, to celebrate my new apartment.”

The Fuzz shakes his floppy head.  “Nope; family.  Don’t count.  Try again.”

“Umm…  Oh, Artie’s graduation.”

“Family; don’t count.”

“St. Patty’s Day this year?”

“Ehh, close, girl, close, but that was in the middle of the day, they dragged you to that, you only had one beer, and it wasn’t even green.”

“The beer doesn’t have to be green just because it’s St. Patrick’s Day.”

“Actually, kid, yes is does.  See what I mean, you’re just provin’ my point if it’s gonna be this hard for—“

“EPICON!” Cecile blurts uncontrollably, jabbing her finger into Sven’s face.  “Epicon, senior year, Lit club and a whole bunch of other people they knew and I didn’t!  Alcohol was involved, and that was four nights!  Put that in your big league and chew it!”

The lizardball player makes a move to speak, stops, moves again, and stops again, the smirk on his face cracking higher and higher with each failed attempt.  Chuckling in bemusement, he concedes.  “Damn, girl, you…  Heh, wow, uhh, okay, you sure got me there.  Boy, I really wish I could’a been there…  Do you, you’ve still got that costume, don’t you?”

“For shame, Fuzz Fernando.  I expected better of you.”  She shoves him off of her lap in mock rebuke and stares back at the television.  The lovable male protagonist is manning up and coming to terms with his faults while at the same time engineering a plan for getting the girl which is probably more complex than necessary.  She does still have that costume, actually; there was no real point in throwing it away.  But she’s not about to let The Fuzz know that.  A big-time baseball name like himself isn’t likely to be any better than all the guys at the con who’ll turn their heads for a girl in a black bodysuit and some face paint.

Or maybe they were just impressed that she actually got her hair to look like that.  It was pretty hard.

“Still, Cecile…  That was three years ago.”

“I know, Cecil, I know,” she replies languidly, sighing as she looks up at her male doppelganger.  “But it’s hard!

“They always told us it wouldn’t be easy.”

“Well, like, yeah, I know, but…  I mean, that was college.  We graduated.   We were supposed to grow up.  Stop drinking beer, stop going to concerts, and get a real life.”

Cecil shrugs, sitting down on the arm of the sofa and rubbing his not-exactly-sister on the shoulder.  “You know, I actually think most people with real lives still drink beer and go to concerts.”

“What, do they just drink expensive beer now, or something?”

“Meh.  Or something.  People don’t ever really grow up, Ces; they just grow older.”

The male protagonist stares longingly into the eyes of what may not exactly be his true love, but is at least his love, and the two kiss to a backdrop of touching music.  Cecile grabs her left shoulder and feels the white fabric of her blouse, knowing that there is no hand there for her to hold.  She wishes there was.  She wishes there was a lot more times than she’s willing to admit.  She’s not willing to openly admit that moving to her own apartment has made her truly realize how lonely she is, even though she’s willing to admit that she’s been lonely since before she moved.  It’s a contradiction of degrees, which to Cecile’s heart makes it nonetheless a contradiction.

She stares at the greasy flakes of onion and chicken shavings left in the Styrofoam box.  She  thinks she should really clean it up before she grows too accustomed to its presence as a permanent fixture on the coffee table.  That’s how bachelors and bachelorettes like her end up living in their own filth, after all; it starts so simply.  And then they’ll never get married.  They might end up becoming half of an alcoholic and never move out of the apartment they moved into after they left college.

Cecile Smith doesn’t much care about getting married.  But she also doesn’t want to live in her own filth.

“I’m gonna… go, out,” she says, picking herself up out of the couch.  “Find a… club, or something.

“The kids these days call it clubbin’, Ces,” Cecil reminds her as he clicks off the TV and puts the disk away for her.

“I’m not a kid, Cecil,” she replies matter-of-factly.  “That’s the point.”

He watches her navigate over to her computer and search for an appropriate local club.  The edges of the flat-screen monitor have long since been plastered with stickers of all manner of adorable flora, fauna, and Eldritch abominations.  She calls it camouflage so that no one else can bear to use it, but Cecil knows better:  she’s as much of a girl as any other girl.  For about a minute he wonders what kind of person would pre-plan a night on town in such an uncool way, before remembering at least two things.  One, it is the 21st century and the internet is neither cool nor uncool, it merely is.  Two, there are multiple definitions for the word “club”, one of which is a heavy stick suitable for use as a weapon.

“You are a strange and sheltered woman, Cecile Lauren.”

“I know.  I should get out more.”

“This is not what I had in mind.”

“It’s what I had in mind.”

“Maybe you should get a new mind.”

“Ooo, can I have yours?”

Cecil has a hard time deciding whether he disapproves more of the innocent smile on his compatriot’s face, or the web page his compatriot’s browser is currently displaying.

“Try not to hurt anyone too badly, Cecile.”

 

{The second scene to “Believer”.  Remember, it’s just a placeholder name until I think of something better.}

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