“My Other Half” by Maria Stanislav

“Cut! That’s it for today. Great work, everyone.”

I exhaled and started getting to my feet, a task I failed at due to my ridiculous costume. The end of the last scene left me knelt in a rather dramatic heap, and I was discovering that women of the era that birthed my dress must’ve had a much easier time swooning than getting back up.

“Need any help?” Pete called from the edge of the set. “We’re going to dinner.”

“Almost done.” A heel tangled in the hem was the only thing remaining between myself and freedom.

“Patricia, a word,” came Derek’s voice from right above me. I shot a hateful glance at the dress before looking up with an apologetic smile. Truth be told, I was so hungry I hated Derek just about as much as my costume at that moment, but snapping at the director was rarely a wise career move.

“Save me a seat, guys!” I shouted in the direction of Pete’s and Carla’s retreating back. “Sorry, Derek, I just need a moment here.”

“Take your time. And it’s Kate who wants to talk to you, actually.”

“Okay.”

Damn. Kate rarely came out on the movie set, but the few times she did had cost me a handful of gray hairs and several sleepless nights spent wondering whether my act – my real act – was good enough. At least I had a minute or so to prepare myself while I fiddled with the dress, taking my time and then some. I’d been about to take the easy way out and remove the shoe altogether, but instead I sat there, painstakingly extricating the lacy hem from the straps and buckles, taking care not to damage the delicate fabric while my head worked furiously, getting Susan ready to show herself. It was always more difficult to act like her after spending a day on the set ‘pretending’ she was never there.

“There we go.” I got up, taking the proffered hand for support. “Thanks. So, Kate, what was it you wanted to talk about?”

“Hi, sweetie.”

“Hi.” I smiled genially. Letting my wariness of Kate show would be even a worse move than snapping at Derek. In fact, I was sure I could get away with snapping, provided I apologized. More importantly, even if Derek stayed mad at me, I would know. His face was the proverbial sleeve for his emotions, and even at his worst, he was immeasurably easier for me to handle than Kate’s perpetual expression of reserved well-meaning. With Derek, I always knew where I stood. Whenever Kate looked out of the same eyes, I never knew whether she liked me or wanted me dead.

“You know I don’t normally interfere in the directing. Of the two of us, Derek’s the creative one, and I just tag along–”

“Oh, don’t be so modest,” Derek’s voice interrupted.

“Derek!”

“Sorry.”

A short succession of expressions fleeted over their face before Kate continued in her slightly raspy tones.

“Anyway, I just had to point out a few things from a female perspective. Don’t get me wrong, dear – you’re a brilliant actress, you truly are. Mark my words, ten years from now, you’ll be one of the biggest names in the business. But you know what they say – there’s no such thing as perfection, and there’s always, always room for improvement. For the past few days, you’ve been slipping up every now and again. Nothing too big, of course – Derek wouldn’t have missed it – but, you know, small, tiny things that only a woman would see. Like, every now and again, your posture’s a little different, or your pitch changes just a bit. Of course, it’s a terribly difficult role, I mean, I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is for you to keep Susan locked out for hours at a time. And for her, of course, poor thing.”

“I’m- I’m sorry… I must be a bit tired. I’ll work harder, I promise.”

“Oh, Susan, sweetheart…” All of a sudden, I found myself in Derek’s and Kate’s arms, but it was still Kate doing the talking. “I know Pat’s tired, but you shouldn’t try to fill in for her. It’s her job, and her part, and even if you think no one can see the difference, it does show. You’ll get your own part yet, and you’ll have your time to shine, trust me. Isn’t that right, Patricia?”

“Of course it is. Don’t worry, Susan,” I spoke in what I desperately hoped was my usual voice. I never intended to sound like Susan, least of all to Kate. I must’ve been tired for real, or too nervous, or both.

“Now, you two go get some food, and rest up. You have a three-day break coming up, don’t you?”

“We do. I promised Susan we’d get out of town.”

“Awesome.” Derek was back. “I honestly didn’t see any of that stuff Kate was talking about, but if you can’t trust your other half, whom can you trust, right?”

Thanking Derek and Kate for the care and concern, and feeling quite relieved it was Derek who finished the conversation, I headed for the dressing room to change out of the dress and get a few minutes’ silence to think things over.

The talk certainly didn’t go as badly as I’d feared. Of course, technically, Kate’s comments meant that I was being inconsistent on camera, and that would have to be fixed, but that was the least of my problems. Kate had no idea how right she was in calling me a brilliant actress, but my work in the movie had very little to do with it. My heroine was an insane young woman, an unfortunate soul born with only one personality inside her head, forever an outcast because of it, forever lonely. This role would indeed be difficult – to anyone who didn’t have a natural advantage to start with. The way things were, my only real challenge in playing Veronica lay in being much more hysterical than I’d find myself on a regular day.

But Kate was right about one more thing – there were always details only a woman would notice, which was exactly why every previous encounter with her had left me doubting the believability of my lifelong act. Until now. After today, I could probably stop worrying about whether she believed in Susan. I wasn’t normally one to toot my own horn, but some situations made modesty pointless.

Kate had just given my fictional other half a pep talk combined with a gentle reproach about taking the lead when she wasn’t supposed to. I was getting good.

***

The guys had saved me a seat, as promised. In fact, the vacant chair of their four-seater seemed to be the only one left in the whole diner.

“Thanks a lot, guys.” I collapsed into the chair so dramatically that Carla burst into laughter. Pete tried to take over with a joke about my being too immersed in the part, but couldn’t get out more than a few words at a time, reducing the rest of the table to a similar chortling mess. I was probably laughing the loudest, appreciating the chance to let go of today’s stress, and only able to stop myself to make frantic gestures at a passing waiter.

“Seafood pasta?” asked Shawn. “I thought you promised Susan to finally get that burger.”

“It’s okay,” I answered in Susan’s voice. “It’s disgusting, sure, but I can do my best to ignore the taste while Pat eats. It’s easier than ignoring an empty stomach for the forty minutes it’d take to make a burger.”

“First she keeps you out the whole day while on set, and now she won’t even get you the food you like.” Lizzie gave me a wink. “If I were you, Sue, I’d complain about being mistreated.”

“Complain? And then what? Get counseling? ‘Oh, doctor, my other half mistreats me so!’ – What was that, Pat? Was that supposed to sound like me? – It did sound like you, sweetheart. ‘Oh, she won’t even get me a burger!’ – ‘And she sabotages me on set, I’m a brilliant actress and she is stifling my creative development!‘ – ‘That’s only because you’re jealous of my recognition!’ – ‘How DARE you?’” I pulled on the right side of my hair with my right hand, then smacked myself around the ear with my left.

“Stop it…” Carla moaned, wiping tears from her face. “I’ve had enough hysterics for today.”

“Yes, do stop, you’re killing us,” added Pete. “We’ve got better use for our pair of lungs than to choke on laughter. Although Carla always insists it’d be a way to go.”

“Sorry, PC.” I smoothed down my hair and sat up straight. “I’ll keep Susan in check now. Not that I would want to stick around for the seafood pasta, thank you very much.”

“Anyway, don’t call us PC, it sounds stupid. We’ve decided we’re going to be CP from now on.”

“So that’s Carla and Pete, then, not Pete and Carla?” Lizzie wondered.

“No, no, it’s Pete and Carla for the full name, because Pete wouldn’t let me be if his name didn’t come first. But neither of us likes PC for a nickname, so if you must use one, let it be CP.”

“You’re funny.” I chuckled.

“Well, it’s all good for you lot. You had parents who actually did a little bit of thinking before naming you. PS sounds fine, and Shawn and Lizzie can be SL, or LS, whichever they feel like, and as for Nancy and- Oh.” Carla paused mid-sentence, and Pete took over with an apologetic expression. “Sorry, Nancy. Carla lets our mouth run ahead of the brain far too often.”

“It’s okay,” Nancy spoke for the first time since I arrived. “If people insist on giving me a nickname, I just ask they call me double-N,” she added with a smile.

Some of the awkwardness over the table was dispelled by the timely appearance of food, and for a while, the main sound was that of cutlery and chewing. I watched Nancy in the corner of my eye. We never talked much, even though I had never once walked onto the set without being prepared for it by her capable hands. Every morning, I would sit in her chair with my eyes closed, while she worked her magic. Her brushes and sponges would flutter around my face, so quickly you’d think she had more than one pair of hands. Somehow, in the time it would take someone else to only do the face, she’d also style my hair, further reinforcing the illusion of either having extra hands or being truly magical. Always quick, always careful, and always quiet – a rare and precious quality in a makeup artist and hair stylist alike. The only two things she’d ever say to me were ‘you look beautiful today’ – every single time I’d sit down in her chair – and ‘you’ll be brilliant today’ – every single time I left it. These phrases, and the thanks I said in return, were about the extent of our conversations during the three months we had been on the set together, ever since I first sat down in front of her mirror, introduced myself as Patricia and Susan, and explained which one of us would be doing all of the acting.

“I’m Nancy,” she’d said then. It was always just Nancy, never Nancy and some other name. A week into filming, I got curious enough to ask Shawn and Lizzie about her. Innocently enough, I wondered what her other half was called. The answer was one I’d been desperately hoping for. There was no other half.

“She’s a singleton, then?” I asked in the most casual tone I could manage, while the inside of my head was screaming that she had to be, what else could she be, if she was only ever just Nancy, she had to be a loner just like me, and yet not locked up somewhere for being crazy, but accepted and given a job, the magical, beautiful Nancy, who was only ever just Nancy and never needed to be anyone else.

“No.” Lizzie dropped her voice. “She’s a suicide.”

A suicide. Brought back, but not in time to save both. I tried and failed to imagine what it was like, to be left alone inside one’s head, to lose someone who’d always been there. I knew what it was like to be alone, true, but I never had anyone to start with.

Ninety-eight percent of people with the Solitary Personality Disorder were diagnosed before they turned four. Perhaps I was that little bit brighter than other kids my age – just quick enough to realize there was something wrong with me, just quick enough to understand that when people looked at me, they weren’t only expecting to see Patricia. They also expected Susan. So I made sure they saw her. Susan, who was always the more timid one, yet often sarcastic when she did come out. Susan, who always tried to get out of the city and spend some time by a river, or by the sea if she could, and yet hated seafood with a passion. It was the quirks that made her real to others, and I always gave her just enough quirks. Susan, my other half that was just real enough to fool everyone else, but not quite real enough to actually keep me company. I never complained, though, not even in the privacy of my own head, more private than the majority of heads in the world. I’d read a lot about SPD treatment, and never tired of thanking providence for Susan and my own moment of insight that resulted in her.

It was widely believed that the Solitary Personality Disorder was real in name only, that there never was, there never could be only one person inside someone’s head. So the doctors did their best to suppress what they believed was the vastly more dominant half, to allow the other one, supposedly held back since an early age, to finally come out and shine. The suppression part of the treatment worked every time. The bit with the shining, not as much. Every now and again, though, there would be a miraculous recovery, and every time, I’d wonder if the poor soul managed to figure things out just in time to make an appropriate Susan.

Those who didn’t make miraculous recoveries were eventually left mostly alone, under some supervision that they invariably required, now that half of their head had been taken away from them, cleaned up, polished and waiting for its rightful owner, the other half, to show up. The other half never did. The other half never would. The other half never could. There was never any other half, there was only ever a whole, but the only one who could confirm it was yet another singleton, someone with SPD, and who would believe them?

Given how much better off I was in comparison to many, I never complained about my fate, only allowing myself an occasional moment of weakness when I felt lonely. Not anymore, though. Not since I found out about Nancy. Nancy, whose other half wanted to end both their lives and left her all alone in the end. Nancy the makeup artist, and Nancy the hair stylist, the magical, beautiful Nancy who tried so hard to live both for herself and for the lost half, so much that she would style herself ‘double-N’.

“Poor Susan.” Carla giggled all of a sudden. I looked down at my barely touched meal and realized how far behind I’d fallen compared to the rest of the guys, who were anywhere between halfway and nearly done with theirs. “She really doesn’t like seafood, does she.”

“Yeah, she can be a bit of a chore.” I chuckled and shoved my thoughts out of the way while I concentrated on the food.

“So… any of you guys going to the Imogene and Bartholomew show? Shawn’s taking me.”

“Is that the one next week?” Nancy tilted her head, trying to read the date on the ticket being waved in the air by a proud Lizzie, before having the ticket handed to her after her effort was noticed. “You lucky thing, Liz. I’ve wanted to see them for ages, but the show sold out before I even got my hands on my credit card. I’ll just have to wait till they’re in town again, I guess. They have the most amazing voice, these two.”

“And very inconsiderate parents. I know I’ve been complaining about our names, but Pete and Carla simply pales in comparison. Who on earth would name their baby Imogene and, oh my goodness, Bartholomew?” Carla enunciated the names with an expression of horror. “I mean, it’s all good for the stage, but in everyday life…”

“In everyday life, they’re Tom and Gina,” Nancy commented all of a sudden. “Actually, growing up, they’ve been mostly Tom. Gina was always so quiet their parents would sometimes doubt if she was there at all. Come to think of it, had their birth scan shown a single-gender mind, they’d probably suspect SPD.”

“Oh dear. Poor little thing…” Carla frowned. “But they didn’t diagnose him – well, them, you get me – did they?”

“No, no, they’d clearly scanned as boy and girl on birth. Plus they’re bio-female – which doesn’t prove anything as such, of course, there’s always some complete outgenders, but an outgender SPD, that would be such a statistical improbability. I mean, can you imagine?”

I could just begin to, and couldn’t help but add another item to my mental list of blessings. At least I was a solitary female mind sharing a female body with an imaginary half. Complete mismatch of sex and gender was hardly unheard of, but generally less common. The majority was dominated by single-genders like the one Nancy was born as and I was pretending to be, and half-and-half pairs, like Pete and Carla or Lizzie and Shawn. I had no idea what it would be like to share my mind and body with someone of the opposite gender – imagining one of my own was enough work already – but based on what I’ve seen, those who grew up that way managed just fine. The bio-female Lizzie and Shawn never seemed to have any trouble, and neither did the bio-male Pete and Carla, save for the occasional squabble about the order of names, since there was no rule about it, only tradition that the first name would be of the half whose gender coincided with the pair’s sex. And, as befits any tradition, it was a point of constant argument. Which made me realize something about the performer being discussed at the table.

“Hang on, so they’re Tom and Gina at home, but Imogene and Bartholomew on stage? I’m guessing little Gina made a bit of a return?”

“Oh, did she! They’ve got quite a story.” Nancy smiled excitedly, her eyes shining, and – was she actually blushing a bit now that she was the center of attention? “As I said, it would always be mostly Tom. The parents were worried for a bit, but Gina was clearly there every time anyone checked, and Tom didn’t seem to actually try to suppress her, so they let go of it, over time, figuring that once she wants to come out more, she will. And if she doesn’t, well, she can do whatever makes her happy. So they grew up a bit of a tomboy – sorry, pun unintended. And then, sometime around age fourteen, they were in a music class… They’d done them before, of course, but Tom didn’t want to sing because, and I quote, ‘his voice sounded all girly’.” Nancy broke into giggles. “So, yes, it was always music and instruments, but never, ever, any singing. And then, like I said, they were fourteen, and maybe they showed up for class earlier, or maybe the previous one was delayed, long story short – they walked in on a female choir practicing. So they sat in the back, quiet and all, and the choir’s singing, and all of a sudden, there’s this gorgeous soprano, and the director turns to see who it is and…”

“No way!”

“Yes!” Nancy beamed at the astounded Lizzie with so much happy pride that one could think it was she who sang in that class. “Little Gina made herself heard alright, and since then, Tom didn’t have much choice whether to sing or not. To be fair, he has a very good tenor voice, for all his complaints. ‘Girly’, huh. Well, pardon me if you don’t have the simple physical means to sing bass, mister.” She giggled with the kind of fondness people tended to reserve for good friends whom they both love and enjoy poking good-natured fun at. “Anyway. That’s their story. I’ve heard them on record so many times, but seeing them live, that would be…” Nancy let out a dreamy sigh.

“Wow, you’re a fan, aren’t you,” Pete commented after a pause.

“What gave me away?” Nancy laughed, joined by the rest of the table.

The rest of the lunch, or dinner, or whatever they call the meal that happens when it isn’t very late in the day, but all parties involved have already done a hard day’s work and intend to do absolutely nothing constructive until the following morning, went on peacefully enough. The conversation returned to being dominated by SL and the newly-christened CP, with an occasional contribution from me and a distinct lack of input from Susan, which was only to be expected, given her hatred of seafood. Nancy spoke barely more than my fictional other half, having fallen back into her usual role of the listener now that the subject of Imogene and Bartholomew had been covered exhaustively. As we paid up and got ready to go, I followed Shawn and Lizzie to the coat rack.

“Say, guys… Where did you get your ticket? Did you pre-order or something?”

“No, it’s normally first come, first serve.” Shawn replied. “We just happen to know a guy who always keeps a ticket to every new show for us, in case we’re interested.”

“Oh. Okay.” I struggled with myself for a moment and decided that it was worth the trouble. “Could you ask him if he’s got any more left?”

“What, Nancy got you all intrigued? Sure, I’ll ask if he’s got another spare one, no problem.”

“Actually… Uh. It’d be great if he has two. Two tickets, I mean. But if not, one’s cool too, totally.”

“Oh, I see now,” Lizzie joined in. “You and Nancy, huh.”

“What?” I stared at Lizzie’s grin, which might’ve also been Shawn’s. Unlike Derek and Kate, these two shared expressions freely. “No, it’s – I just – She really likes the, the act, and I figured I’d – ”

“Chill.” I didn’t know whose idea it was to pat me on the shoulder, and right now couldn’t be bothered to figure it out. “We’ll keep it quiet for now if you like.”

“You don’t need to keep it quiet. There’s no ‘it’ to keep quiet, it’s… I mean… She’s… She’s just nice, that’s all.”

“Of course she’s nice! She’s Nancy. Anyway, tell you what, Pat. We’re going to call the ticket guy, and if he doesn’t have any more left, you can have ours.”

“What? No, I couldn’t…”

“Oh, please. We were thinking of giving it to Nancy anyway, she’s clearly obsessed with I&B. This way, you can give it to her. It’ll be perfect.”

“Guys, I…” I looked down, trying to fish a reasonable answer from the sudden mess that was my head.

“Just say ‘thank you’.”

“Thank you,” I said obediently. It really was the best way. “Really. Thanks a lot.”

“No problem. And hey, just a word of advice?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t let Susan give her – or you, for that matter – a hard time. You hear that, Susan? Nancy’s a good kid, all of you can get along nicely.”

“Why does everyone always assume I’m the problem?” I replied in Susan’s voice, then rolled my eyes before adding in my own, “I think we’ll be okay. Thanks again.”

Shawn and Lizzie walked off, after one last wink in my direction. I walked to the nearest table and ordered a coffee, feeling far too confused to try and make my way home right now.

All I’d wanted to do was do something nice for Nancy, who had always been nothing but lovely towards me. Had I done more harm than good, though? A wrong idea had been planted in Shawn’s and Lizzie’s head, and there couldn’t be any doubt what kind of idea it was. For all their promises to ‘keep it quiet’, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of the set to know, and –

And what? surfaced a suddenly defiant thought. I was already known as an up-and-coming actress with a quiet, yet occasionally foul-tempered other half. In the eyes of others, my praiseworthy talent at playing mentally unstable people certainly made up for a few eccentricities of my own, and my reputation, such as it was, could afford just about anything. I didn’t even care if I was believed slightly crazy, provided it was anything but the kind of crazy I actually was. Given that, why give a damn about off-base rumors of a workplace romance?

I finished the coffee and got back to my feet, my mind made up. I’d get that ticket off Shawn and present it to Nancy, and hopefully, we’d be friends. Proper friends, not the kind that only meet at work and briefly hang out after hours, but the kind that can meet on days off, catch a movie together or, indeed, go to a concert. That is, of course, if she’d like to be friends with me. But I couldn’t imagine her saying no, not her, not the magical, beautiful –

“Hi.”

“Nancy?”

It was Nancy indeed, standing some way away from the café door, alone. Was she waiting for me? Why on earth?

“I just wanted to talk to you. Well, ask you something. I was wondering where you’d disappeared.”

“Oh, I just needed a coffee. Head feeling a bit… weird. Long day.”

“If you’d rather I left you alone now, it can always wait till some – ”

“No, no, it’s – It’s all good. I’m all good now. Walk and talk?”

“Sure.” Nancy smiled. I managed a small smile in return, despite the warning bell ringing loudly at the back of my head. Did she think I was talking to Shawn about her? Did she see through my silly friend-making plan? Did she… Oh, and what did it matter if she did? I shut off the panicked alarm. I wanted to be her friend, and the first thing a friend could do was being honest. She wanted to ask me something, and I’d give her an honest answer.

Whatever the question was, it was taking Nancy some time to ask it. We walked for a few minutes without exchanging a word, but in our history, silence had always been a usual and comfortable state of affairs. Finally, I heard an intake of breath that meant a question was about to come.

“Pat… Patricia. You’re a singleton, aren’t you.”

I was not prepared for this. As strange as it may sound, I was not. For years, my lifelong act had been second nature, and while I could worry whether someone may be suspecting something – how could I not? – the worst I anticipated was some vague doubts. I imagined any question asked of me would be careful, holding minimum implications, phrased in a way that would not offend if it turned out to be off-base – as the speaker would expect. Such questions were easy enough to turn into joke, steer away or even ignore entirely, pretending it passed completely over my head. Nancy’s words weren’t even a question. It was a calm statement with a definite lack of question at the end.

In a way, I realized, it made things a little easier. My answer was hardly relevant now, although my few-seconds-long silence must’ve spoken volumes already.

“It doesn’t really matter how I answer, does it? That’s what you think. Your mind’s made up, how can I change it?”

“Well. You could start shouting at me, or give me a horrified look, call me crazy, demand to know who I think I am to dare insult you so, say it was no wonder I tried to off myself, since I’m clearly mad… Let’s see, what else…” Nancy looked up with a thoughtful smile for a moment before returning her eyes to my face. “I think that about covers it.”

I was pretty sure my face at the moment resembled the ‘horrified look’ option, one caused not by Nancy’s question, but rather, her rather calm litany of likely reactions. None of them could be figments of her imagination. Right this moment, I’d bet my life that she had observed each and every one of them at some point.

” I’m not going to do that. Any of that,” I whispered.

“Thank you. That’s really all I needed.”

I stared at Nancy’s face, fighting for words. Something more had to be said, lest we walk separate ways now, and three days later, I would show up on set and we’d both act like this never happened.

“I’m sorry, Nancy. I’m so sorry,” I blurted.

“For what?”

“For all those… For all the others. We’re not all like that. At least, I hope we’re not.”

“I know.”

The good thing about talking on the go was that you didn’t always have to look each other in the face. When awkwardness was inevitable, it helped make it just a little less awkward.

A question was knocking on the inside of my head, a humiliating, panicked, unnecessary question. You won’t tell anyone, will you? You won’t tell, will you? Please promise me you won’t tell.

It could keep knocking for the rest of eternity. I wasn’t going to ask it. It didn’t matter that I had just about confessed to my being a singleton. She’d known for a long time. Somehow, she’d known. I wasn’t going to ask if she’d tell on me, but maybe I could ask her…

“Can I ask how…”

“How I could tell?”

“Yes.”

We walked another twenty steps before she spoke.

“I was fourteen when I tried to kill myself. My parents were watching me closely by then, so it wasn’t very easy to even try, but I did my best. You know, I think that if I’d been the only child, they would’ve figured me out soon enough. But with two other kids, and when I say ‘two’, I really mean ‘four’, there wasn’t that much time for me. So I never asked why sometimes they’d call me Nancy, and sometimes Judy. If that was some fancy my parents had, then why not? I can’t even say I was smart enough to figure it out – I just didn’t mind. But then I got older, and I didn’t want that anymore, and I started protesting, demanding that they stop calling me Judy, and there was a lot of shouting. I tried running away, and they brought me back, and there’d be different people trying to talk to me, and they all wanted just one thing. They wanted me to agree that I had a problem. But I didn’t have one, I just wanted people to stop calling me Judy, because I wasn’t Judy, but why was not being Judy a problem? So… yeah. I couldn’t be Judy, and no one seemed to want Nancy around, either, so I figured…”

More than ever before, I was very grateful that we were still walking. There was no power in the world that would make me look Nancy in the face right then.

“And then I woke up, and people were asking me if I knew what my name was, and I said it was Nancy, and they asked if there was any other name, and I said no. Then I had counseling, lots of it, and I found that everyone wanted me to say how sorry I was for killing Judy, how now I finally realized how much she meant to me, how lonely I was without her. I said all that, again and again, and then people started being nicer to me. Feeling sorry for me, too. Saying how it was going to be difficult from now on, on my own, but I’d handle it, they were sure I would. They had no idea how right they were.”

Nancy suddenly stopped and turned to me, her face lit up by a glow that was almost manic in its intensity.

“Everyone was feeling sorry for me, but I was happier than I’d ever been before. There was just me, and no one was expecting anyone else, and I could do… whatever I wanted. Be whatever, whoever I wanted. I was told I could leave my parents’ house when I turned sixteen, and I ticked days off on my calendar. They weren’t very sad to see me go, either. They still blamed me for Judy, but… Honestly? I was so happy at the time I couldn’t even feel guilty. I’d broken people’s hearts and, in everyone’s eyes, committed what was practically murder, and I didn’t care one bit what anyone else thought of me. I was simply happy. Happy that my life was mine, and no one else’s.” She looked down for a moment, breaking eye contact for the first time, then looked up again, this time with the mild smile I had come to know so well. “Do you think I’m horrible?”

I stood there looking at that smile, and knew that she wouldn’t care if I judged her. That no matter what answer I gave, the light that shone in her eyes wouldn’t fade. It was just as well I’d decided I was going to be honest, back in the other life I was living before this conversation began. I looked down to find Nancy’s hand and held it in mine, and looked up again, and waited for her to look away from our hands, to be absolutely sure I saw her eyes.

“I think you’re beautiful.”

She smiled again. She had so many different smiles, the magical, beautiful Nancy, and yet I was sure I had never seen this particular one before. Not on the set, not among friends, not talking about her favorite artist. No, this was new. This smile was mine. Mine, and no one else’s.


.

About the Author

Maria Stanislav is a fugitive from the finance industry whose main ambition in life is to keep running. She has been inventing stories since before she can remember and using a typewriter since before she learned how to hold a pen. Her work has been featured in and accepted by such publications as Indigo Rising Magazine, The Fringe Magazine, Nil Desperandum, and Haunted Waters Press. Her other two passions in life are music and coffee, reflected in her blog, The Coffee Clef.