I walked into the Little Havana café. Josh’s radiant smile told me this wasn’t about Time Leapers: The Complete Series. I smiled too, elated by the sight of his gawky handsome face.
“Here it is!” I placed the DVD box set on the table. Josh had lent it to me a year ago, while we were both at Warren University. He mentioned liking it. I expressed my curiosity about it. Before I knew it, he was leading me to his house, offering to let me borrow the DVDs for the summer. If I were able to change the past like the protagonists of Time Leapers, I wouldn’t have hurried away after a quick “thanks.”
“It was good,” I said. I had seen every episode. After receiving Josh’s email sent to my Warren account, I rewatched several to refresh my memory. “That was nice of you,” I added. He kept smiling and staring at me, not once glancing at the DVDs.
“Hungry?” he asked. A leftover onion slice and a glob of dressing sat on his already finished plate.
“No,” I said. I immediately regretted it. I always automatically turned down food. An eating disorder was one consequence of what Hector, my stepfather, did to me as a child. Thanks to him, I had a whole collection of disorders. Unfortunately, I wanted nothing more in the world than to sit here with Josh for as long as possible. “But I’m thirsty,” I said.
I ordered a Diet Coke from the woman behind the counter and tried to think of something to talk about. I planned on discussing Time Leapers until Josh showed no interest in it. TV was how he first got me to speak when I was a freshman and he was a grad student. As a young man, I withdrew into myself. Starting college, my social skills were almost nonexistent.
I wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.
I hardly spoke.
Josh befriended me. He divulged he used to be as shy as I was, said he overcame it when he realized how dumb everyone was. There was no reason to be intimidated by them. He said them in a way that emphasized they were not the same as us.
At first I resented his efforts to help me. I fumbled with words and felt pathetic. Luckily, he figured out how to be put me at ease. He mentioned Crown of Dragons. He correctly guessed that I was obsessed with it. My shyness evaporated as we debated who would ultimately rule the kingdom.
I returned with my Diet Coke. It struck me I should talk about real life. That the answer wasn’t immediately obvious was a remnant of my former social incompetence.
“What’ve you been up to?” I asked. His email had been brief:
In Miami ‘til Sunday. Remembered you lived there. I never got Time Leapers back. Want
to meet up?”
There was nothing about why he dropped out of Warren before completing his doctorate.
I’m working in San Fran at Mojo, a software developer. I interned there for the summer.
They offered me a job and I took it. I was sick of Warren. I’d been there for seven years.
The charm of a rich kid hipster haven had worn off.”
I wanted to shout, “What about me?” Of course, it was my own fault for not being his reason to stay. At first, I was closeted. Although socially clueless, I was boyishly handsome, and girls sometimes pursued me aggressively. One day, a dormmate asked me out on a date. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but knew deceiving her was worse. “I’m gay,” I said tearfully, as if I were afflicted with a fatal disease.
She said “okay” and shrugged.
Once I realized that being gay wasn’t a big deal, I grew more confident. Speaking to others and meeting their gaze became easier. Still, I wasn’t attracted to Josh, whom I hardly even considered a friend.
He owed me nothing, I told myself now. Yet, my heart felt otherwise.
“It was spur of the moment.” He must have seen the hurt on my face.
“You don’t feel like you wasted three years, dropping out before you got your doctorate?” I asked. It came out harsher than I intended.
“I feel like I wasted three years instead of four.” He stiffened defensively. “And what’ve you been doing?”
“Working. Saving money. I start film school at Manhattan U in September,” I said.
“Going into the film industry? That takes courage, unless you’re a long-lost Coppola.” He scoffed.
“Nah, my only family connections are in the maintenance industry,” I said.
He laughed, breaking the tension.
“We’ll be paying off loans ‘til we’re dead, won’t we?” He sighed.
We chuckled. While we both clearly harbored pent-up resentment, we had to let go of the past. Our pasts were certainly worth forgetting.
In May of my junior year, it finally dawned on me why Josh was so fixated on me. I gazed outside my dorm window. By chance, I noticed him crossing the field. He stood alone. I realized there wasn’t one time I didn’t see him alone. His posture was bent like an old man’s, as if he had endured a lifetime’s worth of suffering. The heat was sweltering.
Nonetheless, he wore jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. It suddenly registered how deeply he was scarred. Only one thing could have caused it. What else would make him need to cover the skin on his arms and legs? What else would make him so afraid to be touched?
By then, I understood that I would never recover completely. I would always be ill at ease around others. I would have issues with food. I would cringe when an image, sound, or smell stirred a horrible childhood memory. I would never be like them, and Josh seemed like the only person I could relate to. Almost as soon as I had this epiphany, that I loved Josh, he was gone. If only I told him, instead of prattling on about how good Time Leapers was supposed to be.
Today in Miami it was close to a hundred degrees, and neither one of us wore short sleeves or shorts. The past mattered and it didn’t, because who else would love someone so damaged?
“How was Warren that last year? Snobby as ever? Even the name’s basically slang for ‘rich kid,’” he said.
“Okay, I guess,” I said untruthfully. It was almost unbearable. The hope that I would see him again was all that kept me going. “Everyone there was pretty nice.”
“It’s called ‘patronizing,’” he said.
He was right. Both professors and classmates would speak to me slowly, as if unsure of my proficiency in English. My shyness didn’t help.
“You weren’t patronizing,” I said.
To the contrary, he expected behavior that seemed beyond me. As soon as I mastered “nice to meet you,” he was bringing up the weather, asking about my classes.
“Only to stuck-up brats, but they didn’t talk to me anyway. They thought I was a weirdo,” he said.
“I never thought that,” I said.
“You’re one too.” He smirked.
“Thanks.” I wasn’t offended. I was flattered. Calling us “weirdos” was the same as saying unlike them; I didn’t want to be like them anyway. I was perfectly content being like Josh.
“See what I mean?” he laughed. “Ahhh!” he yelped. He jumped in his seat, accidentally banging our knees. It was his cell phone ringing in his pocket. Like me, he had an exaggerated startle response. The term was “hypervigilance,” a symptom of PTSD.
He glanced down at his phone. It displayed a photo of a woman, “Rachel.”
If it were a man, I would have been jealous. I assumed it was his sister. They both had black, wavy hair. He muted his phone, ignoring her call.
Beneath the table, our legs touched. His left knee grazed my knee. His right calf leaned against my calf. Neither he nor I moved. Warmth emanated from the contact between us, spreading through me. It astounded me how good it felt. I couldn’t recall the last time a touch didn’t unsettle me, but his face was contorted with sorrow.
In me, he seemed to see his own pitiful past. I sensed how badly he longed to heal me. Love could heal us both; I was sure of it, just from the feel of his legs against mine, stirring me in ways nothing ever had before.
I jumped as someone tapped the window behind me.
It was the girl, Rachel.
Josh sat up, pulling his legs away. With one hand she held a cigarette, with the other she waved him outside.
“I have to go,” he said. He looked perturbed. I was flustered, too, by all the emotion that touch had evoked. “It was great seeing you,” he said, gazing at me tenderly. He stood and headed out.
“What about Time Leapers?” I grabbed it from the table and held it out to him.
“Keep it.” He held up his hand. “It’s on Netflix anyway.”
Before I could say “thanks,” he was out the door. I gazed out the window behind me at him and Rachel waiting for the light. They weren’t siblings, I decided. She was too short. Their facial features weren’t similar. His sister, if he had one, must have looked like the actress Daphne Shields.
Daphne Shields had Josh’s same smile. Like Josh, her sunken cheeks became suddenly full, her eyes dipped down bashfully, then raised disarmingly. Both Daphne Shields and Josh were frightfully thin. They shared the same pasty complexion, blue in certain lights. Each had huge, melancholy eyes, though Daphne Shields’s were dark brown and Josh’s were hazel.
It occurred to me that Daphne Shields was hurt in the same way as Josh and I. Her skittish demeanor helped make her a horror film icon. Few actresses conveyed fear as convincingly.
When not a scream queen she often played a grieving widow or the mother of a sick child. There was a sorrowful air about her. Still, she had great comedic chops. One of her most memorable roles was as a stand-up comic with cerebral palsy, using humor to mask her pain.
Daphne Shields was like us: it was an intriguing thought, not that it had any bearing on my life. No one even knew where she was. She vanished from the public eye a decade ago.
As Josh continued up the avenue, I lost sight of him. I reassured myself that our separation was temporary. We both knew how the other felt. All we needed now was to find a way to be together. Until then, I would have to make do with Time Leapers, my keepsake to remind me that Josh loved me.
Later, I realized I didn’t have Josh’s cell phone number. I didn’t own a cell phone and he didn’t have my home number. Nevertheless, I wasn’t worried. We could reach each other by email.
Since he was older, it felt natural that he should take the lead. I resolved to wait patiently for his message.
New York was exactly what I had been primed to expect from movies and TV: imposing skyscrapers, crowded streets, a multitude of ethnicities and cultures. Although the city had fascinated many a filmmaker, I rarely ventured beyond Tribeca, where Manhattan University was located. Without Josh, everywhere I went ─ no matter how impressive, felt desolate. Classes kept me busy. I studied film theory, learned the basics of cinematography, editing and production design. For Screenwriting 101, a complete spec script was due by the end of the term. Still, nothing took my mind off Josh, or the fact that he hadn’t written.
I checked my Warren email account daily. Other than the occasional junk mail, there was nothing. I tried to rationalize it. Josh wanted me to settle in first, or he didn’t want to seem desperate. Thanksgiving finally forced my hand. Surely, he thought about us reuniting.
After an hour in front of my computer, agonizing over each word, I sent him a “casual” email:
Hi Josh, what’re you up to?
Thanksgiving’s coming up. I got the whole week off! Hope to see you soon. Thanks
again for Time Leapers!
Days passed. He didn’t write back. I moved onto plan B. Thealternative, life without Josh, was too bleak to consider. By Googling his name and “Mojo,” I found his work number. My heart pounded and my stomach swirled with butterflies as I called him in the afternoon, morning in California.
“Hello?” he answered.
“H-hi, it’s, it’s Pablo,” I stuttered.
He didn’t say anything.
“From Warren,” I added.
“Hi. Hello. Yes, Pablo.” He sounded flustered. It heartened me. Seemingly, he was nervous for the same reason I was, because he was in love.
“I, um, thank you again for the DVDs.” It was all I could think of to say. I didn’t want to bring up my unanswered email. I didn’t want him to think I was angry.
“We didn’t have room in our luggage. My girlfriend went a little crazy shopping.” His tone changed. He sounded cool, calculating. It took a moment to register what he said. Rachel wasn’t his friend, the “Grace” to his “Will.” She was his girlfriend. He was straight. At least that was what he was saying.
“Oh,” I said.
I heard him take a deep breath, perhaps in trepidation, fearing I would lash out. Still, he didn’t hang up. I reflected on our time at Warren. Josh had reached out to me incessantly, not relenting until I spoke to him. As my social skills improved, he encouraged me.
But why was he so determined to mentor me?
Why email me out of the blue after a year?
He wasn’t spurred by desire, as I had believed, but by compassion. I wasn’t his unrequited love. I was his pet project.
What about our legs? I thought. If he didn’t yearn for my touch, why let his leg linger there? Why did it feel so wondrous?
I had sensed what he wanted, what we both wanted, under that table. I knew what I saw in his eyes, not only in the café, but always: love.
“That’s nice. I mean, for her, glad she found so much stuff. Thanks anyway,” I said.
He took heavy, rapid breaths.
“You’re welcome,” he finally croaked. “Is that it? I mean, is there something else?” Confusion and distress clung to the line.
“That’s it.” For both our sakes, I hung up. I stared at the phone on my desk. Despite myself, I ached for it to ring, and to hear Josh’s voice. Of course, there was only silence. He made it perfectly clear that he wanted nothing to do with me.
I had always thought of Josh as so far ahead of me. He was once as shy as I was and he overcame it, but terms of facing his sexuality he trailed behind. Not only was he a coward, he was a hypocrite. He told me not to care what others thought, because they were all idiots. Obviously, he cared more about what they thought than he did about me.
I grabbed Time Leapers from its spot on my shelf.I hurled it against the wall, smashing the case, causing shattered discs to fall out. I threw myself on my bed. I screamed into my pillow. I cried.
I cut my tantrum short upon noticing the time. Screenwriting was in ten minutes. Fending off my despair, I got up, slung my backpack over my shoulder and left.
Today’s lesson was on dialogue. Conversation had once seemed so daunting. I finally got the hang of it, but to what end?
I was still friendless, unloved and alone. It seemed all too apparent that I was irrevocably broken. I spent the class ruing having ever met Josh, having ever been filled with the false hope for a life that wasn’t a tragedy.
Professor Ansel stopped early to hand back the class’s scripts. The first half of the script had been due last week; the second half was due at the end of the term. Before this afternoon, I was eager for his feedback. Professor Ansel was an Oscar nominated screenwriter. He had worked in Hollywood since before I was born. Now, just the thought of my script made me cringe.
Inappropriate Touch was the thinly veiled story of Josh and I. I was Victor, an undergrad student; Josh was Daphne, an adjunct film professor. Writing it, I had envisioned Daphne played by a young Daphne Shields, thus the name. The star-crossed protagonists were supposed to run off to New York to embark on a new life together. Daphne’s spineless betrayal of Victor wasn’t the ending I had been building towards.
“Can you stay behind for a minute?” Professor Ansel asked as I retrieved my script.
I glanced down at the script. There was no grade. While the class filtered out, I sat up front in an empty seat.
Professor Ansel organized the papers on his desk. Once we were alone, he raised his gaze. He had a wry look, as if he knew I knew exactly what I had done.
“I like the part where Daphne films Victor,” he spoke slowly, seemingly under the impression that English was my second language.
“She doesn’t. He won’t let her.” I could tell he was testing me. He must have suspected I plagiarized the script.
“That’s right. The flashbacks to his childhood were quite powerful. Who abused him again, his uncle?” Grinning smugly, he seemed not to consider the possibility that I was the author.
“His stepfather,” I said.
“It was her stepfather too, wasn’t it?” he asked.
“It’s not stated. He just knows it was somebody. She shows all the signs,” I said wistfully.
He waved me closer with his hand.
As I approached his desk, he looked up and down my body in a way that made me shudder.
“You always hide in the back, but don’t think I haven’t noticed you.” Still leering, he grabbed his red marker. He scribbled an “A.” He winked, as if he and I were sharing a dirty secret. I took back my script.
Walking away, I felt his eyes watching me.
“Acting is more lucrative than screenwriting, you know. A handsome face can go far with the right connections,” he said. “Lucrative means pays more.” He seemed to think I needed that clarification.
As it registered what he was proposing, anguish overtook me. It was the opposite of the tender intimacy I had imagined sharing with Josh. Apparently, though, Josh was only ever a fantasy.
I made it to the door before I stopped. Perhaps I had suffered one humiliation too many today, to be accused of plagiary, to be propositioned like a prostitute, to learn the one I loved refused to love me back.
“It’s my story,” I muttered.
“Excuse me?” he said. I turned to face him.
“I said it’s my story. I wrote it!” I usually held everything in until I was alone. Now I felt my self-control slipping like a façade unable to contain an explosion.
“I reviewed your undergraduate transcript. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for affirmative action, but I doubt you’re capable of…” His voice trailed off.
With all I was dealing with at Warren, my grades were uneven. Nevertheless, I was positive it was the “Pablo Rodriguez” in the byline, not my transcript, which convinced him it was plagiarized.
“It’s my story. I lived it. I was sexually abused. My voice was stolen from me. Everyone else knew what to say. It was automatic for them. The words wouldn’t come to me. My brain couldn’t find them. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.” I groaned despondently.
“Perhaps you should see the campus therapist. Why don’t you go make an appointment right now?” he suggested mockingly.
I ignored him. I thought of something that made me smile.
“It wasn’t complete hell. I had movies and TV.” When I reflected back on my childhood, mercifully, what I remembered most was what I had watched on a movie or TV screen, my consciousness escaping into the lives of fictional others.
“Saved by Saved by the Bell.” He ridiculed me again. He thought I was too crazy to realize it.
“No one cares! No one wants to hear it! I make them uncomfortable!” I snapped.
“Wonder how that could be.” He sniffed.
“You wanted to screw me.” I sneered. With my self-control gone, I spouted whatever came to me.
His mouth dropped open. He looked horrified, no doubt less by the accusation than by whom I might repeat it to.
“I’ve never been with anyone, not since…” my voice cracked. “I was in love with this guy, the real, Daphne. He says he’s straight.”
“It happens,” he said sympathetically. Bringing up his sexual advances had caused a change in his demeanor.
“He was the only thing that kept me going. I don’t want to live if we can’t be together. I wish I died as a child. It would’ve been more humane,” I said bitterly.
His brow furrowed. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, and I’m sorry for all you’ve suffered.” Compassion flowed from his eyes. Clearly, he had picked up a few acting pointers during his time in Hollywood.
“It’s my story,” I declared once more. It was my own wretched life I had put into that script. I at least deserved the credit for having lived it. Before I left, I crumpled the script in my hands and tossed it in the trash. It felt briefly cathartic, as if it were my life I had casually disposed of.
Upon returning to my dorm, I resumed where I had left off, crying, screaming and throwing things around. Eventually, my roommate, Greg, arrived.
“Whoa, it’s a mess in here,” Greg said. Despite the marijuana odor continually wafting from him and his belongings, I was lucky to have him as a roommate. He spent most of his time at his girlfriend’s, and allowed me liberal use of his fifty-inch TV.
“I was looking for something,” I said.
“All right,” he chuckled, incurious as usual. He only stopped by for a roach. He took off as soon as he set down his pliers, but in the interim I regained my composure.
Still, if my anger seemed pointless, so did life without Josh. I curled up under my blanket. I felt as if I could lie there forever. My carrot on a stick was gone.
I received a call on my campus phone. I let it go to voicemail. I couldn’t refrain from checking it longer than a minute.
Even after everything, I hoped it was Josh calling to see how I was.
It was Professor Thorne, head of the film department. She wished to see me in her office to discuss my “threatening outburst.” I had to admire Professor Ansel’s cunning. He had gone on the offensive, painting me as violent and unstable, thereby discrediting any accusations I might make.
Roused from my bed, I stumbled over to Greg’s television. It was instinctive. TV provided solace during the most abysmal times. I flipped through the channels, landing on a rerun of Lost Island. I was a huge fan of the series. It gave me comfort to spend time with the familiar characters. Not even the commercials bothered me. I enjoyed placing the actors’ faces, figuring out how I knew them.
Suddenly, a face I recognized chilled me.
It was Daphne Shields. Those were her eyes, large, dark, beautiful. That was her long, thin nose, which added drama to her every facial expression. Those were her small, but shapely lips, her oversized teeth poking through them like a rabbit’s. The rest of her was monstrous. A double chin subsumed her neck. Swollen purple bags drooped under her eyes. Her gray hair was stringy and unkempt. Her blotchy, rubbery skin resembled a latex mask. She had been transformed into a Halloween witch.
“They’re out to murder me, like they did the president. The one they got there in the White House is a decoy. I did this film in ’96, The Ballot. That’s what put me on their radar,” Daphne stated matter-of-factly. Suddenly, she gripped the arms of her chair. “They think I can’t tell they’re poisoning me!” she seethed.
“Watch Doc Murray’s heartbreaking interview with actress Daphne Shields as she emerges from years of seclusion,” a voice directed over the ominous notes of a keyboard.
“Do you ever think about returning to acting?” Doc Murray asked.
She leaned back, letting out a wistful sigh. “All the time.”
“Why don’t you?” His faint smile held a hint of mockery.
She grimaced. “The faeries appear to me, chirping I can make your dreams come true. You’ll be a star again! But underworld goblins devour them. I did nothing wrong. Still, they follow me: shadows. I trapped one in my cupboard this morning.”
She clapped her hands together forcefully, demonstrating the action. As Doc Murray flinched back, she laughed maniacally.
“The world is wondering, what have you been up to? Your last onscreen appearance was eleven years ago.” Doc Murray assumed an interested face, as if he couldn’t guess the answer from one look at her.
“Nothing, I’m completely alone. You think anyone wants to see this?” She opened her arms wide, displaying her obese frame. “I should’ve died! I should’ve died thin and pretty!”
“Will Doc Murray get Daphne the help she desperately needs?” a voice pondered.
“Why don’t you [bleep] off! You think I don’t know who you really work for!” Daphne raged at the camera, standing outside a parked car. “You work for them!” she howled.
The screen cut tantalizingly to a still of Doc Murray’s face.
“Find out tonight on a special Doc Murray, nine o’clock eastern standard time, eight o’clock central.”
I felt nauseous.
What had become of the beautiful, talented Daphne Shields? How had she turned into this madwoman?
It made me fearful for Josh. Being closeted had to put a strain on his sanity. Even if I was angry at him, I couldn’t bear the thought of him sharing Daphne Shields’s fate. I was susceptible to that too. We were all survivors, facing similar struggles, carrying similar scars.
Compelled by a need to understand how this happened, I watched the full hour of Doc Murray. Daphne Shields couldn’t provide any answers. She seemed vaguely aware that she wasn’t well. On several instances, she begged for help, though when she tried to articulate from what, all that came from her mouth was gibberish.
Doc Murray failed to shed any light on Daphne’s state. His sole aim was to titillate the viewer. He brought up her costars, her famous former lovers. He encouraged her to elaborate on her more bizarre beliefs.
I could only conclude that something or someone led her to forsake the world, retreat into isolation, where her sanity steadily deteriorated. Perhaps a lover hurt her. She had several well-publicized, tumultuous relationships. Perhaps she grew embittered as her career floundered. By her mid-thirties, she was consigned to “mom” roles in forgettable fluff. Perhaps she was degraded by too many Hollywood creeps.
Having encountered one myself, I could certainly empathize.
For days, I couldn’t shake the horror of that interview. It was what convinced me to stop by Professor Thorne’s office before class. Daphne Shields showed me that running away would only make my problems worse.
Per Professor Ansel’s version of events, the crumpled screenplay I had dropped in the waste bin had been hurled square at his head. Forced to appease the acclaimed screenwriter, Professor Thorne stated I would no longer be allowed in the class.
“However, I did personally run a search using our plagiarism checking software,” she said. Reaching into her desk, she pulled out the alleged assault weapon, flattened back into its former shape.
“I’m satisfied this work is yours.” She handed me back the script. “It shows promise,” she remarked, giving me an impressed nod.
“You’ll be reimbursed the course cost. Your GPA won’t be affected. I suggest you take an extra class next term to complete your MFA requirement on time,” she said.
I stood up to leave.
“Professor Ansel will be on sabbatical next term. I encourage you to take the class then,” she said.
“Thanks.” Even if I had been unjustly ousted from Professor Ansel’s class, I walked out of Professor Thorne’s office relieved, and gratified that she recognized my talent.
While I didn’t get the Thanksgiving break I had hoped for, I got out of returning to Miami, where there were too many reminders of the past. I persuaded my mother it was a waste of money; after all, I had that student loan debt hanging over my head. During my week without classes, I avoided Greg’s TV. There was danger in retreating too far from reality. I spent hours each day roaming the city, down to Battery Park, up along the Hudson River piers, making stops at several Chelsea galleries, through Central Park, all the way up to Grant’s Tomb. In Hell’s Kitchen, I exchanged smiles with a cute blond smoking outside “Fierce.” I promised myself I would order a drink there before the semester was over.
Still, my legs could take only so much wandering. I needed something else to occupy my time. I recalled how impressed Professor Thorne was with my script. Professor Ansel thought it was so good that I couldn’t possibly have written it. It struck me that I might have found my calling.
I felt torn between starting a new script and returning to Inappropriate Touch. After Josh turned his back on me, I couldn’t end it as I had intended, with Daphne and Victor together. Yet, I couldn’t just abandon it. I kept thinking of Daphne Shields, hauled into a psych ward, forcing her release a day later, fleeing with her coat over her gown, Doc Murray’s production crew in tow.
It seemed so unfair. Although I couldn’t help her, I could write for her, for Josh, for myself, a different fate.
INT/EXT. TRIBECA MOVIE THEATER – NIGHT
A film premiere in Tribeca: through the large windowed lobby of an old-fashioned theater, elegantly dressed guests drink champagne, eat hors d’oeuvres. A slender figure in a long coat walks by. It’s Daphne. Her hair has some strands of gray. She’s aged a decade or so. She stops to look up at the marquee. It reads, “Inappropriate Touch: A Victor Sanchez film.” She gasps and clutches her heart. She peers inside.
After a moment’s hesitation, she enters. She slips past a security guard immersed in his phone. She weaves through the crowd towards a figure swarmed by guests. It’s Victor. Seeing her, his expression turns to longing. She waves at him. There’s a wedding ring on her finger. He excuses himself. He approaches her.
Victor: Thanks. It’s been ages. How are you?
Daphne: (Shyly, as if suddenly remembering how long it’s been) Good, I’m a professor at Manhattan U.
Victor: (Glancing down at her ring, a note of bitterness in his voice) And married…he must be special.
Daphne: He doesn’t have every film critic calling him the next big thing. He’s a contractor. He falls asleep during any movie without an explosion. He thinks Speed & Fury 7 is the epitome of good filmmaking.
Victor: (Laughing) I hope he appreciates your sense of humor.
Daphne: He does. And you? I bet you have your pick now, any girl your heart desires.
Victor: (His face turns serious) Not true.
Daphne: (Muttering almost to herself) I never wanted, I never meant to…
Victor: Hey, I’m like an Arabian prince. All I have to do is point, my guards bring her to me.
Daphne: That’s racist. And sexist. Watch out, you’re in the public eye now.
Victor: (With a chuckle) I’m hardly famous.
Daphne: Didn’t you get a Silver Indy nod for Dreamless?You were robbed, in my opinion.
Victor: That you liked it means more to me than any award.
Daphne: Well, I’m sure you have to get back to selling yourself. Don’t snub a potential distributer for little ol’ me. (She lifts her hand up before he can give her another compliment.) I just wanted to congratulate you on all your success.
Victor: (Sounding hopeful) Well, thanks, maybe we’ll…
Daphne: (Sounding unsure) Maybe.
Victor: (He abruptly grabs her hand)I’m here for you.
They share a warm smile. Slowly, Daphne withdraws her hand. Victor follows her with his sight as she slips out the exit. His eyes linger at the door after she’s gone. A middle-aged woman calls his name, stirring him from his reverie.
Victor’s Agent: (Gesturing to an older man in a suit) I’d like you to meet Rob, from Majestic Pictures.
Victor: (Shakes his hand) Nice to meet you.
That “nice to meet you,” of course, would have been impossible without Daphne’s guidance. Others left him to suffer. Not her: she made it her mission to save him. It was the perfect ending to Inappropriate Touch. Yet, it could also occur somewhere in the middle. They might run into each other on the street. Victor could track down Daphne’s address, send her an invitation to his next screening.
I didn’t know for certain where this scene belonged. Regardless, it comforted me merely that it existed. No one was there for Daphne Shields, but Victor was there for Daphne. I hoped Josh realized I was there for him too.
I forgave him.
I loved him. I had no choice.
We needed each other, someone to be “us” with in a world full of them. With that affirmed, I set our story aside to write a new one.
Scott Bassis is a young writer eager to establish himself as a serious talent. He has had short stories published in Poydras Review, The Acentos Review, The Writing Disorder, The Furious Gazelle, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Image Outwrite, Quail Bell Magazine, The Missing Slate, Jumbelbook, Furtive Dalliance, Fiction on the Web and Rainbow Curve.