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Welcome to Steel City

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My roommate, Sian Goodin, is getting prepared for her big day doing make-up on a pilot shoot for a TV show. Alongside her my brother, James, younger than me by a year, is getting prepared to do the hair styling for the same shoot. His twin, Hannah, is studying from a chemistry textbook on my bed, it’s her weakest subject. She is being tutored by Millie, a prodigy child who graduated high school at fifteen, starting college at sixteen. She is also the biggest fan of the musician Adam Eaton, her brother, who is currently sitting at the window tuning his guitar. Adam and Sian have been best friends since they were in diapers, nearly inseparable. Which is why none of us were surprised when they decided to go to the same college. If Adam was going to come to SCU then you can bet that Millie would follow, the university was ecstatic to have her, they sent so many emails during her year off. If Sian was going to SCU you could be sure that Hannah and James would come along, it would be a sin to break up the world’s greatest styling team. And being that I wasn’t too keen on being left alone on the islands, and that three years after graduating high school at sixteen I could finally afford to go, I ended up tagging along too.
“Hina, you’re monologuing, again aren’t you?” Adam finishes his tuning. “You’ve been staring at that page without writing anything for an hour now. You’re stuck, aren’t you?” My back hurts from hunching over my desk, my hand from gripping the pencil.
“Okay yes, I was monologuing, but not because I’m stuck.” I mutter. “I can’t focus because the entire university is chilling in my dorm room!” It’s too much, not just the noise, it’s the everything.
“Or you’ve been cooped up in the room for too long.” Hannah stretches. “You always start getting writer’s block when you don’t go out.”
“Which reminds me, why are you here? There’s a perfectly good dorm room across the hall, one that literally has your name on it.” I squint at the lines on the white page, willing the words to spring into existence. There is no answer to my query, she resumes examining her textbook.
“Perhaps an excursion into the outside world would be beneficial.” James rests a hand on my shoulder.
“He’s right, whenever I’m stuck I wander around until I feel it again.” Adam strums his guitar.
“I know, I’m the one who taught you to do that.” I turn around in my chair, conceding defeat to the blank page.
“Yes, and I’m glad you did.” He begins a slow melody.
“Here’s an idea.” James speaks while watching Adam play. “Come with us to the test shoot today. You said you were thinking about taking your writing into film production. This would be a good chance to learn some things.
I twirl my pen. “Thanks for the offer, but I wasn’t invited. I’m not wanted there.”
“No, you’re not expected there, but you are definitely wanted.” Sian says softly. “I’d really appreciate it if you’d come and helped me with the crowds.”
I must suppress a sigh. “I know Sian… but you know how I feel about party crashing.”
For fuck’s sake.” Millie groans. “Did you guys forget who you’re dealing with?” The fireball stands on my bed and points to my Double Agent poster, then at me. “The shoot is being directed by Lloyd Newton.”
Sian giggles. “I guess I forgot to mention that. I was a little in awe myself when I got the email, but it totally slipped my mind.”
“How do you let something like that just slip your mind?!?” I stand quickly, my chair getting knocked over. “He’s amazing, his work is amazing, you know I’ve wanted to meet him since forever ago.”
James catches my chair, carefully setting it right. “To be honest I was hoping to keep that as a surprise.”
“Alright, now that that’s settled, get out of here I have a lot of work to do to get this lump ready for college chemistry.” Millie flops back down on the bed as Hannah attempts to protest being called a lump.
Well some parties are worth crashing.
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \

This isn’t the first time I’ve tagged along with Sian when she goes to a job. In fact, I’ve been in a studio before, and on site of some pretty cool photoshoots. But they were all fairly laid back regarding guests. With her problem with crowds, Sian often needs me to play defense. By defense I mean keeping people away from her that don’t need to be near her, and taking over whenever somebody gives her crap. James is a great help as well, knowing how to help calm her when she begins to panic.
I picked the most professional looking clothes I could find. Although I need to go shopping soon. Work slacks and a blue blouse with a breast pocket that I have two pens and a pencil stashed in. I also managed to get my unmanageably long hair up into a respectable bun.
When we enter the studio, there is a far more professional feel than what we’ve come to experience working back home. It quickly reoccurs to me that I was not part of the invitation to the shoot. I fear what would happen if my presence was discovered, and deemed to be unwelcomed. I glance up at James, who sees the concern in my eyes, responding by placing a comforting hand on the small of my back. Just as quickly as my heart started pounding, it calms again.
“I’m really glad you came along with us Hina. We always do our best when you are there supporting us. I really think you can learn a lot in this setting.” My brother has always had an eloquent way of speaking, Sian isn’t the only one he’s gotten good with calming down over the years. I nod, forcing a smile.
We make our way quickly to the location of the shoot. Just short of our destination we our found by Lloyd Newton himself, who is relieved that we made it here all right.
“Sian and James, right?” he asks with an excited grin. I like the way he smiles, and so does James apparently by the way he stands straighter. I feel excitement building up inside me, and I should restrain myself out of fear of embarrassment. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, and now he’s standing here in front of me. When he looks at me though, his face turns quizzical. “But I’m not sure who you are… forgive me I wasn’t told anything about a third person.” I tense slightly, keeping my smile, still afraid of being kicked out for not being invited. I open my mouth to speak. But he interrupts. “Let me guess! You’re here for moral support!”
I nod, relaxing slightly. I carefully choose my words, wanting to make a nice first impression. “Something like that. My name is Hina, it’s nice to meet you. I’m James’ sister…” I see a moment of questioning in his eyes as he looks between my dark hair, dark oval eyes, and James’ ginger locks and blue orbs. “… half-sister.” I quickly correct. My brother nudges my shoulder, giving me a smirk. “…I’m sort of here because I’m a writer, and I’m considering going into film. We thought this might be a good learning experience for me. That I could learn a thing or two…” another nudge, I sigh in embarrassment. “…from watching my favorite director at work.”
Lloyd’s face lights up like a kid who has been given his first puppy. “Well I’d be happy to help a young mind get introduced to the industry.” He extends a hand. “And it’s always nice to meet a fan.” His handshake is firm, and I feel a blush creep across my cheeks as I realize that I am shaking the hand of my idol. “Now come on, there’s work to be done.”
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \

I find myself in deep conversation with Lloyd while James and Sian work in the make-up trailer. We spend some time discussing his previous work, he dissects my opinion of them, I dissect his motivations behind them. Eventually the conversation turns to my studies.
“Steel City University has a great arts program. I’ve been working with many of their film students. Young people always have such great ideas and are hard workers, it’s nice to help them get their skills out there.” Lloyd leans forward in this chair eagerly. “So why are you thinking about going into the industry then?”
I’m slow to answer, unsure if I even have the talent to push through on the path I’m looking at. “Well, I’ve always deeply enjoyed writing, and have spent a long time considering how I could make a career where I get to do what I’m passionate about. Although it’s not exactly my first choice, film seemed like a reasonable, and fun way to do it.” I smile shyly. “And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired to create something amazing when I watch your work.”
There is a glint of excitement in Lloyd’s green eyes, and a hint of red to his cheeks when he opens his mouth to speak. But before he can ¬– Sian and James enter with the last actress. So instead he leaps from his chair and begins ushering people to their places. My companions stand next to me, us off to the side from everything. They are watching everything unfold, ready to step in and do touch-ups when needed.
“How did it go?” Sian asks, shifting from one foot to the other.
“It went…well, he’s very nice.” I realize now that Lloyd is nowhere in sight.
Suddenly the man practically sprints into the studio, nobody gives him a second look, clearly this is a commonplace occurrence. He skids to a stop in front of me and drops a stack of papers in my lap. “Call it your textbook.” He says with a wink, begore bounding off again. I turn to Sian and James, my mouth hanging open slightly. Sian is giggling, but James’ face is more than a little red. His eyes follow the director as he finishes getting everybody into place.
“Hey bro…” I can’t stop the shit eating smirk I get when he looks down at me. “your gay is showing.” His blush flares to a near scarlet, and he looks away mumbling.
“Oh, don’t tease him like that Hina, we saw that puppy dog look you were giving Mr. Newton when we walked in.” Sian laughs gently.
“It’s not like that!” My voice squeaks in protest, but before I can defend myself.
“Alright, quiet on set!”
I clamp my mouth shut as the lighting shifts and everything is set into motion. While turning to the proper page in the script I instinctively pull a pen from my breast pocket.
As filming proceeds, I watch carefully, trying to absorb everything that I can. In the script I note down things that happen, the emotions I see, I feel, and all the little changes that are made on the fly. Amongst those notes I even add in some changes of my own, different things that I think could be done better, different inflections, rearrangement of dialogue. Occasionally James and Sian must run and do their thing, and Lloyd will wander over between shots to see how I’m doing.
There is a scene that seems to be giving everybody grief though, it doesn’t feel right. Even I can see it. The tension isn’t there, every line falls flat. Nobody is happy with it, especially Lloyd. His bounce is gone, but he is trying to remain cheerful. Eventually I tune out everybody on set and focus on the script. I’m not even fully aware that James is watching me as I write, but I can feel him standing behind me, it’s a normal part of my process to have him, something comforting. There isn’t enough space on the pages for all my notes as I try to work out a way that it would work. Some of it trails off onto other pages.
“Alright everybody, take ten, we’ll reconvene and give this another go later.” I’m not sure how much time has passed by the time that Lloyd collapses into his chair with a groan, and looks at me with a sad smile. “Sorry, I’m sure watching the same scene done a dozen times over isn’t how you were hoping to spend your day.” He runs a hand through his hair, stopping to tug his pony tail. “I just… we need to... I can’t...” Lloyd grimaces and flourishes his hand.
I nod in understanding. “This shoot determines if your idea gets to become a tv show or not, right? It needs to be just the way the execs like it, while still being how you envisioned it.” The redhead’s shoulders relax and he sits up straighter.
“We’ll get it figured out though, I trust my team.”
James steps out from the side to address the director. “If I may give you some advice Mr. Newton?”
“Always open to it Jamesy, but only if you call me Lloyd.” He winks at my brother. Sian and I exchange an ‘oh shit’ glace.
‘Jamesy’ takes a moment to respond, gathering his thoughts after he clearly dropped them all over the floor. “Well, Mr. Lloyd, I think you should look at Hina’s copy of the script.” My body goes rigid. “She hasn’t just been taking notes about the filming, she’s been coming up with her own ideas, changing things around.” My face is heating up, and I stammer, but words are only my forte in writing, not in speaking. “She refuses to accept it, but when it comes to writing she is quite exceptional, in both form and content. As her brother I find it to be my job to help get her skills, and her work, out to the world, even if she thinks it doesn’t want it…” Despite the pretty words, James’ voice is quiet, calm. He’s staring at his shoes while his leg bounces.
Sian speaks softly. “An outside mind may help, and really Hina is a brilliant writer.” I grip the script close to my chest, avoiding the director’s curious gaze.
“Oh-ho-ho, so that was your plan.” He says in a teasing tone. “Didn’t just come here to learn?”
“Don’t listen to them.” I mumble. My right leg is bouncing, low wavelength, high frequency. “I just had some ideas so I was jotting them down, but they’re ridiculous.” My chest tightens up, and a darkness falls on my shoulders. “I’m not very good at writing, I’ll need a lot more practice before I can be writing things that are nearly as good as they praise me for.”
“Yoink!” Suddenly the script is plucked from my arms. I gasp as Lloyd playfully sticks his tongue out at me, leaning back and flipping it open to the problematic scene. Without thinking I lunge towards him in a panic, but find a pair of arms wrapped around me, holding me back.
“This is for your own good sis.” James laughs as he restrains me. A few eyes are drawn towards the spectacle, so I stop struggling, and start shaking, forcing back tears. There’s a familiar figure across the set from us. Of course, for some reason he’s here, so he gets to watch this farce. Of all the things I need added to my day, embarrassing myself in front of John Brandon was not one of them. I look like a joke.
“Wow…” I break eye contact with the Brit to watch Lloyd. My heart races, shoulders tense. I wait for the ridicule. “This is… I can’t believe I didn’t think of this!” The man launches himself from his chair with enough force that it falls over. “James, Sian, with me! This is going to take some work to implement.”
James kisses my forehead and grins. “See.”
I am left alone. Heart pounding. Body tense. And confused.
Lloyd is already giving new instructions to people. Showing them the script with a pleased grin, occasionally pointing over at me. Most of them copy some of the notes onto their own scripts. I just watch them, dumbstruck. Within minutes everybody has regathered in the studio and is going over the new set up.
I don’t think I move the entire time, the shock has me frozen in time and space until a not-Lloyd picks up Lloyd’s chair and sits in it.
“A bit of advice.” The British accent jolts me from my stupor. “When given the chance to show somebody in the industry your work, take it.” I watch him with apprehension. “You won’t be able to get started if you writing isn’t put out there.” He crosses one leg over the other.
“I’m not…ready to be noticed.” I play with my pen, twirling it in my hand. “May I ask why you’re even here?”
“Lloyd’s an old mate of mine. I was just popping by to see how filming went.” John looks at me, he seems tired. “Looks like it’s going pretty well.” He pauses, reading my face. My leg is still going crazy. “Nobody is ever ready to put themselves out there. Even after they’ve been doing it for a long time. But you can’t know if you’re doing well if you don’t get the input of other minds. There’s no improvement that way.”
“I already know that I’m not doing well!” I snap at him, he seems taken aback slightly. “I can’t just go and show off my work to people expecting them to help me fix it up all pretty, cause it’s unfixable! So, I must keep writing. Write and write and write, and keep going until I make it to a point where it is fixable, till it can be all prettied up and put out there for others to look at. Then I have to write more!” I shut my mouth quickly, having not meant to raise my voice. I already know that John hates me, something that saddens me a bit. I should do my best not to exacerbate the situation. But to what end? He thinks so little of me that it’s not like he would ever want to be my friend. I look to the side, mumbling something of an apology, and try to focus on getting my leg to stop.
There is an amused chuckle beside me, but before he or I can say anything else, the lighting changes.
/ / / / / / / / / / / / /

Everybody looks exhausted. John stayed around for a few more scenes, talking to Lloyd between shots, but not really acknowledging me again. Occasionally I notice them looking over at me during their conversations, but I brush it off as best I can.
I’m sitting alone when James and Sian approach me.
“I’m ready to crawl into bed.” James sighs, rubbing his face.
“That was fun, but come on lets head to the dorms, I need to sleep.” Sian has a tired smile. I get out of my chair, feeling bad. They were running around all day while I sat watching them. I had barely left my seat, only going to the bathroom and getting lunch, but always coming back.
“Hold on!” Lloyd catches us on the way out. We turn to him in surprise. “Thank you, so much for your help today.”
“Oh, no! We should be thanking you Mr. Newton!” Sian stammers. “This was an amazing opportunity, we really appreciate you giving us this chance.” James nods in agreement.
They exchange a few more pleasantries that I tune out, but eventually Lloyd turns to me “I was actually hoping I could borrow you for a few more minutes.” Despite obviously being tired, he still manages a perky smile.
I hesitate, embarrassed as always. But then I recall what John had been saying to me. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. James, take Sian home, I’ll catch the bus.”
“I don’t mind waiting around sis.” Despite his protest, James does have to stifle a yawn.
“You guys worked hard today, I don’t want to keep you from your beds. Sian looks like she’s about to fall over anyways.”
“If you’re sure…” He hesitates. “Just don’t be out too late, Hannah will worry.” Carefully he guides Sian down the hall. “See you tomorrow sis.”
I watch them for a moment, before following Lloyd down the hall.
We end up in the break room, sitting across from each other.
“So, what did you want to talk about Mr. Newton.” He rolls his eyes at the way I call him.
“Well I was wondering. Are you serious about your writing?”
The question catches me off guard, but I answer quickly nonetheless. “Very serious. A lot of things interesting me, but writing is the only thing I’m actually… passionate about.”
“That’s good, very good actually.” He chuckles. “I heard some great things about your work today, and I am looking forward to seeing if you can live up to what I was told. And if they are, how you might develop as a writer.”
For what feels like the thousandth time today, my cheeks heat up with a creeping blush. “I know that Sian and my brother love to praise my work, but they aren’t really an unbiased opinion.”
“They didn’t say much, what you did with my script today spoke for itself. But I also heard some interesting things from John about your own writing.”
I sit and process this absurd statement, before blurting out a “But John’s never even read my work!”
There is an awkward silence between us. I hang my head and stare at my hands in my lap.
“For somebody who doesn’t want to be noticed, you certainly enjoy leaving your work lying around for anybody to pick up and read.” I don’t think my body could get any stiffer unless I was a corpse. I glance upwards, seeing John standing in the doorway, hands in pockets, watching us, makes my leg start bouncing again. He takes a moment to enjoy my confusion before elaborating. “Honestly, during Adam’s tour, when I wasn’t trying to keep things running, I was rather bored. I was stuck babysitting a bunch of teenagers all summer, most of whom had never left home before.”
I try to protest, it comes out as a squeak, and I look away. I’m not a teenager. I’m the oldest of the group, and have been trying for a long time to separate myself from the idea of being some kid.
“Fine, fine. I was stuck with a bunch of teenagers and a reclusive young lady.” He sighs, approaching Lloyd and I. When he sits down in the empty space on my couch my heart leaps into my throat. “Let me start from the beginning. On the night of Adam’s first concert, he was a nervous wreck, wouldn’t come out of the dressing room for anything. I was about to go in there and calm him down myself, but then you came along.” I hate the way these two are watching me. “You gave him a notebook, and not five minutes later he emerged from the room, looking ready to take on the world.” By now Lloyd has that excited glint in his eyes. “I went in to see what could have possibly had that effect on the boy. I think he only made it a few pages in, given by where it was open. I turned it back to the first page, intending to read only that…” John sighs, closing his eyes. “The next thing I knew Adam’s concert was over, and I had missed the entire thing.”
“I…” Words fail me in this situation. There’s a lump in my throat.
“It wasn’t uncommon for me to find more of your work lying around during the summer. It was like a calling card. If Hina Thompson had been there, then certainly there was some forgotten scrap paper of a poem, or a notebook you would inevitably run back in searching for.” He talks a lot like James, or does James talk like him? “It seems you have had a similar effect on Lloyd here, I don’t know how you learned to entrap somebody’s attention this way, but it’s certainly a good skill to have in this industry. I told him what I thought of what I had read, and here we are now.”
My hands are shaking, and my tone of voice is rather unpleasant when I speak again. “I wish you hadn’t done that.” They look shocked to see my anger, each of them pulling back slightly. “My work is very, very personal. And this stage in my development, it’s only meant to be read by those that it’s meant for, and on occasion anybody who I trust.” The things I write are me trying to express my inner most thoughts, an attempt to unravel all the things going on in my brain.”
“Well you’ll never get anywhere in the world if you don’t show your work to people.” John responds in an aggravated tone.
“And I’ll never get anywhere if I just shove my writing in people’s faces.” The heat in my blood rises. “If I go around flaunting bad writing, then nobody will want to read what I have once I have something decent!”
John opens his mouth, ready to snap back, but Lloyd raises a calming had to try and diffuse the situation. “I understand what you’re saying Hina.” My shoulders relax slightly. “Writing is hard, showing it to people is harder, especially when it’s your passion.” He nods in understanding. I managed to force a tense smile. “But if you really want to join the industry one day, then eventually the point will come when you have to let your ideas and your words out into the world.” He has a mischievous look about him suddenly. “And I want to be there when it happens!”
“Oi mate, you aren’t thinking what I think…” John is cut off before his thought is finished.
“Your input really helped with filming today, it would be awesome to have that kind of insight available like, all the time.” This man has way too much energy for this late in the day. “If the show is greenlit I already planned on asking Sian and Jamesy to stay on, they did a fantastic job. But I would love, love, love to have you in on the creation process.” Lloyd sees the panic in my eyes and back pedals a bit. “You don’t have to worry about how you contribute though! I was just hoping you could sit in on some of the writing sessions, come around for filming again… and if you have a thought, just say it.”
“It would be a valuable learning experience.” John says thoughtfully. “You can get familiar with the processes of the industry, make connections, get your name out there.”
“Right, and when you’re ready to start showing people your writing.” Lloyd has something of a puppy dog attitude about him. “Well I’d love to be one of the ones you show it to. Aaaaaand I can help you with showing it to the ‘right’ people.”
“This is a good opportunity Hina, not a lot of writers get a chance like this, at least not this early in their careers.” I wonder why John would be so concerned about my opportunities.
The room is silent for well over a minute as I mull it over in my head. The two of them wait patiently for my answer. This prospect is terrifying, but John is right.
“You’d also get to hang out with you ‘favorite director’~” Lloyd teases. John’s eyebrow raises in curiosity.
“If you can figure out how to make it university credit, I’m in.” I feel calmer now. Lloyd’s face is priceless.
Suddenly my phone beeps, forcing me to extract it from my pocket. I drop it when it beeps again, glaring at John when he chuckles.
-Where are you?!?- Hannah
-The busses stopped running but you didn’t come on them. - Hannah
I groan, looking at the time. “I have to be getting back to the dorms.” This prompts all of us to stand and start making our way for the exit.
“Take my number Hina. Text me your class schedule and I’ll try to figure something out.” Lloyd is a nice guy, I’m glad I got to meet him. I never expected my idol to be so chill. I take the business card from his outstretched hand.
-Sorry got caught up in something-
“It was very nice to meet you Mr. Newton.” I fumble with my phone, trying to get the card into the case while walking.
-Do you need me to come and get you? – Hannah
“Lloyd, you call me Lloyd.” The said named man pouts. “Let me here you say it.”
“I look forward to working with you LloYD!” I trip over one of the rugs in the hall, and my half-sent text flies off with my phone.
Before it comes near any harm though, it’s safely in John’s hand. Given the frequency of this during the summer tour, I’m betting he was expecting it.
Lloyd splits off from us with a cheerful farewell.
John glances at the text conversation before handing my phone back to me. “Did you need a lift?”
My chest tightens as we exit the building. Car rides with the man don’t exactly carry fond memories. “You love to read things that aren’t meant for you, don’t you?” He just shrugs. “And last I checked we don’t exactly have a great history with you giving me rides.”
“The trips themselves have never been intolerable, just the circumstances that put us on them.” Despite my uncertainty, we are headed towards the parking garage. I tell myself it’s because it would be an easy land mark for Hannah to find.
“I do suppose this is slightly less embarrassing than picking me up off the sidewalk, crying in the middle of a crowd because I had gotten separated from the group.”
“And much less troublesome than us nearly missing our flight because I had to pick you up from our home at the last possible moment.” Luckily, I am a few steps behind him, so he doesn’t see the pained look I have.
“I told you to drop that one… you don’t know the whole story… you…” I look away when he looks back at me. “Anyways Hannah is going to come get me.”
“But you’d have to wait for her to get it, it would be more efficient if I take you.”
“Efficient? University is on the West side of town, you live on the East. How is that efficient?”
-Hina??- Hannah
“And how, pray tell, do you know where I live?”
“Yes, that would explain it. That child gives me more headaches than I’d care to admit. I don’t even want to know what she was planning with my address, and I can only imagine how she got it.” The how, is that apparently John leaves his work laptop in his hotel rooms when he went out, and Millie pickpocketed master keys for most of the places we stayed in. “Regardless, I can still get you to your University sooner than she would, so you can get some rest, and I would still make it back to my flat before your sister would have gotten you to the dormitory.” He is beginning to grow irritated, perhaps because it’s late, probably because he’s realized that Millie has something planned that he now must be prepared for, maybe it’s just because I’m being argumentative still.
“How does that work? You have to travel nearly twice the distance!”
“Because no offense but your sister drives slower than my nan!”
This is probably true.
I raise my hand to cover a snort, which builds into a laugh. “Sorry, ha, I’ve never seen you, ha, get riled up like that.” It takes me a minute to regain my composure, and my phone beeps once more.
-I’m coming to get you- Hannah
When I look up again John is looking away from me. It’s hard to tell in this light but he seems embarrassed. He clears his throat before speaking again. “If you don’t mind, I’m not fond of the thought of leaving a lady on the side of the street in the middle of the night. So, if you would please allow me to give you a lift, I can rest easy knowing you returned home safely.”
-No, don’t worry I’m on my way.
“Well when you put it like that I really can’t say no, now can I?”
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
The windows are rolled down to let in the cool night air, the radio is on but turned low, so that it’s just a background mummer. I silently watch the world pass me, chin resting on my hand resting on the car door. There’s something soothing about this. Like I’m in a bubble, watching the universe move around me, speeding on past me into eternity. I am observing, but unaffected.
I eventually recall the presence of my driver, who has yet to say a word to me since we got into the vehicle. I lean back in my seat, folding hands in my lap, and muster up the courage to speak.
“Writing is scary…” He glances over at me. “Especially writing for other people, I don’t understand people, I’m not good with them like you are.”
“If you think I’m good with people then I must be a better actor than I thought.” John says quietly.
“Hhm?” I turn fully to look at him. “You’re…always so well collected around people… you’re not scared when you’re filming, right?”
He looks insulted. “I’m terrified!” There is a moment for him to collect his thoughts before speaking again. “Acting is about being vulnerable. About showing the most raw parts of yourself and hoping that people don’t walk all over it. When I was first cast as Knight, I was certain that everyone was going to hate my performance. At that point in time, I was entirely unheard of. I spent hours pacing back and forth in my tiny flat, wondering if I even should have accepted the role in the first place. It was the chance to finally be known, or ruin my career entirely.”
There’s a lump in my throat. Strange as it is, I know the feeling he is talking about.
“I understand.” I manage after some time. I look back into my lap, watching my fingers make a small, slow dance. They’re trying to unravel the thoughts and weave them into words. “Writing is… the same. Maybe even more so… not to talk down what you’re saying I just mean…” My voice is shaking, but John is quiet, allowing me to find my words. “When I am writing, everything gets opened, exposed. I must peel away everything that protects me, everything that holds me together. I should be completely honest with myself, because there can’t be anything false about myself when I write, otherwise what’s the point? I take all the pieces that make ‘me’, the raw, basic bits of my humanity, and put them together in a way that others can understand, can connect with. When I write, it’s just me, naked and exposed, scared and vulnerable. So, when somebody reads my work, they are seeing me for who I am, with nothing separating us, no makeup, clothes, pretty, little distractions. It’s just me, and they get to decide what they think.
The car is quiet, radio turned off, engine idling. I look up and realize that we are in my dorm parking lot. I turn to John, ready to apologize for taking up his time, but stop at the expression on his face. The stern look I’ve come to know is entirely gone, replaced by something I can’t quite read. His eyes seem to read me while I read him. Mostly he seems in contemplation, there’s a touch of shock, and a hint of intrigue.
Looks like it’s my job to break the silence. “What?”
“Oh, well.” John seems caught off guard. “I supposed I understand a bit better what you meant when you said that the things I was reading were personal. I can see why you would be so… violated… by me reading it without your permission.” I unbuckle myself. “To be honest, given what I read, I find it a little surprising that it has such a deep relation to you.” He hesitates. “You don’t exactly seem like somebody who’s carries deep in your soul some of the things I read.”
I shrug, exiting the car. “Why do you think I don’t like sharing my work.” I move to the other side, coming to a stop at John’s window, resting my hand on the edge. “Thank you for the lift.” For the first time in a while I smile for real. “I do look forward to seeing what you think of my writing in the future though.”
“And I look forward to reading it.”
Before turning to leave I decide there is one more thing I should tell him. A risk I decide to take. “A bit of advice, Mr. Brandon. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \

Hannah is pacing the hallway when I make it back to my room. She sees me, and is quick to approach. “Where have you been?” I try to push past her to get to my room, but can’t stop her from grabbing me by the shoulders, looking me over. “It’s almost midnight, I was worried sick.”
“Lost track of time. Don’t worry so much if it’s going to make you sick, silly.” I shrug her off and get my door open. “Get some sleep, you have class in the morning.”
“Hey,” Hannah lowers her voice, I can hear a soft snore from within, Sian must already be asleep. “You never stay out late, what’s going on?”
I sigh, exhaustion and darkness are already claiming my head. I’m not worth this kind of worry. “First you tell me I’ve been cooped up too long and now you’re chastising me for going out?” It would be so much easier if she just didn’t care, if she just looked out for herself and James like she should. Then I wouldn’t have this constant guilt weighing on my temples when I talk to her. “I guess now that I’m not under the threat of a beating I’m not as concerned about curfews.”
Hannah flinches, taking a step back. “You know he would never have made good on those threats, it was just to scare you… god you are going to be the death of me.” She turns and enters her own room. “Just call me next time so I know I don’t have to come get your corpse from the morgue.”
“Love you too Han…” I mumble, shutting my door.
Immediately my shoulders slump. I shuffle in the darkness towards my dresser, managing to find a pair of pajamas in the darkness, then make my way towards the bathroom. Each step is a fight, with nobody watching it’s hard to keep up the act that I can keep going. Somehow, I make it into the shower, the process is a little blurry.
I sit on its floor, staring blankly at the wall, letting my thoughts process. Store the good, let the bad wash away. Or try at least. Occasionally I find myself choking on emotions that I don’t want to face, memories I want to forget.
Eventually I make it to my bed, wrapped in comfy pjs and a comfier blanket. My whole body is heavy.
I’m sitting with my computer in my lap, a gift from Adam to celebrate starting college. I have my class schedule up, and am turning Lloyd Newton’s business card over and over in my hand.
With a resigned sigh I punch his number into my phone.
-This is Hina Thompson. Sorry for texting you so late, but I wanted to get my schedule to you before I forgot. -
I carefully copy the details into my phone and send them. With yet another sigh I close the laptop, setting it aside and curling up facing the wall.
I’m surprised when my phone beeps.
-Don’t worry about it, no rest for the wicked- Lloyd
Attached is a picture of an editing set up with some of today’s shots being worked on.
-Sleep tight kid- Lloyd
-Will try-
I can’t help smiling just a little bit before drifting off.