Teaser 034: Don’t You Ever Lie to Me!

Serena...had something on her mind and decided to spring it on me in the car on the drive. “Do you want to die, Gregory?”


“It's a simple question. Do you want to die?”

“Where did that come from?”

“We talked about you the day before you arrived. Will read the screenplay and your first novel. He bought the e-book, in fact all your e-books. He noted to all of us the main character in the novel and screenplay both die, and the main character in your three-book series disappears and is presumed dead. I know all the main characters are based on you, and since they're all dying or should be dead, do you have some kind of death wish? Do you want to die?”

I couldn't answer immediately. I had to think. “That came out of the blue, Serena,” I stalled. “Give me a minute or two to respond, please.”

She looked at me severely. “Don't lie to me, Gregory. Don't you ever lie to me.”

I waited a few moments. “I can tell you right off, I do not want to die. I am not looking to kill myself. I do not have a death wish.” I paused and turned to face her. Hers was not a friendly expression. “I am not afraid to die, and...” I carefully considered my next words, “I am not...very...happy with life, my life, and human life in general on this planet...And...I welcome death.” I shouldn't have said it so soon in my explanation, but I couldn't lie to her either.

“I knew it!”

Serena was angry and twisted her head away from me, but I grabbed her arm, not hard, but I squeezed so she couldn't ignore it. “You're not listening to me. You're jumping to conclusions. You have to let me finish!”

She turned back and glanced at my hand squeezing her arm. “Let go of me!”

“Let me finish,” I demanded, but I would not release her arm.

“Then finish!” she commanded, and shook my hand from her arm.

“You asked me, as you put it, a simple question. I gave you a simple answer. 'No, I do not want to die.' This should be the end of it, but no! You won't let it go. You won't let it go because something else is bothering you. Drake tipped me off this morning and it's been on your mind all day and it has something to do with the screenplay, maybe even the movie. We'll talk about that on the way back, when we have more time. And you will talk to me about it, because I'm putting you on notice. Don't you ever lie to me!” Serena sat silent, avoiding my gaze, wrapped up like a magnet, like we were two magnets naturally repelling the other. “If you have a reason to live, would that not convince me you do not want to die? Do you have a reason to live, Serena? Do you?”

Serena looked straight ahead. “Of course I do. I have many, but-”

I cut her off. “I have a reason to live, at least one, and it's enough, isn't it? And I showed you the reason at the doctor's office when I got up and threw away the cigarettes. Would I do it if I wanted to die? It's not why I did it. I did it because I have a reason to live. I did it for you. I want to spend as much time as I possibly can with you. You give me a reason to live.”

I watched Serena turn her head slowly toward me and dip it downward. I could feel her gaze on my legs, this strangely warm sensation, and it moved up my body as her head tilted upwards, over my chest, my neck, and I could feel my cheeks warming. Her face was flush but her expression was guarded, her lips pressed tightly together, until her eyes locked on mine. Her lips opened and she stated in a very measured, deliberate tone, “You have come into my life, Gregory, like a whirlwind. Don't you go dying on me, especially through your own doing. Don't you do that to me. Do you understand?”

“Completely. As long as I can make you smile and laugh, because when I see you smile I smile, when I hear you laugh, I laugh, and you have a great laugh, Serena, deep and full, and I adore it. When I see your smile, hear your laugh, I want it again and again and again. I don't want to die. I want your smile and your laugh forever.”

She would not take her eyes off me, searching me for betrayal, a sign my words were lies. I could only stare into her eyes mesmerized. Best behavior. Give her your best behavior. She deserves it.

The driver announced we had reached our destination and the car pulled along the curb and came to a stop. Serena's searching my face for a sign continued. Even a blink could give it away. Still searching, she advised calmly, “Go inside, get your exam, choose your frame, and they know to bill me. I'll be waiting out here.” She broke. A thin wisp of a smile appeared. “We'll talk on the way home.”

...The conversation, discussion, admission, confession over the next two hours was calm, carefully considered, respectful, even liberating in a nearly religious sense. As I suspected the ending, the climaxes, from the script had played on Serena's mind in a way which caused her anxiety, even anguish. She had projected herself into Cecilia and had projected me into Gustavo and the end, to her, was heart wrenching. "This was my intention, but I'm not Gustavo." "Oh, yes, you are." "Tragedy befalls everyone, and while Gustavo and Cecilia did not become the lovers they could have become due to Gustavo's stubborn adherence to class and not Cecilia, Octavio, the one in the middle, brought them together. Without Octavio in the middle, those two could never have kept the ranch, whether together or apart. Octavio was the peacemaker between them and gave them enough time to recognize the worthy qualities of each, so when Octavio died, they could work with each other, cooperate and keep the ranch through their own efforts, each covering weaknesses of the other. Without Octavio the story would be even more tragic. Though Cecilia and Gustavo never have one moment of intimacy does not detract from the love they grew themselves for each other nor what they may have desired. It is a love story, after all, and a very fitting one for our relationship. I think a very fitting metaphor. I didn't exactly plan it this way. I never expected to portray Gustavo and I still may not, but I know how I feel about you, and I also know how you feel about me. I know you love me in the purest sense, you have no desire for me, but you do care about me deeply, or else many of your actions, reactions and interactions with me are completely inexplicable."

I did much of the talking, obviously, and when I spoke Serena listened intently. It was difficult for me, perhaps not for Serena, to speak openly and personally while Ray sat next to her. There was more, much more. It was a two-hour drive back to her ranch house, but most of it concerned questions about the screenplay and my interpretation of a character's motivation or my intention with a scene or a bit of dialog. She brought the screenplay with her and the interaction between us evolved into a collaboration, a delving into the meaning of this and that in the story. Long before we reached her gate, Serena and I were smiling and laughing like nothing had happened. Something had happened, though, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I had a suspicion but I thought it unreliable, even impossible. I was worn out when we reached the garage and we walked all the way around the house to the promenade and front door. I became quiet and introspective. I wanted a cigarette. There were three or four cigarette packs in the car, but Serena beat me to it when she asked if I had any cigarettes left in my car, my bags, anywhere. Busted. I grabbed the carton from the car and followed her inside to the kitchen, where she said the trash receptacle was under the sink and I threw the whole thing in there. I joked they'd still be there until the trash was thrown out. Serena commanded Luisa to throw out the trash and she did immediately. I had gum. I did not consider gum a great substitute. Welcome to show biz. Sacrifice is expected. Place yourself on the altar. Here comes the dagger.

- Just Desserts, Segment FourDidn’t See That Coming” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com