Chapter 1: The Interview
Elizabeth was a bit bleary-eyed as she tried to sit up straight in the surprisingly comfortable leather chair in the long hallway of the mansion. The floor was dark wood, and there was a long rug that ran the expanse of the hall to the stairs. The rug was maroon with gold and green paisley patterns, and it looked remarkably expensive and remarkably old. There were two worn spots in from the door she was sitting next to, as if a thousand feet had waited there.
Her eyes hurt. Her body was tired. Her nerves were worn. She wore the only nice outfit she had, a simple gray pencil skirt and matching blazer, with a pearl white blouse, and held her small bag and folder on her lap.
She’d taken a redeye from LAX to JFK and then a long ride in the back of a town car to someplace in Westchester. All for a second interview. All for a very hush-hush job.
In the folder on her lap were her headshots, her short resume, a few letters of recommendation. Looking around at the grandeur of the place, she didn’t think she had much of a chance.
She opened the folder and looked at a photograph of her nineteen-year-old self. A bright young woman with a full expressive mouth, cartoonishly large eyes, and a trim figure. Though the photos were taken only three years before, she hardly recognized the girl in the glossy pictures.
She smiled at the photo of her in front of a dance troupe, her leotard, and leg warmers and toned body. Then a picture of a dramatic ingenue pose, eyes looking up, hopeful but wounded, Éponine singing “On My Own.”
Another, somewhat racier photo of her in lingerie, at twenty-one, in a burlesque show. She remembered the emcee saying “you’re all ass and no tits, so you better learn to shake what you got,” on her first day.
She heard the door open, and someone let out a polite cough to get her attention. She closed the folder and stood. Ms. Hollander, the older woman she had seen briefly at her first interview, appeared. She was a light-skinned black woman wearing dark-rimmed glasses with serious eyes with crows feet behind them.
“Ms. Turner, I can see you now,” she said curtly and held the door open for her.
Ms. Hollander was perhaps fifty. Shorter that Elizabeth, who was five six. Though small framed, there was something intimidating about the woman, in her dark well pressed dress, her short neat slightly graying afro, she looked like a judge.
Ms. Hollander sat in a large leather chair that dwarfed her, behind a huge dark wood desk that was impeccably neat. On the desk were a few stacks of paper, a few pens and such, a cup of black coffee, and a tablet with the very same burlesque photo Elizabeth had just been looking at in the hall.
“I understand you moved to Los Angeles to become a film actress, but things haven’t worked out so far,” Ms. Hollander said earnestly, without introductions.
“I guess you could say that. I’ve been trained in acting, singing, and dance since I was a child, first in Connecticut, then New York City, where I moved to go to a performing arts high school, then I did a little in college, but when I got some theater work right away in New York, I dropped out. So far I haven’t landed a serious part in LA-” she started to explain, but Ms. Hollander cut her off.
“You began doing burlesque, then you were hired on for some more private shows, which introduced you to Mr. Lee. From there you found a place at one of the Order’s houses. The Hotel. Taking on short, full service, roleplay work,” Ms. Hollander said, never looking at Elizabeth, only scrolling through information on her computer tablet.
Elizabeth marveled at how much she knew, but then the people in the mysterious Order of Dionysus seemed to know everything about everyone.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, trying to sound proud.
“And how does that work? You get an email with details about a character, go to the Hotel, meet the Order member, pretend to be someone else, and then what?” Ms. Hollander asked, though it seemed she knew the answer.
“Sometimes we have sex, sometimes it is more of an S&M type thing, sometimes we just play out the roles all night and don’t even kiss. In the morning there is an envelope full of money at the front desk for me.”
The older woman nodded.
“Does that work well for you?” she asked, for the first time looking at Elizabeth.
“It’s interesting. The people always play by the rules. Mr. Lee is particular about that. I’ve heard from friends that other places aren’t as safe.”
“I see. But the work suits you? I mean, are you able to cope with it? Does it negatively affect you? That kind of work can burn some people out very quickly, though others take to it.”
“I suppose it works okay. The biggest problem is that it is sporadic. Sometimes it pays two months rent for a night’s work. Sometimes I didn’t hear from Mr. Lee for long stretches. The work itself is work. It’s like acting, in a way. I never felt particularly burned out by the sex. The few times I felt uncomfortable with a role, I told Mr. Lee, and he got someone else. There were a few times it was wonderful, and I felt bad about the evening ending.”
Ms. Hollander nodded slowly, her eyes narrowing on Elizabeth.
“Yes, well, this opportunity will be like a much more involved version of that. At this point, I don’t know to what degree the sexual aspect will take, but I assume that will be part of it. You will be on call, though never during the day on weekdays, as Mr. Briar is at the office. You will be on call during weekends and on weekday evenings. We wish to start with a 3-month contract, assuming you will come here two to three times a week and may stay over once or twice a week, and be in the role at all times. In the beginning, you may work a bit more during the week on research to perfect your role. For that, for three months, we will pay you $120,000.”
Elisabeth’s eyes bulged a bit.
“You understand because of the nature of this work, we must take certain precautions. You will officially be hired as my personal assistant. You will be given a pay stub for tax purposes, as well as health insurance. You will have access to an apartment in town or something else, if you’d like to stay in the city. For the actual roll, you will be paid in cash, $40,000 at the start of each of the three months. That will all be tax-free, off the books. That may give you a bit more financial security, yes?”
“Yes. I think I would very much like that,” she said, feeling herself begin to shake.
“Since you have done work for the Order before, I see you have your medical papers up to date. An IUD. This will be a position that will require rigorous testing of course, but this is all contingent on your ability to accurately play the part. Unlike many of your roles, in this you will be playing a real person, someone who is alive. We have plenty of footage of her as well as very detailed notes about her psychology and her mannerism. You will only play this part in this building and perhaps on the grounds around it, but never out in the world. This is also a highly confidential matter. You will have to sign an NDA as well as the usual Order paperwork.”
Ms. Hollander turned the tablet around and showed Elizabeth a picture on it. A woman in her early twenties or perhaps late teens. Dark chocolate brown hair in tight curls that were similar to Elizabeth’s own coppery red curls. Her eyes were blue, where Elizabeth’s were green. Other than those differences, they were almost identical. Same generous mouth. Same large curious eyes. Similar frame, even the same freckles.
“I would like to offer you a test. You will spend the day here and watch some videos, listen to some recordings, and then perform, to the best of your ability, an impression of this woman. If I do not find you acceptable, you will be given a one-time payment of $5,000 and a ticket home. If we find your work acceptable, we will ask you to come back for additional training and start your role in a week or two. How does that sound?” Ms. Hollander said, sitting up and putting her hands together under her chin, fingers together in a little steeple.
Elizabeth swallowed. Even $5,000 would change her life. She was late with her rent, she had all kinds of bills. The thought of steady work for three months, maybe more, for more money than she made in the last three years, it was more than she could have dreamed. She tried to hold in her excitement.
“Yes-um that would be quite acceptable to me.”
Ms. Hollander smiled for the first time.
“Excellent. Let’s begin.”
Chapter 2: Meeting Emilia
An hour later, after being given a lovely lunch of Niçoise Salad and excellent coffee, Elizabeth was taken to a rather high tech looking all white computer lab with ergonomic chairs and computers with huge monitors.
Elizabeth and Ms. Hollander were joined by a young man with dark olive skin, a neat black suit, white shirt with no tie, and small round framed glasses named Prem. Prem said nothing, only setting up the material Ms. Hollander requested.
The first piece of research material was a video of a wedding. It was a fancier wedding than any Elizabeth had been to, with lavish decorations in the background and hints that it was in some elegant manor somewhere.
The video tastefully showed a bit of the ceremony, then cut to some dancing, then snippets of various family and friends. After a red-faced man drunkenly toasted the happy couple, Elizabeth saw the woman who she was training to become.
Emilia looked uncomfortable being filmed. She held the arm of the man next to her tightly as she gave a superficial smile to the camera.
“To Karina and Michael-“she started, but the cameraman cut her off.
“No, you have to start with your name! Introduce yourself,” someone said off camera with a laugh.
“Oh, yes. I’m Karina’s cousin Emilia, wishing Karina and Michael all the best,” she said with measured excitement, raising a glass of champagne to the camera and giving it a tight-lipped smile.
As Ms. Hollander watched, Elizabeth played the clip again and then again.
Emilia seemed to be cautious, guarded, serious-minded. She was beautiful, one might say graceful. There was something inhibited about her. A weariness in her eyes. It was as if she was putting on an act as she toasted her cousins.
“Did she grow up on the East Coast? There is something about her accent,” Elizabeth said, her eyes on the screen, a still shot of the woman in question looking back at her.
“Yes, Upstate New York, but her parents were both British and her step-father is Scottish. As well, she studied in England as a child,” Ms. Hollander said with an approving smile.
“There are little inflections,” Elizabeth said, taking a notepad out of her purse and clicking a pen.
Prem coughed, and Elizabeth looked up.
“We would rather you took notes on this. You can take it home, but please don’t show it to anyone and we will collect it when your job is through,” Ms. Hollander said, handing Elizabeth a tablet.
Prem gave her a tight-lipped smile and set up an account for her, having her scan her thumbprint into the machine.
“All of these videos are on this, as well as the other research material,” Prem said, handing Elizabeth a little case with all of the cables and so on for the tablet.
Ms. Hollander looked at Elizabeth with another appraising gaze.
“The role you will be playing is that of Emilia Briar. You will be playing this part at the behest of Mr. Leith Briar. Emilia Briar is Mr. Briar’s step-daughter. He was married to Emilia’s mother for about ten years, but they divorced last year. Emilia currently lives in London,” Ms. Hollander said and then paused, seemingly gauging Elizabeth’s reaction.
It certainly wasn’t a new concept. At the Hotel, Elizabeth got all kinds of roles, and the whole daddy’s girl thing seemed to be in vogue. Still, to be playing his step-daughter. Doing the math, she imagined Emilia was her age and thus grew up with him since she was about eleven.
It didn’t really bother her, at least she didn’t think it did. It certainly didn’t bother her when compared to the thought of a hundred and twenty thousand dollars. She took a deep breath and nodded.
“As well, we will have to have your hair dyed dark brown and get you blue contacts. Is that acceptable?”
Elizabeth nodded, she’d done far more for parts or even for auditions.
Ms. Hollander paused again, seemingly to find the right words. Prem seemed to look away.
“And you would be able to perform in a role that involved that sort of relationship-” she started.
Elizabeth met her eye. She could see Prem looking away from them.
“Yes, I understand. I’ve done that sort of thing at the Hotel,” she said thoughtfully.
“This would be much more in depth-”
“I understand what role I’m going to be playing. His step-daughter. He wants someone who looks just like her and can pretend to be her,” Elizabeth said a bit more quietly.
“Yes, well, we will go over it in some detail in time. For now, we’ll let you sit with these files and study. I’ll come back in about two hours. How does that sound?”
Elizabeth nodded again.
Then they were gone, and she was alone in the computer lab. She saw a pair of very expensive looking headphones on the desk and plugged them into the computer she sat in front of. She looked down the playlist, seeing videos and audio files. She played the next one on the list.
It was another video, this one recorded on what seemed to be a phone or inexpensive camera. Emilia looked a little younger, her hair was shorter, just a neat mop of dark corkscrew curls. She wore a dark brown cowl neck sweater, and fashionable jeans tucked into brown leather boots. She was being interviewed.
“Claudia Brucknell for the Yale Video Journal, interviewing Emilia Briar, a second year, pre-Law. Pre-Law, right Em?” A voice from off-camera asked.
Emilia gave a half smile and shrugged.
“I’m a History major, but yes, most likely pre-Law,” she said.
There was a formality to the way she spoke. A pronounced edge to her vowels that hinted at some vague Englishness. It only came out sometimes, though.
Elizabeth paused the video and spoke out loud “most likely pre-Law.”
She frowned. She played it again. She repeated it.
“What made you come to Yale?” the interviewer asked.
“My father went here. Well, for Law School. He went to Columbia as an undergraduate. I wanted to get out of New York though. I love it here. The campus is so beautiful. The people are wonderful. I love going into New Haven.”
Elizabeth typed out a transcript on the note app on the tablet. She read it back.
Like her speech, Emilia had a kind of formal posture. Elizabeth wondered if she’d studied ballet.
Elizabeth remembered her acting and voice training. She picked out key sounds in Emilia’s speech patterns. She noted particular mannerism. The way Emilia stood very still, but occasionally pushed her hair behind her ear, even when she didn’t have to.
There were layers she saw as she watched more videos and listened to more. There was a long phone message to her mother about a dying relative. There was a coldness to Emilia. She was serious-minded. She thought rationally.
There was a video of Emilia with her boyfriend at Thanksgiving. She never touched him. She held a glass of white wine, but never drank it. Little things that make a bigger picture.
“Dad, come be in the video,” Emilia called across the dinner table.
“No, no, I’m not photogenic like you girls,” came a gruff Scottish brogue.
Elizabeth’s heart raced a little. It was him, the client. She called him “dad,” but it was almost “da,” like some Brits and Scots said it. He looked like a politician perhaps. He looked important. Tallish and broad-shouldered. Mostly gray hair and a strong chin. He wore a thick brown cable-knit cardigan and navy blue slacks. There was something Hemingwayesque about him, though he didn’t have a beard. He was imposing.
“Just come and wave hello,” Emilia asked again, her demeanor somehow different when she spoke to her father, lighter.
“Damn it, Em, I have to carve the turkey,” he grumbled, but there was a pleasantness to his reply.
“Dad,” Elizabeth said experimentally.
This was a man who wanted to fuck his own daughter. Well, his step-daughter. The girl he watched grow up. It was one of those things that in reality was disgusting, yet in fantasy made her squirm with confused and conflicted emotions.
He was tall and handsome in a way. He was perhaps fifty. Nothing like anyone she would date, but there was something strangely attractive in that. It was all fucked up and wrong, but that’s why she was being paid six figures.
“Come and wave hello,” Elizabeth said out loud.
She dug through the documents as well. Emilia had grown up in Westchester, in the very estate Elizabeth was in. She studied abroad, a very prestigious school in London, then some time in Switzerland. She spoke French and German, both of which Elizabeth had studied when she thought she wanted to sing opera. She went to Yale. She was on course to go to law school, but then moved to London to study international economic policy.
She had a few boyfriends but nothing serious. She wasn’t a drinker or a smoker or a known taker of drugs. She didn’t study ballet as Elizabeth thought, but dressage and archery.
Elizabeth lost track of time, falling into the rabbit hole of Emilia’s life. There were many interesting intersections with Elizabeth’s life, but Emilia was very wealthy and well traveled, whereas Elizabeth always seemed to barely get by.
Elizabeth had grown up in a small town in Connecticut. Her mother was kind, but a quiet, timid woman. Elizabeth’s father was never in the picture, though he haunted them, like an apparition, always threatening to return from the West Coast, but never appearing. Elizabeth went to live with her grandparents in New York when she got accepted to the performing arts high school. Again, crossing paths with Emilia, who went to high school in Manhattan as well. They could have been on the same subway car. They could have gone to the same parties, though she doubted it.
Elizabeth was once again brought to attention by Ms. Hollander’s cough, who returned with Prem and sat across a desk from her. Each of them had a tablet on their laps.
“Shall we begin?” Ms. Hollander asked.
Elizabeth’s face tightened a bit. Her smile became more of a slight non-committal grin. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and said, “alright.”
Ms. Hollander looked somewhat impressed.
“What is your name, dear?” she asked carefully.
“Oh, I’m Emilia Briar. Emilia Rose Briar, actually.”
Her name was pronounced somewhat like Amelia, but with a very particular soft “E” as the first vowel. Elizabeth imagined it was a name Emilia had to correct people on all the time, or perhaps she didn’t correct them, but noted their error.
“And where are you today? Why are you here?” Ms. Hollander asked, looking fascinated.
“Where? This is Briarfield, I mean, my father’s estate, in Westchester. Why am I here? I guess, the same answer? It’s my father’s estate. I grew up here. I’m visiting.”
Ms. Hollander nodded again.
“Could you go over to that table and bring me a stapler?” Ms. Hollander asked.
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, but stood, straightening her skirt, smoothing the back, again tucking her hair behind her ear. She walked and remembered her improv training. She remembered the exercises she felt were silly at the time. She remembered the videos of Emilia. She picked a few little key mannerisms. Emilia’s almost too formal posture.
“Will this stapler do?” she said, handing it to Ms. Hollander.
“Yes,” Ms. Hollander said, nodding her head thoughtfully.
“I believe it will do very well, indeed.”
Chapter 3: Costume
The little studio apartment in Bedford they set up for Elizabeth was almost dorm-like in its size and function. She received the key from the chauffeur who drove her to the building and entered to find a freshly painted single room with a new bed, a small desk, an oddly large television mounted on the wall. There were shopping bags full of toothbrushes, shampoo, and other essentials on the kitchen counter.
In the closet were neat rows of Emilia type clothes on hangers.
One wall of the studio was made up of a tiny kitchen. A small refrigerator, a narrow stove, a brand new coffee maker.
She spent the first hour in her new home crying. It was the first place that was just hers in her memory. She’d always been with family or roommates or once a boyfriend, but never alone. It was amazing. She drew herself a bath in the surprisingly large and modern tub, feeling more luxurious than she had in years.
After the bath, she put on the brand new, pristinely white, and very fluffy terry cloth robe and stood in front of the mirror.
A dark-haired version of her stared back. The subtly darker eyebrows were jarring, but she had to admit the fancy hairdresser that was driven up from Manhattan had undoubtedly done some magic.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and opened the small circular white container on the sink and fished out the contact lenses. She often wore contacts instead of glasses, but never colored ones. She put them in easily, finding them much higher quality than what she was used to.
She proceeded to do her makeup, slowly, just a natural look, one that mimicked Emilia.
When she was done, the changes were minute, but effective. The transformation was complete. Emilia looked back at her.
She got the tablet and looked at some pictures of Emilia again. She scrolled through galleries and stopped on a photo of her with her step-father, Leith Briar.
He was much taller than Emilia, broad-shouldered and barrel chested. He dwarfed his daughter. Their size difference and age difference were jarring, striking. He had watched her grow up. How long had he fantasized about her?
Elizabeth wondered if it was good that he hired her. Maybe it was what kept him from doing something else. He could play out a little fantasy, and no one would be the wiser.
She imagined awkward conversations with him in one of his giant libraries. His deep voice and the lyrical lilt of his Scottish accent. She imagined his large hand on her shoulder. Long lingering meaningful hugs. Calling him “dad” and “father” and maybe in certain scenarios, “daddy.” It was all very confusing. She decided not to think about that part. Not yet.
Going to the closet, Elizabeth picked out a very expensive feeling light gray sweater and a pair of dark blue denim jeans. Everything Emilia had seemed normal on the surface, but when examined were of far better quality than usual.
In a drawer, she found surprisingly pretty lingerie. The labels were French. She picked out shimmery gray and purple panties and a matching bra. The silk felt luxurious slipping over her legs. There was some other sensation, something inside of her, putting on the intimate clothing, like slipping on a second skin. It put her in some strange headspace, like she was hyper-aware of things, and always just a little aroused.
She saw in the corner of the room a pair of leather boots. Picking them up, she saw that they were surprisingly beautiful, a dark brown with a brogue on the toe and a slight heel. They were also well worn. She slipped them on and found them a tight but good fit.
Her last piece of Emilia came in a small glass bottle on her nightstand. The label was small, in French, translated to “specially formulated per instructions for Emilia Briar.”
Elizabeth dabbed it on her wrists and rubbed them together, then rubbed her wrists against her neck. The smell was very soft, gardenias, geranium, and bergamot. It was in that moment she felt like she knew Emilia on some biological level.
After the transformation, she sat at the little table that was her dining room and office and spent two hours changing her life.
She sent her old roommate in LA money and apologies. An extra month’s rent so that she could find someone else to take her room. She cleared her credit card debt, the thing that had crippled her since college with four or five clicks of her mouse. She cleared up all of her unpaid income tax.
She felt like she suddenly had time that she hadn’t had in recent memory. No rushing around to try and hustle the next job. No dodging phone calls. No impending doom. She had money in the bank, and a place to sleep that was warm and quiet.
She found herself returning to the tablet computer she was given. Looking back into the fragments of Emilia’s life. How it mirrored hers in some ways, but was so different in so many other ways.
Not for the first time, she saw her reflection in the face of the tablet, superimposed over a picture of Emilia, and it caused a ripple of confusion and excitement. Elizabeth had sometimes felt that at the Hotel. She would occasionally go on jobs there and would find a small folder with the details of a role.
“You are a babysitter, and you have stolen some valuables from your employers. They found out, and you are waiting in their bedroom to be spoken to. You will do anything for them not to tell the police or your parents,” was a role that led to a particularly exciting evening.
“You are dating this man’s brother, but you know he always had a crush on you.”
“It is the day before your wedding, and you are tipsy, hanging out with your maid of honor. You want to try on your dress again for her. She has always thought you were beautiful,” led to one of the most emotionally complicated evenings of Elizabeth’s life.
Then there was the one she thought about most. The one that she had played over and over again, by request. The one that made her flush with shame and guilt at.
“He is your brother. You used to play dirty games as children. As adults, you’ve lost your job, lost your apartment, and have to stay with him. It’s always there, lingering, those forbidden games you played when you were children. He has implied you can’t stay in his apartment for free forever. You have to convince him to let you stay.”
That man was very good at the game. He was very cruel. He was very caring. She hated it when he would leave. She would have done those things even without being paid, but those sorts of connections were discouraged.
Would it be like that with this Leith person?
Elizabeth found her hand between her own legs as she watched videos of Leith and his daughter. She let herself fall into the fantasy. All of the fantasies. They all swirled together as she unzipped her jeans, Emilia’s jeans, and slipped her fingers again Emilia’s expensive panties. Then the smell of her own arousal mingling with Emilia’s perfume.
Chapter 4: Rehearsal
The arrangement went much as Ms. Hollander had said, though with no friends in town and not much else to do, Elizabeth seemed to throw herself into research and rehearsal. Hollander seemed surprised when Elizabeth asked for more material, more facts.
When it became evident that Emilia was a much better cook than Elizabeth, she binge-watched cooking shows and learned how to make some of the simple dishes Emilia spoke about.
It wasn’t about knowing everything, it was about knowing enough. It was knowing a fact or two about things Emilia liked, so she could insert them into conversations.
It had been two weeks, but it felt like months. That Wednesday Ms. Hollander emailed Elizabeth, using the new account they had set up for her with the secure email app on the tablet.
“Mr. Briar will be arriving home on Friday evening. We would like you to be at Briarfield when he arrives and spend the weekend there. Will that suit you?”
“Yes, of course. I’d like to come to the estate early and make sure I know my way around,” Elizabeth wrote back quickly, making her think of responding to some sext or out of the blue message from a crush.
“Excellent, you can arrive at noon on Friday, and we will have lunch waiting. If you are free this evening, we have a little rehearsal you might find useful. Emilia’s cousin Rory is in town. He’s aware of this whole arrangement. He’s a member of the Order. He’s a rather eccentric gentleman, but I think he will be able to give us a frank assessment of how you’ve taken to the role. Maybe even some helpful notes for this weekend. He’ll be at the Rock Point Inn at seven for dinner and cocktails. Can I tell him Emilia will join him?”
Elizabeth read this email over a few times. It made her heart race, but she was eager to get into the role, become Emilia in front of someone other than the mirror.
“Yes. 7 at the Rock Point Inn. I’ll be there. I should say, Emilia will be there.”
The electric of stage fright came bubbling in her belly. It wasn’t a bad thing, not for Elizabeth at least. In fact, it was the nervous energy that propelled her through her career.
Elizabeth saw that it was almost noon. She had to do a lot of things to get ready. She looked through her tablet’s notes, remembering something about an account she had at the spa in town. She grabbed a few things and opened the app that would get her a taxi into town.
She’d always enjoyed being pampered, but doing so for free was something new and wonderful for her.
She went to the front desk wearing big movie star sunglasses to hide her nervousness.
“Yes, I believe someone set up an account for me? Elizabeth Turner?”
The overly tanned and very fit woman behind the counter tapped on her laptop.
“Oh, yes. You can have anything you want here, Ms. Turner. No charge. No tip. It’s all taken care of. What can we do for you today?”
Elizabeth looked at the menu of services, which were both massage and spa as well as facials and manicures.
“Um, I guess, the full massage package? The mud. The facial. Mani, pedi, and, um, leg, lip, and Brazilian wax.”
The woman smiled brightly.
“Let’s just do the platinum package. It’s all of that and a few other things,” she said with a wink.
“I, um, I have a date at seven, and I have to go home and change,” she said, already preparing for everything to come.
“We’ll make sure you’re out by five,” the woman said, getting up and taking Elizabeth’s jacket and bag.
At a quarter to seven, Elizabeth walked down the main street of Bedford, feeling scrubbed and buffed to an inch of her life. Her makeup, perfect, her hair a pretty crown of dark chocolate brown curls, and her skin humming.
She wore a dark navy flared dress, dark stockings, a pair or amazing oxblood oxfords with a kitten heel. Her purse matched her shoes perfectly, and her lipstick was only slightly lighter than their blood red shade.
She felt transformed. She would never wear such a severe color palette. She had only ever worn a garter belt on stage. The combination of the silk dress brushing her legs and the tightness of the garter belt and the smoothness of her freshly waxed legs and other bits had her in a state. It was like she was aware of every inch of her body.
When she walked across the street from the restaurant, she spotted the man she was meeting right away. Something about his somewhat messy hair and roguish good looks were reminiscent of Leith, only thirty years younger.
Rory stood in looking at his phone with a half smile. He was tall and what Elizabeth considered “traditionally good looking.” He wore a very contemporary looking suit of a somewhat shiny gray material.
As sometimes happened before she went on stage, Elizabeth felt something pass over her. She took a breath and closed her eyes and then she was Emilia. She was Emilia, and she was walking purposefully towards her cousin.
“Rory,” she said with a note of familiarity.
He looked up at her from his phone, and his eyes narrowed for a split second.
“Em, it’s been ages,” he said with a soft British accent that placed him in London and moneyed.
She moved in, her smile tight, and gave him a careful hug. He patted her once on the back and then opened the door for her.
The place was almost empty, being a Wednesday evening. The smell of very fresh seafood was welcoming as was the privacy.
The maître d picked up two menus, and Rory pointed to a booth at the far end of the main room.
“Could we sit over there, mate?”
The older man nodded and let them over, looking for a moment, at Elizabeth’s outfit and shapely legs. Elizabeth was sure he thought they were on a date.
Rory’s eyes were on her as well as they were led to their table. Even as they sat, he examined her from across the table. She let herself fall into all the little Emilia-ism she had studied. Tucker her hair behind her ear. Biting her bottom lip and then stopping suddenly before she messed up her lipstick.
“It has been a while. When was the last time I saw you?” Elizabeth started, letting him fill in the details.
He nodded, amused by the question.
“I don’t know, the wedding, I guess,” he said slowly, watching for a reaction.
“Karina’s wedding, right,” she said, sipping her water.
He nodded, seeming impressed.
“How are you getting along in London? I haven’t been home in, god, five years now,” he laughed.
“It’s great. It’s not so different from New York. The tube feels just like the subway. I feel like I work in Manhattan and then Shoreditch is like going home to Brooklyn.”
He continued to nod. The waiter arrived, and they ordered. The whole time Rory had a slight grin, and an amused look in his eye.
They made small talk. He talked about his business, some tech startup, an iPhone app of some kind. Elizabeth felt the role become easier and more comfortable when talking to him. His accent helped, it let her slip into the little Britishism that Emilia often used.
They ate oysters and shrimp and had a delicious bottle of rosé. It wasn’t until coffee after that Rory took a deep breath and let out a little laugh and broke the scene they were playing in.
“Elizabeth, may we, ah, I’m not sure how to word this. May I speak to Elizabeth?”
It was jarring and for some reason made her very uncomfortable. She sipped water and cleared her throat.
“Sure. I suppose. Did I say something wrong?”
Her voice was audibly different. Softer, more casual.
He wiped his mouth with his napkin and shook his head.
“Not at all. You’re a smart one. You only talk about things you know about, and you don’t guess at things. You take advantage of Emilia’s laconic nature. Brava, it’s really a fascinating and excellent performance,” he said, giving her a little golf clap of applause.
She felt her cheeks warm, which was amplified a bit by the wine.
“Well, that’s lovely to hear. Any notes?” She asked, with a bright, very un-Emilia, smile.
Rory finished his coffee and eyed her carefully.
“She’s guarded, certainly, which you really nailed, but when she’s with close friends or close family, there is a wicked humor to her. She won’t talk all dinner and then have one little subtle jab. It’s what I like most about her. Well that and,” he laughed again and rubbed his temple for a moment.
“She’s not a sexless woman. She certainly wasn’t a sexless girl. She’s just very private about it, but it is always there. There is this sort of smoldering fire there, in her eyes. I think maybe it is what keeps her so quiet. It’s like she is always making sure not to say anything that will get her in trouble, because just under the surface, Emilia wants trouble. That’s really the only thing I’m thinking you are missing,” he said, motioning over to the waiter for the check.
“Em, out at dinner with a bottle of wine in an almost empty restaurant? That fire would be there in spades. Lingering looks. Little sly grins. Biting her bottom lip. Double entendre,” he said with another laugh.
The check came, and he paid it. Elizabeth waited to ask more until the waiter was gone.
“Is she, I mean, I saw that she brought different boyfriends to weddings. Is she promiscuous?”
Rory’s eyebrows furled, and he scoffed.
“I don’t even know how to approach that question. Emilia doesn’t kiss and tell. Well, not to most people. I saw her wild side from time to time though. When we both lived in Brooklyn, we hung out more, went out drinking, she let me in a little. I saw her go home with guys, girls, couples, whatever. The next day she wouldn’t say anything. Just a sly little smile. That was the other side of Emilia.”
Elizabeth took that in.
“Did you two ever-” she asked, letting the questions hang.
He scoffed. “No comment,” he said, his eyes narrowing, studying her reaction.
“I mean, it would help me-” she started, but he held up his hand.
“Ah, you think I’m here to help you. I’m not. I exchanged some information because I wanted to see you for myself. I wanted to see what that old dog Leith was doing.”
She nodded. She considered that. She found him both charismatic and intimidating. He seemed to be a man who was intelligent, powerful, and utterly immune to her charms. She considered that. She felt herself fall into Emilia again.
“That’s a shame. Here I thought I might convince you to show me how she fucks,” she said, flashing a crooked smile and then getting up and getting her jacket.
He didn’t move, but he smiled. “Oh? Is that what you thought?” He said, brushing his hand through his hair.
“Unfortunately I don’t play with other people’s toys. Especially before they’ve even opened them,” he said, standing and getting his own jacket.
“Anyhow, I have plans for the evening. But I think you’ll do just fine. After all, Leith doesn’t know how she fucks either. I think that’s part of what this is all about. Anyhow, they’re not training you to be Emilia, they’re training you to be the person Leith thinks Emilia is, and you seem to be doing that quite well.”
He gave her another smile and a wink and leaned in and kissed her cheek.
“Break a leg, Em.”