Bring Me A Light And Then Bring Me A Light, Part 3

(by The Tobacconatrix, 13 November 2012)

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Bring Me a Light and then Bring Me a Light 
By The Tobacconatrix 

Part 3 

"Only frustrated people smoke too much, and only lonely people are 
Marion Parsonnet; Gilda 

Chapter 1 

Louise huddled in her chair and smoked her cigarette nervously. He was 
going to come home any minute, she knew, and he was going to be furious 
when he found out. She sucked hungrily on her cigarette, trying to keep 
calm, but it was no use; she was terrified. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad, 
she thought; maybe he hadn't been drinking so much today. 

Her cigarette had burned down to a stub, and she pulled out a new one, 
lighting it with shaking hands. The room was dense with clouds of smoke, 
but she didn't care. She knew what was about to happen, and she knew she 
was powerless to stop it. She should really get out. She should just.... 
not be here. But that was hopeless, she knew; where could she go? She had 
nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. She dragged on her cigarette again, 
trying to draw strength from it. Then she heard sounds outside the door. 

Oh no, he was here. 

The door was flung open and he burst into the room. Louise could see at 
once that he was drunk. This was going to be bad. He stood framed in the 
doorway for an instant, then moved menacingly towards her. She tried to 
sink deeper into her chair, but he kept advancing. His shirt was torn and 
his face was dirty; a cigarette dangled from his lips and he had a dark 
look in his eyes. 

"Where's the car?" He glared at her accusingly. "Why isn't it outside?" 

"Well.... They took it," she quavered in a tiny voice. "They took it away." 
She saw him start to turn purple, and she raised her hands to defend 
herself. She knew what was coming. 

He grabbed her roughly and pulled her out of the chair. She struggled, 
whimpering, and almost dropped her cigarette. 

"You stupid bitch! Why didn't you stop them!" 

"What could I do?" she wailed pathetically. "They said you missed too many 
payments; they said they had to take it!" 

He was shaking her now, and she struggled against him, clawing and 
scratching. She managed to wriggle free, and he half shoved her, half 
slapped her down. She dropped back into the chair, sobbing. 

"I need that car," he bellowed. "You're so useless! You're pathetic! Can't 
you do anything?" 

She tried to shrink away, but he was towering over the chair, completely 
blocking her in. She dragged on her cigarette again and closed her eyes, 
hoping that whatever happened next would happen quickly. He grabbed her 
again and dragged her up, holding her by the hair. She sobbed and tried to 
spit in his face, but he pulled her close and kissed her, roughly. He 
tasted of sweat and stale tobacco. She struggled for a moment, then gave 
up, surrendering herself to him as she had done so many times in the past. 
She grabbed his shirt and tugged at it, pulling him closer. He clapped a 
large, meaty hand on her behind and half-hoisted her up. 

When they finally broke apart, he stepped back and she dropped back into 
the chair, a distant smile starting to spread across her face. He rocked 
back on his heels and stood there regarding her in the dim light. They both 
pulled out fresh cigarettes and lit them as they gazed warily at each 

There was silence for a moment, then the group burst into appreciative 
applause. Louise and Portia turned to the room and acknowledged the 
applause, smiling slightly self-consciously. They returned to their seats 
as Dr. Piper stood up and moved to the front of the group again. 

"Next time you get to be the abusive husband," whispered Portia as they 
settled back into their chairs. Louise straightened her dress and grinned. 

"I think someone may have been overdosing on Tennessee Williams," Dr. Piper 
said with a twinkle in her eye, and Louise felt herself blushing slightly. 
She and Portia had worked on the scene in their room the previous evening, 
and she couldn't deny that it had a touch of Streetcar Named Desire about 

"Does anyone have any comments or thoughts?" Dr. Piper was asking. She 
pulled out a fresh cigarette and lit it, casually. In the five days they 
had been working together, Dr. Piper had been smoking almost constantly. 
Louise couldn't even begin to guess how many cigarettes she must go through 
every day. She suddenly became aware of the cigarette she had in her own 
hand; she and Portia were both still holding the cigarettes they had lit at 
the end of their little scene. She looked at it uncertainly, unsure what to 
do with it. Portia didn't appear to be giving hers any thought; she was 
looking expectantly towards Dr. Piper, holding the cigarette casually, 
almost absently. 

After a moment, Anushka spoke up. "I thought they sold the scene well," she 
said. "Louise especially; I liked the `nervous smoking' as she was waiting 
for her husband to come in." 

Dr. Piper nodded in agreement, and Louise felt a flash of pride. She had 
worked on that in particular last night, smoking the cigarette quickly and 
hungrily, trying to look like someone just on the edge of panic. It had 
made her quite lightheaded. 

"Both of you are getting quite adept with your cigarettes," Dr. Piper said. 
"Your smoking is much more natural and believable than it was a few days 
ago." She took a thoughtful drag on her own cigarette. "You might want to 
think about the way you exhale in a scene like that, however." She began 
rapidly puffing on her cigarette, smoking it the way Louise had a few 
minutes ago. 

"The `nervous smoking' was very good when the wife was alone, and waiting 
for the husband to come in, but once he does come in, they are presumably 
focusing on each other, and not on their cigarettes." She took another drag 
on her cigarette and let the smoke erupt from her nose and mouth as she 

"Rather than exhaling those long streams, you might try just letting the 
smoke billow out, like this, as you're talking." She took yet another drag 
and continued. "A really heavy smoker spends a lot of time smoking on 
auto-pilot. You need to show the audience that smoking is as second-nature 
to your character as breathing." 

Louise's cigarette was still burning in her hand; the ash was starting to 
grow quite long. Now she manicured it in the ashtray and took a long drag. 

"So we let the smoke -" she started to say, but it got the better of her 
and she began to cough, smoke erupting from her nose. There was gentle 
laughter from around the room. Portia also tried it; she let the smoke pour 
from her nose for a moment, then began to speak. 

"When in the course of human events -" she started, smoke spilling from her 
mouth with every word. Then she paused, eyes widening, and put her hand to 
her chest. 

"Whoa, that feels weird," she muttered, and took a more thoughtful drag on 
her cigarette. Louise took another drag of her own and released the smoke 
silently. This, at least, she was getting good at. For the last five days 
the group had been practicing their smoking techniques from morning to 
evening. They had smoked together as a group during the day, and Louise and 
Portia had practiced together in their room each night - not strictly out 
of academic zeal, Louise had to admit. 

It was hard going. The smell stuck to her hair and clothes, her throat was 
constantly sore and her voice sounded harsh and raspy every morning - at 
least until her second cup of coffee. But she was getting better at it, she 
knew, and so was Portia. That first afternoon had been awful, and the two 
of them had staggered back to their room and just collapsed, feeling too 
sick to move, trying to recover from the effects of the four or five 
cigarettes they had gone through in that session. 

It had been even worse the next morning, when Louise had woken up with a 
splitting headache and an upset stomach, having felt too ill to eat 
anything before falling asleep. Yvette's magic headache pills had helped a 
lot that morning. 

Thinking back about it now, she could see that they had made a lot of 
progress since then. She no longer wanted to throw up after each cigarette, 
and was, in fact, even discovering the pleasure of having smoke in her 
lungs. Smoking cigarettes during their role-playing sessions throughout the 
day was at least tolerable now, and she and Portia were having lots of fun 
playing games with their cigarettes (and each other) back in their room 
every night. 

This morning during her daily session with Adrian and Yvette, she had 
demonstrated her smoking technique to them, hoping to get some feedback 
from a pair of `real' smokers. They had both been very encouraging, and had 
assured her that her smoking was looking very natural. 

"You look really elegant with a cigarette," Yvette had said to her. "You 
have just the right look for it." 

Adrian had nodded in agreement. "Absolutely," he had said as he fussed with 
her hair. "You look really sexy, for a girl." They had laughed at that. 
Louise had really warmed to Yvette and Adrian, and she had come to enjoy 
their morning sessions together. She hoped they would be able to stay in 
touch once the course was over. She was also loving the new look they were 
giving her. She had never thought of herself as glamorous or elegant 
before, and her clothes had always been selected for comfort rather than 
style. She had to admit she liked the way she felt when she saw herself 
transformed like this, and she also loved the effect it had on Portia. 

She sometimes caught Portia looking her up and down (when she thought 
Louise wasn't paying attention) and she really enjoyed that feeling. For 
her part, she thought Portia looked just fantastic - so elegant and 
stylish; she couldn't believe how lucky she was. She occasionally worried 
about what might happen once they had to return to their real lives, but 
that was still over a week away, so it wasn't something she let herself 
fret over too much. For now she was going to enjoy the moment, make the 
most of it, and focus her energies on mastering this smoking thing. 

Dr. Piper was still demonstrating the talking-while-exhaling technique, and 
now suggested that the group spend a few minutes working on that before 
breaking for dinner. 

"Why don't you spend the rest of the session practicing amongst 
yourselves," she said. "But focus on smoking while you are talking. Don't 
wait to speak until you've exhaled, because smokers don't usually do that." 
She continued to demonstrate what she was describing, allowing the smoke to 
billow out of her mouth in rhythmic accompaniment to her words. 

Louise looked down at her own cigarette, which had more or less burned 
down. She stubbed it out in the overflowing ashtray and extracted a fresh 
one from her nearly-empty pack 

Hadn't she just opened this pack yesterday morning? They weren't kidding 
when they had called this course "intensive smoking". 

Seated around the table, Michaela and Anthea were lighting up their 
cigarettes. Portia took a final drag of her own before crushing out her old 
cigarette, thick smoke billowing from her nose and mouth, then she too 
extracted a fresh cigarette from her pack. Louise lit her new cigarette and 
inhaled deeply, then leaned over and offered the light to Portia, who 
accepted it, smiling. 

Anthea spoke up first. "I'm not sure I'm going to last another week of 
this," she said. She took a cautious drag on her cigarette and tried to 
speak through the exhale, only partially successfully. "My throat is sore 
all the time," she croaked, then paused to wipe her runny nose. 

Louise consciously took a drag of her own before replying. "I think we are 
making progress," she said, trying to resist the urge to empty her lungs 
all at once. "It feels easier now than it did a few days ago. We just have 
to stick with it." 

Michaela spoke up for the first time. "It's not so bad, really; I've had to 
do far worse in my time." She took a long puff and let it out thoughtfully. 
Anthea glared at her. The two of them did not seem to get on well, despite 
(or possibly because of) the fact that they were sharing a room. They 
frequently snapped at each other, and Louise thought they had very little 
chemistry when they tried to do role-playing scenes together. Their 
attitude to the course was also very different. Anthea never missed an 
opportunity to grumble and complain, and made it abundantly clear that 
every cigarette she smoked was under duress. Michaela, on the other hand, 
was smoking almost enthusiastically, and Louise had seen her light up a 
couple of times when she didn't actually need to - like yesterday at 
breakfast, for example. Michaela had skipped the cereal and orange juice 
and just had a cup of coffee and a cigarette. No wonder she was so thin. 

For that matter, Louise had noticed that her own appetite was a bit 
lacklustre. She was pretty sure it was down to all the cigarettes they were 
smoking during the day; her stomach never seemed to be quite right, and she 
wished they could have a day off from all the smoking, just to give her 
insides a chance to recover. She wondered briefly what would happen if she 
decided to take a `sick day'. It wouldn't do much good, probably. She would 
only have to resume the next day, and she would have lost the momentum of 
the course. After the course was over she would have some time to let 
herself recover fully, and she wouldn't have to smoke as relentlessly as 
this ever again. 

It crossed her mind that she also might not have her smokey sessions with 
Portia, and she felt a momentary pang. She looked over at Portia, who was 
in the middle of saying something to Anthea, trying awkwardly to exhale 
through her sentence. Hopefully they would be able to keep seeing each 
other after the course was over. She could introduce Portia to her friends 
and family; it would be great. 

She pulled her mind back to the present moment, took a drag on her 
cigarette, and joined the conversation. 

Chapter 2 

Across the smoke-filled room, Beverly watched the girls with satisfaction. 
In general, she was pleased with the progress they were making. After five 
days, the differing temperaments of the various girls were starting to 
become apparent. Some of them, like Claire and Michaela, were already 
starting to lean heavily on their cigarettes for support. They both had 
fairly compulsive personalities, and smoking was starting to fit very 
neatly into their compulsions. Claire, especially, smoked her cigarettes 
greedily, almost hungrily. It was obvious that she was rapidly becoming 
dependent on the nicotine. Someone with such low self-esteem was almost 
bound to become addicted to anything that would make her feel good, and 
cigarettes were clearly doing that. 

The others were also progressing nicely. Beverly could see that the initial 
discomfort and even revulsion that the girls had displayed that first day 
was all but forgotten. Now, whenever she asked the girls to light up, they 
all did so with no hesitation, and no adverse effects. Even Anthea (who 
never missed an opportunity to point out how ridiculous it all was) was 
inhaling deeply with every cigarette she smoked. 

She continued to watch the group for a few more minutes, observing them as 
they tried to master the art of speaking while exhaling. Most of them were 
still clumsy and awkward with their cigarettes. Even if their bodies were 
becoming dependant on the nicotine, they were not really making the 
cigarettes part of themselves yet. That would come soon enough, she knew. 
It was just a matter of patience and some gentle coaxing. 

Speaking of which.... 

It was nearly time for dinner, so she wound up the session for the day, 
thanking everyone for their hard work. The girls got up to leave, gathering 
their cigarettes and lighters, and chatting among themselves. Beverly 
gathered up her own things, then cleared her throat, loudly. Everyone 
looked up at her expectantly. 

"Anthea, Louise and Portia," she said, "I wonder if you would mind 
remaining behind for a moment? The rest of you can go down to dinner." 

The three of them exchanged nervous glances, and Anthea looked at Michaela 
in confusion, obviously wondering why she had been singled out without her 
room-mate. They sat back in their seats, and the rest of the girls shuffled 
out, casting sidelong glances back at the three unlucky victims. Beverly 
knew what the hot topic of conversation would now be at the dinner table, 
and smiled in satisfaction. 

It was obvious that the three of them had no idea what to expect; they sat 
watching Beverly and waiting for the room to empty out, looking for all the 
world like three naughty school-girls waiting to see the headmaster. 
Beverly let them stew for a moment; she leisurely took out a fresh 
cigarette and lit it, deliberately taking her time. The girls just watched 
her silently, but were clearly desperate to know what was going on. 

"So," she finally said, "how are you enjoying the course so far?" 

The girls shifted nervously in their seats, trying to figure out where 
Beverly was going with this. 

"Well, there's a lot of smoking," Anthea finally said. Louise and Portia 
nodded, but didn't add anything. 

"More than you were expecting?" Beverly asked. She released a cloud of 
smoke and smiled at Anthea. "It is a smoking technique course, after all." 

Louise cleared her throat nervously. "It's a bit full-on, but not more than 
I would have expected, personally," she said, and Portia nodded in support 
of her friend. 

"And everything seems well organised and well thought out," Louise 
continued. "I would say it's a well designed course." 

Now she was playing to her, Beverly knew. She was just saying what she 
thought Beverly wanted to hear. Time to let them off the hook. 

"The reason I asked you three to stay is because we were approached by the 
fashion department today. Apparently they are organising a photo shoot for 
some of their students tomorrow, and they have asked if anyone from our 
group would be willing to volunteer as models for them. I was wondering if 
you three would be interested." 

She paused and waited for the information to sink in. She could see the 
tension melt away; their bodies relaxed and the sense of relief was almost 
palpable. They had been bracing themselves for some sort of criticism, and 
now they looked as if they had just been granted a reprieve. This was 
almost too easy. 

"I don't know if any of you have ever participated in a fashion shoot 
before, but it's hard work," she told them. "I'm asking you three because I 
think you are making the most progress of the group. You might find this an 
interesting challenge." 

The three girls smiled at that, and it was plain that they were flattered. 
Well, no one was immune to a bit of ego massage. Actually, Beverly was 
quite sincere about Louise and Portia; she was very pleased with their 
developing smoking styles - although there was still much to do. Anthea was 
a bit more complicated. A bit more work was going to be required with her; 
she still had a bit of an attitude about her, and she made it clear that 
each cigarette she smoked was under protest. 

"Would you be interested in doing this?" she asked the girls. "It would be 
all day tomorrow, starting very early, and it will involve some smoking in 
front of the camera, but I think you might enjoy it." 

The girls looked at each other, obviously unsure of what to say. Clearly, 
this had come completely out of the blue. 

"I'll tell you what," Beverly said. "Why don't you go down to dinner and 
think it over? You don't have to decide right this instant." She smiled at 
them. "Once you've had a chance to discuss it, you can tell either Tina or 
me how you've decided." 

Portia spoke up suddenly. "Do you really think we are the best choices for 
this? I mean, it's very kind of you to ask us, but none of us have any 
experience with this sort of thing." 

"That's why I thought you might find it stimulating," Beverly assured her 
smoothly. "And it will be an opportunity to practice your smoking 
techniques in a new context. Role-playing can only take you so far." 

"But why us, out of the whole group?" Anthea asked. "Why not Michaela, my 
room-mate? She seems to be doing well." 

Because Michaela is an anorexic drug addict who will be chain-smoking by 
the end of the week without any further help from me, Beverly thought. 

"Because Michaela - and the others - still need more practice putting 
themselves into other personas while they are smoking," she said. 
"Remember, I'm not trying to teach you how to smoke here. That, you can 
learn behind the bicycle shed of any high school." The girls laughed at 

"I'm trying to show you how to use cigarettes as a tool when portraying 
other characters. And I think you three are making the most progress in 
that direction." 

The three girls practically glowed at that, and she knew that had done the 

"As I say, go down and have your dinner," she said to them. "But do let me 
know. Or Tina. If you decide not to do it, I'll need to let the fashion 
department know to make other arrangements." 

The girls thanked her again and headed downstairs, leaving Beverly alone. 
Once they were out of earshot, she pulled out her phone and called Tina. 

Tina answered, and Beverly could hear girls' voices chattering in the 

"Can you talk?" she asked. 

"We're just having dinner," Tina said carefully. She was obviously sitting 
with the other girls. 

"No problem," Beverly said. "I've just spoken to Anthea, Portia and Louise. 
They're going to let us know by the end of dinner, but they will definitely 
be doing it. You can let them know what time to show up, and so on." 

"That's fine," Tina said. "I'll take care of it." 

"And you've spoken to the fashion department? They know what to do?" 

"Oh, yes," Tina assured her. "Everything is absolutely fine." She obviously 
didn't want to say any more with the other girls sitting there, so Beverly 
thanked her and promised to see her later. 

She switched off the phone and stubbed out her cigarette. She should have 
some food of her own, but she would probably meet up with Eve and the two 
of them could go somewhere together. They could find something better than 
the cafeteria food being served downstairs, and she could fill Eve in on 
the progress they were making. It was good to have someone she could talk 
to about everything that was really going on, and she was grateful that Eve 
had chosen to stay for a few days. 

She had every confidence that tomorrow's photo shoot would do wonders for 
both Louise and Portia. She could see the way they had been looking at each 
other all week; and their chemistry was very strong whenever they did 
scenes together. Well, tomorrow they would get put through a wringer. They 
had no idea what they were in for! 

Including Anthea had been a more difficult decision. It was clear that 
Anthea was still very resistant to the idea of smoking. Given a choice, 
Beverly would never have paired her with someone like Michaela; it was just 
sheer bad luck that the two of them had wound up sharing a room. Anthea 
obviously disliked Michaela, and the more Michaela embraced smoking, the 
more Anthea was becoming turned off to it. Beverly had even considered 
trying to change the rooming arrangements. They could have made some excuse 
and put Anthea together with Kumiko, for example. But Beverly had decided 
against it in the end. Anthea was sharp; if they did something like that 
she might get suspicious. Sending her into a photo shoot - with all that 
was going to entail - was by far the better option. 

Yes, Beverly decided; everything was going well. By tomorrow night, things 
were going to be very different. 


Chapter 3 

The insistent beeping of the alarm pulled Louise out of a very deep sleep. 
She lay there in the dark for a moment feeling disoriented. Something was 
wrong, because it didn't feel like morning. She turned her head slightly 
and squinted at the clock. 4:30am. What did that mean? Wasn't that the 
middle of the night? Maybe she was dreaming. The alarm couldn't really be 
going off right now. Next to her on the bed, Portia rolled over and 
groaned, then muttered something incoherent about it being too early. The 
alarm was obviously real. 

Then Louise remembered. They were doing a photo shoot today. Tina had told 
them to report to their stylists at 5am. They had been shocked by that. 
Five o'clock in the morning? 

"Welcome to the fashion world," Tina had said, dryly. 

The alarm was still bleeping away, and Louise stretched out a hand in the 
dark, feeling for the clock on the bedside table. Her fingers touched it, 
and she slapped it blindly, hoping to find the correct button to make it 
shut up. After a few such attempts, the alarm lapsed into silence. Louise 
let her arm drop back onto the bed. 

"Thank you," Portia muttered, and snuggled closer to Louise under the 
covers. Louise could feel Portia's hair against her cheek, and smelled the 
faint aroma of shampoo and stale cigarettes. She ran her hand along the 
contours of Portia's body, and Portia sighed in contentment. They lay like 
that for a few minutes, enjoying the intimacy and the darkness, but then 
the alarm began beeping again. Damn! 

"Okay, okay," mumbled Portia. The clock read 4:35. They were going to have 
to get up. Louise reached over and switched on the bed-side light. It was 
painfully bright, and she squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then opened 
them more cautiously, adjusting to the light level. Her throat was sore - 
something she was getting used to in the mornings - and her head felt 
fuzzy. That was just from lack of sleep, she knew. It was far too early to 
be getting up. 

Portia propped herself up in the bed, rubbing her forehead. She looked over 
at Louise through bleary eyes. "Why did we agree to this, again?" she asked 
in a raspy voice. 

"God knows," mumbled Louise. "It seemed like a good idea last night." 

She pulled herself out of the bed. The air felt cold against her skin, and 
the floor was freezing. "Dibs on the bathroom," she said, and padded across 
the room. She sat down on the toilet, and Portia followed her in a moment 
later and took a long drink of water from the sink, then refilled the glass 
and offered it to Louise. Louise accepted the glass gratefully and drank it 
down. The water helped, but she knew she was going to need something 
stronger than that this morning. She hoped they would be able to get some 
coffee from somewhere. 

Finishing in the bathroom, she returned to the bedroom and pulled on her 
dress and shoes. She knew she probably looked awful, but it was too early 
in the morning to care. Anyway, Adrian and Yvette would be able to fix 
that. Her head was still full of cotton, and there was a dull pain behind 
her eyeballs. Opening her purse, she found the bottle of pills that Yvette 
had given her and popped a couple in her mouth. That would help. The bottle 
was almost empty; she would need to ask Yvette about getting more. 

She tidied up the room a little bit as she waited for Portia. The ashtray 
on the bedside table had four lipstick-stained cigarette butts from last 
night's `session', so she cleaned it out and threw away the empty pack. 
Taking a fresh pack from the carton they had been given, she put it and the 
lighter into her purse. 

"Are you going to need more cigarettes?" she called to Portia, who was just 
finishing in the bathroom. 

Portia stuck her head out. "What do you think? I've got about half a pack 
left. Do you think that's enough for today?" 

Louise shrugged. "I have no idea. I don't know what to expect." Tina had 
told them that they would be smoking in some of the photos, but not all of 
them, so there would probably be less smoking required of them today. That 
alone sounded good to Louise; it would be a chance to take a break from all 
the smoking they had been doing this week. She debated for a moment, then 
popped a fresh pack into Portia's bag - just in case. 

Portia emerged from the bathroom, still looking tired, and pulled on her 
skirt and blouse. Stepping into her high-heels, she took her handbag from 
Louise. It was 4:52. 

"Ready to be a fashion icon?" Portia grinned. 

Louise didn't feel like a fashion icon, and Portia didn't look much like 
one. Her skin was pasty and there were dark circles under her eyes. The 
fashion department was probably going to ask for its money back. 

"Now or never," she said, and smiled. And the two of them headed 

Chapter 4 

Adrian and Yvette were already waiting for her, and Louise couldn't believe 
how awake and alert they were at five o'clock in the morning. When she 
commented on it, Adrian simply brushed it aside, laughing. 

"We always get started this early," he said. "This is normal for a fashion 

Yvette brought her a cup of hot coffee which Louise accepted gratefully. 

"You may need to inject this straight into my bloodstream," she laughed as 
she took a large sip. 

"Are you really that tired?" Yvette asked, looking concerned, and Louise 
glared at her. 

"I just got up at 4:30 in the morning. Yes, I'm tired." She took another 
sip of coffee and collapsed into the makeup chair. Yvette went over to her 
own bag and produced a small bottle of pills. 

"Here you go," she said, "These will perk you up a bit." 

Louise shook her head. "Thanks, but I already took a couple of pills this 
morning. My head feels all right; I'm just tired." It was true; apart from 
feeling very fuzzy from lack of sleep, she wasn't feeling too bad. She was 
having a hard time getting her eyes to focus, but there was no headache at 

"No, no," Yvette was saying. "These aren't painkillers; they're not like 
the Codeine. These should help you wake up." She pressed the tablets into 
Louise's hand, and Louise saw that they looked different from the pills 
Yvette had given her before. 

"What are they?" 

Yvette smiled. "Just something they use to stay awake. Truck drivers used 
to take these on long distance journeys." She rolled her eyes. "You can't 
get this stuff over here any more, but my room-mate does a lot of modelling 
in Eastern Europe. She brings them back with her." 

At that moment Adrian came over with a large tray of cosmetics. When he saw 
the pills in Louise's hand, he nodded. 

"Ah, good idea," he said. "You look like you need those." 

"Do you think it's okay?" asked Louise uncertainly. She didn't like the 
idea of getting though the day with pills. 

"Please," said Adrian. "The fashion world wouldn't be able to function 
without those little pills. You'll need to stay awake in front of the 
cameras, and I need to get rid of those bags under your eyes." 

Louise hesitated a moment longer, then popped the pills into her mouth and 
swallowed them with a mouthful of coffee. If they could wake her up a bit, 
that could only be a good thing; after all that's what she wanted the 
coffee to do. This was presumably better. 

She settled back in the chair and Adrian and Yvette went to work. 

Nothing they had done to her thus far prepared her for the going-over they 
gave her this morning. They stripped her down, washed and brushed her 
within an inch of her life, rinsed all traces of dye from her hair and even 
washed away every last bit of nail polish from her fingers and toes. They 
were so thorough, she half-expected them to go over her body with 
sandpaper. They didn't, but they did wax her arms and legs. Louise had 
never had a professional wax before, and by the time they finished, she 
decided that sandpaper might have been preferable. Once she was thoroughly 
stripped down, they started again from scratch. Louise began to understand 
why they had to start so early in the morning; they had been working for 
almost two hours and they had barely started on her makeup or hair. She 
found herself getting impatient with the whole process. The two of them 
were fussing endlessly over every inch of her body, and she was having an 
increasingly hard time sitting still in the chair. She wanted to jump up 
and run out of the room, but it was quite clear that they were nowhere near 
finished with her yet. She gritted her teeth and tried to take deep 
breaths, willing herself to sit still and let them work, but it was 

Yvette, working on her fingernails, obviously sensed something was wrong. 

"Are you okay, love?" She asked, concerned. "You're a bit twitchy." 

"I'm fine," Louise snapped. "I just need to stretch my legs. I feel like 
I've been sitting here for hours." She realised she had been literally 
bouncing up and down in the seat, and she made a conscious effort to sit 
still and relax. 

Adrian had been doing something with her hair. "Give us ten minutes," he 
said, "Then we can take a break." 

"How much more is there to do?" Louise asked them, desperately. She had 
never worn this much makeup; not even when she had played Medea in college; 
she felt like a Kabuki dancer. 

"Oh, another half-hour, maybe forty-five minutes," said Yvette casually, 
and Louise groaned. The thought of another three quarters of an hour in 
this ridiculous chair was almost more than she could bear. 

"Why is this so complicated?" She asked them. "You've never done it like 
this before. This is, what, the fifth session we've had?" She thought back. 
"No, wait - the sixth, isn't it? And it's never been this intense. What is 
this, overtime?" 

Adrian laughed and put a restraining hand on her shoulder. "Wow, calm down, 
sweetheart; shhh...." 

Louise took a deep breath and realised her pulse was racing. Every muscle 
in her body was taut; she was getting herself very worked up. She forced 
herself to unclench and settled back down in the chair. 

Yvette looked up briefly. "I think I gave her the Benzedrine a little too 

"No kidding," said Adrian mildly. "This is for a photo shoot," he said to 
Louise. "Makeup for the camera is different from makeup in real life. 
Everything has to be exaggerated. You get used to it after a while." 

Yvette finished polishing Louise's nails and straightened up. "Why don't we 
take a short break now," she said. "Then you can finish her hair and we can 
make a start on the wardrobe and accessories." 

Adrian nodded in agreement, and Louise gratefully slid out of the chair. 
She was wide awake and felt an overpowering need to move around. Yvette 
pulled out her cigarettes and lit one, then offered the pack to Louise. 

"Would you like one this morning?" she asked, politely. 

Louise shook her head, no. She was still looking forward to a day with 
fewer cigarettes, but even as she refused, she found herself thinking twice 
about it. She was feeling rather jumpy and hyper, and the thought of 
sharing a cigarette with Yvette and Adrian (who was also lighting up) 
sounded almost pleasant. It would be a nice, social thing to do with them, 
after all. And it would give her a chance to practice her technique again; 
maybe she should have one. She raised her hand to take the pack that Yvette 
was extending to her. The pack was all gold, and looked different from the 
Marlboros she and Portia had been smoking all week. She wondered how much 
difference there was between various brands of cigarettes; perhaps she and 
Portia would have a chance to experiment... 

The thought of Portia made her pause. This was silly; she wasn't supposed 
to be smoking for fun. There was really no reason to have a cigarette now. 
True, smoking with Portia was fun (oh boy, was it fun!) but that was 
different. She didn't actually need to smoke with Yvette and Adrian; after 
all, they were both smokers, and she wasn't. 

Lowering her hand again, she thanked Yvette and politely refused. Yvette 
simply shrugged and continued to smoke her own cigarette, as did Adrian. 
Louise paced around the studio, grateful of the chance to stretch her arms 
and legs. 

"Don't wear yourself out, girl," said Adrian, smirking slightly. "You've 
still got the whole day ahead of you!" 

Louise looked at the clock and was surprised to see that it was only 6:51. 
She felt as if she had been up for ages already. She wondered briefly how 
Portia and Anthea were doing. Presumably they were getting the same 
intensive treatment she was getting. Yvette and Adrian continued to smoke 
their cigarettes and seemed in absolutely no hurry to finish. Louise wished 
they would get on with it; she was ready to move on the the next stage, and 
she was getting sick of being cooped up in this little studio. 

The smoke from their cigarettes was also starting to get on her nerves. It 
wasn't the smell so much - she was getting used to that - but the little 
room was rapidly filling with their smoke, and it was making her stomach 
turn over. She watched them suck on their cigarettes, and began to think 
she might have been rude not to join them. Perhaps she had broken some sort 
of etiquette by refusing. Perhaps she should take one now and smoke it with 
them. She started to ask Yvette for a cigarette after all, but then stopped 
herself. It would be strange to take one now she decided, after already 
turning her down. They would think she had lost her mind. Then she 
remembered: she had her own pack in her purse; she could smoke one of 
those! She picked up her purse, but then paused again. That might seem even 
more insulting: to refuse one of Yvette's cigarettes and then light up one 
of her own. Plus, she realised, the pack in her purse was unopened. She 
would have to unwrap it first, and Yvette and Adrian were more than halfway 
through their own cigarettes already. She didn't want to wind up with them 
waiting for her to finish, when she didn't really want a cigarette in the 
first place. She put her purse back down and went back to pacing. She was 
just fidgety, she realised; she wanted to get on with it. She silently 
screamed at Adrian and Yvette to hurry up. 

Adrian, however, was perched casually on the edge of a table, tapping 
something into his phone, while Yvette was rummaging through a box of 
lipsticks. She didn't appear to be looking for anything in particular; she 
just seemed to be killing time. Louise felt like strangling them both. 

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Yvette dropped her cigarette 
butt on the floor and crushed it out under her sandal. Smiling up at 
Louise, and trailing a few stray wisps of smoke, she gestured to the chair, 
and Louise sat back down. Adrian finished his own cigarette and resumed his 
work on her hair, while Yvette busied herself with Louise's eyes and lips. 
Louise found herself developing a new-found respect for glamour models. 
They obviously had the patience of saints. 

Chapter 5 

It was 10:30 in the morning, and Louise was in hell. She was standing under 
hot lights in an outfit that didn't really fit her, puffing on yet another 
cigarette while technicians scurried around her adjusting reflectors and 
backdrops, checking light levels, muttering about shadows, and generally 
driving Louise crazy. 

She had now been under the lights for almost two hours, and as far as she 
could see, no one had taken a single photograph. She had initially turned 
up wearing a wonderful halter-neck dress with a leather belt that Adrian 
had given her. The outfit had been set off with beautiful silver earrings 
and a long string of pearls. Louise had thought the effect was fabulous; a 
true femme fatale. The photographer (who seemed to be eternally grumpy) had 
positioned her on a stool in front of the camera and they had proceeded to 
adjust the lights around her. After ten or fifteen minutes of that, she had 
been given a lit cigarette and asked to take a few puffs. This led to 
another twenty minutes of light-adjusting while they tried to position the 
fill-lights to catch the smoke from her exhales properly. Louise found she 
was getting a crash course in how to light smoke. Every time they seemed to 
be getting close however, the photographer would come in and scrap the 
whole setup and they would have to start from scratch. Louise had been 
obliged to keep taking drags on her cigarette while technicians hovered 
around her with light meters, barking instructions to more technicians who 
would then make microscopic adjustments to the light stands or the 
reflectors. Yvette hovered around the edges, darting in every once in a 
while to pat down Louise's hair or touch up her make-up, which inevitably 
was running under the hot lights. A very thin girl in fashionably torn 
jeans (who didn't look a day over sixteen, Louise thought) stood by with a 
broom, sweeping away the ash that kept dropping from Louise's cigarette, 
and providing her with a fresh one whenever the old one burned down too 
far. That seemed to be her sole purpose on the set: a cigarette girl for 
the modern age. Louise was losing track of the number of cigarettes she had 
already smoked, but she had to keep blowing streams of smoke into the room 
while the lighting crew struggled to illuminate them properly. 

Finally, when Louise was on the point of passing out from the heat and the 
nicotine, the photographer had decided that the real problem was her dress. 
The material apparently wasn't catching the light to his satisfaction, so 
Yvette had to take Louise back to wardrobe, where they picked out an 
alternate dress. The new outfit didn't fit her at all, and Yvette had to 
improvise with safety pins to make the dress cling to her figure in all the 
right places. It was hideously uncomfortable, and she had hobbled back to 
her stool, barely able to move. 

And the process had started all over again. 

Louise was completely out of her depth here; her background was in acting, 
not modelling. As an actress, she was constantly trying to find ways to 
become a different character, and then convey that character to an 
audience. To do that successfully, she had to do things; she had to learn 
to walk a certain way, or talk in a certain accent, or, yes, even smoke a 
cigarette in a particular manner. Acting was not just about becoming 
another person. It was not enough to flesh out a character in your head, 
filling in every detail and nuance, if none of that was visible to the 
audience. No, acting was also about showing those details and nuances to 
the people who were watching. 

This was something different. Under the hot lights, smoking cigarette after 
cigarette, she didn't feel like a person at all; she felt like a piece of 
scenery. The technicians all worked around her, but hardly looked at her 
except to decide how the fill light was hitting her hair, or whether her 
skin tone looked better with or without the filters. If they spoke to her, 
it was only to bark instructions: "Raise your chin a bit more." "Turn your 
head this way when you exhale." "Hold the cigarette towards the camera." 

By the time the photographer actually began snapping pictures, she guessed 
she must have smoked at least twenty cigarettes, but in truth she had lost 
count; it could have been twice that for all she knew. Her head was 
swimming and her throat was raw. The pins in her dress were pressing into 
her skin and the whole room seemed to be spinning around her. More than 
anything else, she desperately wanted to be somewhere else. Dr. Piper's 
words from yesterday came back to her now: "It's hard work, but an 
interesting challenge." Those words seemed to be taunting her. Dr. Piper 
must have known what she was letting them in for when she nominated them 
for this inquisition. 

"Don't let the ash get too long on that cigarette," the photographer 
snapped, and Louise took yet another drag. Her entire mouth was numb and 
her throat felt like it was lined with barbed wire. What's more, she was 
aching from head to toe; she wanted to lie down and close her eyes, but she 
was still wide awake. It may have been the effect of the pills Yvette had 
given her, but it almost felt like a massive overdose of caffeine - as if 
she had had twenty cups of coffee. 

She wondered about Portia and Anthea; how were they doing? She had been 
expecting them all to be in the same photo shoot, but she hadn't seen them 
since they parted company at 5 am. They must be enduring their own private 
torture somewhere else; hopefully they would be able to compare notes later 

She took a final drag on her latest cigarette and blew a long stream of 
smoke in the direction of the camera. 

"Not toward to the camera," the photographer snapped. Everything seemed to 
make him angry. "Turn your head a bit more. Raise your chin a fraction." 

The young girl with the jeans darted in and took the smoked cigarette from 
her hand and gave her a fresh one, already lit. Louise could barely 
remember a time when she hadn't been holding a lit cigarette. She took 
another drag. When this was over she never wanted to look at another 
cigarette ever again. 

"Take another puff," the photographer snapped. "Deeper. Move your arm a 
bit. Watch that shadow." 

Louise was in hell. 

Chapter 6 

At one o'clock they finally stopped for lunch. By this time, Louise had 
practically entered a new level of consciousness; she felt as if she was 
experiencing everything through a veil. Unfortunately it was a veil of 
cigarette smoke. For the past five hours or so, she had been smoking almost 
non-stop; the only reprieve she had been given was during the few times the 
group had taken coffee breaks. And then, everyone else in the room had lit 
up: the photographer, the lighting crew, Yvette and Adrian, even the young 
girl in the jeans who had been sweeping up the ashes. Suddenly, Louise 
found herself to be the only one in the room not smoking. Was everyone in 
the whole world a smoker? It only served to make her feel even more 

She had gulped down her coffee, trying to soothe her abused throat, but the 
coffee hadn't tasted of anything. She had a feeling that Texas five-alarm 
chili probably wouldn't taste of anything in her present condition, 
although the thought of actually trying to eat anything at the moment made 
her feel sick to her stomach. 

Yvette had reassured her that she was doing really well. Throughout the 
entire ordeal, she had been the only person to actually speak to Louise as 
a human being. Adrian had been smiling at her and giving her the occasional 
thumbs-up, but he remained off to the side, out of the way. Yvette at least 
was constantly running in to adjust the dress, tweak the makeup or douse 
her in another toxic cloud of hairspray, and she would always mutter 
something encouraging, for which Louise was very grateful. It helped to 
keep her just this side of sanity. 

As the others drifted off to lunch, Adrian came forward to help Yvette 
adjust the dress so that Louise could actually move around properly. 

"The other dress was so much nicer," he huffed. "That photographer is a 

"I'm sorry you got stuck with him," Yvette agreed. "He's really hard to 
work with, but he does take good pictures, at least." 

Between them, they managed to adjust the safety pins in Louise's dress 
enough to allow her to walk to the lunch room. She still had difficulty 
moving around; the stiletto shoes she was wearing were a size too small and 
her feet were on fire. Her head was pounding as well: a combination of the 
hot lights, the smoke and the lack of sleep. She felt as if she might faint 
at any moment, but she was happy to get out of the studio for a little 

The lunch room was surprisingly crowded when she got there. She spotted her 
photographer, sitting with two other men and wolfing down a 
horrible-looking plate of greasy sausages. He looked repulsive. The 
lighting crew were all sitting together, laughing loudly about something. 
Louise really did not want to sit with them either. Then she spotted a pair 
of particularly outrageous women sitting together in a corner, and did a 
double take. It was Portia and Anthea. 

It wasn't surprising that she hadn't recognised them immediately. Portia 
was wearing the most ridiculous leopard-print top Louise had ever seen. 
They had also given her hair extensions, and her hair now spilled down over 
her shoulders and around her breasts, which seemed to be sticking out far 
more than they should be. That top was obviously working hard to defy the 
laws of physics. She was wearing hoop earrings that were actually longer 
than her neck, and which brushed against her shoulders every time she 
turned her head. When she raised her hand to brush some hair out of her 
face, Louise saw that she had been given impossibly long bright-red 
fingernails, and she had gaudy rings on almost every finger. She looked 
like either a cheap hooker or a trophy wife, Louise decided. 

If possible, Anthea was looking even more extreme. She seemed to be dressed 
head to toe in latex, and looked like nothing less than a fetish version of 
Morticia Addams. Her face was covered in white makeup, and her black hair 
had been accented with a single silver streak. They made a very odd couple 
sitting together in the lunch room, and Louise stood there staring until 
Portia noticed her and waved. 

"Look at you," she said as Louise hobbled over. "That's quite a dress!" 

"I hate it," said Louise, and her voice sounded raspy and harsh in her 
ears. "It doesn't fit properly. But look at you! Look at both of you!" 

"Just wait," said Portia, grimly, and turned to Anthea. "Show her!" 

Anthea opened her mouth in an exaggerated smile, and Louise was floored 
once again. Her teeth were augmented with a gleaming white pair of fangs. 
Against her thick black lipstick, the fangs almost seemed to be glowing. 

"Apparently I'm a smoking vampire fetish goth," said Anthea, or at least 
Louise assumed that's what she said. The fangs were making it hard for her 
to speak, and it came out "thmoking vampiah fetith goth." Anthea rolled her 
eyes. "For thith we went to collegg...?" 

Despite herself, Louise laughed. She was exhausted, her head was throbbing 
and her throat was stripped bare, but it was good to be among friendly 
faces again, even if they were all trussed up like sex toys. They compared 
notes, and Louise learned that she had apparently been unlucky with her 
photographer; both Portia and Anthea had found their photographers friendly 
and pleasant, although they too had been smoking non-stop for the cameras 
and were thoroughly sick of all the cigarettes. 

They decided to try eating some lunch, and Louise thought they must be 
quite a sight as they crossed the room: the hooker, the vampire and the 
femme fatale. In truth, however, no one paid them much attention. This must 
be fairly normal in a fashion college, Louise decided. 

Nothing on the menu really appealed to Louise, but she thought that she 
really should try to eat something. In the end she went with a simple bowl 
of soup, hoping it would at least be easy on her throat. Anthea did the 
same, although she was forced to drink it through a straw because of the 
fangs. ("That's nothing," she said. "You should see me trying to smoke.") 
Portia tried her luck with a plate of rice, but then just picked at it, 
pushing it aside after a few mouthfuls. None of them seemed to have much of 
an appetite. 

All too soon, Louise realised that Yvette was trying to catch her 
attention. "We need to start getting you ready for the afternoon session," 
she said, coming over. 

Louise nodded with resignation. She wondered what would happen if she just 
refused, point blank, but she didn't have the energy to try. Portia and 
Anthea also got up and Louise saw that they too were being summoned. Lunch 
time was obviously over for the three of them, although no one else in the 
room was making any move to leave. 

They said their goodbyes and wished each other luck. 

Chapter 7 

The afternoon session was much like the morning session, but with dancing. 

Adrian and Yvette had prepared a new outfit for Louise: a severe black 
flapper dress that left very little to the imagination, and a pair of 
fishnet stockings. 

"Do you know how to do the Charleston?" Adrian had asked, and Louise had 
stared at him, uncomprehending. 

"The photographer wants to do a set of you dancing the Charleston," Yvette 
explained. "Do you know how?" 

Louise didn't. She only vaguely knew what the Charleston was, so Adrian had 
given her a crash course ("Big fan of old musicals!") and they had spent 
half an hour bouncing around the room, flapping their arms and kicking 
their legs as if possessed by evil spirits. It was torture. Trying to kick 
her legs in the air while wearing high heels was almost impossible, and she 
fell over more than once. She also found herself getting very badly winded; 
her chest seemed to be on fire, and she could not catch her breath. Several 
times she had to stop before she passed out, and had leaned on the edge of 
the table, unable to speak, waiting for her heart to slow down and her 
vision to clear. 

By the end of her practice session she had more or less grasped the basics 
of the Charleston, but she was also too exhausted to stand up, and was 
drenched with sweat. She was glad she hadn't eaten a bigger lunch; she 
would almost certainly have thrown it up. Yvette helped her clean up, then 
re-applied her makeup (which thankfully didn't take as long as the morning 
session) and slipped her a couple of those pep pills, which Louise 
swallowed gratefully. By the time she stepped in front of the camera in her 
new flapper dress, she was feeling fully energised and raring to go. 

She was quite pleased with the speed with which she had gotten her head 
round the Charleston, and she was looking forward to showing off to the 
arrogant photographer. He was no doubt expecting her to fall on her face. 
Unfortunately, she was caught completely off guard when the young girl in 
the jeans gave her a lit cigarette to smoke while she danced. She hadn't 
realised she would be expected to smoke and dance simultaneously, and to 
make matters worse, these appeared to be vintage 1920's-style cigarettes 
with no filters. She had never smoked an unfiltered cigarette before, and 
the first puff exploded like a rocket in her lungs; it was the first time 
she had tried inhaling all over again (was that really only five days ago?) 
and she was instantly dizzy and light-headed. Using every ounce of her 
self-control, she managed to avoid collapsing in a coughing fit, but she 
had to force herself to take shallower drags than she had been getting used 
to with her Marlboros. Fortunately, the lack of a filter meant her exhales 
were thicker than ever, even with smaller puffs, and she was still able to 
put on quite a show for the camera. The unfiltered cigarettes annoyed her, 
though. Flakes of tobacco kept getting stuck in her mouth and the smoke was 
much harsher than she was comfortable with. Also, the end of the cigarettes 
kept getting wet every time she put them in her mouth. 

Someone put on some 1920's era dance music (the things people store on 
their iPods!) and she began jumping around the studio the way she had 
practised with Adrian. The music made all the difference; she felt 
galvanised, and suddenly her exhaustion was just a distant memory. She was 
certain she could keep this up all afternoon if necessary. The photographer 
had taken his camera off the tripod and was circling around her, trying to 
capture her movements from every angle. Louise found that her powers of 
concentration seemed to be magnified; she could predict every move he was 
going to make, and she began to play with him, leading him around the 
studio, hopping in one direction and then another, suddenly leaping forward 
unexpectedly, trying to catch him off balance. He was good, she had to 
admit; he was never thrown, and matched her step for step. It became a 
battle of wits between the two of them, or more precisely, a duet. 

Louise felt powerful; for the first time all day she was the one calling 
the shots. He was no longer barking at her to raise her head or move her 
arm; now it was her turn to decide what he was going to do, and she made 
him work for it. A taste of his own medicine. Everyone else in the room 
seemed to be noticing the change. The lighting crew were no longer looking 
bored or chatting with each other; they were now standing silently, giving 
Louise and the photographer their undivided attention. Adrian and Yvette 
were grinning from ear to ear, openly enjoying every moment of the 
spectacle playing out in front of them. 

The exertion of the dance did eventually start to take its toll on Louise. 
Her heart was racing and her breaths were coming in long, ragged gasps, 
which meant that she was inevitably taking far deeper drags on the 
unfiltered cigarettes than she wanted to. She could feel the extra nicotine 
racing into her bloodstream, where it combined with the adrenaline of the 
moment (and the Benzedrine Yvette had given her) until she almost felt as 
if she was floating above her own body. She had never been much of a dancer 
before, but right now she felt as though there was nothing that she 
couldn't do. 

The dance track finally came to an end, and Louise and the photographer 
called a truce by silent agreement, facing each other warily on the studio 
floor. Louise did not relax; she remained where she was, coiled and ready 
to push off again if needed, unwilling to concede defeat. The photographer 
however seemed quite happy to take a break, and went back to his kit to 
fiddle with memory cards and lenses. Yvette came trotting over with her 
makeup bag and a towel and went to work on Louise, who was by now covered 
in sweat. 

"That was incredible," she said to Louise, shaking her head in amazement. 
Louise collapsed into a chair, suddenly realising how worn out she was. She 
took a long drag on the still-burning cigarette in her hand and released a 
thick cloud of smoke into the air, allowing herself to unwind. She was 
tired - no, she was exhausted - but she felt fantastic. The feeling of 
impotence that had been crushing her all morning was gone completely; she 
was powerful and in control, and it was a good feeling. 

The young girl with the jeans brought her a cup of coffee and Louise took a 
long sip, noticing how dehydrated she was feeling. Yvette put away the 
towel and sat down next to her, taking out her own cigarettes. 

"I have a feeling those photos are going to be amazing," she said as she 
lit up. "I can't wait to see them." 

Louise had not yet come down from her adrenaline rush, and had a hard time 
finding her voice. Her breath was still ragged and her chest was heaving 
from the exertion. She took another drag on the cigarette, trying to use it 
as a breathing exercise. She focused on inhaling and exhaling, trying to 
slow her pounding heartbeat. Dragging on the cigarette required much less 
effort without the filter, and she was able to pull the smoke far deeper 
into her lungs. Her exhales were much thicker than Yvette's, and she 
noticed it took two or thee separate exhales to empty all the smoke from 
her lungs. She continued to work on the cigarette, alternating it with sips 
of coffee until she felt herself coming back down to earth. 

Yvette seemed to sense that Louise needed a few minutes of quiet, and she 
didn't try to talk; they just sat there and smoked silently. Louise 
eventually finished her cigarette, and looked around for somewhere to crush 
it out, realising for the first time all day that there were no ashtrays 
anywhere in the room. Being a non-smoker she had never really paid 
attention to such things, but now she had no idea what to do with her spent 
cigarette. All the cigarettes she had smoked thus far during the photo 
sessions had been collected by the kid with the jeans, but that kid was now 
over by the coffee machine, smoking a cigarette of her own. Louise suddenly 
noticed that the floor all around the edges of the studio was littered with 
flattened cigarette butts, and she remembered what Dr. Piper had told them 
back on that first day: real smokers just drop their cigarettes on the 
ground and crush them out with their shoes. 

The cigarette in Louise's hand had burned down to almost nothing, so she 
dropped it on the floor and raised her foot to crush it out. Yvette let out 
a yelp and grabbed Louise's leg, knocking her off balance and nearly giving 
her a heart attack. 

"Not the shoes!" she screamed. "Careful with the shoes!" Everyone in the 
room turned to see what was happening, and Yvette continued in a lower 

"Those shoes go back to wardrobe when you're done with them. Don't get burn 
marks on them." She leaned over and crushed out Louise's cigarette with her 
own shoe, which was apparently less precious. "Sorry about that," she 
laughed. "I didn't mean to scare you. We get a lot of grief from the guys 
in Wardrobe when the shoes come back with burns on the soles. They're a bit 
touchy about it." 

Louise shook her head, bemused. Smoking cigarettes in the real world 
sounded like hard work; she wondered why anyone bothered. Presumably that 
was why they had that young girl on cigarette duty all day. What a 
miserable job! 

"By the way, who's the kid in the jeans?" she asked Yvette. "The one who's 
been handing me cigarettes all day." 

Yvette shrugged. "I don't know her name; she's just a runner. We get lots 
of them; they're volunteers - mostly girls who want to get into the fashion 
industry. They come in and help out with whatever needs doing, just to be 
around the business." 

Louise shuddered. Based on her experience today, she couldn't imagine 
anyone actually wanting to be a part of this world. 

"It must be soul-destroying," she said aloud. She resolved to make a point 
of being especially nice to the kid for the rest of the day. 

"I started that way," said Yvette. "It's a great way to get experience. And 
you get to meet models, fashion designers, photographers.... For many girls 
it's the perfect job. There's a lot of competition for those positions." 

Adrian came up to them and smiled at Louise. 

"Great dancing, darling; I think the photographer is happy with what he 
got." He turned to Yvette. "They're about ready for the final session now. 
We should get her changed." 

Yvette nodded and crushed out her own cigarette. 

"This is going to be easier for you," she said to Louise. "He'll just be 
doing some basic portraits and head-shots." She grinned. "No dancing, and 
no smoking!" 

That sounded good to Louise. She had originally been looking forward to 
smoking less today; how naive was that in hindsight? It was now almost four 
o'clock and she had been smoking more than she would have thought possible. 
A rest from that would be a godsend. Yvette and Adrian took her back to 
their workroom and she washed her face and changed into a beautiful silk 
evening gown they had selected for her. This one fit her perfectly, and she 
hoped the photographer wouldn't insist on changing it; it looked amazing. 
If the photos came out well, she might even be able to use them when going 
to auditions; a professional portfolio could be very expensive to put 

Yvette re-applied her makeup yet again (they were getting good at it now; 
it took less than half an hour this time) and they returned to the photo 

At first, the session went well. The photographer seemed to respect Louise 
a bit more after their little tango session, and he gave her a bit more 
freedom to position herself as she thought best. Not having to worry about 
the smoking also helped; she wasn't constantly having to blow streams of 
smoke into the fill-lights, so she didn't have to hold her poses quite as 
rigidly as she had in the morning. 

The session stretched on however, and she felt the length of the day 
starting to catch up with her. She had been up since 4:30 after all, and 
she hadn't really stopped in all that time. She began to look forward to 
getting back to her room, seeing Portia, and just collapsing. They would no 
doubt have some interesting stories to tell each other about the day. She 
wondered if Portia was going to be as run down as she was; she hoped they 
wouldn't be too tired to have some fun together before going to sleep. 

The session continued to drag on, and she found herself stealing more and 
more frequent glances at the clock. She was definitely ready to call it a 
day. Once or twice the photographer had to remind her to focus when her 
attention wandered. He seemed in no hurry to finish, even though it was 
almost six o'clock. Presumably he hadn't started the day as early as she 
had. How late were they going to go? At some point the crew would want to 
have dinner, or go home to their families or something. Was it reasonable 
to make everyone work hours like this? Wasn't there a union to control 
things like that? 

She found herself cultivating a healthy dislike for the photographer. He 
was obviously a sadist, and he was keeping her here deliberately just to 
toy with her. She was really ready to stop; she was tired, her head hurt, 
and there was a growing lump in her stomach that refused to settle. She had 
definitely had enough. 

A little after six thirty, the photographer finally seemed to be ready to 
stop. He put down his camera, and Louise sank gratefully into a chair. The 
lighting technicians moved in and began dismantling all the light stands 
and reflectors, and the girl in the jeans - the runner - brought Louise one 
final cup of coffee. 

Louise had lost track of how much coffee she had been drinking during the 
day, but it was a lot more than she was used to. She had long since passed 
the point of total exhaustion, and she didn't want coffee, she wanted to go 
home. She went over to Yvette, who had just lit a cigarette and was busy 
packing up her makeup case. 

"Great job today," she said when she saw Louise. "You did really well." She 
blew a cloud of smoke into the air, and Louise felt the knot in her stomach 

"We're going to need to get that dress back from you," Yvette continued, 
and Louise groaned. The last thing she wanted to do now was spend another 
half an hour or so changing clothes and waiting for Adrian and Yvette to 
sort out their inventory. 

Yvette looked at her watch. "The problem is, the wardrobe staff will all 
have gone to dinner by now." She looked at Louise. "I tell you what; why 
don't we leave it for now; you can return the dress tomorrow." 

"Is that okay?" Louise asked, hopefully. Please, oh please let it be okay. 

Yvette grinned at her. "I won't tell if you don't. Go home, sweetie, get 
some rest; you've earned it." She took another puff on her cigarette and 
finished putting away her things. 

"Nice job today, honey," said a voice a behind her, and Louise turned 
around. It was the photographer, carrying a heavy gadget bag, obviously on 
his way out. 

"You're pretty good at this," he continued, and Louise felt a little flash 
of pride. 

"I enjoyed it," she said, blushing slightly. She had a feeling this was 
high praise from someone like him. 

"If you ever want to do some more modeling, I'm always looking for new 
girls." He gave Louise a business card and looked her over critically. 

"You'd be pretty good, once you lose a bit of weight," he said 

"I'm sorry?" Louise wasn't sure she had heard him correctly. 

"A bit of weight, and maybe have some work done around your eyes, get your 
lips done, and..." he trailed off, gesturing vaguely at her breasts. 

"Anyway, if you're interested, just give me a call." With that he swept out 
the door, leaving Louise dumbfounded and shaking. 

Adrian trotted over. "What was that about?" 

Louise didn't know what to say. She felt crushed and humiliated. How could 
he talk like that to her? She tried to answer Adrian, but her voice caught 
in her throat, and she could feel her eyes watering up. She felt infinitely 
small; she needed to get out of there, right now. 

"Are you okay?" Adrian asked, concerned, and she waved him off. Her purse 
was lying on the table in front of her. She grabbed it and fled. 

Chapter 8 

The room was empty when Louise got back. She had really been hoping that 
Portia would be there; the last thing she wanted to do right now was sit in 
the room by herself. 

The photographer had really upset her; far more than she wanted to admit. 
Who the hell did he think he was, talking to her like that? Louise had 
never had a body image problem. She certainly wasn't a super model, but she 
knew she was reasonably attractive, and she kept herself in good physical 
shape. Plus, she had always been fairly contemptuous of the modern 
obsession with physical appearance. She hated the endless barrage of beauty 
advertising (always directed at women) that seemed designed to make girls 
feel bad about themselves. Women were constantly being told they were too 
big, their breasts were too small, they had too much hair in the wrong 
places, they weren't looking young enough... It was horrible. And the same 
standards never seemed to apply to men. Successful men could always be 
older or fatter or greyer, and no one seemed to care. She remembered the 
big plate of sausages the photographer was scoffing down at lunch. And then 
he had the nerve to tell her to lose weight? What gave him that right? 

She sat down on the edge of the bed, willing herself to calm down, but she 
was sweating and her hands were shaking. She really wished Portia were 
here; she needed someone she could talk to. Of all the asinine, misogynist, 
stupid things to say to a person! He had told her to have surgery! As if 
she was going to run off and have her lips botoxed, or her breasts done, 
just so a slob like that would consent to taking her picture! 

She got up and examined herself in the mirror. She was still wearing the 
silk evening gown, and her hair and makeup were impeccable. She was a 
knockout; she would turn heads on any street in the world. She was elegant, 
sexy and alluring. 

So why was she feeling so completely worthless? 

If only he hadn't said those things to her, those awful things, she could 
have ended the day on a positive note. Now, every self-doubt she had ever 
had, every bad thought, every anxiety, was coming back to haunt her. The 
knot in her stomach was getting larger by the minute, and the pain in her 
head was increasing. 

Where was Portia? 

It occurred to her that this was the first time she had been alone all 
week. She and Portia had been spending basically every minute together when 
they weren't involved in the course, or getting their makeovers, or taking 
part in ridiculous photo shoots with chauvinist photographers... 

Rather than wallow in self pity, she should really use this time 
productively. She went to her suitcase and pulled out her laptop, which 
hadn't been touched since she arrived. She could email her friends back 
home; she could get onto Facebook, she could do all kinds of things to 
reconnect with her real life. That should help her to feel better. 

As she waited for the computer to boot up however, her sense of anxiety 
increased. There was no one back home that she could really talk to about 
what had happened today. Who would understand? Her friends all knew her as 
the sensible, practically-dressed, no-nonsense honour student. How could 
she explain the day she had just endured? She wouldn't know where to begin; 
so much had happened this week. The makeovers; the cocktail party; dancing 
the Charleston; meeting Portia; the smoking.... 

Her headache was worse than ever. She really wanted to relax, but her brain 
was all over the place, and she couldn't seem to get herself focused. She 
moved away from the laptop; she really didn't have the patience to look at 
emails right now anyway. What she really wanted was to talk to Portia, but 
Portia wasn't here. Where was she? It was after 7:30; why was she still not 

She stood up and paced around the room. Her skin was crawling and her eyes 
were burning. She needed something, but she wasn't sure exactly what. She 
needed Portia, but Portia wasn't here. Perhaps she should try calling her; 
maybe she was on her way back right now. Her phone was in her suitcase - 
she hadn't really needed to use it this week - and she fished it out now 
and punched in the number Portia had given her a few days ago. 

She stopped herself before it could connect. This was silly; she was acting 
like a needy child. If Portia wasn't back yet it was because she was still 
doing her photo shoot, or perhaps she was getting changed. Whatever she was 
doing, she didn't need Louise whining at her over the phone: Come home; 
come home, oh, I'm lonely! God, she was being pathetic! What was wrong with 
her tonight? 

Her headache was making it difficult to think straight, and her hands 
seemed to be shaking worse all the time. She was tired, of course, but she 
had put in long days before and she hadn't felt like this. Her purse was 
lying on the bed where she had dropped it. She opened it now and retrieved 
Yvette's bottle of headache pills. She had taken rather a lot of pills 
today, but it had been an unusual day. If she could clear her head, she 
might be able to calm down. Next to the pills in her purse was the pack of 
cigarettes she had put there this morning. It felt like that had been years 
ago. The pack was still sealed. All those cigarettes she had smoked today, 
and she had never actually opened her own pack. She looked at the pack 
thoughtfully. She was alone in the room; she didn't know when Portia was 
going to come back, perhaps she should have a cigarette, just to pass the 

No, she decided. That was silly. She opened the bottle of pills and 
swallowed a couple, willing her head to stop pounding and her skin to stop 
crawling. Portia would be back any moment now, and that would fix 
everything. She just needed to be patient. 

But she wasn't feeling very patient. She couldn't make herself focus on 
anything for more than a few moments at a time. She got up and paced around 
the room, then she sat down again. She tried to log on to Facebook, but 
lost interest almost immediately. She opened the front door and checked the 
corridor, but it was deserted; no one was coming. 

Where was Portia? 

Her eyes went to the cigarettes again. Maybe she should have one. It would 
pass the time while she waited. She picked up the pack and plucked at the 
wrapper, but then changed her mind. Better to wait, she decided. When 
Portia got back, they could share a cigarette; that would be so much more 

When Portia got back. Where was she? 

She sat down again, but she was finding it hard to sit still. Her headache 
was still as bad as ever; the pills had barely touched it. She should 
really be making use of this time by herself: she could surf the net, write 
some emails, listen to some music... have a cigarette... 

She checked the clock again. 7:46. Still no Portia. 

What could possibly be keeping her like this? Coming to a decision, she 
picked up her phone again and dialed Portia's number. She would just find 
out where she was and what was happening. That way she would at least know 
whether to expect her in five minutes, or an hour, or whatever. The phone 
started to ring in her ear, and simultaneously she heard Portia's ring-tone 
coming from the duffel bag in the corner. Damn, she had left her phone 
behind this morning! Why would she do that? True, Louise had left her own 
phone behind as well, but that wasn't the point. Now she had no way of 
knowing how long Portia would be. She felt herself starting to get angry. 
If she was going to be this late, she should really have let Louise know 
somehow. This was getting ridiculous. 

Maybe she should have a cigarette. 

She got up and paced around the room again. She wasn't angry, she was 
furious. How could Portia do this to her? She really needed someone right 
now, and Portia was letting her down. She was tired, her head was killing 
her, her skin was crawling all over, she had been insulted by an awful 
photographer, and now her best friend was betraying her. 

And she really, really wanted to smoke a cigarette. 

There it was, she realised. Staring her in the face all this time: this is 
what was really bothering her the most. She wanted to smoke a cigarette. 
She was still mad at Portia, she still resented that horrible pig of a 
photographer, but at this moment, burning a hole through the centre of her 
brain, was her urge to smoke a cigarette. Right now. 

She picked up the pack and turned it over in her hands. There was no doubt; 
she was hungry for a cigarette. Just holding the pack was practically 
making her mouth water. Now that she was consciously thinking about it, she 
realised it had been bothering her for some time now. She hadn't smoked a 
cigarette since dancing the Charleston, and that was several hours ago now. 
She really wanted one. 

Actually, she needed one. 

What was going on here? Hadn't she smoked enough today? Before lunch she 
had been telling herself she never wanted to look at another cigarette, and 
now she could barely think about anything else. Well, maybe she should just 
smoke one, and worry about the implications later. After all, she had 
smoked so many cigarettes today, what difference would one more possibly 
make? Also, the course still had a week to go; she would doubtless be 
smoking a lot more in the coming days, so having one single cigarette now 
shouldn't be a problem. 

Just smoke the damn cigarette. 

Something about this felt wrong to Louise. It would be so easy to just take 
a cigarette out of the pack right now and light it, but she sensed that if 
she did that, she would be crossing some sort of line. This cigarette would 
not be practice for the course, it would not be a prop for the photo-shoot, 
it wouldn't even be part of her sex games with Portia. It would just be a 
cigarette for her, Louise, to smoke, because she wanted to smoke a 
cigarette, sitting here alone in the room. 


She wouldn't do that. She wasn't a smoker, after all; she shouldn't start 
smoking cigarettes for no reason, no matter how badly she wanted one, no 
matter how good it sounded right now. Portia would get back soon and they 
could play a smoking game together before going to sleep. She would smoke 
one then. She was an adult; she could wait that long. 

Unfortunately, the cravings weren't going away. She had heard the 
expression `dying for a cigarette' before, but she had never really thought 
about what that meant to the person saying it. Now the expression was much 
more than just an empty figure of speech. Her head was throbbing, her 
vision was blurred and her stomach was turning somersaults. She knew now 
that it was all due to her need for a cigarette. She could just smoke one 
and feel better. 

Just one. That's all it would take. If she could finish it before Portia 
came back, then no one even needed to know about it. And anyway, so what if 
she was seen? It wasn't as if she was smoking in secret; they had been 
smoking all week after all. She should definitely smoke one. It would calm 
her down enough to wait for Portia like a normal human being. They could 
then compare notes on the day they had had, Louise could tell her about the 
awful things the photographer had said, and they could even smoke another 
cigarette together. 

No, enough with the cigarettes! 

Louise didn't like where this was heading. She would not smoke an 
unnecessary cigarette; she was better than that. Suddenly strong, she 
picked up the pack and returned it to her purse. She did not need a 

She did not need a cigarette. 

She did not need a cigarette. 

She continued to wait for Portia to return. 

Chapter 9 

In the end, Portia did not get back for another forty-five minutes, and by 
then Louise was a basket case. She was huddled on the bed sweating into her 
beautiful evening gown, chewing her nails (and destroying the beautiful 
manicure Yvette had given her) when she heard a dull thump at the door, 
followed by some indistinct muttering. 

Finally, she thought. What could possibly have kept her so late? She got up 
and threw open the door, and there was Portia, big as life. She had 
apparently dropped her room key, and was just fumbling for it as Louise 
opened the door. She straightened up and stood there for a moment, 

She was quite a sight. She still had the hair extensions they had given 
her, but the leopard-print top was gone, replaced by a shocking pink boob 
tube with matching mini skirt. Her stylists had obviously decided to go for 
`garish' today, and they had certainly succeeded in their efforts. Her 
slip-on platform stilettos were higher than anything Louise had been given 
so far, and Portia seemed to be having trouble walking in them. She started 
to move into the room and stumbled slightly, leaning against the door for 
support before pushing off again and lurching over to the bed, where she 
sat down heavily. 

"Whoooo, what a day this was," she giggled, looking up at Louise with a 
slightly glazed expression. "I am sooo tired." 

Her words were a bit slurred, and Louise moved closer with a sense of 
dread. Portia reeked of cigarettes, but there was another smell on top of 

"Portia, are you drunk?" This could not be happening. 

Portia met her gaze for a moment, then looked away, and waved her arm 
vaguely. "We finished a bit early, and Jeremy invited us all out for a 
drink. Just to unwind." 


"The photographer." Portia giggled again. "He was really nice. We had all 
been working really hard, and," she paused and burped softly, "he said we 
had earned it." 

Louise turned purple. She couldn't believe this. "So that's where you've 
been all this time? Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting?" She 
heard herself shouting and realised how ridiculous she sounded, but she 
couldn't help herself; she was too angry. 

"I've been sitting here worrying about you, and you were off getting 

Portia seemed to register Louise's mood for the first time; she looked 

"What's wrong? I had a couple of drinks with the gang. My throat was really 
sore. From all the smoking." 

"And what about after," Louise practically screamed. "Did you smoke any 
more cigarettes? With Jeremy?" She spat out the name. 

"I may have had a couple," said Portia defensively. "Everyone else was 
smoking. It was only polite." She looked up at Louise with an unreadable 
expression. "What's going on here?" 

Louise didn't know where to begin. She felt herself drowning in hatred and 
anger. How could Portia do this to her? The thought of being able to share 
her troubles with Portia had been the only thing keeping her sane all 
evening. She had been clinging to that for dear life, and now she found 
that Portia had been off getting drunk and smoking cigarettes with some 
goddamn photographer named Jeremy, who had gotten her all trussed up like a 
cheap crack whore... 

How could this be happening? 

"So why bother coming back," she growled at Portia. "Why not just stay with 
Jeremy? I'm sure he would have loved that." 

Portia was silent for a moment, then she rubbed her forehead briefly. 
"Because I was looking forward to seeing you," she said in a shaky voice. 
"I missed you." 

Louise was not having any of it. "Don't do me any favours," she spat. "You 
don't owe me anything. After all, I'm just someone you happened to bump 
into when the lights went out." All the colour drained out of Portia's 
face, but Louise couldn't stop herself. 

"Would you have slept with whichever girl you happened to stumble over that 

As soon as she said it she realised she had gone too far, but she couldn't 
back herself out of it. She was hysterical with rage, and she wasn't about 
to apologise to Portia, even when she saw tears start to roll down her 
cheeks. This wasn't achieving anything. There was nothing Portia could say 
that would placate Louise, and Louise knew that if she said anything else, 
she would only make things even worse, if that were possible. She needed to 
clear her head; she needed to calm down. 

"I'm going for a walk," she finally said, and she grabbed her purse and 
stormed out, leaving Portia staring after her, speechless. 

Chapter 10 

Louise found herself standing outside the building, more upset than ever. 
She was still angry, but now she was confused as well. What had just 
happened? She had never before experienced the kind of blind rage that had 
taken over just now, and it frightened her. She couldn't quite believe what 
she had said to Portia, but she had no idea what to do next. She had just 
stormed out of her own room. Her relationship with Portia was in serious 
trouble, possibly destroyed. And on top of everything else, she was still 
feeling terrible. 

It was a warm, clear night, but she was sweating and the air felt cold 
against her skin, making her shiver. She couldn't think straight. She 
obviously couldn't stand outside the building all night, but there was no 
way she could go back to face Portia right now, and she couldn't think of 
any other options at the moment. She needed to clear her head. 

"The hell with it," she said aloud, and pulled the cigarettes out of her 
purse. It hardly mattered any more; nothing was likely to make her feel any 
worse than she was already feeling. Opening the pack, she extracted a 
cigarette and lit it, blowing an initial cloud of smoke into the night air. 

The effect was immediate. It was as if her entire body had been tied into a 
knot all evening, and now that knot was finally unwinding. She took another 
long drag. The smoke seemed to brush the cobwebs out of her brain, and she 
felt a wave of calm starting to settle over her. Rather than analyse it too 
closely, she concentrated on simply smoking the cigarette. The smoke washed 
away any concerns about the photographer, or Portia, or where she was going 
to sleep. These were all problems, but they were problems to be dealt with 
when her cigarette was finished. 

It was amazing how good the cigarette was making her feel. She inhaled the 
smoke hungrily, dragging as deeply as she could and filling her lungs to 
their greatest extent. Her exhales released thick, creamy plumes of smoke 
into the still air. It was hard to believe how different this cigarette 
felt compared to the first one she had tried to inhale just a few days ago. 
How could one activity produce such different reactions in the same person 
over such a short space of time? Smoking this cigarette was the best 
decision she had ever made. 

All too soon, the cigarette had dwindled down to a stub. Releasing a last 
plume from her nose and mouth, she defiantly dropped the butt on the ground 
and crushed it out under her shoe, making a point of grinding it out 
aggressively. Take that, fashion department. 

So now what? She stood for a moment in the gloom, unsure what to do next. 
The cigarette had taken the edge off her anxiety, and she no longer felt 
the hot rage that had been consuming her a few minutes ago, but she 
couldn't go back to face Portia. Even if she went back and apologised on 
her knees (which she wasn't prepared to do) Portia was drunk; it would be 
impossible to have an intelligent conversation with her. She held on to 
that point. She may have over-reacted, but Portia had been wrong as well; 
Louise refused to be the only bad guy in this game. 

She had to face the facts: she had a big problem. She didn't have anywhere 
to sleep tonight. All of her things - including her phone - were up in the 
room, it was getting late on a Saturday and she didn't know anyone locally. 
She was going to have to figure something out. Opening her bag, she took 
inventory of what she did have with her: a pack of cigarettes and a 
lighter, a bottle of pills (nearly empty), a little bit of money (not much) 
and her room key. Not exactly a survival kit. 

For lack of any better ideas, she pulled out another cigarette and lit up. 
Having smoked one already, it was an easier decision to have a second one. 
She wasn't sure she liked the implications of this, but it wasn't her most 
pressing problem at the moment, so she put it out of her mind. Instead she 
just stood there and savoured the feeling of smoking in the clear night 

As she was enjoying this second cigarette, the door opened behind her and 
two people stepped out onto the street. It was a man and a woman, both in 
their late twenties, walking arm in arm. Louise, caught off guard, tried to 
hide her cigarette behind her back, suddenly self-conscious. Unfortunately 
the still air allowed the thick cloud of smoke to linger around her head. 

"...said he would meet us there," the woman was saying. She paused when she 
saw Louise standing there and came over to her, smiling. 

"How was the photo shoot today, did it go well?" 

Louise did a double take. It was Tina, Dr. Piper's assistant. She had never 
seen her so dressed up before; they were obviously on their way to 
something, and she was dressed to kill. Louise let her cigarette drop to 
the ground behind her. She didn't want Tina to see her smoking. 

"It was okay," she said in answer to Tina's question. "Tiring but fine." 
She wasn't about to go into a rehash of the day she had just been through. 

"You look wonderful," Tina exclaimed, and began to purr over the gown 
Louise was still wearing. "Doesn't she look great?" she said to her date, 
who nodded obediently. He didn't look as if he took much of an active 
interest in women's fashions. 

"This is Louise, by the way," Tina said to him, and he shook Louise's hand 
politely. "This is my fiancÚ, David. He's come down for the weekend." She 
smiled. "Louise here is a student in Beverly's class." 

Louise didn't really feel like making small-talk, and she was uncomfortably 
aware that she probably reeked of cigarette smoke, but she also didn't want 
to start answering questions about herself at the moment. 

"Are you two going somewhere nice?" she finally asked. 

"We're going to a party," said David, "Over at the fashion college." Tina 
smiled and took his arm again. 

"Say, would you like to come?" He suddenly asked. "There will be lots of 
people there; it should be fun." 

It was dark, but Louise thought she saw a shadow pass over Tina's face. She 
may have imagined it, because Tina simply nodded and added, "You are more 
than welcome, if you like." 

Louise's immediate instinct was to say no. She hated parties, especially 
parties where she didn't know anyone. Plus she was tired; she had been up 
since 4:30 in the morning. But there were few options. She couldn't go back 
upstairs right now, and she had nowhere else to turn. 

"Thank you," she said to them. "I would love to come." 

Chapter 11 

The party was already in full swing when they arrived, and Louise 
immediately saw that it was not the sort of party she would ever go to by 
choice. It was crowded; she estimated that there must be at least forty or 
fifty people packed into the room, although with the lights dimmed it was 
hard to tell. Painfully loud music was pulsing over a sound system, shaking 
Louise's bones and making it hard to think. It felt like a nightclub, and 
everyone seemed to be dressed accordingly. All the women Louise could see 
were wearing insane stilettos (although she was as well, so she could 
hardly criticise) and most were wearing extremely skimpy, revealing 
dresses. Louise, still in her evening gown, felt out of place. She was 
dressed for an evening at the opera, not a night of clubbing. 

There was quite a crush around the entrance, and Louise was almost 
instantly separated from Tina and her fiancÚ. She drifted into the room, 
jostling against bodies and feeling extremely sorry for herself. Everyone 
seemed to be engrossed in someone or something else, and no one paid any 
attention to her. The music was pounding her eardrums; it was so loud it 
was almost beyond sound - she could feel it more than she could hear it. 
People seemed to be engaged in conversation all around the room, and she 
wondered how they could hear a word they were saying to each other. 

The closest thing to a party she had been to in the last year or so had 
been the cocktail reception at the beginning of the course. That too had 
been outside her normal experience, but it had been civilised compared to 
this. The emphasis there had been on conversation, and getting to know 
people. It had been possible to talk to someone without having to scream at 
the top of your lungs, which is what she imagined people must be doing 
here. And of course that party had been where she had met Portia. 

Thinking about Portia snapped Louise back to the reality of her situation. 
She had still not dealt with her immediate problems, and she felt her 
anxiety starting to rise again. She seemed to have reached the centre of 
the room, and she found herself standing in front of a large table decked 
out with dozens of bottles of various descriptions. It seemed to be set up 
as a makeshift bar. A couple of men were there, busily filling glasses and 
handing out drinks to the assembled mass of people. A glass was thrust in 
front of her face and she accepted it. She had no idea what it contained, 
but the noise level was too loud to try to refuse. 

She took a sip. It was alcoholic, of course, and very strong. It burned its 
way down her throat and into her stomach. The sensation was not completely 
unpleasant. She took another sip, and something bumped against her 
shoulder, brushing her sideways. Louise turned and saw a tall blond woman 
wearing not much of anything standing with her back to her, talking to a 
man in baggy khaki trousers. The woman was in the middle of lighting a 
cigarette, and had poked Louise with her elbow. Looking around the room, 
Louise saw that quite a lot of people in the room were smoking. On impulse, 
she fished a cigarette out of her own bag and lit up. At this point she 
didn't care if Tina saw her or not; as long as she was in this horrible 
place, she might as well do something enjoyable. She blew out a long stream 
of smoke and watched it float up to join the grey haze that was hanging 
over the room. 

Clutching her drink and her cigarette, Louise moved away from the central 
table and tried to find a pocket of space away from the crush of people. It 
was easier said than done. The room was a solid mass of flesh, and it was 
impossible to move without bumping into people left and right. Louise had 
to take extra care to avoid burning anyone with the tip of her cigarette. 
She finally reached the safety of the far wall where she found herself a 
perch next to a french-kissing couple who looked as if a small 
thermonuclear detonation wouldn't have disturbed them. She claimed the spot 
as her own and settled in to watch the crowd; drinking her drink and 
smoking her cigarette. 

Now that she was settled, her thoughts went back to Portia. She had no idea 
what she was going to do. If she were honest with herself, she knew that 
she had said terrible things to Portia; things that Portia absolutely did 
not deserve. She couldn't imagine what had come over her; something inside 
her had just snapped. Louise was usually a calm and even-tempered person. 
Her explosion earlier in the evening was completely out of character, but 
she had just been feeling so awful. How could she have done that to Portia? 
She shuddered at the thought and drained her glass. The drink was warming 
her up, and it took a bit of the edge off her depression. She took another 
puff on her cigarette and studied her hands, idly. Her nail polish was 
slightly flaked where she had been biting her nails earlier, but at least 
she wasn't shaking any more; that was something at least. 

Something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she looked 
up to see someone jumping up and down and waving at her. It was Yvette, all 
dressed up and grinning like a dizzy schoolgirl. Louise smiled at her and 
got up from her perch, working her way through the crowd of people until 
they were standing together. 

"I had no idea you were going to be coming tonight," Yvette screamed over 
the music. Even with her mouth right up against Louise's ear, she was 
barely audible. "I thought you would be fast asleep by now!" 

Louise didn't want to get into details so she just smiled and gestured 
vaguely, hoping Yvette would read something meaningful into that. Yvette 
turned to a tall, slim woman with the sharpest cheekbones Louise had ever 
seen and pulled her over. 

"This is Cassandra, my roommate," she shouted to Louise. "She just got back 
from Prague." She turned to Cassandra. "Louise here has been my guinea-pig 
all this week." Cassandra smiled then leaned forward, kissing Louise 
lightly on both cheeks. Louise returned the kisses and then stepped back, 
staring openly. To say Cassandra was striking was a massive understatement. 
She was taller than Louise by several inches, even with the heels Louise 
was wearing, and thinner as well; possibly even as thin as Michaela. Louise 
could see her collarbone in sharp relief and her chin was sculpted, almost 
angular. She had nearly asian features, Louise decided, but not completely. 
Her lips were full and plump, almost unnaturally so in someone so thin, and 
her hair was thick and shiny; so black it was practically blue. She 
remembered Yvette saying that her roommate was a fashion model. This was 
clearly her. 

"Yvette has told me about you," Cassandra said, smiling (and revealing a 
dazzling set of perfect white teeth) "It's a pleasure to meet you, 

Yvette grabbed Louise's empty glass and hopped off back to the bar saying 
something about refills, leaving Louise and Cassandra together for a 
moment. Cassandra ran a hand over Louise's gown. 

"I love your gown," she said, approvingly. "Who's the designer?" 

Louise had absolutely no idea; she knew nothing about fashion and dreaded 
getting into a conversation of this sort with someone like Cassandra. 

"You'd have to ask Yvette about that," she simply said. "She picked out the 

Cassandra nodded, satisfied. "How did you two meet?" 

"I'm taking a drama course at the moment; we're here for two weeks. Our 
group is teamed up with the fashion department." 

Louise was having to scream at the top of her lungs to be heard, and her 
throat was getting quite raw. Yvette came back, balancing three drinks 
somehow, and Louise took hers gratefully. She took a long sip, letting the 
liquid soothe her throat. She felt frumpy and awkward next to the 
statuesque Cassandra. She wondered what the hell she was doing here. 

"Where's your friend?" Yvette was asking her. "Portia; is she here?" 

Louise felt a lump forming in her throat. "No, she's not feeling well," she 
said hastily. "Long day." 

Yvette nodded and turned to Cassandra. "Louise and her friend had their 
first photo shoot today." 

"How did it go?" asked Cassandra, interested. 

"She was great," said Yvette before Louise could answer. "Especially 
considering she was stuck with Paul Worthington. He really put her through 
her paces!" 

Cassandra's eyes widened. "Paul was taking your pictures? He's amazing. I 
work with him a lot." 

Louise started to say something, but Cassandra went on. 

"You have to get past his manner, but he takes incredible photos. He's a 
genius. I owe him so much..." 

He's a monster, thought Louise. He's a sexist pig who thinks that women are 
objects for him to play with as he pleases. 

Cassandra took out her cigarettes and lit one, then offered the pack to 
Yvette who also took one and lit up. Cassandra then turned to Louise, 
raising her eyebrows. Louise finished off her drink and accepted the 
cigarette. Yvette extended her lighter and Louise leaned into the flame. 
The taste was radically different from the Marlboros she had been smoking 
so far; this was almost minty, like toothpaste, and the smoke felt thicker, 
more pungent. It reminded her of the unfiltered cigarettes she had smoked 
in the afternoon. 

Yvette saw her expression and grinned. 

"Japanese Lucky Strikes," she said, blowing a stream of smoke into the air. 
"Cassandra brings them back from her fashion shoots. They're a lot stronger 
than anything you can get over here." 

Louise took another puff, studying the sensation. The smoke definitely felt 
creamier. She wasn't quite sure how to describe it. (Full bodied?) And she 
decided she liked the `toothpaste' effect. It made the smoke feel easier 
going down to her lungs. She giggled to herself; she was becoming a smoking 

The women continued to chat, and much of the discussion went over Louise's 
head. Yvette and Cassandra were talking endlessly about fashion designers, 
labels and cosmetics, most of which meant nothing to her. She remained with 
them for lack of anywhere else to go, but she couldn't really contribute to 
their discussion. She was handed another drink, which she finished, and yet 
another one appeared in her hand somehow. She also smoked several more of 
Cassandra's Japanese cigarettes. She was genuinely shocked to learn that 
Cassandra was only eighteen; she certainly didn't look that young ("I've 
been modelling since I was fifteen," she said). Louise examined her 
carefully: up close she didn't have the skin of an eighteen-year-old. There 
was a curious tightness around her eyes and mouth that you didn't usually 
see in the faces of teenagers. Apparently her mother was Malaysian and her 
father was German, which partly explained her striking appearance. 

Louise finished her latest drink, aware that the room was starting to get a 
little fuzzy around the edges. She was probably getting drunk, but she 
really didn't care. Actually, she sort of hoped she was. She was still 
upset with herself, and the booze was offering her a way out. She decided 
to take it. The longer she remained here, the longer she could put off the 
inevitable return to reality. She still had no plan and no ideas, so she 
simply stayed where she was, drinking and smoking. 

They were eventually joined by Adrian and his boyfriend, whose name Louise 
didn't really catch. He was a lanky, greasy guy with designer stubble and a 
pony tail; not really Louise's type (not that it mattered; he wasn't her 
boyfriend) but Cassandra seemed genuinely pleased to see him, and took him 
aside to speak privately. 

Adrian asked Louise about Portia, and Louise was forced to make excuses all 
over again. She hated having to do this; did everyone know about her and 

Cassandra returned to the group looking happy and turned to Yvette and 

"I'm just going to go powder my nose, if you ladies will pardon me. Anyone 
care to come?" 

Yvette's face lit up and she grinned happily. "Yes, please," she said, and 
they both turned to Louise. "Join us?" 

Louise was working on her fifth drink (or was it her sixth?) and she 
realised her bladder was starting to complain. A bathroom sounded like a 
good idea to her. 

"Absolutely," she said, and followed them out of the room. She was getting 
very unsteady and bumped into rather a lot of people as they walked, but no 
one seemed to mind. She had to put her cigarette in her mouth and leave it 
there or she would definitely have burned someone with it. She was 
certainly drunk, but who cared? Portia had gotten drunk, why shouldn't she? 

There were far fewer people in the corridor, but Louise managed to bump 
into them anyway. She also had to lean against the walls for support on 
several occasions. Well, that's what walls were for. When they reached the 
safety of the bathroom, Louise opened the door to the nearest stall, but 
Yvette stopped her before she could go in. 

"Down here," she said, as she and Cassandra headed for a stall at the far 
end. Louise was confused. Was this some sort of fashion thing? The two of 
them disappeared into the stall, and Yvette beckoned for Louise to follow 

"Quick," she hissed. Louise nervously squeezed herself into the narrow 
cubicle and Cassandra pulled the door shut behind her. The three of them 
were pressed very close together, and Cassandra had to maneuver herself 
past Louise to get the door shut. She felt Cassandra's breasts pressing 
against her arm as she turned around, and the breasts felt strange; they 
didn't seem to be moving the way breasts were supposed to move. Come to 
think of it, Cassandra had rather a lot of cleavage for someone so thin. 
Louise tried to back against the wall, feeling very uncomfortable. She 
wasn't entirely sure what was going on here, but she didn't like it very 
much. She was pretty sure the other girls had not come here to pee. 

Once the door was shut, Cassandra produced a small plastic bag with some 
sort of white powder, and Louise's stomach turned over. Yvette looked 
delighted; this was obviously exactly what she wanted. 

I'm in completely over my head, Louise thought to herself. She had to get 
out of here, but she was boxed in. Her head was swimming; she had 
absolutely no idea what she was going to do. She felt as if she were 
trapped in some sort of nightmare. Cassandra was dipping a bony finger into 
the bag; she had long, red nails and she scooped up a small mound of the 
powder, using her fingernail like an ice-cream scoop. She then brought the 
powder to her nose and sniffed it, violently. 

Louise watched her carefully; she had never seen this done up close before. 
Cassandra's body seemed to stiffen and she jerked her head back, sniffling 
loudly and grabbing her nose. 

"Wow, that's good," she croaked, a smile spreading across her face. "We've 
got a good batch tonight." She scooped up another little mound of powder 
with her fingernail, but this time extended her hand to Yvette who snorted 
it eagerly, shivering slightly and coughing. The third dose of powder was 
offered to Louise, who stared at Cassandra's extended finger in alarm, not 
sure what she wanted to do. 

"Your turn," Cassandra prompted when Louise did not make a move 
immediately. She smiled down at Louise and her eyes seemed to be glowing in 
the fluorescent light. Louise felt dizzy. She absolutely did not want to be 
locked in a bathroom stall snorting cocaine, yet here she was, somehow. She 
tried to think of a valid reason to refuse, but her pickled brain was not 
responding. If she didn't want to do this, why would she have accompanied 
them into this cubicle? Because she thought they had really been coming in 
to pee? They would never believe that she was so naive. She could hardly 
believe it herself, in hindsight. 

No, she realised; there was only one way out of this stall. She grabbed 
Cassandra's wrist, raised the outstretched finger to her nose and sniffed 
with all of her might. 

She had no idea what to expect. Maybe she would go into convulsions and 
they would have to rush her to the hospital. Maybe she would sneeze, like 
Woody Allen in Annie Hall. In the event, she felt a sudden, stabbing 
sensation in her nostril, and something powerful blew through her sinuses, 
reminding her of the first time she had tasted Japanese wasabi. Her vision 
flared, as if a flash gun had gone off in her face, and she instinctively 
jerked her head back, gasping. 

"Pretty good, huh?" said Yvette, wiping her own nose. Cassandra was in the 
process of taking a second dose. Louise stood for a moment, blinking and 
waiting for the initial sensation to pass. The stabbing sensation was 
fading rapidly, giving way to a more general feeling of pressure in the 
back of her head; as if she had just eaten too much ice-cream. There have 
to be simpler ways to give yourself brain-freeze she thought, and giggled 
slightly at the absurdity of it. 

"Here you go," said Cassandra, extending her cocaine-laden fingernail to 
Louise once again. Two nostrils, two doses, Louise thought, and snorted the 
cocaine a second time. Again, she felt the stabbing feeling, followed by 
the dull aftershock. 

Cassandra giggled softly and wiggled her fingers. "Something they never 
tell you in fashion magazines: the real reason to have long fingernails!" 

"Fair enough," said Louise, and her voice sounded unnaturally loud in the 
small cubicle. In fact, there was a dull ringing in her ears that seemed to 
be getting louder by the moment. She shook her head, trying to pop her 

"Are you ok?" Yvette had just taken her own second dose, and her eyes 
seemed to be opening wider by the second. Louise stared at them, 
fascinated. Yvette's eyes were deep green; she could see minute details in 
the pupils that she had never noticed before. Faint red blood vessels 
formed a delicate lattice across the white area. Louise had never realised 
how complex the human eye could be. 

"What's wrong?" Yvette asked, and Louise realised she had been staring. 

"I'm fine, sorry." She had to raise her voice over the ringing in her ears, 
which did not seem to be going away. 

Cassandra had put the plastic bag away. "Ladies, it's been a pleasure," she 
said now. "If you want more, you know where to find me." 

Yvette laughed happily, and they opened the cubicle door. Louise still 
needed to pee, so she hung back as the other two stepped out. 

"You go ahead; I'll catch you up," she said to them., and they looked at 
her quizzically. "I need to powder my nose," she grinned. "As it were." 

They both laughed easily, and Yvette nodded. Louise felt some of her stress 
melting away. She had passed the test, she decided. The group was accepting 

"See you in a moment," Yvette said, and they went back to the party. 

Alone, Louise sat down on the toilet and enjoyed the moment of quiet. After 
the deafening music of the party, she was grateful to be able to sit here 
and let her head clear before going back into it. The fluorescent lights in 
the bathroom were painfully bright, forcing her to squint, and her nose 
wouldn't stop itching. She tried to take stock: she was upset with herself 
for getting cornered into taking the cocaine, but otherwise she was feeling 

In fact, she was feeling great. Her head was clear, she suddenly realised. 
A few minutes ago she had been feeling extremely groggy and unsteady, and 
had actually been struggling to stay upright. Now she felt focused and 
alert, as if all the alcohol she had been drinking had just been flushed 
down the toilet, out of her system. What a great trick! 

She went back to the party, walking confidently and firmly, enjoying her 
new-found sense of control. The crowd had not diminished and the music was 
as loud as ever, but it no longer seemed overwhelming to Louise. She could 
now discern specific rhythms and patterns to the music, and she recognised 
individual harmonic progressions from her days of taking piano lessons. It 
really wasn't that complicated when you listened to it. 

The room was thick with cigarette smoke, and it prompted Louise to light up 
another cigarette of her own. She took a deep drag, but found it a little 
disappointing. She had just smoked several of Cassandra's Japanese 
cigarettes, and her Marlboros didn't taste much of anything by comparison. 
She tried taking deeper drags to compensate. It definitely wasn't as 
satisfying, and it didn't have the `minty' taste that she had liked in the 
other brand. It still felt good though, and she smoked it happily, looking 
around the room until she spotted Yvette and Cassandra. She headed for 
them, passing the bar and helping herself to another drink on the way. At 
the far end of the room she noticed Tina watching her curiously, and she 
waved cheerfully, but didn't go over. 

Yvette and Cassandra had rejoined Adrian and his boyfriend and the four of 
them were laughing and smoking in a tight group. Yvette smiled and took 
Louise's arm, drawing her into the group. 

"Are you enjoying the evening?" She shouted over the music. 

Louise nodded. It was actually true; she was feeling more relaxed and 
definitely more confidant; the longer she could remain here, the longer she 
could put off any decisions she might have to make about what to do next. 

"Why don't you give Portia a call," Yvette was saying to her. "If she's 
feeling any better, maybe she wants to join us!" 

Oops; so much for feeling relaxed. Louise took a long sip of her drink. 
These drinks weren't actually as strong as she had thought; this one just 
tasted of flavoured water. She drained her glass and regarded Yvette 

"Portia and I had a fight," she said finally. "I'm not sure what's going to 
happen now." 

Yvette looked genuinely upset. "I'm so sorry," she said sincerely. "What 

Louise took a drag on her cigarette and told Yvette about Portia coming 
home drunk. Just saying it like that didn't actually sound so bad, so 
Louise tried to describe how tired she had been feeling, and how upset she 
had been by the photographer's comments to her. Before she even realised 
it, she was pouring out a passionate account of her day to a bewildered 
Yvette. It all seemed to just come tumbling out, and Louise felt a little 
guilty about dumping all of it on Yvette, who had essentially just asked a 
simple question. Yvette didn't seem to mind however, and listened 
sympathetically and kindly. She was a good friend to have, Louise decided. 

She finished her cigarette and lit a fresh one. Her throat was getting very 
dry - probably from all the smoking as well as shouting over the music - 
and she took a big gulp of her new drink (where had that come from?) trying 
to lubricate her mouth. 

"This is a stressful business to be in," Yvette was saying. "You had a 
taste of it today, but really, it's always like that. It can be very hard 
on relationships. You should talk to Cassandra about that." She looked over 
in Cassandra's direction. Cassandra was deep in conversation with a tall, 
leggy girl with platinum blond hair. They appeared to be comparing shoes. 

"She's flying to Tokyo in the morning. She just got back from Prague a few 
hours ago. We're roommates and I hardly ever see her. You think she has 
time for a social life?" She lit a cigarette, thoughtfully. 

"But listen," she continued. "I've heard you talking about Portia this week 
and it's obvious how you feel about her. You should think very carefully 
before screwing this up." 

Louise had no reply to that. Yvette was making sense. She really didn't 
want to screw things up with Portia, but she had a horrible feeling that 
things may already have been irreversibly screwed. She suddenly had a 
memory of the two of them lying in bed this morning, snuggling up to each 
other and willing the alarm to stop ringing. It was a warm, intimate 
memory. How could one single day have changed things so much? 

Her thoughts were interrupted by Adrian, who came wandering up to them. 

"What's happening, ladies?" he asked. "What are you two conspiring about 
over here?" 

"Girl talk," Yvette laughed, and poked him in the ribs. "Go away." 

"Are you kidding? `Girl talk' is my middle name!" He grinned, then turned 
to Louise. "Tell me, darling, are you into boys, or is it just girls?" 

Louise choked on her cigarette. "I beg your pardon?" 

"Not now," Yvette said to him. "This is the not the time for that, trust 

Adrian shrugged. "Okay," he said. "Whatever you say. It's just that there's 
a cute guy over there who's been totally checking Louise out all night." 

They all turned to look (not very discreetly) and Louise immediately 
spotted the guy Adrian meant. He was young and dark-haired, and looked down 
at his shoes the instant they turned around. 

"I have no idea who he is; I've never seen him before," Adrian said. "I was 
going to talk to him myself, but I don't think I'm his type, somehow." 

With a jolt, Louise suddenly realised she recognised him. It was the 
dark-haired kid who had been helping with the drinks during the cocktail 
reception at the beginning of the week. 

"What's he doing here?" she said, aloud. 

Yvette turned to her, curious. "You know him?" 

"I know who he is," Louise said. "I don't know if he remembers me." They 
continued to watch him, but he seemed engrossed by something at his feet. 
He shot occasional glances in their direction but looked back down again as 
soon as he saw they were still watching. It was hilarious. 

"Well, he's definitely into you," Adrian said. 

Louise remembered the night of the reception, when he had been serving 
drinks. She had felt so awkward and socially inept that evening, but now he 
was the one who looked like the fish out of water. She suddenly saw herself 
through his eyes: an attractive, glamorous woman, laughing and talking with 
the fashion in-crowd. He must see her as unattainable, way out of his 
league. She felt herself starting to glow. It was the best thing that had 
happened to her all evening. 

She drained her glass and lit a fresh cigarette, knowing what she had to 

"Excuse me, folks," she said, and headed over to him. 

He saw her coming, and she could see him panicking, not sure whether to 
stand his ground or vanish into the crush of people. Unfortunately for him, 
he was jammed up against the bar, so he had no hope of moving away from 
her. He was cornered. 

She decided to torture him a little. Just as she was about to reach him she 
suddenly turned to the bar and helped herself to a fresh drink, leaving him 
dangling in suspense. She busied herself with her glass for a moment, 
deliberately ignoring him, then finally turned to face him directly. 

"Hi," she said, in the sexiest voice she could muster. "I'm Louise." 

"James," he said, turning bright red. He seemed to have no idea what to add 
to that, and Louise just waited, curious to see what he would do next. She 
took a long drag on her cigarette and watched him. 

"So," he finally stammered. "Do you come here a lot?" 

Louise almost burst out laughing. Was this the best he could do? 

"Oh, all the time," she replied. "How about you?" 

"Not really, I'm not from around here," He said. "I'm up here with my 
sister." He was having a hard time looking her in the eyes, and kept 
looking down at his shoes. Actually, he seemed to be looking at Louise's 

"Well that's very sweet of your sister, to bring you along." She was toying 
with him and enjoying every minute of it. She had never had such power over 
a man before. 

He was still studying her shoes. She sensed him deflate slightly; he 
obviously realised how pathetic he sounded. 

"Well, we're actually here on business. Her boss is doing some sort of 
research experiment, and I'm helping them." He looked up from her shoes 
finally, and made it as far as her legs. 

You were serving drinks to a group of drama students, you little liar, 
Louise thought to herself. This guy was a riot. 

"Actually it's pretty cool stuff. And if it goes well, she gets a research 
grant that's worth millions." He was up to her chest now, and seemed quite 
content to remain there. "She's doing this experiment in mind control." 

"Mind control?" Louise snorted. Great. On top of everything else, he's a 
nerd. She should really go back to her friends and stop wasting time with 
this kid. 

"Well, they don't call it that, of course," he continued. "But that's what 
it is, really. You should see her. It's amazing what she can get those 
girls to do..." He trailed off, probably realising that he had the wrong 
audience for this. 

Yeah, Louise thought. Save it for your Dungeons & Dragons group. 

"Listen," he said. "Have we met somewhere before?" 

Louise actually did burst out laughing this time. This kid was a riot! He 
must be working from a book: 101 Lame Chat-up Lines or something. Even if 
this one did happen to be appropriate. She wondered which cliche would come 
next: `What's a girl like you doing in a joint like this?', perhaps. 

James turned beet red, and Louise almost felt sorry for him. Almost. 

"Sorry," he said, "I'm sort of new at this. I'm not really sure what to 

Louise looked him over. He really was kind of sweet in a pathetic sort of 
way, she decided. 

"Well, you could get me a drink," she said. 

"But you already have a drink." 

Louise drained her glass and handed it to him. "Not any more." 

"What would you like?" 

"Surprise me." 

He turned to the bar and grabbed something - at random, as far as Louise 
could tell - and handed her a fresh drink. She drank half of it down, never 
taking her eyes off him, and felt some of the fuzziness starting to return. 

"So... are you a model?" he finally asked. 

Louise giggled, and downed the rest of her drink. "Sometimes. I dabble. I 
actually just got finished with a photo shoot today." 

He looked her over with respect, and Louise had a feeling he was trying to 
imagine the sort of photo shoot she was talking about. Well, let him have 
his little fantasy. She opened her pack of cigarettes to pull out a fresh 
one, but fumbled it, and it fell to the floor. She bent to pick it up, but 
James got to it faster, and she was caught off balance for a moment. She 
leaned against him for support and he handed her the pack of cigarettes, 

"Thank you," she giggled. "A real gentleman." Her mouth was starting to 
feel a bit numb, and the fuzziness was increasing quite rapidly; it seemed 
to have snuck up on her. She tried to open the pack, but her fingers were 
all over the place. James took the pack out of her hands and removed a 
cigarette for her. 

"It's interesting to see so many people smoking," he said to her. "Everyone 
here seems to be a smoker." 

"Not everyone," said Louise, putting the cigarette into her mouth. "I'm 

"I'm sorry?" 

"I'm not really a smoker," said Louise. 

"You're not really a smoker?" 

"That's right," Louise giggled. She was trying to talk around the cigarette 
in her mouth; that's probably why James was finding it hard to understand 
her. She would have to work on that. 

"But I've been watching you. You haven't stopped smoking all evening." 

This kid really was dense. "That's because I'm... I'm.." what was the word? 
"Practicing!" She was feeling very dizzy now, and she leaned on the table 
for support. "I'm practicing!" 

James raised his eyebrows. "You should talk to my sister," he said. "She 
would find this interesting." 

Louise laughed, and poked James roughly in the shoulder. "Right, your 
sister," she said through her laughter. "Do you really have a sister, or 
did you make that up?" 

"What was that?" God, this kid was dumb! 

"Do... you... really... have... a... sister?" Louise said again, speaking 
in her best stage diction, "or were you lying about that as well?" 

"I wasn't lying," said James, looking surprised. "In fact here she is right 

Someone had walked up to them, and Louise squinted, trying to see who it 

"Hi, James," said whoever-it-was. "I see you found Louise." The voice was 

"Tina?" she said, trying to bring the figure into focus. She stepped 
forward and tripped, falling against James again. 

"You know each other?" she heard James say. 

"Of course I know Tina," said Louise with dignity. "She's Dr. Piper's 
assissistant." No, that wasn't right. "As-sis-tant." 

"You must remember Louise," Tina said to her brother. "You met her on 

James stepped back, and Louise almost fell over. She caught the side of the 
table just in time. 

"Oh, God," James said. "Is she one of Beverly's test subjects?" He sounded 

"One of her students, yes," said Tina, sharply. He must drive her crazy as 
well, Louise thought. He was cute, though. She giggled again. 

"Oh no, oh my God," James was saying, and Louise felt sorry for him. She 
tried to put a comforting arm around him, but she missed completely and 
fell over, landing with a bump at his feet. It didn't hurt. She stretched 
out her hand to grab something for support and pulled herself up, 
unsteadily. She seemed to have grabbed James's elbow. 

"What's a joint like this doing in a nice guy like you?" she said, and 
laughed hysterically. She was having a great time. 

A pair of arms were wrapped around her, and she felt herself being lifted 

"Come on, help me," 

Suddenly she seemed to be walking, but her legs weren't moving. It was an 
interesting sensation. Soon the air smelled cleaner and the pounding music 
had faded away. Someone must have opened a window. Would that make the 
music go away? She wasn't sure. She felt another pair of hands around her 
waist. How many hands did this guy have? 

"Who's the octopus?" she said, but no one answered. She could hear Tina's 
voice talking to someone, but she couldn't make out the words. She 
continued to walk in that strange way, without using her legs, for a few 
minutes more. She wondered where she was going, and why she wanted to go 

"Sorry to get you up," she heard Tina say, "but I thought you needed to see 
this for yourself." 

"You're right, thanks," said a new voice. It sounded like Dr. Piper. Why 
would Dr. Piper be at a fashion party? It didn't make sense. It obviously 
wasn't her. 

James's voice again: "I'm so sorry; I didn't know," he said. He sounded on 
the verge of tears and Louise tried to reassure him, even though she wasn't 
sure what he was talking about. 

"We'll worry about it tomorrow," said the voice that couldn't be Dr. Piper. 
"Let's just get her back to her room." 

Were they talking about her? "I can't go back there," Louise told them, but 
no one seemed to understand her. "Portia won't want me there." She was 
having trouble making her lips move; she must still be trying to speak with 
the cigarette in her mouth. 

"Don't worry," said Tina's voice. "You'll see Portia in a few minutes." She 
obviously wasn't listening. What was wrong with everybody? 

"I'm sorry; I'm so sorry," James was saying over and over. He was getting 
quite annoying, and his voice was making Louise very sleepy. She wished he 
would stop bawling. 

"Tina, tell your brother to stop. I'm sorry I teased him," she said, and 
lapsed into oblivion. 

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