Maggie’s Ruse, Chapter Two
coming October 2019 from Unsolicited Press
read Chapter One here
Josh faked a lingering outrage over Maggie’s ruse. He was a sensitive person, he said. Such base manipulation was unworthy of anyone who claimed to be an artist. Marta sympathized. Her eyes smoldered with fury. He loved her a little for that.
Secretly, he obsessed over the incident. Women came on to him all the time. They had since he was about fourteen. He’d always been able to have his pick. Getting them wasn’t the problem, it was keeping them happy. He knew he wasn’t patient, or particularly kind. He couldn’t bear neediness of any sort, and his natural aloofness created a barrier his girlfriends, sooner or later, tried to breach.
Marta’s sister had been so . . . what was the word? Direct. Practical. He couldn’t imagine her ever being desperate. She was a woman who went after what she wanted. He wanted to ask Marta if this were true but didn’t. Marta was smart, cunning even, and would suspect some developing feeling for her sister if he didn’t choose his words very carefully.
To put some distance between herself and Maggie, she’d stayed with Josh for the past three days. On the first night, he made up the couch. She asked why. He didn’t understand.
“Well, you thought she was me. So, doesn’t that mean. . .”
“Oh, I see. Look, it was one of those heat-of-the-moment things. I never had the faintest idea that you and I would ever . . . you know.”
“Good. Because I’d have turned you down.”
His apartment had old windows, and street noise began early, ended late, and sometimes never quit at all, only softened a little between three and four in the morning. The bedroom was at the back, and Josh emerged around nine thirty each day looking fresh and rested.
That morning, Marta sat at Josh’s tiny kitchen table and poured herself another cup of tea from a lovely hand-painted pot that had belonged to his mother. There was money in his background. He’d grown up comfortably. Maggie and Marta hadn’t, not until their mother married Chip Starkhurst. She’d shared that information with Josh. He’d asked what the stepfather did. When Marta said he sold manufactured homes, Josh seemed amused, as if the endeavor were quaint.
Josh watched her stir her tea with a little silver spoon. Her bangs fell over one eye, lending her a sly, seductive air. Marta was a beautiful girl. Maggie was a beautiful girl, too, by definition. He wondered if Marta believed him about never having had any sexual thoughts about her.
“I knew it was her all along,” he said.
The spoon stopped.
“Then why have you been acting so upset?”
“I guess I’m just mad at myself for going along with it.”
Marta thought that was a load of bull.
A truck blew its horn. The sound cut a hole in the back of her head. She loved the city, but there were times when the quiet of the small town she’d grown up in seemed liked an idyll.
Josh’s cell phone trilled on the kitchen counter. He examined the caller’s number and silenced it. He did that a lot. Someone was hounding him, maybe even several people were. Another wannabe member of the yet-to-be-formed troupe, wanting to know when they could quit their day job. A woman, probably. Marta suspected Sandra, right out of college, tall, intense, with a shaved head. She had a scary light in her eyes, as if she wanted to devour you and reduce you to atoms.
It could also be Josh’s mother, who he said tended to cling. She’d lost Josh’s father years before, and since he was an only child, it was just the two of them. He had trouble with the oppressive nature of her dependence on him. Sometimes he complained about her, yet between his words Marta saw a woman who was devoted to her son, and made him believe in himself, perhaps a little too much.
Josh thought he was brilliant, the next great director of those hard-to-find off-Broadway gems. He was sure he had a keen eye for what was likely to engage an audience. The trend for the past few years had been quiet dramas with two or three people; dark sets; lots of monologue and little conversation. Josh’s new idea—one he’d unveiled just the evening before—was for a play made up of only two actors portraying lovers who were so intimate they could read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, even predict the next topic of conversation. Marta said the only people plausible in that situation would have had to live together for decades and be old and uninspiring. He totally disagreed. Couldn’t a young man and a young woman be deeply connected? As in soulmates?
He looked at his phone again, then sat down opposite her, causing the tea to slosh in her cup. His black eyes gleamed. His color was high. His inner fire made him dangerously attractive. She pinched the inside of her wrist, something she’d learned to do when she wanted to keep herself still.
“You know that idea for a play? I did some tweaking,” he said.
“Instead of a couple, how about twins?”
Marta stopped pinching herself. “Female twins, of course,” she said.
He nodded. He looked like a teenager, how he must have looked over a decade before.
“And what if only one of them can act?” she asked.
“Would it matter? I mean, she’d just be playing herself, don’t you see?”
“And who’s going to write this amazing play about these amazing twins?”
“Have you ever written a play before?”
“Back in high school.”
“And since then?”
Josh stared silently out the grimy window at the fire escape across the street. Marta was supposed to take back her doubts, lavish him with praise, and tell him whatever he penned would sparkle.
Another horn sounded. She thought of the walk back to her place. She would hit up some boutiques in SoHo. A new purse was just what this day needed. She had to stop thinking about Josh and focus on herself for a change.
“I’m going to head out. Don’t want to overstay my welcome,” she said.
“You’re not in the way.”
“I know. But I need to see what Maggie’s up to.”
She didn’t like the look that came into Josh’s eyes at the mention of Maggie’s name. She collected her clothes in the Louis Vuitton backpack her stepfather had gotten her for her last birthday (Maggie had gotten an identical one) and paused at the door.
“Give it a shot. See what you come up with,” she said.
Josh turned and looked at her.
“Well, I’ve got them named, at least,” he said.
He nodded. “Dilly and Dally.”
She could see that he was serious. She left before she ruined his moment.