Good God, he’s gorgeous, Gloria O’Brien thought as Ethan Bartlett stepped past the front door held open by her golem.
Ethan walked into the entryway of her house in Edwards Grove wearing a black winter jacket with an orange stripe across his chest and another down his arms with a black beanie, black gloves and black pants. It seemed very ordinary and yet, somehow, gloriously sexy. When he took off his beanie and his dark hair spilled out around his eyes, her attraction was somehow amplified.
A light snowstorm blew behind him for a moment before the door shut. It gave him a dark, handsome, silhouette and Gloria found herself shuddering at the notion of having him. It had been a long time since she had a man who came close to his physical beauty and golems just didn’t do it for her anymore. Or ever, really.
She listened to the sound of his boots on the tile as he walked toward her, moving between the dual staircases, and glancing up at her. Gloria leaned onto the rails of the walkway above and felt her heart leap in her chest as their eyes met.
“Ethan,” she said.
“Betty,” he replied.
“Gloria. Betty is an old nickname.” Her middle name was Elizabeth and “Betty” was the nickname her father and sister had called her. “Betty O’Brien” had also been her stage name in her acting days.
“God, you’re looking at me just like your sister,” Ethan said.
Gloria’s face darkened. She did not like that statement one bit. “Why is when men speak, they always ruin what their beauty has going for them?”
“It’s not men. It’s just me. In my last two lives, I was also average to ugly looking, so I tended to strike out with the ladies.” He nodded soberly. “I did alright with wives, though. In my first life, I married Katherine Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. Never topping that.”
“Cute,” she told him. “So you’ve finally come to see me.”
“Well, it’s been a busy month and you won’t stop calling me,” he told her.
“I heard about Johnny Le Sueur and the snow beast and whatever was going on with that castle.” That was a mere three days ago but Ethan had already bounced back.
“Yeah, that was—” Ethan looked over at her golem, blinked in surprise, and started toward it “—odd.” His face filled steadily with shock.
Although it was nothing more than a flesh-like robot, it looked perfectly human. It had a suave mustache, dark hair combed in a 1930s style, a beautiful face with a sculpted chin, an almost unearthly beautiful body, and to Gloria’s surprise, Ethan actually recognized it. He was the first person under fifty who had, and the first since the 1960s or so who had done so without being asked first.
“Is this Errol Flynn?”
“Yes,” she said with a sudden smile. “How did you know?”
“I’m a big movie buff. Captain Blood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and most of all, The Adventures of Robin Hood. I’ve seen many others but those are my favorites.” He stared at Errol almost stupefied by the sight of him. “Golems of this sort require special licenses, are incredibly expensive and images of celebrities are copywritten by celebrities and their surviving families. I’m willing to bet none of Errol Flynn’s surviving children would just let you use his form this way.”
“Why is that, do you imagine?” Gloria asked. She was curious what his answer would be.
“Well, you could make him do gay porn, commit murders, rape women, etc., etc. In fact, just having a golem look this real is touchy as hell with the government. You could get nailed on a felony for this.”
Ethan pressed his finger against Errol’s chest and as he pushed, he watched it lean back without emotion. It moved back to exactly where it had been when Ethan pulled his finger back.
“It’s way real. You must have used his DNA or something, which would be a challenge since he died in 1959 or so.” Gloria had Errol longer than that, point of fact, back when you didn’t need a special license to own a golem that looked like a man.
“I was a very beautiful woman in my youth,” she told him and gestured to the painting her last husband, Ralph Anderson, had commissioned for her. Ethan stopped messing with Errol and walked back toward her, his eyes glancing up at the painting above her on the wall behind her.
“Not bad at all,” Ethan said as he stopped back in the spot he was in before.
“That’s actually what I’ve wanted to speak to you about.” She tried to summon his eyes to hers the way she had in her youth but it wasn’t working. She was too old and unattractive for that.
“Look,” Ethan told her, “You’ve been trying to get ahold of me for a while. I’ve come now so we don’t have to drag this out anymore. I can’t help—”
“Yes, you can!” she said with sudden rage and her hands squeezed the walkway’s wooden rails. She felt the arthritis in her hands as she did so, making her notice her elderly, sagging, old body and breasts. In turn, that made her think about her sister, her twin, right then bouncing around in a six-year-old body, nubile, perfect, and with her whole life ahead of her. “Yes!” she snarled through her teeth.” Yes, you can!”
Ethan smiled in a kind of strange way. He didn’t find anything about what she said amusing and it seemed as if he was looking at her in the same way men had all started to look at her when she started to lose her looks.
“Look, you’re what, eighty?”
“I’m seventy-five,” she stated bitterly. “Just like my twin is supposed to be. Grace is seventy-five but she gets to have the body of a six-year-old girl.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Listen—”
“No, you listen!” she hissed. “We are twins! We shared a womb together! We are part of each other! We share its ups and downs, its miseries and its joys! As she’s been given this gift, I deserve it as well!”
“You have a serious temper,” he told her. He was still looking at her in that way men looked at ugly women and it made her want to shriek. Her hands tightened on the rail and she wanted that look to change, wanted that hesitation that men who weren’t fags always gave a beautiful woman when she spoke. The look men will be giving Grace in a decade or less. “Look, you’ve lived your life—”
“You gave my sister a youth potion and she is now a nubile, tight little girl!” she hissed through her teeth.
“Well, technically, but I wouldn’t put it quite so sexually—”
“She is my sister!” she cried. “We are part of each other! I deserve to be with her as her equal!”
“She spent over fifty years in a coma, Betty—”
“Whatever. She spent over fifty fucking years asleep by some magical spell. She didn’t live her life. You did and—”
“We are twin sisters!” she said again, feeling like she was speaking to an idiot. “We are supposed to be the same age!” She felt sweat coming down her body from the horror of his outright and straight refusal. It felt just like a door being slammed in her face. If he was hesitant or played nice, there would be a place to work with, something to dig into, but that wasn’t what was happening.
He was telling her to fuck off.
“Why does she get to be young again and not me?” she asked aloud.
“Did I not just mention the coma—”
“Yes! What’s your point?”
Ethan blinked. “Yeah…” He shrugged. “Look, I got to go—”
“She had a life better than mine!” Gloria snarled.
Ethan laughed loudly. “You’re joking.”
“I didn’t get to star in Queen Anne even though I was the better actress and the greater beauty. They didn’t want another dark-haired girl out staging Natalie Wood.”
“You were never going to out stage Natalie Wood,” he told her bluntly.
“You never saw me young or act!” She wanted to throttle him until his eyes popped out. “It was the dark-haired beauty thing. Natalie Wood had dark hair and they wanted a blonde to counter her.”
“Is that the reason?” Ethan asked. “To hear you talk, you’d think nobody in the 1950s knew what hair dye was?” Her eyes darkened as he looked back at Errol, then back at her. “God, he’s creeping me out. He just stares into space like a robot—”
“Don’t change the subject! You have another youth potion! It should be mine by right! I should be with my sister, starting my life over, and fixing all the mistakes others made for me, but you’re holding me back under some misguided notion of deserving or not deserving!”
“Are you saying you never made a mistake in your life?”
“She made you promise, didn’t she?”
“Maybe.” She could see in his eyes that she did. It was just the kind of passive-aggressive cruelty her twin was known for.
“Listen, my sister—” she hesitated “—my sister is a compulsive liar!”
“No, she’s not, but I have heard similar things said about you and I’ve heard about your less-than-pleasant history.”
“I take it you’re referencing Ralph Anderson now,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Every time someone had a problem with her, it always came back to poor, old, dead Ralph.
“The Andersons blame you for his death.” Her hands softened on the rail and she became suddenly worried. She hadn’t expected him to research her life or question her late husband’s family. “They say you harassed him, threatened him, slept around on him, and eventually drove him to suicide.”
“It’s not like that,” she said.
“Then what is it like, Gloria?” asked Ethan coldly.
Gloria gritted her teeth. “He was bi-polar and there were a string of bad business decisions that nearly ruined our lives and drove him into alcohol and self-loathing.”
“You threatened to leave him for Julian Bartlett.”
Gloria twitched at that. “Who told you that?” she asked bluntly. “Was it one of your bitch cousins?”
“No,” he told her.
“Who told you?”
“Does it matter?” he asked.
“Everyone told me,” he replied with a shrug. “Everyone knows you were having an affair with Julian Bartlett and everyone knows he did it just to hurt Ralph Anderson who he hated for some asinine reason. Probably the same asinine reason he hated Arthur Simms.”
“How do you know about Arthur Simms?”
“I’m a partner with his grandson Damien. He told me all about it. Did you honestly think Julian Bartlett would leave his wife and marry you after you took everything from Ralph after driving him to kill himself?”
“That’s not what happened!” she hissed but she was very scared now. He wasn’t going to give her a youth potion if she thought she was a scheming, murdering, trollop, which was no doubt exactly what her sister wanted. She had to make him understand what a liar Grace was. “Grace told you all of this, did she? She poisoned you against me!”
“I haven’t asked her about you, yet.”
She blinked. “What?”
“You heard me. I don’t trust siblings for a solid opinion although I would have asked her eventually if I wasn’t sure. I asked a bunch of objective people who knew you but weren’t emotionally involved. They do not like you, by the way. You’re one of the most hated people in this town and that takes effort with the kind of scumbags running around this place.”
“The Andersons are pretty goddamn emotionally involved, Ethan!”
“I didn’t ask them either,” he told her. “The fact that they hate you isn’t a secret I needed to invade their private lives to learn. Some people even say you are responsible for your sister’s coma.”
She straightened her back, stared down at him very sternly, and asked in a steady and very icy voice, “Who said that?”
“Oh, I just don’t know. Somebody. Somewhere.” He looked over at Errol again and then back up at her with a suspicious look. She could not grasp what was going on through his mind, which was unusual in a man. Usually, she could read them like a book. “Several people said you had some kind of mental breakdown when Grace nailed the Mary Boleyn role in Queen Anne.”
Gloria clenched her teeth so tightly she almost thought they would break.
“I should have had that role!” she stated in a bitter, hard voice. “I’m the better actress and I was the greater beauty! Natalie Wood and Gray Randal, that—” she almost said the word “faggot” “—bastard director, overrode me because he liked Grace better! That was the only reason she got that role!”
“You know, I kind of wish they waited a few years,” said Ethan dreamily. “Lana Wood could have played Mary Boleyn and it would have been wild to those sisters acting off each other.” He looked up at her. “Still mad, I see.”
Gloria felt her body shaking, still very much enraged by that moment in her life. Up until that point, Gloria and Grace had been in a dead heat. Gloria got a bit part, Grace got a bit part, Gloria got a minor role, Grace got a minor role; but then along came Natalie Wood and that fucking director.
In retrospect, it had seemed that Hollywood had been deciding between the two of them, Gloria or Grace, and, possibly with Natalie Wood’s help, and certainly Gray Randal’s, they chose Grace. Once Hollywood had her, it had no place left for Gloria.
Uglier, less talented women soon got the roles that Gloria should have had and before long, she was back in Connecticut.
Gray Randal had never liked her and she had no doubt he was whispering poison to all his friends. Gloria assumed it was because he was a homosexual but he liked Grace for some mad reason so that never quite added up. Whatever the reason, he chose Grace, and no doubt, afterward, blacklisted her to all her friends.
And then there was Natalie Wood. She had no proof of her involvement either but it wouldn’t surprise her. Not with Grace whispering in her ears between shoots on the film that should have made Gloria a starlet. Oh yes, one or two words from Miss Natalie Wood to the right director, producer or Hollywood titan could very well ruin a young woman’s career.
Gloria despised Natalie Wood with all her heart and the day she heard she drowned was one of the best of her lives. Sometimes in her dreams, Gloria would dream of herself creeping up into the boat and shoving Natalie off the side or even holding her down underwater. She’d dream of the black ocean waters at night around Santa Catalina Island, see Natalie Wood’s lifeless face staring up at her below the swirling water, and smile.
God, Gloria would have loved to have strangled the life out of her but it was impossible to get to her. Robert Wagner beat her to it. Or had he? Who could really say what happened on that boat? Gloria didn’t care much since it was long done and over with, although it gave her some satisfaction.
At least she got something substantial from the death of that director. Gray Randal, the fucking fag, was found dead in an alley in 1961. The thought of someone stabbing him in an alley a dozen times, several times right in the crotch, still made her smile.
“Jesus, what’s going on in your head?” asked Ethan. “I’ve never seen such a torrent of emotion pass through someone’s face before.”
She turned to him and said in a very soft tone, “Don’t you leave me empty-handed, Ethan.”
“That sounds almost like a warning,” he told her.
Her face softened. “It’s not,” she half-lied. She wasn’t sure what it meant, honestly. “I love my sister,” she added and that was no lie. They had grown up together, went to the same schools together, had the same teachers, and then, when they become women together, had the same, exact taste in men.
Men like Ethan Bartlett, who walked into a room with raw, unfathomable male charisma just like James Dean.
God, how she wanted him! Grace no doubt would too but all she had to do was wait ten years and she would be sixteen, nubile and perfect, not even a woman yet technically, while Gloria would be eighty-five and probably dying in a retirement hospital!
The bitch! The fucking bitch! Why does everything good always happen to her!
“Jesus,” said Ethan as he read her face. “Calm down—”
“I want you—” she swallowed “—I want you to give me that potion!”
“Well, bad luck for you, darling, because I don’t have any more.”
“It’s not fair—”
“Not fair?” he retorted. “Are you fucking kidding me? How many times do I have to spell it out for you? She spent fifty years in a magical coma! She missed out on her entire life—”
“That reminds me!” she hissed suddenly. “Who said that I was involved with her coma?”
“I don’t know,” he said with his eyes tilting to the left as if in thought. “Must have heard it somewhere.” He shrugged. “Listen, baby, I’m tapped out of youth potions. I’ve got a healing one that might help with arthritis or some—”
“Don’t you mock me!” she hissed.
“God, you got a temper on you, don’t you?” he said. “I can see it blazing out of your eyes like an erupting volcano.”
“All artists have tempers!” she retorted and then she stared deeply into his eyes. “And I am owed!”
“Owed?” he asked. “How are you ‘owed’ anything?”
“It’s not right that my twin should get a second chance and I be denied.” Again, she thought bitterly. Again, I should be denied what is my right while she gets a free pass on my dime!
“She isn’t getting a second chance—”
“Well what the fuck do you call it then?” she snarled.
“A first chance,” he replied almost tiredly. “She fell into a coma at twenty-two years old and then woke over fifty years later.” He shrugged at her. “She never lived her life. This is her ‘first’ chance. I did the same for Jessica Downs—”
“You wasted a youth potion on that trailer trash?” she asked incredulously. She knew he had, everyone knew Jessica Downs had popped up as a six-year-old girl and it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between her and Grace, but she toned her question in such a way as to indicate the meaning as, “why?” The notion of what Ethan had done, for no reward, to someone so low class as Jessica Downs stupefied her.
“Well, for one, she’s middle-class,” said Ethan. “Two, she, like Grace, suffered from a kind of magical curse. She had lost her life in a tree in the Engelstad. I corrected that.”
“You wasted it on her. She’s a nobody.” Her face was full of shock. “And you only gave it to Grace for money.”
“No, I gave it to Grace because she was in a magical coma. The fact she was a multi-millionaire I could use to get a fortune was just a bonus.”
“I don’t believe you. You got a lot of money from her.”
“And land and property and yeah, now I’m bringing business back to Bartlett Bay. It was my grandfather’s dream, then your father’s, now mine. My dream is also to have a video game store and get free shit. It’ll also contain board games and roleplaying paraphernalia such as Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Why the hell are you advertising your store to me?”
“I figured escapism might calm you down—”
“Don’t you make a joke out of me!” Gloria cried. “I am not a joke!”
“I’m not and I’m not lying about the youth potion either.” He put on his beanie. “It’s been a pleasure—” his face fell to one of surprise as he read more of her face “—Jesus, lady, calm down.”
She began to shake she was so upset. She felt like this would drive her insane just as Grace stealing her role from Queen Anne had. She could see it all again; her father and his friends all smiling at his pretty, blond daughter, all so proud of her easy luck while his eldest was left wanting and forgotten.
She found the urge to scream overwhelming her, her face turning red from her rage and her hands gripping the rail so tightly they turned white.
Now the blond bitch everyone loved had everything! She was going to get a second chance at youth while Gloria was left a withered hag to rot and die! Grace would get to waltz back into Hollywood, without competition, younger than Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox with a tight ass and gravity-defying tits while Gloria would end up shitting herself in her retirement home diaper!”
Ethan held up his hands and started to back out. “You need to calm down—”
She stared into his eyes, feeling the sagginess of her breasts, the softness and elderliness of her overweight body, and thought about the gift of youth so rashly wasted on her bitch sister.
“Don’t you walk away from me!” she hissed in a guttural, horrid voice. This wasn’t fair, oh no, not by a long shot, and she was not pleased! No goddamn way, was she pleased! “This is not right!” she snarled, drool slipping from her mouth. “I could give you a fortune! I could give you my body when it comes of age! When I was young, I was one of the most beautiful women on the planet!”
He looked back up at the painting of her young and then back. “No, Caroline Munro was one of the beautiful women on the planet when she was young.”
“Caroline Munro?” She felt confusion enter her mind. “The Brit who starred in The Spy Who Loved Me?”
“Ah, yes, Naomi. The first woman ever to be certifiably killed by Bond but I was actually referring to her role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. There was a woman who could work a skimpy outfit.”
Ethan backed up to the door, not daring to turn his back to her and keeping one eye on Errol. He had good instincts, which made him even more attractive.
“If you had a potion,” said Gloria softly. He stopped and lowered his hands. “If you had a potion, would you sell it to me for some amount of money? I’m not as wealthy as my cousin Franklin but it would be the right thing to do.”
He looked at her for a long moment, gave her a shrug, and said, “Who knows what I’d do if had a potion to sell. Probably sell it to a billionaire.” He opened the door wide, stood before the storm and the wind beyond and said, “Goodbye, Gloria.” He turned to leave.
“She did make you promise, didn’t she? She made you promise never to give me a youth potion.” His face was unreadable when he looked over his shoulder at her but she believed she saw the truth in it. No doubt to hold her youth and beauty over me while I remain old and hideous. “Didn’t she?”“See you around, Gloria,” he told her and then he walked out. Errol shut the door behind him and stood next to the door as obedient as always.