A moment later they were alone with Teddy Jasper in the center of the lobby. The Bird watched her mother’s face, staring intently on the auditorium door, waiting for it to close behind her friends.
The Bird asked what was wrong, as she heard the soft sound of the door settling into its stationary position. Her mother, dressed as Gertrude, waved a hand to her left, towards Teddy. “Sandy, I’d like you to meet — ”
“Oh, I’ve already met your daughter!” Teddy raised his hands, as if waiting for The Bird to embrace him; when it became evident the teen would not move, his pencil-thin moustache wrinkled under his nose. “I believe she likes to be called The Bird.”
Looking back at her mother, The Bird said Teddy had told her he was in business with her.
Janet Wernick closed her eyes, then opened them, smiling. “Teddy is an — agent. Talent agent.” The Bird groaned; Teddy Jasper reached a hand towards her shoulder — “We’ll be seeing a lot of each other.” The teen recoiled from his touch.
The Bird told her mother that she needed to speak to her. Her mother shook her head. “What — ”
Her daughter stamped her foot — she needed to speak with her mother now, and alone.
Teddy Jasper peaked his eyebrows, then with a smile and what The Bird thought was a wink towards her mother, excused himself before brusquing towards the auditorium door.
As the door began closing behind Teddy, Janet stepped in front of her daughter. “What was that about?”
The Bird pointed towards the door, and asked her mother how long she had known that man.
Her mother shook her head. “This isn’t about me and him, it’s about respect — ”
How about respecting yourself, The Bird shot back, then demanded to know how she expected this relationship would end up any different than before, how did she know this, Teddy Jasper, wasn’t going to be like any of the other agents she’d worked with, the ones who’d lied to her, used her —
The slap on her cheek was swift yet painless, The Bird’s head turning to the left more from reflex than force. A mélange of emotions filled the slender teenaged girl — hurt (but no, there was no pain), humiliation (but no, there was no one else to witness the action), anger (but no, there was no reason to be angry). Shame — this was hardly the first time her mother had slapped her like this, and The Bird suddenly remembered the words that always immediately followed. The Bird swiveled her head back to face her mother — and smiled.
“You should be — ”
The Bird said she was not ashamed, not at all. Her smile broadened a bit, then fell. She waited a moment, for the severe expression on her mother’s face to dissolve like ice under a heat lamp. Then, suddenly, her mother straightened, the severe look returning to her face, as she began playing the role of Gertrude, regal and aloof. “I’ve learned from my mistakes. This time, I’ve asked the right questions.” She smiled, resuming her role as her mother. “Mr. Nestor speaks highly of Teddy — ”
Bullshit, The Bird’s reply echoing off the marbled lobby floor.
Her mother recoiled, her face contorting like a cobra preparing to strike. The Bird braced herself for a second slap, and felt disappointed when her mother only laughed.
“I believe your friends on the fencing team are waiting for you.” Her mother reached over, touched The Bird’s shoulder, her daughter drawing close and hugging her with greater strength and meaning than usual.