Charlotte sat on the wooden bench and slumped forward, her cold hands clasped so tightly together that a sharp pain radiated down her wrists. She bit down on her bottom lip and shook her head as she fought back tears.
“Please, God,” she said, her breath visible in the freezing air, “please let my friend Timothy rest in peace and feel no more pain. He had enough pain. Let him be free.”
Charlotte looked up at the gray sky and saw, for only a second, two clouds pull apart, allowing the sun to shine down on her cold face. A pleasant warmth circulated her body, as if someone had struck up a campfire a couple feet away. She smiled. Closed her eyes.
“Screw you!” someone shouted to her right.
Charlotte opened her eyes and gazed toward the front door of the church. A man wearing a large black coat was smoking a cigarette, his huge iPhone resting against his ear.
“I’m tired of it!” he shouted, his voice loud and abrasive. “You make these promises, Patrick, and then you break them. If she doesn’t want to be in my movie, I’ll find someone better, someone hotter, someone with tits! Your client couldn’t open a movie if she gave every paying customer hand jobs on opening night!”
Charlotte’s stomach started to hurt. She hadn’t eaten anything since last night, but as the man kept screaming into his phone, spewing out one inanity after another, an unexpected nausea took hold of her, the kind she felt last spring when a stomach flu knocked her out for an entire week. She scooted to the other side of the bench.
The man walked toward her, still yapping away, and she hoped he would keep marching on by, never to be heard from again.
But then he stopped, right in front of her. “Patrick?” he said. “Patrick, you there?” He pulled his phone down, then pounded his fist against it. “This goddamn service out here is shit!” He turned to Charlotte, who was doing her best to look in any other direction. “Excuse me, are you getting reception? I’ve been having problems ever since I got here.”
“Sorry, I don’t know. I’ve had my phone turned off all day.”
“What? Turned off?” He laughed, and sat next to her on the bench, close, way too close. “That’s pretty stupid. What if someone needs to get a hold of you? You want to be unemployed forever?”
“I’m not unemployed,” Charlotte said.
“Oh yeah? Then what do you do?” He pulled his phone back up. Started tapping on the screen with his untrimmed fingernails, so hard she thought he might break it.
She grinned. “I’m a director actually.”
“A director?” He laughed loudly, a cackle Charlotte assumed more suitable for a female witch with a wart on her nose. “Of what? Community theater?”
“No. I’m a filmmaker.”
“No shit.” He ran his fingers through his goatee, which had a noticeable piece of shredded cheese sticking out from the side. “What have you made? Anything I’ve heard of?”
“I have a short film series on Youtube. Documentaries about the homeless.”
His eyebrows rose at least an inch. “Documentaries about what?”
“I’ve received grants from Oregon State. My films are bringing an awareness to what is now more than ever a widespread epidemic. Did you know there are currently more than 630,000 homeless men, women, and children in the United States alone?”
She was going to keep talking, but the man had focused his eyes back on his phone, picking his back teeth with his right pinky. “That’s… that’s just fascinating, honey. Sorry. I thought you were a real filmmaker.”
“A real one? But… I am.”
“Your movies make any money? For anybody?”
She shifted her body away from him and said, “Well, not exactly — ”
“The people who raise the money for you to make these documentaries. Do they at least see a return on their investment?”
Charlotte took off her jacket. Either it had become significantly warmer outside, or her blood had started boiling. “That’s not how it works, sir.”
“Listen. My name’s Paul Brockmeier. That name mean anything to you?”
“Didn’t think so,” he said. “If you were an actual filmmaker, you would know the name, and you would bow at my feet. My films have grossed more than five billion dollars worldwide, and that’s just in the last ten years. Who knows what the next decade will bring? I keep telling my wife it’s gonna be eight billion, but she thinks I’m too optimistic.”
His voice grated on her so much that she moved to the edge of the bench. Her sister wasn’t supposed to pick her up for another twenty minutes, but she was ready to make the five-mile walk home.
“Aren’t you gonna ask me what my movies are?” the producer asked.
She sighed. “What are your movies?”
“Well, Pirates of the Caribbean 10 opened in July. That’s going to be the first of a new trilogy that truly revolutionizes the series. Then in October we have Fast and the Furious 17, which I expect to make the most money of the franchise yet. My last film of the year opens Christmas Day. Titanic 2.”
“Really? Titanic 2?”
“That’s right. It took me three years but I finally got Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber to commit. I think Justin’s going to make the most wonderful zombie Jack Dawson.” He stroked his hands through his graying hair and added, “Did you know the original movie made 2.8 billion at the worldwide box office? I plan to double that this Christmas.”
She couldn’t take it anymore. Charlotte stood up and headed toward the front of the church. But before she reached the front door, she stopped and turned around.
“Wait a second,” she said. “If you’re some hotshot producer, what are you doing here?”
He squinted, even though no sun was blinding him. As soon as he had walked outside, the clouds had stayed put overhead. “Excuse me?”
“Why are you in Corvallis, Oregon? Why are you at my friend’s funeral?”
He lit up another cigarette, and smiled with his dark yellow teeth. “We’re shooting an action flick up here, honey. With Denzel. Tomorrow’s car chase scene calls for corpses to be dumped on the freeway, and the director wanted real ones.”
The door opened, and Charlotte fell toward the ground. Her head missed the cement by mere centimeters.
She pushed her back against the wall as two men wearing all black hauled a body out of the church and tossed it into the back of a red truck. “Got another one!” the taller one shouted.
“Nice work, boys,” the producer said, and he walked toward the truck’s driver seat, smoke spilling out of his mouth. He turned back to Charlotte one last time and said, “All right, I’m off. Good luck with your documentaries. Have fun living out the rest of your days in your parents’ basement while I live on my pad up in the Hollywood Hills!”
She kept her mouth shut as he jumped into the truck and pulled out of the parking lot.
“Stop them!” a woman cried to the left of Charlotte, and then about a dozen people spilled out of the church and started chasing the truck down.
As soon as everyone disappeared around the corner, Charlotte returned to the bench and took her phone out of her pocket. That producer had been like a cancer in human form, but he had been right about one thing: she needed to turn her phone back on.
When the screen lit up, she opened her e-mail inbox. She had one unread message. She clicked it.
“Hello, Charlotte,” she read aloud, “my name is Aaron, and I wanted to say how much your documentaries have meant to me. I was a homeless gay teen for two years, before someone inspired by your films brought me to a shelter and helped me out. Now I work at the shelter as a counselor for homeless youth. Without your films, without your selfless commitment to helping others, I would be dead, no doubt about it. Thank you for this second chance.”
Charlotte set her phone down, then leaned against the wall and stared up at the sky.
The sun was out again.