The girl who stands up is a contender, no doubt about it. The golden tan is absolutely real. The boobs aren't, but Cordelia's pretty sure that's not a problem for the casting director. Of course, her roots are showing in a big, bad, serious way, but that can be fixed, given 2 hours' notice and a bottle of Blondesse.
Cordelia is, by now, richly familiar with the fact that most of her auditions don't go well. But this one she'd held out a little more hope for -- they wanted "curvaceous," which she is, a "natural Californian," which is -- well, God only knows, but having been born in good ol' Sunnydale, Cordelia probably qualifies -- and "sensual."
Well, the jury was out on that last one. She doesn't feel it right now, after changing in a gas-station restroom and trying to convince herself that a single strawberry-frosted doughnut is sufficient nutrition for one day. It's probably not Michelle Pfeiffer's daily beauty routine, that's for sure.
"I've got a good chance at this one," she'd said to Wesley and Gunn the night before. They had smiled and acted like they believed her, something they were getting pretty good at. But they had probably known what Cordelia knows now: That particular boast was going into the Greatest-Last-Words hall of fame. Right up there with, "I never shop retail. Off-the-rack gives me hives," or "Xander Harris is the guy for me."
Or "Angel is a good vampire. He would never hurt you."
Cordelia had said that to an uncomprehending, amnesiac Buffy on a Halloween long ago. At the time, of course, she'd thought Buffy was also delusional. Cordy's main concern at the time, beyond getting Buffy calmed down, was sucking her tummy in, the better to look good in that catsuit while Angel could see her. Sure, he was all ga-ga over Buffy, she'd reasoned, but what man in his right mind wouldn't eventually see that Cordelia was prettier, smarter and -- in those days -- a lot less likely to drag you into trouble?
Later that night, after everyone had remembered who they were and things had calmed down, Angel had prepared to walk Buffy home. But just when she thought he was gone, he had come back, taken Cordelia's arm in his hand, sent little waves of excitement coursing through her. Aha, she'd thought; this is more like it.
And then he'd said, "Cordelia? Thanks for what you said back there. It meant a lot."
"Oh, I meant every word of it, Angel," she'd breathed, looking up at him through mascaraed lashes. "What were you talking about, exactly?"
He knitted his eyebrows together in confusion, then replied, helpfully, "What you said about me being -- a good vampire. That's a hard idea for a lot of people to accept -- for me to accept, sometimes -- but knowing that you do, well -- it means that there's somebody who --"
"Wait a minute. You ARE a vampire?"
Angel had stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Cordelia knew her jaw had dropped, and she yanked her arm back. "Oh, my GOD," she said, and hurried away.
Cordelia has thought about this event a lot over the years. It used to embarrass her. Then it amused her. For the past few months, though, she's thought of it as their entire relationship in miniature -- a preview of coming attractions, if she'd only been able to realize it at the time.
First, you think you can trust someone, because he acts like your friend. "Vampire" is an empty word, something that applies to fangs and black clothes and stuff that doesn't really relate to the person inside. And then, when you start trusting someone, he acts all surprised and happy and touched, like it really means something. Seeing that just warms your heart. Does you good. Makes you let your guard down.
Finally, you find out what "vampire" really means, and the fun's all over.
"Barbie Cartwright?" the casting director calls, and the girl sitting next to Cordelia stands up and heads into the audition room. No ass, thin eyelashes, and a tan line where her watch ought to be, which spells trouble for the rest of her. No chance. The casting agents are going in alphabetical order; Cordy's likely to be next. She tries to stop thinking about Angel, to concentrate on the inane script for this commercial.
But it's impossible, and she knows it.
Cordelia remembers the girl she was that long-ago Halloween. She was 17 years old, wealthy, adored. Her parents didn't spend a lot of time with her, but they spent a lot of money on her, and the girl Cordy was then preferred it that way. Guys offered her their class rings and letter jackets, made excuses to hang around her locker, did stupid stunts in gym class to try to impress her. Girls watched what she wore, copied her eyeshadow and hairstyles and hemlines, though not too closely, lest she call them on their lack of originality. The vanity plate on her red convertible read "Queen C," which pretty much sums it all up.
Today, her father is out of work (and only out of prison by the grace of the plea bargain), her mother apparently permanently out of sorts. Neither their time nor their money is dedicated to Cordelia now. The last guy who meant anything to her, romantically speaking, died in front of her eyes more than a year ago. She can't remember the last time she spent any quality time with a girl friend, unless getting bitched out by Kate the Nazi Cop counts, and it doesn't. Instead of standing out from the pack of humanity by virtue of her style or her smile or her sleek red car, her one claim to fame is skull-crushing visions that can leave her weak and tearful for hours.
In short, the one thing that has remained sort of constant in Cordelia's life during the past five years is Angel. And right now, that seems pretty pathetic.
The one thing in my life I can count on, she muses, is the presence of an obsessive dead guy who is guaranteed to wear black sweaters, put me in life-threatening situations and periodically go psycho. Somewhere, I have taken a seriously wrong turn.
Angel's the one constant she has because she can't hold on to anything else, she thinks bitterly. Because she can't keep anything better.
But that's not fair to the people she's closest to now, is it? Wesley, strangely enough, has been a force in her life for two years, give or take a few months where he was off wearing leather. And the camaraderie she feels with Gunn is something real -- more friendly than just about any other friendship she's ever had, a fact that both delights and shames her when she realizes that, two years ago, she would have hurried past Gunn on the street, maybe clutched her purse a little tighter.
Cordelia knows, though, that as much as she cares about Wesley and Gunn, as tight as they now are, their friendships can still all fall apart. She thinks back to the previous summer, when Angel had no home and Wesley had no money; all they had left was their work and each other, and they had all thrown themselves into it with a camaraderie and joy that Cordelia had never known before. She was happy then. It makes her uncomfortable to be able, at age 20, to already identify a time period as "the happiest days of her life." But that's what they were -- these perfect days when she had friendships and purpose that she expected to last her whole life.
But then, all the bonds that she thought would never break broke into a thousand pieces. And Angel -- the Angel who held her hand in the hospital after Vocah's attack, who welcomed her back to the land of the living with tears in his eyes -- is unknown to her now.
Is there anything you can count on? she asks herself, gripping the script pages in her hand. Is there anyone you actually get to -- keep?
The audition lady calls, "Cordelia Chase?"
No more prep time, no focus, no breathing exercises, nothing. Another audition blown before it even starts. Well, crap.
Cordelia exhales, gets up, walks into the room. Might as well get it over with.
This audition room is as small and blank and uninspiring as most of them -- posters from past advertising campaigns are on the walls, and the director and casting agents are sitting behind a long table, looking bored. Well, that makes everyone, she thought, half-amused by the futility.
"This is for CocoaLoco Suntan Lotion, right?" Cordelia says, shrugging off her cardigan and revealing the tight little dress underneath. She'd been prepared for them to ask to see her body; just this once, she's going to beat one of life's humiliations to the punch. "Behold the goods," she says, spinning before their surprised faces. "No Wonderbra, no control top. Okay, got that over with."
She strikes a pose -- much more exaggerated and seductive than she'd ever stoop to, normally -- tosses her hair and smiles. "We've gone crazy for CocoaLoco and for the man who wears it. We just can't stop rubbing it all over his body," she says, miming the massage. Funny how much easier this is when you just don't care. "Goes on smoooooth, like a lover's kiss. It's the only suntan lotion good enough for our man. Get into the heat with CocoaLoco Lotion."
Cordelia gives them one last pout, then drops the act and grabs up her cardigan. "That what you were looking for?"
"Uh, yeah," says one of the casting agents.
"I know," Cordelia says. "You'll call me."
She pushes her way out of the audition room, drops the script in a nearby trash can and hurries to the women's restroom she saw down the hall. Cordelia goes into one of the stalls and leans her head against the metal wall. Tears well in her eyes.
The first audition she's had in months, and it's as big a farce as all the rest. She hasn't seriously believed that an acting career was in the cards for a long time -- well, really, since her first round of auditions that terrible, post-Sunnydale autumn. But she keeps dragging that dream along with her, never letting it go, because it's the only other future she can imagine at all. Either she will go on as she has for the past five years -- fighting weirdo creatures of the night -- or she will somehow, miraculously, end up a movie star with gowns by Versace and personal assistants to throw fits if her edamame is frozen instead of fresh. Cordelia isn't even 100 percent sure what edamame is, but she's willing to learn.
Surely there has to be a third option, and a fourth, and a fifth. But Cordelia doesn't feel as though she has the strength to come up with another dream right now. She knows she doesn't have the strength to watch another dream go up in flames, and that seems to be where they all end up.
Stop this, she tells herself, jerking her head back from the door. Hurriedly she grabs up a handful of tissue and dabs her hot, streaming eyes. Self-pity is not Cordelia Chase's style -- at least not the extended bouts, the ones that involve falling apart in Lysol-smelling public restrooms. The uncertainty about Angel's got her in a state, but the best thing she can do is fix her makeup, walk out the door with what's left of her pride.
Cordelia steps shakily out of the stall and goes to the mirror; the fluorescent lighting isn't kind, but she does what repairs she can with a little powder and lipstick. When she's done, and the mask is back on, she stares at the pretty girl in the mirror. She remembers picking up that long straw, wanting to drop it in the cigar box, then bending it as she clenched her hand into a fist.
What Cordelia wants is for things to stop changing. She wants to push her way back into the past and find either those happy days with Angel or the happy days without him, and this time she'll stay there. But that's not going to happen. The future is going to take one of two shapes. Either she will move forward with Angel -- accept that he represents her past and her future, this weird life that somehow chose her -- or she will move forward without him.
But into what?
She makes the drive home through a gloom that the sunny day and the bouncy music on the car radio fails to dispel. Grabbing up her little bag of clothes and makeup, she heads to the door.
It opens for her. Dennis can always tell when she's had a bad day.
"Thanks," she sighs, dropping the bag on the floor. Dennis will see to it later. Cordelia kicks off the impractical strappy sandals and gratefully feels the soft carpet beneath her pained feet. "Why do I do it, Dennis? Why do I even try?"
Dennis can't answer, of course -- not that there's any practical answer to the question she's just asked. But he can respond, and does so wisely by floating a pint of Ben & Jerry's Concession Obsession in her general direction. "That's perfect," she sighs. "Dennis, you are the poltergreatest."
She can't even think about Angel or acting or anything else right now. No, the only thing to do now is to relax, chill out, consume tons of empty calories and, perhaps, watch a little "Guiding Light." But just as she's sinking back into the sofa, the phone rings.
For one moment, Cordelia is torn between frustration -- can't she ever just rest? -- and happiness, because it's got to be Wesley or Gunn on the phone, and A.I. needs a case and the money it would bring in the very worst way. She swings a hand up to grab the cordless as Dennis lobs it in her general direction. "Thanks," she whispers as she presses Talk. "Hello?"
It's not Wesley or Gunn. Instead, a woman's voice says, "Cordelia Chase?"
Cordelia sighs. "I'm actually totally okay with my long-distance provider as it is, but thanks for asking."
Before she can click Off, the voice says, "What? Oh, no. This is Ms. O'Shea. From the CocoaLoco audition?"
"What is it?" Cordy asks, genuinely puzzled. "Did I leave something in the casting room?"
"No, no. I just wanted to tell you -- we thought you were terrific. Just what we're looking for."
The silence goes on for a second, until Cordelia says, "But -- what?"
"But nothing." The casting agent's voice is a little uncertain. "We're filming in two weeks, and if you're available then --"
"You mean -- I got the job?" When the casting agent confirms it, Cordelia laughs out loud, then pulls herself together. "I'll have to doublecheck with my agent," she says easily. "But I believe I'm in L.A. that week." After all, she wasn't Queen C for nothing.
But the minute Cordelia clicks Off, she lets herself scream. "Yessssssss!" she shouts, hammering the heels of her hands on the sofa cushions, shaking her head about so that her hair flies around crazily. Dennis, who has picked up on the fact that things have changed for the better, turns on the radio and pumps up the volume. The fact that Ricky Martin comes pouring out of the speakers does nothing to quelch her good mood. This is the best she's felt in months, maybe ever.
I did it, she thinks in jubilation. I really did it. I got a TV commercial, a good one. I am, for the next two weeks, a working actress. What do you do for a living, ma'am? Why, I am an actress. In Hollywood. You may have seen me on TV.
Cordelia giggles some more as she begins helping herself to the ice cream -- not too much, though, because she's got to look great in a bikini in two weeks. Two weeks! She thought she'd still be sitting in the office, collecting so much dust, in two weeks. Now, though, everything has changed --
She thinks about that. Then thinks about it some more.
Everything has changed. Just in this one instant, it seems as though her whole world has spun on its axis, orbited around so that she's finally facing the sun. She thought that she could be an actress, and now -- in whatever limited sense -- she has become one. She thought that her dreams were all so much dust, and now it seems they can still be fulfilled.
She thought she could not envision a future without Angel in it, but in this moment, she can. Every other accomplishment she's made these past several years, every other significant moment (for good or for bad) can be traced to Angel in some way. This -- this is her own. And just because of that, it feels better than almost anything else.
I can live without Angel, she thinks. I can make my own way, do my own thing. And maybe that's for the best.
Cordelia imagines the cigar box again. She imagines herself picking out a short straw, dropping it inside. She knows how badly it will hurt -- she also knows that this, finally, is her choice.
Ricky Martin is still blaring from the speakers, and the ice cream tastes great, and Cordelia Chase is a working actress, and she is crying as she sits on her sofa. She is crying because she's happy, and because she's sad, and because she hates being confused, and because she knows she's about to end that confusion for good.