[SCENE I. MELISSA and SARAH’s house. SARAH is downstairs, eating breakfast in her pajamas and robe. She looks cheerful and alert as ever. MELISSA comes downstairs yawning and looking out of it, and stops when she sees SARAH sitting there eating breakfast.]
MELISSA: You’re joking, right?
SARAH: Good morning!
MELISSA: Just once I want to see you have a hard time waking up in the morning. Just once.
SARAH: I can’t help it! It’s in my nature.
MELISSA: Said the scorpion to the frog. (She pours herself some cereal and sits down opposite SARAH.) So you’re done with smuggling?
SARAH: Yes. And I won’t try to keep it a secret next time. (Beat.) If there is a next time, I mean. (Beat.) Which there won’t be.
MELISSA: You fill me with confidence, small friend.
SARAH: It’s a gift.
MELISSA: So, I didn’t tell you because you were out doing dangerous crime, but I’m entering a writing contest the city of Portland is sponsoring.
SARAH: That’s exciting! I take it you’re already done?
MELISSA: Well, I have an entry, but I was going to ask if you wanted to make a comic or–
SARAH: Yes! We will make the best comic ever.
MELISSA: Excellent. (Beat.) So, I may have already written a draft for that, too.
SARAH: ‘Draft?’ Since when do you draft?
MELISSA: Well, I thought maybe you’d read it and want to change something?
SARAH: (Beat.) Are you okay?
MELISSA: What? I’m fine!
SARAH: I’ve never seen you uncertain before.
MELISSA: It never mattered before! What if you think it’s crap?
SARAH: It’ll be fine.
MELISSA: It had better be.
[SCENE II. The Jaded Old Crone. ERIC and SOPHIE are eating lunch.]
SOPHIE: Did you see this? (She slides a flier across the table at him.) The city of Portland is sponsoring a writing contest.
ERIC: All right, and . . . .
SOPHIE: If there’s a contest, Melissa will be entering it. This time I’ll prove once and for all that she’s a terrible no-talent hack who wouldn’t know good writing if, uh, she read something that was well-written.
ERIC: Well, let me know if you need anything.
SOPHIE: I’ll need someone reliable to proofread it. I think I can trust you to help.
ERIC: Sounds like a plan.
SOPHIE: And I need something brilliant to write about. Something that couldn’t possibly lose.
ERIC: (Clearly sarcastic.) Maybe you should write a scathing expose of how awful Melissa is.
SOPHIE: Oh, that’s perfect! (Beat.) But people like her for some reason. I don’t think that will work. It might come off like I’m just trying to attack her.
ERIC: Just a thought.
SOPHIE: Yes, good effort. I’m sure we’ll think of something.
[SCENE III. MELISSA and SARAH’s house, that afternoon. SARAH is reading a printed manuscript. MELISSA walks in from upstairs and sits in the easy chair, waiting patiently. After a few moments, SARAH finishes and puts the script down.]
SARAH: It’s good!
MELISSA: You like it?
SARAH: I may be biased, but it seemed pretty awesome to me. Where’d you get the idea?
MELISSA: I don’t know. I just had this idea to write a story about some lazy, misanthropic hipster in Seattle. He’s a bike courier because of Lina, obviously.
SARAH: Obviously. And I don’t need to ask why he’s such a snarky asshole.
MELISSA: Right, yeah. I felt like he shouldn’t be as eminently likeable as I am though. It doesn’t work nearly as well.
SARAH: Right, there’s no conflict there. In a story about you everyone would know you’re going to win, because you’re just more awesome than everyone else.
SARAH: (Beams.) I’ll get to work on some storyboards. (Gets up and hugs MELISSA.) Oh, this is going to be fun! (She runs upstairs and comes back with a sketchbook, and sits down on the couch and gets to work.)
[SCENE IV. SOPHIE’s house. She and ERIC are working on brainstorming for her project, drinking beer. There are a number of empty bottles on the table.]
SOPHIE: (Throwing a notepad down in frustration.) God, this didn’t used to be so hard.
ERIC: Maybe you didn’t used to drink heavily when trying to write.
SOPHIE: It helps me relax, dammit. (Sighs.) Why is nonfiction so hard?
ERIC: Maybe you should try writing fiction?
SOPHIE: Fuck that. Fiction is boring. Fiction is the easy way out. Anyone can just make something up. (She picks up the notebook and smacks it against her hand.) Nonfiction has to face the real world.
ERIC: It’s also a lot less popular. (Beat.) Look, you’ve had some pretty cool adventures in Portland. Why don’t you write about that?
SOPHIE: Yes! That actually is perfect! And I can write one where it just so happens that Xenakis looks like the monster she is.
ERIC: Yeah. I’ll just let you get started on that, shall I?
SOPHIE: No, no, stay! You can help me hammer out the structure.
[SCENE V. Downtown Portland. MELISSA is walking along the street when SOPHIE nearly bumps into her, distracted by reading something on a tablet PC.]
SOPHIE: Oh, I’m–(she notices MELISSA)–totally not sorry at all.
MELISSA: Good to see you too, Sophie.
SOPHIE: You entering that writing contest?
SOPHIE: Even when you know you can’t sabotage me this time? Aren’t you scared you’ll lose?
MELISSA: I like writing. It doesn’t matter.
SOPHIE: Keep telling yourself that, Xenakis. I’m sure it will help you feel better when I kick your ass.
MELISSA: Yeah, all right. Have a good day, Sophie.
[SCENE VI. The Jaded Old Crone. MELISSA and NICHOLAS are eating lunch.]
NICK: So, you entering that writing contest?
MELISSA: I just dropped off our completed work, actually.
MELISSA: Sarah and I made a comic.
NICK: Do you usually work with other people?
MELISSA: I don’t! I actually spent time thinking about this one. It was weird. (Beat.) So was this contest your idea?
NICK: Well, I met some of our judges at a city event and I thought, why not see if we can put together a contest. You know, to encourage local talent. I made sure that I had nothing to do with the judging, but it’s all blind in any case.
MELISSA: I’m a little surprised you’re using your powers for good.
NICK: If you want me to be really honest, Kelly was nagging me to do something like this.
MELISSA: I didn’t know she wrote.
NICK: Apparently she had a burning desire to write something for a contest.
MELISSA: Weird. Well, tell her good luck for me.
NICK: I will. (Beat.) I know you’ll almost certainly say no, but do you want to go with me to the awards ceremony? As my date, I mean.
MELISSA: (Thinks about it.) Yeah, okay.
NICK: Yeah, I kind of–wait, what? Really?
MELISSA: You can always take it back if you don’t want to.
NICK: No, I just expected you to say no.
MELISSA: Maybe I’m just trying to mess with you.
NICK: Well, it’s working.(Beat.)Try to dress nice, I guess.
MELISSA: I always dress nice, Nicholas.
[SCENE VII. The awards party. MELISSA and NICHOLAS arrive together, followed shortly by KELLY and SARAH, the latter of whom makes a beeline for the drinks when they arrive. KELLY follows after, trying to look nonchalant.]
MELISSA: You really weren’t kidding about the hero worship thing.
MELISSA: I’m afraid I’ll have to rescue Sarah if this keeps up.
NICHOLAS: I’ll . . . have a word with her. Sometimes she just needs a bit of guidance.
(NICHOLAS approaches the drinks table, leaving MELISSA standing alone. At about this point, SOPHIE and ERIC arrive.)
SOPHIE: Well, look who it is, Eric.
ERIC: Hello, Melissa.
MELISSA: Hey Eric. How’s it going?
ERIC: Oh, it’s all right.
SOPHIE: I didn’t think you’d come, Xenakis. I didn’t think you liked public humiliation.
(NICHOLAS returns, offering MELISSA a glass of wine.)
NICHOLAS: If she didn’t like public humiliation I think she’d moderate her drinking more often.
MELISSA: It’s not that I like public humiliation so much as I like having fun. Which, incidentally, is what I plan on doing tonight. Please go away.
SOPHIE: All right. Will you stick around after I win so I can gloat?
MELISSA: I’ll probably stick around as long as there’s still wine left. (Raises her glass.) Good luck.
SOPHIE: Luck is for losers. (Stalks off.)
NICHOLAS: Well, glad to see Sophie’s still, you know, insane.
MELISSA: Yes, well, you can’t win them all.
[SCENE VIII. The awards party, later that night. An old hippy is announcing the winners. SARAH, MELISSA, KELLY, and NICHOLAS are standing near the back talking. SARAH looks a little unsteady, but quite happy.]
ANNOUNCER: . . . and the first runner-up: “Shiftless in Seattle” by Melissa Xenakis and Sarah Ames!
(SARAH squeals excitedly and hugs MELISSA. They walk up to the stage to accept their trophy. SARAH is leaning on MELISSA.)
MELISSA: I can’t help but notice that you have been drinking all of the wine tonight, small friend.
SARAH: It helps with the being intensely admired thing! I’m not good at it because I’m not horrible like you.
MELISSA: Well, we can’t help the way we’re made.
(They step up to the stage and receive a little trophy.)
ANNOUNCER: Do you want to say a few words, ladies?
MELISSA: Only that you can buy a copy from our website, and you totally should. The physical copy is beautiful.
SARAH: Also you guys fucking rock!
MELISSA: Right, and that. Come along, Sarah.
ANNOUNCER: Well, it’s stellar work, ladies. Let’s give them a hand!
(They walk off back to where they were.)
ANNOUNCER: And now, the winner of the first annual Portland Writing Competition . . . .
(SOPHIE already looks smug and is making her way towards the stage.)
ANNOUNCER: Kelly Hayes, with her “Elegy for a Dark Soul!”
(SOPHIE continues approaching the stage. ERIC manages to grab her and whisper something in her ear before she embarrasses herself. She suddenly looks confused, then hurt, then furious, and storms out. ERIC considers following but decides to stay behind.)
ANNOUNCER: Come on up, Kelly!
MELISSA: Wow, congratulations!
SARAH: So cool!
(KELLY blushes and murmurs some thanks as she hurries to the stage.)
ANNOUNCER: Now, I want to let your work speak for itself, but is there anything you’d like to say?
KELLY: I wrote it for my friend, Celeste. I wish she’d come home.
ANNOUNCER: Kelly Hayes, ladies and gentlemen!
(KELLY retreats to overwhelming applause.)
NICHOLAS: Well, that was surprising.
MELISSA: A bit.
NICHOLAS: You’re not upset?
MELISSA: Are you kidding? We got second place! That’s awesome.
NICHOLAS: I guess I should go congratulate her.
MELISSA: And probably calm her down. Poor girl looked about ready to explode. (Beat.) We’ll be outside. I think Sarah could use some air.
[SCENE IX. Outside. MELISSA and SARAH are sitting on a stone bench. The ANNOUNCER is in the distance smoking a cigarette. Enter SOPHIE.]
SOPHIE: I should have known you’d rig the ceremony.
MELISSA: Yes, well, what can I say? I’m just that competitive.
SARAH: That’s right! No, wait, hang on, you didn’t rig anything.
SOPHIE: Yes she did! I should have won!
(The ANNOUNCER, seeing the others, walks over.)
ANNOUNCER: I just wanted to tell you both that I really liked your comic. It was a close thing.
SARAH: Oh, thanks!
MELISSA: I’m sure Kelly’s poem was awesome.
SOPHIE: And what about my essay? Why didn’t it win?
ANNOUNCER: Which one was that?
SOPHIE: Sophie Swanson. “Problems in Portland.”
ANNOUNCER: Oh, that. Well, I thought it was an interesting take on the genre, but it seemed confused and rough. Like it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Half the time it was hilariously purple prose and the other half it was unbearably dull newspaper-speak. It could have been a really biting commentary on journalism if it was just more consistent.
SOPHIE: What? No, mine was the one about the spooky goings-on in Portland.
ANNOUNCER: Yes, that’s the one. Tell you what, submit a story next year and I’ll bet it’s a lot better. It was a good first effort! (He walks off.)
SOPHIE: But it wasn’t satire!
MELISSA: Tough break, Sophie.
SOPHIE: Oh, shut up. (She hurries off.)
SARAH: What just happened?
MELISSA: Her writing style was so bad he thought she was doing it on purpose.
(NICHOLAS walks outside with KELLY in tow.)
MELISSA: There she is! Congratulations again!
KELLY: I didn’t actually think–
SARAH: Do you have a copy now? Can I see?
KELLY: I, uh, yes. (She hands a folded piece of paper to SARAH, who unfolds it and tries to read it for a while.)
SARAH: Yeah okay I’m too drunk to read anything right now.
KELLY: Maybe I can read it to you on the ride home? (To NICHOLAS.) We’re heading home now, right?
(NICHOLAS and MELISSA exchange a glance.)
NICHOLAS: I suppose so.
(They walk towards the car. NICHOLAS and MELISSA keep several paces behind.)
MELISSA: Do you think we should tell Kelly she doesn’t have a chance?
NICHOLAS: Nah. Let her have her moment. Dreams are meant to be crushed.
MELISSA: You’re crueler than I remember.
NICHOLAS: What can I say? Politics is bad for the soul.
(She smiles at him and takes his hand. They walk off into the distance.)