If I do it right, it could be like this giant coup for the women of PPC and beyond. It’ll say to the world, “Look, a movie by a teen girl of color! Yes, women direct movies too! And we don’t have to rely on the same old tropes—Dracula can be Dracu-lass!” But if I do it poorly … maybe saying I might never want to direct anything else ever again is too extreme, but I might never want to direct anything else ever again.
During the best scenes, Sahil would meet my eye in the dark. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking; I just knew my pulse quickened every time. And one time he looked at me, I smiled, and he almost upended his entire bowl of popcorn.
But during the bad scenes, I’d laugh and roll my eyes at him. That bat? So fake. Also, I had no idea how much people in the thirties liked melodrama. When I did that, Sahil would throw popcorn at me. On purpose this time.
Eventually the credits rolled and Maddie switched the lights back on. I sat there, staring straight ahead. “Um, Sahil?”
“You’re going to hate me.”
He swiveled in his seat. “Impossible.” We looked at each other for a beat, my mouth going dry. “Ah, I mean, why do you say that?” he amended hastily. Maddie snickered, but I chose to ignore her.
“There is no way I can do Browning or Lugosi justice. Zero chance.” I shook my head. “He’s a superstar, you guys. And I’m just some … some kid from Colorado Springs. I’ve never even directed a real movie before!”
Sahil came to sit by me. “If anyone can do this, it’s you,” he said, leaning forward. “So maybe you haven’t directed a movie before. But that’s just mechanics. You have the soul of a storyteller, Twinkle. I’ve watched your YouTube videos, okay? You have the ability to make people bare their real selves when you’re holding a camera, and not many people can do that. You and Browning aren’t as far apart as you think.”
I swallowed, touched that he’d checked out my videos. I’d mentioned them in passing at lunch. “You really think so?”
“I know so.”
We gazed at each other, the moment stretching on. I forgot Maddie was present, watching everything. I forgot what a Maddie even was. What was happening? Sahil was not the Roy brother I needed. But somehow, when I looked into his eyes, I saw myself the way he saw me: as someone talented and capable, as someone who could do this.
We sat there in silence until Maddie burst into our moment like a rampaging elephant. “Um, excuse me? Did you two watch the same movie I watched?”
We looked at her. “What?” I said.
She laughed. “Oh my God. That was so over-the-top and ridiculous! T, you’re a wayyyy better filmmaker than that guy Brownie ever was.”
Sahil pinched the skin between his eyebrows. “Browning. His name is Browning.” Then he looked at me. “Is she for real?”
I nodded. “Maddie thought Psycho was stupid too.”
Sahil clutched at his chest. “You … you didn’t like Psycho?”
“What?” Maddie said, sipping her Coke. “Anyone could tell there was something very, very wrong with that Norman Bates. Like any woman would even stay at his creepy-ass hotel in the first place!”
Sahil stared at Maddie, and I laughed. “Okay, whatever our feelings about Psycho, can we just focus on Dracula right now? Now, Maddie has a point. Some of those scenes were pretty hilarious.” When I saw Sahil open his mouth to verbally murder me, I hurried on. “But others were classic. Like that line, ‘I am Dracula. I bid you welcome’? We have to shoot that.”
Sahil’s face lit up like Dadi’s face at Diwali. (It’s all about the sweets for her.) “Yes! That’s exactly what I was thinking!”
I nodded, pointing to the notebook page on my lap, which was filled with scene-blocking diagrams, bits of dialogue, and costume ideas. “We need to keep it creepy, but charismatic creepy. Whoever our Dracu-lass ends up being, she needs to be just as captivating as Bela Lugosi.”
“You mean like this?” Maddie asked, whipping a throw around her shoulders and tying it at the hollow of her throat. Her entire persona transformed. Suddenly her eyes had a flinty look, and her smile was predatory. She shook out her hair and stalked over to Sahil. He pretended to swoon, just like Mina in the movie, and Maddie bent close to his throat, pausing just short of putting her mouth on his skin.
I was enchanted.