“Hey, Lady!” Owen greeted Adelaide when he called her that morning. It may have sounded like a bad Jerry Lewis impression, but it was how he had greeted her since they were 12 years old and shared a study hall.
He had been the class clown, and she was the only reason he passed his Spanish class. Fourteen years later, he was a struggling actor, and she was a secretary in a law office.
“What’s going on, Doughboy?” she asked, using the nickname she occasionally used for him, bestowed after a particularly horrible joke Owen had made in freshman history about the Pillsbury Doughboy fighting in World War I.
“I have a huge favor to ask of you,” he said, drawing out the word huge to an improbable three syllables.
“What kind of favor?” she asked wearily as she set down her steaming breakfast coffee and prepared for the punchline.
“I’ve got this big audition today for a reality show that my agent says could make my career.”
“Uh-huh,” it was her turn to draw the single syllable of huh into an anticipatory three beats. “What do you need from me? Do you need a ride since your car is in the shop again?”
“No. My car is fine. The thing is,” he paused, “this is a reality show for couples… romantic couples.” He paused again, “I need you to be my girlfriend.”
“What happened to Amanda or Mindy or whatever her name was?” Adelaide studied the side of her coffee cup and rubbed off a water spot.
“That’s long over.”
“What do you mean? You guys just went to that concert last weekend.”
“That was just something we already had tickets for. We were already on our way to breaking up, had one last fun time, and then we ended it the next morning. Besides, no one knows me the way you do.”
She sipped her sweet, maple-flavored brew, letting the silence drag out and torture Owen the way he had tortured her in Biology class when he described in intense detail how he dissected their frog while she scrunched her eyes shut in an attempt not to be sick. “Well… I could go with you to see how this audition goes. What kind of reality show is this?”
“Come on, Lady! I don’t know. My manager just said to grab a girl and get down there. You have five minutes to make yourself pretty before I come drag you out of your apartment. I’m already on my way over.” With that, he disconnected the call knowing that he had won.
Adelaide sighed and took one last sip of her coffee, savoring it before dumping the remainder in her kitchen sink. Owen may be silly and kind of vain, but he was also prompt.
Sure enough, her door opened five minutes later as he let himself in. “You’re wearing that?”
“What’s wrong with this?” she asked, looking down at her retro cartoon character t-shirt and jeans.
“You’ve had that shirt since Junior year, and those pants are holding together with a single thread and a prayer.
“They’re tastefully distressed,” she objected.
Owen shook his head and went to her closet while she brushed her teeth in the bathroom. “And don’t forget to floss!” he called out, shuffling through hangers like a blackjack dealer.
“Blah blah blah. Don’t forget to floss,” Adelaide bobbled her head and mocked at her reflection. “I’ll show you floss when I wrap it around your neck.”
“I heard that.” Owen entered and handed her a simple, green v-neck shirt and white shorts. “Wear these. They’ll show off your assets.”
“Gee, and I thought you were into me for my brains.”
“I am, but they probably won’t be.”
Adelaide pushed him out the bathroom door and slammed it in his face.
“So what’s our story?” she asked through the bathroom door as she pulled the new shirt over her head.
“Longtime friends, high school sweethearts. You begged me to take you to prom.”
“B.S. Tammy dumped your butt the week before, and you begged me to go with so that you would have a date for your bid to be Prom King.”
“You begged me,” he repeated. “After that, we knew we were forever.”
“Forever?” Adelaide opened the door and arched an eyebrow at him as she smeared on her lipstick.
“Come on, Lady. It has to be forever. I’m shooting to be the next Hemsworth.”
“Liam or Luke?”
“You know I’m a Chris.”
“There is no way you are an Avenger.”
“But I could be once I get my break and get that personal trainer I’ve been wanting.”
Adelaide almost shut the door on him again, but Owen blocked it and pulled her out. “Come on. We have to go. You can do the rest of your face in the car.”
“I was done with my makeup,” she protested.
“Sure you were. Grab your bag, and don’t forget your bronzer.”
They arrived early for the cattle call, but there were already couples waiting in the office lobby and spilling out into the hallway. Owen grabbed Adelaide’s hand as they wound through the crowd to find the person with the clipboard checking everyone in.
In the corner, a young woman sat on her boyfriend’s lap as they talked excitedly to each other. Against one wall, a couple was arguing animatedly about whether the boyfriend should have worn a bow tie or not to show that he was “quirky.” One couple stood near the center of the room doing vocal exercises.
“Is this what auditions are usually like?” Adelaide asked.
“Oh no,” he replied. “This is for a reality show, so it isn’t all actors. There are some models and YouTubers, too.”
“How can you tell?”
“Less glaring at each other from across the room.”
Owen finally found the wrangler and checked them in. They were given a clipboard with a questionnaire to fill out and sent to wait with the overflow in the hallway.
They sat on the gray tile floor with their backs against the scuffed wall and a view of the office door.
“‘When did you first meet?’” Owen read from the questionnaire. “Eighth-grade study hall,” he said as he scribbled his answer.
“Do you think these are all real couples,” Adelaide whispered softly, “or are any of them pretending like us?”
“This lot is full of fakers,” Owen said.
“How do you know?”
He motioned with his pen. “See that guy over there? He’s gay, and that’s his cousin.”
Adelaide’s eyes widened in surprise. “How do you know?”
“He tried flirting with me at another audition, and she was there as his ride.”
Adelaide gave a laugh of surprise that drew the attention and glares of the other couples.
“So what’s the name of this show?”
Owen glanced at the header on the questionnaire. “Love’s Twist. Sounds like something where they stick a bunch of couples in a house to see who will cheat on who. They’ll be in for a shock if they cast Daniel over there.”
“Now, what was the first feature you noticed about me?” he asked, returning to the questions. “My winning smile? My sparkling green eyes?” he suggested.
“Your big ego,” Adelaide jabbed.
“We’ll go with my beautifully coiffed hair.” He scribbled.
“You mean that blond Justin Bieber flop you couldn’t keep out of your eyes?”
“Well, you noticed it. It doesn’t say you appreciated it. What did I notice about you?” He tapped the pen against his pursed lips. “Butt,” he said simply and scribbled again.
“Well, you were sitting in front of me, and I had to see the butt first as the rest of you sat down. Don’t get me wrong. It was a good butt.”
“Was?” Adelaide baited him.
“Still is. I dunno. Moving on. First date.”
“Roller skating at Nicole’s birthday party,” Adelaide answered.
“Oh yeah! I almost forgot about that one. That was the time Tonya dared you to kiss me by the pinball machines.” He started to write.
“To be honest, it wasn’t really a dare,” she said with a blush.
Owen looked up mid-word. “What do you mean it wasn’t really a dare?”
“I told you it was a dare because I was embarrassed, but it wasn’t really a dare. I did it on my own because you were looking so cute that day, and all of that sugar and the adrenaline from skating gave me a bit of a crush on you.”
“Even with the Bieber hair?”
“I said it was just a bit of a crush and it was chemically related.” She punched him lightly in the shoulder.
“Okay, well that moment could be what us actors call motivation for when we are in there auditioning. Hold onto that deep yearning you felt for me.” He batted his eyelashes, and she punched him again.
“Ow!” he mocked, holding his shoulder.
She looked over his shoulder at the next question. “‘What hobbies does the couple share?’ That one is easy. Yelling at the screen during scary movies and football games.”
“‘Who drives on road trips?’” Owen read. “That would be me because of your horrible lack of direction. The one time I let you drive, we wound up in the wrong state.”
“You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’, buddy,” she said brandishing her fist.
“Help! Spousal abuse!” Owen laughed.
When the other couples glared again, Adelaide punched for the third time. “Keep it up, and you’re walking home.”
“Yes, but you asked me to hold the keys since I have a purse and you didn’t want key-bulge in your pocket.”
Owen shut his mouth obediently.
Auditions had started, and couples were starting to thin out. Some left smiling, but after one audition, the girlfriend, an angry redhead, stalked out being chased by a flustered boyfriend.
The wrangler with the clipboard poked her head out the office door and looked around. “You two are next,” she said pointing to Owen and Adelaide.
Owen stood and offered his hand to help Adelaide up from the cold tile. Her butt was numb, and she had to shake her left foot to relieve the pins and needles from sitting on it for the last hour.
Their palms were sweaty with anticipation as they wound through the crowd and entered the inner sanctum. Two men and a woman sat behind a conference table facing a gray suede loveseat. Owen released Adelaide’s hand long enough to shake everyone’s hands and then returned to Adelaide’s side to sit on the loveseat.
The woman, a middle-aged brunette with a too dark, red lipstick read over their questionnaire while the men sized them up.
Owen slid a pack of mints from his pocket and popped one in his mouth and then offered one to Adelaide. She shook her head, and he slid them back into his pocket.
“You two have been together for a long time! How have you not gotten married yet?” she of the red lipstick asked.
“Well, we couldn’t really get married when we were sixteen, and when we were old enough to get married, we just never really saw the need,” Owen replied.
“I blame it more on this one wanting to turn everything into an event. We’d have to have Kardashian money to pull off a good enough wedding.” She laid it on thick in an attempt to show personality. That’s what these reality shows were always saying they wanted from their contestants; right?
The panel nodded and took notes.
“Would you be willing to get married on live television?” asked a balding man.
Owen squeezed Adelaide’s hand and turned to her. “What do you think, honeybunch?” He got down on one knee. “Would you do me the honor and marry me on television where millions of people would watch for entertainment?” He gave her a wink that the panel couldn’t see, and she burst out laughing and bent down to hug him.
“Oh, yes, I will marry you for ratings!” she giggled.
“Great,” said the other man, scratching at his walrus mustache and checking another item off his list. “Now we need to see your physical chemistry. Can you kiss for us? Just pretend we’re not here.”
Owen had gathered himself and was back on the loveseat next to Adelaide. “Truth or dare,” he whispered under his breath as he leaned in for the kiss. As she wrapped her arms around his neck, she anticipated nothing more than a firm pressing of lips. Instead, the heat of his tongue battled the cool of his mint. Her heart pounded in her ears as she returned the kiss. His hands pressed behind her back and pulled her in, melting their bodies into each other.
And then suddenly, they were done. As he pulled back, he gave her one more peck on the lips before releasing her.
The panel sat there passively, but the woman fanned herself with their questionnaire. “Alright, I think we have enough. You’ll hear from us as we reach our decision.”
Owen and Adelaide stood and thanked the panel for their time. Adelaide’s heart still fluttered as they walked out of the office, marching past the stares of the other couples.
“Would you like your mint back?” she asked him.
“Nah, you can keep it. I mainly wanted to make sure I had fresh breath for you, anyway.”
“You knew they were going to ask us to kiss?” Adelaide was surprised.
“Sure, they do that sometimes to see a couple’s chemistry, but I’m usually just doing it with other actresses.”
Adelaide felt a little deflated. Although she knew they weren’t really a couple, she had felt there might really be something to the kiss. “And how do you think our chemistry was?”
“I would say it was pretty good, but I was just one half of that kiss.” They had reached the car but continued to stand next to it, neither of them reaching for the handle. His hand reached to smooth a wisp of hair that had escaped from behind her ear. “But of course, we could always use more practice.”
He leaned in for another kiss, pressing her against the car. Her hands reached behind his head to hold him there.
“Alright, you two! You don’t have to rub in that you got cast!” came a shout from an unnoticed witness.
They pulled apart, and Owen opened the passenger door for Adelaide. “We can always practice more when I get you home,” he suggested, “if that would be alright with you.”
Adelaide climbed in the car. “I think I could manage some practice time. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on a part because you didn’t know how to kiss properly.”