Samara was into acting even before she had met Kevin. She took part in small acting gigs on weekends between her busy college weekdays. Acting for her was more of a hobby than a part-time job. A hobby that paid enough to handle the minute expenses outside of her scholarship’s coverage. She met Kevin on a midsummer’s day, when she was cycling back from playing Queen Victoria, dead tired. The wind had a taste of lavender crushed against mint leaves as it ladled past her bare face, the sun, about to set. It had been a serene feeling until Kevin’s blue Porsche 911 almost leveled her to the ground. Almost. He had hit the brakes on time which probably saved her life, but her cycle gave his car a very noticeable dent.
When Kevin had gotten out of his luxurious vehicle to see whether she was alive, she had thought that he was insane because if she were driving a Porsche 911, she’d check the dent first. When he came up to her, his blue eyes intensified by the summer’s heat, penetrating through her, she felt rather naked, even when she was over clothed in a hideous red cloak that she didn’t have time to remove. She had obviously offered to pay for the damage done by her bicycle since she was at fault. “I have a better idea,” he had said. So one thing led to another and here she was seated cross legged in a violet dress that had been long forgotten since prom till the present, the inaugural interview.
“For how long have you two been secretly dating?” The announcer Judith asked Samara, her love for gossip could be seen from the way her dark red lips curled up into a smirk, yet her hawk eyes seemed to be trying to spot anything and everything out of the ordinary as she peered at her from across the stage.
“One year,” Samara believed that she sounded convincing enough.
“That’s not too long,” Judith smacked her lips together, something she did whenever she was about to level up her game. “But that is still the longest Kevin had dated someone I suppose,” Judith removed her gaze from Samara and fixed it on a certain someone seated next to her.
Samara felt him move in his seat a little, his suit’s sleeve brushed past her upper arm’s skin as he made a witty remark. He wasn’t comfortable, she could tell. For her however, spotlights were nothing new except for the fact that the skit she was starring in was being broadcasted over the national television. She was glad that her mother didn’t watch any reality shows or she’d have a lot of explaining to do.
“So Samara,” the ball passed back to her as Judith’s voice echoed through the dead silent studio, “how does it feel, to date one of the most wanted bachelors in the country?”
Samara smiled and pretended to think for some time, to not seem like she had rehearsed the lines over with the protagonist himself, “I feel cherished and lucky”. She turned her head towards the guy next to her as they shared a moment together, their eyes locked, the rest of the world shunned out. The studio erupted with admiration as she mentally counted till five, before removing her hazel orbs from his deep blue alluring abyss.
“Awe that is sweet,” Judith seemed to be satisfied as she faced the audience, cameras closing in on her face from the sides, “I bet everyone wants to see how this adorable couple would fair in the following seven day tournament”. The audience screamed ‘yes’ loudly and Samara tried not to wince.
She felt Kevin’s hand lightly brush against hers, as if he was contemplating for a few seconds, before an unfamiliar warmth radiated through her body from his skin against hers. He gave her hand a light squeeze before lifting it up for the cameras to get a better shot and the studio once again erupted with applause.
Samara smiled at the cameras. She felt as if she had passed an audition for the main role in a drama after lying in her CV.
It had been Samara’s first time playing Queen Victoria and though the crown on her head weighed nothing compared to a real one, she had to stay in extra alert so that she wouldn’t step on one of the queen’s underskirts and trip. By the time the play had ended, she was greeted with fifteen missed calls and ten text messages from her mother. She shuddered as she opened the messages, which all reminded her of the dinner with her relatives which she had obviously forgotten.
So Samara didn’t have enough time to remove everything resting on her body in the same order that she had worn them. She had slid off the heavy gown and underskirts all together, and slid her jeans on. Then buttoned down her shirt from below the red cloak. She stuffed her costume in her duffel bag and while the rest of the crew were taking photos, she slid out from the back door with her bicycle.
As she peddled back to her single bedroom apartment, she was thinking of an excuse to not show up at her mother’s. It wasn’t because she hated her relatives, but because their frequencies never matched with hers. However telling her mother that she was late because she wasn’t a barista at a coffee shop, but a part-time actress, would break her mother’s fragile heart.
Her mother hated acting and anything that had to do with it, though Samara believed that she hated only a person who happened to just love acting. “Acting” was the only common field of interest between she and her father, whom she had only seen through the photo buried deep inside her mother’s drawer. The photo was taken in front of the theater where he had played Romeo. The young couple looked happy, but of course according to her mother, she was the only one really happy.
When Samara’s bike came to a halt by something majorly blue, she thought it was what it felt like to die. Only a few moments ago she was enjoying the lavender against mint smell under a setting sun, the serenity of living, and suddenly her body’s inertia took over pulling her back, her hands tightly clutching the bicycle handles by reflex, her vision momentarily pitch black like death itself. Her left foot which sternly footed the ground on time fought against gravity on behalf of her will to live. She opened her eyes after a while, her pupils resisting the urge to dilate at the sight of the blue eyed stranger in front of her.
He was in a white button down shirt with the top two buttons abandoned, revealing a sharp collar bone from one side. His sleeves were rolled up reaching a few centimeters above his elbow joint, his dark hair disheveled. She couldn’t help but think that if he were a coffee he’d be a cappuccino and she hated cappuccinos. He introduced himself as Kevin, though she recognized him from Forbes with his iconic sharp jawlines that put most of her sculptures to shame. She shook her head as an attempt to erase an unwanted memory of a sculpture that she had made in college from clay, which didn’t turn out well.
When Kevin had asked her, “Are you alright?” She had a feeling that he was asking it in general given the fact that she had a red cloak strangling her neck and a lot of makeup on, trying to enhance the self-sufficient Queen Victoria in her while suppressing the insecure Samara.
“I’m an actress,” was the first legit reply that came to her lips.
“That explains a lot,” Kevin laughed, his tired eyes were betraying his vibrant smile. “Do you want to talk about this, in a much cooler place?”
She would’ve thought he was cute with his unilateral dimple, and if she had met him somewhere very different like in front of a theater where he was just a commoner visiting one of her stage plays.
The two of them then sat across from each other in a nearby air conditioned café.
Her phone vibrated with a reply from her mom, ‘You have friends? Good,’ to the text she had sent earlier, ‘I met a friend at the café. Sorry mom can’t make it to dinner.’
She glanced at her espresso and then at Kevin. He seemed like he was in his late twenties. Now that she can see him up close, she noticed the dark circles under his eyes, creating an illusion of a hardworking man when Kevin was a third generation heir.
“So you can act and you’re currently single?” Kevin peeked intently at her as she kept her phone aside.
Samara dodged the question and she boldly declared that she would pay for the damage.
“I have a better idea,” Kevin playfully smirked, “Why don’t you pay with your body?” he had said catching her by surprise. Then he cracked a joke on how he liked his cappuccino the same way he liked his woman, which freaked her out even more.
“I’m sorry I wanted to make you laugh.” He ran a hand through his hair.
As she stared at him, she regretted not doing a hit and run, poor life choices.
“Let me explain.” He said and she did. He had properly elaborated what he needed from her.
He had to win in a reality show in order to win a bet. It was a seven day show for couples, from nine in the morning to four in the evening. It’ll start with an interview, followed by small competitions, and end with a ball where they declared the best couple. He’d provide her transport daily. Sounded fair.
He didn’t want to ask one of his ex-girlfriends, and she surprised herself by agreeing to his request.
Her following week’s tarot reading had a tower followed by a wheel of fortune in store for her- drastic change with luck, it meant. Samara wasn’t someone who ran on superstitions, but she’d occasionally open the emails containing tarot readings from a website she doesn’t even remember registering at.
Cameramen were running haywire, each following the contesting couple they’ve been assigned to and it seemed like she was in some sort of an arena. The summer’s sun was boring holes down her and competing with the chlorinated air which was making her nose itch, at a game of making things hard for her. Though she was in a sports vest and shorts, she felt highly overdressed for the occasion.
A few feet down from where Samara stood, a shirtless man with a heavy build and an armpit full of hair enough to grow thousands of bacterial colonies, was doing pushups as his partner, a slender dark girl sat on his back as if she was riding a bull. Samara had seen the girl in a magazine once, listed as a third generation kid, just like Kevin.
“That’s Kiara. She looks fierce, but she’s nice when she shows her true self.” Kevin came up from behind with a water bottle in his hand. Samara nodded.
“Chill Sam,” Kevin slid his hand around her shoulders and leaned a little towards her as he whispered, “I have a good feeling”. She wondered where his groundless confidence was coming from, as she forced a confident smile at the camera that had turned towards them.
“Wish me luck Sam,” he said before letting go of her shoulder and she did.
There was something in the way he said Sam, she pondered on as she watched his bare back walking towards the startup. There were seven constants, five males and two females representing the seven couples, forming a tight echelon. Samara tried not to stare at their exposed chests, which had nourished muscles wherever it should be. She clutched the two pom-poms in her hands and stood by the pool’s side with the rest of the cheering counterparts.
When she saw that Kevin seemed to be leading by one lap, she let her guard down and stood with ease until a loud splash came from in front of her.
Samara didn’t think twice when she saw extra bubbles surfacing instead of a head, she jumped. Her skin felt like it was being pricked by a thousand needles at once, but she ignored the sensation as she wrapped her hands around the petite waist, and pulled the short framed female to the surface. She hoisted herself up along with the girl. She didn’t get to see her face clearly because she blacked out.
She woke up to the smell of alcohol and caffeine, her body felt heavier, like it wasn’t hers.
“Don’t move.” She heard a familiar monotone.
“How many points did we lose?” Samara spoke, her voice hoarse.
“None. We gained extra love-points when I carried you to the medics,” Kevin said. Samara watched him pace around the white room. “Chlorine could’ve killed you,” She could feel the concern in his voice. She shrugged.
“Kiara is doing alright.” He said answering multiple questions in her head at once.
He handed her the espresso he had bought from a café outside. “I know you don’t like the canteen coffee.”
She hadn’t met Kiara after that incident except for the times their eyes would meet occasionally in-between competitions only to look away, until that one time at the canteen where both of them said “Espresso” in unison, and had smiled at each other.
Samara was relieved that Kiara didn’t come up to her because she didn’t know what to say. She often found it difficult to think up sensible lines by herself. Her mother had once said that the only way to fix her poor communication skills was by interacting with humans, and that brought her back to square one, because in order to interact with humans she needed to match with their frequencies and somehow she couldn’t.
At times like that when she didn’t have a choice, she’d imagine in her head that she’s in a play, in the shoes of some outgoing character. That seemed to hold her off for some time, but bonds formed like that were transient.
It had already been four days since Samara had stepped into the role of Kevin’s partner and they had been faring quite well in the tournament, close to winning even.
Kevin would occasionally run his hand through her stubborn curls whenever they were sitting together or do something sweet and rather childish in front of the cameras.
She almost got used to it.
On the sixth day of the tournament Samara was surprised when Kiara sat next to her after the couple relay.
“Thank you,” Kiara said, extending a water bottle towards her, “I would’ve gotten you an espresso, but the ones here are wrong”.
“Yeah, very wrong,” Samara said as she made eye contact with the girl next to her and they laughed.
Samara recalled Kevin’s words, ‘she’s nice when she shows her true self’. She wondered whether the both of them under the summer’s sun were their true selves.
On the final day of the grand ball Kevin was fidgety and stiff. Samara wondered whether it was her rose gold dress that made him uncomfortable, because it wasn’t from a branded shop like his black tuxedo.
“You’re beautiful,” Kevin had said to her that time as she wondered how many women he might have said it to. Not that she was jealous.
They danced the last dance, as the cameras, as usual, followed them around.
When Judith had announced that they were in fact the winners, Kevin had kissed the corners of her lips, and she knew that the spectators couldn’t tell the difference.
On her way back home in Kevin’s dented Porsche, Samara tried not to think of how it’d be her last time riding it with him. It felt just like the final day of her stage play where she had to hand over her costume and walk out of the auditorium doors. It was always hard walking towards it, but once she was out of the doors, she was healed. It had always been like that.
Kevin had stopped his car in front of her apartment like he had always done for the past six days, but instead of wishing her a good night he had said, “Marry me”.
She just stared at his face as time had stopped for her momentarily. She knew that once it was midnight, carriages became pumpkins. That was the price of acting.
“I’m sorry.” Samara walked out of his car without looking back and once she was through her apartment doors, she was healed or so she told herself.
The next day Samara visited her mother and when she had asked her how she was doing, she had broken down into tears.
Samara quit her part time acting job a few days later and took up the position as a sculpture assistant at her college. She did occasionally see Kevin’s hurt expression in her dreams, but then she’d see him talking in TV shows of how, he didn’t believe in love and that he was happy.
Samara checked her phone as she walked up to the barista behind the cafe counter. She was fifteen minutes early, so she placed her order and took a seat. She opened her emails and saw that her weekly tarot reading had two new cards for her. Five of cups and eight of cups- missing someone, but moving on. She placed her phone down to think.
“Here’s your usual cappuccino.” The barista smiled at her which she returned with a thanks.
Her phone beeped with a voice message from Kiara. ‘Hey bestie, I know you reached early. I’ll be there in five minutes.’
‘Make it ten and drive safe.’