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Romance Teens & Young Adult Coming of Age

The year is 2038. 

I’m a good student. I get good grades, the teachers love me, I win a lot of competitions.

I’m in love with someone I shouldn’t be.

She has no idea I even exist. Every day I pass her in the hallway, I try to get her attention and she ignores me. 

I can’t talk to her in class, because it’s forbidden. 

I can’t talk to her in the halls because it’s forbidden.

I can’t talk to her on the phone because it’s forbidden.

I can’t talk to her anywhere because it’s forbidden.

My friend tells me I should just give up on her, move on because there’s no way it could possibly work. She’s an actress, I’m just a scholar. I’m three levels below her. It goes actor, athlete, politician, playwright, scholar, and so on and so forth and what have you. I’m forbidden to have any interaction whatsoever with any of those people above me. I can meet up only with my caste. I can only be friends with my caste. If my parents were from two different castes, which is illegal, they would both be killed and I would be sent to the last level, laborer. Of course it's the last. They have literally nothing.

So I’ve decided to give up my dreams of being with her an audition for a show called “Us” to take my mind off of her. I can date whoever they choose for me to date and Eryn Carter will be wiped out of my mind forever.

 ***

“Everyone please welcome, Jesse Davis!”  

As the announcer calls my name, I put on a smile and run on the stage, avoiding the cameras and audience and lights. I take my seat and stare at Gavin. 

“So Jesse,” He leans forward, looking straight into my eyes. “As the last contestant picked for the show, what are you hoping for?” 

I take in a deep breath, hold it and let it out, shaking my head. “Love, Gavin…” The audience sighs and Gavin leans back, putting his hand on his heart and mouthing the word ‘love’. 

“Well Jesse, you come from a smaller level but it’s still fairly high up. How do you feel knowing that very soon, you will be around people you’ve never met before? Do you think you can fit right in with the actors and athletes being a simple scholar?”

I nod slowly. “We’re all people. While we have different talents based on our statuses, I’m very pleased to be able to meet others legally.” Plus, who knew I could act this well? I certainly didn’t.

Gavin and the audience laughed. “Well we’re very excited you get this once in a lifetime chance! So-” He put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward again. “You want love… Now does that mean you hope to win? You hope to be engaged by the end of the season?”

I nod again. “If I love her well enough, I hope to be married.” I did not hope to be married. Unless it was to Eryn. But I came here to get my mind off her…

Gavin smacks his lips. “Well, I wish you all the best luck.” He looks around sneakily to the audience and points his thumb to me. “Now how many of you young ladies out there would love to be the lucky girl with Mr. Davis?” Gavina and I chuckled as screams shot out and girls stood up, clapping and waving their hands. “Well, shall we meet her?” More people yelled and jumped. Someone covered my eyes as Gavin stood and showily flung his arm to the door I just came from.

After a couple seconds, my eyesight was given back. I turned to my left and my smile dropped. There was a girl with light brown hair, blue eyes, skimpy freckles, and white teeth. She whispered “hi” as the audience continued cheering.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our lovely final couple… Jesse Davis and Eryn Carter!”

***

I sat in my new boarding room throwing a pencil up over and over again, trying to ignore the other guys talking and playing card games. I didn’t even see one walk over to me.

“How ya doin’?”

I drop the pencil on my face. “Fine… you?”

He nods and sticks out a small, pale hand. “The name’s Andy.”

I sit up and grab his hand. “Jesse.”

“Yeah I know… man, you got the girl all us guys wanted. You’re really lucky.”

“What- what do you mean? You all knew who the girls were?”

“Well yeah, they’re all actresses. Most of us are actors, we’re in the same caste. I think you’re actually the lowest of us.”

I nod. “I was just chosen for sympathy, wasn’t I?”

“Yeah, probably… But hey, don't worry… you got Eryn! She's-”

“I know Eryn.”

His eyes got really wide at that. “You know Eryn? Personally?”

“Yeah, we went to school together for a couple years before the levels kicked in. Then she left.”

He made a small sound of approval and sat on the bed beside me. “Well, you really are the lucky one, I’d watch out. These other guys are jealous.” We looked over to the others and some looked blacked at us with looks of disgust. Or back at me, I should say.

“Who’d you get?” I whisper, breaking the awkward silence.

He laughed once. “My cousin, Bella. We won’t be on for very long, I can guarantee that.”

“You’re just going to give up?”

“Well, I’m not going to marry my cousin!” We’ll just throw in a couple fights, a bad date and we’ll be eliminated. That’s all it takes.”

I nod slowly and stare at the ground. That’s all it takes…

***

I've tried and tried to think of something to do with Eryn for the sake of the show, but when it comes to actually talking to girls, I freeze up. I never knew why, I just do. So people have been talking at interviews and even out of the show about the terrible relationship we have. I rack my brain and nothing happens. Which is why I was over relieved when Eryn came to me and told me she had something to do. 

She led me outside where the cameras stopped rolling and turned to face me, smiling.

“So, you’re Jesse right?” I nod. “From Scholar?” I nod. She drops her smile and smacks me in the face. “For someone who can add numbers well, you're really not that bright!”

I scrunch my face up. “What are you talking about?”

“You want to win, don't you?” I nod slowly. “Then you have to do something with me! I want to win and we could. I’m one of the best actresses here, so I can-”

“I don’t like you thinking only you can win. I can get us there, too.”

She scoffed. “You’re not an actor, there's no way. I have to carry us.”

“You’re wrong.” She raised her eyebrow. “I am an actor. I’ve been acting at every interview and party. I’m just as good as you are.”

“You’re an actor…” She said, clearly not buying it. “You were acting when you said you wanted love and marriage and-”

“Yes.”

She shook her head. “So you don’t want to get married? Or fall in love at all?”

“No, I wanted to fall in love. I wanted to marry someone and I loved her very much, but circumstances forbade it. So I came here instead. I thought maybe I could get my mind off of her. Now I know she’s as stuck up and stubborn as a donkey.” I stared into her eyes.

She squinted for a few seconds then rolled her head back. “You better not be talking about me.”

“Oh, I am,” I replied, hardly letting her finish. “I don’t know why the guys wanted to have you. Why didn't you just audition for the show and have a random guy picked for you! It would have been better for everyone.”

“I was a last resort, Jesse, just like you. I was chosen for you, I was picked specifically to pretend to date you!”

I laughed at finally revealing her secrets. “So it is fake?”

“Of course it’s fake, you idiot, I thought that would be obvious by now! Everything I do is fake, it’s what I was born to do!” We both became silent, staring at each other.

“And I was born to be a scholar. A smart kid who knew how to get out of any situation. And I can help get us out of this.”

“I thought you wanted to win?”

I shook my head. “I’m not so sure anymore.”  

“Well, if you don’t want me, how about all the money? You must want that?”

“I wouldn’t take millions of dollars if I had to marry you just the way you are right now.” She opened her mouth but I turned before she could answer. 

There. That’s all it takes.

***

Unfortunately, I was wrong. Because the cameras didn’t catch our fight, we had no proof of our terrible date. We were one of the crowd's favorite couples, they needed something really terrible to bring us down.

We sat together at the interviews, mainly because we were forced to. 

We avoided each other's gaze as the others were being asked questions about their dates. 

Eryn grabbed my hand and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

I ignored her. 

“I can get us out of this if you want.”

I ignored her.

Gavin walked over to us and we both smiled. “And finally, our last couple! It’s been a week since our last interview, what more news do you have for us?” 

I answer quickly. “None!”

Eryn gasped quietly with the audience. Gavin took a step back. “None? Nothin at all?”

“You see, Eryn and I have decided to keep our relationship mostly private. We've had several dates behind the camera's backs…”

Gavin laughed. “Oh well then… this is first... I do hope you'll share some information with us at least?”

Eryn nodded and answered before I could. “Every other week. We’ve already talked it over.”

Gavin shrugged. “Well, it seems like a deal. He shook both of our hands before turning back to the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, give a big round of applause for our shortest interview ever aired on the show!”

We stood as the audience cheered and exited the stage, walking back to the apartment building.

“That was a good idea,” Eryn whispered after a couple seconds. “Now we have time to make things up.”

“I wasn't planning on making things up.” We stopped walking. “Will you give me at least one chance this week? Just one date and if you like it, we can do it again. If not, we’ll make things up.”

She shifted her glance to the ground. “Alright… but you know we’re not supposed to really be a couple? We’re supposed to pretend, or the sake of the audience.”

I nodded and smirked. “I know.”

***

Eryn and I walked down the hallway, holding hands and avoiding the “hidden” cameras. 

She bit her lip. “Do you think they’re watching us right now?”

I nodded and whispered back, “Our whole date was recorded, I saw people in the bushes.”

She laughed through her nose, then neither of us made a sound. 

“Look, Jesse…” She stopped walking, positioning me where the cameras could see both of us. Then she wrapped her arms around my neck and leaned her mouth into my ear. “If we’re pretending to date for the sake of the audience, as you said then maybe… I mean they want us to win, we’re the dream team…”

A swallowed, staring at the ground and placing my hands on her back. “Yeah?”

“We need to make it believable.”

I closed my eyes. “And how do you propose to do that?”

I hear her sigh quietly. “If we want to win, we need… I mean the audience wants us to, so -”

I pulled back. “You already said that.”

“I know…” We stared at each other for a couple seconds. “Do you know what I'm trying to say?”

I nodded, leaned forward and kissed her right beside her mouth, not daring to look at her face.

I’d always wanted to do that but it felt odd… it was fake. Of course it was fake. She herself said it was for the sake of the audience. I couldn't bring myself to enjoy my time with her when I knew she was pretending. There was no point. We could win and get married and be the most out of touch couple ever or lose and go to our separate levels without ever talking to each other again. Either way, I’ve fallen desperately in love with her, trying to ignore the fact that she would never love me. Not the way I wanted her to.

“Goodnight, Eryn,” I said, loud enough for the cameras to catch but quiet enough to hear my own heart shatter.

“Goodnight…”

I turned and walked the other direction without looking back. I didn’t see her at the end of the hall as he turned around to look at me one more time.      

***

Three weeks after our first date and three eliminations later, my hopes had risen slightly. She’d grown more and more friendly with me. It wasn’t a matter of not being mean, but being nice. And she’d finally broken the barriers. Whether she was still faking or not, we were at least friends. And when you’re fake-dating, friends are probably the closest you can get.   

Luckily, she’d accepted more and more dates each week, some of her own choosing. With only three couples left, we’ve been sharing more at interviews and become more beloved to all the people watching. My mother even sent a letter, saying she hopes I win so I can move all my stuff out.

I hope I win, too, but not for the same reason.

*** 

I looked across the picnic blanket at Eryn, watching her laugh about the latest elimination.

“So Bella came into the dressing room and said, ‘Guys, I’ve finally done it!’ and of course we were all really confused and then she told us what happened…” She started laughing again.

“Yeah, Andy didn’t even tell us what happened, we had to wait until the interview to find out… I can’t believe she actually did that…”

She nodded. “Poor kid’s not going to get any movie offers for a long time…”

She took a deep breath and noticed me staring at her. “What?”

I shook my head. “You’re not acting, are you?”

“What?” She furrowed her brow.

“You’re having fun. You’re not acting.”

She looked at the ground. “Well after three weeks it can be hard to not act.”

“So you admit it then?”

No response.

“Eryn, how can I tell you’re not acting right now? Is there any way you can prove to me that you don't want to win just for the fame and money?”

“We’ve been pretending the whole time, Jesse, we…”

“I haven’t been.” SH shot her head up at me. 

“You're supposed to be.”

“So are you, but you’re not, are you? Tell me the truth, please Eryn. I need some kind of affirmation in life, and this is exactly what I need right now. Are you faking?”

She took in a shaky breath and smiled softly. I never expected her to reach across the blanket, grab my neck, and kiss me full on the mouth.

She pulled back after a couple seconds and kept her eyes closed. “I’m not pretending…”

“You’ve kissed hundreds of men, I’ve seen it on TV. You could be pretending.” Inside though, my heart was swirling around. It was so real being here with her right now. Either she really did love me or she was the world’s best actress.

“Those were all fake… this is…” She leaned back, put her head in her hands, and growled. “I’m sorry I’ve… I’ve done anything real. My whole life I've been pretending…. I know that’s not what acting is, but it’s what I’ve been doing… I’m actually a terrible actress.” She sat up and looked at me, whispering. “I love you, Jesse. I’ve never loved anyone before so I’ve never felt this way but I know exactly what it is…. Jesse… I know you're not pretending so please believe me.”

“Maybe I am.”

“What?”

“Maybe I am pretending. How would you know?”

She shook her head. “I don’t…”

“I’d rather kiss a three-foot-long tarantula than kiss you again.”

She looked up at me again, her eyebrows scrunched up. I smiled at her, watching her face remain still for a long time.

“I’m kidding, Eryn!”

She looked down and I grabbed her chin, pulling her face back up. “I love you, too.” I felt her lips turn up slightly as we kissed again.

Turns out it takes a lot more than most people think it does.

November 09, 2020 16:47

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1 comment

Crystal Lewis
03:00 Nov 16, 2020

I really liked this story. I think the interaction between the two characters was well done and it kept the story moving which I feel with these types of stories can be a bit hard to keep them going. It’s definitely a hate turns to love story. Nice job. Feel free to read my latest story if you would like. :)

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