The blinds are closed, as they always are. We can’t risk a tell-all flash sneaking in between.
Like you always say, where there is light, a burst of flashes follows with a sputter of clicks. And wherever you are, there is light.
But it’s dark whenever you’re gone. We leave the lights dimmed when I’m here, and whenever I want to leave, I must sneak out before dawn. You tell me that I’m your best-kept secret, hidden away by lock and key. You say that secrets are better, that we’re hidden to be protected, and you wouldn’t protect something useless.
That must mean I’m something.
But, without you, I feel like nothing. You make me golden.
I hear our secret knock on the door; it’s my cue to let you in.
I peer through the peephole and recognize your light hazel eyes. My heart leaps as the door creaks and your skirt swishes as you embrace me. You smell like peaches, sweat, and… aftershave.
I can’t help but feel disappointed.
You tilt my chin up with your perfectly manicured fingers.
“You know you’re the only one I love,” you murmur in that soft voice.
I don’t know how you’re so smooth, but my heart flutters as you gently kiss my cheek, your long blonde ringlets brushing against my shoulder. You’re intoxicating enough for me to push away that lingering scent.
I close the door, and watch as you throw your scarf on the recliner, plop onto the leather couch, and prop your feet up on our mahogany coffee table. I sit next to you, nestling my head in the crook of your neck. Your hand finds its way into mine and our fingers intertwine as the TV hums contentedly in the background.
We sit in silence, your thumb gently rubbing my hand in circles. I don’t want to ask you what you did today, because that’ll just ruin our carefully crafted picture of bliss. Your eyes are fixated on the TV, watching a rerun of one of your episodes. You like to take mental notes, to try and do better next time. My heart pangs as I see his hand tangled in your long golden hair, his arm loosely resting on your waist, as you both are wrapped up in a masquerade of passion, an acceptable heat. You squeeze my hand as if to tell me not to worry.
As the show comes to an end, you lean forward and turn the TV off with a satisfying click. You rest your arm on the couch and turn to look at me, smiling with your dimple, an exclamation point to certify that your happiness is not a farce.
“I missed you, Luce.”
You gently push a fallen strand of hair out of my face, grazing my cheek.
I don’t want to bring up how you haven’t come home for the past four days, or how you took hours to ever respond to any of my messages on your stupid burner phone. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you, and kissing you seems like a better use of my time than fighting about things we can’t change.
And so, I melt in you, and let you infect me with your Midas touch. My hands tangle in your hair, my lips ask yours the questions I don’t want to speak aloud, your leg brushes against mine and…
It all reminds me too much of your ingenuine kiss with him.
I pull away, flushed. It bothers me that your lips are not mine, that someone else has tasted your strawberry lip gloss and might have even kissed that part of your shoulder that’s exposed when you’re wearing your oversized gray hoodie. I hate that our heat is now disallowed, that kissing me is worse for business and that your relationship for pretend boosts your ratings.
You look up at me with your doe-like eyes, your hand on my shoulder slipping down to gently press against my thigh, the leather creaking as you shift away from me.
I force a smile. “Nothing.”
I hate it when you pretend like you don’t know. There’s no need to act at home.
You’re making that face again, that face where you tell me not to “throw a fit.” As if it’s abnormal for your girlfriend of four years to feel just a little jealous that you’re fake-dating that…
“Is this about Steve?” you ask, rolling your eyes.
I turn away, my face burning with embarrassment. I loathe how you make all of my concerns seem so trivial.
“You’re adorable when you’re angry.” You wrap your arms around my shoulders and press your lips against my temple.
I lean back into your embrace. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this, and even if I’m upset, who knows how long I’ll get you for this time. It’s probably only a matter of days before you have to go back on set.
“I hate this.”
You let out a long sigh. “That’s just how it is, Lucy.”
I despise that answer. You make me feel like I’m a child, like it’s beyond me to understand why we’re secret.
“How long do I have to wait?” I mumble, inhaling your sweet scent.
You run your hands tenderly through my hair. “I’m almost there, Lucy. My manager told me I could be the next Jennifer Aniston if I play all of my cards right. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried, I just… how long do you have to date…” I can’t even bring myself to say his name.
How can you say his name so nonchalantly?
I nod, burrowing my face further into the crook of your neck.
“It’s just for publicity, Luce. I don’t get why you’re so worried. I obviously don’t like him.” You brush a fallen strand of hair behind my ear.
“I know you don’t like him, but-”
You move your right arm off of my shoulder, gripping the couch cushion instead. “If you know that, then why is there a problem?”
Because, even if it’s all fake, and even if you don’t love him, it just feels so real. On our 40 inch LCD TV, you both just look right together. Critics praise your chemistry, tabloids are splattered with pictures of the two of you on your “dates,” and your subreddit is flooded with comments of “will-they, won’t-they.” But if I tell you all of this, I know you’ll just laugh. You’ll say, “It’s all for show,” or “My manager wants to make sure the show gets more attention,” or “You know how the public gets. Don’t read into it,” or some other excuse to brush me off.
I take a deep breath.
“When can we be public?” My hands are trembling and I’m sure you can feel my heartbeat quicken through my back.
You lean forward to kiss my neck. A slight shiver falls over me. It’s unfair that you hold this ungrateful power over me.
“Just a few more months, Lucy,” you whisper in between your soft kisses. My skin is so warm, it feels like it’s burning as you leave your tattoo kisses, a declaration that I am yours and yours only. I wish I could do the same, leave an imprint of my love on you, one that you’d try to hide with your scarf like a poorly kept secret.
But for now, I let you consume me in your love.
I’m sprawled on my twin-sized bed, scrolling through Instagram. I should be studying for my programming exam tomorrow, but my roommate just left for an interview, and who knows when we’ll get another chance.
I hear our secret knock on the dorm room door - three successive raps, followed by a counterclockwise turn of the door handle. I rush to open the door, flushed with excitement.
“Hi,” you say, smiling brighter than I could imagine. You’re blushing so much, to the point that your face matches your bright pink hair.
I leap to hug you, and I’m flooded with the smell of peaches. I hope you never change your shampoo.
“You’re pretty,” I mumble as Hamilton faintly hums from the airpod in your left ear.
“No you.” You burrow your head further into the crook of my neck.
I pull away from you. I don’t know how you’ve done it, but you somehow look prettier than you did during Senior Year prom in your simple fit-and-flare black dress. Maybe it’s because this time I actually get to hold your hand, instead of admiring you from afar.
“Um… so are we going to…” I’m burning red as I fumble to ask the question.
You look away as you bite your lip, and nervously nod.
I hold your hand, and I’m suddenly conscious of how clammy my hand must be, and how obnoxious that zit on my nose is. But, I try to let go of my inhibitions, close my eyes, and lean in until our lips meet.
Your lips are soft and warm, but unlike every other time, there’s an underlying heat behind our kiss. You move your hands to grasp at my short brown hair, as I move mine onto your hips, your light gray beanie slipping off of your hair as we stumble onto my bed.
Your skin is burning hot as I pepper your neck with kisses until I’ve marked my claim. I want you to walk out of here with one of my infinity scarves wrapped around your neck. I want to see you flush with embarrassment when one of our friends inevitably tease us for our moment of passion. I want this to be a reminder of our love, an imprint that you can’t so easily erase.
You told me you’d be here at 6 PM sharp. You said it doesn’t matter how many retakes the director wants, you would make sure you left early. If your manager asked, you’d tell him it was urgent. If Steve wanted to go on another publicity “date,” you’d tell him you’re busy. You promised me you’d be here.
But it’s 7:45 PM, the sun is setting, and I still haven’t seen your face.
Why am I not surprised?
My strawberry shortcake looks sad and lonely on the mahogany kitchen table, lying there unpresumptuously, leaning ever so slightly to the right. The smell of smoke from 24 stubs of candles is long gone, wafted away by the draft from the window I left slightly open. We’re almost out of pepperoni pizza - Max and the other boys from our college theater troupe almost single-handedly demolished that.
Mia plops down on the couch next to me. “How are you doing?” she asks, and I hate the look of pity on her face.
I force a smile. “I’m fine! Microsoft’s been keeping me busy lately, so I’m just a little too wiped out for a party.”
She raises an eyebrow and immediately calls my bluff. “Look, how have things been since Ava became famous?”
I swallow back some tears. You should have been here. Then I wouldn’t have to look so stupid in front of all of our friends, like some pathetic freak that follows you around.
“Just… peachy,” I smile back.
Mia sighs loudly. “Lucy, I know you better than that. We’ve been friends for six years.”
I stand up and head to the bathroom. I don’t think I can hold back my tears anymore. Everyone stares as Mia runs after me, trying to console me.
The loud chatter of the party fades, and all I can hear is this deafening silence because you said you’d be here, but you’re not, and our relationship feels like nothing but a farce.
I slump onto the toilet, letting my tears fall into my hands.
Mia walks in with a fuschia balloon in her hand.
“Pop it,” she says, handing me the balloon. “You’ll feel better.”
I squeeze the balloon with all my force as it bursts with a booming pop. I wish I could say all my problems are solved, but all I feel is overwhelming disappointment.
I hate how I believe your lies. You’re like a siren; every word you speak is a lie, a way to draw me in closer, and every time I believe your deception, I fall deeper and deeper into your Tartarus, trapping me in darkness. Whenever you decide I’ve fallen enough, that my misery is suitable, you grace me with your light and make me golden so I forget.
“Now tell me, what’s actually wrong?” Mia asks, kneeling down to be at my level.
I sigh. “Ever since Ava became famous, I feel like an afterthought. She’s hyperfocused on her career and… definitely crosses some lines in our relationship to get where she wants to be.” I bury my face in my hands.
“Talk with her. You weren’t like this before, back when we were in college. You two were inseparable,” she says, placing a comforting hand on my knee.
She’s right. Once upon a time, before Steve, before your manager, before you were the star that you are, we were happy. I was happy. I miss that dorky theater kid with the bright pink hair and gray beanie who obsessed over Hamilton. I miss how we used to watch reruns of Glee at 2 AM, how you’d cover me with a blanket whenever I’d doze off, how you’d randomly blurt out that I’m beautiful even when I was in sweats. I miss when we could go to cafes and restaurants together without paparazzi jumping out of nowhere asking what we were. We used to have a quiet, unspoken intimacy, our love exchanged through furtive glances, walking with our pinkies intertwined, and whispers of secrets.
Now, I barely ever see you, and whenever I do, it’s all physical. None of that muted love, just kisses to light me on fire, to make me your plaything.
“She never tells me I’m beautiful,” I mumble absentmindedly.
Mia looks at me, concerned. “She still loves you,” she says, but it sounds like a lie.
“Yeah.” I can’t help but lie to myself too.
At 9:30, I finally hear our secret knock. I swear I heard you hesitate, but god knows you never do that around me.
I hate how my heart skips a beat. Only you make me act this stupid.
I reluctantly trudge to the door and let you in.
You embrace me, pulling me close enough that I can smell the peach shampoo you use. “Happy Birthday Lucy,” you mumble.
You pull away to admire the massacre that happened when you were gone.
“Well… it looks like you had fun here.” You’re still smiling with that stupid dimple.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘fun’.” Pizza boxes are strewn waywardly, dirty plates piled in the sink, with the exception of two, and a very sad strawberry shortcake sits as a centerpiece on our kitchen table. The top layer of the shortcake has almost completely slid off onto the table.
You take a deep breath and look down. “I’m sorry I’m so late.”
“My party is over. I think you’re a little beyond ‘late’, Ava.” My knees are going weak. I lean on the doorframe for support, my heart pounding so loudly I can hear the blood pumping in my ears.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I should have been here.” You walk towards me.
“You promised,” I say, my voice cracking as I choke back a sob.
“I know, but I had to stay on for work. The director wanted retakes of this one scene with Steve, and they wouldn’t let me leave filming early. They said if we didn’t finish this scene, we wouldn’t be able to release the season on time, and I just couldn’t leave,” you ramble, explaining with your hands.
I don’t even know what to say, so I just stare back at you, my heart breaking. I’m the afterthought here.
“Come on, let’s cut some cake!” You walk over to the kitchen table, your skirt swishing as you try to brush away my sadness.
Why are you not on your hands and knees, apologizing for being late, begging for my forgiveness? How could you so carelessly break a promise?
I clear my throat, trying to hold back the tears as you attempt to push the top layer of my cake back on. “It’s my birthday, Ava. Why can’t I be the most important person today, and not your work?”
“Luce, like I said, I couldn’t get out of filming. You know I wanted to be here,” you say, your voice about to break.
Tears start streaming down my face. “What happened to us?”
“Nothing happened, I still love you the same,” you say in desperation.
I shake my head. “No. You love your career more than me.”
“Please, c’mere Luce,” you cry, arms extended.
I hate how I accept your embrace.
You run a hand through my hair. “I know things have been… harder since I became famous. Just… give me some time, okay? I’m sorry I haven’t been here.”
I sigh and squeeze you a little tighter.
“I love you Ava. But I don’t know how much more I can take,” I mumble, nuzzling my head into your hair.
“Just wait for this season to end. I promise, you’ll be my priority. Not my career, my manager, or Steve.”
You pull away and smile at me. “We can’t have the birthday girl crying, now can we?” You gently rub away the tears with your thumb.
“C’mon, let’s go celebrate my favorite person,” you say with that money-making smile of yours. I never told you this, but I miss how your teeth were just slightly crooked. It made you unique, different.
You grab my hand, walking me over to our imperfectly perfect cake. Sure, it’s a little slanted, but you fixed it, just like you always do.
The last I heard from you, you told me you would be ‘busy,’ so you wouldn’t be coming around for a while. With the new season wrapping up, you needed to spend more time filming.
But it’s been two weeks since I’ve heard from you.
It’s lonely in this house, so I’ve been inviting Mia over after work to keep me company. I’ve been working longer hours and I started playing the piano again, to try and keep my mind off of you.
Nothing seems to work though. You’re etched into my brain like a pretty picture, and I can’t seem to let you go.
Out of nowhere, I hear a ding on my phone. I pick it up, hoping that you’ve finally responded to me. But, it’s just a notification from one of the tabloids I subscribe to. It’s probably just some gossip about some celebrity’s new beau, or whatever. I swipe down to see the headline, since I’ve got nothing better to do, and…
Sizzling: Ava Adams & Steve Goldsmith Can’t Keep Their Hands Off Each Other on Steamy Beach Getaway
This can’t be real.
In disbelief, I click on the article and it’s plastered with pictures of you and Steve in the Pacific, your hands tangled in his hair, his hands gripping your waist in a heat of passion. It just… it looks so real. And if it wasn’t real, why wouldn’t you tell me? If it was just for publicity why wouldn’t-
I hear our knock on the door. I wipe tears away from my eyes, trying to compose myself. I wonder what bullshit you’re going to come up with this time.
I open the door, and you’re… so fake. You’re smiling at me with your perfectly straight teeth, your eyes look like plastic, your hair is too perfect, and I hate it.
You drop your purse and wrap me in a hug, and all I can smell is him.
“I missed you,” you mumble into my hair.
Liar. Liar, liar, liar.
“Where were you?” I ask, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
You pull away from me. “Ah… Well, my manager wanted to get some more publicity for my movie and…” You take a deep breath. “Don’t be mad, but… they made me go on this fake ‘vacation’ with Steve to get more views on our show.”
“How could you just… jet off to Hawaii with your ‘fake’ boyfriend without telling your ‘real’ girlfriend?”
“Lucy, it’s not like that,” you say. “It was just for publicity.” You take a step closer.
“Your viewership is already at two million. What more do you want?” I move back, bumping into the wall.
“It’s not me, it’s my manager,” you say, your voice dipping into hysteria.
I widen my stance, leaning on the wall for support. “What’s the worst that could happen if we were in a public relationship? Am I really that awful?”
“Luce, no, you’re perfect, I-” you keep fidgeting with your hands.
“Then why can’t we be together? Why do I have to see you every other day with Steve, when you lock me up like a secret? Would it have been any different if I was a boy?” I burst into messy, uncontrollable tears, my hands wiping away the mascara running down my face.
You take a step towards me. “We’re secret because they’d ruin us, Lucy.”
“No, Ava. They’d ruin your career. Not us.” I sniff away my last few tears.
Your hands are trembling. “I love you Lucy.” You look up at me, hopeless. You’re making a face I’m not used to seeing.
“But not more than you love your job,” I say sadly. “I’m never going to be your priority, am I?”
Your eyes flit between your feet and me. “I- Lucy, how can you-”
The hesitation is the nail in the coffin. I turn away, storming off to my room.
“Lucy, wait…” You reach for me, trying to infect me with your Midas touch. I jerk my hand away. I’m not falling for it this time.
I swallow back my tears, saving them for the lonely ride home.
“Can’t we just talk about this, like grown-ups?”
This is the first time I’ve ever seen you in such a mess, your perfect golden curls out of place, your face streaked with tears, but your eyes won’t meet mine.
I turn away, not about to get sucked into your blinding light.
“I’m done talking.”
Without another word, I grab my shit and leave as you give an Oscar-worthy tear-jerking performance.
I can’t believe I thought you ever made me golden.