first, I dare you to read this whole thing with an English accent even though I clearly know nothing about being British and I'm sorry if I butchered some British slangs.
second, i actually love, and am very proud, of this. had no idea where it was going until i got there. i remember i promised someone a long time ago i'd write them a happier story and so, yeah. :)
third, i edited this heavily since posting the other night, and added a couple of key scenes.
hope you enjoy! xx
the exception, act ii, part 2
"I will not open myself up this way again..."
-song for zula, phosphorescent
She had to be here.
Last available door.
Tom Bennett turned the knob and entered.
He found her in the library room of the chateau, sitting comfortably on one of the chairs, reading. In her cream dress with the scooped neck, her hair delicately pulled back from her porcelain face, she was the image of sophistication and class. He'd been around his fair share of dolled-up women before, at award shows mostly, and it barely intimidated him, but something about this girl remained mysterious, untouched by the cynicism of the business.
Tom would kill to pull out his phone at that precise second, snap a picture of her, preserve the moment. But the lighting sucked. Probably some silly excuse for ambience from the decorators. There was no way he could capture this as perfectly as he saw it.
He took his time, eyes lingering. Memorizing the way a wisp of hair fell over her forehead and oh, how he yearned to reach out and brush it to the side. She was lost in her own private world, and he wondered what it was like inside her head, to unravel her complexities, and dive into the depths of her heart.
It almost felt like a crime to disturb her.
"Are you aware," Tom said very softly, very slowly, "that you're at a wedding?"
Despite his cautious approach, she jumped at his voice, producing a laugh from him. He didn't mean to scare her at all, but her reaction was priceless.
"Are you aware that stalking is illegal everywhere in the world?" she snapped. And just like that, gone was the woman who, two seconds ago, he didn't think could hurt a spider.
"You know the laws of every single country in the world to authoritatively say that?"
"Are you aware that stalking is probably illegal in London?"
"That's better," he said with a chuckle.
"Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Listen, I'm sorry. My intentions are pure, I swear."
"Do you always creep up on unsuspecting women?"
"Do you always hide out on the second floor library of reception venues at weddings?"
"Do you always butt into conversations you don't belong in?"
"Do you always deliberately withhold your name from curious strangers who politely introduce themselves to you?"
"She had never imagined that curiosity was one of the many masks of love," she half-whispered, probably not intending for him to hear, and not at all the reply he was expecting.
"Love in the Time of Cholera. Gabriel Garcia Marquez."
"Applicable to us at all?" he teased.
She composed herself.
"Never identify yourself," she stated. "Louis CK said that."
"Wasn't he accused of sexual misconduct or something?" Tom asked.
"I wouldn't know. I don't keep tabs of people's personal lives like the rest of the nosy world population who couldn't bother to take one second to look at anything other than themselves or their phones."
Tom stared at her in utter fascination.
Then burst out laughing.
"You…" He shook his head in disbelief. "…are a firecracker, aren't you?"
"And you're aware of precisely how attractive you are, with that face and that accent—"
He's been rejected loads of times, you know? People just assumed he could get any girl he wanted. Ha, very little truth was contained in that sentence.
"I prefer the word sexy," he said with a smirk, "but I'll take attractive."
"Conceit isn't sexy."
"Neither is snobbishness."
"I guess that's just who I am."
"Somehow," Tom said, "I don't believe that."
"What do you mean?"
"Your eyes are way too honest, and way too young to be so cynical."
"How young do you think I am?"
"I've been wisely advised by my mum never to bring up a woman's age in a conversation with her, so…what's that expression that Americans have? I plead the fifth?"
He guessed about twenty-three, by the way. A year older than him. Or likely the same age.
He was expecting at least a smile, but his comment barely elicited a response, let alone an acknowledgement. Most girls would've asked for his number by now. But she didn't seem like most girls.
In fact, she studied him, unabashedly, in silence, like she was trying to figure him out.
He studied her too, but figuring her out was a different story.
His mate Harry saw her first. Or so Harry falsely claimed.
At the church, after the ceremony, walking down the aisle, an eager bridesmaid clutching his arm, Tom caught a glimpse of her standing from the groom's side, in tears. But what puzzled him wasn't the tears part – loads of people cry at weddings. This particular girl's tears were from a loss she was trying too hard to hide. She could've been an actress, really. Should've been. But to the trained eye—Tom's, with his years in theatre and film—he knew the act all too well.
She had a classic beauty. Simple. A bit neighbourly, he supposed. What was that American expression? Girl-next-door? Quite pretty in a way that her being utterly oblivious to it made her even more attractive to him. Coming off a recent breakup from a two-year whirlwind of a relationship that never even went public, Tom wasn't really looking for anything. In fact, his cousin Lisa, the bride, specifically instructed him to, "shag as many girls as you can tonight, gorgeous, because so many of my friends are head over heels for you and trust me, they will not hold back." It made him laugh at least. But his mind still drifted to her more often than he preferred, and the thought of being with another woman sounded foolish.
This girl in front of him, however, was nothing like his ex. This girl in front of him, to begin with, had some unresolved anger bubbling up to the surface, and he had a feeling he was about to be at the receiving end of it.
But it didn't matter. Because if he could just help her deal with it, he'd walk out of this wedding satisfied.
"I take it you don't like talking to strangers?" Tom asked her, the first to break the ice.
"What gave it away? My silence or my insolence?"
He raised his hands. "My intentions are pure," he repeated. "I'm not here to pick a fight."
"You followed me," she accused him.
"I was searching for you. Your sister's quite worried, you know."
"Jenna never worries about me."
"I worried on behalf of her."
"Why? Like you said, you don't even know my name."
Tom paused; her guard too established, her walls too high for him to even try. Plus, it was exhausting, you know? Committing yourself to possibilities. Because you knew it opened doors to possibilities of failure as well.
"You don't want to talk?" he asked her. "Fine. I can go. I'm sorry I disturbed you. Thought I was doing Lisa a favour by at least accommodating every guest, making sure they're having a great time but hey, I tried hard, and I failed, yeah? The most we could do is try in this world."
"Is that your job today? To make sure everyone's having a great time?"
Tom ran a hand through his hair. It was ridiculously long now and he was in desperate need of a haircut. But he didn't have time after his last movie wrapped and before Lisa's wedding. It wasn't so cumbersome, except it reminded him of how She-who-shall-not-be-named preferred it long like this, and he kept it this length just for her.
"Enjoy your book," he said politely, heading for the door.
He could've sworn he heard her mutter: "It is my study to seem despiteful and ungentle to you."
Tom grasped the cold, golden doorknob.
He froze, a small smile on his face.
He turned slowly to look at her. She clutched her book against her side, and he noticed she didn't quite meet his eyes.
"I guess I'm just not used to it," she admitted.
Tom noted how she didn't even bother apologizing for the rude behaviour, but whatever. He'll take it.
"You're just not used to it," he repeated.
"I've been so accustomed to dealing with people who know me, so many years, that they know exactly what I'm going to say before I even say it. And I guess, maybe, I've become predictable with...what I'm going to say." Her nervous laughter ignited something in him, pulled his smile into a grin. "God, that was not at all articulate. That didn't even make any sense, did it?"
"No, not quite." He rubbed the back of his neck, stepping closer. "Because you're not very predictable to me right now."
Make her comfortable. Enough to talk to him at least. That was his goal.
She sat back down: an invitation.
He took the seat across from her, struggling to read the spine of her book, maybe to give him a clue as to what her interests were, what to talk about.
He settled for what he knew best.
"What was the last movie you saw in the cinemas?" he asked.
"I can't tell you."
"Can't or won't?"
"Last time I went to the movies was seven years ago."
"Seven—" Tom gaped at her. "Seven years ago?"
"What's so weird about that?"
"God," he said, shaking his head, "where do I begin? Are you sure you want me to answer that?"
"Seven years without movies is like seven years without air. How are you alive right now?"
"You hold movies in very high regard, huh?"
"What about DVD?" he tried. "Blu-ray? Netflix? iTunes?"
She gazed at him in confusion, then shook her head for the millionth time.
"I used to have a VHS copy of Shakespeare in Love," she offered, "but then I moved out of my parents' house and left the VHS player there."
"What the hell is VHS?"
It was her turn to gape at him.
"I'm just kidding," he said, making a mental note to google VHS later.
Yeah, okay, he could work with that.
"Avengers: Infinity War?" he tried again. "Thor Ragnarok? Black Panther?" And just in case she was a DC fan, he added, "Wonder Woman? Dawn of Justice?"
"Never seen a superhero movie," she said, and his face fell at her confession.
Tom trailed off, baffled, racking his brain for what to say.
He didn't want to give up so easily.
"Alright, what about indie films? The Lobster? X+Y? Ummmm...god, what's the one with Aragorn from Lord of the Rings—Captain Fantastic! Came out a couple of years ago, directed by that guy from Silicon Valley. No? Yeah? What about Martin Scorsese's Silence? With Adam Driver. And Andrew Garfield? Andrew Garfield is brilliant. From Amazing Spider-Man? No? The Social Network? You must've seen The Social Network. It came out in 2010."
She seemed lost, drowning in his movie references. And maybe even a little bored.
"You," he said slowly, processing the whole scene, running his fingers through his locks in absolute frustration, "don't watch movies?"
It confused his brain, just putting those four words together. It hurt his heart.
Who didn't watch movies? Movies were his life. It was his source of income. It was everything.
"No TV or movie player."
"Movie pl—" Tom laughed out loud. "Computer?"
"Nine years old. And no internet."
"Like, no wi-fi?"
"What do you do?"
"What do you mean?"
"Like, in your spare time. What do you do?"
Don't say it.
Tom bit his lip, holding himself back. He barely knew her. He was way too polite. No, way too media-trained. The industry taught him self-control. For the most part. His mum said always be nice to strangers, unless they were attacking you, then take your best shot. Good ol' mum.
"What?" she prodded. "That's what?"
"Nothing, never mind."
"No, please, don't insult me by filtering yourself. We've been having such an intellectual conversation."
Her sarcasm was not lost on him and he sputtered out a mild laugh.
Most people he met were down-to-earth. Nice to him. So when people didn't like him, or insulted him for real, it was…unnerving. Everything about her was genuine, including her hostility.
"I can take it," she continued. "I'm not some delicate flower incapable of hearing a complete stranger's opinion, albeit an unfounded one."
She wanted to hear what he had to say? Fine.
"That," he said, "is the most pretentious thing I've ever heard."
"I'm sorry but… 'I read'? No, actually, I'm not at all sorry. That's why you don't watch movies? Because you read? And you call me conceited?"
"Conceited means proud of oneself. Vain. Using it on me makes no sense."
"And I'm vain? I'm proud of myself? What's the general word for showing patronizing superiority?"
She opened her mouth.
"Condescending, yeah?" he cut her off. "Are you also one of those women who look down on everyone who doesn't cite reading as their favourite activity?"
"What was the last book you read?"
Tom said nothing, wondering if she was playing him, and opting to be nice.
Return to your media training, Tom, he said to himself. Kill her with kindness.
"I didn't mean to offend you," she said. "People have preferences, and I…have preferences too."
Was that the closest that Tom was going to get to an apology? Looked like it.
He decided to answer honestly. Because why not?
"I'm a terrible reader."
He leaned forward and buried his face in his hands for a moment, taking a deep breath.
He didn't really want to say it. Most girls would take the cue. They would've googled him prior to meeting him. They would've known. They wouldn't have prodded further, it was sort of a taboo topic or what-have-you. But when he glanced up to see her reaction, she actually looked like she didn't know.
"What does that even mean?" she asked. "You don't read? As in, actually illiterate?"
"No, I do. I do read. I just mean—"
Tom didn't know whether to be embarrassed, or…or just plain amazed. It was sort of refreshing, he supposed. Someone actually didn't know everything about him.
"Alright," he said, meeting her eyes, "I didn't want to admit this in front of a gorgeous girl—"
"I'm hardly that."
"Hard to understand, maybe, but not hardly that," Tom shot back.
She fell silent.
Tell her the truth, his consciousness whispered.
She flicked her soft gaze towards him.
Sympathy. He never said it for sympathy, not once. Just honesty really. He's learned to deal with it. It was hardly a disability for him. Still, people's concerns never stopped surprising him. But her concern, like everything else, was genuine and kind.
He played it off like it was no big deal.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Not an excuse to never read Moby Dick," Tom said, "but I hear the movie is better anyway."
Subtle. Real subtle.
Reference your own movie, why don't you, Bennett?
But she laughed.
"Is this why your sister called you more boring than watching paint dry?" he asked.
"Jenna tends to exaggerate."
"Don't think she was exaggerating if your only hobby is reading."
"I knit. Sometimes, while reading."
"You have a cat too?" He made a disgusted face. "Cats are absolutely evil, you know?"
"Is that a deal breaker for you?"
"I think we'll get over it." He grinned. "I can tell you already despise me for not citing reading as my favorite hobby and I'm afraid I'll never be able to forgive you for not watching movies. Our relationship is off to a brilliant start, don't you think?"
When she smiled at him, he remembered a line he'd memorized years ago for a play he did when he was younger.
These violent delights have violent ends.
Probably the only Shakespeare play he knew inside out. Shakespeare was dreadfully boring but the girl who played Juliet was fit, and he was madly in love with her.
"Can I ask you something?" Her voice was soft.
"Don't worry, cats are not a deal-breaker for me, although I am allergic. But if you hate dogs, we're over. And I think you are a terrible, terrible person."
She laughed, and she would never know what it did to him.
"Why movies?" she asked.
"Why not movies?"
Way to try and sound smart, Tom.
"Are you trying to be philosophical right now?" she called him out, and god, it was so attractive.
"Alright, fine. A real answer. Movies are…life. The first time I ever saw the original Jurassic Park, the Spielberg one, it literally blew my mind. A production like that with collaborative effort from people who loved the craft itself, and loved to escape, and loved sharing that escape with the world, was—what?"
She bit her lip, and it was the sexiest thing.
"What is it?"
"You know that if you literally blew your mind, you'd be dead, right?"
There was no escape.
"And you know correcting people's grammar isn't polite, right?"
She said nothing.
"Neither is not giving out your name," he added.
"Why do you really love movies?" she asked, leaning forward, placing her book down gently on the table between them. "Because everyone says that. Everyone says they love movies for escape. Reality sucks, whatever."
"Actually, I quite prefer reality over fiction myself."
He was at the top of his career, he was playing his dream role...except for the ex-girlfriend thing, which he knew he would get over with eventually, but yeah, Tom was having the best time with his version of reality.
"Yeah, I do," he answered. "But also…I love movies because they saved my life."
Gave me a career. Allowed me to travel around the world. To work with the greatest, most talented people. To give back to those in need.
"They brought air back into my lungs, gave me a reason to wake up in the morning, a purpose. The way that doctors save your life, you know?"
Her response surprised him. But it shouldn't have because she had an infuriating habit of contradicting everything he said.
"They don't," she said. "Doctors don't save your life."
"Are you determined to disagree with everything I say?"
"I'm sorry, I just mean—Doctors are like tools. They do their job, fix what's wrong, take your breath with one wrong move, but they can't give it to you. They can't give you the breath in your lungs. They can't...they can't give you life. Only God can do that. And doctors aren't gods. Most of them might think and act like they are, but they're not. I'm sorry," she said again. "It's delving into theology and I barely know you and...forget it."
"No, please," Tom said with a smile. "I'm quite enjoying myself here. Let's delve into theology. Let's talk religion. God knows I haven't thought about this in a while and aren't the best conversations the ones with strangers, where you haven't figured the other person out?"
"I always thought the best conversations are the ones where you know exactly who the other person is, and they just get you without saying anything."
"What, like, finish each other's sentences, relish in long, comfortable silences, gaze into each other's eyes and know exactly what the other person is thinking just by glancing at them, communicating nonverbally in another level, some deep, intricate, heart to heart level, in other words—how do I politely say this—oh, right, excrement?"
It was how he communicated with his ex, too many times to count. He'd pick up cues—tucking her hair behind her ear, pursing her lips, brushing her hand against his under the table, crossing her arms—and he'd know how to respond right away.
It sucked. Took out the beauty of spontaneity. Of adventure. Of surprises.
Alright, fine, he was also still heartbroken, but whatever.
"You can curse in front of me, you know?" she said.
"Yeah, I'm British, and I absolutely can, it's built in my nature, but you don't strike me as the kind of girl who's forgiving about that kind of thing, and I'm just not drunk enough to make a fool of myself in front of you."
Sometimes he remembered her, his ex, when the topic of relationships or love came up in a conversation with friends. He was about to confess those three words, but she'd ended it. They were co-stars, they worked together, they couldn't jeopardize the future of their films…in other words, crazy nonsense. Same old idiotic crap he fed his high school sweetheart at Prom before he made it big.
"Can I?" he asked her.
She was smart. And she had class. She didn't watch television. No movies. No internet. Was that the equivalent of class for him? Well, no, but she was also unlike anyone he's met, that there was just no other word for her.
The exception to the rule.
Part of him wanted to console her, find out what was beneath all the darkness, and the other part wanted to impress the hell out of her. His looks could only take him so far, and the charm thing didn't seem to be working, and she didn't watch films, which, being a fairly recognized actor, was all he got under his belt. Which left him with...what, exactly?
He decided to drop it all together.
"Actually, you know what? Love's a bit overrated these days," Tom said lightly, not at all bitter, alright? "Not worth talking about."
"I wasn't the one who brought it up."
"Yeah, I just completely rambled, didn't I? So much for not making a fool of myself."
But she met his eyes. Held his gaze, two, five seconds, in silence.
He knew then she understood him. He had a feeling she knew all too well what he was talking about.
Whoever broke her heart was a real nob.
The knock on the door interrupted them, and on the other side was Harry.
"Hey," Harry said, uncertain. "What's going on?"
Tom composed himself quickly, giving his best mate an easy smile.
"Talking about religion apparently."
"Since..." He glanced at her. "What, thirty seconds ago?"
"About that," she replied.
He smiled at her then at Harry. "Forty-five seconds ago."
"You don't even like religion, mate."
"Yeah," Tom said, "and she was about to discover that."
Harry chuckled. "Lisa needs you, Tommy. It's time."
"Dude, she always needs me."
"Dude, everyone needs you."
"Yeah, I'm generally underappreciated and on demand 24/7."
"You get paid enough for it, man."
"H, I never get paid enough, ever."
They shared a laugh.
He turned to her who was watching the banter with his best mate.
He stood up. She did too.
"You ever going to give me your name?" Tom asked her. "Or do I have to fish it out of your sister?"
"Don't think she'd mind that."
"I'd rather hear it from you, if it's all the same."
"Alright, alright, yeah, have to get to Lisa. We'll reconvene at a more convenient hour for our discussion on religion, and God, and et cetera."
He extended his arm out to her. And when she did the same, he took her hand and lingered.
"Did my heart love till now?" he recited. "Forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."
Act 1, Scene 5, the Capulet party. The first time Romeo sees Juliet.
He gave her hand a small kiss before releasing it.
When her eyes met his this time, it was different. There was a ray of light under the black clouds, some shard of hope trapped inside a heart that had spent far too long suffocating in the sand while waiting for the fiery sunrise.
Tom Bennett exited, stage right, leaving the mysterious, gorgeous girl alone, speechless.
And he smiled to himself.
Of course, he thought. Of course she'd love Shakespeare.
God knows it was pretentious enough.
Sometimes he remembered her when he spoke to a member of the opposite sex. Fans, interviewers, complete strangers, didn't really matter.
They met day one of filming for the first movie. She teased him as if they've been friends forever, treated him like Harry did, became one of his mates very quickly, and getting to know her was a revelation. And when he fell in love and she had admitted to feeling the same way, Tom knew that this was it. Life had bestowed on him the chance at complete happiness, and like with everything else, he dared not take advantage and dove in with his heart and soul. Any less and it would've been a betrayal to himself. It's what life was about, after all, wasn't it? Chances. Opportunities. Risks.
His attention flitted between his dinner, his friends and family, the speeches, his ex, and her. The girl from the library. He didn't know why but Tom found his thoughts drifting to fairly nonsensical things, like wondering what she was thinking at that exact moment. What were her thoughts on the chicken? Did she prefer beef? Was she a vegetarian? Did she know how to cook? She looked like she'd know how to make a delicious meal. Did her ex used to cook for her? Breakfast in bed? Fancy anniversary dinners? Did he used to do the dishes, and she the cooking? Did they live together?
Tom wasn't even certain of her situation but he knew for sure there was a guy involved. Or a girl. God. Maybe that was why she was so hostile to him.
He wished he knew her number. He'd ring her up, not at the dining table, of course. Not during the five-meal course they were having. But he'd text her randomly and she'd distract him from this obligatory boredom.
Right, she probably wasn't the kind of girl to do that. Or was she? He tried to remember their earlier conversation. Were phones brought up? Of course she'd have a phone. Who wouldn't? She might live under a rock with her cat and not watch movies but she should still have a phone. Right?
He discretely stole a glance towards the general direction of her table. Number twelve. He wanted to kill Lisa for her poor table planning. He should've been involved.
"Dude," Harry whispered in his ear, "that's the fifth time you've looked behind you. Real subtle."
He glared at his friend who sat on his left.
"Oh, bugger off, mate," Tom whispered back.
Harry chuckled. "Want me to get her number?"
"I dare you, H, and see if I invite your piss poor attitude to a premier with Jennifer Lawrence ever again."
"I meant for you." Harry shook his head with a grin. "Defensive much? You are so smitten, bro. She'd never go for you. A girl like that would never agree to be a rebound to—"
"I swear to God, Harry…"
"Alright, alright. Calm your horses."
Tom knew Harry was just trying to get a rise out of him, but he couldn't help but wonder if he was right.
He'd met a lot of intimidating people lately, people in the industry he'd respected and looked up to who were suddenly working with him. People whose movies changed his life. He got nervous often, yes, but he also got over it. For the first time in a long time, he felt like this girl was out of his league and he had no idea what to do.
Nothing about him screamed genius. He'd played that character, sure, but reality was a different stage. He was no idiot but he was no Einstein either. Nothing he did impressed her, or nabbed her attention, except for that silly Shakespeare quote. Lucky he remembered it. Lucky she was just the right amount of pretentious to fall for the words of someone boring like Shakespeare. Alright, maybe the guy wasn't that bad. He was an Englishman after all. But reading his stuff was no walk in the park either.
"Did you even get her name?" Harry whispered again.
"What do you think?"
"She was watching you, you know?"
His head snapped up. "What?"
"During our dance routine for Lisa, right before dinner. I know you saw that. You were staring at her the whole time."
He smiled sheepishly. "Alright, but I didn't even realize that. It was more like, I needed an object of focus, not deliberately. And she's..."
"God, yes. I was trying not to make a fool of myself, mate. My mind was literally on the routine the whole time, promise."
Literally—she's forever changed that word for him.
"Did I look creepy?" Tom asked softly.
"No idea. Wasn't paying attention to you. But by the end, she looked flustered. Hell, the entire room was, mostly the females, and you probably take 10% of the credit on that one and 90% was me—"
"But yeah, she did."
"Yeah?" The stupid grin on his face was hard to control.
"She out of my league, H? Just...first impression."
"What happened to swearing off dating for a while?"
"Who said anything about dating her?"
Harry laughed out loud, and the din of the crowd drowned the sound, but Tom's mom glared at them from the next table, and they giggled like a couple of schoolboys.
"First impression?" Harry's voice dropped to a whisper once more. "That girl does not do casual. She doesn't do one-night stands. She doesn't do Tinder. She probably doesn't even do selfies, dude. She's just the right balance of healthy self-esteem and, like…shy. Does that make sense?"
"She's the type of girl that people took pictures of on, like, a red carpet or something, you know?"
Oh, he knew. Tom knew.
"And she looked smart. Like, not genius or anything, but she'd call you out on things and won't put up with your crap. And, this one's important…"
Tom leaned closer to hear him.
"If you really fancied her, you'd need to properly court her like an English gentleman. Hey, I guess you're kind of halfway there, man."
"You're a jerk, Harry," Tom said with a chuckle, shaking his head.
"Hey, you asked."
"You got all that," he said, "from first impression?"
"I've only seen her hold her phone once tonight and it was after our dance. Looked like someone rang her. Looked annoyed too."
Ah, so she did have a phone.
"Probably her ex-boyfriend," Tom guessed.
"What makes you so sure it's an ex?"
"If it wasn't, why isn't he here?"
"Because her sister only had one spot for a guest?"
Harry was smart.
"Bugger off, Harry," Tom said again, returning to his dinner, downing his newfound insecurities with his drink.
"Look on the bright side," Harry said. "Every other girl in here would get with you in a second."
Yes, but not her.
His thoughts returned to his ex. And for the first time since their breakup, he loathed her. For destroying a perfectly fine, delicate thing. For throwing his love back at him. For not even fighting for them.
She was a coward.
But most of all, he hated her for what she did to him.
For shredding his confidence.
For shutting his heart close.
For disfiguring him into something he couldn't even recognize.
"I've decided I'm not going to bother learning your name."
She didn't jump this time.
"Give up so easily?"
He noticed she was more comfortable with him and was no longer afraid to meet his eyes.
"Doesn't really matter." He shrugged. "I already know your story."
"Oh? This should be interesting."
He took a sip from his glass and began: "Left at the altar. Idiot fiancé. Engaged for a year. Dated for four. He was your university sweetheart but you were friends first all through high school. Best friends, maybe, and you watched him date all these women that weren't you. Until one day he opened his eyes and saw you. Some Kind of Wonderful meets My Best Friend's Wedding without the wedding meets...Ah, I must admit, I haven't seen a lot of rom coms to come up with a movie where the girl gets left at the altar. But whatever that movie is, it's that meets Some King of Wonderful meets Julia Roberts. But this is all useless because you don't watch movies so you probably don't even get the references."
She fell quiet.
Tom wondered if he'd gotten it in one shot. And then immediately felt terrible for digging up painful memories.
"I'm sorry," he blurted out. "I'm a bit of a bumbling idiot. I didn't mean to make light of your situation, and turn your love life into a film and...I'm going to go now."
This was a mistake. He wasn't ready for this. He wasn't even ready for friendship. Plus, he already had too many friends. Plus, his heart was still broken. Plus, she was intimidating.
What was she thinking? What was her opinion of him? Why was she so hard to read?
His curiosity grew stronger. Walking away would be a mistake, but he's done it now. He was a fool.
"You're half right."
He turned around. "Half?"
"Maybe one out of three."
He grinned. "Can I take a guess which one?"
He raised his eyebrow. "No?"
"You said love was overrated, which means it's either unrequited or a recent breakup. If unrequited, then it's probably the entire plot of Twelfth Night without the happy ending, and if a recent breakup...you know, I must admit, I don't read enough stories that don't have happy endings, unless they're historical plays which always end tragically, and...why are you're looking at me like I'm crazy?"
"Not read enough stories that don't have happy endings yet you can't stand being here, you can barely tolerate the sight of happy couples, you retreat in your sanctuary of books at the first contact with the opposite sex, and you're so closed off, it'll take a piece of Chitauri to make a dent into that nickel-titanium-alloy-made armour you have around your heart."
Tom couldn't make out her reply, but he wouldn't be surprised if it was another one from Shakespeare.
"I'm sorry?" he asked, walking closer to her.
"Why do you talk to me? I mean, why me? So many girls here seem to know you, like, know you properly, and they'd die just to have your attention for two minutes and—is it because I was hostile to you? Because I didn't mean to be. I think Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is so unbelievably overrated—"
"Never read it," he admitted.
"Of course you haven't."
"And, like, I used to be made fun of for my obsession with Shakespeare, who's apparently more overrated, but most people are wrong in general. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett are…it didn't even make sense why Darcy loved her. You know? His love seemed to come out of the blue for me."
"Sure," he offered with a smile, making a complete idiot of himself, hoping his accent could help him a little. "But the story wasn't all about Darcy's love, was it? It was about Elizabeth's, and her being able to, uh, get over her, you know, pride. And…prejudice…"
She stared at him for half a second before laughing, and it surprised him, how the sound of her laughter filled something in him he hadn't realized had been empty for a while.
"You improvise a lot?" she teased.
"Not very well apparently."
"Look," she said, "the truth is, I've never even heard of you until my sister mentioned you. And even then, there's not enough data in my ancient phone to google who you are."
"I don't want you to google who I am," Tom said honestly.
"Why do I talk to you," he repeated her question. "Well, maybe it's because I quite like that you don't know a thing about me."
"'That I'm so unlike them'?"
"Let me guess, Austen?"
She smiled. "She died single. Some people's fiction is better than their reality."
"I don't want to be one of those people."
She looked away. "Yeah, neither do I."
"And I like that I don't know anything about you either. That I can't even pull up my phone to look up your name because you refuse to divulge it."
The first time Tom spent the night with his ex-girlfriend, Tom had no idea it was possible to be so nervous and so excited all at once. Not like that. His heart leapt out of his chest when he opened the door to let her into his flat. He swore there was a frog in his throat the entire night, and when the sun rose the next morning and light draped across her delicate frame, he knew at that moment he would never get out of their relationship with his heart intact.
He looked at the woman standing in front of him now, heart wild, frog in throat, same nervous excitement running through his body mingled with fear and...and something else…
Sanity escaped him.
He brushed his locks out of the way to properly look at her, nerves turning into excitement.
"You want to get the hell out of here?" he asked, knowing precisely that hearing her say no was more probable, if taking in the statistics from their prior conversation, and it would hurt, but not as much as if she said yes then it didn't work out.
But pain was valuable, right? For his acting. For his craft. Something he could pull out and use when needed.
This, too, he could use.
This...je ne sais quoi.
"You're part of the bridal party," she reasoned, rather lamely.
"Lisa will look for you."
"She'll be too busy, she'll barely notice. Plus, she knows I always disappear from these things."
"What about your friend? Your family?"
"One cup of coffee."
"Starbucks is closed."
"At my flat."
Her eyes widened. "At your—No."
"God, absolutely. What gave me away?"
He laughed, pleased that it wasn't just him. That the insanity wasn't just in him.
"Coffee," he repeated. "Tea, if you want a true English experience."
"I make a mean cuppa, you've no idea. You've never tasted tea this awesome and it would be a crime for you to leave London without at least having a taste of it. My charming company is just a cherry on top."
"Not even for tea?"
"More of an iced Americano afficionado actually."
"Listen, alright? I'm not going to try anything. Gentleman's promise. You were right. I just broke up with someone. So recent, in fact, that half of her stuff is still at my flat and every time I see them, I want to hurl them out the window and forget I ever knew her, but I work with her too, so the pain is multiplied a thousand times. We dated for two years. No one knew except our closest friends and family. My mom and dad and brothers love her, and I—" He took a deep breath. "I did too—do still—but I never told her that, because she never permitted me. It ended before I could say a word. But I know she knew how I felt, and maybe...maybe that's why she ended it. Commitment's a funny thing. We are defined by our actions, not our words. And I think you and I...we're equally broken. Friendship is probably the only thing we can give each other at this point, or at the very least, a decent conversation with a stranger who wouldn't judge you. Well, you've judged me already, and it's only fair because I've judged you too, because, even without saying a thing, I know you're probably a cat person, which is terrible so you're terrible too—"
"But hey, we can be terrible together, it's cheaper than therapy and I'm easier on the eyes."
She didn't agree with the last part, but she didn't disagree either.
"I'll take your two years," she said, gambling with their fate, "and raise you five years of unrequited love and a life-changing kiss at his wedding."
He let out a low whistle. "One out of three, huh?"
"One out of three."
"So was that a yes?"
She thought about it.
Tom prayed to the god he didn't believe in just to give him tonight, this one night, with this girl, to talk. To…whatever.
"Alright, yes," she said, and he let out a whoop, garnering a laugh from her. "Just, please, promise you won't recite any more Shakespeare."
He smirked. "Thought you're a fan."
"Yeah, but you're British. I can't stand your stupid accent."
His shoulders shook with laughter as something close to joy filled his entire being.
"I've been told my American accent is spot on," he offered.
An understatement, considering he worked with a dialect coach for his roles.
"Yeah." He grinned. "I need some practice anyway."
She was his new favourite movie that he never wanted to end.
A dance routine that kept changing, every sixteenth beat, that he'd commit his life to learning forever.
An improv gone right every time, distinct changes to dialogue surprising him each take, keeping him on his toes, preserving his heart.
She kept giving and he gave back generously.
Two lives shared in a span of a night and no ending in sight.
In a month, he'll go back to work. In how-ever-many-weeks, she'll fly back to America.
Long distance relationships were difficult. Long distance relationship rules said true love and happiness were not attainable in the business when played out in front of the whole world. With him being watched all the time, the rules said long distance relationships never survive.
But maybe, just maybe, they were the exception to the rules.
"Nice car," she commented, as they stopped in front of his baby.
"What? No, actual compliment."
"Sorry, I'm still not used to it from you."
She playfully stuck her tongue out at him.
Then she tried to get into the driver's seat.
"Darling," he said, "you're in England."
She whipped around so fast, he thought she was going to lose it.
"You don't get to say that to me with a British accent," she declared. "Ever. Like, you just don't."
His laughter filled the night air, obscuring the cold along with his nervousness.
He opened the correct door for her and put on an American accent.
"Get in, babe."
"You—" she sputtered, getting in reluctantly. "You are incorrigible," she shot as soon as he slid into the driver's seat. He gave her a quick once-over to make sure she was comfortable.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what that means."
"Irredeemable. Hopeless. Unable to be reformed."
"Then why didn't you just say that?"
"Stretch your limits, expand your vocabulary."
"Watch a movie, be enlightened by the world around you."
She rolled her eyes but the smile never left her face as he drove.
He played his favorite record in the car.
She didn't like it.
"Hip hop? Really?"
Her nose scrunched up, her eyes crinkled, when she made a face at him. A jolting urge to kiss her smart mouth disarmed all his defenses.
"One more negative word out of you and so help me God, you are getting politely kicked out of here."
"I'm more of a classic rock fan."
"You're a disgrace to tourists everywhere."
"They're both British!"
"Fine then. Classical. Can't go wrong with classical."
"I'm beginning to understand your sister's comment from earlier. You might just be exactly as I imagined you to be."
"A stuck-up, elitist, boring snob."
She slapped his arm playfully. "Jerk!"
"Duuude, I'm driving!"
He felt her watching him.
"What about me?" he inquired.
"What about you?"
"What did you imagine me to be?"
"What?" He stole a glance at her at the stoplight. "Probably not this."
"I have expectations." A pause. "Had."
He laughed out loud.
He had a feeling it was going to be an ongoing thing tonight.
"Sorry, babe. Welcome to London."
They stopped for a late night snack at a convenience store to grab ice cream.
They must've been a strange sight. She in her cream-colored dress under her fancy navy blue coat, he in his sharp gray suit.
"God, it's freezing."
He opened the door for her like a gentleman. She stepped inside, blowing warm air into her clasped hands.
"Peanut butter crunch?" he asked, stepping in front of her to lead the way.
"Oh my god," he said, stopping then spinning around. "No."
"What do you mean no?"
"You have to try a different flavour."
"I want vanilla."
"Like watching paint dry," he mocked.
"What's the British version of—oh, wait, I remember. Bugger off."
He laughed. "Seriously. Different flavour."
She almost sounded whiny. It was cute.
"Because it's my treat, and vanilla is eternally banned from my fridge. There."
It took her twenty minutes—twenty—to choose.
He tried not to bang his head against the wall.
They went to the teller.
The product of twenty minutes.
"That's half-banned from my fridge, mate," he said, his accent slipping off.
"I'll have it before it goes in your freezer…dude."
She entered his place with trepidation. He offered her a seat. She sat on the sofa. She pretended to be entertained by his extensive movie collection on the shelf against the wall while he made his out-of-this-world tea in the kitchen, a part of her impressed by how clean his place was, almost as if he barely lived there. Her gaze fell on what looked to be awards near the giant television screen beside some superhero figurines. She could only make out his name on them, and she wondered how famous he actually was. Then she picked up a Time magazine, deciding fame was just like beauty. Fading into the air so quickly, to pay it one iota of attention is to sell your soul to the devil in exchange for glory that would never satisfy.
In the kitchen, he saved the ice cream in the freezer for later, frowning at her boring choice. In the kitchen, he was afraid he dropped way too many sugar cubes in the kettle. In the kitchen, he was wondering again what she was thinking. And the water simply didn't boil fast enough. When he stole a glance at her where she was sitting in the living room, flipping through a magazine, he wondered if she had noticed the awards by the mantle, and decided she wasn't the kind of girl to be impressed by that kind of thing anyway. He didn't know it for sure, but part of him believed it ninety-percent at least. His dad had told him before to always be careful when it came to girls he just met. But she had been honest from the start. To doubt her motives now was to try to uncross the Rubicon.
He brought out the tea, finally.
She looked up at him expectantly.
"What?" Tom asked.
Then she said: "Do you have beer?"
"Slow down," he said, watching her drink way too fast. An unexpected sight. "What happened to just wanting water earlier?"
"I found myself in a stranger's apartment in the middle of the night."
He grinned. "So…what's your deal?"
"Keeping that American accent, are we?"
"Miss the British me yet?"
"No," she said a little too quickly. "You're fine as is."
He smirked. "So…?"
"Unrequited love thing. Life-changing kiss at his wedding. You can't leave me with a cliffhanger like that."
"You'll think I'm pathetic."
"What makes you think I don't already?"
"Dude, you invited me to your apartment at, like, 10pm and you don't even know my name."
"You do this all the time with the women you meet?"
He considered lying. Then said, "No. Besides being brokenhearted, I'm honestly too busy to go on dates."
"Who said anything about dating?"
Her eyes danced.
He chuckled at her answer, and felt his heart skip.
"By the way," she said, "you shouldn't be inviting any random stranger to your place anyway. I could be a serial killer."
He stared at her, recognizing the line from a TV show.
What happened to not watching TV?
"What are the chances we're both serial killers?" he replied with the next line.
She laughed with him, downed her beer like a pro, oblivious that he was on to her.
"Hey," she said, in between pauses in their conversation.
"Charles Dickens?" he clarified.
"Ah, so you're not so ignorant after all."
"He was English."
"He's my cat."
He made a face. "Dude, that's such a turn-off."
"My dog is at my parents' place," he confessed.
"Well, I hate cats."
"Glad we sorted that out."
"Yeah, man. Pets are banned."
Her joyous laughter began to piece his heart back together.
"Why did you recite Shakespeare?" she asked.
"Figured it was right up your alley."
"Yeah, but...you didn't pull that out of nowhere."
"Memorized the play when I was fifteen for a West End performance."
"You were a theatre kid."
"You memorized the entire play? All parts?"
"Wanted to impress the girl who played Juliet."
"I assume you were Romeo?"
"Was she impressed?" She peered at him from under her lashes.
"We made out for three minutes backstage after opening night."
Silence for a second then—
"Shakespeare would be proud."
He was three drinks in. She was on her second one.
"So, you really haven't seen any superhero movies?"
"Can't say that I have," she said.
He cursed under his breath.
"That a problem?"
"Ah, we'll just add it to our growing list of problems."
"Don't worry. I'll be gone in the morning," she said, taking a long sip from her beer.
He stayed silent, afraid that it was the truth.
She turned her gaze to the awards on the shelf and the superhero figurines, wishing she hadn't opened her stupid mouth.
Tom took a sip of his beer and peered at her, Phosphorescent playing in the background.
"What song is this?" she asked.
"Song for Zula."
"This is beautiful."
"Yeah, heard it in a movie. It's my favourite from the album. Really rips your heart out, doesn't it?"
She was listening intently, her eyes closing from time to time, like she tasted every syllable, having a visceral experience with each line. He just watched her in silence—a vision, with her formal dress and beer bottle in hand, hair half undone—everything about her so strange and so familiar, and so damn beautiful—thinking that, if this didn't go beyond tonight, if this was all the time he was going to have with her, if this was all fate was going to give them, maybe it would be enough. He'd remember her as the girl he met at his cousin's wedding and showed him that there was life after heartbreaks, that there was hope of the sun rising again after a storm.
He cleared his throat.
"So...any chance I'll get your phone number at the end of the night?"
Before she could answer him, her phone rang. A look of panic crossed her face, and it was clear it wasn't the first time she'd been avoiding whoever was on the other line.
"Is that him? The unrequited love? What's he doing calling you up so late?"
She couldn't even look at him.
"Let me answer it," he offered, getting up briefly to turn off the music.
"I don't think so."
"C'mon, stop being so boring."
It rang again.
She let out a long sigh.
"C'mon, I'll be quick. I won't embarrass you, I promise."
"Alright," she said reluctantly, handing him her phone as if handing him her life. "Fine."
She looked scared.
"Dude, it's not the end of the world."
And she said, "Don't be a jerk to him."
He grinned, then dropped the American accent.
"I'll be a real English gentleman, love."
"Hello?" Tom answered the phone.
Was that her name? Lia?
"No, mate, this is Tom."
He could almost hear him thinking out loud, Who the hell is Tom?
"Lia's not here. She's in the shower."
"Lia doesn't let anyone answer her phone, ever."
"Dude, maybe she just doesn't trust you."
"Who are you again?"
"Tom. Name's Tom, mate."
"We're not mates."
"Would you prefer for me to call you a nob, then?"
"Look, I've no idea who this is but can you just please tell Lia I called? It's Josh. Her best friend. She said she'd text when she got to London but she never did."
"Well, she's fine. She's in the shower. At my flat. Greg and Lisa's wedding was a bit boring, you see, which was terrible really, I expected more from my cousin, but hey, I met Lia and it's been brilliant so far."
The girl beside him was dying from laughter and Tom clamped a hand over her mouth to quiet her down. He could feel her grinning against his skin, her eyes bright, and he shushed her silently. It was such an intimate move, touching her face, being that close to her, this woman who wasn't his ex. But Tom certainly didn't mind.
"Do you have a last name...mate?" the voice on the other end demanded.
"I just need to take your name down in case you turn out to be a real nut job and Jenna has no idea where Lia actually is."
"Oh, she knows. She introduced us. And no, sorry. I don't give my full name out to complete strangers from across the pond. Hope you understand. Security issues, and all."
Plus, the idiot might recognize him.
"Look, man, I can't let you go unless I know for sure Lia's safe. How do I know you didn't just steal her phone and you actually have her tied up in your basement in the dark?"
Americans were real psychos, weren't they?
"What exactly would ease your mind…man?"
"Can you just get her to call me back when she's out of the shower? I'll wait for her call all day if I have to."
Was that supposed to impress her?
"Alright, look, I didn't want to be the prick who breaks your heart, but your persistence is a real pain in my English impatient arse and somebody's gotta do it."
At this point, Lia was on his carpeted floor, shaking from laughter, breathless, and Tom yearned to hang up the dumb phone in his hand and take her—
"Lia's not in the shower," Tom said. "She's already asleep. On my bed, alright? It's been a long glorious night, if you know what I mean, and she's knackered now. So just bugger off, mate. She'll call you in the morning and you'll talk to her then."
The nob cut him off with his useless ramble, and Tom moved the phone slightly away from his ear and from the guy's nonsense, shaking his head dramatically. His eyes caught Lia furiously grabbing one of his magazines from the shelf.
He recognized it instantly. It was his first real shoot. A special edition from GQ, the one where his face was plastered on the cover and they interviewed him about his perpetual single status and he had to lie through his teeth about his feelings for his co-star. But she was scribbling wildly on the back of it, right atop an ad for a Chanel perfume, completely unaware. Looks like he'll have to ask GQ for a new copy.
When she held up the magazine in front of him to show him her note, there was a pause, followed by a very brief look of confusion—then disbelief—then...was that a blush?—that crossed her face when her gaze fell on the front cover and no doubt recognized him. Tom noted how quickly it disappeared, and thanked her silently for saving him from embarrassment when she didn't bring it up.
He squinted at her all caps handwriting, the letters jumbled in his brain.
HE'S NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE THAT. I'VE NEVER SPENT THE NIGHT WITH A GUY ON THE FIRST DATE.
Never? Fifty points for Harry.
Then furiously crossed off under it was: 'I've never spent the night with a guy, period.'
It was his turn to be dumbfounded.
He wondered if she meant for him to be able to read the "deleted" section, and it occurred to him then that he'd never be able to get out of this—whatever this is between them—with his heart intact.
He reached out and grabbed the pen from her hand, their fingers grazing, the voice at the other end growing more livid.
Guess i'm the exception to your puritanical rules, darling, he scribbled back.
And the pink on her cheeks were unmistakeable.
Pleased, Tom turned his attention back to the phone.
"Hey, listen here, Keith Nelson—"
"Did you just Some Kind of Wonderful'd me?"
Oh, yeah, the tool knew his movies. He'd recognize Tom in a heartbeat.
"In love with your best friend, no guts to do a thing about it, treats her like crap...Yeah, I just Some Kind of Wonderful'd you. Look, I'm not going to lie, you talk way too much and I've no idea how Lia can stand listening to you. To be frank, I didn't hear what you just said because, first off, I don't care. Second, you had your chance and you blew it, man. And third: truth is, I feel tremendously sorry for you. Lia's a brilliant, beautiful, gorgeous woman and I can't help it if nobs like you don't realize what they have until it's gone but you're done mucking up her life with your indecisions without her permission, if I have anything to say about it. She's told me everything about you, dude, and she's just...she's too good for you, alright? I know it. You know it. You'll never be good enough for her and that's why you're terrified. That's why you've been terrified because you know deep in your heart that at the end of the day, she's going to realize the truth and she'd be the first to leave. You didn't want her to get there first so you held on to her for as long as you could, but it's over now. Because I'm not. I'm not scared to go after what I want. And as long as I'm around, you don't get to redo the past and play with her, pulling her heartstrings any which way you want, like you've done for the last five years just because you can, yeah? Are we done here? Because I'd really hate to wake her up with your nonsense. Cheers, mate."
Probably could've done better if it had been scripted, Tom thought. But he improvised and it was probably the best he was going to do on such short notice.
He looked at Lia, her phone in his hand. "Change your number, love, and please buy a new phone, because BlackBerry died, like, five years ago. You can't even FaceTime with this garbage."
Her gaze had softened.
Tom shut up.
She pushed some strands of hair off her face, and for a split second, Tom thought she was going to cry.
She didn't have to say it. He heard her loud and clear in the silence.
"Yeah...tried to be an English gentleman but he was a jerk first. Sorry, love."
She laughed, diffusing the tension in the room. He ran his fingers through his hair, smiling at her.
Then she picked up GQ with a wide grin.
Tom groaned out loud.
There was no escaping this time.
"Don't," he begged. "Please, don't. Please, don't you dare say it..."
"Nice face," she teased him. "Are there pictures of your abs in here too?"
He might be in love.
Six drinks between the two of them, three hours and one unrequited love story later, she asked him again: "Why do you love movies?"
He leaned back and shut his eyes, legs on the carpeted floor, his head near her arms as she lay across the leather sofa, no doubt watching him from the corner of her eyes. It's been a pretty nice night and Tom could get used to this, having her around.
"Don't say because it helps you escape from reality," she said. "That's boring."
"Like your choice of ice cream flavours? Ow! Careful with my head, man. That's my income source."
A giggle. "Give me a real answer."
"Because…" He thought for a moment. "I guess, because, for at least an hour and a half of my life, I can be someone else but myself."
"Why is that important to you? I thought you liked your reality."
"Besides it being part of how I can afford this flat—"
"Right, yeah. Still American. This apartment. Well, movies do change people's lives. Children believe in it. In the fantasy. The make-believe. It molds them, affects their view of themselves, of their culture, of their reality. Engages their creative side, expands their imagination. Teaches them how to dream. How to empathize. Movies…great movies are great stories that speak to what makes us human. They speak to the very essence of our souls, you know? It connects all of us. I mean, it examines the inner workings of our hearts, yours, mine, our thoughts, betrays our wills, our fears, our…I don't know…insecurities, our corruption, our vanity, our deprivation, our darkness…our light. It shows us how to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, see the world from their side. How to love. Movies teach us how to love. And how to hate. And how to murder. And how to…you know, show affection."
He heard a quiet laugh. "Keeping it PG?"
"And how to laugh—you're drunk, aren't you? I'm talking to a lady so forgive me for attempting to be a gentleman—"
"That would sound so much better with your other accent."
"And," he continued, ignoring her, "and they're not just brainless entertainment. They're…they're everything."
When he opened his eyes, she was right beside him. On the floor, in her cream dress. Staring at him.
"What? Did I say something wrong?"
"I'm not drunk." Her face broke into a smile. "Listening to you talk about movies reminds me of someone."
"Your moronic best friend?"
"My mom actually."
He sat up straighter. "Your mom?"
"She loved movies."
"Doctors don't save lives," he repeated softly her words back to her, his heart breaking for her past.
She nodded. "When she died…I stopped watching them. Couldn't…couldn't deal with it, I guess."
"Seven years ago."
Everything made sense now.
It was the first time she was saying his name. It sounded good coming from her. Intimate.
"I lied." Her voice was small. "About the movie thing."
"Last movie I saw was My Best Friend's Wedding. A few months ago. Maybe half a year ago. Before my moronic best friend got married. We used to watch movies together, all the time. It was kind of a Friday night tradition, like Dawson and Joey—"
"Dawson and Joey?"
"Dawson's Creek. It was a TV show in the 90s—"
Booming laughter escaped out of him, and it was uncontrollable.
"What? Why are you laughing?" she asked. Then she started laughing too.
"I knew it," he exclaimed. "I knew you couldn't be that boring."
"Piss off, Bennett."
"Right, right." His shoulders shook. He covered his mouth with a fist. "Sorry. God, that's funny. Anyway. Yeah. So. Dawson. Joey."
"Are you done now?"
"It was only recently—"
"No, wait, I'm not—You ever watch How I Met Your Mother?"
"Hate Robin. Hate her."
"Wow, we actually agree on something."
"And Captain Fantastic was awesome. Caught your reference earlier—very subtle, by the way—We are defined by our actions, not our words."
Tom started giggling again. "God, you're so—Sorry—Sorry, I'll stop now. Carry on."
"Wait," he said again. "Favourite TV show of all time?"
"Don't have one."
"Ever seen Lost?"
"Best flipping thing to have ever graced television, dude."
He made a mental note to get her to binge-watch it while trying peanut butter crunch ice cream.
"Alright, go on. I'm ready," he said.
"Where was I?"
"It was only recently," he supplied.
"Right. It was only recently, very recently, like, on the plane on the way to England kind of recently, did I tell myself, no more movies, you know? I mean, it just reminded me of him. It just reminded me of my mother—"
"You can't do that."
His accent was back.
"Are you British again?"
"You can't…deprive yourself of something you love just because, what? Just because you got hurt? Just because you're in pain. Don't punish yourself like that. It…wasn't your fault that he got married or that your mom died. This is not on you."
"I don't know who I am without them."
"Then why are you insisting on a life without them?"
"Because I'm never going to get them back, do you understand? And…if they're in my life, if my mom will always be dead, if Jay will always be married and happy, movies are just…what the hell is the point, Tom?"
"For you," he said firmly. "The point is you. You live for you. You…you get up in the morning for you. You enjoy movies for you. Not because they loved it. But because you do. This is your life. Absolutely one hundred percent of it. And it's short, alright? Life is short. In the blink of an eye, this is all going to disappear. We're going to cease to exist. Whether or not we believe in God. We're going to die. We're going to stop living. But while we are, we cannot…we cannot steal great moments from ourselves because we're afraid of getting hurt. We cannot deprive ourselves of what makes us feel alive. And anyone whoever lives his life the other way is missing out on true joy. So what if we screw it up? So what if it doesn't work out according to our plans? At least we took a risk. We didn't betray ourselves. All or nothing. Your entire heart and soul…Or nothing. Because whatever it is that you give the whole of your heart and your soul to is worth it. Worth the pain and the joy. Do you know why? Because you made a choice. You decided that it was worth all of you, whatever it is. It's so important that you gave your life for it. And…And to have something like that, to hold on to something like that, something you would die for, something you would live for is…well, it's what makes all of this worth it. Your days are too short to be racking up regrets on the way. Do you understand?"
She said nothing for the longest time.
He put his heart out there, he was terrified. But at least, at least, he took a chance.
She didn't break their connection.
His breath hitched in his throat. Like he knew what was coming next.
And when she kissed him, heart and soul, taste of beer on her tongue, scent of flowers from her skin, her fingers running through his ungodly long hair, his head dizzy with alcohol and adrenaline, he felt fear and excitement, and something else…something else…
Of more than a long-lasting friendship. Of love that tested waters and prevailed. Of enduring permanence against all odds.
She pulled back, breathing hard, eyes searching his.
"Don't say sorry," he whispered. "Because I am not sorry."
"Wasn't going to."
"What were you going to say?"
"Lilia," she said softly. "My name's Lilia Darcy."
"Lilia," he repeated, testing her name. It was a sound akin to his favorite one on the first day on the set of every movie he's ever worked on—Action!—followed by a whole new adventure come to life. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lilia Darcy. I'm Tom Bennett."
For Lilia, the lines ran through her head, like old friends:
No sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked on another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy…
They are in the very wrath of love, and they will together.
Tom kissed Lilia again. . .
In just a few hours, the sun would rise.