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Short Story - Romance
He stood on the threshold, uncertain. To do, or not to do, was the question. He twirled the rosebud with his fingers, and drew sufficient courage from the action. Enough to take a tentative step forward, a giant leap from his regular cowardice.
She was the only one in the classroom and his universe. Two lovebirds in a dreamy cage. A shabby, uncouth specimen in grey and white approaching an immaculate vision in fawn and chocolate. The lights lit her hair up in myriad specks of amber. A black sea of sweeping waves hid her face as she bent over her notebook. He really did not wish to disturb the moment; he wanted it to stay still for eternity but equally important, he had to disturb the picture and unlock the door to his dreams. He clasped the floral key in his sweaty hands and advanced, a sheep in tiger’s clothing.
She looked up, questions and answers chasing each other in her brown eyes. Eyes sparkling with excitement? Fear? Anger? He had come this far; he had no wish to retreat. But he stood still for a second, temporarily frozen by the searchlights of those heavenly orbs. He ignored his wildly beating heart and approached her desk. Gently placed the rose in the white valley of the open book as instructed by her father.
“Cut!” cried her father, “Great job! Wonderful!” And the usual cacophony broke out on the set.
He was asked to lunch with the director and his daughter. In a classy restaurant away from the madding crowd of the studio.
“My son, if you maintain this dedication and sincerity,” said the director over the soup, “You will be top star one day.” The adoptee smiled gratefully. The daughter, having shed both her demureness and her costume half an hour ago, was now in blue jeans and talkative mood. Her gauzy white tops was tops, and her face sans makeup, was prettier. “What ‘bout your darling, Daddy?” she asked, pulling at his grey beard, “Will I be top star too?”
“You will, if you take your work seriously. Like this talented young man here.”
“Oh, Daddy,” she said, “I can’t be like that.”
The young man was not exhibiting any talent just then. He prodded the fried vegetables with an inexperienced fork.
“Use your hands for now, my boy,” said the director, “But learn to use a fork. Will be useful for certain roles.” The boy sincerely promised to buy a fork and practise daily. With dedication. The big man smiled down at his protégé. This boy would go places. Hoped he wouldn’t bite the hand that first fed him, as some of the stars he had groomed then were now doing.
“You young people carry on,” he said, wiping his lips, “I’ll be back. Have to see somebody about tomorrow’s shoot.” He pushed his chair back and rose heavily.
“He’s gone for a cigarette,” she whispered, leaning towards the boy with a mischievous smile, “He’s afraid I’ll report to Mummy.” He didn’t reply. Senses befuddled by her proximity and lost in a cloud of her dreamy perfume. A piano tinkled softly somewhere in the background.
“As he’s having a smoke,” she said, “Let’s have some beer. Woman’s logic.” She beckoned to their waiter, who rushed over to take the order from his celebrity customers.
“B-b-but should we?” He didn’t want to kill his dreams by drinking with the director’s daughter.
“Who do you think I am?” she asked, “The schoolgirl you gave the flower to?”
“You look great when you are angry,” he said, impertinence brought bravely forth to cover his confusion. She laughed. Thank God.
“I’m eighteen and can drink till I drop. At least, I’m allowed one glass. I go all woozy after that.”
“I look forward to seeing you go all woozy.”
“Naughty, naughty!” She playfully slapped him on the cheek, which reddened more than warranted by that dainty slap. Was he dead or alive? He hoped she would give him sufficient warning next time. If this movie had kissing scenes, his heart would surely stop. Even now it was throbbing dangerously. If he had to choose, of course, he would choose to die with her kiss on his lips…
“Hullo, hullo? Anyone home?” She snapped her fingers in his face. “The beer’s here!”
The waiter poured the amber fluid into two crystal mugs and receded into the background.
“Here’s to your box-office hit,” she said raising her mug, “Cheers!”
“Thank you,” he replied, “Sorry, I mean cheers.” He drank deep, closing his eyes. First beer with a classy girl in a classy hotel. Welcome change from the lukewarm liquid he usually had with crass friends in noisy bars. He opened his eyes to see her gazing at him with an amused crinkle of her eyes. The unseen pianist now began the ‘Titanic’ theme.
“You’re still in your role,” she said.
“I don’t know if I played the part, or the part played me,” he said, still holding on to his mug, “You’re right; I haven’t recovered myself.” He set the mug down with a sigh.
“I don’t know if I want to snap out of it,” he added, smiling. True confessions.
She rubbed her little finger around the rim of her mug, eyes down.
“Don’t,” she whispered, still not looking up. He couldn’t speak. His courage, which had served him so far, deserted him completely. She, too, seemed to have said her say for the day. They sipped their beer in silence. The piano played on. Near, far, wherever you are…
“Hey, naughty kids,” boomed a voice over their heads, “Having beer without me?”
“Only a glass, Daddy,” she said standing up, “Paid the bill?”
“Yes, darling. Let’s go if you are finished.”
“Finished, Sir,” he said and slid from his seat. The director waved a patronizing hand to the waiter, and they left. My heart will go on…
“Want a drop?” asked the director, stepping into the car after his daughter.
“He’s had too many already,” she giggled.
“No, Sir, I feel like walking. Bye, Sir.” He shut the door and bent down to bid his love farewell. Literally. How few were his chances. He was only one of the dozen new faces in the cinema scene and she was a great director’s only daughter. My heart will go on… and on…
The great man took out his cell phone and punched the keys.
“Same time tomorrow’s shoot,” he said before putting phone to ear, “Don’t be late. Hello? Hello?”
“Sure, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” But the director had started talking to the phone, ignoring him.
“See you tomorrow,” he turned to her, heart sinking like a weighted anchor. She smiled at him, a white angel against the car’s dark interior.
“Bye,” she said, holding up something that he couldn’t see clearly. A pencil? Her mobile? He bounded over to her side of the car. The director was busy, chattering into his phone.
“I’ll always treasure this,” she said eyes locked to his. It was the rose that he had given her, its petals half-opened. “Take care. Darling.”
The car took off, leaving him alone in the portico. No, not alone.