David Tirlson clutched his girlfriend Cassandra’s hand. "You can't die!" You're my life! What will I do without you?"
"Oh Robert," Cassandra said. "I must go! The light is calling me! I can feel it!"
"But we've hadn't had enough time together. We have forests to walk through, parks to observe, and more movies to see."
"I'm so sorry, Robert." Cassandra began to cough violently....very realistic sounding cough. David couldn’t help but be impressed.
"Okay, that's enough," Kurt Geos said as if could magically end all their pain.
They sat at a table in a room heated by many cameras. All of it was Cassandra's fault. She was the one that had decided the two of them needed to hop onto the Reality TV bandwagon.
The premise: Wannabe screenwriters send in a scene. Cassandra Stevens and David Tirlson act it out. The plus: Some of the scenes were actually very well written. And David hoped they'd maybe help somebody get the attention they deserved. The problem: Talent and success didn't interest the American Public as much as humiliation and failure.
So the show's producers made sure to find some of the worst writing available. The scenes were performed, and then these writers would go in front of the judges and have their self-esteem ripped to pieces. The producers had wanted David to participate in this part too, but he refused. And nothing in his contract required him to budge. Instead, he agreed to shake the hand of each loser. And if it happened to be a female loser, he kissed them on the cheek.
In some ways, this seemed worse than the judges telling them to give up their dreams. It's like he was saying "Sorry you lost. But a kiss from Me! Mr. Movie Star! should make you feel a little better." One girl vowed to never wash her face. David figured she had no self delusion about her writing talent. Many of these people just wanted a chance to be on TV, a chance to meet Cassandra and David (usually Cassandra), and didn't care that this involved making a fool of themselves in front of millions.
"Cut," Kurt demanded. Then politely added a "Please."
The crew obliged.
"I'm sorry," Kurt apologized to David for about the fiftieth time since they all started this project three weeks ago.
"I know. I'm sorry too." This conversation repeated itself often.
"Oh guys, give it a rest." Cassandra said. "This whole thing is brilliant, and you know it."
"Your coughing was brilliant," David said.
Cassandra gave him a look-one that used to force him to sheepishly apologize. But now he felt no such compulsion.
"Amazing coughing," Kurt agreed.
Cassandra glared at him.
“I’m serious!” Kurt said.
"We're done for the day," David said. "Right?"
"You're free." Kurt said. "See you. Same time. Same place. Tomorrow."
David felt like being alone, but didn't have the nerve to turn Cassandra down when she insisted that she walk with him. He did slightly attempt an escape. "People notice us less when we're not together."
"Oh, that's ridiculous, she said. "Totally not true. Can't prove it. And who cares if they notice us.”
So now they walked up Sixth Avenue together, heading in the direction of David’s apartment on East 22nd street.
The funny thing is--well, not really funny exactly, actually kind of sad. But a few years back, David would have jumped like a frantic puppy for the chance to walk with Cassandra. All relationships probably have one person who loves the other person more. And David had definitely been that person.
Love at first sight. Literally.
Old story. Saw her across the room at a party.
He went up to talk to her. Feeling confident. Well, you know because he was an actor; a child star, turned nobody, then turned into a sort of somebody again, thanks to a little Indie film called Potential Friends. And then there was The Uncle, a horror film. He wasn't a household name, or face. But people seemed to recognize him every so often.
Cassandra, with her large perky breasts, plump butt, and wild curly red hair, didn't want to give him the time of day. She let him talk, flirt, make a fool of himself, and then she excused herself. "Nice meeting you,"
But a few hours later, just before David realized he was bored and ready to leave, she came up to him. Now she was very friendly. Talkative. She let him walk her back to her cramped East Village apartment and invited him in. Somehow the conversation got to around to his job and then it got around to Cassandra being a French major with a 3.8 grade average and no set career plans. Smart, but lost.
He spent the whole night at her apartment.
They didn't have sex.
They didn't sleep.
David decided right there and then that this was the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
A week later they had sex.
Two weeks later, Cassandra had a part in David's movie. It wasn't a huge part, but not a mere walk-on part either.
A few months after that, Cassandra was noticed by the right people; got a guest appearance on a TV show, a movie of her own, and then another movie which led to a Golden Globe Nomination.
The world loved Cassandra, soon much more than they loved David.
David had loved Cassandra. He loved her so much. He probably would have traded his whole career in for her. He would have risked his life to save hers. He would have done anything for her. He could not imagine not loving her. He couldn't wait to marry her, although he was way too young. And he did worry that Hollywood was a jinx on marriage. But he had hope that they could beat the odds. Grow old together.
That's easier to do when the love is more mutual. Slowly the feeling and questions David had always managed to suppress began to surface. Cassandra didn't love him. At least not in the way David wanted to be loved. He wanted her to adore him. He wanted her to want to spend every minute with him, and look sad when they had to part. Instead, she often looked eager to leave.
He wanted her to prefer spending the evening alone with him rather than going to parties. But she always preferred the parties. And it always seemed, at the parties, that he was the last person she wanted to be with.
When they went out to dinner together, her eyes always roamed...trying to see who was there, and who could further her career. David soon realized he bored his girlfriend.
And he also realized that everything had pretty much been a lie. From the beginning. The party. She must have found out he was an actor, and that's why her attitude had changed. Why hadn't he noticed it before? Well, he probably had noticed it. But he had denied it. He wanted her attention so badly. Love can do that to you. Infatuation too. It makes you believe in things that are completely not true.
Slowly David started realizing the truth and slowly the love he felt (if it ever was true love?) turned into feelings of hostility. Anger. He became angry at Cassandra for pretending to love him. He became angry at himself for falling for the lie.
But it didn't stop there. If the story was as neat and tidy as that, David could call Cassandra a liar, dump her, and them move on with his life.
It didn't happen like that though. As soon as he stopped being madly in love with Cassandra, he became a little more cold, a little more distant, and a lot less interested. And for some reason, that made Cassandra interested in him. A reverse psychology kind of thing perhaps. She became clingy. She acted jealous for the first time. They had a huge fight about him being interviewed on Good Morning America with his costar of Get it Out of Me. "The way you guys were talking. It looked like you were in love." And she claimed, "It's not just me. I heard people talking about it. And they were looking at me. Staring. I think wondering if you had dumped me."
She no longer avoided David at parties-followed him around, everywhere except the bathroom. During her own interviews, she mentioned David copiously.
David no longer had to initiate sex. She did every night. And it bugged him because he knew a few years back, he would have been so happy for this.
Now he couldn't get himself to feel the least bit grateful. Mostly, they did have sex though because the few times they didn't, Cassandra cried. Her self-esteem plummeting.
David would try to reassure her. He'd remind her that she was on both People Magazine’s and Maxim’s list of most beautiful people. He'd remind her that her name was on so many charity boards. He'd remind her that her IMDb.com Starmeter had gone up again. His was always going down.
None of this helped Cassandra feel any better.
So it was much easier just to have sex.
It was much easier to stay in a dead relationship than to have a huge emotional break-up scene.
It was much easier to let your girlfriend walk with you than explain that you prefer to be alone...and to further explain that no actually not alone. You'd be fine walking with people. You just don't want to walk with her--specifically.
"Are you okay?" Cassandra asked.
"I'm fine. Just a little tired." And hungry.
"Is that it?" Her voice trembled. David dreaded that about-to-cry voice.
"Cassandra, let's not do this now. Okay?” He really wished he could get rid of her, then maybe walk down to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. He had a taste for the red bean ice-cream.
"Do you still love me?"
"Yes," David said quickly, trying to get through the familiar scene as quickly as possible.
They started heading west toward Seventh Avenue-a strange unspoken mutual decision. They were moving away from David’s apartment, rather than toward it.
"I mean do you really love me?"
"Yes." He answered quickly again.
Once they got to Seventh Avenue, they walked up toward 22nd street. Just as they were about to head east, David had an idea.
“Hey, why don’t I walk you home?” he said. Cassandra lived near Washington Square Park. He could play the good guy. Drop her off. Safe and Sound. Then head down alone to Chinatown.
"I don't want to go home!" she said with gusto...drawing attention to the two celebrities who, in New York fashion, were previously unnoticed and ignored.
"It's Cassandra Stevens and her boyfriend!" A small mob of tourists surrounded them. Cassandra put away her despair for a moment and enjoyed playing celebrity. She posed for digital cameras and signed makeshift autograph books. David refused to do either, but did give out one or two forced smiles. Then he excused himself and pulled Cassandra out of the limelight.
They walked in tense silence. "You were such a jerk back there," Cassandra hissed. "What the hell?"
She was right. He had been a jerk. And he felt guilty about that. A few years ago he had been on the other side of the fence. A fan...a fan who promised himself that if he ever became a celebrity, he'd be the nicest celebrity ever. Sign autographs, answer every fan letter, visit every sick child in the hospital, etc. All the stuff that Cassandra did.
David was full of broken promises. He was not the rudest celebrity out there, but he also came far from deserving a "nicest celebrity" award.
David soaked in his guilt and regret as he walked. Then he almost transformed himself into a crippled celebrity by tripping on the sidewalk.
"Are you okay?" Cassandra asked. David wasn't sure if she was referring back to his mood and his state of love for her, or the fact that he had almost fallen."
"Fine," He said, and then noticed the store right in front of them. Some kind of occult store. Creepy. Eerie. But enticing.
Cassandra thought so too. At least they still had a few things in common. "Awesome! Let's go in."
David followed behind her. Back in high school he used to love this kind of stuff-probably due to his secret love of Charmed. Ah, the Halliwell sisters. David still hadn’t had the chance to work with Holly Marie Combs. Would he ever or was that all just a pipe dream?
"Greetings," an attractive woman, in a stereotypical gypsy outfit, said. It looked like she had bought her costume from that Halloween store in the East Village. "Welcome."
"Thank you," Cassandra smiled kindly.
The woman nodded, sat down, and began writing in her little ledger thing. It seemed to David that she didn't recognize them.
He looked around at all the fun stuff: crystals, herbs, gems, tarot cards, voodoo dolls, ouija boards...."
"Spooky," David whispered in his low-budget horror movie voice.
"Don't be rude," Cassandra said.
"The sex stuff is in back," the woman said without looking up at them. In the past, this would have guaranteed eye contact, a wink, and maybe a pinch on the butt. But now, David did his best to avoid even making eye contact with Cassandra.
The woman stopped writing in her book and went in her back room. David and Cassandra stood there, waited. David considered leaving, but before he could make the suggestion, the woman returned. She took David's hand gently and pried his fingers open. He felt somewhat violated, but too intrigued to move away. She put something in his hand. He looked at it. A small black pebble.
"It's for you, David. On the house." So, she had recognized them after all.
For a brief moment, David considered the idea that this was some elaborate terrorist scheme and this tiny pebble held a bomb so powerful it could blow up Manhattan. But then he decided he was being paranoid and needed to perhaps cut down on reading certain types of screenplays.
"Thanks," David said.
"Some tourists are coming. You should hide in back." And the old lady pointed to the backroom. Something seemed wrong, creepy, and dangerous about that. But David ignored his gut instinct and went to the back room. Cassandra followed.
They stood there alone in the dark storage room which just had more ouija boards, crystals, love potions, etc.
"We need to continue our conversation," Cassandra said.
"Here?" David whispered.
"You're not the same toward me. You’re aloof."
"I'm sorry." David rubbed his nose.
"Why do you always do that?"
"Rub your nose." Cassandra sighed.
Something compelled David to be honest. Perhaps all the voodoo dolls staring at him? "I don't know how I feel anymore."
"That’s Bullshit. You know how you feel. It’s just that you’re a coward.”
And then David was saved by the tourists. They came in just as the old lady shopkeeper had predicted. David heard the squeals of a teenager.
"He was in here! Oh my God! David Tirlson! Rachel is going to totally die when I tell her. Oh my God! Is he still in here! Oh my God!"
"He's gone," the shopkeeper said. "Left a while back." David felt gratitude for her little lie.
"What's this?" David heard the girl say.
"It's a stone," the shopkeeper said.
"Is it magic?" The girl giggled and oh did she have a horrible giggle....worse than Cassandra's. And that was saying a lot!
"No, but David touched its twin."
Now David had an idea of why he was given the little stone. The shopkeeper could use him as a selling point. “Only ten in the world and David Tirlson has one of them." Although if the woman had more business sense, she would have given it to Cassandra instead. Cassandra was much more popular.
"Do you want it, Jessica? I bet Rachel would love it." The shopkeeper said. "Only seventy-five dollars."
Jessica's hesitation earned her a little respect from David.
"Well, you seem like a good friend and I wouldn't want you to let Rachel down. I'll give it to you for fifty."
David eagerly awaited the rest of the interaction, but missed it because Cassandra took the opportunity to try to stick her hand down his pants.
"Let's see if you still love me?" She said in a husky voice.
David pushed her hands away. He supposed that was an answer.