The Important Things
An acting debut doesn’t go according to plan in this engaging short story by Rivernee Locke.
All Declan ever wanted was to make Bryony happy . . .
THE buzz of the bell above the shop door drew Declan’s attention away from scooping chips into a bag. The line of lunchtime customers, all eager for the best fish and chips in town, stretched along the street. Saturday was always their busiest day.
His girlfriend, Bryony, squeezed past the people standing in the doorway and stopped in front of the till.
Her eyes sparkled with excitement, and her dangly earrings went into a wild jiggle.
“I have awesome news to tell you!”
Declan smiled and resumed packing chips, before adding a couple of battered sausages to the order.
“Great. Let me serve everyone then we’ll talk.”
“But it’s important,” Bryony replied.
“So is my stomach, young lady,” the old man waiting for his food grumbled.
Declan bit back a smile and finished the order. Checking the list to be sure the bag contained everything the customer wanted, he handed it over.
“Here you go, Mr Price. See you next week.”
“It’s like this,” Bryony said, before the next customer moved near. “You remember –”
Declan raised a hand to stop her.
“It will have to wait.” He wanted to hear what had her buzzing, but the customers came first. Hungry customers often made grumpy ones if they waited too long for their food.
“You remember the film I starred in last summer?” Bryony continued, ignoring him.
Declan raked his memory as he lifted a steak pie from the glass shelf.
“The one you played an extra-terrestrial in?”
“Yes. It’s having its premiere next week and we can buy tickets to see it.”
“Really?” He knew how hard Bryony had worked towards getting a break in the acting business, and the job last summer was a good role to add to her acting resume.
“I know.” She giggled. “I’ve already sorted what to wear. I thought if I wore the purple top I bought last week with those sparkly pink shoes you gave me last birthday –”
“Can we talk about this later?” Declan interrupted, then frowned. “When exactly next week?” “Thursday morning.” Declan stopped as he reached for a piece of haddock.
“I have my first lecture of the year on Thursday.”
Bryony’s excitement dimmed for a moment.
“But it’s my premiere. My first one. You only ever get one first time at anything.”
“You were one of several aliens,” he reminded her.
He hated doing it, but he needed Bryony to see sense. Yes, she had acted in the film, but she didn’t have the lead role. She had a total of five short lines out of the whole script!
The elation left her face and her lower lip wobbled.
“Probably the closest I’ll get to a premiere. You know how hard it is to get film work.”
He nodded, aware being an actor rarely included glamour and Hollywood roles. It was more a case of hard work and disappointment.
Plus Bryony often found herself out of pocket when she travelled around the country auditioning for different parts. Not a good situation for a struggling drama student.
“So you’re saying you’re not coming?” she asked.
Declan froze at the disappointment in her voice, aware doom and strife waited no matter how he answered.
“Let me think about it.” “What’s to think about? I’m your girlfriend and this is important to me.”
“Yes, but this is my first lecture this year and not really something I can miss. I’m the only male in the group so it’s not as though my absence won’t be noticed,” he reasoned. “OK.” Bryony sighed. Declan twitched at the word his father once warned him to watch out for if he wanted a relationship to survive. He had mentioned it
during the “how to be a decent man” lecture his mother insisted he give Declan the day after his fifteenth birthday.
“I’m sorry,” he said, wondering if the offer of a free bag of nuggets would help ease her distress.
Bryony nodded and left the shop, leaving behind a waft of her perfume and an aura of impending trouble.
“Tough one, mate,” a man in the queue sympathised.
Declan scooped up another bagful of chips, suspecting he might have made a decision he would come to regret.
Declan let himself into the flat he shared with Bryony and sighed with relief when the smell of sausage stew greeted him as he closed the door.
After his shift at the chip shop, he squeezed in a cleaning job at the local school. It all helped to pay the bills and living costs.
He had half expected to return home to their flat to discover a note from
Bryony stating she had gone to visit her parents for the night.
He shrugged off his coat and hung it on a peg. “Bryony?”
He winced at her chilly tone, debating whether to sneak back out the door and run to the nearby garage for a bar of her favourite chocolate.
But all his spare change had gone into a pot for a surprise birthday trip to the Jane Austen Museum in Hampshire. Bryony loved her work and often reread her novels, so he figured she’d like that more.
Hovering in the lounge doorway, he coughed to clear the dryness from his throat.
“Hi,” Bryony replied.
“How are you?”
Hope died like a mushy pea squashed beneath his foot at hearing another of those warning words his father had mentioned long ago. Every man knew
“Fine” equalled one unhappy woman.
“Bryony, about the film . . .” He stopped.
How was he supposed to mend things between them when the words she wanted to hear were the ones he couldn’t say? No matter how much he wanted to attend the premiere, he couldn’t miss the first lecture of his uni course.
“It’s all right. You don’t need to see the film. I understand how difficult a decision it is for you.”
Instantly suspicious, he edged over to the sofa and sat on the opposite end to where she sat.
“It’s not that I don’t want to go, I do, but my course is –”
“Important to you,” she finished for him. “Even though I watch every single game of American football you play at the weekends. Games which drag on for hours and hours.”
“Not that long,” he defended.
She glared at him.
“It’s fine, Declan. Really.” He understood her anger, but in the universe of unfortunate fate, not at any time would he have asked to face a situation like this.
Worse, Bryony wasn’t being unreasonable. He understood how important this premiere was to her and how much she wanted to share it with him.
But life had a habit of dumping him right in the middle of a mess and now he faced the decision of whether to watch her in a film or face the consequences.
His heart wanted to do one thing, but his head insisted on another.
“I’m sorry, Bryony.”
She nodded and returned her attention to the TV.
“Me, too. I’m sure my nan will go with me.”
Why were trains never late when you needed them to be?
Declan left his lecture and headed into town, determined to meet Bryony off the train. Unfortunately, roadworks and a late bus made the journey longer.
Rushing along the street towards the station’s entrance, he skidded to a halt as he almost collided with the familiar female coming through it.
“What are you doing here?” Bryony asked.
“I wanted to meet you from the train,” he said, shoving a bunch of flowers at her while he bent over, trying to get his breath.
“Ah,” she said, smelling the carnations. “You are sweet.”
He straightened, still panting as he placed an arm around her shoulders.
“How did it go? Were you the prettiest alien in the film?”
“It was wonderful,”
Bryony said, flashing him a smile. “Very exciting.”
“Did you pose for the cameras?”
She shook her head.
“It wasn’t really like that.” “What, no red carpet?” She shrugged and heaved her handbag further on to her shoulder.
“Let’s talk about it when we get home. I’m hungry, tired and really want to soak in the bath.”
Something was wrong and for once Declan was sure he wasn’t the cause.
Fully expecting Bryony to chatter all night about the premiere, instead she’d hardly muttered more than two words during the bus ride home.
Every time he tried to ask her about it, she bent her head over the flowers and made a fuss over them or changed the subject.
He tried to coax her out of whatever was bothering her, but when she glared at his jokes, he gave up.
Now her sad expression made him want to try again.
“So how did today really go?” he asked.
She sank on to the kitchen chair and bit her bottom lip.
“It was a good thing you didn’t come with me, really. I was barely on the screen for a few seconds.” “Seconds?”
She ducked her head. “Yes.”
He touched her chin and she raised her face again.
“Best part of the film, I bet,” he said softly.
She gave a faint smile, her eyes filling with tears.
“It was a bit of a letdown. I arrived to find mine and Nan’s names missing from the list of tickets. By the time they found the right form, the film had already started and we found ourselves roaming about in the dark trying to find somewhere to sit.”
Declan reached for her hands and drew her up. “What are you doing?” He touched a finger to her lips, sad her day had turned into a big flop. He secretly hoped the same happened with the film. “Close your eyes.”
She did as he told her, a single tear rolling down her cheek.
“OK. What now?” Retrieving the plastic cup filled with small gold stars he’d left on top of the fridge earlier, Declan took a breath and hoped the next few minutes helped in a small way to make up for her disappointing day.
“Open your eyes,” he coaxed.
Slowly, she did as he asked, blinking expectantly at him.
Holding the cup above her head, he slowly tipped the contents out.
Gold stars floated and scattered all over Bryony, covering her hair, shoulders and finally her feet.
“I let you down by not being by your side today, but I want you to know one important thing. You are a star whether you act in a film or in this kitchen.
Every time you smile, I bask in your star quality.
“You’re my special star, and I don’t need to see your name in lights or on screen to know it.”
“Oh, Declan!” she cried. Every shadow of sadness and disappointment left Bryony’s face and a beaming smile replaced it. “I love you so much.” He laughed and tugged her close, hugging her and kissing the top of her head.
“That’s good, because I love you, too.”