The Im­por­tant Things

An act­ing de­but doesn’t go ac­cord­ing to plan in this en­gag­ing short story by Rivernee Locke.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

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.

“De­clan!”

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?”

“In here.”

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.”

“Hi,” Bry­ony replied.

“How are you?”

“Fine.”

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.

“De­clan?”

“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.”

The End.

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