Authors: Hallie Swanson
“Probably best we slow things down,” I suggest. “It’s obvious I don’t know you as well as I thought.”
Dusk is falling, and the crowds have grown. It’s a struggle to walk fast in heels, as they stab into the ground. I weave between as many people as I can to ensure he doesn’t follow. I make my way around the waltzers and helter-skelter and continue down a narrow path, stopping to watch the boats painted white in the shape of swans as they glide across the ink-coloured lake.
I lower myself onto a small wooden bench and gaze out across the water at the boats as they pass. I half smile at the couples, hearing their laughter, seeing the way they look at each other; that’s all I was asking of Snow, that’s all I want. I sit alone as darkness creeps around me and look back towards the fairground with its bright lights, wondering where he is. It’s gone ten, so I text Chase to come and pick me up. He texts back asking where I am.
I look round; I have no idea.
By a lake x
, I send.
Seriously!! Do you know how many lakes there are in London? Be more specific
, he sends back with a smiley face.
Sitting looking at wooden swans, is that any help?
Laughing to myself, I press send.
Fifteen minutes pass and still no reply. An old man wearing a cap sits down next to me; he says the odd word, maybe he’s lonely, I don’t know, but I turn my back on him and don’t reply.
God, how rude of me
. I turn back to apologise, but it’s too late, he’s gone.
Chase where are you!!!!
Again I press send.
I’m already here
, I read.
My head shoots round. Snow is dressed in his suit and stands directly behind me, almost rubbing shoulders with Chase.
My eyes narrow. “Very funny. How long have you two been standing there?”
“A while,” Chase pipes up, smiling down at me.
Patting Snow on the shoulder, he turns and walks off between the rides.
Snow smiles; I roll my eyes and look back towards the lake. I notice his dark figure in my peripheral view as he sits down to join me.
“Just look at those pathetic fucking boats and the sad bastards in them, just look at them, Darcy, all the same, like a bunch of programmed robots…”
I don’t turn to entertain his comment, but keep my eyes on the boats. As each boat reaches the Tunnel of Love,
before it rocks its way into the darkness the lovers wrap themselves up in one another’s arms, kiss and then disappear. I can’t argue with Snow’s observation, he’s got a point.
I blow out a long laboured breath.
“What do you want, Snow? Or Sebastian, whatever you choose to call yourself.”
The bench creaks as he sits forward, trying to force his way into my line of sight.
“Forget the pretence of earlier, I’m here as Snow, and I’ve come to take Darcy round the fair.”
I bite my cheeks and smile inwardly.
“What say we start this evening over? How about I take my lady on the big wheel?”
I turn into his widening eyes; I can see he doesn’t wear disappointment well. I reach for his hand, squeezing his fingers.
“I’ve been watching these boats for a while, and whatever you may think, I think they’re kinda sweet.” I pout at him. “I want to go on those pathetic swan boats, and no arguments.”
He opens his mouth to speak. I cup my hand over his lips.
“And when we reach the Tunnel of Love, we’re going to be those sad bastards, those programmed robots that enter into it. Okay?”
My tone of voice has a rhetorical edge, leaving Snow with no option but to pass me a weak nod.
I notice that his beautifully polished black shoes are now immersed in a few inches of water, which swills from one end of the boat to the other, but I decide not to mention it.
“I like that you don’t hold a grudge for long.”
Looking back up at him, I smile with such innocence.
That’s what he thinks!
Having him here in this swan boat is just the start. I don’t need to overreact to make a point; I’ve belittled him enough just getting him here at my side. I feel us being pulled as we’re moved along by an underwater track.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” I say, breaking the silence, “tell me something real.”
He looks away, reaching his arm out over the side of the boat. It stays there a while before he places his hand in his lap and dries his glistening fingers down the front of his trousers.
“Okay, so you want real?” His voice filters my way, though his eyes appear fixed on the lake. “I lived and breathed acting.”
“Oh.” What he says hits me out of the blue, but then thinking about it, the cop, Sebastian, it all fits him rather well.
“Oh indeed. I spent the majority of my childhood in pantomime.”
I laugh. “Don’t lie, you didn’t.”
Poised, he throws his right arm into the air.
“Oh yes I did,” his voice bubbles, his eyes flashing my way.
“Okay, I’m listening.” I chuckle, pulling his arm back down to his side.
“I was spotted by an agent; Spencer Collins said I had a great future ahead of me. He took me on his books, got me work. I played a few cameo roles, daytime TV, nothing special. This went on for about six months.” He pauses, and I see him swallow.
“And?” I prompt.
“It was the middle of October when he rang. A lead role had come up, and the film was set to be a sell-out at the box office… And it was.”
He shakes his head. “The title’s not important, it doesn’t matter. I made the audition, I made the final cut; there were two of us, Jackson Briars and myself. We sat in a small room staring at a closed door. At last it felt like things were starting to happen, all my dreams were adding up and equalling everything I ever wanted out of life.”
I know that name immediately; he’s an A-lister. Mum and I went to see one of his films once, eating popcorn and swooning over him; he was hot then, but he’s even hotter now, with those piercing blue eyes and his long ash-blonde hair. I couldn’t help but laugh; Mum always said if only she were twenty years younger.
“No way! Jackson Briars, you actually met him?”
“Yeah, and he was a stuck-up prick and the nephew of Amelia Briars, the author of the book the movie was based on… Say no more. They held auditions, but it was just a formality, he’d already been chosen for the part. All they said to me when they called me into the office was that I was good, but not quite convincing enough. But it was bullshit, they knew it, and they knew I knew they knew.”
He seems to stiffen as I touch his arm.
“Me not convincing?” He huffs. “What a crock of shit. When I play a role I become that character, I study their life, their background emphatically, and in my mind I really believe I am that person. Fuck me, if I’m good enough to convince myself, then I’m good enough to convince anyone, don’t you agree?”
“Er…” I shrug my shoulders. “I’m no expert, but I guess so.”
“God, Darc, what it would have meant if I’d got the part. I’d have earned millions; the fame, the fortune, it was everything I ever wanted. I was on a high one minute, then I spiralled into depression. Within a week I was dropped from the agency, and all I had left of my tattered career was to return to panto.” He shakes his head. “I’d never felt as degraded as I did back then.”
It’s almost like the air between us thickens as he continues.
“So I said goodbye to acting and used drink as a crutch; any money I had ever saved I quickly gambled away, playing alongside the big boys; hence I lost everything.”
I guess it makes sense now why he made such a fuss about going to the casino.
“I was a down-and-out and ended up on the street. A distant relative, a cousin of an aunt, signed me into rehab… They worked damn hard on me, it took them months, but eventually they managed to straighten me out. When I left, I walked out the door with that one small suitcase as the only thing that belonged to me. I’d grown up, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and was ready to take on the world and the responsibility of being the man I was born to be.”
I strum my fingers on the metal bar in front of me.
“So, how long was this after the summer we spent together? You never mentioned pantomime or wanting to be an actor. And how long were you in rehab…” Trying to make sense of when all this happened, the questions keep coming, rolling off my tongue.
He lifts his hand. “I can’t do this now. You wanted real, well you got it.”
I can hear his voice cracking.
“Okay, enough said.”
I sit quietly, mulling over his words; I can’t help wondering if I’ve seen him on TV and just not known. The silence remains between us; we are sitting so close, but at this moment I can’t help feeling we are so far apart.
Not knowing what else to say, I blurt out, “Eh, what’s the best role you’ve played?”
“Snow,” he answers.
“What?” I quiz.
“Nothing you see is real, this isn’t me. Snow is an act, Darcy; every day I have to play this role, to be what everyone expects me to be.” He hunches his shoulders. “The scary thing is, when I stand in front of a mirror I don’t know who I am any more. But as the saying goes, ‘the show must go on’, and so I live my life in this world of pretence.”
I flinch as he grabs at me, wrapping me up into him. I scrunch my face, pulling away. Boy does he change, his body relaxed and his words soft now.
“So this is what you want,” he says as we approach the Tunnel of Love. “These are the programmed robots you want us to be.”
He enters my space, and my lips are crushed by his as we embrace the tunnel’s darkness.
On the other side, he pulls me out onto the muddied grass. I trip on my heels and fall into his arms, then try to rebalance; his hands are still there holding me. I don’t just see his eyes looking into mine, I feel them; the excitement is like a shock of electricity as it shoots down my spine. His dark lashes hold an intensity that draws me in.
“So how about…” I begin.
Raising his eyebrows, he leans even closer to me.
“Yes?” he murmurs.
“The big wheel.”
Dropping his arms, he straightens and steps back. How to miss the moment, to say completely the wrong thing; I could slap myself.
“So how about…” he repeats.
“Yes?” My stomach feels like it’s dancing; maybe things aren’t as bad as I first thought.
“How about you go wipe that shit off your face? The toilets are over there.” He points. “Then come and find me. I don’t need to tell you where I’ll be.”
“The big wheel, stupid.”
I’m quite taken aback; who’s he calling stupid? Then I see the upturn of his lips.
As I turn away, he backhands my ass. I glance round and he winks at me.
“Don’t keep me waiting,” he says, pointing at his watch.
I pass a middle-aged woman coming from the toilets as I open the door. There is literally no space, and both cubicles have red doors with graffiti scrawled all over them. A wash basin stands in the corner, above which is a soap-smeared mirror. I walk towards it, turn on the cold tap and splash water onto my face. Not being able to see very well, I stand on my tiptoes, trying to get the best possible view of myself.
“Excuse me!” I snap as someone enters and barges past. “Do you mind?”
My head shoots up.
He marches me back into the nearest cubicle, slams the door and pushes the metal bolt across.
“So now I’ve got you alone,” he mutters, thrusting his hand between my legs, inside my leggings and my lacy panties.
Trembling, I let out a gasp and throw my head back. I skim my hand down past his waist, feeling his hard outline beneath.
“No, Darc,” he says, moving my hand away. “Toilets don’t do it for me. What say I take you and your pussy somewhere a little more appropriate?”
Breathing heavily, I nod into his chest.
“The big wheel’s waiting if that’s the kind of ride you want? Or Chase is waiting in the car park; the engine’s running as we speak.”
I cry out as his fingers circle in just the right spot at just the right moment.
“The choice is yours…”
y legs are cool, for my leggings miraculously worked their way off on the car journey here. God knows what Chase must have thought; we weren’t exactly discreet. Smiling, my teeth bite down on my lower lip.
“The files, Darcy,
,” Snow says with a voice of authority. “I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
I gaze round, giving him a saucy stare. The wooden floor creaks as I slowly bend down over the cabinet; as I do so, my dress rides up. I stay in the same position, pretending to look busy. I gaze beneath my arm and an intense heat rushes up to my neck, almost sticking in my throat; his eyes are on me. My gaze reverts back to the filing cabinet; I pluck out a file marked Williams. I giggle, hearing wheels squeak and then footsteps approaching. Feeling Snow’s presence behind me, I bend just a little further, and then he’s on me, forcing my short dress over my ass and up my back. Working his fingers between my legs, he pulls the crotch of my panties aside; it’s obvious that foreplay is not on his agenda this evening.
“Oh, Snow,” I whimper, only imagining what he has in stall for me. “Ouch!”
I jump away from the cabinet; my ass is stinging, and as my head shoots round I see he’s smacking a white plastic ruler against the palm of his hand.
“I did tell you not to keep me waiting. Now I’m going to punish you, big time.”
I look at his playful smirk and the way his dark eyes stare into mine. He flexes the ruler back into an arch.
“Now get that sexy ass of yours over to my desk.”
“Put that down first,” I tell him, “and I might do as you ask.”
He drops it, and it clatters on the wooden floor. I straighten my dress and saunter over to his desk; he follows. I push my hands against his chest, keeping him at arm’s length; again my dress lifts as I raise my left leg, placing my stockinged foot on the seat of his swivel chair. His eyes drop to my crotch as I turn the chair one way and then the other with the ball of my foot, teasing him as I open and close my legs.