The PretenseMature

Protagonize Tennis! Darrion Swain finds his life divided between academics and his acting career. The conflict is making him desperate, and giving him no time for himself. Sensing his distress, his neuroscience professor proposes a solution so bizarre that Darrion doesn't want to pass up the chance.

Chapter 1: A Flash In The Pan

     

The sound of an electric guitar strummed over the crowd, soaring out from industrial speakers as a synthetic mist caressed the floor where a wild design was marred by infinite shoeprints.

To the side, Vivian Oliver sat at a side table for two within the on-campus club, The Pan, which was her usual Friday night hangout. Today, though, was a Thursday, and it was no long weekend. The scene was different to her. Less crowded. She could actually see through the swarm of dancers to the bathroom doors, and she had an unobstructed view of the bar.

A young man was perched there on a stool.

Drums began to join the guitar as accompaniment.

Watching the young man, recognition flickered through Vivian's mind as she sipped her drink. It was an envious shade of green, and she saw it in her drink and in his eyes. However, Vivian found herself unable to recall the specifics of where she'd seen those eyes before.

Lyrics began, exposing the song that was playing, "Hey, slow it down..."

And to her, in that moment of observation, life seemed to move with a languid grace.

He had windswept, straight brown hair, greenish blue eyes and a handsome nose that, though large, was neither awkwardly nor hawkishly so. His face had a perfect symmetry and balance to it, and clear skin free of blemishes and moles. He'd given himself a flawless shave, leaving nothing but thin sideburns and, below his lips, a thumbprint's worth of hair. To Vivian, it seemed downright touchable.

And in an instant, the music sped her awareness fleetingly.

"What do you want from me? Whataya want fro' me?"

Though lost in the music, she was unable to look away. He gave her a sense of grandeur. It distracted her completely from the sudden occupancy of the other chair at her table.

Another student had returned from the bathroom and now sat across from Vivian. She spoke in a quiet voice, "Something on your mind, Viv?"

Vivian could barely hear her friend over the sound of a dance remix of Adam Lambert's Whataya Want From Me? that was playing in the club.

Then, someone out-of-place ran through the dance floor, pushing dancers from her way and holding out a camera.

The lyrics continued, "Yeah, I'm a freak..."

"Darrion!" the bleach blonde with the camera yelled.

"Whataya want from me? Whataya want fro'me?!"

The young man looked up from his drink, over his shoulder, and -

Flash!

He blinked, blinded for a second.

"There might have been a time when I would give myself away..."

What the hell?! wondered Vivian, gaping at the strange girl's odd behaviour.

He stood and glared at the woman with the camera. The lyrics seemed to speak for him.

"Oh, once upon a time, I didn't give a damn!"

In his silence, he exuded anger. Tension was building with a stoic grace.

"But now, here we are... so, whataya want from me? Whataya want from me?"

Vivian was caught further by his countenance, transfixed  and unable to run away.

"Just don't give up! I'm working it out."

He grabbed the photographer firmly by the collar of her jean jacket and hoisted her onto her toes.

Vivian's gaze fell to his bicep, guilty with pleasure.

"Please don't give in. I won't let you down!"

The camera hit the floor, followed by a stomp of his foot. It smashed to pieces. Shiny shards of metal and circuitry clenched together upon the dance floor. They glittered faintly as he removed his foot.

Yet, onlookers were reaching for their own gadgets, for anything with a built-in camera.

The man spat on her, a word without saliva, "Papparazzi!"

The DJ, from some place unseen, seemed to take that as a song request, and the instrumental introduction to Lady Gaga's single of the same name began. But the mood didn't want to change.

Vivian's friend whispered across the table, identifying him, "Darrion Swain, in the flesh."

It all made sense to Vivian now. She'd been looking at a movie star. Recognizing him in a role was one thing, but Vivian had always lived far enough from Hollywood that she never expected to see someone like him without a screen in front of her.

With a charismatic sneer from Darrion, bystanders reluctantly began to put away their video phones, cameras, iPhones, and whatever other miscellaneous photographic devices they carried.

"You want a story?!" the famous actor accused the photographer.

The blond wiggled against his strong grip. Her face was red with considerations of a new career.

Darrion smiled and cocked his head to the side, "I asked you a question. Do you want a story? Do you want to know what's up with Darrion -friggin- Swain?" He put her down. "Do you?"

Vivian watched with interest as the girl nodded, and removed a second camera from her purse.

He idly tapped the textbook behind him with one finger, right where he had been sitting. "Do you know why I have this with me in the club? Because of people just like you climbing into my dormitory window. I can't study anywhere else, and I need music to focus."

She shrugged. It didn't faze her. It didn't matter to her.

He sighed. And a calm was assumed.

Vivian frowned. She tried her best to make out what was being said, and to ignore the music that threatened to drown them out.

"Want an interview?" Darrion asked her kindly.

"Of course," she smiled.

He drew his face close to hers, looking her right in the eyes. And then his blank expression erupted seethingly, "Then wait until I call a God forsaken press conference!" He pushed her away, grabbed his textbook, and stormed out of the club.

The lone paparazzo stepped back from the scene, and tripped on a stool behind her, nearly falling to the ground.

And for a moment, Vivian's attention was caught by the end of the song, "Promise I'll be kind, but I won't stop until that boy is mine!"

But the bleach blond photographer had lost her nerve.

"Wow," exclaimed Vivian's classmate, "that guy sure needs someone to talk to. Someone he can trust."

"Baby, you'll be famous. Chase you down until you love me! Papa-paparazzi!"

Across two empty kiwitinis of shallow green, she caught a wild look in Vivian's eyes, "Don't."

Just watch me, Stephanie! Vivian smiled, and then rose from her seat with purse in tow. She danced her way through the bustling clubbers, pleated and torn denim skirt waving around her slender lower thighs.

On the other side of the crowd, there was an exit and a unisex bathroom. Vivian chose the exit, and was caught off-guard by the bright sunset. Behind the club, there was not enough shadow to shield her from the relatively harsh light.

Squinting, she saw Darrion on a sidewalk down an alley. She ran after him, her nostrils invaded by the stench of a nearby dumpster and puke on hot pavement. A stray cat crossed her path, its body black and its white paws darkened with ash.

He stopped. There was a fire engine red motorcycle parked on the curb beside him. Darrion fished keys out of his pocket.

She sensed recklessness, not just in the lack of a helmet but in the look on his face as well. Vivian cried out, "Wait!"

"What do you want from me?" he asked her. There was nothing friendly about his demeanour. "An autograph?"

She looked down at the pavement.

"I'm sorry," he said. "It's been a rough day."

"I heard," she told him. "I thought you might want someone to talk to. Y'know, someone who isn't after you because you're famous."

He smiled. "You're telling me you wouldn't be chasing me down the street from inside some cozy club if I wasn't famous?"

"To me," she lied, "you're just a handsome stranger having a tough time."

"What's your name?" he asked her.

"Vivian," she answered. "Viv for short." Eyes met. "You?"

He chuckled. Of course she knew his name by now. "All right, Vivian. Hop on! I dare you."

Vivian was taken aback. The most she had hoped for was an exchange of phone numbers. Suddenly, she was hit with the realization that a man more handsome and charming than her good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend had asked her to ride a motorcycle with him.

In spite of her skirt, Vivian put one leg over the back of the motorcycle, and put her arms around his torso. His leather jacket had a fresh smell to it, that she knew would overpower the smell of exhaust on the road.

"Purr like a kitten," Darrion muttered to himself.

Vivian was perplexed.

Then, with a twist of the ingition, the engine revved and she felt the machine come to life beneath them. It was surprisingly quiet, too.

Soon enough, they were on the street, following the quiet traffic and making their way across campus. Purse over her shoulder, hair in the breeze and heart on her sleeve; Vivian realized she had no idea where they were off to. And didn't care.

The End

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