It was a good script. Much better than the ones they'd had the previous three weeks. Interesting character work, and the potential for a long arc involving the new aliens. She really had nothing to complain about.
The only problem was that, on page 47B of the goldenrod version of the final draft of the script, she had to kiss him.
She really had no way to protest. They weren't even in character when it was supposed to happen -- they were playing shape-shifting aliens who were trying to take over their lives. It was clever, she had to admit. Once again, the producers had come up with a way to spark some romance without having to deal with any consequences between the main characters. Neither was the scene gratuitous: it was important to establish, onscreen, that the aliens were lovers, so that when the one betrayed the other, it would have all the more impact.
She was going to have to kiss him.
She felt like an idiot, fretting about it so much. She'd kissed him before, hellos and goodbyes at parties and public events, he'd even planted a few on her when they were joking around on the set. She'd kissed men who were more famous than he was, and better actors, and a few who were more experienced. At the moment she couldn't remember kissing any who were better-looking, but that was at the moment. Surely she'd recall them later.
The last time they'd asked her to kiss him, she'd called the executive producer, outraged. Claiming it could compromise her character. She did not have to mention that by extension it could compromise herself. She'd had visions of him strutting around with one of those spray breath freshener bottles, grinning at her in front of everyone, trying to make a fool out of her, and she wasn't sure she could enact a love scene convincingly under those circumstances.
Now, now that she knew him better, she wasn't worried about him turning it into a joke. In fact, she wished he would turn it into a joke. But she had a feeling that he wouldn't, this time.
Maybe in front of the cameras, and the camera crew, and some of the writing staff and the rest of the cast and anyone else who managed to talk their way onto the set that day, it wouldn't be as intense as she thought it would. Maybe the hunger that coursed through her when she thought about him leaning in, his dark eyes warm and eager, closing, until she couldn't stand it anymore and met him halfway with her lower lip thrusting forward -- no, it wouldn't be like that at all with a director telling them what to do, would it? Besides, they'd have rehearsed by then.
Oh God. Probably they'd be asked to improvise, usually the directors let the actors make some decisions in scenes like this one, she'd have to talk to him about it first, either nervously in front of the others like a prude in need of protection, or alone with him --
No way around it. She was going to have to kiss him.
* * * *
"Can we talk?"
"Sure. Just a minute, OK?" He turned to the woman he'd been standing and talking with -- obviously a guest, she was overdressed for the lot. "Christina, right? I have to go. I'll see you later." He turned back to her, leaving an obviously disappointed fan in his wake. "OK, sorry about that. What's up?"
She turned and began to walk in the direction of the trailers. "It's Act Four."
"Yeah, they changed about fifteen of my lines. I'm never going to have them down by tonight and I'm going to get ragged on for it." It took a second for him to realize what she meant, or maybe he was just pretending, but she was glad he didn't appear to be overly interested anyway. "Yeah, we should talk about how we're going to play that stuff."
"Obviously there are some conflicted feelings there, so I think overdoing anything would be a mistake."
"Conflicted...? Oh, you meant the aliens. Yeah. Though you don't know you're going to have to shoot me at that point." He turned the grin on her, and stomach fluttered a little. Stop it, she ordered herself; you're not some teenager with a crush. You're a professional. "OK, closed mouths, but lingering?"
"All right," she agreed, but the unhappiness was evident in her voice and he shot her a sharp look. "Restrained." She tried to imagine sharing a closed-mouthed, lingering kiss with him. His lips were gorgeous, bigger than hers and pursed just by their shape. Probably he'd rub her upper lip with his lower lip, the slight pout brushing moisture onto her -- it would be hard not to let her tongue flick forward to feel that softness, but if she tried to, her mouth would open a little, and his tongue might make contact with hers...
His concerned voice pulled her out of her reverie. She was standing two steps behind him, eyes and jaw clenched tightly shut, head down, her hands balling into fists. "Nothing." She fumbled into her purse for a cigarette, conscious of his gaze on her. "I, uh, I just think we should -- talk about it with the director, before we rehearse or anything."
"Rehearse?" He kept his tone level, but his eyebrows shot all the way up. "Are you nervous about one kiss?"
"I'm, uh, yes." What the hell, better to tell the truth. He almost looked insulted.
"No tongue, I promise."
* * * *
"Come inside," she said almost inaudibly, and opened the door, stomping the cigarette out on the ground even though it was littering. He followed her in at a distance, looking around as if he didn't know where to stand. She paced to the far side of the room, brushed her hair back with her hands, then walked back towards him.
"Should we just...start?"
"Let's." She flipped the script to the beginning of the scene. It was a long one, several takes just to get the shots lined up. They ran the dialogue easily, most of this particular part hadn't changed since the last draft. She was supposed to rebuff his initial attempts to get close to her; the director might change the details, have her walk away from his touch or even slap him, but they played it merely circling one another, avoiding contact. The lines became shorter as they approached the moment.
Then it was there. They were standing in the middle of the room, he had one foot up on the sofa from pacing and stopping earlier in the scene, he had to take it down to approach her. Not quite meeting her eyes. He did a quick glance to make sure she knew what was coming, rushed through his final line. They were still more than a step away from one another, that was not going to work before the cameras. He smiled almost shyly, shook his head in disgust at himself. "Can we do that over?" At her nod, he turned away, took a deep breath, and said the line again, more slowly this time, holding her gaze while he moved slowly into her personal space. Not touching, but so close that she had to tilt all the way up to meet his eyes...then look down slightly, they didn't want it too deliberate, the characters were supposed to be taking a moment to think about the consequences. Wistful, nervous.
She could smell his breath, traces of smoke and whatever kind of soda he'd been drinking. The air warming around and between them, drawing them in like an invisible force field. He touched her, hand first -- that surprised her, when she felt his fingers touch her own, a shock passing between them like static electricity. She jumped, looking directly up at him, and the motion put her face so close to his own that their chins almost collided. Awkward, like any first kiss, their noses bumping before he tilted his head a fraction and she felt his long eyelashes brush her cheek as he closed the distance.
When his mouth touched hers, she wanted to melt against him, dissolve in the feeling. Pretend she was her character for the moment. He was so gentle, his lips barely made contact, but she felt it burning all the way through her body, as if he'd kissed both her nipples and between her legs all at once, and whispered her name adoringly in her ears. "Oh," she breathed, while he murmured a surprised "Mmm." They pulled apart to glance at one another before trying it again. She was leaning back, resisting the pull of his hands on her upper arms, but her eyes were closing, blinking to avoid the sparks from the glance. The confession. Again they came together, a little less awkwardly, her head angled to avoid crashing noses, neck stuck out because she didn't really want to resist but if she let her body sway toward him, there would be no stopping it from pressing against him, letting his thigh intrude between her own, arms going around his neck. And he'd hardly even touched her yet. Her knees folded forward; if his arms had not been around her, she would have fallen.
"Hey," he said quietly, with some surprise because she was moaning, gripping his upper arms just to stay standing. Through her half-closed lids she could see that he was also shaken, whether from the kiss or from her response, she didn't know. She wanted to turn, hide her face away, but she didn't have the strength even to do that, and after a moment he slipped his arms the rest of the way around her so that she could rest against him. God he smelled good, even though he was sweating, soap and cigarettes, that could have been from her. He was trying not to press his nose in her hair too obviously. Her stomach churned, and everything below her stomach.
God, it was strong, seductive in the most basic sense of the word. Animals, both of them. She tried to remind herself that the attraction was just that -- pheremones, and appearances. What caused this between two people who weren't compatible as mates, this irresistible lure of flesh? She couldn't simply write it off to his being dazzlingly handsome, nor to her own obvious appeal for him. Did they feed off the mutuality? What was it that their bodies were communicating -- not just blind lust? She'd thought she knew the difference. She wasn't interested in a purely physical relationship on any level. This one had no depth, and no future -- yet here she was practically swooning in his arms like some idiot woman in a romance novel.
When the shock wore off, and her heart rate slowed, and her face and eyes were stinging with humiliation, she gritted her teeth and said, "I suppose you're used to women reacting to you like this."
"Are you used to men reacting like this?" There was a tremor in his voice which she didn't think he was faking, which should have made her feel better, but didn't. Without one of them in control, the situation was volatile. He inched back to look directly at her, and she was unprepared for his smile; he watched the effect it had with her defenses down. Appreciatively. He wasn't scorning her, but she knew he'd seen the same response from dozens of women. Hundreds of women. She saw it on the faces of just about every woman who looked at him.
She was certain it diminished her in his eyes -- that she reacted just like the rest of them. Though perhaps she was projecting her self-contempt outwards. If only there were some way to make the attraction not matter, acknowledge it for what it was, and dismiss it. Could they talk about it without it taking over? "I don't want you to take this the wrong way..."
"I don't want you to think I'm flirting," she admitted, and he grinned again, accusing them both.
"I probably am, but that's part of the point. The point is, you're so gorgeous it's hard to look at you without reacting." He rolled his eyes a little, and she added, "I can't possibly be the first woman who's ever said that to you."
"OK, you're not. But it's such a -- I mean, does it really matter?"
"It matters because -- like I said, I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I can't help being attracted to you."
"I can't help being attracted to you, either." He dropped his eyes, embarrassed. "It bugs you, doesn't it, when that's the main way people react to you? I keep hearing you mention that you're not beautiful. To the directors, the lighting people -- you're always asking them to make up for that, like you really believe it. I don't know, maybe you're really more insecure about your appearance, but you don't strike me as insecure about very much."
I'm insecure about this, she thought silently. Kissing you. Having this conversation.
"I think you don't want beautiful to get too important. I don't -- it's not any easier for a man to be treated like an object than it is for a woman."
"You think I'm treating you like an object?"
"No." The smile faded, his look was very intense. "I think...we both want this thing between us not to be just about looks because we think we're not that shallow. But it's dangerous, because if it isn't about looks..."
God, they were on the same wavelength. She felt the pit of her stomach tighten, desperate for a way out, but she still couldn't force herself to push back. Like a salmon throwing itself to its death on the rocks because of a mindless mating urge. He was leaning in again, looking like he was biting his lip to keep from trying anything.
"I realize you may not agree, but I'm damn glad we did this here and not on a set in front of two dozen people."
"Mmm. Maybe we should get a chaperone."
Low, warm, gravelly, self-deprecating. He was delicious, his voice, his hands, everything. The shaking turned unexpectedly into a fit of the giggles, which just got worse the more she considered the absurdity of the situation. They were both adults in their forties, ancient by her kids' standards, had both undoubtedly gone to bed with far more people than either of their mothers would approve. This sneaking around, flipping out over one kiss -- it was insane, and terrifically sexy. He shifted his weight and turned slightly on one foot, angling her away from his groin -- to avoid embarrassing himself, or distressing her further?
God, this was ridiculous; they were friends, and they'd worked together for years now. They were going to get through this. "Do it now," she commanded through the laughter.
She didn't have to ask twice. He took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up and to the left, traced his nose down her cheek, and moved his mouth in from the side, fitting the rise of his lower lip beneath hers while his upper lip probed, pushing her own apart. She felt the suggestion of teeth, not really trying to catch her, just a query. Her mouth opened, she couldn't help it, pushing his chin down, and their tongues met for an electrifying instant. His pulled back, returned cautiously, his head angling more sharply. She felt a flood of wet heat between her legs. Her arm locked around his neck, trapping him there.
She wasn't pretending to rehearse. The characters would never kiss this way, clinging to one another as if the feelings mattered for more than the plot, the dialogue, the few minutes the show was on the air. If they'd been before the cameras, she would have had to yell "Line," and everyone would have known. If she could have pulled away at all...that would have exposed him, the erection he could no longer hide revealing less to onlookers than the naked passion on his features. She broke the kiss, though it made her ache physically to do so.
"Don't." He clutched at her and almost fell over. She stayed in his arms to keep his equilibrium and her own, but when he came seeking again with his eyes closed, she evaded him; she had to. If she didn't stop now, she would not be able to stop at all. She saw him moving towards her too quickly for her to react, pressing those beautiful lips to her throat. Down her neck, his fingers opening her top, that luscious full mouth taking one of her nipples and then the other. She would not resist him if he pulled the rest of her clothes down, nibbling his way across her belly and thighs, before pressing his face between her legs, his tongue finding the hot bubble of moisture and spreading it while he kissed and kissed her, holding her thighs apart with his hands, his chin getting slick as his nose bumped and rubbed in the hair, opening and opening her until she expanded like a fireball, kissing him back with all of her.
He would do that to her, she would do that for him...if they were different people. She wondered what it was that made it so. Something as simple and shallow as sexual attraction? It wasn't anything like love, if she wanted to stay in a bubble with him forever and not deal with anything else. Her kids, his friends, their wildly diverging interests, work, money, all the things which defined them -- how she felt about him was completely outside all that. Maybe it was so compelling because it was outside, irreconcilable with her real life. This was more of a back-to-childhood fantasy, where she would be the only thing that mattered to him and he to her. No, she really didn't want to shape her life around him.
She just wanted to be with him, right now, to make love with him as if that were reason enough to call it love. For a minute, for the length of one kiss.
"I forgot it could be like that." He murmured into her hair, his breathing even. Holding her instead of clinging for support. Thank god. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think I've felt that way about kissing since junior high school."
What a lovely thing to say, she thought inwardly. "You're a good kisser."
"So're you." His eyes held hers, warm and sad with understanding, and she swayed back towards him, falling under their spell. He held up a hand to ward her off. "Save it for the show."
Now, that she had never expected: him being the one to refuse. There was no rejection in his gaze, just a good measure of regret. He released her as he opened his mouth as if to explain, palms open and turned towards her, then there was a knock at the door.
"Five minutes," said a voice outside.
"I'll see you on the set," she whispered. An apology and a promise. She could do this now, kiss him in front of a roomful of people and a camera which would show it to thousands more, saving it for posterity. And the look that would be on her face -- joy, and farewell -- perfect, for the character she would be playing. They'd done a good job, improvising.
"Catch you later," he grinned, to cover his expression, and left. She lit a cigarette. One perfect kiss. That was all they were going to get, and they were going to get it right. Which was more than a lot of couples could say.
She turned to the last scene, which called for her to stare out a window with tears spilling down her face. That one was going to be a cinch.