She found herself overthinking every little thing and because of it, she committed the kind of mistakes only newbies got wrong.

With every mistake she did, Marshall grew more and more impatient and conversely, she became stiffer and stiffer with fear.

It was like seeing a bus coming straight at her—-

And all she could do was just wait for it to run her over.

****

“Thirty-minute break for everyone,” Marshall said tersely.

The studio remained silent, with everyone aware it was the sound director’s slightly polite way of telling Seri to get her shit in order.

Seri choked out, “E-excuse me,” before walking past everyone to leave the room.

Staring after Seri, Daniela confided worriedly, “Your little sister doesn’t look so good.”

Every cell inside of Vassi urged him to go after her, but he forced himself to remain in place, saying flatly, “She’s a big girl now. She’ll need to learn how to clean up her own mess sooner or later.”

When Seri returned twenty minutes later, Vassi saw the other actors give her awkward smiles as she passed them by. But instead of pretending she didn’t see anything to save face, Seri returned their smiles and promised them she would try to do better this time.

And she did.

Only she was trying too hard.

“Too soft, Seri. Start from the top, please.”

“Too loud this time.”

“Too damn fast.”

“What the hell, Seri? Now, it’s too damn slow.”

Vassi’s jaw clenched as he heard Seri whisper, “I’m sor—-”

“I don’t need your sorry. I need you to get better.” Releasing a sound of frustration, Marshall said over the speakers, “Five minute break.”

The silence inside the studio was unbearable, and even with his father’s bleakly voiced wish ringing in his ears, Vassi couldn’t stop himself from slowly turning towards her.

She had the script up, covering her face—-

Fuck.

Her hands were shaking so hard he knew she had to be crying and that script was just to cover the fact.

Vassi inhaled sharply.

Common sense told him that she could just be acting, that the real Seri was a tough, mercenary bitch that wouldn’t cry so easily.

And yet—-

His chest tightened at the way her hands kept shaking, and it was almost like he could hear her inside his mind, silently crying for his help.

But at the same time, he could also see his father’s lined face—-

He could hear Fyodor’s bleak voice saying—-

“Ouch!” Daniela’s sudden gasp broke through his thoughts.

Forcing himself to focus back on the present, he saw Daniela gingerly touching her left eye. “What’s wrong?”

“I was fixing my contacts, and I think something got in my eye.”

“Let me see.” He gently peeled her hands from her face. Peering into her eyes, he murmured, “I don’t see anything.”

“Just blow on it, will you?” As Daniela spoke, he saw Seri slowly lower her script and turn to look at him.

Her eyes were shining with tears. I need you, too, Vassi.

He swallowed.

I’m begging you, son.

If you respect me – if you love me as your father—-

Vassi heard himself say, “I’m going to do you one better, D. It’s the best cure in the world.” He kissed her eyelids.

Daniela gasped.

The other actors, seeing it, cheered and clapped, and began teasing them about dating in secret.

The sound director sighed, “At least there’s one good thing that’s happened today.”

Chapter Six

Vassi only had to press the buzzer once when the front door opened, revealing Seri’s gay best friend, who was dressed in an orange long-sleeved shirt, suspenders, and corduroy pants. It was the first time for Vassi to see Davey in such an outfit, and he found himself blinking. The Davey he remembered was a bit more circumspect than this.

“Hi, Vassi,” Davey said with an uneasy smile.

Recovering from his surprise, he smiled back, saying wryly, “I’m sorry for dropping by unannounced, but is Seri with you?”

As soon as Marshall had called it a day, Seri had left without a word and Vassi had come straight here, knowing from experience that this was where Seri liked to lick her wounds.

And he was right.

“She’s here, but she’s warned me expressly not to tell you.” Davey chewed on his lip. “She told me she’ll never speak to me again if I did, and l think she kinda means it.”

“That’s alright,” Vassi said easily, “since you didn’t tell me.”

“I didn’t?”

“You didn’t. What happened instead is that you seemed to have gotten a call or a text, doesn’t really matter which, as long as you have a sudden, pressing reason to leave and—-” He stepped inside, forcing Davey to step back. “You also accidentally left the door open on your way out.”

Davey marveled, “That’s very plausible.”

“I’m glad you approve.”

They stared at each other.

Then—-

“Oh. Right. I have to leave now.” Davey was about to head out when he turned around again, saying, “But the thing is, I left my wallet in my room—-”

“I completely understand.” He took his wallet out. “I hope this suffices—-” He handed Seri’s friend a couple of bills. “—-since I think your emergency would require you to be out all night.”


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