Colin woke up to more articles. Articles with Amy’s name underneath the photographs. He swore.
Rob answered on the second ring and, as always when he called, sounded a bit like he was talking from underwater.
“You’re welcome,” Rob said by way of greeting.
“For what?” Colin demanded. “I told you not to mention her name? And what’s with this whole ‘saved from drowning’ bullsh—”
“Hey, hey,” Rob interrupted. “Do you want my job? You can figure out how to turn those pictures into something that won’t sink your reputation even further.”
Colin sighed and sat on his bed.
“Look, you were supposed to be laying low,” Rob continued. “Not finding some girl to have an escapade with and causing another scandal—”
“It wasn’t like that,” Colin interrupted. “I mean… it’s not like the other times. She’s different. I…”
There was silence on the other side, and Colin could practically feel Rob tuning him out. His next sentence fizzled before it even reached his tongue.
“It just… happened,” Colin finished weakly, rubbing his temple with one hand.
“Even if it ‘just happened…’ One sec—”
He heard Rob’s voice in the distance, like he had put his phone down to talk to someone. Colin rolled his eyes. His own manager was barely listening to him. He shouldn’t be surprised, he thought. They’d had too many similar conversations over the years.
“Look, can we just… I don’t know, retract the story?” he asked. “Say that there was some sort of misprint or miscommunication?”
“Retract the story?” a new voice repeated incredulously.
Colin flinched. His dad was on the line. Colin jumped up and straightened his posture before realizing his father probably couldn’t see him. He cleared his throat and sat down on the bed again.
“If people find out it isn’t true, it’ll be worse for us,” Colin said in what he hoped was a reasonable tone. “I mean, I’m pretty sure Amy is gonna be pissed. I don’t think she’ll go along with this.”
“I can have a lawyer there with an NDA this evening,” his dad said.
He was probably already signaling for Rob to text one of them now, Colin thought, suddenly having an image of a dozen top firm lawyers swooping into Amy’s cabin with a mountain of hush money and paperwork.
“No, I mean,” Colin said and hesitated. “It’s… not fair to her. Her name was released without permission, and now—”
“Who would be mad at getting their fifteen minutes of fame?” his dad countered. “Look, son, is this girl worth your career? Because that’s the risk we’re looking at here, if it’s rumored you left the set during filming to be with some girl.”
“Well, can we—”
“We’re only going to make things worse if we retract on the story,” his dad cut in. “Or expand on it. Just leave it alone, son.”
“We can say that it was just a misunderstanding,” he suggested. “Maybe throw the blame on one of the reporters?”
“I’ve already given an interview,” his dad replied curtly. “Your manager made an official statement. What do you think will happen if you try to say it’s a ‘misunderstanding’?”
Bad press. Colin knew that was the answer his dad wanted him to say. The worst thing that could happen when the show was waiting to be renewed. He sighed and fell onto his back, looking at the ceiling as if it’d come up with the answers like some sort of prompter.
I really like this girl.
She doesn’t deserve to get hurt.
Please just do this one thing for me. I’ll sign up for ten more seasons if you help.
His throat closed as the words faded before they could be said. There was a murmur on the other side, like Rob and his dad were talking about him and decided he didn’t need to be a part of the conversation. Then a pause.
“Hey, me again,” Rob said on the other end of the line. “Sorry, he just came in and wanted to talk… You okay?”
“Is there really no other way?” Colin asked.
His voice came out tired and whiny, he realized, mentally kicking himself.
“Not without costing the studio, probably,” Rob replied. “Since it was an official statement, it’d look bad for all of us if it was retracted.” He cleared his throat. “You know, your dad interviewed with The Daily Stars. He’s quoted saying he’s proud of you being a hero in real life, not just on screen. I’ll send you a link.”
Some hero, he wanted to retort, but he stayed silent.
“Anyway, if you need help dealing with the girl, let me know,” Rob continued. “We can offer her some money for her silence on this.”
“I’ll handle it,” Colin replied.
“You know, he might let you take on a couple of guest roles,” Rob said. “He had dinner with a few other studio execs last night who were really impressed with you.”
“Great,” Colin replied monotonously.
He was selling his soul, and maybe in return he could get a few minutes of screen time in another show in non-Arthurian costumes. All in exchange for selling out the one person who treated him like a human instead of a cash cow.
He hung up not long after and slowly got dressed. Amy was in the garden, as usual, with her back to him. He approached her and slid into the seat across from her.
Her eyes looked tired, and he wondered if she couldn’t sleep because of him. She looked less than pleased to see him and raised a brow.
“The only reason I’m not telling you off is because I’m giving you a chance to explain,” she said. “Did you know about the articles?”
“Only after they were released.”
“Did you know they were going to release my name?”
She studied his face for a moment, and Colin could tell she was looking for any sign that he was lying. He felt his chest compress. She must hate him by now.
Amy sighed and nodded, finally believing him. She took a bite of her toast, not looking away as she chewed and swallowed. He could practically hear the gears in her head turning.
“And what are you going to do?” she asked.
“I’m really sorry you got dragged into this,” he said slowly. “It was the studio’s idea, and they’re pretty set on it.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means… I can’t do anything about it,” he replied. “I’ve basically been sworn to silence… and they want you to not talk to anyone about this either.”
“Are you serious?” Her look of surprise was immediately replaced with anger. “Wow, okay.”
It was definitely one of those okays that meant things were not okay. Colin knew at least that much. He gave her an apologetic look, but she rolled her eyes as she stood up quickly, grabbing her plate and cup. Colin tried to stand up, too, but she shook her head at him.
“So, that’s how it’s gonna go?” she asked. “I have to pretend that I was drowning and we didn’t know each other before then?”
“I don’t like it either,” he said.
“Right, obviously this kind of article is bad for us both,” she replied, her tone suggesting she thought the exact opposite. “I bet your career’s taken a real hit.”
Colin flushed, and her eyes narrowed.
“Look, Amy, I—”
“It’s whatever,” Amy said with a toss of her head. “You’re the impressive actor with the sensitive reputation. I guess I’ll just be your scapegoat.”
There was something about her tone that made Colin’s heart sink. It felt so dismissive, like she was ready to just move on from this. From him. He wanted to pull out his phone and call the first tabloid he could find, tell the truth… anything to keep her from walking away.
He ran his hand through his hair with a frustrated sigh.
“I don’t like this any more than you do,” he said, looking up at Amy with entreating eyes. “My dad… the studio… I mean, I can’t just…”
His voice trailed off. He could think of a million things to say, to try to make her understand, but he had a sinking feeling she wouldn’t listen to any of them.
“Is there a contract I have to sign? Are you gonna pay me off to pretend you saved my life or whatever?” Amy asked, clearly wanting to end the conversation.
“My dad wanted to send a lawyer with an NDA, but I told him not to,” Colin replied, rubbing his temples.
“Well, that’s very kind of you,” she said derisively. “I guess that makes it twice now that you’ve saved me.”
“Amy, I’m sorry,” he said, standing up and following her towards the house. “But, if I say something now, the studio might get in trouble. My dad—”
“I don’t care,” Amy snapped.
“You obviously do.”
Colin shrunk from the look Amy shot at him. It looked like rage mixed with pain. He wondered if her eyes were watering, but she narrowed them as she glared at him.
“Even if you had nothing to do with the story before it was released—assuming that you aren’t completely full of it and lying about that too—” she began, waving off his stammering reply— “you’re not going to do anything about it now? Is that what you’re saying?”
“What can I do?” he retorted. “Tell everyone my manager and dad lied and I was on a date when I should be filming? Do you know what that could do to the show? To the studio?”
To my dad and Rob? he almost added.
Amy shook her head. He tried to put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged him off.
“Fine, I won’t talk to anyone from the press. I won’t tell everyone what a liar you are. Happy?” she asked.
“Amy,” Colin said slowly.
“Don’t ‘Amy’ me,” she snapped. “You can’t use me for a story and expect to still have—” she gestured wildly—“whatever this was.”
He grabbed her elbow and tried to pull her close. Amy yanked herself away from him with such force it looked like she was trying to shake off a bug.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We weren’t anything other than a summer fling anyway, right? None of this really matters in the long run.” She added in a mutter, “At least one of us got something out of this.”
Colin didn’t know how to respond.
“I guess, you’re welcome for helping you with your career,” she continued. “You said you were here for some good press, so I guess you got it. Are we done here? I have work to do.”
Without waiting for an answer, she went into the kitchen, letting the door shut behind her. Colin sighed and put his hand on the door.
We weren’t anything other than a summer fling?
Her words echoed in his brain. She was just saying that because she was upset, he told himself. She didn’t actually mean it.
He pushed the door open. Amy was at the sink, washing her dishes silently. She glanced over as he stepped inside and grabbed an apron.
“We’re almost out of jam,” she said, her voice sounding calm and businesslike. “I’ll go grab some from the shed. You should start with the clotted creams. And the sugar jars need a refill.”
She left quickly, without even glancing back. Colin tied the apron around himself and filled the coffee maker. He glanced out the window, expecting to see Amy crumpled up crying in the garden. Instead, she had her usual brisk walk as she went to the shed, stopping every few feet to brush branches from the tables or to check her watch, which was still upstairs in his room. It didn’t seem to stop her from looking at her wrist multiple times though.
Maybe she’s right, he told himself. The likelihood of their relationship lasting longer than their time on Kera was slim, anyway. And if she didn’t care, then he didn’t either. He shook his head, like it was an etch-a-sketch that could erase all trace of her, and began making some tea.
Aunt Sophie came in before Amy returned.
“Morning,” she said with a smile. “Sleep well last night?”
Colin gave her a curious look. Then he remembered Aunt Sophie didn’t keep up with the news. Or the internet, really, unless she was looking up new recipes.
“Not really.” He hesitated. “Aunt Soph…”
He paused as the door swung open. Amy came in with an armful of jam jars. He tried to help her, but she brushed him aside and set the jars on the counter.
“If you’re done with the sugar jars, you can get the jam ready,” she said. “And then put the rest in the cabinet. I’ll go set up the dining room.”
Without waiting for a response, she left again. She didn’t even scold him for starting on the coffee and tea before doing what she told him to do first. Aunt Sophie gave Colin a curious look, which he tried to ignore.
“Trouble in paradise?” she asked.
“It’s nothing,” he replied shortly.
“Her eyes look puffy. Did you make her cry?”
Colin didn’t notice that. He glanced towards the doorway, like Amy was going to come back and show him. Then he shook his head.
“There’s nothing going on,” he replied.
“God, Aunt Soph, it was just a summer fling, why are you trying to make everything a big deal?” he snapped with a wave of his hand.
And immediately regretted it.
The jar in his hand smashed into the floor, sending glass and bright red jam across the tile. He swore and grabbed a dishtowel.
“Does Amy know it’s just a summer fling?” Sophie asked slowly, picking up large chunks of glass.
“She’s the one who said it,” Colin grumbled “It’s really none of your business.”
He haphazardly wiped away the jam and tossed the towel in the laundry basket.
“I know you’re upset, but if I don’t know what’s happening I can’t help you,” Aunt Sophie said, handing him a wet sponge.
Her tone was calm, but it reminded Colin of a nanny trying to soothe a toddler mid-tantrum. He felt his cheeks warm, like the anger inside him was about to burst out.
“Who said you could help?” he scoffed. “Are you some sort of relationship expert now?”
He swore as he grabbed the sponge from Aunt Soph and scrubbed at the jam stain on the tile.
“God, I didn’t even want to come to this stupid island,” he muttered. “It’s been nothing but a pain in the—”
He felt Aunt Sophie grab the sponge from him and toss it into the sink. She turned away from Colin and began prepping the food. Colin sighed.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said.
Aunt Sophie was silent. He groaned and stood up.
“We were spotted by paparazzi,” he began slowly. “And I think Amy got upset because of Rob’s spin on the story.”
“You don’t have to explain things to me,” she replied coolly. “It’s none of my business.”
She slapped bacon in the pan with a sizzle. He sighed. Was there anyone on this island not pissed at him?