Excerpt: Sound Proof

They had spent the afternoon at the pier: the carousel, the arcade, eating too much junk food. The early spring sunshine was offset by a mild ocean breeze that caught the lingering stink of too many people sweating as they tried to convince themselves they really needed jackets at the end of April in California. Things were good. Things were great, right up until they stood outside the aquarium as the sun drew close to the tide line and Vanessa pulled the rug out from under Chris’s feet.

“I’m moving out Monday,” Vanessa said with a forced blankness on her face, sipping her soda as though she hadn’t just said it.

“What?” Chris asked, looking up from a pamphlet on bay marine life.

She looked down at the worn path under her feet. “Rent’s paid through the end of the month. I’m flying out to New York for that guest spot, and I’m not coming back.”

Chris blinked rapidly and then closed his eyes as he tried to sort out exactly what she was saying. “W-why?”

When she looked back up, a smudge of mascara on the corner of one eye was the only indication of her emotional state. Children shrieked somewhere that felt a hundred miles away. “It’s been fun, Chris, but—”

“Fun?” He sighed, letting out a held breath. “Six years and that’s all I get? It’s been fun?”

“Well, what am I supposed to say, Chris?”

“Maybe ‘Thanks for a great day of fun and adventure! Let’s go home and pretend we’re going to cook dinner until we give up and go for sushi?’ Fuck. Anything!” The knot of cotton candy and upset solidified in his gut, and Chris realized he was shouting but couldn’t stop himself. “Why don’t you just dump me in a fucking text? Maybe tweet it?”

“Jesus, you’re acting like a child. I knew it was going to be like this… Can’t you just let it go?” She reached out to him, planting a slim hand on his chest to push him away. He let her, shaking his head in sheer frustration.

“Let it go? I’m sorry, maybe you’ve had time to just let it go, but I’ve only known for a minute here.”

“And that’s just why this is the way it is, Chris!” she shouted, passers-by paying them no attention. “We’ve been in this same rut for years! Nothing has changed and you just act like that’s okay! It’s not okay!”

“How is it not okay? Everything’s been great, hasn’t it? I’m…” He hesitated, stumbling on the words. “I love you, Vanessa!”

She sighed and turned her back to him, lowering her head. “You love the idea of me, Chris. Just like that stupid bartending job you always complain about but keep going back to just in case. I’m your fallback. You’re shitty at dating and scared of taking risks, so we just keep doing what we’ve always done because it’s safe.”

“Is this… is this because I didn’t take that modeling job? I already told you, I don’t want to be a model. I’m not a model. I… I act! I do voiceovers. I’m not just some pretty douchebag with abs.” In a way, it made sense to him; she’d pushed him so hard to just take the money and let himself be plastered all over the internet in some stupid organic energy drink ad. It just wasn’t who he was, even if it was a job.

“Yeah. Because that’s doing so well for you. When was the last time you booked a role?” She frowned somehow deeper, dark red lips pushing together like a boardwalk caricature.

Chris tossed down the pamphlet and forced a hand through his hair, letting out another sigh. She had a point; it wasn’t a good point or even one he really wanted to hear, but it stood up well enough. “It’s… it’s slow right now, okay? You know I’m doing the auditions. My demo reel is out there. My agent is…”

“Stop making excuses, Chris. It’s always ‘Oh, my agent says this isn’t the role for me. Oh, I wasn’t blond enough. Oh, I was too young. Oh, I was too fucking proud to sell out for a body wash commercial.’ Maybe if you just once took a chance you’d actually be happy with your life.” She turned back to him; the mascara smudge had run down to her chin and tears actually wet her eyes. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. Just… just go. Okay?”

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