I was well-prepared when I went to the table read one week later. That I had always been good to memorize things was a real benefit this time, for that way I had already memorized many scenes. When I entered the room other people of the cast had already gathered. Pete welcomed me.
"Hey, Kara! You want me to introduce you to everyone, or do you rather you moved through the crowd alone and shook everyone's hands?"
I looked around and then decided to take him up to his first offer. "Maybe you could introduce me to those I'll have the most scenes with," I suggested and smiled.
"Sure, no problem."
He took my arm and pulled me into the crowd. Making our way through it, my eyes wandered around in search of Aiden. As though Pete had sensed who I was looking for, he suddenly stopped and pointed into a corner where a man was casually leaned against a pillar, laughing about something his company had just whispered into his ear. My heart started beating faster for no reason. Though I had already seen him on many pictures on the internet, seeing him was still a shock for me. How was it possible he had gotten even more attractive during the six years since our breakup? I hadn't even been aware I had been staring at him the whole time when he turned his head in my direction and our eyes met. For a moment, I considered just running away. But that would have been a childish reaction, considering the fact I was here to meet my colleagues. I turned to the side and found that Pete had left. So it seemed I had to do this on my own now, I thought, slowly and with my heart pounding with nervousness walking up to Aiden. When he smiled at me my knees turned weak.
"Kara! How nice to see you again!"
When he hugged me in greeting I closed my eyes for a moment, inhaling the scent of his aftershave. "Yeah, you too," I stammered, feeling my cheeks turning hot. When he pushed me a bit away from him and eyed me from tip to bottom I couldn't help but hold my breath.
"You still look just as beautiful as back then," he said with a soft voice. "Or no, that's not true. You got even more beautiful," he corrected and smiled.
I stared at him and didn't know what to say. He wasn't only attractive, he was also charming. A combination that had been dangerous for me back then already and still was today, as I had to admit. "You too," I mumbled without thinking and saw him smirk. "I mean, you… you didn't change one bit," I hastily corrected, turning hotter and hotter.
"I didn't?" He frowned and ran a hand through his hair. "Well, I think my hair was a little longer at the time, and I didn't wear days worth of stubble either, if I remember correctly." He brushed his cheek. "Everything for the role," he then gave, grinning.
"If I didn't read it wrong, the guy's a real asshole." When he suddenly burst into resounding laughter, attracting all eyes on himself, I suddenly realized what I had just said. Flinching, I covered my mouth with a hand and lowered my eyes. "Oh man, that… I didn't mean to say that," I stammered. "I'm sorry!"
"No, it's alright," he gave, grinning. "You're right. A guy who leaves his wife and kid is an asshole."
When he moved closer to me and looked deep into my eyes I did feel a little uneasy.
"And one who just lets the love of his life leave after she rejected his proposal isn't any better," he added more quietly.
I made a shocked step back and stared at him through wide open eyes. I knew he was talking about himself. And I started to feel like the whole thing got a little too private for me. I wasn't here to talk about our past with Aiden. I was here to work professionally with him. But how was I supposed to do that if he reminded me of what used to connect us? The love of his life. Was I still that for him then? Not for the first time I had doubts if it really had been that good an idea to take this job offer.
"Guys! You ready for our first table read?" Pete called into the crowd.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Just in time. Now at least I didn't have to react to Aiden's comment anymore. But if I had thought to escape my past that way, I would be disappointed. It continued right away when we opened the script.
"I want Aiden and Kara to start off with scene 178," Pete said.
I quickly turned the pages and froze. Oh no, why that scene of all scenes, it was practically soaked in emotions! After my first reunion with Aiden after years I had wished for a more neutral scene. But Pete couldn't know what emotional chaos I was in and how much the whole thing reminded me of my own past. I had a quick look at Aiden who had his head lowered and focussed back on the text I had to read.
"I wish you wouldn't fly."
"Because of Jessy?"
"She'll be disappointed when she finds you left already."
"That's no answer to my question, Laura. You only want me to stay because of Jessy, or is there another reason?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"You don't? You got no idea what I'm talking about?"
"And what about us?"
"There hasn't been an "us" for a long time, Ian. What we used to have, you gambled it away carelessly."
"Why do you want me to stay then?"
"Because Jessy needs a father who's there for her, and not one who's notably absent and only reaches out on birthdays and Christmas!"
"I'm sorry! I know I made a lot of mistakes in the past. But I wish you could forgive me what I did to you. I never stopped to love you, Laura! You gotta believe me."
"That's enough for now," Pete cut in. "I liked that a lot already. You transferred the right emotions. It should be that way when you play the scene then, too. Now we'll take a short break of 20 minutes first and will meet here again, alright?"
I rose stiffly, avoiding to look at Aiden. For my taste his love confession had come across a little too emotional and realistic. And I suddenly wondered if it had been a coincidence that Pete had made us read this scene first. When I noticed Aiden following me, I whirled around. "You don't leave anything to chance, do you?" I gave snidely. "You made Pete taking this scene first. Am I right?"
"No, what are you talking about? I didn't know he'd choose that scene either," he protested.
"Well, then it seems to be just a coincidence you told me almost the same thing the day we broke up!" I glared at him in anger. "There can't be that many coincidences!"
"Kara, I swear I had no idea!"
But I was so in rage I didn't even listen to him. "Did you think I'd forgive you your little escapade, if Ian said that to Laura?" He grabbed my arms so fast I gasped in pain.
"Stop it, Kara! I've hoped we could treat each other in a civil way. But it seems that's not possible. I already regret having asked Pete to favor you on the role. But I did it, cause I believed you'd play Laura convincingly. You need heart and soul for that. And you have that. And I don't say that, cause we used to be a thing." He cleared his throat. "Our relationship will be strictly job-related from now on."
"So we got that sorted out." I tried to free myself from his grasp, but he kept holding me in place.
"There's something else I wanna tell you…"
He hesitated, and I wondered what it was that he wanted to tell me. "Only if it's "strictly job-related"," I snapped and raised my head to fix him with my eyes.
He shook his head. "No, it's private," he admitted.
When he let go of me and ran a hand through his hair I could tell his hand was slightly shaking.
"I want you to hear it from me before you can read it in every gossip rag," he said calmly, then took a deep breath. "I got engaged last weekend," he then confessed.
He could have as well rammed his fist into my stomach. That probably wouldn't have been any less painful. That whole time, I had been telling myself I didn't have any feelings for him anymore, that all we had experienced and been through together was history for me. In that moment, I knew I had been lying to myself that whole time. "Well then… congratulations," I said exaggeratedly cheerful and forced a smile. When Pete called us back to our seats I was downright relieved. I just wanted to get away. Holding back my tears with much effort, I went back to the table where everyone else was already waiting.
"You guys ready for action again?" Pete asked, looking into the round.
Though I rather felt like crying, I nodded like a good girl and smiled. I was an actress. I had learned to control my feelings. This was nothing but a job like any other, I tried to tell myself. I tried to ignore Aiden's thoughtful look resting on me and took the script again. "I'm ready. Let's go on."