For two months, celebrities Mara Hartly and Thomas Reed showed up to set to play a married couple on the brink of collapse. After shooting wrapped for the day, they’d go back to one of their hotel rooms and passionately cheat on their real-life spouses. The celebrities kept their indiscretion so quiet that only Eunice, the pesky, all-knowing PA, could sense something going on.
In the film, the married couple faces the impending foreclosure of their small-town New Hampshire brewery, The Nightly Brews. “Welcome to our podunk establishment!” Mara laughed while pouring two fat glasses of Macallan one night. “And we love our little podunk town,” Thomas chimed in, starry-eyed. Mara clinked her glass against his before taking a sip. “Smells like a divorce.”
From the edge of the taut bed they would soon tarnish, Thomas gazed at his fake wife with an adoration he could hardly replicate on camera. He knew it wasn’t lust—it was full-blown, batshit love. Everything about her; the precise curls that sat like ornaments around her face, the way she’d jut out her lower lip and absentmindedly pick at it while studying her lines, then catch herself in embarrassment. The sly, only-for-him smile she’d flash between takes of yelling at one another in disgust.
“Let’s head south for a few weeks,” Thomas said over dinner toward the end of principal photography. “A little ‘work extension.’ We can rent one of those glass condos in Miami, live on sashimi. Park our asses by the water.” Who had to know, their spouses? Mara examined his earnest face, concluding that he wasn’t acting. She let out a sweet laugh—the kind intended to soften the blow.
She had to get back to LA, she said. And he had everything in New York. Plus, it wouldn’t be long before all the press and premieres and blah blah blah together. But Thomas knew that “wouldn’t be long” meant ten months. Or so. His vision blurred; when his Kobe beef materialized in front of him, he slowly sliced the entire thing in half, watching the pink juice pool between the slabs. “Well,” Mara said, dabbing cocktail sauce from her chin with a wink. “That’s dramatic.”
Just as planned, the celebrities met again on the red carpet—in Gucci, Dior, Cartier jewels—turning this way and that way and whatever way the shouting told them to. And again for parties, ass kissings, photoshoots. They made each other laugh incessantly, and every minute they were apart, he pined over the precise second he’d get to place his hand on her back in front of photographers, inhale whatever perfume was gifted to her that evening. Pretend that she was his and he was hers.
But awards season on the horizon meant the beginning of the end for them. They’d do the song and dance and then they’d part with their spouses, back to opposite ends of the country. Back to their lives. The thought of sitting next to his love and her real husband for hours while meaningless names were called to the stage was unbearable. And if they didn’t call hers, her fucking husband would squeeze her hand as a consolation—torture.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Mara said outside the Beverly Hilton, placing her cigarette to his lips, a hint of pink on the filter. “And I think Sarah and Ben could’ve made it. Maybe if they tried a little you-know-what.” You-know-what was their code for only they knew what—and the words out of her mouth made Thomas ache. “Sarah and Ben?” he said, his eyes sad, unfocused. “Oh, those dumbass people we pretended to be for two months,” she laughed. “I almost forgot about them too.”
Thomas mistakenly believed the Golden Globes would be the last time they’d see each other for a long while. Surely Oscar nominations weren’t realistic. He thought it’d be appropriate to say some sort of goodbye, two coworkers going their separate ways. Strictly business. He pored over his speech, repeating the useless words ad nauseam. But what he wanted more than anything he ever did—more than his SAG card at nineteen, his Walk of Fame star fifteen years later—was to change the way their story was ending.
It wasn’t until Mara found herself poised at the podium, the previous thirty seconds an intoxicating blur, when she thanked the crew and the cast and the production company and her agent and the sweet, lovely town of Nowheresville, New Hampshire, that Thomas sensed something might turn in his favor. It wasn’t until the very end of her speech, when she paused to gather herself, and her voice cracked gently as she thanked her “beloved husband, Thomas” to a shocked and snickering audience, that Mara realized she might be batshit in love too.
After traveling to the exotic land of Ohio for an English degree, Kate Faigen moved home to Philadelphia, where she works as a copywriter and enjoys writing short fiction. @k8faigen