This story is by Matt Mueller and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The first thing they told Rini Ritzlatsky was that they didn’t like her name.
The second thing they told Rini Reynald was that she needed a boyfriend – starlets were only as good as their first celebrity relationship.
The third thing they told Rini Reynald (born Rini Ritzlatsky) was that she would be meeting him tomorrow. His name was Daniel. She began to reevaluate her newborn fame.
Logan Cervantes cursed as more water than intended escaped the top of the Brita, reaching its final destination on his Tungston hardwood. The studio head mumbled as he tossed a hand towel to the floor, before lazily dragging it across the floor with his foot.
Sitting atop an overdesigned white tray were three glasses of water Logan safely escorted to his coffee table. Tanned, leathery hands set the tray down gently and without sound. He took his seat in a burgundy Barcalounger opposite Rini and her agent Aaron Nguon, both of whom politely reached for their glasses.
As Rini took stock of the room, she couldn’t help but think it was far too spartan for a man as wealthy and seasoned as Logan. She had grown up under the belief – assisted by four doting grandparents – that all homeowners beyond a certain age cluttered their homes with knickknacks and unused flower pots and all manner of useless effects. She assumed that, with increased wealth, the number of useless, breakable effects would have grown, until she’d find herself lost amid a forest of things she’d been conditioned not to touch.
Twenty-two minutes later, Rini’s beloved arrived. Daniel Castaneda was a classical sort of handsome, with a strong jaw and broad shoulders that filled out his t-shirts at fifteen and never stopped. Alongside him was his own agent Wendy Sorenson, a fierce woman with tight hair and tight skin. Logan insisted that Rini and Daniel sit together on the loveseat across the coffee table, and so, reminded of her decreasing agency, Rini sat beside a complete stranger with manufactured hearts in her eyes.
Introductions were made, polite smiles were exchanged and, two hours into the afternoon, the deal was set. Until otherwise notified, Rini Reynald and Daniel Castaneda were to be Hollywood’s newest lovebirds.
Contrary to most people, Rini felt right at home on first dates. The nerves were there, sure, but were swiftly overshadowed by the joy of discovering somebody new. Each sentence uttered and every mannerism acted out were mysteries soon to be unraveled. But on this night, Rini felt no such tranquility.
To an outside observer, their first night together was a grand experience that hit all the right notes – a stunning couple debut. Indeed, if Rini had glimpsed the details of this date the following morning like so many of her fans, her heart would’ve swelled with equal parts admiration and envy. But when one lives life knowing what lies behind the curtain, the magic is quick to dissolve.
Their driver dropped the two off at Pershing Square, which had been converted into an ice skating rink for the season. Holiday lights decorated the park, strung around branches and tree trunks, morphing it into downtown Los Angeles’ own personal beacon.
It came as no surprise that the couple’s presence drew attention. They were, after all, two of Hollywood’s hottest present commodities. Rini, the small-town stage actress turned household name when she was cast as the lead in the adaptation of popular comic series Saturna, and Daniel, a heartthrob who quickly progressed from one-off character to the face of Style/Substance, the CW’s hottest dramedy. One picture turned into a dozens and autograph requests came hard and fast, nearly exhausting the couple before their night began.
“Rini!” One fan shrieked. “Rini! Are you sleeping with Daniel?”
“Um,” said Rini.
All went according to plan. A high profile first date gave way to a second, then a third, until the world christened her and Daniel Castaneda Hollywood’s newest power couple. The number of press outlets reaching out to her doubled, and the amount of hate mail she received – which itself transitioned primarily from disgruntled comic book fans to jealous and resentful teenage girls – multiplied exponentially.
She had never felt more like a celebrity.
Upon the release of the Saturna Director’s Cut, Rini had the three-week displeasure of being a stalker’s newest obsession. It started rather harmlessly at first, with the man in question merely commenting on every one of her various social media posts, flaming anyone he considered competition.
In time, however, the man got ahold of her private email and sent message after disturbing message both proclaiming his love for her as well as outlining how he planned to show her.
“Okay,” said Daniel. “Let’s handle this before it gets worse.”
“What are you talking about?” A hysterical Rini asked.
“You’re not the first Hollywood babe to have a stalker. There are at least eight major stalking cases towards actors every year.”
“Why don’t I ever hear of them?”
“If you we’re going to disappear a troublemaker, I don’t think you’d advertise it.”
Daniel picked up the phone, scrolling lazily through his contacts. “We’re the precious commodities of one of the world’s most powerful industries. You really think our bosses don’t have protocols to protect their assets?”
After that night, Rini never heard from her stalker again.
Seven months into their false affair, Rini found herself fond of Daniel.
As summer reached its conclusion, they decided to spend the day in Long Beach, exploring as much of the city as they could. Nestled inside the Naples canals, Rini and Daniel were half an hour into stand-up paddleboarding. Never having done this before, Rini believed she’d be a total disaster, tumbling into the water several times before finding her balance. She’d never been so happy to prove herself wrong.
“Yeah, it’s definitely easier than surfing,” Daniel said.
“Now we know if there was ever a zombie apocalypse, we could escape onto the water no problem.”
“What kind of zombies are we talking, though? Shambling moan-and-groaners or 28 Days Later sprinters?”
“Does it matter? We’re on the water. Unless zombies can run on water now, we’re safe.”
“Think again. If you’re under one of these bridges, it could leap off, and you’d be done for.”
Daniel punctuated his point by taking a short hop from his board to Rini’s. “Like so.”
Rini was far less calm. “What are you doing?! We’re going to fall!”
“Maybe. But first—” Then he kissed her. The subsequent photos of this kiss littered the internet, and, in time, proved to be the most popular image of the couple.
As their lips parted, the board turned, sending them crashing into the canal. But even as the saltwater ruined her perfectly styled hair, Rini couldn’t help but think she might like this man after all.
After a drunken night out, the two retired to Daniel’s condo in West Hollywood. It had been their most high-profile date yet, an appearance at a pop star’s birthday where the two had nearly stolen the spotlight.
“Do you think anyone suspects us?” Rini asked. “The legitimacy of our relationship, I mean.”
“No,” replied Daniel. “I’m a good actor. I won a People’s Choice Award once.”
Rini Reynald’s heart broke a week before Halloween. She and Daniel were summoned to Logan’s house to be notified of their relationship’s coming dissolution. It had run its course – all returns their relationship afforded Hollywood’s elite were rapidly diminishing.
At their assigned appearance at a producer’s Halloween party, they were to break up as dramatically as possible. “Slam doors! Punch walls! Throw drinks!” Logan said. “We’ll foot the bill.”
Dressed as Halloween classics – Dracula and (one of) his Bride(s) – the pair mingled as best they could while burying their heavy hearts. To help sell the authenticity of their split, Daniel elected to pour back shot after shot of Black Label, despite protests that Black Label wasn’t for shooting.
When the time came, they chose an elegant third-floor balcony as their stage. Neither held back. Fierce condemnations echoed through the halls. All they wished to yell at Logan and the others, they paraphrased and flung to each other. They screamed and spat, oblivious to the collective reactions of those around them.
One partygoer by the name of Chris set a firm grip on Daniel’s shoulder. “Hey bud, let’s calm down, yeah?”
Daniel broke free, cursing Chris before taking a swing.
“Wow,” thought Rini, “he’s really selling this.”
Chris ducked the drunken punch before retaliating with one of his own. It slammed into Daniel’s jaw, sending him toppling down the flight of stairs. With a thud and a crack, Daniel lay at the bottom, blood crawling slowly from his head.
The first thing Rini Reynald (born Rini Ritzlatsky) thought was, “Holy shit.”
The second thing Rini Reynald thought was, “He’s not really dead, is he?”
The third thing Rini Ritzlatsky thought was, “Is this really my life?”