“I’m engaged,” are the first words Robert Kingsley says to her. Marjorie nods, drags up some one date wonder to claim as a boyfriend so it doesn’t look like she’s desperate. They’re going to be alone in Africa – alone with a film crew at least – and she doesn’t want him to think she’s going to try and seduce an engaged man. “It’s one of those family things, we’ve been engaged since the womb,” he goes on, and she makes some excuse. She doesn’t need to know the details, all she needs to know is that they will have chemistry, and she’s fairly sure that’s apparent to anyone who sees them interact.
She’s Hollywood’s good girl, and he’s the rich dilettante who acts once in a while. She still doesn’t know why he won an Oscar – or she didn’t until she saw the performance. That was no dilettante, that was a man who lived the character. She watches him on stage, too, and discovers the connection he was only able to make once on film. She knew as she watched that he could bring that out in her on film. So when a script came across her desk, that was enough. She didn’t care about where the movie was to be made as long as she was able to play the role. Anything else would be a bonus. If it were up to her, all Marjorie would do would be her role, but she knows what it’s like to be isolated on a movie set in America and she’s pretty sure there’ll be a lot more isolation in Africa.
So out of fellow feeling, she decides to have drinks with him. Maybe dinner, but that’s only an option in case they don’t like each other, at least in Marjorie’s mind, she has no idea if he wants an out as well. So when he mentions he’s engaged and she makes up her boyfriend, they wind up talking for over an hour about acting, how stage work is different from movies, and that’s almost enough for Marjorie to consider holding off her next movie after Lion’s Gate (she kind of hopes the title will end up changed) and try some stage work. Because they’re getting along so well she doesn’t hesitate to agree to dinner, and a glass of wine.
He’s a gentleman and escorts her back to her home, kissing her cheek as he leaves her on her doorstep.
Marjorie kind of wishes he’d kissed her properly.
Preparations for Africa are a whirlwind. Marjorie can’t say she enjoys the flight, but she closes her eyes and wakes up when they’re about to land, so that’s not so bad.
She goes over the script that night, reading about the transplanted young woman, to be married to a much older man, and his young son, the man she’s going to end up married to when his father falls ill. She has a misunderstanding when she overhears the wrong conversation between father and son, thinking she’s being married only to provide heirs, and as the father can’t... well, the son is happy to step in, but that’s not what the conversation is even about. It gives her some acting opportunities she doesn’t usually get, playing in sweet romantic comedies and dramas that don’t tend to have stakes. This one has stakes.
Reporting to set the next morning, made up with the vivid red lips and waved hair of her character, Marjorie reacts to Robert in his clothes and those boots. She’s never reacted like this to a man.
Before the morning is over, he’s kissing her passionately. For their first scene together, that is. The one where they give in to the simmering passion that’s been building over the first part of the movie. Marjorie doesn’t question why she’s doing this scene first, but the response is all her, nothing to do with Jennifer’s lust for Andrew, only her own for Robert.
Somehow, she remains in character, they shoot the scene completely, and one after it as well. Then she gets a break while Robert does some angsty son scenes with his father. The actor they have chosen for his father is amazing. One of Bogart’s contemporaries, though he didn’t achieve the dazzling heights, but he’s so good talking with Robert as Andrew, Marjorie hopes he’s going to have a renaissance due to this movie.
Returning her clothes to wardrobe and dressing in her own again, she heads back to her room, but is stopped by Robert. It isn’t hard to agree to dinner, and again they spend the entire night talking. Even when he asks her back to his room, he stays right away from her. To the point where she’s almost insulted, except he is engaged, she has to remember that.
Right up until he comes close, and one of his hands is in her hair and his mouth closes over hers.
Just before their lips meet, he whispers, “I was staying away from you, you know.”
She’s the one to break the kiss, the need for breath becoming too much. “So was I,” she murmurs.
“This can’t be more than...” he stops, again.
“What it is,” she says. “I understand.”
She did. While it wasn’t something she did a lot before, he isn’t the first co-star she’ll be with either. She’s prepared for it to end before it’s begun.
“Just while we’re here,” spoken firmly, so there’s no misinterpretation, she guesses.
“While we’re here,” she agrees and her hand unbuckles his belt. It’s a surprisingly sensuous sound, the glide of leather through the cloth loops of his pants.
That’s as far as they go that night, the belt removal for comfort, not to get naked. Her own waistband is loosened as well, and there’s a lot more kissing. They do sleep together, but only in the literal sense, and she wakes before dawn, grateful her room is only next door so she can get back without anyone seeing her.
The next day, it’s another passionate scene, but this one’s an argument. Marjorie almost flinches from Robert when he raises his hand, even though she knows Andrew isn’t going to hit Jennifer. He’s that good and she’s that into the role.
Just as into the kiss after it, too, even though they’re still acting and have to come out of it to be adjusted. It doesn’t matter, though, they get right back into the kiss as their lips join again, and she knows it’ll be tonight. There’s no doubt in her mind or body, he’s going to take her tonight. Well, if he wants it, but she’s pretty sure that isn’t going to be a problem, given the tightness of his pants.
Of course, it’s not that easy. They have drinks with some of the crew and that turns into dinner with them, and she wants to just go back to his room, but she can’t figure out a graceful way to exit. If she leaves alone, he might not be able to get away either. So she waits, anything but patient, until finally everyone leaves and he’s offering to escort her back to her room. She looks up and nods, and she isn’t sure if the desire in her eyes is reflected in his or if they really do both want this as much as each other does.
She finds out it’s the second one when they’re in her room and it’s fiery, passionate and all she was expecting.
She wakes alone the next morning, only a white scarf indicating he was there aside from the ache in her body. She’s okay with that, no promises were made.
She thinks he’s on the verge of it when they go flying. She hadn’t expected that, but he offers and she doesn’t say no, so they end up flying to an even more isolated village and spending the night, entwined on a narrow bed and making love again. He murmurs into her hair, and moves as if to speak, but she doesn’t let him.
He tries again, later. She knows she doesn’t want to hear it. She isn’t going to be the dirty little secret of a married man. This is all they have, all they can ever have.
She gives him one night when filming’s wrapped up, dresses up in a designer gown to watch the sunset with him, lips red and cheeks flushed. She’s the one who leaves in the morning, and it’s not because she has to pack – though she does.
She’s back in LA, studying her next script, and she gets an invitation to the premier. She knows he got married, it was impossible to escape the gossip and it even made the papers, and she hopes he’ll be happy – hopes his wife will be too.
She almost doesn’t go, but calls up her designer and gets a white satin gown made. She walks out of the car, posing and smiling, and she doesn’t even hesitate when she sees him. She’s introduced to his wife, and they all make pleasantries before the movie starts.
She doesn’t make it halfway through, running out, not upset because she doesn’t have him, but because it was too short. She hears him behind her and doesn’t turn back.
He keeps trying to call her. She hangs up and refuses to see him.
It’s weeks later, and she opens up the paper, to see an announcement of Robert Kingsley’s first child.
It feels right, and she smiles.
It’s also the day she gets a call, that she’s been nominated for the Oscar for Wildest Dreams – the title change happened.
She doesn’t think she’ll run out of the Oscar ceremony. It might look like she’s a poor loser if she doesn’t win.
Marjorie Finn is not a loser, poor or otherwise. She had what she wanted with Robert, and while she might have liked it to last longer, she can at least remember him in her dreams. It’s enough.