A-List Love

Copyright © 2022 Verena Key. All rights reserved. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

“Grab my hand!“ Lily shouted, reaching over the edge of a precipice and praying to all gods known to her that the man she was trying to save would listen.  

“No, don’t look down!” she warned him. “My hand, take it. I’ll pull you up!”  

The light of her headlamp, a tiny circle of brightness in the complete darkness of the cave, illuminated the pale face of the man below her. The sound of rushing water drowned whatever words he uttered. He was scared. Lily could see it in his eyes, the hardly contained panic of someone who had probably never been in an actual life-threatening situation before – in his world anything with a semblance of danger would require multiple safety features and additional insurance clauses. But here, there were no safety nets.

She was scared too but she knew how to control it. The same way she had controlled it all those other times when she’d been sure she would die.  

“Listen to me!” she shouted over the din and signaled with her hand. “The water is rising. We need to get to higher ground. Now!”  

He shook his head and remained glued to the rock. Lily was running out of patience.   

“Listen, mister, if you don’t move your butt right now, I swear, once we get out of here, I’ll tell everyone what a pussy you are! Great Bruce Holt! The hero of action movies! Whining like a little girl! Stay there and you can kiss your reputation goodbye!”  

The words seemed to have had an effect because his eyes became more focused. Of course, they would, thought Lily. The guy’s ego was probably the only thing bigger than his fear right now. He would remember the insults and retaliate later, no doubt, but she was okay with it if it meant that there would be a later for them. Still, to her annoyance, he didn’t move.

“I thought you could do something useful with all those sculpted muscles of yours! And yet, I’m up here, and you’re not! I’m safe and you’re hanging there like a…hibernating bat!”  

This time, she saw a definite spark of anger in his eyes. Good, he was starting to see the rock, not only stare at it. He moved one arm, reaching above him. Lily quickly grabbed his wrist, stabilizing his grip on the slippery handhold. 

“Now your foot! Carefully!” Lily urged, but he was not thinking about what he was doing, relying on his strength, and slipping a couple of times. She held fast as she commanded him, “I said carefully! Good boy! And up we…go!” She strained, pulling him up with all she had in her.

“Don’t let go of me,” he gasped.   

“I’ll…never…let…go!” Lily uttered. The effort making her groan, she dragged him over the edge to safety.  

As they lay panting next to each other, Lily thought how this was not the way things were supposed to be. Rewinding the past few days in her head, she tried to identify the exact moment when everything had gone south. Oh, baby, the past few days? How about the past few years? Or decades? 

Was it her decision to become a scientist? Studying caves, what kind of a job was that? Her father certainly always laughed about it, bringing up her brother as an example – the brother with a job in a bank, a house, a car, and a pregnant wife. Was it her getting the leading position in the exploration and preservation team of this cave, the one that was threatening to swallow them alive? Or was it accepting the offer of the movie studio to let them film a part of their latest blockbuster, “Among the untouched beauties of an underground paradise,” as they had put it? Paradise, her ass. If they wanted paradise, they could have chosen any number of exotic locations rather than filming in this part of the Alps. It was rough terrain at the best of times, and right now, it was more like hell and getting worse. That was what you got when budget overruled sense. Or beauty for that matter. 

No, she knew it. It was the moment in the second grade when that big bully had pulled her hair, and she had done nothing. If she had learned back then how to ascertain her position, how to dominate others, as her father often said, this whole mess could have been avoided. And maybe the movie people would have listened to her when she said that it was risky going into the cave with the storm brewing on the horizon and that she didn’t care that they had only one day of filming left before they exceeded the budget, no one was getting below the ground if she could stop it! But she’d been too quiet, and they had all understood it as a suggestion, rather than a decision. She had not insisted, remembering the conversation with her boss where he explained how important the money and the visibility that the movie crew provided were for their conservation efforts. She had relied on her luck, ignoring her most important personal rule of caving and life in general – never rely on your luck.  

“You okay there?” she asked. 

Bruce Holt, the man millions of women throughout the world drooled over daily, stirred on the ground next to her.  

“I guess,” he croaked.   

“Good. Now, follow me. We need to get higher. And I mean without taking any drugs,” she chuckled.  

Oh, my, that was so much more stupid than funny, but she had to give it herself, she was not in the best shape for cracking jokes right now. He tried to complain, but she silenced him. Where was she finding the gumption to talk to him like that, she wondered? Probably it was death breathing down her neck that gave her the courage to stand up to this spoiled macho. Too bad she hadn’t found such courage sooner.  

“See that mud line?” she pointed to the wall of the cave on the opposite side. “That’s how high the water can get occasionally. Such an occasion is now. And we are still below it. Not much, but enough to get trapped and get our asses wet. Do you want to get soaked? I don’t if I can avoid it. Hypothermia is a bitch.”  

“I’m coming,” Bruce sounded too exhausted to argue.

Lily felt a bit sorry for him. He was in alien territory, and here she was belittling him all the while. Sure, he could probably do with being taken down a notch or two now and again, but this certainly was not the time or place for it. She suspected that it was her own fear and frustration coming through and that there were other ways to motivate someone afraid and out of their depth.   

Breathe in, breathe out. This was her world, the place where she felt at home. Right now, that home was not the safest spot in the universe, but her childhood home at the time when she had lived with her mother and a stepfather hadn’t been one either and she had survived. This here was fair, or at least neutral. Nature did not choose a victim to punish for no reason at all, like her stepfather used to do. It gave you a chance to escape if you were smart or strong enough. She needed to calm down and think. She knew this hall. She had mapped it only last spring with two students, in all three dimensions.  

“The good thing, Mr. Holt, is that I’ve never seen any mud or debris on the ceiling of this hall,” she said as she led the way.  

“Why’s that a good thing?” he asked, following obediently.   

“It means it won’t fill up. Shouldn’t fill up,” she corrected herself. “There’s a first time for everything.”

Bruce Holt grabbed her arm to slow her down.

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” he asked.

She shook his hand off. “No. I don’t give a damn how you feel. Because this is all your fault. You and your stupid movie!”

Oh, crap. That was not entirely fair, but she was pissed off, if that was any excuse, and anyway he shared in the irresponsibility of the whole film gang.

“How can it be my fault that the cave has been flooded? Have I ordered the rain to fall?”

“No, but if the likes of you who earn millions thought about spending some of that money on nature protection instead of on parties or drugs, I wouldn’t be forced to prostitute myself and this precious cave, which, by the way, took hundreds of millions of years to form, to secure money to keep our projects running. And I wouldn’t have to do things against my better judgment and babysit your sorry ass, while all along for the past couple of days you’ve done nothing but made my life miserable. If you had stayed in the big hall, we would’ve had enough time to get out before the water blocked the entrance. But you had to go exploring, didn’t you, as if this was an entertainment park… So, yes, it is your fault!” she concluded, somewhat loud.

“I’m sorry, but we hired you as an expert. If you were not so incompetent, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. You should’ve said something before!” he yelled back.

“I tried. But nobody listened. Because you rich people seem to think that having money gives you control over everything, including the universe.”

“Well, you should have tried harder!” he was not giving up.

“Well, your life should have been more important to your producers than the money, but guess what, it was not!”

Lily looked down, noticing that the water was already sloshing around their feet.

“Shit!” she said and pulled him. “Enough squabbling. Over there, that flowstone. On the right side of it, there’s a crack in the wall, which we can climb to a passage. I think it’s high enough. Come on.”

They hurried to the large, impressive limestone structure, glistening in the light of their electric lamps. When they reached the wall, Lily adjusted her helmet and gloves.

“I’ll go first. It’s an easy climb. Use your back and your hands and feet to wedge yourself in the crack. Just look at me and do the same. Ready?”

He nodded. It was a real action movie scene, thought Lily, and gave him an encouraging smile. Or maybe she was trying to encourage herself. She checked the wall in front of her again. There would be time to be exhausted once they were safe. She took a deep breath and started to climb.

A couple of minutes later, and she managed to drag herself into a small passage on the upper level of the cave. Bruce Holt followed, and after a short rest – in which Lilly bit her tongue, not daring to say, “There you go, wasn’t so hard now, was it?” – they explored their surroundings. 

“If we continue that way?” Bruce pointed at the passage. 

“Dead end,” Lily said. “This is the widest part of it.”

“So, what do we do now?” he wondered.

Lily turned around, checked if all her parts were still in working order, and then took off her helmet.

“We’ll sit on these, wrap ourselves in an Astro-foil to keep warm, and wait. I’ll check out the water level occasionally, although it seems it has stopped rising, or at least slowed down.”

“And that’s all?” 

“No,” Lily said thoughtfully. “It will be warmer if we huddle together. And we might want to save battery power, so either we turn off one or both of the lights.”

“And sit in the dark?” he sounded nervous.

“Better than climbing down in the dark,” she replied. “Listen, calm down. This is a porous terrain, the water will recede within a day max, the passage is long enough that we can use a part of it as a toilet, and I have a candy bar in my pocket. What more could you wish for?”

He was still nervously looking down, but Lily was already making herself comfortable on the floor, so he followed her lead. She showed him to sit closer as she unwrapped the foil.

“You were serious about huddling together?” he asked.

“Of course. And I’ll be telling my children and grandchildren about it. And will preserve this foil we shared forever,” she scoffed at him.

He laughed, still somewhat tensely. “Does nothing of this scare you?” he asked, settling next to her.

“Of course it does. I’m scared to death. Me talking like this is the equivalent of a hysterical cackle,” she admitted. “No need to slap me, though.”

“Well, you sure had me fooled,” he observed with some admiration.

They leaned on each other and pressed in close. In contrast to the damp cold she felt on the cheek that was still exposed, it soon became warm enough within the foil wrapped around their shoulders for them to relax slightly. Slightly. It only took a couple of seconds for the discomfort of their closeness to set in. 

 

Lily checked the situation below a couple of times, but the water level remained stable, and the rushing sound slowly faded into the background. 

“I’ll turn off my light now if it’s okay with you,” she said after a while. 

“I guess,” said Bruce. 

“I have to warn you, though, the darkness is complete. It’s like going blind. So, if you find that you’re not comfortable, we could turn the light back on. I have a spare headlamp and some extra batteries. But I’ll feel better knowing that we haven’t depleted the first set.”

“It’ll be okay,” he assured her. “I’ll just focus on your voice.”

“Does that mean I’ll have to keep on talking?”

“I thought you liked talking,” he said. “Women like talking, don’t they?” 

“This one doesn’t,” Lily replied and turned off the light. “I was thinking about taking a nap actually.”

Darkness closed over them like an infinite blanket. It was complete, just as Lily said, but it still didn’t fail to surprise her how overwhelming it could be, penetrating the soul and thoughts, confusing the senses, and tricking the mind.

“Wow, this is…incredible,” Bruce said quietly.

“You are not going to flip out on me now?” Lily asked.

“No, I…I actually feel fine,” he replied.

Lily smiled, to herself, since there was no way he could see it.

“Good. Now may I take my nap?”

He said nothing, so she carefully leaned onto him, and when he did not complain, lowered her head on his shoulder. It was not much of a pillow, because he was so tense, but his muscles were impressive, she had to admit. She closed her eyes, although it did not make much difference, and tried to focus her thoughts and calm down. Taking a nap was out of the question, she knew, at least until her adrenaline levels went down, but she needed to relax and think. So far, they were out of danger and there was not much more they could do anyway, but her body had to realize that and stop wasting energy it didn’t have on trying to escape.

“Miss…what’s your name?” she heard Bruce say.

“Lily,” she said grumpily. He didn’t even know her name. Go figure!

“Lily,” he repeated, “have I really made your life miserable for the past few days?”

Did he really want to know? She sighed.

“Mr. Holt, I have to warn you, this darkness, it affects people. They say things they would’ve otherwise never said. So, be careful what you ask and what you tell.”

“I’m sorry if I treated you badly?” he said, a tinge of questioning in his tone. Lily could almost hear him scanning his memory to find her invisible presence. 

“Well, you did. I mean, I’ve busted my ass to organize safe access to the cave for your people; I’ve ignored what the floodlights were doing to the bat population, as well as the number of stalactites the filming crew damaged, and you didn’t even remember my name. And you were not polite, not just to me. If you want things done, then ask nicely, even if you are paying the person who’s supposed to do it. No one will think less of you if you’re kind.”

“Okay. That was honest. I can see that the darkness certainly affects you,” he laughed, although it sounded a bit forced. Was it possible that Bruce Holt was embarrassed by his behavior?

“I’ve already called you a pussy to your face. How much worse can it get?” laughed Lily back.

There was a pause in which Lily could tell that Bruce was thinking. Here goes. 

“I guess I should thank you for saving my life back there,” he added after a while. “And you can call me Bruce.” 

Lily frowned. She did not want to get all chummy and confidential with him. She did not know why, but it could have been her ingrained distrust of other people, men especially. It was not as if her life experience could have taught her differently.

“Bruce, I’m touched,” she said sarcastically, “but I did not save your life. You could’ve climbed easily by yourself. You were just a little scared, but that’s normal.”

“I was scared,” he admitted. “But there’s more to it. I’m not a pussy.”

Oh, boy, thought Lily. Was he so bothered by that?

“I didn’t climb back there because I couldn’t,” she heard him say and something in his voice made her listen carefully. She remained quiet, knowing that he would continue.

“A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with unspecified muscle weakness. It comes and goes, but sometimes it gets so bad that I can’t grip things properly, or hold on, or even stand. And sometimes there’s pain as well. Back on the wall, one of my hands was starting to give out and I was afraid that if I moved, I would fall…” 

“You’re sick?” frowned Lily. That did not sound good on so many levels.

“I…don’t know. They ran some tests, and I was supposed to go and talk to some specialists, but the shooting came in between and…I guess I just hoped that if I ignored it, it would go away.”

“So, you don’t know what’s wrong with you?” she concluded. “And…what about the film crew, do they know?”

“No,” said Bruce. “I tried to hide it from them. Mostly by being an asshole.”

Lily sat up straight. So much for her napping. Muscle weakness, it could have been many things and none of them was good. It made her almost feel sorry for Bruce Holt, but she snapped out of it quickly. Why should she feel sorry for him? He could not deal with his problems and now they were in this mess, and that was yet another thing to consider, and what if he had a seizure or something here, how was she ever going to be able to help him or get him out? And yet, before she considered what she was doing, she found and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back. Okay, his grip strength was not that bad, she registered, but then she realized he did not let go. She considered what to do and then decided to let him hold her hand a while longer. 

“You are a grownup, right?” she said. “You know the drill? You don’t ignore bad things, you face them and deal with them. Otherwise, the shit just piles up.”

“I know,” he said quietly. 

“So, I’ll do my best to get us out of here. And when we’re out, you will talk to the doctors, stop the film shooting and take care of your health. Okay?”

 “I’ll try,” he agreed. “Of course, if you say a thing to anyone, I’ll just deny it. And sue you.”

“Oh, and I was just planning on making a fortune by talking to tabloids,” she faked a disappointment.

Lily turned and arranged the foil around them better. She felt Bruce move closer and put his arm around her so that she could close the foil at the front, but although it was warmer that way, it made her even more aware of his body. It had been a while since she was that close to anyone, let alone someone like Bruce Holt, whose whole purpose in life was to look and feel good. She was quite glad it was pitch black around them, so she could convince herself that none of it was real. It was not, anyway.

“You think it might take a whole day until we’re rescued?” she heard him say.

“Could be, but I don’t know for sure. Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve been trapped in a cave. What I do know is that it’s best to stay put. Do you have a watch? We can keep track of time and in half an hour we can check what the water looks like.” 

“And in the meantime? Nap? Or talk?” he asked. 

“I’ve told you to be careful. Darkness makes people chatty. You’ve already revealed to me your most terrible secret. In an hour or so I’ll know enough about you to write your memoirs,” Lily said.

“So, maybe it’s time then you tell me something about yourself?” Bruce suggested.

Or maybe not, Lily thought.

“Now that I think of it, I’d rather nap,” she said curtly and closed her eyes.

Time passed. In the background, the murmur of water trickling sometimes sounded like people talking, but Lily knew better. The access to this part of the cave was still flooded and there was no chance they could have brought divers here that quickly. They would probably do the sensible thing and wait for the water to recede unless the movie people made a fuss and forced some action sooner. Well, divers or no divers, she was not getting wet just so that she could get out of here a couple of hours sooner.

“You awake?” she heard Bruce’s voice above her head and felt the warmth of his breath on her hair. She realized she did not remember the moment he had rested his head on hers, which meant she had fallen asleep at some point.

“How long was I out?” she asked. 

He showed her his watch, which had luminescent hands. The darkness had made their eyes so sensitive that she could see the weak shimmer very well. Half an hour since the last check. She made a heroic but halfhearted effort to get out of his embrace and stand up.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t plan to fall asleep,” she said, knowing full well that she had actually said the opposite. Feeling a little awkward then, she added, “I should go and check what the water looks like.”

“If you have to,” he conceded without enthusiasm. “I was just getting comfortable and was enjoying the scent of your shampoo.”

“Well, that’s nice, I’ll send you a bottle of it when we get out of here. Now, watch out, I’m turning the light on.”

After their eyes adjusted, Lily went to the edge and turned on the reflector on her helmet to see the water. It gurgled unimpressed below them, the level pretty much the same as before, or so it seemed. However, the flow had slowed down and after checking the structures on the walls that she used as a reference, Lily concluded that the level was slowly starting to drop.

“Doesn’t look that bad,” she reported, acknowledging that Bruce had decided to join her on the edge.

“If you say so,” he said after looking down. 

There was not much else they could do, and staring at the water was not going to make it recede faster, so Lily went back to the corner where they’d been sitting. Bruce stretched a bit and then joined her.

“Would you mind if I put my arm around you again?” he asked.

“I’m beginning to think you’re taking advantage of the situation we’re in, Bruce,” she said, feigning seriousness. He smiled at her. It was a nice smile, she admitted, one that would have made his female audience swoon and fall off their chairs. And it was all for her. What a lucky girl she was. But, putting sarcasm aside, he looked much more relaxed and in control than before. It would make any unpredicted situation easier to handle, she concluded with satisfaction and smiled back.

“And light off,” she announced when they settled once again.

“You know, I admire you”, he said after a while. “I’ve been just staring at the darkness for the past half an hour, having weird thoughts inside my head and you were actually able to sleep. You must have nerves of steel.”

“Oh, it’s nothing to admire,” she dismissed it. “I’m capable of sleeping at almost any place, any time. You should’ve seen me at university lectures.” 

She settled more comfortably in his arms. Funnily enough, at some undefined point in time, them leaning on each other like that had stopped being awkward and became almost a source of solace to her. She was not entirely sure she liked that. Men in her life had never been a source of anything but trouble and Bruce was probably not any different, but Lily was also a realistic person. Right now, the situation was more bearable if they stuck together, and he was, anyway, wonderfully big and warm. 

“But feel free to continue admiring me if you please. It boosts my confidence immensely,” she added.

He sighed. “I’ll try. But one thing bothers me. Fearless you are, but not fair. I’ve told you my most terrible secret, and yet you avoided telling me anything about yourself.”

“I haven’t asked you to reveal any secrets. You chose to do it of your own accord,” she observed.

“Still, I’d like to know more about you. I’m curious. You saved my life, after all.” 

She rolled her eyes, but as he could not see it, she clicked her tongue. “You are persistent. So, what would you like to know?” she asked.

“Your most terrible secret?” he suggested.

“A tit for tat,” she concluded. “Fine. Although, I don’t have terrible secrets. I’m mostly an open book. I have things that I don’t stick into everyone’s face, but when people get to know me a bit better, those things kind of reveal themselves.”

“Fine, then one of those self-revealing things about you,” he agreed.

Lily was quiet for a moment. Well, what the hell. After they got out of here, Mr. Bruce Holt would probably forget her name again, so it didn’t matter what she told him.

“I don’t like men,” she said, slightly surprised that of all the things she could have told him, this one came out first.

“You mean, you like women? As in, being gay?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “I’m sexually attracted to men. I just don’t like them. As people. I don’t trust them and generally don’t like to depend on them or have to deal with them.”

“But you’re dealing with a lot of men regularly,” he observed.

“I have to. That doesn’t mean I like it.”

“And why?” he wondered.

Why indeed? She knew well enough why, but it was hard to explain without revealing too much about her past, much more than she wanted or even dared to delve into. But, still, it couldn’t hurt to give him a little. It was only fair, she thought. 

“My father left our family when I was a little girl. My mom then got married to a drunk,” she offered, all the while keeping a safe distance from her feelings. “Eventually, I ended up with my real father again, and his new family. My father found fault in everything I did, contrary to worshiping everything my half-brother did. The list goes on and on. So far, I’m still waiting to meet a man who wouldn’t turn out to be a bastard in one way or another. Hence, I don’t like men.” 

He was silent then. Lily was not sure, but his embrace might have become slightly tighter as if he wanted to express his sympathy. As appalling as it was to be pitied by a man such as Bruce Holt, his gesture was probably not worse than when she had squeezed his hand after he had told her about his health problems. If he could have accepted it and was perhaps even grateful for it, so could she. She tried to rationalize it like that, and yet a part of her tensed and cursed the darkness and the talkativeness that had gotten the better of reason. 

“So, you don’t like me?” he concluded. “But you have to like me. You’re my target audience.”

And just like that, the tension dissipated. She smiled.

“I am a thirty-year-old Ph.D., not a teenage girl or a middle-aged housewife. I’m most certainly not your target audience.”

“Oh, I think you are,” he insisted. “And having a Ph.D. won’t make you impervious to my charm.”

“What charm?”

“The one I’m oozing right now,” he proposed.

“It’s pitch black. What I can’t see, doesn’t affect me,” she concluded. “Anyway, my turn to ask questions.”

“So, that’s how we’re going to do it? Ask questions in turns?” he wondered.

“If you agree. It’ll help pass the time.”

His hand was still on her shoulder, so he could feel it when she shrugged.

“Just to make sure, are there any topics that are off-limits?” he asked.

“I told you, I’m an open book. You can ask me anything you want,” Lily said. “What about you?”

He did not respond at first.

“Okay, no limits. But what I say in this cave stays in this cave. You must promise,” he said in the end.

“You really have trust issues, don’t you?”

“I’m a public person. What do you expect? You’ve no idea how it is when tabloids watch your every step. And if people misinterpret things, which they love doing, it could affect my whole career.”

“Fine, I promise,” said Lily. “My lips are sealed. Anyway, I wasn’t going to ask you if you killed someone. I only wanted to know more about you. Your family, for example. Who are your mom and dad, do you have any siblings, that sort of thing, you know.”

“You can just google that,” he said. 

“Right now, it’s sort of difficult, so you’ll just have to tell me,” laughed Lily.

So, Bruce told her about his parents and his brother and sister. Judging by the sound of his voice, he liked talking about them. He was the only one in his family with a career connected to the movie industry, and he tried to shield the rest of them from the negative effects of his fame as much as he could.

“You seem very fond of them,” observed Lily.

“I am. They are what grounds me. When I start getting ideas about my importance, it’s enough to talk to my dad. Or to my mom. They remind me to keep my feet on the ground.”

“Have you told them about your health problems?”

“No,” he sighed. “I didn’t want them to worry before I had at least some idea what was happening to me. As a matter of fact, you’re the only person who knows, besides my physicians.”

“That’s kind of…sad,” remarked Lily. “That you have no one to confide in. What about your girlfriend, what’s her name…Luna something?”

“It’s been ages since we split up,” Bruce said. “Haven’t you read about it?”

“I’m sorry, but no. I have other things to do than to read about the love life of this or that actor.”

“Even after you knew we were going to work together?” he wondered.

“Why would that matter? I work with a lot of people and their personal affairs don’t interest me one bit. Have you bothered to learn something about me before coming here?”

“No.” Lilly could almost hear the rest of the thought: “Why should I have?” 

“Exactly. So why should I do anything else?” Lily said, annoyed by his attitude. “I think it might be time for you to call your parents. You’re starting to get those ideas about your own importance.”

She could feel him laughing silently and shook her head. He was irritating, but at least he could laugh about it.

“So, no shoulder to cry on?” she asked, cursing herself immediately for the pause before saying it that made her sound as though she was checking to see he was available.  

“No,” he replied. “What about you?” 

“What about me?”

“I know you said you didn’t like men. But is there anyone you’re with right now? Purely fueled by sexual attraction, of course.”

“I’m not going to answer that. Why’s that important?”

“Because I want to know. And it’s my turn to ask a question.”

Lily kept silent for a bit, thinking about the sad excuse for the private life she had. She did not want to admit that to Bruce Holt. On the other hand, rules were rules, and she did say he could ask anything. And not replying would make it seem as if she were hiding something. Or even worse, as if she were embarrassed to talk about it.

“No,” she said curtly. 

“Why? Waiting for the right guy?” Bruce asked.

“I’m not waiting for any guy, right or wrong. I thought I’ve made myself clear on that point. Why would I waste my time on that, when it’s a well-known fact that men prefer cellulite-free butts and perky tits over intelligence and loyalty?”

“How am I supposed to understand this sentence?” Bruce wondered. “That your butt is not cellulite-free?”

“The state of my butt is none of your concern. And neither are my tits,” she added, feeling that he was taking in a breath as if preparing to speak again.

Instead, he burst into laughter. “Okay, okay. Let me rephrase the question. Why do you think that all men are like that?”

“Asks a guy who has only dated models and actresses so far,” said Lily.

“Because I meet mostly models and actresses. That’s the world I move in. How can I date geologists, for example, when I’ve only met one so far?”

“And who might that be? Dr. Dunlow?”

“Who’s Dr. Dunlow?”

“My boss.”

“No. I meant you.”

“I’m a speleologist,” said Lily smugly.

“Whatever. What’s the difference anyway? But you haven’t replied to my question.”

“What question?” Lily pretended she forgot.

Bruce sighed. “Okay, if you don’t have any arguments…”

“I do. I have my personal experience. It’s admittedly not as vast as yours, but I’ve been exchanged for a prettier, less outspoken model sufficient number of times to know what I’m talking about.”

“You shouldn’t let a couple of bad apples spoil your taste for fruit…” Bruce ventured. 

“Thanks for the advice,” she interrupted, “And the comforting words. It means a lot.”

He was quiet at first, but then he said, “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?”

“What do you think?”

“It’s hard to tell. I can’t see you.” 

“I am. Anyway, my turn to ask a question. And since we seem to have become personal with our inquiries, let me just say that from this point on, the gloves are off.”

Bruce wriggled underneath the foil, struggling to look at the watch on his left wrist, which resulted in Lily being pressed even tighter to his chest. The sensible part of her wanted to object, but there were plenty of other parts that silenced it.

“Shouldn’t we check if the water is receding?” he asked.

They spent the next couple of hours chatting, which was interrupted by the search for drinkable water, toilet visits to the distant part of the corridor, and regular checks of water level. Despite her threat, Lily refrained from very personal or uncomfortable questions, partly because Bruce said he would ask her back the exact same thing. She learned, however, about his first pet (it was a dog, what else), about his favorite book (he was not much of a reader), about how he had nearly drowned when he was twelve and how he had almost killed his neighbor with a self-made boomerang. In return, he learned that she had never been allowed to have a pet, that she loved reading but could not decide on a favorite book, that the longest she spent in a cave was one week, and that she loved eating roasted chestnuts.

“How does one become an actor?” she wondered at some point. Mentioning roasted chestnuts had reminded her how hungry she was, so she tried to divert her attention from it by continuing the interrogation. 

“I think a better question is, how does one become a speleologist? I mean, a lot of kids dream about becoming a famous actor or a famous actress. I am yet to meet a child who’d say they’d want to be a speleologist when they grow up.”

“Okay, I’ll let you off on that one. Sure, it’s not your obvious career choice. I studied geology, then specialized in cave exploration. There’s nothing strange about it, really,” she argued.

“But why caves? They are cold. And dark. And…wet. Not to mention confining.” 

“I like it that way. I feel good in dark, confining places.” 

“Sure. And there’s nothing strange about that either,” she could almost feel him winking, as he said it. “I’d feel claustrophobic.” 

“Well, I feel safe,” she said, wishing to end the conversation.

“Safe?” he sounded surprised. 

“Yes. I often used to hide under my bed when I was a girl. Or in a closet. It was dark there and I couldn’t move, but I was safe.”

“From what?”

She said nothing, remembering. He did not need to know that. No one needed to know. And yet, maybe she wanted to tell.

She sighed. “From my stepfather,” she said eventually. 

Bruce struggled to say something, she felt his chest heaving, but then he just grunted and let out the air from his lungs quickly.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but, what did he do to you, Lily?” he asked finally.

“He beat me up a couple of times. Once he pushed me and I hit my head on a shelf. I still have the scar,” she said quietly. “He didn’t molest me – if that’s what you were aiming at,” she added, more lightheartedly than she felt. “But he was a violent man when he was drunk. That’s why my mom sent me to live with my dad.” 

Bruce seemed to relax slightly. “What about her?”

“She stayed with him. Up to the point when he crashed the car he was driving and killed them both,” Lily sighed.

Bruce let out an involuntary whistle, then seemed to realize that this was not exactly an appropriate response, muttering, “I’m sorry.” 

“It was a long time ago,” she shrugged as if that explained why she was so calm about it. The truth was, it was still a painful topic and probably would be until the end of her days, but there was no point in discussing it with him any further.

Bruce slumped slightly. “I’m kind of ashamed of myself for thinking that I had it tough growing up.” 

“I’m sure you had your share of problems. Everyone does.”

“Yeah, but mine came from the outside, and I mostly brought them upon myself. Now I think of it, I was so stupid back then.”

“What makes you think you’re not anymore?”

“Ha-ha,” he scoffed. “If I am, then it’s a different kind of stupid.” 

“If you say so,” she smiled.

“Do you always have to be so prickly?” he mock-sighed. “And here I was, starting to relax in your company.”

“You shouldn’t,” she concluded. “It’s the way I am. I think it’s a reflex. It helps me to keep people at arm’s length. But maybe I’ll try to be nicer and subdue my instinct for bickering. We have enough other things to spoil our mood.”

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate it, in a way. It makes me smile,” he said. “It’s just that in my essence, I am what my therapist would describe as a deeply insecure person.”

“Oh, come on. What do you have to be insecure about?” Lily objected. “Surely not your looks. Or anything else.”

“But I do. I’ve never liked who I was. I’ve never felt special enough, talented, or exciting enough. So, I often pretended I was someone else, someone better. I guess that’s why I became an actor in the first place.”

“Look, I’m trying not to be prickly, as you would put it, but that’s totally stupid. My whole life I’ve been told by almost everyone around me that I was not good enough, that I needed to change so I would fit a certain set of standards. And some of it was bullshit, but some of it was well-meant advice, and yet I’ve never considered changing. My faults might be many, but I am who I am, and I’m proud of it,” said Lily. “And there you are, perfect in almost every sense, not to mention desired by so many people, and you’re trying to tell me you don’t like who you are? I think you’re acting right now. I think you just like to hear people tell you how amazing you are. Don’t you?” 

“Do you know I had two plastic surgeries?” Bruce said abruptly after a moment of silence. “For my ears and my jaw. Wasn’t chiseled enough, you see.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” 

“And I had an eating disorder in my twenties. Well, kind of. I wasn’t eating properly, and I did a lot of sport, much more than was good for me. I’m still seeing a therapist about it. When I’m under a lot of stress, or things don’t work out the way I want them to, I take it out on my body. It’s as if I need to feel that I have at least something under control.”

“Have you been doing that lately?” Lily wondered.

“No. Why?”

“I’m just thinking if it could have something to do with the health issues you’ve been experiencing. But Bruce, if you like feeling in control of your life, why didn’t you take control of your health? Why didn’t you go to a doctor sooner?”

“Because I was scared, alright?” he said after some hesitation. “I still am. I’m scared shitless. I’m scared that they will tell me I have some disease that will reduce me to a vegetable in a couple of years.”

“It’s an option,” said Lily, but knew it was wrong timing for her frankness. His body was tense again and she felt him balling his left palm into a fist as if he was trying to check it still worked. On an impulse, she turned a little and worked her arm around to give him a reassuring tap on the shoulder. To her surprise, he pulled her into an embrace, and she had no choice but to hug him, gently patting his back. 

“It will probably turn out to be nothing serious. Or something that can be easily treated. You should trust modern medicine,” she babbled soothingly. “And if it’s any comfort, I’m scared, too.”

“Why?” he whispered.

“I’m scared that the water is not receding fast enough, and that I’ll have to spend several days cooped up in here with you.”

“Would that be the worst that could happen?” he whispered again, close to her ear. A pleasant shiver shot down her spine.

“Depends,” her voice went up a notch before she was able to reign herself back in. “If we are forced to resort to cannibalism to survive, I fear my chances are slim,” she murmured.

Bruce laughed and they separated, a bit clumsily, due to the darkness.

“If you want, you can lean on me now, try to get some sleep,” Lily suggested.

“No, I’ll squash you,” he refused. “Anyway, I’m not sleepy. I’m hungry, though.”

“You can have the candy bar,” she proposed.

“What about you?”

“I have probably more fat reserves and less muscle than you do, so I need less food to keep me going,” she said.

“I still insist on sharing.”

“A real gentleman, I see. Suit yourself.” 

As they munched on one half of the candy bar each, huddled together again as comfortably as possible, the only thing that could be heard for a while was their chewing. Lily determined, with some surprise, that she was starting to feel quite at home with Bruce. It was probably because she could not see him. That way, she could ignore the fact that he was a gorgeous-looking movie star who, despite claiming differently, probably knew very well he could wrap almost every woman around his finger in just three sentences and a couple of smiles. Scrap that. No sentences, just a smile. She didn’t truly believe in this sudden sincerity and vulnerability he was projecting, a part of her being aware that it was most certainly just an act. Maybe not a conscious act, maybe he believed it himself to be true, but she remembered the behavior she had witnessed from him in the real world and wondered if he, by this point, knew who he really was at all. Was he ever able to stop acting? She hoped so because she rather liked talking to him like this and, she admitted to herself, wouldn’t mind if the water prevented them from being rescued a bit longer.

“When we get out of here,” Bruce said, finishing his piece of the candy bar, “I’ll take you to a nice restaurant to celebrate. Three stars, French cuisine…”

“All you can eat,” she added.

“Is there a French three-star all-you-can-eat restaurant at all?”

“No, but I’m sure you can arrange it.”

“I’m sure I can,” he chuckled.

“Then it’s a deal,” she agreed. “The first thing I’m going to do when we get out of here, however, is to take a nice bath.”

“Oh, yeah, a bath. And I will stretch myself in the sun. I’m so stiff. I’m not sure I can walk properly anymore.”

“You’re right, we should stretch a bit. Come on, I’ll turn on the light and we can walk around.”

She dug her spare headlamp out of her breast pocket and strapped it onto her forehead. Then, after their eyes had adjusted to the light, and Lily had carefully stowed away their foil, they moved, waving their arms, and stretching their legs, as much as the space allowed them.

Lily caught Bruce watching her when he thought she was not looking, and it puzzled her. He had probably just realized that all the things he’d said had been heard by a real person, and maybe he was starting to regret being so talkative. For some reason, it annoyed her. What annoyed her even more, was that although they had spent at least half of a day underground, were exhausted, cold, and dirty, Bruce Holt still managed to look great. She wondered how she appeared to him. Did he like what he saw? And why was that important at all?

“Stretched enough?” 

He nodded but continued looking at her. 

“What, do I have something between my teeth?” she asked.

“No, I was just…”

“Staring at me?”

“It’s strange talking to someone you don’t see. Easier, in a way,” he admitted.

“And now you’re shocked, realizing I’m a real person after all,” she concluded.

“I’m more shocked that I’ve told you all those things about me. I’m usually not that frank with someone I’ve just met.”

“Maybe because you’ve never been stuck with them in a cave for hours,” she suggested. “I told you that darkness makes one chatty.” 

“Not in a cave, no, but what most people don’t know about acting is there’s a lot of standing around. Just waiting for conditions to be right, and such. And, you get to talking with whoever you’re stuck with. But mostly, they are either not interested in the gory details, only in the sparkly product I seem to have become lately…”

“Sparkly indeed.” 

“Or I simply…don’t trust them.”

“Your trust issues again. What, you think they want to use you or something?” Lily frowned.

“I don’t think. I know,” he said darkly.

“Aren’t you a pessimist,” said Lily. “So, are you worried that I’m trying to use you, too?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a little.”

“If it’s going to make you feel better, the only way I plan to use you right now is as my pillow. So, if you don’t mind…”

She showed him to sit down, and he obeyed. Just like that. The total darkness that descended after Lily turned off her headlamp made them clumsy, and they bumped into each other a couple of times before settling into a comfortable enough position. Lily was just about to put her head on his chest and attempt to catch some sleep when she felt his hand on her face.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You’re poking me with the lamp. And my arm hurts. Could you take the lamp off your head? And we, perhaps, switch places? Then I can put my other arm around you.”

Lily nodded, but as he couldn’t see it, she turned the lamp on and tried switching places with him without getting up and still holding the foil wrapped around them. That was, of course, a bad idea because it forced them to crawl over each other and inevitably caused much more physical contact than was good for her serenity. 

“Come here,” he said, putting his arm around her, and as Lily turned off the light, the last thing she saw were his eyes, watching her intently. 

“It’s only a couple of more hours,” she murmured, but she suspected she was trying to encourage herself, not him. 

With Bruce’s right arm wrapped around her and pressed to his chest, Lily had a hard time falling asleep, even though she was starting to feel tired. Judging by his breathing, he was not sleeping either.

“You should try to rest,” she said. “We might have to move soon, and you’ll need to be focused.”

“I can’t. I’d rather we talked.” 

“I thought you had enough of talking. I thought you were doubting my intentions.”

“We don’t have to talk about personal stuff,” he suggested. “We could talk about other things. Like, what do you think about the movie we’re making here?”

“Nothing. I don’t know what it’s about.”

“Haven’t you been given at least some idea?”

“No. They described a couple of scenes and how they wanted them to play out, and we showed them the options. I was mostly concerned with minimizing the impact on the cave, to be honest.”

“Have you been there during the filming?”

“Sometimes.”

“Which scenes?” Bruce was curious.

Lily told him what she could remember, then concluded, “I mean, I get it that not everything in the movies is supposed to make sense, but some of the things they made you do were complete nonsense. I think those scenes were just there to make you look good.”

“Oh, come on,” Bruce sounded offended. “Why shouldn’t they make me look good? You know it took me half a year to prepare for this role?”

“Oh, really?” Lily sighed unenthusiastically.

“It was hard work. I had to bulk up seriously.”

“I’m sure. I’m so proud of you that you managed. You look amazing. You’re such an amazing guy.”

“Now you’re making fun of me again,” he moaned.

“I’m not. I’m just saying things I think you want to hear.”

“I don’t. Not when you say it like that.”

“How would you like me to say it?”

“Like you mean it.”

“Okay, I’ll try,” she cleared her throat. “I’m sure it takes a lot of discipline to look like you do. So, kudos to you. Was that any better?”

“You’re unbearable, you know that?” he laughed.

“I thought you didn’t like insincere people. Those who suck up to you only to use you. That kind,” she replied.

“I don’t. And I’m not sure you’re one of them. If anything, you’re overly sincere.”

“Doing my best,” she said earnestly. “Anyway, what’s with you and trusting people? Surely you must have some friends you can trust. People who liked you before you were famous?”

“I do. But our lives are so different now. I’ve lost touch with most of them.”

“Shame on you,” said Lily. “You should’ve tried harder.”

“I should’ve,” he agreed. “And then, there was my manager who I thought was my friend until I found out he was stealing from me. And my second to the last girlfriend, Cynthia… You must have heard something about it, it was all over the tabloids.” 

“Now that I think of it…no. I haven’t. But please, do tell.”

“Nothing, she just, she blurted out all the intimate details she could think of to the press. Lied about me, accused me of things… They offered her a lot of money, or so I’ve heard. Everything seems to be about money.”

“Well, that’s the kind of world we live in. What did you expect?”

“More integrity?” he suggested. “Loyalty? Even if it came coupled to some cellulite.”

“Oh, you’re prepared to go that far?” she laughed. “But, as a wise man I know once said, you shouldn’t let a couple of bad apples spoil your taste for fruit.”

“I shouldn’t, should I?” he laughed in return.

Eventually, they did fall asleep. Lily woke up first, after an hour or so, she couldn’t tell. She delayed moving as long as she could because Bruce was asleep with his head leaning on hers and she didn’t want to wake him up. But in the end, she had to pee, and reluctantly, she wriggled out of his embrace, trying to gently rest his head on the cave wall behind him. Then she turned on her light, hiding it with her palms. His eyes were still closed, but after a couple of snores, he stirred and opened them. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered apologetically. “Stay put, I’ll be back in a moment.” 

He nodded, rubbing his eyes and face. She walked to the back of the corridor trying to avoid the spot she knew she had used before and, cursing her overalls, finished her business as gracefully as she could. When she came back, Bruce was looking over the edge. 

“What do you say?” he consulted her. 

“Looks good. They might already be trying to come through. The passage we crawled through on our way here is flooded, so it’s a sump now and they’ll need either to dive through or to pump the water out. I hope they’ll choose the second option. I hate diving.”

“Should we go nearer?”

“Yeah. Yeah, we could,” Lily nodded. “There’s some climbing we’ll need to do, though. It’ll be slippery. Are you up to it?”

“I think so. It should be fine,” he said.

“If at any point you start feeling weird, you need to tell me, okay? We can just wait for them. It might be the safest thing to do.”

“And miss all the fun? No way,” he laughed.

They put their helmets on and Lily checked once more if his light was properly mounted and working. Their eyes met. He was nervous, she could tell, but she smiled at him encouragingly.

“I can already smell the food from that three-star place you promised you’d take me to.”

“All you can eat,” he smiled back. 

“Definitely.” 

They began to climb down, Lily first, but they were in no hurry. Partially, it was because they were being extra careful. After almost a day without food and tired as they were, Lily knew they were more prone to making mistakes. But also, it was because she disliked going back to the real world. To the world where Bruce would become hottie Holt, and she would lose a name. Those were silly thoughts, she knew. There was no way around it. They might have been forced to be close for a while, and they might have shared a couple of secrets because they had nothing better to do, but, out there, where normal life would take over once more, any kind of bond that she had imagined to exist between them was bound to evaporate. It was sad, but that was life.

They came as far as they could go, reaching the ledge just above the water level. The water was blocking the passage, as Lily expected, but it should not be too problematic for the rescue crew to come through. Even as she thought about it, she noticed something.

“Turn off your headlamp,” she said to Bruce.

In the darkness that ensued, they could see lights refracting through the water.

“Here comes the cavalry,” said Lily quietly. Great. 

“You know, if this was a movie, the two main characters would probably hug tearfully, glad they were alive,” he observed.

“And kiss. You forgot that,” she joked.

“I didn’t. I just didn’t want to freak you out.”

“Excuses, excuses,” she started, but forgot what she wanted to say because Bruce had put his arms around her and pulled her closer.

“Thank you, Lily. For everything,” he whispered.

As he was not letting go, she returned the hug reluctantly.

“Sure, no problem. Just doing my job,” she muttered, confused by this outburst of sentimentality.

They parted, but Bruce remained way too close, his arms still on her shoulders. The lamp on his helmet was crooked, blinding Lily a little, and she could not see his face. He was not going to do it, was he? He was not going to try to kiss her now, seriously? She had to stop him before it was too late.

“But this is not a movie,” she muttered, reaching up to adjust his lamp and using it as an opportunity to back away one step. “You know that, don’t you?” 

He nodded, his helmet slipping down over his eyes, giving her a sad smile, and let her go. Lily could not believe what had just happened. Sure, she wanted to kick herself for stopping him, but she also wanted to kick him, for getting lost in his fantasy. What did he think? That this was the right way for their adventure to end? That she needed that kind of ending? That she would let him kiss her just because he was Bruce Holt and they had shared a candy bar and an Astro-foil for a couple of hours? And what then? Had he ever thought beyond that one kiss, or was he expecting the end credits to roll right after?

No, obviously not, she concluded, looking at him sideways. It didn’t matter. With a splash and some air bubbles, the first of the divers came out, and then the second. Lily sighed and turned on her light to draw their attention. 

It was day outside when they left the cave, wet and not altogether unrelieved. There were a lot of journalists, an ambulance, and all the expected stuff: movie crew recovering from the shock, her boss recovering from a hangover, most likely, and a couple of her students who seemed to have mixed feelings about her getting out of the cave in one piece. Somewhere along the way, Bruce and she got separated, and although he turned once to look in her direction, and she waved back at him, Lily was quite sure, when she left the ambulance to go home, that she was never going to see him again off the screen.

***

Lily had been given a couple of days off to recover and she used the time to catch up on some work and remind herself what her priorities were. Despite all her urgent introspection in the cave, the voice that had so pointedly called her to rethink her life was no longer screaming at her. There was enough to think about without opening that can of worms, anyway. 

In the meantime, the hubbub about their rescue quieted down and, from what her boss told her, the filming crew had finished with their work and packed to leave. The local news company called asking for an interview, but she let Dr. Dunlow take care of that, with a suggestion that he should harvest as much publicity for their projects as possible. The irony was lost on him. He still had not connected with the fact that the filming had been a bad idea to start with.  

As she milled about the house, doing all the things that she never had time to do because of her workload, she occasionally thought about the way that Bruce had looked at her…or had felt under her hands…and the temptation was right there for her to feel sorry for herself, but, for the most part, she was good at suppressing it. That is what she told herself anyhow. Did she feel any regret about not getting to taste that food in a three-star French restaurant after all? No. Not really. Okay. Maybe a little. But she argued that she’d known from the very beginning that it was never going to happen. Still, every time she looked at herself in the mirror she had to tell herself, quite sternly, her stepmom’s voice ringing through, to pull herself together – it really was never going to happen. 

She wasn’t feigning surprise, therefore, when one morning there was a ring at the door of her apartment, and she opened it to see Bruce Holt standing on her doorstep. 

“Hi, Lily,” he said.

“Hi, Bruce,” she replied. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon. Or ever. Without paying a ticket, that is.”

“Oh, come on. You didn’t think I’d leave without saying goodbye?”

“Silly me. You were even mentioning a restaurant if I remember correctly,” she said.

“Well, about that…” he said.

She smiled and motioned to him to come in.

“Never mind. I have some pizza in the kitchen.”

He was groomed and charming, as was to be expected. How he was able to make jeans and T-shirt look well-dressed was something of a marvel. And there she was, wearing a worn-out shirt and an old pair of jean shorts, her brown hair tied in a messy ponytail, generally looking as if she had just crawled out of that cave without taking the bath she had so desired back then. To hell with it. He was here to say goodbye, and for that, she didn’t need to wear a ball dress. 

“Wanna take a seat?” she offered, pointing at a small gray sofa in the sparsely decorated living room, but he made no move to enter the apartment properly.  

Standing somewhat awkwardly in the entryway, he said apologetically, “They’re waiting for me downstairs.”  

“Sure,” she said. “So, goodbye?”

“Goodbye, Lily. And thank you once again.”

“Take care of yourself. I mean it. Go see that doctor, okay?”

“I will. I wish you good luck with your project. A part of my earnings from this movie goes to you guys.”

“Wow, thank you,” she smiled. “That’s very generous, Bruce.”

“It’s the least I can do. And you were right, it’s a much better way of spending my money than on parties and drugs.”

“It sure is.”

They hesitated. Lily noticed how his dark hair curled prettily on his forehead, and how his eyes had a soft green shimmer to them, reminding her of the surface of the lake at the entrance to the cave. And, while she was at it, she couldn’t help but appreciate an impressive job that those surgeons had done on his jaw. 

“So, have a good trip back to…wherever it is you’re going to,” she said. 

“There are a few weeks of shooting left in Europe, and after that, I have a short break between projects. The post-production on this movie will last a couple of months, but the premiere is scheduled for next summer, and there will be some work around promoting it. Not my favorite part.”

“I’m sure you’ll do a brilliant job.”

“What about you?”

“I have a couple of conferences coming. A book to write. About you, of course,” she said with a wicked smile, but then continued, “About my work. It’s so much more interesting to me.” He didn’t even look hurt, just gleamed, and it made her ramble on a little more, “Yeah, I’m working on it with Dr. Dunlow and some other people. Then there’s students to torture. That kind of thing.” 

“Sounds exciting.”

“Well, okay, so it’s not as exciting as getting trapped in a cave with a movie star, but I only have so much room in my schedule for that sort of thing,” she quipped.

“Yeah, I know how it goes – they only let me get trapped in one cave every couple of years or so…” 

“So. Uh…” Lily ventured for what to say next. 

He stood there and just looked at her and she was not sure if she wanted him to leave or stay like that forever.

“Come here,” he said finally and spread his arms. “A proper goodbye requires a hug, and it’s not like we haven’t done it already.”

She nodded and hugged him. There were much fewer clothes between them in comparison to the last time she’d done something similar, and she caught herself thinking how it would feel if there were no clothes at all. It was only a split-second thought. 

“Goodbye, Bruce,” she whispered.

“Goodbye, Lily.”

And he was gone.

***

It took Lily some time to stop thinking about him, and then still some more to stop herself from avoiding thinking about him. She tried to tell herself that there was nothing there that she needed to avoid. The whole episode, from the flooding to their rescue, seemed so fantastical, that it didn’t take much coaxing for her to accept its sheer improbability and convince herself that she had imagined everything. Maybe not the events but certainly his friendliness, the hesitation to let go of her when he had said goodbye, the almost kiss in the darkness of the flooded cave.

She traversed the cave several times after the water completely receded to assess the effects of flooding, and climbed once to the ledge that she had shared with Bruce for a couple of very long hours. Their footprints were still visible in the mud. The next time she visited the cave, she didn’t go there again. What was the point?

After a while, as months rolled by and autumn was exchanged by winter and winter by spring, it became a memory, a fond one, but as distant to her as the dark side of the moon.

Until, one day, Dr. Dunlow came to her office and slammed an airplane ticket on her desk.

“You’re flying on Monday,” he said.

“Flying where? Why?” she stared at him in confusion. 

“To promote the movie. The one they filmed here last summer. With Bruce Holt,” he said.