“Yes, sir,” Lyla said, sinking into the isolated steel-framed chair that stood in front of a panel of four people.
Only one of those people worked in her department, though all of them were executive level employees with the entertainment channel she worked for: Channel Prem. One of the most successful commercial channels in the country.
“Do you know who Nairn Strickland is?” Alan Bunyan, the network director asked her.
Sitting in a larger chair than the other three on the panel, Bunyan was the only one who’d spoken thus far, but he was known for his need to be at the center of attention any time he was in a room.
His question was silly enough that Lyla stopped tugging on the cuffs of her oversized sweater and actually smiled, something she didn’t think she’d be doing in this intimidating meeting. “Of course,” she said, glancing at each face before continuing as it seemed they wanted her to do. “He’s the station’s biggest star. He hosts Boys Night three nights a week with Noah Tate and Nathaniel Green. Known as the ‘Threens’, the three of them were often seen around town together, drinking, partying with different women, and just generally being boys behaving badly. “He has a show on our radio station late Sunday night and he hosts Truth or Dare, one of our flagship quiz shows.”
Truth was, Nairn was everywhere, and while his reputation appealed to adult audiences, he was huge on social media too with fans in most age ranges from teenagers to middle-aged men and women from many backgrounds. Men wanted to drink with him, women wanted to screw him, and the younger fans idolized him.
This was a first for Lyla, being addressed by the network director. When she’d been called into this meeting, she was sure that she was being fired because the only man she knew would be here was Ritchie, her direct superior. Though she had thought it was weird that he was pulling her into a meeting in one of the fancy boardrooms as opposed to into his office where she’d seen people lose their jobs before.
Ritchie was sitting at the end of the long table, saying nothing, he was more like a decorative paperweight than a bookend. He didn’t seem to have any useful task other than to bulk out the numbers or fill space. Her boss was in his forties and always seemed stressed, she’d never once seen him crack a smile.
Bunyan was older than him, using the features of his appearance alone, the lines on his forehead and the thinning of his hair, she’d put him in his sixties, but she knew he was actually only in his mid-fifties. Maybe the trials of his job added years, she could understand that. But it would probably help if he kept himself in better shape. Although he was tall, he carried more weight than he needed to and seemed to sweat a lot too. Lyla wasn’t sorry she hadn’t spent more time around him, his bluster made her uneasy.
“Good,” Bunyan said, looking to his colleagues before taking a breath and looking her square in the eye. Uh-oh. “We’re going to need you to marry him.”
The universe went onto pause. Lyla wasn’t even sure what he’d said and she knew three languages, comprehension wasn’t usually a problem for her. “I’m… I’m sorry, what?”
Bunyan clasped his hands together and took on a learned air that was probably supposed to condescend her. “It started with this petition, about a month ago, remember, with the suicide kid.”
A teenager who’d featured on one of Prem’s reality shows had overdosed after taking part in the show. It didn’t matter that the coroner found a verdict of accidental death, the public had launched a campaign against the channel. Someone had written a powerful letter blaming the media for his death and, tearing into executives for using the desperate public as puppets who were taken advantage of by the money hungry media simply because they were naive and believed fame and recognition would solve all life’s problems.
“Yes, sir, but I—”
“We were accused of liability in his death.”
Everybody knew that, there were articles in all the papers and spread across online media about the case and the responsibility of entertainment providers. “Yes, sir.”
Bunyan’s attitude wasn’t one of remorse or even reflection, this whole thing seemed to be little more than an inconvenience. “It’s ridiculous of course, but we decided we could not ignore the accusations in the letter attached to the petition.” And with the civil case being brought by the kid’s parents, the channel needed to do some damage control. “So for our next project, we have to use our own people, to prove that we don’t only take needless risks with the schmucks out there in the world, but that our shows are so safe and fair, that we would use our own people, even those we value most.”
That explained why Nairn would be involved in this project, he was the face of the channel… after ten PM anyway. “I understand, sir,” Lyla said. “But why would you choose me to—”
“Interviews were conducted, covertly, we studied personnel records, spoke to staff, and the aim was to find a bride who was the most opposite to him. We still want to make great television. It’ll be called Opposites Marry. You know, as opposed to Opposites Attract.”
Yeah, she got it. Lyla’s mouth opened in an ‘oh’ as the woman at the end of the table spoke up. “We couldn’t allow the premise of the show to seem too obvious or easy. The point is to put a real challenge to our people, make it as difficult and as fraught as possible. So,” she said and smiled. “We chose you… There isn’t a person on the premises who’s more different to Trick than you.”
Ok, so Lyla had to marry a man, not just any man, but a famous one, and it had just been confirmed that they had zero in common. “Forgive me, but… I’m not a celebrity… I’ve never been on TV, and I have no interest—”
“But you’re still one of us,” Bunyan spoke again. “You’ve worked for the company for five years.”
In her quiet, little anonymous corner where she was quite happy. “Yes, but I’m a researcher, I’m not—”
“Your role is perfect,” Bunyan said. “We won’t have to worry about conflicts with Trick’s schedule, you can work around him. If you were another personality from the channel, it would seem gimmicky, no one would believe it. We want everyone to believe it.”
“Believe it,” Lyla said, still struggling to incorporate the reality of this conversation into her psyche. “Believe that Mr. Strickland and I are… getting married?”
“The public will know it’s a setup, but over time, we’ll decide how the relationship should progress. We will sell it as a real marriage, you guys have to appear to be in this to make it work. The premise of the show is simple,” Bunyan said. “We’ll keep both of you apart until the actual wedding, you’ll be given discretion over your dress and that stuff, but the details of the day will be at Prem’s discretion, you won’t have to organize anything. We’ll send a designer around to fit you for the dress you want. Hair, make-up, everything will be taken care of. You will meet Trick at the ceremony.”
Lyla would meet the man she was supposed to marry on her wedding day. If she was inclined to swear, she’d probably try it now. “I… I can’t marry a man I’ve never met.”
Everyone on the panel laughed, she didn’t get the joke. Bunyan threw up his hands. “That’s the whole idea! Marrying a stranger, it’s always a hit concept.” Not a new one, but still, he was right, it was popular. “You’re living a dream, marrying a popular celebrity who millions of women would love to be tied to.”
Yes, millions, she wasn’t one of them and wasn’t interested in fighting with the competition. “Wasn’t he dating Kira Levine for a long time?”
Bunyan nodded. “Yes, but they broke up months ago. He’s single.”
Well that was always a point in the favor of any betrothed. But an underwear model, really? Why would he go from one of the world’s sexiest women to… her? Lyla wasn’t known for being sexy, she wasn’t known for being anything. Her clothes were drab and oversized, she just didn’t care about what she wore and would always choose comfort over style, not that she had any sense of style that she was trying to keep secret.
“Why would he agree to do this?” Lyla asked, maybe if he backed out, she wouldn’t have to.
Again, everyone laughed. “Oh, Trick is up for anything,” the woman at the end of the line said.
The blonde was familiar, she wasn’t a board member and it only took a second for Lyla to identify her. “You’re Sadie Lawrence,” Lyla said, remembering things was sort of her job. “You’re Mr. Strickland’s producer.”
“One of them,” Sadie said. “And he prefers Trick… no one uses his full last name, and not even his mother calls him Nairn.”
That prompted another thought, Lyla’s attention went back to Bunyan. “Our families, what about our families?”
“They’ll be invited to the wedding. Like I said, this will be a real marriage, the public want to see you fall in love… it doesn’t matter that it’s all a con,” Bunyan said, becoming to demure as he explained. “The wedding will be your first meeting with Trick, you’ll be given some time after the ceremony to talk with him. There will be pictures, a reception, the works. The wedding will take place on Wednesday, you’ll go on honeymoon on the Thursday to return on the Sunday.”
Thoughts of how her family would handle this and how comfortable she was conning the public fled when she heard the word honeymoon. “Four days,” she said.
Away… alone… with Nairn Strickland… what the hell would they talk about? She knew nothing about sport or liquor or the latest entertainment hotspots.
“Yes,” Bunyan said. “His radio show is live, everything else is, or can be, pre-recorded. The radio show is the only thing we can’t alter, so he will have to be back in time for that.”
His radio show. But no talk of her job. When Lyla turned to Ritchie, the head of her department and a man she’d only ever exchanged a few words with since her initial interview five years ago, she noted that he didn’t seem to care much about that.
“Your workload will be adjusted as is required,” Ritchie said. He was at the opposite end of the table from Sadie, and it seemed a bit unfair. If Sadie was here as a representative of Trick, and was his good friend, shouldn’t Lyla have someone equally invested in her standing in her corner? Apparently not.
“Trick’s apartment is right in the center of the city, just a ten-minute cab ride from the studios—”
“His apartment!” she exclaimed. God, that was a point, if she was supposed to marry him then she was supposed to live with him. “I couldn’t move.”
“You would have to,” Bunyan said. “You have to live with your husband. These transitions will be what makes the show worth watching.”
“Worth watching,” she muttered. It didn’t usually take her so long to catch on, but the shock of this had put her on the back foot. “You’d be recording everything.”
“There would be cameras placed throughout the apartment, your office—”
“I don’t have an office, I work in a bullpen,” Lyla said.
“Wherever they’re deemed necessary,” Bunyan said like she was just being awkward and maybe she was. “And there will be a camera crew with you at all times too. There will be two shows a week. One with footage of what has happened, the reality aspect, the second will be interviews conducted with each of you and those around you, intercut with footage of incidents that have happened, and probably some unseen stuff. That will be worked out in editing.”
Followed by a camera crew, her life bugged, taking part in weekly interviews where she’d be quizzed about the intimate details of her life with a man known for being highly sexed. Yeah, this was probably her worst nightmare.
In another testament to her shock, Lyla’s next question burst out of her. “What about sex?” she asked. Intimacy was not a subject she frequently spoke about, but it was important for her to know what her husband would expect in that arena.
Sadie smirked and picked up her pen as if she needed a distraction. “You’re not required to have sex with him.”
But you will.
The final three words weren’t said out loud, but they were in the eyes of everyone on the panel.
Why were they so sure of that? Because this Trick guy was so charming an irresistible that she’d never be able to put up any defense against his seduction? Shame that they didn’t understand how non-sexed she was.
Lyla wouldn’t want to make any assertions because she hadn’t met the guy after all and maybe he did have magical powers. To get into her panties, he’d need them. That or a miracle from above.
“No, I didn’t think I would be,” Lyla said, confident that she could keep her legs together. If the studio tried to write any kind of sexual obligation into the contract, they’d be opening themselves up to all kinds of law suits later and this show was meant to be solving problems, not creating them. “I meant him, will he be discreet with the women he’s sleeping with? He’s known for being on late night, how much coverage will there be—”
“We won’t discount airing anything,” Bunyan said. “One of the USPs of this show is that it will air after-dark, so it won’t be censored. If you, or Trick, engage in any kind of intimate activity with each other or other people, we reserve the right to show everything.”
Good, then she definitely wouldn’t be sleeping with him. “Because it makes good TV.” Would she be expected to perform? If she caught him in bed with another woman, was she supposed to flip out? She wouldn’t, she couldn’t care less who this stranger slept with.
“It does,” Bunyan said. “This will be compelling television. Trick’s name alone guarantees that the tabloids will be interested.”
Inhaling, she pushed back her shoulders and returned Bunyan’s stare. “Thank you for the opportunity,” she said and rose. “But I have to decline, thank you.”
Bunyan’s confidence faltered for the first time, and he turned to the man at his side like maybe he needed a translation. “Decline? You can’t decline,” Bunyan said.
Lyla was confident that she could. It was an intriguing idea and if she wasn’t so risk-averse she might think about giving this a go. But there wasn’t any person less camera-ready than she was.
“You can’t force me to marry a stranger and have my life scrutinized under a media microscope I never coveted.”
Obviously, her refusal hadn’t been factored into the schedule. “No, but… this is an incredible opportunity… and you will be compensated.”
So she’d get a salary bump for entertaining the station’s biggest star? “Thank you for considering me, really, I am flattered, but I’d move on to the next woman on your list.”
At least she wasn’t being wishy-washy, they had to give her that. Lyla was confident in her refusal. “No list,” Bunyan said, thrusting to his feet. “There is no list. We all agreed. As soon as we saw you, we knew, there is no one better suited for this.”
No one less like Trick. “Sir, I—”
“Take a day,” Sadie said. “Twenty-four hours to think about it… I understand why your instinct is to say no, but it’s fun, that’s all. Don’t think of it as a life commitment, it’s three months, and I can guarantee you one thing.”
Sadie smiled and her eyes flicked to the side for a second before returning, like she knew some big secret she wasn’t sharing… yet. “You’ll have fun with Trick. It’s his life’s mission to push people’s boundaries and take them on an adventure. It’ll be a wild ride.”
Right. Except her name and the word “wild” were antonymous. “I’m sure he’s a barrel of laughs,” Lyla said. “But I don’t want to be married to him.”
“Sometimes it’s the risks we take that define us,” Sadie said. “That’s one of Trick’s mottos.”
Maybe Sadie thought she was building on the mystique of the man who was a stranger to Lyla, the meek researcher. Instead, she was giving Lyla reasons to say no.
“You have until the end of business today,” Bunyan said. “We’ll expect your answer. We can’t delay any longer.”
No, because if the wedding was next Wednesday, it was already Thursday, that didn’t give much time for planning. Lyla was pretty sure she wouldn’t be the one walking down the aisle to marry Nairn Strickland and she sent out a silent prayer for luck for the poor woman who did.
© Scarlett Finn 2017