A/N: So, I know I should be working on chapters for my current unfinished stories, but this one just wouldn't leave me alone. I don't want to give too much away here, so I'll just leave you with :
Matchmaker : Chapter 1
Disclaimer: Don't own Chuck.
"What d'you mean I "have" to do it?" she asked indignantly. "First of all, I've tried very hard to keep my private life just that: private. Why the hell would I willingly subject myself to this… circus? If Graham thinks I'm going to whore myself out to him or any other studio, he can go f-"
"Whoa! Whoa, whoa. Sarah. Calm down. Nobody is whoring anyone out. Alright?" the older woman interjected with a calm, soothing tone. "What we're saying is that this show is very popular and would go a long way to improving your image."
"What the hell's wrong with my image?!" she snapped, folding her arms across her chest with a raised eyebrow.
"Nothing is wrong per say. It's just that the industry has type cast you into a certain kind of role. Don't get me wrong," she rushed out before Sarah had another outburst," you're amazing in these action/adventure roles. After all, you're the quintessential badass. However, studios are more likely to overlook you for … more serious acting roles. I know that you're a talented actor, and those talents are being wasted in these roles. Sure, the money's great, I'm not complaining, but if you want to be seen as a more versatile actor, you have to reshape how it is that they see you. They need to see you in a … a different light." She paused to gauge Sarah's reaction, the younger woman's expression thus far had been stoic. Sarah lifted her gaze from the floor, and after a moment, gave a single nod.
"This show is a sham. You and I both know it. Hell, most of America knows it too. Nobody expects you to be… 'intimate' with any of these guys. However, it does give us an opportunity to show the world that you're more than spin kicks and knife fights. This is our one chance to show everyone that you have a softer, kinder side," the older woman continued, sounding the consummate saleswoman.
"So what? I'm just supposed to … bat my eyelashes and swoon over a parade of brain-dead Ken dolls? This is what I'm reduced to if I want to be taken seriously as an actor?" Beyond irritated, Sarah threw her hands in the air and began to pace the room like a caged animal. Her lips were moving slightly as if she was having a conversation with herself. After a few moments, she spun and pointed her dagger-like finger at her agent.
"Diane, I swear to God, if they think I'm gonna act like some airhead just because I'm blonde, I'm walking. To hell with Graham, to hell with the contract. I will not put up with that shit," Sarah demanded. She absent-mindedly picked up a magazine from the table, her smiling face on the cover. Exasperated, she tossed it back on the table, a little harder than was necessary.
"Look, I know the director of the show. He's a very… passionate man. Sure, he's a man-whore through and through, but he really is a decent man at heart. He's not going to force you to do anything you're not comfortable with. Besides, he knows I'd cut his balls off if he tried it." Sarah couldn't help herself but snort, her foul mood starting to lift a little.
"Sarah, just give it a chance. It could really help change your career trajectory. Besides… there's going to be twenty-five very attractive, very available, men trying to win your heart. I know you're not looking, but…" Diane trailed off giving Sarah a wry smile. The younger woman rolled her eyes good naturedly as she headed toward the exit.
"I'll be there tomorrow for the meeting. I hope I don't regret this," she muttered as she closed the office door behind her.
Walking into his apartment, he set his keys in the bowl beside the door, thumbing through the mail. "Bill. Bill. Junk mail. Junk mail. Bill annnnnd Ju-" he stopped, looking at the envelope again. It looked reasonably official with actual stationery and everything. Out of curiosity he opened the letter and unfolded it.
"Dear Mr. Bartowski,
The extended warranty on your 2015 Hyundai Elantra…"
"Ugh. Of course," he groused, crumpling it up and throwing it away with the other pieces of junk mail. He plopped down in the oversized chair in his living room, propping his feet up on the matching ottoman. He let out a long sigh, sinking further into the comfortable chair as it practically engulfed him. It had been a long day, as most of them were, and it was nice to just sit and do nothing for a minute. He'd been staring at a computer screen for so long today that he had a red line across his eyes where they had begun to dry out from not blinking. That used to be a common occurrence during all night gaming sessions. Now, it was all part of trying to meet his self-imposed deadline for the release of his own game. This would be his company's second release and he wanted it to be even better than the last. That meant lots and lots of long hours. It was nearly finished. Following the completion of revisions post-beta, it would then go gold and be ready for production release. While he was nervous about how well it would be received, even with the glowing reviews during beta, he still felt a sense of relief, like he could finally take a breath.
Closing his eyes and enjoying the quiet, he was rudely jolted from dozing by the ringing of his phone. Groaning, he fished it out of his pocket and checked the caller ID. He didn't recognize the number, but it wasn't flagged as spam so he took a chance seeing as it could be work related.
"This is Chuck," he answered, trying his best to not let his weariness show in his voice.
"Is this ...Mr. Charles Bartowski?" the woman asked, her voice sounding more chipper than he was prepared to deal with. This call had telemarketer written all over it. He knew from experience that these were just people, trying to make a living just like anyone else. It wasn't personal. He took a cleansing breath to center himself before answering.
"Yes. This is he. How can I help you?" His previous years of customer service had served him well, allowing him to put on the 'happy face' just as well as the woman on the other end of the line.
"Mr. Bartowski, my name is Megan Page and I work for NBC's 'Off Screen Romance'. We received your application to appear as a contestant on our show. The show's producers and director liked your application. They would like you to come in for an audition." There was a long moment of silence as Chuck tried to make sense of what the woman was talking about before he spoke.
"I'm… I'm sorry, Megan was it? You're with who again?" Chuck asked, sounding thoroughly confused.
"Yes, Mr. Bartowski. I'm with NBC's 'Off Screen Romance'. It's a dating show where a celebrity, a woman this season, is presented with a group of eligible bachelors selected from everyday men. Throughout the show, the group of contestants will get whittled down until she makes a final selection to be her 'Off Screen Romance', hence the name. You did submit the application to be on the show, right?. Or perhaps, someone may have submitted it on your behalf?" Her question swirled in his head until one name came to mind: Ellie!
"Yes, Megan. I suspect that somebody must have submitted the application for me, and I have a pretty good idea who. I don't think I'm the right kind of guy for your show. I'm not exactly the chiseled, underwear model type these shows usually look for," he confessed, shrugging to himself.
"Mr. Bartowski, we're looking for contestants that aren't models or actors, but rather people working normal jobs, living relatively normal lives. The details from your application were quite impressive and they'd like to invite you to audition. You know, to see how you look and act in front of the camera. That sort of thing. It would only take about an hour of your time." Chuck typically had a hard time saying no to people, and this 'Megan' sounded like a nice person. The thought of being on a TV show was frightening in and of itself. He'd had more than his share of painful rejections, so having yet another one broadcast to the nation was definitely not appealing.
"I... I don't think so but thank you anyway. It was nice of you to extend the invitation," he said with a genuinely apologetic tone.
"Well, if you change your mind, the auditions will be Thursday afternoon. I've sent you an email and a text with the time and location. I hope you'll reconsider." She added the last bit a little more casually than the rest of the conversation, which caused him to take notice.
"Th-thank you, Megan. I'll keep it under advisement. I appreciate your call." With that he hung up, staring at the phone in disbelief. Dropping the phone in his lap, he ran his hands over his face, letting out a long groan of frustration. Ellie was taking it to the next level to try to set him up on a date. She had been trying to set him up for years, practically throwing her eligible hospital friends at him. The three times he had acquiesced had all ended in disaster. After that, he refused to go on any more of Ellie's blind dates. Since then she had signed him up for speed dating and various online dating sites. Chuck had a hard-enough time talking with women, especially in a social setting, but trying to do that while working against the clock was just out of the question. When the deluge of creepy contacts from the dating sites poured in, he immediately deleted those accounts and expressed, under to uncertain terms, that she was to 'stop helping'.
It had been almost a year since her last attempted intervention, so perhaps Ellie thought the statute of limitations had run out on his demands. He needed to get this under control, and now. He blew out a long breath and collected his phone, placing a call to Ellie. As he listened to the ringing, he tried to think happy thoughts. He didn't want to blow up at her. After all,what she was doing came from a place of love, but he just wanted to do this on his own.
"Hey Chuck! To what do I owe the pleasure of this call? You're not bailing on Sunday dinner, are you? Please don't tell me that," she pleaded, her voice sounding a bit whiny.
"No, El. I'm still on for Sunday. We do need to talk though," he replied, sounding a bit short.
"Uh oh. This sounds serious. What's goin' on?"
"Does the show 'Off Screen Romance' mean anything to you?" He knew he sounded accusatory, but he couldn't really help it.
"Sure. I love that show! One of those guilty pleasures, I guess. Last season was a bit of a letdown though. The actor they chose was kind of a dick. It's probably on Netflix if you wanna watch some of the other seasons." She was doing an outstanding job of keeping the amusement out of her voice he thought. Still, he soldiered on.
"N-no. I don't want to watch it. Ellie, I got a phone call from them today saying they got my application. I don't suppose YOU know anything about that?" He was expecting her to dodge the question as she normally did. He knew her so well that he could almost always tell when she was lying or hiding something. The unfortunate reality was that she had that same power over him as well.
'What?! Are you freaking kidding me? You're going to be on 'Off Screen Romance'? Chuck! That is so amazing. I'm so proud of you little brother. I always knew-"
"El... El... Ellie! Stop! I'm not going to be on the show. Geez. Calm down. They just called to invite me to audition. I assumed it was you that sent the application in. Are you telling me it wasn't you?" He seemed less sure now, given her reaction. Perhaps it wasn't her after all.
"No! I didn't do it. You told me to stay out of your love life, so I've washed my hands of it. You're a grown ass man, and if you want to be alone and miserable, I clearly can't stop you," she chided, sounding more than a little irritated. He opted to let that go. He wasn't in the mood for an argument, which was the only place that conversation would go.
"Alright, fine. If it wasn't you, then who?" They were both silent as they pondered the question. As if some strange sibling bond had connected their minds, they spoke in unison.
"Morgan!" Of course, it would be Morgan. He was a great friend and always had the best of intentions, but he just never thought things through. The more he thought about it, the more this little stunt had 'Morgan' written all over it. Morgan was only second to Ellie when it came to trying to get him to get out and date. Given this dating show would undoubtedly have some beautiful celebrity as the focus of the show, that would certainly peak Morgan's interest.
"Chuck. Look… I know what you're gonna say, but please hear me out first." She paused to wait for a protest, but when all she heard was a sigh, she decided to push on. "I know you say you aren't looking for a relationship, and I know what your reasons are. I don't necessarily agree with them, but that's neither here nor there. It may not be ideal, but you have a rare opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, try something new. It's been five years, Chuck. Five! Will you do this one thing for me and just go to the audition? Try this thing out and see it through. If nothing comes of it, so be it, but at least you tried something. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We always regret the things we never had the courage to try. Don't let this be one of those things."
Chuck could hear the pleading in her voice, almost to the point of desperation. She could easily guilt him into it by bringing up all of the sacrifices she had made for him over his lifetime. She was too good of a person to ever pull that trump card, but the guilt he felt was still there all the same. Maybe if he did this and showed her how pointless it all was, then she would leave him alone about it once and for all.
"Fiiiiine. You win. I'll do this, BUT when they undoubtedly pass me over, that's it. No more fixing me up, no more dating sites, and no more nagging me about my dating. Deal?" His stern tone offered little room for argument. Ellie didn't have the heart to tell him that he couldn't scare her bunny slippers, but she agreed all the same.
"Deal!" was all she could say, a whisper of a squeal escaping, despite her best efforts to hide it. Chuck hadn't missed it though, and was shaking his head in amusement, even though she couldn't see it.
"Alright. I gotta go and read Morgan the riot act. Then I'll forgive him once he's groveled sufficiently, just like always." He snorted, slowly beginning to find a little humor in the situation.
"Hey. When's the audition?" Ellie rushed out, trying to catch him before he hung up.
"It's Thursday, I guess. I dunno when, they're supposed to send me the details in case I … changed my mind," he ended a little glumly.
"Call me the minute you get out. Let me know how it went." It wasn't exactly an order, but if he didn't want her to text him every ten minutes, he'd better agree to it.
"Yeah. Yeah. I'll call you," he droned on, but there was a hint of mirth in his tone. "Love ya."
"Ditto. And Chuck?" She paused to make sure the call had not disconnected. "Just be yourself. If they don't want the real you, then you don't need 'em. Love you." With that the call ended, leaving Chuck sitting in silence in his oversized chair.
"Oh, come on Blondie. This could be fun. Just think of it. They parade a group of hot guys in front of you and you get to pick which one you want. It's the ultimate in table-side service," the auburn-haired woman exclaimed, popping another grape in her mouth.
"Carina, I don't need a man, thank you very much. I've had quite enough of their bullshit to last me a lifetime," Sarah barked, stabbing at her salad.
"Whoa. Eaaasy," Carina mused. "You gonna eat the plate too?" Sarah rolled her eyes at her friend and huffed, her shoulders slumping.
"You know what your problem is?" she asked, waving a baby carrot around as she spoke.
"No, Carina. Why don't you enlighten me?" Sarah's tone was full of bitterness as she continued to stab at her salad. The table was silent for a moment, causing Sarah to lift her gaze. Carina stared back at her with a flat look, her expression stoic. Sarah immediately deflated, realizing she was taking her frustration out on one of the few friends she really had.
"Sorry," Sarah apologized, looking a bit sheepish. She squirmed in her seat a little, trying to diffuse the awkward feeling.
"As I was saying," Carina continued in a more quiet and calm tone, "The problem lies in the men you gravitate toward. Think about it. Dick… sorry, 'Richard', Bryce, Cole, Daniel…" Carina counted them off on her fingers as she went." God. Daniel. How did you stand dating that block of wood? I've seen coat hangers with more personality." Carina shivered, her auburn hair tossing from side to side. Sarah couldn't help but burst out laughing at the analogy, nearly choking on her salad. Once she got herself under control, she was able to finish swallowing her food, washing it down with her bottled water.
"We weren't dating. I went on one date. That was plenty. On set, I thought that he was just focused on the movie, you know? Trying to stay in character, that sort of thing. Well, turns out he has no character. God, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I think there was a trail of smoke from his car to my front door." The two friends laughed for a few moments longer before Carina got back to the subject.
"OK, but my ruling still stands. You tend to date men you work with," she immediately held up a finger to silence Sarah, who was attempting to protest, "and those men tend to be shallow, self-absorbed, self-serving assholes. Now, I know what you're going to say, 'On set is the only place I meet people.' That's only true because you never go out. You never take time for yourself. You jump from one project to the next without taking a breath. Now, I get it. You spend months on end with these guys, so it makes sense that you'd develop a relationship with them. But ask yourself, even before all their lying and cheating, were you really, truly … happy?" Carina finally took a breath from her rant to take another bite of her lunch, giving her friend a questioning look. Sarah tossed pieces of her salad around the plate with her fork, contemplating Carina's assertions. Without a word she just shook her head, setting her fork down on her plate, leaning back in her chair.
"So, let's break the cycle. Try something different. Are you gonna find 'Mr. Right' in one of these guys? Highly unlikely. But you will get to experience different people. People who aren't actors or celebrities of some sort. Maybe… just maybe… one of them might have a personality. Or," she gasped in mock excitement, "maybe one of them might actually be…. NICE!" They were both quiet for a moment before they burst into laughter. The men they had encountered in the LA area had been many things, but nice was not one of them.
"Carina, I'm only doing this show because, one, I have to as part of my contract, and two, to hopefully get some exposure as somebody other than 'Jen Burton' or 'Katie O'Connell' or… 'Becca Franco'."
"Hey! I like those bitches. They're badass. Especially in 'Heart of Darkness', when Burton was surrounded by that group of Ravagers and she-"
"Exactly! That's what people remember me for. Sure, I'm not ashamed of the work I've done. I've always given one-hundred ten percent, but I'd like to do other stuff too. Like, I dunno. A …" her words trailed off, ducking her head.
"I'm sorry. What did you just say?" Carina asked, mouth agape. Sarah just furrowed her brow, assuming her friend was making fun of her. "Did you say, 'romantic comedy'? The 'Sarah Walker' in a romcom?" Carina asked incredulously. Sarah sunk further in her chair, folding her arms across her chest.
"Shut up," she grumbled, starting to pout.
"No. No. Don't you close up on me. How long has this been a thing? You've never mentioned this to me before." Sarah just shrugged, still pouting slightly.
"A while now, I guess. I'm just not funny, so I never really entertained the idea before."
"That is such bullshit!" Carina exclaimed. "You're damn funny. Your jokes or quips are smart but most of the idiots we surround ourselves with, they just don't get it. Don't sell yourself short. Sarah Walker can do anything she sets her mind to. Got it?" Sarah looked up at the celery stick that Carina was brandishing, along with the intense glare. Carina was brash and crude, but underneath that public persona, she was a good and caring friend.
"Thanks. Don't you have to get back to work?" Sarah asked, checking the time on her cell phone. Her friend grimaced, bouncing her head from side to side.
"I gueeeeess. It's just a stupid perfume commercial. There are all these curtains or some shit flying around, my hair being swept away." Her arms flailing around, demonstrating with exaggerated motions as she spoke. "Then, after all that, I only have to say one damn word. 'Desire'. I swear, perfume commercials are so stupid. They have absolutely nothing to do with the product. Eh, what do I care? They're paying me a ridiculous amount of money for a day's work. Who am I to complain?" Carina got up and rounded the table, leaning down to give Sarah a hug.
"Good luck Blondie. Give me a call later. Let me know how the meeting goes." Sarah returned the hug and said her goodbyes. She sat on the cafe's patio, finishing her lunch in peace, thinking over all the things that she and Carina had talked about. She chuckled to herself, shaking her head. Maybe Carina was right. Right about her career possibilities, right about dating. Maybe she had been looking in the wrong places. She shook that thought out of her head. She needed to focus on her career first. Everything else would have to take a backseat.
A/N: So, it's a start. What do you think? Drop me a review or PM.