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“I have this recurring dream of being naked in the middle of a whole crowd of people in a nightclub,” Orlando said as they wandered along the beach later, after the sun had set and the privacy of darkness had closed in around them. “Some anonymous blond is blowing me and I always wake up just as she looks up at me.”
Craig tightened his arm around Orlando’s shoulder and drew him nearer. “How long has that been going on?”
“The first time was just after my first big interview. About once every couple of weeks since, sometimes two nights in a row.”
“Dreams about being naked in public are supposed to indicate an underlying feeling of vulnerability. So they say.”
“Which fits, I s'pose.”
“And the blond? You never saw her?”
“No. But I’ve only just realized it wasn’t even a woman.”
Orlando was laughing now. “It was you!”
“Me? But I’m not – Oh now, hang on, hang ooonnn! No, it still wasn’t me. It was that snotty Elf, Whatshisname.”
“I never saw much of you out of costume, not once Elf-School was over, so I suppose I quite often thought of you as an Elf. In fact the most time I ever spent with you other than the Lothlórien bit was when we were doing Helm’s Deep and it was constantly pissing down with rain. I get weird flashbacks about that too.”
“I don’t know. Wasn’t it fucking awful? Always cold, always wet – and dark. I hated the night shifts -- at the time, anyway. Looking back, it was one great big adventure and I’d do it all again tomorrow. But when we were doing it, it was insane and miserable. Even when it wasn’t raining, they’d turn the showers on us. Some days I’d be still cold from the night before.”
“They made a big point about how they were monitoring everyone for hypothermia, yet they missed you on that one occasion.”
“I think that’s what I flash back to. I remember being mind-blowingly cold and completely out of it.”
“You were. But when Orlando trots around spouting gibberish, people think it’s reasonably normal.”
“Thanks a lot!”
“A mate of mine got a bad case, years ago. We were out sailing. He just suddenly came apart at the seams. Went manic. Complaining about being hot and trying to rip off his clothes, cracking very strange jokes. You didn’t get that far but you were working on it.”
“I did a very fast crash-course in sailing -- emphasis on crash -- and got us back to port with only a few dents to his yacht.”
“No, I mean during the shoot. I remember you being there -- and holding onto me.”
“Yeah, and roaring at people for not noticing that you were going down for the count. You’re talking about something that only lasted a couple of minutes. It wasn’t that profound.”
“It must have been. It’s been stuck in my mind ever since. That and an imaginary blow-job. I’d had the dream the night I phoned you. And I had the flash-back the moment I arrived here.” Orlando leaned closer to Craig. “Maybe I’ve just been getting subliminal messages from somewhere, telling me it was always supposed to be you.”
Orlando could hear the smile in Craig’s voice.
He added, “I still don’t want to go back.”
”You have to, no question about it. There are contractual obligations for a start. Start fighting those and you’re in court before you know it."
“I know. What if I didn’t? Would you want me around?”
“No question about that either. But about the going back – the acting, the control, the whole star-fame shebang. If it didn’t mean so much to you, you wouldn’t have ended up in a state of near collapse from stressing over it all. You’d have simply said, ‘Fuck it!’ and walked away. You’ve got unfinished business, something to prove, to complete, or to get out of your system. Go back and do it, Orlando, or at least work out for sure if it’s really what you want.”
“Will stay here and miss you like hell -- and watch with interest. I'll wait impatiently -- and hope you come and see me now and then.”
“I want to, and not just now and then. Lots of times, whenever I can, whenever you want me to.”
“Your schedule won’t allow you to be here as often, or for as long, as I’d want you.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes. The tide was out and the beach endless and smooth. The moonlight in a cloudless sky was sufficient to light their way.
“Could you see this coming?” Orlando asked, “Us?”
“Not in my wildest imaginings, and I assure you they’re pretty wild.”
“It scares me sometimes, the suddenness of it. The intensity. So unpredictable.”
“That’s why I didn’t want it all happening so fast. I thought you’d get a fright and run like hell back to the circus.”
“I feel -- ”
“I don’t know.”
What words described a combination of happiness, excitement, terror, and uncertainty?
“Another bungee jump,” he decided, “That’s what it feels like.”
“I didn’t want that.”
“I know. It’s alright though.” Orlando laughed again, “I’ve done it before. I’ll take care of you. You might even enjoy it!”
“No, Orlando, no wild rides.” Craig’s voice was gentle. “And as much as is still possible, I want to keep it private. No public groping and letting it all hang out. No flagrant displays of high-camp. I don’t want everyone looking at me as though I’m some kind of self-indulgent exhibitionist.”
“Is that what you think I am?”
“No, not by nature. I think you like it a little slower too. If you want people to know, fine. But it can be done without noisy stunts.”
“I want to wear you for everyone to see. I’d love everyone to know and – and to see, that you make me so incredibly happy.”
Craig stopped walking and jerked Orlando to a halt in front of him.
When he spoke, his tone was hard. “Then we’d better call it off right here and now before we go any further.”
Orlando shook his head, feeling suddenly very cold again. It frightened him, how the implications of just a few words could make him feel so completely gutted.
“No,” he said slowly, “I don’t want to do that.”
Craig reached his arms around him, drawing him close. He could feel Orlando trembling through several layers of clothing,
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, “Neither do I, but we have to work out a few things, alright? We don’t have a lot of time left. Better to do it now, get it out of the way.”
“It’s as good a time as any to make a start.”
Orlando took a deep breath, “Okay. But first I really want to know why you’re so dead set against publicity. I mean you do a lot of public appearances and everything. You don’t mind mixing with other people all the time. But when it comes to anything to do with me, it seems to be all about hiding. And I know you say it’s for my benefit – for my privacy and everything – but I get the feeling it’s more than that.”
“Yes it is. There are some things that are mine, things that just aren’t for public consumption. My pleasure, my pain, my love, my sexuality, my vices, my weaknesses, my secrets – Orlando, they’re all mine. Tell me, why the hell should I have to share them with the whole bloody world? The only people who are entitled to share them are those who inspire them.”
Orlando shrugged. “I always figured that if I spend most of my life in front of everyone, they might just as well get to see it all. Especially if someone’s paying me a lot of money to do it.”
“No. They pay us for acting. The only thing we’re obligated to show the public is what we’re paid to show them. And if it’s all bullshit and lies, fantasy and sham, they have no right to complain. It’s what they’ve paid for. I’ve never signed a contract in my entire life that says I have to give them absolutely everything. Have you?”
“No, I s’pose not. You know, you can be really hard and cynical at times”
“Yeah, I know. It’s probably a survival instinct thing. I’m trying to keep my sanity intact and a portion of my life separate, so that when the game’s over, I have something of value left, something that hasn’t been tainted and trivialized. Aren’t there things you’d like to keep to yourself and not have exposed to the world?”
“Then add us to the list.”
“Okay,” Orlando conceded, “If it’s what you want, we’ll never been seen together in public again.”
“It’s what I want, for now anyway. I don’t want us to wear each other. When I see people looking at either of us, I want them to be able to see only what they’re entitled to, what they’ve paid for. But there’s no way I’ll ever willingly allow them access to us.”
Orlando attempted some half-hearted humor, though there was still disappointment evident in his voice. “Can we touch each other twice as much in private then, to make up for all the times we can’t do it out in the open?”
“Of course.” Craig said, lifting his wrist to peer it his watch. “It’s getting late. We’d better head back.”
They reached for one another again and began the gentle stroll back.
Orlando asked eventually, “Was it the same for the others?”
“To a point, but I’ve never been this exposed to the spotlight before, or at least not one that’s this intense.” Craig sighed, grappled with words. “Before ‘Rings’, no-one outside New Zealand knew who the hell I was, or even cared. My fame – “ He emphasized the word with a hint of mockery. “ – was such a localized, small-scale thing. You’re aware of how much more laid-back people are here. No one really gave a damn about me, or the fact that I’d only ever been seen with male partners. It had all been a matter of ‘So what?’ up until now. After the initial flurry of speculation years and years ago – and it lasted about five minutes in all – I’ve been left alone. So have my partners because they haven’t exactly had high profiles either.”
“Now the whole world wants to know.”
“Exactly. And the curiosity has been multiplied by the scale and duration of the film trilogy, the increase in the size of my own profile, your own very high profile, a sudden explosion within the fan-bases of both of us – oh God, Orlando, when I think about it, I’m starting to realize just what an insane idea this was to begin with!”
“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that.” Orlando said quietly, “You make it sound like you regret everything.”
“No, I don’t.”
Craig stopped abruptly and rested his hands on Orlando’s shoulders, turning him bodily until they were facing one another.
“The only things I regret, love, are that we took so long to happen, and the fact that the odds are currently stacking against us by the minute. None of it's going to be easy. You might be the one ending up with all the regrets.”
“No. If it comes down to a choice between us and them, they won’t even get a look-in.”
“It’s too soon to say that. We haven’t even had a particularly close look at ourselves yet, at all the things that have nothing to do the rest of the world but are going to matter anyway. We’ve got a hell of a lot of things to sort out.”
“Sometimes you really sound as if you’re trying to put me off.”
They began walking again.
“It’s still your call and it’s always going to be that way.” Craig said, “Because you have the most to lose if it all blows up in our faces any more than it has already. We both have to know what we’re going to be battling the whole bloody time, and that most of it will be between ourselves.”
“Career differences for a start. Mine’s never going to match yours in terms of exposure. Look at our personality differences – I’m a bath-freak and you’re a bungee jumper! I could end up boring you to death or you might frighten me to mine. And sooner or later we’re going to have to have a look at where we screwed up in past relationships so we don’t make the same mistakes.”
Orlando laughed bitterly. “Why the fuck do you have to be so analytical about everything? Why can’t you just let it happen?”
Craig didn’t answer, preferring to wait and see if the penny dropped of its own accord.
It did, eventually, as they turned and walked up the beach toward the house.
“Alright,” he conceded, “I’m getting the message.”
“Just think about it. We won’t go into it any more tonight. Maybe a bit more before you fly out to Welly tomorrow. What time’s your flight again?”
“Okay, we’ll play it by ear.”
Craig took Orlando’s hand and lifted it to his lips, pressing a kiss to the back of it.
“I’ve let things just happen in the past, love, and the result was always loss. A bit of effort on my part could have saved them. I’m determined not to make all the same stupid fucking mistakes. I don't ever want to lose you."
“The only thing that’s different in our situation,” Craig said as they drove up to Auckland late the following morning, “Is that your career's bigger than mine and, for once, I’m going to be the one taking the passenger seat.”
They hadn’t talked earlier in the day, but had lingered in bed and made the most of a few quiet hours before the coming week apart. Now, with nearly two hours’ drive ahead of them, he thought it seemed as good a time as any to begin the necessary soul-baring, to attempt to articulate the accumulated hurts, mistakes and misunderstandings of the past.
“In the past it was always me fucking everything up, one way or another. I think the thing that pissed them off most – the others – was that this non-career of mine – something to which I’ve never given an absolute, one hundred per cent commitment – was always coming between us. I had these strong, passionate relationships, but this bunch of stupid, unimportant, uninspiring factors gradually contributed toward killing them off, every single one of them. And the worst part is, I let it happen.”
“What sort of factors?” Orlando was slumped back in his seat showing little interest in either the scenery or the conversation. Asking the question seemed to have been an effort.
“We’d be a thousand miles apart because I was off having fun. I’d work long, insane hours doing something I could take or leave at any time, while they’d be at home twiddling their thumbs. And I’d become this local media celebrity and simply laughed it off, the recognition and everything, while they remained just Craig Parker’s latest partner, name unknown.”
“Possibly a bit of that involved. Certainly none of them lacked ambition. If anyone did, it was me, yet I was the one who seemed to achieve it all without any real effort.”
“I think – from their point of view – I’d have been pissed about that too.”
“You know, I’m going to resent a shitload of people for having access to you while I can’t, but I’ve experienced it from the other side so I’ll deal with it, alright?”
Orlando nodded mutely.
“My last partner said he wished he’d been sacrificed for someone or something I’d actually loved, instead of what I’d always considered as just a bit of fun. He said he’d grown to hate me because I had reduced us to something that took second place to nothing much at all. I wish he’d told me before it was too late.”
“Suppose he had, what would you have done? Given it all up for him. Would you have given your career up for any of them?”
“No, of course not.” Craig’s response was emphatic. “Because then what would I have done with myself, become a house-pet? What I do is who and what I am, and it’s the same now as it was in the past. Sometime down the track, I’ll be doing something completely different, and I’ll redefine myself differently. No one’s static. What about you, Orlando? I know you’ve said you don’t want to go back to your present situation, but would you give it all up for someone? For me?”
Orlando was silent for a couple of minutes. When he spoke again, his reply was hesitant.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure who I am yet. Everyone defines me as a film star but I don’t really feel like one. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to do this all the time, and for that reason I might be able to give it up -- at this point anyway -- because it’s not all that I am. If I forget the star shit and think about what else matters in this world to me, I can only think of the people in it and how I relate to them. Not things, not money, not career. Just the people I know.”
“You’re different here with me than you are with others. Sometimes it’s hard to accept you’re the same person as the public Orlando Bloom. For quite a while, I was convinced I didn’t particularly care for the person you had become.”
Craig glanced sideways and saw the look of hurt as Orlando asked quietly, “I haven’t changed have I?”
“Yes, you have. The real Orlando – the one I’ve had with me for the last week – is a lot softer and more vulnerable than ever, whereas the Orlando the rest of the world sees is becoming more and more like a publicity-generated decoy.”
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to take that as a compliment or – “
“Just an observation. I think it’s your own survival instinct kicking in. Give them what they want or expect, and save your real self for those you trust.”
Orlando nodded. “They do expect a different me. The fans, the others.”
“The Orlando who doesn’t care when Elijah Wood wraps himself around him while the world’s press snap away and suggest it to be the most public pseudo-fuck in history?”
“It was just one of those whacked out things he does now and then. Just a bit of fun.”
“And I suppose Dominic was just curious to find out what you’d had for breakfast earlier when he shoved his tongue down your throat that time. All ripping good fun, for you, for the Hobbits, for the fan magazines and gossip columns.”
“Don’t worry, we were read the Riot Act for those things. They’re not likely to happen again.”
“I hope not,“ Craig sighed. “I’m not some uptight prude, Orlando, but some actions appear really cheap when seen through the eye of a camera.”
“Those photos that have just turned up. Do they make us look cheap too?”
“I don’t know. Possibly. But I think my own reputation’s unsullied enough for the locals to know I don’t bullshit around with just anyone, or simply for a bit of fun.”
He sighed then, adding as an afterthought, “Which may or may not be a good thing in itself.”
He glanced again at Orlando, saw that he had slumped down even further in his seat and was looking out of sorts as he gnawed distractedly on a thumbnail.
He drove for a few minutes in silence then abruptly pulled the Jeep off to the side of the road, bringing it to a halt as far from the road as possible.
Orlando’s brow furrowed. “Why are we stopping?”
Craig snapped off his seatbelt and leaned over toward Orlando, cursing the console between them. He slid one arm around him and cupped Orlando’s face in his hand, kissing him slowly and very gently. He barely moved his lips away.
“I wanted to end this conversation so I wouldn’t be sending you off to Welly feeling discouraged and upset.”
“You’re making it all sound so hard, so complicated.”
Craig nodded slightly. “Because it is, and it’s not going to be easy, at least not at the start. You know,” He rested his face against Orlando’s, lightly nuzzling the smooth cheek. “I’ve loved you so intensely and for so long, and I still can’t quite believe you’re here, and that we’re actually discussing some kind of future together. I wanted to get the hard, complicated bits out the way early so we can build on whatever’s left.”
He kissed Orlando again, just the lightest brushing of lips. “I love your fearlessness, your ‘fuck the world’ attitude. But a lot of people don’t, nor can they understand it. I suspect they’ll translate it into arrogance or contempt, and their reaction will be to want to kill it off.”
Orlando whispered, “It’s the way I am. I can’t change.”
“You told me they’re already forcing you to change, and that you’re starting to doubt yourself. You’re going to have to keep it constantly at the back of your mind that they’re never going to accept the two of us together. You’re much more bankable playing it straight.”
“But if we don’t yank their chain by going public -- if we keep it very quietly to ourselves -- we’ll stand a better chance. Alright?”
“Okay.” Orlando grimaced slightly. “I’ve got a hard-on.”
“Tell me about it!” Craig laughed and drew away, easing back into his seat and fidgeting until he could ease the discomfort a little. “One of the drawbacks of being male. They arrive unsolicited and often at times you’re least in a position to take care of them.”
He started the car again, checked for traffic and then pulled out onto the main road.
“What’s the itinerary for the next week?” he asked eventually.
“Just catching up with everyone really. A sneak preview of 'Towers', and probably some publicity appearances, but no actual film work, at least I don’t think so.”
“Is someone meeting you at the other end?”
“Yeah. And I’m staying at Pete’s at his insistence, which is nice. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“I’m glad about that. You’ll be looked after there. You’ll be able to relax.”
“I’ll call you when I can, so keep your phone handy.”
They parted quickly and discreetly, sharing a last furtive kiss before Orlando pulled on a baseball-style cap and wrap-around sunglasses, grabbed his bag from the back seat and disappeared into the domestic terminal.
Craig drove up to the city, to his apartment, intending to linger in town for a couple of days and do a bit of shopping for the house, a house he suspected was now going to be a rather lonely place at times.
He considered dropping by the pub usually frequented by the theatre crowd, and enjoying an evening in the cheerful company of friends but he knew, despite their best attempts at tactfulness, that the subject of conversation would eventually drift to Orlando and the photos. It was too soon, the fear still too raw. It worried him, the awareness that Orlando was out there and would eventually have to face the sharks alone.
I’m such a fucking coward! Thanks Mark, for making me what I am...
Instead, he ordered in a meal, opened a bottle of wine when it arrived, and settled down with ‘Cat’. He knew now, that he was going to do Brick Pollitt as the repressed homosexual, because that was close to how his own life – the public one – was going to be for some indeterminate period of time.
Once again, he was going to enter a too-familiar state of denial.
'LEGOLAS RETURNS TO MIDDLE EARTH'
'RINGS STAR BACK IN TOWN'
'LEGGY DOES WELLY'
The headlines, accompanied by photographs of Orlando leaving the airport in Wellington, were trumpeted in the various New Zealand newspapers the following morning and had duly circulated around the world via the Internet by the end of the day.
Outside the Miramar complex of studios and workshops, a loudly vocal group of fans, and an aggressive bunch of reporters, were waiting when he arrived around the middle of the day in the company of a New Line minder. He had been forewarned of their presence, had even been offered the chance to avoid them, but he’d merely shrugged and pointed out the inevitability of having to face them.
The fans had been kept outside the perimeter fence by security, but the press had been admitted and descended on him the moment he climbed from the car.
“How are you enjoying your visit, Orlando?”
He gave a wide enthusiastic smile. “It’s been great so far. I love it here. It’s the best place in the world!”
“How long are you here for?”
“Just for a few more days, to spend some time with Pete and the production crew, and to get ready for the promotion work.”
“Have you seen the finished film yet?”
“I don’t even know if it is finished yet. I’ve only seen the trailers like everyone else and it’s looking fantastic! Really exciting! I can’t wait to see it all.”
“Were you upset about the pictures of you and Craig Parker together?”
He composed his face into a mask of polite neutrality and kept the tone of his voice light. “I’d rather not comment about that if you don’t mind. It’s private. You know.”
“Any plans to move here on a permanent basis?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it before. It’s always lovely to be here though. I love coming back.”
“Do you think your relationship with Craig Parker will damage your sexy screen image?”
He gave a wide, puckish grin, “I don’t think of myself as sexy really. None of my roles so far have been sexy in any way, and in the trilogy, I’m a fantasy character, an Elf! To me, the Elves seem androgynous and almost asexual. Arwen preferred that filthy human to me so that must tell you something!”
“There’s been a lot of speculation about your sexuality in the past. Was it all true?”
He shifted back to polite neutrality. “It’s really no one else’s business. I’m here to find out how best I can promote the films. That’s all that matters really.”
He looked beyond the reporters to where several dozen fans were peering through the chain-link fence. He raised an arm and waved and laughed in delight at the response.
“Can I --?” He looked around to consult his minder, received a brief nod and then dashed over to the gate, beckoning the fans toward him.
It occurred to him that he felt less intimidated by this noisy, excited group than many of the fans he’d encountered overseas, and that he feared them far, far less than the media contingent they currently outnumbered.
He spent half an hour signing autographs and having pictures taken with some of the fans. He answered questions about his long hair, the film, and the other cast members, politely smiling and shaking his head when the questions became too personal. He accepted the compliments and gushing declarations of devotion with grace and good humor, knowing that the actions of the fans, as well as his own reaction and performance, were being monitored by his minder.
When he finally moved back inside the perimeter fence, he was relieved at how positive the situation had been, that there had been nothing indicative of disapproval or hostility.
The reporters slipped in another couple of questions.
“Were you expecting any unfavorable responses from your fans over the Craig Parker pictures?”
Orlando smiled without hesitation. “We’ve all been amazed at how friendly and encouraging the fans are. They’ve been really wonderful.”
“Will you be coming back for the premiere?”
He nodded with genuine enthusiasm. “I hope so! We’d all be here if it were possible.”
He spotted his minder signaling to him from behind the reporters and gave an inaudible sigh of relief as he made his escape.
“Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy the film when it comes out!”
He couldn’t get into the building fast enough and in his head, he heard Craig murmuring his approval, ‘Well done, love.’
He smiled to himself, pleased.
The six days in Wellington were busy, every hour accounted for in simply catching up with people who had worked on the project, or in performing promotional work of various kinds. He spent another full day hanging around Miramar, chatting with many of the people at the studio and at Weta, observing them as they worked, and marveling over the end results of their efforts. He was approached by local television and radio stations and agreed to do a few sessions of interviews and a bit of co-hosting. Lightning fast pre-briefings turned them into further promotional opportunities.
On the last afternoon, he was given a special private screening of The Two Towers in its almost completed state and was left speechless. The rough cut of Return of the King left him even further astounded.
“He’s fantastic, isn’t he?” he said to Peter as Viggo’s face consumed the entire screen.
“Absolutely. No one else could have pulled it off. What about yourself? Happy with your edits?”
“How could I not be? I’ve probably been given far more screen time than I should have.”
Orlando laughed. “None! Though I think I might have to work really hard to exorcize that Elf. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it. It could take forever, you know? And even then…”
“How about regrets?”
He thought about that one. “About being part of all this? No, I don't think I’ll never regret it for a second.”
He continued to look at the screen, but he was aware that the diminutive man beside him was watching him closely.
“What then?” the director asked, “You sound as though you’re having second thoughts about something. What is it?”
Orlando shrugged, gave a forced smile. “Sometimes I think it was too much, too soon. And that it was all so incredibly easy, compared to how it might have been. You know, I’ve been quoted so many times saying the same thing. I was a nothing kid, a complete nobody still in school, then suddenly I was handed this fantastic life. All because I looked a certain way and could act a bit.”
He indicated the scene currently up on the screen, just raw dialogue, no sound effects, no background mood music. “I wonder how I’d have managed if I’d had to wait twenty years for the break like Vig did.”
Peter rumbled in his throat and squirmed in his seat with irritation. “For a start, mate, the looks and the ability were important enough but not everything. They were just two parts of a whole package.”
“And what were the other parts?”
“Attitude. Stamina. Dedication. Passion. Determination. Enthusiasm. Belief in the vision. We had a list of criteria and whenever we considered someone, they had to have a bloody big tick next to all those, and a few more as well. It was always going to be years of long, hard work. It still is. We’ve got loads of work still left to do. All of us have. We’ve all held up pretty bloody well.”
They watched Viggo again, making energetic swordplay look effortless. Then Peter looked sideways at Orlando again.
“Having said that, how are you personally holding up? Gotten over that little problem from a couple of weeks’ back?”
Orlando nodded, “Yeah, I’m okay. Just getting a bit claustrophobic I think. I needed a break.”
“You’ve been given an itinerary for the next few months. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
The itinerary was a list of whistle-stops as long as his arm, crammed into about a month before the release, the staggered premieres, then another month, minimum, of interviews and personal appearances. A flicker of panic reached Orlando’s eyes and didn’t go unnoticed.
“Are you sure you’re going to manage?” the director asked again.
“Yeah, I’ll manage. It’s not like I haven’t done it all before. I’ll be fine.”
“Orlando,” Peter was suddenly hesitant, and clearly uncomfortable. “About Craig.”
Orlando faced him squarely now, his eyes maintaining an unwavering contact. “It wasn’t something either of us saw coming. I didn’t pull any stunts and he didn’t work out this elaborate plan just so we could fool around for a couple of weeks. It just happened.”
Peter held up his hand in a gesture of defense. “Hey, I don’t doubt that, not for a minute. And no one on this side of the Pacific will have a problem with it, despite the stupid bloody way the papers have handled it so far. I’m starting to think Fleet Street has set up a camp here and it’s something we really don’t need. But anyway, just keep it as low-key as you can. I expect Craig’s pretty snarkey about the current developments as it is.”
Orlando nodded and sighed. “Got it in one.”
“Okay, well sort something out between yourselves. I can’t speak for our other half but, as far as we’re concerned, it’s your business. Just be careful right?”
Orlando nodded again, relieved. He’d half-expected a lecture of sorts, had worried that he might have had to offer endless apologies, justifications and assurances.
“There are plenty of personal time-outs in that schedule,” Peter said, changing the subject cleverly. “So make sure you stick to them and use them to relax, really relax, I mean. They’re not for going out pub-crawling or for killing yourself trying out some local recreational pursuit. We were all pretty convinced we’d eventually lose you to death by bungee or similar. Memorize your time-outs and you’ll have something to focus on. If you need a bit extra, for Christ’s sake call me and we’ll work something out. I’ll get you back here to sweep the floors if I have to.”
Orlando smiled, touched.
“A bit of Jackson logic, mate,” Peter added, “Hobbits are like house-bricks. You’d have to use a sledgehammer on them to make an impression. But Elves though -- they’re like high quality lead crystal. Pretty solid stuff, but hammer them and they break. So avoid anyone waving a hammer if you can.”
Orlando gave a gesture of irritation. “I’m surrounded by them!”
“I know. Just take care of yourself.” Peter cleared his throat. “Anyway, we’ve run out of film. Any impressions so far, please?”
Orlando nodded. “Fantastic! You’d better dust off the mantelpiece for your Oscars.”
“Not even going to think about doing that until I’ve got one in my hand, and it’s not going to come easily. We’ve been a bit too successful for our own good and that makes people want to knock us back in our place.”
“Would it worry you if they – well – ignored you?”
“Awards are nice but only an idiot goes looking for them. If they’re due, they’ll come to us. In the mean time, we’ll stay where we are and keep doing what we do best, in the company of the people and stuff that matter most.”
Orlando had called Craig each evening to tell him about the day, but the ten or so minutes of chatting was less about catching up and more about maintaining closeness and re-establishing intimacy, as much as was possible over a phone. Both knew it to be a trial run of sorts, for a longer separation over a greater distance.
For his last evening in Wellington, the Jacksons had organized a big barbecue at their home and were expecting ‘a cast of thousands’, as Peter had warned him, with an added assurance that they were all friendly.
Over the course of the week, he’d weathered a number of mild panic attacks and the odd blinder of a headache, but had managed on each occasion to excuse himself for a few minutes of quiet isolation to mentally regroup.
During that last evening phone call, he had heard the sounds of activity and exertion and had gotten as far as asking Craig, “What're you doing?” when the familiar coldness had engulfed him without warning, and his heart-rate had suddenly accelerated in a frantic attempt to out-beat itself.
As he’d done each night, he’d strolled from the house, sought a bench-seat under a tree in Jackson’s vast back yard, and called Craig on his mobile phone. He sat there now, using the trunk of the tree for support as, of its own accord, his body began to engage itself in battle.
He vaguely heard Craig’s reply of, “Just finishing off the painting, some fiddly bits. I get it done faster, Bloom, when you’re not flitting around seducing me. Hold on a sec’, I just want to get the worst of this paint off my fingers.”
Orlando smiled even though he felt revolting.
He waited, heard Craig humming along to Nat King Cole in the background, the sound of running water. He closed his eyes and pictured Craig’s mobile sitting on the counter top, saw him washing his hands at the kitchen sink.
He tried to override the faintness and nausea by doing a mental tour of the house, visualizing each room and the view of the ocean beyond. He strained to hear over the staccato thud of his heartbeat, to work out what song was playing.
’I see your lips…The summer kisses… The sunburned hands… I used to hold…’
‘Autumn Leaves’, one of Craig’s favorites -- a little melancholy and impossibly mushy.
‘But I miss you most of all, my darling… When autumn leaves start to fall…’
Orlando pressed the flat of his hand over his eyes and swallowed hard, thinking that the last thing he needed was to succumb to tear-jerking on top of a panic attack.
Craig’s voice returned him to the present.
Orlando took a deep breath. “Sorry, I was off daydreaming.”
Craig murmured softly, “Nice dreams?”
“Not really dreams. Just thinking about things. I miss you a lot, which bothers me because you’re a couple of hours away and I’ve only been away from you for five days.”
Orlando forced himself to laugh, to take some of the intensity out of it, and to stop it sounding like a whine. “I’m sorry. It’s been good here, and I think I’ve convinced Pete I won’t crack up any time soon. I just can’t wait to get home tomorrow.”
He closed his eyes for a moment and gave an inaudible sigh of relief, realizing that the symptoms had peaked, and that his body would gradually begin to relax and settle down again.
Craig asked, “What time does your flight get in?”
“I’ve got another appearance in the morning so I’m booked on a mid-afternoon service. I think it gets in just after four.”
“I might do something really daring and be there when you get in, unless it’s a bit too crowded for comfort, then I’ll have to delegate Beccs again.”
“Does she mind?”
“Oh, she grizzles a bit but I’m convinced she enjoys my permanent state of indebtedness to her.”
Craig lowered his voice still further, signaling that the remaining few minutes of conversation were going to be about themselves, and no-one else.
‘The boudoir’s all finished and waiting for a decent running-in period. I think we should have accomplished that by this time tomorrow.”
“Did you finally get some curtains?”
“Yes, fear not, I finally got some curtains to shield the blushing Bloom from the world. And none of this silk or satin sheet rubbish for the bed. We’re going to put a few creases in some wickedly expensive linen.”
Orlando smiled again, already knowing how good it was going to be. “I can’t wait.”
He felt a surge of pleasurable anticipation begin to warm away the last chill of anxiety.
“I can’t wait,” he said again.