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They had agreed that Orlando would leave in much the same way he had arrived -- with Rebecca.
“I hate long, drawn-out goodbyes,“ Craig had said when he told Orlando a few days earlier, “Too much like preparing for an execution. So we’ll do it here in private, rather than drag it out over a two-hour drive.”
She was due to pick him up at around midday, with his flight scheduled for 3 pm. They spent the last hour or so sipping tea out on the deck. It was a cooler day. Clouds had scudded in earlier in the morning and it was now quite overcast and dull, providing the perfect mood for a departure.
“You talked a lot in your sleep last night,” Craig said, sipping from a mug of hot tea.
Orlando forced a smile. “What did I say? Nothing too revolting I hope?”
“Enough to make me want to cancel your flight and keep you here. It was hard to listen to, knowing I was only getting half of it, and didn’t know who or what the rest of it was all about.”
Their last night had passed as a series of slow, silent couplings, eventually taking on a curious dreamlike quality, as they would sleep until emerging just enough to remember that time was no ally, but more an enemy and a thief. Then one would reach for the other and, for a little while, they held the thief at bay, before drifting off again.
Orlando had slept fitfully, experiencing confused and troubled dreams. Interspersed with the comfort of lovemaking, the two states had melded into one another and often, he’d been unaware of where dream ended and conscious thought began.
They were dreams crowded with voices, those of others as well as his own.
Craig whispering, ‘You really are a cuddle-whore, Bloom…’
‘Only for you…’
Sean’s voice telling him coldly, ‘You’re a well-trodden path to a place I don’t particularly want to go, Orlando…’
‘I don’t want to be alone…’
The New Line rep warning him, ‘Don’t sign if you even suspect this is all going to be too much, Orlando…It’s an incredible commitment to make…’
‘This is what it must have been like going off to war, Mum, going off to The Front… At least no one will be shooting at me… not with guns anyway… just cameras…’
Dommie nodding approvingly, ‘I always knew you’d be a hot fuck, Orli…’
‘Don’t leave me…’
A low, mellow voice crooning, ‘I’ll miss you most of all, my darling… When autumn leaves start to fall…’
‘I don't want to go back…’
Dommie explaining, ‘It was fun… It was great, but you can get a bit too clingy, Orli… You’ve got to learn not to hold on so hard…’
‘I don’t want to be alone…’
“Orlando? Love, turn over.”
“You’re shaking…” Craig murmured.
‘I don’t want to go…’
“What did I say?” Orlando asked again.
“I don’t remember much, but you were pretty adamant that you didn’t want to go back.”
“Don’t act so surprised. It’s the truth. I honestly don’t want to.”
Craig sighed. “I know.”
Orlando put down his empty mug and reached for Craig, burrowing into his arms. “Can I ask a favor of you, even though it’s probably going to piss you off?”
“Will you tell me straight out if it looks like we’re not going make it. Please? I don’t want to discover I’ve been kidding myself and that what I thought we still had just isn’t there any more. I can handle breaking up.” He forced lightness into his voice, smiled crookedly, “It’s happened plenty of times before so I know the drill. But if you decide that being apart all the time is just too much shit to handle and that there’s someone else you’d prefer to be with, could you – Just don’t not tell me, please? I couldn’t handle that. I don’t want to suddenly discover I’ve been holding on to nothing.”
“I’ll tell you, I promise.” Craig held him tightly, “In fact I’ll tell you long before it even has a chance to get to that stage, okay? We’ll be in constant touch.”
“And if it starts getting a bit shaky, I’ll drop everything and come back – “
“And if you can’t, I’ll drop everything and fly over to visit.”
“Because in about two years – I think – I’ll be done with Rings. Once everything connected to them is over and done with, they won’t own me any more and I’ll be free.”
“And then what will you do with yourself?”
“I don’t know. I just want to be here. If we’re still – if you still – “
Orlando nodded. “Yes.”
Craig leaned down, caught Orlando’s face and lifted it almost roughly until he could see him.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Orlando whispered, “I don’t know. It happened so fast, and it could end the same way. This was like magic wasn’t it? Now it all seems so -- unreal.”
“Not to me.”
“I think it’s because we’ll have to pretend so much that it isn’t there. I’m probably going to start wondering if I’m going mad again.”
“That’s when you get on the phone and call me so I can remind you what it’s all about.” Craig kissed him, a slow, gentle caress. “I’ll tell you how much I love you and that I miss you, and we’ll talk about the next time we can be together. That should do the trick.”
“Can I tell anyone?”
“Only if they can be trusted not to go haring off down to the nearest media office with their hand out ready for a pay-off.”
“No, I’d like to tell the Hobbits though, or even just Lij. I want someone to know, just so I can talk to them when I’m feeling crappy about this.”
“Okay, that’s fine, understandable. I – “
They were both conscious of the other flinching at the sound of the car-horn.
Craig consulted his watch. “Bloody hell, Beccs, why can’t you be late for once instead of punctual to the fucking second?”
He took Orlando’s face between his hands. Orlando’s face was clouded with anxiety and he was biting hard on his lower lip.
“This is it, love,” Craig told him quietly, “Don’t worry, we’ll be okay.”
“Not totally thrilled to be going back, I gather,” Rebecca said, glancing at Orlando slouching in the seat glaring at the road ahead. They’d been driving in silence for ten minutes.
He sighed. “No, not really.”
They drove for a few more minutes with no further exchange. Rebecca broke the silence again.
“It’s been a long few weeks for you, hasn’t it?”
“Are you happy how it turned out? Apart from the photo business, I mean.”
He turned and looked at her pointedly. “You mean with Craig.”
He smiled. “You’re fishing!”
“I certainly am.”
“It’s our business, don’t you think?”
“Oh, I agree with that. I’m just very protective of him. I’d really hate to have to drop everything in order to help put him back together again.”
“That’s not going to happen. And if it does, it won’t be because of anything I’ve done.”
“Good to hear.”
Another silence. This time he spoke first.
“He gives me everything I need, everything I ever wanted.”
“I think he does too. He’s always been a bit of a grabber and a taker. I don’t mean that in a selfish way. He can be generous to a fault. But with people, he generally sees first, then wants, and then helps himself. Except with you. He waited for you to come to him -- though I suspect he’d actually given up long ago.”
She carefully reached down into the handbag tucked down in front of her seat, rummaged around and drew out a set of keys.
She instructed him, “Hold out your hand.”
Orlando did so.
She dropped the keys into his palm. “These are for you. Keys to everything he has. You can help yourself whenever you want or need to. The apartment in Auckland, the house at Raglan, the Jeep, and the Benz, and knowing him, you’ve probably got access to his safe-deposit box, his heart, and his chastity belt there too. Consider yourself particularly honored, Orlando. I was never entrusted with a key to the Benz.”
Orlando grinned and closed his fingers around the keys. “Why did he get you to give them to me?”
“He didn’t want to have to make some great speech and fuss about it. He just asked me to give them to you and to make sure you understood why you’ve got them.”
"And why -- "
"It's his way of saying that everything he has -- and is -- is now yours."
She paused in order to overtake another car, then smiled, reached her hand out and touched his shoulder lightly.
“He’s loved you for ages, you know. Did he tell you?”
Orlando nodded, but he liked hearing it again.
“From day one -- from the first time you met. He didn’t think it was possible for anything between you so he didn’t pursue it. He has this nice, comfortable, safe life here in New Zealand while you’re out there on the world stage, being a star, able to pick and choose whom you want to be with. It’s going to be really hard, Orlando. I hope you realize that.”
“What odds would you give us?”
She considered it for another mile or two. “I’m sorry. Not very good ones.”
“A couple of reasons. For one, Craig doesn’t handle distant relationships very well. He withdraws into himself, goes into denial that there’s anything there. It’s a stubborn, protective instinct. He can be so mulish about it.”
‘I’m not very good at distance bullshit…’
Orlando sighed. “He’s good at that, self-protection, putting up walls. He doesn’t like anyone to see what’s going on. The publicity phobia, for example.”
“That’s the other one. He’s been burned before. It’s not for me to tell you when or how, or by whom, but just keep it in mind. You’ll have a better chance of keeping him if you respect that phobia and be absolutely discreet. But don’t let him keep those walls up without giving them a good solid battering now and then.”
“How do you recommend I do that?”
“Oh that’s easy!” Rebecca grinned now, replied almost gaily, “He’s a hopeless romantic and adores being reminded that he’s loved. Even I have to make a fuss over him now and then, or else he goes into a sulk and accuses me of taking him for granted. So anything you can do to remind him you think he’s wonderful is going to shorten the odds for you.”
“Well that won’t be too hard.”
“You wouldn’t think so, would you? Just try doing it without anyone else knowing. That’s going to be your challenge, Orlando. As dear old Gandalf advised, you’re going to have to keep it secret and keep it safe.”
Craig started missing Orlando the moment the sound of Rebecca’s car had faded into silence.
He wandered into the bathroom and considered running a bath and having a wallow with a bottle of wine, a bit earlier in the day than normal but –
He rejected that idea and simply went into the kitchen, poured himself a hefty glass of scotch and then headed for the computer. He hadn’t checked his e-mail for over a week and there were probably piles of messages waiting, along with follow-up queries as to why the original ones had so far been ignored.
He supposed he should do a bit of writing too, open something and have a bit of a play with it, just for the practice, as well as to have something else to concentrate on.
Instead, he automatically went to the Orlando Bloom sites he’d had book-marked for ages, the ones he checked whenever he wanted to find out where Orlando was and what he was currently doing. He hadn’t needed to lately, having had Orlando there with him.
And then he felt a need to see the pictures, the stolen moments he’d shared with Orlando thinking that they were alone and unobserved, just to confirm that those last few weeks of intense happiness hadn’t merely been an epic dream.
He clicked on the URL of the first site and found the link dead.
He clicked on a second URL, arrived at the site and selected the ‘News’ link for the current month. The headline about the New Zealand interlude had been removed.
He surfed through at least a dozen more sites, knowing for certain that he’d seen the photos there, or at least links to other sites featuring them.
It took less than five minutes to ascertain that the pictures had been – or were in the process of being – hunted down and removed. The sites he could access had been sanitized, many more links dead or simply gone.
‘They’re editing me to make a better picture… and sometimes I start wondering which bits of me are still real and which bits are just made up…’
He sat staring at the screen, sipping the scotch almost methodically. He felt numbed -- but not surprised. He wondered how they’d done it. Probably gone to the source of the photographs, paid a fortune for the rights then visited the sites waving a big legal stick and a cease and desist order, backed up with a threat of legal action for copyright infringement.
A lot of power out there – power and money – and plenty of incentive to make things disappear, should it be necessary, in order to preserve appearances.
‘Like it or not, Orlando, you’ve got the magnetism of a star…’
And stars made other people a lot of money -- but only for as long as they remained perfectly clean, marketable commodities. Another minor blemish had appeared in Orlando’s picture, something that flawed his manufactured reality.
And they were going to edit him out.
‘This is real… I’m real and so are you…’
‘Reality check, love…’