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Waiting in the VIP departure lounge, Orlando realized he was already tired. Incredibly tired.
He’d only been doing the publicity junket thing for just over a month, and now the rolling series of premieres was beginning, the crisscrossing of the planet chasing opening nights, from LA to Wellington to Sydney to Tokyo to – he knew he was off to some European capital after Tokyo but he wasn’t sure which one.
Great idea, Pete -- focusing on those scheduled time-outs, and using them to rest, to really rest – great in theory but largely impossible in practice. He had managed to nullify every time-out so far with an informal interview, or a special and exclusive personal appearance, which really meant answering the same questions he’d been asked countless times before, and smiling the same smile already appearing in innumerable photos.
He found it impossible to say no when people were so nice to him, so charmingly and politely asking him to sacrifice a few hours’ rest and sleep, peace and quiet, for 'just a little bit of his time if he wouldn’t mind?' The 'just a little bit of his time' inevitably became an entire half-day, with traveling arrangements, delays, rescheduling, requests for him to stay just a little bit longer -- 'if he didn’t mind?
‘They’ve bought and paid for me. How can I say no? If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t even be here…’
By the time he’d left them happy, the time-out had been obliterated.
What fucking time out?
“You need a Rebecca Law…” Craig had said.
Yeah, yeah he did.
“Have you taken any breaks?” Craig asked often.
Yeah, yeah he had.
That was the only lie Orlando would ever tell him – a white lie, the sort you tell people so they don’t worry.
The afternoon before, he had been given his schedule to cover just about every minute, from his arrival in New Zealand to his leaving for the next place. He had spent two hours with a local New Line rep going over it, being informed about escorts and transfers, his order of arrival at the theatre in Wellington, how many minutes he would be required to stand in front of the cameras, how long he could spend answering each question. Approaching the crowd barriers for some one-on-one contact with fans was forbidden outright.
He knew what time he had to be seated for the movie, and how many minutes were allotted to him afterwards for personal needs.
A whole ten minutes for a piss-break? Wow, generous of them…
The get-together for the cast and crew – scheduled for after the celebrity-media party – was included, he had noticed, in his personal time. If he hung around for another two hours – and he had every intention of doing so because the local cast and crew were the real VIPs as far as he was concerned – he might manage to catch six hours’ sleep before the first scheduled appearance of the day. Provided he was asleep within two minutes of arriving back in his room, and if, in the morning, he allowed only two minutes to wake up, shower, answer calls, read mail, have breakfast and be down in the media room, composed and ready to answer the questions, to smile the smile…
He had phoned Craig last night to let him know the more important aspects of his schedule – what time he could escape to spend some time with him, and precisely how long they had in which to prepare for an even longer separation.
They had been counting down the weeks and the days, and now the hours. The almost daily phone calls had culminated in a final one before Orlando boarded the plane, just prior to the flight attendants telling everyone to switch off all mobile phones and laptops.
Huddled in the corner of the departure lounge with his back to the other passengers, phone pressed to his ear, Orlando spoke for less than a minute. He shielded his mouth with his fingers, jealously guarding their privacy as he told Craig in a voice that was barely more than a hoarse whisper, “I’ll see you soon. Love you so much.”
He looked at his watch, mentally calculated his way through the next twenty-four hours. A flight to Auckland first, where an airport security detail would put him on a shuttle to Wellington – he wondered how many Frequent Flyer Points he had racked up over the years, just on that shuttle flight. Another New Line rep – he was told her name was Sandra – would escort him from the airport, and a limo would take them to the hotel where they would all be staying, those who had been ‘allotted’ this particular premiere – himself, Elijah, Billy, Dominic, Miranda, all the Kiwis sans Marton.
Wellington wouldn’t get a big premiere until The Return of the King, and they’d sworn adamantly that they’d all turn up for that one and make it the bloody biggest and most special premiere of all – a thank-you gift to Pete and their adoptive home.
They’d all have a quick catch up and then, optimistically, go to their rooms for a couple of hours to rest before the premiere, before facing the onslaught of the spotlights, the cameras, the fans and the media scum.
He and Craig had planned those few hours down to the last minute and it had little to do with resting, everything to do with catching up and loving away, temporarily at least, the awful 'I love you, I miss you' declarations that had opened and closed every single one of their conversations since he had gone back.
Was it really only six weeks ago?
Then the premiere, the private party, a night in Craig’s arms, another precious hour later in the day between the last appearance and leaving for the flight out to Sydney, an hour ending with the doubly awful “I love you, goodbye…” Again.
If he was ever sure of anything in his entire life, it was that he would sacrifice those few hours for nothing and no-one. He focused on them, clung to their promise, just like Pete had said.
Their plans began to fall apart from the start.
He hadn’t managed to sleep much the night before the flight, nor at all during the day, such was the tension of excitement and expectation. He had boarded the plane with the noticeable heaviness behind his eyes that inevitably heralded a migraine.
He might have slept during the flight if a baby hadn’t cried on and off for hours, a couple of rows ahead of him.
“She’s teething I’m afraid…” he’d heard the mother say apologetically to other pissed-off passengers. The baby eventually sobbed itself into silence but Orlando remained stressed and sleepless.
He became aware at some stage that he’d been gritting his teeth for God only knew how long. The heaviness behind his eyes had become a definite ache.
The really bad news came a couple of hours out of Auckland. Some local emergency had temporarily closed the airport, and Wellington -- stretched to capacity just trying to handle domestic traffic -- was closed to international arrivals. The LA-Auckland flight, passengers were informed, was being diverted, bypassing New Zealand, and continuing on to Sydney.
Orlando found himself, stupidly, staring out the window in an attempt to see a bit of landfall that might constitute part of New Zealand, just a tiny islet, even just a bird en route there.
Oh, take me with you…
He knew for sure then that the balance mechanism – the one that tricked his mind into thinking it was under attack and would cause him to jump at imaginary shadows – was starting to tip again. Just a little at the moment, manifesting its faltering stability in loose threads of thought that he knew were impossible, illogical. With nothing to occupy himself, he played with the threads, pulled at them experimentally to see how far he could unravel them before the panic engulfed him.
He spent several hours in the VIP lounge at Sydney airport, knowing that the couple of hours he and Craig had promised one another they would spend making love in a bed in a hotel in Wellington, were irrevocably lost.
His head was really pounding now, his mental orchestra playing a continual symphony of real and imagined pain.
There had been a phone call for him at the desk from Sandra, his New Line rep in Auckland, telling him that they were aware of his situation. The rep had made the helpful suggestion that perhaps Orlando should forget about going on to Wellington, just stay in Sydney and rest up for the Australian premiere the following night? He'd curled his lips back in a snarl of rage and told her to go fuck herself, and that he would fucking swim all the way to Wellington if he had to. He had smashed the phone down onto the desk with a violence that caused every eye in the lounge to swivel toward him.
An uncomfortable silence was broken eventually by murmurings about spoilt celebrity brats.
He had tried but hadn’t been able to reach Craig, to tell him what had happened, to be soothed by his voice telling him that it was okay, that he wasn’t to worry, that he loved him, too, still, always…
Later, he spent the entire direct flight to Wellington numbed with something that extended far beyond disappointment.
The flight attendant kept giving him concerned, questioning looks and he wondered if perhaps the bright, constant tears in his eyes – flooding, filling but, mercifully, never escaping down his face – had tipped her off that all was not right.
He had practically begged for something for his head but she had told him it was against regulations to hand out drugs of any sort to passengers.
His flight landed in Wellington as the rest of the cast were leaving their pre-premiere gathering at the hotel and were making their way to the theatre.
Sandra, was there waiting for him as he was swept through the usual formalities in a fraction of the normal time, welcoming him, thrusting a pre-arranged suit at him and advising him to get changed there at the airport so they could go directly to the theatre. The limo was parked outside ready for him.
If the rep had any inkling of Orlando’s shattered state, she said nothing, or simply put it down to jet lag. He asked her for something for his head – aspirin, ibuprofen, anything – and she nodded absently, assuring him she would arrange it.
In the restroom of the VIP lounge, Orlando had a lightning-quick shower and changed into the suit, watching himself in the mirror and wondering why, externally, he looked relatively normal whilst within, he felt as far from it as was possible. He had fully expected to see the headache reflected back at him. It felt tangible enough, a massive vice attached to his head, wound up to maximum pressure.
He wondered too if this was the sort of headache that got people thinking about brain tumors.
He stared at his face in the mirror one last time, looking for more loose threads, but there were none. Orlando Bloom, the always-cooperative and polite-to-a-fault star smiled back at him, an ‘it’s just so wonderful being here’ expression firmly in place.
He looked expectantly at Sandra in the hope that she had remembered the painkiller. Somewhat preoccupied, she had escorted him out to where the limo was waiting without offering him anything. He mentally shrugged and let it go.
The other attending stars were still lingering outside the theatre when his limousine drew to a halt. They had been kept informed of his situation. Since it looked like the rest of the schedule was basically rat-shit anyway, and it was such a gloriously warm summer evening, Elijah had quietly orchestrated a mulish revolt of sorts, muttering to everyone in turn to ‘glue your feet to that goddamned carpet and don’t move until Orli gets here.’
And it was Elijah who broke ranks and dashed over to the limousine, yanking open the door, practically hauling Orlando out of the car and enveloping him in a bear-hug while the camera shutters whirred and the crowd erupted in screams and cheers of delight.
Five minutes had been scheduled for group photographs. The four attending Fellowship members posed together, then with Pete and Fran, with Richard and Phillipa, with the Kiwis and other actors.
Orlando avoided being anywhere near Craig, knowing how hard he would struggle to not give them away, to not collapse into his arms and let go. It was Craig who approached him anyway, a carefully neutral expression on his face, an actors’ smile in place for the attentive cameras.
“If we deliberately avoid each other, they’re going to speculate even more,” he said, through the smile, “How are you?”
Orlando smiled back, cued by Craig’s display of calm. “Not feeling very well. Really tired. I’m sorry our – “
“Not your fault, love. We’ll catch up later. Just a few more hours.”
“See you soon.”
They drifted apart, Craig to chat with Karl, Orlando to rejoin the Hobbits. Ignoring the specific ruling that forbade any of them to cruise the barriers, they headed over to the massed fans to shake some hands, sign some autographs, have some pictures taken. As did the others, Orlando laughed and joked, charmed and thanked. He was their happy and gracious star, and his performance was flawless.
He avoided even looking at Craig again, knowing those intense sapphire eyes were constantly on him, watching him in that way he had that said, ‘I love you, I’m so worried about you…’
He knew he was very close to coming apart completely and unstoppably.
Rebecca, Craig’s partner for the night, murmured, “Is he alright? He looks a little dazed.”
“He’s tired, that’s all."
In truth, he thought Orlando looked terrifyingly fragile behind that public façade. God knows, he had looked into those eyes often enough to be able to see and recognize the fear and confusion that usually heralded something worse than any panic attack he had ever known.
He observed Orlando surreptitiously until they were given the nod to head into the theatre, made a mental note of where he was sitting, or rather slumping, in his seat. He watched Orlando rest his head in his hand and gradually slide lower in his seat. Even as Rebecca nudged him and whispered, “I think you’re about to make your entrance,” he ignored her and continued watching Orlando.
~ * ~
It was a relief to be seated in the theatre and for the lights to finally go down, half an hour later than scheduled.
Orlando had felt the panic gradually subsiding in the darkness as he willed his body to relax, for the shaking to stop. Fatigue overwhelmed him and he drifted off, head resting to the side, cupped in the palm of his hand.
He managed to drowse through the noise despite the fact that the volume was ear-splittingly loud. He wasn’t quite sure what caused him to open his eyes abruptly, what made him sit up and look at his flashback up there on the screen.
It occurred to him that somehow they had managed to climb into his head, had stolen portions of his memory and spliced it into the movie.
He gaped at himself up there, sodden wet and wild-eyed, and he could feel the cold right through to the marrow of his bones, and he looked around in a wild panic for Craig-Haldir who would hold him and make him warm again.
Instead, he watched Craig’s face fill the entire screen, blank-eyed in death.
The nausea rose in his throat and suddenly he was up out of his seat, stumbling toward the distant blue light that said EXIT. Behind him he could hear carpet-muffled footsteps and the sound of someone catching their breath.
As soon as he was out of the theatre, he was running towards where the remembered the restroom was from the last premiere, a thousand years ago… or so it seemed.
He charged through the door into a room with sterile white-tiled walls and vicious fluorescent lights, and he was confronted by an apparition in a suit who looked like himself but was a lot more – a lot less – like himself. He had no time to register the impossibility of having a twin when someone else exploded through the door, seized him and pushed him into a stall, bolting the door closed behind them.
Someone held him very close and murmured softly, “Shhh…” in his ear, even as he heard his own voice, pleading, “Don’t let them see me like this, please, don’t let them see me crazy…”
~ * ~
Only Beccs would have the nerve to walk into a men’s room as if she belonged, Craig thought with grim humor, and then be able to tell some hapless bloke who needed to pee to bugger off as if he was the intruder. She made such an elegant fishwife.
“How is he?” she asked.
Orlando sat on the floor with his back to the wall and his legs drawn up. His head was slumped forward and resting on his knees.
Craig remained squatting down beside him. He had given up trying to get any sort of coherent response. The important thing was to get him out and back to the hotel without anyone the wiser.
Craig shook his head in a gesture of helplessness. “Totally out of it. Is there any way we can get out of here without having cameras shoved in our faces? I suppose there’s still a mob outside.”
“Yes, but there’s a rear entrance. I’ll order a taxi to wait around there. Back in a couple.”
Twenty minutes later, they followed a security officer out the back door of the theatre to where a taxi was parked. They bundled Orlando into the back seat, keeping his face hidden, protecting him from the prying eyes in the rear-view mirror. It took only a few minutes to reach the hotel. There was a crowd gathered out on the front pavement, hoping to catch the actors and crew on their way in to the party.
“Is there a back entrance here?” Rebecca said as the driver drove slowly past, looking for somewhere to pull in.
“Yeah,” the driver replied, still craning his neck in the mirror on the chance he might see the mystery passenger, “We can get to it from the side street. But don’t expect it to be open to just anyone. With all the celebs staying there, it’ll be locked up tight. Security. You know…”
“Alright. Just drop me off right here.”
She thrust a fifty-dollar note at him.
“Drive around the back and wait there.”
He did so, watching her disappear into the front entrance of the hotel. The two passengers in the back seat – one of whom looked vaguely familiar – remained silent, the slightly familiar one still shielding the face of the other.
He did a quick U-turn, drove around the corner and eased his taxi into the parking area behind the hotel. After a wait of about fifteen minutes, the rear door was wrenched open and his passengers scrambled out, called out a brief "Thanks!" and disappeared into the hotel.
~ * ~
“I’m gonna throw up -- ” Orlando groaned again.
He was upended over Craig’s shoulder, head lolling downwards. Being carried rapidly up a couple of flights of stairs, in an elevator for a dozen floors, and along several corridors in this position, was making him feel even more dizzy, disoriented and nauseous.
They were able to make it to Orlando’s room without encountering anyone other than the hotel manager and a member of the security staff. Craig took him straight into the bathroom, deposited him on his feet, and maneuvered him over the toilet in time for him to start retching up little more than bile.
The vomiting left him weak and shivering. Craig helped him out of his jacket and accepted a blanket from Rebecca to wrap around him.
“There’s an on-call doctor on his way,” she murmured, “About twenty minutes.”
Craig nodded. Orlando had started rambling as though drunk.
“I’m sorry -- they went to Sydney instead of here and I was going to swim -- I didn’t want you to look at me even though I missed you so much but you didn’t want me to touch you -- and -- and -- I couldn’t sleep I was so tired and I was cold and wet and I couldn’t stand it any more -- I think my head’s going to fall off or something -- Fuck I feel so sick! I missed you -- I missed you! We didn’t have time -- Fuck -- ”
He heaved into the toilet again, just once, before slumping over onto the floor choking for breath.
“Doesn’t do things by halves, does he?” Rebecca said as she helped Craig get him to the bed and lie him down.
Craig sighed heavily.
“No, he doesn’t. Full steam ahead until he hits a brick wall. Knocks himself out, picks himself up, sets off in another direction looking for the next one.”
“He’s going to drive you insane.”
“He already does.”
“Is it worth it?”
“Yeah, Beccs. He'll always be worth it.”
“He’s not taking any medication is he?” the doctor asked as he took Orlando’s blood pressure a second time.
He had tried asking Orlando himself but he was already half asleep, incapable of anything more than slurred monosyllables.
“None that I know of.” Craig said.
“How about recreational drugs?”
“He’s not into any of that shit.”
The doctor was reminded of a watchdog snarling at an intruder.
“Sorry, I have to be sure.”
“He doesn’t do drugs. He doesn’t sleep well, he doesn’t eat enough, and he allows himself to get completely stressed out. He gets bad headaches, has panic attacks and he generally just enjoys running himself into the ground. He’s self-destructive by neglect rather than abuse. But he doesn’t do drugs. He could kill himself quite effectively without them.”
The doctor raised his eyebrows but let the tirade pass.
“He seems okay physically. Blood pressure’s a bit low, pulse a bit erratic. If he’s suffering from stress then all I can suggest is a few days’ complete rest -- for now, anyway. But that’s only a short-term thing. If this situation is a recurring one, I’d recommend he take it further. Specialist consultation, counseling, possibly drug therapy. There could be a significant underlying condition such as chronic depression. It’s worth looking into. Other than that advice, there’s not much more I can do for him tonight.”
“Is he always going to come back to me in pieces, Beccs? Don’t answer. Rhetorical question.”
They were sitting out on the balcony having a nightcap. Orlando was in bed, dead to the world.
“Why do I let him go back to it? Ditto.”
He had managed to get an explanation of sorts to Peter and the others. They were all downstairs at the party, had phoned up one by one to ask after Orlando. They had accepted the ‘bad case of jet-lag’ explanation though Peter had sounded a bit tense and asked for a lengthier discussion in the morning.
“I always thought you had lousy taste in men, Craig,” Rebecca chided him, “Why do you always pick the complicated ones when all you’ve ever wanted was a nice quiet life?”
“Is that rhetorical too? Do I have to answer?”
“No and yes.”
“Then I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a closet bungee-jumper after all.”
He crawled into bed a little while later. Even in sleep, Orlando seemed to know instinctively that he was there and homed into him, making small burrowing movements until he was comfortably smothered and unable to get any closer.
It was late the next morning before he moved again, and he woke slowly, opening his eyes almost warily against the light.
Craig murmured, “Welcome back.”
Orlando gave a truncated, ”Mmm.”
He cleared his throat. It felt dry and raw. His entire body did. “Time’s it?”
“A bit before eleven.”
“Think I was s’posed to be somewhere at eight.”
“They’ll manage without you. How do you feel?”
“Sore. All over.” He peered over the top of the bedclothes. “Whose room’s this?”
“Is my stuff here?”
“I need the bathroom. And it feels like something crawled into my throat and died. Back in five.”
He pressed a light kiss against Craig’s shoulder before rolling out of bed and making his way unsteadily across the room to the en suite bathroom. Craig heard the sound of the shower running and lay there, staring at the ceiling, and cursing the fact that what time they had left could be measured in minutes now.
Orlando climbed back in beside him a scant ten minutes later, dropping a towel on the bed where it could be reached easily. He smelled of soap and mint, and his skin and the ends of his hair were still slightly damp. He wrapped himself around Craig, kissed him forever.
“How long have we got?”
“Under an hour.”
Orlando was instantly on his back, pulling Craig over him, was opening himself, guiding Craig into him, was filled in just one, two quick thrusts, his body curling up to meet each deep, delicious stroke.
Craig whispered against his lips, “God, I’ve missed this, missed just touching you.”
Orlando nodded wordlessly. He enclosed his fingers around his own erection, cueing Craig with the rapidity of his movements and responses to hurry, to get it finished fast in case they were being too optimistic about the time available to them.
Completion was swift and efficient. Afterwards they lay facing one another side-on, enshrouded in a pall of mutual disappointment. With none of the slow, languorous build-up that had preceded their lovemaking in the past, it had seemed so horribly clinical and unsatisfying.
Craig said eventually, “Tell me what happened last night.”
Orlando grimaced. “Not winding up to give me a lecture are you?”
“No, I just want to know why you were so shattered. What happened?”
“I was tired – didn’t manage to get much sleep for the last couple of days. Everything’s been so rushed. I’ve been completely stressed out. I had a killer migraine. Then everything started going wrong, all our plans. I dozed off in the theatre and woke up at your big scene and I just freaked. It was weird. It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before but I thought I was going to throw up. It was just a whole lot of things, but mainly I was just -- so fucking tired.”
“When can you take another break? At least a full day?”
“If I really pushed it, I could probably be excused for the rest of today and tonight and not leave until tomorrow.” Orlando looked at Craig expectantly. “Any chance you can --?”
Craig was already shaking his head. “I had to call in a hell of a lot of favors and promise a few more in return, just to be here last night and today. I’m sorry. I’d really be straining friendships asking for another one.”
“It’s okay.” Orlando reached out and touched Craig’s face lightly with the tips of his fingers, reassuring him again, “It’s okay. When I’ve finished the promotional stuff, we’ll work something out. A week at least.”
Craig smiled, hopeful but not too much so. “That would be – “
The phone’s insistent pealing interrupted the moment.
“If I ignore it,” Orlando sighed, “Will it stop?”
“Eventually. Then they’ll be at the door.”
Orlando raised himself on one arm, reached past Craig and picked up the phone.
“It’s Sandra here. I understand you had medical treatment last night. Are you okay?”
“Fine. Just a migraine.”
“We’re going to need a second opinion for insurance purposes. You’ll have to be checked over by a company doctor.”
“Since you’re awake, I’ll send him up right away.”
Orlando tensed in anger. “Excuse me, but I don’t particularly want to see a doctor right now. Send him up in another couple of hours.”
“You’re scheduled for interviews from midday until two. That’s forty-five minutes away.”
“Give my apologies but I won’t be there.”
“Then you’ll need a doctor covering for you. He’s on his way up.”
The line went dead. Orlando stared at the hand set for a long moment then flung it aside in disgust.
“What?” Craig was watching him, not liking the implications of the rage that suddenly consumed Orlando and rendered him pale and shaking. He repeated, “What?”
“There’s another doctor on the way up,” Orlando replied through gritted teeth, “Probably coming to check me over in case I’m bullshitting. Do you want to stay or leave?”
“I’ll stay,” Craig replied without hesitation, “Better get some clothes on though. Bloody hell, they’re so fucking determined we’re not going to get any space.”
He pushed back the covers and climbed out of bed, reaching for the clothes he’d left draped over the back of a nearby chair. While he dressed, Orlando rummaged through his suitcase and retrieved a fresh change of clothes.
When Orlando opened the door to the tentative knocking a few minutes later, Craig had stationed himself on the couch on the far side if the room. Other than exchanging a wordless nod of acknowledgment with the doctor, he remained silent and watchful as Orlando recounted the rushed schedule, the accumulated exhaustion, the lousy flight, the migraine headache – but omitting any mention of the panic attack.
Orlando submitted to having his temperature and blood-pressure taken again, and allowed the doctor to examine his eyes. He described the location, duration and intensity of the migraine, and the frequency of their occurrence, in a tone that was flat with irritation. Other questions were answered in bored monosyllables.
The consultation lasted less than fifteen minutes, at the end of which the doctor made a few notes, pronounced Orlando fit to continue his current schedule, and recommended he keep a supply of painkillers handy in order to treat any future headaches in their early stages.
“Why didn’t you tell him about the rest of it, Orlando?” Craig asked a cautious few thirty seconds or so after the doctor had gone.
Orlando crossed the room hesitantly and lowered himself onto the couch beside Craig, making no move to touch him.
“The rest of what?”
“The panic attacks, the confusion and the mood-swings. Do you remember what you said to me last night at the theatre?”
Orlando’s brow furrowed. “Remind me.”
“You begged me not to let them see you crazy.”
“Well it’s humiliating, not being in control of what I do or say. I don’t want people knowing, or seeing it happening.”
“But shouldn’t you be wondering why its happening?”
“I’m just tired. I was worse than this a couple of months ago and they – it – whatever – stopped when I was with you at Raglan. All I needed was a rest.”
“They didn’t stop entirely. They didn’t just go away. Whenever anything triggered – “
“Are you going to make a fucking issue of this?” Orlando’s voice was dangerously quiet but there was a tangible warning in it to back off.
Craig ignored it, keeping his own response calm, “I want you to make an issue of it, Orlando. Please? You can’t just ignore it and hope it all gets better, or completely stress yourself out trying to hold everything in and pretend all’s hunky-dory when it’s not. And you’re not going crazy, okay?”
Orlando’s eyes flashed warningly but any retort was left unsaid.
Craig consulted his watch. “I’d better make a move. You’ve got to get ready for this afternoon and I badly need a shower and shave before they eject me from my room.”
Orlando nodded. “How long are you here for? Could we meet later?”
“I fly out at two and I don’t realistically think you’re going to get any time-off before then.”
Orlando shook his head this time and moved towards Craig, leaning into him and allowing himself to be held close. “It’s been a complete fuck-up, hasn’t it?”
“I don’t care what they have planned for after the fucking junkets. I’m going to take a week off anyway and come back here.”
“I’ll probably be back at work, love.”
“Only during the day. We’ll still have nights and a weekend.”
“Which is better than nothing, isn’t it? And we won’t make any plans or anything. That way no one will find out and do their best to bugger them up like they did this time.”
Orlando forced a smile and some semblance of laughter. “Fuck ‘em all!”
Craig released Orlando and rose to his feet. He gathered up his suit-jacket, checked for keys, wallet and mobile phone, and scanned the room quickly for anything else he might have left lying around. “I think I’ve got everything.”
Orlando accompanied him to the door. “I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon, right? You’re onstage tonight?”
“How’s the play going? Laying them in the aisles?”
“Lovely choice of words, Bloom,” Craig grinned in spite of the fact that they were facing yet another premature goodbye, “But yeah, the reviews have been very good. I could hardly have bitched at the Company for years to do 'Cat’ and then turned in a mediocre performance. I suppose when your heart’s really in it, you’re bound to produce something a bit special.”
“I wish I could see it.”
“There’ll be others.”
Craig turned and faced Orlando, and drew him into his arms, holding him and bestowing a kiss that could almost have qualified as chaste.
Orlando’s eyebrows lifted a fraction. “Am I still in the shit?”
“You never were.”
“Then kiss me properly. I’m not your fucking Auntie.”
“There was never any risk of getting a hard-on whenever I kissed my Auntie.”
They moved together again and the kiss was slow, intense and heated, and both realized the mistake of it as they parted, were left hanging and wanting more.
Craig murmured, “Love you lots. Take care,” and then pulled away abruptly. He reached for the door, opened it a fraction and peered out into the corridor.
“Coast is clear. I’ll talk to you soon.”
He lightly touched his fingers to Orlando’s face a last time and left him, refusing to look back as he walked quickly and purposefully toward the lift at the end of the corridor.
Back in his own room, he picked up the phone and put a call through to reception. He prowled around the room as he waited a frustrating ten minutes for the phone to ring.
“Craig! Hi, how are you?” Elijah’s voice was bright and animated. “It’s been so long! We missed you at the party last night, both of you. Is Orli okay?”
Craig almost winced as he moved the hand set slightly further from his ear. “Lij, before I say anything else, I don’t want Orlando knowing we’ve talked, okay? It’s important.”
An odd little laugh, “Sure! Sounds intriguing.”
“Do you see him much these days? Do you hang out together or anything?”
“No, not a lot, just now and then, and usually because I’ve gone looking for him. I kinda miss him, you know, but there never seems much time for it to be like it was. Even when we’re thrown together like now, we’re all usually sent off in different directions.”
“I need to ask a favor of you.”
“C’mon, I owe you a big one. You know you can call it in any time.”
“Then I’m calling it in now.” Craig checked his watch again. “We’re both pushed for time so I’ll give you the bare bones of it and fill in the details later.”
Elijah listened without interruption at first, before abruptly cutting him off.
“I think I understand, okay, and I’ll do it. And to tell you the truth, you’re not the only one whose been thinking something’s wrong.”
“Good, then I know I’m not over-reacting. Got something to write with?”
Craig gave him the phone numbers for his apartment, the beach-house, his mobile phone, and as a last resort, Rebecca’s contact details. “Do you use the Internet at all?”
Craig gave him two e-mail addresses and instructed him to send testers to each of them, the first chance he got.
“This is serious shit, isn’t it?” For the first time, genuine alarm registered in Elijah’s voice.
“I don’t know but it could be. I’m just trying to cover everything at the moment. It’s never to get to this stage again. If ever you think he needs me, get in touch and I’ll try to be there as soon as I can, wherever he is. And Lij,” he added quietly, pleadingly, “Stay with him. Take care of him until I get there.”
“Oh man, now you’re starting to get me really worried. Is he likely to do something – I don’t know – dangerous or – God, how bad could this get?”
Craig was quick to stop the lurid scenarios forming in Elijah’s imagination. “No, no, nothing like that. Remember when he collapsed at the nightclub?”
“Yeah, that was scary stuff.”
“Okay, well that’s the worst case scenario. When he’s overtired or stressed, he sometimes gets confused, anxious – a bit unsteady. He knows it and usually tries to grab a few minutes alone to deal with it. It’s not always possible for him to do that.”
“Like last night?”
“I thought he looked okay, to be honest. I didn’t know anything was wrong ‘til Pete mentioned he’d gone back to the hotel.”
“He’s an actor, Lij. When it comes to hiding the fact that he’s feeling like shit, he’s Oscar-worthy.”
“Craig, you have to know that I can’t be with him all the time. Maybe he should have someone – “
“He doesn’t need a babysitter,” Craig cut in sharply, “All I’m asking you to do initially is to at least call him every few days and make sure he’s okay. I’ll be doing that myself, but he’ll try to feed me bullshit too, if he thinks he can get away with it. If you can physically see him, that’s even better. If he looks or sounds stressed, see if you can find out why then let me know.”
“Maybe I could help distract him, take his mind off – you know – whatever’s bothering him.”
“As long as it’s something quiet. No nightclubs, Lij, no parties or drinking sessions or whatever version of bungee-jumping they have in Hollywood.”
Elijah snickered, “We call it an acting career, man, and they don’t always give you the giant rubber band.”
Craig closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. He felt as though he’d been holding his breath for an eternity. “I know, and that’s the major part of the problem.”
He heard a muffled conversation at the other end of the line before Elijah said, “I’ve got a media session in about five minutes. Can I call you again later?”
“You’d be lucky catching me. I’ll be either in-flight, in-conference or on-stage over the next twelve hours. As soon as you’ve sent me a tester e-mail, I’ll send you a reply with details. Then we’ll arrange to talk again.”
“Okay, that’s cool. In the meantime, I’ll just keep an eye on him, I guess.”
“Be subtle about it, Lij. He’d probably be completely pissed if he found out we were doing this.”