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Elijah had been there a few weeks when it occurred to Orlando that having him there could be almost as good as being back in Raglan.
They had been living together quietly – rather ironic, they’d decided, two die-hard party animals suddenly living like a couple of elderly retired spinsters in the party-capital of the world – and it had settled into a comfortable almost intellectual relationship. Most nights, they didn’t bother with the television or a DVD, but simply talked about anything from books, movies and plays to thoughts, feelings and ideas.
But some evenings, Elijah would be tapping away on his computer – he was attempting to write what he offhandedly referred to as ‘my memoirs’ – while Orlando lay on the couch reading – more accurately skim-reading his way through the latest pile of scripts, each one worse than the last. Orlando would occasionally put down a script and close his eyes, and it took no great effort to imagine that it was Craig across the room using the computer and that he, Orlando, was lying on the couch relaxing and healing.
Often he’d play little memory games in his head – if he sat up and peered over the back of the couch, he’d be looking through the sliding glass doors and he’d be able to see the paved area, the timber deck, and the seat where they drank tea and coffee, talked and held one another. Beyond it was the ocean, and some nights, the game worked so well, he could hear the whump and hiss of the waves crashing onto the beach.
And sometimes the game worked too well and he could hear Nat King Cole crooning – ‘Beside a garden wall… When stars are bright… You are in my arms… The nightingale tells his fairy tale… Of paradise where roses bloom…’
One night – in Raglan – they’d actually danced to that song, or rather Craig had attempted to teach him how to dance properly. They’d ended up just holding one another, swaying gently while Craig hummed softly and Orlando simply listened, enchanted. Craig had prodded him playfully and murmured that the song was obviously written just for Orlando since his name – Bloom – was in it.
Thinking of that now and then, the poignancy of it no less over time and distance, Orlando would find himself smiling even though his lashes would be wet with tears. It helped having Elijah there with him now. It stopped those mopey moments descending into depressions that frightened him in their intensity.
Besides, he knew Elijah was having his own struggle with memories, not many of them good, and he suddenly – no warning at all given – would start telling Orlando things that left both of them feeling upset and angry.
“They used to talk a lot and pretend I wasn’t there, or at least have a bit of fun pretending I wasn’t there. They’d talk around me, over the top of me, through me, but always about me. A lot of it was sexy talk -- dirty talk. And they had it in their heads that I didn’t know what was going on. I hated that! I knew what they were doing, man…”
At times like that, they’d end up just holding on to one another silently, and wondering what the fuck was the matter with some people, and why they thought they had this right to hurt those who could least deal with the pain.
Occasionally it was necessary to go out and be seen somewhere – an opening, a premiere, or some other publicity-worthy event – and they’d find themselves staying close, all but holding hands so they wouldn’t be separated, and finding the whole thing more endurable simply for being in the company of someone else who didn’t want to be there either.
They were cruising the barriers at a magazine-based award ceremony one night in September – the beginning of the build-up to the 'Return of the King' was about six weeks away – when one of the fans shoved a poster at them and begged for autographs.
“Lij – “ Orlando stared at it, and his voice was barely audible.
Elijah murmured, still smiling, “It’s cool, Orli, just sign it.”
They both did and then moved on, Elijah keeping up his usual happy chatter and occasionally forcing Orlando out of the almost trance-like state of shock, reminding him, “It’s cool, Orli, it’s okay. Just keep smiling and signing.”
“Yeah… Okay, Lij.”
Did he imagine it? But how – when – he had to have imagined it! This was just a panic attack or something, one of those Orlando’s-mind-is-playing-tricks-again moments and it hadn’t been real, he hadn’t seen it so why then did Elijah keep catching his eye, smiling with his mouth even though his eyes looked panic-stricken, telling him over and over again, “It’s cool, Orli, it’s cool, it’s okay…”
Once inside the building, Orlando had gone to the public restroom and thrown up – violently, angrily, fearfully – wondering even as his stomach still heaved, if Craig had seen that picture, of he and Elijah, naked and close, so close their names had merged into ‘Orlijah’, a picture that just couldn’t have existed -- but did.
They’d gone home straight away, not staying for the awards, and Elijah had attempted to explain to Orlando that it had been one of those manipulated pictures that were all the rage just now, and anyone could tell, and would know it was just that. Manipulated.
“It’s kinda like the picture version of the stories, Orli, not real except in people’s imaginations.”
Since Elijah had broached the subject of 'the stories' – he’d always thought of them in inverted commas – Orlando figured that now was as good a time as any to ask about them. Elijah seemed to be an expert on the aspects of fame Orlando found the most disconcerting.
“Tell me about them,” Orlando said, “I’ve heard but – I don’t really know much. Didn’t really want to. Have you read any?”
Elijah formed his reply carefully. “Oh yeah. Uh – how can I explain them? I guess there are two kinds, one kind, we’re in character – you know, Frodo, Legolas, Sam, Aragorn – and in the other kind, we’re ourselves. They write about us as real people, the way they imagine we are or want us to be – sometimes I can’t work out what’s what.”
“And what do they write about us?”
Elijah shifted uncomfortably, lit a cigarette, chewed on a nail. “I guess you could pretty much sum it up with sex or pain. That’s what most of them are about -- sex or pain. Some are kinda funny, others are pretty sad. A lot of them are really well written and others are like high school essays.”
Orlando thought the concept faintly ridiculous. “High school essays about sex and pain?”
“Yeah – I guess.” Elijah took a contemplative drag on his cigarette. “Most of them, you know, they’re so far out of the ball-park. I know some of them are about me being into bondage and stuff, you know, that I get off on pain. You know me, Orli. I’m such a fucking girl when it comes to pain. I’d shoot morphine for a hangnail if I could get it.”
Orlando smiled hesitantly. “What do they write about me, Lij?”
“Oh – lots of stuff.”
“Am I into pain too?”
“No, not really. I guess you’re – more into sex.”
“What, like I get it a lot or give it a lot?”
“Both. I think it’s because everyone keeps wondering about you, whether you’re straight or bi or gay, who you love, how you love. I figure most of it’s just a bunch of speculation, supposition, fantasizing and wishful thinking. Sometimes I just read something and end up thinking, ‘Well what the fuck was all that about?’ And other times it’s kinda creepy because it feels like they managed to get into my head and work out what I’d say or do or think in a given situation.”
“Why do you read it?”
“I don’t know. I guess it’s just an extension of the eavesdropping I used to do as a kid, you know, try my goddamnedest to find out what they were saying about me that they wouldn’t bother saying to me. It’s kinda why I read gossip columns too. I want to know what they think about me, what they say about me.”
“What about me? What do they think and say about me?”
Elijah shook his head, “Orli, it’s not – “
“Lij, I want to know. I can read it myself anyway but why don’t you save me the time and tell me?”
“Oh, man…” Elijah sighed, “It’s like I told you, mostly to do with sex or pain. You give the sex and you get the pain, but it’s not true, Orli, any of it, so do yourself a favor and just don’t bother reading it. It’ll just fuck your head around too much.”
Orlando murmured, “Okay.”
Elijah made them mugs of tea and left Orlando curled up on the couch again while he started messing around on his computer. The whole episode compelled him to write something about it.
Orlando tried to get interested in another script as he sipped his tea but found it impossible to focus his concentration on the print in front of him. He was tired and upset and knew he should go to bed, knew too that he was just so unsettled, sleep would be difficult.
He closed his eyes and tried to summon up Raglan again, searched in his memory for the sound of the waves and Nat King Cole, and the feel of arms around him.
Instead, he gradually became aware of an odd sensation, of his mind as a tangible thing, a crystalline vessel, bright, pure and clear, and he watched a crack appear, just a thin hairline, barely visible, that widened just a little, just a little until the sudden crack! Then a gradual splintering, a shattering fragmentation in slow motion and his thoughts became countless tiny pieces of rainbow.
He supposed -- still thinking clearly -- that it was just another version of a panic attack, one he could watch with fascination from a position of complete detachment. His heartbeat remained stable, a little sluggish if anything. He wasn’t sweating, his stomach wasn’t churning, and all the activity seemed to be confined to his head. His body felt heavy, slow and lethargic.
Curiouser and curiouser.
He opened his eyes and someone was squatted down in front of him looking anxious. “Are you alright?”
He stared at the person warily through a kaleidoscope of confusion.
“Because you look as if… it isn’t alright. Do you feel okay?”
“Yeah. Just – “
The pieces shifted abruptly into place, the vessel was suddenly whole again. He whispered, “Lij.”
“I’m here, Orli. What happened just then?”
Elijah looked completely spooked and Orlando was swift to reassure him. “Just a weird kind of panic attack I think. Not a bad one. They happen. Could you pass me my phone? I want to call Craig.”
He didn’t want to say out loud that it felt as though something or someone had just died, and that he was suddenly frightened, a long believer in the premonitions some people reportedly had, of someone dying – members of their family, twins, spouses, friends or lovers.
He wanted more than anything to believe that this was just something odd that had happened in his head, something that had happened to he alone and that Craig was okay.
The sound of Craig’s voice was soothing, reassuring. He told Craig nothing, only that he wanted to hear his voice and that he was feeling a bit homesick and a bit mushy. He told him that he loved and missed him, but he wouldn’t tell him that, for a few minutes there, the terror had been so strong, he’d been able to taste it in his mouth, coppery and sweet.
After they’d ended the call, he went to bed, leaving the door of his bedroom wide open. Elijah waited an hour then checked on him, finding him sleeping peacefully with the bedside lamp on. He didn’t turn it off in case Orlando had purposely left it on, not wanting to wake in darkness.
He e-mailed Craig, telling him first about Orlando’s reaction to the manipulated picture and later, the conversation about the stories. Then he told him about the weird panic attack.
“I don’t know what made me turn around just then but he was kind of frozen and all locked up. I didn’t even think he was breathing and he was so fucking white. You know how they say people go white as a sheet? He was white as a sheet. I called his name and he opened his eyes but it got even freakier because he didn’t know who I was. It was only for a couple of seconds, but I swear it, he just didn’t even recognize me. It scared the crap out of me!”
The e-mails went back and forth for several hours that night. “Should I come over?” Craig wrote.
Elijah responded, “See what he’s like in the morning. He’s okay now. He’s asleep. He left the door open and the light on. I don’t know why. He did that before when he was staying with me for a while. Maybe sometimes he’s afraid of the dark or something. I just don’t know.”
“Let me know how he is when he wakes up, Lij. I’m glad you’re with him.”
“So am I. What is it about Orli? You never worry when he does things like throwing himself out of an airplane or a cable-car or if he’s tearing down a slope on a snowboard. You just don’t ever think he’s going to get hurt doing those things. But you want to protect him from people and other things. It’s so weird. I’m so scared for him sometimes but I don’t even know why or what’s out there that could hurt him so bad. I wish he could go back and be with you. Why can’t he Craig? He would be safe over there with you. Won’t you make him go home to you? Please.”
Craig’s reply was a long time coming, taking so long that Elijah had almost given up and gone to bed.
“He’s not free to come back yet, Lij. About a year left I think. Mail me in the morning. Or call me if things are still bad.”
The e-mails continued for about a week, Elijah sending Craig brief daily reports.
“He’s still a little out of it. He doesn’t want to talk to me but he says he’s okay. Just tired…”
“He didn’t get out of bed today. Did you ever have a security blanket when you were a kid? I had the usual favorite crib-blanket. It was fucking pink, which probably explains a lot of my hang-ups now. He’s cuddling a gray knit sweater like Linus cuddles his blanket. Significant?”
“He still seems a bit down but not as bad. He’s eating again…”
“He’s a whole lot better today, I think. He smiled and said he was sorry for being boring…”
“Whatever was wrong seems to be over now. He’s almost back to normal…”
It took about another week before Elijah finally managed to get Orlando to tell him what had happened, or try to. The best he could get was a confused explanation about being unbelievably tired and not being able to think very clearly. And things hurt his senses – during the day, the smallest light, sound or movement were physically painful so he needed to be still, needed for things to be quiet until it all passed. But at night, it was the darkness he feared most.
Finally he had admitted, “Lij. I’m afraid of the world seeing me when I’m crazy.”
“You’re not crazy, Orli.”
“Not now, not this minute, but I think one day I will be, like I’m getting there now.”
Elijah reached his arms around Orlando and held him tightly. He could feel the slight constant tremor of Orlando’s body even through their multiple layers of clothing.
He couldn’t bring himself to lie. He wanted to tell Orlando that he was worrying needlessly, that he was further from craziness than most people he knew, and that, in this particular business, they were all pretty much insane. But he couldn’t.
“What do you want, Orli? What kind of life?”
Not this one...
Orlando mouthed the words silently, keeping his face averted so Elijah couldn’t have seen.
Aloud, he said, “I don’t want to be remembered for just being an Elf. I really want to be remembered for another role. And I want a life like Craig’s. It’s fun but quiet. He works when he chooses to and he has a small group of close friends he works with all the time – it’s like their own 'Fellowship'. And he can disappear and be left alone when he wants to be. That’s what I want.”
“You’ll need money to live on in between jobs. You should grab what work you can now and start stashing and saving. If you’re thinking of moving to New Zealand, and even if you get work there, it won’t pay as much as you’d get here. That’s why people leave there, I guess.”
“And privacy costs money, Orli. Once you’ve been a star, it’s like you have to buy your life back again. You have to buy yourself separation from them.”
Orlando nodded. “I know. I’ll make as much money as I can, while I can. And I want my face everywhere, so much that people get so sick of it that they’ll never want to see it again. Maybe then they’ll leave me alone.”
“But you hate having your photo taken and – hearing all that shit about beauty. Now you want to cash in on it?”
“It’s all I’ve got, Lij, my face. It’s what people want. It’s what they’ll pay for. Okay, fuck them. I’ll sell it to them. And they’ll pay, they’ll fucking pay for it and their fucking money’s going to buy me my freedom.”
It shocked Elijah, seeing that face contorted in rage and hatred as it was now.
It’s so wrong…
“I hate my fucking face, Lij. I hate beautiful. Why doesn’t anyone ever see beyond this fucking face of mine?”
“Some of us do.” Elijah reminded him gently, well used now to Orlando’s frequent ‘I’m so tired of being treated like just a fucking face and nothing else!’ rants. At first they’d worried him, but now he recognized them for what they were, a way for Orlando to relinquish his hold on that silent rage for just a few minutes at a time. Elijah no longer made light of the outbursts or tried to jolly him out of the mood. Instead, he’d make sure Orlando understood that there were people who loved every aspect of him and always would.
It’s so fucking wrong…
For a bit of a laugh – Elijah called it therapy, Wood-style – he saved some of Orlando’s more spectacular publicity stills on the hard-drive of his computer, and they spent a couple of hours using an image editor to manipulate Orlando’s dark exquisite features until he resembled a homunculus of sorts. They mailed one of the worst results to Craig and received a less than enthusiastic response in the form of a lecture about sacrilege.
“He’s so wonderful and funny!” Elijah laughed after he’d finished reading it.
Orlando printed them out, all of them, and posted them around the apartment, thanking Elijah repeatedly for helping him feel normal again.
A week later, Elijah realized what a transient and flimsy state normal had become for Orlando. He returned to the apartment, excited and eager to tell Orli all about his first class in accounting.
The place looked like a twister had gone through it.
From the main bedroom came sounds of violent activity as if someone was trashing the furniture. He discovered Orlando going through drawers – wrenching them open, hauling out the contents and flinging them onto the bed, slamming the drawers shut again. He did it methodically with no apparent thought for the mounting chaotic pile on his bed.
Elijah lingered at the door, hesitant about simply barging in and demanding to know what the fuck he was doing. Orlando’s mood had been somewhat subdued this week, ostensibly due to the fact that he’d spent most of every day doing the much-loathed photo shoots.
“Orli?” he ventured again, “Are you okay?”
Orlando didn’t look up. “Yeah, Lij.”
“What’re you doing?”
“Same as you, Lij. I’m taking my life back and I’m taking control of it. I’m sick of being fucked around and being told what to do like they know what it is I should be doing! I’ve had enough. Fuck ‘em, Lij! I’m getting out of this place. Fuck ‘em!”