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Craig was waiting for him at the airport, not bothering to lurk or to be overly discreet, intent only on getting them both out of the terminal as quickly as possible.
“Luggage?” he asked.
“Just this,” Orlando held up a duffle bag. “Lij is going to send the rest of the stuff on later.”
Craig seized the bag in one hand, took hold of Orlando’s arm with the other and steered him toward the exit. They were halfway through the parking lot before he spoke again.
“What’s all this about?”
“I wanted to see you again properly before I make the big move.”
Craig stared at him, mentally holding his breath. “What big move?”
“I’m heading over to England for a while, a year at most. After that, I’m coming home to stay.”
“To spend some serious time with Mum and Sam – sort of get them used to the idea of us. And I’ve been looking into it and I thought I’d forget movies completely and just concentrate on theatre. I need this Craig, I really need it.”
“Okay. We’ll talk more when we get home. How long are you staying?”
“Two weeks at most. By then they’ll be at me about the pre-King publicity and I’ll have to go back for briefings and then do the promotion and premiere shit. I didn’t think I’d ever get to hate that movie, but I do. I hate it! I hate everything about it, because it’s completely fucked up my life. I wish I’d never done it, wish I’d never even fucking heard of it!”
Craig nodded but remained silent, wondering what in God’s name had happened, wanting so much to know -- but dreading finding out.
At least they had some decent uninterrupted time at their disposal.
He’d wound up another season of Mercy Peak barely a week earlier, and had been contemplating closing up the apartment and heading down to Raglan to spend the summer. He’d begged off doing another play for the Company, despite Oliver and the rest of them mounting a relentless campaign of harassment in an effort to secure his services. He was easily their biggest star now, a major drawing card for people who wouldn’t normally have attended a play but thought nothing of going for a bit of a gawp at Haldir of Lórien.
He realized he couldn’t stomach it right now. He was tired and he resented feeling so exposed. More importantly, he felt the need to keep himself free for Orlando, for visits like this that he knew would need his undivided attention.
He’d barely ended the phone call from Elijah, when he’d bolted down to Raglan and prepared the house.
In the privacy of the car, Orlando climbed into his lap and clung to him, and he wouldn’t have let go had Craig not gently disengaged him and assured him that they would talk properly when they got home.
They exchanged little on the drive down to Raglan, generalities and small-talk about the weather – it was raining steadily – about the traffic – unusually heavy – and about Craig’s having finished work and not planning a season at the theatre.
“I brought some of your stuff down from town,” Craig said, “Some clothes. We can go back and get the rest in a day or two if you like.”
Orlando nodded. “Thank you.”
Once at the house – it was dark by then – Craig said, “What do you want to do, love? Have something to eat? Would you like a shower or – “
“I’m really tired. I’d like to go to bed if you don’t mind but you go ahead and eat if you like.”
“I’m not all that hungry.”
The strained politeness of their conversation was excruciating. Orlando headed for the bedroom and lingered at the door, looking back to see that Craig still stood where he was, watching him.
He asked hesitantly, “Are you coming – ?“
“I thought you’d prefer to sleep.”
“I do but – Would you hold me for a while, please? I missed that. I’d really like it if you would.”
“Okay. Go on ahead. I’ll just lock up first.”
Orlando was already huddled under the covers when Craig joined him about fifteen minutes later after prowling around outside to calm his nerves before securing the place. He stripped off and climbed, shivering, into bed, and gathered Orlando against him.
They lay in silence listening to the rain and wind, and to waves pounding themselves onto nearby rocks.
“You’re not talking to me.” Orlando eventually said. “Usually you won’t let me hear the end of it when I’ve pulled this sort of stunt.”
Craig sighed. “I was thinking the same thing, but I thought I’d give you some time – some space – to sort things out. I didn’t want to hound you or anything. I’ll listen when you want me to.”
Orlando nodded. “Okay. I – Thank you.”
He remained silent and still, and Craig suspected he was doing the same as he was, staring into the darkness and waiting for the other to initiate conversation.
Before long, Orlando’s breathing became low and steady. Assuming he was asleep, Craig began to ease himself gently away.
Arms tightened their hold on him, and Orlando whispered urgently, “Don’t go.”
“I won’t. My arm was asleep – pins and needles.”
“Okay – sorry.”
Craig turned slightly, flexing his arm to get the circulation moving again, then drew Orlando back against him.
He asked, “Are you alright?”
Orlando gave a truncated, “Mmm,” and another nod.
“Okay, leading question. What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing much – trying not to think about anything.”
“No. Tired, yeah, just not really ready for sleep yet – jet-lagged probably.”
Craig pressed his lips momentarily to Orlando’s forehead. “We’ll need to do some serious talking, okay? Not right now but in the next few days. You know that, don’t you?”
“You said you’d already started looking into theatre prospects. In what way?”
“Lij ran a search on the Net for small theatres running small productions – you know, standard Shakespeare, Chekhov, that sort of thing. The productions only go for a month at a time. He put together a list of places for me to have a look at.”
“Sounds good. Start small rather than trying to conquer the West End right away.”
“I need to start small just to get my confidence back. You have no idea how much some stupid empty Hollywood crap can convince you how much talent you don’t have.”
Craig gave a muffled snort of derision. “Believe me, love, I do know. I may not have had much to do with film but it’s enough to know how doing theatre can put things back in perspective. You’ve made a step in the right direction. I don’t think you’ll regret it.”
“I thought I’d catch up with Ian while I was over there, get some pointers from him. D’you s’pose he’d mind?”
“I’m sure he’d be more than happy to help out.”
There was wry amusement in Orlando’s voice. “Imagine me calling on a Sir like he’s just some old friend.”
“But Ian is an old friend and I think he’d be a bit put out if he knew you thought otherwise. In your shoes, I wouldn’t hesitate. Love, where’s all this doubt coming from?”
Orlando sighed and Craig – holding him – felt the sigh shudder through his entire body. “I don’t know. I just know that – everything seems to be turning to shit and I just want to stop it before it gets worse. I feel like I’m turning into shit and the whole world’s watching it happen and they’re happily munching on their popcorn waiting for the gory end.”
Craig gave a gritted-teeth groan of frustration. “Jesus, I’ve no idea where you get these strange notions from. You seem to take everything so personally – “
Orlando stiffened. “You think I’m over-reacting to things?”
“Yes, I do!”
Orlando extricated himself from Craig, reached out and snapped on the light by the bed. “Okay! The day I left LA, I was doing a photo shoot. The guy in charge – everyone else had gone and he said he wanted a word. He got physical, tried to practically rape me. When I wouldn’t come across, he offered me money. Said he’d heard I put out for everyone else so what the fuck was one more?”
Craig whispered, still blinking against the light. “You’re joking!”
“Why the fuck would I joke about something like that!”
Craig heard the desperate, nervy edge to Orlando’s voice and sought to soothe it quickly. He eased him back into his arms again, began the calm stroking of his hair, offered the gentle assurances, “Shh, I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant. I believe you. I just can’t believe some prick would try that on you.”
Orlando murmured, “I just wanted to get away from it.”
“Shh, I know. I understand. I’m glad you came home.”
“Why is it that what’s heard and said, and what appears to be the case, never seems to have anything to do with reality? Why do people think that everything's exactly how it appears instead of how it really is?”
“I don’t know. I suppose when they don’t have access to the true story, they go by the available clues and work out a theory from there.”
Orlando lapsed into silence for a few minutes, responding to the calming ministrations, yet when he spoke again, another level of pain filtered through his words. “Why is there a picture of Lij and me – it’s called Orlijah – out there for everyone to see when it’s just not fucking true that we’re together? Meanwhile, the truth – pictures of you and me together – gets censored. Why the hell is that?”
Craig sighed, shook his head slowly and resorted to another, “I don’t know.”
“That’s another reason why I had to leave. I couldn’t stay in an apartment with Lij and have them finding out. I love Lij – he’s my closest friend – but it’s just not like it is in that fucking picture. I hate people believing that. They’ve spoiled it.”
“I’m sorry that’s happened, love. It’ll pass, it’s bound to.”
Another long silence was punctuated by yet another shuddering sigh.
“There’s this person they’re trying to make me become, and then there’s this person they think I already am. Somewhere in the middle is me – the way I really am – and no-one gives a fuck about that person, like I’m the most boring, untalented piece of shit – “
Craig felt himself begin to clench up with frustration. “You’re doing it again! Stop it!”
He held Orlando closer still, his fingers knitting through the long dark hair. He realized then how much he hated that hair, wished he could have the curls back, and Orlando with them – even the Mohawk was better than this hair that was no longer Orlando’s – or even the shaved-head look with those cheekbones and dark eyes, and nothing in that exquisite face able to be hidden like it was hidden now – just Orlando -- the way he used to be.
“I hereby name this house Toujours!”
Orlando hammered the first nail into the sheet of Kahikatea pine, firmly attaching it to the front wall of the house. He turned and grinned at Craig who looked on with an indulgent smile curving his lips.
A special moment, Craig thought, one of those nutty little occasions that most people wouldn’t give two hoots about but always seemed to make Orlando particularly happy. No, it went beyond happiness and closer to absolute joy in its purest form. And it was so infectious – he felt it too.
Orlando experiencing genuine happiness was an exceptional thing.
“You twit!” Craig laughed, reaching for him, enveloping him in a bear hug and pressing a kiss to a flushed cheek. “It’s very nice, okay? And I’m sure the house is feeling suitably honored, so how about you bash in a few more nails and then we can get inside again. It’s chilly.”
“I think, love,” Orlando grumbled, “That something of the gravity of the occasion has gone right over your head.” He dipped into his pocket and extracted a couple more nails, aligned them and hammered them into the panel.
Barely had he satisfied himself that the panel wasn’t going to fall off in a hurry, when a sudden rain-squall sent them bolting inside again.
“God, roll on summer!” Craig said as he hung their jackets up again and headed into the kitchen to put some soup on for lunch. It was one of those days on which some hot soup and buttery toast were simply mandatory. Beyond that, well –
The tension of last night had eased by morning and they’d tip-toed their way toward a kind of normalcy over a period of about an hour. Orlando had showered and then rummaged through the clothes Craig had brought down from town, layering himself in jeans, t-shirt, buttoned shirt and the grey fisherman’s knit he’d produced from his duffle bag.
“He’s cuddling a gray knit sweater like Linus cuddles his blanket, Elijah had written. Significant?”
“Still wearing it?” he’d asked teasingly and Orlando had nodded, giving him just the ghost of a smile.
Later in the morning – after a brisk trot along the beach to clear away the cobwebs – Orlando discovered that Craig had brought the Toujours sign with him as well, and he’d cheered up even more. The little 'naming ceremony' had occurred soon after.
They sat at the breakfast counter, drank soup and shared a plate of hot toast, conversation kept light and inconsequential. Only as they realized that an unplanned afternoon stretched ahead of them, did the tension begin to settle over them again.
The silence begged a proper conversation but Orlando seemed not to want anything to do with it and Craig knew instinctively that it was too soon.
Let’s just get used to sharing space again before we start filling it with shit…
Orlando eventually muttered something about still being tired, stretched out on the couch and began to snooze. Craig poured himself a double scotch and took it out onto the deck. He sipped it with little interest and tried to blank out his mind with a fierce determination not to allow it to deteriorate into a cesspool of rotten thoughts.
They’d get past this, they’d get through it, over it – whatever – but it was just a temporary thing, he was sure of it. They just needed to talk and clear the air. Very soon.
He looked through the glass doors and all he could see of Orlando was one of his hands and a lock of dark hair spilling over the end of the couch. He wanted to weave that dark hair through his fingers, take the hand in his own and hold it tightly, kiss it, tell him how much he hated these horrible distances that they’d never foreseen, and for which there had to be a definite explanation – but he was damned if he knew what it was.
He shivered and pulled his jacket closer against the chilled wind. He decided it possibly had a bit to do with the weather, knowing how a lot of people – himself included – were susceptible to mood changes brought about by things to do with light and atmospheric fluctuations. Maybe they were both suffering a bit from cold-weather and rainy-day gloom, and tiredness and – other things. It all added up – but they’d get past it, he was sure of that.
We love each other too much to be beaten by silence…
He gulped down the rest of his drink and went inside. No point in catching a cold on top of everything.
He rinsed his glass in the kitchen and left it to drain. He glanced over toward the couch where Orlando seemed to be fully asleep now and snoring lightly. He brought a blanket out from the spare bedroom and draped it lightly over him, making sure it covered his back now partially exposed by an untucked shirt. Orlando didn’t stir.
He looked at his watch. It wasn’t even three o’clock and there were still far too many hours to fill in this day alone. Out of habit, he wandered over to the shelves of books and scanned them, looking for something that might pique his interest and hold it at least until Orlando woke.
He rejected favorite, repeatedly read novels. His eyes skimmed over the reference books and biographies. That left the playwrights, the plays themselves, the critical works.
‘I’ve been looking into it and I thought I’d do some theatre… small theatres running small productions… standard Shakespeare, Chekhov, that sort of thing...’
He supposed that was something they could discuss in the meantime, useful conversation to bridge the silence until they had the conversation that really mattered.
He began to extract books from the shelves until a sizeable pile had accumulated on the floor in front of him – a pile of books containing the notable plays – Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw and other standards – and the volumes of critical essays.
For good measure, he added some more modern choices because he personally found them more interesting and challenging. In a secret and unforgivably snobbish way – in his own opinion anyway – he rather thought that the ‘standards’ were for lazy actors who preferred to stay on well-trodden acting ground, and lacked the courage to wander off into unknown territory. Of course it wasn’t strictly true but still…
The slim black volume only caught his eye because it had almost toppled off the shelf. He picked it up and examined the cover, and he suddenly experienced one of those odd little epiphanies of insight that resulted in an involuntary whisper of “Yes!”
Bent – The Play by Martin Sherman
The ATC had kept this particular play on the backburner for a few years now, wanting to do it because it was an important and well-known piece, yet reluctant because it was pretty controversial and somewhat grim. He’d wanted a part in it himself – the reason he’d gone straight out and ordered a copy of it along with some back-up reference works – but both Oliver and Michael had voiced a suspicion he’d already formed within himself.
‘You look far too cheerful and well-fed to be a convincing concentration camp inmate, Craig…’
He’d have been laughed off the stage.
But a few seconds ago when he’d picked up the book, some perverse little auto-cue in his head had flashed one of those publicity stills of a shaven-headed Orlando, looking very thin and very fragile, every aspect of that magnificent bone-structure able to be savored, the dark, unreadable eyes, the very faint suggestion of an attempt at a smile – he’d found the picture almost heartbreakingly beautiful yet vaguely disturbing. At the time, he hadn’t known why, but right now – with that book in his hand and the knowledge of its subject matter – it occurred to him that Orlando had looked like a survivor of sorts...
On appearance alone, he could see Orlando in the role of the gentle, gay Horst. Whether or not he could perform the role, in particular the sex scenes consisting of nothing more than verbal exchanges – they required incredibly precise delivery, both in tone and timing. It was a difficult and testing role, and an emotionally draining one.
Craig looked at the book again and placed it on top of the pile. They’d discuss it, perhaps even do a reading and try a scene or two.
As he always did when he started going through his books – his treasures, as he often referred to them – he’d stop and re-read favorite passages, or open a book at a marked page and start reading to satisfy his curiosity as to why he’d bookmarked that particular spot in the first place. Very easy to get caught up again and drift for hours in the flow of other people’s imaginations.
It was the sound of Orlando waking up – yawning and stretching, and a muffled groan as he eased a kink out of his back – that brought him back to the moment.
Craig felt the dark eyes resting on him and glanced up. “Better?”
Orlando smiled, his features still softened from sleep. “Mmm. What’re you doing?”
Craig closed and put down the book he’d currently been immersed in, and crawled over to the couch on all fours.
“Sorry I’ve been a snarly shit.” Orlando said as they reached for one another. He added cryptically, “You remind me who I am. After I’ve been away and come back, it sometimes takes a day or two to remember me.”
“Welcome home then,” Craig murmured against Orlando’s lips, his own mood now lifting and lightening immeasurably.
Orlando pulled away slightly. “I’m not back yet, not quite.”
Craig looked down at him, not even bothering to hide his confusion. “Oh?”
Reading confusion as anxiety, Orlando smiled and soothed him. “I don’t feel as if I’m really home until we’ve had a tub. Can I run one?”
Any residual doubt melted away instantly. “Shall I get the wine?”
Teasing and flirtatious now, tone full of promise. “We’d better make the bed first – and turn the blanket on so it’s all cozy and warm when we get there.”
“I’ll do that while you sort the bath out.”
They kissed then, properly for the first time since Orlando’s arrival.
Shouldn’t have taken so long, Craig thought as he re-made the bed and set the electric blanket on medium, turned the bedside lamps on and drew the heavy, insulated curtains. He looked around with satisfaction. The ambience of the room was mellow, relaxing and inviting. He’d added the curtains – velvet in a light-to-medium ocean blue – to the windows, after finding out soon enough that the great expanse of glass that allowed in all the light and warmth of summer also rendered the room an absolute ice-box when the weather was chilly. He planned to have them down again as soon as the weather was consistently warm – probably another month away.
As he uncorked the wine and selected a single glass from the rack, he could hear Bryan Adams playing quietly in the living room and Orlando humming away happily in the bathroom.
For a moment, he stopped what he was doing and simply enjoyed the moment – so perfect – and the feeling of expectation that the night ahead was going to be wonderful.
The bathroom was steamy and heady with the smell of Ylang Ylang – Orlando tended to be heavy-handed with the oil, despite Craig’s protests.
‘I love it so much,’ he’d insist…
He closed the door to contain the warmth and placed the bottle and glass on the ledge over the bath. Orlando was peering into the mirror absorbed in the inspection of a minor blemish.
“Leave it alone!” Craig growled as he reached over to turn off the taps.
Orlando turned around as Craig began to undress.
“No, let me,” he insisted, adding with a grin, “It’s like unwrapping a present.”
He pulled Craig’s shirt off over his head and tossed it aside. In front of him then, he reached down and began to unbutton and unzip his jeans. His pressed a kiss to Craig’s mouth, another against his throat, and he worked his way down, stopping to blow a playful raspberry into his navel. He prodded the little soft layer of pudginess now settled around Craig’s waist.
“Who hasn’t been working out lately then?”
Craig groaned. “Guilty as charged.”
“That’s alright, it’s sweet.”
The jeans and briefs were slid down, hauled off and discarded, and Craig stood naked.
“I love your body,” Orlando assured him. “It’s warm and comfy like a really good armchair. I love every inch of it. Especially these inches.”
He kissed Craig’s penis, now at partial attention as if considering its options.
He whipped his own clothes off in a matter of seconds and stepped into the tub, assuming the head-of-the-bath position normally claimed by Craig.
“Well come on, water’s getting cold and the wine’s warming up.”
Craig affected a sulk as he eased down into the water and settled himself into a half-recline against Orlando. “You’re in my place.”
“I know.” Orlando canted his head and rested his face on Craig’s shoulder. “And guess who’s bottoming tonight. Shouldn’t be a problem because I’ve got a sneaky suspicion you prefer it anyway, you Kiwi hussy.”
Craig shook with laughter and held the wineglass while Orlando poured.
Orlando, delicious in one of his flirtatious moods – a wonderful tonic and he’d gulp it down while it was offered. He’d enjoy all the physical attention – the endless strokes and caresses and probably a heavenly hand-job right there in the bath – and he’d soak up all those kisses and the soft murmurings – “I love you, I love everything about you, you make me feel so incredibly happy”.
Later on, the lovemaking would be superb and the pillow-talk a sleepy continuation of this playful nonsense. He recognized and would accept it for what it was – an apology of sorts, in the guise of a gentle seduction – and be grateful for it.
“You know what I’d really like to do?” Orlando said as they sat at the counter the next morning sipping tea while breakfast settled.
Craig leaned toward him and kissed his mouth gently. “After last night, love, you’ve racked up about a squillion Brownie points on credit, so whatever it is you want, I’m sure I’m going to agree.”
Orlando smiled. “I didn’t do it to score points.”
“I know, but I awarded them anyway. Ask and ye shall receive.”
“I’d love to try surfing again. I was never particularly brilliant at it – and after having not done it for so long, I’d probably spend most of the time off the board and in the water but – I’d really love to buy a board and wetsuit and give it another go.”
“Why don’t we drive into Hamilton today then and you can have a look around?”
“Could we? You didn’t have anything else planned?”
“Nothing that can’t wait,” Craig assured him, instantly pushing to the back of his mind any thoughts of theatre and plays – and things that needed to be discussed.
He didn’t often have to think twice or hesitate about it. His priority was Orlando’s happiness, and he’d do or get or give just about anything to make it happen – which wasn’t such a hard task, once he’d realized just how ridiculously simple Orlando’s needs were. He’d indulge this little bit of spontaneity, just as he’d hand him the keys to the Jeep and tell him “You drive, for the practice.” He’d accompany him on a grand tour of all the surf-shops in Hamilton – they’d go up to Auckland too if necessary – and he’d lurk discreetly in the background while Orlando browsed and consulted sales assistants.
He’d even endure that horrible feeling of exposure, watching the faces of the people in shops as they’d first hear Orlando’s accent and then recognize his voice, or when some aspect of his dark features rang a bell in their heads and a closer look confirmed their suspicion. And then Craig would wait for the curious glances to be directed past Orlando and land on himself, and the almost-instant but inevitable recognition of Guy Warner, or Alistair Kingsley or Haldir or the bloke from ATC, Theatresports and/or the Comedy Debates.
That was the worst part, the most hideous moment of all, when the cringe would unfurl in the pit of his stomach and start rising like bile, accompanied by the knowledge that one of these days, he was going to really lose it, tell them straight out to fuck off and leave them alone, and not even pretend to hide the resentment of having to share Orlando and the jealously guarded ‘us’.
Later that evening, as Orlando sat in the middle of the living-room floor, wearing his new wetsuit and waxing his new board, Craig wondered if any of the people to whom Orlando had given autographs earlier in the day would be down at Manu, or whether they’d simply pass on the tip to some hack at the Herald, an unscrupulous bastard with a camera who’d set up a temporary foxhole and be waiting for them.
But Orlando wanted to go surfing and surfing would make Orlando happy, so there was no question of not being on the beach at Manu come sunrise the next morning.
They’d simply keep at the back of their minds that there might be a kind of payment due for the privilege.
‘This is absolute madness,’ he thought, not for the first time since they’d arrived. ‘Should be home in bed not sitting here freezing my arse off!’
It wasn’t even eight o’clock yet but they’d been there for nearly two hours already. He’d set up camp at the top of a grassy bank, armed with a book, a thermos of hot tea, several towels, Orlando’s clothes, and a thick blanket. He’d wrapped the blanket around himself, adding another layer to the jeans, two sweaters and a jacket, but the chill of a bitter south-westerly wind was still managing to find its way through. Though the sun had officially risen, it remained behind heavy, low-level clouds, and would contribute no warmth at any time during the day.
He supposed he could have made his way a bit further inland to a more sheltered spot rather than sit out here in such an exposed position, but there was a mad logic to it. He could monitor the vast expanse of the water in which Orlando was surfing, as well as a considerable distance either way along the narrow beach of black volcanic sand and rock. It was also possible to see anyone approach from behind, long before they reached him.
He scanned regularly, looking for any sign of intrusion – so far he’d seen nothing.
Bringing the book had been a complete waste of time, remaining unopened beside him, but he’d made a considerable dent into the tea supply. When he wasn’t keeping an eye out for snoops, he watched Orlando.
He’d been a bit stop-start and clumsy at first, his prophecy of spending most of his time in the water rather than on the board coming spectacularly true. But he was gradually regaining his balance, with a patience and persistence Craig thought endearing. When he finally managed an unbroken twenty second skim along the crest of a decent sized left-hand break, Craig leapt up and raised his hands above his head to applaud him.
Orlando, still grinning happily, sunk down on the patchy grass beside him a few minutes later, and he huffed impatiently as Craig pounced on him with one of the towels, blotted up the worst of the water then promptly mummy-wrapped him with the blanket.
“Christ, you’re worse than my Mum!” he muttered, accepting a mug of hot tea.
“Probably true. Enjoying yourself?”
“God yeah, it’s brilliant! It took a while but I’m finally getting the hang of it again.”
“I saw you. Well done.”
Orlando looked ridiculously pleased. Then he glanced around pointedly. “Have you seen anyone?”
“No, not so far. They either didn’t clue-in to start with or they’ve decided to give us a break. Or maybe it’s just too bloody cold for the wimps. I don’t care which, but I’m thankful for it.”
“Can I kiss you then?” Orlando asked.
Craig’s mouth curved slowly into a smile. “I think we could risk it.”
Orlando carefully put down his mug, corkscrewing the bottom of it slightly into the grass to give it enough stability not to tip over. He shrugged off the blanket and crawled toward Craig, the smooth, slick wetsuit emphasizing the whippet-thin slenderness of his body, every muscle and every contour.
Craig gathered him into his arms, experiencing the fanciful idea of having captured a stunningly beautiful water-nymph. There were droplets of water on Orlando’s lashes still, and his hair hung spiraled in dark tendrils around his face. Craig kissed the wet mouth, very cold in contrast to the warmth of his own, and it was an easy step in his imagination to simply peel away the wetsuit and make love to him right here, despite the exposure of their position, despite the freezing cold.
“Thank you for today,” Orlando said, when he finally unwound himself and reached again for his mug of tea. “And for you and everything and always.”
Craig smiled again, unable to answer that one, at least not without getting a bit mawkish. Instead, he reached out and cupped Orlando’s icy cheek in his hand, brushed his thumb lightly over his lips, warmer now from the kiss.
“How much more time do you want? You’re very cold. Aren’t you feeling it?”
Orlando shook his head and drank the last of the tea. “It’s not too bad in the water. Another hour?”
“Okay. See you soon.”
Craig’s eyes followed him as he walked back down across the beach to the water’s edge, carrying the board under his arm. He watched Orlando hop lightly onto the board and begin to paddle away from the beach, through the impact zone, and out to the line-up area where the waves were captured as they began the surge toward the shore. The wind was picking up now, the sea a little more rough, and the waves significantly higher, though certainly nothing to bother – or even particularly interest – a serious surfer.
He consulted his watch again, poured another mug of tea and thought longingly of a hot shower and a warm bed. This was going to be a perfect excuse for both in just a couple of hours’ time. And afterwards, Orlando would be happy and tired, and more than likely in the mood for some serious cuddling, leading, naturally, to some fantastic love-making. He’d be sleepy enough to not want it at his preferred, slightly frenetic pace but instead in the more slow and languid ‘Mmm…’ manner that Craig loved himself.
An afternoon of bliss would more than compensate for these few hours of ball-freezing misery.
He dragged his mind away from its reveries and back to the view in front of him. He watched, fascinated as, beyond Orlando, a train of precisely distanced waves began to form, uniformly perfect in every way, and he waged a small bet with himself on which one Orlando would try to catch. They all looked as though they’d be beauties but he supposed he had an advantage over Orlando in that he could see them all from his higher position. From low in the water, he assumed Orlando would see that first perfect one, catch it and ride it in.
Predictably, Orlando began paddling parallel with the first wave in the train. Just as he started to ease out of his squatting position, a flurry of noisy movement from behind made Craig jerk around, eyes narrowed suspiciously as he scanned for the reason. A flock of sea-gulls had become collectively airborne yet he couldn’t detect any particular reason for them taking flight so abruptly. He continued scanning for another half-minute or so before turning back to see if Orlando had managed to keep riding the wave.
Instead, he watched the last of that train of waves crashing down on the backwash of its predecessors. Of Orlando and his board, there was no sign.
Craig instinctively scrambled to his feet but he held himself back.
‘Don’t go being an mother hen about this, don’t panic and go tearing out there trying to rescue him. He’s okay, he’ll be up in a sec. He’s okay, just got dumped. It’s happened in the past, it’ll happen again. Come on, love, come on, enough’s enough, come onnn...’
He wasn’t aware that he’d started moving toward the water anyway, despite telling himself not to – was totally unaware he’d even moved until tiny waves were breaking over his shoes and he was squelching along the water’s edge, his eyes watching, scanning, desperately looking for any sign of the dark head emerging from the water.
‘Come on, Orlando, I know you’re okay, I know it, please God, I know it, you’ve got to come up now, now fuck-it, please, please…’
Then he saw him, partly obscured by another incoming wave. He was pushing his hair back from his face and seemed a bit disoriented –
‘No, he’s just looking for his board, he’s okay, thank you, dear God, he’s okay!’
He felt suddenly ill with relief and, peering down, now slightly embarrassed as yet another wave broke around his feet, leaving his jeans sodden to knee-level. He didn’t take his eyes off Orlando again until he saw him straddle the board and start paddling in toward the shore.
He waited on the beach just above the wave line and took the board from Orlando with a forcibly casual, “What happened?”
“Got dumped by one and had about fifty more land on top of me.” Orlando lifted his hand and gingerly touched the right side of his head toward the back. “I think my board might have attacked me as well.”
He withdrew his fingers and studied them, finding the pads of them wet with blood.
“Let me look.” Craig put the board down and examined the wound, a small cut barely half an inch long surrounded by a sizeable area of swelling.
“Not enough for a stitch. Do you want to go and get it checked anyway? I’d rather you did.”
Orlando shook his head. “Nah, just want to go home and warm up a bit. You’re right, it’s cold. I’ll let you know if I change my – “
He looked down and started laughing. “You’re all wet! Didn’t come racing in to save me, did you?”
Craig picked up the board again and affected a look of disdain. “Why would I do that, Bloom?”
Orlando peered into his face and grinned puckishly. “Because you love me. I bet you did! Go on, admit it!”
Craig turned and began walking up the beach in the direction of their things. He called back over his shoulder. “Yep, okay, right on both counts. Can we go home now?”
Orlando was still laughing when they reached the pile of towels, blanket and other things. He instructed Craig, “Keep watch for me.”
He had a quick glance around then unzipped and peeled off the wetsuit. He stood naked for a matter of seconds as he rubbed himself down with one of the towels. He pulled on the dry clothes, gathered up the rest of their stuff and followed Craig up the steep path to where the Jeep was parked. He gulped down the rest of the tea from the thermos while Craig packed everything in, and he slouched happily in his seat for the trip home.
“That was wonderful -- except for the last bit. Can we do it again before I go back?”
“If you like,” Craig said, hoping he’d lose interest in the idea but suspecting he wouldn’t.
Later that night, he dreamed they were back at Manu, himself watching this time as the first wave sucked Orlando under and the rest of the train crashed down on top of him. But Orlando didn’t surface at all, and Craig woke abruptly, still pacing the shoreline and waiting for the dark head to emerge. In the dream, he’d been screaming Orlando’s name – on awakening, it was just a whisper on his lips.
He shifted restlessly and Orlando, lying against him, was instantly awake.
“Are you alright? God, you’re shaking like a leaf – your heartbeat’s going crazy...”
“Mmm – bad dream. I’m okay. Go back to sleep.”
Orlando burrowed closer and wrapped himself around Craig. “Wanna tell me about it?”
“I can’t remember much.” Craig lied, “Just Manu revisited.”
Orlando sighed. “It wasn’t that bad, love. Really.”
They lay in silence, Craig staring into darkness and wishing he could shut out that horrible premonitionary feeling.
“Promise me you’ll never go there alone,” he said slowly, “That you’ll never swim or surf anywhere alone.”
“Well they recommend you don’t. I’m not a complete idiot, so yeah, I promise. Feel better now?”
“Yeah.” Another lie.
“You worry too much.” Orlando murmured.
He began to move his hands slowly, stroking, gently kneading and exploring. He eased Craig over and pressed himself along the length of his back, face buried in the convenient curve between neck and shoulder. “Give you something nice to dream about instead, hmm?”
Craig didn’t answer, instead willed his body to go limp and languid and pliant in response to Orlando’s touch. He felt Orlando’s lips pressed against the nape of his neck, knowing the little bugger had discovered it to be a particularly sensitive spot. They didn’t speak again until Orlando was inside him, grasping and stroking him, and moving in that slow motion way that could drive Craig almost insane with lust – and usually had Orlando gritting his teeth in impatient frustration. But this moment seemed to be all about giving.
Orlando’s lips were close to his ear, his voice very low. “You gave me something really special today, love. I know we’re not into points-scoring in any way – “ Craig could hear the grin in his voice. “But quid pro quo seems a fair enough system.”
“Mmm, it does.”
Craig allowed his mind to drift, kept his eyes closed and abandoned all conscious thought of anything but the exquisitely pleasurable build-up of sensation. Right about now, after endless minutes of that slow, measured thrust, Orlando would normally nip him on the shoulder and whisper, laughingly, “Hurry up, you tease!” And often, but not always – he refused to give in every time – Craig would murmur, “Okay, all yours,” and allow Orlando to increase the pace. Their orgasms would be fast and hard and over in seconds, the way Orlando liked it best, a concentrated rush.
On this occasion, there was a light kiss against his shoulder, silence and a gift of time which he unwrapped slowly, and pronounced ‘Lovely…’ as he sighed and released into Orlando’s hand.
He reached up his own hand to touch Orlando’s face very gently, giving unspoken permission to enjoy the last few sharp thrusts needed for his own completion.
Afterwards, he whispered, “Thank you,” as Orlando tightened his arms and pressed himself even closer, content to lie there bound together for as long as possible.
It was Orlando who broke the long drowsy silence, murmuring, “You still awake?”
“I know you want us to forget about everyone and everything else, and just talk.”
“Got to be done.”
“How about tomorrow then? I’ll even sign a no-bullshit clause before we start if you want.”
“And don’t suddenly get an attack of the guilts and tell me I don’t have to do this if it’s too hard, alright?”
Craig smiled into the darkness. “I won’t. Promise.”
He touched Orlando’s face again, a feather-light caress of acknowledgement. His fingers came away wet.
It was there in the morning, waiting for them, the agreement forged in that moment of real closeness now crouched ready to rift them. It was there when they woke and their eyes touched just a moment before their mouths did, that realization of 'Oh God, today we talk', and a shared flicker of anxiety that made them cling together and make love again without a word being spoken.
“Not here,” Orlando said, after they’d had coffee.
Neither had suggested breakfast, both experiencing – though not admitting to it – that slightly queasy feeling before starting out on a trip, and the conviction that something in the stomach wasn’t really going to make the journey any easier.
“I don’t want us to – “ He looked around unseeingly. “Well this might end up in some kind of fight – we might say things we don’t mean – I don’t want to do that here. Can we go for a walk or something?”
Craig grabbed a sheaf of papers from his desk, folded them and slipped them into the deep pocket of his jacket.
They locked up the house and wandered down to the beach.
They’d walked for perhaps ten minutes before Craig said, “I don’t even know how to start this. Now, when we’ve finally decided to drop the bullshit – I don’t even know if I want to any more.”
After another silence, Craig made an attempt. “At the airport, you said you hated the Rings films – wished you’d never done them. Do you really feel that way? Even though it brought you here, and brought us together?”
Orlando shrugged and sounded contrite. “I’m sorry, not really, just sometimes. It gave me a break – and, yeah, it brought us together – but it just seems to complicate everything. It’s always there as some kind of reference point. I’m the guy who played the elf. I can never be just me, I can’t escape it.”
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be entirely possible unless you make your mark somewhere else or in some other role.”
“Yeah, exactly, except they won’t let me do anything else, just stupid, empty fucking pretty-face roles. I didn’t realize ambition was such a fucking dirty word in this business. I think I’m supposed to just accept what crumbs of work they toss at me, take the money and run – and not bother about shallow stuff like professional pride or anything.”
Craig took his hand and wove their fingers together. “I’m sorry. I know how frustrating it is for you. But getting out and concentrating on theatre for a while – that’s a good move, a good decision. I’m glad you haven’t just given in.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to piss people off, and that I’m going to be pointed to as some kind of arrogant, ungrateful little twerp. I know I’m going to become a pariah for not playing the game the way they want me to.”
“Are you going to be able to deal with that?”
“I think so. Whenever I’m with you – especially like last night – I get a great big supply of happiness points. I lose a lot of them when I leave again, but the ones left over can keep me running pretty well for a while. And whenever I come back to you after being away – no matter how shitty it was out there and how bad I was feeling, I always feel better here – I always feel incredibly happy. I love the country and the people, I love this house and I love you. Everything that means anything and that makes me happy is here -- so when it starts getting really bad, I’ll come back here for a while and get another happy-love fix.”
“What’ll happen if you can’t? What if it’s not possible to get away when you need to, because you’re in the middle of a job or something?”
Orlando shrugged again. “I’ll just have to stick it out until I can. I’ll stay out there only as long as I have to, just to prove to myself I can do it – act, I mean – and be good at it. If it turns out I’m wrong and don’t have a shred of talent, I’ll give up straight away and come home.”
“Of course you have talent,” Craig chided him, “Otherwise you’d never have gotten this far. It’s just a case of finding the right medium or genre to best show it off. Have you considered that it might work too well? That you could have a pile of offers to consider when the year’s up? What then?”
“I’m still coming home.”
“There might be objections. Consequences.”
“What can they do to me if I leave? Physically drag me back? I don’t think so. Sabotage my career? Going by the amount and type of work I’ve been offered lately, I don’t even think I have one. They could sue my arse off for all my money. I don’t care, it’s only money and I managed without it before. They could do a ‘Bloom’s a queer’ campaign – I wouldn’t give a flying fuck about that. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, so what!’ But they could sleaze it up and try to completely destroy my reputation. I’d hate that because they’d drag you right into it – and others. But I still have enough people who know how much shit follows me around but care about me anyway. You and Lij, the good friends I made here – my family.”
They walked for a few more minutes without speaking. Craig finally broke the silence, brought up the subject that both had been wary of broaching. “What about the other stuff?”
Orlando looked away, knowing but resisting anyway. “What other stuff?”
“Let’s sit for a while. I need to show you something.”
They veered up from the beach to the backdrop of dunes and sat where it was comparatively dry and sparsely covered with grass.
Craig dug into his pocket and pulled out the folded papers. He opened and smoothed them out, studying them for a moment.
“Elijah and I have been in regular contact for a while,” he said in a carefully neutral voice. “He said you were pretty much aware of it but if you weren’t – well – it’s a fact anyway. He’s kept me filled in on a few things, including something that happened a few weeks back.”
Orlando said nothing and his gaze remained fixed on some point far out to sea.
“We swapped a few e-mails which I’ve printed out. Would you read them please?”
Orlando’s reaction was slow, and when it came, it was little more than momentary eye-contact, his features taut from barely concealed hostility.
He took the papers anyway and began to read. He gave a tiny snort of laughter at one stage, muttering, “Oh God – Linus!” Otherwise he completed the reading in silence. Eventually he shuffled the papers together, refolded them and handed them back.
His attention drifted out to sea again and Craig fumed inwardly as he sensed the shutters coming down between them again.
He decided to push on anyway. “What happened that night?”
Orlando shrugged. “Nothing – a panic attack.”
“I should have had you sign that no-bullshit clause. The one you offered last night.”
Again, Orlando’s reaction was slow and measured, but this time it was one of concession.
“I don’t know what happened. I’m not sure. Was it really like that?”
Craig nodded. “Yeah. You don’t remember any of it?”
“Tell me which ones.”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand any of it really – none of it makes sense. I just know that it felt like I’d lost something – I thought something had happened to you – that’s why I phoned you. Other times it feels like I don’t have any control over anything and everything seems to hurt so much – too loud, too bright, too much – I just want to hide until it feels normal again. Things stop making sense and what I’m most afraid of is that something’s going to happen that I can’t stop. Or that someone’s going to do something – I don’t know what – take advantage of me or – or make a complete idiot of me or make me do something completely out of character – and I just wouldn’t be able to stop them. I don’t want people thinking I’m completely nuts just because things don’t make sense for a few minutes or a few days. So yeah, I hide somewhere and don’t go anywhere or see anyone until I think its okay again.”
“How long have you had things like this happening? Honestly.”
Orlando lowered his gaze and shrugged again. “I think it started in the second year of the shoot. It was sort of gradual – it’s gotten worse since then but – yeah – that’s when I started thinking – really thinking – that I was losing it.”
“And you’ve never seen anyone about it.”
“No. I don’t think I’d know how to tell them what it’s like. Or maybe they’d think I was so completely out of my mind that they’d lock me away.”
Craig remembered the doctor’s comment in Wellington. “They’d be more likely to suggest counseling or drug therapy -- or a combination of both.”
“I couldn’t stand that. Drugs. I’d hate it. And telling a complete stranger all about the things that bother me or scare the hell out of me – or things I just don’t understand. I couldn’t do that either.”
“But if it would make you feel better? Look, whatever’s causing this – probably stress, maybe depression – I don’t know because I don’t understand it myself and I don’t want to make guesses. But it’s causing more than just the odd panic attack now. What if it gets worse? What’s next?”
Orlando shook his head vehemently. “No, you missed something. I feel happy and better here with you, just leaving all that shit behind. So I don’t think that – you know – that it’s bad enough for drugs or anything like that. I just have to go out and do this thing with theatre – for me, love, it’s really important – and then I’ll come home and we’ll live happily every after. No panic attacks, no freak-outs or hiding away or anything.”
“What if it happens again while you’re over there? The thought of you being alone like that – God, it just – I can’t bear to even think about it.“
“If it happens I’ll call you.”
“Provided you’re thinking clearly enough to do so. And I’m still a couple of days away. At least.”
Orlando raised his head abruptly. “Couldn’t you come over with me? We could spend the whole year together. You could be my adviser or something, help me and coach – “
Craig was already shaking his head. “Orlando, much as I’d love to, I can’t. I have commitments here. I might be able to get over for a few weeks in the meantime, but there’s absolutely no way I could be with you for the whole year. And – God, I can’t believe I’m saying this – if this is for you, then you have to do it yourself. Make your own choice of jobs, do your own interpretations of roles. We can make a start while you’re here, have a look at a few things and swap ideas – but ultimately it’s your time. Go out and do it -- and come back to me with no regrets. But I have to stay out of it.”
Orlando nodded and conceded with a heavy sigh. “Yeah, I know.”
“Time and pressure,” Craig said after another lengthy silence. “There’s not enough of one and too much of the other. We barely get used to being together before we have to get used to not being together. And the pressure is all on you. I hate that. I wish I could support you more openly without people getting so pissy about it.”
“Do you think I’m weak, not always being able to handle this shit without losing it now and then?”
“No, I’ve never thought that. It’s the time thing again. You haven’t developed that hard, sharp edge people in this industry need to survive. You haven’t had time to learn the survival strategies, so you’re basically out there unarmed. Not weak, love – just a bit vulnerable. I’ve always thought it.”
Fey Orlando, the tightrope walker, all eyes upturned as he performs on that slender, precarious stage…
“Yeah, well they don’t teach you how to be a star in acting school. They give you all sorts of tips on how to pay the rent between jobs, or what to do if you can’t get work and nobody seems to want to know you. They don’t tell you what it’s like when it all works too well. Maybe they think the chances of it happening are too small or something – that there’s really no point in getting your hopes up.”
“Did you think it would happen? Stardom.”
“Course I didn’t.”
Orlando grimaced slightly. “Thought I’d get a few small parts, maybe something a bit bigger on telly. I thought I’d waste a few years and a lot of money, then get married and have my two kids and disappear in suburbia.”
“Would you have preferred that?”
“I don’t know. Simpler I s’pose. Don’t know if I’d have done anything about the bisexual thing though, whether I’d have gone looking or given in to it. You can’t see things like that, only wonder about them. I could have messed my way through a bunch of relationships with women and never realized there was another man out there who could do the trick better. I might have tried it seriously with a couple of men, messed up just as much and sort of given up on the idea because it’s not the easiest option in life is it? So maybe this is the best way it could’ve turned out.”
“Would you have wanted it differently? This. Us.”
“No. Only easier – and more open.”
“The circumstances don’t allow that, love. It’s not even entirely up to us any more.”
“I know,” Orlando murmured.
His eyes wandered out to sea again, scanning restlessly across the horizon. “I never used to think much about how I looked before all of this. I was so geeky and odd-looking, too dark, too skinny, bad skin, hair that used to piss me off – but none of it used to bother me because I thought I was just normal, really just average. No one took any notice of me. Then this all happened and suddenly I was hot shit, you know, suddenly everyone wanted to be with me, and I loved it, really loved it, being wanted and everything, being desired. Now they won’t bloody leave me alone and they still keep telling me how fucking hot I am but refuse to acknowledge me – me! – by letting me be seen the way I really am. I feel like I'm always on show and at the same time, I feel – censored. I’m so tired of normal me not being good enough for anyone anymore, like I’ve passed my use-by date or something. I want to be seen as someone worthwhile, not just some – some – I don’t know – some useless kind of ornament.”
He was silent for a moment, staring out at the ocean. Craig watched him patiently.
“I don’t ever want to read about ‘Orlando Bloom, former elf’ or ‘former teen-idol’ or ‘poster boy’ or anything stupid like that. I’d hate it. I want recognition and respect for being an actor, not a movie star. I think that’ll only happen from doing some good work on stage. And I want to be acknowledged on another level too – it’s got nothing to do with being an actor or a celebrity – but just as a person, you know? Not just some shallow fucking party animal. When people talk about me, I don’t want them to say ‘Oh, he was a reasonable fuck,’ and nothing more. If they have to remember me in any context other than acting, I’d want it to be about us. That I was your partner – that we were partners – and it wasn’t just some fuck-buddy set-up. I want them to know it was never just sex but love as well, and caring and laughing and worrying and fighting and making-up and – and – well the same as any ordinary couple really.”
He drew his knees up and rested his head on them, his hair falling forward and thickly curtaining his face, muffling his voice.
“I wish I could say it was just us that mattered, and nothing else. But it’s not true. You know what I’d really hate most to happen? For anyone to think or say or write that I was with you just because I couldn’t make it anywhere else, or that I’d sort of settled for you because I hadn’t had any better offers.”
He suddenly raised his head again and laughed self-consciously. Still he addressed an anonymous audience at sea and not Craig.
“I have this fantasy you know, of going up to collect a Best Actor Oscar. And you’d be sitting in the audience and the cameras would’ve already picked up a shot of us holding hands – the way they did with Ian and Nick. You’d have kissed me when they announced I’d won – you’d have been really proud of me. I’d thank everyone to do with the movie – which would’ve been a really good drama or something – and then I’d thank you and tell you how much I love you while the audience sort of chokes, and the network executives all have heart-attacks, and a billion people watching at home all spill their cups of tea. Before they’d have time to start the music and cut to an ad, I’d tell them I’d just retired and was going to spend the rest of my life with you because I didn’t need anything else.”
Now he twisted around and faced Craig. “I know I’m never going to get an Oscar, but I’d really like to have achieved something worth giving up for you. Just so I could be sure that you’d never think I was with you out of some kind of compromise – like because I couldn’t hack it out there or something.”
Craig studied Orlando’s face intently for a moment. “That’s complete bullshit, Orlando.”
Orlando nodded. “I know it is. I just want to be able to prove it.”
“You don’t have to prove – “
“Yeah, I do.” Orlando cut him off.. He took Craig’s hand, lacing their fingers together again, and he nodded, repeating, “I do.”
Several light spots of rain made them look skywards in unison. It was clouding over rapidly again.
“We’d better head back,” Craig said, rising to his feet and pulling Orlando up with him.
They returned to the house without speaking other than to curse the rain as they bolted the last hundred yards or so. It wasn’t until they sat at the counter and drank tea that Orlando ventured, “Why was it so hard this time – when I first got back? Why were we so tense? Was it my fault?”
“No, it’s no one’s fault. I suppose it’s because we’re still doing this in episodes. We aren’t together often or long enough for it to all run together smoothly.”
Craig put down his cup abruptly. “And do you know what else? This weather’s pissing me off. I can’t stand it when it’s in full gloom mode. I think, love, we might have to make this our fair-weather residence and head for town when it rains or we’ll go insane and end up throttling one another. Shall we do that now, hmm? Pack up and go back for a few days?”
Orlando smiled and nodded, albeit with a measure of reluctance. “If you like.”
Craig indicated the pile of books in front of the shelves with 'Bent' sitting on top. “I hauled out the ones that might interest you. We’ll take them with us, maybe go through them and have a bit of a brainstorming session. We might even hunt down Oliver and the rest of the crowd and have a few beers. I don’t know if they’d be any good with advice but you never know.”
Orlando’s reply was more animated this time. “I’d really like that. It’d be sort of another public appearance, wouldn’t it?”
Craig looked at him, recognized in Orlando’s expression something that always managed to graze his conscience and make him feel like a complete shit. “Just a little one, love. Can’t rock the boat too much, not yet.”
“It’s a start though,” Orlando insisted, “Like going shopping and things like that. Except this time, it’d be with just a few people who know you. Not in a crowd of people who don’t.”
“That’s right.” Craig drew Orlando to him and held him tightly, forming a momentary protective armor of himself around that vulnerability he wished Orlando would at least attempt to conceal.
He supposed it was what he loved most about him, that openness, that inability to hide behind a veneer of affected bullshit. He just wished to God it wasn’t necessary to perceive it as a weakness.