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Orlando looked down at his jeans, shirt and Nikes. “What should I wear? Is there a dress-code? Should I change into something – “
“You’re fine as you are, love. It’s just a pub.”
Orlando began to pace the room and to gnaw at a fingernail. He caught himself and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“Not nervous are you?” Craig asked gently.
Orlando attempted a smile and nodded. “Scared shitless to be honest. Suppose they think I’m a flake or something?”
“Why would they?”
“I don’t know. I mean – they’re all theatre people and I’m just a – well – Craig, I’m an elf for fuck’s sake!”
Craig grinned. “So was I once. Besides, you trained at Guildhall which pretty much puts you in the thoroughbred category compared to the rest of us.”
“Yeah but you’ve all – proven yourselves. I haven’t.”
“Calm down, Orlando, you will in time. We’ve all had different career opportunities, but in the end, we’re all in the same boat, just actors. You’re no better or worse than any of us, and certainly no different.”
Craig looked at his watch. “Ready then?”
Orlando sighed. “Yeah.”
“If anyone asks – “
“I’m here for pickups,” he interjected, not even bothering to conceal the irritation. “I know the drill.”
They’d spent the last three days going through the books they’d brought up from Toujours, discussing various plays and playwrights, comparing experiences and opinions. At one stage, they’d wandered down to a video store and rented DVDs of some that had been made into films. For hours, they’d watched, analyzed and critiqued a number of individual performances, often agreeing, just as frequently disagreeing in their opinions.
At times, Craig had deliberately goaded and provoked Orlando into an argument for the sole purpose of simply getting him used to feeling and expressing passion for acting in its purest form. Orlando had been in mid-rant when he’d caught the gleam of laughter in Craig’s eyes and it had finally dawned on him that the normally astute and intelligent observations he expected from Craig had suddenly started sounding like absolute rubbish.
At first his anger had been almost palpable. “You’ve been winding me up, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, I have.”
“Why? Suddenly you’re getting a kick out of pissing me off?”
Craig replied calmly, “Of course not. Call it practice. You don’t think the others will miss an opportunity to give you a hard time, do you?”
“But why – “
“Forgotten already? The Antipodean penchant for shit-stirring?”
Orlando forced a smile and shook his head, anger defused. “No. I’m sorry.”
He’d been pacing the living-room floor as he argued a particular point, whilst Craig remained sprawled on the couch listening without interruption. Orlando joined him then, straddling and lying half over him in a tangle of limbs. He kissed Craig’s mouth gently.
“It’s okay. I forget how much you teach me. So when are you going to toss me to them for a bit of fun?”
“They’ll be down at Tango from about six. It’s only a couple of blocks from here. Want to wander down later?”
“You and me together in front of real people? Me game?” Orlando kissed him again, laughing now. “Fucking bet on it!”
The initial delight and excitement had lasted up until about an hour before they were due to leave, and then gradually dwindled to nerves and self-doubt.
“Not going to wimp out on me are you, Bloom?” Craig asked as they strolled down K Road, side by side but discreetly separated.
“No. I’ve been nagging you for this for how long now, so it wouldn’t exactly be fair, would it? Just let me know if I start acting like an ignorant twit would you? Or a fucking movie star.”
“You’ll be fine,” Craig assured him gently, then nudged him toward a nearby door. “Here we are.”
Once in the pub, they were spotted almost instantly.
“Oh look, it’s our star-boy!” Oliver called over the top of the crowd. “Changed your mind about the season then, Parks? I might have bit part left for you if you grovel nicely.”
Craig’s lip curled in derision as he approached the group, returning greetings as he did so. Orlando remained a discreet step behind him, blissfully happy simply to be out in public in Craig’s company.
Craig formally introduced him around – obviously they’d have recognized him but he didn’t know any of them – but although they appeared curious about his presence, no-one asked anything outright. Once he’d ordered them collectively to give Orlando a pocket-lecture on the joys and miseries of theatre, he moved toward the bar.
While waiting for a couple of beers, Craig watched and was reminded of those other times when Orlando had been the one ensconced within a crowd and he himself had been left on the fringe and excluded. Odd how those memories could resurface so quickly even though they were long gone and clearly redressed.
Now it was Orlando’s turn to attempt to work his way in – it would be a testing time for him. To anyone who didn’t know or recognize them, they looked like a rag-tag bunch of regular drinkers, when in fact they were the elite core of the New Zealand theatre scene. Oliver Driver – inimitably scruffy and slightly manic-looking – was now the centre of their orbit since he’d become an associate director at the main Company and head of the Second Unit, the annex responsible for future development of the ATC. If Orlando had planned any future theatrical work here, these would be the people he’d need to impress, Oliver in particular.
Craig deliberately lingered at the bar a few minutes longer than necessary, watching and mentally holding his breath as Orlando managed to quickly engage himself in a reasonably animated conversation with both Oliver and Joel Tobeck. It was a promising start.
He returned to the group, handed Orlando a drink and then took a slightly back-seated approach – listening, contributing little and scanning constantly for any unwelcome attention from other drinkers. He hadn’t realized how well he’d zoned himself out until Joel snapped his fingers directly in front of his face.
“Oi, Parks, wake up!”
Craig blinked. “Hmm? What?”
“Not keeping you up, are we? Come and help me carry the drinks, since you’re not doing much else round here.”
At the bar, Joel succumbed to curiosity and leaned toward Craig, murmuring, “Anything we should know?”
Craig regarded him with a carefully neutral expression on his face. “In what sense?”
“Not sure. Uh – are you two – ?”
“No, he’s back for some re-shoots and re-dubbing. And a bit of catching up but – “
“We’d both rather not too many people knew he was here -- to avoid the inevitable bloody speculation. Especially after that last rubbish with the photographs.”
‘Fair enough. I’ll spread the word. S’pose too, that if anyone was say – looking a bit too hard, maybe asking a question or two – you’d want to know about it, right?”
Craig’s eyes narrowed. “Has anyone?”
“Yep. Nothing’s come of it but I’ll let you know if it does.”
“If I’m not handy, just get him out the back door and tell him I’ll see him at home.”
Joel shook his head. “The life of a bloody star, aye? Real bunch of fun and games.”
Craig sighed. “A lot of both, mate, and none of either.”
Back with the crowd again, Craig contributed a little more this time, feeling somewhat easier knowing that Joel had clearly gotten the message of sorts to the others. He didn’t think it was his imagination when he’d suddenly realized that he and Orlando had somehow ended up cocooned at a back table and that there was a kind of human shield of ATC members, associates and friends between their table and the rest of the pub clientele. It indicated a certain level of acceptance, perhaps even protectiveness, of Orlando who appeared to be really enjoying himself. He and Oliver seemed to have had no problem ‘clicking’, judging by their non-stop banter.
About an hour after they’d arrived, Craig excused himself and headed for the Men’s room. Emerging a few minutes later, Joel was waiting for him outside the door, slightly breathless.
“Phibbsy from the Herald just wandered in looking for another scoop – Calm down, OD’s taken care of OB. He got Rima to take him back to your place. Just hang out here for another half an hour or so and look casual before you do the bolt, or you'll add substance to whatever the prick’s looking for.”
Craig willed himself to return to the table, calmly drink another beer and maintain a conversation with the others. He’d spotted the reporter, seen the camera in his hand and watched him cruising the other customers, stopping for a quick word with a few of them. Neither he nor any of the other members of the theatre crowd were approached.
After barely half an hour, he said his goodnights to the others, casually walked out of the pub and all but ran back to his apartment.
The apartment was thick with tension and Orlando was pacing back and forth, clearly livid with rage. Craig went across to the balcony doors and slid them open to allow the evening breeze to gently blow thru the impending storm. When he turned back to face Orlando, he’d hardly had time to catch his breath before Orlando started.
“What the fuck was that all about? I was having a fucking brilliant time and suddenly I was spat out and told to piss off home! Why? Why?”
“A reporter showed up with a camera,” Craig replied calmly, “I didn’t want another round of photographs and gossip in circulation.”
“That’s it? One fucking reporter? You ruined our first real fucking night out together because of one reporter, even knowing how much I wanted – “
Craig snapped. “Why is everything always about you? It’s always about what you bloody want and you just don’t give a fuck about what I want!”
“Is that what you think? You’re the one calling all the fucking shots here. Don’t let anyone see, don’t let anyone know, keep hiding, keep it a secret. I’m sick to fucking death of it! Why won’t you acknowledge me publicly? Why are you so embarrassed at the idea of being seen with me?”
“Orlando, it’s not bloody like that and you know it!”
“I don’t! This is a relationship of stealth. It’s always been like that. It’s because of all that slutting around I did before we met up again, isn’t it? You don’t want everyone knowing you’ve landed a slut, and a stupid one at that!”
Circles, Craig thought, we’re just going round and round in circles with this shit. Why the hell can’t you understand this?
He stared at Orlando, watched him struggling hard for coherence – he seemed to be drifting toward another conversation in another place, and not really hearing him. “Orlando, something’s happened. What is it?”
“No. I’m just tired of hiding, of being hidden.”
“And don’t you think I’m fucking tired of all the things you keep hidden from me?”
Back again, for the moment at least. “You mean all the stuff Lij reports back to you? His little spy games?”
“If you’d talk to me – if you’d only tell me what in God’s name is going on, I wouldn’t have had to beg Lij to keep an eye on you. And he doesn’t just do it for me, even though he knows I’m constantly sick with worry about you. He’s worried too. You’ve scared the hell out of us both on more than a few occasions but you won’t bloody tell either of us what’s going on in that head of yours.”
“Nothing, so just get the hell off my case!”
Craig sighed, “Then there’s no further point to this conversation is there?”
“No, none at all.”
Orlando started walking toward the balcony doors and Craig’s reaction was instinctive as –
Why am I so utterly convinced he’d do it if the mood drove him to it…
– in his mind’s eye he saw the eight-storey drop to the street below, and he grabbed at Orlando, shouting the first sickening thought that came to him, “Don’t do this to me!”
The precise moment their flesh touched, Orlando whirled around violently and lashed out with his closed fist -- Craig was momentarily blinded by the pain of impact.
He staggered slightly, tasted blood in his mouth – but it was the mixture of shock and confusion on Orlando’s face that made him feel nauseous.
He pointed at the couch and said very quietly, with a calmness he didn’t feel, “Sit there and wait. We’re going to talk, Orlando, and we’re going to work this fucking thing out once and for all – or it’s finished.”