Sangria Tangerine (sangriatangerin) wrote in remixwoconsent,
Sangria Tangerine
sangriatangerin
remixwoconsent

And I Will Always Love You, Act 3: Drifting In Between Part 8

Title: And I Will Always Love You, Act 3: Drifting In Between Part 8
See this post for complete headers (http://community.livejournal.com/remixwoconsent/759.html)


The morning brought with it an air of detachment and an unacknowledged agreement to not discuss the previous night just yet.

“Do you want to drive back to London with me this morning?” Marton asked as they sorted out their things prior to vacating the room. He’d discovered a large plastic bag in the bathroom intended for guests to use to send things down to the laundry. He stuffed his wet clothes into it, knotted it carefully and packed it with the rest of his belongings.

Orlando had pulled on his own wet clothes again without a moment’s hesitation.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind,” Orlando said. He was cold and shivering slightly. “Can we stop by home so I can change and grab a few things? It’ll only take a few minutes.”

“Of course.”

Marton dropped Orlando off outside the family home. “I’ll pick you up in about half an hour.”

He drove off and eventually parked a few blocks on and around a corner in a side street. He sat in silence for half an hour, needing the time away from Orlando to collect his thoughts.

Later as they drove toward London, and long after polite small-talk had been exhausted, Orlando muttered, “You won’t tell Craig about what a shit I was last night, will you?”

He was slouched in the passenger seat, his eyes shielded behind sunglasses. He’d been gnawing absently on his fingernails.

“No,” Marton said, “We need to talk though, about other issues. Probably best done at your place. We’ll go there first.”

“Alright.”

Orlando thought his flat seemed to smell mustier than usual. He heard Marton’s instinctive sniff.

“I bought the place a couple of years back,” he explained, dropping his bags and wandering through to the small kitchen to make some tea. “I don’t know why I bothered. I’ve only spent a few months here in all, and once I go back to Auckland, I won’t need it ever again. I hate it now anyway.”

Marton pulled a chair out from under the compact breakfast counter and sat down, watching as Orlando sorted out cups and tea-bags and waited for the electric kettle to boil. He took a milk carton from the fridge, opened it and sniffed cautiously. He recoiled instantly.

“Hope you didn’t want milk,” he grimaced, as he emptied the partially congealed contents down the sink and rinsed them away.

A few minutes later he put two cups on the counter between them. He rested his arms on the surface and buried his face in his hands.

“I feel really ratshit.”

Marton sipped on his tea. “I’m not surprised. But we’re going to talk anyway. What are you going to do tomorrow, seeing as it’s a Monday and the start of a new week? I always find Mondays are good for starting fresh.”

“I’m tired of starting fresh, especially knowing that I never seem to finish anything properly.”

“Nothing at all?”

“No. Sometimes I try to work out what I’ve done so far in life and all I see are these big holes and lots of loose ends. I have a really hard time trying to find anything I’ve seen right through to the finish. I’ve just sort of abandoned things,” Orlando sighed and gave a wry laugh, “And started fresh again. I’m sick of not really achieving anything.”

“What do you want to achieve?”

Orlando took a mouthful of tea as he considered the question. “I don’t know. Success, I suppose.”

“That’s too abstract and vague. What about specifics? What do you want?”

Orlando moved abruptly, placing a hand either side of Marton’s head. He positioned his face directly in front of the other man’s and whispered almost harshly, “What do I want? I want what’s in here. I want you to fuck it into me if you have to – but I want it! I want you to teach me to be like you. You’re everything I want to be!”

It took a conscious effort for Marton to conceal his shock. He took Orlando’s hands and gently eased them away.

He spoke eventually, quietly, and with carefully chosen words. “If you want to be anything like me, then first of all, you’re going to have to learn to ignore fear, because fear seems to be your biggest drawback. I don’t acknowledge the merits of bungee-jumping and the rest of the physical bullshit. It’s insignificant. I’ll readily admit I’m scared shitless of doing anything like that, but I’m not afraid of anything else. You’re clearly a fearful person in general, so tell me – what makes you afraid?”

“Am I?”

“Yes. Sometimes when I’m with you – and I’m quite sure it’s not just me – I can actually feel your fear and insecurity. I can smell it.”

Orlando lowered his head and stared into his drink for a long time.

“Yeah.”

“Have you always been like that?”

“I don’t know. I think so. I can’t remember a time when anything was – easy.”

“At what point in your life can you remember being most afraid?”

“I remember when my dad died,” Orlando began slowly, “It felt like my mum had died as well, because she was gone too. Not physically – she was there but she wasn’t. I think she was hiding behind this huge wall of grief and she couldn’t see anyone or anything on the other side of it.”

“Including you?”

Orlando nodded. “Including me. For a while it was like I didn’t even exist – Sam too. Like she had no kids and it was just her, alone. I felt like a kind of orphan. Dad gone, Mum gone, just us – me and Sam – but even Sam didn’t really seem to be there either. And the worst part I think was everyone telling me ‘You’re a big boy, Orlando, and you have to be brave – for your Mum’s sake.’ I felt so inadequate because I couldn’t even manage to be brave for myself. It was a really horrible time, and all I can remember of it really is the fear and the loneliness, and it was just so bad that I’ve always been afraid of it ever being like that again. I’m afraid of the fear – stupid isn’t it? – and I’m afraid of being alone again, of everyone disappearing just like that. I’m afraid of being abandoned and losing everyone with no warning at all. And I hate people telling me that it’s not really as bad as it seems, to be a big boy, to be brave – that it’ll get better soon. Maybe things do get better eventually – and back then they soon did – but I had to suffer a hell of a lot before it happened. And every time I think that I’m going to be alone again, I just lose it and the fear takes over and I panic and fight it, and just try to find something or someone to hold on to because I don’t want to be alone when it – whatever it is – happens.”

He was quiet for a couple of minutes, staring off into space.

“The worst part though – was finding out how much of it had been complete bullshit – a huge lie, a huge secret and a shitload of keeping up appearances. My father was away most of the time, doing his thing which was all based on morality and conscience. Mum used to keep reminding me that there were some things too important not to be done, and that we’d have to sacrifice being with him because he was working for the good of so many others. Fine, I accepted that. I even accepted his death because there was always the chance it could happen – he was taking a lot of risks doing what he was doing. I think I’d just gotten over everything and we were starting to feel like a whole family again when Mum just calmly sat us down one day and told us that he wasn’t really my father at all, not mine or Sam’s. My real father was this man I’d only ever thought of as a sort of uncle, the family friend, you know? Suddenly I had to look at him as a whole new and completely different person. I had to look at myself differently too. I mean – you develop your own identity based on this system of beliefs. What you believe and know to be true is what makes you the way you are and how you see yourself. When nearly everything you ever believed suddenly isn’t true anymore…”

He hesitated before going on.

“It was like I stopped being me. Everything I thought was true just wasn’t any more. Everything I thought I was just wasn’t true any more. It was like being Alice in Wonderland. I couldn’t look at anyone or anything the same way ever again – including me. It made me stop trusting and believing in just about everything. But the weird thing too is that it made me look harder for things I could trust and believe in. I thought Craig was the surest thing for that. But even with him, it has to be lies, bullshit and keeping up appearances, just to keep everyone else happy. He says it’s not that far away when it’ll all stop – that we can stop lying and pretending about everything.”

“They can teach you how to act in front of the camera but not behind it,” he added eventually, grateful that Marton was one of those people who could recognize a necessary silence and not feel compelled to fill it or bridge it with meaningless banalities. “They don’t warn you that you’ll sometimes need to keep acting away from the camera, and that you’ll just get really sick of it. But when you try to stop and go back to the way you were… I wish I could turn it off but everyone expects me to be someone or something that’s not me, so I have to pretend to be that person just to keep them off my back. When I think about it, maybe I didn’t need lessons at all because I suppose I’ve been acting and pretending most of my life and just didn’t know it.”

“Even with Craig, you feel the need to act?"

Orlando was silent again for a long moment. “Yeah.”

He laughed suddenly. “I have so many fucking issues with reality. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing for an actor.”

“We all act, Orlando. Long ago, Plato said, ‘Life must be lived as a play’. So theoretically, we all choose our roles – or in some cases, we allow others to choose them for us – and we simply act them out. In that same vein, some people allow others to write their lines for them, while some prefer ad-libbing entirely.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m an insistent ad-libber. I decide my own lines, I play my own role, and it’s up to everyone else to adapt theirs to mine.”

Orlando smiled hesitantly. “That sounds almost arrogant – but incredibly confident and strong. I wish I could be like that.”

“Who is Orlando Bloom? What is he? How does he define himself? What role is he playing? And who does he allow to write his lines?”

“I don’t know.”

“Third person,” Marton prompted, “Remove yourself from him if you can. Sometimes it’s easier to understand things from a position of detachment.”

“Then he doesn’t know.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Alright, then who the hell is Marton Csokas when he’s at home?”

Marton didn’t hesitate. “He’s in his late thirties, Kiwi born, part-Maori mother and Hungarian father. And he is a creator of masterpieces.”

Orlando's eyes gleamed with mischief. “He’s really modest too, I can tell.”

“Yes, he is actually. He doesn’t like fuss and bother. He’d like an Oscar only because it seems to be regarded as the ultimate stamp of excellence and approval – but he’d rather send someone else to collect it for him. He likes to know what people think of him and his work. He wasn’t quite sure who he was until he was about twenty – that was around the time he’d flown from the family nest and ventured out into the world to find himself. That’s when he decided he wanted to create masterpieces. You know, the first time he saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, his first reaction was that it was so incredibly small. It occurred to him while he was standing there looking at it, that a masterpiece doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t even need to be considered a masterpiece at the time of creation by anyone other than the creator himself. But hopefully, time and retrospect would improve people’s appreciation of the effort that went into it, and the quality of the finished work.”

Marton sipped his tea. “So yes, that’s the role Marton Csokas has chosen – a creator of masterpieces. He thinks long and works hard in order to achieve his goals, and he admires the same in others. He’s incredibly impatient with fools and shirkers and defeatists. He has very few friends he considers close, but the friends he has are regarded as very good and very important. He believes them all to be masterpieces in themselves. Marton Csokas also bores very easily and he occasionally suffers from burnout.”

A smile suddenly curved his lips. “And possibly he snores while he’s asleep. His last lover was a vindictive creature so he’s not sure whether it’s true or not – but sometimes the possibility keeps him awake at night. Anyway, that’s who Marton Csokas is at the moment. But people constantly change so, even though the basic foundation of his character will always remain the same, he’ll eventually evolve into a different person entirely. But people don’t normally relate to other people according to how they were in the past, or how they might be in the future, only as they are in the present. So, I’ll ask again. Who is Orlando Bloom right now?”

“He’s still working it out.”

“Then the first thing you do is get a pencil and some paper, sit down and think about it. Define Orlando Bloom, identify him – and then write it down – everything you know or suspect or believe about who and what he is, what he likes and dislikes, and what he wants or doesn’t want. Develop a written picture of Orlando Bloom – a personal résumé if you like – add an actual picture of him that he considers an accurate portrayal of how he sees himself. Make copies of that résumé, and keep one with you at all times. The next time someone treats Orlando, or relates to Orlando, in a way that doesn’t fit Orlando Bloom’s definition of himself, he should look at his personal résumé to remind himself who he is, and then walk away from those people – because from now on, he’s going to refuse to change himself and adapt to them. On the contrary, they’re going to adapt to him.”

Orlando stared at him. “Why are you telling me all this?”

“Because I want you to believe it. Because one day the two of us together, Orlando, are going to produce a masterpiece.”

“How do you figure that out? You read those reviews! I’m complete shit onstage and complete shit on-screen. I’m only ever any good as long as I keep my mouth shut and don’t try to act because I can’t!”

“Is that what you think?”

“It’s what they think and they’re the ones who – “

“Is it what you think, Orlando?” Marton insisted.

Orlando stammered, “No – I – I thought I was good. Once.”

“Not any more?”

Orlando lowered his gaze again, his eyes suddenly suspiciously bright. “I don’t know.”

Marton reached out with his hand and jerked Orlando’s head up, forcing eye-contact. “I think you’re good too, Orlando. And you have screen presence which is something a lot of the best actors just don’t have.”

The moment of vulnerability passed, replaced by irritation. “There’s no point in thinking of that as some kind of bonus, mate, because I don’t want to do any more films. I just can’t deal with all the unavoidable shit,“ Orlando practically spat the word, “that goes with them!”

“I know, but I have to be honest, Orlando. You’re better suited to film than stage.”

Orlando groaned in frustration. “I fucking hate hearing that!”

“Wait, Orlando, just hear me out alright? Hollywood isn’t the only place on earth that has a film industry, agreed?”

“Yeah, yeah, so what are you saying?”

“New Zealand has a film industry too, in case you hadn’t heard. One day – and it’s not that far away – we’re going to talk about making a film. You can decide your own terms.”

Orlando regarded him warily. “Really?”

“Yes. We just have to find your niche, we have to find out where your passion and talent are best directed. I’d put money on the indie-type film rather than the mainstream. This is why Rings worked too well for you. It’s the biggest indie film ever made by a financially gifted bunch of amateurs-at-heart. Do the odd theatre performance to satisfy whatever it is in you that needs it, Orlando – but your best work is going to be filmed and if you trust me enough, I’ll make it happen. But keep one thing right at the front of your mind, alright? Everything will be conducted according to terms that are acceptable to you. You won’t be pushed, shoved, bullied or in any way forced into doing something you’re not comfortable with. Is that understood? I can’t work like that, I refuse to. A contract and negotiated terms should be binding for the duration of one project and no more. If you sign away six months of your life to me, at the end of six months, you have a legal and moral right to tell me to get fucked and then walk away.”

Marton watched his face now reflecting a maelstrom of emotions. “Are you still with me?”

Orlando nodded slowly. “Yeah – I think so.”

“Good. And to get things moving, you’re going to leave this place. Today. Just take what you want, lock up, and come back to my place with me. We can organize the rest tomorrow. You’ll have your own room and privacy. If you want to learn, I’ll teach you. If you want to talk, I’ll be there for that. If you want love – phone Craig, or better still, go home to him.”

Orlando remained adamant: “No, I can’t. I haven’t finished here yet. If I go back now, it’ll be all about the two of us -- Craig and me -- and I haven’t sorted out me yet. So no, I have to get things worked out here first.”

“Fair enough, but before we do anything, we’ll phone Craig and let him know we’ll be sharing a place. Better to hear it from us than from a third party who thinks it’s in his best interest to know – but only after they’ve made sure everyone else does.”

They packed Orlando’s things and moved him out completely the following day. He took the keys to an estate agent and asked that the place be properly cleaned, then listed and sold.

“Where do we go from here?” Orlando asked over their first meal shared in Marton’s spacious flat.

“We sit down at the computer,” Marton said as he sopped up some pesto sauce with a piece of crusty bread and ate it. He pointed to the computer on the desk in the corner. “And I’ll show you what I’ve been doing all this time. If you’re determined to stay on here, then you’d better be prepared to be my apprentice of sorts.”

“I do basically the same as what you’ve been doing,” he explained after they’d finished eating and settled themselves in front of the computer. “Except I’m not chasing auditions, only current and upcoming productions. I find out what they’re doing in theatres at the moment, and I go and have a look. I rarely go anywhere near anything I’ve seen before. No Shakespeare, no Chekhov, no Williams, no Stoppard – I’m only interested in new, fresh experimental stuff. I critique things – and if you thought the reviews you got were bad, you should see some of the ones I’ve privately given. I make notes, recording my impressions and responses, and anything I think would work toward improving the play. That’s much more easily done with new, unestablished work. I’ve always admired Craig for his stance on that, even though he’s been pretty much tied to whatever the ATC decides on at any time. New is exciting and risky. It’s like a bungee jump, Orlando. When I go back, I’ll be starting another company – hopefully the existing ones won’t get too hostile about it – and concentrating on completely new material, even if I have to write it myself. Every project will be a bungee jump and we’ll either bounce spectacularly or fall hard. Then we’ll get up and do it again with a new tether.”

Orlando looked at him with interest. “We?”

“Yes. Want to be part of it, don’t you?”

“Oh God, yes! And Craig? He’ll be in it too?”

“He’ll probably want to be. He’s certainly got talent – writing, acting, teaching, improvisation – you can learn a lot from him.”

“And you.”

“Different things, different approach and attitude. It’s all a bit of a pleasant Sunday outing for him. He does it for the fun and the pleasure – that’s his goal, to enjoy himself. I do it with the sole intention of producing a masterpiece. So I work harder and more seriously, and I only work with those who understand that I’m completely driven toward a particular outcome. You of all people should understand that bit, Orlando. Aren’t you driven too? To proving yourself?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“To the point of denying yourself a nice, happy and comfortable existence with Craig and risking everything – including your own health and sanity – in order to get that particular outcome?”

Orlando nodded. “Yeah.”

“Then I think we’ll work well together, starting tomorrow. Not tonight. You look completely worn out. Why don’t you go to bed?”

~*~

I know you’re in there…

Craig stared at the monitor in frustration. His mind was too full, overflowing with things that needed to be written – needed to be told – but there was a block in place that was starting to slowly drive him crazy.

He was about half-way through a hiatus from filming Mercy Peak. He’d thought about nothing else for months, the intention of heading down to Toujours for the break and using the time to think hard, look back, and to collect his thoughts. By the end of the two weeks of reflective solitude, he’d expected to have a letter written and ready to post to Orlando, something well-planned and well thought-out, clear and concise.

There were things Orlando needed to know, and Craig had long-ago decided that the telling of those things should be done in a way that wasn’t clouded with emotion and confusion, and not at risk of misunderstanding and over-reaction. They both tended to do that – to let things get out of hand when a conversation became difficult. He thought a letter would tell the story best. At least Orlando would have all the facts in front of him – literally. Nothing would have been left out as could happen in conversations made difficult enough through fear alone.

Yes, he’d had it all planned. Except for the first three days of procrastination followed by a couple more of absolutely minimal progress.

For nearly two days now, he’d done nothing but type sporadically – single words, disjointed phrases, scraps of remembered conversations. He’d deleted none of them, just left them sitting on the screen in the Word document simply called ‘Notes’ with a date qualifier.

I know you’re in there…

Easy to think of that ‘block’ as some malicious little entity lurking within the computer itself – willful, sullen and stubbornly incommunicative at the very time he wanted – needed – for it to emerge and show itself. Once he’d finally faced it, he could exorcise it once and for all.

Often he’d left the desk and the computer, and wandered slowly about the house, his eyes focusing on nothing in particular. The only sounds were the low growl of the sea beyond the windows and his own muffled footsteps.

He’d deliberately blanked out other extraneous thoughts in the hope that whatever memory he needed to summon would come filtering back, moment by moment. Occasionally he’d found himself standing in front of one of the mirrors in the bathroom or bedroom, searching his face for clues but discovering only that he was starting to look a bit tired and ragged.

I know you’re in there…

He rose again now and resumed the restless prowling, knowing by the low angle of the sun’s rays as they streamed through the glass doors that another fruitless day was coming to an end. He headed to the kitchen for more coffee, deciding he’d give it another hour and then call it quits.

He was beginning to wonder if he was making a mistake in treating it all as a solitary exercise, and whether it would be better to discuss it with someone. The only person who came to mind was Rebecca. He supposed he could have her down for a couple of days and they could treat it like a post mortem of sorts, exhuming the metaphorical corpse, poking and prodding at it, and discussing their individual memories and theories.

She hadn’t been there for the entire episode, but she’d returned and helped him cope with the fallout, had provided the desperately needed ear and shoulder.

He considered it over coffee, rinsed out his cup and then reached for his mobile phone. He speed-dialed her office. After three rings, he listened to her voice recording telling him she was away for a few days and would answer all messages as soon as she returned. He waited for the beep.

“It’s only me, darling. Just dithering around a bit. Nothing’s up. Thought I’d call you for a bit of a whinge. See you when you get back. Bye.”

He tried her mobile and received a similar message. Wherever she was, she was clearly determined not to be intruded upon.

He sighed and returned to his desk, tossing the phone down in frustration. Strike that idea.

He sat down, feeling the frustration begin to seep into him again, tightening up his brow and settling itself as a vague tension around his neck and shoulders. He’d need his therapeutic wallow in the tub and bottle of wine tonight. It was tempting to consider opening a second one and indulging in a consciously planned bender.

His eyes rested on the framed photo sitting on the top shelf.

It was a Lórien picture, taken during one of those interminable episodes of hanging around waiting to do a scene, mentally twiddling thumbs while the lighting was set, make-up or hair was fixed, or someone was talked through their lines. Waiting, waiting, always bloody waiting! Nothing much had changed really. He was still waiting – only the reason differed.

He studied the face of Haldir, looking distant, secretive and aloof, life and art becoming one. He wondered how many of them had known or guessed at the time, of his almost-obsession with Orlando, the one he’d constantly battled and smothered in a way that was an entire obsession in itself.

He went through the faces one by one, doing a mental roll call. Delicious Cate – home in Australia enjoying her second child and probably wading through a pile of scripts; Jason – now running a gallery down in Wellington; Jørn – no idea what he was doing now, though he’d probably show up on Shortland Street sooner or later, as everyone seemed to do at some stage in their career. Orlando was in England, probably London still, though he’d mentioned going north for a week or so, last time they’d spoken.

And finally, Marton – he was with Orlando, a friendship that had both surprised and delighted Craig once he’d been informed of its existence. By all accounts, it looked to be a kind of budding mentorship, something that could only be good for Orlando. Nothing wrong whatsoever in having someone like Marton – cool, focused and so naturally au fait about this bloody business they were in – being there to guide, advise and teach him. It made him worry less about Orlando being over there, knowing that he wasn’t entirely alone.

Orlando had been depressed and angry by the initial difficulty in getting work. Having eventually landed a couple of roles, the constant bad reviews and notices had only added to his misery. Had Orlando been over there alone, Craig knew he’d probably have flown over to be with him and stayed until he’d managed to talk him into coming home. But Marton was with him. Marton – uncannily clever about most things – would somehow turn it all into a valuable learning experience and ensure that Orlando kept constantly busy, would never allow him time to wallow and think those persistent negative thoughts.

It was June now, only a matter of months away from the beginning of the rest of their life. The weather was probably lovely over there right now, an English summer – though from experience, he knew an English summer could occasionally be worse than a New Zealand winter, with constant rain and gloom. Rain was forecast here for the next few days. Already the sun was disappearing behind a great bank of ominous-looking clouds to the west. It would move in overnight, the wind would pick up and tomorrow Toujours would be an unbearable place to be – grey and silent, no sun, and no Orlando.

At least they’d sorted that out now, what to do on the occasions when Toujours started feeling like a prison rather than a haven. Most conversations between them now – once they’d caught up on the day-to-day news – were centered on their future.

Just the other day, they’d had a serious one, following on the heels of a lengthy consultation with Rebecca before he came down here, concerning his actual financial position. It was reasonably healthy but nowhere near as solid as he’d hoped.

He’d called Orlando on the first night of his return to Toujours, once he’d settled in.

“I’ve asked them to write me out of the series as soon as possible,” he’d told Orlando, “I signed a contract on a per episode basis at the start of the season, on the understanding that they’ll eventually kill me off or do something that frees me within a reasonable time-span without destroying plot or character integrity. So Alistair Kingsley’s not suddenly going to turn out to be Basset’s resident axe-wielding mass-murderer and be brought down in a hail of bullets. Hopefully he’ll just leave town quietly. And I’ve let Oliver and the others know that I’m prepared to offer my services freely for the betterment of the Company – but that I’m unavailable for any stage-work for the foreseeable future. And lastly, I’m putting the apartment on the market, selling it off and investing the money.”

Orlando had sounded doubtful. “Do you have to sell it? We’ll be going back to town now and then, so we’ll want somewhere to stay.”

“Hotel?”

“God, I’m sick to death of hotels. Why can’t you keep it?”

“Love, I need the money. The combined taxes and maintenance costs for both properties are crippling, and I’m still paying off Toujours. If I sell it, I can clear up the Toujours mortgage, get rid of a lot of bills, invest the balance and live off the income.”

“Can’t I buy the apartment off you? That way it’s there when we need it, and we won’t have to bullshit around with hotels.”

“Why would you do that?”

Orlando’s response had been mischievous. “Well – it might be easier to get permanent residency if I have a fixed address, you know, if I owned property outright. And they might finally be convinced I didn’t just move over there to shag the local hero.”

“You could always argue that you bought his home and he simply came with the rest of the chattels.”

“I like this idea better, Parker, you as my chattel, bought and paid for, with an inner-city apartment thrown in for free. Seriously though,” Orlando had added, the grin still evident in his tone, “We should be sorting all this out pretty soon. Property, money, agreements and wills and – all the rest.”

“I know. I just wasn’t sure how to bring it up or how formal to make it. Beccs suggested that we approach it like a prenuptial situation.”

“Makes sense, only – who’s technically the wife and who’s technically the husband? Are we both or neither, or just spouses or partners or what?”

“I’m sure there’s a perfect, appropriately neutral term for both of us,” Craig responded dryly.

“So it’s all going to be just a legal thing, papers and signatures, all neatly signed and filed?”

“Yeah.”

Orlando had sighed. “I’d really like it to be something more than just signing on the dotted line.”

Craig had been quick to remind him gently, “We’re doing the walk, love. And we’ll have a party too, a celebration with friends.”

“I know – and it’s going to be fantastic!”

”And rings?”

“Yes please.”

“I thought something nice and simple – gold – with ‘Pour Toujours’ engraved on them.”

The delight in Orlando’s voice had been absolute. “I’m dying here! God, you’ve thought of everything.”

Orlando had concluded the conversation with a comment that Craig should have found reassuring but had simply added to his anxiety.

“The closer we get to being together – I don’t question it any more.” Orlando had said, “I don’t ask myself if you love me. I don’t ask myself how much I love you or how long it’ll last. I’m sorry, I used to, but I’ve stopped now. Suddenly I don’t question anything about us – I just know all I need to know now, right?”

“No you don’t,” Craig had said aloud in the silence following that phone call, five days ago now but still so clear in his memory.

He said it again now, “No you don’t.”

Five days and nothing to show for it.

He wondered at what point he should consider praying for a miracle. But then perhaps he had no real right to ask for any more divine favors, not since the last one was granted – Let me please not fuck this up – when Orlando had first returned to him.

With a bit of luck, this current crisis might be covered and resolved under the same grant. After all, there was a real possibility he could still fuck it up.

He put in another request anyway.

The favor was granted just after seven o’clock when Marton arrived unexpectedly in typical Marton fashion – quietly, with minimal noise or fuss. It seemed to Craig that one minute, he was alone and the next, the car was parked outside and his friend was suddenly there in front of him, a duffle bag slung over one shoulder and a laden cardboard box in his arms.

He’d been almost moved to tears. “How did you know I needed you?”

Marton thrust the box at him and grinned, replying cryptically, “Timing.”

Craig peered into the box. “Christ, what’ve you got in here?”

“I felt in the mood for a steak tonight, and probably will a couple of times more while I’m here, so I stopped by a decent butcher on the way. Red meat, Craig, lots of iron. You’ve probably resorted to nibbling on greens and swigging soy-shit to keep our little vegetarian friend happy. We’ll be cave-men for a week, hmmm?”

Craig placed the box on the counter-top and began rummaging through it. “What else?”

“A couple of bottles of single malt and a couple of six-packs. When that runs out, we’ll start on your carefully hoarded wine supply. We’re probably going to spend the next week entirely pissed out of our skulls. We may as well do it with good stuff.”

Marton tossed his bag onto the couch. He turned to Craig, looking intently at the expression on his face.

“You look terrible, you know. Has it been that rough?”

“What are we talking about?”

“I know why you’re here. You mentioned a while ago you were planning to take a time-out, come down here and do some deep-thinking before he came home. I counted on this being your last opportunity. Was I right?”

Craig nodded. “Yeah.”

“Bloody awful way to spend a break – holed up here alone with all those memories.”

“That’s just it. There have been so few I can recall clearly.”

“Years in denial might be responsible for that.”

As Craig opened his mouth to respond, Marton cut him off. “How about we not get into this tonight? I’ll make us some dinner – you look as though you could manage doing baked beans on toast and that’s about it – and we’ll spend the evening catching up, and leave the blood-letting until tomorrow.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Go and have a shower or something, better still, one of your tubs. Still doing that?”

Craig managed a smile. “Yeah. I’d planned one. I wasn’t expecting company.”

“Well it’s only me, so you can go ahead and have it.” Marton gave a mock bow. “I’ll bring you your wine, Sir.”

He paused, chiding him softly, “Oh no, this won’t do. Come here.”

The command in his voice offered no room for resistance.

Craig went to him, the invitation unexpected, but the embrace welcomed all the same.

“Why are you doing this?” Marton asked again.

“Because if I don’t,” Craig’s voice was muffled. “It’s always going to be there, just waiting for them to drag it all out again and throw it in our faces.“

“How much does Orlando know?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? You mean you honestly haven’t told him anything?”

“For years now, I’ve deliberately blocked a lot of it out, and been in complete denial about the rest. It’s the only way I could escape it, you know, and get on with life. It’s worked up until now because I’d honestly never planned, or even hoped, for anyone to hang around long enough for it to become a real issue. Everything’s changed now. I have to face it again, everything lousy fucking bit of it, and I have to get it all right in my head – nothing left out, nothing denied, nothing twisted and turned into something it wasn’t. I wanted the whole big picture in front of me so I could finally look at it, and point to it and say to Orlando, ‘That’s how it was. That’s the truth of it.’ And then – oh please God – I could let it go once and for all.”

"And finally stop this bullshitting around, ineffectually hiding yourself away, and come clean and admit what the entire world knows anyway – about you and Orlando.”

“Yeah.”

“And about bloody time too.” Marton disengaged himself. “The relationship no-one dared mention, Craig, yet everyone’s been speculating about since you were first seen in Wellington together.”

Craig stared at him. “They haven’t.”

“Oh yes they have. The only thing they’ve been wondering about was why it took so long to evolve when it seemed so meant to happen, but then you’ve had people shaking their heads for years. They were all rather horrified at the start, wondering what you were getting yourself into. In case it escaped your attention, he could be Mark’s not-quite-identical-but-pretty-bloody-close-to-it twin. A lot of people hoped it’d never happen. They thought you were too good for Orlando Bloom – too decent. After all, he’s always had that reputation. A lot of its more than likely pure exaggeration, but even an abbreviated version is bad enough.”

Craig shrugged, having no answer.

“Go and run your bath,” Marton prompted. “Tonight we relax, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we take off bloodied bandages and reopen old wounds.”

Craig turned and started in the direction of the bathroom. “You have an unhealthy obsession with blood, Marton.”

“So I’ve been told,” Marton called after him. “Blame Xena!”

Craig filled the tub and settled in, leaving the door open so they could talk while he relaxed.

“Save the water,” Marton said as he brought in two glasses and an uncorked bottle of wine. “I’ll top it up and have a bit of a soak after we’ve eaten.”

He poured the wine and handed one of the glasses to Craig. He sat down on the floor opposite, leaning back against the wall.

“How is he?” Craig asked.

“Good. He misses you. Made me promise to let you know.”

“Is he still upset by those reviews?”

“Water under the bridge. I’m keeping him too busy to dwell on them.”

“He hasn’t buggered up your plans has he?”

Marton sipped his wine. “Not at all. I’m doing everything I originally headed over there to do, and hopefully he’s learning from it. Probably didn’t do him any harm seeing me not getting that Oscar nod and simply moving on with things. He takes failures and setbacks just a bit too personally. I expected you to come screaming over there to pick up the pieces.”

“I was thinking about it.”

“Glad you didn’t. You wouldn’t have done him any favors.”

Craig sighed, lolled his head back and closed his eyes. “When are you going back to work?” Marton asked.

“Just over a week.”

“You should’ve stayed in town and sorted this out. At least you’d have had company when you needed a break. But I wasn’t surprised finding out you were down here brooding by yourself.”

Craig looked sideways at him, arching an eyebrow. “I don’t brood, Marton.”

“Yes you do. You’ve been doing it for years, even more so now than before. The gang’s been asking after you. The sooner you get back to town and work, the better.”

“I am working.”

“Doing what?”

Craig grimaced. “Not a lot. It’s turned out so much harder than I’d imagined. I did take some positive action though.”

“Oh?”

Craig drank deeply from his glass, rested his head back and closed his eyes again with a sigh of pleasure. “I prayed for a miracle and here you are. Now you’re going to help unblock me.”

“You sound like a rather recalcitrant drainpipe.”

Craig laughed. “Charming! I think you’ll help me a lot but even if you don’t, I’m glad you came. It’s been too long.”

“Too long,” Marton echoed.

“So what are you and Orlando doing over there? He’s told me one or two vagaries but he usually wanders off on a tangent just when he’s getting to the good bits.”

“Trawling our way through the dungeons of the theatre industry and looking for new inspiration. Two or three times a week, we skulk in the back row of some grubby little backstreet or experimental theatre where once in a blue moon, something really brilliant gets discovered quite by accident – except I’m not waiting for an accidental find. I’m deliberately and consciously hunting for some little gem of an idea I can work with. I think Orlando’s enjoying himself. It’s done him no harm having heard from you that good theatre doesn’t always involve the tried and true, infallible bloody classics. He was schooled in them – but they’re not for him. Now he’s finally realized it, those bloody reviews bite less painfully. I made sure he had something to keep him occupied while I was away.”

“I appreciate what you’re doing for him. It’s one hell of a weight off my mind knowing he’s with you.” Craig waited for a few seconds before asking carefully, “How does Orlando seem in himself? He tends toward anxiety now and then – occasionally comes down on himself a bit too hard.”

“He’s good.” Marton reiterated.

He rose to his feet again and consulted his watch. “He was brooding a bit for a while – wonder where he picked up that unproductive habit! – but he’s fine now. I’ll turn the steaks and throw a salad together. Twenty minutes to serving.”

He paused at the door. “Stop looking so grim, Craig. Tonight we’re going to eat well, we’re going to finish this bottle of rather amusing red and probably open another. Later on, we’ll crack the first single malt and, over two or three generous doubles, we’ll indulge in enough gossip to destroy countless reputations – maybe we’ll swap the odd crude, schoolboy joke while we’re at it – and then we’ll float off to our beds for a reasonably early night – I’ll designate a midnight curfew because I’m still lagging a bit. And tomorrow – well, we’ll see what tomorrow brings. But don’t think too hard about it, alright? Not tonight.”

Craig smiled. Clever Marton – uncannily so – he seemed to have a knack for mind-reading as well.

Despite all the wine and the potent Scotch whisky, Craig slept badly – tossing and turning, and never really managing to achieve more than half a dozen short snoozes. It was tempting to blame the noise. Outside, the wind had whipped up a thundering sea and its dull, distant roar was accompanied by the rain pelting down on the roof.

But he knew it had nothing to do with the weather – he wanted simply to get started on this thing. Just Marton’s very presence seemed to have triggered a flow of recollection that now refused to be contained. Shortly after five, he gave up and abandoned the warmth of his bed. He made sure Marton’s door was closed, went to the kitchen and brewed some coffee. He settled himself in front of the computer, opened a fresh blank document and began to type.

‘I was about nineteen at the time, and enjoying an initial taste of publicity and fame. People within the industry were just beginning to notice me and speculate over my future potential. I was also starting to be recognized in public.

It’s an amazing feeling at first, having a total stranger approach you all breathless and gushy. “Hey, you’re Craig Parker! Can I have your autograph?”

Incredibly exciting. An absolute thrill!

Mark Cazalet was one of those people who started out with, “Hey, aren’t you Craig Parker?” But he made it sound as though he’d just met the sexiest and most intoxicating person on earth and that he wanted me. He was an expert at seduction and I was ripe for it.

He was about six feet, six-two tops. Great body, dressed superbly. Dark wavy hair, dark eyes. In fact everything about him was dark. I thought he might have been Italian or Greek. With my light Anglo-Celtic coloring and his dark Latin or something coloring – we probably looked sensational together. Wish I had a photo of the two of us.

We met at a party in the home of one of the industry’s bigger names – no need for details is there? -- I knew right away he wasn’t just another fan, and he made it clear right from the start that he wasn’t going to settle for just an autograph. I gave him one anyway and added my phone number.

We were lovers within the week and it lasted for a couple of months shy of two years. He set it all out on our first night together. He told me how things had to be, whether I liked it or not. Mark was an associate in a high-profile law-firm. You know the one, all their clients are upper A-list. He also happened to be the son-in-law of one of the founding partners. There was absolutely no question of him ‘coming out’, not with all that power and class and status and reputation to protect. And it certainly wasn’t worth risking any of it for a clueless little twink like me. So he put the gag order on me. Tell no-one at all, deny it if anyone asks, and if we were to meet in public, to never, never go beyond polite social chit-chat.

It was horrible, sleazy and utterly humiliating, not being acknowledged anywhere except in the bedroom. But I loved him so I’d have done anything for him, including sacrificing my own wants and needs. And my own self-respect too, I suppose.

I knew exactly how it felt for Orlando. Been there, had it done to me, hated it – and hated having to impose the same punishment on both of us again.

So, for just under two years, it was all incredibly intense but necessarily secretive.

I asked him if his wife ever suspected anything, if she ever wondered why he was absent from the marital bed for two or three nights every week. I was flabbergasted to find out she knew all about me, though Mark said I was never discussed when they were together. He told me something like, “She asks no questions and gets told no lies.”

Apparently they’d started living separate lives years before. She had her lovers and he had his, and never the twain. Mark was in his early thirties at the time, so I couldn’t help wondering if they’d ever really had a proper marriage to begin with, and if so, just how long it lasted before they cut the bullshit and went their separate ways. I suppose it helped to ease my conscience a lot – about the wife and the three children. I wasn’t personally contributing to the destruction of a marriage and no-one appeared to be suffering. Except me of course.

I was obsessively faithful to him and I’m convinced he was to me. I certainly never saw him with anyone else, or heard any other names mentioned. But then my social life was almost non-existent so I probably wasn’t in any of the right places to hear anything. I hardly ever went out, knowing I wasn’t free to indulge with anyone, and to be honest, I was scared shitless of spilling the beans and mentioning Mark when I was knocking back an offer. And there were plenty of those. Call me a vain bastard but I was a bit of alright back then, before the hairline started getting a bit dodgy and the scales began accusing me of enjoying my food and liquor a bit too much.

I used to spend most nights at home learning lines and listening for the phone. I’d make sure the bed was always perfectly made and that the wine and glasses were kept nicely chilled in case he dropped by unexpectedly.

It was lonely and boring, exciting and risky, but I put up with it because I was insanely in love with him and probably kidding myself that one day, I’d be rewarded for all my obedient devotion and that he’d finally legitimize our relationship by giving me permission to tell people.

I was absolutely clueless. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer at all.

Then came my big career break. I’d only done ‘Gloss’ so far and a few walk-ons, one-liners and filler-ins for other shows. I’d started sniffing round the ATC because some of the veteran actors were trying to knock it into my head that theatre experience and credits can go a long way toward getting more and better parts.

My agent called me one day and told me there were plans for a new nightly soap – it turned out to be Shorters in its gestation period – and that I was currently short-listed for a core role. It was fantastic news. Solid, contracted work, national exposure, more money, more of that addictive fame. I really was an unapologetic fame-whore back then. I didn’t realize what it was going to take to change that little habit. Anyway, I was on the phone to Mark right away, so I could tell him that my bright, particular star looked set to rise big-time.

I’d hoped for a bit of a private celebration but I suppose I expected a knock back. I hadn’t spoken to or seen him for about two, possibly three weeks. Some important case was coming up, he said, and one or two corporate functions he hadn’t any hope of avoiding. But he promised me a night of devoted attention later in the week, complete with champagne and a hint that we might try something new and wicked. He was a sensational lover in that respect. Completely uninhibited in the bedroom. It was only out of the bedroom that he buttoned up completely.

There was another industry party on that night and I really was in the mood to show-off a bit and let everyone know I was on my way up. So I went alone. I celebrated just a bit too hard and was completely pissed out of my head by about eleven, but still floating on an absolute high. I thought I was seeing things when Mark showed up. I couldn’t believe it and imagined – in my completely brain-pickled state – that he’d managed to get some time-out from the job and the wife, and had come looking for me so we could celebrate together after-all.

I think he came in with someone else. Not sure what that was all about, but I was pissed-drunk, flying high, incredibly happy and he’d just appeared. Everything was perfect with the world so I simply followed my natural instincts and went straight to him. I wrapped myself around him. I kissed him the way I always kissed him. I made sure I let him know just how happy I was to see him and what we’d be doing later if we got the chance.

That was the moment I killed us. He went ballistic and shoved me away. The look on his face. I’ll never forget it even though I’ve never been quite sure what it was. Shock, for sure. Probably quite a bit of fear too, because we’d had an audience of some of the biggest gossips in the business. And no doubt a hell of a lot of rage as well. I think I sobered up on the spot but it was too late to do anything other than just get the hell out of there. The damage was done and it was so complete and irreparable.

I went home and spent the night alternatively throwing up and crying my eyes out. I was such a mess, so utterly destroyed. A friend phoned two days later and told me that Mark had been found dead. He’d parked his car in the family garage, closed and locked the automatic door and blown his brains out.

I wallowed for another day or two but was forced to come out and face the world because I had a job booked. I did Mark a favor by not going to his funeral. My name had never been publicly linked with his. Hopefully everyone at the party had been so pissed, they either wouldn’t have remembered exactly what happened or else figured they’d misunderstood what they’d seen and heard. But just in case, I didn’t go to the funeral and kept my grief to myself.

Eventually I sent out an SOS to Beccs in England and begged her to come home to help me through it because she was the only person who really knew what had been going on. Every letter I’d written to her over the past two years had been full of ‘Mark this’ and ‘Mark that’.

I wasn’t so naïve to think that people weren’t speculating quietly amongst themselves. But no one openly mentioned anything more about it and I certainly never said anything. Thankfully everyone adopted this polite and tactful ‘least said soonest mended’ code of silence. By all appearances, it just quickly faded away.

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over it. The grief and the guilt. If I hadn’t been so stupidly wrapped up in my own self-importance, he’d still be alive and we might still be together, perhaps openly and happily now.

I learned some hard lessons from it, the important one being that if you really love and cherish someone or something, it pays to protect it and keep it to yourself, more so if it really is a specific requirement for the safety of one or both parties. I’ve always believed that to be the case with Orlando. He’s worryingly vulnerable to the opinions of others. I don’t think he could deal with being despised and cast out simply for being who he is.

The episode with the photographs frightened the life out of me but thank God he was with me when they came out. I could see for myself that the publicity hadn’t bothered him as much as I was terrified it would. Had he been off somewhere else, I really believe I’d have lost it, imagined the worst, imagined what it must have been like for Mark. I’d probably have considered doing everyone a favor and taking my own life. I couldn’t have dealt with an additional load of pain and guilt. I’m still carrying the last lot.

So I’ll tell Orlando all this so he’ll understand why I honestly believed that the secrecy and public denial was so necessary. I wonder how he’ll react to hearing about Mark and his actions. I wonder how he’ll react to me now, knowing of my responsibility for them.’
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