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Craig didn’t really enjoy driving at the best of times, but he absolutely hated driving in rain. He always managed to develop a headache from the extra concentration required to avoid being wiped out by the complete lunatics who wouldn’t allow for the conditions and slow down.
Now that full-time rehearsals were well under way, Craig had insisted Orlando stay in town and he himself would drive up for the weekend rather than continue their previous arrangement. He supposed it was a relief in a way, not having to worry about Orlando doing that two hour trip down to Raglan on a Saturday morning and the two hour trip back on the Sunday evening, knowing how his attention could wander so easily when he was tired or distracted. He seemed to be suffering from a bit of both these days, often tense and withdrawn as well. It was understandable. Marton wasn’t the easiest person to have at your heel all day.
His own plans were moving along rather better than he’d expected. After the long drawn out period of procrastination and a couple of false starts, he’d managed in a bit over seven weeks to produce a piece of work that might be loosely described as a novel. He’d printed out the four hundred odd pages, burned a back-up copy of the Word file onto a CD and then put the whole lot aside with the intention of revising it with a fresh eye in about a month or two.
In the meantime, he’d made a start on a collection of some of the more humorous tales, rumors and anecdotes from within the local theatre, film and television industry. Plenty of them he could recall from personal memory whereas others had needed a phone call and a chance to catch up over a leisurely chat. He thought there might be an opportunity to spend a month or so in town hunting down friends, colleagues and other sources for more contributions. After the disappointment of finding out his own career had stalled, and the subsequent hard slog over the maiden novel, the idea of doing something with an element of fun to it had been really appealing. He’d headed up to town in the middle of the week to consult Orlando, to ask him if they were likely to be in each other’s way if they were to share the apartment while pursuing such completely different projects.
“You’d have the place to yourself all day,” Orlando had assured him, “And we’ve all been going out for a few drinks most evenings as well so you’d have them too.”
It wasn’t exactly what Craig had had in mind. Having the days to himself, yes, but he’d rather hoped they’d have some nice quiet evenings together as well. But the siren songs of the Karangahape Road venues had reached Orlando’s ears, and the columns recorded his every appearance, whether attending his co-stars’ performances or simply ‘clubbing’. Craig wasn’t quite sure whether he should have been relieved or alarmed that his own name was no longer routinely mentioned. Perhaps the ‘skunk time’ idea hadn’t been such a brilliant one after all. All that ‘space’ they’d given one another with the absolute best of intentions seemed suddenly to have become an unbridgeable void.
He knew he was sinking into a slight fugue of depression as he drove back to Toujours that late rainy evening, not really looking forward to the cold, empty house and his own miserable company. He had let Orlando know just as he was leaving that he would probably just close up Toujours – it really was the pits in winter anyway – and come back to town full time. Orlando had seemed agreeable though not exactly wholehearted in his enthusiasm.
He’d kissed Craig briefly and smiled. “I’ll see you when you get back then.”
Craig knew too that if the opposite had been the case, and Orlando was returning to Toujours, he would have been doing cartwheels himself.
Dismal thoughts to keep him company as he made the journey home on an equally dismal night.
Just as he’d left the Hamilton by-pass and turned off toward Raglan, he heard the muted trilling of his mobile phone. He pulled over to the side of the road and fished around in the pocket of his jacket, winding down the window as he pressed the connect button.
“Craig, I tried calling Orli but he’s not answering. It’s me, Lij.”
Craig’s mood lifted instantly. “Hey! How are you? Where have you been hiding yourself?”
He heard a groan through a crackle of static. “God, you don’t wanna know, man. Long story. Look my battery’s starting to crap out and I’m really sorry to land on you like this but I need a place to hang out for a couple of days? Can I borrow your spare room?”
“Of course! But which one? Town or beach?”
“You’re down at the beach, right? I assumed there.”
“You’re starting to fade, mate. I’m at Toujours, Orlando’s in town. When are you arriving?”
“Here already – from the InterCity term – “
“Say again, you’re still fading!”
Elijah’s voice was momentary loud in his ear. “Hamilton! Bus station! Got that?”
“Yes! Got it! About twenty minutes.”
He pocketed his phone, did a swift U-turn and headed back toward Hamilton, wondering, as he drove, what in God’s name Elijah – his arrival completely unannounced – was doing hanging around the bus terminal of a New Zealand regional city.
The heart of the city was practically dead, being a Sunday evening, dark and wet. He parked the Jeep opposite the main transit centre and spent a minute or two debating over whether to sit tight and let Elijah find him or to go out and actively hunt him down. He wasn’t even sure if Elijah knew what sort of car to look for.
He eventually sighed, determinedly ignored the fact that the rain was noticeably heavier and unbuckled his seat-belt. A sudden pounding on the passenger side window made him instinctively lunge across and unlock the door. A moment later, Elijah jammed a backpack into the foot-well and slid into the seat, soaking wet, shivering, and with rivulets of water running down his face.
He looked at Craig and gave a wan smile. “Hi. Thanks.”
Craig nodded briefly. He started the engine and cranked the heater up to ‘HIGH’. He reached into the back seat and pulled over a blanket, handing it to Elijah.
“Take off your coat and wrap this around you.”
He waited while Elijah struggled out of his jacket, tossed it over the back and replaced it with the blanket.
“Good timing,” he said as he edged the car away from the curb and headed away from the city centre. “I was on my way home when you called. About ten minutes down the road.”
Elijah used one corner of the already damp blanket to wipe his face. “Sorry I didn’t call sooner but it was a kinda spur of the moment thing. I probably wasn’t even thinking clearly – just shoved my passport and toothbrush in a bag and headed for the airport. I just had to get away and go somewhere. I thought of you and Orli and came here.”
“He’s in Auckland working.”
Craig forced a note of humor into his voice as he asked, “Not pushing or anything, mate, but I’m not aiding and abetting a crime here am I?”
Elijah gave the briefest gust of laughter. “No. Promise.”
His voice trailed away and his head lolled back against the headrest. Craig glanced sideways at him, saw his face whitely illuminated in the street-lighting. His eyes were already closed.
An explanation could wait. Someone who could remain silent for well over a year, reappear out of nowhere and then promptly fall asleep, Craig decided, was someone who wasn’t ready to talk just yet.
Previously dreaded, it was a relief to finally park the car and switch off the engine, bidding Elijah to, ‘Stay there while I open up.’
He dashed across the courtyard, keys in hand and jammed one in the lock, turning it, pushing open the door and reaching around the jamb for the light switch. He heard the slam of the car door as he went through the house, switching on more lights and making a bee-line for the fireplace where he knelt down and put a match to the kindling.
‘You’re such a fucking boy-scout about some things!’ Orlando had complained on one occasion last winter, when the weather had been foul for days, and at the first sign of a break, he’d wanted to go for a long walk and air out the peevishness of being forcibly housebound for so long.
Craig had delayed the treat by stopping to rake the ashes of the previous blaze from the fireplace and to lay paper and small bits of wood ready for a fresh one when they returned. Orlando had huffed and fidgeted at the door in irritation.
‘Can’t it wait ‘til we get back? You have to be so fucking prepared for everything. Come onnn!’
They had been caught in the rain, and were cold and shivering when they returned. He’d had the fire roaring in minutes and they’d warmed up in front of it. Later they’d hauled the quilt off the bed, spread it out on the floor and made love in that golden warmth, and Orlando had apologized for the ‘stupid crack about boy scouts’ but added that Craig sometimes did waste a hell of a lot of time fussing over little things.
He supposed he did. Little things like having the fire laid ready to start, or whether Orlando was okay and not being pushed too hard by Marton who was more driven than anyone he knew. Little things like having his own name always linked to Orlando. And noticing – and minding – when it no longer was.
‘But I love you anyway,’ Orlando had said.
Again that leaden pall of depression settled over his shoulders and he rose from the fireplace, really hating cold, winter days and wet, Sunday nights.
Elijah was standing there clutching his jacket, his bag and the blanket.
Craig cleared his suddenly too-tight throat. “When did you eat last?”
“I had a candy bar at the bus station.”
“I meant properly.”
“On the flight – airline crap.”
“Doesn’t count. Go and have a shower and I’ll heat up something.”
In his own ears, he knew he sounded terse and unwelcoming, and the look of discomfit and confusion on Elijah’s face confirmed it. He crossed the room, took the things from Elijah and dropped them to the floor without ceremony. He wound his arms around him and held him close, telling him – reassuring him, “I’m tired and a bit pissed off because it’s been one of those days but Lij’, I’m really quite happy you’re here and in one piece. We’ve wondered a bit, not having heard from you for so long.”
Elijah nodded against his shoulder and then drew away, giving a grimace that might have passed as a smile and averting eyes that were suspiciously bright.
“Yeah, it’s been too long. I’ve missed you guys.”
“Go and have that shower and I’ll get some food sorted out.” Craig indicated the small backpack. “Doesn’t look like you brought much with you. There are plenty of Orlando’s clothes here so sing out if you want to borrow anything.”
Elijah nodded again and wandered off in the direction of the bathroom.
While he showered, Craig made up the bed in the guest room and switched on the electric blanket. He added some logs to the fire and then went through to the kitchen. By the time Elijah reappeared, bread rolls had been taken from the freezer, thawed in the microwave and crisped in the oven, and a thick minestrone soup was simmering gently on the stove.
He served and they ate at the counter, he telling Elijah, “I don’t think either of us are in the mood for heavy duty conversation so how about we bullshit around with some polite small-talk and save the rest for tomorrow?”
Elijah gave a perfunctory, “Cool.”
“How was your flight?”
“Boring. But it was nice knowing where the plane was gonna land eventually. It brought back a lot of good memories, just being in the terminal at Auckland and hearing the accents. A lot of weird feelings too, some happy, some sad. I never really got to know the place, you know? The longest time I’ve spent here was doing the movies. After that only a couple of quick visits. I’ll stay longer one day I guess, and really make an effort.”
“We did the quintessential road trip last year. If you like, you can read our diary while you’re here. Plenty of nonsense in it but some interesting observations as well.”
“I’d like that.”
“Have you been working?”
“No. Not really. Mainly just hanging out, contemplating my navel.”
Elijah seemed to slump in his chair then and to succumb to an overwhelming fatigue. He stared down at the food in front of him and sighed deeply.
Craig watched him for a moment then ordered, “Go to bed.”
“Yeah, I think I better. I’m sorry.” Elijah stood up a little unsteadily. He said again. “I’m sorry, really.”
“No, it’s alright, we can talk in the morning.”
“Yeah.” Elijah was already shuffling away. “I’m sorry.”
The rain had stopped some time overnight but the morning dawned blustery and overcast. Little patches of blue appeared now and then between thick, fast-scudding clouds but held no promises of fine weather ahead.
Craig had disciplined himself to getting up at a ‘sensible’ time – usually around eight o’clock – and to adhering as close as possible to a kind of normal working day. He thought it somehow made his writing a bit more of a profession than a hobby and gave him a sense of doing proper work rather than still merely dabbling.
He dressed quickly, made coffee and took it out onto the deck. The door to the spare bedroom had been closed and he’d assumed Elijah was still sleeping. It was a surprise to discover him down on the beach, a tiny lone figure in the distance, though still recognizably him.
He thought about leaving the mug of coffee on the bench seat and wandering down to join him but he decided to wait instead. Everyone needed time alone to collect their thoughts, especially when things weighed particularly heavy on their mind as appeared to be the case with Elijah.
He sipped his coffee and contemplated the day ahead. There would be no work done. He hadn’t anticipated a guest at Toujours so a possible supply-trip to Hamilton might be in order, depending on how long Elijah was staying – he’d referred to it as ‘hanging out’ and then mentioned having had a need to ‘get away’. Experience drew Craig to conclude that most people only did that if they were in trouble or needed to make a decision. You couldn’t deny a friend sanctuary, just as you couldn’t rush a person into making a decision just to get them out of your hair and have them leave you in peace.
He suddenly felt distinctly grumpy and uncharitable about having his orderly little routine disrupted. It was instantly followed by a flood of contrition.
Don’t be such a selfish shit about this. He came to you for help.
Elijah was wandering slowly back toward the house now, head down, hands buried in the pockets of his jacket. Occasionally he lifted his head and gazed out at the churning grey ocean currently turning tide on itself. His gaze drifted once in the direction of the house. Craig decided he must have been seen sitting there on the deck. Elijah’s pace picked up and became more purposeful even though each step still seemed heavy and reluctant.
About fifteen minutes later, he trudged up the steep sandy footpath and then the half dozen wooden steps onto the deck.
“I feel better for that,” he said, sitting down on the bench seat. “It’s not the sort of thing you can do in LA. There’s nowhere really you can get away from people and have a place to yourself.”
“There’s plenty of it here, isolation and peace. Enjoy it.”
“Yeah, thanks, I will.”
He still looked tired and listless, Craig thought, and after having only half a bread roll and a few spoonfuls of soup in the last twelve hours, he was probably starving as well.
“I have a policy of making sure my guests eat as well as I do and I always have a full cooked breakfast.” He hoped the lie sounded convincing – he usually existed on strong coffee until about midday when he’d make a couple of house-brick-sized sandwiches, and then try to have something sensible for dinner. “Come in and let me feed you.”
Elijah looked less than enthusiastic but followed him in anyway. He sat at the counter and sipped coffee while Craig cooked a double omelet, cut it into two portions and served it with toast and more coffee.
It gave Craig a particular feeling of satisfaction to watch Elijah polishing his plate clean and helping himself to more toast.
“That was good,” Elijah said when he’d finished eating. “I feel better for that too. I was a total wreck last night, just wiped out.”
Craig stacked their plates on the counter ready for washing. “I noticed. You’ve obviously got a lot on your mind but don’t feel you owe me any explanations in a hurry. Just relax – take your time.”
“Thanks, yeah, I think I need to. At the moment this still feels a bit unreal, you know? It was like waking up the first morning in Wellington before it all started – on the other side of the world, out of my comfort zone and away from everything I’d ever known, and knowing something big was about to happen.”
Craig cocked an eyebrow. “Is it?”
“Yeah,” Elijah shrugged and looked uncomfortable, “It might. It all depends on me.”
So it was a decision needing to be made…
“No pressure, alright?” Craig reassured him again, “No hurry. Take all the time you need.”
He consulted his watch. “Listen, I have to drive up to Hamilton for a few hours. Do you want to come or would you rather stay behind and have the place to yourself?”
“No, I’ll come.” Elijah snickered suddenly. “I have such a low boredom threshold – like five minutes after you’d gone I’d be reformatting your hard-drive and then maybe messing round in your garage looking for some old paint so I could redo your living room.”
“A bored Lij is a dangerous Lij?”
“Yeah, kinda, big time.”
“Then I insist you come.”
Half an hour later as they drove toward the city, Elijah said, “You know, I really thought I’d find Orli here with you, that once you got together, you’d be practically inseparable. I figured he’d be so happy and content that he wouldn’t need to go looking for anything else. From everything I know of him, I thought this might be enough. It would be for me, I know that.”
Craig sighed and took a moment to compose his thoughts.
“Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and it loses a lot of its worth. I never thought I’d ever admit this but I’m convinced a certain amount of separation is necessary for us, otherwise I spend far too much time dwelling on his well-being and he starts feeling stifled.”
Elijah didn’t even attempt to hide his skepticism. “Yeah, and I think if you say that shit over and over again, Craig, you might even convince yourself you mean it. You liar. You miss him like hell, don’t you?”
“I don’t recall saying I didn’t. We had all that time together without interruption and then suddenly he’s off and running. Sometimes the silence is – incredibly loud.”
“At least you had that year though. I remember Marton sneaking around on your celebration day telling everyone that you and Orli were going to hang out for a year and just concentrate on being happy, and that if he heard of anyone making even a phone-call to either of you, he’d come after them with an axe. It was funny and sweet and everyone agreed with him. Even me – though I found it the longest and hardest year of my life and would have loved to have called plenty of times. After that much time though, you get by. When normally you’d phone a friend to talk and that option’s been cut off, you learn how to do things differently. Eventually you get used to not calling that friend and then suddenly you’ve lost touch and it’s almost too hard to call again.”
“So why did you?” Craig asked casually.
Elijah shrugged. “I’ll get to it, I promise, but I’d really like to hear how he’s doing.”
As they drove, Craig told him about their first idyllic year together during which they’d done nothing but focus on one another. He told him how the return to reality had resulted in Orlando concentrating almost entirely on 'that fucking awful play' and Craig – discovering that he’d copped a disproportionate amount of public disapproval – deciding to maintain a low profile and try his hand at writing.
“Once I’d made a real start, the words just seemed to flow so easily that hours, days – even complete weeks – can just disappear without me noticing. I can get so into it that I only sleep when I can’t keep my eyes open, eat only when I’m just about fainting from hunger, and write or do research the rest of the time. Sometimes I’ve resented the interruptions of Orlando’s weekend visits, and I’ve made some really pathetic excuses not to go up there to spend time with him. We used to talk on the phone a couple of times a day at the start, then once every couple of days, then perhaps once a week. We’ve drifted off in completely different directions and become so used to not being together. We miss one another still – but it’s not usually until we’re together again that it hits home just how much we do. In between, I think we’re both just so absorbed in what we’re doing that – “
Craig shook his head absently. “I don't know -- there has to be some middle ground between being close again and smothering one another. I was going to move back to town full time next week, but I’ve become so used to my own company that I suspect Orlando’s constant fidgeting and chattering and frequent need for attention is going to drive me insane before long. And he’s developed quite an active social life and he’ll want to not only go out clubbing but hope – or expect – me to go with him. It just isn’t my thing so he’ll probably go alone. He’ll probably want to bring friends back to the apartment for an occasional party as well, which I’ll resent if I’m trying to work. So you see, we’ve drifted apart but attempting to get back that closeness would mean one or both of us forfeiting something we absolutely love doing. My writing, his performing. We’ve both become rather selfish, and I know we’d take it out on one another if we were forced into a compromise.”
Elijah stared at him in disbelief. “And this has all happened in just a few months?”
“Yep. Terribly clever aren’t we.”
“Y’know – I can’t tell you how depressed I feel all of a sudden.”
“Join the club. That’s why I was on such a downer last night. I think it had just hit home how quickly things have deteriorated between us and how bad they’ve become. The worst part of all is that I just don’t have any idea how to fix them.”
“I feel so bad about showing up like this then, with a mind to dumping some really heavy shit on you.”
Craig forced a smile. “I think after suffering that little tale of woe, you’re entitled to one free dumping. How about we save it for when we get home? Some subjects of conversation deserve the kind of attention you just can’t give while traipsing around a supermarket comparing prices.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Elijah sighed.
They left the Jeep in a parking lot and wandered through town, Craig doing his normal in-town chores while Elijah trotted along beside him, anonymous in a baseball cap and sunglasses. They stopped for a burger and coffee before going on to a supermarket where Elijah was recognized at the checkout and engaged in a reluctant conversation.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing,” he said as he helped Craig load the shopping into the car, “If that was the last time anyone ever asked for my autograph?”
“Is that likely?”
“Yeah, you know it could be. Sometimes stars fall – or even jump – off their pedestals and suddenly no one wants to know them any more.”
“Is that likely too?”
“Yeah, very much so.” Elijah took the supermarket cart back inside. When he came back, he added as an afterthought, “It’s not like you ever get to be a complete nobody though. You’re still somebody, only people go out of their way to pretend you don’t exist. Kind of like a forced exile because suddenly they’re embarrassed for and about you.”
“You’re not making much sense you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Much of the drive home passed in silence, their half-hearted attempts at conversation confined to the traffic and the return of the rain.
Back at Toujours, the shopping put away and fresh coffee made, Craig went over to the computer and turned it on.
“I’ll show you a picture of him taken last week in rehearsal.”
Elijah grinned, unable to hide his delight. “Cool! I always wanted to know what he looked like in a dress. I bet it was a shock for you, seeing him like that for the first time.”
“No, not really.” Craig opened his e-mail box, selected an e-mail and opened the attachment. Seconds later Elijah whispered, “God, he looks incredible!”
“Mmm,” Craig responded without enthusiasm.
Elijah looked at him oddly. “You don’t like it?”
“No, not much.”
Elijah turned back to the screen, staring at it for a long moment before doing something that caught Craig by surprise. He touched his fingers to where Orlando’s face appeared on the monitor.
“Isn’t it weird how things turn out so screwed up? I’d give anything to look like Orli – you know, so incredibly gorgeous and exotic that people are just compelled to look at him – but I look like a geek and always will. And he once told me he was jealous that I was constantly referred to as one of, if not the most, gifted actor of my generation, or some shit like that. If we could, we’d have done a Freaky Friday and traded lives. We have so much in each other that we really envy so it’s kinda amazing we ended up being close.”
“It might have something to do with the fact that you’re both in denial about your most notable asset,” Craig responded dryly.
Elijah grinned again. “Yeah, that’s true. I guess some things become more important to you when you don’t have them and somebody else does.”
He continued to study the picture.
“When we were living together in LA and not doing much – we were just kinda holed up in the apartment and hiding for a while – we talked about star-signs once and looked up on the Net about what our own signs were supposed to represent. A lot of it was kooky stuff but so much of it seemed to make sense. I guess it’s all in how you interpret it. Orli’s a Capricorn and his sign’s the Mountain Goat. Everything we read about Capricorn seemed to focus on this need for high places – you know, the top – in everything they do. Nothing’s good enough, high enough, or happy enough. When we were filming and went through that manic phase of trying everything dangerous we could find, I think the bungee off the Nevis Highwire topped it all. He was pissed out of his brain, throwing up until about five minutes before his first jump. He did the jump and when they hauled him up again he was white as a sheet but already wanting to do another one. He did six jumps, then said something like, ‘That was fucking brilliant, the absolute best! Now what’ll we try next?’ He said it was the most scared he’d ever been but now he’d been there, he wanted to try something even scarier. It wasn’t high enough, you know? There had to be some place even higher.”
"Does that include happiness?” Craig asked thoughtfully, “Did I turn out to be not high enough in that sense, I wonder?”
Elijah regarded him as if he were mad. “God no, don’t ever believe that! I think in you he’s found the one person who makes him absolutely one hundred per cent happy. I’d never doubt that for a second and neither would he. Most people never get that lucky and he knows it. The only place he never succeeded was in his career, you know, acting. I guess that’s why he’s not here now where he should be. There’s one more thing he has to get right, one more high place he has to go. He’s not stupid – he’s said straight out he’ll never be like an acting legend or you know, truly great, and he accepts that. He’s not gonna hold out for an Oscar or anything crazy like that – but you know he really wants to be respected for his work. Maybe that’s the high he’s chasing now so I guess if you want him to come home and stay, you’ll have to do anything you can to make his last dream come true.”
He touched the screen again with his fingertips as though trying to feel the plush velvet of Orlando’s costume.
“I always thought that the one role people would remember Orli for would be a really unusual one. It could’ve been Legolas, you know, but this thing about going higher – it was practically destined that he’d find something more incredibly original. I never imagined it would be anything like this though. God, I’m just so amazed at how fantastic he looks. I can’t wait to see him again,” he added in a voice that was noticeably unsteady, “I’ve really missed him.”
Craig rested his hand on Elijah’s shoulder and gave a light reassuring squeeze of his fingers. “What did they say about your star-sign?”
“Oh, I’m just a typical Aquarian,” Elijah grimaced, and looked slightly embarrassed now, “I don’t want a whole lot, just a bit of universal peace and happiness, and if there’s any to spare maybe I could have some too.”
His voice cracked again. He took a deep breath and let it out in a shuddering sigh, prompting Craig to touch him again, to forget the decision not to pressure him, and to ask outright, “What is it? Really?”
All reticence seemed to suddenly evaporate. “I’ve written something and I want you to read it and tell me if I should just keep it to myself and not let it go any further, or if I should go ahead and blab it to the whole world. It’s almost a truth or dare thing but it seems no matter what I do, I’m gonna be really fucked.”
As Elijah spoke, he typed on the keyboard. On the screen, a free-to-public website opened. He typed in a password, waited, and a moment later a small rectangular image appeared, with just a single line of text below it.
'The Kid with the Eyes'.
“I remember overhearing someone on set in one of my earlier movies asking, ‘Where is he? What’s his name again? The kid with the eyes.’ I always remembered it because it hurt. They didn’t think I was important enough to even remember my name.”
“What is it?” Craig asked again.
“The eyes in the picture are mine.”
Craig nodded. “Unmistakably.”
“So if you click on the picture and look behind the eyes, you’ll find out every fucked up thing you never wanted to know about me.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“My memoirs, Craig,” Elijah’s laughter was tinged with a slight edge of hysteria, “I’m only twenty-five and I’ve written my fucking memoirs -- you know, the shit people don’t ordinarily write until they think their life’s over.”
“But your life’s barely started!”
“Then why the fuck do I feel so old and have this insane feeling I should go and find the one person I love most in the whole world and just be with him before it’s too late?”
“Orlando,” Craig murmured, “Is it?”
“Yeah, but I don’t want you to think anything other than that we’re really good friends, okay? We were never anything else and neither of us wanted anything else. It’s just that we – when we were living in LA, we talked about stuff and I’d already started writing this. He helped me, even though his own life was turning to crap. We helped each other. He said he wanted to read it when I’d finished it but I think it would upset him, you know? Not just him but shitloads of people. I wanted someone else to read it who I knew wouldn’t think I was a complete asshole for writing it in the first place.”
Craig pointed. “There’s the printer and paper. Print out a copy for me and I’ll read it tonight, and tell you what I think in the morning.”
Elijah nodded. “Thanks. I’d really appreciate that.”
“Before I do though, I want to know why.”
“Haven’t you ever had something in your life that was like a fucking brick wall that stopped you getting anywhere? And instead of doing the smart thing and try to pull it down brick by brick, you spend most of your time and energy just trying to figure out how to get over it or around it? And in the end, have you just stood there whacking your head against it because you’re convinced you’ve totally run out of options?”
“I hear you.” Craig said, “And that’s a yes to all the above.”
“I knew you’d understand,” Elijah sighed, a heavy sigh of relief. “I just knew you would.”
They watched the DVD of 'The Return of the King' that evening, largely in silence.
When it finished and Elijah was removing it from the player, he said, “My own talent was kinda like the ring, y’know? When I started out, I was so fucking naïve and unprepared, I thought it was a lot of fun. It’s just that the further I went, the more it seemed to fuck up my life and turn everyone around me into complete psychos. Okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top but that’s how it seemed. So now all I wanna do is get rid of the ring and end the quest for an Oscar which everyone swears I’m gonna get one day, maybe even a couple of them. But you know what, Craig? I don’t want one. If I could, I’d have them give it to Orli for no other reason other than he could come back to you and be happy. But he wouldn’t take it either, would he? Because it’s all so fucking meaningless!”
Without waiting for a response, he added, “I guess I better go to bed. I’m really tired. I’m sorry, man. G’night.”
About fifteen minutes later – after tidying up and locking up – Craig retired to his own bed with about two hundred and fifty printed pages and a highlighter pen. He set the alarm for eight o’clock the next morning, settled back against the stacked pillows and began to read. Occasionally he paused to re-read a line or a paragraph, or he underlined or boxed something with the highlighter pen. Otherwise he read the entire manuscript right through, knowing that many of Elijah’s words would remain etched in his memory for all time.
“Hollywood isn’t the place to be if you have any doubts about who or what you are. It’s not the place to go if you want to find out your worth as a person because, particularly in the entertainment industry, you’re not really regarded as a human being. It’s so dehumanizing. It’s all just one big meat-market and you’re just a piece of meat. Your value is determined by freshness and quality. You go to any market and look at the meat on display. It’s all dressed up and presented nicely to make it look better than it is, and there’s a price on each cut that corresponds with the supposed quality of the meat – how good it looks and how good it’s meant to taste. I was fresh, tender meat and I was served on a plate to some very hungry people…”
“I owe a lot to my Mom for raising me well and instilling in me the high-quality values that made me – I think – a quality person. Unfortunately higher quality meat is usually really tender as well. It’s the meat the knife is going to slice through more easily. It’s the meat that is most easily overcooked and burned and ruined. That’s true of a lot of people I’ve known. I’ve had friends hurt by this industry, friends who have been burned and cut and destroyed, or just disposed of like leftovers. It’s so sad to watch. You feel their hurt but you can’t stop it happening. You feel their pain and identify with it so readily, because you know one day it could be you. You just hope and pray that you still have enough good and real friends around you to help you get through it. In that regard, I’ve been incredibly lucky…”
“There’s this body image thing, particularly for women but that’s mainly in terms of body-size and perceived beauty, but also for men, kind of the same but it’s more the body-size thing. They want the guys to be bigger than the ladies, naturally, but almost as beautiful. And it’s the physical side of things that’s now more important than the talent thing which they can fake a lot. You just have to look perfect and they’ll take care of the rest. I was the perfect wide-eyed, innocent-looking kid. Great up until about age fifteen. After that, wide-eyed innocence isn’t considered a good look…”
“You don’t go there to discover yourself. If you do choose to go there, you’d better be well and truly over any identity-crisis and be really sure of yourself because people who have never met you are going to decide it for you and more often than not, they’ll get it so wrong. You have to fight the stories and myths and assumptions made about you based on whatever misinformation they got hold of first, or whatever was decided about you on first impressions…”
“I developed a major crush on someone on the set. I ended up humiliating myself and embarrassing us both by attempting to seduce them one night. It could have ended up a complete disaster but by the time I returned to my own bed, mission definitely unaccomplished, I’d learned an important lesson in the power of understanding, kindness and compassion. They made a promise to me that they would never tell anyone about what a complete ass I made of myself that night and I believe they have always kept that promise. To this day, they remain one of my most trusted friends and I know it will embarrass the hell out of them but I regard them as kind of a moral hero, mentor and teacher as well…”
“I know people have speculated for years about my sexuality. It’s no one else’s business at all. It’s something between me and the person I’m with. At this stage I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t actually been with anyone in a long time because I don’t really feel I have a lot of myself to offer that isn’t screwed up in some way. Maybe in the future some time, I’d really like to be one half of a couple. I think you have to be capable of being happy within yourself before you can hope to make someone else happy…”
“Being Frodo changed my life unbelievably. In fact I don’t know of anyone who worked in any way on the movie trilogy who didn’t find that their lives had been changed forever and not necessarily in a good way. Many were able to use their experience to go on to do better things. Some found it to be a career highlight while others found it to be more of a career full-stop. I know of at least one person that I won’t identify who wished that none of it had ever happened because of all the pain it brought. I think my own personal experience was a mixture of all those things…”
“I was never raped or molested or abused, not physically anyway. In my memory, there are a few borderline experiences that are so vague and unformed that I couldn’t honestly claim them to be true or not. Maybe they’re things I wasn’t able to understand at the time so they’re sitting there in my head in some twisted, misinterpreted form waiting for a proper explanation. I’m pretty adamant that I was mentally raped, emotionally molested and psychologically abused countless times…:
“In an industry in which physical perfection is such a necessity for success, it’s very damaging to be told constantly that you’re always going to be too small and weird-looking, or that your career will probably never progress beyond child roles, and you’re only of value while you stay looking like a kid. In an industry in which gender roles and those inevitable stereotypes are so rigidly maintained, it’s damaging to have your gender frequently questioned or doubted or undermined, to be asked if maybe you’re really a girl inside, to be told that maybe you should be, to have it suggested jokingly that there could be benefits in becoming one. What boy wants to hear that…”
It was just after four in the morning when Craig read the closing paragraph.
“I used to be a boy once, although it didn’t last for very long. For about ten years, I dwelled in a kind of limbo that would normally have comprised my teens, but for me was a time of emotional and physical bonsai. I was not a child, nor an adult, nor a teen. Instead, I was whatever I was paid to be on any given day. Now I’m supposed to be a man – physically, emotionally, sexually and chronologically. All that’s left is for me to work out exactly what a man is, and then to learn how to be one.”
He put the manuscript aside and turned the light out but sleep didn’t come straight away. Instead, he lay awake for another hour in that state of hyper-wakefulness that usually follows a particularly disturbing dream.
He dozed episodically until the alarm sounded, rose immediately and showered, and then dosed his fatigue with strong black coffee. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or sympathetic when Elijah emerged from his room, eyes underscored by deep shadows indicating his own night had been every bit as rough.
“I read it all,” Craig said as he made more coffee, “I don’t quite know what to say other than it left me completely gutted.”
Elijah sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“Trust me, mate, that wasn’t meant as a criticism, just a statement of fact. Have you shown it to anyone else?”
“Yeah,” Elijah admitted, “I showed my Mom first. She’s not happy about it.”
“I can’t imagine she would be, finding out what happened to – “
“No, actually she’s pissed for different reasons altogether. She’s pissed because I never told her, and that the book makes her look like a neglectful mother. She’s afraid everyone’s gonna blame her. I’m here because of her. She said that, instead of telling everyone all this crap, I should just take a major time-out and get myself sorted out rather than sitting around blaming everyone and everything else for the fact that my life sucks. And if that didn’t work, she said I should get therapy.”
Craig rolled his eyes and Elijah laughed. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
The humor faded swiftly. “I thought it was more important that ordinary people got the facts and made up their mind about me rather than paying some asshole to listen first then push some fucking twelve-step process to accepting it and doing some shit like forgiving and forgetting. I won’t accept it and I won’t fucking forgive and forget! I’d just like people to acknowledge that I have a right to be pissed off and that I’m okay anyway.”
“You have an unquestionable right to be pissed off,” Craig said immediately, “And you’re perfectly okay anyway.” He added gently, “And I mean that, seriously.”
Elijah smiled tremulously. “I know. That’s why I came here first. I wanted to start out on a pretty sure thing. Um – do you think Orli would mind too much having his name mentioned in it? I mean I saw first-hand how all that shit about his appearance and relationships, and the gossip and everything – how it affected him. I watched it sending him crazy.”
“I’m sure he’d readily give you the go-ahead but it’s not my place to do it on his behalf.”
“I know that. So – what do you think? Should I let it loose?”
Craig shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, honestly. I think you should get some more opinions first, and take some more time to think it over. The only favor I’d ask of you is that you hold off showing Orlando – or even telling him about it – until he’s got this performance behind him. You know how personally he takes things. He’d be practically heartbroken on your behalf and I don’t really think he’d be able to give his best while trying to come to terms with all this.”
“Okay, yeah, I understand.” Elijah hesitated, took a deep breath and asked, “I um – I wondered if you’d mind if I included you and Orli in the dedication, just your initials if you like – it’s just that I had this special thing in mind that – God, you’ll probably think it so sappy – but it was a dedication to the three people who really made an impact on my life.”
“What is it?”
“I was gonna write – “ Elijah flushed and looked away momentarily, “I was gonna write ‘To O who is loved, to P who is worshipped' – that’s for Pete because I mean he’s a kind of God to me! – “and to C, who is adored.’ Yeah, I know, it’s really bad but I – “
“I’m honored,” Craig said, “But why me?”
“I guess because you took me fishing when you could have been an asshole like the rest of them. It’s just something I’ll never forget, how good you were to me.”
Craig smiled and gave a quick nod. As he would have moved things along to prevent them from becoming unbearably personal, a thought suddenly occurred to him. “Lij, when we talked that night, I was under the distinct impression that certain things had happened to you.”
“They did!” Elijah responded, suddenly abrupt and angry, “You just read a heavily edited version of the truth. I had names, dates and other details but I took them out. I mean, what would be the point of dragging them up again, pointing out the assholes and saying ‘That sonofabitch exposed himself to an eight-year-old!’ or ‘That cunt pressured a ten-year-old for a blow job!’ or ‘That motherfucker offered a twelve-year-old money to turn around and bend over and have his ass reamed!’ What the fuck would be the goddamned point? I’d have a shitload of lawyers on my doorstep and a hundred lawsuits and I’d probably spend the rest of my life in court telling the same stories over and over again. You know what? They got away with it and I just don’t care, man, I just don’t care! All that matters is that I’m me and everyone knows that, for what it’s worth, me is okay”
“You don’t need a book for that.”
“Yeah, I think I do.” Elijah shrugged, anger defused, and gave a half-smile. “I just wanted to spread the word, but I’ll hold off for a while, okay? And I’ll think some more about whether I even wanna do it.”
“How long are you staying?”
“Oh, I’ll get outa your face tomorrow, promise.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I want you to stay as long as you like. Unwind and relax and do some more thinking. There’s no hurry to be on your way spreading the word is there?”
“No, not really. I love it here. It’s so peaceful. But most of all, I wanna see Orli again so badly.”
“I’ll spend the day packing then and close the place up. We can go up to town tomorrow.”
“No,” Elijah said, “I think you should stay down here. You told me that being with him while he’s working and partying might make things worse between you.”
“True, “ Craig grimaced. “But this place depresses me at the moment. The weather’s bloody awful – “
“How would you know if you’re completely zoned-out writing?”
“I’m not writing just now. I was going back to town to do some research.”
“Use the Net.”
“I need to talk to people.”
“Use messengers or e-mail.”
“Face to face.”
“Invite ‘em down for the weekend. Add some booze and good food and who the fuck’s gonna turn down a freebie in this amazing place?”
“You’re missing the point, Lij. We’d still be apart, out of sight and out of mind. And how the hell can I concentrate while he’s up there doing things I can’t even bear to contemplate?”
Elijah considered this for a moment. “I think, Craig, that I should go up and visit Orli and stay with him while he’s working. I’m a party animal too. I can deal with going out and getting plastered and dancing til dawn.”
“And every now and then I could remind him about you, mention all those things that made him give up so much just to be with you. He just needs reminding, that’s all. You don’t have to be in his face to do that.” Elijah grinned suddenly, conspiratorially. “I can be in his face for you.”
Craig stared at him. “And why would you do that?”
“Because I was there on that day a year and a half ago when you practically told the whole world to go fuck itself. I have never seen two people so amazingly happy. I have never seen something that was supposed to be socially wrong but to me seemed so incredibly right! I remember what it cost you and Orli, and how much pain you both went through before that day came. I can’t believe either of you could be so dumb and clueless as to wanna risk losing it. You seem to have figured out something’s gone wrong all by yourself so maybe someone has to go point it out to him. We were always close so maybe I can do something here for both of you.”
“But you came here with your own particular problem. You can’t simply take on someone else’s.”
“Well it’s all about perspective isn’t it? There’s always someone worse off than you. I looked after him for you in the past. Let me do it again. Please?”
Craig lifted his hands to his face and rubbed his eyes, heavy lidded and aching from fatigue. It all sounded like such a simple and straightforward solution, probably so much so that it wouldn’t even work. But it might buy them some time. It would only be for a couple of months – it could even be really good for Orlando to have some company other than Marton who was at his heels all day demanding perfection.
Might even keep him home at night and out of the columns…
“Alright,” he conceded slowly, “But first let me warn you about the queens.”