Levi had never screamed in public before. He was glad he had a manly, deep-throated, “Argh!” and not a queeny “Eeek!” with jazz hands and swishy-arms. He had always laughed at men who screamed with jazz hands and swishy-arms. He thought they looked like those tall wavy things used at car lots. He was thankful his scream was manly–even if it did last a surprisingly long time and go up a few notes as it echoed throughout the Awards Walk.
“I’m so sorry!” Damien apologized as Levi, kneeling with laughter, caught his breath. Seeing Levi doubled over in peels of laughter, Damien started laughing, as well. “I thought you saw me through the glass in the door.”
“Obviously. . .no,” Levi said. “Oh my God, I’m sorry. What. . .How are you?”
“I’m fine, “Damien said. “I uh—”
“Did you need anything? I can open the store back up if—”
“No, no, no,” Damien waved the store away. He paused. Why was this so difficult? They had so easily talked on several occasions. He finally just blurted out, “I wanted to see you. Talk to you, I mean. Jesus, this seems very stalkerish. It’s not. I wanted to see if maybe you wanted to go have a burger.”
“A burger?” Levi asked. He was sort of frozen in place. This wasn’t making any sense. He got asked out on dates but not by anyone he really wanted to go out with. And certainly not men this far out of his own league.
“I don’t know why I said ‘burger’. Dinner. Have you had dinner? You’ve been working all day and—I know this looks strange but, really, you just make me laugh and . . . I promise, I’m not stalking you,” Damien apologized, palms to Levi.
Trying to appear more calm than he felt—between the fear that had jolted him, thinking he was about to get mugged and the insanity of Damien Lanchester asking him for a burger—it all was just too much for a bipolar person on heavy medication who had just worked all day in a store of adorable but screaming children making teddy bears to. . .bear.
He pretended to be somewhat calm as he bit his lip and turned, key in hand, to lock the store’s double doors.
“’My Hollywood Stalker was a Hollywood Star’ will make a great title for my memoirs,” Levi chuckled, locking the door and giving it a tug to ensure it was secure.
“Did I make a fool out of myself?” Damien asked. “I’m sorry if this is awkward.”
Levi shook his fears away with a nod of his head. “No, you didn’t.” He motioned to the doors. “But. . .you do realize I don’t own this store, right? It’s a chain and I’m just a Manager. Not the owner and—”
“What difference does that make?” Damien was baffled.
“Um. . .Just. . .I work in retail,” Levi explained, unintentionally slowly, as if to a stupid person, “And you are. . .well. . .Damien Lanchester.”
“My name is Richard Moore. Or, Dick Moore. Or, alphabetically. . .Moore Dick. I had an agent who, years ago, talked me into changing my name and, I had just seen ‘The Omen’ on TV and thought, ‘Well, I never met another Damien’ and ‘Lanchester’ came from a veteran actress I was fond of—”
“You know her?”
“Well—I haven’t had tea with her but yes, I know who Elsa Lanchester is. Bride of Frankesntein,‘Witness for the Prosecution. The episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel have to hitchhike and Elsa Lanchester gives them a ride and there’s a radio bulletin about a murder and they all think one or the other—”
“Is an axe murderess!”
They laughed at both the hilarity of the I Love Lucy episode—as if the two of them had written it—as well as at their shared awareness of Elsa Lanchester.
“So your name is really—”
“Just call me Damien. Everyone does these days.”
“Well, hello. I’m Wrangler.” Levi shook Damien’s hand and stepped away from the store, to the little balcony alcove that came out from the walkway, in a half circle framed by a railing, over the first floor below. “But, back to me and my insecurities. . .”
“What are those?”
“Why do you say that? I’ve heard you say that before.”
“Because, in L.A., when you don’t work in the film industry, that’s what you are. And that’s sort of why I came here. Part of it, I guess. The anonymity. No one cares about you if you’re a nobody so you just fade into the background.”
“You don’t fade into the background,” Damien said quietly. “Not at all.”
Levi’s heart pounded faster at the compliment. At Damien’s stare. At the hard, firm tone in his softly-spoken words. “But this makes no sense. I work in a store. And—”
“And I work on a film set from time to time. Nice to meet you. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, can we go back to talking to each other like we’ve done before? Because I’m not hung up on what I do or what you do or what anyone does for a living. You know what I like about you?”
He was going to honestly say, “No.” He had no idea what Damien Lanchester could see in him. X had left him. Barry only came to see him every now and then and he hadn’t called in a while so he was probably now dating someone better than Levi. Hell, his own friends seemed to think he was an auxiliary part of their lives and didn’t seem to like him very much.
Seeing Levi’s hesitation, Damien leaned in close. “Look—I could have gone out to a club. Right? Could have gone out to some club in WeHo and met a guy and had a fun time. But I was sitting at home thinking, ‘Yeah, I need to go out—but not to a club.’ You know why I didn’t want to go to a club?”
“Well, most of the guys in WeHo are starfuckers, so you probably feel like a circus animal or something with all the men staring at you.”
“I—“ Levi fumbled for an answer. How the hell was he supposed to know the inner workings of this stranger’s psychology? He barely understood his own. “I have no idea, really.”
“I thought, ‘Why go out to a club hoping to meet a nice guy—when I know where there is a nice guy. And he’s working at Hollywood & Highland?’.
Levi’s facial muscles, brought to life by a compliment that made his blood run cold and his arms goose pimple with delight, valiantly fought against his instinctual smile, making his face contort into something halfway between an ugly cry and a crazy grin.
“What do you think of that?” Damien asked him, his hands in his jacket pockets spreading his jacket wide as if flashing him, momentarily, an emotional nakedness.
“I think I’m melting,” Levi muttered shyly, hiding his face from Dennis’ pleased one in a downward gaze, his eyes on the shiny, dark terrazzo of the mall’s floor. “That was good.”
“Real good,” Levi said, laughing in an embarrassed way. “I’m not going to find you borrowed that from a rom-com, am I? Because I never saw that one you did with Reese Witherspoon and that better not be a variation of something from that.”
“It’s not,” Damien assured him, smiling. “It’s all me.”
“Well, then—“ Levi told him, “Let’s go grab those burgers. But not anywhere too nice.”
He indicated the uniform he had to wear at the Fab Friends Factory. Having planned to go straight home, he had brought nio change of clothes with him and so was still wearing the brightly colored color-blocked shirt and red pants.
“I look like a refugee from Munchkinland. Musso & Frank’s is definitely off the itinerary.”
“How about the Snow White Café?” Damien offered. “Little hole in the wall a few doors down. . .”
“I know it well,” Levi told him, smiling. Happily resigned to this impromptu whatever-this-was—a date? A couple of friends? The strangest thing that had ever happened to him in Hollywood?—he told Damien, “Let’s go.”