“Whose name is above the title?” Damien asked by way of reminding his publicist who ultimately decided Damien’s itinerary. “I’ll be at the party. Later. Send my car around in an hour. Until then—I have someone to see.”
“The press may not be there in an hour.”
“The press will still be there. You think Fiona’s going straight to the party? She’ll be in her limo shoving coke up her nose for the next ninety minutes. They’ll want shots of her stoned out of her mind. They’ll wait an hour.”
Track had been holding his father’s hand and looking up to him from the red carpet–which, now that the film was over, had long ago been abandoned by the press and stars and was waiting to be rolled back up and put into storage. He looked about at the crew working to dismantle the barricades which had kept the public at bay and ensured a street lane clear for celebrity cars. Most tantalizing and intriguing to Track, though, was the reproduction of Santa’s Chalet. It had been erected in Grauman’s courtyard as a backdrop for the star arrivals at the premiere, atop the concrete embedded footprints of screen legends that, like all those tourists and dreamers, Track’s nanny liked to gaze at, step into, and giggle about how silly she was. But where he really wanted to go was up the stairs. The stairs from the courtyard into Hollywood and Highland led right up to Mister Lee’s store. That’s where his father had told him they’d go after the movie. “For a quick visit with Mister Lee and a quick bear.”
And, that’s where, shrieking with glee, and atop his father’s shoulder, he went after the premiere of Santa Claus: Christmas Warrior.
Damien set Track down a few steps from the store, the little boy wriggling with excitement. And, just as Damien knew he would, he tottered off in a rush, down the hall and into the store, shrieking with laughter all the way. Damien thought he could never love anyone more than that little boy. But maybe a close second. . .maybe someday. . . Levi?
He wished he could have photos of what he saw: Levi, taken by surprise, when he saw Track race in, arms stretched out for a hug, screaming, “Mister Lee! Mister Lee!” And the look of pure happiness that filled Levi’s face when he found the little boy’s arms wrapped about his legs, hugging him happily. And the tiny “Wow” he whispered—almost like a breath but really an exaltation of no small ecstasy–when he looked upon Damien, as if he had never seen anyone so handsome.
The way Levi’s eyes washed over Damien, they way they widened with delight, and surprise, and attraction and care, and the way his lips slyly upturned as he looked at him made Damien hard. And so, after asking if Judy could maybe show Track all the available bears, telling Track, “But don’t pick one out until I get back! Give it a lot of thought!” he smothered Levi with a kiss in the stockroom.
“Uh. . .Sorry.” a voice behind them stammered. “I–I’ll go out on the salesfloor.”
The high school student who had been on her break and had been sitting at Levi’s desk—which doubled as the team’s breakroom—ducked her head down so that her hair fell around her face. She slipped out the door onto the salesfloor.
“Shit. I think I just scarred her for life,” Damien whispered, laughing.
“Sssh. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Skipping the after-party.”
“No. You have to go to—”
“I’ll go after this. Track wanted to see Mister Lee.” Damien explained, stroking Levi’s beaming face with the back of his fingers. Levi could have died the next moment and still felt he had lived a happy life if only it had ended with Damien’s breath on his face and his hands tracing the line of his cheekbones.
“And you?” Levi asked flirtatiously.
“I wanted to kiss Mister Lee.”
And so he did.
“And the movie?” Levi asked, with an excited enthusiasm only capable from the blind encouragement of someone almost in love.. “How did it go? Did they love it?”
“Eh. . .It isn’t very good.”
“No? Oh—I doubt that! Come on—” Levi, sensing some embarrassment on Damien’s part, put hands on both sides of his freshly-shaved face as if to force Damien to look at him—as if any force had been needed. “You’re superb.”
“But the movie is bad.”
“No. . .”
“No, really. The kids were bored. All the magic that was in the screenplay. . .the editor and director just hacked away. There were scenes we filmed that are unrecognizable. They hacked it up so the dialogue was all over the place. I’d not seen the final cut; just the bits for the talk shows. It’s a mess. I really think it’s a bad, bad movie.”
“Oh, Damie, ” Levi said, so comfortingly, so softly, “I’m sorry.”
It was simple. It was sweet. It was sincere. And Damien saw in Levi those eyes that said he was safe with him. Safe to be honest, safe to be embarrassed. And safe to feel sorry for himself after working on a film Damien had been embarrassed to take in the first place and had done so for all the wrong reasons: Money. A bigger career. To have a big box office hit.
His press-ready face broke a bit and his genuine sadness came out. He fell into Levi’s arms and sighed. And sighed again.
“This is how I cry,” Damien mumbled. “I sigh.”
“Sigh all you want to,” Levi told him, hugging him, rubbing his back, not judging him, and sharing his sadness. “I’m so sorry.”
And then, as if some type of Christmas movie-making magic, Levi softly said, “The important thing is. . .you did it for Track. Who cares what anyone else thinks?”
Damien’s phone vibrated yet again on his way to the premiere party being held on the Universal lot. In the studio-provided car with him were his publicity agent, business agent, assistant, and, sitting with his head against Damien’s chest, Track. In Track’s arms was Gretchen, Track’s new bear which he had dressed as a showgirl with a feather headdress, sparkly microphone attachment, and Gaultier-licensed costume with matching heels.
Damien delivered a courtesy glance at his phone to see who the messsage was from, intending to pocket it to read the message later.
When he saw it was an email, and the email was from Lee, he swiped open the message to read it immediately.
“Thank you so much for coming by on your big night and for bringing Track, as well. You seem so sad and I just want you to know that regardless of anything (How the movie turns out. . . Hell, how we turn out. . .) that you made my night tonight. I didn’t expect you to–and I didn’t want you to have to–give me a thought. I had already been having a nice day but seeing you walk into the store? Unplanned? Unexpected? (And looking so hot? You need to wear suits more often if for no other reason than the fun we can have taking them off)”
Damien chuckled deeply, noticed the adult eyes in the car had been drawn to him by his naughty laugh, and waved their eyes away to let them know he wasn’t sharing this tidbit.
“You just made my day. And, you know, you make Track’s day, every day. So, I hope this doesn’t sound trite but, know this: You made this movie with the best of intentions. If it is or isn’t a hit with audiences or critics, at the end of the day, maybe you can take some solace in the knowledge that when you–whether as Damien Lanchester or Dick Moore–walk into a room, you have two people who want to run into your arms. Track, who loves you because you’re a wonderful father. And me, who, less important than Track, just wants you to be happy and to know how special and wonderful you are. From your smile to your kisses to some things best left out of a text message, to the talks—the long, long talks–we have and the adventures I hope are yet to come. You are special, hit movie or not, to at least two people. You are wonderful, regardless. Even if you never made another film—and I know you start work on another this spring but still—you will always have two people who view you as the brightest star in the world. Please enjoy the party tonight half as much as I enjoyed our five or so minutes talking and kissing in the stockroom tonight. You deserve it. Sending you some of those virtual kisses you once told me about.”
“Is that Nanny?” Track asked. He always assumed Nanny or Damien were communicating to the other about him. They usually were; Damien always knew where the nanny and Track were, what they were up to, and where they were going next.
“No,” Damien gently told him., “It was Mister Lee.”
“You can talk to Mister Lee?” Track’s eyes and mouth opened with wonder.
“I talk to Mister Lee all the time.”
“Daddy! You never told me that!”
“Well, you never asked!”
“Daddy!” Track giggled and pretend smacked his face.
“And Mister Lee told me to give you this.” He gently and firmly held Tracks’ face and kissed the top of his head.
“Aw,” Track giggled. “I like Mister Lee!”
Damien tousled Tracks’ hair and asked the team seated opposite him, “How long do I have to be at this party? I’ve been promoting the hell out of this thing for months and it’s out tomorrow so why—”
Fearful of speaking first, the two men turned to his agent, who told him as she tiredly played with an earring, “Another two hours won’t kill you.”
He rolled his eyes. Just as sighing was his way of crying, Damien rolling his eyes was his way of cussing at the team in front of his child. Another two hours.
He turned to Track and asked the question he had been afraid to ask after the film’s credits ended and the applause had died away.
“Did you like Daddy’s movie?”
Track bounced Gretchen on his lap and, with the frank honesty of a child who doesn’t understand when to lie just yet, he said, “Uh-uh. No.”
“Neither did I. . .” Damien sighed. “Neither did I.”
After the press photos, the pretense of pride in the movie on display for reporters, after posing with the costars he had disliked working with, the director who had ruined whatever charm the film could have had, telling the producer someone, somewhere had royally fucked the whole thing up (the euphemism being the editor and director) as the script had been so charming and the film a fucking mess, after Track had played in the studio’s North Pole play area, built for all the children who had been invited to the premiere and the subsequent party, after they finally were driven home, and after Track was tucked into bed and the nanny alerted, Damien snuck out of the Hollywood Hills and into the basin.
Pantsless within minutes of pasing through Levi’s door—Levi liked Damien’s legs and hadn’t been kidding about how good Damien looked in a suit; so good looking only the pants came off. Now, in a moment so intimately casual, he sat on the floor of the crappy Hollywood apartment Levi lived in, his back against Levi’s sofa, Levi between his legs, his lips on Levi’s cheek. And they just sat there in the dark, the only light coming from the little gas fireplace–circa 1985 according to its turquoise and pink marble and its brass trim. No words. No sex. Not just yet. Just two men gently touching, kissing, and quiet in the company of the other, breathing in the air of the other, the warmth of one’s back against the warmth of one’s front, legs entwined, feet touching, hands finding their way to the lips of the other, each caressing the other’s arms and legs. Kisses quiet, soft, long. The sense of promised and eventual failure so prevalent in the Hollywood ether hanging in the small apartment’s air but, tonight, held at bay by the embraces and kisses of the bipolar man who, tonight, played caretaker to the wounded ego of the respected actor who had just squandered his talent for a badly-botched attempt at box office domination.
Damien’s aches of disappointment were far from over but, with his arms and legs braced about Levi, those pangs and pains felt a little less more than they had before.
Yes, Damien thought, his lips finding their way to where the back of Levi’s close-cut hair gave way to the ticklish flesh over his spine, there was something magic about Levi Hastings. If only. . .if only there were some way to help him. But how do you help someone whose enemy lives within?
Oh. . .to be able to save him, he thought as he squeezed him tight and pressed his lips against his flesh.