Damien and Track were both in Colorado, visiting Damien’s mother for Christmas. This excursion out of town had caused the long first date that Damien and Levi continually continued to extend to be extended, yet again, via telephone calls and text messages—also, yet again–and, to Levi’s delight, wonderfully worded, lovely, and deeply arousing e-mails. They had been talking about how funny Damien felt—how he always felt—when back home visiting his mother and his brother; as if he had never moved away, never had any success, but was again a disappointment to his mother and a passably-liked but annoying sibling to his bipolar brother, a successful Denver-based business consultant. Speaking almost in a whisper and trying to shush his own laughter, he explained to Levi, “It’s as if I have a curfew or something. So I have to be quiet; my mother might come in my room and tell her forty-three year old son it’s too late to be on the phone.” Levi howled, imagining Damien—suave, chic, so serious and intelligent Damien—hiding under a blanket in a too-small bed in an attempt to have a clandestine phone call.
“Is it like this with your parents?”. Damien asked. His apology was immediate, “Shit, Lee. I’m sorry.”
Levi blew it off with an audible whistle. “Don’t worry about it. The Disney orphan is fine.” When they had started this first date, way back whenever that had been, once upon a time, Levi had answered Damien’s questions about Levi’s family by explaining that, like most Disney protagonists, his parents were both dead. He was, he explained lightly, a Disney orphan. That he had explained this at the Snow White Café was somewhat fitting, in retrospect.
“I do have some news,” Levi told him.
“Did you and the Academy finally connect?”
Levi and the person from HR at the Academy Museum had been playing telephone tag, missing one another’s calls, for over a week. Levi had begun to think they were playing with him like a dysfunctional boyfriend, calling, leaving a message, yet never able to talk when he called back.
“We did,” Levi said, nervously but excitably adding, “I have an interview next week.”
“Fantastic!” Levi could hear Damien hit the bed in victory. “I’m so happy for you. Really! This is something you want, right?”
“It is,” Levi assured him. “Oh, if this works out—”
“It will.” Damien interrupted, firmly, a smile on his voice.
“When this works out, it will just be so nice to go to work, feeling like a professional again. No uniform. No teddy bears. No occasional looks from people wondering why I’m working in a toy store at my age—”
“Oh, yeah. You’re ancient,” Damien teased him. “I’ve been meaning to ask, when are you going to retire, pappy?”
Levi ignored him with a laugh. He paused. He felt like such a loser and an embarrassment. He knew his friend Amber thought lowly of how he was supporting himself. He could only imagine that, despite his endless protestations, Damien must certainly feel the same way. And so, just in case, he wanted Damien to know he was at least trying to fix that. “It’s not just that, though. I don’t want you to be embarrassed by me.”
“Jesus, Lee. I can’t tell you enough: I am not embarrassed by you. Enough with this fixation you have on thinking where you work is some horrible place. Lee, I went crazy for you when I saw you in that store. Don’t be ashamed of it. Hell, I used to paint houses and drive a cab before—and for awhile after—I made a few movies and. . .I don’t care where you work and, for the last time, I am not embarrassed by you. I mean it: The last time. Don’t make me say it again.”
Damien, as usual, punctuated his firm words with a smile that carried along the telephone wires or digital signals or moonbeams and rainbows –whatever it was that now transmitted voices in one distant location to ears in another. It made Levi smile but, still, he apologetically told Damien, “We live in a culture where the first thing anyone asks after ‘What is your name?’ is ‘What do you do for a living?’ And sometimes, Damie, you know they ask the job question before they even ask your name. You know that’s true, particularly in L.A. Your friends will think I’m nothing.”
“My friends will think you’re everything or they won’t be my friends any longer. I mean that.” There was a quiet space then, and Damien added, “I need you to start thinking you’re everything, too. You’re more than you give yourself credit for.”
“Well. . .regardless. I’m not digging for compliments and thank you. That—as always—was really nice. I appreciate it. But I do need a more serious job. If not for you, then definitely for me.”
“You don’t need to do anything for me,” Damien promised. “You just be you. That’s who I have this insane crush on, damnit.”
“I love when you say ‘damnit.”
“Damnit, damnit, damnit, then. Damnit, damnit, damnit.”
“Sssh. Your momma’s gonna come in and punish you,” Levi playfully admonished him. “’Look at you–staying up late. Talking on the phone to strange men. Cussing like trash! You’re gonna turn out mighty badly if you keep this nonsense up, young man!’” He couldn’t help but laugh himself at the sound of Damien’s giggle. “Anyway, if I get this job—”
“When. . .” Damien stressed, correcting him.
“When I get this job,” Levi began again, “It will be so nice to be able to say something about being a manager at the Academy. It just sounds so much more professional and respectable. So much better than, ‘I stuff teddy bears.’”
“You make memories for families,” Damien corrected him. “Fuck what anyone else thinks.”
“Did you kiss your mama goodnight with that mouth?” Levi asked.
“I did but saying ‘fuck’ is hardly the least shocking thing I’ve done with my mouth, in case you need remembering, my sweet.”
He did not. “I fucking love when you talk like a 1940’s screen villain.”
“Are you getting turned on. . .my sweet?”
“Damie. . .I’ve been turned on since the day we met.”
“If I weren’t in my mother’s house right now, the naughty things I’d say to you over this line.” He suddenly stopped. After a moment, he added, in a whisper, “I swear my mother just walked by my bedroom. She’s going to bust in here in a minute.”
“Do I need to let you go, oh passionate paramour of my pants?”
Damien took a moment to reply, whispering, “We’ll wait til she comes in to ask who I’m talking to.”
“Oh, I can imagine your reply!” Levi said, “’Ma, I’m talking to this crazy guy I know back in L.A. He’s extremely horny and likes it when I cuss.’”
“Ssh, you little monkey. This is why I should have stayed in a hotel, even if the nicest one is two hours away in Denver.”
“Aw. I like that you stay with your mom. That’s sweet. Heck, I wish I were there with you. In your tiny little bed.”
“That would be nice,” Damien said, and his voice sounded so dreamily amorous, so fantastically romantic. “I have to tell you, I realize now that my big bed at home? That is way too much real estate. What do you say I replace it with a twin? You’ll have to hang on to me all night in order not to fall off the edge.”
“Not that I need an incentive to hang onto you,” Levi said quietly, “with that great chest of yours . . .and that happy trail. And those legs. . .those motherfucking incredible legs. . ..Those legs I like to run my lips down. . .”
“Oh, Lee, stop. You’re making me hard.”
“Well, in that case, I have a favor to ask.”
“I’d rather you keep making me hard. . .”
“It’s about the interview.”
Damien laughed. “You’re just all over the place tonight, aren’t you?”
“I’m a conversational Speedy Gonzalez.”
“Speedy Gonzalez is now viewed as a racist stereotype,” Damien informed him.
“I’m a conversational cocaine-addled cartoon mouse,” Levi stated by way of political correctness.
“Proceed, my dear.”
“Well—it’s this interview. I just don’t want this to be one of those Flashdance scenarios, you know? Where I go in and get the interview—but then I find out you asked somebody to move me along and I get mad at you for doing that—and I get angry just as we’re coming back from a lobster dinner and I demand to be let out of the car which is in a tunnel and you don’t stop the car so I open the door and get out anyway and I start screaming and throw my shoe at you.”
“Dear cocaine-addled mouse, I have zero idea what you’re talking about.”
“You never saw Flashdance? Oh, Damien. Not every movie has to be about human trafficking, leukemia, or an existential quest. Flashdance. It’s one of the greatest bad movies ever made. See, this steelworker wants to be a ballerina and—”
“I know what Flashdance is about. I just don’t get the reference about the car and the tunnel and throwing your shoe at me.”
“Never mind that. The point is—”
“Oh? There’s a point?”
“Yes,” Levi sang back at him, “There’s a point. And it’s this: If you are in any way tempted to help me by contacting someone you might know at the Academy who can push me along. . .,please don’t. Really. I do really want this job. Sincerely, really, truly. But I need to know that I can get it on my own.”
After a lengthy pause, Damien said, simply, “Okay.”
After an equally lengthy, hesitant pause, Levi pleaded, “You promise?”
“I promise. I don’t know anyone at the museum, anyway. It’s a really easy promise to make and keep. I can’t do shit to help you.”
“But you know people at the academy—”
“Yes, I do. But I won’t. I won’t say a word. But—” a pause was followed by a gentle tone in Damien’s voice, “This town operates on the who-you-know premise. And if you think I can help. . .and you want me to help. . .I will. I’ll get someone I know to pull some strings with someone they know. I will do anything for you. Do you know that?”
He was not used to having people in his corner. Not used to having people who would willingly fight a battle on his behalf. There were times he felt like a feral cat in that regard: some people might put out treats but no people were trusted to be kind or good. X had certainly reinforced that lesson, leaving him ready to hiss and spit at anyone who got too close and to view with distrust anyone who tried to help him. His refusal to let X influence his relationship with Damien had allowed Levi to get as close to Damien as Damien allowed—and that had been surprisingly close, and with surprising speed. But he still hadn’t expected Damien’s being willing to help him. He smiled, wished Damien could see his smile, know how much he appreciated him, and said, “I know now.”
“Well, I mean that,” Damien said with finality. Concealing a yawn, he added, “I wish you were here so I could give you that promise and a kiss.”
“In your tiny little bed?”
“In my tiny little bed.”
“There’s no place, Damie, that I’d rather be on this earth. Now, or in the past, or in the future.”
“Oh, Levi. . .”, Damie moaned. “My little blond-haired, green-eyed monkey. . .The things that are going to happen to you when I get back to L.A. . . .”