“Apparently, you think I’m a slut,” Levi said, opening his apartment door to find Damien standing there the next afternoon. “That’s so sweet!”
Damien had, despite Levi’s direction not to, used Levi’s illness as an excuse to leave his mother’s house a few days earlier than planned and fly Track and himself back to Los Angeles. The nanny probably didn’t care to find her vacation cut short but, nevertheless, was ready to get back to taking care of Track– and cancel whatever parties she had planned to throw at Damien’s house the next few days. “You silly monkey,” Damien said, scolding him, embracing him, inhaling him and surrounding him. “You scared me.”
“I’m fine. I told you this morn—”
Laughing at himself, Damien interrupted, “I was up all night. You. Here. With your ex-boyfriend—”
“Friend with benefits and whose benefits have long been revoked,” Levi clarified.
“I can’t help it if I’m the jealous type,” Damien said. “You’re worth getting a little possessive over.”
Smiling into his brown eyes, Levi melted like chocolate. “Really?”
“A little.” How Levi loved it when, as he did now, Damien, wordlessly, stared into his eyes, grinned so adoringly, and ran one of his strong, heavy hands over Levi’s forehead and up, through his hair, holding his head. “You’re sure you’re feeling fine?”
“Just a little hot—” Levi told him, his awkward double-entendre skills in full awkward mode. “It started the minute I buzzed you into the garage. . .”
After they were done kissing and hugging and staring at each other in that lovey-dovey way which would have nauseated anyone in their proximity, Levi sighed and said into Damien’s delicious, comfortable neck nook, “You fucking flew all the way here from Denver because I had a flu-like something. And, look. It’s all over and I’m fresh as a gay daisy. A gay-sy, if you will.”
“Stop making fun of-“
“Oh, I’m not making fun of you,” Levi clarified. “I’m . . .I’m speechless with—” He so passionately wanted to scream, “I’m speechless with love because no one ever has done anything on that scale for me. And I know you can afford a last-minute plane ticket and that a thousand dollars is no big deal to you, like it is to me. But it’s the idea of it. The knowledge that you, even though I told you I was fine, flew back here to be sure I was. If I only thought I was in love with you before, trust me. . .now I know. I fucking know I love you.”
But the villagers who lived in his head, who reminded him of his past and especially of how X had played with him–tortured him, in fact for saying, “I love you” long before X eventually said it in some meaningless, throw-away way–threatened a mass murder of what few brain cells Levi had left. And so Levi simply said, “I’m speechless with. . .how thoughtful you are.”
“Ssh. That was no big deal,” Damien told him, cuddling him on the couch, his puppy dog eyes huge and enormous with proximity and an exaggerated plead for affection. “But I had to sit in coach the whole way,” he playfully whined. “Coach.”
Levi gasped with an exaggerated empathy. “Coach? Where there’s no leg room?”
Damien nodded, pantomiming tears. “Or warm cookies.”
“Oh.” Levi said, kissing his eyebrows. How he loved those beautiful eyebrows. “You did make a sacrifice.”
Damien wrapped Levi’s face in the frame of his hands. “I said I’d do anything for you, Levi. So. . .I flew coach.”
Perhaps it was because he was so happy to know that–at least until the spring, when Damien would have to go to Italy for a month and a week to film a movie he was co-producing, Damien and Track were back in Los Angeles–that his mood seemed so elevated. Not dangerously so—not the rat-a-tat-verbal-attack manic highs he had ascended to so often in the past, where one virtually needed a translator to keep up with him because a listener would be four sentences back, always trying to decipher what he had said a moment ago and losing what he was now saying and certainly missing all that he was about to say. But there was more pip in his pep, more click in his step, and more of gleam in his grin. He was aware of it, finding himself too happy and unable to sleep—even with the aid of two Klonopins.
Added to this happiness was his anxiety over the second interview with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He went into the interview anxious and cheerful. He left with a third—and he assumed—final interview appointment scheduled for the next week. A panel interview, he was told. But this second interview hadn’t felt was as victorious as the first. He feared the mania he was feeling–and trying to control by doubling up on a pill here or a pill there which he had determined helped bring him down rather than up–had peeked through the curtains—Peek a boo! Peek a boo! Let’s fuck up this interview!—in a few instances where he felt he had to grasp for answers he would normally have in his hands before the interviewer had half-finished their question. It was as if words were flying backwards through his head when he went to speak—oh, so many words—and he had to, at times, grasp them, turn them around, inspect them, decide if that word was just fine or if its synonym might work better, before he could answer some questions. But, other than a few moments like that, the interview seemed to go very well. But knowing that he had perhaps been smiling too much, perhaps had been too slow to answer some questions, and that he simply felt not crazy but. . .mildly crazed. . .he had a hard time joining in with Damien, who exuberantly celebrated the news that this second interview had landed him that third interview as if Damien himself had just won an award.
Levi did confide quietly to Damien, as they prepared dinner that night in Damien’s enormous restaurant-quality kitchen, “I can’t decide if I’m worried that I screwed it up or if I just want it so badly, I’m making myself fearful I screwed it up. Because I do want it. I can’t lose it.”
“I think it’s the latter, hon,” Damien told him, forgetting for now the meal they were cooking to give him his full attention. “I think you know you want it, you’re so close to having it—just one interview away, most likely—and you’re psyching yourself out.”
Levi wanted a cigarette. A drink. He didn’t even drink all that often but he wanted a glass of wine or a rum and Coke or a martini. Anything to eradicate that gnawing feeling that yes, the interviewers that afternoon had liked him but. . . they hadn’t loved him. In lieu of those, that reassuring hug and kiss and the weight of Damien grinding into him, giving him something to hold onto, were more than satisfactory substitutes.
After dinner, Levi resumed his self-ordained role as Levi, the Postulant from the Abbey. He had witnessed enough of the awkwardness between Track and Damien to see that as much as Damien loved his son, and as much as he played with his son, he wasn’t comfortable being silly or truly playful. Which was strange to Levi, because, when Damien was alone with him, Damien would tickle Levi, bury him in kisses, twist his voice into hysterical vocal imitations of celebrities, and make Levi giggle until his face turned red from lack of breath. Maybe, Levi wondered, it was because Damien had not known a father himself, having seen no father role enacted in his own life–or the dignity with which he had mostly, critical bomb but box office hit Santa Claus: Christmas Warrior aside, managed his career–that Damien felt torn between loving his son and being silly with him, felt he could play with Track but not be silly enough to really be Track’s playmate. It was as if he was afraid playing too much would eliminate his position as the ever-loving and guiding father. And so Levi continuously put Damien in positions where he had to play with his son.
“I know what you’re doing,” Damien had said to him one night after they had put Track to sleep and Levi had initiated a game Damien had to continue involving counting imaginary bubbles that each of them blew.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Captain Von Trappe,” Levi had said.
“Bullshit,” Damien had retorted before shutting them both up with a kiss that turned Levi on so much he thought his clothes would simply singe off him. But before they did, Damien whispered with a smile, “Just don’t use the drapes for play clothes. Those fuckers are custom.”
After dinner that evening, as Damien finished up a phone call with his agent—some screenplay the agent thought was great was being sent over to the house for Damien to give a once-over—Levi taught Track how to hide at the archway to the living room and to jump out, screaming.
Track had giggled so much at the secrecy with which Levi and Track conspired to scare his father that Damien was well aware of the upcoming surprise before he even left the kitchen. And when Track tackled his legs, screaming, “Boo!”, Damien laughed and scooped Track in his arms.
Until he saw Levi, who mimed fear and pointed at Track. Which is when Damien screamed, “Aargh!” and fell to the floor with dramatic flourish that would not have won him that damned Oscar but maybe an Emmy, at least convincing his son he had been terrified. There, he hugged and kissed and tickled Track, who, giggling delightedly over having frightened his daddy, kissed his father back and put his tiny arms around Damien’s neck as if to never let go.
By the firepit that evening, bundled up in a giant throw chenille blanket against the January chill, Track exhausted and an hour from the Dreamland Express sitting on Levi’s lap and resting his head on Damien’s chest, sat up suddenly.
“Mister Lee! Did Daddy tell you? Bout how in Col-rado, I played in the snow? And did some skedding?”
“Sledding,” Damien gently corrected him. Track ignored him and, over Track’s head, Mister How-Do-You-Solve-A-Problem-Like-Levi-Hastings gave him a “You didn’t need to correct his speaking,” mini-gaze. Damien apologetically ran his hand through Track’s hair, making both Track and Levi smile.
“He did,” Levi told Track. “He said you had lots and lots of fun in the snow.”
“I wish you was there! Did you ever go? I rode with Daddy on his horse. And we had snowball fights!”
“He won,” Damien confessed.
Track giggling triumphantly, continued, “I did! I trew the snowballs and I hit him. Poof! Poof! Poof! Didn’t I, Daddy? Hit you with the snowballs?”
“Oh, you did! I could barely walk the next day.” He leaned in and whispered to Levi, “He kept hitting my nuts.”
“We shall henceforth call him Little Nutcracker,” Levi whispered back.
“What you two saying?” Track asked quizzically.
“Tell me more about your snow,” Levi said, tickling him gently and making his showgirl teddy bear dance before him.
“Daddy made me a snow fart.”
Levi gave Captain Von What the Fuck a baffled look. “A snow what?”
Track explained, “An ickloo. And, um—Oh! Daddy! The doggy!”
“Oh—that was the best!” Damien cried, his head thrown back, laughing.
“Granny-Mama has a big dog and I was out in the yard. And I was on the sled and I had the doggy leash—” Track started to explain. “And the doggy? And the doggie? He pulled me all the way. All the way down the hill. It was so funny!”
“It was. . .”, Damien agreed. “My mother has this huge downward slope in her backyard—it would be a great place to teach people how to ski, it’s so steep. So I’m filming this one here sitting on his little sled—one of those round disc things, you know—and my mother’s malamute comes by and he has his leash dragging in the snow. I don’t think much of it; my mother sometimes forgets to take his leash off when he’s in the house so half the time, he’s got a leash on—in or out. But this one here grabs the leash and—Bam!—we’re off to the races. Vader—as in Darth—bolts down the hill—”
Track was laughing at this and explained to Levi, “—And I go all the way down!”
“Yes! Him and his sled—Boom!—they are racing down this hill, Vader barking like he’s just been freed from prison or something and Tiny Chariot Racer here is howling, laughing—”
“I wasn’t scared at all!”
“But I was! I go running after him, swearing at the dog and sliding down the hill because I’m thinking this dog is never gonna stop—and he has my son!”
“Oh, Jesus,” Levi cried, loving how tears of laughter were filling Damien’s eyes.
“So I’m racing like crazy and I’m swearing and shouting at the dog—which is probably making the dog run faster because he knows he’s in trouble. But I can’t catch up. All I can see is this insane dog, followed by this red circle that my son is riding in. And I can hear Track laughing and laughing—I mean, howling–like this is the funniest thing in the world.”
“It was!” Track giggled. “It was funny, Daddy!”
“Oh, I wish I had seen that,” Levi confessed his eyes darting between Track and chuckling Damien.
“Then you’ll be extra thankful,” Damien said as he dug under their shared blanket, “That there is—VOILA!—phone video!”
“Oh, you do have to see this,” the proud father said, reaching under the blanket to dig his phone out of his pocket. “I can’t believe I didn’t show it to you already.”
And together, the three of them watched the video on Damien’s phone’s screen, laughing and giggling.
Like a family, Levi allowed himself to dream, even if just for a moment. What a beautiful life this could be.
“If only I wasn’t sick,” he thought.
“Oh, stop being a downer,” he told himself. “You’ll be fine.”
But the villagers in his head were rioting. “You are so sick you’ll never be able to have a family. Enjoy this while it lasts. You’ll be going nuts and ruining it all any day now.”
He snuggled up against Damien and hugged Track to him tightly.