Damien had learned to expect the unanticipated when it came to Levi Hastings, but even with some Levi-xperience under his 31-inch belt, he had never expected to answer a phone call only to hear Levi tell him, “I’m pregnant and it’s yours.”
“We can’t afford it! The kid goes up for adoption.”
“But I wanna keep it!” Levi bellowed.
“No way, Levi. I have my whole life ahead of me. Just about to graduate the twelfth grade at twenty-nine. I’ve got a football scholarship to Clemson! I’m engaged to my sister–”
“My daddy’s gonna be so mad at you after what you done to me, taking my virginity all those times and now look whatchu did.”
“I knocked you up.”
“Exactly. Now what are we gonna call it?”
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“It’ll make up its own mind; it’s 2019.”
“Can we pretend it’s a boy?”
“We can pretend my pretend pregnancy is anything. So, yes. A boy we shall call ‘Oscar’. ‘Oscar’ as in ‘Academy Award’. ‘Academy Award’ as in ‘Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’. ‘Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ as in who just called me and—”
Damien shouted into his phone, happy as a man being told his wife is having a long-desired baby. “Yes! You got the job!”
Levi matched his enthusiasm and scream, “No! I didn’t get the job!”
Damien sounded deflated. “What?”
Levi maintained his enthusiastic tone. “I got another interview!”
“How many fucking interviews are they going to make you go through? Sitting through ‘Twilight’ was less painful than this. Not by much but–”
“I have no idea. They apologized, said some folks had been on vacation and as everyone on God’s green earth knows, the building has had delay after delay anyway but I have what was called ‘a final interview’ being scheduled.”
“That’s the funny part. They didn’t schedule it. They were just giving me a heads-up that they’d be calling to schedule it.”
“They called you to tell you that someone would call you?”
“That’s so Hollywood of them. Are you excited?”
“Not as excited as when I see you but, yes, excited and relieved.”
“Speaking of which, where are you?”
“Culver City. Or Marina Del Ray? That weird area on Washington just west of the 405. Having lunch with Kyle.”
“No way. I’m just pulling out of Culver Studios.”
“Got any plans?”
“Getting naked and climbing into bed with a hot man sounds nice. You available?”
“I’ll check with my boyfriend. Am I available?”
“Yes. Please let him fuck your brains out so hard you think Trump is a good president.”
“Political humor and sex? Oh, I am in.”
“Great to hear. Your place, mine, or a public park somewhere?”
“How about a nice sleazy motel? Like one of the ones on Sunset near La Brea?”
“Too classy for what I want to do to you. How soon can you get to my den of carnal knowledge?”
“Say. . .two and a half hours?”
“Are you in the Marina Del Ray/Culver City area in Los Angeles or somewhere in Virginia?”
“Traffic. And after this I want to bring Kyle to Ralph’s for some groceries.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“And a good fuck.”
“No, that would be you, baby.”
“Stop. You just got me so hard I have a wet spot on my pants. Get to my place before I explode.”
“Don’t explode, Damien. I have a personal thing against instantaneous combustion.”
When Levi disconnected the call, Kyle was doing his best to give him a look of disgust.
“You two have no idea how obnoxious you are together, do you?” Kyle asked him. “Of all the happy couples I’ve ever been around? You two are the worst. The absolute fucking worst.”
Javad and Levi had been friends for almost a year; they had met online and briefly dated following Levi’s break-up with X. They had discovered rather quickly that they really didn’t like each other very much but that they did have a shared love of classic cinema. So, while an appreciation for film noir and screwball comedy and lavish musicals and high melodrama did not a relationship make, a friendship it did. Or at least, a movie-going friendship. They rarely saw each other outside of a shared bucket of popcorn with extra butter.
Part of this had to do with Levi being intimidated by Javad. Not only was Javad darkly handsome, with his Iranian looks of chiseled stone and heavy brows, but, when Levi had met Javad, Javad mentioned that, in addition to English, he spoke Farsi. Levi had never even heard of that language; he, like most people he knew in Atlanta, had assumed everyone in the Middle East spoke Hebrew. He had even asked Javad that: “Is Farsi another name for Hebrew?”
He learned quickly that you never confuse Farsi with Hebrew.
This ability of Javad—to communicate in two languages—intimidated Levi. He was, of course, surrounded in Los Angeles by countless people who spoke numerous languages: at least half the neighbors in his apartment building would be overheard speaking Russian or Armenian as they lounged by the bathtub-sized pool, to say nothing of all those he knew who spoke both English and one of the Latin languages. Hell, Kyle had to learn to read Braille not that long ago. But those languages—aside from Braille, which baffled him to no end–Levi dismissed as being not so intimidating. He felt that the Baltic, Latin, and European languages all more or less shared the same alphabet as English so in his eyes they couldn’t be that much more difficult to learn. (Though he himself was still fluent only in English and the “Janine is a girl” level of French.) When Javad showed Levi a book printed in Farsi and Levi’s eyes fell upon all those wind-swept swirls and dots, he had made the matter worse by asking, “Oh. So it’s like Japanese?”
What he had meant was that the Japanese language, and the Chinese language and the other various Asian languages were viewed by Levi with awe. Those were definitely not the 26 letters of the English alphabet. Whole words, as Levi understood it, existed in one symbol. Those languages, Levi thought, were so much harder to master. And he viewed anyone who could do so—and then also be fluent in English?—as heads, shoulders, knees, and ankles above him in intelligence.
“No,” Javad had snapped, “Farsi is not like Japanese!” And to Javad, Levi assumed, Levi was a typical uncultured idiot.
So their relationship never really got off the ground—which had broken Levi’s heart because he had really, really wanted to get into bed with Javad (so, it wasn’t really Levi’s heart that had been broken; more so his penis). But a friendship between the two had remained, of sorts. They rarely spoke until they needed to make plans to see a movie, becoming one another’s movie companion. To do otherwise would require Levi to stumble over words as his feet had recently taken to stumbling over non-existent objects.
Javad, unlike so many of Levi’s alleged friends, actually asked Levi questions about Levi, did not just start off, conduct, and conclude entire conversations about just himself. But his gaze was so strong and intimidating any question Javad asked made Levi feel like a moron. If Javad asked him, “How was the weather in your neighborhood yesterday?”, Levi felt he had to supply an answer filled with terms like “cumulous clouds” and “humidity level” and “barometric pressure” when all Javad was asking was, “Did it rain in your neighborhood? Driving yesterday was a real bitch.”
“What are you tripping over?” Javad asked him in the alley-like courtyard of the Egyptian.
They had just come in off Hollywood Boulevard, walking from Hollywood and Highland between crowds of tourists, homeless people, street musicians, and megaphone-using preachers, when Levi had seemingly stumbled over something and steadied himself with a grip on Javad’s arm.
Javad’s stonelike muscle of an arm. Another way Javad intimidated him; Javad actually enjoyed going to the gym, something Levi viewed as some type of torture created by the more sadistic members of the gay community.
“Sorry,” Levi said as they both looked back at the invisible thing Levi had tripped over. “I don’t know why I tripped. I’m clumsy these days,” he said laughing uneasily.
This had been happening quite a bit lately. Always his right foot. Like it would occasionally drag. Or not move in time with the rest of his body, a faulty booster rocket misfiring on his space shuttle.
“I’ve told you and told you,” Javad said with a wink, patting the hand Levi still had on his upper arm, “Stop flirting with me.”
“How can I resist,” Levi said with an eyeroll, “a man who speaks better English than I?”
“I’m telling you, it’s ‘me’. I’m smarter than you. Trust me.”
“This is why,” Levi reminded him, “You and me are friends who do not fuck.”
“That and I’m not interested.”
“For that, you buy the popcorn and the drinks.”
“Popcorn and drinks? Isn’t that a high-end date in your book? Time for you to put out?”
“Okay, Javad. Now you’re buying the tickets, too.”
And, insulted and teased, Levi then got a great afternoon of several movies, popcorn, a soda, a bottled water, and a box of melted Junior Mints. And all without having to pay a cent.
“Have you ever heard of a film called, ‘Double Wedding’?” Levi hurriedly asked Damien when they had a late-night dinner at Providence, Damien devouring the rockfish and Levi the duck from the stylish restaurant’s tasting menu. Damien had been working out of his production company’s rented office space on the Paramount lot, having meetings regarding the film shoot in Italy—to take place after he shot the remake of “Penny Serenade” in Atlanta– while Levi had been at the William Powell-Myrna Loy film festival at the Egyptian Theater.
“We have to get you a copy,” Levi continued, “I know you’re always looking for properties to buy and from about ten minutes in, I just kept thinking, ‘Somebody should remake this; it’s so smart’. And I know you’re probably over remakes, what with you about to film ‘Penny Serenade’ and all but you like smart comedy, right? And really—this thing was just so, so witty.”
“Powell and Loy. Was it one of the Thin Man movies?” Damien asked.
“No, no. It’s one of the movies they made that weren’t in the Thin Man series; that’s what today’s films were focused on: the non-‘Thin Man’ films they made together. And it’s about this bum artist—William Powell–who lives in a trailer. He’s like a dilettante—he’s a painter, he’s a screenwriter. Very Bohemian. And he has these two aspiring actors, a man and women who are engaged to be married—but they’re not really in love with each other; it’s more a pre-arranged marriage as she’s from this very upper-tier society family. Well, the woman’s sister is Myrna Loy. She’s this dress designer, and the sister of the engaged woman. Very controlling and not at all liking the idea of her sister and future husband hanging out with William Powell. Loy just hates, hates hates this Powell guy. So she bribes him to go away—and he eventually agrees—but only if she, Loy, allows him to paint a portrait of her. And, of course, he falls in love with her—”
“Of course!” Damien laughed.
“Well, I’m not doing a good job of explaining it but I’ll look it up and see if its streaming anywhere or—”
“You’re doing fine. And I can probably get us a copy somewhere,” Damien reminded him.
“Oh, that’s right!” Levi said, sitting up taller and grinning comically with an exaggerated sense of importance. “You have connections!”
As Damien chuckled, Levi slyly added, “Speaking of which—”
“I need your help.”
“So long as I don’t have to spend three hours in coach again, anything.”
“Since when are there now conditions on your ‘anything for you’ promise?”
“Ever since I sat on a plane for three hours in coach a few weeks back.”
“I didn’t tell you to do that.”
“I did it anyway.”
“But it shouldn’t count.”
“Who’s making these rules?”
“I make the rules.”
“Says me, that’s who says.”
Levi was silent.
Damien taunted him with a grin. “Struggling for a comeback?”
“Trying to decide how long I can punish you by withholding blow jobs before it turns into punishment of myself more so than you.”
“Hmm. Let’s see if you can make it through dinner.”
“I’m trying. But doubtful I’ll last the meal without getting under this table.”
“So—what other than flying coach can I do for you, my sweet green eyes?”
“Even though I’m now going on interview number four. . .I’m really afraid I fuc—er, messed up that third interview.” (One does not say “fuck” at Providence. “Blow jobs” was fine. But not “fuck”.)
“If you really do. . .I’ll get someone to get in touch with someone.”
“No, no. Not that,” Levi told him. “I just need you to tell me everything will be alright, even if I don’t get the job.”
“I’ve said that so often I feel like I’m acting on a tv drama. Like I play a teacher who says the same thing in every episode. My life is sounding like a rerun.”
“But I need to hear it again. That you’ll not think I’m a loser. Because I’ll feel like such a worthless shit if I don’t get this.”
“You are not worthless—”
“That’s all I needed to hear.”
“–And you’re not a shit.”
“Sssh. We’re in Providence.”
“Shit, fuck, damnit, cum, jizz, clitoris, huge motherfucking anal beads.”
Levi laughed so suddenly and loudly—that dog bark of a laugh of his—that diners across the restaurant were drawn to the two of them.
“Nothing changes,” Damien promised him, “Whether you get that job or not.”
The villagers in his head were threatening to burn down the whole god-damned village if Levi said what was working its way up from his heart to his lips. Thankfully, before Levi could say, with his eyes dreamily cast upon Damien, “I love you, I love you, I love you”, Damien sipped his wine and playfully told Levi, “And if it doesn’t work out, we can always make you a producer on a remake of ‘Double Wedding’. . .”
Oh, how Levi wanted to say, right there, right then, “I love you, Damien Lanchester and I will do anything in the world for you if you’ll just let me always be by your side.” But the villagers had their tiki torches and gasoline ready to go so he said nothing.
“Oh sure. From teddy bears to producing movies,” Levi said dismissively. “Hollywood will really embrace that.”
“Well. . .it was your idea,” Damien said. “That right there earns you points.”
Levi didn’t know what points were. He assumed Damien meant some type of kinky mental sexual checklist. As in three points equals a testicle tickle. Five points equals an invasion by a finger puppet.
Damien swiped some duck from Levi’s plate and indicated he wanted Levi to try the rockfish. “So, seriously. Think for a moment. Would that movie work as maybe a gay romantic comedy?”
“How do you mean?”
“If the four leads you were talking about—Myrna Loy, the artist, her sister and the guy she’s engaged to. If they were all gay men or all lesbians—would it still work? Or would it work if just the Myrna Loy and William Powell character were the same gender and gay?”
“Hmm. Good question. I think so. Yeah. Because Myrna Loy’s character has no kids. Never wants to—I mean, there’s nothing that says’ this character must be a woman.’ It could easily be a gay man. I think it would be funnier to keep the couple in the arranged engagement separate genders, though. Why are you—”
“I just think. . .if we were to do something—”
“What do you mean?”
Damien was so sexy, Levi thought, when he got to thinking. As his thoughts slowly percolated out of him, like a pot of smart and savvy coffee Levi just wanted to sip and sip. “If I were to like this movie and find who has the rights and if I decided, yes, I wanted to remake it. . .If it’s as funny as you say. . . .why should the hets have the exclusive on love stories?”
“Because the gay ones end up produced for ten bucks and hidden on streaming services. And the credits usually read like, ‘Written by, Produced by, Catered by, Wardrobe Designed by, Score Composed and Conducted by, and Starring. . .This Asshole.’”
“That’s because there’s no money behind them. But there have been gay hits. ‘Love, Simon’. ‘Brokeback Mountain.’. . .”
“’The Greatest Showman’.”
“That’s not a gay movie. It just has Hugh Jackman and Zac Effron singing a duet—”
“Huh. I guess it may be a gay movie after all. Let’s see: Oh–’Bohemian Rhapsody’. . .”
Damien locked eyes with him. “Maybe it’s time the gay movies stopped being dramas about acceptance or rejection or gay bashing. . .and we got ourselves a well-produced, high-end romantic screwball comedy.”
He leaned across the table.
“Let’s go home and see if we can track down this film you love so much.”
Because the villagers would not let him say, “I am so in love with you, I could sing an aria.”, under the table, Levi rubbed his ankles against Damien’s calves appreciatively.