After the couple Levi had adorned with the moniker, Botchedface and Bitchface had left, after Levi and Damien sat in the resulting silence, Damien’s temper slowly rolled back. His grip on Levi’s hand slowly loosened until he realized what he had done. He made a small sound of apology and began rubbing life back into it.
Levi dared to say, “They were charming.”
Damien gave a short laugh. “Who the fuck does he think he is?” Damien asked angrily. “Typical hetero bullshit. You know heteros are all the same right? They say they respect our relationships and we’re equals but—look at them! He’s on his fourth marriage. Fourth! And her? A homewrecking whore. But I let them meet you. . .and they treat you like you’re shit on a shoe? No. Fuck them. Fuck all of them. No more.”
Levi placed his hand on Damien’s knee and rubbed it, back and forth, gently, as if to smother his anger with softness. And a possible hard-on.
“Jesus Christ,” Damien continued. “I had hope they’d be different. You know, in case you’ve wondered, I don’t have a lot of people I think of as ‘friend’s.”
Levi wanted to say, “Nor I” but this wasn’t about Levi. This was time to give Damien his time to think about himself. He instead said, “You should. You’re wonderful. You deserve to be surrounded by people who adore you.”
“Not in this town. God, I hate this fucking place. If it isn’t hangers-on offering oral sex or more for a fucking part or just to say they slept with you, it’s bullshit like that. Or gay friends who sleep with your boyfriend.”
“Hmm?” Levi asked.
“No, not you. Feder—my ex. Federico. My friends sure welcomed him. They welcomed him right up their ass. Some of them again and again, as I later found out. Gave new meaning to the phrase, ‘Come again’! Douchebags. They’re all assholes.”
The name rang a bell in Levi’s village. Who had mentioned someone by that name to him recently? Federico. Damien had never named any of his exes before; Levi had been attentively listening, waiting for any name. But that name Federico had come up recently. But not from Damien’s lips. Then again, it was Los Angeles. There were lots of Federicos, he told himself. Before admitting to himself that, until recently, sometime recently, he had never heard that name before.
Damien sighed. Knowing that was how Damien cried, Levi filed Federico away—maybe it was the title of an ABBA song and he just had it confused in his head; he had just suffered through Mama Mia not long ago—and pulled Damien’s head to his shoulder and placed his lips on Damien’s adorable eyebrows and his thumb on Damien’s scratchy with day-old whiskers, tight, lovely cheek.
“On the bright side. . .”Damien murmured. “Had Federico not been a slut. . .had my friends not have betrayed me by turning my boyfriend into a pass-around fuck buddy. . .’Take a hit!’. . .had I not found out about it all. . .I may never have found you. That night I came after you—remember? The night I scared you and we started this date we’re still on?”
“I think of it every night I leave the store,” Levi told him. “I’ve never had a better surprise than you, there, waiting for me.”
Damien smiled, took a hold of Levi’s stroking thumb, and kissed his soft palm. Snuggling into Levi’s neck, he said, “I was going to go to a club in West Hollywood. I told you that, right? Yeah. And I thought, ‘Ugh. I don’t want to run into those assholes. Federico or my former so-called friends.’ And I thought about you. How much I fucking adored you. Wanted to know you.”
Damien shifted in his seat, taking control as he was so prone to, and pulled Levi to him. “And I thought, ‘Why go to a club? You know who you’re looking for. And you know where he is’.”
His arm around Levi’s back squeezed him, prompting Levi to look at him. “You do know you make me happy, right?” Damien asked.
“Well, Damie. . .if I don’t know now, I’d be a pretty big idiot.” Levi loved how this made Damien laugh a quick little, embarrassed laugh. God, Candle, Flame, Buddha, Whatever. . . Damien was so damned adorable.
And the villagers, he noticed, were silent. No bell was ringing in a steeple. No citizens stamping in the public square. No protests, no panic. He took a breath, stared into Damien’s beautiful eyes, so full of apology, so full of explanation, so full of. . .yes, that was love there, hiding in the dark of his pupils and yet shining like a lighthouse on that dark sea upon which Levi was adrift. And his heart urged, “Say it. Say to him all that you feel, all you are afraid to say. Say all the words you aren’t supposed to say. Turn emotions into syllables, feelings into messages. Tell him how you love him, body, mind, and yes, even soul. How you will love him from now onto whatever comes thereafter. . .”
Damien’s face changed, softened, as he looked into Levi’s eyes, saw the lips about to move, saw a wall come down, that wall of flames Levi had unknowingly built and which stood in his eyes, always ablaze only to flicker away and extinguish from time to time when a momentary vulnerability would flicker within and the wall would fade into embers.
“Oh my God! You’re like Damien Fucking Lanchester, aren’t you?”
They were both jolted out of their own world, Levi’s unspoken words silenced and stillborn, back to Jean-Georges on the rooftop of Beverly Hill’s Waldorf-Astoria, where a few other tables had turned to look at them, now that one of those do-nothing-but-become-famous Beverly Hills aspiring celebrities, for whom vocal fry was an eloquent method of speech and all sentences went up at the end, had announced Damien’s presence.
They untangled themselves from one another, and Levi noticed Damien seemed dazed for the moment, and then an anger flashed across his face as he stared at the young intruder.
She rather drunkenly giggled. “Oh my God—it is you! How cool!”
“It is me,” Damien said, quietly. He clearly was struggling to be polite. “Miss—”
“Clarion. Venice Clarion. This is so wow.”
“I’m in the middle of a date right now and—”
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry! I just came over because, like, my friend Andromeda thinks you are so totally hot.” She pointed to an equally ludicrously dressed fashionista with no style at a nearby table.
“Well, I appreciate that but I—”
She aggressively stepped between them and turned to Damien. “Do you wanna come over and party with us?”
Damien literally bit his tongue. Levi had never seen anyone actually do that. He had always thought ‘bit his tongue” was a phrase or a colloquialism. Or was it am idiom? He should have paid better attention in school. But he had never see anyone literally bite their tongue. Just as he had never seen anyone “drop a house on that bitch” or a doctor actually hand someone a “clean bill of health”. Sure, the receptionist would hand them a bill, but not one of clean health. And what exactly was a whole new ball game, anyway? He had always wanted to see it raining cats and dogs but he would have preferred kittens and puppies. But as for someone literally biting their tongue? There it was. It was like Damien was stapling his tongue down so as to not embarrass the woman. So Levi stepped in.
“He’s trying to be polite because he’s a really nice guy” Levi told her, attracting her attention. “But we’re—”
“Who the fuck are you?”, Venice Clarion asked. But you couldn’t tell, because all her sentences sounded like they ended with question marks. “God? I don’t want to talk to you?”
“I am the one he fucks, that’s who the fuck I am.” Levi explained hotly. “And can you please, please let him have some privacy? I mean, I know we’re in public but. . .”
“I just wanted a selfie?” she explained by way of upspeak.
“I hate whoever invented smartphones,” Damien moaned, his head in his hands.
Levi instinctively rubbed Damien’s back as he looked up to the drunk Venice Clarion, and ushered her away like one would a little dog, like the tiny creature she had in her purse. “Go away. That’s right. Shoo.”
“Shoe?” The word confused her. She took a baffled step or two backwards, as if awaiting further instruction.
Levi stood between her and Damien and made hand motions that clarified he wanted her to walk back to her table. Airhead Sign Language, he called it.
“Shoo, I said. Shoo socialite, shoo.”
She made a face of disgust, as if no one had ever told her that even celebrities have private moments you might not intrude upon, and that to defend that moment was inexcusable. “Jesus Christ? What an asshole?” the aspiring fashionista complained as she turned away. “All I asked was if he was Damien Lanchester? Like, who cares? Fucking independent films? So depressing?”
Damien pulled Levi’s hand and guided him back to his seat. “Did she think you were telling her ‘shoe’? As in ‘footwear’?” He buried his handsome, red face, covered in laughter lines, in his sexy, strong hands, howling.
“I think so,” Levi said, rubbing his back, feeling his muscles even through the blazer, all those hard ridges that went up and down and now, jiggled with laughter.
“Oh my fuck,” Damien exhaled, leaning back in his chair, face to the stars. “Thank you.”
“Anytime you need me to be rude, you let me know. I’m very hostile inside and need an occasional vent.”
Damien stroked his face. “You are not hostile inside. You’re gentle and hurt and wounded and I want to coddle you and heal you. And that makes me appreciate that you just fought for me all the more.”
“I had to return the favor, “Levi said, nodding to the two empty seats at their table. “It’s you and me against the world.”
Damien appeared startled.
“What?” Levi asked.
“What you just said—”
Levi awkwardly repeated it, the villagers in his head in panic. “You spoke too soon!” one cried. Another howled, “Thou are a fucking idiot! Thou doth ruin everything!”
“It’s you. . .and me. . .against. . .?”
“The world.” Damien finished. “I was just telling that to Alicia. How with my exes, particularly Federico, it felt like it was me against the world-and against him. Like I didn’t have in him someone who would have my back. Like I always had to fight everyone off by myself. And he would pile on.”
“That’s how I felt with he who we only call X,” Levi said. “I’d have a bad day and instead of making it better. . .he’d make it worse.”
“And. . .here we are.” Damien pondered something. “Tell me. Can you put down your atheism to think, just for a moment, that maybe there is something called Fate? Maybe you and I were destined to meet?”
A smile broke out uncontrollably on Levi’s face. “Intelligently, no. But romantically? Yes.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Damien said. “You and me against the world.”
“Always,” Levi said.
“And you can put up with that nonsense?” Damien asked him, nodding toward the table where the drunken Venice Clarion sat bitching about nobody actors like Damien Lanchester with her friend Andromeda Nolastname. “Every private moment in public interrupted?”
“For you?” Levi asked, taking Damien’s hands in his. “Twenty-four seven.”
Damien’s eyes traveled from Levi’s eyes up to his hair, down to his lips, shoulders, chest, legs, and all over, washing over him in appraisal. Appreciation.
“I am one lucky guy,” Damien announced. “One lucky, lucky guy.”
“Can I ask a favor?”
“You know my rule.”
“This kills me, but I have to ask it.”
“Is this about if you don’t get that job?”
“No. Not about me at all,” Levi said. “I want you to make up with your friends, Bitchface and Botchedface. Matty Moveless Forehead and Whore Number Four.”
“Please. They’re over at the bar. I see them.”
“They were rude to you.”
“They’ll get used to me,” Levi reminded him. “I’m a bitter taste but one’s tongue acclimates eventually.” He saw Damien’s stolid face. “It took my parents eighteen years. Please. If you later want to dump them, do. But don’t dump friends over me. You loved them before I came along. And. . .you know what? They’ll love me eventually.”
Damien laughed. “You think?”
“Give it a lifetime or five.”
“I won’t tolerate them being rude to you.”
Levi kissed him. “But, for you, I will. Please, Damien. Go talk to them. I’ll apologize first, if that—”
“You don’t owe anyone an apology. He called you—that was uncalled for.”
“Okay. I won’t apologize. But if you let them leave, then it becomes ‘I’ll call them and apologize tomorrow’ or ‘next week’; or ‘next month’. As your professional retail store manager, allow me to teach you that efficiency is key to any store’s success. So be efficient now. It’s okay if you have friends who don’t like me.”
It was Damien’s turn to kiss Levi. “You’re an angel.”
“With a slight demonic side. Think of it this way: If your friends don’t like me, you never have to worry about them fucking my ass.” He emphasized, “Unlike Federico.”
Levi was never one to be above dogging his boyfriend’s exes with a sweetly innocent grin.
Damien now loved that about him, too.
“Let’s go talk to them,” Levi said, taking Damien by the hand. “Come on, hunk.”