Topanga Seed (Ch. 54)

“Here,” Levi said to Javad, “Can you get the money out of my wallet?” By way of quick explanation, he added, “I hurt my hand.”

The truth Levi wasn’t telling was that the mysterious tremors in his right hand had become significantly more noticeable and now an on-again/off-again lack of dexterity had appeared. When trying to turn a page in a magazine or separate one dollar from another, his thumb and forefinger seemed unable to thread through and separate the pages or bills. They moved but didn’t grip tightly enough. It had first come to his attention the other day, at the store, when making change for a customer who had paid cash. Levi had blamed his slowness at making change on, “New dollars” and the customer had emphatically groaned, “Ugh. I hate how they stick together” only to be surprised that the bills Levi gave her weren’t actually new and they really didn’t stick together at all.

He hadn’t shared this with Damien, who he knew would announce, “Another item for the list”. Damien would be coming back to Los Angeles next week for Levi’s appointment with his psychiatrist and Damien had protectively already accumulated items for another paper trail of issues Damien had with the side effects Levi’s prescriptions made him vulnerable to. Like a good boyfriend, Damien was there, the jingle in Levi’s head went. Before he could be, though, a whole series of troop movements had been made necessary, even though Levi had told Damien he didn’t need to come back for a doctor’s appointment.

“I can FaceTime you,” Levi had explained. “We have something called technology now.”

“I said I would be there and I will,” Damien told him. He hated FaceTime as much as Levi hated emojis. That is, Damien hated FaceTime or any type of video call except when Levi and Damien used it for the occasional dose of long-distance phone sex. Damien was fine with that then. But to use for a doctor’s appointment and avoid two cross-country flights?

A pointless technology.

To make it all happen, Damien and Alicia had worked out which days Damien would not be needed on-camera or for publicity. And then, with those consecutive dates determined, Levi went to town on his psychiatrist’s receptionist who—despite Levi’s best attempt at beguiling sweetness, insisted there were no slots open on either of those days.

Thankfully, Levi’s doctor remained a huge Damien Lanchester fan and another patient without movie-star friends was bumped to accommodate after Levi reminded the receptionist who would be accompanying him. “My costar for this appointment is Damien Lanchester, if that helps any,” Levi had mentioned. And, once Levi had a psychiatrist appointment scheduled alongside Damien’s days in Los Angeles, Damien arranged for his mother to come from Colorado to Atlanta, allowing Track to not go through two cross-country flights in two days by staying in Atlanta with the nanny and his grandmother while Damien would be back in Hollywood. But, as much as Levi was thankful he didn’t have to get on another flight himself this week, and as excited as he was at the idea of he and Damien being alone for two days, he also hoped Damien would fail to see this latest side effect, this pharmaceutical special effect. His eyes were already zoomed in on the tremors; he had brought them up to the doctor himself as a concern. But if he knew Levi had trouble with things like turning a page in a book or separating one dollar from the other. . .he’d have a fit.

“What did you do to your hand?” Javad asked after he had paid for the tickets to the showing of Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ and returned Levi’s wallet to him.

“Oh, nothing. It’ll be fine,” Levi said, waving the matter off and wishing Damien were here in town. Damien was an enormous Chaplin admirer; he had shared with Levi that he had been devastated years before when Robert Downey Jr. had walked off with the role he himself had wanted so badly to play. He had been a bit young for the part and hadn’t been mainstream enough then, having been in only a few films at the time the biography was shot, and the film had needed a name star above the title. Not that Downey did a bad job or coasted on celebrity. Damien could cast his own disappointment and professional jealousies aside to admire what Downey had accomplished on-screen.

He just felt—as did Levi, after Damien shared the story with him—that Damien could have done it better.

Damien would have loved to see Chaplin’s film on the big screen at the Fine Arts, Levi thought sadly. He loved watching Damien laugh, loved watching him watch films. When they sat together at a play, movie, or in the home theater, he would watch Damien in an almost paternalistic daze, able to see for just a few moments the exuberance and reverence with which Damien lost himself in a movie, his eyes glittering with admiration and abandon. The way he laughed—a creaking smile giving way to a loud guffaw—and the mirth that brought little pools under his eyes—was always more fascinating to Levi than even Levi’s favorite films. Oh, how he wished Damien were here with him on Wilshire, heading into the tiny refurbished old movie house with its new, red velvet seats and the curtain-scalloped screen up ahead. Not that he didn’t appreciate Javad’s friendship. But he was missing Damien so much, always lonely in that big house, and now here, at a Chaplin—

“Shit!”

It was as if he had tripped over something knee-height and the trip and resultant confusion sent him spilling to the carpet. But after he pushed himself up off the floor, looking back, he expected to see something—a broom and dustpan, a “wet floor” sign–he saw there was nothing there.

People around him were staring and Javad helped him to his feet. “Is there a bump in the carpet?” Javad asked, eyeing the floor with suspicion and running a foot over where Levi had tripped, expecting to find a carpeted bubble but finding smooth, flat floor.

“I’m fine,” Levi told him and the manager who raced over to him. “It’s—It’s nothing. I tripped over my own feet. I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to see here,” he muttered loudly to those who were still looking and, to the young woman giggling, “Or to laugh at.”

He knew his face was reddening and he had a hard time meeting Javad’s eyes. People probably thought he was drunk. Nobody just trips over their own feet.

“What’s going on with you, Levi?” Javad asked quietly. “Your hand is hurt and you’re always tripping.”

“I’m not always—”

“A few months ago at the Egyptian. Remember? We went to see ‘Double Wedding’.   You tripped then, too.”

“Eager to get into the theater?” Levi offered with a helpless smile.

“How often do you trip?”

“Just the light fantastic,” Levi said. “I swear. . .you just happen to be around both times I’ve tripped.”

It was a lie. He had nearly fallen down the stairs from Westshire to Hollyridge Drive a few days ago while racing up and down the Beachwood steps. Almost broken his neck and likely would have had he not managed to grip the iron bannister right before he would have faceplanted into a concrete stair. Instead of a broken set of teeth and veneers or a dislocated nose or worse, he had ended up with just scrapes and bruises all over his legs and a pulled muscle in his left shoulder.

He had attacked the stairs that morning due to a fear and some crazy idea that if he ran up and down those concrete and stone steps, his body would understand that no, it would not succumb to whatever was happening because of those pills. Those pills making him physically clumsy were helping his moods and making the impossible possible for him. He was not going to have his doctor take him off them over some trembling and some tripping. He had a man who loved him and who he loved back and he never thought he’d have that. He was not going to let his moods unravel so that the shaking and missteps would stop.

Fresh from another trip to Atlanta, he had thought that morning, as he had gasped relieved breaths while clinging to the bannister and gently lowering his aching body to sit on the stone steps, how funny that it had taken him so long to walk again after the shooting. And how quickly the drugs he was taking to control his mind were taking that hard-won ability away.

Now, in the narrow lobby of the Fine Arts theater, Levi told Javad with a practiced look of non-chalance, while again handing him his wallet, “I’ll go get us some good seats. Can you get the popcorn and drinks?”

Javad agreed but noticed, after stepping away and eyeing him from behind that Levi was clinging onto the little metal handrail lining the lobby walkway as he carefully walked toward the double doors of the screening room.

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