That week’s trip from Los Angeles to Atlanta–the one during which Levi proposed marriage to Damien–was one which had been preceded by a quickening mania Damien noted in Levi long before he had arrived. It was loud and clear over the telephone; Levi was more talkative than usual, talking about anything, everything, and went off on so many tangents one needed a roadmap to follow the conversation. He wasn’t incomprehensible as Damien’s brother had gotten during some severe manic episodes, Damien thought, just more lively, more engaged, more energetic. More Levi.
Damien actually found manic Levi rather charming. It was still the same Levi personality—thoughtful, caregiving, sweet, sarcastic, subtly jealous and neurotic– just painted in brighter shades. In fact, Damien thought manic Levi was probably the true Levi, having noticed that Damien’s brother—as his moods would shift—would almost seem alien in certain moods but, now and again, his mood would land on just the right spot and the personality elicited would make Damien think, “Ah, there he is.” Not that Damien ever had to go looking for Levi—figuratively or literally. Literally, the long-distance was cut every five days or so when one or the other would cross the country for a two or three-day visit with the other. Figuratively, Damien was still a bit surprised how rather easy dating Levi was; for a person rated as a much more severe bipolar patient than Damien’s brother, Levi was fairly docile. Yes, he had his blue moods, like when he failed to get that job at the Academy Museum, and he had accidentally overdosed a few months ago, and every now and then depression would make him snippy, and those side effects his medication caused were worrisome, but there was never any doubt that Levi loved him. Even when his moods and his mind swam in his darkest blues, his love was clear not just in glances or an undercurrent, but openly and nakedly. Levi was thoughtful that way, his love overpowering his condition. And when Levi was slightly manic, as he was that week, Damien thought that if Levi’s brain chemistry could naturally stop unbalancing itself, that slightly manic person—the one with the loud laugh, the rapid speech, the cutting wit, who sang out loud in the car and was so cheerful, strangers were drawn to him, blinding their eyes to the star beside him—was who Damien thought of as Real Levi. Real Levi wasn’t around all the time, but when he was, his charisma was undeniable and irresistible.
It was therefore of little surprise to him when, the morning after Levi flew into Atlanta and went with Damien to the studio on the site of the old Fort McPherson to keep Damien company during that day’s shooting, Alicia whispered to Damien, “What’s up with him today? He looks different.” Seeing Damien smile secretively, she then asked, “Did you ask him to marry you?”
“No!” Damien cried at the ludicrousness of her question. “We just moved in together, for Christ’s sake. He’s just in a good mood.”
“Oh,” Alicia said, glancing back at Levi in the custom director’s chair Damien had bought for him to sit in during takes, as if he were a cast member himself, “I see. You boinked him.”
“All night,” Damien whispered to her delight. “And–no joke–twice this morning.”
“You beast!” she giggled. They had a long running gag where calling each other “beast” meant, “I am so jealous of you I could squat a shit.”
“Don’t be jealous,” Damien told her, “I am fucking exhausted.”
Not more than a minute later, Alicia was calling for action and Damien was transformed into a man pleading and begging with a family court judge not to take his child away. The scene had been credited by many as being the justification for Cary Grant’s Oscar nomination in the original. The speech, craftily rewritten with even more poignancy by the film’s screenwriters and a few uncredited assists, found Damien in full thespian mode. And, watching him at work– knowing that just a few moments before, he had been joking with Levi, then with Alicia, had taken his spot on the set after some quick hellos to that day’s cast and extras, and, with the call of “Action!” transformed himself into a father desperate to retain custody of the child he and his wife have adopted—was breathtaking.
He was brilliant; he always was. Levi had watched him rehearse scenes several times on the various trips he took to Atlanta and he was always transfixed by how Damien could slip in and out of the role. He was not merely Damien Lanchester Saying Things. He was the character, and his character had a different walk than Damien’s confident stride. The character’s shoulders hung a bit lower as if ashamed by his lack of success, the character nodded his head two times and hummed a bit when pensive, the character smirked in a naughty way at his wife when no one was looking, the character’s lips curling in a way unlike the way Damien smirked at Levi.
The character also cried. Where Damien sighed when sad, the character cried. And he did so so powerfully Levi, too, began to cry, struggling not to make a sound as he watched the man he loved, transformed into another man he would have equally loved because they were both Damien, beg the judge not to take away his child.
“I’ll do anything,” Damien was saying. “I’ll take any job. I will. I won’t let her go hungry. The day she walked into my life, I tell you, she stole my heart. I never even wanted a child and now? Now? If you take her. . .I swear you’ll kill me. Kill me. You think we’ve just fostered her for two years? No. We’ve become her parents. I’m her father. I’m her father, damnit! You can’t take her from me! Please! I need her. My wife needs her. And she needs us.”
When Damien broke down in sobs, shouting, “She’s my daughter. Don’t take my daughter from me. Please.” Levi noticed he wasn’t alone watching Damien through blurry eyes. Even some of those hardened crew members Damien mutually adored were standing about watching the actor at work and running fingers under runny noses and struggling not to sob.
When Alicia called “Cut and print” and “Reset” for the alternate angles, the cast and crew applauded him. He sort of half-bowed, embarrassed, waved an awkward wave of appreciation—and sought out Levi, with the glee of a little boy proud of himself—but even more proud of the effect his talent had on the one he loved.
“You,” Levi told him, “Are a fucking genius.”
“Bah,” Damien whispered. “This shit is just soap opera. I can do scenes like that all day.”
And he had to. When the cameras were reset for another angle, Damien and the actors playing the judge and the case manager had to repeat the entire scene several times—one take was messed up when Damien flubbed a line, another was ruined by a light that burned out mid-shot, while a third had actors step over each other’s dialogue. On and on it went all morning and into the afternoon, Damien spending time chatting with Levi and the crew members, eating lunch in his dressing room with Levi, and avoiding Levi’s more amorous advances as he wanted to avoid having to redo his hair and makeup, which would only prolong a shooting schedule he had hoped would only be a half-day. He had wanted them—himself, Levi, and Track—to go together to the Center for Puppetry Arts, a place Levi had put on their itinerary long before they had even arrived in Atlanta. But the shoot dragged on after lunch when an extra tripped over a power cord taped down across the floor and the problematic light again turned off and then flickered, ruining another take. Eventually, by six pm, the scene had been shot from all the necessary angles, and Damien had performed his tearful speech, in part and whole, over a dozen times.
“Now,” Levi asked, “Can we please. . .you know?”
A few minutes later, the dressing room door locked, Damien was getting out of his costume’s suit and hat with Levi’s aggressive assistance.
That was something else Damien secretly liked about slightly manic Levi: he was sexually aggressive. Not that their relationship lacked for any degree of physical closeness; their mutual attraction kept them busy even when they were apart, thanks to Damien’s absolute addiction to Levi’s phone voice while they masturbated long distance. “Reach out. Reach out and jack someone off. . .” Levi had sang, in an imitation of an ancient telephone company commercial. Tonight, after they had made love in the dressing room and Damien dressed in his own clothes, Levi became amorous again as they were driven back to the hotel by the driver the production hired for Damien. This was unlike Levi, who usually fell into an affectionate mode of hugger after sex. When manic, as he was now, there was little room for pause and reset. And while Damien loved the times they would just snuggle up to one another and whisper fragments of their life story to one another, or share funny stories, or just compliment one another as if repairing any wound the world may have inflicted upon the other, there was something quite arousing about this blond hunk with the green eyes coming on to him.
He was still Levi. Just a little bit more so.
Damien thought they’d have dinner at Livingston and, as Track would soon be tucked away to Dreamland, spend the rest of the night cuddling in bed. Perhaps there, stroking his fingers over Levi’s brow, down his nose, tracing his lips, he would have explained that the heartbreak he had used to cry so many times throughout the day to ensure each take felt authentic was not a well of tears drawn from the predictable source—fear of one day losing Track. His tears had been fueled by the fear of one day losing Levi. Of one day no longer having him in his life. Of having someone take Levi away, no matter how much Damien protested. Taken from him because Levi’s illness might worsen one day, or simply because they were able to seduce Levi away. That was who he had been begging for all day. That Levi was there to witness those tears was a secret, sweet moment. And maybe, he thought as they rode back to the Georgian Terrace, maybe he’d share that with Levi. It would make that brighter-than-usual smile possibly grow even brighter.
He had no idea, though, being the dominant partner in their relationship, that Levi was about to propose marriage.