Perhaps Levi proposed marriage to Damien because he was in love. Or manic. Or drunk. Or that old habit of proposing to people as a joke fell out of his mouth like a lisp from a bit tongue. But a rum-and-Coke had been accidentally delivered to their table and accidentally—and then politely–consumed by Levi, who had ordered a Diet Coke and, no fan of diet anything at first thought the bitter taste was some type of aspartame. By the time he recognized the taste on the third sip, he decided to be polite and just finish the thing. After all, that tall glass had how much rum in it, really? So, over a quiet, romantic dinner in Levi’s favorite Atlanta restaurant and his favorite Atlanta hotel, the drink mixed with Levi’s inner pharmacy and made him quite tipsy.
Of course, as he was also manic, Damien couldn’t really see much of a difference–until Levi leaned across the table at Livingston, and said, “Damie Damie Damie Damie Damie Damie Damie. Damie?”
“Yes?” Damien asked through a crooked, bemused grin.
“I think I’m stoned.”
“How—Wait. Is that not a Diet Coke?”
“It might be Diet Coke but it’s obesely Captain Morgan.”
“And you’ve been—That’s a double!”
“Double the pleasure, double the fun. Double the pleasure by going up my–,” Levi sang, mimicking another weird commercial jingle from his youth. Commercial jingles always became earworms for him when he was manic. Any minute now, he thought, he’d start hearing a lounge singer crooning, “There’s a fragrance that’s here to stay—and they call it. . .’Charlie!’” endlessly, like a record on repeat play.
“Stop,” Damien said, hushing him with a smile. “You shouldn’t have had one of those—”
“I didn’t have one,” Levi comforted him, “I’ve had three.”
“I was trying—trying to be—polish. No—Polite. Polite. I was trying to be polite. The waiter bribed it by mistook.”
Damien’s fork and knife, which had been in mid-air, were on the plate immediately.
“Are you okay? Do I need to make you throw it all up?”
“Well that would really rue my dimmer,” Levi scoffed. “Nah! I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine,” Levi told him, words slurring as the alcohol hit his pills with a slam. “Just a lil bubbly.” He fixed Damien with a wildly unseductive stare from his wobbly head. “En how are you, Mitter Lancheddar?”
“When was the last time you had a drink?” Damien asked him as Levi waved him back into his seat.
“Oh. . .I have no idea, but god it been too lawn” Levi said. “Oh! I know. I know when. It was when the Berenstein Bears discovered water. Member? That night?”
“The night I ran into you—”
“Yeah. I was so sad afterwards, Damie. So sad.” Levi looked as if he might start bawling. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Really?” Levi told him. “I will see you again. Right?”
“Um. . .yes, Levi. We live together, now,” Damien reminded him.
“Oh, good. That’s nice.” Levi reached across the table to pat Damien’s hand with appreciation but instead gave this affection to Damien’s bread plate. “I remember thinking—I’ll never see him again because. . .I imagined you lived in—you know—like a big mansion—like Blake Carrington! On ‘Dyna—Dyna—‘”
“Dynasty?” Damien chuckled.
“That show. With like. . .all these servants en. . .like behind these big gates en—why am I talking like a Kardashian? I’m educated! I went to Georgia Tech! What’s this ‘like’ stuff comin’ outta my mouf?—Anyway, like, I thought, ‘I’ll never see him again. He’s not part of my world.’ So I went to Factory.” Levi added, “Innit that sad?”
“You thought you’d never see me again?”
“Yup.” Levi held back a belch and asked, “What you think that night? That night you saw me at the, you know, debut of fucking water?”
Damien smiled sweetly. “I thought I was lucky to have run into you and have a chance to talk to you, away from your store, without Track. Just the two of us. I think I danced all the way to my car. And I was planning ion coming by your store to see you again and ask you out.”
“Really?” Levi asked, smiling in his alcohol stupor. “How did you dance?”
“No, Lee—I meant I was so happy it felt like—”
“Didja vogue? Do the Charleston? Do the lawn sprinkler? The running man?”
“I mean. . . I thought how much I liked you. That you were just real.”
“Whale crazy,” Levi added with a drunken giggle. “And now? Whale drunk, I think I am. Oh, yeah.”
“No. Real lovely. Real gentle. Really fun. And how nice it was to just talk. I was a little heartbroken still—you know—Federico.”
“Fuck Federico,” Levi said, a bit loudly and a bit of a sudden, protectiveness for Damien bursting through.
“Who hasn’t?” Damien joked.
Levi tossed his head back and howled. Other diners in the elegant old hotel turned to see Damien sushing him with a fond laugh. “Old Freako didn’t know what he had,” Levi told him, drunkenly attempting a philosophical pose. “Or,” Levi posited, “He knew but had a self-destructive streak. See? I shoulda been a shrink. Because, like, I would never cheat on you. Never.”
“Nor I on you.”
“Nor I on you,” Levi sang. “I got my eye on you. I got you under my skin. I got you. Deep in the heart of—”
Damien sank in his seat with a smile, staring happily at Levi who, in the midst of booze mixing with pills, suddenly had a moment of cruel clarity and the courage to ask aloud what maybe he had been fearful of even thinking.
“Damie? Was I a rebound? Like—when the hurt from Federico ends. . .am I out the door?”
“No!” Damien cried, aghast. “You were not a rebound, no.”
“Jew don’t laugh at me? Behind my back, do you? I mean—like–jew don’t tell your friends. . .like Bitchface and Botchedface and Aleeshsheeyeah? Jew don’t all laugh about me being bipolar and make jokesh and shit, right?”
“Levi! No. Have you been thinking I’d—”
“X was like that.”
“Again,” Damien reminded him. “I’m not X.”
“That bitch? He told everyone. And then added to it. Like he had to make himself a. . ,victim. So take our story. . .and make everything look sho, sho miserable. It was funny, whaley. Because anyone with half a fuckin’ brain cell would think, ‘Well, jee. . .X. . .if it was whaley sho, sho bad all those years. . .why the hell did jew even stay with him?’ Ash-hole.”
“He was a dickhead,” Damien told him. “And I am not him.”
“I know. I know. I know,” Levi announced sloppily. “You are the gem of my life, jew know dat? Gem of my life. I jush lub jew.”
Damien whispered, laughing, “I wish I had the nerve to film you right now.”
Suddenly, brightly, Levi asked, “Can we go up to the room?”
“Sure. Are you not feeling well?”
“I’m fibe. I jus’ want jew to make out whiff me,” Levi pleaded, “Before I throw up,”
Waving down the waiter for the check, and signing the charges, Damien grinned at him—the grin that made Levi stiff, knowing what was to come—and, winking, whispered in his deep, throaty voice, “Levi Hastings? You say the sweetest things.”
“Doan I?” Levi asked as an inspiration struck. Suddenly, he pushed his chair back and stood to play the part of orator. Before Damien could even get out of his own seat, Levi announced to the restaurant, “Excuse me!”
As the other diners in their cocktail dress turned to him from under chandeliers and from tables set beside gracefully lit columns and throughout restaurant of the hotel’s original lobby, Levi told them, “Jew know how sometimes. . .people make a scene in a reshtaurant? Because, jew know. . .someone broke up wit them? Or cheated on them? Oh, that’snastydoanjeweverdothat. Well. . .I. . .would like to make a scene for a different reason, yeshIwould. Jew see? Juicy. . .I am in love. Jairs! In love! With this man, here. Stand up, Damien. That’s right. Him! Izzenhehandsome? Show sweet. And jew are all lovely—doan look embarrassed, honey, it’sh good—Jew are all lovely people. Really. Specially jew and jew and jew. And jew, too. Ohmygodallofjew. Such lovely people. And I jush wanted to shay. . .I hope jew all have the type of love in jore life dat I found in mine.”
Seeing smiles but no applause, Levi announced, “Thatsch shit!”
As the restaurant burst into applause, Levi put his palm to his lips, turned, and, with a wide gesture blew everyone a kiss as Damien, tears of laughter at this most unexpected side of otherwise dignified Levi, tried to sweep him from the restaurant. “Mwah! I love jew all!” Levi shouted. Seeing they were headed toward the door, Levi announced, in a British accent as if a royal barking a command, “Damie? To the bedchamber!”
Neither one of them knew–neither stoned-out-of-his-mind Levi nor laughing Damien– that a marriage proposal was about to usher forth from Levi later that night.