“Sometimes it is harder to deprive oneself of a pain than of a pleasure.” –Tender is the Night
The Writer calls me the next day. When his name pops up on the screen, I ignore the call. My life was one way before and today it’s not. It wasn’t my choice, and that makes me feel helpless. I’ve recoiled.
The voicemail he leaves is concerning the movie pitch that we’re supposed to write together, so I give it a few minutes then call him back. “Hey,” he exclaims like a little boy, excited to hear from his father who’s been away on a business trip. “Do you want to come over and work on this outline?” “Sure. When?” “Come now.”
It’s rush hour, so it takes me almost an hour to get there instead of the usual ten minutes. He texts me as I pull up in front of his house: “Are you still coming?” I ignore it, as I hustle up the front steps. When I ring the doorbell, the door opens almost immediately. It’s Dalton, his ex. I choke on my “hello” so hard that I nearly start coughing. “You must be looking for The Writer,” he says. Just then I see running past Dalton. “Hey,” he says without looking at me before scurrying into the bathroom. I wait for Dalton to give me an invite in, but none comes. Lucky for me, I’m not a vampire and even if I were, I’ve already been in this house. I move past Dalton, who I seem to have forgotten is strikingly tall.
Inside, I look in the direction of the bathroom, but there’s no sign that The Writer is remerging. “How was the rest of your party?” I ask him. “Pretty good,” he says. “Everyone left at a decent time. Do you know The Model? His girlfriend threw up outside…” “Glad I didn’t step in it,” I chime in. “Yeah, at least it wasn’t in here. Anyway, yeah, I got home at around 1:30, so it wasn’t really too crazy of a night.” Wait. What? Stop the track! Rewind: for those of you, who missed it, let’s get an instant replay. Dalton just said he was home by 1:30. And in case it needs to be clarified, neither Dalton nor the Writer have a job to get up to this morning. Get the picture? They’re NOT sleeping together. I mean, I’m sure they are sleeping-sleeping together, but this confirms to me that the sleeping lacks insertion. And more importantly, they’re not back together. The Writer has said he’d never get back with his ex, but a part of me never really believed him.
As I bask in this glorious revelation, The Writer returns from the bathroom. “Hey, so they’re having a premiere party for that T.V. show. Do you want to go? It starts in 30 minutes.” This pisses me off. He’s not asking me if I want to go, he’s telling me. Don’t get me wrong, I love television. I love premiere parties. But I am really struggling here to scale back our “friendship,” and I’m not trying to get chummy with his ex. I know I said I don’t dislike him, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to get all Barbra Walters on him. “What about the movie pitch?” “We’ll work on it when we get back.”
I’m not a big enough bitch to ask if Dalton will be joining us, so I hold my breath as the three of us make our way to his car. Dalton stops at the front door. “Hold on a sec,” he says. I take this opportunity to let him in on a little secret; When The Writer unlocks the door, I take shotgun. When Dalton returns to the car, he hesitates for a moment before getting in the back.
Just when I think I’ve won, The Writer has to go fuck everything up. “Shit, I left my gum inside.” “Can you just get some from someone at the party?” I suggest. “No, my breath is gross.” He gets out of the car, and I’m left there alone. For a moment, I consider fleeing the car and getting into my own, but my sanity quotient is already scoring pretty low, and I would really like it if this movie pitch would happen. Instead, I text Trick Bradley and explain the situation, concluding: “Save me.”
“So, sorry, who exactly are you again?” I’m dumbfounded. We just had a civil conversation, and now this? And didn’t we already go over this last night? Yes. Yes, we did. “I’m Clark’s cousin…” The déjà vu is bearable because at least I’m flashing back to a moment that isn’t this one. My re-explanation only lasts for about 30 seconds and then: silence. After minute three, I speak up. “Where the fuck is The Writer?” “I don’t know. He’s a mess,” Dalton says. “He really is, isn’t he?” I agree. We have some nanosecond bonding experience before silence once more befalls us.
At minute six, Dalton says something else: “I’m going to miss my movie if he doesn’t hurry up.” Another win! “What movie are you going to see?” It’s one I haven’t heard of, so I nod, pretending to care as he explains the premise. “Have you seen any movies lately?” He asks. “Not any good ones,” I say, but do my due diligence for the conversation and list a bunch of duds anyway. “I liked some of those,” he says. Of course you did.
“Seriously where the fuck is he?” Dalton asks, at minute eight. He unbuckles, moving forward, and he leans on the horn. Shocking! This method appears to work! The Writer comes scrambling out seconds later. I make a note: forcefulness works.
“I couldn’t find any gum,” The Writer says. “I’ll just get some on the way. This pisses off Dalton. “Can you get it after you drop me off?” “Dalton, this is my car, and I’m doing you a favor,” The Writer says pissily. They both look at me as if I’m supposed to take a side…like that’s going to happen. Not that it matters; by the time we get to the movie theater, he’s forgotten the gum completely. Or he’s just a doormat. “Thanks for the ride,” he says to The Writer with a one-armed hug. He gets out of the car without a word to me, and I nod. “I don’t think he likes me very much,” I tell The Writer. “Yeah, Dalton can be…touchy. Especially around other cute young guys.” “It would seem that way.” He looks at his phone. It shows that he has a couple-minute-old text from Dalton, which reads: “Why did your friend steal my seat?” The Writer laughs nervously then goes on a compensation rant to try to make me feel better about the situation. Although to be honest, I think it’s pretty funny myself.
* * *
When we get to the party, The Writer dives into conversation with a bunch of people I don’t know. He doesn’t introduce me, so I take it upon myself to do so. Unfortunately, conversation turns to topics, which I neither know nor care anything about. Instead of getting mad, I decide this will be an exercise in independence. Maybe I’ll meet someone knew and interesting. I look around for a couple seconds. Doubt it.
Moments later, I’m feasting on guacamole alone when someone hugs me from behind. It’s Mr. Wolf. “Hallo,” he says to me with his overplayed British charm. “Hey, how are you?” I say with a smile. “Good, good,” he answers. Wolf begins telling me about his latest happenings. I look over his shoulder to see The Writer talking to a young, handsome guy, who’s on the smallish side.
I feel the prickle of jealousy and mentally scold myself. “Everything alright?” Wolf inquires. I don’t have a chance to answer as my cousin’s ex, Craig, comes over to greet us. “How are you? Where’s your cousin?” “I don’t think he’s here.” “Oh, you didn’t come with him? Look at you, making it to the big Hollywood parties all on your own!” “Yeah, I only see Clark when I absolutely have to,” I joke. “Me too,” Craig says although I doubt he’s joking. The Writer comes over to join our little circle, his flirtationship having evaporated as quickly as it was formed. “So are you dating anyone? You can’t be single!” No one says anything, but I swear on Gaga that I blacked out for just a moment. The blunt trauma of having The Writer on one side of me with Mr. Wolf on the other, while someone quizzes me on my intimate relationships is simply too much for my mind to process.
“I I-I…” I look around. “I’m happily single,” I blurt out. Lies. “But you’re such a catch!” Craig insists. “You must get a lot of ass.” “Oh, I get some,” I say with one of those really grating smiles. I wish Craig could just let it go, but he doesn’t. “I bet the WeHo guys are all over you,” he continues. Yeah, I do all right for myself. “Oh, really?” The Writer asks. “I haven’t heard about this,” he announces as if I’ve just made some important declaration. “I don’t tell you everything,” I say with a little snark. I see Wolf smirk out of the corner of my eye. So awkward, I could die.
Sensing, the uncomfortable energy, Craig changes the subject. “What are you doing for work these days?” Another sore subject. “I quit my job, but I’m doing some freelance work. Production, awards shows, that kind of thing. I’m taking some time to write right now.” Not quite a lie, but most certainly an inflated truth. “See, you’re amazing,” he says. I feel my knees getting weak.
After a short moment of uncomfortable silence, the handsome guy from The Writer’s brief flirtationship approaches. “Ah, there you are,” Mr. Wolf says. “This is Jesse.” “We just met,” The Writer shares. Jesse is an actor. That’s all I’m told about him. Oh, and it appears that he came here with Wolf. Good for him, he seems like a quality guy despite being a little shy.
The show’s boss walks by, causing The Writer and Wolf (Jesse in tow) to jump ship on our little conversation circle. Craig sticks with me and shares a couple of funny stories about my cousin, and I occasionally glance to watch The Writer. His interactions with his wannabe boss are painful to watch. If this is what serious networking looks like, I’m never going to make it in L.A.
In the middle of Craig’s story about long distance relations, I spot The Writer walking to the back entrance of the house with Jesse. The Writer looks back at me before going through the door, and my throat suddenly gets really dry. When I turn my back to Craig, I notice he’s stopped talking. One of his eyebrows is arched. “Excuse me, I really need to pee,” I say scratchily.
I charge past the bathroom, out to the backyard, and hear the door shut on the guesthouse. It’s dark at this point, and I don’t see any lights on inside. I don’t know what to do. How is a person supposed to react to this? I run in the opposite direction until I get to the driveway. Short on breath, I do my best not to think about what’s going on in there. I call one of my girlfriends. “Hey, I’m with Bradley, what’s up?” She asks, and I explain the situation. “Do you want us to come get you? We’re bowling, but we’ll come get you right now.” I think for a moment. I should be stronger than this. “No, I’m going to handle this myself.” It sounds much stupider when I say it aloud.
I rub my eyes and go back in. The Writer and Jesse don’t return for a couple minutes. I can only think the worst is happening, and it infuriates me. Why would he do this in front of me at a party that he essentially forced me to go to? And why am I so jealous? I can’t decide if I’m insane or he’s the one with mental issues.
The anger boils up, and I have a revelation: these past few months, the “us” has been something very different for him than for me. I’ve been little more than the pursed Chihuahua to his Elle Woods; a cute, (increasingly less) uninformed kid, with the added bonus of being related to a powerful figure in gay Hollywood, who keeps him from feeling lonely. A streak of insecurity runs through me as I ask myself: is this how everyone else sees me? Did they know that I was being used? Am I the butt of the joke?
I feel so similar to the way I did when I first moved here, when I first met The Writer. He was my opportunity and my future. But I make myself look at my life now. I have great friends. I have a job (occasionally). I have a place to live. I have a degree from a really good school. And I’m fucking smarter than 95% of the people at this party. I’m going to be fine without him.
When The Writer returns, I overhear Wolf ask him if he knows where Jesse is. “I gave him a tour of the guesthouse,” he says. I don’t know if that’s a euphemism, just like I don’t know if Jesse is “with” Wolf, just like I don’t know what actually happened in the guesthouse. And I don’t ask because the answers to those questions aren’t going to rate any higher than neutral.
I go outside and mingle in the courtyard for a bit. The people I meet are drunk, so they’re easier to talk to, but I doubt they’ll remember much of me in the morning. “There you are,” The Writer says, grabbing my arm. He’s a little buzzed. With him are a couple guys who work on the show and a very professional looking woman. “Do you need something?” I ask coolly. “Nope. I just didn’t know where you went.” “I was just checking out the guesthouse,” I say with a settled tone but vicious eyes, “and now I’m out here.” “Cool,” he says, looking confused. “Who are your friends?” He introduces me to a couple writers, “and this is Janet. She’s a exec at the network for the show.”
As the group gossips about industry wannabes, I whisper to The Writer, asking if we can leave soon. “They haven’t showed the episode yet,” he says. “Lucky for you, you can watch it online tomorrow morning. It’s almost 10:30, and I’m starving.” “They’re delivering pizza soon,” he tells me. “When are we going to work on our outline?” “Shit.” He looks around. “Do you think anyone would notice if we snuck out? I didn’t really want to watch it anyway.” I assure him we’ll be fine, so without any goodbyes, we sneak down the driveway.
When we get to the car, he pulls out the keys. “I’m driving. You had too many drinks,” I state flatly. “I’m fine,” he insists. I’m sure he is, but that’s not what this is really about. “Give me the keys,” I say forcefully. It works. Looks like Dalton knows what he’s doing.
* * *
We go to a little salad joint for a very quiet dinner. Hardly anything is said before the food is served. I take a bite. “How is yours?” He asks. “Fine.”
* * *
Back at The Writer’s house, it’s all business. We start breaking down the fundamentals of our premise in his bed. It’s hard to concentrate there, and it’s clear that neither of us has really invested in the story yet. It’s like we just assumed things would work themselves out. I make a to-do list, and we assign each other tasks. It looks like I’ll be doing the brunt of the early work. I type out everything he says, as he sinks lower and lower on his pillow. His eyes shut, and his words get softer. “I’m getting so sleepy,” he says, putting his hand on my arm. He curls up in my direction and yet again, I don’t know what to do. And that’s what I want to scream: “What would you have me do in this situation?” Instead, I pull away slowly. I slide my legs away and climb off the bed. Now, he’s alert: “Are you going?” He asks as I walk toward the door and open it. “Yeah. I’m tired, too.” “Can I have a hug?”
I look at him for a short moment. Just because he doesn’t want the same things you do, doesn’t mean things can’t be the same as they were before, I tell myself. He makes you happy. I allow myself to pace over to his side of the bed for an embrace. It’s crushing. I’ve let him cross too many lines. Please don’t let me go. I’m certain he wants me to stay. I know it for a fact. But I discover a surprising amount of respect for him when he refrains from asking.
* * *
There’s nothing more menacing than being dragged, nothing more painful than being left.
When I get home, I pour myself a glass of whiskey. I get in bed, and when I rest my head on the pillow, a tear streams down from each of my eyes.
* * *
I wake up to the vibration of my phone about an hour later. I’ve just missed a call from The Writer. I call him back immediately. “Is everything OK?” I ask. “No, I’m having an anxiety attack.” “What’s wrong? Can I do something?” I ask urgently. “Do you remember that network exec—the one I introduced you to?” Oh shit, what did he do? “Yes.” “Did I introduce her as Janet or Janice?” I roll my eyes. Is he serious right now? “I have no idea. I wasn’t really paying attention.” “I think I said Janet, but I think her name is Janice.” “I’m sure she wasn’t offended.” She probably didn’t even hear him. “I think she’s the exec I have to send my sample to. I don’t know what to do.” Getting someone’s name wrong? This is what you have been struggling with tonight? “Then your sample better not suck,” I say with inflection that rivals Daria. I throw my phone on the floor and roll over.