“Only the gentle are ever really strong.” -James Dean
I shove him hard against a wall. The brick exterior scrapes the skin of my palms, but I’m too busy maneuvering my tongue to notice. Everything is so blurry. My arms wrap behind him while my lower body crawls up and thrusts against his. “Are we almost there?” I gasp before pressing my lips hard back to his. “Almost,” he mumbles into my mouth. I’m not sure exactly how I got here, but my body knows exactly what it wants. Which is good, because I fade back to black.
The first traces of sun glow through foreign blinds. A bicep lies between the back of my neck and a pillow, which is noticeably lacking in the firmness department. I turn my head slightly–two empty condoms on the floor. Looks like someone needs a package stimulus. And with that thought, he turns over and begins to hump my side. I’m still drunk enough to go along with it. But I fade out again before we get too serious.
“Hey, you,” he says as I force my eyes open into a squint. He stares into my eyes like we’ve known each other longer than the past seven hours. “Hi,” I say with that raspiness that comes with morning. It’s disorienting waking up in strange place. Or maybe it’s just the hangover. “I’ll be right back,” he says, getting up and walking to bathroom. Nice ass.
Trying to configure the puzzle pieces of the night together, I notice that I’m sore. Searching for my phone, I hear the toilet flush. I roll over just before he returns. “You’re fun,” he says. I smile. He nuzzles my neck. All I can think of is how tired I am. “Do you remember how we met?” I really don’t. “I’m not exactly sure,” I answer, waiting for him to tell me. “Me neither. That’s crazy. And we both ended up here.” “We sure did,” I confirm, realizing my sharp headache for the first time.
I am soon made aware of the fact that he knows my name because it is already programmed in his phone, but I have no idea what his is. After a few minutes of awkward compliments and sweet talk, I sit up. “I should probably get going,” I inform him. “Do you need a ride somewhere?” “No, my car is just parked on my friends’ street,” I answer. “Let me drive you. I insist.” Instead of arguing, I grab my pants and one of my socks. I can’t find the other sock or my underwear, so I decide to abandon them while he puts on his shoes. On the way out of his bedroom, he stops me. “Are these yours?” He asks, holding up my underwear. Obviously. “Almost forgot those,” I answer, shoving them into my pocket.
In the car, he gives my arm a light punch. “I like you,” he says. You don’t even know me, I think to myself. “I do what I can,” I reply coyly. “See, that’s why I like you. You’re funny.” I smirk without responding. As we come up on the intersection, I instruct him to pull over. “Thanks for the ride,” I say. “We should do this again sometime. Want to?” “Sure,” I answer absentmindedly. “Besides, we still have some unfinished business if I recall.” The empty condoms pop to mind, and I shut the door behind me.
I arrive at my car, just around the corner, and I begin to drive. All I can think of is “B-E-D.” I want to go to there. Cruising down a residential street, I notice the light on my car radio flicker. “No, no, no!” I yell, ferociously smacking the dash. The air conditioner gets weak and lets out a spurt of hot summer air. “No. This is not happening! If I ignore it, it will go away.” Yes, car problems make me talk out loud to myself. No, my therapist doesn’t think it’s healthy either. Whatever–the point is I’m screwed. Only, I’m not! My ignorance-is-bliss strategy is successful because the car goes back to normal, and I get home without any additional problems.
Lucky me, right? My car works, I got laid—oh, and I forgot to mention that I just got hired in a kick-ass new temp position that pays twice as much as my last job. I consider buying a lottery ticket before realizing I’m still broke because I haven’t even started yet, much less gotten paid. But again, not the point. The point is I’m stabilizing, I’m independent, and I’ve been happily living my life Writer-free for weeks now.
My first day on the job goes swimmingly. I speed through my assignments, and the boss-folk are impressed with my quality of work. “I do what I can,” I tell them when they compliment me. During lunch, I get a text from my one-night stand: “When are we hanging out?” I ignore it.
At six, I get ready to leave. “Did you get your employee badge yet?” The girl sitting next to me asks. “No, I think someone said I won’t get it until next week.” “Oh. Well, did you get your parking validated?” “No, where do I do that?” “Oh, it’s too late now. Validation closes at 5:30. Don’t worry, I walk to work, so you can just use my employee badge to get out of the garage for free,” she offers. “Thanks so much,” I say.
When we get to my car, I apologize for the mess. “I hate cars. It’s the one part of my life that I just don’t care about. I pretend like it doesn’t exist other than the getting me from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ part. Sorry, I’m weird.” “No, I’m right there with you,” she says. “I moved here from New York, so cars and I are not so much.” “I moved her from New York, too,” I say excitedly. I love New Yorkers. They’re unnecessarily neurotic. Not enough people in L.A. are that special breed of crazy.
Life is really looking up. “Which way do I turn?” I ask her. “Turn right here,” she directs. I pull onto the road successfully, but as I approach the traffic light, the flickering of my car’s electronics begins once more. “No. No, no, no.” “It’s fine. You’re OK,” she says. “No, I’m not,” I say, losing my cool. Then the whole car shuts down. “Turn on your emergency lights,” she instructs me, and I do. Only, they don’t turn on either. “They’re not working. Why aren’t they working?” My sanity is officially deader than my car.
“Maybe you should get out and push from behind, and I’ll push and steer from up here,” I suggest. It’s rush hour and the cars are lining up behind us. I hate being a spectacle…at least like this. My new co-worker is in heels that are no shorter than three inches. This is a bad plan. As she gets out to push, I put the car in neutral. I fail to notice the slight incline we’re on, and my car begins to slowly roll back toward her. “Get out of the way! Get out of the way!” I begin screaming at her. “What?” She says like a deer in headlights. Kill me. I hop back in the car and slam on the break with one foot still on the ground outside. I put the car in park.
“Hey!” Four very large, muscular black men wave at us from across the street, hustling in our direction. The last time four large black men ran toward me, they pulled a gun and told me to look at the ground. Fortunately, my lucky streak continues, as these fellas are here to save my ass, not rob it. “You need some help?” They ask. “Yes, thank you!” My new co-worker answers for me. Fuck. This probably doesn’t bode well for the long-term prospects I had envisioned for my new position and me. Luckily, my new co-worker seems super cool about it, and the guys find the problem under the hood. “You should take it in to have it checked out,” one of them says. “Do you think the fix will last until the weekend?” I ask. They look at me like I’m stupid. “I see. I’ll go right now.” Everyone wishes me luck as I take off down the road in search of the nearest mechanic.
I make it a full mile …and it happens again. This time the car turns off while I’m going 45 mph down the road, and I nearly piss myself as I try to pull into a turn lane. A tow truck comes after a few minutes, and I get dropped at the auto shop. They’re closed for the evening.
I scroll through my shitty phone to find someone to save me from the shitty situation that my shitty car has left me in. My contact list options: out of town, mega asshole, lives too far away, out of town, works far away, too rich to care, doesn’t get off work for several more hours, doesn’t live here anymore, he’s never answered a call from me, I’d rather die than speak to him, out of town, and then I see The Writer’s number. I bite my bottom lip. Is it really worth it? I’m desperate, so I decide that it is. It rings three times, and I know he won’t answer. I take a little anxious breath and then hear a “hey.” “H-hi,” I say, pleasantly surprised. “How are you?” I ask. “I’m good. Just wrapping up some work. How are you?” He asks with an amount of shyness. “Not so great, actually. My car just broke down. Umm…is there any way you could pick me up?” “Of course, yeah. When?” “Like now-ish if you can,” I answer with an apologetic tone. “Yeah, just text me the address. I’ll be right there.” And less than fifteen minutes later, he is.
When I get in the car, the energy is crisp. His presence is refreshing, and I can tell he feels the same. He looks at me, smiles, and squeezes my thigh a few inches above the knee. His agent is blabbing away on the car’s speaker phone. “Thank you,” I mouth. He squeezes my thigh again. After a couple of minutes, his agent goes on a rant lacking any proper nouns, and The Writer presses the mute button. “Sorry, he’s clearly upset,” he informs me. “What happened?” I ask. “Someone sold something with some contract that he didn’t like…I have no idea.” I smile. “So what have you been up to?” He asks and as I open my mouth to answer, his agent stops talking. The Writer un-mutes the call. “That really sucks,” he says. “I know, right? I can’t believe…” his agent starts on again. “Hey, did you ever hear back about our pitch?” I whisper to him. “No, but I’ll ask when I can get a word in here.” When his agent finally puts a cork in it, he does: “Hey, you know that movie pitch I was working on with my friend?” “I think so, yeah,” his agent answers over the speaker. “What’s the status on that?” “I’ll follow up and let you know tomorrow.” And with that, there’s a beeping noise. “I got another call coming in I got to take,” and the agent hangs up.
“I really hope it goes through. I think it would be really fun to work with you,” The Writer says, his hand resting on my thigh. “Definitely,” I say quietly. “Listen, thank you so much picking me up. You are seriously my knight in shining armor right now.” “Anytime…by which I mean call someone else next time,” he says breaking down into a laugh, and I smack his arm. “Hey! No hitting the knight!” I pinch his nipple, and he freaks out like a kid getting tickled. We talk a bit more and he drops me at home. “I’m glad I got to see you,” he says. The wall I’ve put up makes me hesitate on my answer, but I give it the go ahead. “You, too.” “Let’s get dinner. Tomorrow work?” Without thinking, I agree.
The following afternoon, I go pick up my car and head over to The Writer’s house. I get out and walk up front steps. It’s disorienting how a place I considered home feels so alien to me now. When I ring the bell, he answers and with a hug asks, “Can we leave right now? I’m starving.” “Sure,” I answer, noticing someone behind him. “One second,” the voice says. No. I can’t even deal with this. It’s Dalton. I gulp as I feel my throat dry up. This is not what I signed up for.
“Do you want to drive?” The Writer asks me as Dalton follows him out of the house, shutting the door behind him. I stand there for a moment with my mouth slightly ajar. “Oh. You’ve met Dalton, right?” He asks. “Yes. We’re, uh, we’re practically old friends at this point,” I say trying to cover my shock with humor. A moment passes, and I pull it together: “I think you should drive,” I tell him, and I get in the front seat of his car.
We drive to a Mexican restaurant and grab a table–I sit next to The Writer, and Dalton sits across from him. This is certainly uncomfortable. “So tell me about your new job,” The Writer says to me. “What’s your new job?” Dalton interrupts. I don’t mention that it’s a temp position and instead tell him the job title of the position I’m covering–one that sounds much better than it actually is. “That’s impressive,” The Writer says with intrigue. “How much do you make?” The Writer would ask a question like this. I answer, and his expression is one of shock. “I was pretty surprised myself,” I say. That’s an understatement–I practically pissed myself when I found out how much I was getting paid. “That’s like what a writer on a TV show makes in a year,” he says. It’s definitely not, but his hyperbole keeps Dalton at bay, so I don’t protest. “Speaking of writing, did you hear back form your agent about our movie pitch?” “No. Let me text him right now. He said he was going to talk to them today.”
As he types away on his phone, Dalton and I sit there in silence. And then I realize that the only way to make this dinner less awkward is if we start talking to each other like people. Me first, I decide: “So what are you up to tonight, Dalton?” “I’m watching a movie with my friend…” “You mean going to fuck a friend?” The Writer chimes in. “Is it Emanuel?” “Who is Emanuel?” I ask. “Emanuel is his Eurotrash butt slut ‘friend,’” The Writer answers. “No, he’s just a friend, and we’re watching a movie,” Dalton says defensively. “Just friends,” he reemphasizes. “What are you and Emanuel going to do during the movie?” The Writer teases him. “Leave the boy alone,” I interrupt in my best ‘papa’ voice. “Yeah, what are you gonna do tonight? Hit on a bunch of boys at Tigerheat that are barely old enough to drink?” Dalton says with spiteful bite. “Who says they’ll even be old enough to drink?” I chime in. “They’ll all be 18 year old twinks,” I laugh. The Writer wears an expression of defeat, and Dalton looks at me like he’s realized I know The Writer much better than he’d previously supposed.
As we finish up our meals, the bill comes. I put in my cash, and The Writer pulls out his card. “Thanks for dinner,” Dalton says to him. The Writer rolls his eyes, and I excuse myself to the restroom.
As I walk back to the table, I see them bickering. But when I’m within earshot, I realize that it’s a full-blown embittered argument. One you can only have with someone you’re super close to. As they claw away at each other’s insecurities with absolute expertise, I pause, standing behind my chair. But it doesn’t stop, so I sit. “You guys want to get going?” I ask as soon as there’s the slightest pause. “Yes,” The Writer says sourly. “Are we going back to your house?” I ask. “I’m actually going to walk to my friends house,” Dalton answers. “This was fun though–we should hang out again,” he says, giving me a hug. I hug back stiffly…I wasn’t prepared for that kind of interaction with him. “I’ll be home later tonight,” Dalton says to The Writer, who doesn’t say anything back.
On our way back to his house, The Writer asks me to go to Tigerheat with him. I’ve kind of been out of gayworld for the past month or two, so I agree to go. Plus, I want to dance. All I can think about is what happened at dinner. What’s the deal with Dalton? I spit it out: “So…is Dalton still staying with you?” I guess it’s none of my business, but after everything between us, I feel like I deserve to know. “Yeah,” he says uncomfortably. And that’s the end of that conversation.
“I think I’m allergic to those tortillas,” The Writer says out of nowhere. “Why’s that?” I ask. “My face feels bloated. Do my cheeks look big? I think it’s an allergic reaction.” I shake my head and pinch his cheek. “Nah, I think it’s just fat,” I say laughing. “No, seriously. I think I’m allergic to wheat.” “Well, that’s strange because those were corn tortillas you were eating,” I tell him. (I’m completely making this up…I have no idea what they were made out of.) “Maybe it’s the pizza I had for lunch then,” he ponders as his phone rings. It’s his agent. He pulls into a parking lot of a convenience store as he answers. I watch his facial expressions as he gets out of the car. It’s a little chilly tonight. I’m practically shivering, and my heart begins to race in anticipation. Then I know, and I sink. He hangs up and looks at me. “They passed on it,” he says, and I nod.
Inside the store, The Writer asks me if we should get something to drink before Tigerheat. “I’m not really sure if I still want to go anymore.” “Yes, you do,” he tells me. “I’m not really in the mood. Plus, I’m tired and have work tomorrow…” “I’ll buy you a monster.” “I don’t want one,” I say. “Pleeeease come! It won’t be as much fun without you,” he pleads. “Fine.”
I don’t really feel like drinking tonight, so when we get back to his house, we switch out cars. “How is your sample script for that TV show going?” I ask. “Oh…I’m still catching up on season two before I start it.” “I decided I’m not going to watch that show anymore,” I tell him. “But don’t worry, I’ve seen all of the episodes so far, so if you need help…” “I’d really like your help,” he says, and I find that comforting. “Why did you stop watching?” He asks. “Did it get that bad?” “Kind of. It just irritates me that the head writer on the show—he always does this. He creates a show and then leaves after a couple seasons. If I ever had a TV show, I would put all of myself into it. I wouldn’t leave my characters behind for someone else to fuck up.” I can tell that he thinks what I just said sounds naïve. “It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm about something for that long,” he tells me. “Not for me.” “You’ll see. Give it some time, and your drive for all the things you think you care about will fade. It happened to me.” “I’m not you,” I shoot back, “and I never will be.”
When we get to the club, I can immediately tell that it’s going to suck tonight. The atmosphere is flat, no regulars are here–it’d dead on arrival. The Writer takes me to a VIP section, one that I’ve never seen before. “Two vodka monsters,” he says to the bartender. “You gonna buy this round, Mr. Big Bucks?” The Writer asks me. “You can–it’s a celebratory drink. Besides, I’m your guest.” And the designated driver. He hands me the drink, and I take two sips before I’m over it. He stops to talk to some midgety twink, and I pour some of my drink into his glass when he’s not looking. I almost spill it all over the bar when someone grabs into a bearhug from behind. I raise my eyebrows, wondering who it might be. It’s none other than my one-time groper Ken Starr. “Hey, you,” he says with a suave smirk, putting me back on the ground. “How are you?” He asks. “Wonderful. As always,” I quip. “Yes, you are,” he says, gazing into my eyes. I smile. “You here with this old man?” Ken asks, yanking on The Writer’s arm. He turns around and they hug. “How do you mange to keep this cute kid around, anyway?” Ken asks The Writer, as he slides his hand around my side. “My hypnotic charm,” he chuckles. “Doubt it,” I snort.
Behind Ken, I see one of his friends, who I recognize and a younger guy, who looks at me. “Hey, I’m Jimmy. I think we’ve met before,” the younger guy says shaking my hand. I’m not quite sure who he is, so I rack my brain. Nothing. “I’m sure we have…sorry, I’m really bad with names and even worse with faces. I once had a brief conversation with Uma Thurman without realizing it was her.” “Aren’t you Clark’s cousin?” Oh, now I know who he is. “Yeah, that’s right. I think we met at a party.” “How is Clark?” “He’s good,” I tell him. The Writer greets Jimmy with a hug, and along with Ken, the four of us form a little circle by the bar.
“So how’s that Dalton character?” Ken asks The Writer. “You see him much?” I look at The Writer. “Yeah,” he answers awkwardly. “He’s kind of staying with him,” I chime in, prodding along the conversation. “You’re back together?” Ken asks. “No! No.” “So you’re just you hooking up?” The Writer shakes his head, embarrassed. “Is he just crashing on your couch?” Ken continues to interrogate. The Writer’s cheeks are bright red, and Jimmy looks a bit uncomfortable. “No, he sleeps in my bed,” The Writer confesses. “So you’re not together, not hooking up, but he sleeps in your bed with you? That’s kind of fucked up,” Ken concludes. THANK YOU! Someone else recognizes that this situation is not bizarroville. Not that my little situation was any healthier, but THANK YOU! I was beginning to think I was insane.
Ken’s other friend walks over and gets a little handsy with Jimmy but fails to introduce himself to me. Ken looks a little jealous, and his interest in our conversation starts to fade. “We should get lunch sometime,” The Writer tells Ken. “Only if you bring him along,” Ken says squeezing my shoulders.
Clearly distracted by Jimmy and his other friend, Ken’s attention is now completely redirected. “We’re going to go dance,” I tell Ken, dragging The Writer behind me. “That was a little weird, right?” The Writer asks. “A little,” I agree. “Do you think he was jealous of me? I think he’s like in love with Jimmy.” “No, I think he was more interested in stopping his friend from making a move. Sorry, you’re not some sweet young thing that he wants to get into bed,” I answer. “They were just so passive aggressive toward me,” he says.”
Walking around on the dance floor, The Writer spots my biggest fan–Turtle is waddling around, wasted in a circle of skinny guys. “Is it gonna be super awkward if we go over there and dance by Turtle?” He asks with a big grin. “No,” I say rolling my eyes. “Let’s go then,” he says. “No thanks,” I answer. “Why not? You said it wouldn’t be awkward.” “Yeah, but it’s not going to be particularly pleasant either,” I say. “Whatever, I’m gonna go over.” “Why are you testing me?” I ask, but he’s already moving through the crowd and doesn’t hear.
I follow, determined to show him that some creep won’t make me flinch. Turtle hugs him, and he spots me over The Writer’s shoulder. After they embrace, I see Turtle lean toward some mildly hot guy, who has way overstayed his welcome at the age he’s attempting to pull off. I see Turtle’s lips slur the words: “I hate that slut.” Lovely. I look directly at Turtle and smile appreciatively. He crinkles his nose and does everything within his power to avoid eye contact with me. I dance in the crowd for a song and a half and watch The Writer make a couple exchanges with him. Turtle says something to him, and The Writer looks a little upset. I try to get him to make eye contact with me, and when he does,
I turn and make my way off the dance floor. I stand against the back wall like I’m at a school dance–but this time, I’m the too-cool-for-school angry hot girl at senior prom, not the intimidated nerd at the middle school semi-formal. And I’ve just about had it.
The Writer shuffles out of the crowd a couple moments later. “Everyone is being so bitchy tonight,” he says. “What did you expect? You know he hates me. Why are you even friends with all of these assholes, anyway?” “Ken’s not an asshole,” he says. “Not him, I mean in general. Why do you let all of this crappy people in your life?” I ask, seriously wanting to know the answer. “It’s just easier,” he says. And that answers all my questions. The Writer doesn’t do anything out of priority. He makes his decisions based on what is easy, what will prevent confrontation. That’s no way to live your life. “You’ll see some day,” he continues. He still doesn’t get it.
“I’m leaving in twenty minutes,” I tell him. “Forty,” he negotiates. “Twenty five,” I say. We spot Ken and company again. We walk over, and Ken puts his arm around my neck. His friend blocks The Writer from joining the circle. “Isn’t this a great color on Jimmy?” Ken asks me as he places his hand on Jimmy’s shirt, rubbing his chest. “Yeah, it really brings out your eyes,” I say dutifully.
Not two minutes later, The Writer taps me on the shoulder. “I’m ready to go,” he says. “Let’s go then,” I say, and Ken kisses me on the cheek. As we exit, The Writer looks around the lobby as though he’s concerned he might miss that first fateful encounter with the love of his life.
After we exit, he starts: “Did you see that? I let them treat me like a doormat, and they wipe their feet all over me.” “You’re doing it again,” I say with my voice raised. “Doing what?” “Complaining! All you do is complain about how you let people treat you like shit and then you’re surprised when they do. You are the one who allows that to happen. Do you know how pathetic that is?” He stays silent. “Seriously. You are so much better than this whole fucked-up WeHo circus and yet you still let it condescend to you over and over again. Why do you put up with it?” His depressed gaze wonders away from me, and I feel bad for him for the first time in a long time. “You deserve better,” I say.
I put my arm around his neck as we walk back to my car. His walking is a little drunk. He squeezes into me, and I realize for the first time that I didn’t just lose him. He lost me, too.
As we drive up his street to his house, he sits up. “Are your headlights on?” I panic for a moment. There’s no way I would have driven this far without my headlights on. I check the dash. “Yeah, they’re on.” But when I look a little in front of the car, I notice they’re very dim. Something is wrong. The digital clock starts to fade, and I realize what’s happening. “No. No, no, no…” We make it around a bend, and my car start to slow. It comes to a complete stop directly in front of The Writer’s house.
“I can’t deal with this right now,” I practically yell. “You don’t have to,” he says. I look at him. “Sleep here tonight and deal with it the morning. My eyes go wide like a crazy person in a movie as I follow The Writer into his house. Dalton isn’t here.
The Writer gets us each a glass of water in his dark kitchen. “I’m exhausted, so I’m going to crash. There’s a pillow and blanket on the couch.” The words hit me like a shotgun pointblank. Someone once told me, you can’t get over someone if you’re still under him. He gives me a one-armed hug before going into his room and shutting the door.
I remember Dalton’s words: “I’ll be home later tonight.” You might be able to steal his seat in the car, but you can’t take his spot in the bed. I walk over to the couch and stare at it for a good, long minute. I think for a moment about walking home. It’s only about six miles. Maybe seven. Holding my breath, I finally lie down and stare at the ceiling. I don’t move for twenty minutes. My eyes don’t shut. I’m becoming slightly hysterical. I can’t be certain if it’s from exhaustion or due to my aforementioned irrational car anxiety. Or the fact that The Writer asked me to sleep on his couch. I just know that I start giggling. Uncontrollably. I worry for a moment that I might wake up his roommate before remembering that he’s out of town. Which is good because I can’t stop. I giggle like a maniac for what seems like forever. The next thing I know, I’m awake and it’s morning.
I call a tow truck to take my car to the mechanic. I go in the bathroom to brush my teeth. I can’t find my toothbrush. I check the mirror cabinet, the drawer, everywhere. And then I see it in the trash. Just before I leave, I peek into The Writer’s room. He’s asleep with his eye mask on. Alone. Dalton didn’t even come home last night.