Title: In a Perfect World (2/2)
Summary: AU; Eric's trying to break into acting while doing comedy clubs and some modeling to pay the bills. Just after he's met a guy who might become someone special, if only he has time to find out, he gets a chance at what might be his big break, but it'd force him to stay locked in the closet for years.
Viggo sat up, scrubbing his fingers through his hair, and said, "Problems?"
"Yeah. No, but yeah. Usual stuff. It just didn't...." Eric trailed off and turned to look at Viggo. "Can I ask you something that'll make you think I have no social skills at all?"
Viggo grinned. "Sure. Not like mine are all that great -- ask anyone who knows me."
"You're eccentric," said Eric, who found himself grinning. "This is just... kind of pathetic."
"I get it, you're about to embarass yourself. So shoot."
Eric glared at him, then looked away. "Okay, so, we just met recently, but I've been having a good time, and not just in bed. I think this thing, whatever it is, has... potential. So I was wondering if you agreed, or if it was just sort of--"
"So what you mean is, do I like you, circle yes or no?"
Eric could tell from his tone that Viggo was grinning at him. Eric clenched his jaw and said, "Yeah, I guess."
Eric waited, then said, "That's it?"
"Yes, I do like you. I've been having fun too; that's why I asked you out for coffee and dinner. You're a good guy, you don't have a stick up your ass, you're not full of yourself like a lot of hot actors, and the sex is great. So yes, I agree, this whatever-it-is has potential."
"Oh. Okay, good." It was awesome, really, except it didn't solve his immediate problem. It would've actually been easier if Viggo'd said no, that it was just a few days of hanging out and fucking. Which wouldn't have been good, but--
"So what's up? I assume your phone call is what brought all this up?"
"Yeah. That was my agent, I have an offer of a part. It's not a big movie, like expected to be a blockbuster or anything,, but it could be a springboard to bigger things, you know?"
Viggo nodded. "That's good news. I take it our 'thing' is an issue?"
"Yeah." Eric pulled his legs back up onto the bed and flopped down on his back, staring at the ceiling. "It's always been an issue in this business, but in this case there's a morality clause in the contract, and one of the production company's major backers considers being gay to be immoral. I've always been discreet, but I'd have to be completely in the closet for the duration of the contract."
"That sounds pretty much like what you've been doing."
Eric sighed. "Except that now... now I need to know if that's okay with you."
"With me? Sure. I promise I won't throw all your stuff out the window if you don't take me to the Oscars as your date."
Eric poked Viggo in the stomach, getting an "Oof!" out of him. "I doubt that'll be an issue. It's more that we'll have to be careful in public. We won't even be able to be seen together much, unless I get a beard or something. I mean, I could -- Annie has a client who's a lesbian and we've gone out a couple of times when Jerrie had paps following her. This time it'll be for me, though, and if we're both covering, it'll probably need to be turned into a bigger production, you know?"
"I do know," Viggo said. He still sounded calm, which was good, mostly. "I've probably worked in this town longer than you, and you're not the first actor who's done modelling to pay the rent in between parts. I know a lot of people in the industry and I do get it. I think the question is whether you can handle it. I've seen guys go down that road before. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. You'll be on stage twenty-four-seven, with no breaks. That tends to grind a person down."
Eric could imagine it. If the movie just sank then it wouldn't matter much because no one would be paying any attention to him. If it was a success, though, if there were other successes after it, the better Eric's career went, the more thoroughly he'd have to play the part of a straight guy who ogled tits instead of cocks.
He'd known it, but had never really faced it before.
Viggo leaned down and kissed him, drawing one gentle finger across Eric's cheekbone. "You think about it. It's your life, and you need to be the one at the wheel." Then he got up and started rummaging around in his dresser for clothes.
Eric spent the rest of the day at home, reading his contract and thinking and pacing.
In a way, having a week and a half to think about it just made it worse. If he had to decide fast, right then, he'd just... well, decide something and then it'd be over with and he'd be committed. But with a week and a half to consider it, he'd drive himself around the bend before it came down to the wire.
He'd already changed his mind half a dozen time. The idea of being completely closeted, of having a fake girlfriend -- eventually, probably -- as a regular thing rather than just occasionally was repulsive. Having to look over his shoulder all the time, having to make sure all the blinds were closed before he kissed his boyfriend in his own living room.... He knew a lot of guys lived like that, and women too, but the thought of doing it himself? For years?
At the same time, the only thing forcing him to make a decision right then was Viggo. Eric could face the idea of living closetted for a couple of years, through filming and the release and promotion, on his own. If he were still single, it'd be no decision at all -- he'd take this step in his career and accept that he wouldn't be able to come out publicly for a few years. If he made it big, he'd have a better chance of weathering a coming-out storm later, when he wouldn't be in breach of contract. If he came out while he was unknown, he wouldn't even get a chance to approach the big, fancy doors, much less to walk through.
Later was always there, was always another chance. Except he didn't have later.
Or maybe he did. Because Viggo hadn't seemed terribly concerned one way or the other about what Eric did. Eric was pretty sure he'd be willing to strike out and wave the rainbow flag if he had a reason, but he wasn't sure he had a reason.
What if he made an irrevocable step and then Viggo said it's been fun, see you sometime?
Fuck it. Eric changed into shorts and a T-shirt and headed to the gym. Maybe some mindless sweating would bring the answer out.
Monday evening was beer and bullshit night. Eric got together with some friends, other comedians, to drink and hang and try out new material. That week they were at Ross Chang's place, a cheap apartment near UCLA where, as Ross said in his act, you didn't need a clock 'cause the gunshots went off every hour and the sirens every half hour.
Eric was standing in the center of a circle of seats and saying, "So Oi've got this new friend, roight? He calls me up at some ungodly hour and says, 'You wanna get some coffee?'" Eric always cranked up the Aussie accent when he was performing; it won him some points with audiences, who seemed more willing to laugh at someone who talked funny. "So Oi haul my arse outa bed an' he picks me up and we start driving. And we're driving and we're driving and pretty soon we're clear out of LA and heading up the coast, and Oi'm thinking, what, did someone poison Los Angeles's coffee supply?"
He paused and got a few grunts and smirks out of the gang, which was pretty good for them, 'cause pros were always a tough audience.
"So we end up in a woid spot in the road at the top of a cliff, in a little cafe barely hanging onto the last piece of dry land on this end of the continent. I thought as soon as we walked in the extra weight would send the whole building crashing down into the surf, roight? But no, the owner thought of that. They had a couple of employees who, the second we came in the door, dashed out from behind the counter and ran over to our soid of the room while we walked back to the register." Eric illustrated the dashing and walking and crossing in the middle with sweeping gestures as he talked. "So they were, like, counterweights, roight? They got minimum wage to make sure everything balanced -- the owner said the insurance company'd sent 'em over, 'cause it was cheaper than paying to replace the building."
That one got groans and eyerolls. "No? Okay, I'll come up with something else for that bit." Eric scribbled a note on his pad, then continued.
"So a few days later he calls up and asks if Oi wanna grab some dinner with him. Oi say foin, and he comes to get me. And we're driving and we're driving and pretty soon we've left LA and we're driving through the countryside, and Oi'm thinkin', what, did the Health Department crack down on all the restaurants in or something?"
"That's a good guess," said Stacy with a smirk.
"It'll happen one day, you watch," added Ross. "The perfect storm of cockroaches."
"Some day, sure, but it hasn't happened yet, 'cause me friend is driving along and pulls onto this dirt road, and a few miles later we stop at what looks like an army camp or something, with a couple huts and a big tent all in camouflage, and I'm thinking, damn, we drove three hours to eat army food?" Eric made a disgusted face and rolled his eyes.
"But believe it or not, that would've been preferable to what we had, 'cause what this was, was a survivalist type of training camp. You know, places you can go to learn to shoot a machine gun or set traps with hand grenades or drive tanks...? That kinda place? Could be fun, roit? But we were there to eat, so this pot-bellied guy in khaki hands us a full color pamphlet and points us out to the bush. We spent the next two hours foraging for food." Eric waited a beat, then said, "Did you know spoidas are edible? No joke. You use your pocket knoife to remove the poison glands from their arse and then you pop 'em in your mouth by the handful. They're just like cherries, except they're crunchier and they have eight stems."
That got a chorus of groans and a couple of barf noises and even some actual laughter. Eric smirked and waited for the noise to die down.
"So me friend, he asked me if Oi wanted to met him next Saturday and go for a walk." He waited about a second and a half, then said, "Oi've got a set of pitons and an ice axe on order."
Eric took a bow to more groans. A couple of people gave him a few claps, which was awesome. They spent the next fifteen minutes or so tearing it all apart, and Eric scribbled a lot of notes on his pad, ideas to tighten it up and improve the flow and the timing. Then he sat down and it was Morty's turn.
Even if nothing else came of it, Viggo'd given him some good material.
Viggo sort of invited himself over for dinner on Tuesday. Not really in the sense of, "Hey, I'm coming over for dinner, make something nice," but they'd been talking on the phone and the conversation had wound around this and that and they'd just sort of agreed that they wanted to keep talking and that they were both getting kind of hungry, and putting those together resulted in Viggo coming over with a bottle of wine and platter of tamales. Eric had ice cream in the freezer, and that was dinner.
The subject of Eric's upcoming decision to either come out of the closet or lock himself in for a few years never came up. They'd both circled around it as effectively as if they'd agreed ahead of time. They had plenty to talk about -- Viggo'd been out at dawn taking pictures of things with frost on them, leaves and tree bark and window screens and whatever else, plus he filled Eric in some on the upcoming catalog shoot -- and everything had been perfectly mellow and comfortable. They'd just stayed away from that one gap in the future.
They cleaned up and had a couple beers, then fell into bed for sex. When they were all panting and sweaty an hour and a bit later, Eric asked, "You leaving?"
Viggo said, "Nope. Staying right here." And he did.
Eric lay awake listening to Viggo breathe and wondering if he was a complete nutter for wanting to read more into that statement, because seriously, how pathetic could a man get?
The next morning, Viggo and Eric opened headed to the studio together and opened up. Viggo loaded his cameras while Eric, who'd carried in a couple of flats of water, stuffed the bottles into the fridge in the corner. There were a bunch of cardboard boxes sitting against a wall to the prop tables and Viggo pointed out which ones they'd need for that day. Eric saw that a bunch of the boxes had DONE scrawled on them in marker; Viggo must've been working with other models Monday and Tuesday.
"A lot of these things need basic item photos," Viggo said, waving a bright blue silicone dildo as an example. "I'll do those after; it's assembly line work. Wearables need to be modeled -- that's where you and the others come in."
Eric held up a French maid's dress with a noticeably flat front and said, "You mean like this? I'm pretty sure it won't fit me. I'm hoping it won't fit me!"
Viggo laughed and said, "Yeah, I've got a couple guys who are a pretty standard size large; I have them do most of the fitted clothes. Some of it's stretchy, though, and some of the sizing is more forgiving; you'll be getting in and out of spandex bikinis and thongs tomorrow."
"Christ, you're not joking, are you?" Eric had to laugh, and was trying to figure out how to use the idea of a bloke his size modeling spandex thongs in his act. "Better than having to model one of these." He waved a set of anal beads with little smiley faces on them -- the smiles got wider as the beads got bigger, which Eric had to admit was clever, if you were the sort of person who liked a good laugh in the bedroom.
Eric was that sort of person, actually, but he'd still just as soon not have to have his picture taken with the beads in his bum.
They were almost done sorting through the items when there was a loud knock on the door, then it slid open and a gorgeous young man came striding in. He said, "Hey, Vig! Hi, new guy!" while pulling off a knitted hat and scarf and peeling out of a leather jacket.
"Hey, Orlando. This is Eric. Eric, Orlando." Viggo made introductions over one shoulder while tossing tubes of lube into one box and fluffy handcuffs into another.
Eric waved and Orlando gave him a looking over, accented with a flirty grin. "I get to pose with you today? All this and they pay me too -- I must've been an extra good boy this year."
Eric let his eyes go big and round and said, "Woyte, you get pied? Loik, real money? Voiggo!"
Orlando collapsed into a chair, giggling, and Viggo turned around to glare at them both, but he couldn't maintain and started cackling. "Damn, Orlando, you had to blab! Now I'll have to pay him too!"
They all cracked up, and Viggo gave Orlando a play swat upside the head. Orlando smacked him back, then ducked out of range and hid behind Eric.
Viggo smirked and turned back to the prop tables. Orlando peeked out from behind Eric's shoulder, then said, "Heh. Crazy old man." He looked up at Eric with a grin. "You do a great Aussie accent."
Eric grinned back and said, in perfect deadpan American, "Nope, I do a great Yank accent."
"You're actually from Australia? Cool."
"All right," said Viggo, "Enough socializing. Here, go get changed and let's do some work." He handed Orlando a silky looking poet's shirt and a vest made of fake leather patchwork. Eric got a solid fake-leather jerkinish thing and a bandana.
Eric followed Orlando into the partitioned space in the corner. It was set up as a changing room, with a bench and a clothes rack and an empty bookcase. They got dressed, then headed back out. Eric felt a little silly, but Orlando jogged over to a set with a pale blue backdrop where Viggo had lights on and a row of cameras at hand on a table, and saluted. "Arrr, Cap'n, reporting for duty!"
Viggo grinned and tilted his head at Eric. "He's your captain -- attention on Eric." He positioned Eric where he wanted him, standing just slightly off center, then balanced it with Orlando. "Eric, look haughty and a little evil. Orlando, worshipful."
Eric thought, Okay, pirate, scourge of the seven seas, and drew himself up to his full height, arms crossed across his chest. The sleeveless jerkin set off his broad chest and muscled arms, he knew, and that seemed to be what Viggo was looking for.
Orlando said, "Oh Captain, my Captain," with a flirty smile, and draped himself against Eric's side, letting the camera capture most of Eric's outfit. Viggo clicked off a couple of shots, then Orlando put a hand on Eric's left biceps, showing that his fingers could barely wrap around half of it. Click-click-click.
"Orlando, face front."
Orlando obeyed, turning to face the camera while leaning against Eric's chest. Eric put an arm around his waist and the other on his shoulder, looking down at his "crewman" with a small smile. He knew the attitude would communicate all the way down his body, and show even without his face in the picture.
They went through more costumes -- doctor and patient, riding outfits complete with crops, cowboys, construction workers, cops, soldiers, firemen... everything Eric had ever seen fetishized in gay porn and a few he'd never thought of. They wrapped up with biker outfits right before lunch.
Eric changed back into his own clothes, then huffed out a sigh and flopped down into a chair. "Damn, this is hard work. I'll stick with acting, thanks."
"Most models I know want to act," said Orlando. "But doing both means eating twice as often." He sat down next to Eric and took a slug out of a bottle of water. "Been in anything?"
"Some walk-ons, a couple of commercials. I had a minor supporting in Bayou Demon -- not exactly an Oscar contender, but it paid some bills."
Orlando nodded. "I've done some stage work. I prefer the theater, but there's not as much opportunity unless you're willing to work for peanut shells, which my landlord won't take for some reason."
"I hear you." Eric watched Viggo reloading cameras for a minute, then said, "We going to lunch together, or foraging on our own?"
"Let's go to Green Village," said Orlando. "They have a great soup and salad bar."
"Whatever you two want to do," said Viggo. "I'll be done here in a few."
They ended up in a not-quite-vegetarian place Eric had never been to before. Their bean and ham soup was good and hearty; Eric had two bowls of that and two plates of salad.
"I wish I could eat like that," Orlando said with a smirk. He'd gotten the vegetarian squash soup and visited the salad bar once. He was slender enough, Eric imagined it'd be easy to overdo it and then all his modelling work would dry up and blow away.
"Hey, it takes a lot of fuel to maintain this body!" Eric flexed his arm and put on a fatuous, in-love-with-himself look. Viggo smirked and Orlando laughed.
"No wonder you're so desperate for work -- it probably costs a thousand a month just to keep you in groceries."
"Not quite, but sometimes it seems close." Eric rolled his eyes and took a big bite of salad.
"You know, I have a friend who's trying to get a film made, he does little independent things, but he's working on a project about returning veterans and he's looking for some soldier types." Orlando poked his fork across the table at Eric and added, "I could give him your number if you want to try for it."
"Sure," said Eric. "That'd be great, thanks." It never hurt to have more work lined up, and an independent film might not get out the gate for a year or two or even longer, depending on how long it took to line up financing. He dug a card out of his pocket and handed it to Orlando. "If you're ever interested in TV or movies, let me know and I'll give you my agent's number. You do a good job getting into character, and you've definitely go the looks."
"Thanks. I... it's not something I've dreamed of, you know? But expanding on possibilities makes it easier to pay bills."
"Amen to that," said Eric, and he toasted Orlando with his iced tea glass.
The afternoon was devoted to less costumey, more fetishy shots. Viggo put Eric into an outfit that consisted mainly of a set of leather straps across his chest and arms and a fake-leather half mask. He'd had Eric bring his biker boots, and he had a set of leather pants for him.
"Those are rented," Viggo said. "Don't mess them up."
Orlando was the one going through multiple changes for the rest of the day, modelling different styles of bondage gear. Viggo shot him alone sometimes, and at other times with Eric playing Dom.
Some time after three, they took a short break for water (for the models) and camera reloads (for the photographer) and Orlando said, "How come I'm always the bottom? I think Eric should have a turn on his knees."
Eric was pretty sure he was joking, or at least half joking, but Viggo looked up and gave Eric an intense stare, then Orlando, then Eric again.
"All right," he said. "We'll shoot a few like that and see how they turn out."
"Hah!" Orlando did a fist-pump, then grinned at Eric. "It'll be fun having you at my feet."
"Hell, even kneeling I'll be taller than you," Eric shot back.
"Are not!" Orlando laughed and splashed some water at Eric. Eric retaliated, until Viggo called, "Rented pants! Cut it out!"
They chorused, "Yes, Sir!" then looked at each other and cracked up again.
"Why did I think having you two together would be a good idea?" Viggo grumped.
"'Cause the really good photographers are all crazy," Orlando shot back.
Viggo snorted and said, "Point."
When it was time to get back to work, he had Orlando put on the black jeans he'd come in wearing, and his leather jacket over his bare chest. Eric lost the leather pants, got a fake leather jockstrap in its place, and kept the half mask. They spent the next couple of hours with Eric modelling the binders, spreader bars, and a bondage bench, while Orlando played Dom with floggers, paddles, vampire gloves and his bare hands.
Finally, Viggo said, "Okay, good day's work. I'll e-mail some proofs of these shots to Stan and Mike and see if they like the role reversal. I think they will, but if not then I'll schedule another half day to redo those items with Orlando on the bottom."
"I think they'll go for it," said Orlando, who was working on another bottle of water. "Not all Doms are big, brawny guys, and there are plenty of big, brawny guys who are bottoms and appreciate seeing guys who look like them in that role. Breaking the stereotypes will get the catalog talked about."
"Likely," Viggo agreed. "I'll let you know."
Orlando de-sweated with paper towels, then got back into his street clothes, waved to Eric and gave Viggo a kiss on the cheek before taking off. Eric dawdled a little, wanting some time with Viggo, and wondering whether he'd want to go get dinner or something.
He copied Orlando with the paper towels before getting dressed, then wandered over to the tables to help Viggo, who was sorting through items again.
They packed all the costumes into boxes and taped them up and wrote DONE on them, then stacked them out of the way. Most of the toys stayed out, though.
"Didn't we shoot all this stuff today?" Eric asked.
"Yeah, but we'll do most of it again with you or another model alone," Viggo said. "I'm just the photographer; Mike puts the catalogue together. He gave me notes on what kinds of shots he wants, but he likes having a variety. Any given item that's being modeled might be shown with one model or two, depending on how the shots turn out and what Mike wants to do with a page."
Eric nodded and said, "Okay, makes sense. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just do one shot of each item, though?"
"First, we never take just one shot. You always take multiples and choose the best one. Amateurs who are doing their own photography because they don't want to pay a pro are the only ones who think one shot is enough, and their finished product looks like it. In general, though, you're right -- it'd be cheaper to just decide ahead of time for each item whether we want it alone, or with one model or with two, and run through getting just those shots. I'm pretty fast, though, so taking multiples isn't as expensive as it might be with someone else.
"And Mike and Stan know their catalog sells for its photos as much as for what it advertises; they charge ten bucks for it, with a rebate if you buy something. Half their sales are to guys who don't want to buy anything -- they just want to look at the pictures." Viggo gave him a sideways smirk while packing a dozen styles of fake-leather cuffs into a box. "They make a lot of extra money because their catalog is good, and they want to keep it that way."
"So a few hundred guys are going to be wanking off to my picture, then?" said Eric. He wasn't really bothered by it, but it was sort of weird.
"Try a few thousand, but yeah. If you'd let me show your face, you'd be famous in a few months."
Eric snorted. "Thanks, but I'll pass. Not quite what I wanted, and definitely not what the producers want in their actors."
"Your choice," said Viggo, mellow and agreeable as always. "You looked good in the mask, so being shy won't hurt anything."
"Well, good, I'm glad."
Eric was still wondering what was up with Viggo. He just didn't seem to get very excited or upset about anything; he was like the ultimate even-tempered guy. Which could be good if you didn't want a lot of friction or drama in your personal life. Eric knew a few people who flew off the handle any time life wasn't perfect, which was practically all the time. That wasn't the kind of person Eric wanted to share his life with.
But some excitement was good, right? Some passion? Some strong feeling one way or the other, to make a fellow feel like he matters at least a little, that you give a damn? Eric didn't know whether Viggo gave a damn, not really. He said he "liked" Eric, and that their thing had potential, but there was none of the new-lover passion or intensity Eric was used to, at least not out of bed. He didn't know what to think, and he'd felt like enough of a dufus asking straight out the one time; he didn't want to ask again, like some teenager whining for constant reassurances.
He didn't know what to do and didn't want to look like a fool doing it, so he did nothing.
They finished packing up, tossed all the empty water bottles into the recycle bin, then headed out. While Viggo was locking up, he said, "Feel like dinner?"
Eric smirked and asked, "How far will I have to walk to get it?"
Viggo snickered. "No walking this time. You'll need to change, though -- coat and tie, or some appropriate substitute if you want to try to set your own style. A few people will be doing that; they always are."
"Where are we going, exactly?" asked Eric, who'd had enough experience with Viggo's invitations that he wanted to be sure he wouldn't actually need pitons or an ice axe.
"Gallery opening. A friend of mine's got some pieces in the show, and Pritchett's always lays out a nice spread, small plates of foodie type food, like hors d'oeuvres on steroids." Viggo gave him a sly smile and added, "You could probably put on a mile or two walking around the gallery if you wanted to, but you could also find a seat somewhere and park, especially if we get there early."
"Oh." Eric thought about it and nodded. He wasn't really into modern art, but he'd been having some new experiences with Viggo; so long as he didn't actually have to eat spiders, he figured it'd be fun to try once. "Sure. Tux or just a suit?"
"Whichever you want," Viggo said. "You wouldn't be the only man there in a tux if you have one and want to wear it, if you want to make that big a splash."
"Suit it is, then. Art isn't my environment; I wouldn't want to give the wrong impression, then have folks decide I'm some pathetic poser."
"Wise choice," said Viggo. "Meet at my place in about an hour?"
"Sure," said Eric, "See you then," and they separated in the parking lot.
Pritchett's Gallery was a series of interconnected rooms laid out like a maze; Eric was pretty sure it was bigger than it seemed at first, possibly a lot bigger. He wandered through with Viggo, munching on this and that from the trays being circulated by young people all in black.
Viggo obviously knew about more than photography. They passed through the rooms, pausing to look at ink sketches, oils and acrylics, collages, and some "fiber art" that reminded Eric of the macrame hangings one of his aunts had hanging around her house, except more abstract and without any knotted owls.
Walking with Viggo reminded Eric of an art appreciation course he'd had at uni, only without the urge to snooze. Viggo was saying something about dynamic negative space and pointing to examples in the drawing they were looking at, when someone said, "Mortensen! Good to see you -- what've you been up to?"
Eric saw a man coming up behind Viggo, short and chubby, maybe fifty-something, in ski pants and a white turtleneck. Apparently this was one of the people who dressed to attract attention.
Viggo said, "Hey, Albie. What's up?" and gave the guy a one-armed hug, holding his glass of champagne out a safe distance with the other.
"Same as always," said Albie. "One of these days we're going to have to blow up all the studios and start over from scratch."
"Easier to start your own," said Viggo. "Less prison time that way."
"Oh, I suppose. Not as much fun, though."
Viggo snickered and said, "Well, don't expect me to bail you out. I'll bring you cigarettes, though; you can get anything on the inside if you have cigarettes to trade."
"Oh, thank you so much." Albie gave Viggo an exaggerated scowl, then glanced at Eric and said, "Who's your friend? You obviously left your manners in your other pants again."
Viggo said, "Albie, this is Eric Bana. Eric, this is Albie Bronsen. Eric, Albie makes movies. Albie, Eric acts. Also models, which is how we met. You two could probably help each other out."
Eric tried hard not to flush at Viggo's blatant... well, it was too blatant to even be called schmoozing. He said, "Hello, good to meet you," and held out his hand.
Albie shook it while looking Eric over. "You certainly make a powerful physical impression. Can you actually act?"
"I'm not practicing my Oscar speech yet, but I've been working on the craft for a while. I had my own TV show in Australia for a couple of seasons -- sketch comedy."
"Built like an action star but with a comedy background? That's unusual." Albie dipped a hand into his pants pocket and held out a card. "Have your agent send me your file."
"I'll do that, thanks." Eric gave Albie a big smile and pocketed the card.
"Good, good." Albie nodded to Eric, then turned back to Viggo and asked, "So, what's worth buying here? You know my taste in art sucks rocks."
Viggo chuckled and they all wandered off, the conversation reverting to art. Eric hoped his grin wasn't too big or stupid; he was trying his best to maintain.
They spent the night at Viggo's place, and it was just as much fun as it always was. The sex wasn't the problem -- it was fantastic. The problem was Eric's mental blithering about committment.
Not that he'd usually be thinking about any such thing when he'd known a bloke for less than a week, but the circumstances were rushing him. Annie was waiting for an answer, and the Rising Tide people were likely expecting him to sign on, with maybe a quibble or two about minor contract points. He had to decide, though, and within a few days. Time was pressing down on him, and whenever Eric thought about it, he felt a strong urge to just start driving and see if he could outrun all the conflicting pressures in his life.
He left Viggo's early the next morning, saying he needed a change of clothes, which was true enough. He also took some time to Google Albie Bronsen, and e-mail Annie, passing on the contact info from Albie's card.
Albert Bronsen was a maverick film maker who worked outside the big studios. He'd had a couple of box office hits, and half a dozen of his films had won awards Eric had actually heard of, mainly from film festivals. A little more digging showed that he'd worked with openly gay actors before.
Was that why Viggo'd taken him to the show? Had he known Albie would be there?
And did it make any difference if he did? Did it mean anything? It could be a favor for a new friend, or it could be an attempt to give a new lover an alternative that'd let them stay together without having to hide for the next few years. Eric had no idea which it was, or might be, or whether Viggo was likely to have even thought about deliberately pulling strings like that.
A glance at the clock sent him scrambling out the door. Whatever else might be going on, he still had a job and didn't want to be late.
It was just him and Viggo that day, shooting pictures of items Eric wore or held. Eric was in those spandex thongs Viggo'd teased him about earlier, and spent most of the morning going from one bondage position to another.
Just as Eric was getting tired of being curled up, Viggo had him lie across a piece of furniture shaped like a half cylinder. It flexed his back the other way, and the stretch was a relief. There were cuffs attached to the thing at either end for his wrists and ankles, but his back felt so good he didn't care.
"You're too relaxed," said Viggo with a grin. "It's not nap time." He knelt down next to Eric and kissed him silly, while playing with one nipple with his fingers. Eric made a startled sound into Viggo's mouth, and reflexively tugged on all four cuffs, but he was stuck in place.
By the time Viggo stood up again, Eric was anything but relaxed, and his body was responding in a way that was kind of embarassing when there was a guy with a bunch of cameras in the room.
"Perfect," said Viggo, and he got back to shooting pictures. Eric hoped that the slightly frantic urgency he was feeling was something the clients would appreciate. He also hoped Viggo would be willing to help him out some time soon.
At least they didn't have to worry about him ruining a pair of rental pants that day.
That evening, Viggo had something to go do -- he mentioned something about a fire and Eric didn't ask because Viggo might actually tell him -- so Eric spent the night alone at home. He was feeling restless and moody, and ended up calling Ross.
They'd known each other since about two weeks after Eric arrived in the States, and had spent a lot of telephone hours listening to each other gripe and rage and vent and whine. Eric felt like doing most of those that night.
He explained what was going on, which took a while, then said, "So what do you think? Am I going mental? It seems like this should be a straightforward decision, right?"
"Nothing's straightforward when your brain and your heart and your prick are in conflict," said Ross. "Trust me -- it's the same for guys who are into women."
"Wow, thanks. Next time I'm looking for encouragement I'll know right where to come."
"Your problem is you're looking for some absolute, guaranteed answer. There aren't any. You just have to have faith."
"Come on, Ross, I'm not into that and you know it."
"I know you're not religious, but that's not the only kind of faith there is. Believing in yourself takes faith. Believing things can get better takes faith. Believing you can take action and make things better takes faith. Do you have any of that kind of faith?"
"I...." Eric trailed off and thought for a bit. He hadn't considered any of that to be faith, but he could see where Ross was coming from. "I do. I mean, yes, I believe things can get better, especially if you work for it. But I don't know what to do to make it better."
"What do you want?" asked Ross.
"What do you mean? I want to know what to do."
"No, what do you want? If you could have your life be any way you wanted, if some genie gave you a wish, what would you want?"
"Well, let's start with all this homophobia bullshite going away. I want to be able to be myself in public and still get work, good work, as far as my abilities will take me without people type casting me as the gay best friend. And I want this thing with Viggo to go somewhere and mean something. I want to be sure about what's what, instead of flailing around like I'm doing right now."
"Okay, that's what you want. So act like it's so."
"That's it? I should pretend the world is perfect? That's your advice? Good thing you're a comedian, is all I can say." Eric was half joking, but only half, because after all that, Ross's advice was a huge let-down.
"No, look -- you want things to be a certain way, right? If you act like they're not, then you're not helping them change. And you'll be in less of a position to take advantage of change when it comes. What if you get all famous and then come out later? There'll always be the sneering about how you were a chickenshit back when being gay was hard. If you're out, though, then when the world comes around to your way, you can just stare it down and say, 'What took you so long?'"
"Assuming it does come around to my way. That's the trick, ain't it?"
"The world is changing, man. Come on -- fucking Iowa has gay marriage. Who'd have imagined, huh?"
"California had gay marriage too, and couldn't hang onto it."
"Yeah, but the momentum is slowing down for the fucktards. I've got some Mormon friends, and they weren't happy about what their HQ did, messing around in politics like that, trying to slam a bunch of folks who never hurt anyone. Mormons are big on family, and gay people want to have families like everyone else. They had a petition going around protesting their church's involvement in Prop 8, and a lot of rank-and-file Mormons signed it. If the church backs off, that's a huge chunk of the homophobic right's money gone -- poof."
"If they back off. That's a pretty big if, Ross."
"Sure, but my point is that people are changing. Younger kids don't know why this is even an issue, and it's an issue for less and less of the country, even among older folks. It's gonna change. If you have faith that it will change, you can be there to meet it."
"Easy for you to say," Eric muttered.
"Eric? Who are you talking to?" Ross sounded kind of pissed off, and he added, "How many Asian comedians do you know up at the top of the list? Margaret Cho and...?"
"She's not the only one," Eric protested. "There's Henry Cho, and Russ Peters, and... Lee, Bobby Lee...."
"Sure, but if you stopped people on the street and asked, whose names would they be able to come up with besides Margaret?"
"Yeah, you're right, but you're talking household name level."
"Damn right I am. Why's she the only one? How many white comedians are household names? If we listed them all we'd have to break for breakfast tomorrow morning, then maybe finish it off by lunch. There's a bunch of black guys too, household names, everyone's heard of them. And one of these days, Russ Chang's gonna be up there with 'em. I have faith that I can make that happen, and I work for it every day."
"But nothing. That's what you're looking for -- you want to be a household name. If you didn't, you wouldn't give a shit whether the world changed. You'd be fine with comedy clubs and the occasional supporting role. That's not enough for you, though -- you want at least a chance at making it big. I do too. Right now, that's almost impossible for an Asian comedian. There are actually more gay actors who are household names than Asian comedians, but I'm still out there, waiting for the world to change. And when it does, I'm gonna say, 'What took you so long?' How about you, Eric? Where are you gonna be when the world changes?"
"I don't... shite. I know where I want to be, but I want to make good decisions on the way. It's a business, and you can't just dance around like it's dreamland and you can just wish upon a star."
"So don't wish. Act. Make it happen. Or don't, but then admit to yourself that your world is gonna suck forever and you're just making the best of it. Those are your choices -- pick one."
Eric snorted. "When did you get so damn philosophical?"
"All comedians are philosophers. We're the jesters of society, the thinkers, the only ones who can tell the king he's fucking up without getting our heads whacked off. You just need to start doing your job."
"I'd like to be able to eat in the mean time."
"Hey, it's your priority list. Just figure out what your priorities are, and own 'em. All this flailing bullshit isn't buying you anything."
"Yeah, yeah." Eric sighed. Joshing and snarking wasn't going to work that time; Ross was determined to turn him into a crusader. Eric wasn't sure he wanted to go charging out with his sword. "Thanks. I mean it. That's a lot to think about, you know?"
Ross sighed and said, "Fine, whatever works for you, man. See you Monday."
"Monday," said Eric, and they hung up. He knew Ross was disappointed that Eric hadn't picked up the gauntlet right away, but Eric wanted to be sure that if he did join the charge, it wouldn't be straight off a cliff.
Friday was his last day working with Viggo, at least on the catalog job. Viggo hadn't mentioned any others, and while Eric modeled silk boxers and leather armbands and a few fancy chain collars, he wondered whether that'd be it. They hadn't made any plans for the weekend, so maybe it was just a fling for the duration of the job?
On the other hand, Viggo didn't seem like the kind of guy who made plans way in advance. His invitations had usually been of the "Wanna go do this right now?" type, or maybe with an hour or so's notice, like the gallery show.
And... Eric finally realized that all the invitations had come from Viggo.
Eric had never invited Viggo anywhere. That was... well, fuck, that was embarassing. Eric had been studying Viggo's actions, trying to figure out what they meant, what he felt or wanted, watching to see what Viggo said and did so Eric could figure out how to react. Viggo'd probably been thinking about Eric's actions too, and wondering whether Eric ever planned on taking the lead on, well, anything.
When they wrapped up for the day, Eric pocketed his check, then stayed to help straighten up again. When they were done, Viggo said, "Well, I guess that's--"
Eric cut him off with a kiss, slow and deep, with a full body press. He sank into it, letting himself forget all the bullshit and just feel, just enjoy being with the man in his arms. It was good, and he wanted more of it. He only wished he knew whether he could have that.
When he pulled back, he said, "Doing anything tonight?"
Viggo shook his head, and waited.
Eric reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a ticket. "Come see my show tonight?"
Viggo gave him a bright smile and took it. "Sure. That'd be great, thanks. I haven't been to a comedy club in ages."
"There are some good folks playing tonight."
Viggo nodded. "Looking forward to it. See you after?"
"Sure. We can go get some dinner or something. I'm always too worked up to eat right before a show."
"That works," Viggo said with a nod. "I'll see you there."
"See you." Eric leaned in for another kiss, then left.
The four hours leading up to the show vanished in a haze of talking and pacing and last-minute fiddling with his new material. The wording had to be right, and the timing, and the way each gag flowed from the last and into the next. What if he fell flat? He always worried about new jokes and most of the time they were fine, but not always; no one got a hit every time.
What if he bombed the one time Viggo was there to see him?
Eric paced back and forth in his living room, practicing, trying to get it all just right. He knew he couldn't make any more significant improvements without audience feedback, but knowing didn't change the churning in his gut.
Finally he hit the shower, got dressed, and drove out to the club.
It was a medium size place out in Santa Monica. He'd played there before and mostly had good shows. He liked the audience there -- appreciative, discerning but not too tough. Some audiences were just nasty, but the Straight Line wasn't usually like that.
Of course, 'not usually' wasn't the same as 'never,' but Eric shoved that out of his mind.
He got there about twenty minutes before the show started, and he was the third performer on the list. He allowed himself one drink before a performance, and that night it was Scotch. Just one, to relax; more than that and his timing would fall apart.
When Viggo came in, Eric spotted him at once. He watched his lover move through the crowd and sit at a tiny table to one side, a couple rows back from the stage. Someone else came by, gestured at the chair, and Viggo nodded. The guy sat down and they started chatting.
Just as well; Eric wasn't in any shape to go over and talk just then.
Time dragged until the show started. The first comedian was an old-timer. Eric knew her casually, and enjoyed her routine. The second was a newbie; he was okay but still had some rough spots. He did a good job playing the audience, though; he could do well if he stuck with it.
Then it was Eric's turn and the MC announced his name. Eric put on a big smile and went bounding up the four steps and strode across to the microphone, waving at the audience.
He turned up his Aussie accent about six notches and said, "Evenin'! Moy, we do have a foin crowd of blokes and sheilas this evening, aye?" That was enough to clue most of the audience in that the guy up front talking weird was from Australia and not England; Yanks couldn't always tell unless you hit 'em over the head with it.
Eric scanned over the crowd and made eye contact with Viggo for a second. He was smirking, like he was enjoying the contrast between how Eric usually was and his stage persona. That was a good sign.
"Oi been listenin' and Oi thought those two were fair dinkum, no? Let's have another hand for me cobbers!" There was more clapping and some whooping, and Eric figured "fair dinkum" clued in the other ten percent who hadn't caught on to "sheilas." Foundation laid, he got on with it.
"As you foin folks might've noticed, Oi'm not from around here." Pause for some laughs and a few comments of the "no shit" variety, which Eric ignored. He barrelled on, his first few jokes old reliables about surprises for the new arrival in America and contrasts between the US and Australia. It was good material and he got laughs and whoops and groans and icks in the right places. He'd slipped into his groove and was cruising on the almost manic high he got when he was in front of an audience.
Every half minute or so he glanced at Viggo. He laughed along with the others, sitting back with his drink and looking downright admiring. Viggo caught him looking and raised his glass, giving Eric a bright smile and a nod.
Eric was almost half way through his routine; he'd get to the spot where he'd inserted his new material in about a minute. And suddenly it hit him that Viggo might not appreciate those jokes.
Fuck. He kept going on autopilot but behind the flow of words he was frozen. When he'd come up with the new jokes, it hadn't occurred to him that Viggo'd be there to hear them. Some people didn't like recognizing themselves in a comedian's material, even if they weren't named. Eric should've talked to him about it, should've thought before fucking inviting him. That was the problem -- he'd been feeling, not thinking.
He looked back at Viggo. The man's face was relaxed, mellow, full of absolute confidence in Eric.
Faith. Russ's words came up to the top of Eric's mind. Belief that things would get better and you could make it happen.
Maybe part of it was the performance rush, but Eric looked back out over the audience and had no doubts at all when he swung into his new material.
"So Oi've been here a little while now and Oi've met someone, roight? Oi've got this new boyfriend, and he calls me up at some ungodly hour and says, 'You wanna get some coffee?'"
A ripple of surprise went through the crowd at the word "boyfriend" but Eric kept right on going. Some heckler shouted "Faggot!" when Eric was looking right at him, but the guy's girlfriend smacked him and leaned over to whisper something harsh into his ear.
Eric kept rolling, and when he got to the line about "spoidas" being just like cherries but crunchier and with eight stems, the room lost it in a combination of laughter and "Eeewww!" Only one person's reaction was important at that moment, though, and Viggo was cracking up along with everyone else. Eric shot him a grin and Viggo grinned right back, with a forefinger drawn across his throat in promised retribution.
Eric went on with his routine, riding the crowd and the laughter and the high of it all. He wrapped it up to a cresting wave of applause, took his bow and left the stage smiling and waving.
While the MC introduced the next act, Eric slid through the crowd, heading for Viggo. He stopped here and there for people who wanted to say hi or ask for an autograph, but a couple of minutes later he'd arrived at his target. There weren't any empty chairs, so he squatted down next to Viggo's and whispered, "So, what'cha think?" with a huge grin.
Viggo smirked at him and smacked him upside the head, although not with his full strength, which Eric took as a good sign. "You were great," he whispered back. "But you're also going to pay for that. I think I should get at least half the take for inspiring your best jokes."
"Hah, as if, you wanker!" Eric leaned forward and kissed him, right there in the middle of the crowded club. Granted the lights were still low, but there were still folks watching him. Eric didn't care.
Eric shoved Viggo over and they shared a chair for the rest of the fourth comedian's act, then got up when he was done, when it'd be polite to head for the exit. They were almost at the door when a young woman put a hand on Viggo's arm and said, "Oh my God, you're his boyfriend?!"
Viggo grinned up at Eric, then said, "Yep, that's me," to the woman. Then he leaned in a little, like he was about to confide a secret, and said, "He was just making up the part about the spiders, though."
Eric, standing a little behind Viggo, shook his head vigorously, eyes wide and mouth twisted up, and raised his hand to make a wiggly-legs gesture with his fingers. The woman had a screechy giggle and she put both hands over her mouth while she laughed.
Viggo glanced up at Eric and poked him in the ribs. "You are so getting it."
"Oi sure hope so!" Eric said, wiggling his eyebrows at the young woman. She giggled again and waved while they headed out the door.
Once they were out in the chill night, Viggo asked, "So, what did you want to do for the rest of the evening?"
Eric said, "Well, I figured I'd go get some dinner with my boyfriend, and then maybe spend the night at his place."
Viggo gave him a teasing grin. "Maybe your boyfriend would rather skip the dinner."
Eric slung an arm around Viggo's waist and said, "Maybe my boyfriend has a brilliant notion."
Viggo poked him again, and they chased each other out to the parking lot, hooting and laughing and shouting threats, and Eric was perfectly happy because the world was exactly the way it was supposed to be.