"For somebody who don't drive, I've been all around the world."
—Brand New Key ; Melanie
The first time Zac sees Daniel Radcliffe in the flesh it is during the staggering bitch that is July 2007. Zac is slouching out of a fancy ass hotel, leaving through the kitchen entrance in the back alley so that the paparazzi gathered one block up won't catch him sneaking out to dinner.
Zac is twenty years old and in Los Angeles without his girlfriend of how many fucking years now and all he wants to do is meet some of his main dudes at this killer surf and turf place for steak fajitas and $3 pitchers. The burnout who owns the place doesn't technically approve of Zac drinking there, which Zac actually prefers to, oh, every other kow-towing restaurateur in this smörgåsbord of desperation, but so long as Zac doesn't actually get up and order a drink himself the guy won't say anything. Zac is pretty sure he could set the place on fire and the dude wouldn't blink an eye, so long as he didn't try to order a drink first.
Zac likes that. He can never remember the dude's name—Travis or Ted or Tang or something—but he's thought a bit about what it'd be like to just disappear for thirty or forty fucking years and then move back to LA and open a rinky dink beach restaurant with a liquor license. The kind of place tourists would brag about as being off the beaten path, the kind of place locals would only go to if it wasn't a paycheck week.
Zac's met a lot of people in the past two decades and has some pretty sweet stories if you want to chill with a cold and frothy for a while, but when he thinks about it, like really squashes himself up and ruminates, he can list the people who he knows on one fucking hand. His parents (duh), his brother (also duh), and his girlfriend (slightly less duh). That's four. He has friends which put together might equal another finger and half, which isn't to say that he can't talk to them or whatever, because he wouldn't be going through all this effort to 007 himself out of his own fucking hotel if he didn't consider them his so-called inner circle. But it was sort of like the rings of an electron: his family and Vanessa were in the smallest one, the one closest to the nucleus, and his friends were on the outer rings, their proximity to the nucleus based primarily on how often they saw each other and the amount of hours they had spent skateboarding.
So the idea of going to the same place every day, all day, and just fucking sitting down and talking with people… it's like when you're really drunk and the room is spinning but then someone slides some pretzels down the table and even though you know those things are just slathered in fecal matter, because hello, bar pretzels, you eat them anyway and by the grace of some god the room calms down and you realize fucking-a. You're not going to puke tonight. That calm, that sense of knowing that control is to be had once more, that's what Zac is going for in life.
Of course he would never tell this to a reporter, would instead lay out some scripted response about moving past HSM and emulating his supposed idols and earning respect, which Zac guesses would also be an acceptable outcome to his life.
So when Zac slides open the heavily rusted metal door leading into the trash-laden alley behind his hotel and is greeted by a large pair of eyes saying, "Oh shit!" and stuff, well, suffice it to say Zac responds similarly. While Zac is trying to assess whether or not he is actually having a heart attack at this very moment, his eyes pinging and ponging in all directions, the other person in the alley speaks.
"Christ," he says, all breathy and English accent-y. "You scared the shit outta me."
"Me too," Zac says. And then he rolls his eyes because, did that even make sense? Once the blood and fear drains down from his eyes, Zac clears his throat. "I thought you were a pap."
The other kid laughs hoarsely, patting down his pockets.
"I thought you were my agent," he says. He is wearing a gray suit, crisp white shirt underneath and a kicky polka dot tie around his neck. His hair is dark with product and his eyes are open and light to a weird degree considering he is leaning delicately against the sticky orange alley wall of a taqueria. He pulls a loose cigarette out of his pocket and puts it in his mouth, mumbling around it, "She's not fond of this."
"Agent," Zac repeats sotto voce. He lets the letters roll around in his mouth like marbles. And then it hits him. Swallowing, he opens his mouth and says, "Hey, I know you."
The other kid looks up from where he is patting himself down further, unlit cigarette dangling from his lips as Zac tries not to point but mostly fails.
"You're like, Daniel Radcliffe, aren't you?" Zac asks.
Dan takes the cigarette out of his mouth.
"Yeah," he says, brushing his namesake off like it's retribution from a life he purged himself of long ago. "You have a light? I've somehow lost mine while standing still."
Zac does have a light. He's taken to travelling with a lighter in his pocket, especially before leaving for the night. It's a good conversation starter.
"I'm Zac, by the way," Zac says as he crosses the alley to stand in front of Dan. His lighter is bright green and used to say This is my fucking lighter on the side in white letters, but the paint's mostly chipped off and now all that's left is m fu k r.
"Obviously," Dan says from around the cigarette. He puffs it a couple of times to make sure it's lit and then inhales. On the exhale his eyes open and shift over to Zac. He looks calculatingly apologetic. "I'd offer you one, mate, but this is the last of 'em."
"No worries," Zac says. He keeps his hands in his pockets even after the pretense of returning his lighter to them has long worn out. "I don't smoke."
"I don't either," Dan smiles, winking.
Zac smiles back. He leans back on his heels. He is wearing a thin, slate blue t-shirt and the only kind of jeans he owns—ones that slouch but still somehow cling to his legs. You'd think they were made specifically for him, specifically to do that, to force you to look, but they weren't. His hips were just made for these jeans.
It is pressingly hot, even in the menacing shadow of the hotel, and the smell of dumpster tacos mixed with the tobacco from Dan's cigarette is starting to cause Zac to lose his appetite. Zac thinks that Dan must really not want to be caught, to put up with this.
"What're you doing here?" Zac asks, motioning at Dan's suit. Dan looks down at himself, pushes a plastic tub of guac and corn away from his person with the slightly pointed toe of a really expensive looking black leather shoe he will probably never wear again, if Dan is anything like Zac. Dan watches as a rodent of some kind scurries out and pokes its head inside the tub, picking the kernels of corn out from their bed of crusting guacamole.
"Oh, you know," Dan says, exhaling, watching the smoke rise up into the sky. "Just having a nosh. Have you tried the queso?" he asks. He nods his head in the direction of a giant splatter on the side of the dumpster. It is, for some reason, bubbling.
"I hear it comes highly recommended," Zac says. And then as a joke he makes out like he is going to touch it. Dan flips his shit at that and yells some word that Zac doesn't recognize but assumes is a synonym for fuck in England and, grabbing Zac's wrist, pushes him away from the dumpster. Except it's a tantric sort of push because Dan doesn't let go, pushes himself forward as he moves between Zac and the garbage. In the end Zac has his hand on Dan's wrist as well, steadying himself by clutching onto the cushy fabric of Dan's suit.
"I thought you were really going to do it," Dan laughs. His eyes widen a bit as Zac's fingers skim his knuckles when they let go of each other. His cigarette is lying on the ground, abandoned, and Dan picks at imaginary fluff balls in the crook of his arm, clearly needing somewhere to put his hands.
"I'm here for a premiere. To, erm, to answer your question," Dan spurts out, as though he has just realized he is wearing multiple layers at six-thirty in the evening in July.
"Oh, right," Zac says. "I haven't seen it yet, but I'm sure it's good."
"Well, it is a premiere," Dan says, the corner of his mouth half-heartedly whirling up into a smile.
"Oh, right," Zac repeats himself.
Dan pulls his lips in on top of themselves, chewing on the corner. He doesn't look at Zac.
"Well," Zac says.
"I should go," Dan cuts him off. "Have to sneak back up to the room to get rid of this smell, as it were." He pauses for a moment. "And devise a believable excuse for disappearing for a quarter hour, I suppose."
Fifteen minutes? Was that all? Zac wonders when they extended the length of one minute.
"Yeah, I got dinner," Zac says. "Um, to go to."
Dan lets a smile leak out of the side of his mouth and, eyes sincere, puts out his hand.
"Nice to meet you," he says. "And thanks for the light."
"Yeah man, any time," Zac says. "You too."
Dan walks toward the dark, imposing looking door and, pausing before his hand touches the handle, he glances over his shoulder and says,
"Enjoy your dinner."
Zac turns around completely, hands deep against his hips, walking backward as his shoes slap goofily on the pavement.
"Enjoy your night of hell," he says. He pulls his right hand out of his pocket and gives Dan a small salute.
The last time Zac sees Dan for over five hours, Dan is laughing at him, his eyes and teeth full of camaraderie.
Dan had not expected to see Zac again so soon, in fact had not really expected to see him ever. They had glimpsed each other at one or two functions whenever Dan had the misfortune of finding himself in LA or Zac had the pleasure of getting to visit London, but they had never talked to each other. In fact, Dan was pretty sure the alley was the first time they had ever met eyes.
He was okay with that. Zac seemed like a nice enough bloke, but before today Dan had been under the impression that he was a bit of a ditz. After meeting him, like actually having a chat and all, he still seemed sort of aloof, but in a way that Dan found himself liking the more he thought about it. As he signed autograph after autograph, he wondered what was going on underneath all that hair, that blond maelstrom only a place like California could love. Zac had seemed preoccupied and for once Dan didn't feel like the most awkward person in the room. Of course Zac played off uncomfortable like it was the Valhalla of emotion and the rest of the world would be lucky to one day get a glimpse at the level of cool Zac Efron felt while out of his element.
All things considered, Dan doesn't feel any less awkward with regards to what he is about to do. His hand is hanging in the air and his mouth is drier than an overused prostitute and he'd better just go for it, or else he'll be standing in this hallway forever and that has the potential for breaching a new level of uncomfortable Dan is not sure even Zac Efron can play off.
So he knocks.
Dan can hear Zac's footsteps approach and then silent. There is a pause between Zac looking through the peep hole and unlocking the door and Dan briefly wonders what the fuck is being paid for in this expensive-arse hotel if the walls are so thin that he can hear every little thing Zac is and is not doing. Dan doesn't think he's projecting those sounds. They are definitely happening. Or not.
When Zac opens the door his eyebrows shoot up and his forehead wrinkles, which Dan wasn't expecting to happen, and before Zac can pull his lips apart enough to form a sound Dan's words explode forth from his mouth like he is drunk on them,
"I'm so sorry to bother you I know it's late but everyone else is at the after party and I have a headache and all I want to do is shower and go to bed but my shower's broken and as I said everyone else is at the party and I didn't know what to do and I figured you were staying here because why else would you be walking out of this hotel and I sort of bribed the girl at the front desk to give me your room number and I was wondering if I could use your shower?"
"Were you sleeping?" Dan asks. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry I'll just shower tomorrow nevermind oh my god."
"No," Zac says. "I wasn't-not asleep."
Dan narrows his eyes.
"You—you weren't not asleep?" his tone is questioning and slightly critical, like all his concern over waking someone up can and should disappear in the face of improper grammar.
"I wasn't sleeping," Zac says. He opens the door wider. "Come in."
Zac shuts the door behind him and when he turns around, Dan is standing in the liminal space between the hallway and the actual room part, scratching his head absentmindedly.
"Positive you're not bothered?" Dan asks.
"Nah," Zac says. "I'm a little drunk, but not bothered."
Dan mouths an Oh.
"Dinner good, then?"
"Yeah. How was your premiere?"
Dan rolls his eyes.
"Boring. Nerve-wracking. Sweaty. Soul-crushing. Take your pick," he says with a small flourish of one of his hands.
"I hear you," Zac says. He makes his way over to his bed and the slight brush of his arm against Dan's body does not go unnoticed.
"Sit down," Zac says. "If you want."
Dan takes off his shoes and sits on the other bed. He glances at what's on the television, some movie, the kind that only comes on after midnight but can't even be labeled remotely as porn.
"I forgot to ask," Dan says, his eyes still on the TV. He pulls them away to finish his question. The alcohol in Zac's brain is making Dan's eyes this really trippy blue color. "What're you in LA for?"
"Well, I mostly live here," Zac says. "But I'm here as in this hotel because I—man, do you ever just like, need to be alone?"
Dan smiles, doesn't say anything. Even though his lips are pointing up in what Zac would not waver in considering a smile, his face doesn't look happy.
"I should go," Dan says. He stands up but Zac sits up tall before Dan's legs can fully extend to their not very impressive height and Dan correctly takes that as a cue to sit back down.
"Sorry," Zac says. "That's not what I meant. I just mean, like, I needed some time with me and some time with my guys. You know?"
"Like bro time?" Dan asks. The words sound so damn funny coming out of Dan's mouth that Zac can't help but crack up.
"Hell yeah, dude," he laughs. "'Like bro time.'"
"I see," Dan says. He is smiling again, this time with an actual sense of emotion behind it.
"Don't you ever get that?" Zac asks.
Dan is silent for a moment and then, looking down at his hands, says,
"I don't really have a lot of friends my age."
He looks up at Zac a while after saying this, mouth angled up in a slant that suggests, well, what can you do?
"Oh," Zac says. He gets the feeling that he's making this matter a lot more than it should, because Dan had only seemed slightly off-put at first but the longer Zac goes without saying something, the more Dan gets this twitch about him that is his brain clearly wondering whether or not this should bother him more than it does.
"No big deal," Zac says. He waves a hand in the air, his wrist floppy with beer. "How old is that, anyway? Your age?"
"I'm seventeen," Dan says. "But I'll be eighteen in a couple weeks. July twenty-third."
"Happy early birthday," Zac exclaims like they are old chums who haven't talked in a long while and have forgotten some of the more titchy details regarding each other's lives. He claps his hands together and eyes the mini bar. "Should we have a drink for your birthday?"
"I'd like that," Dan says, "I really would. But I've this headache, see, and that'll make it worse, I reckon."
"Oh yeah," Zac says. He deflates back against the headboard.
"How about you owe me one," Dan says. He gives Zac a soft wink, a little bit flirty and Zac's mentality just sort of shrugs in response. It's late and the kid's European. They flirt with everything, right?
"Next time," Zac says. After a moment he sits up with, "Hey, you probably wanna get in the shower, huh?"
Dan has the courtesy to pretend he hasn't been waiting for that.
"That'd be aces," he says.
As Zac leads Dan into the bathroom, showing him where the towels are and turning on the water while Dan humors him for treating him like an idiot, Zac finds himself unable to get that stupid wink out of his head. He's pretty sure if he were completely sober it would have flown right over his head, but the beer works like fly-paper, trapping the thoughts stupid enough to get close to him as he wiggles to break them free. Which Zac supposes makes him both the fly and the person setting down the fly-paper, but whatever. He's at least tipsy still and it's late and Dan has his suit jacket folded neatly on the counter and is undoing his tie with fingers that look too tired for seventeen.
Dan makes to undo his shirt buttons and then looks up at Zac, who has no reason to still be standing there.
"Should I do a dance for you?" Dan quips, one eyebrow arched.
"I mean," Zac shrugs. "It wouldn't hurt your chances."
Zac's eyes gasp. Where the hell did that come from?
Laughing, Dan shoves Zac out of his own bathroom and shuts the door behind him. Zac tries not to notice the new fly undulating on the paper—he'd caught a glimpse down the front of Dan's shirt while he pushed at Zac's laugh-heaving chest—as he hears the clink of a belt buckle hitting the hard tile floor and naked feet padding into a steamy glass shower.
Dan steps out of the bathroom twenty minutes later. He has sluiced off his clothes so that only his undershirt, a soft looking white cotton tee, and suit trousers remain. The rest of his clothes are bundled up in one arm, the other thrusting a towel back and forth over his head. His face is scrunched up in concentration and, Zac wonders why he notices, there are water droplets on Dan's neck.
"Thank you so much," he says, tossing the parcel of unworn clothing on the second bed. He uses both hands to tousle his hair in the towel. After a moment he looks up at Zac, who laughs at the every which way Dan's hair is sticking up.
He looks so young and clean and earnest in his cotton shirt and pearl-cleaned skin that Zac's heart almost breaks at the sight of it. He can see now why Everyone Loves Daniel Radcliffe.
He briefly considers mentioning to Dan, you know, real off the cuff-like, that he can stay the night if he wants. He entertains the notion of them falling asleep talking over some awful movie, waking up the next morning and downing bitter coffee and breakfast burritos at the taqueria on the other side of the alley. They'd exchange phone numbers and promise to keep in touch and at the next celebrity function they were both at maybe Dan would even look back at him.
That all fades pretty quick.
"Zac?" Dan asks. His tone makes Zac think maybe this isn't the first time he's said it.
"Yeah?" Zac responds, shaking his head.
"Whatever, man," Zac says. His eyes are feeling very tired. "No problem."
Dan has his socks on now and his shoes in one hand, clothing in the other.
"See you around?" he means to state it, but a question comes out.
"Definitely," Zac says. He realizes a beat too late that he should get up and show Dan out. Not that Dan doesn't know how to leave, but, you know, it's politer. And Zac figures Dan is all about that politeness and stuff, being English.
"Sorry," Zac mumbles, getting up.
Dan only gives him an odd little smile and, not saying anything, silently walks out of Zac's life for a really long time. But not forever.
When Zac goes to sleep that night he definitely dreams of his girlfriend. Not seventeen-year-old boys. His dream was about his girlfriend and when he wakes up with an erection he texts Vanessa to let her know that it's all her fault.
She texts him back five minutes later with a picture of her mouth and tits. Zac saves it to his phone.
He feels a little guilty that he came before he even checked her message and now he has to lie to her and pretend like it was her mouth he couldn't help himself from coming all over, but, you know, he's sure he'll use her picture eventually.
As Zac is ordering a room service breakfast that could easily feed all of the Duggars plus the myriad of unplanned pregnancies they must be constantly harboring, his phone vibrates and spins on the nightstand.
Cradling the land line on his shoulder, Zac picks up his phone. It's from Vanessa.
when u coming home?
might stay for another day Zac texts back.
o. ok. she texts.
love u 2
see you soon. thanks for the pic.
Sighing, Zac puts his phone on the nightstand. He turns on the TV and it jumps to life with a crack, but all its flair is pointless because Zac is not available. He is looking at a pad of paper he hadn't noticed before. The pad itself isn't anything, being a standard issue white square with the hotel's monogram in gilt at the top and all, but what is scribbled on it in what Zac can only assume is meant to be letters approximating the English language has captured his interest.
Zac decides he won't be able to decipher this until he gets his coffee and luckily the room service is impeccable. After the clearly hungover but heavily tipped Mexican dudes leave his room, a veritable parade of breakfast foods in their wake, Zac gulps down some overpriced coffee and tries at the note again.
After squinting at it for a moment the letters begin to make sense to him, swimming into recognizable shapes as though he were just now realizing he's known how to read this language all along.
The note is a clusterfuck of numbers up at the top of the page, followed by,
Thanks again. Give me a call next time you're in London, yeah?
Zac smiles around the almost impossible mass of eggs in his mouth and, wiping his fingers on the legs of his pajama bottoms, enters the number into his phone. He puts, "Dan Radclif" in for the name. In a while he'll google Dan and, blushing to no one, add the extra "fe" on the end of Dan's name. Under the section for notes, he taps in, IOU 1 drink
As to why his fingers are shaking with nerves the entire time, well, that's just because he's hungover. And hangovers do that.
Zac loves his girlfriend.
He just felt that needed to be said.